A bit of a grab-bag today. I start with the Book of Sirach:
Much labor was created for every man,
and a heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam,
from the day they come forth from their mother’s womb
till the day they return to the mother of all.
2 Their perplexities and fear of heart—
their anxious thought is the day of death,
3 from the man who sits on a splendid throne
to the one who is humbled in dust and ashes,
4 from the man who wears purple and a crown
to the one who is clothed in burlap;
5 there is anger and envy and trouble and unrest,
and fear of death, and fury and strife.
And when one rests upon his bed,
his sleep at night confuses his mind.
6 He gets little or no rest,
and afterward in his sleep, as though he were on watch,
he is troubled by the visions of his mind
like one who has escaped from the battle-front;
7 at the moment of his rescue he wakes up,
and wonders that his fear came to nothing
All of us, whether great or small, have our troubles. They might seem petty to others, but for us they are of terrible concern. None of us, no matter how exalted our rank, can escape what it is is to be mortal, and all that goes along with it.
Now I move to the Book of Judges. Here is a section from the story of Gideon:
28 When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Ba′al was broken down, and the Ashe′rah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered upon the altar which had been built. 29 And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had made search and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Jo′ash has done this thing.” 30 Then the men of the town said to Jo′ash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has pulled down the altar of Ba′al and cut down the Ashe′rah beside it.” 31 But Jo′ash said to all who were arrayed against him, “Will you contend for Ba′al? Or will you defend his cause? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down.” 32 Therefore on that day he was called Jerubba′al, that is to say, “Let Ba′al contend against him,” because he pulled down his altar.
One constant theme found in the Old Testament is the powerlessness of other “gods.” The prophet Isaiah even takes to mock them and their idols on a number of occasions. This is a potent strategy, as mockery is hard to defend against. Back it up with truth, and there is no defense. I think there is some inspiration to be found here. We should mock those false “gods” around us. Invite them to show their power. And then laugh when they inevitably fail to deliver.
For the final section I have included part of the Acts of the Apostles:
6 And they went through the region of Phry′gia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come opposite My′sia, they attempted to go into Bithyn′ia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8 so, passing by My′sia, they went down to Tro′as. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedo′nia was standing beseeching him and saying, “Come over to Macedo′nia and help us.” 10 And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedo′nia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
11 Setting sail therefore from Tro′as, we made a direct voyage to Sam′othrace, and the following day to Ne-ap′olis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the leading city of the district of Macedo′nia, and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days; 13 and on the sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyati′ra, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul. 15 And when she was baptized, with her household, she besought us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
A couple of interesting things are found in this selection. First, there is the use of the plural “we”, which is found in only certain parts of the Acts. This has long been interpreted to mean that Luke was present during these incidents. I found this interesting because it shows how Acts is part history and also essentially part autobiography. For some strange reason I found it kind of neat.
Also, I found the conversion story of Lydia to be fascinating. There is no mention of a husband, so she likely wasn’t married at the time. Not impossible, just unlikely, as usually husband and wife are mentioned together like that in Acts. At the same time, there is no mention that she was a widow. No direct reference is made to her having any children either, so it is possible her household meant just her and her servants. This suggests some measure of wealth on her part, which would match with her being a merchant of purple cloth. Also, given where this took place, she would have been the first European Christian convert.