In this section of the book, we begin exploring the Scriptures and prophetic application at the local level. Here we put to use the shared understanding we established by exploring the terms and concepts above down where the-rubber-meets-the-road or (more appropriately) where it all hits close-to-home.
The Carpenter’s House (…The Bible in One Hand…)
We have now established enough shared understanding to begin to explore prophecy in our community particularly. We are a church made up, in large part, of homeless people – the kind that sleep out on the pavement. By virtue of that fact, we can find some truly rich, Bible prophecy and the mysterious power of God for our lives and newfound vocation.
A Side Note
I do not mean to limit our prophecy strictly to stories we find in the Bible. Perhaps God will speak something else through you to his creation. I only know that his word to you, if it truly is his word, will not contradict his word in the Bible. As his word to you passes through you, that must be verified. But we have a wealth of dramatic scripts to stage within the Scriptures, and that is its own best verification and will demand that we have faith in God as we go about rehearsing and staging them.
We find a rich source of meaning and power at the intersection of our homelessness and the very biblical idea that God (in Jesus) is The Carpenter who is building The House of God. I think both we (as prophets) and the world at large stand to gain so much blessing by opening our imagination at exactly that point.
We are now also at precisely the point where we need to really analyze and discuss Scripture with much more depth. There will be a lot of complex issues in this discussion, but I will do my best to breeze over them and avoid getting bogged down. But I ask you to step up your participation as best you can, on the one hand, and keep in mind that there are more complexities here than I am dealing with on the other.
The image of God as The Carpenter is not one single compact story like we find in Joshua and the battle for Jericho. In fact some texts lend themselves to this image by implication rather than explication. Also, the image is scattered all through the Bible and intermingled with other images from time to time.
However, for our present discussion (and arguably for our entire purpose as a church made up largely of homeless people), I aim to keep close to a mere handful of texts that present God in this light and to limit many of the rich theological insights I might otherwise want to explore. That is a really complicated way of saying: Let’s keep this simple – as simple as we can.
The Bible as The Story of The Great Carpenter
There is a sense in which we can look at nearly the whole Bible as though it were the story of The Great Carpenter who builds his home. In the beginning, it is the Creator God building all of creation and thus making a home for his creatures. The human heart was supposed to be the most central part of the whole project – The House of God. God would live there.
Let us view the sin of the first man and his wife as if The House of God became a broken home in which the human evicted God. In so doing, God likewise evicted the humans from the Garden of Eden, and thus we all became homeless. This analysis is entirely symbolic, but later texts in the Bible help us to see the opening stories in this way (Heb. 3:4).
By the time we reach Genesis 11, the humans get in on the building program; they fancy themselves carpenters. They develop the technology to form bricks and go to constructing a tower (Gen. 11:3). This, ironically, is an act of rebellion. God is not happy about it and judges it by confusing the languages.
Every world empire since that time engages in essentially that same rebellion. And all the empires of world history rise only to fall, and eventually even the American empire will fall too. It is God’s prerogative to judge as he will.
Meanwhile, it is curious that “bricks” are associated with the building of empire, but if you notice in Exodus 1, the brickyard becomes the living quarters of God’s chosen people. It is the brickyard of empire that God frees them from as he unleashes Ten Judgments of anti-creation on the house of Egypt.
Bricks vs. Sons
Moving deeper into the Bible, we find that God quietly goes to work in the most ironic ways building The House of God all over again. Only God does not use bricks; he uses sons/stones. (It helps if you know that in the Hebrew language the words for “son” and “stone” rhyme with each other, and the Bible sometimes “makes a play on words” with this concept.) Therefore God’s Son, Jesus, is the “cornerstone that the builders rejected” (Ps. 118:10/Mark 12:10).
Over the course of Israel’s history, there arises a king who desires to build a house for God (II Sam. 7). He is a good king who loves God, but mistakenly fancies himself as a carpenter who could build The House of God. God reacts strangely to this desire. He honors the love of this king, but denies his request. In fact, he tells the king that he (God) will build a home for him (the king) instead. He goes on to say that the king’s son will build The House of God at some later date after the king has died.
Well that king eventually dies and passes his crown to one of his sons, alright, but we must recall that The House of God always was intended to be the human heart. But meanwhile the son of that king goes on to build a grand temple for God, and Israel assumes that this is the fulfillment of that prophecy …but it is not (Acts 7:48).
In fact, the people continue to sin against God for all they are worth. God eventually crushes his own chosen people because they do not really make their home with God. It is all a horrible and sad irony. And that temple gets leveled to the ground, the people are scattered abroad, and the whole thing looks suspiciously like God’s judgment on the tower of Genesis 11 or on Egypt in the Exodus. It was a grand building project, but no kind of home.
Later, during the time that Jesus of Nazareth comes to minister and prophesy to Israel, there is another king who arises and builds that temple all over again. He is a corrupt king (this time) who does not honor God, but he finds political advantage putting Israel to work building a new temple that would be far bigger, grander, and slathered in more gold that the first one even dreamed of being. Of course this bluffs the appearance of being godly, but really this king (and most of his subjects too in one way or another) only want to look good (pride).
In reality, they do not seek to host God in their hearts; rather they seek to use God to achieve political and financial power. It is a thin disguise and not the true image of God.
This is the stage upon which Jesus produces his PROPH-O-DRAMA. He shows up and puts the authorities on notice by going around healing people, feeding people, partying with people, and loving people – and occasionally preaching to them. And the people he ministers to – the ones who really relate to him favorably – are the poor and marginalized, (the homeless) people of his culture. And both in deed and in word (and by virtue of the love he brings to those marginalized people), Jesus puts the king and all the powers of empire on notice that they are under the judgment of God.
Then he has the audacity to go into that temple and drive out the money changers! This really upsets the king and his friends! But it is the PROPH-O-DRAMA that God wants from Jesus – who tells stories of a Master of a house who would come home and find that the servants had let it get in disarray! (Matt. 24:42-51).
Jesus then suffers greatly – to the point of shameful death – because of the PROPH-O-DRAMA – because he messes with the symbols his society holds dear but holds wrongly.
Bearing the Image of the Carpenter
Ironically, the charge the court brings against Jesus – the one that almost sticks – is that Jesus was heard to say that he would “tear down this house and build another in three days!” (Mark 14:58). Then they kill him at the place of shame, pain, and despair in their community – Golgotha. And as they do so, this prophet bears the image of that suffering God, and takes his place as the cornerstone in The House of God which is the church.
As it turns out, Jesus is The Son that God had promised to that good king long, long ago (Mark 12:35). Israel had not seen him coming. His confrontation with their sin, and especially the suffering and humiliation Jesus endures, throws them all off. But not us. Not the Church of this Messiah. No. We are The House of God he builds with sons instead of bricks.