Scene from Mission Impossible. Ethan Hunt trying to hack into super secure computer while hanging in midair.

How to Survive a Bitcoin Bear Market

Confession time: While we were in quarantine, a lot of people picked up new hobbies. My new hobby is Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. I was a skeptic for a long time, but now I’m a believer. The problem is I spent so much time learning and planning trades it consumed my writing time. I’m going to have to learn balance. But the best way I can justify that time I spent is to write about it.

A quick disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor. Anything I say is for educational and/or entertainment purposes only. Any financial product or service, including particular crypto currencies, exchanges, stocks, experts, or whatever I use as examples do not constitute an endorsement. Always do your own research.

I have owned some Bitcoin for only a little more than a year, so I can’t say if we are in a bear market now. But the fact that we are having that debate at this time took me by surprise. If you don’t know, Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, meaning it is “a digital or virtual currency that is secured by cryptography, which makes it nearly impossible to counterfeit or double-spend.” So it is an asset that exists completely on a vast computer network. Bitcoin was the first and is by far the biggest cryptocurrency in terms of market capitalization. Coinmarketcap.com lists over 10,800 crypto currencies that can be bought, sold, and traded on exchanges, similar to stocks and commodities. Some of the more popular exchanges are Coinbase, Binance, Kucoin, Gemini, and Kraken.

Also like stocks and commodities, the value can go up or down depending on supply and demand. If more is being bought than sold, the value goes up, and vice-versa. While Bitcoin is the focus of this article, I may refer to other cryptocurrencies (a.k.a., cryptos) for comparison.

If you have heard anything about Bitcoin, it’s probably that the price is very volatile. It can go up very quickly and back down just as quickly. I already knew that, but I thought I had the market figured out. The Bitcoin (BTC) price normally moves on a four-year cycle because of an event called the halving. At set intervals, the amount of Bitcoin that can be mined (the term for creating new Bitcoin) drops in half. This diminishing supply coupled with greater demand makes the price go up for about 16 to 18 months before there is a bear market. The most recent halving was in May, 2020. Based on that, we should have had a bull market until at least mid-September, maybe even into October or November. Until May 12, it was playing out that way. Then Elon tweeted, and the price crashed.

We are now 50% down from an all-time high in April. This was supposed to be a bull market. How could one tweet break the cycle? Or maybe the cycle is not over, and this was just a much needed correction. But a 50% correction in a bull market? And we haven’t recovered yet? Should I hold on and hope the price goes up, or get out now to cut my losses?

Many who bought in March or April are asking the same thing. Again, I’m no expert, but I’ll tell you how and why I got in, and what I have learned in this crash.

How I Got Started with Bitcoin

When I first heard about Bitcoin in 2013, and it sounded like a pipe dream. I didn’t see how a currency, asset, or whatever you call it, could exist only on computers and have real value. Last year, I saw a presentation that explained what currency is and how it works. We are used to currencies having a physical form, for example, gold, bills, coins, etc. However, that is not really necessary. Anything people accept as a medium of exchange can be a currency, even if it is entirely digital. So yes, Bitcoin can be real money. El Salvador has even made it legal tender for the whole nation.

I also learned about the blockchain technology behind it. A blockchain network is the most secure network ever created. The first Bitcoin was mined, or created, on January 3, 2009. Since then, the Bitcoin network has never been hacked, because the blockchain it uses is so secure. Forget about cryptocurrency for a minute. Just think about an Internet that is virtually unhackable. Do you think there could be some other applications for that? Bitcoin and the whole crypto market is not even the tip of the iceberg of blockchain’s potential. That more than anything convinced me Bitcoin and cryptocurrency are here to stay.

My First Bitcoin

I bought my first Bitcoin in June last year, shortly after the halving. The price went up, slowly at first. Then on October 21, 2020, Paypal announced users could buy, sell, and spend Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies directly from their accounts. The price went up pretty steadily from then on. There were a few dips, but they were not deep, and they did not last long.

By the time Coinbase, one of the biggest cryptocurrency exchanges, IPO’d on April 14, the price was up to an all-time high of about $63–65K (prices vary some between exchanges). In the next few days, there was a pull back, and the price hovered in the 50’s for a few weeks. That wasn’t so bad. Even a bull market will have corrections like that.

Then on May 12, Elon Musk tweeted concerns over its energy use and climate change. I care about climate change, but in this case I think the concern is overblown. I plan to write another article to explain that, but this chart will give you an idea.

Energy consumption for: The banking system: ~260 TeraWatt-hours per year; Gold mining, ~240 TeraWatt-hours per year; Bitcoin mining, ~110 TeraWatt-hours per year
The current financial system’s energy consumption vs. Bitcoin. Source: Galaxy Digital. https://docsend.com/view/adwmdeeyfvqwecj2

As you can see, the latter two use more than twice as much energy. Furthermore, the energy Bitcoin uses is more likely to come from clean, renewable sources. I wonder what would have happened to the banks if Elon had raised concerns about their carbon footprint. If people knew about how damaging gold mining is to the environment, would they stop buying it?

But Elon’s 56 million Twitter followers got the message. The price dropped about 15% in just one day and kept falling. At the bottom, it reached lows of about $29K, a more than 50% drop from its recent all-time high. Most experienced crypto investors know this kind of volatility is normal. But even many of them were surprised that such a drop happened when we are supposed to be in a bull market. Experiences like that create FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). You could also think of them as fear and greed, and they tend to move the markets more than one mercurial billionaire.

FOMO and FUD: How You Can Be Your Own Worst Enemy

What is the mantra of professional investors? Buy low, sell high. FOMO and FUD will make you do the opposite. Here’s how they work together.

You heard about Bitcoin a few years ago, and you thought it was silly. You haven’t thought about it in years. Then you hear it broke its previous all time high of $20K, and it’s going up, up, up. $30K, $40K, $50K, $60K. You don’t understand how it works, even at a “Bitcoin for Dummies” level. You don’t know any market fundamentals. You don’t know what makes the price go up or down. But you are afraid of missing out, so you rush to buy before it’s too late (FOMO). Then the price falls: down, down, down. Just when you think it can’t go lower, it does. You are afraid of losing everything you put in, sell at a loss, and promise never to do that again (FUD).

Experienced investors use this FOMO and FUD to enrich themselves. When everyone FOMO’s in, they sell. When everyone FUD’s out, they buy. The best protection against FOMO and FUD is to educate yourself. Learn the history of why Bitcoin was created. It’s a fascinating story. Learn how cryptocurrency compares with fiat currency (dollars, euros, etc.). Learn what blockchain is and how it works. You don’t have to get too technical, just enough to where it makes sense. Learn about the halving and the four year cycle. And most of all, listen to people who have held Bitcoin for four years or more. They have seen markets go way up, way down, and everywhere in between, and they are still in the game. That will give you the perspective you need.

I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t invest in something just because the price is going up or some celebrity tweeted about it. Get at least a basic understanding of what it is, what value it brings to the market, why the world needs it, whether the business model is sound, how much investment it is attracting and from whom, and risks versus potential reward.

With Bitcoin, the four-year cycle has meant it reaches an all-time high about 16-18 months after the halving. Despite this downturn, there is still time for that to happen. Then it drops 85% before beginning to recover. If that happens again, will you beat yourself up or see it as a buying opportunity? 

It Is Not a Get Rich Quick Scheme

Of course, I knew that before I got started. But it is easy to forget when you see the price go parabolic. When the price skyrocketed to an all-time high of about $65,000, I started having visions of all the remodeling my wife and I want to do and retirement by the end of the summer. Then the price went into free fall, like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, when his assistants stopped him just before he hit the floor, but he’s just hanging there with his arms and legs up to keep from setting off the alarm.

Scene from Mission Impossible. Ethan Hunt trying to hack into super secure computer while hanging in midair.
You might have felt like this when Bitcoin crashed.

At first, I was scared. But as the price has settled in the 30,000’s, I realized this crash was the reality check I needed. There are some newer cryptocurrencies that saw over 1000% gains this year alone. Bitcoin is not that kind of investment. It is so big now, it takes much more to move the price up than for something like Polygon (MATIC), which currently sells at about $1.05.

Of course, with greater rewards come greater risks. Many of those with 1000% gains dropped back to pre-bull levels in the crash. Even though they’re not connected, most cryptocurrencies follow Bitcoin in the market. If Bitcoin pumps, they will pump more. If Bitcoin dumps, they will dump more, so the losses can be much greater as well. Some even went down to zero, so make sure you do your research before jumping in. Bitcoin has been around long enough that it’s highly unlikely that it will go to zero now. But if you expect to get rich with it, you have to think in terms of years, not weeks.

So what do you do when the price drops?

Buy the Dip

If you don’t believe in it as a long-term investment, the emotional roller coaster will drive you nuts. If you do believe in it as a long-term investment, you won’t get caught up in the hype when it goes up, and a price dip is a buying opportunity. Large investors have been buying even during this crash, which is the one reason I don’t believe this bull market is over. Who knows how long this opportunity will last?

How should you buy? You could try to time the market. When I think about how I bought at $9.7K, it’s tempting to think I could have sold at $63K. That would have been over a 600% gain. And then I could have bought back in at $29K to prepare for the next bull run. But I had no way of knowing where the top or the bottom was. Professional traders have very sophisticated market analysis tools, and even they get it wrong sometimes. That is why I believe the best strategy for buying is dollar cost averaging.

Dollar Cost Averaging

This is a way you can take advantage of an extended price dip without having to guess which way the market will go. On most exchanges, you can set up a recurring purchase, where you buy a set amount every day, week, or month. That is called dollar cost averaging. It’s a way to minimize your risk, because you’re not putting all your money in at once.

When I started out, I set up to buy $10 of Bitcoin per week on Coinbase. The price went up slowly from June to October, and I kept buying. When the price went up much more noticeably, I stopped my weekly buy and made bigger, less frequent purchases. But even when the price is going up, dollar cost averaging is not a bad strategy, because the price will come down at some point. On average, it still works out in the long run. The following chart shows what dollar cost averaging with $10/wk would have yielded today.

Dollar cost averaging chart from July 2017-2021. Value = $9448.62. Amount invested =
The current financial system’s energy consumption vs. Bitcoin

$10/wk for four years equals $2090 invested. For July, 2021, that results in a value of $9448. That is a gain of about 352%. 

But no matter how I buy, I do not put in more than I can afford. I have heard of people losing their homes because they bought too much and at the wrong time. This market is much too volatile for you to spend the money for your rent, mortgage, groceries, water, electricity, children’s education, or any other essentials. I approach this like a retirement account. I do not put in money I need for daily or monthly expenses. I do not put in money I am likely to need in the next few years. I put in a little at a time, because I expect it to appreciate in the long run. If you are comfortable with that approach, the next strategy is for you.

Bonus Tip: Prices tend to be lowest on Friday mornings, so that is when I like to set weekly buys.

Hodl

That is not a typo. Thanks autocorrect for making me retype it. On December 18, 2013, someone with the username GameKyuubi posted on the Bitcoin Forum with the title “I AM HODLING.” Why? Because in his own words, “I’m a bad trader and I KNOW I’M A BAD TRADER.” The gist of it is good traders know when to buy and sell, but he doesn’t. Trying to time the market is a trap for most traders. You end up buying high and selling low, the opposite of a good trading strategy. But he has figured out that the overall trend is up. What do you do with an asset that is volatile but goes up in value over time? You buy and hold (or hodl). The crypto community still likes to use that term today.

One obvious advantage is you never say, “I should have sold or traded then.” Whenever you have that thought, you just remind yourself, “No, I am hodling.” I want to be clear, though, this not a good strategy for every cryptocurrency. I used to think I had to hodl at least some of everything. Now, I hodl Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH). There are a few others that I don’t exactly hodl but am reluctant to sell. Any others I have no problem selling if the price goes up, or if it is time to cut my losses. There is no way I can keep up with every crypto that is supposed to be “the next Bitcoin,” so I am very selective about it.

Another advantage is holding onto any asset, including crypto, for at least a year will reduce your tax liability. So next I want to talk about taxable events for crypto currency.

Be Aware of Taxable Events

I am not an expert, so check with your accountant or tax advisor on this. If you don’t have one, you will probably need one once you get into crypto. I learned that buying crypto is not a taxable event. If all you do is buy and hold, you won’t have to worry about taxes on Bitcoin or other crypto. Good for you, hodlers. Selling or trading one crypto for another is taxable. For example, if you want to sell some of your Bitcoin to take profit, or exchange some of it for Ethereum (ETH), those are considered taxable events.

As I understand it, if you trade one asset for another, any profit on that trade becomes taxable. That might mean if you buy that Tesla with Bitcoin (assuming they bring that option back), you might have to pay extra taxes, because you swapped one asset for another. Unlike El Salvador, Bitcoin is not considered currency in the US, so using it to buy something could make you liable for capital gains or other taxes. Again, I am no expert, so don’t take my word for it. That’s just what I have heard.

But unless you are 100% hodling, you will likely have to pay taxes. There is some software available to help you navigate that, so I’ll tell you what that is like.

Daily Interest Payments on Crypto Might Not Be a Good Thing

There are many good opportunities to earn interest on crypto, and I encourage you to investigate them and find one or more that works for you. However, with what I know now about crypto tax software, I would avoid offers of daily interest payments on any cryptos for now. Let me explain. The programs I’ve seen are free up to a certain number of transactions. Once you cross that threshold, you will have to pay. How much depends on how many transactions you’ve made. That includes all transactions — buy, sell, swap, move, or gifts. Any transaction whatsoever.

When I joined Coinbase, I took advantage of their Earn program. They offer the chance to earn free crypto by learning about it. That was a good thing. I got between $3-$6 in several free cryptos just for learning, which I was happy to do. A few of them offered 4–6% APY in interest, which was much better than the 0.1% I was getting from my bank. I was like, Great. Not only do I get free crypto, I get interest on it. And on Coinbase it’s compounded daily, so it will gain faster. And if the crypto takes off, I will have just a little more boost to it. Each of those daily interest payments was another transaction. Do you see where this is going?

I had a couple hundred or so transactions that amounted to nothing but counted toward my transaction limit on the tax software. I know my dollar cost averaging creates more transactions, and I’m okay with that. I didn’t know each and every one of those miniscule interest payments would count towards the number of my transactions.

I had to shop around, and the cheapest software I found was koinly.io. Even with that, I was going to have to pay $99. Fortunately, I was able to get a summary report for free. This year, I probably will have to pay for a full report. But I will try to do it without all those negligible interest payments, maybe putting all of it into one total transaction if possible. The only way I would take daily interest payments now is if I had a large enough balance to where the payments actually amount to something. I mean, if you’re getting 6% interest on one million dollars, that would give you daily payments of $164.38. I could live decently on that. Otherwise, to save on your tax software, you might want to look for weekly or monthly payments.

Despite tax liabilities, you might want to take some profit if the market goes up again. I’ll talk about that next.

Taking Profits

You could adopt a “modified hodl” strategy, where you take profit when the price is going up. My ideal strategy is when the price doubles, sell half. Then you will make back your investment, and you can hodl the rest. I was fortunate to be able to do that not only with Bitcoin but some of the other cryptos I had invested in last year. Of course, that only works if you buy at a time when the price can still double or more. That is why you want to buy the dip. Whether it’s a temporary correction or a bear market, buying when the price is down sets you up to take profit during a bull market.

What should you do after selling? Paying off some high interest debt is always a good thing. If you have that taken care of, experienced investors set aside part or all of their profits and wait to buy the next dip. Then when the price goes up again, they take some profit so they can buy the next dip. Rinse and repeat. That is how crypto fortunes are made.

“Corrections”

When I bought my first Bitcoin, the price was about $9700. As I write this, the price is now just under $35K. That’s a gain of over 200%, even with the recent crash. I understand, though, if you bought in at 40K, 50K, or 60K, you’re not feeling great about your decision now.

Though I don’t have any gift of prophecy or crystal ball, I feel confident in saying the bull market will return. The question is when and for how long. Will we have to wait four years to see any gains, or will the market come back in the next few weeks? Again, history says a bear market will come, if it’s not here already. I just don’t believe this is it.

But one more thing that surprised me. One of the reasons cryptocurrency was created was to eliminate the need for a “middle man” in financial transactions. Third parties like banks, credit cards, Western Union, and Paypal take fees for facilitating transactions. Cryptocurrency, theoretically, should reduce those fees significantly, but in practice that is not always the case. Ethereum’s ERC-20 network especially has seen fees go up a lot in the last several months. Bitcoin (BTC) has nothing to do with ERC-20, but sometimes its fees are too high as well. One thing you can do is convert BTC to Litecoin (LTC), which has much lower fees, and then trade, sell, or withdraw it.

What Comes Down Must Go Up?

For now, I want to leave you with this. If you bought for the first time at the top of this market, that doesn’t mean you made a bad decision. There is a saying in the Bitcoin community: “When in doubt, zoom out.” That means when the chart looks bad for a month or two, look back a year or two, or even going back from the beginning to now.

Chart shows daily close price action from 2012 to July, 2021
This chart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

You might be wondering if it’s too late to get in. If you believe in Bitcoin long-term, then this price dip is a great time to buy. If you don’t believe in it long-term, then it is probably not for you.

Past performance is no guarantee of future performance. It is an extremely volatile asset. Parabolic gains and crashes come with the territory. But there is enough history to be optimistic in the long run. It’s hard to see this on the chart, but in 2013, the price dropped 80%, then rose 2300%. Will we see a similar bounce in the coming weeks? I don’t know, but anyone who has bought and held for at least four years has come out ahead. In July, 2017, the price averaged around $2600. If you bought four years ago and held, while people are complaining about a price hovering between $33–37K, you would be up over 1200%. Where do you want to be four years from now?

Just understand there is still some risk to it. I think in the next two or three months, the price could go to six figures. But if this really is the end of the latest bull market, the price could drop to $20K or even lower, and we will either have to hodl or wait for the next bull market to take profits.

Conclusion

So if you are just getting started, or considering getting started, here are the important lessons I’ve learned in my first year:

  • “When in doubt, zoom out.”
  • Dollar cost averaging is the easiest, lowest risk, and most stress-free way to get into this (or any) market.
  • Consider hodling or modified hodling.
  • It’s okay to take profit in a bull market. Have a strategy for when and how to do that.
  • If you are looking to get rich quick, look elsewhere.
  • For tax calculations, daily interest payments might not be worth it. Weekly or monthly payments might work better for you, depending on how many transactions you want to do.
  • Watch out for high transaction fees. Converting BTC to LTC can help with that on some exchanges.
  • You don’t need expensive programs to learn how to do this. There is plenty of good information available for free.
  • Seek advice from people who have been in for at least four years. That way, they have seen at least one complete bull and bear market.
  • Don’t rely on one source to tell you what to do. You should have three or more different sources. Look for people who have a lot of experience and a track record of putting out good information.
  • Certainly do not listen to people who are either always positive or always negative. The always negative ones are just pushing FUD, maybe even hoping to convince you to sell to them at a discount. The always positive ones will miss the signs that a bear market is beginning. 
  • Look for experts who are positive long term but aren’t afraid to tell you when we are headed for a downturn.
  • FOMO + FUD = consistent losing.

For more information on what Bitcoin is, how it works, and how to get started, I can recommend a site and YouTube channel called 99bitcoins. Have you had any experience with Bitcoin? What do you think of it? What hobbies did you pick up while quarantining? Let me know in the comments.

International Women’s Day: Thank you, Dr. B.J. Seymour

In case you did not know, March 8 of each year is designated as International Women’s Day. The purpose is not to denigrate men but to honor women and promote gender equality. As the website says,

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Significant activity is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women’s achievements or rally for women’s equality.

About page

Studies have shown countries that do best on women’s rights and equality do best on human rights. It seems a good thing for me to do for IWD is to honor a woman who had a profound impact on my life. Of course, there are several I could name. Since I dedicated my book Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain to Dr. Betty Jean “B.J.” Seymour, my favorite professor in college, this is my International Women’s Day tribute.

Book on display with candle behind
My book, Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain

Trailblazer

Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, is a small college with a long history. When I attended, there were just a few more than 1,000 students, and it was about 60% male, 40% female (I didn’t like those odds). It used to be men’s only college, but it went co-ed in 1971. In the same year, Dr. Seymour became the first female faculty member as a professor of religion. She is still known for that and a few more firsts: First female professor to receive tenure, first female department head (Religious Studies), and first female to attain the rank of full professor. Needless to say, she played a significant role not only for the Religion department, but for paving the way for full inclusion of women as students and faculty.

Dr. Betty Jean "B. J." Seymour, at her office in Randolph-Macon College, 1973

Women at R-MC :: Randolph-Macon College

She was also an ordained Baptist minister at a time when most denominations (including Baptists) forbade ordaining women to pastoral ministry. How could that be? The Baptist church was more of a congregationalist church than, say, the Roman Catholic Church. Even though there was a national governing body that made rules technically for everyone, in practice each congregation mostly governed itself. She found a congregation that was open to ordaining her, even though she was a woman.

In my sophomore year, I took two courses from her: Survey of the Old Testament, and Survey of the New Testament. It wasn’t like studying the Bible in Sunday School, and not like the Word of Faith preachers I listened to. At that time, I started getting disillusioned with the Word of Faith. It wasn’t working the way those preachers said it would, but I wasn’t ready to leave yet. I still thought it wasn’t working because I needed to get “more faith.” By the end of the year, I changed my major to Religious Studies. Not the best financial decision I ever made.

Revelation

But I learned things from her that neither my church nor my favorite televangelists taught. She taught us the historical background behind the Bible, which changed the way I read it. It’s called reading in context, by the way. That whole thing about man being made in God’s image, and woman was made to serve man, or the Bible forbids women from serving in ministry, she totally debunked—get this—by using the Bible. I was like, “The Bible says God made man in his image, and then made woman to serve him. The Bible says women should keep silent in church for they are not permitted to speak. Show me in the Bible how that’s wrong.”

And it was like she opened up the Bible and said, “Here. Here. Here. Here. Shall I go on?”

And I was like, “Damn, we were wrong!”

If she couldn’t have shown me from the Bible, I never would have listened to her. But she did, so I did. If we were wrong about that, could we have been wrong about other things?

I know some of you are terrified of going there, but if your standard is to do what the Bible says, and what we’ve been taught about the Bible is wrong, don’t we need to know that? She gave me the tools to discover what the Bible meant in its original languages and its original context, something neither church nor my televangelists did. “Just read the Bible and do what it says.” If that is how you approach the Bible, I guarantee you are reading it out of context, just like I was. I had heard people say you have to read the Bible in context to understand it, but she was the first person, along with the college chaplain, to teach me how to do just that.

Faithful doubt

My church did not talk about doubt much. The Word of Faith preachers taught doubt was something to crush with the Word of God and faith. But Dr. Seymour pointed out places in the Bible where the authors openly expressed doubt. Some of the Psalms address that doubt directly to God. Job had no problem telling God what was wrong with the way God ran the universe. And God included all that in the Bible. This is going to sound funny, but learning to accept doubt was crucial to saving my faith.

And I learned from her that critical thinking is not the enemy of faith. John Wesley had a slogan, “Unite the two so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety.” Dr. Seymour embodied both those disjoined qualities. Without her example as a woman of faith who refused to compromise her honesty and integrity for any God or religious doctrine, I don’t think I would have any faith to speak of today. By dedicating my book to her, and writing this tribute, I wanted to do what I could to keep that legacy she passed on to me alive.

And I’m happy to say her legacy does live on at my alma mater with the B.J. Seymour Award, which is given each year to “an alumna of Randolph-Macon College who has consistently worked on behalf of issues important to women and/ or girls, and who demonstrates vitality, integrity and leadership.”

Dedication

When I got my book ready to publish, and I decided to dedicate it to Dr. Seymour, I knew she had died in 2010, but I did not know when she was born. Through the site Legacy.com, I was able to find her obituary. It gave the date of her baptism, but not her birth date. And since she was a Baptist, her baptism probably was not even the same year she was born. I couldn’t believe it. I had never heard of an obituary that did not include the person’s birth date, or even the year of her birth. The obit listed the name and address of the executor of her estate. I called and explained my situation. They told me they knew her birth date. She had to tell them for legal purposes. But she did not want it to be made public. So only a select few know the year she was born. That was why it was not published in the obit. The year of her birth is not even on her headstone.

