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


Delivered by the Hand of an Assassin

Yahweh inspired a record of His choices He made, in the book of Judges, because these are characteristics about Himself He wanted us to know.  If you struggle believing that, then the rest of this entry will a lot easier to accept, though unexpected.  It’s crazy.  If you do believe that first sentence, then the rest of this entry may challenge your perception of the One you worship.  Both of these are good things, so I encourage you to keep reading.

Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD.  And he gathered to himself the sons of Ammon and Amalek; and he went and defeated Israel, and they possessed the city of the palm trees.  The sons of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years. (Judges 3:12-14 NASB)

The people of Israel sinned, actually committed iniquity.  And they did so, again.  In response, Yahweh “…strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel,…”  Think about that for a second.  Yahweh caused Eglon to succeed against Israel, His chosen people.  So, Yahweh chose Eglon to punish the people Yahweh chose to adopt.  That’s the first choice that should destabilize our comfortable view of our Master.  But, let’s continue.

But when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. And the sons of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab.  Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his cloak. (Judges 3:15-16 NASB)

Ehud is “raised up” by Yahweh as a “deliverer”.  Whatever commentators want to make of the difference between “deliverer” and “judge”, from the context of this chapter, they clearly mean the same thing in this book.  And, this man, chosen by Yahweh, makes a very different sword.  It’s not a curved, single-edged sword, it’s a straight, double-edged sword.  And Ehud conceals this special weapon as he goes to deliver the tribute of Israel to the king.

The chosen deliverer of Yahweh, with his concealed weapon, delivers the tribute, and leaves…sort of.  He didn’t get very far.

It came about when he had finished presenting the tribute, that he sent away the people who had carried the tribute.  But he himself turned back from the idols which were at Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he said, “Keep silence.” And all who attended him left him.  Ehud came to him while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat.  Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly.  The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out. (Judges 3:18-22 NASB)

First, consider that this record is inspired, it’s what Yahweh wants us to know about what happened, how He delivers Israel.  Second, keep in mind, as you read, this is far more detail than the author normally includes about armed conflict.  In fact, it’s shockingly detailed, perhaps disgustingly so.  This is, perhaps, the most detailed assassination in all of Scripture, and there are several.  So, you have to ask yourself, “why would my Master want me to know this about His choice of Ehud?”  You need to explore that question.  It’s part of the point of the author, and the inspired point of Yahweh.  Remember the first sentence.

Before anyone begins to impugn the courage of Ehud, considering such behavior to be cowardly, keep reading.

Now Ehud escaped while they were delaying, and he passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah.  It came about when he had arrived, that he blew the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he was in front of them.  He said to them, “Pursue them, for the LORD has given your enemies the Moabites into your hands.” So they went down after him and seized the fords of the Jordan opposite Moab, and did not allow anyone to cross.  They struck down at that time about ten thousand Moabites, all robust and valiant men; and no one escaped.  So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land was undisturbed for eighty years. (Judges 3:26-30 NASB)

Ehud escapes the scene of his assassination of the king, but then leads the people from in front.  This is another detail not often included by this author.  He wants his readers to understand that Ehud was no coward, just as we are to infer the same.  Yahweh didn’t choose a coward.  He raised up a man who didn’t ask for back up as he defeats this king with his left hand.  He was a leader, and a man who did what needed to be done, but did so on his own.  Yahweh raised him up.  Yahweh delivered His people by the hand of an assassin, someone we might call a “commando” in these days, a “militant spy”.

Before we cast judgement on Ehud, remember he was the chosen of Yahweh.  If you don’t like Ehud, then you’re questioning the choice of Yahweh, your Master.  Think that through.  This Sunday, you will be worshiping One forming stars, making you and I holy, and inspiring assassins.  Jesus loves you, and He is not above using people our culture fears and denigrates in His service.  If what Ehud did seems “morally wrong” to you, then who’s morals are you using to judge?  If Jesus tells Peter, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15), then, perhaps, we need a greater flexibility in regard to the work and choices of our Master.

I don’t advocate assassination to further the Kingdom of God.  But I do advocate an honest view of our Master.  We’re not securing “territory” any longer.  The battles we fight are against spiritual forces of darkness, found in heavenly realms.  So, don’t make the mistake of believing we’re not at war, or considering the absence of strife to be achievement in the fight.  This is guerrilla warfare, against giants, against the powers and authorities of this dark world.  Our Master may call you, and all your weaknesses, fears, and clumsiness.  Don’t think He won’t.  But don’t be surprised when He calls that annoying brother or sister in the faith either.  Such are the choices of Yahweh, our Master.

That’s my view through the fence this morning.  What do you see of our Master and His work through your knothole?

Samson: The Original IED

He was fine, content to hide alone in Etam, but no, he couldn’t be left alone.  Have you ever prodded a problem, which, in retrospect, probably should have just been left alone? I’m pretty sure the Philistines thought they understood the problem they faced.  It seemed clear that some rogue Hebrew had gone off rails, and killed a bunch of people in Timnah.  They probably saw it as a potential “uprising”.  They had iron, technologically advanced weaponry.  It was time to reassert.  But, that was a very bad idea.

Then the Philistines went up and camped in Judah, and spread out in Lehi.  The men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?” And they said, “We have come up to bind Samson in order to do to him as he did to us.”  Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us?” And he said to them, “As they did to me, so I have done to them.”  They said to him, “We have come down to bind you so that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.” And Samson said to them, “Swear to me that you will not kill me.”  So they said to him, “No, but we will bind you fast and give you into their hands; yet surely we will not kill you.” Then they bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock. (Judges 15:9-13 NASB)

The Philistines came to “Jawbone”, a hill in the territory of the Tribe of Judah.  The spread out into raiding parties, and the people asked them why they’d come.  The intent was to show that no one pushes around the Philistines.  They had come for the rebel, Samson.  They intended to inflict retribution upon him, which is, ironically, what he had done.  And then he stopped.  The people of Israel agree to bring him to the Philistines.  Of course, they didn’t know what would happen either.

When he came to Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they met him. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily so that the ropes that were on his arms were as flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds dropped from his hands.  He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, so he reached out and took it and killed a thousand men with it. (Judges 15:14-15 NASB)

Once more, the Spirit of Yahweh comes upon Samson, and he become the weapon of God. Notice that he doesn’t break his bonds, but they turn to ash and fall from him.  God, the One inspiring the slaughter, frees His weapon to do His work.  I’m sure the 3,000 men of Judah scatter, the shout of the Philistines dies in their throats, and a vulture lands in a nearby tree with a cry.  All eyes on Samson, the impossible divine weapon is about to be unleashed.

He grabs one of the least lethal objects, a jawbone (Lehi is named for them), but a “fresh” one.  He doesn’t pick up a stick, which might have broken.  He avoids the old bones, which were probably very brittle.  He picks up a jawbone of a donkey, maybe still with a little meat on it.  It’s a sturdy choice, an improvised weapon in the hands of a man about to explode.  The cry begins again, the Philistines rush, and the death begins.

At what point did the Philistines realize their mistake and try to retreat?  When did the retreat become a rout?  No one pursues fleeing Philistines, and only those remaining on the hill die at the hands of the inspired object of wrath.  Heaps of bodies, all that’s left are mounds of the dead and dying.  Samson stands alone.  Once more having become the terror of Yahweh, inspired bringer of death, he stands alone, the last one alive.

The point isn’t the fight.  It’s not described, only stated.  It happened.  Samson killed 1,000 men with the fresh jawbone.  It’s not even it’s own sentence, it’s a phrase within one.  The point lies elsewhere.  It lies in the man standing among the dead, once again.  The focus of this chapter is the man who has killed a third time.  The point of the author is this man upon whom comes the Spirit of Yahweh, but to destroy, to take life.  He is a tool, a weapon, in the hand of Yahweh to begin to deliver His people from the Philistines.  It is a terrible thing to be Samson, a burden for which he never asked.

