Now Ornan turned and saw the angel, and his four sons who were with him hid themselves, but Ornan continued threshing wheat. – 1 Chronicles 21:20 (NKJV)
Monday, December 15, 2014
Keep Calm and Flail On
That’s a questionable translation of the verse, but it makes me wonder if, when the Jebusites left Jerusalem, the descendants of Ornan might have ended up in Scotland with their blood still flowing in the veins of some of my kinfolk. It wasn’t like it was a less than awe-inspiring sight: And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. (v.16)
I think it is more likely that the “continued” doesn’t belong, and the chronicler was simply explaining what Ornan (not to be confused with Onan and his flailing) was doing on his threshing floor, as the old KJV implies. In any case, Ornan did not run and hide. Instead he went to David and offered him the ground, the threshing sledges for fuel, the oxen for a burnt offering, and the wheat for a grain offering. He recognized that this was holy ground.
Traditionally, we are told that this is the same spot where Abraham built an altar on which to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It is featured prominently in any modern picture of Jerusalem as it is near the Dome of the Rock mosque on the temple mount. The parallel passage is in 2 Samuel 24 where Ornan is called Araunah whose name means “Yahweh is firm.” God is our Rock. The temple would be built on something that would not sink or shift.
I may be sometimes as Ornan is depicted here: in the presence of the miraculous but so caught up in the mundane that it does not fully register. I admit that I am torn between admiring a man who would just keep on threshing wheat and thinking that he ought to have been more shaken up. I mean, there was a plague. Seventy thousand people had died already. Yes, that’s bad. I have wheat to thresh. Some kind of frighteningly glorious being shows up in mid-air with a sword stretched out over your head. That’s impressive. This wheat is not going to thresh itself.
In a way, I think we ought to be like that. Keep calm and flail on, because it isn’t about our emotions but our obedience. After all, it’s all around us. Everything they tell us in songs and sermons, it’s all true, and it’s all right here, right now. Christ is in us. We are transformed. Heaven is everywhere present. We are immersed in it. The whole world is on fire with presence of God. And it is good to let that presence overwhelm us on a regular basis. No one, though, can live like that every minute of every day.
More and more, I realize that the secret of Christianity is in plain sight. We hear it and read it all the time. Yet we continue to struggle, trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in our hearts and lives. There is no shortcut to finally hearing – if it is final. Our ultimately useless efforts are, paradoxically, essential to our enlightenment. Flail on.