Singular Attention

One of the common themes in the criticism of modern Western Christianity is how we’ve become idolatrous. Our society has come right out of the closet, and we now have a whole show and industry around being an American Idol. We even acknowledge that idols may not be that obvious. They could be insubstantial, like time in an activity or hobby. It could be social, like football teams, or golf, or associations. It’s an obvious problem, and, mostly, Christians acknowledge it.

But no one seems to be ready or willing to embrace a solution. One of my favorites among the excuses I’ve heard is that people don’t like to read. In our culture, that may be becoming more true than it was in my formative years. In those days, I read all the time. Now we seem to want headlines, and pictures. Communication is degenerating into memes. We want icons, symbols of things and activities we want or need. And, in the background, the ironic penalty looms over us.

He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the Lord alone, shall be utterly destroyed.

Exodus 22:20 NASB

There are two interesting ironies in this single verse. The first is the reference to “god”, and the second is the penalty itself. The first irony is missed in translation, because the literal Hebrew is “to the gods”. It’s ironic because “the gods” is also a common reference to God, singular. It’s used 366 times in Hebrew, and mostly to refer to God. In fact, in verse 8, it likely refers to God although it is often translated as “judges”.

The second irony is that the penalty for sacrificing is being sacrificed. It’s the “ban”, the complete and utter destruction instructed against God’s most heinous enemies. Everything is destroyed, nothing is left, not family, not possessions, not the house, nothing. It’s a “whole burnt offering”, in a sense.

I live under the second irony daily. As some of you may know from following this blog, I struggle with an addiction. Nothing is quite as idolatrous as an addiction. To choose to act out in my addiction is an act of transgression, a sin of rebellion against my Savior.

But, there is forgiveness. There is room for repentance. Jesus was asked by Peter how many times one should forgive another, and Jesus answered, “A lot”. But, we may forget that this is only true because we are forgiven a lot, by our Savior. That’s hard to remember, and sometimes accept, in the face of a failure.

What I deserve is complete destruction. What I want is life. The question is will I accept the forgiveness of a Savior, or will I persist my rebellion to my own destruction? And it’s not just about me, it’s my family, my friends, and whatever I have contributed to the Kingdom of Jesus that is at risk.

Think of that when you spot the idols in your life. Think of that cost when you consider your next choice, or how you will respond to your own failure. What will you do? Repent? I hope so. I’m working in that now. What are you working on?

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


No Idol Threat

Paul points out, in Ephesians 6, that the command to honor your parents is the first command with a promise. It’s a promise of long life in the land of promise. In a way, the second commandment sounds like it comes with a threat. But buried in the threat is a promise:

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Exodus 20:4-6 NASB

The worship of Yahweh is unique in its absence of animal and human imagery. While the world around them had images worshiped in the form of mixed animals and human images, the Hebrews were to have none. This proved a difficult command for them. They couldn’t even follow it for the time Moses was on the mountain speaking with God. Even as a belief in some sort of spiritual deity is pervasive throughout human history and nearly every human culture, so is the imagery.

Knowing this, knowing how difficult it will be for them, God provides something about Himself to compel His people to obey. He is a jealous God. This word is an unfortunate choice of English words for this concept. It really is the best option, but only because we have so few. This word is only used in the Pentateuch, the first five books of Scripture (the Torah), and only six times total. It only ever is used of God, so using a common word referring to how people relate to one another has to be lacking.

Human jealousy is often selfish, self-seeking, perhaps by its very nature it can’t be defined any other way. This “jealousy” of God is different. It is a quality of those who are controlling, and, in the end, actually think very little of themselves. Some jealousy is based on violation of proper boundaries, and the priority of certain relationships. At its best, it’s still derived from self. The jealousy of God is a bit different.

Think of it this way, if you had a choice between a house overlooking mountains and the ocean, with amazing vista’s in every direction, or a house in a desert valley with the only constant being high winds, tumbleweeds, and the color brown, which would you choose? We tend to choose that which favors us, regardless of color or wind or vista. If the desert offers better work options, or we’re rock hounds, the it’s the desert for us, and we’re happy as clams. If we’re people who love views of mountains and the ocean, we would choose that. It’s whatever suits us.

God is the Creator of everything. All these other nations worship gods which He created. These gods are in rebellion against Him, they no longer honor Him, nor point to Him. And, I’m pretty sure they’re alive and well today, in our own culture. To choose them, even them along with God, is to choose His enemies. When our loved ones choose to befriend our enemies, we don’t like it. On the national level, we call it “treason”. On the religious level it’s called syncretism, and Paul spends much paper and ink writing against it.

The point is this, when we choose against God, we’re not choosing what is best for us. We may think we are, but we’ve chosen the enemies of our Creator, and have joined the rebellion against Him. The Creator of the universe wants to spend time with us, and we rebel against Him? He offers us Himself, and we rebel against Him? Are you getting the picture? Is it ludicrous enough yet? It’s jealousy, and it is focused on God, but not like “one among equals” as it is with people. It’s the Creator of all things refusing to suffer the ignominy of fools.

And so He considers those following idols as “those hating Me.” And to be considered thus by the Creator is a poor place to put ourselves. And the consequence of such a choice falls on three generations. It is supposed to frighten, to shake us up, and cause us to consider whether we have any such imagery in our own lives? Do we? Is there something which captures our attention which we should give to our Savior? Do we even ask such questions?

But this jealousy isn’t the only characteristic which God describes of Himself. He does punish down to three generations of those He considers hating Him. But rewards thousands of those loving Him. It may be 3 generations of those hating Him, but that’s small compared to the love of God. This Creator may be offended by people choosing His rebellious creatures instead of Him, but He still loves those who choose Him. We can focus on this “jealousy” and miss the real point, His love. Even the jealousy is a loving response, forming a boundary to protect the people He has created, and, for some reason loves dearly.

The choice, and a choice to pursue with vigor, is to choose to put no thing in a competing priority with our Savior. No car, no house, no spouse, no child, no parent, no game, no TV, nothing on TV, nothing is as important as our Savior. Perhaps now is a good time to take inventory. Maybe you should look back at this entry for some “help”.

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

X Marks the Spot

There is a structure in Hebrew poetry referred to as “chiastic parallelism“.  It was used to emphasize whatever was put in the center, the “crux” of the structure.  It might be that this structure was used in these verses.  Sort of, any way.  There’s a piece in the center that seems to be missing, the “parallel” part.

Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who  ere around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger.  So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. (Judges 2:11-13 NASB)

English translation, as a process, can obscure literary structures and devices.  It’s mostly unavoidable.  Puns and rhymes simply don’t translate very well.  Other things might translate somewhat more easily.  Some English translations of these verses do well, others, not so much.  The New American Standard has all the elements, and they’re even grouped by punctuation somewhat.  The ESV preserves the elements, but the NIV obscures them.  The NLT makes it difficult by not repeating the elements very closely, but the NKJV does a good job of preserving terms.

So, here are the elements:

The sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD:
A.   They served the Baals
B.   They abandoned (forsook) the LORD
C.   They followed other gods
X.   They bowed themselves down to them
C’.  They provoked the LORD to anger
B’.  They abandoned (forsook) the LORD
A’.  They served Baal and Ashtaroth

The X. element would be the focus of this structure.  On the other hand, the C. and C’. elements aren’t exactly “parallel”, and there’s no parallel present for the X. element in the structure.  So, it’s not a perfect “poetic” chiastic parallel structure.  But I believe it’s a good literary chiasm.

If you want a repetition of the X. element, then look at verses 17 and 19.  The author has repeated this indictment twice more.  Clearly though, the repeated theme of the chapter (and, indeed, this two-chapter prelude) is the failure to take the land from the Canaanites.  Yet, within this smaller element, verses 11 through 23, the repetition of the worship of other gods is unmistakable.

Notice that this section is, itself, bracketed by indictments about the people not taking the land, and that God will no longer drive out the people.  It is, in itself, somewhat chiastic in placement, if not in parallel structure.  It’s as if the author wants his audience to know that the point of the book is about taking the land, but the point of our lives is the worship of God.  That may be a lot to draw from a single passage, and maybe saying the “point of our lives” is overstating the intent of the author.  But, maybe not.  This important literary element is clearer here than elsewhere in this “prelude”, so, perhaps, it’s exactly what the author is saying.

The failure to drive out the Canaanites does set the stage for the rest of the conflict in Judges.  But the worship of their gods by the children of Israel is the constant problem that eventually results in the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity in Babylon.  Even after the conquest is complete under David and Solomon, the problem of worship of other gods persists.  It makes sense, then, that this prophet, penning the history of Yahweh and His people, would make worship of other gods a central issue for his audience.  It’s the common element between his audience, and the people in the time of the judges.

But it’s our common element as well.  The point for us remains the same as the point for the people who first read and heard these words.  What do we “bow ourselves down” to?  What’s most important to us?  Is obedience to our Savior?  Is He truly our “Lord”?  Or, are we content to be “saved”, living in His grace and mercy, forsaking the change of our minds and paradigm.  Yahweh told His people to be different than the peoples in the land, and to drive them off.  We have been called to be different as well.  Will we, instead, adopt the “gods” of the people of the land?  Or will we be obedient? Will we adopt the paradigm of our Savior, the whole paradigm, not just the parts culturally acceptable?

Challenge accepted?

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?


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

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

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

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

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

2 : irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your view through the fence this day?

Leaderlessness Condemned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisionist Bullys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tribe of Dan reaches Laish:

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

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

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

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

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

The Dangers of Kinglessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senseless Senselessness

Sometimes, looking at the world around us, stuff just seems senseless.  Warlords finance a purposeless war machine through an illegal ivory smuggling ring, so an up-and-coming Chinese wealthy class can have ivory chopsticks.  Human trafficking is actually on the rise in the United States, which is probably the only area in which we compete with Sudan and Ethiopia in an industry.  So, people will wipe out elephants in their continent so they can kill more people.  And we are loosing more of our children to slavery because we can’t figure out how families are supposed to work.  It’s ridiculous.  But it’s not new.

Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the sons of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; thus they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him. (Judges 10:6 NASB)

One of the ironies of humanity is the characteristic that probably best describes the “fallen nature”.  We love to repeat mistakes.  Oh, we say we don’t, but our actions never bear that out.  We have a World War I and II.  How many empires fell before Europe was plunged into the “Dark Ages”?  And, we do remember that was regional, right?  We remember that the rest of the world was doing just fine, and only Europe “went dark”?  Probably not.

When “our world becomes about us”, we have lost the mooring to a fundamental truth about “the world”.  This has never been “our world”.  Scripture doesn’t tell us that God gave us the world, it teaches us that He made the world, and placed us in it.  Yes, we are to exercise dominion over the land, but only in the sense that we manage it, not own it.  I think for many, renting, instead of mortgaging, might be the perfect spiritual discipline.

Has the implication that our economy is based on ownership caused anyone else to be “unsettled”?  Do you realize that this economic principle puts us at odds with our Creator?  The spiritual challenge, then, is to live within an economic system, but think within a relationship with God.  This is the same challenge, and point of failure, for the people of Israel.

Everyone around the Sons of Israel worshiped a pantheon of gods.  These gods were responsible for various functions of the world, spheres of existence, or spiritual realms.  They had responsibilities, and internal relational struggles.  The myths of these gods made up the lessons for humanity, and so on, and so on…

Yet the Sons of Israel had this national self-identity of being chosen by a Supreme God.  That’s already a mark to make them odd.  But then that this Supreme God also demands exclusive worship was just down right crazy.  No one supernatural being, regardless of how supreme they claim to be, can manage this entire mess in which we live. The only way to get along in this chaotic mess of a life is to work within the system that is, not some fantasy propagated by whacky religious nuts claiming a “special relationship” with some “unknown” deity.  There’s a danger in being too counter culture…

You see what I did there?  In one paragraph, we traveled 4,000 years into the future.  We began with describing the cultural situation of the Sons of Israel, and ended describing the cultural tension between belief in Jesus and “science”.  People are still crazy.  People still cling to the irrational insistence of spontaneous generation instead of accepting the truth of the One True Creator-God.  Afterall, if God exists, then all this ignorant crap about gender confusion is no longer allowed.  And we can’t have that, now can we?

