So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. First Kings 1:3
God has created men with the capacity to be physically stronger than a woman. The design of the average man reveals that his arm and leg bones are designed differently to that of a woman and enabled to support longer, denser, and more muscle mass.
“I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in His ways and keeping his statutes, His commandments, His rules, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn First Kings 2:2-3
But God desires a man’s physical strength to be harnessed for the good and welfare of others — especially women. A man is not to use his strength for evil purposes such as for the malicious violence toward others. Therefore, while most men are physically stronger than most women, a man’s true strength is displayed when he harnesses that strength for the good of others. This requires self-discipline which is also a measure of man’s strength as evidenced by King David’s charge to his son Solomon as prepared to succeed his father (1Kings 2:2-3). As a man ages he is to learn that true strength is not merely determined by physical capacity but is also exercised by increased wisdom (Prov. 20:29).
The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendour of old men is their gray hair. Proverbs 20:29
A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might Proverbs 24:5
THE PERFECT MAN’S BODY
Jesus Christ was the perfect man. He would have been physically strong with a well-toned body. Apart from a couple of donkey rides, Jesus travelled up and down and across Israel on foot. He spent the best part of His first thirty years as a carpenter who probably had to cut the trees from which He would mill the timber He needed to ply His trade as a wood craftsman. Cutting down the necessary trees, cutting them to size, and transporting them to where He would work on them would have been heavy manual labour which would have caused Him to grow stronger physically (Luke 2:52).
I write to you, fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. First John 2:14
Jesus Christ was the perfect example of harnessed strength. He used His physical strength for the good and welfare of others — particularly when He entered into the intense phase of His passion (the week leading up to the Cross) (Matt. 26:53). Throughout His ministry He complemented His physical strength with courage. I am particularly impressed by the way He stood up to the mob of the scribes and Pharisees as they were humiliating the defenceless woman (John 8:2-11). I am also impressed that after He was beaten and physically abused by the Roman soldiers in which He suffered massive blood loss and would have been in tremendous pain, that He was still somehow able to carry and drag a huge splintery wooden cross, which probably weighed around forty kilos, at least part of the way out of Jerusalem — and was then manly enough to accept the help of another man (Simon of Cyrene) to carry it the rest of the way up to Golgotha. Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of a strong man.
THE IDEAL WOMAN’S BODY
God has perfectly designed the female body and made it beautiful. It might be true that a woman is attracted to a strong man (especially one strong enough to make her feel secure), but it is definitely true that a man is attracted to a beautiful woman. And it seems that most women really appreciate a man’s admiration of her beauty. And God has also perfectly designed a woman’s body to nurture. This means that her skeletal structure is designed to support adequate muscle mass to nurture, and there are aspects to her design that make her quite distinct from a man’s body. But there is an insidious evil that seeks to particularly attack a woman and distort her appreciation for how the Creator has made her. This insidiousness is promoted in many of the recent crop of female heroines (super-heroines excepted for the moment) portrayed in Hollywood movies where a one hundred fifty three centre-metre, forty-five kilo, underwear model is seen fighting off a one hundred and ninety three centre-metre, one hundred and thirty kilo ex-Navy Seal by punching him across a room. This kind of nonsense sends a terrible message to a woman about her inadequacy to be equal to a man when it comes to physical strength.
I recently heard one woman talking about this distortion of a woman’s feminine worth by stating that it sends a not so subtle message that a woman is physically defective because she is not a man — that is, a woman is defective in some way because she does not possess the natural physical strength of a man. This alleged defectiveness seems to me to be further perpetuated to young women in particular who hear the evil one’s accusations of their supposed defectiveness in their heads when it falsely tells them:
“Your hair is not the right colour.”
“Your fingernails are not long or bright enough.”
“Your eye lashes are not long or lush or curled enough.”
“Your lips are too thin.”
“Your breasts are not shapely enough.”
“Your waist is not small enough.”
“Your legs are not tanned enough.”
I’m not suggesting that a woman should not present herself well with attractive clothing, hair, or make-up, but I would like to encourage women not to see themselves as defective in some way and therefore in need of unnecessary artificiality. There is already something quite intrinsically beautiful about a woman without any artificiality. True beauty is not entirely about a woman’s appearance. The beauty of a woman’s soul becomes readily evident even when her appearance has been damaged through a physical tragedy such as fire.
