Posts tagged temptation
Today’s Reading: Mark 14
Jesus makes an interesting statement in verse 38 of today’s reading:
“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)
Now, when we think of temptation, most of us think of being tempted to sin – of falling into the trap of committing some sin against God. But here, it doesn’t seem like there is any sort of sin “opportunity.” Jesus seems to be encouraging his disciples not to fall into the temptation of sleep.
Sleeping certainly isn’t a sin. Even in this situation, it would be tough to argue that nodding off is some sort of evil act. And I don’t think Jesus is saying that it is. What he is saying, however, is that there is the temptation for these guys to fall asleep when it is very important for them to be alert. Jesus knows what is coming and he doesn’t want his guys to be found “asleep at the wheel,” to use a modern phrase.
And I wonder how often I am guilty of dozing off in those moments when I need to be most alert. In those times when things seem to be “OK,” it’s easy to relax a little too much. But sometimes, those are the exact moment that we will come under spiritual attack. For me, some of those times have come when I was traveling.
One of my biggest “don’t fall asleep” moments was in an airport in Miami on my way to Haiti. I was excited about the journey because I was going down to do the stuff of Jesus in helping the victims of an earthquake. Meanwhile, I was probably a little “asleep”, spiritually speaking, with regards to the very real spiritual battle that was taking place at home regarding the adoption of our little girl.
I received a call that day that served as a wake-up call for me. The call was from my wife who had, in turn, received a call from our social worker that indicated that there was a high possibility that our baby would be taken from us and there wasn’t a whole lot we could do about it. I wanted to catch the next flight home. I wanted to do something. But what I did – what I needed to do – was pray.
That’s what Jesus asked of his disciples. As he was facing the most difficult day of his life, he asked them to pray. He didn’t ask them to prepare for a battle or to form a wall to hide him from his enemies. Just pray – pray and not be lulled into the temptation of falling asleep at the wheel just when he and his followers were coming under attack.
Our downfall so often starts in the same place. Here is Solomon, a man gifted by God with incredible wisdom and unbelievable wealth. He, like his father David, is a beloved ruler in Israel – life is good. And yet, like his father David (and like so many before and after him) Solomon is undone by his own desires. Solomon’s story is not unlike that of Samson, whose desire for women was the root cause of God ultimately stripping him of his blessing.
I think it’s no coincidence that the story of the queen of Sheba immediately precedes the quick telling of Solomon’s demise. After all, the queen of Sheba represented everything that Solomon so desired and one of the few things he wasn’t allowed to have. You see, God had given Solomon wisdom and wealth and favor with the people, but had required him not to marry foreign women, due to their belief in and worship of other gods.
The queen of Sheba, however, must have been fascinating to Solomon. Here was a rich, powerful woman (something Solomon would not have been accustomed to) who also had a thirst for knowledge and wisdom, much like Solomon’s. She was a thoroughly modern woman, likely adorned in the finest clothes and perfumes. Even if she wasn’t physically attractive (the Bible doesn’t indicate one way or the other) she would have had a bevy of attendants to make her a beautiful as possible. In short, she was something straight out of Solomon’s fantasies – the woman of his dreams.
Now, there are different opinions about this matter, but the Bible doesn’t make any indication that there was a romantic relationship between these two. However, as we read today, there is the mention of Solomon acquiring hundreds of foreign wives and, eventually, of beginning to worship their gods. Again, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this practice is recorded in close proximity to the visit from the queen. Though Solomon may have had foreign wives prior to the queen’s visit (that is not known) there seems to be something different about Solomon after his encounter with this woman.
In fact, his kingdom begins unraveling so quickly after her visit that the people who knew and loved Solomon must have wondered what in the world had happened. Here was a real life king Midas whose every move was blessed by God. Then, almost in an instant, he was failing at every turn. The cause of Solomon’s downfall, of course, was simple – he took his eyes off of the prize. Solomon’s tendency to be distracted by a beautiful woman was somewhat of a genetic disposition – one that God his father in trouble as well. Further, his willingness to not only entertain the temptation, but to give into it in a way that only a super-wealthy king could – 700-1000 times over – would all but seal his fate.
His adversaries would rise up and this mighty king would fall. We’ve seen the same story played out time and time again. People who “have it all” become distracted by that which they come to desire more than God. It’s easy to identify the pattern in public figures, but I wonder if we are so quick to notice it in our own lives. Maybe each of us has a little bit of Solomon inside of us, just begging for that thing which is so desirable and yet, so poisonous.
OK, let me be up-front about something. I have endeavored, for 100 days now, to allow this blog to be a “first-impression” journal of my own journey through the Bible. I have leaned on any knowledge that I have acquired in previous studies, but haven’t set out to dig deep into the passages of each day. Of course, that has meant that there were times where something didn’t really make sense to me and I either chose to look past it for the sake of maintaining my overall reading or I simply had to admit that it didn’t make any sense to me and make a note to come back to it later.
Today, however, is a little different. For whatever reason, I was so bothered by the events of 2 Samuel 24 that I just had to go and get more information. And so, let me give you some of that information now.
I basically have three problems with this chapter.
1. It seems, in verses 1 and 2, that David is doing precisely what God is asking him to do. Why, then, is he later punished for it?
2. What’s the big deal about taking a census? Isn’t that part of the normal function of government?
3. If this is some indicator of pride in David’s heart, why is it so inconsistent with the God-honoring song in chapter 22 and the self-deprecation and humility found later in chapter 24?
A little bit of research and a little bit of prayer helped me discover at least partial answers to all three questions.
First, I discovered that there is some question as to the translation of verse 1. Many scholars have come to believe that the word “he” in verse 1 is not actually a reference to God, but to Satan. God’s anger burned against Israel and “he” (the one who shall not be named) incited David against them.
There is also another explanation. In other places in the Bible, action is ascribed to God which is actually taken by Satan. In other words, Satan tempts someone, God allows it or withdraws his blessing from that person, and the person is said to have been lead by God to such and such. It’s a combination of translation issues and of the writing style the Biblical writers – not so much an inconsistency in the text.
OK, so Satan tempts David to take a census. What’s the big deal? Well, the big deal was the “why” of the census. Why did David order that the people – specifically the fighting men – be counted? There are a few explanations: Perhaps he was looking to inflate his own ego – a little reminder of how far he had come and how large his army was. Or maybe, in a similar vain, he was looking to increase his standing among the people of Israel and of neighboring nations. He needed a number so that he could brag about the size of his army to others. Or, another distinct, but related, possibility is that David wanted to plan another series of attacks on the surrounding nations and wanted to see if he had the troops to do it (a consideration that was not necessary if God was directing the battle).
Whatever the case, it appears that David’s motives for taking the census are in question. Honestly, it makes me wonder if sometimes our own impure motives make otherwise Godly instructions evil. What if God told you to take a new job – for his own purposes – and, in the process of taking that job, your pride and greed began to swell and you began thinking of all the power and money you were going to have in that job. Suddenly, then, even though you’re doing what God asked you to do, your newly-found motives have made that job move displeasing to God. Maybe David’s situation here is that complex.
My last question, of course, involves the inconsistency of David’s behavior. However, we’ve already seen, in the Bathsheba story, how quickly David can fall into a wicked pattern of behavior. So, I guess it’s not entirely implausible that David could make such a wild swing from giving honor to God, back to puffing himself up and then back again to honoring God and humbling himself.
In that way, I guess David was like an exaggerated version of most of us. He battled with his own sins. He struggled with pride and arrogance. His song, then, in chapter 22 was perhaps a reminder to himself of that which he knew was true. The truth that God was the strong and mighty one could not have been said enough for David. He needed that reminder even as he tried to subdue his own ego. I am reminded of the word of the Apostle Paul to the church in Rome:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Romans 7:21-23)