Saints Among Scoffers

Please read 2 Peter 3:1-7 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

(This is the first in a series of five messages on 2 Peter 3.)

The upcoming Second Coming demands godly living now.

Starting with Jesus Himself, people of faith have endured the scorn of people who, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, think themselves so much smarter.  Let me offer as an example a few quotes from notorious scoffers and Bible quotes that answer their objections to the Christian faith.

            Author Gore Vidal stated, “Christianity is such a silly religion.”

1 Corinthians 1:18 = For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but unto us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Gore Vidal died in 2012, after a decade of decline in which he fell into alcoholism and dementia and had painful feuds with family members and friends.  Maybe his words aren’t so trustworthy after all.

            “Christians are losers.” — said Ted Turner, media magnate (Between this quote and CNN, Turner has a lot to answer for!)

In Matthew 16:25 we read Jesus’ words; “For whoever want to save their life will lose

it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (So we are “losers,” but what we gain in trade is so infinitely more valuable!)

            The French philosopher Voltaire stated plainly the task of opponents of Christianity: “If we would destroy the Christian religion, we must first of all destroy man’s belief i/t Bible.”

In response, the Bible teaches such a plan is doomed to failure.  In Matthew 24:35, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

Voltaire never married but lived as a husband to his niece until his death in 1778.  You could say the Church got the last laugh on Voltaire; he refused to recant and was refused a Christian burial.  However, some friends had him secretly buried in a rural church outside of Paris.

<Retrieved from http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/False%20Religions/Roman%20Catholicism/SS/scoffer.htm on 7/7/17.>

In all these examples, men who achieved worldly success thought they could do better than Christianity.  They were scoffers, more impressed with their big brains than anything else, vain rebels against God, whose truth goes marching on.

  1. We are called to be Saints among Scoffers (3:1-7).

Peter’s aim in writing two letters to them: STIMULATE WHOLESOME THINKING (1).  The Greek word for WHOLESOME meant “pure when examined by sunlight” or “sincere.”  In this case, the purity in question is theological; it is to have a correct under-standing of the truth.  It means to have a faith that is not compromised by worldly views or falsehood of any kind. This is the opposite of the SCOFFERS, who’re thoroughly compromised.

WHOLESOME THINKING meant to have a “pure disposition.”  It is a worldview informed by, and is in accord with, God’s revelation.

Peter attempted to achieve his objective by reminding them of God’s word (2).  Peter is not just sharing his opinion with them.  These WORDS have come from HOLY PROPHETS and from OUR LORD & SAVIOR THROUGH YOUR APOSTLES.

THE HOLY PROPHETS refers to the Old Testament prophets specifically and generally to all the books of the Old Testament that aren’t histories.

THE COMMAND GIVEN BY OUR LORD AND SAVIOR THROUGH YOUR APOSTLES refers specifically to His two commands to love and generally to all the actions and teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.  I love how Peter refers to himself and the others as YOUR Apostles.   They were put in authority to pass along the faith as they received it directly from Jesus.  Their testimony is verified by the fact that though 100s of years of history separated them, they spoke with one voice: the APOSTLES preserved what Jesus said and His teaching fulfilled what the PROPHETS predicted.

Further, this is the WORD that had been SPOKEN IN THE PAST.  It is not the latest trend, the popular notion, it is the faith as they had received it from the beginning.  In practice, this means that our faith is based on the word of God, the Bible.  At the beginning of our life of faith, it is especially important that our own beliefs be in accord with the traditions of the Church.  Finally, as we mature in faith, we apply experience and reason to Scripture and tradition to affirm a faith that is our own.

This is NOT to say that we are free to make it up.  That approach is too individualized and subjective to be trust-worthy.  A made-up faith is not true; it is not powerful to save us, nor is it powerful to help us overcome life’s challenges.  A made-up faith is easy prey for the world and our Enemy to corrupt.  It easily becomes a way to make excuses.  Instead of confronting our culture it capitulates to trendiness: “pop faith.”

“Saints” is a New Testament word that refers to all who truly believe and are thereby part of God’s family.  We are to be characterized by purity in thought and action.

Even more important (ABOVE ALL) than WHOLESOME THINKING, he needed to warn them that SCOFFERS would come, trying to confound their WHOLESOME THINKING (3-7).  This creates a couple questions.

One: when are the LAST DAYS (3)?  The LAST DAYS is the span of time between Jesus’ Ascension (when He went back to heaven) and His Second Coming.  All saints, including the New Testament writers, thought that Jesus would come again during their lifetime. The SCOFFERS have been quick to ridicule saints on this basis, as we see in v. 4.

Two: who are the SCOFFERS?  They are identified by their choices: FOLLOWING THEIR OWN EVIL DESIRES (3).  This is often what motivates people to make up their own faith or reject faith entirely; to justify doing what they please.  Remember, these are the SCOFFERS.  The word EVIL is more appropriate in their case because they actively promote falsehood.

They are also identified by their words.  (It’s a little amusing to read, SCOFFERS WILL COME SCOFFING.  What else would they do?)  They scoff at the notion that Jesus will come again.  They deny or sow seeds of doubt about Jesus’ Second Coming (4).  They ignore the facts of creation and history to replace the truth with their own narrative.  Instead of trusting God to reveal Himself accurately, they trust their own intellect, imagination, and/or experiences.

It’s essential to know the truth about the world as a guard against counterfeits.  First, we affirm that God is our Creator (5). It amazes me, for example, that people want to find “laws” of nature without acknowledging the Law-maker, God.

Second, we affirm that, as Creator, God has the right to do anything He wills with creation, including destroying His it.  The history the SCOFFERS are eager to ignore affirms that has already done so – on a limited scale – by means of flood waters (6).  Peter mentioned the world-wide flood to note the historical process:

Warning    =>     Scoffers    =>     World

Delivered            Appeared           Destroyed

This process is being repeated here in the LAST DAYS.

The prophecy the SCOFFERS are eager to ignore warns us He will destroy this creation – on an unlimited scale – by means of fire (7).  There are numerous Old Testament prophecies that connect FIRE and the DAY OF THE LORD (PSS 97:3; ISH 34:4; 66:15-16; DNL 7:9-10; MCH 1:4; JOL 2:30; ZPH 3:8; MCI 4:1).  So this is an example of connection between the PROPHETS and APOSTLES as mentioned earlier.

Peter warned THE PRESENT HEAVENS AND EARTH ARE RESERVED FOR JUDGMENT AND DESTRUCTION OF THE UNGODLY.  In other words, it’s going to happen, but God the Father alone knows when it will happen.  No matter how familiar or how enduring things of this world seem, the truth is that everything is just temporary and will one day be destroyed by fire.  So our job is to focus on the certainty of the end and get ready for it.

Both history and prophecy support the truth that God is in charge and He will decide when reality as we’ve come to know it will cease.

The upcoming Second Coming demands godly living NOW.

“On August 30, 2005 Coast Guard Lt. Iain McConnell was ordered to fly his H46 helicopter to New Orleans and to keep that machine flying around the clock for what would turn out to be a heroic rescue effort.

“None of his crew were prepared for what they were about to see. They were ahead of every news crew in the nation. The entire city of New Orleans was under water. On their first three missions that day they saved 89 people, three dogs and two cats.
“On the fourth mission, despite twelve different flights to New Orleans, he and his crew were able to save no one. None! They all refused to board the helicopter. Instead they told the Coast Guard to bring them food and water.

“They were warned that this refusal to leave was extremely dangerous. The waters were not going to go away soon. Sadly, many of those people perished because of their refusal to be rescued.”
<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-stories-rejection-79801?ref=TextIllustrationSerps on 7/7/17.>
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has mounted the greatest rescue effort of all time.  But He will not save anyone without their consent.  Giving our consent means giving ourselves to Him, accepting what God has revealed to us by means of WHOLESOME THINKING.

As Peter warns us scoffers will scoff.  We don’t need to be intimidated by them.  We don’t have to argue with or answer them. The proof of our faith is found in godly living.  It is up to us to speak the truth and live the truth and all the more so in these LAST DAYS.

Shakespeare, Jesus, and Lawyers (Part Two)

Please read Matthew 15:1-20 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare the following remarks.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

Legalism is an attempt to hide behind the law or manipulate its details to force your will on others.  There are some peculiar laws on the books around the country, so pick your hiding spot carefully.  Here are a few humorous examples.

In Huntington, West Virginia, firemen may not whistle or flirt at any woman passing a firehouse.

In the entire state of Georgia it is illegal to use profanity in front of a corpse lying in a funeral home or in a coroner’s office.

In Boston, Massachusetts, no one may take a bath without a prescription.  I wonder who polices that law?

In Norco, CA, all persons wishing to keep a rhinoceros as a pet must first obtain a $100 license.

This one is true too: in Wichita, Kansas, before proceeding through the intersection of Douglas and Broadway, a motorist is to get out of their vehicle and fire three shotgun rounds into the air.  I’m looking for a volunteer to try that one out!

Owners of flamingos in Juneau, Alaska, may not let their pet into barber shops.  How does anybody in Juneau GET a flamingo?

In San Francisco, California, it is illegal to pile horse manure more than six feet high on a street corner.  Based on what little I know about San Francisco, I’d guess politicians are allowed to stack it as high as they want.

I’m sure there is an interesting story behind all these laws, explaining how they got on the books.  But the point simply is this: man-made laws are vulnerable to misuse.  They are not the ultimate authority in the life of believers.  Our allegiance is primarily to the laws of love that were instituted in the Old Covenant and affirmed by Jesus in the New.

REVIEW from Part One

  1. The Picky (1+2).

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law (lawyers) were “picky” in the usual sense that they fussed over details, abused the Law to further their own ends and in the unusual sense that they were trying to pick a fight with Jesus.

  1. The Pig in a Poke (3-9).

As per the usual meaning of this expression, the Pharisees and lawyers were attempting to convince Jesus and everyone within earshot they were handling a serious problem.  Jesus exposed their hypocrisy instead of accepting their definition of “serious.”

NEW for Part Two

  1. Prodding the People (10+11).

Sometime in this brief conversation a CROWD had formed. What Jesus intended to be a private rebuke became a “teachable moment” when He turned to address the CROWD as well as the disciples and the religious leaders.

He used the religious professionals’ complaint about hand-washing to teach the people about true discipleship.  For our sake, here’s what the Law of Moses taught.

One, “defilement” was a condition of spiritual and moral impurity (aka “uncleanliness”).  The word literally meant “to make something common.”  That means that something that had previously been sacred (devoted exclusively to God; special), was now just “ordinary.”

Two, the Law penalized the unclean/ defiled sinner by putting the offender out of the temple and sometimes outside the community too.  In the most serious situation, the Law required the offender put out of LIFE.  (Jesus’ quote of Leviticus 21:17 in verse four is an example of the ultimate penalty.)

Three, there were detailed laws about how an unclean/defiled person could become clean again.

The Law made an abstract concept like “sin” concrete & costly by requiring an animal sacrifice to cleanse the guilty party.  This is one appeal of legalism; it’s easier to think concretely than abstractly.

In contrast, here’s what Jesus said: “Food eaten with unwashed hands does not make the eater a sinner.  Instead, the things that come out of the mouth (i.e., our words) are things that make us sinners.”

  1. The Parable (12-14).

The scene changes again between vs. 11+12.  Jesus and His disciples went into a private home where they could question Jesus.

We forget that the Jews of Jesus’ time had a begrudging respect for the Pharisees: they were seen as “super religious” in a culture where religion was still seen as a good thing.  Even so, people didn’t to follow their example: it was just too demanding.

This explains the deference of the disciples in verse twelve, where they asked, “Do you realize what you’re saying is making these guys mad?”  They were also curious about this new, more assertive attitude Jesus showed.  Otherwise, who cares?  After all, you can’t live your life worrying about all the opinions of all the people.  Making decisions to avoid offense is one of the worst bases for making decisions.

Jesus needed to relieve them of the assumption that these people were reliable spiritual guides.  That’s why His reply in vs. 13+14 is so unequivocal.  It is as if Jesus replied, “You think that was offensive?  Check THIS out!”  What followed was a two-part parable (as Peter identified it in verse fifteen).

The PARABLE promised that God will set things right.  In this world, hypocrites may be allowed to prosper, but sooner or later, God Himself will uproot them.  Two chapters earlier, Jesus gave an extended parable about a wheat field where that was later sown with weed seed.  He explained that the wheat represents the true children of God and the weeds the false and evil people who reject God.  Making a point very similar to v. 13, Jesus promised God Himself will separate the wheat from the weeds and make everything right.  As God did not write their TRADITION, anyone guided by it was NOT His planting.

Jesus commanded, “LEAVE THEM.”  He meant, “Don’t be fooled by their legalism.”  Those who followed their teaching were “the blind being lead by the blind.”  This is irony with a sharp point, folks.  These religious authorities would puff themselves up by putting others down, calling themselves “leaders of the blind.”  Jesus turns their egotism against them and says that they blinded themselves to the truth.

  1. Peter in a Pickle (15-20).

He was often the first to ask questions everyone wondered about but didn’t dare ask (as happened in verse fifteen).  Peter wondered how God would “uproot” them and/or how they would fall into a pit.

The problem with being the first to ask is that he bore the brunt of Jesus’ rebuke (16): “ARE YOU [also] STILL SO DULL?”  This sounds harsh, but this kind of language fit Jesus’ role as a rabbi: bringing rebuke/correction was part of their job.

But these statements contradict our watered-down, wimpy version of Jesus.  The Gentle Shepherd is just one side of His character.  We need to also see Jesus as a radical man who was dangerous, dragging His disciples into all kinds of troubling situations.

In vs. 17-19 Jesus drew an analogy from the obvious function of the human body in regard to eating.  Food and water are introduced to the body by the mouth, are used by the body, and then disposed of by the body.  It was ridiculous to assert this process resulted in an immoral state.

The things that DO have a moral effect are a person’s words and deeds.  For example, MURDER, ADULTERY, SEXUAL IMMORALITY, and THEFT are all sinful acts.  FALSE TESTIMONY and SLANDER are examples of sinful words.

These are the BAD FRUIT of which Jesus spoke in chapter seven.  They identify a “bad tree,” regardless of mere appearances may say.

Jesus’ teaching was that hand-washing is not a moral act.   Anyone who attempts to make their self look good by observing a legalism like hand-washing rituals is a hypocrite.  What makes and marks a person as godly or ungodly is what’s in their heart, not what’s under their fingernails.  Real faith changes us to the core; it does not settle on the skin and it does not allow evil and selfishness to be excused or exercised by something as petty as legalism.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

It would be a shame to let this opportunity go by without telling a lawyer joke or two.  Here’s some gleaned from the Reader’s Digest.

