Friday, April 10, 2015

No Take Backs!

Times of great stress cause people to act strangely—even repent of sin.  Under the Mosaic Covenant, should one Hebrew be destitute and sell himself into indentured service to repay a debt, the Law had specified, fixed limits and conditions for that service (Ex 21:1-11).  Later in Israel’s history, the people chose to ignore these limits, most likely to wrest more service than required for repayment.  During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, this practice was in full swing.  King Zedekiah, whether from pity or in hope of currying God’s favor, proclaimed liberty to all Hebrew slaves, and all the people complied “so that they would not be enslaved again. They obeyed and set them free” (Je 34:10).  At face value, we would call this a win.  The people had repented of a national sin—a fact recognized by the Lord Himself:
You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name.  (Je 34:15)
This seemed all well and good with sincerity apparently oozing from every pore.  Perhaps there was a chance for further reform.  Then conditions improved.  Nebuchadnezzar’s army withdrew because Pharaoh’s army was moving up from Egypt (Je 37:5).*  When the pressure relented, the people once again enslaved those they had freed (Je 34:16).  The change of circumstance brought a change of heart so that Zedekiah’s repentance looked like he was negotiating with God much as we see in this clip from The End.

Judah took back its act of repentance.  We review this case and say that the repentance was not “heartfelt,” “genuine,” “intentional,” etc., but we cannot ignore the fact that they had begun with the correct action.  Had the nation adhered to their resolve in the matter, other areas may have been rectified as well—a conjecture based on God’s acceptance of their limited obedience.

By rescinding on their granting of liberty, God pronounced “liberty” to the inhabitants:
I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the Lord. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.  (Je 34:17)
In the same way that Judah had exercised freedom to bind former Hebrew slaves to their obligations, the Lord granted freedom to those who acted duplicitously to reap the fruit of their decision.
And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts—the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf.  And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives.  Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.  (Je 34:18-20)
Like the animal that would be cut in half to ratify a covenant, the two-timing penitents would be cut in twain (figuratively, if not literally) as God Himself established the method of judgment and its certainty.  What had been considered a problem averted became the tool of destruction and deportation.
And Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials I will give into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives, into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon which has withdrawn from you.  Behold, I will command, declares the Lord, and will bring them back to this city.  And they will fight against it and take it and burn it with fire.  I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant.”  (Jer 34:21-22)
Do Christians fall into the same trap?  Yes, they do.  In the early chapters of Revelation, five churches are given commands to repent: explicitly to Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis, and Laodicea; implicitly to Thyatira.  By following church history, we can see there was some success to the warnings in Ephesus and Laodicea, yet in both cases the conditions from which both were to spurn returned with a vengeance, and both lamp stands were effectively obliterated: indeed they all were, but these two are notable for being involved in the formation of both canon law and sound doctrine through the first few centuries† but lost sight of the gospel directive and placed their corporate interests above God’s, ultimately losing their places.

The problem continues today.  Disciple-making is no longer be pursued as a vital part of individual or corporate Christian life, giving way to tactics of self-preservation to forestall the dwindling numbers or invoking marketing schemes for self-promotion.  The problem clear.  Both methods are focused on self and are doomed, not being rooted in the purpose and plan of our Lord.  The solution is simple—repent.  But that solution is difficult, because it requires abnegation of our intentions as fickle and fallible, and acknowledging that what good we can do is accomplished only according to God’s precepts and empowerment.

*  Scholars disagree as to whether the Egyptian offensive was the occasion, but the timing fits.
†  Church councils were held at both locations: Laodicea (363-364 ᴀ.ᴅ.) and Ephesus (431 ᴀ.ᴅ.)


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I never even heard of that movie. Where in the world did you find that?!?! What a ridiculous "deal" he was making!! Too funny!

Steve Bricker said...

I saw part of this movie on television, and this scene happened to be playing during that time. I was so struck by how close it comes to the way people try to bargain with God that I never forgot it.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I looked it up on IMDB and discovered it was a comedy, which explains the nonsensical bargain.