Judging the Judges (Part 10)

It’s all downhill from here.

That epitaph could be written after the death of Samson.  Israel just goes from bad to worse.

Let’s see, first there’s Micah and his mother who uses 1,100 pieces of silver to make an idol which she has the gall to dedicate to Yahweh, the One True God who hates and forbids idolatry!  Micah then turns his home into a little mini-temple to false gods made of metal.  Micah even talked a Levite into being his own personal “priest” in his house of idols.  The Bible’s summary simply cannot be improved upon:

In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (17:6).

Then the tribe of Dan decided they wanted this apostate Levite to be their priest (Judges 18).  So they stole him away along with Micah’s household idols.  They then proceeded to rape, pillage and burn the city of Laish, which had done them no harm.  They re-named the city Dan.  This is how idolatry works, folks.  A false god (i.e., Satan) is never satisfied to only enslave one household.  Idolatry spreads like gangrene.  And it infects men’s souls.  It makes them more evil than they could ever imagine they would be.

Next, we encounter this delightful little story of a Levite who stays overnight in the territory of the Benjaminites.  The men of the town surround the home where an old man is graciously hosting the Levite and his concubine, demanding that the Levite be sent outside so they can have their way with him sexually.  The old man refuses, but the men’s persistence must have worn down their resistance because the Levite eventually has the bright idea to just let the men have their way with his concubine.  Lust always demands satisfaction.  It dominates a person and cares not who it victimizes.  They raped the woman all night and she died the next morning (Judges 19).

This led the Levite to cut his concubine’s corpse into twelve pieces and send them to the twelve tribes of Israel.  (My guess is the concubine would have preferred this pitiful excuse for a man to have killed her prior to her being raped all night by homosexual men.  No doubt she would have chosen death over her “husband” throwing her to the wolves.)  Anyway, the twelves tribes are incensed when they realize what has happened.  They gather for war, but first ask to hear from the Levite what happened.  He tells a very self-justifying version of the event, which leads them to go to war against the Benjaminites.  The Tribe of Benjamin is nearly wiped off the planet.  Tens of the thousands of men die in the civil war (Judges 20).

The tribes of Israel then start to feel sorry for the men left of the tribe of Benjamin.  There were no wives for them because they had all vowed not to give their daughters in marriage to them.  Their brilliant solution to that dilemma was to go slaughter wholesale the people of Jabesh-Gilead, sparing only 400 virgins.  Those virgins were then forced to marry men of the tribe of Benjamin.  The men who still had no wives were then told to go steal their wives from the people of Shiloh (Judges 21).  Utter chaos and moral insanity.    

What can be said except to let the Lord’s epitaph on this whole sorry episode in Israel’s history stand as written:

In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).

The End.

Well, we better hope not!  Else we all go to hell.  Mankind left to himself.  Apart from God’s grace.  Without God’s redemption.  Absent of faith in the true, living God.  That’s what Judges shows us.  This is what life looks like when God lets sin run unchecked.  When every person becomes his or her own standard of morality.  When relativism reigns in homes and schools and governments.  The Book of Judges is a little glimpse of hell.  A foreshadowing of the destiny of any people or nation that refuses to submit to God’s good rule.

We Christians can all say of the Book of Judges, “There but for the grace of God go I.”  Perhaps no other Book in the Old Testament so clearly displays our need of a Righteous Savior.  A Redeemer to absorb God’s wrath against our sins and to satisfy true justice in our place.  A God to graciously give mercy.  A Lord to change our hearts and to rule over us at the level of our wills.  If Christ is not King, we are lost forever.

But Hallelujah, our God reigns!  As the modern hymn written by Matt Papa and Matt Boswell says it, “Our sins they are many, His mercy is more!”

 

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Judging the Judges (Part 9)

Delilah.

The name conjures up images of a vixon, a sultry temptress, an irresistible woman.  Napoleon had his Waterloo.  Samson had Delilah.

