Here are two stories:

First Story–

In 1993, a co-worker at BJU Press needed blood. Because I am O negative (universal donor), I naturally hopped over to the blood bank to donate. A few days later, they called me up, asked me to come in, and shattered my world: “Your blood was positive for HIV.” A re-test showed the same result. Brian was tested and found to be negative. We went to see Dr. Bob III.

I love Dr. Bob III. This was one of the Most Difficult Moments of my life, and he was there. He did not ask how this could have happened, nor did he judge me when I told him. He (figuratively) held my hand through ten days of nightmare until the health department called me back and said, “Sorry. It seems you react to the protein in the test. We apologize.”

Dr. Bob III was kind and fatherly in my fear, rejoiced with me in my happiness, and I have been grateful in all the years since.

Second Story—

Very recently, I had a problem in my marriage. I approached my husband on a very serious level and explained a few things to him. He heard me and said, “What else?” and “Is there anything else I can work on?” and “How can I love you better?” and “Please don’t hesitate to tell me when things like this come up, because I often don’t see what you’re feeling.”

The point from the first story is that I love Dr. Bob III, and the point from the second story is that it is important that a person who is being corrected be open to the correction and keep apologizing as long and as often as necessary to make things right.

BJU is often nit-picked about things that are little nothings, that don’t matter. When that happens, nothing needs to be done, and a comment such as, “Thanks for your input,” is sufficient. But when there is a real wrong to be corrected, it needs to be. Apologies are often appropriate, and sometimes the person needs to say—as my husband said to me—“Is there anything else?”

A few years ago, Dr. Stephen Jones apologized for BJU’s formerly racist stance vis-à-vis African-Americans. There is no use saying that “racist” is too harsh a word. It is an accurate word. The apology was appropriate and well stated, and although particular steps that I might take were I in charge of making a more culturally diverse community at BJU have not been taken, at least the words were spoken. It is the South after all, and there are still separate proms there.

(Funny story: When I was teaching at a public middle school in Hawaii, I asked one of my classes what they thought about racially-segregated proms. They all voted for separate proms, and I was horrified until one student raised his hand and said, “But Miss, if there aren’t separate proms, none of the white kids will get to dance.” Different place, different perspective.)

Now we have a different issue. Now there is an answer to the question, “And is there anything else I can change?” The answer is yes, and the people bringing the question have organized under BJUnity.

BJUnity is a group of former (and perhaps current) students and faculty who are homosexual. They are asking for three things:

1. Dr. Bob III to apologize for previous harsh statements against homosexuals, particularly statements indicating that homosexuality could be eradicated were all homosexuals to be stoned to death.

2. BJU to tone down the fire-and-brimstone rhetoric relating to sexuality.

3. Concerned and needy individuals to seek professional help and counseling, or, if suicide is contemplated, to contact 911 or the Trevor Project immediately.

As to the first point, Dr. Bob III does need to apologize for statements indicating that the “problem would be solved” if homosexuals were stoned “poste haste.” I don’t know what problem he was referring to, but even if he were speaking in general terms of The Sin Of Homosexuality, I am certain that no sin would ever be eradicated by the execution of all those currently engaged in it. (I can myself imagine gossiping wildly about all the gossipers who were just summarily executed.)

(Thank God we are dealing with Dr. Bob III here and not his father, may he rest in peace. Dr. Junior was a case, and I mean that, though I have fond memories of him. The fondest: We’re at Artist Series, up in the Rodeheaver balcony, and Dr. Junior pulls out a bag of candies and offers them to a couple of college boys, and the boys look at him all wide-eyed and say, “We can’t eat in here. It’s the rules,” and Junior looks back like, “I am the rules, have a candy.” Oh, and who can forget when he jumped out of the birthday cake?!)

(More parentheses: having fond memories about someone does not make him virtuous in every situation. I have a few fond memories of a man who beat me regularly and used this pet name: “You fucking whore.” Not to compare Dr. Junior to that former friend of mine, I’m just saying, sometimes you have to look past your fondness to see an important issue.)

An apology does not have to be like this: “I have changed my mind about what the Bible says, and I no longer believe homosexuality to be a sin, and I am sorry that I ever said that.” That would not be an apology. That would be a lie, and plus, he would lose his beautiful home, because the Trustees would have a corporate aneurysm, and they are very nice old people and we don’t want anything bad to happen to any of them.

An apology can be like this: “I am sorry I said that. I was wrong. Please forgive me,” and the people forgiving should just up and forgive and not nit-pick thus: “What exactly are you sorry about?” They should be gracious—and I think they are. Their web site is well spoken and organized. Their comments clear and not belligerant (unlike some of the less [at least to me] effective work of DoRightBJU).

On the second point—the chapel platform rhetoric—I think BJUnity is asking for a toning down of the fire-and-brimstone shouting that pinpoints and targets this particular behavior above and beyond any other particular behavior.

Seriously, there are so many things that Leviticus pronounces upon that we are not ever going to hear from the pulpit. For example, you will never hear a sermon on Leviticus 18:19, “Men, you must never ever have sexual intercourse with your wife when she is having her period. It is forbidden in Leviticus!” followed by an altar call.

I mean, come on, people, we are talking about people who do not even keep the Sabbath, but take their church bulletin to Shoney’s after church for 10% off the all-you-can-gluttonously-eat bar.

We pick, we choose: we determined somewhere in the march of church history that this particular sin was worse than all others, more deviant, more repulsive, more creepy, more degenerate, and that we would never ever budge in our stance against it and against those who practice it.

And when we pick and choose, we leave out those sins that we do, because those are not as bad—because we do them and we are very nice people—but Jesus doesn’t let us off.

Jesus says, “Whoso looketh.” Not whoso fantasizes or whoso grabs or whoso meets “by accident” in Asheville on the weekend. And in that “looketh” He nails the millions of Christian men who would have to be lined up and executed because they can’t keep their eyes off their computer screens. That’s not called abomination—that’s called Every Man’s Battle, dontcha know, while women weep and families are destroyed and men explain that they’re just weak and God made them that way and they can’t help it, and it isn’t a choice, and you should understand this is a hunger I can’t control, and I was born this way.

It is time for us to say sorry. It is time for us to say we don’t understand homosexuality, and we don’t get that particular urge, and we think your behavior is creepy, and we hope and beg and plead with you not to lure or entice or recruit our young people (in your evil, rampaging “agenda” that you only made up with the specific view of Destroying America), but we are sorry for calling you fags, and we are sorry we made your sin look more heinous than ours.

I am not homosexual. But I have my own sins. And really, my own sins are more awful, because it is more awful for a mother to cut her child down with harsh words than it is for a consenting adult couple to do whatever-they-do in the privacy of their own bedroom. It is more awful for a wife to look down her uppity-intellectual nose at her works-with-his-hands husband who doesn’t have an interest in theological minutiae that turn on Greek plurals.

The third point is that LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning) students and faculty (men and women who married to be “normal” when in actual fact . . . ) ought to get professional counseling, and if in crisis or contemplating suicide should contact the Trevor Project.

