Monday, 31 May 2010

Judges 7:1-3

Sorry I've been away for so long, but the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland intervened. So, here's back to Judges 7 .

Judges 7:1-3
Jerub-Baal = let Baal contend, picks up the theme from 6:31 that Baal cannot contend because Baal is nothing. Baal is not another name for God. Baal is an empty name, a breath of wind. In this multi-faith society it has become necessary to remind oursevles that not everything called god is God, and not everything worshipped is God.
The God of the bible makes himself known uniquely in Jesus Christ his son, and he alone is God.

Baal cannot contend. The Lord, the God who brought his people up out of Egypt will demonstrate this, not by giving Gideon a great army, but by so reducing Gideon's army that the only explanation of victory can be the hand of the Lord.
I'm sure they don't read this passage often at office training schools for the army. 'If you are frightened, put your hand up and go home!' By this simple means the Lord reduces Gideon's army by 22,000 men. A good size of army on its own, but these are sent home.

Do we trust the Lord to work with our poor resources? Do we depend upon numbers? A US army chaplain, just before the invasion of Europe in 1994 told his General, 'Success is assured we have arranged for 5,000 people to pray.' The General asked, 'What if the enemy have 5,001?'
Numbers do matter, when we count people each one is someone for whom Jesus died, and someone through faith called into the service of their Lord. But, we don't depend upon our strength, but look to the Lord who alone will give the victory.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Judges 6:28-40

Judges 6:28-35
I really like this passage. The people gather, enraged at the destruction of the Baal idol, seeking to preserve the honour of this god. What an answer Gideon's father gives, 'Let Baal defend his own honour, if he is a god.' Would we be brave enough to give such an answer to defend the honour of our God? Is this how Christians respond in our nation to perceived insults towards the Lord?

Back to business, the Midianites and Amalekites come up into the land against the people once more. This is Gideon's time, he does nothing in secret, the trumpet is blown, messengers sent out and an army is gathered.

Judges 6:36-40
What is Gideon doing here? He was given a great sign of assurance from the Lord why is he seeking another?
There is the trivial response to this passage, 'Lord, I think you want me to buy a BMW car. So if you let me see so many BMW cars then I'll know it is a sign from you.' How absurd.
The Lord responds with great patience to Gideon, who really doesn't deserve this patience. It is no excuse for us to talk of laying out a fleece before the Lord.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Judges 6:11-27

Now we meet Gideon.

Judges 6:11-18
Gideon, the smallest son, in the least family, in an insignificant tribe is to be lifted out of his obscurity to be the saviour for the nation.
The angel of the Lord appears and gives a very strange address to Gideon. Gideon is hiding his handful of wheat from the Midianites he certainly is not behaving like a might man of valour.
Somehow he becomes persuaded that it is the Lord who is speaking to him. He asks the Lord to wait until he brings out a present for him.

Judges 6:19-24
This is the passage which offers Gideon all the assurance he should need. He offers his gift to the Lord, the gifts are received and the Lord vanishes from his sight. Even after he has vanished the word of the Lord still comes again to Gideon, 'Peace be to you. Do not fear'.

Is it an angel of the Lord who has appeared to Gideon, or is it the Lord himself? At one level, since the angels are all ministering spirits who perfectly reflect the word of the Lord given to them there is no practical difference. But, there are angels, a category of creation who are not the Lord.
Is Gideon merely being polite, 'my lord', or 'sir'. That certianly won't work for v. 15.
I don't think we need to go so far as to read this as a pre-incarnational visit of the Lord Jesus. The Lord is able to appear to his people in whatever form he chooses, according to his own purpose.

Judges 6:25-27
This section ends with Gideon fulfilling the word of the Lord and destroying the Baal statue and the Asherah in his own father's garden! Gideon is in himself an unlikely person to choose to lead the nation into a war, but his father has foreign idols in the garden, how much less likely can Gideon become?

Monday, 17 May 2010

Judges 61:1-10

Judges 6 is the beginning of the Gideon narrative. Running through to chapter 8 this is the first major narrative, extending beyond one chapter in the book of Judges. I suppose Deborah and Barak have two chapters, but chapter 5 reworks the base narrative of chapter 4 in poetic form.

Judges 6:1-6
Once again the people of Israel do evil. This time their enemies are the Midianites, aided by the Amalekites. In passing let me say, I've never met anyone who is interested in who the Midianites were or what colour of clothes the Amalekites wore. It is too easy, and a great temptation to major on minors, does our knowledge of the Midianites or Amalekites change the meaning of the word of God? Will knowing about this background help us to live lives as disciples of Jesus? I don't think so!

