27 Aug — 2 Sep 2007

Issue No. 32

Biblical GRADUATE school of theology

BGST This Week

When the Israelites went out to fight the Philistines near Ebenezer, they did not consult God.  Not surprisingly, they were defeated and lost 4,000 men.  Then they brought up the Ark of the Covenant, putting their hopes for protection in an object instead of in God. The Ark per se did not protect them, for they were routed.  The ark was captured (1 Samuel 4:1-11).  Today many people make the same mistake of trusting in objects like crosses, crucifixes, medallions, amulets and so on, when God is our only protector.


The jubilant Philistines placed the Ark in the temple of their god Dagon, in Ashdod by the coast.  But God caused the huge idol of Dagon to fall on its face before the Ark, twice.  The second fall broke off its head and hands.  Then God sent devastation caused by rats, and afflicted the survivors with tumours.  In panic, the Philistines sent the Ark to Gath, and then to Ekron.  But God struck Gath and Ekron too.  The Philistines, unable to stop the plagues, finally decided to return the ark to Israel.


The Philistine priests and diviners shrewdly advised, “If you return the ark of the god of Israel …. by all means send a guilt offering to him.  Then you will be healed and (better translated as “or”?) you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you” (1 Sam 6:3).  How would they know?  Well, if the plagues stopped after the Ark was returned, then obviously its capture had displeased the God of Israel.  If not, then some other reason had to be found. The guilt offering was to be five gold rats and five gold tumours.  This reveals a lack of understanding of guilt offerings in Israel.  Also, do you get the sense that the rationale for the offering was something like: “You sent rats and tumours to us, now we are sending them back to you”?


But the mode of returning the Ark advised by the priests and diviner is surely a classic example of human cunning:  “Get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and never been yoked.  Hitch the cows to the cart but take the calves away and pen them up.   If it (the Ark) goes up to its own territory, towards Beth Shemesh, then the LORD has brought this great disaster on us.  But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us and that it happened by chance” (6:7-9).  Does this not show that the Philistine priests and diviners still clung to the hope that plagues had struck all three towns to which the Ark had been moved in succession, purely by chance?


By the way, why choose two cows that had calved and had never been yoked?  Was it not because cows not trained to be yoked would probably try to throw off the yoke, perhaps by bucking, instead of moving forward?


Why choose cows that have calved, and after hitching them to a cart, take away their calves and pen them?  What is the normal reaction of a mother cow when her young calf is taken away from her, especially when the calf is lowing for her?  Yes, it would try to get to its calf, wouldn’t it?


On the Internet I read an article by Dr. Drew Conroy, author of The Oxen Handbook and one of America’s leading experts on oxen training.  Oxen are defined as “cattle trained as draft animals.  Most often they are adult castrated bulls” (Wikipedia).  So bulls, not cows, were usually used to pull carts.  The choice of cows is therefore highly suspect.


On the subject of training oxen, Conroy says, “I usually begin training by allowing them to walk home, which they will do willingly.”  Thus, oxen, and presumably cows also, are more willing to pull a cart towards home than away from home.  And for a mother cow is home not where her calf is?


There was another factor stacked against the cows going towards Beth Shemesh.  My Bible atlas shows that Ekron, where the Ark was, sat at the edge of the coastal plain of Canaan, and Beth Shemesh was in the hill country.  So, the cows would have to pull the cart carrying the Ark and a chest containing heavy gold rats and tumours, uphill. 


Every condition suggested by the priests and diviners was calculated to ensure that the cows would not head towards Israel.  How cunning they were!


Ever so often, some clever humans will think that their intelligence, human wisdom and cunning are so great that they can outfox God.  Is that not futile?   Compared to the all-seeing supremely wise God, are we all not fools?  So did the cows pull the cart to Beth Shemesh?

Mickey Chiang: Cunningly Yoked (1 Sam 6: 1-16)

Text Box: Another Animal Tale: The Penitent Wolf

Another man, no less remarkable, we saw, living in a poor hut, where only one could enter at a time. The story was told of him that a she-wolf used to stand beside him at his meal, and that never did the creature fail to come at the appointed time, or to wait outside until he offered her whatever bread had been left over from his poor meal: and then she would lick his hand, and as if her task were over and the comfort of her presence duly given, would go away.


But it once so happened that the holy man had gone with a brother who had come to see him, to put him on his way, and was a long time absent, not getting home until nightfall. Meantime the beast had come at the usual meal hour. She felt that her friend and patron was absent, and went into his empty cell, inquisitive to find where its inhabitant might be. By chance a palm-basket with five loaves was hanging within reach: she venture to take one, devoured it, and then, the crime perpetrated, made off.


The hermit came in, and saw his basket torn: he perceived the damage his household store had suffered, and near the threshold he recognized the crumbs where someone had been eating bread: nor had he much doubt as to the person of the thief. Then as the days went by and the creature did not come—too conscious of her bold act to come to him she had wronged and affect innocence—the hermit took it sorely to heart that he had lost the company of his pet. At last when the seventh day had gone by, his prayers were answered: there she was, as he sat at his meal, as of old. But it was easy to perceive the embarrassment of the penitent: she stood, not daring to come near, her eyes fixed in profound shame upon the ground and plainly entreating pardon. Pitying her confusion, the hermit called her to come near, and with a caressing hand he stroked the sad head: and finally, refreshed his penitent with two loaves for one. And she, forgiveness won and her grieving ended, resumed her wonted office. Consider, I pray you, in this example of it the power of Christ, with whom every brute beast is wise, and every savage creature gentle.


(Helen Waddell: Beasts and Saints, Eerdmans, 1996)

Text Box: A Prayer 
for the Week

Almighty and everlasting God, who art always  more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord. Amen

(Collect for the 12th Sunday after Trinity, Book of Common Prayer)
Text Box: Weekly Highlights

Required Courses for M.Div students:          

· The Christian Spirit (TS251, 3 credits, video class), starting Sep 12 (Wed, new date), 7.30-9.30pm. Lecturer: Prof. James Houston/Tutor: Mr John Chong Ser Choon

·  Introduction to Evangelism & World Mission (ME101, 3 credits, video class), starting Sep 14 (Fri), 7.15-9.15pm. Lecturer: Mr Martin Goldsmith/Tutor: Miss Irene Tay


Course starting next week:

· Understanding Culture (TENT module), Dates: Sep 4, 11, 18 (Tue), 7.20-10pm.



Alumnus, Andrew Lee will speak this week. Next week Rev. Shachendra Shrestha from Nepal will be our speaker.


 Please help …

Victor and Rachel Xu, full-time MCS students, would like to rent an apartment, if possible near BGST.  Their budget is around $600—$700. They will be happy to take a room with access to cooking facilities even if the other rooms in the apartment are not made available to them.


If anyone has a lead, kindly contact Dr Aquila Lee at BGST or Victor Xu directly at his email address: vxr1976@gmail.com



31 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088454   Tel: 62276815   Fax: 62276816   Email: bgst@pacific.net.sg


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