25 Things Police Officer Darren Wilson could have said instead of “Get the f__ck on the sidewalk.”

By Renée Zitzloff and co. (including some of the children of Ephesus school)

On the day of his death unarmed tax payer Michael Brown and friend Dorian Johnson were walking in the street heading home. Suddenly their employee police officer Darren Wilson pulled up in his car accosting them with these words, “Get the f__k on the sidewalk!” Moments later Michael Brown’s death ensued when Wilson shot him at least six times, including two times in the head and at least once in the back. Dorian Johnson was witness to it all.

Could Wilson have greeted the young men that day with different words? Yes. Could he have used words that were more courteous and less provocative? Yes. Had he ever learned or was he trained to understand that words can be just as important or sometimes more important then actions? Did he know that words can create death?

In service to the men and women police officers we’ve hired to protect and serve us and our children, I’ve polled a number of people to come up with a list of at least 25 things a police officer can say to one of his or her employers instead of “Get the f___k on the sidewalk!” Some of my favorites are the ones children came up with, see if you can spot them. And hey, this list is not exhaustive, so feel free to come up with your own greetings as long as they are courteous and respectful. Be sure to print this and take it to your local police station or offer it to each and every police officer you meet in the spirit of serving their (possible) needs.

1. Beautiful day, gentlemen please look out not to be the in the way of traffic.
2. Hi guys, how are you?
3. It’s a parade!
4. Hi guys, I’d like to drive on the sidewalk but I can’t quite fit.
5. Excuse me, police have just been called to the area. Have you seen or heard anything unusual today?”
6. Can I help you sir?
7. My name is Officer Darren Wilson. My job is to help ensure the peace and security of this area – all the people who live here. Do you young men live in this area? I figure that by giving you my name and by your knowing me, I can better do my job.
8. Hi Mike, how are you?
9. Gentleman, would you pick a lane? How about the sidewalk?
10. Gentleman it’s a pleasure to serve you. How can I be of assistance today?
11. Hi guys, my favorite flower is the tempestuous rose. What’s yours?
12. Hi guys, I’m working on my racist attitude and beliefs. I’d like to understand more about what its like to be black in this country.
13. Would you please get out of the street because its dangerous?
14. Would you mind walking on the sidewalk today?
15. Kids shouldn’t walk on the street, its dangerous.
16. Wanna be my friend?
17. D.W. “Knock knock.” Michael “Who’s there?” D.W. “Cow.” Michael “Cow who?” D. W. “Cows don’t say who, they say moo!”
18.Whats up?
19. ‘Sup bro?
20. Hi guys when would you be able to come to dinner at my house?
21. I’ve come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.
22. Peace.
23. Peace.
24. Peace.
25. I’d like police officers to speak to me the way they might speak to their mother or father, sister or brother. I’d like them to be respectful.


* * *

The Day of Killing

By Renée Zitzloff

When I was preparing the lesson on Ezekiel 32 I noticed again (I’m great with the obvious) the seeming redundancy of this ancient book. But reading the chapter anew, expecting to yawn profusely, I suddenly was jolted by the graphic nature of the violence being described. I was to study this with young children?

In class I had one of the girls read the first 10 verses, and then I asked the children to repeat just one thing she had read. No one could repeat one word. So much for listening. So I read aloud s l o w l y and with emphasis God’s message through Ezekiel to Pharaoh, tasking the children with repeating their “favorite” verse when I was done:

“You are like a lion among the nations; you are like a monster in the seas…I will cast my net over you…I will hurl you on the open field…and all the animals of the wild will gorge themselves on you…I will drench the land with your flowing blood…I will snuff you out….I will bring darkness over you…”

This time they each remembered a “favorite” verse. To reinforce the unpalatability of the passage I asked them to imagine how wild animals eat. Do they sit down politely at a table using silverware, sipping tea and wearing a pretty bonnet? No, they all agreed giggling at the image. So again, I emphasized graphically how wild animals rip muscles apart with their jagged teeth, how bones are cracked and gobbles, how blood smears over everything and how bad it all would smell to the human nose. I asked the children if their parents allow them to watch violent or graphic television or movies and most remembered something violent they’d seen on a screen. I asked them why such violence is depicted in the Bible, and why their parents would allow them to read such a thing. No one had an answer, so I suggested they ask their parents this question (I love fomenting rebellion).

In emphasizing what is written in the text (not by me!) I wanted to help them pay attention to what they may think is boring and useless (me?). So as we continued I told them I’d help paint a picture of Ezekial and the Pharaoh whom they’ve never met and whom supposedly lived so long ago. I asked them if they knew the names of any rap artists. There was discussion and we settled on Eminem. Then I asked them to picture President Obama speaking happily at a press conference and suddenly Eminem interrupting him with the words of Ezekial: “You are like a lion among the nations; you are like a monster in the seas…I will cast my net over you…I will hurl you on the open field…and all the animals of the wild will gorge themselves on you…I will drench the land with your flowing blood…I will snuff you out….I will bring darkness over you…declares the Sovereign Lord.” Hmm, I asked, would President Obama be pleased to hear these words? Would he be happy and invite Eminem to join him for cocktails in the Rose Garden? Or would he insist Eminem be hauled away by secret service personnel and perhaps be thrown in jail or even be put to death? (It’s never fun to be a prophet, I reminded them, because they all get killed for speaking truth).

