WEEK 25 — June 24, 2015



week 25


Jesse of Bethlehem


Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the
sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he
is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down
until he arrives.”
1 Samuel 16:10-11

When David was a boy, he must not have rated very high in his family’s expectations. For proof of that fact, all you need to do is to re-read the verses quoted above.

In Indonesia my wife and I once knew a teenager who seemed painfully shy. We can remember only a few times when he ever took part in a Bible class or a youth fellowship or a worship service. To our utter surprise, this bashful boy has grown up into a young preacher who worked his way through seminary. He is now an independent-minded church-planter who has dared to go into parts of his native land that are hostile to Christianity.

In Indonesia my wife and I also met a young woman who seemed to us rather weak and shallow as a Christian. We thought of her as being flighty and undependable. To our surprise she has blossomed into a staunch Bible-school teacher.

Our reaction to all of this has veered between joy and amazement. Do you suppose old Jesse of Bethlehem must have felt much the same way when his lightly-regarded youngest son was chosen to become the Lord’s anointed?

Read an imaginative reconstruction of Jesse’s thoughts in this Bible-based poetic meditation:

We trembled when the old man came,
we simple folk of Bethlehem.
With horn of oil and calf in tow,
would Samuel bring us joy or woe?

The old man said, “I come in peace
to offer God a sacrifice.
Get ready, once we’ve killed the beast,
to join the sacrificial feast.”

The old man asked about my sons.
I called them forth by two’s and one’s
to pass before his piercing eyes
before we ate the sacrifice.

I saw the old man view with joy
Eliab – he’s my oldest boy.
But then he frowned and shook his head.
“That’s not the one,” he slowly said.

Abinadab then came in sight.
The old man said, “That’s still not right.”
Full seven sons before him passed;
he shook his head from first to last.

What was the old man looking for?
An acolyte to train in lore,
to aid with ceremonial task?
I wondered when he turned to ask:

“Are these the only sons you have?”
What could the man be thinking of?
Why must he take the time to see
each male heir in my family?

“There’s still the youngest,” then I said.
“He’s yonder where the sheep are fed.”
The old man said, “Go call him in;
until he’s here, we won’t begin.”

I sent a servant on his way
to find my youngest boy and say,
“Come quickly at your father’s call!”
The old man then surprised us all:

He touched those tousled locks of red
and poured his oil on David’s head.
So that was how it all began:
My youngest marked for God’s great plan.

Gracious Lord, deliver us from lack of faith, so that we may believe You can still work wonders with unlikely material! Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 24 — June 17, 2015



week 24


Eli Has Second Thoughts


Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord. . . . Now Eli,
who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing . . . . Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. . . . And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. . . . There was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road, watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God.
1 Samuel 2:12, 22a; 4:1b, 4b, 13a

Why do godly fathers sometimes have bad sons?

This question has echoed down the ages through all human experience from the earliest times till now. If you study carefully the record of the kings of Judah, for example, you will note how many times a godly father had a bad son — or vice versa.

No doubt about it, Eli was a godly man. Probably you learned about Eli as I did, in one of those Bible stories we listened to beginning in early childhood. We heard how old Eli misunderstood the desperate plea of the childless Hannah; then he promised her the son for whom she had prayed. We heard about Eli’s kindness to the little boy who was entrusted into his care by the grateful Hannah and her husband. We heard how Eli became a father figure for Samuel. We heard how on one fateful evening he helped the young boy to recognize the voice of God.

Yet the Biblical record is also painfully clear about this: Eli was not a good father. His own two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, became involved in the grossest kinds of wickedness. The Bible says that they “made themselves contemptible,” and that Eli “failed to restrain them” (1 Samuel 3:13). Eli even stands accused in Scripture of honoring his sons more than he honored God (1 Samuel 2:29).

Like many a distraught and disappointed father, Eli must have kept on hoping against hope that his sons’ behavior would someday take a turn for the better. Despite their misdeeds, he let them continue to serve as priests.

