Monday, March 11, 2013

Matthew chapter 12 verse 43

Mt.12:43 "When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it passes through parched places in search of a resting-place, and finds none." (New World Trans., Reference Ed., 1984)

(Cross ref: Luke11:24)

Over the years I've learned there are logical steps to take when trying to understand a confusing passage in scripture:

1. Read the context
2. Search for parallel accounts
3. Search for similar concepts (key words  used in the passage or their synonyms.)
4. In the case of things Jesus is quoted as saying, remember he always spoke in illustrations (Matthew 13:34)

There is not much exegesis provided on this very thought-provoking passage. This is interesting because Jesus seems to reveal things that are not common knowledge amongst humans. Consider:

Why would a demon feel compelled to "possess" a human in the first place?

Why would a demon consider leaving that dwelling?

When it does leave, Jesus says it passes "through parched places." Other translations render this as "arid places" (NIV, 2011), "the desert" (New Living Trans., 2007), "waterless places" (English Stand Vers., 2001), "dry places" (KJV, Cambridge ed.). Since this is a spirit creature we are talking about here, it is unlikely that it is affected by the planet's atmospheric conditions, nor would that be in keeping with the context of what Jesus was saying.

Another interesting picture-phrase is that the demon goes in search of a "resting place." All of the other 20 translations I checked use the same root word, "rest," to convey their thought. "Seeking rest" was predominant  This begs the question, "In what way do demons "seek rest"?

In cases such as this verse, where Jesus did not go into an explanation, we have to take the weight of scripture, in whole, to draw a safe conclusion, without trying to put words in Jesus' mouth nor jump to unsubstantiated conclusions.

So first, let's try to find any clues in the surrounding verses. In Matthew's account, the passage is preceded by Jesus condemning the religious leaders, and the general (doubting) populous, as being wicked and children of vipers. In response, the Pharisees essentially ask proof why they should listen to Jesus. Jesus responds that they will get a sign. It will be a whale of sign (excuse the pun, but it is applicable). It will be huge--Jesus will be resurrected from the dead. This will be so indisputable, that even the Ninevites (who repented with Jonah's message) would condemn the Jewish religious leaders for their refusal to accept Jesus.

In the parallel account at Luke 11:24, the preceding verses show that Jesus healed a man of demon-possession. The religious leaders accuse Jesus of performing this act by the power of Satan himself. Jesus reasons just how ridiculous a conclusion that is.

In both contextual considerations, there really is not much to draw a definitive answer to the latter two questions, "what are the parched places?" and "what is meant by the demon searching for a resting place?" There is one possible allusion to parched places in that Jesus calls the religious leaders "vipers," which are typically associated with dry, arid, parched places.

Well, how about searching for other passages in the Bible where the word parched or it's synonyms were used? One such passage is at Isaiah 5:13, which in part reads: "Therefore my people will have to go into exile for lack of knowledge; and their glory will be famished men, and their crowd will be parched with thirst."

Yet another passage is at Jeremiah 17:5-8. " This is what Jehovah has said: “Cursed is the able-bodied man who puts his trust in earthling man and actually makes flesh his arm, and whose heart turns away from Jehovah himself. And he will certainly become like a solitary tree in the desert plain and will not see when good comes; but he must reside in parched places in the wilderness, in a salt country that is not inhabited." Jeremiah then continues by contrasting that to someone who is loyal to God: "Blessed is the able-bodied man who puts his trust in Jehovah, and whose confidence Jehovah has become. And he will certainly become like a tree planted by the waters, that sends out its roots right by the watercourse; and he will not see when heat comes, but his foliage will actually prove to be luxuriant. And in the year of drought he will not become anxious, nor will he leave off from producing fruit."

In Isaiah 13:21 the term "waterless regions" is used to describe an area once bustling with human activity but now, there are Jackals and "big snakes." In Isaiah 25, verses 1-6, it is mentioned how Jehovah restores his loyal followers to peace and prosperity, contrasting the oppression they faced before. Once again, the "waterless country" is contrasted to the prosperity (physical and spiritual) when God forgives and restores. This theme is reiterated again in chapter 41, verses 17-20.

Finally, in the letter of Jude, verse 12, he speaks of self-important men who have become "waterless clouds." Bringing all these verses together, it is indeed safe to conclude that the parched, arid and waterless places that the demons pass through are the realms of human activity that are devoid of real spirituality, including pseudo-Christians. These are the ones that Paul identified as "having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power." (2 Tim.3:5) These are subjected to viper-like poison that quickly arrests the spiritual life of gullible ones.

But what of the "resting places" that demons seek? Again, the area they pass through is arid and waterless. These ones are not attempting to find a resting place in the well-watered places that are abundant with true spiritual power. In other words, specifically at the time Jesus spoke those words, he was referring to those that followed the beliefs of the religious leaders at that time and were influenced by their waterless teachings. Yes, it is much easier for the demons to find a resting place in those who have no real relationship with God. These have stopped using their ability to reason. These have stopped using their conscience. The demons know they can rest inside such people because they won't put up any battle (mental, ethical or otherwise).

On a individual/personal level, to the extend that we keep ourselves spiritually strong, the demons cannot break through that wall. They do, however, look for whatever arid places may exist in each one of us. Whatever weaknesses (due to Adamic imperfection), whatever doubts we have, whatever challenges to our loyalty to God and Christ, those "parched" places are where they try to find an inn. It is with increased appreciation then, that we read of Paul's admonition to be prepared as a warrior for the spiritual onslaught. (Ephesians  6:14-19)

The above was the only extent to which I intended to consider the passage but i did leave unanswered the first two questions. First, why do demons possess humans in the first place? I cannot cover ever possible reason here nor do I claim to know every reason. However, one primary reason is that we knowingly or unwittingly invite them. How? By engaging in spiritistic practices that are the known realm of demons. These include the use of tarot cards, Ouija boards, and other such practices. 

Why would a demon consider leaving such a place? Over the years I've helped several people to understand the Bible. In essence, they begin to "clean house" in a spiritual way. As they continue to make Christian living an active part of their lives, they remove from their lives the influences that are promoted by Satan and his demons; the immoral & unscriptural lifestyles. Although the demons may attempt various forms of resistance and put obstacles in the way, eventually they are obliged to leave. One might think that such an individual is "home free." But not necessarily so. In verse 45, Jesus indicates that the demon goes for reinforcements. How could this happen?

Consider when a person starts to exercise (physically). It soon becomes evident that no single exercise will benefit the whole body. Certain things are good for muscles, others for cardiovascular, etc. Some realize that specific exercises target their tummies are required to get rid of "the flab" in the middle. The same goes with our relationship with our Creator. Prayer, Christian fellowship, preaching the word, improving our moral fiber, increasing our knowledge and more are all needed to get into top spiritual shape. And if we don't maintain that regiment of exercise, all the benefits of exercising can be lost. It has been noted that those who stop physically exercising gain back all the weight AND more. In like manner, we might have conquered one bad habit but if we don't continue to progress spiritually, we could end up worse than when we started.

 In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus spoke of the seed that was scattered into various soil conditions. Those falling among the rocky and thorny places made some progress but were soon either scorched or strangled. Similarly, there are those who after a relatively short time, either because of peer pressure  or daily struggles, do not keep their relationship with God in good standing and well-nourished. (See 1 Timothy 4:6). The warning to all those wanting to serve God is to keep active in Christian activity and sincere in loyalty.

Drawing it all up into a final conclusion: "Subject yourselves, therefore, to God; but oppose the Devil, and he will flee from YOU. Draw close to God, and he will draw close to YOU. Cleanse YOUR hands, YOU sinners, and purify YOUR hearts, YOU indecisive ones." James 4:7,8

Addendum July 2013:
One point I left uncovered was why the demon does not find a resting place even in those who are a spiritual desert. Quite honestly, I don't know.

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