Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: submission

Confusion about the Gibeonites

Four years ago I published a post entitled Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism. The first two paragraphs read as follows:

Moralistic, therapeutic deism, a term first used by Christian Smith, seems a fitting description of much of what passes for Christianity in North America. The followers of this religion believe in a God who wants them to be good, wants them to feel good about themselves, doesn’t need to be consulted except in case of emergencies, and who will accept all good people into heaven.

One unfortunate result is that such people read the Old Testament as a series of morality tales, leading to conclusions that play up the foolishness and waywardness of Old Testament characters. Such a reading altogether misses the redemption story that is an essential ingredient of these histories. The New Testament points to these histories as God’s way of revealing little by little his plan of redemption.

Today I want to write about how the story of the Gibeonites, beginning in the ninth chapter of Joshua, is commonly misinterpreted. Bible story books and Sunday School lessons tend to make a big thing of how the Gibeonites tricked the elders of Israel. In doing so, they altogether miss how this account fits into the redemption story.

If God had been displeased with the Israelites for accepting the Gibeonites, would he not have told Joshua to just stand back and let the armies of the south destroy Gibeon? Instead he told Joshua to go up to battle and that he would deliver the attacking armies into Joshua’s hand. Then God performed one of the great miracles of the Old Testament, making the sun stand still for another whole day. At the same time, God poured out hail on the attacking armies.

Up to this point, the children of Israel were occupying a small enclave in the plains of Jericho. The mountainous country was before them; the population in those mountains far outnumbered the Israelites and they were men of war. Yet the pact with the Gibeonites provided the opening to utterly destroy those armies during the battle of the long day and subsequent battles in the days following. Now the Israelites were masters of all the southern half of the Promised Land.

This stirred the nations in the north to gather together to battle, but once again the Lord assured Joshua that He would deliver them to him. Joshua and the Israelites won another great victory and were now in possession of all the land. They had not destroyed all the people of the land, but there were no longer any mighty armies to stand against them.

As we read the whole story, the inescapable conclusion is that God blessed the Israelites for accepting the Gibeonites. Yes, they came with a deceitful story, yet they did it because they recognized the greatness of God. They submitted willingly to the conditions laid upon them by the elders of Israel, knowing that the alternative was death. Joshua 11:19 says: “There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle.”

The Gibeonites became hewers of wood and drawers of water for the service of the tabernacle. There was an element of mercy in this, they were not made slaves to individual Israelites, which could well have led to oppression and mistreatment. It is likely that the Gibeonites are the same people as those later called Nethinims.

The Gibeonites were Hivites, descendants of Canaaan. Others of the Hivites remained and later troubled the Israelites. There is no hint in the Bible that the Gibeonites were in any way associated with them. They had made their choice to take their place among the people of God.

Nevertheless, there came a time when King Saul thought he would be doing God a service by wiping out the Gibeonites. Because of this God sent a three year famine in Israel in the time of King David. The famine ceased when seven of Sauls grandsons were hung. This may look like revenge, but perhaps a better explanation is that this was a means to make it publicly known to all Israel that the slaying of the Gibeonites was entirely Saul’s idea and contrary to the will of God.

Are we perhaps thinking like Saul if we condemn the Gibeonites for their deception? The real story here, as I see it, is a group of Gentiles forsaking their gods to seek refuge with Israel and their God. Perhaps their methods were questionable, but all the accounts that mention them demonstrate the purity and sincerity of their desire to fully submit to the Almighty God.

Loving God

It is important to have an assurance that God loves me just the way I am. But is that the most important factor in Christian life?

The Law and the Gospels tell us that: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. ” This quote is from Luke 10:27, but the same instructions are found in Deuteronomy, Matthew and Mark.

Now, since love is the gift of God, part of the fruit of the Spirit, we really don’t have to be concerned about whether we love God – right? I wish. In a way, it really is that simple, but we humans have a talent for making simple things complicated.

First off, I start by thinking God and I see things the same way and what He wants for me is exactly the same as what I want for me. You’ve got to love a God like that. Then things start to go awry, things don’t happen the way I thought I had a right to expect — and my relationship with God starts to get a little sour. Why wasn’t God listening to me?

Eventually a little wisdom begins to develop — God knew all along that the things I wanted would not be good for me, wouldn’t turn out like I expected. He tried to warn me — I was the one who wasn’t listening. A hard lesson.

For a time I go on in a constant state of agitation and tension between the things I want and the things God wants for me. This is not a good place to be, the problems get bigger and bigger — to the point that it becomes almost impossible to believe that there is a way out.

