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.

 

 

 

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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.

Samson was a Slow Learner

(Please take a moment to read Judges 15 in your Bible.  The whole thing will make more sense if you read the Scripture, then my blog, I promise you.  Myself, I use the NIV to prepare my messages.)

My Minnesota Twins are off to a good start this season, so I feel safe in starting with a baseball story that illustrates what I hope we learn from Samson this morning.

It was the bottom of the ninth inning and the game was on the line.  The home team was down one run with two outs, but the bases were loaded.  Any safe hit would guarantee at least survival for extra innings, maybe win the game.  He home crowd was on its feet, cheering the batter who stepped into the box.

Over the season, he’d been a good batter, but was long overdue in this game.  In fact, he’d struck out in all three of his at-bats, the bat on his shoulder each time.  (For those of you who don’t follow baseball, this is the most embarrassing outcome for a batter.)

On this trip to home plate, he was determined not to be struck out again.  He presented his best game face to the pitcher, an air of determination bordering on arrogance.  He posed aggressively, leaning out over the plate.

He did not strike out with the bat on his shoulder.  He did strike out, however, swinging at the next three pitches, missing the ball every time!  His fourth strike out ended the game, the home team losing.

Utterly disappointed with himself and suffering the stinging boos of the fans, the batter unwisely decided to toss his bat high in the air.  He also jerked off his batting helmet and slammed it into the ground.

You can guess what happened next.  The bat came down and hit him squarely on his now-unprotected head and knocked him out cold!

The next day a reporter asked which was worse, striking out four times, losing the game, or knocking himself out with his own bat.  He answered, “That’s easy.  The bat deal was one of those freaky things that could happen to anybody.  But striking out was much worse because I’d already done it three times.  How many times does a guy have to screw up before he learns his lesson?”

That’s the question we will put to Samson today.  It’s the same question each of us must ask ourselves.

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but it’s easier for us if we learn from our mistakes.

  1. Samson Sin #1+4 (Pt. 2) = Marrying a Pagan.

Sin #1 repeated = lusting after a Philistine woman.  Let’s start with a reminder of where we left off in Judges 14, where Samson got mad at losing his bet with his 30 “groomsmen” and left the whole wedding party in a huff, including his bride.  Samson did not know his fiancé had been given in marriage to one of the 30 guys (does this remind anybody of “The Bachelorette?”)

In the days(?) following his bad temper, Samson thought about her again.  Being an incurably romantic macho man, Samson resolved to kiss and make up (1).  So he brought her A YOUNG GOAT.  That sounds strange to us, but was customary in their culture.  Personally, I think he was lead by his stomach and brought dinner along on its own four legs.  In effect, He was saying, “Look honey!  I’m back and I brought supper!  Hurry up and get it butchered and started so you can take off my sandals and rub my feet while its cooking.”

A couple clues in the text give us reason to think that Samson had more than a meal on his mind.  One, the phrase VISIT HIS WIFE reflects an ancient institution called a “visit marriage;” we might call it a “long-distance relationship.”  Two, his declaration, “I’M GOING TO VISIT MY WIFE’S ROOM” is a euphemism for consummating the marriage; like a “conjugal visit.”  So Samson’s behavior wasn’t ONLY dictated by his stomach.

I can’t imagine how Samson’s behavior could be any more stereotypically male.  “Honey, I brought you a gift.  Can we forget about the fact that I abandoned you at the altar and go back to being lovers?  Right now?”

The still unnamed Philistine woman’s dad couldn’t be in a more awkward spot (2).  On the one hand, his muscle-bound, intimidating, murderous, former potential son-in-law is at the door.  On the other hand, his daughter has been married to another guy.  So what does a dad with a surplus of daughters and a deficit of bravery do?  Offer Samson a different daughter!!  He even tries to sell Samson on the idea of younger sis being more beautiful – what a catch!!  The guy may have been a used camel salesman.

Samson Sin #4 was repeated: his quick & violent temper.  Samson’s temper is first revealed in his indiscretion in verse three. SAMSON SAID TO THEM: who is he talking to?  His former fiancé’s parents.  Is he announcing his plans to get even with THE PHILISTINES to these Philistine people?

“THIS TIME” as opposed to the last time.  Is he conceding it was wrong to kill 30 men of Ashkelon and steal their clothes?

“I HAVE A RIGHT:” All vengeful people think they have “A RIGHT” to be as mean and vengeful as they want.  Not so.

Second, Samson’s violence is revealed in his revenge in verses four and five.  Burning an entire harvest is overkill for a little disappointment and humiliation, let’s face it.  Let’s not even get started about the foxes; the animal death toll approaches the human deaths he inflicted.

For a guy remembered for his strength, Samson showed some cleverness in his poetry, riddles, and even in the way he went about getting revenge.  In many ancient cultures, the red fox was considered to be a symbol of fire.  (The text does not specify Samson’s use of red foxes, but this would be clever symbolism if true.)  Tying two foxes together at the tail and attaching a torch would cause them to panic and run around randomly, carrying the torches around everywhere in a matter of moments.  He carried out this “guerilla attack” in the harvest season when crops were harvested or waiting to be harvested.  The crops would be at their driest and most vulnerable to flame.

It was an act of cruelty and vengeance that was way out of proportion to any “right” Samson may have had.  This is clearly not “getting even;” it is getting ahead of the Philistines.  As we shall see, it is an escalation of the conflict between Samson and the Philistines.

  1. Samson Sin #5 = Violence leads to more violence.

The first victims of the violence were Samson’s former fiancé and family (6-8).  Just as they had threatened to do in 14:15, the Philistines burned the woman and her father to death, even though they had no part in Samson’s fiery vengeance.

Of course, Samson’s reaction to their deaths was to raise the ante and swear an oath of vengeance and then enact it.  It’s a tad hypocritical for Samson to retaliate for the death of the wife he’d abandoned at the altar (14:19).  To me, he acts like a man spoiling for a fight.

Samson attacked the men who’d committed the arson.  Verse eight uses the words VICIOUSLY and SLAUGHTERED to describe Samson’s attack.  These are not approving words.  Indeed, there is no sense in this passage that Samson is doing these things at God’s direction.  Instead, he is overreacting to the deeds of others.

