I told you yesterday that we would learn something about appropriate reactions today in Ezra 5. The Israelites had been falsely accused of trying to start a revolution. They were now facing military danger because of these false charges.
However, even though I imagine they must have been a little bit upset, their reaction was the kind of reaction that we need to strive for.
Ezr 5:3 At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and their companions, and said thus unto them, Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall?
Ezr 5:4 Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building?
Ezr 5:5 But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius: and then they returned answer by letter concerning this matter.
They went right back to the Persian court. They knew that there was a way that they could prove they were right without confrontation. They wrote a very polite letter that basically said that the Israelites knew that they had been given royal permission, and if anyone wanted to double check, they could search to find that while document that gave them this permission.
It was an all-around pleasant affair. However, it was also firm. The people of Israel knew that they were right, and their letter never wavered. Their tone was also polite. They probably figured that there was very little to be gained by yelling about the injustice. All that would have served to do was irritate everyone else and maybe even create a less favorable situation.
For application in our lives, it is important to remember that our reactions are important. We never have to give up our stance on truth. As you can see here, Israel did not soften that whatsoever. They realized that politeness and tact were in order for the situation to accompany that truth.
We need to remember this as we interact with other people on a daily basis.
1 Samuel 25 is pretty interesting because I think that most of us have been in a somewhat similar situation where we did something nice but were not appreciated whatsoever.
David’s men came across Nabal’s shepherds in the wilderness, and it seems as if it was a positive meeting.
1Sa 25:5 And David sent out ten young men, and David said unto the young men, Get you up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name:
1Sa 25:6 And thus shall ye say to him that liveth in prosperity, Peace be both to thee, and peace be to thine house, and peace be unto all that thou hast.
1Sa 25:7 And now I have heard that thou hast shearers: now thy shepherds which were with us, we hurt them not, neither was there ought missing unto them, all the while they were in Carmel.
Basically, David was just saying that we took care of your men while they were with us, so he was simply asking for a little bit of hospitality in return. That is certainly reasonable, but here is what Nabal said:
1Sa 25:10 And Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master.
1Sa 25:11 Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be?
David was not necessarily thrilled about this, and he ordered his men to get their swords. Without the intervention of Abigail, Nabal’s wife, there would have been a battle.
1Sa 25:32 And David said to Abigail, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me:
1Sa 25:33 And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand.
Maybe we have had something similar happen. How do we react? Do we need to be reminded by someone like Abigail to not pursue vengeance on our own? Do we leave it to God?
I hope we do the last one. It is no fun to be wronged, but we need to be very careful about vengeance.
It is interesting to read about the Philistines in 1 Samuel chapter 5. Initially, they must have been thrilled to be able to steal the Ark of the Covenant from the people of Israel. Obviously, like I wrote about yesterday, the people of Israel loved that item, so stealing that was almost like a slap in the face.
However, it did not work out as well for them as they probably had been hoping.
1Sa 5:2 When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.
1Sa 5:3 And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.
1Sa 5:4 And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.
God did not like to be compared to Dagon, so through both of these incidents, it is pretty obvious that He was asserting His dominance. I assume that the idol was rather large, so it must have been pretty shocking to see it face down and decapitated.
Of course, this was unsettling for the Philistines, so they needed to make a plan.
1Sa 5:7 And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god.
1Sa 5:8 They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither.
I think that the reaction of the Philistines is really what stands out about this passage. They recognized that God was much more powerful than Dagon. They recognized that they did not want to mess with God.
However, rather than get their hearts right with God, they decided that it was best just to avoid Him.
Of course, the problem with that is that it is impossible to avoid God forever. One day, we will all have to answer for what we did while on earth. Now is the time to start making that relationship so that when we stand before God, we will be able to live with Him for all eternity.
Even the best leaders have problems every now and then, and Joshua was certainly no different. in Joshua chapter nine, the people of Gibeon had heard that the Israelites were marching through the Promised Land and destroying everyone in their path.
Obviously, nobody wants to have their entire population destroyed, so the leaders of Gibeon came up with a very clever trick. They pretended that they were poor ambassadors from a faraway country and came to Joshua to make peace with Israel.
All of the Israelites bought the deception, and when they found out where they were really ambassadors from, they had no choice but to spare the city.
Jos 9:18 And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the LORD God of Israel. And all the congregation murmured against the princes.
