When the heavens are brass?

by K.W. Leslie, 05 July

Deuteronomy 28.23.

Depending on whether a Christian grew up with the King James Version or the New International Version, we’re sometimes gonna talk about how sometimes “the heavens are brass,” or “the heavens are bronze.” No we don’t mean the sky’s looking kinda gold or yellowish, like a nice sunset or a looming dust cloud. We’re talking about when we talk to God… and we feel like we’re getting back nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Deuteronomy 28.23 KJV
And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron.

But the actual context of this verse isn’t even about prayer. It’s part of a curse Moses spelled out for the Hebrews who were about to enter their promised land: If you dismiss what the LORD tells you, and do evil instead, he’s gonna withdraw his blessings and things are gonna suck. Hard.

Deuteronomy 28.20-24 NLT
20 “The LORD himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me. 21 The LORD will afflict you with diseases until none of you are left in the land you are about to enter and occupy. 22 The LORD will strike you with wasting diseases, fever, and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, and with blight and mildew. These disasters will pursue you until you die. 23 The skies above will be as unyielding as bronze, and the earth beneath will be as hard as iron. 24 The LORD will change the rain that falls on your land into powder, and dust will pour down from the sky until you are destroyed.”

Sound familiar? Pandemics, climate change and freaky weather, massive drought? No? Well, this was a warning to Hebrews not Americans. But it wouldn’t hurt to shape up a little.

Anyway when Moses spoke of the “skies above will be as unyielding as bronze,” he meant a sky which produces no rain. In his day, the ancients believed the sky, or firmament, was a solid wall holding back the waters of heaven—but it was porous, so occasionally rain would get through. Well, a bronze shield isn’t porous… unless your opponents have iron arrowheads. But if you were hoping to dig wells in the ground, and get water thataway, guess what that’s gonna be like. Yep, iron.

So yeah, whenever you talk about not hearing back from God, do not make the mistake of saying, “Like when the bible says about heavens like brass.” The bible does refer to that, but it’s about literal drought, not a spiritual one.

Now if you wanna talk about unanswered prayer, the bible does actually have passages on the topic. Quote them. Not the “heavens are brass” part; this ain’t one of them. Capice?

Wait, is it because we’re sinning?

Yeah, I know. Sometimes we’re praying and praying and praying, and it feels like our prayers just aren’t making it to heaven. Just bouncing off the sky, like God’s turned it into a great big prayer-proof force field.

What we want is what Christians popularly call an “open heaven.” Where the skies aren’t a wall between our prayers and our God. We want him to hear us, talk to us, tell us everything’s gonna be okay, and pour out blessings like a fire hose full of beer milk and honey.

When Christians look up that “heavens are brass” scripture and find out it’s actually about curses for not following the LORD, you’re gonna find a lot of them immediately leap to the wrong conclusion: “Oh crap, the heavens are brass because I’m sinning!” They don’t realize the verse is about drought; they don’t realize the verse is directed to a people gone horribly wrong; they don’t realize a lot of things, because they’re not looking for historical context, but for a quick ’n dirty diagnosis of why their prayers don’t feel like they’re getting through to God.

And of course there are those Christians where it would never ever occur to them they’re sinning. But somebody musta sinned. Who? Well, other people. Our neighbors. Our country. All those sinners in New York and Hollywood, in the big cities, on the coasts, in Washington D.C., and every other scapegoat which popular Christian culture loves to denounce. They made baby Jesus cry, so they’re why God has stopped talking to even his faithful few.

Okay. Once again I remind you: The “heavens are brass” verse is about the curses which would fall upon the ancient Hebrews when they went apostate. Not about present-day Christians. You didn’t quit Jesus, didja? You didn’t denounce Christianity, stop going to church, stop praying, right? You didn’t got yourself cursed, right?

Nope, you’re Christian. And in your case, God doesn’t put up any shield to block prayers. True, there are instances where God doesn’t care to listen to certain people at certain times, like when we’re insincere or ask for inappropriate things. Or when we have no relationship with him, have no plan to start any such relationship, and only wanna tap him like a spoiled child asking Daddy for an allowance. But these problems are easily fixed: Repent. Stop doing ’em. Seek what God wants.

The whole “God isn’t listening ’cause you’re bad” theory is the very same sucky advice Job’s friends offered him:

Job 8.20 KJV
Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil doers…

Job was a good guy, and hadn’t done evil. Yet plenty of sloppy preachers give the same bad advice: “You musta sinned somehow, and God’s not gonna answer prayer till you get right with him.” Yeah, then explain how God kept answering Samson’s prayers even though the guy kept whoring and murdering. Samson had a relationship with God, and his grace works regardless of even our major screw-ups.

But the people who preach “You musta sinned” aren’t thinking of grace at all. They’re thinking of karma. You did bad, and don’t really even know what you did bad, but God’s gonna passive-aggressively give you the silent treatment. That sound like grace in the slightest?

Waiting for a second opinion.

In my experience, the reason God doesn’t answer when I ask him questions, is because he already gave me an answer. My problem is I don’t really like the answer. I’d kinda like him to give me another one. But nope; his first answer stands.

In many people’s experience, God “isn’t answering my prayers” for the very same reason. He told them no. He can do that, y’know! If we ask him for stupid or sinful things, or ask him for something which looks wise and righteous but is gonna have terrible unintended consequences, he’s not gonna respond, “Well you asked so earnestly,” and give it to us, and let it ruin us, and sit back and laugh at our hubris. Zeus did that in Greek mythology, and Zeus was a dick.

Like me, these people want God to give them an answer they like, but in this case God’s not changing his mind. He said no. They have to trust that he knows best, and accept his answer. Problem is, they don’t trust he knows best—or worse, they’ve been told by bad teachers and false prophets that he is gonna grant them everything they requested, and all they have to do is be patient. Which is only setting them up for massive disappointment.

Anyway, the problem clearly isn’t that God has stopped talking; it’s that we aren’t moving the conversation forward. We’re still hung up on our last request.

Okay, you’re likely gonna ask me about when Jesus taught we should persistently keep praying for things, like in the Persistent Widow Story. Well, use your head. Is this something he wants us to continually pray for, like “Your kingdom come,” or for the repentance of various unbelievers? Or is this a specific request with a time limit? Which circumstances are we talking about? And who benefits more, you or God?

If you feel like God’s answers to your prayers are muted, there’s a really easy solution around it: Start praying for other people. Go visit your church’s prayer ministry and find out which prayer needs they’re working on. Go answer some of those prayers; give needy people food and clothes and gasoline. Talk to God about that—and you’ll notice he really likes to talk about that.

Feeling like the skies are brass.

Sometimes the problem isn’t even that God’s not talking back. It’s that we don’t feel something when he talks back. These Christians describe an “open heaven” more like a special spiritual feeling, or prayer mood—and they’re just not feelin’ it.

We never bother to ask ourselves this rather obvious question: How should it feel when God, a non-physical spirit, does something?

Should he feel like anything? Should his activity produce a shivering or tickling sensation? Or feel like cool water poured over our heads? Or a burning-but-not-burnt warm feeling? Or should it trigger constant hiccups, coughing fits, uncontrollable giggling, convulsions, euphoria, or explosive diarrhea?

Should we feel joy? Peace? Excitement? Should God’s actions produce any emotional reaction from us?

Or—which is more likely—are we expecting these sensations because we want these sensations? Are they actually the product of guessing what God might do once he shows up? And what if we’re guessing wrong?

Try cramming this into your pocket.

Picture one of those old-timey telephones (and if you can’t, I provided a photo) where the microphone was on a stand, and the receiver hung from a cord. Now imagine it’s the first time you’ve ever even seen one: Which end do you speak into? Which end do you listen to? Lots of novices put the mic to their ear and talk into the receiver. Does the person on the other end hear them? Not well. Do they hear the caller? Nope. What happens when they persist in holding the phone wrong? Dysfunction.

Same deal with God. Like I said, some of us demand a different answer, and refuse to hear his no. Some of us expect warm fuzzy feelings we assume are associated with God, and when we don’t feel them we presume he’s “not answering.” (Unless of course we psyche ourselves into feeling him. Then we can make ourselves feel like he’s answered us any which way.)

My point is the heavens only feel brass. They’re not. God hasn’t stopped talking. We’re just immaturely expecting the wrong feedback. Time to grow up and learn better. Time to learn to listen.

And time to stop misquoting “the heavens are brass.” God does listen to his people when we call. The entire reason he sends his people prophets—both in bible times and today—is he absolutely doesn’t give his people the silent treatment when we sin. His prophets are right out there, shouting at us to repent! When we turn to him, he won’t gonna abandon us. He 13.5 He might have to tell us difficult things, but he does answer. The whole “heavens are brass” turned-off-the-prayers idea is rubbish. It’s our invention. Not God’s.