In my last post I commented on the 6th chapter of 1st Samuel, but right now I want to address something that may help us connect God’s Word with things we can see in our current times. Now this is going to get personal for you; and if you’re paying attention, before all is said and done this may be one of the more difficult lessons to deal with. The kind that keeps you awake, worried, sad, or mad at me.
I love it when someone says that the light bulb finally came on in their heads and now they finally realize that without understanding the cultures and societies and rituals of the people of the Bible—in the setting of their own ancient terms—the Bible is close to incomprehensible despite everything we thought we knew.
Due to the Church’s historic propensity to practically demonize the Old Testament, and to view the history of Israel as largely irrelevant since (in the eyes of many theologians) God has rejected Israel and replaced it with the Church in His redemptive plan, then it goes without saying that to give the Older Covenant, the opening books of the Bible, more than a good skim-reading is anywhere from a waste of time to possibly even heresy if you give it too much credence.
Hopefully by now you have come to see that the situation is quite the opposite. The Bible is a challenging work to decipher and to apply to our lives and far too often it’s misunderstood, so its principles are misapplied or even dismissed. How could this happen? Well, because rather than do the difficult digging that’s necessary to peel back the layers to get down to its molten core, many Believers have (without knowing it) turned to Scripture translations and studies that were formulated to reduce it to a Junior High School level of reading and vocabulary proficiency, so promoting a Junior High School level of understanding.
Anyone who has ever dealt with a Junior High School-er knows that contrary to their way of thinking, they do have some notion of life’s realities and principles, but their depth and breadth of understanding is woefully incomplete and full of gaping holes. The problem is that generally they are quite sure they have all the facts they need and are also supremely confident that any additional information is just a waste of their time. So when someone offers them additional information, they are met with disinterest usually accompanied with looks of, “what do I need to know this stuff for, it’s boring?” So while they are looking for maximum independence, in reality they need a lot of shepherding and carefully limited freedoms in making significant decisions because the results of their decisions can represent a long term danger that they have no ability to understand. And their inability to understand the consequences of their decisions is due to their lack of maturity and knowledge that’s far more limited than they think it is. How many adults have ever met a teenager who believed they had all the answers?
Well, when we approach the Bible with this kind of immature naivety as though the intent of its incomparable words can be comprehended without reading it from the beginning to create a foundation; or reading it as though the historical biblical settings, languages, and ways and customs of the people who lived thousands of years ago are little more than optional footnotes is more than erroneous, it’s downright dangerous for anyone seeking God. Our Christian faith has been compromised from one end to the other with theological philosophies and agendas brought about by men who think (as Junior High School-ers think) that by reading only a portion of the Bible; or by skipping the first 60% and then relying only on the New Testament Gospels or some of Paul’s epistles; or by standing on the carefully crafted faith doctrines of one of the literally thousands of Christian denominations, they have all the information they need to make sound decisions about both their spiritual and earthly lives and especially decisions about their relationship with the Lord. To open themselves to the actual and full Word of God, starting with His first words, is often considered to be too hard and unnecessary and will only confuse the well established set of doctrines and traditions they and their flocks are certain are right and by definition all else must be wrong. If I’ve heard the words once, I’ve heard them a hundred times: “I don’t know what the Bible says but I know what I believe.”
Listen to the writer of the fifth chapter of Hebrews that talks about what happens when a Believer refuses to advance beyond the basic understandings of God and faith but thinks that somehow this basic understanding is sufficient.
We have much to say about this subject, but it is hard to explain, because you have become sluggish in understanding. For although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the very first principles of God’s Word all over again! You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who has to drink milk is still a baby, without experience in applying the Word about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by continuous exercise to distinguish good from evil —Hebrews 5:11-14
This situation that was a problem in Paul’s day, remains a problem in our day, and is the same sort of situation that we are reading about in 1st Samuel; it is this disinterest and naïve immaturity and failure to strive for “continuous exercise to distinguish good from evil” that is the mindset of the Israelites of Samuel’s era at the time when their precious Ark of the Covenant was first captured and then returned to them after 7 months in the hands of the Philistines. The Torah was now 400 years old; the 40-year wilderness journey was ancient history for these folks, just as the Pilgrims’ migration from Europe to the new frontier of America is ancient history to us. Apparently the priests and Levites no longer gave much thought to those days of old or to the ancient Law of Moses given on Mt. Sinai. The Torah and the Exodus were things of the past, irrelevant as far they were concerned, and they were satisfied to believe whatever they believed.
I’m one of those odd ducks who loves history, especially early American history. One of my blogs offers Wisdom from our Founders. But other than a few of us, who among us today reads the documents and writings from the Pilgrim era or studies books penned only a few decades later telling of the deprivation and heroic efforts of these Believers to survive and start a colony in a place of freedom where they were no longer literally coerced into pubic observance of state-mandated religious traditions and customs? Part of the reason we don’t go back and look at these writings is because even though the language of the Pilgrims was English, the spelling, the way the alphabet characters were formed, the sentence structure, and even the somewhat peculiar words of those writings make studying them tedious and even frustrating. We have to untangle and go through the trouble to figure out what those words meant to them in the 1600’s, because we certainly don’t claim that we can directly apply the experiences of their culture and society to 21st century America. So why do most mainstream Believers think we can merely lift these bible characters and scripture writers out of their day and time and set them into our living rooms, clothe them in Levis and Nikes, hand them a Ham and Cheese quiche and somehow this is all that’s needed to harmonize their ancient Middle Eastern, Hebrew culture and thoughts with our 21st century Western, English based culture and thoughts?
For those among us today that don’t care for American history or see any relevance to knowing about our Pilgrim faith forefathers or wish to put in the effort to discover it, our ill-informed conclusions may at times put us on the wrong side of truth and reality; on the other hand such mistaken beliefs will generally have little effect on our lives. But when dealing with the Word of God; when dealing with the divine truth and commands and principles sent down to us from Heaven, it’s an entirely different matter. For the people of Beit-Shemesh, the residents of the Israelite border town where the tumor-ridden Philistines sent that cart with the Ark of God aboard, much to their shock it turned out that their willful ignorance of, and cavalier attitude towards, the Torah proved to be fatal.
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I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.