The Spiritual Leader

Husbands are supposed to be the spiritual leaders in their households.  We infer this from passages where Paul describes household roles in Christian homes.  It’s a tough gig for guys in modern America to live out.  There are a lot of pressures to do anything but believe in, and obey, the Supreme Creator of the universe.  In fact it’s easier to just worship the universe (an irony I’ve always found humorous).  Samson’s father had struggles in this role as well.  And his were probably mostly cultural as well.

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had borne no children. (Judges 13:2 NASB)

Then Manoah entreated the LORD and said, “O Lord, please let the man of God whom You have sent come to us again that he may teach us what to do for the boy who is to be born.”  God listened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again to the woman as she was sitting in the field, but Manoah her husband was not with her. (Judges 13:8-9 NASB)

Then Manoah arose and followed his wife, and when he came to the man he said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to the woman?” And he said, “I am.”  Manoah said, “Now when your words come to pass, what shall be the boy’s mode of life and his vocation?”
So the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Let the woman pay attention to all that I said.
(Judges 13:11-13 NASB)

Now the angel of the LORD did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD.  So Manoah said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.”  But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time.” (Judges 13:21-23 NASB)

It’s not easy to get a deep picture of Manoah from these few verses, but at least one facet of his character emerges.  Manoah tries to be the spiritual leader of his wife.  It could be one of the many ironies of Scripture that God seems to just want to deal with his wife, yet Manoah tries.  It’s also clear Manoah’s not very good at being the spiritual leader.

God appears to the woman (no name given…ever), and she relates to her husband, Manoah, what He said to her.  Rather than this being enough, Manoah prays that God will speak to him.  What says he wants is to know what to do for the boy to be born.  But what he asks is what he will become.  That was already told to his wife, the boy will be a Nazarite his whole life.

When faced with this “man of God”, it’s possible that all the brilliant stuff Manoah planned to say went right out of his head.  Happens all the time.  Or, it’s also possible that Manoah just wanted to see this person for himself, that he wanted to be the one to whom God went, not his wife.  Didn’t happen that way either time, though, God still goes to his wife both times.  But there’s a question he asks that gets at his possible lack of qualifications as a spiritual leader.

In verse 16, the author lets us in on a secret, that Manoah didn’t know he was speaking with the Angel of Yahweh.  That being true, look at the very next verse.  Why would Manoah, the spiritual leader of his home, want to honor someone not Yahweh, after the child comes?  What spiritual leader wants to worship someone else for what God is clearly doing?  Okay, so you don’t shoot the messenger, but you don’t worship them either!

Unfortunately, Manoah gets another black mark on his “spiritual leader card” when he realizes that the Person was the Angel of Yahweh.  He says, in his spiritual leader wisdom, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God!”  How could that be true and what Yahweh told him also be true?  Manoah hadn’t thought this through.  His wife had, and she calls him on it.

Manoah stands as an example of men striving to be the spiritual leaders in their homes.  It’s not easy.  You’re expected to know stuff you probably don’t.  You sense this expectation to be wiser than you suspect you really are.  And you have to exude this sense of faith you probably don’t believe you have.  But take heart, oh men of God, for Paul says in Romans 12:3,

“For I say to all the ones being in us, through the grace having been given to me, to not be conceited beyond what is necessary to think,  but to think as the sound mind, as God distributed to each a measure of faith.”

Manoah may not have been given the faith he wanted, and he may not have attained the level of understanding he believed he needed (or had).  While we look at these qualities lacking in Manoah, and criticize, from what Paul says, we should rather accept Manoah.  We too have been given a “measure of faith” distributed to us by our Master.

Manoah seems to be out of his depth, but consider that he deals with the Creator of the vast universe.  Who isn’t out of their depth?  The lesson I learn is that his character brings out my pride, and reveals to me where my arrogance separates me from my fellow disciples.  Fortunately, my Master is still willing to work with me.

That’s my lesson from Manoah, what do you see through your knothole this morning?

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Passion Week VII

On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me:  Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”  They reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’  But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.”  So they answered that they did not know where it came from.  And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Luke 20:1-8 NASB)

Did you every hate it when your parents would tell you to obey “because I said so”?  Have you ever heard the term, “it is what it is” (probably original with Yogi Berra)?  Well, this word “authority” used here in Luke is sort of like that.  In Greek usage, the word has both a legal and a simple “unhindered” usage.  In other words, it refers to actions which are not prevented for some reason, but also to the right or legally granted right to act.

But the elders questions are not redundant because they examine two options.  They first ask, “…in what sort of authority…”, and then “…who gave you this authority?”(emphasis mine)  The connecting conjunction is “or”, meaning that both were not assumed to be true.  Either Jesus had this authority derived from some quality, or the authority was derived from another Person.  They didn’t consider it being both.  It was ironic that, in Jesus’ case, it was actually both.  He explains this ironic situation in His parable that follows.

Jesus explicitly refuses to answer.  He bargains with them asking them to reveal what they thought of John’s Baptism.  They feared the crowd stoning them (seriously?), so didn’t answer.  Therefore Jesus refused to answer.  But had He answered, what would He have said?  How could He explain that He had the authority by qualitative nature of being the Son of God, and it was therefore also derived from God the Father?  How do you explain that to people looking at a man in rumpled robes, dusty sandals, scraggly beard, and bad breath?  He didn’t appear in such royal powerful qualities one would expect of Deity.

The truth we often miss is that the people saw a person, much like them.  He was at least so much like them that He was too far removed from God to be any more like God than they were.  How could they have been expected to see beyond the human before them to the divine beneath?  We wouldn’t.  So Jesus’ refusal to explicitly answer the question isn’t strange at all.  In a sense, He also feared the crowd’s response.  It wasn’t time, not yet.  But soon, the crowd would be seeking His death, and it would be granted.  Again, He explains that in the parable that follows as well.

So, what is my lesson?  It has to do with authority.  I believe that, as children of the Creator of the universe, we have authority.  And I believe that, like Jesus, our authority is both qualitative and given.  Our authority is derived from our status as children and given to us by our Father.  I know I behave as if I have nothing, I’m poor, I’m wretched, I’m worthless, etc.  But if I truly believe that my Master has redeemed me, then how can I believe those things about myself?  Certainly my status before my Savior cannot be founded upon a personal quality within myself (self-righteousness).  But He has justified me, and is sanctifying me.  That means I am righteous because of His qualities.

I know that I tend to debase myself, probably in false humility, so that I don’t appear proud.  But authentic assurance in qualities derived from my Master is not pride, it’s faith.  I have authority derived from my Master, I ask and act in His name.  In fact He commands me to act and ask in His name.  I really struggle with this because it’s very easy for me to rely on myself and my abilities or knowledge.  I can appear to “have it all together” to other people.  The problem is that maintaining that facade drives me to crash and burn.  I can’t believe my own press, for my own good.  Instead I have to acknowledge the derived quality of my authority, and act authentically in His purpose and design.

I can dig further down, but that’s deep enough for one entry.  What’s your view through the fence?

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?

The Man With The Dangerously Big Head

Now Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. For Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. And his head caught fast in the oak, so he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him kept going (2 Samuel 18:9 NASB)

I had a friend ask me where I come up with these titles.  I’m not sure.  I suppose when I imagine a guy riding a mule going under a tree, getting his head stuck in the tree, and the mule continuing on, leaving the man hanging from the tree; I’m likely to suspect his head was too big.  The irony of the term applied to Absalom also makes it very attractive, almost as attractive as he thought he was.  See, it just works so well on too many levels.

Continue reading “The Man With The Dangerously Big Head”

Not Just A Pretty Face, But Also A Bad Example

Now in all Israel was no one as handsome as Absalom, so highly praised; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no defect in him. When he cut the hair of his head (and it was at the end of every year that he cut it, for it was heavy on him so he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head at 200 shekels by the king’s weight (2 Samuel 14:25-16 NASB)

Plots Within Plots

One character in Scripture who I never see put in a good light is Absalom.  He is often put in a ‘sympathetic’ light, but never held up as a good example of character.  And he isn’t.  In fact, I’m not so sure seeing him in a sympathetic light is really what was intended by the author here.  In the previous chapter, he tells his sister not to say anything about being raped, so she has no legal support from her father.  Absalom doesn’t say anything either.  This seems rather odd, except that the depraved brother is also the first-born, first in line for the throne.  So, in a very real sense, Tamar’s rape gives Absalom an angle to kill the person in front of him in line for the throne.

Beyond that, we see that he is brought back from exile, but never ‘repents’.  So he sees himself as above whatever law exists in Israel regarding what he did.  This isn’t a great situation for a would-be king to be in.  On top of that, we also get a glimpse of his character toward the end of chapter 14 which sets up the following chapter.  He is handsome, more than anyone else in Israel.  But he is very aware of this.  Who weighs his hair after cutting?  He cuts it because it’s ‘heavy on him’, and then weighs it to show off how much hair he has.  I’m thinking it would be lighter if he cleaned the anointing oil out of it from time to time, but again, that’s my opinion.

Absalom is living the good life.  He is back in Jerusalem, but not in court.  So he has a scheme for that.  It takes him two years to scheme against his depraved brother Amnon.  He waits another two years in exile, and now he waits two years to see his father.  Joab was instrumental in bringing him back, but ignores him once he’s back.  Absalom is not one to take being ignored, so he sets Joab’s field on fire.  Keep in mind, Joab is not above murder himself.  He’s not one to be trifled with, but Absalom is confident that no one can touch him.  He wants to see the king, and nothing will stand in his way.  But why?

I think that Absalom has been after the throne since before his sister is violated.  While his depraved brother Amnon is sick over his step sister, I believe Absalom is sick over how to get the throne.  Amnon unwittingly helps his brother when he ‘helps himself’ to his sister.  Absalom can kill Amnon and blame it on avenging Tamar.  And it really makes him look good in a way, like a kinsman-avenger.  But he still requires a few things to make a solid bid for the throne.  He needs legitimacy.  What I mean by legitimacy is that he must be perceived as the natural one to be next on the throne by everyone.  But the first step toward that is to be seen as legitimate within the court, but also with the king.

He has to have the king’s acceptance in order to be seen as really legitimate as an heir to the throne.  So, he comes home, but then must see the king.  He waits two years, and finally gets Joab’s attention by setting his field on fire.  It works, and Absalom is accepted by David.  Now Absalom can move on to stealing the hearts of the people.

Absalom is smart.  But he is also strategic, and patient.  He would be perfect in his diabolical pursuit if it weren’t for his one huge fault: Pride!  He really sees very little besides himself, and seems to truly believe that he is in pursuit of what is rightfully his to take.  He’s beautiful, he has heavy hair, he’s rich, he’s the kings eldest son (number 2 disappears, never to be heard from after being listed once).  What could possibly go wrong?  As long as he continues to be wise all should be well.  It really is interesting that he is so smart and patient at his age.  Most aren’t.  Amnon wasn’t.  Why is Absalom?

The Point of the Lesson of Absalom

We don’t know why Absalom is so cunning.  Scripture doesn’t tell us, and we’re left with the view that Absalom is just that smart.  And maybe he is.  That would make him very smart, very handsome, and with very little to slow down his inflated view of himself.  But there is a piece to this story that must not be lost.  Solomon must become king.

I’m not sure why, but Chronicles completely ignores these accounts of David.  There’s nothing about Bathsheba, nothing about Absalom, and from that account, we’re left wondering what happened to the eldest of David’s sons.  But this account seeks to solve a problem.  Keep in mind that of all David’s children, only Solomon is renamed by God, and this name is Jedidiah, a version of David’s own name but now it means ‘beloved of Yahweh’.

That happens as Solomon is a child, before he can ‘prove’ himself by his deeds, God sees something in him and approves of him already; before he can earn it.  The problem is that there are many brothers ahead of him.  And many of these brothers are dangerous, like Absalom.  So, in a sense, Absalom is a bad example, but what is also being shown here is that no amount of smarts, good looks, and strategic scheming will thwart the plans of the Almighty Creator.  This account explains what happened to some of those ahead of Solomon who assume the throne belonged to them.  But this account also supports God’s choice of Solomon.  Amnon wasn’t a good choice, he was depraved.  Absalom wasn’t a good choice, he was a conniving pretty-boy.  Adonijah is left to the final ascension of Solomon.

Conclusion

What I learn from Absalom, at least up through chapter 14, is that it’s not about how smart I am.  I already know I’m no looker, and I will never weigh my hair (nor let it get that long).  But I can become very impressed with my own ideas.  I can become very intoxicated with my particular view through a knothole.  This is partly (perhaps mostly) why I pursue this path of theology.  I need the reminder that there are other views, and mine is incomplete without the others.  I must not loose sight of the ‘game’, the Person and work of my Master.  He reveals Himself through Scripture, and I’m looking at Him, not myself.  There is real danger is looking myopically at the knothole itself and forgetting that the point lies in the view beyond.  God has a purpose in bringing Solomon to the throne.  This would have been true even if Amnon wasn’t depraved, Absalom wasn’t a conniving pretty-face, or anyone else thought they should have the throne.  God wanted Solomon on the throne, and that was what was going to happen.

What does God want for my neighborhood, my community, my church, may family?  Whatever it is, I better be on board with that and forget my own ‘plans’.  No amount of scheming, planning, conniving, or cleverness will change what He wants to what I want.  At least, that’s my view through the knothole.  What’s yours?