Ancient storytelling illuminates recurring patterns in the histories of humans when thinking about the never-ending struggle between the hierarchies they create and the people who serve them.
A transcription of a podcast episode by Rob Bell, Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer.
Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer
All right, my friends. Here we are. Another Robcast. This is Episode 282, and it’s called “Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer.” Oh, I know you love that title as much as I do. Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. So this is an episode, but let’s be honest here. It’s a sermon. And this sermon—this one might take a while, because here’s what I want to do. I want to show you how this moment that we’re living in—this great unmasking, this massive upheaval—I want to show you how it’s new, but it’s also not new. And I want to show you the ancient pattern that we’re actually living in. There’s history here, and it goes back thousands and thousands of years. So, I want to take you all over the Hebrew Scriptures. And I want to show you a couple of things that the storytellers are very keen to point out, because these are these are masterful storytellers. And we’ll start way, way, way back, thousands of years ago—3,000, 4,000—however many years ago. And then, at some point we’ll work our way to 2020. Yeah, because if you can spot the pattern, a whole world of things suddenly become really clear. So let me start in the book of First Kings chapter nine and it’s telling us all about King Solomon, and King Solomon. His rep is more like you know he was really wise and had sort of profound things to say. But the Storyteller here has a specific list of things King Solomon is doing, including building Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. Now, this is the kind of thing that you can just skip right through King Solomon’s building this, and he’s building that, and he’s building those things. He is also building Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. This is a classic kind of thing you just skip right over, if you’re even reading this thing at all. But I’m telling you, my friends. This is one of the major verses in the Bible.
First off, the fact that when people think about the Bible, they think about a book that’s very boring or a book that’s irrelevant, or it triggers because of all of the horrific things that have been done in the name of the Bible, or just the ways in which it has been approached that just didn’t seem to have anything to do with anything—this just makes me mental. In some ways, this is why I do what I do. When I think about it, I’m righting what I see as a grievous wrong. Even the fact that when I say Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer, I laugh and you laugh because you’re like, “What the… It just sounds like gibberish.” The fact that this wasn’t any time, anywhere, anybody got anywhere near the Bible. They didn’t go, “Oh, that verse right there: major, major moment. Not just a moment, then, but a moment now.” Not just that it happened, but that it happens. The fact that this isn’t the first way that people are taught this book. Anyway, but that’s what we’re doing right now—correct?—is we’re fixing that. We’re righting that wrong.
So, what are Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer, and why mention them? Because these ancient storytellers, they are very clever. They are very crafty and they never just include random details. There’s always something happening. The storyteller wants you to see something. Now, let’s back up because Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer are listed in a whole list of things that King Solomon is doing. So, let me just back up. First Kings, chapter nine, verse 15, for those of you keeping score at home. It reads like this.
“Here is the account of the forced labor King Solomon conscripted to build the Lord’s temple, his own palace, the terraces, the wall of Jerusalem”—King Solomon was building a wall—“and Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer.”
Now, let’s back up. When it says that he’s using forced labor that he had conscripted you know what that is: slaves. So King Solomon is using slave labor to build—and then, first thing—LORD’s temple. Now the word LORD there is all capitals. Capital L, capital O, capital R, capital D. When you see that written in English, that’s an English attempt to translate a Hebrew word YHWH. And YHWH means the divine—essentially, “the divine delivers” or “the divine saves.” So that’s the name given to the divine when these Hebrew slaves were slaves in Egypt, and YHWH rescued them and liberated them and brought them out into the wilderness. So King Solomon’s ancestors had been slaves in Egypt. They are liberated by YHWH, and now King Solomon is building a temple to honor this God. Using slave labor, he’s building a temple to honor the God who rescues people from slavery using slave labor. That’s only a few first words of the sentence. He’s building this temple, he’s building his own palace, the terraces—which means massive gardens—he’s building a wall of Jerusalem—so think fortification, think protection from enemies—and Hazor; he’s also building Megiddo, and Gezer.
Then it says, he’s also buildings—skip down to verse 19—“as well as his store cities, and the towns for his chariots and his horses.” Now, a bit more detail is given next chapter, chapter 10. It says that Solomon accumulated chariots and horses. “He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones and cedar as plentiful as sycamore fig trees in the foothills. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt, and from Que. The royal merchants purchased them from Que at the current price.” So we get this weird detail about how the horses were purchased at a particular price. They imported a chariot from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver—and you all know how much that is—and a horse for 150. They also exported these chariots and horses to all the kings of the Hittites and of the Arameans, which basically means the neighboring nations.
