A Woman of Boldness

As I continue to think about the definition of biblical womanhood, the very-familiar story of the Shunammite woman who helped Elisha in 2 Kings 4 seemed worth looking into.  I’ve always read the story with puzzlement over the somewhat odd miracle-working of the resurrection of her son, and never paid that much attention to what it has to say about the woman herself, and the consider amounts of initiative and planning she undertakes.

While our historical culture has often seen boldness as an unfeminine trait, Scripture has much positive to say about boldness, and this is a good illustration of how it can be a positive quality in women.

I had never noticed how incredibly similar Elisha’s story here is to Elijah’s story in 1 Kings 17.  Mostly minor differences, but at least one significant one—I always thought the woman in Elijah’s story took so much action personally because she had no husband, but in 2 Kings 4, there is a husband in the story, and yet the wife is still very much the central figure.

We see in v. 8 that she is “a prominent woman,” and she not merely offers Elisha some food, she persuades him to eat.  Regularly.  She appeals to her husband to set aside an entire room (with great details like a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp) for Elisha to stay in whenever he comes through Shunem.  And they do it.  And why?  Because, she says, “I know that [Elisha] is a holy man of God” (2 Kings 4:9).

She’s a woman with ideas.  She’s a woman who apparently boldly entreats a prophet to stop and rest a while, and who boldly entreats her husband to do something quite inconvenient on his behalf.  Presumably her husband is going along with all of this, but it’s interesting that she, and not he, is the one driving it.

Elisha takes her up on the offer.  And then—again, bypassing the woman’s husband, who I would have expected him to deal with—he calls for her and thanks her for going to the trouble, and asks her what they can do for her in exchange.

She asks for nothing.

Gehazi points out that she has no son, and Elisha promises her one.  She is disbelieving, but his word proves true (v. 17).

Here, finally, the woman’s husband comes into the story a little bit—the child goes out with his father to the harvest, gets sick in the head, and the father sends him back to his mother with a servant.

The child dies.  She picks him up, puts him on Elisha’s bed, and leaves.  She doesn’t tell anyone what happened, and when her husband asks why she wants to go see Elisha, who is now at Mount Carmel, she doesn’t tell him.  He’s confused (v. 23) but she just affirms that everything is okay and leaves in a rush.

I can’t imagine what is going through her head.  Her only son, her little son, has died, and she’s keeping it all locked inside and not even telling his father.  So much single-mindedness is evident here.

She gets to Mount Caramel, and Elisha sees her in the distance (v.25) and sends Gehazi out to see if everything is all right.

She says yes, everything is all right—so much faith here!—and waits until she gets to Elisha’s feet to be overcome with anguish at last.  Elisha, for his part, has no idea what’s going on (“the Lord has hidden it from me, He hasn’t told me”, v. 27), but is compassionate.

She reminds him that she hadn’t asked for the son, but did ask to not be deceived—and now her son is dead.  Elisha sends Gehazi off in a rush with his staff, which turns out not to work (v. 31), but the mother won’t be dissuaded until Elisha comes himself (v. 30).

Elisha prays and the boy comes back to life.

The same Shunammite woman re-enters the story in 2 Kings 8, where Elisha has prophesied of a famine, and here thoughtfully tells the woman to pack up her household and get away.

Again, I am struck by the reality that he told her, and not her husband; that it was the woman who “got ready and did what the man of God said” (v. 2), and then it was the woman even who went to appeal to the king at the end of the famine to have her land restored (v. 3).  And God worked it out perfectly for her by having Gehazi “happen” to be at court the same time that the woman appeared, telling the king in fact about the woman herself, and her son, and the help they had given to and received from Elisha.

(On a sidenote, it is also awesome that God worked it out so that while Gehazi is telling this awesome, logic-defying story about a kid being raised from the dead, the woman herself comes in and confirms the story to the king.)

The king responds by restoring not only the woman’s house and lands, but also all the income she might have missed.

Nothing really is said about the husband in this story.  He could have been like some minor version of Nabal, and that been why it was left to his wife to do all these things, why it was his wife who helped Elisha and who was addressed by Elisha.  Certainly he doesn’t seem to have stopped her in any of her endeavors, although the only words he speaks in the entire story are questioning her actions (4:23).  Gehazi also says the man is old (4:14), and perhaps that is why he is so inactive—although he was working in the harvest (4:18).

There’s also the submissive aspect present in at least some degree when, rather than summoning the servants herself to fetch the donkey to go to Mount Carmel, she summons her husband and asks him to summon the servants to fetch the donkey, and tells him where she’s going.  She gives him a reassuring and honest but vague answer to his inquiry, and nowhere in any of these three main parts of her story (making a room for Elisha, fetching Elisha to raise her son, or packing up and moving to Philistia) is there any indication at all that her husband is anything other than a completely willing participant in her actions.  She consistently runs her plans by him—if vaguely at times—and then acts.

She reminds me of the Proverbs 31 woman, who “considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.”  There’s a lot of action going on in Proverbs 31, too, a lot of decisions: which vineyard? which clothes? where shall I buy my wool? how much shall I sell these garments for? how do I deal with the merchants? how much shall I dispense to the poor? what kind of food shall we eat?

There’s a boldness to the Shunammite’s actions—and the Proverbs 31 woman—in knowing the good thing to do, and doing it.  Knowing when to explain, and when to just act; when to ask permission (e.g. to set aside a room in their house permanently) and when to just stride on without any real explanation (e.g. when her son died).  There’s a lot of wisdom needed, but the examples are encouraging.  Doing good things unflinchingly, unquestioningly is one of the things that leads King Lemuel’s mother to declare, “the heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.  She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:11-12).

Thanks to the Shunammite’s boldness in doing good, her husband gained a son, then had that son resurrected, then survived a great famine, then profited upon their return to their home.  It also led to Gehazi being able to testify of the goodness of the Lord to the king, and surely encouraged and  helped God’s prophet to have a welcome home in Shunem and to see the faith she displayed by declaring “everything is all right” although her little son lay at home dead.  There was much good done by her concern for doing right and seeking the Lord!

The Tragedy of an Old Prophet

1 Kings 13:11-34 is one of the most strikingly sad and terrible stories in Scripture.  It’s about two men of God—prophets—who make some “small” sins for apparently minor reasons and pay a heavy price.

The story opens with a “certain old prophet,” name unknown, from Bethel, and a “man of God,” also a prophet, also nameless, from Judah, who goes to Bethel.  It’s a very long passage for nameless people.  The “man of God” prophecies that Josiah is coming and will punish the idolatry of Jeroboam.  And to this, God added another commandment for the man of God himself—to not return to Judah the same way he had come, and to not eat bread or drink water (in Bethel).  The commandment is interesting in light of what happened next.

In obeying God’s command to not go back the way he had come, he is observed by the old prophet’s sons, who come and tell their father what had happened and of the prophecy of the younger prophet.  The old prophet quickly gets up on his donkey and chases after the man of God and invites him to his home to eat.

The younger prophet refuses, and tells him that God forbade him.

And then the older prophet lies.  He tells him that God spoke to him (1 Kings 13:18, hcsb):

An angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’

And so the younger prophet goes home with the older prophet and they sit down to eat.  Whereupon the word of YHWH comes to the old prophet—the lying prophet—and rebukes the younger one, and says he will die and not even be buried with his fathers.

This is really sad stuff!  Why did the old prophet lie?  It doesn’t say.  He was living in the midst of an idolatrous people, he was old, he gets wind of a new prophecy and a prophet who—at least momentarily—had been the instrument prodding Jeroboam’s repentance.  It is easy to imagine why this old servant of God wanted to sit down and talk to this new “man of God.”  Easy to imagine him being worn down and out by the years of living among those who worshipped idols.  Easy to imagine him being excited to talk to another “man of God” at last.

But lying doesn’t pay, of course, and he received a new prophecy that weighed heavy: because his guest turned aside, his guest was going to die.  They finish eating, what must have been a gruesome meal as the younger prophet surely realizes that the older one had lied, and as he had just seen for himself firsthand the very literal power of God quickly fulfilling prophecy (1 Kings 13:5).  The old prophet generously saddles up his own donkey for the younger, and sends him off, wherein he is promptly attacked and killed by a lion.  The old prophet hears about it, and responds:

He is the man of God who disobeyed the command of the Lord. The Lord has given him to the lion, and it has mauled and killed him, according to the word of the Lord that He spoke to him.

There is clearly a point to be made here about personal responsibility and not obeying our elders even when they are men of God, when they instruct us contrary to how God has instructed us, or even told us (as the old prophet did) that we have misunderstood or that there is a newer word.  God and the older prophet both clearly fault the younger prophet for believing the lie.  But I am most struck by the old prophet.  He goes and retrieves the corpse—which is still being guarded by the lion!—mourns, buries him in his own grave, and calls him his brother.  He tells his sons to bury him in the same grave as the young prophet, in order that his bones will be kept safe from the fate that was awaiting the false priests of Jeroboam.

And Jeroboam continues to refuse true repentance, and is “wiped out and annihilated” (v. 34), and the larger story continues.

The old prophet doesn’t die at the end of the story.  He continues, living with the memory of the events.  Maybe he lives to see the younger prophet’s testimony about Jeroboam come to pass.  Maybe he remembers the young man who sat at his table and continues to mourn.  There are so many variables here that the story doesn’t tell us.  But I am deeply struck by the tragedy of sin here.  I can sympathize with the older prophet in what might be called a “white lie,” and I can sympathize with the younger prophet in following the testimony of his elders.  But together, they disobeyed God.  The older prophet made himself a false prophet, and the younger made himself disobedient to God to the point of death.  And they both knew it, knew the great effect of their sin, how offensive it was to God, and both stood unquestioningly by as His mighty sentence was carried out.  And, in judgment, the younger one obeyed—got back on the path, though it carried him to his death.  And the older one made what recompense he could, and wept.

It’s a stark picture of the terribleness of sin, even little ones that don’t seem to hurt anyone, and of the capacity of men who even hear YHWH’s voice, true prophets, to nevertheless fall so easily—so quickly, without deliberation!—into sin.

Cautionary tale.

Sleeping Through the Storm

One thing I have wrestled with a lot over the past few years is how does a Christian consider anxiety?

On one hand, our experience tells us that it is utterly impossible not be anxious, and so for many of us, our instinctive interpretation of “be anxious for nothing” is something along the lines of “that can’t possibly actually mean that.”  Or “anxiety isn’t a sin, it’s what you do with it that’s a sin.”  And so on.  And we have to categorize the idea of anxiety disorders and panic attacks, as well, which just don’t seem to fit into the biblical prohibition of anxiety as a sin.

I too find myself swayed by these arguments, and by the passionate testimony of my many friends with anxiety issues.

And yet.  Scripture actually doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room.

Consider:

  • Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. (Isaiah 41:10)
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
  • Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on… therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow… (Matthew 6:25-34)
  • Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
  • There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)
  • Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
  • Let not your hears be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
  • The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1)
  • Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
  • The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6)

Does any of this, any of this at all, leave room for “it depends on what you do with your anxiety” or “don’t sin in your anxiousness”?

Does God ask the impossible?

Last week, there was a terrible windstorm at our house—our house which has more trees within falling distance than I can count!   Trees which sway horrifyingly in the nighttime gloom and it is so easy to lie in bed listening to the wind howl and the sides of the house quake from the force of the wind, and imagine a tree falling on the house.  It’s easy to imagine our lovely children coming to harm in their beds from such a tree, and I was duly lying there imagining it!

But I had been thinking about this question of anxiety that night, and especially thinking about Jesus in Matthew 8:23-26:

As He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him.  Suddenly, a violent storm arose on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves. But He was sleeping.  So the disciples came and woke Him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to die!”

But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, you of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea. And there was a great calm.

Imagine: such a violent storm—an unexpected and sudden storm!—that the boat was actually being swamped.  This isn’t just a scary situation, it’s a lethal one.

We might think holiness would be to pray fervently for mercy and try to discipline our hearts to accept God’s will.

But Jesus, the very picture of holiness, was… asleep.

I love the way Michael Card tells the story in his lullaby for children:

Were You simply fearless, a sleeper so sound,
that You could find rest with the storm all around?
Was it simple trust in Your Father that made
the dangers seem like a charade?

Sweet Jesus, You slept through the storm in the bow;
through lightening, through thunder, You slumbered, but how?
You totally trusted your Father, that’s how
You slept through the storm in the bow.

[Michael Card, from “Come to the Cradle”]

Jesus also teaches us that there’s a time to pray fervently, of course; Gethsemane comes to mind.  But still there’s something to be said for the fact that He was asleep in the middle of a tremendously terrifying event.  In Gethsemane, I think, He was not anxious; rather, He knew something dreadful was surely coming, something to endure.  One can dread something without being fearful of it.

So I considered the trees, and the wind, and my fear.  Is God a good God?  Does not He care even more for my children that I ever could?  Does a tree fall without His willing it?  Was there, in short, any justification at all for my even being distracted by the howling wind?  My heavenly Father is the One who holds each tree upright even in the calm!

Why should I even be anxious?  Our God is sovereign, and He is good!  What could we possibly be afraid of, in light of that?  In Christ I may sleep peacefully even through the loudest, most dangerous storms!  And I can also recognize all my little excuses for anxiety—that it’s “realistic” or “impossible” or “natural”—for what they are.  I am not called to be anxious about worldly things, rather to fear nothing but God.  I am not called to worry, when He knows every hair on my head and every sparrow that falls and every flower that needs adornment.

We are so blessed to be able to rest in His marvelous and perfect provision, and there is never a reason to doubt it.

~

Because I do have dear friends who struggle with (medicated) anxiety, I want to clarify that “anxiety,” as the Bible uses the term, is worrying about things instead of trusting God.  It doesn’t mean shortness of breath or mental cloudiness or any of the other things which are beyond our consciousness and (hopefully) helped by medication.  It is unhelpful that our language conflates the theological concept with the physiological functions of our fallen bodies.  Stephen Altrogge writes helpfully about this.  I’m not talking about “anxiety disorders” here, but the sin of anxiety.

A Woman with Initiative

On the one hand, I am staunchly complementarian.  I don’t believe women should teach or have authority over men, or even speak in church.  I believe women should consider themselves positionally beneath (i.e. “submissive”) to their husbands.  I believe those four things are very clear in Scripture.

But I also think there are some nuances in Scripture that get confused with our cultural traditions of patriarchy—in short, that the patriarchy of 16th century France and the patriarchy of Scripture may not be the same thing, but it can be hard for us to sort out.

In particular, I find it hard to understand Deborah being a judge, and hard to understand Abigail blatantly going against what she knew would have been the wishes of her husband, if he had had the chance to contradict her.  But she knew he would be displeased.

Today I read and noticed another such story, one I had read but not really thought about: 2 Samuel 20.  This man named Sheba has decided to rebel against David, and Joab is sent to quench the rebellion and destroy, apparently, the entire town of Abel.

Now—first of all, David is clearly in the right here.  Sheba was evil and wicked and it was entirely correct to destroy him.  Secondly, there’s a whole town involved, with plenty of elders and men to step up and do the right thing.  The “leadership,” apparently, made the executive decision to twiddle their thumbs.

But, enter this unnamed woman, who we only know as “a wise woman.” (v. 16).  While Joab is trying to break down the walls of the city, she—and she alone—calls out.  “Listen! Listen! Please tell Joab to come here and let me speak with him.”

And Joab listened.  And she made an argument, a very neat, concise, persuasive argument.  She let him know that there were faithful people in the city, and reminded him of the importance of the city, both presently and historically, and theologically.  Her words are rebuking and even harsh: “Why would you devour YHWH’s inheritance?”

She got Joab’s attention, and he protested: “Never! I do not want to destroy!”  And he offers her a solution—deliver Sheba, and the city will be spared.

This is a woman he’s bargaining with.  A woman who responds by promising him Sheba’s head.

So what does she do?  Does she go to her husband and say, hey, tell the elders about this, get them to make a decision so we can abide by it?

Nope.  This woman, who the Bible declares to be wise, goes straight to “all the people” and offers “her wise counsel” (v. 22).  They listen to her, cut off Sheba’s head, and throw it over the wall to Joab, who promptly retreats and goes back to David.  Disaster averted.

There are many things here that are both encouraging and perplexing.  Scripture seems quite clear that the woman was wise and correct, both in her character and in her actions here.  And yet she is very avidly arguing with men: first Joab, then the men of her city.  She is contradicting authority, both Joab (in his authority to destroy the city), and the city rulers (by not waiting on them to approach Joab, and not going to them first to ask them to give up Sheba).  She makes arguments and gives counsel—to men!—not suggestions and obeisance.  She is single-handedly responsible for pushing them to cut off Sheba’s head.

Now, what she doesn’t do is try to usurp authority.  She doesn’t remind one of Jezebel.  Like Abigail, and Deborah, when the men are willing to do what ought to be done, she fades into the background and we never hear tell of her again.  She works by persuasion and arguments, not force or unjust threats.

She’s an excellent example of bold biblical womanhood, womanhood that takes initiative, makes persuasive arguments, is not daunted, and whose wisdom is not hidden under a bushel, but ably helps all those around her, even a whole town and a king, for the glory of God.

Gentleness: Christian speech.

The book of James is a hard read for anyone who is in possession of a tongue.

And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell… no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

[James 3:6,8, hcsb]

The passage is bleak.  He doesn’t present tongues as a neutral thing, useful for blessing and cursing, he presents it as an evil thing, an untamable, impossible thing.  Like our flesh, like Paul complains about in Romans 7:15.  If only we could rip out our tongues!  If anyone doesn’t stumble in what they say, James says, they’re a perfect man (James 3:2).  The tongue is the final frontier of sanctification, the last chip to fall.

Honestly, I found this one of the most depressing chapters of Scripture I’ve studied lately, and it wasn’t until rereading it this morning that a little ray of hopefulness—of purpose—started to seep in.

The hopefulness, I think, is in verses 13 and 17-18:

Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. … the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.

My Bible helpfully cross-referenced 1 Peter 3:15, which tells us to make our defense (for the Gospel) “yet do it with gentleness and respect,” as well as 2 Timothy 2:25 which tells elders to correct their opponents—in the context of teaching sound doctrine!—to correct their opponents “with gentleness.”   And that when we are correcting a sinning brother, we should restore them “in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).

And, of course, verses like Proverbs 15:1 (“a soft answer turns away wrath”) and Titus 3:2 (“avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people”), 1 Corinthians 13 (love is patient, kind, not provoked, not selfish, doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, never ends!), Ephesians 4:2 (“walk… with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”), James 1:19-20 (“be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”).

Gentleness is all over Scripture.  Soft words.  Patience.  Long-suffering.  Gentleness is the way we respond to even our opponents and enemies.  Gentleness is the heart of the yoke Jesus tells us to take upon ourselves (Matthew 11:29).  Your gentleness made me great,” David praises in Psalm 18.

And here, in James 3, gentleness is the proof of wisdom, of maturity.  Gentleness that loves and leads to peace.  Wise people “cultivate peace.”  Beautiful phrase.  Gentleness that is compliant (interesting word, that!) and merciful.

The tongue works great evil.  And James is really honest about that, and it’s really… disturbing, the power that one little part can wield over the whole.  But then he spells out the alternative—the wise man is the gentle man, the one who seeks peace and pursues it (Psalm 34:14).  The wise man isn’t the one who is full of great insights and always quick to correctly exegete a passage, or even the one everyone regards as giving reliable advice… the wise man is the one who is speaking gently and kindly and selflessly and actively working to cultivate peace.  And while the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God, the gentleness—a gift and hallmark of God, a fruit of the Spirit—that is indeed how “the fruit of righteousness is sown, in peace, by those who cultivate peace” (James 3:18).  The wisdom from above—which leads to the fruit of the righteousness—is gentle.

Memorial stones.

I love the part in Joshua 4 where Joshua tells Israel to set up 12 memorial stones, so that,

In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’  you should tell them, ‘The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the Lord’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s waters were cut off.’ Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.”

Then Joshua set up in Gilgal the 12 stones they had taken from the Jordan, and he said to the Israelites, “In the future, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What is the meaning of these stones?’ you should tell your children, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, just as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over. This is so that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord’s hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the Lord your God.”

I mean, this incredible supernatural event just happened: the fast-flowing waters of the Jordan suddenly stopped and piled up in a giant pile that reached all the way over to the next city, so that the ark of the covenant (and all the Israelites) could cross over on dry land downsteam.

So they made a memorial, plucked from the middle of the now-dry riverbed, and a mirrored memorial in the middle of the Jordan itself.  Something to remind themselves, and to provide an opportunity to testify to their children, and indeed the whole earth, of God’s mighty work and providential care.

There are a lot of ways in which this seems odd to me.  Unlike the Israelites, we are not a people of holy days or symbolism or relics.  We have Christ, we have changed hearts; we are not a people of sinners and a remnant, we are a people who know God.  We are in the New Covenant and the symbolic has become realized (Hebrews 8), the copy and shadow is now manifest.

And yet: God was the one who instructed this memorial of Joshua’s, and it pleased Him to have His name glorified and to have an occasion for them to tell their children.  I think how often we pass over things that ought to remind us of God’s past goodness to us, and not remark on them.  When maybe, what we ought to be doing, is taking every opportunity to remember and remind others—wow, do you remember when God provided this car for us?  I love our yard—do you remember when we were so amazed that God led us to this “perfect” house, and how very great of a blessing it has been to us?  Wedding anniversary—an opportunity to praise God for His sovereignty and grace in our marriage.  Birthdays—do you remember when God gave us this baby?  The hardships that were involved, and yet by His grace we overcame?  The things we have learned from interacting with this child?

Something to think about.  We can’t take “too many” opportunities to recount His faithfulness!

Getting Scripture Right

Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours.’

“But his master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy slave! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, then you should have deposited my money with the bankers. And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest.

[Matthew 25:24-27, hcsb]

l have been reading through Deuteronomy this week, with a bit of a better understanding of Judaism now, and the wild differences in the way we interpret some of these passages (e.g. Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 22:5-12) and the way Judaism does… the differences in the way we understand Scripture itself compared to how Judaism (or even Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, etc.) understand it—it is no small thing.  The assumption that Scripture is clear compared to the assumption that Scripture requires specific interpretation from an appointed body makes a resounding difference.

And I think about this passage in Matthew, and: fear God.  Wow.  The man who received one talent had the totally wrong idea of what his master wanted.  He feared, but in the wrong way.  His fear immobilized him and underlined that his fear was for his own skin, not for pleasing his master.  And he didn’t understand his master at all.  He may have known things about him, but he didn’t know him.  He had the wrong interpretation.

One thing I have come to understand a little bit more over the past year is that people misinterpret Scripture.  I have misinterpreted Scripture; I was thinking just this morning about the way I used to understand John 3:16 compared to the way I understand it now.  Scripture is clear—the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture is clear enough in its statements about itself—and yet our pride and our sin and false teachings certainly lead us into misinterpreting it.

There is a great urgency to ask the Spirit to enlighten us, lead us, keep us from error.  And to pay attention, to not be like the servant with one talent who hid it in the ground, but to learn our Master’s ways and seek His benefit rather than satiating our self-centered misunderstandings of Him.