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February 2020

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Books for the Journey:

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Samson again acts on his own behalf (and not for his people) and begins a one-man 20-year vendetta after loosing his fiancée to another that starts with burning the corn fields of the Philistines with an army of blazing foxes. Threatened by war, the men of Judah turn Samson over to his enemies and he slaughters their entire army single-handedly. It may have been that Samson asks that the Israelites not attack him so that he would not feel obliged to retaliate and shed Jewish blood. The great Samson was repeatedly ruled by his anger and physical desires so that he was the only judge to fail to save his people. Samson saw himself as God’s servant, and yet saw no conflict in visiting a prostitute. This moral weakness help make him vulnerable when Samson is then intimate with another pagan woman, Delilah, who assisted in his capture by seducing him into giving her the secret of his strength. He was bound, his eyes put out, and imprisoned in a dungeon for the rest of his life. Samson was a user of women who met a woman who was a user of men. It is said that most men today give sex to get love and that most women give love to get sex. Delilah sold out Samson for 28 pounds of silver. The measure of a person, though, is not the price for betrayal but whether one is willing to betray at all. In the end, Samson's only thought was of himself and paying “back the Philistines for the loss of my eyes” rather than the glory of the God he claimed to serve.

Jewish law required a father and mother to bring a stubborn and rebellious son to the town elders at the gate to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), although it was never done and may have only been told to encourage children to behave. What did Jesus say about such children? He said, “They worship me in vain” (Matthew 15:9a). He makes not only a connection between a long physical life and obedience, but a long spiritual life as well. But where does this obedience begin: Deuteronomy 6:6-7 “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children.” And, Colossians 3:21 “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Thus, parents are to model God’s commandments and thus impress them on their children without going overboard and embittering them. Parents may have been required to bring their children to the town elders in order that their parenting would also be on trail. Thus, parents are to be a check on each other. There are many external forces for self-control (police, employer, community) as well as internal motivation (fear of God), but too often today we scoff at their importance.

This story also exemplifies what happens when a person decides to take revenge: conflict escalates and more and more damage is done. Our first reaction when we are wronged is to get even. Revenge and jealousy are powerful emotions. James could have been talking about Samson when he wrote, “You lust and do not have; so you commit murder.” Isaiah says that Satan had such pride that he sought to usurp the very throne of God. Peter, in line with Christ’s teaching to turn the other cheek in Matthew 5:29, though, encourages us to pay back wrongs by praying for an offender. “If your enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: for you will heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward you.” (Proverbs 25: 21-22) We read a while back in Luke 9:54-56, “When James and John heard about it, they said to Jesus, ‘Lord, should we order down fire from heaven to burn them up?’ But Jesus turned and rebuked them.” And some texts have Jesus adding, “You don't realize what your hearts are like. For the Son of Man has not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.”

Communism is based on the idea that if the evil system (specifically capitalism) is removed, then a perfect socialist man will emerge (as suggested by all other religions) – but such a person has never emerged, while democracy is based on the idea that no person (aka original sin) is safe without good checks and balances (that morality is in the community or culture, and not the individual). We each individually as well as a nation collectively (where our leaders must put the people first – unlike Samson) will fail in our destiny in the service of God without strong and godly allies. As for dating, we are reminded of the trap of being excited by another’s physically appearance rather than their character. This story also reminds us as parents that we can do our best and do everything “right” in raising our “miracle” children and still see them (despite even being given the Spirit of God as per v. 25) make wrong choices. In the end, of course, each person is responsible to God – no one makes it to heaven simply by having the right parents or the right education.

The miracles of Jesus are called “signs” by John in order to highlight the implication of the miracles (so that people might believe in Him and be saved) rather than the miracles themselves. The hour for revealing Himself as Messiah had not come by the time of the wedding feast and yet He is won over (it is assumed that His mother had never seen her son work a miracle and yet had formed a adequate idea of His power and goodness). Likewise, to have Christ join any marriage (and joy – wine is a symbol of joy, when the dry external ceremonies are not enough), He must be invited with prayer and petition while doing as He pleases. It is often suggested that this was not alcoholic wine as the term was used to refer to any grape drink. The beginning of Moses miracles was turning water into blood and the start of Christ’s was turning water into wine and this may suggest to us the difference between the Law of Moses and the Gospel of Christ.

His first public work that Jesus takes on as He went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (this was the first after His baptism, the second is in Luke 6:1, the third is in John 6:4, and the fourth and last is in John 11:55) was forcing the covetous priests and rules from the temple. Jesus was instead jealous for the holiness of God’s house (as fulfillment of the prophecy, “passion for God’s house burns within me”) and insists on a different priority for the temple. Jesus’ zeal consumes Him (just as the disciples recall Psalm 69:9) by bringing about His death for the world. Some believe that the differences in the stories of cleansing the temple (see Matt 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-16, and Luke 19:45-46) suggest there may have been two cleansings (with the second three years later being one of the direct causes of His death as per Mark 11:15-18). Malachi predicted that one would come to the temple to purify the religion of the nation (Mal 3:1-3). The first time, Jesus started a small stampede of the sheep and cattle and overturned the tables – the second time, Jesus’ attack was sharper and He called the temple area a “den of thieves” (Luke 19:46 as per Jer 7:11). With money to be made (and a high percentage was charged for changing coins), worship easily became corrupted. Today, while insisting that money and numeric attendance are not the church’s prime goals, Sunday’s revenue and turnout is frequently a church’s only reported measure of success.

Israel was ignorant of its own Messiah as John the Baptist said (1:26), “There stands One among you whom you do not know.” Thus, the Jews demanded some proof for His right to challenge the existing order (“Jews demand miraculous sings,” 1 Cor 1:22), but instead Christ foretells of His resurrection by His own power. As with His parables in the Synoptics, one purpose clearly seems to puzzle the hearers who opposed Him (in order that they ponder and hopefully perceive its significance). The cryptic statement “in three days I will raise it up” is explained in verse 21, “Jesus meant his body” which the disciples again remember after it occurs. A prophetic word is often understood only in retrospect. The Wedding scene reminds us that Israel will one day be wed to its God and at that time the wine of joy will run freely. In the mean time, we are warned of dead faith as empty professors are not to be trusted. While we only know what men do, Christ (who was called the “Searcher of hearts”) knows what is in them. Discernment is thusly not the execution of growing Christian maturity but the plagiarism of Godly insight. It is a responsibility of each Christian to provide an assurance of salvation for new believers, which should be based on both what we know as well as the insight and witness of Jesus Christ obtained through prayer.

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