Open Up That Gaza Gate, Hill Of Hebron Here I Come!

Jdg 16:1  Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her.
Jdg 16:2  When the Gazites were told, “Samson has come here!” they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the gate of the city. They were quiet all night, saying, “In the morning, when it is daylight, we will kill him.”
Jdg 16:3  And Samson lay low till midnight; then he arose at midnight, took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two gateposts, pulled them up, bar and all, put them on his shoulders, and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.

“Not my finest hour, but a man’s gotta go to work,” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson posted on Instagram.

“We experienced a power outage due to severe storms, causing my front gate not to open. I tried to override the hydraulic system to open the gates, which usually works when power goes out – but this time it wouldn’t.

“Made some calls to see how fast I can get the gate tech on site, but I didn’t have 45 minutes to wait,” he continued. “By this time, I know I have hundreds of production crew members waiting for me to come to work so we can start our day. So I did what I had to do. I pushed, pulled and ripped the gate completely off myself. Tore it out of the brick wall, severed the steel hydraulics and threw it on the grass.”

“The Rock” would be on any short-list to portray Samson on screen. The fact that they both had an encounter with a gate might give him the edge over other muscle-bound leads.

There have been remarkably few feature films about Samson, but in every one of them the lead is a muscled guy:

1949 Samson & Delilah. A buff Victor Mature was the hero.
2013 The Bible mini-series. Nonso Anozie, 6’ 6,” 280 pounds.
2018 Samson. You never heard of it. It is a PureFlix production. It received a 25% TomatoMeter score on Rotten Tomatoes. Taylor James starred, all 6’ 2½” of him.

Who would you cast as Samson?

I’d cast Jason Alexander

Yes, George Castanza from Seinfeld.

It’s simple, really. The Philistines were constantly puzzled as to the source of Samson’s strength. If he looked like Nonso Anozie or The Rock his great strength would have been attributed to long days spent at Planet Fitness.

Further, his average build explains why when he finally gave up the secret of his strength to Delilah, Samson was unaware that he was powerless.

The episode in Gaza simultaneously shows the power of God and the pull of the flesh. The same power by which Samson performed feats of strength was available for him to put to death his flesh.

It is the power of the Holy Spirit and He is available to us.

Jdg 16:1  Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her.

Gaza was deep in Philistine territory and one of its major cities. Commentators are all over the place on why Samson “went to Gaza,” and if he should be there at all.

Regardless his many failings, Samson was Israel’s judge and champion. There is something interesting about Gaza that might have drawn him there. We’re told in Joshua 11:22, “None of the Anakim were left in the land of the children of Israel; they remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod.”

The Anakim were Nephilim. They were the giant cannibals we read about in Genesis who were the offspring of fallen angels mating with women.

We did a series here at Mid-Week on The Days of Noah. You should check it out.

I don’t want to get sidetracked by the Nephilim, but there is one question we should answer. How could there be Nephilim in Israel after the global flood wiped them out? I can see only two possibilities:

The flood was local, not global, allowing Nephilim to survive. We reject that. Noah’s flood was global, wiping out humans and Nephilim. After all, that was the point.
Fallen angels once again co-habited with human females and produced offspring who were Nephilim. The argument against is that the Bible doesn’t specifically say they did. Since the flood was global, and there were giants in the land, it is the only solution I can see.

The Nephilim were concentrated in Israel. I suggest it was a satanic strategy to reintroduce Nephilim in order to interfere with the Israelites possessing the Holy Land.

It worked. At least, it worked on the first generation of Jews to exodus Egypt.

Num 13:25  And they returned from spying out the land after forty days.
Num 13:26  Now they departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.
Num 13:27  Then they told him, and said: “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.
Num 13:28  Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there.
Num 13:29  The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.”
Num 13:31  … the men… said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.”
Num 13:32  And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature.
Num 13:33  There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

Giants lived in the Promised Land until eradicated in the days of King David.
Perhaps Samson went to Gaza to confront
these giants. He was, after all, Israel’s hero.

Dug the dog in the Pixar film, Up, can talk through his electronic collar. As he’s talking, he will yell out, “Squirrel!” when he is momentarily distracted by one running by. He loses his train of thought afterwards.

Whatever Samson’s reasons for going to Gaza, he sees a prostitute and his hormones yell “Girl!”

If this were a psalm, the writer might have inserted a Selah – Stop & think about it.

What are my weaknesses? What are yours? Those thoughts and behaviors that seem to best you. Maybe you’ve come to think that you can’t overcome them.

God the Holy Spirit can obliterate them. He can carry them away the way Samson dealt with the Gaza Gates.

Jdg 16:2 When the Gazites were told, “Samson has come here!” they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the gate of the city. They were quiet all night, saying, “In the morning, when it is daylight, we will kill him.”

The Gazites are not our example in this text, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from them. There was no point in waiting; no point in putting off the confrontation until the next day.

We tend to put-off dealing with our weaknesses. Our sins. It’s a silly example, but when you decide you’re going to go on a diet, do you overindulge the night before?

