Do what’s right, and you’ll succeed, all will be well, flowers will bloom, birds sing, and the sun will finally come out from behind the stormy clouds.  Right?  Or, you might end up in jail.  On this day celebrating the reformation, perhaps it will do us good to remember one who fought against tyranny, named for the reformer, Martin Luther, who wound up shot for his good and faithful service.  There’s a sad saying that, “No good deed goes unpunished.”  We can, perhaps imagine this on a plaque in Joseph’s cell.  But, still…

But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer.  The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it.  The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper. (Genesis 39:21-23 NASB)

Joseph resists the temptation to take more than Yahweh provides to him, and he’s thrown in jail.  Awesome.  And yet, all he does there Yahweh blesses, and makes prosper.  It’s even something that rubs off on all Joseph touches, so, the entire jail ran better, and the jailer is blessed because of Joseph.  But, before you might think that this sunny ray of goodness is always cheery and has no concept of the bad situation in which he lives, just read further.

Once more, dreams enter into Joseph’s life.  It’s possible that they remind him of his own, or it could be those dreams never left him.  But two newer criminals have dreams.  The cupbearer to Pharaoh and his chief baker both have dreams.  Joseph interprets them for these two bewildered criminals, but see what he says, all that he says to the cupbearer:

Then Joseph said to him, “This is the interpretation of it: the three branches are three days; within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you will put Pharaoh’s cup into his hand according to your former custom when you were his cupbearer.  Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house.  For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.” (Genesis 40:12-15 NASB)

It’s easy to believe that Joseph’s success was due to his sunny disposition.  But we learn here that he is very aware that he doesn’t belong there.  He’s not happy that he’s been wrongly accused, that his brothers sold him into slavery, that he’s deserved none of this.  His success isn’t due to his attitude, it’s due to Yahweh.  It’s Yahweh’s work in his life and through him, into the lives of others that brings this success.  It’s very possible Joseph would have traded all the success to be out of the jail, no longer a slave, and back home, even with his brothers.  But Yahweh wasn’t done yet.

Thus it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants.  He restored the chief cupbearer to his office, and he put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand; but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had interpreted to them.  Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. (Genesis 40:20-23 NASB)

Joseph wants out, helps another, sees a way out, and…remains where he is.  Joseph’s Master wasn’t done yet.  It wasn’t time.  Maybe Joseph needed to “marinate” a little more, or maybe his Master was setting up the other characters in the play.  Either way, Joseph remained there for another two years.

The philosophy unique to Americans is “Pragmatism”.  It’s a wonderful system where, if it works, it must be right.  We bandy about the cliche, “Whatever works!” not even realizing it’s the expression of the root of the “American Spirit” and the “American Way”.  Think through that for a moment, “whatever works”.  Really?  Any means to an end is right?  Well, perhaps, if the end sought includes good for all involved, maybe then, any means to get there would be right.  But even so, at its core, it’s actually creepy.

What if our Master leads us through a path, which, for every right choice we make, increases our misery?  We remain faithful to Him, and our life here becomes more unbearable?  That does not follow the “pragmatism” of our culture and society.  How will we be able to remain faithful to our Master when He doesn’t improve our situation?  If we are faithful and end up in jail, will we continue in faithfulness?  Martin Luther King Jr. did.  He continued to do the right thing and eventually was killed for it.

What will you do, when it actually gets worse for you, what will you do?  Will you judge the Almighty by your circumstances?  I do.  It doesn’t work, but I do it anyway.  In the end, it’s not very pragmatic to judge the Creator of the universe by my circumstances on one crumb of that creation.

What’s your view of our Master through the fence this morning?


Blooming Where Planted: Joseph II

Have you ever known one of those people who, regardless of the weather, are sunny?  How long have you spent with someone for whom every situation seems to be another opportunity to shine.  Not only does nothing seem to get them down, but they succeed at everything.  They really annoy me, because they show just how bad my attitude really is, and how cynical I’ve become.  Do you know anyone like that?  Except for the “sunny all the time” bit, that’s Joseph.

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there.  The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. (Genesis 39:1-2 NASB)

Sold into slavery, by his brothers no less, and he works, works hard, and is successful.  I’ve always wondered if Joseph was “cheery” as he worked, or if his attitude improved as his success increased.  Was he despondent when he first arrived?  Was the trip down there loud and obnoxious, a spoiled brat calling for his dad?  Did he progress through the “stages of grief” or whatever it’s called when your life drastically becomes worse and you have to adapt?  Would it be stages of trauma or disaster?  He’s a human, so I’m guessing he did.

But, when you read about those stages (like in Psychology Today), the stages aren’t necessarily automatic.  So, a lot of people, without help, get stuck in the progression.  Joseph doesn’t.  I admit, I probably would.  Think about how you would react.  Being sold, by his brothers, into slavery, in a foreign country, it all completely undermined the safety and control Joseph had assumed he had.  Parental preference actually meant a lot less than he thought it did for his safety.

Somewhere in that traumatic shock of powerlessness and violation, he discovers that Yahweh is with him, that the God of his father is giving him success.  We’re not told how he noticed it.  We’re only told that Yahweh was with Joseph, and “…he was a man causing success; and was in the house of his master the Egyptian.”  What a strange way to put it.  He was a man causing success.  In other words, whatever he tried, worked.  That is, except escape or to not be a slave.  This God of his father wanted him as a slave.  And Joseph lived with that, blooming where Yahweh planted him.

Which of us could bloom in such hard ground?  I’m not sure my sense of personal entitlement or pride would totally prohibit me from blooming, but it sure wouldn’t help.  What do you think you would do?  If you tried to escape, where would you go?  The desert is in all directions.  My passive aggressive nature would probably kick in, do you have that too?  Yet, all we’re told is that Joseph succeeded, he caused success, even to those around him.  I’m not sure how I’d react to that.  Somehow, I’m sure I’d figure out a way to try and use that for my personal gain, and that would be what would fail.

Joseph is elevated in the household of his master.  He’s a slave, but he’s the chief slave, running everything, and everything he runs succeeds.  It’s the life, perhaps the best of a horrible situation, but he’s finally doing well.  Until that woman.

It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”  But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge.  There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:7-9 NASB)

The clue that Joseph hasn’t given into complete self indulgence due to his success is how he responds to his master’s wife.  Perhaps he’s smart enough to know that she is a disaster, and would eventually spell his death if he cooperated with her.  Maybe there were already stories of predecessors who had suffered her, and then suffered because of her.  All we’re told is that he resisted her, and did so because of his success, and that he ascribes such an act as a sin against God.  He recognizes who is responsible for his success, he knows it’s not him.  I’m not sure I’d be that insightful, how about you?

Eventually she traps him alone, and he escapes without his cloak.  She uses that to accuse him, and his master has him imprisoned with the king’s prisoners.  Where has that success from God gone now?  He did not sin against God, yet his circumstances grew worse?  No good deed goes unpunished?  And yet, we don’t have a complaint against God lodged by Joseph.  Although, we do have clues about how he views his circumstances later on.  Maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, what do you learn from Joseph’s adaptation to his slavery?  What do you learn from his deteriorating circumstances, even after doing the right thing?  I learn that my circumstances aren’t what define the character qualities of my Master.  I know that, but my emotions sure don’t like that.  My circumstances do not define the character qualities of my Master, and that means good or bad circumstances.  So, my Master is who He says He is, regardless of my day, week, month, or year, or even years.  In good or bad circumstances, my Master is good, loving, and sovereign.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

A Spiritual Compass: Joseph I

The story of Joseph in Genesis 37 through 47 (less chapter 38) is one of the transformation of a spoiled brat into a ruler of Egypt, and savior of his people.  The setting of this character is a dysfunctional family (as nearly every family in Scripture seems to be).  The background to Joseph’s family includes his father stealing the family blessing from his brother, the murder of the men of Shechem by Levi and Simeon, and the eldest, Reuben, slept with his father’s concubine.  Jacob’s wives and their handmaids were the four mothers of Jacob’s twelve, and they didn’t get along.  The household was a mess, much like ours.

Into this messed up family comes Joseph.  He tattles on his brothers, receives preferential treatment by his father (an expensive cloak), and his brothers cannot speak to him in peace.  There is strife already between the kids, and the parents, Joseph, and his brothers are complicent in the problems.  Into this boiling pot, God delivers two dreams to Joseph.  Of course, Joseph shares the dreams, they will also get his brothers going.

He can’t really control how Jacob treats him, and what kid wouldn’t like the attention?  And he can’t really control how his brothers treat him, and what kid would like that?  All your older brothers get to do stuff, and you don’t.  They won’t talk to you peaceably.  They obviously don’t like Joseph, so, Joseph goes with it.  He doesn’t care that they don’t like him, he figures, with how dad feels about him, he’s invulnerable.  Only he’s not.

In the first dream, the twelve, including Joseph, are “bringing in the sheaves”, when Joseph’s stands erect, and the others gather around and bow down to it.  In the second, the sun and moon, and eleven stars all bow down to him.  This one, even his father doesn’t like, but he’s thoughtful about it.  How could his brothers accept such a “dream” from this brother?  But they do have a plan to keep it from happening.

Jacob sends Joseph to Shechem because his brothers have the flocks there.  Only they don’t.  Joseph can’t find them among the hills around Shechem.  He’s found wandering the fields by some guy who tells him they’ve moved to Dothan.  So off goes Joseph to Dothan.  A long way off his brothers see him and plot.

The first idea is to kill him and blame it on a wild beast.  Reuben talks them out of that, saying they should simply throw him in a pit rather than shed his blood.  He wants to use Joseph to get back in daddy’s good graces.  When Joseph arrives, they take his cloak and throw him into the pit.  Then they sit down to a meal.  We’re not told where Reuben went, but he’s not around for the arrival of the caravan of “desert folk” to Egypt with smelly gum, balm, and burial deodorant.

The brothers figure it makes more sense to profit from Joseph at least rather than simply let him die.  So, they sell him as a slave to the caravan for 20 shekels of silver.  When Reuben comes back, he discovers Joseph gone, and is all upset; his plan is ruined.  They opt to take the cloak and dip it in goat blood, tear it up, and give that to their father.  When Jacob inspects the coat, he assumes his son has been devoured by beasts, and mourns inconsolably for Joseph.

So, the choices made by the father brought strife between brothers.  The choices of Joseph exacerbated the strife.  The brothers chose to “unbrother” Joseph, and sold him into slavery.  Then they chose to let Jacob believe he was dead.  This dysfunctional family functioned to intensify their own pain.  Yet, in this account, Yahweh is the One using them to provide for their survival.

Either the plan of Yahweh was to use their dysfunction all along, or He simply used whatever their dysfunction led them to do in His plan.  Either way, their dysfunction was never enough to thwart the direction of Yahweh.  That’s comforting.  Problem families are now more the norm than the exception.  Yet, whatever the dysfunction, our Master still uses such families in His plans.  None are so bad they can’t be used.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What do you see of God through yours?

Inspired Action

One of the struggles we have to face as disciples of Jesus is that Who we worship refuses to conform to our imaginations.  Jesus, Yahweh, God refuses to be Who we expect or imagine Him to be.  This is why Bible study is so important.  In Scripture, our Creator has recorded His interactions with His human creatures.  Our relationship with Him is defined therein.  If you want to know the “rules” of the relationship, then that’s where you find them, in Scripture.  Part of that knowledge is learning about the One we worship.  And He is often really unexpectedly weird.

Then Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came as far as the vineyards of Timnah; and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him.  The Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a young goat though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done. (Judges 14:5-6 NASB)

What is translated here in the New American Standard as “mightily” is the Hebrew word, tsalach (Strong’s 6743).  In the Septuagint, there are two versions, one has the Greek word, hallomai (Strong’s 242), and the other has kateuthuno (Strong’s 2720).  So what? Well, this is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Yahweh, and so, displays the character and will of God in this event, the tearing of a lion.

The Hebrew word, if you followed the link, you’ll see refers to prospering, or being successful.  The Spirit of God worked in Samson to give him success against the lion.  This doesn’t surprise us because God was keeping Samson safe.  Regardless of Samson violating his Nazarite state by touching the body later, the Spirit of God worked in him then to keep him safe.  It wasn’t a statement about Samson’s righteousness, but his usefulness to God.

Flash forward to after his “companions” extort the answer to the riddle out of Samson’s wife:

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil and gave the changes of clothes to those who told the riddle. And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house. (Judges 14:19 NASB)

You’ll never guess which words are behind “mightily” here?  Maybe you would.  The Hebrew is the same, and the two versions of the Septuagint both have the same word choices.  Consider this: what happened in the first instance to save Samson from the lion happened again as he goes to essentially murder 30 unwitting unsuspecting Philistines.  Do you realize that, today, we would brand Samson as a serial killer, and he’d have his own episode of Criminal Minds?  But this is Scripture, so we say that God inspired him to act in this way.  But, today, what do we say about the character of the One we worship?

You may be very uncomfortable with this line of thinking, but we need to go here.  It’s necessary because we must confront what God says about Himself.  We cannot allow ourselves to make up who we think He should be.  We must allow Him to define Himself.  You can’t make your spouse who you want them to be, that never works.  So, why would we turn around and do that with God, our Creator?  Why, because who He is makes us uncomfortable.

The thing is, defining our Master from this one passage is impossible.  That’s not the expectation.  Jesus died for our sins.  “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NASB)  The One we worship is still this One.  But He is also the one inspiring Samson to murder the enemies of God’s people, by our modern definition.  The challenge is to hold both things as true at the same time.

Perhaps accepting the difference in societies and cultures between then and now will suffice in explaining why God worked the way He did then.  And that’s fine, as long as both characteristics are true simultaneously.  We must let God be who He is, as He describes Himself.  Keep very close to the surface of your mind as you study Scripture that this is what He wants us to know about Himself.  He wants us to know that He inspired Samson to kill those 30 Philistines as he did.  It wasn’t war, those thirty men didn’t attack Samson (that we know of, at least that detail wasn’t important to record), there was no record of provocation from those who died.

How you deal with that challenge is on you.  The consequences of Samson’s actions were felt by Samson.  The Philistines didn’t excuse him because he was inspired.  Jesus clearly instructs us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us.  Yet, in this passage, that same Person inspired Samson to murder some of the enemies of God’s people.

This isn’t saying we should be violent.  But perhaps it is saying we need to be aware that our Master sometimes is violent.  This is another lesson that sin is defined by our relationship with our Master, not by a list of unapproved actions.  The same actions by different people may result in sin for one and righteousness for the other.  It all depends on the relationship.  This is only “situational ethics” as long as the “situation” is always our relationship with our Master.

Well, that’s my strange view through the knothole this morning.  What do you see of our Master through yours?

The Riddler Judge

Characters in Scripture continually surprise me.  They bring out my prejudices revealing areas of pride in my heart. For some reason, I am constantly surprised at the sophistication of Bronze Age II people, including the Israelis.  What’s wrong with me?  How often does that need to happen before I simply accept that it doesn’t take a smart phone to make one brilliant?

Samson throws a party, because that was the custom of the time when one gets married.  He wasn’t from there, so thirty “friends” were found for him with whom to “party”.  So, Samson decides to have some fun and offers to challenge them with a riddle…

Then Samson said to them, “Let me now propound a riddle to you; if you will indeed tell it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes.  But if you are unable to tell me, then you shall give me thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Propound your riddle, that we may hear it.”  So he said to them, “Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the strong came something sweet.” But they could not tell the riddle in three days. (Judges 14:12-14 NASB)

Look at verse 14 in several translations.  This riddle which Samson “propounds” is a poetic oddity.  Normally Hebrew poetry doesn’t render into English well at all.  English poetry prefers rhyme (words end the same), and Hebrew prefers “euphony” (words begin the same).  This riddle begins the same in Hebrew, and rhymes in English.  Only the King James Version misses the rhyme because of an “eth” that just has to be in there.  That doesn’t happen.

And consider that the references also work well in both languages, “eater” with “something to eat” (actually “food”), and “strong” and “sweet”.  These same references are clear in Hebrew.  Normally, such ideas or references take a lot more words in English than they do in Hebrew poetic lines.  This riddle is a poetic anomaly, in that it works both in Hebrew and English.  It doesn’t work so well in Greek.  Ironic, that.

Anyway, if he wins, Samson gets 30 sets of clothes.  If they win, Samson buys 30 sets of clothes.  He’s definitely the bigger winner and the bigger loser in this wager.  They risk and stand to gain much less.  Sounds like a good deal, and they take him up on it.  As the readers/audience, we know to what the riddle refers.  But, since nobody seems to work in, or around, the vineyards of Timnah, nobody else does.

Now we run into the second set of weird literary pieces.  It seems our author/editor isn’t a mathematician.  How many days was that feast?

Then it came about on the fourth day that they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband, so that he will tell us the riddle, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us to impoverish us? Is this not so?”  Samson’s wife wept before him and said, “You only hate me, and you do not love me; you have propounded a riddle to the sons of my people, and have not told it to me.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told it to my father or mother; so should I tell you?”  However she wept before him seven days while their feast lasted. And on the seventh day he told her because she pressed him so hard. She then told the riddle to the sons of her people. (Judges 14:15-17 NASB)

So, the 30 “buddies” can’t tell him he riddle in 3 days, so, on the fourth, they go extort Samson’s “wife”.  Think through what they say to her, “Have you invited us to impoverish us? Is that not so?”  Wouldn’t it make more sense that Samson offered to impoverish himself?  They’re only out a set of clothes apiece, he’s on the hook for 30.  But such they claim, and threaten to kill her and her family.

In order to follow up on the previous entry, notice the wife doesn’t look at Samson and figure he can protect her and her family.  Another reason I think he doesn’t look like a superhero.  Instead she employs the female default weapon…tears.  And, let me just ask this, since all guys are thinking it, but I’m going to verbalize it, “Why do women claim men aren’t emotional, and yet know they can sway us with tears?”  If we weren’t emotional, that wouldn’t work.  So, women, stop trying to have it both ways.  You don’t come out well in the bargain.

Now, they can’t answer Samson in 3 days.  They go to the wife on the fourth.  And, she pesters Samson with tears for how many days?  Seven?  In the Hebrew (which is not the oldest text) they go to her on the seventh day.  How, exactly, does that work?  How can she weep before Samson seven days, regardless of which day the 30 “buddies” went to her?  Unless she was already weeping before him when they went to her, maybe that’s why they went to her.  But, no, that doesn’t really make sense.  We’re left with the literary conundrum, probably caused by the writer having too many fragmentary versions of the story from which to choose.

Eventually Samson gives into the tears, and she, then, promptly betrays him to her people.  I laugh at the next passage, even though it’s actually tragic, it’s just so crazy:

So the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down, “What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?” And he said to them, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, You would not have found out my riddle.”  Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil and gave the changes of clothes to those who told the riddle. And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house.  But Samson’s wife was given to his companion who had been his friend. (Judges 14:18-20 NASB)

The thirty “friends” win the wager telling Samson the answer to the riddle.  Does Samson actually refer to his new wife as a “heifer”?  So, does this guy simply not get women in general?  That could not endear her to him.  But, again, we see the Spirit of Yahweh cause him to succeed, and he goes down to another city, a major Philistine city, and murder 30 men for their clothes.  Was there blood still on them when he delivers them?  The deception and greed of the 30 “friends” was actually more costly for them.