The Philistines attempted to bully the people of Judah by bringing an army around (9-12).  LEHI meant “jawbone.”  This kind of irony either shows God’s sense of humor or the town took on that name after the events of this passage.

After suffering 40 years of abuse at the hands of the Philistines, the PEOPLE OF JUDAH were already thoroughly intimidated.  This shows up in four clues given in these three verses.  First, in verse ten, when the Philistine army shows up, they rush to get the white flag out and send a delegation to ask, “WHY HAVE YOU COME TO FIGHT US?”  Second, in verse eleven, they chastised Samson, “DON’T YOU REALIZE THE PHILISTINES ARE RULING OVER US?”  Third, in verse twelve, when they’ve found out what the problem is, they are happy to throw Samson under the bus to try to placate their Philistine overlords.  Fourth, verse eleven tells us there were 3000 men from Judah to capture Samson, but only 1000 Philistines killed by Samson.  If Samson killed all the Philistine force, then his countrymen had the enemy outnumbered 3-1.  How buffaloed do you have to be to refuse to fight with a 3-1 advantage?  These details give us insight into how desperate the situation had become and why God would use someone like Samson to begin to lead the Israelites to resist and overthrow the Philistines (13:5).

Why did Samson allow himself to be taken prisoner (12-13)?  It was clever strategy; it was the easiest way to get in the middle of the Philistine army.  Samson intended to launch his attack from there.  The guy did have his brilliant, if reckless, moments.  So he appeared to be surrendering, which put a whole Philistine army in harm’s way.

Samson’s strategy worked.  At the end of the day a thousand enemy combatants lay dead.

The LORD bailed out Samson AGAIN in verses fourteen and fifteen.   For the FOURTH time in these three chapter we read of Samson, THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CAME POWERFULLY UPON HIM (18).  This Spirit was manifest in two ways.  One, the NEW ROPES (13) binding Samson suddenly became weak and loose and dropped away from him.  Two, armed only with the FRESH JAWBONE OF A DONKEY, Samson became an invincible warrior, taking down A THOUSAND MEN.  (The word FRESH literally meant “moist.”  A new jawbone would not be dry and brittle as a weathered one would be.)  In his book, The Samson Syndrome, Mark Attebury wrote, “With nothing but a donkey’s dentures, Samson slaughtered one thousand Philistines.”

Flush with victory, Samson composed a poem to himself (16)!  I respect the pun in the first part of the poem: I’ve been known to indulge on occasion myself.  However, the object of praise in this poem is Samson, not the Holy Spirit who empowered him and gave him victory.

  1. Samson got Something Right (sorta).

After the self-glorifying poem, Samson comes around a bit and credits the LORD, but he did that while bellyaching.  The LORD delivered Samson again: this time from thirst (18-19).  It seems Samson was “too big to fail.”  Samson complained about dying of thirst right on the spot and falling into the hands of the UNCIRCUMCISED.  It’s sad this is the first recorded prayer of Samson’s; it reminds me of the complaints of the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness, dissatisfied with the manna, quail, and water the LORD provided them.

Miraculously – as He had done for the Israelites generations before – God opened a hole in the ground and water welled up out of it and revived Samson.  It’s not hard to imagine how killing 1000 enemy soldiers would leave a fella feeling a bit parched, so maybe we can excuse Samson’s complaining here…?

Verse twenty sounds like the end of Samson’s story, but we haven’t even got to the familiar part involving Delilah.  I imagine this implies the reaction of the 3000 men of Judah who were there to witness Samson’s victory (apparently without lending a hand to assist him); they recognized his leadership.  Samson became a “judge;” one of the people God raised up to lead His people out from under the oppressions of their enemies.  He had one of the lengthier terms of judgeship.

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but it’s easier for us if we learn from our mistakes.

Some of us here today remember all the way back to 1975.  One of the news items that year was the beaching of 300 whales which died.  It also happened in Feb. of this year.

Why does that happen? Experts think they’re chasing sardines when the tide goes out from under them, leaving them beached.

“Chasing Sardines” is an apt image for Samson’s life.  God was with Samson in a way He has not blessed anyone before or after, but he fiddled around, wasting his life on foolish and selfish pursuits.  Don’t let it happen to you.  One of the reasons Samson is mentioned in the Bible is so we can avoid making the same mistakes he did.

Samson’s Mistaken Marriage

Please read Judges 14 in your Bible.  For myself, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Our first look at the adult Samson is in Judges 14, where Samson makes a big mistake in marriage, but God use it to get him busy about soldiering the people of Israel out from under the Philistine boot.  While the account is deadly serious, it has some comedic elements and therefore reminds one of marriage in general.  Marriage is a deep well from which those of us who have a sense of humor can draw.  In the spirit of the passage, let me offer a couple humorous takes on marriage.

The speaker at a women’s club was lecturing on the subject of marriage.  Her point was that women are to be partners with their husbands, not to mother them.  To reinforce this point, she excitedly asked the audience of women, “How many of you want to mother your husband?”

Only one woman raised her hand.  The speaker was shocked.  This had never happened before, in all the times she had given this speech.  She asked, “Do you really want to mother your husband?”

“Mother?” the woman echoed.  “I thought you said smother!”

Now, in the interest of fairness, I offer this view from the other side of aisle.

A guy was out for a walk when he saw a guy walking a dog.  The pooch was an impressive specimen of a German Shepherd.  “Nice dog!” he said.

“I got this dog for my wife,” he replied.

The man sighed.  “Sure wish I could make a trade like that.”

In today’s passage we’ll see Samson, the biblical macho man, making a number of mistakes, sinning against God.  But the big mistake, the one that gets to the heart of the matter, is Samson’s mistaken marriage.

Samson proves God can accomplish His will with our help or in spite of our helping ourselves.

  1. Samson Sin #1 = Marrying a Pagan Woman.

This was a culture of arranged marriages.  That’s why, in spite of being the strongest man in history, Samson still asked his father to arrange for him to marry her because that’s the way those folks got married (1+2).

This was “love at first sight” or “lust at first sight,” or something equally unreliable.  Samson made this decision based only on what he’d SEEN.  He doesn’t even meet or talk to this woman until v. 7, after the marriage had been arranged!

