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Week Three: Grab your Opportunities

Light for Living

Has the Lord not taken the lead?

Deborah in Judges 4:14

I look back with a great deal of regret over wasted years and opportunities. But Paul says that the way to move forward is to put the past behind and focus on what’s ahead: “Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14).

Forgetting the past means accepting God’s forgiveness and grace; however, it doesn’t imply that we ignore its lessons. My past has taught me not to miss any opportunities that God gives me.

As we read God’s continuing story this week, we meet a heroic woman who embraced the possibilities of her circumstances by acting when the opportunity unexpectedly arose. We’ll also look at my favorite judge, Deborah, who was a great woman of valor.1 She was ready for God to use her, even in unorthodox ways that she perhaps never imagined when she recognized that he had taken the lead. (See this week’s verse above.) God is not a respecter of persons; if he used these women, he can use you and me. The key is trusting in a big God rather than looking at our positions or experiences.

Part One Study

Read Judges 4:1-11, noting your thoughts about these questions:

  • What do you learn about Deborah?

(FYI: God used prophets in the Old and New Testaments as his messengers. Prophets spoke for God to people; they were his mouthpieces.)

  • What possible reasons come to mind as to why Barak might want Deborah present as he went into battle?
  • What is God saying to you personally today?

Consider this: Ron Pierce believes that the context suggests that “woman of fire” is a better translation of the Hebrew than “wife of Lappidath.”2 Think about that as you read the rest of her story this week.

*** Read about other women who served as prophets: Miriam (Exodus 15:19-21), Hulda (2 Kings 22:8-20), Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:1-3), Anna (Luke 2:36-38) and four daughters of Phillip (Acts 21:8-9). Journal your insights and feelings.

Part Two Study

Read Judges 4:12-24, and journal about these questions:

  • How do you see the three main characters of the story (Deborah, Barak, Jael) use their opportunities well?
  • Share your thoughts about the surprising ways that God works in this story.
  • How do you see both God’s sovereignty (rule over all) and people’s responsibility?
    • What is God saying to you about your willingness to follow God into risky situations?

Week Two’s Lesson noted that many commentators consider Othniel the ideal judge. Yet, Deborah has no recorded weaknesses either, and much more is written about her. I appreciated this note in the ESV:

While the pattern of apostasy continues (esp. 4:1-3), Deborah distinguishes herself as the most godly of all the judges; it is ironic that the most distinguished judge was a a woman (4:8-9). . . Deborah’s actions and words consistently pointed to God, not away from him, in contrast to the poor choices of [other] judges . . . . 3

*** Many theologians, pastors, and teachers through the centuries have suggested that the only reason God used Deborah as a judge was that no man would step up and do it, which is likely why many of them consider Othniel to be the only ideal judge.4 Do you see anything in the scriptures to suggest this? What differences do you see in Deborah’s story that would suggest she was more distinguished than Othniel? You may want to look at recent scholarship on this issue.5

Part Three Study

The second chapter of the story of God’s victory over the Canaanite king Jabin and his commander Sisera is a poem. Like all poetry, it uses figurative, not literal, language. This poem celebrates Israel’s victory over its oppressors in a way that exalts its heroes.

Read Judges 5:1-31, commenting on the questions below.

  • Last week we looked at the need to stand against injustice. What do you learn from Deborah, Barak, and Jael about courageously acting against oppression?
  • How did God prove that he was the one giving Barak the victory?
  • What are your insights into the contrast between Deborah and Jael on one hand and the way the poem pictures Sisera’s mother on the other?
  • What has God been saying to you this week through this story and song?

*** Consider these verses about God’s sovereignty. How can they help you overcome fear when faced with God-given opportunities: Psalm 33:8-11; Isaiah 14:26-27; 43:13; 45:7; 46:9-11?

Sherry’s Story

We lived in Charlotte, North Carolina before moving to Texas. We moved into an older neighborhood that had many older folks. Our neighbor directly across the street from us was a precious 84-year-old widower. He was a fascinating man who had wonderful stories to tell. He had traveled the world and owned his own antique and art gallery for many years. He loved to garden and his home was on the home and garden tour every year.

My children and I visited and walked in his garden with him, but mostly he loved to have the children come over and have cookies and hot tea with him in the afternoon. He was a Jewish man, although he did not practice his faith. We shared with him on occasion about what we believed, where we went to church and the fact that our children were in Christian school. Being the very intelligent man that he was, he had a scientific argument for everything. He respected our beliefs, but thought we were a bit conservative. I never came right out and shared the gospel with him. I’m not sure why—was it a fear of rejection, a fear of offending him? I can’t say.

We left Charlotte after a short 16 months. We were very sad to leave him, but I think he was more sad to see us go. He had no children and was quite lonely. We kept in close touch through letters and phone calls.

Two years after we moved to Texas I received a phone call from a girl who helped him with groceries and errands. She said his health was declining and she wanted us to know. She said he had our children’s pictures all around his room. He missed them a lot. I was so sad after she called. He was like a member of our family. I wanted to go see him. My husband and I talked it over and it worked out that I was able to go see him shortly after the phone call. Before I got on the plane, my daughter said, “Mommy, you have to tell him about Jesus.” I knew she was right.

I had a wonderful visit with him for an afternoon and then a morning visit before leaving. He did not talk much and seemed unclear in his thinking. I hugged him good-bye, knowing I would never see him again. I got on the airplane and flew home without ever making the gospel clear to him. I skipped and skirted around it but never came out and shared the truth. I have shared my faith with total strangers and family members on many occasions, but for some reason I hesitated with him.

Ten days after my visit, he died. I sobbed that day, because I would miss him, but mostly because I had felt led by the Lord to share with him but disregarded God’s leading. I had been disobedient, and it will forever be a reminder to NEVER pass the opportunity or ignore the Lord’s prompting. Could the Lord save him without me? Absolutely, but I was disobedient, and I missed a blessing.

We took him to a butterfly exhibit once. I took a photograph of a beautiful butterfly on a flower. I found the photo not long after his death. I framed it and put it where I would see it as a reminder to never miss an opportunity again.


1 Proverbs 12:4; 31:10 and Ruth 3:11 refer to women in this way.

2 Ron Pierce, “Deborah: Only When a Good Man is Hard to Find?” Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible, Ed. Sandra Glahn (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017), 191-192.

3 Note on Judges 4:1-5:31in ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 444.

4 Pierce, 291.

5 See footnote #14 for a recent resource on many of the women of the Bible.

Related Topics: Christian Life

Week Four: Act In Faith But Beware Of Pride

Light for Living

The Lord is with you, courageous warrior!

The angel of God to Gideon in Judges 6:12b

As a girl, I greatly feared balconies. One of the movie theaters in our town had a steep balcony. I had a recurring nightmare that I lost my balance on its stairs and rolled down and over the railing into the crowd below. Because of those dreams, I preferred sitting downstairs, even if my seat was on the front row, rather than walk into the balcony. My fear drove my actions. Our military leader this week was afraid, but God moved him from fear to faith.

Background

Just as the cycles of sin increasingly worsen throughout the Judges’ Era, so do the judges themselves. It’s slowly downhill after Deborah. Notice as we continue our study how the character and leadership of each subsequent judge worsens. Too often we think biblical heroes are worthy in every way. To see clearly through the darkness we must assess the judges by taking seriously both the good and the bad in context of the entire Word of God.

This week God’s story in Judges focuses on Gideon (also named Jerubbaal, meaning “let Baal contend”1) and his son Abimelech. Despite his weaknesses, Gideon was greatly used by God. Sadly, however, his story ends poorly, leaving us with both encouragement and challenge. Where did he go wrong?

Part One Study

Read Judges 6:1-7:23, and journal your responses to these questions:

*** Compare the conversation surrounding God’s call of Gideon in 6:11-24 with that of Moses in Exodus 3:1-4:17.

  • How did God’s response to Israel’s idolatry this time differ from the previous cycles (6:6-10)? Considering all of today’s verses why do you think God acted as he did?
  • How did God take Gideon from fear to increased faith? What do you learn about God from their interactions? (FYI: Signs are an indication of unbelief, not faith (Matthew 12:38-39; 1 Corinthians 1:22-24). Note that Gideon wasn’t trying to discover God’s will, although this passage is often taught as a method of doing that. God’s will was clear. What does it seem that Gideon was trying to learn then?)
  • There is a lot going on in this story. What most stands out to you?
  • Consider what this story tells us about God. What is God saying to you about your abilities, willingness and availability to follow and serve him?

Part Two Study

When God’s Spirit “clothed” him, Gideon sent for the men of Israel to fight with him (Judges 6:34-35), but the text doesn’t say that God told him to call an army. When God’s Spirit empowered a person in the Old Testament, it wasn’t necessarily a sign of spirituality, as the filling of the Spirit is in the New Testament. It only indicated that the Spirit provided the individual with power for a specific task, not that everything he did was of the Spirit any more than all that we as believers do is of the Spirit.

Read and comment on Judges 7:24-8:32 in light of these questions:

  • Write your thoughts about Gideon’s mixture of wise and poor decisions in this story.
  • It appears that Gideon’s victory gave him a sense of pride. How do you see that pride affect his decision-making and actions? How would you describe his legacy as a leader?
  • Ask God to reveal your own areas of pride. Considering Gideon’s examples, what prideful actions do you see in your own life? (Read James 4 if you have time.) Confess them to God and to anyone else who has been affected. (BTW, pride is self-focus which involves thinking either too highly of self or too lowly of self. Both aspects of pride take our eyes off of God.)

*** Judges 8:27 says that all Israel prostituted themselves or whored after Gideon’s golden ephod. (See the starred section on p.15 to understand that terminology if you didn’t read it or remember it from Week One, Part 2.) What’s an ephod? Study in your Bible notes or online resources and write down your insights. Dr. Younger suggests that Gideon may have used it to receive divine guidance as the High Priest did. In this way the ephod becomes Gideons permanent fleece.2

Part Three Study

We see the fallout from Gideon’s choices as we read the story of his son Abimelech, whose name means “my father is king.”3 Keep his name in mind as you read and answer questions.

Read Judges 8:29-9:57. Comment on these questions:

  • What consequences of Gideon’s pride and foolishness stand out to you?
  • What do you learn about leadership from Abimelech’s story and the parable of Jotham which was intended as a picture of him and his leadership?
  • Judges 9:56-57 says that God brought justice to both Abimelech and the men of Shechem. Describe how events brought justice.

“When believers forget the Lord and live according to the world’s dictates, this only intensifies the power of the wicked. When believers choose this path, becoming functional unbelievers, they may find that God allows them to get what they deserve, just as the Israelites experienced in the Abimelech story.”4

  • What is God saying to you about ways in which your words, actions and leadership reflect the world more than the love of Christ?

The saga of Gideon and his family is a sad one for the people of Israel. As Robert B. Chisholm comments, “The seeds planted by Gideon had taken root. Israel (cf. v. 22) now had as its king a murderer who was financed from the treasure of a pagan god and was supported by a gang of thugs.5

The people turned from devotion to Yahweh and embraced the idols and spiritual darkness of the culture around them. Sadly, Gideon’s victory as judge was eventually overshadowed by his pride.

*** Referring to Judges 9:23, Chisholm provides insight: “The expression ‘evil spirit’ need not mean that the spirit was itself demonic or evil. The Hebrew term can refer to moral evil, but it can also refer to disaster, harm, or calamity in a non-moral sense. If the word is given the latter sense here, the expression may simply mean that the spirit was sent to bring harm and calamity upon the objects of God’s anger.”6 Other verses where it it used similarly are 1 Samuel 16:23; 18:10; 19:9. How does this affect your understanding of God’s work?

In light of recent disturbing reports about the personal life of another Christian leader who accomplished great good in his lifetime, a friend expressed her heartfelt desire for godly pastors. Of course there are many of them, but overall our present-day church leadership appears to be spiraling downward morally, as we see in the lives of the judges. There’s something within us that yearns for morally consistent leaders. Although we may prefer just not thinking about it—maybe even giving up studying Judges because it feels depressing—let’s take that yearning for a godly shepherd as God’s reminder to turn our eyes on Jesus, the only leader who will never disappoint us.

