Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The untold story of Samson

I intended that headline to be sensationalist and grab your attention. There is a big problem with how people usually tell the story of Samson. The whole story is in the Bible, but few people seem to be aware of any but the most lurid details.

Let’s start at the beginning. At the time an angel announced Samson’s birth, the Israelites had hit bottom spiritually. They had sinned against God and He abandoned them into the hands of the Philistines. As the story of Samson unfolds, it becomes evident that the people of Israel accepted the domination of the Philistines as a normal state of affairs, with no inkling that things could and should be different.

In the depth of this hopeless situation, God sent His angel to a woman of Zorah to announce that she would bear a son who would begin to deliver Israel from their oppressors. The woman was barren, thought to be incapable of having children, but she and her husband believed the angel and in due time a son was born.

They gave this son the name Samson – like the sun. As he grew, it became evident that he was the recipient of special blessings from God and the Word says “The Spirit of God began to move him.” As it was announced before his birth that he would begin to deliver the people of God from their degraded state, no doubt the Spirit began to make him painfully aware of the evil of the Philistine oppression.

So he decided to marry a Philistine woman. This is not where Samson went astray, but it is where the popular story of Samson goes astray from the Biblical account. Judges 14:4 says of this marriage: “But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.” That may strain some folks’ idea of what is right and proper, nevertheless that is what the Bible says.

The marriage did not turn out well, but it led to two remarkable displays of a strength in Samson that was more than human strength.  In both instances the Bible says the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson. Again in Judges 15:14 the Bible says the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson, he broke the cords that bound him and slew 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. There is a play on words at the end of chapter 15. Samson did not drink from the jawbone, but the Lord opened a spring for him in the mountain called Lehi, which is the same word as jawbone.

Samson judged Israel for twenty years during the time the Philistines ruled them. We should not think of the judges of Israel in terms of the judges of our day. The judges were rulers over the people, leading them in battle, making peace and administering justice.

Chapter 16 of Judges begins with Samson’s visit to a harlot in Gaza. Adam Clark says the word translated harlot has the primary meaning of innkeeper, but allows that she may have been both innkeeper and prostitute. The sense of morality in that era was not the same as it is for those informed by the teachings of the New Testament. Men often took many wives, divorced on the feeblest pretext and visited prostitutes. Whatever Samson may have been doing in Gaza, God did not punish him for it, but gave him the strength to uproot the gates of the city, posts and all, and carry them away to the top of a hill.

Next comes the episode with Delilah. We must tread carefully here, as the Bible shows that God did not withdraw from Samson until his hair was cut off. The uncut hair was part of his vow as a Nazarite and that vow was broken when the hair was cut. It appears that as Samson’s hair grew back he also renewed his covenant with God. He was now in a place where the opportunity might come to do far more damage to the power of the Philistines than he ever had before. He bided his time, possibly for several years, as his hair grew. Finally, the opportunity came where, by sacrificing his own life, he could destroy much of the ruling class of the Philistines.

The story of Samson, from his birth foretold by an angel, his miraculous powers and his sacrificial death to overcome the power of the enemy of God’s people, is a figure of Jesus. We miss that when all we can focus on are the details that seem to us to be unsavoury.

The things I believe

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Image by Heidi B from Pixabay

I believe in the God revealed in the Bible. The great and terrible Almighty and Eternal Creator of all things, who hates all unrighteousness. I believe that He is at the same time loving, merciful and compassionate, a father for the fatherless. He knows everything about us and wants us to know Him and be with Him for eternity.

I believe the Bible as it is written. It was written by many different men over several thousand years, yet the more I read it the more I see that there was one mind guiding it every step of the way, the mind of the Holy Spirit. I believe the Bible interprets itself, providing we read it all. Each time we read it a little more of God’s great design opens up before our eyes. We cannot discover that design by reading little bits here and there, or by looking for some external key to unlock its mysteries. That is a way that leads to deception.

I believe in the church revealed in the New Testament. I believe that it was God’s plan from the beginning to draw all those who put their trust in Him into one body, with Jesus Christ as both the foundation and the head. God is calling all mankind, but only those who are born again and led of the Holy Spirit may become members of His church. The church described in the New Testament cannot be an amorphous confusion of disembodied body parts, or living stones scattered here and there. The picture given by the New Testament is of a living, functioning and coordinated body or temple.

I believe that Jesus’ call to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations is still being obeyed. The door is yet open for those who are willing to consecrate their lives to Jesus, not only as Saviour, but as Lord of their lives.

I believe the time is short; judgment is coming.

Faith vs doubt

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Image by Lorraine Cormier from Pixabay

Doubt sees the obstacles
Faith sees the way.
Doubt sees the darkest night
Faith sees the day.
Doubt dreads to take a step
Faith soars on high.
Doubt questions ‘who believes?’
Faith answers, ‘I.’

Author Unknown

The Legend of the Qu’Appelle Valley

by Emily Pauline Johnson

I am the one who loved her as my life,
Had watched her grow to sweet young womanhood;
Won the dear privilege to call her wife,
And found the world, because of her, was good.
I am the one who heard the spirit voice,
Of which the paleface settlers love to tell;
From whose strange story they have made their choice
Of naming this fair valley the ” Qu’Appelle.”

She had said fondly in my eager ear —
” When Indian summer smiles with dusky lip,
Come to the lakes, I will be first to hear
The welcome music of thy paddle dip.
I will be first to lay in thine my hand,
To whisper words of greeting on the shore;
And when thou would’st return to thine own land,
I’ll go with thee, thy wife for evermore.”

Not yet a leaf had fallen, not a tone
Of frost upon the plain ere I set forth,
Impatient to possess her as my own —
This queen of all the women of the North.
I rested not at even or at dawn,
But journeyed all the dark and daylight through —
Until I reached the Lakes, and, hurrying on,
I launched upon their bosom my canoe.

Of sleep or hunger then I took no heed,
But hastened o’er their leagues of waterways;
But my hot heart outstripped my paddle’s speed
And waited not for distance or for days,
But flew before me swifter than the blade
Of magic paddle ever cleaved the Lake,
Eager to lay its love before the maid,
And watch the lovelight in her eyes awake.

So the long days went slowly drifting past;
It seemed that half my life must intervene
Before the morrow, when I said at last —
” One more day’s journey and I win my queen!”
I rested then, and, drifting, dreamed the more
Of all the happiness I was to claim, —
When suddenly from out the shadowed shore,
I heard a voice speak tenderly my name.

” Who calls?” I answered; no reply; and long
I stilled my paddle blade and listened. Then
Above the night wind’s melancholy song
I heard distinctly that strange voice again —
A woman’s voice, that through the twilight came
Like to a soul unborn — a song unsung.
I leaned and listened — yes, she spoke my name.
And then I answered in the quaint French tongue,
” Qu’Appelle? Qu’Appelle?” No answer, and the night
Seemed stiller for the sound, till round me fell
The far-off echoes from the far-off height —
” Qu’Appelle?” my voice came back, ” Qu’Appelle? Qu’Appelle?”
This — and no more; I called aloud until
I shuddered as the gloom of night increased,
And, like a pallid spectre wan and chill,
The moon arose in silence in the east.

I dare not linger on the moment when
My boat I beached beside her tepee door;
I heard the wail of women and of men, —
I saw the death-fires lighted on the shore.
No language tells the torture or the pain,
The bitterness that flooded all my life, —
When I was led to look on her again,
That queen of women pledged to be my wife.
To look upon the beauty of her face,
The still closed eyes, the lips that knew no breath;
To look, to learn, — to realize my place
Had been usurped by my one rival — Death.
A storm of wrecking sorrow beat and broke
About my heart, and life shut out its light
Till through my anguish some one gently spoke,
And said, ” Twice did she call for thee last night.”
I started up — and bending o’er my dead,
Asked when did her sweet lips in silence close.
” She called thy name — then passed away,” they said,
” Just on the hour whereat the moon arose.”

Among the lonely Lakes I go no more,
For she who made their beauty is not there;
The paleface rears his tepee on the shore
And says the vale is fairest of the fair.
Full many years have vanished since, but still
The voyageurs beside the campfire tell
How, when the moonrise tips the distant hill,
They hear strange voices through the silence swell.
The paleface loves the haunted lakes they say,
And journeys far to watch their beauty spread
Before his vision; but to me the day,
The night, the hour, the seasons are all dead.
I listen heartsick, while the hunters tell
Why white men named the valley The Qu’Appelle.

[This poem about the origin of the name of the Qu’Appelle valley in Saskatchewan was written by Mohawk poet Tekahionwake (1831-1913), also known as E. Pauline Johnson.]

The dinosaur question

In 1991 an archaeological research team discovered dinosaur bones in the Frenchman River Valley of south-western Saskatchewan. Over 20 years of painstaking work by hand uncovered the almost complete fossilized skeleton of a T. Rex and then removed it from the rock in which it was embedded.

Named Scotty, the massive reconstructed skeleton is now on display at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina. Scotty is the largest T. Rex ever discovered, 50 cm longer and 400 kg heavier than the Chicago Field Museum’s Sue.

The R.S.M., formerly known as the Saskatchewan Natural History Museum, displays 3-dimensional scenes of Saskatchewan flora and fauna, both of the present day and of the past. This includes lifelike re-creations of smaller land-dwelling and water-dwelling dinosaurs.

I know there are Christians who recoil at the subject of dinosaurs. “The Bible never mentions dinosaurs, so I don’t see why I should believe they ever existed,” some say “It’s just a story made up by evolutionists.”

People who say, or think, things like that aren’t as common as they once used to be. But if you are one of those who still has qualms about the dinosaur question, here are a few points that might calm your fears.

  1. It’s hard to argue with a pretty much complete fossil skeleton. Fossils are being found all over the world. Those as complete as Scotty are uncommon, and it’s possible that sometimes bones have been assembled incorrectly, but that isn’t enough to explain away all the evidence that has been discovered.
  2. Richard Owen coined the word dinosaur in 1842 after bones were discovered in various places that did not match any creature now living. It combines two Greek words and means “terrible lizard.”
  3. The Bible speaks of dragons, sea monsters, behemoth and leviathan. These could well be descriptions of the beasts we now label dinosaurs. Bible commentators in the past thought the description of behemoth in Job 405-24 sounded like a hippopotamus. They were doing their best to match it to some animal that they knew existed. Does it really match? I don’t think so. The hippopotamus is a fearsome beast, but this sounds like something even bigger and more fearsome. “He moveth his tail like a cedar,” cannot describe a hippopotamus which has a tail like a rope that is less than 20 inches long. Leviathan also sound like something bigger and more fearsome than a crocodile. 
  4. Many folktales about dragons are too fantastic to be believable. Yet the great number of such stories, and the fact that the dragons they describe are a lot like dinosaurs, leads one to believe there is some underlying truth. It’s not necessary to believe every detail of these stories, but neither is it wise to dismiss them altogether.   
  5. The book of Job appears to have originated as oral history some centuries before the development of a phonetic writing system. Behemoth, leviathan and the unicorn (not a cute cousin of the horse, more likely something like a humongous rhinoceros), likely describe animals which later became extinct and whose bones we have been digging up over the past two centuries. 

The born loser

Monday evening, in preparation for the following day, I placed on our dining room table an envelope containing a bill payment on behalf of one bookkeeping client and a cheque that I received from another client. They were exactly the same size and the thought crossed my mind that I might just pick up the two of them together and drop them in the mail slot at the Post Office. “That’s ridiculous,” I thought,. “I’m not that careless.”

We left early the next morning, stopping at our children’s home to pick up our granddaughters. I stopped at the Post Office in the next town, dropped the envelope in the mail slot and then drove to a branch of our bank. I reached for the cheque to deposit it — it wasn’t there. I looked on the floor of the car — it wasn’t there either. Okay. Maybe I am that careless.

We had a two and a half hour drive ahead of us and cousins of my wife were expecting us at our destination, so we motored on. After we got to our destination and met the cousins, I stepped outside to use my cell phone and called the post office where I mailed the envelope. The lady who answered laughed when I asked if by any chance a cheque had shown up in their mail bin. “Yes, it’s right here, waiting for you to come and pick it up.”

I was more relaxed now and enjoyed the rest of the day. The three ladies, that includes my wife, went fabric shopping; we visited a museum and a library and had a couple of meals along the way before returning home close to bedtime.

This morning I went back to the post office feeling sheepish and retrieved my cheque and immediately deposited it in the bank where there is no more danger of losing it.

Yesterday taught me three things, or better said, reinforced three things I already knew:

Our granddaughters are growing up. They are 15 and almost 13 and quite mature. There was a little commotion in the back seat for a few moments while we were driving home, but nothing Grandpa and Grandma needed to check up on or involve ourselves in.

Canada Post employs some pretty friendly and helpful people. Even if one of them did find my predicament humorous, she  did her best to console me that I’m not the only one who has ever done something like that.

And, I am just as capable of losing things as anyone else, and not nearly as careful as I would like to think I am.

Wringing our hands doesn’t help

It is possible that the contemplation of cruelty will not make us humane but cruel; that the reiteration of the badness of our spiritual condition will make us consent to it.
-Lionel Trilling

Let’s apply Trilling’s observation to ourselves as Christians, on a personal level, or as a family, a congregation, or even on a national level. We thought we knew where we were going, but we find ourselves in a cul-de-sac.  We’re not sure how we got here, and we have no map in our head to show us the way out. Many possible solutions come to our minds, we tried some of them, but they got us nowhere.

So here we sit and wring our hands.  We have memories of once being on a road with a clear idea of where we were going. Or are they just dreams?

Saul of Tarsus found himself in just such a situation, but he didn’t stay there long. He asked “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” And the Lord answered, one step at a time.

He will do the same for us if we ask the same question and are willing to follow, one step at a time.

Learning to see

Let us not forget that the greatest composers were also the greatest thieves. They stole from everyone and everywhere.
–Pablo Casals

Writers do much the same thing, though I do not believe it is proper to call it theft. We learn something from everything we read and everything we see. Often it is just a little impression that adds a small detail to our understanding of the things happening around us. Occasionally it is a profound thought that jars us out of the rut are thoughts have settled into.

These are the inputs into our mental processes. They all get jumbled up, then sorted out, and the output is our attempt to send out, via our writing, a glimmer of light to help someone else see something they might otherwise have missed.

Romans 12:2 warns us not to let our thinking be shaped by the zeitgeist, the prevailing attitudes in the world around us in the era in which we live. The danger for us, for me, is that I would tend to interpret that as meaning I need to remain entrenched in the zeitgeist that prevailed several generations ago when I was growing up. But the verse goes on to say that I need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind to prove the will of God for me, here and now in the era in which I am living.

The world is a place of dancing shadows. As I read, listen and observe, I become aware that everyone has a longing for truth and light. Many grasp a shadow and call it light, then are devastated when that shadow dissolves or changes shape.  Those who do not give up too soon are still finding true light. Reading, listening, observing helps me understand why other people are looking for light in places where there is no light.

As a Christian, I believe the Bible and the Holy Spirit are sources of light that reveal things as they truly are. Yet, if I see, then withdraw into the wilderness  I am shirking my responsibility to point others to the place where light is to be found.

If you want to be a writer, you first need to be a reader

The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading. In order to write a man will turn over half a library to make one book.

-Samuel Johnson, 1705-1784. Johnson was a poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, biographer, editor and the sole author of A Dictionary of the English Language, first published in 1755 and which remained the preeminent English dictionary until the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1928.

