Let’s be men!
Today there are lots of phrases designed to help men be men, ranging from the rather tame, “Man up!” to the more crass “Grow a pair!” In the Philippines we say, “Magpakalalake ka!“
Did you know that this term is used in the Bible? Try and guess where. You may be surprised. It isn’t used as a command for Jesus’ followers to emulate. It’s not used to stir God’s people to serve Him in a more faithful way. In fact it is used by a group of people who are so inspired that they defeat God’s people and capture their most important religious artifact.
The story is told in 1 Samuel 4. The scene opens on a battle between Israel and the Philistines where Israel ends up losing. As a way to ensure that they win the next battle, they quickly run home to get the Ark of the Covenant. When the Ark arrives the men of Israel “shouted so loudly that the earth rang with echoes.” This causes the Philistines to be afraid and they say,
“A god has come into ⌞their⌟ camp.” They also said, “Oh no! Nothing like this has ever happened before. We’re in trouble now! Who can save us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every kind of plague in the desert. Be strong, Philistines, and act like men, or else you will serve the Hebrews as they served you. Act like men and fight.”
What was the result? “The Philistines fought and defeated Israel!” I don’t know about you but this is very surprising to me. This story seems to be saying that if men are men that they can do the following:
- They can defeat ancient Israel, God’s chosen people.
- They can chase everyone back to their own home.
- They can kill 30,000 enemy soldiers.
- They can kill the priests that God has annointed and cause the death of their father, the nation’s leader.
- They can capture the Ark of the Covenant and take it home as the spoils of war.
- They can keep themselves from being slaves of their enemy.
- They can defeat the God of Israel!
This raises a lot of questions, doesn’t it? One of the key aspects to interpreting the Bible is “if you have a question, keep on reading.” If we keep on reading we will find out more.
When we keep on reading, we find out that the battle was in fact a part of God’s judgement against the evil things that Israel had done over the years. Perhaps the best sum up that we have of how Israel was acting during that time is in Judges that reads, “In those days Israel didn’t have a king. Everyone did whatever he considered right” (God’s Word). Even their priests are described in 1 Samuel 2:12 as “good for nothing,” which is pretty bad, they are also said to have “no faith in the Lord.” God saw what they were doing and pledged to fix things. He gave a sign to Eli, the High Priest, that this would all happen. “What is going to happen to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you: Both of them will die on the same day” (1 Samuel 2:34; see also 1 Samuel 3:13).
In 1 Samuel 5 we read that the Philistines placed the Ark in their own god, Dagon’s temple. This resulted in Dagon’s humiliation. In addition to that “The Lord dealt harshly with the people of Ashdod. He destroyed them by striking the people in the vicinity of Ashdod with tumors.” In an effort to appease the LORD, the people shuffled the Ark around from city to city. Finally they had enough and sent the Ark back to Israel. 1 Samuel 6 tells the story of the Ark’s return to Israel. So in the end, manning up didn’t really work out all that great for them.
There are other accounts in the Bible of how when people banded together, they were able to do the impossible. Genesis talks about the tower that people started building in what was to become Babylon (a name that eventually stands for humans grouping together against God). God, when he saw that they were going to be very successful, ensured that they wouldn’t be able to finish it. He said, “Now nothing they plan to do will be too difficult for them.” He confused their communication systems because he knew that his plans for them were much greater than their own. It wasn’t until Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit removed the language barriers, that God’s purposes are fully revealed. Rather than building a tower to reach the heavens (ie. their own kingdom), God wanted them to build his kingdom, which in the end is a much better kingdom. We know this because Babylon eventually stands for humans grouping together against God and we see it’s animal-like nature every day. I have written about that here and here.
So what does trusting God as men look like?
The enmity between Israel and Philistia continued for generations. One of the most famous encounters we know as the story of David and Goliath, where Israel emerges as the victor. What is interesting about the story of David and Goliath is that Goliath is the epitome of the man’s man — big, strong, famous, and arrogant. David, on the other hand, is just a kid. Even King Saul says, “.”
Paul’s claims to fame that reads almost like a manly bucket list of fame and adventure in 2 Corinthians 11:21-28:
- Hebrew? Check.
- Israelite? Check.
- Abraham’s descendant? Check.
- Christ’s servant? Check.
- Worked hard. Check.
- Been in prison because of Jesus? Check.
- Been beaten? Check.
- Faced death? Check.
- Beaten with 39 lashes. Check x 5.
- Beaten with clubs. Check x 3.
- Almost stoned to death. Check.
- Shipwrecked. Check x 3.
- Drifted on the sea for a night and a day. Check.
- Faced dangers from raging rivers, from robbers, from my own people, and from other people. Check.
- Faced dangers in the city, in the open country, on the sea, and from believers who turned out to be false friends. Check.
- Gone without sleep, been hungry and thirsty. Check.
- Gone without proper clothes during cold weather. Check.
- Daily pressure of my anxiety about all the churches. Check.
What’s interesting is that Paul doesn’t give us this list to show us that he grew a pair or manned up. Rather he says something rather odd and seemingly unmanly. He says “If I must brag, I will brag about the things that show how weak I am.” Paul then goes on in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 to say, “Satan’s messenger, torments me to keep me from being conceited. I begged the Lord three times to take it away from me. But he told me: ‘My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.’ So I will brag even more about my weaknesses in order that Christ’s power will live in me. Therefore, I accept weakness, mistreatment, hardship, persecution, and difficulties suffered for Christ. It’s clear that when I’m weak, I’m strong.”
Paul’s appeal for healing and Jesus answer can help us find answers on how best to be men. Jesus’ “No!” may seem unfair at first until we look closer. We need to remember how Jesus expresses his own masculinity. First of all, Paul’s appeal for healing and Jesus answer can help us find answers on how best to be men. Jesus’ “No!” may seem unfair at first until we look closer. We need to remember how Jesus expresses his own masculinity.
First of all, Jesus himself was a man who gained victory through his weakness. His cry of anguish in the garden of “take this cup ⌞of suffering⌟ away from me” is also answered by his “However, your will must be done, not mine.” He knew that he could achieve victory for himself in his own power but that the victory God wanted through him was achievable only through God’s power because it was so much bigger than just for him.
Secondly, Jesus’ answer to Paul is that he will provide the strength for Paul’s struggle, because Jesus’ dream for Paul is far bigger than Paul can accomplish.
So what should we do instead? It’s clear that the call to “be a man” is powerful enough to cause us to do impossible things. We can defeat the enemy. We can build a tower that reaches to the heavens. It’s also clear that the impossible things we can accomplish are not necessarily good in the end nor are they necessarily what God wants us to accomplish. To truly be men we need to join God on his mission and await his power so that we can help him accomplish it!
Feedback is always welcome.
Sharing is what friends do!
Image by Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash.