Category Archives: Midweek Milestones: 6.5 Times Around the World

WEEK 104 — December 28, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
ADVENT / CHRISTMAS

 

week 104

 

We Ride to Find the King

 

Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the time when Herod was king. Soon afterward, some men who studied the stars came from the East to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it came up in the east, and we have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:1-2, GNT

The familiar Christmas story of the Wise Men presents us with many more questions than answers:

•  Who were they?
•  How many of them were there?
•  Where did they come from?
•  What did they see in the sky that caused them to come?

The wisest of Bible scholars cannot give us a definitive answer to a single one of those questions. We usually assume that there were three Wise Men because they brought three kinds of gifts to Jesus; yet the Bible tells us nothing beyond referring to them in plural rather than singular terms.

Where the Bible is silent, creative imagination has been busy for twenty centuries. The Wise Men were kings, so it’s said; their names were Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar; one of them was young, one middle-aged, one old; one was Caucasian, one Oriental, one black. Perhaps the strangest flight of imagination says that the Wise Men’s bones were eventually carried to Cologne in western Germany, where a great cathedral built in their honor still stands near the banks of the Rhine.

When two or more people throw in their lot together and make a long, dangerous, expensive journey as traveling companions, those people are likely to build a close relationship. The bond between them is similar to the bond that grows between soldiers in the same combat zone. I’ve never been a soldier, but I can say from experience that shared service as foreign missionaries can bring about bonding as well. So can working together day and night to conduct a camp for children or youth. The Wise Men must have experienced some such feelings of brotherhood.

Most Bible scholars agree as to why the Apostle Matthew was careful to include in his Gospel the strange story of the Wise Men from the East: It was a way of emphasizing that our Savior came for all people everywhere.

Contemporary Christmas greeting cards sometimes remind us, “Wise Men still seek Him.” Read below this one final Bible-based ballad, which accepts traditional views as to the number and names of the Wise Men. As you do so, keep in mind that all who seek to find and follow Christ Jesus are potentially or actually your brothers and sisters – your fellow members in the family of faith.

(A special word of thanks to those of you who have followed MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS: Family and Friends throughout 2015 and 2016! Don’t stop now with your habit of regular Bible reading, prayer, and meditation. Also, look for MIDWEEK MOMENTS: Creation and Creator, starting next week!)

Come, Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar,
come join in kingly quest!
For yonder shines a royal star,
still pointing toward the west.
“We ride, we ride to find the King
who is born in Israel:
the King foretold
from ages old,
our Lord Immanuel!”

Bring frankincense and myrrh and gold
to crown your Lord and King:
Bring all your treasuries may hold
and make your offering.
“We ride, we ride to find the King
who is born in Israel:
to Him we bring
our offering,
our Lord Immanuel!”

Be wary in Jerusalem,
where cruel Herod is.
You’ll find a Boy in Bethlehem;
the kingdom shall be his.
“We ride, we ride to find the King
who is born in Israel:
come join our quest,
His reign is best,
our Lord Immanuel!”

Bow down before your lord and King,
before him bend the knee;
the Christ Child you are honoring
shall rule eternally.
“We ride, we ride to find the King
who is born in Israel:
your voices raise
and with us praise
our Lord Immanuel!”

O God, help me to remember that anyone “who serves my Father as a son is surely kin to me.” Guide those wise men and women, those wise boys and girls of every race and place, who truly seek the Savior of the world. Amen.
(Quoted from William Arthur Dunkerley writing as John Oxenham, “In Christ There Is No East or West”; in the public domain.)

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 103 — December 21, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
ADVENT / CHRISTMAS

 

week 103

 

Sonnet in a Stable

 

Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” Luke 10:23-24

The title above is almost a contradiction in terms — somewhat like speaking of a wealthy pauper or a towering midget.

A sonnet is one of the most precise and elegant forms of poetry in the English language. It makes strong demands on the poet: Each sonnet must always have fourteen lines — never more, never less. Each sonnet must follow an intricate rhyme scheme and arrangement of sections.

A stable, on the other hand, is strictly utilitarian. Whether large or small, it is only a building for animals, not intended for human habitation. Its earthy character comes out in the teasing proverbial reproof for bad manners or boorish behavior: “Were you raised in a stable?”

Somehow it seems out of place, even contradictory, to find a “Sonnet in a Stable.” How much more strange and shocking it is to find a son in a stable! Baby boys don’t belong in the midst of the stink and filth of a place where animals are being kept. Especially . . . a baby boy who is the Son of God.

The place in which God’s Son first appeared on earth has been inspiring wonder for twenty centuries: Not in a palace, not in a mansion, not even in a decent dwelling-place, not in a picturesque spot somewhere outdoors in God’s beautiful world of nature, but in the crudest and most commonplace of man-made structures: a stable.

Perhaps it is significant that none of the prophecies about the coming of the Christ ever mentioned such a thing. There is no hint of it in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. You can find Biblical predictions of sorrow and pain for the promised Messiah, most notably in Isaiah chapter 53. But you will look in vain for any mention of such a humble place for the Savior’s birth.

Perhaps Jesus himself was obliquely alluding to this fact in the verses quoted above. The very first one in this two-year series of Scriptural meditations, which also presents a keynote for all of these MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS on FAMILY and FRIENDS, is “From Such as These Christ Jesus Came” (see week 1). Christ Jesus came from — and to — poor ordinary people, who sometimes need to make use of a something as homely as a lowly cattle shed.

Thus “Sonnet in a Stable” becomes an apt metaphor for the miracle that happened in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. That’s why the following Bible-based poetic meditation has been written in the form of a sonnet. Note the interplay between expectation and utter surprise, between faith and doubt, as you prayerfully read these fourteen lines:

Piercing cold it was, and past all seeming
he would come so still in winter night.
On the hay the cow and donkey dreaming
dreamt not of his coming, Light of Light.

Counselor, the Prince of Peace, Redeemer . . .
can this be the Boy on Mary’s knee?
Blind you were, O king, O prophet dreamer!
Never did you dream of this, or see.

Savior, Son of God, the Lord’s Anointed . . .
yes, of this you dreamed, for this you died.
But a stable for his birth appointed:
This you never saw nor prophesied.

Yet — had you seen, you would have nursed no doubt.
Today we see . . . yet shut the Christ Child out.

“O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today!
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel!”
Amen.
(Phillips Brooks, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”; in the public domain.)

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 102 — December 14, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
ENTERPRISING WOMEN

 

week 102

 

Lydia’s Colony

 

We are a colony of heaven, and we wait for the Savior who comes from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20
(The New Testament in the Moffatt Translation, rev. ed. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. 1935. In the public domain.)

Has there ever been another church like the one at Philippi?

The Apostle Paul and his missionary partners Silas and Timothy had been stymied in their efforts to take the Good News elsewhere. Then in a vision they were told to cross the Aegean to a great seaport. Their customary modus operandi in a new city was to seek out the Jewish synagogue; usually they could hope to find some eager listeners there. But Philippi had no synagogue. In the entire city there were not the requisite minimum number of ten male Jewish worshipers.

Instead, Paul and his companions went out beside the river on the sabbath day. Just as they had surmised, a small group gathered there for Jewish worship, close to a source of water for their ceremonial washings. The leader of the group was a businesswoman named Lydia.

Was Lydia a widow who had inherited the business when her husband died? Or was she an enterprising woman who had built up the business on her own initiative? The Bible doesn’t tell us. It does tell us what her business was: selling cloth that had been dyed purple by a coloring agent obtained from a certain Mediterranean shellfish. Such expensive cloth was popular among people who had the money to pay for it.

Since the Bible refers to other women as being members of Lydia’s household, it seems likely that she provided employment for several of her sex. More than that: She led those women and girls to worship the Lord God Almighty. When she heard that God had sent his Son as a sacrifice for human sin, she gladly accepted the Good News and led her employees to do the same.

More than likely Lydia owned a spacious building, with room for living quarters as well as a business establishment. She invited the team of missionaries to make her home their base of operations while they were in Philippi (Acts 16:12-15).

Yet all did not go smoothly for Paul and Silas in Philippi. They were accused of interfering in someone else’s business – in this case, a sordid business of exploiting a pitiful slave girl who seemed to be possessed by an evil spirit. As a result of this complaint, the two missionaries were publicly whipped and thrown in jail. An earthquake set them free; it also provided them with an opportunity to lead the jailer and his family to Christ. (See “The Jailer of Philippi,” week 26 in MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS.)

Thus the congregation at Philippi had its strange beginning.
Who were charter members of the church, along with Lydia and her female employees? The Roman jailer and his family . . . and quite possibly also the slave girl whom Paul had miraculously freed from her affliction.

What a strange combination of new believers! Yet — the church at Philippi became the church that the Apostle Paul loved most. Witness his letter to the Philippians: It is the sunniest epistle he ever wrote, glowing with the warmth he felt both for and from his fellow believers in Philippi.

Read again Philippians 3:20 as quoted above. Then read this meditation, which looks in on the thoughts of that enterprising woman known as Lydia:

Folks here in Philippi, they like to say:
“Our city is a colony of Rome –
a station on the old Egnatian Way,
a taste of Tiber water far from home.”

I care but little for that Roman tie.
The Jewish colony means more to me:
We have no synagogue in Philippi –
of Hebrew households only two or three.

So that was why my shop-girls walked with me
beside the river on that sabbath day.
We met three men: Paul, Silas, Timothy.
We sat to hear the words they had to say.

You know the rest. God opened wide my heart.
I listened and believed the great Good News.
How could I, then, do less for my own part
than open wide my house for God to use?

My shop-girls pushed the purple cloth aside –
they’d all been baptized, too, along with me –
to make a place where Paul and friends could bide,
a place to meet with Christians such as we.

We make as mixed a group as you could meet:
The jailer and his kin, with ties to Rome;
the slave who used to scream out in the street;
my girls, who keep the Law they learnt at home.

What would you call us? Just a motley crew?
The lower class, with me thrown in for leaven?
Our latest letter named us something new:
Paul wrote, “We are a colony of heaven.”

O Lord of all, help us to remember that each person who is saved through the blood of Christ is part of “a colony of heaven.” Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 101 — December 7, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATION:
ENTERPRISING WOMEN

 

week 101

 

Priscilla and the Young Preacher

 

A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. . . . He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
Acts 18:24, 26

While I was writing MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS, my wife and I received an invitation to attend a special worship service honoring an anniversary of the founding of a little old church in rural Kentucky where we had served together long ago while we were both in seminary.

Because of a conflict in scheduling we were not able to accept the invitation, but an Indonesian Christian friend helped us make a brief digital videodisc to send instead. On that recording, I said: “There must be a special place in heaven for members of smaller churches pastored by seminary students. Think of all the half-baked sermons they’ve had to listen to, all the half-cocked ideas they’ve had to put up with!” Then I went on to thank the members of that little church for the ways they (or their parents or grandparents) had helped my wife and me to become better prepared for other places of service.

If there is indeed such a special place in heaven, then Priscilla must be there — along with Aquila, her husband. Both of them were lay-people, but the Apostle Paul valued them highly as co-workers in the gospel. Three times in the Book of Acts, Priscilla’s name is listed first; she must have been the dominant partner, both in their marriage and in their joint business as tentmakers.

Apparently Priscilla also took the lead when a young preacher came to their church in the great Greco-Roman city of Ephesus (in what is now western Turkey). Rather than embarrassing Apollos in public by pointing out all the important things he apparently didn’t know, she and Aquila invited the earnest young man into their home. There they brought him up to speed concerning the Good News about Jesus the Christ. When Apollos later moved on from Ephesus to somewhere in Greece, probably Priscilla was once again the one who took the lead in issuing him a warm letter of recommendation (see Acts 18:27).

Preachers can be a great blessing to members of their congregations. Members of congregations can also be a great blessing to their preachers. Keep that reciprocal relationship in mind as you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation:

Have you ever heard a preacher
who believed he knew it all?
saw no need to seek a teacher,
once he’d heard the Master’s call?

That was how Apollos sounded
when he landed in our town:
Full of learned facts, well grounded
in the faith once handed down.

Newly from the seat of learning –
Alexandria, no less –
came Apollos, passion burning,
keen to preach and teach and bless.

Yet there seemed a strange omission:
John he knew, the desert cry,
John, who baptized for remission . . . ,
what of Him who came to die?

What of Him to whom John pointed,
when to Jordan’s banks he came?
Lamb of God, the Lord’s Anointed . . .
did Apollos know His name?

No. He knew no loving Teacher,
knew no cross, no empty tomb.
This we learned from our young preacher,
once the crowd had left the room.

My Aquila smiled and nodded,
so we took him home to stay.
There in privacy we prodded,
told him all we had to say.

First impressions are misleading.
Glad he was to hear the rest,
matched it with his Scripture reading –
truths in prophecy expressed.

Never was there such a preacher!
Sad we were to see him go,
glad that we had been his teacher,
sharing truths he did not know.

Thank you, God, for all of those in the family of faith who stay in the background, blessing and teaching and supporting those whose places of service are more prominent. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 100 – November 30, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
ENTERPRISING WOMEN

 

week 100

 

The Seamstress of Joppa : Dorcas / Tabitha

 

In Joppa there was a follower named Tabitha. . . . She was always doing good things for people and had given much to the poor. . . . The men took Peter upstairs into the room. Many widows were there crying. They showed him the coats and clothes that Dorcas had made while she was still alive. After Peter had sent everyone out of the room, he knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to the body of Dorcas and said, “Tabitha, get up!” The woman opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet.
Acts 9:36a, 36c, 39b-40-41a, CEV

Other than the unique Resurrection of our Lord, the New Testament mentions hardly half a dozen people who were raised from the dead. How fitting that one of those fortunate few should have been a simple seamstress in the seaport city of Joppa!

Some years ago my wife enlisted several Indonesian Christian women to begin a sewing outreach group in a busy city where there were many poor people. Not Joppa but Java was the name of the island where the city was located. When these women considered a name for their ministry, it seemed natural that they should turn to the familiar story found in Acts 9:36-40.

The name we most often use for the seamstress of Joppa is Dorcas. My wife and her friends chose instead to use the alternative name. For a quarter of a century Grup Tabita ministered to thousands of women and girls from Islamic backgrounds – women and girls who likely would never have darkened the door of a church. “We must be the church for them,” those dedicated leaders agreed. And a significant number of Indonesian women and girls came to Christ through Grup Tabita.

Tabita or Tabitha means gazelle or deer in Aramaic; Dorcas means gazelle or deer in Greek. Was there some reason why the seamstress of Joppa was known by such names? Did she have beautiful eyes like a doe? Was she shy like a faun?

Actually the Bible tells us very little about Dorcas/Tabitha. We know
she was a Christian believer. We know she lived at a busy seaport on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine. We know that many poor widows also lived at Joppa, some of them no doubt being the survivors of unlucky sailors.

We know Dorcas was skilled with her needle. We know she must have had enough means to be able to make charitable contributions; perhaps she sewed some clothes to sell and some to give away. (My wife and her friends did not give away clothes. Instead they taught Indonesian women and girls how to sew clothes, both for their own use and to sell for the support of their families.)

When Dorcas sickened and died, her fellow believers in Joppa took speedy action. Two of them hurried off to a nearby town where they had heard that one of the apostles was ministering. And in the power of God’s Spirit, Peter came back with them to Joppa and restored Dorcas to life.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation assumes that Dorcas, once she had become a Christian believer, may have had a bit of trouble figuring out how she should best serve her Lord. Most Palestinian women of that day were uneducated, even illiterate. Cultural norms kept most of them from assuming any prominent role in society.

Be sure to thank God for showing Dorcas what she should do. Then thank God again for restoring the seamstress of Joppa to her grieving fellow believers.

My home is in Joppa, a seaport of fame.
A prophet once sailed from here, Jonah by name.
Now, many that go to sea never return, . . .
and what then is left for their widows to earn?

The widows of Joppa are wasted by want;
their bodies are bony, their faces are gaunt.
Their children – half-orphans, or orphans indeed –
are wretched and ragged, in hunger and need.

The Good News of Jesus reached Joppa one day.
I knew in my heart then that this was the Way.
But . . . how should I serve Him, my Savior and Lord?
I looked for some leading, some sign from the Word.

No study or learning equipped me to teach.
No eloquence made me endeavor to preach.
No miracle under my fingers took form,
except . . . by my needle the needy stayed warm.

O Giver of every good and perfect gift, help all the members of the family of faith to discover what You have prepared for them, and then to do what You have equipped them for. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 99 — November 23, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
ENTERPRISING WOMEN

 

week 99

 

The Clever Canaanite

 

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
Matthew 15:22-23

Two Scriptural accounts tell of a strange encounter that brought together three parties: 1) a foreign woman with her suffering daughter, 2) the twelve disciples, and 3) Jesus. Read all of Matthew 15:21-28; then compare it with Mark 7:24-30.

Mark’s version calls the woman “a Syro-Phoenician.” Once a little boy in Sunday School called her “a styrofoamician.” There was no styrofoam when I myself was a little boy in Sunday School; yet I can still remember that the unusual name seemed to add an intriguing sort of strangeness to this particular Gospel story.

Part of the strange fascination comes from the mention of demon-possession. When I was a child, many Christians tended to think of demon-possession as one of those peculiar things that may indeed have happened in Bible times, but they didn’t happen anymore . . . like God walking in the Garden of Eden, or the parting of the Red Sea, or Balaam’s talking donkey, or the sun standing still at Joshua’s command. On the other hand, some people tended to explain away demon-possession as being what we would call nowadays mental illness, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, or the like.

During my lifetime there has come a distinct change in the way Christians view the matter of demon-possession. Missionaries in Africa and Asia have reported too many cases that apparently cannot be accounted for in any other way. The late author M. Scott Peck has published Children of the Lie, a book reporting in clinical detail what can happen when the power of evil takes over a human life.

Let’s set aside demon-possession, then, as being the strangest element in this story of the woman variously described as a Canaanite or a Syro-Phoenician. The truly strange thing in the story is, the reaction of Jesus and his disciples.

We might have expected the narrow-minded and slow-witted disciples to want to give the brush-off to a woman who was not one of the Chosen People, the Children of Israel. But why was Jesus himself seemingly so slow in paying attention to her plea?

Part of the answer comes from conversational customs of those days. It was common for a teacher or a scholar to engage in some good-natured verbal sparring with his pupils. What Jesus said to the woman sounds harsh to us; it may not have sounded quite so harsh to the woman herself. As a matter of fact, this enterprising woman rose to the challenge, answering Jesus in the same rather teasing way he had spoken to her. (That’s why I’ve used as a title “The Clever Canaanite.”)

Don’t assume that the expanded dialogue presented here in poetic form is totally a product of the imagination. Read carefully the two Gospel accounts, combine them in your mind, and then compare them with what follows:

        The Woman:     Have mercy on me!
                                         Have mercy on me!
                                         O Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!

                                         My daughter’s possessed;
                                         she’s deeply distressed:
                                         O Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!

          The Disciples:  Lord, send her away!
                                         O send her away!
                                         She keeps crying after us: send her away!

           The Master:    She’s not of our kin.
                                         I’ve come to bring in
                                         the lost sheep of Israel, wandering in sin.

          The Woman:   Lord, help me! Please help me!
                                         My daughter’s so small;
                                         she suffers from demons that hold her in thrall.

           The Master:   The children come first;
                                         I can’t take their meat
                                         and throw it to dogs that crouch under their feet.

          The Woman:   Yes, Lord, so it is.
                                         Yet even a pup
                                         gets crumbs from the table and gobbles them up.

           The Master:    O woman, your faith
                                         is too great to tell!
                                         Go home to your daughter; you’ll find she is well.

Lord, strengthen my faith when answers to prayer seem strangely slow in coming. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 98 — November 16, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
ENTERPRISING WOMEN

 

week 98

 

A Woman of Samaria

 

Leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”
John 4:28-29

In many ways the Book of John is unique among the Four Gospels. One aspect of its uniqueness is this: It records at length several conversations between Jesus and one other person. Sometimes the partner in conversation is given a name; do you remember each of these?

•  A front-yard conversation with Nathanael (John 1).
•  A night-time conversation with Nicodemus (John 3).
•  A graveyard conversation with Martha (John 11).
•  A courtroom conversation with Pontius Pilate (John 18-19).
•  A garden conversation with Mary Magdalene (John 20).
•  A lakeside conversation with Simon Peter (John 21).

In other cases, however, we are never told the name of the person with whom Jesus spent some time in conversation. Do you remember the lame man by the Pool of Bethesda in John chapter 5? The woman taken in adultery (John 8)? The man born blind (John 9)?

Focus your attention now on still another of those unnamed persons whom our Lord and Savior deigned to engage in conversation: a woman of Samaria. The dialogue she had with Jesus is unusually long and detailed, even compared with those other conversations recorded in John’s Gospel; reread it in John 4:7-26, if you’ve forgotten.

In recent months we and some of our fellow church members have spent time in our small group discussing a sad fact: Too many of us Christians live in an insulated world. We have little contact with non-believers. Their lifestyle makes us feel uncomfortable. We’d rather associate with our own kind.

How different we are from our Lord Jesus! He knew quite well what sort of life this unnamed woman of Samaria had been leading. He knew that she — like many people of today — had gone through a whole string of failed marriages. He knew that she — again, like many people of today — was living with a person of the opposite sex to whom she was not married. Perhaps Jesus could even guess why the woman had come to Jacob’s Well at an hour when she would not be as likely to meet other women there.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation speaks with the voice of the woman of Samaria. As you read it, prayerfully ask yourself how many people you actually know whose lives are far different from your own. Ask yourself how your attitude and approach toward those people measures up, when compared with the attitude and approach of Jesus.

I always went to Jacob’s Well at noon,
avoiding crowds that went at dusk and dawn.
Experience had taught me all too soon . . .
those sidewise glances, wishing I were gone.

A man was sitting there beside the well —
a Jew, . . . and yet he asked me for a drink.
I marveled at the things he had to tell:
prophetic words that made me stop and think.

He offered me his friendship. More than that,
he offered living water for my thirst.
I left my jar beside him where he sat;
I ran to tell the news before I burst:

“Come meet a man who knows what all I’ve done,
and yet he offers friendship just the same!
Is this the Christ? Is this the Promised One?
It’s strange . . . I do not even know his name.”

“O Son of Man, who walked man’s way
to minister to human need,
we come confessing as we pray
for conduct that will match our creed.”
Amen.

(Quoted from William N. McElrath, in Seven Hymns of Concern and Ministry. Copyright © 1969 by Broadman Press. Used by Permission.)

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 97 — November 9, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
ENTERPRISING WOMEN

 

week 97

 

Good News and Bad News : Huldah the Prophetess

 

The prophetess Huldah . . . lived in Jerusalem . . . . She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says.”
2 Kings 22:14b-15a

Words that ends in “-ess” are not popular nowadays. In restaurants the waitress has become a member of the wait staff. On stage and screen the actress has become an actor. On airplanes the stewardess has become a flight attendant.

Are our Bible translations still perpetuating some vestige of an outmoded male-dominated way of speech when they speak of a prophetess?

Not necessarily. Rather, they are accurately rendering into English the words that were used in the original languages of the Bible.
The better-known biblical term, of course, is the word prophet. How many times that expression appears in Scripture! By contrast, the feminine form of the same word can be found in only eight verses, six of them in the Old Testament.

Two of those eight verses refer to the same person. Two verses speak negatively of women who merely claimed to be prophetesses. One verse seems to identify a prophet’s wife as being a prophetess. That still leaves four women of Bible times who are clearly honored with the designation of prophetess or female prophet (not counting several women of New Testament times who are said to have “prophesied”). Who were these four prophetesses?

•  Miriam, the sister of Moses who led a paean of victory beside the Red Sea. (See “That’s My Little Brother : Miriam Sings,” week 22 in this series of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS.)
•  Deborah, who urged Barak on to victory in battle. (See the devotional thought “Men! Men! : Deborah the Prophetess,” week 43.)
•  Anna, who welcomed Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus at the Temple. (See “Old Folks at the Temple,” week 37.)
•  Huldah, wife of Shallum.

Is it safe to say that Huldah is the least known of the four?
Shallum her husband was “keeper of the wardrobe.” This probably means that he looked after the robes worn by the priests in the Temple. Yet when a special delegation led by the high priest came from the royal palace one day, it was not Shallum they were looking for: It was Shallum’s wife.

Probably you remember the story. The godly young King Josiah had decreed that the Temple should be cleansed of its filth and foreign accretions. In the process a Book of the Law had been discovered. Josiah had torn his garments in anguish when he realized that he and his people had not been observing the commands of God. That was why he had sent three highly-placed royal attendants, along with Hilkiah the high priest, to find out what would happen because of this long neglect and disobedience. These four men found out, all right – not from another man, but from a woman.

