According to Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 12:31, Mark 3:28-29, and Luke 12:10, there is a blasphemy that can’t be forgiven.  That’s frightening enough that we should be very aware of what that is.  In the context of Matthew and Mark, the Pharisees have claimed that Jesus casts out demons by the power of Satan.  In Luke the statement occurs in the “Sermon on the Plain” and the full element reads as so:

“And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.  And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him.” (Luke 12:8-10 NASB)

Most can dismiss the “unpardonable sin” because we don’t think we’re attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan.  But Luke’s version doesn’t let us off so easy.  We’re simply left concerned about the meaning of blasphemy, a word that does not roll off the tongue in  21st Century America.  Here’s how Webster’s defines the verb, to blaspheme, in English:

: to speak in a way that shows irreverence for God or something sacred : to utter blasphemy.

That still seems a bit vague, so here’s the entry on “blasphemy” (what one utters in the action, blaspheme):

2 : irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable

Basically, being irreverent toward the Holy Spirit puts you within the dangerous eternal sin, at least according to Webster’s definition.  In Luke, the Greek verb, “blasphemeo”, is used, in Mark 3:29 it’s used again, and in Matthew 12:31 the noun version of the same word, “blasphemia”, is used.  So, in each instance, the word is “blasphemy”.  But what did it mean for Jesus and His hearers?

The words in Hebrew translated into these Greek words varied.  In some cases the word might be “taunt” or “reproach” (cheraph), in others, “despised” or “spurned” (naats).  Other examples seem to be translated from the sense of a phrase rather than word-for-word.  So, the Webster’s definition seems to match that of Scripture, regardless of time. Insulting, or being contemptuous of the Holy Spirit is unforgivable.

But the same cannot be said of Jesus.  In all three references in the Gospels, Jesus specifically says that blaspheming Him is forgivable.  Are you wondering where this is going yet?  How does it relate to Judges?  The connective tissue lies in the correspondence between Jesus, Yahweh, and the Holy Spirit.  In the Christian Scriptures, a Triune Nature of God is revealed, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And blaspheming one is not exactly the same as blaspheming the other.

Why blaspheming one part of the Trinity is not the same as blaspheming another won’t fit in this entry (or several, probably).  But consider Micah and his idols in Judges 17.  He (and his mother) claim to be worshiping Yahweh, but do so with idols, and a Levitical Priest.  We really don’t know when the Tribe of Dan migrated north, but their capture (or kidnapping) of the idols and Levite indicates that Micah wasn’t alone in his misconception of Yahweh worship, not at this time anyway.

So, was their belief, so distorted from what was clearly stated in the Law, also “unforgivable”?  Was this an example of being contemptuous of the Spirit of God, or of the Father or Son?  We don’t know.  The Spirit of God isn’t mentioned in Judges 17 and 18, and He is when things are attributed to Him, even in the Hebrew Scriptures.  So, His absence gives us hope that there was forgiveness available for Micah and the tribe of Dan.

What about us?  Micah and the sons of Dan distorted faith in God.  This is iniquity, a word no one uses any more.  Iniquity, in Hebrew, avon, is one of three words or concepts for how one violates the relationship with Yahweh.  The other two are “sin” and “transgressions“.  Sin is missing a mark aimed at, and transgression is basically being rebellious against an authority (willfully disobedient).  Iniquity has, at the root, the sense of twisting out of shape.  This is, in essence, what Micah and the sons of Dan do.

All three types of failure in the covenant relationship with Yahweh can be forgiven.  All have consequences, repentance is possible, and forgiveness given graciously by God.  So, when is that line crossed, where the Person of the Trinity distorted or rebelled against, makes pardon no longer possible?  Did Jonah transgress against the Spirit in his treatment of Nineveh?  Or, if he actually did write the book, did his repentance restore the relationship?  In the Hebrew Scriptures, the lines defining the Spirit and other Persons of the Trinity are not very clear.

The truth is, we’ll never know whether the sins of Dan and Micah were forgivable.  First off, the point of the author excluded telling us if either repented.  Secondly, the shrine at Dan lasted until the final destruction of the northern tribes.  So, whether Micah and Dan could be restored wasn’t the point, and remains outside our ability to see.  It’s probably wise to say that there was forgiveness available had Micah or Dan repented.  Dan obviously did not, but we’re never told about Micah.

The vast mercy and grace of God make the existence of something “unpardonable” out of place, or, at least, unexpected.  There simply seems to be forgiveness everywhere in Scripture, except in regards to the Holy Spirit.  And we’re not really told why, not clearly.  So, what’s a closet theologian to do?  Stand on the holy mercy of our Omniscient Master.  He’s got it covered, and typically does so with mercy and compassion.

