Pegged By a Woman

Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him.  Now Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites, from the sons of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh. (Judges 4:10-11 NASB)

Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.  Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.” And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug.  He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him.  He said to her, “Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.'”  But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. (Judges 4:17-21 NASB)

The account of Deborah and Barak would not be complete without Jael.  You simply cannot get the point without her.  We get so focused on the fact that Deborah led the Sons of Israel as a woman, that we forget that the enemy of God’s people was defeated by a woman from another people.  Not only did God keep the victory from Barak, but also from the Sons of Israel.

Also, much is made about the fact that Deborah prophesies that Barak won’t be given the victory because he asked a woman to go with him.  I think that has more to do with literary irony from the writer than some sort of indictment from God on women involved in leadership.  Deborah remains the judge, and there seems to be no problem on God’s side with her in that role.

The irony for me derives from the layered issue.  This Kenite, Heber, separates from his brethren in the south and is near Kadesh.  He is at “peace” with Jabin, the enemy of the people of Israel.  Yet his wife seems to be the enemy of Jabin and Sisera.  She pretends to be friendly, like her husband, but then secretly assassinates the general.

So, a battle ensues with the chariots being less effective than foot soldiers.  The general escapes on foot, and is killed by a woman while he sleeps.  Just when he thought he was safe, among friends, he wasn’t.  The battle followed him to the tents of his ally.  In all of this, where was Heber, anyway?

I think God’s sense of humor peeks through here.  Sure, the grisly nature of Jael’s actions is kind of gross.  But a woman driving a tent peg through a guy’s head into the ground?  When you consider he’s the chief warrior for the king of Canaan, it has to be the most embarrassing way to go.  What do you put on that tombstone?

I suppose the point for this is that God uses whoever He likes, and uses them in ways that show off His work.  A seasoned warrior killed in his sleep by a woman with a hammer and nail?  Yeah, that would be God.  Nine hundred chariots out run by foot soldiers?  Yeah, that would be God.  How does anyone else get credit?  They don’t.  They get points for participation.

So, what are we after?  Recognition?  Credit?  Kudos?  What?  God doesn’t give points for anything other than participation.  If we’re not okay with that, then there are s a few layers of problems with our relationship with God.  God has to be the Main Character, the Hero, the One in charge.  Who else can save?  Through whom, other than God, can human creatures be saved from eternal death?  If only Jesus saves, then isn’t it in everyone’s best interest that He get all the attention?

I like getting credit, for people to like me, think well of me, be impressed, and so on.  I need to get passed that.  People won’t be saved through any achievement of mine.  My best day won’t get one more person into eternal life.  Only Jesus accomplishes that.  So, let my Master use Jael, Deborah, Barak, foot soldiers, and tent pegs.  That should gain Him so notoriety, and that is the point, because that’s what brings people to Him.

So, what’s your view of God through the fence today?

Resurrection Eternal

Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection), and they questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that IF A MAN’S BROTHER DIES, having a wife, AND HE IS CHILDLESS, HIS BROTHER SHOULD MARRY THE WIFE AND RAISE UP CHILDREN TO HIS BROTHER.  Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; and the second and the third married her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children.  Finally the woman died also.  In the resurrection therefore, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her.” (Luke 20:27-33 NASB)

One of the peculiar aspects to the Hebrew Scriptures is the progression of their understanding of “eternal life”.  It is my suspicion that much of religious understanding was simply experiential.  People died…and remained dead.  Therefore people don’t rise from the dead.  Except people did.  So there is some sort of resurrection, but it only happens on special occasions or to special people.

The thing is that there seems to be some sort of belief in existence after death from a very early human history.  It became extremely developed in Egypt, but even so, the earliest human habitation (Jericho) shows evidence of some sort of belief in some of the earliest layers.  There’s not a lot of “evidence” for such existence, so how does “experiential religion” account for such belief?  And believing in “life-after-death” isn’t the same thing as believing in “resurrection”.    So how did some make this connection?

