Idol Smashers – Part Four

caravan

“Idol Smashers” is a work of fiction set in the biblical era of the Judges.  Apart from persons mentioned in the Bible, it is entirely fiction and presented here in serial form strictly for the entertainment of my readers.  “Idol Smashers” is an original work, copyright Brett Best, 2011.

Day  One – Shiloh

(Previously in Idol Smashers: Judge over all of ancient Israel, Deborah addressed the men the Lord has chosen by lots.  She described a secret mission she needed them to undertake, to assess what she feared might be a  dangerous supernatural threat to their nation’s security.)

Each man silently gathered himself up and left the tent.  Immediately outside, in the path between the tents, Deborah’s servants had assembled a caravan presumably equipped with essentials for a short journey.  It was about fifty miles to Aphek, a journey that would, with the blessing, take a few hours to complete.

A donkey was provided for each man to ride and one more to pull a small cart that was covered with a cloth.  Jezreel marveled at the swiftness of these preparations.  As far as he knew, Deborah did not have an armory or storehouse, but all this material came from somewhere.

Maaz strode to the lead donkey and mounted up.  Micah was right beside him.  It was clear the two of them were used to one another, but how would all of them, strangers to one another, get along?  Jezreel shook his head to clear it of discouraging thoughts.  Now was the time for faith, not doubt, and he purposefully shouldered the pack that held his lyre.  Clambering aboard the nearest donkey, he set his eyes and his heart on the road ahead.

Deborah’s servant was clearly eager to get the caravan underway and did everything he could to get each man on a donkey and get the caravan moving, short of actual nagging.  It would have been unnecessary to goad these men anyway; the need for haste had already been impressed on them.  The giant, Barak, hesitated for but a moment as he was clearly too large for his mount.  He straddled the beast anyway and chose a position at the rear, riding behind the cart.  Caleb volunteered to take the cart donkey’s reins in one hand and his own with the other hand and said, “Let’s go.”

In a prayerful tone, Joseph said, “Let us go with God.”

The group started their journey.

Day One – Aphek

            With the festal days being observed in Shiloh, there was very little traffic along the road and all of it going in the opposite direction.  As they journeyed, there was little small talk among the men.  Discussions of the situation were discreetly left unsaid and absolute silence was observed while other travelers are met or passed.  With all this talk of intrigue and mystery, Jezreel felt an unsettling kind of paranoia descended on him and he surprised himself by the degree to which he was suspicious of others on the road.

Ammihud muttered to himself and was apparently rehearsing the facts of the situation as Deborah had presented them.  Presently, he regarded the back of Maaz with a doleful look.  “I wonder who he thinks he is?” he whispered.  “Deborah chose me to bear the scroll.  Was this not a sign that she had chosen me to lead this expedition?”  Being of short stature, Ammihud had too often been left a place in line behind taller men.  He resolved to assert himself among this group, to not be relegated to the rear.

“I think we should stop for a moment,” he said aloud, in his most commanding voice.  All eyes turned to him.

“To…ah.. allow the animals a respite, and…for us to take council together about our next step,” Ammihud offered.  Inwardly, he regretted his choice of words.  Thinking on his feet was not necessarily his best skill.

Maaz turned and regarded him with an intent look.  “Why stop?  We and the animals can be rested at Aphek, when we meet this Mattan.”

Ammihud took this as a challenge.  “True, but we’ve had no opportunity to take stock of our situation.  This is highly unsual.  Better to be well-planned.”  Ammihud looked around at the rest of the men.  Micah’s face bore a look of disinterest or perhaps he was prepared to follow Maaz’s lead.  The rest were noncommittal.  “Besides, I could do with a bite to eat.  There must be some food and drink under that tarp,” Ammihud said, pointing to the cart.

“I don’t like to tarry in the LORD’s work,” Maaz said flatly.  His eyes locked with Ammihud’s.  Neither man backed down for several seconds.  Finally, Maaz shrugged his shoulders, turned forward, and drove his donkey off the side of the road.

When they had dismounted, Barek patted Ammihud lightly on the shoulder and said, “A bit peckish myself.”  He untied the tarp and they men looked over the contents of Deborah’s provisions.  There were several jars of water, and baskets filled with flat loaves of bread, fig cakes and other provender.

Caleb took it upon himself to open the lone chest and found it contained a sack of silver coins.  He weighed it in his hands and said, “I’d guess there’s forty silver here.”  His eyes had a glitter that Ammihud disliked.

“Better keep that on the cart and under cover,” Ammihud advised.

Joseph looked over the small amount of trade goods and the shelters.  “Deborah is wise.  She has seen to our every need,” he said.

“Brothers,” said Jezreel, “Let us offer a psalm of thanks and have a meal while we talk.”

“A short meal,” Micah added.

Jezreel nodded, then led the men of Israel in a psalm of thanksgiving to their God.

The men sat in a circle and one of the jugs of water was passed around.  Then a loaf and a fig cake for each, as he wished.

They had eaten in silence for a few moments when Ammihud became aware that Maaz was looking at him.

“Well?” Maaz said.

“What?” Ammihud replied.

“He wants to know what you had to say that was so urgent we had to stop,” Micah explained.

Ammihud reached for another fig cake.  Taking a bite was an excuse to consider his words.  “I was wondering what you men thought we should do with these Heshonibites when we solve this mystery, determining their guilt or innocence.”

“I have already determined their guilt,” Maaz said.  “They are idolaters and idolatry is punishable by death.”

This was something the men had not wanted to think about.  Killing a whole village, particularly women and children, was not something they were eager to do.

“Yes…” Ammihud said, “but that’s something we all must decide together.  After all, Deborah did not designate any one of us as the leader.”

Maaz merely folded  his arms across his chest.

“But she did give me the scroll…” Ammihud said.

Micah snorted.  “That doesn’t make you chief.”

Joseph poured a portion of water onto the ground.  “Thus shall all pride disappear.  The LORD has chosen all of us.  We shall decide all together and work together to protect His people Israel.”

Barak said, “That is wisdom.”

A moment of awkward silence hung in the air, then Ammihud and Maaz nodded to one another.

As if he were unaware of anything untoward passing between them, Jezreel said, “So, once we’ve gone to Aphek and met this Mattan, do you suppose we’ll have time today to interview these Heshonibites?”

Caleb looked around at the sky gathered above them and observed, “The wind comes up.  What time does not prevent us from doing, weather may.”

“As the Lord wills,” Jezebel added.

“As the Lord wills,” Jacob agreed.

“I can see no other counsel we can keep here, until more is known,” Maaz offered.

“I agree,” Ammihud said.

In spite of his earlier irritation, Maaz found the little man amusing and he smiled.  “Good.  We can strategize more on the rest of the journey.  I propose we decide whether to see the village or the villagers first.”  With that, he stood to his feet.

The other men showed their agreement by also standing.  Caleb bound the tarp back on the cart after the supplies were returned to it.

Ammihud made a little bow to Maaz, “Shall we…?” he asked, gesturing to the road.

Maaz clapped him on the back, “After you, brother!”

With a laugh, each man mounted and they were off.

After a few moments, Barak said, “I vote for seeing the village first.”

Micah said, “Me too. How can we know their guilt without seeing the evidence?”

No one could offer an argument to that, except Joseph.  “The eyes of the villagers will offer a different kind of evidence.  The eyes are the windows to the soul.  We will be able to see the truth, no matter how they try to shutter it.”

Caleb ventured his opinion, “Perhaps that kind of insight comes to those with a gift of prophecy.  But for the rest of us, solid things reveal more.”

Some of the men murmured their assent.  Ammihud considered all this.  He started to say, “Then we will go to the village first,” but glanced at Maaz, riding beside him, and said aloud, “Are we agreed, then?  First to the village, then to the villagers…?”

Each man voiced his approval of this shape of a plan.

Micah and Maaz began to chat comfortably about one of Maaz’s children, a son he hoped to have soon matched and married.  Ammihud tired quickly of a conversation that included no one he knew and purposely reigned in his mount a bit until he fell back to ride alongside Joseph.

“Deborah said you came from the desert,” he stated in a leading tone.

“Are you asking or reminding me?” Joseph said, giving Ammihud a blank look he had perfected with years of practice.

Ammihud did not allow the look to deter him.  “Neither.  What I am wondering is if it was in the wilderness that the LORD gave you the wisdom with which you speak.”

Joseph sighed and considered the path ahead of them for a few moments before answering.  “It is both a gift and a burden.  The desert does open a man’s eyes to other sources of truth.”

“So you can look into a man’s eyes and see his soul?”

Joseph regarded Ammihud candidly.  “Yes.  But no one needs an oracle to see that you think you should lead this group.”

Uncomfortable and feeling a bit exposed, Ammihud said, “Deborah did give the scroll to me.”

“Who’s to say why a prophetess and judge does as she does?  Those who follow the will of Adonai can be as inscrutable as He.”

Ammihud drew himself up with a big inhalation.  “I pray your gift serves our mission when it is needed.”  When Joseph made no reply, Ammihud let the conversation lapse.

Jezreel began to sing a traveling psalm, his clear baritone voice carrying across the empty space.  One by one, these men of Israel joined him in the song.  Presently, Ammihud felt a lightening of his spirits.  It seemed to him as if this group of men, apparently hastily thrown together, might just be used of God.  Surely the One who directed Moses and Israel for forty years would direct them too.

They sang the psalm several times until Jezreel fell silent.  Joseph looked at Ammihud and smiled.  Ammihud returned the greeting with a nod of his head.

“There lies the city!” Maaz called out.

Ammihud spurred his donkey ahead.  “Remember,” he said to the men, “we are traders, bound for Joppa.  We seek out Mattan as a trade contact.”

They agreed to this contrivance as a necessary mask for the face of Deborah in this journey.  “Maaz, you will do the talking for us,” Ammihud said, too late in catching himself in giving an order.

Maaz laughed.  “You are the better talker, but I will do my best.”  Relaxed by the psalm they’d sung, the men readily laughed at the joke made at Ammihud’s expense.  His only reply was to reign in his donkey and line up next to Barak.  “I prefer your side, should a fight ensue,” he whispered up to the giant.

Barak was puzzled.  “Why would there be a fight?”

Ammihud’s tone became more conspiratorial.  “Because that abrasive man is always trying to start one!”

Barak returned his attention to the city’s gate.

As always, men stood outside the gate, gossiping, laughing, and arguing.  The city elders sat in shaded shelters, holding an informal kind of court.  This was very much the usual scene at the gate to a walled city.  It was a place where civic and commercial concerns were dealt with.

Men at arms sat atop the city walls, largely indifferent to what was below them.  Their eyes were instead on the approaching caravan.

A guardian of the gate set down a flask from which he’d been drinking and put on his leather helm.  He walked out to the middle of the road and waited for the caravan to stop.

Maaz held up an open palm and reined his donkey to a halt.  The others slowed and stopped their mounts too.

“Hail to the gates,” Maaz said, greeting the soldier and the men assembled.  It was the usual sort of greeting, a balance between enthusiasm and disdain.

“Hail travelers,” the guard replied.  “Do you mean to enter Aphek?”

“We do,” Maaz said.

“What is your business, stranger?” one of the elders asked loudly.  The guard rolled his eyes in disgust.  This elder was meddling in his business, but the guard had no means of redress.  Elders were to be respected; tolerated if necessary.

Holding forth as if he had not noticed the gate guardian’s reaction, Maaz merely said, “We are traveling to Joppa, to do some trading.  We mean to get some horses to ride on our return.”

“Your accent says you are an Ephraimite,” the elder ventured.

“Just so,” Maaz said.  “My partners and I met only this morning at the sacred tent.  We offered our sacrifices early and journeyed from there straightway.”

The soldier seemed satisfied with this, but the elder persisted.  “What is your business in Aphek?”

“We seek Mattan.  He was made known to us as a trader who ventures into Philistia on occasion.”

The elder’s wrinkled face betrays derision.  “Mattan.  He is within.  And a trader he is.”  The old man laughed a wry laugh, a sound not unlike stones scraping.  “One of Aphek’s finest.”  He made some kind of signal to the guard, who walked through the caravan to the cart.  When he made to loosen the rope holding it down, Caleb jumped down from his donkey.

“Let me assist you, brother,” he said.  Loosening only a corner of the cover, he showed the guard a bolt of cloth and a sack of household items.

“Thank you – brother,” the guard said.  A look passed between him and the elder.  He resumed his previous place in the middle of the street, ahead of the caravan.

“You will find him on the street named Crescent,” the suspicious-eyed elder intoned.  Waving at the other gate guardian on duty he said, “Move aside, Carmi.  Let them in.”

With a bow to the elder, the soldier returned to his shaded spot and removed his leather helm.

The way clear before them, the caravan passed into Aphek, greeting men at the gate as they entered.  To a casual observer, it was business as usual.  They found that Crescent Street received it’s name for the half-circle shape it took as it followed the city wall.

They had not gone far when a man suddenly appeared and stood in the street before them.  Maaz stopped his donkey and glared at the man.  Before Maaz could form a word of rebuke, the man said,   “Follow me, please, masters.  I am Mattan, your humble servant.”  With that, he turned off Crescent street, passing between two sizable homes.

A Fond Farewell

Please read Acts 20:17-38 in your Bible.

A Tearful Farewell_vFinal(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

We must love one another deeply.

          The CONTEXT of this passage is provided by verses sixteen and seventeen.  Paul was making his way back to Jerusalem sailing along the coast of Asia Minor.  His haste was so great he chose not to put into the harbor at Ephesus, but sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him at a place called Miletus.  There were other factors in this decision, but the text reports only Paul’s desire to reach Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost (29 May 57).

Based on the reaction of the ELDERS, I wonder if Paul anticipated that the church would want to keep him and he wanted to avoid a long goodbye.  In any case, Paul called the official leaders of the church to him and gave them a message to take back to the members.

  1. Paul’s departure provoked deep emotions. (vs. 36-38)

Their time together ended with prayer.  As a demonstration of reverence for God, all of them KNELT DOWN.  What Luke may be describing here in very few words, is a service of ordination.  Kneeling and prayer have been part of ordinations from the beginning, along with the laying on hands.  A group ordination fits with Paul’s purpose in meeting with the ELDERS, to prepare them for his absence.

In their culture embracing and kissing were typical greetings, so this doesn’t necessarily convey deep love.  However, weeping and grieving do imply a deep love between Paul and the ELDERS.  Verse 38 tells us they accompanied Paul to his ship.  I assume this detail means they were reluctant to be parted from Paul and wanted to keep an eye on him as long as they could.

  1. The deepest love is founded on shared service to Christ. (18-35)

Paul’s focus was on Jesus Christ.  Paul was a “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get) follower of Christ; there was no pretense in his exercise of faith and ministry.  When he said “YOU KNOW HOW I LIVED…” (18) that was a completely accurate statement.  Modern politicians like to talk about transparency, but Paul practiced it.

His statement in verse nineteen would sound self-contradictory if it were spoken by anyone else: I SERVED THE  LORD WITH GREAT HUMILITY.  Note the object of the sentence is THE LORD.  Paul’s focus on Jesus did not allow room for selfish ambition, a vice he condemned four times in his letters (2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Philippians 1:16; 2:3).

If you take time to look at it, Paul’s selflessness is indicated twice in this phrase alone.  The word SERVED is used to indicate slavery.  Paul identified himself as a slave of Jesus Christ more than a dozen times.

GREAT HUMILITY summarizes the details that will follow; all the aspects of selfless devotion and self-sacrifice Paul demonstrated over the years.

Verse 24 passionately states Paul’s devotion to Jesus and his determination to do what Christ commanded.  He said, “I CONSIDER MY OWN LIFE WORTH NOTHING TO ME, IF ONLY I MAY FINISH THE RACE AND COMPLETE THE TASK THE LORD JESUS HAS GIVEN ME.”  It is pretty easy to claim GREAT HUMILITY; here Paul gives evidence of it in his attitude.  He does not consider his own life as valuable on its own, only as it gives him opportunity to work for Jesus.

The TASK Jesus assigned to him was to testify to the GOSPEL OF GOD’S GRACE.  Paul had ambition, but it was grounded in faith.  It was to FINISH THE RACE and COMPLETE THE TASK; Paul wanted no part of his calling left undone, no matter the cost.

What never motivated Paul was financial gain.  He goes into some detail in verses 33-35 to prove this point.

First, he pointed out his attitude: I HAVE NOT COVETED (33).  In contrast to false teachers whose major motive for church work was greed, Paul had no desire for material compensation of any kind.

