John T. Willis

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Those Ease in Zion--Amos 6

Amos 6 is the second "Woe Oracle," beginning with the word "Woe" or "Alas" in verse
1. This oracle falls into three parts. This blog attempts to offer a brief study of Amos 6:1-14.

I. Yahweh rebukes the wicked rich and powerful leaders in Israel. Amos 6:1-7.
a. Here Yahweh is concerned about BOTH Zion [=Jerusalem, thus south Judah] and Samaria [=North Israel]. The so-called leaders of these two nations are rich and powerful and in control. Thus they are "at ease" and "feel secure." All the people come to these leaders to "cow down" before them so they can do whatever they wish. [Many leaders of the USA and American universities and churches adopt precisely this same role. We all need to hear the message of Amos here]. Verse 1.
b. Yahweh through Amos summons these hearers and readers to go to the nations around Israel and Judah and see how these nations compare. In the days of Jeroboam II and Uzziah, Israel and Judah are superior to all these nations. But, they take advantage of their situation and make this "an evil day," a time of "violence." Those in control oppress and mistreat the rest of the people. Verses 2-3.
c. The rich powerful in control hold extravagant parties or festivals. Here they lies on beds of ivory and lounge on their couches, since people in the ancient Near East did not have chairs and tables for their meals, but stretched out their beds and couches and lay on their left arm as they ate. [Evelyn and I have experienced such practices in Thailand]. They eat mutton and steaks. As the eaters enjoy their meals, professional musicians sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David improvise on instruments of music. [The picture is like a band with singers entertaining the banqueters]. They drink wine by the bowl and anoint themselves with perfumes to present themselves pleasant. Verses 4-6a.
None of these practices is sinful in any way. [As an aside, some isolated individuals and uninformed local churches in Churches of Christ and others have used Amos 6:5 to "prove" that the Bible opposes the use of instrumental music in worship. A slight study of this verse in contact indicates that Amos 6:1-7 does not refer to a worship assembly setting, but a normal banquet, as at the civic center. God does not reprove people to lie on bed or eat mutton or steaks of use perfume. Note the context!!!].
d. Verse 6b shows the problem: "They are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph [=North Israel]." Rich, powerful, controlling leaders are oppressing the helpless poor and needy. But their conscience does not prick them. They happily run over good people to get their way. Therefore, Yahweh says, they will go into exile and their revelers will pass away. Verses 6b-7. Again, Yahweh through Amos proclaims that the sinful people of Israel will go into exile--see 5:27; 7:11, 17.

II. Yahweh declares that He will decimate the people of Israel. Amos 6:8-10.
a. Yahweh proclaims that he "hates," "abhors" "the pride of Jacob." The pride of Jacob is the fortresses and cities in which the Israelites take pride, that is, their military strength. See Amos 2:13-16; 8:7. Yahweh does indeed condemn people who are arrogant, but the meaning here is the military fortresses in which the Israelites take pride. Verse 8.
b. The Israelites will attempt to defend themselves from the invading Assyrians, but to no avail. Yahweh will empower the Assyrians to destroy the Israelites so that only a tenth of the people will remain. Verses 9-10.

III. Yahweh announces that an invading "nation" is about to overthrow Israel. Amos 6:11-14.
a. The Israelites pride themselves in their wealth and power and possessions. They have "great houses" and "little houses." They arrogantly brag: "Have we not by OUR OWN STRENGTH defeated our enemies? Verses 11, 13. Unfortunately, we ourselves often assume that we can defeat any people on earth BY OUR OWN STRENGTH. Human beings do not have strength. Power comes from Yahweh alone.
b. In contrast, Yahweh desires "justice" and "righteousness," while these wicked rich, powerful, domineering leaders of the people turn justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness to wormwood. Yahweh through Amos presents two questions to emphasize that Yahweh's sinful people are foolish or living out of character. Horses do not run on rocks, and oxen do not plow under the sea. Hence, godly people must not practice injustice and unrighteousness. YET, these "religious" people do this very thing. Verse 12.
The comments of Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Amos, Anchor Bible 24A, page 529 are "on target," and need our thoughts here.
"The pronouncements of the Book of Amos should not be absolutized into stand in indictments of the cult as such, no matter how conducted, no matter what the accompanying state of the nation. The bible generally has a very negative estimate of religions, because most of them are false and even the true one is continually liable to corruptio. The shrines and ceremonies, sacrifices and songs here denounced and renounced were, after all, instituted by Yahweh and expected by him. It is precisely for this reason that it was so easy for the people to deceive themselves into believing that their conscientious and doubtless sincere obedience to this part of Yahweh's Torah assured his presence and their safety. It also explains why it was so difficult, unexpected, and unacceptable for the prophet to carry his point. It was becuase they were so religious that they did not repent. It could even be tha, in the face of the plagues of 4:6-11, they intensified their shrine attendance and increased their offerings as activity likely to secure God's favor. . . .But substance of true repentance is defined otherwise by Amos. It is when they establish justice in the gate that the Lord will be gracious; when righteousness rolls down Yahweh will listen, look, smell, and accept their worship."
c. Because of the sins of Israel, Yahweh announces that he will raise up "a nation" to overthrow them throughout the land: "from Lebohamath [in the north] to the Wadi of Arabah [in the south]." Verse 14. The Book of Amos never mentions the name of the nation about to attack Israel. But historically, it is clear that this nation is the Assyrians.

What are YOUR thoughts and insights on Amos 6? Great messages of God appear in this marvelous chapter. Share YOUR understanding with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Legend of the Christmas Prayer

My wonderful wife Evelyn called to my attention a tiny book written by Brian Morgan entitled "The Legend of the Christmas Prayer." This tiny book edifies everyone. This will life YOUR heart. Here is the story:

Once upon a Christmas time, long ago,
a man who had a big heart, but little money,
dreamt he could give his friends endless riches.
When he awoke, the dream kept running through his mind, over and over.
Finally, he asked himself:
"If I could give my friends anything, what would I give?"
He smiled as he began to think of all the wondrous things he could buy for them.
But then he thought: "I'm a happy man, yet I have none of those things."
And he began to think that perhaps real wealth could not be measured in riches.
Perhaps there were gifts of greater value than the things money could buy.
In the still of the night, he pondered these things
and thought of Christmas and what it meant to him.
Taking out his quill, he began to write on a parchment scroll:

On the first day of Christmas,
I pray for you joy in abundance and laughter,
for laughter cures our ills and joy makes our spirits soar.

On the second day of Christmas,
I pray for you a sigh when you need one,
for a sigh clears the heart as a cough clears the throat,
and with a sigh comes acceptance of what we cannot change.

On the third day of Christmas,
I pray for you tears when you need them,
for tears clear the eyes to see the stars
and cleanse the soul to let healing begin.

On the fourth day of Christmas,
I pray for you serenity,
for fights and wars start in individual breasts
and that is where they must end.

On the fifth day of Christmas,
I pray for you wisdom,
for our priceless gift is the gift of choice--
and we should use it well every day, in word and deed.

On the sixth day of Christmas,
I pray for you patience,
for most troubles pass if we wait them out,
and success comes with persistence.

On the seventh day of Christmas,
I pray for you courage,
for there may be many pitfalls and dangers ahead
and problems can only be solved when they are faced.

On the eighth day of Christmas,
I pray for you compassion,
for we cannot help others until we understand them,
and we cannot understand them until we walk in their shoes.

On the ninth day of Christmas,
I pray for you a willingness to work,
for work turns dreams to reality--
whether the dreams are ours or belong to those we can help.

On the tenth day of Christmas,
I pray for you unwavering faith,
for faith shapes our morals and our destiny
and draws us closer to God.

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
I pray for you a mind full of hope,
for hope determines our attitudes,
sets our goals, and creates our ideals.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
I pray for you a heart so full of love
that every day you must give some away
to those whose paths you cross.

And with each prayer, the man realized he was not giving a gift at all,
but hoping that his friends would find the gifts they already had within them.
Each time he wrote a prayer, a marvelous thing happened.
It seems to him that the prayer, although offered for his friends,
remained in his heart and produced in him the very thing he prayed for them.
The man copied his scroll and sent the Christmas prayer to special friends,
and that is where the legend of the Christmas Prayer is lost in the mists of time.
The man was never heard of again but, over the years,
the Christmas Prayer began to appear all over the world.
People in obscure village and big cities would receive at Christmas time
a copy of the scroll from a friend.
And so the wonder multiplied, until the story finally reached YOU.

I hope and pray this prayer reaches YOU. Thank YOU Brian Morgan for this wonderful story. And thank YOU, my marvelous wife, for sharing this story with me. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters--Amos 5:18-27

Following three oracles in Amos 3-6, namely: 3:1-15; 4:1-13; 5:1-17, each beginning with the summons or call: "Hear this word" in 3:1; 4:1; 5:1, there are now two "Woe" or "Alas" oracles in 5:18-27 and 6:1-14, each beginning with the term "Woe" or "Alas" in 5:18 and 6:1. Several English translations add "Woe" or "Alas" in 6:4, but this is not in the original Hebrew. This addition is probably to keep the hearer or reader following the line of thought. This blog is a brief study of the first "Woe" oracle in 5:18-27. This falls into three parts.

I. "The Day of Yahweh" is very near. Amos 5:18-20.
a. Christians initially assume that "the Day of the Lord" is the second coming of Jesus Christ at the end of the world. While this term may occur a few times in the Bible, usually "the Day of the Lord" is a commonly relatively near future to come. "The Day of the Lord" may be a time of salvation or deliverance, or it may be a time of punishment and destruction. Each context must determine the meaning of this phrase or expression.
b. Amos 5:18 indicates that the people of Yahweh, the Israelites, assumed that "the Day of the Lord" will be a time of deliverance from hostile enemies. For them, this "day" will be a "day" of "light," deliverance, salvation. Verse 18.
c. Yahweh through Amos proclaims that this day will be a time of "darkness," punishment, destruction, because of the sins of the Israelites. Verses 18, 20.
d. When this day comes, there will be no escape. It is like a person fleeing from a lion and encounters a bear, or a person goes into a house and rests his hand on the wall to rest from travel, and a snake bites him and kills him. Verse 19. [Note once again, the recurring references to "lions" throughout the Book of Amos].

II. Yahweh Desire Justice and Righteousness. Amos 5:21-24.
a. "Justice" and "righteousness" in the Bible mean impartial arbitration, equitable treatment, or adherence to an ideal that is right. Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 24:17 demonstrate that "justice" and "righteousness" refer to non-biased juridical decisions in which the judge or jury avoids preferential treatment of litigants based on gifts, money, or the status of the litigants [bribe]. These text specifically teach that God's people must not deprive the orphan, the widow, the poor, or the alien of "justice" and "righteousness." THIS is the central message of the entire Bible. See James 1:26-27.
b. Those who claimed themselves to be the "religious" people of God prided themselves in festivals, solemn assemblies, burnt offerings, grain offerings, offerings of well-being, songs, and harps. Verses 21-23. Throughout Exodus through Deuteronomy, Yahweh through Moses commanded the people of God to do precisely these things to please God and worship God and glorify God. But now, Yahweh through Amos denounces and rejects all of these "religious" practices. But these denunciations must be read in the context of verse 24 [see below]. Yahweh is certainly not opposed to worship services, animal and grain sacrifices, religious songs, and religious hymns sung with the harp and other musical instruments. On the contrary, Yahweh is very much in favor of all these practices. But verse 24 emphasizes that there is a much deeper issue here. [As an aside, isolated individuals and local church groups in Churches of Christ sometime argued that Amos 5:23 proves that God is against the use of instrumental music in worship. Fortunately, most people realize that Amos 5:23certainly does not support this idea. This same verse denounces the use of "songs" in worship. But the reason for this is the heart and activities of the worshippers, not singing or using instrumental music in public worship].
c. Verse 24 emphasizes the "real problem." The people of Yahweh went to church and performed a variety of external religious acts, but during the week they abused and mistreated and blackballed and oppressed their fellows. They PRACTICED injustice and unrighteousness, the very opposite of what Yahweh desires: "justice" and "righteousness." Once the people of God learn how to treat others in a godly, loving, gracious, generous way, they may be ready to approach God in public worship.

III. Yahweh's Exile is Near. Amos 5:25-27.
a. Once again, Yahweh announces that Yahweh will send an enemy to overthrow his sinful people and carry them into exile. The Israelites indeed brought sacrifices and offerings to Yahweh forty years during the wilderness wanderings, but this was not the primary concern of Yahweh or of Israel. Nor should it be now. Verse 25.
b. Many Israelites are worshipping foreign gods: Sakkuth, Kaiwan, their images. Verse 26. [Here one needs to consult several commentaries and articles on this verse. One finds that there are several interpretations of these deities. It seems inappropriate to delve into the detailed arguments on these various issues about the nature of these deities. PLEASE do your own study on this tiny point].
c. Because of Israel's sins, Yahweh will take them into exile. Verse 27. Historically, this happened in 721 B. C., when the Assyrians overthrew Samaria, the capital of North Israel, and carried the Israelites into captivity. The idea of Israel "going into exile" is a major theme throughout the Book of Amos. See for example 5:5; 6:7; 7:11, 17; etc.

What are YOUR thoughts in response to a study of Amos 5:18-27? Share YOUR ideas and insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Greater Bamboo Lemur

The Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur lemur) is a large, greyish browm lemur with white ear tufts. It is approximately 16 inches long and its tail is between 17 and 22 inches, giving a total of approximately 26 inches long or longer. It weighs a little over 5 pounds.

This animal feeds almost exclusively in Giant Bamboo, preferring the shoots but also eating the pith and leaves. Scientists do not know how their metabolism deals with the cyanide found in the shoots. Their typical daily dose of this food would be enough to kill human beings. Its only predator is the Fossa, but raptors are also suspected. This animal lives only in southeastern Madagascar in the rainforest.

Experts estimate less than 200 living Greater Bamboo Lemurs because the bamboo crop is so sparse. Scientists think the males outnumber the females. Males have been observed taking the pith away from females that have put significant effort into opening the bamboo stems.

The Greater Bamboo Lemur is another example of our God's creativity and awesomeness. It is amazing that God continues to create and sustain so many various animals and birds and plants and fish and many other things on earth. Each is unique. YOU are unique. God created YOU in HIS image. Rejoice in your existence and life and sustenance. God bless YOU daily.

Share YOUR ideas and experiences with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, December 14, 2009

Seek God and Live--Amos 5:1-17

For the third time in Amos 3-6, the paragraph begins with the introductory summons: "Hear this word"--see 3:1; 4:1; 5:1. As we work through the Book of Amos, this paragraph is related in Amos 5:1-17. Several reasons support this view. Three major reasons are: (1) A new paragraph begins in 5:18 with the word "Woe" or "Alas;" (2) 5:1-17 concludes with the expression "says the Lord," which calls to mind the oracles concerning the nations recorded in Amos 1:3-2:16; (3) the structure of Amos 5:1-17 is chiastic, as the comments below emphasize.

The theme of Amos 5:1-17 is: "Seek the Lord and live." In this brief paragraph or oracle, this term occurs four times in sequence:
"Seek me and live"--verse 4
"Seek the Lord and live"--verse 5
"Seek good and not evil, that you may live"--verse 14
"Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate"--verse 15

"Chiasmus" is a rhetorical device meaning "inversion." The structure is ABA or ABBA or ABCBA, etc. Amos 5:1-17 roughly speaking falls into this "chiastic structure."
A--Yahweh through Amos declares a lament over Israel--5:1-3
B--Yahweh through Amos summons the Israelites to seek Yahweh and live--5:4-7
C--Doxology praising Yahweh as creator of all the universe--5:8-9
B--Yahweh through Amos summons the Israelites to seek Yahweh and live--5:10-15
A--Yahweh through Amos declares a lament over Israel--5:16-17
[Of course, one may divide this into smaller units, but this division emphasizes the major thrust of this oracle]. Let us now work briefly through this paragraph or oracle.

I. Yahweh through Amos declares a lament over Israel--Amos 5:1-3.
a. Throughout prophetic literature of the Old Testament, this or that prophet proclaims a lament against Israel or Judah or some other nation. The "Sitz im Leben," the "setting in life" of a lament is, of course, a funeral. Jeremiah 22:18-19contains a lament over Jehoiakim king of Judah. This is a symbolic rhetorical usage of a funeral. Yahweh declares that Israel is "dead" spiritually. Therefore, Yahweh will utter a lament, announcing that Israel will fall to the Assyrians in 721 B. C.
Verse 1.
b. The dead person is a "virgin." In the ancient Near East, including Israel, it was a shame for a woman not have a child. Israel is dead, without children. This is a terrible situation. Verse 2.
c. The Israelites will fight against the Assyrian invaders, but this is all in vain. Yahweh through the Assyrians will decimate Israel, killing many and carrying the rest into captivity. Verse 3.

II. Yahweh through Amos summons the Israelites to seek Yahweh and live--Amos 5:4-7.
a. The Israelites are "seeking" Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba, the sanctuaries or "churches" where the Israelites go to "worship" Yahweh regularly. But all the places are bogus, because the worshippers treat their fellow-Israelites with injustive and unrighteousness. The term "seek" means something like "be concerned with" or "go after." The Israelites "are concerned with" [they prioritize; they stress] external acts of religion at worship services. Yahweh is not pleased with this mere external religion. Yahweh yearns for a change of heart and life. Verses 4-5
b. Yahweh STILL longs for his sinful people to repent and turn back to HIM. But this requires that they treat others with "justice" and "righteousness," THE THEME of the Book of Amos. Verses 6-7.

III. Doxology praising Yahweh as creator of the whole universe--Amos 5:8-9.
a. The first doxology in the Book of Amos was in Amos 4:13, which we have already read and studied. Here is the second doxology in Amos 5:8-9.
b. Amos 5:8-9 enumerates FOUR mighty acts of Yahweh in the universe.
1. Yahweh made the Pleiades and Orion, two constellations in the distant sky visible on earth.
2. Yahweh darkens the day like night.
3. Yahweh lifts up the waters over the sea and dumps them on rain on the land.
4. Yahweh makes destruction on powerful cities and fortresses.

IV. Yahweh through Amos summons the Israelites to seek Yahweh and live--Amos 5:10-15
a. Yahweh through Amos sternly reproves the sinful Israelites, especially by treating the poor and the helpless with injustice and unrighteousness. These rich powerful wicked leaders of Israel hate or abhor people like Amos who proclaim the truth, trample on the poor, and take levies [heavy taxes] of grain from the poor to increase their wealth. Verses 10-11a.
b. Accordingly, Yahweh will not allow these sinful people to live in their rich houses or drink the wine of their vineyars. Verse 11b.
c. Again, Yahweh exposes the sins of these wealthy people: they afflict the righteous, they take a bribe, and they push aside the needy in the gate. Verse 12.
d. Yahweh through Amos observes that a prudent person will keep silent in the midst of these sinful activities and perverted situation. Verse 13.
[Note: The term "in the gate" in verses 10, 12, 15 refers to the court cases held each date at the gate of the city--of Bethel, Gilgal, Beersheba, Samaria--all in North Israel. The wicked rich and powerful WIN all these cases because they "pay off" their sins with bribes to the witnesses and judges in this legal situation].
e. Verse 14 shows that "Seek God" is equivalent to "Seek good." God is intimately related to the way people treat others. If the wicked rich and powerful repent, Yahweh "will be with you." There is still hope IF they repent. Verse 14.
f. "Hate evil" is the "flip side" of "Seek good." "Love good" is equivalent to "love God," which is essentially the same as "seek God." Yahweh desires "justice" "in the gate." Again, there is still hope IF these wicked rich powerful political leaders will only repent and turn back to Yahweh. THEN, Yahweh will "be gracious" to the remnant of Joseph=Israel. Verse 15. Yahweh is a God of "grace," not a God of "justice." He has always been this way--throughout the Bible, Old and New Testaments. He has not changed.

V. Yahweh through Amos declares a lament over Israel--Amos 5:16-17.
a. Since the wicked rich powerful leaders of Israel are hard-hearted and obstinate, they are spiritually "dead," and thus Yahweh proclaims a "lament" over his people. The funeral has begun. The Assyrians will soon come and overthrow the Israelites and carry them into captivity. Verses 16-17a.
b. In the time of Moses, Yahweh passed through the land of Egypt and destroyed every male Egyptian child. Only the Israelites who had blood sprinkled on the lintel and the doorposts survived. See Exodus 11-13. Now, in Amos 5:17b, Yahweh declares: "I will pass through the midst of you [Israel]"--Yahweh will destroy the Israelites just as he destroyed the Egyptian male babies in the days of Moses.

There is a powerful, relevant, contemporary message revealed in Amos 5:1-17. What are YOUR responses to this oracle? Share YOUR insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Southern Cassowary

The October 2009 issue of the National Geographic highlights the Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius). This impressive bird lives in Indonesia and the northeastern region of Australia. It size is between 40 and 67 inches long, and its weight is between 64 and 129 pounds. This is a very large bird. This bird cannot fly, but it offsets this situation by its ability to run over 30 miles an hour and to swim expertly. Scholars estimate there are between 10,000 and 20,000 existing southern cassowaries.

The southern cassowary announces its presence with loud, deep booms that carry remarkably far through the foliage. During breeding season, females mate with one to three males, starting a new nest with each partner, who then incubates the eggs and cares for the chicks.

And yet, this cycle of life is being seriously upset by habitat fragmentation, introduced predators, collisions with vehicles, and hunting. The southern cassowary is incapable of outdistancing these deadly threats. The picture in the National Geographic demonstrates that this is a very beautiful bird. It is black with long feather up to the neck. Then, the neck and head is a beatiful blue, and has a prominent topnotch. It has a red "tie" connected to the bottom part of the neck with a tiny bit of red behind the neck. God does a marvelous job of creating and portraying all of his creatures.

I hope YOU appreciate and respect the southern cassowary. But more than this, I hope and pray that YOU stand in awe of a God who creates this and all other creatures, non-human and human. God created YOU. Honor, respect, worship God.

Share YOUR experiences with all the birds on earth. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Leadership Flaw

"Leadership" understood from a godly or Christian perspective MAY be a good thing. Personally, I avoid this concept and encourage all of my students to think in a very different way from a biblical, godly, Christian perspective. There is ONE leader whom we gladly embrace: God, our Creator and Sustainer, through Jesus Christ our Lord, and by means of the Holy Spirit. So, YES INDEED, I am personally VERY MUCH in favor of LEADERSHIP with regard to God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But when it comes to human beings, this is an entirely different matter. Biblically, godly, from a Christian perspective, the proper role of human beings is SERVICE, not the actual execution of human leadership. Here are some clear examples.

I. Saul. Saul was born and raised in a very humble home in or near Gibeah in the tribal territory of Benjamin. When Yahweh through the prophet Samuel selected Saul to work in a new function among the people of Israel, Yahweh designated Saul as "nagid," "prince" [1 Samuel 9:16; 10:1],not "melek," "king," because the only real "king" was Yahweh [see for example 1 Samuel 8:7; Psalm 44:4; and often in the Bible]. At first, Saul was appropriately very humble. Saul's attitude was:
"I am only a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel, and my family is the humblest of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin. Why then have you spoken to me in this way?" (1 Samuel 9:21). When Samuel designated Saul to be "prince" over Israel, Saul was hiding among the baggage because of his humility
(1 Samuel 10:20-24). When opponents of Saul to be "prince" in Israel, Saul held his peace (1 Samuel 10:27), and refused to kill his opponents when he could have done so (1 Samuel 11:12-13).
But when Saul actually became "king" over Israel, he took things into his own hands. He offered a sacrifice at Gilgal before Samuel arrived in specific disobedience to Yahweh's command (1 Samuel 10:8; 13:8-13); he declared a rash vow forbidden his soldiers to eat until darkness (1 Samuel 14); he kept alive the best of the sheep and cattle and king of the Amalekites in strict disobedience to Yahweh's command (1 Samuel 15). History shows that this is precisely what happens to most human beings when they "feel the position of leadership" here on earth. There are few if any exceptions.

II. David. David was born and raised in a remote humble home at Bethlehem. He was raised to be a shepherd. When Yahweh sent the prophet Samuel to anoint David "nagid," "prince," in Israel, David was very humble (1 Samuel 16-17) and continued to be so for a certain period of time. But when David became "king" over all Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-3), it was not long until he took things into his own hands. He took another man's wife, had this man murdered on the battlefield at Rabbah, connived, manipulated, and opposed God's commands (2 Samuel 11-12; 24). History again shows that when human beings "feel the position of leadership" here on earth, they usually yield to the temptation of ruthlessly dominate other people rather than being submissive to God.

III. Solomon. When Yahweh called Solomon to be David's successor on the throne in Jerusalem, Solomon was very humble. He declared that he was only a youth and could never lead Yahweh's people. 1 Kings 3. But very soon, Solomon began to take things into his own hands. He put numerous Israelites to hard labor essentially as slaves of Solomon (1 Kings 5:13-18). He married many foreign women and worshipped foreign gods (1 Kings 11). History again shows that when human beings "feel the position of leadership" here on earth, they usually yield to the temptation of ruthlessly dominate other people rather than being submissive to God.

IV. In my own lifetime, I have seen this occur repeatedly. A good, humble person somehow receives an alleged "prestigious" position in government or medical arenas or legal posts or educational institutions or religious assignments in church locales, and soon "feels the position of leadership" and dominates over other people rather than "serving" God humbly and faithfully. Such people abandon churches, friends, committed workers to accomplish their own self-centered goals. "Leadership" is the fundamental flaw of human life.

The Bible calls God's people to be "servants" (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:42-45), to be "disciples" or "followers" (Matthew 28:19; Acts 6:7; and often), to be "shepherds" to care for and support and encourage others (Acts 20:18; 1 Peter
5:1-6). God-Jesus Christ-the Holy Spirit is [are] the true leader[s]. The rest are servants and followers and disciples. God commands through Moses in Deuteronomy 17:20that the "king" of his people Israel "must not exalt himself above other members of the community." The Western world has mis-directed this biblical teaching.

The September 2009 carried a very important page of quotes on "character" or "integrity." This is what we all need for our lives, our churches, our universities, our cities, and our nations. Here are some of these quotes:

Paul Newman: "If you don't have enemies, you don't have character."

Joan Didion: "Character--the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life--is the sources from which self-respect springs."

Samuel Richardson: "Calamity is the test of integrity."

Abigail Van Buren: "The best index to a person's character is (a) how he treats people who can't do him any good and (b) how he treats people who can't fight back."

Katharine Hepburn: "To keep character intact, you cannot stoop to filthy acts. It makes it easier to stoop the next time."

Warren Buffett: "Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. But if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you."

Robert G. Ingersoll: "Most people can bear adversity. But if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power."

Ethel Barrymore: "You grow up the day you have your first real laugh--at yourself.

Dale Carnegie: "Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain, and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving."

Like Saul, David, and Solomon, most alleged "leaders" have failed miserably in the presence of God. The real problem is "pride, self-centeredness, ingratitude." Strive to be a slave, a servant, a follower, a disciple. Then, God our great and only leader will sustain you and prosper you abundantly.

Share YOUR thoughts and experiences with others. Give me YOUR thoughts. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis