“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”
(2 Timothy 3:16)
Lesotho has been going through a difficult period over the past year or more. The hope that the recent elections at the end of February would mark a return to normalcy has dissipated quickly. Among the recent troubling events:
- the public killing of a prominent businessman and opposition supporter without any arrests being made
- the leaders of the three main opposition parties, including the former Prime Minister Tom Thabane, have fled the country in fear of their safety claiming they are under threat of assassination
- the military commander who allegedly attempted a coup last August has been reinstated by the new government, a decision which has deepened political divisions
- the military has abducted and detained soldiers said to have been plotting a mutiny
- court proceedings involving the detainees have been disrupted by the military with lawyers, media and court officials being threatened and intimidated
- internal upheavals within the police force and judiciary
At the funeral of the businessman mentioned above, His Majesty King Letsie III, a personal friend of the deceased, delivered a sharp rebuke to the nation. He was quoted in the newspapers as saying that the killing “is a clear sign that as a people, as a country, we are really sick. We are sick in our minds and our hearts…this kind of sickness can only be healed by prayer.” The King is the Head of State in Lesotho and not directly involved with the government which is headed by a prime minister under the parliamentary system used here. As such, he generally stays above politics. He is widely respected and loved by the Basotho people. His rather pointed remarks are an indication of how serious the political and security problems have become.
As one local commentator put it, “Rarely does any King, President, Prime Minister describe their country as a ‘sick’ nation. The tendency for leaders is always to paint a hunky-dory picture over the state of affairs within their borders.”
The King’s rebuke made me think about times in my life when I’ve been on the receiving end of one. When was the last time you received a good justified rebuke that brought you up short? One of those events in your life that still make you wince when you recall it. An event that causes you to say something like, “Could I really have been so dumb to do that?” or “What was I thinking?” We would probably prefer to forget such things. They may still haunt us to this very day. Nevertheless, these things probably taught us a lesson that we are likely never to forget! And so, we are thankful for those rebukes that have helped us grow.
More than fifteen years ago, during my basketball coaching days at Masitise High School, my Bobby Knight act of haranguing the referees did not go over well with the opposing coach and after the game he let me know it. I can remember it like yesterday. His words were not without effect and he never had to say them again. About all I can say in my defense is that at least I did not throw a chair onto the court!
Speaking of rebukes, when was the last time you heard a good repentance sermon? My hunch is that we don’t hear one very often, if at all. Depending on your church, you might have to read some of the Old Testament prophets to get a dose of fiery brimstone. Ezekiel 18:30-32 is about as direct as you can be: “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” If that doesn’t do it for you, then probably nothing will, though I suppose you could try personalizing the verses by putting your name into the passage!
At times, whether as individuals or nations, there is a need for a prophetic voice to deliver the honest truth. Individually or collectively, there are situations when we can no longer candy-coat things and the bluntness of an Ezekiel is necessary. While the prophets certainly focused on the problems within the nation of Israel, they did not let other nations off the hook. There are sections in Ezekiel, as well as in Isaiah and Jeremiah, where various neighboring countries are singled out, one by one, for future woe and wrath. Wouldn’t these prophets have a field day today with nearly 200 countries to choose from?
We are all probably guilty of dancing and dodging around the need for repentance, both for ourselves and those around us. And when we do bring it up, it is the collective guilt or sin of society, a general not-too-specific type of call to repentance, lest we be too direct, insensitive, confrontational or politically incorrect. Not so with the biblical prophets! Although we may prefer to read the Gospels, with Jesus’ compassion and mercy, let’s not forget that he did a pretty good Ezekiel imitation with his in-your-face critique of the Pharisees and the need for repentance.
I rather enjoy reading the prophets. Not because I can comfort myself by saying I wasn’t as bad as those people and nations they were prophesying against. Rather it is because they make me fully aware of my sinfulness. No punches are pulled. They lay it out quite clearly. In this day and age, where we often encounter an “anything goes” approach to life and the rule of the day is “whatever”, I find it refreshing to be reminded that we are accountable for our thoughts, words and deeds. While definitely not comforting, and perhaps quite scary, the awareness of sin in our lives is certainly necessary for true repentance. For me, regular reading of the prophets is like a slap in the face that keeps me awake to the reality of my situation. And although there is lots of doom and gloom in the prophets’ messages, that is what makes the bits of promise and hope all the more wonderful. Let us get “a new heart and a new spirit”, for God takes “no pleasure in the death of anyone”.
For all the negativity of the prophets, for all their preaching and railing against sin, is there any one of us who would want to stand up and say to Ezekiel, “No, you’ve got the wrong person”? Challenging him on our guilt would be like taking on Jesus when he said, regarding the woman caught in adultery, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7). Seems like Ezekiel and Jesus do have a common understanding of the universality of sin. And yet we tend to downplay and excuse it by saying things like, “We’re only human” and “It’s not that bad”. Not a response apt to stop a prophet in his tracks!
This is not written as a call to return to the Covenant of Law and to forsake the Covenant of Grace. But the former convicts us of the need for the latter. As Paul says, “Indeed, I would not have known what sin was except through the law.” (Romans 7:7).
Despite the difficulties here, our partner church, the Lesotho Evangelical Church in Southern Africa (LECSA) continues its mediation efforts through its participation in the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL, another partner of ours). The CCL has been meeting with both government and opposition leaders seeking resolution of the seemingly intractable issues dividing the political parties. Please pray to God that:
- the reconciliation efforts of the LECSA and CCL will bear fruit
- the churches of Lesotho will unite in speaking truth to power
- peace and the rule of law will prevail in Lesotho
- the path of reconciliation will be chosen over revenge
- there will be healing and true repentance
the King’s rebuke will awaken the politicians to the need for reconciliation and repentance
Yours in Christ,
Mark Behle serves with the Lesotho Evangelical Church. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.