Good God! What’s happening here? Solomon’s building a wall around his city. He’s building Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. And then he’s accumulating chariots and horses. Now the numbers here, 1,400 chariots, 12,000 horses. He’s making silver common. And then, he’s importing a chariot from Egypt, and horses from Egypt, and then he’s exporting these chariots and horses to the surrounding nations.
Now, this is all coded language, in essence. But what’s a chariot? What’s a horse? Yeah, weaponry. Weaponry. The chariot was the tank of the ancient world. Horse and chariot was the F14 of the ancient world, the drone—yeah—the tear gas, the rocket launcher, the aircraft carrier. He’s importing and he’s exporting them. What do we call somebody who imports and exports weaponry? Yeah, it’s an arms dealer. The storyteller wants you to know that Solomon has slaves who are building him a temple and a palace. He’s building Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer, and he’s accumulating massive amounts of weaponry as he builds a wall around his city. He’s become a very profitable arms dealer. “He made silver common in Jerusalem as stones,” is how the verse here says, “and he’s also building Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. You know what Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer were? Military bases. Yeah, military bases. Yeah, Megiddo had been around for 5,000 years as a strategic military base. Guess what nation had, at one point, operated Megiddo as a military base. Egypt. Yeah, because of its flank, how it protected part of the country from foreign invaders.
Yeah, so this is all coded language. This is all coded language. Here’s what I mean. Let me take you back to chapter nine after it says Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. It says (verse 16, chapter 9), “Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, had attacked and captured Gezer. He had set it on fire. He killed its Canaanite inhabitants”—this is a story that happened earlier—“and then gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter Solomon’s wife. And Solomon rebuilt Gezer.”
Wait. Solomon is marrying the daughter of the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, who has given a military base to his daughter as a wedding gift. That is a nice touch, as a father! Now, this is an ancient storyteller. What is the storyteller trying to do here? What kind of picture is the storyteller painting for you of Solomon? Because Solomon’s ancestors, not that many generations earlier, had been slaves in Egypt. And now they’ve made their way out of Egypt. They’ve made their way to Jerusalem. And now what is Solomon doing? He sounds a lot like Pharaoh.
Yeah, now this takes us back earlier to his people’s history in Egypt, because I want to show you why this coded language, where he keeps having these references to how he’s getting his horses and his chariots from Egypt. Why is this coded language? What is happening here? What is the ancient pattern that is unfolding here?
Now, there's a tiny, tiny, little detail we saw there in chapter 10 that he's building storehouses—partway through chapter 9—that he's also building store cities. Why is that significant? Notice Exodus chapter 1. And in a minute here we'll start to fill all this in and when you see this… Okay. Good God! I get worked up about this, because it's just… I want you to see these patterns. I keep saying that I want you to see how the thing that's happening now is actually ancient, and that there's all of this wisdom that then gives us clarity about the moment that we're in. Here's what I mean. Exodus chapter 1 is the story about how these Hebrews find themselves in Egypt and they find themselves enslaved. And this is a major moment because Exodus is about the liberation of these slaves. It's like the real people in a real place at a real time get liberation. That's how the storytellers always handled the story, but the story—the divine—is ultimately not a concept, is ultimately not like an idea that you argue about. The divine is liberation in space and time, which is what we all need. Right? Freedom. Yeah, rescue. Ever felt that? Yeah. And often in the ancient tradition they saw Exodus as the first book in the Bible, because it's the great moment. And then Genesis is like the prologue, the first book.
The Bible's like, “Well how did they end up there in slavery?”
“Well, to do that I’ve got to tell you the story. In the beginning…”
So Genesis was often seen as the prologue. It's like the warm up. It tells you the story that explains how they ended up in Egypt. So then you can understand the need for the rescue. But there's a small detail here that gets skipped over again and again.
Exodus chapter 1, verse 11: “So the Egyptians put slave masters over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Ramses as stores cities for Pharaoh.”
We’ll slow down there.