Most women don’t like to tell their age, but I had never heard of any other woman going to these lengths to hide it. It had been about twenty-five years since I last saw her, and she was still full of surprises. They told me they could tell me if I really needed to know. My first impulse was to say, “Yeah, of course I want to know.” My next impulse was to say, “Shame on you for offering to go against her last wishes.”

So I told them not to tell me, and I would figure out how to work with it. The dedication reads

To Dr. B.J. Seymour, d. 2010

That was what The Chicago Manual of Style said to do in a situation like this. It does not include the year she was born, and even if I knew it, I would not tell you. Maybe in heaven, I will be able to ask her. Dr. B.J. Seymour is now among that great cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 12:1, the faithful ones who have gone before me and on whose shoulders I stand. And so B.J., if you are listening, happy International Women’s Day.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

 (Heb 12:1 NRS)
Super Bowl 54, Kansas City Chiefs victory celebration, Patrick Mahomes holding up the Lombardi trophy surrounded by teammates.

The 49ers “Won” Super Bowl LIV

Would you like to take a little stroll down Memory Lane to a time before the Covid lockdowns? I thought so. Super Bowl LIV was exciting because the Chiefs struggled for three and a half quarters. The odds against them were staggering, but they did not give up. And in the last seven-and-a-half minutes, we finally got to see Patrick Mahomes going all Patrick Mahomes. They went on a tear and won 31-20. That kind of never-give-up attitude was admirable, and they could not have won without it. In football, as in politics, it is admirable to never give up while there is still time on the clock. But when the game is over, it’s over.

Feb 2, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

What if the 49ers were clamoring for two and a half months after the game that they really won, and the only reason they lost was that the Chiefs cheated, the game was rigged, and the referees were biased against them, because the whole NFL was a secret child trafficking cabal of Satanic pedophile cannibals that their coach and only their coach threatened to expose. I don’t think anyone believes the NFL owners and commissioner are saints. But if you make an accusation that they are Satan worshipping child traffickers, pedophiles, and cannibals, you’d better have proof. And I mean a lot of proof, way beyond a reasonable doubt. Repeating an accusation 100 times or even 1,000 times doesn’t make it true. Any courtroom would say that’s hearsay, not evidence. Show us the evidence.

“Here is the evidence. The game was almost over. Seven and a half minutes left in the game, and we were ahead by a lot. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas calculated the Chiefs had a one in one thousand chance of winning at that point. And then, all of a sudden, the Chiefs score twenty-one points in the last seven-and-a-half minutes? When they had only scored ten points before that? And look at that, a helmet-to-helmet hit on our quarterback, and the referees did not call it. There is no way the NFL did not rig that game.”

You would say that is ridiculous. The game is over. They lost. They need to accept it and move on, and I don’t know, maybe work harder to get to the next Super Bowl and win that one?

But instead, when the NFL commissioner refuses to change the final score—because one, he does not have the authority to change the outcome of any game, and two, he doesn’t have the power of time travel to give the 49ers the chance to play those last seven-and-a-half minutes differently—instead of accepting the loss, he calls the commissioner and says, “We won by hundreds. I’m only looking for 12 more points. That’s all I need. You know, 49ers’ fans all over the country are angry. They’re saying they were cheated out of their victory, and they’re not gonna stand for it. Just 12 more points. That’s all I’m asking. Or even 11 points. Then we can have another game, or just play overtime, and let our season ticket holders choose the referees. Or even better, let our season ticket holders be the referees. That way we know the game is not rigged. I think that’s more than fair, considering we won by hundreds.”

The commissioner again refuses, because again, he can’t do that. The game is over. Even if you do find a couple of penalties that should have been called, you still can’t change the outcome of the game. But instead of accepting the rules that every team in the NFL has agreed to accept ever since the players wore leather helmets, a bunch of 49ers’ fans, who have been told for two and a half months that the game was stolen from them, storm the NFL headquarters, take all the owners hostage, and tell the commissioner at gunpoint that he’d better declare them the winner, take the Lombardi trophy away from the Chiefs and give it to them, or he’s dead.

The game is over. Do you get that? It’s over. I’m not saying the result is good or bad. I’m saying that’s the way it is.

“The Election Was Stolen!”

Maybe you keep thinking God has to overturn the election because your vote was stolen. No, your vote was counted along with 155 million other votes. You voted for the candidate who got fewer votes. He lost. That’s how democracy works. Even if it was stolen, you can’t change the results at this point any more than the 49ers can change the results of the Super Bowl.

That is why I always accepted the results of our elections, no matter how upset I was that my candidate did not win. I’m not saying I didn’t complain. But I didn’t try to overthrow the government either. In the end, when the candidate was sworn in, I accepted that he was the President each and every time.

Why did you accept a president that you voted against?

Because I understood no one is guaranteed they will get the candidate they voted for. You can try again in four years. That system has worked since 1789. No, it’s not perfect, but more than anything it is what makes this nation great. You accepted the win in 2016. Now you have to accept the loss.

Look, we’ve all got an extended case of cabin fever. The stress and anxiety of living in a Covid world are getting to us all. We’ve been watching a lot more social media where conspiracy theorists and false prophets run amok. They said God promised to give Trump the victory. Trump was God’s candidate, and Biden was Satan’s candidate, and there is no way God is going to allow Satan into the White House. Hollywood, the liberal elite, the Democrats, and antifa are all in some deep state underground sex trafficking ring run by the Devil, to whom they have all sold their souls. If I believed that, I’d think it was the end of the world too.

Gif: Saturday Night Live, Church Lady, http://satan.com

The Promises of God Are Sure. But …

There have been many times over the years that I felt God betrayed me, because God would make promises that did not come true. Of course, it was my fault they did not come true, because I didn’t pray enough, or I didn’t have enough faith, or some other reason that sounded biblical. It only works if you believe in it, so doubt was the enemy. I would censor any reports, any facts, that did not agree with “the promise of God,” or “the word of God.” I had a lot to learn about what those phrases really meant. But for a long time, false prophets spoke promises to me that did not come true, and I always assumed I must have messed it up some how. I assumed because they told me the word of God can never fail, so I must have failed. God wanted to bless me with health, wealth, and success, but because I had a mustard seed of doubt, I stopped God from doing what God wanted to do. At one point, I got so frustrated, I prayed, “God, stop making promises I can’t keep.”

So I understand why you refuse to believe the vote counts are real. Once God has spoken, you can’t allow for any doubt. If facts cause doubt, you must squash them. But what is the word of God, what the prophets on YouTube said or what the Bible says? It’s both? Okay, but the Bible says you will know false prophets when what they say does not come true.

It took a long time before I realized if God makes a promise, it will come true. You can’t stop it. I can’t stop it. The deep state can’t stop it. Antifa can’t stop it. The Democratic party can’t stop it. The electoral college can’t stop it. Congress can’t stop it. And even the agents of Satan on earth can’t stop it. No amount of doubt can stop it. So if it did not come true, God did not promise it. Or as Deuteronomy 18:22 says, that is a word that the LORD did not speak.

If the Facts and the Prophets Do Not Agree, What Should We Believe?

If the facts do not agree with what the prophet said, that is a word the LORD did not speak. The prophet spoke presumptuously. They presumed to think their own imagination or wishful thinking came directly from God. And I made that same mistake many times. When the facts do not agree with what the prophet said, believe the facts, not the false prophets.

Remember Micaiah said exactly that. If what he said did not come true, the LORD did not speak through him. But what he said did come true. He told the people of Israel that is how you will recognize a false prophet. Just look at the facts. If what they said did not come true, that is a word the LORD did not speak. They said Trump would win, but who got more electoral votes? The official count was 306 to 232. The one who got 306 won. Who is that? Not Trump. It was Joe Biden. This is 2021, not 2017. What the prophets said did not come true. Therefore, it is a word the LORD did not speak.

See, that’s the problem with believing “the Word of God” over the facts. The false prophets say, “Don’t believe the facts. Believe me because I speak for God.” The Word of God says the facts will tell you if the prophet is false. Therefore, God says they do not speak for God. And if their prophecies about the election did not come true, I guarantee it was not the first time. In a previous post, I tell you about 62 prophets who prophesied what God would do in 2020, and none of them got it right. Do they speak for God? No. So stop believing them, and start believing the facts. Joe Biden is the president-elect. You don’t have to like it, but those are the facts. As long as we have our democracy and constitution, you will get another chance in four years.

I’m Not Prophesying, But …

Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20. God didn’t tell me that. The constitution did. If somehow that doesn’t happen, I will take back everything I said in this post. But if it does, will you finally accept the results of our democratic election? And will you stop listening to the king’s prophets who over and over again have proven themselves false? Trust me, there is a lot better content on social media if you look for it. I’d like to leave you with a message from Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a video where I share my “Confessions of an Ex-Prophet.”

Meme: Jack Nicholson, courtroom scene from A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth!"

400 Prophets Can’t Be Wrong! Or Can They? Part 2

In the last post, we began a story about Ahab, King of Israel, in 1 Kings 22. At some point, the Arameans had taken a city called Ramoth-gilead from Israel, but the two kings reached a truce. They were at peace for three years, but Ahab wanted to take that city back. Of course, if the king of Aram defeated him before, it would not be easy, so he enlisted the help of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. As kings would normally do before going into battle, they inquired for a word of Yahweh. Ahab brought in 400 prophets of Yahweh, and every one of them said, “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king” (1 Ki 22:12).

But Jehoshaphat did not trust those prophets, because they seemed more concerned with saying what the king wanted to hear rather than speaking the word of the LORD. He asked for another prophet of the LORD. There was only one the king could call, Micaiah son of Imlah. Ahab summoned him, though he really did not want to, because he never spoke favorably of him but only disaster. But Jehoshaphat insisted. Micaiah has been coy with Ahab up to this point, but Ahab commanded him to drop the sarcasm and tell him the truth. We pick up there, verses 19-23.

Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him. And the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, so that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’

Then one said one thing, and another said another, until a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’

‘How?’ the LORD asked him.

He replied, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’

Then the LORD said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do it.’

So you see, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has decreed disaster for you.”

(1Ki 22:19-23 NRSV)

Micaiah received the word from Yahweh and told him. So of course, Ahab was grateful. He said, “Boy, Micaiah, I’m sure glad we asked you. Thanks for warning me. I almost started a fight that would have killed me. I wanted to get that city back, but I know better than to go into a battle where the LORD is against me. Why is the LORD so bound and determined to destroy me? Maybe it’s because I haven’t been living up to God’s standard of justice and righteousness. What I did to Naboth proves that. In fact, I wonder if he was the one who volunteered to put a lying spirit in my prophets. He is there before the throne of the LORD still seeking justice for what I did to him. Oh, Naboth, please forgive me. LORD, I repent, and I promise from now on to uphold the rights of the poor, the widow, the orphan, the alien, and to honor our laws that protect family farms and release people from slavery every sabbatical year.

“Micaiah, I’m sorry I treated you the way I did. From now on, you will be my chief advisor, because I need a prophet who will speak the truth to me.

“And as for all of you, you lied to me. You succumbed to a lying spirit, and this is not the first time. You have never spoken the truth to me. You do not even know how to speak the truth because of the lying spirit the LORD has put on you. Micaiah son of Imlah is the only one who hears the word of the LORD and the only one who speaks the truth. What do I need 400 false prophets for when I have Micaiah son of Imlah? Can anyone find such a one as this, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? I want all of you gone from my palace by sundown, and I order all your schools of prophecy to be closed. Your license to prophesy in my kingdom is revoked. Micaiah and only Micaiah will speak the word of the LORD to me.”

By the way, in case you were wondering, that was sarcasm. Here’s what really happened. Verses 24-25.

Then Zedekiah son of Chenaanah came up to Micaiah, slapped him on the cheek, and said, “Which way did the spirit of the LORD pass from me to speak to you?”

Micaiah replied, “You will find out on that day when you go in to hide in an inner chamber.”

(1Ki 22:24-25 NRSV)

Zedekiah was the only one of the 400 court prophets mentioned by name, because he stood out by taking iron horns and charging like a bull and saying, “Thus says the LORD: With these you shall gore the Arameans until they are destroyed” (1Ki 22:11 NRS). He knows this doesn’t make him look good. So he slapped Micaiah on the cheek, and he’s like, “I don’t have a lying spirit. You have a lying spirit!” So here’s a classic he said-he said between two competing prophets.

“He’s a false prophet.”

“No, he’s a false prophet.”

How do we know who’s telling the truth? One says (along with 399 others) the king will be victorious in battle. The other says the king will meet with disaster if he goes into battle. In King Ahab’s mind, the prophet(s) who speaks favorably of him is always right. So who do you think he believes? Verses 26-27.

The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah, and return him to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king’s son, and say, ‘Thus says the king: Put this fellow in prison, and feed him on reduced rations of bread and water until I come in peace.’”

(1Ki 22:26-27 NRSV)

Ahab throws him in prison for daring to speak against him. And just for spite, he orders reduced rations of bread and water, just enough to keep him alive until he comes in peace. Micaiah’s answer to this is my favorite line in the story.

Micaiah Sums It Up

Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, you peoples, all of you!”

(1Ki 22:28 NRSV)

Micaiah knows the rules. He prophesied something in the name of Yahweh. If it does not come true, that is a word that Yahweh did NOT speak. According to the law of Moses, that means he should be put to death (Deu 18:20-22). Some of the most powerful statements are not in what someone says but in what they leave unsaid. If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me. That’s what he said. But what is left unsaid there? “If the LORD has spoken by me, you will not return in peace.” More like, “You will return in pieces.”

The last thing he says as he’s being taken away is, Hear, you peoples, all of you! Remember, this is not happening within the walls of a palace. This is happening out in the open at the city gate. A spectacle like this was sure to attract a crowd. He’s telling the people to remember what the prophets of the king said versus what he said and watch to see which one comes true. That is how they will know who the true prophet of the LORD is.

Now, remember, Ahab does not have to do this. He can take Micaiah’s counsel and not go to battle. But he is bound and determined to get this city back and prove Micaiah is “fake news.” The problem with kings and others who have a lot of power and are used to getting what they want is when they can’t get what they want, they often do not take it well. Continuing with Verse 29.

So the king of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead.

(1Ki 22:29 NRSV)

Wow, Jehoshaphat went with Ahab after what the prophet of Yahweh, that he asked for, said? Oh yeah. He must have been thinking, “He said it would be a disaster for you, not me. If you still want to do this, it’s your funeral.” Literally.

“I Will Disguise Myself and Go into Battle”

The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.” So the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle.

(1Ki 22:30 NRSV)

So he called Micaiah fake news, but now he’s not so sure? I guess I can’t blame him for wanting to hedge his bet. But does he really think he can disguise himself from Yahweh? It’s worth a try, I guess.

Now the king of Aram had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, “Fight with no one small or great, but only with the king of Israel.”

(1Ki 22:31 NRSV)

The king of Aram must really be pissed. “I made a truce with that fool, and now he wants to break it? He thinks he can beat me because he’s got a friend with him? We’ll see about that.” Chariots were one of the most powerful weapons in the ancient world. The king of Aram could do some damage to the flanks of Israel with them. He could maybe send half against the armies and half against Ahab, but no. He wants all of his chariots to hunt down one man, the king of Israel. You’ve really gotta hate someone to do that.

Imagine you’re going into battle. You are one of thirty-two Apache helicopter pilots. And your general says, “Forget about everyone else. Forget their tanks, infantry, planes, helicopters, and artillery. I want every one of you to target their general. Seek and destroy him.”

Now Verse 32.

I’m Not the King of Israel!

When the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, “It is surely the king of Israel.” So they turned to fight against him; and Jehoshaphat cried out.

(1Ki 22:32 NRSV)

Ahab told Jehoshaphat to wear his own robes (v. 30), but he still looked like the king of Israel. I guess Ahab and Jehoshaphat’s robes looked similar, because they saw him and thought, “That’s our guy! Get him!”

Jehoshaphat cried out. What did he cry out, I wonder? Did he say, “It’s not me! It’s him!” Did he know the orders the king of Aram gave them?

I guess they look similar.

"Coin" image, black and white, inscribed R(ex) Israel Achab
Rex Achab Israel (Ahab, King of Israel). Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Coin-like image, black and white, incribed Iosaphat Rex Iud(ea)
Jehoshaphat, King of Judah. By Guillaume Rouille – Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85736029

When the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him.

(1Ki 22:33 NRSV)

So the king of Aram was serious. He does not want them going after anyone but the king of Israel. Even the king of Judah gets a pass from them. Fortunately, for Jehoshaphat, they knew the king of Israel well enough to see this was not him. Verse 34.

But a certain man drew his bow and unknowingly struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate; so he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around, and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.”

(1Ki 22:34 NRSV)

A certain man? They don’t even tell us which side he was on. For all we know, he could have been an Israelite soldier. They make it sound like it was an accident, like the confederate soldier who shot Stonewall Jackson. Maybe he was fooled by the king’s disguise. Wouldn’t that be ironic? In trying to fool God, he outsmarted himself. It could have been one of the Aramean soldiers, but then it wouldn’t have been an accident, would it?

Verses 35-37.

Ahab, King of Israel, Dies

The battle grew hot that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans, until at evening he died; the blood from the wound had flowed into the bottom of the chariot. Then about sunset a shout went through the army, “Every man to his city, and every man to his country!”

So the king died, and was brought to Samaria; they buried the king in Samaria.

(1Ki 22:35-37 NRSV)

The driver of the chariot must have been getting more and more worried as the floor of the chariot got ankle deep in blood. Kings often rode chariots with a driver, so they could shoot arrows. They often got very accurate, hitting targets at full speed while making it difficult for the enemy to shoot them. Ahab must have survived many battles that way.

Kurkh stela of Shalmaneser III that reports battle of Karkar, 853 BC.
Kurkh stela of Shalmaneser III that reports battle of Karkar, 853 BC, names King Ahab

In the ancient world, you couldn’t continue a battle after sundown, so they declared an end for that day. The king died. So who was the true prophet, Micaiah or the 400?

The epitaph of king Ahab in the Bible would not be kind. If you can say anything good about him, it was that he was courageous in battle. The Spartans would say he went down on his shield. The next verse describes what happened after he was brought home. It’s pretty graphic, so for sensitive listeners, I won’t read that.

But it did say that it happened according to the word of the LORD that [Elijah] had spoken. (1Ki 22:38 NRSV). This refers to an incident from the previous chapter. Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, had a man named Naboth murdered, so they could take his vineyard from him and his family. Again, this is exactly what Samuel warned the people kings would do to them. Here is what Elijah told him was the judgment from the LORD.

You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.” (1Ki 21:19 NRSV)

In the minds of the Israelites, this was poetic justice. Just as he did to Naboth, it was done to him. I don’t want to encourage vengefulness, but for the ancient Israelites, this was like the Wicked Witch of the West melting.

Gif: Wicked Witch of the West, "I'm melting!"
“A certain girl” threw water on her.

(sing) “Ding, Dong, the witch is dead. Da da, da daa. Da da, da daa.”

An ignominious end to a controversial ruler (1Ki 22:38-40). Jehoshaphat, not surprisingly, gets a much more favorable assessment of his rule (1 Ki 22:41-46).

How Do We Know the Prophet Is False?

Some of you may ask, how was Ahab supposed to know who to believe? Many prophets spoke in the name of Yahweh, but only one got it right. The only way to know for sure was to go into battle. I used to think that with all the competing prophets and schools of prophets back then, how was anyone supposed to know which one to believe? If he was victorious, the 400 were right. If he died, Micaiah was right. So the only way Ahab could know was to die.

But now, I am convinced this was not the first time Ahab’s court prophets got it wrong. He saw them prophesy things that did not come true, but he continued to believe them anyway. Why? Because they only spoke what was favorable to him. They learned quickly he could not handle any truth that was not what he wanted to hear.

Meme: Jack Nicholson, courtroom scene from A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth!"

Now let’s imagine we are there at the city gate, watching all the prophets competing to be heard not just to say that the king will win, but how big a landslide victory it will be. “You will defeat them, for God is with you.” “You will annihilate them, for God is with you.” “With these horns, you will gore your enemies until they are no more, for God is with you.”

And then Micaiah son of Imlah comes along and says in effect, “God has decreed disaster for you if you go.” Who should we believe? Without the benefit of hindsight, how can we know? Micaiah actually gave the answer to that. If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me. Ahab might not know which one is correct before he goes into battle. But we are not going into battle. All we have to do is wait and see. At sundown, does the king return in peace or not?

The driver of the chariot brings him back and shows his body to everyone. Can you tell the difference between a live and a dead body? That’s all you have to do to know who spoke the word of the LORD. You don’t need to be a prophet yourself. You don’t need any gift of discerning of spirits. You don’t need a vision from angels. You don’t need to go off into the wilderness and fast for forty days until you are so near death you can hear God. And you don’t need any propaganda from false prophets and Ahab’s supporters saying he really won when he lost. Just answer that one question. Is Ahab alive or dead? He is dead. There’s your answer. Every prophet who promised victory for the king is false. You don’t need supernatural or spiritual vision. You just need to see the facts. The two eyes and the brain God gave you will do just fine.

“But the prophets had to be right. They speak the word of the LORD.” That’s probably what Ahab thought. “My prophets have to be right!”

Remember, Micaiah reminded us of the rules. If the king returns in peace, the LORD did not speak through him. The other 400 prophets could then claim the LORD spoke through them, and no one could prove them wrong. Did the king return in peace? No. The king did not have the victory the false prophets promised. Micaiah knew the rules, and he was the only prophet willing to play by them. Because even though Micaiah knew he could die if he was wrong, I guarantee not one of the king’s prophets was put to death for speaking falsely in the name of the LORD.

If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; 

(Deu 18:22 NRSV)

So you’ve seen the king’s dead body. He’s dead. The chariot driver is washing the blood out of the bottom of the chariot. But a mob pushes the driver of the chariot away, props the king up and says, “Look! The king is alive! He returned in peace! Victory is ours!”

Then the corpse slips out of their hands and collapses. They pick him up again and say, “Victory is ours, just like the prophets said.” And it happens again and again, and each time they claim the king won

No, the king is dead, just like the prophet Micaiah said. What Micaiah said proved true. What the false prophets said did not come true. Yes, every prophet who promised victory for the king was false. It doesn’t matter how many times you prop him up. You can’t bring him back to life. You can’t have a do-over of the battle. It’s over.

God Told Me the King Is Not Dead

At what point do we admit the Trump prophets were false? When the votes are counted and Biden is the winner? When every legal challenge to the results has failed? When the electoral college casts their votes and Biden is the winner? When Congress certifies the results, despite an attempted coup, and Biden is still the winner? The king is dead. No matter how many times you prop Trump up in the chariot and decree, declare, or prophesy that he is the winner, he lost. I’m not saying whether that’s good or bad. I’m saying those are the facts. And the facts are how you know if the prophet is false.

What about when he is inaugurated? If Biden is inaugurated (which any other time in history was never even questioned), should we accept then that the prophets were false?

The prophets are not false! The election was stolen!

The “400 prophets” (I think that’s what I’ll call them from now on) didn’t say he would really win, but the election would be stolen. They said Donald Trump would win. The facts do not match the prophecy. And no, the election was not stolen. Your vote was counted along with 155 million other votes. You voted for the candidate who got fewer votes. He lost. That’s how democracy works. The votes have been counted, the electoral college has cast its votes, and Congress has certified the results, all in keeping with the Constitution. Biden won, Trump lost. You can try again in four years. That system has worked since 1789. No, it’s not perfect, but more than anything it is what makes this nation great. I know the prophets promised he would win, but he lost.

But we walk by faith, not by sight (2Co 5:7 KJV). You can’t see it now except through the eyes of faith. But Donald Trump won, and God will reveal it, and God will defeat every plan of Satan to put Joe Biden in the White House.

Gif: Saturday Night Live, Church Lady to Colin Jost, "Satan!"

2 Corinthians 5:7 was never meant to be an excuse for denying the facts. How did the Bible say to identify false prophets?

If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; 

(Deu 18:22 NRSV)

If it does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken. I know I keep repeating that, but you seem to have a hard time accepting it. Micaiah told the people to watch what happens and see which prophet’s word comes true. That’s how you will know which prophet is true, and which prophet is false. You don’t need to “walk by faith not by sight” to know if the 400 prophets are false. Just compare what they said with the facts. The king is dead, and  306 electoral votes is still more than 232. At this point, no one can change the results of the election without overturning the Constitution.

All the prophets said Trump would win. How could all those prophets have been wrong?

All 400 of Ahab’s prophets were wrong. How did that happen? According to Micaiah, the LORD sent a lying spirit to them because he was sick of King Ahab’s injustice and unrighteousness. Did the LORD send a lying spirit to the false prophets of Trump? Or did the prophets simply speak presumptuously, as Deuteronomy 18:22 says? Did they presume to think their own wishful thinking was “the word of the LORD”? I don’t know. All I know is what they spoke did not come true, and Deuteronomy 18:22 and Micaiah both say that means God did not promise any victory to Trump, no matter what the 400 prophets said.

God shouldn’t even have had to put that in the Bible. Just use the brain God gave you. A prophet whose prophecies don’t come true is literally the definition of a false prophet. Simple common sense should tell you that. When God, the Bible, and common sense all agree, you’d better pay attention. You may even need to repent, like I did years ago.

“Hear, you peoples, all of you!”

I’m spending so much time on this, because even after the horrific events of January 6, there are reports that some people are planning even more violence on Inauguration day. If you are considering that, let me ask you. Even if by some crazy turn of events you are successful in stopping the inauguration and overturning the election by force, is that really a win? If that happens, we lose much more than one presidential election. We lose the greatest legacy of the Constitution, the peaceful transfer of power. And with that, we lose the world’s longest running constitutional democracy. That is not how you make America great again. That is how you become a fascist state.

Meme: Tom Cruise, courtroom scene from A Few Good Men, "I want the truth!"

400 Prophets Can’t Be Wrong! Or Can They? Part 1

I had written this post before the incidents of January 6. Ironically, that is Epiphany, the day many churches celebrate the visit of the wise men. But it looked like wisdom decided to take a holiday from Washington, D.C. I don’t have a lot to say that hasn’t already been said. But I will say my goal as a Christian is to follow Jesus’ commands, specifically, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, “Do unto others as you would have them to do you”, “Love one another as I have loved you”, “Love your enemies”, and “Turn the other cheek.” I don’t see any way to reconcile that with insurrection, terrorism, and storming the Capitol to stop our democracy from doing what it has done since 1789. But what do I know? I’m just a Bible scholar.

The House and Senate did their duty in spite of it, and for that, I commend them. Maybe some people need to take a lesson from how God handled losing an election, as I talked about in my last post.

I know for some of you, the idea of Trump leaving the white house without a second term is very upsetting. You think it’s the end of the world. But let me ask, does the reason you are so upset about losing an election (welcome to democracy, by the way) have anything to do with the prophets who promised God would give Trump the victory? If so, then there is a story from the Bible I want to point to you. You thought so many prophets all saying the same thing could not possibly fail. What if I told you one time 400 prophets all prophesied the exact same thing and got it wrong? That is the story I’ll bring you today.

Quick Background: A United Kingdom Now Divided

In the previous episode, I told you that while Samuel was judge, priest, and prophet in Israel, the people demanded a king. God did not like it, but God told Samuel, if the people voted for a king, give them a king. You see there? God did not agree with the results of the election, but God accepted them. When you finish this, maybe you’ll want to go back and read my post on that.

This story takes place about 160 or 170 years later. The people got their king. David ruled from about 1000-960 BC, and at first it worked out like the people hoped. He succeeded in uniting the twelve tribes into one nation and beating all of Israel’s enemies into submission. With stability within and peace with the surrounding nations, his son Solomon built on David’s success, and the nation enjoyed peace and prosperity under him (ca. 960-920 BC). Hail to the king!

But it came with a cost. Solomon used forced labor for his many building projects, one of several things Samuel warned the people a king would do to them. It is a testament to Solomon’s popularity that the people did not complain too much while he was king. But when Solomon died, they asked his successor, Rehoboam, to ease up on the forced labor. Rehoboam responded by telling the people in effect, “You thought my father was tough? I will be ten times tougher!”

The people rebelled, particularly the northern tribes, and the end result was the nation split into a northern and southern kingdom (ca. 920 BC). Rehoboam remained king in the south, but Jeroboam, the leader of the rebellion, became king in the north. From then on, the name Israel referred to the northern kingdom, and Judah referred to the southern kingdom.

As two nations instead of one, each of them became more vulnerable to enemy invasion.

The Relationship Between the Kings of Israel and Judah

Ahab was one of the northern kings from about 871-852 BC. He is perhaps best known for being married to Jezebel and being the king at the time of Elijah’s duel with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Ki 16:29-34; 18:1-46). He had been in conflict with the king of Aram (modern day Syria), but they came to a truce. For three years, he was at peace with the Arameans. But he still had an axe to grind with them, so he called Jehoshaphat, the king of the south (ca. 870-849 BC), to his capital city of Samaria. We’ll pick up the story in 1 Kings 22.

For three years Aram and Israel continued without war. But in the third year King Jehoshaphat of Judah came down to the king of Israel. The king of Israel said to his servants, “Do you know that Ramoth-gilead belongs to us, yet we are doing nothing to take it out of the hand of the king of Aram?”

(1Ki 22:1-3 NRSV)
"Coin" image, black and white, inscribed R(ex) Israel Achab
Rex Achab Israel (Ahab, King of Israel). Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Coin-like image, black and white, incribed Iosaphat Rex Iud(ea)
Jehoshaphat, King of Judah. By Guillaume Rouille – Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85736029

The notes in my study Bible say Ramoth-gilead had been a tax center for Israel before the Arameans took it from them. Back then, certain cities were designated for collecting taxes, most of which came in the form of agricultural products like grain, wine, and olive oil. These cities had the main storehouses for all of that, so this was a significant loss for Ahab’s kingdom. He wanted it back. Verse 4.

He said to Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to battle at Ramoth-gilead?”

Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “I am as you are; my people are your people, my horses are your horses.”

(1Ki 22:4 NRSV)

The study notes say Jehoshaphat’s response indicates he was a vassal of Ahab, so the northern kingdom was more powerful than the south at that time. Ahab wants to take Ramoth-gilead back from the Arameans. But if they took it from him before, he does not want to fight them again without an ally. If Jehoshaphat was his vassal, did he have the right to say no or not? Ahab asks as if he does, but maybe this was a formality. Still, Jehoshaphat did at least have some wiggle room, if not a right of refusal, as we see in the next verse. Also, you’ll note that in this story, the narrator never calls king Ahab by name. He only refers to him as “the king of Israel,” indicating he does not have a high opinion of this king.

Inquire First for the Word of Yahweh

In the ancient world, you always wanted to inquire of your gods before a major undertaking, like war. King Leonidas of Sparta went to the oracle of Delphi, and Jehoshaphat wants to ask the prophets of the LORD before he commits to this. Verse 5.

But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the LORD.”

(1Ki 22:5 NRSV)

It’s important to note in this verse that LORD is in all capital letters. In the NRSV that I use, and most English translations, when LORD is in all caps like this, it refers specifically to Yahweh, the God of Israel and Judah. This is key because at that time, the Canaanite god Baal was also called “the Lord.” The prophets frequently denounced the kings and the people for worshipping Baal along with Yahweh. You cannot serve two lords, to paraphrase Jesus. What was the first commandment?

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

(Exo 20:2-3 NRSV)

The prophets constantly reminded them Baal did not bring you out of slavery. Yahweh did. Baal did not give them this land. Yahweh did. Baal is not your God. Yahweh is. But both Israelites and Jews wanted to have it both ways. They thought Yahweh was good for some things, but Baal was more reliable for other things. So it was not uncommon for there to be shrines both to Yahweh and Baal, even in the same city. So when they ask for “a word of the LORD,” do they mean Yahweh or Baal? If “lord” is in all caps, as it is throughout this story, that means the original text says Yahweh. Verses 6-7.

Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred of them, and said to them, “Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?”

They said, “Go up; for the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.”

But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no other prophet of the LORD here of whom we may inquire?”

 (1Ki 22:6-7 NRSV)

LORD is in all caps in both cases, so Ahab brought in prophets of Yahweh, not Baal. But Jehoshaphat still doesn’t trust them. He wants to hear from another prophet of Yahweh.

Jehoshaphat Dares to Question the Prophets

What’s your problem, Jehoshaphat? You asked to inquire of a prophet of Yahweh, and Ahab brought you 400 of them. And you still want to inquire of another prophet of Yahweh? Why do you need one more? Every prophet is in perfect agreement. Doesn’t that tell you this has to be the word of Yahweh?

For some reason, this does not pass the “smell test” for Jehoshaphat. The reason becomes clearer a few verses later, so I’m going to skip ahead to verse 10.

Now the king of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah were sitting on their thrones, arrayed in their robes, at the threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets were prophesying before them.

(1Ki 22:10 NRS)

Two Thrones at the City Gate

You might have assumed, as I did at first, that if one king is in his capital city (Samaria) and receiving another, they would discuss their business in the palace. But they were actually at the entrance of the gate. A lot of important business took place at the gate of a city back then. The elders would usually gather there to counsel people, settle disputes to avoid going to court, or be witness to some official transaction. Here, it says both kings were sitting on their thrones. Remember, this is Ahab’s capital. He has a throne here, presumably in addition to the one in the palace. But there is a throne for the king of Judah as well. I don’t know if it was for him specifically, or if it was for any king who had come to negotiate with the king of Israel. But if Ahab had a throne for the king of Judah, I think it speaks to the fact that even though they were no longer one nation, they were on friendly terms. The two kingdoms had a shared history and, for the most part, a shared religion. True, they had been through a pretty nasty divorce, and they were “never ever getting back together” (as Taylor Swift would say), relations at that time were amicable.

This is a different scene than what I pictured at first. If you don’t read the Bible regularly, just know that this will happen sometimes. Continuing with verses 11-12.

Writer’s Tip: Don’t do what this writer did here. If you realize halfway into a scene you have to add details to make it clear, that’s jarring for the reader. They had pictured the scene one way, but then they have to tear that down and rebuild it, and then reimagine what has already happened in order to catch up.

Prophecy or an Echo Chamber?

Zedekiah son of Chenaanah made for himself horns of iron, and he said, “Thus says the LORD: With these you shall gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.”

All the prophets were prophesying the same and saying, “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.”

(1Ki 22:11-12 NRS)

Before, it sounded like the king asked if he should go and attack the Arameans at Ramoth-gilead, the prophets said yes, and that was it. Why would that look suspicious? But in these verses, we see the prophets had been speaking the whole time. And not just speaking either. In true prophetic fashion, they were all dramatizing how the king would utterly defeat the Arameans, each one trying to make their voices heard over all the others. One called Zedekiah son of Chenaanah stood out by making himself horns of iron, probably so he could charge like a bull and trample and gore imaginary enemies. And this is all happening by the gates of the city for everyone to see.

Now are you starting to see why Jehoshaphat did not trust these prophets? This was not 400 prophets who each heard the word of the LORD independently, and lo and behold, they all agree! This was an echo chamber of 400 clamoring sycophants who have learned that when they prophesy, “the word of the LORD” had better be favorable to the king and whatever he wants to do. So with 400 prophets each trying to be the most enthusiastic supporter of the king, Jehoshaphat leans over to Ahab so he can hear him speak. Now, we go back to verses 7-9.

Is There No Prophet of Yahweh Here?

But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no other prophet of the LORD here of whom we may inquire?”

The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.”

Jehoshaphat said, “Let the king not say such a thing.”

Then the king of Israel summoned an officer and said, “Bring quickly Micaiah son of Imlah.”

(1Ki 22:7-9 NRSV)

Jehoshaphat wants a prophet who will actually inquire of the LORD and tell the truth, whether it is favorable to the king or not. Ahab says, “Yeah, there is one, but he is fake news.” Why is he fake news? Because his prophecies do not come true? No, because he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.

So he is “fake news” because he knows God is under no obligation to speak favorably of the king. Jehoshaphat is like, “That’s the one I want to hear from.”

One of the responsibilities of a prophet was to speak truth to power, whether they liked hearing it or not. Jehoshaphat understood that, but Ahab did not. He only wanted to hear from prophets who would tell his itching ears what he wanted to hear. He demanded loyalty. Micaiah gave him honesty. He did not want to hear the minority report, but he knew Jehoshaphat would not agree to anything without it. Reluctantly, he sent for the prophet, Micaiah son of Imlah.

