Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Saturday, 17 April 21:
Judges 9:14, 15 — “Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade’.”
The first parable recorded in the Bible is about the consequence of raising up corrupt leaders, professional politicians: Abimelech (meaning: “my father is king”), an illegitimate son of Gideon, born of a concubine who was in Shechem, convinced the leaders of Schechem, appealing to their racism (Shechem was a Canaanite city), to make him King. With the money he was paid, Abimelech hires “worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him,” and he eliminates his legitimate opposition, the rightful successors of Gideon – he kills “his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself.”
At Abimelech’s inauguration ceremony as King before the people of Schechem, Jotham stands on top of a distant hill and shouts out the “Parable of the Trees.” In this first parable of the Bible, the trees decide to elect a king, and they first ask the Olive tree, then the fig tree, and then the grape vine, but all these refuse to be king because they are all successful, important contributors to society and have no desire to leave their productive industry and societal contribution to “hold sway over the trees.” So, finally, they go to the bramble (thorn bush), and ask the bramble to reign. The bramble, who serves no productive value in society, produces nothing, but only feeds off of the labors of others, gladly accepts leadership, promising to give all the other trees “refuge” in his “shade,” as if a thorn bush offers any shade. The parable accurately predicts that the bramble will “devour the cedars of Lebanon,” as will be revealed in our continued readings.
This story in Judges goes far beyond revealing the consequences of Gideon’s sin (an important lesson in itself), it sends an important message/warning about self-serving politicians. There is a terrible consequence of electing worthless leaders, lacking character and competence, men and women who make empty promises and rally rabble to political action in order to remain in power, who feed off of the productivity of others. These career politicians, brambles, offer refuge and shade they don’t have while they choke the life out of communities and destroy. Our Founding Fathers had a healthy distrust of government that came from not only their own experiences but also from their knowledge of the Bible:
- 1 Samuel 8:11-18 — These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth [you wish it were just a 10th] of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
Government is important to maintain stability, and Romans 13 (along with other Bible verses) makes it clear that we are to obey civil authority when civil authority doesn’t demand that we directly disobey God. But, how important is it to elect men and women of true character and competence to office? I don’t believe this can be done without a concerted effort on the part of Christians who have always served as the conscience of the Nation. Like the olive tree, the fig tree, and the grape vine, we can get so focused on contributing to society that we turn governing over to the thorn bushes which are slowly devouring us. Christians must rediscover their voice in the social/political dialogue in order to influence change. However, we must not allow politics to distract from our primary message of the Gospel. On the contrary, we must put social issues within the context of the Gospel.
As the late theologian Jacques Ellul stated, “The Christian who is involved in the material history of this world is involved in it as representing another order, another Master (rather than the prince of this world), another claim (rather than that of the natural heart of man). Thus he must plunge into social and political problems in order to have an influence on the world, not in the hope of making it a paradise, but simply in order to make it tolerable — not in order to diminish the opposition between this world and the Kingdom of God, but simply in order to modify the opposition between the disorder of this world and the order of preservation that God wills for it — not in order to ‘bring in’ the Kingdom of God, but in order that the gospel may be proclaimed, that all men may really hear the Good News of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ.”
Again, we must be very careful not to get so wrapped up in the current political process and specific issues that we fail to proclaim first and foremost the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the late Chuck Colson stated, “When the church aligns itself politically, it gives priority to the compromises and temporal successes of the political world rather than its Christian confession of eternal truth. And when the church gives up its rightful place as the conscience of the culture, the consequences for society can be horrific.”
Additionally, we must be willing to pay the personal price when obeying God means we cannot obey government, societal norms, or even current church denominational position. When the Pharisees sought to silence the disciples in Luke 19, Jesus said, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” In Acts 5, when the Sanhedrin ordered the Apostles not to preach Jesus, “Peter and the other Apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men!” They were flogged, and then the Bible says, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” Show yourself worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name, and rejoice in your inevitable persecution. After all, as Hebrews 12:4 reminds you, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
This is a challenging time for our Nation, and the only hope for our Nation is corporate repentance and revival, which can only occur among God’s people. We are not mere victims of our circumstances; we influence circumstances, either in a positive way or a negative way, and remember, “silence is consent.” As stated in 2 Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Finally, in 1 Samuel 13 and 14, the Israelites were up against seemingly impossible odds, facing the powerful, heavily armored and equipped Philistines whose soldiers were more numerous than the sand on the seashore. The Bible says, “When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical, that their army was hard pressed, they hid in the caves,” and some simply left the fight altogether. But Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come, let us go over to the outpost of the uncircumcised. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” His armor bearer said, “Do all that you have in mind; go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” Subsequently, Jonathan’s boldness caused the Israelites to rise up out of their holes, and he led them in a great victory. Be a Jonathan today, or at least be an armor bearer. As the Marines would say, “Lead; follow; or get the ‘heck’ out of the way.” Don’t miss out on your Gideon’s Army moment, but count yourself among the 300 that would be willing to participate in God’s victory. Semper Fidelis Coram Deo – Always faithful before the face of God.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 17 Apr 21: Get involved in social issues, but as an ambassador for Christ, using the “issues” as a springboard to proclaim salvation through Christ alone. Always pointing to the Gospel, be willing to defend justice for others, careful not to claim justice in any self-serving way – “Thus says the LORD: ‘Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.'” (Isaiah 56:1) “The LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.” (Isaiah 5:16) “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.” (Psalm 82:3) ” Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8, 9)