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“My Christmas Miracle,” by Taylor Caldwell

Christmas is a time of joy and celebration. But it can also be a time of sorrow, darkness, and unbearable loneliness. My favorite Christmas story was written by Taylor Caldwell. It captures, I think, the true message of Christmas. I hope it becomes your favorite too:

taylor-caldwell

MY CHRISTMAS MIRACLE

For many of us, one Christmas stands out from all the others, the one when the meaning of the day shone clearest.

Although I did not guess it, my own truest Christmas began on a rainy spring day in the bleakest year of my life. Recently divorced, I was in my 20’s, had no job, and was on my way downtown to go the rounds of the employment offices. I had no umbrella, for my old one had fallen apart, and I could not afford another one. I sat down in the streetcar, and there against the seat was a beautiful silk umbrella with a silver handle inlaid with gold and flecks of bright enamel. I had never seen anything so lovely.

I examined the handle and saw a name engraved among the golden scrolls. The usual procedure would have been to turn in the umbrella to the conductor, but on impulse I decided to take it with me and find the owner myself. I got off the streetcar in a downpour and thankfully opened the umbrella to protect myself. Then I searched a telephone book for the name on the umbrella and found it. I called, and a lady answered.

Yes, she said in surprise, that was her umbrella which her parents, now dead, had given her for a birthday present. But, she added, it had been stolen from her locker at school (she was a teacher) more than a year before. She was so excited that I forgot I was looking for a job and went directly to her small house. She took the umbrella, and her eyes filled with tears.

The teacher wanted to give me a reward, but — though $20 was all I had in the world – – her happiness at retrieving this special possession was such that to have accepted money would have spoiled something. We talked for a while, and I must have given her my address. I don’t remember.

The next six months were wretched. I was able to obtain only temporary employment here and there, for a small salary, though this was what they now call the Roaring Twenties. But I put aside 25 or 50 cents when I could afford it for my little girls Christmas presents. (It took me six months to save $8.) My last job ended the day before Christmas, my $30 rent was soon due, and I had $15 to my name — which Peggy and I would need for food. She was home from her convent boarding school and was excitedly looking forward to her gifts the next day, which I had already purchased. I had bought her a small tree, and we were going to decorate it that night.

The stormy air was full of the sound of Christmas merriment as I walked from the streetcar to my small apartment. Bells rang and children shouted in the bitter dusk of the evening, and windows were lighted and everyone was running and laughing. But there would be no Christmas for me, I knew, no gifts, no remembrance whatsoever. As I struggled through the snowdrifts, I just about reached the lowest point in my life. Unless a miracle happened I would be homeless in January, foodless, jobless. I had prayed steadily for weeks, and there had been no answer but this coldness and darkness, this harsh air, this abandonment. God and men had completely forgotten me. I felt old as death, and as lonely. What was to become of us?

I looked in my mailbox. There were only bills in it, a sheaf of them, and two white envelopes which I was sure contained more bills. I went up three dusty flights of stairs, and I cried, shivering in my thin coat. But I made myself smile so I could greet my little daughter with a pretense of happiness. She opened the door for me and threw herself in my arms, screaming joyously and demanding that we decorate the tree immediately.

Peggy was not yet six years old, and had been alone all day while I worked. She had set our kitchen table for our evening meal, proudly, and put pans out and the three cans of food which would be our dinner. For some reason, when I looked at those pans and cans, I felt broken-hearted. We would have only hamburgers for our Christmas dinner tomorrow, and gelatin. I stood in the cold little kitchen, and misery overwhelmed me. For the first time in my life, I doubted the existence of God and His mercy, and the coldness in my heart was colder than ice.

The doorbell rang, and Peggy ran fleetly to answer it, calling that it must be Santa Claus. Then I heard a man talking heartily to her and went to the door. He was a delivery man, and his arms were full of big parcels, and he was laughing at my child’s frenzied joy and her dancing. This is a mistake, I said, but he read the name on the parcels, and they were for me. When he had gone I could only stare at the boxes. Peggy and I sat on the floor and opened them. A huge doll, three times the size of the one I had bought for her. Gloves. Candy. A beautiful leather purse. Incredible! I looked for the name of the sender. It was the teacher, the address simply California, where she had moved.

Our dinner that night was the most delicious I had ever eaten. I could only pray to myself, Thank You, Father. I forgot I had no money for the rent and only $15 in my purse and no job. My child and I ate and laughed together in happiness. Then we decorated the little tree and marveled at it. I put Peggy to bed and set up her gifts around the tree, and a sweet peace flooded me like a benediction. I had some hope again. I could even examine the sheaf of bills without cringing. Then I opened the two white envelopes. One contained a check for $30 from a company I had worked for briefly in the summer. It was, said a note, my Christmas bonus. My rent!

The other envelope was an offer of a permanent position with the government — to begin in two days after Christmas. I sat with the letter in my hand and the check on the table before me, and I think that was the most joyful moment of my life up to that time.

The church bells began to ring. I hurriedly looked at my child, who was sleeping blissfully, and ran down to the street. Everywhere people were walking to church to celebrate the birth of the Saviour. People smiled at me and I smiled back. The storm had stopped, the sky was pure and glittering with stars.

The Lord is born! Sang the bells to the crystal night and the laughing darkness. Someone began to sing, Come, all ye faithful!

I joined in and sang with the strangers all about me.

I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all.

And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.

Janet Miriam Holland Taylor Caldwell (September 7, 1900 – August 30, 1985) was a prolific and best-selling American author.

The Truth about Santa

Kitra-and-santa I was baking cookies one winter afternoon when Valerie, my not-quite-9-year-old, came to me with a serious look on her face. “Mommy,” she began, “none of my friends believe in Santa Claus.” Then, with the fervent testimony of faith, she continued, “But WE believe in Santa, don’t we!”

Her earnest declaration stopped me cold. Santa had been a very special visitor to our house since Valerie was a baby. I regaled my children all season long with stories “only I knew” about the right jolly old elf. I had visited Santa at his workshop at the North Pole when I was only seven years old. My mother had his personal phone number and forwarded all her grandchildren’s special requests directly to him. He invited his reindeer into our house while he delivered our presents, where they chomped on the carrots we offered them, leaving unusual teeth marks on the carrot stubs and hoof prints on the floor. He wrote elaborate notes in his curious penmanship and used his own wrapping paper that was different from the paper we used for our family gifting. I would point out this eye-popping evidence to them on Christmas morning and bask in their joy. Yes, I had done a remarkable job of helping my children believe in Santa Claus. I had been quite the convincing prevaricator. Which is just a fancy word for liar.

Around this same time, Valerie had begun to notice that many of her friends’ families did not believe in God. They did not attend any church, and they did not pray at meal time or bedtime when she visited their homes. I had spent many private moments with her that year, expressing my belief in our Heavenly Father and pointing out the many evidences of His love and creativity. Despite what others did or did not believe, WE believed in God. Her declaration now was unbearably close to those special shared moments of faith.

So I did the unthinkable. Point blank, on a cold, sunny December while baking cookies for Santa, I told my sweet earnest daughter the truth about Santa. The truth about my lies.

She was, of course, devastated.

From that day forward, Santa’s position in our home changed. No longer would I point out the evidence of Santa’s personal visits to our home, or the charming story about their Aunt Kathe and myself being lost in the woods and then rescued by Santa himself, who flew us to his workshop at the North Pole before returning us safely home. There would still be Christmas stories and visits to mall Santas with pictures taken on his lap. We would still leave cookies out on Christmas Eve, and hang our stockings on the mantel with care. But I made sure I always did this with a wink, and never with a declaration of truth. I would not be caught lying about something so significant as faith again.

Until another sunny December afternoon a dozen years later, when my youngest daughter, Hayley, then seven, was drawing pictures while I wrapped gifts in the family room. Hayley’s belief in Santa was strong, despite my winks to the contrary. It had developed naturally as she observed the season and felt the Christmas spirit. She had recognized the REAL Santa at a mall off the beaten track when she was just three years old, and insisted that I take her back to that nearly desolate mall each year. She had four consecutive photos with that same kindly old gentleman and his natural, curly beard to prove that he was real. Though I did nothing directly to encourage her belief, there was no question in her mind that Santa existed.

That particular afternoon I was wrapping gifts for a family in our congregation whose financial circumstances were meager. Our bishop had asked me to provide Christmas gifts for them, and I gladly accepted. In fact, I had spent several days in prayer and contemplation, asking for divine help to decide precisely which gifts I should select for this family of five. I had been guided to purchase some highly unusual items, including a lovely painting for their living room—totally impractical, and yet I knew that it was precisely what the mother of this family needed.

As I imagined the happiness of this sweet family when they opened their gifts, Hayley asked me a question from her drawing table. “How do you spell Kris Kringle?” She was drawing a picture of Santa, and wanted to title it. When I spelled K-R-I-S for her, she sighed in frustration. “Now I’ll have to start all over,” she said. I looked at her picture. Beneath the bearded gentleman were the letters “C-H-R-I-S.”

And there it was. On my seven-year-old daughter’s picture: The truth about Santa.

“No, no!” I told her. “Don’t start over! You spelled it exactly right. Santa’s name does start with CHRIS. Just add a T!”

How could I have missed it all those years? Of course we believed in Santa. We celebrated His birth every year.

The truth is, I am one of His elves. Every year He sends lists to His regional elf managers, including our own bishop and other ministers and leaders of charitable organizations. Every year these regional managers give assignments to the worldwide elf army. Every year, as a member of that elf army, I thoughtfully contemplate the prayers and wishes of good little (and not-so-little) boys and girls, often choosing gifts more carefully for those special children than I do for my own kids. And every year I come home from my secret deliveries filled with the spirit of Christmas and love.

The truth is, Jesus Christ has many names. We call Him Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. We call Him Emanuel (God with Us) because, like good parents, He is always there. We call Him the Good Shepherd because, like parents, He watches over His flock. We call Him the Lamb of God because, like parents, He willingly sacrificed for His children. And we call Him Santa (literally, “Saint,”) because, like parents, He loves to play games on His birthday.

I wish I had known this truth earlier. I would give anything to go back to that cold sunny December when Valerie was almost nine and add my own testimony to her fervent declaration, “WE believe in Santa, don’t we!”

“Of course we do,” I should have said. “And here is my secret: I’m one of his elves!”

Like Santa, God seems to enjoy a good surprise. Yes, He has to worry us sometimes, making us think we aren’t going to receive the relief or the opportunities we need, just as we often lead our children to believe they aren’t going to receive that special toy they want so desperately for Christmas. In fact, the better the gift, the more likely we are to make our children think it is impossible to have. Like Santa, God sometimes waits for just the right moment to bless us with a particular need or desire, even though it may mean allowing us to endure illness or worry or tribulation for a while—not just at Christmastime, but also in the dark hours throughout the year. I imagine He smiles gently to Himself with His knowledge of the greater gifts He has in store for us when the trial is over. And just as our children’s joy on Christmas morning is somehow greater for having worried that the gift would not arrive, our own joy when our trials end and the blessings are unveiled is all the sweeter for having passed through the trial itself.

As Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled…. In my father’s house are many mansions…. I go to prepare a place for you…If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it…. I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you…. Because I live, ye shall live also.”

“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosover believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” What greater gift is there than this?

Jo Ann Skousen is the author of Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ, which offers a bold new look at the Biblical women who are Jesus’ direct ancestors. Available at Amazon, or an autographed copy, go to http://www.matriarchsofthemessiah.com/buy-the-book/

Discussion Questions for Book Clubs

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Matriarchs of the Messiah has become a popular choice for Book Clubs. Here are some questions you might like to use to get the discussion started:

  1. According to the book, God’s definition of woman in Hebrew is ezer kenegdo, which means “noble and benevolent helper” and “equal yet opposite” to the man. How does this definition affect your understanding of the role and value of women? In what way is each woman in this book an ezer? Who are the ezers in your life?
  1. Each of these women is remembered for moments when she faced a difficult dilemma and used unusual and creative means to solve the problem. What difficult decisions have you faced in your lifetime? How did you resolve them?
  1. Although Eve is traditionally portrayed as a weak woman who brought sin into the world, this book presents her as a heroic figure in the Garden of Eden. What is your opinion of Eve?
  1. Sarah experienced many hardships during her lifetime. She left a luxurious home in Ur to live as a nomad, suffered the sorrow of barrenness until her old age, managed their flocks and manufacturing while the men were away at war, and struggled with envy when her husband’s second wife became pregnant. What have you learned from Sarah’s story about faith, obedience and enduring trials?
  1. Hagar is often overlooked as a mere bondwoman in the story of Abraham and Sarah, yet she and her descendants play an important role in the narrative story found in Genesis. God included her son Ishmael in the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. What do you find most significant about Hagar?
  1. What do we learn about prayer, revelation, and priesthood blessings from the story of Rebekah and Isaac?
  1. Leah ‘s wedding night switch with her younger sister Rachel led to great heartache. Her husband resented her, her sister taunted her, and her children went astray. Nevertheless, she found peace and comfort by nurturing her relationship with the Lord, and that helped her heal the rift within her family. How can the story of Leah help us strengthen our modern-day relationships?
  1. How do Old Testament attitudes toward surrogacy and adoption compare with modern surrogacy, adoption and motherhood?
  1. Tamar is perhaps the most overlooked and misunderstood woman in the Bible. Reviled for the way she made Judah keep his promise to her, she is nevertheless a true ezer who rescued Judah from apostasy and set him back on the right path. What do you think of Skousen’s interpretation of this story?
  1. The Israelites were told to make no pacts with the local residents as they entered the promised land and not to leave anyone alive in their battles. Yet they rescued the harlot Rahab in Jericho and allowed her to marry into the Israelite tribe. What do we learn about faith and obedience from her story?
  1. Ruth is remembered for her loyalty and love for her mother-in-law, Naomi. What can you do to improve your relationships with extended family?
  1. Many of the women in Jesus’ direct ancestry were outsiders rather than Israelites. Does this surprise you? What does it suggest about the inclusiveness of the Savior?
  1. The story of Bathsheba is one of indiscretion, repentance, transformation and queenly exaltation. How can we avoid temptation, and what can we do to restore virtue that has been lost? Is it right to blame the woman when a man is tempted? What was the prophet Nathan’s attitude toward Bathsheba?
  1. Mary knew how to nurture her son when He was a baby, guide Him when He was a teenager, and let go when it was time for Him to perform His ministry. She was with Him at the Cross. Parents have the responsibility to guide their children in the correct paths but also to step back when their children reach adulthood. How can we better prepare children for the responsibilities and mission set before them? What is the role of parents of adult children?
  1. The book makes two surprising suggestions about Mary Magdalene: First, that she is the same Mary who is the sister of Martha, and second, that she represents all of us as the bride, or church, of Christ. Discuss your impressions of this interpretation.
  1. The book asserts that the story of the Bible “begins with a woman in a Garden who falls and ends with a woman in a Garden who is redeemed.” What do you think of this statement?
  1. How has this book changed your understanding of the women in the Bible and your appreciation for the role of women everywhere?

Read more about the women who are direct ancestors of Jesus Christ in Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ, by Jo Ann Skousen. Available at amazon.com and selected bookstores. Autographed copies can be purchased through this website. Click on Contact Me to ask for details.

The Redeeming Power of Kindness

“Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16).

These poignant words spoken by a daughter-in-law to her grieving mother-in-law have secured for Ruth a place in the scriptures as the model of love and loyalty. But there is much more to this wonderful story. In fact, the story of Ruth is the story of redemption—the redemption of an entire people.

When Ruth chose to accompany Naomi back to Bethlehem after the death of her husband (Naomi’s son), she did so knowing that she would likely experience a lifetime of contempt and humiliation from the residents of her new home. That contempt was based on events that happened long before Ruth was born, stretching back to the very foundation of the Moabite people. Ruth’s ancestor Lot had chosen to “pitch his tent toward Sodom,” even though “the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners exceedingly” (Genesis 13:12-13). When messengers from God warned him that Sodom was about to be destroyed, Lot escaped with his wife and daughters and raced for the hills. But his wife turned back for one last lingering look at the city she had called home and “became a pillar of salt” as she faced the destruction (Genesis 19:26). According to legend, Lot then found refuge in a cave where his daughters, thinking they were the only three people left on earth after the catastrophic destruction they had just witnessed, plied their father with wine and then seduced him in order to perpetuate the race. The child of one of his daughters was Moab, father of the Moabites (Genesis 19:30-38). Thus Ruth traced her lineage back to an incestuous relationship that was humiliating and shameful to their distant cousins in Bethlehem.

The story of Ruth’s Moabite ancestors continued with their treachery toward the Israelites as they entered Canaan after wandering in the wilderness for forty years. The Moabites refused to sell bread and water to them, which bolstered the anger and resentment between the two tribes and led to the Deuteronomic injunction against Israelites marrying Moabites (see Deuteronomy 23:4-5).

Nevertheless, Ruth chose to accompany Naomi back to Bethlehem, where the expected sting of resentment was soothed by the healing balm of kindness expressed by every character in this story.[i] Naomi prayed that the Lord would “deal kindly” with her daughters-in-law because they had “dealt kindly” with her sons. Ruth sought grace as she went into the fields to glean, and she found that grace in the kindly gentleman Boaz, who was impressed by how considerately she had treated Naomi. Boaz continued to extend kindness to Ruth throughout the harvest season, causing Naomi to exclaim, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and the dead.”

Ruth-and-boaz3

Boaz drew a connection between kindness and virtue when he said to Ruth, “Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.” In fact, he said, “all the city…know that thou art a virtuous woman,” because of Ruth’s reputation for kindness. Again and again the word is used, wiping away sorrow, wiping away hurt, wiping away sin.

Kindness shares the same root as the word kindred, for genuine acts of kindness lead naturally to a familial bond. Through sincere charity, which is the pure love of Jesus Christ, we join the family of Christ. When the Creator said “Let us make man in our own image,” he meant much more than physical appearance; He endowed humans with the power to become like Him in every way. To be like him is to be compassionate, generous, sacrificial, and wise. As Carolyn Custis James suggests, “The call to bear God’s image is an invitation to know God deeply.”[ii] This is the most important step in the process of redemption. All have sinned, but all are invited to turn away from sin, take God’s hand, and step onto the right path. His promise never falters: “His hand is stretched out still” (Isaiah 9:12). Through kindly acts we grow to love those whom we serve with a cheerful heart. Rebekah learned it. So did Leah. So did the Moabites and the Bethlehemites. So does everyone who bears the image of God.

When the kindly gentleman of Bethlehem redeemed the kind-hearted widow of Moab, an entire nation was redeemed. The Moabites had once refused bread and water to the Israelites, but three generations later they would succor the parents of King David of Israel and provide a safe haven for them (1 Samuel 22:3). Generations after that, Jesus Christ would offer Himself as a goel— a Hebrew word for “kinsman and redeemer”[iii]— who would give His own life as a ransom for all who have sinned. His body and his blood would become living bread and water that would not be withheld from the parched and thirsty lips; through them He would redeem all humankind from the Fall.

Truly “the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread” (Ruth 1:6). Through Ruth and Boaz, Moab would be reabsorbed into the larger family of the Israelites. Lot and his family would be redeemed and restored to their family line. Yes, Ruth was right when she said, “Thy God will be my God.” John MacArthur concludes, “Ruth is a fitting symbol of every believer, and even of the church itself—redeemed, brought into a position of great favor, endowed with riches and privilege, exalted to be the Redeemer’s own bride, and loved by Him with the profoundest affection….The extraordinary story of her redemption ought to make every true believer’s heart resonate with profound gladness and thanksgiving for the One who, likewise, has redeemed us from our sin.”[iv]

Read more about the women who are direct ancestors of Jesus Christ in Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ, but Jo Ann Skousen. Available at amazon.com and selected bookstores.

[i] Frankiel 1994.

[ii] James 2005, 34.

[iii] MacArthur 2005, 80.

[iv] (MacArthur 2005, 85)

God’s Standard of Liberty–Can We Keep It?

franklin_caneAs the Constitutional Convention drew to a close, newly minted Americans waited anxiously outside Independence Hall to see what kind of government would emerge. Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia approached Benjamin Franklin and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin responded forcefully, “A republic—if you can keep it.”

“If you can keep it.” There’s the rub. We’ve managed to maintain our republic for 240 years, but it seems to stand on the brink of a new kind of monarchy, tainted with overbearing mandates and harboring no compunctions against invasions of individual liberty. It has ever been thus. The lure of power, pomp and largess has always stood in the shadows of monarchy, ready to trade a false promise of security and ease for hard-won liberty.

The Bible provides one of the most concise and accurate warnings ever written about the corrupting power of monarchy. In just nine short verses, the first book of Samuel describes what will happen when a king comes to power. I’ve thought about those verses a good deal during this Fourth of July, and indeed throughout this election season.

Here’s the biblical narrative: After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, the Israelites finally crossed the River Jordan into the land that had been promised to their tribal founder, Abraham. In the wilderness they had been given Ten Commandments—coincidentally, the same number as the Constitution’s Bill of Right—and these rules, like the Bill of Rights and Magna Carta before it, protected life, liberty and property. Moses set up a system of judges to hear and adjudicate complaints, and Joshua continued the judicial system after Moses died. It worked well. But soon the Israelites started looking around them at the kingdoms that surrounded them. They were drawn to the regality of it, the pomp and pride.

The crisis began when Samuel was judge in Israel, but his sons were found unfit to succeed him. They had “turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.” But instead of simply replacing the corrupt judges with honest judges, as had happened a generation earlier when Judge Eli’s sons proved unfit, the people said to Samuel, “make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” They wanted to be like everyone else.

An advantage of the regime of the judges had been that it was non-centralized, and more concerned with fairness and simple means of self-protection than with power or glory. Judging was, in fact, hard work. Monarchy, as God explained through Samuel, is a much more costly affair:

First, he said the king “will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.” In other words, he will conscript an army.

Next, “he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties, and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of chariots.”We could call this bureaucracy, fascism or slavery, but forced labor by any other name is still as bleak.

Then “he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.” Ever an equal-opportunity enslaver, the king will conscript the daughters too—not unlike our own Senate, which recently voted to require women as well as men to register for the draft in the interest of “fairness to women.”

In addition, the king “will take the tenth of your seed” [an income tax] “and of your menservants, and your maidservants, and …your asses…and sheep [a wealth tax].”

And here’s the kicker about consequences: God concluded by saying, “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day” (1 Samuel 8: 10-18).

Notice the reason God gives for leaving the people to suffer when they inevitably cry out for help: “the king which ye shall have chosen.” God respects choice, and he insists on accountability. Why do bad things happen? Because so many people make bad choices.

It is interesting that this warning did no good. “Nay, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations [a kind of globalism],” the people said. The fact that ideas and choices have consequences can be unpleasant to consider. Much easier to follow one’s desires and find someone to help them–or to blame– later.

God was willing to help Samuel select a good man to become their king. Saul was a humble man who responded to the call by saying, “Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? And my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin?” (1 Samuel 9:21). On the day of his coronation Saul was found “hiding among the stuff,” so overwhelmed was he by the thought of becoming king.

Nevertheless, as Lord Acton observed, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Soon King Saul became reckless, paranoid and churlish. God then selected another young man to become Saul’s successor—David, the youngest son of the shepherd Jesse. After David volunteered to face the giant Philistine Goliath and successfully killed him, the Israelites shouted, “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands!” From that moment Saul viewed David as a threat and usurper, and vowed to kill him. One of the costs of centralized power is the grim desire to get and keep it.

David and Goliath's head

David was at first as pure and humble as Saul had been. He had been anointed to become Saul’s successor, but he was content to serve his king and wait patiently for the day it would happen. He tried mightily to convince Saul that he was not a threat. One day when he stumbled upon the murderous, scheming Saul sleeping in a cave, he cut off the skirt of Saul’s cloak to show that he had been close enough to Saul to have stabbed him in his sleep, but did not. He reasoned with Saul, saying,  “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee; but mine hand shall not be upon thee.” He vowed never to harm the king. Such was the honor and character of young David.

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When Saul died in battle, David did become king, and the corrupting power of monarchy began to change him, just as God had predicted. Soon the once-humble shepherd boy conscripted armies and demanded food and supplies. When a “churlish” local landowner, Nabal, refused to give David;s army food and wine, David flew into a rage and threatened to kill all of Nabal’s servants and their families. Only the quick thinking of Abigail, Nabal’s wife, prevented the slaughter as she reminded David of how such a vile act would affect his reputation as king. Abigail’s wise argument brought David to his senses, and he thanked her. “Blessed be thy advice, …which hast kept me from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand” (I Samuel 25).

David and Abigail

But David’s humility was short-lived. Soon he was standing on his palace balcony, filled with lust as he watched a woman, Bathsheba, bathing. With the power given to a king, he sent for her, slept with her, and when she became pregnant he arranged for her husband Uriah’s death by sending him to the battlefront and ordering his captain to leave him unprotected. This is what happens, often, when a man gets unchecked power; his sense of entitlement overpowers his sense of rightness. David would struggle for the rest of his life with the demands of war, and civil war with people who craved his power. He also struggled, often unsuccessfully, with his own impulses.  Power did not corrupt David absolutely, however, and he struggled throughout his adult life to escape its withering grasp.

david and bathsheba

As we celebrate the 240th year of our nation’s independence, we have reason to be proud. The founders began a process of separation from monarchy that would provide an example for other nations around the world. Our Constitution became a model for other nations that would throw off the power of monarchy and turn monarchs into figureheads. The founders were not able to make all wrongs right—there were other civil rights still to be won. But they blazed a trail to freedom that others would follow in their own time.

Yet we must ever be vigilante against the corruption of power. The description of monarchy provided in 1 Samuel 8: 10-18 is still timely today, and it can describe presidents and dictators as well as kings. Indeed, many of us would be delighted if taxes stood only at the biblical 10%!

And there is another feature of those verses in 1 Samuel that should be emphasized. They picture God granting the people a choice. He warns of the natural consequences of certain actions, but then allows us to choose which path we will take. When bad choices are made, the existence of choice provides a path back. Let us hope that we, too, can find a path back to the liberties vouchsafed by our founding documents, as well as the respect for the rights of others encompassed within the Ten Commandments.

To learn more about David, Abigail and Bathsheba, read Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ, by Jo Ann Skousen, Chapman University.

Valiant Women for Today

Nana-and-the-cutes“Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16)

The Bible is a story of families torn apart by jealousy, bitterness and sorrow, and brought together again through the healing power of forgiveness and devotion. It is a story of sibling rivalry, but also a story of siblings who made amends. We see examples throughout the Bible: As a boy, Ishmael teased and disrespected little Isaac, but as a man he remained close to Father Abraham, gave his daughter to his nephew Esau in marriage, and stood beside Isaac at the burial of their father. When Jacob used a cunning plot to secure the birthright blessing from Isaac, Esau vowed to kill him. Yet twenty years later, Esau embraced Jacob with a brother’s welcome. Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, was so hated and resented by his older brothers that they sold him into slavery. Nevertheless, more than twenty years later, Joseph rescued those same treacherous brothers from famine and restored the love that should always exist among siblings.

Women stand firmly at the center of these stories, using their feminine strengths to encourage, support, plot and guide.

There is no single blueprint for womanhood or for motherhood. Each woman is an individual, motivated by her own hopes and talents, weaknesses and responsibilities. And each is an ezer, endowed by her Creator in the Garden of Eden with the innate power to become a rescuer and savior within her community. M. Russell Ballard wisely observed, “There is nothing in this world as personal, as nurturing, or as life changing as the influence of a righteous woman.”[1] This is true of women not only in their relationships as wives to their husbands and mothers to their children, but also as teachers to their students, neighbors to their friends, and leaders to their constituents.

Jesus is the Messiah and the King, yet He chose the tender mother-child relationship to demonstrate His devotion to His disciples. In Isaiah we read, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16). First Isaiah acknowledges the absurdity that a nursing mother could forget her baby, and then he reminds us that Christ bears the imprints of His love within the nail prints of His sacrifice. He cannot forget us. We are part of Him.

A mother knows how completely in tune one person can be with another. I have a distinct memory of putting my firstborn baby into her crib one night and thinking, “She will be hungry in about three hours.” Such a small thing, yet it struck me in that moment that I was no longer a separate individual; I would always be connected to this child and acutely aware of her needs. As more children came into our home, my capacity to be constantly aware of them expanded. It was an invisible line connecting our spirits. I felt it with each birth. Perhaps it stems from the need to communicate soul to soul rather than with words in the first months and years of a child’s life. Fathers and mothers alike are willing to lay down their lives for their children, but “a mother, whose antennae are acutely attuned to her child, picks up signals that pass undetected by others.”[2] A mother is privileged to have that constant awareness, if she nurtures it. The connection is both spiritual and physical. We ache when we are away from our babies. The longer they are away from us, the more we ache. They are engraved in our stretch marks and in our hearts, just as we are engraved in the palms of Christ’s hands. Even when we stray, as we often do, “His anger is not turned away, but his hand is outstretched still” (Isaiah 9:8-12). A mother knows that feeling.

Jesus’s grandmothers knew that feeling too—as mothers, and as daughters. Like most of us, they experienced hardship, sacrifice, sorrow, and even sin, but by reaching for His outstretched hand, they also found great joy and spiritual peace. Their experiences and backgrounds were diverse, yet they have much in common with today’s women—and men, too—as we face obstacles, seek guidance, and make choices. From Sarah, for example, we learn that making the correct choice does not necessarily lead to an easier life. Giving Hagar to her husband as his second wife presented a heavy emotional burden that was almost too much for her to bear, even though it was the right thing to do. Her example of faith and obedience is exemplary. Sarah’s story shows us that it is normal and understandable to grieve for the path not taken, even when the Spirit has confirmed the correct path to take.

Similarly, Leah suffered the heartbreak of strained family relationships. The early years of her marriage were difficult, and the rivalry with her sister Rachel was bitter. Many of her children went astray. But as she nurtured her relationship with the Lord, the rift with her sister was mended, her children returned to the fold, and her marriage was strengthened. In the end, Jacob asked to be buried by Leah’s side. Her story gives hope to women today who are struggling with family problems.

Rebekah is often criticized for “tricking” her husband into giving the birthright blessing to her favorite son, Jacob, yet the messages of three separate but nearly identical revelations—one given to Rebekah, one to Isaac, and one to Jacob—confirmed that the blessing Isaac gave to Jacob was the correct one. Rebekah’s “trick” was an act of kindness as she gently guided her husband to make the right decision without telling him what to do. She respected and supported him in his role as the prophet, but she participated in their marriage as his partner.

Men and women today also face the dilemma of broken promises and lack of trust, especially in romantic relationships. Tamar demonstrated courage and persistence in the face of a broken promise, while rescuing the man who would become the founder of the tribe of Judah from his own lost way. Similarly, Rahab was a single woman walking a worldly path in a worldly city, but by trusting the Israelite men, she married into the tribe and became a noble and virtuous wife and mother. Bathsheba also shows that there is a way back for men and women who experience sexual sin. We don’t know whether she was seduced by David or was his willing partner. But we do know how she responded after the transgression: she mourned, she married the father of her child, and she built a strong relationship with him—so strong that she became his counselor and advisor as his queen. Through repentance she became a righteous mother whose son was known for his great wisdom.

Eve’s story, too, is relevant to modern women. She lived a peaceful, carefree life with her husband in the Garden of Eden. Adding children would change her lifestyle completely. Leaving the Garden would bring pain, toil and heartache. But it would also bring unspeakable joy. More than any other generation, modern women can relate to Eve’s quandary. Pharmaceutical birth control methods are so effective that women must actively choose when to give up the relative ease of couplehood to pursue pregnancy and children. Eve’s story acknowledges the risks and sacrifices inherent in choosing to become mothers, even as she led the way into mortality and parenthood.

In short,  Readers will find profound guidance by following the example of these valiant women in the lineage of Jesus Christ. Endowed by their Creator with feminine strengths, they had the audacity to change the world.

Excerpted from Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ by Jo Ann Skousen. Available at Costco, Amazon, and selected bookstores.

[1] Ballard, M. Russell. “Mothers and Daughters.” Ensign. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 2010. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/04/mothers-and-daughters?lang=eng.

[2] James 2005, 174.

5-Star Reviews!

Top Customer Reviews  for Matriarchs of the Messiah

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I couldn’t believe how little I knew about the women in the lineage of Jesus Christ until I read this book. I always had a rather shallow understanding about them as either virtuous or wicked. But what I learned is that all of them wanted to be good daughters of God. Some were able to hold fast to their values, and some struggled with temptations and distractions. But they ALL were forgiven and loved, and became valiant in their faith.

These stories are about real women. Jo Ann Skousen has brought them to life, as if they were our neighbors; their families and our families share amazing kinship with each other. In reading this book, their struggles become very familiar, thanks to Jo Ann’s fascinating approach to describing the details of their lives. I found myself relating to what they were going through with the problems in my own life, and those of my mother and sisters. The essential issues in life seem never to change, and when you live in these women’s circumstances, and learn how they overcame obstacles, you will comprehend answers to your own problems. Every one of these women’s stories left me with a feeling of great hope, and certainty that there is a loving God and Savior wanting to help us reach the great goal of returning to our heavenly surroundings.

I believe that men and women everywhere will love these women, since they will grow to know them as they would any friend today. There is so much to appreciate about them: their gentle spirits, clever social skills, loyalty to their families, bravery against tormentors, and great strength in all aspects of living. These women are wonderful examples of how to be valiant in these modern times. I repeat: The essential issues in life seem never to change. I love this book!

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Reading Matriarchs of the Messiah was eye popping. Stories and lessons came into focus with the prose. The analysis of these women, their motivations, their ambitions, their strengths, their weaknesses, and their skills as ezerim kenegdo provided so many ‘aha’ moments it was almost embarrassing…. Whether it was because it enhanced my rudimentary understanding of the topic and my natural inclination to love learning, or because it spoke to my inherent love for the Savior….I’m not sure. But, I LOVED IT.”

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. It was a very interesting combination of scholarship and storytelling. Ms. Skousen clearly has deep knowledge of the subject and, I’d warrant, much practice in sharing it for spiritual illumination and to impart moral lessons.

I loved how she tied the old “stories,” re-imagined and reinterpreted, to modern life (with a feminist twist). The voice of the Sunday school teacher came through loud and clear. But this voice held relevance not just for children; but for grownups as well. I “heard” that one can (and ought to) have agency even if of lower status; that one is not powerless, even if others (males, masters) have more power. And, she resurrected the rep of some maligned women!

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I was thrilled and inspired by this book. it was well researched and finely crafted. subject not often approached but certainly needed.

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Celebrating 400 Years of Shakespeare: Did the Bard’s Greatest Play Come from the Bible?

William-Shakespeare

Today we celebrate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Normally we celebrate the anniversary of a great person’s birth, of course, but Shakespeare was born in such obscurity that there is no record of his birthdate. However, it seems ironically fitting that we would celebrate the death of the bard, who so often ended his plays with a dozen dead bodies on the stage!

Macbeth is one of those carnage-laden tragedies, and many scholars consider it has greatest work. Its story is particularly poignant: Macbeth is a good man in the beginning, loyal to King Duncan and content to serve Scotland as a respected general, until he is overcome by ambition when three witches tell him that he is destined to become the king. Spurred on by his ambitious wife, Macbeth hastens the day of his coronation by conspiring with Lady Macbeth to murder the king in his sleep while Duncan is a guest in his home at Cawdor Castle. Macbeth also contrives to have his best friend and colleague, Banquo, murdered because those same witches have prophesied that Banquo will beget a line of Scottish kings, and that makes Banquo a potential rival as well. By the end of the play, Macbeth has killed (or tried to kill) everyone who might thwart him. He is finally killed in battle and beheaded by Macduff, a Scottish nobleman who has opposed Macbeth’s ascension to the throne. Such a tragic ending to someone who had shown such promise.

Shakespeare often reworked other source material for his plays; Romeo & Juliet, for example, is based on the Greek myth “Pyramus and Thisbe.” What was the source of Macbeth? I believe he was influenced by a similar story he found in the Bible: The conflict between David and Saul in the book of 1 Samuel. Both Saul and David are chosen by God and ordained by Samuel the prophet to become future kings of Israel. Like Macbeth, David is selected as Saul’s successor while King Saul is still alive. But unlike Macbeth, David does not hasten the day when he will become king—even though Saul, jealous of David’s popularity with the Israelites, makes several attempts to kill David by throwing a javelin at him, chasing him with his armies, and even sending him to the frontlines of battle with the order to bring back “one hundred foreskins of the Philistines” (which should have guaranteed David’s death). David returns victoriously, however, and the Israelites continue to cheer, “Saul has his thousands, but David has his ten thousands!”

At one point David and his compatriots come across Saul fast asleep in a cave, just as Duncan is asleep at Cawdor Castle on the fateful night of his death. David’s soldiers urge David to kill Saul, saying, “God has delivered him into your hands,” just as Lady Macbeth urges her husband to fulfill the prophecy of the witches. David refuses, however, proclaiming honorably, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.” Despite Saul’s treachery toward him, David remains determined to serve the king and waits patiently for God to decide when he should take Saul’s place on the throne.

David cuts off the bottom of Saul’s robe, and after leaving the cave he calls out to Saul, “I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not; know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee. Yet thou huntest my soul to take it. The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.”

Humbled by David’s loyalty, Saul weeps as he admits, “Thou art more righteous than I, for thou hast rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded thee with evil.” Saul promises to make amends and trust David in the future, but his contrition is short-lived; soon he is back to throwing javelins at David and chasing him with his armies.

David with Saul's skirt

Other similarities with Macbeth appear in the story. The loyalty and friendship of Saul’s son Jonathan is mirrored in Macbeth’s good friend and fellow general, Banquo. Like Jonathan, who is the heir apparent to the throne, Banquo has been told by the witches that his descendants will become the kings of Scotland. But unlike Macbeth, who turns on Banquo, David and Jonathan remain true friends throughout the story. And a precursor to Shakespeare’s three “toiling witches” appears in the Bible story, when Saul consults the witch of En-dor for a prophecy.

Eventually Saul’s army is surrounded in a heated battle with the Philistines, and his sons are killed, along with most of his men. Certain that he will be tortured and mutilated if the Philistines capture him, Saul falls on his own sword and dies. Frightened by the death of the king, his armor bearer does the same. In a ghastly scene worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy, “Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.” When the Philistines find Saul’s body among the fallen, they cut off his head and parade it around the countryside to mock the great king of Israel, just as Macduff cuts off the head of Macbeth.

Death of Saul

Shakespeare seems to have been so moved by this story and impressed by David’s humility and patience that he patterned Macbeth on both characters, David as the heroic foil and Saul as the tainted king. He reimagined the story however, exploring how a less noble person might react to knowing what his future holds. His Macbeth would be overcome by ambition and lust for power, taking the fulfillment of the prophecy into his own hands instead of waiting patiently for it to play out.

David, too, would soon forget the lesson that was so dearly won, for as king he would succumb to lust and then send his own loyal general, Uriah, to the front lines to be killed in battle in order to hide the paternity of the baby Bathsheba carried—David’s own baby. As a result of that decision, the prophet Nathan told David, “the sword shall never depart from thine house,” and that is how Macbeth ends too.

david and bathsheba

Unlike Macbeth, who sank deeper and deeper into evil after the murder of Duncan, David would spend the rest of his life drawing closer to God and seeking forgiveness for his sins. His psalms bear testimony of the sincerity of his repentance and the depth of his sorrow. He and Bathsheba repented together, married, and produced several children, including one whom they named Nathan in honor of the prophet who helped them with their repentance. Another they named Solomon, and this son would be a direct ancestor of Jesus Christ.

Rest in Peace Will!

William-Shakespeare

You can read more about David, Bathsheba, and the maternal ancestors of Jesus Christ in Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ, by Jo Ann Skousen, available at Costco, amazon.com and selected bookstores.

 

 

Symbols of the Passover

Symbols are an important aspect of religious worship, because they help us to express the inexpressible. We can draw nearer to our understanding of our relationship with God by saying what it’s like, especially when we don’t have the words to say what it is. Symbols play a significant role in the Passover seder, which will be celebrated by Jews (and remembered by many Christians) during Passover week.

Symbols of the Traditional Seder Plate:

passover-seder-plate-usableKarpas—a vegetable, usually celery, parsley, or boiled potato, dipped in salt water before eating to symbolize the salty tears of the Israelites.

Zeroah— the shank bone of a lamb, to symbolize the unblemished firstborn lamb that was sacrificed and roasted over a fire on the night of the first Passover.

Charoset—a sweet brown mixture of apples, nuts and spices to represent the mortar the Israelites used as they were forced to work and build for the Egyptians.

Beitzah—a roasted or hardboiled egg to represent mourning and the hard things we must often bear; hard boiled eggs are traditionally served at a funeral.

Maror—Bitter herbs, to represent the bitterness of slavery.

Matzah—a flat, yeastless bread that represents the unleavened bread eaten at the first Passover and the homelessness of their exodus through the desert.

The Haggadah is a parable or tale created as a guide throughout the seder celebration. Each part of the meal is accompanied by prayers and scripture readings.

elijah-place-settingElijah—Jews leave the front door ajar and set a place at the table as an invitation to the prophet Elijah, whose honor it is to restore the sealing power with which he was entrusted and herald the coming of the Messiah.

 

passover-nightThe story of the Passover is both wonderful and dreadful. After 430 years of bondage in Egypt, God was finally ready to lead them back to the land of Abraham’s covenant. But Pharaoh was not yet ready to let them go. Nine plagues had yet not convinced Pharaoh of God’s power. But the tenth plague would: The firstborn son of every household would die that night—including Pharaoh’s own household. Even the Israelites would suffer the plague, unless they obeyed the commandment to substitute a lamb “without blemish, a male of the first year….and take of the blood and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it” (Exodus 12:4-11). This simple demonstration of faith would allow the destroying angel to “pass over” the homes where the blood of the lambs had been smeared.

Additional instructions for that evening were just as precise. They were told to “eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread, and with bitter herbs…and let nothing of it remain until morning….And thus shall ye eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord’s Passover.”

All of these instructions reflect a sense of urgency and haste. There was no time to mix bread, knead it, and set it to rise; no time to let meat simmer in a crock pot; no time even to change clothing. These preparations remind us symbolically to be urgently engaged in the work of the Lord, to be prepared at all times for His coming, and to obey His commandments precisely. Such an easy, simple task, to smear blood on a door lintel. Yet how many would reject that commandment, or one like it, precisely because of its simplicity and possible embarrassment?

red-sea-passoverThe symbol of “passing over” returns again and again in the story of the Bible. Moses led the Israelites as they passed over the Red Sea from Egypt into the desert, and Joshua led their descendants as they passed over the River Jordan into Jericho forty years later. There the harlot Rahab recognized the Spirit and power of God when she met the Israelite spies and protected them from the soldiers of Jericho. She too was given a simple task to perform as a symbol of her faith; when the Israelites returned to utterly destroy Jericho and everything in it, they promised to rescue Rahab and her family if she simply dangled a scarlet thread from the window of her home in the wall of the city.

This she did, trusting that they would keep their promise. It must have been with great relief—and with some fear—that she heard them call her name as the battle began and Jericho’s walls crumbled. Her neighbors would know of her treachery, and if the Israelites did not come for her, she would be killed. But they did remember their promise, and after the rescue Rahab joined with the Israelites and married Salmon. Their son Boaz would marry the lovely Moabite widow, Ruth, whose grandson David would become the greatest king of Israel—and an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

jesus-as-shepherdThe most significant symbol in the Passover story is, of course, the Messiah Himself, Jesus Christ, whom Elijah has the privilege to announce. He is the paschal Lamb. He is the firstborn male without blemish, the only begotten Son of the Father, who gave His own life so that the destroying angel might pass over us. His crucifixion took place on Passover.

Our part—our privilege—is to accept His will and follow His commandments. It is as easy—and as difficult—as rubbing blood into the lentil of a doorway, or hanging a scarlet thread outside a window, or stepping into the raging river with confidence that the waters will be stopped. May we all have our loins girded, our shoes on our feet, and our staff in our hands, when that moment comes.

You can learn more about Rahab and the other women who are direct ancestors of Jesus Christ in Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ by Jo Ann Skousen. Available at Costco, Amazon.com and selected bookstores.

“God Is Love”

good samaritan.php

The Bible is filled with allegories that point toward the mission of the Messiah. For example, we see the Crucifixion foreshadowed within the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. In that heart-wrenching allegory, Abraham represents God, Isaac represents Christ, and the angel who arrives to stop the raised hand of Abraham is the Holy Ghost (see Genesis 22).

John W. Welch discovered a similar allegory of the Savior’s mission in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story a man “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves” (Luke 10:30). A priest and a Levite passed by the wounded man “on the other side,” indicating allegorically that neither the church nor the law could save the man. Only the Samaritan “had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and . . . brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Luke 10:32–34). Before leaving, the Samaritan gave the innkeeper “two pence” and said, “Whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee” (Luke 10:35).

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a powerful story that inspires readers to develop compassion and offer service to strangers. But it is also a powerful allegory. As Welch explains, Jerusalem represents heaven, Jericho represents the world, the thieves represent worldly corruption, and the man represents each of us. The oil used by the Samaritan to soothe the man’s wounds is a symbol of Christ’s priesthood, and the purifying wine is a symbol of His atoning blood. A penny was the price of a day’s labor at that time, so the “two pence” and the day the Samaritan spent with the man represent Christ’s time in the tomb, while the Samaritan’s promise to repay “whatsoever thou spendest more” represents His infinite Atonement (see Luke 10:32–35). Nestled within these eight verses about the selfless Samaritan we find the entire plan of salvation.

I have found a similar allegory of Christ’s mission in the short epistle to Philemon that Paul wrote to Philemon from his prison cell in Rome. Modern Christians often feel uncomfortable about this short letter because it seems to support slavery, but a closer reading reveals a more profound meaning. In it Paul beseeches Philemon to “receive . . . for ever” the runaway servant Onesimus, but he uses the unexpected phrase, “for love’s sake,” indicating there is more to the story than a labor or property dispute.

Onesimus had gone from Philemon’s service to Rome (like Jericho, a symbol of the world), where he met Paul and was transformed from a man “in times past . . . unprofitable, but now profitable” to Philemon. Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus not as a slave but as “a brother beloved” and promises, “If he hath wronged thee, put that on mine account; . . . I will repay it.”

In this surprising allegory, Onesimus represents each of us “departed for a season” from the love of God but redeemed by the infinite Atonement of the Savior. Philemon, whose very name means Love, represents God in this story. All of us are His servants, “in times past unprofitable,” but “made profitable” through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. And, like the Samaritan, Paul is the Christ figure in this story, pleading the case of a sinner and offering to pay his debts in full. Once again we find the entire plan of salvation hidden within a small epistle that is often overlooked or misunderstood.

Similarly, the story of Rebekah is an allegory of the day when the Messiah will return in all His glory to redeem the world. Eliezer, whose name suggests that he is not an ordinary servant but an ezer, or “Godly helper,” is more than a messenger sent to Haran by Abraham to find a righteous bride for Isaac; he represents the Holy Ghost sent to earth by God the Father to seek out the righteous “bride of Christ”—the members of His church. Allegorically Isaac represents the resurrected Messiah, and Rebekah represents each of us—clothed, as we can be, in “the glorious mantle He has given her, the robe of His own perfect righteousness” (James Neil, Everyday Life in the Holy Land (London: Cassel and Co., 1913, 259-60).

Scattered throughout the scriptures, these allegories resonate deeply within us, subtly reminding us of the mission of the Messiah to redeem His people and bring the safely home to God, whose name, like Philemon’s, is Love (1 John 4:8).

To learn more about the fascinating allegories found in the Bible, read Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ, by Jo Ann Skousen. Available at amazon.com and selected bookstores.