At this point I could have guided the class in several directions (or gone home). And though it may be tangential to the chapter I decided to discuss how the world uses killing and death to destroy its enemies. I suggested that the job of the Christian is not to kill but to prepare ourselves to die for the truth. I alerted them that the rest of their lives people would try to involve them in killing as a solution. We talked about the military recruiters who will be present in their high schools (and possibly middle schools) encouraging them to join the army, navy, marines etc. “You can join the military if you choose, I said, but you are not allowed to kill.” I asked them if they knew of any record in the Bible (or outside) of Jesus killing or wounding anyone, or of Jesus advocating war or killing as a solution. Nothing came to mind. We spoke of how Christ could have called an army of men (or women or angels) to annihilate his enemies as he torturously limped towards the cross. Why do we use killing and war as a solution if Jesus didn’t?

As we talked about killing, one boy affirmed that the United States didn’t go to war often. Sad to relieve him of this notion, I cited the fact that in the last two hundred years the United States has been involved in over 150 wars, including the genocides of Native Americans and black slaves. He then proposed that the U.S. only goes to war when someone “picks on us because we are powerful and they are weak.” I invited him to rethink this idea by picturing himself choosing the biggest kid at school and taunting him into a fight. He wisely agreed that he wasn’t likely to do this, although one of the (little?) girls suggested using less of a full frontal confrontation and more of a guerrilla warfare (my phrase) strategy against bigger enemies. She had some good points.

This pretty much wrapped up our lesson for the day. I generally conclude by reminding the children to talk to their parents about what we discuss. I hope they do.

* * *

How to know if you are wealthy

Today, after listening to the podcast, “Are You Rich,” I came up with the following ways to know if you are wealthy. You don’t have to have them all, just one or two. Here they are in no particular order:
1. You’re in a club.
2. You have food.
3. You have shelter.
4. You have possession(s).
5. You believe you have rights.
6. You believe you have entitlements.
7. You know you’re going to heaven (another club).
8. Someone loves you.
9. God loves you.
10. You express yourself in clothes and/or accessories.
11. You have access to this list on the internet.
It can go on and on……………….

When You Find the Teaching

I met the man when he asked me for a drink of water after I had just slurped down the last of my bottled water.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have any water left,” I said

”That’s ok.  How are you today?  What are you up to?” he asked.

“I’m fine thanks. I’m waiting for my mother to get here on the bus from St. Cloud.” I stepped closer to the man and bent down reaching out my hand.  “My name’s Renée.  What’s yours?”

“Moses.” *

“I’m glad to meet you, Moses.”  As our hands met, he looked skeptical for a second, then asked,

“Are you really?”

“Yes, I am.  What are you doing?”

“I’m waiting to catch a bus to Chicago.”

“Do you live there?”

“No I’m going to see my boys. Where do you live?”

“In Minnetonka. How many children do you have?”  His face lit up like a Christmas candle and he grinned, “Three, but two of them live in Chicago and I can’t wait to see them.”

“How old are they?” I asked sitting down on the sidewalk next to him.

“Eight and eleven.” He smiled again with the obvious joy of a father.

“How often do you get to see them?”

“Not very often.”

When I had first parked my car on the street a few feet from where Moses was perched on the sidewalk and walked the block to the Minneapolis bus terminal I had noticed a tall policeman with broad shoulders parked on a bicycle about 90 feet from Moses.  He seemed to be keeping an eye on the mostly black people milling around the area. None of them seemed intimidating to me or bent on causing harm, but as I passed the police officer and said, “Good morning, how are you?” he didn’t look at me but answered tersely, “Fine mam.”  He seemed to be on alert and wary. When I arrived at the bus station and found that my mother’s bus was going to be a half an hour late I had returned to my car to clink a couple more quarters into the meter. That’s when Moses had asked me for a drink of water.

As Moses and I visited, our conversation moved quickly from the superficial to the profound.  At one point Moses gestured to the area around us and said, “We could make a documentary about the things that happen here.  Things that people seem not to know about.”

“What do you mean?  Can you give me an example?”

“See that policeman over there ? What do you think he’s here for?”

“To enforce laws, I guess.”

“He is hired to enforce laws on people like me with black skin,” Moses said and he stretched out his hand towards me. “Now, I understand that people are killing each other, and we need the police to mediate the madness.  But when you give someone a badge and they believe they are the authority they are likely to abuse that authority.”

“I hear what you are saying, Moses, and I admit that I can’t even imagine what it is like to be black, what it is like to be you.”

