Modifying God’s Plans

Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, “Behold, the LORD, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun.  ‘I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.'” Then Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”  She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. (Judges 4:6-9 NASB)

This probably never happens to you, but have you ever tried to bargain with God to change His plans for you?  I have.  Don’t.  Barak did, and his fun ended at a woman’s tent.  See, God will modify His plans to accommodate us, and our level of faith.  But those accommodations often will make clear that we need to up our game with Him, because we will see what we missed with our modifications.

Barak is told that if he will drag himself out in front of the army of Naphtali and Zebulun, then God will drag his enemy out to be defeated.  Well, fine, but Barak wants the prophet, the ‘mouthpiece’ for God, to come along as assurance.  After all, God wouldn’t let anything happen to her, right?  What if he needed a last-minute insight?  What if he didn’t understand the instructions (which seems to have happened)?

Barak wanted to obey, but with conditions.  His faith wasn’t where it needed to be for full obedience.  God called him to put 10,000 men up against 900 chariots and other soldiers.  That was simply too intimidating.  Those chariots just roll right over people.  They’re just not safe at all.  So, Barak wanted additional assurance that this scary plan would work.  And he got it.

The modification of Barak cost him the final victory, but not God.  God still won, but He used another woman, Jael.  Barak was not the guy.  He didn’t get Sisera, the chariot general of Jabin.  Jael, the wife of an ally of Jabin, got the general, and she got him with a tent peg through the temple, into the ground.  Very dramatic ending, but not very manly.  Barak was kept from defeating Sisera, but God still won the victory.

In similar ways, my Master will accomplish His plans, with or without me.  He will accomplish these plans using me as He intends, or, if my faith just isn’t there, in whatever way He wants, just with diminished returns for me.  I gain from my participation in His plans only to the level of my faith.  In other words, my level of cooperation determines the quality of what I get out of that cooperation.

God does negotiate.  Anyone reading Genesis 18:20-23 (a passage to be read with a Yiddish accent, or misunderstood) knows God negotiates.  In some ways, the Middle Eastern Bizarre is more the setting for our relationship than the military chain of command.  On the other hand, it’s in the midst of those negotiations that we lose something of what our Master has for us.  That’s what we bargain away.

On the other hand, there are times when our Master intends for us to negotiate; that’s the act of obedience.  Moses is told to step away from the Sons of Israel for Yahweh is going to destroy them.  But Moses negotiates for their survival.  That is what God wanted from Moses; that was the act of obedience.  So, how do you know?  What is it that tells you that negotiation isn’t obedience or that negotiation is the obedient thing?

The only way I can think of is to get to know God better.  The better we know His voice, His character, His plans and desires become clearer, and we’ll be able to better distinguish His will.  Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  It is the experience we gain with and of God that enables us to know God’s mind, His will, and then be obedient.  Then we will know the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Well, that’s my view through this knothole.  What’s your view of God through the fence today?

No Thumbs

They found Adoni-bezek in Bezek and fought against him, and they defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites.  But Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes.  Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to gather up scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has repaid me.” So they brought him to Jerusalem and he died there. (Judges 1:5-7 NASB)

History is one of those fields of study that vainly attempts a scientific approach, but which always fails to avoid a good story.  After all, it’s the story of a culture that is the object of any anthropological study.  Unfortunately, people can be distracted by the details and miss the point.  I think that’s what happens way too often to this reference.

Adoni-Bezek (or Adonai-Bezeq), is a person we can’t find.  The city of Bezek was found (we think), but it’s not in Judah’s territory.  At the end of this account, this king is taken to Jerusalem.  I mention that because in Joshua, which most of Judges 1 repeats, there is a king referred to as Adonai-Zedek who is the king of Jerusalem.  More likely than not, there was a simple misspelling of the name, and this account in Judges refers to the same king in Joshua.  I bring this up for two reasons.

Jerusalem is the city of Salem mentioned in Genesis 14.  Melchizedek brought bread and wine out to Abraham after he rescued Lot, and Abraham gave him a tithe.  Melchizedek was referred to as “king of Salem”, and “priest of God Most High”.  So, this priest worships the same God as Abraham.  The name of this peculiar character is most often translated as “king of righteousness”.  I believe the name combines the two roles, priest and king, into one person.

Second, Salem becomes Jerusalem when the Jebusites inhabit it.  At that point this “king/priest” role seems to change, or at least the god worshiped seems to change.  Because when the Sons of Israel show up, the people of Jerusalem are not on their side.  The name of this king, Adonai-Bezek (or Adonai-Zedek) uses a term that Canaanites used for their storm god, “Baal”.  The Sons of Israel switched to Adonai, but the term was almost interchangeable as it meant “the one in charge” of whatever.  So, the name of the king of the city where God Most High was once worshiped, had succumbed to the gods of the rest of Canaan.

Notice that this king still remembers the name of Yahweh (Lord).  He knew the God of the Sons of Israel, but didn’t worship Him.  He knew that becoming thumb-less was due to his treatment of others, a judgement on him by the God Most High his city used to worship.  He knew, but too late.

What do I know, but don’t act on?  I know in Whom I have believed, and I too am persuaded that He is faithful.  I know that what I have entrusted to Him, He will keep until we meet in eternity.  But do I live that way?  Do I behave as if this is true, that I am persuaded of that?  How confident am I in my Master that He truly has my back, that He loves me?  How much am I at His service?  Would people with whom I work know that about me?  Would the ones with whom I speak on the phone pick up on that?

The return on the investment of my life into my Master isn’t an improvement in my immediate surroundings.  The return on the investment of my life into my Master is in a changed lifestyle.  He changes me by my close association with Him.  It’s not that I try to be better, or kinder, or more polite.  By association, He changes me into someone who is simply more like Him.  Or, at least, that’s what’s supposed to be happening.  Sometimes I wonder.

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?