So it’s not just that they’re slaves in Egypt. What is the specific work that they are doing? The specific work they are doing in their oppression as slaves is building store cities, sometimes store cities gets translated “treasure cities.” What’s Pharaoh doing? Pharaoh’s building store cities, using forced labor.
But what’s a store city? Well, obviously it’s where you’re storing things. But what are you storing? Well, if you have to build cities just to store things, then you have more than enough. Yeah. Do you see that? Do you feel the ancient arc in the story? Yeah, somebody somewhere is stockpiling their wealth and abundance. Yeah, in Egypt, Pharaoh has his slaves buildings store cities. Yeah, there is a spiritual energy to stockpiling. You with me on that? Do you feel that? Do you feel that ancient pain? Yeah. What are these slaves doing they’re spending their days stacking their bricks to help somebody who has way more than enough stockpile their abundance, so that they can gain even more abundance, so that they can pile their wealth even higher.
What this does is create profound inequality. Somebody is having more and more and more and more and more while somebody else isn’t. Now, it’s important to understand that in the Hebrew understanding of things. The earth is a generative abundant place. So this is never a story about the inherent abundance of the earth. Here’s an example. If you ever read about a famine, or you see in the news there’s a famine—somebody somewhere isn’t getting enough food to eat—what we know is that the earth is fully capable of providing enough food for everybody. So abundance is always, always the mindset. And in the Hebrew consciousness, justice—oftentimes you hear the word justice, and you think well somebody you know getting caught for the thing they did, and being brought to justice. But justice in the Hebrew consciousness is always a much, much larger idea of there is plenty. Justice is a proper sharing and distribution of the world’s abundance.
So this person isn’t getting their case heard. Someone’s wronged them, and they’re not getting their case heard. Well then, they need justice. There has to be enough fairness. There has to be enough rule of law for them. This person doesn’t have enough food. This person isn’t being protected from somebody who is attacking them. Well, there must be an abundance of protection for them. Okay, so you can see how in Hebrew consciousness justice is always at the center of everything. What does God require of you? Justice. What does God want from you? A heart for justice. Why have people been given all of this abundance? To spread it around, to maintain justice. Yeah, justice. Justice. That’s the engine of the whole thing.
So what the storyteller is doing in Exodus is saying, not that there is lack, but that when somebody is stockpiling massive wealth and abundance, what they’re doing is they’re blocking the flow of abundance. They’re not taking part in the larger flow of proper sharing and distribution of the Earth’s abundance. Do you see how these are deep, ancient, spiritual patterns. And when the storyteller tells you about these slaves in Egypt who are building store houses in miserable bondage and oppression—essentially is saying, “Anytime you have massive structural stockpiling of wealth and abundance in such a way that it’s altering the very structures of society, you’re blocking the flow of justice and abundance, and somebody, somewhere is going to suffer. Now you see also the really subtle thing that’s happening here is, there is an energy that animates this stockpiling. But what this animating stockpiling energy does—which is often built on an understanding of lack: there isn’t enough. So I’ve got to hoard. There isn’t enough. So I have to keep storing it higher and higher and higher. By the way when you’re stuck in lack, then you can never have enough. When you’re in bondage to a scarcity mentality, then you can pack them away, because you’re scared you’re not going to have enough, but then you have to pack more away. Then you have to pack more away. And then you have to make even more money. And then you have to put that money away and then put even more money on top of it, because there’s never an end.
That scarcity is so greedy, it just takes and takes and takes. How much? How much? How many millions—Right?—before you can relax? Because you’re going to be okay, right? You can see that. You can see when somebody is stuck, when stuck in scarcity, because it’s an energetic spiritual posture of the heart and when you’re stuck in it there’s never enough.
But here’s the thing happening in Exodus. This stockpiling, this animating energy of scarcity that has to stockpile inevitably becomes structural. The spiritual energy of scarcity inevitably gets baked into whatever structures are being created. So what you see an Exodus is systemic. It’s not just one person who is oppressing or controlling or being brutal to another person. It’s not just one Egyptian slave driver, who’s beating one Hebrew who’s not producing their quota of bricks. It is an entire system of oppression that is robbing everybody involved of their humanity.
And so the storyteller here in Exodus isn’t just saying this particular Hebrew slave was having a difficult time and this particular Hebrew family over here was being oppressed. But what the storyteller is doing is placing this within a larger system. So whenever you see something that is systemic, ask yourself, “What is the animating energy here?” Because it’s probably going to be scarcity, fear. When you get to those roots, there’s only a few of them. Greed, violence. Revenge at some level, but that usually comes from some form of fear.
Yeah, yeah. So you can see when you begin to hear people will use words like “systemic,” you always want to go to, “What is the animating energy? What’s the energy behind the energy? What’s the cause behind the cause? What’s the thing behind the thing?”
Yeah. So, Solomon’s people, his ancestors had been slaves in Egypt, they’re liberated from their slavery, and the storyteller here, then, back in I Kings, wants you to know that Solomon is marrying the new Pharaoh’s daughter. He’s building store cities. He’s building military bases at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. He’s building a wall to fortify his city. He’s importing horses and chariots from Egypt. Solomon has forgotten where his people have come from. He’s forgotten the story of his people, and he is now the new Pharaoh.
It would be like a—try to imagine. I don’t know. This is just a crazy example. Imagine if there was a nation of immigrants that had developed anti-immigrant—yes, you’re with me there. I don’t have to finish that sentence. Right? Yeah. Yeah. Imagine if there was a nation that was formed in an effort to find freedom from oppression, that was then creating oppression for those in their midst. Yeah. Yeah. If you forget your story this is where it goes. This is always where it goes in empire is if you take the surplus and you take the abundance and you take the wealth and you don’t spread it around and distribute it to those who are the most vulnerable, then you’re going to start using all of your energy and wealth to protect your surplus. And that inevitably leads to Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. You either use all the good fortune that has come your way to take care of the most vulnerable. Or you start using your resources to protect your bounty. And that will inevitably create inequality, exactly like it does in Exodus. Some will have more and more and more, and others will have less and less and less, and the ones who have less and less will become bitter, because they will see others who have more and more, and more, and you will eventually have upheaval of some sort.
Now, notice, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, now Deuteronomy has a whole bunch of passages. As these slaves are leaving Egypt… They leave Egypt. They’re in the wilderness. And then there are all these warnings in Deuteronomy about, “Be careful when you make it to the land you’re headed to. Be careful when you are no longer wandering slaves, but you actually have your own nation, and you build a nation. Pay very careful attention to what you do when you build and reorder a new world for yourself. You see where this is headed. So, notice some of these warnings, because when you read these warnings, and then you see what the storyteller tells you about Solomon. Oh! Here’s what I mean.
Deuteronomy 17. “When you enter the land, the Lord your God has given you—you’ve taken possession of it and settled it—and you say, ‘Let’s set us a king over us. Let’s put a king over us like all the nations around us.’ Be sure to put a king from your own people.” So notice this: Deuteronomy chapter 17, “Here’s the thing. The king that you appoint someday when you’re no longer wandering slaves in the wilderness, when you have your own nation—here’s the thing. The king must not acquire a great number of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them. For the Lord has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’”
How’s that for a line? You’ve just been liberated from the oppression of Egypt. You are not to go back that way again. You have been on the receiving end of horrific violence at the hand of empire. So when you get a king in your new land, and you reorder yourselves, not like Egypt—here’s the first thing—whatever you do, do not go get horses from Egypt.
Yeah. Do not become obsessed with weaponry and protecting, because all you’re going to end up doing is building a new Egypt, or notice this one. Oh, well, it just keeps going. That king must not take many wives or his heart will be led astray, he must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. But what’s the first thing we know about Solomon he has tons of wives, he’s just been given a military base as a wedding gift by his bride’s father, who is the king of Egypt. What is he doing? He’s accumulating wives because these wives are strategic military relationships. Everything has become about protecting his surplus. Then it says he must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. What’s the thing that we saw in I Kings? That he had made silver as common in the city of Jerusalem as stones.
Now, notice also Deuteronomy. “When you find yourself in this new land appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the Lord your God has given you and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality.” So as central to this new world. You cannot have people with wealth, having their hands on the levers of justice, it has to be fair for everyone, do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone so that you may live and possess the land.
Oh my goodness. So massive when you make this connection. Notice how the warnings are a connection between becoming over-militarized—too many weapons—and justice, and the relationship between money and justice. You have to have it be fair for everybody in every way.
