Synopsis Judges 7:2-8 6/17/2018
God paired down the army that Gideon had assembled. He did not want the men of Israel to wrongly conclude that the coming victory was due to their own power, but instead He wanted them to understand it was the power of God working through them.
So God had Gideon send away anyone who was fearful. He then performed a test by having Gideon lead the men to water. He then observed how they drank. The men were separated into two groups: those who drank like dogs, and those who didn’t. Through this, three-hundred were chosen to remain for the assault on Midian. There were three-hundred chosen from over thirty-two thousand men who initially showed up.
Lapping Like Dogs
There are lots of theories about the distinction between those men who lapped liked dogs and those who didn’t. Perhaps a caution on not reading too much into the story. For example, it’s specifically not clear from the story that anyone was more or less righteous because of the way they drank water. It’s also not clear that someone who drinks water in a certain way is more likely to be a better warrior than someone who drinks water another way.
So what’s going on?
It’s tempting to think that the story can be read in a way that gives insight into a universal principle of human nature. I sometimes want to believe that a single point of reference like “water drinking” can give some deep insight into the soul of another person. It’s like I want to believe that “drinks water from a river like a dog” is one of the top three ways for a leader to know that his soldiers will follow him. But knowing another person doesn’t really work like that.
In fact, for this example, it could be a statistically valid fact that only 1 in 100 human beings happen to drink water from a river by lapping like a dog. So, God may have chosen this test simply as a convenient way to reduce the number of men – which was his stated purpose in conducting the test in the first place. It didn’t necessarily make the men who remained more suitable for the fight.
So the behavioral quirkiness of drinking water from a river like a dog might not signal anything more than a somewhat arbitrary personal mark (like a birthmark) that happens to be common in 1 in 100 people.
The Meaning of Quirks
For most human purposes, a well-established reputation is far more important than some arbitrary personal mark.
Hence that old expression, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
“So, by their fruits you will know them” Matt 7:20
Synopsis Judges 6:32-7:1 6/16/2018
Gideon was renamed Jerubbaal because he had dismantled his father’s altar. And the spirit of God was evident on Gideon by those who knew him.
Gideon began to form an army from the northern tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali. Then Gideon asked God for a sign to ensure that God was with him. He lay a piece of wool fleece on the ground and asked God to make the dew fall on the wool fleece but not on the ground, which God did. He then asked that the dew fall on the ground but not on the wool fleece, and God did this also.
The next day, Gideon moved his army into position.
Testing of the Fleece
Gideon was past the point of demanding a sign in order to believe. Yet he felt the weight of responsibility for the thousands of men who were miraculously willing to follow him. He didn’t want to risk making a mistake in his understanding of God’s command.
Testing of Your Life
There is a difference between testing God, as though He should prove himself to me and testing God to verify that I am rightly responding to His will. There is no sin in asking for clarity if the disposition of your heart is to obey.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, That there may be food in my house. Put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, And see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven for you, and pour down upon you blessing without measure!” Mal 3:10
Synopsis Judges 6:22-31 6/15/2018
Gideon became fearful after the encounter with the angel, thinking that seeing an angel face to face might be a harbinger of his imminent death. God assured him that he was safe. He gave Gideon specific instructions on his first mission, which was to destroy the idols in his father’s house.
He destroyed his father’s idols in the night, when he could not be easily observed. The desecration brought an uproar to the village. Upon discovery that Gideon was the culprit in destroying the idols, the villagers demanded his death for offending the so-called gods. However, Gideon’s father Joash protected Gideon from the wrath of the clan. Joash famously said, “If he [Baal] is god, let him act for himself”.
Joash Recognized God in Gideon’s Actions
When someone is following God there is a discernable difference about their behavior. They are motivated with a surety that is beyond confidence. In this angelic visitation, Gideon had seen into a world that most people only ever speculate about.
Joash recognized that something had changed for Gideon and that it had to do with God. He deferred the wrath of the people by pointing out that if Baal were truly a divine, then he wouldn’t need people to defend him.
Don’t Want to Find Yourself Fighting Against God
It was similar in the time after Jesus’ ascension. His disciples had experienced the realm of the unseen. They had been filled with the Holy Spirit. And so they preached, proclaimed and healed fearlessly. At one point, the Sanhedrin debated how to respond to the growing movement of Christ followers.
A wise member pointed out to the other members of the council that persecuting the disciples would do not good. If God was not with them, the movement would die out. But if God was with them, then the council might actually find itself resisting God’s plans and purposes.