The overnight wait could only heighten the fears of the Gazites as they had time to contemplate the confrontation.

Jdg 16:3 And Samson lay low till midnight; then he arose at midnight, took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two gateposts, pulled them up, bar and all, put them on his shoulders, and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.

Samson opted to check-out of the brothel early. The gates of the city would have been locked and guarded.

He picked them up and carried them off like they were a backpack.

I read a scholarly paper on the Gates of Gaza. Using the excavated gates of other known cities as a model, the author estimated, conservatively, that the gates could have weighed anywhere from five tons to ten tons. That’s upwards of twenty thousand pounds.

J.R.R. Tolkein had a way with the written word. He described a magnificent battering ram:

Great engines crawled across the field; and in the midst was a huge ram, great as a forest-tree a hundred feet in length, swinging on mighty chains. Long had it been forging in the dark smithies of Mordor, and its hideous head, founded of black steel, was shaped in the likeness of a ravening wolf; on it spells of ruin lay. Grond they named it, in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old. Great beasts drew it, orcs surrounded it, and behind walked mountain-trolls to wield it.

In the movie, it took Grond a little while to finally splinter the gates of Gondor.

Samson didn’t break through the gates, splintering them and busting through like Grond.
He didn’t throw them to the ground and walk off like The Rock.

He came to the gates and picked them up as if they were a balsa wood prop on a movie set.

Then he walked at least eighteen hours carrying them an estimated forty miles to Hebron, some of it uphill.

It was an incredible physical feat. It’s no wonder that none of those who lie in wait dared to challenge him.

That power was equally available to him to overcome his flesh and walk in holiness

It might be fantastic to be able to perform physical feats of strength. How much better to yield yourself to the indwelling Holy Spirit and walk in victory over your sins.

One final thought, for you to meditate upon.

Jesus said that He would obliterate some gates

Jesus once said that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18). It is easy to misread what He said. Jesus wasn’t saying that Hell, literally Hades, was on the offensive. Gates are not a weapon; they are a defense.

Don’t get me wrong: The church most certainly is involved in spiritual warfare. Our enemy goes about like a roaring lion; he has darts and arrows; he sets traps and utilizes lures; he creates obstacles.

In the Gates of Hades passage, Jesus was announcing His total victory over the supernatural realm. He would die on the Cross, then rise from the dead. He would thus crash the Gates of Hades.

Before His resurrection, the souls of all the deceased – both the righteous and the unrighteous – went to Hades to await resurrection. You remember from the story of the Rich Man & Lazarus that Hades was divided into two areas:

One was a place of torment for the unrighteous.
One was a place of comfort for the righteous.

There is a passage in the Book of Ephesians that scholars think involves Jesus and Hades.
Eph 4:9  (Now this, “HE ASCENDED” – what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?

It is likely that after His crucifixion but before His resurrection three days later Jesus was in Hades. When He rose from the dead, He set free the righteous souls in Hades, taking them with Him to Heaven to await their physical resurrection.

Jesus’ pronouncement about the Gates of Hades took place in Caesarea Philippi, situated near a mountainous region containing Mount Hermon.

According to one scholar,

In Jewish tradition, Mount Hermon was the location where the divine sons of God had descended from Heaven ultimately corrupting humankind via their offspring with human women. These offspring were known as Nephilim, ancestors of the Anakim and the Rephaim.

Jesus was declaring war on death and Hades. It was a war He won for us by resurrection from the dead.

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Betrayal (Judges 20:1-48)

If your life were a movie, which one would it be?

I took one of those quizzes that randomly populate your page on Facebook. After answering twenty-nine penetrating personality questions, I found out that if my life were a movie, it would be Bridget Jones’s Diary.

You can’t argue with social science.

Let’s ask the question differently. If your life were one of the original Star Wars trilogy, which one would it be?

I’d like my life to always be the third movie; maybe the first; never the second.

With a title like, The Empire Strikes Back, we should have been ready for Darth Vader to triumph, and for the evil empire to rally.

The rebel base was destroyed; Han Solo was captured then frozen in a block of carbonite; Luke’s hand was severed from his arm; and, worst of all, Luke discovered that Darth Vader was his father.

Christians find themselves engaged in battle with an evil empire. We’re told that our spiritual warfare is against “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Those are names describing a hierarchy of evil beings bent on our harm.

Their leader, Satan, is called “the god of this world,” and “the prince of the power of the air.”

Jesus defeated Satan and his malevolent forces on the Cross. He triumphed over them (Colossians 2:15). But our Lord has not yet returned to claim His victory, and in the mean time, their empire strikes back.

If I’m being honest, I must admit that I am sometimes defeated. Since I belong to Jesus, I can’t lose the war, but I can, and I do, lose battles.

In chapter twenty of Judges, the Israelites join together to execute justice upon the perverted men of the city of Gibeah. Their cause is righteous, and they seek the Lord. Nevertheless they are twice defeated in battles before they break through to victory the third time.

I think those of us who suffer defeats will be able to see ourselves in them. More than see ourselves – we’ll be encouraged to fight on.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Report For Battle With Every Expectation Of Victory, and #2 Return To Battle After Every Experience Of Defeat.

#1 – Report For Battle With Every Expectation Of Victory (v1-11)

I can think of several movies in which the heroes think they are hired as actors to play their famous parts, but in fact end up engaged with genuine enemies.

In one, the former cast of a cult television space-adventure series, Galaxy Quest, spend most of their days attending fan conventions.

During a convention, the captain is approached by a group calling themselves the Thermians who request his assistance. He agrees, thinking this is a fan event.

He doesn’t realize that he is transported to an actual spaceship, which he believes to be a set, nor that the Thermians are really aliens. Hoping to get it over with quickly, he provokes Sarris, an evil alien general and enemy of the Thermians, before asking to be returned home, unaware of the consequences of his actions.

In the end, the cast rises to the occasion, and saves the universe.

As a Christian, you are called a soldier of Christ. It’s not a part you act; you really are a soldier. Every waking moment you are to report for battle.

One author descriptively wrote, “The fatally wounded kingdom of darkness still reigns upon the earth.” The outcome of the war has been settled, but there are still significant battles to be fought.

In chapter twenty, just like today, battles will be fought; and lost; and won.

Jdg 20:1  So all the children of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, as well as from the land of Gilead, and the congregation gathered together as one man before the LORD at Mizpah.
Jdg 20:2  And the leaders of all the people, all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand foot soldiers who drew the sword.
Jdg 20:3  (Now the children of Benjamin heard that the children of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.) Then the children of Israel said, “Tell us, how did this wicked deed happen?”

The tribes of Israel were gathering for war because of what had happened in chapter nineteen. We’ll see what happened in answer to the question, “Tell us, how did this wicked deed happen?”

Note that the tribe of Benjamin was conspicuously absent. That’s because the “wicked deed” happened in Benjamite territory.

Jdg 20:4  So the Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered and said, “My concubine and I went into Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin, to spend the night.
Jdg 20:5  And the men of Gibeah rose against me, and surrounded the house at night because of me. They intended to kill me, but instead they ravished my concubine so that she died.

The men of Gibeah were described as “perverted.” They initially demanded that the old man who was lodging the traveling Levite send him out so they could rape him. Instead, they sexually assaulted his concubine throughout the night.

The Levite left out the part about giving her being the one who gave her to them to save himself. He didn’t indicate that he slept through the night while she was being abused. Or that he planned on leaving her behind, except that she was on the doorstep when he arose to leave.

As he exited to continue his journey, the Levite saw her, and commanded her to get up. Whether she was already dead, or just unconscious, she did not respond. He put her on his donkey and returned home.

The children of Israel would still have been obliged to punish the perverts in Gibeah. But they should have known the whole story, accurately and without the spin the Levite put on it.

It may not be possible, but I’d counsel you to not give any advice, and make no judgments, unless or until you believe you know the entire story. For sure, ask the difficult questions.

Jdg 20:6   So I took hold of my concubine, cut her in pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of the inheritance of Israel, because they committed lewdness and outrage in Israel.

In The Godfather, the Corleone’s receive a package. In it is Luca Brasi’s vest and a dead fish. Tessio explains that it is a Sicilian message: “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”

The Levite sent just such a message. But I have to say, this was weird. He desecrated a body. Who does that? It should of at least been a cause for pause for those listening, to wonder what he hadn’t told them.

Jdg 20:7  Look! All of you are children of Israel; give your advice and counsel here and now!”
Jdg 20:8  So all the people arose as one man, saying, “None of us will go to his tent, nor will any turn back to his house;
Jdg 20:9  but now this is the thing which we will do to Gibeah: We will go up against it by lot.

Commentators point out that they did not first seek the Lord, and that is why they will initially meet with defeat in their battles.

Maybe; we’re not told, and we need to be very careful drawing conclusions about things we are not told.

God’s Law was clear regarding wickedness and the crimes these perverted men were guilty of. They deserved to be punished. The Israelites were compelled to act. The infraction did not require any seeking of the Lord because His Word already told them to act in discipline.

I suggest there are some things you don’t need to pray about. You know they are right… Or wrong… And you should act accordingly.

Jdg 20:10  We will take ten men out of every hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, a hundred out of every thousand, and a thousand out of every ten thousand, to make provisions for the people, that when they come to Gibeah in Benjamin, they may repay all the vileness that they have done in Israel.”

They would not take time to return home, to take even one nights rest in their houses, or attend to their business or to any affair of life, however urgent. They were reporting for duty.

The army had no provisions. No problem. Ten men were to provide food for ninety, and one hundred men for nine hundred, and one thousand men for nine thousand, in all forty thousand for three-hundred sixty thousand. They were either to go to their own tribes and habitations, or to the towns and cities adjacent, to procure food for this large army.

Jdg 20:11  So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united together as one man.

The first point I’m making is simply this: They immediately reported for battle. Whatever they had been doing when the call went out, they left it, and gathered together. Whether they had been farming, or building, or vacationing, they were first and foremost soldiers, reporting for duty.

The famous soldier passage for us is Second Timothy 2:3-4,

2Ti 2:3  You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
2Ti 2:4  No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
Every morning, when you awake for devotions, you are reporting for military service.

The second point is this: Expect to be victorious. But, wait; didn’t I say we might lose battles?

I did. When I say expect victory, it’s because our enemies are fighting from a place of defeat. We are overcomers, and more than conquerors.

We will lose battles along the way; we’ll see that in a moment. If we lose a battle, His mercy and forgiveness and compassion and comfort will see us through. We’re not left behind on the battlefield. We may require a field hospital, but God will carry us there, and bring us back to spiritual health, if we will seek Him.

#2 – Return To Battle After Every Experience Of Defeat (v12-48)

Matthew Henry is the only commentator I read on these verses who was honest about our suffering defeat. He wrote,

God would hereby teach us not to think it strange if a good cause should suffer defeat for a while, nor to judge of the merits of it by the success of it. The interest of grace in the heart, and of religion in the world, may be foiled, and suffer great loss, and seem to be quite run down, but judgment will be brought forth to victory at last… We are foiled in a battle, but not in the whole campaign. Right may fall, but it shall arise.

If you don’t like the word “defeat,” because it sounds unspiritual, substitute the word “setback” every time I use it.

Whether you say defeat or setback, what we see here is that we can, in fact, be foiled, and suffer great loss, in the battles we are called upon to fight.

Jdg 20:12  Then the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What is this wickedness that has occurred among you?
Jdg 20:13  Now therefore, deliver up the men, the perverted men who are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and remove the evil from Israel!” But the children of Benjamin would not listen to the voice of their brethren, the children of Israel.
Jdg 20:14  Instead, the children of Benjamin gathered together from their cities to Gibeah, to go to battle against the children of Israel.
Jdg 20:15  And from their cities at that time the children of Benjamin numbered twenty-six thousand men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who numbered seven hundred select men.
Jdg 20:16  Among all this people were seven hundred select men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair’s breadth and not miss.
Jdg 20:17  Now besides Benjamin, the men of Israel numbered four hundred thousand men who drew the sword; all of these were men of war.

Benjamin had a greater tribal patriotism than a national one. They decided to defend Gibeah from the eleven tribes.

Their skill with the sling was going to make this a bloody conflict.

Jdg 20:18  Then the children of Israel arose and went up to the house of God to inquire of God. They said, “Which of us shall go up first to battle against the children of Benjamin?” The LORD said, “Judah first!”

Their cause was right, and they consulted the Lord. There was high expectation of victory.

Jdg 20:19  So the children of Israel rose in the morning and encamped against Gibeah.
Jdg 20:20  And the men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin, and the men of Israel put themselves in battle array to fight against them at Gibeah.
Jdg 20:21  Then the children of Benjamin came out of Gibeah, and on that day cut down to the ground twenty-two thousand men of the Israelites.

We didn’t see that coming. And this is where commentators (other than Matthew Henry) have problems. They start suggesting all sorts of reasons why the Israelites were defeated, e.g., God was first punishing them for their sin.

Maybe – but we are not told. Those who suggest that see no possibility of defeat so long as you are right with the Lord.

I think the bare facts do more to minister to us: Sometimes even a right cause, rightly approached, by a righteous believer, is defeated in spiritual warfare.

Example: The apostle Paul desired to revisit the believers in Thessalonica. He was physically prevented by the devil, who he said blocked the way (First Thessalonians 2:18).

To put it in military terms, the evil empire destroyed the road leading to Thessalonica. Satan blew-up the bridge, as it were, in an apparent victory. Paul wanted to return, to further supply the troops; but he was defeated in his efforts.

Jdg 20:22  And the people, that is, the men of Israel, encouraged themselves and again formed the battle line at the place where they had put themselves in array on the first day.
Jdg 20:23  Then the children of Israel went up and wept before the LORD until evening, and asked counsel of the LORD, saying, “Shall I again draw near for battle against the children of my brother Benjamin?” And the LORD said, “Go up against him.”

Expecting victory, but dealt defeat, they sought the Lord, and it seems they did so with great sincerity. The Lord told them to “Go.”

They “encouraged themselves.” In the end, you’re going to have to encourage yourself to rejoin the battle. Others may or may not be helpful. Seek the Lord, as they did, then return in His strength.

Jdg 20:24  So the children of Israel approached the children of Benjamin on the second day.
Jdg 20:25  And Benjamin went out against them from Gibeah on the second day, and cut down to the ground eighteen thousand more of the children of Israel; all these drew the sword.

Wow. These Benjamites were fierce. I think we can see them as typical of our own supernatural foes. The devil and his forces were defeated by Jesus, and we have everything we need to overcome them. But they are fierce, relentless, and continue to gain ground all around us.

We’re in a real fight, not an exhibition. If anything, knowing they are headed for the Abyss and, after that, the Lake of Fire, our supernatural enemies want to inflict as much damage to our lives as is possible.