The fourth chapter of 1 Samuel tells about a time when the Philistines had attacked the Israelites. In desperation Eli allowed his sons to carry the Ark of the Covenant to the scene of combat, as a talisman and a rallying point. Eli himself was 98 years old, overweight, and almost blind; he could not go along with his sons. Instead, he sat in his chair beside the road and worried while waiting for news from the battlefield.

What do you suppose the old man was thinking about during those anxious hours? The following Bible-based poetic meditation suggests what might have been going through Eli’s mind that day.

(Do you recall the tragic end of the story — tragic for old Eli, for his unworthy sons, for all of the children of Israel? In case you’ve forgotten it, re-read 1 Samuel 4:12-21.)

Many years can I recall —
how quickly did they flow!
Weighed down with flesh, weighed down with years,
I’m ninety-eight, you know.

When you know you’re very old,
then you start to wonder:
Did I take the proper course?
Did I make a blunder?

Certainly I’ve made mistakes,
just the same as others;
yet God chose me as his priest,
not one of my brothers.

When you’re old and going blind,
sometimes there’s confusion.
Sitting at the shrine, I once
drew the wrong conclusion.

Hannah prayed; I thought instead
she’d had too much to drink.
Moving lips that made no sound —
what else was I to think?

When Hannah’s son, young Samuel,
lived with me at the shrine,
he was the one mistaken:
He took God’s voice for mine.

Perhaps my worst mistakes came
in dealing with my sons.
They’re not all I had hoped for —
yet, they’re God’s chosen ones.

I’ve sent them both to battle,
with Ark and with Ephod.
How could I be mistaken?
I did it all for God.

Save us, O Lord, from thinking that our own notions – even when they arise out of our own sin and our own shortsightedness – are somehow Your will for our families. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 23 — June 10, 2015



week 23


Respectable People : Boaz of Bethlehem


To Salmon was born Boaz by Rahab; and to Boaz was born Obed by Ruth; and to Obed, Jesse; and to Jesse was born David the king.
Matthew 1:5-6a, New American Standard Bible [Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation; quoted by permission}

“Respectable” is a slippery word. Much of the persecution of Baptists, Quakers, and others in early American times came about, not so much because they were considered to be heretical, as because they were considered to be not respectable. In certain circles even today, is it not somehow considered more respectable to go to this church rather than that one?

The Bible offers no support to such an outlook.

• In the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures, Hannah exults: “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance. . . . The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (1 Samuel 2:3ab, 7-8ab).

• In the Gospels Mary states that God “has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:51b-52).

• In the Epistles Paul exclaims, “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27b-29a).

In Bethlehem of three thousand years ago, would Boaz have been considered a respectable person? He was a citizen, a man of property, one whose voice was listened to at the city gates, one who honored long-held traditions. Yet his mother was not an Israelite, and she came from a questionable background to boot. (This series of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS also includes a devotional thought about “Rahab, Who Lived on the Wall”; see week 94.)

Then Boaz took up with a foreign woman — a wandering widow, an adventuress. He even spent the night with her at his outdoor grain-threshing floor. Would the good people of Bethlehem have considered this a respectable thing to do? Would they have wondered whether he then married Ruth, not because he wanted to, or because this was in accord with ancient custom, but because he felt he had to?

People in Bible times tended to gossip just as much as people do today. Think about that as you prayerfully read the following poetic meditation . . . and don’t forget the genealogy in Matthew 1:5-6!

Respectable people: Now, which ones are they?
The people who always know just what to say?
The people whose parents — and grandparents, too —
were also respectable? Is that the clue?

Is Boaz respectable? As to that point,
his mother was Rahab, who once ran a joint
of dubious morals on Jericho’s wall.
So was she respectable? No, not at all!

Is Boaz respectable? Spending the night
outdoors with a woman – now, does that seem right?
Of course, then, he married her. Was it a must?
Or was he fulfilling a family trust?

That widow he married, the one they call Ruth:
Is she a respectable person in truth?
She’s certainly not one of our chosen race:
She came here from Moab, that strange foreign place.

The widow’s expecting. I wouldn’t expect
their progeny ever to earn much respect.
Respectable people, so Boaz will find,
do better to stick with those of their own kind.

Good Lord, deliver us from equating respectability with godly righteousness! Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 22 — June 3, 2015



week 22


Joshua’s History Lesson


Joshua . . . summoned all Israel . . . and said to them, “I am old and well advanced in years. You yourselves have seen everything that the Lord your God has done. . . . You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. . . . Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . . As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 23:1b-2a, 2c-3a, 14b; 24:14-15ab, 15e

When I was a boy, I memorized a Scripture verse about Joshua as a father and as a history teacher. In the old King James Version, the verse reads: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Even in those long-ago childhood days, I used to hear so-called modern and enlightened people saying things like, “We don’t think we should prejudice children’s minds with our own ideas and beliefs. We don’t think we should make children go to church. We think we should wait till they’re grown up and then let them decide for themselves.”

What nonsense! Do parents let children decide for themselves whether to get out of bed in the morning? whether to wash their faces? whether to brush their teeth? whether to go to school? Then why should parents let children decide for themselves about the most important things in life – things with eternal significance?

Ordinary common sense tells us that parents need to be proactive in their children’s spiritual nurture. Besides that, God has given us a clear directive in Scripture: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).

Old Joshua had lived a long time. He and Caleb were the only survivors of the generation that had left Egypt under the leadership of Moses. One day Joshua called all the people of Israel together – at least as many of them as could crowd into the natural amphitheater formed at Shechem by the twin mountains Ebal and Gerizim. There he taught them a history lesson. He recounted what the Lord God had done for the Israelites in the past. He reminded them that their neighbors in the Middle East, even their own ancestors, had worshiped other gods. Then he posed a challenge:

“Choose! Don’t wait till tomorrow, choose today! Will it be the Lord God? Or will it be some other so-called deity?”

After that Joshua announced his own decision – a decision involving not only himself but also his whole family, every member of his household: “We will serve the Lord.”

Many years ago I was the teacher of a class of boys. One of them was a Missionary Kid whose parents were on temporary assignment in the States. Years later when I myself was appointed as a missionary, that boy – now a university student – wrote me this in a letter: “I congratulate you on the choice you have made for your children’s future. I have never regretted being the son of a missionary.”

The following Bible-based poetic meditation, based on the last two chapters in the Book of Joshua, reviews old Joshua’s history lesson at Shechem. Read it prayerfully.

Joshua taught a history lesson,
taught the tribes of Israel,
called them all to meet at Shechem,
told them all he had to tell:
“Promises our Lord has given:
Promises our Lord has kept.
God has led us on our journey,
every place our feet have stepped.
Choose you this day whom you will serve!
Me and my house, we’ll serve the Lord!

“Long ago our fathers worshiped
idols in a foreign place;
then the Lord called one among them,
Abraham, to seek his face.
In the land of two great rivers,
pagans worshiped moon and sun.
Abraham, our great ancestor,
came to know: The Lord is one.
Choose you this day whom you will serve!
Me and my house, we’ll serve the Lord!

“To this land our fathers traveled,
then on down to Egypt, where
once again their faith was tested:
Other gods were worshiped there.
God then brought us out of bondage,
through the waters by his power,
through the desert, through the Jordan,
to this very day and hour.
Choose you this day whom you will serve!
Me and my house, we’ll serve the Lord!

“High the walls of Canaan’s cities,
yet we broke them down and passed
through this land of milk and honey
till our foes were cowed at last.
Many are the tribes of Canaan,
yet God pushed them all aside.
Now the choice is laid before you;
now’s the time you must decide:
Choose you this day whom you will serve!
Me and my house, we’ll serve the Lord!”

O Lord, give us more fathers who will make good choices for their children! Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas