Priests of the Consuming Fire

Regardless of what you might feel or believe about the word “religion”, it has a place as a definition of the life of a disciple of Jesus. People may not like it, but it remains a reality. The Christian Scriptures refer to disciples of Jesus as priests. And priests practice religion. That is their primary function. Their entire role, perhaps life, is bound up in the practice of religion. And for disciples of Jesus, this is true as well.

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12:28-29 NASB

The word for “service” above is a Greek word typically referring to a “hired hand” or even, in some cases, “enslaved”. The translators of the Septuagint used it for service to God (or other god), almost exclusively. and in the Christian Scriptures, it’s never used otherwise. Here, the writer of Hebrews combines it with “reverence and awe”, making the meaning unmistakable.

One of the dangers of only seeing our life with our Savior as a “relationship” is that we run the risk of missing His superiority. He is our Savior, but He is also our Creator, and not just of people, but the this vast, unimaginable universe. The writer was serious, dead serious, about serving our Savior with reverence and awe.

We think of Jesus as “love”. That makes us feel good because we don’t really understand love. I know that’s true because we get a warm fuzzy comfortable feeling from God being love, but not from God being a “consuming fire”. Suddenly we’re overly hot, on fire, about to die.

We need to strike a balance in our relationship with our Creator. We, as disciples of Jesus, must take Him more seriously than we do. The choice of the word for “service”, brings with it a life dedicated to working for God. For the Greeks, it can have religious significance, but it typically referred to working for someone. We think of our work-life as separate from our religious-life. That’s not how our Creator inspired Scripture to be written.

One of the more familiar passages speaking to service to God is Romans 12:1,2:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2 NASB (emphasis mine)

In this passage, “service” is a noun, but the noun version of verb used in Hebrews 12:28. In other words, it’s the same thing said differently. The point for Paul in this passage is that our lives are to be completely dedicated to this life of service to our Savior. Which is very close to the meaning for Nicodemus, our writer of Hebrews.

Nicodemus provides a terrifying reason, missing in Paul’s call to service. “Our God is a consuming fire.” Do you think of Him that way? Do you consider that your seriousness in service is due to Him being a consuming fire? Our Creator is also our Savior, and He is love. But He is also a consuming fire! Think about that for a moment. That, logically, means that love is a consuming fire.

There is so much we miss in our life with our Savior. We do not pay enough attention to Scripture, and miss so much of what our Creator reveals about Himself to us. We have to fight our tendency to focus only on what we like about our Savior, and miss what He shows us about Himself. We need a more complete view of our Savior. We need to receive all of Him revealed in His Scripture.

This means that we need to spend more time in study of Scripture, something we tend to spend the least amount of time during the day. We also need the varied perspectives of our fellow disciples. Our Creator doesn’t reveal Himself fully to each person, but contextualizes Himself to His creatures. Jesus never healed the same way twice. The Holy Spirit doesn’t “fall upon” His people the same way, and there are different effects each time. Paul doesn’t write the same thing to every church, because they don’t all have the same people nor the same problems.

Let’s remember the seriousness of our religious relationship with our Creator. Let us live reverently and in awe of our Savior. Let’s keep in mind that the One before whom we live is a consuming fire. This isn’t an opportunity for roasting marshmallows, this is the fiery furnace with an extra Person in it. Let’s sober up and get busy.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


Interpreting Moses

Surely this has happened to you at some time, you see a movie that you thought was okay, but not great, only to have someone else describe it in glowing terms. When you press them for details, they bring up a bunch of stuff you didn’t see, or didn’t see that way. Or, perhaps you are on the other side of that, you are the one who catches all the details others miss. Either way, it’s amazing how two people can see the same events very differently.

Storytelling can be the same way. Different people can walk away from a story with very different ideas about what it was about, the quality of writing, even details about the main characters. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are many different interpretations of Scripture (and yet, it still rankles some people).

Even so, it still surprises me how the writer of Hebrews interprets Moses. In Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, he claims that Moses was “beautiful” (II.9.6), in agreement with the writer of Hebrews (11:23). But they diverge in their assessment of Moses’ parents in that Josephus writes that the parents feared death for being found harboring the child (II.9.4). The writer of Hebrews views it differently:

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

Hebrews 11:23 (NASB)

This isn’t a huge sticking point because what is meant by the writer of Hebrews could be that they acted in spite of fear, or bravely. But the next assessment of Moses is very peculiar:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.

