The House of Rephah
Rephah’s wife, Rebekah, welcomed us warmly, though she had been taken by surprise by her husband’s early arrival—and with guests. But we allowed Rephah to tell her the circumstances of our meeting and the purpose for our visit. She listened wide-eyed with amazement, for she had felt the powerful earthquake that shook her simple house and frightened the animals.
Rephah’s house was larger than average for that era. It was a simple two-room structure with a stall for the animals at one end near the front door, slightly lower than the main floor. We were ushered through the door and up three steps into the main room. Rephah’s sheep, goats, and cows were grazing outside, and they would be led inside at sundown.
Pegasus and Pleiades were left to graze outside as well, although it was plain that they were more interested in hearing our conversation than in eating. Yet they knew that if they were taken into the stall at the far end of the house, Rebekah would feel obligated to feed them hay, and they did not want to lay that burden upon her.
Rebekah immediately went out to grind flour for a meal, for earlier that morning she had ground enough only for themselves and their two small children. Sipporah went out to help her with the work, and I gave her the flask of living water to mix with the flour. Meanwhile, Rephah and I sat in the family room, and I questioned him further about the time and conditions in which they lived.
“The God of heaven has sent us from afar,” I began, “so we are not so familiar with what has been happening in Israel. Tell me the news. What is going on? Who is the high priest now?”
“We have just received a new high priest. His name is Eli. His father Uzzi, was the sixth generation from Aaron. 18 Uzzi died just a few weeks ago. Eli is expected to come to give godly council at the meeting. As for the time, it is the eighteenth year of our seventh Jubilee cycle since Israel crossed the Jordan river. We have been in this land for more than 250 years.”
“And, if I recall, 71 of those years have been spent in various captivities,” I added, “and now you are threatened with yet another.”
“Yes,” Rephah said with a worried look. “No one wants to go through another captivity, but the rising strength of the Philistines threatens us once again. The Council of Tribal Chiefs must decide whether or not Ibzan should lead us in war, and if so, Eli will intercede for us before the ark at Shiloh.”
“Have they yet called for a national day of repentance and prayer?” I asked again.
“No, Eli is responsible to pray for us,” he said. “We are responsible only to follow the word of the Lord that he gives us.”
“Will not God hear the prayers of the common people?”
“Yes, of course, but this is the religious system that God gave us,” Rephah answered. “We must respect our elders and those whom God has put in positions of authority.”
“Certainly, that is so,” I said, nodding my head. “However, is it not also true that God hears the prayers of all men?”
“Yes, of course,” he said. His face appeared puzzled as to why I would suggest this. “But God has given this authority to Eli.”
“What is the purpose of authority?” I asked. “When did God first authorize authority?”
“God established Moses’ authority in the rebellion of Korah, but I think you mean to trace it back to an earlier time. I suppose it was after Adam sinned, and God gave the man authority over his wife.”
“That is indeed its origin,” I said smiling. “Would you say, then, that authority in marriage did not exist prior to sin?”
“Well, there is no mention of such authority before Adam sinned.”
“Yet marriage was instituted before sin, correct?” I asked.
“I had not contemplated that,” Rephah said.
“If a husband and wife were without sin, would the man still be in authority over his wife?” I asked.
“That is an interesting question,” Rephah said thoughtfully. “I suppose there would be no need for authority in such a situation. I mean, if both of them knew and understood the will of God, neither would need to exercise authority over the other.”
“It is only in times of disagreement and ignorance,” I said, “that authority becomes necessary, and the one who is in authority does not always make the right decision. Even so, authority is necessary to prevent paralysis.”
“Yes, I see,” he replied. “But what does this have to do with respecting and obeying our elders today?”
“I am only suggesting that obedience is not the final answer, but it is a temporary arrangement until we come into unity and agreement in the knowledge of God’s will.” Rephah remained silent, so I continued, “Obedience is good, but it is temporary. Agreement is the goal.”
“So how are we to apply this in today’s imperfect world?” he asked.
“God is using our obedience to authority in order to train all of us to hear God’s voice for ourselves. If only Eli hears God’s voice, then how can the people truly be in agreement? Would they not be merely in compliance, rather than in agreement? Those who disagreed with the word from Eli might yet comply out of reverent obedience.”
“So,” Rephah said, “are you telling me that one cannot truly be in agreement apart from hearing God’s voice for himself?”
“Yes, both parties must know the will of God in order to provide a valid double witness that establishes all truth,” I explained. “In a court of law, if one witness sets forth his testimony, and others simply believe his story, where is the double witness? Does an accusation not require two or three witnesses to be valid?” 19
“I see what you mean,” Rephah said. “So you are saying that anyone in a position of authority needs a double witness from others in order to exercise his authority in a lawful manner?”
“Precisely,” I said. “This principle holds true whether we are talking about the Council of Chiefs, the high priest, or even a husband. Of course, true agreement is possible only when both parties are able to hear God’s voice and to know His will. If only one of them has the ability to hear, then the exercise of authority is necessary to impose the will of God upon the disobedient or upon those who cannot hear.”
“The problem,” I added, “is that even many leaders do not hear God properly, and in such cases, disobedience is enforced by authority, and dissention often is suppressed by oppression and even slavery.”
“I have never heard such teachings,” Rephah said. “It may not be wise to speak of such things to the Council or to the high priest. They could easily take such words as a sign of rebellion.”
“Perhaps,” I replied. “But no one can tell you how to treat your wife. She seems like a woman who has good spiritual understanding. Do you not value her council? Do you not seek her witness in your own family decisions?”
“Well, yes,” Rephah said. “I would be foolish not to do so. I value her insights and know that she discerns the will of God as well as I do.”
“Well, there you have it,” I said. “You are already practicing the principles of agreement, rather than mere authority. I presume that your goal is for the two of you to always be in full agreement?” He nodded. “Then,” I continued, “you must believe that if you had to make a decision that went against her discernment, and you prayed to God for wisdom to know His will, but still you remained in disagreement and had no choice but to act upon your own belief, that this would constitute a failure on your part as a husband. Is that not so?”
“Yes,” he said, “but fortunately, that has not happened in quite a long time.”
We paused to ponder this for a moment. Finally, I changed the course of conversation slightly, asking, “Do you recall when the people of Israel first heard the voice of God at the base of the Mount?”
“Yes,” he said, nodding, “that was when the Ten Commandments were given to us. All of our forefathers at that time heard His voice.”
“What was their reaction?” I asked.
“They were afraid and did not want to hear God’s voice any more. They thought that God’s voice would kill them. 20 Most men today believe that getting too close to God would kill them.”
“So what was their solution?” I asked again.
“They sent Moses up the Mount to hear God’s word and to return and tell them what God said,” he replied.
“So the people did not want to hear God for themselves, but yet they wanted Moses to tell them what God said. Is that not the situation today? Do you not expect God to speak to the high priest and for him to tell you the will of God?”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Rephah said.
“Was this the original arrangement according to the will of God?” I asked, pressing the issue.
“Well, no. It was God’s will for the people to draw near to God at the Mount, so that they could hear God for themselves. Hearing God through Moses was not their instruction, but only an accommodation.”
“Very good,” I said. “I see you are gaining understanding of the mind of God in this issue of authority and obedience.”
“Perhaps, but this is quite radical. To teach such doctrines openly could easily offend those in authority and could get a person killed or excommunicated from the Sanctuary and barred from sacrificing.”
“Unfortunately,” I said, “the traditions of men often destroy the law of God. Men’s understanding is yet dim. The mind of God will be known better as time passes, for He reveals Himself progressively throughout each generation. Meanwhile, my council to you is to study the origins of all things and to contemplate God’s accommodations in contrast to His will. All accommodations are but stepping stones toward His goal. Much that is believed by long tradition is not truly the will of God. At some point in time, men will have to be released from their own traditions that have prevented them from seeing God face to face.”
“Your words have instilled in me a fresh revelation of God that goes beyond anything that men currently believe,” he said with awe.
At that moment, Rebekah and Sipporah came into the house, having prepared a simple meal of bread and kefir. Kefir reputedly was a gift to Abraham from God Himself. As we ate and drank, both women glowed, and it was clear that they had bonded in a close friendship.
“Sipporah has told me some awesome things about our God and our relationship with Him!” Rebekah exclaimed. “I had no idea that women could approach God without going through their husbands! She told me all about the story of Abraham’s wives and how we relate to God either as slaves or as free women!”
“We too have been talking about this,” Rephah said, “although we have discussed these truths in terms of authority and government,” Rephah responded. “Yet it is the same revelation. Our new friends have reached into our hearts and pulled out a great truth that we already knew and were practicing, but somehow we could not identify it fully.”
“The light of God is a wonderful thing,” I said. “God will raise up prophets who will reveal more as time passes,” I told him. “The day will come when a prophet like Moses will arise, and those who gather around Him will find that these truths are the basis of His Kingdom. 21 Even as Joshua was raised up after Moses to lead your fathers into this Promised Land, so also this other prophet will be a greater Joshua, who will lead you into all truth.”
“But for now,” I said, “my wife and I have a message to both of you from the Holy One of Israel.”
Rebekah drew near to her husband’s side. I laid my hand upon his shoulder, while Sipporah laid her hand upon his wife. I looked into their eyes and said, “God has called you as a prophet to His people. Long have you guarded the treasure of Ephraim. But now you are to know that you yourself are a treasure of Yahweh. You are a hidden treasure in Ephraim that is being raised up as His voice to the people and to leaders in Israel. Your eyes are enlightened; your ears are opened; the God of Israel seeks to have personal fellowship with you and your wife and to speak to you face to face as a man speaks to a friend. He will teach you His ways—the ways of the second covenant that was made in the plains of Moab—so that you may be His witness in the earth, dispelling darkness with the light of faith and truth.”
They fell to their knees, and a flood of tears from both of them broke through the barriers of human traditions. Joy flooded their hearts as they consumed the word, for it was sweet in their mouth. They could not yet know that the word of truth, spoken in a world of religious traditions, would inevitably turn to bitterness in their stomachs. 22 Such is the cost paid by forerunners, children of light who live in dark times.
- Eli’s full genealogy is given in Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, V, xi, 5.
- Deuteronomy 19:15; Numbers 35:30; 2 Corinthians 13:1
- Exodus 20:19
- Deuteronomy 18:18, 19; Acts 3:22, 23
- Ezekiel 3:3; Revelation 10:9, 10