There is no valid baptism without the new birth

The beginning of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in Western Canada owes much to the spiritual vision of one man. Peter Toews was the Elder of the largest part of the Kleine Gemeinde (Little Church) which had separated from the main body of the Mennonite church on the Molotschna Colony in Ukraine in the early 1800’s. Their aim was to return to the original pure faith and practice of the Mennonites. Unfortunately they had no understanding of the new birth so merely concentrated on the outward evidence of their desired purity.

Quarrels and divisions shook the Kleine Gemeinde and by the 1860’s there were four different groups. Elders Peter Toews and his brother-in-law Jacob Wiebe laboured to unite these groups, but only partially succeeded. Jacob Wiebe united with the group led by Elder Abram Friesen, but the largest number of members united with the group led by Peter Toews. A few years later Jacob Wiebe and his group, who lived in Crimea, separated from Abram Friesen’s group. They believed they had not been born again when first baptized and were all rebaptized by immersion. In the process they took a different name, calling themselves the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren.

All three groups emigrated to North America in the 1870’s; the Peter Toews group went to south-eastern Manitoba, the Abram Friesen group to the area of Janzen, Nebraska and the Jacob Wiebe group to Hillsboro, Kansas. Peter Toews had experienced the new birth many years earlier and became acutely aware that many, probably most, of the members of his group did not have peace with God. In his search for answers he came into contact with the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, led by Elder John Holdeman. In the summer of 1881 he was authorized by his church to travel to Kansas to investigate that church. Following are a few excerpts of the letter he wrote to his church at the conclusion of that trip.

The foremost question on my mind was concerning baptism, whether they would baptize a person the second time if it were found that he had been unconverted at the time of the first baptism. They answered to the affirmative; and they had had a case like that: whereupon a minister called a man, A. Wenger by name, to tell of his experience.

(This was Absalom Wenger, son of Peter and Susanna Wenger and the forefather of a large number of Wengers who are members of the church of God in Christ, Mennonite today. He had repented up to a point and seeing the peace and freedom of others who were baptized, he had hoped to gain this peace through baptism. He gave a false testimony of having a good conscience towards God and was baptized. Instead of the peace he had hoped for, Mr. Wenger had felt condemnation. He was afraid to reveal this for some months, but finally did confess to a group of ministers. After this he was able to repent fully and received peace with God. He felt very strongly that his first baptism had been invalid and thus was baptized the second time.)

I then told them that if Holdeman would come to us there possibly would be no end to the rebaptizing of members that had not experienced the new birth and the faith that bringeth about true repentance.

During this discussion my mind was somewhat relieved of my prejudice to rebaptism.

Again I thought if God, in that church, revealed such displeasure when only one person not having experienced conversion was baptized, what would become of our baptism? How many of us have also received baptism on false testimony?

So I must unite with the Church of God and labour toward the union of all God’s children. I can therefore no longer justify our baptism received outside God’s church, nor can I any longer administer oour baptism or the Lord’s Supper. I shall . . . trust in the Lord to lead us to be united with that church. How this will come about is as yet unknown to me, I shall leave it to the leading of God, if it be His will, till Holdeman and one of his helpers come to visit us.

I fear to continue building a structure that is not built according to the rules of the gospel and the God-given pattern, but, as it appears to me, is beside the pattern and teaching of God.

I fear to build members of torn and divided groups, which are not baptized into one body, the church of Christ – to build a kingdom to which only a few of us belong. We are not baptized into one body, but are torn and divided, some walking in self-chosen humility and worshipping of angels (of which we should not be beguiled, lest we lose our reward).

We all profess that we are all baptized into the body of Christ, even though many are walking in voluntary humility. Therefore it appears to me that we are beguiled and in danger of losing our reward, missing the mark and not reaching our goal.

I again certify, as you already know, that I can no longer continue in my office as Elder, and this for no other reason than the fear of God: lest I deal differently than His Word teaches us.

In the winter of 1881-1882 John Holdeman and Marc Seiler came to Manitoba and held evangelistic services in the various locations where these Kleine Gemeinde people had settled. These people had been earnestly trying to live a Christian life, but most were unconverted. Under the preaching of Holdeman and Seiler many were born again and 160 persons were baptized. Congregations were established in seven small villages.

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