March 29, 2016

Judges 7-9 -
 ...God said to Gideon, “You have too large an army with you. I can’t turn Midian over to them like this—they’ll take all the credit, saying, ‘I did it all myself,’ and forget about me. Make a public announcement: ‘Anyone afraid, anyone who has any qualms at all, may leave Mount Gilead now and go home.’” Twenty-two companies headed for home. Ten companies were left.

God said to Gideon: “There are still too many. Take them down to the stream and I’ll make a final cut.. 

God said to Gideon: “Everyone who laps with his tongue, the way a dog laps, set on one side. And everyone who kneels to drink, drinking with his face to the water, set to the other side.” Three hundred lapped with their tongues from their cupped hands. All the rest knelt to drink.  God said to Gideon: “I’ll use the three hundred men who lapped at the stream to save you and give Midian into your hands. All the rest may go home.”...

That night, God told Gideon: “Get up and go down to the camp. I’ve given it to you. If you have any doubts about going down, go down with Purah your armor bearer; when you hear what they’re saying, you’ll be bold and confident.” He and his armor bearer Purah went down near the place where sentries were posted.... Gideon arrived just in time to hear a man tell his friend a dream... When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he went to his knees before God in prayer. Then he went back to the Israelite camp and said, “Get up and get going! God has just given us the Midianite army!”

He divided the three hundred men into three companies. He gave each man a trumpet and an empty jar, with a torch in the jar. He said, “Watch me and do what I do. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly what I do. When I and those with me blow the trumpets, you also, all around the camp, blow your trumpets and shout, ‘For God and for Gideon!’”...

The whole Midianite camp jumped to its feet. They yelled and fled. When the three hundred blew the trumpets, God aimed each Midianite’s sword against his companion, all over the camp. They ran for their lives—to Beth Shittah, toward Zererah, to the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath...

Gideon and his three hundred arrived at the Jordan and crossed over. They were bone-tired but still pressing the pursuit. He asked the men of Succoth, “Please, give me some loaves of bread for my troops I have with me. They’re worn out, and I’m hot on the trail of Zebah and Zalmunna, the Midianite kings.”  But the leaders in Succoth said, “You’re on a wild goose chase; why should we help you on a fool’s errand?”  Gideon said, “If you say so. But when God gives me Zebah and Zalmunna, I’ll give you a thrashing, whip your bare flesh with desert thorns and thistles!”...

Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with an army of about fifteen companies, all that was left of the fighting force of the easterners—they had lost 120 companies of soldiers... Zebah and Zalmunna fled, but he chased and captured the two kings of Midian. The whole camp had panicked.  Gideon son of Joash... He captured a young man from Succoth and asked some questions. The young man wrote down the names of the officials and leaders of Succoth, seventy-seven men...Then he took the seventy-seven leaders of Succoth and thrashed them with desert thorns and thistles. And he demolished the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the city.

He then addressed Zebah and Zalmunna: “Tell me about the men you killed at Tabor.” “They were men much like you,” they said, “each one like a king’s son.”  Gideon said, “They were my brothers, my mother’s sons. As God lives, if you had let them live, I would let you live.”  Then he spoke to Jether, his firstborn: “Get up and kill them.” But he couldn’t do it, couldn’t draw his sword. He was afraid—he was still just a boy.   Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Do it yourself—if you’re man enough!” And Gideon did it. He stepped up and killed Zebah and Zalmunna.... 

The Israelites said, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson... Gideon said, “I most certainly will not rule over you, nor will my son. God will reign over you.” Then Gideon said, “But I do have one request. Give me, each of you, an earring that you took as plunder.” Ishmaelites wore gold earrings, and the men all had their pockets full of them...
The gold earrings that Gideon had asked for weighed about forty-three pounds— Gideon made the gold into a sacred ephod and put it on display in his hometown, Ophrah... The land was quiet for forty years in Gideon’s time.

Jerub-Baal son of Joash went home and lived in his house. Gideon had seventy sons. He fathered them all—he had a lot of wives! His concubine, the one at Shechem, also bore him a son. He named him Abimelech.  Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age... Gideon was hardly cool in the tomb when the People of Israel had gotten off track and were prostituting themselves to Baal—The People of Israel forgot all about God, their God, who had saved them from all their enemies who had hemmed them in. And they didn’t keep faith with the family of Jerub-Baal (Gideon), honoring all the good he had done for Israel.

Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal went to Shechem to his uncles and all his mother’s relatives and said to them, “Ask all the leading men of Shechem, ‘What do you think is best, that seventy men rule you—all those sons of Jerub-Baal—or that one man rule? You’ll remember that I am your own flesh and blood.’” His mother’s relatives reported the proposal to the leaders of Shechem. They were inclined to take Abimelech. “Because,” they said, “he is, after all, one of us.”  They gave him seventy silver pieces from the shrine of Baal-of-the-Covenant. With the money he hired some reckless riffraff soldiers and they followed along after him. He went to his father’s house in Ophrah and killed his half brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal—seventy men! And on one stone! The youngest, Jotham son of Jerub-Baal, managed to hide, the only survivor.

Then all the leaders of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered at the Oak by the Standing Stone at Shechem and crowned Abimelech king.  When this was all told to Jotham, he climbed to the top of Mount Gerizim, raised his voice, and shouted:
Listen to me, leaders of Shechem.  And let God listen to you! The trees set out one day to anoint a king for themselves. They said to Olive Tree, “Rule over us.”But Olive Tree told them,  “Am I no longer good for making oil That gives glory to gods and men, and to be demoted to waving over trees?” The trees then said to Fig Tree, “You come and rule over us.” But Fig Tree said to them, “Am I no longer good for making sweets, My mouthwatering sweet fruits, and to be demoted to waving over trees?” The trees then said to Vine, “You come and rule over us.” But Vine said to them, “Am I no longer good for making wine, Wine that cheers gods and men,  and to be demoted to waving over trees?” All the trees then said to Tumbleweed, “You come and reign over us.” But Tumbleweed said to the trees: “If you’re serious about making me your king, Come and find shelter in my shade. But if not, let fire shoot from Tumbleweed and burn down the cedars of Lebanon!”

“Now listen: Do you think you did a right and honorable thing when you made Abimelech king? Do you think you treated Jerub-Baal and his family well, did for him what he deserved? My father fought for you, risked his own life, and rescued you from Midian’s tyranny, and you have, just now, betrayed him.... And Jotham fled. He ran for his life. He went to Beer and settled down there, because he was afraid of his brother Abimelech.

Abimelech ruled over Israel for three years. Then God brought bad blood between Abimelech and Shechem’s leaders, who now worked treacherously behind his back. Violence boomeranged: The murderous violence that killed the seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal, was now loose among Abimelech and Shechem’s leaders, who had supported the violence.

At that time Gaal son of Ebed arrived with his relatives and moved into Shechem. The leaders of Shechem trusted him... Gaal son of Ebed said, “Who is this Abimelech? And who are we Shechemites to take orders from him?... Why should we be toadies of Abimelech? If I were in charge of this people, the first thing I’d do is get rid of Abimelech! I’d say, ‘Show me your stuff, Abimelech—let’s see who’s boss here!’”  Zebul, governor of the city, heard what Gaal son of Ebed was saying and got angry. Secretly he sent messengers to Abimelech with the message,... Abimelech and his troops, four companies of them, went up that night and waited in ambush approaching Shechem. 

Gaal son of Ebed had gotten up and was standing in the city gate. Abimelech and his troops left their cover. When Gaal saw them he said to Zebul, “Look at that, people coming down from the tops of the mountains!  Zebul said, “That’s nothing but mountain shadows; they just look like men.” Gaal kept chattering away.  Then he said again, “Look at the troops coming down off Tabbur-erez (the Navel of the World)—and one company coming straight from the Oracle Oak.” Zebul said, “Where is that big mouth of yours now? You who said, ‘And who is Abimelech that we should take orders from him?’ Well, there he is with the troops you ridiculed. Here’s your chance. Fight away!”

Gaal went out, backed by the leaders of Shechem, and did battle with Abimelech. Abimelech chased him, and Gaal turned tail and ran. Many fell wounded, right up to the city gate... Abimelech went on to Thebez. He camped at Thebez and captured it. The Tower-of-Strength stood in the middle of the city; all the men and women of the city along with the city’s leaders had fled there and locked themselves in. They were up on the tower roof. Abimelech got as far as the tower and assaulted it. He came up to the tower door to set it on fire. Just then some woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and crushed his skull. He called urgently to his young armor bearer and said, “Draw your sword and kill me so they can’t say of me, ‘A woman killed him.’” His armor bearer drove in his sword, and Abimelech died.

God avenged the evil Abimelech had done to his father, murdering his seventy brothers. And God brought down on the heads of the men of Shechem all the evil that they had done, the curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal.

Mark 8:1 - 9:1 - 
At about this time, he again found himself with a hungry crowd on his hands.  He called his disciples together and said, “this crowd is breaking my heart.  They have stuck with me for three days and now they have nothing to eat...”  The disciples responded, “What do you expect us to do about it?”  With the 7 loaves that were left, he broke them into pieces...he pronounced a blessing...7 sacks of leftovers were collected after 4,000 were fed before he sent them home.

He and his disciples set out by boat to Dalmanoutha.  When they arrived, the Pharisees came out and started in on him, badgering him to prove himself, pushing him up against the wall.  Provoked, he said, “Why does this generation clamor for miraculous guarantees?  If I have anything to say about it, you’ll not get so much as a hint of a guarantee.”

Jesus then left the Pharisees, got back in the boat and headed for the other side.  But the disciples forgot to pack a lunch.  Except for a single loaf of bread, there wasn’t a crumb of food in the boat....the disciples were finding fault with each other because they had forgotten to bring bread.  Jesus overheard them and said, “ Why are you fussing because you forgot bread?  Don’t you see the point of all this?  Don’t you get it at all?  Remember the 5 loaves for the 5,000 and we had 12 baskets left over, and the 7 loaves for the 4,000 and we had 7 bags left over?  Do you still not get it?

They arrived at Bethsaida at which time some people brought a sightless man and begged Jesus to heal him...Jesus healed him then sent him straight home, telling him, “Don’t enter the village.”

Jesus and his disciples headed out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi.  As they walked, he asked his disciples, “Who do the people say I am?”  John the Baptizer, Elijah, one of the prophets.... Then Jesus asked, “And you--what are you saying about me, who I am?”  Peter gave the answer, “You are the Christ, the Messiah.”  Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone since “it is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders..., be killed and after three days rise up alive.”  He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it.  But Peter grabbed him in protest.  Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter.  “Peter, get out of my way!  Satan get lost!  You have no idea how God works.”

Calling the crowds to join his disciples, Jesus said, “Anyone who intends to come with me had to let me lead.  You’re not in the driver’s seat;  I am.  Don’t run from suffering;  embrace it.  Embrace it and I will show you how.  Self-help is no help at all.  Self-sacrifice is the way, my way to saving yourself, your true self.  What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?  What could you ever trade your soul for?

If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I am leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you’ll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.”