My Story

Only God could take a young woman who feared spiritual leadership of any kind and build her faith in him until she stepped out in obedience as God opened opportunities.

That’s my story, which is much like Gideon’s. Gideon was afraid of a physical enemy and the wrath of his own people if he rocked the boat. What was I so afraid of? Not living up to the expectations of others. Failure. Being in front rather than behind. Being put on a pedestal. Lack of qualifications in character and experience. The possibility of disappointing God.

Despite my many attempts to avoid leadership roles, I watched God work in several situations so that I had to lead even without the role or title. He navigated around my no’s to use me despite my attempts to avoid his will. In time he showed me that my problem was lack of faith in him. Instead of looking at his abilities and power, I was too busy looking at me and my failures and short-comings.

As I look back over more than thirty years of leadership in all sorts of roles, it’s clear that it’s always been about God, not me. It’s been his guidance, power, strength, wisdom, and plans—not mine. Whatever has been achieved for the sake of God’s kingdom is because he has been at work.

The same God who used Gideon and works through me can use anyone paralyzed by fear who turns her focus on God and trusts him by walking in obedience.


1 Note on Judges 6:32, ESV Study Bible, 450.

2 Younger, 206.

3 Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Kregel Exegetical Library: A Commentary on Judges and Ruth (Grand Rapids, MI; Kregel Academic, 2013), 311.

4 Younger, Jr., 234.

5 Chisholm Jr., 312.

6 Chisholm Jr., 316-317.

Related Topics: Faith

Week Five: Know your God

Light for Living

But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”

Jesus to Jewish religious leaders in Matthew 22:29; 23:23 (ESV)

Often I hear Christians support their choices by saying, “I prayed about it” or “God told me to do it.” And of course, God leads his people in prayer and by his still small voice. I’m not suggesting that we don’t pray or expect him to guide. But what if we’re mistaken because we don’t know him well enough to recognize the ways in which he leads and the choices that align with his character? I’m very careful about attributing my actions to God because I’m fallible and may be mistaken. I may say, “I sense God leading me,” after some time testing it and asking for counsel from friends whose lives and actions reflect God’s character. More often it’s only in hindsight that I can firmly attribute direction to God.

Our first Light for Living verse this week quotes Jesus speaking to the Jewish leaders, who seemingly knew the scriptures better than anyone in that day. I find it a sobering reminder of how off we can be, in thinking that we know the Bible. They often knew the “rules” but failed to apply the character of God to their reasoning. And the second of this week’s verses speaks to that very issue—our God is just, merciful and faithful, and he calls us to show his image to the world through our lives.

To know God requires immersing ourselves in understanding who he is and how he acts. That’s why I’ve found that repeatedly reading and studying the whole Bible is one of the best protections for incorrect thinking about God. After all, the Bible is his story.

Our fallen human nature can lead us to believe that our desires are God’s—that his greatest concern is our personal happiness and pleasure because he exists for us rather than the other way around. We tend to make him in our own image instead of wanting him to remake us in his. When we determine God’s will based on our feelings of peace, we risk being wrong because we’re naturally more at peace with our selfish desires and the thinking of our culture than with sacrificial love. Our blindspots can only be countered by immersing ourselves in the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation and seeking wise counsel from others who walk with him.

Background

This section of Judges reveals a very dark time. The deliverers who saved the people from oppressive foreign rulers were apparently as ignorant of God and his character as the people who followed them. Their failure to see clearly through the darkness caused suffering and oppression. God was still present, however, and he continued to work for the best of Israel because he is faithful and merciful, not because they deserved it.

Part One Study

As you read about this cycle, note that Israel is now worshipping additional gods.

“Every time Israel worshiped the idols of a nation, that nation ended up oppressing them. This time, Israel has added the gods of the Ammonites and Philistines—and in consequence they are given over to being oppressed by the Ammonites and Philistines (10:7). Idolatry leads to enslavement.”1

Read Judges 10:1-11:11, and respond:

  • What strikes you in the short record of the judges mentioned in 10:1-5?
  • What differs here from previous cycles and what does this story reveal about both God and also the people of Israel?2
  • Compare the backgrounds of Jephthah and Abimelech (Judges 8:29-31; 9:1-6). What insights do you have about Jephthah and the people of Israel from Judges 10:17-11:11? Write down your thoughts about God’s choice to use Jephthah.

“There is no indication that the Lord raised up Jephthah or even commissioned him for battle, though he did energize him for war.”3

*** What insights do you gain as you compare Jephthah and his “worthless” meaning “empty, idle, worthless (ethically)”4 men with David and his fighting force (1 Samuel 22:1-2; 23:5; 25:4-8; 14-16)?

Part Two Study

Read Judges 11:12-40, journaling as you think about these questions:

  • What do you learn about Jephthah through his interactions with the Ammonites?
  • Based on his words, what is Jephthah’s motive for making his vow? What does the vow show us about his view of God’s power and character? In light of Deuteronomy 12:29-31 and 18:10-12, how does the vow reveal his ignorance of God’s law and his adoption of the cultural norms?
  • How does Israel’s repentance, which led to God’s relenting in Judges 10:10-16, differ from Jephthah’s act in making this vow?
  • What is God saying to you today about what you truly believe and know about him based on your actions and prayers? Could you be ignorant of God’s character or will? What cultural ways of thinking have you adopted?

There are two thoughts about what Jephthah did to his daughter as result of his vow: 1) he killed her as a sacrifice to God, or (2) he forced her into lifelong virginity. The second idea is apparently a fairly recent one, perhaps because we don’t want to believe that Jephthah, a judge, would actually sacrifice his daughter. But remember that the character of the various judges becomes weaker as the book progresses. And we also know that at this time Israel worshiped Yahweh, the true God, alongside other gods, resulting in a syncretistic religion, the fusion of different beliefs. These idolatrous religions valued the sacrifice of children as an act of worship. This concept wouldn’t have been foreign to Jephthah or the people of Gilead. Repugnance to child sacrifice seems to be the main reason to dismiss it as fact.

To excuse Jephthah, some suggest that he expected an animal to come out of the house, not his daughter. Gary Inrig, however, lays out the case that Jephthah’s daughter was indeed sacrificed:

First, animals were not kept indoors. Second. . . if he intended an animal sacrifice, he would have vowed his very best animals, not just whatever wandered out the door. Third, he intended a sacrifice, as the word translated ‘burnt offering’ indicates. Every time the word is used in the Old Testament, it refers to a blood sacrifice . . . .5

This story should force us to think about the toll that idolatry of any kind takes on individuals, families and communities, as well as the dangers of mixing our worship of God with any other allegiances.

Jephthah and his daughter understood that vows are serious. It’s true that we should fulfill our vows, but before we even make them, we should verify that they align with God’s Word and his character. If we make a rash vow, we shouldn’t fulfill it if God’s Word forbids our actions. Jephthah was either ignorant of God’s laws not to sacrifice people or misunderstood God’s character which prioritizes people over rules.

*** Read these verses, writing down your thoughts about the importance of keeping your word and what God is showing you: Ecclesiastes 5:2-7; Matthew 5:33-37; Psalm 15:1, 4c.

If you have time, write a lament over the unnamed daughter of Jephthah and all children today who pay for their parents’ idolatry.

Part Three Study

The first tragedy in Jephthah’s story was the death of his daughter. Sadly, he caused another tragedy because of his lack of wisdom and understanding of God’s will.

Respond to these questions as you read Judges 12:

  • How did the anger of the men of Ephraim toward Gideon (Judges 7:24-8:3) compare with their anger at Jephthah? How did Gideon and Jephthah’s responses differ?
  • Write down any thoughts that you have about the descriptions of the three judges mentioned after Jephthah’s story.
  • What is God saying to you about conflicts in your life? Are there any perspectives or issues that you hold so closely and personally that you would fight a “civil war” over them with friends, family or other believers? Where is the line?

*** Watch this series of three short, free videos from Beyond Ordinary Women Ministries: “Fight Right”: https://vimeo.com/showcase/4885111.

Pamela’s Story

My sister contracted hepatitis when she was pregnant with her first child. Although the doctors were careful not to scare her, of course our entire family was very concerned. My mother was particularly stressed and worried about both my sister and the baby. Thankfully she was a prayer warrior, but she somehow felt the need to try to manipulate God. She bargained with him, saying that she would become more regular in her Sunday evening church attendance if he would protect them both.

Praise God that although my sister struggled to feel better for several weeks, her baby was born healthy a few months later.

Sadly, my mother’s prayer revealed her lack of understanding about the nature of God. Her bargain seemed to be based on one of these possible misunderstandings: God could be bribed if she sacrificed something, or the illness was God’s punishment for her failure to faithfully attend church on Sunday night. In either case, she saw God’s actions as based solely on her good works.

Thankfully, my mother’s bargain did no damage to anyone but her. Only recently did I recognize the connection between her prayer so long ago and her lifelong lack of trust in God’s grace and goodness. It makes me sad that her failure to really know God prevented her from experiencing the joy and security of his love and salvation.


1 Keller, 109.

2 For information about the specific Canaanite gods mentioned, see the section “Additional Information about Judges” in the Appendix p. 57.

3 Chisholm, 21.

4 Strong’s Concordance Hebrew definition for 07324 accessed at https://netbible.org/bible/Judges+11

5 Gary Inrig, Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), 193-194.

Related Topics: Christian Life

Week Six: Don’t Waste God’s Gifts

Light for Living

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, put foreign armies to flight.

Hebrews 11:32-34

Have you ever known anyone who wasted her life? Someone who began with great potential because of her God-given gifting but never lived up to that promise?

This week we look at Samson, perhaps the most well-known of all of the judges. As we’ve studied this time period, we’ve noted that the judges increasingly became less like God and more like the world around them. By the time we meet Samson, the final judge in this book, there is little to commend. Yet, he is listed along with other judges who preceded him as a man of faith. (See the verses above.) As you read about him, think about how and when he evidenced faith.

Part One Study

Samson’s life is understood in three parts: the birth announcement in Judges 13, his activities as a young adult in and around the town of Timnah in Judges 14-15, and the saga of his demise in Judges 16. Today we’ll read the first section.

Read Judges 13, commenting on these questions:

  • Compare this cycle to the general cycle (p.14 or p. 58) and to what you remember in the details of the specific cycles we’ve seen. What does it suggest about the people of Israel and about God?
  • What insights do you have from the two appearances of the angel of Yahweh and his interactions with Manoah and his wife? (FYI: The angel may be an appearance of God or not—see the footnote.)1
  • What is a Nazirite? It’s not someone related to the town of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. The noun nazir derives from a root meaning “to dedicate or consecrate oneself.”2 Read Numbers 6:1-8, comparing the Nazirite’s restrictions there to the angel’s instructions to the woman. How might restrictions of this type help a Nazirite fulfill his purpose?
  • Read 1 Peter 1:14-16. The words “holy” and “sanctified” mean separated or set apart unto God. Consider ways in which we should live differently as God’s children (Ideas? Try Matt. 5-7.)

If we see clearly through the darkness, we won’t live like those who can’t see, but that shouldn’t cause pride. Too often we believers become self-righteous about what we don’t do, building a judgmental barrier to the rest of the world. We’re not saved because we choose not to participate in certain activities or cease from specific sins in our lives. Those should happen as an outgrowth of our love for Jesus. We are God’s children only because of his mercy and grace.

*** Focus on Manoah’s wife, the unnamed mother in Samson’s story. Compare her spiritual insights with her husband’s, or compare this story with other biblical birth announcements in situations that are hopeless and impossible from a human perspective (Genesis 18:9-15; 1 Samuel 1:3-18; Luke 1:5-25; Luke 1:26-38).

The name Samson means “little sun” and it could refer to his being a light, but the evidence suggests that it is more likely that he was named after the Canaanite sun god Shemesh.3

“. . . how can this barren Israelite couple, who conceive and bear a child with the miraculous aid of the Lord, name their son Shimson, “Little Sun” (“Sunny Boy”!), which if not outrightly pagan is dangerously compromising?”4

Part Two Study

So far the story of Samson seems great with promise. God miraculously opened his mother’s womb and indicated that he would be dedicated to God as his instrument to begin delivering Israel from the Philistines. Now we’ll read the second part of his story which records his activities as a young man near the town of Timnah.

Read Judges 14:1-15:20, journaling your thoughts on these questions:

  • In what ways did Samson look just like his enemies? What do these stories reveal about what motivated him?
  • What do you learn about Samson’s character and his understanding of his identity as a Nazirite from these stories? (FYI: The Nazirite prohibition against touching a corpse may involve only human corpses.)5
  • Considering how God deals with Samson, what do you learn about God from these stories?
  • What are your insights about the Israelites’ relationship with God from their response to Samson’s feats against the Philistines?

*** Samson displays many characteristics of the fool described in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Compare what you see in these stories to the descriptions in these verses: Proverbs 10:1, 23; 12:15; 13:20; 14:29; 17:25; 18:6; 26:12; 28:26; 29:11.

Throughout Scripture, God is at work accomplishing his purposes and his plans, as in Samson’s case. And yet Samson seems to be a free agent, doing whatever pleases him without regard to God’s will.6 There’s a tension between God’s sovereignty, his rule over all, and man’s responsibility that the Bible never explains. God uses us to accomplish his purposes and his plans, but we aren’t robots. How does it all fit together? When God doesn’t choose to explain, it’s best to accept that both are true rather than attempt a logical explanation by embracing one over the other. Remember that it’s a paradox, a mystery that we accept by faith.

God can use his people for his purposes even when we don’t seek his will. But he alone knows what could have been.

“A doctrine of sin requires us to acknowledge that our perceptions are faulty—and a doctrine of providence requires us to acknowledge that in the face of sin, God will bring about goods that otherwise never would have existed.”7

Part Three Study

After the occurrences surrounding Samson’s killing 1,000 Philistines with a fresh jawbone, twenty years elapsed before the final events that led not only to his downfall, but also to his greatest victory.

Read Judges 16:1-31, considering these questions:

  • Compare the relationships between previous judges and their oppressors with those between Samson and the Philistines.
  • What stands out to you about God and Samson in this part of the story?
  • Although the Bible never suggests that Samson worshiped the local gods, his words and actions reveal idols in his heart. Considering his entire life, what idols do you see directing his life? (What or who did he prioritize before God or rely on instead of Yahweh?)
  • What is God saying to you about your own idols?

*** Record your thoughts about prayer in light of the events and situations in Judges 15:18-19; 16:23-30.

In the great Shakespearean tragedies, there’s always a character defect that leads to an unhappy ending. Samson is a tragic hero as well. Although he fulfilled God’s purpose for his life, he failed to do it God’s way. As a result, he wasted his potential and we’re left to wonder what he could have done if he had sought and followed the Lord rather than having been driven by his own lusts.

Thankfully, Samson’s finest hour shines at his death, which has many similarities to that of Jesus. Keller details the parallels:

First, both Samson and Jesus were betrayed by someone who acted as a friend . . . Both were handed over to Gentile oppressors. Both were tortured and chained, and put on public display to be mocked. Both were asked to perform (though Jesus unlike Samson refused). Both died with arms outstretched. . . . And both appeared completely struck down by their enemies, yet both in their death crushed their enemy—Samson, the Philistines and Dagon; Jesus, the ultimate enemy, Satan. . . . And both were saviors alone. . . . In short, we have in Samson, more than in any of the other judges, the pattern of the ‘victorious defeat.’8

God used Samson despite Samson, but so much was lost. May we, in contrast, stay in touch with God’s larger purpose for our lives so that we live for him and the advancement of his kingdom. May we use our gifts well by living up to the great potential for which God has designed us.

Beverly’s Story

When I left for college, I decided to try out what the world had to offer. I had become disillusioned with my church and consequently decided to put God aside also. I could go out every night of the week if I desired. I went to church once during college but found it boring and awfully early after getting in so late on Saturday night. I took advantage of every party and had a lot of fun.

Several years later I began to feel the emptiness of this life. There was something missing, and I felt a strong desire to get back into church. As I plugged back into a church fellowship and began to get involved in Bible study, I had a deep regret for the years I had spent away from the Lord. I had missed out on years of growing in the Lord. I had a lot of knowledge about the Bible but had never spent time studying God’s Word for myself. I began to realize what a waste those six years had been that I chose to go my own way. My behavior had led to some choices that would have been unthinkable just a few years before.

Now I’m watching my child go through this same rebellion against God. He puts on the Christian act when he’s at church, but his behavior with his friends shows that he’s making the same mistakes I made. He’s tasting what the world has to offer and nothing I can say about my experiences can make him understand the regret he’ll have in the future about the time he wasted in his relationship with God.


1 Conservative scholars are divided as to whether the angel here is the Lord himself or simply a messenger who speaks for him. Younger, Jr. explains: “Since verse 21 informs us that Manoah finally recognized the messenger as the angel of the Lord, it is odd that here he claims to have seen God. This might suggest that the angel and God are to be equated ontologically, but this need not be the case. Having taken so long to recognize the messenger’s true identity, perhaps Manoah compensates for his dullness by going to the opposite extreme” (399).

2 Block, 403.

3 Block, 416-418.

4 Ibid., 419.

5 Some commentators believe that Samson violated his vow by his contact with the lion. Leon Wood takes the opposite view: “The language used in giving the Nazarite prohibition regarding a dead ‘body’ speaks only of a dead ‘person’ (nephesh, meaning ‘soul’ or ‘person’; Num. 6:6) The same language is used, in fact, regarding a similar prohibition for the priest (Lev. 21:11). But priests had to come near dead bodies of animals continually in their activity of sacrifice. Both priests and Nazarites, then, could be near the dead bodies of animals, but not bodies of people.” Leon Wood Distressing Days of the Judges (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1975), 313.

6 For example in Judges 14:4 “Yahweh’s seeking does not imply that he is inciting Samson’s lustful desire for the Timnite woman. Rather, it suggest that Samson’s sinful actions accord with Yahweh’s will. God uses Samson in spite of his wrong motive and actions (cf. Gen. 50:20).” Younger, Jr., 302.

7 Lauren F. Winner, The Dangers of Christian Practice: On Wayward Gifts, Characteristic Damage, and Sin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018), 9.

8 Keller, 163-164.

Related Topics: Christian Life

Week Seven: Don’t Seek What Glitters

Light for Living

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Jesus quoting Isaiah to the Pharisees in Matthew 15:8-9 (ESV)

There’s something broken in the human heart that draws us to things like success, fame, money and popularity. The history of mankind is marked by stories of tragedy that result when people seek what glitters. Whole nations have been destroyed by leaders who seek power and bring defeat on themselves and their own people. Many tragedies, however, involve the destruction of families or relationships: parents who pursue success over the needs of their children; husbands and wives who look for self-fulfillment rather than self-sacrifice in marriage; pastors who’ve built their own kingdoms rather than God’s. This week we read a sad story that can be traced back to one man’s desire for what glitters.

Background

At this point we begin the last of the three sections of the book of Judges. We’ve read the double introduction (Judges 1:1-3:6) and the judges’ stories (Judges 3:7-16:31). The rest of the book shifts to stories of religious anarchy and moral chaos. They aren’t chronological, so they actually happen before Samson’s story. Clues suggest that they occurred within a few years after Joshua’s death. Some call this a double conclusion as it balances the double introduction.

God can use the darkest and saddest chronicles of history in order to teach us about himself and alert us to danger. The Old Testament has great profit for the church:

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:11-13, NASB).

Applying the scriptures helps avoid God’s discipline (Hebrews 12:2-11), so let’s look within ourselves initially and at the church secondly. These aren’t lessons for non-Christians or the nation; they’re about believers being the people we’re supposed to be. Just as God’s people embraced the darkness in Judges, we can also be guilty.

Four times in the last section we read this phrase: “In those days there was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25, ESV). In two of these instances the author adds this note: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25, ESV). We’ve just read that Samson did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 14:3), and now we’ll see the same attitude in the larger population.

Part One Study

The first conclusion is a story in three parts, like episodes in a series. Today we’ll look at Episode One.

Recognizing the disobedience to God’s will and commands involved in this story requires knowledge of some Old Testament laws, so don’t skip the cross-references in your reading.

The main character of the first episode is Micah, “a shortened form of Mikayabu, meaning who is like Yahweh? This is ironic since he is so absent from the story.”1

Read Judges 17:1-6, and note the word LORD in all caps, which indicates God’s personal name Yahweh. Journal as you consider these questions and cross-references:

  • What do you learn about the character of Micah and his mother from this story? (Read Exodus 20:1-5, 15; 28:1-14; Numbers 30:9; Deuteronomy 12:1-7, 13-14, 26-28.)
  • How does Romans 1:19-25 help explain why God is so opposed to idols, even if those images are dedicated to worshiping him? What does this show about God?
  • What is God saying to you about areas where you excuse your conduct or ignore God’s Word, essentially doing what’s right in your own eyes?

*** How do this week’s Light for Living verses on p. 43 connect to this story?

Part Two Study

Micah imitated the religious observances given to the Jews by God: a temple, priests who wore ephods, and ways of worship. Micah believed that he could worship Yahweh as he pleased.

Now let’s look at Episode Two of the story.

Read Judges 17:7-13, again paying attention to where God is referred to by name as the God of Israel. Write down your insights as you think about these questions:

  • Compare the story the Levite told Micah with God’s instructions for the Levites in Joshua 21:1-3. What insights do you have into the Levite’s character from Judges 17? (FYI: We see in Numbers 3:1-13 that the tribe of Levi was ordained for God’s service, but only the descendants of Aaron, also Levites, were designated as priests.)
  • How is Micah’s view of God distorted?
  • What glittery things draw you? Where are you seeking things such as success, approval, comfort, safety, love or happiness? What is God saying to you from this story?

*** Read Hebrews 10:23-25, and write down your insights as to why God commands us to worship with the church in community.

Part Three Study

Episode Three gives us clues that this entire story occurred early in the Judges’ Era (Judges 18:1). Joshua had allotted the tribe of Dan land near the Mediterranean, but the Amorites forced them to stay in the hill country (Judges 1:34). In our first lesson we learned that Israel’s failure to obey God’s instructions to rid the land of its inhabitants brought on idolatry and the cycles.

As you read this part of the story, consider the ripple effects of one man’s sinful actions—Micah.

Read Judges 18:1-31.

FYI: There’s debate as to whether recognizing a voice (v.3) means identifying an accent from a different area or being acquainted with a particular person.2 Also, Laish is described as land outside the allotments God made and not listed in the areas that God commanded to be cleared of their inhabitants.3

Journal your thoughts on these questions and the one below the quote:

  • What does this story add to what you know about Micah’s character? What does it tell you about the Danites?
  • What were the long-term effects of Micah’s false worship both to himself and to others?

The story’s big surprise is the identity of the Levite, who is unnamed until the end of the story. The term “son of Gershom” in Judges 18:30 may mean descendant, allowing the story to be a little later in the time of the Judges, but it may also be that he was Moses’s grandson, which would date it early in the Era of the Judges.4

“James 1:27 states that pure religion in God’s sight has two basic components: concern for the weak and vulnerable (this is, an ethical dimension that makes the best interests of others a priority) and spiritual purity (defined as keeping oneself unstained by the pagan world and its standards). Judges 17-18 depicts the antithesis of pure religion.”5

  • What insights do you have into this story in light of the quote on the previous page? What is God saying about your life?

*** False worship and false teaching is a danger in our churches too. What do you learn about identifying false teachers and their teaching from these verses, and how do those qualities relate to idolatry? Matthew 7:15-23; Acts 20:28-31 (Paul to the elders of the Ephesian church); Galatians 1:6-10; Colossians 2:8; 2 Timothy 2:15-19; 2 Pet. 2:1-2; 1 John 4:1-3.

Our idols not only affect our own lives, but we also spread them through our influence with our families, friends, communities and churches. Although it’s hard and uncomfortable, we each need to uncover and root out our idols before we infect others. Beware of what glitters lest it draw you and those you love away from true worship of the one and only God.

Susan’s Story

I grew up in a Christian home and in a very strong church that taught the Bible. I participated in the youth group, the Wednesday night activities, and the youth choir tours. I was there virtually every time the door was open. I loved my church, my friends, and the strong Bible teaching and music. I worked at a Christian camp after I graduated from high school. And I was very excited to be going to a Christian university after having spent 12 years in public school. I was sure that this would enhance my walk with the Lord. I would finally be able to relax and enjoy school with other believers.

When I got to college, I immediately felt accepted and successful and I began to acquire recognition and honors. I gradually began to substitute this for a growing relationship with the Lord. I still went to church but the Word wasn’t being taught. I prayed every day, but they were short prayers of thankfulness or prayers for help or prayers of desperation. I became a double-minded person (James 1), thinking that I could worship and serve God and do my own thing at the same time. I substituted human logic for divine revelation and I lost all discernment. I used my own reasoning to sort out situations and I enjoyed the passing pleasures of sin. When I reached the pinnacle of the achievement track I was on, I felt totally empty inside and was truly miserable. I knew that I should be happy. I had achieved the goals that I had set, but, I had drifted away from the truth and the rest of my life had lost its meaning.

Thankfully, God prevented me from making some disastrous decisions at this time in my life. (Most notably, he prevented me from marrying the wrong person by having that person decide it was not right.) Eventually, through God’s painful, loving discipline I began to think through some things and saw that he would not let me go my own way.

A friend invited me to a conference taught by the top speakers at Campus Crusade for Christ. I went night after night and I realized what I had left. These Bible teachers were exciting and challenging and I remembered that God’s Word was “alive and powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). I was challenged to confess sin and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It was all coming back to me. I had left my “first love” (Revelation 2:4-5). I had drifted off on my own but God called me back to himself. How grateful I am today that he would not let me go my own way. His Word is truth, and I cannot make up my own way to serve him or to worship him. I have to do it his way.

I had avoided Bible studies when I was having so much “fun” in college because I knew I would feel convicted. I prayed that God would give me a desire to study his Word, and he has! The joy, peace, purpose, and fulfillment that I have now are the result of his working in and through my life. He has filled the emptiness that I tried to fill with position and relationships with himself. The plans I had for my life pale in comparison with what God planned. He has given me his best for me and I am still in the process of learning to trust him fully and not “lean on my own understanding” (Proverbs 3).


1 Younger, 336.

2 Chisholm, 455.

3 Ibid., 459-460.

4 “This Levite is a descendant of Gershom, the son of Moses (Ex. 2:22; 6:18-20), which means that he is a member of the Kohathite clan of the Levites . . . . Thus, this Levite should not have been living in Bethlehem in Judah.” Younger, Jr., 339.

5 Chisholm, 463.

Related Topics: Christian Life

Week Eight: Live Without Compromise

Light for Living

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And do not rely on your own understanding.
Acknowledge him in all your ways,
And he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Are you aware of a situation where one poor decision leads to another and another? Maybe you’ve found yourself unexpectedly living with consequences from a series of bad choices or ethical compromises. That’s the kind of story that we find at the end of the book of Judges. Unwise choices, accommodation of evil and revenge result in civil war and the loss of thousands of lives. Such things happen when everyone does what is “right in his own eyes,” the repeated refrain that describes this period of spiritual and moral failure.

This second part of the double conclusion to Judges involves sexual abuse as well as a lack of concern and accommodation of its evil by Israelite men. This can be a very difficult reading, especially if you’ve been abused and unprotected by those who should have supported you. If you have, you may choose to skip Part One which involves the details. If you haven’t experienced abuse, please pray for those in your group who have. Leaders, I’m sure you’re already aware that statistics reveal that there will be women in your group who have been abused. Discussing the details of the abuse you’ll read about isn’t necessary to understand and apply the larger story, so carefully plan your questions beforehand.

Background

Likely within a few decades after Joshua’s death,1 a series of disturbing events occurred that start with the story of a Levite (not the one from last week’s story). This Levite, a man of the tribe set apart for God’s service, had accepted the world’s way of living instead of choosing God’s best.

“Having concubines was an accepted part of Israelite society although this is not what God intended (Gen. 2:24). A concubine had most of the duties but only some of the privileges of a wife. Although she was legally attached to one man, she and her children usually did not have the inheritance rights of the legal wife and legitimate children. Her primary purpose was giving the man sexual pleasure, bearing additional children, and contributing more help to the household or estate.”2

As you read the entire story, note the contrasts between the two occasions when the Levite received hospitality. The cultural norm of the day required the host to protect his guests (apparently male guests only). God calls his people to give hospitality (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9) but, of course, not at the expense of accommodating evil. Sadly this tragic story was precipitated in part by, first, hospitality’s absence, and, second, its cultural norms being valued over a concern for women.

Part One Study

Read Judges 19, journaling your thoughts as you read these questions:

  • Describe the character of the Levite,3 his concubine,4 his father-in-law and the Ephraimite from their words and actions in the story.
  • What motivations, compromises and guilt would you assign to each individual and group (don’t forget the other townspeople we don’t see) involved in this story?

“. . . the people of Gibeah abuse in general the Levite and his party passively (by refusing basic hospitality) before the rapists abuse them actively” (19:15,22).5

  • What is God saying to you about your passive or active participation in evil by doing what seems to be right through ethical compromise in your business, family, nation or even church? Consider how your actions and words or your inaction and silence may be accommodating evil.

*** Read Genesis 19 in light of this story. Consider who is involved and the apparent norms they valued. Write down your thoughts from the contrasts and comparisons.

Unfortunately many of us are infected with the self-interest cancer. Just like the host in Judges 19 . . . we are programmed by our societal principles to function along the axis of expedience. When confronted with a moral dilemma, too often we function on what is expedient, on what we have been culturally conditioned to do. Thus, we don’t even see these victims, even though they are all around us. At the work place, school, supermarket, and church, they are there. But until we remove the self-interest cancer that diminishes our vision, we won’t see them. We won’t help them. But God’s Word demands much higher standards of ethics and morality.6

Part Two Study

Read Judges 20.

The sins of rape, murder and accommodating evil led to injustice when the tribe of Benjamin refused to turn the guilty men over for punishment. Dr. Chisholm comments: “. . . blood ties were apparently more important to Benjamin than justice.”7

Write down your insights into these questions:

  • Compare the story itself in Judges 19 with the Levite’s account of it in 20:4-7. What seems to be his motivation for assembling the entire nation together?
  • How did this war differ from the wars led by previous judges?
  • Consider each action of Israel in connection with God’s direction. Journal your thoughts.
  • Answer at least one of these questions: What do God’s actions toward the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20:28, 35) say to the church when it protects the guilty instead of their victims? How does this story apply to division within the church (local and universal) based on political “blood ties” instead of concern for justice, unity and God’s kingdom work?

*** Read John 17, often called Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer. Add any additional thoughts it gives you about any current “civil wars” within the larger church.

Part Three Study

After the other tribes of Israel attacked almost 27,000 Benjamite warriors and destroyed their tribe, animals and cities, only 600 men survived by escaping and hiding in the wilderness.

This book and the history of the nation that follows serve as eternal testimony to the grim reality that God’s people are often their own worst enemy. It is not the enemies outside who threaten the soul but the Canaanite within.8

Read Judges 21, and comment in light of these questions:

  • How did doing what was right in their own eyes backfire in this story? What wrongs had seemed right to them and who did they blame?
  • How do we exorcise the Canaanite within us—both individually and as the church of the Living God?

*** Once again in the book of Judges God’s people mistreat women. Read Genesis 1:26-28, Romans 12:3-8 and Galatians 3:27-29 to be encouraged with the truths that women are equal image-bearers to men and workers in his kingdom. All of us are to love God with all that we are and our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:28-34), even if the culture or the church fails to adequately value all who are made in God’s image. Write down your thoughts.

We’ve spent eight weeks in God’s Word reading stories that serve as warnings about the results of failing to see clearly through the darkness that lives within us and among God’s people. Before we complete our study, let’s review what God has taught and shown us.

Review the cycle on p. 58 and as much of your journal as time permits. Be prepared to share your answer to ONE of these questions with your small group:

  • What message stands out to you as you think through these stories?
  • What have you understood more clearly about God through these stories?
  • What have you changed in your life or attitudes as you have applied the scriptures week after week?

Judges reveals how easily we substitute our own thinking for God’s when we don’t stay in Scripture. God’s own people incorporated idolatry into their worship and adopted cultural norms, all the while believing that they were right and God was fine with it. Although God raised up judges to deliver them, overall the judges proved to be less than heroic in character. Despite the problems with Israel and the flaws of the judges, God still moved as the true hero in every story, using these sinful people along the way as shadows of the Savior who would come from heaven to live among us. By his death he would achieve the ultimate victory over sin that humankind is unable to overcome alone. And someday he will usher in a perfect world free of oppression and sin that lasts forever.

The book of Judges may feel depressing because of the final two stories, but let’s focus on its overall message of a powerful and merciful God who loves us despite our sins. Because of that love, he disciplines us to turn us from idolatry and accommodating evil to faith in him alone.

We are surprised by a God who finds ways of working in, with, and under very compromising situations in which people have placed themselves in order to bring about good. In the midst of unfaithfulness, the faithfulness of God is revealed, a God who never breaks covenant.9

Our final story in this study is from a former college tennis coach’s wife who shares her husband’s account of being presented with a not-so-subtle “win at all costs or be fired” message. Compromising would have allowed him to stay and continue impacting his players for Christ. After all, doesn’t a godly end justify the means?

Betty’s Story

When my husband Dave was a college tennis coach, he was called into the office of the president one day. He had been the coach for over six years, and his team had been ranked in the Top Twenty of NCAA Division I. But this particular year several players opted to leave school in the middle of the year to join the pro tennis circuit. That left him with a greatly weakened team that had to play a very strong schedule. Although they had less successful results than in previous seasons, that year was Dave’s personal best because of the many meaningful spiritual discussions he had with team members.

On his arrival in the president’s office, Dave was shocked when the president said, “Well, Coach, it looks like that we may have to re-assign you. It appears that you’re just not getting the job done with the tennis program.”

Dave responded that he didn’t realize that one losing season out of six—and the previous ones being ranked in the Top Twenty—was “unsuccessful.” He explained the circumstances, but the president said, “You don’t seem to be able to get the job done.”

Dave stated that if it meant breaking the recruiting rules or violating any NCAA policies, then the president was right—he was not the man for the job. Dave stated that he believed that a coach didn’t have to cheat or break rules to have a winning program.

The president responded, “Well, you go talk to your people and I’ll talk to mine. But I think that we will be re-assigning you. Come back and see me next week after I meet with the Board of Regents.”

Dave showed up at home unexpectedly and shared what had just happened. He said, “The only people that we can talk to are our Christian friends who will join us in prayer.” As we shared with them later and prayed, God gave us complete peace.

Three days later, Dave got a call from the Sports Information Director saying, “Dave, we’ve got it! We’ve got just what you need to convince the president that you are the man.” It had just come over the wire that Dave had been selected as the Host/Director for the next NCAA National Tennis Championships. The miracle of this is that Dave hadn’t even applied for the position and was totally taken by surprise.

The very next day, the top Canadian tennis player he had been recruiting sent his letter of acceptance for the fall. Both stories hit the area newspapers and TV stations over the weekend while we were talking to our people.

At the Board of Regents meeting that Monday night, there was much affirmation of my husband being “the man.” Two days later the president met with him, and his line was totally different: “Now, just what can we do for you? Courts need resurfacing? Got it! Need a graduate assistant? Got it! Anything else?”

We truly saw God turn the heart of the president (Proverbs 21:1) and honor Dave’s commitment to obey God (I Samuel 2:30b).


1 Block, 517. This conclusion is based on the biblical note that Phinehas the priest is the grandson of Aaron, the brother of Moses (Judges 20:28).

