Synopsis Judges 3:19-30 6/7/2018
Ehud was a respected Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin. The Moabites had allied with the Amorites and subjugated Israel after having gained control of the area around Jericho and Gilgal. Part of this subjugation was that Israel had to pay a certain amount of money every year to Eglon. They used to call this “tribute”.
Ehud determined to end the reign of Eglon and the subjugation of Israel. He had a two-edged dagger made and hid it on his body. After having paid the annual tribute payment, he deceived the king into a private audience and assassinated him there.
The Determination of Ehud
Ehud didn’t make the decision to kill Eglon simply because he hated his tyranny. Paying the annual tribute was killing average Israelites.
So, Ehud determined to act. The sense is that he probably didn’t tell his plans to any of the other Israelites who were helping to deliver the annual tribute payment for fear of being tipped off. His mission was singular. He knew king Eglon could not resist hearing a private message from God. Ehud knew that every ancient king lived in perpetual anxiety that some rival might plan assassination. With his left-handedness, he took advantage of the knowledge that the king could not have known.
The Lesson of Ehud
There’s that well-worn but ever spoken question; “What do you want to do when you grow up?” If you’re fortunate to know, really know what you want from life, it’s no problem. But if it’s ever unclear, the question is just a reminder that you’re not sure. Maybe the extent of an average ambition is no more that to get along from day-to-day. Maybe it’s a matter of admitting a mistake – “I should have done something else”.
But when a person encounters something that is intuitively valuable everything changes. It’s no longer even a question of ambition. It’s a matter of what must be. Or maybe a better way of saying it is: Realizing what already is.
Knowing my purpose puts everything else in clearer perspective. Acting on what I know and intuitively value makes anything possible.
“Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will act. And make your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like noonday” Psa 37:5-6
Synopsis Judges 3:7-18 6/5/2018
The children of Israel served the Baals and Ashterahs. God allowed Cushan-rishathaim, king of Naharaim to rule over the Israelites for eight years. Then, after the Israel cried out to the Lord, He raised up Othniel to lead Israel. Othniel led the Israelites to victory and there was peace for forty years.
Then the Israelites again forgot the Lord and worshipped other gods. God allowed Eglon, king of Moab to rule over Israel for eighteen years.
Othniel the Nephew of Caleb
This Othniel was the same as the one who captured Kiriath-sephar and won Caleb’s daughter Achsah as his bride.
Falling Asleep to Reality
Eighteen years seems like a long time to struggle under the tyranny of a foreign ruler. As an American, it’s a little hard to imagine how the resistance under Othniel took so long to form.
But a little life experience tells me that eighteen years isn’t that long for a community to remain asleep. Smart as I like to think I am, it sometimes takes a while for me to make the connection between my behavior and my outcomes.
Paying attention means measuring performance. Even if that means no more than a daily examination of conscience, build processes that make cause and effect more obvious.
“All the sentinels of Israel are blind, they are without knowledge; They are all mute dogs, unable to bark; Dreaming, reclining, loving their sleep.” Isa 56:10
Synopsis Judges 2:19-3:6 6/4/2018
The pattern of behavior for the Israelites was to repent in the time of a righteous judge, but to fall away from God after the righteous judge died.
The author notes that God left the peoples of Canaan in place for two reasons. First, because the Israelites consistently broke faith with God in violating the covenant. Second, having a remnant of the nations remain in the land caused subsequent Israelite generations to learn warfare. Both of these constituted a “testing”. So, even after the initial conquest of the Promised Land, there remained a remnant of Philistines, Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
The author also observed how the Israelites began to give their daughters in marriage to the young men of the nations they were meant to displace. And vice versa, they began taking the daughters of those people as wives for their sons.
The Permanent Unholy
There’s that expression that people like to say: You don’t just marry a woman, you marry her entire family. The same is true, of course, for women – they end up marrying the family of their partner.
This was the problem identified in scripture. The giving and taking of daughters in marriage brought the Israelites exposure to the very system of gods that destined the Canaanites to destruction.
