Blog Archives

Subterfuge

“And it came to pass that when the bringing of the gift had come to an end, he sent home the people who carried the gift. But he turned back from the idols which were at Gilgal and said, ‘A secret thing is with me for you, O king.’ And he said, ‘Silence!’ And all the ones who stood by him went from him.”

(Judges 3:18-19)

The tribute is brought and here we clearly know that this “gift” is more than just what is at the right side of Ehud. Yet, still, the language of the text is intentionally ambiguous in some key areas. The most important area is that of the “secret thing” or “secret message” or “something secret” that Ehud has for Eglon.

The term that is translated as “thing” here is rDb∂;d (dabar). This Hebrew word can mean a whole litany of things depending on its context. It can refer to a word, an idea, a physical thing, or even to a command or set of instructions. Clearly, here will be a context where Eglon misunderstands the meaning of this word…or at least, he understands it in a different way than Ehud is using it.

This leads us to an important ethical question. Is Ehud lying by being intentionally vague? In argumentation, this is called equivocation, or the logical fallacy of equivocation, where depending how words are used, the sentence that contains them can be understood in very different ways. This, is the thing that puns are made up, but it is also something that kids tend to be quite adept at, particularly when trying to fool their parents while also trying to avoid lying (at least technically so).

The historic confessions of the Christian faith would remind us that the ninth commandment deals with more than just outright lying before a magistrate, thus bearing false witness. The Westminster Larger Catechism, for example teaches that the ninth commandment forbids speaking untruth in any form, forgery, hiding sins, boasting, or concealing the truth. The Heidelberg Catechism affirms the same and also goes on to say that the expectation of this commandment is that we love the truth. So, isn’t this use of double-entendre, though technically not lying, still breaking the ninth commandment?

It seems that we have two directions with which we can take this question. The first, and arguably the simplest, is to suggest that while this subterfuge is sin, and thus not a model for us to follow, God still uses the sins of his people to accomplish his good purposes. Certainly we find lots of examples of this, Samson being one of the first that comes to mind. Samson broke every one of his Nazarite vows, he slept with a prostitute and with a woman who was not his wife, and he was a bit of a terrorist when it came to his assaults on the Philistines (I am thinking about the foxes…). Yet, all of this was part of God’s good design to punish the Philistines for their oppression of Israel. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, killed to hide his sin. That adulterous affair ended up adding Bathsheba to David’s already growing list of wives, again, not what I would argue was the Biblical model established in Genesis 2. Yet, from that relationship came Solomon. So, one might simply argue that such subterfuge was sin and would always be sin, yet God sovereignly uses even our sin to accomplish his designs.

The trouble with that answer is that first, it almost seems to excuse the sin (for God will make good things happen anyhow) and it seems to follow into a matter of the end justifying the means, which the Bible never advocates. Plus, there are times when others seem to lead one down a road that could be construed as misleading before the Truth is revealed.

An example of this can be found in the way that Nathan rebukes David after David’s affair with Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 12:1-15). Nathan told a parable about a rich man stealing from a poor man to illustrate what it was that David had done to Uriah. To expand on that idea, when Jesus’ disciples ask him to explain why he teaches in parables, Jesus answers that the purpose is to conceal the truth from those who are spiritually blind and deaf (Matthew 13:10-17).

One can easily argue, given the context, that Ehud’s situation with Eglon is much the same as Nathan’s with David. In both cases, the truth is being somewhat concealed (though in both cases the truth was revealed in the end) and in both cases, judgment was being brought (in the case of Ehud, it would be Eglon’s death; in the case of Nathan, it would be the death of David and Bathsheba’s first son). Even in the case of Jesus’ parables, the intention is judgment as well (by Jesus’ own admission).

So, what principle ought we draw from this encounter? Is there now justification for lying? No, there is not justification for lying, it is breaking the ninth commandment. How about justification for concealing the truth? Perhaps, but I would argue that what we find here is that when truth is being concealed in each of these cases, the intent is not to mislead, but instead to position yourself in a situation where truth can be revealed in judgment over sin. In the case of David and Nathan, that is pretty obvious. Nathan is concealing the truth within a parable for the purpose of causing David to condemn himself. In the case of Ehud and Eglon, Ehud is concealing the truth within double-entendre, to give him the opportunity to get close enough to Eglon to carry out his God-given task: judgment on the wicked king. In the case of Jesus, we again see the same principle. Jesus is speaking truth clothed in a parable so that the wicked who are under condemnation do not repent and are held under condemnation until the day they stand in judgment where the truth will be fully revealed.

In most cases, then, we still need to be very careful about subterfuge because it can easily fall into the realm of lying or at the very least, intending to deceive. Yet, in the case of Ehud, there is Biblical president in the way that God works with his people and certainly also in the way that Jesus, who was sinless, commonly taught.

‘She is my Sister’: Genesis 20:2

“And Abraham said of Sarah, his wife, ‘She is my sister.’ And Abimelek, king of Gerar, sent and he took Sarah.”

(Genesis 20:2)

 

Uh, Abraham, haven’t we been through this once before when you were back in Egypt? What happened to honoring, cherishing, shepherding, and protecting your wife? How is it that the man who led 318 men against four armies has now succumbed to his old fears? This repetition is such that it has caused many Bible scholars to treat this as the same story as was told in Genesis 12, just in Canaan and not Egypt. They assume that the Bible is not a historical document and they assume that the stories are just a compilation of folk stories that have been sloppily combined by editors and redactors.

The reality is that those scholars that think that this is but a retelling of the Egypt story betrays their lack of understanding of Hebrew narrative and their lack of understanding of sin. This is certainly the same sin as Abraham had committed back when he was in Egypt—and we will find out later in the chapter that the sin was committed for the same motivations—he was afraid for his life, though this time Abraham justifies (or tries to) his sin. The nature of sin is just that, though. It comes back, often over and over, until it is deliberately put to death. The style of the Hebrew narrative is such that the text is intentionally written in such a way that the connections between this sinful event in Abraham’s life can be seen for the repeated sin it is. Moses (who authored the text of Genesis) is making it crystal clear that this man of faith is a man who still struggles against sin. One of the remarkable things about the Bible is that you find all of the saints portrayed in all of their weaknesses; it is a reminder that God is the great protagonist and not man.

Such is no different in life. God is still the hero of the story and we are still the bumbling and sinning fools. God patiently rebukes us and preserves us though we deserve judgment. And despite our failings, He delivers us from our enemies. This chapter is preeminently about God and his faithfulness despite the failings of Abraham. Yet, that is the theme of God’s hand in all of our lives. How far short we fall of the mark, yet God consistently and faithfully guides us along the pathway, slowly conforming us into his image for his glory. Men love to bask in their glory, yet how paltry the feign glory of man is compared to magnificent glory of God. We, like children, are excited about the little plastic baubles that we may earn in this world, yet in God’s hands are genuine gold, silver, and pearls. Abraham is indeed the father of the faithful (Romans 4:16), but it is God who made him so.

 

Do We Need a Polygraph in Church?

 

I suppose that all of us have seen the movies or read the pulp stories where the evil villain captures the hero and forces him to reveal some sort of important information by strapping him into a chair and hooking him up to a lie-detector machine of some sort. How the hero would sweat and squirm trying to avoid giving away the truth while diabolical questions are asked.

“You know the location of the secret government base…” the villain would press.

“No!” Our hero would lie to cover up the knowledge and the machine would quickly register the lie and the interrogation would continue.

In real life, the polygraph is a machine that measures changes in blood pressure, perspiration, pulse, and skin conductivity, and while the scientific basis for the machine is debated, its use by a skilled technician reportedly provides surprisingly reliable results in many cases. They even sell “home polygraph” units that can be plugged into a computer (to interpret the results) for use as a party game or perhaps to find the location of your spouse’s secret candy stash. And that is what brings us to the church.

One of the essential Christian virtues is that of integrity. As kids, we were taught that integrity is what you did when nobody was watching you. The Oxford American Dictionary defines it as the “quality of being honest and of having strong moral principles.” Both carry with them the same basic principle—integrity is doing what is right and honest even when it is unpopular or costly to do so. Integrity demands that you live up to your word and that you not try and convince the world that you are something that you are not. Such is an essential part of our Christian witness.

The problem is that the church is not viewed as having integrity by the broader culture today. Some blame it on false christians masquerading as genuine believers, some blame it on a culture that often intimidates people if they wish to live as a committed Christian, and some blame it on the church being in “power” over the past several hundred years in America, for when you are the only game in town, you no longer need to act with integrity.

In post-Russia Ukraine, there is a large group of Muslims emigrating into the nations. In those nations, there is a proverb: “If a Muslim tells you he will do something, it will get done; if a Christian tells you he will do something, it may get done or it may not get done.” Being in the minority, the Muslims who emigrate there work hard at building the trust of those in the community they live in, while Christians in that area, still dominated by the influence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, don’t feel the same urgency to live with integrity because they are in the majority. Such is true in America as well. Particularly in areas where it is the cultural norm to be considered “Christian,” there are a lot of nominal believers who may have a good speech in church on Sunday, but the rest of their life is never touched by their Christian faith. Similarly, when they arrive in church Sunday morning and are asked how things are going in their life (spiritually, physically, or with their general well-being), they typically respond: “Great, how about you?” Of course, the response that they desire to hear from you is that everything is just fine and if you start unloading your troubles in their direction, usually they will maneuver themselves out of the conversation as quickly as possible.

Hence my suggested solution to the problem: instead of wearing nametags, strap a portable polygraph machine onto every member when they walk in the door. Rather than attaching the polygraph to a fancy stylus like one usually sees in pictures, a much simpler light and beeper could be attached. While the beeper would be sufficient to alert most people of a lie being told, the light would be a useful resource for older members of the congregation who no longer hear so well. That way, the moment a lie comes from someone’s mouth, everyone would be aware of it.

At first, the response would largely be that no one would say much of anything (which as a secondary benefit would cut down on church gossip). Some may even storm out of the church— “How dare the elders force me to tell the truth!” Of course, dissenting folks would not word it in that way. You might even have some hurt feelings from those who are forced to hear the truth from their neighbor for the first time. One drawback is that most hymns would become un-singable. Can you imagine all the beeps and flashes if a congregation were forced to wear such devices while singing lyrics like:

“I love to tell the story, of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love. I love to tell the story, because I know ‘tis true. It satisfies my longings, as nothing else can do. I love to tell the story, ‘twill be my theme in glory, to tell the old, old story, of Jesus and his love.”

Or:

“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. And we’ll pray that all unity will one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our Love, by our Love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our Love.”

Or:

“When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”

And:

“I love thy kingdom Lord, the house of Thy abode, the church our blest Redeemer saved with his own precious blood.”

Of course, as time went by, a wonderful thing would happen. People in church would not only learn to tell the truth and not put up a mask of false piety, but they would also learn to be honest with one another not only about their successes, but about their trials as well. And in that honesty, genuine fellowship would take root.

I am sure that there are some who may not appreciate my sense of irony and touch of sarcasm, and to those in that category I say, “I love you, but get over it.” In many ways, those who will be most offended are probably the ones who need this the most. If we remain in the pattern of “doing” church as many of our churches are doing today, then we will fade away from public view as a dead sect. Yet, if we get beyond the masks and layers of armor, we will discover the meaning of true Christian fellowship, of the healing of the wounded soul that comes as part of a body of intentionally honest and transparent believers, and the world will begin to notice the integrity that comes with being a body of believers who are new creations in Christ.

What we all desire in a friend is one who knows us as heartily as we know ourselves yet who does not hold that knowledge against us. How sad it is that people often can only find such relationships in the secular world. How sad it is that the ones who worship the God of Truth most need to be hooked up to a polygraph for the truth to be seen in them.

 

Justified and Sanctified (Colossians 3:9-10)

“You must not lie to each other, having stripped off the old man with his practices and having put on the new, being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it.”  (Colossians 3:9-10)

 

Did you notice the subtle change in tense that Paul makes with his participles in these two verses?  He moves from “having stripped off” and “having put on” to “being renewed.”  Here we have two past participles followed by a present participle.  Now, while this is not meant to be a lesson in English grammar, or more properly, Greek grammar, this transition is incredibly important for theological purposes.  Here is one place in scripture where we have the framework for the difference between God’s act of justification and God’s work of sanctification.

When God begins to work faith in our heart, first he regenerates us, breathing new life into a sin-dead soul, then he gives us faith, drawing us to himself.  In our coming to Christ in faith, God declares that we are justified in his presence.  This, of course, is legal language reflecting not only that we stand in God’s presence fully pardoned of our sin debit, but we also stand before God’s presence in the righteousness of the one who redeemed us, namely Christ.  This is a declarative act of God.  We did nothing to earn it—that was Christ’s work—and it is not an ongoing process.  God declares it to be so and no one in heaven above or earth below can undo what God has declared to be so.

Beloved, there are many in our culture who would say that you can lose your salvation by backsliding into sin.  They have a theology that envisions you getting on or off the bus of salvation at your own discretion.  Oh, how we should reject those ideas!  Do you think that God is going to allow you to undo what it cost him so dearly to do in the first place?  Do you think so highly of yourself that you consider your own will to be superior to God’s?   Do you believe that while no power on heaven or in earth can remove you from God’s hand, you can yet do it on your own (John 10:28)?  How arrogant is this theology that would hold such things?  What God begins in you, he will bring to completion (Philippians 1:6)—beloved, that is a promise that you cannot undo.

But, do you see what Paul is expressing in these two verses as he transitions from the past to the present.  In God’s act of regeneration, you have put off the old man, and in His justifying act, you have been declared righteous before God.  Both of those take place once in the life of the believer.  Yet, the renewing is a present participle, this is ongoing, it is a continuing work of God that will continue in your life until you pass from this world into the next.  This is the work of sanctification in the life of the believer.  This is the difference between justification and sanctification.  Justification is a once-only act of God declaring us fit for his presence because of the work of Christ and sanctification is the ongoing work of God making us fit for an eternity in God’s presence as the bride of Christ.  What a wonderful theological statement is buried within these verses!

But there is one more note that must be made of a very practical nature.  And that is the command that Paul gives: do not lie to one another.  Oh, how often we fall into this trap.  It so often seems easier to lie than to be honest, but if we are to reflect Christ in our lives, how is it that we can allow lies to pass from our lips?  Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) and if we allow ourselves to be known as liars, then we allow Christ to be identified with Satan by our actions.  Loved ones, flee from lies—even those “little white lies,” for they do not belong to you and they certainly do not belong to the one you serve.  Beloved, let your “yes be yes and your no be no” says our Lord (Matthew 5:37) when dealing with oaths—let it be that you are known for telling the truth in every area of your lives so that you might reflect the truth of Christ in every way.

Living for Jesus a life that is true,

Striving to please Him in all that I do,

Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,

This is the pathway of blessing for me.

O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee;

For Thou, in thy atonement, Didst give Thyself for me;

I own no other Master, My heart shall be Thy throne,

My life I give, henceforth to live. 

O Christ, for Thee alone.

-T.O. Chisholm