Animals have become more important than people, at least until we need to destroy an entire species so we can kill more of the annoying people.  How many infants are still being murdered in the name of convenience disguised as “rights of the mother”?  Yes, Jesus is the answer, but we’re still so confused about the question.  We were confused in the days of the Judges, and we are still confused in the days of the church.  We’re afraid to be different, much like they were.

So, like they did then, we need to do today.  We, as a people, need to return to Yahweh, and “put away our foreign gods”.  We need to become solely God’s people, and less like the world in which we live.  The call to be holy is nothing new.  It’s the timeless call to “repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!”  It’s sill near, in many ways, nearer.  Let’s become disciples living out repentance.  In that way we will become holy, sort of by association, and sort of by a natural development from within.

So, what’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Literary or Legacy?

To this point in Judges, the people have not been repentant, only whiny. They complain about the oppression, but seem unconcerned about their iniquity and rebellion toward Yahweh. They had no idea up to this point. But now…

And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.”  And the Lord said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines?  The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand.  Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more.  Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.”  And the people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.”  So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel. (Judges 10:10 — 16 ESV)

The question I have here is whether this change is literary device, or a legacy from past judges. Are the people finally getting the point? Or, have they all along, and the author is including the detail here, he omitted before? This is a serious question for me, because Yahweh seems unimpressed with any evident progress made here. So, have they been aware all along, and confessed in this way in the past?

On the other hand, is confession repantance? Or, does confession progress toward repentance only when the words accompany a change of mind and heart, and then result in action? When is repentance authentic? Or, is that even the point? The people clearly weren’t authentic in Gideon’s day, and Yahweh delivered them.

But, here, Yahweh has had it. He’s no longer interested in delivering them, only to have them betray Him again. So, whether the change is only in that the detail was included here, or, this is truly a new development for them, it doesn’t impress Yahweh. He refers them to the gods with whom they have “cheated” on Him.

This concerns me. Can I exhaust the mercies of my Master? This isn’t simply an “Old Testament problem” either. Read the first three chapters of Revelations, and see how similar is my Master’s view there to Yahweh’s here. 

So, if the people have been “putting away the foreign gods from among them” before, Yahweh knows this won’t last. But if, as I fear, this marks a new development for the people, that Tola and Jair have left a 50 year legacy of faithfulness imprinted on the people, then development isn’t what gets my Master’s attention. I can’t claim “improvement” to win His favor in the face of continual failure.

On the other hand, His mercy eventually overcomes His pain of rejection. He becomes impatient over the misery of Israel. Literally, “His soul was shortened in the misery of Israel.” Yahweh felt the misery of His people in His soul. We don’t think of our Master having one of those, but it seems He does. The misery of those He loves hurt Him more deeply than the hurt of their betrayal. 

How can we not weep for our Master? How can we be so callous as to turn a blind eye to His pain, and harden our heart toward the hurt we cause Him; He who loves us without limits? We don’t expect our human friends to put up with what we put our Creator and Savior through. We know the standards of our human relationships, but we flagrantly disregard the standards of our spiritual relationship. And which is more important? Our actions say something other than our bumper stickers.

Perhaps weeping over our misery is the wrong response. Maybe weeping over the pain we have caused our Master is a better response. Perhaps when we acknowledge the relational pain we cause Him, then we truly repent. When we mourn plight of our Master, then we join Him in the amazing relationship He wants with us.

Those are my questions as I peek through this knothole at His work and play. What do you see of our Savior through your knothole in the fence?

Choose Your Trap

Wouldn’t it be great if one good choice ensured the rest of your choices would be just as good?  Maybe if the reason we chose correctly was right, the rest of our choices would just as right? Then again, maybe not.  Here, again, we find choices leading to a sad ending.

Continue reading “Choose Your Trap”