Tuesday, August 19, 2014 0 comments

Saul and Samuel Brought Together by the Lord

One of the things that is neat about 1 Samuel 9 is that it shows how the Lord brought Saul to Samuel to be made king.

Saul goes on this journey because some of their donkeys are missing and his dad wanted him to go look for them.  The timing of the loss of those donkeys shows it was the Lord behind it.

There’s another circumstance that indicates that the Lord has a hand in bring them together.  See if you can find it in v6 and v12:

And he said unto him, Behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honourable man; all that he saith cometh surely to pass: now let us go thither; peradventure he can shew us our way that we should go….
12 And they answered them, and said, He is; behold, he is before you: make haste now, for he came to day to the city; for there is a sacrifice of the people to day in the high place:

In v6 the servant seems to think that Samuel is permanently at that city, but the girls at the city show that Samuel is not permanently there, but that he just got there that day.  Perfect timing.  The Lord brought both Saul and Samuel on converging paths to meet.

Yet another circumstance is that Saul has this servant with him who gives him the direction he needs, and Saul also runs into people who help him on his way with good directions.

How often does the Lord use the instrumentality of other mortals – strangers or servants or friends or employees or family or leaders -- to give us little bits of guidance to get us to the place He wants us to be?  Probably more often than we realize.

The other thing we can notice is that Saul and Samuel’s paths converged as they went about doing their best to do their duties.   Saul was serving his family looking for lost animals.  Samuel was serving the Lord by overseeing sacrificial worship at various cities.   This teaches me that if I am dependable about doing my duties, then the Lord will bring me to the people I need to meet by giving me duties that put me on that path.  So in a sense, doing our duties allows the Lord guide us to where we need to be.
Sunday, August 17, 2014 2 comments

What can Baptism Metaphors Teach Us?

I taught a Relief Society lesson last Sunday about Baptism from the Joseph Fielding Smith manual and in the process of preparing, I noticed that there are a lot of metaphors used in the scriptures to describe baptism and what it does for us and what it means for us. 

I decided I wanted to collect them together to see what I could learn from them.  And it was neat enough that I wanted to share what I found. (I didn't have time to share these in my lesson, so this is bonus material!)

The straitness of the path (2 Nephi 31:9)  Strait does not mean not crooked here.  It is another word for narrow.  Drawing attention to the narrowness emphasizes that a correct baptism has be done in a certain way otherwise it isn’t valid or efficacious.  A path implies steps we have to take and if you learn about the requirements of baptism, you learn there really are steps (see D&C 20:37). These same steps are also applicable to preparing to take the sacrament, so it’s not like we leave this path once we’ve been baptized.

Narrowness of the gate by which they should enter (2 Nephi 31:9) – Baptism is called a gateway we should enter.  This implies it is an entrance into something.  Entrance is required, so everyone needs to be searching for this gate.  Using a gate implies that it is an entrance into a place with walls where we could otherwise not get in.  This makes me think that the gate is to the kingdom of God and we might surmise that there is no other way in besides this one.  Again, narrowness implies the specificity of baptism and the way it is done and by whom. 

A witness and a testimony (Mosiah 21:35) – This makes me think of court witness and certifying to the truth of something.  Baptism is a way that we testify to the truth of our repentance and that we have covenanted to serve the Lord.    Witness also communicates how baptism demonstrates an inner state by an outer act.  I suppose that is part of bringing the body into subjection to the spirit.

Wash away thy sins (Acts 22:16) – This gives us the sense that after baptism the dirty past that has clung to us is gone.

Washed their garments in my [Jesus’] blood (3 Ne. 27:19), cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten (Moses 6:59) – This gives us additional symbolism of the baptismal act.  The water we are immersed in symbolizes being washed in the blood of Christ.  (Being dunked in blood is kind of a disturbing image, so I’m glad we don’t do that literally…)  Just like it would be a miracle if anything washed in blood were to come out clean, it is similarly a miracle that we are cleansed by Christ’s vicarious sacrifice.   The idea of being washed and cleansed by Christ’s blood also communicates how Christ’s sacrifice sanctifies us in baptism.

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us (Col. 2:14) – This one takes a bit of effort to unpack.  “ordinances that was against us” refers to the law of Moses and it means all the laws of God we’ve broken.  It’s our rap sheet, all the things we’ve done wrong.  “Blotting out the handwriting” refers to how people would erase writing on parchment or leather scrolls in an age without erasers.  They would sponge the writing with a damp or wet rag until the ink had been moistened and drawn up and out.   

So, this communicates that baptism is a wholesale erasure of the big list of our offenses on our official record, and the result is we don’t have to live in fear of judgment any more.  When a rap sheet is erased, we can walk free and not worry that we’ll be dragged to court at any moment.    Likewise, after baptism, all the list of things we’ve done wrong is erased and we don’t have to live in fear of dying and being suddenly brought to the judgment bar of God.

For the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) – Remission is an odd word.  It’s hard to get your mind around it unless you start thinking about it in medical terms.  If cancer goes into remission, then that means there is an absence of disease activity in the body.  So maybe we can think of remission of sins as an absence of sin activity in the body.  I’ve read that cancer isn’t cured unless it has been in remission long enough.  There is still potential for relapse.  Likewise, we aren’t cured of sin until we’ve been in remission long enough.  There is still the potential for relapse there too.   Remission also is used to convey the sense of cancelling a debt or a penalty. 

Our old man is crucified with him that the body of sin might be destroyed (Romans 6:6) – Crucifixion is torture.  When we begin to repent, that is torture to the natural man.  The repentance process tortures the natural man to death and destroys it, with baptism giving the coup de grace. 

Buried with him [Christ] by baptism into death (Romans 6:4, Mosiah 18:14) – This teaches us that the old natural man is meant to die and be buried during baptism.  Baptism is a likeness of the grave.  From this metaphor I get the idea that the sinful life is not prolonged, but ended, and the visible remains are placed where it will not be seen again. 

Planted together in the likeness of his death (Romans 6:5) – Paul noted that a seed can’t grow unless it dies first and is buried.  The death of the natural man in baptism is compared to a seed that is planted and then yields something much different and much better, something that sprouts and grows!  

Fruits meet for repentance (Matt 3:7-8) – Baptism is compared to fruit.  Fruit is the thing we all want from a fruit tree and we see that fruit trees go through a process before fruit ripens on them.  Fruit trees bud and flower and fruit.  That fruiting process teaches us there is a process to repentance that is meant to end with baptism. 

Born again  (John 3:3, Mosiah 27:25) -- This gives us a sense that baptism is starting over.  We get to have innocence back again without losing the knowledge we’ve gained so far.  We become a different person. 

Enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5) – This helps us think of baptism in terms of becoming a citizen in a different country.  You take an oath of loyalty and service to the king, who is Christ.  You will be a participating citizen and help build the kingdom.  You will help defend the kingdom if called upon. 

Translated in the kingdom (Colossians 1:13) – This one is unexpected and very much overlooked.  Translated evokes the idea of changing between two different languages.  We are changed and transformed into something different. 

come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism (1 Nephi 20:1) – This is Nephi quoting Isaiah and Joseph Smith inserted that “out of the waters of baptism” as prophetic commentary.   “Out of the waters of Judah” is a strange phrase for baptism, but if we remember that baptism is meant to adopt an individual into the house of Israel, we have our first clue.  The second clue is that by the time Isaiah wrote this, the northern tribes of Israel had gone apostate after idolatry, so efficacious baptism could only be found in Judah.   Today because of the restored gospel, we can speak again of baptism as coming forth out of the waters of Israel.  This conveys how baptism is an adoption into the house of Israel and joining a group who enjoy great spiritual privileges and responsibilities.

As you can see, each of these baptism metaphors teaches something special about baptism—what it does for us, how our status changes, how we prepare for it, the importance of how it is done and how that relates to its efficacy, how it relates to the atonement of Christ, how it is an ending and a beginning all at once.

Baptism is a true principle and is necessary for entering into the kingdom of God.  These metaphors are meant to persuade us to toward repentance so that we bring forth those fruits, and they are also meant to remind us of the privileges we have received as members of the kingdom of God and to remind us of our covenants.   I’m glad the prophets and apostles worked so hard to think of these metaphors to share these truths so succinctly and powerfully.

Friday, August 15, 2014 0 comments

Time to Rethink Job

 I just ran across a book about the Book of Job by Michael Austin called Rereading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poem from Kofford Books. 

There’s a 30-page preview here and it was just enough to give me a sense of better ways to think about the story of Job. 

When I read the preview, I found myself nodding to myself, Yes, I’ve noticed that.  Yes, I’ve noticed that too!  In short, if you’ve ever read the Book of Job all the way through and have wondered about all that philosophical debate that goes on between Job and his friends, you’ll get some very useful perspective from this preview.

Just to give you a hint, Austin notes that Job is like a reading of the Disney story of Cinderella and halfway in, there is an enormous poem in which Cinderella laments and complains about the obnoxiousness of the patriarchy and royalty and the values that allow people to think that a prince can be in love with a girl whose face he can’t remember or that a shoe fitting can really help someone identify the right girl, and then there is a big debate between her and her stepmother and stepsisters until the fairy godmother appears and threatens to turn Cinderella into a pumpkin if she doesn’t just chill out and marry the prince.

See?  Interesting.  And helpful.  Because that stuff is in there and we totally miss it in Sunday school because we don’t spend time talking about the middle chapters!

I’m putting this book on my “to buy” list.

If you want to buy it, here’s the publisher’s page that haspaperback and ebook links.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 0 comments

The Different Ways the Lord Delivered Israel in 1 Samuel 7

After the Lord helped Israel win against the Philistines by thundering and confusing the enemy, the text also includes a list of other ways the Lord helped deliver Israel.

13 ¶So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more into the coast of Israel: and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
14 And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even unto Gath; and the coasts thereof did Israel deliver out of the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.
15 And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. (1 Samuel 7:13-15)

1. The Philistines were subdued.  They didn’t want to fight as much as they had in the past.

2. They came no more into the coasts of Israel.  Incursions across borders, which must have been a source of irritation and trouble, stopped.

3. The hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.  This sounds like the Philistines discovered they had a bunch of their own problems they had to worry about that kept them busy so there wasn’t time or energy or resources to spare on fighting the Israelites.

4. The cities the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored.  This sounds like voluntary concession of territory, which would be pretty amazing.

5. The coasts thereof did Israel deliver out of the hands of the Philistines.  This sounds like Israel had a few more successful battles with the Philistines and liberated some of their own people.

6. There was peace between Israel and the Amorites.  This is kind of unspecific, but at its most basic sense, it is an end to hostilities and violence with the other Canaanites living around them.  It may not have included accord and treaties and trading… or it may have. 

I love that all those different conditions were described so carefully and briefly.  I think this block of verses teaches the principle that when we are repentant and righteous as a people, the Lord gives the whole nation peace among our neighbors.  These verses give us a sense of what that looks like.

When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Proverbs 16:7)

Monday, August 11, 2014 0 comments

Israel’s Repentance Process After Regaining the Ark

After regaining the ark of the covenant, Israel lamented for something like 20 years and Samuel preached repentance.  It is cool to see the effect he was able to have on Israel.
3 ¶And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.
4 Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only.
5 And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord.
6 And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the Lord. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh. (1 Sam. 7:3-6)
This tells about one of those few times in Israel when the people had a mass revival of devotion to God and went through the repentance process.

You can see what they did to repent.

They put away the strange gods and the Ashtaroth.  The immoral fertility rites associated with those gods were a spiritual plague that they had to get rid of.  As always repentance is about stopping the sin and getting rid of the things that facilitate the sin.

They prepared their hearts to serve the Lord only.  When sin has been persistent and deep, it takes a lot of work to redirect one’s thoughts toward the desired change.  You have to keep reminding yourself, “Yes, I’m going to do the right thing.  No, I’m not going to go back to that sin.”  New neural pathways have to be built and old ones have to be avoided.

Samuel gathered the people to pray for them to the Lord.  Here Samuel was a type of Christ by advocating to the Father for them.  Also, by gathering together, Israel could draw strength and support from others going through the repentance process and get help from leaders.

Next it says they did something that sounds unrelated.  “they…drew water, and poured it out before the Lord” (v6).  What does this drawing water have to do with repentance?  I think it describes how they drew water so they could ceremonially cleanse themselves as part of following the Law of Moses.  It could have been baptisms, it could have been ritual washings.  If all Israel was there, a lot of people would need water to wash in.  And they couldn’t do it all one at a time, they had to make a way for some serious through-put, and that would require a lot of water.  So it could have been a big collective effort to fetch water for all that to happen.  (Just imagine what if would be like if everyone going to general conference had to take a bath before going into the building.) 

Another possibility of interpretation comes from the fact that in the text, in the phrase “poured it out before the LORD” the “it” is italicized, meaning it was one of the words that translators added to help the text make sense.  This may be a case when the “it” narrows the meaning when it shouldn’t.  Without it, the phrase says “poured out before the LORD.”  What else could be poured out before the Lord besides water?  How about pouring out hearts in prayer?  Prayer is definitely an important part of repentance—praying and telling the Lord all about our problems and sins and why and how and our desires to change and asking for help.

The people also fasted on that day.  Fasting helps build spirituality for repentance.  It is a form of sacrifice, which is an important principle of the gospel.  It builds self-discipline, which helps build up moral momentum for forsaking sins.

They also said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.”  They admitted their sins.
Also, Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh.  This sounds like Samuel went through a lot of interviews that were the equivalent of people confessing to the bishop.  The Israelites were willing to confess their sins to the spiritual authority and receive judgment, working towards getting right with the Lord.

You have to be impressed by the brevity of those verses and how they condense the repentance process down so well.  Those verses are a valuable record, much like the recorded response King Benjamin’s speech in the Book of Mormon is for us today.  These verses also show us that the repentance process was essentially the same in ancient times as it is today, even though animal sacrifice was involved in worship then and no longer is today.

This isn’t the end of the story, however.  
And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpeh, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines.
And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines.
¶And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the Lord: and Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel; and the Lord heard him.
10 And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel.
11 And the men of Israel went out of Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Beth-car.
12 Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us. (1 Samuel 7:7-12)
  When the Philistines heard the Israelites were gathered at Mizpeh, they gathered their armies together to fight.

Why did the Philistines do this?  Mizpeh was a place of significance.  It was the place where the Israelites gathered to fight the Ammonites before Jepthah was chosen to be king over them.  It was the place where Jepthah had his house as king.  It was the place where the Israelites gathered themselves together before avenging the atrocities committed by the Benjaminites in Judges 20.  They made vows to the Lord there.  With this history, the Philistines saw the Israelite gathering at Mizpeh as a sign the Israelites were about to rise in rebellion against them, so they hastened to nip it in the bud.

This sudden threat naturally alarmed the Israelites and they turned to the Lord for help, as they should.  They asked Samuel to not stop praying for them, and Samuel also offered a sacrifice of a lamb. 

What happened?  As the Philistines drew near, “the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel” (1 Samuel 7:10).

What is “discomfited?”  It means confused.  Why were the Philistines discomfited by thunder?  I think it goes back to the Philistine pantheon.  One of their gods was Baal, a god of storms.  What are the Philistines going to think is happening when sudden lightning strikes in the middle of their army and great claps of thunder resound around them?  They’re going to think their god is there and doesn’t approve of their invasion!   Further, consider the Philistines had previously beaten the Israelites and taken the ark, so they had thought their god had beaten Israel’s God and now it seemed Baal was against them for trying to beat the Israelites again.  From their perspective that’s a very confusing message. 

Many storms happen without giving indication that they are peculiarly acts of God, but this storm in particular came at the right time and right place.   Divine timing and intensity. 

I have to add here that thunderstorms can always teach about the nature of God’s power.  I remember an experience my husband and I had going into our duplex in Austin, Texas one day back in 2003.  A storm was starting.  We were right at the door on our front porch when a sudden flash and a deafening crash of thunder happened seemingly next to us.  Our tree just 10 feet away had been struck by lightning.  It was so loud and so surprising that we instinctively cowered and covered our heads.  We felt the heat. As we went in, we couldn’t help but say to ourselves that was a sample of the kind of power God has.

Back to the Israelites and the discomfited Philistines..

The Israelites were spiritually prepared for battle, having repented according to the instructions of Samuel, so the Lord blessed them.  I think it is neat that the Lord was so merciful as to immediately deliver the Israelites after their repentance.  He didn’t put them on a probation to see whether they would act better for a few months before He saved them.  They had an immediate national crisis and the Lord immediately helped them.  The Lord wants to restore our spiritual and temporal blessings as soon as possible when we repent and will help us immediately.

To help Israel remember the way the Lord helped them, Samuel set a stone up in between Mizpeh and Shen and called its name Eben-ezer, which means “stone of help.”  It would add to the number of monuments meant to represent instances when the Lord’s miracles saved Israel.  (This monument is what is referred to in the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” when the lyrics say “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come.”)  

This gets me thinking about what monuments I have in my life of the Lord’s help.  I have a keychain that is tricky to put keys on that reminds me of how the Lord helped me figure it out.  My husband is a living monument to how the Lord blessed me for sacrifice when I was a single college student.  Mostly, I write in my journals how the Lord has blessed and saved me so that I can remember.  

What monuments do you have in your life to remember times when the Lord has saved you?

Saturday, August 9, 2014 0 comments

Israelites Are Smitten When the Ark Returns

Once the ark of the covenant was back in Israel, you’d think everything would be just dandy, right?  Well, not so much. 

14 And the cart came into the field of Joshua, a Beth-shemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they clave the wood of the cart, and offered the kine a burnt offering unto the Lord.
15 And the Levites took down the ark of the Lord, and the coffer that was with it, wherein the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone: and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the Lord….
19 ¶And he [the Lord] smote the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.
20 And the men of Beth-shemesh said, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? and to whom shall he go up from us?
21 ¶And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim, saying, The Philistines have brought again the ark of the Lord; come ye down, and fetch it up to you.
1 And the men of Kirjath-jearim came, and fetched up the ark of the Lord, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord.
2 And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjath-jearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.
3 ¶And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. (1 Sam. 6:14-15, 19-20; 7:1-3)

When the ark first got to Beth-shemesh, which happened to be a Levitical city, the Levites were the ones that got the ark off the cart, following the guide in the Law of Moses, but later individuals were presumptuous and looked inside the ark, which was prohibited.

If we think about it, we can kind of understand how this came about.  Firstly, before all this happened, the ark had always been inside the tabernacle and under the supervision of the priests and Levites or in rare occasions it had been carried in battle by the priests.  There was no established protocol for where it should be kept or how to approach it outside of those situations.  When the rules are ambiguous and no one knows what to do, all kinds of mistakes are made.

Second, the guide in the Law of Moses stipulated that the Levites who carried the holy things (and we assume the ark was included in that) were not supposed to see them being covered before they came to carry them, lest they die (Numbers 4:20), but scads of people had seen the ark coming in the cart, so it may have seemed like this prohibition didn’t even mean anything.   Add to this that the power of the ark would seem discredited after it failed to save the Israelites in battle seven months previous, and you have a high likelihood that the ark would be treated with less care and deference.  It might have seemed like its virtue had left.

Considering these things helps us understand why the Lord chose to plague the people at Beth-shemesh for their disrespect to the ark in looking inside it.  They needed a modern lesson in the danger of treating holy things with disrespect.  They may have grown up hearing the story of the priests in Aaron’s day who offered strange fire and died, but they needed to see that God was just as concerned in their day that holy things not be defiled.  It also rehabilitated the ark’s reputation as a thing of power.  It wasn’t to be considered a magical panacea, but it wasn’t to be treated as common.

