Judges 20-21

Doing What Is Right In Our Own Eyes.

“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

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Judges 19

Without God as king, sin reigns.

“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

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Judges 17-18

Who Is Like Yahweh?

“They worshiped Micah’s carved image the whole time God’s authorized shrine was in Shiloh.” ­– Judges 18:31 NET

You could almost call these two chapters “The Real Lives of Ephraim County.” Beginning in chapter 17, the writer of the book of Judges begins to give us a glimpse into what was really going on in the lives of the people of God out in the villages and cities scattered throughout the Promised Land. Things were not good. The spiritual apostasy of the people is rampant. They have turned from God and are living disobedient lives marked by idolatry and self-rule. Everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6). The writer makes note of the fact that there was no king in Israel. This statement raises the fact that the people had rejected God as their king, and because there was no human king to rule them, there was no one to enforce the laws of God. So everyone made up their own laws and lived according to their own agenda. And Micah is a perfect example.

It’s ironic that Micah’s name means “Who Is Like Yahweh?” And based on the story, the answer seems to be, “No one.” Micah is not a judge. He is simply an unknown Israelite who is given as a concrete example of all that is wrong with the people of God. His life is put before us like a reality TV show, revealing all the warts and flaws, illustrating just how bad things have gotten in Israel. The story starts out with Micah having stolen a large sum of money from his own mother. When he finds out she has placed a curse on the thief, he confesses and returns the money. Trying to stave off the effects of the curse, she dedicates the money to God, but then only gives a small portion of it to have an idol made. Micah ends up putting the idol in his home, along with an ephod he made (for divination purposes), and builds his own shrine to house it all. Then he makes one of his own sons his personal priest. All the while he lived in close proximity to the tabernacle in Shiloh! On top of all this, Micah ends up hiring a wandering Levite to be his personal priest.

Every character in this story is spiritually bankrupt. Jonathan, the Levite, is wandering around looking for a place to live, rather than obediently living in one of the cities God had provided for the Levites. He seems directionless and unwilling to live according to the rules God has established for him. Jonathan gladly takes the offer from Micah and ends up serving as a priest in what amounts to a pagan temple. As a Levite, he should have known the commands of God, and in serving in Micah’s home as his personal priest, he was breaking the law of God. “Cursed is anyone who carves or casts idols and secretly sets them up. These idols, the work of craftsmen, are detestable to the LORD.’ And all the people will reply, ‘Amen.’” (Deuteronomy 27:15 NLT).

Into the story come the Danites. This tribe had been allotted land just like all the other tribes, but had failed to occupy it, allowing the Amorites to chase them from it. So rather than obediently and faithfully fight for the land given to them by God, they were searching for other land. When they arrive at Micah’s home and see his priest, idols, and ephod, they determine to steal them and make them their own. How bad can it get? They had already refused to obey God. Now they were stealing an illegal priest from a idol-worshiping Jew in order to gain some kind of favor so they could take over a land that wasn’t even given to them by God! The Danites end up defeating the people of Laish in the north. They would make this their home and it would become a hot-bed of idolatry for years to come. They would also set up their own place of worship there, in direct competition with the tabernacle.

“This whole story of Micah and the Danites illustrates the terrible spiritual apostasy that corrupted Israel during the age of the judges. Even the grandson (or descendant) of Moses took leadership in it. It was no wonder that Israel had trouble with her external enemies (chs. 3—16) since she was so spiritually corrupt internally (chs. 17—18) – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Judges. Who is like Yahweh? According to this story, no one. The people of God were not living for Him. Their lives did not reflect their position as His people. They were not living according to their calling. They had become “Canaanized” or totally absorbed into the culture around them. Any distinctiveness they once had was gone. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. They were self-ruled, self-absorbed, and self-centered. They worshiped their own will and their own way. They didn’t know God or worship Him. So they didn’t feel any need to obey Him. But is it that much different today? We live in a world where everyone is doing what is right i their own eyes. Even within the church at times. We have our own set of idols we worship. We have other “shrines” we turn to for help and hope. Our world revolves around us. We think we know what is best. But the question is “Who is like Yahweh?”

Father, I want to be like You. I want my life to reflect that I am Your son. I want the world to know that I worship You and You alone. But so often, I lose my distinctiveness by falling in love with my own agenda and buying into the world system that surrounds me. Raise up a generation of men and women who will live for You. And let me be one of them. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Judges 16

Failure to Separate.

Finally, Samson told her his secret. “My hair has never been cut,” he confessed, “for I was dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as anyone else.” ­– Judges 16:17 NLT

The end of Samson’s life is marked by victory and tragedy. It contains the most famous of his exploits, but also a vivid picture of his failure to remain separated to God. From the day of his conception, he had been set apart by God for His service. God had instructed his parents to make him a Nazarite from the day he was born. There were very strict requirements on anyone taking the Nazarite vow.

If some of the people, either men or women, take the special vow of a Nazirite, setting themselves apart to the LORD in a special way, they must give up wine and other alcoholic drinks. They must not use vinegar made from wine, they must not drink other fermented drinks or fresh grape juice, and they must not eat grapes or raisins. As long as they are bound by their Nazirite vow, they are not allowed to eat or drink anything that comes from a grapevine, not even the grape seeds or skins. They must never cut their hair throughout the time of their vow, for they are holy and set apart to the LORD. That is why they must let their hair grow long. And they may not go near a dead body during the entire period of their vow to the LORD, even if their own father, mother, brother, or sister has died. They must not defile the hair on their head, because it is the symbol of their separation to God. This applies as long as they are set apart to the LORD. – Numbers 6:2-8 NLT

It seems that Samson wasted little time violating just about every one of them. He regularly defiled himself through sexual immorality, alcohol, by touching dead bodies, and associating with the enemies of God. We have seen how he was driven by his passions and lusts. He had failed miserably at remaining separated to God by his actions. The only thing left was the outward symbol of his separation, and that was his long hair. It had not been cut since the day he was born. Evidently, Samson’s remarkable strength, showcased in this chapter, was not the result of a massive physique. He probably did not appear physically strong, or the Gazites would not have paid to find out the source of his strength. His strength was miraculous and God-given. It was a result of God’s Spirit resting upon him. But chapter 16 reveals Samson’s final compromise. Driven once again by his physical urges, he finds yet another woman who seduces him from following God’s plan for his life. And as before, she ends up being from the enemy camp. This time, his literal love affair with the world would result in his separation from God, and ultimately the loss of his strength, his enslavement, and his death.

Samson was unwilling to remain dedicated to God. His insatiable sexual appetite would cause him to compromise his position as God’s elect. He would end up selling out and giving up his role as God’s deliverer. It wasn’t so much that his hair was the source of his strength. It was that his hair was the symbol of his separation – which illustrated that he belonged to God – who was ultimately the source of his strength. There were multiple times during his life that Samson should have shaved his head because he had been defiled. There was a ritual he should have followed to restore himself to a right relationship with God. But he had failed to do so. I think that this chapter reveals how God was going to force Samson to keep his commitment by having his pagan wife betray him and shave his head for him. What Samson was unwilling to do on his own, his Philistine wife would unknowingly force him to do. The loss of his hair symbolically separated him from God. Sacrifice would have to be made to restore him to a right relationship with God. Repentance would have to be shown. Normally this would be in the form of a sacrifice in the temple. But in Samson’s life it would be his very own life. Samson would end up giving his own life as a sacrifice to God – defeating the enemies of God yet again, but giving his life at the same time.

Samson’s life is one marked by great victories, but personal defeats as well. He had failed to remain separated to God. His life was marked by constant failure to separate. Yet he is listed in the great Hall of Faith chapter in Hebrews 11. In spite of his shortcomings, he was used by God. He is a lesson to all of us as Christians how God wants to set us apart for His use, but how easy it is to let the things of this world distract us and destroy our effectiveness. But God, in His faithfulness, still uses us. It is ultimately His Spirit and His power that allows us to accomplish anything of significance for Him. But what if we chose to remain faithful, full separated, and sold out to His cause. What more could He do with men and women who are fully His?

Father, I want to live a life that is separated to You for Your use and Your glory. Thank You for using me in spite of me, but continue to show me how to live increasingly more dedicated to You and not me. I want my life to be marked by separation to You, not from You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Judges 14-15

Samson: A Snapshot of Israel.

“So three thousand men of Judah went down to get Samson at the cave in the rock of Etam. They said to Samson, ‘Don’t you realize the Philistines rule over us? What are you doing to us?'” ­– Judges 15:11 NLT

What a fascinating story. No other judge receives the attention given to Samson in the chronicles of the judges. His story lasts several chapters and is filled with intriguing and somewhat confusing dichotomies. On the one hand, Samson is set apart by God, his very birth miraculous – the result of the intervention of God. Yet his life is marked by repeated violations of his Nazarite vow and more of a devotion to his own passions and physical appetites than to the will of God. In so many ways, Samson is a reflection of the people of God. They too had been set apart by God. They had been chosen by Him and set apart for a special purpose. Yet their entire history up to this point had been marked by the breaking of their covenant with God and a love affair with the things of this world. Samson’s attraction to the Philistine woman is purely physical. He is driven by his passions. As were the Israelites. His eating of the honey he found in the lion’s carcass was a direct violation of his Nazarite vow, but once again, he let his appetite overshadow his calling and commitment to God. He even gave some of the honey to his parents, so that they unknowingly defile themselves by eating food that had been contaminated by a dead body.

The interesting thing is how often Samson was used by God in spite of his impetuousness and impertinence. Several times we read that he was filled with the Spirit of God. It seems that God was going to use this rash young man to accomplish His will regardless of Samson’s willingness to live a life set apart to God. But God had been using rebellious Israel to accomplish His will as well. He would even use this stubborn, rebellious people to bring about the birth of the Messiah. You see throughout the story of Samson the providence of God, but it is clouded by the sad state of the people of Israel and the disappointing actions of the man, Samson. Any victories Samson has over the Philistines have less to do with his obedience to the will of God than his sinful reactions to wrongs done against him. And every battle he fights is alone. He never leads the people of God in battle against the enemy. In fact, you see the people of God cowering under the oppressive hand of the Philistines. They even refer to the Philistines as their rulers (Judges 15:11). These are sad days for Israel. And Samson does little to bring light into the darkness. Without the power and providence of God there would be nothing of redeeming value in these chapters.

Samson is a picture of so many of us today as believers. We are set apart by God. We are even filled with the Spirit of God. We have been given a task by God. Yet we live much of our lives controlled by our passions and driven by our appetites. We are controlled more by our own desires than the will of God for our lives. We demand of God what we think we need to have to make us happy. We are impetuous. We are impulsive. We break our commitments to God on a regular basis. And yet God still seems to use us. In spite of us.

Chapter 15 ends with the statement that Samson had judged Israel for 20 years. During that time he was used by God to destroy many of the Philistines. But in doing so he also violated his Nazarite vow, compromised his own parents’ moral integrity, continually allowed his appetites to determine his actions, attempted to accomplish God’s will using less-than-godly means, etc. His use of the jawbone of a donkey to slay the Philistines is an example of this last one. In picking up the jawbone of the dead animal, he violated his vow and made himself impure. And when he was done he gave the jawbone more credit than God Himself. He treated God as his own servant instead of the other way around. When he had killed 1,000 Philistines, he became thirsty and demanded that God give him something to drink. And God graciously did. The grace of God flows throughout this entire story. He is gracious with Samson and He is continually gracious with the people of Israel. Samson was not unlike us. Yes, he had supernatural power at his disposal, but so do we. His birth was miraculous and God-ordained, but so was our new birth. He was called by God to serve Him and accomplish great tasks for Him, but so are we. As we read his life, may we catch a glimpse of our own. May we see his weaknesses and God’s strength. May we learn from his failures and recognize that any of his success, like ours, are the result of God’s gracious intervening power.

“The pressures which Samson faced make him a contemporary figure. Twentieth-century Christians face the danger of assimilation, of being slowly and imperceptibly squeezed into the mold of the world around us. Therefore, what God did with and through Samson has a special meaning for our times.” – Gary Enrig, Hearts of Iron. Feet of Clay.

Father, I am a modern-day Samson, squandering my calling and using my God-given power in ways that are so far beneath Your expectations. I have compromised my calling and my status as one of Your called out ones. Yet You continue to use me – in spite of me. Thank You for Your grace and mercy. Show me how to live as I’ve been called, fully controlled by Your Spirit instead of my own selfish desires and passions. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Judges 13

The Mercy of God.

“For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines. ­– Judges 13:5 NASB

We’ve seen just how bad it can be with the people of God. Time and time again, they walk away from the one true God to worship the gods of the nations who surround them. They have refused to remove the pagan nations who occupy the land, but instead have chosen to intermarry with them and grow comfortable in their relationships with them. They have learned to acclimate themselves to their surroundings. Rather than live as God’s “set apart” or holy ones, they have become increasingly like the nations around them. Now in chapter 13 we see that they are once again doing evil in the sight of the Lord. This does not mean that they had stopped and are starting again, but that they continued to do evil. And as a result, God sent punishment in the form of Philistine oppression. This non-semetic people group would prove to be a thorn in the side of Israel for years to come. They would grow in power and prominence, becoming Israel’s greatest threat well into the reigns of David and Solomon. In fact, at this time, Israel found it easier to learn to co-exist with the Philistines than to fight them.

It’s interesting that there is no cry for help recorded in this passage. They are oppressed, but do no call out to God for deliverance. And later on when God raises up Samson as their deliverer, the people will refuse to cooperate with him. They would rather continue their co-existence with the Philistines rather than oppose them – even if it meant disobeying the commands of God. Yet in the midst of their rebellion and reluctance to obey, God steps in and shows mercy. He sends His angel as a messenger of good news. He announces the miraculous arrival of His messenger and deliverer to a barren woman. Into a bleak situation and physically impossible circumstances God announces His plan to do something great. God was going to deliver His people whether they asked for it or not. He was going to show mercy and grace in spite of their rebellion and unfaithfulness. Remember, the book of Judges is about God, not Israel or even the judges themselves.

This was not the first time God had chosen to use a barren woman to accomplish His will. And it would not be the last. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth were all barren, as well as Mary the mother of Jesus. “What does he [God] do when he has a people who refuse to forsake Baal and have no desire to forsake Philistia? A people grown so used to bondage they don’t even have sense to call out for relief? At least here the very God who judges them (Judges 13:1) begins to work their deliverance—anyway (Judges 13:2-5). That is grace—grace greater than all our sin, than all our stupidity, than all our density.” – Dale Ralph David, Such a Great Salvation. Living in oppression can actually become comfortable to us. We can grow accustomed to living in the midst of sin and no longer see it as a threat. That is exactly where the people of God were at this time, and fearfully, it is where the church is today. We have grown far too comfortable in a society that is oppressing us and molding us into its image. We are losing our significance and set-apartness. And it doesn’t seem to bother us. If it did, we would cry out for deliverance.

Yet in spite of our silence, God is rescuing His people. He always is. He is raising up deliverers to wake up His slumbering church. There are pastors, speakers, and writers all across the world issuing wake up calls on behalf of God. They are attempting to stir the people of God to awaken to the call of God once again. The key will be whether we will listen or not. Samson himself was to be set apart from even before his birth. He was to do be dedicated to God and His purposes. God is raising up a generation of Christ-followers who are to be set apart for His purposes. He is calling out a people from among His people who will live by a different standard and model a different way of life – even to those within the church. The bride of Christ has become “Canaanized.” We have grown comfortable and complacent with the world. We are satisfied with co-existing with the world, rather than transforming it. Are you hearing His call? Are you willing to heed it?

Father, wake up Your church! Raise up a host of men, women, boys and girls, who are ready to step up and do what You are calling us to do. Forgive us for our love affair with the world and the things it offers. We are distracted and no longer living for You. We are ineffective and powerless in the midst of a world that hates us and is out to destroy us and the message You gave us to share. Give us ears to listen and  a willingness to obey You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Judges 11-12

A False View of the One True God.

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 are  punishment 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

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Judges 10

From Bad to Worse.

“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

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Judges 9

The Dark Ages of Israel.

“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

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Judges 7-8

Little Is Much When God Is In It.

“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 a  dream, 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

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men