Jdg 20:26  Then all the children of Israel, that is, all the people, went up and came to the house of God and wept. They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.
Jdg 20:27  So the children of Israel inquired of the LORD (the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,
Jdg 20:28  and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days), saying, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?” And the LORD said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand.”

Trying to make sense of their two previous defeats, commentators suggest that, until now, the Israelites had not properly sought the Lord. Maybe… But it borders on superstition to say that. If His help depends upon saying the right words, the right way… That’s like magic, not a relationship.

Do any of us properly seek the Lord? By that, I mean to remind us that we all are works in progress, struggling against the flesh, without perfect knowledge of Jesus.

If our victory depends on getting everything just right, we’re in trouble, because that’s never going to be true this side of the rapture.

If we just take the story at face value, and let it minister to us, we see that it is possible to lose, at least for a time, our spiritual battles.

Think Job. That righteous guy was doing everything right when, Whamo! Disaster struck.

Would you honestly say that while he sat on the ash heap scraping his boils with pottery shards that it was a victory? No, I think Matthew Henry got it right, saying, “The interest of grace in the heart, and of religion in the world, may be foiled, and suffer great loss, and seem to be quite run down…”

Sure, Job’s victory was assured, ultimately. But Job was suffering a defeat, and it went on for at least a few months.

To say that their two defeats were somehow the fault of the Israelites is to be like Job’s friends, who said his defeat was his fault. It was not.

Jdg 20:28  and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days), saying, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?” And the LORD said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand.”
Jdg 20:29  Then Israel set men in ambush all around Gibeah.
Jdg 20:30  And the children of Israel went up against the children of Benjamin on the third day, and put themselves in battle array against Gibeah as at the other times.
Jdg 20:31  So the children of Benjamin went out against the people, and were drawn away from the city. They began to strike down and kill some of the people, as at the other times, in the highways (one of which goes up to Bethel and the other to Gibeah) and in the field, about thirty men of Israel.
Jdg 20:32  And the children of Benjamin said, “They are defeated before us, as at first.” But the children of Israel said, “Let us flee and draw them away from the city to the highways.”
Jdg 20:33  So all the men of Israel rose from their place and put themselves in battle array at Baal Tamar. Then Israel’s men in ambush burst forth from their position in the plain of Geba.
Jdg 20:34  And ten thousand select men from all Israel came against Gibeah, and the battle was fierce. But the Benjamites did not know that disaster was upon them.
Jdg 20:35  The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel. And the children of Israel destroyed that day twenty-five thousand one hundred Benjamites; all these drew the sword.

Were they victorious because they finally discovered the Lord’s strategy? We’re not told that this strategy came from the Lord. All that is recorded coming from Him is that He would grant victory this third time out.

The things we suggest to explain their initial defeats, and eventual victory, reveal things we believe about God. Our guesses as to the cause or causes of their defeats seem to exclude defeat as a possibility when, in fact, defeat is a very real possibility.

Let’s hold that thought and first finish reading the account:

Jdg 20:36  So the children of Benjamin saw that they were defeated. The men of Israel had given ground to the Benjamites, because they relied on the men in ambush whom they had set against Gibeah.
Jdg 20:37  And the men in ambush quickly rushed upon Gibeah; the men in ambush spread out and struck the whole city with the edge of the sword.
Jdg 20:38  Now the appointed signal between the men of Israel and the men in ambush was that they would make a great cloud of smoke rise up from the city,
Jdg 20:39  whereupon the men of Israel would turn in battle. Now Benjamin had begun to strike and kill about thirty of the men of Israel. For they said, “Surely they are defeated before us, as in the first battle.”

Pause here for a moment. Even in victory, there were casualties. Thirty men died to make the Benjamites think they were once again going to prevail, and to mask the ambush.

You and I don’t always emerge fro spiritual battles unscathed. I’d bet that Job had scars from scraping his boils. I know he had emotional pain from losing his initial family; wouldn’t you?

The apostle Paul was a wounded warrior. In addition to his many beatings and scourging, he said a “messenger of Satan” constantly buffeted him, for his entire ministry.

Jdg 20:40  But when the cloud began to rise from the city in a column of smoke, the Benjamites looked behind them, and there was the whole city going up in smoke to heaven.
Jdg 20:41  And when the men of Israel turned back, the men of Benjamin panicked, for they saw that disaster had come upon them.
Jdg 20:42  Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel in the direction of the wilderness; but the battle overtook them, and whoever came out of the cities they destroyed in their midst.
Jdg 20:43  They surrounded the Benjamites, chased them, and easily trampled them down as far as the front of Gibeah toward the east.
Jdg 20:44  And eighteen thousand men of Benjamin fell; all these were men of valor.
Jdg 20:45  Then they turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon; and they cut down five thousand of them on the highways. Then they pursued them relentlessly up to Gidom, and killed two thousand of them.
Jdg 20:46  So all who fell of Benjamin that day were twenty-five thousand men who drew the sword; all these were men of valor.
Jdg 20:47  But six hundred men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and they stayed at the rock of Rimmon for four months.
Jdg 20:48  And the men of Israel turned back against the children of Benjamin, and struck them down with the edge of the sword -from every city, men and beasts, all who were found. They also set fire to all the cities they came to.

