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On the fourth day of the wedding feast at The Tipsy Tavern, Sipporah and I were restless and bored by endless debates about meaningless events, raucous laughter brought on by an overabundance of wine, and the absence of spiritual edification.
“Let us go visit Eglah today,” Sipporah said. “I need to feel useful again. Perhaps I can help her get ready for the wedding.”
“Okay, that is a good idea,” I replied. “Maybe I will be able to talk more with my furry friend, Dogma.”
We walked out of the tavern, and the stable boy fetched our horses. We rode slowly down the main street and out the gate, making our way across the bridge. Turning west at the crossroad, we proceeded toward the house of Avoda. Dogma saw us coming at a distance and was waiting for us at the turnoff to escort us across the bridge to the farm house.
“Welcome!” Dogma barked, wagging his short tail that curled upward in the shape of a question mark. Canaan dogs are a curious breed. They make good investigative reporters, if one knows their language, for they are insightful and faithful in handling truth.
If the Philistines had known how to train them as guide dogs for the blind, they would have commanded even more respect. But the Philistines, like most of the Canaanites, were too blind to see this for themselves. Centuries of idolatry had twisted their spiritual senses, blinding them to the knowledge of the truth.
“Are you doing well, Master Dogma?” I asked. “Is it well with the house of Avoda?”
“Baasha was here earlier this morning,” Dogma answered. “He came to talk to Avoda and Eglah, and I listened to their conversation. Baasha asked Eglah to discover the secret of a riddle that Samson has proposed as a wager. He told them the riddle to see if they might know its meaning, but neither they nor the rest of the family could solve its meaning. I tried to tell them, but they did not understand me.”
“What about Eglah?” Sipporah asked. “How did she take this?”
“Baasha was frustrated,” Dogma replied. “He asked Eglah to talk to Samson and to get him to tell her the answer. She refused, of course, not wanting to betray her husband. But Baasha then threatened to kill her and her entire family and to burn down the house if she did not tell him the secret.” 43
“Is that not a bit extreme?” I asked. “Would he really be willing to kill just to get a new garment? Is life so cheap in this country?”
“Baasha really wants a new garment, not only for himself, but also for his friends,” Dogma said. “It is a matter of pride for him. He is already jealous of Samson. He himself wanted to marry her, and he knows that Eglah rejected him. He hides his anger and jealousy when he is around Samson, but today his heart was laid bare.”
“Is he still here?” I asked. “We did not meet him on the road.”
“No, he went on to the temple of Beelzebub in Ekron, hoping to receive an oracle. They are quite good at riddles, you know, for most of their prophecies are in the form of riddles.”
“Beelzebub!” I exclaimed. “Do you suppose that the Lord of the Flies will tell Baasha the secret of the riddle?”
“Beelzebub knows only death and decay,” Dogma replied. “He does not know the secret of life. Flies are not bees, you know.”
“That is true, my friend,” I agreed. “The flies that ate the lion know nothing about honey, nor did they pay attention to the consecration of that holy place. Even if they had, they would not have understood its significance, for they worship at every unclean dunghill.”
“But that still leaves Eglah and her family with a problem,” Dogma said. “When Baasha returns without the answer he seeks, he will not be happy. Who knows if he will carry out his threat?”
“Perhaps we should talk to them,” Sipporah suggested. “After all, that is why we are here, is it not?”
“Yes,” I replied, “if our visit meets with your approval, Master Dogma.”
“Certainly,” Dogma replied as he turned to escort us to the door of the farm house. Sippore flew away to see what she might see, and Dogma accompanied the horses to a nearby field of grass, where they might fellowship in a relaxed atmosphere.
“Shalom!” I said, as the door opened. Avoda’s wife stood at the door with tears in her eyes. It was obvious that she had been crying.
“Come in,” she said. “Please excuse my appearance.”
“We came to help in any way we can,” Sipporah said to her. “Is Eglah here? Is she well?”
“I will take you to her,” she replied. “She needs encouragement and support today.” Sipporah followed her to a back room, while I greeted Avoda in the main living room.
“What is wrong?” I asked Avoda. “Please tell me.”
Avoda took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Baasha was here earlier with some bad news,” he said. “He swore me to secrecy, so I cannot tell you what he said.”
“It does not matter,” I replied. “I already know. He threatened you and your house if Eglah failed to learn the secret of Samson’s riddle.”
“How did you know?” Avoda said with a surprised look. “We were alone and have not told anyone.”
“We are never alone,” I said. “The Creator has ears and eyes in all places. Nothing can be kept secret from Him, and no riddle is beyond His wisdom. But do not worry. We will keep your secret. If Baasha would inquire of the true and living God, he might learn the secret that he now seeks from Beelzebeb. He desires a new garment, but he seeks answers from the wrong source and from a god who knows only about death, destruction, and fear. Beelzebub’s influence in his heart is seen clearly by his threats upon you and your family.”
Avoda was silent, not wanting to blaspheme one of the gods of the Philistines—especially if the gods have many ears and eyes!
“The true God, the One who created all things, is a God of love, not fear” I continued. “Therefore, He seeks to be loved, not feared. It is not His holiness that compels Him to correct us, but His love for us as His children. Our heavenly Father disciplines us and corrects us only so that we will grow up to be in His likeness, having His character. If He threatens us, it is only with our ultimate good in mind, for all of His ways are based on love.”
Avoda was incredulous and doubtful. “We have never worshiped such a god,” he said, “nor have our fathers known any god that does not demand submission on pain of death. They are the gods of this land, and if we wish to live here, we have no choice but to worship them.”
“The Creator owns all land and is not limited to any particular portion of the earth,” I said. “If any lesser god lays claim to that which the Creator has made, he usurps power that is not his. Those who worship such gods follow his example and usurp that which does not belong to them. The evidence of this is seen by the lack of love, for only those who love know God, because God is love.”
“That would be nice,” Avoda replied, “but can He protect us from the wrath of the gods? Can He protect us from Baasha, who now threatens us? No god cares for us without being bribed by a generous gift to his temple. Nothing is free, you know.”
“My God’s love is free,” I said quietly. “He cares for me and for each individual. He is not so concerned about large matters that He cannot concern Himself with small people. He is not like the kings of the nations. My God is accessible and personal, and He leads me daily and protects me each moment of the day.”
Avoda shook his head. “Such a God would be nice to have,” he said, “but it is unrealistic and, I think, a product of wishful thinking. If such a God existed, who would not worship and glorify Him? 44 But no one has ever heard of such a god. The gods do not seek to be known as good. They seek only to be served—by threats, if necessary.”
“Then you are in their hands, and they will do with you according to their own will,” I said. “Nonetheless, in my view, the Creator will reveal Himself to you, if not in this life time, then in the next. It is only a matter of time, Avoda. I hope that your god treats you right, but if you are disillusioned, remember that my God loves you. He will draw you to Himself by the power of love, not by threats.”
Eglah’s mother then came out from the back room, followed by Sipporah. I could see that it was time to leave.
“Thank-you for your time, Avoda. I hope that our discussion was profitable and that all things will work together for good. Shalom.”
We left the house, and Dogma escorted us to the bridge.
“You were right, Dogma,” Sipporah said when we were far enough from the house to speak privately. “Baasha has threatened Eglah and her entire family. He is quite angry that he is unable to solve the riddle. His pride has been pricked, and he will do anything to save face.”
“What about Eglah herself?”
“She is terribly frightened,” Sipporah answered, “not just for herself, but for her family. She takes Baasha’s threat very seriously, even if her father doesn’t. She faces quite a dilemma—either betray her husband or betray her family.”
“Yet no doubt he will still pretend to be Samson’s best friend,” I observed. “This is no way for the Best Man to act at a friend’s wedding. But the Lord of the Flies has sent his minions into his mouth and into his unclean heart. Beelzebub seeks to prevent this wedding, for he knows that it is a pattern for the Creator’s marriage that will bless all nations at the end of the age.”
“Even so, this is a strange pattern,” Sipporah replied, “full of fear and intrigue, threats of fire and doom.”
“You are right,” I said with a pause. “It is not really a pattern of the Messiah’s final wedding, but rather of the distorted, imperfect pattern of a leavened age. 45 That age is marked by fear and bondage, rather than by love and liberty. The great men of faith in that age have the strength of Samson, but also his weaknesses. They believe that the God of love is also a God of fear and torment. It is an age of mixture as men are pulled both ways while they debate the true nature of the Creator.”
“Then,” Dogma asked, “will this marriage be successful, or will it end in disaster?”
“Yes, that is the important question,” Pegasus said.
“It will be a mixture of both,” I answered. “It can only reflect the hearts of the actors on this stage. It appears to me that we will witness a story of disaster, but I believe that God will work it out for good in the end.”
Dogma found comfort in my words.