What’s your view through the fence this day?


Leaderlessness Condemned

What if your first assumption, impression, or idea were wrong? Are you willing to switch? Can you adapt to new information? Are you able to see the facts from another perspective? Sometime we (read, ‘I’) get so myopic, focused on my own idea, I can’t see another, often better, view of the facts. This is why this blog is designed the way it is, asking for other views.

As I read through chapters 17 and 18 of Judges, the only view I saw was one that had chaos from leaderlessness (no king in Israel, and everyone did whatever seemed right to them), and bullies preying on good weaker people. I now think that was my cultural bias. What do you think of when you combine the two verses below?

In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 17:6 NASB)

Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were in it living in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and secure; for there was no ruler humiliating them for anything in the land, and they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone. (Judges 18:7 NASB)

I never thought to connect them before, even though the one is clearly thematic for the remainder of Judges, and the other clearly thematic of Laish. I first thought it was a positive description of Laish, elevating their ability to live at peace in some sort of egalitarian commune. Only a Western thinking American would elevate such a lifestyle. In the day of the judges, or the day of the author, it was simply foolish.

In the NASB, the part translated as “for there was no ruler humiliating them for anything the land,” literally means “there was no possessor of restraint,” which is actually quite different. Compare the ESV translation of the same verse:

Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were there, how they lived in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth, and how they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone.(Judges 18:7 ESV)

There are versions of the Septuagint that support this translation, but the Hebrew and other versions of the Septuagint support “possessor of restraint”. The Hebrew simply isn’t clear right here. Which is probably why there are differing versions in Greek. But when the perspective of the author is considered, when the period of his writing is taken into account, then doesn’t a criticism of leaderlessness make more sense? In a way, the author could be saying Laish suffered from the same malady as Israel in those days.

This is a different perspective than I started with. This is new to me (although probably in a commentary somewhere). The only reason it appeals to me now is that I think it reflects the period better. I don’t know that, but it seems reasonable. Elevating an “egalitarian commune” is more of a postmodernist perspective. We say, “Ah, those poor people,” when the people of that day would say, “What a bunch of idiots”.

So, the lesson learned can be a mixture of willingness to learn, and how much we need each other for protection. We need leadership, we need dealings with other people, we need each other. Our culture is all about the individual, but that’s considered weak in Scripture. We think it’s weak to need and rely on others, Scripture calls that foolish. So, what will we choose? Will the idolatrous philosophies of our culture supersede what our Master calls us to in Scripture?

That’s my view through the fence this morning. What do you see of our Master?

Revisionist Bullys

Back in the days of Joshua, the leader of Israel after Moses died, all the tribes of Israel were allotted territory in Canaan.  A few, like Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh, wanted the East side of the Jordan.  But the rest, all were given territory within Canaan.  The tribe of Dan received the allotment that was defined in Joshua 19, beginning in verse 40.

The seventh lot fell to the tribe of the sons of Dan according to their families.
The territory of their inheritance was Zorah and Eshtaol and Ir-shemesh,
and Shaalabbin and Aijalon and Ithlah,
and Elon and Timnah and Ekron,
and Eltekeh and Gibbethon and Baalath,
and Jehud and Bene-berak and Gath-rimmon,
and Me-jarkon and Rakkon, with the territory over against Joppa.
(Joshua 19:40-46 NASB)

So, they did receive an inheritance, along with the other tribes, but there is another note along with their initial allotment.  It reads as so:

The territory of the sons of Dan proceeded beyond them; for the sons of Dan went up and fought with Leshem and captured it. Then they struck it with the edge of the sword and possessed it and settled in it; and they called Leshem Dan after the name of Dan their father. (Joshua 19:47 NASB)

It’s a single sentence that says nothing about the idols.  “What idols”, you ask?  The idols that made the city of Dan (named for their father) a place of worship.  You know, when the tribes split into two countries, Israel and Judah.  Not ringing a bell?  Okay, read this:

Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and lived there. And he went out from there and built Penuel.  Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will return to the house of David.  If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.”  So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.”  He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. (1 Kings 12:25-29 NASB)

Why put a shrine in Dan?  Well, it was far north, for the folks in the far north, making it convenient for them.  Bethel was closer to the southern border, but Jerusalem was even further south, and the people used to travel there.  So, again, why Dan?  Perhaps because there was already a place of worship there.  As it happens, that’s what chapters 17 and 18 of Judges are about.  There was no king in the land, and so, idolatry proliferated, and this set the people up for the sin to come later.  Confused yet?

The author of Judges attempts to clarify a problem that the people of Judah saw in their day.  The people, their people, living as a separate nation north of them, worshiped in cities of Bethel and Dan.  Bethel was closest to Jerusalem, and so, gets most of the “ink” in the Hebrew Scriptures.  But there was also this shrine in Dan, the city furthest north among the tribes of Israel.

The founding of the city is first described in Joshua 19, where Dan’s territory “proceeded beyond them”.  The city is called Leshem there, and Laish in Judges 18. In chapter 18, we have the “migration” described in great detail.  In fact, the focus seems to be on the idols, and less about the territory problem Dan sought to fix.

An inventory of the highlights should suffice to provide a character study of the tribe, or part of the tribe, migrating.  Once the author of Judges has Micah firmly set in his idolatrous situation (chapter 17), he then begins the description of the migration of Dan (chapter 18).  This migration is clearly set within the setting of Micah and his shrine complete with priest.

First, the spies are sent (ala Numbers 13) to find someplace to migrate to.  As they go, they find Micah and his priest (18:3-6).  They continue on their way and find a vulnerable people living in seclusion (18:7).  The spies return and rally the troops to go out and take Laish (18:8-11).  The tribe sets out, and Kiriath Jearim is named Mahaneh-Dan (where Samson grew up).

As the tribe travels through the mountains of Ephraim, they come to Micah’s shrine and priest, and take the whole shebang, idols, ephod, and priest (18:13-21).  Micah pursues them, but 600 grim armed men are not what he was hoping to find, so he looses his shrine (and favor of Yahweh?).

The tribe of Dan reaches Laish:

Then they took what Micah had made and the priest who had belonged to him, and came to Laish, to a people quiet and secure, and struck them with the edge of the sword; and they burned the city with fire.  And there was no one to deliver them, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with anyone, and it was in the valley which is near Beth-rehob. And they rebuilt the city and lived in it.  They called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father who was born in Israel; however, the name of the city formerly was Laish.  The sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land.  So they set up for themselves Micah’s graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh. (Judges 18:27-31 NASB)

Finally, we’re told the name of the itinerant young Levite, Jonathan the son of Manasseh.  The vulnerable people of Laish are wiped out, their city burned, and then rebuilt as Dan.  But notice the epitaph of the author to this account, “So they set up for themselves Micah’s graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh.”  There was an option already available for the worship of Yahweh, but it didn’t involve idols.  The tribe of Dan preferred their option.

As we consider our own culture, and the influence we have permitted in our worship of the One True God, have we preferred our own option?  Perhaps a more frightening question is, “Do you know enough about biblical worship of Jesus to know whether or not we’ve adopted our culture over our Master?”

These are not easy questions.  But pursuing answers is helpful in understanding our relationship with our Master.  Such a pursuit has to be made in Scripture, and no time is wasted when spent there.

So, what do you see of our Master through the fence?

The Dangers of Kinglessness

One of the concerns among modern leaders of Jesus followers is the encroachment of the American culture on belief and practice.  Richard Niebuhr wrote a book called Christ and Culture back in 1951.  It’s considered a classic among Christian Literature, and is probably even more of a necessary exploration today than it was then.  It’s possible he would have drawn different conclusions today, our condition has deteriorated so far.

What happens to believers, honest, sincere, followers of Jesus, who follow a very distorted “version” of the Only Beloved Son of God?  What do those who fill our churches believe about Jesus?  Do they know what He has revealed about Himself in Scripture, or only what they’ve been told?  If what we’ve been told by others sounds anything like the messages our culture tells us, there’s a danger that we begin to blend the messages.

Now there was a man of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah.  He said to his mother, “The eleven hundred pieces of silver which were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse in my hearing, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the LORD.”  He then returned the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother, and his mother said, “I wholly dedicate the silver from my hand to the LORD for my son to make a graven image and a molten image; now therefore, I will return them to you.”  So when he returned the silver to his mother, his mother took two hundred pieces of silver and gave them to the silversmith who made them into a graven image and a molten image, and they were in the house of Micah. (Judges 17:1-4 NASB)

Notice how Micah’s mother blesses Yahweh (LORD in NASB), then has her son make an idol to worship Yahweh?  How does that happen among the Children of Israel?  What does it take for someone living in close proximity to the Temple in Shiloh to setup a separate worship of Yahweh incorporating idols?  She and her son don’t know!  They think they’re doing something good!  Don’t believe that? Then, read on.

Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to stay wherever I may find a place.”  Micah then said to him, “Dwell with me and be a father and a priest to me, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year, a suit of clothes, and your maintenance.” So the Levite went in. The Levite agreed to live with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons.  So Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in the house of Micah.  Then Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, seeing I have a Levite as priest.” (Judges 17:9-13 NASB)

Now that Micah has a Levite as a priest, he knows he has the favor of Yahweh.  He’s confident, faithful in what he knows, sincere in his faith, and worshiping a completely different god than Yahweh.  He didn’t know the commandment about not making an idol (Exodus 20:4, Deuteronomy 5:8).  The Canaanite culture, and all the “-ites” around him, all worshiped using idols.  So, of course, that’s how someone would worship Yahweh.

How could he know it was good to have a Levite as a priest, and not know it was wrong to make an idol?  How did the Levite not know?  He’s young, but he’s a Levite, brought up in the Levitical family line.  How does he not know idols are wrong?  With all this pandemonium, you might wonder who’s in charge around here:

In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 17:6 NASB)

In a sense, leadership has the responsibility to keep this from happening.  We don’t like “kings”, we buck against authority, we resist being told what to do.  We do what we think is right, in our own eyes.  The danger is real, and the need for leadership to change this feature of modern Jesus followers is also real.  And it doesn’t become easier if left unchallenged.  That’s what tomorrow’s post is about.

In the meantime, what do you see of our Master and His children through your knothole in the fence?

The Honor of Family

When we started this crazy ride of Samson’s life, his parents were childless. The Angel of Yahweh visits them, and bingo, no longer childless. But we’re never told there are more kids following, at least not until now. Up to this point Samson has even acted like an only child, as if the world revolved around him. Only now do we discover that wasn’t it.

And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life.  Then his brothers and all his father’s household came down, took him, brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. Thus he had judged Israel twenty years. (Judges 16:30 — 31 NASB)

Samson’s claim to fame lay in his great strength. And this strength was not in his muscles, but in Yahweh. The key to unlocking his strength was in his choice of Delilah over Yahweh. Sure, she had his hair cut, but it was his choice to tell her that brought him down. And, it’s in his death, in finally choosing Yahweh, he becomes the quintessential weapon of Yahweh against the Philistines. 

But, it’s also in his death we learn more of his family. We learn he had brothers. We learn of the family grave. And we learn of their honor of Samson. He is “gathered to his fathers”, which, in that culture, is acceptance highly prized. It means that, in his death, probably more so than during his life, he was accepted as one of the people of God. 

He went from “terrifying freak” to “Samson son of Manoah”, from weapon to champion. It’s not so subtle a change in their culture. In a way, his burial with his father, Manoah, brings this one so-holy-as-to-be-avoided, into the circle of a holy people. He was a Nazarite from birth who tears lions, kills a thousand men with a donkey jawbone, and carries the city gates of Gaza up a prominent hill. He probably gives people the creeps, especially when they look into his eyes and see the a man trapped in there. It’s haunting.

Now he’s home, finally. He’s at peace, finally. He’s among his people to stay, finally. And he’s welcomed, finally. There aren’t 3,000 of his own people showing up with new ropes to bind him and hand him over to his enemies. Samson is a tragic character. His tragedy is partly due to his lousy choices, but also due, maybe mostly due, to Yahweh’s choices of how to use him. 

We can’t blame others for our bad choices, not even our Master, Jesus. When our Master calls us to a purpose that we find uncomfortable or detestable, what choices will we make? Not the missionary type? Too invested in your secular job to consider vocational ministry? Does a jail or prison chaplain ministry scare you too much to consider?  Perhaps you’re too busy to be a hospital chaplain. 

The callings of our Master, from local soup kitchens to foreign missions, force us to choose. The Spirit of Jesus, living in us, empowers us for His use. And that empowerment can have detrimental effects in other areas of our lives when we resist that call to service. Often, people cling to the master of our warped culture’s pantheon, and resist the Master living within us. 

There’s time to relent, to cease resisting, to acquiesce to our Master’s intentions for us. I have, sort of. And in the struggle to be what He wants rather than what I want, I move in and out of bad choices along the way. I medicate fears and frustrations with choices that gratify my desires, not His. In a sense, it’s like I’m being passively aggressive with my Master, I’ll do what He wants, but refuse to be happy with it. 

And my culture says that it can’t be His call if I’m not happy. Not according to Samson. Not if we read of Jephthah. Not anyone familiar, really familiar, with Jeremiah. Scripture teaches me about my Master, and that He’s less interested in my happiness than in my usefulness to His Kingdom. My happiness saves no one. But His Kingdom redeems the whole cosmos.

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