Around the turn of the 20th century, the XIT was one of the largest cattle ranches in the world. It was just over 3 million fenced in acres in the panhandle of Texas and was home to around 150,000 XIT branded cattle. Of the 100 or so cowboys that worked the spread, the most important job was saved for a select few. Their title was “the windmillers”. Where as many of the cowhands would retreat at night to camps and shelters, the windmillers were seen once a month at headquarters to pick up supplies. They lived out in the open year round with only a chuck wagon as their home. In summer swelter and winter chill, they were responsible for the upkeep and care of the 355 windmills that gave water to the cattle of the XIT ranch (Evetts, 96). The most impressive windmill on the ranch and in the world at the time rose 130 ft catching the west Texas wind (Evetts, 167).
Though they got their name from what was above ground, the real purpose of a windmill took place below ground. Though the usually didn’t stand very tall, many of the XIT windmills pumped water from well below the surface. They averaged a depth of 125 ft, with the deepest pumping water from 400 ft below ground. “Sometimes you have to dig deep to find water” is a sentiment not only shared by the wind millers of the XIT but also Solomon, the author of many of the Proverbs.
Near the end of the Proverbs that Solomon wrote, he offers up an ambiguous gem of thought. He writes:
“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” (Proverbs 20.5)
A man’s heart can be many things, especially in the book of Proverbs. In our scientific thought and western philosophy, the heart is full of emotions and feelings. Occasionally, the heart is equated with desire and passion, ‘follow your heart’ and ‘what the heart wants’. But in the Biblical world, the heart was so much more. It was the mind, the will, the emotions, the passions, the decision-maker, and the life giver of the person. The heart held their personality and character, their morality and their center. So when Proverbs talks about the heart it contains so much more than just the emotions; it entails the man. “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.” (Prov 27.19)
“Purposes” have filled this man in Proverbs heart. The hebrew word translated “purposes” is oft used and inconsistently translated. It can mean “advice”, “counsel”, “verdict”, “judgment”, or “consulted”. To cover the range of translations, the noun seems to indicate “a prescribed course of action”. Reheboam, for instance, receives a “consultation” from his elders, then rejects their “counsel” and accepts the “advice” of the young men he grew up around. The decision would ultimately, cost him the entirety of the Kingdom. This illustrates an issue that arises often in Scripture: the origin of the “advice” or “plans”. When the “counsel” came from the Lord or one of His Agents, universally the outcome was positive, however, when man made the recommendation, it almost always turned bad. It remains to be seen as to whether the purposes of this heart are from God or from man.
The heart has its own “prescribed course of action” and they aren’t visible on the surface. The text says they are like “deep waters”. The word for deep, ‘amoq, is used in Psalm 64 where the wicked are plotting for David. There the mind and heart of man are described as cunning [‘amoq] (Psalm 64.6). Here the wicked are obviously not led by the Lord but by the counsel of men. The cunningness of the heart is not lost in the book of Proverbs where the heart can be full of deceit, envious, and led astray. Like Jeremiah said: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure…” (Jer. 17.9) The heart can play games, its waters are deep; however (and thankfully for this man), it is not the final authority. This man in Proverbs 20.5a seems to harboring his own plans and actions that are cunning and hidden well below the surface; ones that are not in line with those of God and it would be of serious issue if they welled up and remained there.
Thankfully, the plans of a man’s heart, made in the heart of man, are clearly in submission to the thoughts and plans of God. Proverbs reminds us:
“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord” (16.3)
“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (16.9)
“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (19.21)
Since the Lord’s way prevails, it seems as though our hearts ought to align with his purposes, passions, and paths. This is where the man of understanding comes in.
Like the windmills that pierced the West Texas dirt, the purposes of a heart must be uncovered. The perfect person for the job is the “man of understanding” (Prov. 20.5b). He “draws the purposes out” of the heart. Two things pertinent to this discussion are made abundantly clear:
- The qualities of a man of understanding. This study began as I tried to figure out the type of man Bezalel was in Exodus 31. He was filled with “ability” which is most commonly translated as “understanding”. Solomon gives background to the type of man Bezalel was by weaving a description of a “man of understanding” throughout the book of Proverbs. He is a patient man (Prov 14.29), who delights in wisdom and good conduct (Prov 10.23) and holds his tongue (Prov 11.12), with an even temper (Prov 17.27) and the ability to make keen judgments, keeping his course straight and on track (Prov 15.21). All these qualities lead to a blessed (Prov 3.13) and prosperous life with God (Prov 19.8).
- A man needs community. Proverbs makes many claims to the need for counsel and advice, which only comes from life in community. It is the wise who seek advice, guidance, and counsel from their brothers (1.5; 12.5; 12.15; 13.10; 15.22; 19.20; 20.18). A man of understanding seeks help from others and counsel from friends. It is only those who can bring his true motives, his “prescribed course of action”, to the surface. Without that process, hearts are easily corrupted, ambitions ignored, and motives overlooked. Only in an accountable relationship, is a heart truly understood.
A man of understanding is the man that can draw out the deep waters of another’s heart and honestly take stock and examine what lies deep underground. It was the words of a mentor that showed me how selfish my ambitions were, as I desperately wanted to speak in front of thousands of teenagers about God. The ultimate goal was praiseworthy, but my ambitions were corrupted. It took the honest assessment of a true friend to point out that my dream of being a PRCA Bullfighter had much more to do with pride, than it did with serving God. It was the same man who, as I mourned my own lack of measured success and achievement in the world of Rodeo, pointed out the ministry that God has given me at this point in my career, and the awesome people I spend all summer elbow to elbow with in the arenas and back pens during the summer. These were “men of understanding” who drew out, from the depths of my heart, the “purposes” that I had, and analyzed them.
I spent 3 weeks thinking about this verse because I made every effort to show that the “man of understanding” was able to draw deeply out of his own heart…but the text seems clear to itself. My heart easily fools me and as much as I desperately want to be the man who studies, guides, and asses my own heart, it takes another to do that. I wanted to be in isolation, because I still struggle to see manhood as a group endeavor…but it is. It is a community, a brotherhood, a squad that makes men better, as much as I tried to make it not so.
Haley, J. Evetts. The XIT Ranch of Texas: And the Early Days of the LLano Estacado. (University of Oklahoma Press: Norman) 1953.
They say the “only way to move cattle fast, is slow.” When working with an animal who’s IQ is abysmally low, their fight/flight instinct is virtually indistinguishable, and a stubborn streak is readily observed, there really is nothing that goes quickly. I have seen them break for open ground, stand still and refuse to move, or turn around and run over anything that moves. They run through fences, run over feed bunks, but will balk at water in a ditch. Cattle, not unlike middle school students, can ruin the best-laid-plans.
Patience is a virtue when it comes to ranching. It takes years to accumulate the land, the cattle, the equipment, and the know how. The cold winter, the wet and muddy calving season, and the sweat spilling summer was spent getting ready for one fall pay-day. There are few quick solutions in ranching. It is a patience building profession. The nation of Israel found themselves in the patience building phase of their journey at the end of Exodus 24.
When it comes to chronology, there are two main types of stories in the Bible and each communicates a different message about God and His people. The first type of story is probably more well known and it takes place over three days. John Ortberg, in his book Faith and Doubt, calls these microwave stories. Microwaves make quick work of everything. Cold cups of coffee become warm in 15 seconds; leftover pizza in 30. On a cold morning, socks get warmed up in 10 seconds before being put on…like you guys don’t do it! The microwave works quicker than a dryer.
Three-day-microwave stories put the character and activity of God at the front and center. They are stories of “crisis and urgency”.1 Desperate circumstances surround the microwave stories. It was three days after the Israelites were deceived by the Gibeonites, when they realized their mistake (Joshua 9.16). It was three days that the people had to prepare to enter the promised land (Joshua 1.11) and three days the spies hid after meeting Rahab (Joshua 2.16). When David has sinned against the Lord (2 Sam. 24.10), as a consequence, the Lord offered up three options: “Three years of famine…three months of fleeing…or three days of plague?” (2 Samuel 24.13) David, in his own words, describes the situation as “deeply distressful” [sara] (2 Samuel 24.14) a word reserved for the most dire of circumstances. There is also the three days Nehemiah waited in Jerusalem before checking the wall (Neh. 2.11); the three days to confess sin to Ezra (Ezra 10.9); and the three days Jonah was fish food (Jonah 1.17). Of course, the most famous three day story, Jesus resurrection account. Where the words “on the third day” took on a fuller meaning. Three-day-microwave stories point to a need for God to do something, a need for Him to show up, a need for his action. Moses experienced a three-day story when the Lord gave a three-day heads-up before the fireworks of his arrival on Sinai (Ex. 19.15). Moses knew what a three-day story looked like.
But in Exodus 24 another type of story emerges. The 40-day (or year) story, which Ortberg calls a Crockpot story, is one of patience and perseverance. It is a sit-around-and-wait story where people are tried and tested. Crockpot meals set all day and simmer. They take a while to heat up. These are the stories the take time to develop, but develop the people they involve. Jesus began his ministry with a 40 day fast in the desert (Matt 4.2) and he ended his time on earth with 40 days before his ascension (Acts 1.3). Noah and his family waited through 40 day/night rain on the earth. Through tense and tumultuous seas, Noah and his family waited in the ark. (Gen 7.12) For 40 days Goliath defied the armies of the Living God (1 Sam 17.16); Elijah hid from Jezebel on Mount Horeb for 40 days and nights (2 Kings 19.8); and Ezekiel slept on his side for 40 days (Ezekiel 4.6). Moses would become very familiar with the Crockpot story. The spies would be in the Promised Land for forty days (Numbers 13.25) and when they brought back a bad report and the people were unfaithful, they would wander in the desert for 40 years (Numbers 14.34). Even Moses life was a testament to perseverance and Crock-pots. He was in Egypt 40 years learning leadership from the most advanced civilization of its day. Then he spent 40 years in the desert chasing sheep, un-learning his Egyptian ways and learning God’s way of leadership. Finally, he would spend 40 years leading the people in the desert.
In Exodus 24 the Crockpot story was for the whole nation of Israel. Moses and Joshua headed up the mountain to meet with God. They left Aaron and Hur to lead the people (Ex 24.13) Moses stayed on the Mountain for 40 days and nights (Ex. 24.18). For the next 7 chapters, Moses is on top of the Mountain hearing from God and writing things down. Aaron, Hur, and the people are partying down below. In the “have patience-Crockpot story” the people couldn’t wait and became corrupt (Ex 32.7) Because they “didn’t know what happened to him” (Ex 32.1), they made for themselves an idol. So what are we to make of this story? The forty days of waiting?
Forty days is a long time to wait…to learn. Our forty-day terms can be a wait for a diagnosis, a period of unemployment or under-employment, a rebellious child, an extended disagreement with a spouse. God shouts in the three-day stories, but he whispers in the 40. God is always on a mission to reach us, speak to us, teach and lead us. For 40 days, he sought to teach patience to Israel. Are we learning in the Crockpot? What are we learning in the slowness and the still?
1 Ortberg, John. Faith & Doubt (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2008) 91.
Cowboys and cattle are as different as the geography they inhibit. From the Great Basin to the Sandhills of Nebraska; the forested Rockies of Montana to the swamps and marshes of the deep south. The differences in the way cattle are worked, raised, handled, sold, and bred, change from operation to operation and region to region. Here in the Flint Hills of Kansas, one of our most distinguishing cattle ranching marks is fire season. The last tallgrass prairie in America Flint Hills are known for its high protein bluestem grass, that packs pounds on to cattle. Little bluestem, the state grass of Kansas, can provide 1-2 tons of forage per acre and is especially palatable to cattle after a spring burn, when plants are re-growing. So every spring, along highways and back roads, smoke billows from acres and acres of grass fires, as ranchers are preparing the land for their shortened and intense 90-day grazing season (more head of cattle/fewer days).
When Grandpa used to burn his pasture, my favorite part happened about three or four days afterward. When the flames had cleared the thatch, the dead undergrowth, and saplings, revealing shed antlers, skulls, and all other sorts of surprises. That’s why I haven’t burned my pasture yet…Im scared of what I might find. There’s the massive cemetery cross from a few years back. Then the horse skeleton from last year. I know there are some mower decks, probably some implements, maybe a Model A or something. Fire has a way of revealing things that were once hidden.
Three months of marching had led the fledgling nation of Israel to the foot of Mt. Sinai. (Ex. 19.1) Their extended camp-out would be marked and defined by the conversations they would have with God during this time. Moses had hiked up and down the mountain a few times, each time carrying a message from God who has manifested Himself atop the mountain by cloud, storm, and fire.
Moses finishes chapter 19 at the base of Sinai with the rest of the people. Without a break in the story, no pause in continuity, Exodus 20 begins with the words: “And God spoke all these words”. From the summit of the Mount, to all the people gathered below, God spoke the 10 commandments, in the hearing of all the people. (Exodus 20.1-17)
When they “saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, the trembled [nua’] with fear.” (Ex 20.18) The people, at the sigh of God’s presence on the mountian, and in the hearing of his voice, milled around with apprehension. They became restless [nua’ — Gen 4.14]; they staggered like a drunk nua’ — Isaiah 29.9] and shook like a tree in the wind [nua’ — Isaiah 7.2]. Shaking with fear, they keep their distance from the mountain and ask Moses to do the talking for them.
Moses replied: “Do not be afraid. God has come to test [nasa’] you…”
Testing doesn’t always conjure up positive feelings or thoughts. This story (and the other stories in Scripture where God tests his people) makes me uncomfortable. At first glance, these stories seem to reek of entrapment. God in His divine wisdom and providence, provides the very thing that He knows will trip us up! Seems kind of underhanded for a good and loving God. It’s like he’s sitting on a cloud, waiting for us to screw up, expecting us to mis-step. With this kind of thinking, its easy to see how people would have trouble believing in the goodness of God.
Testing at the hand and will of God, shouldn’t have a connotation that impune the virtue of the Lord. Perhaps a better look at “testing” throughout scripture, especially as seen in the wilderness wanderings, will allow God to remain good and “test” to retain its important implications.
First off, testing, especially in the wilderness narratives, was all about the response. In the same way that an academic test’s purpose was to elicit an intellectual reaction, so the testing of the Israelites response was intended to be a closer relationship with the Lord. The testing was there for the benefit of Israel, not failure.
- “God tested you, so that you may fear the Lord and stop sinning.” (Ex. 20.20)
- “God tested you, so that in the end it might go well with you.” (Deut. 8.2)
The testing of Israel, was to their benefit. Will is found only when challenged; strength discovered when challenged. During its time, Israel had its share of tests? And not all of them were tests of desperation.
The wilderness tests weren’t all bad, a plague or destruction (like Job), sometimes testing can be of affluence. The Israelites were “tested” with manna from heave (Ex. 16.4, 15-16; Deut 8.16) and double on the 6th day (Ex 16.29). They were “tested” with the Lord’s presence (ex. 20.20) and meat every morning (Ex. 16.8). When they left Egypt, they wanted to know that God was going with them. So God led them all the way in the desert, what they desired, as a test (Deut 8.2). Thoughts of testing usually happen in the valley’s of life, cancer diagnosis and debt, divorce and rebellion, but tests hit the Israelites at the good times as well. Affluence can bring out the worst in folks.
The purpose, the reason for the tests, was not a quiz for the people to pass, but a revelation of their heart to embrace. “You never really know what you don’t really know until it really is shown what you don’t really know.” God knows the thoughts and actions of our heart…but we are really good at convincing ourselves that those intentions, thoughts, and purposes aren’t there. James tells his readers, “When tempted, no one should say: ‘God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, his is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1.13-14) What does the tempting, what brings the test comes from within the heart? The testing simply brings forth, it reveals, what is hidden beneath the surface. God provides the test, to reveal, not quiz his people:
- When false hoods arise and mistruths are being spread: “The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you live him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut. 13.3)
- Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years as punishment for their disobedience and for God to know “what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut. 8.2)
- Israel at manna and meat to see if they would pay attention to his commands (Ex 15.26); live of His daily provision (Ex 16.4, 16); keep the Sabbath (16.5); and trust Him at His word.
Up to this point the word that has been translated as “testing” has been the Hebrew word nasa’. Thirty six times in the Old Testament, throughout the scope of the Hebrew Bible, this word was used to communicate a situation in order to reveal motives and attitudes of the heart. But there is another word, however, that is more poetic and metaphorical for this process of getting to know deeper issues. The Hebrew word bachan, is largely used later in the Hebrew Scriptures and is clustered in the writings of the prophets and the wisdom books. In the same way that gold or silver is refined, so too does the Lord test the heart. Six different times (Job 23.10; Ps. 66.10; Prov 17.3; Judges 6.27-30; Jer. 9.7; Zech 13.9) is the word used in connection with the understanding of metallurgy: a refining fire, bringing impurities to the surface, heat to shape and mold. While in the fire, being tested, the heart’s contents are shown.
In Exodus 20.20, Moses tells the people the God has come to “test” [nasa’] them. God had descended on the Mountaintop, spoken with the nation of Israel from atop the mountain, and given them the 10 commandments. They had been told ‘not to go up the mountain or touch the foot of it” (Ex 19.12), and now they were committed to following His instructions. They told Moses to speak them instead of God. God’s presence came to reveal what was in their hearts concerning Him: fear and obedience. The test had come and had revealed.
Testing is God’s way of helping us; helping us realize and uncover the motives of our hearts in order to better understand our relationship with Him. How are you holding up under the fire?
Hedgerows criss-crossed my grandpa’s farm when I was growing up. He used to tell me, as we were checking cows, that a row of hedge trees, planted close together, was the way they would fence in livestock before barbed wire was invented. I didn’t believe him. I just couldn’t see how a row of trees would ever keep cattle in or out. That all changed when I had to make my way through one, cut firewood, or track down a deer hidden in its thorny sanctuary.
For those of you ranching outside of Kansas, I just now learned that hedgerows are a Flinthills/Eastern Kansas thing to begin with. The reason is that barbed-wire was not prevalent til the late 1870’s-1880’s, around 30 years after Kansas was settled. Before the arrival of barbed wire, Kansans chose to “fence” in their property with hedge rows. Oklahoman’s didn’t open up for settlement until after barbed wire was widely available so they fenced off their property with the wire. Hedgerows are few and far between down in Sooner land.
But when barbed-wire came onto the scene hedge found another use: fence posts. They will outlast any other wooden post by 30 years and mature quickly. Every 20 years or so, the same hedge row can be harvested for posts. The only draw back is attaching wire to them. The old joke used to be:
Q: What’s the difference between a hedge post and stone post?
A: Its easier to drive a staple into a stone one.
Hedge is hard. Hard enough to bend steel. A staple or nail will be turned back by the orange hardwood. Nothing pierces easily, it dulls chainsaw chains, and protests against drill bits. It is unyielding, stubborn, and hard.
In Exodus, Pharaoh’s heart was often described as hard [hb. hazaq], heavy [hb. qasa], and unyielding [hb. kabed] Just as the years of growth, layered tightly together, makes the hedge hard, so the years of growth, experience, and theology grew together on the heart of Pharaoh. When Moses tells Pharaoh to let his people go Pharoah’s heart became like hedge. Four times Pharaoh made his heart hard, twice it was observed to be hard, and 4 times it was the Lord who made it hard.
Pharaoh was the King of Egypt, the incarnation of Re, the creator of the world, and the keeper of ma’at, the peace and order of creation. Pharaoh was like Hank the Cowdog, chief security officer and keeper of order on the ranch. The ten plagues, was God messing with the divine order. It was, as I put earlier, an arm wrestling match between the Lord and Pharaoh. God is showing the Pharaoh that he is really in control. When Pharaoh died, it was believed that his heart would be placed on a scale. Opposite the heart of Pharaoh would be the feather of ma’at. Should Pharaoh’s heart bring down the scales, judged as too heavy, weighed down by unrighteousness and disorder, it would be fed to a waiting demon Ammut, who looks like the dogs from the Hunger Games.
In the story of the Exodus, the ten plagues act as a picture of judgement upon: 1) the nation of Egypt for their mistreatment of the Hebrews; (2) the officials of Egypt who are using evil powers to replicate the work of God; (3) Pharaoh and his egotistical view of himself and his power; (4) the gods of the nation. God is acting as judge over all of these entities. Every time the Lord mentions how hard, stiff, heavy, and unyielding the heart of Pharaoh is, the picture of divine scales is flashing in the mind of the reader.
The heart [hb. leb; eg. ib] meant so much in the ancient near east. We think of it as a box where our emotions are kept, but the ancient cultures saw it as so much more. They saw it as a place of resting, like a shelf, chair, or table. But on these things rested their intellect, will, logic, sense, wisdom, understanding, intelligence, attention, intention, disposition, manner, will, wish, desire, mind, courage, lust, self, and thoughts. The heart was so much more than what we think. Pharaoh’s heart was so much more than just his feelings, it was everything that made him Pharaoh. Thus, the wrestling match, the arm of the Lord and the arm of Pharaoh, becomes a battle of the heart as well.
The plagues beg the question: will Pharaoh’s heart stand up to the judgement of the Lord? How will the Lord judge the heart of Pharaoh? The answer: heavy, hard, stiff.
When God speaks to our heart, when He calls us to act, when He begs us to attention…to what condition does He find our heart? When we look into the face of the orphan, the widow, the homeless, the down and out, the least, is our heart like hedge? When the direction that God is leading and going and acting unfolds before us, will we be the one whose heart has become like the Osage Orange that dulls even the sharpest chains?
From the Church you could see the rest of town. The town was actually so small that they had another towns mailing address. You have heard of one-stoplight-towns, this was a no-stoplight-town. Still, our couple hours of time spent in that small town in Northern Missouri, changed my heart and my vision for what ministry could look like.
We had spoken at the Omaha Baptist Church’s Youth Weekend and the final session was to take place on Sunday morning for Church. My wife and I followed the students into the town with the rest of the students and pulled up to the front of a pretty good-sized church. With a couple minutes before Sunday school, Rich, the youth retreat leader, volunteered to give us a tour of the new addition. They were adding on a gym and new auditorium and a few class-rooms. I would find out why a few minutes later.
When Sunday school began, the preacher closed a divider that split the sanctuary off from an overflow room. In the sanctuary, one of the elders led nearly 50 men of all ages through the chapter of Kingdom Man that was assigned that week. In the overflow/kitchen area, a woman who has celebrated very many 29th birthday’s, led the women in their study of Kingdom Woman. My wife came out of Sunday school nearly in tears. “Older” women leading younger women in study is something that is very near to her heart. It was a church living out Titus 2.3-5.
My sermon that day was on the text I’m writing about today; the idea of passing on your faith and ministry. Here I was planning to encourage the people of Omaha Baptist Church to train the younger men and women for ministry and I find out that the young men put up the trusses for the building alongside the older men, the women were learning Sunday school from more experienced women, and their deacons and elders are in constant training to lead others. I HAD NO SERMON TO PREACH! They had already taken it.
The truth is: Ranching/Farming families and communities have few other options that pouring into the next generation. With 200 bales of hay in the field and a storm coming, a 10-year-old becomes a hand, not a kid. When the cows need brought in, sometimes the only help you have is family. There is a reason Tricia and I pray that our kids will want to rodeo. The kids we see at rodeos are self-reliant, hard working, and responsible. They were taught by their parents, grandparents, or whom ever, how to do things and accomplish tasks. Some of these kids are handier than I am.
Second Kings 2 captures the last moments of the relationship between Elijah and his protégé Elisha. Just as Moses was succeeded by Joshua, Paul was followed by Timothy, and Jesus commissioned his disciples, Elijah is handing off his ministry to Elisha. Elijah and Elisha are heading out from Gilgal. Elijah turns to Elisha and says “stay here”. Elisha says no. When they arrive at Bethel, after a meeting with the prophets there, Elijah went to Jericho. He told Elisha to stay there, Elisha said “no”. Jericho was the same story all over again: a meeting with the prophets there and high-tailing it out of town to the Jordan. Elijah say’s stay here, Elisha says “no”.
“So the two of them walked on.” (2 Kings 2.6)
Life on the road was Elijah’s method. Three times here and how many other times during Elijah’s ministry did he chat, talk, prank, and teach Elisha on the road. “On the way” (hb. derek) was where the Israelites were to teach their kids (Deut 6.7; 11.19). God knew how to leverage a journey. Jesus spent most of Luke teaching “on the way” up to Jerusalem. The disciples were following him all over the Judean countryside soaking up his teaching along the way. Elijah is expounding things to Elisha on the way to wherever. This generation is a journey generation. They love stories, adventures, and action. They want to be part of the story and the best way to teach them is to invite them on a journey. They are looking for someone to “walk with”.
The second thing about this passage that stands out is the copying of Elijah by Elisha. When Elijah had reached the Jordan, he took off his cloak and struck the waters of the Jordan with it, dividing it into two. They walked across the dry bed of the river, and reaching the other side, Elijah asked Elisha what he could do for him before leaving. Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elisha’s ministry would double the amount of miracles than Elijah’s, but that isn’t what he is asking. He is asking the question of inheritance. Elisha is asking for a first son’s share of his ministry, his name, and his work. The first son, the oldest, would get a double portion of a father’s possessions.
After Elijah was taken away and Elisha received the double portion, the Jordan stood between Elisha and the beginning of his ministry. Elisha removes the cloak that he had picked up from Elijah (he tore his own clothes), and marched back to the Jordan. He did what he saw Elijah do earlier, and struck the waters of the Jordan, dividing it to the right and left. In the same way Elijah worked, so Elisha emulated. This generation is not a watch-and-see generation. They want to be part of the work. They want to get their hands dirty. It looks like Jake shoin’ horses with his grandfather; Shanie and Kassie hauling stock with their parents; Blaine working the feedlot with his dad in Council Grove. The next generation refuses to sit the sidelines…they want to be part of something bigger. They are looking for someone to “do-with”.
For years I searched for someone who would “walk-with-do-with”. I looked for a mentor to capture that vision, to lead and train me to become the man I wanted to become. For years the Church let me down in that aspect. I had some mentors, Phil Maddux and Doug Aldridge, who poured into me and taught me these things, but since leaving college have been without someone like that. Someone to “walk-with, do-with”. Christians, we need to teach this vision in church. We need to implement this vision in our own lives. We need to learn from the ranch and farm, where the next generation needs to learn to ropes. Within the city limits, it’s a little harder to find and do, but it is possible. Take a kid shopping, to the bank, to the park, wherever, but take them. Include them, show them and teach them. Walk-with-do-with. Its how Elijah trained Elisha, and its how the Church needs to train its youth. Take a lesson from the ranch and lead our students and younger people from our experiences.
The first time I felt grown up I had a hay hook in my hand. My family was putting up some brome on Grandpas farm and needed another person, no matter how skilled. Upon arrival I was put up on the hay wagon directly behind the baler. Grandpa kicked it in high gear and we stacked bales upon bales. I don’t recall how many I put up myself but it wasn’t very many. I was 10 and poor help. We pulled the full hay rack into the barn and began throwing it into the loft. It being my very first time, I doubt I accomplished much. But I do remember the lesson I was given on using a hay hook. On the fly I was shown how to operate a sharp, bent piece of steel. How to stick it into a bale, pull back on the handle and lift with your leg. That lesson changed me forever. As a 10 year old in somewhat rural America, a hay hook, and the skill to use it is a rite of passage. From then on, I wasn’t as much of a liability to work, as a partner. Not so much a space filler on the hay crew, but a hand with a purpose. The same could be said of Elisha when Elijah got a hold of him.
Elijah’s brokenness was assuaged with God’s message that his ministry would outlive him; that his work was not in vain; and he would be instrumental in bringing up the next in line. He is instructed to anoint the next king of Aram (Hazael), the next dynasty of Israel (Jehu), and the next prophet in line (Elisha).
Elijah took these instructions seriously. He went from the Mountain of Sinai and found Elisha with his hand to the plow. It is fitting that he was preparing the ground for planting, because that is what his life will be about.
The prophets, especially at this period in the history of God’s people, are much less harvesters than stump pullers. Elijah has been engaging opposing worldviews for a majority of his ministry, preparing the ground. Looking back on the ministry of the prophets, they spent more time confronting sin and morality than they did “planting” seeds of righteousness. Much more time was spent attempting to remove and displace the idolatry and evil in the kingdom, than talking God’s plan for the nation. Elisha spent his days prior to ministry, making hard ground suitable for planting and in ministry, attempting to make hard hearts suitable for planting.
As Elisha is plowing, Elijah runs up to him, throws his cloak around his waste, and runs off. Elisha forsakes his oxen and plow, and chases down [hb. rus] Elijah. The same word [rus[is used of Elijah out running Ahab (18.46) down the mountain. Elisha, filled with similar passion and excitement that Elijah displayed, catches up quick. Elijah gives him permission to say one last good by to his family and work. He kissed his parents, burned his plow, and feed the people his oxen.
“Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant [sarat].” (1 Kings 19.21)
What Elisha was excited about, I cant say exactly, but I think this verse hints at it. Today we use the words “servant” and “attendant” synonymously, but in hebrew there seems to be some difference between servant [‘ebed] and attendant [sarat]: Elisha is said to have become Elijah’s attendant [sarat[ which conveys the idea of:
- Partnership. Elisha and Elijah from this point on were partners in ministry. Elijah had more experience and took the lead, but Elisha had come alongside him in ministry not behind him in ministry. Take for example Joshua. He was a servant [‘ebed] of the Lord (Josh 24.29; Jud. 2.80, but an aide [sarat] to Moses. With Moses, Joshua stood alongside him as he stayed on the mountain 40 days and nights (Ex. 24.13ff.) and wouldn’t leave the tent of meeting as Moses and God spoke (Ex. 33.11). When Moses did ministry, Joshua was beside him, learning and doing. I think Elisha reveled in the idea of being a sarat, not just an ‘ebed.
- Purpose. In the OT servants performed any number of odd jobs, but attendants performed only the highest of tasks. Three times sarat is used of articles used for worship in the Temple (Num 4.9;2 Kings 25.14; 1 Chron. 6.32). Numerous times sarat is used of the Levites “assisting” in worship led by the priest. Elisha understood that Elisha was calling him to a live of purposeful service in worship to God. This was not the kind of intership where Elisha will be mailing out 5,000 postcards, or filling 10,000 waterballons, but a chance to do dirty-hands, front-line ministry.
These two reasons, I believe, are why Elisha can outrun Elijah. For these reasons, Elisha would burn his oxen and plow. The chance to be caught up and swept up in life changing ministry and the adventure of following God in daily service alongside a passionate leader, is what brought excitement to the life of Elisha.
Elijah was anointing a partner in purposed ministry. This is an opprotuinty that many in younger generations would leap at and get excited for. There are many who have been disappointed in the past because their preparation for ministry involved purposeless busy work, the understanding that they were not partners but projects, or their voice and opinion didn’t matter. The next generation of leader wants to partner in ministry; do significant work; and lead alongside. With that being said, who are you partnering with in ministry today? What younger man or woman, are you involving in your sphere of influence, your ministry, or your service? Who are you pouring into, giving responsibility too, and training to serve, worship, and lead? These are the things I hope to convey to my bullfighting protege above, my students at Robinson, and the men I get to pour into every week. Who are you bringing onto the crew?
How long this drought has been running, I guess, depends on when you started counting. Some say months, others say years, yet some argue for a decade. Even with a decent spring, we in Kansas are still way behind in rain and droughtmonitor.com has us at D1 level meaning a moderate. But many others have it worse. John Erickson, the author of Hank the Cowdog, wrote a fascinating piece for American Cowboy at the beginning of April about the drought as it affects his ranch in Perryton, West Texas.
“I hate this drought—the spirit-killing wind, the dust, the dying things…the land has a way of trimming people down to size. I feel trimmed. But I know it will pass. It always has, and I can’t help loving this poor, wind-thrashed ranch.”
Mr. Erickson has a way with words that challenge and inspire. The bond he has with his ranch, the land, is convey in every word. His words describe in narrative, better than I ever could, how droughts are devastating to ranchers, farmers, and landowners. The parched land pants for water, crying of course would waste water. Yet the rain does not come for days, weeks, months, and even years, but still the ranchers hold on.
As detrimental a physical drought can be to the land, how much greater then is a spiritual drought to the soul. In reading through the books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), Numbers is the book that portrays Israel in the midst of testing, a drought to put it more precisely.
The newness has worn off on their little journey. They left Egypt with the plunder of the Egyptians in the knapsacks (Exodus 12.36). They marched to the sea and with the choice of drowning ahead and slaughter behind, God provided option 3 and they saw God’s work in parting the sea (Ex. 14.21-22). This journey started out with excitement and newness. Everyone was getting along and ready for the next chapter of their lives. One without slavery and bondage.
Once they got going, however, there were a few bumps in the road. They were thirsty (Ex 15.24) and hungry (Ex 16.3). Like a car trip with a million middle schoolers with Moses playing the stress out youth minister in the drivers seat of the largest minivan ever. At the beginning of the trip, as your pulling out of your church or getting on the highway, quarreling is tolerated because the future plan is still new, still fresh. At this stage of the trip, Moses sill has his stuff together. Moses hasn’t yet snapped and he keeps the people moving until they reach Sinai after 3 months of marching.
The book of Numbers starts at the base of Mt. Sinai. The same place where Exodus 19 began. This has turned into the world’s longest potty break a people on the move. But God has been at work in Moses and the people giving them the law, building the tabernacle, and preparing them for their future home at the end of this journey. God is still leading them by cloud and pillar of fire (Ex. 40.36-38), its just that He wasn’t going anywhere. After 9 months at the base of the mountain, the cloud lifted and they set out (Num. 10.11) and headed toward the Promised Land. A few set backs, but the trip is still going well.
But when the spies are sent out, the trip takes a sour turn. In Numbers 13, spies are sent out from the Desert of Paran and after looking over the land, came back with a disasterous and sinful report. They don’t think they can take the land. The people rebel because now their whole trip has been worthless, like Family Vacation when Wally World is closed. God is furious to the point that he just wants to strike them all down (Num. 14.10-12). God instead chooses (after talking it over with Moses [14.13-19]) to have the Hebrews wander the desert for 40 years as punishment (Num.14.29-35). That’s how many more renditions of father Abraham?
For the next 40 years, the Hebrews would complain, argue, quarrel, disobey, and fall by disease. Their lives for 40 years would be the long drought spiritually. The word used best for this time of testing, this drought, would be “complaining” (Complaints during the life of Moses). They complained to God, to Moses, to Aaron and to each other. Each time revealing the severity of the drought they were living through.
The Hebrews were in their drought because of their sin. Others experience drought because of others sin. Still others because of circumstances of life connected to Adam’s sin. One way or another we will experience a drought.
In the midst of a drought there is little that can be done. We cant produce rain, can’t make water from where there is none. But we can wait, hope, and persevere. Erickson writes about his attitude toward the drought:
“I know it will pass. It always has…I wont quit, Im too stubborn. It runs in the family.”
John has relegated himself to waiting and hoping. The Hebrews were responsible for bringing on this drought…and now the book of Numbers would be their story of waiting and hoping.
Maybe you know someone in the midst of a drought? Maybe its you? My spiritual drought is still very real. There are times when it feels like years since I connected to God so well that my thoughts were in line with His. Sometimes it feels so long ago that I don’t remember what it feels like to have the Spirit guide my steps. I, like the Hebrews and John Erickson, am waiting, hoping, and trying to persevere. Let your rain come, Lord God, let it come!
He knew their kind were just like Him, and needed kept busy.
So He gave a mind to contemplate, the troubles of the time,
And gave’em hands to operate, on the problems that they find.
So cowboys hands over years, have done a lot of chores,
When the sun arrives each morning, there are many works in store.
A cowboys hands tell a story, of all the labors that he’s done,
In every weather pattern, in snow and burning sun.
They’ve laid rope to tree, pulled calves in twelve below,
Stretched barbs on wire, stacked hay a-many load.
They’ve thrown a thousand loops, a great loop perhaps one,
They’ve worked from dawn to dusk, they’d hate to slow down some.
Braided strips of leather, carved designs in hide,
Planted posts to keep his stock from rangin’ the country-side.
A fine touch with the reins, a hard touch with a quirt,
Steady work with a rifle, unfaltered by his work.
They’ve forged a hardened shoe, set it solid on the hoof,
Keep their family fed, in clothes and under roof.
The cowboy’s hands are often hidden, beneath the dirt and grime,
Remains in them power to act, to work and pen a rhyme.
My grandfather ran about 15 head of cattle when I was growing up. I realize that’s not much to many, but it was the closest think I knew to a ranch. Around most of his acreage ran a single strand of electrified barbed wire. This hot-wire ran through some pretty nasty terrain in some places, so every night it was necessary to do a once around to check the fence. Some nights, if I arrived at just the right time, I would get to go up and water the cows and check the fence with him. Grandpa for years made tires at Goodyear and ran some cows. Both jobs were very hard on hands. I was always amazed at the way he could manhandle barbed wire, stick a post in the ground, out muscle the water trough, and twist balin’ wire. His hands were the roughest I had ever seen. I still remember him, wrenching loose staples, wielding a hay hook, and twisting wrenches. Grandma kept a dried out bar of lava soap next to the sink that Grandpa used to wash his hands…it hurt my soft hands to use that rough soap. In his hands was the capability to tackle any job.
The last post discussed the differences n the names of God (‘elohim v. Yahweh). ‘Elohim testified to Creator and Power, whereas Yahweh spoke to the personal, relational God who was in regular contact with his people. It is the personal relationship Yahweh had with his people that caused the authors of scripture to speak in poetics and ascribe to Him human attributes. To be fair, ‘elohim is occasionally linked to physical characteristics, but not nearly with the regularity of Yahweh. One of the major attributes to Yahweh are His hands.
The hand [hb. yad] of Yahweh showed the Lord’s power in action.
Without equal, the biggest event in Hebrew history was the Exodus. The night that a nation of slaves walked out of the greatest nation one earth, carrying their wealth, and taking from them their honor (Exodus 12.31-42). That night was special. That day of victory would be remembered for generations. Every year the Israelites would celebrate the night that they routed Egypt, became their own people, with their own identity, because of the work of their God, the work that He accomplished with His own hands.
When Israel was to celebrate this day, it was for one reason: to remind them that the Lord brought them out of Egypt with His mighty hand. (Ex. 13.3, 9, 16) When their kids ask what the celebration is for, the Israelites can tell them about the mighty hand of God that brought them out of Egypt (Ex. 13.14). The hand of God is God’s power in action in the lives of His people. Four times in 13 verses, God’s hand is at work, actively involved in bringing the people out of Egypt. There is no way they could have done it on their own, but the hand of Yahweh is more than capable.
The Hands of Yahweh are never idle. It was His hand that brought the plagues upon Egypt (Ex. 6.1). His hand would be so heavy, so mighty in dealing with the Egyptians, that Pharaoh would drive them out of the country. In the same way that God will force out the Canaanites before Israel, Egypt will so badly want to be done with them, that they will drive [hb. Garas] them out of Egypt. It is God’s activity that will bring about the event that would forever be remembered as the greatest act in the history of the people.
The hands of Yahweh, are not just God’s power in action, but his mighty ability on display. The word for mighty [hb. hazaq] is a word reserved for only the strongest, hardest, and resilient powers. The verb form of hazaq is the word used for the ’hardening’ of Pharaoh’s heart. The power and supremacy found in the Lord’s hand is unequaled in the universe. In the battle between Pharaoh’s hardened heart and the Lord’s mighty hand. God had already warned Moses that only the most powerful action would free his people, the Lord’s hand. (Ex. 3.19)
Yahweh’s hands, His power in activity, brought the Israelites redemption from the land of Egypt (Deut. 7.8). But 1500 years later it would be Jesus hands, pierced by nails, that would provide for our redemption. Jesus hands held him on the cross to pay for our sins. It was the Lord’s power in action by sending Jesus that would provide salvation for us today. The hands of the Lord, a picture of His ability and activity, would save his people from slavery in Egypt and our slavery to sin. (Rom. 6.6-7) God has the power to work in situations we deem hopeless, the ability to accomplish things we never can imagine, and the strength to act where we can’t.
Is there a time when you have seen the Lord’s hands and his power in action? What thoughts come to mind when you think of God’s power?
When I hopped in the truck at sun-up this morning, my phone read -8 degrees. I turned the key and felt the warm air hit me in the face and had never been happier that I didn’t have a ranch to take care of. Yesterday, while I sat in my living room under a blanket, I saw pictures of guys, in blizzard like conditions, taking care of their animals, doctoring calves, and driving the feed truck with the windows down. I have been in those situations, the cold, the snow, and the rain, and I say this with the utmost respect, but I’m glad it was they and not I this day.
A few years back, I was feeding on a morning very similar to the ones we felt this week here in the Midwest. I had tried to ride in my coveralls, but coveralls in the saddle is a recipe for disaster. I chose to go with jeans and chaps, and about 5 layers up top. After 1 hour of checking cows, I didn’t think that I could get any colder. Then I had to chop open a hole in the pond. I thought before that I couldn’t get colder, then I knew. With no feeling in my fingers, I wrapped the reins around my forearm (I’m to manly to wear mittens) and finished checking cows. I had lost feeling from the knee down, and had icicles forming in my beard. I was taken back as to how men work in those conditions on a regular basis. Then it hit me…
There wasn’t a choice. Animals need to be fed and watered. Calves need to be checked and doctored. There is no putting-off-until-tomorrow, no out-sourcing or contracting-out. When it comes to days off, there are none. Hard work is what makes them who they are. Hard work is something that Paul made a focal point of his ministry. Paul lived out the proverb: “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” (Proverbs 10.4) In Corinth he split time as a tentmaker and preacher (Acts 18.3). In Thessalonica he “worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.” (2 Thess. 3.8) Its clear from reading through the letters to the Thessalonians, the Paul expects them to follow his “model” (1 Thes. 3.9) and their “example” (1 Thes. 3.7).
As I was looking at facebook and reading through Thessalonians, I was reminded of the verses that I want my life to reflect. I want to live out Paul’s command in 1 Thessalonians 4.11-12: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” Paul understood that our ability to work was part of our being. (Gen 2.15) I know people who hit the big bucks by suing a company. I also know others who put down hours they don’t work. I have seen laziness first hand, and can’t stand those who refuse to give their best. Paul would tell us “to never tire of doing what’s right.” (2 Thess. 3.13) In a previous life, this tiring of doing right killed me. I struggled to remain diligent in my work as I watched others around me. I want to get better at this…regardless of what is going on around me, continuing my work regardless of my surroundings.
So to you farmers and ranchers out there who work tirelessly, thanks for your example. For those of you who give your best every day, thanks for living out scripture. Hard work is essential to the Christian life and there are few things better than a hard days work. It is imperative, that we as disciples, live our lives, do our work, in a way that people look at us and are encouraged. Do we work in this way? Are the people we work alongside encouraged because of the effort we give? I want to be the kind of guy that Paul was thinking of in Thessalonians…and if I’m not, I sure aim to be!
It’s a well-known fact that horses teach things that we are too hard headed to learn otherwise, but do we really emulate their lives? Will James’ classic story Smoky the Cow Horse is being lived out by people all over the place. If you are unfamiliar with the tale, Smokey is a mouse-colored horse born on the open range that belonged to the Rocking R ranch. After 4 years of running the range, he is ridden for the first time, builds a relationship with Clint the trainer, and utilized to his full potential as a cow horse. In Clint’s mind, Smoky was the finest cow horse the world had ever seen. He thrived on being utilized, challenged, and working. One day during a snowstorm, a man came and drove Smoky and his band of horses into a trap and changed their brands. The thief abused Smoky and pushed him to a breaking point. When Smoky retaliated, the man made him into a rodeo bronc. Through the Rodeo, Smoky’s name was changed to “The Cougar” and men challenged his ability daily. When Smoky, now infamous as the Cougar, one day just stopped bucking.. He didn’t see the thrill of it anymore.
The Cougar was sold to a stable that needed another saddle horse for tours. Another name change and Cloudy became a favorite amongst visitors. During one ride, after years of tours, a young girl found the thrill of running Cloudy. She pushed him so hard that steam rose from his back and sweat poured from his hide. James writes: “The feel of the sweat and lather that covered the horse left her dumb, and then she noticed how hard he was breathing…She’d never seen a horse shake and quiver all over like that one was doing. He seemed hardly able to stand up, rocked back and forth like he was going to keel over any minute. Cloudy was jiggered and his staggering scared her all the more.” She walked Cloudy into the creek to cool him off, but the walk back was like a “funeral march.” Cloudy, unable to recover from that heart breaking run, was burnt-out and sold to a man who carried chicken feed on a cart where he waited to die. Smoky’s heart was gone in much the same way that Timothy was struggling in Ephesus.
Timothy had been helping Paul for nearly 20 years. He began as a young man, when he joined the second missionary journey at Lystra. (Acts 16.1-3) He was with Paul as he wrote letters, preached sermons, and stood for faith. He was also imprisoned along side Paul (Philemon 1.1; Col. 1.1; Phil 1.1). Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus to minister to the church there as Paul continued to travel and encourage Churches around the world, but it wasn’t going well. Ephesus was a hard city to do ministry in. Magic and Divination was rampant, the morality of the city was atrocious, and the church was struggling. Timothy, feeling a bit overwhelmed in his first ministry, sickliness is taken hold of him (1 Tim 5.23) and his youth is being called out. It is a tough road in ministry.
Ministry and service has a way of taking it out of a person. Getting caught up in schedules, calendars, administration, and tasks. Before we even know it, we are not doing the things that we were created to do. Timothy was extremely gifted for ministry but the ministry was killing him. Paul understands how the day to day can cause take focus from the important. Paul starts off his final letter to Timothy reminding him to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1.6-7)
When it comes to ministry, Timothy’s giftedness wasn’t being used in the way it should be. Smoky, the greatest cowhorse on the range, was meant to be saddled, rode, worked, and challenged. Smokey loved to learn new things, to partner with Clint, and to work. Timothy was meant to do ministry, to teach, to believe, and to invest in others. Somwhere in the doldrums of ministry he forgot that. Paul, playing the part of mentor, reminds Timothy to use his gift. The quickest path to burn-out in ministry, in faith, and in ministry, is to feel like your gifts are not being used. I speak this from personal experience. I grew embittered in ministry because I felt like the things I was called to do were either unappreciated or untapped. Through these times, Paul’s words to Timothy rang true every day. I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but wasn’t able to put it into practice.
How does it get fixed? For Cloudy, it was a trip that his owner took him to town to run errands. The old chicken farmer, pulled him up next to a hotel lobby, where two cattle buyers sat inside. One of which was Clint. He couldn’t even recognize Smokey beneath the disguise of cloudy. Days later, Clint saved Cloudy from the whip of his owner. In the investigation, Clint learned the true identity of the mouse colored horse and took him home. After months of nursing him back to health and putting meat on his bones, the spark returned to Smoky’s eyes. When Clint opened the corral gate to let the horses range for the summer, he didn’t expect to see Smoky again for the summer. James finishes the story this way: “Clint dropped his bucket in surprise at what he heard and then seen. For, standing out a ways, slick and shiny, was the old mouse-colored horse…the heart of Smoky had come to life again.” It was he and Clint’s relationship and his giftedness the fanned the flame of his heart and gave passion to heart. Timothy needed to be doing what he was created to do to keep his heart in ministry.
All of us have lost heart at some point in time. I am still trying to recapture mine. It is vital to our hearts, that we serve and act in the ways that God has wired us. So how do we do that? If you have lost your heart, like I had mine, her are three things for you to do:
- Find your giftedness…know your spiritual gifts and then put them into action. Your heart will return when you are being utilized.
- Read stories…the Bible is full of people who learned how they connect and worship and serve God. Study the lives of Paul, Timothy, Joshua, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, and others. Find one of them that you connect with and dive in!
- Serve…our hearts come alive when they are put into the service of God. God is the one who gave us our passions and dreams. They were given to us in order to be in service to Him. Come alive as you serve Him.
Find your heart, by learning how God made you and wants to use you. Like what happened to Smoky, the world can do a number on a heart. We owe it ourselves and God, to find our hearts and put them to work.