How many years does it take before the light dawns that my problems are big because I haven’t allowed God to be God in my life? Oh, I have always wanted to serve Him and I have not wandered away from Him. But I never really comprehended how big He is. I have relegated Him to a small corner of my life and tried to conquer my problems alone, with just a bit of advice from Him from time to time.

Why don’t I just let Him take charge of the whole big mess? Things aren’t going to turn out as I had anticipated, they are going to turn out far better, because now I am allowing God to show me what is truly valuable.

When I learn to let God be God, and love Him with every fibre of my being, my problems don’t go away. But now they are dwarfed by this great big wonderful God who has control of my life.

Synthetic or authentic?

Zeal is a Christian virtue.
Submission is a Christian virtue.
On our own we can work up a pretty convincing facsimile of one or the other.
To have both at once is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What Standard Are We Using?

“Thus he showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more” (Amos 7:7,8).

Several years ago I had the opportunity to be part of a group which held services in the chapel of a shelter for indigent men. The chapel was furnished with hymn books which the men were accustomed to using, and most songs in this book were familiar to us. It did not present a great problem to use their book in these meetings. However, sometimes the musical arrangement was slightly different from the one with which we were familiar. As we sang, some in our group would be singing what they were seeing before them, and others would sing from memory the notes which they had sung so many times before. The resulting sound fell somewhat short of the harmony that we desired. I doubt if the attendees noticed. Although many sang with enthusiasm, it appeared that most did not have a really good ear for music. But we would note among ourselves the result of not all singing from the same book.

As we drive through the industrial areas of our towns and cities, we notice that many factories are flying banners which say, “Certified ISO 9001” (or 9002). ISO standards are international standards for quality systems. They ensure that different companies are all “singing from the same book” when they give the specifications of their product.

These standards are presently recognized in seventy different countries. In order to be certified, a company must show that they are calibrating their measurement tools to an internationally recognized standard, that they are using standardized procedures to ensure the conformity of their product to the customer’s specifications, and also are using acceptable procedures to ensure that the non-conforming product does not reach the customer. In the past, every large corporation had their own program to discover whether potential suppliers were producing and shipping parts conforming to their needs. This became expensive and cumbersome, especially when customer and supplier were in different countries.

We can readily see the utility of such standards. When companies are certified by independent auditors to these international standards, it gives potential customers a level of confidence which facilitates buying and selling, even across international boundaries. But let us suppose that I was running a small manufacturing business here in Canada and I had an opportunity to sell some of my product to a client in Austria, but didn’t want to submit to the ISO standards. I could very well try to convince this client that I had my own standards that were every bit as satisfactory as the ISO standard. Wouldn’t he suspect that I was trying to cover up some shortcoming in the way that my business was operating?

Now let us apply this in a spiritual sense. The scripture at the beginning of this article tells us that God has set up a standard and that He will not overlook our nonconformance to His standard. When we willingly submit to this measurement, it gives us confidence in God and in one another. But what if we would each try to live by our own standard?

The apostle Paul had somewhat to say about this in 2 Corinthians 10:12, warning that “we dare not make ourselves equal to or compare ourselves to some of those who commend themselves. But, in measuring themselves by their own measure [or standard] and in comparing themselves to themselves, they lack understanding.” This is the reading given in the Louis Segond (French) translation, and it brings out a point that I have previously missed when reading it in English. The danger is not so much in comparing ourselves to others, but in establishing our own personal standards to judge our motives and actions.

When we compare ourselves to others, don’t we choose those to whom we wish to compare ourselves? We may say, “Everybody is doing such and such a thing,” but is it really everybody? In taking for our example those who are walking close to the borderline of genuine Christian living, or even somewhat over the border, in at least this one area of their lives, we have already made a choice. We have set up a standard for ourselves that is different from God’s standard. This may initially bring a certain acceptance with those who are minded the same way on this point at that time. But in the end we will find ourselves alone, because we are measuring ourselves by our own standard. Our own standard will always be a little different from anyone else’s, because we are not willing to submit ourselves to the standard that is accepted by others.

When others ask how it is going in our Christian lives, we feel defensive if our standard is not God’s standard. We have measured ourselves by the standard which we have established for ourselves, but that does not bring about a feeling of mutual confidence and fellowship.

We have the Bible as our guidebook. It is an indispensable source of inspiration and reference for our Christian lives. The church, in conference, by the direction of the Holy Spirit, interpreted the Word into everyday practice and application. She has established certain points of reference for our Christian lives. But even if we would each try to conform ourselves fully to these standards, according to our own understanding, differences of interpretation would often arise, bringing about a lack of confidence. We need the Holy Spirit to audit our lives continually to reveal whether we are truly in compliance with God’s standards as set forth in the Word. This provides a basis whereby we have confidence in others and they in us.