Second, he pointed out his ambition: THESE HANDS OF MINE HAVE SUPPLIED MY OWN NEEDS AND THE NEEDS OF MY COMPANIONS (34).

Paul avoided all charges of greed by refusing all kinds of support.  He supported himself and his associates by working his trade as a tentmaker.  We know from 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 and Philippians 4:15-16 that Paul accepted gifts from churches after he’d left them, but observed a strict separation of finances.  This was a decision Paul made for his own ministry; we have no evidence he was commanded to operate this way, nor did he command other pastors to work outside the church.  Instead, he argued for a fair wage for full-time church workers (1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18).

Third, he pointed out his altruism: I SHOWED YOU THAT BY…HARD WORK WE MUST HELP THE WEAK (35).  This was based on the teaching of Jesus whom Paul quoted as saying, “IT IS MORE BLESSED TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE.”  In addition to teaching this truth, Paul set an example in his own service and in his leadership of the church’s service. Interestingly, these words of Jesus are not found in any of the Gospels.  This may have been something Jesus said to Paul alone or just not reported in the Gospels.

The Apostle Paul clearly had a tender heart for the Ephesian church.  He made two references to TEARS: “I SERVED THE LORD…WITH TEARS (19+31)”.  He gave THE PLOTS OF THE JEWS as one of the reason for his tears.  Their plotting did not prevent Paul from preaching to His native people as he made clear in v. 21.  A simple fact of ministry to people is that TEARS are an occupational hazard.  It is a sign of genuine love.

His tenderheartedness compelled Paul to tell the Ephesians the whole truth in his preaching and teaching. This is expressed in three statements.

“I WOULD NOT HAVE HESITATED TO PREACH ANYTHING THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN HELPFUL TO YOU (20).”  This verse speaks to boldness in preaching; Paul did not avoid subjects because they would invite opposition.   The content of his preaching was not limited to what was popular or easy.  He preached everything that was HELPFUL to the church’s health and growth.

“I…TAUGHT PUBLICLY AND FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE (20).”  Paul carried out both avenues of pastoral ministry; public and private.  In our study of Acts we saw that Paul preached in the Jewish synagogues, in a lecture hall owned by Tyrannus, and in the marketplace; all public venues.  The early church also met in homes, but these meetings were not limited to a single family, they were simply smaller venues into which the church gathered.

“I HAVE DECLARED TO BOTH JEWS AND GREEKS (21).”  Paul presented the Gospel to all the people of Ephesus, not excluding or favoring either of these groups.  His message to all of them was the same: THEY MUST TURN TO GOD IN REPENTANCE AND HAVE FAITH IN OUR LORD JESUS.

“FOR THREE YEARS I NEVER STOPPED WARNING YOU DAY AND NIGHT (v. 31).” Paul did not seek popularity in his messages, sticking to the truth even to the degree that his messages consisted of warnings.

The purpose of this meeting was for Paul to transfer his authority in leading the church to the ELDERS (25-32).  They would lead the church from now on.

“NONE OF YOU…WILL EVER SEE ME AGAIN (25).”  In v. 22 Paul declared his uncertainty about what would happen to him in Jerusalem but he was certain he would never return to Ephesus.  That’s why he went to all this trouble to prepare the ELDERS to take over for him.

On the basis of the integrity of his service (27), Paul announced the church was no longer his responsibility: “I AM INNOCENT OF THE BLOOD OF ALL MEN (26).” This comment reflects Ezekiel 3:17-21 where the prophet was told his responsibility by the figure of the watchman on the wall is responsible to give a warning of danger.  He is then not responsible for anyone who refuses to heed the warning and act appropriately.  Because Paul DID NOT HESITATE to give this warning, his responsibility is ended.  He can leave Ephesus and never return with a clear conscience.

Paul made the ELDERS responsible for the church in Ephesus (28). He called them OVERSEERS and SHEPHERDS, in charge and in care of the membership.  He stated that the HOLY SPIRIT had put them in these positions.  The value of the church (and thereby the seriousness of their responsibility) is not overstated when Paul reminded them that Christ bought the Church WITH HIS BLOOD.  He warned them that their service would be fraught with trials (29-31); they would have occasion for tears of their own.

In light of these truths, Paul commanded them twice to be wary.  In contrast to the SAVAGE WOLVES – the false teachers – the ELDERS are to carefully maintain their integrity.

The first warning is in verse 28: “KEEP WATCH OVER YOURSELVES.”  This command is not limited to keeping their integrity but includes practicing what we might call “adequate self-care,” maintaining physical health and spiritual growth.

The second warning is in verse 30: “BE ON YOUR GUARD!” Compromising one’s integrity can be a slow process, one small step at a time.  Only vigilance will keep any of these ELDERS from becoming one of the WOLVES that will arise from within the church (FROM YOUR OWN NUMBER).

He commissioned them in v. 32; urging them to rely on God’s GRACE.  It is God alone who can build us up and secure for us AN INHERITANCE AMONG ALL THOSE WHO ARE SANCTIFIED.  Faithful service is our part; fruitful labor is God’s blessing.  God intends His Church to succeed in making disciples and extending His Kingdom in this world.

Paul endured opposition to his service.  In verse nineteen Paul noted he was SEVERELY TESTED BY THE JEWS in Ephesus.  He did not allow their opposition to silence his proclaiming the message.  He continued to use their synagogues and other public places to preach about salvation in Christ.  In fact, there was nothing that would make him hesitate (v. 19) from fulfilling that TASK Jesus had given him to do (v. 24).

The other thing Paul did not hesitate to do was go to Jerusalem (vs. 22-23).  Paul was COMPELLED BY THE SPIRIT to go there and he was determined to be obedient to God, though he had been warned he would face PRISON and HARDSHIPS.  Paul was not deterred by PRISON or HARDSHIPS in part because he considered his own life as being worth something only as it allowed him to FINISH and COMPLETE the TASK OF TESTIFYING that Jesus had given him.

We must love one another deeply.

          The Apostle Peter shared this perspective.  Under the Spirit’s direction he recorded these words in 1 Peter 4:8, ABOVE ALL, LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY, BECAUSE LOVE COVERS OVER A MULTITUDE OF SINS.  This verse establishes both the priority of deep love (ABOVE ALL) and the effect of deep love (COVERS OVER A MULTITUDE OF SINS), that is, forgives offenses.  This is the kind of love evidenced in our passage in Acts, the kind of love Paul demonstrated.

Love is not optional; it is a command and is a necessity.  The church cannot be the church without the deep love that COVERS OVER offenses, allowing people to go forward in faith.

Love also feels better; it’s more fun to forgive and move forward than to nurse grudges.  We all make mistakes and we’re all guilty of giving offense; we can’t avoid it all the time, so it’s necessary that we exercise deep love and overcome the offenses with forgiveness.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Eckhard J. Schnabel.

Put On Your Work Clothes (Part Two)

Armor of God_final (2)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 6:10-20 in your Bible.

CONTEXT = The Apostle Paul used the word FINALLY (v. 10) in the same way some preachers do; not really meaning they are coming to an end.  They give you hope it’s about to end, but when all is said and done, the word “finally” fell in the middle of their time.  To satisfy my own curiosity, I looked it up and found that Paul used the word FINALLY seven times.  In Philippians he used it twice!  Three times, it appears in the middle of the letter, four times in the last chapter, but never in the last paragraph.

Here in Ephesians, the word FINALLY indicates Paul is getting to the last important subject.  The actual end of the letter is personal greetings and a blessing.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

  1. True strength and power is a gift from God. (10-13)

In verse ten it is written, BE STRONG IN THE LORD AND IN HIS MIGHTY POWER. In the original language, the verb translated as BE STRONG is in what’s called “passive voice.”  This means the word itself indicates the source of this strength is not from within us; it is received, not generated.  Our part is to seek God and trust in His strength rather than rely on our own personal strength.

As Paul made clear in the next phrase – IN THE LORD – God gives us strength.  In fact, Paul is so eager to reinforce this point he added IN HIS MIGHTY POWER.  Aware of human nature to trust in ourselves, Paul tripled down on this emphasis.  POWER and STRENGTH are the same words Paul used in Ephesians 1:19-20 to explain how God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

The word FULL (complete) used in reference to the ARMOR OF GOD in verses eleven and thirteen is important.  The intent is to reassure us that when God promises to strengthen us for battle, we are FULLY prepared, not partially.  His strength is all we need.  It is a call to spiritual maturity using language akin to the FILLING of the Spirit.

