Category Archives: Judges

Judges 16 – Care and Feeding Instructions For a Leader

One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. The people of Gaza were told, “Samson is here!” So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, “At dawn we’ll kill him.” But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron. – Judge 16:1-3

Der geblendete Simson by Lovis Corinth (1912)

25 While they were in high spirits, they shouted, “Bring out Samson to entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars, 26 Samson said to the servant who held his hand, “Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.” 27 Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. 28 Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. – Judges 16:25-30

***

As a kid in Sunday School they probably taught about Samson once a year. It was always a very sanitized version of the story, and I do not recall the teacher ever reading any of it out of the Bible. The lesson always revolved around Samson losing his powers when his hair was cut and then getting his powers back when he asked God. I look back in horror at the teacher who taught that Samson was analogous to Jesus in that he sacrificed himself, and the teacher that taught Samson got his powers back because the Philistines allowed time for his hair to grow back.

Samson was a horrible person who did very bad things, and that is how we should teach him. He was faithless, deceptive, arrogant, self-centered, and hot-headed (to name a few traits).

Many people are called into leadership positions. Frequently leaders use their power and authority to work in the best interest of those around them. However, there will always be leaders, like Samson, who use their position to visit prostitutes (literally or metaphorically), pick fights, and bring about destruction. These leaders may be moving the group in a desired direction; but their failures will ultimately cause harm to the group

As Christians we need to be careful in the selection and maintenance of our leaders.

  1. Follow God’s Leading – Do not pick the person you think should be your leader. Pick the person God is calling to be your leader. God knows more than you know and God knows more than I know. I have seen destructive individuals placed into leadership because people thought they knew what kind of leader they needed when in fact God was calling someone else. If you find yourself playing politics in church, then you are not following God’s leading.
  2. Pray – Pray for your leaders before you know who they are. Pray for your prospective leaders when deciding who should lead. Pray for your leaders while they are leading. Pray for your leaders after they are gone. Your relationship with your leaders does not begin when they show up and does not end when they leave. It is eternal in both directions.
  3. Require Accountability – Many leaders do not like being accountable. Some leaders will even establish policies which give the appearance of holding them accountable, but which truly exist to avoid accountability. Require that your leaders be accountable to someone. A leader either needs to choose a suitable accountability partner or be assigned one.
  4. Do Not Allow Destructive Patterns – One mistake is a data point, two mistakes is a pattern. If a leader repeats the same mistake, they should be removed from leadership.

Samson could have been a great leader. He had the abilities and gifts to be the greatest Judge the Israelites had ever known. But Samson squandered his gifts and abilities. He engaged in sinful behaviors which brought shame and destruction on Israel. Samson had no accountability and he knew it. Samson was a horrible leader and those in leadership today should learn from his example so we do not repeat it.

Application:

  • Work with the leaders in your church to establish a leadership training plan.
  • Write down all of the leaders from your past and present; then pray for each of them.
  • Write down leadership positions in your life and church; pray for the future leaders in those positions.
  • Write down the potential future leaders in your life. Do one thing this week to encourage them.

Queries:

  • Do I regularly pray for my past, present, and future leaders?
  • Do your leaders have an adequate system of accountability?
  • Have your leaders established destructive patterns?
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Judges 15 – Sometimes God uses obnoxious people

on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam

When he came to Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they met him. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily so that the ropes that were on his arms were as flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds dropped from his hands. 15 He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, so he reached out and took it and killed a thousand men with it. 16 Then Samson said, “With the jawbone of a donkey, Heaps upon heaps, With the jawbone of a donkey I have killed a thousand men.” 17 When he had finished speaking, he threw the jawbone from his hand; and he named that place Ramath-lehi. 18 Then he became very thirsty, and he called to the LORD and said, “You have given this great deliverance by the hand of Your servant, and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19 But God split the hollow place that is in Lehi so that water came out of it. When he drank, his strength returned and he revived. Therefore he named it En-hakkore, which is in Lehi to this day. – Judges 15:14-19

***

As a kid I remember the story of Sampson. As it was told to me, Sampson was a man of God who defended Israel from the Philistines who wanted to destroy Israel. His wicked wife tricked him into giving away the secret of his power, his long hair, and his enemies cut his hair and robbed him of his power. Samson then trusted in God one last time and sacrificed himself in order to destroy Israel’s enemies.

The only problem with this version of the story is that it is totally wrong. Samson was a petty, deceptive, manipulative, capricious, violent, intransigent, vindictive, foolish, womanizer.

From before he was born, Samson was set aside to be someone special. The faith of his mother caused him to be blessed by God, and set him in place to be a Judge for Israel. Over and over again God gave Samson opportunities which he squandered. Even when Samson appears to have been faithful to God’s calling he acts like a child. In the above passage Samson becomes angry with God, because after he has slaughtered “a thousand men” he is thirsty and God has not immediately provided a beverage.

No complaining! by Jean Browman

Have you met people like that in your life? People who continuously gripe and complain to God about not having something, and then it seems that God goes ahead and gives it to them anyway.

Based upon the scripture as a whole, I would say that Samson’s attitude in this passage is not to be normative; in general we should not act like Samson. However, sometimes God uses obnoxious people.

I encourage you to live a life of peace, simplicity, integrity, and humility; because, maybe then your last act won’t be to pull a house down on you and your enemies. Of course, there are no guarantees.

Application:

  • Go out of your way to bless an obnoxious person this week.
  • Write down the last time you childishly complained to God about not meeting your needs.
  • Set the goal for the next week of having a fantastic attitude; no matter what happens.

Queries:

  • Do others perceive you as obnoxious?
  • Who are the obnoxious people in your life that God seems to use and bless?
  • Why might it be better to live a life of peace, simplicity, integrity, and humility rather than living as a petty, deceptive, manipulative, capricious, violent, intransigent, vindictive, foolish, womanizer?
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Judges 14 – Samson was a bad, bad man

Samson’s Fight with the Lion – Lucas Cranach the Elder (16th c.)

Then Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came as far as the vineyards of Timnah; and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him. 6 The Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a young goat though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done. 7 So he went down and talked to the woman; and she looked good to Samson. 8 When he returned later to take her, he turned aside to look at the carcass of the lion; and behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the body of the lion. 9 So he scraped the honey into his hands and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them and they ate it; but he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey out of the body of the lion.

10 Then his father went down to the woman; and Samson made a feast there, for the young men customarily did this. 11 When they saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. 12 Then Samson said to them, “Let me now propound a riddle to you; if you will indeed tell it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes. 13 “But if you are unable to tell me, then you shall give me thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Propound your riddle, that we may hear it.” 14 So he said to them, “Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the strong came something sweet.” But they could not tell the riddle in three days.

15 Then it came about on the fourth day that they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband, so that he will tell us the riddle, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us to impoverish us? Is this not so?” 16 Samson’s wife wept before him and said, “You only hate me, and you do not love me; you have propounded a riddle to the sons of my people, and have not told it to me.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told it to my father or mother; so should I tell you?” 17 However she wept before him seven days while their feast lasted. And on the seventh day he told her because she pressed him so hard. She then told the riddle to the sons of her people. 18 So the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down, “What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?” And he said to them, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, You would not have found out my riddle.” 19 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil and gave the changes of clothes to those who told the riddle. And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house. – Judges 14:5-19

***

Samson Slaying a Philistine – Giambologna (1562)

The book of Judges is the story of the downward spiral in the quality, morality, and ability of the leaders of Israel. The institute of Judge was established as an ad hoc chieftain who could lead God’s people when they face times of conflict or difficulty. A Judge would be called up by God to lead the people into war, into reformation, into repentance, and into reconstruction.

