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Tag Archives: Bible Study
So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to the LORD, and He performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on. 20 For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. 21 Now the angel of the LORD did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. 22 So Manoah said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.” 23 But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time.” 24 Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up and the LORD blessed him. – Judges 13:19-24 (NASB)
I am a big fan of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (WQ). In a nut shell, the WQ says that our faith is formed by a combination of four elements: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience (including experiences of the Holy Spirit). When I have introduced Christians to the concept of the WQ they tend to bristle at the thought of one of those elements being the foundation of their faith; but it is a different element for everyone. Some want to reject tradition, saying that instead we should abandon all tradition and go back to the first century church. Others want to reject experience, saying that our experience is fallible and should not be foundational to our faith. I, personally, have the least comfort with including reason as I have seen damaging theologies emerge from trying to “figure out” God. However, in the end, I believe all four elements are foundational to faith and I believe that our faith is formed be the interplay of all four elements.
The story of Manoah and his wife is a wonderful example of the interplay between the different elements of the WQ. Manoah speaks from scripture a tradition. He knows that Exodus 33:20 taught that those who see God would die. He also knew of the cultural traditions around him that spoke of the dangers of interacting with a deity. The gods of the Ancient Near-East tended to be violent and capricious; a dangerous combination for anyone mortal who may encounter a deity.
Meanwhile, Manoah’s wife, unnamed in the Bible but traditionally known as Hazelelponi (“shade coming upon me”), speaks from reason and experience. He husbands yells, “we will surely die”, and she examines the situation and makes the reasonable deduction that if God had wanted to kill them, God would have done it already. Hazelelponi also has the advantage of past experience; the Angel of the Lord had first appeared to Hazelelponi alone (v3 ff). Hazelelponi had previous experience with the voice of God and so was more easily able to put this new experience into context.
Taking some time to evaluate our beliefs in the light of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral can help us to have a more fully formed faith. It can help us to overcome obstacles to our faith, and assist us as we struggle with doubts and concerns. An attitude of “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” can lead to a brittle faith. I believe that taking the time to understand faith within the context of reason, personal experiences, and the broader faith tradition is hard, but builds a more robust faith.
- Write down the part of the quadrilateral that you struggle with the most (scripture, tradition, reason, or experience). Why is this part of the quadrilateral problematic for you?
- Write out why others might struggle with the other three aspects of the quadrilateral.
- This week, when you encounter someone with a different belief, consider what scriptures, traditions, experiences, or logical reasoning would cause that person to believe in that way.
- How has scripture influenced my faith?
- How has my faith tradition influenced my faith?
- How has reason influenced my faith?
- How have my experiences influenced my faith?
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)
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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?
The 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.
Every 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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)
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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?
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.
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).
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.
- 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.
- 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?
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.
God 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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?
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)
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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?
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)
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.
- 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.
- 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?
But when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. And the sons of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. 16 Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his cloak. 17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. 18 It came about when he had finished presenting the tribute, that he sent away the people who had carried the tribute. 19 But he himself turned back from the idols which were at Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he said, “Keep silence.” And all who attended him left him. 20 Ehud came to him while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. 21 Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly. 22 The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out. 23 Then Ehud went out into the vestibule and shut the doors of the roof chamber behind him, and locked them. 24 When he had gone out, his servants came and looked, and behold, the doors of the roof chamber were locked; and they said, “He is only relieving himself in the cool room.” 25 They waited until they became anxious; but behold, he did not open the doors of the roof chamber. Therefore they took the key and opened them, and behold, their master had fallen to the floor dead. 26 Now Ehud escaped while they were delaying, and he passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah. – Judges 3:15-26 (NASB)
When I have led youth groups I tell this story at Halloween; teenage boys love it.
There are some interesting things going on in this story. Ehud is the second judge which God raises up in an effort to bring the Israelites back to God. This is the beginning of the running motif in Judges by which Israel does evil, bad things happen to Israel, Israel cries out to God, God raises up a Judge to deliver Israel, Israel repents, the judge dies, Israel does evil, rinse and repeat.
A secondary motif is that each judge is flawed in someway. Ehud’s flaw is relatively minor, he is left-handed; however, the flaws of the Judges become progressively more severe. Why is left-handedness a flaw? Two reasons. First Ehud fails to live up to his family name as Benjamite means “son of my right [hand]”. The second reason is that the left hand was commonly the “impure” hand as it was commonly used for bodily functions. Really this whole story is layer upon layer of bathroom-humor (which is, again, why teenage boys like it). However, being left-handed was one of the reasons why Ehud was able to smuggle a weapon in to the King’s private room.
My grandmother was left-handed. I heard her tell stories of how, when she was growing up, adults tried to force her to be right handed. They would tie her left hand down and do all kinds of awful things. How many times was Ehud rejected by his family or tribe? How many times was he passed over because he was different or flawed? Yet, God used Ehud’s flaws and differences to deliver Israel from the Moabites.
There are people in your church, your family, and your community that are considered unclean or flawed. They are looked down on and refused positions of leadership or honor. They are rejected, not because they are incapable; but, because they are considered to be unacceptable. They are the outcasts, they are other. God uses the outcasts and the other to deliver his people.
We are very bad at judging other people flaws. Often, a perceived flaw can be a remarkable strength. Ehud’s flaw delivered Israel, and he was only left handed. Imagine what the flaws of the people in your church are capable of delivering.
- Create a penalty for when you catch yourself judging people who are different (e.g. a “swear-jar”).
- Serve a group that is different from you every week for the next year.
- Create an opportunity for someone who is less privileged than you.
- Who do I consider to be flawed, or “other”? Who do I not want to associate with?
- How has God used my flaws to deliver the people around me?
- Does it cause me internal discomfort to think that someone with one of the following labels could be a leader in my church: quadriplegic, veteran, mentally ill, woman, high school dropout, bi-polar, gay, drug addict, alcoholic, ethnic, wealthy, young, old, stutterer, liberal, autistic, conservative?
All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. 11 Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, 12 and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger. 13 So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. 14 The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. 15 Wherever they went, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had spoken and as the LORD had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed. – Judges 2:10-15 (NASB)
One of the difficulties of leadership is that it requires you to look in three directions all at once.
A leader must look to the past. The past has tremendous lessons to teach and we must learn from those who have gone before us. The past is also full of heroes and champions of the faith on whom we can rest during times of struggle. If every generation was forced to figure everything out for themselves we would never get anywhere; the past is the foundation upon which we build. As leaders we must be students of history and not be so arrogant that we refuse to learn from our mothers and fathers.
A leader must look to the present. A leader must be aware of what is going on in the here and now. What needs must be attended to immediately. Who is hurting? Who is in danger? Who needs to be celebrated? The present is what we are building and creating. The present is influenced by the past, but we can turn the present to anything we choose (both good and bad). If we spend all of our time focused on the past or the future, we will miss the good and bad things going on around us right now. The danger of missing the good is that we may fail to notice a new leader. The danger of missing the bad is that we may allow destructive forces to become enmeshed into our organization.
A leader must look to the future. Where are we going? How do we get there? If we want to build something that will last longer than we will it will take a great deal of planning in the present. Creating a vision and developing a plan to accomplish that vision is necessary. We must also understand human nature and outline how the organization will avoid common pitfalls. Setting concrete plans in place is a task which is commonly ignored by leaders in the church.
Too often churches look to the past and the present, but ignore the future. They fail to set future generations up for success. Then as a generation ages, it wonders why their children have turned away from God. A church must plan for next year, and next decade, and the next generation, and three or four generations after that. When looking to the future there must be a very long view.
In your role as a leader keep your eyes always focused on the past, the present, and the future. It can be tough, but it is absolutely necessary. If any one of these three time periods is neglected, or over-emphasized, it can cause problems in the church for multiple generations to come. Be sure to set a solid foundation for your grandchildren and your grandchildren’s grandchildren. We are all interconnected. We are still recovering from the problems of our ancestors (slavery, patriarchalism, church schisms); to the best of our ability we need to clean up our messes now, and not leave them to our descendents.
- Make a list outlining:
- Your anchors to the past.
- Your activities in the present.
- Your vision for the future.
- Who are your heroes? What ancestral baggage are you struggling with?
- Do you hold the past, present, and future all up in prayer?
- Which time period do you neglect? Which do you spend too much time thinking about?
Now it came about after the death of Joshua that the sons of Israel inquired of the LORD, saying, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” 2 The LORD said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” 3 Then Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted me, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I in turn will go with you into the territory allotted you.” So Simeon went with him. – Judges 1:1-3 (NASB)
Joshua’s Tomb – 2007
For the first time in over a generation Israel has found itself leaderless. Moses brought the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and led them as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Moses raised up Joshua as the leader who would bring the Israelites to the promised land. However, Joshua did not prepare a successor. Israel has gone from slave, to follower of Moses, to follower of Joshua; but, now there is no one to follow. So the Israelites do the smart thing; they ask God.
God instructs the Israelites to send Judah into the land first to drive the enemy out of the land’s promised to his tribe. Judah asks Simeon to go with him and promises to help Simeon clear his land as soon as Judah’s land is cleared. It is important to note, however, that God does not appoint a new leader to replace Joshua as Joshua had replaced Moses. It seems clear from this, and other passages, that God’s plan was for Israel to have no primary leader except for God. Of course there would be secondary leaders (priests, judges, and tribal chiefs); but, there would be no single human who would rule over all the peoples of Israel, only God.
The book of Judges is the story of how this plan failed. The story of how the Israelite people moved further and further away from God’s ideal and chose to follow their own desires.
It would be good for our churches today to look to the book of Judges as they are developing their organizational structure and selecting leaders. God’s ideal for Israel was that God be the primary leader who worked with a small group of secondary human leaders. These secondary human leaders took on differing roles and responsibilities. Some were accountable for military campaigns; some for religious ceremony; and some for maintaining civil matters. Is it possible that our churches should be structured in a similar manner?
As humans we seem to be drawn to pyramid shaped leadership structures in which one person is the ultimate authority for our organization. This structure is easy to understand and it allows us to put all the blame or praise on the one person at the top. If things are going well we reward that person; if things are going poorly, we find a new person.
As Christians, however, we may be called to develop a church without a single human perched at the top of our structure. I think all Christians would agree that God is our ultimate leader and authority; but, what if there was no single human leader at the top our church structures? What if there was a group of secondary leaders who each took responsibility for a different aspect of the church? Would that be a better way of organizing our church?
Regardless of whether there is a single leader or a group of leaders, whenever a church seeks to replace a leader the most important thing to do is to seek out God’s counsel. Time spent in prayer, seeking guidance, and inquiring about God’s opinion, is never a waste.
This is true whether a church is looking to replace a pastor, an elder, a Sunday school teacher, or a custodian. Every position within the church is a position of leadership and God cares about all leaders. We must always ask God, “Who is it you have prepared for this role?”
A church should never rush the replacement of a leader. A church should only move forward, once they have discerned a clear direction from God.
- Pray for the leadership of your church.
- Ask God to speak to the hearts and minds of the church regarding both the organizational structure, and the people to fit into the structure.
- Take the time to be a blessing to the leaders in your church.
- What organizational structure is best for your church?
- Do you take time to pray over who should be called to each leadership position (from custodian to elder)?
- Is God calling you to a certain leadership role?