Cain and Abel
It is interesting to compare the sacrifices of Cain and Abel in
light of the Law of Moses, still very far in the future.
· Abel’s offering fits the pattern of a sin offering—one which
seeks atonement. It also has another characteristic: his offering
comes from the first and the best of what he has. A levitical priest
would see this as an acceptable sacrifice for sin.
· Cain’s offering fits the pattern of a thanksgiving
offering. It has no blood offering, and therefore cannot be made
Many commentators think this the big difference. Whatever the
difference was, Abel was accepted, Cain was not—and he was very
angry about it.
Cain’s reaction is still with us today. You can see why the anger
· First, as the older brother, he was the one who started this
sacrifice offering. It was his idea in the first place.
· It seems, however, that God is very particular about what he
will and won’t accept—and Cain knew no reason for it.
· In short, it’s not fair.
The look on his face explained it all. He had set himself up as
the big shot; his plan failed and his face was like that of a little
kid who doesn’t get the candy bar.
God seems only to make things worse. The problem is Cain’s
attitude. As God (and the little kid’s mom) would see it:
· First, he has no reason to be angry. Certainly not with Abel!
· Second, this is not the only chance he’ll ever get. If he
adjusts his attitude (acknowledges his sin) he’ll do well also.
· But there is a warning: sin is at the door. Master it before it
Abel calls a conference with his brother. I suspect he laid out
his anger and when it was full enough, committed murder.
How often we are angered without justification! Anything that
wounds our pride, or humiliates us, we consider ample reason to blow
up. If this is you, remember: sin is at the door. Master it before
it masters you.
Lord, when tempers are short and memories long, great bitterness
results. Forgive us; give us warmer hearts and cooler heads.
Correlation and Causality
Have you ever had it happen that you got good and angry, spitting
mad—and something good came of it? I have. Of course, the good that
came from it went to the person I was mad at.
This verse contains some word pictures which give us a good idea
of the dangers of letting your temper fly.
· The first word, translated “anger” in the NASB, comes from a
root word meaning “the nose”. Its actual meaning is that heavy
breathing through the nose which comes when your nostrils are
flaring open. Ever been that mad? So mad that you breathe through
your nose, so that your mouth can yell? Leave off of it. It never
does any good.
· The next word, translated “wrath”, comes from the Hebrew word
for heat. We still use the phrase “hot under the collar” to describe
someone who is really mad. The psalmist tells us to forsake it—in
other words, work at giving up the habit of having your temper
· The third word, translated as “fret” in the NASB, has an
interesting origin—and a message. Its root comes from the Hebrew
word for “glow” - as in the coals of a hot fire. This is the anger
that gnaws in the night, ever heating, never flaming.
The Scripture is quite correct: such behavior leads only to evil
and sin. The word translated “evil” here means something that is
broken or spoiled, no longer fit for its intended use. Have you ever
seen a relationship broken or spoiled because of the anger explosion
from one or both partners? Sadly, it is a common sight. After some
time, pride sets in (particularly on the part of the one whose anger
was unjustified) and it becomes a position in stone.
One small example might suffice to show the point. My father’s
sister never tired of lecturing him on the proper way to raise
children (she had none, but was a school nurse). The relationship
was so cold that when her husband died, she did not bother to inform
my parents until after the funeral.
One paraphrase put it this way: “Bridle your anger, trash your
wrath, cool your pipes--it only makes things worse.” The words vary,
but the wisdom still is there.
Lord, anger is the fire that consumes a man from the inside out.
Teach us to look to you to extinguish and then prevent such flames.
Grant peace to those who should be peacemakers.
Moses and Pharaoh
The characters of Moses and his Pharaoh are inextricably linked
in the English language with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. Heston
with a beard carries the great dignity that Cecil B. DeMille had in
mind for the character of Moses. So it may come as a surprise to
find him leaving “in hot anger.” Heston would never do that, would
DeMille’s instinct was right. Moses is nine for nine in plagues.
He has already been told by God that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart.
Surely this is a time for dignity and condescension.
But think back: This is the same Moses who once murdered a man in
a fit of temper. Sure, he’s now a lot older—80 years old tends to
mellow people, or at least make sure they stay out of barroom
brawls. The anger is still there, and in this one moment comes out.
Some commentators have had a different view. Wesley thought this
was “holy indignation.” Matthew Henry felt that the meek Moses, who
was a humble man, could only have done this with righteous intent.
The word, however, connotes an emotional response. The man was
There are some lessons in that for us.
· We are reminded of “the beast within.” Each of us is capable of
great anger (and great cruelty in that anger). We must constantly be
alert to this, to control it.
· While age decreases our ability to punch people (safely, at
least) it does not necessarily mean that we are triumphant over that
beast. It is not just a problem for the young. Sometimes the cruelty
that results comes in words, not blows.
· This type of anger flares most commonly when the other person
refuses to see the sweet light of reason (also known as your
That last thought carries with it the great virtue of having good
manners. My sister once started a conversation with, “Listen! You
need to come around to my way of thinking on this.” She was furious
when this tactful method did not produce the desired result. The
words of her anger are still stinging, still bitter to this day,
even though the subject has long since ceased to matter.
Lord, grant that our manners will hold our anger in check long
enough to seek peaceful resolution.
A Modern Revolt
In this one verse David gives us an outline of how evil grows in
a society. His thought was on the revolt of Absalom; as we shall
see, it has its modern application too. Let’s take it step by step:
1. First comes the popularity campaign—the “voice of the enemy”.
Absalom sits by the gates and declares all those who come with a
complaint to be in the right. How unfortunate that he, Absalom, is
not the king. He would give justice.
2. Next comes the “pressure of the wicked” - the “everybody
knows” phase of the campaign. It includes sending out men to
proclaim him king when the signal is given. The guy out of office
has an advantage: he can promise. The guy in office has to deliver.
3. Then comes the “bring down trouble” phase. This is the actual
revolt itself, flaring openly with such suddenness that David barely
The root of the problem? Absalom’s sister Tamar was raped by one
of David’s sons—and the man who murdered Bathsheba’s husband felt he
could not do anything about it. In a very real way, Absalom
exploited a moral weakness. He carried a grudge.
Well, that was then, but now is now, right? Not so fast. Let me
give you the plan of campaign to make pedophilia—sex with small
children—acceptable in society. It parallels the campaign for
1. There is now an institute at a local university which
“studies” pedophilia, and publishes its findings. Amazingly, they
find it to be harmless at worst and enlightening too. The voice of
2. Soon, “psychologists” will be taught (and teach) that this is
“just another form of sexuality.” It will become politically
correct; as usual, Christians will be ostracized by “the intelligent
people.” The pressure of the wicked.
3. Eventually, pedophiles become an oppressed group, yearning for
their “civil rights.” They will seek them in court—because there are
too many Christians who vote.
When that day comes, the triumphant pedophiles will remember who
their hated enemies are, and take vengeance as they can. The more
things change, the more they stay the same.
Lord, the sons of this world are indeed sly and shrewd. Keep us
from such; let us answer shrewdness with honesty and purity.
At The Rock
To understand the meaning of God’s action here, you must read the
Scripture carefully. At first glance it appears that Moses and Aaron
have done what God told them to do: bring water out of the rock. It
is not until you read it again that the matter comes out. God told
Moses to “speak to the rock.” He said nothing about hitting the rock
with the staff.
It seems such a petty thing. What difference does it make how
Moses does it? That is the wrong question. The real question is
this: Why did Moses, of all people, disobey God’s direct command?
· One part of the reason is the anger that Moses in particular
must have felt. These people are stiff-necked and stubborn. Despite
all the miracles they have seen, they are always ready to
complain—about the food, about the desert, about anything. Perhaps
Moses was just fed up with them.
· Another part of the reason is pride. When you have thousands of
people who know they could to a better job than you, it grates on
you. You tend to develop the defense that you are really somebody
The statement of Moses—”shall we bring forth…” tells you the
problem. Moses is slipping into the sin of the hireling prophet, the
one who thinks that his powers are earned; God must give him the
ability to do this. Even for such great service as Moses has
rendered, this underestimates God—severely.
Compare, for the moment, Moses and Elijah. Elijah was the
quintessential prophet of the Old Testament. He calls down fire from
heaven—and then runs for his life when Jezebel threatens him with
death. He knows that in himself he has no power.
It is tempting to ask why God does not grant such power in our
generation. We are a people who define ourselves in terms of our
possessions, position and skills. Of all nations on earth, we are
the most likely to sin the same way Moses did—by taking matters into
our own hands and doing it our way. We are not obedient in the small
things of God; who would trust us with great things? So the next
time you pray for the power of healing, ask yourself: should God
have any confidence that I would use it obediently?
Faithful in little, Lord, is faithful in much. Teach us to be
faithful and obedient in the little, so that greater things might
Comedy on the Way
One of the side effects of having been raised on the King James
Bible is that you sometimes miss the comedy in the Scriptures. I
know that there are those who hold God to be completely serious all
the time—but 3500 years before television and Mr. Ed the talking
horse we have a talking donkey
The root of the matter is this: God often lets us make our own
mistakes, and then bear the consequences. But only to a point; for
those whom he loves he disciplines.
Balaam is such a man. We know very little about him other than
the fact that he was a prophet of God—but not a Jewish one.
Evidently God had permitted some to know him, and appointed prophets
to such people. But Balaam was not quite as we might expect: like
Gehazi, he feels it necessary to extract a few shekels from all who
call. He’s a hireling prophet, available to the highest bidder.
Unless, of course, God doesn’t cooperate. We sometimes wonder how
we are to receive instruction from God; when does he want us to do
what? Mature Christians know that often we may be permitted to
choose—but one choice keeps popping up as the right one, while
obstacles are in the path of the others. If there is no question of
right and wrong in these paths, then God is pointing us in a
particular direction. If we will listen.
Evidently Balaam is a rather thick-headed sort of a fellow. He
and a small entourage are on their way to where God didn’t want him
to go. So God sends the Angel of the Lord to stop this. Twice, the
donkey tries to do the sensible thing—go some other way. Both times
she gets beaten for it. Finally the lane narrows to the point that
there is no room for the donkey to turn—so she stops. Balaam applies
the usual cure to obstinate donkeys.
Here’s where the comedy starts. The donkey talks. Most of us at
that point would have taken that as a faint glimmer of an indication
that things were not kosher. Balaam, in his anger, is going to win
the argument with the beast. Unfortunately, the donkey is the better
logician. She has a good track record, right? So there must be some
reason, right? Then the reason becomes visible. Balaam is
straightened out. It’s a lesson in God’s will.
But—don’t you think he should have noticed the donkey can talk?
Lord, there are days when we wish the donkey would talk—so we’d
know where to go next. Open the doors—and open our eyes.
Being Left Out
One of the lessons a military leader must learn to ascend to the
top of his profession is the delicate art of leading a coalition.
Matters are greatly simplified if you have only one command
structure to deal with. During the Second World War, the British and
Americans, along with many others, formed such a coalition. Both
armies spoke the same language. Both armies had their share of
brilliant but rough-edged commanders, such as Montgomery and Patton.
It is no accident that the generals in charge of the major theaters
of the war were noted for their diplomacy.
The problem is not a new one. To understand it here you must
recall what just happened. This is the pursuit after the Midianites
were routed by Gideon and his 300 men. With that small a force, at
the direction of God, he has routed over 100,000 men.
Ephraim participated in the mopping up actions afterwards. Please
note one thing: they were successful. Their complaint is not that
they were not given a part; their complaint is that their part is
not in keeping with their own idea of how important they are. Gideon
is from the tribe of Manasseh, the rival of Ephraim. The Ephraimites
think they are superior to Gideon’s clan—and that they were unfairly
kept from the glory of the victory. They had an ordinary victory;
they wanted a glorious one.
This, of course, is wounded pride—a dangerous beast. Gideon had
two choices: he could jaw with them and hope to shout them down, or
he could appease them.
It is a decision for those as wise as the serpent yet harmless as
a dove. Often, our self-conception as a bold leader, or person who
should be in charge, or just simply “my rights” may be sacrificed
for the good of the team. To make such decisions, you need:
· A clear conception of what’s important and what’s not.
· A willingness to soothe in unimportant things, and
· A firmness covered with politeness in important things.
If you wish to lead, be swift with praise and slow with
criticism; careful of the pride of others while practicing humility
yourself—and study the wisdom of God as well. Treating other
people’s anger is serious business.
Lord, how often we have argued back simply because we knew we
were right! Teach us to keep our eyes on you, and thus be willing to
forgo winning the argument, rather, winning our brother.
In this one short verse there seems to be a contradiction. How is
it that the wrath of mortal man could be for the glory of God?
· “Man’s breath is blowing the trumpet of God.” Often enough we
see man’s wrath simply reminding us of God’s power. A furious, weak
man may rage as he pleases; God’s truth will still prevail. The
comparison between the two is often enlightening—especially when you
have to choose sides.
· “Furious winds often drive vessels more swiftly into port.”
Have you see it? The rage of the enemies of the church arouse her to
action. This should be happening in our own time; there is a very
large segment of our population who are mad at God and his church.
May it please God to rouse the church from her stupor into His
· “The wrath of man is limited—and often used as the sword of
God.” Throughout the Old Testament the nation of Israel was punished
by the invasion of those who did not know God. It is clear that God
uses them as his implements; and after their deeds are done, they
· “The devil blows the fire and melts the iron, then the Lord
fashions it for his own purpose.” How often have you seen it: a
Christian goes through trial and suffering, indeed oppression, and
at the weakest point God steps in to hammer that Christian into a
perfect tool for his task.
You may see these things in the example of Joseph. His brothers
sold him into slavery in Egypt—only to see him become the one who
rescued them all from famine. Along the way we see the wrath of his
brothers foiled. Joseph himself learned patient obedience through
his trials. What his brothers did to him was of no account compared
to his rise to stature in Egypt. Forged in slavery, in prison,
Joseph became the implement by which God rescued Israel and his
Does the world rage at you? This is hardly new; the quotations
above are from more than a hundred years ago (C. H. Spurgeon). The
thoughts were old when he used them. The King of Kings still forges
iron in the wrath of man; soon his hammer blows will cease, and his
children shall be perfected for his purposes.
Lord, the hammer is hard and the anvil is tough—and all the while
it is hot. Thy will be done; may we be forged to your desire.
Honor and Politics
1 Samuel 20:34
It is a curious thing, honor. It is a mixture of uncompromising
honesty and pride; pride, but not arrogance. Honesty, but with
tender politeness. Men have died for it; others have mourned to see
it die. It is little known now; but once it ruled the politics of
Politics are now “based on reality.” Such thinking reckons
without God. It says that either he doesn’t exist or he doesn’t
care, Or perhaps he is simply on the side with the bigger
battalions. This is more sensible, we think. Invading Iraq to set up
a government more to our liking is realistic. The hundreds of
thousands of Christian martyrs killed by the Islamic government of
Sudan mean nothing.
Saul was a politician who based himself in reality. As he saw it,
David was a challenger for the throne. David always showed an
extreme reluctance about harming Saul; but Saul saw no reason not to
pin David to the wall with a javelin. His son Jonathan was a more
Jonathan knew that God, through Samuel, had anointed David as the
rightful king of Israel. Jonathan rejected his father’s realism. God
had made his choice; Jonathan not only was willing to live with that
but formed a deep personal bond with David. Jonathan was Little John
to David’s Robin Hood. He would be first after David in a friendship
between two men of honor.
It was not to be; Jonathan soon dies in battle at his father’s
side. David mourned for him. He would later take in Jonathan’s
crippled son and care for him. Even death did not stop David’s love
for his friend.
We see here two kinds of wrath; the first is the wrath that Saul
showed. It is irrational; it is unjustified—but it has its
explanation in Saul’s political view. It is “reality based.” Over
and again Saul would see God’s hand protecting David, and exposing
Saul. He never got the message.
Jonathan’s wrath is based upon honor. It is partly pride, for
those who do this must think themselves superior (others may give
in; I can not). But it’s also based on Jonathan’s honesty—the
keeping of his sworn word. He is furious at this failure of honesty.
I wonder; how many of us can say the same?
Lord, open our eyes. May we once again know what it is to feel
wrath when promises are broken.
A thousand friends, it is too few; one enemy, more than enough.
“Certain Maxims of Hafiz”, Rudyard Kipling
Of all the dumb things you can do, adultery ranks up in the top
tier. And yet people continue to do it. We used to teach Christians
that evil consequences would come from this. But people would think,
“Well, my wife will never find out.” Where do you think all those
stories about lipstick on the collar came from? Worse yet, people
would think, “Well, her husband will never find out.” That can be a
If a marriage is in trouble to begin with, it takes very, very
little to arouse the suspicion of adultery. Once that suspicion is
aroused (whether justified or not) you have a permanent source of
anger. If you are the target of that adultery, you will find that
there are no limits on what “the other man” will do. Police officers
will tell you that the call they fear most is an angry husband with
a wife who has been cheating him.
Yet, despite this, it is rare to hear that adultery is a sin. Our
culture is now so accustomed to any form of sexual encounter that we
forget what God told us: this is a bad idea.
Here, Solomon tells us why. The offended partner, here a husband,
is going to be angry. The real problem is that he’s not going to
stop being angry. If I get angry when my wife burns the French fries
(inside joke), she’ll usually have me pacified by dessert. But how
do you pacify a man whose wife is an adulteress?
Worse, the anger lasts for years, often for a lifetime. Things
may seem to be smoothed over when an unpredicted explosion occurs.
His wife may see this as unjustified; it’s recycled rage. But until
the root of the jealousy is exposed and disposed, the rage is always
there beneath the surface. Marriage is a trust relationship; you
must have faith in your wife, or love misery. Forgiveness is very,
Here the Christian has an advantage. He has the example of Christ
before him—forgiveness unequaled. Much needs to be done in such a
case, but the Christian has a motive. Forgiveness is offered to us
on the condition that we are willing to forgive others. It is a hard
thing, but it is required.
Lord, sometimes forgiveness is easy. Sometimes it’s hard. Give us
wisdom and strength to forgive no matter the offense.
1 Kings 21:4
The conflict between church and state is inevitable when the
state feels no restraint. Both church and state claim the highest
obedience of the citizen; but that obedience cannot be given to
both. A choice must be made. Sometimes that choice goes astray.
King Henry II of England was snared in such. He had appointed his
good friend Thomas a Becket to be Archbishop of Canterbury; head of
the church in England. Soon the two were at odds. In a fit of rage
one night, Henry cried out, “Will no one rid me of this upstart
priest?” Some of his knights proceeded to do just that, killing
Thomas. The deed haunted Henry’s reign from then on.
Henry was a great king (otherwise); the same cannot be said here
for Ahab. He was a weak king, ruled by his wife, a man who wanted
but could not obtain. The sin of envy, when frustrated, carries with
it the penalty of anger. Ahab’s wife, however, was not nearly so
limited. She took care of the matter for him, using his royal seal.
The result was that he became an accomplice to fraud, theft and
We hear very little these days about wrath being a sin; it has
passed from favor. But it is important to recognize that wrath
carries with it two paths to the grave;
· In your anger you may, in fact, kill someone. Our Lord made it
clear that simply having that intention is the same as murder in
God’s eyes. We don’t give machine guns to little children. This is
· Worse, someone may act upon your angry words. They may decide
to “help” you. It’s also possible that they are much less scrupulous
than you. You are thus the cause of even greater sin—as Jezebel
performs it here.
I have often wondered: was it just a careless, idle set of words
by Richard Nixon that set the Watergate burglaries in motion? We may
never know. Perhaps Nixon was the latest victim of the sin of kings:
second hand rage.
Are you in a position of authority? It may be a minor one; it may
be simply as husband, father or friend. Words of anger take on a
life of their own. You may be the source of terrible things. Second
hand or not, rage gets ugly, quickly.
Lord, it feels good to vent our rage aloud. But our brother’s
keeper we are; teach us to let rage go, conquered by your peace.
The Code of the West
The American West has become the land of myth and legend, the
home of the western version of the Samurai. Indeed, movies have been
transplanted between those cultures with good effect. The Seven
Samurai gave birth to The Magnificent Seven.
Both mythologies have their own code of behavior—one which is
often at odds with our own beliefs. Take, for example, the gunfight
at the OK Corral. In this incident, Wyatt Earp and friends disposed
of the evil Clanton gang in a hail of bullets. Considered a fair
fight, virtue triumphed. Or so the legend goes.
Whether or not it was a fair fight is fare for the historian. If
a modern police officer did the same it would be completely
condemned. But the Code of the West maintains that evil was beaten,
the dead died in honor - and all of us approve of it.
That last is important. It is a distinctive point of the Western.
Even the bad guys are allowed to die in a fair fight, to “die with
their boots on.” Our law today goes against this. But in one thing
we agree with this code: bushwhacking is murder. It is the method of
a man who is cowardly—and evil.
We are capable of maintaining the distinction even today. A hot
tempered man may be a very lovable character at the same time. His
friends greet each other with, “Did you hear what … did this time?”
They may fear his actions or laugh at them; but this is not
incompatible with loving him. Even a fool has friends.
The descendent of the bushwhacker gets no such treatment. He may
be feared; he will certainly be hated. His temper may be under
constant control, but we have that uneasy feeling around him—with
words of caution like, “watch your back.”
The distinction is surprisingly important to the Christian. One
of the two is capable of repentance—he may even be quite experienced
at it. The other sees no use for it.
There lies the difference. Christ’s appeal is open to all, for
all are sinners. The foolish man can sometimes see the consequences
of his anger (that’s why God gives us consequences). The evil man
sees only another opportunity. Your mother cautioned you about your
choice of friends. Perhaps that applies to enemies as well.
Lord, how seldom we see ourselves as we are seen. Perhaps the
sight is so unpleasant that we choose not to look. Thank you that
you allow even the fools to repent; thank you for giving the wicked
what they deserve.
2 Kings 5:11-12
As we see here, some of us are very important—at least to
ourselves. If God doesn’t see it that way, we court humbling at his
The Wrath of Offended Dignity is a well known phenomenon. Namaan
is an important man, a counselor to the king himself. At the very
least this prophet could spare the time to do the job
personally—hopefully in a rather showy manner. But the equation
comes out differently: High expectations plus mundane delivery
equals wrath. (You will note that modern faith healers at least give
you a good show.)
But is expectation important to those of us who are not the
king’s counselors? I submit that it is. Consider these three
· First, there is the SUV driver. Handicapped by the lack of turn
signals (have you ever seen them used by an SUV?) and no idea that
someone might care, they perform “no look” lane changes. Shocked
when they hit something, by the time the police arrive it’s all the
other driver’s fault.
· Next, there is the BMW driver. If you didn’t want someone
cutting in front of you with, say, one millimeter to spare, why were
you out driving next to a BMW?
· Finally, there is the Mercedes driver. The long standing
suspicion is that in the glove compartment of every Mercedes there
is a deed of sale for the right of way. If you didn’t know that,
surely you flunked Drivers’ Ed.
God deals with our expectations as well. If you are a Christian
he will soon make things clear:
· Have you seen these drivers before? Well, you’re going to see
them again—so expect it.
· If you are one of these drivers, be sure your insurance is paid
up. God will humble you.
Expectations—it’s all about how important we really are. Look at
Christ: no more important man ever lived—and his expectations
included the Cross. If His expectations were such, then you can
handle the expectation of arrogant drivers—or the humbling God will
give you if you are one. Whom God loves, He disciplines.
Lord, sometimes our expectations just creep up on us. You are a
loving Father; be gentle with us but hard on our expectations.
Sam, Yosemite Sam
Among the memorable characters turned out by Termite Terrace (the
cartoon studio at Warner Brothers) is Yosemite Sam. Mike Maltese
says that he based the character on that of Friz Freling. If so,
it’s likely that Freleng didn’t recognize himself in ink.
Part of the charm that is Sam is his hot temper. He conceives
himself as master of the situation, which is a very poor conception
when Bugs Bunny is in the film. It takes approximately nothing to
set off Sam’s temper. Once that has exploded, the audience feels
that anything Bugs does to him from then on is simply what Sam
deserves. And Bugs is capable of doing a lot to him.
Sam would not have the appeal he does were it not for the fact
that everyone can see a Yosemite Sam somewhere in life. Some of us
can find him at work; others find him at church; some, if they look
hard enough, can find him in the mirror.
This is why the book of Proverbs was written. Sam, we expect,
will probably never get over that temper—but with some help his
counterparts in real life can get the insight Sam never does.
Watching a blustering idiot is funny; being one is not.
Proverbs cut both ways, sometimes. It’s pretty clear, for
example, that if you are wise you will be slow to anger. Wisdom
tends to cause restraint. But isn’t it also clear that if we simply
stop flying off the handle, we will be able to learn wisdom? Those
who work through emotional problems to find a solution might just
try that technique again. Wisdom, sometimes, comes in bite size
By the same process, we can safely reason that Yosemite Sam is a
cartoon fool. He’ll never gain wisdom for the simple reason that his
mouth is open and his brain is closed. Seems to happen that way with
With Yosemite Sam we can laugh; it’s intended to be comedy. But
if we live with such a person, it’s not very funny. Worse, if you
are that person, you will know the frustration of being a fool to
everyone you know—and we do not treat fools very well at all, now do
we? But for such the book of Proverbs was written. Maybe your
psychiatrist can’t figure it out. Maybe you just need to stifle that
temper, keep cool—and gain wisdom along the way.
Lord, of all fools on this planet none is more laughable—and more
sorrowful than the man of hot temper, whose mouth is open and brain
off. Grant such a man forgiveness, Lord. May he next ask and receive
your holy wisdom.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Vashti is the name of the
queen of Persia at this time—a time when Persia was a mighty empire.
Kings of this time kept the empire together by the distribution of
royal favor; in this instance, a party that lasted better than six
months. At the end of this, the King throws a banquet of the most
superlative size and luxury. As was the custom of the time, only men
were invited. So the queen held a parallel banquet for the women of
To put it simply, everybody got roaring drunk. In such a fit, the
king decided to parade his trophy wife in front of his drinking
buddies (and you ladies thought “beer and more chips” so bad.)
Vashti responded the way I hope your wife would. She’s a queen,
not a stripper. She refused.
So the king decided to replace her. Her conduct was modest and
chaste, dignified and thoroughly befitting a queen. For this
exemplary behavior she was severely punished.
Does it ever seem to you that this parallels your life—that
someone else gets mad, and the penalty never seems to wind up on
that idiot? Someone else cleans up after his banquet? In this
instance the king would argue that she brought it on herself. Indeed
she did—by doing what was right. So where’s the happy ending? How
does the king suffer in this?
He doesn’t. It’s not fair—life is not fair. It even goes so far
as this: he replaces her—by a beauty contest. This set a royal
example, didn't it?
We hear no more of Vashti in the Bible. The exact circumstances
of her term as queen are unknown. We do see that Esther, her
replacement, was equally scrupulous in her banquets; perhaps the
king was sober by then. But the circumstances were set by God. For
though his name is never mentioned in this story, the providence of
God is well shown here. It was through Esther that the Jews were
saved from annihilation.
Sometimes, when we do the right thing and get only someone’s
wrath for it, it’s tempting to think God missed it. It is not so;
you may be Vashti, preceding God’s Esther. He does not forget his
own; nor does he explain his ways.
Lord, so often we ask “WHY?” It seems the anger we receive could
never be turned into blessing. Lord, increase our faith! Teach us to
know your hand is on us, even in the storm of rage.
It’s not a matter of life and death. It’s more important than
Football, according to the dictionary, is a game. Its adherents
see it differently. It is the conventional wisdom of the game that
players must believe that the game they are playing is the most
important part of life. In particular, anything that provokes anger
(and thus extra adrenalin) is welcome.
But did you ever notice who gets “pumped up?” It’s not the coach;
it’s not the quarterback. It’s the linemen. It’s the wide receivers.
It’s the players whose job is mainly physical—how hard, how fast—who
want that extra adrenalin. The quarterback needs to keep his cool
under pressure; even more so the coach. A coach out of control is
bad; a quarterback out of control is soon replaced.
Have you ever watched a fight in a schoolyard? Two boys will
taunt each other until one of them cracks and begins punching. The
school authorities look the other way; boys will be boys. Getting
angry and punching each other is a way to grow up to be an adult. An
angry, out of control, brutal adult.
Consider, then, another kind of argument. An argument in which
one party is calm and tender; the other angry and vile. The taunts
that would have led to a schoolyard fight are turned aside by that
gentle answer. Soon all around know that one boy is out of control;
the other knows what he is doing.
You do not often see such wisdom today. Films do not portray it;
a soft answer sells no tickets. Schools do not promote it; fists are
preferable to old-fashioned virtue. (Everything is relative, you
know). Television portrays the soft answer as weakness. Dirty Harry
has replaced the Lone Ranger.
So it seems that anger is now a virtue; calm patience a fault.
But do not fear; there is at least one person to keep the trait
alive. That person is you. You may not have a choice about the anger
you receive; you have a choice in the gentleness of your reply.
Lord, it is hard for a young man to avoid rage; old men who have
practiced it long find it even harder to give up. Bring those old
men to their senses, so that they may both teach the gentle answer
and model it in their daily lives. For those who are weak in this
matter, lead us not into temptation—but deliver us from evil.
Keep your eye on the doughnut, not on the hole.
Father-in-law’s oft-repeated advice.
My father-in-law is very fond of repeating that advice. It has
worked well for him; he is by most standards a wealthy man. The man
in this passage, Haman, was also a wealthy man. But there was a big
difference with him.
Psychologists should have a name for this. Lacking such, we shall
call it “perfectionist rage.” It is the rage of those whose world
must be perfect—and is justly slightly lacking. He who lacks
perfection, lacks proportion.
Consider the penalty that Haman thinks appropriate for Mordecai’s
failure to kowtow to him. Not only is he determined to kill the man,
but he also intends to get rid of his entire people. Not just the
family, the entire Jewish race. In this we see one of the
characteristics of perfectionist rage—the ever expanding scope of
what must be done to provide the proper penalty. It’s as if the
smallest of things is held accountable for the failure of all.
Indeed, the smaller the failure, the more the rage.
This is not a case of one thing lacking. It’s a case of
unreasonable expectations. Because it concerns God’s people, Haman
will soon find out how God teaches the lessons to kings. His method
is simple: he allows them to rage up until the last moment—when
their self-imagined greatness collapses into mortal humanity.
There is a lesson here for God’s people. One such lesson is that
we should be on our guard against this. We are sinners; nothing we
do can be perfect. We should not expect perfection of others. If you
find yourself outraged at the little things which are lacking,
especially if you think the world is conspiring to frustrate you,
look at Haman here. Consider what God did to him.
Another telling point is this: do you imagine in your mind that
some vicious, horrible punishment will overtake your annoyance? If
the dog next door barks out of turn, do you see yourself exacting
gruesome vengeance? If so, consider what God did to Haman.
It is God’s good pleasure that annoyances will come. It is his
desire that you overlook them, as they come from sinners like you.
Be merciful; God will be merciful to you.
Lord, sometimes we rage at the smallest of things. It is tragic.
Take that tragedy and turn it to divine comedy.
At one time in my career I had an assignment working at US Borax.
You might recall the 20 Mule Team, their trademark. When I arrived,
I asked what Boron (the element) was used for. I was surprised by
the wide variety of industrial uses. One in particular caught my
ear. Boron is used, along with graphite, to make the rods used in a
nuclear reactor. When these rods are removed from the nuclear pile,
the reaction heats up, generating more energy. When they are
inserted, the reaction slows down.
Solomon describes two people who are like that. There are those
who heat things up when they’re in the reaction. They like to stir
up trouble. Why?
· They’re good at it—lots of practice.
· It works very well for them. It gets results.
· It pleases them to be the bully for once (or more).
· People work hard to keep them from flying off the handle.
Note, please, that the one who is angry doesn’t really suffer,
except on the inside. But the people around him are constantly
working to keep him out of another argument.
There’s also the person who cools things down. Why would this be
· He’s always welcome in the meeting where things happen.
· People tend to agree with the agreeable.
· When you need a favor, it’s easier than the angry man’s way.
· People work hard for you—because they know they’ll get a pat on
the back, not a knife in it.
It’s a very pragmatic point. You get to choose which of these two
people you’d like to be. Even if you’re the one who is always angry,
you can change. But it is a long term thing to change a reputation.
So if you’re new to the place, try to be the one who is calm when
others are angry. It will make you welcome much more than anger
There is a certain beauty to those who are calm when others rage.
Perhaps this is from within. God knows your heart. If you yell and
scream enough, everyone else will too.
Lord, hear your children when they are angry, and give them a
calm spirit. May they be evidence of your peace.
Nothing so distinguishes our culture from all others as much as
our worship of youth. Our television shows portray teenagers as
having the wisdom their bumbling parents so obviously lack. This, of
course, helps sell acne creams, which is the major purpose of
television, evidently. I once had a co-worker who told me that he
was now beginning to enjoy “older women.” I asked him what his
definition of older women might be. “Over twenty-five.”
While my doctor is not a paleontologist yet, I can remember a
time when youth was not so honored. Indeed, that is the way of most
civilizations. This explains why Elihu (who is quoted here) kept
silent for thirty-one chapters. He was the young kid. It wasn't his
But for the next six chapters of poetry, he lets them all know
that he can talk. What finally burst his bubble of silence was this:
Job’s three friends couldn’t get Job to confess his sins. Those sins
obviously must have been severe—and here you old guys can’t persuade
him to confess.
We still see that concept today. When we are confronted with
suffering—especially severe suffering, we tell the sufferer not to
blame God, because:
· It’s obviously his chastisement for something—which you had
best confess immediately.
· Or, it’s obviously God preparing you for some special work.
The one answer we don’t usually consider is this: maybe you’re
just a small part of some grand design of God.
It is interesting that Elihu is angry at Job’s three friends. It
tells us that he has jumped to the same conclusion that they have:
such terrible suffering must be God’s punishment upon some horrible
sin. (And you’d best confess it quickly, so I can tell everyone else
about it). And so Elihu gave his thoughts.
What does the Almighty God say to the angry young man? Nothing.
Absolutely nothing. At the end of the work God tells Job’s three
friends that they are to make a sacrifice to Him, and Job will pray
for them so that the sacrifice will be accepted. But of the angry
young man he says nothing. Perhaps it is better to be old and wise;
at least your mistakes count.
Lord, many of us have been angry young men. Help us age
gracefully into wisdom rather than into repetitious folly.
The problem described in this proverb would have been familiar to
the ancients; it was a king’s prerogative to whack people’s heads
off—quite literally. Whether this was a perquisite of the job or a
peril I do not know; it would tend to keep the staff attentive. For
the most part we are unfamiliar with the situation—unless you work
for the Mafia. (If you do, how on earth did you come to read this
The word translated “appease” in this passage actually has a
literal medical meeting. It meant to cover a wound with bitumen—an
oil product about the consistency of Vaseline®, with the same
healing properties. Even today we use the phrase, “put a Band-Aid®
on it” to mean something like it.
The closest we get to such a king today is the office bully. This
is usually someone in middle management—not high enough to be
visible to the outside world (where he might embarrass the company)
but not too low—enough staff to absorb the bullying.
I worked for one like that once. A man who had no desire to hear
anything to the contrary of his brilliant ideas, he often would task
me with proving (mathematically) that he was right. I became fairly
good at making “adjustments” that I hoped wouldn’t leave him too
angry. Mathematics is rather a black and white process.
Everyone on his staff had one fear: that they would be the one to
cause him to fly off the handle next. The character assassination
that followed was brutal.
For some time I tried to swallow my anger—which had the usual
results. It was not until my wife suggested that I try a different
tactic that things changed.
Her suggestion was simple: make the man your friend. Ignore the
bullying and be his friend, to the best of your ability. This
strategy was so extraordinary that he was completely defenseless
against it. He knew how to be angry. He didn’t know how to deal with
friendship. It took over two years to blossom, but it was worth it.
He is likely enough still the office bully. He enjoys making
people jump. But once in his life he met a man of wisdom (well, of
his wife’s wisdom); there his knowledge failed.
Lord, the office bully seems so trivial compared to a king who
could literally take your head. Yet the stress is much the same.
Teach us wisdom; lead us in humility; shelter us in you.
It is clear from the passage that the king, Nebuchadnezzar, had
this golden image made for a purpose. The purpose is not hard to
discern; it is yet another example of the conflict of church and
state. He reasoned that if someone bowed down to your idol, he was
committed to support you (since it was your own personal god). Over
the centuries the conflict has come again and again; in that time
many faithful followers of God have died because they would not
declare the state supreme.
Should you happen to be in such circumstances, I would point out
to you the reaction of these Hebrews:
· They are calm. Obviously, the peace that comes from a daily
walk with God has had its effect. The life of prayer is the
preparation for the battle with the world.
· They are decisive. They don’t need to huddle and talk about it,
seeing if they can strike a bargain. They knew the answer going in.
· They are confident in God. It is not a swagger; it is the
humble confidence of those who know what God can do—and are humble
enough to know he is not obligated to do it.
· They are willing to die for their faith. It doesn’t matter what
God will or won’t do in their particular circumstance; they fear the
One who can kill the soul.
All this comes from preparation
· The time for prayer is before you come to the crisis;
therefore, every day should be a day of prayer..
· Nor need you face such a crisis alone. It was no accident that
there were three Hebrews in this fire; one alone might have wavered.
Three together will commit themselves first to God and then to each
· Remember: God’s solution is better than yours. (And He delights
in showing you that). Commit yourself to His will every day.
It is difficult in our time to think of the need for martyrdom.
Those days may not be far off. The message of these three heroes is
still powerful today—if we will learn it.
Lord, martyrdom seems so far off in comfortable America. Open our
eyes: our enemies are on the march.
It happened during my days in the Army. I never fancied myself as
a combat soldier; I had little desire to charge through the jungles
spraying bullets. But I suppose that wearing combat boots then is
something like wearing an eye patch now—easily misunderstood as an
invitation to violence.
On this particular occasion my wife and I were among the
chaperones for a high school winter retreat. For some unknown reason
the swimming pool at the campground still held water. I was enjoying
a game of chess (the antithesis and parallel of war) when five of
the high school boys announced that they were going to throw me into
Five chickens, no matter how you arrange them, do not equal one
lion. I had learned this the hard way in my youth. There was no
hesitation; I got up from the game of chess (with a polite apology
to my opponent) and announced that I would throw each of them, one
at a time, into the pool. Now.
The five chickens split in five directions. I did toss a couple
of them before cooler heads prevailed, but there was no doubt in any
mind: the one man was the lion.
Now, I bring this to you as an example. The writer tells us that
a man of violence entices his neighbor. I don’t know which of them
was the ring leader, but he had four whom he had enticed. Evil in a
man is like that: it seeks company. If enough company is gained, the
imitation of courage may arise.
But consider, for a moment, the other four. By slick words and
the dreams of raging sheep, they would be powerful and feared.
Instead, they were consumed—for the target had no intention of
Have you ever gotten yourself in trouble doing that? School
teachers know full well how the class bully recruits other kids to
do the work. It seems this is not much different in adult life.
Recollect; let your memory go back in time. Can you see those
occasions where you gave in to the talk of violence? Do you remember
the aftermath—the penalty if caught; the shame if not. It felt good
to be so mad—at the time. The fire that sears the conscience is but
the ignition of hell.
Lord, how often we are so quickly misled! We have time for
television and no time for reading your Word. Lord, give us the
spirit of reflection, so that we may see who and what we really are.
In the early days of the movie industry it was a common thing in
Westerns to have the villains in black hats and the hero in white.
Since the film was in black and white, it seems they are the only
choices—and white hats produce a brighter image. Color eliminated
this, but we still speak of white hats and black hats.
In those Westerns, the hero always got the girl, and the villains
were done in. But in our lives, things can be more complex. It is
our expectation that the black hats can’t change, they cannot
repent. This makes it easy: we can hate the sin and the sinner.
After all, we need villains to make our story interesting. But what
if the villain repents?
That’s why the book of Jonah was provided to us. Anyone who has
spent time in the sun in the desert can appreciate Jonah’s
situation. The desire to be out of the direct sunlight (and
therefore cooler) is perfectly normal. Cactus give but little shade,
so we can imagine Jonah’s pleasure with this vine. His expectations
were disappointed in the Ninevites; God should have toasted them.
But he quickly got his expectations up with this shade vine. He felt
entitled to it, and became angry when it died.
We sometimes fall for the same thing. My wife, sweet soul that
she is, often brings me coffee in the morning (bears do not spring
out of bed; they crawl, rather grouchily). But that cup of coffee
was not in the wedding vows; when it doesn't appear, I have no case
for complaint. Similarly, we often get our expectations set high by
advertising, or someone’s imagination with mouth running, or just
because we got it once.
Here is a key to defusing your anger. When you feel entitled, act
like Joe Friday: “Just the facts.” Are you really entitled to that,
or was it simply something you came to expect? Does the person
you’re mad at really owe you anything? Or is it just your
expectations, set too high?
Treat such anger as if it were a railroad crossing. Stop—don’t
let your mouth motor on. Look—see if you really have a reason for
your expectations. Listen—to the anger building up in your own head;
is it really justified? Ignore these signs at your peril; this is
where train wrecks happen.
Lord, how often we make fools of ourselves, and all for no cause!
We so much need to follow your example: kind to the sinner while
condemning the sin. Sometimes, that includes us.
Slow on the Draw
It is a classic theme of the Western: the fastest gun in the
west, and no self-control. Will his anger ruin him?
The theme is classic because it shows one of the great struggles
for the soul of man. The world cries out that force and violence are
both sovereign and good; the Scripture tells us to the contrary. At
the very least we should look at this struggle with the eyes of
those who live forever. Consider it this way: pick any of our
current crop of dictators, then ask: what will be their reputation
in a seventy years? Three score and ten, the span allotted; most
will be but a footnote in an obscure history text.
Consider what it means to be “slow to anger.” Here are some of
the characteristics of such a man:
· He is said to have “great understanding.” Think of the people
you know of whom you can say that. Is this someone you’d imitate?
· He is a man who calms disputes—even those he’s not concerned
with. The slow to anger prize their peace.
· He is a man of discretion. Think about it: the last time you
flew off the handle, who would you trust most: the one you are angry
at, or the one who calmed the dispute?
· For the Christian, it is commanded. Being slow to anger is
expected of the Christian, for it is Christ’s command.
· It is Christ’s command for one supreme reason: the Lord God
Almighty is slow to anger, too.
It seems desirable, but it often seems out of reach. It is a form
of self-control. That should give you the secret of obtaining it: it
is a fruit of the Spirit. The problem is amenable to prayer; yours,
and those who love you. It is a matter in which accountability to
Christian brothers can be a powerful force.
One bit of caution on this: self-control can be very irritating
to those who don’t have it. Paul discovered this in speaking to
Felix, the Roman governor. Those without self-control are
occasionally embarrassed by those with.
Slow to anger, with self-control—virtues to take into eternity.
But you must acquire them now; sometimes “later” never comes.
Lord, it is easy to deal with one who is self-controlled and slow
to anger. May we become the person we’d like to deal with.
Slaughter of the Innocents
In the 16th century in Holland painting was a flourishing art.
One of the more prominent artists was Pieter Bruegel the Elder. He
took this passage as an inspiration for his painting.
You cannot but look at the painting and see the eye he had for
human misery, with all its elements:
· Dressed in red, the officers preside on horseback over the
slaughter. They are haughty—and faceless. The minor functionaries of
a bureaucracy, they strut in this hour.
· Backing them up are the lancers, clad in black armor. Most are
in a group at the edge of the village, lending the weight of
authority without actually being involved.
· You see fathers begging; one, on his knees beside one of the
officers—who is ignoring him.
· You see the women, in grief. The loss of a child is a terrible
thing; how much more so when sacrificed to the political wiles of a
· The henchmen, with their dogs, are running everywhere in the
town. All the other players in this drama look down on them; they
are not on horseback. Dismal—but very useful.
All this tells you the tale, except for one thing. Bruegel
transplanted the scene from Palestine to his homeland, Holland. The
point is clear: this is not something restricted to a mad king 1500
years earlier. The capability of human beings to sink so low as to
slaughter all the children two and under is always with us. This is
not just a historical painting; this applies to us.
You think not? Consider the politicians in favor of abortion. Do
they not strut as if righteousness was their invention? The carnage
is at their direction, while our police forces (who once would have
arrested any doctor that did this) stand by. Worse, where are the
fathers pleading for mercy? The courts will not hear them; the
mother alone decides. The mothers do not cry; it is politically
incorrect to talk of guilt after abortion. Policy says it doesn’t
happen that way. The henchmen? They are now bold and heroic.
Herod was half insane at best, murderous (to his own family) at
his worst. At least he had some excuse.
Lord, the slaughter of the innocents was a horror until our
generation came. Give us back our sense of shame.
The scene seems rather contradictory. All the people speak well
of him; he is favored; but when he announces himself, all those same
people reject him and try to stone him to death. These are deep
waters theologically; we shall stick to the shallows of example. Let
us consider how God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, dealt with
people’s rage and rejection.
First, we must examine what he did not do:
· There is no sense of Jesus raging right back at them. Indeed,
in a similar situation where a village rejected Jesus, he had to
rebuke the disciples’ desire to call down fire from heaven. The evil
of Sodom had that effect; but the Son of Man came to seek and save
· You do not see anything like a vow to “get even.” Retribution,
even in a calm tone, has a bite to it. The Son of God seeks their
repentance, not his retaliation.
· Interestingly, there is also no sense of hurry. Jesus walks
right through the crowd; he does not run to get away from them. The
utter confidence of the man is revealing.
What, then, does Christ do? We must remember that God will bring
greater good from evil—if we will let him. For example:
· The rejection of the Christ by the Jewish nation—which Paul
considered temporary—let to the message being preached to the
Gentile world. From rejection comes evangelism.
· Indeed, the rejection of Christ is so much a part of his
character that we are taught to expect our own rejection. It is a
model for us.
· Because rejection is a part of the faith, we can accept as
Christian brothers and sisters those who are rejected by the world.
Bikers, barbers, baldies, beggars and beauty queens can all be
brothers and sisters in Christ.
More than that, God adds to this the grace won at the Cross. The
purpose of these people was murder; the purpose of God is to win
them over, so that they might accept His mercy.
When we fly into a rage, we try to be judge and jury. God seeks
goodness out of evil in his mighty grace.
Lord, give us a spirit of contemplation; looking back at our rage
and forward to becoming more like you.
It may seem like a tall tale, but I once put out a wildfire. It
happened this way: I was driving along some of the roads that run
through the Monterey Peninsula—very scenic. As I rounded a turn, I
noticed that there was a brush fire, not much bigger than my van. I
took out my fire extinguisher and wasted it on the fire. Then I got
serious, took out an entrenching tool (a military shovel) and
started covering the fire with dirt. It worked.
When the firemen arrived they finished the job. One of them
thanked me for doing this; the forests were very dry that year; this
could have been serious. His remark stuck with me: “The first two
minutes of a fire are worth the next two hours.”
I submit to you that the same is true in dealing with the fire of
anger. The people of this time would have been very familiar with
the problem. It was a common thing to irrigate your fields by
putting in irrigation ditches and then breaking the wall to direct
the water to a particular field. When your neighbor thought that it
was his water irrigating your field, trouble brewed. Cutting through
your neighbor’s dike set more than water in motion.
Do you recall Christ’s advice about settling with your adversary
before you go to court? How about Paul’s sentences on how wicked it
is to have a Christian sue another Christian? We’ve read them; but
do we heed them?
One reason we might ignore them is that we are angry. When anger
prevails, the mouth says, “This situation is different.” The
situation is different; you are Christians.
· Don’t you see that the damage you might suffer from the
physical consequences can last no longer than a lifetime? If
agreeing with your adversary costs you money, what is that? Is not
your Lord capable of giving you more than you need?
· But if you let your anger triumph, the damage done is eternal.
Your wallet is of no use after death. But your character, your deeds
and indeed your very soul affect you eternally.
So, we should make up our minds—before we get angry—that we will
not let anger out of control. To do this, we must watch our
emotions. When anger flares, seek for a swift solution. You know how
to lose; practice winning instead.
Lord, we are angry with our Christian brothers over the smallest
things. Teach us to be peacemakers, as your children should be.
The Bosom of Fools
Solomon lived in happier times than we do. In his day he could
say that anger resides in the bosom of fools. In our time it does
not merely reside there—it thrives there.
The eagerness with which we seek to be angry can be seen in our
motion pictures. Studios, anxious to court the “young male” market,
have settled on a formula. The “hero” is an angry man, thirsting for
vengeance. And—a few car chases, explosions, shootings later—he gets
it. We have fallen to the point where vicarious rage fills movie
theaters. We no longer call such people “fools” when the word
“customer” is available.
Why do we seek such anger? It’s because we enjoy it so much. If
we can enjoy our anger without getting hurt, so much the better. If
it causes no pain, anger—especially self-righteous anger—is very
much enjoyed. We like to think that such anger is harmless—after
all, the victim is really just an image on the screen, right? True
enough. But the first and greatest victim of anger is the one who is
angry. Rage builds upon rage, and sooner or later it ceases to be
But do you not see that this is not a universal characteristic?
It is decidedly masculine as a rule. Why is it that some men are
fools and others are not?
· Some men enjoy the role of “rebel without a cause.” Without a
cause, with a temper.
· Some see it in a sporting light. I get angry, everyone else
rushes around, and look what fun I’m having.
· Here’s a big reason: the fool simply does not ask for, or take,
· He not only won’t take advice; he won’t examine himself.
· One common cause is this: he is the center of the universe, and
loves to show off.
That last is important. The athletes of our day consider it
necessary to let all others know how great they are. Is it any
wonder little children have mastered “trash talk?”
There is a solid reason why anger resides in the bosom of fools.
Wise men won’t have it.
Lord, give us the gift of reflecting on our anger, so that we
might apply wisdom to it—and gain peace from it.
Stephen, the Martyr
Little is said of the character of Stephen before his death,
other than this: he was a trustworthy man. Some of us are sure that
we need not be diligent in small things—when the real test comes
around, we’ll do fine. Stephen shows us that God has a differing
view of that.
The mob provides us with a view of how the world really would
like to deal with Christ and his disciples. Verbs are action words,
Miss Hornbuckle said:
· “Cut to the quick” - an old expression, but it means that they
felt very guilty. When the angry feel guilty, they lash out at the
one who brings the message.
· “Gnashing their teeth” - a sign of that intense rage that
blinds us to the truth while it commits us to action. Even if that
action is murder.
· “Cried out in a loud voice” - under the general theory that he
who shouts the loudest is in the right. (This may explain any number
of fire and brimstone preachers.)
· “Stopped their ears” - what they heard made them feel guilty.
As repentance was not an option, they shut off the message and the
· “Drove him out and killed him” - as Christ foretold,
persecution and even death await his followers.
Compare the blind, furious rage of the mob with the calm serenity
of Stephen. There is no sense of compromise, nor sense that he is
afraid. Only one action is written of Stephen: “he gazed intently
into heaven.” Turn your eyes upon Jesus; the path leads home.
Gazing? Consider his sight:
· Into heaven itself. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they
shall see God.
· Seeing the glory of God. Our God is an awesome God; what
comfort this was!
· Seeing the Son of Man standing. In his position as advocate
before the Father, hearing Stephen pleading for his accusers.
Calm courage comes from seeking and seeing God.
Lord, lead us not into temptation. We ask not for Stephen’s
martyrdom but for his courage, which is only found in you.
The Righteousness of God
James is an economical writer. He puts great meaning into few
words, leaving the reader to puzzle out the many possibilities in
those few words.
Consider, first, the phrase, “Quick to listen.”
· Above all else, should we not be quick to listen to the Word
Himself? When Christ speaks we should be listening.
· Next, should we not be quick to listen to the words of the
preacher in the pulpit? It is not his task to entertain you but to
move you closer to Christ. Listen, and ask God to reveal His message
within the message.
· We are not done with places to listen. There is the counsel of
the wise. Is it not strange that most of us can identify someone we
think of as wise—and listen to rather seldom?
· Listen, too, to the pleas and cares of your family. Every
barbershop quartet knows that for harmony you must listen as well as
· If you listen to your family, should you not also listen to
your Christian family as well?
This is coupled with the phrase, “Slow to speak.”
· Consider the test of Xenocrates: Have you ever regretted
opening your mouth? How often? Have you ever regretted being silent?
· As one rabbi put it, “the righteous speak little and do much.”
Which brings us to the virtue of being slow to anger. God knows
that some of us are blessed with a hair trigger temper; but this is
just something we inherited. God knows that; what he wants to see is
just what you’ll do with it. This is why James makes it clear that
the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
Therefore, we should understand that God has no reason to be pleased
with your display of temper. Your temper is not something cast in
stone; if you seek God’s grace and spirit this can, over time, be
changed. In the meanwhile, remember that your anger does not work
his righteousness. Do not come before him with excuses and
explanations. Come with a contrite heart, asking him to heal you of
the folly of anger.
Lord, so often the temper flares; it seems that nothing can be
done. Not so; you are Lord of all—including my temper.