So again and again in Deuteronomy, there are all of these very clear warnings. Yeah, yeah. Be really, really careful that those who develop the wealth and surplus don’t have the system tilted in their favor. Because if that happens… Well, and I would even argue that Deuteronomy is written in exile, so I would argue, what happens after Solomon is basically the whole thing falls apart. I’m going to totally do a spoiler right here. But, well we have already done that in a couple of earlier episodes in Isaiah with the idea of exile. But Solomon… Essentially the Empire collapses and everybody’s hauled away into exile, and it’s in exile that they edit together the Hebrew Scriptures. So you can see… I mean this is like serious 4D underwater chess right here. You can see how the storyteller, in Deuteronomy, with the way it’s edited in exile, they go back to their ancient texts and have all these passages about the warnings because the warnings all came true. Solomon did everything that they were warned for the king not to do. But if your system of justice and laws gets money—“bribes and gifts” is the phrase. Isaiah mentions the same thing. If it gets perverted by money, then you are in danger of the whole thing collapsing.
Nations and Empires
It would be like if there was a nation that had massive tax cuts in 2017, that 81 or 82% of the population were against, but those tax cuts favored wealthy individuals and corporations and so they were passed even though the majority of the citizens were against those tax cuts. Can you imagine a nation like that? And can you imagine the reason why politicians brazenly passed the legislation for those tax cuts is because in that same country, wealthy individuals and corporations could give money to those politicians to give them those tax breaks. Yeah, so imagine if there was a Vice President of that nation in 2017 on television being asked, “Most Americans over 80% are against these tax cuts. Why are you doing them?” And the vice president had nothing to say. This is what happens when money and justice—essentially it’s modern bribes—get a hold of this thing. Or imagine if the number one donors to the campaigns of people running to be prosecutor or police unions in that same country—yeah, the very people who would prosecute police for acts of force and brutality. The people who would prosecute those police officers, receive massive donations from those police officers unions to fund their campaigns. Yeah. Imagine a system like that. Well, it might work, or appear to work, for a little bit. But then it might actually begin to fall apart. And then you would have serious upheaval if more and more people saw this. You know, we’re… just a bit of conjecture there. But you see how these ancient warnings, and these ancient patterns, they’re all alive and well.
Notice, Deuteronomy chapter 10 has this great line, which just this week started to sort of explode for me. In Deuteronomy, it talks about to the LORD your God, the God who liberates from slavery—once again the storytellers are massively clever here—to the LORD your God belong the heavens even the highest heavens the earth and everything in it. Once again, this idea of everything taking place within an abundant universe. So when you read that sort of God, it sounds like old language, it sounds like it… Just hang with it, because what it’s saying is an understanding of a generative abundant world undergirds everything you’re doing. If you fall into scarcity, it doesn’t. That’s not the route to go. And scarcity leads you to stockpile, always leads to oppression. It’s abundance. It’s abundance.
“For to the LORD, your God, belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth, and everything in it.”
And then it has this great line here. “This God defends the cause”—this is the God who rescues from slavery—“this God defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” Do you see how the link here, it always goes to economics and justice? It goes from, you know, greatness. It’s literally because that’s an ancient way… “The heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth…” It can sound sort of… What’s that talking about? Here’s what it’s talking about. You want to know what greatnesses is? Do you want to know how a properly organized society works? Do you want to know where greatness is found? Greatness is found in defending the cause of the fatherless, the people who have no rights—the widow and the ones who are all alone—and loves… (You want to know real greatness?) …loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners. For you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear of the LORD your God, and serve Him, because your ancestors… Well, he performed for you all these great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your ancestors who went down to Egypt were 70 and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky. So, you want to know greatness? Greatness is not forgetting where you came from. You have greatness is remembering the liberation that you have been a part of. But greatness is when your entire ordering of your world is bent towards caring for the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner among you. Yeah, because if you are welcoming to those who need it the most—you once needed it the most, and your God welcomed and rescued you. So you can see, again and again and again, the warning is always, “Make sure that the deepest tilt of your heart is always towards those who are most vulnerable, not towards heavily fortifying your surplus to protect it against those who are most vulnerable?”
