It isn't very funny but it made me laugh. I read Jeremiah 34 this morning, about a little incident that happened in Israel at the time that the pillars of the nation were wobbling and just about to cave before Nebuchadnezzar's military machine.
The waffling King Zedekiah, dodging frantically from one exit to another to avert the destruction the prophet kept predicting, at one point made a covenant with the people to the effect that everyone should set his Hebrew slaves free. The Lord had always decreed that at the end of every seven years, any Hebrew brother who had been sold into slavery to pay off a debt was to be released.
The part that made me smile with self-recognition was that the people all got rid of their slaves alright-but afterward they changed their minds and took them back (verse 11). This reminded me of many a retreat resolution, when some of us made lavish promises never to listen to the Rolling Stones again, and then went picking through the trashcan for the LPs we threw out last week.
Nevertheless, it isn't very droll, is it? What makes us do this? How can we be at one moment so impassioned for God and a few days later second-guessing the authenticity of that moment? Someone can perhaps get a Ph.D. out of explaining this. They can tell us why the Pharaoh kept changing his mind about letting the people go whenever morning came and the frogs were gone and the bloody Nile had returned to running clean.
When I first went to Francis Schaeffer's commune in the Alps called L'Abri in 1973 as a snotty unbeliever, I asked the directors to explain "doubt" for me. If a person claims to have the Holy Spirit, how can he ever have doubt? One guy replied, "Life is a series of moments." Somehow I saw profound wisdom in that answer, and it was the first nudge in the direction of faith.
Maybe the problem is materialism: We have a hard time believing what we cannot see. (And yet belief in what we cannot see is precisely what we are committed to.) The hoopla of the covenant ceremony is over now, and everybody has gone home. Here I am back in the house alone on a humdrum day and feeling like an idiot because I have to do my own laundry on the rocks because I let my Hebrew slave go. What am I, crazy?
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