What do you call a man who, when asked for food and drink by an army of 400 warriors, deliberately refuses them and then insults them?
How about “fool”?
Coincidently, that was the meaning of the name of Abigail’s husband, Nabal. Backstory (I Sam. 25): David and his mighty men, hungry and thirsty, had come upon Nabal’s men shearing his hundreds of sheep (Nabal was rich) and asked them for food and drink. Since David and his men had often protected Nabal’s herdsmen from danger, it wasn’t therefore asking too much for David to make such a request of Nabal. What was unusual was for Nabal to refuse David – especially considering that Nabal was plenty rich enough to provide food for David and his men. And most especially considering that it was – well, David and his men. Four hundred of them. With swords.
But – was Nabal’s foolish behavior really so coincidental?
Perhaps not. It’s difficult to imagine the impact of growing up and hearing yourself called “fool” every time anyone mentioned your name. Consequently, Nabal might simply have become convinced that that’s all he would ever be – whether he tried otherwise or not. So (I’m speculating), consciously or not, Nabal began to imitate other fools.
That’s what’s known as a “word curse”; we tend to become what we’re told we are. Jesus referred to such words as “idle words” and said that we’ll be held accountable for every idle word we speak. Why? Because people believe what they hear about themselves – for better or worse.
Take Jacob, for example, who was born grasping his twin brother’s heel (Gen. 25). His parents named him Jacob, meaning “one who takes by the heel” or “supplants”. They must (I speculate) have jokingly surmised that, at birth, Jacob was trying to pull his brother back so he could be the first out the door, the firstborn. Thus, he was trying to “supplant” his brother, which means “to trip up or overthrow”. Now, imagine Jacob hearing that story his whole life; possibly he came to feel that one day he would, in fact, supplant or replace his brother. By the time he did deliberately set out to steal his brother’s first-born status, was it really a surprise to anyone?
So – what are you saying about yourself? About your goals and visions? Are you saying, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”? Or are you saying, “I’m not good enough or smart enough or attractive enough or financially stable enough or experienced enough or – whatever enough?”
WHAT ARE YOU HEARING YOURSELF CALL YOURSELF?
Is it fool? Or liar/deceiver? How about stupid? Ugly? Loser? Worthless? Evil? Failure? Hopeless? If so, you need to get a new vision of yourself.
“Yeah,” you say, “been there, heard that. But I just can’t.”
Why? Jesus died to give you a new vision of yourself. And if His death isn’t powerful enough to re-write your identity, then Christ died for nothing.
Of course, you don’t believe that. So do you really believe then that there is any “case” too impossible for the Lord to re-define, to make new? Of course not. But you have to believe that that power applies to you. Is that always easy? No – as Jacob proves.
I should point out here that Jacob was not a nice person. Not only does he deliberately deceive his father and steal his brother’s birthright (Gen. 27) but, after a nasty conflict with his father-in-law over wages, he decides to take all his wives and children and return to his homeland. Fair enough. However, on the way, he’s afraid of running into his brother Esau (!) and so packs up a bunch of presents for him and sends all of them, along with his wives and children, across the river ahead of him.
Not exactly a model of integrity.
But what happens next always kind of baffled me.
Have you ever felt like you’ve been called to great things, impossible things? That would be because you have. The problem is we say we believe that but – do we really? The fact is that we’ve lost sight of the bottom line: “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Maybe it’s time for a quick reminder.
“Then the Lord said to Abraham, ‘About this time next year I will return, and your wife Sarah will have a son.’ Now Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent nearby. And since Abraham and Sarah were both very old, and Sarah was long past the age of having children, she laughed silently to herself. ‘How could a worn-out woman like me have a baby?’ she thought. ‘And when my master, my husband, is also so old?’ The Lord then said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, “Can an old woman like me have a baby?” Is anything too hard for the Lord?'” (Gen. 18:10-13).
A “baby” equals a dream, a promise, a heart’s desire. It also represents, as with Sarah, the sign of a fulfilled covenant and the promise of a covenant to come. The same message came to Jeremiah from the Lord.
The Lord had instructed Jeremiah to buy a field from his cousin and to store away the deed. Odd thing to do but God meant it as a sign that, although Jerusalem would be destroyed and the Israelites exiled to Babylon, the time would come that He would again restore His people to their land. But as Jeremiah sees the city and nation about to be destroyed, he is in despair and wonders how anyone could ever own land in Israel/Judah again, so Jeremiah questions God as to why He had him buy the land in the first place. But the deed was a prophetic sign of a future covenant which the Lord would make with His people.
God had also had Abraham perform a prophetic action when He’d commanded him, “’Take a walk in every direction and explore the new possessions I am giving you'” (Gen. 13:17). God tells Abraham to “explore” (“Walk the length and breath of the land . . .”) – to get a vision of it. He commanded Abraham to keep the vision before his eyes in order to hold onto the dream. And we should do the same . . .
As for Jeremiah, he didn’t understand the sign and essentially asks God: “How can You do that – fulfill your promise – when Jerusalem is about to be destroyed??” God’s answer: “‘I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for Me?'” (Jer. 32:26-27).
In the book of Luke, the angel Gabriel visits Mary to inform her that she will become pregnant with the Messiah through the Spirit of God and have a baby. Mary responds by asking how she can get pregnant when she’s still a virgin. (Evidently she gets that this is supposed to happen immediately and not after she marries Joseph, to whom she is engaged. I always thought this to be very astute of her because I probably would have missed the point entirely and responded, “Why wouldn’t I have a son ? I’m about to get married. I hope I have lots of them!”) The angel tells her how it will happen (as soon as she gives the word), and then gives her a sign to believe in: “‘What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s already in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God'” (Luke 1:36).
In Matthew 19, there is the account of the rich young ruler who leaves sadly after deciding he cannot give up his possessions and follow Jesus (who was testing his commitment by asking him to do that). Jesus watches him go and comments to His disciples that it’s about as easy for a rich person to get saved as it is for a huge camel to go through the tiny city gate known as the “Eye of the Needle.” Knowing how impossible that would be, Jesus’ disciples, astonished, respond, “‘Then who in the world can be saved?'” (vs. 25). Jesus’ answer? “‘With man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible'” (vs. 26). The disciples were panicked at the thought that salvation would be as difficult to attain as a camel getting through that gate (which evidently had never been done before).
Have you ever been so desperate to hear from God or to have Him move on your behalf that, having tried everything else, you finally just pitch a fit.
Have you ever been angry at God?
Maybe you feel you’ve been tried beyond your limits: a person in your life who – for days, months, years – has tested your patience and love beyond bearing? A job which – while you’re grateful to have one – you dread going to each and every day? Or you need a job, any job? Perhaps you’ve been waiting a long time for the desire of your heart – a husband or wife? A dream you believe you’ve been called to? A child?
Maybe you’ve been praying for the salvation of a loved one for half a lifetime – and they seem to be getting further away from the Lord, not closer. Perhaps you’re desperate to be healed or to see a loved one healed – and pain is all you know in the meantime. Maybe you’re enduring a heartbreaking marriage – and despite all of your pleading and prayers, the dream just isn’t happening.
Maybe you have financial problems: bills you can’t pay or college or retirement you can’t afford? Or just when you begin to get on your feet, something else breaks down, wears out, needs repairs or someone gets sick? What if your heart’s been broken just one too many times and you just can’t bear one more minute of pain?
What if, in the midst of any or all of those trials, heartaches, persecutions, and crisises, you’ve said every prayer you can think of or you’ve put on the game face and willed yourself to worship one more time or you’ve fasted till you’re skin and bones or you’ve declared every promise in the Bible? What if you’ve tithed every penny you’ve ever earned and forgiven till you’re blue in the face and haven’t missed church in seven years? What if you’ve read the Bible through three times in a year, pray two hours a day (on your knees), and clean toilets every week at church.
What if all of that – and you still just can’t seem to get God’s attention.
Have you ever been there? So worn out from waiting, crying, pleading, dealing, declaring, and waiting some more that you finally decide God needs a little drama?
Sometimes, in the midst of desperate circumstances over a long period of time, when everything we know to do has failed to move God’s hand – we take circumstances into our own hands.