Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Men of Ephraim

“The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle; they did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by His law. They forgot what He had done, the wonders He had shown them.” Psalm 78:9-11

I don’t think any of us would like that to be the way we are remembered. It’s the kind of truth that we would prefer not to be reminded of.

The weapons, apparently, were bows. The men of Ephraim were excellent archers.  Some commentators seem to think that although they had the bows to hand, they were not strung properly. There’s also a lot of speculation about which battle it was they turned away from or whether, in more general terms, it was about the split between the ten tribes (called Israel) and the two tribes (called Judah) and the lack support they gave when needed.

I knew someone who indulged in opposite truths. If one particular scripture had a very negative slant to it, he liked to work out what the opposite truth might be. If it was a positive truth, he liked to work out the opposite truth and be challenged.

God wasn’t impressed with the men of Ephraim. Their actions robbed God of the glory that He was due. Had they fought, and won, had they kept His covenant and laws, had they remembered His amazing miracles the word written about them would have been so different.

“The men of Ephraim, armed with bows strung firm and arrows sharp and true, stood unwavering on the day of battle; they honoured God’s covenant and refused to deviate from His law. They remembered and kept alive everything He had done, they never forgot the wonders He had shown them.”

That makes for a much nicer testimony!

It makes me think about the equipment God has given me. It’s no use having a sword if the edge is not sharp. It’s no use having a sword if I don’t know how to wield one. God does not ask me to do anything without first equipping me. If I feel ill-equipped and inadequate – perhaps I’m on the wrong battlefield. Or perhaps I am too lazy to allow the Holy Spirit to train me.

Last week Joe and I found ourselves in Pocklington, a pretty market town not far from the city of York. Joe was amazed that such a small town could have so many tea shops. There were only so many customers to go around – how could they stay open for business? They also had a theatre and the play that week was “Journey’s End”. It was about the trenches and World War 1. There was much glorification of war but the play was about the damage done to the young officers. On the day of battle they were frightened boys, not brave men, but they went out to face the enemy anyway.

It feels like lately I have been facing more than a few battles. Some of them are physical ones – my body is reminding me that I’m not as young as I used to be, or as well looked after as I could have been. Some of my battles are mental ones – I discovered a definite yellow streak in my mental make-up. I used to be quite courageous. I still am to some extent but it takes a lot of stoking up the fires to get there. I am determined to stand unwavering because to do anything else would be to deny the power of God to transform situations or to transform me.

At the heart of God’s covenant has always been God’s desire and intention - “My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Ezekiel 37:27) The world doesn’t want to work on that principle. They want nothing to do with God – irrelevant at best, dangerous at worst. They don’t want to be accountable or answerable to anyone. When we do God properly, authentically and genuinely we should be creating in people a hunger for God. The trouble is that we don’t do God properly. Sometimes we do God very badly and people believe that God is cruel and judgemental because that’s the way His people behave.

In Psalm 74, the men of Ephraim forgot what God had done.  They forgot the wonders God had done. I like my opposite truth - “they remembered and kept alive everything He had done”. The reason I can remember how to make pastry the way Mrs Barton (?) taught me at school is not by reading through an old school notebook – but by making the pastry! Keeping alive is more than remembering – it’s doing. If we want to see God doing wonders today, in our sceptical world, we need to give Him room and opportunity to do them.

One of the reasons I started writing was to keep an account of the things God had done in my life. I leaf through old notebooks, blog entries, or poems and I am amazed how much encouragement I find in them. The insight I had then speaks to me now. I speak to myself and lift myself up. But then, as good that is, me speaking to me, me speaking to you and you speaking to me is so much better. I can only tell myself what I already know – you can tell me the things I don’t know, things I need to know. A good conversation is to the heart what a good meal is to the body. Heart-wise we exist on snacks and junk food and wonder why we are not people of character.

I would like God’s verdict on my life to be a good one. I don’t want to be a man of Ephraim – not the Psalm 78 one. God’s verdict on my life is already a good one because of Jesus. I have something that the men of Ephraim didn’t have – Jesus in me.

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