Traveling Far to Discover What is Near

In the well-known story of the prodigal son, he thought his ultimate life objective was far away from home.  “Not long after [he received his inheritance he asked for from his father], the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country, and there squandered his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15:13).  But he soon realized that the real treasure was back home.  After he was broke and hungry, he remembered how good it was back home (Luke 15:17), and he returned. The prodigal found the treasure of home when he was far away.

We may look forward to a vacation and travel to some distant state or country, but usually one of the best parts is coming home.  At times circumstances require that we be away from our family and friends for a while; that is when we have a new appreciation for spouse, children, parents, neighborhood, and church friends.  We have new joy in being with them again.

Sometimes we seek happiness away from the common  and the ordinary only to discover that  real contentment is found in the routine that has been with us all along.

At some point in life we all have to come to grips with the reality that happiness is not found in some faraway place or a large bank account,  but rather from that which is close by, such as family and special times and places.   As Jesus said, “…a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions “ (Luke 12:15b).

The prodigal son is a warning to us all that we should not have to travel far literally or intellectually to find that what is really important is near.

The Permissive Parent

Eli was a respected man in his community. He was the high priest at Shiloh and judge of Israel for 40 years (I Samuel 4:18). By all accounts he was a man of God, but a fault that brought him sorrow was that he was too permissive with his two sons. When news reached him about the sins of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, he treated the news with indifference (I Samuel 2). Eli should have disciplined his sons from when they were young by taking stronger action, but he did not.

The consequences of Eli’s permissiveness were far-reaching. The family’s influence was destroyed (I Samuel 2:22-24). The esteem for Eli’s family was gone forever. The family’s devotion to God was compromised. Eli chose to please his sons rather than to please God. Eli was accused of honoring his sons above Jehovah. Because of the family’s sin, God promised to break the strength of the family (I Samuel 2:31).

Parenting is a challenge to all of us. We learn from Eli valuable lessons on parenting. Do not honor your children above God by excusing or justifying error in their lives. Do not regard God’s commands lightly. Take your parenting responsibilities seriously because what you do with your child will also have a dramatic effect on others (I Samuel 2:30-36).

Realize that a child is a gift from God and brings great responsibility. Realize the importance of implanting spiritual values in young hearts. Understand the need to instruct your children in the ways of the Lord. Eli lacked what today is sometimes termed “tough love.”

On the day the ark of God was captured, Eli and his sons died. On that day a child born into Eli’s house was named Ichabod. The meaning of the name is a commentary on Eli and his family—“The glory has departed from Israel” (I Samuel 4:21-22). Instead, we must train our children to obey us so “that it may go well with [them] and that [they] may enjoy long life on the earth” (Ephesians 6:3, Deuteronomy 5:16).

Snake Handling

We’ve dealt with snakes since the beginning. In the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-5), the snake tempted Eve and prompted her to tempt Adam.

Handling snakes can be deadly. In Acts 28:3 when the viper attached itself to Paul’s hand as he was building a fire, the people waited for him to die; when he didn’t, they assumed he was a god (Acts 28:6). Serpents have often represented the devil or evil. In Numbers 21:1-7, because the people rejected God’s word, they paid for their evil by being bitten by poisonous snakes and died. Imagine having your property infested with poisonous snakes!

But in one sense we are all snake handlers when we consider the metaphorical aspects of snakes symbolizing Satan and evil. These are the temptations we give in to and the sins we have not eliminated from our lives. The Psalmist makes this connection in Psalm 140:3: “They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s; the poison of vipers is on their lips.”  Anytime we involve ourselves with temptations, it is like handling snakes; we can be bitten anytime.

In reading about snake handling religion, I found that over 70 handlers have died by snakebite. What deadly snakes do we handle?  John speaks of some of the deadly snake-handlers in Revelation 21:8, “…the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.”

The people in Numbers 21 had to look up to the bronze serpent to be healed (verse 9). And the bronze serpent was a type of Christ since Christ was lifted up for man (John 12:32). Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross (Galatians 6:14). The blood of Jesus is the antidote for the venom of sin and is the center of our salvation (Colossians 1:14).

Avoid handling snakes. And when you do succumb to temptation, remember that Jesus is the only way to be saved. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).