“The abuse and killing has to end,” Moses said forcefully.  “We have to stop now.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” I said.  What do you think about the killing in war?”

“The United States has got to bag it up!  We had no business being in Iraq and we have no business going around the world using our military might for our own greed.  We’ve got enough problems here at home.”  He paused for a moment in deep thought.  Then he learned forward closer, looking me straight in the eye. “There is a right way to treat people, and a wrong way to treat people. Which way are you going to treat people?”

“I’m going to try…”—he cut me off abruptly and said uncompromisingly, Which way are you going to treat people?”

“The right way.” He nodded.

“Much of the problems in the world are about people wanting more than their neighbor,” he continued.“It’s greed, you see, because I don’t have your blue car.  Because I don’t live in Minnetonka.  It’s greed all of it, and everyone is sick with it no matter rich or poor or what the skin color.  The madness is about greed.”

“I think you’re right,” I said.

As our conversation paused, I took in the goodness of the moment.  After several days of rain and grey woolen skies, the morning was silky with light and a soft breeze caressed our skin and like a child’s chuckle seemed to float wherever it wanted. I didn’t think of it then, but in retrospect I see now what a cheap answer I gave to Moses’s question about the purpose of the police officer.  Technically I had answered correctly; “to enforce laws” would have passed as an answer on any standardized test.  But thinking about it now, another answer comes to me. We hire the police to enforce fear. Anyone may feel fear when the police are around, or pull in behind our car on the highway. “What am I doing wrong?” we may wonder. So what must it be like for those whose skin color is not the same as the majority of the police and the politicians, for those who are stereotyped as takers, as lazy, as unambitious, as thugs, drug dealers and criminals? We may like to think that we are so-called “color-blind” in this country, but there is no such thing. When Moses stretched out his hand to me, without being him, I already knew that he is seen as more likely to break the law than me. However, when I had reached out my hand to him when we first met, it wasn’t because I was there to help him. I was extending my hand as a beggar, because I know that I’m the one that needs help.  I’m the one who in spite of having all I need one hundred times over still takes more. I’m the one that lives away from the materially poor in a mainly white suburb where if many of us saw one or two black people dawdling on the corner we would call the police—to enforce our fear. I may not live in a visibly gated community, but the gates in our minds are locked, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by vicious dogs of fear. We don’t need God to protect us because we trust in violence. We  buy guns and make laws to jail the poor while we are in fact the criminals whose greed and self-preservation has no boundaries. We are poverty stricken and ill from persecuting God in our neighbor if he tries to take such piddly objects as cell phones, entertainment systems or cosmetic jewelry.

“Moses, I’ve got to get my mom in a minute, but I want to know if you’ll come to my church and speak sometime?  We need to hear from you.” Moses looked taken aback.  But before he could speak, suddenly, abruptly the police officer skidded up on his bicycle and dismounted.

“Alright sir,” he said to Moses.  I’ve been watching you. We need to talk.”

“I haven’t done anything sir, I’m just sitting here with my friend.”

“I need to see your i.d.” the policeman said sternly.  “Give me your i.d.”

“But what have I done?  We’re just having a conversation.”

“I see that, but you have an open beer next to you. It’s illegal to have open alcoholic beverages on the street, and I think you know that. Give me your i.d.”  Moses pulled out his wallet, took out his i.d. and handed it to the officer who then spoke to me,“Are you with a church or anything?” he asked.

“I’m waiting for my mother to arrive on the bus from St Cloud and we started visiting,” I said motioning to Moses.

“So you’re not here to solve any problems?” The question confused me and I was wondering if he would ask for my i.d.  After all, Moses and I were in the neighborhood for the same reason, the bus terminal. But before I had a chance to answer he turned to Moses again.

“Moses, instead of taking you to jail, I’m going to give you a judicial,” he said while writing on a form.

“Excuse me, officer, could you please explain to me what a ‘judicial’ is?”  I asked.  “I’m not familiar with that term.”

“I’ve given him a date in two weeks to show up at city hall. At this hearing they will see if he needs help getting off alcohol or any other addictions.”

“Could I attend?”  He shrugged, “If you want to.”  He handed the form to Moses and told him to sign it, and Moses complied. Then the officer gave him a copy of the form, picked up the beer and walked away with it, returning seconds later to clean his hands with an antibacterial wipe. I turned to Moses.  “Moses, what if I came to the judicial and we talked about you speaking at my church? I really want you to come.  Maybe my pastor will attend the hearing too.”

“I don’t need to go to a judicial,” he said angrily.

“Think about it Moses, just think about it. I promise I’ll be there.”

I didn’t tell him then, but I am not going to the judicial for him, but for me.  When you find the teaching, follow it.

* * *

*Not his given name.

