Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday - Judges 14 - Looking for a Fight

Judges 14:4 shows us that Samson and God were working in tandem (with God leading of course) to put the Philistines in their place. As always, God could see the plan more clearly than his human partner could and obviously had higher motives and purposes in every one of His actions.

Now, despite God working, we still see a problem with Samson showing up early in his ministry. He had a weakness for women and wasn't necessarily very picky about the kind of women that he pursued. Upon the framework of Samson's wedding we have several significant events. In Judges 14:6 we find that Samson killed a lion with his bare hands. More importantly, we see how he did it. God's Spirit came upon him. This supernatural baptism of strength would be repeated many times in his life. Whatever else might be said of Samson, it is surely remarkable how wonderfully God used him. Sadly, Samson turned a good experience into a bad one when he later touched the carcass of the lion to retrieve some honey that bees had stored there. Remember, he was a Nazarite (Numbers 6:6) and therefore was not permitted to touch dead bodies.

Just like many of us, Samson was evidently compelled to confess his fault, but he was unwilling to do it openly. So, in the form of a riddle (and for a gamble of sorts) he shared the story of the lion and the honey with his 30 groomsmen at his wedding. And, by threatening his wife (or his heifer if you want to use Samson's terminology) those men found out the meaning of Samson's riddle. But, in keeping with his purpose and calling, Samson killed 30 other Philistines and took THEIR valuables to make good on the gamble which he had made with 30 Philistine groomsmen. And, because his girl had betrayed him, he skipped out on the wedding and went home. So, his fiancé was given to his best man to be his wife instead of Samson's. That move would prove to give Samson another excuse to kill even more Philistines in agreement with the will of God. What a soap opera, eh?

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday - Judges 13 - Israel's Superhero

What Bible story is more spectacular than the record of the great He-Man, Samson? After all, which one of us men wouldn't want to be used by God in the way Samson was. He was unbeatable. He was known for his physical feats of strength. He was blessed of God and called by Him to flex his muscles with supernatural effects against his enemies, the enemies of his people and the enemies of God. In our modern imagination, we assume that he also had a square jaw and a good tan, right?

From start to finish, Samson's whole life was like a fairy tale or a romantic drama of sorts. He was the man of the hour. After Israel had endured 40 years of harsh oppression at the hands of the Philistines, God prepared a deliverer for them. His parents had been formerly childless. But, God sent an angel to prepare them for the arrival of their very special son.  He was going to be a lifelong Nazarite.  As you read the story of his life, you might do well to remember all the specific regulations that he was supposed to live by. But, although he was greatly blessed of God and used mightily, he had some rather major flaws, not the least of which was his rather unbridled affinity for feminine beauty. It would eventually cripple his ministry and cost him his life.  Nevertheless, he got an A on his life's report card (Hebrews 11:32 & 39).  The value of faith in the life of an individual can't possibly be overstated.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saturday - Judges 12 - Civil War

Much like the Ephraimites had complained against Gideon for not including them in his war plan (Judges 8:1); they also became angry against Jephthah because they perceived that he had slighted them. The confrontation was so severe that a regional civil war erupted (in which Jephthah's men killed 42,000 of their Ephraimite brethren). The 2 sides were so close together that the way Jephthah's men differentiated between their side and the members of the Ephraimite army was by a linguistic test that required proficiency in speaking a specific word in their local dialect to prove which side each man was on.

After putting the Ephraimite troublemakers in their place, Jephthah served as a judge in Israel for 6 more years before his death. He was followed in succession by lbzan who judged Israel for 7 years, Elon who judged Israel for 10 years, and Abdon who judged Israel for 8 years. And, on the horizon is the great champion Samson.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday - Judges 11 - The Faith of Jephthah

Hebrews 11:32 lists Jephthah as one of the great heroes of our faith. He had an ignominious beginning and an imperfect record, but he did believe God and was therefore blessed by Him.  He was considered a "mighty man of valor" in his day. That means that he was brave; courageous; fearless. Now, despite being ostracized by his own family, he nonetheless rose to prominence and when they got into some danger, he was invited to return as their leader.  Jephthah knew his national history well and used it in his attempts at diplomacy. He didn't succeed in avoiding war, but he did at least clarify the cause and defined perfectly what victory would look like. Our modern leaders would do well to follow his example.

Jephthah also had a good handle on the difference between his living and true God and the false god imagined by his enemies. He was nearly Elijah-like in his words of challenge against the heathen idol worshippers (Judges 11:24). When push came to shove, and Ammon wouldn't hear of peace, Jephthah's faith was rewarded by a special anointing of the Holy Spirit upon him. He arose with an oath to head out to war. His oath was that he would give God the first thing that came forth from his home when he returned from battle. This shows that he believed that God was going to give him the victory and that he would get to return to his home. With faith in God and fierce determination, he went out to battle. This chapter records for us that God gave him the victory over the Ammonites (Judges 11:32-33).

Finally, though Jephthah's vow to the Lord ended up costing him much more than he had imagined it would, his faith was strong enough to drive him forward to fulfill it.  His only child came out of his house to meet him when he got home.  And, his faith was also powerful enough to influence his only daughter to keep her responsibility in the vow even though she wasn't the one who had made it and it cost her much more than it cost her father. She remained a virgin all her life... never marrying and never having children.  It was a fate worse than death for a young lady in those days, but she complied.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thursday - Judges 10 - Playing "Hard to Get"

After the fiasco surrounding Abimelech, there were 2 judges that left precious little legacy for us to examine. So, we will skip the 45 years of Israel's history that Tola & Liar presided over. After they died, the Jews reverted even more intensely to polytheistic idolatry. Baal, Ashtaroth and a multitude of other local deities took the place of God in Israel's heart. How sad!

This time things were a little different than they had been during the previous spiritual cycles of the nation. First, the period of trouble was longer. The Jews were under the oppression of the Philistines and the Ammonites for 18 years. Secondly (and, more importantly), when the nation cried out in sorrow and repentance to obtain mercy from the Lord, God responded with aloof disinterest. The people did indeed say the right things... and I'm sure they meant what they said (Judges 10:10). But God had walked down this road with them already - and, that more than once. So, God listed 7 different enemies which He had delivered His people from before. Then He reminded them that without exception they had returned ungratefully to their former sins. This time He told them that He was through bailing them out (Judges 10:13-14).

Wisely, the Jews persisted in their petitions for God's mercy. And, they proved their sincerity by removing their idols and worshiping God, despite His refusal to help them. That symbol of their new heart was more than God could resist. Judges 10:16 indicates that He just couldn't stand to watch them suffer while they were worshipping Him. In the next chapter, we will discover who God allowed to rise to deliver His habitually wayward people yet again.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tuesday - Judges 9 - The Parable and Prophecy of Jotham

Many of the stories in Judges are apparently included to show us what a society can look like when God has been expelled. Of course, we could just look around us to see THAT today, but these classic stories serve us wonderfully as sober illustrations.  If we thrust God out of our schools, homes, governments and churches... out of our lives altogether, the future begins to look very bleak very quickly.

Unlike his worthy father Gideon, Abimelech was a very ambitious man.  We may view ambition positively in our day, but Abimelech's ambition was Machiavellian and highly self-centered. After setting the stage for himself, Abimelech seized power in Israel by killing 69 of his 70 brothers. He had arranged with his family on his mother's side to take control after his father's family was eliminated. But, God provided for justice by protecting Gideon's youngest son, Jotham. When Jotham (who had been hiding) realized how everything had panned out, he spoke a parable about the rise of his half-brother into power. Jotham compared his father Gideon to a wonderful olive tree and Abimelech to a feeble thorn­ bush. In his analogy he called for God to bring justice upon the men of Shechem and upon Abimelech by causing them to destroy each other.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday - Judges 8 - Gideon's Peace

As we have already learned, each judge brought a measure of peace in Israel. In Gideon's case, the peace lasted for 40 years. Surely there were various factors that contributed to the maintenance of that peace. Foremost among those reasons was the blessings of God upon the people, and that because of their former repentance and continual submission to Him. Still, one must consider how other things affected both God and the nation. Telling is the fact that, the death of each judge signaled the end of justice and peace for a time. Judges 8:33 says this precisely regarding the death of Gideon. So, we should conclude that there were specific qualities attached to the life of Gideon which affected the whole nation.

In Gideon's case, we can point to 2 primary qualities which God blessed him with: wisdom and humility. His God-given wisdom is seen in how he handled the anger, frustration and jealousy of Ephraim. He calmed them by magnifying their feats above his own (Judges 8:2). His humility can be seen in his refusal of an offer to essentially become the first king of Israel (Judges 8:23). There is one other situation that illustrates the personality and character of Gideon though: the way he handled the captive kings, Zebah and Zalmunna... as well the cowardly men of Succoth and Penuel. His integrity, determination and diligence were demonstrated when he finished the job he had started. What he spoke with his mouth, he was thoroughly willing to execute with his hand. Of course, that is a vital trait of good leadership. No wonder God continually blessed him. He may have lacked in pedigree, confidence or ability, but he didn't fail where it counted most: he was dependable.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday - Judges 7 - Too Much Talent

God told Gideon that he had too many men to win (Judges 7:2). So, God used some wonderful criteria in whittling the numbers down. First, Gideon was instructed to send home everyone who would admit that they were frightened by the prospects of a battle ahead of them. He lost a whopping 2/3s of his pitiful army. By the way, that loss was particularly significant since Gideon was already way outnumbered. Gideon started with about 32,000 soldiers... compared to well over 100,000 Midianite enemies. After this initial thinning of Israel's assembled army, Gideon was outnumbered more than 10 to 1. Then, by means of a strange water drinking test, God cut the number of Jewish troops down even further; all the way down to 300.

His men went to war with trumpets, pitchers and lamps in their hands. When Gideon's men sounded their trumpets, broke their pitchers, shined their lights and shouted their victory cheer, the Midianites awakened in confusion and fled in fear. Many of them died in the ensuing chaos as they turned their swords on each other. Others were taken by additional Jewish soldiers who joined in the fray after the initial "trick" of God and Gideon.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday - Judges 6 - Gideon

I don't like the story of Gideon (also known as Jerubbaal). Oh yes, his biography has its high points and glory moments, but in the end his story has a very sad conclusion. Judges 9:5 tells us about the violent death of Gideon's 70 sons... all but 1 of them were killed by their own half-brother, Abimelech. And, there is more that can be examined concerning the painfully sad legacy of this great judge. But, we've got 3 more chapters remaining to consider that stuff, right now let's just meet him and discover his unique place in the halls of the faithful (Hebrews 11:32).

Most commonly this man's life is remembered because of his initial victory. Gideon's 300 men and their strange strategy against the Midianites is one of the most commonly rehearsed stories in Sunday Schools and Bible Schools. Yet there is much more to his life. In fact there are 3 or 4 other remarkably teachable events that we can examine. Today, let's specifically focus on the calling and first signs that God gave to Gideon.
After 40 long years of peace under Deborah, the people went astray yet again.  This time they suffered for 7 years. Some of their misery must have seemed so senseless and cruel to them. The Midianites and Amalekites not only oppressed them militarily, but they destroyed the agricultural economy of the nation.

This time, when Israel cried out to God for mercy, God preceded the calling of a delivering judge with the sending of a message-bearing prophet. The people were soundly rebuked for their apostasy.  Yet, God in His immeasurable patience did rear up a champion to assist and rescue the people.  That man was Gideon.