Oh Be Careful Little Ears…

Who would we be –and where– without those individuals who gave us the guidance and benefits of their wisdom accrued over the years of their experience. The powerful influences of those who have been our benefactors have left an indelible mark upon our lives in more ways than we often can be thankful for.

Of course, not all influences are of the same caliber. The Scriptures remind us of those powerful influences which may tug at our hearts and emotional fixations. Let us look at a few examples of counsel poorly chosen; then reflect upon choosing those wonderful influences which will improve our lives.

Counsel Poorly Chosen

(A) Enabling Wrong Doing to Satisfy an Obsession

Emotional fixations are very dangerous if left to fester and grow into obsessions. There are some who would do anything to help you gratify your desires.

No one knows this tragic lesson better than Amnon who had an obsession for his beautiful half-sister Tamar (2 Sam 13). Apparently, Amnon’s vexation was so apparent that his cousin Jonadab counsels him to pretend an illness, so that he may request the nursing care of his unsuspecting victim Tamar in his isolated chambers.

The results were a horrific incestuous rape, Amnon’s assassination at the hands of Tamar’s brother Absolam, and in turn an attack upon the throne of David as a further expression of his vengeful defiance. Absalom would lose his life in the insurrection.

(B) Leaning on the Ambitions of the Power Hungry

In the transitional moments following King Solomon’s death and the rise of his successor Rehoboam, the young king had a choice to make: should he be a heavy-handed king like his father, or relieve the people of their plight (1 Kings 12:1-5)?

Rehoboam seeks the counsel of two groups of men, “the old men” (12:6-7) and “the young men” (12:8-11). The “old men” who had seen the oppression of his father were moved with compassion and propose that the new king’s reign should be based upon the welfare of his people, not upon an “iron fist.” [All Scripture references are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.]

Unfortunately, Rehoboam listened to “the young men” with whom he had grown up. They propose an intensified cruel reign (12:9-11). The new king must be vindictive and cruel; his subjects ought to live in fear.

Little wonder that the majority of the Israelite tribes (10 of 12) seceded to follow a new claimant king – Jeroboam. The results were disastrous, for his idolatrous influence plagued the Northern Kingdom of Israel until its demise in 722 BC (2 Kings 17-18). This too was predicated upon Jeroboam’s fear of losing power over his subjects only that instead of listening to the counsel of others “he had devised [this] from his own heart” (1 Kings 12:25-33).

(C) Accepting False Teaching Affects Moral Purity

False teachers are tremendous influences of evil upon our lives. In order to shake up the Corinthian congregation to reject false teaching regarding the resurrection (i.e. that it had already occurred, 1 Cor 15:12-32), Paul quotes the playwright Menander’s comedy Thais (ca.300 BC):

Bad company ruins good morals. (1 Cor 15:33)

By this quote, Paul argues against making associations with false teachers (false mentors); the influence would be, he argues, disastrous upon their morals (v. 34).[1]

Why?

“What could have been” enters the mind when considering the tragedy of Tamar, if only Jonadab had counseled his cousin in another direction.

One ponders, “if only Rehoboam had listened to the wise counsel of the ‘old men’” instead of submitting to the influence of his power grabbing childhood “friends”?

Too, why did Jeroboam reject the religion of the Lord after all that the Lord had promised to make a covenant with him as king (1 Kings 11:29-39)?

When the foundation of the Christian message is founded upon the resurrection from the dead according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:1-11), what could be so tempting in the notion that the dead do not rise (15:12)? There is nothing to gain if there is no resurrection. Why move from hope to hopelessness?

Influence and Personal Responsibility

As they say, “hind-sight is 100%.” The Monday morning quarterback is always a pro-bowler, and the “back seat” driver should be authorized to distribute driver licenses. I bring out these clichés because they are pertinent to this discussion.

The matter is not that we are “back seat” drivers telling another how they should have done better. We learn from the mistakes of the past in order to inform our own decisions so that we may not repeat their failures.

This is a matter regarding personal responsibility in light of those moments we allow others into our decision-making process.

Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. (Prov 1:5-6)

God calls us to seek His Word, warning us of the consequences of “ignoring” His counsel and reproof (Prov 1:25).

