Tearing Lions And Toeing Lines

Tearing Lions And Toeing Lines

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

He wore a name we know well but accomplished the will of a Name we know better. Samson the judge was the man who dropped a thousand Philistines with a jawbone while dropping the jaws of those who would read these accounts years later.
In Judges 13 through 16 we find the awesome, yet tragic life of the strongest man who ever walked the earth. From the moment of his miraculous conception to those dramatic moments between the pillars, he captivates our imagination. Some tend to idolize his prowess as a warrior and rebel, but the real lessons we can learn from Samson can be appreciated by everyone. What if a mortal human could act in place of God? While impossible, let’s just humor this thought. In a way we get a glimpse of how miserable life would be if we didn’t serve a righteous Lord. When Samson lost his temper, became annoyed, bored, or defiant he would always choose to act in his own self interest. He was empowered by a God he didn’t serve and that is seen time and again in these three chapters. His final act of killing over three thousand Philistines who mocked him in their pagan temple were slain out of revenge (Judges 16:28) and hatred. His eyes had been gauged out and he is led by a servant through a crowd of people who were not even supposed to be living in the same land as the Israelites (Numbers 31:17). In other words, the Philistines were a hole dug by God’s children in the first place. Samson was a tool in God’s hand to relieve His people from the oppression of these ruthless “fish people.”

I’m sure you know many of the accounts from the life of Samson so here are a few things that God intended for us to learn from him.

1. God is infinitely more powerful than His creation (including Samson) and is infinitely more loving and patient than His creation. If Samson had the power of God, his own humanity would provoke him to destroy anyone who irritated or upset him. How many times has God forgiven us and then placed those sins out of His sight? Too many times to count, I’d imagine.
2. God can use the self-seeking people in the world to accomplish His own will. He never lost control of Samson and God hasn’t lost control in the world today.
3. Nothing could make us serve God, even if He paid us a supernatural visit (see Jesus). Samson’s abilities were given to him by the Lord, and yet that wasn’t enough to convince him to dedicate his life to Him. Consider Solomon that was given wisdom in a miraculous way— yet still fell. In the end it comes down to the individual heart, the desire, and the determination to commit ourselves to His service.
4. God’s desire to protect His people is great and His methods are creative. The Israelites could have never dreamed that their savior would be a man like Samson. They were plagued by a race of wicked warriors, but God used one man to turn the tables. When we look at our country today we may think there’s no way that things could be different but let’s not forget how powerful and how creative God is. It doesn’t matter whether or not WE can see a path forward when God has proven that He is more than capable and willing to see us through.

You could ponder over the life of Samson and come up with more great lessons to build your faith. Why not read through Judges 13-16 to remind yourself of God’s control in this world? As a bonus, you’d be treating yourself to one of the most fascinating sections in the Old Testament.

 
Ebenezer!

Ebenezer!

Neal Pollard

No, not Scrooge (though my favorite version starred George C. Scott)!  That Ebenezer is the one even most Christians are more familiar with. The Ebenezer I’m referring to is from the Bible. You’ll read about it between 1 Samuel 4-7. The first two references are to an existing village (4:1; 5:1). But, it’s the last reference that Robert Robinson makes use of in his well-known, 1758 hymn, O Thou Fount Of Every Blessing.

In the thread of Jewish history, Eli is rejected as High Priest for the corruption perpetrated in his house against the people in their priestly functions. Samuel is chosen to be his replacement. Due to the terrible leadership of Eli’s sons and their influence over the people (2:24), God allows the Philistines to rout them in battle (4:2). The Israelites try to form their own solution by bringing the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh to Ebenezer as an icon of power (4:3-4) and perhaps to intimidate the Philistines (4:6-9). This backfires, the Philistines steal the ark (4:11), and keep it in the house of their god, Dagon, for seven months (5:2; 6:1). This brings what might have been Bubonic Plague on the Philistines until they, desperately, return the ark to Israel (6:12). Except for the over 50,000 people of Beth Shemesh who look into the ark when it was returned to them and were destroyed (6:19), things were much improved for Israel.

By now, Eli’s successor has been named. Eleazer cares for the ark, safeguarding it for 20 years at Kirjath Jearim. Samuel leads a Restoration Movement to free Israel from Philistine oppression. The people repent when they gather at Mizpah. The Philistines hears of Israel’s prayer meeting and prepare to fight them.  Samuel urges prayer and sacrifice (7:8-9). It was then God made His appearance and confused the Philistines so much that Israel utterly defeats them. There, between Mizpah and Shen, Samuel takes a stone and laid it on the ground, calling the place Ebenezer. This means, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (7:12). Israel regains cities lost to Philistia and were relieved from their oppression. The place where Israel had been defeated twice became the place where God helped His people win with finality!

Why would Robinson use such a relatively obscure Old Testament moment to talk about God’s guidance and assistance? First, Israel had to come as far as they could from wickedness to salvation. But, it was not by their goodness or power that they were delivered. Far from it! God “thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines.” The Lord “confused them.” So, Samuel sets up a memorial in an attempt to remind Israel of their dependence on Him.

Because of human nature, we still need that reminder today. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial of dependence, a continual reminder of our need for a substitute sacrifice to save us from hell. Prayer is an inherent reminder that we’re preserved only by the Lord’s help. Even our bodies remind us we are finite. When we look at the incredible world of nature, our souls sing out, “How Great Thou Art!” The next time you sing that Robinson hymn, remember that “it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (Lam. 3:22).

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