Dear friends, May 2019

I’ve been doing a Bible study recently dealing with traps and snares, a study that became much more extensive when I saw how frequently the Scriptures spoke to the matter. Indeed, traps, snares, pits, and hunting nets are mentioned over 90 times in the Bible! The great majority of these references are in the Old Testament reflecting, I believe, lifestyles that included much more hunting and trapping then did the more agrarian and animal husbandry economies of New Testament times. Emphasizing this even more is that the New Testament uses just 2 Greek words which are translated as snare or trap whereas the Hebrew Old Testament uses, at my count, at least 16 words, each one probably referring to certain differences in design or use.

Let me share a few of the things from my study, things I hope you will also find of interest and spiritual value. Let’s begin by quickly noting what it is about traps that make them such a frequent and easily understood biblical metaphor for temptation and sin. A trap is something that stops you; catches you; steals your mobility and purpose and peace of mind; delivers you into someone else’s control; and in the worst case scenarios, the victim experiences pain and injury, ongoing captivity, even death. Needless to say, a trap is a wickedly dangerous thing that is to be avoided at all costs.

Now the Old Testament does occasionally refer to traps made of dug-out pits but most of the snares and traps mentioned are those used by a fowler to catch birds — birds used for food and as sacrificial offerings to the Lord. There are cases of hunters skilled enough to bring birds down with an arrow but the general device employed to bag birds was the snare trap. These were placed strategically along favored paths and haunts. They were cleverly hidden and disguised. They often used various kinds of bait. Finally, the traps were constructed to effectively hold the prey once it had been taken.

It’s not too difficult to see why the Lord uses traps to teach us lessons about the powers and dangers of temptation, is it? For the temptations our enemies lay out to ensnare us are so like those used by the fowler to bag his game. And like those foolish birds, we are in the greatest danger when we get careless, when we go places we shouldn’t go, when our hearts stray from the Lord’s instruction and protection.

And, yes, there’s always that matter of bait. The prophet Amos asks the question, “Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground when there is no bait in it?” (Amos 3:5) Of course not. The bait is critical to the success of the trap. And, for each of us, there are different kinds of bait that most teasingly tempt us: matters of pride, carnality, envy, appetite, anger, sloth, lack of forgiveness, lack of gratitude, and various combinations of these. All bait, however, has this in common — it is never worth it! Bait is always a lie, a false advertisement, a coy “come on” that promises pleasure but delivers only disaster.

This image of a bird being drawn to a baited trap is common in the Old Testament but perhaps the most explicit (and harrowing) description is in Job 18:8-10. “For he is thrown into the net by his own feet, and he steps on the webbing. A snare seizes him by the heel, and a trap snaps shut on him. A noose for him is hidden in the ground, and a trap for him on the path.” Note some of the compelling details here. 1) The prey is thrown into the net. It’s a picture of sudden and coercive force. And yet, it is his own feet which provides the actual locomotion. This is so true to life showing, as it does, how external temptations can only beckon to us, can only sing the siren song to draw us near. But temptations, to achieve their goal, require our willing cooperation.

Now we need to remember that temptation isn’t sin. All traps can be avoided. We can notice the bait, realize the danger, refuse to be duped, and continue on our way unharmed. Sin only occurs when we foolishly flirt with danger and when we consciously choose the things of the flesh, the world, and/or the devil over the things of God.

2) Another striking detail in the above passage is the drama of that phrase “a trap snaps shut on him.” Oh, my; how I shudder at terrible remembrances of moments when the trap suddenly snapped shut on me and I realized (too late) just what I had done. The alarming, shameful realization of one’s folly. The overwhelming panic of what will happen next. The utter helplessness of escape.

This is not to say, however, that some traps may fool the victim for even a long time after it has been sprung. The prey may not fully understand the extent of his danger. He may not even realize that he’s trapped. Days, months, years can go by before the startling awakening occurs. But, all the time, the victim’s enemy knows what’s happened and is sneeringly cackling over his victory.

And finally, 3) the trap always involves camouflage. Snares and pits were consciously placed “on the path” but, with conniving craftiness, they were hidden. It’s just like the devil who, as Scripture warns us, is a liar and a cheat and a sneak. His traps are not painted in fluorescent orange; they are not marked off by barricades and rubber cones; they are not accompanied by warning signs. Rather, he specializes in the false facade, the dishonest sales pitch, the glittering lure. He’s the schemer who is out to catch you, disrupt your fellowship with Jesus, destroy your peace of mind, use guilt and shame to pollute your enjoyment of God, and derail your faithful service in His behalf.

Now be aware that sometimes the snares are personally set by the devil. But the traps are still as full of danger when they are put in place by his henchmen; that is, demons and even humans who are exploited by Satan to carry out his hunting forays. These thugs are often designated in the Bible simply as “the wicked” or “the enemy.” Occasionally, however, the Bible is more specific: “flatterers” (Proverbs 29:5); “the evil woman” (Proverbs 6:24-25 and Ecclesiastes 7:26); “false nations” and “false gods” (Joshua 23:13 and Judges 2:3); “a man’s lips” (Proverbs 18:7); “the proud” (Psalm 140:5); and “money” (1 Timothy 6:9). Ephraim was once a watchman with God and a prophet, yet he turned against God in hostility and depravity. In so doing, the prophet Hosea said of him, “The snare of a bird catcher is in all his ways.”

And, of course, Jesus Himself was the target of entrapment. Satan attempted this directly through the temptations he laid out before Jesus in the desert. But indirect traps were laid via Peter when the apostle tried to dissuade Jesus from the cross or, in such moments as those described in Matthew 22:15 and Mark 12:13 when the traps were laid by the arrogant, envious teachers of Israel.

You get the point. The Christian travels “trap-heavy highways” everywhere he goes. Therefore, we must diligently be on the lookout for ensnaring temptations AND to make sure we are doing everything the Lord has taught us about how to walk safely through life.

Examples? “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn and I will confirm it, that I will keep Your righteous ordinances…My life is continually in my hand, yet I do not forget Your law. The wicked have laid a snare for me, yet I have not gone astray from Your precepts. I have inherited Your testimonies forever, for they are the joy of my heart.” (Psalm 119:105-6, 109-111)

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

There are many other life instructions in the Bible that will keep us from being ensnared. We are, for instance, to be aware, not uninformed, to walk circumspectly, to abide in Christ, to be unceasingly in prayer, to not neglect the assembly, to encourage and help, and to be heavenly minded. We are to flee idolatry and flee youthful lusts. We are told, in various New Testament directives, to walk in faith, walk in love, and walk in the Spirit. We are commanded to put on the armor of God and be ready for battle.

The bottom line? Though traps be strewn all around us, we do not have to be the devil’s prey. With the light of the Scriptures, the protective providence of the Father, and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, we can walk with God in liberty and safety.

But what if you do fall into a trap?

No, you didn’t have to. There are no excuses whatsoever. You went for the bait and wham — the trap slammed shut, leaving you alone, duped, and defeated. And you fully deserve whatever trouble and scandal and harm follows.

But wait a second. At the very moment you realize what you’ve done, there is another factor that comes into play and that is a force of loving mercy that is far more powerful than getting one’s just desserts. It is the force of the Savior’s grace — beautiful, limitless, victorious. At the first shout (or even whisper) of the truly penitent, God is immediately at hand to rescue. Psalm 91:3 tells us that God delivers from the snare of the trapper. Psalm 25:15 describes how God plucks your feet out of the net. Psalm 31:4 provides a similar word picture with God pulling us out of the net which our enemies have secretly laid. And one of my favorites is Psalm 124:7-8: “Our soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare of the trapper. The snare is broken and we have escaped. All help is in the Name of the Lord Who made heaven and earth.”

Whatever trap we have tripped, whatever net in which we have been entangled, whatever deep pit we have heedlessly fallen into, we always have a way of deliverance through the abundant mercy of Jesus Christ “Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” (Titus 2:14) And there’s still more! Through the cleansing, renewing power of the Spirit, we are taken right from the trap and into a brand new start — with fresh empowerment and a restored intimacy with God.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ and You forgave the guilt of my sin.’” (Psalm 32:5)

“He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” (Proverbs 28:13)

“I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned against Me and by which they have transgressed against Me.” (Jeremiah 33:8)

“Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:1-2, 7, 10-12)

Get the picture? The reason that traps are such a frequent metaphor in the Scriptures is because traps are such a prevalent weapon of the devil in the spiritual warfare he wages against us. So God wants us to know about them – their commonality, the immense dangers they pose, how to carefully avoid getting caught in them. So, by all means, avoid the traps the enemy sets out to ensnare you.

But avoid also the pride, self-pity, or lack of faith that would prevent you from shouting out to the Lord God for deliverance when you are trapped! For remember, His rescue isn’t based on your merit. It is based upon His great love and complete acceptance of the death of Jesus as payment for every stupid sin we commit.

Okay, that’s the letter for this month. I hope you find it helpful. And, as always, Claire joins me in sending along our thanks for your ongoing encouragement and support. We also remind you that you can keep up-to-date with Vital Signs Ministries through Vital Signs Blog, The Book Den, our Facebook pages, and the VSM website which includes the monthly schedule of “When Swing Was King.”

But be doers of the word,
and not hearers only.