Like Amnon, Rehoboam and Jeroboam, and the Corinthians there may be temptations which vex us and those enticing us to embrace it by conspiring (via advice or false teaching) a way to experience it; however, like Joseph we need to keep our principles realizing that to satiate a sinful desire betrays God and those who would be destroyed by such an action (Gen 39:6-10).

When we are lost in the possibility that “we could” do something and never stop to think about whether we should,[2] we have left the hallmarks of responsibility behind. Proverbs 7:1-27 reminds of this truth, as Solomon speaks to the dangers of irresponsibility. Seeking counsel does not absolve us from the importance of making the right decision (Prov 11:14), nor from taking responsibility should our “counseled” decisions return to us as a mistake (Matt 5:23-24).

The Scriptures are very clear that we cannot “pass the buck” when it comes to our responsibilities. Every action – public or private – will be evaluated by a Holy God (Eccl 12:14).

The Blame Game

“Passing the buck” is such a common saying that we tend to be ignorant of its origin. President Truman has been associated with this saying, but actually, it is a term from the game of poker as played in the frontier days of the American story.

During these days, a marker or counter was a knife with a buckhorn handle – the “buck”. It “was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal”; moreover:

If the player did not wish to deal he could pass the responsibility by passing the ‘buck,’ as the counter came to be called, to the next player (TrumanLibrary.org).

Hence, “pass the buck” means to pass the responsibility on to someone else.

In Truman’s “farewell address” he affirms “the President – whoever he is – has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job” (TrumanLibrary.org).

The saying applies to us all; no one can make our decisions for us. No excuses. This is “ground zero” of personal responsibility.

(A) The First Blame Game

In the early days of the human family, Adam and Eve succumbed to the subtlety of the serpent’s questions regarding the forbidden fruit. When the Lord asked them concerning their actions, Adam and Eve attempt to distance themselves from the responsibility of their actions by placing upon either their spouse or the creature (Gen 3:8-13).

(B) Giving in to Others is Not an Excuse

In early years of the Kingdom of Israel, King Saul was called upon to wage war upon the Amalekites. In fact, Saul was charged specifically to “go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have” (1 Sam 15:3; Lev 27:28).

Upon return from their victory over Amalek, Saul returns with the choice items of the plunders of war – with which he was not supposed to return. Moreover, he returns with the King (15:9). As a consequence, the prophet Samuel questions the king regarding the bleating of the sheep and lowing of the oxen (15:14).

The king places the burden of the decision to disobey God’s command upon the people, attempting to absolve himself from moral responsibility (15:9, 15, 20-21); yet, the king was completely complicit (15:9). Nevertheless, despite the action of others, the Lord was displeased with Saul and it cost him his throne (15:17-19, 26).

Personal Ownership

(A) Accepting the Burden of our Decisions without Excuses

When David is presented with a parable, he unwittingly condemns himself for the adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:1-5), a failed cover-up (11:6-13), and the murder of Uriah (11:14-27).

Instead of passing the buck, David accepts accountability and the consequences of his sin. Unlike the many cases of Saul’s incessant impudence, denying his sins – David quickly moves to being convicted of heart. One only needs to read Psalm 51 in order to see his contrition for his sins before God.

(B) Our Future is Based upon Decisions Made Today

When the Kingdom of Judah was exiled into captivity in the 7th-6th century BC, one of the concerns raised is the following: “Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities” (Lam 5:7). The exile was a time where the question of sin and responsibility and accountability before the Lord was pondered.

In Ezekiel 14:12-23, the prophet makes it clear that even if many Old Testament faithful were alive during the days of the exile, men like Noah, Daniel and Job would be saved and delivered from the exile because they are righteous. Unlike the rebellious character of the generation of the exile, righteous people could experience deliverance.

This is heavily answered in chapter 18; in particular verses 19-20:

Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. (18:19)

The son can escape the consequences of his father’s sin by living faithfully to the Lord. We must realize that our futures are partly shaped by our decisions.

One of the most important aspects to receiving the guidance offered by another is taking ownership of the decision to act on it or not.

Some attempt to fabricate a scenario in order to get the advice they desired in the first place but what they wanted was the “green light” from “another” to relieve them of responsibility. Some else made their choice for them.

Others simply run with the first piece of advice thrown at them. In either case, whether it is poor advice or good advice, one cannot escape personal responsibility for the course taken. Here we conclude our discussion.

Good Counsel Taken

(A) Naomi and Ruth

One of the tenderest moments in Old Testament history is the relationship between Naomi and Ruth. After being widowed in the land of Moab, she gave her sons into marriage only to lose them over the course of a decade (Ruth 1:1-5). The only daughter-in-law to remain with Naomi is Ruth, and she joins Naomi on her return to Israelite land (1:6-22).

Being a stranger in another culture is difficult, but thankfully for Ruth she was blessed by a kind man (Boaz) who knew her story. Boaz cautioned her to stay on his land and among his servants and the young women.

When she returns to Naomi’s abode, Naomi reinforces Boaz’s counsel so that she is not assaulted by men in another field (2.22).

Naomi then counsels her to remarry with Boaz – a “redeemer” (2:20; 3:1-17). A redeemer is “one who frees or delivers another from difficulty, danger, or bondage.”[3] And Naomi provides the love, direction, and mentorship to give Ruth a chance at a good life with Boaz after enduring all the hardship of being a widow.

While Boaz works out the details with the extended family of Naomi’s husband, Ruth returns home and explains the situation to her. In a moment of wisdom, Naomi tells Ruth:

Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today. (Ruth 3:18)

The outcome was a marriage that would be central to the lineage of King David (Ruth 4:13-22), and ultimately the ancestral beginnings of Jesus (Matt 1:5-6, 16).

(B) Mordecai and Esther

When Esther replaces Vashti as queen of Persia, in the days of King Ahasuerus her relationship with her cousin Mordecai results in the protection of the Jewish population in exile.

A plot had emerged to genocide the Jewish population of the Persian Empire orchestrated by Haman. When Mordecai becomes aware of the plot, he impresses upon Esther with counsel to go to the king to stop it:

And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? (Esth 4:14b)

The results where an intercession so dramatic that Haman’s plot is foiled, he is punished by death, the Jews are delivered, and the Feast of Purim is inaugurated to honor this great event (Esth 5:1-9:32).

(C) Samuel and Eli

In those transitional years when Israel settled into the land of Canaan, the Lord raised “judges” to deliver the people from oppression and led them to faithfulness. The last of the judges is the prophet Samuel. His beginnings are miraculous (1 Sam 1-2).

When he was a very young boy, Samuel’s mother Hannah lends him over to the Lord’s service for the entirety of his life (2:21-28). Samuel is placed into the care of the high priest Eli.

When Samuel grows to be “young man” he is found serving under Eli. On one occasion, when Samuel was sleeping “the Lord called Samuel” (3:4); it was during a unique time when “the word of the Lord was rare” and there “was no frequent vision” (3:1b). Consequently, Samuel – and Eli – did not understand what was happening when the Lord began to call Samuel for service.

Samuel initially arose from bed and presented himself before Eli, “Here I am”. Three times it occurred, twice Eli responded, “I did not call; lie down” (3:4-7). On the third time, Eli “perceived” that Samuel was being called by the Lord (3:8).

Eli counsels Samuel on how to respond to the Lord’s call (3:9): “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” That one moment of guidance set the groundwork for one of the greatest prophets of biblical history. Samuel led Israel faithfully, he set up kings (Saul and David) and deposed another (Saul).

Concluding Thoughts

Where would we be without mothers who guided our futures by their powerful faith? How would we make those important life-changing decisions without the passionate pleas from our friends? Or, how would we see the Lord calling us to do great things for Him if not by trusting in the wisdom of a good friend?

“No man is an island”; neither are our decisions. “What would ‘_’ have done” has helped us on many occasions. Let us apply wisdom prayerfully, knowing that in the end, the responsibility of our actions is all on us. Let there be mercy.

Endnotes

  1. Marion L. Soards, 1 Corinthians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), 339.
  2. This is a play on a scene from the sci-fi film Jurassic Park (Universal, 1993) where Dr. Ian Malcolm reacts to the reckless behavior of geneticists in the film who were cloning dinosaurs for an amusement park. Here is the dialogue courtesy of IMDB.comDr. Ian Malcom: If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now [bangs on the table] Dr. Ian Malcolm: you’re selling it, you wanna sell it. Well… John Hammond: I don’t think you’re giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody’s ever done before… Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.
  3. “Redeemer,” Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Ronald F. Youngblood (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1995), 1073.
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