First, a bit of actual courtroom dialogue: Attorney: “Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people?”
Witness: “All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.”

Next, a favorite diversion of ours: jury duty.  When an 88-year-old mother was called for jury duty, she had to submit to questioning by the opposing lawyers.

“Have you ever dealt with an attorney?” asked the plaintiff’s lawyer.

“Yes. I had an attorney write my living trust,” she responded.

“And how did that turn out?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Ask me when I’m dead.”

Finally, do you know who invented copper wire?  Two attorneys fighting over a penny.

<Retrieved from http://www.rd.com/jokes/lawyer/ on 6/29/17.>

We can laugh about these things and should.  Quality of life is diminished when we allow petty people to wind our crank.  Its safer to just laugh at them.

But we need to be deadly serious about legalism.  Legalism is a sin.  It is a disguise that hypocrites wear to mask their true identity.  It is a means to abuse others and/or benefit self.  It is false.  It is not of God.

Let us be done with legalism.  Let us take seriously the condemnation Jesus leveled at hypocrites and avoid being one.  Have this Scripture in mind and take an honest look in the mirror.  It begins there.

 

 

 

Shakespeare, Jesus, and Lawyers (Pt. One)

Please read Matthew 15:1-20 in your Bible.  Then examine the following to see if your spirit agrees.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

“Few people are unfamiliar with the phrase, The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. Rueful, mocking, it often expresses the ordinary person’s frustration with the arcana and complexity of law. Sometimes it’s known that the saying comes from one of Shakespeare’s plays, but usually there’s little awareness beyond that. This gap in knowledge has inspired a myth of ‘correction,’ where it is ‘explained’ that this line is intended as a praise of lawyers.

“Whoever first came up with this interpretation surely must have been a lawyer.  The line is actually uttered by a character ‘Dick the Butcher.’ While he’s a killer as evil as his name implies, he often makes highly comedic and amusing statements.

“The “kill the lawyers” statement is the ending portion of a comedic relief part of a scene in Henry VI, part 2. Dick and another henchman, Smith are members of the gang of Jack Cade, a pretender to the throne. The build-up is a long portion where Cade makes vain boasts, which are cut down by sarcastic replies from the others. For example:

JACK CADE
I thank you, good people:- there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

DICK.
The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

“The audience must have doubled over in laughter at this.  Far from being ‘out of context’ the usage is more true to the original than most people know.

“In fact, Shakespeare used lawyers as figures of derision on several occasions.

“As long as there are lawyers, there will be “lawyer jokes”. And lawyers will show how those jokes ring true by trying to explain how such lampooning really constitutes praise for their profession, thus by example justifying the jokes more than ever.”

(Posted in 1997 by Seth Finkelstein at http://www.spectacle.org/797/finkel.html, retrieved on 06/19/17.)

  1. The Picky (1+2).

The Pharisees & lawyers were “picky” in the usual sense that they fussed over details, abusing the Law to further their own ends. Everyone knew the hand-washing regulations were not part of the Law given to Moses but were only a tradition started by rabbis.  In Jesus’ time these rules were not widely enforced, so these guys were trying too hard to find fault with Jesus.

Here is one example of their tradition regarding hand-washing: “If a man poured water over the one hand with a single rinsing, his hand is clean: but if over both hands with a single rinsing, Rabbi Meir declares them unclean unless he pours over them a quarter-log or more.” (M Yadaim 2:1)

The Pharisees and lawyers were also “picky” in that they were trying to pick a fight with Jesus.  They wanted to make Him look like a bad Jew. Note that these religious professionals were from Jerusalem.   They went all the way up to Galilee to find Jesus and “put Him in His place.”  In spite of their effort, all they could find to confront Him about was the behavior of his disciples at dinner time.

This sounds petty to us and it was petty, but not in the minds of these religious leaders.  When people are being legalistic, petty matters are molehills made to sound like mountains.  This is a word of warning to us about legalism; it is used because it provides a cover for pettiness.  Complaints that may be true in principle but not practicality are being used this way.  Be wary of this practice.

THE TRADITION OF THE ELDERS was a body of rules written by religious leaders over several generations called the “Halakah.”  The Pharisees attached a great deal of importance to this document and attempted to meet its requirements every day.  It was so complicated that a new profession arose to help people navigate its requirements: these are the TEACHERS OF THE LAW mentioned here.  We might call them “temple lawyers.”

Literacy was still not a common skill, so these TRADITIONS were largely maintained orally; the rabbi would train his students in them by having them recite them aloud.  This rote method of teaching was the main way these TRADITIONS were preserved in succeeding generations.

  1. The Pig in a Poke (3-9).

Continuing our earlier connection with English literature, we understand the expression “buying a pig in a poke” to be an old English phrase that refers to buying something without seeing or knowing anything about it first.  A “poke” is another word for sack.  (The word “pocket” is derived from it – a “pokette” is a small sack.) It is not wise to buy without first opening the sack to check the condition of the pig!

The Pharisees attempted to sell Jesus a “pig in a poke” in their criticism of His disciples’ lack of hand washing etiquette.  However, Jesus wasn’t buying it.  He opened the sack and exposed the contents.  Jesus exposed their legalism as hypocrisy – choosing their own traditions over God’s Law

God’s Law was clearly stated: children are to honor (obey) their parents.  Exodus 20:12 is the 5th Commandment; “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER, SO THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG IN THE LAND THE LORD YOUR GOD IS GIVING YOU.”  Jesus also quoted Exodus 21:17 which gave the penalty for violating this commandment: death.  Think God takes this seriously?  Yes, He does.

Jesus said this clear command had been nullified by a tradition created by the kind of people who were accusing Him.  Leviticus 27:9+16 allowed for property and real estate to be designated as “Corban,” a state of dedication to the Lord (see Mark 7:11).  This was to last until the next Year of Jubilee.  Perhaps on this basis, they created a rule that a man could dedicate assets to the temple.  If so, when his parents appealed to him for help, he could say to them, “I’d love to help you out, but my property is given over to the temple and I’m strapped for cash.”

With that kind of clear self-interest, the religious leaders created a way to make money and an excuse for the living to refuse all requests for philanthropy.  In our time, it would be a combination tax shelter and charitable trust.  Or it might be “fraud.”  Jesus’ point is simple; hypocrites will attempt to wallpaper their crimes in pages from law books in order to excuse their violations of God’s Law and/or make themselves appear godly when their hearts are nowhere near God.

In case you’re not yet seeing it, let me assure you this is a full-bore rebuke by Jesus.  It is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus referred to the Pharisees and lawyers – or anyone – as HYPOCRITES.

Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29:13 using the Word of God to expose the true intent of their hearts.  In effect, He rebuked them saying, “You believe you’re preserving traditions, but in reality, you’re guilty of the same hypocrisy the prophet Isaiah exposed.”

They replaced true faith which resides in one’s heart with superficialities.  Instead of enacting the will of God, they misused the Law to force their will on others.  The result: their worship was wasted because the rules they followed were just human notions, not the will of God.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

We must understand what legalism is.  I offer the reader five views of the subject that will attempt to define this sin and enable us to avoid manifesting it in our daily living.

Legalism is a complicated attempt to create rules that make us look good while relieving us of the hard work of character.

Legalism is an attempt to cloud the condition of the heart by burying the matter in complications.  It is the old “smoke and mirrors” approach to misdirection.

Legalism mimics God’s Law, but is thoroughly man-made.  It is thereby not authoritative for all who believe.

Legalism misuses tradition by asserting that the old ways are the only right ways.

Legalism is selfishly motivated and attempts to please one’s self; where true righteousness is focused on God and desires to please Him.  We humans seem to have an infinite capacity to make excuses and manipulate words to justify self and/or condemn others.  We need a higher authority.

The Jewish religious leaders in this passage are long dead and so are some of their teachings.  But the practice of legalism is alive and well.  It has users in the Church and outside it; the dogmatism of “political correctness” is a modern manifestation of legalism.

Indeed, the practice of legalism is so common (inside and outside the Church) and its consequences are so serious, the Lord has impressed on me the necessity of studying this passage in detail.  Part Two will examine further aspects of Jesus’ condemnation of legalism.

Father Abraham had a Son

(Please read Genesis 22:1-19 in your preferred Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare this study.)

Professional baseball has been played in America since 1875, but on September 14, 1990, something happened that has never happened before or since. Late in his career, Ken Griffey, Sr., who had been a key member of the World Series champion Cincinnati Reds years before, was signed by the Seattle Mariners. His son Ken Griffey, Jr. was just starting his major league career. In the first inning of a game against the Angels, Griffey, Sr. hit a home run to left center field. His son followed him to the plate and hit another home run to almost exactly the same spot. It was the only time a father and son had hit back-to-back home runs in baseball history. Ken Griffey, Jr. said later that his father greeted him at the plate by saying, “That’s how you do it, son!”

There are few joys that can compare to seeing our children and grandchildren succeed. Whether it’s on a ball field, at a music recital, in an academic competition, or, most importantly, in a spiritual setting, seeing a child demonstrate character and competence is a true pleasure. But this victory is not something that just happens. Every right performance, every victory over temptation, every accomplishment is the result of a concerted effort to prepare for the moment of challenge.

As we so often see in the Bible, this moment of high drama is written in an understated way, devoid of lurid details or a psychological exploration of the characters.  It’s easy to imagine Abraham’s feelings by projecting ourselves and our children into the narration, so we can guess at the surprise Abraham felt at the command, the dread he felt during the journey, the resolve he showed atop Mr. Moriah.

We need to remember that these things are not found in the Bible because the emphasis is not on any of the human beings, but on God.  Remind yourself that God is the hero of every historical account.  Though these verses are tense with drama, the point is that we do NOT center our attention on Abraham or Isaac, but upon God and what He is doing in them.

Just as the Bible is God-centered, so is biblical parenting.  One of places the Church and the world have erred is in making children the center of family life.  If we truly desire to have a home life that is at its healthiest and happiest, then we do the hard work of centering our focus on God and keeping Him in the middle of all we do in the home.

The best parenting is God-centered, not child-centered or self-centered.

Self-centered parenting reduces children to pawns we move about to inflate our ego.  The typical example is that of “stage parent” or expectations that children will follow their parents in choices of college and/or vocation.  Parents who are motivated to satisfy themselves through their children are prone to all kinds of abuse.

Though it sounds like a better situation, child-centered parenting is just as far from God’s will as self-centered parenting.  Children have a place in most families but it is never first place.  Children given too many choices, too much authority, and/or too much freedom are bound to be self-centered and godless adults.  A husband & wife constitute a family; children are additions to it.

The biblical standard is God-centered parenting.  It requires the most work and discipline, but provides the most joy and best results as well.

  1. Background: Isaac was the son of promise.

The promise was made in chapter eighteen when three angels came to announce to Abraham and Sarah that after decades of childlessness, they would be blessed with the birth of a son.  Biologically speaking, this was a miracle.

The promise was kept 25 years later, in chapter twenty-one, when Isaac was born.

  1. God gave Abraham a weird command (1-2).

While child sacrifice was common in pagan cultures, it was not Abraham’s practice.  For example, in Carthage, archaeologists have excavated a pagan temple to find remains of thousands of children sacrificed to false gods.

It was often a brutal, unmerciful form of killing:  hollow metal statues were heated by internal fires and then the children set in the red-hot hands of the idol.  Though we are at a time when God has not yet revealed His law forbidding child sacrifice, we can pretty safely assume it was not Abraham’s practice for two reasons: first, he had previously been childless; none to offer as sacrifices.  Second, God chose Abraham because he was a good man and child sacrifice was not the kind of thing good men did.

God knew this command would come at a high cost to Abraham.  We know this from what God said in verse two.

When He said, “YOUR SON, YOUR ONLY SON,” God is clearly not counting Ishmael, an illegitimate son born to Sarah’s maid, Hagar.  That was Sarah and Abraham’s ill-advised attempt to fulfill God’s promise themselves.  It led to bad blood (21:8-21).  It’s idiotic to think of children of “spares;” the loss of any child is great grief. Can we assume then an only child is especially hard to lose as there are no others to love?

God added, “WHOM YOU LOVE.”  How did God know this?  Obviously, God knows all hearts.  In Abraham’s heart He saw love for Isaac.  Because Abraham had waited SO VERY LONG for this son, God knew the idea of losing him must’ve been more difficult.  Add to all of this the fact that Isaac was understood to be the fulfillment of God’s promise.  It is hard to receive a blessing and then have it unexpectedly taken away.

He clarified the means of offering Isaac: “AS A BURNT OFFERING.”  Animal sacrifices were a universal part of cultures of this time, but they had not been made into law by God.  Mercifully, the animal offered was killed first; not left alive to suffer being burned alive.  The Law was still several generations away, awaiting Moses the Lawgiver.  The procedure would have been something familiar to Abraham and Isaac too, as his question later indicates.

The reader is advised in verse one that this whole episode is God “testing” Abraham and we have the benefit of history to know how it turned out.  But Abraham did not know that, so these costs were very real to him and his feelings may’ve been very intense.

God knew Abraham’s heart; we rely on the text to show us that Abraham had deep love for his sons.  One indicator is the way he reacted to Sarah’s demands that Ishmael, the illegitimate son, be sent away: THE MATTER DISTRESSED ABRAHAM GREATLY BECAUSE IT CONCERNED HIS SON (21:11).

God reassured Abraham that it was OK to send them away because his descendants would be enumerated from Isaac.  God also reassured him with the promise that He would make a NATION out of Isaac too.

His distress may’ve been the thing that prompted God to TEST Abraham in this way.  If he reacted so strongly to the loss of Ishmael, how would he react to the loss of the legitimate son, Isaac?

Let’s take a quick break for a geography lesson.  Why go to MORIAH (2)?  The name meant “place of Yahweh’s provision.”  It was so named in verse fourteen.

The word “provide” figures prominently in this passage as it affirms our trust in God TO provide all we need.  When confronted with the surprising command, Abraham must’ve wondered how God would provide descendants if Isaac would not live.  For example, when Isaac asked about the sacrifice, Abraham affirmed his faith that God would provide one (8).

Why on a mountain (2)?  In most ancient cultures, mountains were considered sacred spots.  It was on mountain tops that altars were constructed, sacrifices were made and worship was offered.

Why end up in BEERSHEBA (19)?  The name meant “Well of Seven” or “Well of Oath.”  It was the place where Abraham made a treaty with Philistine leaders to ensure his family could live peacefully in the region (chapter 21).  Having gone to all that trouble, he chose to remain there.  It was “home.”

