Monday, September 19, 2016

What’s Behind the Scenes

The Christian’s nemeses — world, flesh, devil — do not all operate precisely the same way.

The world allures us. Flesh betrays us. But neither worldly attraction nor physical desire require an active intelligence operating behind the scenes. I tend to think Christians who blame Satan and his scheming agents for every bad choice they have made are probably ascribing to the powers of darkness a greater level of interest in their personal affairs than is really the case. In our fallen world, it is likely that most of our failures are a combination of our own inclination to self-destruct and the detritus of lives that have done so already.

But not always.

In Amorite Territory

On their way to Canaan, Israel settled temporarily in conquered Amorite territory. It was here that attractive Midianite and Moabite women began to sexually entice Israelite men into participating in the worship of Baal and other false gods.

Now bear in mind that the Midianites were descendants of Abraham via his second wife, Keturah, and the Moabites were descendants of Abraham’s relative Lot. These nations were not Canaanites devoted to destruction, but genetically close to Israel. Perhaps this provided convenient cover for Israelite men taking up with their women.

Rationalization Hamsters, Go!

Further, bear in mind that to a man, nothing about an attractive woman taking an interest in him (distant relative or no) actually screams conspiracy; though if it did, our rationalization hamsters would likely go into wheel-spinning overdrive to drown out the cognitive dissonance. We like to delude ourselves that all interest women may express in us is entirely genuine, to be expected and, of course, totally non-agenda-driven.

Anyway, if all we had to read of this story is the few verses of original narrative in Numbers, we might be inclined to think everything that happened was rather natural: you know, men being men and women being women.

Not so, but it took God to bring the truth out.

Harassed With Their Wiles

He explicitly tells Moses:
“Harass the Midianites and strike them down, for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor.”
Sorry Israelite men, you’re not that attractive after all. The whole thing was a con. These women were sent to do a job.

Later, the intelligence behind the scenes is made even more explicit. Moses is angry with his army commanders for disobeying orders. He says:
“Have you let all the women live? Behold,these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.”
As it turns out, what might have seemed like a perfectly natural occurrence to Israel was actually the product of an active intelligence working against their best interests. There was an enemy behind the scenes. Maybe this should have been obvious once idolatry became a part of the package. No amount of rationalization should have been able to make that seem like a good idea.

The Roaring Lion Prowls

A similar dynamic is at work in the experience of the Christian. Despite his power, we have no indication in scripture that the devil is omnipresent. Still, from time to time Satan takes a very direct and personal interest in derailing the faith of those who seek to follow the Lord Jesus. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” says Peter. Paul reminds us to put on the whole armor of God “that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil”. There are definitely occasions when Satan or his minions are actively engaged with each one of us, and all the more so when we are seeking with all our hearts to obey the Lord.

But such occasions are not obvious. The spiritual battle is an invisible one. The roaring lion does not come with a convenient neon arrow to point him out.

More likely he will show up looking like a golden opportunity ... or maybe even an attractive woman.

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