judges

Judges 21, Jeremiah 35

Today’s readings are Judges 21 and Jeremiah 35.

This devotional is about Judges 21.

This chapter continues a brutal story that began in Judges 19. In that chapter, a Levite and his concubine were traveling home late at night. Although it would have been easier to reach one of the Gentile cities on their journey, they went to a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by families from the tribe of Benjamin. The text does not say so exactly but the expectation is that they would be safer in Gibeah because their brothers from another tribe would welcome and care for them.

That is not what happened, to put it mildly. Although one old man took the family into his home, the Benjaminites in Gibeah decided to impersonate the men of Sodom and demanded that the Levite be turned over to them to be abused sexually. The Levite handed over his concubine instead and they raped and killed her. The Levite took her dead body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one body part to each tribe in Israel. That was Judges 19.

In Judges 20 the leaders of Israel’s tribe responded to the Levite and demanded that the rest of the Benjamites hand over the men of Gibeah for some rough justice. The Benjamites refused and civil war began--11 tribes against Benjamin. After some initial success, the Benjamites were soundly defeated by the rest of Israel who killed many of them and burned every town they came across. The author of Judges was coy when he wrote that they “put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found.” The “everything else they found” was the women and children in these towns--a brutal overreaction that was similar in immorality to the way the concubine was killed in Judges 19 which stared this whole mess, but this brutality was done at a much larger scale.

Now, here in Judges 21, we read that those who turned out to fight then took an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites (v. 1). Then they realized what a stupid move that was. Since they killed all the women and children, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce so the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7). Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead showed up to fight, so they killed all the men and women of that town and handed over their virgin daughters to the Benjamites (vv. 7-14). That worked somewhat but didn’t provide enough women for all the Benjamites so they told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, since the girls were kidnaped, their fathers weren’t technically guilty of breaking their oath.

Verse 25 ends the book of Judges with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” What we are to conclude, then, from this awful story is that people need wise, godly leadership. When people do what seems right in their eyes, they do wretched things to each other, overreact in their attempts for justice, make wicked, rash vows, then rationalize immoral ways to solve the problems they have created. A wise leader, however, can save people from these wicked abuses.

Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of Israel and Judah did some wicked, unwise things themselves. However, they generally showed better leadership than what we read about in here in Judges. But the only king who can truly lead perfectly and judge wisely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. While we should seek wise solutions to our problems with each other and we should seek good, righteous leaders, we should never fall too much in love with any one leader because they will fail. The failure of leadership and government in this world should not surprise us but it should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will judge in righteousness. Let the bad decisions of leaders in this world and the foolish outcomes that men come up with lead you to pray, “Your kingdom come!” When God’s kingdom comes in the person of King Jesus, then human society will finally function and flourish like we want it to and God created it to.

Judges 15, Jeremiah 28

Today’s OT18 readings are Judges 15 and Jeremiah 28.

This devotional is about Judges 15.

In a book of the Bible filled with unusual characters doing strange things, Samson stands out as one of the most unusual. To review, Samson:

  • Was born to previously barren parents who were told that he would be a deliverer for Israel (Judges 13).
  • Was set apart as birth to be a spiritual leader (13:4-5, 7)
  • Married outside of God’s will (14:1-3) to a Philistine woman who...
  • Lied to him and manipulated him out of fear instead of trusting him and his God (14:15-17)
  • Was used by God despite his sin (14:4) and through of his fierce temper to start a battle between himself and the Philistines (14:19).

Here in Judges 15, Samson had calmed down and missed his wife, so he went to ...um.. spend some quality time with her (v. 1). Her father explained that he gave her to another guy because he “was so sure you hated her” (v. 2). Understand something right here: the word “hate” in the Old Testament in a marriage context means “to divorce.” To love a woman means to enter into a lifelong covenant with her in Hebrew; when a man “hates” his wife, then, he breaks the covenant and divorces* her. The emotions of “love” and “hate” are secondary in the Old Testament to the legal meaning of “marry” and “divorce.”

But her father made an assumption he should not have made. Divorce was instantaneous in their world but the husband had to initiate it and, in Israel at least, had to put it in writing. Samson’s father-in-law had no right to give Samson’s bride away.

Her father seemed to realize that he was in the wrong and he knew from chapter 14:19 how much damage Samson was capable of, so he did his best to appease Samson, offering a younger daughter instead (v. 2). Samson, however, had a legitimate right to be angry. He didn’t have the right in Judges 14 but he did here in Judges 15 and he knew it, too: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them” (15:3). And he certainly did what he intended to do, ingeniously ruining the Philistines’s crops (vv. 4-5).

The Philistines were clearly scared of Samson so they took out their anger at him on his wife and her father (v. 6). Remember that in Judges 14:15 this is exactly what they threatened her with. This made Samson even angrier causing him to “slaughter many of them” (v. 8). With no inlaws left to passive-aggressively punish, the Philistines finally came after Samson himself (v. 9). Instead of unifying behind Samson as their leader, however, the people of Judah handed him over (v. 10). They used diplomacy to solve the situation, not war.

Now, what do we make of all this to this point? Here are some key points to understand:

  • Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was one example of a pervasive problem. Another example of the same problem was how the people of Judah handed him over to the Philistines. The problem that both of these incidents illustrate is that the people of Israel had way too cozy a relationship with the Philistines. Samson was acting outside the will of God by marrying her but he was not acting outside the informal customs of his society--and that was the problem. God’s people were supposed to defeat the Philistines and take their land, not intermarry with them and negotiate their way to peace.
  • Samson was, at the beginning, a terrorist. That’s right; he fought the Philistines by hitting them where it hurt, using guerrilla tactics instead of the formal approach of war. Terrorists don’t send an army; the attack civilians and their property as Samson did Judges 14-15.
  • Samson was set apart by God to be Israel’s leader and deliverer and he was empowered by God incredibly when fighting Israel’s enemies, but he never led Israel at all. Although he did the Lord’s will by fighting the Philistines, he did it for personal, selfish reasons, not because he believed in and wanted to obey the commands of God. He also...
  • acted alone rather than rallying God’s people as a true leader would. For these reasons, he never accomplished what he could have.

So three lessons emerge here for us to apply:

    1. God may empower and use people who do the right thing even if they do it for selfish reasons.
    1. But there is no reward for the person or glory to God when we do the right thing in selfishness and anger rather than out of principle and in obedience to biblical commands.
    1. Effective leaders engage others for the purpose of mission; talented people do it all themselves and are never as effective as they could or should be.

  • This was supposed to be done in writing (Deut 24:3) and, in fact, what he wrote on the paper was, “I hate you” meaning, “I divorce you.” Hebrew is a primitive language. BTW, while we’re talking about this, Malachi 2:16 was translated by some older translations such as the New American Standard Bible as, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord” when it should read, “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord (NIV).

Judges 13, Jeremiah 26

Today we’re reading Judges 13 and Jeremiah 26.

This devotional is about Judges 13.

Although they lived in evil times, Samson’s parents certainly feared the Lord. Their reverence for God is visible throughout this chapter. One quick lesson we can take from them is that even in the most evil days there is always someone who loves God and lives by his commands. This is called a remnant in other scripture passages; just as carpet is measured, cut, and used but some is left behind as a remnant, so God always leaves behind some who believe in him.

Anyway, Manoah’s wife received a revelation from someone who “looked like an angel of God, very awesome” (v. 6). After her husband prayed for this one to return (v. 8), God sent this heavenly messenger to both of them (vv. 9-14). Manoah, apparently, thought he was talking talking to a prophet or something because he offered the messenger food (vv. 15-16) and “did not realize that it was the angel of the Lord” (v. 16e). When he asked this messenger for his name he was told, “It is beyond understanding” (v. 18). This should have been a strong clue that the “man” they were talking to was the Lord God himself. It wasn’t, however, until “the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame” (vv. 19d-20b). At that point, Manoah and his wife knew what was going on. They fell down in worship (v. 20c) and said in verse 22, “‘We are doomed to die...! We have seen God!’” Notice that neither God nor the writer of Judges disputed Manoah’s interpretation. His wife knew that they wouldn’t die (v. 23) but nobody refuted the statement that they had “seen God.” Why not? Because this is one of a few places in the Old Testament where God appeared in human form.

Theologians call these kind of visitations by God “theophanies” “Theo-“ means “God” and the rest of the word comes from a Greek word that means “to show.” This certainly is a theophany; however, it is more correct to call it a “Christophany,” which when Christ, the 2nd person of God, shows up in human form. The fact that this is a theophany is easy to see in verse 22 in the phrase, “We have seen God!” But how do we know that this was Christ and not God the Father or the Holy Spirit?

The answer is that Christ is called “the Word” in John 1:1 which describes his divine role in the Trinity. Christ’s role is to reveal God, to be the mediator between God and creation. Anytime God reveals himself directly to humanity, then, Christ is the one making that revelation. Colossians 1:15-16 told us that “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” These passages teach the communication role that Christ plays in the Three Persons of God.

I wrote, regarding Joshua 5, that the “‘commander of the Lord’s army’ was Jesus himself but I didn’t explain why I believe it was Jesus and not the Father or the Spirit. Today’s devotional allowed me to return to this subject and explain a bit more about how God revealed himself in Christ in the Old Testament. Note that Jesus was not yet fully human; that didn’t happen until the virgin conception. But he appeared in human form as part of his role as the Word, the Logos, the communication of God to us.

Judges 12, Jeremiah 25

Today, read Judges 12 and Jeremiah 25.

This devotional is about Judges 12:8-15.

This little paragraph of scripture described three insignificant regional judges in Israel: Ibzan (vv. 8-10), Elon (vv. 11-12), and Abdon (vv. 13-15). I wrote that these men were “insignificant” but their names are recorded in Scripture; that’s more than anyone can say about me. But they were insignificant in the sense that nothing remarkable happened during their tenure as Israel’s leaders. Other than his tribe and burial place, all we learned about Elon was that he was a judge for 10 years (vv. 11-12).

This chapter gives us a bit more information about the other two men. Ibzan had a large family--thirty sons AND thirty daughters. Only a wealthy man could provide for such a large family, so these verses indicate a time of peace and prosperity in Judah. If the other nations around Judah were attacking her and oppressing her people, it would be hard to keep such a large family alive and thriving. So this shows us that the period of the Judges was not all about war, oppression, and turmoil. Ibzan had some political savvy, too. By making sure that all sixty of his children married outside their clan, Ibzan created a network of positive relationships with other Israelite clans and (possibly) tribes. This is good for trade and commerce, too. Ibzan may have left a boring historical legacy but that’s only because there were no major problems during his leadership. We find him forgettable but I’m sure the people he led were grateful; dull political situations mean stable communities where people can thrive.

Abdon, in verses 13-15 was likewise a pretty boring guy. His strength was delegation; he led using other people, namely, his forty sons and thirty grandsons. An effective leader is not someone who burns himself trying to hyper serve those he leads, doing all the work himself. An effective leader is one who can enlist and train others who can bear the responsibilities of leadership with him. The fact that these men rode around on seventy donkeys also indicates a time of prosperity. Donkeys were useful farm animals, the pickup trucks of the ancient world. They could carry heavy loads as well as pull a plow through the field. If God’s people were having a hard time providing for themselves, these 70 men would have had a hard time justifying using 70 donkeys to ride around town on. So God was good to his people during the days of Abdon. The lack of crises recorded in Judges during Abdon’s days can be traced to prosperous times and good leadership.

We do not read in these verses that these men were godly, righteous men but they must have been. Judges 2:12-15 told us that the squabbles God’s people had with other nations were actions of God’s divine justice for the idolatry and sins of the people. When we read about times like these where there were no raids or conflicts, it stands to reason that people were faithful to the Lord, including their leaders. Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” We tend to think that great leaders are kings and presidents and prime ministers are people who fight and win political and military battles. God’s word indicates that the best leaders are those who stay out of the news. They lead righteous lives, judge with justice, manage with diplomacy, and generally are pretty boring. These are the kinds of conditions we should seek. First Timothy 2:1-4 commands us to pray for rulers who will leave people alone and cultivate a peaceful, predictable world: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” When men in authority leave us alone to “live peaceful and quiet lives” God is pleased because the gospel can spread.

Let me just get really specific here: politics in our world has become sport and entertainment. The party in power in Washington will change laws, pick fights with political enemies, go to war against nations that have not attacked us and people who vote for that party love it. They love winning these skirmishes and mocking the other side. Both major political parties do it and news channels on TV and online love it because it gives them something to talk about, something to generate controversy with which drives up their ratings or page views. I guess this provides people with entertainment but I think it makes society less productive, less happy, less prosperous and, most importantly, makes Christians less focused on the mission Christ gave us.

Personally, I’d like to see Washington become a lot less relevant to everything and a lot more boring. I’d prefer any of these guys Ibzan, Elon, or Abdon to The Donald or Obama. I think God would, too. Let’s pray for our leaders to get out of the way and let us live our lives. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:3).

Judges 8, Jeremiah 21

Today we’re reading Judges 8 and Jeremiah 21.

This devotional is about Judges 8.

Gideon was a very reluctant leader from the beginning of God’s call on his life. Although he stepped up to the demands of leadership in verses 1-21 of today’s chapter, he didn’t fundamentally change. After he did what God commanded him to do, he retired as Israel’s judge and committed Israel’s further leadership to the Lord (v. 23).

But, before leaving the scene, he accepted a large amount of gold from the jewelry taken from the dead Midianites Israel had defeated (vv. 24-26). Verse 27 told us that “Gideon made the gold into an ephod” which is a garment worn by the priests when serving the Lord or asking for Him to reveal his will. Our passage doesn’t tell us why Gideon did this but it is very possible that Israel’s priesthood was not functioning well. In Judges 17 we’ll read about a man who hired a Levite to be his priest and in Judges 20 we’ll read about God’s people going to the ark to inquire of the Lord. That’s really about all we find of the formal aspects of worship in Judges. So Gideon may have made this ephod to assist his own personal worship of God.

Whatever his reason for making it, the ephod became an object of disobedient worship for Gideon, his family, and Israel. Verse 27c says, “All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” Instead of being something that honored the Lord, it became a means by which people broke the first two commandments.

This is why God commanded his people not to make graven images in the Second Commandment. Graven images can become “other gods” by which some people break the first commandment. Anytime we give more reverence to an object of worship than we give to God, we are in the territory of idolatry. It might be a cross on a pendant or hung on the wall, a painting or stained glass window of Jesus, water from the Jordan river, the elements of communion, the old Bible of a family member or loved one, or the writings of some Christian author that we study with more reverence than we do God’s word itself.

Is there anything that started out as a reminder of God that has taken on too much reverence for you? Is there any person or writing who has become more authoritative in your life than God’s word? Are you more likely to ask for the advice of a trusted Christian pastor/teacher/friend than to ask God directly for wisdom? Don’t let tools for serving the Lord become more important than the Lord himself.

Judges 7, Jeremiah 20

Today’s readings are Judges 7 and Jeremiah 20.

This devotional is about Judges 7.

God chose some unusual characters to lead Israel in this book of Judges. Those unusual characters used some unusual weapons, too. Gideon fit right in with the other oddballs God used in Judges. He was a weak man from a weak family and a weak tribe in Israel. He had no military experience, and no killer instinct. He did everything he could to shirk the assignment God gave him to rescue Israel from the Midianites.

I think Gideon had enough disadvantages already, but in today’s chapter God weakened his army even more. In verse 3, God told Gideon to announce that anyone who was too scared could go home. Twenty-two thousand men took him up on that offer but God thought Gideon still had too many troops. I’m sure Gideon didn’t think it was funny but I laughed when I read, “I will thin them out for you” (v. 4). Uh.., thanks?

Anyway, after sending home all the guys who kneeled down to drink, Gideon was left with three hundred men (v. 8). Using nothing but trumpets, torches, jars, and their voices, God defeated the Midianites with those three hundred water-lapping Hebrew men.

The point of this strange approach to fighting was to give glory to God. In verse 2 we read, “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, “My own strength has saved me.”’” By choosing a weak man to lead using a small group and an unconventional method, God was able to demonstrate his power to Israel again and call them to trust him and stop worshipping those false gods.

God doesn’t always use weakness and strange methods to do his work but this certainly wasn’t the only time he worked this way either. The lesson for us is to rely on God to use us not our superior tools or preparation. I’ve been guilty in my life and ministry of relying on excessive preparation and the best tools possible, at times, while neglecting prayer and faith in the power of God to work. Passages like this remind us that we need God’s power and promises far more than we need human power, ingenuity, and tools.

Have you ever thought or said, “I could never do “x” for God because I don’t have “y?” For instance:

  • I could never teach a Calvary Class because I don’t have enough time to prepare.
  • I could never give my testimony in church because I don’t have confidence to do public speaking.
  • I could never talk to someone else about the gospel because I don’t know every answer to any question they might ask me.

If you’ve ever thought or said something like this, then you should apply this lesson from Gideon to your life. God wants to use you and has promised to do so if you rely on him. What kind of act of faith might he use you for if you trusted him?

Judges 6, Jeremiah 17

Today read Judges 6, Jeremiah 17.

This devotional is about Judges 6. It is a repost from 66in16.

This chapter in Judges describes how the Lord disciplined Israel’s idolatry using the Midianites. Their brand of oppression was unusual. They weren’t into swordplay and slaughter; rather, stealing was their brand. Apparently they’d enter your house and do whatever they wanted to your family and your stuff, so the Israelites fled to the hills for some privacy and protection (v. 2). The Midianites treated Israel like slaves. They allowed God’s people plant crops on their land, doing all the hard work of breaking up the ground, planting the seed, and nurturing the plants as they emerged from the ground (v. 3a). Then the Midianites would swoop in, camp on Israel’s land and take everything from the harvest (vv. 4-6). In desperation, Israel cried out to the Lord for help (vv. 6-7). Before sending a military leader, God sent a prophet (vv. 8a). His prescription was repentance, reminding Israel of their disobedience to God’s covenant (vv. 8b-10).

There is no indication that Israel repented of their sins, but God identified a military man anyway; his name was Gideon. The only problem was that he was a military man disguised as a complete coward. We see this first of all based where God met him. Verse 11 says he “was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.” This was an impractical place to thresh wheat. The best threshing was out in an open place where the wind blew freely, not down in a pit where the grapes were crushed. But what the winepress lacked in practicality it made up for in privacy. Gideon went there “…to keep it from the Midianites.” Only a complete moron would thresh in the winepress, so Gideon went there on purpose, not because he was a moron but because they wouldn’t look for the wheat there. This choice of Gideon’s, however, shows that he was not a mighty man by nature despite what the angel of the Lord said of him in verse 12. If he were a mighty man by nature, he would have threshed in the open with his sword strapped to his belt. He would have been ready to defend his food against the Midianites instead of hiding from them. So, when God spoke to Gideon, he was designated a “mighty warrior” not because he really was but because “The Lord is with you” (v. 12b).

In addition to being a weakling warrior, he was also not much of a theologian. His response to the assertion that God was with him was to question God’s faithfulness in verse 13. Maybe he believed that God’s promises were unconditional; if so, he hadn’t read the law very well. The kind of oppression he experienced was exactly what God had promised if Israel worshipped idols. Ignoring the idols in his very own household (v. 25), Gideon blamed God for Israel’s problems rather than realizing their problem was sin.

What he lacked in military strength and theological prowess was more than matched by his lack of leadership positioning. In verse 15, Gideon pointed out that he was the youngest member of his family, which was from a weak clan, in a weak tribe. In a culture that valued positional leadership, there was nothing in his position to suggest that Gideon was poised for leadership.

Then there is the issue of his faith. God urged him twice to stand on God’s promises to Israel and defeat the Midianites (vv. 14, 16). God’s written word in the Law alone was more than enough for Gideon, or any other man in Israel, to liberate God’s people. But even after hearing God’s direct call (v. 16), seeing God face to face in the angel of the Lord (vv. 17-23), being used by God to destroy the altar to Baal and replace it with a proper altar to Israel’s God (vv. 25-32) and to summon an Israelite army when Israel’s enemies threatened invasion (vv. 33-35), Gideon gets scared again and tests God twice (vv. 36-40). Christians talk all the time about “putting out a fleece” to discern the will of God, but that’s not what Gideon was doing. He was looking for a loophole, a way out of doing what God had commanded him to do (v. 36b: “…If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised…”).

It is hard to respect Gideon after reading this passage, yet God used him as we’ll see in the next two chapters of Judges. When it comes to our own lives, however, we are often like Gideon. We sin, then blame God for the consequences. We know that we should live obediently to God’s commands because we’re banking on God’s promises, but we get scared and we look for loopholes, exceptions, and emergency exits. Yet, God is gracious to us still. He does not become angry with us, judge us, and move on from us in anger. He works through our unbelief with us and shows us that, if we will just trust him by living obediently, he’ll be with us. So, can you trust him today and do the right thing—the thing that scares you but that you know from God’s word is the thing you’re supposed to do?

If God can use a guy like Gideon, certainly he can use us. We’re made of the same weak stuff that Gideon was made of but we have the same almighty God who stands by us when we live in faith to his promises.

Judges 3, Jeremiah 18

Today’s OT18 readings are Judges 3 & Jeremiah 18.

This devotional is about Judges 3:7-11.

This first judge we met by name in the book of Judges after the death of Joshua was Othniel. We read briefly about him as Israel’s judge in verses 7-11 today but that is not the first time we’ve encountered him. Verse 6 told us that he was “...son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.” He was introduced to us the same way in Judges 1:13. In that chapter, Caleb, was looking for a man to capture a place called “Kiriath Sepher” (1:12) and he offered his daughter Aksah as a wife to whomever took Kiriath Sepher. Our guy Othniel jumped at the change, captured Kiriath Sepher and received Aksah as his wife. Yes, that’s right, he married his cousin. Things were different back then.

Still in Judges 1, Othniel wanted some more land from his uncle/father-in-law Caleb. So, like a man, he put his wife up to the task of asking her daddy for it. For reasons that I won’t go into here, the NIV text says that Aksah wanted the land and told Othniel to ask Caleb for it. But that’s probably wrong; it was the other way around because Judges 1:14b-15 tell us that it was Aksah who did the asking.

Confused? Let me recap:

  • Othniel is the first judge named in Judges
  • We don’t find out he’s a judge until chapter 3 but we met him in chapter 1 where he conquered some Canaanites in order to win a woman named Aksah’s hand in marriage.
  • Once he married Aksah, he goaded her into asking her father for more land, land that had springs of water on it (1:15).

Now, here’s where I have some questions that the Bible doesn’t answer directly. My first question is, “Was Othniel a man who just lacked the courage to ask for what he wanted?” He certainly seemed to lack the courage to ask his father-in-law for the land he wanted in 1:14-15. But when chapter 1:12-13 tell us that Othniel jumped at the chance to beat those Kiriath Sephers once Aksah was the prize, I can’t help but wonder if he wanted to marry her all along but was just too shy to ask uncle Caleb for her.

Think about it. He wanted to marry a woman but maybe was just too shy to ask her dad directly. Once her dad says she can marry the guy who attacks and defeats Kiriath Sepher, he moves immediately into action, beats the enemy and wins the girl. Could he have made it easier on himself if he just had the courage to ask?

My second question is: Did Caleb know that Othniel wanted her but was too shy to ask so he made it “easy” for him by giving him a prize? It seems easier, to me at least, to ask than to go to battle but that’s not how Othniel rolled.

Anyway, coming to today’s passage, Judges 3, Othniel became Israel’s judge but only when “the Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war.” It took a special act of God’s Spirit to get Othniel to do the right thing. Remember that God had already promised victory to Israel; all anyone had to do was believe the Lord’s promise and attack. Ehud demonstrated that in our chapter today (3:28). He didn’t attack Eglon when the Spirit of the Lord came on him; he just did it knowing that the Lord would be with him.

Here’s my point in all of this: Are you too shy, like Othniel may have been, to claim God’s promises and act in faith? Does it take special circumstances like Caleb created for Othniel to get you to do what you want even if you know it is within the Lord’s moral will? Does God have to do a dramatic work in your heart to get you to do something for him, something that you actually want to do but are too shy to attempt without a push?

I’m a bit hard on Othniel here, but the truth is that I am Othniel. There have been too many times in my life where I was afraid to take action and waited for someone else to goad me or some circumstance to happen for me. I’d like to help you avoid this.

To give Othniel some credit here, at least he moved when the door opened for him. When Caleb made his offer, he didn’t sit around and wonder if it was God’s will. When God’s Spirit moved him to go to war, he went to war. It might have needed a push now and then, but at least he kept moving once the push came.

But would Othniel have had a better life and been a more effective leader if he asked Caleb directly for his daughter? Oh, yeah, and throw in that extra land with the springs of water on it too, Caleb, while you’re at it, mkay?

Or (and I’m more certain about this) couldn’t Israel have avoided eight years of subjection to Aram Naharaim (v. 8) if Othniel had just claimed God at his word and led Israel to fight back when their enemies oppressed them?

How about you? Do you want something in life that you know is within God’s moral will at least but you’re too scared to ask for it? You’re waiting for that girl to show interest in you or for that job to be offered to you instead of just stepping up and asking for it? What about a ministry need that you see and you could meet but you’re waiting for someone else to take the lead or for God to kick you in the backside to get you started?

If something came to mind while you were reading this, and it is something you’ve already been thinking about for a while now, are you going to do anything about it today?

Judges 20, Acts 24, Jeremiah 34, Psalms 5–6

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 20, Acts 24, Jeremiah 34, Psalms 5–6. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 20.

At the end of yesterday’s reading in Judges 19, each tribe in Israel received a piece of the dead body of a woman. Someone got her severed head, another received her right hand, and so on. The people were naturally aghast at such a ghastly thing, so in today’s reading from Judges 20, they responded. Nothing unifies a nation like a dismembered body, apparently, so in verse 1 we read that “all Israel… came together as one… in Mizpah.” One phrase that I omitted from that quotation was “before the Lord,” which describes a seriousness about the situation and a rare understanding from Israel’s leaders that their decisions were just a spiritually important as they were civilly. What we have in the first part of verse 20 is an investigation. The people of Israel asked the man with the complaint, the woman’s “husband” to describe his grievance (v. 3). The tribe of Benjamin were aware of the ongoing trial, probably because they, too, had received one of the woman’s body parts. After listening to the man’s description of events in verses 4-6 and hearing the man call for a decision (v. 7), the leaders decide to prepare for a civil war on the entire tribe of Benjamin (vv. 8-11). While they prepared, they also sent messengers “throughout the tribe of Benjamin” (v. 12), asking the tribe of Benjamin to do justice and hand over the culprits who sinned against the Levite and his concubine.

There are perplexing aspects to this story. The most difficult one for me is why the Israelites suffered two defeats to the Benjaminites. The defeats happened despite the fact that Israel’s cause was just and they had submitted to the Lord’s will the decision to attack in both cases (vv. 17-18, 23). Maybe the Lord wanted to humble the Israelites and increase their sense of dependence on him (see vv. 26-28). I wish the Lord had given us more insight on this.

What I do know is that Benjamin paid a heavy price for refusing to deal justly with the men who brutally treated one of their sister Israelites. If they had handled the Levite’s case justly, this loss of life could have been completely avoided. If they had simply handed over, when confronted by Israel, the perpetrators (v. 12), they could have avoided this civil war. Their stubbornness, their loyalty to blood over the just application of God’s law, caused much greater turmoil for the whole nation than was necessary.

And then I think about how easy it is for us for us to excuse or defend our own sin or the sins of those we like and how hard it is for us to do the right thing when we are confronted and given the opportunity to turn and do the right thing. Although the consequences, thankfully, of our sins are not this sweeping and brutal, a passage like this reminds us how damaging sin and defensiveness about it, can be. If we think about this in terms of our own lives, hopefully we can be wise by learning from this brutal story.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 17, Acts 21, Jeremiah 30–31, Mark 16

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 17, Acts 21, Jeremiah 30–31, Mark 16. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 17.

Judges 17 begins the last cycle of stories in the book of Judges, and it is a very dark series of stories. Like dominoes, one evil triggers another and things get bad for the people of Israel. The cycle starts with a man named Micah—not the one who has a book in the Minor Prophets named after him. This story begins with Micah confessing to his mother that he stole eleven hundred shekels of silver from her (v. 1-2a). She had responded to this theft by asking God to punish the thief with a curse (v. 17b). Maybe her words scared him or at least made him feel guilty about what he had done; whatever it was, something motivated him to confess. His mother’s response is perplexing to us. First she prayed a blessing from YHWH (the personal, covenant name of God) on Micah (v. 2c). Then she dedicated the silver Micah returned to the Lord, but as a gift to Micah. She made a graven image out of it, violating the Second Commandment but in the covenant name of God (vv. 3-4). Already we see that there is spiritual confusion among God’s people. Just a few generations removed from Joshua, people think they are worshipping God by violating his commands about idols.

Micah installed this idol in his little home shrine along side other idols (v. 5: “some household gods”) and made an “ephod,” which is a garment for Jewish priests to wear. God’s law taught that there is only one God, that God’s people were not to make graven images, that all sacrifices to God were to be made at the central sanctuary, the Tabernacle, and that those sacrifices were to be offered by the priests—sons of Aaron from the tribe of Levi. Against all these commands, Micah decided to worship many gods, in the form of idols, at his own home shrine and with his son installed as the priest (v. 5). Verse 6 described why this was so: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” The rule of Law should have been sufficient, but without a central leader to enforce the Law, people did their own thing.

In verse 7, a young man left Bethlehem looking for a new home (v. 8a). Notice that at the end of verse 7 the Bible tells us that he “been living within the clan of Judah.” Remember that all the priests were Levites—from the tribe of Levi but that the tribe of Levi had no land assigned to them. Instead, they were to spread out through all the tribes and towns of Israel and only go to serve in the Tabernacle during the times assigned to them. This is subtle, but really important. The priests and Levites were supposed to be everywhere, scattered all over Israel. The purpose was so they could teach God’s law to the people so that they wouldn’t do what Micah did here, namely whatever he “saw fit” (v. 6). This unnamed priest was looking for a new home, but when Micah heard his pedigree, he eagerly offered him a place to live and financial support (v. 10b). In exchange for this, he wanted the young Levite to “be my father and priest.” In other words, he wanted personal spiritual instruction and guidance (that’s what “my father” is suggesting) as well as someone to offer animal sacrifices to his collection of idols. This man, who knew better as a Levite, agreed (vv. 11-12). And Micah was very happy; having an honest-to-goodness authentic Levite as his personal priest legitimized, in Micah’s mind, his whole spiritual arrangement. In verse 13 he said, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.” Once again he used the covenant, personal name of Israel’s God, YHWH in this statement. This indicates that he saw his actions not as idolatry but as evidence of his deep devotion to Israel’s God.

This chapter is just the beginning of the story of Micah; there is more to come. But it should serve as a warning to us. On one hand, here is a man who appears to have a deep commitment to worship because he was willing to devote some serious resources to worship. He put his money where his religion was, so spirituality was a strong concern for him. He even had some good, pious talk to go with it, invoking the covenant name of Israel’s God and claiming his idol and his whole religious thing to be devoted to that God. But despite his dedication and godly talk, he was sinning against the Lord. His approach to worship was manmade; it violated so many of the key tenets of Israel’s faith as revealed by Moses. 

Furthermore, Micah’s motives were clear from his statement, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.” There is nothing wrong—and everything right—with wanting God’s goodness. What assured him of God’s goodness in his life, however, was not the thing God promised to bless. It was not his deep faith in God, manifested in careful obedience to God’s laws. Instead, what assured Micah of God’s goodness to him was “…since this Levite has become my priest” (v. 13). In other words, when the Levite agreed to become his priest and sacrifice to his gods, Micah felt sure that things would go well for him in life. He saw the priest, in effect, as his “good luck charm” and he was certain that, with this Levite onboard, more and more prosperity would be headed Micah’s way.

Unfortunately, the kind of self-made spirituality in the name of the true God was not confined to this horrible episode in Israel’s history. Instead, there are always people in every era who proclaim to want to worship the true God but in their own ways. They may have the right name for God and some correct theology. They may desire deep spirituality and devote significant time and attention to it. They may have nice, pious talk; but their approach is all selfish. It is an approach to God that “clicks for them,” that makes sense to them, regardless of the fact that it violates a number of the clear commands of scripture. They may even employ well-pedigreed religious leaders and earnestly seek their wise counsel. But, despite all of this, their worship is vain; it is empty because it is a perversion of the true worship of God, not the true substance of biblical worship. We should beware of anyone who wants to baptize their approach to God in Christian language. It doesn’t matter if is a church that is 2000 years old or 2 years old; if it departs in its worship from God’s word, it is idolatry. Let’s be discerning, then, in the kinds of “Christian” authors and leaders we allow to influence us. Let’s be like the Bereans, listening carefully to those who purport to teach God’s word but, after listening carefully, do their own investigation of the scripture to see if the teaching is true or not.

Finally, this Levite was totally compromised as well. Instead of teaching this man what God’s law required and urging him to forsake his gods and follow after the true God of Israel, he accepted the nice stipend that was offered to him. He was more than willing to legitimize this man’s idolatry and disobedience because there was a steady paycheck in it.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 16, Acts 20, Jeremiah 29, Mark 15

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 16, Acts 20, Jeremiah 29, Mark 15. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 16.

When Samson went to visit his wife in Judges 15:1-2, it was probably some physical affection he had in mind. Note that he was going to “her room” in verse 1, so he probably wasn’t planning to take her out to dinner then for a romantic moonlit stroll. Unexpectedly single and still feeling lonely, Samson turned to a prostitute here in Judges 16:1 to find the satisfaction he did not find with his now ex-wife. The Philistines thought they would gang up on him and defeat him when he left the next morning (v. 2), but Samson decided to leave in the middle of the night (v. 3), perhaps to keep the cost down (?). The gates to the city were undoubtedly locked, both due to the hour of the night and to keep Samson from escaping so they could take him in the morning. But Samson, never one to miss a chance to mess with the Philistines, let himself out of the city by ripping off the gates and carrying them to a hill (v. 3). where everyone would know that something unusual and terrifying had happened overnight.

Then he met Delilah (v. 4) and even “fell in love with her.” This suggests that his infatuation with her was more than physical and his intentions toward her were more than temporary. Since his first marriage had gone so poorly and since the Philistines had loose morals anyway, Samson apparently had a “sleep-over” arrangement with Delilah that allowed him to spend personal time with her without the costly entanglements of marriage. Delilah, however, was loyal to her nation, especially given the promise of her rulers to pay her well if she betrayed Samson (v. 5). The task she agreed to perform was to obtain “the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him” (v. 5). This suggests that Samson was not an unusually muscular man. The great feats of strength that Samson accomplished were done by God’s power, not because he was a workout warrior. If the Philistines could discover his secret, they could eliminate him as a problem in their lives.

Delilah dedicated herself to the task, asking him to tell her his secret in order to deepen their relational intimacy (v. 15), then keeping Samson around her house until he was good and sleepy. Each time he lied to her and each time she tried what he said. I suppose her excuse was that she wanted to test him to see if she was telling the truth, but you’d think that he would have gotten suspicious after she repeatedly tried to weaken him using the information he gave her. Foolishly, he trusted her and told her the truth after she tried to betray him three times. They say “love is blind” but it can also be really stupid, too. 

I said that Samson “trusted her and told her the truth” in the paragraph above, but that’s not exactly correct. He told her what he thought the truth was; the real truth was that his strength had nothing to do with his hair. It was God’s spirit coming on him in power that gave him such super-human strength. But Samson had been disobedient to God repeatedly—marrying a Philistine woman, consorting with a prostitute, and living with a woman he had married. When he started revealing his Nazirite vow, that was when the Lord “left him” (v. 20). It was not the length of his hair or anything else about him as a man that made him so strong. It was the power of God in his life, but his repeated selfishness and sin caused God to withdraw that power from Samson. 

This is what happens to us when we stop relying on the Lord and start to arrogantly trust ourselves instead. Although God used Samson for one mighty final act, his story is mostly about how one man presumed on the grace of God and lived his own sinful way, without regard to the consequences in his life. Instead of cultivating a strong relationship with God, Samson cultivated his sin nature. Instead of becoming the godly leader he could have been, Samson became a tragic figure who was used by God despite his lack of faith, not because of it. Don’t ever let success in any area of your life be the barometer of your walk with God. Walk with God and let him handle the rest.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/calvarybiblechurch/. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 13, Acts 17, Jeremiah 26, Mark 12

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 13, Acts 17, Jeremiah 26, Mark 12. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 13.

Most of the leaders we’ve read about in Judges are given a chapter or less in this book. The exceptions are Deborah (Judges 4-5), Gideon (Judges 6-8), Jephthah (Judges 9-12), and Samson (Judges 13-16). Among these four, Gideon and Samson were called to be judges by a direct appearance from the angel of the Lord, but Gideon received his call when he was an adult. Samson’s call came to his parents. In their case, God chose a man from a small town, Zorah (v. 2a) from an insignificant clan (v. 2b) who could not have a family to that point because his wife was barren (v. 2c). God in his grace chose these insignificant people, appeared to them directly and dramatically, and revealed that their son would be a military leader (v. 5) against the mighty Philistines who had dominated Israel for 40 years (v. 1). And, what made Samson unique among all the judges was that he was commanded “to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb” (v. 5b). The concept of a Nazirite was explained in Numbers 6. According to that passage, this was usually a temporary vow to God (see Num 6:13) during which the Nazirite was marked off from everyone else in Israel by diet (no grapes, wine, or raisins), appearance (no haircuts), and separation from the dead. Numbers does not tell us what the Nazirite is doing or why someone might make a temporary vow. In a society that struggled even to worship God by obeying the routine aspects of the law, it is likely that few, if any, took on the special circumstances of becoming a Nazirite. This is why the Angel of the Lord had to tell Manoah’s wife what to do to maintain Samson’s status as a Nazirite (vv. 4-5) and why Manoah prayed for a return visit from the Angel of the Lord to repeat the instructions (vv. 8-14). Samson was most unusual, not only because he was a Nazirite, but because he was commanded to be one for his entire life (v. 7).

Samson’s wife seems to have realized that the man who instructed her was more than just a prophet (v. 6: “He looked like an angel of God, very awesome”) but Manoah seemed to think that he was speaking to a mere man. This is why he attempted to show hospitality to this messenger (vv. 15-16). Eventually he learned that this messenger had a name that was too wonderful to share with Manoah (vv. 17-18) and, when the angel ascended through his food offering, he realized that he was speaking with none other than God himself (vv. 20-22). 

What an incredible start Samson had as a leader for the Lord. Not only was his destiny set before he was even conceived, but his parents were instructed by God himself on how to raise their son. Although we are not told that his parents were devout worshippers of the Lord before Christ appeared to them as the Angel of the Lord, it is clear that they received God’s word with faith and a serious desire to be obedient to what it said. What a challenge to those of us who are parents. Do we desire to see our children grow up to serve the Lord? Do we take seriously God’s commands, seeking to live them out for ourselves and teach them well to our children? Do we understand that God usually chooses the average guy from the unimpressive family to be great, simply because of God’s grace? Are we thankful for the work of the Holy Spirit in our children’s lives as they come to know Christ by faith and begin to follow him (vv. 24-25)? 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 11:12–40, Acts 15, Jeremiah 24, Mark 10

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 11:12–40, Acts 15, Jeremiah 24, Mark 10. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Jeremiah 24.

When we read the Old Testament prophets, we see passage after passage that condemns the people for their sins and warns of coming judgment. The language that describes their disobedience seems so all-encompassing that we might conclude that there were no faithful people in Israel except for the prophets themselves. Today’s passage in Jeremiah 24 shows that this is not true. Although most of God’s people were disobedient to his covenant, the basket of figs shows that there were some who loved God and lived obediently to him. The fact that Jeremiah described the good figs as “very good” in verse 3 shows that there were some strong believers scattered among the idol worshippers and other unfaithful people of Judah. Yet, due to the unfaithfulness of the majority, even these “good figs” were carried away into exile, experiencing the curse of the covenant for the disobedience of the whole kingdom. This seems terribly unjust, but God did not abandon these faithful believers altogether. Instead, today’s chapter offers hope for these believers. God promised in verse 6, “My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them.” So his promises would be kept in his time. However, in the meantime, God promised to reward these faithful ones with the thing they really needed anyway: a deeper discipleship with him. Verse 7 says, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” 

Just as even the faithful among God’s people experienced the effects of God’s judgment due to the sins and unbelief of others, so we will have pain and setbacks in our own lives, even if we faithfully follow the Lord. God’s promise to us is not a pain-free life or peaceful, material abundance. God’s promise to us is himself; and that will be more than enough if our hope is truly in him. 

[Just a word about Jephthah’s rash vow in Judges 11: Of course God did not want him to sacrifice his daughter. It was explicitly against the law of Moses to do so (Deut 12:31, 18:9-12). So what should he have done? He should have asked the priests to inquire of the Lord for him (see Ex 28:30, Deut 33:8, 1 Sam 14:41, Ezra 2:63, Neh 7:65), then done whatever he was told. For more on how the Urim & Thummim were used to help discern God’s will, see this article: https://bible.org/question/how-did-urim-and-thummim-function ]

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 9, Acts 13, Jeremiah 22, Mark 8

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 9, Acts 13, Jeremiah 22, Mark 8. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 9.

Of all the horrible things described in the book of Judges, few are worse than the chapter we read today, Judges 9. Gideon, in chapter 8, refused to become the ruler of Israel (Judges 8:22-23). He was too busy impregnating his many wives, apparently (Judges 8:30) to be bothered with national leadership. But he wasn’t too busy to find a girlfriend in addition to his wives; she lived in the city of Shechem and Gideon had a son with her named Abimelek (Judges 8:29-32). Here in Judges 9, which we read today, Abimelek, Gideon’s illegitimate son, convinced the citizens of Shechem to pay him to become their king. Remember that he, unlike the rest of Gideon’s kids, was from Shechem (8:31), which is why he said to the citizens of Shechem, “I am your flesh and blood” (9:2). 

There is a bit of a gap in the story here that we have to fill in by implication. Although Gideon (aka “Jerub-Baal”) said he and his children would not rule over Israel (8:22), some people in Israel must have looked to Gideon’s many, many sons for some kind of leadership. If they didn’t, then Abimelek’s offer in 9:1-2 would have made no sense. Probably, whatever leadership Gideon’s boys gave to Shechem also came with some kind of price tag. It also seems probable to me that it was confusing and probably oppressive to have seventy guys as “leaders” for one town, where they didn’t even live. Gideon’s sons, then, may have offered protection to Shechem in exchange for money and authority. Abimelek offered them a simpler, cheaper solution. “Pay me to become your king and I’ll do a better job because this is my neighborhood, too.” 

The people of Shechem thought this was a good deal, so they gave Abimelek some money. He hired some street thugs to be his army (v. 4) and they slaughtered all the rest of Gideon’s son except his youngest, Jotham, who escaped (vv. 5-6). Jotham called to the Shechemites and told them a weird little parable about trees (vv. 8-15). The parable makes sense for a while—truly productive trees want to continue to be productive. It is the unproductive plant, the thrornbush, that wants to be king. Every citizen of America should reflect on this parable. People who seek power want to portray themselves as wise public servants who could be very successful in private enterprise but instead seek to serve humanity by ruling over everyone else. There may be some examples where that is true, but we should be skeptical. Rulers have incredible power to enrich themselves at the expense of the productive. In God’s providence, Jeremiah railed against this tendency in our reading from Jeremiah today: Jeremiah 22:11-17. 

The point of Judges 9 is to show how God did not allow Abimelek’s murders to stand unaddressed (see verses 23-24, 57). Although he was a reckless, unaccountable, self-anointed “leader,” his brutality did not escape the notice of a just God. But I think the lesson of the trees and the message of Jeremiah 22:11-17 is one for us to consider this election season. God gave Israel very specific, very limited laws. Most of God’s laws were ceremonial and those were regulated by the priests. So there was central government for Israel in terms of religion. But Israel’s civil laws were few and specific and so were their moral laws. These laws were not only written down in the books of Moses but so was the penalty for them. God’s intention was not for Israel to have a central, civil government. Rather, the elders of individual tribes and clans were to read God’s laws for themselves and interpret and apply them as a group of leaders when there was an infraction. In other words, they were supposed to live productive lives farming, ranching, manufacturing, etc. and only govern when necessary. There were not supposed to be permanent government  leaders, just family leaders (aka “fathers” or “patriarchs”) who worked together with other family leaders when necessary. Moses’ law did contemplate Israel having a king but that king was to be the Messiah, not a human ruler. What we see again and again in the Old Testament is that most human rulers are unproductive themselves and seek power to enrich themselves by taking, forcefully if necessary, from the productive. If they men of Shechem had stepped up to their responsibilities—teaching their families God’s laws, living by God’s laws themselves, and working together with other fathers to punish offenders appropriately—none of Judges 9 would have happened.

What would happen in our country if the productive people in our nation limited the power of its “leaders,” kept the laws simple and few, held leaders accountable to follow the law themselves, and worked out issues on a local level rather than letting the big federal government impose its will on everyone?

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 6, Acts 10, Jeremiah 19, Mark 5

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 6, Acts 10, Jeremiah 19, Mark 5. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 6.

This chapter in Judges describes how the Lord disciplined Israel’s idolatry using the Midianites. Their brand of oppression was unusual. They weren’t into swordplay and slaughter; rather, stealing was their brand. Apparently they’d enter your house and do whatever they wanted to your family and your stuff, so the Israelites fled to the hills for some privacy and protection (v. 2). The Midianites treated Israel like slaves. They allowed God’s people plant crops on their land, doing all the hard work of breaking up the ground, planting the seed, and nurturing the plants as they emerged from the ground (v. 3a). Then the Midianites would swoop in, camp on Israel’s land and take everything from the harvest (vv. 4-6). In desperation, Israel cried out to the Lord for help (vv. 6-7). Before sending a military leader, God sent a prophet (vv. 8a). His prescription was repentance, reminding Israel of their disobedience to God’s covenant (vv. 8b-10). 

There is no indication that Israel repented of their sins, but God identified a military man anyway; his name was Gideon. The only problem was that he was a military man disguised as a complete coward. We see this first of all based where God met him. Verse 11 says he “was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.” This was an impractical place to thresh wheat. The best threshing was out in an open place where the wind blew freely, not down in a pit where the grapes were crushed. But what the winepress lacked in practicality it made up for in privacy. Gideon went there “…to keep it from the Midianites.” Only a complete moron would thresh in the winepress, so Gideon went there on purpose, not because he was a moron but because they wouldn’t look for the wheat there. This choice of Gideon’s, however, shows that he was not a mighty man by nature despite what the angel of the Lord said of him in verse 12. If he were a mighty man by nature, he would have threshed in the open with his sword strapped to his belt. He would have been ready to defend his food against the Midianites instead of hiding from them. So, when God spoke to Gideon, he was designated a “mighty warrior” not because he really was but because “The Lord is with you” (v. 12b). 

In addition to being a weakling warrior, he was also not much of a theologian. His response to the assertion that God was with him was to question God’s faithfulness in verse 13. Maybe he believed that God’s promises were unconditional; if so, he hadn’t read the law very well. The kind of oppression he experienced was exactly what God had promised if Israel worshipped idols. Ignoring the idols in his very own household (v. 25), Gideon blamed God for Israel’s problems rather than realizing their problem was sin.

What he lacked in military strength and theological prowess was more than matched by his lack of leadership positioning. In verse 15, Gideon pointed out that he was the youngest member of his family, which was from a weak clan, in a weak tribe. In a culture that valued positional leadership, there was nothing in his position to suggest that Gideon was poised for leadership.

Then there is the issue of his faith. God urged him twice to stand on God’s promises to Israel and defeat the Midianites (vv. 14, 16). God’s written word in the Law alone was more than enough for Gideon, or any other man in Israel, to liberate God’s people. But even after hearing God’s direct call (v. 16), seeing God face to face in the angel of the Lord (vv. 17-23), being used by God to destroy the altar to Baal and replace it with a proper altar to Israel’s God (vv. 25-32) and to summon an Israelite army when Israel’s enemies threatened invasion (vv. 33-35), Gideon gets scared again and tests God twice (vv. 36-40). Christians talk all the time about “putting out a fleece” to discern the will of God, but that’s not what Gideon was doing. He was looking for a loophole, a way out of doing what God had commanded him to do (v. 36b: “…If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised…”).

It is hard to respect Gideon after reading this passage, yet God used him as we’ll see in the next two chapters of Judges. When it comes to our own lives, however, we are often like Gideon. We sin, then blame God for the consequences. We know that we should live obediently to God’s commands because we’re banking on God’s promises, but we get scared and we look for loopholes, exceptions, and emergency exits. Yet, God is gracious to us still. He does not become angry with us, judge us, and move on from us in anger. He works through our unbelief with us and shows us that, if we will just trust him by living obediently, he’ll be with us. So, can you trust him today and do the right thing—the thing that scares you but that you know from God’s word is the thing you’re supposed to do?

If God can use a guy like Gideon, certainly he can use us. We’re made of the same weak stuff that Gideon was made of but we have the same almighty God who stands by us when we live in faith to his promises.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 2, Acts 6, Jeremiah 15, Mark 1

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 2, Acts 6, Jeremiah 15, Mark 1. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 2.

The end of Judges 1, which we read yesterday, chronicles Israel’s failure to be fully obedient to the Lord and drive out all the nations that had occupied Canaan, the promised land. Here in chapter 2, “the angel of the Lord” which is usually understood to be a title for Christ appearing on earth before his birth, shows up in Israel. (Note that he says “I” in verses 1-3, not “the Lord,” which is one evidence that it is the Lord himself speaking.) He reminded the people of God’s covenant with them (v. 1b), his commands to  them (v. 2a), and their disobedience (v. 2b). In verse 3, then, he speaks judgment to the people, telling them that these occupying nations and their gods “will become snares to you.” The people wept and rededicated themselves to the Lord (vv. 4-5) and set out in obedience (v. 6), serving God for the rest of their days (vv. 7-9).

Then they all died. Verse 10 tells us that, after their deaths, “…another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” But why not? Because their fathers did not teach them the ways of the Lord. When we read through the law of Moses, we saw again and again how God told the people to teach his word to their children. Apparently this is one area where Joshua’s generation utterly failed to be obedient to the Lord. Consequently, “…the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.” The rest of chapter 2 lays out the cycle that we will see again and again in the book of Judges:

1. Israel sinned (vv. 11-12).
2. God disciplined them (vv. 13-15).
3. God sent judges to save them and call them back to obedience (vv. 16-18).
4. That generation died and Israel went back to step 1 in the cycle. 

Remember this cycle because we’re going to see it played out over and over throughout the book of Judges. As is usually the case in the Bible, historical events are not merely interesting and informative about the past; rather, they reveal tendencies that people have regardless of what age they live in. And, so, many churches that once were strong for God have given up the faith completely or have shriveled as the second (or third, etc.) generation did not know the Lord for themselves. This chapter reminds us how important it is for us to tell our children what we’ve seen the Lord do in our lives and to instruct them in God’s word, urging them to believe and obey the Lord themselves so that they can see God work in their own lives. Each generation needs to find the Lord for itself personally, but they will only find him if they know God’s word. Knowing God’s word enables us to see God working in our everyday life. Our responsibility, then, both to the Lord and to our children, is to teach our children his word but also to pray for them and encourage them to believe God’s word and act in faith by obeying what it says. As they see God keeping his promises, the faith we passed on to them by precept will become theirs in practice. Then the cycle of disobedience will be broken—as long as our children continue to obey the Lord themselves and teach their children.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.