  1. Abraham prepared to obey (3-10).

EARLY THE NEXT MORNING (3) meant Abraham practiced obedience in time.  He didn’t wait for a convenient time or procrastinate.

God promised to show Abraham the place (2) and he did (4).  This revelation happened ON THE THIRD DAY after they left Beersheba.  We should not miss this detail.  Abraham kept the purpose of the long journey to himself and must’ve agonized inwardly over this long period.  Wow!

When they arrived, Abraham kept the servants at a distance (5), perhaps to prevent their interference.

Isaac was involved but not informed in this sacrificial offering (6-8).  I don’t know his age at this time, but Isaac was old enough to reason and express himself and had clearly been on these sacrificial trips before.

He went through a mental checklist:

Wood?  Check.

Fire?  Check.

The KNIFE (a special sacrificial one)?  Check.

The lamb?  Oops.  No lamb – no check.  Did dad forget the lamb?  Seems kind of important – better ask him about it.

Abraham’s answer to Isaac’s question is a little evasive, but fits the theme perfectly: “God will PROVIDE the lamb, my son.”  Isaac apparently trusted his father, as the text makes clear that there was no more conversation about it (8).

How was Abraham able to do this?  Going by his actions, Abraham’s heart was resolved: his motive was to obey God .  Going by what Paul and James were inspired to write about this event, Abraham’s rationalization was theological: he trusted God to have the power to fix this.

Actions count and Abraham acted in obedience all the way.  He built the altar, piled the wood on it, tied Isaac up, the lifted him up on the wood and drew his knife.  That’s a lot of work to do and there is no sign in the text that he did it with a conflicted heart or mind.  He just obeyed.

  1. God blessed Abraham’s obedience (11-19).

God stayed Abraham’s hand at the last moment, sparing Isaac (11).  Rembrandt’s painting captures this moment brilliantly: the angel intervened to save Isaac.  Hundreds of years later, God would make this occasion part of His Law; in Exodus 13:1+15 he declared that the first-born were all His; a “sacrifice” that did not need to be executed because they were His already.

God explained Himself in vs. 12, 15-18.  This event not only tested Abraham’s faith, but reinforced his conviction that God would use Isaac to bring about the many descendants he promised.  The main point, however, is not about Isaac; it’s about Abraham and his faith.  Because he demonstrated to God that he did not value his son above God, God confirms His promises to Abraham:

He will be blessed (12:2).

His descendants would be innumerable (13:16; 15:5; 17:2).

They will possess the CITIES OF THEIR ENEMIES (12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 17:8).

God would bless the entire world through them (12:3; 18:18).

God provided a substitute sacrifice (13-14).  Though a ram could naturally get caught by its horns in thorns, the fact that it was there exactly when and where it was needed, that is clearly supernatural.

Abraham perceived it this way and named the place to commemorate the event.

Theologically, we’re all in favor of the sovereignty of God until we have to change our plans or until we have to recognize that when God uses someone, it’s not always with their permission or approval.  It’s comforting to know that God is in charge up until the moment we insist on being in charge.

We can’t have it both ways, folks.  Since the Bible teaches us that God does not change and that he is in charge, we all have to face the fact that it is NOT all about me.  While human beings are the pinnacle of His creation, we bend to follow HIS will, not Him to follow ours.

What learned from Samson in the last five weeks is that God’s plan will be completed.  Whether we are pawns or a king, God is the hand that moves us.

In short, we need to build a bridge and get over ourselves.

James uses the account of Abraham offering Isaac as evidence to support his teaching that faith must be paired with works to be real.  We read in James 2:20-24:

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

This quote also gives us a third interpretation of the life of Abraham, how it was faith that motivated his obedience to God.  Even though Abraham could not, in the moment, see how God was going to work things out, he followed through and did everything God commanded.  That is how disciples behave: obedience comes before understanding, if necessary.

He Brought Down the House!

Please read Judges 16:23-31 in your Bible of choice.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Here’s a story illustrating the character of “macho men” like Samson.  It is a cautionary tale but entirely untrue.

“MISSING HIS LOVED ONE”

A husband went to the police station and told the officer on duty, “My wife is missing. She went shopping yesterday and hasn’t come home.”

The sergeant grabbed some paperwork and asked, “What’s her height?”

“Gee, I’m not sure. A little over 5 feet.”

“Weight?”

“Don’t know. Not slim, but not real fat.”

“Color of eyes?”

“Sort of brown, I think. I never really noticed.”

The sergeant sighed and asked, “Color of hair?”

“It changes a couple of times a year. Maybe dark brown, I can’t remember.”

“What was she wearing?”

“Could have been pants or shorts. I don’t know exactly.”

“Was she driving a vehicle or walking?”       “She went in my truck.”

“What kind of truck was it?”

“A 2016 Ford F150, King Ranch 4×4 with eco-boost 5.0 L V8 engine special ordered with manual transmission and climate controlled air conditioning. It has a custom matching white cover for the bed, which has matching aftermarket bed liner. Custom leather 6-way seats and “Bubba” floor mats. Trail King package with gold hitch and special wiring hookups, DVD with full GPS navigation, satellite radio receiver, 23 channel CB radio, six cup holders, a USB port, and four power outlets. I added special alloy wheels and off-road Michelins. It has custom running boards and indirect wheel well lighting.” At this point, the husband started choking up.

The sergeant consoled him, “Don’t worry buddy, we’ll find your truck!”

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/price-of-haircut–devils-barbershop-john-gaston-sermon-on-cost-of-sin-202944?ref=SermonSerps

There’s a modern day Samson, right? The point of Samson’s life is that God’s plan will be accomplished.  Our life will be vastly improved if we cooperate with His plan rather than oppose Him with our sin.

The end of Samson’s life accomplished more than the middle.

  1. V. 22 = the short-sightedness of the Philistines.

Satisfied with finally capturing Samson, the Philistines let his hair grow.  The point is not the hair, but obedience to God.  The text does not tell us how long Samson was imprisoned, but if the average person’s hair grows at a rate of eight inches a year, then some time may have passed.

  1. The Philistines held a party to mock Samson (23-25).

The five rulers of the capitol cities gathered to humiliate their foe (23).   Ostensibly, the party was held to OFFER A GREAT SACRIFICE TO DAGON THEIR GOD.  DAGON was an idol worshiped by more than one of the pagan cultures bordering Israel.  Every year at harvest time they held a national gathering in Gaza, so Samson may or may not have been the guest of honor at this party.

The real reason was to CELEBRATE, as they said, “OUR GOD HAS DELIVERED SAMSON, OUR ENEMY, INTO OUR HANDS.” Modern people tend to interpret events scientifically; we think about cause and effect.  Ancient people interpreted events theologically; struggles between nations were at the same time struggles between the gods.  Whoever won the war had the stronger gods.  However, the truth was that Samson’s capture was not Dagon’s victory; rather, God abandoned Samson to his enemies.

They gave Samson a bit more credit than he deserved: “WHO LAID WASTE TO OUR LAND AND MULTIPLIED OUR SLAIN” (24). We should remember 15:3-5, where Samson destroyed at least part of one year’s harvest.  The fire may’ve been widespread.  So he did lay at least part of their land to WASTE.  Regardless of the truth of these charges, it is clear the Philistine people hated Samson and celebrated his current low circumstances as just punishment.  Also in chapter fifteen, you recall Samson killed 1000 Philistines, which does qualify for at least part of multiplying their SLAIN.

