More than Beard Envy

The man in the photo is Alexander Snider, my great-great grandfather. Born in North Carolina on 23 March 1826–I must remember to get a card in the mail!–he moved with his father, Philip Snider, to the hinterlands of southwestern Missouri in 1844, marrying Mary Ruth Wommack three years later. A history of Greene County, Missouri says that the Sniders arrived

when the county was sparsely settled, neighbors were far apart, game and wild honey abounded. He built a small cabin upon the farm where he now lives.

In fact, that sparseness of settlement was sufficient that other than Mary Ruth’s family, no one else lived within a mile of the Sniders for quite some time.

I admire Alexander, where some of my ancestors I simply tolerate. He wasn’t an exceptionally distinguished fellow, although his brief obituary describes him as “one of our oldest and most respected citizens.”

Alexander SniderIt’s not just the beard that I admire about this man, although you have to give him credit for a magnificent stand of whiskers. Instead, I admire him for some more significant character traits.

At the age of thirty-six in 1862, Alexander and his musket showed up for military service as he joined the Enrolled Missouri Militia where he served for more than six months as a corporal. Six months of militia duty is not extraordinary, but it demonstrates that this man, past his peak and with six children to support already, came when he was called. There’s no evidence that Company F. of the 74th E.M.M. ever saw any real duty, but we do know that he stood when summoned.

Similarly, he attended Mt. Comfort Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the years after the war until his death. Not only did he go to a church that was an inconvenient distance from his home, but he served that church as an elder, mentioned several times as taking on various lay duties for the congregation. In the church’s records, Alexander’s line does not give a date at which he “Ceased to Act” or moved elsewhere. Instead, a one-word note describes his separation from that body: “Dead.”

Alexander Snider would have presumably spent a good amount of time following a team and plow across his farm. By the time he shuttled off this mortal coil in 1900, mechanization of farming remained something in the future.

That history mentioned above describes him as “one of the leading men of Jackson township” while the obituary concludes by naming him “an old landmark in this part of the country.” Alexander Snider was not a man bound to appear in Who’s Who. But he was a landmark, a dependable figure who provided stability in the community.

We could all do worse than to be known as a landmark, a sort of living Ebenezer. In 1 Samuel 7:12, after leading the Israelites to a victory over the Philistines, Samuel raised a memorial stone:

Afterward, Samuel took a stone and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, explaining, “The Lord has helped us to this point.”

Alexander Snider’s life, it seems, stood as such a marker, encouraging others and showing them the way. By and large, those who came after him seem to have followed that track. If I envy anything, it is that legacy. But the beard is nice, too.

No Regerts?

We all have our regrets. Let me tell you about the most embarrassing, the most humiliating, the most mortifying thing from my past. It’s horrible to share, but in the interest of honesty, I will do so.

No-Regrets-Neon-sign-1_2000xYes, I’ll confess it. That was shamefully placed at the beginning so that it would show up on the home page and draw you in. And since you’re on this page, it worked. And since we’re talking about regrets, let’s consider Samuel. In 1 Samuel 15:10-11, after Saul messes up yet again, Samuel encounters something that doesn’t seem to go along with God as we know Him.

Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned away from following Me and has not carried out My instructions.” So Samuel became angry and cried out to the Lord [all] night. 

So is God basically calling out to Samuel and saying, “Dude, I really messed up”? If so, then it would seem to undermine the whole omniscient and perfect God image, wouldn’t it? If God suddenly regrets making Saul the king, then doesn’t that mean God messed up? Doesn’t it suggest that God could just as easily regret making Jesus the Messiah?

Of course some who read that passage and others in which God speaks about “regret” immediately assume that it reflects the “evolving understanding of the character of God as developed through the composing process of the Old Testament.” (That last, quoted bit needs to be read with a learned and pretentious voice.)

Yes, the image of Hercules or Achilles might have developed over the centuries as Greeks and later Romans wrote about them. That’s okay. But if the character of God developed over the ages, then we, as believers, first in Him and then in the Bible, have a problem. We’re believing in a moving target.

The problem we have here is that translation is such a slippery process. The Hebrew word translated “regret,” nacham, can mean a strange array of things including “to be sorry, to regret, or to console oneself.” What? How can the idea of “regret” be fit into the same word box as “comfort” or “consolation”? In Genesis 24:67 and 37:35, figures are comforted (using this verb, nacham) in the wake of a death.

My working hypothesis is that when God “regrets” making Saul king in this verse, it’s not the same sort of regret that I felt last night for that second of chili. Clearly, whether one is regretting or being comforted, there are strong feelings involved. That we can agree on, but they not necessarily indicate a moving, changing, emotionally uneven, or imperfect God.

Worst of Both Worlds?

person wearing winter jacket while snowing
Photo by Bogdan Glisik on

The snow came last night, enough to slow things down but not enough to paralyze the city. I woke at 4:00 a.m. and reached over to my phone to see if there was school-canceling news. Once my eyes focused on the text, I read with horror these words.

JCCC Alert–JCCC will be on a delayed start Wed. Feb 20 due to winter weather. Campus will open at 10 AM, classes set for 10 AM and after will be as scheduled.

It was the worst of both worlds. Not only did I not get to roll over and sleep as late as I wanted, but I would have to disrupt my class schedule, meeting a skeleton crew of the 10:00 class while allowing the 9:00 class to get behind. My response was to grumble and go back to sleep.

Yesterday, when I wrote about my antipathy to the snow, it was still fairly theoretical. But this morning it seemed personal. Not only was the weather out to get me, but whoever makes the decision on closing the school took aim at my routine. What kind of moron thought it was a good idea to start school at 10:00 a.m. Have school or don’t have school, but don’t saddle me with these half measures!

Then I recalled reading 1 Samuel 15 last night. In that chapter, Saul is ordered to attack the Amalekites, killing everything in the process. It’s pretty blood-thirsty, the sort of thing that we don’t teach in children’s Bible study. Via Samuel, God delivers this message to Saul:

Now go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Do not spare them. Kill men and women, infants and nursing babies, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.

“Infants and nursing babies?” Wow! That’s severe. That’s the sort of Old Testament seriousness that makes people insist that the God of those days is a very different being from the warm and fuzzy God of the New Testament. What kind of God would order everything to be killed, including children and animals? Why?

As I’ve talked to a few people today about my misgivings regarding the late start, I’ve discovered that not everybody agrees with me. My colleagues don’t all agree. My students–or at least the half of them who showed up–don’t all agree. It turns out that I hadn’t taken all of the relevant information into account before reaching my judgment.

Why did God order the slaughter of infants and nursing babies? I can’t image, but then I don’t have to imagine. Why did the powers of the college order a late opening? I don’t really need to know that either, although I could probably discover it.

Instead, I just need to obey and make the best of matters. While the authorities at the college might not be 100% trustworthy, I have to know that God is. And if He called for a horrific slaughter 3,000 years ago, He must have had a solid reason.