Judges 6:7-10
Before raising up Gideon to save the people the Lord sends a prophet to condemn the people, to make them know that their situation is a result of their sin.
The Lord speaks of his great faithfulness from the time he brought the people up out of Egypt. We see here one of the Lord's great objectives in the Exodus, to have the people set free from Egypt know him as their God.
But, you have not obeyed my voice. There is no need to bring a specific verse or passage and say this is the one you have disobeyed. The purpose of God in Exodus and in all his speaking to the people is that they would be his people and he would be their God. Whenever they fall into evil they are not the people of God, they are living as though God were not their God!

Since the desire of God, in Exodus and Gospel, is to be our God, is it really to hard for us to have him as our God? Is there any other God we would rather have?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Judges 5:12-31

Judges 5:12-23

This passage is a massive expansion compared with the account in chapter 4. We have a long list of tribes who all came out to fight with Barak and Deborah. Some, however, are noted for not coming out, e.g. Reuben, v. 16.

v. 23 - most likely Meroz was an Israelite village, quite close to the site of the battle, from whom Deborah and Barak should have expected support, but received none.

All classes of people are included in those who fought and achieved this victory.

vv. 20-21 - this exalted language reminds us that the Lord fought with and for his people. The Canaanites who worshipped nature gods (sun, moon and stars) are reminded in this song that the Lord is the Creator of all and all creation serves his glorious purposes.

Judges 5:24-31
Here the imagination of the poet is given full reign. The murder of Sisera is described with great rhythm and power, but with a sparseness of detail.
Again vv. 28-30, imagine a scene that an Israelite poet could never have seen. The despair which Sisera has brought to many homes is now brought to his.

v. 31 - the victory is the Lord's and the glory is his.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Judges 5:1-11

It is very hard to divide this poem into sections, but I'll try to follow obvious paragraph, or strophe divisions.

Judges 5:1-3
This is the introduction to the poem.
v. 2 - the leaders are praised for leading and the people for following. Remember Barak's reluctance to go into battle unless Deborah would go with him. Would he sing this verse with some hesitancy or shame?
v. 3 - the kings are told to listen carefully to this song, which will remind them that the victory is the Lord's and not their's.

Judges 5:4-11
vv. 4-5 - Seir and Edom are trans-Jordan, from which the Lord moved when he led the people into Canaan.
vv. 6-9 - brings us close to the present event, the troubles known by the people are recorded and then Deborah arises and leads the people. v. 8 tells us of the sin of the people and the trouble it brought into the land.

Judges 5:10-11
Those who ride (the rich) and those who walk (the poor) are to bear witness to the deliverance God achieves for his people.

Notice how little of these verses is reflected in chapter 4.

Judges 5

Judges 5 is a poem. This is the one key fact that must be noted if this chapter is to be properly understood. Some elements of poetry are important:

Imagination - the event which the poet reflects upon happened, but in his presentation he uses his imagination to shape his words.
Focus - poetry focuses on aspects of a story, some details are magnified, some are omitted.
Poetry is not science of any kind, i.e. it is not the social science of history.
Purpose - while there are forms of poetry the purpose of which is to record and maintain historical accounts, e.g. a saga, other forms of poetry have the purpose of celebration or lamentation, the reader or hearer of the poem is intended to respond emotionally to the text.

In Hebrew poetry rhyme is too easy and is not an element, features such as repetition (parallelism), rhythm, metre feature prominently and give a heightened style to a poem in contrast to a prose account.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Judges 4:11-24

Continuing on Judges 4

Judges 4:11-16
The unexpected v. 11 introduces Heber, whose wife will soon feature prominently in this narrative.
Sisera hears that Barak has raised a force against him and he calls out his great war machine, with all the latest technology of that time.
Deborah encourages Barak with the word that the Lord has already given Sisera over to defeat. And so Barak sweeps down from Mt Tabor and wins a great victory, even though Sisera escapes from him.

Judges 4:17-22
There is no explanation given as to why Jael would kill Sisera and break the bond between Jabin and Heber. This perhaps reminds us of Rahab, the Jericho prostitute who for fear of the Lord betrayed her town to save Joshua's two spies.
Notice how plainly the account of the murder of Sisera is recorded, an stark absence of unnecessary detail. Too often, I think, we focus or make much of details or events that are small to the Lord. We need to learn to treasure what he treasurers.

Judges 4:23-24
This is an expected conclusion to this account, except there is no mention of the death of Deborah or Barak. While these events are recorded in a formulaic way, the small differences between them allow us to see a human hand at work composing the material, guided by the Spirit, mentioning that which is important in each episode.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Judges 4:1-10

Judges 4 is one unit of text which is quite difficult to divide into smaller units of text that make sense on their own. What I will do is follow paragraph divisions as in the ESV.
Judges 5 recounts the same events, but in the form of poetry. That these two passages are set side by side will help us to see the differences between prose and poetic forms of writing as found in the OT.

Judges 4:1-3
This is by now a familiar comment on the evil deeds of the people of Israel. Do not grow weary of these passages. It is important for us, when we fall into sin, that the Lord will speak to us of this and call us to repentance and faith. This is what he is doing for Israel in these repeated stories.

Jduges 4:4-10
Deborah is described as a prophetess and a judge in Israel. Do not quickly pass over the obvious - Deborah is a woman. In a culture where women were property how wonderful it is that the Lord uses women to bring his word to his people and to serve as leaders for his people.
Deborah brings the Lord's word to Barak 'go up against the enemy', but Barak hesitates. I'll go if you'll go with me. Is Barak thinking that when faced with going down to the battle Deborah will change her mind, change the word she has received from the Lord? If so he is mistaken, Deborah immediately agrees.
When in v. 9 Deborah tells Barak that the glory of this victory will go to a woman, at this point we assume she is talking about herself. But no, as we will see shortly another woman wins the glory.

And so the scene is set for the Lord to gain a victory over his enemies and set his people free once again.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Judges 3:12-31

Judges 3:12-30
12-14 - we notice here that the enemies of the people of the Lord are quick to join together against the Lord and his people. How sad to reflect upon the on going and obvious disunity among those who follow Jesus.

15-19 - Ehud is an unexpected deliverer, a left handed man. Such a sinister man has over many centuries been treated with undeserved hatred and suspicion. But not with the Lord, he chooses and uses Ehud to achieve his purposes for his people.
Ehud is not the only deceitful person used by the Lord, remember Jacob?

20-23 - Ehud makes use of his left handedness to achieve the killing/murder of the king.

24-25 - Ehud makes his escape and the king is not disturbed for some time, allowing Ehud not only to get away but to raise the nation.

26-30 - Ehud leads the people to a great vicotry of their enemies. The conclusion to this account follows the pattern we would expect from the book, a victory for the people led by a leader raised up by the Lord results in a time of peace.

31 - Shamgar is one of those Judges only mentioned in this one verse in the book, yet his service to the Lord is not forgotten.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Judges 3:7-11

Judges 3:7-11

Othniel is one of the so called minor Judges. If we remember that 'minor' only refers to the amont of space given to their story in the text that's ok, but it's too easy to slip into imagining that these Judges are less important than the so called major Judges. That is a great error, it doesn't matter whether your part in the story is big or small, if you serve the Lord with faithfulness your part is as important as every other part.

The story of Othniel follows the expected pattern: sin, defeat, calling for mercy, the Lord raises a Judge who saves the people, and the Judge dies.

Repetition is very important in Scripture. The writting materials were expenses and space was valuable. You couldn't write on and on like a free blog post. So, when things are repeated in Scripture it is very important that we take close notice of what is being repeated.

This pattern of the book of Judges is repeated many times in this book, and is part of the big story of the bible. Our Christian living is marred by continual falling into sin, but saved by God's faithful mercy shown to us in the cross of the Lord Jesus.


I found a great new piece of code reftagger - get it here.

If you use blogs or other sites and include references to Scripture this is a great way of having the text you refer to pop up whenever you move the cursor over the link.

Thanks to Charlie Cameron on whose blog I first saw this used. Read Charlie's blog at St Andrew's Bellsmyre

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Judges 3:1-6

Judges 3:1-6

OK, which is it to be? Did the Lord leave these nations to test Israel, v. 1? Or 1:27-36, were the nations too strong, or did Israel just give up on driving them out?

Of course, the answer is both!

In this passage we are suddenly dropped right into the midst of the mystery of God's providence. It is easy for us to explain the presence of the foreign nations in the midst of Israel in terms of human failure and disobedience, and that is true, Israel did fail and was disobedient.
But that is not the whole story.
God has purposes to achieve which require him to maintain the presence of foreign nations in Israel. The testing spoken of is that trial of faith, as though by fire. Will the people remain faithful to the Lord? God also has a purpose of teaching the people war.
We know these things are God's purpose because the Scripture reveals it to us.
But, can we understand it? No, I don't think we can.

There is much of God we can't and won't understand. We want to ask why did God chose to test and train his people this way? But we will never be told. Without this information the passage seems arbitrary, or unfair. Our response to the mystery of providence must be worship, submission, dependence. We will never understand God's ways, it is wicked presumption to pry into them. It is best to bow before such passages and recognise the sovereign grace of God revealed in them.