Micaiah: Not a Team Player

The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.”

But Micaiah said, “As the LORD lives, whatever the LORD says to me, that I will speak.”

(1Ki 22:13-14 NRSV)

Come on, Micaiah. All the other prophets have already spoken favorably to the king. Just go along with them. Can’t you be a team player for once?

And Micaiah is like, “That’s not how it works. I don’t speak favorably or unfavorably to the king. I only speak what the LORD tells me.”

When he had come to the king, the king said to him, “Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall we refrain?”

He answered him, “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.”

But the king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?”

(1Ki 22:15-16 NRSV)

I think Jehoshaphat must have got a good laugh out of this. I mean, technically, he said what the king wanted to hear. So why did the king get angry and tell him to say nothing but the truth?

Meme: Tom Cruise, courtroom scene from A Few Good Men, "I want the truth!"

When I was in the Word of Faith, they placed so much emphasis on being careful with your words. Never say something you don’t mean or that you don’t want to come to pass, so sarcasm was out. God doesn’t understand sarcasm. God only understands the literal meaning of the words you speak. But here we have a prophet speaking the word of the LORD with sarcasm. The problem with sarcasm is it doesn’t always come across on the written page. But there is no other reason for Ahab to think he doesn’t really mean what he’s saying. I picture him giving a smirk before he speaks and mimicking the enthusiasm of Ahab’s prophets.

How ironic is it that Ahab orders him to tell nothing but the truth in the name of Yahweh, but he told Jehoshaphat he did not want to bring in Micaiah because he spoke the truth. Okay, Ahab. You want to hear the truth? Micaiah son of Imlah is about to lay it on you. Verse 17.

Then Micaiah said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep that have no shepherd; and the LORD said, ‘These have no master; let each one go home in peace.’”

(1Ki 22:17 NRSV)

It’s kind of a roundabout way of saying, “Don’t go up to Ramoth-gilead.” But the message is still clear to Ahab. In Biblical language, saying all Israel is like sheep that have no shepherd is a critique of his leadership, which someone like Ahab hates. And if he says everyone should go home in peace, that doesn’t sound like getting ready for battle, does it? Verse 18.

The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy anything favorable about me, but only disaster?”

(1Ki 22:18 NRSV)

Disaster? He said let each one go home in peace. You haven’t heard disaster yet. He says he wants the truth. Can he handle it?

This post is getting pretty long, so I’ll stop here and continue it in the next post. In the meantime, enjoy this classic clip from the movie, A Few Good Men.

Police in helmets and riot gear downtown Washington, DC

What Happened When God Lost an Election?

Some of my Christian brothers and sisters are disappointed with the results of the election. Well, disappointed is an understatement. To be honest, I’ve been disturbed at their inability to accept reality. I mean, the electoral college has met, and Biden has 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 228. That’s about the same margin of victory as Trump had over Clinton in 2016. I know denial is one of the stages of grief, but at some point you have to move on to acceptance. You will never recover from this if you don’t accept reality. That’s the price you pay for living in a democracy.

Police in helmets and riot gear downtown Washington, DC

But I understand. All the self-proclaimed prophets told you Trump was going to win. You think Trump is God’s anointed, and you can’t accept that God could possibly lose an election. But what if I told you the Bible records an instance where that actually happened? If you believe the Bible, this is not the first time God lost an election. If you want to know how God got over it, this post is for you.

For this episode, we’re going back to the time of the Judges. If you don’t know, this is the period of Israel’s history following the conquest of Canaan under Joshua. They divided up the land, setting boundaries for each of the twelve tribes. It was a difficult time for them in a number of ways. Though they were technically one nation, they functioned more like twelve individual tribes. Despite claims in the book of Joshua that they annihilated all the Canaanites and other peoples native to the land, they still lived among them. The neighboring nations frequently raided them, killing some, enslaving others, and plundering their food and goods. Nowhere was safe.

In the book of Judges, God raised up leaders when crises arose who would unite a few tribes to team up against a particularly bad enemy, like the Philistines. They would defeat the enemy and be safe for a while. But they would slip back into apostasy, worshipping the gods of other nations, God would hand them over to their enemies, they would cry out for deliverance, God would raise up another leader (called a judge) to lead an army to defeat the enemy, and they were safe again. Until they slipped back into apostasy, and the cycle would repeat. By the end of Judges, the people of Israel were behaving even worse toward each other than their enemies were. To answer the unspoken question, “Why?” the author says,

In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

(Jdg 21:25 NRS)

Obviously, a system like this wasn’t sustainable. But a light of hope came not in a military commander but rather a spiritual leader. His name was Samuel, and in the years from about 1040-1020 BC, he became something like a Wesleyan circuit rider, traveling from one shrine of Yahweh to another. He reformed the worship and helped settle disputes, so they wouldn’t slip into the kind of depravity we see in chapters 17-21 of Judges. He reminded them of the sacred traditions about Yahweh, the God who had sent Moses to call them out of Egypt and be his people, who had given this land to them and the law of Moses, so they could learn the ways of justice and righteousness.

When I say the purpose of the law of Moses was to teach justice and righteousness, some of you are skeptical. You say there is a lot of the law of Moses that does not look just and righteous to you. I understand. I plan on doing a full explanation in a later post. For now, I will refer you to Genesis 18:19.

“… for I have chosen [Abraham], that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

(NRSV)

God says here the way of the LORD is righteousness and justice, and God wants Abraham to teach his children and his household after him to learn and practice this. I know not everything Abraham did was righteous and just, and the same is true of the law of Moses. But that was always the goal, and Samuel not only taught it but lived it to the best of his knowledge.

Not the P.K.’s

The people loved and respected Samuel, so they listened to him. But they saw a problem down the road. Samuel’s sons did not have his integrity. Do you know what a P.K. is? A “preacher’s kid.” There is a stereotype of them being wild and rebellious. Samuel’s two sons were “P.K.’s” in the worst sense of the word. Samuel had done a lot to root out corruption in their religious institutions, but he was getting old. He made his two sons judges to take over some of his duties, and they threatened to undo all the good Samuel had done.

Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.

(1Sa 8:3 NRSV)

Whereas Samuel administered justice, his sons perverted justice (1 Sam 7:14-8:3). The most discouraging part was Samuel did nothing to correct them. They came to Samuel with a solution. So now, I’ll read from 1 Sam 8, starting with verse 4.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”

But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the LORD,

 (1Sa 8:4-6 NRS)

Ramah was Samuel’s home, where he would rest between circuits. The elders come to him on behalf of the people and tell him they do not trust his sons like they trust him. They like him, but they don’t want his sons governing them. And to be fair, their concerns are legitimate. This is one more failure of a hereditary-based system of rule. But their solution is to set up another hereditary-based rule. They want a king to govern them, like other nations.

The last sentence of the book of Judges, quoted above, makes it sound like this is the solution they need. When there was no king, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Samuel at first takes it personally. He sees it as a rejection of himself.

It’s not you, Samuel, it’s me

… and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only–you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”  

(1Sa 8:7-9 NRS)

So to paraphrase, God tells Samuel, “They are not rejecting you. They are rejecting me.” Their history toward God, ever since they came out of Egypt, has been, rejecting him, “Please take me back,” rejecting him, “Please take me back,” and this is just another chapter in that story. If you are in a relationship like that, you have my sympathies.

But God says something specific about this episode. They have rejected me from being king over them. I see God saying here, “If you want a king, fine. I’ll be your king.” God is literally offering them the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, but once again they will reject it. As much as God must be getting sick of this cycle of rejection and reconciliation, God tells Samuel twice, Listen to the voice of the people. So God is saying he will accept the results of the election, but first God wants Samuel to warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them. Let’s see what that means.

Be careful what you pray for

So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers”

(1Sa 8:10-13 NRSV).

Let’s stop for a minute and see what this means. You want a king like the other nations? Well, here is what the kings of other nations do to their people.

He will take your sons. Right away, this suggests slavery. Chariots, horsemen, and commanders point to conscripted military service. Instead of plowing their own fields and reaping their own harvests, the king will force your sons to do that for him. They will be forced to make implements of war and chariots. Taking their daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers doesn’t sound that bad, but again, it won’t be for themselves or their households. They will be taken from their families and forced to do this for the king and his court. Apparently, under Samuel, service to the state was voluntary. A king will make it mandatory, just like other nations.

The most puzzling thing for me is when he says he will make your sons run before his chariots. Why did kings do that? I don’t know, but what happens to you if you are running in front of a chariot, and you can’t run as fast as the horses? Have you seen Ben-Hur? Let’s continue.

“He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.”

(1Sa 8:14-15 NRSV)

There was a tithe of grain and vineyards and olive orchards under Mosaic law, but it was meant to feed people who did not have the means to grow their own food, i.e., priests, Levites, and the poor. A king, who is already rich, will take your tithe for himself and his courtiers.

“He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.”

(1Sa 8:16-17 NRSV)

Again, he will take the best or your hard-earned labor for himself, and leave you with the least. And God saved the worst for last. You shall be his slaves. Remember, this was a nation founded on deliverance from slavery. They were allowed to own slaves, as noted in this passage. That is one of those things critics say make the Bible irrelevant or immoral. I understand. I don’t want anyone to think I’m advocating for slavery. But it was a different time. Every period of history has its moral blind spots, and slavery was so much a part of the social fabric I don’t think they could imagine a world without it. But the memory of slavery was supposed to temper their treatment of slaves. A king will make you slaves once again, and he would not have any of the restraints toward his slaves that they had.

The LORD will not answer you in that day

“And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

(1Sa 8:18 NRSV)

Now that warning is about as stark as you can get. God called Moses back to Egypt, because they cried out from the harsh treatment of Pharaoh and his taskmasters. But when they cry out again because of their king, the LORD will not answer you in that day. Why? Because this is your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves. You made your bed, and you will lie in it.

Even God can’t change the election results

Protesters with signs "Count the Votes," "Count every vote," "Democracy means count all the votes."
The votes were counted, and God accepted the results.

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”  

(1Sa 8:19-20 NRSV)

So God tried to be elected king by will of the people, and lost! They didn’t even have a candidate to run against God. They didn’t have anyone to vote for. Their only purpose was to vote against God. And then, they wanted God to pick who would be king. “We voted against you. Now, we want to you to pick the person to fill the office we rejected you for.”

If anyone had a right to complain about an unfair election, God did. But did God complain?

When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD.

The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.”

(1Sa 8:21-22a NRSV)

“But a king is going to oppress them! A king is going to do all the evil to them they want to be saved from, and worse! This is a fraudulent election! They didn’t even have a candidate! How can you have an election without an opposing candidate? This is the greatest fraud in history! And look at this chart! I was ahead in the vote count at sundown! That means I won! Samuel, if you don’t overturn the results of this election, you’re fired!”

No, one thing God is not is a sore loser or a snowflake. Listen to their voice and set a king over them. God accepted the results of the election and the will of the people, even though God knew it would not give them what they wanted.

Why was God opposed to a king?

There were actually a number of good reasons for a king, and I’ve already mentioned most of them. I don’t think God had a problem with a desire for a king. In fact, after David took the throne, God blessed him and his dynasty beyond anything even David had imagined. I think the problem was their reasons for wanting a king. Three reasons:

1. They wanted a king to govern.

No problem there. They had to have some sort of government. The law of Moses even commanded them to set up a government, though it did not include a king. Still, for the time, it was not an unreasonable request. A monarchy can work pretty well if the king is wise and benevolent. Remember, the author of Judges advocated for a king to establish order and justice. By having a king to govern all twelve tribes, it would unite them and make them into a nation powerful enough to defend itself against its enemies.

2. They wanted a king to go out before us and fight our battles.

God did not call them to be a military nation. They were not even allowed to have a standing army. It’s true they needed to be able to defend themselves against the hostile nations surrounding them, who constantly invaded, raided and oppressed them. But when you talk about a king to go out before you into battle, you’re not talking about defense. You’re talking about doing some invading and raiding yourself. In a dog eat dog world, they did not just want to be safe. They wanted to be the alpha dog.

3. They wanted to be like other nations.

Remember that verse I showed about how God wanted Abraham’s descendants to be the vessels through which God would bring righteousness and justice into a dark and unjust world? The children of Israel were those descendants of Abraham. The desire to be like other nations would lead them to copy their ways, not only in having a king. It would mean copying their injustice and unrighteousness. Their kings would copy the kings of other nations in oppressing their own people.

The author of Judges thought a king would be the answer, not only to oppression from their enemies but to the injustice that Israelites did to each other. Isn’t it ironic that the very thing Judges said would save them from injustice, God said would become an instrument of injustice that they would be powerless to stop. And as you watch the history of Israel unfold from the Judges to the Exile, everything God said the kings would do to them, they did.

And even knowing all this, God accepted the results of the election. My brothers and sisters in Christ, could it be time for you to do the same, and stop demonizing those who simply counted the votes?

A view of the front and back cover

On Calvin and Hobbes and Building Character

The “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip by Bill Watterson ran from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995. One recurring theme was his father telling six-year-old Calvin, “It builds character.” The things he said build character include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bug bites
  • Camping
  • Numb toes
  • Starvation
  • Shoveling the walk
  • Playing sports (baseball)
  • Enduring cold weather
  • Food
  • Suffering a tough life
  • Learning to ride a bicycle.

So basically, any time Calvin had to do something he didn’t like, his father said, “It builds character.” One in particular stands out to me. Calvin complained that it was cold in the house.

Calvin: It’s freezing in here!! Why can’t we crank up the thermostat?!

Dad: Consuming less fuel is good for the environment and it saves money.

Calvin: Oh.

Dad: And being cold builds character.

Calvin: I KNEW IT!!

https://www.reddit.com/r/calvinandhobbes/comments/83o3q6/being_cold_builds_character/

Blame it on Paul and James

I imagine, like Calvin, the last thing you want to hear about this crisis is it builds character. So I won’t do that. I’ll let Paul do it.

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope …

(Rom 5:3-4 NRS).

Suffering produces endurance. Endurance produces character. Character produces hope. So Paul agrees with the dad. Sorry, Calvin.

But when we’re going through suffering or trials of any kind, it’s hard to see anything positive. It’s hard to “count it nothing but joy,” as James said (1:2). It’s hard to think about the perspective and maturity you will gain when all you want is for it to be over. After you go through a few trials, though, you can look back and see, “Yes, I am a better person for having gone through that.”

At some point, we all ask something like, if God loves us, why is there so much suffering? Why won’t God get rid of the Coronavirus? If God is love (1 Jn 4:8), why is God allowing all the chaos and suffering of this pandemic? We think love wants to maximize happiness and minimize suffering. And that is true, to an extent (Mat 7:9-11). But that is only part of the picture. My experience living with clinical depression and Irritable Bowel Syndrome has convinced me that God’s love cares more about our character than our happiness. I wouldn’t have chosen those trials and the crises of faith that came with them, but they made me more compassionate and wiser. They stripped away any what’s-in-it-for-me aspect of faith I had before. And they resulted in a WD Award Winning book.

A view of the front and back cover
I was pleased with how the front and back cover looked.

As wonderful as that is, what I really hope for is people telling me after they read my book, they got diagnosed, or they started counseling, or they now understand why their son, daughter, spouse, or parent acts the way they do. In other words, that it really helps others living with depression. That is often where perspective and wisdom happens. God allowed me to go through this, so I can help others who are going through the same thing.

A New Prayer for Perseverance

The only way your faith can mature is to go through trials and experience God’s faithfulness through them. James said it this way.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.

(Jam 1:2-5 NRS)

In that spirit, I wrote this prayer I am using to get me through this, and I hope it helps you.

“God, you said through your servant James that the trying of my faith would produce perseverance and wisdom. I would rather you remove it from me. For that matter, I would rather You remove it from my family, from my neighbors, and from the world. I am facing the brutal facts, and they are overwhelming. But if You choose not to remove it immediately, I know there must be a reason. There must be a lesson in this, even if I can’t imagine what it is right now. I confess that I am lacking wisdom in this trial. You promised to give me this wisdom, the perspective I need, if I ask. So I ask You to give me wisdom to see as You see, and to use this until You choose to remove it. Amen.”

Don’t Call It “The New Normal”

I added the word “immediately” because God will remove this at some point. Or our medical experts will find a cure and/or vaccine. We can take some comfort in knowing historically, no pandemic lasts forever. The plagues of the 14th and 18th centuries did come to an end, as did the Spanish flu of 1918. That is why I refuse to use the words “new normal.” New normal implies this is what life is going to be like from now on. Social distancing, wearing masks and gloves, washing hands and sanitizing surfaces several times a day are all good for flattening the curve. And the sooner we get everyone on board with that, the sooner it will be over.

But it won’t be like this forever. One day, it will be safe to gather together again. We’ll be able to go back to church, movies, and concerts with our friends and family, and without masks. We’ll be able to shake hands and hug those we love. I and others will be able to seek out speaking engagements in person rather than on screen. But for now, the loving thing to do is to protect each other by stopping the spread of the virus however we can. Remember who you are doing this for. I socially distance from you, so I don’t have to socially distance from my wife. No offense, but I’d rather get close to her than to you.

So stay safe and six feet apart. If you can’t do that, wear masks and wash your hands. And remember the words of Paul and James I shared with you. They had it right. Suffering and the trying of our faith does produce perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope, so that the trying of our faith makes us mature and complete, lacking in nothing. Ask God for wisdom to see how this is forming your character to conform to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Because as bad as this may be, the only thing that could be worse is if we have to go through this and not learn what God wants us to learn from this trial.

Grace and Peace to you.

If you want something to read while staying at home, check out my award-winning ebook, Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain, also available in paperback. And check out other books I recommend on Biblical Fiction, Depression, and Self-Publishing. And see the Recommended tab at the top. In the category of Depression, you should check out Carrie M. Wrigley’s Your Happiness Toolkit, now available in audiobook.

Seinfeld meme: "Hey!!! Six Feet Mr. Close Talker!

Vlog

In my newsletter, I mentioned an online resource where you can create memes. There doesn’t seem to be a name for it, Here’s a public service announcement (PSA) from Seinfeld about the Coronavirus.

Seinfeld meme: "Hey!!! Six Feet Mr. Close Talker!
Coronavirus PSA from Seinfeld

I am putting the blog on hiatus to focus on other things. One thing is I’ve experimented with a few videos uploaded to YouTube. I’m using scripts I wrote for a Podcast, which I still want to do. But after a few tries, it seems these videos are easier to crank out. That will leave me more time to work on fiction and prepare to release my ancient Rome novel. I’m looking at July right now. So the blog now will be a Vlog. So far, the episodes are part of a series I’m calling “Faith in a Time of Coronavirus.” Here are the links if you want to check them out.

The new title for my YouTube channel is Almost Ordained. You can view the channel here.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_3aPEDwCIxCAtBoDPA4tAg/

Now here are my most recent videos.


Am I a Satan Worshipper?”

My response to a Word of Faith preacher. You know who you are. “Faith in a Time of Coronavirus” series.

Why the Coronavirus Is Not an Idol

A comparison between the Coronavirus and the golden image of Daniel ch.apter 3. One is an idol. One is not. “Faith in a Time of Coronavirus” series.

1. Everyone knew where Nebuchadnezzar’s image was. Where is the Coronavirus image we are supposed to worship?

2. No one is worshiping the Coronavirus. Not in the US or anywhere in the world.

3. No one is commanded to bow down to the Coronavirus or an image of it.

4. If you didn’t bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image, what would the image do to you? Nothing. The king would have you thrown into a fiery furnace. But the image itself could do nothing. It had no life of its own. It had no power of its own. The only power it had was what people gave it through belief, superstition, law, or fear.

5. Does the Coronavirus have life and power of its own? Yes, it does. A virus of any kind is a living organism. Much simpler than a human, but it does have life of its own. It doesn’t need the government to give it power. It has power of its own to make you sick and kill you, no matter what the government or you say about it. That is how you know it is NOT an idol.

6. If you did not worship the image, what was the punishment? Death in a fiery furnace. That is persecution. If you don’t follow the rules of social distancing, what is the punishment? If you are caught, you might get a warning and a fine. If you are a repeat offender, they might put you in jail, though they’d probably rather not, since social distancing in a prison is already a challenge. No government official is handing out the death penalty for social distancing violations. That is not persecution. That is protecting the public health and promoting the general welfare, things the government is supposed to do.

7. Who or what would kill you in Daniel’s time if you failed to worship the idol? The government. Who or what will kill you if you catch the Coronavirus? The virus will make you sick and maybe kill you. If you have to go to the hospital, you’d better pray they have enough ventilators. Whatever the virus does to you, it’s all because of the virus. The government has nothing to do with it.

Philippians 4:13 and the Coronavirus

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” What does that really mean? Particularly, what does it mean for living with “shelter in place”? “Faith in a Time of Coronavirus” series.

The False Prophets of COVID-19

How the progress of Coronavirus is proving many so-called prophets don’t know what they are talking about. If we are to find encouragement from our faith, it has to be apart from them. “Faith in a Time of Coronavirus” series.

Snake!”

This was my most popular blog post of all time. My wife and I got a surprise visitor on Palm Sunday. “Faith in a Time of Coronavirus” series.

The Second Sign of a False Prophet

In an earlier post, I talked about the first sign to look for in a false prophet. If they prophesy something in the name of the LORD, and it does not come to pass, the LORD did not speak that. They spoke presumptuously. They are a false prophet (Deut 18:20-22).

But what if what they say does come to pass? Could he/she still be a false prophet? The Old Testament warned the Israelites it is indeed possible. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 told the Israelites even if what the prophets or those who divine by dreams say comes to pass, but they tell you to follow gods other than the LORD who redeemed you from slavery in Egypt, you must not follow them. Any prophet who tells them to forsake the way of the LORD their God and follow other gods was to be put to death. As I said in another episode, ancient Israel was a theocracy, but we are a republic. We can’t put false prophets to death here, and I’m glad for that. Because of that, I’m going to focus more on the New Testament.

Jesus said, “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Mat 24:11 NRS). And again, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mat 24:24 NRS). What stands out for me in this is:

  1. False prophets will produce great signs and omens.
  2. False prophets will lead many astray.
  3. Even the elect, those who are saved, can be led astray.

So don’t think if you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can’t be fooled by false prophets, because you have the Holy Spirit within you. Oh yes, you can.

A Warning to the Galatians (and Us)

Paul said this to the Galatians.

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!”

(Gal 1:8-9 NRS).

If it were anyone else, I would say, “What an egomaniac. He won’t let anyone say anything contrary to what he told them. That’s what cult leaders do.” But over the years, I have heard gospels contrary to what we received from Christ and the Apostles. They led me astray, so I understand why he gives such a dire warning about this. The members of the church in Galatia had the Holy Spirit. False prophets or false teachers came among them, and they were fooled. Don’t think it can’t happen to you.

And notice, Paul even says if we … proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you. He includes himself in this curse. He has shut the door on ever changing the gospel he first proclaimed to them. Ain’t gonna be no, “You know what? I was wrong. What I told you before wasn’t the real gospel. Let me proclaim a different gospel to you now.” No, he said if I ever do that, let me be accursed. That was how important it was to get this right.

And he also says … if an angel from heaven should proclaim a different gospel to you, let him be accursed. One would expect an angel to be able to produce some of the great signs and omens Jesus referred to. But if he proclaims a gospel different from what they received, they must not believe him or follow him. So is it possible that someone could produce signs and omens in Jesus’ name while proclaiming a different gospel? Absolutely.

When I Followed a Different Gospel

One church I was in was all about “the anointing,” which was supposed to manifest in signs and wonders, like the spiritual gifts of 1 Cor 12:8-10. In the vast majority of churches today, you are not going to see the kind of signs and wonders that are in the New Testament. Some people point to that and say, “That church is dead.” The implication is, “We’re not dead. We have the supernatural gifts. We have the anointing.”

I used to believe them. Now, I’m not so sure. If they really have those supernatural gifts of healing, miracles, signs, and omens, or whatever, as Jesus and the Apostles did, they should get the same results. But instead, when they fail to get those results, they make excuses that Jesus and the Apostles never had to make.