Samson, in anger, returns to his father’s house instead of to his wife, and she’s given to another.  She’s given to someone referred to as one of his companions, who had been his friend.  Perhaps not all 30 were selfish jerks?  But being Samson’s friend, or wife, does not make one safe in this story.

Did you notice that God used this circumstance to incite Samson to kill Philistines?  Samson seems inclined to join them, at least to an extent.  But, their refusal to accept him is used by God to incite Samson to kill 30; something God considers “a good start”.  It’s kind of ruthless of God, is it not?  But consider that friendship with the ruling pagans would be enmity toward God.  Yet God thwarts the extension of friendship, closing off that avenue for Samson, and directs him to damage them instead.  The superhero has a divine purpose, one he may fight against, but one which he cannot escape.

What divine purpose do you have?  I’m no superhero, but I believe I have a divine purpose, and I believe you do as well.  I pray that I won’t miss mine, but, is that even an option?  Won’t my Master drive me away from missing it?  Do I truly have so much power that I can escape the divine will of my Master?  He’s given me a choice, but does He also give up His power over His purposes and designs?  Samson would have been a much less tragic character had he gone along with the purpose of his Master.  So, I guess my (our) choice is whether to be a tragic or triumphant hero.  Let’s fight the right enemy.

What’s your view through the fence this morning?

Surprising Quality

Why do “superheroes” have an “alter ego”?  According to the Incredibles it’s to provide some measure of privacy or semblance of a normal life to balance the superhero life.  But what if some normal person suddenly realizes they have “super human abilities”?  Well, that might be what happened to Samson…

Then Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came as far as the vineyards of Timnah; and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him.  The Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a young goat though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done. (Judges 14:5-6 NASB)

So, the setting is a family walk to Timnah.  The major event is a lion roaring toward him.  But it wasn’t that big of a problem, obviously, because his parents didn’t even notice…and, he didn’t tell them about it.  Samson has a “spiritual epiphany”, and simply tears the lion, like one might tear a goat…happens every day, right? Tearing a young goat, doesn’t everyone do that to young goats?  How do you like your goat? Torn in two please…

This is the first piece of weirdness in this chapter which is full of literary weirdness.  It’s as if the literary skill and flare shown so far in this book was simply dropped.  It’s possible that there are several conflicting accounts of Samson the author has to work with, and he’s doing the best he can with what he has.  If that’s true, and this is the same author with such literary skill and flare, he can’t be happy with how it turned out.

Two details here are worth noting for later.  First, Samson’s parents are right there, and miss the entire event.  Second, they’re at the “Vineyards of Timnah”, a place prominent enough to be mentioned as a reference point.  Perhaps the lion rushed out of a row of vines, Samson ducks into the row, tears the lion, and then jumps back out into the road before his parents notice anything amiss…sure, why not?  Would make a funny scene in a movie perhaps.  Also notice that Samson leaves the body of the lion there in the vineyard.  That will also be helpful later.

It seems the purpose of the trip was so his parent could meet the Philistine Timnite girl.  And it was a short “day-trip”.  Samson returns several days later…

When he returned later to take her, he turned aside to look at the carcass of the lion; and behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the body of the lion.  So he scraped the honey into his hands and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them and they ate it; but he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey out of the body of the lion. (Judges 14:8-9 NASB)

“Turned aside” is sort of a Hebrew literary marker.  As is what the NASB translates as “behold”.  The point to an important literary element, so, “behold a young lion roaring at him” and “behold a swarm of bees and honey in the body of the lion”, are important details.  The bees and honey in the carcass is certainly weird.  It seems a very unlikely place for bees to make a hive.  Wouldn’t the decomposition of the body spoil the honey?  But it didn’t.  Something this unusual would draw attention, especially as it would be found by anyone working the vineyard, wouldn’t it?

It’s possible that the dead lion is just outside the vineyard, and, since bees and honey were found in it, it may be so dry there, the body didn’t decompose, but actually dehydrated.  So, maybe no one smelled the corpse, or noticed it.  That’s admittedly as thin as a torn young lion, but it’s still possible.  Either way, we find out that no one knows of the honey-filled lion corpse except Samson.

Samson shares his honey with his parents, but doesn’t tell them where he got it.  Who would?  I’m sure “Dead Lion Honey” isn’t the best label to use for marketing purposes.  So, no shock there.  What is odd here is the secrecy of Samson.  Why doesn’t he tell anyone what he does?  Why not brag about it?  Why not become known as the “lion terror” (see what I did there?)?  I suspect that what he did took him by surprise, and he was struggling to get a handle on it.

If Samson was surprised, then perhaps he didn’t look like the pictures (like the one above).  Maybe he looked like anyone else, just with longer hair and beard.  It’s possible that Samson didn’t appear to be someone who could tear a lion, and that he did shocked him.  The Spirit of Yahweh made him successful (which is literally what the word means, normally translated “came upon him mightily”).  I suspect Samson knew it wasn’t him, and so remained silent.  What if it never happened again?  This “alter ego” was discovering he was actually a superhero.