It is certain they were in HIGH SPIRITS (25).  They demanded Samson be brought in to ENTERTAIN them.  The word translated as ENTERTAIN meant to “play with” or “amuse one’s self with” something.  This mocking and scorning of Samson is the first demonstration of how the Philistines really hated Samson.

What does the text mean when it says Samson PERFORMED FOR THEM?  It means Samson acted in much the same way a bear does when people stoop to abusing the bear in “bear baiting.”  Samson performed so well he literally “brought the house down.”

  1. Samson fulfilled God’s promise for his life in his death (26-31).

It appears Samson had something other than a good performance in mind (25-26).  Having been blinded (21), he could not pick them out himself, so Samson asked to be guided to the pillars that bore the load of the temple’s roof.  Archaeology has supplied evidence of ancient structures that were based on two pillars giving primary support to the roof.  In this instance, the structure was made more unstable by the weight of 3000 people on the roof.

The specific nature of this request indicates that Samson is thinking strategically again.  It would have been easy to hear the shouts of the people around and above him.

The text tells us that the temple was crowded with people, setting the stage for what would follow.  There were 3000 people just on the roof, THREE TIMES more than Samson killed with the jawbone of a donkey (ch. 15).  V. 28 is the second recorded prayer of Samson and he’s asking for nothing more than revenge. This is disappointing.  After all he’s suffered, Samson still doesn’t understand. The entire chapter is devoted to the acts of violence Samson perpetrated because he wanted revenge for various slights and offenses.  I’ll grant you having one’s eyes gouged out is a serious thing, but it’s not worth killing thousands of people.  The prayer is still very self-centered as well; the word ME is used three times and MY used once.  All of that in one verse.

In the final act of his life, Samson got the revenge he desired. What’s confusing is that Samson’s great strength returned, but the Lord is not credited with endowing Samson.  The Spirit is not mentioned in the way that he has been previously.  BUT, as this is the way it’s been done before, I think we can assume the Lord answered Samson’s request with a “Yes.”

What counts is the result: Samson used his strength to pull the temple down on himself and his enemies (29-30).  It was a murder/suicide that surely made the evening news.  Somehow Samson  moved the massive pillars off their bases with his bare hands.

His declaration “LET ME DIE WITH THESE PHILISTINES!” measures both Samson’s anger and his depression.  He did not want to live as a blinded workhorse, a helpless captive to the wrath and scorn of his enemies.

THUS HE KILLED MANY MORE WHEN HE DIED THAN WHILE HE LIVED is a depressing statement isn’t it?  Because Samson wasted the gifts God gave him, he accomplished more of God’s will by dying than he ever did in life.  In fact, some time later, the losses inflicted solely by Samson helped the Israelites defeat the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:7-14).

Verse 31 is Samson’s epitaph.  He got a good burial.  The words BROTHERS and FAMILY here convey a larger group than Samson’s parents.  A good number of Samson’s people braved the trip to Gaza to retrieve Samson’s remains.  I assume this was at some personal risk, even though Samson killed the entire Philistine government with his one act.  His was the third-longest judgeship over Israel, leading the nation – sorta – for 20 years.  (V. 31 is a repeat of 15:20.)

Here’s how Herbert Wolf summarized the life of Samson; “Samson was ranked among the heroes of the faith (Heb. 11:32).  Yet he failed to live up to his great gifts.  Unable to conquer himself, he was ruined by his own lusts.  He stands as a tragic example of a man of great potential who lacked stability of character.  Still, God in his sovereignty used him.”  (the Expositor’s Bible Commentary #3, p. 479.)

The end of Samson’s life accomplished more than the middle.

In a sermon preached last year, Pastor John Gaston asked a great question; “What’s the price of a haircut in the devil’s barber-shop?”  In Samson’s case, the haircut in question cost him his eyesight, his freedom, and ultimately, his life.  His last act of disobedience was the culmination of a lifetime wasting the gifts of God on self-centered and sinful pursuits.

It’s easy to criticize Samson because he makes it so easy.  His sins are gross and obvious and excessive.  But we need to be careful.  Just because our sins are subtle, concealable, and contrived does NOT mean they are any less deadly in consequence than Samson’s.  As with all persons whose stories are told in the Bible, we must hold them up as a mirror to our own souls and pray for God to reveal any similar shortcomings.  Sins like gossip, back-biting, complaining, and lying are no less deadly than any of the things Samson did.  God regards them as equally serious.

As we conclude this series on Samson, we will fail to put these chapters to godly use if we don’t compare ourselves to Samson.  For example, we are gifted by God.  It is not with supernatural strength, but we are gifted in many other, less spectacular, ways.  What are we – as individuals and as a church – doing with our gifts?

Can we honestly say that we are joyous partners with God in using His gifts to accomplish His will?  Or are we wasting our gifts and our time satisfying ourselves?  Do we serve God with our days or are we indulging in sin, making excuses and winking at our misbehaviors.

We’ve had our fun with Samson, rightly noting the ridiculous excesses of his behavior and attitudes.  We must end this series with unflinching honesty as we look to ourselves.  If we walk down Samson’s path, we must confess and repent and choose God’s way instead.

Samson Didn’t Know How to Pick ‘Em

(Please read Judges 16:1-22 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but life is better when we obey Him.

Samson did not have success choosing the women in his life; he did NOT know how to pick ‘em.  Remember the Philistine bride he left at the altar in ch. 14?

Speaking of picking them, I read recently of similar relationship issues: a daughter texted her dad the following: “Daddy: I am coming home to get married soon, so get out your check book.  I am in love with a man who is lives far away, in Scotland.  We met on a dating website, became friends on Facebook, and had long chats on Whatsapp.  He proposed to me on Skype, and now we’ve had two wonderful months of relationship on Viber.

“My beloved and favorite Dad, I need your blessing, good wishes, and a really big wedding.  Lots of love and thanks, Lilly.”

The father replied with a text which read: “My dear Lilly.  Like wow!  Cool!!  I’d suggest you get married on Twitter, have fun on Tango, buy your kids on Amazon, and pay for all of it with Paypal.  Oh, and when you get fed up with this new husband, you can sell him on Ebay.  No need to thank me.  Lots of love, Dad.”

Today we’ll begin the final chapter of Samson’s story.  We’ll add two more sins to add to the tally, including the one that brought Samson to his end.

The story of Samson has had its humorous moments and we’ve had some fun pointing them out along the way.  But Samson’s life is also tragic; a tale of wasted time and potential.  He was gifted beyond most people in history, but taking his gifts for granted, Samson wasted time working for himself and disobeying God.

Let’s face a sobering fact: God is going to do what He has promised He will do.  We have the choice to join God in what He is doing or waste our lives on sin and selfish pursuits.  The choice is – as always – ours.

  1. Samson Sin #6 = Patronizing a Prostitute.

Samson made a bad decision and put himself in danger (1-2). Patronizing prostitutes is condemned in Scripture; it is morally dangerous.  For example, Proverbs 9:13-18 used a prostitute as a symbol of FOLLY and pointed out the foolishness of trusting one.  In 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, Paul singled out uniting with a prostitute as a particularly bad sin.  We have not seen in Samson much wisdom about relationships.  But this choice of partners is a new low in foolishness.

Samson put himself in physical danger by going all the way to Gaza, which was one of the capital cities of the Philistines.  It was surrounded by fortifications that worked to trap enemies INSIDE as well as to keep enemies OUTSIDE.  (That’s why the bit about the CITY GATE is important.)  Gaza was located 45 MILES from Samson’s home.  He really went out of his way to find trouble.

Verse two says THE PEOPLE OF GAZA WERE TOLD that Samson was within their walls.  Who told them?  Presumably, the prostitute or someone connected with her.  Or maybe Samson was so reckless as to make his presence public knowledge.  In either case, Samson’s enemies prepared to trap Samson in their city and kill him.  They surrounded the house and staked out the CITY GATE.

Having made these preparations, they then MADE NO MOVE DURING THE NIGHT, intending to kill him by day.  This seems like poor strategy to me, but they may have been so overconfident they believed they could afford to wait.  Or, more likely, they waited until the entire city was out and about; more people would see and applaud their vengeance against “public enemy #1.”

Samson relied on his strength to get out of danger and mock his enemies (3).  Samson was not surprised to find the enemy gathered outside the brothel.  He waited until the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, when sleep and boredom would distract the soldiers watching the house.

Demonstrating he was as stealthy as he was strong, Samson got out of the house and to the gates of the city.  There he yanked the massive gates out of the wall and carried them off to the top of a hill facing Hebron.

This is obviously a feat of supernatural strength.  Those gates, with all the connected woodwork, have been calculated to weigh between five and ten TONS.  Besides which, Samson carried them 36 miles and up 3,200 feet in elevation!

Why go to all that trouble?  Samson did this to rub the Philistines’ noses in their defeat.  They thought they had Samson dead to rights, but he made escape look easy.  Of course, we know this is another case of God bailing Samson out of trouble he’d created for himself.

  1. Samson Sin #7 = Sleeping with the Enemy.

What does the text tell us about Delilah (4+5)?  She lived in the Valley of Sorek, the same place Samson and his parents lived.  Delilah meant “amorous, temptress, delight, and devotee” in Hebrew.  This clue may suggest she was a temple prostitute.  Functioning as a priestess, Delilah may have used sex as a means of worshiping their false gods.  Just in case you thought Samson’s choice of the Gaza prostitute was the worst ever.

Samson FELL IN LOVE with her.  While this sounds different from vs. 1-3 and his engagement in ch. 14, it is clear that Delilah was still a bad choice for love interest.  Samson had “relationship issues.”

Samson paid no attention to his past (ch. 14) or present, and was thereby duped by Delilah (6-20).

The RULERS OF THE PHILISTINES have learned a lesson.  In chapter fourteen they threatened Samson’s fiancé.  Here, the made Delilah an attractive offer for her cooperation in capturing Samson. They each offered her 28 POUNDS of silver.  That translates into $7,804.16 in today’s market.  (That’s 28 lbs. X 16 oz. = 448.  448 oz. X $17.42/oz. = $7804.16.)  3:3 said there were 5 leaders of the Philistines, so that’s a grand total of $39,020.80!

Their aim is betrayed in the word SUBDUE.  In the original language that refers to subjecting someone to hard labor.  In my opinion, this is why the Philistines decided to capture Samson, not kill him.  Killing him would make a martyr of him and might cause the Israelites to revolt, but humiliating him might discourage resistance.

Samson’s first game of wits is recorded in verses six through nine.  Samson must’ve really been blinded by love; otherwise you’d think a question like Delilah’s in v. 6 would make a fella pretty suspicious.  Maybe Samson was suspicious, and that’s why he lied to her.

And what a lie.  What’s up with the BOW STRINGS?  Nothing.  My guess is he settled on the first thing he could think of that Delilah wouldn’t have in her closet.  We’ve already seen how clever Samson was with riddles and poems, so we know he can think on his feet.  Of course, the bowstrings weren’t at all effective in restraining Samson.

Later on, Delilah worked while Samson slept, but in this first game he is awake and allows her to bind him.  Why would he allow such a thing?

In the first three verses we saw Samson’s recklessness and arrogance.  It’s no stretch of imagination to see him as amused by Delilah’s actions.  That’s why I call these incidents “games of wits;” he was playing her.

Notice that when the trap is sprung (8-9), the Philistines are HIDDEN IN THE ROOM.  Though he might suspect the Philistines are using Delilah, Samson has no visual evidence.  (You’d think the feet sticking out the bottom of the curtains would be a dead give-away wouldn’t you?)

Samson’s second game of wits (10-12).  Though the text does not tell us any time passed between these events (just between the third and final game of wits – see verse sixteen), I have to believe that we’re looking at a set of events that happened over several days.  After all, what kind of lady has unused bow strings and new rope just lying about?

Just as Samson’s previous love interest had done (14:16), Delilah went into pout and nag mode (11); complaining, “YOU HAVE MADE A FOOL OF ME.”  Samson offered another lame lie.  NEW ROPE had already failed to incapacitate him (15:13-14), but Delilah apparently didn’t know that and fell for this second deceit of Samson’s (12).

Samson’s third game of wits (13-14).  Delilah makes it clear she doesn’t like being made a fool (13) but she makes it so easy for Samson.  He uses the number seven for a second time but gets closer to the truth by mentioning his hair.  This time Delilah waited until Samson slept to fall for the third lie.  When awakened, he jumped up and pulled his hair out and the loom apart.

Samson loses his wits (15-20).  Vs. 15+16 sound like 14:16; why didn’t Samson learn?  “YOU WON”T CONFIDE IN ME” is literally, “Your heart is not with me.”  That was true.  What he would not do for love, Samson finally did for relief from Delilah’s nagging; he told her the truth (17).  My guess is he tired of the game.  He was SICK TO DEATH OF IT.

Somehow Delilah was convinced that at last Samson told her the truth and she arranged her final betrayal (18).  The Philistines came back later (the fact that they’d left may imply they’d lost patience with her), with their bribe in hand and a barber in tow.  Why Samson trusted this woman enough to sleep around her is hard to explain, but he did it twice at least.  The barber came in and sheared Samson as he slept (19).

When she woke him, Samson, in his arrogance, believed that he was still invulnerable and would shake off the latest set of bonds.  Here’s a sad statement: BUT HE DID NOT KNOW THAT THE LORD HAD LEFT HIM (20).

Why did the Lord take His Spirit from Samson?  The better question is, “Why didn’t the Lord take His Spirit sooner?”  Samson’s character doesn’t bespeak someone worthy of all this divine assistance.  But rather than see this as a punishment, we have the benefit of hindsight and can see God had a higher purpose here: to get Samson in the middle of the Philistine leadership where he could do the most damage.  Once again, we’re seeing how God overcame the disobedience of Samson but still used him to fulfill the purpose He’d stated before Samson’s birth (13:5); to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

Later in Israel’s history, this same fate would befall King Saul for the same reason: arrogant defiance of God and taking His Spirit for granted (1 Samuel 16:14).  Both ended tragically.

The vengeance of the Philistines is terrible but short-sighted (21-22).  It was terrible to gouge out his eyes, chain him, imprison him, and set him to work grinding grain, which was humiliating because women and donkeys were used to run small and large grain mills (21). They literally added injury to insult by gouging out his eyes.  The Israelites counted blind people among lepers and others who were “walking dead,” not really people any more.

But they were short-sighted in that they didn’t have the barber come back to the prison; Samson’s hair started growing back again (22).  There was nothing magical about the hair.  The hair is not the point.  The point is obedience to the Nazirite vows that Samson had observed since birth.  The growing back of his hair is more like a symbol of Samson’s repentance.  At his lowest moment, Samson finally saw that cooperation with God was a lot easier than defying Him all the time.  It’s too bad he had to suffer blindness, imprisonment and the rest.  His life would’ve been so much better if he’d kept God as his focus instead of himself.

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but life is better when we obey Him.

In a way, Samson is a symbol of what we men typically go through – we lose our hair and our strength at about the same time!

The irony of Samson’s life is that his great physical strength stood in contrast to his great moral weakness. The bottom line: don’t repeat Samson’s mistakes.

Overcoming the Dark Side – A Review

Dark Side

(Disclaimer: If you’re a Star Wars fan and have come here looking for more fuel for that fire, turn away, my young padawan: it’s not that “dark side.”)

A BOOK REPORT ON

Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership

(Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima)

by Brett Best

June 2017

THE USEFUL MAIN THOUGHT

Whatever it is that makes a leader effective is a two-edged sword; those who are not careful in wielding it may cause self-inflicted wounds on the backswing.

THESIS STATEMENTS

“It was during this research that it became clear that a paradox of sorts existed in the lives of most of the leaders who had experienced significant failures: the personal insecurities, feelings of inferiority, and need for parental approval (among other dysfunctions) that compelled these people to become successful leaders were very often the same issues that precipitated their failure.” (p. 13)

“Because it is a part of us that we are unaware of to some degree, lurking in the shadows of our personality, we have labeled it the dark side of our personality.  However, in spite of the foreboding mental image the term dark side creates, it is not, as we shall see, exclusively a negative force in our lives.  In almost every case the factors that eventually undermine us are shadows of the ones that contribute to our success.” (Italics by the authors, p. 28.)

“The aspects of life that push us in a positive way toward success can also exert a negative pull, destroying our effectiveness.” (p. 33)

“In short any behavior that seems to overpower us, as well as any urge or motivation that seems to uncontrollably drive us, is a possible sign indicating the presence of our dark side.” (p. 71)

“Though expectations are necessary to a degree, they can also be a two-edged sword in our lives.  These healthy expectations can motivate the people toward whom they are directed to behave and achieve beyond their current level.” (p. 185)

QUOTABLES

“We live in a culture obsessed with both having and success.  True success is a state of being not having.” (Italics by the authors, p. 19)

“For, all too often, when the lessons of the dark side are never learned, it drives even successful leaders to make unwise, impulsive, unethical, or immoral choices that may ultimately lead to the forfeiture of the very success it created.” (p. 91)

The authors quoted Abraham Lincoln: “All human beings have their weaknesses, but not all of us realize them, come to grips with them, or offset their negative impact.  As a group whose primary endeavor is interacting with other people, leaders must accomplish the paradoxical task of managing their darker sides.”  (Italics in text, pp. 150-151.)

“The purpose of examining the past is not for the assignment of blame, but for self-understanding.” (p. 174)  I chose this quote because it is the sole balance against repeated exhortations to engage in the dredging of one’s past for the purpose of finding where the corpse-like seeds of self-destruction may lie.  It read to me like a call to psychotherapy.  As we live in a culture predominated by lawyers and therapists (evidence of our national self-destruction), I found myself wishing for more balance.  Blaming dad and mom can serve as a mechanism for not taking ownership of the person we’ve become.

“Our legalism is well-intended; nevertheless it is also quite repressive and destructive for those who must live and lead under its weight.” (p. 184)

“We must come to the point where we recognize that our value is not dependent on our performance, position, titles, achievements, or the power we wield.  Rather, our worth exists independently of anything we have ever done or will do in the future.” (p. 213)  This is the best quote in the book and should have been in the introduction.

MY OPINION: PRAISEWORTHY PARTS

The authors precisely identified their aims and assumptions in the opening sections of the book.  They numbered them and set them aside to make them obvious instead of making use delve into the text to mine them or discover them by accident.  I appreciate assisting the reader by making the important bits obvious.

I read the revised version of the book; the original was published in 1997, the revised version in 2007.  I mention that because that time frame overlaps the rise of popular study of “emotional intelligence” in our culture.  Although the authors reference little or none of the fruits of this research, they ran on a parallel track.  Students of “EQ” will recognize the strands of thought shared with psycho-social observers of the time, purveyors of emotional sophistication in our intellectual processes.  In fact, with repeated references to Maslow and Jung, the greater portion of their teaching is based on social sciences than Scripture.

It is helpful to identify leadership styles and explore the light and dark sides of each.  A “Cosmo”-style self-evaluation is offered as a means of identifying one’s predominant leadership style.  Of course, the names assigned to the styles are negatively-oriented to their dark side: the Compulsive Leader, the Narcissistic Leader, the Paranoid Leader, the Codependent Leader, and the Passive-Aggressive Leader.

A five-step program is offered to aid leaders in overcoming their dark side, whichever form it may take.  If employed, I can see where this basic level of organization may help someone whose score in any of the dark sides was eight or more points.

MY OPINION: SHORTCOMINGS

The authors too frequently resort to generalizations like “many in the Christian community.”  How many?  What statistical data or anecdotes or other evidence can you offer to support such a contention?  To me, this is not scholarly; it is a lazy kind of writing that asserts as truths non-facts that are unproven and probably unprovable.  While I trust McIntosh and Rima as observers, it is simply not helpful to toss these sweeping generalities around as if they were self-evident.

This is a book on leadership among thousands.  It makes a point that may be examined in a more scholarly fashion elsewhere, but it is an important point to be made.  My concern is that the authors have given us an inoculation but not the cure.  The book successfully alerts the reader to the important point about the double-edged nature of leadership qualities, but, in spite of its length, does so superficially.  I would advise the reader who is concerned about their own dark side to turn to more competent sources of information on emotional intelligence.

The self-evaluation is an example of a double-edged nature.  While it is the backbone of the book, there is no more science here than one of the hundreds of quizzes on Facebook.  Science would establish a database on responses to these questions and create a sense of how commonly each aspect of the dark side occurs.  Science would trace connections to discoveries about emotional intelligence and explore linkages between these components of the dark side and established mental illnesses.

Having said all this, it would appear that I’m arguing that the book needed to be longer, to include more information.  Actually, my biggest concern about the book is that it is too long because it is filled with the wrong kinds of information; the author’s summations, generalizations, and exercises of imagination that stand in the place of genuine research.

To me, DARK SIDE is an example of a “padded book.”  There is enough new and useful information here for a journal article.  The rest is padding added to increase it to book length.  The authors make profuse use of historical/biblical examples of leadership meltdowns.”  While anecdotes are useful rhetorically, in this case their profusion indicates a shallowness of substance.  Another example of padding is extensive use of quotations.  It amused me to see multiple quotations from Sue Grafton.  I was under impression she is known as a popular author of fiction.  Is leadership theory part of her publishing resume?  The book is simply a mile wide and an inch deep.

MY OPINION: FINAL GRADE

If I wanted to be cute, I’d give DARK SIDE a “D” for “dark.”  Instead, I’m giving it a “D” for the shallowness of scholarship and the addition of too much padding to stretch a viable journal article into a salable book.