Mr. & Mrs. M. tried to get Samson to do right; they may be a little child-centered, but are otherwise not at fault.  What was the right thing to do? As we read in Deuteronomy 7:1-6, God had expressly forbidden marriage between His people and pagans.  He knew it would lead to divided loyalties and then idolatry.  Accordingly, Samson’s parents objected to his intended being an UNCIRCUMCISED PHILISTINE (3).  Samson’s folks used that phrase in the usual way – as an insult.  You can understand their resentment, as at this time the Philistines WERE RULING OVER ISRAEL (4), and had been for forty years (13:1).

Naturally, they preferred a nice local girl.  The word RELATIVES refers to the tribe of Dan.  (No jokes about inbreeding, please.)  ALL OUR PEOPLE refers to the nation of Israel.  You can almost hear a Jewish mother say, “Can’t you find a good JEWISH girl?”

Here’s the important verse of the passage, the part that proves God can do His will with or without our cooperation.  Verse four explains God’s plan was to force a confrontation between Samson and the Philistines and a feud over a beautiful woman is a time-honored way to start a fight.

Samson was selfish and stubborn.  Here again with the “love at first sight” thing; the NIV translates v. 3 to say, “SHE’S THE RIGHT ONE FOR ME.”  It literally means, “She is right in my eyes.”  This is Samson being selfish and undisciplined, disobedient to the law of God.

This attitude characterized the Israelites at this time.  As 17:6 & 21:25 elaborate, IN THE DAYS ISRAEL HAD NO KING EVERYONE DID AS HE SAW FIT.   This sounds very close to the condition of the whole human race before God destroyed them with the flood: Genesis 6:5 states, EVERY INCLINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF THE HUMAN HEART WAS ONLY EVIL ALL THE TIME.

  1. Samson Sin #2 = Breaking t Nazirite Rules.

REMINDER = in looking at chapter 13, we learned that to be a Nazirite was to take on an additional set of rules in order to more fully dedicate one’s self to God.  Samson was supposed to follow these rules his entire life.  It is implied that this special relationship with God was the source of his miraculous strength.

Rule #1 = abstain from all fruit of the grapevine.

Verse eight tells us Samson was in a vineyard alone.  “When mom’s away, the kids will play.”  Here, in one place, at one time, it looks like he broke TWO of the Nazirite rules.

To be fair, we have to note three things.  One, we’re just observing opportunity here.  Why had he chosen to go to the vineyard alone and to meet the future Mrs. Samson there beside?

Two, this was the site where he’d had a miraculous experience of the Holy Spirit and killed that lion (5-6).  Maybe he went there to see what was left of the lion.

Three, the text does not specifically say Samson ate any grapes.  BUT if he had, it was a violation of the Nazirite rules.

Rule #2 = avoid touching a dead body.

As he traveled with his parents from Zorah to Timnah, the family walked through a vineyard (5-6).   Timnah was a town situated in the same valley as Zorah.  But apparently they weren’t travelling close together, because suddenly, a YOUNG LION (sent by the Lord) decided he looked like lunch, charging and roaring at him.

Verse six is the second time we’ve read this about Samson = THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CAME POWERFULLY ON him.  This empowerment went right to Samson’s muscles and enabled him to tear the lion apart as easily as one would tear apart a YOUNG GOAT.

It’s a miracle.  Super strength!  (See also 14:19, 15:14 and 16:28-29.)

Samson gave Mr. & Mrs. Manoah the “mushroom treatment,” he kept mum on the subject.  That will be an important point later in the story.  Somehow, Samson is the only one who knew about the lion attack.

SOME TIME LATER (8-9), Samson returned to the site of his victory.  It must’ve been quite a while later, because some bees had taken over the rotting remains of the YOUNG LION and established a colony there.  Without ANY sense of hygiene, Samson scoops out TWO hands full of the honey from the lion carcass.  GROSS!  Worse, he spreads his germs to his parents.  WHY would you eat honey off another person’s hands?!  Because he didn’t bother to tell them where it came from, I suppose.  To my way of thinking, the fact that Samson didn’t tell his parents where the honey came from implies that his visit to the vineyard included violation(s) of his Nazirite commitments.

Interestingly, a beehive in a carcass was a widely-believed thing in the ancient world.  The Egyptians related bees to their bull-god Apis.  The scientific name of the honeybee is Apis, an keeping bees is called “apiculture,” with beehives called “apiaries.”  Modern science shows that bees will make hives in empty spaces of all kinds.  A gutted rib cage would be just about ideal.

The Law of Moses (see Numbers 19:13) forbade touching a dead HUMAN body, declaring that person “unclean.” This is a lion’s corpse, not a human’s, so does this not count against Samson?  One part of the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:6) forbid touching A DEAD BODY, not being specific about which kind.  So, to be fair, it’s iffy.  I mean, what Samson did was gross, but was it really a sin?

Rule #3 = Abstain from intoxicating drinks.

What can we prove here?  Verse ten says that they held a wedding feast, AS WAS CUSTOMARY FOR YOUNG MEN.  What happened at the FEAST?  We don’t know exactly, but the Hebrew word for FEAST is literally translated as “a drinking party.”  If this was anything like a “bachelor party” then what is CUSTOMARY in our culture is binge drinking and bad behavior.

If you import our culture’s practice of a bachelor party, that might not be an exact fit.  If we’ve learned anything about the Bible, we should learn that we do not live in the same culture.  Assume nothing.  Research everything.

So what can we take away from this chapter?  The marriage is the definitive sin, the rest is a little sketchy.  God used Samson’s sinful stubbornness to push him along a path of confrontation with the Philistines.

  1. Sam’s Sin #3 = Not Taking His Job Seriously.

The 30 companions with whom he feasted may’ve been spies.  You’ve got to wonder, did Samson think this through?  Let’s do it for him: You’re in enemy territory and the enemy  invites 30 local guys to your party; any chance at least one of them is reporting to the enemy king?

Verse eleven gives us a reason to think these 30 men were spies: WHEN THE PEOPLE [of Timnah] SAW HIM, THEY CHOSE THIRTY MEN TO BE HIS COMPANIONS.  They made these arrangements after the SAW Samson and decided he might just be a threat.  I’d guess Samson LOOKED like a mighty man.  He had the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger but the mind of Larry the Cable Guy.

My guess is that these 30 guys were the Philistine version of “protective custody,” there in case Samson wanted to make trouble.

The riddle (12-18) was a sign he wasn’t acting responsibly.  Instead, he was gambling and goofing around.  This does not seem very macho: the bet involved CLOTHES.  It’s like Samson is betting in order to get a closet full of tuxes.  Exchanging riddles was, in that culture, a typical activity.  People of that time enjoyed riddles as contests of wit or skill.

Samson shows off his cleverness with a cute rhyming couplet.  The riddle involves the honey he obtained from the lion’s carcass.  Since, as the text plainly shows us, only Samson knew this happened, the 30 groomsmen can’t begin to guess the answer, even over three days of guessing.

Desperate and about to lose the bet, the 30 feasters turn to their countrywoman.  Rather than appeal to her patriotism, they threaten to burn her and her dad down with their house (15).  Spies or not, they are not nice.

By their words in v. 15, we understand they suspected that the whole wedding thing was a ruse to trick them out of their wardrobes and they think Miss Philistine is in on the scam.  This riddle gaming thing was serious business and an unusual amount of cash.

Samson’s fiancé uses the stereotypical tricks of crying and nagging (16-17).  This is a preview of Samson’s affair with Delilah (16:1-22).  It’s amazing to think that God gave Samson this kind of warning and he STILL fell for Delilah.  Eventually, she wore him out with her tears and pleas, and he gave her the answer, which she then passed on to the 30 Philistine groomsmen.

These guys savored their victory in secret until the very last moment, when they declared the answer (18).  Samson’s retort is not at all nice, calling his betrothed a HEIFER!  As goofy as this situation seems to us, it was the means God used to provoke the first confrontation between Samson and the Philistines.

  1. Sam Sin #4 = Had a Quick & Violent Temper.

Samson killed and stole in order to pay his debt.  ASHKELON was one of the capital cities of Philistia, so Samson is striking right into the heart of the enemy.  Samson selected the 30 best-dressed men in Ashkelon, killed them, and stole their fine clothing, which he used to pay off his debt to his 30 gambling buddies.

Feeling betrayed by his fiancé, Samson was angry with her and effectively abandoned her, the woman he’d stubbornly insisted on having for his wife.  No doubt this was a problem: some practical-minded person said, “We’ve been having a wedding feat all week, it’d be a shame to waste it.  Somebody volunteer to marry this pretty little gal!”  This would also avoid disgracing the jilted bride.  As we will see in the next chapter, Samson was unaware of these arrangements.  Boy is he gonna be mad!

In Samson we have a guy with commitment issues: like that’s a new story!  This is the climax of the story of Samson; the remaining two chapters of how he took the fight to the enemy.  This chapter shows how God used Samson’s character flaws of impulsiveness, selfishness, and stubbornness to deliver His people.

Two things we can learn from Samson: one, life is much easier when we obey God.  If we follow His lead to do His will, we don’t have to end up defeated by our enemies.  Two, even people with the Holy Spirit do not have other-worldly perfection.  Even with the Spirit’s help, we still struggle against our character flaws and temptations to sin.

This chapter is more about God than Samson.  God’s will is going to be done, whether we cooperate with it or not.  Samson illustrates how our stubbornness and defiance does NOT deter the fulfillment of the will of God in that person’s life.

Impure Heart or a Pure Heart?

Get and keep the kind of heart God has for you.

If I asked you to name a consumer product that is laboratory tested to be “99 and 44/100 pure,” could you name it?  Hint: the name is found in Psalm 45:8.

I have often thought of that trademarked phrase as a metaphor of the human heart.  Impure by nature, and always at least 56/100ths short of absolute purity, the heart is a symbol of why we need God in our lives.  Why the problem of sin is unsolvable in our own strength.  Without Jesus, the human heart is a puzzle with at least one piece missing, the very picture of never good enough.  Grace is the answer and the path to perfect purity.

  1. An impure heart is the source of sin (Mark 7:20-23).

Context = This is one of the many confrontations between Jesus and Jewish religious leaders.  This particular one is a dispute about keeping the letter of the Law while violating its spirit.

Comment = Jesus showed that keeping the Spirit is more important than superficially obeying the letter.

The hypocrites’ view was that external things like hand-washing DEFILE a pers0n.  As ridiculous and nit-picky as it may sound to our ears, the religious leaders were leveling what they saw as a serious charge against Jesus’ disciples.  The seriousness of the charge is implied in the length of Jesus’ reply.  I doubt He’d waste time on something trivial.

In Mark’s language, to be “defiled” meant to be impure; guilty of sin.  A defiled person was excluded from the temple until they were cleansed by ceremony & sacrifice required by the Law.  There was often a waiting period too.

Jesus’ taught that the seriousness of the matter is dependent on the condition of one’s heart, not one’s hands.  Logically, it is possible for a person to obey all the hand-washing rituals perfectly and yet not have God in their heart.  Having clean hands in no way proves a clean heart.  Dirty hands are a symptom, not the sickness.  The real sickness, the cause of the problem of sin is the condition of a person’s heart.

In fact, as we see from Jesus’ list, sins flow from a sinful heart.  As He described it, EVIL THOUGHTS come from a person’s HEART and they, in turn, lead to all sorts of evil deeds and sins.

Interestingly, listing sins like this is something Jesus did not often do in the Gospels.  It is not an exhaustive list – it was not intended to be – but a sample of what a human heart can produce.  They go from t more obvious/overt/sensational sins to more subtle/covert/ commonplace ones, but Jesus is not ranking them.  All sins have deadly consequences.

As Jesus summarized in v. 23, it is the overflow of evil from within a person that truly defiles them. This is a point Jesus often tried to make in conversation with the Jewish religious leaders; He said it three times in this passage (vs. 15, 20, & 23).

  1. A pure heart produces righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22-26).

Context = Paul wrote Timothy at length about how he was to deal with false teachers. One step is to make sure his spiritual life was in order.

Comment = A PURE HEART is two-sided; it involves fleeing from evil and pursuing good.  Part One – avoiding evil – is expressed in the phrases FLEE THE EVIL DESIRES OF YOUTH (“youth” having more to do with spiritual immaturity more than age) and DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH (“refuse”).

As Jesus did in Mark 7, Paul listed actions that spring from EVIL DESIRES: FOOLISH & STUPID ARGUMENTS (23), QUARRELS (23), and resentment (24).  These sins divide people, and that’s all they really accomplish.  In t heat of the moment, we think something important is at stake, but truth is that the argument is more sound and fury, empty of significance.

Part Two is to PURSUE godly actions.  PURSUE means just what you think it means: to be active, continuously seeking God’s way. Virtuous deeds don’t happen by accident; they have to be actively pursued.  Paul offers a sampler of virtues: RIGHTEOUSNESS, FAITH, LOVE, and PEACE are gifts from God, but we have to choose to express them in our words and deeds.  KIND TO EVERYONE and NOT QUARRELSOME are characteristic of spiritually maturing people, folk who understand they don’t always have to be right or insist on their own way (25).  Indeed, God’s people are characterized by gentleness, even when they are bringing correction to someone else’s life (25).

Pure-hearted people act in virtuous ways because they have a godly agenda, not a selfish one.  For example, their aim in bringing a rebuke is IN THE HOPE THAT GOD WILL GRANT THEM REPENTANCE LEADING TO A KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH, AND THAT THEY WILL COME TO THEIR SENSES AND ESCAPE THE TRAP OF THE DEVIL, WHO HAS TAKEN THEM CAPTIVE TO DO HIS WILL (25-26).  In this very lengthy sentence we see Timothy’s aim was to be to deliver these people from captivity to the devil caused by his lies.  Having this aim required placing God’s will and the good of the other person in higher than his own feelings or benefit; to have a purity of good purpose.  These virtues have to be commanded because they aren’t always part of our nature.  In our heart we enjoy winning arguments, spouting off, or putting people in their place.  But these sinful motives pollute our hearts and dilute the purity God desires.

Paul is here reminding Timothy that even people who choose to be our adversaries are NOT our enemy.  Instead, they are victims of the Enemy, captives of Satan.  Therefore, gentleness aimed at freeing them from the influence of the Enemy is what God wants.

The answer is, of course, IVORY soap.  It has been advertised with that slogan since the late 1800s.

Right from the Beginning #7

(Please read Genesis 3:7-24 in your Bible.  I have used the (c) 2011 NIV for these remarks.)

Jesus calls us to be people who live in present-tense.  This is not human nature.  An average person’s anxiety is focused on :
40% — things that will never happen
30% — things about the past that can’t be changed
12% — things about criticism by others, mostly untrue
10% — about health, which gets worse with stress
8% — about real problems that will be faced
Stop trying to grapple with the what ifs¨ and let God take care of it. You simply make that long term investment in God’s kingdom day by day.
While touring Italy, a man visited a cathedral that had been completed on the outside only. Once inside, the traveler found an artist kneeling before an enormous wall upon which he had just begun to create a mosaic. On some tables nearby were thousands of pieces of colored ceramic. Curious, the visitor asked the artist how he would ever finish such a large project. The artist answered that he knew how much he could accomplish in one day. Each morning, he marked off an area to be completed that day and didn’t worry about what remained outside that space. That was the best he could do; and if he faithfully did his best, one day the mosaic would be finished.
<This information was found in Today in the Word, September 5, 1995, p. 32.  It was retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-paul-fritz-stories-anxiety-guilt-10217.asp on 11/10/16.>

The difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood is as crucial today as it has ever been.  Consider the devastating consequences of false guilt and untrue anxiety on the human personality.  And there are larger, theological and philosophical issues at stake: we need a macro-narrative in this culture that exalts micro-narratives and is bent on extreme individualism.  Post-modernism may be a fad but people of faith need authoritative answers that set human nature in its most true – most biblical – roots.  To this end we have delved into Genesis 1-3 and complete this series with this seventh installment

  1. What was the people’s offense (3:6)?

They both ate fruit from the forbidden tree.  This verse does not describe the trees, but it does name two of them.

– The Tree of Life.

– The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

On the basis of the information given, I imagine that they were all the same kind of tree.  This would mean that, to Adam and Eve, God’s command seemed arbitrary; there was no visual reason for setting these two trees aside as special.  I believe this detail is implied in the text to reinforce the fact that our understanding of God’s commands is not required, only our obedience.  If we trust God, we obey immediately and fully.

It’s worth noting repeatedly that v. 6 shows Adam had been there all along and did/said nothing.  Though it is a detail easily overlooked, the text makes it plain that Adam was there all along: HER HUSBAND, WHO WAS WITH HER.

Are you surprised or not to note Adam’s contribution in vs. 1-5?  It was nothing.  He said and did nothing during the whole exchange between the WOMAN and the SERPENT.  He did nothing to stop her from taking fruit from the tree and eating it.  Worse, when the situation turned to him, he joined the WOMAN in her disobedience; HE ATE IT.

  1. What were the consequences of their sin (3:7-24)?

Shame (7).  Whereas in chapter two their nakedness had been a sign of their innocence, Adam and the WOMAN’s sudden knowledge of evil turned their nakedness to shame.

FIG LEAVES are the only description of the trees in the account.  Could it be that the garden was populated with fig trees? That is the reason for my earlier imaginative interpretation that there was only one kind of tree in the garden.  Later in the Bible the fig tree is used as a symbol of Israel, the people of God.  What’s important here in verse seven is that they attempted to hide their nakedness with roughly made garments, composed of what was at hand.  They must’ve been desperate for a cover-up.

Fear (8-10).  Hiding becomes a coping mechanism; they attempted to conceal themselves entirely from God.  Maybe they thought their leaf wardrobe would be like “camo” and help them blend into the trees.  Notice how the writer sets the scene of shame and a frantic cover-up in contrast to the idyllic paradise: when God arrived on the scene, He walked IN THE COOL OF THE DAY.  God called out to our parents; not because He didn’t know their location, or what they had done (He appeared immediately after their sin), but to call to them personally, in a loving, non-confrontative way.

Adam offered a lame explanation and in the process exposes his moral failure: “I WAS AFRAID BECAUSE I WAS NAKED.”  Of what was Adam AFRAID?

– Embarrassment?  It’s possible.  I know I would not be comfortable standing before God with only a salad around my hips.

– Wrath?  Adam had never known wrath – it had never been necessary before.  So, unless this came with the KNOWLEDGE gained from the fruit, I can’t see a fear of wrath motivating him.

– Most likely, death.  In 2:17 God had warned Adam that he would die if he ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Surely that was on Adam’s mind as he tried to hide from God.

Division in relationships (11-13).  God confronted Adam with the truth. Again, “WHO TOLD YOU THAT YOU WERE NAKED?” is not a question asked for information’s sake, but to draw Adam out and allow him to be responsible for his mistake and ask God’s forgiveness.  Likewise the third and fourth rhetorical questions God asked.  If we understand God’s three questions as being opportunities for Adam to repent, he failed miserably.  Sin had already driven a wedge between him and God, so when he blamed the WOMAN, he not only failed to repent, but opened the world’s first experiment in “the blame game.” So instead of fixing his relationship with God, he makes matters worse by offending his wife as well!

The WOMAN followed Adam’s lead, and blamed the SERPENT.  Comically, the SERPENT has no one left to blame and soon it will have no fingers with which to point!  This leads to rhetorical question #4; “WHAT IS THIS YOU HAVE DONE?”  (The same question God posed to the first murderer, Cain, in 4:9-10.)

Curses (14-19).  By being at the end of the line, the SERPENT lost the Blame Game and is cursed first; it is cursed to groveling & enmity (14-15).  In part 6 we theorized that the SERPENT was an animal unlike any of the other animals of creation, given powers of speech and reason but not the IMAGE OF GOD.  The divine curse also sets it apart from all the other animals created on Day Six.

Groveling.  Micah 7:17 depicts God’s wrath on pagan nations as causing them to “lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth.”  In the Bible, this is a way of describing total defeat.  Crawling and eating dust will be the way of life for the SERPENT for the remainder of its life.

ENMITY means that all the OFFSPRING of the SERPENT and the WOMAN will forever hate one another.  Some people have seen the last part of verse fifteen as a prophecy, predicting that Jesus would gain the final victory over Satan.

The curses on the WOMAN included painful childbirth and masculine authority (16).  Being fruitful and multiplying will come at a high cost for the WOMAN from that moment on.  God says this twice, so we know it’s important.  “YOUR DESIRE WILL BE FOR YOUR HUSBAND AND HE WILL RULE OVER YOU” is clearly not a description of God’s plan for husband-wife relations, it is a curse.

Some object that this statement is putting words in God’s mouth, trying to justify the paternalistic culture of the Bible writers.  That’s just nonsense.  God is exercising His wrath on the WOMAN for her role in this whole awful affair, not rewarding the man.  As the text makes very plain (2:24), God created the marriage relationship to be a special blessing, the two becoming ONE FLESH.  Now sin has entered the picture and marriage becomes a tug of war, a struggle for dominance with the WOMAN the loser.

The curses on ADAM were toilsome labor & death (17-19).  We’ve observed that God intended from the beginning that His people should work (2:15).   While it is a four-letter word, work itself is NOT a curse.  Instead, God’s wrath on ADAM was to make his work frustrating – it will become toilsome – hard labor and sometimes unfruitful.

More importantly, death enters the picture: “FOR DUST YOU ARE AND TO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN.”  As we’ve seen, Adam will not immediately die, but as long as he had access to the TREE OF LIFE, he would have lived indefinitely.

Male authoritarianism is revisited in v. 20 as Adam named Eve.  This is the first of the curses we see coming to pass.  Up to this point, she was simply called THE WOMAN (2:23); she had no personal name.  But in v. 20 Adam named her; this is the first exercise of the male authority God warned the WOMAN would be her due for disobedience.  The act of naming the WOMAN eve is an extension of what we saw in 2:19-20; God delegated part of His authority to ADAM when He tasked the man with naming the animals.  He is exercising the same authority here in 3:20.

A change in the function of animals: they became a resource for human beings (21).  Since FIG LEAVES do not make a very good garment, God took the skins of animals to make our parents a nice set of leather clothes.  Fancy. Formerly, animals existed for their own sake; now they exist to sustain people.  This act would draw an obligatory protest from PETA (had it been in existence) but nicety gives way to necessity.

Going back to death again, God explained in v. 22 two reasons for exiling our parents from paradise.  They now had knowledge of evil and were forever changed by it.  They could not be allowed to be LIKE God in that way and remain in the Garden.

The man was cursed with death.  If he were allowed to remain in the Garden he could continue to eat from the TREE OF LIFE and thereby avoid death.  This is NOT saying that our parents were created to be immortal and lost it – just the opposite – they were created mortal and needed access to the TREE OF LIFE to be immortal.  And so we read in Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25, THERE IS A WAY WHICH SEEMS RIGHT TO A MAN, BUT ITS END IS DEATH.  No doubt many tombstones could be marked with an epitaph that reads, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”  Like Adam and Eve, we were tempted by the appeal of sin, but failed to weigh its consequences and suffered them just the same.

A final consequence is loss in relationship with God; in this case taking the form of banishment from the garden (23-24).  V. 23 indicates that Adam would immediately begin the toilsome work God indicated in the curse: TO WORK THE GROUND FROM WHICH HE HAD BEEN TAKEN.  What irony!  The very stuff from which his life had been made would now frustrate and exhaust ADAM!

In case they had any notions of sneaking back in, God put them to rest by stationing angelic guards at the entrance to the Garden, armed with a FLAMING SWORD!  What they had lost because of sin, Adam and Eve would never regain.  This put them at a physical distance from God; there would be no more walks IN THE COOL OF THE DAY (8).

  1. What the New Testament has to say about the Fall.

– Regarding Adam = Adam’s sin brought death to the human race.  (See Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.)

– Regarding Eve = Eve’s daughters are subject to Adam’s sons.  (See the Apostle Paul’s use of Genesis to support gender roles in the First Century Church in 1 Corinthians 11:7-12, 2 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:11-15.  These passages present a challenge for moderns.  Working out a biblical and useful interpretation takes courage, wisdom, and a commitment to dialogue.)

One mom was out walking with her 4-year-old daughter when her girl picked up something from the ground and started to put it in her mouth. The mother tells what happens in her own words:
“I took the item away from her and I asked her not to do that.” My daughter quickly asked, “Why?” “Because it’s been lying outside, you don’t know where it’s been, it’s dirty and probably has germs,” I replied.
At this point, my daughter looked at me with total admiration and asked, “Wow! How do you know all this stuff?”
I thought quickly and said, “All moms know this stuff. It’s on the Mommy Test. You have to know it, or they don’t let you be a Mommy.”
We walked along in silence for 2 or 3 minutes, as she pondered this new information. “Oh…I get it!” she beamed, “So if you don’t pass the test you have to be the daddy?”
I smiled and replied, “Exactly.”
<From a sermon by Mark Opperman, Mothers: Guardians of the Heart, 6/19/2012, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-humor-mothersday-82154.asp on 11/10/16.>

You see how misinformation gets started?  But seriously, it has been our objective throughout these series of messages to correct misunderstandings and get Genesis right from the beginning.

With that goal in view: in case we missed it in 2:4, let’s review and reassert the point of view of the author of Genesis: THIS IS THE ACCOUNT OF THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH WHEN THEY WERE CREATED, WHEN THE LORD GOD MADE THE EARTH AND THE HEAVENS.  He is writing with the purpose of accounting for, or explaining how what is came into being.  There is nothing in his mind about symbolism or allegory or other such stuff and nonsense as modern writers apply to Genesis.  Moses wrote history.  He wrote it as it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.

That is another reason we have approached our study of Genesis as a study of facts, not symbols.  We have seen time and again that when we don’t let scientific arrogance or modernism get in the way that the facts do speak for themselves.  They present a coherent and consistent development of the origins of the human race and the world in which we live.

Right from the Beginning #6

(Please read Genesis 3:1-6 in your Bible. I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

We spent last month observing all the wonderful aspects of creation.  God made a home and then He made people to live in it.  Our parents, Adam and Eve, lived in paradise.

We don’t have any notion of the amount of time that passed between Genesis 2 and 3.  We don’t know how long our parents enjoyed their home.  But it clearly did not last.  How did we get from the creation God Himself said was GOOD to the world as we know it?

The first part of that answer is given in Genesis 3.  In what theologians call “The Fall from Grace” or simply “The Fall,” all creation goes from blessed to cursed.  Because of the sin of the first family, creation is compromised; humanity is banished from its home and worst of all, loses its close relationship with its Creator.

This Fall is staggering; hard to imagine.  What’s worse, it happened so easily, so swiftly.  The Fall is no great drama of struggle, only the disgusting and discouraging account of how our folks literally ate us out of house and home.  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie (RMS 1:25) and found out too late the terrible cost of the bargain they struck.  It was too easy.

In fact, I would say that the account of the Fall is a tale very suited for our modern age.  At the center of Genesis 3 is a search for knowledge.  The SERPENT enticed the WOMAN with the possibility that she could gain knowledge without learning or experience.  Further, that such knowledge would make her “LIKE GOD.”

The search for knowledge apart from God is one of the driving motivations of secular society in our time.  In the last three centuries science has been hijacked and misused to be the means of seeking knowledge apart from knowing God.

We hardly pause to consider whether the knowledge we find is for good or evil, whether it helps or hurts or both; we plunge ahead greedily, unencumbered by a moral point of view that we inherit from our Creator.

In the process, our knowledge has created as many problems as it has solved.  What has not changed is human nature and our tendency to misuse what we know to our own self-destruction.  Consider: we learn the secret of how to release energy from the atom and what’s the first thing we do with it?  Weaponize it. Wage war with it.

It’s clear that the story of the Fall is our personal story, it is our racial character writ small in the lives of the first family.  Let us begin our study of the Fall by owning it.  Let us learn the terrible price of sin so we will not repeat our parents’ mistake.

  1. Who/what is THE SERPENT?

The author of Genesis does not characterize or describe the MAN or WOMAN in any way other than NAKED, but he has some things to tell us about the SERPENT.  For that reason alone we should pay attention to what we learn from Genesis about the SERPENT.

It was MORE CRAFTY than the other WILD ANIMALS.  We’ll take a look at the two salient points of this description.

First, MORE CRAFTY.  The word CRAFTY can also be translated as “shrewd.”  This is an ambiguous word.  Depending on the end to which it is used, it can be a virtue or a vice.  Proverbs 12:16 & 13:16 say it is a quality wise people will cultivate, and in MTW 10:16 Jesus urged His disciples to be AS WISE AS SERPENTS, BUT AS HARMLESS AS DOVES.  When it is harnessed to do evil, shrewdness can also be a vice (Exodus 21:14; Joshua 9:4; Job 5:12; 15:5).  It is so shrewd it not only knew how to speak, but it knew how to manipulate Eve with its words.  In the Hebrew language this is a play on words: “Eve thought the fruit would make her shrewd, but she found out she was nude.”

Second, WILD ANIMALS.  We learned in 1:24 the phrase WILD ANIMALS was one of the three kinds of land animals, the group of predators.  So the SERPENT was shrewder than all the other predatory animals.  But in 3:14, God cursed the SERPENT ABOVE ALL LIVESTOCK & ALL WILD ANIMALS (including both prey animals and predatory animals), so it was also the most cursed.          Elsewhere in the Bible we learn Eve was deceived by the serpent’s CUNNING (2 Corinthians 11:3).  Revelation 12:9 refers to Satan as THAT ANCIENT SERPENT, one example of other verses where a serpent is a metaphor for Satan.

Is this a literal serpent or a symbol?  On the “symbol side,” the fact that an animal is speaking is a detail some use as evidence that the SERPENT of Genesis 3 is symbolic.  The Bible uses the SERPENT as a symbol of evil, an enemy of life, & a force of chaos (see Isaiah 30:6).  Serpents are also a biblical symbol of craftiness.  Psalm 58:4-5 goes so far as to say that a cobra may outwit the snake charmer.

God declared serpents to be “unclean” animals; not suitable as food or as a sacrifice.  More than that, they became a symbol of the MOST unclean animal; something at the bad end of creation.

However, on the literal side, in Genesis 3, the SERPENT is not identified as Satan.  The text in question should be our primary source of information to answer the question of literal intent.

Can we put all this information together to form a theory that makes sense?  Yes.  Since we have no good reason to take GNS 3 as being anything other than literally, historically true, we begin by saying that an actual animal was involved.  This animal is unlike the snakes of our own time in that it had the powers of speech and thought but did not bear the IMAGE OF GOD.  It’s horrifying to imagine a thinking, strategizing, shrewd predator, but relax: it no longer exists.  And since the rest of the Bible attributes this work of deception to Satan and calls him a SERPENT, we can assume Satan possessed the form of this extinct animal.

This begs the question, why would God create such an animal?   For the simple fact that if people really have free will, then they have an actual choice to make.  Had God put our parents in the Garden where there were no other voices, no temptations, then they did not truly have a choice, did they?

  1. What was THE SERPENT’s deception (3:1-6)?

Tactic #1 = It went to THE WOMAN as Gods commands were given to ADAM.  The command was given in 2:16-17, the WOMAN was created in 2:21-22.  This implies that the WOMAN knew the command only second-hand; Adam told her about it.  The WOMAN’s replies to the SERPENT are not precisely correct; this may indicate she didn’t fully understand the commandment.  It makes sense in a crafty way to approach the person who got the command secondhand.  They will usually know less and feel less strongly about it.

Tactic #2 = It questioned the commandment to cause diversion.  In verse one, the SERPENT deliberately misquoted God.  This is a tactic to couch the commandment in its own terms, diverting the WOMAN from the truth.  It is phrased as a question in a typically passive-aggressive way of misleading people as questions don’t usually excite opposition as much as statements.  The SERPENT was being indirect.  The diversion worked, because the WOMAN misquoted God; He did NOT prohibit touching the TREE, only eating the fruit of the tree.

Notice how this slanders God, diminishing His generosity.  God gave them access to all the other trees in the garden, but the SERPENT’s question diverted the WOMAN’s attention away from those and focused on the one forbidden tree and made God seem stingy to forbid them that one.

Tactic #3 = It contradicted the commandment; caused doubt.  In verses four and five, the SERPENT takes a more direct approach, using half-truths to deceive.

The first half-truth was the definition of death. God did warn they WOULD CERTAINLY DIE, but He did not say it would be a physical death or that it would be immediate death.  The SERPENT was half-right to say they would NOT DIE, for they did not die immediately.  As a matter of biblical record, Adam lived to be 930 (see Genesis 5:5)!

The second half-truth was the SERPENT’s promise to the WOMAN that her eyes would be OPENED.  In verse seven the text says that both their eyes were opened, but what they saw wasn’t god-like or even good; they saw they were NAKED and knew shame for the first time.

The third half-truth was the SERPENT’s promise they would be like God.  That did happen, but it was not a good thing.  In v. 22, God explained that the first family had to be banished from the GARDEN because they had NOW BECOME LIKE ONE OF US, KNOWING GOOD AND EVIL.  The irony is that they were already “like God” in the sense that they were endowed with the IMAGE OF GOD.

The fourth half-truth was the SERPENT’s promise that the fruit held knowledge.  How symptomatic it is of human nature to hunger for knowledge without having to work for it or consider the consequences of what we learn.  The problem here is what they learned.  Before they disobeyed God, Adam and the WOMAN knew only good, by disobeying, they knew both good and evil, but that knowledge was about the only thing they shared with God.

These are examples the misuse of shrewdness to twist words to imply a meaning they were not intended to convey.  One more thing: notice the SERPENT never directly tells them to eat the fruit, nor even implies it.  It directs attention away from the command of God to the fruit itself.  This is a way temptation often works; indirectly and subtly.

Tactic #4 = It made the fruit out to be more than it was.  Note that two of the three things the WOMAN saw in the fruit were already stated in 2:9 about ALL THE TREES.  Everything God offered them was GOOD FOR FOOD and PLEASING TO THE EYE!  She added the bit about DESIRABLE FOR WISDOM under the influence of the SERPENT’s crafty lies and manipulation.

The phrase GOOD FOR FOOD sounds like a rationalization.  This is the tendency of human/sin nature to make excuses.  For the WOMAN to say it was PLEASING TO THE EYE is an example of materialism.  This is the tendency of human/sin nature to think selfishly and short-term.  The part the woman added, DESIRABLE FOR WISDOM is a falsehood.  This is the tendency of human/sin nature to prefer comfortable lies to discomforting truths.

Even though the Fall is no laughing matter, our first parents have rightly been the object of many jokes.  Here are a few a preacher can share in church:

How did Adam and Eve feel when expelled from the Garden of Eden?

They were definitely put out.

What is one of the first things Adam and Eve did after they were kicked out?  They raised a little Cain.

It has been said that Adam and Eve had the perfect marriage. That was because he didn’t have to hear about all the men she could have married;

and she didn’t have to hear about the way his mother cooked!

A Brit, a Frenchman and a Russian are in a museum viewing a painting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

“Look at their reserve, their calm,” muses the Brit. “They must be British.”

“Nonsense,” the Frenchman disagrees.   “They’re naked, and so beautiful.  Clearly, they are French.”

“No clothes, no shelter,” the Russian points out, “they have only an apple to eat, and they’re being told this is paradise. They are certainly

Russian.”

Adam and Eve had their first fight and Adam got the last word for the last time.  He said, “I’ll wear the plants in this family!”

<Let the user beware: not all the jokes at this website are as clean as these.  Retrieved from http://www.yuksrus.com/religion_adam_and_eve.html on 11/4/16.>

What can be said about our two parents?  They literally had it all, but after two deceptive comments from a SERPENT under the influence of Satan, they chucked it all away!  They were deceived, but chose of their own free will to be “like” God rather than love God.

Would any of us have done any better?  Is it possible the account of the Fall is more personally applicable than we’d feel comfortable admitting?

Here at the end of an election cycle, the application of what we’ve learned today should be obvious and relevant: don’t believe everything you hear.  Instead, do as the Bible commands and compare all claims of truth to the Word of God.  Do not be deceived by the enemy’s lies and do not surrender any of God’s gifts to temptation.

(To see the video version of this message, please look up “EBCSF” on YouTube.)