The Bible’s strong man
Judges 14: A young lion came at him, roaring. The Spirit of God came on him powerfully and he ripped it open barehanded.
Samson is the “strong man” of the Bible. When artists depict him, they always draw him as a muscle man. Frankly, I doubt it. Remember that his enemies try to discover the secret of his strength. If he’s built like a super hero they wouldn’t do that. I think he’s of average build and that the only physical characteristic that makes him stand out in a crowd is hair; hair, and lots of it: long, flowing hair on his head and on his face. This guy has never had a razor used on him. His nickname could be “Harry!” The key to his strength is tied into his faithfulness to God. And, in his case, the symbol of that faithfulness is uncut hair. Really, I don’t even see evidence that Samson is always strong. It’s when the “Spirit of God comes on him” that he’s strong. The rest of the time, he’s just an ordinary, hairy guy. Thinking devotionally here, I’m reminded that it’s when the Spirit of God moves in my life that I move into the realm of extraordinary possibilities. I may not be “more powerful than a locomotive” but, when the Spirit of God is directing and empowering, I can do whatever it is the Lord wants me to do.
Take Away: The Lord gives us whatever capability he needs for us to have to accomplish his purposes.
A good story
Judges 13: The angel of God appeared to her.—
The set up for the story of Samson begins with the visitation of an angel. Manoah’s wife (unnamed in the Bible) is minding her own business when the angel appears to inform her that she’s going to have a baby boy. The child is to be raised under a strict code including his partaking of no fruit of the vine or ever having his hair cut. While the Nazirite vow was introduced in Numbers 6 this is the first time we hear of anyone actually under that vow and his case is (obviously) extraordinary. Not only does his being under the Nazirite vow set up the unique “haircut” feature of the story of Samson there’s also the fact that in Samson’s case being a Nazirite is not so much a vow as it is a lifetime assignment. His faithfulness to this vow is such a big deal that the angel has arrived early to stop his mother from drinking or doing anything that would constitute a breaking of the vow while Samson is still in his mother’s womb! When Manoah asks the angel his name he’s told that it’s a name beyond his vocabulary and comprehension. Then, as a burnt offering is made, the angel suddenly blends into the flames and ascends heavenward. It’s all very impressive and fun to read and think about. In fact, that’s all I’m doing with this passage because I don’t have a compelling devotional point to make. Sometimes a good story is just a good story!
Take Away: Most of God’s people just live their lives without visions or miracles. When those things happen, though, we have a story worth repeating.
Stopping the sun
Joshua 10: The sun stopped in its tracks in mid sky; just sat there all day.
Because of the significant military victories of the Israelite army, word of their success has spread like wildfire through the area. These residents of Canaan are cruel, child sacrificing, warring peoples, but some unite in an effort to stop the advance of Joshua and his army. The battle that ensues is a momentous one. In one fight they’ll either gain a decisive advantage or be beaten back. It’s during this battle that Joshua asks for an unbelievable favor from God. He asks that the sun stand still so that they can continue to fight while they have the advantage. God answers and the sun stops in the sky as the battle rages. Of course, the impossibility of that actually happening is clearer to me than it is to Joshua, who doesn’t understand anything at all about the solar system. I’m no scientist, but I know that if the sun stood still that it would mean the earth quit rotating, and if the earth stopped turning…well, it would be the end of the world. Needless to say, I would never pray the prayer Joshua prayed — I’m too educated to do that. But here we have poor, ignorant Joshua asking for something that couldn’t possibly happen. What’s that? You say that the Bible says it did happen? Listen, I have no idea of how God could stop the sun in the sky without the entire solar system crashing. It’s such a big miracle that I, even with my limited knowledge, could never pray for it. Joshua doesn’t know that the earth is round and is spinning and is orbiting around the sun. All he knows is that he needs a miracle from God. And that, my friend, is the whole point. Sometimes I need to throw out all the facts and hold on to the only real Fact, God, Himself. I need to be careful that I’m not so “smart” that God can’t do for me what he wants to do. Take Away: God specializes in doing the impossible and he doesn’t need for me to explain to him what he can or can’t do.
Numbers 22: Then God gave speech to the donkey.
There’s no other story in the entire Bible like this one. Balaam is a backslidden prophet of God who’s on his way to put a curse on God’s people. His donkey is stubborn and is misbehaving. As Balaam angrily beats the poor animal, God gives the donkey the power of speech. This incident has caught the imagination of countless readers. The movie industry did a series of “Francis the talking mule” stories in the 1950’s. Later on, TV brought us the story of a talking horse, “Mr. Ed.” Then, Don Francisco brought the story to everyone’s attention in his song, “Balaam.” The punch line in Francisco’s song reminds me that when God uses me to deliver his message that I shouldn’t become conceited. After all, he could have used a donkey instead. I know this, God is God and he can do whatever he wants. If it serves his purposes to make an animal speak his words the Lord certainly has the ability and the authority to do so. And if he commissions me to speak his message I know it isn’t because I’m such an intelligent, articulate person that I stand out in the crowd. The Lord calls and uses people for his own purposes. Still, for man or donkey, it’s an honor to be so called!
Take Away: If God can use a donkey to deliver his message we know he can use us.
Exodus 14: The Israelites walked right through the middle of the sea on dry ground.
The crossing of the Red Sea is a vivid, unforgettable event. We don’t need Charlton Heston and the magic of Hollywood to picture for us something spectacular happening. Moses lifts his staff over the waters and the wind begins to blow, splitting the sea. Then, after a night of waiting, the order is given to move out and over 600,000 people walk through that canyon of water, arriving safely on the other side. The rest of their lives they’ll remember that experience, and well they should. Big events, powerful evidences of God, don’t happen every day, although this generation of Israelites is going to see way more than the rest of us. I’ve never seen the sea part or anything else that could be labeled “spectacular.” However, I’ve experienced some personal encounters with the Lord that have shaped my life. No, I’m not going to write about them here…they’re my precious memories and not for public consumption. However, like those Israelites of old, I warmly remember them and they have defined my life. I don’t need to see daily miracles to keep on believing but I’m both thankful for and humbled by what I have seen and experienced.
Take Away: Our personal divine encounters may not be as spectacular as those in Scripture, but they define our lives.
Did I do that?
Exodus 7: The magicians of Egypt did the same thing by their incantations.
Have you ever wondered about the “miracle contest” that takes place between Moses and the sorcerers of Egypt? Moses throws his staff on the floor and it turns into a snake. Pharaoh summons his sorcerers and they do the same thing. This scenario is repeated when the plagues begin and the water of the Nile is turned to blood and then in the plague of the frogs. It’s only in the third plague that the sorcerers are stymied when they can’t produce gnats by their incantations. I know the Source of Moses’ miracle working ability but how do the sorcerers do it? This is one of those situations in which the Bible makes no effort to answer our question. All we’re told is what happens in this contest; not how it happens. I’ve always been inclined to think that they do it by sleight of hand. After all, it appears that they’re given advance warning each time. I can picture it now: “Hey, there’s a guy down at the river that’s turning water into blood, how can we do that?” Some experienced old faker says he has just the thing and off they go to duplicate Moses’ miracle. However, I’ve just been thinking of another explanation. Maybe they’re the most amazed people present when their efforts produce a miracle. You see, the Lord says he’s going to harden Pharaoh’s heart. What better way to do that than, when he sees an obvious God-caused miracle take place, he sees his own sorcerers duplicate it? I’m not sure of this understanding of events, but I’d sure like to have seen their faces when their staff’s became snakes.
Take Away: We’d better trust God because sometimes we can’t believe what we see with our own eyes.
God is all about results
Exodus 6: I will rescue you…I will redeem you…I’ll be a God to you.
After centuries of slavery and under increasing oppression the descents of Abraham are ready for some action from God. Their hope is likely quite modest. Maybe the Lord’s going to engineer a little bit less of a workload from their Egyptian taskmasters for them, or maybe there’ll be an improvement in living conditions. The thing is that they have the attention of the Almighty now and he has his own agenda that includes such big ticket items as “rescue,” “redemption,” and making them “his very own.” When God delivers people he does it in a big way. This is no patch up job so that they can somehow hobble on. Big things, things they can’t even imagine, are going to happen. That’s how it is when he saves us. I come to him, lost in my sins. My prayer is a modest one, like: “Lord, I just want to feel better” or “Just help me make it through this situation and I’ll be okay.” He says, “I will rescue you…I will redeem you…I’ll be a God to you.” The result is more wonderful than I ever imagined.
Take Away: When the Lord does something there are no half-measures about it.
The best thing to say to God
Exodus 4: God got angry with Moses.
Later on we’re told that Moses is the most humble man alive and knowing that I tend to cut him some slack when he keeps backing up on God’s call on his life. However, when I see the Lord getting angry in the face of all his objections I realize that humble or not, Moses is treading on thin ice with the Almighty. The Lord is appearing to Moses in a burning bush with the promise that, in spite of the king’s opposition that Moses will lead the people out of Egypt. Moses wants the Lord to give him a Name to use when he goes to the Hebrews and the King. The Lord obliges. Moses wants some kind of sign that will convince Pharaoh that it’s the Almighty he’s dealing with. The Lord gives him not one sign but three. Then Moses adds that he doesn’t want to actually do any of the talking and wants the Lord to name a spokesperson other than himself. At that point, he’s nearly found the end of God’s patience. The Lord promises Moses that he’ll give him the words to say and everything will be okay. When Moses persists in wanting someone else to do his talking for him, he nearly blows the whole deal with God. However, the Lord is merciful and tells Moses he’ll use his brother, Aaron, as spokesman. This, my friend, is a lesson in how not to deal with God. It’s not that exchanges with the Lord shouldn’t be open and honest. However, they should also be reverent and trusting. The best answer to God is just two words, “Yes, Lord.”
Take Away: The only reasonable response to the Almighty is: “yes.”
Genesis 18: Sarah laughed within herself.
It’s been a long journey not only in distance but also emotionally and in time. When Abraham says he’s heard from God and that they’re to relocate Sarah’s likely both concerned and excited. The promise of bearing a son fills this barren woman with sweet anticipation. The journey has taken much longer than she ever thought it would. Twenty-five years have passed and the excitement and anticipation has given way to weariness and disappointment. Now Abraham has the nerve to tell her he’s heard from the Lord again and that the promised child will be born in about a year. She laughs and it isn’t the laughter of joy. Instead, we hear a hard, brittle laugh – laughing at the impossible. This, though, isn’t the last time we hear laughter from Sarah. A year later, we hear her laughing again and this time it’s the laughter of one who’s had a miracle of God happen in her life. This is such a happy occasion that the miracle baby is named “To Laugh” or “Isaac.” Here we see that God loves surprise endings, jokes with good punch lines. And his laughter is not silliness or useless. God loves to bring about happy endings. What laughter does he want to produce in my life today? As I trust him and cooperate with him, he’ll accomplish good things and bring a smile to my face.
Take away: The Lord delights in surprising us with good things.
Acts 12: The house was packed with praying friends.
Herod decides it’s time to put the followers of Jesus in their place. He murders one of them, James, brother of John. Then he arrests Peter, intending to publicly execute him. However, Herod has heard some of the stories of miracles and he well remembers how the body of Jesus somehow escaped the tomb so he assigns sixteen guards to the fisherman. Two are actually chained to him. Meanwhile, the Church prays like it’s never prayed before. God hears and sends an angel to rescue Peter from the jail and the clutches of wicked Herod. Poor servant Rhonda gets the laugh line every time this story is told. She gets so excited that their prayers are answered that she leaves Peter standing in the street. I’m sure she laughed about it herself in the years to come. When God answers prayer like that, in such a surprising and timely way, even the most faith filled prayer warrior might get a bit confused. I can just imagine years later as various people who were present at that prayer meeting gather with friends for prayer. Someone brings a seeming impossible request, maybe with a bit of defeat already mixed in. That’s when one of those prayer warriors from this passage speaks up. “Don’t count God out. Why, I remember a time when Peter was being guarded by sixteen soldiers….” Everyone already knows the story but no one wants it to stop. Answered prayers feed faith. We need to cherish some of the really good answers and draw strength from them. In fact, we need to use them to encourage those who need a “faith-lift” as they pray over some difficult situation.