The One Who Creates the Trouble IS the Refuge in Times of Trouble

The older children and teens began the study of Nahum and were immediately struck by the wrath of the Lord–vengeance, punishment, whirlwind, storm, dried up sea and river, withering blossoms, earthquakes, indignation, anger, fire, shattering rock–this is the fury of the Lord.  In the midst of all these descriptions of wrath, the text barely mentions, “The Lord is slow to anger” (Nah. 1:3)  Let’s hope He is really slow to anger.

And then a word of hope in the midst of chaos: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.  He cares for those who trust in him.” (Nah 1:7)  Could it be the very one who creates the trouble serves as a refuge for those who trust Him?

I likened this tswimo the time my dad began teaching my sister and me to swim.  We were on the farm, and our swimming hole was a muddy pond.  We couldn’t see the bottom and creatures of moss floated everywhere.  We were young, probably ages 2 and 3.  Because I showed my fear, my younger sister was determined to express her confidence.  She jumped in first and squealed with delight as Dad swam with her on his back.  Dad bobbed in the middle of the water with his arms extended toward me, “Jump.  You can’t learn to swim if you don’t get in.  Don’t worry; you’ll be safe if you keep hold of me.”   Disobedience was never an option in dealing with my dad, but I remember two distinct feelings.  1) I was upset that he should cause so much trouble for me.  2) Once I was in the water, no matter how angry I was at my dad, there was no way I was going to let go of him.  While Dad was trying to peel my tight grip from his neck, I imagine my sister got a little cocky and swam out too far on her own.  We saw her arms flailing and a look of panic between facefuls of water.  My dad reached her quickly and reminded her of the boundary he had marked for her to swim safely.

Trouble will come and go for all people.  For those who think they can conquer it alone, it is an “overwhelming flood” of destruction (Nah. 1:8).  But for those who trust in the one who controls the chaos, they will be saved.

God Will Crush You Anytime . . . and He Might Just Pick Up the Pieces

200px-Micah_prophetThis was the title the children of Ephesus School named their Micah play performed last week.  Actually, if it were up to them and I hadn’t interfered, they would have kept the tidy title God Will Crush You Anytime.  It was a matter of adding cherry flavor to the medicine . . . it’s a hard pill to swallow . . . apparently harder for adults than it is for children.

One of the children wrote the first scene, carefully using the text from the Bible.  The students were intrigued with the Micah reference to Balaam, his donkey, and Balak, so they decided to add this as its second scene–a bit of comic relief.  The third scene was the Biblical passage the youngest children memorized and recited.  The fourth scene was a narrated pantomime.  This was the scene for which the audience was touched by the heap of sinners, burdened by signs of sins on their backs (greedy, deceitful, faithless, etc.).  The Lord “pardoned the sin” and crumpled the paper record of sins and  “hurled the iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Mic 7:18-19).

Below is a copy of the play, should other classes like to use one or more of the scenes.  Feel free to contact us for more clarification or your comments.

MICAH Play, Scene 1

Narrator – The children of St. Elizabeth present, The Micah Play, as we have renamed:

Everyone– God will crush you . . .  anytime.  And He might just pick up the pieces.

Narrator –  Micah was a prophet in the time of King Jotham, (steps out) King Ahaz, (steps out) and King Hezekiah.  (steps out)

Narrator:  God was mad at his people (the Israelites) because they had turned away from him.  Imagine that your own children decided they wanted to live in a different house because they could eat candy for dinner, play video games all day, and never finish their homework.  God knew how to care for his children and provide the best for them, but his children had turned from him.   They hated the good and loved the evil.  God had a lesson to teach them and bring them back under his care . . . . but it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Micah – Hear you people! The Lord is coming to judge you!  The mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will fill up, like wax before the fire.

Kings and youngest children– Where will we hide?!?

God – I will make Samaria a heap in the open country.

(Kings and youngest children pile into a heap)

Micah – There will be nowhere to hide!

God – I will wail and howl.  I will wail like the dragons, and mourn as the owls.  For her wound is incurable; right at the gate of my people.

Micah – Evil came down from the Lord, to the gates of Jerusalem.

God – Because of your transgressions I will hand you over to your enemies who will take you into captivity.

Narrator 2– It’s gonna be baaaaad! ! !

Micah– Hear, I pray you, is it not for you to know judgment,  who hate the good, and love the evil?

God– I will bring evil upon you to knock you to your senses.

Narrator 2– Now it’s gonna be real bad.

(everyone walks off stage)

MICAH Play, Scene 2

God– My people, what have I done to you?  How have I burdened you?  Answer me.  I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.  My people, remember what Balak king of Moab counseled and what Balaam son of Beor answered.

Narrator-Balak and Balaam?  Do you remember this story?  Let me refresh your memory.

Balak –I am Balak, king of Moab.  I’m worried about these Israelites who have camped next to us.  I’ve heard their God easily defeats their enemies.  Quite frankly, I’m terrified.

Narrator-He’s shaking in his boots!

