Can this be?

A friend gave me a book to read. Over the years, I’ve grown to be leery of these “Hey, you gotta read this!” books. In my opinion, never known to be particularly humble, there are many people who grab hold of a part of the truth and then run with it, reaching some outrageous conclusion or another. To do that, they need to ignore the other parts of the same truth which, if you pay attention to those parts, would lead you to a much less outrageous destination. As Florence Littauer once famously said, “Why let the facts ruin a good story?”

And so, when Ken pressed this book into my hand, I resolved to hang on to it for a month or two, and then return it with the lame, but ever-safe, shoulder shrug and, “Sorry, man, I just didn’t have time to get to it.” But something happened. I glanced at the portion he wanted me to read, and the glance led to a turn of the page. And another. And another. Soon, I couldn’t put it down.

The book? The Harbinger, by Jonathan Cahn, who apparently leads a religious ministry of mainly Jewish origins in New Jersey.

What got me so hooked? The fact that Mr. Cahn pieced together obscure pieces of factually documented history in a way I’ve never seen it done, to stunning effect. He did it by writing a fictional account of someone who had dreams and encountered a prophet of some sort, who kept stringing him along to find these obscure facts. The whole thing has a strong air of mysticism about it. That usually doesn’t bode well for me and a book, because my brain is too easily enticed to tear the shrouds away from mysteries and mystics. It’s too easy to come up with something that sounds plausible, and then build an entire fantasy on that wispy foundation. How many people have proclaimed they know the date of the Lord’s return, only to have that date pass and life continue as before?

But this guy is different. The presentation may be mystical, but his facts aren’t.

Which facts?

For starters, both the 2001 and 2008 stock market crashes happened on Elul the 29th on the Jewish calendar. That happened to be the Hebrew date of Shemitah –  seven years apart. It’s the Lord’s command to have a sabbath year every 7th year. Those happened to fall on 2001 and 2008. A stock market crash doesn’t happen on a single day, but in both instances, the events of those days were pivotal:

  • In 2001, the stock market opened after 6 days, having been closed in the aftermath of 9/11. When it opened, the market instantly collapsed.
  • In 2008, the biggest drop of the Dow (777 points for the mystics out there) happened on 29 Elul.

The author’s premise is the Lord says His nation must wipe away all debts on 29 Elul every 7th year. The nation of Israel, as we know, didn’t keep the sabbath year (Shemitah) command for 490 years, so the Lord took it from them with the 70 year exile in Babylon. The author construes the meltdowns of 2001 and 2008 as a similar involuntary wiping out of debt. In my opinion, that’s a bit of a reach, because by no means was all debt wiped away. Some people we would call innocent got hammered hard, and others whom we could call infidels got off lightly. But the fact that a lot of wealth did get wiped away on the two 29 Elul dates is inescapable.

There’s another problem: the crash before 2001 didn’t happen 7 years prior — it was closer to 10 years. Therefore, the premise that stock market crashes happen only on 29 Elul of Shemitah years (every 7th) doesn’t hold up if you go beyond the two specific cases of 2001 and 2008. For instance, 1929′s market crash didn’t happen in a shemitah year.

So… the facts don’t totally support an unqualified acceptance that the two wipe-outs were as absolute as Israel’s exile to Babylon, but it was close enough to keep me engaged.

Especially when he married a specific (though obscure) scripture and more facts.

The Pivot

The pivot around which the entire story is built is an obscure passage: Isaiah 9:10 and 11. Here’s the passage in broader context (NKJV, underline added):

8 The Lord sent a word against Jacob, And it has fallen on Israel.
9 All the people will know— Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria—
Who say in pride and arrogance of heart:
10 “The bricks have fallen down, But we will rebuild with hewn stones;
The sycamores are cut down, But we will replace them with cedars.”
11 Therefore the Lord shall set up The adversaries of Rezin against him, And spur his enemies on,
12 The Syrians before and the Philistines behind; And they shall devour Israel with an open mouth.
For all this His anger is not turned away, But His hand is stretched out still.
13 For the people do not turn to Him who strikes them, Nor do they seek the Lord of hosts.
14 Therefore the Lord will cut off head and tail from Israel, Palm branch and bulrush in one day.

The attitude behind the declaration in verse 10 is defiance. The Lord (as we know) often brings calamity to bring His nation to repentance. In this instance, the accusation of the Lord to the leaders of Israel, through the prophet Isaiah, is that the rulers reacted not with repentance, but defiance, in effect saying to the Lord: “no matter what You bring against us, we can take care of ourselves, and we will.” Dangerous words.

The author then goes back and draws out quotes from American presidents. After 9/11, Pres. Bush says, “We will rebuild!” Those exact three words. And Pres. Obama, upon taking office (and referring to the economic devastation of the Great recession) says, “We will rebuild.” Those three words are buried in the middle of his address, but, when they had to pick a headline to report the address, all the media, from the New York Times to Al Jazeera, as if by some unseen hand, picked the three words from Isaiah 9:10.

Like I said, I’m no mystic, but even I had to raise my eyebrows at that “coincidence.”

History

nyse gwThen the author gets into deep history. George Washington was invested as the first President of the USA on April 20, 1789. There’s a statue of Mr. Washington on the exact spot where he gave his inauguration address, and this photograph shows just how close that is to the present New York Stock Exchange. Are you getting goose bumps yet?

It gets better. See his right hand? Palm down — that was his hand as he put it on the Bible. You can read his inauguration speech here. (God bless the internet.) In it, he states that the guiding light of the new country must be God: “there is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness… the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained…”

And then he closes by declaring God to be “the benign parent of the human race, in humble supplication that since he has been pleased to favour the American people… so his divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the … measures on which the success of this Government must depend.”

The author takes that stand and those words to be almost the same as what Solomon uttered at the dedication of the temple — in other words, a dedication of the new nation to God.

The very first act of Congress under the new President was to walk a few steps to St. Paul’s chapel… to dedicate the new nation to God in prayer.

That’s right: the first official act of the first constituted Congress of America was “Let’s pray.” Regardless of your religious persuasion, that is a fact, well documented. St. Paul’s chapel still is there, right across Church Street from the World Trade Center.

st pauls chapel ny2

Back then, that real estate apparently was part of the St. Paul’s chapel grounds. Therefore, Ground Zero is where the new nation of America was dedicated.

Drawing a mystical connection (or not) between the 9/11 act of terrorism and the prayer of dedication on pretty much the same spot is of course up to you. The author does this with great abandon. He offers up the evidence that the chapel itself was protected from the extensive damage it could have suffered when the towers collapsed, given its incredibly close proximity to the mayhem and destruction. The St. Paul’s Wikipedia site says, “The church survived without even a broken window. Church history declares it was spared by a miracle sycamore on the northwest corner of the property that was hit by debris.”

The sycamore was destroyed in the intense blast from the towers’ collapse, sparing the chapel. They planted a new tree in its place, a spruce. Read the second part of Isaiah 9:10 again. Not exactly a cedar, but a conifer like it. Mystics will see a connection, left brain geeks will say close, but no cigar. Either way, you have to concede: it’s interesting at the very least.

The author (obviously) doesn’t cover my interest, which is: when’s the next Shemitah? The year runs from Sept. 25, 2014 through Sept. 13, 2015. So the last day of the next Sabbath year will be September 13, 2015.

But wait, there’s more. This website provides the reasoning why the year from Sept 2015 to Sept 2016 would be a jubilee year. There appears some disagreement over whether the jubilee cycle these days is 50 years or 49 years (the latter maintaining that jubilee only applies when the entire old land of Israel is occupied by Israel).

What do you think we should do about all of this?

Characters in the Shadows: Jairus

You’ve probably heard the story, we all have. Listed among the hundreds of miracles Jesus performed on earth, Luke 8 tells us about Jairus.

The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly where he’s from, but it seems reasonable to deduce that he was a ruler of the Capernaum synagogue, because Capernaum seemed to serve as a headquarters of sorts for Jesus during the few years of his ministry on earth, and the gospels mention that Jesus was “returning” when this event happened.

Sidenote: Going To Church

Jesus attended the synagogue every week, as the synoptic gospels mention on many occasions. That, right there, is a sermon in itself, especially to those who say something like: “Oh, it won’t make much difference if I go to church or not.” People who say that typically argue that:

1. I don’t need church. Quite true, possibly, but… if there ever was anybody who didn’t need church, it had to be Jesus Christ. Yet He was there every Sabbath, like clockwork. “Need” is obviously not a reason He attended regularly.

2. They don’t like me. They didn’t like Jesus, either. In fact, they wanted to kill him. Odds are any church you go to won’t be that extreme, but Jesus attended faithfully —  despite the hostility.

3. They’re a bunch of hypocrites. Jesus would agree with you on that one, too. One of the main reasons they didn’t like Him was His criticism of their hypocrisy. (Funny how that is: clergy all through the centuries seem to not take too kindly to being called out.) Yet, He didn’t let their hypocrisy stop Him from going. 

4. They’re just out to get my money. Well, Jesus didn’t have any money for them to want to grab, but it seems they were after other people’s money. Jesus didn’t let that shallowness deter Him, either.

All of those arguments may be true and valid. They were for Jesus. But He went anyways. Like praying, attending the synagogue was not a question or a decision to be made. Like Nike, He just did it.

When I read that, I was convicted. Jesus never taught or preached that we have to go to church, but you know what they say: actions speak louder than words. If attending church regularly was such a no-brainer for Jesus, despite all those (valid) objections, my only decision is: do I follow His example or not?

Well, that’s not what I wanted to write about, but it just struck me as I was reading the passage. Back to Jairus.

Jairus

The Bible says he was an overseer of the (presumably Capernaum) synagogue. Since Jesus attended there more than anywhere else, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that Jairus knew Jesus, probably in the way the local pastor knows the guy in the congregation who’s always on him about some error he ostensibly made. In other words, it doesn’t seem likely they hung out together at Peter’s house, which seems to have become the “Jesus Hot Spot” when He was in town.

It’s interesting to observe how the apostles changed once the Holy Spirit fell on them at Pentecost: Peter went from an impulsive coward to a courageous preacher. John started out as a hothead who wanted to squash like a bug anybody who didn’t agree with him, earning him the nickname by Jesus of “son of thunder.” It was only after the Spirit was poured out on him that he became the apostle of love. Or maybe he just mellowed with age.

Because John (in 12:42) had a pretty “son of thunder” view of all religious rulers: “…many believed in Him, but… they didn’t confess him… for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”

Ouch.

Do you also wonder what John thought when he saw the important Jairus fall down before Jesus?

The Need

Jairus was suddenly confronted with a serious need, literally life and death. He might not have been a believer in Jesus as Messiah, but he wasn’t blind: even he could have seen the hundreds who got healed in and around his synagogue on a daily basis.

The problem he had was severe enough that he decided to set aside any differences he may have had with this Jesus character, and swallow his pride. It was a big swallow, as Luke tells us he physically fell down at Jesus’ feet, begging Him to heal his only daughter. For someone prominent to do something like that was as big a deal then as it would be today if, say, your mayor were to fall at your feet in front of a gasping crowd to ask for your help.

Jesus, as we have come to know Him, was merciful, and again let mercy triumph over judgment. He agreed to heal the daughter of Jairus, rather than make him grovel and ask for forgiveness for all those petty little bureaucratic obstacles leaders so often set before their opponents.

Jairus no doubt had been waiting at the shore for Jesus, maybe even pacing up and down as he gazed at the horizon. Imagine the relief, then, when the Master agreed to accompany him home to heal his daughter.

The Delay

And imagine his dismay when the crowd, those lowlifes who just make leaders’ lives miserable with their incessant demands, made Jesus stop and attend to their needs.

His daughter was dying.

He was forced to wait all day till Jesus finally returned in his boat.

And he was first.

They didn’t wait as long as he, they didn’t humble themselves like he did, and they weren’t about to die. Couldn’t they wait till after Jesus attended to his daughter?

But… Jesus, as we know, was touched by a woman who had suffered continuous bleeding for 12 years. (Coincidence that this bleeding happened as long as Jairus’s daughter was alive? We’ll never know, will we? )

And, during the delay, Jairus’s daughter died. We know the rest of the story: Jesus raised her from the dead.

How do you think Jairus felt during this whole episode?

1. Where is God? I’m praying and praying, but he’s out on a boat somewhere, doing other things. Will He ever attend to my need?

2. Desperation makes me forget my pride and prejudice, and gets me to simply cast myself before His feet, submitting to His will and mercy.

3. Joy when He turns my way to meet my need.

4. Angst when He takes His sweet time, and attends to other people first. What’s wrong with me?

5. Dismay when the very thing I feared happens. Now it’s too late. Why bother any more? Guess I’m not significant enough.

6. Unspeakable joy when the delay turns a “regular” intervention into a major miracle.

Sometimes God doesn’t act according to the scripts we lay out before Him. But His mercy and compassion run deeper (and longer) than we could ever suspect.

And it doesn’t matter if we had ignored Him, or even opposed Him, before. God is love and He enjoys showing mercy, not judgment or revenge.

jairus

Characters in the shadows: Gehazi

Gehazi had it all. He was next in the lineage of the greatest prophets in the nation of Israel. Greatest? What about Isaiah, Daniel, and the others who wrote entire books into the canon? No, those were in Judah.

Elijah’s Lineage

Elijah is regarded the greatest prophet from the Northern Kingdom, the one we usually call Israel (or sometimes Ephraim). I’ve always marveled that God would send Moses to his nation at a time when they completely excluded Him from their daily lives and even national life. And, almost to remove all doubt about His unconditional love, He did it again for the apostate nation of Israel, this time with Elijah. Isn’t it interesting to observe that those two, the ones sent to the apostate nation, are the ones who appeared with Jesus Christ at the transfiguration, and who feature prominently in Revelation? Not Isaiah, Jeremiah or Daniel.

