Day 354: Hebrews 11-13; By Faith (Israel's Hall of Fame)

Keeping in mind that the whole of this book was written as an encouragement to those believers who were facing persecution, especially from the Jews, and to those who were believers but may have been backsliding into Judaism.  With that in mind, there isn’t much else to say that isn’t eloquently spoken about in chapters 11 and 12.  So, I encourage you to read them again and remember all that we have covered over the last year.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people of old received their commendation.  By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.  And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.  By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.  By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.  By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.  By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.  By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.  By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.  By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of GideonBarakSamsonJephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,  quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”



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?