Samson’s fatal flaw… Dishonest history… Pagan altars… “How’s that working out for you?”
DAY ONE – Judges 2-5
It is pretty well given that we don’t have to look for trouble in this world; it finds us! When Jacob, the father of Israel stood before the Pharaoh, he was asked, “How old are you?” He answered that his days were 130 years and full of trouble. Did he look for it? Not necessarily. Did he cause it? Sometimes, yes, in his quest to get out of life all he could. Did God help him? Yes, again and again; the Lord was faithful to His covenants. Now we have advanced several hundreds of years, and Israel’s descendants are again in trouble. Though God has kept all His promises and blessed them abundantly, their disobedience to His laws and ways keep activating trouble all around them, especially from the peoples they failed to drive out. One passage says that the remaining remnant nations lived among the Israelites in their new homeland; and after Israel’s failures another passage says that Israel lived among the remnant nations that grew strong again. The tables were turned; the scales were balanced, and Israel no longer enjoyed God’s favor as they had. Now they had to fight to survive. So I’m wondering if we are seeing something akin to this in our millennial generation? It is fairly accepted that in our national culture, diverse ideologies hold about even in the polls–sometimes a bit more conservative, sometimes a bit more liberal. And in the denominational world, scripture is losing ground to distrust and skepticism. So is the Lord testing us as He did Israel? Has the Lord allowed the scales to tip so that we would also have to fight to survive? If so, then our work is cut out for us. Perhaps it’s time we get back to the business of serving the Lord and advancing His kingdom in a milieu of cosmic conflict.
The Judges who emerged in this book that bears their standard were people of commitment and dedication. They led armies, faced fears, defeated their enemies (God’s enemies). They lived on to protect the land and judge the people by serving Yahweh God and encouraging the people to do the same. They rejected idolatry and all its destructive practices. And so the Lord blessed the land with rest for a season during their lifetime. May principled men and women arise in our millennial generation to judge righteously for the Lord and take their stand in our time. After a great victory under the leadership of the prophetess/judge Deborah, and Barak her general, they sang this song: Judges 5:2 “Israel’s leaders took charge, and the people gladly followed. Praise the LORD! Let that song be sung again in our day; may God’s people stand and be counted.
DAY TWO – Judges 6-9
When is it time to tear down our fathers’ altars? Answer: 1) when God’s prophets remind us how far we have strayed from God’s true path of righteousness and relationship; 2) when the ‘angel of the Lord’ (His messenger) finds us at work but living in fear of our enemies. Both of these portents were in evidence in these chapters when the ‘Lord’ appeared to Gideon, son of Joash. This heavenly Messenger gave Gideon a single assignment: tear down the Baal’s altar, using your father’s second bull. Then build an altar to Yahweh God and offer the bull on the wreckage, thus destroying the symbol of Baal worship (Baal has been unmasked in our times as the god of a thousand faces, represented in religions all over the world as their own personal deities). Thus Gideon’s life took a dramatic turn when he carried out the assignment. Not only did God preserve him when his own people sought his life, but the Lord also led him into a campaign that destroyed all the armies of Midian–over 130,000 armed men! And this was done with a small regiment of only 300 men who were loyal to Gideon and God. The Lord Himself gave Gideon detailed instructions at each juncture of the campaign until it was completed. Israel was brought back to God during Gideon’s lifetime because one young man of no particular significance was willing to obey God and buck the tide.
Question: what constitutes an altar? Baal’s altar was prominent, a tower of some sort to which the people resorted with their sacrifices and which provoked them to all sorts of evil practices learned from the Canaanites living around them (oh, right… these were the people who were supposed to be completely driven out during Joshua’s day but never were). We cannot turn back the clock to remedy the mistakes of previous generations, but we can worship and serve the Lord God courageously in the face of the mounting pagan influences saturating our culture. And at some point, the ‘angel of the Lord’ may find us clandestinely going about our business with some fear and trepidation; He may ask us to perform some outrageous act which destroys the evil and tears down wicked altars. What will we say? Will we buck the tide? Will we stand for raw truth regardless the outcomes? Remember, Gideon was no warrior. He was a young man who required several supernatural confirmations to assure himself this was actually God He saw, who was asking him to step out and up to a dangerous mission in a dangerous time. Only when he complied was he lifted to a new level of relationship with Yahweh that positively influenced his generation. Need I say more?
DAY THREE – Judges 10-13
Jephthah was an unlikely candidate to be a judge of Israel. Illegitimate, he was banished from the family compound by his brothers, from which he went into exile and became a mighty man of valor as he struggled to survive the circumstances thrust upon him. Israel at that time came again into the throes of bondage because of their abandonment of Yahweh their God. When attacked repeatedly by the Ammonites from east of the Jordan, they sought out Jephthah to make him their leader and judge, and to deliver them from the Ammonites. With a promise that he would lead Israel, Jephthah contacted the king of Ammon and demanded a reason for their aggression. When the king responded that Israel had stolen their land in the days of Joshua, Jephthah was able to give a truthful and complete retelling of history that debunked the king’s claim. Read it carefully, for based on the truth, Yahweh God stepped in and delivered Ammon into Jephthah’s hands in total defeat. It was history that substantiated Jephthah’s actions; what is more astounding is that he was able to lay out Israel’s history in accurate detail, though hundreds of years had elapsed. God Himself upheld the truth as Jephthah prayed for success.
Rewriting history and retelling it for nefarious purposes is wicked. Yet that is happening in our day, and an illiterate public is buying the lie, which has the effect of changing the entire religious, political and social context of our culture. Ignorant people can be persuaded to blindly follow unscrupulous leaders if they have no knowledge of history. Even the Word of God can be discredited when a lie is offered as a substitute for truth that is historically verified. If, as in the case of the Ammonite king, truth can be skewed by the skillful rewriting of history, it may lead to the downfall of an entire nation of people, as it did to the Ammonites. God stood with Israel and helped Jephthah defeat their enemies and destroy them completely. Always stick with the truth; it needs no other support. And there is no greater telling of history than that found in God’s Word; some have called it ‘his-story.’ Knowing our past is often a prologue to a more secure future.
DAY FOUR – Judges 14-16
It is hard to imagine that one’s strength could also become his fatal flaw. Known for his mighty feats of strength, Samson eventually died because he failed to connect his gift with the source of the gift. When the Philistines oppressed Israel for years, a condition allowed by Yahweh to discipline his errant people, they cried out to the Lord who was reticent to rescue them again after so long a bout with idolatry and apostasy. Yet God did relent. He blessed a barren woman with a son on condition that the boy follow the Nazirite vow throughout his life–nothing from the vine and no razor upon his hair. It’s actually entertaining to read the exploits of Samson, the ease with which he confounded and defeated the Philistines year after year, so that they mostly stayed away from Israel. And then the unraveling began, precipitated by his proclivity to love beautiful, pagan women. It was Delilah the Philistine who patiently and persistently extracted Samson’s secret from his heart. And once revealed, there was no going back. The playboy hero was done for–his eyes gouged out and his life used to provide sport for his captors. In such a setting, his hair now grown again, Samson died avenging the cruelty he had experienced by his enemies. Grasping the two supporting pillars of the temple of Dagon, he pulled down the entire edifice, taking out 3,000 Philistines with him, including their princes and all their ruling class. A beautiful tragedy–inexplicable except for the sovereign hand of Yahweh, Israel’s God, standing in the shadows of heaven and earth.
DAY FIVE – Judges 17-18
Judges 17:6 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. How does an educated, economically powerful and blessed nation of people spiral so far downward that the above statement could be pronounced over them? The answer is, gradually–it’s the ‘frog in the kettle’ syndrome. But the statement itself is revealing–“Israel had no king.” Israel NEVER had a king. Israel conquered many kings in their exploits but they themselves had always been ruled by God through a few strong leaders raised up by Yahweh God. How did they ever get to the place in which “all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes”? We might ask that question of our own people and culture. If we study the course of nations, they are founded on the strengths and values they corporately possess. Their longevity is based on the development of memes which express their strengths and values in succeeding generations. If at any point, social, political or religious movements begin to fragment their memes, then their strengths and values erode, at first slowly, then precipitously. Alter enough of a nation’s core values, and there will be no strength left to support its origins. So went Israel; so goes the western church and culture. Without a king a people may flounder. We don’t have kings in our national structure; it is quite understood that God and His Son, Jesus the King, once provided the source of value that maintained our culture. By repudiating Divine Sovereignty through multi-culturalism and doctrines of diversity, we have denuded the spiritual landscape, leaving it barren and devoid of God’s government and rule. What’s left? “…all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” How is that working out for us?