Acts 9:1-5 XLP

Here is an excerpt from my devotional journey through the book of Acts that looks at Paul’s conversion, if we can call it that. Everything in the XLP (Crucified Life Paraphrase) is designed to explore the themes of the crucified life from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 and all parts in between. Related content and explanations can be found on the next page and other posts below:

Meanwhile, as Philip is being blown to wherever the Spirit goes, Saul was still in a state of bellowing out murderous threats to the learners of the Lord Jesus. Saul had gone to the high priest and requested personal letters from him detailing his desire to stamp out this Jewish uprising. These orders gave Saul the authority to seize whoever he found engaged in The Way at the synagogues. He would need these in Damascus, in order to put people into chains and bring them back to Jerusalem for judgment.

Damascus was a long journey, 14 days on foot. This gave Saul plenty of time to meditate on the Scriptures. As was the custom, the heavenly visions were primary portions of these scrolls many meditated on. It just so happened that on this last day before arriving at Damascus, Saul had chosen to meditate upon Ezekiel’s opening vision. Having every word memorized, as he did with every one of these visions and most of the Bible in general, Saul carefully set his heart to explore the imagery, line by line.

Ezekiel’s vision was a classic crescendo to the earlier visions of God from His mountain top location. Heaven and earth overlap at these high places. These overlapping locations in the Scriptures afforded the wise disciple the opportunity to approach God and perhaps even hear The Voice.

It was not uncommon to meditate on Jacob’s journey and the God of Bethel calling to him from the ziggurat stairs. This was often followed up with Mount Sinai’s appearings of God such has His feet seen on sapphire pavement. Moreover, the later songs reflected on God’s heavenly throne and dwelling place throughout the psalms. The prophets also had this body of writings before them to further elaborate upon regarding the YHVH’s Day. Saul had saved such an example, Ezekiel’s vision filled with Mount Sinai imagery, for last.

After all, Ezekiel was the prophet that made it clear that Eden was a garden mountain. This realization which came after Genesis had been translated into Greek had many, including Saul, wondering about the correct way of understanding the part in Genesis where God walks in the cool breeze of the day. Everyone knew that this was not a literal translation; rather it literally said that God walks in the Spirit of the Day. The big debate in some circles had been how God’s Breath can be like a wind spiriting all through this mountaintop garden? In other words, what does it mean for God’s Breath to blow through any tree, even the forbidden tree? How can all trees be alike to Him?

Saul’s earlier meditations had brought him to contemplate the burning bush on Mount Sinai. Its flames burned, but the bush did not. It had him recalling lines from Isaiah that said, “A bruised reed He will not break off… steady faith flows into justice.”  The Seneh bush of Exodus was a little testimony to that, so it was hard not to go there. God is glorious regardless of the thorns. No bush – or tree – changes how God reveals Himself. In fact, even with the weakest of things – or in case of the bush, the most flammable of things – He still can be Himself without destroying the vessel.

It was commonly thought that the Seneh bush was a little thorn tree such as an Acacia. Trees, mountains, God speaking, and even altars were all related traceable themes in the Scriptures. Saul set that debate aside as his heart turned to ruminate over the lines of Ezekiel’s opening vision. Yet, since his little revelation of God’s glory displayed in weak and potentially flammable things, he could not get the last look of Stephen’s face out of his mind, “receive my breath…do not hold this sin against them.” Since maintaining God’s honor by having him killed by the community, Saul had seen the same look on the other Jewish rebels he had squelched. “…a smoldering candle wick, He will not squelch…”

“God’s honor had to be maintained! I can only meditate on the honor God shall bestow me when I see Him face to face. The rebels who maintain Jesus is the Jewish Messiah must be snuffed out for our religion to survive and remain pure in the hardworking hands of the elders. How is it that Jesus can be the sacrifice that ends all sacrifices? It is absurd,” Saul mused as Isaiah’s voice unexpectedly echoed in the back of his mind, “Behold My Servant… I have put My Breath upon Him… I give You as a Covenant for the people…”

Saul was conflicted deep down. Cracks of Another Truth seemed to find gaps in his determined heart. It was not normal to forgive those who ended your life. Stephen, and those who followed, did not fit the standard infidel scheme of dying with pride and obvious stiff-necked resistance. Rather, it seemed that they loved to give their lives away for love of them… Saul could not go there in his contemplations. They made no sense. It did not fit the normal good and bad narrative.

With boiling zeal, Saul began to concoct the imagery to Ezekiel’s stormy vision that opened that scroll. The great cloud crackled in the amber-colored fire and lightning as he felt its north blast of heavenly breath shudder his heart. And from within the cloud something like four very alive things, creature crackling with the life of that same energized heavenly blaze, made themselves known as a man.

They came out in four directions with a human appearance that further came out in four directions with four faces. Every Jew recognized this four-faced presentation as speaking to how God came to tabernacle in the midst of Israel. In the wilderness it was said, “You shall set the tribes of Israel facing off at each face of The Tent.” God had married Israel at Mount Sinai, then they exchanged vows under the bowed down heavens. Now, just as Eve was made to be the helpmeet and complement to Adam, all the tribes were to keep that same complementary form relative to each of the four facades of The Tent where God dwelled. Three tribes faced off each Tent façade to show their bridal faithfulness.

Our Jewish sages further noted how the marriage produced offspring by the four-directional flow of the seed promised to Jacob at Bethel. Saul had camped for two days on that vision when the first night went awry with pictures of the Roman cross. It was unsettling for him to see the cross as an altar relative to this flow. It was even more upsetting to see it as the way of the bride’s increase. Saul kept begging God to purify and cleanse his heart like David’s. No matter how hard he tried, meditating on God’s Word, it kept revealing cross-shaped pictures that pointed to seeing Jesus in the faces of these rebels promoting an incorrect practice. At the end of that second day, he had to force this mantra on to his heart and then move on, “The House of God, Bethel, flows by all the fruitfulness of Eden and the Promised Land when people keep facing God’s Tent head on. Face His glory… maintain His glory… die for His glory.”

Each of these cracking alive ones also had wings, because they belonged to heaven’s sky-realm. And they had these straight peg legs like calves that were nearly molten bronze. The sages had also spoken of this nearly molten bronze when Solomon inaugurated that first temple. So many sacrifices happened that day that there was no count. The sacrifice was valuable beyond count! And the bronze of the Great Altar was so hot that day of inauguration that is seemed to be nearing a molten state of new purity!

The four wings moved by the heavenly breath of the sky only in four directions. They matched the shape of Jacob’s seed flow at Bethel. They matched the encamped shape around The Tent in the wilderness. Beneath those wings, Saul pondered human hands. Just as the faithful Jew maintained four tassels at the corner of his robe, our lives are to keep the four-cornered shape walking in God’s ways. The four-corned shape are the four corners of The Tent, The Bronze Altar, and where ever we go into the four-corners of the land. What we do with our hands must be an outflow of that four-directional justice flowing out from God’s Dwelling Place. “Therein,” Saul reminded himself, “the wise disciple meditates.” As Saul went north, God’s honor shall be upheld by him in Damascus! He would make the rebels see this truth. When all people move in unison with the Written Torah from God’s hand to human hands; everything runs smoothly, no wings touch… “rebels beware!”

Each face of the crackling alive ones appealed to the tribal encampment around the Tent. Saul had gone round and round many times with his competition about whether the faces related to creation or Jacob’s prophetic blessing of each son, or even the tribal flags of the encampment. So many polarized to one or the other, but Paul kept maintaining all – that even a serpent biting the heel, as in Dan’s case, speaks to that Promised Seed of a woman, “I wait for Your Yeshua…” Disassociating himself from the fact that God’s salvation is spoken as the name of Jesus in Greek and Yeshua or Yehoshuah, or even Hoshea in Hebrew, Saul pressed on with his musings.  He would say, “For the seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head, it must come down from heaven like an eagle!”

The crackling alive ones moved only by heaven’s breath. There was no deviation from the four directional flow of Jacob’s promised fruitfulness. Like four walls of crackling light there was a deep inner glow as from live coals burning within. The only light allowed inside the place where no natural light happens in the Holy of Holies comes from the Bronze Altar. The only type of light allowed into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur comes from under the place of the Going Up Offering. Coals under the Going Up Offering were the hottest of the hottest, because this was needed to fully translate the flesh of the sacrifice into the smoke that reaches up into the heavens. The flesh offered on the Bronze Altar made a full translation into a form that rose to God’s true Home in the heavens. Thus, only its light qualified for passage beyond The Veil. As Saul ruminated in this light, the more aglow these coals appeared, the more active was the crackling display of life coming from these creatures.

