2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ
Judges 20: How did this outrageous evil happen?
The final story in the book of Judges is about as dark and evil as it can get. It concerns a man and his concubine. The story contains deviant sexual behavior, rape, and murder. The result is a civil war in which the tribe of Benjamin is practically wiped out. One question asked during the story should ring in our ears: “How did this outrageous evil happen?” How did the descendants of Abraham, this miraculously freed nation of slaves, these recipients of the Ten Commandments, these people chosen to be God’s very own come to this? The answer is “self and sin.” Their faith hasn’t been passed on to their children. Their heroes become more and more flawed. God is forgotten and their society begins to unravel. The writer of Judges concludes in the famous epitaph of the book: “At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing.” That, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. I’d better not read this with a detached sense of superiority. I live in a society in which “doing whatever one feels like doing” is the norm. We want a convenient God who does our bidding, but leaves us alone the rest of the time. When Israel tries that the result is disaster. Do we really think we can get away with it?
Take Away: Whether we’re talking about an individual or a nation, it’s foolish to attempt to live apart from God.
2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ
How’s your accent?
Judges 12: Say “Shibboleth.” But he would always say “Sibboleth” – he couldn’t say it right.
Following Jephthah’s victory over the Ammonites the people of Ephraim are insulted that they weren’t called in to be a part of the army. Apparently, there was some kind of mix up in which Jephthah did call for their help but they didn’t get the message. The result is a skirmish and then all-out war between the forces of Gilead and those of Ephraim. Before long, Ephraim is routed by their foes. In disarray they flee and attempt to cross back over the Jordan to their own territory. However, Jephthah’s army has tasted blood and takes control of the most likely fords of the river. There are no uniforms, the soldiers on both sides look alike, and they speak the same language. It seems that the defeated Ephraimites will be able to claim to be with Gilead and escape. However, there’s one difference. The people of Ephraim, living across the river for several generations have developed their own accent. A challenged soldier is required to say “Shibboleth” (I think it means “river”). However the “h” sound is missing from their accent, so he says “Sibboleth” instead. For the lack of an “h” he is executed. On this day thousands of Ephraimites die at the hands of their relatives. As I read this I’m reminded of the New Testament statement that when Jesus comes back that “every knee will bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Everyone will say the right thing, but some will be commanded to “depart.” Why? The wrong accent of life! It takes more than lip service to be connected to the Lord.
Take Away: Just saying the right things isn’t good enough.
2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ
There, but for the grace of God….
Judges 9: Just then some woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and crushed his skull.
Not all the inhumanity of Israel’s “dark ages” of Judges comes from the belligerent peoples surrounding them. A lot of the bleakness comes from within. Gideon apparently makes himself into a sheik and fathers lots of children. When he dies there’s a power struggle that’s won by Abimelech, the son of Gideon and one of his maidservants. Abimelech seals the deal by murdering his seventy brothers. However, he’s better at murder than he is at leading and within three years there’s mounting opposition to his rule. Abimelech acts to quash the rebellion and arrives at Thebez, a town known for its fortified tower. As this wicked leader prepares burn alive those who have taken refuge there a woman drops part of a millstone on his head, thus bringing an end to the short and evil leadership of Abimelech. This is an ugly, if somewhat interesting story of a bad man who does bad things and then dies in a violent, unexpected way. No doubt, the detail of his inglorious death is told to us that we might see the judgment of God on Abimelech. In the larger view, I’m reminded that when God is removed from their lives just how much these descendants of Abraham look like the other heathen of that land. When I look around my community and see people doing stupid, self-destructive things to themselves and one another; when I see them blindly pursuing worthless things; and when I see them stubbornly traveling down the wrong road I’m wise to remember that without the Lord in my life that could easily be me. One response then, is to be thankful for what the Lord’s doing in my life. It’s not about me – it’s all about him. Another response is that, rather than feeling superior, I’m to be compassionate to them. These are people who are like me. They just don’t yet know the Life Changer I know.
Take Away: There, but for the grace of God, go I.
2014 – Ponderosa Thousand Trails – Lotus, CA
Sometimes God is a stranger to me
Joshua 11: It was God’s idea that they all would stubbornly fight the Israelites so he could put them under the holy curse without mercy.
It’s bloody with lots of death and destruction. Individual tribes and cities and also coalitions of previous enemies resist the onslaught of Joshua’s army. Now victory has come and war is over. I know that the book of Joshua gives a “marching to victory” view of the Canaan Conquest while Judges paints a less pretty picture, but frankly, even the positive view of Joshua makes me cringe. All the slaughter of entire peoples: men, women, and children — even, in some cases, animals. The Scriptures explain that it isn’t that God wants to give Canaan to the Israelites so he helps them exterminate those who live there. Rather, it’s that those who live there are so degenerate, so unholy, that God doesn’t want them or anything about them to contaminate the people he’s chosen. Still, I struggle with this because it seems so distant from “God is love.” I confess that sometimes God is a stranger to me. Still, that which is wrong humanly speaking isn’t necessarily wrong for the Creator. The “Giver of Life” has full authority to be the “Taker of Life.” Sometimes devotional lessons are hard to come by in passages like this, but here’s what I get today: there is an “other-ness,” a sobering, even a fear-generating side of the Lord. I love him and I trust his character but I definitely don’t always understand who he is and why he does what he does. I am glad God Almighty doesn’t need me to be his defender.
Take Away: Sometimes we simply have to trust and believe even as we struggle to understand.
2014 – Mt Rainier National Park
Numbers 16: Earth opened its mouth and in one gulp swallowed them down.
In spite of the awesome encounters with the Almighty and his daily provision for them, and in spite of the progress that’s been made in the construction of the Tent of Worship as well as the organization of the hundreds of thousands of people, serious opposition is building in the camp. Many resent Moses’ assumption of authority and doubt his ability to lead them forward. Resentment and doubt fester and some step forward to seize the moment. They rally a collation to challenge Moses. Not once, but twice the entire nation is moments away from eradication due to the wrath of the Almighty. Moses calls for a contest of sorts. Representatives of both sides will come to burn incense before the Lord. God will choose who will lead his people. The contest is a brief one. No one can doubt the Lord’s answer as the earth opens to swallow up the rebels. The 250 who are offering incense to the Lord are struck dead by lightning. If that isn’t enough, the next day many throughout the camp complain, blaming Moses for all the death the previous day and the Lord responds by sending a plague that kills 14,700 people. Clearly, the Lord is intent on establishing, once and for all, Moses as the leader of the Israelites. Just as clear, is the realization that to this very day God expects his plans to be followed. Without doubt, I’m aware of the grace, mercy, patience and love the Lord has for us. I need to also be aware that none of this means the Lord will just go along with me when I challenge his purposes in the world. The result my rebellion may not be as dramatic as it was among these ancient Israelites but it will be just as serious. Challenging God is always serious business.
Take Away: Never doubt it: the Lord expects us to be obedient to his will.
2014 – La Conner, WA
There’s bad news
Leviticus 26: But if you refuse to obey me
While I’d like to linger on the blessing side of Leviticus 26 I have to move on to the curse side of the chapter. God tells them, “If you obey…good things will come. If you disobey…the results will be unthinkable.” The list is filled with everything from disease to famine to war to cannibalism. While these horrible things are framed as divine retribution the last part of this terrible section makes it clear that all these things will come “because of their sins, their sins compounded by their ancestors’ sins.” With that clarification in mind I see that this passage isn’t about God getting them if they don’t behave but, instead, is a clear word of warning that people reap what they sow. I’m not saying that the Lord has nothing to do with some of the promised terrible things, just that if they remove themselves from his blessings this, in general, is what the real world looks like. Apart from the Lord’s provision and protection they’ll find the world to be a harsh, unforgiving place. As one generation after another shrugs off their connection to the Almighty they will fall deeper and deeper into a pit of despair and desperation. God doesn’t have to send bad things into people’s lives because we live in a world where bad things sometimes happen. While it’s beyond the scope of this short devotional, the truth is that bad things come into the lives of both the righteous and the unrighteous. However in this passage the Lord warns his people that if they reject his presence and grace, severing the special connection they have with him the result will be what’s described in this passage.
Take Away: The world is a dangerous place, especially for those who live outside the grace and mercy of the Lord.
2014 – Whatcom Falls Park, Bellingham, WA
Leviticus 10: Distinguish between the holy and the common, between the ritually clean and unclean.
It starts with another “fire” issue. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu have failed to follow the Lord’s instructions concerning fire used in worship. The result is fire from Above! The fire of the wrath of God kills them. Things have calmed down a bit, and Moses warns everyone to not take the things of God lightly. Holy things must be treated as such; with reverence. If it’s possible to treat uncommon things as common and thus bring condemnation, it is just as possible to treat common things as uncommon. Our society specializes in that. Things that should be treated with absolute reverence are tossed aside as though they’re worthless. Silly things that are either simply common or worse are held up as shining objects of worship. My society does that with sports, entertainment, and so-called success. To treat the holy as common is sin that brings death. The same can be said of treating common things as holy.
Take Away: Priorities are critically important in all of life.
2014 – Arches National Park, Utah
The stubbornness of Pharaoh
Exodus 9: But for one reason only I’ve kept you on your feet…
Things continue to go downhill for mighty Egypt. Dead animals and a plague of miserable boils have struck the land. As Goliath will stager before falling many years in the future, Egypt is near the end. All the wealth and power Joseph brought to Egypt is draining away. One has to believe that the people of Egypt and even the advisors of the king are practically begging him to end this by surrendering to the demand from God that the people of Israel be set free. As Moses promises yet another massive display of God’s power, he explains the absurd stubbornness of Pharaoh. This is God’s doing. Pharaoh hasn’t given in because he can’t give in. After centuries of seeming silence God is making himself known once again. When he’s finished with Pharaoh the whole world will know about the God of the Israelites. On one hand I squirm a bit in my spirit as I see Pharaoh stripped of his free will, suffering the consequences of his earlier stubbornness. On the other hand, though, I’m reminded that it’s the Almighty who’s doing it. Who has a right to question what the Creator of all things does? Pharaoh’s life is going to bring glory to God, not only throughout the world of his day, but throughout history as well. As I read about the plagues I’m reminded that every life will, sooner or later, bring glory to God.
Take Away: Ultimately, God is sovereign and ultimately, every life will yield to that truth.
2014 -Along California 101 – smoke from forest fire
Road to ruin
Genesis 19: God was so merciful to them!
I really dislike the story of the destruction of the wicked cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. There’s almost nothing uplifting in it. Years earlier, Lot and his family had taken up residence in the vicinity of Sodom. Now, in spite of its reputation for sexual wickedness, we find him at home there. When the messengers of God warn him to take his family and flee he doesn’t want to go. His wife can’t bear leaving and his daughters have a warped view of morality. Even when he’s convinced to run he can’t bring himself to leave the area and, even though he later changes his mind about it, strikes a bargain to move to a smaller town in the area. I squirm a bit as I read all this and then, even though I’ve read the story many times, I want to turn my head as the fire and brimstone falls in judgment. I come away from this passage thinking I’d better be careful about the choices I make…that they may have more impact on me and those I love than I realize. I’m also reminded that I must never underestimate the seriousness of sin. As does Abraham, once in a while I need to glance out over the plain and see the smoke rising from the destruction and remember that Judgment is real and sure and serious. And, as I see Lot and his family being ushered away prior to that Judgment, I had better be reminded of God’s mercy. That was their only hope and it’s also my only hope.
Take away: I’d better be careful about the choices I make.