The prophets God sent to Israel seemed to have no problem believing in life, life with others, after death.  Isaiah wrote of it, Ezekiel wrote of it, but Elijah and Elisha actually bring people to life.  Think about that.  Elijah and Elisha didn’t go, “It’s not possible”, they just did it, believing that God makes it happen.  How did they know if it had never happened before?  I suspect that it had done it before but it didn’t make it into the annuls of Scripture.  It wasn’t germane to the story of God’s work with His people, so it was left out; in much the same way details of King Omri were left out (1 Kings 16:16-30).

I think Levirate Marriage is one of those progressions toward believing in resurrection from “life-after-death”.  It’s not spelled out that it came from that, but I think the importance it had indicates it does.  So here’s how I get there:

Eternal life can be understood in terms of living in the memory of your offspring.  You live in their minds and therefore live eternally.  If life is defined relationally, then this makes a degree of sense (see earlier entries on this topic).  So, if a man dies childless, unless the rules of Levirate Marriage are carried out, his eternal life is over.  When someone refuses to carryout the process, they are, in effect, taking his eternal life from their brother or relative.  It’s serious seen from this point of view.

So while the Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection, they did believe in eternal life; just not some sort of “spiritual existence”.  They stopped at the Levirate Marriage rule with their understanding of “eternal life”.  This would make a certain amount of sense for “priests” for whom lineage was everything.  Their understanding would be simply that people die and experience nothing, but live on through their offspring.  Resurrection would imply the possibility of experience after a physical death.  And if death is relational, then death becomes true only from one perspective, the perspective of those still on earth.

Here’s my point, God has revealed to us that there is life, existence and relational experience, after our brains stop waving.  So, why do we focus so much on this one?  Why, if we know that there’s more to follow, do we let this life distract us from that one?  I think it’s because we know so little of the one to come.  We fear what we don’t know, and know more of the loss of this life than the gain in the one to follow.  And if you think about it, God has set it up that way, and perpetuates the lack of knowledge of what’s to come.  We can surmise about His motives in that, but we’re still left with a blind-spot about what’s to come.  What we do know is that it’s life with Him.  I believe He wants that to be enough.

So, is it enough for me?  Is it enough to know that I have eternity with Him facing me?  Will that define my actions and decisions today?  Will that modify my attitude at work, with my co-workers, with my customers, with my circumstances?  Or will it affect how I deal with my wife and daughter?  Will my belief that this is nothing compared to what I have coming change how I deal with my day and those I encounter in it?  Will it change how I face my future, the future of my church, my community, and my plans?  If it does, how will it change or affect these things?  How is my faith in my Master actualized in my behavior and attitudes?  How is eternity with Him driving my point of view, my paradigm, and my life direction?

To put it another way, why do such petty stupid things get me upset if this is nothing to compared to what’s to come?  If I believe that why do stupid things bother me?  Why do I fear?  Why do I get angry?  Why do I have any other emotion than joy all the time, because I have an eternity already.  What more is there that can compare with that?  Why am I tossed off kilter by the small things when I have such an enormous thing already secured?

The truth is that I believe, but clearly need help with my unbelief.  The faith I profess hasn’t yet become so thoroughly pervasive in my life that I know nothing else.  Not yet.

What’s your view through the fence this morning?

The Cost You Don’t See

And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”  When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  (Luke 18:21-23 NASB)

Back in Luke 14 (25-33) Jesus describes the cost of discipleship.  Here this cost is illustrated.  Jesus discusses with this ruler the way he can inherit eternal life.  The ruler believes that the association necessary to inherit this gift is through something he does. Since he already follows the law, Jesus notes that he recognizes that isn’t enough.  So Jesus adds another, give up everything and follow Me.

Sometimes we think of those extravagant costs Jesus notes as excessive and naively believe He can’t be serious.  But think of that challenge in this way, for what are we willing to sell eternal life in heaven, or for what will we trade heaven later to gain now?  Economically, that’s what we do.  We sell heaven for stuff we have here, but notice what Jesus says, “…and you will have treasure in heaven;” it’s a trade!  But the ruler sold heaven for what he had at hand.

This is the same thing we do when we look at the cost of discipleship and choose something else.  When we decide not to study, to pray, to meet together and make those things priorities; we sell heaven for whatever we do instead.  I’ve heard it lots of times from a wide variety of people that this view is legalistic.  I believe that too is an excuse to ignore it.  Because when I ask them what it means to them, they still aren’t doing even what they believe it means.  But at least they aren’t legalistic.

The truth is that “goods” aren’t always the problem, the thing that keeps us from devotion to Jesus.  But for many, and in our culture many more than most, the ease of our lives takes priority over the discomfort of being a disciple.  I know it does for me.  I know that for many of the decisions I make, my comfort winds up being the priority.  So, I see where my Master is revealing these things to me, where He is moving me, prodding me off my comfortable couch and easy chair, and into His kingdom work.

What keeps you distracted from obedience?  For what are you “selling” eternal life?  For what will you trade to get it, or get it back?  What’s your view through the knothole?

When A Lawyer Stands Up

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25 NASB)

Last week, I decided to work ahead and complete my translation of this parable.  Unbeknownst to me (but knownst to God), I would need that last Sunday.  It worked out that I was asked to give a “devotional” in the Sunday service while the song before was playing.  Since this was fresh in my mind, I chose this.  But the divine element was that this parable dovetailed precisely with the sermon.  The person who was scheduled had a “fatherly” devotion planned, and my next scheduled speaking was on Father’s Day.

Yes, sure, all random chance, kind of like the universe, completely without orchestration or direction.  How do we “swim” in the pool of divine direction and intent?  Do we go with the current or fight against it, strive for the side, or even stay out of it all together?  As seventy “missionaries” return and they celebrate, up jumps a lawyer.  What timing!  Jesus has just praised God for revealing His purpose to the infants rather than the wise and intelligent.  How could this guy remain in his seat?  The infant believing he’s wise and intelligent could not remain silent.

As this lawyer stood to fight against the tide of Jesus’ ministry and direction, he stood as one of the wise and intelligent.  In representation of their group, he stands to “test” Jesus.  The word used combines “from out of” and “to test for quality or response”.  In other words, the Lawyer wanted to know what Jesus would do when asked a “hard” question.  Ironically, the group who just returned, had returned from healing and casting out demons, and so on.  Having returned from this dramatic demonstration of the power of God, Jesus says He saw the devil fall from heaven.  What a great time to ask a question about commandments!

This is one of those encounters where you have to wonder if the guy was even paying attention.  It’s a great example of what Jesus says in praise, that the Father revealed these things to the infants and not the wise and intelligent!  He didn’t get it.  He’s clueless about what’s going on, and focus’ only on his agenda: test Jesus to see what He will do.  “Yeah, yeah, I know all those miracles happened, and preaching and stuff, but I have a question about the law.”  Okay, thanks for playing.

In his wisdom and intelligence though, the lawyer provides an excellent opportunity for one of the parables of Jesus most quoted and misunderstood by masses of the unfaithful.  Anyone with a motorhome or camp trailer knows of the “Good Sam Club”.  Where did the name come from?  This parable.  Does the club have anything to do with the parable?  No, not really.  In 1966, several RV people banded together in a promise to help each other along the road (i.e. be a good Samaritan).

So, once again, a lawyer stood to speak.  I wonder if people groaned when he did.  “Great, not this guy again.”  I wonder if people looked on in interest wondering what would happen as well.  “This should be good.”  I wonder if people even noticed.  The thing is, this guy stands in the midst of a celebration and seeks to take the crowd and celebration in another direction.  I don’t know if he really expected Jesus to “fail” the test, the word used doesn’t suggest either way.  All I know is that his question has little or nothing to do with what’s going on, except as an example of Jesus’ claim his group missed the revelation.

So, what do I learn?  Well, first off, I learn to remain on a lookout for what Jesus is doing around me.  And along with that, I learn to jettison my agenda if it doesn’t seem to fit what I see my Master doing around me.  Regardless of whether Jesus was able to use this errant lawyer or not, he didn’t end up as an example of obedience to Jesus.  I would rather be one of faceless, nameless examples of faithful followers of Jesus.  It would be better to be one of the unnamed 120 in the upper room with the disciples than the named or mentioned opposition to Him.  It’s not that my name is written in Scripture, but that my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  That’s where I want to be mentioned.

So what do you see when the lawyer stands up to test Jesus?