Samson was the final Judge. Before he was born he was set apart and dedicated to God. In turn, God blessed Samson with incredible strength and ability. Unfortunately, Samson was lacking in other leadership qualities.

There are two repeated phrases in this passage which bear mentioning. The first is “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily”, and the second is “he did not tell”.

“The Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily” is first used when Samson is attached by the lion. My reading of this passage is not that Samson was suddenly energized by God, but rather that Samson used his strength and power (which he had received as a blessing from God based upon his mother’s faith) to defend himself. The phrase is used again at the end of the passage when Samson goes to Ashkelon to kill thirty people and fulfill his wager. In this case Samson is using God’s gifts to act out petty vengeance to fulfill a childish wager.

The phrase “he did not tell” is first after killing the lion. The author makes a specific point that Samson did not tell his father or mother what he had done. My reading would be that Samson was too engrossed in pursuing the Philistine woman as his bride. The second time Samson “did not tell” is when he revisits the lion carcass and eats honey found in it, sharing this honey with his parents. It may not need to be said, but eating honey from a lion’s corpse would be considered unclean (both literally and theologically). This is Samson’s second act of uncleanliness in just this passage. The first is marrying a Philistine woman, as God has instructed the Israelites not to intermarry with the neighboring clans.

by Heath Brandon

In summary, Samson pursues the sin of marrying a Philistine. He then sins by eating unclean honey and compounds his sin by sharing it with his unknowing parents causing them to sin. Finally, Samson makes fun of his sin with his riddle-wager and uses his God-given powers to cover his foolish sin.

It is far too easy to follow the example of Samson. When we see something we want, it is easier to begin pursuing that thing, rather than evaluating if it is what God wants. When we feel a need, such as hunger, it is easier to grab the nearest snack, rather than considering if this is what God wants us to put into our bodies. When we are with our friends and families we often try to push them toward the sins we are committing; it is easier to sin when we are all sinning together. When we are caught in sin it is easier to mock or flaunt the sin rather than deal with the true consequences. Finally, when we are called to pay for our sin, it is easier to make someone else suffer the consequences. Do not follow the example of Samson.

All of us have God given talents, abilities, and characteristics which we can use to either build up the kingdom of God or to pursue our own selfish (sometimes foolish) pursuits. We are called by God to make the areas in which we are blessed a blessing to others. You have some exceptional talent, ability, or characteristic; please do not follow the example of Samson; rather, use your blessings to bless others and honor God.

Application:

  • Write down your top three talents, abilities or characteristics (e.g. intelligence, beauty, charisma, needlepoint).
  • Make a plan of how you can use one of your talents, abilities, or characteristics to honor God.
  • Think of the last time you “did not tell”. Go fix that.

Queries:

  • How can I use my talents, abilities, and characteristics to bring honor to God?
  • What sin am I regularly pursuing? How can I stop?
  • How has my sin caused harm to others? How do I need to seek forgiveness from?
  • When caught in sin, do I make jokes or flaunt my behavior?
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Judges 12 – Including outsiders

The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan opposite Ephraim. And it happened when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” then they would say to him, “Say now, ‘Shibboleth.’” But he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it correctly. Then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan. Thus there fell at that time 42,000 of Ephraim. – Judges 12:5-6 (NASB)

***

The Battle of Lawrence

When I was six years old my family moved within six blocks of Allen Field House on the campus of the University of Kansas. I never really had a chance of being anything but a rabid fan of the Kansas Jayhawks. You can tell a Kansas basketball fan from most other fans. There is a certain amount of pride, which borders on arrogance, which seeps into any discussion of college basketball. We know our history and take pride in the history of the Kansas basketball program. And we hate Missouri. It does not matter that Missouri has left the conference and we no longer play the program to the east, we still despise Missouri. For the historical roots of this rivalry take a moment to read about Quantrill’s raid and the burning of Lawrence.

In college sports we have devised a number of systems to make sure we can separate the strangers rooting for “our” team from the strangers rooting for “their” team. Kansas fans wear blue and red, Missouri fans wear yellow and black. Kansas fans rally around our Jayhawk mascot; Missouri fans rally around their tiger. Kansas fans chant “Rock Chalk” in the closing minutes each home victory; Missouri fans have little experience in celebrating the closing minutes of a home victory. We have developed systems to know who is on our side. Whenever I see a Kansas hat or shirt at the gas station or at work, I stop and make a positive comment to my fellow Jayhawk fan.

People are very good at spotting outsiders. There is something in our brains which cause us to make a nearly instantaneous decision that a person is “one of us” or “one of them”. This tendency is not limited to our college basketball affinities. In fact this tendency has a very dark side and has been a plague on humanity resulting in genocide, holocaust, enslavement, discrimination, and all sorts of evil.

Bronze by Jenny Downing

Our first instinct should not be to look for an outward sign to know if a new person is to be included or excluded. Rather, our first instinct should be to care for the stranger and meet their needs regardless of their affiliation. It does not matter if the stranger I meet is a part of a different group. The thing that matters is that we were both formed by our creator and placed on this earth under a divine mandate that we work with God to create a new and greater world. The strangers I meet are as fully known by God as my neighbors. My enemies are as loved by God as my family.

When I look at a Missouri fan, it is important that I first recognize that they are valued by God and they are worthy of my love, respect, and assistance. It does not matter if they say Shibboleth or Sibboleth; what matters is that I have an opportunity to reflect the light of Christ into their lives.

Application:

  • Write down all of the people you walked by today without acknowledging their humanity (take your time, you’ll be surprised how many there are).
  • Make a goal for one day each week, that on that day you will not let a person go by without acknowledging their value.
  • Reach out to an individual or group you would normally exclude and be a part of their lives for one evening.

Queries:

  • Who do I exclude?
  • Do my actions truly demonstrate that I believe all people are valuable and worthy of love, honor, and respect?
  • Do I actually help people? Do I only think about helping people? Do I even think about helping people?
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Judges 11 – People as objects of possession

Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD gave them into his hand. He struck them with a very great slaughter from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel.

When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.” So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the LORD; do to me as you have said, since the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.” She said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions.” Then he said, “Go.” So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept on the mountains because of her virginity.

At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year. – Judges 11:30-40 (NASB)

***

In the 1980s Jim Henson’s production company produced a series called “The Storyteller”. One of the stories, titled “Hans My Hedgehog”, was very similar to the story of Jephthah (although slightly less gruesome).


Watch The Storyteller – Hans My Hedgehog in Entertainment | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com
Rachel Held Evans writes about this story in her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood:

Unlike the familiar story of Isaac, this one ends without divine intervention. Jephthah fulfilled his promise and killed his daughter in God’s name. No ram was heard bleating from the thicket. No protest was issued from the clouds. No tomb was erected to mark the place where she lay.

But the women of Israel remembered.

Wrote the narrator, “From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah” (vv. 39–40).

They could not protect her life, but they could protect her dignity by retelling her story—year after year, for four days, in a mysterious and subversive ceremony that perhaps led the women of Israel back to the same hills in which Jephthah’s daughter wandered before her death. It was a tradition that appears to have continued through the writing of the book of Judges. But it is a tradition lost to the waxing and waning of time, no longer marked by the daughters of the Abrahamic faiths.

Evans then goes on to write about taking the time to remember all of the “dark stories of the Bible“; that is, those stories in which people (particularly women) are abused, tortured, maimed, and killed. She writes about spending time to remember Hagar and Tamar and the concubine from Judges 19 and women across the centuries who have been used as objects by their culture and family.

Jephthah should not have sacrificed his daughter, because his daughter was not an object to possess. His daughter already belonged to God. You cannot sacrifice something that does not belong to you.

We need to spend time in honest reflection on how we treat the people around us. Are there classes of people which we treat as objects to be used? The poor, ethnic minorities, women, the homeless, work subordinates? People are not objects for us to use for our pleasure or sacrifice for our benefit. We need to remember those who have been treated as less than human, and we need to work toward creating a world in which no people are treated as objects.

Application:

  • Find and support or volunteer at an organization in your community that brings people out of some form of bondage.
  • Eliminate one habit from your life that may keep others in bondage.
  • Think of one relationship you have in which you treat the other person as less than equal; repair that relationship.

Queries:

  • Do I treat all people as children of God worthy of honor and respect?
  • What relationships do I have in which I am treated as an object?
  • What habits do I have that keep others in bondage (drug use, pornography use, inequitable consumer goods, etc.)?
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Judges 10 – Sin is not individual

Idols - not for worshipThe LORD said to the sons of Israel, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the sons of Ammon, and the Philistines?…”Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you. “Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” The sons of Israel said to the LORD, “We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day.” So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer. – Judges 10:11-16 (NASB)

***

Sin has horrible consequences that we all suffer. Too often I assume that I am only hurting myself with my sin; but, my sin affects my family, my friends, my church, and my community.

Sin has communal consequences. There is a reason that the Bible often speaks of the consequences of sin being a curse on an individual’s children and children’s children. It takes a long time for all of the consequences of sin to play out. It also takes a concerted effort on the part of those dealing with the consequences to break the cycle of sin.

real loss, 1991Every sin is a nuclear explosion scattering radioactive debris in all directions. Do not brush it off just because you see it as a small sin. You would not brush off the threat of a small nuclear bomb going off in your backyard. The consequences of sin, big or small, reverberate over space and time and affect everyone.

Everyday we have the opportunity to choose God or to choose some other god. There are a multitude of things that I can make the center of my life; but, when I put something other than God at the center of my life, I have fallen into sin and the consequences of that sin will ultimately hurt all those around me.

Application:

  • Choose right now to make God the center of your life for the rest of today.
  • Every morning consciously make the decision that God will be the center of your life that day.
  • Write down how your sings are negatively impacting those around you. Pick one person and work to correct the impact of your sin.

Queries:

  • What have you chosen as the center of your life?
  • How has the sin of others affected you? How has your sing affected others?
  • What sins can you actively work toward correcting?
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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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Judges 5 – The Song of Deborah

Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying, 2 “That the leaders led in Israel, That the people volunteered, Bless the LORD! 3 “Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers! I– to the LORD, I will sing, I will sing praise to the LORD, the God of Israel. 4 “LORD, when You went out from Seir, When You marched from the field of Edom, The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped, Even the clouds dripped water. 5 “The mountains quaked at the presence of the LORD, This Sinai, at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel.

6 “In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, In the days of Jael, the highways were deserted, And travelers went by roundabout ways. 7 “The peasantry ceased, they ceased in Israel, Until I, Deborah, arose, Until I arose, a mother in Israel. 8 “New gods were chosen; Then war was in the gates. Not a shield or a spear was seen Among forty thousand in Israel. 9 “My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel, The volunteers among the people; Bless the LORD! 10 “You who ride on white donkeys, You who sit on rich carpets, And you who travel on the road– sing! 11 “At the sound of those who divide flocks among the watering places, There they shall recount the righteous deeds of the LORD, The righteous deeds for His peasantry in Israel. Then the people of the LORD went down to the gates. 12 “Awake, awake, Deborah; Awake, awake, sing a song! Arise, Barak, and take away your captives, O son of Abinoam. 13 “Then survivors came down to the nobles; The people of the LORD came down to me as warriors. 14 “From Ephraim those whose root is in Amalek came down, Following you, Benjamin, with your peoples; From Machir commanders came down, And from Zebulun those who wield the staff of office. 15 “And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; As was Issachar, so was Barak; Into the valley they rushed at his heels; Among the divisions of Reuben There were great resolves of heart. 16 “Why did you sit among the sheepfolds, To hear the piping for the flocks? Among the divisions of Reuben There were great searchings of heart. 17 “Gilead remained across the Jordan; And why did Dan stay in ships? Asher sat at the seashore, And remained by its landings. 18 “Zebulun was a people who despised their lives even to death, And Naphtali also, on the high places of the field.

19 “The kings came and fought; Then fought the kings of Canaan At Taanach near the waters of Megiddo; They took no plunder in silver. 20 “The stars fought from heaven, From their courses they fought against Sisera. 21 “The torrent of Kishon swept them away, The ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon. O my soul, march on with strength. 22 “Then the horses’ hoofs beat From the dashing, the dashing of his valiant steeds. 23 ‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the LORD, ‘Utterly curse its inhabitants; Because they did not come to the help of the LORD, To the help of the LORD against the warriors.’ 24 “Most blessed of women is Jael, The wife of Heber the Kenite; Most blessed is she of women in the tent. 25 “He asked for water and she gave him milk; In a magnificent bowl she brought him curds. 26 “She reached out her hand for the tent peg, And her right hand for the workmen’s hammer. Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head; And she shattered and pierced his temple. 27 “Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay; Between her feet he bowed, he fell; Where he bowed, there he fell dead. 28 “Out of the window she looked and lamented, The mother of Sisera through the lattice, ‘Why does his chariot delay in coming? Why do the hoofbeats of his chariots tarry?’ 29 “Her wise princesses would answer her, Indeed she repeats her words to herself, 30 ‘Are they not finding, are they not dividing the spoil? A maiden, two maidens for every warrior; To Sisera a spoil of dyed work, A spoil of dyed work embroidered, Dyed work of double embroidery on the neck of the spoiler?’ 31 “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD; But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.” And the land was undisturbed for forty years. – (Judges 5:1-31 NASB)

 

Gustave Dore’s interpretation of the prophetess Deborah.

At the conclusion of the war, after Deborah has defeated the enemies of Israel, she and her general sing a song of victory, the spoils of war, and the death of their enemies. They sing of the deeds of Jael, the grief of a mother whose dead son will never come home, distributing captured maidens to the victorious warriors; and they sing a request that all enemies of God die.

This song celebrating the death of an enemy troubles me.

I was appalled at the celebratory tone that pervaded our society at the death of Osama bin Laden. On Facebook I posted Proverbs 24:17 “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” A Christian Facebook friend who had served in the military took offense and started quoting scripture back at me. His view, if I understood it correctly, was that violence is a necessity in order for Christ to be communicated to certain people groups. He firmly believed in “just war” and that the targeted killing of individuals was necessary and acceptable. He unfriended me on Facebook shortly thereafter.

I read the same Bible, and worship the same God as this man, but have come to a radically different conclusion. Violence is never the God honoring solution to a problem. My theological belief is that Christians are called to live at peace with one another and with the world around them. To live at peace is both to refrain from acts of violence, and to work toward removing the causes of violence in this world.

I believe that a violent reaction to violence only spawns more violence. We are called to share the Good News of Jesus to all the world. The Good News is that through Jesus we can be united with the will of God. I believe that violence is outside of the will of God.

 

The Deserter (1916) by Boardman Robinson.

How can I believe that violence is outside of God’s will when passages like Deborah’s Song are in the Bible? How can my former Facebook friend believe that violence is necessary when Jesus says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…” (Matthew 5:39). There are no easy answers; we live in a tension. We live in a fallen world in which evil things happen. My view is that killing people is always evil, even if it may be justified. Lots of people do not like that and it is a hard to live out.