Hebrews 11:24-26 (NASB)

Ironically, the entirety of the Exodus summary of Moses early life with his adopted mother is as follows:

The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, “Because I drew him out of the water.” Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren.

Exodus 2:10-11 NASB

That’s it, no detail at all. One moment he is weaned, the next, witnessing the beating of his “brethren”. Josephus has far more to say, with chapter 10 of book II being about Moses defeating the Ethiopians in battle, much to everyone’s surprise.

Interpreting Moses’ response to the beating of a Hebrew as “choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” may be a stretch. On the other hand, if he were happy and content being an adopted child of Egyptian royalty, why go look over the people at all? Why would they be “brethren”? Why kill the Egyptian? It makes a lot of sense to accept this interpretation of “Nicodemus” (the writer of Hebrews).

To take it further and claim Moses was looking for more, for the “reward”, of heaven, if we accept the context, might also be a stretch. But there was an awareness of God, of God’s people, of Patriarchs, and promises, so, it could very well be that Moses looked for something from this God, so different from those of the land in which he was a prince.

But, then there is the reason Moses leaves Egypt. For Josephus, Moses leaves to escape a palace plot to take his life (Antiquities II.11). He says nothing of witnessing the beating of a Hebrew, or Moses’ killing of the offending Egyptian. For the writer of Hebrews, Moses leaves in what sounds like defiance of the king of Egypt:

By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.

Hebrews 11:27 (NASB)

Moses records the reason in Exodus slightly differently:

But he said, “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and said, “Surely the matter has become known.” When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well.

Exodus 2:14-15 NASB

So, was it defiance? Was Moses fearless to leave Egypt? Again, I think that the writer of Hebrews brings out a good point. Moses is obviously aware of something more than politics or economics when he tries to defend the Hebrews. His faith may not be huge or mature, but it’s growing. It becomes strong enough to defy Pharaoh, it becomes strong enough to enact the Passover. It becomes enough to lead the difficult people to Sinai.

So, how are we any different in that regard? Our faith may be immature. Our faith may be weak right now, we may be running scared. The thing is, are we running in the direction God wants us? Are we running from Him or to Him?

Back and Forth

Do you ever imagine the scene you read about in Scripture? When you read chapter 19 in Exodus, try to imagine Moses’ as he goes back and forth from the mountain to the people. After a bit, it begins to seem like Moses is a pretty busy guy.

On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel:

Exodus 19:1-3 NASB

Israel sets up camp, which is a lot of work, and Moses heads up the mountain to speak with God. And Yahweh speaks to him, so, clearly Moses is supposed to go up on the mountain. If you like hiking, this might sound great, like a lot of fun. And, in some ways, it had to be one of more awesome experiences of Moses’ life. At least it probably was the first time.

So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

Exodus 19:7-9 NASB

It doesn’t say that Moses went back up the mountain to “report the words of the people.” But, later, in verse 14, Moses goes back down the mountain to give the words of Yahweh to the people. But then, for three days, he remains with the people in the camp until they all go out to meet Yahweh as He descends on to Sinai.

The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish.

Exodus 19:20,21 NASB

Moses heads back up, at the request of God, Who then sends him immediately back down. I’m not trying to obscure the message of Yahweh to His people. And I’m not trying to play down the importance of it. The things that Yahweh says to the sons of Israel are monumental, and the appearance of Yahweh on Mount Sinai blows away the visual effects of any movie ever made. I don’t want to detract from that at all. Those things are lying about the surface of this chapter, and they are important.

What I’m saying is that we can get so impatient with our Savior that we can miss what He’s saying to us, and through us to His other children. Sometimes we get the runaround, going back and forth from the people to God, and back to the people. For instance, pastor’s preach sermons, and people listen. But nothing changes, and the pastor goes back and does it again, and again, nothing changes. At what point does the pastor stop?

What about teaching? When does the teacher stop teaching because it’s not “working”? When do you stop attending church because “you’re not being fed”, or the people are cold? When our Savior might be giving us the runaround, it may be that we’re carrying messages back and forth. The term for such messengers, in English, is “angel”. And some of us have entertained “angels” without knowing it. And, I suspect, some of us have been angels without knowing it.