The point, I think (and I’m just guessing; I haven’t talked with anyone at BJUnity), is that it is important not to get your counseling from someone who wants to beat or pray the gay out of you. Maybe—maybe—God will at some point toggle the switch for you, but right now, in your present, when you think everyone hates you and everyone knows, or if they don’t know, you are afraid that if they find out they will despise you and shun you and mock you—right now, you need someone to say, “It’s okay. I’m here for you. You’re going to be okay.”

You’re going to be okay. Do. Not. Hurt. Yourself.

In sum, the stated goals of BJUnity are calm, reasoned goals, and each of them could save lives.

You know, don’t you, that Christian girls abort your grandchildren because they are afraid of you—that you will freak out, disown them, humiliate them in public, castigate, gossip, hate, bring it up til kingdom come instead of offering love, acceptance, forgiveness, peace, diapers and booties.

And you know, don’t you, that Christian young people kill themselves because they reach a place of hopelessness, lostness, despair because—for whatever reasons, and those reasons may be complex and they may not all be inborn—they feel sexual attraction to someone of their own gender and you can’t–you just can’t–give that other person a hug and say, “Welcome. Come, eat with us. What do you do for a living?”

No more of this. No more fear. Swallow your hate and your own fear (of being humiliated, of “losing” your children, of having people look at you across the congregation and then whisper to their pew-mate, “Look, that’s the one whose son went gay”) and be loving.

To the people who say, “But what about Romans 1? What about Leviticus 18? What about—?” I say, you cannot even see clearly to take this mote out of your fellow-believer’s sexuality because you are walking around with a log in your eye. To his own master he stands or falls. What about, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” The what abouts are endless. Just be kind.

I’m ashamed of myself that I didn’t sign the petition for the apology on race relations, and thanks are due to Dr. Stephen Jones (and please God may he recover his strength) for attempting to right the wrong perpetrated by the University against African-Americans for so long and blamed on Southern Culture.

But now here we have another opportunity to do the right thing—to be kind, to be nice, to say to students and faculty: “We love you. Jesus loves you,” etc.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I’ve been forced to think about this for a long time. Too many people in my history, my life, my world are homosexual for me to avoid thinking about it.

No one is saying that BJU or Dr. Bob III or Dr. Stephen Jones or anyone needs to change their view on what the Bible teaches. No one is saying that the First Amendment right of Free Speech should be denied to any of these. But, what is being said is this: Please, we beg you, to refrain from speech of such harshness and immovability that people are killing themselves over your interpretation of what the Bible means.

Don’t worry—there will always be sins to rant about from the Chapel Platform. There are plenty of 250 pound faculty to rant at about gluttony, plenty of gossips in the offices, plenty of men lording it over their wives in ungodly domineering fashion, plenty of rude b*%&# women undermining their husbands in front of their children, plenty of students flaunting their rule-breaking on Facebook (“COLDPLAY FOREVER!”), plenty of girls marrying foolishly, and plenty of people profiting from the lottery . . . oh wait, that only used to be a sin. (No, no, says the person who takes this money, it’s only a sin to play the lottery. It’s not at all a sin to accept as a gift from the STATE [and you call yourself a Republican!] part of the money that was wasted on the lottery by someone who beggared his wife and children.)

One final comment: recently, during the DoRight episode, which I did not support–and which I thought was ill-conceived, though I understand the basis of the concern, it was brought to my attention that What BJU does is Nobody’s Business. This, of course, is not true. It is my business what my school does, even if I no longer attend and no longer work there. It is my business what is done in the name of my Savior. It is my business to make statements that might in some small way make it easier for children to walk through their lives, and it is my business if the children of my friends and fellow-alumni are reaching such depths of despair that they want to die. And so I write this.

Sharon Hambrick lives in California with her family. She holds a B.S. in History/Social Science from San Diego Christian College and a M.A. in Church History from Bob Jones University. She is the author of 11 children’s books published by Journeyforth, a division of BJU Press. She is currently in her third year of law studies at Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy, and yes, she is afraid of being tossed out of all these places for this post, but sometimes you have to say what you have to say, and really, you should not be afraid to say, “Be Nice.”


It’s not everyday a feature on NPR lays me out cold, squeezes my heart, and causes me to rethink my entire life, but the story of Kazuo Ueda did just that.

Professor Ueda lives in the hills of Southern Japan. While studying German, he fell hopelessly, deeply in love. With Yiddish. So much so that he spent decades studying Yiddish—including taking several trips to Israel—for the sheer joy of realizing that a mish-mash tongue gathered up from Russian, German, and Hebrew, so forgotten that even few Jews understand it, could be untangled, ironed out and translated into Japanese.

Working alone, in every spare moment, Kazuo Ueda compiled the Japanese-Yiddish dictionary. Think about that. Think about that a lot.

There is no reason for a Japanese-Yiddish dictionary to exist except that Mr. Uedo wanted it to exist, toiled for decades for it to exist, gave of himself for it to exist. And now, what couldn’t be, is.

Lonely work done over a lifetime to produce a work of art that perhaps very few people will ever know about or care about. That most people will look at and say, “Why’d you do that?” or “What in the world?” or even “What a waste; think of the important work he could have done instead.”

You may be doing this sort of work. The seemingly small, seemingly—at least to others—unimportant task that you are joyfully pouring your life into. Others might have chosen to abort—you chose to carry that special needs child. Others might have left the injured soldier—you chose to stay: you chose to honor sacrifice with the kind of love that says, “Nothing is different; I married you, not your legs.” Others might have given in to the mid-life crisis, the come hither, the “no one needs to know.” You chose to wrench your mind and heart back home, even when home seems boring, even though you feel you want and deserve so much more.

You chose to keep grandma home, to go to grad school, to help at the shelter, to work extra hours to pay for village wells on the other side of the world, to sweep the corners no one sees. To do whatever you’ve chosen to do that others think is unnecessary, over the top, patently nuts. You’re doing an Ueda. Keep it up.

For the Christian, the truth is we need to become experts at this kind of intense, decades-long translation effort. The lifelong work of translating the Gospel–delivered long ago and usually presented in Shakespearean–into New Millenium American, into Contemporary Kid-ese, into 2012 Teenage-ian. We need to do this with care, with precision, with love.

We need to translate, “Their sins I will remember no more” into “Forgiveness means your alcoholism won’t be held against you; your gluttony won’t be held against you; your homosexuality, pornography, tax evasion, going 100 on I-95 and killing a family won’t be held against you because the price of that has been paid. Come to Jesus.”

We have to translate “God is love” into “Sally-ese” or “Johnny-ese” and say, “Yes, you told me to drop dead, and that hurts my heart, but just so you know, God won’t hold that against you, because Jesus already paid for that. That’s the Gospel. Come to Jesus.” Of course he’s still grounded—duh—and maybe during those lonely hours in his room, he’ll think about what you just said. Maybe he won’t. Doesn’t matter. You translated correctly.

Truth is, I usually separate my “grace talk” from my “Mommy talk,” and the “Are you kidding me? What were you thinking, son?” almost always wins when I am confronted with one more stupid-kid-behavior that could never in a million years have been prepped for. I need to work on my translation skills. I need to diagram my sentences with a lot more care.

The Japanese-Yiddish dictionary is 1,300 pages long and has 28,000 entries. Ouch. Meaning, Professor Ueda didn’t give up when the puzzle was intricate, the untangling difficult, or when he was tired or not feeling well. He kept at this lonely, joyful work knowing the world would not stand up and cheer. Knowing the world would say, “What the–?”

He plodded along, researched, stuck to it, lost his health to it (he now has Parkinson’s), and in the end, he finished his work. The dictionary is complete. It costs $700. Considering the work and the few copies available, this is a steal. You yourself have paid over $100 for a run-of-the-mill textbook some publishing house put out in two years by hiring out the chapters to experts who already knew the stuff. Here, one man, with painstaking care, took a topic (literally) no one had ever (ever!) imagined, and threw down. He looked at impossible and took the challenge. He looked at this Everest, set his face to the summit, and climbed.

Which is exactly what I need to be doing. Now. Half the time–truth be told–I’m flummoxed, defeated, sitting in my chair reading or studying when I need to be doing some serious, intricate translation with my children. What does it mean, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light?” if I’m always and forever mistranslating that into “Hurry up! Work harder! Eat slower! Clean faster!” What does it mean, “I have overcome the world,” if I’m always saying, “I can’t help it. I’m not strong enough. I can’t control myself”? What does it mean, “Whosoever,” if I’m always saying, “Sorry, you’re too pagan, you’re too Muslim, you’re too gay”?

It’s time to do some Uedas and translate better, clearer, with exact precision, with more care so that the people we are speaking to can understand us. So they can hear Jesus speaking.

We need to be translating Jesus faithfully, precisely and with love to the block bully, to the Muslim family next-door, to the gay couple in the back row.

And not just away from home, but right at home, where the difficulties are, the really tricky problems, the most painful crises. That’s where the toughest translation happens, where you really have to grit your teeth, face the untangleable and realize that the hardest parts are the most important.

That’s where you translate the Gospel thus: “I never thought you’d abort my grandchild, but that doesn’t change my love for you, and Jesus has already paid for that. Where do we go from here?” That’s when (after you finish sobbing and pick yourself off the floor and search for breath) you say, “I’m sorry you’re leaving me, but Jesus already paid for that, so I’m going to lean on Him and go from here instead of badgering you about it endlessly.” That’s when your son tells you he’s gay and you don’t collapse into a heap of sobs, but give him a bear hug, thank him for telling you, and reiterate the enormous amount of love you have for him, without shouting and calling down fire and brimstone. Remember, Jesus only ever yelled at Pharisees, only ever trashed a Temple, so don’t you go and mistranslate Him to needy sinners.

Remember: It doesn’t matter if no one buys the book. It matters that the translation is done with care, with precision.

Thirteen hundred pages, 28,000 entries, twenty years. No one said it was going to be easy to plod on, to untangle the untangleable, to communicate the eternal, to translate grace til Kingdom Come. Kazuo Ueda has given us a pattern of patience, a visual of perseverance.

So, mazel tov, Professor. A shaynem dank.

Ranting Like a Lady

First of all, I’m going to out with it and admit that I mistake Douglas Wilson and Douglas Phillips all the time. One is a writer on things Reformed and the other is a proponent of little boys playing with massive slingshots while wearing replica World War I uniforms and defending their sisters’ honor.

I have no problem with boys sticking up for their sisters, but the thing that best defends a girl’s honor is a two-letter word she herself utters. If necessary, she should accompany it by a swift and powerful knee. If either of these tactics don’t work—and even if they do, if the situation warrants—she can call 911 and hail the cavalry.

Yes, I’m talking about Mr. Phillips. He also does a big song-and-dance about “Women and Children First” relating to the sadly underboated evacuation of the Titanic, and while it’s good and lovely that the rich ladies got off, the point about that evacuation is that on that dark night of fear it became apparent that (1) Charlie Sheen is right—“Plan Better!” and (2) the one-percent always win, except perhaps Mr. Astor, but he was a man with an eye to the future and knew that he would transform his posthumous street cred by his act of feigned nonchalance. Really, if there’s not spot for you in the lifeboat, you may as well go down like a man, smoking, if at all possible.

But wait! Hundreds of women went down like ladies into their icy liquid collective grave. Let’s see, did they don lace and bonnets? Is there a way to die like a lady? We can’t ask Mr. Phillips that question. For questions of how to do any particular thing like a lady, we must ask Mr. Wilson, author of the oddly-titled blog, Blog and Mablog. (That title alone gives me the shivers. It alerts me that here is a person who will make a joke about “knee-high miah” and think it’s funny.)

A particular Blog and Mablog post, “Competing Like a Lady,” recently appeared on my Facebook feed. Repulsed by the content, I left it alone for a few days, grumbling occasionally about the writer’s cruelty and hatefulness.

That’s not true. I actually grumbled about Doug Phillips’s cruelty and hatefulness, because I thought he had written the nonsense I’m about to discuss. But I was wrong. The nonsense is actually the brainchild of Doug Wilson, a smart Reformed guy of the Type A variety.

(Note to my non-Christian readers: “Reformed” refers to those who follow the teachings of John Calvin, a 16th century theologian who believed in predestination, among other things. Typically, non-Reformed Christians believe that God does not predestine anyone to heaven or hell, but that people make their own decision to follow Jesus Christ without God “making” them do so. There are smart people on both sides, but some Reformed smoke and drink, and some Baptists handle snakes, if that helps you decide with whom you want to ally yourself when you convert.)

It may be important to know that smart Type A Calvinists tend to think that because they have their theology all starched and ironed, they can go around proclaiming whatever-the-heck they want about anything and everything. Like I do, you may know a number of Reformed people who, because they imagine themselves to be smarter than your average Baptist, think they should go around venting the contents of the rest of their brain. They’ve taken Calvin’s idea that all vocations are holy and stretched it to mean, “Anything I want to vomit onto a blog is holy.” In this case, Mr. Wilson is mistaken.

In “Competing Like a Lady,” Mr. Wilson takes issue with the behavior of women in sports.

For starters, he decries the unladylike behavior of young women who slap each other on the butt during basketball games. Men may slap each other on the butt when excited during an athletic contest, but women should not. This particular behavior reeks of manliness, and is patently Unladylike.

I think we should carry this over into general life. I long to see Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum do a butt-slap after one of them skewers Mr. Gingrich in a debate. Of course, were Mrs. Palin and Mrs. Bachman to participate in a debate at some point in the future, they would be confined to brushing each other’s hair and giggling. It’s important to keep these distinctives.

Swaggering, according to Mr. Wilson, is off limits for girls, but is okay for men. Of course, all women know intuitively that swaggering is not nearly as effective as the subtly-askance look with narrowed eyelids, but whether such a thing is more godly than outright swagger has yet to be determined.

Back to basketball, Mr. Wilson is good enough to let us know that he doesn’t mind if girls are taught to toss a ball through a hoop, as long as they do it in a ladylike manner.

Basketball is definitely out altogether then, because throwing the ball through the hoop is the goal, not the essential matter of the game. The game is all about running and blocking and faking and passing and dribbling and yelling. Too, you really cannot get up a good bame of b-ball without a great lot of sweat.

While sweating has often been seen as a masculine thing to do, we really must take note here that good old fashioned sweat is a human-body (as opposed to male-body) function that cools the skin in times of overheating. Interestingly, God placed this mechanism in both genders, go figure.

Mr. Wilson is affronted that the butt-slapping incident was observed at a Christian camp. I imagine he felt the girls at the camp should have been schooled in saying, “Very lovely shot,” and “What an exciting field goal you just accomplished.”

He mentions that the girls were “generally acting as unladylike as they could.” This statement boggles the mind. As unladylike as they could? Were they engaging in stereotypically-male pursuits such as belching, or were they perhaps making fart sounds in that way boys know how to do with their armpits? I’m pretty sure they weren’t putting their hands in each other’s crotches, and I only mention it here, because football (along with hockey and undeclared war) is the most masculine sport ever invented, and in that super-unladylike game, the quarterback is always and forever putting his hands in the center’s crotch. So, there you have it—“crotching” is unladylike and definitely only for men. But you knew that.

He continues: “While having nothing against girls learning how to put a ball through a hoop, we have a great objection to girls learning anything from instruction that couldn’t care less about protecting and preserving their femininity.”

I love the royal we there, because it underscores the idea that Mr. Wilson is going to decide what is good and what is evil, what is godly and what is not, what is ladylike and feminine and what is ugly and uncalled-for.

Ladylikeness, then, seems to be what women should strive for. Graceful mannerisms, the steady calm of quiet serenity, the ability to intuit and then act on the needs of others, fluid movements, beauty: these seem to be the qualities Mr. Wilson wants to see in women, even when they are tossing balls through hoops.

Even more interesting, he equates “ladylikeness” with “femininity.” The girls who were “as unladylike as possible” were not “protecting their femininity.”

This is a disconnect, isn’t it? Ladylikeness—to behave like a (presumably) English Lady (was there ever any other kind?)—isn’t the same thing as femininity. Femininity is essential to women. It is their feminine-ness, their womanhood, their person. It has nothing to do with Victorian values (To keep your blinders on about Victorian values, don’t read any history of the upper classes, particularly about Victoria’s eldest son.).

Most women in history have not had the leisure to walk around being gracious and quietly serene. They have been working their hands raw trying to keep body and soul together, with very little regard for whether they were sweating at the time. I’ve been reading more Russian history than English lately, so I may be wrong here, but I do think I will have to admit it to be unlikely that kitchen maids and shopgirls went around slapping each other’s butts. Speaking of the Russians, I am very sure that Russian women would never be referred to as “ladies” in the English sense. There just simply was never enough indoor plumbing over there, at least until Victoria’s granddaughter Alix took the throne, and you know what happened to her.

Back to “Competing Like a Lady.” Mr. Wilson has the grace to note that the old way of protecting femininity was to keep the girls as far away from sports contests as possible. He notes that this is the old-fashioned way, props to him.

Except that, if we’re looking at things from a wide historical view, the whole idea of sports is fairly new. For most of our history, we’ve had to work, haven’t we? I have a photograph of my grandmother’s basketball team taken around 1912, but even Mr. Wilson will have to admit that that is ancient history when it comes to team sports. So any discussion of godliness in relation to who plays what game or in what way these sports are played by which gender is surely a very new discipline.

Never mind that. Mr. Wilson is prepared to answer all our questions in one short blog post. He declares that some sports are for women and some for men. He cautions that we must be careful not to “throw” girls into sports as though they were merely guys in a different weight class.

So much is wrong with the sentence, as if girls see themselves as underweight men, as if men should see them so. As if, when a girl plays a sport she is defining her femininity. To think such a thing is nonsensical. If we were to follow this line of thinking, a girl should never play a cello (Horrors, her legs are spread! How could she possibly be modest and ladylike?). I imagine there are any number of other activities that would have to be tossed out were we to begin thinking that every activity we pursued had to be done in a ladylike manner.

Mr. Wilson does not like the idea that girls are taught to be aggressive in sports. “Guys are naturally aggressive,” so apparently girls should not be. Clearly, this man has never been to a four-hour purse sale. The truth is that some men are aggressive and others aren’t. Some girls are aggressive and others aren’t. Sometimes it depends on whether the last two pieces of cake are exactly the same size, or if one is slightly larger.

Mr. Wilson tells us that “the genius of certain sports favors women, and the genius of others favors the men. Some occupy the middle, with men and women both able to participate. But if they are both participating, they should be developing their own distinctives.”

He then falls all over himself to determine which sports favor women and which sports favor men. As if it is the sport that determines who should play it rather than the human being determining which sport he or she wishes to play!

Mr. Wilson determines that ice skating is for girls, even though men do it better. Men have more oommph (his word) in their triple axel, but the women are still better. What? He compounds his nastiness here by explaining that “male figure skaters, like male ballet dancers exude a ‘nagging aura.’” Note that men skate better, but because they are exuding an aura while they do it, the women are better. Huh?

Actually, Mr. Wilson, men who figure skate don’t exude anything, certainly not an aura. I think what you mean here is that it gives you the heebie-jeebies to watch them skate and dance. Since nothing is mentioned about the tight clothing, I’m going to assume you’re not bothered by the puff and flounce of the costumes, but simply by the physicality of the performances themselves. In short, you don’t care to watch them for whatever reason of your own. You prefer to watch (what you call) the inferior skating of the women over (what you call) the superior skating of the men. Are you not just admitting that you like to watch girls twirl and jump more than you like to watch men twirl and jump?

To each his own. I like to watch both men and women figure skate, but then, I didn’t become Reformed until my thirties.

Clearly, Mr. Wilson’s statement that “the girls are better,” is rooted in personal preference, not measured by athletic prowess or standards of beautiful dance. It is not enough for him that these men are strong enough to lift a woman into the air and twirl her around while skating on ice (or dancing on a platform) before thousands of spectators. No, that isn’t sufficient manliness. Maybe it is the grace and beauty that turns him off, as if all men should be graceless, lumbering thugs. I can’t see why that would be.

The elephant in the room here, I suppose, is that Mr. Wilson thinks men who interact with these sports are effeminate or homosexual. That it is somehow “girly” to do a triple toe-loop with your body on ice in front of an audience whereas it would not be “girly” to do the same thing with your motorcycle or skateboard on a ramp or dirt track.

So then, is the body itself “girly” while machines are somehow masculine?

Gymnastics are also girly—tell that to the ancient Greeks. Tell that to the Chinese athlete who courageously endured his rings exercise and then powerfully dismounted onto a broken ankle a number of years ago at the Olympic Games.