If it is truly our heart’s desire to follow God’s direction for our lives, we will not be out of harmony with our brothers and sisters. Even though we sing different voices, it all blends together. We are all “singing from the same book,” the one written in our hearts (Ps. 119:11), and the harmony is beautiful.

Bob Goodnough, Acton Vale, Quebec
(I wrote this for one of our church periodicals 17 years ago. while living in a different province.)

Submission = Freedom

I realize this is a counter-cultural statement in the present day and age where liberty is prized above all other virtues. But are people more free today than they were in ages past?

Consider the example of a shepherd and his flock. The shepherd watches over the needs of the flock, guards them from enemies, treats their wounds and sicknesses. Is this freedom or bondage? If an independent minded sheep leaves to seek his freedom, is he then free when the wolves are picking over his bones?

If an unwed woman wishes to abort her baby, she is free to do so; she will find much support and encouragement for this decision. Will she find as much support and encouragement if she makes a different choice? Or does the prevailing mood of our society push in one direction only? How can this be called freedom of choice?

People are fleeing repressive regimes in some countries and seeking a safe haven in nations that are more free. Most of them are willing to submit to the laws and mores of their new country and make it their new homeland. Others appear to want to re-create the laws and mores of the countries from which they have fled. It appears that they have carried with them a bondage of the mind.

Christianity promises freedom and demands submission. This sounds contradictory, but true freedom can only be found in submission to God. All the other forms of submission of which the Bible speaks – in the home, in the church, towards civil authorities – are simply means of working out our submission to God’s authority in all areas of our life.

There are many people who want to claim Jesus as their Saviour, but are not willing to acknowledge His as Lord of their life. It is a great fallacy to believe that such a thing is possible. Many people find Christian life burdensome and frustrating precisely because they believe that submission is an infringement of their liberty. They follow the path that they believe will bring liberty and happiness and find themselves deeper and deeper in bondage and more and more unhappy.

We are like sheep – we need a shepherd. When we can submit to the Good Shepherd and permit Him to lead us in all areas of our life, we find it a truly liberating experience.

One more point must be clearly established – in the Christian church everyone is called to submit, no one is called to lord it over the faith and life of others. God has an order that makes homes and congregations into havens of peace and love if each one can submit to his or her place in that order. Knowing that those to whom I submit are themselves submitted to authority, ultimately the authority of God, brings the assurance that there will be no abuse of the confidence I place in them. Those who are in authority over me are those who must watch for my soul. that cannot work if they try to do it in an overbearing and lordly way.

 

The inconvenient Jesus

Jesus was the enemy of formalism and legalism, the one who castigated the religious leaders of His day for their hypocrisy.  He was the friend of the poor, the oppressed, the outcasts and the sinners.  We like to believe that no matter what others may think of us, Jesus is our unconditional friend.

That isn’t far off the mark, but when we go to a funeral and hear that our dear departed uncle is now in heaven, all his sorrows are over, while we never noticed that our dear departed took any interest in preparing for heaven, then we begin to wonder if the picture has not gotten skewed.

Jesus’ own words are difficult (impossible) to reconcile with the picture of a Jesus who welcomes everyone to heaven, even if they never showed any desire to go there.  Things like: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me,”and even:  “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus had strange ideas of what it meant to be blessed: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”

The meaning of these verses is that if heaven is not more important to us than all our earthly pride and possessions, even our own family, we are never going to make it there.  These, and many other of the hard sayings of Jesus are an inconvenient obstacle to those who wish to believe in a Jesus who will accept them on their own terms.

Things do not work that way in real life; we must accept Jesus on His terms.  That includes repentance, self-denial and for many people may include rejection by friends and family and even physical danger, persecution and death.

There was no easy way out for Jesus when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour” and: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”

He suffered the agony of the cross, blood poured from His wounds and His side.  He did not go through this to make life on earth easier for us, but to make eternal life in heaven possible for us.  Our way to heaven must also involve submission to the will of the Father, a willingness to forsake the thoughts and things that are highly esteemed by those around us and to bear the shame and reproach of the cross.

There are no short cuts, no easier pathway for someone who claims a special illumination.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and His way is the narrow way.  If we want to be in heaven with Jesus, that way is the only way.  This is still good news.  Heaven will be worth it all and there will be no one there who did not really want to be there.

%d bloggers like this: