March 28, 2016

Judges 4-6
The People of Israel kept right on doing evil in God’s sight. With Ehud dead, God sold them off to Jabin king of Canaan who ruled from Hazor... The People of Israel cried out to God because he had cruelly oppressed them with his nine hundred iron chariots for twenty years.

Deborah was a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth. She was judge over Israel at that time...  The People of Israel went to her in matters of justice.  She sent for Barak... in Naphtali and said to him, “It has become clear that God, the God of Israel, commands you: Go to Mount Tabor and prepare for battle.... Barak said, “If you go with me, I’ll go. But if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”  She said, “Of course I’ll go with you. But understand that with an attitude like that, there’ll be no glory in it for you. God will use a woman’s hand to take care of Sisera.”... God routed Sisera—all those chariots, all those troops!—before Barak. Sisera jumped out of his chariot and ran. 

Meanwhile Sisera, running for his life, headed for the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite. Jabin king of Hazor and Heber the Kenite were on good terms with one another. Jael stepped out to meet Sisera and said, “Come in, sir. Stay here with me. Don’t be afraid.”  So he went with her into her tent... Then while he was fast asleep from exhaustion, Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg and hammer, tiptoed toward him, and drove the tent peg through his temple and all the way into the ground. He convulsed and died.  Barak arrived in pursuit of Sisera. Jael went out to greet him. She said, “Come, I’ll show you the man you’re looking for.” He went with her and there he was—Sisera, stretched out, dead, with a tent peg through his temple.

That day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:

When they let down their hair in Israel, they let it blow wild in the wind.  The people volunteered with abandon, bless God!...Then you, Deborah, rose up;  you got up, a mother in Israel... Lift your hearts high, O Israel, with abandon, volunteering yourselves with the people—bless God!...Most blessed of all women is Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of homemaking women....

Yet again the People of Israel went back to doing evil in God’s sight. God put them under the domination of Midian for seven years...
One time when the People of Israel had cried out to God because of Midian, God sent them a prophet with this message: “God, the God of Israel, says, I delivered you from Egypt, I freed you from a life of slavery; I rescued you from Egypt’s brutality and then from every oppressor;  I pushed them out of your way and gave you their land. “And I said to you, ‘I am God, your God. Don’t for a minute be afraid of the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living.’ But you didn’t listen to me.”

One day the angel of God came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, whose son Gideon was threshing wheat in the winepress, out of sight of the Midianites. The angel of God appeared to him and said, “God is with you, O mighty warrior!”  Gideon replied, “With me, my master? If God is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all the miracle-wonders our parents and grandparents told us about, telling us, ‘Didn’t God deliver us from Egypt?’ The fact is, God has nothing to do with us—he has turned us over to Midian.”

But God faced him directly: “Go in this strength that is yours. Save Israel from Midian. Haven’t I just sent you?” Gideon said to him, “Me, my master? How and with what could I ever save Israel? Look at me. My clan’s the weakest in Manasseh and I’m the runt of the litter.”  God said to him, “I’ll be with you. Believe me, you’ll defeat Midian as one man.”  Gideon said, “If you’re serious about this, do me a favor: Give me a sign to back up what you’re telling me. Don’t leave until I come back and bring you my gift.” God said, “I’ll wait till you get back.”...

That night this happened. God said to him, “Take your father’s best seven-year-old bull, the prime one. Tear down your father’s Baal altar and chop down the Asherah fertility pole beside it. Then build an altar to God, your God, on the top of this hill. Take the prime bull and present it as a Whole-Burnt-Offering, using firewood from the Asherah pole that you cut down.”...

The men of the town demanded of Joash: “Bring out your son! He must die! Why, he tore down the Baal altar and chopped down the Asherah tree!”  But Joash stood up to the crowd pressing in on him, “Are you going to fight Baal’s battles for him? Are you going to save him? Anyone who takes Baal’s side will be dead by morning. If Baal is a god in fact, let him fight his own battles and defend his own altar.”

All the Midianites and Amalekites (the easterners) got together, crossed the river, and made camp in the Valley of Jezreel. God’s Spirit came over Gideon. He blew his ram’s horn trumpet and the Abiezrites came out, ready to follow him. He dispatched messengers all through Manasseh, calling them to the battle; also to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. They all came.

Gideon said to God, “If this is right, if you are using me to save Israel as you’ve said, then look: I’m placing a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If dew is on the fleece only, but the floor is dry, then I know that you will use me to save Israel, as you said.”  That’s what happened.... 

Then Gideon said to God, “Don’t be impatient with me, but let me say one more thing. I want to try another time with the fleece. But this time let the fleece stay dry, while the dew drenches the ground.”  God made it happen that very night. Only the fleece was dry while the ground was wet with dew.

Mark 7
The Pharisees, along with some religion scholars who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around Jesus.  They noticed that some of his disciples weren’t being careful with ritual washings before meals...They asked Jesus why his disciples flout the rules.  Jesus answered, “Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull’s eye in fact:  “These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it.  They act like they are worshipping me, but they don’t mean it.  They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy, ditching God’s command and taking up the latest fads.”

Jesus called the crowd together again and said, “Listen now, all of you--take this to heart.  It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life;  it’s what you vomit--that’s the real pollution.”  The disciples didn’t understand what he was trying to say so he responded, “Are you being willfully stupid?  Don’t you see that what you swallow can’t contaminate you?  It doesn’t enter your heart but your stomach, works its way through the intestines and is finally flushed out (therefore all foods are fit to eat)...It’s what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness--all these vomit from the heart.  There is the source of your pollution.  

From there, Jesus set out for the vicinity of Tyre.  He entered a house there where he didn’t think he would be found, but he couldn’t escape notice.  He was barely inside when a woman who had a disturbed daughter heard where he was.  She came and knelt at this feet, begging for help.  The woman was Greek.  She asked him to cure her daughter.  Jesus said, “Stand in line and take your turn.  The children get fed first.  If there is any left over, the dog gets it.”  The woman said, “Of course, Master.  But don’t dogs under the table get scraps dropped by the children?”  Jesus was impressed, “You’re right!  On your way!  Your daughter is no longer disturbed...

Then he left the region of Tyre...and over to the district of the Ten Towns.  Some people brought a man who could neither hear nor speak and asked Jesus to lay a healing hand on him...Jesus looked up in prayer, groaned mightily and commanded, “Ephphatha!---Open up!”  And it happened.  The man’s hearing was clear and his speech plain---just like that.  Jesus urged him to keep it quiet, but they talked it up all the more, beside themselves with excitement.