It’s so easy for me to think my understanding of God is all there is – that is, of course, why it’s my understanding God. It’s limited.
But the thing I can’t know is how limited. It’s a dangerous thing to think I have a hammerlock on the truth. It’s a new day. I need to leave room for God to show me a little bit more today and each morrow.
“But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” Act 5:39
Synopsis Judges 6:13-21 6/14/2018
An angel of the Lord visited Gideon. As they conversed, Gideon questioned the angel concerning God’s desire for Israel in the light of the Midianite oppression.
God responded through the angel by tasking Gideon to save the Israelite nation. God’s angel didn’t answer the question. Instead, he just gave an outrageous command. Gideon was incredulous and wondered how he, of all people, could do this because he considered himself insignificant. But God committed to being with Gideon and empowering him to succeed.
Gideon responded that he wanted a sign and then offered a sacrifice meal. He delivered the meal to the angel. The offering was consumed by a mysterious fire and then the messenger disappeared. And Gideon believed.
Entitlement and Wrong Expectations
Gideon was dubious with the angel of the Lord. He was aware of Israel’s history. But he couldn’t reconcile how the God who had saved Israel out of the slavery of Egypt would turn-around and allow the Midianites to oppress them.
In the end, Gideon was incapable of correctly interpreting his circumstances. He felt that God had let the people down and he doubted God’s intentions. Only when he began to see things from God’s perspective did his understanding and confidence grow.
Every Man’s Way is Right In His Own Eyes
How many times have I found myself muddling through – just getting by. My tendency is to think that things should be easier than the way they often work out. But, it rarely occurs to me to think that maybe something I’m doing could be contributing to my challenges.
I’m not really aware that I’ve done anything wrong so I’m generally pretty confident that I am right. And if I haven’t done anything explicitly wrong, then the problem is clearly someone else’s. So, when things get tough it’s easy for me to cast blame on whoever seems a likely candidate. Then it’s almost natural to slip into the comfortable role of victim.
The breakout from this pattern of thinking comes when I drop my own desires and my own agenda and look at the situation from God’s perspective. He’s sovereign God; the master of each and every situation. And all of the sudden, my experience of value changes and the motivation follows suite. Suddenly I no longer ask, “What’s in it for me”, and begin to say,
“I think God wants me to respond to what’s given in this way”
He said to them in reply, “[In the evening you say, ‘Tomorrow will be fair, for the sky is red’; and, in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times.] Matt 16:2-3
Synopsis Judges 6:2-12 6/13/2018
Peace reigned for forty years after Deborah and Barak’s defeat of the Canaanites. However, Israel once again relapsed into idol worship. As a result, the Israelites gained a new enemy. This time Midian, Amalek and the Kedemites made an alliance to destroy Israel. Their plan was to come up into the mountains each summer in force and attack Israel after the planting. They systematically destroyed the crops. So, the Israelites were stuck in a cycle of crushing poverty. Their oppression extended from northern Israel all the way south to Gaza.
Israel cried out to the Lord God.
In the midst of this misery, God sent an angel to call Gideon, a man from the tribe of Manasseh, to save Israel. The angel spoke to Gideon assuring him that God was with him. The angel called Gideon a “mighty warrior” even though he was hiding in a winepress.
The Total War of Midian
The Midianites weren’t interested in tribute. And unlike previous oppressors, they weren’t interested in co-existence. The Midianites and their allies had woken up and rightly recognized that Israel was an existential threat. Israel’s presence in the Promised Land combined with God’s mandate that they drive out all other peoples and cultures and especially false gods, meant a fight to the death.
This Is a Fight to the Death
So, I want to enter into the possibility of my life. But I don’t want to die – I don’t want anything to change. I want it both ways. On the one hand, I want to do whatever I will. And on the other hand, I want to explode onto the scene in God’s purpose and power for my life.
The Israelites wanted to get along with their neighbors because fighting is hard and dangerous. But avoiding death never really works out. The apostle said, “Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:11)
It takes courage and commitment and absolute faith to be willing to die – and then to rise again. To live a resurrected life. To live an eternal life. To flow in the Holy Spirit of God.
“The Lord is with you, you might warrior!” Judges 6:12
Synopsis Judges 5:21-6:1 6/12/2018
Deborah’s song concluded with a curse against those who refused to help the Israelite effort. The final section was a reflection on the role of women in the narrative.
The song celebrated Jael’s glory. She was a woman who recognized the situation for its potential and acted in accord with what she could see God doing. She worked in harmony with the very forces of nature to complete the defeat of the Canaanite general, Sisera.
Finally, Deborah contrasted Jael’s glory with the anxiety and grief of Sisera’s mother, who waited helplessly at her home for his return.
Celebrating the Power of Woman
The scriptures are full of remarkable women who radically shaped the world in which they lived. As long as she lived, Sarah was a full and exclusive partner to Abraham. Rachel and Leah were placed in the most impossible circumstances imaginable by their own father. And yet their children formed the first authentic community in history.
Through her wisdom and courage, Tamar was the principle instrument that God used to bring Judah to an awareness of his own sin and need for repentance. Miriam saved her brother Moses as a little girl. Though she knew her own moral failures, she supported Moses in his most desperate hours. These were just some of the ancient heroes.
And Deborah, who took her place in the line of faithful women, shaped the circumstances of her age. She was the arbiter of God’s voice to the Chosen People. She was courageous and wise and through her life, pointed to the unique contribution that only women can play in a successful culture.
Entering Into the Possibility of Your Life
All the things your life might be – all the things your life will be. You are capable of so much and you will achieve so much. We rightly talk about gender complementarity but the deeper issue for you, is just you.
Who you are in Christ. Your essence. Your purpose. Your possibility.
And like everyone else, though perhaps in a different way, the greatest hope for all that God intends for you is this choice that only you can make. The choice to enter, or not, into your freedom.
“And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:28
Synopsis Judges 5:9-20 6/11/2018
Deborah’s Song continued. These verses celebrated the Israelite leadership and the valiant men from Issachar and Zebulun who fought against the Canaanites. Her song also challenged the Reubenites for their refusal to fight.
The song pointed out the way nature worked in harmony with Israel’s battle plan. The “stars fought” against Sisera and the Canaanite army.
Cosmological Battle for the Chosen People
The verses of the song revealed the cosmological underpinnings of the battle. All of nature, it seemed, worked on behalf of the Israelite’s success. This battle that was playing out on Mount Tabor and in the Jezreel Valley. But for the prophetess Deborah, what was happening reflected a larger battle between good and evil that transcended the earthly reality of combat.
For her, the victory was also foretold. It was predestined like the motion of the stars.
You Have Been Predestined For Glory
You are predestined for glory! If you’re in relationship with God, you can count on this.
But it’s more than that – what we really mean is: you can’t lose. Let’s face it, people are forever saying they want to be successful and yet they struggle. They have goals and aspirations. Careers, hobbies, relationships. Some achieve, some don’t. But with God, if you’re committed, you can’t lose. Christ followership is the most certain path to success anyone could hope for.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t fail at life. A single act of contrition a half-century before you pass out of life isn’t entering into the plan. It isn’t entering into the relationship. It isn’t following.
Barak nearly missed his opportunity. If Deborah had been easily offended, the story might read entirely different. Someone else would have had to lead the Israelites against Canaan. The victory was assured. But Barak still had to enter into his destiny.
I still have to enter into my destiny.
The most serious thing anyone could ever hope to achieve is relationship with God. It’s promised. So, if I try then I can’t fail.
So I’ll commit – I will serve the Lord.
“For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” Rom 8:29
Synopsis Judges 4:21-5:8 6/10/2108
Jael killed Sisera with a tent peg and a mallet. When Barak came to the tent looking for information concerning Sisera, Jael showed him Sisera’s dead body.
Deborah sang a song to the Lord concerning the Israelite victory over the Canaanites. In it, she recounted how the rain had flooded the roads making the chariots worthless. The song also mentioned how the Israelites had won the battle even though none of the soldiers kept actual weapons.
Professional Army versus God’s Guerillas
The professional army of the Canaanites, who dominated the lowlands, was defeated by an Israelite army made of mountain people who lacked basic military equipment and weapons. The victory was facilitated through flooding rains that appear to have swept away resources and bogged down the chariots in mud – rendering them a useless liability.
In the time of Joshua, God specifically forbade the Israelites from keeping captured military hardware – especially chariots. He seemed less interested in the Israelite’s military prowess and more interested in their capacity for faith.
Trusting God Before the Battle
We live in a world where power projection is a basic strategic capacity. A nation that cannot project power upon other nations, has the terms of more powerful nations imposed on it. This is the basic premise of most foreign policy. This is the universal fear of most nations.
In America, this translates into a huge commitment of resources to maintain a large standing military with the most technologically advanced weapons systems in the world. I don’t think most Americans don’t really like spending so much money on the military. But the fear is that if we don’t then we, and our allies, will be exploited by other nations. The hundred years old motto of Teddy Roosevelt still resounds; “Speak softly but carry a big stick.” Which is, of course, another way of saying, “I trust the stick”. That’s what a professional army does for a ruler.
But God calls me to total vulnerability. He calls me to remain weak and unpolished and even, somewhat unprepared – at least in the ways of defending my faith. He wants to show me a vast and powerful army swept away in a flood that only He could do.
But I can’t have it both ways. I can’t desire to be in control and insist on forcing my own agenda and simultaneously anticipate the wonders that only He can do. I have to choose.
Trusting and knowing that God’s power is made perfect in weakness, the Way of Givenness is a willingness to receive what has been given.
“For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.” Luke 12:12
Synopsis Judges 4:11-20 6/9/2018
Heber the Kenite was a descendent of Moses’ father-in-law. Coincidently, he and his wife Jael lived in tents in the northern part of Israel.
Israel was oppressed by Jabin and his general, Sisera. Barak and Deborah were Israelite leaders working in northern Israel to form an army of men from the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. They attacked Sisera at Mount Tabor. Despite the Canaanites having over 900 iron chariots, the Israelite army routed them. In order to save himself from the defeat, Jabin abandoned his chariot and ran on foot.
He approached Heber’s tent seeking protection from Jael. She gave him milk to drink and he fell asleep.
Sisera and a Hiding Place
Exhausted from battle, Sisera asked for water. But Jael gave him milk. Jael didn’t know that milk contains tryptophan, but she did know that milk soothes babies to sleep. She wanted him to sleep. And he was too exhausted to refuse the milk.
And so, Sisera went to sleep.
Exhaustion, Stress and Sleep
That’s the moment of greatest vulnerability – when I’m tired. My thinking isn’t as clear. My concern for the potential of danger is less acute. It’s then that, all of the sudden, I’m presented with a temptation.
Not doing something you know is wrong requires mental effort. This is more than a personal observation, it’s a scientific fact. Reflective thought takes a remarkable amount of energy that is distributed through discreet regions of the brain. And exhaustion, stress, and certain chemicals like alcohol, depress the functioning of those regions.
So, sleep when it’s time to sleep. When you wake, pray and stay awake.
“What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” Mark 13:35
Synopsis Judges 3:31-4:10 6/7/2018
After Ehud, Shamgar judged Israel. This man slew 600 Philistines with an oxgoad (cattle prod). But the Israelites again failed the covenant. So God brought the Canaanite king Jabin. Like other foreign kings, Jabin oppressed Israel.
A prophetess named Deborah, from Ephraim, received a word from the Lord. She summoned a man named Barak from northern Israel, from the tribe of Naphtali. Deborah instructed Barak to raise and army of 10,000 men from Naphtali and Zebulun and attack Jabin.
Barak’s Response to Deborah
Curiously Barak responded, “If you come with me, I’ll go [attack Jabin’s army].” It seems like Barak wasn’t afraid of the fight. But he received Deborah’s words with caution. His concern was that her prophecy was suspect. His response was reasoned. He probably thought something like; “It’s easy enough to say what someone else should do. But she has no skin in the outcome. She won’t come unless she believes her prophecy truly is the word of God.” Thus the demand that she accompany the army.
Deborah readily agreed to come with the army. But because of his response, she further prophesied that Barak’s glory would be eclipsed by that of a woman. Because he doubted and only reluctantly accepted her prophecy, he tarnished the glory of his military achievement.
In the absence of knowing God’s voice as it had been spoken through Deborah, Barak did the only thing he could have done; he used his reason. There was nothing wrong with that. And his reason served him well – even in this circumstance. But Deborah’s challenge implies he could have done better. He could have recognized God’s voice in the words she spoke to him.
Thinking and Knowing God’s Voice
It’s possible to know God’s voice. That’s a tenant of our tradition. Francis of Assisi heard in a new way certain words spoken in the midst of the daily mass readings. Somehow, he recognized that God was speaking to him, personally, through those words. And it changed everything for him.
So, fearful as I am, I can likewise make myself available to hear God speak into my life. Probably it starts with prayer. But it ends with listening.
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27