Thursday, March 28, 2013

Reflections on Judges 16

    Judges 16 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. One day while Samson was in Gaza, he saw a prostitute and went to her house to spend the night.
  2. The people who lived in Gaza found out he was there, and they decided to kill him at sunrise. So they went to the city gate and waited all night in the guardrooms on each side of the gate.
  3. But Samson got up in the middle of the night and went to the town gate. He pulled the gate doors and doorposts out of the wall and put them on his shoulders. Then he carried them all the way to the top of the hill that overlooks Hebron, where he set the doors down, still closed and locked.
  4. Some time later, Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in Sorek Valley.
  5. The Philistine rulers went to Delilah and said, "Trick Samson into telling you what makes him so strong and what can make him weak. Then we can tie him up so he can't get away. If you find out his secret, we will each give you eleven hundred pieces of silver."
  6. The next time Samson was at Delilah's house, she asked, "Samson, what makes you so strong? How can I tie you up so you can't get away? Come on, you can tell me."
  7. Samson answered, "If someone ties me up with seven new bowstrings that have never been dried, it will make me just as weak as anyone else."
  8. The Philistine rulers gave seven new bowstrings to Delilah. They also told some of their soldiers to go to Delilah's house and hide in the room where Samson and Delilah were. If the bowstrings made Samson weak, they would be able to capture him. Delilah tied up Samson with the bowstrings and shouted, "Samson, the Philistines are attacking!" Samson snapped the bowstrings, as though they were pieces of scorched string. The Philistines had not found out why Samson was so strong.
  9. (SEE 16:8)
  10. "You lied and made me look like a fool," Delilah said. "Now tell me. How can I really tie you up?"
  11. Samson answered, "Use some new ropes. If I'm tied up with ropes that have never been used, I'll be just as weak as anyone else."
  12. Delilah got new ropes and again had some Philistines hide in the room. Then she tied up Samson's arms and shouted, "Samson, the Philistines are attacking!" Samson snapped the ropes as if they were threads.
  13. "You're still lying and making a fool of me," Delilah said. "Tell me how I can tie you up!" "My hair is in seven braids," Samson replied. "If you weave my braids into the threads on a loom and nail the loom to a wall, then I will be as weak as anyone else."
  14. While Samson was asleep, Delilah wove his braids into the threads on a loom and nailed the loom to a wall. Then she shouted, "Samson, the Philistines are attacking !" Samson woke up and pulled the loom free from its posts in the ground and from the nails in the wall. Then he pulled his hair free from the woven cloth.
  15. "Samson," Delilah said, "you claim to love me, but you don't mean it! You've made me look like a fool three times now, and you still haven't told me why you are so strong."
  16. Delilah started nagging and pestering him day after day, until he couldn't stand it any longer.
  17. Finally, Samson told her the truth. "I have belonged to God ever since I was born, so my hair has never been cut. If it were ever cut off, my strength would leave me, and I would be as weak as anyone else."
  18. Delilah realized that he was telling the truth. So she sent someone to tell the Philistine rulers, "Come to my house one more time. Samson has finally told me the truth." The Philistine rulers went to Delilah's house, and they brought along the silver they had promised her.
  19. Delilah had lulled Samson to sleep with his head resting in her lap. She signaled to one of the Philistine men as she began cutting off Samson's seven braids. And by the time she was finished, Samson's strength was gone. Delilah tied him up
  20. and shouted, "Samson, the Philistines are attacking!" Samson woke up and thought, "I'll break loose and escape, just as I always do." He did not realize that the LORD had stopped helping him.
  21. The Philistines grabbed Samson and poked out his eyes. They took him to the prison in Gaza and chained him up. Then they put him to work, turning a millstone to grind grain.
  22. But they didn't cut his hair any more, so it started growing back.
  23. The Philistine rulers threw a big party and sacrificed a lot of animals to their god Dagon. The rulers said: Samson was our enemy, but our god Dagon helped us capture him!
  24. Everyone there was having a good time, and they shouted, "Bring out Samson--he's still good for a few more laughs!" The rulers had Samson brought from the prison, and when the people saw him, this is how they praised their god: Samson ruined our crops and killed our people. He was our enemy, but our god helped us capture him. They made fun of Samson for a while, then they told him to stand near the columns that supported the roof.
  25. (SEE 16:24)
  26. A young man was leading Samson by the hand, and Samson said to him, "I need to lean against something. Take me over to the columns that hold up the roof."
  27. The Philistine rulers were celebrating in a temple packed with people and with three thousand more on the flat roof. They had all been watching Samson and making fun of him.
  28. Samson prayed, "Please remember me, LORD God. The Philistines poked out my eyes, but make me strong one last time, so I can take revenge for at least one of my eyes!"
  29. Samson was standing between the two middle columns that held up the roof. He felt around and found one column with his right hand, and the other with his left hand.
  30. Then he shouted, "Let me die with the Philistines!" He pushed against the columns as hard as he could, and the temple collapsed with the Philistine rulers and everyone else still inside. Samson killed more Philistines when he died than he had killed during his entire life.
  31. His brothers and the rest of his family went to Gaza and took his body back home. They buried him in his father's tomb, which was located between Zorah and Eshtaol. Samson was a leader of Israel for twenty years.

    These accounts of Samson's role as a judge of Israel who delivered the people from Philistine oppression reveal a man of great physical strength, bestowed on him by God, contrasted by great moral and character weakness. Weakness of character invariably raises up a fool, and Samson was no exception.

    We have no way of determining when, in his 20 years serving as judge of Israel, Samson went to Gaza and ended up in the bed of a prostitute. The Philistines, learning of his presence in the city and with the prostitute, saw this as an opportunity to kill him. But with God's stength Samson was seemingly invincible. He tore down the city gates and carried them to the top of a mountain. At midnight, when Samson left the prostitute and the city, the city gates would have been locked. Tearing them down would have been his only way of escape. Possibly caught by surprise and dumbfounded as well at his amazing feat, those laying in wait for him made no attempt to capture him.

    Some time later Samson fell in love with Delilah. Though we are prone to say she was his undoing, it was Samson's failure of moral character that was his undoing. Only blind foolishness brought on by his failure of character could have caused him to so stupidly reveal the secret of his strength to one who had repeatedly attempted to find his point of weakness. Delilah's attempts were more obvious than subtle. But Samson made no attempt to resist her attempts.

    In the end, Samson's strength left him, due to his foolishness, and he was captured, blinded, and made a slave. We do not know how long this condition lasted until the huge event that brought the Philistine leaders together to offer sacrifices to their god Dagon. It was an opportunity for them to praise their god for handing over their great enemy, Samson, to them. Thus, Samson was put on display for their entertainment. By this time his hair had begun to grow back, evidently a sign that God's strength would again be available to him. While the Philistines were enjoying a drunken feast, Samson prayed for God to strengthen him one more time so he could "pay back the Philistines for my two eyes." Not a particularly noble motive, but God granted the request. Samson pushed over the supporting pillars of the temple, and thus he killed more at his death than were killed in his life.

    Samson was used by God inspite of himself. A parallel might be made between God's presence with Samson through his Nazarite vow and His presence with us through the Holy Spirit. An act of sin by Samson did not automatically remove God's presence with him like a switch that turned it on and off, but a lifestyle of sin deteriorated his thinking so that he succumbed to powers other than God's. So with us, our sin so undermines our character and mind that we begin to respond to other forces in our life than God's Spirit within us.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Reflections on Judges 15

    Judges 15 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Later, during the wheat harvest, Samson went to visit the young woman he thought was still his wife. He brought along a young goat as a gift and said to her father, "I want to go into my wife's bedroom." "You can't do that," he replied.
  2. "When you left the way you did, I thought you were divorcing her. So I arranged for her to marry one of the young men who were at your party. But my younger daughter is even prettier, and you can have her as your wife."
  3. "This time," Samson answered, "I have a good reason for really hurting some Philistines."
  4. Samson went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them together in pairs with oil-soaked rags around their tails.
  5. Then Samson took the foxes into the Philistine wheat fields that were ready to be harvested. He set the rags on fire and let the foxes go. The wheat fields went up in flames, and so did the stacks of wheat that had already been cut. Even the Philistine vineyards and olive orchards burned.
  6. Some of the Philistines started asking around, "Who could have done such a thing?" "It was Samson," someone told them. "He married the daughter of that man in Timnah, but then the man gave Samson's wife to one of the men at the wedding." The Philistine leaders went to Timnah and burned to death Samson's wife and her father.
  7. When Samson found out what they had done, he went to them and said, "You killed them! And I won't rest until I get even with you."
  8. Then Samson started hacking them to pieces with his sword. Samson left Philistia and went to live in the cave at Etam Rock.
  9. But it wasn't long before the Philistines invaded Judah and set up a huge army camp at Jawbone.
  10. The people of Judah asked, "Why have you invaded our land?" The Philistines answered, "We've come to get Samson. We're going to do the same things to him that he did to our people."
  11. Three thousand men from Judah went to the cave at Etam Rock and said to Samson, "Don't you know that the Philistines rule us, and they will punish us for what you did?" "I was only getting even with them," Samson replied. "They did the same things to me first."
  12. "We came here to tie you up and turn you over to them," said the men of Judah. "I won't put up a fight," Samson answered, "but you have to promise not to hurt me yourselves."
  13. "We promise," the men said. "We will only tie you up and turn you over to the Philistines. We won't kill you." Then they tied up his hands and arms with two brand-new ropes and led him away from Etam Rock. When the Philistines saw that Samson was being brought to their camp at Jawbone, they started shouting and ran toward him. But the LORD's Spirit took control of Samson, and Samson broke the ropes, as though they were pieces of burnt cloth.
  14. (SEE 15:13)
  15. Samson glanced around and spotted the jawbone of a donkey. The jawbone had not yet dried out, so it was still hard and heavy. Samson grabbed it and started hitting Philistines--he killed a thousand of them!
  16. After the fighting was over, he made up this poem about what he had done to the Philistines: I used a donkey's jawbone to kill a thousand men; I beat them with this jawbone over and over again.
  17. Samson tossed the jawbone on the ground and decided to call the place Jawbone Hill. It is still called that today.
  18. Samson was so thirsty that he prayed, "Our LORD, you helped me win a battle against a whole army. Please don't let me die of thirst now. Those heathen Philistines will carry off my dead body."
  19. Samson was tired and weary, but God sent water gushing from a rock. Samson drank some and felt strong again. Samson named the place Caller Spring, because he had called out to God for help. The spring is still there at Jawbone.
  20. Samson was a leader of Israel for twenty years, but the Philistines were still the rulers of Israel.

    It becomes clear in this portion of the account of Samson's judgeship that God in His mercy was acting on Israel's behalf to free them from the oppression of the Philistines even though Israel had not called out for His help and seemed resigned to their fate.

    Some time had passed since Samson had angrily left his bride after discovering her complicity with the 30 groomsmen to aid them in solving Samson's riddle. He obviously had not learned that the woman's father had given her to another man assuming Samson no longer wanted her. Some suggest it was a year that had passed since Samson had left his bride. Now he evidently returned for a conjugal visit to his wife. The Bible Knowledge Commentary states that, "Samson’s marriage was apparently the ?adi^qa type in which the bride remained with her parents and was visited periodically by her husband." Whatever the arrangement it was a bit presumptious on Samson's part to show up some time later assuming nothing had changed after he left her in anger several months before. When he learned that his wife's father had given her to another man he felt completely justified in taking revenge saying, "This time I won't be responsible when I harm the Philistines." (15:3)

    Samson's revenge on the Philistines was to capture 300 foxes, tie them together in pairs by the tail and also tie a lighted torch to their tails. The foxes ran throughout the land igniting the grain, both harvested and unharvested, along with the vineyards and olive groves. He effectively demolished the Philistine economy by destroying their three main crops. As might be expected, the Philistines felt justified to exercise their own revenge which was to kill Samson's wife and her family. This led Samson to retaliate by slaughtering a number of Philistines to which the Philistines responded by setting up camp in Judah and raiding the area.

    Now, apparently for the first time, other Israelites besides Samson became involved. The men of Judah went to the encamped Philistines to ask why they had attacked them and learned it was because of Samson. It would seem that the men of Judah viewed Samson only as a trouble-maker rather than as God's instrument to deliver them from the Philistines. Rather than joining Samson against the Philistines they went in force (3,000 men) to capture Samson and turn him over to the Philistines.  When they found him, the men of Judah asked Samson, "Don't you realize that the Philistines rule over us? What have you done to us?" (15:11) They were evidently content to remain slaves and not "rock the boat." Though Samson could probably have done great harm to this force of Judeans, he willingly submitted to them upon their promise that they would not kill him themselves.

    The men of Judah securely tied Samson and took him to the Philistines. When he was brought to them, the Philistines met him shouting. The Spirit of the Lord then took control of Samson and he broke free and killed 1,000 of them with just the jawbone of a donkey, thus defeating the Philistines.  Following these events it is said that Samson judged Israel 20 years.

    Through Samson God used rather "unorthodox" methods to free Israel from the Philistines. But, as with His deliverance of them from Egypt, it was evident that God had done it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reflections on Judges 14

    Judges 14 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. One day, Samson went to Timnah, where he saw a Philistine woman.
  2. When he got back home, he told his parents, "I saw a Philistine woman in Timnah, and I want to marry her. Get her for me!"
  3. His parents answered, "There are a lot of women in our clan and even more in the rest of Israel. Those Philistines are pagans. Why would you want to marry one of their women?" "She looks good to me," Samson answered. "Get her for me!"
  4. At that time, the Philistines were in control of Israel, and the LORD wanted to stir up trouble for them. That's why he made Samson desire that woman.
  5. As Samson and his parents reached the vineyards near Timnah, a fierce young lion suddenly roared and attacked Samson.
  6. But the LORD's Spirit took control of Samson, and with his bare hands he tore the lion apart, as though it had been a young goat. His parents didn't know what he had done, and he didn't tell them.
  7. When they got to Timnah, Samson talked to the woman, and he was sure that she was the one for him.
  8. Later, Samson returned to Timnah for the wedding. And when he came near the place where the lion had attacked, he left the road to see what was left of the lion. He was surprised to see that bees were living in the lion's skeleton, and that they had made some honey.
  9. He scooped up the honey in his hands and ate some of it as he walked along. When he got back to his parents, he gave them some of the honey, and they ate it too. But he didn't tell them he had found the honey in the skeleton of a lion.
  10. While Samson's father went to make the final arrangements with the bride and her family, Samson threw a big party, as grooms usually did.
  11. When the Philistines saw what Samson was like, they told thirty of their young men to stay with him at the party.
  12. Samson told the thirty young men, "This party will last for seven days. Let's make a bet: I'll tell you a riddle, and if you can tell me the right answer before the party is over, I'll give each one of you a shirt and a full change of clothing.
  13. But if you can't tell me the answer, then each of you will have to give me a shirt and a full change of clothing." "It's a bet!" the Philistines said. "Tell us the riddle."
  14. Samson said: Once so strong and mighty-- now so sweet and tasty! Three days went by, and the Philistine young men had not come up with the right answer.
  15. Finally, on the seventh day of the party they went to Samson's bride and said, "You had better trick your husband into telling you the answer to his riddle. Have you invited us here just to rob us? If you don't find out the answer, we will burn you and your family to death."
  16. Samson's bride went to him and started crying in his arms. "You must really hate me," she sobbed. "If you loved me at all, you would have told me the answer to your riddle." "But I haven't even told my parents the answer!" Samson replied. "Why should I tell you?"
  17. For the entire seven days of the party, she had been whining and trying to get the answer from him. But that seventh day she put so much pressure on Samson that he finally gave in and told her the answer. She went straight to the young men and told them.
  18. Before sunset that day, the men of the town went to Samson with this answer: A lion is the strongest-- honey is the sweetest! Samson replied, This answer you have given me doubtless came from my bride-to-be.
  19. Then the LORD's Spirit took control of Samson. He went to Ashkelon, where he killed thirty men and took their clothing. Samson then gave it to the thirty young men at Timnah and stormed back home to his own family.
  20. The father of the bride had Samson's wife marry one of the thirty young men that had been at Samson's party.

    Samson's role as a judge is somewhat a puzzle. Though the way God's Spirit came on him and enabled him to do such amazing feats is intriguing, this alongside Samson's strong-willed spirit is puzzling. Normally it is those who submit themselves to God's will rather than stubbornly insisting on their own will who are used by God for His purposes. But with Samson it seems God used him inspite of himself. After all, it was God who appointed his birth and life for this very purpose and yet Samson seemed not to even consider God.

    Samson stubbornly insisted on a Philistine wife even though as an Israelite he was forbidden by the Mosaic Law to marry anyone other than an Israelite, especially not a people who did not practice circumcision. His parents pointed this out to him but he insisted anyway. So the parents gave in to his demands and went with him to Timnah to make arrangements for his marriage to this girl, following the custom of arranged marriages through the parents. God had evidently chosen to use Samson's impestuousness as the key to striking at the Philistines.

    If Samson understood the Nazarite vows well enough to realize he was to have no contact with a dead body, and he surely did, he apparently did not care. So he carelessly took honey from the carcass of the lion he had killed and then gave some to his parents without telling them the source. Just another sign of his selfish, strong-willed character. Next he used the honey from the carcass to form a riddle and make a bet with the arranged Philistine "friends of the bridegroom" who accompanied him. The Philistines did not take it as a "friendly" bet, though. They went to Samson's bride and threatened to kill her and her whole household if she did not tell them the solution to the riddle. When the companions came to him with the solution, Samson knew his bride had conspired against him and was furious. But God used these events for His purpose. His Spirit came on Samson and gave him strength to single-handedly kill 30 Philistines, strip them of their garments, and pay his gambling debt.

    In reading this account we must make a choice. Do we become disenchanted with a God whose ways don't make sense to us? Do we turn away from a God who seemingly makes laws for His people and then goes against those laws when it serves His purposes? Or, do we choose to trust an amazing God who uses even flawed individuals for His purposes? Do we accept that as God He is not subject to our expectations but rather it is we who are subject to His? Do we understand that faith is not faith if God must be subject to what we can understand. Do we realize that our finite understanding is so small compared to God's infinite wisdom? Are we willing to submit ourselves to that infinite wisdom and trust that however God chooses to operate He has our good in mind?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Reflections on Judges 13

    Judges 13 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Once again the Israelites started disobeying the LORD. So he let the Philistines take control of Israel for forty years.
  2. Manoah from the tribe of Dan lived in the town of Zorah. His wife was not able to have children,
  3. but one day an angel from the LORD appeared to her and said: You have never been able to have any children, but very soon you will be pregnant and have a son. He will belong to God from the day he is born, so his hair must never be cut. And even before he is born, you must not drink any wine or beer or eat any food forbidden by God's laws. Your son will begin to set Israel free from the Philistines.
  4. (SEE 13:3)
  5. (SEE 13:3)
  6. She went to Manoah and said, "A prophet who looked like an angel of God came and talked to me. I was so frightened, that I didn't even ask where he was from. He didn't tell me his name,
  7. but he did say that I'm going to have a baby boy. I'm not supposed to drink any wine or beer or eat any food forbidden by God's laws. Our son will belong to God for as long as he lives."
  8. Then Manoah prayed, "Our LORD, please send that prophet again and let him tell us what to do for the son we are going to have."
  9. God answered Manoah's prayer, and the angel went back to Manoah's wife while she was resting in the fields. Manoah wasn't there at the time,
  10. so she found him and said, "That same man is here again! He's the one I saw the other day."
  11. Manoah went with his wife and asked the man, "Are you the one who spoke to my wife?" "Yes, I am," he answered.
  12. Manoah then asked, "When your promise comes true, what rules must he obey and what will be his work?"
  13. "Your wife must be careful to do everything I told her," the LORD's angel answered.
  14. "She must not eat or drink anything made from grapes. She must not drink wine or beer or eat anything forbidden by God's laws. I told her exactly what to do."
  15. "Please," Manoah said, "stay here with us for just a little while, and we'll fix a young goat for you to eat."
  16. Manoah didn't realize that he was really talking to one of the LORD's angels. The angel answered, "I can stay for a little while, although I won't eat any of your food. But if you would like to offer the goat as a sacrifice to the LORD, that would be fine."
  17. Manoah said, "Tell us your name, so we can honor you after our son is born."
  18. "No," the angel replied. "You don't need to know my name. And if you did, you couldn't understand it."
  19. So Manoah took a young goat over to a large rock he had chosen for an altar, and he built a fire on the rock. Then he killed the goat, and offered it with some grain as a sacrifice to the LORD. But then an amazing thing happened.
  20. The fire blazed up toward the sky, and the LORD's angel went up toward heaven in the fire. Manoah and his wife bowed down low when they saw what happened.
  21. The angel was gone, but Manoah and his wife realized that he was one of the LORD's angels.
  22. Manoah said, "We have seen an angel. Now we're going to die."
  23. "The LORD isn't going to kill us," Manoah's wife responded. "The LORD accepted our sacrifice and grain offering, and he let us see something amazing. Besides, he told us that we're going to have a son."
  24. Later, Manoah's wife did give birth to a son, and she named him Samson. As the boy grew, the LORD blessed him.
  25. Then, while Samson was staying at Dan's Camp between the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol, the Spirit of the LORD took control of him.

The cycle of Israel's turning away from God made another round. Israel's turning from God had become pronounced enough that the resulting oppression lasted 40 years. This time the oppression came at the hands of the Philistines. A difference in this cycle was that God initiated the deliverance without waiting for Israel's cry for help. But, then, this deliverance was unique in several ways. The judge that God raised up did not lead an army to overpower the oppressor but acted alone. 

This judge was Samson, who was a Nazirite. We read in Numbers 6 of the instructions for a Nazirite given in the covenant of the Lord, but Samson was the first, of whom we have record, who actually followed the vow. Also unique was that for Samson the vow was not made of his own will but was a condition of his birth. An angel of the Lord came to his mother, who had been unable to conceive, and told her, "you will conceive and give birth to a son. You must never cut his hair, because the boy will be a Nazirite to God from birth." (13:5)

When Samson became of an age to fulfill his purpose "the Spirit of the LORD began to direct him." (13:25) We are not given his age when this occurred but it becomes clear from the account of Samson's life that it had this one distinct purpose - to deliver his people from the Philistines - and his life concluded with the fulfillment of this purpose. Actually, we are all born with a distinct, God-given, purpose. For most of us, though, an understanding of that purpose is revealed through a personal relationship journey with the Lord. For Samson, it was handed to him through his parents.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Reflections on Judges 12

    Judges 12 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The men of the Ephraim tribe got together an army and went across the Jordan River to Zaphon to meet with Jephthah. They said, "Why did you go to war with the Ammonites without asking us to help? Just for that, we're going to burn down your house with you inside!"
  2. "But I did ask for your help," Jephthah answered. "That was back when the people of Gilead and I were having trouble with the Ammonites, and you wouldn't do a thing to help us.
  3. So when we realized you weren't coming, we risked our lives and attacked the Ammonites. And the LORD let us defeat them. There's no reason for you to come here today to attack me."
  4. But the men from Ephraim said, "You people of Gilead are nothing more than refugees from Ephraim. You even live on land that belongs to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh." So Jephthah called together the army of Gilead, then they attacked and defeated the army from Ephraim.
  5. The army of Gilead also posted guards at all the places where the soldiers from Ephraim could cross the Jordan River to return to their own land. Whenever one of the men from Ephraim would try to cross the river, the guards would say, "Are you from Ephraim?" "No," the man would answer, "I'm not from Ephraim."
  6. The guards would then tell them to say "Shiboleth," because they knew that people of Ephraim could say "Sibboleth," but not "Shiboleth." If the man said "Sibboleth," the guards would grab him and kill him right there. Altogether, forty-two thousand men from Ephraim were killed in the battle and at the Jordan.
  7. Jephthah was a leader of Israel for six years, before he died and was buried in his hometown Mizpah in Gilead.
  8. Ibzan, the next leader of Israel, came from Bethlehem.
  9. He had thirty daughters and thirty sons, and he let them all marry outside his clan. Ibzan was a leader for seven years,
  10. before he died and was buried in Bethlehem.
  11. Elon from the Zebulun tribe was the next leader of Israel. He was a leader for ten years,
  12. before he died and was buried in Aijalon that belonged to the Zebulun tribe.
  13. Abdon the son of Hillel was the next leader of Israel. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, and each one of them had his own donkey. Abdon was a leader for eight years, before he died and was buried in his hometown of Pirathon, which is located in the part of the hill country of Ephraim where Amalekites used to live.
  14. (SEE 12:13)
  15. (SEE 12:13)

    On the heels of Jephthah's victory over the Ammonites a similar encounter occurred with the Ephraimites that had occured with Gideon. The Ephraimites angrily confronted him because he had not invited them to cross the Jordan with him to fight the Ammonites. The two episodes depict the Ephraimites as a bunch of hotheadeds. Jephthah, however, was not as diplomatic with them as Gideon had been, exchanging insults with them, and so their armies fought and Ephraim lost, losing 42,000 men, a rather high price to pay for jealousy.

    Thus far, Israel's possession of her promised land has not been too glorious. Due to her unfaithfulness to God she had been under the oppression of other nations at least as much, if not more, than she had enjoyed peace. How much better off was she than when she was in Egypt? Now she was fighting and destroying her own people, something that didn't happen in Egypt.

    Jephthah served as judge for six years. Though this account of him in Judges 11 & 12 does not depict him as a highly godly man, it is interesting that he is listed in Hebrews chapter 11 among the hereos of faith. The qualifying factor must have been his vow to the Lord, "Jephthah made this vow to the LORD: "If You will hand over the Ammonites to me . . . ,"  (11:30) thus placing his faith in God for victory over the Ammonites.

    Chapter 12 concludes with mention of three minor judges, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. We learn little else about these men beyond the length of time they served as judge.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Reflections on Judges 11

    Judges 11 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The leaders of the Gilead clan decided to ask a brave warrior named Jephthah son of Gilead to lead the attack against the Ammonites. Even though Jephthah belonged to the Gilead clan, he had earlier been forced to leave the region where they had lived. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute, but his half-brothers were the sons of his father's wife. One day his half-brothers told him, "You don't really belong to our family, so you can't have any of the family property." Then they forced Jephthah to leave home. Jephthah went to the country of Tob, where he was joined by a number of men who would do anything for money. So the leaders of Gilead went to Jephthah and said,
  2. (SEE 11:1)
  3. (SEE 11:1)
  4. (SEE 11:1)
  5. (SEE 11:1)
  6. "Please come back to Gilead! If you lead our army, we will be able to fight off the Ammonites."
  7. "Didn't you hate me?" Jephthah replied. "Weren't you the ones who forced me to leave my family? You're coming to me now, just because you're in trouble."
  8. "But we do want you to come back," the leaders said. "And if you lead us in battle against the Ammonites, we will make you the ruler of Gilead."
  9. "All right," Jephthah said. "If I go back with you and the LORD lets me defeat the Ammonites, will you really make me your ruler?"
  10. "You have our word," the leaders answered. "And the LORD is a witness to what we have said."
  11. So Jephthah went back to Mizpah with the leaders of Gilead. The people of Gilead gathered at the place of worship and made Jephthah their ruler. Jephthah also made promises to them.
  12. After the ceremony, Jephthah sent messengers to say to the king of Ammon, "Are you trying to start a war? You have invaded my country, and I want to know why!"
  13. The king of Ammon replied, "Tell Jephthah that the land really belongs to me, all the way from the Arnon River in the south, to the Jabbok River in the north, and west to the Jordan River. When the Israelites came out of Egypt, they stole it. Tell Jephthah to return it to me, and there won't be any war."
  14. Jephthah sent the messengers back to the king of Ammon,
  15. and they told him that Jephthah had said: Israel hasn't taken any territory from Moab or Ammon.
  16. When the Israelites came from Egypt, they traveled in the desert to the Red Sea and then to Kadesh.
  17. They sent messengers to the king of Edom and said, "Please, let us go through your country." But the king of Edom refused. They also sent messengers to the king of Moab, but he wouldn't let them cross his country either. And so the Israelites stayed at Kadesh.
  18. A little later, the Israelites set out into the desert, going east of Edom and Moab, and camping on the eastern side of the Arnon River gorge. The Arnon is the eastern border of Moab, and since the Israelites didn't cross it, they didn't even set foot in Moab.
  19. The Israelites sent messengers to the Amorite King Sihon of Heshbon. "Please," they said, "let our people go through your country to get to our own land."
  20. Sihon didn't think the Israelites could be trusted, so he called his army together. They set up camp at Jahaz, then they attacked the Israelite camp.
  21. But the LORD God helped Israel defeat Sihon and his army. Israel took over all of the Amorite land where Sihon's people had lived,
  22. from the Arnon River in the south to the Jabbok River in the north, and from the desert in the east to the Jordan River in the west.
  23. The messengers also told the king of Ammon that Jephthah had said: The LORD God of Israel helped his nation get rid of the Amorites and take their land. Now do you think you're going to take over that same territory?
  24. If Chemosh your god takes over a country and gives it to you, don't you have a right to it? And if the LORD takes over a country and gives it to us, the land is ours!
  25. Are you better than Balak the son of Zippor? He was the king of Moab, but he didn't quarrel with Israel or start a war with us.
  26. For three hundred years, Israelites have been living in Heshbon and Aroer and the nearby villages, and in the towns along the Arnon River gorge. If the land really belonged to you Ammonites, you wouldn't have waited until now to try to get it back.
  27. I haven't done anything to you, but it's certainly wrong of you to start a war. I pray that the LORD will show whether Israel or Ammon is in the right.
  28. But the king of Ammon paid no attention to Jephthah's message.
  29. Then the LORD's Spirit took control of Jephthah, and Jephthah went through Gilead and Manasseh, raising an army. Finally, he arrived at Mizpah in Gilead, where
  30. he promised the LORD, "If you will let me defeat the Ammonites
  31. and come home safely, I will sacrifice to you whoever comes out to meet me first."
  32. From Mizpah, Jephthah attacked the Ammonites, and the LORD helped him defeat them.
  33. Jephthah and his army destroyed the twenty towns between Aroer and Minnith, and others as far as Abel-Keramim. After that, the Ammonites could not invade Israel any more.
  34. When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, the first one to meet him was his daughter. She was playing a tambourine and dancing to celebrate his victory, and she was his only child.
  35. "Oh!" Jephthah cried. Then he tore his clothes in sorrow and said to his daughter, "I made a sacred promise to the LORD, and I must keep it. Your coming out to meet me has broken my heart."
  36. "Father," she said, "you made a sacred promise to the LORD, and he let you defeat the Ammonites. Now, you must do what you promised, even if it means I must die.
  37. But first, please let me spend two months, wandering in the hill country with my friends. We will cry together, because I can never get married and have children."
  38. "Yes, you may have two months," Jephthah said. She and some other girls left, and for two months they wandered in the hill country, crying because she could never get married and have children.
  39. Then she went back to her father. He did what he had promised, and she never got married. That's why
  40. every year, Israelite girls walk around for four days, weeping for Jephthah's daughter.

    We cannot presume that all those who became Judges during this period in Israel's history and whom God used to deliver Israel from her enemies were godly, upright people. We certainly could not presume it with Jephthah. Turned away by his family, or at least his brothers, Jephthah left Israel to live on the border of  Syria and Ammon. He gathered around him "some lawless men" who traveled with him. Does this mean that Jephthah was also lawless and he led his men in lawless raids of the land? Whatever the case, he demonstrated leadership with his band of men and evidently established a reputation for military prowess prompting the elders of Gilead to go to him and ask him to be their leader against the Ammonites who were making war with them. He reminded them of their rejection of him, but they insisted on his help with the promise that he could be the leader of all Gilead if he would help them fight the Ammonites.  This seems a rather desperate plea for help, suggesting they would have made a similar agreement with the devil himself just to help them fight the Ammonites.

    Jephthah returned to Gilead with the elders and repeated his terms for helping them against the Ammonites in the presence of the people and the Lord. His first act as leader of the Gileadites was not to muster an army but rather to send messengers to the king of Ammon to seek a nonmilitary settlement of the situation.  "But the king of the Ammonites would not listen to Jephthah's message." (11:28) Having failed to negotiate peace, "the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah" to enable him to have victory over the Ammonites. Old Testament experiences of God's Spirit coming on a person was not the same as the indwelling of His Spirit in a believer of Jesus Christ since the coming of the Messiah. The indwelling of God's Spirit in a Christian believer is for the purpose of holy living, but in Old Testiment occurances it was for the purpose of accomplishing a service for the Lord. Therefore, as mentioned earlier, we cannot presume Jephthah to be a godly man.

    Before going to war Jephthah made a vow to the Lord that if He gave him victory Jephthah would devote to God the first thing to come out the door of his house when he returned home. Again, this cannot be presumed as a godly act as we might understand it. Even a pagan worshiper of idols might have done the same thing. God did give Israel victory through Jephthah and the first thing out the door of his house when he returned was his daughter. The account of chapter 11 is not clear as to what Jephthah did with his daughter in fulfillment of his vow but one possibility is that he sacrificed her as a burnt offering. This was not a practice authorized by the God of Israel and if this was what Jephthah did would most likely have come from pagan influence.

    Though we may shake our heads in bewilderment at some of the practices of Israel during this period, if we are honest we must acknowledge that they are really a mirror of our own thoughts and temptations and, at times, practices.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Reflections on Judges 10

    Judges 10 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Tola was the next person to rescue Israel. He belonged to the Issachar tribe, but he lived in Shamir, a town in the hill country of Ephraim. His father was Puah, and his grandfather was Dodo.
  2. Tola was a leader of Israel for twenty-three years, then he died and was buried in Shamir.
  3. The next leader of Israel was Jair, who lived in Gilead. He was a leader for twenty-two years.
  4. He had thirty sons, and each son had his own mule and was in charge of one town in Gilead. Those thirty towns are still called The Settlements of Jair.
  5. When he died, he was buried in the town of Kamon.
  6. Before long, the Israelites began disobeying the LORD by worshiping Baal, Astarte, and gods from Syria, Sidon, Moab, Ammon, and Philistia.
  7. The LORD was angry at Israel and decided to let Philistia and Ammon conquer them.
  8. So the same year that Jair died, Israel's army was crushed by these two nations. For eighteen years, Ammon was cruel to the Israelites who lived in Gilead, the region east of the Jordan River that had once belonged to the Amorites.
  9. Then the Ammonites began crossing the Jordan and attacking the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim. Life was miserable for the Israelites.
  10. They begged the LORD for help and confessed, "We were unfaithful to you, our LORD. We stopped worshiping you and started worshiping idols of Baal."
  11. The LORD answered: In the past when you came crying to me for help, I rescued you. At one time or another I've rescued you from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites, and the Maonites.
  12. (SEE 10:11)
  13. But I'm not going to rescue you any more! You've left me and gone off to worship other gods. If you're in such big trouble, go cry to them for help!
  14. (SEE 10:13)
  15. "We have been unfaithful," the Israelites admitted. "If we must be punished, do it yourself, but please rescue us from the Ammonites."
  16. Then the Israelites got rid of the idols of the foreign gods, and they began worshiping only the LORD. Finally, there came a time when the LORD could no longer stand to see them suffer.
  17. The rulers of Ammon called their soldiers together and led them to Gilead, where they set up camp. The Israelites gathered at Mizpah and set up camp there.
  18. The leaders of Gilead asked each other, "Who can lead an attack on the Ammonites?" Then they agreed, "If we can find someone who can lead the attack, we'll make him the ruler of Gilead."

    Chapter 10 is somewhat of an interlude of peace during which the Israelites reach an all-time low in their idolatry. During this interlude two different judges ruled of whom little to nothing is mentioned regarding their exploits. The first of the two judges was Tola of whom it is said that he "began to deliver Israel." (10:1)  This might be presumed to mean that he counteracted the decay brought on by Abimelech. The second judge during this period was Jair whose judgeship anticipated the next major judge who was Jephthah. Though Jephthah is not mentioned by name in this chapter, the last verses prepare for his introduction in the next chapter.

    As mentioned, the Israelites during this period reached an all-time low in their idolatry by turning to multiple gods and completely abandoning their God. To this point they had been syncretistic, worshipping idols alongside God. Now they added to their idols and subtracted God. God's response was to sell "them to the Philistines and the Ammonites." (10:7)  These nations "shattered and crushed" the Israelites for 18 years. Finally they cried out to God for help. The Israelites seemed not to be able to handle God's blessings. When things were good for them they quickly forgot God or at least relegated Him to a lesser role in their lives. But when things were bad they would remember God and call out for help. Interestingly, they turned to other gods when things were good as though they brought the good, but did not rely on these other gods when things turned bad. They knew God to be their deliverer. God, however, wanted more than the role of deliverer in their lives.

    God had become weary of the Israelite's fickleness by this time. When they cried out for help this time He told them, "I will not deliver you again. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them deliver you in the time of your oppression." (10:13-14) To their credit, the Israelite's repentance had a more genuine ring to it than in previous times. "We have sinned against You. We have abandoned our God and worshiped the Baals," they said. When God rejected their appeal they said, "We have sinned. Deal with us as You see fit; only deliver us today!" (10:10, 15)

    God is a righteous God intent on justice, but He is also a merciful God. In the end, His mercy always wins out, but not capricously.  Some imagine that God's nature as a God of love does not permit Him to judge people under any circumstances therefore relegating anyone to hell, for instance. His mercy, however, is always a response to man's repentance. Without repentance there can be no mercy. God's mercy toward the Israelites in this instance was in response to their repentance which led them not only to voice their repentance but also to get rid of their "foreign gods" and begin worshipping the Lord. Given Israel's repentance, the Lord eventually "became weary of Israel's misery." With this comment in verse 16 the stage is set for God's deliverance.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Reflections on Judges 9

    Judges 09 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Abimelech the son of Gideon went to Shechem. While there, he met with his mother's relatives
  2. and told them to say to the leaders of Shechem, "Do you think it would be good to have all seventy of Gideon's sons ruling us? Wouldn't you rather have just one man be king? Abimelech would make a good king, and he's related to us."
  3. Abimelech's uncles talked it over with the leaders of Shechem who agreed, "Yes, it would be better for one of our relatives to be king."
  4. Then they gave Abimelech seventy pieces of silver from the temple of their god Baal Berith. Abimelech used the silver to hire a gang of rough soldiers who would do anything for money.
  5. Abimelech and his soldiers went to his father's home in Ophrah and brought out Gideon's other sons to a large rock, where they murdered all seventy. Gideon's youngest son Jotham hid from the soldiers, but he was the only one who escaped.
  6. The leaders of Shechem, including the priests and the military officers, met at the tree next to the sacred rock in Shechem to crown Abimelech king.
  7. Jotham heard what they were doing. So he climbed to the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted down to the people who were there at the meeting: Leaders of Shechem, listen to me, and maybe God will listen to you.
  8. Once the trees searched for someone to be king; they asked the olive tree, "Will you be our king?"
  9. But the olive tree replied, "My oil brings honor to people and gods. I won't stop making oil, just to have my branches wave above the other trees."
  10. Then they asked the fig tree, "Will you be our king?"
  11. But the fig tree replied, "I won't stop growing my delicious fruit, just to have my branches wave above the other trees."
  12. Next they asked the grape vine, "Will you be our king?"
  13. But the grape vine replied, "My wine brings cheer to people and gods. I won't stop making wine, just to have my branches wave above the other trees."
  14. Finally, they went to the thornbush and asked, "Will you be our king?"
  15. The thornbush replied, "If you really want me to be your king, then come into my shade and I will protect you. But if you're deceiving me, I'll start a fire that will spread out and destroy the cedars of Lebanon." After Jotham had finished telling this story, he said:
  16. My father Gideon risked his life for you when he fought to rescue you from the Midianites. Did you reward Gideon by being kind to his family? No, you did not! You attacked his family and killed all seventy of his sons on that rock. And was it right to make Abimelech your king? He's merely the son of my father's slave girl. But just because he's your relative, you made him king of Shechem.
  17. (SEE 9:16)
  18. (SEE 9:16)
  19. So, you leaders of Shechem, if you treated Gideon and his family the way you should have, then I hope you and Abimelech will make each other very happy.
  20. But if it was wrong to treat Gideon and his family the way you did, then I pray that Abimelech will destroy you with fire, and I pray that you will do the same to him.
  21. Jotham ran off and went to live in the town of Beer, where he could be safe from his brother Abimelech.
  22. Abimelech had been a military commander of Israel for three years,
  23. when God decided to punish him and the leaders of Shechem for killing Gideon's seventy sons. So God turned the leaders of Shechem against Abimelech.
  24. (SEE 9:23)
  25. Then they sent some men to hide on the hilltops and watch for Abimelech and his troops, while they sent others to rob everyone that went by on the road. But Abimelech found out what they were doing.
  26. One day, Gaal son of Ebed went to live in Shechem. His brothers moved there too, and soon the leaders of Shechem started trusting him.
  27. The time came for the grape harvest, and the people of Shechem went into their vineyards and picked the grapes. They put the grapes in their wine-pits and walked on them to squeeze out the juice in order to make wine. Then they went into the temple of their god and threw a big party. There was a lot of eating and drinking, and before long they were cursing Abimelech.
  28. Gaal said: Hamor was the founder of Shechem, and one of his descendants should be our ruler. But Abimelech's father was Gideon, so Abimelech isn't really one of us. He shouldn't be our king, and we shouldn't have to obey him or Zebul, who rules Shechem for him.
  29. If I were the ruler of Shechem, I'd get rid of that Abimelech. I'd tell him, "Get yourself an even bigger army, and we will still defeat you."
  30. Zebul was angry when he found out what Gaal had said.
  31. And so he sent some messengers to Abimelech. But they had to pretend to be doing something else, or they would not have been allowed to leave Shechem. Zebul told the messengers to say: Gaal the son of Ebed has come to Shechem along with his brothers, and they have persuaded the people to let Gaal rule Shechem instead of you.
  32. This is what I think you should do. Lead your army here during the night and hide in the fields.
  33. Get up the next morning at sunrise and rush out of your hiding places to attack the town. Gaal and his followers will come out to fight you, but you will easily defeat them.
  34. So one night, Abimelech led his soldiers to Shechem. He divided them into four groups, and they all hid near the town.
  35. The next morning, Gaal went out and stood in the opening of the town gate. Abimelech and his soldiers left their hiding places,
  36. and Gaal saw them. Zebul was standing there with Gaal, and Gaal remarked, "Zebul, that looks like a crowd of people coming down from the mountaintops." "No," Zebul answered, "it's just the shadows of the mountains. It only looks like people moving."
  37. "But Zebul, look over there," Gaal said. "There's a crowd coming down from the sacred mountain, and another group is coming along the road from the tree where people talk with the spirits of the dead."
  38. Then Zebul replied, "What good is all of your bragging now? You were the one who said Abimelech shouldn't be the ruler of Shechem. Out there is the army that you made fun of. So go out and fight them!"
  39. Gaal and the leaders of Shechem went out and fought Abimelech.
  40. Soon the people of Shechem turned and ran back into the town. However, Abimelech and his troops were close behind and killed many of them along the way.
  41. Abimelech stayed at Arumah, and Zebul forced Gaal and his brothers out of Shechem.
  42. The next morning, the people of Shechem were getting ready to work in their fields as usual, but someone told Abimelech about it.
  43. Abimelech divided his army into three groups and set up an ambush in the fields near Shechem. When the people came out of the town, he and his army rushed out from their hiding places and attacked.
  44. Abimelech and the troops with him ran to the town gate and took control of it, while two other groups attacked and killed the people who were in the fields.
  45. He and his troops fought in Shechem all day, until they had killed everyone in town. Then he and his men tore down the houses and buildings and scattered salt everywhere.
  46. Earlier that day, the leaders of the temple of El Berith at Shechem had heard about the attack. So they went into the temple fortress,
  47. but Abimelech found out where they were.
  48. He led his troops to Mount Zalmon, where he took an ax and chopped off a tree branch. He lifted the branch onto his shoulder and shouted, "Hurry! Cut off a branch just as I did."
  49. When they all had branches, they followed Abimelech back to Shechem. They piled the branches against the fortress and set them on fire, burning down the fortress and killing about one thousand men and women.
  50. After destroying Shechem, Abimelech went to Thebez. He surrounded the town and captured it.
  51. But there was a tall fortress in the middle of the town, and the town leaders and everyone else went inside. Then they barred the gates and went up to the flat roof.
  52. Abimelech and his army rushed to the fortress and tried to force their way inside. Abimelech himself was about to set the heavy wooden doors on fire,
  53. when a woman on the roof dropped a large rock on his head and cracked his skull.
  54. The soldier who carried his weapons was nearby, and Abimelech told him, "Take out your sword and kill me. I don't want people to say that I was killed by a woman!" So the soldier ran his sword through Abimelech.
  55. And when the Israelite soldiers saw that their leader was dead, they went back home.
  56. That's how God punished Abimelech for killing his brothers and bringing shame on his father's family.
  57. God also punished the people of Shechem for helping Abimelech. Everything happened just as Jotham's curse said it would.

    This account of Abimelech, Gideon's son by a concubine, pictures how depraved the Israelites of Shechem had become. They had turned from God to worship Baal and no longer possessed any godly discernment. They were not wise enough to discern Abimelech's character for their's was evidently no better. Why else would they contribute financially to his hiring of "reckless men" so he could kill his 70 half brothers and remove them from contention for his position as ruler over the Shechemites? There was no evidence that they even wanted to rule. Though Abimelech and the Shechemites deserved each other, their inevitable demise at the hands of each other was a sad commentary on God's chosen people. How could people who had known the blessings of God and experienced His mighty works on their behalf turn away from Him to such a life?

    Gideon's youngest son, Jotham, had hidden when Abimelech came and killed his brothers and so he had survived. At Abimelech's coronation to be ruler of Shechem, Jotham went up on Mount Gerizim which overlooked the ceremony and spoke to those gathered, telling them a parable of trees who made a bramble their ruler. The point of the parable was that those who are worthy to rule do not seek the honor, and those who seek it are not worthy of rule. Jotham's application of the parable took the form of a curse which was prophetic. The essence of his application was that Abimelech and the Shechemites deserved each other and would eventually destroy each other. This is indeed what happened.

    No person wise enough to commit their life to God and who is continually in communication with God through prayer and reading of scripture will fail to discern the character of one such as Abimelech. Nor will they willingly submit themselves to the rule of such a person. But if we turn from God and the things of God we become vulnerable to such predators.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Reflections on Judges 8

    Judges 08 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. But the men were really upset with Gideon and complained, "When you went to war with Midian, you didn't ask us to help! Why did you treat us like that?"
  2. Gideon answered: Don't be upset! Even though you came later, you were able to do much more than I did. It's just like the grape harvest: The grapes your tribe doesn't even bother to pick are better than the best grapes my family can grow.
  3. Besides, God chose you to capture Raven and Wolf. I didn't do a thing compared to you. By the time Gideon had finished talking, the men of Ephraim had calmed down and were no longer angry at him.
  4. After Gideon and his three hundred troops had chased the Midianites as far as the Jordan River, they were exhausted.
  5. The town of Succoth was nearby, so he went there and asked, "Please give my troops some food. They are worn out, but we have to keep chasing Zebah and Zalmunna, the two Midianite kings."
  6. The town leaders of Succoth answered, "Why should we feed your army? We don't know if you really will defeat Zebah and Zalmunna."
  7. "Just wait!" Gideon said. "After the LORD helps me defeat them, I'm coming back here. I'll make a whip out of thorns and rip the flesh from your bones."
  8. After leaving Succoth, Gideon went to Penuel and asked the leaders there for some food. But he got the same answer as he had gotten at Succoth.
  9. "I'll come back safe and sound," Gideon said, "but when I do, I'm going to tear down your tower!"
  10. Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with an army of fifteen thousand troops. They were all that was left of the army of the eastern nations, because one hundred twenty thousand of their warriors had been killed in the battle.
  11. Gideon reached the enemy camp by going east along Nomad Road past Nobah and Jogbehah. He made a surprise attack,
  12. and the enemy panicked. Zebah and Zalmunna tried to escape, but Gideon chased and captured them.
  13. After the battle, Gideon set out for home. As he was going through Heres Pass,
  14. he caught a young man who lived in Succoth. Gideon asked him who the town officials of Succoth were, and the young man wrote down seventy-seven names.
  15. Gideon went to the town officials and said, "Here are Zebah and Zalmunna. Remember how you made fun of me? You said, 'We don't know if you really will defeat those two Midianite kings. So why should we feed your worn-out army?' "
  16. Gideon made a whip from thorn plants and used it to beat the town officials.
  17. Afterwards he went to Penuel, where he tore down the tower and killed all the town officials there.
  18. Then Gideon said, "Zebah and Zalmunna, tell me about the men you killed at Tabor." "They were a lot like you," the two kings answered. "They were dignified, almost like royalty."
  19. "They were my very own brothers!" Gideon said. "I swear by the living LORD that if you had let them live, I would let you live."
  20. Gideon turned to Jether, his oldest son. "Kill them!" Gideon said. But Jether was young, and he was too afraid to even pull out his sword.
  21. "What's the matter, Gideon?" Zebah and Zalmunna asked. "Do it yourself, if you're not too much of a coward!" Gideon jumped up and killed them both. Then he took the fancy gold ornaments from the necks of their camels.
  22. After the battle with the Midianites, the Israelites said, "Gideon, you rescued us! Now we want you to be our king. Then after your death, your son and then your grandson will rule."
  23. "No," Gideon replied, "I won't be your king, and my son won't be king either. Only the LORD is your ruler.
  24. But I will ask you to do one thing: Give me all the earrings you took from the enemy." The enemy soldiers had been Ishmaelites, and they wore gold earrings.
  25. The Israelite soldiers replied, "Of course we will give you the earrings." Then they spread out a robe on the ground and tossed the earrings on it.
  26. The total weight of this gold was over forty pounds. In addition, there was the gold from the camels' ornaments and from the beautiful jewelry worn by the Midianite kings. Gideon also took their purple robes.
  27. Gideon returned to his home in Ophrah and had the gold made into a statue, which the Israelites soon started worshiping. They became unfaithful to God, and even Gideon and his family were trapped into worshiping the statue. The Midianites had been defeated so badly that they were no longer strong enough to attack Israel. And so Israel was at peace for the remaining forty years of Gideon's life.
  28. (SEE 8:27)
  29. (SEE 8:27)
  30. Gideon had many wives and seventy sons.
  31. He even had a wife who lived at Shechem. They had a son, and Gideon named him Abimelech.
  32. Gideon lived to be an old man. And when he died, he was buried in the family tomb in his hometown of Ophrah, which belonged to the Abiezer clan.
  33. Soon after Gideon's death, the Israelites turned their backs on God again. They set up idols of Baal and worshiped Baal Berith as their god.
  34. The Israelites forgot that the LORD was their God, and that he had rescued them from the enemies who lived around them.
  35. Besides all that, the Israelites were unkind to Gideon's family, even though Gideon had done so much for Israel.

    Despite God's mighty work on behalf of the Israelites and His use of Gideon to provide deliverance, some troubling events occur in the midst of these events. The first is the jealous confrontation the men of Ephraim had with Gideon. Though they had been called into the fray to play an important role in stopping the Midianites at the Jordan River and had done so effectively, they were upset that they hadn't been invited earlier. Rather than celebrate God's deliverance and recognize Gideon's role in that they were more concerned with what they considered to be a personal affront. It is a marked lack of character that leads one to assume the worst of one's intentions before knowing the facts and to consider our pride more important than anything else. It would seem their integrity was in decline along with their decline in following God.

    Another troubling event was the failure of two Israelite cities located in the Transjordan area, that is east of the Jordan River, to give support to Gideon and his men in their efforts to finish the job of routing the Midianites providing freedom for the Israelites from the oppression of these people. Rather than provide food for Gideon's exhausted troops they taunted them for not yet capturing the escaping kings. Gideon vowed to return when he had captured the kings and punish these cities. And he did. What is it that keeps a people from celebrating God's deliverance and instead hindering those He uses to provide deliverance?

    A further troubling event was Gideon's use of the spoils of battle. He showed integrity in turning down the offer of his countrymen to make him king saying it was God that would rule over them. But then he requested of them an earring from each of them from their plunder of the Midianites. They readily agreed and he collected 43 pounds of gold from this. Then he made from the gold an ephod and put it up in his hometown where "Israel prostituted themselves with it" worshipping it as an idol. This act of making the ephod "became a snare to Gideon and his household." (8:27) In the end Gideon's syncretistic past came back to haunt him. It was not just the Midianites from which Gideon was to deliver Israel but he was to also deliver them from this syncretism, that is, the worship of other gods alongside their worship of God.

    Though God gave Israel peace for 40 years during the remainder of Gideon's life, they immediately returned to their rebellious ways at his death. This was the last period of peace Israel was to have throughout the remainder of this period of judges. Though other judges were raised up and gave deliverance from oppressors there was no period of peace to follow. Israel could never seem to connect the dots and recognize the direct correlation between their idolatrous ways and their problems from others who wished to oppress them.

    Though I'm tempted to be critical of Israel for "not getting it," I have to recognize that they were simply a mirror for all of us. Though I don't want to admit it, what I see in them is a reflection of myself. Who of us is not inclined to replace God with other things in which we place our trust? We may not turn to the worship of idols in place of worshipping God but we look to other sources on which we depend to offer us security or provide for our needs. Is there a difference between this and idolatry?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Reflections on Judges 7

    Judges 07 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Early the next morning, Gideon and his army got up and moved their camp to Fear Spring. The Midianite camp was to the north, in the valley at the foot of Moreh Hill.
  2. The LORD said, "Gideon, your army is too big. I can't let you win with this many soldiers. The Israelites would think that they had won the battle all by themselves and that I didn't have anything to do with it.
  3. So call your troops together and tell them that anyone who is really afraid can leave Mount Gilead and go home." Twenty-two thousand men returned home, leaving Gideon with only ten thousand soldiers.
  4. "Gideon," the LORD said, "you still have too many soldiers. Take them down to the spring and I'll test them. I'll tell you which ones can go along with you and which ones must go back home."
  5. When Gideon led his army down to the spring, the LORD told him, "Watch how each man gets a drink of water. Then divide them into two groups--those who lap the water like a dog and those who kneel down to drink."
  6. Three hundred men scooped up water in their hands and lapped it, and the rest knelt to get a drink.
  7. The LORD said, "Gideon, your army will be made up of everyone who lapped the water from their hands. Send the others home. I'm going to rescue Israel by helping you and your army of three hundred defeat the Midianites."
  8. Then Gideon gave these orders, "You three hundred men stay here. The rest of you may go home, but leave your food and trumpets with us." Gideon's army camp was on top of a hill overlooking the Midianite camp in the valley.
  9. That night, the LORD said to Gideon. "Get up! Attack the Midianite camp. I am going to let you defeat them,
  10. but if you're still afraid, you and your servant Purah should sneak down to their camp.
  11. When you hear what the Midianites are saying, you'll be brave enough to attack." Gideon and Purah worked their way to the edge of the enemy camp, where soldiers were on guard duty.
  12. The camp was huge. The Midianites, Amalekites, and other eastern nations covered the valley like a swarm of locusts. And it would be easier to count the grains of sand on a beach than to count their camels.
  13. Gideon overheard one enemy guard telling another, "I had a dream about a flat loaf of barley bread that came tumbling into our camp. It hit the headquarters tent, and the tent flipped over and fell down."
  14. The other soldier answered, "Your dream must have been about Gideon, the Israelite commander. It means God will let him and his army defeat the Midianite army and everyone else in our camp."
  15. As soon as Gideon heard about the dream and what it meant, he bowed down to praise God. Then he went back to the Israelite camp and shouted, "Let's go! The LORD is going to let us defeat the Midianite army."
  16. Gideon divided his little army into three groups of one hundred men, and he gave each soldier a trumpet and a large clay jar with a burning torch inside.
  17. Gideon said, "When we get to the enemy camp, spread out and surround it. Then wait for me to blow a signal on my trumpet. As soon as you hear it, blow your trumpets and shout, 'Fight for the LORD! Fight for Gideon!' "
  18. (SEE 7:17)
  19. Gideon and his group reached the edge of the enemy camp a few hours after dark, just after the new guards had come on duty. Gideon and his soldiers blew their trumpets and smashed the clay jars that were hiding the torches.
  20. The rest of Gideon's soldiers blew the trumpets they were holding in their right hands. Then they smashed the jars and held the burning torches in their left hands. Everyone shouted, "Fight with your swords for the LORD and for Gideon!"
  21. The enemy soldiers started yelling and tried to run away. Gideon's troops stayed in their positions surrounding the camp
  22. and blew their trumpets again. As they did, the LORD made the enemy soldiers pull out their swords and start fighting each other. The enemy army tried to escape from the camp. They ran to Acacia Tree Town, toward Zeredah, and as far as the edge of the land that belonged to the town of Abel-Meholah near Tabbath.
  23. Gideon sent word for more Israelite soldiers to come from the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, and both halves of Manasseh to help fight the Midianites.
  24. He also sent messengers to tell all the men who lived in the hill country of Ephraim, "Come and help us fight the Midianites! Put guards at every spring, stream, and well, as far as Beth-Barah before the Midianites can get to them. And guard the Jordan River." Troops from Ephraim did exactly what Gideon had asked,
  25. and they even helped chase the Midianites on the east side of the Jordan River. These troops captured Raven and Wolf, the two Midianite leaders. They killed Raven at a large rock that has come to be known as Raven Rock, and they killed Wolf near a wine-pit that has come to be called Wolf Wine-Pit. The men of Ephraim brought the heads of the two Midianite leaders to Gideon.

    God patiently prepared Gideon for his assignment of defeating the Midianites and serving as judge over Israel. Initially He took Gideon from Baal worship evidently recognizing the openness of his heart to turn from Baal and be obedient to God. The altar and Asherah pole that were involved in the worship of Baal were identified as his father's so Gideon may not have been actively involved in the worship of Baal, but it is also likely that he was not actively worshipping God either.

    To his credit Gideon readily responded to God's instructions, though with trepidation. Due to his trepidation Gideon initially asked for a sign to assure him that it was indeed the Lord speaking to him. As he prepared to gather an army to go against the Midianites, Gideon again asked for a sign. Now, in chapter 7 we read of God offering a further sign to assure Gideon that He would deliver the Midianites into his hand. However, this sign came after God had reduced Gideon's army from 32,000 to 300. He didn't want Gideon or the Israelites having any thoughts of taking credit for defeating the Midianites. 300 Israelites going against 135,000 Midianites would clearly be a victory that could only be credited to God.

    After Gideon's troops were reduced to 300, God sent Gideon and his servant Purah into the Midianite camp to provide further assurance that He had delivered the Midianites into his hand. As soon as Gideon arrived in the enemy camp he overheard a man telling another of his dream of a loaf of barley bread tumbling into the Midianite camp and striking a tent. The friend interpreted the dream to him saying, "This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has handed the entire Midianite camp over to him." (7:14) Gideon returned confident that the Lord was with him and announced to his troops, "Get up, for the LORD has handed the Midianite camp over to you." (7:15)

    Gideon and his men went out against the Midianites armed with only a trumpet and an empty pitcher containing a torch. If they even possessed swords, they were not mentioned. This was purely psychological warfare, and with God's intervention to arouse fear in the hearts of the Midianites and cause confusion among them, it worked perfectly. In the confusion, the Midianites turned their swords on each other. Though the Midianite army was reduced with this initial attack by Gideon's army, the bulk of them fled. It was then that additional Israelites troops were summoned to finish the job. No doubt the soldiers who had earlier been sent home were among those who joined the 300 in finishing the task. And so Israel was again freed from oppression. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Reflections on Judges 6

    Judges 06 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Then once again the Israelites started disobeying the LORD, so he let the nation of Midian control Israel for seven years.
  2. The Midianites were so cruel that many Israelites ran to the mountains and hid in caves.
  3. Every time the Israelites would plant crops, the Midianites invaded Israel together with the Amalekites and other eastern nations.
  4. They rode in on their camels, set up their tents, and then let their livestock eat the crops as far as the town of Gaza. The Midianites stole food, sheep, cattle, and donkeys. Like a swarm of locusts, they could not be counted, and they ruined the land wherever they went.
  5. (SEE 6:4)
  6. The Midianites took almost everything that belonged to the Israelites, and the Israelites begged the LORD for help.
  7. (SEE 6:6)
  8. Then the LORD sent a prophet to them with this message: I am the LORD God of Israel, so listen to what I say. You were slaves in Egypt, but I set you free and led you out of Egypt into this land. And when nations here made life miserable for you, I rescued you and helped you get rid of them and take their land.
  9. (SEE 6:8)
  10. I am your God, and I told you not to worship Amorite gods, even though you are living in the land of the Amorites. But you refused to listen.
  11. One day an angel from the LORD went to the town of Ophrah and sat down under the big tree that belonged to Joash, a member of the Abiezer clan. Joash's son Gideon was nearby, threshing grain in a shallow pit, where he could not be seen by the Midianites.
  12. The angel appeared and spoke to Gideon, "The LORD is helping you, and you are a strong warrior."
  13. Gideon answered, "Please don't take this wrong, but if the LORD is helping us, then why have all of these awful things happened? We've heard how the LORD performed miracles and rescued our ancestors from Egypt. But those things happened long ago. Now the LORD has abandoned us to the Midianites."
  14. Then the LORD himself said, "Gideon, you will be strong, because I am giving you the power to rescue Israel from the Midianites."
  15. Gideon replied, "But how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest one in Manasseh, and everyone else in my family is more important than I am."
  16. "Gideon," the LORD answered, "you can rescue Israel because I am going to help you! Defeating the Midianites will be as easy as beating up one man."
  17. Gideon said, "It's hard to believe that I'm actually talking to the LORD. Please do something so I'll know that you really are the LORD.
  18. And wait here until I bring you an offering." "All right, I'll wait," the LORD answered.
  19. Gideon went home and killed a young goat, then started boiling the meat. Next, he opened a big sack of flour and made it into thin bread. When the meat was done, he put it in a basket and poured the broth into a clay cooking pot. He took the meat, the broth, and the bread and placed them under the big tree.
  20. God's angel said, "Gideon, put the meat and the bread on this rock, and pour the broth over them." Gideon did as he was told.
  21. The angel was holding a walking stick, and he touched the meat and the bread with the end of the stick. Flames jumped from the rock and burned up the meat and the bread. When Gideon looked, the angel was gone.
  22. Gideon realized that he had seen one of the LORD's angels. "Oh!" he moaned. "Now I'm going to die."
  23. "Calm down!" the LORD told Gideon. "There's nothing to be afraid of. You're not going to die."
  24. Gideon built an altar for worshiping the LORD and called it "The LORD Calms Our Fears." It still stands there in Ophrah, a town in the territory of the Abiezer clan.
  25. That night the LORD spoke to Gideon again: Get your father's second-best bull, the one that's seven years old. Use it to pull down the altar where your father worships Baal and cut down the sacred pole next to the altar.
  26. Then build an altar for worshiping me on the highest part of the hill where your town is built. Use layers of stones for my altar, not just a pile of rocks. Cut up the wood from the pole, make a fire, kill the bull, and burn it as a sacrifice to me.
  27. Gideon chose ten of his servants to help him, and they did everything God had said. But since Gideon was afraid of his family and the other people in town, he did it all at night.
  28. When the people of the town got up the next morning, they saw that Baal's altar had been knocked over, and the sacred pole next to it had been cut down. Then they noticed the new altar covered with the remains of the sacrificed bull.
  29. "Who could have done such a thing?" they asked. And they kept on asking, until finally someone told them, "Gideon the son of Joash did it."
  30. The men of the town went to Joash and said, "Your son Gideon knocked over Baal's altar and cut down the sacred pole next to it. Hand him over, so we can kill him!"
  31. The crowd pushed closer and closer, but Joash replied, "Are you trying to take revenge for Baal? Are you trying to rescue Baal? If you are, you will be the ones who are put to death, and it will happen before another day dawns. If Baal really is a god, let him take his own revenge on someone who tears down his altar."
  32. That same day, Joash changed Gideon's name to Jerubbaal, explaining, "He tore down Baal's altar, so let Baal take revenge himself."
  33. All the Midianites, Amalekites, and other eastern nations got together and crossed the Jordan River. Then they invaded the land of Israel and set up camp in Jezreel Valley.
  34. The LORD's Spirit took control of Gideon, and Gideon blew a signal on a trumpet to tell the men in the Abiezer clan to follow him.
  35. He also sent messengers to the tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, telling the men of these tribes to come and join his army. Then they set out toward the enemy camp.
  36. Gideon prayed to God, "I know that you promised to help me rescue Israel, but I need proof. Tonight I'll put some wool on the stone floor of that threshing-place over there. If you really will help me rescue Israel, then tomorrow morning let there be dew on the wool, but let the stone floor be dry."
  37. (SEE 6:36)
  38. And that's just what happened. Early the next morning, Gideon got up and checked the wool. He squeezed out enough water to fill a bowl.
  39. But Gideon prayed to God again. "Don't be angry at me," Gideon said. "Let me try this just one more time, so I'll really be sure you'll help me. Only this time, let the wool be dry and the stone floor be wet with dew."
  40. That night, God made the stone floor wet with dew, but he kept the wool dry.

    Over a 40 year period in which Israel experienced peace, the people again drifted into idolatry. Several questions come to mind regarding this repeated cycle of idolatry. What was the appeal of Baal worship compared to God's mighty works on their behalf? Why were the Israelites so prone to forget what God had done for them? Since there was normally a generation of time lapse between their cycles of disobedience one wonders if they were failing to teach their children about God and how He had blessed them? Actually, there is little doubt that the parents were failing to teach their children of God's blessing and greatness, for this teaching would not only have encouraged the children to worship God and stay away from idolatry but would have kept the parents from forgetting.

    After 40 years of peace, God sent the Midianites to oppress Israel because of her idolatry. The Midianite oppression was not a continual enslavement as other oppression had been, but rather a seasonal invasion of their land and confiscation of their crops. They came in such large numbers that scripture describes them as a "swarm of locusts." Their intent went beyond simply taking food for themselves for it says they "entered the land to waste it." (6:5) Their intent was as much malice as it was survival. The result was that Israel became "poverty stricken." (6:6)

    Though Israel had forgotten God enough to slip into idolatry, they had not forgotten Him altogether. They remembered Him as a deliverer and so they cried out to Him for deliverance from the Midianites. Before sending a deliverer the Lord sent a prophet to remind them of how He had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and then driven out the people of Canaan and given the land to them. He also reminded them of how God had commanded them not to "fear the gods of the Amorites," and rebuked them for not obeying God. This reference to fearing the gods of the Amorites is probably a reference to revering them.

    Following the visit by the prophet came a visit of an angel of the Lord to a man by the name of Gideon. The angel addressed Gideon as a "mighty warrior." No doubt refering to what he would become with God's spirit upon him rather than his identity at that time. Gideon voiced the perspective of most people, "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened?" (6:13) We may not credit God for His blessings to us, but we will for sure blame Him for our problems. But despite Gideon's shallow viewpoint, the angel commissioned him to "deliver Israel from the power of Midian." (6:14) But Gideon protested, "how can I deliver Israel? Look, my family is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's house." (6:15) Gideon was well aware of his inability to take on this task. I  suggest this is a good starting point that will press one to rely on the Lord.

    Gideon requested a couple of signs from the Lord and in turn the Lord requested one from Gideon.  First, Gideon asked for a sign to assure him it was indeed the Lord speaking to him. The Lord gave him this sign by burning up the offering Gideon gave to Him. Then the Lord told Gideon to tear down the altar of Baal that belonged to his father and build a altar to the Lord. This was Gideon's test and sign to the Lord of his obedience. Though it may seem to be a very simple request, it was an act that nearly got Gideon killed.

    After Gideon passed his test, "the Spirit of the Lord enveloped" him and he began to rally the troops of Israel to do battle with the Midianites. Then Gideon asked for another sign of the Lord. This is his well-known sign often referred to as "laying out the fleece before the Lord." There were two parts to this sign. First, Gideon layed out the fleece and asked that the Lord make it wet with dew and leave the ground around it dry. The Lord granted this request. Then Gideon asked to repeat the sign but this time make the ground around the fleece wet with dew and the fleece remain dry. Again, the Lord granted his request. The purpose of this sign was to assure Gideon that the Lord would be with him in challenging the Midianites.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Reflections on Judges 5

    Judges 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. After the battle was over that day, Deborah and Barak sang this song:
  2. We praise you, LORD! Our soldiers volunteered, ready to follow you.
  3. Listen, kings and rulers, while I sing for the LORD, the God of Israel. *
  4. Our LORD, God of Israel, when you came from Seir, where the Edomites live,
  5. rain poured from the sky, the earth trembled, and mountains shook.
  6. In the time of Shamgar son of Anath, and now again in Jael's time, roads were too dangerous for caravans. Travelers had to take the back roads,
  7. and villagers couldn't work in their fields. Then Deborah took command, protecting Israel as a mother protects her children.
  8. The Israelites worshiped other gods, and the gates of their towns were then attacked. But they had no shields or spears to fight with.
  9. I praise you, LORD, and I am grateful for those leaders and soldiers who volunteered.
  10. Listen, everyone! Whether you ride a donkey with a padded saddle or have to walk.
  11. Even those who carry water to the animals will tell you, "The LORD has won victories, and so has Israel." Then the LORD's people marched down to the town gates
  12. and said, "Deborah, let's go! Let's sing as we march. Barak, capture our enemies."
  13. The LORD's people who were left joined with their leaders and fought at my side.
  14. Troops came from Ephraim, where Amalekites once lived. Others came from Benjamin; officers and leaders came from Machir and Zebulun.
  15. The rulers of Issachar came along with Deborah, and Issachar followed Barak into the valley. But the tribe of Reuben was no help at all!
  16. Reuben, why did you stay among your sheep pens? Was it to listen to shepherds whistling for their sheep? No one could figure out why Reuben wouldn't come.
  17. The people of Gilead stayed across the Jordan. Why did the tribe of Dan remain on their ships and the tribe of Asher stay along the coast near the harbors?
  18. But soldiers of Zebulun and Naphtali risked their lives to attack the enemy.
  19. Canaanite kings fought us at Taanach by the stream near Megiddo -- but they couldn't rob us of our silver.
  20. From their pathways in the sky the stars fought Sisera,
  21. and his soldiers were swept away by the ancient Kishon River. I will march on and be brave.
  22. Sisera's horses galloped off, their hoofs thundering in retreat.
  23. The LORD's angel said, "Put a curse on Meroz Town! Its people refused to help the LORD fight his powerful enemies."
  24. But honor Jael, the wife of Heber from the Kenite clan. Give more honor to her than to any other woman who lives in tents. Yes, give more honor to her than to any other woman.
  25. Sisera asked for water, but Jael gave him milk-- cream in a fancy cup.
  26. She reached for a tent-peg and held a hammer in her right hand. And with a blow to the head, she crushed his skull.
  27. Sisera sank to his knees and fell dead at her feet.
  28. Sisera's mother looked out through her window. "Why is he taking so long?" she asked. "Why haven't we heard his chariots coming?"
  29. She and her wisest women gave the same answer:
  30. "Sisera and his troops are finding treasures to bring back-- a woman, or maybe two, for each man, and beautiful dresses for those women to wear."
  31. Our LORD, we pray that all your enemies will die like Sisera. But let everyone who loves you shine brightly like the sun at dawn. There was peace in Israel for about forty years.

    Israel's victory over the Canaanite army, led by Sisera, is depicted in chapter 5 through a poem or song. It begins with praise for God's might. When He marches forth the earth trembles and the mountains melt. Following this opening praise for the God of Israel, the poem describes the oppression of Israel in the days of Shamgar. It was not safe for people to travel and they had no weapons with which to protect themselves, all because "Israel chose new gods." (5:8)

    But then, Deborah arose "a mother in Israel." (5:7) She called for the warriors of Israel and they responded from Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir (Manasseh), Zebulun and Issachar. However, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Dan, and Asher did not, for various reasons, come to Israel's aid. They were not commended.  It was the Lord, though, who brought victory for Israel. He fought from heaven, pouring down unseasonal rain that turned the river into a raging torrent, washing away Sisera's army.

    Jael, the Kenite, was praised for killing Sisera as he attempted to escape the Israelite army and Sisera's mother is depicted as waiting anxiously for the return of her son who would never return from this battle. Finally, there is a prayer that the enemies of the Lord will all perish as did Sisera and those who love Him will "be like the rising of the sun in its strength."

    Following this defeat of the Canaanites, Israel had peace for 40 years. But the disturbance of her peace, when it came, was a result of her own actions in turning to other gods. Israel, as with all of us, was undone by her own poor choices. It is convenient to blame other sources for our problems, but truth be told, we are, more often than not, the source. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Reflections on Judges 4

    Judges 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. After the death of Ehud, the Israelites again started disobeying the LORD.
  2. So the LORD let the Canaanite King Jabin of Hazor conquer Israel. Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, lived in Harosheth-Ha-Goiim.
  3. Jabin's army had nine hundred iron chariots, and for twenty years he made life miserable for the Israelites, until finally they begged the LORD for help.
  4. Deborah the wife of Lappidoth was a prophet and a leader of Israel during those days.
  5. She would sit under Deborah's Palm Tree between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, where Israelites would come and ask her to settle their legal cases.
  6. One day, Barak the son of Abinoam was in Kedesh in Naphtali, and Deborah sent word for him to come and talk with her. When he arrived, she said: I have a message for you from the LORD God of Israel! You are to get together an army of ten thousand men from the Naphtali and Zebulun tribes and lead them to Mount Tabor.
  7. The LORD will trick Sisera into coming out to fight you at the Kishon River. Sisera will be leading King Jabin's army as usual, and they will have their chariots, but the LORD has promised to help you defeat them.
  8. "I'm not going unless you go!" Barak told her.
  9. "All right, I'll go!" she replied. "But I'm warning you that the LORD is going to let a woman defeat Sisera, and no one will honor you for winning the battle." Deborah and Barak left for Kedesh,
  10. where Barak called together the troops from Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand soldiers gathered there, and Barak led them out from Kedesh. Deborah went too.
  11. At this time, Heber of the Kenite clan was living near the village of Oak in Zaanannim, not far from Kedesh. The Kenites were descendants of Hobab, the father-in-law of Moses, but Heber had moved and had set up his tents away from the rest of the clan.
  12. When Sisera learned that Barak had led an army to Mount Tabor,
  13. he called his troops together and got all nine hundred iron chariots ready. Then he led his army away from Harosheth-Ha-Goiim to the Kishon River.
  14. Deborah shouted, "Barak, it's time to attack Sisera! Because today the LORD is going to help you defeat him. In fact, the LORD has already gone on ahead to fight for you." Barak led his ten thousand troops down from Mount Tabor.
  15. And during the battle, the LORD confused Sisera, his chariot drivers, and his whole army. Everyone was so afraid of Barak and his army, that even Sisera jumped down from his chariot and tried to escape.
  16. Barak's forces went after Sisera's chariots and army as far as Harosheth-Ha-Goiim. Sisera's entire army was wiped out.
  17. Only Sisera escaped. He ran to Heber's camp, because Heber and his family had a peace treaty with the king of Hazor. Sisera went to the tent that belonged to Jael, Heber's wife.
  18. She came out to greet him and said, "Come in, sir! Please come on in. Don't be afraid." After they had gone inside, Sisera lay down, and Jael covered him with a blanket.
  19. "Could I have a little water?" he asked. "I'm thirsty." Jael opened a leather bottle and poured him some milk, then she covered him back up.
  20. "Stand at the entrance to the tent," Sisera told her. "If someone comes by and asks if anyone is inside, tell them 'No.' "
  21. Sisera was exhausted and soon fell fast asleep. Jael took a hammer and drove a tent-peg through his head into the ground, and he died.
  22. Meanwhile, Barak had been following Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. "The man you're looking for is inside," she said. "Come in and I'll show him to you." They went inside, and there was Sisera--dead and stretched out with a tent-peg through his skull.
  23. That same day the Israelites defeated the Canaanite King Jabin, and his army was no longer powerful enough to attack the Israelites.
  24. Jabin grew weaker while the Israelites kept growing stronger, and at last the Israelites destroyed him.

    Israel's judges during this period were more than military leaders who delivered them from the rule of oppressors. As with Ehud, they served as leaders of Israel who influenced them for good. During Ehud's period as judge, for example, the Israelites remained faithful to God after Ehud, under God's leadership, delivered them from Eglon king of Moab. However, 4:1 tells us that after Ehud died the Israelites "again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD." The judge to follow Ehud was a woman by the name of Deborah. We see from her example that the judges also served as actual judges, settling disputes among the people. Deborah was a prophetess as well as judge which provided her insights from the Lord she might not otherwise have had.

    With Deborah the chain of events played out differently than we have seen to this point. Instead of being raised up as judge in response to Israel's cry to God for help against her oppressors, she was already serving as judge during a period in which Israel was being oppressed by Jabin king of Canaan. So when Israel cried out to God for help she was already serving as judge. In response to their cry for help, God gave instructions through Deborah for what they were to do. She summoned Barak and delivered the Lord's instructions to him. He was to gather 10,000 soldiers and lead them to Mount Tabor. The Lord would do the rest. He would lure Sisera, commander of king Jabin's army, into battle with Barak and his men and the Lord would hand Sisera and his army over to them.

    Barak placed a condition on his obedience. He would follow these instructions if Deborah went with him. Otherwise he would not. Though he may have thought he was bargaining with Deborah, it was God he was dealing with and bargaining with God is not the best policy. In this case, God still handed Sisera and his army over to them as He said he would, but the honor of killing Sisera went to a woman and not Barak. The woman was not Deborah but Jair, wife of Heber a Kenite. When Sisera fled for his life to escape Barak, he found himself at her tent and asked to be hidden. She hid him and offered the usual hospitality, but when he fell asleep, she took a tent peg and mallet and drove the peg through his temple and killed him.

    With this victory over king Jabin's army and military commander, he and his kingdom were subdued before Israel. This victory broke the Canaanite strength and began a constant decline until they were no longer a threat to Israel. But their greatest threat to Israel during this period in which they were a force with which to contend was more spiritual than military. Israel adopted their ways and intermarried with them and worshipped their gods. This is what defeated them and not the Canaanite military strength. God would have delivered them militarily had they been faithful to worship only God.

    This is the key to the life we all desire. We think it is in fulfilling our desires, having what we want and doing what we want. But this formula for life invariably leads to unhappiness rather than happiness. The only true formula for happiness is to serve God. Counterintuitive? Maybe so, but true nonetheless. Most of the things of God are counterintuitive to our minds.