What are we afraid to tackle because we think it’s too big or wild for us?  Perhaps the lesson we can learn from Samson is to tear the lion roaring toward us.  Take on the fearsome deadly thing, and let the Spirit of our Master provide the success we can’t provide ourselves.  Would our families be stronger?  Would our communities be safer? Would our churches be more vibrant?  Have we been listening to the lions from indoors, afraid to get out there to tear it up?  What if the Spirit of Yahweh doesn’t give us success? Then we go home early!  Win-win!

What’s your view of God through your knothole this morning?

Spoiled Brat Judge

Have you ever seen other people’s kids whom you want to slap, just because of how they treat their parents?  It goes without saying, if you have kids, you’ve wanted to slap them at some point.  But other people’s kids acting badly sometimes help you feel better about your own.  Until they cross that line, and you want to slap them.  Yeah, that’s Samson…

Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines.  So he came back and told his father and mother, “I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.”  Then his father and his mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she looks good to me.” (Judges 14:1-3 NASB)

Up to this point in the account, I want to slap Samson for being overly mouthy.  Children in Israel did not give their parents commands, and here, each of these statements from Samson are commands.  A picture emerges of a spoiled boy.  He’s their only son, and promised by God.  He’s special even if they didn’t treat him that way.  And yet, while the Spirit of Yahweh stirs in him (see 13:25), it seems the Spirit doesn’t really influence him to be a better person.

Samson goes to Timnah, an Israelite city controlled by the Philistines (now ruling over Israel for 40 years, see 13:1).  There, he sees a Philistine woman, and wants her…she “looks good” to him, or “she pleases his eyes”.  He’s very deep at this point of his life.  This judge, who has such an auspicious introduction, like Jesus’, is behaving like a spoiled brat.  He’s not likeable at this point in the story, yet, we have a caveat included by the author:   However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. (Judges 14:4a NASB) 

Samson wants what he wants when he wants it, but this is from Yahweh?  Have any of you parents wanted to hear that your kid’s “issues” were from our Master, and not your fault?  There have been days, let me just say that.  So, this behavior of Samson, his driven desire for a Philistine woman, is from Yahweh.  It sounds strange, but, so far in Judges, what has sounded normal?

The lesson from this introduction, at least as I read it, is that God will even use those we assume have no regard for Him.  Samson is a spoiled brat, or at least he talks like one.  Yet this is from Yahweh.  Our Master uses a spoiled brat to begin to take down the Philistines, or show His people that they can be taken down.  So, simply because someone is irritating to me, that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful to my Master.  Jesus’ command to love everyone, even our enemies, is partly so that we will allow our Master to use anyone He chooses.

Think about that.  We assume, way too often, that God will only use the “good people”.  Even though we “speak” grace, we assume God will judge and select only the people of the best behavior.  This plays out in our lives in the way we treat those who misbehave with disdain.  Jesus would never use these “doers of iniquity”!  Um, yes, yes He does.  In fact, He kind of likes using them because His power is more obvious.  When He uses us “goody two-shoes” believers, we assume it was because we’re so good.  How does that glorify Him?  It glorifies us!

See, our Creator wants us to love Him, because that is the only sure way to adjust our attitude, which then changes our behavior.  But we want to work the system backwards.  We want to change our behavior, thereby changing our attitude (becoming self-centered since we changed ourselves), and now our Creator loves us.  That’s not going to work with our Savior.  It’s not that He’s not going to use someone like that, He uses busted examples of believers all the time.  But that’s not what He wants for us.  There’s no relationship involved, and, therefore, no real benefit for the believer.

When worked backward, the process becomes sin, specifically, iniquity: the twisting of the relationship rules.  God uses sinful people, but the relationship is fractured.  And to our Creator, the relationship is the whole point.  We can still be useful, just not within His kingdom.

So, let us see ourselves as a “Samson”, and align our minds and hearts with our Creator’s mind and heart.  Let us look at others with the compassion of our Savior, and the love of our Creator, and surrender to the Hand of our Master.

What’s your view through the fence this morning?

Following A Rough Act

Paul says for wives to submit to their husbands.  That’s a tough instruction to follow since we husbands can be so frustratingly human, and some husbands are more human than others.  But what about the husband who really tries, but simply doesn’t get it?  How difficult is it to submit to such a one?  The wife of Manoah works very hard at it.

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had borne no children.  Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. (Judges 13:2-3 NASB)

One of the elements to this story that jumps out at me every time is how God goes to the wife first.  He’s willing to deal with Manoah, but He clearly prefers the wife.  And Manoah’s wife dutifully goes to him with the whole story, submitting to his spiritual leadership in the process.

Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, “A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. And I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name.  But he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and now you shall not drink wine or strong drink nor eat any unclean thing, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.'” (Judges 13:6-7 NASB)

Manoah’s wife tells him all that the Angel of Yahweh told her, and then adds two strange elements.  First, she didn’t ask where he was from, and second, she didn’t catch his name.  Regardless of how the Angel of Yahweh looked, she still felt compelled to get his name and origin.  This could possibly be because she knew Manoah would want to know, because we see immediately following, that he wants the Angel back to ask Him himself.

God listened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again to the woman as she was sitting in the field, but Manoah her husband was not with her.  So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “Behold, the man who came the other day has appeared to me.” (Judges 13:9-10 NASB)

Yahweh answers Manoah’s prayer to resend the messenger, but He still goes to the wife.  She, again, dutifully fetches Manoah.  Manoah then proceeds to ask the Messenger, not about how to raise the boy, but about who or what he will be.  This is the part God already told the wife.  I can’t help but imagine the wife in the background doing a forehead-palm slap (I should of had a V-8!).  Finally, when the Angel of Yahweh ascends in the flame, Manoah realizes Who He is.  But he’s still not thinking straight.

So Manoah said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.”  But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time.” (Judges 13:22-23 NASB)

Manoah and wife are quite a pair.  And, if it isn’t obvious already, let me point out that this guy clearly “married up”.  Wives, submit to your husbands, not because we’re brilliant, because we’re not.  Don’t submit because we have somehow earned it, because we haven’t.  Don’t endanger yourself, but don’t despise the fool either.  Our roles are assigned to us by God Himself, and He does so for His glory.  Sometimes He shines brightest through the dimmest people.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What do you see of God through yours?

The Spiritual Leader

Husbands are supposed to be the spiritual leaders in their households.  We infer this from passages where Paul describes household roles in Christian homes.  It’s a tough gig for guys in modern America to live out.  There are a lot of pressures to do anything but believe in, and obey, the Supreme Creator of the universe.  In fact it’s easier to just worship the universe (an irony I’ve always found humorous).  Samson’s father had struggles in this role as well.  And his were probably mostly cultural as well.

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had borne no children. (Judges 13:2 NASB)

Then Manoah entreated the LORD and said, “O Lord, please let the man of God whom You have sent come to us again that he may teach us what to do for the boy who is to be born.”  God listened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again to the woman as she was sitting in the field, but Manoah her husband was not with her. (Judges 13:8-9 NASB)

Then Manoah arose and followed his wife, and when he came to the man he said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to the woman?” And he said, “I am.”  Manoah said, “Now when your words come to pass, what shall be the boy’s mode of life and his vocation?”
So the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Let the woman pay attention to all that I said.
(Judges 13:11-13 NASB)

Now the angel of the LORD did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD.  So Manoah said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.”  But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time.” (Judges 13:21-23 NASB)

It’s not easy to get a deep picture of Manoah from these few verses, but at least one facet of his character emerges.  Manoah tries to be the spiritual leader of his wife.  It could be one of the many ironies of Scripture that God seems to just want to deal with his wife, yet Manoah tries.  It’s also clear Manoah’s not very good at being the spiritual leader.

God appears to the woman (no name given…ever), and she relates to her husband, Manoah, what He said to her.  Rather than this being enough, Manoah prays that God will speak to him.  What says he wants is to know what to do for the boy to be born.  But what he asks is what he will become.  That was already told to his wife, the boy will be a Nazarite his whole life.

When faced with this “man of God”, it’s possible that all the brilliant stuff Manoah planned to say went right out of his head.  Happens all the time.  Or, it’s also possible that Manoah just wanted to see this person for himself, that he wanted to be the one to whom God went, not his wife.  Didn’t happen that way either time, though, God still goes to his wife both times.  But there’s a question he asks that gets at his possible lack of qualifications as a spiritual leader.

In verse 16, the author lets us in on a secret, that Manoah didn’t know he was speaking with the Angel of Yahweh.  That being true, look at the very next verse.  Why would Manoah, the spiritual leader of his home, want to honor someone not Yahweh, after the child comes?  What spiritual leader wants to worship someone else for what God is clearly doing?  Okay, so you don’t shoot the messenger, but you don’t worship them either!

Unfortunately, Manoah gets another black mark on his “spiritual leader card” when he realizes that the Person was the Angel of Yahweh.  He says, in his spiritual leader wisdom, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God!”  How could that be true and what Yahweh told him also be true?  Manoah hadn’t thought this through.  His wife had, and she calls him on it.

Manoah stands as an example of men striving to be the spiritual leaders in their homes.  It’s not easy.  You’re expected to know stuff you probably don’t.  You sense this expectation to be wiser than you suspect you really are.  And you have to exude this sense of faith you probably don’t believe you have.  But take heart, oh men of God, for Paul says in Romans 12:3,

“For I say to all the ones being in us, through the grace having been given to me, to not be conceited beyond what is necessary to think,  but to think as the sound mind, as God distributed to each a measure of faith.”

