Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bargain with God?

12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. 15 Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”
 16 Now the son of Paul's sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” 19 The tribune took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” 20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more closely about him. 21 But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him, who have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they have killed him. And now they are ready, waiting for your consent.” 22 So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of these things.” (Acts 23:12-22 (ESV)
The son of Paul’s sister, Paul’s nephew, we don’t know much about him. It’s an odd thing, family members don’t get much mention. We know a lot about Paul, but we don’t even know how many siblings he might have had. A person kind of wonders what kind of an uncle he was. Luke wasn’t a novelist, and he wasn’t getting paid by the word. There are the things that are essential and that is what is recorded. We know Peter was married because  his mother-in-law is healed by Jesus. Peter’s wife doesn’t even get mentioned. Kind of tells you how important women like Priscilla and Lydia were to the gospel when they get such mention over and over again in Acts and elsewhere among Paul’s letters.
The Jews plot to kill Paul, again. And Paul escapes again. The Romans don’t let him get captured by these men who have made such a silly and awful vow. I wonder how long they went along with this vow before they gave in and ate, or if they inadvertently killed themselves. Vows aren’t to be taken so lightly. This is why  Paul instructs Christians not to swear. Yes, the prohibitions against swearing are completely ignored today because everyone thinks it is about cusswords, the concept of which hardly existed at the time scripture was written. So we swear to God while making a joke. And it ought to make us cringe. Paul tells us to let our yes be yes and our no be no. The reality is that we should be offended when someone presses us for a promise or an oath. There are times for such things, weddings, military service, and court. But if you say you are going to do something, do it.

In the Old Testament there are countless stories, which if they were to be treated as Aesop’s fables would be given the moral, don’t make stupid oaths. People are constantly dying as a result  of stupid oaths. They lose battles, go blind. God is constantly  telling people to stop it with the promises already. The reality is God doesn’t work quid pro quo, and I tend to think this is why he hates vows as much as he does. Most of them are along the lines of Lord, if you do this then I will do this…. Yeah, who are you to bargain with God in such a manner?  God created us, and we are his servants whether or not we wish to be. These things that we promise to do for God if he does x for us, these are things we are supposed to be doing regardless of whether or not he does x for us. And the fact of the matter is, most often he does x for us. Why? Because he loves us. He gives us our daily bread. He even gives all evil people their daily bread. He doesn’t do it because you promised to do such and such if he would. He does it because he’s a loving Father the type of which you have never known in life. He just does it. He does it even despite your silly vow. Even despite the fact that you broke your promise before you made it. God is not to be bargained with as if he was some loan shark, banker, or business associate. The reality is you have nothing with which to bargain with him anyway. But if you do make a vow, you ought to follow through on it. So if you promise not to eat or drink anything until such time as you manage to kill your neighbor, perhaps get ready to jump off a bridge. Or, fall upon the mercy of God who sent his son to die for the forgiveness of your sins, even the sin of thinking God was someone to be bargained with. 

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