That’s an surprisingly strange school in which to learn such a lesson! Here’s another way of stating it: I’ve sent my son out into the middle of nowhere so that he can learn how to live in the middle of millions of people. I’ve placed my daughter in a secluded cemetery so that she can learn what beautiful music sounds like. Is it not as unbelievable that Paul says that he placed these two men into the school of Satan so that they can learn a little bit of the horror of what it means to blaspheme? Not at all, because in the case study we see an example not so much of learning, but of unlearning.
The young men that we learn the names of here in Paul’s first letter to Timothy were a lot like most young men. They were under a delusion. The idea that sin is something beautiful – something worth imitating. They daydreamed about it like young boys will dream of far away lands full of all sorts of adventures and exploits. It seemed like it would be a good thing to be labeled as a “bad boy.” It would be something to be proud of to be considered “dangerous.” It was so like a soldier to not give a thought or a care for anything. So like a tough guy to cuss and swear. So like a brilliant man to break some tender heart.
Paul says, “They’re looking at a poor, pitiful village from the top of a hill. It seems so peaceful and beautiful from a distance. So, what I’ll do is send them down there to see just how dirty and degrading that poor village really is.” They will eat the apple from the tree, drink of the bitter waters of Marah, they will be stuck by the thorn that seemed so delicate at a distance, because when that happens they will see things as they really and truly are. They will find a flaming sword in their fancied Eden. They will call out to the Angel to shut them out. They will pray for the trees to hide them. Then they will realize that they have made a tremendous mistake – they mistook a serpent for a seraph, the Accuser for an angel. They will reach out for yesterday only to realize that it’s no longer there.
I’m so thankful for those seven simple words, “that they may learn not to blaspheme,” because it teaches me that mercy isn’t just seen in the heavens, but reaches rather to the clouds. So many times we may hear, “Ephraim is joined to his idols, leave him alone.” I used to think that meant that mercy had abandoned him, but now I see that there is a lesson to be learned. It’s like sending a young man to sea so that he can learn the the hardship, pain and deprivation that come during those long days at sea. There’s no other way to learn such a lesson. If the ship is only seen at a distance it can appear to be a very glorious and glamorous place to be. The polished decks and the blue waters and the colorful flags waving in the wind catch his eye and make him long for life at sea. He says, “Let me go!” and is told, “Go!”
It’s like the prodigal son wanting his portion of the inheritance without the Father’s presence. Why did the Father allow him to leave in such a way? Because he knew that though his son longed for music and dancing, in the far country he would only find a pig trough and slop. Music and dancing would only be found in the presence of the Father. The ring and the robe would not be found on his trip away from the Father, but only when he returned and ran to Him. The fatted calf would not be used in some party in some far away land, but rather would only be killed and cooked and shared at the Father’s table. He knew that in letting His son see sin up close it would make him long for his Father’s house. That’s why the Father answered his selfish prayer, that’s why he allowed him to leave – not to kill him, but to cure him; not to slay, but to save; not to punish, but purify; not to banish, but to beautify. His hand was pulled away so that it would be evermore cherished and appreciated.