God chose a frustrating, rebellious, willfully disobedient people, from out of all the peoples of the earth, to His special possession. They are very similar to the Hebrews of Moses’ day. They are us. The message that we have been chosen, even though we don’t deserve to be, that is the message we carry. For our Savior is coming, and will be showing up in the most dramatic of ways. We are called out to stand before Him when He appears, and it will be terrifying, and marvelous when it happens.

So, go ahead and run back and forth, relaying the message of God, He’s coming, He has chosen, and we are to go out and meet with Him.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Why The Fuss?

Has God ever done something that simply makes no sense to you? In our lives, much that happens to us, or even around us, is inexplicable. And, in Scripture, every now and then, we stumble onto an instance where the actions of our Creator and Savior make little sense to us. There is one of those in Exodus 4.

Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, “You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.” So He let him alone. At that time she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood “– because of the circumcision.

Exodus 4:24-26 NASB

This happens immediately following a side comment by God to Moses as Moses is preparing to head back to Egypt. There God explains why He intends to eventually kill the firstborn of Egypt. This will eventually be the final “plague”, and later, it will not have this explanation. The verses above pickup the account of Moses as he is on the way back to Egypt.

Like most commentators admit, there is no certainty about why God meets Moses along the way to kill (literally, cause someone to die). In fact, it’s not certain that God meets Moses specifically, but, rather, “him”. It’s the third person singular male pronoun rather than a specific person. The pronoun isn’t emphasized, but is the suffix of the verb “to meet”. That’s not truly helpful though. The problem is that grammatically, it makes more sense to understand that the pronoun has Moses as its antecedent than someone else. That may be confusing but there were other males with Moses, two specifically.

We’re told later that Moses has a second son, Eliezer. And the previous reference to Moses leaving his father-in-law says that he put his “sons” on a donkey, not just one. While his firstborn son, Gershom, we already know of, Eliezer hasn’t been mentioned yet. In fact, Exodus isn’t very forthcoming about Moses family-by-marriage. So, the third-person singular male pronoun could be either one of Moses’ sons, the one Moses’ wife, Zipporah, circumcises. But that’s not as clear as we’d like. It makes a certain amount of sense, though.

Circumcision is a practice of both the sons of Israel and Egyptians. Uncircumcised males were ostracized by both groups (Genesis 17:14). But the penalty for uncircumcision wasn’t death. So, even so, this seems peculiar behavior for the One having sent Moses back to Egypt to deliver the sons of Israel.

So, what does this reveal to us about the One calling us to His purposes, to His plans, and what He deems important? For one thing, He takes His callings and invitations to us very seriously. This seems to be a matter of life and death to God. For another, He is a serious God. Our Creator doesn’t take His relationship with us lightly, nor should we take it lightly. Our relationship with our Creator is life and death business. Think of this statement by Paul:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of  knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and  the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:7 — 11 (NASB)

It’s easy to ignore the clear uncertainty in Paul’s wording in verse 11, but maybe we shouldn’t. Perhaps Paul senses something in his relationship with Jesus that we miss or conveniently ignore. Maybe, for Paul, his relationship with Jesus is a matter of life and death. Look what he says immediately following:

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12 — 14 (NASB)

Notice Paul repeats his view that he hasn’t obtained the resurrection yet. It could be that Paul is pointing out the obvious, that Jesus hasn’t returned yet. But isn’t it more realistic that Paul is pointing out that He does not consider himself qualified for the resurrection? Review the context again, does it sound like he is referring to Jesus appearing? Or have we assumed it’s a reference to Jesus’ return because the alternative is so unsettling? Maybe this One with Whom we have to do is more serious than we think. It seems Paul took Him very seriously.

Perhaps you think Paul is a bit overly fanatical for your tastes. Perhaps you prefer to rely on Jesus’ teaching, as if you will find solace there for this topic. Check out how Luke records the words of Jesus regarding discipleship:

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.

Luke 14:26 NASB

Or perhaps you prefer Matthew:

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

Matthew 10:37-39 NASB

Sounds like life and death for Jesus as well. Yahweh seeks to bring death into a family where there is disobedience along the path of obedience. Paul strives as if his life depends on his effort to reach Jesus. Jesus calls his disciples, who have already left home and occupation for Him, to hate every other relationship other than Him, or they are not worthy (Matthew) of Him. It’s serious. God is serious. The relationship we have with Jesus is serious, and it seems like God seeks serious people to relate to. It seems as if this “salvation” in which we live is a matter of life and death now, not just in the future, at a judgement, comfortably far off in the future.

And keep in mind, Moses was on his way, albeit reluctantly, to obey God when he was confronted with death from God. Whatever else it may mean, for whatever other reason may have been present, the inescapable fact is that God sought to cause death within Moses’ family. That was His intent, and He relents when Moses’ wife circumcises their son. They escaped divine disaster by the foreskin of their son.

If this feels creepy, good. If you find this unsettling, that’s probably an indicator you’re finally understanding God better. If you are wondering if you really signed up for the right program, then you are finally getting gist of Luke’s depiction of the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33). It’s supposed to be unsettling. Yet, on the other hand, we’re supposed to be focused on making disciples (Matthew 28:19, 20). So, yes, it’s expensive, but, we’re supposed to pony up the cost.

In other words, this unsettling, kind of creepy, Creator of the universe relating to us, not only sacrificed His only Son for this relationship, but expects no less of us. To a bratty selfish entitled culture, that sounds harsh. To so many others around this globe, it makes a lot of sense. For many among the most populous nations of the earth, any expression of faith in Jesus costs them everything. It never occurs to them to take their relationship with Jesus any less serious than He takes it. Maybe it’s time for us to put on a pair of “grown-up-disciple-pants”, lest we too are met along the path of obedience by our Master seeking to cause death.

Getting Off Track

One of the problems with daily life is how it gets us off the track of our daily walk. Our Creator wants to walk with us in His garden in the cool of the day. But, often, our needs and tasks of a day keep us from such walks. We’re busy, and often too busy for our Creator.

Of course, there are times, rare precious times, when our Creator no longer waits for the walks to be our idea, and He invades our day:

Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “ I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:1 — 4 NASB)

Moses is in the wilderness, shepherding sheep. He used to walk the halls of Pharaoh’s palace, and ride chariots. He even tried to help his people once, but only once, which nearly cost him his life. Now, he’s on the run from his grandfather who wants to kill him, sojourning among a strange people. But he’s started a family, he’s making a good life of it here, he’s accepted his circumstances. Of course now Yahweh intervenes in his life, wants to disrupt everything, and is concerned for the Hebrews. Where was He 40 years ago?

You’ve never been there? You’ve never felt like a foreigner in a foreign land? Never tried to make the best of your circumstances by settling in for the duration? Never figured resistance was fruitless? That’s truly a shame. Because we’re all strangers in a strange land. And some of us have settled in for the duration. It’s probably the other people at your church, not you. In many ways it’s me. If it’s not you, you are free to move on to the next blog.

I tell people my occupation when I asked who I am. The truth is, actually, I am different than my occupation. Hopefully, that’s true for you as well. I’m a theologian and teacher. I am those things because my Creator has called me and designed me for those things. Moses was a deliverer of the Hebrews because that’s what his Creator created him for. Who are you?

Like me, you may be in dire need of a distracting bush fire. At first, it will seem disruptive. People, probably your family, will consider you an idiot for being distracted. There will be pressure to go back to settling in for the duration. And yet, the Creator calls, once He notices that He has your attention. “Moses, Moses!” The question, the challenge, before us is, at that point, will we respond as Moses, saying, “Behold, I!” When you say it, bowing on the ground, it feels different than it does reading it. It seems odd, until you try it. Almost all translations have, “Here I am!” And that’s weird enough. Try the Hebrew idiom, though, and try it from the position of bowing face down on the floor. It’s still weird, but somehow right.

What will we do? How will we respond? Do you see the bush on fire? Are you distracted enough to check it out? Do you hear the voice, calling your name? The choice is there, right there: continue making the best of a bad situation, or turn aside to the created purpose. Will we be what we were designed for, or will we continue to be strangers, making our way in a strange land?

Divine Knowledge

God, our Creator and Savior, is scandalous by modern standards. In our day, we accuse our leaders of various crimes, asking “What did he know, and when did he know it?” In Exodus, we find God working through midwives who feared Him in chapter 1, but then we find this curious statement at the end of chapter 2:

Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.

Exodus 2:23-25 NASB

The drama of this passage has been obscured by most translators throughout history. If it were to be rewritten in a more literal style, it would read as follows (same words above, but without any additional text):

Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel, and God knew.

Perhaps it’s a small thing, but the last phrase is typically changed to include what God knew. Only the English Standard Version seems content to not have to interpret that phrase. Think through those phrases: God heard, God remembered, God saw, and God knew. It gives me chills to recite them. It is in response to the groaning and crying out of His people, and something begins to move, to happen, to change. Something massive, and impossible to impede or divert, has started to change the course of the lives of an entire people. I suppose, technically, two peoples.

Why do we feel the need to complete the phrase, and guess what it was that God knew? Isn’t it somewhat scandalous that the Creator and God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob only remembers His covenant after the king dies? Why not before? Why didn’t He know before? Perhaps, the problem isn’t in our understanding of God, but rather, our understanding of the verb, “to know”. Look up the word used here.

It’s the basic Hebrew word for knowing something. It encompasses knowledge from experience, intimacy (including physical intimacy), conventional learning, and common knowledge. The writer here didn’t differentiate. God knew. He heard their groaning, remembered His covenant, saw the sons of Israel, and He knew. It’s supposed to sound peculiar. I think the writer is drawing all of the meaning of “to know” into this description of Yahweh’s character.

When we cry out to our Master, do we believe that He hears us? Sometimes it may seem like we have a hard time getting His attention. It may seem like He doesn’t hear, doesn’t remember, doesn’t see, and doesn’t know. From this passage, that seems what has happened to the sons of Israel while they were enslaved under the king of Egypt. But, that’s not the only option here.

All the verbs for God hearing, remembering, seeing, and knowing are completed action. The timing of the king’s death suggests that these actions were completed after the king died, but is that necessarily true? The king dies after Moses is born, after he tries to help his brothers, and after he escapes into the wilderness. It seems the wheels of God’s work are already turning, so what does this passage tell us about God’s character?

What I learn from it is that my Master already hears, remembers, sees, and knows. I may cry out today, but He has already heard my cry. I may plea for Him to remember His promises to me, but He already has. I may try to get His attention so He will see me, but He already has seen me. And the most important thing I desire of my Master is for Him to know me. And He already does.

God knew. On the most intimate, visceral, complete, and thorough level of all that word means, God already knows me. And He knows you. Do you cry out to Him? Does He seem to be ignoring you, your plight, circumstances, not hearing your prayers, nor remembering His promises to you, not seeing you, and doesn’t seem to know what’s going on in your life? Trust me, God knows, and has known. Before you cried out, before His promises, before your circumstances, God knew.

Paul claims he has learned the secret of being content in every circumstance. That’s a lot easier to learn when we are convinced that our Savior knows. So, cry out to our Master, remember His promises, and remember that He has always known.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

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?

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?

Bad News From God

Now the angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done?  Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’”  When the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept.  So they named that place Bochim; and there they sacrificed to the Lord. (Judges 2:1 — 5 NASB

Every time I encounter the Angel of Yahweh in Scripture, I believe this is God Himself in visible form. Only here does God go for a strenuous walk. He goes up from Gilgal to Bochim, which, depending on where you believe Bochim to be, is all up hill. But regardless of how far or in which direction, God begins His walk where His people began.  Gilgal is still the place they started their conquest of Canaan, and where they reestablished their covenant with Him.

The message from Yahweh is that He held up His end of the bargain, He brought them out from Egypt and gave them this land.  This land was what He had promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.  All three were buried among the hills on which they stood listening to Yahweh speak to them.  Notice the agreement, Yahweh makes a covenant He will not break, and the people make no covenant with the inhabitants, replacing their worship with His.  Not terribly complex.

Did you also notice His affirmation that He will never break His covenant? Remember that this is how He starts out His harsh words to them. Part of the harshness is because Yahweh has obligated Himself to them.  It’s not because they are so good, and it can’t be because of their father’s righteousness.  Yahweh chose them in spite of their failures.  Their part of the covenant was to drive out the Canaanites, and they made friends with them instead. At the most, they forced these Canaanites into forced labor.  Yahweh has obligated Himself to a people who refuse to be obligated to Him.

So, Yahweh modifies the agreement somewhat.  He declares that, if they will not drive them out, then He will use them to correct His people. The people changed covenant, and Yahweh just rolls with it. The people of God, the Sons of Israel, the Children of Abraham, were becoming just like everyone else. They began to lose their distinctiveness.  So, Yahweh begins to use that against them.  They chose compromise, and Yahweh made it expensive.

Compromise is, more or less, how this sort of conquest went in those days. The Babylonians and Assyrians, were both the product of assimilated invaders. Canaan had mixtures of Hittites, Amorites, Egyptians, and several other people groups mixed into the culture. And every time another conquering people showed up, the gods were renamed, old myths retold, and then everything found a new equilibrium.   Compromise and adaptation were how people survived.

The God responsible for bringing these Children of Abraham back to the land of Canaan wasn’t interested in how things had always worked in the past. This counter-culture Deity sought something different. With Him, there would be no pantheon, the stories were all about Him, and He advocated a genocidal approach to the conquest of Canaan. That was not how the cultures around the Tribes of Israel played with others. This God was down right rude.

Who wants to be rude? Why can’t we all just get along? Isn’t compromise the pathway to peace among all peoples? Seriously, you have to kill everyone? When it got tough, when the enemies broke out the iron chariots, when the city walls seemed high and thick, compromise began to look attractive.  And, to be honest, it still does. Our culture tells us to put down the swords and spears, and just compromise. That way, everyone wins. And isn’t that the point?  Apparently, it’s not the point of our Master.  So, how expensive does it have to become for us to stop the compromise?

Anyway, that’s my view of the ball game through the fence today. What’s your view like?

So You Want To See Jesus…

“He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow?  Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’  And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’  ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.  But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.” (Luke 19:22-27 NASB)

Why is it that we seem to forget the Bible, the whole Bible, prophets and all?  Why we do we find it so easy to create this cardboard version of Jesus who is so two dimensional? Why do we forget that He came to fulfill the law not abolish it?  Why is it so easy to forget that He came to divide not unify humanity?  The truth of Scripture is that Jesus is God, not a god, not some new god, and certainly not “God Transformed”.  He is God!

God, the One putting up with Israel’s wayward ways for 400 years while He sends prophets, is the One wiping them out with the pagan empire of Assyria.  And then, a hundred years later, Judah goes down by the pagan Babylonians.  Flash forward 400 more years, and Jesus becomes the same One pronouncing woes of judgement on Galilean cities and Jerusalem itself.  It’s as if the judgement of old was returning again, this time at His say so.

And then we have this parable.  Luke seems to intertwine a parable of a king, possibly using the ascension of Herod’s son Archaleus, with the parable of slaves use of money.  The point of the slaves with money is being enterprising with the resources God provides us until He returns.  The point of the king ascending a throne is opposing him does not go unpunished.

If Jesus is the king and master of the servants, then this picture of Jesus ought to make us uneasy.  Then we are to be responsible with what has been entrusted to us while He is away, making more of what was given.  Being industrious is rewarded, not doing anything with it is punished.  We have to agree to be ruled, to submit to the reign of Jesus over us.  That means agree to who He is not who we imagine Him to be.

And this isn’t meant to take away the love Jesus has for us.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus any more before His throne than it can now, or could before He ministered in person.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  But that doesn’t then change the personality of God into something other than what we read elsewhere in Scripture.  It’s both.  And that’s probably where we fail most often to our greatest detriment.

God did not have a personality break between the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.  He didn’t switch from wrath and anger to mercy and love.  He has always been all of that and more.  There has always been vast oceans of grace in the Hebrew Scriptures.  There has always been wrath in the Christian Scriptures.  So our challenge is read both and let God define for Himself who He is and how He will relate to us.  It’s tough, and it should be frightening to us.  But then again, the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom after all.

So, what do you see through your knothole this morning?  I hope I didn’t bring you down, but I do hope I sobered you up!  You may need sobering after last night…but that’s fodder for another post.