Saturday, December 8, 2012

He, Too, Saved Israel

The beginning of Judges notes that “whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them [Israel], he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.”

Sounds good, right?  God chose particular people and empowered them. That's really all they needed on their judgeship resume.  But in spite of this stellar recommendation, the Bible dedicates a disproportionate amount of space to some but not to others:
  • Judges 4-5 – Deborah gets two chapters and a song
  • Judges 6-8 - Gideon gets three chapters
  • Judges 9: Abimelech gets a chapter (in spite of killing his own brothers)
  • Judges 11 and 12 – Jepthah gets two chapters (in spite of sacrificing his daughter)
  • Judges 13-16 – Samson gets four chapters, and he was hardly a role model.
  • And then... Shamgar: "After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an ox goad. He too saved Israel." (Judges 3:31)
Shamgar saved the nation by killing 600 enemy warriors using a big stick with a pointy end, and he basically got an “atta boy!” That’s like giving a history of the NBA and saying, “And Michael Jordan also played basketball.” Or discussing a history of music and saying of Beethoven, “He too wrote music.”

Today, when people are treated like this, they go on TV and give the inevitable whine: “I’m being disrespected!” We are a culture that increasingly seems to think that we all deserve our fifteen minutes of fame, and if it doesn’t happen naturally, well, there are always reality shows or YouTube. Ashleigh Brilliant once wrote, “All I ask of life is a constant and exaggerated sense of my own importance.” To whatever degree that’s funny, it’s probably because it is an accurate reflection of the natural human condition.

I think Biblical characters like Shamgar point us toward a hard reality in the Christian walk: Sometimes, God will raise us up and use us mightily, and we will never get the credit we think we deserve.

Of course, what we think is not always the best way to gauge life. If you do good things for a reward or praise from other people who notice, you will get your reward. It just won’t be that great. Someone once said, “None are so empty as those who are full of themselves.”
The Apostle Paul once wrote: "The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth." (2 Timothy 4:17 )

If Paul were alive today, we would all clamor to read the book or see the movie about his deliverance from lions; we would ask him to be on GodTube for an interview about the lions; some filmmaker would make a syrupy movie with a sappy ending. But I suspect Paul would quickly lose his “celebrity” status, as whenever he got the chance he would ignore the lions and talk about the Lord who gave him the strength to fully proclaim the Good News to the world. If he ever mentioned his experience, there would be one small comment or one small footnote along the lines of, “Around the time I was delivered from some trouble...”

My hunch is that Paul knew that a story about Paul being delivered from the lions was going to become a story about Paul, not about the One who delivered Paul. And in the kingdom of heaven, if that is the case, why tell the story? Paul understood what John the Baptist meant when he said, “He [Jesus] must increase, and I must decrease.” The stories must always point to Jesus. 

The Bible says that God will share His glory with no one (Isaiah 42 and 48). When Paul does talk about himself in the Bible, it is because his audience had become so caught up in Christian Celebrity Worship that Paul basically said, “Okay, if you want to play that game, I win. Here are my credentials. Now settle down and get back to the things that matter most.”

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