I’m not even sure Samson had a choice to disobey.  Did he?  Could he have opted not to engage?  Maybe he could have hid somewhere less accessible.  But he didn’t, and he doesn’t turn from the task at hand.  Whether his choice or not, he engaged the problem before him with the power of the Maker of the universe flowing through him.

What about us?  What if we were to be used by our Master as such an object of wrath?  It seems so foreign to us, our cultures so different.  Yet there still exist cultures in our world in which this wouldn’t be inappropriate.  Warlords still torture the land and people of Africa.  There are other places, nearly lawless ones, where a divine weapon may make sense.  The current nation of Israel stands surrounded by a sea of hostile nations.  Perhaps they have need of another divine weapon.  But would we accept this from our Master?  The question is really, can we accept this as part of the character of our Savior?

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

To Whom We Relate Religiously

Have you ever had a difficult friend, one no one else seemed to like?  Or were you more among the popular crowd, eschewing those rejected by the top tier of your “society”?  We choose fellows based on widely varied criteria, but, in every case, that criteria also excludes some sorts of people.  Would our criteria exclude God, if we believe what He says about Himself?

Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:30-31 NASB)

When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. (Judges 11:34 NASB)

At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year. (Judges 11:39-40 NASB)

Jephthah’s vow has been debated for centuries, and there’s no new perspective to be found here.  But, perhaps there’s a side you’ve not considered, personally.  First off, as you read this, keep in mind that this same Yahweh, to whom Jephthah vows, requires a “tithe” based on “the tenth animal under the rod”, wherein the rule says that animal cannot be substituted (Leviticus 27:32-33).  In other words, God’s choice of the animal cannot be changed by people.

Secondly, keep in mind that this same Yahweh commands His people to destroy people, utterly, considering them “holy” to Him.  Jericho was considered holy, and every man, woman, child, animal, and all property were destroyed, and no plunder taken.  That sounds vaguely “sacrificial”, and humans are included.

Balance those two things with the first part of Leviticus 27, where when persons are the subject of a “difficult vow” (NASB), they can be redeemed for a set value.  But, the passage continues valuing animals, differentiating between clean and unclean animals, and so on.  So, consider, as you think through this, are the persons valued part of the “household” in the sense of “owned” or slaves/servants of that household?  Or would they truly be “family” or children?

On that note, the firstborn belongs to Yahweh, but can be (and is expected to be) redeemed for a price (Exodus 34:19-29).  But, look at Leviticus 27:26-29 (especially 28 and 29) for additional guidelines.  These verses specifically refer to the “Hereem” or ban where everything so dedicated is destroyed.  But the context supports this concept within the teaching of a vow.  Or does it?  I suppose that’s the critical question.

Bringing these considerations to this story of Jephthah also has to include the acceptance that he was considered among the faithful of Israel, traditionally.  In Hebrews 11, he’s listed among those the Hebrews would consider an example of great faith.  Why do that if the popular belief was that he broke the law, and profaned a holy practice?

Now, if you’ve considered that, then also consider that the “rod tithe” means that God chooses what is given as an offering.  Next consider that this is consistent with what Jephthah does, he lets Yahweh choose what is offered.  Some can already see where this goes.  Consider next that this same Yahweh inspired this passage, so, this is what He wants us to know about Himself.  He reveals something of His character to us in this passage.  Let it be said, Yahweh wants us to know He chose Jephthah’s daughter to be offered as a whole burnt offering by her father.  And there it is in print.  The challenge has been laid down; will we worship and walk before God as He is, not some image we create in our minds?

Okay, now you can go back and read Luke 14:26 and 27.  Revisit John 6:60 through 69.  The challenge is to honestly love God.  The alternative is a false intimacy with our Creator and Master, an intimacy with a mask we put on His face.

On that note, what’s your view through the knothole this morning?