Scripture was written for our instruction and also to give us hope (Rom 15:4; 2 Tim 3:16-17). This is true of both the Old and New Testaments. Saints of all the ages serve as models for us to follow and examples of what to avoid. We are no different than the believers recorded in biblical history. Because of this, it is efficacious to observe where they failed and where they triumphed when it comes to the ministry of biblical confrontation. In this article, we will survey some of the great saints of the ages who failed at biblical confrontation and observe how they reaped the spoiled harvest of it.
Consider Eli the priest and judge of forty years in the days of Samuel the prophet. Eli wrongly confronted Hannah for being drunk when she wasn’t (1 Sam 1:12-16), and he failed to confront his sons who were wicked (2:12). Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who served as priests (2:34). But they “were worthless men” who “did not know the Lord” (2:12). They abused the priestly role by hoarding animal meat for themselves, and committing serial fornication by the tent of meeting. They despised God (2:22-36).
This blasphemous behavior went on un-checked for quite some time and became a public spectacle in Israel. God’s anger burned greatly as a result and He told Eli that He would kill his two sons on the same day for their wickedness. God also promised to punish Eli. What was Eli’s sin? He failed to confront his sons: “I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them” (3:13). Sure as God’s Word, Eli and his two sons died on the same day (4:11, 18).
Some say David was the greatest saint in the Old Testament. He wrote much Scripture (2 Sam 23:1) and he definitely loved God (Ps 18:1) and God loved him (1 Sam 13:14; 2 Sam 7:8). Nevertheless, he had his shortcomings and fell grossly short as a father to his children. He was notorious for not keeping his children under control. David was a lousy father because he was first a lousy husband. He committed adultery and engaged in polygamy, having at least eight illegitimate wives. The byproduct was at least nineteen sons and some daughters who rivaled each other all their days.
On one occasion, David’s oldest son, Amnon, raped his half-sister, Tamar, the daughter of David and his wife, Maacah (2 Sam 3:3; 13:1). Soon after, David heard about the rape. Amazingly, he did nothing! No confrontation of Amnon, no accountability. The Law of Moses demanded the death penalty for a rapist and David knew it (Deut 22:25-27). David’s other son, Absalom, became furious when he heard that his sister was raped (2 Sam 13:22). Two years later Absalom murdered his half-brother Amnon as revenge for his sister. Having lost respect for his father David because of his non-action toward Amnon, Absalom ended up betraying, taunting, and publicly mocking King David until the day he died. And during all the years of Absalom’s rebellion David failed to confront him as well. David reaped much grief later in life from family infighting that resulted from his unwillingness to be a strong father who confronted his children with the discipline of the Lord.
Not only are there examples of believers failing to confront, there are also examples of saints confronting the wrong way. We can learn much from these procedural malfunctions as reminders of what not to do. Job’s three friends come to mind. The Book of Job begins with a sudden flurry of disasters that come upon Job—all ten of his children are instantly killed in a disaster; he loses all his wealth; he loses his physical health as he’s overcome with painful boils all over his body; he loses his wife’s confidence. He is at rock bottom in life. And all his three buddies can do at that time…is rebuke and confront him!
They originally came to their suffering friend with good intentions (2:11). But as time went on, their thinking went awry along with their counsel. They basically said, “Job, you probably deserve all this. Maybe God is punishing you.” Well, they were wrong. They had wrong thinking, lacked compassion, and confronted Job for all kinds of ill-informed reasons. God eventually came to Job’s rescue and exposed the misuse of the ministry of confrontation employed by the three “friends,” Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. God rebuked Eliphaz saying, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has” (42:7). God ended up blessing Job by healing him, replenishing his riches, repairing his marriage and giving him ten new children (42:10-17). The story of Job is a good reminder that we can confront in the wrong manner.
The New Testament also abounds with examples of believers confronting fellow believers in wrong ways and for misguided reasons. Jesus’ disciples were guilty of this. Near the end of His life, while teaching to the masses in Jerusalem, parents were bringing their babies up to Jesus asking for prayer and blessings on their children. The jealous, short-sighted apostles rebuked the well-meaning parents, confronting them as they sneered, telling the parents to get their babies out of there! Jesus confronted and rebuked His uncompassionate disciples on the spot, telling them, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me” (Matt 19:14).
Another time, when the Samaritans did not receive the messengers of Jesus near the end of His public ministry, the apostles James and John got angry and wanted to confront the Samaritans with fire from heaven! Their motives were callously vengeful and Jesus confronted James and John for their ill-conceived confrontational spirit (Luke 9:51-55).
A week before Jesus’ death, Martha’s sister Mary poured precious oil on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair in an unparalleled act of uninhibited worship. Judas was there, saw it, got angry, and rebuked Mary on the spot in front of everyone, accusing her of wasting valuable oil. Jesus rebuked Judas in turn because he was a liar and a thief and because he confronted Mary for self-serving purposes. Jesus said to him, “Let her alone, in order that she may keep it for the day of My burial” (John 12:7).
Around the same time, Jesus told His apostles that He was headed to Jerusalem where He would be crucified and then rise from the dead. Peter didn’t like the crucified part, so he proceeded to literally grab Jesus by the arm, pull Him to the side and give the all-knowing Savior a tongue-lashing, rebuking Him for talking about dying. Jesus then looked Peter in the face and said, “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Matt 16:23). That was the confrontation of all confrontations in history. Jesus rebuked Peter for worldly thinking that undermined the saving work of God through Jesus’ impending atonement by death.
It is interesting to note that in all four examples above where Jesus’ disciples confronted someone in the wrong way or for the wrong reason, Jesus did not let them get away with it. He promptly confronted them in like manner for their miscarriage of confrontation. And in all four cases, Jesus’ rebuke of them was in public.
Now that we have seen how some Bible heroes short-circuited the ministry of confrontation, we now look at some who were exemplary in employing it. These saints had the right motives and methods for boldly speaking up to a fellow believer. And sometimes about very difficult subjects.
God raised Moses up to deliver near two million Israelites from Egypt and to lead them through the wilderness to the Promised Land (Exod 12:37). They had to travel hundreds of miles on foot, with animals, material possessions, women and children, and through dangerous territory. It would be a long journey. And the massive crowd would get antsy, grumble and complain, and commit crimes against one another. To mediate, Moses appointed himself the sole jury, judge, and jailer. One day, Moses’ father-in-law came for a visit to Moses’ tent. He had watched Moses work a fourteen-hour day, attempting to adjudicate all of the Jews’ conflicts by himself. Jethro had the courage to confront Moses, pointing out the folly of his micro-managing ways. Jethro asked, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” (Exod 18:14).
What Moses was doing was not good. It was inefficient—a misuse of his time. And it was poor leadership, as he was squandering resources he had at his disposal—other qualified men to help him judge the people. Jethro went on to point that out and he gave Moses a specific plan of delegation that worked efficiently. It took courage for Jethro to speak up and point out Moses’ fault, for Moses was a miracle-working prophet who talked face-to-face with the Almighty. Jethro’s honest, loving, bold, personal verbal confrontation to Moses worked. Moses responded positively, humbly, and implemented Jethro’s plan. The ministry of biblical confrontation worked admirably here.
We saw earlier how one of David’s weaknesses was his unwillingness to confront his children and hold them accountable. But David had someone in his life who had the ability and boldness to confront in a biblical manner. That was David’s counselor, Nathan the prophet (2 Sam 7:3).
Even though David loved God and was a believer, he was far from perfect. Second Samuel 11 recounts one of the most compromised years in David’s life as the King of Israel. One night in Jerusalem at his palace, while walking on his roof, David saw a neighbor woman bathing. His lust overtook him. He seized the woman, committed adultery with her in his palace, and then sent her home – impregnating her in the process. Her name was Bathsheba and she was married to a loyal army soldier named Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam 11:1-6).
When David found out Bathsheba was pregnant, he tried to hide the pregnancy and his immorality. He pulled Uriah out of battle and tried to get him to sleep with his wife Bathsheba, but Uriah refused to go home during battle. Then King David got Uriah drunk in an attempt to force him to go home to his wife. That didn’t work either. Finally, David did the unthinkable—he plotted Uriah’s death, the innocent husband and faithful soldier. David ordered the commander of the army to “Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down and die” (11:15). The commander complied and Uriah was killed in battle. David was pleased but Bathsheba mourned. Soon after Uriah’s death, David took Bathsheba as his wife. David thought he got away with compounded crimes, but he didn’t. God saw everything he did: “The thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord” (11:27).
God sent Nathan to confront David about his sin. Nathan did so by telling a short parable about a rich man with many sheep who stole from a poor man who had only one lamb. The rich man stole the poor man’s one lamb, slaughtered it, and gave it away. David became angry when he heard the story about the injustice of the rich man who stole the poor man’s lamb. He exclaimed, “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die” (12:5). At that moment, Nathan confronted King David to his face saying, “You are the man!” Nathan rebuked David for despising God’s Word—for doing evil by committing murder and adultery. Nathan also pronounced great consequences on David from the vengeful hand of God.
David responded immediately by admitting his sin and asking for forgiveness. Nathan told David the Lord forgave him and would even spare his life. God, however, would also discipline him by taking the life of the baby and bringing perpetual strife to David’s house. Because of Nathan’s courage and willingness to confront David, God could humble David and bring him to a place of repentance, reconciliation and restoration. As a result of this whole experience, David later ended up writing two powerful Psalms (Psalm 32 and 51) about true repentance that would minister grace to the hearts of forgiven sinners for years to come.
The Lord of Confrontation
Jethro and Nathan are to be emulated for their acts of courageous confrontation. There are many other saints who can be profiled in addition to them, but the greatest model of the ministry of confrontation is God Himself. God confronts as a part of His nature, for He is true, righteous, and holy (Isa 6:1-8). From Genesis to Revelation God confronts His people for their good and His glory.
God admonished Adam asking him, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9). God challenged Sarah about her lying, asking her why she laughed: “No, but you did laugh” (Gen 18:15). God burned with anger, rebuking Aaron and Miriam for their racism, asking, “Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?” (Num 12:8). God confronted Moses with this devastating rebuke: “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” (Num 20:12). The LORD exhorted Joshua for his lapse in leadership, saying, “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face? Israel has sinned” (Josh 7:10-11). God confronted King Solomon for his immorality and idolatry saying, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes…I will surely tear the kingdom from you” (1 Kings 11:11). God confronted Job for his presumption, asking, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world?” (Job 38:4). God confronted Jonah the prophet for his prejudice and temper tantrum asking, “Are you really so very angry about the little plant?” (Jon 4:9).
Having highlighted both negative and positive models of confrontation, stay tuned for the next article on this topic in which we will venture to establish the biblical purpose of confrontation.