Victory at last! Even then, it was bittersweet. It was victory over their own brothers. They nearly eliminated an entire tribe.

Look, I’m not trying to glory in defeat. I’m not saying that defeat can’t be the result of my own sin and disobedience, brought upon me as a loving discipline from God; it certainly can.

I’m saying that there are times when, even though I am in the right, pursuing a right cause the right way, I can suffer a defeat.

Sure, every spiritual defeat is only temporary, in that Jesus has guaranteed us ultimate victory.

But that doesn’t change the fact I’m on an ash heap (like Job), scraping. Or hindered from doing something good and godly (like Paul).

These are the spiritual facts given to encourage us: Though in the right, the Israelites twice suffered defeats, and in victory suffered losses. But they prevailed in the end.

Like these Israelites, even though I suffer a defeat, I must return to battle. I must keep on seeking the Lord. I must keep on serving Him. I’m His soldier, reporting for duty.

Here is where the rubber meets the road: You have been, or you currently are, or you one day will be – Defeated. You’ll be on the losing side of a spiritual battle. You may never know why.

It might be your fault – something your lack of readiness or your disobedience or your sin, set you up for.

It might not be your fault – you might have done everything right, in a right cause.

The empire will always strike back. “We are foiled in a battle, but not in the whole campaign. Right may fall, but it shall arise.”

An Affair To Dismember (Judges 19:1-30)

As a kid I was strangely fascinated by the Good Sam Club logo on the bumpers of RV’s. If you’re not familiar with the logo, it’s the cartoon head of a weirdly smiling man, topped by a halo.

It’s doubtful you haven’t heard of it, but just in case, it’s an association of RV owners, “focused on making RVing safer and more enjoyable, and on saving members money through club-endorsed benefits and services.”

Being the biblically deprived child that I was, I thought “Sam” was the name of the guy who started the club. I’m not sure when I realized that “Sam” was short for Samaritan, and that the club’s name comes from the Bible parable of the Good Samaritan, which tells of a traveling Samaritan who risked his own life and livelihood to help a Jew along the road who had been robbed and beaten.

The parable was told following a Q&A Jesus had with a Jewish theologian, called a “lawyer.” Jesus had asked him to summarize what the Bible says a person must do to inherit eternal life. He answered, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND,’ and ‘YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF'” (Luke 10:27).

When the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?,” the Lord told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It was revolutionary in many ways, not the least of which in that Jews despised Samaritans, and would certainly not stop to help one.

When the Samaritan stopped to help, it wasn’t because the Jew was his neighbor. It was because the Samaritan was acting as neighbor to the Jew.

The parable establishes that it isn’t so much a matter of who is my neighbor as it is my being a “neighbor” to everyone, thereby showing my invisible love for God through my visible love for them.

During the time of the Judges, there weren’t lawyers, but there were Levites. One of their duties was the teaching of the Law.

Among all the Jews, a well-versed Levite ought to be the one most likely to act like the Good Samaritan.

If there was a Bad Samaritan’s Club, the Levite in our chapter was its founder. When it comes time to act by loving his “neighbor” as himself, he commits an epic fail, choosing self-preservation.

Since loving God with all that we’ve got and with all that we are, and being neighbors who show God’s love to everyone, is still in force, we can go through this chapter asking the following two questions: #1 Are You Merely Going Through The Motions Of Loving Your Neighbor As Yourself?, and #2 Are You Willing To Go To The Extremes Of Loving Your Neighbor As Yourself?

#1 – Are You Merely Going Through The Motions Of Loving Your Neighbor As Yourself? (v1-21)

I like to check the Parental Guidelines that are posted for movies before watching them. They have a few categories, then rate the film in each, providing a brief summary.

I feel compelled to provide my Pastoral Guidelines for the story we are about to read:

Alcohol, Drugs & Smoking – Moderate. Two men spend the better part of four days feasting, involving wine that gives them a buzz.

Violence & Gore – Extreme. A woman’s body is dismembered into twelve pieces, which are then sent to each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Frightening & Intense Scenes – Extreme. A group of perverted men threaten violence against the occupants of a house.

Sex & Nudity – Off-the-chart Extreme. A woman is gang-raped all night, then left for dead.

This story is a movie you wouldn’t watch. We’ll get the most out of it as we focus on the Levite we meet in verse one.

Jdg 19:1  And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite staying in the remote mountains of Ephraim. He took for himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah.

This story took place prior to the raising up of the Judges, pretty soon after the death of Joshua. There was no human king, and the tribes were not submitting to the rule of God as their king.

A “concubine” was a woman with less status than a wife, who was typically brought into the household because the wife could not bear children. In this story the concubine’s status is unclear:

First of all, there is no mention of a wife in addition to her.

Second of all, although she is called a “concubine,” the Levite is mentioned as her “husband.”

Third of all, the Levite is mentioned as the “son-in-law” of the woman’s father, and he as the “father-in-law.”

