Thursday, April 30, 2009

Honest Testimony

Proverbs 12:17

"A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies." Proverbs 12:17

I think I would enjoy being a forensic scientist for the FBI. I watch some of the police shows on tv and read stories about police investigations. It amazes me how a police scientist can take a hair found on a shirt, run tests on it, and use it to match the DNA of a suspect in a crime. Police can take a sample from the tiniest speck of blood on a kitchen floor, run tests, compare it to blood on a shirt found in a garbage can five miles away, and match it to a crime committed in that kitchen. What really gets me is how DNA tests can be run 20 years after a crime is committed, exonerating or confirming someone’s guilt.

Today we have incredible scientific and technological means of proving guilt or innocence in a crime. Finger prints, saliva, blood, hair and threads of clothing can convict you of what you thought was a perfect crime. If you walk across a floor, you are leaving evidence of where you were days before. All of that can be used against you in a court of law. It’s almost spooky.

People are known to lie in court. They lie hoping that they won’t get in trouble. "I wasn’t in that store." "I’ve never seen that person." "That’s not my knife." All of these can be lies. How can you prove if they are indeed telling the truth or if they are lying?

In ancient times you needed two things to make a case in court. One, you needed people to tell the truth, whether defendants or witnesses. Secondly, you needed evidence. Gathering evidence though, was not quite as sophisticated as today.

In ancient times if you stole a person’s cow, the owner and court officials could find the animal in your field. That was evidence. If you injured a neighbor’s servant, they just had to watch him limp, or see him lying on the ground, and that was evidence. But they didn’t have the sophisticated means of matching blood types, analyzing hair samples and comparing strands of cloth. There were no microscopes, chemicals or computer imaging to compare things at the microscopic level. Evidence was simple and basic.

Ancient courts had to rely upon the integrity of the one testifying. Everything hinged on a person telling the truth.

Punishment for Lying

Two things were done to try to ensure truth-telling by defendants, accusers and witnesses. One, people were threatened with severe punishment if they lied.

"If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. Then the rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." (Deut. 19:16-21).

If you accused another man of a capital crime, such as rape or murder, you had better be sure your charge was correct! If you lied in court to get another man in trouble, and your lie was uncovered, you would be sentenced to the very punishment the man you accused would have suffered if he was found guilty. In the case of a rape or murder charge, you would be put to death. This might sound severe to our sensibilities, but it was one of the few ways God had of instilling a sense of honor in people. If they acted with dishonor and treachery, they were to be severely punished. If this happened a few times, God hoped the news of it would spread through out Israel and the people would be afraid to lie. God called lying in court and "evil thing" that he did not want to have happen among his people.

But threatening people with punishment is not enough of a deterrent to crime and treachery. People will still lie, but they will just be more careful with it. For example, When Jezebel wanted to steal Naboth’s land from him, she set-up a couple of scoundrels to tell lies against him. Naboth was found guilty in court and was executed. Really, since he was an innocent man, his death was a murder. The lying scoundrels should have been executed, as should Jezebel herself, the first lady of Israel! But, she was one of the highest leaders in the land and she was involved in the crime. She certainly protected the lives of the scoundrels from exposure. She may have even bribed the judge in the case.

The threat for lying and criminal behavior has some teeth to it, but not enough. It doesn’t stop people. It can only work if the leaders of court and government are honest themselves. If they are liars and criminals, then the system breaks down and the lawless prevail. That is why God relied on one other means of people telling the truth: character development.

Truthful Hearts

Proverbs says a "truthful witness gives honest testimony." The key to honest testimony is not threats of punishment, but a truthful witness. A truthful witness is an honest person.

Proverbs 12:20 says, "There is deceit in the hearts of those who plot evil, but joy for those who promote peace." Those who lie with their mouths have a spirit of lying within them. They have deceit, mischief and evil in their hearts. That is why they lie. That is why Jezebel and the scoundrels lied about the innocent man, Naboth. They were evil people. They intended to steal another man’s property. In order to do that they had to destroy Naboth’s reputation and have him murdered. Lying was a tool in their arsenal to accomplish their wicked ends. The lies and evil that came from their mouths were but an extension of the lying and evil in their hearts.

This spirit of lying can be implanted in our hearts at a very early age. We once owned a home that had a sliding glass door that opened into the backyard. One day a neighborhood child came to the backyard, slid the door open and walked in. She came to play with my kids. "Close the door, please," I said to her.

"I didn’t open it," she replied.

I had two problems with her answer, both of which I explained to her. "You did open the door. I sat here and watched you. Also, even if you didn’t open the door, you walked through it. So, please close it."

"But I didn’t open the door."

"Yes you did! I saw you! Now close the door, please!"

"But I didn’t open it."

"Just close the door!"

Two things exasperated me about this brief conversation. One, the little girl refused to do what she was asked to do, something as simple as closing the door she walked through. But, my real concern was that at such a young age, about ten years old, she was already wired to lie. When she was asked a question her immediate response was to deceive, even when there was nothing to gain from it. Other experiences with this young girl confirmed that she would regularly lie even when she didn’t have to. There was nothing at stake to make her feel that lying would benefit her in some way. She wasn’t in trouble for opening the door, so why lie about it? Then, why repeat the lie and stubbornly refuse to close the door? Unfortunately, a spirit of deception can dominate our hearts even at a very young age. "A truthful witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies" (Proverbs 14:5). It was chilling how natural it seemed for this young girl to "pour out lies." I don’t know if she had any awareness of the treachery of her heart and speech. This is the spirit of deception that God wants to prevent in the hearts of people. He wants truthful hearts.

A Truthful Witness

A truthful witness is the opposite of a lying witness. Instead of evil and corruption inside, truthful people have honesty, truth and integrity. They tell the truth because a spirit of truth permeates their heart and life. They don’t have to wonder, "Should I tell the truth about this?" because the truth pours out naturally.

The greatest assurance that an ancient witness, or modern one, will tell the truth is that they have an honest character. To this end God tried to teach the Israelites to be people of integrity. In Exodus 23:2-3 he said, "Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit." God showed two concerns here about the integrity of testimony in court. One, don’t be swayed by what most people are saying or thinking. Even if what you have to say does not "square" with the crowd’s perception, you speak what you know to be the truth anyway. Secondly, don’t show favoritism. Other verses in scripture warn against siding with the rich against the poor in court (Exodus 23:6). The rich are able to afford bribes to the judges and witnesses, (Exodus 23:8), thus perverting justice. "A bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous." Judges and witnesses are particularly susceptible to this sin. But God also gives this warning that we shouldn’t allow our sympathies for some one who is poor to cloud our judgment. It is possible that the poor man is the guilty man. Pay attention to truth, not to sympathies or money payments!

God hopes that a spirit of truth will root in his people’s hearts. He has given warnings that liars are to be severely punished. But even then, a crooked judge or leader might be in collusion with a lying witness, thus perverting justice. God’s real concern is that his people will refrain from lying because they have honest hearts and the truth pours naturally from them. A man’s only real hope in court is that the judges and witnesses are people of God.

The Bigger Issue

While these verses in Proverbs and other texts of the Bible are primarily about telling the truth in court, the bigger issue is that God wants us to be people of truth and integrity at all times and in all situations. God is a God of truth, he cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18). As followers of God we are in pursuit of his holiness (1 Peter 1:16). The purity of heart that characterizes God is the goal we aspire to.

God wants us to be people of integrity. "The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity" (Proverbs 11:3) and "Righteousness guards the man of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner" (Proverbs 13:6) both address the heart of the righteous person.

The word "integrity" in these verses means there is a wholeness in a man’s life: his outer profession matches his inner conviction. Stated in another way, the way he speaks and acts is an accurate reflection of the character within him.

When I was in college I worked for a sales company during the summer. In one city where I spent a few weeks I worshiped with the local congregation and got acquainted with some of the members. During my days working in the community I had numerous people ask me about a particular man who was a leader in the church I was visiting. "I know he is an important man at your church, but he is a very cruel and dishonest businessman. His main concern is to make money, not promote Christ."

I realized that what some of these people were saying about this man may have been untrue. But in the many years since then I have known some brothers in Christ who could put on the "religious ritz" on Sunday, but during the week you would never believe they claimed to be Christians. Some were dishonest in business, some were abusive of their wives and children, some were cruel and heartless employers. Then, when it was Sunday, they were back at church again as if everything in their lives were fine!

We are all turned off by this kind of flagrant rejection of God’s call upon us to live good and moral lives. Some are tempted to drop out of church because of people like this. Please don’t. If this kind of behavior bothers you, think how much it grieves God!

God is the one who calls for us to live lives of integrity. He wants "wholeness" in the conviction of our hearts and the performance of our lives. It grieves God more than we can imagine when we allow a spirit of deception, greed, meanness or envy to arrest our hearts and commandeer our lives. God wants his spirit to lead and guide us.

A man who is upright is a man of integrity, and this quality shows itself in two ways in his life. One, he always tells the truth, whether it is in court, in business, with his wife and kids, or in casual conversation with a stranger. He is rarely even tempted to lie, because it is not in his heart to. Everything this man says can be believed, because he consistently, over time, proves his honesty.

Secondly, he is always honest in his personal dealings with other people. "Honest scales and balances are from the Lord; all the weights in the bag are of his making (Proverbs 16:11; cf. Deuteronomy 25:15). One way to cheat people in ancient times was to buy and sell farm produce, such as tomatoes, with different scales. When a farmer brought a bag of tomatoes in to sell to a merchant, a dishonest merchant would use a scale that would cheat the farmer. Ten pounds of vegetables would only register as eight pounds. Then, the merchant would put that scale away and use another one to sell to customers. If a customer wanted to buy ten pounds of tomatoes, the merchant would use a scale that would register eight pounds as ten. The merchant just stole four pounds worth of produce.