Balak to Messengers-Messengers and Princes, go to Balaam and ask him to put a curse on these Israelites because they are too powerful for me.

Messengers walk to Balaam and show him their money– Balaam, come with us and curse the Israelites.

Balaam turns away– What should I do, Lord?

God – Do not go with them.  You must not put a curse on my people because they are blessed.

Balaam turns to the messengers – Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.

Messenger 1-But King Balak will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say.

Messenger 2-Come on, pretty please with an olive on top.  Come curse the Israelites for Balak!

Balaam– Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.

God to Balaam-Since these messengers have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.

Narrator (while Balaam, messengers, donkey, and angel act out the scene) – Balaam saddled his donkey and went with the messengers of Moab.  But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.  When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off the road into a field.  Balaam beat her to get her back on the road.  Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead.  When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her.  Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth.

Donkey-  What have I done to deserve this?

Balaam– You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword, I would kill you! You are the donkey, not I!

Donkey– Open your eyes and see the angel of the Lord.

(Balaam bows down when he sees the angel)

Angel- Why have you beaten your donkey?  I have come to oppose you because your path is reckless.  The donkey saw me and turned away.  If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.

Donkey (thumbing to Balaam)- Who’s the donkey now?  Hee-haw!

God/Angel- Go with the men to Balak, but speak only what I tell you.

(Balak sees Balaam and runs to greet him) Balak – Why didn’t you come sooner?  You know I can reward you.

Balaam– Well, I have come now, but I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.  Build seven altars and prepare seven bulls and seven rams.  Perhaps the Lord will come to meet with me and I will tell you what he reveals.

Narrator– King Balak did exactly as Balaam told.  Three times Balak built seven altars and prepared a bull and ram for each.  But each time the Lord refused to curse Israel.

Balaam- God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox.  They devour hostile nations and break their bones in pieces; with their arrows they pierce them.  Like a lion they crouch and lie down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse them?  May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!

Balak (stomping and slapping his fists in anger)– I told you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them!  Leave at once and go home!  The Lord has kept you from your reward.

Balaam-Did I not say even if you gave me your palace filled with silver and gold, I must say only what the Lord says?  I will warn you of what the Israelites will do to your people, the Moabites, in the days to come.  They will crush you!

Narrator pointing to Balak- He’s shaking in his boots!

Donkey– Who’s the donkey now?  Hee-haw!!!

MICAH Play, Scene 3

Stage clears and youngest children come to recite Micah 6:6-8

 “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? 

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you

But to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Scene 4

Narrator (speaking slowly so it may be acted in pantomime)- The voice of the Lord cries to the city, your rich men are full of violence;  (Rich person wearing paper sign of  “Greed and Violence” refuses and pushes aside beggar)

Your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth (one person wearing “Deceit” speaks to beggar with his fingers crossed behind his back.)

Therefore I have begun to smite you, making you desolate because of your sins.  You shall eat, but not be satisfied (the rich person tips an imaginary empty plate to his mouth and rubs his belly in hunger)

You shall put away, but not save (the deceitful person puts imaginary things in his pocket, then turns out empty pockets.)

You shall sow, but not reap (a person wearing “Faithless” takes an imaginary hoe to the ground, and wipes his brow)

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.  I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him.

(All the pantomime actors above fall to a heap while a group of “enemies” laugh and another covers the heap with a dark blanket. The “Lord” stands by the covered heap with hand on hip, tapping his foot. )

He will bring me forth to the light; I shall behold his deliverance.

(The Lord lifts the blanket off the heap.)

Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the Lord your God?”  The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; they shall come trembling and turn in dread to the Lord our God, and they shall fear because of thee.

(The “enemies,” wearing “arrogant” “gossip” “envious” on their backs look afraid, covering their mouths, and trembling.   They join the others in the heap on the floor.)

Who is a God like thee, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgressions?  He does not retain his anger for ever because he delights in steadfast love.  He will again have compassion upon us.  He will tread our iniquities under foot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

(Both “Israel” in the original heap and the “Enemies” who joined them remain bowed to the Lord while the Lord removes each of the “sins.”  He shows the paper sign with the ascribed sin to the audience, crumples  it up, and throws it far away.  He pulls up each “sinner” to stand aright and hugs each with a hand of blessing on their head. As each one is raised from the heap, join hands across the stage.  Bow together at the end.)

Israel learn their lesson–and enjoy victory: Micah 7

This chapter starts to bring events around to Israel’s side again. Much of the book of Micah describes the destruction caused by the Assyrians, and the wicked actions of Israel that brought it about. The book culminates in chapter 7 with the reversal of fortunes enjoyed by the people, as soon as the Lord relents, shows his forgiveness towards them, and brings Israel’s enemies down to the dirt.

I began this lesson by asking the students to review past chapters. What did the children remember? They remembered the motion of Israel: going out and coming back in again. The Assyrians were attacking the North, and the South was counting on Assyria rather than God. The people were overwhelmed by guilt rather than intent on following the will of the Lord. With prompting, they remembered the People Soup and the wicked kings who preyed on their people. War, destruction, and guilt were the overwhelming themes.

After reading the chapter, we began the first section (vv. 1-7) where we encountered an important agricultural metaphor that seemed to shift its meaning (vv. 1-4). The kids have gone berry- and apple-picking in their lives, and they knew what it looked like at the end of the season, when the bushes and trees were all picked-over. This was Israel at this moment; as one child said it, the people were just the “trash.” This metaphor displayed how the land was “picked over” as a result of the war. The land looked empty. Then the metaphor shifted as the people complained that no good people are left. The best “fruit” of the people, the pious and upright ones, were gone. The image shifted from what the people’s enemies had done to the people and what they had done to themselves. They had become so wicked that they were “prickly shrubs” that cannot produce fruit at all. We remembered the unjust leaders and judges from 3:9-11, how the judges unjustly favored the rich over the poor. Injustice among those in charge of justice proved too much for the Lord.

Furthermore, life had become impossible because no one could trust each other any more (vv. 5-7). Not only were the judges unfair, but you could not trust your wife, children, parents, or friends. The Lord stood out as the only good one remaining—and the narrator, the people, had no one left but the Lord to trust. The Assyrians had not taken the best fruit; the people lost its best fruit—their good and pious citizens—and could no longer grow fruit at all.

During the next section, a reversal of fortunes took place (vv. 8-13) and the Lord is called on to bring this reversal to pass (vv. 14-17). (The kids began humming “What Goes Around … Comes Around,” by Justin Timberlake at this point.) We imagined being smashed by a superior force, just as Israel was beaten by Assyria, as I acted like the Lord and towered over one of the students and taunted her. According the to text, the student had to say that she had to “bear the anger,” that the threat came not from the tall teacher (Assyria), but from the Lord as a result of her sin (v. 9). She will stay crushed until the Lord decides to stop crushing her—Assyria really isn’t the enemy but a tool of the Lord. After taunting the student/Israel—mocking her faith in the Lord—Assyria would eventually fall down so low that Assyria will be like the “mud in the streets” (v. 10). What has gone around will come back around; Assyria crushed Israel and taunted her, but Assyria would finally be crushed. The end of Assyria would come because of Assyria’s “fruit” of their deeds, just like Israel (v. 13). Finally, after kings constantly disappointed them, the people long for the Lord to be their shepherd (vv. 14-17) to lead them out into wonderful pastures and bringing their enemies down to the dust like a snake.

The end of the chapter—and the book—highlight the Lord’s unique patience and love (vv. 18-20). This description of the Lord contrasts with the wrath that we’ve seen up to this point. How is the God who sends war and famine and humiliation against his people one who claims love and graciousness towards the people? The book teaches the people how to recover from the war and loss of the war against Assyria. When Israel learns that the war and loss come as a result of their sin, and that when they learn to put the injustice and oppression that they have inflicted on their own people, the Lord will again make them victorious. Moreover, he will completely put away their sin—down to the bottom of the sea (v. 19). The Lord will not forget his people, but continue in fulfilling his promises made from the beginning (v. 20).

After six chapters of Micah explaining the war and affliction that Israel experienced, this final chapter brings hope to the fore. While this section highlights the devastation caused by Israel against the people, it also reverses their fortunes. Rather than an afflicted, guilty Israel, the people will enjoy victory and forgiveness from their God. Israel has the chance to learn a lesson, and this lesson brings hope in eventual victory.

In good times and in bad, we love goodness in humility: Micah 6

The Lord in Micah 6 demonstrates to the people how he created them, how they are to respond, and how their current suffering comes from their inappropriate response. Our class reiterated the movement in the book of Micah: God brings the people out of captivity, the people sin, God sends the people into captivity, God brings them out of captivity, etc. This chapter features a courtroom scene, followed by a boisterous show of guilt. The people suffer because they choose to reject the correct response to grace, love of neighbor, but instead choose greed. Whether the people are coming out of or going into captivity, they must respond with love of goodness and humility.

I began by describing two points of background. First, we discussed how a court procedure worked and how each role functions: the judge, the plaintiff/accuser, the defendant/accused, the lawyers, the witnesses, and the jury. Second, I narrated an abbreviated version of the story of King Balaq, the Prophet Balaam, and Balaam’s ass. The drama of the court and the comedy of Balaam captured the students’ attention: after the class, the students asked if they could produce a play based on the courtroom and Balaam’s ass. (I would have to play the judge, they said.)

When I read through the chapter, one student was captivated by the irony of God not allowing the people to conceive—but when they conceived (miraculously!) he sent the children to be killed by the sword (verse 14). Again, the apparent cruelty of the Lord comes to the fore. I re-read the whole section, bringing out the emptiness, hunger, and lack of life.

Next, I read through the chapter more slowly and deliberately, and the movement of God’s claim, Israel’s response, and Israel’s present predicament became clear. In verses 1-5 the Lord brought his suit against Israel. Since the Lord is the plaintiff, I asked, who is going to judge the case? The prophet, the students thought. No, I responded, because the prophet isn’t nearly old enough. A judge must be old and wise, so the Lord chose the next oldest thing to him: the mountains and the hills. The Lord, the plaintiff, argued his case against the defendant, Israel, to the judges and jury, the mountains and hills. He even called Israel as witnesses for his case! The Lord recounted the kindness he showed to Israel: bringing them out of Egypt, helping them survive the desert even against King Balaq, and bringing them through the River Jordan into the Promised Land. The case lays out God’s grace to the people, which lies at the foundation of the expected response.

The people respond in one voice, desiring to atone for their ingratitude (verses 6-7). Yet even they see the futility in trying to atone—nothing suffices. The children in class could identify with this despair, the inability, for example, to make up for a wrong committed against their father. What would their father want them to do, then? Probably he would want them to treat their brothers and sisters kindly and to be obedient to their parents. As the Lord said, “Do what is just, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (verse 8). The Lord does not want atonement but a heartfelt response to his gracious acts and a subsequent change in behavior.

The Lord notes the specific sins of greed that the people committed, that is, acting contrary to kindness and humility, and calls on their ruler to end these actions (verses 9-12). First, the people use false measures. The children were surprised when I asked them why the Lord finds fake weights one of the worst sins. They learned, though, that fake weights are a way to cheat your neighbor and take advantage of the hungry for the sake of making money. Second, the rich lie about the poor in order to take advantage of them. It takes a strong king—referred to as the “scepter” or “staff” by metonymy—to get rid of this despicable behavior. Greed and false testimony stand in opposition to justice, goodness, and humility.

Micah ends the chapter with a reminder of the lack of fruit—food and children—that results from following the sinful kings, Omri and the house of Ahab (verses 13-16). All of the people’s work results in pain and suffering, not satiety or rest (verses 13-15). This is not senseless cruelty but pedagogical, as it is to bring the people back to a correct response to God’s grace, that perhaps lack of God’s grace would cause the people to desire it and become grateful. In the end, they will not be able to do the right thing, and the only good that might come of it would be that their punishment might make them an example to teach the other nations (verse 16).

The people suffer because they misunderstand the reason for their suffering. The Lord created them out of his kindness not so they might feel guilty and incapable of repaying him, but so his kindness might motivate them to act kindly and justly. In their guilt, they happily follow wicked kings and act out their greed. Their greed resulted in severe shortage and lack, though, so that they might come back to their senses, recognizing the importance of the Lord’s gracious abundance. Eventually, they would not learn; their suffering caused them to be derided, so the surrounding nations might benefit. In the end, people suffer because we refuse to respond to God’s grace with gratitude, and if we can’t learn from our suffering, hopefully someone can.

Temporal dew, marauding lion

We continued to notice further contradictions in Micah. Again, the Lord will make the people powerful and afflict them. The new ruler of Israel will be small and insignificant, as well as powerful. The remnant of Jacob will pass away and yet conquer like a lion. The children had to navigate these opposites to make sense of this chapter. As the people decrease in significance and increase in obedience to the Lord’s wisdom, the stronger they become.

We reviewed the basic movement of Micah. The people in the city believe themselves to be powerful, then God sends the Assyrians to conquer them and take them to exile. God is waiting for the day when he can bring them back—once they’ve learned his wise teaching, his Torah.

The Lord brings out a ruler who embodies the most important qualities of this chapter: insignificance and wisdom. Once the people find themselves in exile, an insignificant ruler with origins “from of old” (v. 1) will come and become so powerful, he will muster a defense able to withstand any attack of the Assyrians (vv. 3-7). He won’t come, though, until the mother in labor “has borne” (v. 2). I told the children that we can understand the rest of the chapter if we grasp this image. The fact that he comes from a small, insignificant place, the town of David in the shadow of Jerusalem, demonstrates a lack of influence. His link to old times shows that he is wise—and true wisdom comes from the Lord and Zion (4:1-2). An image of a wise, old man, obedient to the Lord, emerges.

The initial, apparent weakness of this old man blossoms as true strength—stronger than the Assyrians. He will come after the woman gives birth, which represents the siege (4:10). After the people, in spite of their strength, are defeated by the Assyrians, the old, wise man will become stronger than their most powerful enemies. Not military strength, but wisdom in the Lord, brings victory.

The people, too, are to embody insignificance and strength. More tension arises as the “remnant of Jacob” is “droplets on grass” (v. 6) while “like a lion among flocks” (v. 7). How can this remnant be so ephemeral that the sun makes it disappear, yet terrifying as the king of the beasts? The kids in class clamored to try to figure this out! They remembered the ruler from the first verses. The people on their own, in God’s eyes, are weak, but when they are wise, God will make them strong.

The Lord preempts potential pride or sense of significance in the people. As soon as the Lord declares the people to be a conquering lion, he voices a litany of how he will destroy them (vv. 9-14). He will destroy their weapons and fortresses (vv. 9-10)—signs of Israel’s military might. [Note: After the session I noticed that the initial Hebrew word in these verses is not “destroy,” as some translations state, but “cut off,” which emphasizes how the Lord will excise these elements from the people.] He will destroy their sorcery and idols (vv. 11-13)—signs of the Israelites’ disloyalty and desire to control the elements on their own. The Lord cuts off the precise items that the people use to build themselves up. These elements distinguish them from the ruler described in the beginning of the chapter because they give a sense of significance and strength, rather than insignificance and wisdom. Ultimately, the Lord will judge all nations on the basis of whether they “obeyed” (v. 14), that is, reflected the wisdom of the Lord’s teaching available to all nations (4:2).

This chapter confuses the reader in how it suspends and unites the stark opposition between that which passes away and that which conquers. The new ruler reflects how Israel should conduct itself. If Israel would withstand the Assyrians, they have to put away their weapons and deities. As they increasingly resemble the dew, they become more like the marauding lion. Their adherence to the Lord and his teaching (ultimately indistinguishable) stand as the criterion for success. Returning from exile, the people must follow in their own actions, the insignificant, wise ruler whom God will choose.

Farming without war, childbirth without joy: A contradiction in Micah 5

After I read through the chapter, Micah 4, the children told me their first impressions. One student was confused. On the one hand, the Lord was so nice, encouraging all the nations to come to him. On the other hand, he judges and rejects the people. I noted that this contradictory dynamic existed in the text, so we would have to look into it further. The legitimate confusion arose from beautiful images of peace and triumph juxtaposed with scenes of despair and humiliating defeat.

We began this week reviewing the movement caused by the Lord, which resembles a father who punishes and forgives his children. He brings the people out of the land, just to bring them back. The Lord resembles a father, who punishes his children for going against his good will. The father may yell, he may be scary; but when he relents, the return to the father’s grace is a feeling of love and relief. The Lord in this chapter describes the return to grace and the exile.

The last verse (v. 14) confused and shocked the children on the initial read, so I defined the meaning of “siege” and the background to the bad treatment of the king. A “siege” surrounds a city in order to bar any food or water to be brought into the city, and so weaken the city’s defenders. I asked what would have to happen for a king to be smacked in the face, and the students clearly described the state of the city. First, someone would have to reject any respect for the king. Second, the person would have to break into where the king was. Third, he would have to overcome any guards that the king had. In other words, the enemies would have to defeat the city, which would culminate in a humiliating strike against the people’s revered leader.

Going through the chapter in order more slowly, we began with the encouraging image of all the nations streaming to learn about the Lord’s ways (vv. 1-5). Just like the Lord’s holy temple in Jonah 2, the Lord’s dwelling sits high on Mount Zion. Once he has judged all the nations, he won’t allow any more wars: no Israel vs. Judah, no Assyria vs. Israel, no Babylon vs. Judah. Instead the people will turn their instruments of war into ones of farming.

Farming depends on the absence of war, as the children noted. A farmer cannot work his fields if he feels he could be attacked outside, one student said. Also, if a farmer could not count on several months without troops or marauders, working the field would not be worth it. Farming cannot take place during war.

We jumped ahead to the image of the labor and childbirth (vv. 9-10)—one of pain in the hope of new life. Though no one had ever seen a child be born, they all heard about the process from their mothers. In spite of the pain, though, every mother exclaimed how happy they were when they fell in love with their new child, a new life. The city Jerusalem on Mount Zion is like a mother, and its people are like its children. Zion, therefore, would be in great pain before it “gave birth” to its people. For the children’s mothers, the payoff in the end made the pain worth it. In Zion, though, the “children” would be born only to go immediately into captivity. The pain following labor would be even more painful—the pain of having one’s child taken away.

The painful image of the people in captivity (vv. 10-11) resolved immediately after in victory (vv. 12-13). As soon as the people are in captivity, the Lord prepares to save them. Lest the nations think that they defeated Zion by their own means, the remnant that comes out of captivity will, in turn, be the means of judging their enemies by threshing and stomping on them. Ironically, the nations come to judge Judah and Israel, and then the remnant of Judah and Israel judge the nations. The Lord will ultimately “reap” the benefits of this conflict as the remnant dedicates the spoil to him.

Then we return to this humiliating defeat against Israel’s king.

The original confusion arose because of the mix of peace and war. The initial image was of the Lord’s wisdom and teaching and a peaceful, pastoral life. Then came the depth of despair issuing from labor not with new life, but with captivity. Once the Lord saved Israel from the enemies he sent against them, he defeats the enemies at the hand of Israel. At the present, though, Israel is experiencing humiliating defeat. Ultimately, we cannot expect peace without judgment, or judgment without peace.