The Blessing of Children

Lo, children are a heritage of YHWH / and the fruit of the womb is his reward (Psalm 127:3).

Children are a blessing. We may need a constant reminder of that, especially when they are young, but it remains true.

Psalm 127:1-5 stands among the “psalms of ascent” (Psalms 121:1-134:3); they were sung as Israelites would ascend to Jerusalem and the Temple to present themselves before YHWH during the festivals and feast days as commanded (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). Psalm 127 is the only psalm of ascent attributed to Solomon; he meditated upon YHWH’s provisions for His people. If YHWH has not built a house or kept a city, its builders and watchmen labor in vain (Psalm 127:1); it proved vain to get up early, stay up late, and overwork in worry, for YHWH gives sleep to those whom He loves (Psalm 127:2). Solomon then turned to speak of children: they are a heritage and a reward from YHWH (Psalm 127:3). Children are compared to arrows in the hand of a mighty man (Psalm 127:4); the man who has a quiver full of them is blessed, and will not be put to shame when he or they speak with his/their enemies in the gate (Psalm 127:5).

In context children are reckoned as part of YHWH’s provision of security for His people. Who would want to resist a mighty man with many arrows? A man with few allies may be easily manipulated or bullied by his enemies in the handling of civic affairs in the gate of the town (cf. Job 5:4); if the man has many children who stand up for him, his enemies will find it harder to challenge him. Whole families would have ascended to Jerusalem for the feasts and festivals; such a psalm would reinforce confidence in YHWH for security and protection, and commendation of the value of children in growing a prosperous household.

The covenant between YHWH and Israel was very much a this-worldly covenant: it does speak to certain spiritual things and realities, but the conception of its obligations, blessings, and curses is very much of the physical realm (cf. Leviticus 26:1-46). An Israelite would therefore recognize himself as blessed by YHWH if he maintained his ancestral property and lived to see his grandchildren or even great-grandchildren (e.g. Genesis 50:22-23). An Israelite would reckon himself as cursed by YHWH if his ancestral property was overrun by others, especially non-Israelites, and if he died either childless or if his children died in his lifetime (e.g. Ruth 1:1-5). Hope for the future, therefore, was invested in children: children who would grow up, inherit the land, and provide for his parents in their old age (the meaning of “honor your father and mother”; cf. Matthew 15:4-6). Children, therefore, proved quite important as a hope for a continued share in Israel and as some security against future distress.

Today we live in a very different world than ancient Israel. The individual and his or her fulfillment is exalted above almost every other conception of what is good. People have children if and when they want to have children; if they do not want children, they have many means by which to hinder procreation. Parents are expected to sacrifice for their children, but children are not expected to provide for their parents; that is the job of investment accounts, Social Security, and nursing homes. For these reasons, and others, many in culture have concluded that having children is a lot of work and not a lot of return on investment; therefore, many are not having children at all.

It is nearly impossible to explain the value and benefits of having children to anyone who has made individual, personal fulfillment the highest goal in life: by their very nature children demand a lot of resources and personal sacrifice. Children teach us a lot about ourselves and our role in the world, but at a high cost to ourselves. Not a few in the past have felt the obligation to “pay forward” the energy and investment their parents poured into them; such an “obligation” is not felt as acutely anymore. Perhaps only biological impulse is left to persuade many people to have children, and even then, not for all.

Children, therefore, are no longer considered blessings in society; they are envisioned primarily as dependents, ravenous consumers of time and energy. Our culture thus indicts itself as a culture of death, one doomed to obsolescence; a culture without children is a culture without much of a future.

Christians must affirm the value of children. Yes, it is true that our hope is in the resurrection, and not in propagation of children (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1-40); yet, in Christ, we recognize that we are all children of our heavenly Father, whom He created as His offspring to enjoy in relationship (John 17:20-23, Acts 17:28, Romans 5:6-11, Ephesians 2:19). God shared love within Himself, and He was therefore moved to create the universe, placing within it man made in His image; God has worked to reconcile mankind to itself, suffering greatly in the process, in love, grace, and mercy extended to His children (Ephesians 2:1-18, 1 John 4:7-11). If God were first and foremost all about His “personal fulfillment,” then we would be condemned, lost in our sins.

Children are to honor their parents (Ephesians 6:1-2); a Christian who does not provide for his or her parents if they need it in their old age has abandoned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8, 16). Yet parents have children to share in life with them, to build and grow relationships with them, and to enjoy the fruit of a good life: grandchildren. Yes, children will be the source of pain and suffering as well as joy; such is the way life goes under the sun.

Ultimately nothing proves as humbling as having children, but few things prove as astonishing and powerful. In parenthood we get to experience life differently; we learn responsibility, love, care, humility, and glad suffering on behalf of another, and in a small way embody the love of God toward mankind. The problem is not with children; the problem is in how we ascertain blessings, our attachment to the fleeting idol of personal fulfillment, and the ultimate futility of the narcissistic, self-absorbed life.

God did not make us to be islands unto ourselves. God did not make us as radical individuals. God did not make us to strive for personal fulfillment above all. God made us to seek relationship with Him and one another. God made us to learn what it means to live by experiencing life as a child, as a young adult, and then as parents. May we affirm children as blessings, both in what we enjoy about them as well as in the humility and perspective we gain through them, and trust in God for protection and salvation!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Source of Security

Except YHWH build the house / they labor in vain that build it.
Except YHWH keep the city / the watchman waketh but in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early / to take rest late / to eat the bread of toil;
For so he giveth unto his beloved sleep (Psalm 127:1-2).

From insurance to elaborate building designs, humans continue to seek various sources of security.

Solomon meditated upon the true source of security in Psalm 127:1-5. Psalm 127 is listed among the “songs of ascent,” songs which would be sung as Israelites would make the pilgrimage up to Jerusalem and Mount Zion to the presence of YHWH at a festival. For Solomon, and the Israelites who sang this song as they climbed to stand before YHWH, only YHWH was true security. To build a new house would be vain unless YHWH protected it and provided for it. All the watchmen in the world would prove useless to a city unless YHWH watched over it. Working excessive hours to make a living independent of YHWH’s blessings proved equally vain; YHWH gives reason for those whom He loves to sleep, for they have little need to fear (Psalm 127:1-2).

Solomon will go on to glorify children as the heritage of YHWH, His reward to people (Psalm 127:3). Children are seen as arrows in the hand of a mighty man; a man with many (and ostensibly good) children will not be made ashamed in the gate of a city, the place where the elders would meet and matters were adjudicated (Psalm 127:4-5; cf. Ruth 4:1-12).

It would be easy to consider Psalm 127:3-5 as separate from Psalm 127:1-2, but a connection is there. YHWH provides for His people. He watches over them, protects them, and blesses their endeavors. No endeavor will succeed if it does not come with His blessing. Part of that provision is children who will honor their father and mother in their old age (cf. Matthew 15:4-6). The man who trusts in YHWH and is blessed by Him will have a strong house and descendants; his blessedness will be known to all; he will have no reason to be ashamed among his fellow people.

We can understand why Psalm 127 would prove to be a satisfying song of confidence in YHWH as Israelites went up to stand before Him. Israel is thus reminded that YHWH and YHWH alone is their source of confidence; all feeble human attempts to maintain their own security will fail. You can only hold so much food in barns, and even then an enemy can seize them. Military strength can take you only so far; not a few times a massive force was thoroughly defeated by a smaller one. Foreign policy is a capricious adventure: your ally one day may turn into your foe the next. Other people often prove only as good as their word, and the world has always lacked sufficient people who uphold their word. Israel always needed this reminder; temptations always existed to trust in other presumed sources of security other than God.

Christians today could also use this reminder. Far too often, in the name of worldly wisdom, Christians are tempted to put their trust in anything and everything but God. In the name of worldly wisdom we purchase insurance to mitigate the risks to health, life, and/or property; we invest resources in markets and pay into governmental schemes to provide for life in the present and/or for days of disability or retirement. We are invited to trust in government for security against all foes, domestic and foreign. Many seem to orient their lives around the proposition of risk management.

There is nothing automatically or intrinsically sinful or wrong in buying insurance, investing for retirement, or taking advantage of the social safety net. The Israelites themselves built the houses; walls and watchmen were still needed in the cities of Israel. But we must remember Matthew 6:19-34, Jesus’ message which is not unlike Solomon’s in Psalm 127. It is one thing to use insurance or investments to mitigate risk in a sensible way as one seeks to trust in God and His purposes; it is quite another to fully depend on such insurance or investments, or to orient one’s life around such insurance and investments. In the process we have no right to dismiss God’s intended “retirement program” for His people, providing an opportunity for children to honor their fathers and their mothers (1 Timothy 5:8, 16). As children we should seek to provide for parents in times of need, and to have children ourselves and instruct them in God’s right way (Ephesians 6:1-4).

We almost must take care how we use and consider Psalm 127. Israelites themselves were vexed by the apparent discrepancies between the message of Psalm 127 and its ilk and experienced reality: sometimes the righteous, whom one would imagine YHWH would protect, suffered, and the wicked, which one would imagine YHWH would not bless, nevertheless prospered (cf. Job 21:1-34, Ecclesiastes 8:10-17). It has proven all too easy to take Psalm 127 as prescriptive and to thus judge those who prosper as blessed by YHWH and those who suffer as chastised by YHWH. This might well be the case in some circumstances; it need not be the case in every circumstance.

Can we live in that ambiguity, trusting in God in Christ even though that trust does not guarantee a comfortable middle class existence in this life? Will we give more than mere lip service to Psalm 127:1-2, recognizing that our prosperity might well prove a demonic temptation to trust in the things of this world and not in God the Giver of all good things? Do we trust in YHWH as our real, lasting, and ultimate security, or have we given ourselves over to the pervasive temptation to trust in our possessions, our bank account, our portfolio, our government, our military, or other such things of the world? How much do our children factor into our confidence about our present and future? As we continue in our pilgrimage on this earth we do well to sing this song of ascent as we seek to stand before the throne of God, recognize God is the only true source of security, and seek refuge in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Rehoboam’s Folly

But [Rehoboam] forsook the counsel of the old men which they had given him, and took counsel with the young men that were grown up with him, that stood before him (1 Kings 12:8).

The hearer or reader of the narrative in 1 Kings knows what is about to happen; in 1 Kings 11:26-40 Ahijah’s prophetic declaration to Jeroboam that he will rule over ten of Israel’s tribes is recorded. How the division would come about is what is left to make known, and its story is found in 1 Kings 12:1-19.

All Israel meets with Rehoboam at Shechem to install and affirm him as king, and there Jeroboam spoke to him on behalf of all Israel asking for relief from the heavy yoke of Solomon upon the land (1 Kings 12:1-3). Rehoboam asked for three days to get counsel; he began with the older men who had served his father, and they told him to be the people’s servant and speak good words to them and they would serve him as they had Solomon (1 Kings 12:4-7). Yet Rehoboam did not listen to their counsel; he turned to his peers, those young men who grew up with him, and they suggest that he ought to magnify himself over the people, declaring that his little finger is thicker than his father’s “loins,” most likely a crude sexual reference, a way of trying to proclaim that he is much more of a man than his father was, and that whereas Solomon disciplined with whips, he would discipline with scorpions (1 Kings 12:9-11). Rehoboam speaks as the young men suggest, and Israel predictably rebels, and the United Monarchy is dissolved into the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah (1 Kings 12:12-19).

Rehoboam commits the ultimate folly of politics: he told people he was going to add to their burdens and demand more from them and did so in a most immature and off-putting way. No one leaves this narrative wondering why Israel would have wanted to not submit to Rehoboam’s yoke! How could Rehoboam have been so foolish?

The Kings author gives us the answer in 1 Kings 12:8: he forsook the counsel of the old men and took up the counsel of the young men who had grown up with him and surrounded him. We can certainly see that such is what took place, but we are easily left baffled as to why Rehoboam would have ever thought this was a good idea, and, for that matter, how wise Solomon, the author of Proverbs, could have allowed such a foolish son to follow him!

Yet the reasons for the folly are distressingly easy to see. Rehoboam took counsel from his peers; they had grown up together and had shared experiences. They likely saw the world in similar ways. They had lived in the palace complex in times of great prosperity and unity. The reader may know division is on the horizon, but it does not seem to have crossed Rehoboam’s mind. Rehoboam does not know what he doesn’t know, and because of that is led down the foolish path. Sure, there are men around who know some things that Rehoboam does not know, cannot know, and perhaps cannot even envision: the old men who gave counsel to his father Solomon. They knew how to massage the crowd; they may not have actually expected Rehoboam to be any more lenient than his father, but they knew better than to have him go out and say stupid things.

According to 1 Kings 14:21 Rehoboam is forty-one years old at this point in his life. He will reign for seventeen years; his son Abijah reigns for three; his grandson Asa then rules for forty-one (1 Kings 14:21, 15:1-2, 9-10). This tight time-frame between Rehoboam and Asa most likely means that Rehoboam is even already a father by the time he ascends to the throne of Judah. He is no teenager or even twenty-something; by every measure he should know better, both he and his associates. Yet they have lived in the palace and have almost no connection with the people over whom Rehoboam reigns. All they know is luxury and being served. Rehoboam lived for 40 years in the shadow of his highly successful father, and therefore Rehoboam’s desire to try to “one-up” his father is quite understandable. Yet it all comes crashing down. Rehoboam is not remembered for virtue or greatness; he’s remembered for his folly and for the dissolution of the United Monarchy.

Rehoboam’s folly is a cautionary tale for all of us. His story is normally used as a morality tale for young people to understand why they need to recognize the wisdom of those who have gone on before them, and for good reason. Young people do not know what they don’t know; it is understandable but is quite dangerous. Young people have a tendency to believe that things are “different” in their time, that somehow older people just can’t understand. It may be true that some experiences or technologies are different, but life is distressingly consistent (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:9). The wise young man will be willing to hear out older perspectives and consider their value even if they do not fully understand. Foolish is the young person who looks only or even primarily to his or her peers for counsel, guidance, and direction in life; how are they qualified to provide such counsel? Not a few young people have gone down the path of Rehoboam’s folly to tragic ends!

Yet it was not just that Rehoboam listened to his peers; he also listened only to those who would agree with him, wanted to flatter him, and who shared his general worldview and perspective. It is always easiest to get counsel from those who share your presuppositions, assumptions, and worldview; everyone likes hearing from yes-men. Yet Rehoboam’s father Solomon wisely declared that “in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). It is hard to see one’s own blind sides, and if a group of people share blind sides, they cannot help each other see them. It requires a person with a different background and different experiences to point those things out. Yet that is an unpleasant task and not something people like to hear. It is always easier to be like Rehoboam, hear what you want to hear, associate with those like you who have similar experiences as you, and live in that bubble. Yet, at some point, as with Rehoboam, reality will intrude, and you will be exposed for the fool you have been by staying within the echo chamber.

One of the tragic ironies of Scripture is how the one to whom the Proverbs are ostensibly written, Solomon’s son Rehoboam, proves to be one of the biggest fools in Scripture’s pages. Let us not share in Rehoboam’s folly; let us recognize the wisdom of those who have more experience than we do in life, those who have different experiences in life, and above all entrust ourselves and our ways to God in Christ who is the Source of all wisdom (Proverbs 8:22-32), and thus be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Solomon’s Accession

And David comforted Bath-sheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon. And YHWH loved him; and he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and he called his name Jedidiah, for YHWH’s sake (2 Samuel 12:24-25).

Much ink has been spilled about King David’s life choices, their consequences, and how David is portrayed in Scripture. Much is made and commented upon how the Samuel-Kings author tells the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and all of its consequences in 2 Samuel 11:1-20:22, 1 Kings 1:1-2:46, but the Chronicler passes over the story entirely. In the Chronicler’s story David is the hero king not sullied by his transgressions and presents a smooth transition to Solomon his son (1 Chronicles 11:1-29:30). The story in Kings is much more complicated.

It is not a matter of contradiction; the Chronicler is well aware of the challenges David experienced in obtaining his throne, the consequences of his adultery, and the challenges to Solomon’s accession; those details are not relevant for his story of the Davidic kingship and anyway are described in sufficient detail in the Samuel-Kings account. So why does the Samuel-Kings author spend so much of his time discussing the trials and tribulations of the house of David?

We are just about 3,000 years separated from these events, and we can tell from how the story works out that everything was for the best: David was a great king after God’s own heart and finally fully rescued Israel from the hands of all of their enemies around them (2 Samuel 1:1-10:19); his son Solomon proved extremely wise and did well at consolidating his empire and rule and oversaw a time of great prosperity in Israel (1 Kings 3:1-10:29). Yet there are signs that not all was well in Israel; Shimei’s cursing of David as guilty of the blood of Saul, son of Kish of Benjamin, who was king before David (2 Samuel 16:5-8); all Israel proved willing to abandon David first for Absalom and then for Sheba (2 Samuel 15:1-17, 20:1-22). David’s grip on the throne, and his ability to make sure Solomon would obtain it, was not as strong as it might seem; when David grew old, his son Adonijah attempted to ascend to the throne, and even significant figures like Joab and Abiathar followed after him (1 Kings 1:5-10).

The Samuel-Kings author is not against David or Solomon; far from it! Instead he must provide sufficient explanations for why certain things happen that would not necessarily be expected, and he is doing something that we see frequently in the Old Testament. Whenever things happen as would be expected–the eldest son ascends to the throne of his father, the blessing and/or the first right of inheritance is given to the eldest son, etc.– little to no explanation is necessary. But when someone else ascends to a throne, either a younger son or someone from a different family, or if a younger son gets the benefit normally given to an elder son, then explanation is necessary. Why did Jacob the younger son get the blessing and the birthright over the elder son Esau? The Genesis author spends much time discussing it in Genesis 25:19-27:45. Why does Judah obtain the authority inherent in birthright, even though he is the fourth son of Jacob and Leah, and why does Joseph get the blessing, and not even just Joseph, but in fact his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim, and Ephraim the younger is given greater prominence? Such is why the Genesis author tells of the disqualification of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi and Jacob’s great favor toward Rachel and thus their firstborn son Joseph (Genesis 29:1-49:33).

And so it is for the Samuel-Kings author. Why does David obtain the throne, first of Judah for two years, and then over all Israel, when Saul of Benjamin was king before him? And then, why is it Solomon, one of David’s younger sons, and even then, the product of his union with Bathsheba, the woman with whom he had committed adultery before marrying her after having her husband killed in war, who will succeed David as king? This is why the author of Samuel makes so much of God’s rejection of Saul, Samuel’s anointing of David, David’s faithfulness despite Saul’s persecution, and explaining in detail the reasons for David’s defection to the Philistines, how he conducted himself, and why he was nowhere near the final battle between Saul and the Philistines (1 Samuel 13:1-31:13). And this is why the Samuel-Kings author spends so much time discussing the consequences of David’s adultery: such paves the way for Solomon’s accession to the throne.

Amnon is David’s eldest; he behaves in quite terrible ways toward his half-sister Tamar, and when he is later murdered for it, the reader does not have much sympathy for him (2 Samuel 13:1-33). Then there is Absalom, David’s quite beloved son who looks the part of a king. He proves too impatient, arrogant, and impetuous, raising a rebellion against his father; nevertheless we see David’s great love for him when he mourns for his son terribly even though such is the only way he is able to keep his throne (2 Samuel 13:34-19:8). Then there is Adonijah, perhaps the eldest living son when David had grown old. Even though it might have been expected that he would become king the Kings author immediately prejudices the reader against him, speaking of his elevation of himself in his heart, and how David his father had never questioned or corrected him (1 Kings 1:5-6). Solomon’s accession is only secured by backroom discussions between Nathan the prophet and Bathsheba (1 Kings 1:10-40); Solomon remains aware of the legitimate claims Adonijah has on his throne, and uses the first pretense he is given to have his brother executed (cf. 1 Kings 2:13-25). The reader is not given much reason to pity Adonijah, yet the logic of 1 Kings 1:21 should be granted: if Adonijah’s proclamation had greater influence and became established he would have made sure Bathsheba and Solomon were executed instead.

David’s moral failings seem clearest in terms of his adultery and how he treated his children. While we can glean some object lessons on the terrible consequences of one sin and how not to parent children from David we must remember that these stories have their contextual purpose. We are being told how it could be that Solomon, one of David’s younger sons, and the result of David’s “comforting” of his lover-turned-wife Bathsheba, was made king after David and why we should not find that fact scandalous at all. The fact that we are able to accept this on a prima facie level shows how well God and the author of Samuel-Kings has done to show us the failings of David’s other sons; we understand quite effectively why YHWH loves Solomon and not Amnon, Absalom, or Adonijah, and do not think twice about Solomon’s birth status in relation to his brothers or the scandal of his mother at the royal court. Ultimately Solomon’s accession is another demonstration of God’s providence and His insight into character: just as David was not the automatic choice but the best choice based on character, so it was with his son Solomon as well, and it is not for nothing that they were the best two kings Israel would ever know, even despite their failings. They may be exceptional, but God is interested in the exceptional. And that helps to explain why even though Jesus of Nazareth did not seem to many to be the type of person who should be the coming King in David’s and Solomon’s lineage who was to come and restore Israel He nevertheless proved to be the Christ, the Son of God, lived, died, was raised again in power, and serves to this day as Lord. Let us serve Jesus in His Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Perpetual Ordinance

And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day throughout your generations by an ordinance for ever (Exodus 12:17).

There are a lot of people who read the Bible and learn of all kinds of momentous events that took place in the past. A lot of them are willing to believe that God acted in the ways that the Bible teaches– that He is the Creator of all things (Genesis 1:1-2:3), that He delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 1-14), and that in the first century of our own era, that Jesus His Son lived, died, and was raised again (1 Corinthians 15:3-5). But that was all a long, long time ago. Many people are troubled that God no longer acts in the same way that He did in the past. Surely, they imagine, if God could do great acts 3500 and 2000 years ago, He could do it again now!

Let us consider the Passover for a moment. God commands Moses to instruct the people in regards to the Passover in Exodus 12. Not only will they be slaughtering the lamb and eating bitter herbs and unleavened bread that evening, as they are leaving Egypt, but will be doing so every year for as long as Israel is a people. When they enter the land of Canaan, build houses, and establish themselves, they will still be observing the Passover. They will still be eating with loins girded, shoes on their feet, and their staffs in their hands (Exodus 12:11).

This might seem absurd after a few generations. Imagine, after all, observing the Passover in the days of Solomon. The Israelites are firmly planted in Israel, Solomon is one of the most powerful monarchs of his day, even having a daughter of Pharaoh as wife (1 Kings 3:1). And yet, even at this apex of power, Israel is to annually clean out the leaven from their homes, slaughter the lamb, eat leavened bread and bitter herbs, and be dressed to leave. Even when they are in control, they are to remember and re-enact the days of deliverance from slavery.

While this may seem strange at first, it makes sense when we understand what God is doing. One could argue that the days of Solomon were not terribly different from today– God had not performed any major saving act akin to the Passover and Exodus ever since, 500 or so years earlier. The people were in a very different place than before, with much greater prosperity and independence. The Passover and Exodus would have seemed quite foreign to them. They would easily forget about YHWH and what He had done for Israel. And, functionally, they started to– they served other gods and would eventually pay the penalty (2 Kings 17:7-23).

This is not what God intended. The entire reason behind the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread was to remember, and to an extent to re-enact, the act of God’s deliverance of Israel, so that Israel would never forget that they were dependent on YHWH for their land, prosperity, and situation. Each generation, in turn, would have the opportunity to vicariously experience what Israel went through in leaving Egypt. They could share in the great drama of YHWH’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt and their establishment as His chosen people. Yes, the later generations would live quite differently– witness the generation in the days of Solomon– but they could still share in the story of YHWH and His people!

While the Passover could become an empty ritual, it was not supposed to be so. It was supposed to be the continual reminder of what YHWH did for Israel.

The Passover feast of 30 CE would lead to a new memorial and a new re-enactment. It was then that Christ, our Passover lamb, was slain, allowing for mankind to be delivered from sin and death and made a part of God’s Kingdom (Romans 8:1-3, Colossians 1:13). Yet, just before His death, we read the following:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20).

In the midst of the remembrance and re-enactment of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, Jesus institutes a remembrance of what He is about to do. While the observance was inaugurated before Jesus’ death, its power derives from His death and resurrection, and was established as a perpetual observance for Christians on each first day of the week (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). It is not just a remembrance of Jesus’ death for our sin, or it would be taken on Friday; its observance on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection (Luke 24:1-7), is the reminder that He is risen, Lord, and will return again (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Yet the Lord’s Supper is also a re-enactment. We have the opportunity to place ourselves in that upper room on that fateful night, surrounding the Lord’s table, receiving the bread and fruit of the vine. We have the opportunity to take our place in the story of God’s redemption of mankind. We commune with one another, Christ, and the saints in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), even if 2,000 years may separate us from the saving event. That time melts away as we partake of the bread and the fruit of the vine.

The Lord’s Supper must never become an empty ritual. The One True God acts to save in history and expects His acts to be remembered and re-enacted continually lest the people forget the God who delivered them. In the remembrance and re-enactment, God’s acts become real and fresh for every new generation. As it was with Israel and the Passover, so it is with Christians and the Lord’s Supper. Let us thank God for deliverance through Jesus Christ, remembering and re-enacting that fateful Passover night in the Lord’s Supper!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Speaking and Hearing Evil

Also take not heed unto all words that are spoken, lest thou hear thy servant curse thee; for oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22).

There is an ill that we have all experienced, that gets all of us flustered, and yet we have all done to others. That ill is speaking evil or cursing another.

There are all kinds of reasons for it happening. We offend people, intentionally or unintentionally, and mouths begin talking. We may be trying to help– or trying to hurt. Perhaps we have not done as well as we could at living the life we are trying to live. Unfortunately, some of the times when we are living the life we are trying to live, the mouths keep talking.

We all know that we should not– we should speak words that build up and encourage, and we should not be bitter in our words (Ephesians 4:25, 29, 31). But we are human– and we all are more free with our tongues than we should be (James 3:1-10).

The Preacher knows all of these things. And yet his counsel seems strange to us– do not listen to all of the words that are spoken (Ecclesiastes 7:21). Normally we hear exhortations to listen (James 1:19)– and we all know that even though we have two ears and but one mouth, the mouth tends to dominate over the ears. We tend to be better at talking than listening, so why should we not listen?

The reason for not listening also seems strange. We should not listen lest we hear “[our] servant cursing [us].” Granted, the Preacher is writing at a time when society was more stratified than it is now, and many people had servants. As a master, to hear your servant curse you would be one of the greatest insults and indignities.

But wait a second. If people are talking about us, shouldn’t we want to know about it? Wouldn’t we want to listen even more if such things take place?

Well, certainly, we want to know. But is it good to know? Is it good to consider how others have cursed us, regardless of their social standing?

The Preacher encourages us to consider ourselves as we answer. Have we not, at times, cursed others, if not by word, in our hearts? What would happen if they all knew what we had felt and/or said? How would we want them to respond?

We should not imagine that the Preacher is excusing anyone when they curse others. He is considering the way things are, not necessarily the way things should be. We do well, therefore, to truly heed the Preacher’s advice. It is counter-intuitive to not take heed to curses that are leveled against us. It is much easier to dwell on them and allow bitterness and/or resentment to grow.

Yet we must take stock. We are no better than others; others are not really better than us. We would never want others to hold our cursings, internal or external, against us. We do best, therefore, when we show such grace to others, recognizing our own failures!

We are given a choice in life– we can either bear the burden of every negative word we hear about ourselves, or we can decide to not give them any heed. The former leads to anxiety, anguish, and constant feeling of betrayal; the latter, despite being the harder road, allows us to live in some measure of peace with our fellow man.

We should not be so simplistic as to think that we are never the subject of evil thoughts or cursing, just as we cannot deny that we have had such thoughts ourselves. Let us keep the “Golden Rule” in mind (Luke 6:31), and not take heed to every word spoken about us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Folly of Alcohol

Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath complaining? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; They that go to seek out mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, When it sparkleth in the cup, When it goeth down smoothly: At the last it biteth like a serpent, And stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange things, And thy heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, Or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast.
“They have stricken me,” shalt thou say, “and I was not hurt; They have beaten me, and I felt it not: When shall I awake? I will seek it yet again” (Proverbs 23:29-35).

The Scriptures are filled with the wisdom of God. It is not as if His creation can “pull one over” on Him. He understands the actions of men and their consequences all too well. This understanding is fully on display as Solomon addresses the matter of men and their conduct with alcohol.

I have never understood the appeal of the night of drunkenness. One goes and drinks beverages that do not really taste good in order to receive a buzz that leads to regrettable actions and words, some of which may even be remembered, and then terrible feelings of nausea and pain the next day. And many then look forward to the next time that they can go and get drunk!

It does not make a lot of sense– but it is irrational behavior; we should not expect it to make sense. Many, no doubt, do so because of peer pressure. Others have become addicted. For too many, however, it is simply a way to have fun, to escape the cares of this world for a while, and/or to numb the pain of life.

Yet, as Solomon indicates, there are good reasons why drunkenness is sinful and a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Woes, sorrow, contentions, complaints, wounds, and physical difficulties come to those who drink too much. Many a drunken brawl has led to injury. Vision is impaired. Foolish things are said, either entirely in jest or because the one drinking has let down his or her guard. Foolish games and adventures are attempted. Injury, shame, illness, and even death can result from the folly of alcohol!

It is disconcerting how accurately Solomon portrays the hopeless drinker in Proverbs 23:35. He suffered abuse and yet did not feel anything; he has experienced all the things which Solomon mentions; and yet his first impulse it to seek the drink again, as if somehow that will solve everything. Such is folly. Alcohol does not make one better and it does not make life any easier– it is truly and literally an escape, and it is always far better to resolve whatever challenges life may pose than it is to attempt to wash it all away in some alcohol. Alcohol can only make problems worse, not better!

Drinking affects a lot more than just the person drinking. His or her entire family could be terribly impacted. Not a few girls get drunk and are pregnant before they are sober. Many parents, spouses, and even (God forbid!) children must find ways to get a drunken relative out of jail. Those who start down the path of alcohol often find that they lose everything that is really important, and all just to get that next drink! And this says nothing about other families and people impacted by alcohol– all of the families grieving for lost loved ones who died because a drunkard got behind the wheel of a car and got into an accident.

Solomon well compares drinking to “serpents” and “adders.” Yes, wine may go down smoothly, but it comes with a “bite”! We can profitably extend the image a little further. What happens to those who hold snakes and work with snakes? There likely are many who are more proficient at it than others and who are better able to handle them, but everyone at some point who handles them will almost certainly get bitten. So it is with alcohol– even if we think we could “handle it responsibly,” at some point we will almost certainly cross the line and get “bitten” and be drunk and sin.

The folly of alcohol, therefore, is like the folly of handling poisonous snakes. It is simply most profitable to avoid both! Let us avoid getting burned and bitten and abstain from alcohol!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Reproof

Whoso loveth correction loveth knowledge; but he that hateth reproof is brutish (Proverbs 12:1).

A wise son heareth his father’s instruction; but a scoffer heareth not rebuke (Proverbs 13:1).

A fool despiseth his father’s correction; but he that regardeth reproof getteth prudence (Proverbs 15:5).

One of the things that unites all mankind is our distaste at being wrong and our extreme discomfort when our words or behavior are challenged or rebuked. We do not like such circumstances. We do not look forward to them. We do not feel good after they happen, generally.

Much of this is due to our internal pride and self-image. If we are proven to be wrong, or if our conduct is unseemly, then we feel lowered in the eyes of others. If nothing else, we feel internally humiliated. Humiliation is hard enough when we try to be humble ourselves (cf. 1 Peter 5:6)– it is that much more difficult when it is being imposed on us. Our pride is wounded, and our fight or flight impulse is often aroused. For some reason the idea that we are debased in the eyes of others because of our words or our conduct do not seem to bother us as much as the feelings that come when we are called out regarding them. Yet the sting remains.

The type of person we are, however, is proven not by whether or not we will be rebuked or chastened, but in how we respond to such rebuke and chastisement. None of us are perfect; there are all times when we find ourselves in the wrong (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8). All of us deserve rebuke and reproof at times.

The easy thing to do is to get defensive and refuse to listen to the criticism. Some may get violent; others might unleash a torrent of criticism themselves. We can all easily try to find reasons why we should not listen to the rebuke so that we may find a way to preserve our pride. We may attempt to make the one rebuking look like a hypocrite, or we might wrap our words in sanctimony and denounce them for “judging” us or for imposing their standards upon us. We might construct elaborate arguments to justify a losing cause, no matter how weak or easily dismissed those arguments might be. What is important in the end is to remain justified and right.

It is also easy to just ignore the criticism and pretend it does not mean anything. Some people create very elaborate worldviews that seek to invalidate various forms of criticism. After all, if you can figure out a way to render the basis for the rebuke irrelevant, then the rebuke itself will be irrelevant, right?

Yet, as Solomon (among others) has made clear, this response is not the response of wisdom. It is the way of folly– the way of the fool, the scoffer, and the brute. In fact, such a person is double the fool– he has been carried away in some wrong thinking or action, and when others make effort to correct him, he rejects that correction and continues in the error. In such circumstances it is easy for people to begin writing off the fool– why bother rebuking someone who will not hear and will not change? It is tragic to think about how many people have fallen into such misery and distress, presently and for the future, because they rejected reproof and would rather be wrong and proud than to live according to wisdom and to live.

The wise person who loves knowledge and is prudent will accept criticism. No one ever promises that accepting criticism will be easy– it is not. Yet we must appreciate it when people care enough, for whatever reason, to show us the proper way.

Some may fear that they will look weak or pathetic if they accept criticism. While that may be the response of some, such a response is itself a form of folly. Instead, most people have a higher respect for those who are willing to be chastened and who will accept reproof and rebuke. It is the way of humility and the way of wisdom, and it deserves to be honored. Better to swallow pride, accept that we are wrong, and perhaps look like a fool for a moment than to stubbornly insist on our own way and be the fool perpetually!

As in all things, chastisement requires discretion. Not all reproof and rebuke will necessarily be legitimate, but it is better to be open to possibilities of error than to delude oneself into thinking that he or she is always right. Those who would rebuke others must also make sure that their motivations are pure and that they are conducting themselves in the best way so as to obtain the desired repentance, always watching for themselves (cf. Matthew 7:1-5, 18:15-18, Galatians 6:1).

Being wrong is never fun, and correcting error should not be relished. Yet it is necessary for our physical and spiritual health to be rebuked and reproved when we are wrong. Let us be wise and accept reproof and live!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Futility in Effort

“Vanity of vanities,” saith the Preacher; “vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit hath man of all his labor wherein he laboreth under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3).

There is nothing quite as futile as shoveling snow.

It does not matter how much snow has fallen. It does not matter how elaborately the mounds of snow are piled up. It may snow again, and then you have to shovel all that snow onto all the previous snow. And then, after a few months or days, it is all gone– melted and drained away.

Then again, mowing the lawn feels a lot like shoveling snow. One goes and mows the lawn and it looks nice and fresh. Then, after a week or a month, depending on location and weather factors, the lawn looks just like it did before mowing. And thus it must be mowed again. And the cycle repeats itself.

When you stop and think about it, pretty much everything seems futile. Clothes are washed only to get dirty again and require washing. Dishes are cleaned only to be dirtied again. Meals are cooked and eaten, and those who ate hunger again.

Sports teams play their seasons. Most teams never make it to the playoffs, and the fans are left believing, “maybe next year.” Some teams make it to the playoffs only to lose then. And then there is the championship game. A winner is crowned. The team and fans exult. And then everyone gets ready for the next year and the next season and the next set of playoffs and the next championship.

There seems to be futility even in the area of spiritual matters. A preacher preaches lessons on one Sunday only to have to work to preach new lessons the next Sunday. The Lord’s Supper is taken one week, and then is taken the next week. The same things are done over and over again, only to need to be done over and over again.

It is very easy to take a step back and ask yourself, “what is the point of it all?” After all, everything seems so pointless! “Why bother?,” one may ask!

The reason that everything seems so “worthless” in this perspective is because we have been raised to expect there to be some great overarching purpose and meaning in life that makes every single event seem important. Ever since the Tower of Babel man has attempted to invest his deeds with great earthly significance (cf. Genesis 11:4). We are raised to go out and “make a difference” in society. We are strengthened and encouraged to believe that our participation in various efforts– employment, volunteerism, politics, etc.– will have lasting value.

Yet, ultimately, the Preacher is correct. All is vanity– futility– emptiness. We may like to think a lot of our efforts have lasting worldly significance, but such is not really true. One of these days everything around us will be thoroughly destroyed by fire and the memory of them will entirely fade (cf. 2 Peter 3:9-12)!

Does this mean that all is lost? Should we all despair of life? Hardly! The problem is not in the activities of snow shoveling, lawn mowing, household chores, and the like, but our perspective on them. We must recognize that everything we do should be means to an end, and not the end in and of itself. We have many functions that are just functions of life, and we should learn to be content with the fact that they will come and go.

As Jesus indicates, there is only one place where moth does not eat and rust does not destroy, and that is Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). The spiritual realm is the only realm of any permanence. That is why all of our effort, ultimately, must be to the glory of God and to the promotion of His purposes (Matthew 5:13-16, 6:33). The functions of life must be done as a means to the end of glorifying God. Shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, and household chores are the means by which we serve our family members and others, and in so doing, we serve God (Ephesians 5:23-6:4). Doing the best work we can for an employer is as serving the Lord (cf. Ephesians 6:5-9). Our assemblies and the actions therein are accomplished for encouragement and edification, and thus promote God’s purposes (1 Corinthians 14:26, Hebrews 10:24-25).

The Preacher indicates that all things done for their own benefit in their own name are vanity. Paul indicates that all things done “in the Lord” are not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). Let us not allow ourselves to be distracted or to invest our energies in things that lead to no profit, but instead to serve God and promote His purposes on earth!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Myth of Progress

That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

The past two hundred years have been a blur of technological development. Few are the aspects of life that have not been radically altered by recent innovations. Automobiles and airplanes have entirely changed how we transport ourselves and goods. The telephone, the computer, and the Internet have changed how we communicate with each other and how we are able to work. Heaters, air conditioners, stoves, ovens, microwaves, washers, dryers, and other forms of electronic equipment have made the daily activities of life that much more efficient. Advancements in medicine and science have led to better quality of life and a more enhanced understanding of the world (and the universe) around us.

When seen in terms of the whole of human history, all of these advancements have come in the blink of an eye. Ways of life that existed for hundreds or thousands of years have been irretrievably changed. These changes and advancements have led most in society to take an overly optimistic and rosy view of human potential. This has led to the myth of progress– the idea that our advancements in the arts and sciences are making us into wiser, better people than our ancestors.

In fact, we have become downright snobbish about ourselves. Consciously or unconsciously, we believe that we are superior to our ancestors. We judge all things by the standard of our own belief systems and cultural prejudices. We think and/or speak rather patronizingly about our ancestors: “they did not know any better.” “They did not have x or y technology that we have.” “We have come to a better understanding of these things.” In short, all of these statements betray the idea that we think we have progressed so far in the past few generations and thus we are superior. That which was accepted in earlier times was “primitive” or “old-fashioned,” and those terms are not used affectionately! How many young people out there believe that their parents are ignorant fossils– after all, isn’t 2009 so radically different and more advanced than, say, 1979 or 1989?

But there is an uncomfortable question we must consider: are we really progressing? There is no doubt that we are becoming more technologically sophisticated. No one will argue against the idea that our technology is allowing us to have a better understanding of the world around us. But does that mean that we as a species are really “moving forward”?

Despite all of this advancement over the past two hundred years, people in 2009 are still asking the same questions as their forefathers did in 1999, 1899, 1499, and 99. Who am I? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life? Why do people suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does evil exist? You would think that if we have really advanced so much over the past few hundred years that we would have made some progress on these questions. Yet the range of answers given are little different from those presented by the Greeks 2400 years ago or the Israelites 3000 years ago.

Furthermore, what are the moral challenges of our day? They do not involve people engaging in “ancient superstitions” as much as the same moral hazards that humans have suffered for generations. Drunkenness remains as much a problem today as was in Solomon’s day (cf. Proverbs 20:1). The pain and misery that results from adultery and other forms of sexual immorality is acutely felt today as it was in previous days (cf. Proverbs 5:3-14, 6:23-35). Divorce ruins homes like it did in the past (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19:9).

We may not want to admit it, but our technological advancements have not led to that many moral advancements. In fact, our technological advancements have highlighted human tendencies toward sin. Computer technology was harnessed early and often to peddle pornography. Advancements in healthcare give excuse for a lack of self-control and self-discipline in dietary habits. Humans still hate each other, desire to hurt each other, and kill each other, and now get to use more sophisticated technology to kill more people more effectively.

As it has been said, “the more things change, the more things stay the same.” The Preacher is right: there is nothing new under the sun. He is not arguing that people cannot discover new technologies or learn new things. He is simply stating a truism: in matters of existence, each generation follows after the past generation, and there is little real advancement. We can see clearly that despite thousands of years of human wisdom accrued by experience, each generation still has to go out and make many of the same mistakes as their fathers. And just as their fathers pleaded with them and warned them, so they will plead with and warn their children, and will likely have the same result!

Ever since the Tower of Babel, humans have wanted to believe that they are going up (cf. Genesis 11:1-4). In reality, humans are the same as they have always been. They are the fallen creation of God who require His love and mercy to be esteemed (cf. Romans 5:1-18). Let us keep a proper view of ourselves, and look to God who knows best!

Ethan R. Longhenry