A man of integrity will never cheat anyone in business, even if he can get by with it. He won’t cheat because it is not in his heart to do so. In fact, a man of integrity might even give extra product to the customer, just to make sure he isn’t cheating him.

I heard a Christian man say that he will never try to talk a man down on a price he has asked for a product. He said, "That businessman needs to make a living. If he is cheating me, God is a witness to that, so I don’t have to worry about it. But, if he is a Christian, and he is trying to give me the best possible deal, and I try to reduce him even more, I might deprive him of a profit he needs to make to feed his family. I won’t do that. If I want the product I will pay the price that is listed without trying to talk him down."

That is an honest man. He conducts himself with such honor and integrity that he expects everyone else to do the same. And, even if they don’t, he will still conduct himself in that manner.

God wants honesty and integrity in our speech and conduct. The emphasis God puts on honest testimony in court is but one aspect of the honesty God wants to permeate all of our speech and actions. Honest hearts will lead to honest speech and honest business practices.

Jesus Said ...

"Simply let your ‘Yes’ be "Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one" (Matthew 5:37).

Jesus made this comment after telling his followers that they don’t have to resort to oath-taking to confirm the accuracy of their statements. Some Jews would swear by heaven, some by the earth, some by Jerusalem. Some Jews even went so far as to make some oaths non-binding (swearing by the temple) and other oaths binding (swearing by the gold in the temple; Matthew 23:16-22). Presumably this was so that they could deceive newcomers to Jerusalem in business deals and still have a clear conscience! A Christian, a person of integrity, can simply speak the truth because it emanates from a heart of integrity.

Ironically, Jesus, who taught his followers to tell the truth and who demonstrated perfect truth in his very being (John 14:6) was a victim of lies and deception. The chief priests and elders of Israel "plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him" (Matthew 26:4). Numerous false witnesses testified against Jesus, but their lies weren’t coordinated (Mark 14:56). Finally, the chief priests were able to use testimony about Jesus destroying the temple and rebuilding it against him, but they had to misinterpret him to do it (Mark 14:57-64). Lying witnesses and judges conspired to ramrod a deceptive process and kill the Son of God. But Jesus never wavered from truth and integrity. He continues to be our example of telling the truth, even if it kills us, literally.


1) Have you ever been hurt by lies?
2) Have you ever told lies that hurt someone else?
3) How does lying hurt your example for Christ with people who know you are a Christian?
4) How might telling the truth enhance your example for Christ?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Rude Neighbors ... Character Development



The goal of Proverbs is clearly stated in Proverbs 1:2-3: "for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair." These last three words are ethical terms and shape a person to be able to live in wholeness with God and others. Wisdom, understanding and discretion all highlight necessary components in a person’s moral and ethical system to enable them to exercise skill in matters of daily living, navigating the problems of life (including relational problems), and living successfully in relationship with other people. (Longman, Read, 14-17)

Wisdom for Israel was a practical matter of understanding the laws of life and the world. Such wisdom was gleaned from experience and would be comparable to the wisdom or expertise an artisan or craftsman would glean from their years of working their trade. Proverbs wants to shape the ethics of a person and even move beneath the behavior to shape the heart and mind.

One possible setting for Proverbs is the post-exilic period. Israel’s political and religious systems had collapsed. These normal social structures that typically shape and mold young people were now non-existent. The community was in severe social distress and even the most basic of all social systems, the family, was likely in disarray. Israel’s only hope to instill theological and ethical values in her young people was to provide basic moral instruction to rebuild individuals of character and thus rebuild the family and eventually the larger community. (Brown, Character, 43-45) If this perspective on the historical setting for the book is correct, then Proverbs seems to teach that when society is falling apart, whether from political scandals, military conquest, or moral disintegration, the godly person turns to his family and seeks to build it on sound, biblical principles of wisdom and righteousness. Hard times are not an occasion to give up in despair, but rather a time to vigorously rededicate ourselves to the most basic of all societies: the family.

Proverbs 27:14-19

The individual proverbs in chapters 10-29 have not been arranged into an orderly group by subject or content, although there are instances of individual proverbs being linked together by key words or similar subject matter. There are two reasons to consider that the passage under consideration in this paper are connected by similar subject and content matter. One, all the verses in this text are concerned with relationships between two individuals. Two, friendship is a dominate theme throughout all of chapter 27. Verses 5, 6, 9, 10, 14, and 17 all testify to the value of friendship, and friendship is a key theme in verses 14-19." Further, in verses 14-19 two relationships are pictured that would be identified today as dysfunctional. They describe tension between friends (v.14) and between spouses (vss.15-16). Following the discussion of these destructive relationships there is a follow-up discussion of constructive interaction. (Bland, Leaven, 70)

In Proverbs the center of focus for developing wisdom and character is not in personal or private activity. The book does not discount personal experiences of prayer, observation or mediation and their value in shaping one’s ethic or spiritual development. The primary focus of Proverbs in shaping character, though, is in the midst of human activity. Consider Proverbs 1:20-21 where Woman Wisdom calls aloud in the street, raises her voice in the public squares, cries out in the noisy streets and makes her speech in the gateways of the city. Wisdom has a very visible presence and is active in the public arena. "Wisdom finds herself in a city teeming and bustling with the traffic of human life." (Bland, Leaven, 70)

Activity between people is important in Proverbs because through such interaction people receive insight and wise counsel from others. Some may spurn the wise counsel and in doing so choose the path of folly. Fools spurn human interaction, preferring self-evaluation. Consequently, they do not benefit from the wisdom and insight of others and their lives become burdensome and chaotic to everyone around them.

Such unpleasant interaction between people is described in Proverbs 27:14-19. Two different relationships are discussed in these verses, that of friends and spouses. Both relationships are chaotic and tension filled. Yet, within that tension lies the possibility that the participants may experience a transformation of their spirit and character.

"If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse." Proverbs 27:14.

The Hebrew word for "neighbor" also means friend. It is used in Leviticus 19:13 ("Do not defraud you neighbor or rob him") and 19:18 ("Love your neighbor as yourself"). Both of these occurrences of neighbor are used in a broad sense, indicating anyone an Israelite would have contact with. But, neighbor was also used in reference to people living in close proximity to each other. Exodus 22:10 discusses the legal issues involved in the injury or theft of farm animals entrusted to the care of a neighbor. It is reasonable to assume that the care of these animals would be given to someone living close by. Proverbs 3:28 describes a situation of neighbors borrowing and sharing personal possessions, something likely to occur among people living in close proximity.

To be a friend or neighbor entails certain responsibilities. Our relationships with neighbors should never be damaging or harmful. Proverbs 3:29 admonishes, "Do not plot harm against your neighbor who lives trustfully near you." Those who do harm their neighbor are considered godless (Prov. 11:9) and perverse (Prov. 16:28-29). Instead of bringing harm to his neighbor, the godly man should be caring and thoughtful of all around him. Proverbs 17:17 says, "A friend (or neighbor) loves at all times."

"Friend" or "neighbor" has been a key term in this section. In 27:9 genuine friendship is compared to the sweetness of perfume and incense. Verse 10 admonishes the honoring of friendships, even those of one’s father, and the blessedness of having a friend or neighbor nearby when tragedy strikes. Both of these verses emphasize the sweetness and blessedness of sincere friendships where everyone is thoughtful of each other. Such relationships are mutually beneficial to all the parties.

But 27:14 introduces a new dynamic: insincerity in relationships. In this verse a man blesses his neighbor or friend, but the neighbor does not regard it as a blessing. Instead, he feels the weight of a curse.

Two features of the blessing indicate it is insincere and masks underlying attitudes and intents that are malevolent. One, the blessing is loud. The Hebrew word means "loudness in sound, being old in years, great in importance." (TWOT, 1:151) In 1 Kings 8:55 "loud" is used in reference to Solomon standing before the entire congregation and speaking loudly enough for all to hear him. As the king Solomon was great in importance and speaking before a large crowd would necessitate his speaking boldly and with great volume. The use of this word in reference to greeting a neighbor would indicate this was not a typical expression of "good morning," but was unusually boisterous for a greeting between neighbors and likely had a pompous flair.

Another feature of the blessing is that it was early in the morning when the neighbor was possibly still at rest or preparing for the day. The greeter "aims to make the impression that he has a deep veneration for his neighbor ... (but) his unnatural voice and timing betray him as a hypocrite." (Waltke, 382) The greeter has less concern for the welfare of his neighbor than he does for his own convenience. He is actually abusive, inconsiderate and rude, so his insincere greeting is taken as a curse.

"A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day." Proverbs 27:15

The deception of the man against his neighbor and the other a wife against her husband connect verses 14 & 15. Both the rude man and the wife are damaging to their relationships. The neighbor and husband had a right to expect blessing and considerate care, but in both cases he was deceived and received rude treatment.

Proverbs 27:15 is only one of several verses that address the challenge of a disruptive wife. Proverbs 21:9 says, ""Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife." A quarrelsome personality emanates from a disturbed spirit and spreads that disruption to everyone within reach. The quarrelsome personality tends to look for faults in others and generate intense emotions through criticism and arguments. People tend to be on edge around the quarrelsome person lest they draw their ire. Discussed in the context of the quarrelsome wife in 21:9 are people who are arrogant, wicked, liars, violent, incorrigible, and devious (verses 4 though 8). The quarrelsome spirit shares equally dubious company!

The hostile relationship patterns generated by the quarrelsome person are the opposite of what Proverbs seeks to produce in people. Proverbs 1:3 desires discipline and prudence in peoples’ lives. Proverbs 5:18 envisions a home environment that is blessed for the husband and wife and for their eventual children. "May your fountain be blessed" in 5:18 can refer to the joy of physical intimacy between the husband and wife or to their children who are the fruit of their intimacy. In either case, the Sage envisions a blessed home environment of peace and joy. The hostility and disorder generated by the quarrelsome spirit is antithetical to the purpose of proverbial wisdom.

A peaceful and happy home is a blessing worthy of our best efforts: "Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting with strife."(Prov. 17:1) Peace and quiet function as the opposite of the yelling and fighting that accompany a quarrel.

A quarrelsome spirit is not the exclusive domain of wives. Men can also demonstrate such an unholy spirit: "As charcoal is to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife". (Prov. 26:21) This statement about the quarrelsome man is but one of a litany of examples of sinful and wicked attitudes that destroy individuals, families, and larger communities. Chapter 26 describes the problems of fools who repeat their folly, the lazy, busy-bodies who meddle in the arguments of others, deceivers, gossips, the smooth speech of those with evil intent, and liars. All of these behaviors are destructive of relationships. The behaviors described in chapter 26 betray a variety of attitudes, including selfishness, greed, hate and (verbal) violence. The quarrelsome spirit is one of these ungodly and unholy attitudes and behaviors.

The quarrelsome spirit is more than just annoying; it is destructive. The wise woman of Proverbs builds a home that is safe and warm for her family. Love and cooperation grow in such an environment (cf. Proverbs 14:1 and 31:10-31). The wise woman’s work is constructive; it produces healthy and godly relationships. The contentious woman’s work is destructive. Her husband "takes shelter under the roof of his home expecting to find protection from the storm. Instead, he finds that his leaky roof provides him no shelter from the torrential downpour." (Waltke, 383) It is his own wife, in fact, who produces this downpour! Instead of his own home and spouse providing him relief and safety from the rudeness of the world, the husband is subjected to a further barrage of verbal assault and humiliation.

"Restraining her is like restraining the wind." Proverbs 27:16

The metaphor of the constant dripping of water in a house "highlights just how annoying and depressing a contentious wife can be." (Longman, Proverbs, 480) Two images are used to emphasize the difficulty of the task. One is the weather. In v.15 the contentious wife was like a drippy roof that failed to offer appropriate protection from the outside elements. In v.16 the storm comes right into the house. Restraining the argumentative wife is like restraining the wind.

While wind (rfah) can be a light breeze, in this context it is to be understood as a destructive gale, as in 1 Kings 19:11. "Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind." Just as the Lord was not in the wind that assailed Elijah on the mountain, neither is he in the wind that assaults the husband in his home.

The second metaphor is oil. Oil has many positive connotations in the Bible. It is used to honor and designate the one God has chosen as the king. It is used as a healing agent for the ill. Perfumed oil is pleasant and is used in romantic settings. But the slick and smooth properties of oil also make it difficult to control, an image this metaphor draws upon. Oil cannot be grasped by the hand, and a man’s attempt to do so is as effective as his attempts to soothe, placate or control his angry and disturbed wife.

"Hand" refers to the protection of the husband. Frequently the Old Testament speaks of God’s right hand of protection. Psalm 37 says, "If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand" (vss.23-24). Similarly, the husband’s hand offers the position of protection and honor. As God protects his people, a godly husband protects his wife and family.

Both images, that of wind and oil, combine to describe a terribly sad condition in the home of the disputatious wife. The home should be a place of security and peace. The husband’s right hand, like that of God’s, should offer protection and care to all that live within the home. But the spirit of the fault-finding and contentious wife unleashes a storm that not even the strong hand of the husband can control. Instead of his hand providing peace, it becomes an ironic image of a man futilely seeking to restrain wind and grasp oil. It can’t be done. He cannot successfully halt the storm his dissatisfied wife unleashes in the home.

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17

A more literal rendering of this verse is, "Iron is sharpened with iron, and a person sharpens the face of his friend." (Waltke, 383-4) Face here implies the deeper qualities of a person, such as the feelings, attitudes and emotions.

Two "irons" are mentioned in this verse. One iron is the knife or sword and the second iron is the sharpening iron that hones them. The hardness of this sharpening iron is a metaphor in part two of the verse: "a person sharpens the face of his friend." "Face" is used in reference to the edge of a knife or blade (Ecclesiastes 10:10). Used of a man in part b of this verse "sharpens" refers not literally to the friend’s face or facial expressions, but to his personality and character that is reflected by those expressions.

The pressure of iron rubbing against iron is an abrasive action that creates friction. Through this friction the hardness of the one material wears and shapes the other. The knife or sword is worn and sharpened by the harder iron, making it more useful and effective as a tool. In the same way, "the friend/neighbor plays a primary role in the demanding process. This can be wearisome for the friend, making friendship less than an idyllic relationship." (Bland, Proverbs, 248)

The hardness of the iron images the hardness of a caring friend’s persistence. As a result of his untiring devotion to a relationship, the "hard" man (that is, the man with a firmly shaped and honed character) is able to sharpen his friend. This sharpening may occur through offering encouragement and instruction in wisdom, but can also come through offering rebuke.

"He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored." Proverbs 27:18

The wise take care of and honor those who employ them. "Fruit" is a metaphor for the consequences of one’s behavior. Those who tend (take care, honor, etc.) the fruit tree will enjoy the results of their activity; they will get to enjoy the fruit. Similarly, those who tend to the needs or expectations of their master will enjoy the fruit of honor.
The Hebrew word for tend means to "watch, guard, keep." (TWOT, 2:594-5) In addition to being used of watching and keeping fruit trees, this word is also used in Proverbs in an ethical sense of guarding the mouth (13:3), path in life (16:17) and heart (4:23). It is also used in Psalms of guarding the tongue (34:14). An important occurrence of this word is Isaiah 49:6 where God says he will "bring back those of Israel I have kept." Keeping Israel meant God provided oversight and protective care.

The Hebrew word for "looks after" means to "keep, guard, observe, give heed," and the basic idea of the word is "to exercise great care over." (TWOT, 2:939-40) Various applications of the word are to give careful attention to observing the obligations of laws and covenants and to take care of gardens, flocks and houses. It can also be used in the sense of giving heed to matters of personal discipline. For example, Proverbs 13:3 says, "He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin." For failure to guard one’s speech could ruin one’s life.

Waltke identifies numerous truths in the metaphors of the fig tree and the diligent servant. One, the fig tree was one of the most highly prized trees in Israel and was given great care. This is the mindset a faithful servant should have toward his master. Two, to protect meant to be "careful, precise and vigilant." Three, protecting and guarding is not an occasional disposition of the farmer or servant, but one of constant devotion. Four, just as it takes years of gentle planting and care of fig trees to enjoy its succulent fruit, it may take years of devoted service to earn the honor of a master. Five, as the fruit of the fig is sweet and refreshing, so is the honor received from a master. Six, the rewards are enduring. A healthy fig tree will continue to bear fruit for years, and a pleased master will bestow his favor upon a trustworthy servant for the duration of their relationship. (Waltke, 385)

Each of these truths suggested by Waltke have bearing upon the interpretation and understanding of the rude neighbor and the argumentative wife. Although the proverbs of 10:21 to 29:27 are generally regarded as randomly placed and unrelated to each other, this is not true of all of them. The irritating (even destructive) behavior described in verse 14 and vss. 15-16 make an obvious connection between them. These latter verses deal with the theme of friction (in relationships), patience, endurance, change and ultimate reward. Verses 17-19 describe how the offended neighbor and the verbally abused husband are to respond to the affronts paid to them.

Just as the farmer is to tend the fig tree with diligence and the servant heed the will of his master, so is the offended neighbor and husband to give devoted attention to the needs of the friend and wife. They may have to provide care and attention for years before they get to enjoy the delicious fruit of the relationships (mutual respect for the neighbors; peace and intimacy for the spouses), but such a positive outcome can only happen if they exercise diligent care, service, and even rebuke.

"As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man." Proverbs 27:19

The Hebrew word for "reflects" means to "answer." Water "answers" the person who peers into it, meaning the water is functioning like a mirror and is reflecting the viewer’s impression.
The Hebrew word for heart is l‘b, and refers to the heart, understanding, mind, and intellect. This word is used in such idioms as "to set the heart upon," "to think about" or "to want." While concretely it can refer to the actual physical organ in the body, metaphorically it refers to the inner nature of man. In biblical literature it is the most frequently used term for man’s immaterial personality functions, such as the emotion, thought, or will. Heart can often be translated as "mind" or "understanding." (TWOT, 1:466-7)

Part a of this verse is a metaphor leading to the real meaning to be found in part b. According to Waltke the reflection of one’s face in the water has two possibilities. One, a man may look into his own heart and examine its content. "One can gain an insight into his heart - his thoughts, feelings, and aspirations - by observing his actual behavior." Secondly, a man can see himself reflected in the response of other people to his attitudes, speech and behavior. In the reflection a man receives from others he can learn their evaluation of his character. From the affirmations and criticisms of others about his character, a man can be honed and sharpened. (Waltke, 386)

A number of proverbs discuss the heart’s capacity to reveal the inner content of a man. The heart can reveal a man’s foolishness: "The heart of fools blurts out folly." (Prov. 12:23) It can also reveal wisdom: "A wise man’s heart guides his mouth and his lips promote instruction." (Prov. 16:23) The ability of reflection, either from inward inspection or peer evaluation, to expose the substance of a man’s inner thoughts and attitudes means "the heart tells the story of the person. The heart is a general reference to one’s character. Thus character defines who and what a person is." (Longman, Proverbs, 481)

An issue to question further is, whose heart is being looked into? It could be that a man is looking into his own heart, taking an inventory of his thoughts and character. "Through introspection a person comes to a better understanding of the self." A second idea is that a man is looking into the heart of another person and seeing himself reflected in the responses of that man to himself. "Through interaction a person comes to a better understanding of the self." (Bland, Proverbs, 249)

The ambiguity of this verse is important for establishing the reciprocity of relationship. The reciprocity in relationship is another fiber connecting verse 19 to verses 14-16. In the encounter of the rude man with his sleeping neighbor and the quarrelsome wife with her husband, the contents of hearts are revealed. The loud man reveals insensitivity and lack of concern; the quarrelsome wife reveals unresolved issues of hurt and anger. In both cases the inconsiderate neighbor and abusive wife, if they take the time and energy to look, can see their character traits revealed in the response of hurt and withdrawal in their counterparts. "When one engages in rigorous interaction with another, such a person discovers new insights." (Bland, Proverbs, 250)

"How is it (v.19) to be interpreted - introspection or interaction?" (Bland, Leaven, 71) I think it is interaction. Interaction between individuals, with each expressing their views, asking questions, disagreeing, and proposing alternatives, promotes better understanding and clarity of thought than mere introspection.


Proverbs 27:14-16 presents the case of two dysfunctional and struggling relationships. In each relationship, one of friends/neighbors and the other of husband and wife, one party in the relationship is inconsiderate and verbally abusive and the other party is the abused. How is the abused to react and respond? By doing the difficult work of relationship building. That is the point of verses 17-19. The wounded parties must tend the relationship and look to the needs of the partner. At times that might mean being kind and gentle; at other times it might require offering rebuke.

Interaction with others can be peaceful or chaotic. While it could be hoped that every encounter would be friendly and pleasant, they are not. Frequently in involvement with the lives of others rudeness, disdain and even open hostility are experienced. But, while such encounters are not pleasant, from the perspective of proverbial wisdom and character building, they are not without value, either. It may be that from some of the more distasteful and painful experiences with other people, including one’s neighbor or spouse, character growth and development takes place. (Bland, Leaven, 70)

Proverbs 27:14-19 encourages tough and rigorous relationship building. It holds out hope that living wisely and godly can have a positive effect on the undisciplined and dysfunctional lives it rubs against. But, it doesn’t promise a positive, happy outcome in each encounter. "A proverb does not give guarantees; rather, it indicates the best route to a desired end." (Longman, DOT, 545) In this case, the desired end is character development and relationship building, and the best route is through faithful and honest interaction with others, even those with difficult and trying personalities. "The wisdom enterprise is a community effort." (Longman, Proverbs, 481)

Warren Baldwin
April 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

As The Deer

Psalm 42&43
As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you
You alone are my hearts desire and I long to worship you
You alone are my strength my, my shield
To you alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my hearts desire and I long to worship you.

This is one of my favorite songs. As we sing it I can close my eyes and just be lifted by the beauty of the lyrics, the flow of the melody, and the harmony of the church. If I am singing it alone I miss the harmony of the church, but the song still has the power to lift my spirit.

I think I can enjoy this song so much because I sing it from a heart that is joyful. I live in a place I choose to live. We can afford to visit other places where we have loved ones, like Tennessee, Florida, Wyoming and Montana. Other than a few annoyances here and there, my health is good. My children are all healthy and doing well in their school work, jobs and sports. Cheryl and I enjoy the evenings we have at home alone. My life is good.

So when I sing this beautiful song, As the Deer, I sing it from a heart that is basically at peace, content, and grateful. Everything isn’t quite the way I would like for it to be, but if things continued on like they are until my death, I would die a very happy and satisfied man. This song resonates from a heart at peace.

Suffering Behind the Psalm

But the man who wrote this song was not a man at peace. His life was disturbed and disrupted. He reveals in his opening statement that, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you." (V.1). A deer, or its cousin the elk, is a stately creature. They are as fun to hunt with a camera as with a rifle. My photo albums bulge with pictures of deer or elk in fields, in mountains, in Yellowstone National Park, in people’s front yards. But when a deer is really, really thirsty, it loses some of its stately appearance. When a deer or elk is run by hunters or coyotes, and it craves water, it sweats and pants. It’s tongue hangs out and it gasps for air. It loses it’s attractiveness. But a thirsty deer isn’t trying to look attractive, it is desperate for streams of water to slake it’s thirst.

Something has run the life out of the psalmist. He has lost his composure and his stateliness. He pants for air and water to slake his spiritual thirst. He never tells us exactly what has happened, but he gives some colorful insights.

Physical Pain

"My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me." (42:10). Aching bones is a physical ailment. I’ll never forget walking into this church building one night after the pews had been moved into the hallway. I didn’t know they were there when I walked over to the light switch. The first I learned of it was when my right knee met the corner of one of the pews. As I rolled around on the floor I cried with the psalmist, "My bones suffer mortal agony!" I didn’t say, "As my foes taunt me," but I did add, "As some of the guys would be laughing if they were here to see this!"

The phrase, "My bones suffer mortal agony" can refer to physical ailment, but it can also function as a metaphor for deep-seated emotional pain or distress. Loss, abuse, failure, shame are all experiences and emotions that can cause us to feel agony so deep in our souls it feels like our bones ache and muscles throb. The Psalmist gives some indication of such emotional pain. He fears (42:33), mourns (42:9), feels forgotten and rejected by God (42:9 & 43:2) and he feels oppressed (43:2).

Longing for Home

Some explain the Psalmist’s oppression as being literal bondage in Babylon. In 587 B.C. the Babylonians invaded Palestinian. They destroyed everything of significance in the capital city of Jerusalem. The walls, houses and public buildings were destroyed. The most painful experience was to see the temple demolished, with stones and lumber littering the ground. The center of Israelite spiritual life was gone, leaving Israel without its heart.

As the survivors stood in the heart of the city they could see columns of smoke arising where once there were houses with children running and playing and mother’s baking bread. Today many of those children were lying in the streets, their mothers lying next to them. The laughter was gone. All one could hear now was the weeping of survivors. Was this the mourning of the Psalmist? Then, a bellowing voice announced, "Move!", and thousands of Israelites were marched out of the city toward captivity and slavery in a foreign land.

Perhaps it was in Babylon, hundreds of miles away, where the Psalmist wrote, "My soul is downcast with in me (42:5). He remembers the lines of people crowding the temple for worship. He says, "How I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God." (42:4). This man was not only a faithful worshiper: he led in worship. His heart burst with joy as he worshiped and fellowshipped with his brothers.

But now he is away. Instead of brothers greeting him with "Shalom," enemy soldiers of Babylon taunt him: "Where is your God?" (42:3). He cries out, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?" (42:10). Here, in a land spiritually dry and barren, the Psalmist longs for home.

In 1877 American soldiers defeated the Northern Cheyenne in the Dakota Territory. The government decided to move the Cheyenne to the reservation of their brothers in Fort Reno, OK. The change was devastating to the morale and health of the Indians. Instead of the dry, cool climate they were used to in the Dakotas, the Cheyenne now had to endure the heat and humidity of the southern climate. Instead of getting to hunt the deer and buffalo of back home, they had to live on the scanty rations provided by federal agents. Some Indians became so hungry they killed their own dogs and horses to feed their families.

Little Wolf, a leader of the Cheyenne, wrote,

"A great many have been sick, some have died. I have been sick a great deal of the time since I have been down here - homesick and heartsick and sick in every way. I have been thinking of my native country and the good home I had up there where I was never hungry, but when I wanted anything to eat I could go out and hunt buffalo. It makes me feel sick when I think about that, and I cannot help thinking about that." (Thomas Goodrich, Scalp Dance, p.296).

So great was the pain in Little Wolf’s heart that he and three hundred other Cheyenne men, women and children escaped the reservation, determined to go home.

That may be the longing of the Psalmists heart in this song. "I want to go home. I want to go worship. I want to be with God’s people. I pant for the worship of my God the way a deer pants for water and an Indian longs for home."

Beaten by Life
The Psalmist may have been in physical pain. He may have been subjected to captivity in a hostile, foreign land. Either of these explanations could be true. But there is one more possibility: the psalmist may simply have been beaten down by the traumas of everyday life.

How many of you enjoy reading the news today? Bailouts, Stimulus packages, market drops, job layoffs, suicides, outsourcing of jobs, projected food shortages, bank failures ... somebody stop me!! How much of this kind of depressing news can a people bear? Everyday news sources give us more reason to be sad, angry, depressed and distrustful. I read only so much of it then put my hands up and say, "Enough!" I don’t believe in hiding my head in the sand. I believe that we as Christians more than anyone should be able to face reality and say, "Oh well." Because the reality in the newspapers, even if it is true, is only a temporary reality for us. It is not ultimate. God holds the ultimate reality in his hands, and that includes us! So I read the news to be informed, but I can’t read so much of it that I allow it to form my view of what is real and permanent. Only God has the right to that much influence over our minds.

If we let it, life will beat us down and crowd out any sense of God. That happened to Nicole. Nicole grew up in Romania during the height of communist power. He parents were nurtured by the communist system, so they were atheists. Nicole had little chance to be anything but an atheist. She was married and had a teenage son when she began studying with missionary Charles Jackson. After the second session she said, "Charles, I must tell you that I don’t believe in God, but I want to." (21st CC, p.35)

Nicole spend her years in an atheistic, oppressive system looking for something of substance and value. She married and had a child. That is certainly important, but even our family can not take the place of a relationship with God. They can enhance it, but not replace it. She looked for meaning in a career, becoming a biochemist. But something was missing. Nicole didn’t know it, but she was panting for streams of water.

It doesn’t have to be something as extreme as communist oppression that leaves us feeling devoid of meaning, fearful of life, and despairing of joy. The daily trauma of rejection by friends, fear for our jobs, and discontent in our homes can leave us feeling beaten by life.

Where can we turn when any physical ailments, periods of exile or being beaten by life assail us?

Yet Will I Praise Him
The Psalmist has a thrice repeated phrase, "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God." (42:5, 11; 43:5).

The Psalmist refuses to allow the vicissitudes of life to determine his spiritual outlook. An aching body, distance from his worshiping brothers, or a debilitating personal struggle may weaken him, even overwhelm him at times, but never defeats him. He keeps turning back to God, his source of strength.

He doesn’t wait until the pain is over or the misery is lifted. He doesn’t praise God because his struggle is lessened. He praises God even in the midst of his despair.

He is spiritually dry in a barren land. He is thirsty, ridiculed, disturbed, downcast, forgotten, mournful and oppressed. But he is first of all a believer, and he will never forget the God who ultimately delivers.

The yearning of the Psalmist’s heart pours forth in 43:1: "Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men." Notice his pleas for deliverance: vindicate me, plead my cause, rescue me. This man needs help. And he knows the one place he can turn: to God.

Near the end of the movie Old Yeller a tearful older brother, Travis, stands over the yellow dog’s grave. He is trying to make sense of the death of this precious dog that brought so much joy and help to his family. How can you explain how much love you can feel for a dog? How do you explain the friendship and comradery? How do you make sense out of a dog’s tragic death?

As Travis was mourning his friend his dad walked up behind him. "Your mom told me about Old Yeller. She told me about how strong and brave you were. I’m proud of you son."

"Dad, why did this happen?"

"I don’t know son. All I can tell you is that sometimes life picks you up and slams you down so hard it feels like your insides is busting all apart. All a man can do at a time like that is get up and get back at life." I’ve watched Old Yeller many times, and that scene melts my heart every time. I’ve stood with people over the grave of several Old Yellers. I’ve stood with family members over the graves of young husbands, young wives, and even children. I’ve listened to people pour out their pain about lost love, lost jobs, lost money, lost hope. What do you tell them?

Travis’s dad would tell them, "Get up and get back at life."

The Psalmist would tell them. "Get back to worship. We must be reminded that the grace and mercy of God is the ultimate reality. He holds the victory over every pain we experience right now. You are spiritually dehydrated. The worship of God is your refreshment."

As the deer pants for streams of water,
So my soul pants for you, O God.

Warren Baldwin
March 8, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Blessed Fountain


The Bible is not timid about discussing human sexuality. A powerful affirmation of God’s plan for physical intimacy is found in Proverbs 5:15: "Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well."

Water is a metaphor for sexual intimacy that occurs elsewhere in the Bible. In the Song of Songs the bridegroom affectionately tells his new bride, "You are a garden fountain, a well of flowing water streaming down from Babylon" (4:15). Water is difficult to keep controlled. It easily spills and flows in directions we may not want it to. But if water can be contained so it is there for when we are thirsty, it is cooling and refreshing to our bodies and spirits. Sex within marriage functions like that, so the metaphor of water in Proverbs is very fitting. (1) A husband and wife can find a lifetime of refreshment and joy in their sexual relationship with each other.

This positive affirmation of marital sexuality comes after a long discourse on improper sexuality (5:3-14). Solomon warns a young man, possibly his own son (5:1,7), to beware of the temptress lest he lose his wealth, his health and his standing in the community.

There are numerous warnings in Proverbs about improper sex (chapters 2, 5,6 and 7). If you read only these passages you could assume that Solomon has a rather dim view of romance! But, such is not the case, as Proverbs 5:15-24 demonstrate. For Solomon, sexual expression has its proper place in God’s plan and provides bonding and joy for a married couple.


God’s plan for sexual intimacy is first revealed beginning in Genesis 2:18. Here God says, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." "Helper" is not a derogatory term for the woman. In Psalm 121:1,2 the Lord is David’s helper, his "completer." That is not a derogatory term in reference to God, nor is to woman. The help the woman will be for the man is that of a companion. The man is alone, and that is not good. The company of the woman will complete him.

God makes woman from the man’s rib (v.22). A frequent saying at weddings is that God did not take a woman from man’s feet that she should be stepped on by him, or from his head that she should lord herself over him, but from his side that she should be his companion. I think this little saying captures the thought of the story. Woman came from man’s side. She is literally part of him. Later, when God declares the husband and wife to be one flesh (v.23), he is declaring what is literally true of this first couple. Later, as we enter into the bonds of marriage, we enter into this uniting process. This story becomes our story.

When Adam first sees his wife he bursts out with an ecstatic, "Wow!" Literally he says, "This time." There is excitement here! The man is so moved he even breaks out in poetry: "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man." God then says that a man should leave his father and mother and be united to his wife. In an ancient society a man often did not actually leave his father’s family. He married and brought his wife into his father’s patriarchal system. "Leave" here is probably better understood as "forsake." A man forsakes his father’s family and puts his wife first. (2)

Verse 25 says the husband and wife were both naked and they were not ashamed. Ashamed here is not guilt. The idea is that the husband and wife were not embarrassed in each other’s presence. This is significant since this is the first time the man and the woman have seen each other.

I think the reason for their complete comfort in each other’s presence is that Adam and Eve were both other-conscious. They were both focused on the attractiveness of the other. They were focused on the need of the other. They were not conscious of their own bodies and how they might appear. The husband and wife did not become self-conscious until after they acted selfishly by eating the fruit.

At least two things are going on in this first encounter between Adam and Eve. One, there is a sense of similarity and dissimilarity ("alterity") between the man and the woman. Adam has been spending time with all of the other living creatures and he hasn’t seen any that look like this woman standing in front of him. She looks enough like him for Adam to know that she does not belong to the lower animal realm. But she looks different enough for Adam to know that she is not exactly like him, either. She is, in fact, similar enough to belong with him, but different enough to complete him. Adam sees his completeness standing there in the form of Eve. (3)

Secondly, there is total transparency. Adam and Eve had no cover. There was no hiding of any imperfections in their bodies, if there were any. Perhaps, because of their focus on the other, there was no sense of imperfections anyway. There was total acceptance of themselves and total acceptance of the other. They were exposed and they were comfortable. But the physical exposure is symbolic of the deeper exposure husbands and wives seek to achieve through their lives - the exposure of their hearts. (4) The honesty it takes to be totally transparent takes many years to achieve. Adam and Eve had it in an instant. We have to work at it.

The picture presented in Genesis 2 is that the man was alone. He was aware of his aloneness both socially and physically. He needed a companion. He craved intimacy. God responded by creating Eve from his side to complete Adam both socially and sexually. All of his needs will be met by his wife and all of Eve’s needs will be met by her husband. This couple will meet each other’s hungers for companionship and sexual expression so long as they keep their focus off of themselves and on their partner. They are naked in each other’s presence yet they are comfortable, happy and complete. Could anything ever disrupt so perfect a design by God?

Enter the devil. The devil lives to disturb and disrupt. He did that with Adam and Eve. After his work of leading this first couple into selfish decision making they became self-conscious. They became self-aware. They lost the innocence and comfort in each other’s presence and covered their bodies. Focusing on their partners attractiveness and needs took second place to concerns about their own presence and needs. Selfishness entered the marital relationship. Marriage would now become a complicated relationship. Companionship and sexual satisfaction would not come naturally anymore, they would have to be worked at. What would come naturally now to both husband and wife would be the expectation, even demand, that their own needs be met. Selfishness now trumps service.

We can see this in Genesis 3:16. God announces that competition would now enter the marriage relationship. The woman’s "desire would be for her husband." Some interpret this to mean that she will love her husband. But the context here is curse, not blessing. Another idea is that the wife will be in competition with her husband for headship of the home. Man and woman will compete for dominance in the relationship. Neither will naturally and willingly subjugate their own desires for the needs of their partner. Instead, they will both vie for advantage and press their case for their own needs. Arguments will erupt over, "You are not doing enough for me!"

Happy, fulfilling and satisfying marriages are still possible now, but they will take deliberate and determined effort. I think that at least three things are necessary for a successful marriage.

One, God-centeredness. If God is in our life we can appreciate the purpose God has for marriage and we will honor it. God’s purpose for marriage is committed companionship for a lifetime and includes the mutual meeting of sexual and emotional needs.

Two, a spirit of serving. Yes, our needs are met in marriage. But, the primary purpose of marriage MUST be to meet our spouse’s needs. Marriage needs less demand that our needs be met and more concern that we do what we can to serve our spouse.

Three, a commitment to growth. A successful marriage is a lifelong process of growth and development. That takes commitment over a lifetime. A serious commitment will hold the relationship together during trying times when feelings of romance may be low.

When most of us guys met our wives for the first time I’ll bet we all exclaimed, "Wow!" God’s process still works. But it is what we do after the "wow" and the "I do" that makes the relationship. Part of that is explained in Proverbs 5.


Proverbs 5:15 says, "Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well."

In ancient times rain water would be caught in large rock containers called cisterns. If you were thirsty you would go to your own cistern to draw water and quench your thirst. Or, you might have a well from which you could draw water. Again, you would draw water from your own well to satisfy your thirst. When a man experiences sexual thirst, his desire is quenched at home also. He quenches his thirst with his wife. The imagery of the cistern and well is clear: you don’t quench your sexual thirst from any other source but the one you have at home, your wife!

Solomon follows that admonition up with more imagery: "Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?" (V.16). This is often thought of as warning a man to not abandon his own cistern to chase other water sources, that is, he should not leave his wife to chase other women. Solomon makes that point in verse 20. But what he probably refers to here is not the man straying outside of marriage, but rather the man neglecting his wife and causing her to find companionship outside of marriage. The wife was the cistern and well in verse 15, so the mention of springs and streams in verse 16 likely refer to the wife as well.

The husband may be too busy to show proper affection to his wife, or he may have a lover on the side. It could be that he doesn’t understand that his wife’s need for intimacy is different than his and he doesn’t know how to satisfy her. Whatever the cause, Solomon warns his son to give his wife proper attention so she does not feel the need to seek intimacy and fulfillment elsewhere.

Willard Harley is a marriage counselor. In his years of practice he has found five basic needs that husbands and wives need met by each other. The husband needs sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, attractiveness in his wife, domestic support and admiration from his wife. The wife needs affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support and family commitment from her husband. (5) If these needs are not being met, then the "love banks" of each partner are being drained and they may be tempted to search elsewhere to have those needs met.

For example, if a wife is not receiving enough positive attention from her husband, such as affection and conversation, she may not respond willingly to his need for sex. She is frustrated with him and he is frustrated with her. In their frustration and anger toward each other they may continue to deprive each other more and more of their needs. This in turn could lead one or both partners to look outside of the marriage covenant to have these needs met. (6)

This is likely what Solomon is warning against. "If you will drink water from your own cistern, if you will go home to satisfy your sexual thirst and to satisfy your wife, her thirst will not drive her out of the home to another man." Then, verse 17 builds on this idea: "Let them (the springs or streams of water) be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers." There is a definite exclusivity to any level of intimate relating to a member of the opposite sex, whether verbal or physical. Committing adultery usually begins with warm greetings, interesting conversations and emotional bonding before sexual intercourse actually occurs. So, adultery is halted not at the bedroom door (although certainly here if the relationship has proceeded this far), but long before this point, such as at lingering conversations and dinner meetings. Cut them off, end them immediately. They are the early signs of water runoff. To maintain the exclusivity of the marriage covenant and the sexual union, serve your wife in love so that her love and sexual response will be toward you. Spend time at home in mutual sharing of conversation, embrace, affection and romance with your wife. Both of you enjoy the water that is in your own cistern - each other! If we will do that, then Solomon’s next admonition is possible: "May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth" (v.18).

"May your fountain be blessed" could be a reference to children. Children are a blessing and a gift of God. It is God’s plan and purpose that children be born into a family that is ready for them, a mother and father who are married and are prepared to raise them to the glory of God. The children are the fruit of the mother and father who live in love with each other. The birth of a child to a married mother and father who are in love images the procreative work of God the Father, Son and Spirit. God’s love produced human life and continues to produce human life through the reproductive process he created. Also, God’s love continues to produce spiritual life in us through Jesus Christ which is then strengthened by the Spirit. So, a loving husband and wife who bring a baby into their community to be loved and nutured function like the Godhead! But, there is another sense in which "may your fountain be blessed" may be understood.

"Blessed" can also refer to a state of well-being. In Proverbs 3:33b the Lord is said to bless the home of the righteous. This would mean that God’s presence is with the righteous family to provide well-being and contentment. In reference to the married young man, "blessed" may refer to Solomon’s concern that "his son will have a wife who can quench his thirst ... in the most satisfying way." (7)

In addition to praying that the young man’s marriage and sexual union be a blessing, Solomon adds his concern that the son rejoice in the wife of his youth. Elsewhere in the Bible rejoicing is experienced as joyful frolicking, clapping the hands and dancing. "The joy is so effusive that one is beside oneself." (8) This idea captures the feeling Adam must have had when he first saw Eve: "Wow!" or "Finally!" Adam had seen all the animals and named them. Each animal had its counterpart, male and female. But there was no one for Adam, and Adam felt the aloneness. The alone time impressed upon Adam his singularness, his aloneness. So, when he met Eve and they were both unclothed, he recognized in her his counterpart and he experienced excitement and joy.

The excitement of Adam is not unlike the excitement of a young man today who has kept himself for marriage. Upon seeing his wife for the first time on their honeymoon, the young husband can echo Adam, "Wow!" or "Finally!" Together, both the new husband and wife begin drinking from the cistern, enjoying each other’s bodies, experiencing each other’s company on an intimacy level new and exciting to both of them. Their thirst is quenched, their union is blessed; they have cause to rejoice.

Solomon prays that some sense of the "Wow!" never drains from the relationship. In time the young couple will lose the sense of newness. They will grow familiar with each other’s personality and body. If they don’t regularly maintain the emotional strength of the marriage a sense of dullness may even set in. But it doesn’t have to, and it shouldn’t. How long is a husband to rejoice in the wife of his youth? For his whole life. With proper care of each other’s feelings, proper care of each other’s needs, a husband’s and wife’s love can grow deeper and more meaningful through the years. The sexual function can continue to be a major uniting force for them both. A man’s sexual drive will continue to propel him to his wife. If he has cared for her affectionately, she will continue to welcome her husband’s sexual attention. Their union can continue to be blessed and a cause for rejoicing.

"A sensual man can find satisfaction from his wife that no other woman can give him." (9) Sure, he can find another woman who will receive his sexual advances and give him temporary relief, but that can not satisfy a man as fully as the ongoing relationship with his wife is able to. "Because sex bonds a couple spiritually as well as physically, they share more than a moment of pleasure; they experience a wholeness in their relationship that only the spirit of God can create." (10)

With his wife a man enjoys much more than temporary physical relief. When a man is with his wife he also enjoys her friendship which has been the bedrock of the relationship since they first met. He enjoys her personality, he honors the sacrifices she has made for him to finish college and pursue his career, he celebrates her as the mother of his children, he extols her as the helper who has completed his life, and he expresses gratitude to her for being the stream of water that has quenched his thirst for ten, twenty, thirty, forty years or longer. A man who has a wife beside him like this, his companion and lover, is able to rejoice in her though all the years of his life.

In turn, the wife can appreciate the sacrifices her husband has made for her and the children: she can honor his role as primary breadwinner and head of the home; she can admire him for the spiritual leadership he provides the family; she can welcome his sexual advances knowing that she has been the sole recipient of his sexual energy; she can appreciate that he has honored her by being faithful and true to the commitment he made to her years ago. There is a lot of history, meaning, and energy that goes into the fountain the married couple share together.

Men, when we embrace our wives we embrace more than just a body. We embrace the whole history of our lives together. In my case, I embrace my wife giving up on her master’s degree so I could get mine; I embrace her leaving her home and family and traveling across the country in pursuit of my dreams; I embrace her enduring twenty-seven months of pregnancy so I could have three children; I embrace her declining a major promotion at work and even leaving her job to stay at home in the interests of our family; I embrace her tolerating my lack of discipline in scheduling time and managing finances; I embrace her patience with me as a young husband who took some time to learn that she had needs that must be met, too.

Fully embracing every aspect of life with our wives allows us to appreciate verse 19 even more: "A loving doe, a graceful deer - may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love." Before I comment on this erotic statement, let me just acknowledge that a woman may not find this description of her body very complimentary! But, this animal comparison was an ancient way of symbolizing physical beauty. Both the woman’s and man’s body is symbolized this way in Song of Songs (2:7,9,17; 3:5).

Solomon builds on his earlier imagery of "drinking water from your own cistern" by referring to the wife’s erogenous members, her breasts. The satisfaction the wife’s body provides her husband is by implication her caresses and her loving involvement in sexual expression. Inhibitions are left behind as the husband and wife lose themselves in their joyous and intoxicating sexual togetherness. The imagery of cisterns, springs and breasts reaches its crescendo in "the blessed wife’s lovemaking (that is) always available to drench and intoxicate the thirsty husband." (11)

No other woman can so satisfy a thirsty husband. So, Solomon admonishes, "Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?" (V.20). A man who realizes the value of the cistern he has at home and who faithfully fosters healthy feelings of love, appreciation and romance with her will not step out with another woman. But some men are not so attentive to home. For these men Solomon now issues three stern warnings.


For the man who can not see the positive reasons to keep his love at home Solomon offers some warnings to arrest his attention and encourage his discipline.

One, God sees everything we do. "For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths." (V.21). While this can be an encouraging thought if we are walking circumspectly, it is a threat if we are stepping out. You may think your adulterous liaison is known only by you and your illegitimate lover. Not so. God sees.

Two, your sin will entrap you. "The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast." (V.22). The thrill of the illicit sexual encounter may so excite the man that he goes back again and again. But what seems like gratification and satisfaction will actually prove to be disastrous. "The cords of his sin will hold him fast." He may lose his marriage and his soul (Galatians 5:19-21).

Three, the adulterer will suffer. "He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly." (V.23). What folly to have a loving wife at home and abuse that love by stepping out on her! Such foolishness will be met by the death of the unfaithful husband! Will this be literal death? It could be. Adultery will spend a man’s "flesh and body," (5:11), a possible reference to a sexually transmitted disease, one that can even be fatal. An adulterous man might even meet an angry husband who will "show no mercy" to the adulterer (6:34) when he takes revenge! Or, it could mean that the adulterous husband’s character, self-esteem and godly ethic will die, leaving him empty and useless. I remember one husband who left his wife for a younger woman being asked, "So, did you leave the frying pan for the fire?" He answered, "No, there was no frying pan." He had a good marriage, but was drawn by the allure of another woman. Now, he realized what he lost, but there was no reclaiming it. An important part of this man was dead.

Ultimately, the real reason we maintain moral purity and practice our love at home is because of God. In verse 21 Solomon provides a strong theological rationale for morality: God sees everything we do. Even if our marriage is not always as satisfying as we would like for it to be, we still maintain faithfulness because God is the author of our lives and marriages. The honor we hold for God invites his ethic into our relationship. Marriage is not just husband and wife. Marriage is husband, wife and God. Malachi says that "the Lord God made them one. In flesh and spirit they are his ... So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth." (Malachi 2:15). If we truly honor God we will likewise honor our spouses. The love we have for God leads to a deep respect for our husband or wife. While we experience pleasure in sex, we can never view our spouse as an object of pleasure. He or she is our covenant partner. The respect we practice ensures that we will treat our partner’s feelings and body with dignity and honor. We will never belittle them or hurt them, and we will certainly not step out on them. The basis for treating our spouse with this level of dignity is not simply that we don’t want to get caught and embarrassed, but that we honor God.


To keep love alive or to help jump start your romance there are several simple things a husband and wife can do daily. While not everyone of these suggestions may be done everyday, some of them can and should be.

1) Have regular conversations with each other. They can be as simple as discussing the events of the day or they can be as serious as concerns you share for the children. Even the tough conversations have the positive effect of keeping the husband and wife open to each other and aware of each other’s feelings. Conversations can and should also be intimate and personal. They can spark warm feelings and gender romantic yearnings. A good statement to open such a conversation with is "Remember when ..." and then recalling a warm, personal experience you shared together. Simply changing the location of your conversation can open up possibilities for openness and intimacy. Take a relaxing drive in the country together, enjoy a meal at a nice restaurant (without the children), and occasionally spend a night away in a motel.

2) Express gratitude to and for each other. To be in a mutually satisfying relationship, both the husband and wife have made sacrifices for the other through the years and have at times foregone their own needs for the needs of the other. Remember what your spouse has done for you. Remember him or her with genuine gratitude, and let that gratitude flow through you as a warm feeling of appreciation and flow out of you in expressions of gratitude to your spouse. You might express this thankfulness by filling a role your spouse normally fills in the home, such as preparing the meal, cleaning the garage, doing laundry or mowing the yard. This gratitude can and should also flow out in conversation. You might begin an intimate talk together by saying, "I appreciate you for ..." or "I appreciate it when you ..." The first opening is a good way to recall an appreciation that goes back to an earlier time in your relationship but you remember with fondness, and the second opening is a good way to express gratitude for something current in your relationship. The feeling that one is being taken for granted is a quick way to kill warmness or love. This can be avoided by offering regular verbal expressions of gratitude and by doing kind deeds for the one you are thankful for.

3) Keep pictures of your spouse around. I keep pictures of my wife and children in my office. This serves several beneficial functions. For one, it lets a visitor to my office know that I am in a bound covenant relationship with a beautiful woman that also includes three children that are vitally important to me. No one will ever be allowed to enter into a friendship or counseling relationship with me that will in any way hinder or disrupt what I share with my wife or children. Secondly, I have pictures of my wife that call to mind a fun time we shared together. There are a couple of pictures that simply remind me that my wife is a very attractive person to me! These pictures are vivid reminders that God has blessed me with a "cistern" that has been faithful and true for many years. I do not want to think or do anything that will hurt my wife’s feelings or our relationship. Stated positively, these pictures energize me to go home, hug Cheryl, and tell her how much I appreciate and love her. Feed that spirit of rejoicing!

4) Express intimacy and affection simply for the joy of the experience without it leading to sexual intercourse. Before marriage it was a joy simply for us to be able to hold the hand, hug or kiss the one we loved and eventually married. If we were committed to waiting until we were married for full sexual expression, we satisfied ourselves with a lower level of physical expression of our love. After marriage, we enjoyed full expression. But why can’t there be times when we "feed the fires" without extinguishing the flames? Extended periods of hugging and kissing can communicate to our spouse that "I love you and enjoy your company even if it doesn’t involve full sexual expression."

5) Read regularly about marriage, sex and family. I generally read three or more books and a dozen or more articles a year about marriage and family. Specific issues I read about are God’s view of marriage (theology of marriage and sex), marriage as covenant commitment, sexual function, happiness in marriage, serving the needs of your spouse, etc. Included in this are books about parenting. Parenting is a related function to that of being a husband or wife. It is the marital union that produced these children! If we function well as parents and raise children that are grateful, respectful and obedient, that allows the mom and dad to be relaxed and happy in the home so they can continue to function warmly and romantically with each other as a husband and wife. There is a tremendous array of good books about marriage and family. Invest the money to build a good "family" library and devote the time to reading throughout the year. Some books are particularly good for the husband and wife to read together, such as His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley, Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs, Intimate Allies by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman and Becoming One by Joe Beam. Also, good books on how to function sexually are beneficial to read even if you have been married for many years, because our needs and our bodies change as we grow older, and we can benefit from the insight of others who have navigated these changes successfully. (12) Have you noticed marriages of thirty years that end in divorce? Don’t think that because you have been married for twenty-five years that you don’t need the healthy reminders or the infusion of new ideas about how to be happily married! Spending one hundred dollars a year on Christian-based books about marriage is much cheaper than attorney fees.

6) Something simple you can do by yourself everyday is memorize scriptures that deal with marriage and sex. Proverbs 5:15 is a good verse to start with: "Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well." Quote the verse, thank God for the gift of your spouse, pray for the spirit of continued faithfulness to him or her, and reflect upon the joy and pleasure you experience with your partner.

There are a lot of complicated issues surrounding marriage today. Societal values often conflict with what we regard as a biblical perspective on marriage. The ease with which many end the covenant entered into before God is surely distressing. Even in couples sincerely desiring to make their covenant last, selfish attitudes and drives hinder their very attempt. Often the quest for happiness takes precedence over the demand of faithfulness. How do we sort through all of these issues? It is instructive for me to note that when Jesus faced some of the complicated issues of marriage in his day, his standard response was, "In the beginning ...," and then he told some aspect of the Adam and Eve story (see Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6). When faced with some of the complicated issues today, we might consider Jesus’ lead and go back to that story again and again. (13)

Genesis informs us that God intended the covenant of marriage and sex for our benefit. The companionship of marriage includes the total bonding of our bodies, minds and emotions. Sex is a major uniting force in this covenant. Since our emotional and sexual needs are a constantly recurring drive in our bodies and minds, we are continually being driven to our spouse. We can be happy and thankful to have that blessed person in our lives! Practiced within the framework of the marriage covenant "sexuality provides the means by which a husband and wife bond together, enjoy each other, and celebrate their communion." (14) Nothing else we do in life can compare in intensity and depth of meaning to the bonding effect sex has between a husband and wife. So, go ahead, "rejoice in the wife (or husband) of your youth," and "ever be captivated by her (or his) love!" That special person is God’s gift to you, so love that person with a deep sense of gratitude and permanence!

Warren Baldwin, January 2006

1.Dave Bland, "Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs" in The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press, 2002), pp.84-85.
2.Gordon J. Wenham, "Genesis" in Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1987), pp.70-71.
3.Bernard Mallia, "Back to Genesis with Love" in AFER, 19.03, p.152.
4.Stanley J. Grenz, Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990), pp.85-86.
5.Willard F. Harley, Jr., His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1986).
6.Ibid., p.38.
7.Bruce K. Waltke, "Proverbs 1-15" in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), p.320.
9.Ibid., p.321.
10.Bill & Vonette Bright, Managing Stress in Marriage: Help for Couples on the Fast Track (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1990), p.141. This quote is from a chapter entitled "Sex: God’s Gift for Stress Relief."
11.Waltke, p.321-22.
12.A helpful book to read on sexual function is one by the husband and wife team of Clifford and Joyce Penner entitled, The Gift of Sex. Also, The Act of Marriage by Tim Lahaye is very good.
13.Mallia, p.151.
14.John Mark Hicks, "Sexual Ethics in Ministry" in Building a Healthy Minister’s Family (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1996), p.61. While this article is oriented toward ministers, Hicks’ outstanding treatment of a theological view of sex and marriage is beneficial for anyone. Other books offering a good treatment of theological issues in sex and marriage are God and Marriage by Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective by Stanley J. Grenz.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Distruptive Who Go to Church pt.1

Harding Lectureship September 29, 2008
Warren Baldwin

The Complainers (Israelites - Numbers 11)

You’ve met the complainers. There is never a shortage of them at church, work, community programs or your own home. Complainers seem never to see the positive, the bright side or the possible. They only see the people or things that fail to meet their expectations, so they gripe.

Why do people complain? One reason is they are not happy with what they have. When the Israelites were roaming in the wilderness they enjoyed God’s protection and care. God was present with them and provided for their needs, including daily doses of manna. The manna was wholesome and nutritious, and even if it delighted the taste buds the first few times one ate it, I’m sure familiarity with manna dulled the pleasure with it. When my wife and I owned a distribution business for chocolate we could eat all of it we wanted. That was exciting for the first few months, then we actually grew tired of it. The same thing happened to the Israelites with manna and they began to complain. "We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost - also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic." (Numbers 11:5).

Complaining is rooted in selfishness. Manna may not have been a choice delicacy after months of exclusive dining on it, but it was still the provision of God and something that should have been received with gratitude. Instead, "the rabble" (v.4), those not faithful to God’s purpose for Israel, rejected God’s blessing with complaint and sarcasm.

To a church divided by selfish pursuits and vain conceit Paul wrote, "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault ..." (Philippians 2:14-15). Complainers think of themselves and their wants; they do not consider the needs of the larger body (cf. Philippians 2:1-4).

Complaining tends to grow in intensity. Complaint against manna began with "the rabble" and eventually spread to the whole community, so that Moses could hear "the people of every family wailing." (V.10). This troubled Moses and angered the Lord. The rippling effect of complaining was disrupting the entire community and threatened to undermine God’s redemptive work among his people. God responded by giving vent to his burning anger and striking the Israelites with a deadly plague. (Numbers 11:33).

A second reason people complain is alluded to above: complainers are not grateful. The Israelites who complained against manna were not only disappointed because their selfish desires were not met, they were ungrateful. They didn’t appreciate the good things God was doing among them.

Susan attended a church with eighty members. The women of the church met one morning a week to study the Bible and pray. One Monday night a month they met for a service project. They might fix a food basket or do a craft for a shut-in. The purpose of this service night was to apply some the principles of service and ministry they learned during their Bible study.

Susan was not happy with that arrangement, so she complained. She was not able to attend the morning Bible study, so she wanted the ladies to use Monday night for study. Her needs were not being met by the current arrangement, so she complained. She could not accept the good work the ladies were doing for members of the congregation and the community, nor was she grateful to be a part of a church and ladies’ group that was so committed to doing good.

The Criticizers (Aaron and Miriam - Numbers 12)

The criticism of Aaron and Miriam occurred in an environment of criticism. Theirs was not an isolated event. Criticism is a contagious spirit. It is like a germ that floats in the air and you catch. In Numbers 11:1-3 all the people were critical because of their hardships. In Numbers 11:4-35 the rabble began to criticize the lack of food variety. Their criticism created a considerable problem for Moses. God responded by sending a plague upon them. In Numbers 12:1-15 Aaron and Miriam criticize Moses and, in effect, God.

The criticism of Aaron and Miriam was not merely a family spat. Nor was it the criticism of the weak against the powerful. Aaron was the high priest and Miriam was a prophetess. She was spirit-filled and wrote songs of Israelite victory (Exodus 15). Aaron and Miriam were two powerful, influential personalities in Israel. What could posses them to attack their own brother, the leader of Israel?

The reason stated for their criticism of Moses is his Cushite wife. Was their complaint racially oriented? Was it based in covenant concern? But, this isn’t the real issue, anyway. The real issue for Aaron and Miriam is they were attacking Moses’ spiritual authority. (Num. 12:2). Notice their stated complaint in v.3: "Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he also spoken through us?" The reason they give to oppose him and the accusation they level against him don’t line up. They have private motives but public accusations. Their agenda is secretive and unholy.

Aaron and Miriam were both religious leaders. Yet, they both entered into the criticism game with ulterior motives. They were insincere. They were vying for power. They wanted to be spokesmen equal with Moses.

All of us function with certain flaws and failures. As spiritual leaders we exhibit three flawed styles of functioning.

1) Dysfunctional. The dysfunctional leader lacks emotional maturity and depth. He or she seeks emotional feeding from the congregation rather than providing emotional support to the congregation.

2) Malfunctional. The malfunctional leader over-functions. He tries to do too much himself. He doesn’t seek the advice or help of others. He doesn’t reflect upon and learn from his mistakes. He is just ready to jump in and go again.

3) Nonfunctional. The nonfunctional manager doesn’t function. He or she does ... nothing. They may be lazy or scared or uneducated about what they should do. But the bottom line is they do nothing. (Managing the Congregation, pp.18-19).

We all lean toward one, or a combination, of these unhealthy functional styles. Aaron and Miriam operated out of one, maybe two, of these styles. They may have been dysfunctional or malfunctional. It either case, their poor functioning led them to operate out of the "dark" side. Their leadership took on a neurotic bent called "suspicious." (Leading the Congregation, p.98) They were suspicious and envious of Moses. They desired greater leadership themselves, and wanted to center leadership in themselves. To do so, they perceived that they had to attack Moses. Criticism became their modus operandi for discrediting Moses, unseating him from his position of leadership and authority, and placing themselves in the drivers seat. Their motives were shameful; their actions were destructive. Fortunately, God intervened.

But God doesn’t always intervene so dramatically in the affairs of men. Instead, he depends upon men and women of character to stand up, be counted, and temper any unhealthy attitudes or behavior in a congregation. Remember, criticism can be systemic as well as individual. Individuals may criticize, but they often do it in a larger system, or environment, that encourages that negative behavior.

There are three things we can do to make sure we are not contributing to toxic criticism in our
family, work place, or congregation.
1) Examine our own motives. Why do we want to lead? Are we really ready to lead? Or, why
aren’t we leading if we are capable of it? What fear holds us back?
2) If we have a legitimate concern about something, we need to go that person individually and discuss it with him or her. Don’t make that person the object of criticism, either just or unjust.
3) Remember that we all have our God-given abilities and talents to contribute to the health of the body. Do the best you can with your gifts; respect and appreciate others for the exercise of theirs.

The Connivers (Korah - Numbers 16)

There is a three-fold step of dissatisfaction: Complaining, criticizing, conniving (manipulating, rebelling). The last of this three-fold step can be seen in Korah.

Korah was a Levite. He and his family were given certain responsibilities in the worship of Israel. In Numbers 4:1-20 they were given the responsibility of carrying sacred objects, such as the ark. But, limitations were also placed on them. Numbers 4:20 says they were not to look at the holy things or they would die.

Having a responsibility is an important part of feeling part of a group. It lets us know we are contributing. It gives us "ownership" in what the group is doing. Problem: we aren’t always happy with what our responsibilities are. We see someone else doing well with their tasks and wonder, "Why can’t I be doing that?" Sometimes that is ok. Sometimes that leads us to develop new talents.

But sometimes it is a problem, too. Korah wasn’t happy with carrying the sacred objects. He wanted to administer the rites of a priest. He wanted to be a priest. But that was not his call from God. Numbers 16 is the story of Korah’s rebellion against Moses and his rebellion against God’s chosen responsibilities for him.

Korah’s behavior: (Numbers 16:1-3)
1) V.1 - He became insolent. Rude, disrespectful.
2) V.2 - He rose up against Moses. He led 250 other men in his rebellion
3) V.3a - Korah and the others came as a group to oppose Moses
4) V.3b - They accused Moses of setting himself above the rest of them.

Moses offers a lengthy rebuttal. Moses says, "God has brought you near to himself; God has given you special work to do with the tabernacle; God has given you a ministry to the community." "But," Moses continues, "You want more. You are trying to get the priesthood, too." (V.8-11).

Korah’s rebellion is a continuation of a series of rebellious behavior. In Numbers 13 & 14 the people rebelled against God’s plan to take the land. Now, in Numbers 16, some of the leaders are rebelling against God’s plan for Israel’s spiritual leadership - the priesthood.

There are several reasons why people rebel. The reasons are not always bad. Here are some bad:
1) Some people simply cannot work well with others.
2) Some people always have to lead. They won’t follow or work with someone; they must always be in charge.
3) Some people can’t stand to see a smooth operating system with happy people. They themselves are disgruntled with life and they want to "share" their unhappiness with others.
4) A less severe reason, some people don’t know how to communicate their ideas very well.

There are good reasons to work for change: The system may be very sick, and rebellion seems to be the only way to effect change. (It is important for Christians to realize, though, that there are healthy ways to work for change).

How can you tell if a rebellion is occurring under negative or positive directions?
1) How open are the people and their intentions in the rebellion? Is there a lot of secret stuff going on? The more secret the rebellion tends to be, the more sinister the intentions of the rebels seem to be as well. On the other hand, the more open and honest the people are, the more noble their intentions seem to be. They may be more sincere in working for what they perceive to be necessary change, and are not just rebelling to get more power or influence for themselves.

2) How do the people in rebellion treat the leaders they are rebelling against? Do they show any respect? Any mutuality? Any care? Do they just attack, attack, attack without any thought of the harm they may be causing? In their rebellion are they maintaining their Christian character and treating others with respect? Do they try to engage their opponents in conversation, or do they just accuse them?

If you look at Korah, much of what he did seems to be of the less noble kind of rebellion.
1) Korah gathered a group around him.
2) He had his group primed for rebellion.
3) He didn’t seek to engage Moses in honest and open conversation. Instead, the opening lines of speech were accusation. He accused Moses of setting himself above everyone else. He didn’t honor that Moses was wearing himself out in service to the people. Korah wasn’t interested in doing all that; he just wanted leadership, and he had to take Moses out of the way to get it.
4) He was rude. The Bible calls him insolent. He didn’t show proper respect for Moses. Even if Moses had some failures, he was still deserving of respect. Korah didn’t show any.

This was not a wholesome attempt to bring needed change in Israel. This was an attempt for a frustrated man to get more power.

God does not respond well to complaining, unjust criticizing, or conniving. (Numbers 16:22-27; 31-34)

To avoid rebellion:
1) Everyone should be able to feel they belong
2) Church must provide opportunity for everyone to serve as they are able.
3) We, all of us, should be able to express what we think is good and bad about what is going on. We need to practice openness, honesty and respect for others so that way our motives can be trusted.

Earlier I told you about a woman named Susan (not her real name) who complained about the ladies program. Her complaining eventually turned to severe criticism (voiced in private meetings with other women) and conniving. Her constant complaining and criticism eventually wore down the resolve of the other ladies, and they let Susan be in charge of the Monday night program. She immediately dispensed with service projects and began showing a film series about "discovering our dysfunctions." The other women were not in support of this change and eventually the Monday night program and the weekly Bible study were killed.

The complaining and criticism killed the joy of the Bible study and the service project night. When the joy is gone, so is the life. Two good programs died because Susan was selfish and ungrateful. Rather than thinking of the good of the group she chose to complain, criticize and connive for position (leader of the group) until she killed a good work.

As a humbling note: we need to be aware that we might be someone else’s "disruptive" personality. So, as we discuss the "disruptive," we want to do so humbly and cautiously.

Warren Baldwin