Modifying God’s Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Play With New Toys

Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died.
And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; and the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. (Judges 4:1-2 NASB)

Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, “Behold, the LORD, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun.  ‘I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.'” (Judges 4:6-7 NASB)

Then they told Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor.
Sisera called together all his chariots, nine hundred iron chariots, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. (Judges 4:12-13 NASB)

The LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot.
But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left. (Judges 4:15-16 NASB)

Okay, that’s a lot of the chapter, but there is something here that is probably obvious to those in “Iron Age II” Israel which completely escapes us.  As has been pointed out in previous entries, these accounts of the Judges of Israel take place in the late bronze age, right on the cusp of the Iron Age.  But as with all technological advances, iron wasn’t achieved by everyone at once.  It was used by large “empires” but not by small city states, at least generally speaking.

With Sisera though, there may be something to the 900 iron chariots.  The clue is in the name of the city in which he lives and in which his army is garrisoned, Harosheth.  The name is literally “Craftsmen of the Nations”.  You have to admit, that’s a weird name.  The word for “craftsmen” can refer to anyone working anything, wood, metal, fabric, pottery, and so on.  Since it also includes “blacksmiths”, it’s fair to say that they could have had people who could work iron.

Here’s the problem though.  In order to work iron, there would need to be some familiar with it, and those people were typically found in large empires, and the skills and people carefully guarded (see 1 Samuel 13:19-22 for a biblical reference to this historical tidbit).  If you keep this in mind, then what was done was more likely taking existing material and fixing or adapting it.  So, the craftsmen of the nations collected and maintained the various chariots gathered from the battlefields of the major kings and Pharaohs.

How familiar they were with these weapons they “inherited” becomes clear when we see they tried to take them through the river Kishon.  Heavy, horse-drawn carts, made heavier by plating them with iron, will not go through mud very well.  Every river will have some mud (some, like the Mississippi, even more so).  How does a seasoned charioteer not know their heavy vehicle will not handle mud well?  Perhaps all mud is not equal?  In any case, they tried, and failed, to move 900 chariots through a river, and were massacred by foot soldiers.

The point I gain is this: just because the problem, or person, or situation, I face looks intimidating, if my Master has led to the fight, I’ve already won.  How was Barak to know Sisera didn’t know chariots don’t float?  How am I to know what whatever opposes my work for my Master does or doesn’t know, have, can or can’t do, or whatever?  I don’t.  So, my Master calls me to trust that He knows.  Just because my opponent has 900 iron chariots (or the modern equivalent thereof) doesn’t mean my Master doesn’t know something about this opponent I don’t know.  What I see is not what my Master sees.

This means that I can fearlessly tackle my calling.  That’s not typically my way, but it can be.  It really should be, because I know the stories, I’ve read about the people, and I know their circumstances were pretty much like mine.  So, it’s time to act.  Time to make a list, and begin accomplishing the things I’m called to accomplish by my Master.  No opponent can oppose such a calling nor the work to accomplish it.  I’ve already won.

What’s your view of God through your knothole?

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. Here, though, God goes for a strenuous walk. He goes up from Gilgal to Bochim, which, depending on where you believe Bochim to be, is all up hill. Regardless of how far or in which direction, God begins His walk with His people.  Gilgal is still the place they started their conqpuest of Canaan.

Did you also notice His affirmation that He will never break His covenant? Remember that this how He starts out His harsh words to them. It’s not because they are so good, but because of their father’s righteousness.  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. 

Then God declares that, if they will not drive them out now, then He will not help them drive them out later. The covenant doesn’t take a break, there will be no coming back to it later. The people of God, the Sons of Israel, the Children of Abraham, were becoming just like everyone else. They began to lose their distinctiveness. 

This is, more or less, how this sort of thing went in those days. The Babylonians and Assyrians, both were 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. 

The God responsible for bringing these Children of Abraham back to the land of Canaan wasn’t interested in how things had always gone 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?

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

Reward? What Rewards?

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.    Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35,36 NASB)

Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:38 NASB)

I’ve said it a lot in this blog, Americans love their “return on investment”.  We most often express it in the question, “What’s in it for me?”  But this isn’t unique to American culture, I believe it’s easy to find in any human culture, past or present.  The values may be different, but the question or interest in what’s valuable as a reward remains.  It’s fundamental or foundational in human beings.

Continue reading Reward? What Rewards?

Foundational Obedience

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?    Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like:    he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.    But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49 NASB)

Obedience.  It’s one of those words that affects us at a gut level.  Sure, when we were teenagers, it was difficult.  But now that we’re adults…it’s still hard.  We want to drive faster than the posted limit.  We want to leave work early or come in late, and who’d know?  We tell “white lies” to our families, some of which we eventually believe.  Obedience is not exactly a strong behavior trait in our culture.  In fact, the highest degree of obedience is when it we consider obedience to be a direct benefit to us.  Then we’re obedient, and it’s easy; as long as it’s about us.

