Devotional on Judges

2014 – Jerome, AZ

Almost, but not quite
Judges 1: When Israel became stronger they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they never got rid of them.
The failure of the army of Israel to purge the land of the Canaanites is mentioned in the Book of Joshua but becomes a major factor as I turn the page and begin reading the Book of Judges. Clearly, the army of Joshua has experienced unprecedented success. They arrive as underdogs in a new land occupied by fierce and evil people who have superior weapons and fortified cities. This is the home of the warrior-giants of the Bible. In spite of all that these children of ex-slaves cross the Jordan and win victory after victory to become the dominant force in the land. All in all, what they accomplish is quite impressive. It’s just too bad that they don’t do what the Lord told them to do and press on to complete victory. The book of Judges tells the story of the result of that failure. This is far from being anyone’s favorite book of the Bible. It is, though, a book in which the grace of God shines forth against the black background of so much spiritual failure.
Take Away: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way.”

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Yosemite National Park

Generation to generation
Judges 2: Eventually that entire generation died…another generation grew up that didn’t know anything of God….
This is a pitiful situation. How foolish! Here are parents who ate manna, had ever-wear shoes, crossed through the Jordan on dry ground, saw the walls of Jericho fall, and won an amazing dominance in Canaan. Somehow, those same parents failed to instill the knowledge of God in their children. What’s wrong with these people? Years earlier Moses warned them that it would be easy to enjoy their success and forget God. Now, a generation has passed and the nightmare scenario he described has come true. Apparently, it’s easier to fail to pass faith from one generation to the next than we might think. My experience with God might be vivid to me but can mean almost nothing to my children. I must assume nothing and take nothing for granted. If those I love are to know God I must be resolutely intentional in instilling that knowledge in their lives. God help us to reach our children.
Take Away: How can I best pass my faith on to those who are dearest to me?

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Sightseeing in San Francisco, CA – Golden Gate Bridge

It’s your call
Judges 2: That’s why God let those nations remain.
The Book of Judges is the story of God’s patiently developing a people he can call his very own. There’s a cycle of failure, repentance, grace, and deliverance that’s repeated again and again. When they fail to completely drive out the people of the land the Lord leaves that pagan culture there and uses it to develop the Israelites into the people he wants them to be. The remaining Canaanites become the “alternative choice” for the Israelites. I see a parallel in my own culture. I believe the Lord intends that the Church be the dominant force in society. Sadly, in many cases it fails. The result is that there’s a thriving alternative secular culture in the land. This culture has no place for God (or at least wants God to mind his own business). Every day God’s people are exposed to the values of this self-oriented, market-driven, materialistic society. As it was for the Israelites of the Book of Judges the people of God must decide “who I will serve.”
Take Away: No doubt the popular culture is, well, popular – sometimes God’s people have to journey the less traveled road.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Pinnacles National Park, CA

(Don’t) Make yourself at home
Judges 3: But the People of Israel made themselves at home among the Canaanites.
It’s their first test and they fail it. They’ve failed to remove the pagan people from the land and now their test is to live near them but not become one of them. They miserably fail. Before long their young people are getting married to Canaanites and the perverted worship practices of those people is being accepted by them. Simply put, they feel right at home with these heathen. In his anger, God turns his back on them and soon everything falls apart. How at home am I in my society? Jesus loved sinners. He ate with them and genuinely liked them. But he never became one of them. On one hand there’s the example of the Israelites who feel so at home with the Canaanites that they adopt their ways. On the other hand we have Jesus who loves people and fellowships with them, but in doing so, invites them to be the ones who are changed. God help me to love the lost without making myself “at home” with them in the manner of these Israelites.
Take Away: Is the Church changing the culture or is the culture changing the Church?

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Monterrey Peninsula, CA

Woman power
Judges 4: God will use a woman’s hand to take care of Sisera.
It comes as a surprise that we must journey into what might be called the “dark ages” of Israel before we find a genuine woman hero in the Bible. I guess it could be argued that Moses’ sister Miriam qualifies, and maybe she does, but Deborah really shines here. Sisera is the commander of an occupying army that’s dominating the Israelites and Deborah is their recognized leader. She calls for Barak, another well-known Israelite, and tells him that it has become clear to her that God’s going to deliver them from Sisera and his army. Barak, though, is afraid to proceed without Deborah at his side. Deborah replies that because of his fear, God will use a woman’s hand to take care of Sisera, and she, not him, will get the credit. It all plays out as she said and, not only does Deborah go down in history as the one who leads the way to freedom a woman named Jael finishes Sisera off. Long before the promise of “daughters prophesying” is fulfilled in Acts 2, we find God using women as leaders in his work. Thank God for women who are willing to be used of God to accomplish his purposes.
Take Away: The Lord uses willing people, and there’s to gender qualification in it.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Monterrey Peninsula, CA

Generation to generation
Judges 5: God chose new leaders, who then fought at the gates.
Following the defeat of the oppressor Sisera we hear a duet being sung by Deborah and Barak, the two people instrumental in the victory that has been won. It’s a war song, all about how God fought for them and how he empowered them to do what needed to be done. The book of Judges gives us history in 40 year or so chunks, so, while I earlier walked with Abraham year by year and traveled with the children of Israel in their wilderness journey at a much slower pace, each page of the book of Judges represents the rise and fall of an entire generation. In this song, I find a description of how “God chose new leaders” to fight for him in their generation. While there’s a lot of ugly stuff in this book of the Bible, I’m reminded that God continues to be active in Israel. Even though it’s sometimes hard to spot, I see the golden thread of God’s grace here. A set of leaders fail and Israel plunges into the darkness of sin. Then, the Lord graciously reaches down into that darkness and lifts a new leader to call his people back from the brink. This is far from ideal. It could and should be so much better. Still, the grace and faithfulness of God shines like a beacon against this bleak backdrop of sin and failure.
Take Away: God’s grace is seen in dark places. It fact, it shines there, bringing both light and hope.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Monterrey Peninsula, CA

Asking God hard questions
Judges: 6: If God is with us, why has all this happened to us?
The startling honesty of Gideon arrests my attention today. Even as he has an extraordinary encounter with the Lord he’s brutally honest about how things are going. Of course, the answer to his question has already been given. God didn’t leave the people. Rather, they left him: they “went back to doing evil.” God isn’t going to stay where he’s unwelcome. The Lord departs and they’re quickly dominated by Midian. Still, God doesn’t forget them. When the time is right, the Lord appears to Gideon and calls this unlikely person a “mighty warrior.” More on Gideon’s leadership later on, but, again, my attention is drawn to his honesty before God. If God is so good, if he’s on our side, if he’s our deliverer then why are things so bad? There’s power in asking hard questions to God. In this case Gideon need only look to the pagan practices he and his fellow Israelites have incorporated into their lives for his answer. God’s grace is clearly evidenced by, first, the fact that they haven’t been wiped off the face of the earth, and second, the fact that God is right there carrying on a conversation with him. The truth is, though, that God isn’t offended by our asking hard questions. We aren’t to take up permanent residence in that house of questions but we almost have to pass through that neighborhood to ever arrive at a meaningful faith.
Take Away: It is okay to ask the Lord hard, honest questions.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Monterrey Peninsula, CA

Putting out a fleece
Judges 6: Let me say one more thing. I want to try another time with the fleece.
Here we are reading about Gideon and his fleece of wool. Actually, Gideon asks for, and receives, three signs from God. First, the angel of the Lord causes a fire to miraculously appear and consume his offering. Second, his fleece of wool gets wet from the dew while everything else stays dry. Third, the situation is reversed and the fleece stays dry while everything else gets wet from the dew. This is interesting reading, but it isn’t a lesson in how we’re supposed to deal with God. We’re to be people of faith, trusting in the Lord and learning to hear his voice. We’re not supposed to be sign-seekers and deal-makers. The star of this story isn’t Gideon, a near heathen who keeps getting signs from God confirming what he’s clearly already been told. The Star is God, who is patient even when Gideon keeps asking him to prove his own words. I’m thankful for a patient God who puts up with my shallowness even as he works to produce in me a more mature relationship with himself. Generally speaking though, I need to just do whatever it is God has made clear to me without “putting out a fleece.”
Take Away: Don’t press God’s patience – just obey in the first place.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ

God smiling
Judges 7: You have too large an army with you.
The Lord has such a sense of humor. Gideon’s been rounding up the troops to take on the mighty Midian army and he’s done a pretty good job of it. Now they’re on their way into battle, but first, God has some trimming to do. First, those who are afraid are invited to leave. Two thirds of the army decides this is a good time to go home. Then, as they get a drink of water, the few who show “battle sense” are kept while everyone else goes home. Gideon was reluctant enough to take on this fight. He must be beside himself as the Lord keeps whittling down his army. He’s now left with just 300 fighters. Of course, God has a purpose in all this. Even as we see the Lord’s disqualification of almost all of Gideon’s army, we see that the Lord is quite intentional here. If Gideon’s large force wins a victory they’ll take all the credit for it. The Lord wants not only to bring deliverance to Israel, but to restore them to himself as well. I believe proper preparation for things I attempt is wise and reasonable, but I also know that the ultimate Source in my life is, not my plans and resources, but my Lord. Sometimes, he has to whittle down my approach so, when it all works out, I’ll know who it is that gets the credit. And, as he does it, I think he’s smiling to himself.
Take Away: The Lord loves turning the tables and doing the impossible.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ

The battle that never was
Judges 7: I had this dream: A loaf of barley bread tumbled into the Midianite camp.
In preparation for the coming battle the Lord sends Gideon to the outskirts of the camp of the mighty Midian army. As he cautiously scouts the camp he overhears a conversation between two soldiers. One is telling the other about a dream he’s had that has nearly scared him to death. In his dream he saw a tent that represented the Midian army. Then, of all things, he saw a giant loaf of barley bread, representing Gideon and the Israelites, tumbling down the hill into the camp and knocking down the tent of Midian. The soldier has concluded that this is a message from his gods that Gideon’s army is going to roll over Midian. Overhearing all this is greatly encouraging to Gideon who concludes that God is preparing the way for his tiny force to defeat this mighty army. That night, when Gideon’s 300 sound the trumpets, light their torches, and break the jars what the skittish Midian army hears and sees causes mass confusion and they begin fighting one another and running for their lives. In no time at all the battle that never was is over. I think stories like this are important to God’s people. We need to tell them to our children and in telling them, instill in our boys and girls a deep faith in a God who takes care of his people in sometimes delightful, unusual ways. As we tell and retell stories like this, we, ourselves, are reminded of God’s power over those things that overwhelm us and his faithfulness to us in all the circumstances of life. Maybe that’s a message you need today.
Take Away: The Lord delights in doing good things for his people and he especially seems to enjoy doing those good things in unexpected ways.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ

The Golden Ephod
Judges 8: Gideon made the gold into a sacred ephod and put it on display in his hometown.
Gideon and his army have won a great series of victories and now he returns home to a hero’s welcome. When the people want to honor him he asks for some of the gold earrings that were taken from the slain enemy. One has to read between the lines a bit but it seems Gideon’s intentions are good. He takes that gold and uses it in making a priestly garment called an “ephod.” In the history of the Israelites the ephod was worn by the high priest. It appears that this ephod isn’t intended to be worn; after all, it weighs around 100 pounds. Instead, it’s put on display as a reminder of all the Lord has done for them through Gideon. If this understanding is accurate this fancy “reminder” isn’t all that bad. However, it isn’t long before this object of remembrance becomes an object of worship. In fact, Gideon, himself, leads the way in bowing down before the Golden Ephod. How easy it is for us to elevate things to supreme importance while overlooking that which really matters. We church people debate music styles or building plans and worry about who will clean up after the potluck dinner (none of which are bad in themselves) while forgetting why we came to church in the first place. All the while, God is calling out to us, “Here I am, over here.” We miss his call for attention because we’re busy buffing our Golden Ephod.
Take Away: Ultimately, it’s all about the Lord and our relationship with him.

Devotional on Judges

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.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ

Good old boredom
Judges 10: After him, Jair the Gileadite stepped into leadership. He judged Israel for twenty-two years.
I’m thinking today about the “one paragraph” judges of the book of Judges. I’ve already read about Deborah and Gideon. Jephthah and Samson are just a few pages away. Scattered throughout the pages of Judges are references to national leaders whose stories are summed up in one paragraph each. Usually the most prominent feature is now long these leaders ruled; around 22 years on the average. While it would be thrilling to watch Gideon’s 300 defeating the Midianites and Amaliekiets, I think I’d rather live under the rule of Tola or Jair. These folks quietly go about living their lives under the authority of the Lord God and lead their people in faithful worship of him. Today, I thank God for people like that and I’m reminded that without spectacular spiritual failure we don’t need to have as many stories of miraculous divine rescues.
Take Away: Good leadership sometimes means no big stories, no disasters, just lives quietly lived…

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ

So how’s that “ignoring God” thing working out for you?
Judges 10: They just walked off and left God, quit worshiping him.
It’s been over 60 years since Gideon died. We have short paragraphs mentioning two other leaders who have judged Israel and now, once again, the wheels have fallen off. The word picture is graphic. “They just walked off.” This was definitely one of those, “If God seems far away, who moved?” scenarios. The people aren’t kidnapped and carried away from God. They don’t accidentally wander off. Instead, we see them pull the plug, deciding that they’re no longer going to worship the One who has been so faithful to them. However, that’s not the most sobering part of this story. You see, God doesn’t chase after them. When they come to him in their distress, he replies, “I’m not saving you anymore. Go ahead! Cry out for help to the gods you’ve chosen over me.” It’s when they repent that the Lord reconnects with their lives. God always honors our free will. He doesn’t force us to serve him and he’ll allow us to face the consequences of our choices. The good news here is that he remains true to his character. While he won’t force us to live our lives in a relationship with him, he’s always ready to forgive and welcome us back into that relationship.
Take Away: We’ll either live in a relationship with the Lord of our own free will or we won’t live in a relationship with him at all…

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ

Don’t make stupid promises to God
Judges 11: I’ll give to God whatever comes out of the door of my house.
Jephthah makes a stupid vow. As he leads Israel into battle against the Ammonites he promises God that, if he’s victorious, he’ll make an offering of the first thing to come out of the door of his house when he returns home. Now, the battle is won and as he returns home it’s his own daughter who first comes out the door to greet him. Apparently, he keeps his stupid vow and offers her as a sacrifice. This is wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start. For one thing, God doesn’t work this way. God does what is right because he’s righteous. He doesn’t play “let’s make a deal” with us. Beyond that, God doesn’t want human sacrifices. In the history of the Israelites, only one time is such a demand given and that’s with Abraham and Isaac. Even in the dark ages of Judges every citizen of Israel knows the story; and they all know that God stops Abraham before one drop of Isaac’s blood is shed. Finally (although there’s more) just because we say something stupid to God doesn’t mean he wants us to do it. “God, if you make me well I’ll be a preacher” might just get a response from God saying, “I’m the One who calls preachers, not you! What makes you think I want the likes of you as a preacher in the first place?” I’m to live in a genuine relationship with God, not one in which I’m constantly trying to bargain with or manipulate him into getting what I want.
Take Away: The Lord doesn’t want to make deals with us. Rather, he wants to connect with our lives.

Devotional on Judges

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.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ

A good story
Judges 13: The angel of God appeared to her.—
The set up for the story of Samson begins with the visitation of an angel. Manoah’s wife (unnamed in the Bible) is minding her own business when the angel appears to inform her that she’s going to have a baby boy. The child is to be raised under a strict code including his partaking of no fruit of the vine or ever having his hair cut. While the Nazirite vow was introduced in Numbers 6 this is the first time we hear of anyone actually under that vow and his case is (obviously) extraordinary. Not only does his being under the Nazirite vow set up the unique “haircut” feature of the story of Samson there’s also the fact that in Samson’s case being a Nazirite is not so much a vow as it is a lifetime assignment. His faithfulness to this vow is such a big deal that the angel has arrived early to stop his mother from drinking or doing anything that would constitute a breaking of the vow while Samson is still in his mother’s womb! When Manoah asks the angel his name he’s told that it’s a name beyond his vocabulary and comprehension. Then, as a burnt offering is made, the angel suddenly blends into the flames and ascends heavenward. It’s all very impressive and fun to read and think about. In fact, that’s all I’m doing with this passage because I don’t have a compelling devotional point to make. Sometimes a good story is just a good story!

Take Away: Most of God’s people just live their lives without visions or miracles. When those things happen, though, we have a story worth repeating.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ

The Bible’s strong man
Judges 14: A young lion came at him, roaring. The Spirit of God came on him powerfully and he ripped it open barehanded.
Samson is the “strong man” of the Bible. When artists depict him, they always draw him as a muscle man. Frankly, I doubt it. Remember that his enemies try to discover the secret of his strength. If he’s built like a super hero they wouldn’t do that. I think he’s of average build and that the only physical characteristic that makes him stand out in a crowd is hair; hair, and lots of it: long, flowing hair on his head and on his face. This guy has never had a razor used on him. His nickname could be “Harry!” The key to his strength is tied into his faithfulness to God. And, in his case, the symbol of that faithfulness is uncut hair. Really, I don’t even see evidence that Samson is always strong. It’s when the “Spirit of God comes on him” that he’s strong. The rest of the time, he’s just an ordinary, hairy guy. Thinking devotionally here, I’m reminded that it’s when the Spirit of God moves in my life that I move into the realm of extraordinary possibilities. I may not be “more powerful than a locomotive” but, when the Spirit of God is directing and empowering, I can do whatever it is the Lord wants me to do.
Take Away: The Lord gives us whatever capability he needs for us to have to accomplish his purposes.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ

Not exactly the Sermon on the Mount
Judges 15: I swear I’ll get even with you.
Samson decides to marry a Philistine. Along the way he gets mad and kills thirty men for their clothing to use in paying a lost bet. He gets married, but when he’s absent for a while, her father gives his bride to the fellow who was best man at the wedding. Once again, Samson gets mad and burns their fields. The Philistines retaliate by killing his bride and her father. True to form, Samson swears to get even. Isn’t this a pleasant story (not!)? Interestingly enough, we’re told at the beginning of this story that “God was behind this.” What’s going on here? How can God be involved in feuds and retaliation and the like? I think I know the answer. Samson is one of the most selfish and self-absorbed people in the Bible. Apparently, his parents are so impressed that the birth of their son was announced by an angel and since he came with special “handling instructions” they have never said “no” to him in his life. The Lord knows that Samson will never consider taking on the Philistines for the good of his people. All he’s interested in is Samson. Therefore, there has to be something in this for Samson and a great motivator in his life is revenge. It’s strange, I know, but it seems God accomplishes his purposes by manipulating Samson into doing what the Lord wants him to do in the first place. Had Samson been a man with some moral integrity the account of his life would be quite different. Still, the Almighty has his way with Samson even though the byword of his life is “revenge.”
Take Away: Better to cooperate with the Lord in doing what he wants done, but, ultimately, God’s purposes will be accomplished either way.

Devotional on Judges

2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ

Hair today, gone tomorrow
Judges 16: Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me, dear, the secret of your great strength.”
Samson is a one-man army. Other Israelite liberators inspire people to follow them and rally armies to action. Samson does it all by himself. It’s just Samson and God. Well, really it’s just God. Samson’s unshaved head is the symbol of his connection to God and cutting his hair will break that relationship. Subtract God from his life and Samson is a zero. When Samson stupidly tells Delilah his story he breaks that relationship with God. Soon, the wheels come off and all is lost. I’m tempted to say, “Without his hair Samson’s just an ordinary man.” Actually, though, it’s, “Without his God, Samson’s just an ordinary man.” Subtract the unique features of this story and we’re left with the truth Jesus stated in John 15:5: “apart from me you can do nothing.”
Take Away: Every good thing I accomplish is because of the Lord’s presence in my life.

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