Whatever their relationship, there was serious marital discord:

Jdg 19:2  But his concubine played the harlot against him, and went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there four whole months.

Before you judge her, you need to know that there are different ways of understanding the words translated “played the harlot.” It can mean that she committed sexual sin.

But certain Greek translations say it means she became “angry” with him, resulting in her fleeing to her father’s house. She therefore may have left after a domestic dispute in which the Levite was also to blame.

Jdg 19:3  Then her husband arose and went after her, to speak kindly to her and bring her back, having his servant and a couple of donkeys with him. So she brought him into her father’s house; and when the father of the young woman saw him, he was glad to meet him.

The concubine “brought him into” the house. They resolved their differences. This may have been a typical occurrence between them. It sort of reads like an abuse cycle repeating itself.

The dad was “glad to meet him,” but that can mean he gladly welcomed him – not that it was the first time they’d met.

Jdg 19:4  Now his father-in-law, the young woman’s father, detained him; and he stayed with him three days. So they ate and drank and lodged there.
Jdg 19:5  Then it came to pass on the fourth day that they arose early in the morning, and he stood to depart; but the young woman’s father said to his son-in-law, “Refresh your heart with a morsel of bread, and afterward go your way.”
Jdg 19:6  So they sat down, and the two of them ate and drank together. Then the young woman’s father said to the man, “Please be content to stay all night, and let your heart be merry.”
Jdg 19:7  And when the man stood to depart, his father-in-law urged him; so he lodged there again.

This was an episode of Hospitality Gone Wild. We can assume they were at least getting buzzed, if not drunk, by the use of the words, “let your heart be merry.”

Jdg 19:8  Then he arose early in the morning on the fifth day to depart, but the young woman’s father said, “Please refresh your heart.” So they delayed until afternoon; and both of them ate.
Jdg 19:9  And when the man stood to depart – he and his concubine and his servant – his father-in-law, the young woman’s father, said to him, “Look, the day is now drawing toward evening; please spend the night. See, the day is coming to an end; lodge here, that your heart may be merry. Tomorrow go your way early, so that you may get home.”
Jdg 19:10  However, the man was not willing to spend that night; so he rose and departed, and came opposite Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). With him were the two saddled donkeys; his concubine was also with him.

Late-afternoon travel that could leave you out at dark was just never a good idea. There were too many dangers, and it limited your options. Travel like that, and you were gonna need a Good Samaritan.

Jdg 19:11  They were near Jebus, and the day was far spent; and the servant said to his master, “Come, please, and let us turn aside into this city of the Jebusites and lodge in it.”
Jdg 19:12  But his master said to him, “We will not turn aside here into a city of foreigners, who are not of the children of Israel; we will go on to Gibeah.”
Jdg 19:13  So he said to his servant, “Come, let us draw near to one of these places, and spend the night in Gibeah or in Ramah.”
Jdg 19:14  And they passed by and went their way; and the sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin.
Ramah was out; too dark to get there safely. Gibeah was now their only choice.

Jdg 19:15  They turned aside there to go in to lodge in Gibeah. And when he went in, he sat down in the open square of the city, for no one would take them into his house to spend the night.

Everyone’s home was a hotel. If a stranger came, it was a big deal. In that culture, hospitality was normally of supreme importance. It was unheard of that no one would take them in.

Jdg 19:16  Just then an old man came in from his work in the field at evening, who also was from the mountains of Ephraim; he was staying in Gibeah, whereas the men of the place were Benjamites.
Jdg 19:17  And when he raised his eyes, he saw the traveler in the open square of the city; and the old man said, “Where are you going, and where do you come from?”
Jdg 19:18  So he said to him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah toward the remote mountains of Ephraim; I am from there. I went to Bethlehem in Judah; now I am going to the house of the LORD. But there is no one who will take me into his house,
Jdg 19:19  although we have both straw and fodder for our donkeys, and bread and wine for myself, for your female servant, and for the young man who is with your servant; there is no lack of anything.”
Jdg 19:20  And the old man said, “Peace be with you! However, let all your needs be my responsibility; only do not spend the night in the open square.”
Jdg 19:21  So he brought him into his house, and gave fodder to the donkeys. And they washed their feet, and ate and drank.

It isn’t exactly the Parable of the Good Samaritan, but this old man certainly showed the Levite hospitality. He did it willingly, and at some cost to himself. Kudos to him.

On the other hand, this was fairly easy, and this was expected. This was minimal. The fact that others refused to show hospitality makes the old man stand-out. But he was only doing what was required and customary.

The old man was merely going through the motions. I can say that because in a moment we’ll see that he was not really one to risk his own life for the sake of another.

The story thus far gives us an opportunity to gauge our own Good Samaritan-ing (if I can coin a word). We can start by looking at our behavior in the church. The Bible tells us, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

“Doing good” is a broad command. It involves things like regularly supporting the church, financially and through serving.

It involves regular support for missions and missionaries.

Then there are special needs – like relief for the hurricane victims that we are making you aware of; or Operation Christmas Child.