Huldah’s prophecy, as recorded in 2 Kings 22:15-20, included good news and bad news. The bad news was a warning of doom for God’s wayward people. The good news was a reassuring word that divine judgment would not descend during the life and reign of King Josiah.

Huldah must have felt great sadness as she gave her answer to the royal messengers. She must have mourned for the earnest young king who would die too soon. She must have wept for her people, who would suffer the bitter results of their sin. Yet she bravely spoke the truth — God’s truth.

That’s what it means to be a prophetess or a prophet: Not so much foretelling as forth-telling, speaking plainly what God has revealed. Keep that in mind as you prayerfully read the following Bible-based poetic meditation:

My day begins like any other day.
My husband leaves for work (a priestly post).
Then priestly messengers arrive to say,
“We’ve found the scroll, the scroll that long was lost!”

The scroll demands that we obey our God,
and warns of judgment when obedience dies —
when foreign foes become a chastening rod
and all Jerusalem is filled with sighs.

But what of him who sent the priests to ask?
Josiah seems so young to face such doom.
For when the scroll had taken him to task,
he tore his robes; his mourning filled the room.

I’ll speak of doom, but add: “Go tell your king
he’ll never see disasters multiply.”
(Alas, my message holds a hidden sting:
Too young he’ll face the day that he must die.)

God of all true prophets and prophetesses, bless with wisdom and boldness those men and women whom You have called to proclaim Your truth. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 96 — November 2, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
ENTERPRISING WOMEN

 

week 96

 

Princess Michal

 

Saul’s daughter Michal . . . fell in love with David. . . . When Saul’s men came to get David, Michal told them that he was sick. . . . Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked out of the window and saw King David dancing and jumping around in the sacred dance, and she was disgusted . . . .
Michal never had any children.
1 Samuel 18:20a; 19:14; 2 Samuel 6:16bc, 23, CEV

Princess Michal is a Bible character who functioned as a sort of bridge during the troubled days of the first two kings of Israel. The younger daughter of King Saul, she was first given in marriage to David. Then she was married off to someone else instead. Once David became king, he reclaimed Princess Michal as a member of his harem . . . , although it is questionable how much happiness this action brought to either one of them.

Why has Princess Michal been placed in this series of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS under the section entitled “Enterprising Women,” rather than being included with “Daughters” or “Wives and Husbands”? Because she was apparently an independent-minded female who took affairs into her own hands. Because she was not afraid to say what she thought.

We first meet Michal as a love-struck girl – perhaps still a teenager. David, the rising young hero in her father’s royal court, was supposed to have been given in marriage to Princess Merab, Michal’s older sister. That union never came to be. But Michal herself fell head over heels in love with the handsome youth from Bethlehem.

Wily King Saul saw an opportunity of doing away with his rising young rival. He set a high bride price, demanding clear proof that one hundred enemy soldiers had been killed. David and his men brought back body parts from — not just one hundred but two hundred enemies.

Then Saul’s insane jealousy flared up again. Michal helped David escape from Saul’s spies by letting him down from a window in the city wall. She stuffed a goat’s-hair figure under the covers to deceive Saul’s search party, claiming that David was sick in bed.

After David’s escape, Michal was given in marriage to a chieftain who lived on the far side of the Jordan. But once Saul had died and David had seized the throne, he demanded Michal back again. Her second husband wept to see her go.

Did David really love Michal, as Michal had once loved David? Not necessarily. But as the daughter of the former king, Michal was valuable to David; she helped legitimize his claim to the kingship. (Notice how often the verses quoted above repeat the fact that Princess Michal was King Saul’s daughter.)

Not long after this strange reunion, David had the Ark of the Covenant brought to Jerusalem, his new royal capital. On that day Michal despised him for deigning to join in a sacred dance before the holy object that symbolized God’s presence. Her scornful words called forth an equally hot reply from David.

The Bible records that when ten of David’s concubines or secondary wives were violated by another man, the king still “provided for them, but . . . they were kept in confinement till the day of their death, living as widows” (2 Samuel 20:3). Something like that must have happened to Michal after her bitter quarrel with King David, for the ancient narrative states that she never had a child.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation gives brief glimpses into the strange career of Princess Michal, as retold in the swinging rhythms of an old-time ballad:

Princess Michal’s fair and free!
Daughter of the king is she.
Now she sees a shepherd lad –
called for when the king is sad –
playing tunes to make him glad.

