Gleanings from Judges [18]

The Depths of Israel’s Spiritual Depravity (Judges 17-18)

I return again to my devotional study of the book of Judges.

As I have been noting throughout my study, the book highlights what could be called the “Canaanization” of Israel. It began in the first few chapters of the book where we see the Israelites failing to drive out the Canaanites from the land of Israel. Rather than faithful obedience to the covenant YHWH made with them, the people flagrantly disobeyed.

– They were supposed to drive them from the land, but instead made treatise with them.
– They placed them under tribute for the purposes of getting money from them.
– Eventually, Israel began inter-marrying with their sons and daughters.
– And finally, they adopted the Canaanite religious practices, forsaken their covenant with God.

The book of Judges, which could also be called the book of Deliverers, focuses upon the main individuals God raised up to deliver Israel from their apostasy and judgment.

Coming to the last five chapters of the book, these chapters represent specific examples of apostasy. They contain significant events demonstrating a religious and spiritual degradation of Israel’s families, the tribes, and the Levitical priesthood.

The last five chapters are essentially appendices. They are taken out of historical sequence. The events described within the chapters took place early on during the time of Judges, perhaps within the historical background presented in chapters 1 and 2 when the tribes were to drive out the inhabitants.

The reason it is believed these final chapters record events that took place before the main book of Judges has to do with the tribe of Dan. Judges 1:34 states how Dan was unable to drive out the Amorites, resulting in their mass migration to the north. That tribe plays a prominent role in chapters 17-18, when they moved from the southern portion of Israel’s territory, to the northern boundary, way outside their allotted territory.

Additionally, there is the repetition of the statement, There was not king in Israel, 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25 and twice the phrase, Everyone did what was right in his own eyes, 17:6, 21:25. Those two statements not only provides a time marker when the events took place, in this case, before the monarchy, but it was also a comment on the spiritual conditions among the tribes. They had no unity around a monarch, which in turn means there was no king to lead them into sin. Their spiritual condition that is displayed in the last five chapters is all on the people. They show their religious corruption that resulted in their moral/ethical corruption.

Let’s first address Israel’s religious corruption beginning in chapter 17.

I. Corruption of a House, 17:1-6

Chapter 17 opens describing a man named Micah. His name, by the way, means, “who is like YHWH.”

He confesses his theft of his mother’s silver. Nothing is told as to why he took it; however, she had put a curse upon it and the person who stole from her. Her curse is rather superstitious, thinking that God is obligated to honor her threats. Likewise, Micah is superstitious as well, because when he returns the silver, he wasn’t necessarily repentant of his sin as he was fearful of the curse. His mother blesses him as a way of cancelling it out.

In these opening verses we see the spiritual decline of this household. Micah, the son, violated two of the ten commands, he did not honor his mother, and he was a thief, stealing from her.

His mother also violates the second commandment by making a graven image and by setting up a cultic center in their house. The family had good intentions for doing that, at least in their diluted thinking. The mother had dedicated the silver to God, so it had to be used in some religious fashion. So, they hired a silversmith to fashion an idol. Micah even made some religious artifacts to aid in the worship at their homemade shrine, including an ephod.

II. Corruption of the Priesthood, 17:7-13

We are then introduced to a young priest. The description of him being young suggests he may be new to his duties as a Levite. The Levites were to serve the people, and there were at least 48 cities in which to serve.

He was something of a wandering transient, however, going about looking for the highest bidder to pay for his services. There is no real sense of duty to God’s call on his life as a Levitical priest. His wandering took him to the mountains of Ephraim where he stumbled upon Micah and his make-shift false shrine.

Micah inquires as to who he was and where he is from and learns he is a Levite. Pleased with this news, he hires him to run his cultic center. Micah, with no sense of loyalty and integrity to God’s covenant, agrees to Micah’s offer and becomes his priest. Micah is excited, believing now God will truly bless him because he has a real, genuine priest for the service of his family.

III. Corruption of a Tribe, 18

Chapter 18 records the backstory of Dan’s migration to the north of Israel’s territory. After they could not defeat the Amorites as recorded in Judges 1:34, rather than seeking the LORD for help, the leaders sent spies up to the northern country to check out the availability of the land. While there, the spies happen upon Micah’s home and discover the Levite fake priest. They recognized him, inquired as to why he was there, and he in turn blessed their journey.

The spies learn that the area would be ripe for attack by the tribe of Dan. So they return back to their people with their report. The entire tribe moves, around 600 families.

Once they arrive, the five spies tell the others of Micah, his false shrine, and the priest that served him. They go to Micah’s house and talk the priest into joining them as the priest of the entire tribe. He readily agrees and packs up his shrine, idols, and ephod, and follows the men.

Micah, learning of his priest being kidnapped by the Danites, follows after them to complain about them taking his priest and idols. However, they basically laughed at him. They threaten his life and his entire family.  Way out numbered, there was nothing he could do but return to his home.

In all three of these episodes, we witness the spiritual decline of God’s people. A family foolishly, and against God’s command, set up a shrine to worship idols. A priest, who was supposed to be trained in the services of the covenant people, agrees to oversee this false worship center, and then the tribe of Dan, emboldened by their ability to take matters into their own hands by moving outside their allotted territory, employ the services of Micah’s wayward priest for creating an unlawful worship center for the entire tribe.

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Gleanings from Judges [17]

The Downfall of Samson – Judges 16

It has been awhile since I last took up my devotional study of Judges. I come this time to the final chapter detailing the life of Samson. He was one of the last Judges of Israel, preceding Samuel, but slightly overlapping his life.

In a way, Samson represents what the Bible teaches us about the weakness of man’s heart. Proverbs 4:23 states, Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.

The heart is understood in Scripture as being the true person. It is the mission-control center that directs and orients man in his worldview, his thinking, his overall course of life. Proverbs goes on to explain for us the need to keep watch over it. Mostly to prevent the perversity found in our hearts from escaping, thus revealing our sinfulness. At the same time, we want to take heed to what we bring into our hearts as well.