Manoah may not have been given the faith he wanted, and he may not have attained the level of understanding he believed he needed (or had).  While we look at these qualities lacking in Manoah, and criticize, from what Paul says, we should rather accept Manoah.  We too have been given a “measure of faith” distributed to us by our Master.

Manoah seems to be out of his depth, but consider that he deals with the Creator of the vast universe.  Who isn’t out of their depth?  The lesson I learn is that his character brings out my pride, and reveals to me where my arrogance separates me from my fellow disciples.  Fortunately, my Master is still willing to work with me.

That’s my lesson from Manoah, what do you see through your knothole this morning?

The Angel of the Lord

Have you ever been asked what you would do if Jesus Himself came for a visit?  Or what you might do if you ran into Him on the street, grocery store, or out and about somewhere?  How about if you car-pooled with Him to work, what would you do or say?  Well, what if such questions weren’t hypothetical?  Are you uneasy yet?

Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. (Judges 13:3 NASB)

God listened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again to the woman as she was sitting in the field, but Manoah her husband was not with her. (Judges 13:9 NASB)

Then Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain you so that we may prepare a young goat for you.”  The angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Though you detain me, I will not eat your food, but if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.  Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honor you?”  But the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?”  So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to the LORD, and He performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on.  For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground.  Now the angel of the LORD did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. (Judges 13:15-21 NASB)

In previous posts, the case has been made to view the Angel of Yahweh and the Angel of God as “God-Visible”.  In the book of Judges, the Angel of the Yahweh shows up fairly frequently.  Judges 13 is the third time the character appears, and where He is the most frequently mentioned.  And we also have the most impressive suggestion He is Yahweh Himself.

Walking through the account, the Angel of Yahweh appears to the wife of Manoah and announces the birth of Samson in verse 3.  There are several details given of his life, but he is to be one of a rare set of lifetime Nazarites.  The wife goes to the husband who also wants to meet this Announcer, and prays that Yahweh would send Him again.  And He does.

The second appearance of the Angel of God (the author switches from Yahweh to Elohim) to the wife of Manoah happens, and she runs to get her husband.  And then follows an interesting dialogue containing clues about this Character’s divinity.

Manoah wants to prepare a meal, which is fitting in Near Eastern cultural hospitality.  The Angel’s response is that He won’t eat, “…but if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to Yahweh.”  And the author adds, “For Manoah did not know that he was the Angel of Yahweh.”

The second clue comes when Manoah asks the Angel’s name.  The Angel replies that His name is “wonderful”, which is used in just about every version.  The word translated “wonderful” is a rare Hebrew word, “pali” (only used twice).  But this noun is related to the verb in the next verse (19) normally translated “doing wonders”.  This verb is much more common in the Hebrew Scriptures, and, in verse 19, it’s in a form for “causing wonders”.

In verse 19, the writer switches from active verbs to participles, possibly to heighten the intensity of the action.  One of those participles is “causing wonders”, but the author left out the “subject” or person, a grammatical element not part of this verb form.  The choices for subject are Yahweh using proximity (ended the previous phrase), Manoah using the subject of the preceding phrase, or the Angel of Yahweh as the only other character present.

The choice of subject for “causing wonders” directly impacts the theological understanding of who the Angel of Yahweh is.  In verse 20, the author describes the “wonder” performed.  The Angel of Yahweh ascends in the flame of the burnt offering to heaven.  So, if Yahweh performs the wonder, then the Angel was acted upon, and isn’t necessarily Yahweh Himself.  But, if the Angel is the subject, then He performs the wonder in His ascent in the flame, and He becomes the One Causing Wonders.

The author’s intent seems to be clear in the reaction of Manoah and his wife to this wonder.  First, they fall to the ground, and then Manoah realizes that this was the Angel of Yahweh.  In this realization, he believes they will die for they have seen the face of Yahweh.  Clearly the perception of the people in the day of the Judges, and possibly in the day of the author of Judges, is that this character, the Angel of Yahweh, is Yahweh Himself.

The majority of biblical scholars don’t hold this view.  The most common belief is that the Angel of Yahweh is simply another angel announcing the messages.  The view deifying the angel has an element of reading a modern perspective into the text.  It could be that, in ancient near eastern writing and thinking, a message carried were the words of the one sending (see Judges 11:12 where messengers are sent, but Jephthah speaks).  Seen this way, the message from Yahweh does not require the messenger to be Yahweh Himself.

While this appears to have an element of truth to it, the reaction of Manoah and his wife imply otherwise.  They understood the messenger to be Yahweh.  Did the author and his audience?  Even if the author and his audience understood the messenger to be Yahweh, should we?  Is that what God intends for us to believe, or should we simply withhold judgement?  That’s your choice.  I believe the people of the time, the author, and his audience were right, the Angel of Yahweh is Yahweh Himself.

Where I go with this though is to also believe He can appear today.  So, in my view, be careful who you entertain and how you treat them.  Your guest could be divine.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?