The text says that 50,070 men were killed by the plague.  That’s a big too many for a small town.  Maybe lots of other people came to see from elsewhere in Israel, or maybe there was a scribal error in the numbers.  Some point to the Septuagint that says 70 men instead.  Regardless of what the real number was, they saw it was a plague from the Lord.

The Lord dealt more strictly with the Israelites for touching the ark than He did with the Philistines.  Israelites had the Law of Moses, so they should have known what they should and shouldn’t do, especially concerning who can touch the ark.  Where much is given, much is required.

The men of Beth-shemesh say, “Who can stand before this holy LORD God?”  It seems like they think the Lord is too strict and they are okay, rather than realizing that the Lord is just right and they are sinful.  It’s yet another reminder that only Christ was perfect and we all need to be redeemed.  

And yet, they are still a little more spiritually receptive than the Philistines were.  Although both the Israelites and the Philistines wanted to send the ark elsewhere, the Philistines had to be convinced by further signs that the plague they suffered was from God, while the plagued Israelites in Beth-shemesh saw the plague was from God and searched their souls to figure out what they had done wrong, and they remembered they had looked in the ark when they weren’t supposed to.

Well, they got the men from Kirjath-jearim to come and get the ark.  We have no idea why they called them, but they were happy to take charge of the ark.  The men of Kirjath-jearim picked Abinadab to store the ark and “sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark.”  It is probable that Eleazar was a priest, but here he was set apart specifically to keep the ark safe. 

I find that very interesting.  Abinadab’s house was considered worthy enough to be a substitute tabernacle or temple for the ark of the covenant and his family fit caretakers.  This gives us a nice little lesson.  Do we try to make our homes places of holiness comparable to the temple?  Would our children make good caretakers of sacred things?  Imagine the appropriate way to act if you and your family were keeping the ark of the covenant in a guest bedroom.  That’s like having the throne of God there..and his presence as well.  But then, don’t we also have the gift of the Holy Ghost, the chance to have a member of the Godhead with us constantly?

It is interesting to me that it says that for 2- years all Israel lamented after the Lord.  What were they lamenting about?   It’s possible that the sanctuary at Shiloh was no longer functioning and so there was no official religious center to come to anymore.  (Imagine if Salt Lake were destroyed and there was no church headquarters or conference center to meet in anymore.)  This would be the time when they lament about what they had lost and they wonder if they would ever get it back.  (It could be considered a mini version of the Babylonian captivity, only they never left their land.) 

While the Israelites lament, Samuel was trying to be part of the solution. 

And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. (1 Sam 7:3)

The text gives Samuel’s message in an incredibly simple and short form, but it shouldn’t be ignored.  (I bet somewhere there are lost records that give particulars of his preaching in detail like that of Alma in the Book of Mormon.)  However, from what little there is, we can see it exemplifies prophetic ministry: 1) The call to forsake evil, 2) the call to turn to the Lord and serve Him only, and 3) the promise of the blessings of deliverance that would follow, conditional upon fulfilling the previous conditions.   Along with the promise of deliverance, I suspect that there was an expectation that all their nation’s religious blessings could be restored. 

Since there was not the modern means of communication, this message had to be carried to everyone on foot.  It had to be repeated over and over.  It seems to have taken a long time for them to soften their hearts enough to listen and decide to obey.  They really did have to prepare their hearts.

This story reminds me of the importance of being spiritual prepared to receive holy things, to go to the temple, to take the sacrament, and so on. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014 0 comments

The Ark of the Covenant in Exile: 1 Samuel 5-6

1 Samuel 5-6 tell what happened to the ark, or rather how the ark happened to the Philistines who captured it, and how it came back to the Israelites.

If you remember, the background is that the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant and killed Eli’s two sons, which caused great distress among Israel and led to the further deaths of Eli and his daughter-in-law.

So now what happens?

Jehovah Versus Dagon in a Knock-down Fight

1 And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Eben-ezer unto Ashdod.
2 When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.
3 ¶And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the Lord. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.
4 And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.
5 Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon’s house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day. (1 Samuel 5:1-5)

The first thing the Lord does is knock over the statue of Dagon before the ark.  By prostrating the idol, the Lord hoped to communicate a mild message – “Your god falls/bows before me and thus you should too.”  The Philistines just stood their god’s statue back up.

What did the Philistines think when they found Dagon had fallen down?  They probably thought some Israelites had snuck in during the night and pushed over the idol just to cause mischief.  The supernatural explanation that God or an angel had pushed over the idol does not seem to occur to them, or if it did, it was quickly squelched as unthinkable.  So they go with the natural explanation. 

The funny thing is, both explanations invalidate the power of their idol.  If it was Israel’s God or an angel, then Dagon didn’t have power to save itself, and if it was a mortal that pushed Dagon over, Dagon still didn’t have power to save himself from being tipped over OR to right himself back where he should be.  (This is in contrast with Jehovah, who does have that power.  We can see in the whole account of 1 Samuel 5-6 that God ultimately does have power to take the ark of the covenant back to Israel where it should be, even to the point of using transportation arranged by His enemies.  Pretty impressive, huh?  But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.)

Next the Lord does something a little more pointed.  He knocks Dagon down again, this time in such a way as to break off Dagon’s head and hands.  What is the message here?  “Not only does your god fall before me, your god is powerless and dead, just as he has no hands or head.  You are worshipping the wrong god.”   I read somewhere that in ancient cultures that conquering nations would break off the heads and hands of statues of gods in the nations they conquered, so there is dramatic irony in the Lord breaking hands and head off Dagon in Dagon’s own temple.

I think the fact that Dagon falls twice is meant to show this wasn’t an accident.  It’s supposed to be two witnessing events.

How do the Philistines respond to this?   They totally ignore that big picture message and focus instead on the fact that Dagon’s head and hands fell on the temple’s threshold, and they start treating the threshold as if it is sacred by starting a tradition of not stepping on it!   (1 Sam. 5:4-5)  This seems really bizarre, but it may be they thought Dagon’s second fall meant Dagon wanted to break, and if so, then the place he fell was special for some reason.

We can see the Philistines were persistent in their beliefs.  They were not going to let themselves be swayed by signs that seemed to favor another God over their own, especially since they believed they had captured the Israelite God in battle.  Further, they wouldn’t allow themselves to be fooled by what they might have considered cheap tricks masquerading as signs.  They probably reasoned that if it could be done by human hands, then it probably was.

It might be helpful to consider if there was any better way the Lord could have communicated with the Philistines the mistake they were making worshipping Dagon instead of God.  The signs of having Dagon fall and having his head and hands cut off was simple and clear, but can we think of any better way?  Just for grins, I thought up some options.

·      What if the roof had fallen in on Dagon but not the ark?  It might be hard to see with the roof fallen in.
·      What if Dagon had just been broken into tiny pieces with the ark?  That might just look like Dagon had left, and it wouldn’t do the job of showing he had no power.
·      What if Dagon had been broken into larger pieces?  That still doesn’t give anything better than the simplicity of Dagon losing his head and hands.
·      What if Dagon had fallen by itself with the ark not there?  That wouldn’t communicate anything about the God of Israel having power over Dagon.  The presence of the ark and Dagon falling before it communicated God’s power had the ascendency, even though the Philistines thought Dagon had won the battle at the beginning.

I think those two signs were adequate for their purpose and couldn’t be improved upon.

But the Philistines didn’t listen, so now what?

The Plagues Begin

6 But the hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.
7 And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god.
8 They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither.
9 And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the Lord was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts.
10 ¶Therefore they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And it came to pass, as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out, saying, They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people.
11 So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again to his own place, that it slay us not, and our people: for there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there.
12 And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the cry of the city went up to heaven. (1 Samuel 5:6-12)

Next the Lord sends plagues on the Philistines of emerods. The footnote says emerods could be hemorrhoids.   Also, according, to 1 Samuel 6:4-5, we might assume that mice were involved as well.  Some believe the mention of mice suggests that an outbreak of bubonic plague was included.

You’d think the Philistines would be wise enough to say, “Because the God of Israel’s hand is sore upon us and upon Dagon our god, and Dagon has not saved us, we must worship the God of Israel instead, for He has power over us as well as in His own land.”  But they don’t.  Instead they say, “The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god.” (2 Sam 5:7)  (Does anyone else think it strange that they want to keep a worthless god and get rid of a powerful God?)

So they send the ark to Gath instead.  And the same plagues happen in Gath too.  And they try to send the ark to Ekron.

The plagues of emerods and mice were difficult to ignore, as disease, death of one’s loved ones, and destruction of crops usually is.  They seem to observe the plagues began in cities where the ark was, and this led them to conclude that the ark of the God of Israel was responsible.  Thus, Ekron, out of self-preservation starts to connect the dots and protest to save themselves from having to take in the ark.

Now, with our modern understanding of disease theory, we might wonder if the ark was a vector of disease and had some kind of germ on it that was spread by contact.  However, I think the mention of mice involvement in the plague suggests that mice were the vector, with their fleas that would bite humans and spread whatever nasty bug they had.   The Lord could bring plagues at will, as He did in Egypt when Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go.

Another thing I notice is that 1 Sam 6:4, 17 mentions that the trespass offering to appease God would be five golden emerods and five golden mice, one for each Philistine town and lord because “one plague was on you all, and on your lords” (1 Sam. 6:4).  This suggests that the plagues spread beyond the presence of the ark into all the other Philistine cities as well.  The text doesn’t put emphasis on this, and it is worth thinking about why that is.

I think the text wants us to have in our head the image that where the ark comes, the Philistines are plagued and die.  It’s an image that communicates if you come into the presence of God, you will die.  This suggests that we are to learn the principle that to have God come when we are not prepared to receive Him would be a curse to us, not a blessing.  It’s a statement not just about physical death, but spiritual death and being cast out of God’s presence, which leads us to better understand the need to be redeemed and purified.

What to do?

1 And the ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months.
2 And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, What shall we do to the ark of the Lord? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place.
3 And they said, If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty; but in any wise return him a trespass offering: then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.
4 Then said they, What shall be the trespass offering which we shall return to him? They answered, Five golden emerods, and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines: for one plague was on you all, and on your lords.
5 Wherefore ye shall make images of your emerods, and images of your mice that mar the land; and ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel: peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land.
6 Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed? (1 Samuel 6:1-6)

It is at this stage the Philistines decided to get rid of the ark, but they want to do it in such a way as to appease the Lord so the plagues will end.  So there is some discussion about how to do this.

Do they consider talking to the Israelites and asking about the Law of Moses and the rules for trespass offerings?  No.  They consult their diviners. 

There’s a nice little lesson here.  If you want to know how to repent, do you ask those who know about God—apostles and prophets and church leaders--or do you go to leaders of other religions?

The diviners really don’t know what’s going on either.  They say, “but in any wise return him a trespass offering: then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.” (1 Sam. 6:3)  If you notice, they promise healing, but in case that doesn’t happen, they promise the people will know why they haven’t been healed.  They aren’t committing to a prediction because they are afraid they’ll be wrong, so they’re hedging their bets.

The diviners give directions according to the Philistine idol theology.  The trespass offering must be images of their plagues made out of gold.  To their mind, the emerods and mice have power, so that makes them gods, so they should make idol images and send them with the ark, thinking that the God of Israel will command those plaguey mini-gods to leave them alone.

The one useful thing the diviners say is this:

Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed? (1 Samuel 6:6)

The diviners remind the Philistines of the events of Exodus when the God of Israel plagued the Egyptians to get them to let the Israelites go.  The diviners and the people knew the stories, so they weren’t completely ignorant. 

I think the Lord knew the Philistines knew the story of Exodus, and used that to craft the message to the Philistines.   Just as the Egyptian magicians eventually had to acknowledge their powers (and the powers of the Egyptian gods) were inadequate in comparison to Jehovah, the destruction of the idol god Dagon demonstrated the same thing.   And just as the refusal to acknowledge the God of Israel led to plagues in Egypt, the refusal to acknowledge the God of Israel led to plagues in Philistine territory.

The Philistines were plagued far less than the Egyptians, and they could easily liken the Egyptian’s situation to themselves, which led to a determination of what they should do.  They probably used this reasoning-- “The Egyptians were plagued by Israel’s God for not letting Israel go.  We are plagued and Israel’s God’s ark is here.  We should let something go, but we don’t have Israelites here, just the ark.  Therefore, we should let the ark go.”  

However, they were still in doubt as to whether the God of Israel was really behind the plagues, because unlike in Exodus when Moses warned of the plagues beforehand, these plagues have no prophetic introduction that they can discern.  They just hit.  So the Philistines suspect the truth, but they are in doubt about it.  (They ignored the Dagon idol destruction, remember, and they were reluctant to accept the implications the story of Exodus had for their situation.  The diviners were right to ask them why they were hardening their hearts.)

Because they were still in doubt, the diviners recommend a test. 

7 Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart, and bring their calves home from them:
8 And take the ark of the Lord, and lay it upon the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which ye return him for a trespass offering, in a coffer by the side thereof; and send it away, that it may go.
9 And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Beth-shemesh, then he hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that smote us; it was a chance that happened to us.
10 ¶And the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home:
11 And they laid the ark of the Lord upon the cart, and the coffer with the mice of gold and the images of their emerods.
12 And the kine took the straight way to the way of Beth-shemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Beth-shemesh.
13 And they of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it.
14 And the cart came into the field of Joshua, a Beth-shemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they clave the wood of the cart, and offered the kine a burnt offering unto the Lord….
16 And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day. (1 Sam. 6:7-14, 16)

The test was a rather ingenious one because it would fulfill two functions for the Philistines.  1) It was a way to wash their hands of the ark.  2) It could become a sign about whether the God of Israel really was behind the plagues they had suffered. 

Their test was simple—require the God of Israel to drive the cart holding the His ark in a specific way to a specific place.  And they make it as hard as possible for it to happen naturally.  It can’t be a coincidence.  It has to have divine intervention to get there.

Let’s see how they construct this test.

1. They put the ark on a new cart.  This could be to show honor to the God of Israel, but it is also an unproven piece of equipment.
2. They yoke two milch cows to the cart.  Milch cows are milk cows and they are not draft animals, so they aren’t trained to pull things.  They probably wouldn’t know how to respond to a yoke and they’d probably have a hard time working together.
3.  They take the calves away from the milk cows.  The cows aren’t going to want to leave their calves.  They’d also probably have discomfort if the milk pressure in their udder isn’t relieved when it should.
4.  The cows and the cart were to be let loose to see where it would go.  No one was to drive it.  It could theoretically go anywhere. 
5.  The Philistines declare that if the cows took the cart straight to Beth-shemesh in Israel, then they would know that Israel’s God was behind the plagues they had suffered.  If it went anywhere else, then they’d figure the plague was just by chance.

Well, the impossible happens; the Lord takes the ark straight back to Israel on the highway to the very town the Philistines named, so in all respects the impossible sign was fulfilled.  Five Philistine lords follow it the whole time, so there are five witnesses that the cart goes straight to Israel.  

Does this have any effect on the Philistines?  Not that we can tell from the text.

The fallen Dagon idol, the plagues of emerods and mice, the unmanned cow cart going straight to Israel could have led to conversion, but it didn’t.  The Philistines tried to resist for as long as possible the thought that Israel’s God was responsible for what was happening, and even when they were trying to figure out how to appease Israel’s God and stop the plague, they were still resisting God.   They would not submit.  Perhaps they saw submission as too costly to them personally and to their culture.  We see here that all the signs in the world can’t convince people who are determined to resist the Lord. 

The Philistines illustrate that the Lord can only do a limited amount with people who refuse to listen to Him. 
1)    He can warn them, to demonstrate His justice and mercy, whether or not they listen.
2)    He can wait, hoping they will repent.
3)    He can use them as instruments of wrath to chastise other wicked people with war.
4)    When something specific needs doing, He can plague them.
5)    He can take them from the earth.

But there’s a cool thing here too. What happened among the Philistines shows me that the Lord doesn’t just want to reveal Himself to Israel; He wants to reveal Himself to the world.  It is human stubbornness, pride, and incorrect traditions that prevent men from seeing the true meaning of the miracles and signs the Lord does. 

Looking at this story in another way, in the capture of the ark by the Philistines and its journey back to Israel, we see a type of Jesus Christ, who allowed himself to be put to death and then raised Himself from the dead, with none to help Him.  “O death, I will be thy plagues: O grave, I will be thy destruction” (Hosea 13:14).

Now, where do you suppose the Lord would take the ark when He’s taking it back to Israel?  Where is the best place in Beth-shemesh to leave it?  He takes it into a field belonging to a man named Joshua.  We don’t know much about Joshua and why he was chosen for this privilege, but note his name means “Jehovah saves.”  That’s an excellent final message, confirming Jehovah can save Israel and Jehovah can save His own holy things.  Jehovah certainly saved the ark.

Sadly, the people in that town didn’t have proper respect for the ark and they ended up plagued too.

Time to Sum Up

1 Samuel 5-6 is hard to apply to ourselves if we are determined to see it merely as an amusing story of the Philistines’ rebelliousness.  What we should be doing is looking for ways in our life that we make the mistakes the Philistines made and figuring out how to avoid those mistakes in the future.

Some Ways God Guides Us

To look at it in a positive way, these chapters tell us about a few of the different ways that the Lord might use to try to guide us back to him when we are way off track.  He may use signs that speak clearly and warn us of the errors we are in.  He may destroy our idols so that we see they don’t have power to save us.  He may allow disease and disaster to bring suffering in our lives in hopes it will motivate us to change as we search for relief and meaning in the experience.   (However, disease and disaster can happen to anybody, so it can’t be used to judge others.) He creates circumstances in our lives that recreate what we know of stories in the scriptures so that we can apply those stories to ourselves and make appropriate changes.  These seem to be for times when we are so hardened that nothing softer works.  (We don’t want to get to that point; it is far better to be quick to obey.)

The Philistines’ reaction demonstrates how efforts to reclaim us may cause us to react with unbelief and resentment.  Because the Philistines knew the story of Exodus and could apply that to themselves, they already knew what their problem was, but they didn’t like the implications.  They didn’t like the message of change that went with it that would require so much of them.  They didn’t want to see that God had a hand in their lives and they rejected that guidance.  So they kept looking for something else and that left them in doubt.  When their pain demanded an answer, they just wanted to know what caused it without letting that push them toward change.  

What would be a better way to react?

Just ask yourself--Who is better at following God’s guidance in this story, the Philistines or the cows that draw the cart with the ark in it?

Consider that even though the Philistines would not allow God to guide them and teach them, God could guide a pair of milk cows to 1) pull a cart with the ark 2) together 3) straight on the highway 4) straight to Beth-shemesh 5) even while every instinct those cows possessed screamed out that they needed to go find their missing calves.

What happened with those cows is encouraging because it shows me that if I am humble enough to listen and obey the Lord, He can guide me even if I am untrained for the task I’m given.  He can guide me to work with others.  His guidance can take me straight to the precise place He wants me to go, even if everything in me screams this was never supposed to happen.

Do you ever feel like those cows—set free in a wide open space with a burden to drag around and you could go anywhere and do anything, but you feel driven to do something specific and you don’t quite know why or where it’s going to take you?  I do, especially about writing for this blog. 

When we notice these things, I think we, like the cows, are meant to be a sign to others that God guides.  Maybe the glory of our lives is the direction we go.  Maybe that direction is obvious to everyone else, even while we ourselves wonder and struggle.  Maybe seeing us make our way slowly but surely in that direction strengthens others in their own faith journeys.

Also consider that just like the Lord guided those cows out of Philistine territory and straight to Israel, the Lord can guide each of us out of Satan’s territory and straight into the Lord’s kingdom.