It’s interesting how few times physical progeny work out in leadership. Whether in politics, business or ministry, it’s extremely rare that a son or daughter follows fully in the footsteps of their great father. Those who become great and impactful normally do so alone.

And so it was with Elijah: God picked him out of the blue, and then his successor, and instructed him to go recruit Elisha and train him up. Elisha served Elijah in what we today would call an apprenticeship or internship.

Elisha succeeded Elijah in time, asking for a double portion. If you look at this listing of miracles performed, it looks like he indeed performed twice as many recorded miracles as Elijah.

Modeling what was done to him, Elisha then recruited Gehazi to be his servant/intern/apprentice/successor. This gave Gehazi an opportunity most of us would give our eye teeth for.

But, ministry is not for the faint of heart, despite appearances to the contrary. It is also not for those seeking earthly gain.

The Choices

Elijah had no place of residence we know of, and appears to have lived a minimalist existence. Indeed, he seems to have spent a lot of time on the run from the law. He would have fit right in with the hippies of the sixties and seventies. This value system and m.o. were undoubtedly transferred to Elisha, who learned the distinction between the temporal and the eternal by living the life of his mentor. Can you imagine the dinner conversations over a campfire those two had over the years?

God had demonstrated through the ravens by the brook, and the angel on the flight path, that He was well able to meet all of Elijah’s temporal needs. Elisha picked that up, both from what Elijah modeled and from his own walk with God.

The occasions when we have to make life choices are often not of our own choosing. Elisha, when asked what he wanted more than anything else, chose a double portion of what Elijah had. Elijah had nothing in the temporal, but a fortune in the eternal. Elisha knew the difference, and he got his wish.

He followed the strategy of his mentor, ministering and performing miracles. Then, like his mentor, he hired an intern — Gehazi. Gehazi learned from Elisha, the double portion man. No doubt Elisha told him of Elijah’s exploits and we know Gehazi witnessed several of Elisha’s own miracles first hand. Seeing them having many a dinner together is not too much of a reach, maybe not over a campfire, but in the kitchen, because Elisha settled down in Dothan. 

And, just like Elisha, the day dawned unexpectedly where Gehazi had to make a choice that set the direction for the rest of his life. You know the story: Naaman arrived with fancy clothes and other gifts the rich and famous give each other, in order to compensate the man of God for the healing. The man of God knew he had no need of any of those things, and so he declined them.

Gehazi didn’t. He had all the knowledge. Sojourning in Shunem with his boss, the widow had to have told him about the oil. And he witnessed God’s power, raising her son from the dead. He saw God’s all-sufficiency, both temporal and spiritual.

But there’s one thing Gehazi had not learned: the things of the world come with invisible ties — ties to unhappiness, unfulfillment, dissatisfaction, frustration, emptiness, jealousy, miserliness. Is it a coincidence that, when his boss confronted him, he felt compelled to lie? Funny how that works: you start on the path of the world, all innocent and without sin. But it’s not long before the direction of that path, away from the things of the Lord, brings you to a place where you have to lie or do something else you ordinarily would avoid, just to keep on that path. The narrow path of the Lord never brings you into situations like that.

You would think Gehazi, hanging out with such a straight man of God would have figured that out. Sadly, you’d be wrong. There’s more: the things of the world, fame, money, position, power, “success,” those all attract the weirdest and most illogical responses from others — mostly negative: jealousy, criticism, entitlement, judgment, deception, greed, even outright hatred. When the world presents those enticements, that is conveniently omitted from the brochure. But it’s real — ask any lottery winner or millionaire athlete.

None of those outcomes are inevitable, of course. Plenty of wealthy people have kept their heads (and hearts) straight. But the ties are there, with a life of their own. Cut them off, and tomorrow they start growing right back. If you’re aware of that and keep your hand on them, like on weeds, they won’t ensnare you. However, even that distracts from a focus on the things of eternity.

It’s no coincidence that Jesus, when He walked the earth, maintained a life devoid of temporal distractions. Same with Paul. None of the early church leaders utilized this incredible new power they were endowed with from on high for their temporal benefit. And the church prospered.

Gehazi didn’t see any of that. When Naaman came, he saw the gifts the rich and famous give each other. Let’s be honest, those are all very nice things. It’s nice to dress in fine clothes, eat fine food, stay in five star resorts, drive (or be driven in) grand cars, and live in luxurious homes. So it’s easy to see what Gehazi saw in those things. 

Gehazi didn’t get killed like Ananias and Safira for lying. He was left with the riches to enjoy them. But the tie in his heart to the temporal things meant he had to leave the service of the King of kings.

After accepting Naaman’s rich clothes, he put them to good use, and we can deduce that he climbed the social ladder in a hurry. He could drop names, having shaken hands with the likes of Naaman and Elisha. It wasn’t long before we see him hanging out with the king of Israel, shooting the breeze over dinner. “So, Mr. G,” the king said, “Tell me a little more of all your exploits from your Elisha days.” (II Kings 8:4). Well, having been an eyewitness to Elisha raising a boy from the dead, he was in a perfect place to tell the story.

We don’t know how Gehazi’s life ended. Elisha replaced him, but we aren’t told by whom. This was the (unnamed) servant who witnessed the hidden armies of the Lord surrounding the enemy contingent sent to capture Elisha.

We know there was no prophet who followed in Elisha’s footsteps. Gehazi looks like he was designated for that, but he opted to pursue the things of the world instead. Who knows how different things might have been if he desired what Elisha desired… and obtained.

The Lord Jesus said where our treasure is, our heart will be also. It’s easy if you’re never offered the opportunity to walk the walk of the rich and famous. It’s different if you are given that opportunity, especially when you don’t expect it. Who knows? None of us can say, but sometimes I wonder if God knows what we would choose and, for our own protection, spares us the opportunity to make that choice. Not saying, just saying…

Characters in the Shadows: Luke

Everyone knows Luke as the man who  wrote the gospel with the most detailed Christmas account. But have you ever given any thought to Luke, the person? How much do you know about him? Very little would be my guess. Kind of deceptive, isn’t it: everyone reads your name at Christmas, but nobody knows anything about you.

Why not? Because Luke is another character in the shadows: someone God uses in a significant way with the glory going to God, not the vessel.

The Man

Luke, we are told, was St. Paul’s physician. He also happened to be a writer. (Hey, I tell myself, God can even use writers in His kingdom — imagine that.) He happened to be a humble writer, never inserting himself overtly into his accounts of the gospel of Luke or Acts. Therefore, we have to look deep into the shadows and draw upon inference, elimination and deduction to see him better.

Most historians agree that Luke was not from Jerusalem, but from somewhere in what today is Turkey. Our only clue as to his whereabouts is the subtle change in Acts 16:10 from the third person description (“they” and “he”) to the plural first person (“we”). That transition happened as Paul left Troas, which leads us to believe Luke must have been from that neck of the woods — far from Jerusalem, or even Antioch (which emerged as the second epicenter of Christianity).

In other words, he was not an “insider,” neither in the Jewish hierarchy, nor in the newly developing inner circle of Christianity. He missed all the “big occasions.” He never met Jesus, never heard Him preach, didn’t see Him crucified, wasn’t there at the resurrection, wasn’t in Jerusalem those forty days after Jesus rose from the dead and walked around Israel, and wasn’t there at the ascension. He didn’t wait and pray in the upper room with the minor throng, and he wasn’t among the first few thousand that were saved when the Holy Spirit descended with full visible force and sound.

Luke had no credentials to give him a seat at the inner sanctum meetings of the insiders. He didn’t sit at anyone’s feet, nor did he apprentice himself to become an ordained teacher, evangelist, prophet, pastor or other distinguished officer in God’s growing army of Christian heroes.

He was, in other words, a regular Joe, from nowhere, doing a simple job, for which he probably was paid the going wage. Doctors in those days didn’t carry the stature they carry today. Medical science was rudimentary back then, and practitioners weren’t particularly plentiful or well-paid.

The Encounter

Nothing is said, but it’s easy to imagine: Paul arrived in Troas, and had a bout of whatever ailed him. He did the obvious thing and asked for a good doctor, and Luke showed up. You can think Paul, as usual, wasted no time laying the gospel on the (apparently random) physician. Luke was an educated man, and after hearing Paul’s brilliant logic, delivered so persuasively, Luke obviously agreed that believing this Jesus is a no-brainer.

Paul, as we recall from the passage in Acts 16, got the dream with the call to Macedonia while in Troas. I suspect he probably wasn’t fully healed, prompting him to talk Luke into accompanying him for the one journey. Who knows? Paul may have had in mind only that Luke come along on that single trip, with a view to getting healed up and sending Luke home. We don’t know what Paul’s thinking was. But we know that’s not what happened. Luke stayed with Paul till the very end, if 2 Timothy 4 is anything to go by.

Luke’s addition to the army of God, then, was not based on his spiritual credentials. Rather, he came as an ordinary man, and remained an ordinary man, plying his ordinary trade in obedient humility and obscurity. He probably didn’t even do it sacrificially, but received something approaching the going wage. He did leave his hometown, if Troas indeed was his hometown, and clearly he never had a family life as we would know it, because he was with Paul till the very end.

Luke carefully abstained from inserting himself into the narrative, other than the word “we.” It’s almost like God chose someone who didn’t want to attract attention to himself. Jesus alluded to this when he talked about giving and fasting in Matthew 6: don’t do it to be seen by men. Luke lived that advice, eschewing earthly acclaim in exchange for the reward that surely awaited him in heaven.

The Plan

How instrumental was Luke in God’s plan for us on earth? Much more than you might have imagined. Think about it: there were 11 other apostles who were scattered abroad, healing the sick, raising the dead, delivering people from oppression, preaching the good news and making disciples wherever they went. Well, we assume that… because they left no written record of their exploits.

The only exploits we know about are those of the apostle Paul. And why do we know those exploits, so carefully documented in Acts?

Because Luke was there to record them.

I can only marvel at God’s exquisitely crafted plans: if Paul wasn’t sickly, he would not have needed a doctor… and we wouldn’t even know about his (Paul’s) existence. Does any other New Testament writer ever mention Paul in any of their accounts? The only other mention of this pivotal figure in the unfolding of God’s plan on earth is in 2 Peter 3:15, where Peter says:

14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

Hardly the acclaim of arguably the most pivotal figure in the early church. Were it not for Luke, Paul might have been yet another character in the shadows we wondered about… if we even noticed his name.

And yet, because Paul had an affliction, he called for a doctor in Troas, and that doctor happened to be a writer. The Bible isn’t clear about it, but I think it’s a safe guess that Luke was the scribe of many of Paul’s epistles, as well. Who would Paul choose as his scribe when he had the writer Luke on his team? If true, that would mean Luke was the pen behind most of the New Testament. Not the author, because that is the Holy Spirit, but the pen the Spirit used.

And Luke probably had no idea he was bring used in such a profound way.

Even Paul had no idea what was happening: while faithful and fruitful, he nevertheless complained to God about his unrelenting “thorn in the side.” God, as we know, kindly blew those complaints off, pointing out that His grace is sufficient. My guess is neither Paul nor Luke knew God was using Paul’s sickness to draw Luke in to His plan of spreading His Good News across the world.

Come to think of it, Paul probably had no idea that his main contribution to the Lord would not be his indefatigable travels and preaching, but his example and the doctrine contained in his letters… recorded by a character so deep in the shadows we don’t see him, even when we mention his name every year at Christmas.

You probably have no idea of how the Lord is using your skill and craft to further His kingdom, a kingdom not of bricks and mortar, gold and military might, but light, peace and, above all, love.

Not knowing doesn’t mean not being used.

Characters in the Shadows: The Nameless Crowd

When Jesus was crucified, where were all the people He healed, delivered and fed? The answer lies not in where they were, but who they were.

Who

They were, you see, people that did not count. There were the quintessential characters in the shadows — a small army of them. It was the leadership of the Jewish nation who were hell-bent on getting rid of this character who challenged their teaching and exposed their hypocrisy. It was the leadership who had power and authority to judge and dispense punishment. A leper from Jericho or a blind person who spent his life by the pool of Bethesda had no say; they simply didn’t count.

Now, if you were all-wise like Jesus, and you knew you were going to be condemned, who would you lavish your miracles on? Those who can help you, or those who can’t? Jesus’ answer is found in Luke 14: when you give (or help) do that for the people who cannot repay you. He walked that talk. He still does, in fact.

You may think your country is the first one to have a political leadership that’s corrupt, evil and incompetent. You would be wrong, of course: the Jewish leadership that put Jesus on the cross set the tone for the governments we all endure today. And, just like today, the corrupt and inept government made sure any dissenting voices, the crowd in the shadows, could not be heard.

God’s Way

The Bible doesn’t say anything about this, but I’m convinced that the disregarded and voiceless masses, the blind, leprous, possessed and otherwise debilitated would have stormed Calvary if they could, and freed Jesus from the intense pain and humiliation. (Can you imagine hanging naked next to your city’s busiest freeway?) And they would have felt victorious.

God’s way, though, is different from that of the flesh. He not only endures evil, he counts on it to accomplish His plans. God doesn’t need us to storm the enemy in the physical realm. His weapons are invisible to newspapers, television and even the internet. When you or I encounter evil or malice, even just misunderstanding or lack of appreciation, our first inclination is react with the flesh, to defend God (or ourselves), storm Calvary and take Jesus down from the cross. But… what is God’s plan? If something happens outside of His will, is His arm too short to step in and take care of it? Of course not. 

More often than not God’s plan is counterintuitive to the flesh — love instead of letters to the editor, help instead of rebuttal. My challenge, and yours, is to know God’s mind in every situation. That, of course, requires us making time to commune with Him, to know His mind in everything. And often He takes His time sharing those thoughts with us, doesn’t he? Just like He took His time revealing the wonderful plan that changed the world and crippled the evil empire forever.

How much time have you spent lately to simply commune?

commune

Characters In The Shadows: A Nameless Boy

They don’t see me. They don’t even know my name. They don’t remember me. They’ll surely never miss me. How often have thoughts like those drifted through your mind?

Today’s story is about someone the gospel writers didn’t know. But being unknown and insignificant didn’t stop the Lord Jesus from using that person to be part of one of his most famous miracles.

I’m talking about the boy whose bread and fish Jesus Christ used to feed the crowd.

The Only One?

Jesus  multiplied bread twice, once feeding 5,000 and the other time 4,000. It’s interesting to note in passing that the only miracle all four gospels mention is the first one, where our Lord fed 5,000 people. For the mystics among us who look at numbers, the Bible tells us seven times how Jesus multiplied bread to feed a crowd. But only the seventh description (John 6) includes the detail of where the original food came from: that nameless lad.

We don’t know his name, but his willingness to part with his much needed lunch is recorded forever.

When we read about it, we hardly even pay the lad any attention. What better time, then, to do it than now?

Have you ever gone to a picnic and thought, “Hmmm… the weather could get chilly, let me throw a jacket in the car, just in case?” And, sure enough, some clouds and a breeze indeed decided to crash the party. You felt vindicated by your foresight.

But… someone else didn’t have your foresight and forgot to bring a jacket. The upshot? You give them your jacket… and now your suffering just doubled: it’s one thing to get caught unprepared, but that just shifts to another level when you were careful to prepare, but you end up suffering anyway. I can’t count how many times I brought chairs to a picnic because I don’t like sitting on the ground. You guessed it: I usually end up having to sit on the ground anyway, even if I bring four extra chairs… because there’s always someone with puppy dog eyes who didn’t bring a chair and wants to sit in our circle (if only for the chairs).

Back to the lad. Having a good Jewish mama, he was prepared. Those around him may have just hurried along the lakeshore to hear the fast-becoming-famous young preacher, not giving a thought to lunch or dinner.

But not our lad. He had lunch. He was prepared.

Prepared for what?

There’s no way his mother woke up that morning saying, “I’ve got to fix my boy a good lunch, because that’ll get him a nice mention in that new book they’ll be writing in a decade or two.” Perhaps the lad was sent to help his dad or a neighbor work a field. We know kids, they never come prepared for anything; they have to be told. And even then, there’s usually some reluctance to follow instructions. But mothers are mothers, always taking care of business, even when those who benefit fuss and moan about it. So she packed him a lunch and made sure he took it.

We’ve all experienced it: you walk along the sidewalk when suddenly you see three people gathered together, looking intently at something across the street. What do you do? You stop, of course, join the group, and look in the same direction to see what they’re looking at. It’s just what we humans do.

So, here was the lad, on his way somewhere, when suddenly there was this mad rush along the shore of Lake Galilee. What does he do? Join the rush, of course. Would his mother have approved? Probably not.

We know the diversion was worth it, because this young preacher had wisdom nobody had heard before. Everyone was so captivated by the teachings of the carpenter’s son from a few villages up the road nobody noticed time flying.

Until the good Master said, “That’s all, folks.” Then, to his close followers: “Okay, let’s eat. Hey, guys, go feed ‘em!”

We know the story. The disciples were aghast. (Interesting aside: you would think if the Master multiplied bread once to feed 5,000 people they’d know He can do it again without breaking a sweat. So, why then were they aghast again the second time this happened? That’s something I’ve not heard anybody preach on, but I’ve always wondered: what does that say about the disciples?)

Anyway, the disciples looked to the crowd to answer the Lord’s question:

What do you have?

Have you ever thought about it: are we to believe that in a crowd of 5,000 people only one single person brought food? Impossible. Too many Jewish mamas in the neighborhood for that to happen. I think the more likely explanation would be nobody else wanted to part with their lunch. “Sorry, buddy, I’m not giving my lunch to someone who can’t think farther than their nose!” The Jews of the time all wore robes of some sort, so it would have been easy to hide their lunch.

Jesus no doubt knew that.

He easily could have used the situation as a good opportunity for a fast and perhaps a good, home hitting message related to fasting or loving thy neighbor, but He knew when to stop preaching, and opted to bless instead.

Using the humble lunch of an anonymous boy.

It’s not your name or fame that’s important. It’s the courage of your obedience that really matters in God’s kingdom.

He knows your name.

He remembers you and He uses each one of us in ways we cannot foresee.

If you will offer up what little preparation you made, there’s no telling how many people He can feed with it.

Lunch

Characters In The Shadows: Naomi

In the preceding posts we read about Nahshon, Shalmon and Boaz, three generations of leaders in the young nation of Israel. This family, as we saw, was well connected and held in high esteem in the nation.

It’s not too much of a reach to surmise that the uncles, aunts and cousins of Israel’s first family were probably regarded highly as well. You’ll recall from the previous thrilling episode of As The Lion Turns that every Jewish mother worth her salt probably was trying to find a way to get her daughter to marry Boaz, who steadfastly withstood the relentless onslaught.

Well, if Boaz wasn’t the marrying type, then the next best option would be his brothers and cousins, right? It’s probably fair to assume that only the upper echelons of society figured they had a chance to have their daughter marry into the extended family of Shalmon and Boaz.

Elimelech

We know of one of those close relatives. His name was Elimelech, meaning “God, King,” or God is King. From the end of the story and the sequence of redemption, we can conclude Elimelech was a first cousin of Boaz, with an older brother (also Boaz’s cousin) who refused to redeem.

With the background we have, it’s easy to think Naomi was not just a common girl. In order to be selected to marry into the elite of the nation, she had to have been remarkable enough to set her apart from the competition. She was probably their culture’s equivalent of the smart cheerleader, who happened to be good looking and have a pleasant disposition — quite the catch, in other words. Who knows? She may even have been proposed as a potential bride for Boaz himself, before being let down as gently as Rahab could.

On Elimelech and Naomi’s wedding day it’s easy to imagine great expectations all around. But the subtleties in the narrative kind of lead us to believe things went downhill from there.

Famine

All the Bible tells us is there was a famine. Now, I’ve heard several preachers link things like famine to sin in the land, but that’s not accurate. Yes, there were times when the Lord sent a famine in response to something. But there are also other times when famines just happened in the normal course of life. Abraham had two famines so severe he had to leave the country, but nowhere in the Bible is there any suggestion that God was punishing Abraham for anything.

Famines, then, are part of the course of nature: they happen every now and then. In our times, we can think of recessions as the modern equivalent of famines: shortages brought on by forces beyond our control. And part of life.

Although a famine affects everyone, it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Here are two cousins: Boaz and Elimelech. The same famine struck both, but one prospered and the other lost his property.

