The Cost of Silence
“And the Spirit of Yahweh was upon him and he judged Israel. And he went into battle and Yahweh gave into his hand, Cushan Rishathayim. And the land was peaceful for 40 years. And Othniel, son of Qenaz died.”
Isn’t it interesting that in this first cycle, the paradigm against which all of the others will fall short, that the peace which God gave to the people lasted the equivalent of one generation. Often when we read this, we focus on the life of the judge — while he was alive the people followed the commands of God, but when he died, the people fell back into their old sins. And it is proper to make that connection, as we often observe in the Bible and in history, the godliness (or lack thereof) of a nation’s leader affects the godliness of the people for good or for ill.
While that is true, may we not stop there because the responsibility to hand down the matters of faith from one generation to the next does not lie with the national leaders. It lies in the family. In particular, it lies with the father, the spiritual head of the households. And if the fathers are silent about the things of faith, the commands of God, and the works of God in history, then the next generation will drift away.
We are seeing the effects of this in America today. In the 1950s, people bought into the lie that spiritual things were private things and not to be talked about in the public sector. Many of the children of that era followed that practice and thus the grandchildren of that era began growing up in a world where godliness became a more or less optional matter (or embraced the notion that one could find spirituality in a variety of places. Today, the culture has almost entirely rejected the authority of God over life in the social square, and the people, much like what we will find here after Othniel’s death, have fallen into idolatry.
So, what is the solution? The solution is not Christian politicians. The solution is not laws that reflect Christian values. The reality is that politicians and laws are impotent when it comes to transforming our culture; at best, having Christian politicians and laws is only a byproduct of getting the more significant problem squared away properly. What is the most significant thing to do? We need to teach our kids the word of God and we need to model obedience to that word in our families. We need to train our children to refute the nonsense that is being taught in the broader and more secular culture and that means we need to teach ourselves not only what is taught but also how to refute it. Wen need to engage the culture with Truth and not be silent, for as we read the book of Judges, we will be confronted over and over again with the cost of that silence.
A Time to Keep Silence and a Time to Speak
“But Peter followed him from a distance up to the court of the High Priest and going in he sat with the subordinates to witness the end.”
“And Peter, from a distance, followed him as far as the courtyard of the High Priest and he was sitting with the subordinates and warming himself by the fire.”
“And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down in the midst of them.”
“The servants and the subordinates were standing around a charcoal fire they had made because it was cold and they were warming themselves. And Peter was also in that place and warming himself.”
Probably the obvious question to ask is with whom did Peter sit? Matthew and Mark speak of subordinates and John adds servants, but the question is, who are these people gathered in the middle of the night in Caiaphas’ court. Luke implies that these were amongst those who arrested Jesus, leading some English translations to render these verses as Peter sitting with the “guards.” Yet, the cohort (the official soldiers from the Temple) seems to have either departed or faded into the background for a variety of reasons, leaving us more likely with the rabble-rousers that made up the mob that accompanied the Cohort from the temple. Needless to say that this crowd is not a casual crowd and they are anything but neutral to the events that are transpiring.
Often this courtyard scene with Peter’s denial is portrayed as if Peter is being asked innocent questions about his association with Jesus and that his denials are out of an unfounded fear of what might happen. I don’t think that is what is implied here, though. These questions come from a very hostile crowd that is wanting to see blood — thus, while we still might speak of Peter’s cowardice to follow Jesus even to prison or death (Luke 22:33), prison or death most certainly would have been the end of this night for Peter had he spoken boldly of his connection with Jesus. Peter had escaped capture in the garden just hours earlier (if that long!), it is sure that this escape was fresh in his mind and he knew the climate of the people with whom he would be mixing in Caiaphas’ courtyard. Danger was all around.
It should be noted that some English versions translate Peter as standing by the fire while the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) portray him as sitting. This objection, if it be a real objection, can be answered in two ways. The simplest way is to recognize that Peter first approaches the fire standing up and remains standing so long as those around him are standing. Then, as Caiaphas takes his position for the trial, people settle down and sit. Peter, not wanting to stand out chooses to sit as well. The second way — if it be a way at all — is to note that the word that John uses, i¢sthmi (histami), can simply mean to be located in a particular spot (standing or sitting). Thus, there is no real contradiction between John’s account and the account of the other four evangelists.
While these questions may be curious, there are two clauses in these verses that are very striking. The first is how Mark refers to the fire around which Peter and the subordinates are gathered. Instead of using the ordinary word for “fire,” which in Greek is pu◊r (pur), he chooses to use the word, fw◊ß (phos) — “light.” One might be tempted to dismiss this as a curiosity, that perhaps Mark was simply looking for a different word to use for variety until one points out that this is the only time Mark uses the term fw◊ß (phos) in his entire Gospel. Furthermore, this is the only occurrence in the Greek New Testament where the term fw◊ß (phos) is used to refer to a fire.
One still might be tempted to suggest that Mark is just referring to the light that is emitted from a fire to foreshadow the fact that Peter would be recognized by those around him. Of course, this is presuming that this fire is the only source of light in the courtyard, which seems to be an odd assumption as oil lamps likely would have filled the space with light. A better answer is to recall that Mark is traditionally understood to have served as Peter’s scribe in Jerusalem, and thus this gospel was written under Peter’s oversight. Thus, there seems to be the suggestion here that the one thing Peter does not intend to do (at least initially) is to hide. His presence by the fire, in other words, is not just to warm himself (though that is one of the reasons), but is also to be present “in the light” and not in the midst of shadows. Of course, Peter’s nerve is lost as the proceedings go on and he realizes that he is noticed, but it is likely that at least at first, Peter’s intent was to be visible.
The second thing of particular interest is Matthew’s statement that Peter followed to see “the end.” The end of what? If Matthew is referring to “the end” of Jesus’ life, could it have been that Peter expected Jesus to be tried and executed even before dawn? Could Matthew have been speaking of “the end” with respect to their pilgrimage from the Sea of Galilee to Caiaphas’ courts? This latter explanation seems to be a better answer to the question. And, while likely not “the end” as Peter anticipated at the time, it indeed was the end — the end of Peter being only a follower and time for Peter to stand up and lead — though that final aspect would not be fulfilled until Pentecost. Solomon writes that to all things there is a season — for Peter (and for the other 10 who remained faithful), the time of following Jesus as he walked and taught in this earth had come to an end. Soon, the time would be for him to speak — and speak boldly he would.