Our STRUGGLE is properly understood as resistance against spiritual evil (verse twelve).  The word STRUGGLE is borrowed from sports and pictures two wrestlers grappling with one another.  Though people do evil and oppose God, mere FLESH AND BLOOD do not provide their own spiritual power.

Instead, people who do evil are powered by spiritual evil. RULERS and AUTHORITIES are two words Paul commonly used for beings of spiritual evil.  He has already done so twice in this letter (see 1:21; 3:10). Paul referred to the POWERS OF THIS DARK WORLD.  The expression “world powers” was widely used in all cultures of Paul’s day to refer to spirits or demons.  Paul added the word DARK to signify these are evil beings who influence people to do sinful things.

Bible writers saw two spiritual kingdoms at work in the world, unseen except for their interactions with people.  There was the Kingdom of God on the one hand and the kingdom of Satan on the other.  While these kingdoms are in conflict, they are not equal in power and the kingdom of Satan is doomed to destruction.

Paul also described them as SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.  The phrase SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL refers to all demonic and evil spirits of all types.  It may surprise us to read they exist IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS, where we expect to find peace and tranquility.

There are two ways of looking at this seeming contradiction.  One, HEAVENLY REALMS refers to the “spirit world,” the reality that exists alongside our physical reality.  It is a more general term while “heaven” specifically refers to the place where God is enthroned.  Two, in accord with John’s Revelation, we see the current version of heaven is not a place of idyllic peace and quiet, but is a place of conflict between spiritual beings of good and evil.  The conflicted condition of earth reflects the conflicted condition of heaven.  That version of heaven will be replaced by the NEW HEAVEN and NEW EARTH described in Revelation 21-22.

According to verses thirteen and fourteen, the goal of our STRUGGLE is simply to STAND.  The word appears four times in this passage, according to our English Bibles.

Paul warned a DAY OF EVIL was coming.  Though he refers to it as a single day, Paul doesn’t necessarily mean one DAY OF EVIL for all people, but whenever a time of STRUGGLE arises in a person’s life.  We needn’t be too literal here.

In the face of what would otherwise be an overwhelming spiritual force, God makes us able to STAND our ground, resist temptations and enduring trials.  AFTER YOU HAVE DONE EVERYTHING refers to the alertness commanded in verse eighteen.  Prayer is the means by which we PUT ON THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD.  This underscores our need to prepare for a DAY OF EVIL by maturing in our spiritual life.

Paul said it again: we are to STAND FIRM.  God doesn’t expect us to win the war for Him, just to survive it with our faith intact.  The word means “stand against” or “resist.”

  1. Symbols of the implements of spiritual warfare. (14-17)

#1 = THE BELT OF TRUTH BUCKLED AROUND YOUR WAIST.

This image appears first in Isaiah 11:5: “He shall be girded with righteousness around the waist and bound with truth along the sides.”  The TRUTH includes but is not limited to biblical teaching, as all truth comes from God.

Being prepared to resist evil requires us to learn, accept, and use the truth about ourselves as well.  Spiritually maturing people are humble and humility is an accurate self-understanding.  Humble people are not self-centered; they do not think too highly or too lowly about themselves.  More importantly, they know their giftedness, their role, and all the strengths God has provided them.

It’s possible that Paul listed the TRUTH first because that’s the first thing the Enemy will try to corrupt.  As did the serpent in the garden, the devil will try to cloud our understanding of what God said and what His will is.

#2 = THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Isaiah 59:17 depicts God as the Divine Warrior with this detail of His appearance: “He put on righteousness as his breastplate.”  RIGHTEOUSNESS is moral integrity; conformity to the will of God.

The lack of righteousness puts sinners at a distance from God (see Isaiah 59:14) but nothing is closer to your heart than a BREASTPLATE.  This is a symbol of close fellowship with God.  To PUT ON this BREASTPLATE requires us to seek to live in moral purity and wholeheartedly commune with God.

#3 = FEET FITTED WITH THE READINESS THAT COMES FROM THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

Paul may have thought about Isaiah 52:7, which says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” One’s footwear takes on obvious importance when the objective is to STAND.  Paul does not specify any particular kind of footgear, so that’s not the point.  The point is preparedness, as indicated in the word READINESS.  In this case, it is READINESS to be a witness to the Good News of salvation in Christ, which is THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

It’s ironic that Paul uses the word PEACE in this teaching about spiritual warfare.  However, speaking the word of God, telling people the Good News of Jesus Christ, these things bring about peace.  Peace is the heart of the Good News.

The best way a believer can oppose a lie is to tell the truth.  Also, if people know the truth, they will be better equipped to resist a lie.  In John 8:44, Jesus described Satan as “the Father of all lies.”  When the truth is told, Satan is directly opposed.

Followers of Jesus PUT ON this piece of armor by learning the word of God.  Concentrate more on the word itself, less on what people have said about it.  By studying and memorizing the word of God, you will be prepared to speak the word of God at every opportunity.

#4 = THE SHIELD OF FAITH, WITH WHICH YOU CAN EXTINGUISH ALL THE FLAMING ARROWS OF THE EVIL ONE.

FAITH is trust in God, being convinced and assured that He keeps all His promises: we are in His hands.  A physical shield is defensive equipment, held in one’s hands.  A Roman shield was four feet high, two and a half feet wide and several inches thick.  It provided complete protection from arrows if the soldier set the base on the ground and knelt behind it.  If he stayed behind the shield he would be safe from slings and arrows.  This image explains Paul’s comment about the devil’s arrows.  Notice Paul’s assurance that the SHIELD will defend against ALL the devil’s arrows.

In the Bible, God is described as our shield (Genesis 15:1; Psalm 5:12), but there is no Old Testament passage that shows God employing a shield in His role as “divine warrior.”  The image of FLAMING ARROWS is biblical: in Psalms 7:13 and 144:6, God is the one who shoots them.  Among weapons of the time, a flaming arrow was the most feared because it delivered a fiery material that could not easily be put out; it was a devastating weapon against wood structures.

In our experience, trials and temptations involve human beings and/or material things, but Paul identifies the archer as THE EVIL ONE.  This is a reminder of v. 12.  This is essentially a spiritual war.  Our chief opponent is a spiritual being whom we can resist, if we fight with God’s weapons and His strength.

A SHIELD is an apt symbol of FAITH because it is our knowledge of the truth and our trust in God that empowers us to withstand our enemy’s trials and temptations.  Faith is trust in God as our protector; we are safe as we stand behind Him.

#5 = THE HELMET OF SALVATION.

While the SHIELD OF FAITH image was original to Paul, the HELMET OF SALVATION is part of the description of God as the Divine Warrior in Isaiah 59:17: “He will put…the helmet of salvation on his head.”  God not only fights on behalf of His people but he also makes His divine armaments available to his people.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 was Paul’s first use of THE HELMET OF SALVATION.  There it was a more forward-looking view of salvation as the congregation in Thessalonica was concerned about salvation connected with Jesus’ Second Coming.  Here’s Paul’s pastoral concern is centered in the immediate moment, in how our SALVATION enables us to STAND amidst our present STRUGGLE.

A helmet offers much-needed protection of the head, but a trade-off is it often restricts the wearer’s peripheral vision.  To PUT ON this piece of armor, the believer needs to focus his attention on Christ, ignoring distractions and non-essentials (see Hebrews 12:2).

#6 = THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE WORD OF GOD.

A SWORD is the only offensive or attacking part of this spiritual armory.  The fact that is a symbol of the Scriptures means that believers are to use God’s word to resist every experience of spiritual evil.  (Evangelism is an example of this use of the SWORD.  It takes the fight to the devil because we are using the word to convert enemies into friends.)

On the other hand, a SWORD was also a defensive weapon, used to parry or block attacks by an enemy.  The symbol is just as flexible, so we understand that the word of God can also be used to answer all attacks on our faith, in both the physical and spiritual worlds.  (The study of how to rationally defend our faith is called “apologetics.”  This is an example of a defensive use of the word.)

This symbolic SWORD is said to be OF THE SPIRIT because all Scripture has been revealed by the power and action of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

The use of the WORD OF GOD in Isaiah 11:4 employs a ROD instead of a SWORD, but it shows how the WORD is to be used in attack mode; “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”

Jesus’ followers take up the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT as they apply God’s word to their lives.  Biblical literacy is an essential part of discipleship.

  1. Prayer is where spiritual warfare is won or lost. (18-20)

(NOTE: Paul does not list prayer as a separate implement of war.  Instead, prayer is the means by which the implements listed are PUT ON.)

Verse eighteen is a general call to prayer.  In chapters one and three, Paul has modeled prayer for them.  Here he develops the quality and quantity aspects of prayer.  The command to PRAY IN THE SPIRIT calls us to a quality of prayer which is made possible only in connection with the Holy Spirit.                 Prayer is not a performance or a ritual.  It is more than conversation, it is communion with God (see Romans 8:26-27).  The phrase WITH ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS indicates that the form of prayer is not at all at issue.  There is no room for legalism or judging other people’s prayers. This is also an important point for the Ephesians who needed to know the distinction between incantations and prayers.  God knows every heart, what is actually in a person when they pray.  so what we can see and hear is only the surface.

Paul also addresses quantity of prayer in the following phrases, each of which is quantified by the word ALL.

– ON ALL OCCASIONS means “at every opportunity.”  One of the most appropriate questions we can ask is “May I pray for you?”  It reflects 5:26, MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY, BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.

– ALWAYS KEEP PRAYING FOR ALL THE SAINTS includes a couple versions of the word “all.”  When prayer is not bound by legalities, one is free to pray at any moment, in silent communion with God, even in the midst of a crowd.

– The object of our prayers is for one another: ALL THE SAINTS.  Our prayers to PUT ON the armor are not just for ourselves, but for each other to be similarly clad and ready for battle.

WITH THIS IN MIND refers to Paul’s teaching on spiritual warfare as a motive to pray, being alert to the signs of the conflict all around us.  In Mark 14:38 Jesus called His disciples to “watch and pray” to avoid falling into temptation.

To be ALERT or watch requires we believe something is going to happen.  The more immanent the event seems, the more motivated we are to watch out for it.

Verses nineteen to twenty are Paul’s call to prayer for himself, to not be intimidated into silence by his imprisonment. Paul requested prayer specifically for his speaking: WHENEVER I OPEN MY MOUTH.  In the phrase, WORDS MAY BE GIVEN ME Paul brings to mind Jesus’ promise to His followers that when they are persecuted and drug before the rulers of the land, He will give them powerful words (see Luke 21:14-15).

SO I WILL FEARLESSLY MAKE KNOWN THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL. PRAY THAT I MAY DECLARE IT FEARLESSLY AS I SHOULD anticipates Paul’s opportunity to appear before the Roman Emperor.  Imagine the intimidation factor of standing before the man who ruled the empire that spanned the known world!

Remember Paul has used the word MYSTERY to refer to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.  (This is the seventh time in Ephesians he’s used the word!)  It is synonymous with “Gospel” and refers to the revealing of God’s plan of salvation.

Paul’s prayer concern was that he would fulfill His mission as an AMBASSADOR of the Gospel in spite of the limitations of his CHAINS.  Paul endured imprisonment in Rome for two years and for a similar length of time prior to being brought to Rome.

As he indicated in Romans 1:16-17 and 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul was never ashamed of his imprisonments, because he knew he was God’s AMBASSADOR; the highest status available to a human being and more importantly, because his message was eternal life from God.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

Reflecting on the state of the Church in America and our church, I see two problems with this topic of spiritual warfare.

One, we act as if there were no war going on at all.  The Church has been “unequally yoked” (see 2 Corinthians 6:4) with our culture.  That worked OK in earlier generations when the influence was primarily in favor of the Church.  However, in the last two generations, American culture has come to exert greater influence over the Church.  The Church and the culture are virtually indistinguishable and are headed in the same self-destructive direction.  As the Church takes very little pains to be counter-cultural, we are being drug down with them.

Thus, one step in this war with spiritual evil is to stop allying ourselves with worldly evil.  The Church must throw off its yoke, end its association with a “post-Christian” culture that increasingly hates and blames us.

Two, we act as if we have no idea who the enemy is.  Inside the walls of local churches, we too often treat one another as the enemy.  In petty disputes over worldly things like letters and numbers, we divide and deride and attempt to dominate one another.

There are, no doubt, persons in every congregation, who have no good business being there.  This is indicated when we treat one another as competitors or enemies, forgetting our struggle is against evil spiritual powers.  Our brothers and sisters are supposed to be our allies.

In short, we are the Israelites all over again.  We befriend the pagans and take on their ways instead of loving one another.  We accept idols and reject the living God.

For all these reasons we must heed Paul’s call to preparedness for war.  In part, living is struggling.  We need to heed God’s word and know with whom we are to struggle and with whom we are to be allied.  Whenever the Israelites followed God into battle, they were victorious.  May the same be said of us.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

Idol Smashers – Part Three

Israel

“Idol Smashers” is a work of fiction set in the biblical era of the Judges.  Apart from persons and places mentioned in the Bible, it is entirely fiction and presented here in serial form strictly for the entertainment of my readers.  “Idol Smashers” is an original work, copyright Brett Best, 2011.

Day  One – Shiloh

(Previously, in Idol Smashers 1 and 2: Deborah, Judge over Israel, has introduced her seven champions chosen by drawing lots, yet foreseen by her.  Now they will learn what the Lord wants of them.)

“Very good” Deborah said,  “You are all aware that I am in my thirty-seventh year of judging over Israel.”  She sighed.  “There are many who say I have overstayed my welcome.  That my arm grows short, my grip weakens.  The death of Barak four years ago has added to these rumors, given false courage to my critics.”

Taking a moment to look at each of the men in the council circle, Deborah smiled at a private thought.  It is a smile utterly without mirth and Jezreel felt a chill.  “I see from the half-concealed looks on your faces you have heard these slanders too.  I tell you – the Holy One is still with me.  I am still HIS judge over His people.”

Reaching for something behind her, Deborah showed the council a map that had been hand-tooled into an animal skin mounted on a frame.  She set it down in the middle of the circle so all could see it.

“Heshonib is a frontier village west of Aphek,” she said, pointing at an unnamed spot on the map.  The place is evidently just inland of the Great Sea, very near the Philistine city of Joppa.  It is an unremarkable village, a kind of melting-place where the border between Israel and Philistia blurs.  It would still be an unremarkable, unnoticed eyesore except for recent events that I shall now relate to you.”

Deborah paused and sat back.  Taking a sip from her cup, she continued, “These fools put Philistine idols in their homes and an Asherah pole on a hilltop overlooking them.  Where these idols came from, who is responsible for their being there, is knowledge no one is willing to admit having.  Just six days ago, something happened in this village, home to about sixty souls. Their home idols, their teraphim, burst open, burned and melted.  The Asherah pole caught ablaze.  All this happened in an instant.  The people fled, superstitiously believing that the gods of Philistia were expressing anger at them.  I believe the One True God has exposed their sin in this miraculous way, but more needs to be known before my judgment can be rendered.”

A slender index finger was raised and pointed around the circle.  “That is why I have called for men from the assembly, men whom the LORD has chosen.  You will go to Heshonib for me.  You will find out all you can, discern the LORD’s will, and, if necessary, act accordingly.”

Reaching behind herself again, Deborah handed Ammihud a leather scroll that bore her seal, the palm tree insignia indented in the clay.  “Here is your authorization, should any elders challenge you.  Bear this document as secretly as possible, however.  Reveal it only when you have exhausted all other options.  It is best for all that my hand in this matter be concealed until all is known and my judgment rendered.”

With a conspiratorial look, Deborah continued, “I chose this moment and this means of summons.  The elders will be occupied with the Yom Hakkippurim and the Feast of Tabernacles.  You may even be able to resolve the thing before the Feast is over.  This timing allows you to act and not the elders over you.  Had I summoned them to a council in the usual manner, many would know and be alerted to this incident.  Holding council with the elders of Israel is like telling secrets to the wind – what is said here is soon borne aloft for all to know.  You men of Israel have sworn yourselves to secrecy and I trust you.”

Jezreel felt a determination come over him, such as he had never felt before.  He resolved to serve the LORD and Deborah, his appointed Judge.  But still, her remarks about the elders were somehow disconcerting.  The inexperienced youth was idealistic, unaccustomed to the notion that elders could be self-serving in their leadership.

As if sensing the men’s mixed emotions, Deborah immediately added, “I can tell what some of you have questions.  Perhaps you are wondering, ‘What of the villagers of Heshonib?  What has kept them from telling this fearful tale and spreading this news all over Israel?’  Thanks to the Almighty for this gift – my man in Aphek saw the potential for trouble and has kept the Heshonibites in a remote place.  He has sheltered and fed them and told them that I myself am coming to see them about this incident.  However, if I leave Shiloh during the feast, suspicious elders will send men to spy where I have gone.  I remain to keep their attention on the festival.

“As for the Heshonibites, food and promises will placate them only so long.  That is another reason why haste must be made.  I have prepared a caravan: it is ready for you to depart this instant.  To all who ask, you are travelers bound for Joppa.  Traders in horse flesh or whatever seems best to you.  Of course, you are not bound for Joppa.  Stop instead at Aphek.”  Deborah pointed to another dot on the map, this one labeled as “Aphek.”  It is further inland from Joppa, more or less due east of it.

“In Aphek, seek out my man Mattan, who awaits you at the city gates.  Show him only the scroll and my seal, but not its contents.  The seal alone is sufficient to assure him that it is I who have sent you.  He will assist you in your investigations into this matter.”

The man called Micah objected, “But what about my family?  They have traveled with me here to Shiloh.  What will become of them when I leave?”

Deborah held up her open palm to silence him.  “I will see to all.  They will be under my protection and thereby under the wing of Adonai Himself.  Do not worry about a thing.”

With surprising force of personality, Deborah said intently, “My friends.  This is an opportunity for me to demonstrate to Israel that the Lord is truly with me; that His Spirit makes my hand strong as ever to judge over Israel.  If I am able to tell the elders how I have solved this miraculous mystery even as I tell them it has occurred, this will restore some of my stature in their eyes.  We all know how our people are quick to leave the Lord our God and seek after false gods, how they fall away when there is no strong Judge in Israel.  Do not do this for my sake, but for the people; to defend them from their own worst nature.”  Gauging each man’s resolve by the look in his eyes, Deborah concluded, “Have you any questions?”

This day has already held many surprises.  The stunning effect of Deborah’s words and their vows to secrecy seem to bind the men’s tongues.  None uttered a word.

Standing, Deborah indicated that they should rise too.  “Let us pray for your success – for wisdom from the Almighty.”

Each one, tentatively at first, but with growing intensity raised his voice in prayer.  Each offered different words, but hearts were attuned to the Lord and to one another.  Deborah began the recitation of the Shema and the seven joined their voices with hers.  “Go in haste but go safely,” she said and concluded with a blessing.

Idol Smashers (Part Two)

“Idol Smashers” is a work of fiction set in the biblical era of the Judges.  Apart from persons mentioned in the Bible, it is entirely fiction and presented here in serial form strictly for the entertainment of my readers.  “Idol Smashers” is an original work, copyright Brett Best, 2011.

token

Day  One – Shiloh

Previously: The ceremony of Yom Hakkipurim was mysteriously delayed by the Judge Deborah to select seven champions for an as-yet-undisclosed mission.

Jezreel and the six other men were hurriedly ushered into the tent beneath the banner of the palm tree.  This was the sign of Tomer Deborah, the place where Deborah has judged Israel for thirty-seven years.  With the Blessing, they had been years of peace and prosperity following the defeat and death of the Canaanite King, Jabin.

The faces of the six other men bore signs of concern mixed with lingering surprise.  Silently, Jezreel took his place in a council of eight, with Deborah herself standing at the head of the circle.  The honor of sitting at her right was not one that Jezreel sought for himself, but watched as she gestured for another of the seven to occupy that spot.  Surely Deborah knew best which of them was most worthy of the honorific.  The rest shuffled into place, the deciding of order being made silently and selflessly, not the usual way of men who are strangers to one another.  Jezreel felt this was a good sign.

Deborah bowed, and gestured for all to sit.  Remaining on her feet, she greeted each of the seven by name, then gestured for her servants to bring bowls for washing.

Amid those moments of hospitality, Jezreel looked about the circle.  Noticeably absent are any tribal elders.  Each of these men were younger, like himself.  Wondering at this unusual circumstance and why the LORD willed such a thing, Jezreel took in Deborah herself.  She looked burdened and tired.  There was little joy in her face, more so the kind of weariness that is truly known by those in leadership.

An uneasy silence shrouded the room as Deborah’s servants washed the men’s feet and anointed their heads with aromatic oil.  These typical acts of hospitality generally comforted travelers, but today they did not cut the apprehension of the room.  The familiar contrasted too strikingly with the unfamiliarity of this morning’s events.  Food and drink were served, all in the austere style that rumor said to be typical of Deborah.

After these acts of hospitality had been offered, Deborah conferred briefly with her chief servant.  Waving all the other servants and bodyguards from the tent, he carefully backed out himself.  The dismissal of the servants was also surprising, for Jezreel had never heard of councils taking place in such secrecy.

Deborah waited for the bustle to subside.  The seven men looked to one another, each face betraying bewilderment, seeking an explanation.  Jezreel certainly had none to offer.  His experiences as a shepherd in his father’s house and as a psalmist’s apprentice at Kodash had not included political intrigue.  Meetings of the council were secret to most Israelites, a reality that rarely affected their daily lives.  Authorities figures better known to the common Israelite were the heads of his family and clan.  Tribal elders were the highest level of authority, except for the times during which the LORD raised up judges.  Though the heathen nations around them had strong central governments, the people of God enjoyed decentralized authority.  The system worked because it was what the LORD had decreed and it kept Him as the sole King of Israel.

Finally, Deborah spoke, “Men of Israel.  I have summoned you to council wearing a robe of secrecy that I must ask you to don as well.  There must be no words taken from this tent until the matter is resolved.  I will now have your word on this.”

Again the seven look to one another.  Then Ammihud, the oldest-looking member of the group and the man at her right hand, said, “I so swear.”  Others around the circle give their oaths and Jezreel offered his.  Deborah looked upon each of them intently, as if she were able to peer into their hearts and judge their sincerity.  It was rumored that a prophetess had such an ability.  Deborah was recognized as a prophetess of the LORD and her God-given insight had no doubt aided her in the commission of her office as judge over all Israel.

She looked at the man to her right.  “Ammihud ben Elishama, man of Shuthelah and Ephraim.  You served Barak on occasion.  Your prophetic insight has aided our people.”  Ehud’s round face bore a look of great pleasure.  His eyes revealed intelligence and power within his short, stout frame.

“Maaz ben Zophar, man of Beker and Ephraim.  Your iron-shod goad,” she pointed to the staff-like weapon he had leaned against the wall of the tent behind him, “has served other judges over Israel. Adonai has shown his wisdom in choosing you.”

Gesturing to the man to Maaz’s left, Deborah asked, “Micah ben Shema, I understand you are something of a brewer and vintner.  Is this wine to your liking?”

Micah was obviously pleased to receive this kind of attention from Deborah.  “Well, ma’am,” he began, “I find it to be a little dry.  I wonder if the grapes were picked a bit before their maturity.  You see…”

Beside Micah, Maaz cleared his throat.  Interrupted, Micah fell silent.  Shrugging his shoulders a bit, he said “It’s fine.”

At this, Deborah laughed aloud.  “Micah, you allow your brother-in-law to lead you thus?  It is a man of true humility who follows a worthy man.  You are of the clan of Beker as well, are you not?”

Micah merely nodded his assent to this question and took another sip of wine.  It appeared that on subjects other than vine-dressing, he was a man of few words.

Deborah looked further down the circle.  “Barak ben Caleb.  You have come to us from Hanoch.  You are a man of stature in the tribe of Reuben.”  At this, there was muted laughter, for Barak was a giant of a man, over four cubits in height.

“I am honored to be chosen,” he said simply and bowed his head in salutation.

Deborah’s gaze turned to Jezreel next.  “This man is apprenticed to a musician.  Jezreel ben Abraham is studying to be a psalmist.  I have heard one of your compositions.  It is good you left the fields.  Adonai bless you.”

“I am told that Joseph ben Joseph, of Carmi in Simeon has emerged from the desert to demonstrate his own gift of prophecy.  Speaking with the voice of God is a great responsibility.  You must take this responsibility very seriously to still be unmarried at your age,” Deborah said with a wry grin.

Joseph did not take the bait.  He appeared to be one who had secrets and kept them.  He said tersely, “I am ready to serve.  The LORD is with us.”

“Blessed be the name of the LORD,” Deborah replied.

Finally, Deborah’s gaze fell on the man to her immediate left.

“I am Caleb ben Jeremiah, clan of Beker and tribe of Ephraim,” he blurted out.

Deborah’s smile helped to allay some of his tension.  “Yes, I know.  All of you had been revealed to me in a dream.  Although you,” she said pointing at Jezreel, “gave me a bit of a start when you at first refused to draw a token from the basket.”

“Um…” Jezreel began.

But Deborah waved away any further comment.  “Say no more, please.  Each of you has been chosen by our LORD.  Yet each of you must in turn choose to stay and hear His will.  Your courage and faith will be sufficient for this task, but you must choose it.”

Jezreel considered each face in the circle, mentally joining them to the names he’d heard spoken.  He observed the cross-section of tribes.  The nation was well represented in this group, though Ephraim had been favored, for some reason known to God alone.

Come back again for the next installment in this serial.

Authority Redeemed

Authority Redeemed_vfinal (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 5:21-6:9 in your Bible of choice.

“Benjamin West was just trying to be a good babysitter for his little sister Sally. While his mother was out, Benjamin found some bottles of colored ink and proceeded to paint Sally’s portrait. But by the time Mrs. West returned, ink blots stained the table, chairs, and floor. Benjamin’s mother surveyed the mess without a word until she saw the picture. Picking it up she exclaimed, “Why, it’s Sally!” She bent down and kissed her young son.
“In 1763, when he was 25 years old, Benjamin West was selected as history painter to England’s King George III. He became one of the most celebrated artists of his day. Commenting on his start as an artist, he said, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.” Her encouragement did far more than a rebuke ever could have done.
“It’s easy to notice the wrong in a child, but difficult to look beyond an innocent offense to see an act of creativity and love. What a challenge to raise our children according to God’s standards, knowing when to say, ‘It’s a mess!’ and when to say, ‘Why, it’s Sally!’” -D. C. McCasland at https://www.preceptaustin.org/ephesians_sermon_illustrations_6

CONTEXT = In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus demonstrated that our relationship with God trumps family, church, and all human relationships.  In v. 21, Paul reminds us that mutual submission is to characterize all relationships in the Church.  Our other relationships flow from our relationships to God and the Church.

Notice a pattern in the three sections of our passage; Paul addresses the follower first, the leader second: the marriage section begins with the word WIVES, the parenting section begins with the word CHILDREN, and the slavery section begins with the word SLAVES.  The Greek adds the article before the noun, but is otherwise exactly the same.  Listing the subordinate member first may be Paul’s way to equalizing their status a bit.

Authority is redeemed when leaders and followers live as disciples of Jesus.

  1. In redeemed marriages, the cultural model was challenged and changed.

In redeemed marriages, wives were to submit to the husband’s authority.  Verse 22 plainly states WIVES, SUBMIT TO YOUR HUSBANDS AS TO THE LORD.  No one would seriously claim equality with Christ.  (Although, Romans 8:17 tells us we are CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST.)  Paul considered submission a “given” and offered this example to illustrate the principle.  He didn’t argue against the cultural norm, but redeemed it.

An equally plain statement was made in verse 24: NOW AS THE CHURCH SUBMITS TO CHRIST, SO ALSO WIVES SHOULD SUBMIT TO THEIR HUSBANDS IN EVERYTHING.  Paul was always an advocate of order and here he calls for orderly marital relations by bringing an end to competition between husband and wife.  The standard he describes here is theological as it is based on the Church’s submission to Christ, and it is total, as the word EVERYTHING indicates.

In verse 33 Paul added respect to submission: THE WIFE MUST RESPECT HER HUSBAND.  This does not mean that RESPECT only goes one way.  Paul’s inspired command challenged a culture where the wife’s only recourse was passive-aggressive forms of disrespect.  RESPECT is commanded for all relationships in the church: 1 Peter 2:17 said, SHOW PROPER RESPECT TO EVERYONE: LOVE THE BROTHERHOOD OF BELIEVERS, FEAR GOD, HONOR THE KING.

In redeemed marriages husbands were to temper the exercise of their authority.  The command to love appears in verse 25; HUSBANDS, LOVE YOUR WIVES, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH.  Paul directly opposed a Grecian culture that had removed love from marriage and a Roman culture that had made marriage a revolving door.  He held husbands to the highest possible standard of love; the same love that Christ showed His Church, as described in detail in vs. 26-27.

As verse 25 is the maximum standard for love, verse 28 is the minimum: IN THIS SAME WAY, HUSBANDS OUGHT TO LOVE THEIR WIVES AS THEIR OWN BODIES.  HE WHO LOVES HIS WIFE LOVES HIMSELF.  Paul’s appeal was directed at men, who tend to be self-centered.  But they can be counted on to care for themselves.  In this sense, the husband is to love his wife no less than he loves himself.  Paul is not herein approving self-centeredness, he is effectively saying, “If loving your wife the way Christ love the Church seems too difficult at the moment, then at least show here as much care and you show self-care.

  1. In redeemed families, the cultural model was challenged and changed.

In redeemed families, children (a term which included people of elementary age to early 20s) were to honor and obey their parents. (vs. 1-3)  A qualifier is given: IN THE LORD. Obedience is best realized in the context of our relationship with Christ, subject to Him.

A reason is given: FOR THIS IS RIGHT.  Obedience to one’s parents is simply the correct way to treat them.  SUBMIT is not as strong a word as OBEY.

Another reason is given: honoring one’s parents is one of the Ten Commandments, the only one with a promise attached; long and productive life.  Thus, a motive for honoring your parents is for your own blessing.

Obedience characterizes the childhood years and fades when our kids become adults.  However, the command to HONOR one’s parents is a life-long directive.

In redeemed families, fathers were to temper the exercise of their authority.  (The Greek word for FATHERS could also be translated as “parents.”)  Specifically, FATHERS were not to EXASPERATE their children.  Children can become exasperated when their will is thwarted; that is natural and is not the responsibility of the parent.  The child is morally responsible for their exasperation on that occasion.

However, exasperation also appears when authority is abused or unfairly applied; when parents are insensitive to the feelings of their children, being legalistic or harsh.  Instead of exasperation, fathers are to give TRAINING AND INSTRUCTION based on the Lord’s teachings.  Parents are to teach the biblical and moral reasons behind the rules so their children’s hearts are attuned to the Lord.

This affirms the teaching set forth in Deuteronomy 6:7, that the family is the primary means of instruction in the faith.  God puts families together (Psalm 68:6) for several reasons; it is the basic social unit of civilized life.

  1. In redeemed households, the practice of slavery was challenged and changed.

In redeemed households, slaves were to obey their masters.  It is estimated that 35% of the people in the Roman Empire were slaves.  Slavery then was practiced in significantly different ways than it was practiced here, but it was no more humane.

Paul qualified obedience 5 ways.

– WITH RESPECT.

– WITH…FEAR.

– WITH SINCERITY OF HEART.

– AS YOU WOULD OBEY CHRIST

– WHOLEHEARTEDLY or “with goodwill.”

Paul explained the depth of obedience.  It is not superficial, but supernatural.  First, obedience is given even when the master is NOT watching, when it will not guarantee a favorable outcome.  Second, obedience is to be given because doing so earns us an eternal REWARD, not the earthly reward of the master’s FAVOR.

In redeemed households, masters were to treat their slaves with respect out of fear of their MASTER IN HEAVEN.  For Paul to command slave owners to have this kind of attitude was directly contrary to the attitudes and actions of non-Christian slave owners; very radical of Paul.  Notice that even though there is a huge inequality between masters and slaves, masters were ordered to treat their slaves IN THE SAME WAY that the slaves were to treat the masters!  This implies an equality of RESPECT, FEAR, and SINCERITY.

There is a theological reason for this deferential treatment of slaves; SINCE YOU KNOW THAT HE WHO IS BOTH THEIR MASTER AND YOURS IS IN HEAVEN, AND THERE IS NO FAVORITISM WITH HIM.  You could understand if a slave or master felt that God showed FAVORITISM, but Paul assures us that is not the case.  This fits perfectly with Paul’s important statement about equality in God’s sight: THERE IS NEITHER JEW NOR GREEK, SLAVE NOR FREE, MALE NOR FEMALE, FOR YOU ARE ONE IN CHRIST JESUS (Galatians 8:28).  In the Old Testament slavery was regulated in a comparatively more benevolent way, but Paul’s teaching here goes beyond that.  He’s saying that in Christ – in every way that really counts – slaves and masters are equals.  Mutual respect should characterize their relationship as well.  A master is not allowed to use threatening or abusive behavior toward his slaves.  His authority is tempered by the love of Christ in his heart.

Authority is redeemed when leaders and followers live as disciples of Jesus.

Throughout this section, Paul wrote candidly about the culture within which he lived.  He did not approve the culture’s practices, nor did he express disapproval.  This is true even in the section on slavery.

Instead, he challenged the Christians in that culture.  Those who follow Jesus Christ were to live to a higher standard, one that was divine in origin.  When the worldly culture left wives no other recourse but passive-aggressiveness, God called wives to win love with respectful submission.  When the worldly culture gave the husband unlimited authority, God’s word challenged husbands to temper their authority with love.

When the culture gave children no protections, God promised a long life to those who obeyed their parents.  When the culture gave fathers absolute authority, God commanded them to be sensitive to the feelings of their children, in keeping with the ultimate aim of bringing them to maturity in life and faith.

When the culture put slaves at the absolute bottom rung of the social ladder, God commanded them to render service to their master by the measure of the service they owed Jesus Christ.  When masters were given the authority of life and death, God commanded them to treat their slaves just as their heavenly Father treated them.

I believe we trivialize this passage when we search for legalisms.  There’s something much more profound at work here than settling the question of who’s in charge.  In this passage, the existing culture is merely noted as inadequate.  God revealed to Paul that there is a higher standard to which God’s people are called.  The principle behind the teaching on all three kinds of relationships is made obvious in verse twenty-one: SUBMIT TO ONE ANOTHER OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST.  That is the portion of the passage that applies to all relationships and is portable to all situations.  If we seek to know how to order our marital relationships, family relationships, and work relationships, we must start there and find ways to apply the general principle to our unique situations.

 

RESOURCES:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Idol Smashers

“Idol Smashers” is a work of fiction set in the biblical era of the Judges.  Apart from persons mentioned in the Bible, it is entirely fiction and presented here in serial form strictly for the entertainment of my readers.  “Idol Smashers” is an original work, copyright Brett Best, 2011.

Installment One – Worship Delayed

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Day  One – Shiloh

No matter how many times he attended the Day of Atonement sacrifice at the tabernacle, Jezreel still found himself humbled by the experience.  At dawn on the tenth day of Tishri, the seventh month of the year, the high priest personally selected the bullock, sheep and goat for sacrifice and the scapegoat to be released into the wilderness.  He then withdrew to bathe and don his ceremonial garments.  Emerging from his tent, the high priest Ulla seemed to take on a supernatural glow as the morning light glinted off his ceremonial headdress and breastplate.  Jezreel felt the glory of the LORD radiate from within the twelve stones on the breastplate Ulla wore.

Surely the LORD Himself was powerfully present in this moment.  He was at hand to forgive the sins of his people, restoring them to Him.

The men of Israel, including Jezreel ben Ebed, moved closer. They were eager to see the sacrifices, to hear the words and be comforted in knowing that Israel was once more firmly in the hand of their God.

But on this Day of Atonement, this Yom Hakkipurim, the traditional words, the familiar words, were not spoken by Ulla.  Instead, expressions of surprise broke upon the faces of the worshipers as Ulla began, “Men of Israel, children of Abraham, heirs of Isaac, descendants of Jacob – before we begin this sacred moment, before the sacrifices, I have been prevailed upon to seek the LORD and ask Him to reveal seven of you whom He has chosen for a special act of service.”

Some were immediately indignant and cried out angrily, “What is this?  Is today not Yom Hakkippurim?  Why do you delay this most important moment?  Who orders such a thing to be done?”

Not bothering to hide the disdain in his voice, Ulla merely said, “The Judge over Israel…Deborah.”  It was no secret that Ulla believed Deborah had outlasted her jurisdiction in the time since Barak’s death.  Many gossiped about the arguments fought between Ulla and Deborah.  There was speculation that Ulla’s motive was more than the usual prejudice against women; it was his desire was to extend his own authority over the tribes of Israel.

An undercurrent of murmuring and growling conversations arose around Jezreel.  Ulla silenced them with a wave of his hands over his head.

“Deborah’s servants walk among you now with baskets filled with clay tokens.  Let all true-hearted men of Israel draw one token from the basket without looking.  Let all those who draw forth a white token hold it over his head.”

This strange request produced a new round of complaints and arguments, but Ulla only glowered in the direction of Deborah’s tent.  As a woman, she was not allowed to attend the sacrifices herself, but stood beside her tent, staying at a respectable distance.  The banner flapping above her tent depicted a palm tree, her symbol.  This standard identified the place where the Judge over all Israel currently resided.

Contrary to the high priest’s command, some men refused to draw a chit or even to touch the basket.  Their faces betrayed outrage at this break from tradition. They folded their arms across their chests to make their defiance even more clear.

Seeing some of his elders act this way, Jezreel hesitated when a servant approached, holding the basket high.  A look passed between them and the servant understood that Jezreel also refused to draw.  He moved away, holding out the basket to other men who did draw from it.  Jezreel instantly regretted his indecision, even though it seemed to him that he’d hesitated only for a split-second; the speed at which thoughts fly between hurried heartbeats.

Ulla raised his hand to indicate recognition of the first, second, third and fourth men to raise a white token over their heads.  As the servants continued to distribute the chits to all who would take one, Ulla motioned these four men to come to him.

Some minutes passed as the servants worked through the crowd of men.  A fifth hand was raised, bearing a white chit.  This man too was beckoned to Ulla’s side.  Nearly all of the men had been offered a chance to draw a clay token when the sixth hand went up.

Minutes later, the servants made their way to the front, bearing their baskets.  One of them conferred with Ulla in whispers.

Anger rising in his voice, Ulla shouted, “I have not made myself clear.  The sacrifice will NOT proceed until seven men have been chosen in this fashion.  Refusal to draw is NOT an option!”

Jezreel only half-heard Ulla remonstrating them as “stiff-necked fools, reeking of their own stubbornness” as he stepped forward.  Smitten by his earlier missed opportunity, Jezreel was resolved to do the right thing.  He shouldered his way past the men ahead of him and said, “I will draw.”

Chagrined by the interruption, Ulla fixed him with a look.  Speaking with clear irony he said, “At last, here is a true son of Israel.  One who knows how to obey the leadership of the LORD’s people.”

With a hurried wave of his hand, Ulla gestured one of Deborah’s servants forward.  The man stepped up and held the basket high enough to prevent Jezreel from looking within.

Drawing in a breath, Jezreel reached inside the basket and took the first token he touched.  Withdrawing it, he looked down to the palm of his right hand.  He held a clay token that had been painted white and bore the imprint of the palm tree.  Tomer Deborah.  The emblem of the palm tree under which she had judged Israel for more than a generation.

Jezreel had been chosen!  He raised the white token aloft in a gesture of triumph.  With a cry, the men of Israel rejoiced.

Ulla sullied the moment by angrily grabbing the baskets from the servants and throwing both the baskets and their tokens high into the air.  The small clay tokens scattered over the assembly.

“The LORD has spoken!” Ulla shouted.  “Let these men be removed to the tent of Deborah and may the LORD Almighty give strength to their right arms!”

The chief of Deborah’s servants, thus relieved of his basket, moved to Jezreel’s side and spoke softly to him.  “Man of God, please accompany me,” he said.  Repeating this to all those who bore the white tokens, the servant lead the group away from the worshippers.

A sudden pain of regret shadowed Jezreel’s heart as behind him Ulla intoned, “Let the faithful of Israel gather.  Our bodies having been cleansed, let us now be cleansed in our hearts.”   With these tradition-laden words the Day of Atonement ceremony began.  Jezreel realized that though the cleansing would include him, he would not, for the first of many years, not be a witness to the Yom Hakkipurim.