Do you see the relationship here? Do you see how these ancient energies and questions and postures and paths are all still in play? What will you do with your abundance? Will your society be ordered around stockpiling or around sharing? Will it be ordered around more and more Hazors, Megiddos, and Gezers, or will it be ordered around the fatherless, the widow, and the immigrant among you?
The great warning here, and the warning that carries all the way through to exile, is excessive stockpiling of abundance and wealth creates a deep inequality which will inevitably lead to collapse and exile. Empires sometimes collapse from the outside, but they also can collapse from the inside.
Imagine if there was a nation—right now, 2020—that had 800 military bases around the world, and also had 500,000 homeless within its borders. Yeah, well, obviously, it’s not sustainable. It’s not sustainable. When there are billions of dollars to build more and more Hazors, Megiddos, and Gezers, and there isn’t the will to help, and structurally reform, how we could have half a million homeless people, that’s not sustainable. And that sort of world will collapse from within, if nothing less. If you have a growing gap between those who have and have more and more and more, and those who don’t have, well then, you’re going to have to spend.
And here, let’s bring this into 2020. If you have a select few who are stockpiling to such a degree that wealth is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer and fewer people while more and more people are struggling for basic housing, education, health care; if you don’t address that growing gap, then what you’re going to have to do is spend more and more money protecting those who have stockpiled from those who don’t have enough, because, inevitably, those who’ve been left out, they will cry. If their cry is not heard, they will cry louder. Then they will get angry. And then they may want some of that surplus.
Yeah, so if that’s happening, and then you put people in the midst of that gap, whose job is to protect, the question is, “Who are they protecting from what?”
Now, let me just add a disclaimer right here. Somebody breaks into your house, you need to have somebody to call. We’ll get to this in a second. Somebody is physically assaulting you, you need to have somebody to call. We’re not talking about basic defense of houses and cars and stuff. We’re not talking about security systems. We’re not talking about a business having a security camera. None of this okay. So, obvious disclaimer, right? You’re with me? Because we’re talking about deep spiritual energies here.
Oh, say can you see?
But if you have a world in which more and more and more people have less—can’t get access to the basics—while there’s a growing small group of people who have more and more and more, and then you put somebody in that system to protect the ones of the surplus, and then you give them guns, and then in 1997, you pass an act where local police departments begin receiving surplus military gear, including tear gas, grenades, and, sometimes, tanks, when you begin using the weapons of war, that traditionally—we’ll get to that some other episode…When you begin giving, traditionally, the weapons of war, which were meant to defend and go to war with other nations—when you hand those to police officers who are designed to protect people, but now have weapons that are used to harm people, how is that not going to be a very, very bad thing? And then when you have cities like the city of Los Angeles, where for years now, the police budget dwarfs all of the other budgets for housing, health and human services combined. Yes, of course, you have to spend more. You have to build more Hazors, Megiddos, and Gezers. You have to militarize. Yeah, so can you see?
It might be a society like this would become obsessed with inheritance of wealth as a common and obvious birthright, born of proud heritage.
While any suggestion of inheritance of responsibility would be an offensive reminder of divisive irrelevances from the unreachable past.
Okay, here’s the thing. Can you see how you can ban chokeholds, but if you don’t restructure the whole thing, you’ll just continue to have brutality? You see that? Do you see how you can spend tens of millions of dollars on police reform? Which has been done, and the data shows it makes almost no change. You can have people go to sensitivity training, bias training, even body cameras. What we now know, my friends, from the data is that police reform and the money spent on that isn’t a good use of money. We have the data. Why? Because there’s a larger structural issue here. Do you see that? And if you don’t deal with the larger structural issue, then the pattern will just keep repeating.
Yeah. If you don’t come at it from some different way… so if you continue to complain about looting and pointing out how horrible looting is without asking the question, “How did this system create people who loot?” If you don’t get to the structural causes, then you’ll just stay stuck in the same old loop.
If when you’re the Democratic soon to be nominee for President, and you’re asked about defunding the police, and you say, “No, I’m just going to give them more money for reforms,” but we know that those reforms don’t work, what you’re doing is enabling a broken system to continue to be a broken system. That’s why, when you go back to Exodus, the storyteller wants you to see, it’s structural. You have to go way, way, way back. You have to go back to some of the first police departments in America that we’re used to protect white people and their surplus. You’ve got to go all the way back, and you’ve got to get to the core way in which the structure is off. It’s broken. And you’ve got to address it. You don’t just reform. You’ve got to go back and reframe what we even mean.
Here’s an example. And I’m sure you’re familiar with Camden, New Jersey, right? A couple different friends this week, I was like, “You know about Camden, New Jersey, right?” They’re like, “Yeah, of course. Doesn’t everybody?”
Camden, New Jersey. The police department had become so corrupt that a number of years ago, they disbanded their police department. Yeah, they just disbanded it. And essentially, started over. And I’ll just give you just a brief summary here. And please, please go pause right now and go read about Camden, New Jersey, because it was considered one of the most dangerous cities in America.
The police department had become so corrupt, it’s so broken, they disbanded and started over and rethought what they meant, even by policing. You can reform, or you can reframe what you even mean by policing, because if you keep the same old gap—these people are protecting these people who are stockpiling from these people who don’t have enough—well, you’ll never get anywhere.
So one of the things they did is they had essentially rethought what what they even mean by policing. What does it mean for us to police ourselves? When they did bring in police officers, first off, they attracted a very different kind of person to be a police officer. One of the first things the police would do is if you were going to be over a neighborhood, helping protect the neighborhood, you then had to go door to door in that neighborhood and meet everybody and ask them what they need and how you can help. So instead of an adversarial relationship it became partners together to keep this place safe. Yeah. And if you go into the Camden story, we’re like, “Whoa!” Because what’s happened is you have all sorts of new data about different ways for us to keep ourselves [safe]—basic safety and policing—without entering in to the ancient pattern of these people protecting their stockpile, and these people over here with less and less until I don’t even have enough to get by.
Yeah, there’s so much! Many other places to go with this. A couple things here, then, for each of us, then. What to watch for. One question that often helps me is to say, when I see an issue, “Should we keep this system or should we build a better one?” So go all the way back. See if you can trace it, whatever the issue is. Ask yourself, “Is this system even working? What do we know? What does the data say? Should we keep the system, or build a better one? And when you hear people pontificating, ask yourself, “Does this keeps the system intact? Or does it contain, within itself, the seeds of imagination to build a much better system in which justice flows for all?
Because what the storyteller is doing here with Solomon, and with Egypt, and with the constant loop back between Solomon and Egypt is to keep saying this is a system. It’s structural.
Stimulus, Interpretation, Response
Now, a couple things to wrap this up, just to lay on this plane.
Maybe for some of you you’re like, why haven’t I heard this reading of the Bible. Yeah, why don’t people talk about this when they talk about the Bible? I know. Well now you can see why I do what I do. But you can see why. Right?
Right? If you’re a citizen of an empire, that’s 4% of the world’s population, but it has over 40% of its weapons; if you are a citizen of an empire in which the flag and the cross have been interwoven; if you are a citizen of an empire in which the President of the United States has protesters tear gassed, so he can stand in front of a church, and hold a Bible. If that isn’t empire in its corrosive fullness, building a wall, exerting its military power. Good God!
Yeah, of course. In those settings, you’re not going to hear much, because if you actually were to read that book. It would be a critique of the very thing that it’s being used to promote. Yeah, yeah. You’ve got to neuter it.
This is why for a lot of people, the Bible, what the only way they heard the Bible was predictions about how the world’s going to end. Yeah, because otherwise you have to read it for what it is: a vision of how the world is to be ordered.
Now, structures of wealth and power and abundance—you tilt them in favor of the weak, the vulnerable, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner among you. Yeah, yeah. You build a safety net. That’s what you do. You build a safety net for everybody who’s in trouble, for everybody who’s vulnerable—by the way right now, obviously, we see all this data, but you look at all of the countries where people are doing well. It’s always countries with a strong safety net, where just basics like health care and education and such things, like those are all just, like, “Yeah, of course, we’ll take care of that.”
Nothing New Under the Sun
Yeah. Yeah. When you look at the countries that are thriving they’re always countries that have bent everything towards making sure that justice flows to everybody. Yeah, of course. Of course, of course. There’s actually not much that’s new about all this.
Okay. There’s so much more here. We’re just scratching the surface, but I gotta do one more thing here at the end. You ready for this my friends? I left this to the end. Because when I first came across this 15 years ago I was like, “What?!”