2 Note in Life Application Study Bible, 420.

3 It is unclear as to whether the concubine was killed by her rapists or the Levite when he cut her up.

4 Note on Judges 19:2 in NET Bible concerning their translation of the word “angry” regarding the concubine: “Or ‘was unfaithful to him.’ Many have understood the Hebrew verb (vattizneh) as being from (zanah, ‘to be a prostitute’), but it may be derived from a root meaning ‘to be angry; to hate.’”

5 Younger, 355.

6 Younger, 366.

7 Chisholm, 501.

8 Block, 585.

9 Terence Fretheim, Deuteronomic History (Nashville: Abingdon, 1984), 98.

Related Topics: Christian Life

Appendix

Additional Information about Judges

Dates of the judges

    • The era that falls between the period of conquest from the death of Joshua (1:1), often dated from about 1390 B.C. to the coronation of Saul around 1050 B.C. This time frame involves overlapping dates for some of the judges who lived in different areas of the land, so the initial date is uncertain.
    • The judges include Eli and Samuel whose stories are recorded in 1 Samuel.
    • This era lasted approximately 1/3 of the entire Old Testament history of Israel.19

Authorship

The author is unnamed in the book but is likely an editor of previously written materials from various sources. Traditionally the Jewish rabbis leaned toward Samuel as the possible writer.

Three sections of the book

    • Double introduction (1:1-2:5 and 2:6-3:6).
    • Cycles section (3:7-16:31). This section includes 6 cycles of apostasy-punishment-cry of pain-deliverance.
    • Double conclusion (17:1-18:31 and 19:1-21:25).

Theme of the book

Seven times this idea is repeated: “The descendants of Israel did evil in the eyes of the LORD” (2:11; 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1).

A good summary of Judges is found twice in the book: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25, ESV).

Four times in the last five chapters this is repeated: “There was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25, NASB). These statements describe the leadership problem, not the overall theme.

The true hero in the book is God and God alone, not the judges.

Purposes of the book

Dr. Robert Chisholm finds three purposes for the book of Judges:1

    • To defend God’s reputation which was at risk because of the failure of the Israelites.
    • To warn against assimilation.
    • To show the need for godly leadership.

What was a judge?

Hebrew word “judge”: “sā pât: broader than our term judge, meaning to govern, administer, exercise leadership.”20 The position may best be understood as a tribal leader.21 To clarify it in your mind, think deliverer rather than legal functionary, although some, like Deborah, served as both warrior and applier of the law.

Judges Cycle

NOTE of (3): The term “cried to God” doesn’t necessarily include repentance; however, Samuel, the final judge, provides a historical overview of this period of history in 1 Samuel 12:6-13 (ESV) where he describes repentance as normative of the cycles: “And they cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’”

Local Gods

Who were these idolatrous gods mentioned in Judges? Dr. Block provides help:

El . . . is familiar from authentic Hebrew traditions; but in Canaanite mythology El was the head of the pantheon, the father of the gods and creator of the world. In comparison with Baal, El appeared as a tired old deity. Baal, the storm god, appears to have been the most popular divinity among the Canaanites, being recognized as the power behind the life-giving rain that fertilizes the ground and causes vegetation to grow.2

Judges alludes to more than one goddess with similarly spelled names; the spelling below is from the NET Bible:

  • Ashtaroth is the plural form of Ashtoreth (Gk. Astarte) a goddess of fertility, love, and war who was closely associated with Baal (Judges 10:6; 1 Sam. 7:4; 12:10). Canaanite texts seldom mention Ashtoreth, but she appears in Mesopotamian texts by the name ‘Ishtar’ and in Egyptian representations of Canaanite religion.”3
  • Asherah (plural Asheroth) is mentioned in Judges 3:7 and 6:25-26. “Asherah was a popular Canaanite goddess, a consort of El, the head of the Canaanite pantheon, who may have been displaced at some point by Baal.”4

Using plural forms of a deity’s name “shows that each was worshiped in many locales, and their local manifestations took on the character of independent gods. . . .”5

K. Lawson Younger, Jr. gives us some vital insight into idolatry:

The presence of the deity in the statue was then maintained magically through offerings and the proper care of the statue. If improper attention was given to the cult image, the deity could withdraw of its own free will. . . . In the production of the idol, in the idol’s embodiment by the deity, and in the maintenance of deity’s indwelling of the idol, there was a significant degree of control exercised by the human manufactures and worshipers through magical means. The second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6) addresses especially the issue of the cult image since this is a human manipulative attempt that inverts the created order. Consequently, any human attempt to manipulate God, whether in thought, intent, or action, is a serious breech of the second commandment.6

List of the judges

The category for a judge’s listings depends solely on the amount of space given to the story.

The primary or major judges.

Recorded in Judges

  • Othniel
  • Ehud
  • Deborah
  • Gideon
  • Jephthah
  • Samson

Recorded in 1 Samuel

  • Eli
  • Samuel

The secondary or minor judges

  • Shamgar
  • Tola
  • Jair
  • Ibzan
  • Elon
  • Abdon

Resources on Injustice

Articles

  • Brave NoiseCat, Julian. “13 Issues Facing Native People Beyond Mascots And Casinos,” (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/13-native-american-issues_n_55b7d801e4b0074ba5a6869c). Huffington Post, Aug. 21, 2015.
  • Fattal, Isabel. “Brief History of Anti-Semitic Violence in America,” (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/10/brief-history-anti-semitic-violence-america/574228/). The Atlantic, Oct. 28, 2018.
  • Kopetman, Roxana and Angela Naso. “After Serving in the Military, Immigrants Now Face Deportation,” (https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/04/06/after-serving-military-these-immigrants-are-now-facing-deportation.html). Orange County Register, Apr. 6, 2019.
  • Korver, Kyle. “Privileged,” (https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/kyle-korver-utah-jazz-nba). The Players Tribune. April 8, 2019.
  • Lopez, German. “There are Huge Racial Disparities in How US Police Use Force,” (https://www.vox.com/identities/2016/8/13/17938186/police-shootings-killings-racism-racial-disparities). Vox, Nov. 14, 2018.
  • Lowrey, Lindy. “Christian Persecution by the Numbers,” (https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/christian-persecution-by-the-numbers/). Open Doors, Jan. 26, 2019.
  • Regan, Shawn. “5 Ways The Government Keeps Native Americans In Poverty,” (https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/03/13/5-ways-the-government-keeps-native-americans-in-poverty/#4ad42d732c27). Forbes, March 13, 2014.
  • Rhor, Monica. “Pushed Out and Punished: One woman’s story shows how systems are failing black girls,” (https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2019/05/13/racism-black-girls-school-discipline-juvenile-court-system-child-abuse-incarceration/3434742002/). USA Today. May 15, 2019.
  • “Slavery Today,” (https://www.ijm.org/slavery). IJM.org

Videos

  • “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.” six episodes from PBS. Search on YouTube.
  • Cequea, Alex. “Systemic Racism Explained,” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrHIQIO_bdQ). YouTube, April 16, 2019.
  • Mathew, Sissy. “The Day of Pentecost,” (www.irvingbible.org/sermons/09-26-2017/the-day-of-pentecost). Irving Bible Church Women.

Podcast

  • Biewen, John. “White Affirmative Action” Episode 44: Seeing White, Part 13.” (www.sceneonradio.org/episode-44-white-affirmative-action-seeing-white-part-13/). Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Scene On Radio, August 9, 2017.

Journaling 101

What does it mean to journal?

It’s NOT drawing and coloring. (I call that drawing and coloring.) Journaling is recording your thoughts. That’s it. Nothing special or difficult. When we journal, we simply write down how we interacted with God’s Word. We pen our thoughts and impressions as we read and ask God for insights. (See p. 65 for a sample journal entry.)

I learned late to journal. I began because I had a hard time concentrating during what was supposed to be my time with God. Do you relate? Instead of focusing on the verses that I was reading or the prayers that I needed to say, my mind was wandering to my to-do list, my conversation with a friend, a problem I had to handle, or any number of other things. Once I lost focus, it was difficult to get it back.

My goals were worthy, but I was struggling with how to get there.

So I began writing out my prayers. I wrote out word for word what I wanted to pray, as well as the thoughts that came to me while I wrote, believing that it was highly possible that God was guiding those. I began my time with God by reading some scriptures and usually a short devotional, and then I began to write.

Easy journaling.

Why journal?

The term Bible study can be scary. We often think that God’s Word is hard to understand, requiring a great deal of intelligence and/or education to navigate, so we stay away from anything other than a favorite verse or two scattered throughout its pages.

We forget that God wants us to know him. We do that through the pages of his Word, his revelation of himself to ordinary people like you and me. Remember this is his story, not the story of people. God is the main character. People are in the story as they interact with him and his work on earth in reconciling them to himself and restoring creation to its perfection.

If we replace time listening and seeking God with a “study” that tells us what to think and believe (true of some but not all studies), we bypass the relationship and knowledge that God gives us directly when we go to his Word instead of to other people for spiritual nourishment.

Imagine sitting down with the author of a book you love rather than reading a book review. That’s the opportunity you have with God. He has made himself available to those who seek him through the Scriptures. But there’s a caution here—he doesn’t tell us everything because he is so beyond us—incomprehensible. But he does unfold truth, insight, encouragement, challenge, and conviction into our hearts when we seek him. In the end there is a certain amount of mystery that we must learn to live with in knowing God. We are mere humans after all.

Journaling with only general questions to guide you allows your study to be what you make it.

This is your study. Your time. Your relationship with God. Your journal is your own. Use it in your own way that works for you.

How much time do I need to spend journaling?

Is your time scattered and often absent? Read the story once in the morning, maybe to your kids, with your roommate or husband during breakfast, or alone as you enjoy an early cup of coffee before work. Think about it as you drive carpool, eat lunch at work, or make your commute. Write in your journal at lunch or before you head to bed in the evening, noting the insights that occurred to you during the day.

Do you want a deep study? Spend time every day reading and rereading the stories of the week. Ask God for insights and applications. Since each week’s study has three sections, spend two days on each section. Read the verses again the second day, and ask God for new insights. Read some of the cross references in the margins of your Bible. With your journal beside you, note all of your thoughts as they come. You may be very surprised at how often your mind goes in a new direction.

Make the schedule your own. Spend little or much time on it. It is your record of how you and God interact as you read his Word.

Do I have to use the questions in the lesson?

Absolutely not. They are merely there to launch your thinking, not to determine the path of your thoughts. The questions are to help, not hinder. If something else is on your mind when you begin journaling, skip them entirely. Listen to God’s Spirit as he gives you insight into the scriptures you read.

What if I am stuck and can’t think of anything to write?

Here are some general questions that you can use with any passage as you begin to journal:

  • What do I like about this story? Why?
  • What do I not like about this story? Why?
  • What do I learn about God and his purposes in this section of Scripture?
  • What do I learn about people in general from the story? In other words, what lessons about people do I learn?
  • What is God telling me to do from what he revealed? How and when will I do it?

If you are a seasoned student of the Bible, you may want to look for other stories or verses that relate to what you read and journal about how they connect to each other and to you. Use the cross-references in your Bible to help you.

What kinds of things should I write?

What follows is a journal entry that I wrote from a Bible story that is not part of this study. Just so you don’t think this is too hard, you need to know that I added paragraphs so it would be easier for you to read. I don’t write in my journal that way. Because I write only for me, not an audience, I normally abbreviate a number of words and phrases that are common in my journal, but I have written them out for you so they make sense.

I also deleted the names of people that I am praying for, but I left the prayer itself so you could see how the story became the basis of my prayer, which included confession and intercession. I don’t normally pray through a format like PRAY (praise, repent, ask, and yield), but over a few days of journaling as I read the Word, God leads me to all kinds of prayers. You can journal with that kind of format for your prayers if you prefer.

June 17

Mark 4:35-41

Although I’ve heard, read, and taught this story many times, it still overwhelms me. God, you are so great and powerful! Why do I doubt that you can handle my small problems when Jesus speaks and immediately the wind and the waves obey? Why do I make you too small to handle problems faced by people I love? Why do I wonder deep in my heart if you care when I’m struggling? I’m just like the disciples, ridiculously asking, “Don’t you care?”

I am amazed that as the boat was filling with water and winds were whipping around, Jesus was lying in the boat asleep with his head on a cushion, perfectly at peace. They had to wake him up! That’s a deep and restful sleep! You know how storms wake me up pretty quickly.

Jesus pointed to the disciples’ fear, suggesting it was caused by lack of faith. Father God, forgive me for making you too small in my imagination, so small that you lack the power to keep me despite the storms that swirl around me. Forgive my fear that comes from lack of faith. Forgive me for fearing that you won’t take care of those whom I love. Forgive me for fearing for my grandchildren’s future. Forgive my lack of faith.

You sent your followers straight into the storm, and they learned about your great power. I know your power and protection because of previous storms. Help me remember them when I’m caught up in a new sudden storm.

I lift up my friends and family who are now in storms . . . . Give them grace and faith. Make them stronger in faith. Help them persevere and bring you glory. Bring comfort to . . . . In the storms’ wake, I pray they all know your power and grace in a deeper way. Amen.

You can do it!

Let me simply encourage you—you can do this. It allows God to move in your heart and mind in a way that specific questions may not allow for. Just read the verses, and write down what God brings to your mind. Refer back to the questions in the study, answering those that you want to answer and thinking about the others. Some wonderful insight may come to mind if you do.

I am praying that God will so encourage and speak to you through this format that you will continue to journal, never settling for fill-in-the blank Bible studies. (And I know God uses them in a mighty way sometimes, but consider journaling through the verses instead.)

Tips for Leaders

Browse our BOW videos or listen to the podcasts for small group leaders at https://beyondordinarywomen.org/leading-small-groups/.

1. Listen to God

It seems simple, but it can be oh, so difficult, to listen to God as you lead a group. Our fears tell us not to sit in silence. Our hearts suggest that we should give solutions or even verses to fix problems or questions. The clock indicates that we should cut others off as quickly as possible. And I have been there and done them all!

If we as leaders come to the group time doing what feels comfortable, we may miss the fullness of what God wants to do. So pray well before you go. Pray as you lead the group time. Don’t speak in response to the comments of others until you are sensitive to the movement of the Spirit as to what to say, if anything.

And what may be even more difficult is to encourage the same kinds of listening skills with the others in the group. Listening to God before answering someone’s comments or intervening in what God may want to say to her about her problems is very difficult. I feel that way and likely you do too:) Many in the group will struggle, but we can all improve if you remind yourself and the group each week to pause and listen to God before speaking.

2. Keep Discipleship Goals in Mind

Goal #1: encourage the group in personal study

If you want the group to be in the Word for themselves, start the discussion by letting them share what excited them. Stay away from your own thoughts and listen to them. To involve them, ask very general open questions, such as those in the lesson. Choose questions from the lesson; use some from the list given on p. 69 (under #3 Ask Open Questions), or write your own questions.

Because the group will journal as they study, see which way the discussion goes before inserting your own direction to the lesson. That said, don’t let it linger on speculation about things the Bible doesn’t reveal. It’s okay for a few minutes, but refocus the conversation to what God has made clear, not what he chose not to tell us.

Goal #2: SET discipleship goals FOR EACH LESSON

What do you want to accomplish in your discussion? If you randomly ask questions, you may enjoy a good discussion, but it may not move the group closer to Jesus. Your goal should not be simply getting people to talk but to encourage spiritual growth in the group.

See yourself as the leader, not a teacher or a facilitator. What is your goal? What do you want the group to leave with that will help them grow as believers? It could be a deeper faith through a better understanding of who God is and how he works. It could be a principle that helps them live out genuine faith in a culture that is looking for what is real.

For most lessons, consider these questions as you review the lesson:

  • What do those in your group need to know about God from this story?
  • What does the story reveal about real faith?
  • How does the story and/or verses fit with the big story gospel of Paradise, Ruin, Reconciliation, and Consummation?
    • What principles from the story need to be obeyed? What application do you want them to prayerfully consider—a way of believing about God that intersects with real life or types of actions to take?

Wait to discuss these areas by providing opportunity for the group to bring up the topic before you simply move toward your goals. Make sure you listen first. Many of the questions you want to ask will come up more naturally from within the group. If no one brings it up, then do so with a question to the group.

You don’t necessarily have to write your own questions. Use those within the lesson to launch into an area you want to cover. The lesson questions are open-ended and broad. You can have a great discussion using them. If you listen well, you can follow up with a question that clarifies or expands on their comments to move them further toward your goals.

If you want to write a few questions to summarize the material covered rather than going through those in the lesson, write open questions from the material they studied and read. Or use some of the questions in the next section.

3. Ask open questions

You may be used to reading a set of questions to the group and having them read back their answers. I have written many Bible studies that have that type of structure. It’s easy for the leader to follow and makes it simple for the group to provide answers.

Instead, this study is based on journaling, which isn’t comprised of answers to a number of very specific questions but rather uses open questions, meaning not yes/no or narrow answers. (See BOW’s free downloadable resource at http://beyondordinarywomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Asking-Open-Questions.pdf.)

When the lesson is comprised of one long story or section, it will likely work best to let the group know that they can talk about any part of the lesson instead of a specific section of the story. Your questions should allow a response on anything they want to discuss from the lesson. It’s all right if no one brings up a certain section of the story at all.

Allow the Holy Spirit to use the discussion to take the group where he wants it to go, but also keep in mind your goals and move them into those topics if they don’t go there themselves.

Here are examples of open questions that you might use:

  • What in the story was most significant to you and why?
  • How did God surprise you through the story?
  • How did you relate to any of the people in the story and why?
  • What feelings did you have about the judge?
  • How did God reveal himself to you through your reading?
  • How do you see the story intersect with God’s big gospel story of Paradise, Ruin, Reconciliation, & Consummation? (If you aren’t familiar with the overall big story of the Bible, work through The ONE Story at https://beyondordinarywomen.org/the-one-story/ which is BOW’s study on the meta-narrative that pulls the entire Bible together.)
  • What excites you about this story?
  • Was there anything in this story that seemed new to you?
  • What confused you about this story?
  • What did God say to you this week about yourself?
  • What is God asking you to do in response to this week’s study?

These questions are all very general and open. As you work toward your goals, your questions may be more specific. What often happens, however, is that some of the questions you have prepared will be answered before you ask them. So be aware enough to skip as needed.

A quiet group or a group that is new to one another may not talk quite as readily. Allow them a time of silence to consider their answers before rewording it or sharing your own answer. The Holy Spirit will lead you.

We love your questions or feedback. Contact me at [email protected] For additional help go to beyondordinarywomen.org at http://beyondordinarywomen.org/leading-small-groups/ and watch our free short 5-10 minute training videos or podcasts for small group leaders.

Works Cited

Block, Daniel I. New American Commentary: Judges, Ruth, Vol. 6. E. Ray Clendenen, Ed. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.

Chisholm, Jr., Robert B. Kregel Exegetical Library: A Commentary on Judges and Ruth. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2013.

ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

Fretheim, Terence. Deuteronomic History. Nashville: Abingdon, 1984.

Inrig, Gary. Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay. Chicago: Moody Press, 1979.

Keller, Timothy. Judges for You (Edited from the study by Timothy Keller). UK: Thegoodbook Company, 2013.

Life Application Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.

Pierce, Ron. “Deborah: Only When a Good Man is Hard to Find?” Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible, Ed. Sandra Glahn. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017.

Strong’s Concordance, accessed via netbible.org.

Winner, Lauren F. The Dangers of Christian Practice: On Wayward Gifts, Characteristic Damage, and Sin. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018.

Wood, Leon. Distressing Days of the Judges. Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1975.

Younger, Jr., K. Lawson, “Judges/Ruth,” NIV Application Commentary. Terry Muck, Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.


19 Wood, 2.

1 Chisholm Jr., 58-62.

20 Block, 23.

21 Younger, Jr., 21-22.

2 Block, 41-42.

3 Ibid.

4 Note on Judges 3:7 in ESV Study Bible.

5 Ibid.

6 Younger, Jr., 47.

Lecture 1 (Intro): The Darkness And The Light

Related Media

Seeing Clearly Through the Darkness: Introductory Lecture

Do you ever wonder what is happening in our world? There is so much darkness, and we see it every day in the news. Just last week tens of thousands, and according to the latest news reports maybe even 200,000, people died in an earthquake in Haiti, and thousands more may die from lack of food, medical care, and hygiene. In the past few months a number of terrorist attacks around the world have succeeded; an attempted attack on an international flight bound for the United States was botched. We recently watched in horror as bodies were carried out of Fort Hood after a doctor killed his fellow soldiers. On a more personal level, we all know people who are battling life-threatening illnesses. Brett Lopez, whose mother Debi has long been part of our morning Bible study, has Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Nancy Lillo, who used to lead an evening group, is fighting colon cancer. The pastor of the Village Church in Flower Mound, which is reaching thousands of young people, has a brain tumor that cannot be totally removed. A member of my extended family was left financially strapped and emotionally hurt last year when her husband of 36 years suddenly divorced her. All of us are touched personally by the darkness. What do we do with all of this if we believe there is a loving God behind the universe?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I grieve over these situations as much as you do. I often wonder what God is doing. Why must a fourteen-year-old boy deal with chemo? Why do poverty-stricken Haitians have to lose the little they do have, especially loved ones? Why does my family member, who believes in Jesus, suffer from the selfishness of a man who has little time for God?

I can’t answer those questions. So what keeps me believing and trusting God when I am faced with tragedy, heartache and grief? I can trust because I know the story in which I find myself. I know the bigger picture. I may not understand the darkness around me or what purposes it serves, but I know the one who does.

We all find ourselves in the midst of a much larger story. It’s as if we have been plopped down in the middle of the epic, not knowing what came before or after. And if we don’t know the story, we will be totally lost when the darkness overwhelms us. We must be able to see clearly where the plot is taking us so that we can trust the one who created the story.

Even as believers, we often don’t comprehend the epic story of the Bible because we have never read the individual stories in the larger context. Only as an adult was I able to piece together my childhood Sunday School lessons to see the greater outline behind them. The Bible presents the original epic, the greatest story ever told. I believe that God has placed its elements deep in the hearts of humans: thus, we have always been drawn to adventures filled with heroes, villains, and love—the stuff of God’s story.

Don’t you just hate turning on a show when you missed the beginning? I do! I won’t even start watching if I don’t understand what is going on. If my husband can’t catch me up, I refuse to watch! Well, we have no choice in God’s epic story; we arrived in the middle of it; the only way to get our bearings and figure out what is happening around us is to hear the story itself from the beginning.

God’s story begins in eternity past when God—the one God in three persons of Father, Son, and Spirit—planned out the creation of the universe and anticipated the story that would grow out of that creation.

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God made the blueprint for all that we see and all that we can’t see. In the midst of his world he prepared a garden where the first man and woman lived a perfect existence. God designed them for fellowship with him and to be custodians and caretakers of the creation which he had formed. There was no sin, no sorrow, no tragedy and no death in that perfect place where man and woman walked with their God. Nothing separated them from him or fellowship with one another; they experienced intimacy with both God and one another in the ideal environment.

Thus, the first part of God’s story is “Paradise.”

But darkness came into that perfect world when the woman was enticed to disobey God and eat of the forbidden fruit; then, her husband ate as well. As a result, they learned through experience the loneliness of living out of fellowship with God and one another. Their intimacy with God and each another died.

At that point, God let them know how sin would affect them and the world.

Look at Gen. 3:14-19:

The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all the wild beasts
and all the living creatures of the field!
On your belly you will crawl
and dust you will eat all the days of your life.
And I will put hostility between you and the woman
and between your offspring and her offspring;
her offspring will attack your head,
and you will attack her offspring’s heel.”
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your labor pains;
with pain you will give birth to children.
You will want to control your husband,
but he will dominate you.”
But to Adam he said,
“Because you obeyed your wife
and ate from the tree about which I commanded you,
‘You must not eat from it,’
cursed is the ground thanks to you;
in painful toil you will eat  of it all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
but you will eat the grain of the field.
By the sweat of your brow you will eat food
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

Although this entire passage is often called the curse, only the serpent and the ground were cursed, not the man or the woman. But sin brought dark consequences to their lives that continue to this day. From that day on, the story took a turn for the worse, and so I am calling it “Ruin.”

First was Paradise, but it was ruined. As we see it every day! As God said here in Genesis, it’s no longer easy to see that marriage is “made in heaven.” Instead of enjoying the oneness that God designed for husband and wife, we fight with one another to get the upper hand. God also said that the serpent, whose other names include the devil and Satan, would war with the first couple’s descendants. Thus, all over the world people follow the darkness rather than the light. But on the bright side, embedded in God’s descriptions of the darkness wrought by sin is this wonderful promise: the woman’s child would overcome this ancient enemy.

As time passed after the Ruin came, the darkness grew; the descendants of Adam and Eve seemed to forget God entirely, being so lost that they could not find their way clearly through the darkness. But God still had his plan: the offspring of the woman would come at the right time and rescue his brothers and sisters. In the meantime, God determined that he would not leave people in total darkness but would bring light into their lives through those who remained loyal to him.

As a result, God set apart one man and his children to become lights in the midst of the darkness to help others see more clearly that God was there loving them and beckoning them to follow him. This man was Abraham, whom we will study this week as a foundation to understanding the days of the judges. Abraham’s descendants became the twelve tribes of Israel. From among them, God raised up individuals to write various books of the Bible to help people see clearly through the darkness. He gave his people the Ten Commandments which taught them how to live in a way that aligned with God’s best for their lives.

Through all of these things, God showed his love to his creation. Out of that love he continued to woo people into a relationship of intimacy with him, which was his heart all along for those whom he had created.

God’s epic story began with a perfect creation and intimacy with his people— Paradise. It took a turn for the worse when sin caused his light to be clouded in darkness—Ruin. Finally, the time was right for God to fulfill his promise to bring a Hero, one who would destroy the villain and rescue people from the darkness, restoring the creation to its original design.

The hero that came to the rescue is Jesus.

Let’s read John 1:1-14:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.  In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.

A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children– children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.

Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.

Jesus is the light in the darkness for those who desire to see clearly where they are going. Jesus is God himself who came to earth to redeem or buy the creation back from its ruin. We’ll call this part of the story Redemption.

Look at John 3:16-21:

For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.

Redemption tells us of God’s initiative to fix the problems that people generated by their sins, to right the ruin of paradise. It is the story of God himself coming to earth as the hero to restore mankind to a loving intimate relationship with him and with one other.

But you may be thinking, “Our world isn’t fixed.” Creation is still in darkness. Was Jesus unsuccessful?

No. Jesus redeemed mankind by his death on the cross. He freed us from enslavement to sin and its consequences; however, he has yet to restore creation to its original state. We are in a waiting pattern for the final curtain when all wrongs will be made right.

Look at Rom. 8:19-25:

For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of God who subjected it – in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance.

The apostle Paul recognized that all of creation is still in a state of disrepair, so to speak. But the day will come when all will be restored: our decaying bodies will be replaced with new ones that are perfect, and the world around us will be replaced with a new earth without storms, earthquakes, and destruction. It will be the time of restoration, when paradise returns to earth so we’ll call that part of the story Restoration.

The apostle John describes it in Revelation 21:1-4:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. And I saw the holy city – the new Jerusalem – descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more – or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.”

God’s epic story can be summarized this way: paradise, ruin, redemption, and finally restoration. Between ruin and restoration, we enjoy many of the benefits of redemption but not all of them. We are in what has been called the “already but not yet” chapter of God’s epic. Jesus has already done the work of redemption and his children are redeemed, but the consequences of that redemption aren’t wholly enjoyed yet. We still live in the ruin’s darkness but we are now part of the kingdom and enjoy intimacy with God once again.

If your roots are in Texas, you probably know about the unofficial holiday called Juneteenth. According to Juneteenth.com, “it is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.”

The slaves in Texas were free by law, but they didn’t realize freedom’s benefits for two-and-a-half years. So it is with us. Jesus has already come and redeemed all of creation but we won’t see all that entails until the day he returns and makes all things new.

So, you may ask, what does all of this have to do with the book of Judges?

The stories in the book of Judges are stories of the darkness, of the ruin that sin has wrought; they relate how even God’s people, the Israelites, failed to seek the light. There was no king of Israel at that time, and the people embraced the darkness, turning from the mighty God who had brought them out of Egypt and from the laws that he had given them for their own good. They were stubborn children, just like we are, who did what they thought was right rather than follow their Father’s guidelines.

That is the theme of the era of the Judges. Both Judges 17:6 and Judges 21:25 repeat exactly the same words: “In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right” (NET). Or as the New American standard puts it, “Each man did what was right in his own eyes.”

We, too, even in the church, live in a time of darkness, a time when everyone does what seems right in his or her own eyes. We can learn much from the stories of the Judges. We can learn how risky it is to approach life as the world around us does rather than allowing God’s word to saturate out patterns of thinking. The Bible is our light in the darkness. Ps. 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (NASB). We cannot see clearly without it.

We also need to know God’s epic story so that we realize that the world isn’t a hopeless place and so that we remember that God does love us, even when the darkness is overwhelming. God didn’t leave his creation in ruin but sent Jesus as the epic hero to save the day.  That same loving God was at work in the darkness in the times of the Judges, and we must continually look for his love and his care in the midst of those stories as well as in the darkness of our world today. There is a better day to come.  There is a better world to come. All that God desired for his perfect creation will come to pass in the fullness of time. And we will all see it. In the meantime, we have been redeemed and belong to God’s kingdom, where we enjoy many of its benefits now.

God’s epic story: Paradise, ruin, redemption, and restoration; a story of love.

Thank you, Father, that when we don’t understand the reasons for what happens in the darkness, we can remember that you acted to right the wrong and to restore our world as it was meant to be and our relationship with you. What love it took for Jesus to come to earth and live as a man and even go through the horrors of the cross for us! Accept our worship now as we focus on him and on your great love for us.

Lecture 2 (Week 1): Create A Climate To Flourish

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In early August we got a golden doodle puppy. Our granddaughters named her Carmen. She’s so very cute but such a mess! I’ve told people that she’s a sweetheart and a demon in one body.

As you can imagine, my life’s been taken over in many ways by supervising Carmen to be sure she hasn’t found something to get into. She chews on everything, and so of course, she destroys anything in her path. The bottom of the ottoman in our den was sagging. Friday she chewed on it and made a hole and dug out some of the stuffing.

I’m doing all that I know to do to guide her toward a good life with us. I want to see her become a great dog that flourishes in our home as a positive member of our family.

Point: God Is Our Father Acts To Help Us Flourish.

In the same way, we have a God who, as our heavenly Father, desires what’s best for us—that our lives would flourish, that we would thrive and experience abundance.

You saw in your lesson—God wanted Israel to flourish in their land but they floundered, as the cycle in Judges shows. God commanded them to wipe out the inhabitants of the land because of his love and desire for their best. Initially under Joshua they obeyed. But as individual tribes annexed more land, they grew content and failed to finish the job. Making peace with their enemies began the cycle that was repeated over and over throughout this era, moving in an ever downward spiral.

So how do we avoid a spiral like this? We realize that God is for us as Romans 8:31-32 says: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

That’s means that God is at work for our good. God’s actions in Judges highlight three ways that he’s at work for our good, so that we flourish as his people.

1. God Gives Us Boundaries.

With Puppy Carmen we have gates that keep her in a smaller area where I’ve removed the low-lying dangerous items. Until she’s older and wiser, these boundaries keep her from getting hurt or acting destructively. They help protect her and our family.

Before Israel entered the land of promise, God who knows all things, knew that he needed to set firm boundaries so that the people of the land of Canaan couldn’t influence Israel by their evil practices and idols. His instructions to rid the land of its people was required to protect them.

God’s protector role for us is highlighted in Jesus’s words in John 10:10-15: 

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly—that’s flourishing. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [Note the same message as Romans 8:21-22: He proved that he’s for us by his sacrifice.] He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Jesus reveals himself as the good Shepherd who protects his followers to give them abundant lives.

Flourishing in their new land required the Jews to silence the voices that would influence them away from God. And if we want to avoid falling into a similar cycle today, we need to do the same thing—not by physically killing anyone but instead by eliminating the influence of voices that don’t align with God’s voice.

So what voices are we talking about?

In Ephesians 6:12, Paul identifies our enemies: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

The enemies of the church aren’t people, but spiritual forces of evil. If we’re to flourish we need to filter their influence from our lives. Yes, Satan and his minions use people under their influence, but the people aren’t the real enemy. They are simply people who need Jesus, just as we do. We’re called to love them.

But when we listen to voices that don’t align with God’s character, we end up putting our hope elsewhere, not in God—and that’s idolatry.

How do we eliminate these influences and voices? Yes, we can turn off and tune out any voice that causes us to minimize sin and embrace idolatry. But tuning voices out isn’t enough. We must replace them by listening to God’s voice—both in his Word and through interactions with mature believers—like so many of you. We need each other as positive voices to overcome the enemy’s lies.

God is for us! He wants us to flourish, so he gives us boundaries in His Word so we avoid the destructiveness of sin and know truth to counter lies. But when we ignore his voice and continue in a pattern of sin . . . 

2. God Disciplines Us.

Carmen has bitten me a few times, as you can see from my wounds. It’s mostly from playing too roughly or trying to keep me from disciplining her. Truthfully, I don’t like disciplining my puppy, but if I don’t, her life and ours will be miserable for many years to come. I do it because I love her and want her to flourish.

In the same way, God’s love motivates his discipline. Let’s not bite him to try to stop it but learn from it.

Let’s look at Hebrews 12:5-11 to see God’s heart and purpose:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews confirms that God’s discipline is done out of love for our good. God is for us! He wants us to flourish.

Any time we talk about God’s discipline, I have to add this important caveat: Most trials and tribulations don’t involve God’s discipline but are simply the effect of being broken people living in a broken world. Christians aren’t immune from troubles. We will all get sick and die. We all face struggles and heartache. You and I can’t discern for anyone else when her situation is discipline. But when we navigate our own hard situations, it’s smart to ask God to clarify what he’s teaching us.

Look back at verse 11: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” We’ve got to pay attention to what God’s saying in trials, so we repent and begin to do what’s right. God wants us to flourish.

God disciplined Israel as a group, and he will do the same to his church when we adopt idols. Discipline may be church-wide or individual. We need to be aware of idolatry in both situations.

Wherever we put our trust in or find our worth from apart from God himself is an idol. The American church has idols, and we individually have idols that we trust instead of God. We think they’ll meet our needs and give us what we want, but they actually motivate our sinful thoughts and actions. We’ll talk more about the problem of idols as we continue our study of Judges, but let’s start identifying them now.

Years ago I was involved in a para-church ministry that I loved. I even became part of their extended staff and periodically traveled teaching people how to study the Bible and lead Bible studies. I felt valued and full of purpose, and I enjoyed serving God by helping people better know him and his Word. In time I sensed God telling me to leave, but I never seriously prayed about it. I didn’t dismiss it, but basically I avoided listening too hard because I didn’t want to give it up. Then a painful conflict occurred with some other people locally involved in this ministry. Since that pain was connected to the ministry that I didn’t want to let go of, the oppressive situation forced me to consider it, and I knew it was time to go.

As I look back, I realize that because I ignored God’s still small voice, in his love he disciplined me through another person’s sinful actions. His plans for me meant that I had to leave what was comfortable. I was clinging to a place where I was valued rather than accepting the value God have me. My good ministry had become an idol.

God reveals our idols but he isn’t trying to hurt us. He’s for us! He disciplines us, so we’ll confess and repent as Israel did.

Repentance means turning around and walking in the opposite direction. When we’ve been focused on idols to give us fulfillment, safety, love and purpose, and then we repent and turn around, we find God right there waiting to embrace us.

Generally our American church culture downplays repentance, and it’s weakening us. We’ve got great understanding of the truth that God loves, forgives and completely accepts us in Christ (which he does). But we’ve focused on that to the detriment of the other side of flourishing—the habit of reflecting and repenting. Of course God still accepts us if we don’t repent, but we don’t flourish in relationship with him and those around us. So God acts to bring us back to himself, the only true God.

Once Israel cried to God and repented, he mercifully rescued his people from oppression and gave them rest from their enemies for as long as the judge lived.

God is for us! He wants us to flourish, so he gives us boundaries, disciplines us and . . .

3. God Rescues Us.

Over and over I’ve taken Carmen out of a bad situation that she herself caused and removed her from danger. And God is similarly merciful to us.

One of the struggles we face in Judges is understanding God’s command to destroy the people of Canaan. Let me share an insight that I heard on a podcast recently. One of the speakers, an African-American man, mentioned this dissonance between God’s love and goodness on one hand, and his judgment of various people groups on the other, as we see in Judges and other scriptures. As a white American who has never lived under oppression or experienced racial injustice, I was struck to hear this guy say that oppressed people don’t question God as I do when reading stories like this one. Instead they identify with the oppressed rather than the powerful and rejoice that God rescues people from evil. They understand to a greater extent than I do God’s rescue.

It made me realize that rescue requires defeating another power. In Judges for God to completely rescue and protect his people from oppression and the influence of idolatrous religion, he had to remove the power of those who would oppress. Jesus had to defeat Satan to achieve a victory over evil and rescue us from the kingdom of darkness. The WWII allies had to kill Germans to rescue the Jews and the oppressed nations. The police must generally kill terrorists to rescue people from death. We applaud all these things. Perhaps our problem—or at least mine— is that we don’t feel oppressed and understand how much we need to be rescued from sin and idolatry. We’re like Simon the Pharisee who judges the woman who wept at Jesus’s feet. He loved little because he didn’t see his need for forgiveness as she did.

My puppy stories provide only limited pictures of our God who is merciful and gracious, the God who rescues us from our sins and their underlying idols. Even when we set ourselves up for it by not heeding his boundaries and turning to idols to get what we want, he rescues us when we repent.

God is for us! He wants us to flourish!

Lecture 3 (Week 4): Don’t Forget Who God Is

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We returned a week ago yesterday from a 10 day trip to the UK. Our daughter and her family are living there temporarily for her husband’s work, and so we went to see them. During the week while they were busy with school and work, Gary and I took a trip to Scotland.

On the screen is the Scottish monument to Robert the Bruce, or King Robert the 1st of Scotland. We weren’t very familiar with him, but despite the name of the movie, Robert the Bruce, not William Wallace, is actually the man the Scots call Braveheart. Robert the Bruce brought independence to Scotland in the first war for Scottish Independence. The 1314 battle at the site of this statue was the turning point of the war. Although the Scots were far outnumbered and out-armed, the English army grew fearful and panicked, fleeing the battlegrounds and giving Robert the victory.

It bore some similarities to Gideon’s battle. As you saw in your lesson, the Midianites and other groups from the East far outnumbered the men of Israel. In fact, the Bible describes their numbers as like locusts.

But earthly numbers don’t take into account who God is, and he brought victory over a mighty force.

With the story of Gideon a major theme of the book surfaces—God’s people did what was right in their own eyes. Go ahead and open your bibles to Judges 6.

Another cycle occurs. Israel worships idols and God brings discipline on them in the form of enemy oppression. But this time when Israel cried to God to rescue them, he sent a spokesman who reminded the people who God is. Look at Judges 6:8-10:

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of slavery in Egypt. I rescued you from the Egyptians and from all who oppressed you. I drove out your enemies and gave you their land. I told you, ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you now live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

The prophet reminded Israel who God is—a God more mighty than any earthly army, as he had already proven to them. But Israel had forgotten that and turned to idols to give them power. When God’s people do what’s right in their own eyes, it shows that they’ve forgotten who God is.

Today We’ll See Four Cautions To Consider—Four Ways That Our Thoughts And Actions Might Reveal That We Too Have Forgotten Or Ignored Who God Is.

We initially find Gideon hiding in a cave threshing wheat. Threshing doesn’t really work inside because it depends on the wind to blow away the chaff and leave the wheat behind. But the Midianites had been confiscating all the food that Israel produced. Isn’t it ironic that Israel was worshipping Baal and Asherath, gods of fertility, and so Yahweh brought in the Midianites to steal the harvest, leaving his disloyal people with little or nothing? Basically God said, “Your land will be fertile, but you won’t eat its produce.”

But as we’ve seen in every cycle, God mercifully raised up Gideon to rescue them. But this time God used a unique battle plan which showed off his power since they’d forgotten it. He had Israel’s so-called army go to war with only jars, torches and trumpets. Instead of Israel winning with lethal weapons, God himself brought the victory—proving his mighty power.

So let’s picture that army of 300 volunteers, chosen for how they drank water from a spring rather than for their strength. They know they’re up against thousands of well armed military. And yet, similarly to what happened with Robert the Bruce, the battle was won because in great confusion, the enemy army killed one other and the rest fled.

Our God is mighty. He can bring victory without a real army or even a battle, and he can take away the very things his people look to other gods to achieve.

1st Caution: When We Trust Earthly Strength And Methods To Win Our Battles, We’ve Forgotten That God Is Almighty.

As we apply that caution, we first look at the church and at ourselves as we do throughout this book. And we ask ourselves what earthly strengths and methods do we think church needs to reach people with the gospel? Funds, celebrities, large numbers, even our freedom? God needs none of those things. Who or what do we trust personally? I tend to trust my own judgment and skills. What about you?

Let’s continue the story.

Despite having seen God’s mighty victory, Gideon immediately forgot what he had just learned about God and his power. Instead of being motivated to serve and bring glory to God, his greatest concern was himself.

Nothing in the biblical record suggests that God told Gideon to call an army to chase the enemy as it fled, nor that Gideon even asked. In fact if we go back to Judges 7:7, God told Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand.” Gideon didn’t need more men.

Gideon was acting on his own. The fearful warrior now felt confident in himself and did what was right in his own eyes. His actions and words suggest that he was already consumed with serving self, the definition of pride.

So Gideon called on the tribe of Ephraim to help them pursue and kill the enemy army, but they were angry that they weren’t included in the original soldiers. Gideon gave them a wise answer, and they calmed down. Although he was acting on his own, he was at least dealing with Israelites as brothers.

But when Gideon requested help from the men of Succoth and the leaders at Penuel, they refused, saying Gideon hadn’t yet won the battle. But rather than trying to persuade them as brother Israelites, he made it personal, promising to make them pay for insulting him and refusing his requests.

Once the chase was over, Gideon returned to the two towns and punished them by flogging the leaders at Succoth with briars and then destroying the tower of Succoth and killing everyone inside the city. 

Why? Not because he was concerned with justice. This was personal revenge.

In Judges 8:18-21 we learn that Gideon suspected that the two kings of Midian had killed his brothers, and his chase appears to have been motivated to exact revenge. Sure enough, when he learned that they were guilty of his brothers’ deaths, he killed them, not because of the oppression they caused Israel, but for personal revenge. He told them that he was killing them only because of his brothers.

It was all about Gideon, not God or his people. Seeking revenge is about self, not about God.

2nd Caution: When We’re Motivated By Our Own Interests, We’ve Forgotten That God’s Kingdom Is Preeminent.

And again I ask myself questions: As the church are we more concerned to protect our position than God’s reputation? Are my prayers more focused on what I want God to do for me or for God’s kingdom to come within me even if that means my life isn’t as easy? Sadly, I’m guilty of forgetting who God is and the priority of his kingdom over my concern for self.

It’s not surprising that after the battle, the men of Israel asked Gideon to become their king. Gideon answered well, but his actions that followed proved his words were empty. Look at Judges 8:24-27:

But Gideon replied, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you! However, I do have one request—that each of you give me an earring from the plunder you collected from your fallen enemies.” (The enemies, being Ishmaelites, all wore gold earrings.)

“Gladly!” they replied. They spread out a cloak, and each one threw in a gold earring he had gathered from the plunder. The weight of the gold earrings was forty-three pounds, not including the royal ornaments and pendants, the purple clothing worn by the kings of Midian, or the chains around the necks of their camels.

Gideon made a sacred ephod from the gold and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. But soon all the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family.

The ephod was a piece of linen clothing worn by the High Priest of Israel and on it were the Umin and Thumin, which were used to discern God’s will. The text doesn’t tell us so we can’t be sure, but I lean toward the thinking that Gideon made it so he could continue being that guy, the one who hears from God. That’s how he become famous, so it makes sense that this would ensnare him. Gideon is about Gideon. God didn’t need an ephod to speak to Gideon, but Gideon needed an ephod to manipulate God into speaking to him.

Gideon’s pride become even more apparent when he acted like the kings of that day— fathering 70 sons and Abimelech, son of his concubine. Abimelech’s name, meaning “my father is king,” tells us that although Gideon refused the people’s offer to be king, he considered himself one.

Gideon forgot that it was God who raised him up in the first place. He liked the people’s praise and attention and the power that came with being king.

Caution #3: When We Seek A Name Or Power For Ourselves, We’ve Forgotten That God Exalts.

Leaders, both in and out of the church, often use their power and position for themselves, even abusing others for their own gain. The world says promote yourself to achieve God’s purposes. It says that God needs leaders with big names. If we as the church buy into the world’s thinking, we’ve forgotten who God is. I confess that I have to fight the voices that whisper that I should do more to build a platform—because after all, it’s for God. But I know that for me, it’s a temptation to elevate myself. When that happens, I remind myself that God has always opened doors without my pushing. He elevates. I don’t need to.

So let’s not forget that God is almighty, his kingdom is preeminent, and he can and will exalt according to his will.

Back to the story. Just as we’ve seen in other cycles, the land had peace as long as Gideon lived, this time for forty years. After his death, however, Israel again forgot that God alone is God and turned to idols.

And we see the seeds of Gideon’s pride take root in his son Abimelech.

Abimelech convinced his mother’s relatives in Shechem to support him to be their leader. He appealed to their family ties, suggesting that he was their guy, the one who would take care of them, the one on their side as opposed to his brothers. So the Shechemites gave him money with which he brought in worthless people as allies. Then he killed his brothers, so they couldn’t oppose him. The town made him king anyway, after all he was on their side.

But somehow Abimelech failed to kill his youngest brother Jotham. One day Jothan showed up and cursed Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. He told them a parable in which the trees, obviously the people of Shechem, allowed a worthless tree to rule them—representing Abimelech of course. Jotham cursed the trees with destruction if they weren’t acting in good faith, which I would call integrity, when they made Abimelech their leader and looked the other way concerning his murders.

For three years nothing happened, and I can only imagine that the people of Shechem believed they’d made a good choice and that God was on their side. But then God repaid them for their actions as well as their inaction concerning the murders. In the end Abimelech killed the Shechemites and was killed himself in the town of Thebes. The people’s lack of integrity and acceptance of murder as a means to their ends came back on their heads. God is holy and will judge his people.

Caution #4: When We Make Alliances With Earthly Leaders Or Powers To Save Us, We’ve Forgotten That God Is A Holy King.

My guess is that 90% of us are either in the group panicked that the country might become socialist or the one panicked it’s becoming a dictatorship. We may feel that our side must win the next election or the country’s doomed. Panic reveals that we trust in our earthly alliances rather than God.

The United States may become socialistic; we may be ruled by a dictator and lose our democracy. But God is on his throne. He isn’t nearly as concerned about this country as he is about his kingdom. As aliens on earth, our primary concern shouldn’t be America or the world situation, but God’s work in the hearts of his kingdom people who live out the gospel.

Our hope is not in the United States of America, but in our God who doesn’t need earthly powers to do his work, accomplish his will and care for his people so that we flourish spiritually.

I fight those feelings just as many of you, but my faith tells me this: With our future in the hands of God, I can be at peace. My fear comes from forgetting who God is. My concern should be to worship my King and do his kingdom work as long as I live no matter our national circumstances. I must remember that God is the almighty king and he alone is trustworthy.

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