OUR BODIES MATTER
Most of us would like to have a healthy, functional, body. If you do, you are blessed. It’s usually in those moments when we go through sickness, injury, or disease, that we gain an increased appreciation for those times we enjoyed good health that, at the time, we took for granted. Sadly though, not everyone enjoys good health. Some diseases linger. Some injuries don’t recover. And some people are not graced with what most of us consider ordinary. Sometimes these illnesses effect a person’s physical appearance. But even when that happens, we must recognise that our bodies are wonderful gifts from God for which we need to be grateful and to steward with care.
[Christians should not regard themselves as “souls with a body”. Rather, we need to accept that the Bible describes us as body-spirit units.]
If you haven’t read Professor Nancy Pearcey’s book, Love Thy Neighbor, I hope you will. She makes a convincing case that we need to regard our bodies as: (i) God’s good design for each of us; and, (ii) God’s good biological gendering of each of us as either male or female is intrinsic to our identity. She also makes two rather profound points about God’s gift to us of our bodies. Firstly, male and female bodies are different for good reasons and these differences should be celebrated not denigrated. Thus, care needs to taken in understanding what it means to be “a man” and what it means to be “a woman”. Our sexual identity as either male or female is derived from our biology not from artificial stereotypes. These artificial stereotypes may present true manliness as being a tall, well-built, ruggedly handsome, testosterone charged man who hunts, fishes, and slays dragons; and, true femininity as a woman in her twenties with an hour-glass figure, long flowing hair, eye-lashes that could keep her feet dry, make-up that is always photo-ready, an over inflated sexual appetite, a gifted mother of six perfectly behaved children, and a wiz in the kitchen. The reality is that some strong men like to knit and some very beautiful women like to do carpentry!
WHAT TWO ANCIENT MYTHS TEACH US ABOUT BEING A STRONG MAN AND BEING A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN
There is an ancient Christian myth that originate from the second century that tells of a small village outside of Jerusalem in the late first century that was being assailed by a dragon. The dragon would ravage the villagers’ livestock and crops causing great devastation. It refused to stop its assault until it was appeased by a human sacrifice. The villagers were terrified by the dragon. Then one day a brave woman from the village said to herself that this must stop and she would offer herself to the dragon. Armed with nothing but a crucifix in her hand as she held up as she approached the dragon, she bravely entered into the dragon’s mouth. But once in the mouth she then shoved the crucifix in her hand down its gullet. The dragon struggled to breath and soon vomited the woman out of its mouth but was unable to dislodge the fatal crucifix. Once she was spewed out of the dragon’s mouth she grabbed that the now asphyxiating dragon’s tail and dragged it back the village for the men of the village to finally dispatch. This is the myth of Saint Martha (who is featured in John 11).
The second myth comes about a thousand years later and also involves a dragon. One day a knight, Sir George, was passing through a devastated village and enquired of the villagers what had caused such terrible damage. The villages told the knight that it was a dragon and that this dragon could only be appeased by human sacrifice. At this point a young girl stepped forward and told the knight that she had offered to be the sacrifice to the dragon but the men of the village did not allow her to be so. Sir George scolded the men of the village for coming up with an alternative solution to this brave young girl’s offer and then declared that he would go out and meet the dragon. Armed with sword and lance George approached the smug dragon who lunged at him with mouth wide open. With the skill of a battle-hardened warrior George took his lance and drove it up through the inside of the dragon’s mouth. The dragon was now dead and the village was now at peace once again.
These two ancient myths describe a similar problem and a similar solution – except that the myth of St. Martha depicts how a woman’s wiles dealt with the problem and the myth of St. George depicts how a man’s strengths dealt with the problem.
STRENGTH AND BEAUTY LESSONS
The Bible places an extremely high value on our physical bodies and foretells that even in the resurrection we will live on as immortal physical beings. The Bible reveals that Satan wants us to hate our bodies — and he particularly wants women to hate theirs! The Bible describes how God had given men the capacity for greater physical strength which must be harnessed by wisdom, courage and virtue. The Bible also describes how God has made all women beautiful and that women must learn to harness their beauty with modesty, wisdom, and valour. Ultimately, a man’s strength and a woman’s beauty are both reflections of the aspects of the image of God that men and women share so that world might know that God is all-powerful and all-glorious. Let’s celebrate this!
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
One of the most difficult tasks for any leader is not success but succession. Even some of the best leaders who have declared in their conference-talks that “There is no success without a successor!” have often actually ended their leadership journey without a successor. Even biblical leaders rarely succeeded at siring a worthy successor. This predicament was pronounced in the relationship between King Hezekiah and his son Manasseh. Manasseh had two claims to fame (or infamy). Firstly, he was Israel’s longest serving king. Secondly, he was Israel’s most evil king. Yet, in his final days, he became a trophy of God’s redemption. What can we learn about passing the baton on from the transition from Hezekiah to Manasseh? This is what we need to explore.
¶ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption. Acts 13:36
THE HISTORIC BATON TRANSITION THAT WENT WRONG
History has rightly been called His Story. History is not merely the recounting of unconnected, random, haphazard events. History is the revealing of how the Creator is also the Redeemer. The historical record of Scripture paints a picture of flawed people being used by the flawless God to move His redemptive plan toward its ultimate climax. This plan is rarely linear — in fact, it probably resembles something more akin to a spider’s web than a straight line. Yet remarkably the Redeemer has been able to continue to move His plan forward with each successive generation.
The story of the transition of the throne from King Hezekiah to his heir, Manasseh, is perhaps one of the greatest examples of the Redeemer’s power to transform failure and hopelessness into a glorious demonstration of how the All-Powerful can rescue, restore, and redeem. This redemptive transition should give every caring pastor, grandparent, or parent who cares for their wayward son or daughter, encouragement that their prayers for their children are not in vain, and the baton of goodness and faithfulness may yet still be grasped and carried forward toward the finish line.
1. KING DAVID’S SUCCESSION CHALLENGE
David was the archetypal king. He was particularly chosen by God Himself to lead the people of God who themselves had been commissioned to be the divine instruments of redemption to the world. The Lord told the prophet Samuel that Israel’s current king had now been disqualified from reigning due to his flagrant unfaithfulness and that God had sought out and found “a man after God’s own heart.”
Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Acts 13:21-22
But David was not chosen because he was incapable of failing. On the contrary, he was chosen despite his propensity to fail. After his coronation as the king of the united Israel, his transition to his successor was bloody and very messy. This shows us that even greatest leaders have struggled to do transition well. Theoretically it appears that David did much to ensure a smooth transition to his son Solomon. It appears that his inner leadership team were fully aware that Solomon was to the be chosen heir to the throne of Israel. The only problem seems to be that someone forgot to tell his eldest son Adonijah.
¶ Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest. And they followed Adonijah and helped him. First Kings 1:5-7
Good Succession Transition Requires Faithfulness Not Success
In many ways David was successful. This Scriptures tell us that was God’s favour, “And David had success in all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him” (1Sam. 18:14). But, like many super-successful people who have enjoyed power, fortune, respect, and fame, David’s marriage/s and relationships with his children was often troubled and tragic. Yet by God’s grace David was able to able to snap out of the resultant depression and dark patches caused by the strife and chaos of strained marriage and parenting. He did by doing two simultaneous things that anyone else struggling with mental health could also benefit from. Firstly, in his gloom and despair his focus was on himself. His self-talk was probably typical of those spiralling into glumness. “I’m a terrible person.” “I’m rotten to the core – everything I do always goes wrong.” “Nothing I do is ever good enough.” But, the first thing David did to counter this was to stop listening to himself and start talking to himself – but not about himself – but about God’s faithfulness toward him.
¶ Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation Psalm 42:5; 11; 43:5
“But the first thing David did was to stop listening to himself – and start talking to himself- but not about himself — but about God’s faithfulness toward him.”
The second of the two things that David continually did to snap out of him glumness was to focus on God by worshiping Him through praise. This is where spiritual warfare really begins. The enemy of our soul wants to distract all people (especially the child of God) from focusing on the Lover of our soul. This satanic distraction can come dressed in the guise of false religion, false causes (such as social justice, environmental activism, apocalyptic conspiracies, anti-capitalism), hurts and offences and unforgiveness, and even glum self-focus. The solution to any of these distractions is the same: worship God with praises. This is why congregational worship is so important and so therapeutic for our souls because when we sing our praises we are refocusing on the One who deserves our full attention.
By doing these two things (stop focusing on himself and begin focusing on God) David was enabled to repent and find forgiveness from God.
¶ I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah Psalm 32:5
This is what qualified David as a man after God’s own heart. It is also what enabled him to be faithful to God. That is, despite however we may think that David failed in adequately preparing his son/heir/successor, he did the best he could. This becomes very apparent when we read through the first ten chapters of the Book of Proverbs where we read of how David sought to disciple Solomon into a wise man. Sometimes all a parent can do is their best. David did. And when it comes to passing on the baton there is a divine expectation that this is what we will also do – be faithful to God and do the best we can.
¶ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption Acts 13:36
2. DAVID’S SUCCESSOR CHALLENGE
Despite Solomon’s gradual slide into idolatry and unfaithfulness to God, God had made a promise to David that from his descendants would come the Messiah who site on David’s throne. Solomon assumed that he might be the promised one (1Kings 8:20). But he wasn’t.
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. Second Samuel 7:12-13
Almost immediately this promise to David looked like it could not be fulfilled. Not only did it seem like Solomon had become an apostate, his son Rehoboam got off to a disastrous start which led to the civil war between between the norther tribes of Ephraim and the southern tribes of Judah. Eventually the apostasy of the northern tribes would see them expelled from the Promised Land and become designated as “the last tribes of Israel”. But somehow, miraculously, the Lord preserved the line of David and even produced several godly descendants – Asa (1Kings 15:11), Jehoshaphat (1Kings 22:41, 43), Jehoash (2Kings 12:2), Amaziah (2Kings 14:3), Azariah (2Kings 15:3), Hezekiah (2Kings 18:1, 5), and, Josiah (2Kings 22:1-2). What’s interesting is just how perilously close to being wiped out the family line of David was and how powerfully God intervened to ensure that it didn’t. Satan had moved Kings Ahaz and Manasseh to even slaughter their own sons to demons (2Kings 16:3-4; 21:6) yet the Lord ensured that sons would yet be born to them and then ensured that these sons would be discipled by a godly priest or prophet.
When it comes to passing on the baton there is a divine expectation that this is what we will do – be faithful to God and do the best we can.
The Prayers Offered in One Generation Can Effect Generations to Come
Someone must have been praying. And based on what we read in Second Samuel 7 of David’s prayerful response to the prophet Nathan’s word from God we can well imagine that David himself prayed prayers that lingered for generations to come.
Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. Therefore you are great, O LORD God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever. And you, O LORD, became their God. And now, O LORD God, confirm forever the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, and do as you have spoken. Second Samuel 7:21-25
Perhaps we have just discovered another component in how the baton can be passed effectively — it involves much prayer. What we can see from the lineage of David is that our prayers can “live” beyond us. Parents-to-be can pray for their children-yet-born — and Grand-parents-to-be can pray for their great-grand-children-to-be to live as godly and sincere followers of Christ.
Billy Graham asked Dawson Trotman to oversee the follow-up of new believers at his crusades
I sometimes wonder what Mr and Mrs Graham in the early 1800s in North Carolina were praying as they started out in their marriage. Their grandson who would one day be born and grow to be a dairy farmer and bear the names William Franklin and their family name, Graham. He would also name his son (and their great-grandson), William Franklin II (the second), but would be known by Kings, Queens, Presidents, and Prime Ministers as Billy. His son, (and their great-great-grandson) would be named William Franklin III, and be known by all as Franklin. His son, and their great-great-great-grandson would also be named William Franklin IV, and be known by all as, Will. The remarkable thing about the prayers of Mr and Mrs Graham in the early 1800s was that each of these descendants have had a peculiar and remarkable anointing on their lives to lead others to Christ. But knowing what I now know about the Grahams, I am sure that each successive generation has also prayed for the next generation and generations to come.
3. WHEN SUCCESSION GOES WRONG
Even when the succession baton passing doesn’t seem to have been successful, God still has a way redeeming. Sometimes, as we see in His warning to the seven Asian churches in Revelation, this includes ending something. Every time I drive past a church that has long closed, I am reminded of this warning. I was recently reminded in reading C.K. Barrett’s Commentary on Paul’s First Epistle To The Corinthians that the Church is indestructible, but when a church ceases to be a part of the Church because it no longer honours God and His Word, unless it repents, it will be closed by the Lord.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Revelation 2:5
The editor of Second Chronicles (who was probably Ezra) revealed something quite remarkable about Judah’s most wicked king. He repented.
Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favour of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. Second Chronicles 33:11-13
Even though Manasseh done irreversible damage to the future of Judah and David’s last royal descendants, God was still merciful to Manasseh. This tells us an enormous amount about God’s character. Manasseh had nearly brought the godly line of King David, from which the Messiah was also to descend from, by offering his sons as human sacrifices to demon false gods. Manasseh was also responsible for the martyrdom of the Lord’s prophet, Isaiah (Heb. 11:37). The Lord had a lot of reasons to smite Manasseh. But He didn’t. Instead, the Lord intervened in the life of this atrociously wicked man and brought him to repentance. Let us not think for one nanosecond that just because God has a cosmic To-Do list (to redeem His creation) that He is merely a Task-driven God. He is a Father who longs to redeem His wayward sons and daughters — even in their final moments. After Manasseh repented and cried out to God for forgiveness, “God was moved by his entreaty” and restored him to his throne.
¶ Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer to his God, and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the LORD, the God of Israel, behold, they are in the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. And his prayer, and how God was moved by his entreaty, and all his sin and his faithlessness, and the sites on which he built high places and set up the Asherim and the images, before he humbled himself, behold, they are written in the Chronicles of the Seers. Second Chronicles 33:18-19
Let us not think for one nanosecond that just because God has a cosmic To-Do list (to redeem His creation) that He is merely a Task-driven God.
Second Chronicles 33:19 refers to a record of Manasseh’s prayer of repentance being recorded in “The Chronicles of the Seers”. It seems that either Manasseh wanted others to know what he prayed to God. While Second Chronicles doesn’t tell precisely what he prayed, it does tell us that it was documented. From the second century BC a copy of this prayer was widely known among Jews. Later scholars doubted its authenticity until it was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It could be pseudepigraphal (a document purporting to be written by someone but actually written by someone else). But its discovery among the Dead Sea Scrolls gives it the possibility that it is a genuine record of what Manasseh prayed. Either way, it’s a beautiful prayer:
THE PRAYER OF MANASSEH
1 Lord Almighty, God of our ancestors, God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their righteous children,
2 you made heaven and earth with all their beauty.
3 You set limits for the sea by speaking your command. You closed the bottomless pit, and sealed it by your powerful and glorious name.
4 All things fear you and tremble in your presence,
5 because no one can endure the brightness of your glory. No one can resist the fury of your threat against sinners.
6 But your promised mercies are beyond measure and imagination,
7a because you are the highest, Lord, kind, patient, and merciful, and you feel sorry over human troubles.
b You, Lord, according to your gentle grace, promised forgiveness to those who are sorry for their sins. In your great mercy, you allowed sinners to turn from their sins and find salvation.
8 Therefore, Lord, God of those who do what is right, you didn’t offer Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who didn’t sin against you, a chance to change their hearts and lives. But you offer me, the sinner, the chance to change my heart and life,
9a because my sins outnumbered the grains of sand by the sea. My sins are many, Lord; they are many. I am not worthy to look up, to gaze into heaven because of my many sins.
9b Now, Lord, I suffer justly. I deserve the troubles I encounter. Already I’m caught in a trap.
10 I’m held down by iron chains so that I can’t lift up my head because of my sins. There’s no relief for me, because I made you angry, doing wrong in front of your face, setting up false gods and committing offences.
11 Now I bow down before you from deep within my heart, begging for your kindness.
12 I have sinned, Lord, I have sinned, and I know the laws I’ve broken.
Don’t destroy me along with my sins. Don’t keep my bad deeds in your memory forever. Don’t sentence me to the earth’s depths, for you, Lord, are the God of those who turn from their sins.
14 In me you’ll show how kind you are. Although I’m not worthy, you’ll save me according to your great mercy.
15 I will praise you continuously all the days of my life, because all of heaven’s forces praise you, and the glory is yours forever and always. Amen.
How To Pass The Baton
Be faithful to what God has called you to do, in, and to, your generation. “Stay in your lane.”
Be prayerful about the next generation/s.
Sow into the future generation through encouragement and mentoring.
When things go wrong, don’t despair, worship.
If God gives you a successor, give them the baton and let them run with it. Then cheer them on from a distance (if only in prayer).
If your successor fails, let God deal with it. Remember Manasseh.
Be kind to children and teens and where possible teach/train/coach them. (Recognise the value of team sport in shaping a young person, and the value of learning a musical instrument.)
The day will come when we as a church will have to transition my pastoral appointment to a successor. I hope my survey of biblical transitions where the baton has been passed well reveals that when interested people pray about this it is more probable to invoke God's blessing. And if there is anything to learn from the Graham family it is also possible that such prayers can also be effective for successive generational transitions of the baton. My prayer is that Legana Christian Church will be faithful to Christ and His Cause for generations to come so that even in four hundred years there will be a bright spiritual flame burning with passion for Jesus — especially among the children and youth of our then church so that hundreds of the members of their generation to will also turn to the Redeemer.
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.