Should We Be Serving or Leading?

Judges 9.8-15 is known as the parable of the trees. I see the essence of this parable as serving and not be being served. This is just how Jesus described himself in Matthew 20:28, saying, “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Notice that the parable starts with the trees went out to anoint a king over them. In Jesus’ day, Israel was on the lookout for a king that would stand up to the Roman empire. They wanted a king that would win their freedom back for them. John 6.15 says that when Jesus perceived that the crowd of 5,000 wanted to make him king by force, he withdrew to the mountain by himself.

The great mass of people want a king. They will make someone a king over them by force if they have to. The people will even try to make God a king over them by force, forcing God into their own image of what a king should do for them, which is typically fighting and killing their enemies.

The trees command the olive tree, “Reign over us.”  But, the olive tree says, “Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?”

The trees command the fig tree, “Reign over us.” But, the fig tree says, “Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?”

The trees command the vine, “Reign over us.” But, the vine says, “Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?”

Each tree – the olive, fig, and vine – refuses to reign over the people. They refuse to be served by the people. These trees refused to be served because they were compelled to serve instead. Each of these trees produced fruit that blessed God, gods (the powers and principalities in the New Testament), and men. These fruits had to be eaten, consumed, by others so that their essence – abundance, sweetness, and cheer – could serve them just as Jesus said we had to eat his flesh and his blood and drink the living water that he gave so that he could serve us.

Each of these trees refused to “hold sway” over the trees. Nuwa is the Hebrew word for hold sway. It also means to tremble, to roam around, to cause to move and fro, to make unstable, to shake up, to disturb. By continuing to serve by offering their fruit, the olive, fig, and vine trees refused to make others tremble, needlessly move about, unstable, or disturbed.

Almost every person I think about in leadership, particularly governmental leadership, eventually succumbs to “holding sway” over the people who are know there to serve them instead of the leader serving the people. It’s largely true of the church as well. Just watch how often you see leaders being served – being fed, given the special seats of honor, etc. – instead of serving others.

Finally, trees command the bramble, “Reign over us.” The bramble has no fruit to offer the people. It can only offer that the people take refuge in its shade. But, the bramble is a bush. It doesn’t have much shade to offer. Because the bramble is relatively low to the ground, to get in that shade would require on to get low and probably be right up against the bramble’s branches. But, those branches have thorns. So, to get in the bramble’s shade you are probably going to get pricked by its thorns. And, the bramble will devour you if you don’t make you offer of it being king in good faith, perhaps total and complete power. Doesn’t this sound like many, if not most, of the people we tend to put in power ad the people that actually want to be in power?

So, Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be servant, and whoever would be first among you must be our slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It’s not about leading, exercising authority over others, getting people to go a certain direction.

It’s about serving, meeting people’s needs, and letting them choose the direction they should go.

What Does the Land of Canaan Symbolize?

For the past couple of days, I have been reading the book of Joshua. Joshua is the account of Israel finally entering the promised land, Canaan, after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. When I first began reading the Bible, I thought Canaan symbolized heaven. So, we have a story of God leading his people of Egypt, the world or the earth, and into Canaan, heaven. In between, is the wilderness, our journey through this world once we are saved as we try to make it to heaven. I’m sure I’m not the only one that has believed this. But, as I have become more familiar with the story of the Bible, I believe something different now.

So, what does Canaan, the promised land, symbolize if it does not symbolize heaven?

Rest.

The Greek word for rest is katapauo. Almost every use of the word is in the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 3.11 says, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'” This is actually a quotation of Psalm 95.11. This verse is about a people who have hardened their hearts and rebelled against God on their day of testing in the wilderness. Because the people always went astray in their hearts, God said they would not enter his rest. The writer of Hebrews goes on to ask who it was that rebelled? Was it not those led out of Egypt by Moses? Weren’t these ones with whom God was provoked? Weren’t these the ones whom God said they could not enter his rest?

Then, in Hebrews 4.8-10, the writer of Hebrews ties the idea of rest together with Joshua leading Israel into the land of Canaan. “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” Joshua led the people into Canaan, but he did not give them rest because Israel did not cease from its works.

Even though those that rebelled in the wilderness failed to enter God’s rest, which is to say they died in the wilderness without entering Canaan, Hebrews 4.1 says, “the promise of entering his rest still stands.”

So, what is God’s rest then?

Hebrews 4.3-4 says, “For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, ‘As I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest,”‘ although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.'” This is a quotation of Genesis 2.2. The Lexham English Septuagint says, “God completed in the sixth day his works that he did, and he ceased on the seventh day from all his works.” The Greek word for ceased is the word katapauo, the same word the writer of Hebrews uses.

God’s rest is a ceasing from creative activity. God worked, or created, on the first six days, but he ceased, or rested, from creating on the seventh day. We know that God’s rest related specifically to God’s creative work not all of God’s work though. John 5.16-17 says, “And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.” For Jesus and God, the seventh day, the Sabbath, was not a day of doing nothing, doing no work. They both still worked on the Sabbath. But, they no longer did creative work.

What is significant about creative work?

When you create something, you own it. It’s yours. You can do whatever you want with it.

On the seventh day, God ceased from that kind of work. God was now sharing his creation with mankind. He was making man a partner with him in taking care of the creation.

So, for you and me to enter God’s rest is for us to rest, or cease, from our own creative works. We are stop trying to make something that is our own, something that we can use for ourselves, and do with it whatever we please. Oh, we still have work to do. Lots of it. But, the work is to ensure that have everyone has a satisfactory portion of God’s creation. That is the concept of peace, shalom.

In Canaan, this was symbolized by each tribe receiving their inheritance of the promised land. And, no family was to lose their inheritance as all their land was to be restored to them every Jubilee. No one was ever to be without their portion. For the first Christians, this was fulfilled in Acts 2.32, 34-35, which says, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

They had entered God’s rest, Canaan.

Are There Reasonable Exclusions for Following Jesus into War?

The more I read the Bible, the more I see Jesus standing out.

As I have read Deuteronomy recently, I noticed so many little allusions, foreshadowings, prophecies, glimpses, etc. of Jesus. Any time I see these in scripture it stirs my soul. But, none of these were significant enough, or catch my attention enough, to write a blog post.

Until I got to Deuteronomy 20.

The start of this chapter describes a time when Israel is going out to war with its enemies. The enemies will have all kinds of horses and chariots, and their armies will be much larger than their own. However, Moses tells Israel to not be afraid of them because God is with them. And, Israel has already seen God bring them out of Egypt.

Once the people have gathered for battle, the priest is come before the people and say, “Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart be faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.” (Deuteronomy 20.3-4)

After the priest speaks to the people, then the officers of Israel’s army come before the people gathered for war. The officers give the three people outs from having to go to war – if they have a new house that has not been dedicated, a vineyard they planted but haven’t enjoyed its fruit, and a betrothed wife they have not taken.

“Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Is there any man who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it. And is there any man who has planted a vineyard and has not enjoyed its fruit? Let him go back to this house, lest he die in the battle and another man enjoy its fruit. And is there any man who betrothed a wife and has not taken her? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her.'” (Deuteronomy 20.5-7)

All of these exclusions for sending a man to war against his enemies seem perfectly reasonable. In fact, these sorts of exclusions from military service still exist today in many countries.

But, as I read the passage in Deuteronomy my mind jumped to the time someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” To follow Jesus is to go to war. Not a war with planes and tanks and guns and bombs.

But, it is a war against the principalities and powers. Ephesians 6.11-12 says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Those that follow Jesus do this “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3.10)

It is also a war against every thought in our own minds against God. “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10.3-5)

So, when this individual said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go,” he was saying that he would a combatant in this war until all things were put under Jesus’ feet and all things were summed up in Jesus.

But, unlike Moses who wrote that there were three legitimate excuses for not going to war, Jesus gave three examples of illegitimate excuses. That is, if you want to truly follow Jesus into the battle. In each of three examples, there is either a statement that the individual will follow the Lord anywhere and/or a reason the individual must do something else first. The reasons seem, well, perfectly reasonable. And, the reasons are similar in nature to the exclusions that Moses gave.

“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'” (Luke 9.57-62)

If you want to truly follow Jesus, to go to war against the principalities and powers, to take down our own thoughts and strongholds against God, then there is nothing else that can come first. There are no reasonable exclusions to this military service. It is an all or nothing proposition.