Princess Michal’s wild to wed!
David is her choice, ‘tis said.
Will he meet the king’s demand?
Fight until his warrior band
kills enough to win her hand?

Princess Michal plays a trick,
claims that David’s lying sick;
when they come to search his bed,
stuffs some goats’ hair there instead;
knows that he’s already fled.

Princess Michal’s forced to go
wed a man she doesn’t know –
far on Jordan’s other side,
there to be another’s bride,
long in exile to abide.

Princess Michal’s gone to pack:
David’s king, and wants her back.
Does the change call forth a tear?
Is her second husband near?
Is her first the one that’s dear?

Princess Michal’s voice rings free;
scornful of the king is she.
She in turn by him reviled,
thenceforth as a widow styled:
Princess Michal has no child.

O Father God, in Your mercy grant special protection to all of the willful, headstrong girls in Your world today. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 95 — October 26, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
ENTERPRISING WOMEN

 

week 95

 

Men! Men! : Deborah the Prophetess

 

Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. . . . Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” Judges 4:4, 8

When I was a child, we never heard the word “feminist.” We didn’t know any feminists in those days. Yet we did know plenty of females who made it plain what they thought about males — sometimes males in general, sometimes one particular male.

In past years when a woman didn’t think much of a man, she was usually too wise to attack him head-on with harsh criticism. Instead, she often employed the saving grace of humor. Did Deborah the Prophetess have that same tendency toward teasing, as she put in their place some of the men she knew?

Deborah was unusual in Old Testament times: She was a married woman, yet she obviously wasn’t under the thumb of her husband. He is mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures only as her spouse; she’s the one who gets all the attention in the ancient narrative. Maybe Lappidoth, Deborah’s husband, was a weakling. Maybe on the other hand he was such a strong character that he didn’t feel threatened when his wife showed signs of God-given leadership.

But the famous story told in the Book of Judges isn’t about Deborah and Lappidoth: It’s about Deborah and Barak. And Barak was definitely a man who showed signs of weakness. For one thing, he didn’t like the thought of tackling a big job alone. You can tell that by reading the verses quoted above.

Deborah the Prophetess responded to Barak’s plaintive plea for support. She gladly went with him when he called the hosts of Israel into battle against their foes. Yet she warned Barak that neither he nor any other man would get the credit for the victory which God was planning to give them. “Because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman” (Judges 4:9).

Sisera was the commanding general of the enemy host. He, too, seems to have leaned upon a woman for support, judging from the jeering reference to Sisera’s mother in the great paean of victory that was sung after the battle was won (see Judges 5:28-30).

The woman Deborah was referring to, the one who would be honored in place of Barak, was not Deborah herself but rather another married woman: Jael, wife of Heber. Jael murdered General Sisera when he stopped to rest from the rout; read Judges 4:17-22 if you’ve forgotten about Sisera’s grisly end.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation assumes that Deborah, like many another wise woman before and since, knew well enough how to employ a wry sense of humor as she put males in their place:

Men! Men! Would they ever move
without a woman as motivator?
Maybe so, but I suspect
it wouldn’t happen till some time later.
Barak, for example now.
A good man, Barak, well equipped to lead.
Yet until I’d pushed him hard,
he wouldn’t move; he wouldn’t meet the need.
Even then he wouldn’t go
unless I went. I gave him fair warning:
“Who’ll get the credit? Women, . . .
when all of us shout, come victory morning.”

Men! Men! Folks say that even
great Sisera, mighty captain of our foes,
has a mother; she tells him
what he should do, and everything he knows.
When the day of battle came,
still our Barak stayed, wouldn’t take the field,
until I shouted, “Barak!
Now lead the charge! For soon our foes will yield.”
Sisera? O, he lost it all.
He ran, O yes! But still he couldn’t hide.
In Jael’s tent he rested,
and nailed by Jael’s tent-peg, there he died.

Men! Men! Do they realize?
Do they ever know how much they owe us?
Never mind. Give God the praise.
I’ve never been one to make a big fuss.

O God of families, bless all the women who do the work . . . even if someone else gets the credit. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas