A big misunderstanding in South Alabama


R. A. Mathews

The sign surprised me. 

I stopped my vehicle, staring at the unforgettable words written there. This was my introduction to a county in the Deep South about an hour north of the Gulf Coast. Immediately, I called my friend Jenny.

?Buy ? Sell ? Crack,? I said, reading the sign aloud. Jenny represents juvenile drug dealers who sell crack cocaine.

?They?re going to get into trouble,? she said.

?You don?t understand, Jenny. This isn?t a little ad.? I kept driving while I talked to her, staring at the next ?Buy-Sell-Crack? sign and the next.

?Jenny, they?re everywhere. Here?s one that?s billboard size.?

?They?re really going to get into trouble!?

?Jenny, have you seen the news. Maybe crack has a medicinal use.?

?No, it doesn?t!?

?Then how do you account for these signs everywhere??

?They?re all going to jail. Are you in a ghetto??

?Not exactly.? I stared at the beautiful churches and rolling green acres of the Deep South?a picture-perfect pastoral setting.  

?Maybe it?s for cancer patients.? I scratched my head. ?Like marijuana. Maybe it helps with pain.?

Still, why hadn?t I known this?

?Get out of there!? she said.

I thought again about the news, realizing I also hadn?t seen it that morning.  

This has just been decided, I thought, then frowned. The signs didn?t look new.

After a while, I pulled into a parking lot, determined to search recent legal decisions on my phone. That’s when it happened.

I noticed a business beside where I’d parked—a company that sold nuts. Their sign read: ?We buy, sell, and crack pecans.?

As it turns out, every ten feet of that  county has a pecan tree.

Jenny will tell you that her juvenile drug dealers are devoted entrepreneurs. They?d have spotted the first sign and jumped onto the next street corner, waving their crack packets, shouting, ?Buy, sell, crack. Right HERE!?

In short order, the local county sheriff would have bounced them into the back of a cruiser.

They?d have then shouted, ?Innocent misunderstanding!?

Jenny hears that a lot.

No doubt, some 3,000 years ago, a nation of people offered those same words to God. They were just as guilty.

Here?s their story:

It seems the day came when the Philistines battled with the Israelites and captured their most prized and holy possession: The Ark of the Covenant.

What was it?

A gold-covered, wooden chest holding the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments given to Moses centuries earlier. Two angels of gold rested on top of the chest, facing one another.

The Ark was so holy that God?s people couldn?t touch it. Instead, they slid two poles through rings along each side of the Ark and carried it that way. 

As I said, this was Israel?s most holy possession, and the event was so devastating that when God?s priest learns of the loss, it kills him.

Initially, the Philistines are pleased as punch, as happy as any drug dealer wandering through a southern town spotting crack signs.

But the mighty Philistines are in big trouble.

They place the Ark beside their god Dagon and awaken to find Dagon lying flat on his face before the Ark.

Immediately they lift their god and place him upright. Wait and see what happens now!

The next day, the Philistines awaken to find Dagon not only lying in the dust, but with his head and hands severed.

Ooooh. I told you.

Sort of gives you the shivers.

But the mighty warrior Philistines aren?t impressed?they ignore these warnings. That?s when God sends them plagues.

After seven months of deadly pestilence, the Philistines recall the Egyptian plagues centuries earlier when Moses was trying to get Pharaoh to set God?s people free.

The Philistines put two and two together, and their priests warn the people.

?Why should you harden your hearts,? they say, ?… as the Egyptians hardened theirs??

The Philistines promptly send the Ark back with a box of gold gifts to make amends. Like I said, you know they were shouting, ?Sorry about that. Innocent misunderstanding!?

At the time, the Philistines were more powerful than the Hebrews, and God?s people had no hope of regaining their sacred treasure—not until God stepped in. That made all the difference. 1 Samuel 4-7

If you?re facing something that feels overwhelming, reach out to God. As surely as God fought for his people thousands of years ago, He can fight for you.

But be forewarned. Why did Israel lose the Ark in the first place? Why did God allow that to happen?

When Israel marched into battle against the Philistines, the Hebrews weren?t right with God. They lost the Ark because they refused to honor Him.  1 Samuel 7:3-4

Don?t make that mistake. Words can have different meanings, but there?s no misunderstanding the Ten Commandments. Honor them, and God will be there for you,  just as He’s been for the faithful all across the pages of the Bible.

Copyright ?2017-2019 R. A. Mathews  The Rev. R. A. Mathews is a faith columnist, attorney, and the author of ?Reaching to God.? She can be reached at [email protected]

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