Even the demons submit to us in your name!


So, I’m struggling with Luke 10:17-20.  My assignment is to preach on this passage in an elementary school chapel service.  I believe kids have the imagination for the fantastic, but this is still difficult.  

Luke 10: 17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ 18He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

But I have gleaned some insight in reading this passage through and through.  The disciples have just returned from a mission that Jesus sent them on, and they were a success!  “In your name even the demons submit to us!”  I can see the high-fives and big fish stories coming out of the disciples as they surround Jesus.  

“So, as we entered the first town, we said the same words that Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is near, and is even now!”  We had a huge crowd of people.  They even invited us in, kept us, and fed us.  We then shared food among each other and the poor.”

“Yeah, right when we walked into our third village, there was a beggar who was crippled.  In the Lord’s name we healed him.  And then the whole town turned out to listen.”

“Pffft.  You think that’s amazing?  On the second day in a village, a demon possessed man threw himself before us, convulsing and cursing.  In the name of the  Lord we cast the demon out!  AND IT LISTENED TO US?  Can you believe it?”

 

At this point Jesus would silence them all and smile approvingly.  It’s a phenomenal feeling when we realize the power of Christ in our lives.  But, Jesus speaks the next word, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.”  The room falls absolutely silent.

“I have given you the power to walk on scorpions and snakes and not be harmed.  But don’t rejoice at this.  Rejoice at the fact that you, even you, are written in heaven, as a citizen of God’s kingdom.”

 

Jesus ends the pride of the disciples and calls them back to the the goal of the mission: to bring the Kingdom of God near.  When the Kingdom of God comes near, the kingdom of this world, the powers, principalities, and satan can’t stand.  There’s no competition.  But we do not rejoice in the submission of powers to US!  If we do, we become like Satan, grasping for power over all things.  Instead, we rejoice in the humility that it’s God’s power, and we are subject to it. 

 

It’s a bit like the atomic bomb.  There’s a great line from Spiderman 2 “The power of the sun in the palm of my hand.”  But that power drove Octavius crazy.  When we discovered atomic energy, we found the power to make atoms submit to our manipulation.  But, instead of marveling at the wonder of God’s power in the universe, we took this power and made nations submit to us.  But now, we stand in fear of our own power, our ability to destroy.  Others have this power as well, and we can mutually destroy each other.  

What a wonderful world where we don’t have to celebrate the power in our hands, but when we can celebrate the power of life in the true hands of God.  Those hands pierced by nails.

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Proverbs 15:16


Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
   than great treasure and trouble with it.

My translation: Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure with trouble.

This is the second in a triad of proverbs.  It begins with 15:15 (All the days of the poor are hard, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast) focusing our attention on the issue of poverty and the mystery of the abundance of a cheerful heart.  Taking 15:15 alone may leave us to assume that a cheerful heart is synonymous with riches, but taken in context one finds the “continual feast” of the cheerful heart as the mirrored antithesis of the “grazing fool” in 15:14.  Thus, the cheerful heart is directed more toward wisdom and a self disposition than riches.  

This is continued in 15:16 where poverty and riches are suggested in the wording “little/great treasure.”  We are still drawing parallels between physical wealth and the disposition of the heart.  As opposed to the common wisdom that wealth = happiness and poverty = sadness, this proverb suggests that wealth has no real bearing on the disposition of the heart.  Instead, it directs us to the central concept of the “fear of the Lord.”  When one fears the Lord, they are participating in a lifestyle of sharing and attempting to fulfill the command to be like God who frees the slaves from bondage.  The disposition of the heart determines the countenance of the person.  If the heart is set on physical wealth, it will wax and wane with the coming and going of money and property.  If the heart is set on the fear of the Lord, it will enjoy and be burdened by the needs of others, but sustained by the grace of God.  

This proverb does not say that the fear of the Lord has no trouble.  As a matter of fact, it is actually stating that there will be struggle with one’s disposition directed toward fearing God.  What the proverb is actually stating is that the troubles of one’s heart are more bearable under the fear of the Lord than they are under wealth.  And we can see this to be true.  Look to the contented nature fostered by those who take vows of poverty, or by those who live in community with one another for support instead of relying only on themselves.  Again, look to the rich who accumulate great wealth for themselves, and then rise and fall with the fickle moods of the market, the changing trends of society, and the foolishness of the fellow rich and powerful who abuse the investments of people in order to make money for themselves.  

This points me to the parable of the Widow’s offering.  Jesus tells of a woman who comes to the temple and gives her two coins, which is all she has.  She is far greater in the Kingdom of heaven than a rich person who gives a percent of their wealth.  Her giving costs her life.  The giving of the rich may only cost a slight inconvenience (but they can write it off of their taxes at the end of the year, and look good while doing it).  She has “lost her life” for the Kingdom, and will have life anew whereas the rich attempts to “save their life” by building a reputation of charity in the community, but will lose their life in the coming days. 

It is not about the wealth, but about our disposition toward God.

Proverbs 15:15


All the days of the poor are hard,
   but a cheerful heart has a continual feast.

My translation: All the days of the poor are evil; but a good heart (has) a continual feast.

Let the feast continue!  Proverbs 15:14 began the eating metaphor with the grazing of fools.  Here, the metaphor is flipped to the positive side.  The poor have a hard life, but a glad heart has a continual feast.  

Now there are two observations that should be made here.  First is the nature of eating.  In 15:14 it is grazing, like cattle, eating grass and bland food.  It is eating for the sake of eating, and for the minimum of sustenance, but it brings little joy.  However, here, the eating is a continual feast.  It is celebratory and savory, full of meats, breads, vegetables, wine, etc.  Thus, there is a difference between the foolish and the glad heart in constant eating.  

2. Proverbs 15:15 does not speak to the nature of fool/wise.  It speaks to the economic situation and the disposition within it.  In Hebrew, the word for poor also means afflicted.  And it is a regular observation, throughout history, that the life of the poor is hard.  But, this proverb says nothing about the joy of physical riches.  It only speaks about a glad heart in comparison to the poor.  The question is this: Is a glad heart the opposite of being poor?  I believe not.  Instead, this proverb begins with the physical truth: the poor suffer every day.  Then, it moves to a suggested lesson on the disposition of the heart: but a glad heart feasts continually.  

How do the poor, who are always hurting, develop a glad heart?  That is the question that is left hanging in the air.  For there are some who are poor who have fostered the disposition of joy and contentedness within their situation.  It seems that this proverb points to Jesus’ beatitudes (more of Luke’s than Matthew’s) and his teachings on contentedness.  

The gladness of the heart does not depend on money but something else.  This will be revealed in the next few proverbs. 

Proverbs 15:14


The mind of one who has understanding seeks knowledge,
   but the mouths of fools feed on folly.

My translation: the heart of the understanding will seek knowledge; but the mouth of fools will graze upon folly.

Following Proverbs 15:13 on the emotional disposition of the heart (Joyful or sorrowful), I am wondering how we read this all too standard proverb.  We’ve heard these words time and time again in Proverbs: Wise = knowledge, fools = folly.  What allows the standard proverb to be unique is its placement among other proverbs.  Sometimes they arise as a transition of subject matter (which may be the case here).  Other times, they are used to apply the unique thoughts of a section of proverbs to a standard lesson.  

We have finished a section on God’s judgment, and had one proverb on the disposition of the heart.  Now we have on on seeking knowledge and grazing on folly.  I am reading the connection two ways.

1) The heart, whether disposed to joy or grief, will seek reason and understanding for its enduring emotions.  Thus, the heart may seek knowledge, or it may be the recipient of grazing on folly.  

2) The concept of seeking/grazing holds my attention as the key, especially the grazing.  For grazing is not just the act of eating, but the constant eating in order to sustain oneself, and possibly fatten oneself.  Further, grazing suggests that we are led to a place that has food to eat, and we passively participate in the eating, despite what is in front of us.  This is the problem with fools, they do not seek what is good for them to ingest, to take into their bodies and influence their hearts.  They only absorb what is available around them without discernment.  

Whereas the act of seeking means that one has a goal in mind.  They are focused and discerning, discarding all that is not what they want.  Yes, they may spend time licking, chewing, and investigating things to make a decision on it’s quality, but they do not ingest it.

Thus, the disposition of the heart may cause it to seek/graze.  But also the seeking and grazing will influence the disposition of the heart.  And all of this stands before God.  It is why Israel is commanded to tie the commands to their foreheads and hands, and to recite them in all the places of their lives.  They are to seek true knowledge and allow it to influence the disposition of their heart.

Proverbs 15:13


A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance,
   but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken.

My translation: A glad heart will deal well (with) faces, but with a sorrowful heart (is) the broken spirit/breath.

After the long tirade against the wicked and their place before God we come to a sobering proverb on the emotional state of a person.  We may be able to say that one wears their emotions.  A glad heart makes a happy face, but a sad heart makes a defeated stature.  This seems more than daily happiness/sadness.  It seems to be deeper.  Maybe it is joy and grief, optimism and depression, etc.  

This proverb also arises from a the dominant Hebrew thought that one’s core of emotion and thought was in the Levav, the heart.  Some may translate this word as mind in places, but I believe it a better decision to leave it as the heart.  I focus on the heart because it is the metaphorical center that we use to describe conscious, feeling, intuition, and dispositions.  It is the place that we believe the immediate, almost random and passionate emotions arise, and it is also the place that our unknown dispositions, habits, and preconditioned thoughts arise.  It almost sits as the beginning and end of the rational process.  It is the spur of the moment that begs us to reign it in with reason, and then stores the lessons learned and habits developed from reason as our dispositions.  Thus, our heart is the core of our very countenance.  We cannot hide the emotions of our heart.  At least not for very long.  

This is the seat of wisdom and folly.  Proverbs does not judge whether joy or sadness is a virtue.  It does admit (in Ch. 14) that the wise heart will suffer from sadness.  But it does admit to the truth that the state of our heart is shown through our physical appearance.  This is the importance of prayer and meditation.  We are to commune with God, not for the sake of ourselves, but for the sake of worship and love for God.  However, in these moments, even those in brokenness, will offer our heart to the Creator and the mystery of God’s order.  It will allow our heart to be retuned to what is needed for our situation.  

Proverbs 15:12


Scoffers do not like to be rebuked;
   they will not go to the wise.

My translation: The scoffer does not love rebuke towards him (receiving rebuke), with the wise he will not go.

I think any child hearing this will laugh a little at the language.  A scoffer doesn’t love when he/she is rebuked?  Neither do I.  Ever.  But the proverbs ask us to do something fairly absurd.  We are to love discipline and rebuke.  We are to cherish the moments when we are corrected, whether with love or with pain.  But the scoffer, the one who cannot set him/herself aside enough to see from another’s view, does not love rebuke.  I think it goes beyond the passive “does not love” to the more permanent “can not love.”  A scoffer is not able to receive anyone else’s point of view as valid or true.  They cannot hear truth in someone’s words if the words differ from the scoffer’s opinion.  It is impossible for them to love rebuke.  Of course they will not go with/to/toward the wise.  In their eyes, the wise are truly fools.  For the primary issue with a scoffer is that they cannot see nor admit that they are essentially fools, like all people.  

I must admit, I do not cherish the moment of rebuke.  The despair and gut sinking experience of being “found out,” or realizing the sheer depth of a mistake is horrible.  And, as I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that I realize my mistakes fairly soon after I commit them.  Especially when it comes to jokes, language used, inappropriate metaphors, etc.  However, I must also admit that I am fond of the lessons learned from past rebukes, and therefore love the moments of learning and discipline that I lived through.  Hindsight adds the layer of reflection that allows one to reassess the effect of past events.  I hope that I am the type of person that is not quick to defend myself, but quicker to seek improvement.

Proverbs 15:11


Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord,
   how much more human hearts!

My translation: Sheol and Abaddon are before the Lord, how much more are the hearts of the sons of Adam

This is the final justification for the past four proverbs.  If God knows the mysteries of the places beyond death, then, it can be inferred, that God knows about all facets of life.  This is the reason God knows the disposition of people’s hearts, actions, and worship.  

8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
   but the prayer of the upright is his delight. 
9 The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
   but he loves the one who pursues righteousness. 
10 There is severe discipline for one who forsakes the way,
   but one who hates a rebuke will die. 
11 Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord,
   how much more human hearts!

If you read through these, they are naturally building a line of logic.  A) God knows the dispositions of people as the people seek God in worship.  B) God knows the dispositions of people overall in life.  C) God not only knows, but judges the dispositions of people.  D) This is because God knows all the mysteries of creation.

This whole series of proverbs is humbling.  The proverb assumes, without stating outright, God’s position as creator and originator of life.  That is why God knows the ways of life and death (sheol).  God ordered all creation, including the cycle of life and death.  Who are we to assume we can trick God?  Who are we to assume that we can deceive and manipulate God’s favor?  Are we more complex than the entire created order?  Are we shrouded in more mystery than the order of the heavens or the mystery of death?  

There are three reactions to this line of logic.  A) Acceptance and adherence.  We know that it is true that God (or a god/gods/something far more intelligent and wise than us) understands and orders creation, and thus we will be judicious and diligent learners of that order.  B) Apathy.  Yes, it is true that God knows and orders all things, who am I against that?  We either believe that God intended all evil actions, and thus find our actions unavoidable, or we dismiss the fact that God even takes notice, and go about our business in spite of God.  Finally, C) rejection.  There is no God, and thus there is no judgment beyond human judgment.  

When it comes to wisdom, faith, belief, and ethical structuring of a person’s life, we are ultimately faced with this decision.  It determines whether we will commit ourselves to the disciplines of faith (no matter what system, including the secular humanist belief that there is some great ideal of humanity that we must achieve on our own), or we will commit ourselves to our own purposes, desires, and machinations without care to a greater order.  

The first is the simple student, seeking wisdom and attempting to discern folly.  The second is the fool and scoffer who rejects all wisdom but their own.  The second is foolishness by any natural observation, for the human mind can discern its own smallness in relation to the patterns and movements of the cosmos.  The first may lead to either wisdom or foolishness, but at least the person is willing to seek beyond themselves.  

It is this disposition of “beyond myself” that opens one to the ways of grace, compassion, and kindness.  If I am humble, like all other people, then I should share in my humbleness with all others.  It is this reality of humanity that is encapsulated in the human side of the incarnation of Jesus.  God shares in the humility of humanity, and shares freely with all people.  

We can hear the Gospel speak back to these proverbs.  It affirms the fact that God knows and judges the disposition of people.  But it affirms this truth in this truth: Yes, God knows the mystery of Sheol, but God also can bring life out of the place of death.  God is not a passive observer, but an active participant and continual creator, even after death.  How much more does God know and work with the hearts of the sons and daughters of Adam?

Proverbs 15:10


There is severe discipline for one who forsakes the way,
   but one who hates a rebuke will die.

My translation: Harsh discipline for the one who forsakes the path, the one who hates reproof will die.

We are moving from the proverbs of “judgment” (one presents themselves as an abomination/God judges one with love) to proverbs of the punishment.  Our focus is on the “wicked.”  However, wicked is redefined as one who forsakes the way (of God’s wisdom/the fear of the Lord) and hates correction.  Thus, the wicked is the scoffer and the active fool.  

This proverb leads from bad to worse.  We start with harsh discipline – the word for harsh may also be translated as bad or evil.  Thus, it may be “evil” discipline to the one who forsakes the way.  The Hebrew use of evil in this way is normal.  It means severe and “not good.”  However, the type of discipline is not spelled out.  It could be the corporal punishment of the teacher to the student, although I don’t think that would be deemed as harsh or evil.  It may be the social discipline of shunning or hating the fool, which we have seen before.  Or it may be the harsh discipline of actual judgment when the fool has gone too far and broken the laws of society.  

However, in the light of the proverbs before, I believe that the harsh punishment is from the hand of God.  If we hold Pharaoh as the archetype of the fool, then it may be the plagues and illness of Egypt (Exodus 15).  But even this type of destruction is only physical and only temporary.  

However, there is the final punishment of death.  The fool who hates discipline and reproof will die.  I love the Hebrew word for “die” – moot.  In English, we use it to say that something is useless, or doesn’t mean anything.  But what we are really saying is that something is dead.  The movement of the proverb places the fool on a continuum: discipline <– fool –> death.  

Nowhere does the proverb actually claim that it is God passing the judgment on the fool, but it does follow two proverbs on God’s reception and perception of people.  Thus, one is already before the throne of God when this proverb is spoken.  

This proverb tends to evoke the “Sheep and goats” parable of Jesus.  However, it is only addressing the goats.  The sheep are standing on the other side with wide eyes, looking back and forth at each other, mouthing “is he talking to us?”  The sheep understand that they are also goats.  The wise understand that they are actually fools.  They are just fluffier fools.  And they are smart enough to know their own foolishness.  Whereas the goats, the fools, are blind to their own place.  

Proverbs 15:9


The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
but he loves the one who pursues righteousness.

My translation: An abomination to the Lord (is) the way of the wicked, but one who pursues righteousness He loves.  

Note: The English translation inverts the structure.  Hebrew: The Lord:Wicked/Righteous:The Lord.  English: Wicked:the Lord/the Lord:Righteous.  

The structure gives an internal logic.  In the English, the Lord is incapsulated by the paths/ways of the people.  In the Hebrew, the people, no matter wicked or righteous, are enveloped by God.  

Following from 15:8, this proverb continues the thought of disposition and presentation.  Verse 8 speaks to how one presents themselves to God and the reality of their heart or disposition.  This proverb makes it clear how God determines where a person resides on the wicked/righteous spectrum: it is by their path.  The path is the continued journey, the constant direction of travel toward a destination.  Thus, a path is the repeated and habited actions and dispositions of a person leading them ultimately to God or idolatry, freedom or slavery.  This may give us some understanding to the Cain and Abel predicament, where no reason is given for God’s judgment.  The proverbs allow us to assume that God judged by the “path” of each.  Now, again, this may be a dangerous over-reading, quieting the mystery of Cain and Abel, but It may help us give a possible (and only a possible) explanation for the story.  

Still, we must notice that in the Hebrew, we are enveloped by God, whether it be God’s disdain or love.  Verse 8 begins with our actions (wicked sacrifice/prayer of the upright) and how it acts on God (abomination/favor).  Verse 9 changes the direction, it is now God’s action/judgment toward us.  Thus, both proverbs together complete the relationship between us and God.  We approach God through worship, and indirectly through our daily actions, and God approaches us in love/favor, or as an abomination (typically attributed to Idols, whom God has a history of destroying).  

This should bring about the fear of the Lord within us, and cause us to pursue righteousness.  We are not free from God, but we may either be free or judged within God.  Now notice that God’s judgment is not active toward the abomination.  The wicked are always an abomination to God.  God does not act to make them an abomination, but they act to make themselves an abomination before God.  God does not actively judge the wicked, they judge themselves by their actions and dispositions.  

But it is different with favor and love.  God actively loves those who are righteous.  We act and God reacts in love.  Here the relationship is active and moving, developing and working.  This is the true freedom.  We can live in the movement of God.  

Essentially, with righteousness, God continues a relationship to cultivate life.  Life is activity, movement, action, and reaction, and it is rooted in God’s love.  Wickedness is the reverse.  There is no relationship, no action, no reaction, but only stagnation and eventually death.

Proverbs 15:8


 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
 but the prayer of the upright is his delight.

My translation: The sacrifice of the wicked/abomination to the Lord, prayer of the upright/his favor.

This sentiment is found throughout scripture:

1 Sam. 15:22 – And Samuel said, ‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.

Psalm 51:17 – The sacrifice acceptable to God* is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 141:2 – Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice. 

Isaiah 1:11 – What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.

Jeremiah 6:20 – Of what use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land?  Your burnt-offerings are not acceptable, nor are your sacrifices pleasing to me.

This proverb moves us from the dichotomy of the lips and heart down into the heart itself.  It points our attention to the way one presents themselves before God.  Both the wicked and the righteous present themselves before God in the prescribed ways in order to follow the letter of the law.  However, it is the disposition of the person that determines the quality of their sacrifice.  The wise and righteous have already sacrificed to God by sacrificing of themselves to others as God has done for all.  The wicked only sacrifice to God in order to gain favor for themselves and do not show that favor to others.  They seek eternal security while providing their own security at the expense of those around them.  The sacrifice itself is from “ill-gotten” wealth if they are able to give in sacrifice but others are starving and suffering.  

This proverb points my attention back to Cain and Abel, looking at the quality of their sacrifices. Nowhere in the Genesis story is any actual judgment passed on their sacrifices, nor on the quality or disposition of either of the brothers.  It’s only that God accepted one sacrifice and denied another.  And in this seemingly terse action, Cain’s disposition grew cruel against Abel (and maybe Abel’s grew proud, although, I believe he stayed within virtue).  Alas, it is possible that it wasn’t the sacrifice that God judged, but the people.  God know Cain’s disposition to wrath, and selfish pride.  Cain needed to be validated by God for Cain’s sake.  Cain did not seek God’s favor for God’s sake.  At least that may be the clue the proverb provides us.  

However, the story also tells of no judgments made on either of the brothers except when they judge themselves.