Samson is a warning. Though he did great exploits under the power of God, his moral life failed to avoid the pitfalls of personal sin involving women and lust. We this unfold for us in Judges 16.

I. Samson at Gaza – 16:1-3

Judges 16 really opens in 15:20, where it says Samson judged for 20 years. His 20 year judgeship began when God stirred him to action against the Philistines in chapters 14 and 15. For 20 years in between those chapters and chapter 16, he is said to have judged. We are not entirely sure how that played out. Any further exploits against the Philistines is not recorded. The events of chapter 16 are 20 years later, making Samson around 40 years of age.

Chapter 16 begins with Samson at Gaza, the furthest city from where he lived, nearly 40 miles. While he is in the city, he visits a prostitute, a stark reminder of his major character flaw. Becoming cocky, or perhaps feeling invincible, he is forgetting where his abilities truly lie.

Someone in Gaza recognizes him and alerts the Philistines that he is there among them. They set up an ambush, but Samson is able to sneak past them. He lifts the massive city gate from off its foundations and carries it up toward Hebron, reminding the Philistines who he is.

II. Samson and Delilah and the Philistines

Though God was merciful in delivering him from his iniquity, Samson quickly falls into another snare. He loved of a non-Jewish woman of Sorek, essentially another Philistine like the one he attempted to marry in chapter 14. A woman of the very uncircumcised enemies God is stirring up against Samson.

Delilah’s name is uncertain. It means something like, “of the night,” meaning an unnamed woman who is merely another prostitute. Or it is the way the biblical writer is reminding the reader that it was a person of spiritual darkness. Whatever the case, she is different for Samson, because he keeps coming back to her.

The Philistines, however, are crafty. They hear of their affair and the main lords of the Philistines offer her a massive reward 1,100 pieces of silver from each lord, combining to make 5,500 pieces. (3 times what Gideon got in gold, 1,700 shekels). It is clear that the Philistines are desperate to rid themselves of their menace.

What follows is Delilah, over the course of four encounters, slowly uncovering the secret to Samson’s strength. Each time she asks Samson to explain how he could be overcome or bound. First, he says that if he were tied up with seven fresh bowstrings, then if he were tied up with fresh ropes, then if he weaved his hair into seven locks, and then finally, if she were to cut his hair.

Each time, he mockingly tells her a lie, but eventually dancing around the truth (his hair), until he tells her the entire truth of his strength. With each time, she lulls him asleep and does to him what he said would weaken him. Each time, the Philistines would try to capture him only to be beaten by him.

Finally, he “tells him all his heart.” He foolishly told her everything. He didn’t guard his heart. Delilah even knew he had, because she immediately told the Philistines what he had told her. As a result, she exploited his secret by cutting his hair and then calling in the Philistines. They seize him, put out his eyes, and make him grind in their mills.

III. Samson and God

Samson is finally at the end of his life. Helpless, he begins to turn his heart toward the Lord he served. The Philistines begin to make sport of Samson. They bring him to their main temple to have him entertain them. The temple complex was massive because it held nearly 3,000 people, men, women, and children.

While he is mocked Samson calls out to God. There is a hint of genuine repentance on his part. He calls on God to “remember me,” nearly the same words the thief on the cross spoke to Christ as he was dying. He asks to be avenged for his two eyes. He shouts out, “Let me die with the Philistines!” That obviously got every one’s attention, but it was too late. Pushing on the main support pillars, Samson tears down the temple. In that one act, he kills more Philistines in his death than during his lifetime.

Postscript

1 Samuel 7 records when a young Samuel called the children of Israel to repentance after they had been humiliated by the Philistines 20 years prior when they captured the ark. God restored His ark to His people, but there was 20 years of silence when the people lamented for their sin. That 20 years is probably when Samson judged. When Samuel called Israel together to a public time of worship, the Philistines heard about them gathering in one place (7:7). They gathered their army to go out and kill Israel. Their action was stirred in part by Samson pulling down their temple and killing 3,000 people. Israel heard from God that day in a display that was like thunder. When the Philistines were put to flight, the men of Israel rose up, pursued them, and drove them back and out of their land.

Gleanings from Judges [16]

samson

Samson and the Retaliation Against the Philistines – Judges  15

In my study of Judges, I have come to the unusual, but extraordinary life of Samson.

First, he had a special calling. He was born to a barren mother, and was told to be a Nazarite before his birth.
Second, he had a spectacular mission. He was stirred to action by the Holy Spirit against the Philistines and empowered with superhuman strength.
Third, he had a separated life. His special calling led him to take on a separated life from specific defilement. He was meant to demonstrate the separation Israel was to have from the Philistines.

Yet, in spite of such an unique work of God in Samson’s life, he was a morally flawed man. We see him as a compromiser, as one pursuing a marriage to a woman who was from the very enemies God had raised him up to conquer. It is as if Samson forgot who he was, why he was born, and it appears that if God had not “rushed” upon him to drive him to action against the Philistines, he would never have done what God wanted him to do.

But God wants His people separate; a holy people set aside to Himself. In spite of his flaws, God uses Samson as the disturber of the peace between Israel and their Philistine overlords.

Initially, Samson had seen a Philistine girl (Judges 14), and acting upon his lust, wanted her as a wife. His parents, alarmed by the request, give into his demands anyways and arrange the marriage. During the wedding feast, Samson states a riddle to the men appointed to watch him. The riddle was based upon his killing of a lion with his bare hands and bees making a hive in the carcass. The loser had to pay with 30 garments.

Only he alone knew about this lion bee hive, so before the allotted time expired, the Philistines force the girl to find out the answer and cheat Samson. Enraged by the deception, the Spirit of the LORD comes upon him and he kills 30 Philistine men in Ashkelon in order to hold up his side of the gamble by paying the wedding guests 30 garments of clothing.

Those events are merely the precursor to the next level of events which escalate Israel’s situation with the Philistines to an all out war.

Samson and his father-in-law (15:1-8). Chapter 15 opens with the words, After a while. We are not sure how much time elapsed. We know it was the wheat harvest, so these events could have started in late May, early summer.

Samson takes a young goat and goes to claim his bride. She, however, has been given to another man. Her father offers her younger sister, but Samson is not satisfied. He vows to do the Philistines harm for this outrage of injustice. The idea of harm is meant to cause strife. Similar to how God sent an ill spirit between Abimelech and men of Shechem so that the men dealt treacherously with Abimelech. Samson begins to rupture the comfortable peace between Israel and the Philistines.

Samson seeks revenge. He captures 300 foxes, or possibly jackals (not an easy feat), ties them together and ties a torch between them. He then sets them loose in the grain fields of the Philistines burning their crops. That would obviously be a serious situation for the Philistines, because they would have no food. Samson was striking against their economy, livelihood, and their fertility gods.

The Philistines knew immediately that Samson was the culprit. The even knew why: because his father-in-law gave away his wife to another man. They in turn kill the man, his family, and burn his house down with fire. Samson avenges their murder by attacking the men who killed them, smiting them hip and thigh with a great slaughter (15:8). He then leaves and dwells in the caves of Etam.

Samson and Judah (15:9-17). While he is hiding in the caves, the Philistines go to elders of Judah and threaten war. They force the men of Judah to arrest Samson and then hand him over to them.

Gathering their army, the men of Judah go down to where Samson was hiding and call him out. He is causing problems with the Philistines, they insist, and they were there to seize him and hand him over. Samson allows himself to be taken and bound with new rope. As soon as the Philistines see him come out bound, they run down to attack him. At that moment, the Spirit of the LORD came upon Samson, the ropes were burned off of him, and Samson takes a fresh jawbone of a donkey and slays 1,000 men with it.

His slaughter of them was so spectacular that Samson renames the place where the battle took place, Ramath Lehi, which can mean, Jawbone Hill.

The reader will note a couple of important truths.

First, Samson does not initiate the move against the Philistines in order to deliver Israel. His actions were purely personal vendettas against those who hurt him.

Secondly, seeing his own actions and renaming the two spots, where he defeated the Philistines with a jawbone and where he called for water and God miraculously supplied it, it is clear he has his own interests in mind.

But all of those events is for an occasion against the Philistines. God will have His people separate and He raises up a severely flawed man to accomplish the freedom of Israel.

Gleanings from Judges [15]

samsonlionSamson Stirs the Phillistines – Judges 14

When we come to the judgeship of Samson, we learn from out of all the previous judges, his was especially unique. He was called by God from before his birth to fulfill his roll as a judge. Both he and his mother, at least for her until she gave birth to him, were under the Nazarite vow. Samson would live a life-long commitment to the vow, at least for the most part as we shall see. But most importantly, Samson’s birth was unique because it was “miraculous.” His mother had been barren since her marriage to his father, Manoah, and she conceives after God’s pronouncement.

Samson’s birth and eventual ministry is entirely orchestrated by the LORD. He had to move to deliver His people, because they wouldn’t attempt to leave their circumstances. They lived under the dominion of the Philistines, and it becomes apparent as we move through the record of Samson’s life and judgeship that Israel was content and comfortable with that arrangement. God was going to move, however, to disturb the peace. He wants them separate from the Philistines.

Coming to Judges 14, we have the first instance of Samson acting in his judgeship. It is an event totally driven by the LORD. The section really begins in 13:25 where the text states that the “Spirit of the LORD began to stir him.” The word “stir” has the idea of compelling. God was directing Samson to be an instigator that would make the Philistines angry with Israel. Coupled with Judges 14:4, we see that God was moving upon Samson, because He was seeking an occasion, or opportunity, against the Philistines.

The catalyst for God’s occasion against the Philistines was a Philistine girl.

Samson goes to Timnah, a town about 6 miles west of Samon’s hometown. While there, he sees a Philistine girl and is immediately smitten by her. He returns home to tell his parents to get her for him as a wife. His parents, as any good God-fearing parents would be, are distraught by his request. Doesn’t he want to marry a nice Jewish girl? Instead he goes to an uncircumcised Philistine girl, which is to say, a girl who is outside the Covenant the God made with Israel.

Samson brashly follows his flesh and lusts. “She is right in my eye,” he says when he demands his parents get her for him as his wife. The comment speaks to what he values most, outward appearance. He is also willing wishes to align himself with a pagan culture. Reluctantly, his parents approve.

Samson and his parents travel to Timnah to ask if the girl’s family would be willing to give the girl in marriage. At some point, Samson is alone in a vineyard, which raises concern about him violating his Nazarite vow. Why is he alone in a vineyard when he isn’t to have any wine? Never the less, he is by himself when a lion attacks him. The Spirit of the LORD rushes upon him and he kills the lion with his bare hands.

At some point later, he goes to make wedding preparations, and so he happens to turn to see the dead lion. Bees had made a hive in the carcass, which is a strange occurrence, because bees don’t normally make hives in rotting corpses. Violating the Nazarite vow of touching unclean things, like a dead body, Samson scrapes up the honey and eats it, and even gives some to his parents without telling them from where he got it.

When he gets to Timnah to be married, he prepares a feast for the men of the town, which it can only be guessed that involved the use of alcohol. Already Samson is on the brink of becoming a seriously compromised man.

As is the custom, Samson is appointed 30 companions. They were “brought” to Samson, which has the idea of being conscripted, or made to be with him. Men who were more than likely told to keep an eye on him, but they give the appearance of being around him in goodwill. He proposes a riddle to them based upon his dead lion with the honey. Obviously, Samson is the only one who could possibly know because he was alone.

Irritated that they could not figure out the riddle, the Philistines tell his wife that she is to find out the answer or they will burn her house down and kill her family. So she did what all manipulative women do: she nagged him until he broke. He tell her the answer and she in turn tells the 30 men. They in turn tell Samson the answer.

Angered by his loss, he now has a need to pay off a substantial gambling debt. He does it by having the Spirit of the LORD rush upon him and by picking a fight with the Philistines. Travelling nearly 20 miles away, he goes to Ashkelon and single-handily kills 30 men! And unbelievable event. He takes their garments and gives them to his companions.

Obviously, the brutal killing of 30 Philistine men by the hands of just one Jewish man would not go unnoticed, and this becomes the event that eventually brings God to using Samson to destroy the Philistines.

Gleanings from Judges [14]

judges13

The Birth of Samson [Judges 13]

Continuing in our study in the book of Judges, I come to the life of Samson. He is probably the most memorable of all the judges because of his feats of strength. In fact, it is his truly remarkable — or better, miraculous — judgeship of Samson that causes theological liberals to deny the historicity of these stories. They claim they are exaggerated hero stories because no man could single-handily destroy the Philistine army or carry the city gates of Gaza some 20 miles into the territory of Israel.

Samson was unique because he was anointed of God for a purpose: to stir up the Philistines so God could use Israel to destroy them. In children’s picture books and other Christian pop cultural references and artwork, Samson is shown as a brawny, muscular man who rivals a Gold’s gym user. The book of Judges tells us his strength came from the Spirit of God coming upon him, which makes me wonder if he was a small, averaged sized man that no one would ever think was physically strong.

Samson is also something of a mixed bag morally. Though he is called of the Lord and and anointed by the Spirit to do remarkable, supernatural feats of strength, he had a severe weakness for women, especially Philistine women. It is his lust for strange women that is what becomes his undoing and brings him to a sad end to his life.

But before we even get to those issues in his life, we need to consider his remarkable birth beginning in Chapter 13.

The Setting

Chapter 13 opens by reminding us of the situation in Israel. The people had done evil and God had given them over to a foreign oppressor, the Philistines. I pointed out when discussing Jephthah that it was an unusually wicked time in Israel’s history. According to 10:6ff., there was rampant apostasy on a wide-scale. God, 10:7 says, hands them over to two oppressors who troubled them simultaneously: The Ammonites on the eastern side of the Jordan, who Jephthah dealt with, and the Philistines on the western side, who Samson dealt with.

The Philistines were mentioned briefly before in chapter 3 of Judges when Samgar, quite possibly a non-Jewish judge, defeated 600 of them with an ox goad, 3:31. His defeat of them was merely a temporary fix. The Philistines are shrouded in mystery. It is believed they were sea people who came from the Aegean area around Greece. Some come by sea via Crete and Cyprus, known in the OT as Kittim. Others crossed the land, down from the north, displacing the Hittite empire. Their goal may had been to overrun  Egypt, the then major superpower in the region.

Around 1190 B.C., Ramses III defeated the Philistines in battle and then hired many of the defeated troops as mercenaries, putting them at the coastal towns of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ashdod, three of the five major Philistine cities. If Israel had been faithful, they would have rooted them out like the other nations, but their apostasy brought Israel under their oppression.

Announcing a Deliverer

One interesting side-note to Samson’s story is the absence of the people crying out and repenting like those in Jephthah’s story. If Samson so readily fraternizes with them, the women particularly, as we shall see, one is left wondering if Israel genuinely wished to be delivered.

– Choosing the Parents – As we shall see, it is YHWH who provokes the Philistines (Judges 14:4, “God is seeking an occasion against the Philistines”). But before we get to Samson, we see God announcing his birth and special calling to his parents, especially his mother, an unnamed woman. His father was a man named Manoah, a name that plays of Noah and means, “resting place.” He was a “certain man” from Zonah located in the region where the Danites lived before they moved north. The people of Zonah may be from a smaller group of Danites who did not leave.

– Choosing a barren woman – Even though Manoah’s wife is not named, she was barren and had no children. Children are a mark of God’s blessing and sons, particularly, moved along the family name. If one does not have children, it was commonly believed the person or family had offended God and they were all cursed.

– Choosing the child – The Angel of the Lord (a Christophaney) appeared to Manoah’s barren wife. This one occasion was a special blessing if one thinks about it. He tells her He knows she is barren, which indicates that God knows our trials. He goes on to tell that she will conceive and have a son.

He is consecrated before the Lord before he is even conceived. His mother is also consecrated. He was placed under a Nazorite vow, a voluntary vow that was done by a person as an act of dedication to God for a period of time. The difference with Samson’s Nazorite vow was that it wasn’t voluntary, but divinely appointed. Even his mother is to take it until he is born. The vow takes effect the moment of Samson’s conception, and it is not temporary for him, but remains with him all his life.

– Fulfillment of the promise – After Manoah’s wife told him about her visitation from the Angel of the Lord, he goes to seek Him out. He then reappears to his wife and she goes to find her husband to bring him to the Angel. In a scene similar to what happened with Gideon in Judges 6, Manoah offers a meal, but offers it as a burnt offering. The Angel of the Lord says that His name is wonderful, a Messianic title of divinity like in Isaiah 9:6. They immediately recognize that he is divinity, God in the flesh (13:21-22)

True to His word, Manoah’s wife bears a son, Samson.

Gleanings from Judges [13]

vow

Jephthah’s Tarnished Victory (Judges 11:30-12:7)

The last time I began considering the judgeship of Jephthah. He served during a time when the tribes of Israel were engaged in apostasy on a mass scale. As a result, God specifically gave them to the Ammonites and Philistines in judgment. However, the LORD is gracious. After they confess their sin, cast away their idols, and returned to serving the LORD, Jephthah was raised up as a deliverer.

Because he was the son of a harlot, he was cast out of his family and joined with a band of pirates. The situation with the Ammonites caused his people to call him back to be their leader against their enemy, and after failed negotiations with the Ammonites, he rallies the Israelites in a spirit-led victory over them.

His victory, regrettably, became tarnished. Two events brought him to a downfall as a hero. His vow regarding his daughter and his brutalization of the Ephraimites.

– The Vow

In verse 30, before he goes to battle, he makes a vow. Vows were not necessarily unusual. For instance, Hannah’s vow of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11), Israel’s vow of victory (Numbers 21:2), Jacob’s vow at Bethel (Genesis 28:20-21). In Jephthah’s case, he vowed to offer as a burnt offering the first thing that greeted him from the doors of his house if God delivered his enemies into his hands. The question I always had is what did he expect to come through the doors of his house? A goat? Moreover, did he really think He was going to make a burnt offering of a human being?

A burnt offering has the idea of “to cause to go through fire.” It normally refers to a sacrifice like a lamb. We see this idiom in a number of places through Scripture and never does it refer to a human sacrifice.

The question is: Did Jephthah kill his daughter or was there something else that happened to her?

The alternative to actually killing her is that he devoted her to a life of perpetual service to the Lord at the tabernacle. This interpretation is typically put forward by biblical interpreters who are uncomfortable with the idea of a man killing his only daughter as a sacrifice to God. They claim that Jephthah, being Jewish, would have abhorred the idea of human sacrifice to begin with. He was God fearing enough to respect what the law stated on the matter of murder.

Additionally, they further argue that a burnt offering can have the idea of tabernacle service. There is evidence of individuals being given in service like Hannah did for Samuel or possibly the Daughters of Shiloh mentioned in Judges 21. Also, Leviticus 27 has stipulations about committing a person to service, so perpetual service could be a real possibility. The text does say she was allowed to go bewail her virginity (11:37), meaning lamenting her inability to ever be married due to fulfilling the vow. That suggests she is going into perpetual service like a nun.

However, while this view is a commendable attempt to tone down the harshness of what happened, given Jephthah’s reputation as a horrible father, there are some problems with it.

– Jephthah’s life was one that was non-religious. It may be that he wasn’t even a practicing Jew, being half-Jewish himself. He lived away from the tabernacle and viewed God much in the same way the Canaanites viewed their gods, a being who occasionally needed to be placated or manipulated so he would favor the person.

– It is also significant that he lived among men who practiced human sacrifice. He was in a synchronized culture that was not a pure devotion to YHWH alone. Clear example is the Moabites he associated with who did practice human sacrifice to their gods Milkon and Chemonesh. In 2 Kings 3:27, the Moabite king sacrificed his oldest son in order to stay the Israelites moving against him in battle.

– It is true that Leviticus 27 allowed for perpetual service, however, the chapter explains that God provided an “out” for an individual who could not fulfill the vow because it was too difficult. Their was a shekel price Jephthah could have paid if he wanted to be released from his vow. All he needed to do was to make a trip to Shiloh where the tabernacle was located, paid the required offering, and then he would be released from his vow. He did not do this.

Given the nature of his vow, what he said, and the time and place where he lived, the only sad conclusion to draw is that he offered her up as a burnt offering. A rather sad and tragic example of the bizarre, ungodly times Israel was experiencing.

– Against Ephraim

We also find Jephthah embroiled in a civil war, a battle between the tribe of Gilead and Ephraim. The Ephraimites were  bothered that they weren’t called to join the battle against the Ammonites, and so they crossed the Jordan to pick a fight with Jephthah. They even threatened to burn his house down.

He tried to explain to them that he was involved with his people in a struggle against a mortal enemy that left him no choice to fight them. He apparently had called them, but they did not respond, so he had fight them with his people.

His words, however, did not placate the Ephraimites. They went to battle with Jephthah and Gileadites. They in turn soundly defeated the Ephraimites, but rather than just letting them return defeated to their homes, they prevented them from escaping across the river back to their home territory.

A couple of thoughts about the judgeship of Jephthah.

First, he demonstrates a Canaanizing influence within Israel. He attempted to manipulate God with the promise of a sacrifice, only to be mocked when his only daughter greets him at the door.

Secondly, there is no national unity, but only tribal squabbles that lead to battle. Rather than unifying the Gileadites with the Ephraimites, they are engage in a regional conflict with one another instead of finding unity in their identity as God’s people united around the worship of the one true covenant God, YHWH.

Gleanings from Judges [12]

ammonitesJephthah and the Ammonites – Judges 10-11

The entire book of Judges is a record of man’s fickle unfaithfulness, yet a testimony to God’s steadfast faithfulness. He will not let His people go. He will certainly chastise them in judgment, but He won’t let them out of the covenant He made with them. He is faithful to uphold his promise of judgment when they disobey, drawing them back to covenant faithfulness.

Coming to Judges 10, the chapter opens with a description of a 40 year peace in the land of Israel. It followed after Abimelech died and Gideon had beaten the Midianites. For almost half a century, the country was quiet.

Two minor judges are mentioned in the opening verses. First is Tola, who judged Israel 23 years. After his death, another man by the name of Jair, judged for another 22 years. The text doesn’t tell us who they saved Israel from, or if there was even a foreign enemy to be dealt with. It could be that these men delivered Israel in the sense that they helped the tribes recoup their loses after the Midianite threat had been eradicated and Abimelech’s disastrous fake reign. Furthermore, they could have served concurrently with each other or had overlapping judgeships.

The Background

Whatever the case, however, Israel’s period of rest allowed the people’s heart to return to serving the false gods. Verse 6 names a few they followed: the Baals, the Ashtaroth, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the sons of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines.

In response to their spiritual rebellion, God sold the people to the Ammonites and the Philistines. The text says God’s anger burned hot against Israel and it was the LORD giving the people over to their enemies. The giving over was all God’s doing in order to fulfill his covenant promises detailed in Deuteronomy 28.

It is also important to note that there are more than likely two oppressions going on simultaneously. The Ammonites on the east side of Israel and the Philistines on the west side of Israel. Hence, the events between Jephthah and the Ammonites that are recorded in 10-12 and those happening to Samson and the Philistines in 13-16. In essence, God is squeezing Israel on both sides that led to them being delivered.

The specific oppression of the Ammonites lasted 18 years. Who were these Ammonites? Recall the story of Lot and his daughters in Genesis 19. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot lived with his two surviving children in a cave. In an act of sin, the daughters got Lot drunk and each one slept with him in turn. The result of the unions were his daughters delivering Moab and Ammon. Throughout Israel’s history, the descendants of both Moab and Ammon were a problem. In this instance, here in Judges 10 and 11, they were raised up to be the oppressors of the Trans-Jordan tribes for 18 years.

Change of Heart

Eventually, God gets Israel’s attention and the oppressed tribes are broken, confessing their sin. Notice their confession:

We’ve sinned. They stated what their sin was, a forsaking of God and pursuing the Baals. However, note God’s response in Judges 10:13-14, “I’m will no longer deliver you, go and cry after those false gods you now worship rather than me.”

Do whatever seems best. In response to God’s refusal to deliver, the people tell Him to do with them whatever He thinks is best. They accept their punishment and trust God’s dealings with them.

Put away the foreign gods. Continuing in their acts of genuine repentance, they then put away their idols and false religion and returned to serving the LORD.

The Coming of Jephthah

When the Ammonites gathered to do battle with the sons of Gilead, they needed someone to lead them. They turned to a man with a shady background – Jephthah. He was a son of a harlot, so Gilead’s true sons had run him off.

During his exile in the land of Tob, he had joined up with individuals described as “worthless fellows” (Judges 11:3). Those men gathered themselves around Jephthah and they became marauding pirate types who successfully raided the Ammonites.

The men of Gilead, knowing about his feats, called him back to his people to be their leader. Jephthah wonders why they would do such a thing calling him back. He even asks if they would be willing to make him their main kinglike figure. Eventually he makes them swear an oath to him and agrees to lead them.

He begins with negotiations with the Ammonites and does so with an appeal to history. What is interesting about his speech to them is that he doesn’t doubt that history he recounts and assumes the Ammonites are also familiar with what he is telling them.

First he asks them what it was Israel did to them that they would come and occupy their land. He reminds them further that they did not occupy the land where Israel lived, but that the Amorites had dwelt there. He then tells them they needed to be content with with the area their false god, Chemosh, had allegedly given them.

Rather than heeding his words to them, the Ammonites disregarded them and prepared to make terrible war against Israel. The Spirit of the LORD then came upon Jephthah and he lead Israel in battle against them and subdued them.

Gleanings from Judges [11]

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Abimelech: The Renegade King – Judges 9

The legacy Gideon left at his death was sour. His conduct the remaining 40 years he lived after defeating the Midianites was far from godly. In fact, he behaved himself a lot like the pagans God had called him to conquer. For instance, he had the men give him an earring from the spoil they took from the Midianites and with them he made an ephod that became like an idol for the Israelites (8:27). The Bible tells us that ephod “became a snare” for Gideon and his family.

Additionally, after he led Israel to victory over the Midianites, the people wanted to make him king. Gideon refused, but the lifestyle he chose reflected something of a psuedo-kingship. The writer of his record calls him Jerubbal the son of Joash, suggesting that Gideon took upon himself a dynastic title.

He was also something of a womanizer, using his prestige as the conqueror of Midian to gather wives and concubines to himself like a king. Gathering wives was an unusual occurrence among private citizens and it is expressly forbidden by Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Judges 8:30 says Gideon had 70 sons, which may be an idealized number because in Canaanite mythology, the false god El and Asherah supposedly had 70 sons. Hence, the number 70 could be a dig at Gideon’s character.

Along with gathering women, Gideon also took an unnamed woman as a concubine, which suggests she was a mistress. She bore him a son that he named Abimelech, which means, “The king is my father” and he is an unusual character in the saga of the Judges.

All of Gideon’s pagan-like conduct led the people back to a life of idolatry. The people worshiped the Baals and specifically Baal-Berith, which means, “The Baal of the covenant.” This Baal is a significant deity, because His name suggests Israel was involved with a covenant with the Canaanite deity. In this case, it could mean that the Israelites immediately under Gideon’s judgeship were now involved with some established covenant with this Baal.

Now, all of that is introduction that sets us up for chapter 9, which is like an addendum to Gideon’s life. I’ll briefly look at three acts of Abimelech.

Abimelech’s Treachery – [9:1-6]

Abimelech was more than likely a cast off from his other brothers because his mother was a mistress of Gideon and not one of his true wives.

Abimelech goes to his mother’s family and convinces them of the need to make him king. He stirs up a bit of fear with them, asking them what would be better, letting the sons of Jerubbaal-Gideon rule over him, or himself. They of course side with Abimelech.

In order to secure his throne, he then hires a band of 70 thugs, paying them a shekel a piece, to kill off his half-brothers on Gideon’s side of his family. They attacked and killed them and publicly “crowned” Abimelech king.

Abimelech’s Rebuke – [9:7-21]

Abimelech thought he had killed all of Gideon’s sons, but he was mistaken. The youngest son, Jotham, was able to hide himself from the slaughter of his brothers. When he heard what had happened, he went to Mt. Gerizim, north of Shechem, and from the top, yelled down at the phony king and his “army.” He spoke a prophetic parable in the hearing of the men. The parable told about the trees seeking for a king to rule over them. They asked the olive tree, the fig tree, then the grape vine, but all of them refused. The trees eventually asked for the bramble bush, what would be something like a tumble weed, to rule over them, and it said yes. In other words, they chose to make a worthless, annoying weed to rule over them.

Jotham then rebukes them further by reminding the people of Shechem how Gideon had fought for them, defending them from the Midianites. Yet here they are committing this treachery against his family and they will be sorely judged for it.

Abimelech’s Demise – [9:22-57]

Everything is going swimmingly for Abimelech for three years as he plays like he is a big shot king. However, God moves in judgment against him. Verse 24 explains how both groups were duplicitous in the murder of Gideon’s sons, “that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers.”

Setting that judgment into motion, Judges 9:23 says that God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. This was more than just a bad feeling of ill will, but a genuine evil spirit, a diabolical being sent to stir up strife. The Bible tells us that the devils are at God’s disposal. We see the devil sent by God to Job, an evil spirit sent to Saul, as well as one sent to stir up the prophets to lie to Ahab so he would go to war and be killed.

It is like the story of the two atheist college students who heard the old lady next door praying every morning asking God to provide for her during the day. One particular morning, they decided to mock her. She had prayed for God to provide her lunch, for she was very poor. Hearing her request through the open window, the two atheists guys went and bought her a bag of groceries. They left it on the front porch, rang the bell, and ran and hid in the bushes by the door. When the poor lady opened the door and saw the groceries, she exclaimed, “Thank You Lord for this food!” The two guys jumped out and said, “God didn’t give you that food, WE DID!” She replied, “The Lord has sent two devils to bring me my food.”

The strife stirred up by this evil spirit resulted in two events.

First, the men of Shechem would lay in ambush against anyone travelling to see Abimelech and rob them. Secondly, a man named Gaal came to Shechem and led a rebellion against Abimelech. He openly mocked him and the people of Shechem turned their allegiance from Abimelech to Gaal. Upon seeing this, a man named Zebul, still loyal to Abimelech, sent him word secretly as to what was happening.

Moved by anger, Abimelech gathered his army of men, went to Shechem by night and lay in wait. When the city gates were opened the next morning, they rushed the city. Gaal, caught off guard, mustered a group to meet them to fight, but they were beaten and Gaal fled in fear as to what had happened. Then, the next day, when the people went out into the fields, Abimelech attacked them as well. He killed many of them and the leaders and those remaining fled into the temple of Baal-Berith and their Abimelech trapped them all inside and burned them alive, thus fulfilling Jotham’s parable/prophecy.

Next, Abimelech turns his attention to the neighboring town, Thebez, with the intention of burning them down as well. The people barricade themselves in a strong tower. Intending to lay siege upon the tower and burn it like he had at Shechem, a lady at the top heaved a mill stone, a stone maybe the size of a large brick, that struck Abimelech squarely on the head with enough force to mortally wound him. As he was dying, he commanded a young man to thrust him through with a sword so that his final blow would be from the hand of a man, and not a woman.

And thus ended the self-appointed reign of Abimelech.

Gleanings from Judges [10]

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The Downfall of Gideon – Judges 8

Throughout the Scripture, we can take note that, at times, God will utilize men who may not be of the greatest of character.

Abraham lied to Pharaoh about his wife and he took matters into his own hands with attempting to obtain a heir.

Jacob acted deceitfully, stealing the birth-right from his brother, Esau, and father, Isaac.

David, the king described as a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and had faithful men killed to cover over his sin.

Solomon multiplied wives and entertained idols for them..

Peter denied Christ.

God raises up men, but it is by His grace and in spite of their flaws that they may do good work. They are still subject to the former sins of their flesh, prone to temptation and often giving into compromise and disobedience.

We see that with Gideon. The Angel of the Lord calls him to lead Israel against the Midianites. God gathers around him 300 men and they route 135,000 Midianites. The Lord set every man’s sword against his neighbor so that by the time the Midianites crossed back into their territory, only 15,000 or so remained. 120,000 had perished!

Coming to Judges 8, we regrettably see the downfall of Gideon as he eventually succumbs to the pagan culture that had engulfed the thinking of the Israelites.

We can see four sad steps that brought Gideon to a spiritual downfall.

Ruthless Behavior –

When we pick up Gideon’s story in chapter 8, he is in pursuit of the kings Zebah and Zalmunna. They had crossed the Jordan with what was left of their armies. Gideon comes to Succoth and asks the people for nourishment. The men refused to help. Their reason was simple: The kings Gideon was pursuing had not be captured. If they were to discover the people of Succoth helped Gideon, they would retaliate against them.

Their response may have been cowardly, but given the circumstances, it was certainly reasonable. Rather than taking their response in consideration, Gideon promises to return and punish them. He travels to another town, Penuel, and there he is met with the same response. He promises to return to them and knock down their tower.

He does just that. Once he attacked the two Midianite kings and their remaining army, he leads his men back to Succoth and Penuel, where he proceeded to beat the elders of Succoth and executed the men of Penuel. Mass murder is a bit of an over reaction for refusing to help him.

 Revenge-

Once Gideon exacts his wrath upon the men of Israel, he turns his attention toward the two Midianite kings. It just so happens that Gideon had a grudge against those two kings. In 8:18,19, he holds them personally responsible for killing his brothers. Rather than fighting the LORD’s battle to save Israel as the Angel of the LORD called him to do, Gideon turn to revenge upon the men who killed his brothers.

Getting his revenge was not what he was called to do. It was to deliver Israel from their enemies. Once he killed them, he took their kingly ornaments off their camels as trophies.

Idolatry-

After the defeat of Zebah and Zalmunna and the entire Midianite forces, the people are moved to establish Gideon as king and his family as a dynasty in Israel. To his credit, Gideon declined. HOWEVER, his piety was a bit hypocritical.

First, he requests a piece of gold from each man who had raided the Midianite spoil. From those pieces, he constructs an ephod. It is not like the high priestly ephod at all, but it became an idol, meant to represent something similar to the high priest. He erects it in Ophrah and the Bible says that all Israel whored after it there. His deliverance of Israel began with him tearing down the images of his hometown. Now, Gideon establishes a new idol, one of his own making that drew the heart of the people away from God.

Polygamy-

Gideon may have refused to be king, but he pretended to live like one. He multiplied wives and concubines. The concluding remembrances of Gideon implies he lived in opulence. Additionally, his polygamy brings his family trouble that extends beyond them out to the other people of Israel. As will be seen in Chapter 9, Abimelech, Gideon’s son, will be the main instigator of those problems. Abimelech means, “Son of the king.”

Two concluding thoughts about Gideon.

First, Israel did consider his defeat of the Midianites a major deal. So much so that Gideon and his battle against the Midianites is remembered in Psalm 83:11. Secondly, Gideon is listed in Hebrews 11 in the “hall of faith” as it were. Though he lived a morally checkered life that was marked with skepticism, unbelief, and eventually sinful choices, God used him in a mighty way, thus demonstrating that it is the God behind the messenger that makes the messenger great.

Gleanings from Judges [9]

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Gideon Delivers Israel – 6:28-7:25

The last judge I introduced was Gideon. He came from a well-to-do, wealthy and influential family. He was also a skeptical, sign-seeking, questioner of God. When the Angel of the LORD chose him to defend Israel, he excused himself by claiming he was a big nothing among the people of Israel. Yet, in spite of that, the Angel of the LORD came to Gideon and called him to the action of leading them to victory over the Midianites.

The Midianites, and an unnamed “people of the east,” were used of God to bring judgment upon the Children of Israel who had returned to their patterns of sinful behavior. They would swarm into the part of Israel were there was a lot of fertile crops and plunder the land. They left the Israelites with nothing to eat.

God is a faithful, covenant keeping God, and he warned Israel that such things would happen if they were to disobey His voice. The invasion by the Midianites was God’s way of keeping His Word.

When we closed our last study, Gideon had been tasked by the Angel of the LORD to confront the false religious system in his home town. Not only was his hometown the center of cultic worship practices, the house of his father served as the meeting place of the false religionists. At night, Gideon destroyed the altar with a bull, cuts down the totem pole associated with the altar, and makes an offering to God with a new altar he built out of the debris.

In the typical display of sinful backwardness that often follows when people move away from God, the men of the town confront Joash, Gideon’s father, about him tearing down the altar. They even invoke Deuteronomy 21:18 where the Scriptures declare that a stubborn and rebellious son must be stoned. The people were so given over to their idolatry and covenant breaking that they began to call that which was righteous evil.

Joash, revived in spirit, defended his son’s actions. He threatened the people with death who would fight for Baal. He told the people that if Baal is truly a god, he can fight for himself and he will punish Gideon. They then gave Gideon the nickname, Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him.”

Israel Delivered

All of those events my have happened shortly before the Midianites came around for their annual marauding, because shortly after Joash challenges the town folk, in came the Midianites.

Gideon is said to have been “clothed” or “filled with the Spirit.” In other words, the Spirit of the LORD possessed Gideon. Keep in mind this is a separate “filling” than what would happen at salvation. This “filling” was a theocratic anointing that gave the recipient the ability to command and lead. With Gideon, he rallies the troops for battle and they readily come to join him.

However, he still has his doubts about his calling and assured victory. In fact, his doubts are so enormous that he tests whether or not the LORD would truly help him by ask for a sign with a fleece. Twice!

Gideon’s fleece is often used as an example of how to determine God’s will. A person who has an important decision to make that could have multiple possibilities and outcomes is told to “throw out a fleece.”

I recall a young man I knew in college who did this with a particular girl he had been dating. He was fretting over whether or not he should really commit to her as the one he would eventually marry. One evening when they were leaving a sporting event together, they were headed over to a church fellowship, but they had drove separately. When they were leaving the parking lot, she was in front of him in her car. Remembering the idea about throwing out a fleece, he quickly prayed, “If this girl is the girl I’m to marry, please show me right now with the direction she turns.” As they pulled on the road from the parking lot, she turned to the right, when he knew he would turn to the left, heading over to the fellowship. For my friend, God had just answered his prayer! Of course, she had to pick up some cookies she said she would bring and the closest supermarket was down the street a block in the other direction. But no matter, that was God’s clear answer that he was free to date another gal he had met.

Gideon already knows what God told him about saving Israel from the Midianites. In fact, Gideon even tells God in a prayer, “If you will save Israel by my hand, AS YOU HAVE SAID,” (6:36). Gideon’s appeal to the use of laying out a fleece is not him determining God’s will for the matter at hand, he already knew what God’s will was. It was an act of disobedient doubt of what God clearly had revealed. It is only be an act of God’s grace that He answers Gideon’s requests about the fleece. In a way, it is as if God alone is concerned about His people’s deliverance.

When God does deliver, He wants to put His power on display so as to glorify Himself. He does that with Gideon’s army (7:2) and declaring two separations among the people.

First, God tells those who are afraid to go home. That word reduced the size from 32,000 to 10,000. The second separation is a bit difficult to understand in Hebrew, but it involved how the men drank water.

The idea is that 9,700 of them got down on both their knees and put their head and hands down low so as to draw water up with their hands to their mouths. The remainder merely knelt down on one knee and drew up water with one hand. There was nothing particularly special about how they drank the water that separated those 300 from the rest, as if the way they drank made them especially inclined to be great fighters. It just so happens that is the way they drank water by a brook. If their drinking technique indicated they were better than the rest, then that defeats the whole purpose of it being God who alone receives the glory for Israel’s victory over their enemy.

By this time, the Midianites were probably very much aware of Israel’s presence. They have probably seen the army gather and then leave over the course of a day or so. God placates Gideon’s fear by telling him to go down into the camp of the Midianites with his servant. When they came there, Gideon overhears one Midianite telling another about a dream he had about a loaf of bread knocking down a tent. The other Midianite responds with the interpretation that it was Gideon and that God has given the enter encampment into his hands. Only God can give such an amazing sign. Upon hearing that revelation, Gideon is said to have “worshiped” (7:15). He knew God was there with them.

Returning to his men, Gideon rallied the troops. He divided the 300 men into three groups. Pretending to be larger than what they really were, their blowing of trumps and lighting torches, set the camp of the Midianites into disarray. The LORD set everyman’s sword against his fellow man (7:22) and they fled in terror.