Then Saul started meditating on the wheel in the land. That is what wheels do, they rut the ground. Yet, the sages have long noted this circle in the ground as what Elijah dug around his altar on Mount Carmel. Israel had lost their faith and followed other gods like Moses prophesied. Elijah’s circular trench was specifically designed for a volume of seed. The sages recognized that the living water poured over the exposed insides of the sacrifice on the altar was God’s recipe for renewing Israel’s living faith. Every seed needs water to suddenly sprout to life from a dead state. And the solution depicted was a solution of water mixed with the blood of the sacrifice. Israel had left their four-directional shape far behind, and this was God’s way of corralling them back into shape. For just as Elijah had carefully laid the wood on the altar, it would not be a surprise to learn that he tried to emulate Israel’s encampment shape to act as run ways for the water to restore the promised seed in the empty trench.

As the wheels of Ezekiel’s vision turned in his mind, even as rings bisecting rings to reinforce the four-directional flow of the sprouting seed of Jacob, his mind kept fluttering back to the same portion of Isaiah, “I will lead the blind in a way they do not know.” For the sages have long said that God’s way is like a seed cycle. Isaiah declares that God’s thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours, because they follow this seed path. The Greeks talk about their Logos, but the sages chuckle to themselves that they borrowed it from God. For out of God’s mouth goes His word like a seed that will complete its cycle and not remain void.

Part of Saul’s meditative regiment had already included a seed cycle image: the life of Moses from Mount Sinai to Mount Sinai. Moses started at the burning bush and then brought back all Israel to the same place. This call unto Presence was the sign God told him about. For everyone knew that Moses started as one sent from Mount Sinai. He left as a lone, seed-like figure going down to the Nile Delta to his death. For any exile returning to Egypt meant certain death. Seed’s need to die.

However, instead of Moses’ death God provided a firstling of the flock as he had for Isaac. The substitute provided the first death everyone could enter into before the second death came. And everyone knew that by the blood of the Passover sacrifice, the fruitfulness of the Eden-blessing spouted up and out of Egypt with Moses at the head leading the people. They left as one Son, even one Firstborn back to Mount Sinai. Thus, the wheel of Ezekiel turned a full circle in Saul’s heart.

There were many such circles going back to the beginning verses of the Bible. The wise disciple can see them in Jacob’s declaration of how he left his father alone with just a staff to face another father: the father of lies, Laban. In that decrease of one, God gave the four-directional promise of the Eden fruitfulness to him at Bethel. “Your seed bursts out this way!” Jacob did indeed return from Laban with increase. He plundered Laban as Israel would later plunder Egypt. Moreover, the plunder both involved lamb blood, since Rachel means ewe. Such touchpoints were parts of the meditative journey.

The further one went back to the beginning, the smaller the seed cycles were. Yet, each cycle had aspects within building up to the Mosaic seed cycle at Passover. God created seed-bearing trees. These seed-bearing trees are our food. Meditate therein like a tree planted by living water. “Each cycle grows in your heart to show God’s ways,” said Gamaliel. “But do not neglect the seed-cycle of Joseph, because you can see how God does His math of increase. Joseph tells you how YH adds – how He brings the Eden increase.”

Saul had pondered that cycle for months after hearing Gamaliel share this secret with him. He savored the moment of bringing it into this vision of Ezekiel, because of the bisecting wheels. Joseph’s cycle bisected Moses’ cycle at Passover. Joseph made Israel’s offspring, his seed, promise to take his bones with them when The Deliverer came to make exodus from Egypt. And with that promise secure, Joseph was buried in the ground like a seed – a mummy wrapped and swaddled tightly, then placed in a shell called a sarcophagus. When Israel came out, YHVH-increase came out: one’s death meant freedom from captivity for all.

“There is something there to how God’s Word does not remain void,” Gamaliel said. “The father sent Joseph to check up on his brothers’ welfare, and Joseph is permanently buried in the exact same spot where his brothers are faring well in Shechem. Following the cycles of Joseph in a pit and then up, in a dungeon and then seated at the righthand, I tell you my star pupil, that the Eden blessing in seed-like form rests within seeing Joseph in the proper light. This is why we talk about Messiah ben-Joseph. Oy, the Messiah may even come to us as a son of Joseph. Do not get carried away with the zealot’s idea of the conquering son of David, for even David gained his power in a similar fashion as Joseph did – not by taking what was rightfully his through use of force.”

Just as the wheels of Ezekiel saw all over like those of the watchers, Saul desired to behold the true way of the seed’s blessing in Israel. “Stay true to form, Israel. Keep to the ruts of correct doctrine and pure practice. Yes, that is the Pharisee’s orthodox creed, we are purists who stay away from sin!” The spiritual breath of the wheels and the cracking alive ones only make paths in the shape of Israel’s seed and wilderness encampment. This is the faithful marriage bond. And Saul was determined to remain faithful despite all the pleas of mercy he often imagined coming from the rebels.

Seeing the wheels this way pleased Saul’s religious heart. When the crackling alive ones moved, the wheels moved in tandem. For everything was interconnected at a higher order way that was not so visible from the human’s point of view on the ground. Saul had to go up to see the perspective of the wheels from heaven’s point of view. Saul desired to see the higher order of view that changed everything when looking down from the sky. This is when he moved forward into his mediations of the gem-like appearance of God’s expansive platform at heaven’s sky-dome. Whether the heavens were really a sky dome as the surround nations always maintained or not, there were subtle Bible hints that it was not, such as “the land hangs upon nothing” and the description of the land like a circle. It was true, the heavenly fixtures generally took on a circular shape. And Ezekiel’s view of the wheels seemed to corroborate this as depictive of God’s way. Yet, what could be seen from above looking back down? What view might these bisecting rings present?

The stormy roar of the wings belonging to the crackling alive ones prepared the wise disciple to hear The Voice of the Almighty amidst a might roar of a great army. (And may He be most blessed!) And in the stillness and silent calm the sages said you could hear The Voice, just like how Elijah re-learned in at mount Sinai too. When the roar of the wings ceased, that was the time for God’s Voice to be heard!

Saul was now in full hearing mode waiting for That Voice! In the silence, his heart dared contemplate the view of the bisecting wheels from above. There was that dread cross again! He tried to close its Voice off with visions of Israel, the True Bride keeping the same shaped around the Tent, but a Voice kept emerging! “The cross gives her the seed of increase.” He blocked it out again to stay faithful to the Throne of Heaven. His heart eyes rose to look upon the Throne situated on the deep blue hard light of the sky dome. And Saul saw the shape of a man seated upon the throne. This human was most glorious.

And then those human eyes focused on him!

And Saul immediately fell to the ground as He heard The Voice speak directly to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you hunt Me down to persecute Me to carry Me off in chains back to the Jerusalem?”

Saul replied in Greek, “Who are you, Kyrie?”  Saul wanted to keep “Lord” rather ambiguous, dare He say YHVH when asking of The One seated above the heavens Who He is.

Then The One replied, “I AM Yeshua – YHVH saves!”

“It is Me, Jesus,” He added in Greek.

“When you persecuted Stephen, you persecuted Me. When you put those of My body in prison. I AM with them when you are putting your YHVH into earthly chains. These are My Bride in faithful orientation, full of My Seed, not loving their lives to death.”

In a flash, the entire Testimony of The Torah, The Prophets, and The Writings became a singular vision of Messiah in cruciform reality living in people making exodus from spiritual Egypt. Saul had been one of the oppressive taskmasters. But now, it was as if the cobra crown giving him his authority had been blown off his head and he could clearly see One New Man exiting Passover’s bloody doorway. Just as Israel, My Son, My Firstborn was a many-membered nation born on that day, so was Jesus and His body born three days after his mentors had forced the Romans to hang Him on a cross.

Now everything was making sense as the vision from Ezekiel looked down onto Israel’s cruciform encampment. The whiling wheels, as bisecting rings, formed the same shape: the cross! He had seen the Higher Order view. Jesus was the life of the encampment. He was Messiah ben-Joseph within the midst, one dead, for crackling aliveness manifesting in all bodies of the body!

He was so blind! He had indeed been fighting His Own God! He really knew nothing as he thought he might never move again!

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