Whoa, look at those arms. Nothing girly there.

But, look, there I go myself—equating power and endurance with men, as if power and endurance are somehow (as Mr. Wilson would have it) masculine in nature, while women are to sit still and glow, and—presumably—applaud their men being non-girly, as if to be non-girly is better than being girly.

Sports that favor men, according to Mr. Wilson, lean to overt tests of strength and speed. Like boxing, or shot put. “Right thinking” women won’t even try these sports. I’m going to make a difference here between boxing and shot put, as these sports are entirely different. No right thinking man should consider boxing either, and most don’t. We don’t even have to know about Muhammed Ali’s boxing-induced disabilities to know that it is a bad idea to get punched in the head for a living. However, it is not a bad idea to punch a bag for strength training. This is good for men and women of all ages. Muscle is good for you, and if you want to work on yours by punching something, go for it. I don’t imagine there is anything manly or womanly about punching a bag. It is just hanging there, after all. Hit the darn thing.

So much could be said right here about what strength-requiring activities are womanly and which are manly. Steam-cleaning, for example, is difficult. It takes a long time and the steam-cleaner is heavy. If you’re doing the stairs, you have to drag it along with you. The water-container has to be filled and emptied, filled and emptied many times over the course of your afternoon seeing how absolutely gross and disgusting your carpet really is. But is this a masculine activity? I like to steam clean. So does one of my sons. Others in the house don’t care to do this, some male, some female.

Laundry is a very heavy activity. Hampers full of clothes coming and going up and down stairs is surely a strength-requiring activity, as is grocery shopping. Once a month we do an $800 grocery shop. It takes several hours and involves three grocery carts. You have to put the groceries in the cart, then take them out of the cart and put them on the counter at the register. Then you load them into bags, put the bags into the carts, roll the carts out to the car, unload the bags into the car, then drive home and unload the bags into the kitchen, then put it all away. It is an extremely tedious and time-consuming strength-requiring activity, and yet I have never once heard grocery shopping described as a masculine activity. And if it is defined as a masculine activity, when I do it, must I somehow “shop like a lady,” and if so, what is required to meet this standard?

On to the shot put: shot put is different. How far can you throw a metal ball is a valid question, and it is answered by experience in throwing the thing. Why this would be a male exercise and not a female exercise is unknown. However, if it is masculine to throw a ball for distance, we need quickly to scrub “ball toss” from all field day programs that include little girls. Can’t start too young with protecting femininity.

Mr. Wilson allows that there are sports “in the middle,” in which either gender may participate, but if they do, they must do so in a gender-distinctive manner. He thinks of the differences between men’s lacross and women’s lacrosse. I had to look up the rules to find out what he was talking about. It seems that boys lacrosse is a contact sport, while girls lacrosse is a noncontact sport. I don’t know why that would mean girls would play with less aggressiveness, ferocity, competitive spirit, or skill. Just because men (see above note about football) like to touch each other so much more than girls do should not lessen the value of the rules the girls play by.

Mr. Wilson then notes that boys learn valuable things from sport—discipline, stamina, priorities. Girls can learn these things too, and they should have the opportunity to learn them, but only as a tool to help them grow “into a confident and self-assured Christian ladies.” This assumes, obviously, that the only function of sports training is to further a particular agenda about (let’s be honest) wife-training and mother-molding. But really, maybe the girls just wanna have fun. Or maybe they want to get a scholarship. Or maybe they want a gold medal. Why does it always have to be about becoming a certain type of “lady”?

Qualities that girls must not forget in their sports playing include modesty. Mr. Wilson mentions beach volleyball. I’m sorry, but Mr. Wilson, you watch beach volleyball? Really? Beach volleyball—at least at the Olympic level—is played in little tiny bikinis. And I’ll agree that very few people should be allowed to display themselves in this way, and that fewer Reformed authors should watch them. And while we’re avoiding watching women in bikinis, I’m going to make a blanket rule about that and put Soul Surfer on the forbidden list. In a beach volleyball match, there are only four girls in bikinis, while in Soul Surfer, there were zillions (see my review), and from what I understand about men, it probably doesn’t matter that one girl is missing an arm.

As far as swimming pool clothing, which Mr. Wilson decries, it seems that swimmers wear bathing suits in the pool. Little tiny men’s Speedos do not trouble him (consistent with the fact that he is not troubled by the men’s tight ice-skating clothing). It is possible that I missed his post about competing like a gentleman in which he prescribes Bermuda shorts and tank tops for Olympic swimmers, and in which he forbids world-class male athletes from shaving their body hair to eliminate any possible friction. Whatever about that, he is deeply troubled that girls on the swim team wear swimsuits, and I can only tell him that these competitions are advertised ahead of time, that no one is forced to allow their child to swim on these teams, and that he need not view these girls if he will avail himself of the simple technique of staying away from the pool.

All of this would be nothing, however, if Mr. Wilson had not tacked his final, unforgiveable statement onto the end of his silly post. He says:

“Run this thought experiment on yourself. Without mentioning any names, or pointing in any particular direction, say the phrase lesbian basketball coach to yourself. Does any particular profile come to mind? And do you want your daughter to look anything like that?”

Here, Mr. Wilson loses all connection to reason. I do not know to whom he is referring, but I don’t have to. I can picture what he is saying. He is conjuring an image of a woman who makes her living as an athlete—she’s a coach. She’s a hard worker, a stern commander. She’s gotten where she is by grit, by sweat, by outdoing her competition, by sheer gut effort. She’s a winner. She recruits her team, assembles her team, trains her team. She gets up at all hours with them when they need her. She runs lines with them and shoots hoops with them. She works hard with them, laughs and cries with them, wins and loses with them. She yells at them, consoles them, coaxes them, bribes them, honors them, bestows scholarships on them. When they win, she is honored. She is loved. Do I want my daughters to look like that? To interact like that, to succeed like that? Duh, yeah.

He powers that last paragraph by throwing in the word “lesbian,” to scare you into thinking that if your little girl acts like that, she’s going to stop having crushes on boys and start having them on girls. He fails to note that the coaching is the woman’s job–so naturally she works very hard at it, and while he might be more comfortable were she to be a scullery maid (a very dirty job requiring extremely hard work and lots of sweat) or a seamstress (requiring intense concentration, hard work, long hours, and often stabbing with needles), because of her passion and success, she’s risen to the ranks of coaching, so that she is paid to play the game she loves. What is better than that? To assume that your daughter’s gender identification and sexual orientation will be altered or informed by the lady who coaches the team is something of a stretch.

The worst thing about this paragraph, however, is that it is so hateful of the woman herself because of her sexuality. He’s not saying, “Look at that woman coach; she’s manly, and that’s ugly,” he’s saying, “Look at that lesbian coach; she’s disgusting.” He’s simmered his whole argument down to a polarity: on one side is the sweet, graceful, girly-girl. She’s virtuous. She’s godly. And on the other side is a fiercely-competitive professional coach, who happens to identify as lesbian. She’s ugly. She’s ungodly. You don’t want your daughter to look like her.

So, it comes down to appearances. Really?

The real problem here is the whole concept of “ladylikeness” as a virtue. None of Bathsheba’s qualities in Proverbs 31 (see my posts on this) are soft and delicate. She’s always working, always interacting, always producing good for her husband, her family, her servants, her community, and her business. She’s less like the ladies who do Pinterest and more like the lesbian basketball coach who is out there working hard to instill discipline, teamwork, and success into her team.

Ladylikeness is not a Christian virtue. It is a set of manners passed down from mothers who have the leisure to worry about such things to daughters similarly situated. Other mothers have had to instill self-confidence, self-preservation, and plain old hard work into their girls. While it may be more pleasant for men like Mr. Wilson to interact with women like this, and while he may find it easier to deal with girls who speak softly, wear non-edgy clothing, and don’t play too rough, it can’t be considered “Christian.”

Grace and fluidity of speech and action are certainly helpful if one wants to move around smoothly in the world. Whether it can be called “Christian” to quantify this and impress it on others, is less certain.

Further, these qualities are not manly or womanly, and here is where Mr. Wilson makes another serious error. He contrasts “ladylikeness” with “masculinity,” when the opposite of “ladylikeness” would be “servantgirllikeness.” “Gentlemanliness” is not the opposite of “ladylikeness.” Gentlemanliness and ladylikeness are the same thing. They tell us that someone of a refined class, with refined manners is here. They are not opposites. Mr. Wilson contrasts ladylikeness with ugliness, coarseness, and lesbianism, as if a lesbian is necessarily without grace, without kindness, without manners. He tosses her off as someone repulsive, not to be considered as a role model, not to be seen as a woman, not valuable as a person. He dismisses her with disgust.

We can leave the lesbianism out of it, and confine our consideration to pious Christian women. The truth is, when you define godly womanhood as ladylikeness, you marginalize women who are just as devoted to Jesus, but simply unable to fit into these behavioral strictures. Such a marginalization of people whom you don’t like the look of is simply wrong. Too many Christian women who lack an overt girliness, and too many Christian men who can’t seem to meet the testosterone-flooded requirements of Today’s Christian He-Man are tossed aside here as ungodly, inferior, second-rate, not what you want your kids to look like. This is misguided at best.

But Mr. Wilson’s post is not misguided, I don’t think. It’s just mean. It was a quickly-seared morsel tossed to those who think like him, and I’m only sorry I had the misfortune to read it.

To grow in godly manhood, be like Jesus. To grow in godly womanhood, be like Jesus.

I would also suggest some good old-fashioned butt slapping, especially if you drop in a sweet three at the buzzer.

Saturday Night

She is crying still, her face swollen and blotchy. She hasn’t eaten yet. She stumbles from room to room. A sword will pierce your own soul used to mean something. Now it means something new. This new meaning is what was meant all along.

John looks in on her, but she shakes her head. She is not ready to talk. He nods and quietly shuts the door. Finds his brother. He and James look at each other. Each knows what the other is thinking: right hand and left hand. What were we thinking?

Lazarus and his sisters sit around their table without words, thoughts in turmoil. In another room, a servant drops some crockery. Martha turns her head to the sound. Mary sits as stone, unflinching. She thinks, He said He was the resurrection and the life. Now this. Lazarus stares straight ahead, his only thought: Why couldn’t I have stayed dead and He live?

The soldiers stand in ranks. Someone cracks a joke about guarding a dead man. “What’s he gonna do? Walk away?” Laughter.

Nicodemus comes by night, sees the soldiers, stands a little way off. Remembers His words, wondering what He meant by “born again.” Sighs. Perhaps it meant nothing at all.

Pharisees come to see the tomb. “Is it secure?” one asks. “Obviously,” says the other, nodding toward the soldiers. “Good,” says the first. “We don’t want any more nonsense from any Galileans.” The second man nods, “Don’t worry. A year from now this whole thing will have been forgotten.”

The hours pass and pass. Throughout the city, throughout the night, men and women sit stunned, forsaken. Some weep in humiliation, some in loss, some in anger. We believed in Him, He let us down.

Cleopas paces the room. Suddenly, he sits and grabs a pen to write his thoughts: If only I could hear Him speak one more time, as before when my heart burned within me just to hear His words.

Peter walks to a lonely place. He falls on his face. He cries: “God forgive me! O God, forgive me. Would I had fought for Him and died with Him!” There is no answer. The sky is silent, the heavens brass.

A redeemed thief rejoices in Paradise.

Satan stands over the Body and wonders: “Why is there no decomposition? Where is the corruption?”

The angels prostrate themselves in worship, tremble in anticipation around the Throne.

The Father smiles. It is time. He speaks: “Now.”

Waging War on the Salvation Incantation

Christians everywhere would rise up in anger were someone to teach the little children that the way to be saved was to sink into a trance and recite a spell.

“Come on now, children,” says the teacher, “Let’s say: hocus pocus, Jesus focus! Of sin I repent, my guilt is all spent, take me now to heaven, for now I’m forgiven!” The children chant along, and the teacher says, “Praise the Lord, you’re all saved!” The kids run around with their coloring papers and the teacher rushes to the parent and says, “Johnny got saved in Sunday School today!” Parent later asks Johnny about it, who has no idea what is going on. “Did you say the Salvation Incantation?” Johnny nods. Sure did.

Sadly, later, when Johnny is a teenager, involved in who-knows-what, he announces he isn’t even a Christian anymore, but Mother has “assurance,” because “once saved, always saved.” Johnny’s backslidden. Johnny’s carnal.

Johnny’s going to hell. He didn’t repent, seek forgiveness, come to Jesus. He said a Saving Spell.

We would never stand for that, you say. So you say.

Instead of that, we have the children bow their heads. We have the children close their eyes. No looking around! Now, remember, you have to “really mean it.” The children bow and fold. They don’t look around. “Now, repeat after me,” and once again the teacher has the children recite the words to the Salvation Incantation: “Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner. Forgive me of my sins and come into my heart. Save me, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.”

Same song, second verse. Even more pious. Much worse.

We can be sure that in a vast percentage of cases, the children reciting this spell are not saved. We know this because when they grow up and join our churches, they testify that they “said the Sinner’s Prayer” when they were young, but didn’t truly become children of God until they were older.

In fact, many of them had the experience that Johnny had. In their teenage years, when they were actually experiencing conviction of sin and need of a Savior, they were pooh-poohed by those well-meaning adults into believing they were simply “struggling with assurance,” and that they had been saved back in first grade when they Chanted the Charm, aka the Sinner’s Prayer.

I recently heard a preacher say that these “words have power.” No, actually they don’t. They have no more power to save you than would reading aloud the headlines of the newspaper.

Words don’t save anyone. Words said in response to a request by a preacher to “give your heart to Jesus” mean nothing. There is no power in words.

The mother who begs her little child to “ask Jesus into your heart” is fooling herself that her child’s soul is safe if in fact the child has no idea what the woman is speaking about. Even if the child can answer the doctrinal questions (“Honey, you know Jesus died for you, right?”), it is often the case that the child is simply answering with memorized answers. This may be true even if the child has memorized the entire shorter catechism.

If the child is not seeking his soul’s salvation from hell by trusting simply and trusting only the blood of Jesus Christ given for him on Calvary, the child is not saved. The child who is trusting in the fact that he has prayed the Salvation Incantation is not saved. The child who is trusting his mother’s reminder that he has prayed the Salvation Incantation is not saved.

How many messages have you heard that do not even touch on Christ, and yet at the end of the service, sinners are prompted to “come forward” to “trust in Christ”? Too many to count, if you’ve sat in the pews I’ve sat in.

Degrees in systematic theology are not required, but some understanding of essential Gospel facts is required for a person to be saved. An understanding that one has offended God and that God has made a way through Jesus Christ is not enough. The God-ness of Jesus Christ must be confronted, understood, believed, and embraced.

The understanding that one is a sinner—“You’ve stolen a cookie, haven’t you?” is the perennial favorite of well-meaning Sunday School teachers—is not sufficient repentance. Modern-day “repentance” is no repentance. It’s a “turning from” sin. (Nor is there any hell, but a “separation from God.”) It’s a recognition that one has at one time or another veered from The Path of Righteousness.

This is all nonsense.

The sinfullness of which we must repent is not a stolen cookies, or even a stolen lover. It is the systematic badness of our hearts. The full-orbed evil that pervades our selves. The fact that you stole a cookie has nothing to do with it. The fact that you beat your wife has nothing to do with it. Friend, you are not a sinner because you hate your brother. You hate your brother because you are a sinner. Your sinner-ness is who you are.

Repentance is that horror at the realization, at the undeniability, that your entire being is fully sinful. That every motivation of your heart is selfish, every act—even those that are good—is motivated by unrighteousness. You could no more turn away from sin than a drunk can turn away from the proffered glass. Repentance is that fear and dread that comes upon you when you realize you can’t wash off the sin. There is nothing you can do with the guilt.

People whom God is pursuing don’t have to be convinced of their guilt. They know they are guilty before God because when they lie awake at night and ponder eternity, they tremble in fear of death and of what follows. They know. They need a Savior.

His name is Jesus.

There is no incantation here. There is a running to God for forgiveness. There is a clinging to Jesus.

That’s still not enough information. The sinner coming to Jesus Christ must know that Jesus Christ lived sinlessly, and took our guilt upon Himself. The Bible teaches us that the consequence of sin is death. That is, because we are sinners, we owe our lives. We will give them up in death. We sin—we die, end of story.

God has made a way of Salvation from the eternal death of Hell. Jesus Christ gave His Own Life in place of ours. Then, in a Greatest Moment of All Time, Jesus Christ was resurrected—in one moment of stunning God-Power, death was defeated. A way was made to reconcile man to God. Jesus is that way. He said, “I am the way, the truth, the life. No man comes to the Father, except through Me.”

We need to hang onto that substitution with everything we have. We need to reject our sinful lives, throw ourselves on Jesus, beg Him for forgiveness, for grace, for eternal life, and then—according to the promise of God—God Himself will give us the “earnest,” that is, the downpayment, the engagement ring of that Eternal Life. He gives us the Holy Spirit. (The Holy Spirit is another post I am going to write in a day or two, be patient, please.) It is the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives that convinces us that we have indeed been saved.

And by the way, this probably isn’t done too often with your heads bowed and your eyes closed and no one looking around. Why is no one to look around? Are people really that embarrassed of choosing Jesus? Is it really that shameful? Lots of effort goes into not embarrassing people who have “just gotten saved.” Why?

One reason may be that no one else is talking. What if the Pastor asked for anyone who had made any decision whatever to stand and testify. What would happen if someone stood up and said, “God convicted me of disrespecting my wife and right here I want to beg her forgiveness and promise all of you that it will never happen again. Sally, will you forgive me?” What if someone said, “God has shown me I should look into missions. Pray for me.” What if someone said, “I have sinned by putting into my retirement account what should have gone for my daughter’s braces, and I want to tell her we are going to the orthodontist tomorrow, and I’ll trust God for my later years.” Perhaps in an atmosphere of open spiritual growth, one would dare to say, “I need to be saved. Help me come to Jesus.”

I think we should be more like Adoniram Judson. For six or seven years, he sat in the preaching house in Burma every day. Some days no one would come, but some days someone would come. Judson didn’t pressure people to chant little mantras and prayers. He engaged them in heart-to-heart discussions of the Scripture. He heard their questions. He spoke clearly to their need. He was dogmatic about Jesus, no holds barred. No making it easy. It’s all or nothing. You have to give up your entire life and live entirely for Jesus. Jesus has a right to you. You owe Him everything.

When one wanted to become a Christian, Judson would ask whether the seeker would now be baptized. If the person was afraid to be baptized—because he might lose his job or be killed—Judson would say, “You are not ready for Jesus if you are not willing to die for Him.” This is in sharp contrast to our idea that Sinner’s Prayers are repeated silently in one’s mind while everyone around is ignorant of it, that people “come to Christ” without telling anyone, and that someone “slips out to the back” and prays with a man he’s never met before, who simply prays with him and doesn’t seek first to instruct him in the full-blown Gospel of Jesus Christ.

All of this of course begs all those questions about how much faith is necessary, how much grief must be expressed upon turning from sin, how much theology must be grasped, and so on, for a Sinner to come from darkness to light. And those are intense, necessary discussion. So much hangs on them. Life and death hang on them.

But I believe we can at least agree on this: a person who simply agrees that he is a sinner and chants a little prayer (even if he “really means it”) is no more saved that the chair he is sitting on when he prays it. Prayers don’t save. Words have no power. Jesus saves. Jesus alone. Come to Him—but you must know who He is, what He has done, why it matters, who you are, what you’ve done, why that matters, what eternity is, and that without the sacrifice, death, and blood of Christ being precious to you in your abject guilt and lostness, you are yet lost. You are not His.

Parents, you must have faith that your faithful teaching will bear fruit. Rushing into the Sinner’s Prayer “just in case he dies” when he doesn’t understand the Gospel will only muddy the waters. You give yourself a softer pillow to sleep on, but your child is no nearer to being reconciled to God than he was before. Faithfully, consistently, give your child the Gospel. Lead him surely, carefully, and really to Jesus for the saving of his soul. “Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

The Wise Men Didn’t Follow A Star

“We have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him.”

Here’s a picture you’ve seen: three tall old men on camels. There’s a star in the sky bigger than all the other stars (with long extended points! In the shape of a cross, even!), and the men are looking up at it, following it. Once you’ve got this picture in your head, you stop wondering what happened.
The trouble is, you can’t follow a star. It’s not believable to say you can, and it’s not Bible.

Here’s another thing that’s not Bible: the Wise Men were idolatrous pagan priests.

Think back on your Old Testament history. Adam, Abraham, Moses, David and all the kings and then what happens? The Exile to Babylon happens. Who is the great Wise Man of the Exile? Daniel the Jew. Who returns to Judea to end the Exile? A Remnant. Just a few thousand.

Thousands more stay in the East. Many of these people are godly, believing Jews who are waiting for Messiah. They build synagogues. They study the Scriptures. Some of them work in government service. They are Daniel’s spiritual children–the Wise Men of Babylon. These godly Jews loved the Scriptures and were in possession of most if not all of the Old Testament. There was sufficient commerce and regular travel that the Babylonian Jews would have obtained the post-Exilic writings as well, but whether they did or not, it is certain they had Micah, a pre-Exilic prophet.

It is, however, not necessarily reasonable to assume that the Wise Men came from Babylon, as is often presumed. You see, Babylon is too close to Israel. If the Wise Men left their hometown in the hours or days after the appearance of the star, it would not have taken them anywhere near two years to complete the journey to Jerusalem. A quick internet search tells us that it’s about 1000 miles from Babylon to Jerusalem on the usual trade routes. One thousand miles is about the distance from Washington, D.C., to Miami, Florida. This is a long trip in anyone’s book, especially if you’re going on foot, donkey, or camel, but it would not take two years, especially for men who are determined to get where they are going.

A better explanation may be found in Esther 8:9, the longest verse in the Bible (actually a meaningless distinction, since the verse breaks were added in the 1100s AD). In this verse, an edict is issued by Mordecai to all the king’s provinces: “. . . which are from India unto Ethiopia . . . unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing and according to their language.”

Since this edict is relating to the treatment of the Jews and is sent to all 127 provinces (from India to Ethiopia), it is safe to assume that there are Jews in all those provinces.

The Wise Men, then, may have come from India. In fact, since there are several hundred years between Esther’s time and the birth of Christ, migrations even farther east may have occurred, and the Wise Men could have come from an even more distant place. However, India works well for the two-year time-frame of the Wise Men’s journey.

It is approximately 3000 miles from India to Jerusalem. At ten miles per day, this journey would take 300 days. But of course there is one day of rest every week and some days and weeks are designated as feast days when you would not travel. There are some days you can’t go anywhere because of the weather, because of illness or injury, or simply because you need a rest. Too, they are passing through the area we know as Pakistan and Afghanistan which we know to include challenging terrain, rainy seasons, floods.

As mentioned above, the Wise Men had the prophecy of Micah. They knew Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. And they knew the way. They didn’t need a star to guide them, nor does the Bible tell us that they had any such star to guide them at this time. We know only that they “had seen” the star, not that it guided them anywhere. They knew the place and they knew the way.

What they didn’t know was when Messiah would be born. So God sent them a messenger—a star, that is an ANGEL, to tell them that the time had come.
It is not surprising that an angel should be referred to as a star. Jesus himself is referred to as the bright and morning star, and also as the star out of Jacob. Judges 5:20 tells us that “the stars in their courses fought against Sisera,” which cannot mean literal stars. Job tells us that the “morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy,” a parallelism that does not refer to literal stars and probably refers specifically to angels . There are many other places in Scripture where the word star does not indicate a literal ball of fire in the sky.

In fact, a look at Strong’s concordance will reveal that in only one instance in the New Testament does the word “star” indicate a literal ball of fire in the sky. All the others—if you include the Matthew 1 references as I am doing here—are figurative.

A further argument for the word “star” to here mean angel is that the other announcements of the Savior’s birth are angelic. Mary hears the news of the conception from an angel. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream. The shepherds are visited by angels.

So then, why is the word star used here? Very simply, it is the word the Wise Men used when they told the story to Mary and Joseph. They used the term star to indicate angel. Maybe there was a translation problem. Maybe the words were synonymous, sounded the same, or perhaps it was a simple figure of speech. They would naturally have told Mary and Joseph their whole story during their visit, and no doubt Mary (who was pondering all these things in her heart) was very careful to repeat the Wise Men’s exact words to Matthew years later. She simply repeated what they had told her.

“Where is he that is born king of the Jews? We have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship him.”

The Wise Men come to Herod’s palace, not because they don’t know Messiah was born in Bethlehem, but because they assume he will be at the palace by this time, being nurtured, much as Moses was nurtured by the Pharaoh’s daughter. Notice that they don’t ask “where was he born?” but “Where is he?” You can imagine them waiting on pins and needles to be ushered into the Royal Nursery so they can present their gifts to him.

To their surprise and dismay, Herod doesn’t know what they are talking about. None of the Roman government people do. (Read “all Jerusalem with him” much as we would read “Washington was at a loss,” that is, the government corporately.) The government people don’t know, so Herod next calls on the Jewish religious leaders. He asks, “Where is he?” but they don’t know.

(It seems odd at first glance that these men did not know that Jesus had been born. After all, a fairly big to-do had occurred a couple of years before. Shouting shepherds, old people testifying loudly at the temple. Then again, these are mundane, simple things, of which the leadership might not have been made aware.)

Herod now advises the Wise Men that the child was supposed to be born in Bethlehem. I can hear them groan, “We knew that!”

Disappointed that the king is not there for them to worship, they don’t know what to do next other than to head down to Bethlehem and start asking around. But, as soon as they get outside, Lo! The angel again! After two years of foot-weary travel over thousands of miles only to find that no one knows what they are talking about, suddenly, the very same angel appears. This time there’s no guess work. This time he leads them directly to the house where Jesus is living.

They don’t just rejoice. They don’t just rejoice with great joy. They rejoice with exceeding great joy. These men are out of their minds with relief, wonder, thankfulness, and unbounded joy. They came in faith over tremendous obstacles, and now they are going to receive the reward of faith: sight. In just a few minutes, they are going to see their Messiah, the one they have longed to see all their lives.

This joy—this exceeding great joy—is the real clincher on the premise that the Wise Men did not follow a star. If they had followed it to Herod’s palace, they would not have been surprised to see it when they came out. But they did not follow it. They never said they did. They said, “We have seen,” not “We have followed.”

The Wise Men probably wondered why God hadn’t sent the angel the day before, but we know why he didn’t. For the prophecy of Rachel’s weeping for her children to be true, Herod had to pursue the terrible course he did in fact pursue in just a few days’ time when he unleashed his lust-for-continued power on the babies of Bethlehem. By then Jesus was well on his way to Egypt, of course, and the Wise Men were well on their way home.

In order to return a different way than the way they had come, it is possible they traveled south. This would be the quickest way to get out of Herod’s jurisdiction so that he would not hunt them down as well. If they did in fact travel south, and if they traveled by boat through the Red Sea to the Arabian Sea and from there on back home to India, they would naturally stop in Ethiopia. In this way, on this trip, the Wise Men would have had opportunity to tell about the Savior’s birth to the Jews from India to Ethiopia.

The last time anyone spoke to all the Jews from India to Ethiopia it was to warn them to gird themselves for battle, to defend themselves from those who would seek to kill them. This time, there is a message of hope, of salvation through Messiah, brought by a few faithful—and certainly very weary—Wise Men.