The account of Samson and Delilah may well be the most well-known episode in the Book of Judges, and one of the most popular in all the Bible.  So, I need not recount it in any great detail here.  Rather, let me just draw out some lessons for us:

  • Many a man’s weakness is exposed by beautiful women.  Samson was a lover of women, and not in any godly sense.  He was promiscuous.  Women were his gods far too often.  As we saw last blog post, he was the proverbial ox led to slaughter.  Sexual attraction between a man and woman was a good gift from God.  Sin has trampled it under foot.  If godly men do not “flee youthful lusts” (2 Tim 2:22) they will bring ruin into their lives.  Just like Samson.  Flee.  Don’t fight.  Flee.  That’s God’s strategy for lust in our hearts.
  • The longer Samson remains in a relationship with Delilah, the more stupidly arrogant he grows.  When he finally did reveal the secret to his great physical strength, he awoke from his almost drunken sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free” (Judges 16:20).  The next line is haunting. “But he did not know that the Lord had left him.”  Sin had so blinded him that he did not even realize God was no longer in his life, giving strength to his spirit and body.  The Philistines gouged out his eyes and made him a slave.  But it all started with a spiritual blindness and hardness of heart.  Putting a woman before God.  Presuming that because God has graciously given him some victories in spite of his sin, that God would most assuredly continue to do so.  Not heeding any wise counsel.  The ox lowed blissfully all the way to the slaughter house!
  • Delilah fades away once Samson is at the moment of his greatest need.  This kind of woman always does.  She hurt Samson intentionally.  Played him like a fiddle.  Enjoyed the sex along the way.  Then moved onto the next victim once Samson’s eyeballs were plucked from their sockets.  Evil is resident even in the hearts of women!  Our extreme brand of feminism in America today needs to be reminded of this truth – sin is no respecter of gender.  Was Samson at fault?  Yes!  But so was Delilah.  And as far as we know, unlike Samson, she never repented or sought God’s mercy.
  • God mercifully blessed Samson with His presence at the very end of his life.  While working as a slave, Samson’s hair grew back.  But of course the hair is merely symbolic of God’s gracious power and presence in the man’s life.  Without God, Samson was nothing.  Without God, nobody is anything.  Samson’s simple prayer in the party hall of God’s enemies is, “O Lord remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28).  God heard that pitiful plea for mercy.  And God granted the request of Samson to “Let me die with the Philistines.”  Our Lord is merciful beyond compare.  Our Lord will judge His enemies.
  • Samson is no Jesus.  This should not even need stated!  But as a Judge, a Deliverer, Samson serves as an anti-type.  He foreshadows Christ, but only by way of contrast.  We are told “the dead whom he [Samson] killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life” (Judges 16:30).  I guess from a human perspective Samson goes down as a war hero.  But there’s never been a War Hero like Jesus!  By His death, He kills death!  By His death, Jesus brings eternal life to His people.  Yes, even God’s enemies.  Even a Philistine like me.  As Jesus dies, He prays for His enemies, “Father, forgive them.”

Jesus is the Judge of all judges.  Jesus is the Deliverer of all deliverers.  The strongest of men die.  But through faith in Christ, we all, from the least to the greatest, can live forever.

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Judging the Judges (Part 8)

Samson.

His name still stirs up images on a Herculean man, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his bodybuilding hay day.  Samson is probably the most popular of the Judges of Israel.  His story is riveting.  One wonders why Hollywood has not latched onto it, as it would make for a blockbuster!  I mean this dude tore lions apart with his bare hands and killed 1,000 enemy soldiers with the jaw bone of a donkey.  Impressive.

In this man we see both human greatness and human weakness.  But more, we see the great power and grace of God at work on behalf of his sinful people.  Samson’s whole life, really, points to the sovereign determination of the Lord to bless and save His people, in spite of their wickedness.  And, in Samson, though he himself is often sinful, we catch a tiny glimpse of the ultimate salvation to come through Jesus.

Even Samson’s birth is miraculous.  His mother was barren, but God opened her womb.  God brought into existence what was not.  He spoke life where there was death.  In order to rescue His people from their enemies.

Samson was to be set apart for the Lord from the womb.  If we are paying attention, the summary of his youth points us forward to Christ the Savior in His youth:

And the woman bore a son and called His name Samson.  And the young man grew, and the Lord blessed him.  And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him (Judges 13:24-25).

She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins . . . And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man (Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:40).

But we dare not press this comparison too far!  For quite early in Samson’s life we see fatal flaws.  The Book of Wisdom compares a man who gives himself to forbidden, sinful women to an ox going to the slaughter (Prov 7:22).  If ever a man fit the description, Samson does.  His determination to have a wife of the Philistines (which was forbidden by God’s Law) is a classic example of God’s sovereignty alongside man’s evil and accountability.  Though God was working to defeat the Philistines through it all, Samson’s actions spring from his evil heart.  This guy has a blatant disregard for God’s Law.  He eats defiled food, and ignores purity laws, and causes others in his family to become ritually unclean without a care in the world (see Judges 14).

Yet, God is mightily at work in and through Samson!  God’s determination to bless His people and do good to them far exceeds Samson’s evil desires.  Samson’s plot backfires, at least from his own human perspective.  He loses his wife.  (Maybe calling her a “heifer” wasn’t the best idea?)  But behind the scenes, God has kindled the flame that will free Israel from foreign domination.  Amidst unspeakable acts of evil that so often characterize war, Samson seems to grow stronger both spiritually and physically.  After slaying 1,000 Philistines, he exclaims:

“You [Lord] have granted this great salvation by the hand of Your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?”  And God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi and water came out from it.  And when he drank, his spirit returned and he revived (Judges 15:18-19).

Once again, we see our Lord so mercifully caring for a very sinful man.  We see God’s goodness overriding man’s rottenness.  And we leap forward to One greater and stronger than Samson who said He had living water.  Samson got thirsty again.  So did Israel.  But O what grace is ours as New Covenant Christians?!

Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:13-14).

Move over Samson.  We have found our true Deliverer and Source of Life!     

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Judging the Judges (Part 7)

If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word.  He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth (Numbers 30:2).  

Enter Jephthah.

A “mighty warrior” and “the son of a prostitute” (Judges 11:1).

Hardly the description we would expect of a man of God.  Jephthah’s brothers cast him out of the family because of his illegitimate status.  But God has a way of finding the outcast and turning the tables.  In time, the Ammonites were wreaking havoc on the Israelites.  They needed a warrior to lead them and deliver them from the oppressors.  Hmm. Where to find such a warrior?

O yeah, I remember, let’s go get Jephthah!  After chiding them for mistreating him and using him only for what he can do for them (Judges 11:4-11), Jephthah cuts a deal and agrees to lead the fight against the Ammonites.

When the Ammonite king accused Israel of seizing his land unfairly, Jephthah recounts an accurate history of Israel’s dealing with Moab and the Ammonites, refuting the king’s false claims.  This also shows us that Jephthah is very familiar with the Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy), aka The Law.  Irony of ironies, at a time when most of Israel cares not for God’s Law, an outcast son of a prostitute has obviously been reading and/or hearing the Law quite regularly.  So, the Spirit of God comes upon Jephthah to enable him to defeat the Ammonites in battle.  But just before he goes off to war, Jephthah makes a vow.  A tragic vow.

If You [God] will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.

Good gravy!  What did he expect to come out of his house?  I guess, like many today, he lived with lots of animals?  Pets perhaps?  Hard to imagine, though, that the typical animal sacrifice, such as a goat or ox or sheep would be living inside Jephthah’s home!  And yet, his vow stands.

And upon returning victorious from the battlefield, the first creature to rush out of his house to greet him is . . . his daughter.  Yikes!  And though some more liberal and/or squeemish scholars have tried to play down the text, it seems quite clear that Jephthah actually follows through and kills his daughter as a “sacrifice” to God.

Whoa.  Sickening.  What in the name of all things unholy are we to make of this?  Is this an endorsement of human sacrifice, in the Bible of all places?!  Was it right for Jephthah to make, much less keep such a vow?  A few points to guide our thoughts here:

  • Jephthah’s vow was rashStupid.  And God, knowing how stupid we all can be sometimes, made a provision for such vows in Leviticus 5:4-13.  There the Lord commands a man who realizes he has made a rash vow to bring an appropriate sacrifice to the priest who would then offer it to make atonement for the sin of making a stupid vow.
  • That Jephthah was familiar with the Law seems clear from Judges 11.  So we must assume he was well-versed in Leviticus 5.  The fact that he didn’t follow the path of atonement for his rash vow provided so graciously to him by the Lord only shows us the depth of sin in Jephthah’s heart. 
  • Even if no such provision existed, why not cry out for mercy?  Why not ask God to accept your life in the stead of your daughter’s?  This kind of love and compassion we see flow from Moses (Exodus 32:32).  But no such love resides in Jephthah’s heart.  No!  He is a cold-blooded killer.  By murdering his daughter, he only adds to his guilt.  Two sins instead of one.  And human sacrifice is a sin that never even enters God’s mind, it is so unthinkable to Him (see Jeremiah).
  • The account of Jephthah only serves to reinforce the overall story line of the Book of Judges.  This is how bad things have gotten in Israel.  This is what it looks like when a people forsakes God.  When people do “whatever is right in their own eyes.”  Even God’s good Law gets twisted and turned into an occasion for evil.

So what lessons are there for us in the account of Jephthah?

  1. God can use whomever He wants to do whatever He wants, even evil people to accomplish His good purposes.
  2. The way we treat people matters.  Do we seriously think Jephthah’s family abusing him and casting him out for something he had no control over (his birth mother) had no effect upon the trajectory of his life?
  3. Knowing God’s Word is not enough!  We must be given grace to be not just hearers, but doers of God’s Word (James 1:22).
  4. We should interpret Scripture with Scripture.  Jephthah had an epic fail precisely at this point.
  5. When people neglect God’s Word, reject His good rule, and forsake the worship of the One True God, a devaluing of human life is inevitable.  Little wonder, then, that America murders its children by the millions each year.  [Makes me wonder how pro-abortion advocates would view the account of Jephthah.  Would they recoil in horror at his child sacrifice?  While continuing to support Roe v Wade?]
  6. It is, of course, commanded of us as New Testament believers in Jesus that we still be people of our word.  “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.”  But we, too, must always fall back upon mercy when we realize we have uttered a rash vow, or made a promise we cannot keep.  We must confess that sin and plead over it the blood of Calvary, even as we seek grace to grow into people whose tongues are bridled by the Holy Spirit, that we might not speak rashly.
  7. Jesus is light years better than Jephthah!  Jesus never spoke a rash word.  Never made a vow He did not keep, and all his vows were holy and good and pure.  He vowed to give His life for all of us stupid Jephthah’s.  And He did!  What a Savior!                                
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Judging the Judges (Part 6)

Gideon.  Fleece.

The two words go together like butter and biscuits.

Gideon is one of the more well known of the Judges of Israel, for two main reasons:

  1. His laying out the fleece to obtain confirmation from the Lord that he was to lead the battle against the Midianite oppressors.
  2. The famous scene of God reducing his army to a mere 300 men, telling Gideon to cull all those who knelt and lapped water from a stream, rather than using his hand to bring the water to his mouth.

Rather than recount the entire story (it takes 3 chapters of the Book of Judges), I want to focus on the first point above, which tends to get the most attention in today’s Christian circles.

How many times have you heard a Christian speak of “putting out fleece” when trying to discern God’s will, or make a key decision in life?  I have not only heard it, I have tried to do it myself!  Now, by the phrase “putting out fleece” we do not mean we literally do what Gideon did.  We are not sneaking into the neighbor’s pasture at night to sheer off some wool from his sheep so we can lay it on the ground outside our bedrooms at night.  (At least I hope you aren’t.  That would just be weird and good luck even finding a sheep unless you live in a very rural area.)  What we mean, of course, is that we are asking God for a “sign.”  We want the Lord to give us some obvious clue that can be ascertained by one of our five senses, most especially our audio-visual senses.  We want to see or hear something from God that will nail down for certain what He desires in regards to the situation we are facing.  And it matters not what kind of decision we are facing.  I have heard of Christians seeking a sign to help them choose a car off the dealer’s lot, to pick which movie to watch on a Friday night, and to know if that girl I am dating is “the one.”

But is this what we are supposed to have gleaned from the account of Gideon?  Is the big point or lesson of the life of Gideon really reducible to “seek a sign when making a big decision?”  I, like so many other Christians, once thought so.  But that was before I learned how to really study a Bible passage in its context in order to mine the meaning.  And it was before I learned some key differences in the way God chose to reveal Himself in the Old Covenant as compared to the New Covenant in Christ Jesus.

Gideon’s putting out the fleece was an act of unbelief! 

You heard me correctly.  Gideon showed a lack of faith by demanding these repeated signs.  He is small-faithed.  His “show me a sign” method of discernment is not commended.  It is, rather, merely described by the author of Judges.

God had already told Gideon that he was to lead the battle against the Midianites (6:14).  And in response to Gideon’s excuses (much like Moses), God even promised, “I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (6:16).  Even with such clear Divine guidance, Gideon immediately asked for a sign, which God mercifully obliged (see 6:17-24).

So when it comes time to muster the army, you would think Gideon has his marching orders and is full of courage.

Not.

He asks twice more for signs (wet fleece one morning and dry fleece the next).  And rather than strike Gideon dead for his unbelief and cowardice, the Lord kindly obliges.  Which leads to the whittling down of the army from tens of thousands to only 300.  Which leads to the great victory over the army of Midian (Ch. 7).

The grand result of all this was the humbling of Gideon, and the glory of God.  When Gideon first spies out the camp of Midian, what he hears brings him to worship (7:15).  When others in Israel get in on the hot pursuit of the fleeing Midianite army, then begin to grumble about Gideon not initially including them in the fight, rather than recount the whole story of God trimming his army down, and his laying out of fleece, he simply says, “What have I been able to do in comparison with you?”  Humble.  Willing to deflect the credit.  And as the war rages on, Gideon just grows stronger and stronger.  So much so that the men of Israel ask him to be their king (8:22).

I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you (8:23).

Gideon has gone from a whining, trembling idolater (see 6:13, 25-26) to a humble leader of men who gives glory to God Almighty!  Only a Holy Sovereign God could perform such a miraculous transformation.  And only our Lord could use such a little-faithed, weak-kneed man to accomplish His purposes.  Gideon is not great.  God is. 

And we see this same truth hammered home even in Gideon’s final days.  It seems  Gideon just couldn’t get over his fetish with signs.  He took the golden jewelry from his troops and made an ephod (this was something only the priest was authorized to use to discern God’s will for His people).  Now, it doesn’t seem his intention was to cause the people to commit idolatry by making the ephod.  He probably just wanted to attempt to give folks something to see a sign from God when making decisions.  Nevertheless, it backfired on him.  Big time!

And Gideon made an ephod of the gold and put it in his city in Ophrah.  And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family (8:27).

Wow.  Idolatry is never far from men’s hearts.  Which is why we must tread very lightly in the matter of seeking signs.  God’s Word (the Bible) is sufficient to equip us “for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).  It is highly significant that after casting lots to select Matthias to replace Judas (which notably happens before the Holy Spirit comes to indwell believers at Pentecost), we do not see the church leaders ever again making decisions using those Old Covenant, “sign-type” methods.

And evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah (Jesus as recorded in Matthew 16:4).

Jesus has come.  Jesus has lived righteously in our place.  Jesus has died for our sins.  Jesus has risen.  Jesus has ascended to heaven and poured out the Spirit on His Church.  The eye-witness testimony to Jesus has been completed.  We have all we need to make godly decisions, be they big or small.

Let us not be small-faithed like Gideon; for our God has already spoken!         

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