Archive for October, 2009

Judges 20

Judges 20 captures the consequence of what happened to the Levite’s concubine in Gibeah from the last chapter.  You may recall that the Levite came into the town to sleep on his way back home after fetching his runaway concubine from her father.  While a guest in the old man’s home, the local hell raisers came and demanded sex.  He threw out his concubine whom they raped and killed.  He had cut up her body and delivered it to the twelve tribes in order to call attention to this travesty.  Now all the people assembled together – “they were all there….as one person”.  People were outraged at what had been done and determine that they have to confront these men head on even though there was no current king or judge.  So they go to Gibeah and call for the city to turn over the guilty parties they they can deal with it.  But the people won’t, as the city is itself evil and unwilling to hand them over.  So the people of Israel begin to prepare for war.  They pull together troops from all the tribes, except the tribe of Benjamin, which is what Gibeah is a city within.  They come camp outside the city and seek God’s direction on what to do.

 “God says “Judah goes first” and they got the answer to attack.  But it doesn’t quite go like they expected.  22 divisions were routed by the Benjaminites that day and the army of Israel is confused as they expected to win the battle.  They go before God again and ask what to do.  “God says, yes attack” so they make a second run at them and again are soundly defeated – 18 divisions this day.  Now they are beginning to wonder if they should just pack up and go home.  But one more time they go to God.  This time God says “tomorrow I will give you victory”.  They use a new plan and not only bring their army up to confront the enemy, but they also send a number of troops to the edges to come behind the Benjaminites to ambush them.  “God routed them before Israel”.  They wipe out the army and the cities of Benjamin and only lost a few men that day.  “The men of Israel poured out of the towns killing them right and left”.  They were in fact given victory.  So what was the difference?  The first two attacks God told them to go but didn’t assure them victory.  It seems that they were depending on the fact that they were right and that they had more in their army to win the battle.  They didn’t need God, at least in their minds.  They had the upper hand.  After all, they were just righting a wrong that had been done.  But it was only the third attempt that they recognized the need for God and they no longer were fighting on their own.  They quit depending on themselves for the victory and put their trust in God.  That is when God turns His power loose – when we come to the end of self and we move to depending on Him.  It is then that the victory comes.  They destroy the enemy and restore righteousness in the land.  But only when God is leading the way, not self.

Judges 19

Judges 19 is a rather intense chapter.  A Levite from the hill country takes a concubine from Bethlehem.  Shortly after, “she quarreled with him and left” and went home to her father in Bethlehem.  Four months later the Levite decides to go and “try to win her back”.  This is a rather unusual thing for that day.  The Levite heads off with a pair of donkeys and his servant and they arrive at the house of the father-in-law.  He welcomes them and they stay for some days but after a week or so, the Levite decides to go back home and take his concubine with him.  They head out late in the day and really didn’t have a plan for how they would make the trip.  The servant wants to stop at Jebus but it was a foreign city, so the Levite decides to press on and they come to Gibeah, a city of the tribe of Benjamin.  They sat for some time in the town square waiting for someone to open their home to them and were certainly not a secret as everyone passed by them until finally an old man came in “from his day’s work in the fields” and invites them home.  While they were enjoying a good meal, all hell breaks loose.

 Outside a “gang of local hell-raisers” show up and surround the house and pound on the door.  They want to engage in some rather disgusting acts with the Levite man but they are put off.  They persist and finally the “Levite pushed his concubine out the door” and she was raped and left in a pile outside the door when they were done with her.  The “master got up and opened the door to continue his journey” and just threw her dead body on the donkey and hauled her home. He has been mistreated and left without what he had come for.  When they got home “he took a knife and dismembered her – cut her into twelve pieces”.  Holy cow – this sounds like one of those crazy chain saw movies.  “He sent her, piece by piece, though out the country of Israel”.  Talk about a visual lesson – this tops the list. What a gruesome way to make a point that he had been wronged.  One messenger to each tribe to let the people all over know of his sorrow and that he had been wronged.  What better way to make the point.  There was no king or judge at this time in the land, so no place to go for retribution or punishment of those who had taken his future.  Some commentaries point to the fact that the concubine had made a grave mistake by leaving in the first place, and that this result may have been punishment for that.  But in any case, it is a story of sadness and reality – relationships need to be worked on and kept strong.  Had she not run away, this day would not have occurred.  We all need to focus on building and keeping our relationships strong.  Tough days will come, but the answer is to be committed to working on those difficult things and making them right.  This is a difficult lesson to understand, so I encourage you to spend some time studying and seeking God on His message.

