February 10, 2015.
Daily Reading: Judges 1-5.
The book of Judges is a very interesting book in the bible that contains the history of the children of Israel from the time just after Joshua died to the time of Samuel when Israel would call for a King, though not necessarily in chronological order. Jewish tradition holds that Samuel authored the book of Judges, though there is no direct indication from the author as to who it was. As we will see from this book, there is a cycle that is set up at the very beginning of the book that continues all the way through. Israel falls away from God, they are given into the hands of their enemies, Israel pleads to God to deliver them, He sends a champion/judge to deliver them, and then once they are delivered and have rest for a while, the cycle repeats. There are some pretty gruesome stories in the book of Judges, stories that one would not probably think to find in the bible, but it needs to be addressed from the beginning that everything that is found in the book is not necessarily God-driven. This is not to say that the writing of the book of Judges is not inspired (see II Timothy 3:16-17), but rather the people on various occasions would make decisions for themselves without inquiring of the Lord. Nevertheless, upon careful study, we can take some lessons to apply to our lives from the book of Judges.
Concepts and Connections.
1. A strong start: As the book of Judges opens up, we find that Joshua has just died and it seems his legacy has lived on, at least for a little while. The children of Israel start off on the right foot, inquiring of the Lord when a major decision arises and following His word. They know that it is the will of God to drive out the people of Canaan before them, as He promised the land to Abraham’s offspring (see Genesis 12:6-7 and Exodus 23:20-33), and now they were in the process of fulfilling the promise. They went about it the right way, and the Lord told them that Judah should go up, for He had given the people into his hand. We see what might be considered a small slip, as Judah urged Simeon to fight with him, but nevertheless, the Lord was with them and the land of the Canaanites was given into their hand. If the children of Israel would keep this type of inquiry and reliance on God going, they would have had no problem taking the land, for it was what God had promised. Unfortunately, as we will see in just a few verses, their gradual decline from the word of God would start and bring troublesome times. We may start out strong on projects and intentions to serve God, but these strong beginnings often find their way to a mediocre middle and a dwindling end. It is easy to get so caught up in the excitement and ambition of a new start that we forget to set forth a plan and firm commitment to see it though to the end. Let us take less from the Israelites here and take guard so that our strong starts do not cause their own downfall.
2. Beginning to slip: As previously mentioned, Israel had a strong start at the onset of the book of Judges. But just in the first chapter do we find the beginnings of a gradual decline and falling away from the Lord God. In Numbers 33:55, we find a conditional statement given to the children of Israel about the land that they were to inherit. The Lord told them that if they did not drive out the inhabitants of the land then they would become thorns in their side and cause them trouble in the land where they dwelt. It is important to note that God’s commands are often to help us rather than to make us do something we don’t want to do or to stop us from having fun. God knew that if the inhabitants of the land were allowed to dwell in the promised land with the children of Israel, the people of God would fall away to the gods of the people, worshipping them instead of the only true God, the Lord God of Israel. Nevertheless, we see in this chapter that the children of Israel stop inquiring of God how they should take the land and start to fail to drive out the inhabitants of the land. Their lack of inquiry and failure to complete the mission is indicative of their waining trust and faith in God. It wasn’t a drastic change, but a gradual one, as the path toward sin and apostasy so often is. When there are small changes in our spiritual lives, things that might not even be “sinful” in nature, we would be wise to take notice of these things and evaluate whether they are indicative of the slippery slope that leads to downfall. Sin is a progressive thing that often overtakes us by surprise, not because it happened so fast, but rather because it was so gradual that we didn’t even notice what was going on. Spiritual awareness and prayer are key in recognizing the path to sin and avoiding it. If we are judging our spirituality about where the line is and how close we can get to it, then we probably have already started down the path.
