A few weeks ago Rush Limbaugh told his radio audience that his staff was diligently researching the great moderates of history. His tongue-in-cheek point is that those in the middle of the road are not usually remembered or honored for their achievements, since there usually are none. What is a moderate?
According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the adjective refers to:
1. Within reasonable limits; not excessive or extreme: a moderate price. 2. Not violent; mild; calm: a moderate climate. 3. Of medium or average quantity, quality, or extent; mediocre. 4. Opposed to radical or extreme views or measures, especially in politics and religion. --n. One who holds moderate views or opinions, especially in politics or religion (843).
Notice that there are moderates both in religion and politics. Mr. Limbaugh is welcome to continue his search for outstanding political moderates; we want to highlight some of the outstanding spiritual moderates listed in 2 Hebrews 11. [Some may be unfamiliar with this letter; it was a "moderate" version of the real Hebrews written by some who protested (but not too vigorously) that the original letter called for "radical" obedience and extreme measures--with little room for compromise or maneuvering (moderates love to maneuver).]
Therefore, 2 Hebrews 11 (probably written in the second century) lists all of the moderates who were heroes (of mediocrity). The names of these non-violent saints have not received nearly enough attention through the years. Who is in their Hall of Fame?
The first great moderate was Lax, the son of Lamech, the brother of Noah. Many people were disturbed and unsettled by Noah's preaching. Messages of doom are almost always unwelcome--especially ones predicting the end of the world, whether it be by flood or fire. Probably they would have just assigned Noah's preaching to that of some raving extremist except for his relentless commitment to the buiding of the ark. Some were wondering if they should actually repent.
But then along came Lax to put things in their proper moderate perspective. "My brother has always been an alarmist. Certainly we live in a wicked world, but not one that deserves to be destroyed. People need to know more about God's love and grace. This constant badgering about their sins won't do any good; it's bad for their self-esteem. Besides, dead men don't board arks."
The moderate voice prevailed, but, having lent such support to the thoroughly wicked, it prompted no one to repent. They were all destroyed in the flood, and we would not even know of them except for 2 Hebrews.
The next great hero of moderation was Beringa, the son of Bera, the king of Sodom. He was a progressive individual; he had convinced his father to appoint women to sit in the city gates. He appreciated Lot because his uncle Abraham had rescued them from foreign kings. When some of the men got a little testy against Lot, he reminded them of the ways the city had benefited by the presence of Lot's family. Some accused him of protecting his own self-interests, since he was engaged to one of Lot's daughters, but he was just a moderate.
He wanted to leave with Lot's family when they departed from the city, but he thought about how foolish he would look if he believed that stuff about a forthcoming destruction. Poor Lot. He would really feel foolish when nothing happened. Beringa's last moderate thought just before the fire and brimstone pelted the city was, "Maybe I can be instrumental in getting the men of the city to accept Lot when he returns."
The next great moderate, by his own admission, was Shambres. He was a former Israelite who (after obtaining an advanced degree from the prestigious Vander-gypt University) had joined Pharaoh's court magicians--Jannes and Jambres. It was he that kept making all the suggestions to Pharaoh, such as, "Tell Moses to go into the wilderness and sacrifice, but to leave their children behind." There is no one worse than a former zealot turned moderate; he will almost always become radical in his moderation. For example, when the other two magicians admitted of the third plague, "This is the finger of God," Shambres agreed, but quickly added, "For all we know, however, we could be mistaken."
Of course, he thought Moses was narrow and inflexible. "If you would just tone down your harsh, exclusivist language, you might get somewhere with Pharaoh," he chided. "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." "I doubt," he was told, "that after the next plague you will want to catch flies any more." Shambres (pronounced "sham breeze") eventually drowned in the Red Sea in an effort to force Israel to return to moderation.
Another great moderate was Carroboam; he was an Israelite who had spent so many years studying in Egypt that he was made a professor. He thought, therefore, that his great scholarly ability could help Rehoboam in the division that the nation had just undergone. Rather than brethren fighting one another, he felt that the kingdom should be a peaceable place to live.
After meditating on the problems for a long time, Carroboam wrote to Rehoboam the following message to encourage him to accept Jeroboam's changes:
There should be room in Israel for those who differ on...whether the feast should be on the seventh or eighth month. There should be room in Israel for those who believe Jehovah is Lord, but who differ on worship ideology, such as whether or not to use golden calves, ecclesiological matters such as whether priests must be Levites or not, or geographical matters such as whether one should worship in Jerusalem or Dan or Bethel.
Carroboam had concluded that these worship differences that characterized brethren were of no consequence at best and nitpicky at worst (like so many others of his day). "Did Jehovah deliver us out of Egypt so that we could argue about such non-salvation issues as the seventh month or the eighth month for a feast?"
Some more adamant moderates wanted to know what such arguments had to do with true spirituality? "After all," they reasoned, "If we're united on, 'The Lord our God is One God,' isn't that enough?" Others complained that since they were all children of Abraham, such was sufficient to maintain unity. "Besides," some who were more knowledgable than others pointed out, "Where in all the Law of Moses does it say to go to Jerusalem to worship? You can't find it. You have to use logic and reasoning to come to that conclusion, and that means the possibility of mistakes exists."
Furthermore, Carroboam told Rehoboam, "All the Levites live here in the southern kingdom; what do you expect Jeroboam to do? Where else can he find priests but from the people in other tribes? Where did God say, 'You can't use men from Judah to be priests'? Huh?" All of his good intentions were wasted on Rehoboam, who had been known to accept bad advice previously. But this time Solomon's son held firm. Sadly, Carroboam was killed in an effort to bring unity to both the northern and southern kingdoms, but he was diplomatic to the end. When he was simultaneously shot by an arrow from both sides of the conflict, he fell on his side (the left one) and perished in that position.
Time would fail to speak of all the others. There was Rezpah (from the house of Saul), who questioned Ruth's virtue in an article titled "Passover at David's House," which he wrote upon wineskins. There were many other moderates who questioned the "legalistic" interpretation of Deuteronomy 4:2. "Strict insistence on not 'adding to' or 'taking away from' stifles creativity and progress," they averred. "That only refers to the ten commandments. We must be united on those, but allow for diversity on things not so clearly revealed."
Needless to say, 2 Hebrews has never been considered part of the New Testament canon--for several reasons. First, none of these names has ever been verified outside of this spurious book. Second, none of their attempts to reconcile the wicked and the righteous ever worked; their efforts always failed. If anything, they just drew borderline Israelites into destruction with them.
Third, there is no reason to remember these "moderates." Many situations call for leaders to take a strong stand--they must remain steadfast and unmovable!! When standing for the will and Truth of God, there can be no compromise.
Fourth, these men were not really "moderates" anyway; they were liberals masquerading as moderates. But they knew that if they could convince Israel that men like Moses were the real fanatics (instead of themselves), they could better influence genuine moderates (a good definition of which is "basically confused individuals"). For that reason, there will never be a Moderates' Hall of Fame.
*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "THE MODERATES' HALL OF FAME (10/26/97)."