WEEK 60 — February 24, 2016



week 60


A-Searching : Young Saul


There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish . . . . He had a son named Saul, an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites — a head taller than any of the others. Now the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father Kish were lost, and Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys.” 1 Samuel 9:1a, 2-3

When we hear the name of King Saul, the first thing we tend to think of is, his unhappy ending. We need to remember, though, that Saul’s story started out well. He was tall — dark? — and handsome. He came from a God-fearing family. After he had been unexpectedly chosen as Israel’s first king, he started his reign by trying hard to do what was right. He fought valiantly against the heathen Philistines.

At the very beginning of the story of Saul in the Hebrew Scriptures, we find a good example of the strange term serendipity. This word was coined in the 1700s by the English novelist Horace Walpole, but its roots go far back into Asian lore. Many writers have told and retold the story of The Three Princes of Serendip, who traveled far from their native island (named Serendip) and helped a foreign monarch find his lost camel. In the process they made other discoveries as well.

Certainly that was the experience of a young Israelite named Saul. His father sent him to look, not for a camel but for some donkeys. Then – like the famous three princes — he discovered something entirely different.

Reflect on the dramatic beginnings of Saul’s story as you read 1 Samuel, chapters 9 through 11. Then read the following Bible-based meditation, which has deliberately been cast in the rollicking rhythms of an old-time ballad:

O, when you go a-searching,
be careful where you look:
You’re looking for the ocean,
instead you find a brook.
You’re looking for a picture,
instead you find a book.
You’re looking for the kitchen,
instead you find the cook.
You’re looking for a shepherd,
instead you find his crook.
So when you go a-searching,
be careful where you look!

Now Saul, he was a farmer’s son
whose donkeys ran away.
He chose a friend to help him search,
and off they went one day.

There’s this you must remember, now,
when you remember Saul:
He wasn’t built like other men;
no other stood as tall.

Your height can be your helper when
you’re searching for a stray.
So Saul looked high, his friend looked low
for many a weary day.

They searched throughout all Shalishah,
the hills of Ephraim.
They searched throughout all Benjamin,
and all of Shaalim.

They didn’t find the donkeys, so
to Zuph at last they came,
and there they met old Samuel,
the seer known to fame.

The old man looked them over, then:
“I have a word,” he said,
“a message for the one of you
that’s taller by a head.”

Then slowly Saul stepped forward, and
then came a wondrous thing:
The seer said, “In Israel
I now anoint you king!”

Remember Saul the farmer’s son
whose story you have read.
He looked for donkeys, but he found
a kingly crown instead.

So when you go a-looking,
be careful how you search.
You’re searching for a swordfish,
instead you find a perch.
You’re searching for an oak tree,
instead you find a birch.
You’re searching for a parrot,
instead you find its perch.
You’re searching for the schoolhouse,
instead you find the church.
So when you go a-looking,
be careful how you search!

All-Knowing God, help us know how and where to search! Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 59: February 17, 2016



week 59


Samson, Samson, Strong and Able


Then Manoah prayed to the Lord: “O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.” Judges 13:8

“Teach us how to bring up the boy” might well be the prayer of any parents of a son. Manoah and his wife especially needed that kind of teaching, for the son born to them turned out to be a strong-willed child if there ever was one. They were divinely instructed to rear the boy as a Nazirite who never cut his hair and never drank wine, as signs of his complete devotion to God. Yet the boy Samson grew up into a willful youth who must have caused his parents untold heartache.

He became infatuated with a Philistine girl. “Get her for me,” he curtly told his parents. When they remonstrated that the Philistines were enemies and that there must be some desirable girls among the Israelites, Samson spoke even more rudely: “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me” (Judges 14:1-3).

Marrying that Philistine maiden soon embroiled Samson in all sorts of controversy. Later he got mixed up with a prostitute at Gaza, and that brought on still more trouble. Then came his celebrated romance with Delilah, who was actually in the pay of the lords of the Philistines with intent to entrap him.

You can read the details of Samson’s rather sordid story in the Book of Judges, chapters 13 through 16. Apparently the best thing he ever did to help the Israelites fight against their enemies, came only after he himself had been captured and blinded. Using his great strength, Samson pulled down the temple of Dagon, killing all the pagan worshipers who were gathered there.

How much more might Samson have accomplished for good, if his great strength and virility had been truly subjected to the will of God!

