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.

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Gleanings from Judges [9]

gideon

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.

Gleanings from Judges [8]

gideonThe Calling of Gideon – Judges 6

Of all the accounts recorded in Judges, Gideon’s is unique in that his is probably the longest one with the exception of Samson. Gideon’s judgeship and its aftermath covers four chapters, 6-9.

His account can be divided into two sections. Chapters 6-8 tell of Gideon’s deliverance of Israel from the Midianites, and then chapter 9 tells the story of his son, Abimelech.

With this post, I’ll introduce the first major section when Gideon delivers Israel from the Midianites.

Israel Punished

Once again, as is the habit of sinful people, Israel rebelled against the LORD. One would think that after a few times this situation happened, the people would begin to get right; but not so.

After 40 years of rest following the judgship of Barak and Deborah, the next generation or so begins to act wickedly before the LORD. This time, Israel is punished by the hand of the Midianites. Now who exactly were they?

The Midianites have a close kinship with Israel. Genesis 25:2-4 tells how Abraham took a second wife named Keturah after the death of Sarah. She bore him a number of children – Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Ohuah. Those children and their families begot many of the Arab peoples we know today. Not Ismael, necessarily, who was Abraham’s son by Hagar, but the children from Keturah.  The children of Midian grew into several clans later know as the Midianites.

Genesis 37:25-36 tells how the Midianites were the caravaners who took Joseph to Egypt. In Exodus 2:15-22, Moses father-in-law was a Midianite named Reuel/Jethro. Later in Numbers 25:15-17, Balaam stirred up the Midianites against Israel and they were caused to fall into sexual sin because of them. They were later punished in Numbers 31.

Coming to Judges 6:1ff., the Midianites appear to be a prosperous people. In fact, when Israel went to war with them in Numbers 31, an immense amount of spoil was seized from them, 72,000 oxen and 16,750 shekles of gold. Here in Judges, they had domesticated sheep and camels. The camels were a perfect animal used in their caravans and nomadic trading life.

Israel Pundered

God used the Midianites, who worked with the Amalekites, another reoccurring enemy of Israel, along with another unnamed people group in the east, to bring judgment upon Israel. The Midianites would come up to the fertile farm land of Central Israel, and squat there. They would bring their families and livestock and basically eat up all the produce. They are described as locus without number.

Israel, rather than fighting them off, would flee to the hills and hide themselves in caves and makeshift strongholds. They probably had to hide their livestock there and what little food the could harvest before the invasion. Those circumstances were foretold in Deuteronomy 28:33, 38-42, and 51, when God said that if Israel sins, He would give their land to their enemies. Israel would cultivate and plant, but the enemies would come and eat of the harvest.

Israel Rebuked

Israel is said to have “cried out” to the LORD in verse 7. One has to wonder if it was a cry of genuine repentance or just frustration because of the circumstances. In response, the LORD sends an unnamed prophet to rebuke the people. He begins by reminding them of Who it was that brought them out of Egyptian slavery, Who had rescued them from previous oppressors, and had committed Himself to be their God.

The prophet then confronts the people, and draws them to consider the reason for their suffering. They had sinned against their covenant-keeping God. He tells them how they had disobeyed the LORD by fearing the false gods of the Amorites. His was the message of all those sent from God. Elijah will later tell the people, “how long shall you falter between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21), Jesus our LORD said directly that “you cannot serve God and mammon,” and James wrote in his epistle that “friendship with the world is enmity against God” (James 4:4). The same principle applies here in Judges: Israel can no longer fear the false gods of the Amorites, but must turn to fearing the only true and living God.

Call of Gideon

After the prophet leaves, we are introduced to Gideon. From reading 6:11-27, it is clear that Gideon was from a wealthy family. They had servants and his family seemed to be influential leaders in their community. However, Gideon the man was something of a mystic. He wanted signs to provide confirmation of the major decisions in his life. That speaks more to his doubt than his trust in God.

The Angel of the LORD appears to Gideon at the time he was threshing wheat in the winepress. The winepress, by the way, was a terrible place to thresh wheat. One had to work extra hard to separate the chaff from the kernels with no breeze to help.

The Angel of the LORD says to Gideon that the LORD is with you! Gideon’s response was sarcastic, almost bitter and accusatory of God, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” He goes on to complain about not seeing God’s miracles and that He has forsaken Israel. It is an attitude of unbelief; the kind of smug bitterness witnessed even today among “churched” unbelievers who now want nothing to do with biblical Christianity and instead seek out man-made substitutes like liberal denominations that tickle the ears.

The Angel of the LORD, however, graciously continues to exhort Gideon. He even tells Gideon that He is the LORD who will go with him into defeating the Midianites.  In spite of his excuses, the Angel of the LORD entertains Gideon’s request to perform a sign. (As if God’s Word is not good enough).

Having some sense of awareness to who it was he was speaking, Gideon insists on preparing an offering to the LORD. Gideon pulls together a good amount of food, including preparing a goat, something that would be scarce given their circumstance, and brings it before The Angel of the LORD. He commands Gideon to lay it on a rock, and in a similar fashion when God burned up the sacrifice of Elijah on Mount Carmel, the offering ignites in flame and is consumed.

That night, Gideon is assigned the task of tearing down the false idol of his father’s house. Using two bulls, one that would be later sacrificed (keep in mind livestock was essentially money), he toppled over the false altar of worship and cut down the wooden image associated with it. He then killed one of the bulls and offered it to the LORD.

One interesting note. Though Gideon was making a rather bold statement with his actions, he did it by night rather than the daytime, because he feared his father’s household and the men of the city too much.

Gleanings from Judges [7]

jael

Deborah and Barak – Judges 4-5

As I come to book of Judges this time, we encounter an unique story: the Judges Deborah and Barak.

Two things make this story unique:

First, there are two chapters devoted to describing the events. Chapter 4 provides us with the historical narrative. The chapter contains a lot of Hebrew waw consecutives that tell us that historical narrative is being discussed. Then chapter 5 retells the events put into poetic form. It is essentially a song of praise for God’s victory. Though chapter 5 is a poetic song, it does describe historical events that supplement what was described in chapter 4, as I will note.

Second, this account provides us with an unique person, Deborah. She is considered the sole female judge mentioned in the book of Judges, as well as the template for women preachers in churches today.

The Oppressors

Chapter 4 opens with the same sad commentary that marked the previous three periods of the Judges: “The sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD.” Their turning away from God happened after Ehud died and the land had rest for 80 years, perhaps as many as two generations. Once he died, Israel quickly returned to the pursuit of ungodly idol worship.

God is said to have sold them. One will note the slave language of the LORD giving them over to their oppressors once again. The oppressors this time were a group of Canaanites who dwelt north of the sea of Galilee. Their king is called Jabin, and because Jabin has been used before in Joshua 11:1-15, more than likely Jabin is a dynastic title.

Under Jabin’s command was a general named Sisera. He commanded 900 chariots of iron. He and his army terrorized the Israelites, so much so, that Judges 5:6-8 says they could not travel the normal byways, but had to find ways to go around where Sisera’s army patrolled. Their oppression of Israel lasted nearly 20 years until the people once more cried out to God for help.

The Deliverers

Judges 4:4 introduces us to Deborah. She has become an anti-patriarchal hero for feminists. She is a prophetess, judging and ruling in Israel and she represents a perfect case for allowing women pastors in the church.

However, if one reads her account carefully, there are some important notes to consider.

First off, Deborah is not introduced as one YHWH raised up. In other words, she is not meant to be a “savior” that is typical of the judges God raises up in Israel. In fact, she calls herself a “mother” in 5:7. Furthermore, there is no reference to her being empowered by the Holy Spirit. While special spiritual empowerment wasn’t a necessity to be a judge, it was a specifically unique experience that was male only. And lastly, she does not offer any military leadership. That is left for Barak. He takes her with him because she was wrongly perceived to be some oracle who had God’s ear. If anything, she was considered a good luck charm, and nothing more.

Her “judging” is more the traditional definition, one who hears cases and provides counsel. She is also considered a prophetess, someone who speaks on behalf of God. But the question is why is she fulfilling those roles? Is it because God specifically called her to that position or did it have more to do with the fact the men were cowards and had ignored their duties to lead the people? She was probably the one true Godly individual who loved the LORD, and it was her God used to rally Israel against their enemy.

Deborah is made aware of God’s readying to move against Jabin and she speaks on behalf of God. First she summons Barak to meet with her. She then states that he was to gather 10,000 men from Naphtali and Zebulon. God would then draw out Sisera, along with his chariots, to the brook Kidron. There they were to defeat them.

Barak is reluctant to believe what God revealed to Deborah and refuses to go unless she went with him. She agreed, but told him he would not be honored for the defeat of Jabin.

The Deliverance

Sisera gets word that the Israelites were coming out to do battle with him. God uses a guy named Heber to tell him that Barak had gone to mount Tabor. Sisera pulls together his 900 chariots in order to pursue them. When the two armies meet, Israel really had to do nothing, because, according to the extra details provided in Judges 5:9-22, there is a flash flood at Kidron and Sisera’s army becomes mired in the water and mud. Their iron chariots become useless. One interesting historical footnote. In 1799, the Turkish army was defeated in nearly the exact same area when they were caught in a flash flood.

Sisera flees on foot and seek refuge with his informant, Heber. He is apparently not there, but Jael his wife welcomes him in and hides him. She lulls him to complacency, and when Sisera is asleep, she kills him by driving a tent peg through his head with a hammer.

Judges 5:31 ends the Judge cycle by proclaiming, “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD; But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.” And the land was undisturbed for forty years.

Gleanings from Judges [6]

eglonThe First Three Judges (3)

The basic theme of Judges is outlined in chapter 2:11-19. A cycle took place during this time in Israel’s history: The people would sin, God judged them, the people would cry out to the LORD for help, and God would raise up a judge to deliver them. After the judge died, however, the people fell back into sin, and then the whole cycle repeated itself.

With that in mind, Judges chapter 3 introduces us to the first three men who would be God’s deliverers.

Othniel – 3:7-11 Verse 7 opens with the typical situation, the people forgot God and served the Baals and Asherahs. They gave themselves over to serving the fertility cult gods and seeking them for their provisions, not the LORD.

One will note verse 8: “Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and He sold them into the hand of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia.” Notice it is the LORD acting in judgment. He is the one who “sold them into the hand” of their enemies. Later, in verse 12, God is said to have “strengthened Eglon” against Israel. In other words, God is in complete control. Furthermore, He is upholding His side of the covenant: if the people disobey, He will be faithful to judge them.

Verse 8 also states that the “anger of the LORD was hot against Israel.” Here God is described as aroused to anger. “Hot against” has the idea of flaring nostrils and heavy breathing of one who is upset and angry.

In response to their disobedience, God sells them into the hand of Cushan-Rishathaim. We are not entirely certain who this individual is. What is known is that his name literally means, “The doubly wicked from between the two rivers.” Perhaps this is the area between the Euphrates and Tigris.

Whoever this individual was, he was a world-class king because his power exerted a heavy, wicked hand all throughout the area, reaching out far and wide from Mesopotamia and into the land of Israel. It is suggested that he was looking to establish a base of operation in Israel in order to launch campaigns into Egypt. “Double wickedness” may also be a name given to him describing how he cruelly oppressed Israel for at least 8 years.

Israel eventually cries out to the LORD for deliverance, and God raised up Othniel. He is mentioned first in Judges 1:13 as fighting to take the city Kirjath Sepher and winning Caleb’s daughter. He is said to be the younger brother of Caleb. It is uncertain the family relationship. Two other possibilities is that he was Kenaz’s younger brother or he is a half-brother from the same mother who remarried after the death of a husband.

Whatever the case, Othniel was stirred to action by the Spirit of God and he led a battle against the oppressor, “Double Wickedness,” and God delivered him into his hand. Note that verse 8 says God sold Israel into their oppressor’s hand, whereas verse 10 says he, the oppressor, was delivered into Othniel’s hand.

Ehud – 3:12-30 – After Othniel died, Israel repeats their cycle of disobedience against God. This time God delivered them into the hands of Eglon, king of the Moabites. Moab, if one remembers the history from Genesis 19, was the son born from the illicit encounter Lot had with his daughters after they escaped from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The LORD is said to have strengthened Eglon against Israel, which clearly implies God helped Eglon and used him against the sinning Israelites. He gathered up the Ammonites and the Amalekites and took the City of Palms, which is the remnants of Jericho. That was in direct defiance to Joshua’s curse upon the remains of the city.

After 18 years, the people cry out once again to the LORD, and he raised up Ehud. Ehud was from a group of elite fighters. He is said to be left-handed. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, and according to 1 Chronicles 12:2, those unique individuals specialized in training themselves to fight efficiently with both hands.

Apparently there was a custom to pay tribute, or protection money, to Eglon. Early on in the history of Judges, Israel, rather than wiping out the wicked Canaanites, brought them into bondage to themselves and had them pay tribute. Here, God reverses the roles; Israel pays tribute to their oppressors.

Ehud, taking advantage of the arrangement, fashions a dagger and smuggles it into the area where the tribute is brought. He gave the money, and then sent away the people who were with him. The text says he turns back from “the stone images that were at Gilgal” to announce he has a message for the king. It is not entirely sure where he was when Ehud “turned back from the stone images that were at Gilgal.” The little note does remind the reader for the reason for Israel’s situation and why they were being oppressed, they gave themselves over to serve other gods.

When Ehud returns to give his “special message” to the king, Eglon dismisses the other people in attendance, and retired to his private chamber, a room that was perhaps situated near the throne room there in his citadel. Once they were alone, Ehud says he has a message from God, draws out his smuggled dagger, and plunges it so hard into Eglon’s belly that it went all the way into his body. Because Eglon was an enormously obese man, the fat is described as closing around the wound and almost sucking the dagger into his tummy so that his entrails came out.

Ehud locks the door and escapes a different way from where he entered. When Eglon’s servants return, they find the door locked, but “smell” Eglon. They thought he was using the toilet, as it were. However, after an extended time waiting around for him to come out, they fetched the key to check on him and found him dead. Ehud then rallies the people and leads them to war against the Moabites, and they broke their rule over Israel.

Shamgar – 3:31 – Shamgar receives one verse at the end of Judges 3. There is uncertainty as to who Shamgar was, or even when his work defeating the Philistines took place. Deborah mentions him in her song of praise recorded in Judges 5:6. There she speaks about the days of Shamgar, the son of Anath. Anath is an Egyptian name. Whoever Shamgar was, he was able to kill 600 Philistines with an ox goad. A similar work to what Samson did near the end of the history of Judges.

The one verse seems to imply that Shamgar was not particularly called of God to do his work. It was like he had some issue with the Philistines. Reading Deborah’s song, her comments suggest that perhaps the Philistines were involved in attacking travelers that prevented the Israelites from journeying over their own land. God providentially stirred up Shamgar who took it upon himself to engage the Philistines. His actions unintentionally delivered Israel from the Philistine influence.

Gleanings from Judges [5]

lionThe Book of Deliverers (2:16-19)

The book of Judges takes its name from chapter 2:16. In fact, Judges 2:16-19 sets the theme for the entire book,

16 Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them.
17 Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do as their fathers.
18 When the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.
19 But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways.

Though Judges is a book recording the apostasy and rebellion of Israel, it is also a book recording God’s grace, mercy, and loving kindness. His loving kindness is expressed throughout Judges even though Israel deserved what they were getting.

The word Judge is translated from the Hebrew shaphat. A judge was originally a specially appointed individual who decided between disputes and acted as some judicial arbitrator invested with authority to make final decisions. Exodus 18:13 is a classic description of a judge. In that case, Moses interacting and leading the people who gathered around him.

But in the book of Judges, the word take on an additional, broader meaning. A judge becomes known as an individual who exercises leadership to deliver. They were in essence saviors or deliverers. The book of Judges, then, could be called Deliverers.

There was certainly some uniqueness to these Judges. Allow me to highlight three areas:

They were Divinely Called. In other words, they were divinely commissioned by the LORD Himself. He raises them up specifically for the purposes of delivering His people during their time of distress. In a way, they are ministers and agents of God’s grace.

There was nothing particularly special about them that earned them this temporary office. In fact, a number of the judges did not possess qualities that reflect. Many of them were chosen in spite of their immoral character. Samson, as we will see. That only goes to show the certainty of God’s graciousness.

They were Divinely Empowered. The reader will note in 2:18 that it says “the LORD was with the judge.” Again, it wasn’t the godly character or the military prowess that gave the judge his abilities, but it was the fact that God was with the judge.

The judge was given a special anointing that is described as the Spirit coming upon the judge. That is not regeneration as we know it as regarding salvation, but a special anointing of God that empowers the person with special abilities they did not previously possess.

For instance, Exodus 35:30ff tells how the spirit came upon a group of men anointing them with the ability as craftsman for the tabernacle. In Numbers 11:16-17 seventy men are anointed with the spirit to help Moses in his leadership of the nation. And Deuteronomy 34:9 describes how Joshua was filled with the spirit so as to have wisdom in leading the people like Moses had.

Relating to the men who would be judges, Alva McClain writes that “the anointing by the Spirit was seen in its outstanding effects in the realm of the purely physical.” The judge took on regal functions as mediators of the divine government of Israel utilizing physical abilities and leadership qualities unnatural to him. The judges were divinely empowered to lead and deliver Israel from their enemies.

Samson, once again as an example, was empowered to do mighty physical feats. His physical strength was not in him (he was more than likely an average built man physically), but it was direct from God. In like manner, the other judges who are strengthened by God demonstrate God’s power to deliver, because unless the LORD moved, the judge had no ability on his own to act.

They were Divinely Directed. Their direction was two-fold. First, the judge had a specific task. That being, to deliver Israel out of the hands of their enemies. Secondly, the judge seems have this appointment for a predetermined amount of time. In other words, it was temporary. Generally ending when the judge died or perhaps when he fulfilled his usefulness for God.

Ultimately, the judges were an instrument of God’s loving kindness to His people. Though God would uphold His end of the covenant by giving the people over to their enemies when they broke their agreement with the LORD. But when they groaned, broken by their sin, God moved pm their behalf by raising up a judge for deliverance.

Gleaning from Judges [4]

aotlThe Messenger of YHWH – Judges 2:1-5

As I have been noting in my series, the book of Judges is a dark time in the history of Israel. Roughly from 1390 BC to 1050 BC.

The most troubling aspect of this divinely inspired recorded history is the decent of the people of Israel into apostasy. The covenant people, who experienced the LORD God deliver them from the bondage to Egypt, who received His Holy Law, who saw the terror of the LORD at Mt. Sinai, who entered into a covenant with God who in turn promised His divine power to help His people fulfill His promise to give them the land, forsook Him and turned away to serve wicked, false gods and practice false religion.

Their apostasy began to manifest itself in the first chapter, where the people of Israel started disobeying God’s commands with destroying the Canaanites. Rather than destroying them utterly, they let them live and put them under tribute, meaning essentially, a slave/vassal status.

Their disobedience was so severe, that the Angel of the LORD appears and gives them a sharp rebuke in 2:1-5. His appearance more than likely happened on one of the feast days when all the men and leaders of Israel would be gathered.

1 Now the angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you,
2 and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done?
3 “Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.'”
4 When the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept.
5 So they named that place Bochim; and there they sacrificed to the LORD.

Who exactly is this “Angel of the LORD?”

Some suggest just an unnamed messenger. The Hebrew word for angel is simply translated messenger. However, this particular angel claims some rather unique personal qualities about himself.

He tells them that he led them out of Egypt. He speaks of having made a covenant with them. He says he swore to their “fathers,” which can only mean Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He further rebukes them for not obeying Him and says that as a result, he will not drive out the inhabitants of the land for them.

A couple of passages in Exodus does provide a clue to his identification. For example, in Exodus 3:2, the angel of the LORD appears to Moses in a burning bush. There he is identified with God Himself, even telling Moses to remove his sandals, for the ground on which he stands is holy.

Later, in Exodus 14:19, the Angel of God protects the children of Israel from the Egyptian army as they cross the Red Sea.

But one unique testimony from God is found in Exodus 23:20 where it says,

20 “Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.
21 “Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him.
22 “But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
23 “For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them.

The passage here in Exodus 23 sounds just like what is described in Judges 2. Everything that Children of Israel were warned against in Exodus 23, the Angel of the LORD appears and rebukes them for doing.

They made covenants with the Canaanites when they put them under tribute. And they failed to tear down their altars which speaks to their religious infrastructure remaining in place. Because of their disobedience for not driving out the Canaanites and their false religion, the Angel tells them that he will withdraw His support and that he will give the people over to the power of their gods.

Israel seems to be repentant, but it was only short-lived. As the writer notes, everyone served the LORD when Joshua had been alive, but now that he was dead, they went to serving other gods. Those gods, as was noted in a previous study, represented a fertility religion; a religion, that when practiced secured for the worshiper a large family, healthy flocks, and abundant crops. It is akin to the current day health and wealth prosperity Gospel. Essentially, a preoccupation with material possessions over pure obedient service to God in spite of our circumstances. In other words, they had no faith in His promises.

Now. Returning to the description of this angel as found in Exodus 23, note that he is endowed with divine authority and in point of fact, God says that, “My name is in him.” The one other person in Scripture who speaks of having God’s name in him: Jesus Christ. That is especially true in John 17, His high priestly prayer.

Jesus Christ is that same Angel of the LORD that Israel was to obey and in similar fashion, he stands ready to rebuke us in the 21st century. How we build our churches, handle the Gospel message of salvation, and proclaim the Word of God parallels what happened in Israel in Judges 2.

For instance, Jesus promised in Matthew 28:18 and Acts 1:8ff that He would be with us as we go into the World. In Matthew 16:18ff., He has promised to build His church and in other passages like Romans 1:16 and 1 Corinthians 2 has told us that the Gospel message is the Power of God unto salvation.

Yet, the modern church attempts to use worldly means to further the Gospel by organizing gimmick-driven church services, rallies, and concerts. We are told, especially here in the USA on so-called Christian TV that God owes us comfort, security, and a suffer-free life.

We also cooperate with the modern equivalent of the Canaanites in order to advance our agenda as Red State Evangelicals. Conservatism does not equal Biblical Christianity. Glen Beck, the New Age Mormon, is not a Christian.

And most tragically, we fail to train our next generation about the true God of heaven. We foolishly believe that our entertainment oriented youth ministries for some reason is blessed of God because their are huge numbers in attendance. He is not blessing them, and like the Angel of the LORD told Israel in Judges 2, He will withdraw His support and hand us over to judgment.

Gleaning from Judges [3]

judges1The Conquest of the Land – Judges 1

The book of Judges is not necessarily a strict, chronological history. It is a basic survey that follows from the closing years of Joshua’s ministry and runs to the beginning of Samuel’s ministry. In fact, the early chapters of Judges clearly overlap with the final events that are found in Joshua.

The book can be outlined in the following manner;

Chapters 1 and 2 provide an introduction to the entire period.
Chapters 3-16 records the key historical events.
Chapters 17-21 are like appendices of sorts. The events recorded in those chapters took place during the time between chapters 2 and 3, around the time before Othniel, the first Judge.

The time frame for the book historically is between 1390 BC to 1051 BC, roughly 340 years. Biblical historians obtain that date by syncing recorded solar eclipses and other astronomical data from Assyrian records with the start of Solomon’s reign which is placed around 970 B.C. 1 Kings 6:1 says that the foundation of the temple was laid in the fourth year after Solomon ascended to his throne, which was 966 B.C. The text goes on to state that it was also the 480th year after Israel was brought out of Egypt.

There is no reason to disregard the 480 years as genuine, historical 480 years. Counting backward 480 from 966 brings us to 1446 B.C., roughly the time of the Exodus. Israel wandered in the wilderness 40 years and once they crossed over into the land and began conquering it, they were probably a decade or so under Joshua’s leadership. Hence, the official period of the Judges would start around 1390 B.C.

Now, the conquest of the land involves the indispensable element of the promise YHWH made to the fathers that there would be eternal occupation of the land of Canaan by God’s covenant people.

Returning to Genesis 12:1, God told Abram He would take him to a land that He would show him. Later in 12:7, God appeared to Abram and promised to give the land to his descendants. God reiterated His promise as recorded in Genesis 13:14ff.; 15:7-8, and 15:18-21. The same promise is restated to Moses in Exodus 3:7,8 and 3:16,17.

YHWH delivered Israel from slavery so that Israel would be enslaved to Him and He would be their sovereign Lord. They had a King – YHWH. They had a covenant constitution –  the law of Moses in Exodus. They were a nation of people, so all they needed was their land.

When we come to Joshua and Judges, Israel is being led into the promise land. Under the leadership of Joshua, the military resistance by Canaanites had been broken.

One interesting note about this time is what are called the Armana letters, a series of correspondence of vassal kings in Canaan to Pharaoh. The vassal kings complained bitterly of an incursion of the Apiru, a Nomadic people who were coming into the land plundering the various nation-states. Historians debate the identity of the Apiru, but there is good reason to think they may have had in mind Israel during the conquest.

When we come to the book of Judges, the land is not cleared of the Canaanites, but the conditions are just right for the Israelite tribes to finish the job. All the low lands were taken, but they had yet to conquer the highlands, where the choicest land was. There was a reason, according the Scripture, for why this situation remained as it did.

The Canaanites were left for the purpose of testing Israel in two important ways:

First, to test whether Israel would trust and obey God. Judges 2:20-23 states that God would no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left. That was for the purpose of testing whether or not Israel would keep the way of the Lord to walk in it as their fathers. Would Israel do what God asked of them? Would they trust His leading? In a similar way, that is like what James wrote in the first chapter of his book. God brings trials for a reason, in order to strengthen our faith and to teach us to obey his commands.

Secondly, was for the purpose of training up the next generation for war. Judges 3:1-2 states that God left those nations there in order to test Israel by them especially all the generations who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan. It was for the purpose of that generation to be taught the ways of war. Why was that exactly?

The younger generation didn’t really know how to defend themselves or fight because they had grown up during the wilderness wanderings and the early years of the conquest when the older generation fought all the battles. Thus, they were ignorant of how important it was to fight God’s enemies and defend their inheritance.

The first chapter of Judges illustrates the importance of those two tests. After Joshua died, the Israelites rose to the challenge of driving out the Canaanites. The early record of the chapter describes those instances of them working together to drive them out the land.

Things began to go in the wrong direction when after defeating Adoni-bezek, instead of executing him, they turned him into something of a war trophy, cutting his toes and thumbs off like he had to kings he had conquered, and then taking him back to Jerusalem as a prisoner.

Later in 1:19, when Judah took possession of the hill country they could not drive out all the inhabitants because they had iron chariots. Did they trust God or call upon His help to defeat them?

The remainder of the chapter, verses 21, 27, 29, 30, 31, and 33 has the sad testimony of the people not driving out the Canaanites. Instead, what they did was compromise with them. That was truly a disastrous sin. They would let them remain in the land unharmed, but would make them pay tribute or let them live among the Israelites as forced labor. That was not what God wanted at all, and it was a serious compromise that cost Israel their souls and God’s blessing.

Gleanings from Judges [2]

molechThe Destruction of the Canaanites

Judges can be a disturbingly dark and tragic book. We see the people of God sliding into apostasy, becoming like the pagans they were told to destroy from out of the land.

But the book of Judges really begins in Genesis, for that is where we have the record of Canaan’s cursing after Ham’s sing against his father, Noah (Genesis 9:20-28). The Canaanites became the inhabitants of the land God promises to Israel, and throughout Genesis and Exodus, the people who descended from Canaan persecuted the people of Israel and engaged in unimaginable wickedness.

The question before we get into the book of Judges proper is simply this, Why would God insist upon killing every last Canaanite? (Deuteronomy 7:1-6, 20:16ff.) All because their fore-father, Ham, looked upon a naked, drunk Noah? Not only that, God commanded the destruction of everything: man, woman, child, and even animals.

Those are important questions to ponder because skeptics raise those commands of God as a reason why He shouldn’t be worshiped. Anytime modern, Islamic atrocities by jihadists are perpetrated, critics will say God’s OT commands to destroy the Canaanites is really no different. God is basically commanding the genocide of innocent people critics will argue.

Yet is that truly the case?

Back in Genesis 15:12-16, God gives a unique prophecy to Abraham. He tells him,

12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him.
13 God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.
14 “But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.
15 “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.
16 “Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”

Note verse 16 that speaks to the iniquity of the Amorites not yet being completed, or full. The word “Amorites” is also a general description of the Canaanites. It is all of those nations and tribes living in the land promised to Israel. According to God’s word, Abraham’s people would not be brought in the land until the iniquity is full. What would essentially be another 650 years, over half a millennium.

Fast-forwarding to the time immediately before the conquest, God says through Moses in Deuteronomy 9:1-6 that Israel was being brought into the land specifically as a military instrument of divine judgment against those nations. Verses 4 and 5 state,

4 “Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you.
5 “It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

God describes those nations as practicing wickedness, or evil.

So the question is, what sort of wickedness? What exactly were their iniquities God was judging?

Idolatry. Idolatry reflected their religious beliefs. The Canaanites believed the forces of nature are expressions of divine presence and activity. In order to prosper in their daily lives, such as raising animals, crops, having families, or gain victory in military conquests, the right god had to be identified. Their worship was designed to encourage that particular god to favor the person or people. Elaborate rituals and ceremonies were enacted to appease that god and to bend its will toward the tribe or nation.

El was the head god. He was a powerful father figured, but was impersonal and had no real interest in human affairs.

His wife was Asherah, who was also worshiped. She was something of an environmental mother nature figured who was worshiped in groves of trees, particularly evergreen trees, that were planted and cultivated for the purpose of creating a sacred site. When there was revival in Israel, one of the first things done to drive out the false gods was to cut down the groves or burn the Asherah.

Baal was their son who became the storm god, the one who brought rain and crops. He threatened El and was said to have struggled victoriously against the gods of the sea, the rivers, and death. After defeating his foes he took Asherah (at his father’s behest) as his consort. Their incestuous relationship produced his sister, Anat.

It was believed the rain was Baal’s semen that fertilizes the earth. Hence, the rituals of the Canaanites would dramatize that myth and were highly sexual. To engage in the idolatry of the Canaanites was best described in Scripture as “whoring after other gods.”

Incest. Because Baal commited incest with his mother, his sister, and even his daughter, it became a practice of the Canaanite culture. Recall Lot’s daughters who committed incest with him. They were raised in the influence of a Canaanite region called Sodom and Gomorrah.

Adultery. As I noted, Canaanite religion involved sexual rituals, many of which that employed the use of temple prostitution. The story of El committing adultery with two goddesses became a ritual that was to be repeated five times by the company and the singers of the assembly gathered to worship.

Child Sacrifice. One of the more disturbing elements of the Canaanite worship was the sacrifice of children to Molech, the Canaanite god of the underworld. He was pictures as an upright, bullheaded idol with a human body. Basically a minotaur. The belly was designed as a furnace. A child would be laid upon the outstretched arms of the image. It wasn’t only infants, but children as old as four would be roasted alive on that demonic idol.

Historian, Plutarch, who allegedly witnessed one of those horrifying services, describes how the whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums so that the wailing children agonizing in the heat could not reach the ears of the people.

Homosexuality and Bestiality. There is no surprise those two depraved acts would occur because their gods practiced those perversions. The outrage of Sodom and Gomorrah is evidence of the practice of homosexuality.

Now we understand why God was bringing judgment upon Canaan. The Canaanites were not innocent cabbage farmers minding their own business. Their culture was utterly depraved. They performed wickedness that is in some respects even worse than the atrocities done in our modern day in areas controlled by ISIS. That is why God outlines those sins in Leviticus 18 and declares them as terrible abominations.

Sadly, as we will see in Judges, Israel began to adopt those practices when they fell away from their covenant faithfulness to the LORD.

Gleanings From Judges [1]

judges

The Background to the Book of Judges

A few years ago, I had the opportunity of teaching through the book of Judges. The book is a bit foreign to us in the 21st century; but even so, it remains God’s Word and I believe there are many excellent truths we can glean from it.

Judges is a dark book. It represents 350 years during the history of Israel when the people wallowed in sin, wickedness, and apostasy.

Israel disobeyed God’s covenant: Judges 2:1-2 – “Now the angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done?”

Moral and religious failure spread throughout the nation, and the people turned from following YHWH: Judges 2:11,12 – “Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger.”

The people embraced spiritual compromise and as a result, they turned themselves over to spiritual apostasy: Judges 3:5-7 – “And the sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. And the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God, and served the Baals and the Asheroth.”

Judges, then, provides us many truths to consider:

– It provides us a picture of how religious and moral compromise can overtake God’s people.
– It is a warning for vigilance against that moral and religious compromise.
– And it is a call to complete commitment to God’s kingship and Christ’s lordship (Judges 21:25)

Judges also sets up the reason why Israel needed a king, a national leader that would unify and bring governance among the people in the ways of YHWH. A leader who would keep the people faithfully committed to the covenant.

Before I get into the book, it would be helpful to know how this situation came to be. What is the background to Israel compromising with pagan nations and their slide into spiritual apostasy? Also, who are these people that Israel was to conquer yet instead compromised with their religious practice? So let me briefly identify the land and the people called “Canaan.”

Canaan was the territory along the Phoenician Coast. The Egyptians called all of western Syria by the name, Canaan. Coming to the Bible, when we turn to the Table of Nations in Genesis 10:6, we discover that Canaan was the 4th son of Ham, the son of Noah.

Canaan’s brothers were Cush, Put, and Mizraim and each one of them are identified with areas in the ancient world where their descendents settled. For instance, Cush is known as Ethiopia and Mizraim is identified with Egypt. Canaan, then, begot the families that produced many of the nations that came into contact with Israel when they entered the land after the Exodus.

Those nations occupied the land God specifically told Israel to wipe out. Deuteronomy 20:16-18 states,

16 “Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes.
17 “But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you,
18 in order that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.

God placed all of those people groups “under the ban,” as it was known, which means they were to be “utterly destroyed.” The reason being is because they were all connected to a unique situation found in Genesis 9.

It involved a sin committed by one of Noah’s sons that is recorded in Genesis 9:18 ff. Though it appears trivial on the surface, digging deeper, serious wickedness is exposed.

After the flood, Noah, his wife, and their three sons and their wives, make it through to a brand new world. Yet, even though it was a “brand new world” sin also came with them. Noah, it is said, planted a vineyard, made wine, and eventually got drunk. During his stupor, he stripped himself naked and passed out, laying in his tent in a humiliating fashion, exposed for everyone to see. Ham sees him, and the text says he went out to tell his brothers with delight. To basically mock and ridicule their father.

By the way, it is important to note also that there is no indication of Ham physically touching his father. Some suggest that Ham performed an act of homosexual sodomy against Noah while he was in his unconscious, naked state, but that is pure, unsupported conjecture.

The sin Ham committed against his father was really when he went out to tell his brothers. Henry Morris writes in his commentary on Genesis that Ham’s actions (telling his brothers) revealed rebellion against his father’s authority, “plus resentment against the entire moral standard that had been taught and enforced by Noah in his family.” “Fundamentally,” writes Morris, “his act revealed an attitude of resentment against God Himself.” [The Genesis Record, 235]

Noah eventually discovers what happened. You will note how Moses, when he records this shameful event, how Ham is the father of Canaan (9:18,20). That is an important connection, because Noah levels a curse against Canaan. Notice it is not against Ham, but his son Canaan.

Yet, why not against Ham’s other sons? It is uncertain, but perhaps they were God-fearing whereas Canaan was not. He could have expressed the same rebellious disrespect that Ham did; hence, Noah in his curse is speaking prophetically.

Moving through the record of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch, we see how the descendants of Canaan become the mortal enemies of God’s people. They were notorious, wicked sinners, profaning the God of heaven and persecuting Israel. Sodom and Gomorrah were the first real indicators of the depths of depravity found in the land of Canaan.

So we can begin to see why God placed them all under the ban and why they were given over to be utterly destroyed. That is what I will take up the next time.