Oh, my word! You ready for this? This episode is called Hazor, Migeddo, and Gezer. Let me focus on that middle word Megiddo, because these are three military bases that Solomon was building and fortifying. They’ve essentially been military bases. He was just rebuilding them, expanding them.
“Megiddo”, “magiddo”, “amegiddo”, “ah-meh-gid-don”, “ah-me-ged-don”. You with me on this? Do you know what the Greek word or way that you pronounce Megiddo in Greek?
Ever heard that word? Yeah, Armageddon is just a translation of the word Megiddo. So when you’ve heard about, “Oh man! It felt like Armageddon.” “It was Armageddon time.” “Is this Armageddon, the final battle?” Yeah. That’s Megiddo. Yeah, I’ve been there. I climbed up on a mountain above it and looked down on it. It’s a place. Right now, it’s a burial mound in present day Israel. Yeah, it exists. Yeah.
So in the book of Revelation, Armageddon, in this sort of apocalyptic poetry, is the site of a great sort of epic final battle or conflict. Yeah, well, of course. Of course. Because what was Megiddo originally? A military base. What’s a military base? It’s a place where you store weapons. Why do you store weapons? Because you’re protecting something. What are you protecting? Your surplus, your abundance, your wealth. Who are you protecting it from? Somebody who doesn’t have it, and wants it, and probably somebody who has less? Yeah. Well, why don’t they have enough?
Well if you begin with generosity and abundance and a generative Earth, if somebody is trying to get your wealth, there’s a good chance they don’t have any. And if there’s a good chance they don’t have any, it’s because of some system. Yeah, so we can talk about hard work, we can talk about discipline, we can talk about people being motivated. Yes. Very, very important. But at some level, systemically, it’s probably because somebody has been stockpiling at the expense of someone else. They have been blocking the flow of generosity. And so what’s fascinating in the book of Revelation is this great conflict, this great battle happens at Megiddo, Armageddon. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And what are we seeing now? What are we seeing now in our world? See, it’s not, in the ancient Hebrew prophetic tradition—it wasn’t, first and foremost, about that it happened, but about that it happens. It was as much about the event as it was about the ongoing truth of the event.
So what are we seeing right now in our world? Great conflict and upheaval. What is it about? The protection—yeah—the militarized, weaponized protection of wealth and abundance and surplus from those who don’t have enough. Yeah, it will always lead to collapse of some sort, conflict of some sort, upheaval of some sort—yeah—violence.
Yeah, of course. Of course. There’s looting, and then there’s asking questions about what kind of system created people who loot. Yeah. Yes, the invitation for us. The invitation is for us to see all this in structural, systemic terms, to not fall for the easy performative gesture or solution that makes everybody feel all warm inside, but to ask, “No no no no no no! We gotta go deeper. We gotta go deeper.” Because we might do this thing there by saying, “Oh, this is the thing to do. That will make everything better.” But it might just be a surface swap. It might just be cosmetic. What we’re learning to do is see these ancient patterns, to go, “Wait, does it actually get to the core destructive impulse, the animating energy that actually created this entire structure? And if you don’t get to that, then you end up just looping around and around and around and around.
Yeah. Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. You just keep building military bases and fortifications. More and more and more money goes to protecting instead of asking, “Why are we needing so much money to protect ourselves? What is it about this system that has us so terrified? We have to spend another billion to protect ourselves from who? Why?”
“What are the conditions of their lives? What do they need? What needs aren’t being met? What antagonism is that producing and how can we address that?”
Because you address that, and now, you’re actually building a better world.
So there you are my friends. There’s a sermon called Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. I hope this opens you up to new ways of thinking. I hope this helps you see the depth, the thing behind the thing. I hope this helps you get more keen and sharp and you’re thinking about systems and structures, and most importantly I hope this helps you see possibilities.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, there, there could be a whole new reworking of how we see everything that’s happened before. And is it time for this to happen. Again it will require a great courage. It will involve all sorts of disorientation and upheaval, and it will require an embrace of imagination that things could actually be arranged in a much, much better way in which there actually was justice for all.
That’s the vision of the prophets. That’s my hope for us, and I’m sure that’s your hope as well. And now more than ever, my friends, grace and peace.