1. Punishment for disobedience: The angel of the Lord came to the people to deliver a message that basically said that when God tells you to do something, He expects you to do it, and if you don’t, the punishment that He said would come with it will surely come. In Numbers 33:55, the children of Israel are instructed to utterly drive out the inhabitants of the promised land, lest they be a snare to them and cause them trouble. Here the Lord said that they would lead the children of Israel astray by their gods, which we will see is precisely what will happen. It is foolish not to believe the word of the Lord. It is foolish to ignore it and think that there is a way that it will not come true. But the children of Israel had gone down the gradual slop of apostasy which would lead them into this recurring cycle that we will see repeat itself time and again, probably so much so that it will get monotonous. What we can learn from this section, however, is that disobedience will not go unpunished by a righteous God. Whereas it is important to remember that we serve a God who is rich in love and mercy, showing steadfast love and forgiveness to the repentant heart, it is also important not to forget that judgement will come on those without a repentant heart who continue in unrighteousness. Punishment would come for disobedience, but it does seem like the people in this section were spared somewhat because of the way they reacted when the angel of the Lord delivered the message (their weeping is indicative of repentance), as we don’t read of any negative outcomes until the next generation arose.
2. The new generation: It is interesting that even though the people who heard the message from the Lord and wept at it, they seem not to have taken it completely to hard, so as to teach their children of the righteousness and wrath of God. The text says that a new generation arose who did not know the Lord or the work that He had done for the children of Israel in the past. This should not have been so, as there should have been ample opportunity and reasons for the preceding generation to teach their children all the Lord had done for them. There were even memorials such as the passover and the twelve stone monument that were set up for the specific purpose of teaching and remembering what God had done (see Exodus 12 and Joshua 4). What the children of Israel had failed to do is teach their children and instill upon them the precepts and principles of God and righteousness. This failure lead to a new generation that did not know God and that provoked Him to anger. What we need to ask ourselves is are we teaching our children about God and righteousness? Are we a living example of Christ, so that they can see what being a Christian looks like? Or are we keeping our faith to ourselves and raising a generation that will not know Christ after we are gone? If we are not careful, the same thing that happened to the children of Israel that is laid out here can happen to us.
3. The cycle begins- the Judges: The cycle that we will see time and again throughout the book of judges (and one that would plague much of Israel’s history) is the cycle of falling away from God, being delivered into their enemy’s hand, pleading to God in repentance, the Lord raising up a champion/judge to deliver them, rest for a while and then a repetition of the cycle. Verses 16-23 of this chapter is basically a quick summery of the entire book. It is a vicious cycle, but there is an important thing to note. The record says that it was the Lord who raised up the judges. This will be very important later when we get to I Samuel and the people call for a King to rule over them instead of judges (see I Samuel 8). It was the Lord’s plan for judges to guide the people, not a King, for God was their King. Even then the children of Israel would not learn their lesson, but insisted on a king, a request that God would grant after warning them that a king would deal harshly with them. It seems that the children of Israel had gotten into a cycle of falling away and coming back and that cycle was very difficult to break. The cycle will be difficult for us to break as well, thus a good reason to try and avoid it all together. Cycles of sin draw us and and make us loose confidence that we can ever make it. But praise be to the Lord God that we have a Savior who is stronger than the cycles and can reach in and take our hand to pull us out, if only we let Him.
1. Testing for obedience: We learn at the beginning of this chapter that the reason that there were still Canaanites in the land was to test the children of Israel to see if they would obey the voice of the Lord to drive them out and so that they would know war and be trained in battle. Often the things that we see as problematic or as trials or tribulations are actually tests from God. God was in the business of giving His people opportunities to overcome evil and mature in righteousness. He did this for Abraham by asking him to offer his son Isaac, Job by allowing Satan to test him and the children of Israel here by leaving some of the inhabitants in the land (when the Israelites didn’t fully drive them out). Perhaps this is a better way of looking at the things that we go though. They are not necessarily problems, but rather opportunities to glorify God in our words and actions. Looking at it from this stand point is much more positive and will likely give us a better drive to actually overcome the trial and grow in our spiritual maturity. Let us not make the mistake that the children of Israel did and fall in the face of trials. We must rely on our God to get us through.
2. Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar: Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar are the first three judges that we meet in the book, and they each (two directly stated and the third implied) have an identical beginning: the children of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. If one were to have to guess what was going on in the camp when the Lord raised a judge, a good default answer would be that the children of Israel were crying out to the Lord after He had given them into the hands of their enemies due to them doing what was evil in His sight. This goes to show the steadfast love and mercy of the Lord (see the book of Hosea for a wonderful display of the Lord’s love and patience for His people), for every time they would call out to Him, He would send a judge to deliver them. The God of forgiveness that so many people only associate with the New Testament is the same God of the Old Testament. This almost sounds too obvious to say, but many people in the world, including some Christians, see two different Gods in the bible, the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. However, this is not the case, for the Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever. He does not change (see Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8).
3. Pride that led to downfall: Many times these judges that God would raise up have very interesting stories, such as the story of Ehud’s cunning deliverance of Israel. However, the mechanism by which Ehud’s plan was carried is worth consideration. Ehud did not come to Eglon the king of Moab with brute force, but rather he played on a flaw that Eglon (and many other people in power) had: his pride/arrogance. Ehud brought a tribute to Eglon and then claimed to have a secret message for his ears only. We can infer that this got the king’s attention and played right into his pride, for he called everyone to silence as soon as he heard that there was a secret message from God only for him, willingly dismissing all his servants from the room. Ehud then took this opportunity to strike Eglon, who was apparently a very fat man, with a two edged sword that he had made for concealment (it is also interesting that the text points out that Ehud was left-handed, which maybe why he was able to conceal the weapon so well since most of the guards would have looked on the left had side of a person’s body as most people are right-handed; this is purely speculation, however). The pride and arrogance of Eglon lead to his downfall. Let us not fall into the same trap.
Two powerful female figures- Deborah and Jael: Once again, the story of Deborah starts out with the people falling away from God after the death of Ehud and them being given into the hand of their enemy, specifically Jabin king of Canaan in this case. Deborah’s story is somewhat extraordinary in the sense that she is one of the most powerful female figures in the bible (at least the most powerful female figure who was on the Lord’s side). It is interesting that she is judging Israel at this time when the typical leadership was masculine. She even alludes to this when Barak asks her to go with him to gather troops and go to battle, and she says that she will but it will not lead to his glory, for the Lord would “sell Sisera [the commander of Jabin’s army] into the hand of a woman.” Indeed this is what the Lord did, as she went with Barak and sounded the call to go into battle which would rout Sisera and the whole army, sending Sisera on the run, which will bring us to our next powerful female figure in this story. Sisera fled to an ally’s house, that of Heber the Kenite, and Jael, the wife of Heber, met him outside of her tent. She welcomed him in and told him to go into the tent to take rest. She even attended to his needs, which gained a level of trust. Then, when the opportunity arose, she killed Sisera with a tent peg and led Barak to the place where he lay when Barak came to the town. It is interesting to not the strong female influence and deliverance in this story, for through the hands of Deborah and Jael, the Lord delivered Israel. That’s not to say that Barak did nothing, as he was the one that led the army into battle and routed them, but rather to notice that perhaps the key points in battle were determined by women. Though this was somewhat of a anomaly, it does go to show that the “God of the Old Testament” does not hate women as many of the world would say, but rather that there were simply different roles that men and women played in the Israelite culture, as there are different roles that they play today.
Singing praises: When the battle was over and Sisera was defeated, Deborah and Barak broke out into song, singing praises to the Lord God Almighty for giving their enemies into their hand and delivering them. They sang to recount what had happened in battle and to pass down history. This was not an uncommon practice amongst people of this time, as many histories and stories were passed down through oral tradition and song. It is easier to remember a song than just trying to remember words verbatim. This is still true today as a commonly used study technique is to make a song about the subject material. Songs of praise are found throughout the Scriptures as it is one of the main manifestations of worship to the Almighty. David was particularly in-tune with expression through music, writing many of the psalms that we read in the book of Psalms. The number of psalms that we have that are not written by David, however, is a good indication that singing praises was very favorable in the eyes of the Israelites and in the eyes of God. This concept is carried over into the New Testament, as Jesus sung hymns with His disciples (see Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26), Paul instructs in two different letters to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (see Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16) and James tells the one who is cheerful is told to sing praises (see James 5:13). When we are joyful in the Lord, praise will often manifest itself in the form of song, which can be lifted up to God as a pleasing aroma. All praise to His name.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 15-17.
Do not get caught in the cycle.