Monthly Archives: June 2016

Judges 9 – “Those who take up the sword…”

And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s relatives, and spoke to them and to the whole clan of the household of his mother’s father, saying, “Speak, now, in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that seventy men, all the sons of Jerubbaal, rule over you, or that one man rule over you?’ Also, remember that I am your bone and your flesh.” And his mother’s relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem; and they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our relative.” They gave him seventy pieces of silver from the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, and they followed him. Then he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself. All the men of Shechem and all Beth-millo assembled together, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar which was in Shechem. – Judges 9:1-6 (NASB)

Death Of Abimelech by Gustave Dore

But a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull. Then he called quickly to the young man, his armor bearer, and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that it will not be said of me, ‘A woman slew him.’” So the young man pierced him through, and he died. When the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, each departed to his home. Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father in killing his seventy brothers. Also God returned all the wickedness of the men of Shechem on their heads, and the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal came upon them. – Judges 9:53-57 (NASB)

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. – Matthew 26:52 (NASB)

***

Violence creates more violence.

The self-perpetuating cycle of violence is never broken through passive action or retribution. To break a cycle of violence a person, group, culture, or nation must make the active decision to stop the cycle. This decision has consequences, most of them unpleasant, and there is no guarantee that those who make the active decision will live to see the fruits of their decision. The decision to break a cycle of violence is a decision that is made for the benefit of those that come after the deciders.

Malmo - "Non-Violence"Violence is not limited to nations at war or nations carrying out war like actions. We can be violent with our words when we gossip, bully, or create ill will against a person. We can be violent with our actions when we push others down in order to elevate ourselves. We can be accomplices to violence when we allow our nation to indefinitely detain other humans without trial, carry out assassinations via unmanned drones or special operations units, or engage in the retributive executions, disguised as justice, of criminals.

We are perpetuating the cycle of violence through many of our every day actions and through our inaction in holding our society responsible for its violent acts.

Application:

  • Make a list of the violence you perpetuate through both your actions and your inaction.
  • Correct one of your violent actions this week.
  • Speak up regarding the violence carried out in your name by your government.

Queries:

  • Are my words and actions perpetuating violence?
  • What acts of violence have I committed against my neighbors in the past day? Week? Month? Year?
  • Have I don’t anything to stop the cycle of violence? What could I do?
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Judges 8 – Allowing the Lord to rule

Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.” – Judges 8:22-23 (NASB)

***

It is a difficult thing to refuse power when it is freely offered. It is often the case that the decision to defer supreme power is what characterizes a truly great leader, and the decision to grasp supreme power is what destroys a great leader.

Mt Rushmore under construction.

There are numerous examples throughout history of leaders who have had the opportunity to increase their power, but instead choose to decline, and build up other leaders around him or her. George Washington is an excellent example. Washington declined the opportunity to seek out a third term as president, even though he almost certainly would have won (and kept winning for life). The decision to allow others to succeed him laid the groundwork for the peaceful turnover of power between differing factions in the United States for the next 220 years (and hopefully longer).

Vladimir Putin

On the other side of the coin is the leader who will not give up power. A modern day example of this leader would be Vladamir Putin, current President of Russia. When Putin was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term as President in 2008, he worked to have a place holder serve a term while Putin became Prime Minister for four years. Putin returned to the Presidency in 2012 in an election which featured many documented irregularities.

The church is infamous for becoming an institution through which individuals with authority can rule mini-kingdoms. This can be just as true for the head trustee, the treasurer, a Sunday School teacher, or a pastor. It is important that the church put in positions of authority, those people who constantly remember that God is in control and “the Lord shall rule over you.”

When a Church allows an individual or group of individuals to rule, in the place of God, then it is no longer a Church.

Application:

  • List the areas in your life in which you exert authority of another person or institution. Pick one of those areas and empower someone else to take over your authority.
  • Examine your Church governmental structure and determine if it has adequate controls on individuals taking advantage of authority.
  • Hand one area of your life, which is causing you stress, entirely over to God.

Queries:

  • When was the last time you refused power?
  • Look at the leaders in your church; have they sought to increase their power or empower others?
  • Does God rule over your life, your family, and your church?
  • Are you willing to let others be in control? Are you willing to accept their decisions even when you think they are wrong?
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Judges 7 – Ignorance and confidence

The LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’

“Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.’” So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained.

Then the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.” Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. The LORD said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home.” – Judges 7:2-7 (NASB)*

***

The rest of the story goes on to tell of Gideon leading these 300 men to victory over a much larger Midianite army.

This is a well known Bible story, and I have heard a number of explanations for God choosing those soldiers who “lapped like a dog” over those who knelt.

John Wesley wrote the following explanatory note for this passage:

“By this farther distinction it was proved, that none should be made use of, but, 1. Men that were hardy, that could endure fatigue, without complaining of thirst or weariness: 2. Men that were hasty, that thought it long, ’till they were engaged with the enemy, and so just wetted their mouth and away, not staying for a full draught. Such as these God chooses to employ, that are not only well affected, but zealously affected to his work.”

