Posts Tagged ‘Old Testament’

The Way of Reason in the Book of Judges

Dear Reader,

Are you familiar with this refrain from the Book of Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6; 21:25)? I am embarrassed to say that though I have known for years, decades even, that this is the guiding principle of the book, that I have misunderstood its import.

When I read these words, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” I thought only of people doing what they liked, following their own way. I thought these people were selfish and undisciplined, that they had no guiding principle, no concern for absolute truth, no awareness of the law of God.

But I missed a key word in the middle of the sentence: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Do you see that? They did not just do what they felt like (though no doubt they did feel like it). They did not follow whims and passions without consideration. They used their reason. They did not say “I don’t care what is right, but I will do as I feel.” But they found what was right — at least to their own thinking – and did that thing.

Their problem was not that they indulged in the wrong or did not care whether what they did was wrong or right. They did care. They took pains to find what was “right.” The problem was that they relied upon “their own eyes.” They used their reason but they came to wrong conclusions because they had no guiding principle outside themselves. Their reason failed them.

This is what Charlotte Mason tells us about what she calls the Way of Reason — that it is a tool and cannot be our master. It can, and has, been used to justify any ends so we must be careful of our beginnings. We cannot rely upon our own eyes but must begin with something firm and true, something outside ourselves:

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Prov. 14:12; ESV)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5)

For “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7a)


Jeremiah 13 and 14: The Life of a Prophet

Dear Reader,

This is part of my continuing series on the book of Jeremiah. Find all the posts here.

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a prophet in ancient Israel? Maybe you have aspired to do great things for God and have lamented the fact that the position of prophet is no longer available. Before you go running off to the nearest street corner yelling “The word of the Lord came unto me,” let’s look at what life was like for the prophet Jeremiah.

As we have discussed previously, Jeremiah was from a priestly family. Often in societies it is the people from the fringes who claim to get special messages from God. Whether their particular revelations are real or not, one can see how it would be the disenfranchised who would be most likely to claim to have a special line to the deity or deities. But this was not the case for Jeremiah. He was from a privileged class. He already had a special line to God. Nor was he using the Almighty to boost his own power. His message was not “Hey, guys, the Big One wants you all to listen to me, do exactly what I say, and, um, give me all your goats. Yeah, goats are good. Give me all your goats.”

Instead, Jeremiah came with a message of destruction. They call him the weeping prophet and I will say the sense I get when I read through the book named after him is that Jeremiah was a deeply heart-broken man — heart-broken for his people, heart-broken on behalf of his God, and heart-broken that the priestly class, his own family members, were responsible for a lot of the evil all around him and for the coming destruction. One can only imagine what the reaction of those family members must have been. Maybe there was a secret glee when he criticized the royals. Or maybe they warned him that he was saying dangerous things. Maybe a favorite uncle took him aside and asked him to stop. Ordered him to stop. Maybe they pretended he was crazy. Maybe they were all embarrassed by him.

And then it got worse. It got even more personal. What do you think Jeremiah’s grandma said? Was his mother the sort to call him out or did she cover her face and cry quietly?

That’s the situation the prophet is in when we get to chapters 13 and 14. And then it gets worse. Here’s how chapter 13 begins:

“Thus says the Lord to me, ‘Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist, and do not dip it in water.’ So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the Lord, and put it around my waist.” (Jer. 13:1-2; ESV)

Okay, a loincloth, that’s old-fashioned underwear, right? That’s a little weird, but being a good prophet Jeremiah obeys God. So far so good. But then God speaks again:

“”Take the loincloth that you have bought, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.’ So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me.” (vv. 3-4)

Hmmm . . . hide the brand new undies in a hole in a rock in a foreign land? Umm, okay, God, still pretty weird, but Jeremiah obeys. And then:

“And after many days the Lord said to me, ‘Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.’ Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.” (vv. 5-7)

Now go back and get the undies that have essentially been buried and surprise, surprise! They’re dirty! Who would have guessed?

It’s all a little bizarre, isn’t it? Of course, Jeremiah was from a prestigious family; though clothing was not cheap then, he could probably afford to waste a pair of bloomers. But what is the point of all this? Why on earth would God want him to do it? As the Lord goes on to explain, this was an object lesson:

“Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Thus says the Lord: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.  This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.'” (vv. 8-11)

The whole message of this escapade is: My people have become to me like a soiled pair of knickers. Lovely. Very visual, God, thanks. One wonders even what the point is since presumably Jeremiah’s actions were not widely known, at least not until he told them. But, nonetheless, this is how God operates with the prophets. We often think of them as God’s mouthpieces — God speaks and the prophet repeats his words to the people. But talking is only a part of the prophet’s call. Trust me, Jeremiah got off easy here; there are lots worse things that God has asked the prophets to do. Hosea had to marry a loose woman who continued to  . . . err, be loose . . . after their marriage. And then he had to go buy her back from her lovers. Pay money for his own wife. Talk about emasculating! And then there was Ezekiel. He had to lie on his left side for 390 days. Yeah, Jeremiah got off fairly easily. But still the lesson for us is that being a prophet is no cake walk. It is not just about saying things, even dangerous, embarrassing things. It is about living out your message, often in very grimy, personal ways.

So do you still think you’d like to be a prophet?