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February 2020

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More murder in the name of righteousness – it is always easier to find a way around the letter of a law than the spirit. While God commanded and approved the destruction of the Canaanites, there is no hint that God supported the bloodbath at Jabesh Gilead. The Israelites would have probably done better to have repented of their rash behavior, brought sin-offerings, and sought forgiveness rather than attempt to avoid guilt through more actions just as wrong. All the married adults and all the children are murdered at Jabesh Gilead (for failing to respond to the Levite’s call to arms) to acquire 400 adult virgins as wives for the 600 hiding Gibeahites so that the tribe of Benjamin would not perish (they always were a less successful tribe and being nearly exterminated now didn’t help). This was done to get around the restrictions by an oath to never provide women for the tribe of Benjamin to marry. 400 wasn’t enough, of course, so the Israelites contrived to get more from Shiloh. Some believe the yearly feast of in Shiloh was the Passover in the Spring because of the association with dancing (hard to believe so many modern denominations still have a low opinion of dancing) although more consider it to be the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall because vineyards are mentioned. The Israelites think themselves to have cleverly circumvented the oath about providing women by allowing the Benjaminites to abduct their own choices. Judges closes with a reminder that all these troubles were the result of failing to designate a righteous leader.

A famine drives a family to Moab where the two sons marry, but within a decade the father and both sons die. When news comes that the famine has ended, the widowed mother, Noami, decides to return home and urges her two daughter-in-laws to remain and find new husbands (since there are no brothers to take care of them), but Ruth demonstrates great friendship and is determined to stay with Noami.

While it had been common to baptize pagans into the fold, it had not been customary to baptize a “Jew” until John the Baptist. The Pharisees claimed the authority to regulate all religious rites and ceremonies and were fairly unhappy first with John’s and even more so with Christ’s success with their “unauthorized” baptisms and the attention they were taking away from the Sanhedrin. Jesus was weary during the heat of the day and sat on Jacob’s well in the town called Sychar (which signifies “drunken” for this sin charged in Isaiah 28:1-8). The well is not mentioned in the OT, but it probably got its name from either Jacob digging it or because it was near the land purchased for a hundred pieces of silver from the children of Hamor (Gen 33:18-19) in addition to land he took from the Amorite which he gave (perhaps foreshadowing His later reference to “the gift of God” in 4:10) for the burial of his son, Joseph (Gen 48:21-22, Josh 24:32). It was likely not a spring fed well but one built at the end of a narrow valley to collect rain water at the edge of town (compare to the God-made well of which Jesus speaks). There is still such a 100-foot well dug 3-yards wide filled with trash (that still fills with about 5 feet of water when it rains) at the foot of Mt Gerizim (surrounded by the remains of a large church built by the Empress Irene destroyed by the Turks) a few miles to the east of Nablus, whose citizens claim to be the same one (who tell tourists that it only fills with water that bubbles up on the anniversary of Christ’s visit).

In John 4:14, Christ said, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” “Shall be IN him” suggests the Holy Spirit and we’ve just read where Christ warned that only those born of water and Spirit can enter the Kingdom of God. John describes in Revelation being shown the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb lined with the Tree of Life yielding fruit for every month and leaves for healing all nations. Revelation 21:6b says, “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.” In Ezekiel’s vision of God’s house, the water that poured from under the threshold represented the unrestricted flow of God’s blessing upon his people (Ezekiel 47:1-12). Jeremiah describes God as “the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13, 17:13). There are many references to spiritual water (Psalms 36:9, 42:1, Isaiah 55:1, Jeremiah 2:13, 17:13, and Zechariah 13:1) including “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). Jesus provided the model for probing the heart of another. The woman at the well knew Jesus was of God because He knew her heart and life. When dealing with sinners, Jesus did not shake His finger in their faces and tell them what they were doing wrong. Instead, He asked thought-provoking questions that brought attention on the sin in the person’s heart instead of the circumstances. Christ (as a model soul-winner) ignored the gender and racial roles of the time as well as the barriers of sin and religious tradition and guided the conversation in a friendly way and allowed the Word to take effect. When parents merely demand that a child behaves, they’re hindering the child from growing in the area of discernment. When a person learns to evaluate their own heart and deal biblically with the sin found there, he or she learns to govern their own behavior as well as grow in wisdom and character.

The Samaritans had accepted the five books of Moses, but generally refused the prophets (as many were descendants of the revolting 10 tribes during the rule of Rehobaom and others had been excommunicated or shunned for disobeying by intermarrying during their Assyrian captivity) and had even joined the worship of idols (although accepted the idea of the coming Messiah from Deut 18:15). Instead of worshiping in Jerusalem with those who despised them, they had set up a rival temple (by Sanballat to end the idol worship of the Cutheans and Sepharvites, see Kings 17:26-34) about 332 BC where Abraham had gone to sacrifice Isaac and where the blessings and curses had been read by the patriarchs (Deut 11:29, 27:12). Jesus answered her question of where to worship in such a way as to suggest that it was much less important that she had assumed. “True worshiper will worship the Father in spirit (as opposed to rites and ceremonies) and truth (rather than shadows or sacrifices).” First, this is because while God appointed the old mode of worship to lead and prepare the people to Him, He did not seek it. Second, “For God is Spirit” (how can anyone think He has a body?) means that He is singular, invisible, everywhere, pure, and holy. He is not worshipped with good works, for He has no need of anything. True worship is only an offering of the soul rather than the body – of the heart rather than of the lips. “The Jesus told her, ‘I am the Messiah!’” He had not yet openly professed this truth to the Jews (but how can so many suggest that Jesus never said He was God?), but this discussion demonstrates our duty in being Christ-like to make use of all topics of conversations to lead unbelievers to belief in Christ as well as that that the purpose of true religion is to consist of more than external forms as a pure, spiritual, active, ever-bubbling fountain where the heart is offered and desires of salvation are breathed out of a humble soul. Even the woman, although she probably no longer had any doubt in her mind, suggested that Jesus was the Christ to her neighbors and friends modestly with a question of whether the evidence she had available was not enough for them to believe. One of the key aspects of the Messiah was the ability to tell the secrets of the heart (Isaiah 11:2-3) and 100 years later they quickly killed (but only after two years of deception) the counterfeit Messiah of Barchachab when he could not tell the righteous man from a group of wicked men. The woman being at the well alone may suggest that the village had shunned her (since this was normally a time for the woman to socialize together) and yet she was still able to get the townsfolk to listened (and she so excited to speak that she forgot her errand). Nevertheless, there is no greater example of racial separation in America today than during worship.

Four months was the common time from sowing the seed to the harvest in Judea and so a farmer expects fruit only after a considerable time – but, it not necessarily so with Christ’s preaching. There is thusly more encouragement to labor in this field than the farmer has to sow his grain (also harvesting salvation reaps fruit that is not temporary). Since the Gospel fits to an immediate impression on the minds of those that can hear, we can expect that it will. Christ is making this comparison just after a case of fruit occurring only a few hours (at most a couple of days) after seeding signifying. This suggests, IMHO, that we are not to wait to some indeterminate future moment for results. Jesus has come so the day of opportunity is now (all any disciple need do is look around to recognize that spiritual hunger abounds). Disciples are to reap (even more than John the Baptist) the harvest of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Even the wicked and ignorant Samaritans heard the voice of God and came in multitudes. When we evangelize, is it with the voice and expectations of man or with the voice and heart of God? We are to expect revivals of religion. Jesus was tired, thirsty, and hungry when he sat next to Jacob’s well and was refreshed without water or food for His temporal needs were nothing compared with the woman’s need for eternal life.

How often and how loudly would anyone speak having the cure for AIDS? How much greater then shall be the cry of one with the cure for everything that ails mankind? Romona and her son are correct that it is by “the power of the Word of God” (Feb 20th), but I must respectfully disagree with the suggestion that we are likely not to know the fruits of our labor (likely from reading 1 Corinthians 3:6 where Paul planted, Apollos watered, and God increased) or that we should normally expect (like the farmer) a considerable delay (such delays are very uncommon in the Bible). It is Hinduism that suggests that one should just focus on keeping busy because the creator’s desires cannot be known, but not Biblical Christianity. “We must be led by the Spirit” (Luke 4:1, Romans 8:14, and Gal 5:18) and so should foreknow what to expect. Salomon warns us not to be idle with, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap” (Ecclesiastes 11:4). We will later find, however, Paul heading for Asia and for Troas in Acts 16:7-10 and that the Holy Spirit corrects him both times (“you can listen to me now or listen to me later”). Some suggest that Jesus is sending the disciples to sow (over the next two days) what they did not seed after sending them to market for food while He (and perhaps the woman) seeded. Others would say the seeding was done by the patriarchs and prophets who announced the Messiah. Still others would say that Jesus Christ becomes the reaper of the seed which he had so recently sown – “Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one” (1 Corinthians 3:8a). Compare this chapter to the old Jewish proverb in Isaiah 65:21-22, “And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.” And then compare the opinion that most Christians may not know in their lifetimes whether their efforts brought fruit to the story of the talents and the proverb of Leviticus 26:16, “Ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it” (and consider that Wicca is the fastest growing religion in America). “A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is a traitor.”

Reading the story of the Samaritan woman in John from the KJV, Darby, or ASV Bibles put it best, “And he must needs go through Samaria.” In other words, Jesus didn’t just go through Samaria because it was conveniently on the way (a path few Jews ever took), pleasant, or for even warm feelings for the people, but simply because there was a woman who needed the mercies of God. And, she became the first disciple of her town (being immediately successful) with personal testimony and the message of Jesus. Never knowing the results is not for a John 15:15 friend of Jesus. “And the LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing?’” (Genesis 18:17) The Pharisees even tried to insult Jesus by calling Him a Samaritan (in 8:48) after Christ told them, “He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” Too often we try to serve God on our own. Our motives are right and our plans are made with prayer, but we are unwilling to die. Jesus reminds us that there is no harvest without death just as a seed must die before it can germinate and grow. He has already carried His cross and died on it, all that is left is for us to lift our cross and follow Him. How do times when the Holy Spirit works through you differ from times when you have tried to do good work with only your own efforts? The primary differences are the measures of effort (less with the Spirit) and success (more, of course).

Pope John XXIII summoned Vatican II in 1959 and the sixteen resulting texts were translated into English in 1965. The two documents, however, that clearly received the least attention were those on communications and education. The two declarations were widely held, even within the church (my praise for a church that can criticize itself), as being out of touch with the world and included tactics that in effect curtailed the success of the Ecumenical Council. It does not matter how good your product is if you do not really want to sell it. Today, nine out ten evangelical churches are still “lacking in any real marketing” (Barna, 1993). Church attendance in America has spiraled down roughly 25% to 50% from the 1950s (Putnam, 1995) – 10% in just the last decade (ARIS study). Moreover, only 4% of Americans ages 28 and under are Christians (Rainer, 2004). While religious organizations commonly assert a religious revival in the United States, “There does not seem to be revival taking place in America. Whether that is measured by church attendance, born again status, or theological purity, the statistics simply do not reflect a surge of any noticeable proportions. In fact, Americans seem to have become almost inoculated to spiritual events, outreach efforts, and the quest for personal spiritual development.” (George Barna, 2001) As the Campus Crusades for Christ started off, Bill Bright went on a recruiting tour from campus to campus of the leading Christian schools and seminaries of the nation looking for anyone with a degree who had been fruitful witnessing for Christ, but he had difficulty in finding any. How could this be? The fact is that Europe and America has done a “repositioning of religion as a commodity that we consume, rather than one in which we invest ourselves.” America has more un-churched people than all but ten of the world’s 194 nations, only 1% of American churches are exhibiting any growth at all (Miles McPhearson, 2003), 7000 churches close each year (Hunt and McMahon, 1985), and only 4% maintain over a 5% conversion rate (Rainer). We seem to have the words of God but not His voice. If a gifted evangelist could win ten thousand people to Christ every night of the year, ten thousands years would not be enough to win the entire world for Christ. However, if one true disciple of Christ were able, under God, to win just one person each year and train that person to do the same, it would only take 32 years to win the entire world.

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