Our lesson this
week is called "The Sign of Allegiance to God." Why, someone
may ask, would there be a sign of loyalty to God? Doesn't He know
already whether or not we love Him? What kind of a sign is it? Is
there a battle going on? Are there different sides to be taken?
Is there a need for a sign showing which side a person is on?
Adam and Eve
in the Garden of Eden displayed the sign of their allegiance by
their choice to partake of the forbidden fruit. Perhaps it seemed
arbitrary for God to pick a tree and tell them not to eat of it.
It certainly didn't fit into their logic. But signs of loyalty are
of necessity arbitrary or they would not be a sign at all. Colors
for flags are arbitrarily chosen and a meaning assigned to them.
Think of the yellow ribbons that were arrayed around the country
to welcome the U.S. hostages home from Iran a few years ago. An
arbitrary meaning was given to that act symbolizing how glad the
nation was to have them returned safely.
have been told of patriots who have risked their lives to keep the
flag flying high. The sight of the U.S. flag still bravely flying
through the night at Fort McHenry, in spite of the fierce attack
upon it, inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner.
The flag could have been hauled down and a white one signifying
surrender raised in its place, and the fighting would have stopped.
But the courageous soldiers were not willing to give up that flag
for the sake of peace. They were willing to give up life itself
to remain true to their pledge of allegiance.
A flag is only
a piece of cloth. There is very little real monetary value in it.
Why would people risk their lives to keep a particular piece of
cloth waving in the breeze above their fort? It is because the flag
represents something of far more value than just the threads in
the cloth. That flag proclaimed boldly to the world what they stood
for. To pull it down would have signified a change in their allegiance,
and they were not willing to give up their liberty.
There was a
young man a few years ago, a runaway, who found himself looking
for a sign. He wanted a sign that would show him that someone loved
him. He was an independent sort of fellow. He found that as he lived
with his loving parents that rebellion was growing in his heart.
He didn't want to put up with the restrictions they placed on him.
He didn't like the way they always seemed to interfere in his affairs.
Finally, one night, he decided he had had enough. He walked out.
He didn't allow
himself to think of the agony he would be leaving behind him in
the hearts of his parents. He was determined to have a good time.
He found a job and life seemed to be going well. He had plenty of
friends and no one to interfere.
After a while,
however, life in the fast lane began to seem empty. He was unable
to suppress the thoughts of his parents. They began to seem more
and more dear to him. He wondered how they were faring and tried
to imagine what they thought about him. He could picture his father's
furrowed brow and almost hear his strong voice. He imagined a disapproving
look on his mother's face. "They will probably never want to
see me again," he thought.
home came more and more frequently until he finally decided to write
a letter and see if they cared to see him again or not. Soon after
writing the letter the young man boarded a train. The destination
was home. He was dreadfully nervous. As he rode, he clenched and
unclenched his fists. His jaw worked nervously. His stomach seemed
to be tied in a knot. On the train he found himself seated by an
The older man
noted the nervousness of the young man seated beside him and finally
struck up a conversation with him. Before long he had heard the
whole story. The young man ended with, "I don't know if they'll
ever want me back again after the way I have treated them. I can
hardly stand to find out the answer."
As the train
rounded a bend in the tracks, the young man suddenly stiffened.
"Please, sir," he said. "My home is just around the
next bend. It's right by the tracks. I wrote to my folks and told
them I'd be riding by today, and that if they wanted me back to
put something white in the yard. If they didn't, I would know that
I should just ride on by and never trouble them again. I just can't
bear to look. Please, sir, would you look for me?" The man
excited voice broke into the rhythmical clicking of the tracks.
"Look! boy, look!" he nearly yelled.
The boy lifted
his head. Tears sprang to his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. Every
white thing in the house must have been out in that yard. The clothesline,
the bushes, the trees were draped with white sheets. Snow could
have done little more!
Those two parents
would not have let anything stop them from showing their long lost
son the sign of allegiance and love he had requested. Never did
they question what the neighbors would think. It didn't matter if
people thought they had lost their minds. What a reunion that must
had to decide whether or not to utilize their son's choice of what
the sign would be. At any other time, white sheets in the yard would
have been of no value, but because he had requested it, it was meaningful.
The message the son had given essentially was, "If you love
me, hang out a white sheet."
A sign of allegiance
is often used in P.E. class in school. Each time basketball is played,
new teams are chosen. All the students are dressed alike in P.E.
uniforms and confusion can reign because it is difficult to tell
who is on which team. Without some kind of distinction, teammates
might end up playing against themselves.
To solve this
problem, "pinnies" are usually provided for all the members
of one team to wear. Then it is easy to tell who is a teammate and
who is not. The pinnies become a sign telling which team the player
is loyal to. These pinnies are arbitrarily chosen. On any other
occasion they would be quite meaningless, but on the basketball
court, they represent who is on which team. Anyone wanting to be
on the team with the pinnies must be willing to wear one.
life is something like the basketball team mentioned above. It isn't
always easy to tell whose side we are on. The Bible says that Satan
and his teammates will disguise themselves so that they look as
if they are on God's side (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). In fact, so
deceptive is Satan that many of his followers don't even know they
are following him. They think they are on God's side (Matthew 7:21-23).
That is why God has done something like what a P.E. teacher does.
He has given us a sign by which we might know which team we are
The sign of
our allegiance to God goes far deeper than a display of emotions,
or saying a few words that anyone could repeat, or wearing a lapel
pin. God says more than "If you love Me, honk your horn."
The story has
been told of a man who bought some land and asked his son to manage
and develop it into a farm for him while he traveled. He showed
his son the blueprint for the layout of the proposed farm.
The son looked
over the plans with admiration. The barns would be spacious, well
built, and conveniently located. The house would be a comfortable
one with a lovely view. The soil looked rich, and it would have
its own water supply from a well. As they strolled across the acres
together, blueprint in hand, he could almost envision the finished
farm nestled there among the hills. What a haven of rest it would
be! It was a good plan he decided. It would be a farm anyone could
be happy with and proud of. But, knowing of his son's independent
ways, the father stipulated one thing. He would hire his son to
build it on condition that he build it exactly as he specified.
son agreed to take the responsibility for it and to do the best
he could. He agreed to follow exactly the blueprint his father had
The father left,
and the son immediately set to work to develop the farm. He took
hold of the project energetically, and gradually things began to
As he worked,
he often consulted the plans his father had given him. Repeatedly
he was impressed by his father's wisdom in the decisions he had
made. Often he remarked about how good they were. He carried them
out exactly as his father had specified down to the smallest details.
The day came,
however, when the well was to be dug. As he looked at the plans,
a puzzled expression appeared on his face. "I wonder,"
he mused, "why Father put the well so far from the house? It
will be such a long walk to go clear out there by the barn. He must
not have realized what a difficulty that will be. Perhaps it's been
a long time since he had to carry the water in himself!" After
considering it for some time, he finally decided to change the location
of the well. He was certain that his father would be pleased with
his decision when he understood why the change had been made.
farm was finished. Crops were planted and the fields became a lush
green. The place looked like a peaceful dream when Father finally
returned. The son met him with a proud smile. "See, Father,"
he said with a wave of his hand, "it's done exactly as you
said. Isn't it beautiful?" Again the two ambled across the
acres looking at the farm. At each place the father would stop and
express his pleasure at what had been done. Finally, they got to
the spot where the well should have been. A puzzled expression passed
over the elderly gentleman's face. "Why, where's the well?"
he questioned. "I thought it would have been right here. Did
I make a mistake?"
the son replied. "The well is right over there by the house."
house?" the father asked again. "I thought I planned for
it to be out here by the barn."
now I remember," the son replied. "I noticed that. I thought
it would be inconvenient to have it so far from the house, so I
had them make just a minor change and build it over there instead."
The father looked
sorrowfully at his son. "I thought you said you made everything
the way I wanted it. You promised me that you would. But now I find
that you didn't. You didn't make anything the way I wanted it. Not
the younger man nearly exploded. "How can you say that? I did
everything the way you wanted except for the well. But I thought
this would be better than the other plan. I changed only one thing.
How can you say I didn't do anything at all the way you wanted it?"
quite simple, Son," the father explained. "That well is
significant. It tells me that the only reason you built the rest
of the farm as I specified is that you liked it that way. You happened
to think my plans were good plans on the rest of the farm. But if
your ideas disagreed with mine, then you followed your own way.
You actually built the whole farm the way you wanted it, not the
way I wanted it."
It was a quiet
pair that finished the tour of the farm. The son had little to say.
His father's words had made a deep impression. The well was indeed
a sign of whether or not he loved and trusted his father enough
to follow his requests even if he didn't fully understand or agree
with them. He had not set out with the intention of proving his
lack of loyalty to his father, but his decision had revealed the
hidden motives in his heart. His actions had shown what his motives
had been even though the son himself had not understood his own
God also makes
it clear to us that our actions display the hidden motives of our
hearts, even when we don't understand them ourselves. Many times
the Holy Scriptures remind us that a tree is known by its fruits.
A good pear tree at the right time will be covered with pears. The
pears reveal what kind of tree it is. So the fruits of our lives
reveal where our loyalties really are and whether or not we are
abiding in Jesus.
The Bible tells
the story of a battle in which Israel was involved. After the war
a most unusual sign was used to determine who was friend or foe.
had declared war on Israel. They were determined to get control
of some land they were accusing Israel of having taken from them.
Israel began looking for a leader, and finally decided to make a
man named Jephthah captain over their armies.
took control of the situation he first tried negotiating with the
Ammonites. He reminded the king of the history of how the land was
actually obtained in the first place. When it was apparent that
the Ammonites were going to fight anyway, Jephthah recruited all
the help that he could. With a prayer in his heart and making a
solemn vow to God, he led his army to battle.
When the war
was finished, Jephthah had won a resounding victory. Jephthah was
then made a judge over Israel.
A strange thing
happened after the war, however. Things were just beginning to settle
back to normal when a messenger from the tribe of Ephraim, one of
the tribes of Israel, gave Jephthah a terrible message.
you call us to help you fight the Ammonites?" they challenged.
"Since you didn't, we're going to burn your house down on top
of you." This was no idle threat. The men of Ephraim were irate.
They had banded together to attack the city of Gilead, where Jephthah
lived. It is very likely that they were jealous because they had
not been able to enrich themselves with the spoil from the battle
with the Ammonites.
immediately defending his actions and setting the record straight.
He reminded them that he had called them to come and help him fight
the Ammonites at a time when he needed them desperately. They had
flatly refused to help! "Since you didn't come," he continued,
"I had no choice but to take my life in my hands. We had to
go and fight the Ammonites with a much smaller army than we needed,
but the Lord was with us. What grounds do you have for fighting
against me?" he questioned. He probably would have felt justified
in attacking the Ephraimites because of their refusal to help in
a time of need.
were unimpressed. They were prepared for war. Jephthah quickly marshaled
his men, the Gileadites, to defend themselves against the Ephraimites.
Again Jephthah was victorious. The Ephraimites fled for their lives.
When the Ephraimites
fled, the Gileadites strategically placed themselves at the river
crossings where the Ephraimites would have to cross to get back
to their homes. Before allowing any man to cross the river they
would ask. "Are you an Ephraimite?"
Ephraimite would want to answer "yes" for fear of losing
his life, so even if the answer was "no" the Gileadites
had one more question that had to be answered before anyone was
allowed to cross the river.
It was a very
simple question, but the answer would invariably reveal the true
identity of the person being questioned. The man would be asked
to repeat the word "Shibboleth," a word meaning "river."
The Ephraimites had a little quirk in their speech which was either
a difference in dialect, or a minor speech impediment like a lisp
that they had inherited. They could not pronounce the sound "sh."
Instead of saying "Shibboleth," an Ephraimite would always
say "Sibboleth." By this ingenious but simple test, any
Ephraimite crossing the river would be identified. The test worked.
The Ephraimites were not allowed to escape.
If you think
about the sign that the Gileadites were looking for, it is a very
unusual and significant one. The Ephraimites were not destroyed
because they said "Sibboleth." The problem was not that
they had a lisp. The word "Sibboleth" only revealed who
they were. They were destroyed because of who they were. They were
destroyed because of what they had done.
A sign of allegiance
to God is not something we do in order to win His favor. It is not
something to earn salvation. It is something that reveals who we
are. It is something that reveals whether or not we have been born
again. It reveals whether or not we are willing to follow Him. It
is something that reveals whether or not we are abiding in Him just
as fruit reveals whether or not a branch is abiding in the vine.
(See John 15.)
Our lesson today
helps us to find what God looks for as the sign of allegiance and
love to Him. Study this lesson prayerfully, asking God to help you
to reveal this sign of allegiance in your life.
From your friends
at Steps to Life
I Love You,
you, Mother," said little John,
his work, his cap went on.
And he was off
to the garden swing,
mother the wood to bring.
you, Mother," said Rosy Nell;
I love you better
than tongue can tell.
Then she teased
and pouted half the day,
Till all were
glad when she went to play.
you, Mother," said little Fran;
I will help you all I can.
How glad I am
that school does not keep."
And she rocked
the baby till it fell asleep.
softly, she brought the broom,
And swept the
floor and tidied the room.
Busy and happy
all the day was she,
cheerful as a child could be.
you, Mother," again they said,
children as they went to bed.
How do you think
that mother guessed
Which of them
really loved her best?