I own a pair of protective goggles and use them faithfully. I wear them when I’m cutting branches with my chainsaw or attacking weeds with my weed whacker. My goggles serve a crucial purpose: they protect my eyes. Once, I forgot to wear my goggles while sawing a branch and ended up with a spec of wood in my eye. I had to make an emergency trip to the eye doctor. From then on, I became more careful about wearing goggles because my eyes are precious to me.
Psalm 17:8 doesn’t mention goggles explicitly. But this verse does reflect an understanding of the value of eyes and the need for their careful protection. The NRSV translates the first part of this verse: “Guard me as the apple of the eye.” The original Hebrew speaks of guarding “the little one of the daughter of the eye.” Traditional English translations, along with the NRSV, use “the apple of the eye” (KJV). These peculiar expressions, in both Hebrew and English, refer to the pupil of the eye, that which is essential for vision and most in need of protection.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
While lying in bed due to a serious illness, the poet and pastor John Donne heard over and over again the funeral bells at his church, which would ring to announce the death of someone in the parish. Ill and away from his ministry, he was therefore unaware of the goings-on in his church and who had “shuffled off this mortal coil,” so to speak. With each ring of the bell, Donne wondered, “Who is it that has died?”
After some time, he finally answered himself, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Why, we might ask? It is because “No man is an island, entire of itself.”
And he continued:
“Each is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less…
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.”
As J. Ellsworth Kalas notes in his short book on the Ten Commandments, John Donne has, in this poem, unintentionally provided commentary on the sixth commandment. “You shall not murder,” as brief a command as it may be, has to do with not just protecting me, but protecting my neighbor as well. Death by violence makes each involved less than they once were. As Kalas notes, “Both my neighbor and I are part of the mainland of life; if my neighbor dies, I am the less, and if I die, my neighbor is, to some degree, impoverished.”
Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from J. Ellsworth Kalas, The Ten Commandments From the Backside, Abingdon Press, 2013.
Goliath on the Beach
A few weeks ago, when I was out surfing, there was no one else in the water. In fact, there was no one around at all, except a guy the size of Goliath doing tae kwon do on the beach. After I’d been out a little while, a tiny wisp of a kid came paddling up out of nowhere—I couldn’t believe he was out there by himself. He pulled his little board right up next to mine. He was so small he hardly needed a board. He could have stood up in the ocean on a Frisbee. Anyway, he started chatting with me like we were old friends.
He told me his name was Shane. He asked me how long I’d been surfing. I asked him how long he’d been surfing. “Seven years,” he said. “How old are you?” I asked. “Eight.” He asked me about my kids and my family. Then he said, “What I like about surfing is that it’s so peaceful. You meet a lot of nice people here.” “You’re a nice guy, Shane,” I said. “That’s why you meet nice people.” We talked a while longer. Then I asked him, “How did you get here, Shane?” “My dad brought me,” he said.
Then he turned around and waved at the nearly empty beach. The Goliath doing martial arts waved back. “Hi, Son,” he called out. Then I knew why Shane was so at home in the ocean. It wasn’t his size. It wasn’t his skill. It was who was sitting on the beach. His father was always watching. And his father was very big. Shane wasn’t really alone at all. Neither are we.
Jesus, Could you Hand me the Broom?
A little boy is afraid of the dark. One night his mother tells him to go out to the back porch and bring her the broom. The little boy turns to his mother and says, “Mama, I don’t want to go out there. It’s dark.” The mother smiles reassuringly at her son. “You don’t have to be afraid of the dark,” she explains. “Jesus is out there.
He’ll look after you and protect you.” The little boy looks at his mother real hard and asks, “Are you sure he’s out there?” “Yes, I ‘m sure. He is everywhere, and he is always ready to help you when you need him,” she says. The little boy thinks about that for a minute and then goes to the back door and cracks it a little. Peering out into the darkness, he calls, “Jesus? If you’re out there, would you please hand me the broom?”
The Problem with Sheep
In his excellent study of the famous Biblical passage on shepherds, (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament), scholar Ken Bailey provides helpful context to understand why it is that the psalmist chose the metaphor of a good shepherd and sheep to describe his relationship with God.
Sheep have a special problem. They have no defenses. Cats have teeth, claws and speed. Dogs have their teeth and their speed. Horses can kick, bite and run. Bears can claw, bite and crush. Deer can run. But the sheep have no bite or claws and cannot outrun any serious predator. They can butt other sheep, but that ability will not protect them from a wolf or a bear. The sheep’s only security is the shepherd. Indeed, “you are with me.”
Taken from The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament by Kenneth E. Bailey, Copyright (c) 2014, p.49, by Kenneth E. Bailey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
The Shepherd’s Staff
In his excellent study of the famous Biblical passage on shepherds, (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament), scholar Ken Bailey provides helpful context to “rod” and staff” mentioned in Psalm 23:
The Hebrew word here translated “rod” (shbt) has a long history. Its meanings include rod, scepter and weapon. It does not refer to a “walking stick.” Rather it is the shepherd’s primary offensive weapon for protecting the flock from enemies, be they wild animals or human thieves. The instrument itself is about two and a half feet long with a mace-like end into which heavy pieces of iron are often embedded. It becomes a formidable weapon.
…… The shepherd’s staff is not for defending the flock from any external threat, but for caring for the sheep as he leads them daily in search of food, drink, tranquility and rest. These two instruments are a pair. The first (the rod) is used to protect the flock from external threats. The second (the staff) serves to gently assist the flock in its daily grazing. The sight of these two instruments comfort the sheep.
Taken from The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament by Kenneth E. Bailey, Copyright (c) 2014, pp.50, 53 by Kenneth E. Bailey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Togetherness & The Genius of the Gold-Saddle Goatfish
The gold-saddle goatfish is a small fish native to Hawaiian reefs with a distinctive coloring. In the past few years, divers in Hawaii have come across a fascinating phenomenon. During their regular dives, they’ve begun to notice a large fish with the same brilliant colors as the gold-saddle goatfish. Upon closer inspection, the divers realized this wasn’t one large fish, but in fact a school of gold saddle fish swimming together in such impressive unity and in such a perfect fish-shaped pattern as to appear like one imposingly large fish, not to be trifled with. It turns out, when the gold-saddle fish feels threatened, they join together, unified in fish formation to appear much larger.
The gold saddle goatfish provides an important lesson for those facing threats. Do we turn inward, trusting only ourselves? Or do we “huddle up” with our neighbors, our friends, or even our churches to face the oncoming storm, be it a global pandemic or something of a local variety?
Stuart Strachan Jr.