Monday, March 05, 2018

Sojourners and Citizens

Not everything about sojourning is to the sojourner’s taste. That’s part and parcel of being on the road. As someone with no vested interests in the society around you — as someone just passing through — you have to kind of accept the way the locals live and occasionally look the other way, even if what they do is more than a little cringeworthy at times. When in Rome and all that …

In the Bible, sojourners were more refugees than tourists. Like Naomi or Jacob and his family, they were where they were because their own nation was experiencing famine, drought or invasion. Or, like David, Moses, Jacob (again) or Joseph and Mary, they were on the run because their king, their own people or even their family members would have been happy to see them dead.

The Christian, too, is far from home. All believers are.

There Is No Abiding

David, who had sojourned more than once, nailed it perfectly when he said, “We are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.”

If devout Israelites living in splendor in their own land during the greatest period in its history could self-identify as homeless wanderers, then maybe we can identify just a little with the psalmist who complains:
“Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech,
  that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!”
This particular psalmist is out of sorts. He’s tired of liars and their lies. Spiritually speaking, Meshech and Kedar were not fun places to live.

Bad Seed of the Patriarchy

They were also people groups with a fair bit in common. Both Meshech and Kedar were grandchildren of patriarchs with whom God had significant personal dealings, Noah and Abraham respectively. Meshech was a Japhethite whose people populated modern day of Armenia and far to its north, maybe all the way to Russia and beyond; Kedar was a Semite, a forefather of the “people of the east”.

Neither ethnic group sounds particularly winsome or appealing, at least not in the days of the prophets. They were probably the black sheep of their respective families. Meshech’s descendants were hard men, miners and people of the sword, who traded slaves and bronze to Tyre for its merchandise. As Ezekiel aptly puts it, “They spread their terror in the land of the living. And they do not lie with the mighty … whose iniquities are upon their bones.”

Woe Is Me

The sons of Kedar were not exactly sweethearts either. Kedar’s descendants were nomadic, known for their dark tents and flocks of sheep and goats. When they headed into new territory, they were probably as welcome as the 12 million Romani wandering through Europe, which is to say not very welcome at all. Isaiah also implies Kedar was an ally of the Babylonians, defeated with them by the Medes and Persians. Not good company to be keeping. Jeremiah complains that his people “have changed their glory for that which does not profit,” compounding the insult by pointing out that even the people of Kedar would never have heard of such a thing. There’s a backhanded compliment for you!

In short, it’s highly likely the psalmist was not complaining unreasonably about sojourning in either Meshech or Kedar. “Woe is me” sounds about right.

Meshech and Kedar in Prophecy

Another thing Meshech and Kedar have in common is that they are both subjects of prophecy; often in the very same chapters, and generally not in a good way. Gog (he of Magog fame), is associated with Meshech’s descendants. He is “the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal”, who will treacherously attack Israel during the coming Tribulation period when God’s covenant people are dwelling in peace and safety. Meshech will be utterly destroyed by pestilence, torrential rains, hailstones, fire and sulfur, so that God can show his greatness to the nations.

As for the children of the other patriarchal grandson, Isaiah prophesied: “Within a year, the glory of Kedar would come to an end,” and so it did. Isaiah says that as part of the natural service of defeated enemies, the sons of Kedar will bring tribute to Israel during the millennial reign of Christ, just like so many nations did during the reign of Solomon: “All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you.” This may or may not be to Kedar’s benefit, depending on the attitude they adopt to their new Monarch.

They Are For War

Enough history and futurity. Here’s something maybe you can relate to about living in “Meshech” or “Kedar”. The psalmist finishes with this:
“Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!”
The perennial burden of the believer in a faithless, self-interested, predatory and relentlessly aggressive world is that he simply does not fit in, no matter how hard he or she may try. If our hearts are truly in the process of being remade in the likeness of the Lord Jesus, we are bound to find ourselves emotionally at odds with our co-workers, neighbors and especially the power structures of the societies in which we live. How can we not? We are of a completely different disposition, and it goes right down to our spiritual genetics.

When Lot’s neighbors in Sodom besieged his door and found him unsympathetic to their expressions of sexual desire, this was their reaction:
“This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.”
Get that little bit at the end? It has a familiar ring to it. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that our Leftist neighbors and fellow-citizens seem to think they would be happier surrounded by third worlders with any religion, culture, and worldview AT ALL … than surrounded by those judgmental Christians.

Feeling Like An Alien

Note that Lot was not exactly judgmental. He simply drew the line at becoming personally involved in enabling homosexual rape. That’s a pretty low bar, actually, but it’s way too high for the Meshechs and Kedars of his day, or of ours. In their eyes, the slightest disinclination on your part to embrace and endorse depravity is enough to make you a “judge”, deserving of deplatforming, social ostracism, career loss and worse.

Why? Because at the root, today’s “Meshech and Kedar” hates peace. It loathes any worldview that presents even the slightest challenge to its self-image, and is ready to go to war over anything that threatens it.

If you sometimes feel like an alien here, it’s because you are.

If you don’t, maybe you’re not really a sojourner. Maybe you’re a citizen.

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