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August 2020

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Books for the Journey:

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God used the suspicious nature of the Philistines to deliver David from his impossible choice to either fight Israel or being killed by Achish. The Philistines had good reason to fear David’s defection since Hebrew mercenaries had turned on them before (in v 14:21) and from Israel’s popular taunt song of Saul’s thousands and David’s ten thousands. This gave them chance to chase the Amalekites who took their wives and children to make into slaves (although David’s troops considered stoning him for the “bad luck”). Unlike Saul, however, David always knew where to turn and was confident of God’s eventual deliverance. David desire to share the spoils with those that did not fight and Judah could have been political but more likely was a result of his understanding that his victory did not belong to him or his army but to God and all His children. The men of Jabesh Gilead risked their lives to recover the bodies of Saul and his sons out of gratitude for Saul previously delivering their city. Cremation was not the normal Jewish practice except for criminals (as in Josh 7:25), but perhaps it was done to Saul’s body due to the severe mutilation done to the corpses by the Philistines. David will later move the buried bones to Benjamin (2 Sam 21:11-14).

Yesterday’s Samuel’s spirit’s prophecy was fulfilled today with the death of Saul and his sons (including Jonathan), except for Saul’s son Ish-bosheth who was later made king by Abner (2 Sam 2:8-9). Saul faced death the same way he face life – with his own hands without asking God for guidance. The Bible lists only the above seven suicides, but Jews have the lowest suicide rate of any religion even today (the group with by far the most suicides is 50-54, white collar, protestant Caucasians). Besides Saul (feeling hopeless), other biblically recorded suicides are Ahithophel (feared losing to David and hung himself in 2 Sam 17:23), Abimelech (shamed by a woman in battle and choose to die by the sword in Jud 9:54), Samson (died in revenge plan in Jud 16:30), Saul’s armor-bearer (impulsively – as is 40% of teenage suicides today – fell on his sword), Zimri (about to lose a battle and so burned down the palace while inside in 1 Kings 16:18), and Judas (realized how great his sin and hung himself out of guilt but the rope broke and he fell down a cliff in Matt 27:5). They all felt trapped, believed that life was not worthy of living or that they were not worthy to live, were spiritually ailing, and depressed. Each would have done better to have accepted life as a gift from God (John 1:21), turned to faith rather than emotions (James 1:2, Phil 4:1), bowed to the sovereign will of God (Romans 8:28), with the help of the Holy Spirit (Gal 2:20, 5:16-23), sought help from others (1 John 1:9), and treated their depression as sin (Ps 77:2-9). I have heard that of the few that survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, all regretted their decision on the way down. Some have suggested that someone who kills themselves cannot end up in heaven. The Bible actually says very little on the subject but Samson is listed in Hebrew 11:32 with the faithful, so at least one was a true believer.

Over one million Americans will attempt to immediately kill themselves this year and 1 in 15 will succeed (for about 25,000) which makes suicide the 10th highest killer (greater than murder – which is saying something when you consider we lead the world in that as well). But, all the other top nine killers are really suicide as well. Then again, the “natural” outcome of freewill is always death. For example, put any animal in a cage with the freedom to push a lever for hereon and 100% will kill themselves. Humans are the only animal that can survive free choice, but we don’t do it often. Why worry about air pollution when cigarettes cause a quarter of all deaths? Why recycle when a thousand Americans die every day from poor nutritional choices? Why work for justice when the rampant problems with suicide, drugs, alcohol, and casual sex take so many more (with 60% of the children in the Caribbean dying from AIDS)? With the improvements in law enforcement, home safety, and health care, all of the top ten ways Americans die today is basically from self-destructive means. There is no greater health problem, and all of these are simply symptoms of being spiritually lost. Research funded by the Nurses Christian Fellowship has identified four areas of spiritual needs: “relief from fear of death, knowledge of God’s presence, expression of caring and support from another person, and receiving the sacraments” and have found that “spiritual matters gave [patients] a sense of increased power and control in coping with life’s challenges” (Martin, Burrows, and Pomilio, 1976; Stevenson, 1980). The North American Nursing Diagnosis Association identifies spiritual distress, spiritual concerns, and spiritual despair as official medical diagnoses (Monahan, Drake, and Neighbors, 1994).

As Passover week approaches, Jesus stays with Simon the leper (Mark 14:3) in Bethany (coming there on Sunday, six days before) – it will be from here that on the morrow Jesus makes the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Perhaps why only John tells the story of Lazarus (about 2 months earlier than today’s reading) was because Lazarus was still alive (despite the desire of the Sanhedrin to kill this powerful witness for Christ) during the earlier Gospels and that John was writing to Christians outside of Palestine (while the other Gospels were written more to those in Judea) who had a greater need to hear the story. Last summer the manager of a Canadian ice cream parlor in Niagara Falls complained to me while on vacation that she felt that the Bible did not relate directly to her life. I agreed that the NT was a testament of God’s love to the Jews of 2,000 years ago (with the OT as a reminder to them) and that knowledge of Jewish culture was thusly required to fully understand what He says through the 66 different authors, but I asked her how she could let that stop her from reading God’s most complete love letter for everything that we need (not want) to know. We must realize that we are indeed secondary audiences to these books and consider the motivations and hopes for their primary audiences in order to better understand their format and content. In the same way, the disciples often understood the old covenant only in the light of the new one (v 12:16).

Simon the leper had invited Jesus (and all of His disciples) to dinner after being cured when Lazarus’s sister Mary pours a very expensive (likely costing her life’s savings) perfume normally reserved for kings on Christ’s feet and wipes them with her hair (only a prostitute normally untied her hair in public) – how much better it is to show love to someone before they die. Mary lovingly gave her best despite criticism and Christ honored her and defended her from evil attacks. We should similarly devote ourselves to the honor and mission of Christ. Martha’s question to Christ yesterday (Where were you when we needed you?) was the result of not really understanding His resurrection and life message until after He brought her brother back to life. Christ’s betrayer Judas, however, never understands and tries to sound spiritual by expressing concern for the poor that he surely did not feel (piety often cloaks hidden motives). John makes it fairly clear here that Judas was stealing from the disciples and may have been particularly interested in making as much as he could before Jesus died (remember that Jesus picked Judas fully knowing his character and demonic influence). While Jesus had given his disciples plenty of warning of the pending events, perhaps only Mary and Judas perceived that Christ’s death was imminent and thusly we have their two reactions to compare. Mary’s devotion angered Judas just as the success of Lazarus was angering the Sanhedrin.

Jerusalem was not a safe place for Jesus at night and so He did not lodge there, but instead stayed with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (Matt 21:17). The Pharisees, however, were too cowardly to arrest Christ in the presence of the daylight’s welcoming masses of commoners who were now ready to acclaim Jesus as their Savior and king (Hosanna is the Hebrew word for “save now,” but they were still convinced that He would save them from the Romans). As they shouted from tomorrow’s Psalms 118:25 and 26 they probably never thought that the very same Psalm in verse 22 ironically foretold that they would reject the cornerstone.

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