Think about that as you read this Bible-based meditation, cast in the form of an old-fashioned ballad:

Samson, Samson, strong and able,
famed in song, acclaimed in fable,
must you always live for pleasure?
take a woman at your leisure?
kill Philistines past all measure?

Take care, Samson! Danger’s lurking:
Women and Philistines working
hand in hand to cause your humbling,
from the heights to send you tumbling.

Samson, Samson, strong and able,
famed in rhyme, acclaimed in fable,
O beware! Delilah dares you,
with her witching words ensnares you,
for a wretched fate prepares you:

For your muscled limbs, there’s binding.
For your lustful eyes, there’s blinding.
For your occupation, grinding,
round and round the millstone winding.

Samson, Samson, strong and able,
famed in song, acclaimed in fable,
turn to God in time of trouble!
Ask for strength to pay back double,
bury all your foes in rubble.

Samson, strange and sad your story:
Glorious when you gave God glory,
weak when on yourself relying,
weak in life . . . yet strong in dying.

O Father God, we echo that ancient prayer and offer it up on behalf of all parents of heedless, willful sons in our world today: “Teach us how to bring up the boy.” Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 58 — February 10, 2016



week 58


The Sons of Gideon


Soon after Gideon’s death, the Israelites turned their backs on God again. They set up idols . . . and . . . forgot that the Lord was their God, and that he had rescued them from the enemies who lived around them. Besides all that, the Israelites were unkind to Gideon’s family, even though Gideon had done so much for Israel.
Judges 8:33ab, 34-35, CEV

Here are two trick questions for you:
1) Who was the first king among the Israelites?
2) Where in the Scriptures can you find the first parable recorded in the Bible?

Of course Saul was the first king of Israel, just as David was the second king and Solomon the third. And of course most of the parables in Scripture are those told by Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels.

Yet there was an abortive attempt to set up a kingship among the Israelites many years before the time of Saul, David, and Solomon. And in connection with that attempt, someone other than Jesus once told a striking parable drawn from the world of nature.

Probably you remember how Gideon led the Israelites in a stealth attack against their enemies. Armed with trumpets and flares hidden inside clay jars, they struck by night.

Now, do you also remember what happened after that? Gideon was offered the kingship. “‘No,’ Gideon replied, ‘I won’t be your king, and my son won’t be king either. Only the Lord is your ruler’” (Judges 8:23, CEV).

So far, so good. But after Gideon died, one of his sons did become king – not one of Gideon’s legitimate sons (like other Old Testament characters, Gideon had many wives), but an adventurer named Abimelech, son of a concubine or second-class wife. In an astounding coup d’etat, Abimelech rallied his fellow townspeople from Shechem and succeeded in killing all of his brothers . . . all except one.

Jotham, the youngest of Gideon’s seventy legitimate sons, managed to hide from Abimelech’s murderous fury. Later he reappeared on the peak of Mount Gerizim, one of the twin mountains (along with Mount Ebal) that make a natural amphitheater at Shechem. There Jotham shouted out a challenge in the form of a parable about trees choosing a king. Then he went into hiding again, and the Bible tells us nothing more about him.

How about King Abimelech? After three years, his shady allies started turning against him. During siege operations a woman dropped a millstone over the city wall and fractured his skull. Turning to the nearest soldier, Abimelech screamed: “Take out your sword and kill me. I don’t want people to say I was killed by a woman!” (Judges 9:54b, CEV). Thus the first king among the Israelites came to his inglorious end.

Why did such terrible things happen among the sons of Gideon? The Scripture verses quoted above tell us why. Even before Gideon’s death, the Bible records that he unwisely made a golden object of worship (Judges 8:24-27). After Gideon died, his fellow Israelites – presumably his sons as well – “turned their backs on God.”

What will happen to younger members of your family after you yourself are dead and gone? Of course you have no way of knowing. All you can do is to try your best to exhort and exemplify such a strong devotion to Christ Jesus our Lord, that others will follow your footsteps in the years to come. Consider the alternative – the sad, ghastly, horrible alternative – as you prayerfully read the following Bible-based meditation in ballad form:

Great Gideon! Father of seventy sons,
from Jether the eldest to Jotham the least.
In Shechem, besides, lives a woman he keeps;
Abimelech’s born: Then the childbearing’s ceased.

