Eating Our Own
(Devouring one another in the name of satisfaction and success)
He sits back behind folded hands, focused, head moving side-to-side. Others go about life around him unaware. In a flash, praying hands become hands of prey, plucking the unsuspecting in mid stride or flight, drawing them into an inescapable vice. The sounds of death – grinding and sucking – are heard once again.
Praying mantes have earned their reputation as one of nature’s prime killing machines. Unique among insects, their keen ability is due to rare partial metamorphosis and the ability to move their heads side-to-side. No other insect has yet been discovered with the speed capable of snatching the common fly or mosquito in mid-flight. So disguised are their sharp shark’s teeth spindles under their reverent pose that these are unnoticed until the victim is impaled between them. Their mystique is further enhanced by their cannibalism. Praying mantes will consume their mate or their offspring. They will eat their own.
Changed, but not completely transformed. Sinisterly disguised behind folded hands. Hungry to consummate the kill. Willing to eat one’s own. Praying mantes have an eerie resemblance to another of God’s creatures. Human history is littered with the carcass of victims, snatched unaware, whose vitality has been systematically drained by others. The mantis devours its victim to survive. The guy watching him through the garden foliage devours others to ‘satisfy’ and to ‘succeed.’
In our natural state, people can be ruthless predators — natural born killers. Unfortunately, the decision to follow Jesus does not automatically change our nature. Partial metamorphosis in a follower of Jesus can actually enhance our prowess as predators. Falsely understood and applied, our new freedoms, passions, and spiritual gifts may be used with more ruthless precision.
Paul, writing to followers of Christ in Galatia, identifies them as potential killing machines — people who devour rather than disciple, who prey rather than pray: “For you, dear friends, have been called to live in freedom – not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve…But if instead of showing love among yourselves you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” [Gal 5:13-15] Scripture gives us ample evidence that living as a ferocious, devouring disciple of Jesus is a live option. Chasing satisfaction and success, spouses devour marriages, parents devour children, and pastors devour churches. We eat our own.
Nehemiah Chapter 5
Scripture contains many mantis-like men and women. One of the most poignant testimonials is a colony of devourers found in Nehemiah Chapter 5. Challenged by Nehemiah to pursue a God-given task – rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem – rich and dirt poor, young and those older than dirt work side-by-side. Despite bone-crushing fatigue and ruthless intimidation by enemies, progress was spectacular. But focused eyes on turning heads behind folded hands scanned the horizon for victims.
And there were plenty of victims about. The wall project required all male hands on deck. Those who lived hand-to-mouth couldn’t feed their families [vs. 2]. Others, who had a few shekels tucked away found that they couldn’t make ends meet with groceries to buy and taxes to pay [vs. 3-4]. Desperate, both groups had headed for the pawn shop, putting their stuff, their land, and even their children up as collateral [vs. 5]. They were trapped in the sharp, spindly claws of unscrupulous lenders. They were being devoured. What shocks most is that the lenders were fellow Jews — their own nobles and officials [vs. 7]. They were being eaten by their own.
The Bible, especially Proverbs, describes a way of escape for those caught in the claws of such debt, or lust, or other soul destroying traps. But what does it say to us when we see others preying on and devouring their own kind? Nehemiah 5:12-13 offers a model for us.
- Live in sufficient community with God’s people that you watch their flight plan and hear their cries for help [vs. 6] Nehemiah’s actions show how deeply he cared for the people he led.
- Step back and considered your options. Don’t lash out with your our own preying hands and devour your predators. Like Nehemiah, we should consider the cost. In his case, the potential cost could be huge. The ones devouring were the movers and shakers he needed to accomplish his project. Handle this in the wrong way, and Nehemiah would be calling U-Haul for a move back to Babylon. Handle predators in your life unwisely and you may be doing the same.
- Examine yourself. Are you preying on others? Nehemiah realized and admitted his family’s own complicity in the problem [vs. 10].
- Act decisively. Even thought the potential cost could be high, Nehemiah pulled the trigger. He concluded the doing the right thing was more important than fulfilling his dream. To those doing the devouring, he spoke ruthless truth: “You are oppressing your own relatives by charging them interest when they borrow money. … What you are doing is not right” [vs. 7-9]. He knew the right thing because he based his confrontation of God’s revealed word (usury is forbidden).
- Maintain high moral ground. Nehemiah could influence because he had earned the right to speak. His consistent, self-sacrificing lifestyle over the long haul gave him moral authority
The results were magnificent. The officials and nobles released their victims from their spindly claws and returned the money they had sucked from their victims. The economic cannibalism ceased, and God’s work moved forward.
A prayer for the Calvary Family:
May we be available to God so that He might continue His work of transformation in us. May our desire to succeed and be satisfied be found in our relationship with Christ alone. May our eyes scan our homes and community for those in peril. May our hands be swift to deliver, not to devour.