Judges summary

At the beginning of the book of Judges, Israel have a problem. God has promised them a land to live in but they still need to conquer it and their leader, Joshua, has died. Nevertheless, God commissions the tribe of Judah to go ahead and invade the land. The Israelites do a half-hearted job which sets them up for all kinds of future problems.

In Chapter 2 we are introduced to a repeated cycle in the book of Judges. The Israelites forsake the Lord and worship foreign gods. The Lord then gives them over to their enemies.   The Israelites call out in distress and God raises up a Judge who delivers them.

From chapter 3 onwards we get the case histories of the Judges of Israel. The first Judge is Othniel who delivers the Israelites from the King of Aram. The second Judge is the unlikely choice of Ehud, as he is perceived of as no threat, who delivers Israel from the Moabites. The third Judge is Shamgar who saved the Israelites from the Philistines even though he probably wasn’t even an Israelite himself!

In chapter 4 we read that the Israelites do evil in the eyes of the Lord once again. This time, the Lord raises up a woman, Deborah to be Israel’s fourth judge. She commissions Barak to fight the Canaanites. However Barak won’t go without Deborah, he needs his comfort blanket!

The Lord defeats the Canaanites (v.15). Their commander, Sisera, flees to the tent of Jael. While he is sleeping Jael drives a tent peg through his temple into the ground and Sisera dies. Jael shows Barak.

Chapter 5 is a song remembering the events of chapter 4. It shows that various Israelite tribes declined to fight the Canaanites (vv.16-17) whereas others risked their lives for the cause (v.18). Verses 28 to 30 show what kind of man Sisera was: a plunderer, pillager and raper. God’s people rejoice when evil is judged.

In Chapter 6 we are introduced to Gideon, Israel’s fifth Judge. This time it is the Midianites who are doing the oppressing. God speaks to Gideon while he is threshing wheat in a winepress (v.11). This is a strange place to thresh wheat! Gideon is hiding from the Midianites who were invading and ravaging their land (v.5). God tells Gideon he has commissioned him to lead the Israelites in battle against the Midianites. Gideon protests then asks for signs. He shows himself to be an unexpected hero.

In Chapter 7 God says that Gideon has too many men for him to deliver Midian into their hands so he gets Gideon to whittle down his fighters from over 20,000 to 300,. The warriors are armed with trumpets and jars; hardly advanced weapons of warfare! And yet when the 300 trumpets sound the Lord cause the Midianites to turn on eachother (v.22) and a great victory for Israel ensues.

However, in chapter 8, Gideon shows that your strength can be your greatest weakness as he turns on his own countrymen and kills them just for not giving him bread.

Gideon (Ch. 9) Timid Gideon turns powerful, although he refuses to rule over Israel. He asks Israel to give him the golden earings from their spoil and he makes an ephod (a garment worn by a priest) out of them and sets up his home town as a place of worship. In this way, Gideon leads the nation of Israel into idolatry. There is peace in the land (v.28) but it is a compromised peace.

Chapter 9 can be split into 5 scenes:

Scene 1 (vv.1-6): After Gideon’s death, a treacherous usurper named Abimelech siezes power over Israel. He does this by killing the rest of Gideon’s offspring.

Scene 2 (vv.7-21): Jotham tells a story to the people of Schechem. He tells them that there is a problem with the King they had chosen. He is a thornbush, ie a fire-hazard.

Scene 3 (vv.22-29): Gaal incites rebellion against Abimelech.

Scene 4 (vv.30-49): War, Abimelech launches a revenge attack on the people of Schechem.

Scene 5 (vv.50-57): Poetic justice, Abimelech is killed by a woman who drops a stone on his head. The Lord gets evil to destroy evil. He is revealing His wrath while seeing His justice done.

Jephthah (Chs. 10-12) is rejected by his half-brothers. However, when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the leaders of Israel ask Jephthah for help. Jephthah sends the Ammonite king a message which is ignored. Jephthah then makes a rash vow to the Lord. He has a chip on his shoulder because of his rejection by his half-brothers. He wants to defeat the Ammonite king more than anything. By making this rash promise, he is showing that he has faith in God but he has been squeezed into the world’s mould.

Samson (Chs. 13-16) is last of the twelve Judges. The Philistines conquer the Israelites after they once again do evil in the sight of the Lord (v.1). The people are happy to be conformed to the people around them (15:11) and yet, in His mercy and kindness, the Lord raises up a saviour for God’s people. In the midst of Manoah and his wife’s barrenness, the Lord gives them a child, a saviour. A repeated theme throughout the Bible is that God is able to make something out of nothing. Our salvation from sin and death is God’s work alone. Jesus completes our salvation.

The tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is not a problem to be solved but a framework in which to live. Samson’s story is a study of this tension (14:4). All the characters are responsible for their actions while God uses them for his purposes. God is not limited by our ungodliness.

The Danites and Idolatry (Chs. 17-18)  “A Pick ‘n’ Mix Spirituality” In the 21st Century many people see themselves as spiritual persons without signing up to a particular creed. In this way, we worship God how we want to. Similarly, in the book of Judges, God’s people have been seduced by false gods and this has lead to false worship and a skewed morality. In chapter 17, a shady character called Micah sets up his own private temple, hires his own Levite priest and worships his own carved idol. The tribe of Dan are looking for a place to live and discover an area near Micah’s house. Consequently, the Danites unearth Micah’s private temple, priest and carved idol and steal them. Micah’s reply reveals who he is actually worshipping:

You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left? (18:24)

False spirituality, which is what Micah is involved in, involves chasing after a god that cannot save. What false gods have you been tempted to chase after? The Danites then attack and pillage the peaceful city of Laish and set up their stolen carved idol. When Israel forget their God, might makes right.

Civil War: Israel against Benjamin (Chs.19-21) “The importance of believing in God” History shows that when Christian belief is strong, crime decreases. On the other hand, when there is spiritual and religious confusion there is corresponding moral and civil confusion and turmoil. In other words belief affects behaviour.

Look what people look like without a Saviour King (chapter 19). A repeat of Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s people reject their God and it leads to moral rottenness.

Look at how mysterious God’s judgments are (chapter 20). Israel are united against the tribe of Benjamin. They listen to a deeply flawed Levite. There is genocide. No-one is immune from God’s judgments. This is a warning to our pride.

Look how we can still rejoice in God’s persevering grace (chapter 21) Without God people are confused, abused and many end up dead. However the tribe of Benjamin is preserved.

The story of Judges has value as a tragedy. It is a sobering explanation of the human condition and ultimately it points out the need for God’s grace to send a King who will rescue His people (The Bible Project).

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Was Jesus born on December 25th?

I have recently been meeting to read the Bible with a Jehovah’s Witness. During our last meeting he told me that Jehovah’s witnesses do not celebrate Christmas. His reasons were as follows:

  1. Jesus could not have been born on December 25th because the Bible says that shepherds were in the fields watching their sheep and it would have been too cold.
  2. Jesus commanded his disciples to commemorate his death but never commanded his disciples to celebrate his birth.
  3. Christmas is just a rehash of a pagan festival.

1. Regarding the first argument I found this response from Taylor Marshall:

Recall that Palestine is not England, Russia, or Alaska. Bethlehem has a latitude of 31.7. My city of Dallas, Texas has the latitude of 32.8 and it’s still rather comfortable outside in December. As the great Cornelius a Lapide remarks during his lifetime, one could still see shepherds and sheep in the fields of Italy during late December…and Italy is geographically to the north of Bethlehem.

http://taylormarshall.com/2011/12/dec-25-biblical-argument-of-birth-of.html

So it was not too cold for shepherds to be outside watching their flocks by night in first century Palestine.  The Biblical account remains valid.

2. Regarding the second argument, Luke 2:8-11 indicates reasons to celebrate Jesus’ birth even if Jesus didn’t directly command a celebration.  In these verses an angel of the Lord announces “good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”  That sounds like a reason to celebrate!  Luke’s gospel continues, “Today, in the town of David, a saviour has been born to you.”  So there is a day on which Christ was born and, as a Christian, I want to celebrate this day.  Wouldn’t it be strange not to?

3. Regarding the third argument I found this quote on the bethinking.org website:

It is true December 25 marked the recovery of the Invincible Sun for ancient pagans, and about AD 330 this date was adopted by the Roman church as a celebration of Christ’s nativity.

Christianity was fast becoming the dominant faith in this period and so, rather than cancel a happy festival, Christians decided to transpose it into a more appropriate religious key.

http://www.bethinking.org/jesus/truth-in-the-story-of-christmas

Personally, I don’t mind if December 25th wasn’t the actual date of Jesus’ birthday.  It doesn’t change the fact that Jesus is the Saviour of the world, that he came to earth to share our humanity, die a horrible death on a Roman cross and rise again to new life conquering Satan, sin and death. The above website does concede that Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th but it goes on to say:

The traditional Christmas story won’t be going away. It will continue to be a source of wonder and hope for millions of believers and curious alike.

http://www.bethinking.org/jesus/truth-in-the-story-of-christmas

The word became flesh – “A source of wonder and hope” – that’s the Christmas I will be celebrating!

 

The Lance Armstrong Story – Stop at Nothing

Last night I watched “The Lance Armstrong Story – Stop at Nothing”. This is a documentary ‘telling the intimate but explosive story about the man behind the greatest fraud in recent sporting history, a portrait of a man who stopped at nothing in pursuit of money, fame and success.’

It was difficult to watch, especially because I was duped by Armstrong myself. His story was one that everyone wanted to believe in. Cancer survivor goes on to win the Tour de France seven times! Fantastic, brilliant, great! But no, it was all a hoax, a fraud, an enormous deception.

The idol that everyone had celebrated, worshipped and adored turned out to be a liar. Egg on everyones faces.

And the sad thing is that this is still going on all the time as people put their hope and security in things other than God. The Bible calls this idolatry and we are all guilty of it. Romans 1:25 says that humans ‘exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.’ By nature, people would rather believe a lie than submit to and worship the God that made them.

As a result humanity is ‘storing up wrath against itself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed’ (Romans 2:5). Thankfully, the lies, deception and fraud will be exposed. Lance Armstrong seemed impregnable, just too powerful to fall. However, the truth came out eventually. Proverbs 16:4 says:

The LORD works out everything to its proper end– even the wicked for a day of disaster.

In this world it often seems that the wicked people are getting away with it. As a result the temptation is to join them. However the Bible is clear – judgment is coming. Like turkeys being fattened for Christmas, devious people are being prepared for their own destruction.

So how should we respond? Firstly, I think we need to heed this bible verse:

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  (1 Corinthians 10:12)

The default nature of the human heart is to prefer to believe, and live, a lie rather than worship and serve our Creator. Therefore, we need to be alert, and keep watch over our own lives. Are we being prepared for a day of disaster? Is the life we are building going to collapse around us like a pack of cards?

Secondly, we need to put our faith in Jesus Christ. Romans 3:21 says:

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

The good news of the gospel is that, although we are all guilty of worshipping and serving a lie and, as a result, are objects of God’s wrath, God has made a way for us to be forgiven and to lead a new life through the death of his son Jesus Christ on the cross of calvary two thousand years ago.

No matter who you are or what you have done you can be righteous in God’s sight by putting your faith in Jesus Christ. Even Lance Armstrong can be forgiven by God if only he would believe on Jesus.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be deceived anymore. The good news is that there is one who wont deceive you and who will never forsake you (Psalm 9:10; Matt. 28:20). Will you put your trust in him?

Film Review: “Sufragette”

A big theme of this excellent film is the theme of struggle.  The brave, courageous ladies who fought for the right to vote did so at great cost to themselves. They discovered a cause which they were willing to give their lives for.

This made me think of the apostle Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:7:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

After Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) he lived a life of purpose and struggle. Why did he do this? Paul had a vision of the risen Lord Jesus which compelled him to pour out his life in Jesus’ service. In doing this Paul experienced a life of great suffering and affliction (2 Corinthians 11:23-33) and yet great joy and peace (Philippians 4:11-13).

I think the hardest thing for non-Christians to stomach is the futility of existence. Without Jesus in your life you really do not have any answers to the evil that we see daily in the world. In contrast Christians, in the words of the band “Casting Crowns”, declare:

“Now on this hallowed ground we’ve drawn the battle line”

Christians are called to fight against the spiritual forces of evil in this world (Ephesians 6:12) using weapons of prayer and proclamation, whilst wearing the full armour of God (Ephesians 6:13-18).

The suffragettes had as their goal the right to vote for women.  This is a commendable aim and, wonderfully, it has been achieved in the majority of the world today.

Christians have as their goal the Kingdom of God, Heaven itself. Like the suffragettes we know that we are on the winning side. Our destination is a place of eternal rest and joy in the presence of God Almighty Himself.

James

Reflections on the book of James: 

Summary sentences:

Stop pretending!

Live a whole-hearted, genuine faith!

Themes: 

Why trials are reasons for joy

  1. They are the way to maturity (1:3-4)
  2. They cause us to depend on God (1:5-8)
  3. This life, its trappings and its trials will pass (1:9-12)
  4. They are part of God’s good purposes (1:13-15)

God gives wisdom generously (James 1:5)

Faith is what you think & what you do

Saving faith is the faith that throws its whole life into living out the truth believed.

Christianity is a public matter

The church James is writing to is divisive & fractious. The reason for this is careless teaching (3:1). James focuses on the words we use. The root causes of division are selfishness & pride (chapter 4). The solution is to submit to God and to live in the light of God’s coming judgment.

In James 4:4 James calls his readers “adulterous people”. This is actually positive because it reminds his readers that they are a covenant people. They are married to God and God is faithful.

Numbers

Reflections on the book of Numbers:

Numbers summary sentences:

God is certain of his plans. 

If God is with us, success is assured!

Despite obstacles & sin, God perseveres with His people.

Structure of Numbers:

Chs.1-10 Preparation at Mount Sinai

Chs 11 – 16 Rebellion at Kadesh – the people don’t trust God

Chs 17 – 36 God’s faithfulness

God’s people:

Complain about hardships, food & leaders.  Rebel in chapter 13 – 14. This is the greatest tragedy since the Fall in Genesis 3. The result is that God punishes the people (14:10b – 16:50).  The whole generation is wiped out. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23)

God: 

  • provides instruction for priests & purity (chapter 18)
  • remains gracious despite continued sin (chs. 17, 20, 21, 25)
  • sovereign – brings blessings from whom He will

Balak & Balaam (Numbers 22):

Balak, the Moabite King, hires Balaam, the seer, to curse the Israelites. However, Balaam blesses the Israelites instead & prophecies Israel’s victory and future King.

“I see him, but not now” (Numbers 24:17)

However Balaam then entices Israel to sexual immorality & the worship of Baal (Numbers 25).  Phinehas stood up & intervened and the plague was checked.  God credited this to him as righteousness.

“He was as zealous as I am” (Numbers 25:11)

Chapter 26: Second census of a new generation.

Chapter 27: New leader = Joshua

Hebrews

Here are some of my reflections from reading the book of Hebrews in my quiet times:

Jesus

  • has made a once for all, sufficient sacrifice.
  • is our eternal high priest.
  • is the Son of God.
  • is perfect.
  • is the best choice because he brings what everyone of us needs: atonement & peace with God.

The Old Covenant is surpassed by the New Covenant.

There is a need for faith; Faith is the reality that inspire the hope.

Heaven; Mount Zion; City; Kingdom

Spiritual Dangers:

  1. not believing God (3:12, 14)
  2. ceasing to grow (5:12; 6:1, 11-12)
  3. not persevering in holiness
  4. losing faith
  5. rejecting discipline