Regardless whether you are a pacifist or an advocate of “just war” there are parts of the Bible that we must all struggle with. Do we turn the other cheek, or do we go to war and celebrate our victories? We can not just ignore the difficult passages that do not line up with our theology. I am not always sure what to do with stories like the Song of Deborah. I will not brush it off as, “well, it was a different time, a different covenant, and a different people”; but, I also will not accept that God sanctions murder. Living out our faith is hard.

Application:

  • Write down three ways you contribute to violence in our world.
  • Write down three ways you can work to eliminate violence in our world.
  • Think of the last person about whom you had thoughts similar to those expressed in the Song of Deborah; take five minutes and pray for that person.

Queries:

  • How do you incorporate the song of Deborah into your understanding of God?
  • If you are a pacifist how does your theology interpret the celebratory nature of this song? If you are a just war advocate how do you respond to Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek?
  • Is violence ever Godly?
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Judges 4 – Jael and the tent peg

Deborah said to Barak, “Arise! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the LORD has gone out before you.” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. 15 The LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left.

17 Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.” And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him. 20 He said to her, “Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.’”

21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” And he entered with her, and behold Sisera was lying dead with the tent peg in his temple. 23 So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the sons of Israel. (Judges 4:14-23 NASB)

Yael Killing Sisera, by Palma the Younger

This is another story I usually go to in youth group at Halloween. It has more of a “girl-power” element to it, and the teenage girls usually appreciate it; after they get over the whole spike to forehead thing.

Deborah is the Judge of Israel. The Judges were leaders who God had raised up to bring Israel back into a right relationship with God. There is a general theme in the book of Judges of each Judge having more and greater faults than the ones who came before. Deborah creates a problem in understanding this theme. It is difficult for a contemporary reader of Judges to pick up how this is true of Deborah. Deborah appears to be a wise leader who focuses on following the will of God. What was Deborah’s fault?

Well, Deborah was a woman.

The Israelites were a patriarchal society living in a region flooded with patriarchal societies. To be led by a woman would carry a social stigma that would be difficult for many within the nation of Israel to accept, and would encourage other nations to view Israel as being weak. There is an implied rebuke in her leadership that would resonate with a patriarchal society: “Look, you had to have a woman save you.”

The story of Jael amplifies this rebuke of Israel’s patriarchy. Deborah prophesied that the Lord would give Sisera into the hands of Israel. But this does not happen in battle; it does not happen through the power of warriors, or the strategy of men. Sisera is brought into the hands of Israel by another woman; and a foreigner at that. God used the trickery of Jael to accomplish what the army/men of Israel could not.

The contemporary take aways from this story have little to do with gender or patriarchy. Rather, the first take away is that God raises up leaders we would not expect. Sometimes the leader we need to follow is not the person who looks like a leader; the leader we need to follow is the person that God has established as leader. It can be very difficult to follow someone who you believe is not worthy of leadership; but, at some point in your life, that is exactly what God will ask you to do. Let God choose your leaders.

The second take away is that God uses everyday people to fulfill prophecy. God can use anyone God chooses to fulfill God’s plans. God used Jael, a foreign woman, to destroy an enemy of Israel. God is bigger than my family, my church, my tribe, my nation, my world. God is bigger than my opinions, my prejudices, and my theology. God can, and will, use all kinds of people to accomplish God’s will on earth.

It is an amazing experience to open our minds to the fact that God can use anyone, and open our eyes to see the amazing things God is doing. For too long the church has been focused on excluding people. When we recognize that everyone is an agent through whom God may work a miracle, it becomes far more difficult to exclude those who may be different from you or me.

Application:

  • Look for how God is using the people around you (e.g. the strangers, the enemies, the non-Christians).
  • Look for how God is using you to speak to the lives of others.
  • Write a list of people you would never follow; then look for the leadership qualities those people possess.

Queries:

  • Are there people I would exclude from leadership based on a personal trait or characteristic (e.g. ethnicity, age, gender)?
  • What are my faults? How can God use those faults?
  • Do I allow God to work, or do I try to force God’s hand?
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