Thursday, 24 June 2010

Judges 16:23-31

Judges 16:23-31
Samson's great strength was a gift from God - not a result of his long hair. God does not give Samson strength because of Samson's faithfulness, but because of God's choice and purpose.
When we read of Samson's hair growing again, we know that Samson has nothing to do with this, he can't stop his hair growing and he is not able to have it cut, or styled! There is no magic in Samson's hair.

Judges 16:28 - is Samson renewing his faith? I don't think so, because I don't think, if we could ask Samson, he would say he ever lost his faith. Samson's foolishness with these women is not Samson abandoning God, or back sliding from his faith, it is Samson getting it wrong. Often we think we are serving God, we are continuing in faith and hope, but we are getting it wrong. We can be believers and get it wrong.

Samson's death gives an appearance of victory over the Philistines, although there is not verse telling us that the people had peace for so many years as with other judges. Samson's death is the death of the judges. God has permitted this pattern of leadership, with its cycle of sin, calling to God, raising up a judge, deliverance, sin to continue as long as it has, to fully demonstrate that this is not the answer. God's people are not learning how to live holy lives. The nation is not reflecting God's glory to the world. Samson is the final demonstration that no judge will be the promised deliverer, Genesis 3:15.
Judges 17 to 21 are not pleasant chapters, but they demonstrate for us what happens when God's people reject God and his ways.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Judges 16:1-22

Judges 16:1-22
The ultimate foolishness. You would think any sane person would have worked it out. Once you could have let her away with, but three times she nagged an answer out of Samson, three times she passed it to the Philistines, three times they hid in her back room waiting to capture Samson.
But then we don't work out sin or temptation any better. Time after time, returning to old sins, falling once more at old temptations - the same one we fell before yesterday.
Samson didn't learn, the sad stories of chapters 14 and 15 should have taught him, even if Delilah's triple betrayal didn't.

All we can do is marvel at God's amazing grace. He has a purpose to achieve in Samson and Samson's foolishness will not defeat God's purposes. We do not abuse God's amazing grace, we depend upon it that when we get it wrong, God will remain faithful. The story of Samson is not about a great hero of the faith, but about a great God who is worthy of our faith, our trust, our hope.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Judges 15:9-20

Judges 15:9-20

Samson's behaviour results now in an invasion of Judah by the Philistines. One man bringing trouble and suffering upon the whole nation.
To prevent their suffering the people of Judah agree to hand Samson over to the Philistines. But Samson breaks free from the bonds that hold him and wins a great victory over the Philistines. A thousand men with the jaw-bone of an ass.

The story ends with Samson exhausted and dying of thirst. It can only be by grace that the Lord listens to his prayer and opens a spring of water to save Samson's life.
How wonderful is amazing grace which in Samson's life as in ours is never deserved or earned.

That Samson can make such a hash of serving the Lord and cause such suffering all around, but still be used by the Lord is a miracle of grace. Not an excuse for us to give up and not try to do things for the Lord in a way that will honour him. We depend upon grace, we do not take advantage of grace - or perhaps we should not take advantage of grace.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Judges 15:1-8

Judges 15:1-8

Samson, a fool for women who never learns, tries to patch things up with his Philistine wife who has betrayed him at their wedding feast.
When told she has been given to another, Samson goes off on one again. This time he thinks he has the right. He burns their fields in a cruel way involving the suffering of animals.
The result of this act is the burning of his wife and her family by the Philistines.

There are consequences to our acts. There are unforseen consequences, this makes life difficult because we are not God and we don't know everything that can or will happen.

Samson's foolishness with women, his uncontrolled anger are causing havoc all around. Is there not a lesson here about Christian character and the importance of seeing the fruit of the Spirit grow in our lives, especially if we are called into service for the Lord?

Friday, 18 June 2010

Judges 14:1-20

Judges 14:1-20

The trouble begins. Like a golden thread, except not so golden, running through the story of Samson, this man is a fool around women. Especially foreign women who will only get him and his nation into trouble.

We can see this is wrong, and yet, on route to make arrangements for the wedding the Lord strengthens Samson to defeat a lion with his bare hands. The carcass of this lion and its swarm of bees become the source of Samson's riddle, which the Philistine wedding guests cannot unravel.
Samson is nagged/encouraged by his wife to tell her the riddle which she repeats to her people. This woman has made a choice, she will stick with her people rather than her new husband. Samson will not be able to lift her out of her family aliegences into a full union within the people of God.
Enraged, and it does read as though Samson goes off in a terrible rage, he kills 30 Philistines to pay off his debt and storms off home.

Is this serving the Lord? I really don't think so. Some might try to argue that the Philistines, all Philistines were enemies of the Lord and his people and however they are killed it is all one and is all well done. But that doesn't work for me. If the Lord is to exercise justice against all people then it must be just. And I don't think justice is served in anger.

Samson has a work to do for the Lord. He has been chosen and prepared for this from conception. His foolishness around women and his anger may go a long way to blunting the effectiveness of the Lord's purposes in Samson. Not that the Lord's purposes will fail, but they will and can be blunted by foolish living on the part of God's people.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Judges 13:15-25

Judges 13:15-25

There is often a confusion we can notice in the Bible when people meet an angel. Very often they think they are meeting the Lord and seek to honour the angel in ways that are appropriate only for the Lord.
In this story Manoah would offer the angel some sacrificed food. The angel replies that he will not accept this offering from Manoah, because it should only be offered to the Lord.
It is right and good that we honour those who serve the Lord among us and for us. However, we must be careful not to take the honour and glory and praise which belong to the Lord and transfer them to others.

When the angel disappears in the smoke of the offering Manoah and his wife realise they have seen an angel of the Lord. This realisation leads them to think they will die, for who can see the Lord and live? This fear of seeing the Lord is common in the OT. How great is our joy to know that in Jesus God is with us, not some of the time but all the time. Thank God for Manoah's wife who helps him understand the purposes of God. And thank God for all who help us learn how to live in the presence of God day by day without this fear.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Judges 13:1-14

Judges 13:1-14

Samson is the final judge whose story is recorded in this book. His story begins with the cycle we've observed so often in this book repeated once again for us. The people do evil and are handed over to their enemies.

By grace the Lord works, he promises a child to a childless couple. This is not a conception without a human father, but it is a miracle. The Lord works in the lives of these two for their blessing and the blessing of the nation.
By grace the Lord sends the angel a second time, this time so that Manoah might see and hear the angels words. The Lord didn't need to do this, and could have told Manoah that he should believe the word of the Lord delivered through his wife. But, grace is grace, undeserved and free, and the Lord sends his angel a second time.
By grace the Lord will be at work in Samson's life and in the nation through Samson. By grace, not by hair style of diet choices. The Lord does not work because Samson has long hair or a strict diet. Our obedience does not earn anything from God, does not deserve anything from God. Obedience is good because it is obedience, not for any reward. Whatever the Lord does in us or through is is freely done, by grace.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Judges 12:1-15

Judges 12:1-15
The end of the Jephthah narrative and three more minor judges.

The Ephraimites seem to be a right lot of complainers. They never make the battle and also manage to whinge about it.
Jepthah is weary of all this, and sometimes we get weary of the constant drip of complaining. But this is not good.
The people of the Lord are divided, over how you pronounce a word! And the difference is between an 's' sound and an 'sh' sound!! 42,000 are slaughtered over a fight that started because of a victory!
If I didn't already believe that sin was in built, or hard wired, into humans before reading this story, I would by the end of it.
When we daily pray, 'Lead us not into temptation' do we consciously include the temptation to un just complaining? The temptation to aggressive responses to opposition? The temptation to divide and weaken the body of Christ?
What a dreadful story. How patient is the Lord that he would remain faithful to his people and his promises. Far more faithful than we will ever be or than we could ever deserve.

The brief account of the three judges that conclude this chapter are further examples of the goodness of the Lord.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Judges 11:18-40

Judges 11:18-40
Jephthah once again tries to talk the king out of this war, verses 18 to 28, but with no success.

Then disaster.
What is Jephthah doing? Why does he take such a foolish vow which the Lord has not asked of him and does not seek from him?
I think Jephthah is trying to impress both God and his men with such an extravagant vow. That there is a victory in the battle has nothing to do with Jephthah's vow. The Lord had already decided to give the victory, vows don't change God's mind.

A vow is good when taken in the Lord's service in areas that honour the Lord. A vow can strengthen a weakened spirit and encourage faithfulness in service.

This vow should have been broken. No vow justifies murder, and that's what this is. If a vow brings you into conflict with the Lord's word then confess the foolishness of your vow and seek the Lord's forgiveness as you break it.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Judges 11:1-17

Judges 11:1-3
Jephthah is despised and rejected because he is the son of a prostitute. Is this any worse than being the son of a gossip, or the daughter of a drunk? In fact, why do we so often judge others not by who or what they are in themselves, but by association with others?
Why do we have a league table of sins in which the ones we don't commit are always worse than the ones we do commit?

How many have been driven from our fellowships, our congregations, from the gospel, because of our unwelcoming and severe attitudes towards their sin?

Judges 11:4-17
When trouble arises Jephthah and his band of worthless rogues are sought out. How would we have answered the elders of Gilead? Would we not have told them to get lost! Jephthah, perhaps longing for inclusion, answers gently and undertakes to deliver the people.
His gentle words work well on the people of Gilead, but not so well on the king of the Ammonites. Jephthah tries to resolve this dispute by talking. What a wonderful idea, if only we would try resolving disputes by talking first we might aviod much conflict in our lives.
That Jephthah's talking fails does not mean it was a bad idea or that it should not be tried again. By all means talk, and talk again. Anything to avoid the destruction of warfare.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Judges 10

Judges 10:1-18
Two minor Judges follow Abimelech, Tola and Jair. Apart from their fulfiling the required role in the cycle of sin, calling to God, deliverance and peace we know nothing more.
The repetition of this cycle really does drive it's significance home to us.

There is an extended account of disobedience among the people, idolatry, which serves to introduce the next Judge, Jephthah.

Judges 10:13 seems out of place, as the Lord tell the people 'I will save you no more.' Clearly, since the Lord does save the people under Jephthah and Samson there is something more going on here.
Judges 10:14, I think, gives us the answer. The Lord is challenging the people about which 'god' they will trust. Will they trust the Lord? Will they continue to trust Baal or Ashtaroth?
These others 'gods' cannot save them, there is no hope or deliverance in them. If they hear that the Lord will not save them they may be in this encouraged to look for some other deliverer, but they will find none. Only the Lord can save. If he does not save there is no salvation for anyone.

The Lord longs for all people to depend upon him alone and faithfully. Can he do any more for us than he has done in Jesus his Son, and still we are slow to believe, slow to trust, faithless where he is faithful.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Judges 9:22-57

Judges 9:22-57
Abimelech doesn't come out of this story well. He is a wicked and cruel man with no regard for human life, other than his own!

The people of Shechem change their minds, a bit late though, and turn on Abimelech. I can't imagine anything other than the forgiveness of the cross being able to wash away the sin of the people of Shechem in supporting Abimelech's murder of his brothers.

The conclusion in verses 56 and 57 show that God works out judgement upon both Abimelech and also the people of Shechem. The confusion in this passage about who is fighting whom and who is on which side is all to common in a civil war type situation where neighbour fights against neighbour. An increase in violence flows from a beginning of violence done by leaders and supported by people.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Judges 9:1-21

Judges 9:1-21

Abimelech sounds like a horrible man. He longs to be king and so persuades the towns people to allow him to murder all his brothers. O for one person to stand up and speak the truth in this situation, will no one say this is evil or wrong or wicked? But there is no one, and murder is done.
Abimelech is guilty, so are the silent ones who stood by. How often are we guilty in our silence?

One son escapes, Jotham. He returns with a parable which puts the matter pointedly before the people of Shechem. We are not told their reponse, and Jotham doesn't seem to wait around to find out either. We must presume they rejected Jotham and his parable, choosing to stick with the bad choice they made in Abimelech.
It is bad enough to make a bad decision once. But to stick by it! When it is pointed out to you and you won't change it! What madness is this? Not madness, wickedness, a wickedness we can all easily fall into as we harden our hearts against the Lord and his word.

The next few chapters of Judges are all bad. There are some deliverances from enemies, but surrounded by so much that is not good it is hard to find anything to celebrate. Mind you, they are not as bad as chapters 17-21!

Monday, 7 June 2010

Judges 8:22-35

Judges 8:22-35
This is a sad end to the story of Gideon. It begins well, with Gideon refusing the kingship over Israel because the Lord will rule over you. In a few years Samuel will tell the people this when they ask him to anoint a king over them, so they might be like all the other nations.

But, instead of leaving it there Gideon takes up a collection and then makes an ephod. An ephod is some sort of ceremonial garment worn by the High Priest and used by him in divination. When you asked the Lord for guidance, you asked a question that could be answered yes or no, and the Priest would use the ephod in divining the answer.
There was one ephod, and the Lord only wanted one in Israel. Why did Gideon make another? We are not told, we are only told the sad outcome of this failure.

It is failure, sin, because Gideon is perverting the worship of God. Gideon is taking what belongs only to the Priests for himself and his town. Worship should be offered to God only in ways that God is willing to receive.

The language used is very strong, 'Israel whored after it [the ephod]'. Idolatry is usually pictured in the bible using language of sexual sin, prostitution or adultry. The intimacy of our relationship with God is pictured in marriage and faithful sexual relations, this [our relationship with God] is perverted in idolatry in similar ways to the perversion of sexuality out with marriage.

Let Gideon be a warning then. It is possible to serve the Lord faithfully in great things and fall into sin leading others with you.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Judges 8:4-21

Judges 8:4-21
There is a change in these verses. We do not here see Gideon seeking the Lord's will, waiting for the Lord to give victory. Yes, in some ways Gideon is merely finishing off the work started in chapter 7. However, is he doing this in the Lord's way and at the Lord's time?

