On the Tooth of a Flea Redux


Having been mustered to compose a sensitive-to-our-present-moment appeal for school year-end financial support for The Serious Joy Scholarship, I discerned that it would be no shirk on my part to reprise my appeal—now highly relevant—from this same time in 2016. Little did we know. “Little” being the operative term.

For the better part of the last 70 days, we’ve been held hostage, or worse, by a living creature that under microscopic examination looks like a playground ball with flowery handles. We’re told the virus is 125 nanometers in size. How small is that?

Thankfully, our faculty includes Dr. John Beckman, who holds not only a Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern Languages from Harvard, but another in Engineering from Stanford. So, I asked him. How small is 125 nm?

Whiz that he is, he responded almost immediately. “It would take between 130 and 1,500 coronaviruses in a row to be as wide as a single strand of human hair.”

“So the virus comes in different sizes?” I asked.

“No,” he replied, “our hair does.”

That’s why Dr. Beckman teaches the students, and I gladly advocate for the scholarship program that lets those students graduate and launch into life and ministry without student loan debt.

We continue to have the highest degree of confidence and expectation in the big, even eternal, things that God is doing in and through our intentionally small school. As we come to this school year’s end, a generous contributor has made a $100,000 Matching Gift Opportunity available to help us yet complete the task of funding the scholarships for students who were here this school year. At this writing, we need only $114,448 by June 30, 2020. Will you pray whether you are called to help—even in the smallest way—to complete this work of grace?

In the meanwhile, God reigns just as sovereign over this 125 nm sphere as he does over the UY Scuti star, said to be able to contain 1,700 of our suns. Small though we are, it is in God’s inestimable immensity that we continue to place our trust.

Rick Segal
Vice President of Advancement


Prayer Requests:

  1. Praise the Lord with us for a strong ending to the school year and launching of the Class of 2020.
  2. Pray that the Lord would lead and provide for our graduates.
  3. Pray for our students as they head out for the summer to rest, jobs, and summer classes.
  4. Pray for grace and wisdom as we solidify plans for in-person classes this fall.
  5. Pray for continued protection from the virus for our students, faculty, staff, and community.
  6. Pray for the deliberations of the presidential succession commission.
  7. Pray that the Lord would provide the needed funds to finish our fiscal year well.


On the Tooth of a Flea

Published previously June 23, 2016

As the quincentennial celebration of Martin Luther’s enduring carpentry work on the doors of Wittenberg’s All Saints Church draws near, we are being treated to many wonderful reflections and lessons on the Protestant Reformation in books, articles, podcasts, and conference messages. John MacArthur’s address, “Christ’s Call to Reformation,” to those recently assembled for Together for the Gospel stands out in my mind.

MacArthur spoke of the church being called to repentance by Jesus (Revelation 1–3), during the Reformation and today. He reminded us of the ignominy dealt to 2,000 faithful, Bible-believing, repentance-seeking English pastors who were permanently ejected from their churches and pulpits in the 17th century by corrupt, impenitent churches and their impenitent leaders. The Act of Uniformity of 1662 sought to silence the majority of England’s faithful preachers.

“History reveals that The Great Rejection was not an isolated event with temporary significance,” said MacArthur. Citing the work of several historians, he observed that this rejection may have been one of England’s greatest tragedies. This quenching of God’s Spirit was soon followed by both The Great Fire of London, in which 70,000 homes and 90 churches were destroyed, and by an outbreak of the bubonic plague, which killed 25% of London’s population by means of, as MacArthur said, “…the bite of a rat flea.”

One supposes that MacArthur himself stops short of fully concluding direct correlations between the ejection, the fire, and the plague, but one does not doubt that John MacArthur supposes anything to be coincidental under the absolute sovereignty of God—nor should we.

The phrase “the bite of a rat flea” is what stuck in my mind. Suppose for a moment that these maladies really were a matter of God’s intentional judgment. Imagine the angels gathered around God’s throne, just as Satan was in the opening passages of Job, watching to see the way God might respond to this offense against his true church.

“Lord, will you hurl a planet or star at them?”

He shakes his head.

“Will you cause the seas to rage or the mountains to tumble?” They look at each other and conclude, “No, that’s not it.”

“Will you compel the leviathans and behemoths to rage against them?”

Then, one angel turns to the others and says, “No, I sense he’s thinking of something much smaller.”

“A rat? You’re going to use the bite of a rat?”

God signals that they still haven’t quite fully seen his plan.

“It’s something on the rat,” says the inquiring angel.

“You don’t mean to say you’ll release Yersinia pestus do you? A single cell organism on the tooth of a rat flea!”

“The English king may now show me his legions,” the Lord replies.

This imaginary exchange is offered not to establish God’s capacity for vengeance, though he has more capacity for vengeance, and more justly, than any other being or force of nature. It is offered to demonstrate how little he requires, indeed how often he deploys the tiniest proportions of earthly resources to accomplish his mighty works. He does not require Krakens to display his power, as did the gods of mythology, but only one cell of life on the tooth of a flea.

As the Bethlehem College & Seminary fiscal year comes to its end next week, we stand amazed at the way God is using our intentionally small school for his purposes in the world. He is raising up another generation of reformers, those for whom pastors and saints in the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries served, sacrificed, endured persecution, and died such that Christ might still be lifted up and his church still called to repentance. These students and graduates identify with the Reformation generation: God-centered, Bible-anchored, Christ-exalting, seriously joyful.