Continue reading Foundational Obedience

Using The Power of The Lord?

 One day He was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing.    And some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and to set him down in front of Him.    But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus.    Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” (Luke 5:17-20 NASB)

The power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing.  This is a difficult thing to render in English from Greek because of some Greek grammatical constructions that make little sense in English.  Greek can use infinitives in much more creative ways than we can.  We have to create the sense of what they mean in English without the grammatical constructions.  So the meaning isn’t lost in English, it just sounds really weird.

Continue reading Using The Power of The Lord?

Angelic Prejudice or Insight?

 Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”
The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.  And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” (Luke1:18-20 NASB)

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.  And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.  For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:34-37 NASB)

These two accounts of an annunciation of good news both end very differently.  On the other hand, they also begin differently.  But the similarities in both are striking.  In both the response is initially fear.  In both there is a question about how such things can become true in the current situation.  Yet in each the response of the messenger is very different.

So why does Gabriel, the messenger of the Almighty, punish the old priest, but coddle the teenage girl?  It’s a mystery, but one that has some lessons for me, possibly us.  Like perhaps angels can do what they want, so don’t upset them.

Punishing the “Old Priest”

It could start out as a joke, “A priest walks into the temple…” but this is a special day for Zachariah.  This event appears to take place as part of the ‘sin offering’ described in Leviticus 16.  In that description, the incense is put on a pan of coals from the sacrifice outside, brought inside to the incense altar before the holy place, before the veil, and the smoke ascends over the mercy seat.  That is where he meets Gabriel.  It is a once in a lifetime event for Zachariah, a tremendous honor.  And anyone else in the temple would be expected to be killed by God.  Yet there stands a man by the altar.

There are a variety of competing emotions that probably flowed through Zachariah, but the fear is what the angel addressed.  The setting (inside the temple at the altar of incense), the situation (another person standing where no one should), and the person (an aged priest of pedigree and experience) all combine together to strengthen the message of this angel.  But it doesn’t seem to be enough for Zachariah.

Sure this is an unexpected place; yes, this guy shouldn’t be here and alive; and of course, he has heard and read of such things in his studies and training.  But still, now?  Now, when he’s too old to toddle after the toddler, now he is to be a father?  Now, after he has had to endure the whispering, the shame, the prejudice, and indirect scorn of his fellows, now he gets to be a father?  Where was God ten or twenty years ago? Still, he should have known better than to ask for another sign, “How will I know this for certain.”  It is the last request he voices for a very long time.

The setting, the situation, and his background indicated he should have faith in what he was told.  Perhaps it was his bitterness and pride that hindered him.  Whatever it was, he was muted until he should finally speak in faith.  That is his only sign.

Coddling the “Teenage Girl”

The teenage girl isn’t in the temple.  She’s not a seasoned religious leader.  She’s not even involved in some religious ceremony.  She’s at home, probably doing chores, which means she’s in her day, daily routine, contributing her part to the family program.  In the midst of just another day, this person appears with a really weird greeting, “Greetings one highly favored of God.”  So, “highly favored of God” is now a euphemism for, “one doing dishes?”  So she ponders, wonders, crunches in her mind, tries to figure out just what this person means.

The angel continues to describe what cannot be since she’s only betrothed, not actually married.  As would be expected, she doesn’t see the connection between her situation (dish washing in dad’s house) and having a divine baby.  It is one of the minute, yet significant, differences that Mary does not ask for a sign, just an explanation.  So the angel explains, and his explanation contains a sign, Elizabeth is pregnant. This is proof that nothing is impossible for God.

Conclusion

Considering the two situations, I would probably fall more closely into the categories of Zachariah.  So unfortunately for me, I get no space for lack of faith.  No asking for a sign for me.  While it is true that I have a daily grind, and I’m not necessarily involved in a religious ceremony on any given day, I still have enough training and experience that I have no excuse for not believing a visitation.  And all that means is that I’m in real danger of being placed on mute.

Which category do you fall into?  Are you the experienced religious person or the young neophyte of faith?  Are you a seasoned veteran of religious life, or a new believer struggling to connect faith with life?  Are you also in danger of being muted until you act in faith, or will you receive an honest answer to an honest question for clarity?  Do you wrestle with pride, or are you willing to admit you ‘don’t get it’?  Jesus would later claim that only a wicked and rebellious generation asks for a sign. Suddenly, I don’t feel so wonderful about my pedigree.

What’s your view through the knothole?