From what we know of their society, Elimelech went into debt as the famine caused his revenues to dip below his expenses, and he used his property as security. When he defaulted on the debt, Elimelech had two choices: go into slavery to work off the debt, or flee. He fled.

Moab

To Naomi, this had to be a bitter blow. The homecoming queen had to face the equivalent of bankruptcy, and had to leave her circle of well-heeled friends in shame. Moreover, the place they went to, Moab, was the place of Balak, who called on Baalam to curse Israel not too long before.

Naomi no doubt hoped that Elimelech would find a job or some source of income with which to repay his debts back in Bethlehem. That clearly didn’t happen, and the years went by in Moab. Naomi went from somebody to nobody: a homecoming queen on the fringes of Israel’s first family to a struggling stranger in the land of a traditional enemy of her nation.

It got worse. When the time came for their oldest son to get married, Elimelech and Naomi selected a local girl. We read that in the Bible and move right along.

No.

Stop.

This is not a trivial thing. The right and proper thing would have been for the parents to make an effort to find a good girl from Israel.

And they didn’t.

If you have a mental picture that Elimelech and Naomi moved to the end of the earth, think again. From where they lived, a good Jewish girl was no more than about 10 miles away — an easy day’s walk. Abraham sent his servant way further than that to find a bride for Isaac. Ten miles is nothing. In all likelihood it would have brought them to someone from the tribe of Manasseh, so it’s not like they would have had to face the shame back in Bethlehem. Why didn’t they do that? Or at least try? We will never know. All we know is: they didn’t.

The picture we get of Elimelech is not a flattering one. If Boaz could not only survive the famine but prosper, why not Elimelech? And the others? We don’t read of anyone else leaving the country. Neither do we get the inference that the famine was unusually severe.

And now he was allowing his sons to marry into the enemy.

Naomi

This all had to be hard on Naomi. But, it seems, she did the best she could with the hand she was dealt. We get the impression that she got along well with her neighbors and, more importantly, her two daughters-in-law.

To no avail. One by one, her meal tickets literally died. In those days there was no Rosie the Riveter. Women depended on their husbands and their sons to earn a living. When all three died, Naomi’s world, second class as it had become, ended.

She had no choice but to return home, face the shame (“Oh, look at poor Naomi! Marrying into the top family of Judah, and look where that got her!”) and accept the provisions the welfare system allowed widows.

It’s easy to see why Naomi, when she returned, said, “Listen, don’t call me Sweet (Naomi). My name is Bitter (Mara). I’m a different person now. God has dealt harshly with me and, as a result, my identity, my nature, has changed.”

The Bible writer(s) ignored her wish, and kept on calling her Sweet.

We know why. Because we know how the story ended.

When they got back, Naomi still had a good working knowledge of how to snag the top bachelor in the nation, and wasted no time getting Ruth hooked up.

Happily Ever After

And Ruth and Boaz lived happily ever after.

But… so did Naomi. When she hit rock bottom, the Lord provided for her in the most miraculous fashion. She went from the poorhouse of Moab, right into the granny apartment Ruth made sure Boaz built for her. And she no doubt returned right back to having tea with her old acquaintances from way back.

It’s interesting to me how God reached out and took care of Naomi, even though she broke every rule in the modern charismatic book: she made one negative confession after another, had absolutely no faith, insulted God and even went so far as to change her name to reflect her bitterness.

God, though, is so much bigger in his His love and grace, isn’t He? Even when we mess up, even when we do everything wrong, even when it looks like we blew every chance we got… even when we give up looking and just resign ourselves to the misery we think is unchangeable, God can reach down and with a flick of His finger set our feet back on a rock and reinstate us back into the best place of our lives.

Simply because He loves us sooooo much!

Characters In The Shadows: Shalmon’s Son

The Firstborn

If you look back in the history of Israel, you can’t help noticing their tradition that the oldest son has a special place in the home, and in their society. In fact, the parents had to buy back their oldest son from the Lord, to whom the firstborn belonged.

However, you also can’t help noticing how often that didn’t work out as planned. In the case of Israel, it was even more pronounced: he had to disqualify not one, but three of his oldest sons before settling on Judah as the de facto oldest son in his household and in the subsequent nation. And lest you think Judah was lily white, he ended up losing his two oldest sons and maintained the royal line only through some subterfuge by his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Aaron’s two oldest sons had an even more dramatic fate: they were killed by no less than the Lord Himself, together with all their families, and Eleazar, who actually was Aaron’s third son, became the next high priest. And we think today’s soap operas are far-fetched.

It’s reassuring, then, to see that during the time Israel crossed the Red Sea, traversed the Sinai wilderness, conquered Jericho and settled Canaan, the leaders of the tribe of Judah were not blowing it royally, and the firstborn of each generation took his rightful place, right on schedule.

But that almost ended with Shalmon and the first family the royal line raised in Bethlehem.

The House of Shalmon

If you understand just little bit of Hebrew culture, you can picture the scenario. In this new town, Bread City (which is what Bethlehem means) the unquestioned leader was Shalmon, head over the entire tribe of Judah, one of Joshua’s spies, and the hero who married Rahab.

Every Jewish mama in a hundred mile radius had one goal: to have her daughter be the one chosen to marry Shalmon’s son. What honor that would bring to their family! Being the in-laws, they would be invited to join at the seat of honor reserved for the greater Shalmon clan. Married into the Main Man’s dynasty: every mother’s dream.

And so, it’s not hard to imagine the jostling and positioning, subtle and often not so subtle, Rahab had to endure as all these Jewish mamas threw each of their daughters’ hats into the ring. The more strong willed ladies would no doubt have laid the guilt trip on Rahab with a shovel: “Look, lady, don’t think you’re someone. We know where you came from. Now, if you want to stay in our good books, you just make sure little Becky here gets to meet your son, and you make sure to tell him what a nice girl she is and what a great mother she’ll make for your heirs. And if you’re even thinking of getting uppity, we’ll make your life a living nightmare.”

Rahab, you can imagine, probably had to think “Oy!” by herself many a time. But she couldn’t complain. This was the price you paid for the place of honor in the community, the ultimate backhanded compliment.

In time, as her son grew up, Rahab must have screened out many candidates out of hand, but she also must have felt honored to have her son be in such demand. It certainly beat the alternative.

As time went by, the line of prospective brides continued, but… something was not right in the home of Happily Ever After, Bread City.

The Problem

We don’t know why, but Shalmon’s son never married.

In the beginning, it probably didn’t surprise anybody. Look what happened to Prince Charles and Lady Di. You can’t be too careful with these things. This isn’t just the family next door, this is the Big Line. We have to choose carefully. And so everyone probably commended the young man for not jumping at the first pretty face brought to him for approval.

After a few years, though, approval must have turned to concern. At first, the mothers of the rejected daughters probably whispered that the Shalmons were getting big heads. “What? Our girls are suddenly not good enough for them any more? Who do they think they are, anyway?

Rahab, I’m sure, had many talks with her son, trying to figure out what the problem might be. The Bible doesn’t tell us what the problem was, but (romantic that I am) I think it was as simple as the young man simply didn’t meet anybody he liked. Were his standards too high, perhaps? We will never know.

I think that as the nation settled in to its new identity of a free nation under God, with its own country, Gen FLIP (Finally Living In Peace) might very well have decided they don’t want to just be told what to do. That was so “slave-identity.”

This we do know: Shalmon didn’t raise an idiot. His son might not have married, but he knew how to take care of his affairs, and he was highly honored and very successful in his financial dealings. The time came when the area experienced  a severe famine. Others, even one of his cousins, lost it all. Some even had to leave the country. His cousin did, a broken man, in order to avoid slavery in his own nation. Shalmon’s boy, though, thrived, and became wealthy. Not only was he from the right stock, he was smart, honored… and filthy rich as well.

You can just imagine the conflict this caused in their society. This was their first and best opportunity to fill the land, as the Lord commanded, and the number one bachelor in the nation was not doing his part. What was his problem?

The famine in the land ended, and Shalmon’s son just grew richer… and older.

How many evenings did he and his mother sit around the dinner table talking about this? Hundreds of times, is my guess.

Happily Ever After

Then, one night, everything changed. Rahab must have noticed the bounce in his step, and over dinner, she must have said, “Okay, Son, spit it out. What happened today?”

“Mom, I think I may have met someone.”

“So? How? Who?”

“It’s a foreign girl. Quite pretty!” I’m sure his eyes glowed. “She just showed up today and asked to work in my field!”

But then his eyes clouded over. “But I don’t know. I mean, she’s not an Israelite. What will people say?”

“Oy!” Rahab must have replied, rolling her eyes. ” What are you doing to me?”

The next few nights, over dinner, you can just imagine the dialogue continuing, covering the dilemma from every angle. Shalmon’s son must have been a fairly headstrong fellow, given the hundreds of marriage proposals he turned down, and he was not letting go of this notion that seems to have entered his head.

The mothers in the community must have gotten wind of this new development, hoping it would blow over, as all their previous attempts at match making had blown over.

Who knows? Maybe Rahab’s son was so old they just resigned themselves to the fact that Shalmon’s line was not destined to continue.

As the days passed, though, it became evident that the stubborn son was getting more and more set on the notion that maybe, just maybe, this foreign girl was The Girl for him. And, who knows, Rahab may have sat with the women of the town, and lamented. “Golda, what can I do? I’m the last person on this earth to tell my son to forget about marrying a foreign girl! I’m Rahab, for goodness’s sake, who am I to talk like that?”

And, a few days later, I can imagine Rahab saying, in an exasperated voice, “So, Boaz, my son, who is this foreign girl you’re thinking about marrying, then?”

“Her name’s Ruth, Mom. Remember cousin Elimelech, who got wiped out in the famine a few years ago? Well, it turns out he and Naomi went to Moab and their sons married local girls there. Then, when all the men died, Naomi came back and Ruth came back with her. You remember the land Elimelech pawned to raise money? Because I’m his cousin, I’m second in line to redeem his land, and Ruth comes with it. How cool is that?”

Well, you know the rest of the story. Shalmon’s son, this week’s character in the shadows, is none other than Boaz, gread-grandfather of King David.

Amazing how God puts pieces of the puzzle together.

Hey, who knows, He might even be putting something together with you…

Characters In The Shadows: Freedom Identity

Two posts ago you met Nahshon, leader of the tribe of Judah and Israel’s tribal council, and last week you met his his son, Shalmon.

Reading about the camp and these leaders in the shadows, it’s easy to overlook something else, something bigger, that was happening during the time of these two men. And, before we continue reading about Shalmon’s son (who is, by the way, an extemely interesting person, as you’ll hopefully see soon) I wanted to take a time-out to ponder that “something else.”

Nation

Where were you 400 years ago? Where was your nation in 1613? Did it even exist? Four hundred years is a long, long time. That’s how long Israel spent in Egypt.

One man’s family disappeared from view like a caterpillar spinning into its cocoon. (The Bible has no history, or even genealogies, covering this 400 year period). Then, what disappeared as a caterpillar family emerged from that cocoon as a fully fledged nation.

But what kind of nation? When you mention nations like Spain, China, Brazil or the United States, each one brings a different identity to mind. No two nations are the same, not even close. Nations, even ones less than 400 years old, have distinct personalities — identities — which were forged by their histories, environments and the leaders they produced.

Israel arrived in Egypt with parties all around. One of his sons was the Vice-President of Egypt, and the king actually got into his limousine chariot to come and pay the patriarch a courtesy visit. The family settled in a fruitful land and they prospered like crazy — the Bible’s version of “happily ever after.”

Then things changed. Israel wasn’t a slave family when they moved to Egypt, but slaves they became… through no sin of their own. It was “just circumstances.” They lived in peace, raising their livestock when, next thing you know, they were slaves.

For a very long time. Exactly how long, we don’t know, but at least a couple of generations.

Then, as we know, the Lord rescued them in a way that makes even Hollywood look like amateur hour. All of us have seen a nature program where one animal chases another one for dinner. Our sympathy almost universally goes to the antelope or rabbit, frantically running for its life. “Run, rabbit run!” And we can’t help but break out in a cheer when dinner makes that final leap to safety, and stands there, wide-eyed, panting, nervously looking around for the next threat to its life.

Israel’s escape from Egypt was just as frantic, if not more so.

Can you imagine the scene when the waters covered the Egyptian army, as the nation stood on the banks of the Red Sea, panting and sweating, debating whether to continue running or keep looking?

Identity

What an escape… by a bunch of slaves.

Someone recently told us something interesting: almost all people who win the lottery end up back where they were before they hit the jackpot. And millionaire businessmen who lose it all are millionaires again after about ten years or so.

There’s something in us, some nebulous thing we call “identity” that shapes our values, which in turn shape our decisions, which over time bring about our destiny. Millionaires have something inside of them that made them millionaires and, when you take away their money, that innate something that caused them to be millionaires once will cause them to repeat.

This identity thing runs deep, very deep. It’s hard for us to even put our finger on it, let alone change it. With God all things are possible, of course.

And so it was with Israel. All they knew as an identity was “being a slave.” They weren’t used to owning anything, and they were certainly not used to thinking for themselves.

The miracle of the Red Sea was a physical miracle, but it ushered in so much more. One of the big miracles that happened slowly, over several centuries, was that thing of becoming a nation.

The second miracle was the shedding of a slave identity, and mentality, and putting on the identity of freedom.

Freedom

Freedom is a twofold thing:

  • freedom from something and
  • freedom to do something.

This was new to Israel. God, in His infinite wisdom, sent Moses to Kingdom Training School at the biggest and best run kingdom in the world at the time, and Moses set about instructing the nation on how to live and behave as a nation of free men under God, and not a bunch of hooligan slaves running amok.

Transition

If we look at recent American history, we can see how the generation of the 60s broke away from the values and beliefs of the generation before them. And it seems each successive generation acquires its own unique identity. Terms like Generation X or Y are becoming commonplace.

Israel, likewise, had to transition from Generation Slave to Generation Free Wanderer, to Generation Land Possessor, to Generation Finally Living In Peace (Gen FLIP).

In the genealogy of the tribe of Judah, then, Amminadab was probably from Gen Slave, Nahshon from Gen Free Wanderer and Shalmon from Gen Land Possessor. Being one of Joshua’s two spies, he no doubt was part of the army that settled the land.

And it was Shalmon, then, who probably was the one who staked out the clan’s land around Bethlehem, and did what no generation had done for centuries: build a home.

This is not a trivial thing. Imagine nobody in American having their own home since 1613. Now, for the first time, they were able to have a home of their own. Some they built, but most were already built for them by the Canaanites.

All they had to do was move in.

Settlement

Now you have a mental picture of the peaceful scene in Israel, as the new nation settled into the new land, the land of milk and honey, the land the Lord promised them, a land with cisterns, houses and vineyards all prepared just for them.

This was the first generation that was able to raise their kids in a home of their own. And this generation, Gen FLIP, was the first generation EVER in this new nation that grew up in this new-fangled notion: a parents’ house.

Can you imagine the joy throughout the nation? What a dream come true! Your own property, your own home, your own vineyard, flock of sheep, and orchard.

This, then was the setting for the home Shalmon and Rahab made for their kids. Shalmon was still the leader of the tribe of Judah, and still The Man at the annual Leadership Conference the fledgling nation held.

But he was the first one in the long line of Judah that had a permanent home, in a permanent, promised land, in which they raise a family. His oldest son, Bar-Shalmon, may have been born by the time they moved in, but he was the first generation in the new nation that actually grew up in “our house.”

Next time we’ll see how that turned out for the young man, the next in the royal line of Judah…

Characters in the Shadows: Shalmon

We’re all human, aren’t we? That means we’re imperfect and deal with imperfection all around us. However, the Lord never lets that get in his way. He accomplishes His plan with imperfect people, living and working in imperfect circumstances.

Imperfect doesn’t mean bad, though. It simply means we don’t know everything and can’t do everything… but God accomplishes His purposes anyway.

We’ve seen before in this series how God lifted imperfect Leah out and established His royal line through her, and not the beautiful, winsome Rachel.

Ever hear the saying: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know? Well, I’ve often wondered: how do you get to know “who you know?”

Knowing The Right People

Shalmon, Nahshon‘s oldest son, was someone who knew the right people.

How?

Remember the diagram of Israel’s camp? (Click the image for a larger picture.)

Israel camp

This layout shows how about 2 million people lived. Even today, that’s not a small city. As a comparison, greater Denver has about 2 million people, and it’s easily 10-15 miles from one side to the other in any direction. And this is without all the cattle, sheep and whatever other animals traveled with them.

When that many people live together, neighborhoods develop naturally. When you step outside of your tent, the first people you meet and interact with are your neighbors. Why would you walk three hours across a hot desert to hang out with someone when you have your immediate family and neighbors at your doorstep?

The diagram shows that Nahshon’s clan had probably the most privileged location in the tent city, given that their tents butted right up against those of Moses and Aaron.

Shalmon grew up rubbing shoulders with the mucky-mucks of Israel in a most natural and comfortable way. Aaron was his uncle by marriage, and Eleazar, the new high priest, was his cousin.

Joshua, being from Ephraim, lived all the way on the other side of town, and was the only person who had to walk a long way to work every day, to be with Moses, his boss. Looking at the camp layout, it’s no surprise that Joshua would forego a 3-4 hour round trip for lunch and just hang out in the tent of meeting between assignments. That, in turn, makes it easy to see that Joshua got to know Shalmon as he and Eleazar chased each other between the tents, growing up before his eyes.

And so, as Moses, Aaron and Joshua looked around them to see who the next generation of leaders would be, it’s easy to see how Eleazar and Shalmon knew the right people, and were in the right place. They couldn’t plan it that way, it just happened in the “natural” course of events.

The Spy

The Bible doesn’t name Joshua’s two spies. However, I believe one of them was none other than Shalmon, and here’s why:

Authority

Did you notice that when one of the spies spoke to to Rahab, he spoke not as a youth, chosen for his athleticism and bravery? It had to have been someone senior, with authority. When he interacted with Rahab, he spoke for, and bound, the entire nation: if you do this, we (the mighty nation) will do that. He didn’t send a fax or carrier pigeon back to camp to ask for authorization. He just spoke up on the spot, and he spoke with authority, committing the entire leadership of Israel to save and incorporate a woman about whose character some question might have existed, and her family, into their nation. Not a trivial matter.

Nahshon by this time was dead, because everyone of the earlier generation died before the Jordan crossing, which meant that Shalmon was one of the leaders in the tribal council. The pair in Jericho…

  • … knew the will and ways of the Lord.
  • … knew the will and ways of the nation’s leadership.
  • … had the confident authority that they could speak for both.
  • … had confidence that the Lord and the leadership would back them up.

Who in the nation but Eleazar and Shalmon had that? (The romantic in me just believes Eleazar was the other guy, and he went undercover with his cousin, and that’s why their names aren’t recorded — it wouldn’t do for the high priest to be known to have gone undercover on this exciting mission, would it? But that’s just me.)

Rahab

The narrative in the book of Joshua omits the end of this particular story, but the genealogies caught it. Call me a romantic, but I believe that when Shalmon and his coworker wandered around Jericho, there had to have been at least the tiniest little spark, that spontaneous thing none of us can explain, between Shalmon and Rahab.

What!? How can you say that?

Why would someone give shelter to the enemy, at great risk to the lives of her entire family? How did Shalmon happen to even strike up a conversation with a woman? (Jesus at the well tells us what a no-no that was back in the day.)

But, biggest evidence of all: who married Rahab, the foreigner, the stranger, the non-Israelite? None other than… Shalmon! My imagination says that’s because he got to know her, in a time of great stress, when our characters get revealed. And he loved her. He had the option to marry anybody in the nation, being he was the number one bachelor in the entire nation at the time. But he married Rahab.

Shalmon

Shalmon, then, emerges as one of those characters in the shadows, unnamed for the most part, who simply did his part, trusting the Lord in all he did, and living in unity with and submission to the authorities of his day.

His faith in the Lord made him do outrageous things, like volunteer to go inside the enemy’s camp, and make outrageous promises, fully persuaded that he was doing the right thing and that he would be backed up by his leaders.

And he got a remarkable woman as his wife. How remarkable? When everyone in her city cowered with fear, she saw the works of Jehovah, the God of Israel, and she believed. So much so that she, a foreigner,  made it into the Hebrews 11 “hall of faith.”

What a remarkable couple that must have been.

Imagine growing up in their house.

Hmmm… that sounds like a great idea. Let’s do that next time. :)