Issue #135 -------
July 21, 2004
A bodily disease, which we look upon as whole
and entire within itself, may, after all, be but a
symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part.
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
The Scarlet Letter
Hemorrhoids. Not a very pleasant subject. Not even a pleasant sounding word. It is not often brought up in "polite company," and when it is there will generally be an over-abundance of flushed faces, uncomfortable glances, and nervous giggles. Some things "just are not talked about!" This seems to be one of them. Nevertheless, the OT writings do seem to suggest this affliction in a couple of passages. Therefore, they should be examined to determine any possible spiritual significance for us today.
The adjacent depiction, incidentally, for those readers who may be medical graphics "purists," is clearly not a drawing of a hemorrhoid, but rather of a colon polyp. However, since presenting a graphic of a hemorrhoid could easily offend some readers, due to the nature of its location in the body, I chose a similar, but less graphic, graphic. The two tend to look somewhat similar, in many cases, but hemorrhoids are found just a bit lower, in the rectal/anal area.
Without becoming too graphic, we need to describe the nature of this physical condition. The term hemorrhoid is simply the transliteration of two Greek words which, when combined, convey the idea of "flowing blood." The Hebrew equivalent can be found about 8 times in the Old Testament documents. The British, who have a way of stating things in language that at least sounds "classy," described the affliction this way in one of their medical journals -- "Hemorrhoids are enlarged and engorged blood vessels in or around the back passage, which may be associated with pain, bleeding, and itching." I don't think we need to get any more graphic than that, as most people today are rather familiar with this medical condition. Indeed, it is one of the more common disorders known to mankind.
Ancient treatments of this ailment could frequently be far more terrifying than the affliction itself. For example, Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.), who once wrote, "Desperate cases need the most desperate remedies," proved the point in his recommended medical treatment of hemorrhoids. He suggested several possible approaches to dealing with these troublesome polyps (including suppositories made of such things as goose grease, alum and urine), but some are so barbaric that they leave one almost breathless. Notice a couple:
There are far more graphic and disturbing details in the medical directions of Hippocrates than I have given above, but I think you get the idea. Hemorrhoids were a horrible affliction, and ancient peoples were willing to subject themselves to horrendous torture in order to be free of them. It is important to present this in rather dramatic form at this point in the study, for we are soon to encounter this very affliction (according to some scholars) imposed upon the ancient enemies of the people of Israel. This will help us to better understand their deep concern over what had befallen them.
Debating the Disorder
In Deuteronomy 28, Moses enumerated the many blessings associated with obedience unto the Lord God, as well as the many curses promised to those who chose to disobey His commandments and statutes. Notice the horrors that would be inflicted upon those who chose to spurn their God --- "The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed" (vs. 27, KJV). Most translations render the Hebrew word here as "tumors" or "boils," rather than "emerods" (which is simply an archaic form of the word "hemorrhoids" used by the King James Version translators). Not a few biblical scholars feel the condition described in this passage is "probably to be identified as hemorrhoids" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 1340). "The King James Version translators understood the affliction of Deut. 28:27 and 1 Sam. 5 as hemorrhoids," although the "modern versions are divided in their understanding of the term in Deuteronomy" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 635). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states that the Hebrew word employed "relates specifically to hemorrhoids" (vol. 4, p. 929). They are described in the Pulpit Commentary as "either boils or hemorrhoids, bleeding piles."
The major theological debate waged over the 1 Samuel 4-6 passage is whether the condition described is that of hemorrhoids or tumors associated with Bubonic Plague. Some scholars feel the reference to the mice in the account suggests the latter, since the plague was known to be spread, at least in part, by fleas on mice and rats in ancient times. Indeed, the mouse was often the symbol among primitive peoples of pestilence. "The narrative furnishes a good untechnical description of bubonic plague, a dreaded affliction of antiquity" (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 929). "Modern versions agree that the affliction of 1 Samuel was tumors, probably associated with bubonic plague" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 635). Other scholars feel this is assuming too much of a connection between the mice and tumors.
There are also strong arguments put forth that the physical affliction was clearly hemorrhoids. For example, the Hebrew word employed to describe this condition "is never read in the synagogue" (Pulpit Commentary, vol. 4). In the reading of this passage in 1 Samuel 4-6, whenever this word occurred the reader was instructed to substitute another less offensive word in its place. Since "the word was not thought fit for public reading in the synagogue, we may feel sure that it means some such tumors as the KJV describes" (ibid). The Latin Vulgate translates 1 Sam. 5:6 -- "And He smote them in the more secret parts of their posteriors." The ancient Syriac and Arabic versions read the same. This would certainly seem to suggest hemorrhoids! Some scholars feel this is being alluded to in Psalm 78:66 -- "And He smote His enemies in the hinder parts."
Although the exact nature of the affliction which befell the pagan peoples in 1 Samuel 4-6 is open to debate, nevertheless it was unquestionably uncomfortable in the extreme, and led to some decisive action on their part in an effort to rid themselves of the curse that had come upon them. However, in this particular article I shall take the position that the "tumors" were hemorrhoids, although I freely admit one could just as easily argue a different malady. On the other hand, the King James Version DID declare them to be "emerods," did it not?! .... and since the KJV is purported by some to be "infallible," containing no errors at all, I suppose "emerods" is thereby to be considered, at least in the minds of some, the official, authorized, inspired "final word" on the matter!!! So .... hemorrhoids it is -- so sayeth the KJV.
Examining the Account in 1 Samuel 4-6
The Philistines were an aggressive, expansionist group who occupied the southwest portion of what came to be known as Palestine. They were part of a larger movement of "Sea Peoples" who originated in the Aegean area, and became a thorn in the flesh to a great many nations, including the people of Israel, against whom we find them contending numerous times in the OT writings. The Philistines "are mentioned nearly 150 times in 1 and 2 Samuel alone" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 594). "The Philistines were the principal enemy of and the major political threat to Israel" beginning during the time of the judges, but "the threat reached crisis proportions in the battle of Ebenezer (1 Sam. 4:1-18), when the Israelites were soundly defeated and the ark of the covenant, brought over from Shiloh, was captured" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 1108).
As noted, the ark of the covenant had been captured by the Philistines. "And the slaughter was very great; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. And the ark of God was taken" (1 Sam. 4:10-11). This was a great tragedy for Israel. Not only did many good men die, but the ark, which represented the presence of God among them, was gone; captured by pagans! The news was so shocking that Eli, who had judged Israel for 40 years, fell over dead when he heard it (1 Sam. 4:12-18), and his daughter-in-law went into premature labor and died shortly after giving birth, but not before naming the child Ichabod ("no glory"), saying, "The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God was taken" (vs. 19-22).
"Now the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it to the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon" (1 Sam. 5:1-2). The Philistines had a very highly organized city-state system, with five chief cities ruling their land: Gath, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, and Ekron (1 Sam. 6:17). Each of these chief locations was ruled by a "lord" (1 Sam. 6:18). The ark was brought to one of these chief cities (Ashdod), and it was placed in the temple of their god Dagon, who was the supreme god of the Philistines. The other two gods of the Philistines mentioned in the OT scriptures are Ashtoreth and Baalzebub. One may remember Dagon from the account in Judges 16 where, during a celebration to this god, Samson brought down the house around them (vs. 23-30). Later, the head of king Saul would be displayed in a temple of Dagon (1 Chron. 10:10).
The Philistines knew that the ark represented the presence of the God of the Israelites (1 Sam. 4:5-8). However, they were now in possession of this ark, which probably led them to believe their gods were more powerful than Israel's God. Thus, they brought Israel's God into the temple of their god, so that the former might do obeisance to the latter. Just the opposite occurred, however! The next morning they found Dagon lying on his face before the ark of God. They set him back in his place, but the next day he was again face down before the ark of God, this time with his hands cut off (1 Sam. 5:3-4). Josephus describes the event thusly: "When they went into his temple the next morning to worship their god, they found him paying the same worship to the ark ... in a posture of adoration to the ark" (Antiquities of the Jews, book 6, chapter 1, section 1).
In addition to causing their false deity to bow before Him, God dealt with the Philistines in other ways, as well. "But the hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and He destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof" (1 Sam. 5:6, KJV). Needless to say, the people of Ashdod soon realized it was time to get rid of the ark of the covenant. They decided to send it to one of the other five great cities of the Philistines: Gath. However, the people of Gath fared no better. "He smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts" (1 Sam. 5:9, KJV). The ark was then quickly sent on to the city of Ekron, but "the hand of God was very heavy there. And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods; and the cry of the city went up to heaven" (1 Sam. 5:11-12, KJV). All of this took place over a period of about seven months (1 Sam. 6:1).
The lords of the Philistines finally realized that it was time to send the ark back to the Israelites. "Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people" (1 Sam. 5:11). They were not sure of how to go about this, however, so they "called for the priests and the diviners, saying, 'What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we shall send it to its place'" (1 Sam. 6:2). The advice of the religious leaders of the Philistines was: whatever you do, "do not send it empty; but you shall surely return to Him a guilt offering. Then you shall be healed" (vs. 3). When asked what this guilt offering should be, the lords of the Philistines were told, "Five golden emerods, and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines" (vs. 4, KJV). Thus, "ye shall make images of your emerods, and images of your mice that mar the land; and ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel: peradventure He will lighten His hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land" (vs. 5, KJV).
The cows pulled the cart directly to Beth-shemesh, "and they did not turn aside to the right or to the left" (1 Sam. 6:12). They stopped in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite and stood there by a large stone. The cart was taken apart and the wood was used to build a fire for a burnt offering, which consisted of the two cows, who were offered up to God. The ark was taken by the Levites, who notified the people of Kiriath-jearim, who in turn came and took it to the house of Abinadab. They then "consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord" (1 Sam. 7:1). It would remain at this location for a great many years. "Not until David's accession as king in Jerusalem would the ark once again be restored to its rightful place of honor -- 2 Sam. 6" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 605). What became of the five golden mice and the five golden hemorrhoids is unknown. Perhaps they are still with the ark of the covenant (the location of which is also unknown to man). Just imagine what a great archaeological discovery that would be should these items ever be found!
The more important question, however, has to do with lessons learned. What spiritual insights are to be drawn from the peculiar particulars of this ancient event? Why were the Philistines overrun with rodents and plagued with polyps? What was the purpose? What message was being sent? Is there application for us today? I believe there are several lessons to be learned from the tale of the rodents and the 'rhoids, lessons that we would do well to carefully heed today. I share the following eight for your further reflection, however I realize there are unquestionably many more. Thus, I invite you to share with me any additional lessons that you may perceive in this account (which I will then pass along to the readers in a future issue).
Did the Philistines ever give themselves over to God, becoming His devoted followers? Historically, we know the answer is No. However, I would like to believe that here and there, now and then, a few hearts were moved by the messages perceived in the actions of God as He came against this people. As we one day walk the beautiful street of gold, how wonderful it would be to encounter a Philistine man or woman who perhaps helped fashion one of the five golden mice or "emerods," and hear them declare how the whole experience, painful though it was, led them to honor and embrace the one, true God!! Let us pray we will encounter just such a person one day in the new heavens and earth! It will be the hearing of such stories from the lips of those who lived them that will truly be one of the endless joys of Paradise restored! Lord, hasten that day!
From a Reader in Missouri:
How funny!! My daughter (college age) was just recently saying how weird it is that all your Reflections articles are about the subjects that her class is discussing every week at church. It's almost like you have ESP. According to her teacher, a person will go to Hell if they drink wine. I thought you might want to know that in case you need to start packing your bags. They were also discussing the qualifications of being an elder and her teacher said that no man could be an elder if he drank wine, even for medicinal purposes, as it would set a bad example and cause others to sin. My daughter told him that she guessed that meant nobody could drink coffee either, as caffeine is a drug. He didn't really like that idea, but he did say it would probably be better for everyone if they didn't have caffeine either. Anyway, just thought I'd pass this along to you in case you want to change your ways!!
From a Minister/Ph.D. in Hawaii:
Good job! The dividing line between liberty and restraint is quite blurry -- may the Lord bless us with love and wisdom. In any event, not liking wine that much, I guess little of this applies to me -- I prefer Tequila!!! Maluhia La'i.
From a Minister in Georgia:
Allow me once again to compliment and admire your efforts with your Reflections. I admire your courage and perseverance. Thanks for your work. I know you must be getting a lot of heat from legalists! I was particularly interested in your recent issue #134: "Behold, A Winebibber." I completely agree with your conclusions. In an adult Sunday School class I once taught, I offered essentially the same conclusions as you. Those who had had some bad life experiences with alcohol abuse were the most vociferous in their condemnation of any alcohol use. I would like to offer you a couple of thoughts. Although I completely agree that a Christian has responsibility toward a "weaker brother" regarding alcohol use (or any other "meat offered to idols"), I believe there are several pertinent caveats:
NOTE --- I would encourage the readers to carefully examine one of my early Reflections (Issue #25) which deals with the above problem area in the church --- Professional Weaker Brethren. As for the matter of "having a drink" in the presence of a brother who believes such to be wrong, my question would be: Why would one want to?! What would motivate one to do such a thing knowing their brother's convictions on the matter?! That seems a bit too "in your face" in view of Rom. 15:2 -- "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification." Yes, each of these brothers does have the freedom to live by his own convictions before God, without being limited or restrained by the other; however, neither has the right to flaunt that freedom in the face of the other! Love doesn't behave that way; it is far more considerate! "Love is kind ... It is not rude, it is not self-seeking" (1 Cor. 13:4-5). Even though your brother, who is convicted that drinking wine is not approved by God, may not be caused to stumble by witnessing your exercise of freedom, and even though he lovingly grants you your freedom to embrace a differing conviction, with your freedom comes the responsibility before God and men to exercise that freedom in a loving and considerate manner. Let us not forget: actions reflect character, or the lack thereof. --- Al Maxey
From a Noted International Leader in
Churches of Christ from Louisiana:
Al, Your Reflections articles are very important to our brotherhood. We need many forums to share ideas, opinions and plain truths that are contrary to our cultural teaching. I appreciate your recent article on wine. As the only child of two chronic alcoholics I could have had an emotional argument here. At one time I did believe it was wrong for Christians to drink alcohol, and I gave it up for many years. Then I heard two preachers teaching that the Scriptures condemned all use of alcohol. That motivated a deeper study on my part, which resulted in a change of heart. I think your comments are right on target of what I understand the Scriptures to say.
So many of our religious practices and beliefs are based on emotion -- coming from our own personal background, and that of our leaders -- that we constantly need to discuss our preconceived notions. If we are to grow spiritually, and really share the Gospel with those around us, we need to examine all our beliefs. If we shine the light of truth on our strongly held beliefs, only the shadows will be dispelled. Truth will always look better and stronger in the light. Thanks again for your hard work. May God richly bless you!
From a Missionary to Nepal & Bangladesh:
Al, Good article on wine drinking. I was "persecuted" in the church way back in 1969 for a presentation I made on the wine issue -- it was very similar to your own article. I have been a "pulpit Minister" in time past, but for 20 plus years have been a Missionary. We spent 5 years in Papua, New Guinea, and 5 years in Guatemala. Also, in that 25 years, much time in India. You are welcome to come to Bangladesh and Nepal. You can teach in our Bible seminars with us -- training leaders and other related work. I have given your website to many of my friends. It is very good and useful.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
It is always nice to get your Reflections email. After deleting the junk mail, I then open your email knowing I will be challenged, educated, and edified. Thank you for all your efforts to bring these thoughts to my mind.
From a Reader in Nevada:
Al, God has blessed me immensely this morning with a call from Dr. Dallas Burdett at 7 a.m. and now with your latest article: "Behold, A Winebibber." You have dealt with this subject as you do all of your subjects: Comprehensively, thoroughly, intelligently and spiritually. I don't know which other adjectives to put in here. But your thoughts are a great insight with regard to the use of wine. Al, if you can find the time I would like to read from you about the subject of gluttony. Keep up the good work, brother.
From a Reader in Missouri:
Al, I enjoyed and appreciated your article "Behold, A Winebibber!" so much! But I have to say, I was really prompted to stop and ponder, and was so very much encouraged, after reading the "Readers' Comments" which followed the article in the last issue. They were GREAT!!! What a breath of fresh air, and what a lift to the spirit, to read from these brethren about the growth that is happening! I actually sat there and cried!!
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Another great article, brother! I never understood how some in the Church of Christ could teach that Jesus turned the water into "non-alcoholic" wine. That was hard for me to swallow (no pun intended), and it was even harder to convince others of such nonsense! But, like a good little legalistic robot, I tried. Why don't we use wine in the Lord's Supper? Jesus used it! So why do some churches use grape juice instead of wine? You would think these legalistic brethren, who live by "speaking where the Bible speaks," would emphatically stand FOR wine on the Lord's Table ... just like Jesus used.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Al, That was a very good piece on "wine." Why can't otherwise normally intelligent folk see the truth on this?!
From a Reader in Florida:
Al, You've done it again! A very fine lesson dealing with drinking wine! One that should be taught more often. Too many preachers, elders, and teachers are afraid to take the stand you have outlined in this article, and to let their congregations know that this is what the Bible actually teaches. Too many Christians, with their stand on the necessity of teetotaling, are doing more harm to the church than would ever come from some brother simply drinking responsibly in the manner you have described.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
I want to add my hearty AMEN to the reader who complimented you on provoking us to love and good works. You are doing a great service in that regard. The apostle Paul said he would not drink wine if it caused his brother to "stumble" .... he did not say "grumble." Sometimes I think we must stand for what is right and try to educate the eternally "weaker brother."
From an Elder in Missouri:
I think your thoughts and words on the subject of elders are to the point. I believe you have given some very useful and good teaching on this matter. There is some historical information about the island of Crete (where Titus was) that indicates the point has more to do with the children's faithfulness (trustworthiness and orderly conduct) than their lifelong service to the Lord. Evidently there was a pervasive atmosphere of rebellion, even small gangs of youths that would terrorize the inhabitants. If this picture is accurate, that would seem to indicate the apostle is looking more at respect for the father's authority while they are in his household than their obedience to the Gospel.
There is another aspect of this that, from a purely legalistic approach, is almost comical if the subject were not so serious: The apostle is speaking of children in the elder's household. But, once those children are no longer living under his roof, under his direct authority, doesn't that mean -- legalistically speaking -- that he is no longer a man who has children in his household? If his children are all on their own, and have established households of their own, is he now no longer eligible or qualified? Just something to think about as we consider the absurdity of legalism.
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