Gideon's treatment of the citizens of Succoth and Penuel is markedly different from his treatment of the men of Ephraim, vv. 1-3. Is Gideon here modelling for us the difference between Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5?
Proverbs 26:4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
 or you will be like him yourself.
Proverbs 26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
 or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Or, and I think this is more likely, is Gideon getting this bit wrong?

Is Gideon dispensing justice when he kills Zebah and Zalmunna, or is this about revenge? Revenge is never a motive that will achieve a good work for the Lord.

It is too easy for us to slip from being in the place of obedience, in the place where our service is for the Lord and brings glory to us, until we find ourselves lost in disobedience and self-service. Only a conscious attention to our walking with the Lord and keeping close to him will guard against this falling from his way. If Gideon could fall here, so can we.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Judges 8:1-3

Judges 8:1-3

A great victory has been won. Why then are the men of Ephraim complaining? We know what they are complaining about, 'Why did you not let us join in with you in the battle?' But, why do they raise this complaint?
Are they feeling insecure? Do they feel left out or excluded? Has their pride been wounded?
I'm not sure that any of these are good reasons for raising this complaint and we might be tempted to send them away with a flea in their ear (as the saying goes!)

However, Gideon, with his wise words, turns away anger. Is Gideon over stating the case? He might be: they captured two princes and Gideon destroyed a whole army. However, as he humbles himself, as he magnifies their deeds so their anger is subdued.

How often have we known, or been involved in, a situation where one wrong word has resulted in years of bitterness and broken relationships?

We need to learn ways of peace, lifestyles of patience, kindness and gentleness before they are needed, so that these things become our instinct. Gideon didn't have time to go away and think up a good response in the light of all the possible outcomes. What is our instinct? If it is untrained by the Spirit it will be angry and defensive. Only as we daily train ourselves in ways of life that reflects God and his gentleness can we hope to answer situations as wisely and gently as Gideon.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Judges 7:16-25

Judges 7:16-25
The day of victory is here! This is what the Lord promised Gideon and now it has arrived.

Gideon and his 300 men surround the Midianite camp, raise a shout, sound the trumpets and reveal the concealed torches from within broken jars. Down to v. 24 I don't think Gideon and his men do anything else. The Lord strikes the hearts of the Midianites with terror and they attack one another. This is the point at which the victory is won, and yet, the men of Ephraim are required to join in and finish off the enemy.

A two stage victory.
We cannot read this and not think of the once for all victory of the Lord Jesus upon the cross which is worked out everyday in the power of the Spirit in the lives of God's people. A victory won is to be lived in, entered into.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Judges 7:8b-15

Judges 7:8b-15
Gideon seems like a man who needs a lot of encouragement and reassurance. We remember the visit of the angel and then the fleece. But here in v. 10 it is the Lord who takes the initiative and offers Gideon this assurance.

Gideon has cause for doubts, his army has been reduced to a mere 300 men. They are equipped with some provisions and trumpets. But the Lord is with him and the Lord will give the enemy into his hands.

In many situations in the UK Christians feel deflated, if not defeated. We look at ourselves and our churches and see small numbers. The Lord is the God of encouragement and comfort. He will give us assurances of his presence, his grace and his power.

The dream Gideon overhears being repeated and interpreted is about him and the victory the Lord will win through Gideon. A loaf of barley bread - when we first met Gideon he was hiding in a wine press threshing wheat (for bread perhaps!) and now this mighty man of valour will knock over the strong tents of Midian.

Gideon responds very positively to this encouragement from the Lord. Do we always respond so positively? Has the Lord been encouraging us? Has he called us into service? Has he promised his presence and power to be with us? Are we living faithless lives when we do not trust the assurance the Lord gives and take that risk which he is calling us into?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Judges 7:4-8a

Judges 7:4-8a
With only 10,000 left Gideon hears the Lord's word, 'There are still too many.' I wonder if Gideon was dismayed at this word from the Lord? Do we sometimes without thinking pray, 'Whatever you say to my Lord, I want to hear and obey'. This might be the kind of word we will hear, but it's not easy.

There are a number of different ideas about what the men were doing either lapping with hands or mouths. I don't think it really matters. The point is that God is separating out the larger part to be sent home. I don't think God is trying to choose who is the best fighters, who will give the most attention or anything like that, this removes the point of the story.

Gideon's army has been reduced from 32,000 to 300, a reduction of 99.06% - that is the point of the story. With only 300 men Gideon is being sent against an army that has oppressed and impoverised Israel for years. All Gideon is left with is a few men, some provisions and a collection of trumpets.

When we look around at the church today, are we downcast at small numbers, at poor resources? And yes, we should pray for more, our God is a generous Father. But we do not despair! With our poor efforts God can build his church for his own glory.