IVP - Strangely Dim - Call It What You Want, It's Still the Jawbone of an Ass

October 15, 2008

Call It What You Want, It's Still the Jawbone of an Ass

Today's donkey tale proves that donkeys don't even have to be alive to be significant.

This summer my pastor ran a series called "Bedtime Bible Studies Revisited," based on the idea that the Bible, a book for adults, is most often read to kids in an attempt to make them fall asleep. In the process some of the key details and fullest meaning of those Bible stories drift out of the church's consciousness. Tucked into the middle of this series was the subject of today's donkey tale.

Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.

Then Samson said,
       "With a donkey's jawbone
       I have made donkeys of them.
       With a donkey's jawbone
       I have killed a thousand men." (Judges 15:15-16)

Everybody likes Samson; we even name our luggage after him. But truth be told, he's not a terribly likeable guy. Anyone who can kill a thousand men without subsequently spending a great deal of time in somber reflection is lacking a certain amount of spiritual depth. But we knew that already, because by this time in Samson's story he's already effectively violated nearly every element of the promise his parents made to God on his behalf before he was even born.

Before he was canonized as one of the judges, or deliverers, of Israel Samson was born a Nazirite, much like John the Baptist was born a Nazirite before he was labeled a Baptist. Nazirite vows were, for the most part, temporary commitments, but both Samson and John were born into lifelong vows, which involved a series of sacrifices but more notably a distinct lifestyle:

* no grapes or grape byproducts (such as wine)
* no contact with the dead
* no haircuts for the entire length of the vow.

Samson, however, regularly indulged in wine to great excess and regularly came into contact with dead stuff--usually stuff that he himself had killed, often because he was such a surly drunk. He killed a lion and went back later to scoop honey out of its carcass. He set a whole village on fire by tying foxes and torches together. And then he killed a thousand people with the most convenient weapon on hand--the fresh jawbone of an ass (KJV).

In fact, by this point in Samson's story, the only aspect of the Nazirite vow that we haven't seen him violate is the rule against cutting his hair. And we all know how that turned out. But once Samson was shaved bald, the Bible tells us, "the hair on his head began to grow again" (Judges 16:22).

This passing comment is one aspect of what the entire epic of Samson reminds us all: Regardless of evidence to the contrary, you are what God calls you, and you're to do what God calls you to do. God, despite Samson's indulgence in Delilah and drink and death, had called him a lifelong Nazirite and Israel's deliverer (Judges 13:5), and God ultimately, mysteriously delivered Israel through Samson's Nazirite vow (Judges 16).

Like Samson, we can't relieve ourselves of our responsibility to God, but we can trust that even occasionally in spite of us, God will make a way for us to accomplish his will for us. It's the harmonization of our own wills to the will of God--the willful embrace of the calling God calls us to--that makes for Christian maturity. For the way to become mature, however--which is essentially the way to become wise, which is essentially the way to not become an ass--we have to turn not to Samson but to Job:

A witless man can no more become wise
       than a wild donkey's colt can be born a man.

Yet if you devote your heart to him
       and stretch out your hands to him,

if you put away the sin that is in your hand
       and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,

then you will lift up your face without shame;
       you will stand firm and without fear. (Job 11:12-15)

So today, as you consider your path, don't stretch your hands out to the nearest jawbone of an ass, those things you know you're not supposed to mess with. Instead stretch your hands out to God, and you'll discover that you're well on your way to wisdom and maturity with all your necessary parts intact. 

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at October 15, 2008 9:25 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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