Posts tagged honor
Isaiah 53 is one of the most famous prophecies about the Messiah. In it, there are a number of things that point to the life of Jesus – things which, of course, wouldn’t be recognized until after Jesus’ death. Some of the more interesting pieces of this prophecy are the minute details that align perfectly with the story of Jesus.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
If you are familiar with the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, you know that this is exactly how it happened. In fact, Jesus had every opportunity to defend himself, but he chose not to. He remained silent in the face of his accusers, even though he had every reason to defend himself against their lies.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death (Isaiah 53:9)
This is a particularly interesting passage because it is so specific. Jesus, in fact, was “assigned a grave with the wicked” and “with the rich in his death” – buried in a tomb owned by a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of Israel, known at that time to be somewhat corrupt) who had become a follower of Jesus. The man who “loaned” Jesus his tomb was named Joseph of Arimathea and is sometimes described as a secret follower of Jesus.
I suppose you could make the argument that Jesus’ disciples had scoured the Old Testament in search of Messianic prophecies and worked their fingers to the bone in order to fulfill them, but it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? These guys had nothing to gain and everything to lose by following Jesus. All they would have had to do if they didn’t believe he was who he said he was is to wait until he died and then go on with their lives. Instead, here is Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and respected man who risks everything to make sure Jesus is buried in a proper tomb – that he is given an honorable burial.
I wonder how much I am willing to risk and sacrifice in order that Jesus be honored? It’s tempting sometimes to just take the easy way out – to go about your business and tell yourself that Jesus will take care of himself. But for people like Joseph of Arimathea, there is an understanding that the question is not whether Jesus can tend to his own needs, but rather, whether or not we are willing to do for him even a fraction of what he has done for us.
Frankly, I fail at this time and time again and I’ll continue until the day I die to try to find a way to muster the courage of Joseph of Arimathea in order to honor my savior.
“I don’t care what people think of me!” It’s a common refrain for rebellious teens and egotistic leaders the world over. In some circles, not caring about the opinions of others is a badge of honor. But should it be seen more as a sign of insanity? I mean, who actually doesn’t care what other people think of them? Well, for his sake, I hope that Jehoram didn’t care, or that he had thick skin, because this guy was really not liked.
He passed away, to no one’s regret, and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings. (2 Chronicles 21:20)
Ooh. He passed away to no one’s regret. Considering the level of respect and honor typically given to kings of that time, Jehoram must have seriously failed as a leader to not have at least someone mourn his passing. Sure, he did a lot of bad things, but the way he was treated postmortem suggests that this guy had no noticeable redeeming qualities. What an incredibly sad legacy.
Contrast that, then, with the honor and respect given to a seven year old boy named Joash. Now, I’m sure that all of the people protecting Joash and installing him as king had their own reasons for doing so. But, given that his grandfather was so detested, his father was such a poor king and his grandmother was a tyrant, it seems interesting that there would be so much interest in making this boy king.
I supposed they thought that if he was isolated from the influence of his family members, he might have a shot at becoming a decent human being. Whatever the case, what we see here is, within two generations, a whole group of people who go from detesting their king to risking their lives to defend his grandson and install him as king. It’s an interesting contrast and one that points out how important “what other people think” can be in a person’s life.
Unfortunately, Joash was unable to break the cycle of his family and ultimately forgot how and why he became king. Ultimately, Joash would suffer a similar fate as his grandfather and father – wounded in battle and given a burial in an area other than the one reserved for kings.
So, are you tired of reading genealogies yet? Well, it seems as though the writer of Chronicles was getting a little tired of his subject matter, too, or at least enough so to give us a few more details. I find it interesting that in these chapters, we’re given little snippets of information that, to us, mean very little. Why was GeHarashim called GeHarashim? Why was the birth order of Israel’s sons so messed up? It’s all in there. We’re told about the professions and misfortunes of some of these people. We’re given explanations as to why some tribes flourished and others didn’t. There is actually a lot of information packed inside of this written family tree, but none is more intriguing to me than the contrast between a guy named Jabez and the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh.
The Jabez snippet pops up in chapter 4, verses 9 & 10:
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10)
Two verses. That’s all we read about Jabez in the entire Bible. In fact, until several years ago when a book came out about him, Jabez was about as anonymous of a figure in the Bible as there could be. There was nothing special about Jabez – just another name in a long line of names. And yet, the author takes a moment to note something about this man and his life. And while much has been made of the specifics of Jabez’s prayer, it is his life that stands out to the author first and foremost.
The little note about Jabez begins by telling us that he was more honorable than his brothers. It ends by telling us that God granted his request. Whatever happened in between – the “Prayer of Jabez” – was a direct result of the former and honored in the latter. God seems to listen a little closer to those who are living for him.
A contrasting outcome is brought up in chapter 5. The Reubenites, Gadites and Half-Tribe of Manasseh were unlike Jabez in just about every way imaginable. They were famous, not anonymous. They were numerous and strong. They had everything going for them. God even came to their aid in battle against the Hagrites. But, unlike Jabez, they ultimately weren’t honorable – they weren’t faithful to God. And so, their outcome looked very different from that of Jabez. God didn’t expand their territory, he took it away from them. He didn’t keep them from harm and pain, he led them into it.
There is a direct link between the lives we live and the outcome that we experience. And, though God has a LOT of grace in his dealings with us, the Bible makes it very clear that if we are determined to be miserable, God will let us be. If we are hell-bent on our own destruction, God’s not going to get in our way. In fact, he may even help expedite the process a little. There is a stark contrast between the honor of Jabez that led to God’s blessing and the dishonorable people of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, whose actions led to their own defeat – a contrast that serves as a reminder that how we live our lives matters to God.
Perhaps, instead of focusing on the prayer of Jabez, we should focus on his life.
The story of Ruth is a fascinating one and one that I don’t know that we can really fully understand without a firm grip on the cultural context of the story. I wish I understood it more, but from what I know of the culture at the time, this story is full of complexity. At first glance, it is (depending on your interpretation) a love story between a man and a woman, or a story of honor, duty and the sale of property.
Even with those two simple descriptions, you can begin to see the complexity in the story. The fact is that this is a story of loyalty (Ruth to Naomi, Boaz to Naomi and Ruth) of thankfulness (Ruth to Naomi, Ruth to Boaz), of redemption (Boaz redeeming Ruth), of gratefulness (Boaz in recognizing that Ruth could have chosen a younger man) and, yes, I believe it’s a love story.
The interactions between Boaz and Ruth in the fields and over lunch are not about some kind of real estate transaction. Here, a man sees a woman in his field who catches his eye. He invites her to dine with him and they engage in conversation much like people do today when they are interested in someone of the opposite sex.
The fact that Boaz was one of the guardian-redeemers (some translations say “kinsmen-redeemer”) of Ruth and Naomi was kind of a bonus. It made it easier for Boaz to take Ruth as his wife. For her part, Ruth provided somewhat of a conundrum for a would-be husband. On one had, she owned land which would, according to the custom of the time, be owned by her husband once she remarried. On the other hand, the fact that she had already been married and was not a virgin made her less attractive or suitable to the men of her day.
For Boaz, however, it seems that neither the land, nor Ruth’s previous marital status, nor the fact that she was Moabite (not an Israelite) would deter him from marrying her. In fact, he goes to great lengths, when talking to the other guardian-redeemer in chapter 4, to sort of conceal the prize of Ruth. He tells the man about the land, to which the response is very positive. Then, he drops in the fact that the man will have to marry Ruth, which he says he cannot do. Of course, Boaz already knew that, but by laying out the facts the way he did, he could take Ruth as his bride while also being seen as a benevolent man – offering, without hesitation, to give the other guardian-redeemer everything he was owed.
It’s a fascinating story and one that deserves a detailed look (which we don’t have time for right now) but there’s one little tidbit of information thrown in right at the end of the book that I want to point out. After Boaz takes Ruth as his wife, this old man and young, Moabite woman have a child and name him Obed. Obed then becomes the next link in the Davidic line (that is, the ancestry of king David). Ultimately, from that same ancestry would come Jesus, the Messiah.
And so, tucked right in to Jesus’ lineage was this Moabite woman – a woman from a group of people who were not Israelites, but who were related through the line of Lot (Abraham’s nephew). The Moabites were descendants of Lot via a deception by one of Lot’s daughters that led to an incestuous relationship and pregnancy. In other words, the Moabites started out all wrong and they continued to get “wronger”. Eventually, they would begin to worship their own god named “On”.
And so, this incestuous, other god-worshiping group of misfits landed in the bloodline of David and of Jesus. This is just another example of how God uses the imperfect for his perfect plans – a good reminder that he can use us, too.
There are certain truths about leadership that are constant, no matter if you’re talking about 2012 A.D or B.C. and as I read the words of Joshua, I’m reminded of the wisdom that he possessed as a leader. There are a few leadership lessons that rise to the surface in this reading:
1. Leaders honor their word
Chapter 22 of the book of Joshua opens with Joshua keeping his word to the Eastern tribes and letting them return home. I think it would have probably been easy enough for Joshua to keep them around longer. All he had to do was say, “I need you to stick around because we might have to fight somebody else.” Instead, he sent them away, loaded up with treasure to take back to their new home.
For any leader, it’s absolutely essential that you keep your word. Do what you say you’re going to do and don’t do what you say you aren’t going to do. That can be a hard thing when you’re dealing with changing circumstances, but dealing with the tough stuff is what leadership is about.
2. Leaders inspire others to be honorable.
Not much is said about Joshua’s involvement in the miscommunication regarding the replica alter at the Jordan River, but you have to think he played some part in the sequence of events. My guess is that it went something like this: Somebody started spreading word around town that the Eastern tribes had built an alter and the assumption was that they wanted to worship some foreign god. Joshua, then, probably dispatched some people to find out what the deal was. And, of course, in their zeal, these men went down to the river ready to pick a fight.
But something happened when they got there. They discovered that the Eastern tribes weren’t actually doing anything wrong. In fact, they had been so inspired by God that they simply wanted to be sure that their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren remembered their history – where they came from and who got them there. And I have to think that Joshua’s humility, integrity and wisdom enlightened these tribes to the reality of the God they served.
3. Leaders know where they came from.
It must have been quite a site to see Joshua, now old and battered, reciting the history of the people of Israel. You see, Joshua had a different perspective than the others. He had witnessed so much that they had only heard about. But more than anything, Joshua lived that history. He had it in his bones!
A good leader is well-aware of his or her own strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures. They know about those who came before them and they offer wisdom to those who will follow in their footsteps.
4. Leaders call it like they see it.
Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.” (Joshua 24:19-20)
He knew they couldn’t do it. He knew that without him there to lead them that they would fall away. He knew that the more time that passed and the more generations removed they were from the time spent in Egypt, the more they would slip up. In fact, in verse 23 of the same chapter, he points out that they are already serving foreign gods, even as they claim allegiance to the Lord:
“Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (Joshua 24:23)
A good leader who lived a good, long life. And one who taught us lessons that we can use in our own leadership challenges today.