March 27, 2015

Judges - Given the Bible’s subject matter -- God and salvation, living well and loving deeply -- we quite naturally expect to find in its pages leaders leaders for us who are good, noble, honorable men and women showing us the way.  So it is always something of a shock to enter the pages of the book of Judges and find ourselves immersed in nearly unrelieved mayhem...

There is a kind of matter-of-fact indifference in the tone of the narration, almost as if God is saying, “Well, if this is all you’re going to give me to work with, I’ll use these men and women, just as they are, and get on with working out the story of salvation.”...

God, it turns out, does not require good people in order to do good work.  He can and does work with us in whatever moral and spiritual condition he finds us.  God, we are learning, does some of his best work using the most unlikely people....  

Judges 1-3 - A time came after the death of Joshua when the People of Israel asked God, “Who will take the lead in going up against the Canaanites to fight them?”  And God said, “Judah will go. I’ve given the land to him.”

The men of Judah said to those of their brother Simeon, “Go up with us to our territory and we’ll fight the Canaanites. Then we’ll go with you to your territory.” And Simeon went with them... The people of Judah attacked and captured Jerusalem, subduing the city by sword and then sending it up in flames. After that they had gone down to fight the Canaanites who were living in the hill country, the Negev, and the foothills.... From there they had marched against the population of Debir (Debir used to be called Kiriath Sepher). 

Caleb had said, “Whoever attacks Kiriath Sepher and takes it, I’ll give my daughter Acsah to him as his wife.”  Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, took it, so Caleb gave him his daughter Acsah as his wife....

But Judah didn’t manage to capture Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron with their territories. God was certainly with Judah in that they took over the hill country. But they couldn’t oust the people on the plain because they had iron chariots.

They gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had directed. Caleb drove out the three sons of Anak.  But the people of Benjamin couldn’t get rid of the Jebusites living in Jerusalem. Benjaminites and Jebusites live side by side in Jerusalem to this day.

The house of Joseph went up to attack Bethel. God was with them. Joseph sent out spies to look the place over. Bethel used to be known as Luz. The spies saw a man leaving the city and said to him, “Show us a way into the city and we’ll treat you well.” The man showed them a way in. They killed everyone in the city but the man and his family...

But Manasseh never managed to drive out Beth Shan, Taanach, Dor, Ibleam, and Megiddo with their territories. The Canaanites dug in their heels and wouldn’t budge. When Israel became stronger they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they never got rid of them.  Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer.... Nor did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites in Kitron or Nahalol...Nor did Asher drive out the people of Acco, Sidon, Ahlab, Aczib, Helbah, Aphek, and Rehob....Naphtali fared no better...The Amorites pushed the people of Dan up into the hills and wouldn’t let them down on the plains. 

 God’s angel went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you out of Egypt; I led you to the land that I promised to your fathers; and I said, I’ll never break my covenant with you—never! And you’re never to make a covenant with the people who live in this land. Tear down their altars! But you haven’t obeyed me! What’s this that you’re doing?  So now I’m telling you that I won’t drive them out before you. They’ll trip you up and their gods will become a trap.”

After Joshua had dismissed them, the People of Israel went off to claim their allotted territories and take possession of the land. The people worshiped God throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the time of the leaders who survived him, leaders who had been in on all of God’s great work that he had done for Israel... Eventually that entire generation died and was buried. Then another generation grew up that didn’t know anything of God or the work he had done for Israel.

The People of Israel did evil in God’s sight: they served Baal-gods; they deserted God, the God of their parents who had led them out of Egypt; they took up with other gods, gods of the peoples around them... But then God raised up judges who saved them from their plunderers. But they wouldn’t listen to their judges; they prostituted themselves to other gods—worshiped them! They lost no time leaving the road walked by their parents, the road of obedience to God’s commands. They refused to have anything to do with it...

When God was setting up judges for them, he would be right there with the judge: He would save them from their enemies’ oppression as long as the judge was alive, for God was moved to compassion when he heard their groaning because of those who afflicted and beat them. But when the judge died, the people went right back to their old ways—but even worse than their parents!—running after other gods, serving and worshiping them. Stubborn as mules, they didn’t drop a single evil practice.

And God’s anger blazed against Israel. He said, “Because these people have thrown out my covenant that I commanded their parents and haven’t listened to me, I’m not driving out one more person from the nations that Joshua left behind when he died. I’ll use them to test Israel and see whether they stay on God’s road and walk down it as their parents did.”
That’s why God let those nations remain. He didn’t drive them out or let Joshua get rid of them....

But the People of Israel made themselves at home among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. They married their daughters and gave their own daughters to their sons in marriage. And they worshiped their gods.  The People of Israel did evil in God’s sight. They forgot their God and worshiped the Baal gods and Asherah goddesses. God’s hot anger blazed against Israel. He sold them off to Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim. The People of Israel were in servitude to Cushan-Rishathaim for eight years.

The People of Israel cried out to God and God raised up a savior who rescued them: Caleb’s nephew Othniel,... The Spirit of God came on him and he rallied Israel. He went out to war and God gave him Cushan-Rishathaim...The land was quiet for forty years. Then Othniel son of Kenaz died.

But the People of Israel went back to doing evil in God’s sight. So God made Eglon king of Moab a power against Israel because they did evil in God’s sight... The People of Israel were in servitude to Eglon fourteen years.

The People of Israel cried out to God and God raised up for them a savior, Ehud... a Benjaminite. He was left-handed... Ehud made himself a short two-edged sword and strapped it on his right thigh under his clothes. He presented the tribute to Eglon who was grossly fat. After Ehud finished presenting the tribute, he went a little way with the men who had carried it. But when he got as far as the stone images near Gilgal, he went back and said, “I have a private message for you, O King.” The king told his servants, “Leave.” They all left.  Ehud approached him—the king was now quite alone in his cool rooftop room—and said, “I have a word of God for you.” Eglon stood up from his throne. Ehud reached with his left hand and took his sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s big belly. Not only the blade but the hilt went in. The fat closed in over it so he couldn’t pull it out. Ehud slipped out by way of the porch and shut and locked the doors of the rooftop room behind him. Then he was gone.

When the servants came, they saw with surprise that the doors to the rooftop room were locked. They said, “He’s probably relieving himself in the restroom.”  They waited. And then they worried—no one was coming out of those locked doors. Finally, they got a key and unlocked them. There was their master, fallen on the floor, dead!

While they were standing around wondering what to do, Ehud was long gone. He got past the stone images and escaped to Seirah. When he got there, he sounded the trumpet on Mount Ephraim. The People of Israel came down from the hills and joined him. He took his place at their head.  He said, “Follow me, for God has given your enemies—yes, Moab!—to you.” They went down after him and secured the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites. They let no one cross over....The land was quiet for eighty years.

Shamgar came after Ehud. Using a cattle prod, he killed six hundred Philistines single-handed. He too saved Israel.

Mark 6:30-6:56 - The apostles then rendezvoused with Jesus and reported all that they had done and taught.  Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.”  For there was constant coming and going.  They didn’t even have time to eat.  So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves.  Someone saw them going and the word got around...When Jesus arrived, he saw a huge crowd.  At the sight of them, his heart broke---like sheep with no shepherd they were.  He went right to work teaching them.   

When the disciples thought it had gone on long enough, they interrupted and suggested that Jesus send home so they could get some supper.  Jesus said, “You do it.  Fix supper for them.”  They replied, “Are you serious?  You want us to go spend a fortune on food for their supper?”  But he was quite serious....Jesus got them all to sit down in groups of fifty or a hundred then took the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke the bread and had his disciples pass it to the crowd of over 5,000....They all had their fill.  The disciples gathered 12 baskets of leftovers...

As soon as the meal was over, Jesus insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to Bethsaida while he dismissed the congregation.  After sending them off, he climbed the mountain to pray....At about 4 am, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea.  He intended to go right by them.  But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and screamed scared out of their wits.  Jesus was quick to comfort them: “Its me.  Don’t be afraid.” ...they were stunned, shaking their heads, wondering what was going on.  They didn’t understand what he had done at the supper.  None of this had yet penetrated their hearts.  

They beach the boat at Gennesaret...as soon as they got out of the boat, word got around fast...wherever he went,...they brought their sick to the marketplace and begged him to let them touch the edge of his coat--that’s all.  And whoever touched him became well.