Our preacher referred to one particular televangelist in every sermon, and everyone in the church thought he was so anointed because of the healings he did, and the way people fell down in his services. It’s called being slain in the Spirit, and it’s quite common in charismatic and Pentecostal services. Anyway, our preacher was quoting this televangelist more than he quoted Jesus. That is always a bad sign. I mean, are we really getting the Gospel of Jesus Christ when he talks about some televangelist more than Christ?

Tithe or Die

The final straw for me came when he quoted the televangelist saying, “I can’t heal you, because you’re not tithing.”

I have read the New Testament, and the Gospels in particular, multiple times over my life. One thing I know for sure. Jesus NEVER told ANYONE, “I can’t heal you because you’re not tithing.” He never connected tithing with getting healed. He would go into towns, and every sick person who was brought to him got healed. Not everyone who tithed. Everyone period.

But here’s a trick question. What if after saying that, they had some signs and wonders and portents that came true? Should we believe them? If they claim to serve the Lord Jesus and tell us, “You must give me 10% of your income before God will answer your prayers,” remember the Lord Jesus never said that. Even if what you say comes true, I’m going to borrow from Deuteronomy 13 and say, you must not heed the words of those prophets who tell you to follow a Jesus that neither you nor your ancestors have known. Okay, Deuteronomy did not mention Jesus specifically. But if we call him Lord, the meaning is the same.

They will usually use Malachi to justify this. “But Malachi 3:9-10 says you are cursed with a curse because you are robbing God by not bringing your tithes. God can’t bless what is cursed.”

God can’t bless what is cursed? That’s not in the scripture. You just made that up. That’s what I mean that they make excuses Jesus never had to make. Jesus raised people from the dead. You can’t get any more cursed than that. Don’t tell me God can’t bless what is cursed. That is a gospel contrary to the one we as the body of Christ received.

To Lead Astray Even the Elect

Even if some of their prophecies come true, don’t follow them. Even if some people get healed, or they produce signs, omens, and wonders that make you gasp and think the anointing is on them, don’t follow them. And don’t give them your money, whether they call it tithes, offerings, or “sowing a seed.” The gifts of God cannot be purchased with money (Acts 8:18-20). If they claim you can be healed by giving them money or solve your financial problems by giving them money, that is a different gospel. Do not believe them. Do not follow them. And do not give them your money.

Yes, Jesus received money from those who wanted to support his ministry, but he never charged anyone for healing, miracles, or any blessings of the Holy Spirit. And the Apostles followed that example. Read the book of Acts or the letters of Paul, Peter, and John, and you will not find any example that they made people pay for the gifts of the Spirit.

And I can’t believe I have to say this, but if they speak hatred from the pulpit, that is not the Holy Spirit. Even if they prophesy things that come true, even if they show the signs and omens Jesus mentioned, remember Jesus also said these are the kind who will lead you astray.

The Holy Spirit Is Not Racist, Sexist, Homophobic, or Xenophobic

“Social distancing is for pansies.” Yes, a preacher actually said that. Not only is he putting the public health at risk. He’s using a homophobic slur to belittle anyone who follows social distancing guidelines from the CDC. That is not the Holy Spirit. That is not the anointing. In the late eighties, one of them “prophesied” that the homosexual community in the US would be destroyed in ’94 or ’95 by fire. And the congregation cheered.

  1. It did not come true, so he failed the first test. That alone proves he is a false prophet.
  2. He did not tell them to stop cheering, so he failed the “love test.” This is a different gospel. If you follow him, he will lead you astray.
  3. The fact that they would cheer that means he has been failing to teach them the Gospel for a long time.

What do I mean by the “love test”? Jesus said our love has to extend even to our enemies. I don’t care if you think it’s a sin. I don’t care if you know it’s a sin. Every one of them is a person Jesus died for (Rom 5:8). You still have to love them, because he loves them.

The Holy Spirit is not racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic. Anyone who preaches that in Jesus’ name is preaching a different Gospel. What if they do great signs and omens? It is still a different Gospel. I don’t care if an angel or some so-called apostle or prophet promises I will get those gifts of healing or prophecy that I used to chase after if I will follow them, that is a different Gospel, and I want nothing to do with it.

God Is Love

So we can recognize a different Gospel when we hear it, let’s remind ourselves what the Bible says about the love of God in 1 Corinthians 13.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

(Verses 1-2)

Notice speaking in tongues, prophetic powers, understanding all mysteries, faith so as to remove mountains. These are some of the supernatural gifts they thought proved the Holy Spirit was in their midst. But Paul tells them signs and omens are nothing without the love of God.

If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

(Verse 3)

Giving 10% or even all your possessions to them is nothing without love. It won’t make God answer your prayers.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

(Verses 4-8a).

Love rejoices in the truth, not lies, no matter how good they make you feel. False prophets have been lying to us a lot, especially about the Coronavirus.

But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

(Verses 8b-10)

Even when they had the supernatural gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12, they did not make the congregation complete or “anointed.” Even at our best, we only know in part. Even when they prophesied, it was only in part. Love is the only thing that makes us complete.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

(Verses 11-13 NRS)

Jesus preached a Gospel of love so all-encompassing it left no one out, even people that we may wish were left out. That is the greatest challenge of following Jesus, but also the most rewarding. And if anyone comes to you with signs and omens but preaches a different gospel, you heard what Paul said. Let him/her be accursed.

-Grace and peace to you.

If you want something to read while staying at home, check out my award-winning ebook, Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain, also available in paperback. And check out other books I recommend on Biblical Fiction, Depression, and Self-Publishing. And see the Recommended tab at the top. In the category of Depression, you should check out Carrie M. Wrigley’s Your Happiness Toolkit, now available in audiobook.

Snake!

Sorry this is a little late, but we had a little incident in our home.

I woke up on Palm Sunday. We weren’t going to church, because of the Coronavirus restrictions. But it was Palm Sunday. My wife and I decided to take advantage of the fact that many services are available online now, especially in response to Coronavirus. Particularly, my sister–a Presbyterian minister–had started filming her services at home to broadcast on Facebook and YouTube. My wife gathered some palm leaves, tied a ribbon around them, and taped them to the door.

Palm leaves on front door
Staying home on Palm Sunday

She made blueberry pancakes, and I made scrambled eggs. We were looking forward to a pleasant breakfast and my sister leading worship right in our home. While I was getting my plate together, my wife called out from the dining room. It almost sounded like the way she screamed when she saw a mouse, but there was something different about it. I figured it must be a critter of some kind.

She rushed back to the kitchen. I asked what it was, but she couldn’t even tell me. I went to see, and there in the middle of our dining room floor was a snake. Not a big one, it was only a little more than a foot long. But still, a snake. In our home. That cannot stand.

Perhaps the truest verse in the Bible is when God told the serpent there would always be enmity between women and snakes (Gen 3:15). She hates snakes, and I wasn’t thrilled about it either.

It started crawling for the china cabinet. I stepped on it before it got there. The front half was under the cabinet, so I figured that would block it from making a quick strike on my foot. But I was only wearing sandals. Maybe its head would come back out. So I lifted my foot, and it went under the china cabinet. Great! Now how are we going to get it out? Needless to say, Palm Sunday and worship were forgotten at that point.

You Will Trample the Serpent Under Foot?

Why didn’t I just keep my foot on the snake? I had stopped it from going under the china cabinet. And the Bible says, “You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot” (Psa 91:12).

I had it under my foot, just like the Bible says. Should I grab it at the bottom half and pull it out? I shouldn’t have been afraid to do it. After all, the Bible says, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: … they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mar 16:17-18 NRS).

So I could just grab that snake and not worry about whether it was poisonous, and then take it deep into the woods outside my home and release it. That’s supposed to be one of the signs of a believer. While I had it under my foot, why didn’t I grab it? For the same reason I don’t drink cyanide, strychnine, or diesel fuel, even though this verse says it won’t hurt me. Folks, hear me when I say this. NOT EVERYTHING IN THE BIBLE IS SUPPOSED TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY.

So no, I’m not going to grab that snake with my bare hands because of a couple of Bible verses taken out of context. The point of Psalm 91 is not for you to go to the local zoo, climb into the lion’s cage, and jump on its back and say, “Look, I can trample a lion underfoot, because I believe in Jesus Christ.” Many Christians in the first century found that was not meant literally, in case you’ve forgotten.

So we were trying to figure out how to get him out from under there, and how to trap him once he did. While I kept an eye on the snake to be sure he didn’t leave and crawl under something else, my wife brought a Hello Fresh box, a rake, a paint roller, a broom and dustpan, a yardstick, and a pillow case for various ideas we had. I tried calling local pest removal services, but they were closed. Whether because of Coronavirus or that it was Sunday, I don’t know. Finally, I went to the best how-to source on the web, YouTube, and found this from a Tampa area pest control expert.

Glue traps. That was his advice. My wife went to the dollar store to get some.

Rat Guard(R) Disposable Glue Traps
Works on rats, mice, insects, and snakes (small ones at least)

Meanwhile, I wondered if we might need to move the china cabinet to force him out, so I removed everything from the top section. We never moved it. Instead, we put some glue traps under it. But how do we force the snake onto the trap? My wife fashioned a coat hanger and prodded it into the corner, where I had set a trap. Then its tail showed out the back. I folded another glue trap over its tail to make sure I had it. It was hard to pull out, because the front half was indeed stuck to a glue trap.

A rat snake caught in two glue traps
We caught the snake with glue traps

I thought about killing it, but the guy in the video reminded me a lot of snakes kill and eat other pests, like mice and rats. It didn’t look like any of the poisonous varieties of snakes in this area, so I was okay with letting it go. He said you could free it from the trap with vegetable oil. I tried the tail first (after going outside, of course). The snake worked its tail free, so one trap down. I took it deep into the woods and poured oil over it. Within a few minutes, he worked himself free and crawled away. Later, I found out it was a rat snake, so I’m glad I let him go.

Lessons for Coronavirus

I had never had to remove a snake from my house before. I didn’t know what to do, so how did I do it? By quoting Bible verses, or naming and claiming promises from the Bible? Truth is, I did quote this verse in my mind.

“You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.”

(Psa 91:12)

But you already said not to take that verse literally, so what good was that supposed to do?

I said don’t take it literally. I didn’t say don’t meditate on it. I meditated on that verse the whole time I was trying to figure out what to do, the whole time I pulled the snake out and took it outside, and while I was pouring oil over it to release it. I wasn’t treating it as a promise that God was somehow obligated to put a force field around me and my wife, so the snake couldn’t touch us. “Come on, honey. We can just wait for it to come back out, and I’ll grab it then. Here’s two verses that say snakes can’t hurt us, because we’re believers. Don’t you believe the Bible?” How do you think that would have gone over?

I still put on whatever protective equipment I could: socks, shoes, long pants, and gloves. I didn’t expect that quoting that verse meant the snake couldn’t bite me. I meditated on it for one reason only: To keep myself calm through the process.

I listened to an expert, I did what the expert said, and it worked. I didn’t use the scripture as a substitute for expert advice, only as something to meditate on so I could stay calm. The author of this Psalm did not mean for it to be taken literally. It would help all of us to remember Psalms were originally sung. Songs and poetry most of the time are not meant to be taken literally. They are meant to move us emotionally. Emotions were running high with a snake in our house. This song was made for moments like this. It was meant to help you stay calm and trust God when you have to do something that scares you. And I can tell you in that way, it worked for me.

So with Coronavirus, just as with snakes, listen to the experts and follow their advice.

What Time I Am Afraid, I Will Trust in Thee

Psalm 91 is one of the most popular scriptures for promoting peace of mind in stormy circumstances, and with good reason. It is not a license to abandon common sense. As I heard a preacher today talking about his reasons for closing the church and moving services online, “Faith works best when it’s combined with common sense.” So with the understanding that this is not a “promise” that “obligates” God to protect you from Coronavirus by becoming your invisible hazmat suit, I invite you to meditate on these scriptures from Psalm 91 that I am meditating on for comfort and peace in the storm.

You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”  

(Psa 91:1-2 NRS)

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;  he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge;

(Psa 91:3-4 NRS)

You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

(Psa 91:5-6 NRS)

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.

(Psa 91:7 NRS)

Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. 

(Psa 91:9-10 NRS)

When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

(Psa 91:15-16 NRS)

-Grace and Peace to you.


If you want something to read while staying at home, check out my award-winning ebook, Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain, also available in paperback. And check out other books I recommend on Biblical Fiction, Depression, and Self-Publishing.