Purge the Evil

“If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the Lord your God will choose. And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. 10 Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the Lord will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. 11 According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left. 12 The man who acts presumptuously by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. 13 And all the people shall hear and fear and not act presumptuously again. – Deuteronomy 17:8-13 ESV

It would appear from these verses that the Israelites were to establish a system of judicial oversight where cases that fell outside the scope of the local judges. These more difficult cases were to be taken to the city in which the tabernacle would be set up, and presented to a judicial panel comprised of Levites and appointed judges. These men were assigned to task of adjudicating these these cases and their decisions were to be considered binding and final. They were to function as a kind of Supreme Court for the nation of Israel.

The size of the panel is not clarified, but it consisted of at least one Levite and a judge. The Levite was there in his function as a priest of God. He was responsible for applying the law of God to the matter in dispute. The judge provided an additional set of ears to hear the facts of the case and to assist in determining a just and righteous settlement.

The verdict passed by this God-ordained court was to be accepted and carried out by all those involved. There was no appeal process available.

“You must carry out the verdict they announce and the sentence they prescribe at the place the Lord chooses.” – Deuteronomy 17:10 NLT

The Levites and the judge who sat on the panel were not responsible for enforcing the verdict, the people were. It was their responsibility to carry out whatever judgment was assessed – to the letter.

“After they have interpreted the law and declared their verdict, the sentence they impose must be fully executed; do not modify it in any way.” – Deuteronomy 17:11 NLT

The verdict was to be based on the Mosaic law, so this ensured that any decision arrived at had the full backing of God Almighty. Anyone who dared to reject the decision of the court stood opposed to God and faced the full wrath of His judgment.

“Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the Lord your God must die. In this way you will purge the evil from Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT

This sounds harsh to our modern sensibilities, but God was determined that Israel have a clear set of moral, legislative, and judicial guidelines by which to live. But those guidelines would mean absolutely nothing if the people were not held accountable to adhere to them. Laws that can be easily broken, with no threat of reprisal or punishment, are not laws at all. They are little more than suggestions, easily avoided or simply ignored altogether. Laws that lack enforcement are no more dangerous than a lion lacking teeth and claws. A judicial verdict that fails to be carried out has no weight. And the court that deliberates and delivers such a verdict ends up having no power to determine the well-being of a nation.

But if failure to carry out the verdict of the court was followed by capital punishment, “Then everyone else will hear about it and be afraid to act so arrogantly” (Deuteronomy 17:13 NLT). Adjudication requires prosecution. For a verdict to carry any weight, it must be enforced. And refusal to follow the will of God’s appointed judges was going to bring His wrath. He would not tolerate disobedience, because disobedience was nothing less than rebellion against His will. And like any other sin, rebellion was an infectious disease that could spread among the people, if left unchecked. That’s why God demanded that they “purge the evil from Israel.”

They were to take rebellion seriously and deal with it immediately. To not do so would create an environment where everyone did what was right in his own eyes. All God-ordained authority would eventually become impotent and useless. And the people would end up ruling their lives according to their own personal standards. Rules would become purely subjective, determined by the individual. And the day was going to come when this very thing happened in Israel.

After the period of time in Israelite history when God had appointed men and women to act as His judges, the people of Israel would reach a point when they would no longer accept these leaders. And the book of Judges matter-of-factly states: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6 ESV).

It was a time when autonomy ruled the land. There were no more judges and the people were doing what they deemed best. It proved to be an immoral time marked by spiritual anarchy. The people were not content to live by God’s law or to abide by the decisions of His judges. Self-rule was the law of the land and it had created an atmosphere marked by rebellion and rampant godlessness.

And it all begins when we fail to heed God’s call to purge the evil from our midst. Sin left unchecked and unpunished doesn’t go away, it grows. It spreads and eventually infects the entire camp. So, God demands that we take it seriously and deal with it decisively. Tolerance of sin sounds like the loving thing to do, but it actually results in death and destruction. So, God made it clear that the death of the one was to be preferred to that of the many. So, “purge the evil from Israel. Then everyone else will hear about it and be afraid to act so arrogantly” (Deuteronomy 17:12-13 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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Righteous Judgment. Perverted Justice.

18 “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

21 “You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your God that you shall make. 22 And you shall not set up a pillar, which the Lord your God hates. – Deuteronomy 16:18-22 ESV

Reliable leadership is essential for a family, a religious community, a company or a nation. Without proper leadership, you end up with chaos and confusion, which ultimately leads to anarchy. So, as Moses continues to outline God’s holy expectations for the people of Israel, he begins to focus his attention on the vital role and responsibility of leadership within their community. Yes, God was their final authority, but He had established a hierarchy of leadership, delegating certain responsibilities to others, like Moses, whom He would hold accountable for the welfare of His people.

As God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel was expected to reflect His character, both on an individual and corporate basis. Each family within the community was to operate according to God’s commands, with children honoring their parents and father’s and mother’s leading their children in the ways of the Lord. Every member of the community was expected to keep the sabbath holy. They were each obligated to obey the commands of God and live in unity as the people of God. But every organization, no matter how large or small, needs effective leadership to survive and thrive.

So, Moses provided them with God’s plan for overseeing what would quickly become a rapidly expanding populace scattered throughout the land of Canaan.

“Appoint judges and officials for yourselves from each of your tribes in all the towns the Lord your God is giving you…” – Deuteronomy 16:18 NLT

Once the tribes began to conquer and settle the land, the once-unified nation would find itself dispersed into 12 different communities separated by distance and requiring localized leadership. One man would not be able to oversee such an extensive and far-spread domain. Even during the days of the kings of Israel, there would be a need for delegated power dispersed throughout the kingdom in order to assure proper application and enforcement of the king’s wishes.

But in these early days of Israel’s existence, they were to be a theocracy living under the authority of God, their sovereign Lord and King. He was to be their final authority in all things. And He would appoint men to serve as His representatives, leading and judging the people on His behalf and according to His divine will. But the day was going to come when the people of Israel expressed their weariness with God’s way of doing things. They would reject His divinely appointed leaders and demand to have a king just like all the other nations. In other words, they would jettison the governing model of a theocracy for a human monarchy, which would eventually devolve into an oligarchy.

The book of 1 Samuel records the fateful day when the people of Israel issued their demand for a king, and God made clear that they were really rejecting Him as their King.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:4-7 ESV

But at this point in the book of Deuteronomy, the people were still preparing to enter the land. They found themselves in need of God’s help, so they were still willing to allow Him to lead. But God knew that it would only be a matter of time before they required more hands-on leadership. So, He commanded Moses to have the people appoint or elect judges and officials who would provide localized leadership within their various land allotments.

These men would provide a vital role, exercising their divinely-appointed authority to provide wise judgment and ensure righteous justice within the various tribes. But this was not be the first time this form of delegated authority had been seen in Israel. All the way back in the days when they were traveling from Egypt to the land of Canaan, Moses had instituted a similar program, under the wise counsel of his father-in-law, Jethro.

Jethro had witnessed Moses attempting to single-handedly trying to mete out judgment and justice for the people. His son-in-law was spending all day, everyday, listening to the cares and concerns of the people and trying to provide wise counsel and direction. But Jethro saw that this was unsustainable, so he gave Moses a bit of sage advice.

“This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives. But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. They should always be available to solve the people’s common disputes, but have them bring the major cases to you. Let the leaders decide the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. If you follow this advice, and if God commands you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.” – Exodus 18:17-23 NLT

And this is exactly what Moses is directing the people to do. But he provides an important caveat, telling the people that the men they choose as leaders were to “judge the people with righteous judgment” (Deuteronomy 16:18 ESV). Not only that, they were to “never twist justice or show partiality” (Deuteronomy 16:19 NLT).

God was looking for righteous and just men. He wanted individuals who would reflect His character and uphold His divine expectations for justice and mercy. God was not going to put up with any form of corruption, such as the acceptance of bribes. There would be no room for partiality or favoritism. These men were to be impartial and fair, representing each of the people under their care equitably and justly. And Moses made it clear that their adherence to God’s requirements would bring His blessings.

“Let true justice prevail, so you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 16:20 NLT

God has a strong dislike for lousy leadership. He holds those in positions of authority to a high standard and expects them to take their responsibilities seriously, approaching their roles with a soberness that is influence by a healthy fear of His holiness.

And these men were not just responsible for settling civil disputes. They were to guard against any kind of idolatry among the people of Israel. Unfaithfulness to God was the greatest temptation the people were going to face. Their personal disputes and disagreements would prove miniscule and pointless when compared with their failure to remain faithful to God. So, Moses warns these leaders to watch out for any kind of idolatrous activity among the people. If they saw it, they were to deal with it immediately. God expected these men to deliver righteous judgment among His people and He demanded that they dispense equitable justice. But more importantly, God required His leaders to require holiness and faithfulness from the people. These men would be acting as representatives of God. And, as such, they were expected to love what He loves and hate what He hates. They were to judge according to God’s standards, not their own. They were to mete out God’s brand of justice, not their own. And if they did, God would bless the nation.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Filing Suits Instead of Following Christ.

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud — even your own brothers! – 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 ESV

It seems that the believers in Corinth were having a difficult time grasping the significance of their new status as members of the body of Christ. The concept of having been set apart to God and separated from the world had not yet sunk in. They were still thinking like Greeks and as citizens of Rome. Their mindset was more worldly than godly. This was not an uncommon problem in the early church. In fact, in his letter to Titus, Paul gave him a much-needed reminder:

…we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. – Titus 2:12-14 NLT

Back in chapter three of this letter, Paul had reprimanded the Corinthians about their propensity to live their lives from a worldly perspective.

…you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? – 1 Corinthians 3:3 NLT

Whether or not Paul is laying down a hard-and-fast prohibition against Christians taking one another to court is not clear. But his point seems to be that the Corinthians are not approaching their problems from a spiritual perspective. First of all, the fact that they were having disputes among one another that would require legal action is unacceptable. This indicates that they were living in the flesh and not the Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul gave a lengthy, but far from complete, list of sins associated with living according to our sin natures. In it he included sexual immorality, lustful pleasures, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension,  and division. Virtually any lawsuit or legal claim entails one or more of these “deeds of the flesh.” Which is what led Paul to say to them, “Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6:7 NLT).

Paul’s primary concern seems to be the integrity of the body of Christ and the honor of God’s name. He is not making a sweeping accusation against the legal profession or courts of law. He simply desires that the believers in Corinth see their Christian faith as more than just a label. It was to become a way of life. It was to influence the way they lived their lives. Paul is also not naive enough to believe that disputes will never take place between believers. As long as we live in these earthly bodies, we will be prone to conflicts, even with fellow believers. But there is a proper way in which we are to settle our disputes. That is why Paul asks, “ Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues?” (1 Corinthians 6:5 NLT). For Paul, it made much more sense to settle disputes between believers within the family of God. It was a matter of common sense. How could ungodly judges know what is best when deciding a dispute between godly believers? What makes legal sense is not necessarily what God would have us do. The right legal decision and the right spiritual one are not always the same thing.

Remember that Paul said earlier in this very same letter, “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19 NLT). The message of the cross is at the heart of Paul’s argument. The cross of Christ doesn’t just provide us with forgiveness from sin and escape from future condemnation. It provides us with the power to live godly lives in this world. It is a means of both positional and practical righteousness. And none of that makes sense to those living in the world. While a secular judge may determine that a believer who owes a debt to a brother must pay it in full or face the full penalty of the law, God may require that both the debt and the brother be forgiven. God’s ways are not our ways. And because, “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11 ESV), how can an unbelieving judge know what God’s will might be in a given situation.

Paul refers to the lawsuits they were filing as “trivial cases.” This does not mean that they were small matters or of little significance. Paul is simply saying that in the grand scheme of things, earthly disputes are nothing to worry about. We are to live with a future orientation, fully aware that our ultimate reward is in heaven, where we will sit as judges over the nations. We will rule and reign with Christ. And all disputes, large and small, will be settles once and for all. The greatest dispute being over the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ. Every one who has refused to acknowledge God and accept Christ as Savior will be judged. And yet, here were the Corinthians wasting time and energy disputing with one another over “trivial cases,” and taking one another to court to settle insignificant issues that have no eternal value.

We have been set apart by God. We have been given new natures. We have the Holy Spirit living within us and the Word of God to direct us. Our designation as Christians is to be more than just a label, it is to be a description of our lifestyle. We are to live like Christ. We are to love like Christ. We are to model Christ in all that we do. Christ was willing to suffer so that we might live. He was willing to endure unjust accusations and an undeserved death sentence so that we might be saved. As Isaiah so poignantly put it:

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:7-8 NLT

No Ransom. No Redemption.

He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper. Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities? Where are all your rulers—those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes”? I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath.

The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb.

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the Lord, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open. – Hosea 13:9-16 ESV

If God does not intervene, man is helpless and hopeless to do anything about his condition. Without God’s help, man is incapable of delivering himself from the inevitability of sin’s ultimate outcome: death. The Israelites, even before the division of the kingdom, had proven themselves unfaithful to God by exhibiting their ongoing unwillingness to honor Him as God. Soon after they had entered the land after their 40-year of wandering in the wilderness, they exhibited their propensity to disobey God. The book of Judges chronicles their repetitive cycle of sin, which started with their unwillingness to obey God and completely remove the pagan nations from the land.

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages… – Judges 1:27 ESV

Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer – Judges 1:29 ESV

Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron – Judges 1:30 ESV

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco – Judges 1:31 ESV

And on and on it went. The entire book of Judges is a sad chronicle of their on-again, off-again relationship with God. The people would turn against Him, and God would punish them by allowing their enemies to defeat them. The people would cry out in despair and God would provide them with a judge to deliver them. There would be a short time of repentance, and then the cycle would repeat itself. The book of Judges ends with the sad statement: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 ESV).

It was not long before they demanded that God give them a king just like all the other nations (1 Samuel 8:5). And God gave them exactly what they asked for – King Saul. He would prove to be a faithless king who God would remove and replace with King David. And David would be followed by his son, Solomon, who would prove to be a wise and successful king, until the latter days of his reign, when he, because of his many pagan wives, allowed the worship of idols to make its way into the nation. God split the nation in two, and Israel, the northern kingdom, would end up with a king just like Saul. Jeroboam would prove unfaithful as well, leading the people into idolatry and away from the worship of Yahweh. And now that God’s judgement was coming, He sarcastically asked of them, “Now where is your king? Let him save you! Where are all the leaders of the land, the king and the officials you demanded of me? In my anger I gave you kings, and in my fury I took them away” (Hosea 13:10-11 NLT). God had given them ample opportunity to repent, but like a child in the womb, they refused to come out when the pains of delivery increased.

So God asked, “Should I ransom them from the grave? Should I redeem them from death?
O death, bring on your terrors! O grave, bring on your plagues! For I will not take pity on them” (Hosea 13:14 NLT). This verse should jump out at us. Because ransom and redemption is exactly what God has accomplished for those of us who are in Christ. He has paid the price for our sins and ransomed us from the death sentence that was hanging over our heads. He has redeemed us from death through the sacrifice of His own Son, who died in our place. As a result, we no longer need fear death or the grave. Paul quotes from this very passage when he writes,

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die,j this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” – 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 NLT

It is God who ransoms and redeems. There is no help or hope without Him. The Israelites were going to learn that deliverance was impossible without God. Their kings would prove impotent. Their armies would be exposed as incompetent. When destruction came, their gods would be non-existent. They would learn the hard way that deliverance comes only through the Lord. Trusting in kings, chariots, allies, weapons, wealth, wisdom, false gods or anything other than God would prove fruitless and devastatingly deadly. Their destruction would be complete. No ransom. No redemption.

As Peter said in his defense at his trial before the high priest and the other religious leaders, “Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12 NLT). Salvation comes only through the Lord. There is no salvation through anyone or anything else.

The Many Faces of Faith.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. – Hebrews 11:32-38 ESV

The list goes on. The author of Hebrews draws this chapter to a close, but can’t help but add a few more names to his growing list of the faithful. He mentions Gideon, who lived in Israel during a time of spiritual apathy and moral depravity. God had given the Israelites over the the hands of the Midians as punishment. “For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey” (Judges 6:3-4 ESV). But when the people cried out to God, He sent them Gideon as a judge to deliver them. But Gideon was a reluctant deliverer. When God called him, his response was less than enthusiastic. “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). And God’s response to him was simple and direct: “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16 ESV). Gideon would go on to accomplish great things for God, delivering His people from the oppression of the Midianites – by faith. Each step of the way, Gideon had to believe God’s promise that He would be with him.

This is true of each of the individuals listed in the verses above. Barak had to face the overwhelmingly superior armies of Sisera on the words of Deborah, a prophetess. The odds were against him, but He obeyed the word of the Lord and God gave Israel a great victory.

Then there was Samson, a somewhat surprising addition to the list. His story is a sad one and does not end well. He was driven by his desires and eventually defeated by them. But on the final day of his life, having been blinded by the Philistines and chained between two pillars, he called out to God in faith. “O 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). That prayer of faith, lifted up in his most vulnerable, weak condition, was answered by God. “Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life” (Judges 16:30 ESV). He died in faith, trusting in His God and giving his last minutes of life to destroy the enemies of God.

What about Jephthah? He had been born as a result of his father’s immoral affair with a prostitute, and when he became an adult, Jephthah was thrown out of the family by his brothers. He ended up living in a form of exile from his family and found himself in the companionship of “worthless men.” But when the Ammonites began to oppress the Israelites, they sought out Jephthah to deliver them because he was a mighty warrior. In his newfound position as the judge of Israel, Jephthah turned to the Lord, and he made a vow to God. “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord‘s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31 ESV). Jephthah believed that God could and would deliver His people. But he wrongly assumed that God would want something in return, so he bargained with God. I suggest that Jephthah fully believed that God would come through and that he would be required to follow through on his vow. But little did he know that after God had given him the victory over the Ammonites, it would be his own daughter who came out of the house to greet him. He would go on to sacrifice his daughter. This is a bizarre and disturbing story. It seems a bit strange to include this man in the Hall of Faith. But while Jephthah’s understanding of God was somewhat flawed, he did believe in the power and deliverance of God. He trusted that God would and would come through. His problem was that his faith in God was marred by a faulty understanding of God.

In the case of David, the stories that exemplify his faith in God are many. The psalms he wrote echo his belief in God and his unwavering faith that God was his savior and sustainer. From the moment David was anointed the next king of Israel, he had to live a life of faith in God, spending years trusting in the promise of God while running for his life from the wrath of King Saul. He had been anointed king by God, but Saul was still on the throne. David learned to wait on God, believe in God, trust in God, and rely on God. And his life reflects that faith.

From his earliest days as a young boy serving in the house of the Lord under the watchful eye of Eli the priest, Samuel developed a growing faith in God. He would become a prophet for God, speaking on his behalf and leading the people of Israel to obey the will and word of God. Samuel would eventually be called on by God to anoint Israel’s first king. And while he was reluctant to do so, he obeyed. Throughout his life, Samuel would learn to trust God. He had to believe that God knew what He was going, even when it seemed to make no sense. His faith is best seen in his faithful obedience to the will of God. What God said, he would do. What God declared, he would believe. Trusting that God knows what He is doing even when you can’t comprehend it or completely appreciate it is a hallmark of faith.

The author of Hebrews goes on to illustrate that faith is oftentimes accompanied by rousing success, including military victories, strength in the midst of weakness, deliverance by the hand of God, and mind-blowing miracles. But just as often faith can be accompanied by less-than-ideal circumstances. He mentions torture, mocking, flogging, chains, imprisonment, stoning, destitution and even death. Faith doesn’t always result in a happy ending. Samson died under the very rubble that destroyed the Philistines. David died never getting to build the temple he dreamed of constructing for God. Jephthah would see the accolades for the victory over the Ammonites go to a woman. The focus of our faith should always be God. Faith is trusting Him regardless of what we see happening or not happening around us. The presence of difficult does not mean the absence of God. The lack of answer is not proof of God’s lack of power or interest. Faith that is God-focused is willing to wait and comfortable accepting seemingly unacceptable outcomes knowing that God is not done yet.

 

Isaiah 63-64, Revelation 15

A Desperation For God.

Isaiah 63-64, Revelation 15

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence. Isaiah 64:1 ESV

Isaiah had a first-row seat to the situation going on in Israel. He was a witness to the sin and rebellion of the people and the righteous judgment of God. Every day he could watch how the people neglected their God-given responsibilities to live as His representatives and act as His children. Isaiah had not deluded into believing that they were somehow innocent and undeserving of their punishment. He even included himself when he confessed that they were guilty as charged. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV). Isaiah’s assessment of the condition of the people of Israel was bleak. He concluded that, “there is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you” (Isaiah 64:7 ESV). And this was not a new problem. The people of Israel had been unfaithful for a very long time. “…in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?” (Isaiah 64:5 ESV). Things looked dire and desperate. From Isaiah’s perspective, things look hopeless. But it was this very feeling of desperation and hopelessness that led Isaiah to cry out, “Oh that you would rend the heaven and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence…” (Isaiah 64:1 ESV). Even God knew that desperate times call for desperate measures. He had looked down from heaven and concluded, “there was no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold; so my own arm brought me salvation, and my wrath upheld me” (Isaiah 63:5 ESV). Isaiah, as a representative of the people, called out to God for help. He turned to the only one who could do something about their desperate condition. He reminded God of His role as their Father, Redeemer, and Protector. He appealed to God’s zeal, power, mercy and compassion. While they had “become like those over whom you have never ruled, like those who are not called by your name,” Isaiah knew that God could be counted on to show goodness, compassion and steadfast love. 

What does this passage reveal about God?

Isaiah knew the rich history of his people. He was fully aware of all that God had done over the generation on behalf of the people of Israel. Which is why he could “recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord” (Isaiah 63:7 ESV). God had been the Savior of Israel on more than one occasion. He had a track record of faithfulness and mercy – in spite of all of Israel’s sin and rebellion. “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9 ESV). God had been with them through all the years. He had been an eyewitness to their sin. He had endured the personal affronts to His holiness as the people worshiped other gods. He had patiently put up with their unfaithfulness. He had redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt. He had led them through the wilderness. He had fed them with manna and quail as they traveled all those years. He miraculously prevented their clothes and sandals from wearing out. He provided them with the assurance of His presence through the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of smoke by day. He had safely delivered them to the Promised Land and given them victory over their enemies. He had allowed them to possess “cities that you did not build and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant” (Deuteronomy 6:10-11 ESV). And then He had watched as they quickly forgot all about Him and began to worship the gods of the nations that had possessed the land before them. “They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 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 hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies” (Judges 2:13-14 ESV). But whenever the people became desperate enough and cried out to God for help, He sent a deliverer. God would use His judges “who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them” (Judges 2:16 ESV). But once delivered, the people would inevitably turn away from God again. They would forsake God and He would be forced to send their enemies against them as a form of punishment. And when the people became desperate enough, they would cry out to God again. And He would deliver them. Over and over again.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Desperation requires dependence, and dependence is not something mankind finds attractive. We are independent creatures who want to live free from restraints and according to our own rules. At our core, we are rebellious. We tend to bow up at the idea of anyone or anything controlling us. Even the people of God can display a pronounced disgust and disregard for the very idea of His control over their lives. At the end of the book of Judges, we read one of the most revealing statements ever made about men. After years of sin and rebellion, defeat at the hands of their enemies, and desperate cries to God for help, we are told that “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 ESV). Rather than do what God required of them, they chose to do what they wanted to do. Their deep desire for independence and autonomy stood in direct conflict with God’s desire that they be dependent upon and dedicated to doing His will and bringing Him glory. God wanted to display His power through them. He wanted to shower His blessings on them. He wanted to make His name known to the nations as He ministered to and through His chosen people. But God’s deliverance required dependence. And the state of dependence seemed to require that the people of God be brought to a point of desperation. Over in the book of Jeremiah, we read, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 ESV). In the book of Deuteronomy, God had warned the people of Israel that if they did not obey and serve Him, they would end up exiled in a foreign land where they would worship false gods who could not deliver them in their times of desperation. “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29 ESV). They would have to reach the point of desperation. They would have to come to the conclusion that nothing and no one else could deliver them from their predicament. In their desperation and despair, they would recognize their complete dependence upon God. “For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:31 ESV).

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

The sad reality is that we never seem to understand or appreciate our complete dependence upon God until we reach the point of desperation and hopelessness. It is as if we have to finally conclude that we no longer have any other options and no other saviors to whom we can turn. When we finally get tired of doing what is right in our own eyes and suffering the consequences of our desire for independence, we will reach the conclusion that God alone is the answer to our problem. And like Isaiah, we will cry out “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” We will long to see God do what only He can do. It is sad that it sometimes takes a point of desperation to bring us to an awareness of our dependence upon God. We don’t just need Him for salvation from sin, we need Him to live in righteousness. We don’t just need Him to provide our ticket to heaven, we need Him to provide the strength we need to live on this earth. It is interesting that during one of the most difficult and desperate times that will ever come upon the earth, there will be those who cry out to God. They will recognize His power, mercy, goodness, and desire to redeem what belongs to Him. Toward the end of the Great Tribulation, as God prepares to bring His final judgments upon the earth, those believers who have been martyred during the tribulation will stand before the throne of God and cry out, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!  Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:3-4 ESV). They say desperate times call for desperate measures. But as children of God, we should know that desperate times call for dependence upon Him. God alone can save. God alone can redeem. God alone can solve the problem that has plagued mankind since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. We live in desperate times. Which is all the more reason that we live our lives in complete dependence upon God. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 ESV).

Father, I want to live in dependence upon You. I don’t want to wait until I reach the point of complete desperation and I have run out of other options. I truly want You to be my first and only option. You have proven Yourself trustworthy and faithful more than enough times in my life. I have proven myself to be a lousy savior and the things of this world have proven themselves to be unreliable deliverers. As we look at the events taking place all around us, may we reach a point of desperation that leads us to complete dependence upon You. Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down! Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Judges 21, Acts 28

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

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Judges 19-20, Acts 27

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

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

 

Judges 17-18, Acts 26

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

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Judges 15-16, Acts 25

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 useability, 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

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org