Jos 9:19 But all the princes said unto all the congregation, We have sworn unto them by the LORD God of Israel: now therefore we may not touch them.
Jos 9:20 This we will do to them; we will even let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath which we sware unto them.
I remember I wrote about this a while ago, but they knew that it was not a good thing to break an oath to God. They knew that they had been deceived, and they obviously weren’t happy about it, but they knew that there was nothing they could do now.
I hope that we all try to be as honest as our dealings as Israel was. They had plenty of reasons to retaliate and certainly had the ability to conquer Gibeon, but they knew that they had to keep their word.
Obviously, making the treaty in the beginning was the mistake that they should not have made, but they did not make another mistake in how they handled the people they had made a treaty with.
We go from one of the most well known passages in the entire Bible yesterday to one of the most controversial today in Exodus chapter 21.
Exo 21:23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
Exo 21:24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
Exo 21:25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
This of course brings to mind the famous quotation that is probably from Gandhi, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” However, that is the entirely wrong perspective to take on this passage.
This law was not built on revenge like the aforementioned quote would want you to believe. Rather, this law was built on moderation. People tend to overreact, and people in Biblical times still had a lot of the same emotions that we have today. When they got hurt by someone, they might get angry and try to hurt the other person worse than they were originally hurt themselves.
Think about the escalation of a typical fistfight that you might have seen or maybe even been a part of. Normally, something accidental happens that is not a huge deal. Maybe someone bumps into someone in the hallway. Then, the argument might escalate for a while before finally coming to blows.
The retaliation ends up being worse than the initial offense. A fist in the jaw is a lot worse an accidental bumping. If everyone could have been more moderate, the situation could have been largely avoided.
All of that being said, this passage is obviously not a carte blanche to go and do whatever you want. If you hurt someone under Old Testament law, there were supposed to be consequences. That is not whatsoever unreasonable, and our entire justice system today in the United States is built upon a similar premise. If people do something wrong, they need to be punished for that action. The person who accidentally bumped into someone in my previous example needs to be punished at a level that is appropriate for the crime he committed. Maybe if he made a person spill his coffee, he should buy him a new one. It is not a difficult concept whatsoever.
So, I think that the takeaway for all of us is that we need to make sure that we do not escalate situations or blow them out of proportion. In fact, if we read ahead to the New Testament, Jesus built even more into this idea of moderation.
Mat 5:38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
Mat 5:39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
He did not contradict the previous law, but He added to it. Because we are Christians, we should be even more patient than we were commanded to be in the Old Testament and forgive. Jesus himself was the perfect example of this behavior as He even forgave all of those who both physically and more conceptually put Him on the cross. He forgave you and me for committing sins that ultimately contributed to the burden He bore on the cross.
So remember, Exodus 21 tells us to not overreact when people harm us. Matthew 5 enhances that law and encourages even more patience and more forgiveness. This is hard to do, but God never assigns us a task that we cannot handle with His help.
At the beginning of the chapter, he had just been sold into slavery by his brothers. Then, he got sold to Potiphar who was a high-ranking official in the government.
He soon proved to be a very good servant, and he was put in charge of virtually the entire household. Even though he was still a slave, it was obvious that he was highly valued and cared for by the master of the house.
Then, trouble started to brew when Potiphar’s wife fell in love with Joseph. He resisted her for a long time, but at one point when he was running away from her, she grabbed his robe and virtually used it to frame him.
Gen 39:17 And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:
Gen 39:18 And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.
Gen 39:19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.
Gen 39:20 And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.
In one day, his life went from pretty good to prison on an entirely made-up charge.
If this story stopped right there, it would be easy to think, “Where was God? Why would a good God allow something like this to happen?”
That first question is answered in the next verse, and the rest of the answer will be found in the near future.
Gen 39:21 But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
God was right there with Joseph the entire time even though something that seemed bad happened. Going to prison on a false charge would make me pretty mad. However, that wouldn’t be a healthy reaction.
Think about the Shepherd’s Psalm.
Psa 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
The shadow of death must be pretty grim times, but we don’t need to fear it because God is always with us. Similarly, Joseph was in a very tough situation, but he didn’t need to worry because he knew that God was right there with him.
If you’re ever tempted to wonder where God is when things go wrong, remember that He is right there beside you. There is no problem that we need to go through alone when we lean on God and trust in His plan. (The answer to the second question will be posted in two days in case you’re wondering).