Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Snake Hunter

You have to admire the men pictured here. They are returning home from hunting an African Rock Python. Seeing how its jaws can expand wide enough to swallow an antelope, one might consider them brave in just carrying a dead one. In saying they hunt them you probably picture them surrounding one in a tree or on the ground, then using weapons to kill it or clubs to beat it. Remove that picture from your mind and read on. These men are much braver (or crazier, depending on your perspective) than that.

Adult pythons, usually 18-20 feet in length but which can get up to 28 feet and over 250 pounds, use the burrows of other animals to nest. These burrows can go down into the ground nearly 20 feet. The mother python will lay up to 100 eggs in her cache and then spend the next few months in her lair aggressively protecting them. This is where these men hunted. Again, you may imagine they smoked her out then beat her when she emerged from her tunnel. Keep reading.

To hunt this python, one of the men tied a leather coverings to his forearm and then held a bundle of lit twigs in his other hand for light. After securing a rope around him, he was lowered head first into the python's burrow, barely able to squeeze down. As he approached the snake face-to-face, he waved his leather-covered hand by the the python's mouth. The snake, already upset, struck the hand and began to swallow it. The hunter then quickly dropped the twigs, and with his other hand choked tightly the snake's never-ending throat right behind where his other hand was being swallowed. (This prevented the hunter from becoming its next meal.) At this point he undoubtedly yelled and kicked so his friends would pull him out of the hole. As he was extracted from the hole, the python was choking to death from the leather covering that had slipped off his hand combined with the choke hold of the hunter. The snake's body, naturally used when it falls on its prey with its weight and then crushes it with the strength of its death coils, was rendered useless by the narrowness of the burrow. Thus the snake, usually the predator, suffocated and became the prey. And yes, these men are taking this snake home to eat.

My job as a pastor regularly involves dealing with sin. Being it my own holed up in my own soul, working with others who have lived long in Satan's lair, or trying to hunt out the deadly lusts with searching preaching, the stubborn fierceness of sin confounds and (I must admit at times) scares me. Though these python hunters may get a certain adrenaline rush as they go down into that hole, I find little pleasurable or exciting in dealing with sin. I can even reason in my own mind, "If we are to let sleeping dogs lie, why not sleeping snakes?" Yet that's the problem. The serpent of old never sleeps, for he admits in his own words that he "roams about on the earth" (Job 1:7). And we know why. He is seeking someone he may devour (I Peter 5:8) through continually enticing them to follow their lusts. How tiring it can be to try to handle the slippery serpent and ceaseless sin. This "snake hunter" often wonders what the outcome is going to be.

Yet that's where this metaphor must go further. What encouragement can be found in turning again and again to the reminder from the Bible of the One who went into the snake pit for me! That dragon of old, with his jaws on the heel of the Savior, thought in his cunning he had brought an end to Christ at the cross. Little did he know his death bite was his own death warrant. That cross silenced forever his venomous accusations, and Jesus arose to crush his head. No wonder the Bible tells us we can see the devil flee when we resist him in Christ! Seeing salvation granted to the repentant, watching sanctification occur in His people, achieving reconciliation, witnessing an evil be used for God's purpose - these things and more remind me of the victory of the Lamb over the dragon.

O Lord, hear me pray what you have promised: "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Confession with My Tongue (in My Cheek)

December 10, 2008

President Kenneth A. Smith
Geneva College
Beaver Falls, PA 15010

Dear Dr. Smith,

Though I know you are a very busy man, I hope you can find just a few moments in your day to hear these confessions from a father of one of your students.

First, I swiped the photograph which you see in this letter, taken at your Family Day back in November, from Geneva's website. I am ashamed to admit that not only have I posted it here, but also on my computer desktop and my blog where this letter can also be found. (As Augustine in his Confessions shows, identifying particular vices and making them public is good for the soul's cleansing.) Though I should have asked permission, the beauty of the picture was too great to resist. Certainly you can sympathize with my weakness and find it in your heart to absolve me? Especially when you consider that I had even contemplated - but then strongly resisted the temptation! - asking you for a tuition break for helping advertise your fine institution in such a lovely way?

My second confession is that I grew a bit angry with you, as the head of Geneva, back in August. After leaving my little girl at your college, the next three days I literally felt like my heart had broken. It was like someone had died! This sweet daughter of mine, who for nineteen years had filled our home with joy, music, and love, was now gone. That I could have borne. Yet when I called her during those dark days of my soul, her voice did not sound quite like mine did. Oh, sure, she said she missed me, but she kept giggling afterwards which I did not think was very funny. She could not quite hide her excitement over such things as the new roommates she had, dining on a riverboat in Pittsburgh, or the classes she was looking forward to taking. Since I could not blame her, I blamed you for making the transition so painless. So please excuse my anger. But could you not at least consider instituting a two-day period of mourning for incoming students?

Having sat under your father's preaching for three years, I know the importance of heart applications of the law as is especially taught in the final commandment. So my final confession (I hope you are sitting down at this point) is that I secretly hoped Geneva might fail for my daughter. I had a black little hope that she might be so homesick, not like her classes, or at least miss the pastor back here so much that she would want to come back to Indiana. Instead, she has so many new friends we cannot remember all their names, has loved her courses and especially the music program, and is actually growing amazingly well in the church out there.

Thank you for reading my confessions. I know that looking at these things is never pretty. But, as Augustine explains it, neither was the desire for the pears that he stole.

Sincerely Thankful,

Barry York

Friday, December 05, 2008

Putting the Twig to the Nose

When my daughter Lindsay, home for the Thanksgiving break, asked me a question the other day, at first I wondered what they were teaching her at college. "Dad, what does 'putting the twig to the nose' mean?" she asked.

Then she told me she was reading Ezekiel for her Bible class, where the angel of God points out in Ezekiel 8:17 that men in Judah were guilty of "putting the twig to their nose." Considered the family's resident Bible expert, I enjoy it when my children ask me questions. Yet I had to admit to being a bit baffled by the expression, as I had not thought about it before. As our family happened to be traveling at the time, we discussed the context a bit, I told her it sounded like a pagan ritual to me, and then promised to look it up later.

What I found was interesting and (not surprising with the Word of God) fear-producing.

This verse with its expression is from a scene where the angel of God is showing the prophet why destruction is about to come upon Jerusalem. In the vision Ezekiel is shown 25 men worshiping in the courtyard of the temple. The problem is, however, that they are prostrated with their backs against the temple, praying to the sun in the east (Ezekiel 8:16). The angel then says,

"Do you see this, son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they have committed here, that they have filled the land with violence and provoked Me repeatedly? For behold, they are putting the twig to the nose. Therefore, I indeed will deal in wrath."

My research showed that my hunch was right. Often found in pagan worship was the practice of gathering a branch or bundle of twigs and then the worshiper would put them before his face near the mouth and nose as he prostrated himself and prayed to his idol. For these Jews worshiping the sun, it could have served as a type of veil to show respect to the sun-god, and it may have been a symbol of their recognition that life was dependent upon the light of the sun.

However, there is a powerful double entendre in this expression that only the Hebrew reveals. The word for "nose" in the Hebrew (אַף -"aph") can also be translated as "anger" or "ruin." The snort of emotion from the nose and the flaring of the nostrils provide the reason for this association. Sometimes scholars in different English versions can translate a verse using these two different meanings with the same effect, as in Job 4:9.
  • "By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of His nostrils they are consumed" (KJV).
  • "By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of His anger they come to an end" (NASB).
With this in mind, John Calvin said that by God describing them as putting the twig to the nose, they were in effect putting the twig to their ruin. In other words, by putting the twig to their nose, they were putting the twig to His nose. They were arousing His burning anger, which is why He follows this expression with these words, "Therefore, I will indeed deal in wrath."

How careful we must live! These Jews who thought they were being trendy by using a worldly worship practice were in reality putting more wood on the fire of God's anger by the very act. As Paul said in Romans 2:5, "Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God."

Perhaps from this we could develop a new proverbial warning when we see a believer pursuing evil things or churches turning their back on God's Word as they embrace worldly goods? "Don't put the twig to your nose!"