Dull of Heart and Hard of Hearing.

Judges 21, Acts 28

For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. – Acts 28:27 ESV

These two books each end with rather sad portrayals of the spiritual state of the people of Israel. In the book of Judges, we see a people who attempt to correct a previous wrong by committing additional injustices while justifying their actions with pious sounding oaths. All the events of Judges 21 take place as a result of the rape of the Levite's concubine by the men of Gibeah, a Benjamite city. Their immoral action resulted in a civil war and the near annihilation of the male population of the tribe of Benjamin by the rest of the tribes of Israel. Over 25,000 Benjamites were killed, leaving only 600 men alive. Their cities were burned and their women and children were executed as well. All because of the sinful actions of a few and the stubborn refusal of the people of Benjamin to give up those who were guilty of the original sin. But after Israel had nearly wiped out their fellow tribe, they had regrets. They realized that their actions had left the Benjamites on the edge of extinction, and they had sworn an oath not to give their daughers in marriage to the Benjamites. This decision would effectively result in the eventual loss of the entire tribe of Benjamin. Not hearing from God, they came up with their own plan, and it would prove worse than the original sin of the men of Gibeah. The key to understanding the faulty nature of their plan can be seen in two simple phrases. The first is found in verse 7: “What shall we do?” The second is recorded in verse 11: “This is what we shall do.” The plan they came up with was their own, not God's. They came up with a loop-hole that would allow them to solve their problem in a seemingly righteous way. Since the men of Jabesh-gilead had not shown up when a call went out to all the tribes to gather (Judges 20:1), they decided to punish them by attacking them and taking any of the virgins of the town as wives for the men of Benjamin. Their slaughter of the people of Jabesh-gilead resulted in only 400 potential wives for the men of Benjamin. They were 200 short. So they then encouraged the men of Benjamin to kidnap an additional 200 women from the city of Shiloh. In effect, the rape of one woman resulted in the forcible kidnapping and rape of 600 women.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Nowhere in this passage do we hear the voice of God or witness the approval of their actions. The sins of the people of Israel have increased to such a degree that they have resorted to the killing, kidnapping, and raping of fellow members of their own nation. They justified their actions. They tried to fix their own sins and only created worse problems than when they began. God seems to be silent throughout this entire ordeal. And the chapter ends with the sad and familiar refrain, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25 ESV). God was not the King of Israel. At least not according to the way the people of Israel treated Him. They did what they wanted to do. They came up with their own solutions to their own problems. God was there, but they treated Him as if He didn't even exist. Yes, the turned to Him when they found themselves in trouble, but when He appeared to be silent, they took matters into their own hands. And God allowed them to do so. He didn't approve of their actions, but He also didn't intervene. Sometimes God allows us to do whatever it is we want to do. He gives us the freedom to act on our own sinful desires and experience the consequences of those actions.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The people of Israel didn't change much over the years. As we shall see, their stubbornness and sinfulness never abated, even after God allowed them to have a king of their own. Their problem was not the lack of a king, but their own refusal to acknowledge God as King. Over in the book of Acts, we have recorded Paul's arrival in Rome for his trial before Caesar. One of the first things he did was call the local Jewish population together to explain what is going on. He wanted to hear from himself before they got swayed by any of his accusers who would surely be arriving any day from Jerusalem to bring charges against him at his trial. Paul finds his Jewish audience seemingly receptive and willing to hear from him. They knew nothing about the events surrounding his arrest in Caesarea but told him, “We desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:22 ESV). “From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved” (Acts 28:23-24 ESV).

Paul's assessment of the Jews is clear. It reflects an understanding of the nature of their hearts. They were willing to hear, but unwilling to really listen. Quoting from the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, Paul told them, “this people's heart has become dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them” (Acts 28:27 ESV). Like their ancestors, the Jews of Paul's day had become calloused and cold toward God. They were religious. They were outwardly pious. But they had long since stopped hearing from God. They couldn't see the hand of God operating within their own midst. And as a result, they were incapable of turning back to God. So Paul gives them the sad news that from that point forward “this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

They will listen. Listening was directly tied to turning. Hearing what Paul had to say and what God was offering was not enough. The Jews in Paul's audience heard him clearly, but refused to listen and act on what they had heard. The refused to turn. But the Gentiles would hear, listen, and turn. They would repent. They would see their need for a Savior and accept the offer of forgiveness of sins and salvation through Christ. Even as a believer I still have the need to not only hear from God, but listen and obey. I must see what He is doing and not become blind to His actions in and around my life. This passage conveys a sensitivity to God's presence and voice. I must see Him and hear Him. I have to listen to what He is saying to me each and every day of my life. Otherwise, I run the risk of becoming like the Israelites: Dull of heart and hard of hearing.

Father, give me an ever-increasing ability to see You and hear You, but also to listen to and obey You, so that I don't become dull of heart and hard of hearing. Amen

When God's Plan Doesn't Make Sense.

Judges 19-20, Acts 27

And the Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel, and the people of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day. All these were men who drew the sword. ­– Judges 20:35 ESV

“Do no be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.” – Acts 27:24 ESV

There are times when God's plan for our lives seems to make no sense at all. Things don't always go as we would expect them to. Circumstances don't always turn out like we would want them to. But that does not mean God is not there and it certainly is no indication that God's plan has failed or His power is somehow limited in our lives. In our reading today in Judges and Acts we have two distinctly different stories, but one very similar theme: The presence and plan of God. In the case of Judges, the people of Israel have gathered to do battle with their own brothers, the Benjamites, for a gross act of immorality. A Levite who was seeking shelter in the Benjamite city of Gibeah, found himself surrounded by “worthless fellows” who wanted to have sexual relations with him. In a less-than-chivalrous act of self-preservation, the Levite gave them his concubine, whom they gang raped and left for dead. When the rest of the nation of Israel found out what had happened in Gibeah, they demanded that the men who committed this heinous act be turned over. But instead, the Benjamites refused and decided to do battle instead. The Israelites, who we would expect would be the good guys in this scenario, arrived with more than 400,000 soldiers to go against only 26,700 Benjamites. They even sought God's will regarding which of the tribes of Israel should do the honors and go into battle first. God chose the tribe of Judah, but when the day of battle came, the Benjamites killed 22,000 Israelites. Demoralized and defeated, the Israelites wept before God, wondering what had happened and what they were supposed to do now. Things had not turned out as they expected. But God sent them back into battle. And the results were the same. They lost. A staggering 18,000 Israelites died. Once again, they came before God and wept, wondering what had happened. They fasted and presented burnt offerings. And God sent them back a third time, saying, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand” (Judges 20:28 ESV). And God was true to His word. The Israelites defeated the Benjamites, but not before they had lost 40,000 men in battle.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It would have been easy for the people of Israel to question what God was doing during this whole sordid scenario. They would have seen themselves as the good guys, simply trying to avenge the sins of the Benjamites. But their ultimate victory was prefaced with staggering and unexpected defeat. How did any of this make sense? What had they done wrong? Where was God in all of this? But God had been there all along. He had a reason behind all of this. The passage doesn't give us any clue as to what that might be, but one must conclude that God was also punishing the people of Israel for their own sin and rebellion against Him. They were far from innocent. Their track record was clear. As a nation, the people of Israel were apostate, living in willing disobedience to God and committing all kinds of sins deserving of His righteous anger. God would eventually give them the victory, but not before He enacted judgment against them for their own sins.

God always has a reason for what He does and what He allows. In the case of Paul, he had been arrested and put on trial before Festus, Agrippa and was now under Roman guard and being transported to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. He was innocent, but was having to endure the shame of being arrested, chained and treated like a prisoner. And to make matters worse, Luke records with exacting detail, that this trip was filled with problems from day one.

“the winds were against us…” – Acts 27:4

“We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty…” – Acts 27:7

“the wind did not allow us to go further…” – Acts 27:7

“the voyage was now dangerous…” – Acts 27:9

And things went from bad to worse. The entire voyage was marked by increasing storm intensity. Even the sailors began to lose hope and were ready to abandon ship. But Paul had received a vision from God letting him know that they would all arrive safe, but the ship would be lost. God was in full control. This was all part of His divine plan. Yet it would have been easy for Paul to have concluded that this was all out of God's control. It would have been natural to question where God was and why He wasn't doing something about this terrible chain of events. But God was there. There was a reason for the storms. There was a purpose behind all the difficulties. One thing that jumps out is that Paul was able to use the circumstances as an opportunity to share about his faith and to encourage the sailors regarding His God. Paul's peace and contentment in the midst of the storm was a witness to his faith and his confidence in the power and sovereignty of his God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We don't always get it. The circumstances of life don't always make sense to us – even as believers. And when things appear to be less-than-ideal, we can easily become less-than-trusting when it comes to God's sovereignty. We can begin to doubt, fear, question, and even become angry with God, letting Him know just how disappointed we are in His handling of our life circumstances. It all reminds me of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, ‘He didn't make me’? Does a jar ever say, ‘The potter who made me is stupid’?” (Isaiah 29:16 NLT). While the events of our lives may not always turn out the way we want or expect them to, we should never doubt the sovereign will of God. The Israelites had no idea why their superior numbers and righteous cause should have ended in a succession of bitter defeats. It didn't make sense. It didn't seem fair. Paul could have easily questioned why God would allow him to be arrested and sent to Rome, then have to endure the rigors of a perilous voyage that seemed doomed to disaster. But he received word from God that his life was in good hands and their journey was God-ordained and God-protected, storms and all. Ultimately, the Israelites would experience victory over the Benjamites, but not before they had suffered their own form of discipline at the hands of God. He would deal with the sins of the men of Gibeah, as well as the people of Israel. God had a greater score to settle than just the capture and punishment of a handful of immoral men from Gibeah. The entire nation of Israel was apostate and marked by sin. The actions of the men of Gibeah were just a symptom of the greater disease infecting the entire nation. And while the remaining tribes felt righteous indignation at what they heard had happened in Gibeah, they had no remorse over their own state of stubborn defiance toward a holy and righteous God. So God would use the circumstances to accomplish His will and in a way that was totally baffling to the people of Israel. But regardless of what they saw, experienced or thought, God was in control.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Trust God. If there is any more important lesson for the believer, I don't know what it might be. Trusting Him in the midst of the cares and concerns of life is a full-time job and it is never easy. The events of life can easily cause us to either doubt His presence or deny our need for Him. When things are going poorly, we can conclude that God must be absent or uncaring. When things are going well, we can easily conclude that we are in His will or perfectly fine without Him. All of these conclusions are dangerous and decidedly wrong. God is always there. He is working behind the scenes in ways we can't see or understand. We cannot judge His presence or power based on our circumstances. Paul was a prisoner confined to a boat headed to Rome for a trial before the most powerful man in the world. On top of that, their journey was seemingly ill-fated and destined to end in disaster. But God was not up in heaven wringing His hands or somehow surprised by the literal and metaphorical storms raging in Paul's life. He was in control. He had a plan. He could be trusted.

Father, teach me to trust You. Help me to see You in the circumstances of my life – whether they're good or bad. Never let me wrongly conclude that when I need You most, You are not there. And never let me decide that when my life is trouble-free, I don't need You at all. I always need You. And You are always in control. Let me learn to rest in that reality. Amen


No King In Israel.

Judges 17-18, Acts 26

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

Two times in these two chapters of Judges we find the statement, “In those days there was no king in Israel” (Judges 18:1 ESV). It is a statement of fact, signifying that Israel had no earthly king, but it is also a sad indication of something even more important. Israel had refused to acknowledge God as their King. So everyone did what was right in his own eyes. While God had clearly given His people standards for living and rules for life in His Kingdom, they chose to ignore His laws and establish their own. The story of Micah is sad reflection of the times. You have a son who clearly violated the commands of God by not only stealing, but doing so from his own mother, dishonoring her in the process. And when he confesses and returns the stolen silver to his mother, she has him create household idols out of it. You see in this story the influence of the pagan cultures that surrounded the Israelites. They had failed to remove the various nations from the land and therefore, they had left themselves susceptible not only to their physical attack, but their religious influence. The Israelites practiced a kind of syncretism, that blended their own religion with those of the nations around them. They attempted to maintain some form of worship of God, but blended it with the worship of others gods as well. It was a form of hedging their bets, making sure that they didn't leave out any potential god who might be able to assist them as they attempted to survive in what was still a hostile environment. But they failed to remember that God is a jealous God who refuses to share His glory with anyone or anything. He had explicitly prohibited the worship of idols. But the people of Israel refused to obey. Because they refused to see God as their King and ruler. They felt no obligation to obey His commands, deciding instead to do what was right in their own eyes. So Micah built a shrine, created idols, made an ephod, and ordained his own priest. All in direct violation of God's commands. He even bribed a Levite to become his personal priest. Then the tribe of Dan stole all of these things away from Micah, creating their own place of worship and encouraging the people of Israel to live in defiance to the commands of God. “And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up Micah's carved image that hemade, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh” (Judges 18:30-31 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Apostasy is defined as “a total desertion of or departure from one's religion, principles, party, or cause.” And while it might be argued that the people of Israel never fully deserted God, it is clear from these two chapters that they had decided that God alone was not enough. The Danites, who had refused the fully conquer the land given to them by Moses, were still in search for a place to settle. So they sent out spies to search for a possible alternative. When they came across Micah, his idols, ephod, shrine and personal priest, they didn't think twice about stealing them all and making them their own. They had no second thoughts about incorporating Micah's false gods and fake priest into their religious system. And yet, they asked Micah's priest to seek God's will in their search for a homeland. All throughout this story, the people of Dan assumed that God was on their side, even though they had refused to be obedient to His law and His will for their lives. They were doing what was right in their own eyes, but they still expected God to do what they wanted Him to do. God had become little more than a talisman or good luck charm, much like Micah's priest, idols, ephod and shrine. There was no king in Israel – either human or divine. There was no true leadership. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. And that trend would continue for generations. Even by the time Paul came along and the Gospel was beginning to spread throughout the world, there was still no king in Israel. Agrippa was the de facto king of Israel, but he was not a descendant of David. His rule was made possible by Rome, not God. So while he ruled over portions of the nation of Israel, he was not the recognized king of Israel. And yet, neither was God. In Paul's defense before Agrippa, he stated, “I stand here today testifying to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23 ESV). Paul made it clear that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that Moses and the prophets had predicted. Jesus was God's Son and the Savior of the world. But Agrippa, Festus, the Jewish religious leaders and most of the Jewish people refused to accept Jesus as Lord because they had refused to acknowledge God as King. There was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. But whether they were willing to admit it or not, God was King. He was in complete control. He was still on His throne, enacting His will upon the people of Israel and the nations of the world. God was in control of Paul's life, the circumstances which surrounded him, and all the rulers who reigned – from Caesarea to Rome. God was King, but the people refused to acknowledge Him as such, choosing instead to do what was right in their own eyes.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Self-rule has always been one of man's greatest problem. We can't stand to be told what to do. We want to run our own lives and we resist any attempt to be controlled or ruled by someone or something else. There is within every man the innate desire for self-rule. We want to call the shots. We want to dictate the terms of our life. But God has made it clear that He alone is God. There is no other. He will not share His authority or His glory with any man. Even King David served as God's emissary or ambassador. He did not replace God, but ruled on His behalf. He was God's human representative, responsible for the care and protection of His people and His kingdom. It was when the kings of Israel lost sight of their God-given authority that they began to get in trouble. When they began to see themselves as the sole authority and arbiter of Israel's fate, they wandered into dangerous territory. Even during the period of the kings, it could be said, “There was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Why? Because God was always to have been their King. Human kings who failed to recognize God as the ultimate King would never truly rule and reign with authority or power. When we attempt take authority that belongs to God alone and make it our own, we tread on dangerous ground. When we try and assert our authority and run our own lives, we are acting as if there is no King. We are making ourselves king. And the result is that we always end up doing what is right in our own eyes. A sure recipe for disaster.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There is always the temptation for me to do what is right in my own eyes. I can so easily convince myself that I know what is best. Self-rule is attractive and alluring. But it is dangerous and deadly. God never intended for men to rule themselves. He is King. He is Lord. He is the sovereign ruler over all that He has made and while He may occasionally share that authority with a human king, God never abdicates His right to rule and reign over His creation. I must constantly remind myself that God is the King of all, including my life. I am not free to do what is right in my own eyes. I cannot reject the rule of God and replace it with my own agenda. I am not free to rule and reign over my own life or create my own little kingdom here on earth. That is what got Micah in trouble. That is what led the Danites to set up their own gods, their own religious and their own place of worship, all in direct violation of the commands of God. Running my own life may sound appealing and appear attractive, but it is deceptively deadly. Acknowledging God as King and His Son as Lord and Savior is essential. But we will always struggle with the temptation to reject His rule and replace it with our own. But men tend to make lousy kings. But the day is coming when God will establish His Son as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He will take His place on the throne of David and reign from the city of Jerusalem, bringing the authority and righteous rule of God to earth. He will be the King God promised long ago. Any attempt by man to rule in His place will fail. Any effort to replace His rightful place as King will always end in disaster. Self-rule is ultimately always self-destructive.

Father, I want to learn to acknowledge You as the sovereign ruler over my life. I want to submit to Your righteous reign over all that there is. Forgive me for attempting to run my own life and set up my own petty kingdom here on earth with myself as king. I make a lousy king. But You have proven Yourself worthy to rule and reign over all. Help me submit to Your Kingship each and every day of my life. Amen

Samson Versus Paul.

Judges 15-16, Acts 25

But he did not know that the Lord had left him. ­– Judges 16:20 ESV

Samson and Paul were both men who had been hand-picked by God to serve on His behalf. Samson was to act as a judge of the people of Israel, rescuing them from the persecution of the Philistines who surrounded them. Paul was to be God's witness to the Gentiles, introducing them to the Good News regarding Jesus Christ, and providing them with a means of experiencing freedom from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death for their rebellion against God. These men were both servants of God, and eventually they both found themselves imprisoned. But that is where the similarity ends. Samson was an impetuous, impertinent servant of God, who was driven by his passions and controlled by his lusts. He comes across like a ill-tempered child who was constantly demanding his own way. He never seemed to take his role as a judge of the people of Israel seriously. It all appeared as a game to him. Rather than see his superhuman strength as a gift from God, he used it to his own advantage. Instead of taking his Nazarite vow seriously, and understanding that it was a symbol of his separation to God; he treated it flippantly, regularly violating his commitment to God. On the other hand, Paul was a faithful servant of God, who took his role seriously and served his God obediently. And while both men ended up as prisoners, the circumstances that led to their imprisonment could not have been any more different. Samson had repeatedly chosen to align himself with the enemies of Israel, seeking sexual relationships with three different Philistine women. He seemed to view his supernatural strength as a toy to be played with, rather than a Spirit-endowed gift to be stewarded and used with care. And yet, in spite of Samson's flaws and faithlessness, God continued to use him. Samson's unworthiness did not prevent God from accomplishing His divine plan concerning Samson. He would serve as judge of Israel for 20 years. He would destroy many Philistines during that time. But unlike Paul, Samson's life and ministry would be marked by unfaithfulness and a disregard for the holiness of God and the integrity of his own calling.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Over and over again, we see how Samson's lack of spiritual integrity got him into trouble. His moral compass seemed to be broken, causing him to make poor choices and leaving him in less-than-perfect circumstances. And yet we read, “Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him” (Judges 15:14 ESV). In spite of him, God still used him, because God had something He wanted to accomplish through him. God's plan was greater than Samson. God's righteous agenda was not tied to or limited by Samson's unrighteous character. It is interesting to note that Samson's darkest moments are marked by an absence of the presence of God. But his greatest accomplishments are the direct result of God's divine empowerment. It seems that when Samson found himself blind, shorn of his hair, and devoid of his strength, he finally realized that God was the sole source of his significance. As he stood before his captors, forced to entertain them as they attributed his defeat to their pagan god, Samson called out to God for the first time in his life. “Oh Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once. O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28 ESV). He realized that without God, he was nothing. His strength had been from God. His victories had all been God's doing. And now, at his darkest hour, he called out to God. But even as he cried out, his motivation remained selfish and self-centered. He wanted to avenge himself, not God. He wanted to repay his enemies for his lost eyesight, not for their mocking of his God. And yet, God still answered him. One last time, Samson received divine enablement to inflict punishment on the enemies of Israel. “So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life” (Judges 16:30 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

We have a mistaken perspective that allows us to believe that somehow God is restricted to only using those who are useful. We somehow think that God is relegated to accomplishing His divine will through those who prove themselves worthy. But the Scriptures paint a different picture. God is not limited by the availability and worthiness of men. He is fully capable of accomplishing His will with us or without us. And even when God used men who appeared to be worthy, He did so in ways that to us seemed unexpected and unnecessary. That Paul had to be persecuted by the Jews and arrested by the Romans seems so counter-productive. Wouldn't it have made more sense for him to remain free and continue this work on behalf of the Gospel? But God, in His divine wisdom, chose to allow Paul to be arrested and taken before Festus and even King Agrippa, and eventually imprisoned in Rome. This was all part of His plan. We could easily tend to see Paul's imprisonments as setbacks and road blocks to the Kingdom's cause. But had not Paul been imprisoned, most of the letters he wrote that comprise our New Testament would never have seen the light of day. Had not God forced Paul to take time off the road from his travels, he would have never put in writing the great theological truths found in Romans. We would not have his Spirit-inspired insights into the body of Christ found in Ephesians. We would be without a clear understanding of the role of the Spirit found in the book of Galatians. God had a purpose in his plan for Paul's life. God's ways are not our ways. God used Paul, not because he was worthy, but because God chose to use him. God used Samson, not because Samson deserved to be used, but because God chose to use him. God's divine plan is not restricted to or limited by our usefulness.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God is going to accomplish His will in the world. And He will use whomever He chooses to use to accomplish it. My goal should not be to try and make myself useable by or useful to God, but to understand that God will use me in spite of me, not because of me. My objective should be to remain faithful to Him, not so I can be used by Him, but simply because He has been faithful to me. Had Samson simply looked back on his life, he would have seen that his many exploits had been the work of God, not himself. His victories had been God's doing, not the result of his superhuman strength. Paul had the capacity to see everything in his life as the result of the work of God. That is why he could say, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV). Paul knew the source of his strength. He knew that God was capable of using any and all circumstances to accomplish His will in and through his life. My greatest value to God comes in recognizing that I really offer nothing of value to God. He doesn't need me, but He still uses me. Samson presents the sad picture of a man who gave his life to accomplish God's will, but he did so selfishly focused on his own agenda and his own selfish desires. It was all about him all the way to the end. Paul portrays the life of an individual who willing to suffer insult, imprisonment, indignity and injustice – all so that God's will might be accomplished and the Gospel be spread. That is the man I want to be. That is the life I want to live.

Father, give me the heart of Paul. Forgive me for the many times I act like Samson, childish, self-centered and stubbornly focused on my own desires. Help me to increasingly understand that Your will is greater than my own. Let me continue to learn that Your way is the only way. You don't need me, but You use me. Don't let me get distracted by my own usefulness or usability, but on Your sovereignty. You are in control. Help me to see that You are at work behind the scenes in my life. Help me to accept Your will regarding my life and rejoice in Your use of me, no matter what it may look like or how it may appear. Amen

Righteousness, Self-Control and Judgment.

Judges 13-14, Acts 24

And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed, and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” ­– Acts 24:25 ESV

God has an expectation for mankind. He created us for a reason. There was a purpose and a plan behind His making of man. Adam and Eve were created to have an intimate, uninterrupted relationship with God, and were to rule over and care for the rest of His creation. But sin entered the scene. From that moment forward the relationship between God and man would be radically changed. Rather than live according to God's expectations and follow His plan for them, Adam and Eve would find themselves selfishly seeking their own way and living according to their own self-centered agenda. From that point forward, their lives would be marked by sin – a willful breaking of the requirements of God for their lives. They would spend the rest of their lives violating God's will and suffering from a broken relationship with the very One who had made them. This damaged relationship between God and man is at the heart of the Scriptures. The effects of sin can be seen throughout the pages of the Bible, from beginning to end. Since the time of Adam and Eve, mankind has been marked by unrighteousness and a lack of self-control. The condition of mankind is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). And because every man and woman who has ever lived is guilty of sin, they stand condemned before God and worthy of punishment. And according to the Scriptures, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV).  So God's preordained plan was to send His Son to deal with and provide the remedy for man's sin problem. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Our righteous, holy God has chosen to work with and through flawed, sometimes faithless and always sin-prone men and women. The judges God used to rescue His people in the Old Testament were imperfect and far from righteous. They tended to exhibit unrighteous characteristics and a marked lack of self-control, and Samson was no exception. He was driven by his passions and a walking contradiction to his role as God's deliverer. He regularly broke his vows as a Nazarite and lived with the focus always on his desires and driven by his natural passions. And yet God used him. That is the amazing part of the story. When Samson demanded that his father give him a woman from among the Philistines, his father “didn't know that is was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines” (Judges 14:4 ESV). Even after Samson broke his Nazarite vow and defiled himself by eating honey from a hive he found in the carcass of a dead animal, God would fill him with His Spirit and cause him to defeat the enemies of Israel. This flawed, faithless man would be used by God – in spite of himself. And yet God's desire and expectation for Samson was the same as it He has for every man and woman He has ever created. He longs for us to live righteously and exhibiting self-control over our lives. And God knows that every one of us faces His judgment one day when we will answer for our sins and pay for our rebellion against Him. And not one human being who has ever lived has ever been able to perfectly live up to God's expectations for them – except one. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became a man so that He might live the life that God expected of us all. He alone was able to live righteously and practice perfect self-control, dying to His own desires and living in perfect obedience to the will of God the Father. Jesus was the man, “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

The expectation of God for mankind has always been a life of righteousness, living in perfect submission and obedience to His will for them. He gave the people of Israel His law so that they would be without excuse, knowing full well just what He expected. But they couldn't pull it off. They didn't have within them the capacity to live in obedience to His law. And yet, the expectation has never changed. God didn't lower His standards when man failed to measure up. His purpose behind giving the law was not just to reveal His expectations, but to expose man's limitations. He wanted men to know that they were incomplete and incapable of living up to His righteous standards. They needed help. They had to come to grip with the fact that they were sinners in need of a Savior. Their sin had condemned them to judgment and only God's Son provided the solution. This was exactly what Paul discussed with the Roman governor, Felix, day after day during his house arrest in Caesarea. “…Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about ‘faith’ in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed” (Acts 24:24-25 ESV). And Felix should have been alarmed, because what Paul was telling him was that God had an expectation of Felix and his wife. The same expectation He has had for every man and women who has ever lived. He expected Felix and Drusilla to live in perfect righteousness and practice self-control. And if they didn't, they would face judgment at the hands of God. That should alarm anyone and everyone. That is the message of the Bible. That is the purpose behind the redemptive plan of God for mankind. It is the reason Jesus Christ came, died, and was raised again. That He might pay the price we all deserve to pay for our sins.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God has high expectations for every one of us. In fact, His expectations are impossible. No one can live up to His righteous standards. So we all fall short. And because we fall short, we're all guilty and worthy of His righteous, holy judgment. But God provided a solution to man's problem. He offered us a means of salvation that was based on something other than our own self-effort. Paul reminds us, “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). If left to our own feeble efforts, we would all have fallen short of God's righteous expectations. But God provided a better way, the only way for men to be made right with Him. And that “Way” is what Paul discussed with Felix that day. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). He alone provides the means by which men can be made right with God. He alone provides us with a way to live righteously and under self-control. He alone provides us with freedom from future judgment because He has paid for our sins and satisfied our debt to God. But as a recipient of God's amazing grace, I must never lose sight of the fact that His expectations of mankind have never changed. He still demands a life of righteousness. He still expects us to practice self-control. And He wants us to fully understand the reality and gravity of the judgment to come. While I live with the confidence and peace that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV), I must always remember and appreciate that I once lived with the threat of judgment hanging over my head. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV).

Father, thank You that I have had my sins forgiven and my future made secure through the gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ. I can now do what You have always expected me to do: live righteousness, with self-control. I can live according to Your expectations because You have given me Your Spirit. I have a power I once did not possess. And Your Son's death has paid my penalty and freed me from future judgment. Don't ever let me take that reality for granted. Amen

The Heart of Man.

Judges 11-12, Acts 23

But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father's house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” ­– Judges 11:7 ESV

The Bible gives us a glimpse into the character and nature of God. From the very beginning, recorded in the book of Genesis, all the way to the end, chronicled in the book of the Revelation, we are able to witness God in action, creating, calling, commanding, loving, caring, leading, conquering, and faithfully carrying out His divine plan for mankind. The stories found in the Bible provide a well-rounded portrait of God and allow us to see His divine nature in all it's glory. He is holy, righteous, transcendent, loving, gracious, powerful, all-knowing, all-powerful, and sovereign. He is judge, king, creator, warrior, father, benefactor, provider, and deity. His image is revealed through the pages of Scripture. But while the Bible allows us to discover much about God, it also shows us exactly what man is like. And it is not a pretty picture. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the moral and spiritual trajectory of mankind seems to be on a perpetually downward path. On rare occasions we are allowed to see a few individuals whose hearts seemed to defy the odds and whose lives were marked by a love for God. But in most cases, the portrait of man is a dark and depressing one. In the book of Judges, we see the repetitive cycle of sin that plagued the people of God. They just couldn't seem to stop rebelling against God. And in spite of His patience and faithful deliverance of them, they continued to turn against Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Man is wicked. He has been from the beginning. And there came a time when God determined to destroy mankind for its wickedness. The book of Genesis records, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6 ESV). So God brought a world-wide flood. His righteousness required Him to mete out justice. But He preserved a remnant. He rescued Noah and his family. He preserved a handful of representatives of the human race, because He was not done yet. He had a preordained plan to restore His creation to its original splendor and it would be accomplished through mankind and in spite of them. His will regarding mankind would be fulfilled. His desire to rectify all the problems created by sin would come about – in His perfect timing and according to His perfect plan. And it is amazing to watch His plan unfold through the pages of Scripture, even as man's wickedness is revealed on virtually every page.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The story of Jephthah is a perfect illustration of man's heart problem and God's faithfulness. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute who had been ostracized by his own half brothers. They refused to share their inheritance with him and forced him to give up his rights as a brother. This sad story begins with Jephthah living as an outside, surrounded by “worthless fellows.” And then the story takes a twist. The Ammonites show up. The enemies of Israel arrive on the scene, threatening war and creating panic among the people. And what do they do? They turn to Jephthah, who just happened to be a mighty warrior. This man who was not enough to share their inheritance becomes the perfect person to save their skins. They even agree to make him their leader if he will only help them defeat the Ammonites. What a perfect picture of the heart of man – fickle and unfaithful, opportunistic and always self-serving. The prophet Jeremiah was right when he said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV). The Bible makes it clear that the heart of man is inherently and irreparably wicked. You see it in the repetitive cycle of rebellion portrayed in the history of the people of Israel. You see it in the hatred of the religious leaders of Jesus' day, who adamantly refused to accept Him as their Messiah, instead demanding His execution, rather than acknowledge Him as the Son of God. Those same men would continue their opposition to the cause of Christ through their persecution of His apostles. Paul encountered these same men, and was dragged before them because of his efforts on behalf of the Gospel. During his trial before the Jewish council, we see a glimpse into the heart of these men as they bicker and fight amongst themselves, arguing over the issue of resurrection from the dead. Even their common enemy, Paul, could not keep them from fighting amongst themselves, revealing their selfish, vain, and wicked hearts.  “…a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided” (Acts 23:7 ESV). “And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10 ESV). Their hatred for Paul was only surpassed by their hatred for one another.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

As human beings, we tend to want to think the best of ourselves. We have a hard time recognizing or admitting our own wickedness. But the Scriptures make it painfully clear. When more than 40 men swore a vow to assassinate Paul, simply because they didn't like what he was teaching and preaching, it is hard to justify their actions. What would cause these men to risk their lives against the Roman cohort, just in order to eliminate one man? As Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” But God does understand man's heart. He knows full well the wickedness that permeates it. And that is why He sent His Son to provide the only means for restoring man's heart to its pre-fall condition. But it is essential that we understand and acknowledge our own sinful condition and the undeniable reality of our heart problem. I must regularly remind myself of my own heart condition. My heart has been damaged by sin. My predisposition is towards rebellion and rejection of the will of God. My sin nature wants me to resist the will of God and do things my way. My heart is prone to do what I want to do, rather than what God would have me do. Which is why God has placed His Spirit within me, to provide me with a new way of thinking and processing. I have been given a new capacity to live in obedience to God that comes from the very Spirit of God within me. I can't trust my heart, but I can fully rely on the Spirit of God. Paul reminds me, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV). “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:25-26 ESV). The Spirit of God makes it possible for us to live in obedience to God. But it is essential that I acknowledge my need for the Spirit. I must come to grips with my own sin nature and deadly heart condition. I must daily recognize my need for the transformative power of the Spirit of God in my life, providing me with the capacity to live differently and distinctively in a world where man's wickedness is on constant display.

Father, I should have no problem admitting the wickedness of my own heart. I get to see it in full living color every day. It reveals itself in so many ways that it is impossible to deny it. But You are in the process of transforming my heart and renewing my nature. Your Spirit is providing me with a capacity to live righteously that I never possessed before. But I must constantly recognize the true condition of my heart and my indisputable need for His power to live the life You have called me to live. Amen

Called and Commissioned.

Judges 9-10, acts 22

And he said, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth;for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.” ­– Acts 22:14-15 ESV

Our two passages today present a stark contrast between two different men. In the book of Judges, we are introduced to Abimelech, the son of Gideon. He proves to be a conniving, murderous individual who will stop at nothing to see himself made king over the people of Israel. He was not appointed by God. He had no commission from God to seek the kingship. But after the death of his father, Gideon, Abimelech saw an opportunity to take advantage of. He knew that at one point the people of Israel had wanted to crown Gideon king. “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian’” (Judges 8:22 ESV). But Gideon had refused their offer to make him king, warning them, “The Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8:23 ESV). But once Gideon was out of the way, Abimelech saw his opportunity. His father's death had left a leadership void. But he had 69 brothers, all born to different mothers, with whom to contend. So took matters into his own hands and Abimelech murdered them all. Then his mother's relatives, the Shechemites, crowned him king of Israel, and he reigned for three years. But his reign was not commissioned by God and it did not have the blessing of God. It would end in tragedy and with Abimelech's violent death. And nothing Abimelech had done with his life left a lasting or positive impact on the nation of Israel. They remained unfaithful to God and continued their pattern of rebellion.

But in the book of Acts, we meet a man of a different sort. Actually, Paul was probably much like Abimelech at one point in his life. He was a self-made and ambitious man who was working his way to the top. Paul's own story of his early life is quite transparent, revealing some of the more sordid details of his background. “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished” (Acts 22:4-5 ESV). Paul was a professional bounty hunter whose job it was to round up Christians and thrown them in jail. But something happened. God got a hold on his life and transformed him from the inside out. That day on the road to Damascus, as Paul was making his way to carry out his original commission from the Jewish religious leadership, he received a new commission and calling from God Himself. “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14-15 ESV). Paul was given a clear charge by God to act as His spokesman and representative, carrying the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It is clear from the book of Judges that God uses men and women to accomplish His will. So far, we have seen Him call Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, and Gideon. These individuals were chosen by God to accomplish His divine will in the lives of His people. Each had a role to play in God's plan. They were called and commissioned by God and had the hand of God on their lives and, as a result, they were able to deliver the people of God from oppression at the hands of their enemies. In the book of Acts, we see God call Peter, Barnabas, Paul, Timothy, Silas and John Mark. He chooses these men to accomplish His will and to carry out His work among both the Jews and the Gentiles. They did not aspire to their roles or seek them out. But God placed His hand on their lives and divinely empowered them to accomplish His will. Paul's story is a vivid reminder of how God can take one man's agenda and turn it on its ear. Paul had a plan for his life and he was working that plan out on a daily basis, doing what he felt was best for his own life. He even believed that his plan was well within God's will, “being zealous for God” and persecuting “this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women” (Acts 22:3-4 ESV). But Paul's way was not God's way. He did not have the call of God on his life. But that would change. God would recommission him and reassign him for duty, providing him with new duties and responsibilities.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Like Abimelech, most of us can end up living our lives with a me-centered mindset that focuses on what is best for us. Abimelech didn't really care about the people of Israel. And he most certainly didn't care about his 69 brothers. He saw everyone as a potential roadblock to his own personal aspirations and plans. His desire for the crown was self-motivated and clearly not God-ordained. God had never called him to be king, but that didn't stop Abimelech from doing everything in his power to see that it happen. At one point in his life, Paul believed he was doing the work and the will of God by arresting any and all who followed “The Way.” He saw this new-found sect called Christians as a nuisance and a potential threat to the one true religion: Judaism. He thought he was doing God a favor by wiping out this dangerous cult and had the blessing of the high priest and the whole council of elders. But he was wrong. He was not called by God. But his mistake would be rectified by God Himself. He would receive new marching orders and a new purpose for his life that would radically alter his future.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Every human being wants to know what the purpose of their life is – why they are on this planet. They seek to find significance and meaning for their existence. And without a clear calling from God, we all begin to slowly determine our own destiny. Abimelech was not content to be just one of the sons of Gideon and slowly fade into insignificance after the death of his father. He had grander aspirations, and if they included the murder of his brothers, so be it. Nothing was going to stand in his way. But he was not called or commissioned by God. He did not have the blessing or permission of God to do what he did, and it did not turn out well. As a believer in Jesus Christ, it is of utmost importance that I seek to know what it is that God would have me do. It is a dangerous thing to assume I know what is best for my life. God calls us and then commissions us. We are not free to establish out life plan and agenda. And yet, that is exactly what most of us do. We make life plans without consulting God. We determine and map out our destinies without giving God a second thought. It is as if we think God is somehow obligated to bless our decisions with His divine stamp of approval. But God doesn't call without commissioning. He doesn't choose without having a very good reason behind that choice. I am here for a reason. God didn't just save me in order to guarantee a future place for me in heaven. He has work for me to do while I am here. The same thing is true of every believer. But are we seeking to know His will for our lives? Are we asking for Him to provide daily direction for our lives? Do we make plans without His input and set agendas without His permission? God calls. God commissions. Abimelech had no calling on his life from God. Paul did. And the outcome of their lives are radically different.

Father, You have called me and You have a job for me to do. Never let me forget that fact. Don't let me waste my life living it according to my own agenda and plan. Help me to live with a constant ear to hear what You are saying. Give me a growing sensitivity to Your will and Your Spirit's voice in my life. I want to live out my calling and my commission faithfully. Amen

Little Is Much.

Judges 7-8, Acts 21

The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’” ­– Judges 7:2 ESV

There is an old song in which the chorus begins, “Little is much when God is in it!” Those words aptly reflect the lesson given to Gideon and the people of Israel in chapter seven of Judges. As God's chosen deliverer, Gideon is about to lead the people of Israel into battle against the Midianites. According to chapter 8, there were more than 135,000 enemy soldiers camped in the valley by the hill of Moreh. When Gideon gathered his own troops, he could only muster 32,000 men. Then God did something rather unexpected and, from Gideon's perspective, a bit uncomfortable. He told Gideon to send home all those who were fearful and trembling. The result was that 22,000 men walked away, leaving Gideon with only 10,000 soldiers to do battle with 135,000 Midianites. But God was not done. He then told Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go” (Judges 7:4 ESV). God devised for Gideon a simple means of determining the men He wanted to take into battle. The test God devised had nothing to do with the caliber of the men chosen, but merely provided a means of trimming the number of men down to the bare minimum. Again, the result was that Gideon was left with only 300 men. From a human perspective, the odds were clearly against Gideon. His army was too small and his enemy was too great. But Gideon had God on his side.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had told Gideon, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (Judges 6:14 ESV). “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16 ESV). God had clearly called Gideon and given him a mission to accomplish. He had also confirmed for Gideon that He would be with Him and fight for him. God did not need Gideon or Gideon's troops to accomplish His mission. But God chose to use them both. God allowed Gideon and his 300 men to witness an amazing victory that day, as God destroyed a superior army right in front of their eyes, as they stood, swords and torches in hand. God caused the enemy to attack themselves and all Gideon and his men had to do was stand and watch. When the time came, God allowed them to get in on the action. But the victory was His doing.

In reading the history of the spread of the church recorded by Luke in the book of Acts, it is amazing to consider just how rapidly and aggressively it all happened through the efforts of a relatively small number of individuals. We read of Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, John Mark and a handful of others who were used by God to spread the Good News around the known world at that time. In a relatively short period of time, thousands upon thousands of people came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through the efforts of these men. Paul alone had a tremendous impact on the spread of the Gospel. He was one man traveling through enemy territory, taking the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and facing constant opposition from pagans and Jews alike. But God accomplished the impossible through him. His faithfulness and God's power were no match for the enemy. What Paul brought to the table was his determination to do God's will at all costs. When warned by Agabus the prophet that he would face certain arrest and imprisonment if he returned to Jerusalem, Paul simply replied, “For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 ESV). He knew he was simply a vessel in the hands of God, and was willing to be used up in His service in order to accomplish God's will.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We are all about the numbers. If we had been in Gideon's sandals and been asked by God to do battle against a superior foe with a handful of soldiers, we would have thought the idea was crazy. It would have made no sense. We live in a society in which “little is much” makes no sense. We firmly hold to the idea that there is strength in numbers. More is better than less. Strength trumps weakness every time. But for the believer, victory doesn't come as a result of our effort or effectiveness. It has nothing to do with our numbers or the abundance of our resources. The battle is the Lord's. And the sooner we realize that the odds are always in our favor because God is always on our side, the quicker we will experience the peace that Paul had. And the sooner we will be able to say, “Let the will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:14 ESV). Gideon had no idea how that day was going to turn out. Paul had no idea just how things were going to unfold when he arrived in Jerusalem. But both had the assurance that God was with them. They also knew that God was going to have the victory one way or the other – either with them or without them.

But even when God gives the victory, it is so easy for us to try and claim credit. After their amazing defeat of the Midianites, the people of Israel attempt to make Gideon king. They saw him as the source of their victory. They mistakenly thought that if they could make him king, future victories would be assured. But what they didn't realize was that their future success was based solely on their present faithfulness to God. And we read that “As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals nad made Baal-berith their god” (Judges 8:33 ESV). Even Gideon, before he died, was guilty of apostasy, worshiping an ephod he had made from the gold won in his God-given victory over the Midianites. Unlike Paul, Gideon proved to be unfaithful and unreliable. He lost his focus. He made it all about himself, rather than all about the will of God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Little is much when God is in it. God is able to do far more with far less. He is able to accomplish the impossible using the improbable. Paul wrote, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20 ESV). He knew that God was far more capable than he was. He knew that God was able to what no man could have ever done. God wants to do the impossible in our lives today. He wants to give us victories over the greatest of enemies. He wants to provide us with inexplicable success over insurmountable foes. But we must trust Him. We must long for His will to be done. We must leave the outcome to Him, and give all the praise, glory and honor to Him when all is said and done.

Father, You don't need much to do great things. You can even use me and I find that amazing and humbling. Forgive me for thinking that more is better. Forgive me for thinking that numbers are the key to success. Help me learn to trust You more. Help me have the faith and focus of Paul. I want to watch You work in and around my life in ways that are beyond imagination and way outside human explanation. Amen

The Mystery of God’s Ways.

Judges 5-6, Acts 20

And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” ­– Judges 6:13 ESV

It is sometimes difficult to understand how God works. Because of our limited perspective and somewhat myopic, self-centered viewpoint, we can find ourselves looking at the events taking place around us and come to the wrong conclusions. Gideon did. He was secretly threshing grain down in a wine press just to keep the Midianites from knowing about it. As he assessed the circumstances surrounding the people of God, he couldn't help but conclude that God had abandoned them. He had a hard time understanding why they were under constant attack from their enemies and living in fear for their lives. Of course, we know that it was because “the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian for seven years” (Judges 6:1 ESV). This was all part of the cycle of rebellion that marked the lives of the Israelites during the period of the judges. But for Gideon, it was all a mystery. He wanted to know where the great God his ancestors worshiped had gone to. From Gideon's perspective, it was God who had left them, not the other way around. But in spite of Gideon's faulty assumptions, God was going to use him to deliver His people. God even referred to Gideon as a “mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12 ESV). Which I find interesting, because at that very moment, Gideon was hidden away in a wine press beating out grain and hoping the Midianites didn't discover him. But God had a job for Gideon that was going to be way out of his comfort zone. He was going to accomplish His will through Gideon and reveal that He had never really forsaken His people at all. But again, Gideon's limited perspective prevented him from seeing how any of this could work. His response to the angel of the Lord was, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house” (Judges 6:15 ESV). None of this made sense to Gideon. As far as he was concerned, he made a highly unlikely hero.

What does this passage reveal about God?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8 ESV). God rarely does things the way we think He should. And sometimes, like Gideon, we can misread God's actions and draw faulty conclusions regarding what it is He is doing. There was no doubt that God was punishing Israel for its unfaithfulness. But God had not abandoned them. He had already made plans to send a deliverer. But His choice for a deliverer was going to be a surprise for everyone, including Gideon himself. The presence of trouble wasn't proof of the absence of God. It was evidence of the unfaithfulness of men. But God had a plan. Unbeknownst to Gideon and the rest of the Israelites, the days of the Midianites were numbered. The suffering of the people of Israel was going to come to an end. How? No one had a clue. When? God had not yet revealed His timeline. But it was wrong for Gideon to assume that God was not at work and that He had no plan in place for the salvation of the people of Israel. It was also wrong for Gideon to conclude that he was the wrong man for the job. He was about to learn that God's ways were quite different than anything he could ever have imagined.

It's interesting to note that when Paul spoke to the elders in Ephesus, he revealed that there was much about God's plan for his life that he didn't know or understand. He told them, “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained bythe Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me” (Acts 20:22-23 ESV). All Paul knew was that he was headed to Jerusalem, having been given clear direction to do so by the Holy Spirit. But he didn't have any idea what was going to happen to him when he got there. Except for the fact that the Holy Spirit seemed to let him know that imprisonment and afflictions were on the agenda. It would have been easy for Paul to ask God why. He could have questioned the wisdom behind God's plan. But rather than doubt, question and fear, Paul simply responded, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24 ESV). Paul may not have completely understood what was going on, but he completely trusted that God's will for his life was best and could be trusted.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We have an insatiable desire to know and understand. We want to have an explanation for everything. But God is not obligated to explain Himself or His ways to us. He does not owe us an explanation. He is God. His ways are not our ways. His methodology does not always make sense to us, but He can always be trusted. Paul knew that. Gideon was going to learn it through personal experience. Every time Paul got on a ship, set out on a journey, walked into a new town or opened up his mouth to "testify to the gospel of the grace of God,” he was venturing into the unknown. He never knew how people would respond. In some cases, they gladly received his message and placed their faith in Christ. Other times, they responded in anger, hurling accusations and throwing stones. Paul's obedience to the will of God was not based on the response of his audience, but on his willingness to do what God had called him to do. He was content to trust God with the outcome whether he fully understood what was going to happen or not.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

So much about our life on this earth as followers of Christ is a mystery. We don't know what the day holds. We have no idea what is going to happen in the next half hour, let alone the next decade. There is much about God's will we know and understand, but there is also much of it hidden from our view. We suffer from a limited perspective and a distorted viewpoint. But we must constantly learn to trust God. He knows what He is doing. Paul told the elders at Ephesus, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32 ESV). Paul encouraged them to trust God. He wanted them to understand that it was God who would care for them, protect them, and ultimately, provide for them their future inheritance as His children. Their trust needed to remain in God. Their hope needed to based on the character of God. Circumstances change. God doesn't.

Father, thank You for this reassurance this morning. Forgive me for making snap judgments about You based on what I see happening around me. May I have the mind of Paul, that whatever mystery I may face in life, I keep moving forward, trusting in You and resting in Your faithfulness to me and love for me. Amen

Remorse Versus Repentance.

Judges 3-4, Acts 19

Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. ­– Acts 19:18-20 ESV

The book of Judges paints a bleak picture of the spiritual condition of the people of Israel after the death of Joshua. They found themselves in the land, but they had failed to faithfully follow God's command and purge the Canaanites from their midst. “So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods” (Judges3:5-6 ESV). Their refusal or reluctance to do things God's way resulted in a lengthy period of testing at the hand of God. It began a cycle of rebellion, which resulted in their rejection by God, but also in their eventual rescue at the hands of the judges who God raised up on their behalf. What is interesting to note is that while the people showed remorse for their sin, there is never any evidence of repentance or true heart change. The punishment of God in the form of defeat at the hands of their enemies caused them to cry out to God for help, but they never seemed to make the connection that their rebellion required repentance, or a change of heart. They never seemed to really learn their lesson. So we continue to read, “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 3:12 ESV). Their hearts remained unchanged. Their sins remained unconfessed. They wanted God to rescue them, but they were not truly interested in rejecting their sinful way of life.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It is clear from the passage that God was fully in control of the circumstances during the period of the judges. “Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before” (Judges 3:1-2 ESV). God always has a purpose for what He does, or what He allows. In the case of the Israelites, He seemed to have four different objectives in mind. First, was going to use the enemies left in the land to teach the Israelites how to fight. Most of the Israelites who were alive at this point had not participated in the battles to conquer the land and were inexperience at war. Plus, God wanted them to know how to fight according to His terms, not their own. Secondly, it is clear that God intended to punish Israel for her open rebellion against Him. So He made their enemies “thorns in their sides” and their gods would become "a snare.” Thirdly, God would use this period of time to expose within the people of Israel their lack of love and faithfulness. Finally, according to Deuteronomy 7:20-24, God actually preserved the land by allowing the Canaanites to remain in it until the Israelites were capable of taking it over and cultivating it themselves. Otherwise, if God had wiped out the Canaanites before the Israelites were ready to move in, the land would have gone wild. God had a purpose behind all of this, but the primary desire of His heart was that His people repent of their sins and return to Him. This is the primary message of the Old Testament. It is the central message that each of the prophets who would eventually be sent by God would proclaim over and over again. But in the book of Judges repentance seems to be missing.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Each and every time the people of God turned away from God, they suffered the consequences. And their suffering caused them to cry out to God for help. It is amazing just how powerful and robust our prayer lives can become when we find ourselves in trouble due to our own sin. When the Israelites found themselves in a jam, they cried out to God. It reminds me of the old adage: There are no atheists in fox holes. The Israelites clearly knew that their predicament was due to the discipline of God and they also knew that their only hope was going to found in Him. And God responded. He sent deliverers. He heard. He listened. He acted. But the saddest part of the story is that it just keeps repeating itself. They never seemed to learn. But in contrast, there is the story of the people of Ephesus recorded in Acts 19. These pagan people were exposed to the Good News about Jesus Christ through the ministry of Paul and many of them became believers. But what is amazing is how they changed. Their new-found relationship with Christ brought about a radical alteration in their behavior. We read, “…many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19:18-20 ESV). The change in their lives was significant and far from superficial. It was internal, but showed up in tangible, external ways. And their behavior ended up impacting their community. It ends up that so many had come to faith in Christ and were repenting of their former way of life, that it was having a economic impact on the community. Those who made idols were feeling the pinch from the drop-off in sales. There was a growing fear that if something didn't happen soon, the entire economic infrastructure of the city and the Temple of Artemis were going to suffer irreparable harm. The Good News was turning out to be bad news for a lot of people, because of the transformative power of God in the lives of those who placed their faith in Jesus Christ.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

What God longs for in the life of His people is their unapologetic allegiance to and love for Him. He wants to reveal His power in their lives and help them live as the people of God in the midst of a world full of people who do not know Him. He is fully aware that, even as followers of Christ, believers still struggle with sin and are prone to rebellion. But what God desires is that we cry out to Him for help and be willing to repent or turn from our sin and return to Him. The people of Israel never really returned to Him. They cried out. They accepted His rescue. But they never truly turned away from their idols and returned to the worship of God. The were remorseful or sorry that they had been caught in sin by God and were more than willing to have Him bail them out, but they were unwilling to walk away from their sin and return in faithfulness to Him. In the New Testament, the Greek word for repent is metanoeó. It means “change my mind, change the inner man (particularly with reference to acceptance of the will of God), to repent.” Sometimes it is referred to "an about face.” You are headed one direction, then you stop and head the other way. But notice that it includes the mind. It is a change in the way you think. The people of Israel thought they could worship other gods and get away with it. They thought they could choose to disobey God's will and not suffer for it. They thought they knew what was best for their lives. But they were going to have to change their way of thinking. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He simply said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 ESV). Those new believers in Ephesus knew that their behavior was change. Their way of thinking was radically altered by the presence of Christ in their lives and it showed up in the way they lived. They repented of their former way of life and turned to a radically new one – motivated by their new found relationship with Jesus Christ.

Father, may true repentance always be a recognizable part of my life. I want to constantly learn to change the way I think about You, about life, about my own sin, and about the way my faith shows up in my everyday life. Forgive me for the many times I have cried out to You for help or rescue, but have failed to really want to turn away from doing things my way and start living Your way. Amen

If God Be For Us.

Joshua 17-18, Acts 14

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” ­– Acts 18:9-10 ESV

It is interesting to note the parallels between the history of the people of Israel as they attempted to conquer the land and the New Testament saints as they attempted to spread the Gospel around the world. Both represent the people of God, having been commissioned by God to accomplish His will in the world. Both faced intense opposition, but had experienced the power and presence of God in significant ways. They each knew that God was with them. He had proven time and again that He was on their side. But He fully expected obedience to His commands – in spite of the opposition they faced, the fears they may have felt, and the seeming impossibility of their assignments. But the similarities begin to fade as we compare the book of Judges and the events recorded in the book of Acts. After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel still found themselves facing countless enemies who still occupy the land given to them by God. We repeatedly read of the failure of the people of Israel to rid the land of its pagan inhabitants.

And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. – Judges 1:19 ESV

But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem… – Judges 1:21 ESV

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. – Judges 1:27 ESV

Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites… – Judges 1:29 ESV

Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them… – Judges 1:30 ESV

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out… – Judges 1:31-32 ESV

Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. – Judges 1:33 ESV

The Amorites persisted in dwelling in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim… – Judges 1:35 ESV

The people of God had failed to do what God had commanded them to do. Either out of fear, laziness, indifference or as a result of their own "better" judgment, they refused to do things God's way. And their disobedience brought God's discipline. He made it clear what they were to do, but they had refused to obey. And while they might have rationalized that their efforts were adequate because they had ended up enslaving the very groups they had failed to destroy, God knew their half-hearted obedience was going to whole-hearted rebellion against Him. “You shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars. But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you” (Judges 2:2-3 ESV). The book of Judges is a painful history of this prophecy played out. The failure of the people of God to obey the commands of God would result in their ultimate apostasy from God. “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:11-13 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had a perfectly good reason for His command that the people completely destroy the inhabitants of the land. He knew full well that their refusal to eradicate the land's occupants would lead to their abandonment of Him and their pursuit of other gods. They would end up turning their backs on God and, therefore, He would be forced to turn His back on them. “So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hands of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies” (Judges 2:14 ESV). God could not and would not tolerate their disobedience. So rather than God's presence and power going before them, the Israelites found themselves fighting without Him. Their efforts would prove futile. Their strength would be insufficient for the task. And rather than being able to enjoy the fruits of the land promised to them by God, they found themselves “in terrible distress” (Judges 2:15 ESV). The book of Judges records one of the saddest periods of time in the long history of the people of Israel. It contains a repetitive cycle of sin and rebellion, but it is also marked by the enduring patience and faithfulness of God. While He would give them over to their enemies as punishment for their open rebellion against Him, He would never fully give them up. “Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved 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 afflicted and oppressed them” (Judges 2:18 ESV). The people would sin. God would give them over to their enemies. The people would cry out in despair. God would hear and send a judge who would deliver them. Then in time, the people would abandon God again, and the cycle would repeat itself. Rebellion – Remorse – Rescue – Restoration – Repeat. That is the pattern of the book of Judges. But God's faithfulness is in full view throughout the entirety of the book. He never gives up. He never fully abandons them – in spite of them.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Over in the book of Acts, we have recorded the early history of the spread of the Gospel as Paul and the other apostles make their way around the known world of their day. In obedience to Christ's commission, they had begun in Jerusalem, moved on to Judea and Samaria, and were now moving out to the ends of the earth. In chapter 18, we have Paul visiting Corinth, Caesarea, Syria, Antioch, Galatia and Phrygia. And in almost every city he visited, Paul found himself facing intense opposition and threats on his life. He was seeing tremendous response to the Gospel message, but with each conversion, the enemies of God seemed to increase in number and intensity. And yet God gave Paul a vision, telling him, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 19:9-10 ESV). God assured Paul of His presence and power. He let him know that obedience to His will was Paul's only concern. God would take care of the rest. Paul was still going to face opposition. He would still encounter threats on his life. But He would know that God was with Him. I am reminded of the words of the Psalmist, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6 ESV). Those same words are echoed in the book of Hebrews. “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6 ESV). The key was Paul's obedience. He was expected to faithfully carry out his God-given assignment, in the face of opposition and in spite of potential setbacks. He had to do His part. But he could rest in the knowledge that God was there with Him, doing His part, each step of the way.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

What an amazing contrast. What a powerful reminder of the need for obedience in the life of the follower of God. We all tend to want to enjoy the blessings of God, but too often we refuse to live in obedience to His will. At times we question it. Sometimes we rationalize reasons to ignore it. There are plenty of times we simply choose to twist it into something that is more palatable to our senses and appealing to our own desires. The Israelites were guilty of trying to do God's will in their own way, and their half-hearted obedience resulted in whole-hearted rebellion against Him. Paul's assignment was no less easier than theirs. He faced just as much opposition and potential danger to life and limb. But he obeyed. He persevered. He listened to the Word of God and obeyed. God did not remove the obstacles or eliminate the opposition. He simply assured Paul of His presence, protection and power. As long as Paul did the will of God, he could be confident to receive the help of God. It is far too easy to question God's will when things don't seem to go the way we think they should. Obstacles tend to come across to us as signs that we are somehow out of God's will. Difficulties are too often viewed as proof of God's absence, but God never promised us an absence of trouble. He simply promised us access to His abiding presence and power. After Paul's vision from God, his efforts did not become any easier and his opposition did not become any less intense. But he continued to do the will of God in full confidence that He had the full and abiding presence of God. Like Paul, I want to learn to trust God as I increasingly learn to obey Him. I want to say as he did, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31 ESV). Paul was able to speak those words because he had experienced their reality in his daily life. He had seen them proven true time and time again, in spite of death threats, stonings, beatings, imprisonments, setbacks, false accusations, fruitless sermons, unfaithful disciples, and physical infirmities. Paul was able to keep on keeping on because he knew that God was with him. As long as he remained obedient to the call of God on his life, he knew he would have the presence of God in his life.

Father, may I learn to live like Paul. But too often my life can be characterized by the repetitive cycle of rebellion, remorse and rescue found in the book of Judges. Help me to live in obedience to You, regardless of the circumstances. I don't want trouble, trials, opposition or difficulties to cause me to abandon my hope in You or fail to live in obedience to You. You are with me. And if You are with me, who can stand against me?


Doing What Is Right In Our Own Eyes.

Judges 20-21

In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. ­– Judges 21:25 NLT

The book of Judges ends with civil war. This sad snapshot of life in the land of Israel during those days is not a pretty one. It paints a picture of moral decay and degeneracy, self-sufficiency and idol worship, sexual promiscuity and moral compromise. The people of God had failed to honor God. They did not want Him as their sovereign Lord and king. Yet they lacked real leadership among their own. And when God did raise up a leader, they refused to listen or follow. They had walked away from God and the spiral of moral decay ended in a bloody civil war with more than 65,000 Israelites dead.

Daniel I. Block describes the book of Judges in sobering tones. "No book in the Old Testament offers the modern church as telling a mirror as this book. From the jealousies of the Ephraimites to the religious pragmatism of the Danites, from the paganism of Gideon to the self-centeredness of Samson, and from the unmanliness of Barak to the violence against women by the men of Gibeah, all of the marks of Canaanite degeneracy are evident in the church and its leaders today. This book is a wake-up call for a church moribund in its own selfish pursuits. Instead of heeding the call of truly godly leaders and letting Jesus Christ be Lord of the church, everywhere congregations and their leaders do what is right in their own eyes."

Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Yet self-rule always leads to self-delusion. In the case of the Israelites, it led to further and further failure morally, corporately, and spiritually. As the people of God they had long ago lost their significance for God. They were no longer agents of change and influence for Yahweh, but had become compromised – living more like the nations around them than like a people set apart by God. They justified their sins, rationalized their idolatry, excused their behavior, ignored their failures, and embraced the culture around them. Much like we do today. That the people of God should sink so low that they would end up fighting with and killing one another is amazing. One minute they're seeking God's counsel, then the next minute they're making rash vows and coming up with their own plans to clean up the mess they make. While they feign outrage at the actions of the men of Gibeah, you never see any real signs of repentance. They're appalled at the wickedness of others – "What is this wickedness that has taken place among you?" (Judges 20:12b NASB) – but they fail to see the countless cases of their own wickedness and sin. Because they have refused to view God as their king, they have made themselves king. They are self-ruled, self-obsessed, self-centered, and self-destructive. They are destroying themselves from within.

This is indeed a wake-up call to the church of Christ today. The apostle Paul continues to issue the same wake-up call to us from his letter to the Ephesians: "For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, rebuke and expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But when the light shines on them, it becomes clear how evil these things are. And where your light shines, it will expose their evil deeds. This is why it is said, 'Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.' So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you." (Ephesians 5:9-19 NLT).

So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise.

Father, wake up Your church. Open our eyes to the reality that we are just as self-ruled and self-destructive at times as the people of Israel were. We live too often as fools, acting as if You don't even exist and refusing to seek Your wisdom and obey Your will. We have compromised with the world and are suffering as a result. We have lost our saltiness and dimmed our light by our constant refusal to live for You. But You continue to shower us with Your grace. Don't let us take Your grace for granted. Wake us up! Make us great again. Amen


Without God as King, sin reigns.

Judges 19

Now in those days Israel had no king. ­– Judges 19:1 NLT

Four times in these closing chapters of Judges we hear this refrain regarding Israel's lack of a king. This is really the theme of this book. God, their rightful king and ruler, is no longer viewed as their sovereign Lord by the people of Israel, and it years before God will allow them to have a human king. They are, in essence, without leadership and a supreme authority in their lives. Every man did what was right in their own eyes. And chapter 19 is another illustration of just how bad things had become. "This incident shows what happens when God's people fail to acknowledge Yahweh's sovereign authority over their lives. In chapters 17—18 the result was religious apostasy (idolatry), and in chapters 19—21 it was moral degeneracy (immorality), political disintegration (anarchy), and social chaos (injustice)" – Thomas L. Constable.

The story of chapter 19 is graphic, full of scenes of sexual abuse, murder, and general social decay. Once again, our story involves a Levite, a priest who was to have been living a life set apart unto God. Yet, like the priest in chapters 17-18, he was not living in one of the cities set apart for the Levites by God, he was living in a remote area outside the hill country of Ephraim. He had also taken a concubine, rather than a wife. While women in general were held in low regard during those days, even wives, a concubine would have been viewed as little more than property – which explains the man's actions later in the story. The bottom line was that this Levite was not living in obedience to the Lord, clearly illustrating just how bad things had gotten in Israel – even the priests of God were no longer living in obedience to God. There was no moral or spiritual leadership in the country.

The man's concubine runs away, either as the result of an adulterous affair or an argument with her master. I prefer to believe it was the former. And while the punishment for unfaithfulness should have been death, the Levite runs after her in order to restore her to her former place in his home. He finds her at her father's house, and after many delays, finally begins the journey home with his concubine in tow. They stop for the night in Gibeah, where they hoped to find hospitality and a room for the night. But instead, they find no one willing to provide them safe shelter, until an old man, a visitor to the city, offers to put them up for the evening. It's interesting that Gibeah is the hometown of Israel's future first king, Saul. The lack of hospitality of the city's residence and their immoral treatment of the Levite and his concubine are probably a subtle jab at Saul by the book's author.

The similarities in this story between the events that took place in Sodom when the angels went there to rescue Lot are intentional. The residence of the city of Gibeah had sunken so low that they were morally no better than Sodomites. The men of the city surround the house. "They began beating at the door and shouting to the old man, 'Bring out the man who is staying with you so we can have sex with him'" (Judges 19:22 NLT). This is almost word for word the exchange that took place between the residents of Sodom and Lot regarding the angels he was hosting in his home. In keeping with Lot's response, the old man hosting the Levite and his concubine offers to give the men his own virgin daughter and the Levite's concubine to assuage their sexual demands. But the men refuse the offer. In desperation, the Levite throws his concubine out the door in hopes of preventing his own rape at the hands of these men. His treatment of the "woman he loved" reveals the general low regard this culture had of women. She is gang raped by the men and left for dead on the doorstep, where the Levite finds her the next morning. He takes her body and returns home. Now the story gets really graphic. He dismembers her body into twelve pieces, sending one piece, along with a note, to every tribe in Israel.

While the Levite's bizarre actions would result in uniting the tribes of Israel for the first time since the death of Joshua, it would have been more proper to give her a decent burial. His disregard and show of disrespect for her body are shocking to our sense, and would have been so to the author's original readers. Yet, he got the desired result. When the "message" was delivered to each of the tribes, graphically showing what had happened in Gibeah, among their own people, the general response was the same: "Has such a thing as this ever happened from the time the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until now? Think about it! Talk it over. Do something!" (Judges 19:31 MSG). Even in their moral numbness, the people were shocked at what had happened in Gibeah. In spite of all the moral decay that had taken place since the days of the Exodus, this was deemed the worst thing that had happened. It reminds me of the words of Paul in his letter to the Romans. "That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within themselves the penalty they so richly deserved" (Romans 1:26-27 NLT). Whenever God is no longer looked to as king and Lord, moral decay is not far behind. We see this perfectly illustrated in our own day. God has been rejected by our society and the result has been a steady decline in our moral standards. We have no spiritual compass. Everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes. Sexual sin is not only rampant, it is celebrated, on TV, in the media, and in music. The sexual exploits of sports and movie stars are all over the Internet and the news. This story in the book of Judges would be considered light fare on the average cable network, when compared with the normal programming available during prime time. The people of Israel had become completely "Canaanized" and so have we. We are calloused to the sin that surrounds us. We wink at the immorality that pervades our society. We are no longer shocked. It all reminds me of the words of God found in the book of Jeremiah regarding the people of God. "Are they ashamed when they do these disgusting things? No, not at all––they don’t even blush!" (Jeremiah 8:12 NLT). When we fail to acknowledge God as king of our lives, we too will forget how to blush. We will reject His standards. We will ignore His ways. We will learn to justify our actions and rationalize our behavior. We will become our own kings, doing what is right in our own eyes.

Father, You are to be the King of my life. But I fail to recognize You as King so often. I ignore Your commands and I disrespect Your authority over my life. Forgive me. Open my eyes and let me see that I cannot live as the king of my own life without seeing and experiencing the same level of moral decay the Israelites did. It is inevitable. Help me keep You as King of my life, allowing You to sovereignly rule and reign over my life. Amen


A False View of the One True God.

Judges 11-12

And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD. He said, "If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the LORD the first thing coming out of my house to greet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering." ­– Judges 11:30-31 NLT

Back in the 1330s, Petrarch described the Middle Ages in this way, “Amidst the errors there shone forth men of genius; no less keen were their eyes, although they were surrounded by darkness and dense gloom.” The same could be said of this time in Israel called the period of the Judges. It was a dark time in the life of Israel. The book of Judges connects the period of time in which Israel was under a theocracy (God's rule) and the monarchy (when men ruled). There is nothing glamorous or pretty about the period of the judges. It is bleak, dark, and depressing. The writer of the book of Judges sums up this period quite well: “After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the LORD or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10 NLT). Joshua had died. The people had only begun to possess the land. They were not unified, but were isolated tribes spread over a large region with no central authority. The priesthood, located in Shiloh where the tabernacle was, seemed to provide little in the way of spiritual direction or leadership. And the period of the Judges ended much the same way it began: “The sons of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and each one of them went out from there to his inheritance. In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:24-25 NASB).

So as we read through the book of Judges, we have to keep in mind that it is not really a book about the judges, but about God. He is the hero of this story. It is a book about God and His covenant faithfulness. It is about His power and presence. It is about His patience and persistence. In the midst of the story we have glimpses into the lives of the people of Israel and into various characters who God sovereignly uses to lead His people. Most of the judges bring little or nothing to the table. They lack leadership qualities. They are reluctant deliverers and flawed men and women whom God uses them in spite of themselves. We’re not to emulate the judges or idolize them, but we are to see God’s sovereign hand in all that takes place in their lives.

In the story of Jephthah, we have a glimpse into just how bad things had gotten in Israel. “Again the Israelites did evil in the LORD’s sight. They worshiped images of Baal and Ashtoreth, and the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, Ammon, and Philistia. Not only this, but they abandoned the LORD and no longer served him at all” (Judges 10:6 NLT).  In other words, it's more of the same. But look at how far they have fallen. Now they are worshiping Baal and Ashtoreth, but they’ve added the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, Ammon and Philistia. They are completely non-discriminatory in their idolatry. Except that now they had abandoned God completely! So God had turned them over to the Philistines and Ammonites who would afflict them for 18 long years. But as always, they cry out to God! It took them 18 years to do it, but they finally give up on their replacement gods and turn to the one true God. “Finally, they cried out to the LORD, saying, ‘We have sinned against you because we have abandoned you as our God and have served the images of Baal’” (Judges 10:10 NLT). But God sees through their seeming repentance and tells them He has had enough. He has been here before with them. He has heard them repent, only to see them turn right back to their false gods again. So He sarcastically encourages them to let their gods rescue them this time. “Go ahead! Cry out for help to the gods you've chosen--let them get you out of the mess you're in!” (Judges 10:14 MSG). In fear, the people cry out again. But God is looking for more than repentance. He wants a change of heart. He wants actions in keeping with their repentance. God wanted proof that they were serious. As long as we want to keep our “gods” handy, God will allow us to find out just how well they can deliver us when we’re in trouble. We find it so easy to turn to our gods of prosperity, popularity, power, position, and pleasure instead of Him. But He wants us to put them away and return to Him.

This all reminds me of what John the Baptist said to the Pharisees who were showing up to be baptized in the River Jordan: “Prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God.” (Matthew 3:8 NLT).

So the Israelites seem to respond positively, putting aside their false gods. “Then the Israelites put aside their foreign gods and served the LORD. And he was grieved by their misery” (Judges 10:16 NLT). But repentance alone would not get rid of their problem. The Ammonites were still there and they still wanted the land and were willing to kill for it. The threat was still real. The problem didn’t go away. You see, repentance isn’t a vaccine for escaping difficulty. It is not some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card that allows us to escape trouble. The presence of the Ammonites was going to reveal that the Israelites were repentant, but not dependent. They had confessed. They had repented. They had returned. But they were still doing things their way. They decide to solve their problem their own way by choosing a deliverer of their own making. And they choose an unlikely candidate. They choose a poor substitute for God in choosing Jephthah. And the interesting thing is that nowhere does the passage indicate that God chose Jephthah. And look at his qualifications: Valiant warrior, son of a harlot, skilled at warfare, and an experienced leader. Jephthah is some kind of a guerilla fighter who had been kicked out of Gilead for his questionable birth. Yet now that things are tough, the people turn to him instead of God.

The people are desperate for leadership. They want a king. And in choosing Jephthah they are rejecting God as their leader. They are making Jephthah a substitute for God. Immediately, Jephthan reveals his skill as a negotiator as he attempts to talk the Ammonites out of their demand for the land. But his efforts fail. War is inevitable. Then Jephthah the negotiator attempts to negotiate with God. He makes a vow with God, swearing to give Him the first thing that walks out of his house if God will give them victory over the Ammonites. There was no need for this vow. God did not require it. God would have given him the victory without it. So why did he make it? I think it reveals just how "Canaanized" Jephthah and the people of Israel had become. They had been so influenced by their worship of the false gods of the nations around them that they had a false view of the one true God. They saw Yahweh as just another one of the pagan deities they worshiped. Listen to what Barry Webb has to say about Jephthah and his negotiating with God: “His negotiations with the elders, his diplomacy with the Ammonites, and his vow, have all amply displayed Jephthah's facility with words. Jephthah, we know, is good at opening his mouth. (How ironical that his name means literally 'he opens'!). What has precipitated the crisis with his daughter is that he has opened his mouth to Yahweh, that is, he has tried to conduct his relationship with God in the same way that he has conducted his relationships with men. He has debased religion (a vow, an offering) into politics.”

Jephthah didn't know God anymore. He didn't understand the God he worshiped. He had false views of the one true God. And it resulted in him making an unnecessary and tragic vow. And the sad thing is, if he had known his God, he would have known that there was a way to escape the consequences of his rash vow. God had provided a way to fulfill the vow without the sacrifice of his daughter.

"Jephthah believed he could not get out of his vow (v. 35). Unfortunately he did not know or had forgotten that God had made provision for His people to redeem things they had vowed to give Him. Leviticus 27:1-8 told the Israelites that if they vowed someone or something to God and then wanted it back they could pay a stated ransom price and buy it back. Had he obeyed the Word of God he could have avoided sacrificing his daughter. With his vow he sought to secure his present, but through it he ended up sacrificing his future.” – Dr. Thomas L. Constable

Jephthah didn't know his God. And sometimes we suffer from the same thing. We share some common misconceptions about God today.

God falls out of love with us

  • So we have to keep Him happy
  • We have to do things to keep Him appeased
  • Leads to works-righteousness

God has to be bargained with

  • We have to negotiate with Him to get what we want
  • You don’t get something for nothing
  • God is a hard-bargainer

God demands sacrifices of us

  • The more it costs and hurts us, the better
  • If we don’t give it to Him, He’ll take it away from us
  • God keeps a list of all we owe Him

Sickness, trials, and difficulty arepunishment from God

  • God pays us back for the sins we have committed
  • Trials aren’t a test, but payback from God
  • Illness and difficulties are the result of something we’ve done

Many of us have unbiblical views of God. We don’t understand the God of the Bible. We don’t know Him. Our views of Him are distorted and unclear. And our false views of God can lead to faulty decisions for God. The book of Judges and the rest of the Bible give us a glimpse into the character of God. We get to see how He thinks, how He works, how He loves, and how He interacts with mankind. It is the Bible that reveals the character of God and it is the life of Christ that models the character of God. We don't have to guess or draw false conclusions. We just need to study the life of Christ and the Word of God.

Father, thank You that I don't have to guess as to Your character. It is right there for me to see in Your Word and in the life of Your Son. Yet I find it so easy to reach false conclusions about You. I listen to what the world says or what other religions have taught about You. But they are wrong and unbiblical in their conclusions. Help me to see You in Your Word and learn to have a true view of the one true God. Amen

Just When You Thought…

Judges 10

Again the Israelites did evil in the LORD’s sight. They worshiped images of Baal and Ashtoreth, and the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, Ammon, and Philistia. Not only this, but they abandoned the LORD and no longer served him at all. ­– Judges 10:6 NLT

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for the people of God, it did. After their debacle with Abimelech, you would think they would have taken the hint and learned their lesson that God was to be their ruler and nobody else. But the Israelites were a little slow on the uptake. They do seem to get a 45-year break from the constant rebuke and punishment from God in the form of the judgeships of Tola and Jair. We don't learn a lot about either of these two men, but we do know that while they judged there is no indication of enemies attacking or punishment being meted out by God. But that doesn't mean that all was well in the land.

Because verse six gives us a glimpse into what was really going on. The people had been busy falling back into their old habit. But now they were not only worshiping Baal and Ashtaroth (who were the female consorts of Baal), but they added a whole slew of other gods to their retinue, including the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, Ammon and the Philistines. On top of that, they had completely forsaken Yahweh altogether. This wasn't a case of adding more gods to their worship of the one true God, they had left Him out of the mix completely.

So once again, God responds by giving them over to their enemies. Instead of victory, they would suffer defeat and humiliation, and it would last a long 8 years. And the amazing thing is, it took the people 18 years to finally call out to God. No doubt they had been calling out to all their other gods the entire time and finally decided they weren't getting the answer they were looking for. So when all else fails, call on Yahweh. But God responds by reminding them of all the times He has rescued them before. He had saved them time and time again, and each time they had turned right back to their other gods. So this time, God tells them He is done rescuing and encourages them to turn to their other gods for help. "Go ahead! Cry out for help to the gods you've chosen--let them get you out of the mess you're in!” (Judges 10:14 MSG). God wasn't being mean. He was looking for something – true repentance.

It wasn't going to be enough to just cry out to Him for help. They had done that before. This time God wanted action in keeping with their words. It reminds me of what John the Baptist had to say to the Pharisees when they showed up asking to be baptized. He told them, "Prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God” (Matthew 3:8 NLT). John was looking for fruit in keeping with repentance. So was God. He wanted to see them clean house. To get rid of their other gods. Which they did. We aren't told how long it took them to do so, but they finally got rid of their substitutes for God and put Him back in the place where He belonged. And when they did, God showed mercy.

But the interesting thing is, their troubles didn't disappear. Repentance is NOT an elixir to get rid of all our problems. They still had the Ammonites camping outside their door. They had repented, but they weren't dependent. They were serving the Lord again, but they weren't looking to Him to solve their problems. They were still looking to substitutes for God. And this time it would be a man, not another god. But it would still prove to be a bad decision. And we'll see more about that tomorrow.

But suffice it to say, that we can never afford to find substitutes or replacements for God. People, possessions, power, prominence, pleasure ... none of these things can deliver what only God can. They will always disappoint and the people of Israel would learn that lesson the hard way.

Father, why do we always feel the urge to find replacements for you? Why can't we learn to trust You and rely on You alone? I can turn to so many other things other than You. But they never deliver as anticipated. They always disappoint. But You never do. Help me learn to rely on You and You alone. Amen


The Dark Ages of Israel.

Judges 9

No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god and did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. ­– Judges 8:33-34 NIV

The book of Judges records a very bleak period during the history of God's people. It was a dark time filled with unfaithfulness, immorality, and corruption. At this point, the people of God are scattered across the Promised Land. They have been relegated to their various tribes and clans, with little overall leadership. While the tabernacle had been erected in Shiloh, it appears that the Levitical priesthood had little to no influence over the people. At this point the people had become completely "Canaanized." They were worshiping other gods and ignoring the one true God. And in spite of all that Gideon had done for them, as soon as he was dead, the people turned back to Baal and away from God. They forgot all that God had done for them.

Once again, the people had no leader and they had rejected God as their king. So they were ripe for the picking. Into this moral void stepped Abimelech. He was one of Gideon's many sons, but was born to a concubine. So in essence, he was a half-brother to the other 70 sons of Gideon. While Gideon had refused to let the people make him king and had told them that none of his sons would serve in that capacity either, Abimelech had other plans. He arranges to murder 69 of his brothers, eliminating any threat to him taking over leadership of the people of Shechem. Only one brother, Jothan, escapes. The people of Shechem agree to make Abimelech their king, in spite of the clandestine and immoral way in which he gained the throne.

The whole story of Abimelech is a picture of just how bad things had gotten in Israel. And it is clear from the passage that God did not put Abimelech on the throne. Yet He would use Abimelech to punish the Canaanites. That the people of God would allow a man like Abimelech to rule over them is a sad commentary on the spiritual state of the nation. The peoples' lack of faithfulness to God and constant interaction with the gods of their enemies, had twisted their thinking and perverted their discernment. They didn't know right from wrong any more. Since God was not their king, they were desperate for someone to lead them and they would turn to anyone, regardless of their morals or lack of ethical integrity. Yet, in spite of the unfaithfulness of the people, we see the hand of God working throughout this story. One son is spared and he happens to utter a curse on Abimelech and the people of Shechem. God uses this young man as His mouthpiece to pronounce a deadly end to their love affair with Abimelech. God is still in control. He will continue to eliminate the Canaanite presence from the land, even though His people refused to do their part. Abimelech is a picture of mankind's greed and obsession for power. He will do anything to get to the top and the people will gladly allow him to murder his way into power, as long as they think it will be to their benefit. The greatest threat to Israel's existence was almost always from within, not without. They were their own worst enemy. Time and time again the nation rebels against God and He sends rebuke in the form of a foreign nation. The people end up in slavery or some other form of oppression, but then finally cry out to God. He rescues and restores them, only to see them rebel yet again.

The story of Abimelech is a reminder that sometimes God allows us to have exactly what we want. It reminds me of the story of king Saul. The people demanded a king. They were not satisfied with having God as their ruler. Instead, they wanted a king like all the other nations. So God let them have what they wanted, and it did not turn out too well for them. The same thing is true of the people of Shechem. They wanted someone to rule over them. But they were not content with it being God. So God gave them Abimelech. And it proved to be disastrous. "Thus, God punished Abimelech for the evil he had done against his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also punished the men of Shechem for all their evil. So the curse of Jotham son of Gideon came true." (Judges 9:56-57 NLT). This was a dark time in the life of the people of Israel. They had turned from God to worship other gods. They had rejected God's leadership. They had placed their hope in someone or something other than God. And God was going to allow them to learn that there is no substitute for Him. Nothing else can save like He can. No one else can lead like He can. No one else can protect like He can. Nothing else can satisfy like He can. But those are lessons that we still have a hard time learning today. So many of us are turning to other things when we should be turning to God. We place our trust in all kinds of things other than God. And yet, He patiently waits, allowing us to learn those lessons the hard way, until we finally call out to Him for rescue and restoration.

Father, what a stubborn people we can be. We are a lot like the people of Shechem and Abimelech. We are greedy for power and recognition and ready for anyone to provide us with a semblance of hope and leadership. We turn from You and turn to just about anything or anyone in the hopes that they will provide what is missing in our lives. And You patiently wait for us to learn the truth. Thank You for Your patience. Amen


Little Is Much When God Is In It.

Judges 7-8

The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength." ­– Judges 7:2 NLT

God works in mysterious ways. He doesn't do things the way we would. He accomplished His victories in ways that we never could have dreamed up. Take a look at the story of Gideon. We’ve seen the seriousness of the situation. We’ve seen the fear and doubt in Gideon. There are 135,000 enemy troops amassed (Judges 7:10) against Israel and Gideon has only 32,000 soldiers – that’s more than 4 to 1 – bad odds – and bad odds can lead to some seriously big doubt. We already know Gideon struggles with doubt. Now he finds himself in a difficult situation and yet God has promised to deliver the Midianites into his hands. But as Gideon takes a look at the situation, he has to conclude that the odds are NOT in his favor. He does not have enough troops. But bad odds are great for revealing just how big our God is. In fact, Gideon was going to learn something about his God, and he was going to learn something about himself. He was going to learn that this battle was God’s battle. The odds didn't matter to God. In fact, God was going to even the playing field and make the odds even worse! Why? So that when the victory came, only He could get the glory.

So God tells Gideon he has too many men. In doing so, God is telling Gideon that this isn’t about Gideon's strength, but His! God has Gideon send home everyone who is afraid, so 22,000 men take up Gideon on his offer, leaving only 10,000 men. Now the odds are more than 13 to 1. But God is not done. He tells Gideon he still has too many men and has Gideon take his men to the spring to drink. One group kneels to drink, the other laps the water like a dog. God tells Gideon to send home all the kneelers. We don't know why. The passage doesn't tell us. I think it was an arbitrary decision. God was going to use the lesser group to accomplish His will. So 7,000 more men are sent home. That leaves Gideon with just 300 men to fight a force of 135,000. The odds just got worse – 450 to 1. But God is not limited by our limits. He tells Gideon, "With these three hundred men I will rescue you and give you victory over the Midinates." (Judges 7:7).

Then God tells Gideon to march against the camp of the Midianites – 300 against 135,000. But God knows Gideon and He knows that Gideon still has doubts and fears. So He tells Gideon to take his servant and go sneak into the Midianite camp at night. Gideon has no way of knowing what this little trip will bring about. But when he arrives at the edge of the enemy encampment, he discovers that the armies of the Midianites are like locusts, their camels like grains of sand on the seashore. There are so many of them, that they are too many to count! But while he is there, Gideon overhears two Midianite soldiers talking. One is sharing a dream he had had that night. It involved a loaf of bread rolling into a tent and knocking it down. Immediately, this guy's buddy informs him that he knows the meaning! "Your dream can only mean one thing – God has given Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite, victory over all the armies united with Midian!" (Judges 7:14).

God had preordained this encounter. He had arranged for this enemy soldier to have this dream and for him to relate it to his friend. Then God had given this other soldier the exact meaning of the dream. All so Gideon could overhear it and be assured of God's upcoming victory. Gideon takes it as a sign from God and immediately worships God. Then he goes back and organizes his “troops”. God used this simple dream to mobilize the Israelites and demoralize the Midianites. No doubt this dream and its interpretation spread like wild fire through the Midianite camp and caused all kinds of doubt and fear among them. Which probably explains their bizarre and erratic behavior when the "battle" took place.

You know the rest of the story. Gideon takes 300 men armed with little more than adream, clay pots, torches and rams horns, and goes up against the 135,000 Midianites. They blew their trumpets, broke the pots and held up their torches and screamed, "A sword for the Lord and for Gideon" (Judges 7:20). Then all the Israelites had to do was stand and watch. They didn’t have to swing a sword or throw a spear. God did it all!

When the three hundred Israelites blew their horns, the LORD caused the warriors in the camp to fight against each other with their swords. Those who were not killed fled to places as far away as Beth–shittah near Zererah and to the border of Abel–meholah near Tabbath.– Vs 22

God made it look easy. When we let God fight the battle, it’s always a whole lot easier. Because His ways are not our ways. God is the God of the impossible. He is the God of the improbable. He uses the weak, foolish, and powerless to accomplish His will. "God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful" (1 Corinthians 1:27 NLT).

God wanted Gideon to come to grips with his weakness and God’s strength. He wanted him to realize that the victory is always the Lord’s. God doesn’t want to know how strong you are, He wants to prove how strong He is.

The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But victory belongs to the LORD. – Proverbs 21:31 NASB

For the king trusts in the LORD, And through the lovingkindness of the Most High he will not be shaken.– Psalm 20:7 NASB


Who is the King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle. – Psalm 24:8 NASB

O Sovereign LORD, my strong savior, you protected me on the day of battle. – Psalm 140:7 NLT

And everyone will know that the LORD does not need weapons to rescue his people. It is his battle, not ours. The LORD will give you to us! – 1 Samuel 17:47 NLT

So what do we learn? God is the hero of this story – and of ours. God’s salvation doesn’t come to the strong, but the weak. God is God alone, and there is no other. In the heat of battle is where God so often reveals Himself. God’s ways are not our ways. Less is more when God is involved.

Father, help me learn these lessons. Help me to see your strength in the midst of my weakness. The odds mean nothing to You. The greater the odds, the greater my God. You want to prove Yourself strong in my life and You regularly do. But I still doubt and fear. Help me to learn to trust You more and more with each passing day. Amen


The Reluctant Rescuer.

Judges 5-6

…if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, "The LORD brought us up out of Egypt"? But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites. ­– Judges 6:13 NLT

Do you ever doubt God? Do you ever struggle believing He's there? Or that He cares? Do you feel like you’re out-numbered and under-manned at times? Do the odds ever seem stacked against you? If so, then you’re going to relate well to Gideon. There are some characters in Scripture I have a hard time relating to (i.e. Daniel, Joseph). But Gideon is my kind of guy. He is painfully honest and transparent and the Scriptures don't cover up his flaws. His story begins with some less-than-spectacular circumstances. Israel finds themselves once again under oppression because of their disobedience and unfaithfulness. The Midianites have been harassing them for seven years. They were experiencing regular invasions at the hands of the Midianites and the loss of their crops and livestock. They had been reduced to near starvation. Their land had been stripped bare and so they were once again crying out to God for help? (Isn’t that just like us?)

In the midst of all this, God sent a prophet to remind them of all that God had done for them. He had brought them out of Egypt. He demanded faithfulness. But they had failed. "I said to you, "I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me." (Judges 6:10 NASB). The people had been worshipping Baal. Even Joash, the father of Gideon, had been worshipping Baal. And so God comes up with His plan of rescue and redemption. And He chooses an unlikely hero. We find Gideon threshing grain in a wine press. He is hiding from the Midianites, trying to keep what little he has from being stolen. Yet when the angel of the Lord comes to Gideon, he addresses him, “O valiant warrior!" The New Living Translation renders this phrase, “Mighty hero!” What an unexpected greeting. What had he done to deserve this title? Nothing up to this point. But God is actually revealing who Gideon would become, not who he was. It was a title of expectation. Much the same way God called Abraham the father of a multitude of nations before he even had any children. He called him that when Abraham was old and his wife was barren! Jesus called Peter a rock before he behaved as one. God calls us saints even though we’re not yet as saintly as we will one day be. God knew what He was going to do in and through Gideon.

The angel then tells Gideon, “The Lord is with you!” This is the theme of these two chapters. This story is really about God, not Gideon. We are all bit players in God’s grand play. He is the author, director, and star. God is choosing to use Gideon, not because of who he is, but because God wants to reveal who He is through Gideon. But Gideon gives an unexpected response to God's call. He responds a little flippantly. He accuses God of abandoning them and not doing anything for them. He takes a look at the current circumstances and determines that God has been nowhere to be found. Gideon wants to know why all this has happened. He wants to know where all the miracles are. He’s basically accusing God of doing nothing and of abandoning them. But it was really the other way around. He failed to realize that their condition was the result of their abandoning God, not His abandoning them.

God’s response was to tell Gideon to go and deliver! He tells Gideon to go in his strength. What a strange statement. What strength was God talking about? Gideon hadn't exactly shown himself to be strong up to this point. Once again, God is not talking about a strength coming up from inside of Gideon. He is talking about a strength that would be based on God's presence. This isn't about how strong Gideon is, but about how strong Gideon's God is. Gideon was to go in the strength of God’s presence. God was sending him. God was going with him. God would give him victory over the Midianites (Judges 6:16). But Gideon shows his doubt again. He tells God he is too weak and insignificant for the job. But God refused to listen to Gideon's excuses. Instead He tells Gideon to clean house! He commands Gideon to go and clear out the idols in his own home (Judges 6:25). His own father had erected idols to the gods of the Midianites. Gideon obeys, but fearfully. He tears down the altar at night because he is afraid of what they might do if they catch him. And his fears are justified because when the people find out what he has done they threaten to kill him.

Gideon continues to struggle with trusting God. Time and time again, God assures him of His presence and His calling on his life. But Gideon doubts. He is reluctant to believe God and step out in faith. So God continues to reassure Him with a variety of signs. God is preparing Gideon to accomplish great things, and He is willing to tolerate Gideon's doubt. Much the same way He does with us today. We constantly doubt and question God. We look at our circumstances and question whether God is even there. We look at our own strength and qualifications and determine ourselves unfit for duty. But God has other plans. He has resources we aren't aware of. He can even use us to do His will. And He will, if we allow Him to.

Father, if You can use Gideon, You can use me. And You do – on a regular basis. And each time You do, I am amazed and humbled. Thank You for tolerating my doubts and using me in my weakness. I know I can't boast in my accomplishments, because anything I do of value is all a result of Your activity in my life. Amen


Thank Heaven For Little Girls.

Judges 4

“Very well," she replied, "I will go with you. But since you have made this choice, you will receive no honor. For the LORD’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman." So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. ­– Judges 4:9 NLT

Barak hesitated. This valiant warrior was given the honor of leading God's troops into battle against the Canaanites, but he hesitated. He told Deborah, the judge God had raised up to lead His people, that he would not go into battle unless she went with him. We don't know the exact reason for his reluctance to fight without her, but it seems clear that he was unwilling to do the job he had been called to do. He tells Deborah, "I will go, but only if you go with me!" (Judges 4:9 NLT). For refusing to simply obey the command of God, Barak would lose the honor that would come with the defeat of the Canaanites. God had already assured him of victory, but Barak would not get to enjoy the glory that normally comes to the conquering hero. Instead, an obscure woman named Jael would get the glory and honor.

The key to this story is that God is the one who deserves recognition and honor. He is the one who rescued the Israelites from the hands of the Canaanites, in spite of their unfaithfulness. He rose up Deborah. He gave her the command to attack the Canaanites. He led her to choose Barak to lead the troops. He assured them of their victory. And he placed Jael at just the right place at the right time to ensure that Sisera would be killed. This was God's battle and God's victory. And He determined who He would use to bring it all about. The fact that He chose to use two women to bring about a resounding victory just further illustrates the power of God. In that culture, women were not held in high esteem. They were viewed as little more than property. But God chooses to use two women to bring about a great victory. It is Deborah, a woman, who leads Barak, the great warrior, into battle against the Canaanites. It is Jael, who eliminates the Canaanite threat once and for all by killing the Canaanite king Sisera.

But when all is said and done, it is God who gets the glory. "So on that day Israel saw God subdue Jabin, the Canaanite king" (Judges 4:23 NLT). God will use whoever He wills to accomplish His will. In this case He chose to use two women. Barak hesitated. Jael didn't. But God gets all the glory. Deborah, Barak, and Jael would all eventually fade into obscurity, but not God. He would continue to lead and deliver His people just as He does today. And He is using men and women of all types to accomplish His will. Are you one of them?

Father, use me. I want to be like Jael, ready to do Your will – to get my hands dirty if necessary. I want to be used by You to bring about victory, but I want You to get all the glory. Raise up a host of men and women in Your church who will serve like Jael. There is work to be done and You will accomplish it through some unexpected sources. Amen


Our Standard Achievement Test.

Judges 2-3

“I did this to test Israel – to see whether or not they would follow the ways of the Lord as their ancestors did.” ­– Judges 2:22 NASB

Have you ever wondered why God left you here? I mean, if heaven is so great (and I think it is!), then it seems like it would have made more sense for Jesus to take us to be with Him when He saved us. But for some reason He chose to leave us here. So we spend out lives living in a place that really isn't conducive to Christ-likeness and where the inhabitants really don't like us very much. Jesus Himself warned us that the world would hate us (John 15:19). And yet, we have to live and somehow survive here. He even expects us to thrive here. Why? Could it be that He wants to do the same thing for us that He was doing for the Israelites? God put them in a place where they were surrounded by enemies. The land He had given them as a possession was not void of conflict, but seemingly full of it. The Philistines, the Canaanites, the Sidonians, the Hivites... were all in the land. So what was God up to? He was testing them. Yes, He was punishing Israel for her infidelity, but there was more to it than that. He would use the presence of these nations to continue to test Israel's allegiance. Each of these nations had their own gods and Israel would be constantly tempted to make those gods their own. Not only that, there would be a constant temptation to interact with and even intermarry with these nations – even though God had forbidden it.

So how did they do on the test? Well, not too well. Not only did the Israelites live among them, they intermarried with them and ended up worshiping their gods (Judges 3:5-6). But there was another test. God was allowing the enemy to remain in the land not only to punish Israel and tempt them, but to prepare them for battle. They were going to learn to fight. This generation was not battle-hardened or ready for war. So they would have to learn to fight. They still had land that needed to be conquered and to do so would require going to battle. That meant they would have to become warriors. You don't really learn to be a soldier in boot camp or in peace time, but on the battlefield. And we learn to fight the spiritual battles in our lives not by learning the concepts of war, but by getting in the trenches and doing battle with the enemy. God left us here to test us, try us, and train us. He is using the trials of this life to teach us to trust Him, rely on Him, turn to Him, and to serve Him alone. God wants to reveal our weaknesses and display His power.

As we read through the history of the various judges of Israel, we see how the people of Israel did with the tests of life. And we see how God intervened and rescued them time and time again. He is always faithful. What an incredible reminder to us that God is with us in our daily battles with sin and temptation. He is testing us, but He is also fighting alongside us – showing us that He can be trusted for the victory we need in whatever conflict we find ourselves.

Father, thank You for allowing me to experiences the tests of life. Forgive me for the many times I fail, but continue to show me what You have to teach me. And continue to reveal Your power in the midst of my weakness and failure. Amen