I like lentils. They’re probably not a fast moving item at the grocery, but they make a good soup. To me, lentils come in a plastic bag, ready to be washed and cooked. Never gave it much thought beyond that, until I read this story….
Once upon a time, David’s Israelite army was (yet again) fighting the Philistine army. That’s hand to hand combat, close encounters of the really scary and dangerous kind, but this time the face off was not among the caves or in the valley, it was in the middle of a field of growing lentils. (Pity the poor farmer.) The battle was so fierce that the Israelites all retreated…except one guy named Shammah.
Here’s the quote: “Now after him was Shammah the son of Agee a Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered into a troop where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the people fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot, defended it… ” (1)
I wondered why it was significant enough to include the part about lentils?? So I looked up what a “field of lentils” might look like. Ouch. Don’t every try to fight Philistines in a field of flowering lentils. The plants grow to between 18 to 24 inches high and have branching vines, and I can only imagine what the footing would be like!
So here’s Shammah in the middle of tall, vining flora twisting around his feet with taller, fierce Philistines going for his throat. By himself. Abandoned.
Most of us can relate. We’re doing what God wants us to do, to the best we can, when suddenly all those who were fighting with us in this thing called life up and retreat. Not only do we still have to face the attackers, but the vines of depression, disillusionment and despair keep threating to make us fall right onto the enemy’s sword. We are by ourselves. Abandoned.
Well, not exactly. Like good ole’ Paul Harvey would say, here’s the “rest of the story”:
“…and struck the Philistines; andtheLordbrought about a greatvictory.”
Interesting how one person that stands his ground plus God equals more than a whole army. In fact, just in the chapter before this story, David writes how God makes our hands ready for battle, how by our Lord we can run over a troop. (2)
Just a little encouragement. Stand your ground with God. (And try some lentils next time you’re at the store.)
Acts 1: 6 So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” 7 He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere— in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” *
I just love these guys. Here they had walked with Jesus for three years, just witnessed the greatest turning point of human history in the Resurrection, and they’re still hung up on the restoration of Israel when God had something much bigger, broader, and encompassing for them.
Typical. For all of us. We get stuck on one mind set, one outcome, maybe even one failure (or series thereof…). In doing so, we don’t merely put the God of the Universe in a box, but ourselves as well, because in reality, rarely does God use a period; it’s usually a comma. In all of that, there are just some things that “are not for you to know. But….”
I like it when God say “but….”
The marriage failed, but……
The job was given to someone else, but….
He died of cancer despite our prayers, but….
Not only did the disciples NOT see the restoration of Israel, they actually saw the total destruction of the temple and the dispersion of their beloved country, family, and friends. Even so, Jesus told them, God’s plan was bigger. And full of power and plans they had not yet conceived of . Same with us. When things go sour, it’s easy to get discouraged. However, that’s when we r-e-a-l-l-y need to listen to Jesus say–
Tyndale House Publishers Inc (2008-06-01). The One Year Bible NLT (One Year Bible: Nlt) (Kindle Locations 18202-18206). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.
I visited a friend one day a few years ago who has since moved to a different state. She had invited me to dinner at her home in the country. She is not a wealthy woman, in terms of worldly wealth that is. Her house was without many on the modern amenities that our 21st century sensitivities consider necessary—like an indoor shower or tub, or central heat and air conditioning. The foundation was crumbling, but should last another fifty years (she was told). The electricity was scary, and the breakers were so weak that she had figured out down to a science what appliances she could or could not use together.
Now this is not say that she was in any way lazy. Far from it. She was taking courses to become a paralegal, and had plans for starting a new career, a courageous move for a woman in her early 50’s. At this time, she was driving a cab, received a small pension from her military husband now deceased, and although tithing money was difficult, she was very ready to “tithe” her time and talent. She helped to build a beautiful raised garden for her church’s daycare center and procured the soil from a local contractor—for free! (Yeah, she’ll be good at her new career in the legal system…) And organized! Within her home she housed two small personal libraries: the “fiction” section was arranged alphabetically, and the “non-fiction” was by the good-ole Dewey Decimal system (for those of us who still remember what that is).
All this to say that her life is one of plentiful lemons, out of which her lemonade is sweet. And my friend is not one to complain. However, even the best saints have times of being, well, overwhelmed. One day in particular seemed difficult when, in addition to everything else, her lawn mower died. Living in the country on her couple of acres, this was not an immediate problem, but when the grass and weeds became knee high and higher, it was just another brick on the load, considering her sense of aesthetic. On top of everything else going on in her situation, couldn’t she at least have a mower so she could at least knock down the weeds? And she told the Lord so. I mean, really, it wasn’t like she was asking for the “Yard of the Week” award in her small rural town! If God could bring up the sun every day, couldn’t He just give her a mower? Was that asking too much?
Feeling this frustration, she then happened to stepped out onto the back deck, (that’s where she has to take her “shower” by pouring water over her—no neighbors, of course), and she saw one of her many weeds blossoming. It was the most exquisite flower she possibly had ever seen! Even exotic—and in southern Missouri?? It looked like something from a tropical paradise. Pulling out one of her many books (from the Dewey Decimal section), she found that it was called a “Passion Flower”. Within short order, she dug out an old trellis and supported the plant so that it could grow up the side of the house, and soon, she noticed that in addition to the beauty of the flower, the passion fruit began to develop. (Have you ever priced passion fruit in your local grocery, that is, if you can even find it?)
And God spoke. If He had provided a lawn mower when she had asked for one, she would have repeatedly mowed down this beautiful plant He had been trying to give her. The “weed” was actually a gift, one of both beauty and fruit. A few things come to mind:
Weeds are unsightly, unpleasant, and sometimes even harbor uninvited guests (like ticks!). Weeds in our lives are the same, and try as we might, there are times when all we want to do is mow them all down rather than actually pull them up. Unfortunately, simply mowing them down doesn’t get rid of them, it only postpones the inevitable—the weeds grow back.
Sometimes God allows the weeds to grow despite our best efforts be get rid of them, because there is something more important within the lawn of our life, some beautiful gift that we keep cutting down with the other “weeds”. It may be that we have to be overwhelmed by our weaknesses in order to be overwhelmed by His grace and glory, by His love and special care.
We have gifts hiding in us that can only be brought to life and full fruit by this grace, and by His timing and wisdom. God must break our lawn mowers (our own efforts, our pride, our selfish motivations and deeply hidden fears), allow the weeds to grow, so that he can identify the plants He plans to keep, and the ones He plans to get rid of once and for all. He is, after all, the Master Gardener.
My friend said she would like to give me some of her passion fruit—she’s like that, has nothing and gives everything. But not until it ripens. It comes in two different colors when it is ripe and she’s not sure yet which one she has… she found this out in her reading. It’s a new gift from God, so she is diligent about researching it, watching it develop, and sharing it. And she is waiting until the right time. She encourages me by her example to do the same with all the gifts God has given me, especially the ones that take me surprise.
Isn’t that just like God’s own “passion” for us???
I remember sitting in a school-age Bible class many (and I mean many) years ago learning about this king named Solomon, about all the neat things he did, about how he loved and followed God like his father King David had done, etc, etc. Neat story, until the teacher told us about how Solomon turned away from God later in life. ..my reaction was something like “What!? No!!” I was truly disappointed (being the sucker for happy endings that I was and still am). To put it bluntly, Old Sol liked the ladies—a lot of them. And as if that didn’t make things complicated enough (which it always does, let’s get real) he started liking non-Israelites also, adding them to his burgeoning harem.
The text goes like this:
“In Solomon’s old age, they TURNED HIS HEARTto worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God, as his father, David, had been… In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the LORD’s sight; he REFUSEDto follow the LORD completely, as his father, David, had done. On the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, he even built a pagan shrine for Chemosh, the detestable god of Moab, and another for Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. Solomon built such shrines for all his foreign wives to use for burning incense and sacrificing to their gods. The LORD was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, WHO HAD APPEARED TO HIM TWICE. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the LORD’s command.”
Solomon’s story might not have been so upsetting to this little school girl sitting in Bible class if he had been able to “guard his heart” by—
…being discriminating in his close relationships. I’m to love all people as Christ does, but that doesn’t mean they all get the same place of influence in my life.
…whole-hearted devotion to Jesus. That relationship comes first, without which all other relationships never reach their full potential at best, and skew me off course at worst. And, importantly, this devotion is a choice that I make, every day and in every circumstance.
…remembering and respecting his past experiences with God while at the same time pursuing fresh encounters in that relationship. Relying on the past alone is not enough. Guarding the heart includes keeping current in our face time with the Lord AND (as uncomfortable as it can be at times, admittedly), with His people.
Thanks for readin’! —dawnlizjones
*1 Kings 11:4, 6-9Tyndale House Publishers Inc (2008-06-01). The One Year Bible NLT (One Year Bible: Nlt) (Kindle Locations 19279-19288). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Kinda stuck on the story of the never-to-be-king-of-Israel Prince Jonathan and his faithful #2, the nameless armor bearer. For sake of discussion, we’ll just call him Joe. (Good Jewish nickname.)
Recap: Jon said to Joe, “Let’s go up this hill and fight these Philistines, and perhaps God will give us victory.”
Things that Joe could have said:
“Surely, you jest.”
“Let’s toss a coin.”
“You go first.” And, of course, the ever-popular…
But that’s not what he said, thankfully. I quote: “Do what you think is best,” the armor bearer replied. “I’m with you completely, whatever you decide.” (1 Samuel 14:7 NLT)
Sheesh. Then in addition to that, the account goes on to say that “they climbed up using both hands and feet, and the Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor bearer killed those who came behind them.” Joe dug into the project with both hands and feet, and brought up the rear while Jon took care of the front.
Some people are created to be Indians, and some people are created to be Chiefs. I’ve done both, and have decided that I prefer Indian. But being Chief has taught the value, the extreme necessity, of having good Indians following you. It’s a skill, even more so, it’s a gift, even a calling. If you’ve ever been in charge of a project with people who do not share your vision or passion, you know the score.
Jesus made a similar point when He talked about His role as the Good Shepard versus merely the hired hand. People who are “hired” have no vested interest, no shared pain or courageous willingness to dig into the hillside with both hands and feet, only to be greeted at the top by those who want their head.
And it is when I am called to battle that I discover into which category I belong…
“It took Solomon twenty years to build the LORD’s Temple and his own royal palace. At the end of that time, he gave twenty towns in the land of Galilee to King Hiram of Tyre. (Hiram had previously provided all the cedar and cypress timber and gold that Solomon had requested.) But when Hiram came from Tyre to see the towns Solomon had given him, he was not at all pleased with them. ‘What kind of towns are these, my brother?’ he asked. So Hiram called that area Cabul (which means “worthless”), as it is still known today. Nevertheless, Hiram paid Solomon 9,000 pounds of gold.”*
Why would Solomon give away part of Israel’s inheritance from God (which was not allowed by the Law) to a non-Israelite monarch? It seems that this magnificent temple was the reason for a magnificent debt, as well as a conscripted labor force (alas, no unions). And the debt was to a heathen king that seemingly didn’t even appreciate the cites that were given to him. Hmmm….
Various commentaries are in disagreement (fancy that) about the legality of those gifted cities, which, BTW, were eventually returned to Solomon, the reasons of which are, again, in dispute. But a few possible thoughts emerge:
Going into debt, even for what we consider a “cause from God” is generally not a good idea, especially as it pertains to worldly entanglements. We sometimes expose ourselves (and thereby God’s honor) to dispute when our “good ideas” are actually an excuse for extravagant indulgence. God Himself said He doesn’t really live in a temple made of human hands.
If the villages that Solomon gave/levied to the gentile king were actually part of the Promised Land, then they were not Solomon’s to give; they belonged to God, even if they were yet populated by non-Israelites. Every Christian, by definition, is a work in progress; we have under- or undeveloped parts of our character and talents and personality that nevertheless belong to God. To separate that from its intended use is to distain and show contempt for what God plans to do in that part of “me” for His kingdom.
Interestingly, the foreign king did not see the potential in these cities that King Solomon did (as when the towns were returned, they were built up and used properly for Israel.) The world tends to glean what they can from those portions we unwisely give away, and then discard them as “worthless”. God, on the other hand, graciously receives that part of us back, and builds it up for its intended productivity. (Part of that amazing grace we sing about…)
Then, like Paul Harvey used to say, there’s the rest of the story, hundreds of years later, when a baby was born in that spurned back-forty and became known as (you guessed it) the Man from Galilee.
*1 Kings 9: 10-14 Tyndale House Publishers Inc (2008-06-01). The One Year Bible NLT (One Year Bible: Nlt) (Kindle Locations 19170-19176). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Here’s another part of the story about Prince Jonathon and his little sortie against the hillside Philistine party. In fact, it’s probably a bit of an overlooked, but really important segment of the account.
Once the prince and his side-kick armor bearer finished off the enemy soldiers on the hill, (which was 2 against 20, BTW), God then sends an earthquake, which had to be pretty scary to everyone, including our two heroes who had just put themselves in great peril for their nation and, more importantly, their God.
Seems like a pretty unconventional way of saying “well done”.
[I find it mildly amusing, or sad, probably both, when we call a natural disaster an “act of God”. Primarily because so many people in our society no longer even believe in God, (although one hears His name thrown around repeatedly in various ways), but also as if He is to blame for acts of His creation, (any more than a parent can be blamed for their adult children’s decisions, as much as we like to do that these days.) But I digress…]
The result of this act of God was that a large portion of the Philistine army was eradicated by this “natural disaster”, providing additional overwhelming victory for the Israelite army. So, as scary as surfing on what was originally terra firma was for our two, their persistence and faithfulness (gotta love that old-fashioned word!) paid off big. The earthquake needed to be properly interpreted as God’s intervention rather than an unfortunate interruption in Jon’s plan
The point: what seems like a setback, a disappointment, or even a disaster may just be God’s rearrangement of our otherwise comfortable terra firma for a greater “victory”.