July 8, 2019: Day 72 – Judges 14

Who remembers Samson's first wife?  Most of us, if not all of us, remember that Samson tore a lion apart with his bare hands.  That's okay, that is in our VBS and Sunday School memory.  We even remember that he gave some of this honey to his parents, as a good boy would do.  But do we remember what this lion and this honey have to do with Samson and his first wife, not named Delilah?   Read the story again and make sure we commit it to memory.  Samson demands from his parents that they give him a Philistine wife in marriage, specifically one that he had found.  On the way to introduce his parents to his fiancee he kills a lion, leaves it on the side of the road, and then comes back and finds honey in it which he brings back to his parents.  The marriage is set and at the ceremony he entices some Philistines into a bet that they couldn't guess his riddle.  They threaten his now wife with murder for her and her family if she doesn't find out the answer to the riddle. Now this part of the story should be familiar, even though we haven't seen it yet, it comes next chapter or two.  His wife, according to vs.16-17, nags him until he gives in and tells her the answer to the riddle, which she quickly shares with the Philistines.  Samson owes them a lot of money as a result, and he gets that money by killing a whole lot of other Phillistines and taking their stuff.  I do have to say that one of my favorite lines in Scripture is the following:  "If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle."  Who says that?  As a result he gives his wife to his  best man.  End of story, no more wife for Samson, until two chapters later.   But do notice  that this story, or a likeness thereof, repeats itself with Delilah.  the accusatory statement of: If you loved you would tell me, finds itself coming up very soon.  Be very wary of anyone who says to you: If you loved me then you would...(fill in the blank).  That person only has their interest in mind.
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July 7, 2019: Day 71 – Judges 13

Every time that you read a chapter beginning with a barren woman you can pretty much lay money down that the child who will be born from the barren woman is going to be pretty special.  Think of Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth..., Mary wasn't barren but you get the picture.  This is where we find ourselves in this Scripture.  As you read through this Scripture we can't find the name of Samson's mother, only his father.  I googled: "what is the name of Samson's mother?"  Guess what came up?  Wife of Manoah.  Yeah, not what I had in mind. So the angel of the Lord promises that Samson will be a Nazarite.  All this means in the Hebrew is that he will be someone "separated or consecrated".  The mom was not to drink any alcohol or eat anything unclean.  The child, once born, shall not have his hair cut.  Then comes a promise if she were to follow God's command.  This child will lead the people of Israel out of bondage from the Philistines.  Remember how this chapter begins in vs. 1?  Let's see if we can guess: "The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord."  They were under the rule of the Philistines for 40 years.   We find that once Samson is born that the Spirit of the Lord began to stir in him.  Hang on, because things are going to get really interesting with Samson. 
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July 6, 2019: Day 70 – Judges 12

We continue to hear about the life of Jephthah.  So the Ephraimites were jealous because he had gone to battle against the Ammonites and hadn't notified them so that they could join in the battle, and presumably join the booty as well.  Well, they were furious and declared a battle against him.  But notice that the Ephraimites were part of Israel so this is a mini civil war that is taking place.  This is problematic.  It continues as the people of Jephthah, the Gileadites, were controlling the Jordan and could tell if someone was from Ephraim by the way that they pronounced Shibboleth.  If they said it the wrong way then they were killed.  42,000 of them mispronounced a word at that time.  That's a costly mistake. We then have a succession of judges who seem to rule over Israel well.  What is it with judges and donkey and a whole mess of children? 
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July 5, 2019: Day 69 – Judges 11

You can chalk this down as one of the more, if not the most, disturbing Bible stories.  Jephthah is asked by the very same siblings who drove him out to help them out and lead them into battle.  He makes a deal with them and says I will lead you into battle,  but if we win then you will allow me to rule over you.  Okay, deal.  He then tries to diplomatically resolve the issue by telling the enemy that hey, we've been in this land together for these last 300 years.  Why do we need to go at each other now.  Let's leave that up to our progeny, let them fight it out.  Why can't we all just get along?   Yeah, not really, the king didn't buy it.  So..., Jephthah annihilates the king, but not before he has a meeting with the Lord and makes a vow.  This is where it gets disturbing.  He tells the Lord that the first person who comes out of his house he will sacrifice to the Lord upon his return home.  Now, who do you think he expected to come out of his house first?  Was it a win - win scenario where maybe he thought his wife would come out first, or a hated servant, or someone else that he thought would come out that he really didn't like and was hoping would disappear?  What we do know is that he did not expect his daughter to come out first.  Do you notice we don't see a name for Jephthah's daughter?   She is just Jephthah's daughter, or at least was.  This is one Scripture that you just wish the Lord would have intervened and said, actually, Jephthah, I'm going to punish you for making a stupid oath instead of killing your daughter.  Doesn't happen.  But at least we have a commemorative ceremony to take the place of a daughter's life every year.  
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July 4, 2019: Day 68 – Judges 10

We find ourselves in the season of two respected Judges: Tola and Jair.  Jair is the more interesting of the two as we hear about his flock, or is it pack, of donkeys that he had, one for every son.  But then once again the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.  There is some detail in their betrayal this time.  They did what they always do, they worshiped idols and gods, but they also asked the Lord to forgive them.   Follow along the dialogue as we read it, in my own words, in chapter 10 starting at vs.10.  I have done so much for you over the years, I have delivered you from a whole array of enemy countries, but you always seem to forget and you abandon me and worship  other gods.  Why don't you go and cry to those  gods, they might help you.  Answer: We are so sorry, we will never do it again.  Go ahead and punish us and do whatever you want to do to us...except just deliver us this one time and we promise  we will never do it again. Do you see why we call God Father?  Doesn't that sound just like a parent and a child, and we know that the child is going to be a repeat offender?  We leave this chapter with the Israelites asking the question: who is going to lead us into battle.  You expect the next judge to come out of the answer to that question.
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July 3, 2019: Day 67 – Judges 9

Apparently it is a dishonor to be killed by a woman.  Sisera fell prey to that and now in this chapter we see that Abimelech also was killed by a woman, or at least didn't want history to reflect that he was killed by a woman so he had his slave kill him.  Abimelech has an even spottier history than his father, Gideon.   He attempts in this chapter to establish a monarchy, and actually succeeds.  When his father  died  then apparently he had put his 70 children, I can't even imagine, in charge of the promised land.   But Abimelech was someone who was a bit power hungry, okay, a lot power hungry.  He rallies his family to mutiny against his other siblings,  all 70 of them, and eventually he kills them all on one stone, except his little brother who somehow gets away.  His little brother is a bit indignant and tells him that he is going to pay for what he did.  He tells a bit of a riddle, or a poem in order to prove his point.  His little brother runs away because he recognizes that he probably isn't super safe.  A couple of the battles are reflected and Abimelech ends up winning these battles and rules over the land for 3 years, but they are not peaceful years.  It is a rough stretch in the history of Israel.  And no, Abimelech was not a judge appointed by God.  He was a person who took power into his own hands and did what was evil in the sight of God.
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July 2, 2019: Day 66 – Judges 8

So Gideon has a bit of a checkered history.  We find that he is a mighty warrior, able to take down the Midianites and the Canaanites with just 300 men.   We find here in vs.10 one hundred and twenty thousand soldiers who had fallen at the hands of Gideon in the war against them. Gideon then pursued his enemies and their kings.  On their pursuit they ran across villages which they hoped would sustain them with bread and water.  These village were not aware of the shift in hegemony and refused to provide any help.  They were afraid that the Midianites and the Canaanites would punish them for helping the enemy. Gideon lets them know in no uncertain terms that if they do not help then they are going to be destroyed once he catches the kings of these other nations.  They didn't budge so it plays out.  The warriors on the enemy side were still around 15,000, which should be pretty good odds against the 300.  But they were no match for God's army headed by Gideon.  They catch the kings, they destroy the towns which didn't help out, and Gideon lived happily ever after.  There was peace in the land for the next 40 years.  We are then introduced to Abimelech who plays an important role in the next chapter. But wait, there is more.  The checkered history finds itself not only in Gideon wanting to be sure that God was on his side in previous chapters, but after he conquers all these people the people want to make him king and he kind of obliges them.  He gathers earrings from all of them, melts them down and makes a statue that he and the people prostitute themselves to.  Not a good plan.   But God continues to watch over Gideon.  But once Gideon dies then they completely turn away from God and they do what was evil in the sight of the Lord.  The trend continues.
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July 1, 2019: Day 65 – Judges 7

There is some confusion in this story.  As you think about the story of the selection of the soldiers to fight with Gideon, what do you remember?  Who was chosen to fight the battles, was it those who drank the water with their hand, or was it those who lapped the water, or are they one and the same?  If you look at the NRSV translation it says very clearly: " The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.”" I had always thought that those who lapped the water were the ones who were sent home.  But noooo, they were the ones who remained and the ones who were chosen to go into battle.  The distinction is actually not about the method of drinking, it is whether they went down on their knees or not.  Only 300 of them were chosen out of 32,000 men who had begun the journey toward the battle against the Midianites and the Amalekites.  I love the discerning process.  Okay, if anyone wants to go home, go ahead on home.  If you are nervous, or just got married, whatever your reason, just go ahead on home.  Also, if you look at vs.9 you see the Lord give Gideon a choice, it wasn't really a choice between good and evil.  He could actually choose and it would have no impact upon the outcome.  He commands Gideon to go and attack the enemy, but if he is feeling a bit wimpy and nervous then hold off and just go down to the enemy camp and hear what they have to say.  There he hears someone who has a dream and in it Gideon conquers.  That is also somewhat stunning that the Lord makes provision for the fear of Gideon and provides him with encouragement, even if it means that the battle is somewhat delayed.  Does God delay our gratification or delay our results simply so that we can face the future with more conviction and determination?  It seems so here.
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June 30, 2019: Day 64 – Judges 6

How much proof do you need that God is by your side and that God has given you everything that you need in order to conquer as He has promised?  A fire unsummoned which burns up bread and meat and broth?  What about a fleece that is soaking wet, or perfectly dry?  God told Gideon, then called Jerubaal, to tear down the altar.  Well, we get the inside scoop that he was a bit afraid to do it in the day, you know, in front of everyone, so he goes and does it at night.  Fortunately he had his father to defend him or else he just might have lost that battle and not been able to defeat the Midianites and the Amalekites.  Yes, Gideon's father bails him out in this story. I love seeing how Gideon come into his own.  Battle is near so he calls his people near and far to join him.  They actually listen and so he turns out to be  an amazing leader.  God promises to be by Gideon's side during the battle.  Everyone is ready to go to battle when Gideon calls a time out.  Just one sec everyone, I just need to ask God something.  God, uh, do you mind if you just give me a sign that you are by my side?  I know, you are amazing and awesome and have done some marvelous things, but do you mind just giving me one teeny weeny sign.  God does that with the fleece.  Okay, how about one more?  God does that again with the fleece.  Okay, I'm good.  Let's go.  
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June 29, 2019: Day 63 – Judges 5

What a beautiful song of triumph.  It reminds me a lot of a song about those who are champions.  Here is a clip of what I am thinking.  But look at all the people who are represented in this song of conquest in Judges.  You have the every day Israelites who are depicted as prospering even in the midst of war.  I love in vs.7 where you see what would have been the lower class, there was no middle class, who prospered because of the plunder of the various conquests.  What a great image where you see all of society able to prosper and not just the wealthy, not just those who were present to gather the spoils.   What a great image. Then Deborah is extolled as someone who is called to wake up.  Not sure what that is about.  Barak, the general who really called Deborah's leadership into question, is definitely given a bit more credit than Deborah is here, as the battle is seen much more through his lens than anyone else.  Then you have at the end a somewhat poignant rendition of Sisera's mom waiting for him to come home.  I think it is interesting that it isn't his wife, but rather his mom.  His mom is wondering why he is so late in coming home.  I know, it must be because he is trying to discern what I would like best out of the spoils that he has gathered up.  It never enters his or her mind that they would lose.  It is just the lowly Israelites and we have chariots of iron. There was peace for another 40 years.  Keep in mind that this number 40 means something.  For 40 years the people wandered in Israel and were weeded out.  It seems like that once a generation passes the new generation needs to relearn how God is faithful and what God is really able to do.  It seems like the same is true for us as well.  Once a generation passes, like the greatest generation, my generation forgets what it took to make us who we are today.  But in matters of faith I hope that we are able to pass down our faith in a way that the next generation knows who God is because of how we raised our children.  You can't inherit faith, but you can place your children within a context that they are exposed to it in a positive way.
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