My father was foolish: He could have been king.
The people stood ready to yield everything.
“Let God be your ruler!” he told them instead.
Now everything’s different, for Gideon’s dead.
O neighbors of Shechem, let me be your lord!
We’ve lived here together, our hearts in accord.
Would seventy kings suit you better than one?
O give me your hearts! I’m great Gideon’s son!

Abimelech’s sword rips through Gideon’s house;
full sixty-nine brothers all die by his hand.
But Jotham escapes to a mountain nearby;
on Gerizim’s summit he takes up his stand.

O people of Shechem, come listen to me!
If this were a forest, your king were a tree,
you’d crown a strong cedar, or something else big,
or else something useful — an olive or fig.
But you have exalted a thorn-bush instead!
Was this done in honor of him who is dead?
If so, then rejoice in your ruler, the brier.
If not, then your kingdom will perish in fire!

Abimelech’s allies rise up in revolt.
He crushes their plot, but Abimelech’s head
is crushed by a millstone thrown down from above.
The kingdom collapses; Abimelech’s dead.

O Father God, you are the only parent who never makes a mistake. Guide and strengthen me, along with all others among Your People, so that we may teach and model the way of Christ in the sight of younger members of the family of faith. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 57 — February 3, 2016



week 57


Please, Father Abraham : Young Isaac


Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and the wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” And the two of them went on together.
Genesis 22:7-8

What a poignant moment in human experience is pinpointed in the Bible verses quoted above!

Abraham and Sarah had waited so long for the birth of their promised son. Now Abraham had reluctantly come to believe that God was telling him to offer up his son as a sacrifice, imitating a barbaric custom of the pagan peoples among whom he lived.

Leaving home, they made quite a little caravan – the aged father, the young boy, the two servants leading a pack-donkey. Then Abraham commanded the servants and the donkey to stop, while he and Isaac went on alone to perform the holy sacrifice.

How human the ancient narrative is! How natural it seems that young Isaac would have wanted to ask questions! You can read his question in the verses quoted above.

Do you suppose that in actuality Isaac asked his father a question only this one time? Or do you suppose that the one question quoted above is just a sample of a whole litany of questions that must have tumbled out of the mouth of a sorely puzzled boy?

How it must have torn Abraham’s heart to hear his son’s questions! For those same questions must have been echoing in Abraham’s own mind – questions he had been hurling at God in prayer, only to be met with no divine reassurance beyond a bald “Trust me.”

It was my own father who first told me the story of Abraham and Isaac. As it was with the two of them, so Daddy was already getting along in years before I was born. I still remember his solemn voice one bedtime, as he repeated those fateful words spoken by faithful Abraham: “My son, God will provide himself a lamb” (Genesis 22:8, King James Version).

Could Abraham have possibly guessed how far-reaching his answer to Isaac’s question really was? It seems he was taken by surprise when the ram baaed from the thicket. Could Abraham have ever imagined that God would indeed someday “provide himself a lamb,” the spotless Lamb of God given for the sins of the world?

Experience once again the thrill of suspense, the stark terror, the glad wonder and relief in this ageless story, as you prayerfully read the Bible-based poetic meditation that follows.

Please, Father Abraham, tell me why
we’ve gone a-wandering, you and I?
Into the hill country, far from our home,
far from my mother, still farther we roam.

Please, Father Abraham, tell me why
now it’s just two of us, you and I?
Servants and donkey, we left them back there;
all of their burdens together we bear,
trudging together toward God knows where.

Please, Father Abraham, tell me why
up and still up we climb, you and I?
Why do you carry the knife and the fire?
Why must I lug this wood higher and higher?
Why pile those stones for a sacrifice pyre?
Where is the lamb to be laid on the fire?

Please, Father Abraham, tell me why
we’re piling wood on stone, you and I?
What will we sacrifice, once wood’s aflame?
Why must I lie here? Is this a new game?
Why that rope? Why tie my hands with the same?
What is the fault for which I bear the blame?
Why is your knife raised, in God’s holy name?

+     +     +

Please, Father Abraham, tell me Who
thundered from heaven – for me, for you?
How did that bramble entangle a ram?
Who is this God who will give us a Lamb?

Thank You, Father, for giving us the Lamb of God, Your spotless Son. Help us spread His story to all of earth’s fathers and sons. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas