Day 79: 1 Samuel 8-10; Israel's Last Judge and First King

Well, it was bound to happen eventually.  Israel has been living like the people they failed to remove from the land of Canaan on and off since they first settled there.  They have followed the gods of other nations, forsaking their God and breaking the Covenant often.  It seems only natural then that the people would demand a king like those of the nations surrounding them as well.  We read that this saddens Samuel and that he takes it offensively.  Yet God clears this up for Samuel, pointing out that it is indeed not Samuel’s leadership that they are rejecting, but rather God’s.  The people don’t want God to be king over them anymore, they want something, or rather someone, that is more tangible, visible… perhaps, maybe even real?  Who knows what was going through their heads at the time, but it seems as though they are just worshiping whatever, whenever… it is not difficult to make the leap that if people are just doing whatever they want whenever they want to what or whomever they want for worship, perhaps the gods are not real.  I’m sure that the stories of what happened in Egypt… maybe even in the conquest of Canaan have passed into legend by this time.  How sad that everything has become so… sad.

Israel is a nation that has the hope and promise of God as part of their very nature.  They were not only to live as God’s people, but were also meant to be a blessing to the whole world.  Yet they have forsaken all of this, following after worldly things… and now they want a king to rule, judge, and direct them.  Perhaps they hope that an earthly ruler would direct them towards a heavenly one.  This is certainly what the King should be doing, serving almost as an Icon, ever pointing towards the Lord.  This takes us back all the way to Deuteronomy 17, God lays out rules for the coming kings of Israel.  Even though the people want a king like other nations have a king, the Law clearly states that the king of Israel wasn’t to be like any other king.  Deuteronomy says that the King is not supposed to “acquire many horses” or wives, wealth, etc., but was to get a copy of the Law which he would read day after day, night after night… that He would follow “the Shema” to the letter and be an example to the people of Israel what it means to truly follow after God.

I encourage you to read the post “Beggar” by Cody Raak, a good friend of mine.  At first it may seem to be going in a different direction, but I think that it gets at the idea that the Laws for the king were getting at.  Our strength is not to be set in our own wealth, knowledge, or military might, but rather in our relationship with God which is made stronger the more we spend time in His Word, as Psalm 1 readily points out.

At the end of the day, it is interesting to see Israel’s thinly veiled rejection of God and easy to ask why they would do such a thing.  Sure, their leadership wasn’t looking so great (why is it that the sons of religious leaders seem to always go bad?), but wouldn’t that just be more of an encouragement to turn toward the God that got them there in the first place?  We can sit on this end of the words and think, “how could they possibly do this?”  Yet I wonder if the situations in many churches today are not dissimilar to this.  Pastors are being removed at an alarming rate by their congregations.  While I believe that sometimes this can be necessary (things like abuse, heresy, and pedophilia), too often this simply happens because the pastor isn’t telling the congregation what they want to here.  We would rather have pastors that sooth our ears with the messages of moralistic living and the love of God rather than those that contain in them some element of sin that makes us uncomfortable.  Are we too, like the people of Israel, demanding a leader that words for us rather than turning to God in our times of “spiritual dryness” or lack of leadership?  I wonder…

In the end though, we see that God is willing to allow this.  He is not discouraged or put-out by it.  He doesn’t up and leave when the people make this poor decision.  Instead He becomes intimately involved in the selection process, again working His will for the right person to come forward, even if he is hiding amongst the baggage (clearly he didn’t hide well enough).  God is not moved, shaken, or ever surprised by our mistakes, poor choices, or lack of vision outside ourselves… He knows that we will make the wrong decision.  He knew it from before time began… yet He still maintains His covenant relationship with Israel, and with us, and He still sent His Son to die for us, “even when we were dead in our transgressions and sins.”  Praise God!



Day 78: 1 Samuel 4-7: The Ark of the Covenant

Today’s reading is all about two things: the importance of the Ark of the Covenant and, more importantly, God’s power over other gods.

Yesterday we read about the vision of Samuel, calling him to ministry, and also the promise of God to cut off Eli from the priesthood because of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas.  We see this word from the Lord come true in 1 Samuel 4 & 5.  True to form, God always keeps His promises.

But this is not really the main part of the narrative we have read today.  There is a lot of action that happens around the Ark of the Covenant.  Remember with me all the way back to the time that Israel was at Mount Sinai, when they first created the Tabernacle.  This is recorded in Exodus 25.  The Ark was created as the dwelling place of God, the “Mercy Seat” as it is often called.  The very presence of God sat enthroned on the Cherubim that were on top of the of Ark.  It was the most sacred item in the Tabernacle, so much so we read that those that even looked on it were punished by death.  Israel’s decision to bring the Ark out of the Tabernacle and into battle without the direction of God is a testimony to their depravity at this time.  They were not trusting in God, they were trusting in this golden box on some sticks.  One could say that they had become so used to worshiping idols that they made the symbol of the presence of God an idol.

The Ark of the Covenant

Interestingly, this is one of the reasons that the Church, especially the Western Church.  Icons are artistic pictures, representations of Saints, scenes, and things of the Church’s past.  If you ever visit church’s of Orthodox belief, you will notice many of these.  They are pieces of art that can be used in worship, or in daily life to help direct our attention to God.  This is the important point of both the Ark and icons in general, they are not themselves to be worshiped, but serve to point us, our minds and hearts, to the living God.  These were removed from many churches because of the fear that the icons themselves would be worshiped, a type of “graven image” which would be in direct violation of Commandment #2.  The following is a more modern version of an Icon of Samuel from salliesART.

Samuel Icon

Finally, the most important question that we ask about these Narratives is, as always, “where is God in this narrative?”  Sometimes this is more difficult to answer than others.  However, today it is very clear to see that God is present and powerful, even when His “throne” is in the hand of the enemy.  The people of Israel associated the present of God with the Ark of the Covenant.  So, when the Ark is taken, the people are shaken to their core because they believe that somehow the Philistines have taken God away from them (which is odd being that they are worshiping idols all over the place anyway).  But God is still at work, showing Himself to be more powerful that Dagon, or any of the other Philistine gods and the people as well.  And while the Ark may indeed be the physical seat of God’s presence on earth, it is clear that He is working in Israel and in Philistia all at the same time and he makes it clear to the leaders of Israel’s enemies where He and the Ark belongs.

What do we learn from this?  Well… don’t ever take the Ark of the Covenant into battle with you.  Or perhaps the presence of a Bible at official and unofficial functions doesn’t not guarantee the presence of God at that place?  Maybe we are being shown that it isn’t about having the right religious trinkets, shirts, books, etc. that connect us to God, but rather we need to be steeped in His Word, keeping it on our hearts every day to truly hear Him and be connected to Him?  I think that one thing that God is showing Israel here is that He is neither limited by our bad actions or disobedience, nor is He limited by any distance, space, or other god that might be present.  He again shows that He is more powerful than any other god, and even has control of “untamed” animals that bring the Ark home.  God is all powerful, all knowing, and always working His will in all situations, no matter how grave they might seem.



Day 77: 1 Samuel 1-3; The Call of Samuel

As we begin our transition from the time of the Judges to the time of the kings, we walk through the books of first and second Samuel, the narratives of God’s working through the man Samuel to bring about His purposes and will, ultimately establishing the royal house of King David from which the Messiah, Jesus Christ would be born.  This is marked largely by God’s declaration to Samuel in Chapter 3:

“Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.”

It isn’t as if God was trying one this before this and found out that it wasn’t going to work so He scrapped it and moved on to like, plan C or D or whatever it would be now.  God has always been at work in the people of Israel and in the world, bringing about Restoration to the created order after the Fall.  Through Abraham and his offspring God has entered into this covenant relationship and is continuing to work out the fulfillment of His promise from Genesis 12 in which all the nations of the Earth will be blessed.  What God is doing is revealing what the next phase of this restoration project is doing and how it will take on a different shape as before.  All this is laid before us in stark contrast with the words we see earlier in Chapter 3, “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”

With that in mind, God appears, “standing before Samuel” telling Samuel that He is moving and that things are about to change!  What awesome news for Samuel, even with it positioned around the death of his mentor’s family.

Though I won’t say a great deal about it, I do want to direct your attention to the song of Hannah that she sings after Samuel is born.  It is very similar to the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise when she finds out she will be carrying the Son of God, recorded in Luke 1.

One thing that is interesting to me is how I react to this story now when I think about how it was presented to me as a child.  My Sunday School teachers would always tell us about how we needed to make sure that we were listening to the voice of the Lord and that we were ready to respond to Him.  I think that even at some point one of the criticized Samuel in our class for thinking that the voice of God was actually his mentor Eli.  While I think that this is a good lesson to keep in mind, I’m not entirely sure that the message of this narrative is solely based on that.  Here we find God coming to the one that He has appointed to lead Israel calling to Him and revealing Himself to him.  In much the same way that God called Abraham or Isaiah, God here is calling Samuel to a particular ministry in a particular place at a particular time when God is moving in especially obvious ways.  Its not to say that God hasn’t been working, of course He has.  We’ve seen it  through out the book of Judges and throughout Ruth as well.  God is always at work, always moving, always bringing about His perfect will.  Yet here, God is moving in a new way, a profoundly visible way, and He has appointed Samuel to lead the people through that.  I wonder, thinking about it from that context, if we God speaks to us in the same way.  Perhaps we’ve been doing things pretty much the same for a while.  Maybe we’re just doing church because its church.  Maybe we just get up every day and do what we have to do because that is our lot in life.  I wonder if you have ever had a profound experience like Samuel where God swoops in and says, “Behold, I am about to do a (new) thing in your life at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.”

Oh that we would listen to the voice of God and heed the call to this new thing, whatever it may be, that the ears of everyone who hears it will tingle… to the praise of His glorious name!



Day 76: Ruth 1-4; The Kinsmen Redeemer

The story of Ruth is a beautiful story of the way the people of Israel were supposed to be living according to the Law that was given to Moses.  In our Biblical Cannon, it has a very interesting juxtaposition, following the last words of the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” and the book of Samuel and the beginning of the story of the kings of Israel.  Amidst the chaos of the time of the judges, an apt description of the cycle of brokenness that Israel finds itself participating in and the time when Israel demands a human king to rule over them instead of God, we find this book of peace, love, and a Shalom like following of the Law and providence of God.  If the book of Judges was an example of the curses that would come when the people didn’t follow the law, the book of Ruth is a prime example of the blessings that come when people did follow the Law and live as God called them to.

The laws about the “Kinsmen Redeemer,” a phrase not specifically used in the ESV as far as I have seen, but one  that summarizes well the duties of family members to each other, come from Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 25 in which God lays out laws for the people of Israel regarding the care of those who are vulnerable.  Generally speaking, it would be common, because of the patriarchal society, for a woman who was widowed to end up poor and destitute because she would not be able to have a (legitimate) job and, if she didn’t have grown children, would end up not being cared for.  Women in this situation would find themselves alone and in need.  Sometimes they would be sold into slavery to pay their debts.  Sometimes they would prostitute themselves to make money.  It was a difficult, especially in a society that didn’t really care about the poor and downtrodden.  Not so for God or for Israel.  The Law says that the next closest kinsmen is to take her as a wife to perpetuate the husbands name through him.  In this way, she would not be left to herself, but would be cared for.

In some cases this would not work out either, which is where things like “gleaning” come into play.  Ruth goes and gleans what the harvesters don’t pick up, or some of the crop on the side of the field.  This comes from Leviticus 19 and Leviticus 23.  The people weren’t supposed to reap right up to the edge of the field, and if they dropped something, they were not allowed to pick it up.  These were left for the poor and the sojourner and in this way the poor would not be left starving but would be provided for.

This is such a beautiful picture of the peace and reconciliation that God is working toward in creation.  It is also a beautiful picture of how God cares for all those that we would consider the “least, last, and lost.”  How often do we just cast these people out, even in our minds, so that we don’t have to think so much about those difficult things.  We find it uncomfortable that there could be suffering in the world, even in our own backyards, so we don’t think about it.  God doesn’t turn a blind eye to them.  In fact, there is a special place for the “least of these” in God’s heart to which Jesus remarks “whatever you did for the least of these my brothers, you did for me.”

The truth is though, that as we are all marred with sin, we are all the “least of these” in the sight of God.  We truly are the Ruth’s of the world, just hoping to get a piece of something that drops from the Harvester and not be turned away.  And yet, like Boaz who is a Christ figure in the Bible (foreshadowing if you will), Jesus Christ spots us gleaning what we can and says “who is that?”  He points out to His harvesters that we will never be sustained doing that, in fact we won’t even get enough to feed ourselves for that day.  He walks across the proverbial field as offers us something we could never get on our own… Himself… the Bread of Life.  Moreover, He doesn’t just give us Spiritual food, He says to each and every one of us, “I want to take you into my house.  I want to redeem you.  I want you to become my bride!  You are mine to claim as my own NO MATTER WHO ELSE would seek to claim you.  All you need to do is accept this free gift of grace, the salvation I offer you, by believing in me.”

 



Day 75: Judges 19-21; Ending the Judges, continuing the Cycle.

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

That line is really the essence of the last 5 chapters of the book of Judges… or maybe the whole darn book.  We didn’t talk about the other stories that were contained in yesterday’s reading, and they go right along with today’s reading.  All are a bit strange, somewhat difficult to think about.  What do we do with some of this information.  Some folks set up an idol as their god and then it gets taken and set up in a city and stuff.  What do we even do with that?

A guy allows his already unfaithful concubine to get raped to death by the leaders of an Israelite town and then cuts her to pieces and sends her to all the different tribes of Israel?  The result of which winds up with a conflict resulting in the death of over 65,000 Israelites and then bringing about a peace in which the remaining people of Benjamin are allowed to choose their wives by kidnapping them from a festival?  What the heck?

Seriously… what do we do about passages in Scripture like this?

Honestly, I think that we often try to put things uncomfortable passages out of our minds.  These are not things we hear in sermons in church.  I certainly didn’t hear these stories in Sunday School as a child.  And yet, they are still a part of the Bible.  Which makes us ask the question, why?  What can we learn from this?  How do even read this?

Maybe the point isn’t to draw out some sort of moralistic teaching that makes us feel better.  We don’t have to just say, “well, don’t do these things and you’ll be a better person/Christian or something.”  We are quick to glean some sort of “try harder,” moral living lesson as a way of coping with our own uncomfortableness.

Perhaps narratives like this are simply meant to point us toward the fact that the world is still a very broken place.  We see this cycle time and again of disobedience leading to disaster leading to repentance leading to rest and then back to disobedience… and we realize that, though God is working towards restoration, sin is still present in the world.  It is a painful, uncomfortable reality, one that we don’t often want to face.  But in light of it, we also see, plainly illuminated before us, the work of God in the world!  Like the mercy that the people have on the decimated tribe of Benjamin, God provides for His creation working and restoring all that He has made.  There is hope at the end of this, even in the midst of the people of God just doing what they want.  It is clear, even in this strange way of kidnapping a girl to be their wife, that God is faithfully providing for the tribe of Benjamin, a people that is just as much a part of God’s promise as the rest of Israel.  He will not abandon them because of their sin, however horrid and awful it may be.  Because God is not one who is quick to condemn or quick to destroy, but is always gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love, faithfulness and forgiveness.



Day 74: Judges 16-18; Sampson (part 2)

So we come to the most well known story of the Judges: Sampson and Delilah.  Generally speaking, if you were in Sunday School or some sort of religious education, you probably heard this story at least once, perhaps many times.  Teachers that I had often told this story and sifted it down into some lessons about being tempted and not continually putting yourself in situations like Sampson.  As I read this story now, my mind is drawn to these lessons and I do think that there is something to them.

I ask myself often when I hear the story of Sampson, why did he stay in that situation.  If I was him, knowing exactly where my power came from and why it was that I was able to do the things that I do, I certainly wouldn’t hang around anyone that trying to figure that out in order to harm me.  I mean, maybe the first time it makes sense.  He tells her something that obviously doesn’t work and she tries it.  Duh!  Get out of there quick!  This isn’t necessarily temptation as we know it, but she requests kind of present themselves in the same way.  Sampson has taken a sacred vow, an oath to be set apart for the Lord.  He has been given obvious power and the Spirit of the Lord has been with him in all that he does, even in those questionable things.  I wonder why he didn’t bolt out of there at the first sign of trouble.

Some would say it was because of love (or infatuation).  Others might say it was strictly arrogance.  Perhaps Sampson had become too self-reliant or was testing the limits of God’s willingness to be with him.  It might very well have been a combination of those three.  One thing that we have seen to this point is that Sampson has a weakness: women. Especially foreign women.  Scripture doesn’t come out and tell us that either of these women are Philistine women, but the implication is there based on the locations.  Like all attacks from an enemy, once you expose a weakness you will exploit it.  So it is with Sampson.  And so it is with us as well.

When the tempter comes into our lives he doesn’t go after the things we are very strong in, that would be quite foolish like Delilah taking on Sampson in a physical altercation.  Instead, our weaknesses are exploited, broken down, and demolished as a way of getting at our strengths.  We read that Delilah asks again and again, pressing Sampson until he can stand it no longer and gives in.  It is only then that his strength is attacked and easily overpowered.  I wonder if the right question to this narrative is “what is your weakness?”  I’m sure that you know those places in which you are vulnerable to attacks, those things that the enemy exploits to get at you.

Yet, like all stories, we need also be wondering where God is in all of this.  What is God’s location in this narrative?  Unfortunately for us, there isn’t a great deal of direct comment about where God is here, but what we can see is that even in the times of temptation, Sampson’s strength is still very much present.  Yesterday, as we read, every time Sampson needed strength “the Spirit of the Lord was upon him.”  So we can see in all of the times that Sampson is “imprisoned,” God is still present helping empowering him.  I guess the next logical question in this follows well here, “is God then absent when Sampson’s strength leaves him?”  It certainly seems that way, and yet I wouldn’t ever dare to say that God is completely absent from the scene.

Like Israel and the covenant in the Judges Cycle, Sampson goes through a time of disobedience in which he is weakened and forced into captivity.  However, like with Israel, this doesn’t mean that God has abandoned them either and we see this as we read of the death of Sampson.  There is a comment about his hair starting to grow back and we assume that there is at least some amount of time that has passed between his capture and this final scene.  I can only imagine the thoughts and prayers of Sampson working at the grindstone.  We hear but one of them, to grant him the strength one last time to avenge “his two eyes.”  And God honors his request, giving him the strength to strike down more philistines than all the rest of his life combined.

As we talked about a couple days ago, the cycle of the judges is often our cycle as well.  We find ourselves in times of disobedience and even disaster as a result of our disobedience.  Too often we say that there is no way that God would want us back after what we have done.  We feel guilt and shame for the sins that we’ve committed.  And yet even here we see that God does not condemn Sampson and abandon him, but is ready and waiting once again to empower him.  So it is with us, God does not abandon us in our sinfulness, but continually calls us back to himself, time and again drawing us into His arms to receive us, to heal us, and to empower us once again for the work of His Kingdom.



Day 73: Judges 12-15; Sampson (part 1)

After some a rather turbulent story continuing from yesterday’s adventures with Jephthah, we are brought to what I would consider to be the most well known, and longest story of the judges, Sampson.  Reading about the birth of Sampson, I was struck by some of the familiarity between the foretelling of His birth and the foretelling of Jesus’ birth.  An angel of the Lord appears to Sampson’s mother, and then later to His father.  They don’t necessarily understand what is going on, but they are willing to serve the Lord.  One thing that the angel says about Sampson is that he is to be a Nazirite.  This label and the promise that comes along with it takes us back to Numbers 6 with the explanation of the Nazirite vow.

The angel does a pretty good job of explaining all that comes along with this, but the gist of it is that anyone who takes the Nazirite vow cannot drink any wine, vinegar, or anything from grapes, the Nazirite cannot cut his hair, and he cannot go anywhere near dead body.  This vow is largely a part of the Holiness codes that were talked about in Leviticus and Numbers.  He is to be set apart for the Lord, in a way totally different from the people of Israel.

So as we walk through the story of Sampson we read that the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him at many times to do the will of God and perform miraculous wonders.  God always seems to be with him, giving him great strength and abilities.  What is interesting though, as we read about Sampson is the path that He takes… He is arguably the most controversial judge as well.

As a Nazirite he is not supposed to go near a dead body.  Yet Sampson kills thousands.  He even eats the honey out of a honeycomb found in the carcass of a lion that he killed.  And God was still with him…

As an Israelite he married a Philistine, an outsider forbidden by the Law.  And God was still with him…  God still cares for and provides for him!  His Spirit stays with Sampson and His will is worked through Sampson.

All of these narratives speak to the nature of God, and tell us things about His character.  What do you think this says about God?



Day 72: Judges 9-11; Abimelech and Jephthah

Throughout Israel’s history there are good leaders and there are bad leaders.  One thing that I have noticed in this is that those leaders who are good are leaders in whom the Spirit of God dwells.  There is no mention of the Spirit of God being anywhere near Abimelech, but when Jephthah leads Scripture tells us that the Spirit of God was upon him.  Abimelech does a great evil, killing many of the people of Israel, his own brothers even.  Jephthah does a great deed against Israel’s enemies striking a great blow and subduing them.

What strikes me as I read this is the nature of the reality that we live in post-Pentecost.  In Acts 2 we read that the Spirit of God was poured out on all who believe.  We believe that this is true even now, that those who believe in Jesus have the Spirit of God inside of them working in them and through them.  We ourselves are not like Abimelech, trying to grasp at power through evil means, but instead find ourselves filled with the Spirit, able to do great things for the Kingdom of God.  I wonder sometimes whether we really believe this, or whether its one more story that we remember sometimes.  We have received the Spirit of God in our lives and it works in ways that we don’t even know and are not capable of understanding.  However, it also works in us and through us, pushing and driving us to do the Lord’s work in our lives, transforming us into the Image of Christ each and every day.

Where is God in this story?  Well… it seems that God is above all these things, working out His will and Justice in due time.  And He is also working in the people of Israel, especially in the son of a prostitute.  It seems that this is something of a common theme with Tamar and Rahab also being counted among them in times past.  Yet we see here once again that God uses a broken person to bring about His will and show again that He is faithful to Israel and to the Covenant.  There is nothing that can keep God from using us, not even our horrible, sinful past.

I wonder, what are your thoughts on the final verses of Judges 11?  This is a hard story to read, and it doesn’t often sit well with us.  What do you think of Jephthah’s vow?  Do you think he should have kept it?

I found this map on Judges Bible Study, I think that it does a good job of putting some location placement within the nation of Israel.

Map of the Judges



Day 71: Judges 6-8; Gideon

Apart from the story of Sampson, Gideon would probably be considered one of the greatest, or at least most well known of the judges.  His story and all that goes with it are the subject of many Sunday School lessons about testing and trusting in God.  There are many facets to the story when we look at it from those angels, but again in this story I think we need to take a step back and look first at where God is in all of this, and how He acts for the people of Israel.

We read first that the Lord visits Gideon by way of an angel and the Gideon doesn’t recognize it until after a rather obvious sign is given to him.  After this sign, the meal he has prepared bursting into flames, Gideon still questions and tests God, just to make sure.  He kind of reminds me of another great leader of Israel that we had been talking about, Moses.  Even after being given signs and the promises of God Himself, still neither one of these men are willing to outright trust God.  Moses resisted so much that God became angry with him, Gideon tests God up to the hours and minutes prior to their attack.  Though I have to give Gideon some credit, he was still willing to go to the camp of his enemy with only 300 people, down from an army of 32,000.  However, it wasn’t until the he heard from the mouth of his enemy that the Lord was going to give the Midianites into the hands of Israel did he have the courage to face them.  I wonder what would have happened if he had heard this and then had to wait a day or two before he attacked.  Would his confidence have waned again?  Who knows…

In all this though, we really haven’t talked about God’s place in this story.  God shows up very clearly at the beginning, being present and hearing the cries of the people of Israel in their oppression.  God reminds them through a prophet of the covenant that they made and how they had broken it.  Yet once again He doesn’t leave them in their misery but raises up a great Judge, albeit a reluctant one.  God goes ever before them, preparing the enemy for defeat before Gideon even arrives, much less when he attacks.  God answers very clearly the challenge of Gideon’s father when he suggests that the people, angered by the breaking of baal’s alter (which they had no right or reason to have in the first place), that baal should contend for himself, if indeed he is a god.  And finally, the Lord is with Gideon and the people of Israel after their defeat giving rest to the Land even when the people “whore” after the ephod that Gideon creates.

Once again we see the true nature of God revealed in this story.  Though He punishes the people of Israel for their sins, God is not unmerciful or unforgiving.  He once again upholds His side of the covenant, a relationship that is kept from God’s side despite the continual unfaithfulness of Israel.  This is the true nature of God’s faithfulness and unconditional love, that even when Israel walks away God remains steadfast and unchanging in His commitment to His people.  He truly is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!



Day 70: Judges 4-5; Not for your Glory

As I said yesterday, some of these stories would are familiar while others are not… but many of them are graphic.  Tent peg to skull is surely not a way that I’d like to die.  However, I think this particular story is familiar for several reasons:  it is, to my knowledge, the only account of a female judge in the Bible and it is one of the more unique ways that the oppressor is killed.

Even with that in mind, I think that this story should gain its fame not from the judge, but from her testimony of the God that has empowered her.  She says to Barak, after getting him to agree to attack the overwhelmingly powerful force of Sisera and the Canaanite army, that though the victory would be won, the glory would not be his but would go to God.  As the story continues, where do we see God?  He goes before the people of Israel and He routes the army of the Canaanites so that they are destroyed to the last man.  All of what has happened here, Israel’s victory and the rest that would come to the land, was because of God.

Again we see His faithfulness in keeping the covenant with Israel.  He punishes them for the evil that they do, yet He hears their cries and has mercy on them in their time of need.  This is the cycle of the judges, back and forth again we will go.  It is important to see where God is in all of this.  It can look like He is absent or even mean, but these narratives tell us so much more about God and His faithfulness.  As we have seen and will continue to see, Israel is completely incapable of holding up their end of the covenant.  They broke it on the first day that they had received it with that Golden Calf.  Here again, and again and again they continue to break the covenant.  By the terms stated, God had every right to walk away and leave them in their punishment, but He doesn’t and He won’t.

Like a parent disciplining their children, so too does God discipline Israel using the power of other nations.  Yet like a loving parent, discipline does not mean that there is no longer love, and it is only for a time.  Interestingly, God upholds both ends of the covenant, becoming in Himself and His power, the means for the people of Israel to turn back to Him.  God knows that the people are sinful and He knows that because of our sin and our rebellion we wouldn’t choose Him if it were left up to us.  And even if we did, He knows that we wouldn’t ever be able to sustain that choice in our lives.  Which is why God has to take the initiative, He has to act first.  And this is what He does for Israel, providing a judge and the power to defeat their enemies and thus draw the people back to Him.

This is what He has done for us as well, even when we were lost in our sins.  Ephesians 2 tells us that we were dead in our sins and transgressions, and yet God, because He is rich in mercy, sent His Son to die for us.  We wander, all the time, like the people of Israel.  Yet God has taken the initiative for us too, providing a sacrifice for our sins!  He has kept His covenant and continues to be faithful to His people now and forever.



Day 69: Judges 1-3; The Judges Cycle

I don’t want to put anyone off by this post, but I think that the set up for the book of Judges is very important to understanding the narratives (some of them quite graphic) in the book of Judges.  There is a great deal that we can learn from these narratives, but once again I want to encourage you to remember that, in all of them, the main character, the primary mover… is God.  Stories about mighty men and heroes of old are great, but it is first and foremost important to understand that these are stories about God.

So, as we begin our journey into the book of Judges, and really the whole rest of the narratives of the Old Testament, I would like you to once again call to memory the covenant that we have been talking about.  There are different parts of the covenant… and there was a chart that looked like this:

Suzerian/Vassal Covenant Structure

 

So what we have read here in Judges 1-3 talks about how Israel did not follow the Lord.  A new generation grew up that did not know of Joshua or the Law of the Lord as Judges 2 tells us.  Remember back to Deuteronomy 6?  The Shema?

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

There were very specific instructions to what?  “teach them diligently to your children…”  Clearly this got missed in the previous generation for one reason or another.  So a whole new generation of Israelites grows up not knowing the Law.  And what happens?  Exactly what God said was going to happen.  They would begin to worship other gods.  Judges 2 says,

“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals.  And they abandoned theLord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.”

In Judges 3 we see the writer use the word “whored” or “prostituted” as a way of describing the people of Israel actions against the Lord to other gods.  We talked in the book of Numbersabout the imagery of Israel as the Bride of God and the wedding metaphor that plays in here.  The nation of Israel, that has committed itself to the Lord in a covenant relationship, forsakes that covenant and follows after other gods.  This is a direct violation of the 2nd commandment too, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…. You shall not bow down to them or serve them…”

Interestingly, we just talked about this in my Hebrew class.  This second commandment has a very distinct implication that is used throughout the Old Testament to describe the effect that other gods would have on them.  That word “serve” is a word that we would normally use as a way of saying that we subject ourselves to something.  However, the form in the Hebrew text is a causative passive tense.  In other words, the command would read something akin to: “You shall not bow down to them or be made to serve them…”  The implication here is that the people wouldn’t just go after these gods, but that they would be acted on from outside forces… One could even say they would be enticed or seduced by these other gods.  Of course they still have to own the decision, but the warning is clear: Do not have idols because they will draw you away from God.  And this is exactly what see too isn’t it?  The Golden Calf was one example, the sin of Achan is one example, and now we’re into Judges, a book full of examples.  Just wait until we get into the kings…

Finally, I just want to take a moment to talk about the “cycle” of Judges.  Here is a graph from one of my Old Testament classes at Kuyper College with Dr. Kroeze that sums it up pretty nicely:

judges cycle

We’ll see this cycle played out over and over again in the coming days with a variety of judges, some familiar and some not.  What is important to note, as I said in the beginning, is to pay attention to what God is doing here.  Remember the covenant, at the end, where it talks about what will happen if the people disobey?  Yes… this is what is coming through in this.  The people of Israel are in a continual cycle of following God, not following God, receiving the punishment that was told in the covenant, repenting, and starting all over again.  Why does this matter?  It tells us something about God…

In all of this, God remains faithful to both ends of the covenant, upholding the whole thing despite Israel’s repeated failures.  God never leave them in their sin and disobedience, but rather empowers someone to come forward and deliver His people from their enemies.  This is true in our lives as well.  While I don’t necessarily think that God directly punishes us every time we disobey Him, this cycle does some somewhat familiar doesn’t it?

And yet even here the focus is not necessarily on sin… but how God rescues His people time after time from their sin.  Which is true, or should be true, in our lives as well… we turn our focus from the sin the we commit to the savior that washed it all away!

 



Day 68: Joshua 22-24; Choose Whom You Will Serve

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

These are some of the famous last words of Joshua.  Like Moses, as he is preparing to die, he calls the people of Israel together and they rehash the covenant again.  The people of Israel are reminded of all the great deeds of the Lord, of who they are and whose they are.  They are reminded that they came from one man who was called out of a distant land.  They are reminded that all that they are and all that they have become is not because of them, but because of God… only because of God.

This particular passage rings with the overtones of election, of predestination, and echos of the adoption.  It is, as you have probably guessed already, a foreshadowing… the whole covenant is a foreshadowing because it is fulfilled in Christ.  Joshua says in effect, “you are God’s people because God chose you, guided you, protected you, sustained you, walked with you, fought for you, and now has given you peace.  You have scene the work of the Lord, and you have seen the other gods around you.  So choose this day whom you will serve.”

Joshua also reiterates the notion of the blessings and curses of following or not following the covenant.  The people say “we will follow God.”  Joshua replies that your profession here is a witness against yourselves.  I wonder if this isn’t part of why we have the practice of profession of faith.  Does that too serve as a public witness against us, that we have publicly chosen to follow God?  I don’t necessarily know that there is a correlation there, but it seems pretty strong.

As we ended yesterday, so we will end again today.  God has been faithful.  The first 6 books of the Old Testament are, at the very least, a testament to the nature of the character of God and His abundant faithfulness and providence.  All of what has happened to the people of Israel since the very beginning has been ordained and directed by God Himself.  Whether it be sustenance during a time of famine, protection in the wilderness, the powers against the Egyptian gods, the giving of the Law, or the conquest of a people much larger and stronger than them in Canaan, all of this has happened because of God.  If there is a life lesson here, it is that nothing happens apart from the knowledge and sustaining power of the Father.  He has ordained our days from beginning to end and He will watch over us and work His will in our lives each and every day.  We have seen it and continue to see it.  So the question for us is the same:

WHOM WILL YOU SERVE?



Day 67: Joshua 19-21; Conquest of Canaan: The Inheritance (Part 2)

“Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there.  And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands.  Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”

And so it is done.  The inheritance of the land has been divided up and the people have gone to take possession of it.  Each tribe has received their lot, their cities, and their promise.  I don’t know if you caught it, but even in this there was some trouble with the natives when the tribe of Dan went to take their possession.  However, even then, God was faithful and the usurpers were wiped out and the land possessed.

We read in here too, according to the law that we had read in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, that the people set up “cities of refuge” for people to flee to.  These were safe-havens for Hebrews and Gentiles alike, in which people that were accused of something could flee to as a way of protecting themselves.  They could stay there until the due process of law had taken its course at which time the person would either be found guilty or innocent.  If they were innocent, they could stay in the city.  If they were guilty… well… not so much.  They would be stoned in the valley outside of the city that was usually reserved for trash, waist of all sorts, and other assorted things of an unclean nature.

Also, according to the Law, the Levites who did not receive an inheritance (because God is their inheritance) were given towns to dwell in.  Remember with me that the Levites were chosen for service at the Tabernacle, service to the priests and to the worship of God.  This is a direct result of their response to Moses during the Golden Calf incident when we are told, they were the only ones that stood up for the Lord.  They, therefore, were not given land, but cities in which they could dwell and pastures in which they could graze their flocks.

This returns us again to the verse we began with.  This is not necessarily a passage of Scripture that we read and see God very clearly acting.  Yet, in the Bible, God is the primary actor, the primary character… always at work in the world, which is why this last verse is so important:

“Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there.  And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands.  Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”

It was not the people of Israel who made their own peace, it was the Lord that gave the land to them, it was the Lord that gave them what He promised, it was the Lord that gave them rest on every side and peace in their time.  It was the Lord that had given all their enemies into their hands… and it was the Lord that completely fulfilled all of His promises to the people of Israel.  It all begins, happens, and ends with God.



Day 66: Joshua 15-18; Conquest of Canaan: The Inheritance (Part 1)

Today’s reading is not necessarily a thrilling one, I know… lots of names of cities and demarcation of boarders.  Here, for the third day in a row, is a map from Visual Unit that might give you some idea as to what the allotment of the land looked like.

Plan for the Promised Land

 

This map shows some of the cities that are used in the descriptions we read in these chapters.

There are, however, multiple parts of this reading that talk about how “the Israelites did not drive them out” and “they lived among them as forced labor.”  I want to point these sections out to you today and tomorrow because these people that Israel allows to dwell among them against the expressed command of God, are the people that continue to cause trouble for them throughout the whole of Israel’s future.  From the Philistines to the Canaanites that are left among them, we will meet these people again and again in the time of the judges and in the time of the Kings as well.  Here are some notable groups still living among them:

15:63 – “the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day.”  These will not be vanquished until the time of King David.

16:10 – “ However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor.”  These would also remain here until the time of King David.  We also see at the end of chapter 17 that the people of Ephriam and Manasseh do not go down and take care of these peoples because they are afraid of them.  It is hard to believe that, after all they have accomplished, they are afraid of a anyone at all.

While I would hesitate to condense this down into some pithy moral teaching, I think it is important to note here that the people of God did a great deal of work and followed the Lord in this whole time of conquest.  However, they didn’t finish the job.  In fact, Scripture tells us that the people of God were content to live in the hill country, which was much more like living in the wilderness, rather than going down and taking the land that God had given to them.  How sad it is that, really, the total conquest of Canaan is more than 100 years off yet.  God is faithful to His people though, even though this oversight will cost them repeatedly for many years to come.  Oh what things they could have avoided if they had just finished the task.  I wonder what this says to us though?  I think to myself right now, what things has God called me to in my life that I have only done a halfway job of?  I wonder what life would be like if I pursued them until they were finished?



Day 65: Joshua 11-14; Conquest of Canaan: The Northern Campaign

So continues the saga of the conquest of Canaan.  After defeating the southern kings, Joshua returns to Gilgal and then starts off on the northern front.  This map, from Bible Mapper shows pretty well the conquest of the northern Canaan.

ConquestOfCanaanNorthernCampaign_1_thumb

Joshua and the people of Israel, with the Lord fighting for them, are able to defeat the united armies of the North.  All the kings that joined together against the people of Israel are vanquished in one battle.  Joshua takes their cities and destroys them, and they pass into the list we read of the conquests of Moses and Joshua.  This map from glenacres.org show briefly the whole of the conquest of the Promised Land.

Conquest of Canaan

There is a troubling part in today’s reading that I am not entirely sure about.  God comes to Joshua and says that there is still land to be conquered.  Then God goes on to say that He will drive them out.  The next thing we hear is that the land is being divided up.  God’s statement is somewhat ambiguous in that He speaks like He has been speaking when the people of Israel were conquering Canaan, and they the people don’t follow and, what we’ll find out fairly soon, the rest of the Canaanites don’t get removed from the land and continue to live among the people of Israel.  This is something that was expressly forbidden.  God knew that if there were people left, they would draw the people of Israel away from Him… it confuses me as to why they are left and allowed to stay.

However, this is what happens and will be the subject of many narratives to come from Judges through the time of the Kings and beyond.  In the mean time, the land receives rest from war and the people of God receive their inheritance.  God has once again shown Himself to be faithful and true to His word, even if the fulfillment of the promise take over 400 years.  God has grown the people of Israel from 1 man and his wife to a nation easily numbering over a million men, women, and children, and given them a bountiful, plentiful land in which to dwell as His people.