Judges 17/18

Judges 17 and 18 are about Micah.  He lived in Ephraim and the story begins with him stealing back 1100 pieces of silver that had been taken from his mother.  She gives him some and he creates an idol and puts it in place.  A young Levite shows up from nowhere and Micah hires him to be his personal priest.  The people of Israel sent out spies to find out if there were lands they could overtake, and they show up at Micah’s house and ask the priest to give them direction on what they should do.  There is a problem that underlies this entire time in Israel.  “People did whatever they felt like doing”.  It is the formula for disaster and reminds me somewhat of where our world is today.  People did what they wanted without regard for God’s laws and what was right.  How is it that we can fall into that trap of the enemy so quickly?  Where do we come up with the idea that we get to make the rules or that we can bend the rules to fit what we want to do?  It just is not how it works.  God has a plan, He has rules, He is a God of consistency and character, and man cannot just do whatever he wants and assume all will go well.  It just doesn’t work that way.

 The spies go back and tell the people that there was little resistance if they go and attack.  “We’ve seen the land and it is excellent”.  They were encouraging action.  “Are you going to just sit on your hands”?  They knew it was an opportunity and were trying to get people excited and ready to go.  That is really one of the biggest roles of leadership.  Learning how to cast vision and motivate people to take action is really where the rubber meets the road.  These five come back with big opportunity and now they have to mobilize the troops to go take action.  They manage to get them excited and off they march.  They come to Micah’s house along the way and go in and steal his idols and take his priest to be their own.  He doesn’t exactly like that and takes off after discovering what has happened, but is outnumbered and has to turn back and accept the loss.  That which he had stolen and made into an idol is now gone.  This section doesn’t really strike me with any major learning’s other than the reality that you can’t buy or hire your way to obedience.  Micah hired a priest of his own but that didn’t bring him any closer to God.  Maybe it had the appearance on the outside, but our relationship with God is not on the surface but of the heart.  He didn’t have that – in fact – he was worshiping idols and anything but God.  If we want to really have a relationship with the Father – we need to get our heart right and focus on what belongs – not stuff we make or accumulate – but relationship.  Jesus is the way we get there.  Do you have that connection today?

Judges 16

Judges 16 tells the story of Samson and Delilah.  It starts with Samson revealing his weakness for women, which proves to be the downfall in his life.  He “fell in love with a woman….Delilah”.  She was from the valley of the Philistines and the two of them play a cat and mouse game of discovering what the secret of Samson’s strength was.  She asks him over and over how he could be contained.  Now it seems to me that someone with that motive and obsession would be a dead giveaway as not being a loyal lover.  She flat out asks him how to tie him up, and three times he gives her bogus answers:  “seven bowstrings…..new ropes…..seven braids of my hair”.  Each time she would shout out that the enemy was upon him and Samson would break free from the attempt to tie him up.  How he can’t see what she is up to here is beyond me, but love is definitely blind and Samson must have really been in love because he certainly was blind to her very apparent attempts to tie him up for harm.  Then comes those famous words: “How can you say ‘I love you’ when you won’t even trust me”?  Now it isn’t hard for us to see reading the story why there was no trust.  Delilah has deceived him three times already and she still wants him to trust her.  But somehow he doesn’t get it.

 Scripture tells us “she kept at it day after day, nagging and tormenting him”.  Why he didn’t just leave and go home I have no clue.  But he stayed and she wore him down and he gave up the secret which was his hair.  Soon as she found out she set a plan in place to take his strength and receive the “bribe money” she had been promised.  She wasn’t in love with him at all.  She had a motive to make money doing a job of betrayal.  And she gets it done. The cut his hair and “he woke up thinking, I’ll go out, like always, and shake free”.  Didn’t happen this time as God had abandoned him.  His strength was gone.  They capture him, gouge out his eyes and put him in slavery.  They decide to rub his failure in his face by putting a show on for him.  He asks to be positioned between the central pillars that held up the building and calls out to God: “please, give strength yet once more God”.  And God hears and gives him strength and he knocks down the building on himself and all those watching.  “He killed more people in his death than he had killed in his life”.  So Samson dies taking out a bunch of the enemy after judging Israel for 20 years.  He failed to finish strong.  He allowed his desire for the flesh to cause him to make very poor decisions and ultimately to give up the secret of his strength to the enemy.  Leaders fall when they fail to be very selective about who they hang out with.  It is critical for a leader to surround themselves with the right people.  Any person can fall flat on their face, and the world has been full of examples of many who have failed in this very area of protecting themselves from immorality and losing all that they have worked for many years to accomplish.  The enemy attacks here continually.  We can read and wonder why Samson was so stupid, but we need to spend our time looking in the mirror and focus on guarding our hearts and lives from the very same kind of attack.  It will come.  We must be ready to say no.

Judges 15

Judges 15 tells the story of Samson.  It was “during wheat harvest” and the crops were ripe and harvest had already begun.  He went back to see his wife – the one who had betrayed him earlier – but she had already been given to his best man.  Samson gets mad – he does seem to have an anger management issue – and catches three hundred jackals.  He ties them together in pairs at the tail and attaches a torch to them and they run through the fields setting everything on fire.  That is creative thinking.  “Everything burned” – not just the standing crop but even what had already been gathered.  Of course the Philistines are a bit bent out of shape over this.  They discover it was Samson and confront him after killing his wife and her father and burning them up.  Samson rips them “limb from limb” with his immense strength and then fled to a cave.  The Philistines are ticked and decide to do battle with the people of Judah who are not very excited about that.  They were already  slaves to the Philistines and now Samson has created some havoc that they will have to deal with.  “So what’s going on with you, making things worse”?  They don’t like it at all.

 Samson allows the army of Judah to tie him up and take him to the Philistines.  “The Spirit of God” comes upon him and “the ropes on his arms fell apart like flax on fire, the thongs slipped off his hands”.  He was free and grabs a “fresh donkey jawbone” as his weapon.  How’s that for a dangerous weapon to use against the Philistine army?  Well it worked for Samson and he killed an entire company of the enemy.  He was extremely thirsty after the battle and called out to God.  Then another miracle happens in his life: “God split open the rock….water gushed out….Samson drank”.  He leaves this victory and judges Israel for 20 years.  God had a plan – He enabled Samson with power beyond his own – and he placed him in a position of leadership to lead the nation.  Samson doesn’t sound like the normal kind of judge.  He was a bit rough around the edges in many ways.  But God was with him and Samson walked in the power of God and did great and mighty things as a result.  With God all things are possible.  I love what Andy Stanley says – what God originates, God orchestrates.  If it is God’s plan he will make a way.  Our role is to walk in obedience with Him and leave the details to Him!

Judges 14

Judges 14 reads like a soap opera.  Samson sees this beautiful Philistine girl he decides should be his wife.  His parents question that decision, and want him to find a “girl in the neighborhood” rather than a foreigner.  But Samson holds on to his own desires – “in Samson’s eyes she was the one” – and asks his father to pursue this girl.  Samson heads down to Timnah, the Philistine town she lived, and runs into a young lion who comes at him.  “The Spirit of God came on him powerfully and he ripped it open barehanded”.  Certainly a powerful young man in the making here.  No one knew what he had done because he didn’t tell them about that or the bees and honey that formed in the lion’s carcass.  Sort of unusual that he kept that all to himself but he did and it later became part of a life lesson for him.

The Philistines were a bit wary of this guy so they have “thirty friends mingle with him”.  Samson challenges them with a riddle, related to the lion and bees.  “From the eater came something to eat.  From the strong came something sweet”.  They couldn’t figure it out, so they go to his future bride and ask her to help. The solving of this riddle actually was a bet with some pretty significant winnings associated with it.  Samson had challenged them with the prize being thirty linen garmets and thirty changes of fine clothing.  There was a prize that was rather important – enough that the thirty threatened his future bride with burning down her father’s house.  “So Samson’s bride turned on the tears”.  Manipulation at its finest.  She wants to save her family so she trys to weasel the answer out of him.  He resists until the last day of the challenge when he was “worn out by her nagging”.  Why is it that men as such suckers for things like this?  Of course, she immediately “went and told it to her people” so they had the answer.  They played it to the very end and just before sunset give Samson the answer to the riddle.  He knew what had happened.  To pay the bet he killed thirty Philistines and took their clothing to pay off the debt.  He was angry and went home “stalking out, smoking with anger”.  He got burned.  But it gets worse.  “Samson’s bride became the wife of the best man at his wedding”.  Can you imagine?  He was betrayed with the information he gave his bride to be, but then he was dumped for his best man.  Wow – sort of a bad week for Samson.  Should have listened to his parents on this one maybe?   They were leary of his choice of a woman, but he wanted it his way.  There is often wisdom in listening to what others see during the courtship period.  Love is blind for most, and it is often the perspective of others not quite so deeply involved that provide some real guidance and truth about the future.  Samson got burned because of his unwillingness to listen.  God used it as part of His story, but what a soap opera week it was.

Judges 13

Judges 13 tells the story of the birth of Samson.  It seems that the people of Israel were “back at it again, doing what was evil in God’s sight”.  They just can’t seem to get it right.  So once again “God put them under the domination” of another group – this time the Philistines.  They were in that spot for 40 years, which seems to be a popular number when God is punishing them.  A man named Manoah and his wife were childless, and she seemed unable to have children.  An angel comes and tells her that she is in fact pregnant and will bear a son.  She comes and tells her husband who has plenty of questions.  The news seems too good to be true, so Manoah wants to know more.  All of a sudden they are going to be parents and they are not ready.  I love what happens next, and it is something all of us with kids need to pay attention to.  “Manoah prayed to God: Master, let the man of God you sent come to us again and teach us how to raise this boy who is to be born”.  They were overwhelmed by the responsibility of parenting before their son was even born, and they get on their knees and seek God for help.  I certainly prayed for God’s help with our kids but am not sure I pursued God’s wisdom quite as much as Manoah does here.  But think how families might be if fathers were on their knees seeking God’s direction on how to raise their kids before they are even born.  Men – we need to seek the instruction of the author of life – He creates our kids in the womb – He knows everything about them and wrote the book on how to parent them – we just need to seek His direction. 

 Manoah does that by praying.  And “God listened….God’s angel came again”.  God wants us to know how to parent.  He wants us to be successful as a family.  The angel reiterates what he has already told Manoah’s wife, and then tells Manoah the best thing to do is to prepare an offering and worship God.  No real step by step on how to raise this boy.  Just one big lesson – worship God and prepare yourself for this child.  One of the best gifts and parenting hints we can get is to make sure we as parents are walking and worshiping our God.  As we stay close to Him, we are providing the best possible home for a child to grow up in.  We need to keep our eyes on Jesus and make sure we are in right relationship with the Father.  God desires our worship and our desire to walk with Him.  He will honor that as we enter and walk through the years of parenting.  Samson is born, and “God blessed him….the Spirit of God began working in him”.  If we can’t motivate ourselves to get into God’s Word and have a relationship with Him that matters on our own, we should definitely be motivated to do that when kids are around.  None of us are capable to parent on our own.  We need God’s touch and wisdom to know how to lead these young lives and to teach them well.  The first thing we should do is seek the Father who created them.  That is the starting point and the foundation from which all the rest should grow.  Are you on your knees about your kids?  Grandkids? That is what God calls us to be and do!

Judges 12

Judges 12 is a short chapter that talks about a series of judges in Israel.  It starts with a confrontation between the men of Ephraim and Jephthah who had just defeated the Ammonites.  Why they would decide this is a good time to confront him is beyond me.  But the do and come accusing him of not allowing them to participate in the battle.  In fact they threaten by saying “we’re going to burn your house down on you”.  Now let’s refresh here.  Jephthah has just destroyed the enemy and returned from a very visible showing of God’s power through him.  And these guys show up and accuse him of leaving them out and threaten to burn down his house?  Maybe a few short of a full deck here.  Japhthah explains that “I and my people had our hands full negotiating”.  He was busy and didn’t have time to make sure their feelings weren’t hurt. This is so often the case for those in leadership.  People think that leaders sit around plotting how they can exclude them or do things that they don’t like.  The reality is that leaders focus on leading and getting things done.  Don’t allow the enemy to convince you that you are important enough in most situations that anyone is plotting against you.  The conspiracy theory mentality that so many have today drives me crazy.  Leaders don’t have time for that kind of nonsense, and certainly Japhthah didn’t.  He was getting ready to go to war.  But here is the key truth: “I did call to you for help but you ignored me”.  Now the truth comes out. 

So many people want to be part of things after the fact.  Once the hard work and heavy lifting is done, and success has happened, it is amazing how many hands go up saying “pick me”.  People want to be part of the glory but not part of the work to get there.  I see it over and over in life.  People don’t have time when the work is being done in the trenches.  If it looks like it may work out, they start to get interested and staying around the fringes.  But once things are obviously successful, and the hard and dirty work is behind, then folks want to sign up and be part of the good times.  It didn’t sit well with Jephthah and it seldom sits well with leaders today.  Don’t be like that.  Get involved in things at the ground level and be part of making it happen.  Don’t come flying in at the end and try to claim victory.  Japhthah got the troops together and “hit them hard” because they were making fun of his people.  He captured the crossing on the Jordan by Ephraim and would kill people that were from that place.  All in all he killed 42 divisions – that is a bunch of people – and it happened because of stupidity on the part of the Ephraim leaders.  The balance of the chapter lists some of the judges that followed – Ibzan ruled for seven years and had thirty sons and thirty daughters.  His legacy was to have his kids marry outside his clan.  Bad decision…next comes  Elon who judges 10 years and then Abdon who had forty sons and thirty grandsons that rode on seventy donkeys.  He lasted 8 years.  So a series of judges, some better than others, but each with their own little mark on the people.  What is your mark going to be?  What will people say about you when you are gone?  Are you leading well?  Are you following well, and not trying to be one of those like the Ephraimites who swoops in at the last minute to take credit?  Life matters – live it like you mean it!

Judges 11

Judges 11 is a chapter with a sad ending.  It begins with Jephthah who is described as “one tough warrior”.  He was son of Gilead but born of a whore so they threw him out when he grew up.  He fled and went off to llive with some riff-raff in Tob.  The Amonites start fighting Israel and they come running to Jephthah for help.  He asks a good question.  “So why are you coming to me now?   Because you are in trouble, right”?  He understands they are in a tight spot so he cuts a deal with the elders: “So if you bring me back home to fight…and God gives them to me, I’ll be your head – is that right”?  He cuts a deal and decides to take on the task.  His initial response to the Amorites was to set the record straight on what had brought them to this point.  They were accusing the Israelites of taking their land.  While that was technically the outcome, Jephthah went through the historical lesson of how it came to be.  He tells them “it was God…who pushed out the Amorites….who do you think you are to try to take it over….it’s been three hundred years now”. But the attempt at resolving this peacefully doesn’t work out – diplomacy fails – and the battle is looming.

Jephthah prepares for battle.  “God’s Spirit came upon Jephthah”.  He heads out to meet the enemy, and along the way makes a vow to God: “I’ll give to God whatever comes out the door of my house to meet me when I return in one piece” from beating these guys.  And of course he “beat them soundly”.  It was a massacre and he captured 20 cities.  He heads back home and “his daughter ran from the house to welcome him”.  Oh no – his only daughter.  Jephthah realizes what he has vowed, and that this precious daughter would have to be given to God.  His “heart is torn to shreds” by the reality of his vow.  The daughter graciously tells her father to do what he has vowed, but she requested a couple months to prepare and “lament my virginity since I will never marry” along with her friends.  After that “he fulfilled the vow”.  Jephthah didn’t consider carefully the consequences of his vow.  He didn’t count the cost.  Would God have given him the victory without it?  I think He probably would have.  But since Jephthah vowed it, God expected it to be fulfilled.  We really don’t think too much of those things we promise to God when we are in trouble do we?  We are pretty willing to make deals and then later forget what we promised to Him.  Someday we likely will find out He didn’t forget…..we need to pay attention to the vows and promises we make.

Judges 10

Judges 10 gives us yet another look at how fickle we are in our walk with God.  Tola becomes the next judge over the people.  “He rose to the occasion to save Israel”.  This guy stepped up and took on a tough job.  Leaders do that.  They see a need and step up – signing up to tackle difficult situations so they can make a difference.  Tola served for 23 years before he died.  Jair followed him and “stepped into leadership”.  He had “30 sons who rode on 30 donkeys and had 30 towns”.  He was a busy guy but took on the responsibility of leading the people for 22 years before he died.  So 45 years of solid leadership and then these fateful words come: “and then the people of Israel went back to doing evil in God’s sight….they just walked off and left God, quit worshipping him”.  Another broken record.  Here we go again.  While there is strong leadership, the people can be kept focused.  But when it ends, or the leadership itself leads them away like we see so often with the kings, the people fold and fall away in an instant.  How can that happen?  How can we lose sight of God so quickly?  But before you throw rocks here, consider how sin works in your life.  Sin is a choice we make to walk away from God.  It happens quickly – most sins aren’t typically planned in advance from my experience – we just make a choice when temptation brings us an opportunity and we choose to walk away from God.  We choose to do the wrong thing.  That is what happens over and over to the People of Israel, and it is what happens to my life and yours too.  If someone was recording how we live, I fear we would have more than a few instances where we chose to do evil in God’s sight.  The result: “Israel was in a bad way”.

 So almost on cue – “the People of Israel cried out to God for help…..we’ve sinned….we left our God.”  Duh.  You knew that when you did it.  So to fix the issue stop leaving.  It isn’t rocket science.  But the pull of sin is so strong that unless we lead or are led strongly, we tend to fall away.  That is why accountability partners and small groups and the Body of Christ is so critical for us to live holy lives.  God doesn’t respond well – He is filled with “hot anger” and says “I’m not saving you any more”.  Sorry folks, God isn’t just on call to bail us out when we make bad choices.  He is not a genie in a bottle waiting to save our rear ends.  But the people are at the end of their rope – they have been put back into slavery and are in a giant mess.  So they plea to God: “We’ve sinned….do to us whatever you think best, but please get us out of this”.  Sound familiar?  You ever go to God like that.  I sure have and sometimes still do.  Not the most effective way to have a relationship though.  The People do get it right and “cleaned house….and worshiped only God”.  That is what He wants from us.  To be the center of our worship.  To be put on the throne of our lives.  God wants relationship. And guess what?  When they get it right and put Him where He belongs in their lives again, “God took Israel’s troubles to heart”.  He is always ready to love us when we come back, whether we are crawling from our stupidity in choosing sin, or seeking Him the first time.  God always is ready to love us. It takes a changed life – one where we are willing to stop doing what separates us (sin) and replaces it with relationship with Him.  That is what repentance is all about.  Stopping what we are doing and turning to go the other way.  God is all about that for your life and mine.  Are you walking with Him today?

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