Wesley’s take away from this passage would then be: when choosing people to accomplish God’s work, it may be beneficial to choose people who can endure through difficulties, and who are eager to pursue the work. I have to admit that it is hard to find these people who are simultaneously patient in the face of struggle and anxious to accomplish God’s will; when you do find these people, as a leader, it is important to take advantage of their desire. However, I suspect that Wesley is being charitable to those soldiers who were selected in this passage.

A more common explanation I have heard is that a good soldier would never lie down at the stream’s edge and put his lips to the water. A river or stream is usually an excellent place for an enemy to attack. To drink by “lapping like a dog” would mean that the soldier is unaware and unable to see any dangers which may be lurking near the water. Rather, a good soldier would kneel at the waters edge and drink from his hand; thus allowing the soldier to keep a constant watch on his surroundings.

So, why did God get rid of all the good soldiers?

It is important to note that God had first sent home all those who were “afraid and trembling”. This would suggest that God only wanted to use those soldiers who would be confident. In whom were these soldiers confident: themselves or God? It seems likely that the well trained experienced soldiers (those who knelt to drink) would have more confidence in their knowledge, skills, ability, and training. The green, untrained soldiers would be more likely to have their confidence in God.

Growing FaithGod got rid of all the good soldiers because God wanted to use people who placed their confidence in God. It did not matter if the soldiers were well skilled or experienced. It did not matter if the soldiers knew the proper way to conduct themselves during a war. All that mattered was that the soldiers be confident in God leading them to success. God first got rid of those who had no confidence (who feared and trembled). Then God got rid of the good soldiers because they believed that they could lead the army to victory. God kept the rest because they believed that God would lead the army to victory.

Application:

  • Write down the fears you have that keep you from doing something.
    • Face a fear this week.
  • Write down the areas of your life where you trust your own knowledge more than you trust God.
    • Trust God, over yourself, in one new area this week.

Queries:

  • Is your confidence in your own knowledge, skills, and abilities; or in God?
  • Does your church put people with skills in positions of authority, or people who are confident in God?
  • What makes you fear and tremble? How can you be confident in God in the face of these fears?

*The Hebrew text is unclear which group was actually excluded. See the NIV for an alternate translation. While this alternate reading suggests a difference in nuance, I think the main point holds true regardless.

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Judges 6 – Balancing faith and doubt

“Gideon thanks God for the miracle of the dew”, painting by Maarten van Heemskerck

Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, 37 behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.” 38 And it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water.

39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.” 40 God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground. – Judges 6:36-40 (NASB)

***

It is hard to know exactly how to characterize Gideon’s behavior in this chapter. Is he being faithless, shrewd, cautious, unwilling? Is he testing God for his own benefit or for the benefit of others? I am not sure exactly how to read Gideon. But over and over again, God gives Gideon an instruction and Gideon either 1) tests the instruction or 2) follows the instruction but with extreme caution. The passage quoted above is just the last in a long series of Gideon testing God.

Gideon is certainly not boldly doing the work of the Lord. He is proceeding with caution and testing the Lord. Is Gideon acting properly or improperly? Are we to follow the leading of God or are we to test God?

Is there a universal application we can take away from this story? In a word: no.

There are times when I need to follow God’s leading and follow without question. There are times when I need test God’s leading and gain confirmation that it truly is the will of God.

As a parent there are times when my children need to follow my instruction with out question: there’s a fire, get out of the road, eat your green beans. There are also times when it is appropriate for my children to test my words and confirm that it is what I want them to do: when I say or they hear the wrong thing, when they have more information than I do, when their mom and I are not on the same page.

God acts in a similar way. As God’s child there are times when I need to obey and times for me to seek confirmation. Unfortunately, there is no rigid rule dictating which time is which and my communication with God is not always as direct as my communication with my children.

Doubt can be healthy (if we do not let it consume us). A healthy sense of doubt keeps us from being the crazy guy with a messiah complex. It is okay to doubt if God is speaking to you. However, you need to you use that doubt as motivation to confirm God’s leading. There is no shame in acting like Gideon and putting out a fleece. But do not become dependent upon the fleece. As we grow in our relationship with God we will become more confident, but there will always be a little bit of doubt.

Gideon confirmed the will of God, and then he followed the will of God. That seems like a pretty good plan. Do not let doubt render you actionless, but at the same time, do not assume that every thought that enters your head is the will of God. If you are uncomfortable with your doubt, lay down a fleece. But, as you grow in your relationship with God, be sure to learn how to act even if you have a little bit of doubt.

It may be that spiritual maturity is knowing how to balance faith and doubt.

Application:

  • Write down the thing God is calling you to do that scares you.
  • Write down the “fleece” you are going to lay out to test if it is God’s will.
    • Make it time specific and share it with a spiritual mentor.
  • Write down the one thing you are being called to do, but a little bit of doubt is holding you back. Do that thing this week.

Queries:

  • Can I have a strong faith in God and still doubt?
  • Am I able to balance my testing and trusting of God?
  • Do I tend to act too hastily or too slowly? Does God want me to change?
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