It’s not solely about marriage, it’s about becoming entangled in a culture that is at odds with God’s core values. We live in a plural culture that embraces a panoply of fraudulent values. When I accept the notion that truth is relative, I have tied myself to something that can’t work in an authentic community. Or when I accept that good and right are merely a matter of personal preference, I have married myself to an idea that limits the potential that God built into my life.
There is Creation. There is a God of Creation. The God of Creation is Purposeful. I have Purpose. I have Potential. I will live out my Potential or fail.
Synopsis Judges 2:9-18 6/3/2018
After Joshua’s generation completely died out, the next generation arose. They didn’t really know God first-hand. This generation began to serve the false gods of the Canaanites.
God was provoked by their faithlessness. As a result, the Israelites began to lose power. They often ended up actually under the power of the nations they were supposed to have displaced.
In their distress, the Israelites were in the habit of crying out to the one true God, who would send judges. God was with the judges and protected Israel through the time of each judge.
Send Someone to Help Me
Really this was the pattern dating back from the time of the Patriarchs. Abraham followed God to Canaan. But once a famine came, he went to Egypt. It was there, in the midst of trouble that he cried out to God for rescue. Jacob likewise lived his life without much concern for God’s will, but he cried out to God when he needed rescue from Esau, the brother he had wronged. And the sons of Israel entered Egypt once again to avoid the ravages of famine in Canaan. And many centuries later, when they cried out from the enslavement of Egypt, God sent Moses and salvation.
When Am I Going to Cry Out?
All this crying out in distress – is it a sign of weakness or indolence? I mean, each one of these ancient people made their own situation through their own decisions – that were usually contrary to what they knew God wanted. Basically the stories all read the same. A person gets to the point that they can’t manage things on their own. In the midst of their trouble, they say, “Jesus take the wheel”. And even though no one would say any of them actually deserved His help, He was faithful.
And that’s me. Too often I make decisions without considering God’s view on a matter – especially what He values. Then, things don’t work out the way I wanted them too. In the midst of my trouble I say, “Lord save me!” And though no one who knows me would say that I deserve God’s help, yet He saves me anyway.
That’s His love for me. That’s His love for you.
“In my distress I called out: LORD! I cried out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry to him reached his ears.” Psa 18:6
Synopsis Judges 1:32- 2:8 6/2/2018
In the time of the judges, the situation on the ground for much of Israel was indeterminate. The tribes had not been able to take-over certain regions of the Promised Land. And as a rule, they were more successful in taking possession of the mountain regions. But they seemed to consistently struggle to displace the people on the plains. This had to do with differences in technology – especially their iron chariots. On the plains the chariot was a devastating military force. But these were much less effective in rough, mountainous territory.
So, living with their adversaries became a new norm. But the Israelites were reminded by God not to make a covenant with the peoples they were not yet able to force out.
The Mountain People
It was easier for the Israelite army to take the highlands and the mountains than it was on the plains. In the mountains, traditional mass warfare and military technology mattered less than communal relationships, endurance and agility.
The mountains are for guerilla fighters.
Never Fear to Be a Contradiction
Everything about Christian faith is counter-intuitive. A crucifix as a symbol of peace and hope. A constitutional willingness to be misunderstood and maligned. A determination to love in the face of hatred.
What of this could attract a convert? It is a marketer’s nightmare. It makes me think; what post-modern person really wants this? Or, who could sell the life of a Christian? Who could persuade someone to live the Way of Givenness? Who wants to be a part of Authentic Community?
And yet here they come. Up to the mountains. Up where there is authentic relationship. Up where there is a transcendent power. Up where the fight for meaning and significance isn’t selfish.
Up to inquire. Willing to give up the fine clothes and sumptuous food. Deciding against the chase for wealth and power and pride. Seeking something to believe in.
That was atheist me thirty years ago. I wasn’t the last to inquire.
“This God who girded me with might, kept my way unerring, Who made my feet like a deer’s, and set me on the heights, Who trained my hands for war, my arms to string a bow of bronze” Psa 18:33-35
Synopsis Judges 1:19-31 6/1/2018
The tribes of Judah and Simeon combined forces and were successful in expanding the conquest in the south. Benjamin settled with the Jebusites in Jerusalem.
Manasseh and Ephraim went against Bethel. They sent a spy ahead to reconnoiter the city. As had been done with Rahab at Jericho, a local man was offered refuge if he would assist Israel in gaining access to the city. The “house of Joseph” was successful in capturing the city.
However, there were many other cities where the Israelites were incapable of displacing the people who lived in the land. As a result, they began living with the nations that they could not displace.
The challenge was in the unfinished conquest. Numerous cities throughout the Promised Land had been captured and populated. But not all of the cities. The scripture doesn’t really say why the Israelites didn’t force the Canaanites out, only that they didn’t.
The Things I have Left Undone
It’s a reminder. The things I intended to do but didn’t finish – haven’t finished. I had a plan. I took initiative. I risked for the reward. I stepped out in faith.
But I didn’t finish.
Something came up. All sorts of things showed up. Seven children in 9 years. I stopped thinking about goals. We found a groove where we could keep everything together and we held on to that. And that became our new norm. And we forgot that we had dreams and goals. And we forget that we had a purpose and mission.
But maybe we didn’t forget. Maybe that’s too strong. Maybe we just stopped thinking about it. It slipped out of our consciousness. It slipped out of my consciousness.
But it will come back. I didn’t forget entirely. You haven’t forgotten entirely. But when it does come back, let’s pay attention.
“Oh, that today you would hear his voice, harden not your hearts as at the rebellion in the day of testing in the desert” Heb 3:7
Synopsis Judges 1:7-18 5/31/2018
Adonibezek was a king captured by the warriors from Judah. He maimed his adversaries by amputating their thumbs and big toes. So, in accordance with the law, the Judahites did the same to him.
The tribes of Judah and Simeon joined forces and won multiple victories against the Canaanites.
Thumbs and Toes
Adonibezek was a ruthless and cruel man who maimed his adversaries and then humiliated them by making them scavenging beggars. Presumably the idea was to instill fear in the hearts of any other potential adversaries.
It’s interesting that he recognized a certain justice in being maimed by the Judahites, acknowledging that his punishment was both just and from God.
I am a Fortunate Sinner
OK it’s true – I’ve never actually cut off anyone’s thumbs or toes. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a sinner. The law has shown me that the power of my selfishness is enough to prevent me from entering into the possibility of my life.
I am a sinner.
I have lied. I have cheated. I have stolen. I have done every imaginable sin – and even if I haven’t actually transgressed in my actions, there is no sin common to man that I have not, at least, wanted to commit.
The awareness that I deserve justice is like a strange gift.
I deserve to lose my eyes for all the eyes that I have injured. I deserve to lose my teeth for all the teeth I have smashed. I deserve to lose my thumbs for all the thumbs I have broken. I deserve to lose my life for all the lives I have wrecked or destroyed. The guilt I feel because of my sins overwhelms me with shame.
And this knowledge, unpleasant as it may be, opens up the possibility of salvation. My iniquity drives me to cry out for mercy from the one great judge who has the real power to forgive.
“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth” he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” Mark 2:10
Synopsis Joshua 24:29-Judges 1:6 5/30/2018
Joshua died at the age of 110 years. He was buried in his adopted town of Timnath-serah, in the mountains of Ephraim.
It was noted that the patriarch Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had carried throughout the exodus from Egypt, were finally buried at Shechem. Similarly, the high priest Eleazar died and was buried on the hill that was given to Phinehas, his son.
After Joshua’s death, the Israelites consulted the Lord. Judah was selected to lead the next phase of conquest.
The Loss of a Nation
So how does this feel to the Israelites? As long as they had known God, Joshua had been around. He served at Moses’ right hand. He dwelt at the tent of meeting day and night. He led the army. He took up the mantel when Moses died.
And suddenly he was dead and there is no obvious person to replace him. The grief and the sadness were only eclipsed by the uncertainty of what might happen next.
You’ve Got to Cope
Grief is the emotion that emerges as a result of loss. It is the desire to retain something that has been lost, irretrievably, forever. It’s an eternity-sized frustration. My mind cannot imagine life without the thing that was lost. As a result, I can’t reconcile myself to the loss without feeling the pain of the loss. And I don’t want that pain.
But loss is a natural and unavoidable part of life. As it turns out, a big part of life. Death, divorce, abandonment; I don’t want any of it. Yet it comes nonetheless. And somehow I have to deal with it.
Interestingly, the grief of loss is always a watershed moment – it invariably drives me in one of two directions. I will either seek out things that absolutely endure so the loss can’t affect me again. Or, I will try my hardest to think about something else.
If I decide to try to forget, I end up hiding from the pain that I can’t reconcile. Sometimes I use drugs or alcohol, or libertine indulgence, or I eat far too many cheese puffs or I find some new friends and worship their god – though deep-down I know it is no, true, “God”. Whatever I choose, I’ll find a way to keep the pain at bay for as long as possible. I’ll find a way to cope – but not really cope. I remain affected. I’m afraid. I’m withdrawn. I’m alone in a room of people I call friends. There’s a cup in my hand and a smile on my face yet I’m filled with despair.
But if instead of hiding I look for things that cannot be taken away, I find only one real answer: The God of all creation. I can never lose Him, and I will never be lost by Him. My all-in-all.
“one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” Eph 4:6
Synopsis Joshua 24:16-28 5/29/2018
The people were in a dialogue with Joshua. He had invited the Israelite leadership to Shechem for a final audience before his impending death. In the course of this conversation, the Israelites asserted their commitment and determination to serve the Lord.
Joshua questioned whether or not they could actually serve the Lord because of their persistent tendency to seek foreign gods. The people insisted they could and would serve the Lord.
With this, Joshua made a covenant with the people before sending them away.
You May Not Be Able to Serve the Lord
It’s kind of strange thing to say: “You may not be able to serve the Lord.” Why would Joshua question the Israelite’s determination to serve God in such an offensive way?
How Would I Like This?
I’m trying to imagine someone saying to me, “You may not be able to serve the Lord.” My natural tendency would be to take offense. I’d want to show the person that I could indeed serve the Lord, and probably better than most people.
And yet, I completely agree with St. Augustine. I can do no really good thing on my own, but only by the Holy Spirit that dwells in me. So yes, it’s true – I can’t serve the Lord. I need the grace of God even to serve God.
And in this sense, it’s all mercy and grace. God’s mercy and grace mysteriously working toward a purpose and potential that I really can’t even imagine. To the extent that I’ve experienced healing and salvation, it has all come entirely because of God’s goodness to me.
“Blessed be the name of the LORD both now and forever.” Psa 113:2
Synopsis Joshua 24:5-15 5/28/2018
In his final audience with the Israelites, Joshua began prophesying in the name of the Lord. Through him, God recounted all that had transpired in the exodus from Egypt and the conquest over the Promised Land.
In particular, God retold the story of how Balak had enlisted Balaam to curse the people but that God had forced him to bless the Israelites.
With the completion of his prophecy of remembrance, Joshua then proclaimed his allegiance and commitment to serving the Lord.
Continue to Serve the Lord
There’s always this question at the end of a person’s life: Am I satisfied? Was this what I wanted it to be. Would I do it the same again?
Joshua answered with an emphatic “Yes!” He wanted everyone to know that, if he had to live his life again, he would follow God without hesitation. Joshua left this world as a man with no regrets.
The Testimony of a Lifetime
What I want for myself, and for my wife and my children and for every Catholic Christian is that you find your genius and live it fully. That’s what Joshua did. It’s why he had no regrets. It’s also why his life story is a powerful testimony of what’s possible in each of our lives if we trust God wholly.
Our faith tradition is designed to set you free from everything that holds you back from the possibility and purpose with which God created you.