Then there are individual needs that God lays on your heart as you fulfill the role of Good Samaritan to someone in need that you encounter.

Christians are one big Good Sam Club, for sure doing the minimum, but then going beyond as the Lord leads.

#2 – Are You Willing To Go To The Extremes Of Loving Your Neighbor As Yourself? (v22-30)

I came across this rather expressive quote regarding loving others: “It seems to demand that I tear the skin off my body and wrap it around another person so that I feel that I am that other person; and all the longings that I have for my own safety and health and success and happiness I now feel for that other person as though he [or she] were me.”

It’s a pretty high standard, but certainly the one lived-out by the Good Samaritan.

It was supremely lived out by Jesus, Who quite literally took upon Himself a body like ours, adding humanity to His deity, in order to take our place on the Cross.

It’s not my purpose to deride us for failing to meet this high standard; and I’d be the first in failure anyway.

It is good, however, to be reminded that the Christian who loves like Jesus is out on the edge of a dangerous battlefield, where supernatural forces are seeking to destroy human lives. It’s a risky thing to love others as yourself.

It is good to be challenged… And that’s what this story does.

Jdg 19:22  As they were enjoying themselves, suddenly certain men of the city, perverted men, surrounded the house and beat on the door. They spoke to the master of the house, the old man, saying, “Bring out the man who came to your house, that we may know him carnally!”

All of a sudden this tale of hospitality sounds like we are in a futuristic dystopian world in which roving gangs rob and rape. It’s Mad Max Gibeah.

Remember that this was happening closer to the death of Joshua, not well after it. It reveals just how quickly a society can deteriorate.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because something very similar happened in Sodom during the time of Abraham. The difference is that Sodom was a city of nonbelievers, whereas Gibeah was Israeli.

It’s simply awful when God’s people are no better than nonbelievers.

Jdg 19:23  But the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brethren! I beg you, do not act so wickedly! Seeing this man has come into my house, do not commit this outrage.

Kudos for the old man. It must have been frightening to step outside and face the gang.

He appealed to their sense of community, reminding them that a stranger lodged in a house had the expectation of safety. And he appealed to their sense of basic humanity, calling their desire an “outrage.”

But what he says next is not the thinking of a Good Samaritan:

Jdg 19:24  Look, here is my virgin daughter and the man’s concubine; let me bring them out now. Humble them, and do with them as you please; but to this man do not do such a vile thing!”

Let that sink in.

The old man revealed the value he placed on lives. He valued his own life above all. He was not willing to risk it defending his guest; instead, he offered the lesser-lives of his own daughter, and the concubine.

And he seemed a little concerned about his reputation as a person of hospitality. He didn’t want anything to happen to his guest.

It’s important we understand that the original Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable risked his life to help the needy Jewish traveler.

Think of those who hid and harbored Jews during WW2, such as Corrie Ten Boom (whose story is told in The Hiding Place). It was a serious situation.

Jdg 19:25  But the men would not heed him. So the man took his concubine and brought her out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until morning; and when the day began to break, they let her go.
The Levite had brought all this upon the old man’s house. Taking matters into his own hands, he thrust his concubine out the door.

This story started as a domestic dispute with a happy, festive reconciliation. But apparently that was only on the surface. It’s clear the Levite had no real love for his concubine. She was, to him, an object to be used as he saw fit.

If you are to love your neighbor – a stranger – more than yourself, how much more ought you to love your wife?

We must further conclude that the Levite had no real love for God. Loving your neighbor as yourself is the visible evidence of your invisible love for God.

Self-preservation at the cost of another’s life is just not love. Consider Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He desired to avoid the Cross; who wouldn’t? But we cannot fathom Him acting to preserve Himself at the expense of even one human life.

I’m saying that the old man and the Levite should have risked their own lives.

It reminds me of those riddles, usually about lifeboats cast off a sinking ship, where there isn’t enough room to save everybody. You’re told a little about the possible survivors and asked to make a choice.

Three people are in a lifeboat, adrift at sea. They have four cigarettes, but no matches or lighters. How can they each smoke a cigarette?

They throw one cigarette overboard making the the lifeboat a cigarette lighter.

The normal lifeboat dilemmas always include folks who seem undeserving. There are no right answers; its designed to see how we value different human life.

If you are a believer, the solution is to give your spot to any nonbeliever.

This story is not about human-trafficking… But I want to mention it in the context of the concubine’s inhumane treatment.

Trafficking women and children for sexual exploitation is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. This, despite the fact international law and the laws of 134 countries criminalize sex trafficking.

At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor.

About 2 million children are exploited every year in the global commercial sex trade.

Almost 6 in 10 identified trafficking survivors were trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Women and girls make up 98% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

It’s a problem right here in the US. The Justice Department estimates that 14,500 – 17,500 people are trafficked into the country every year. The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates that including US citizens and immigrants 57,700 people are victims of human trafficking.

Those being trafficked include young children, teenagers, men and women, and can be domestic citizens or foreign nationals. According to the Department of State’s statistics from 2000, there are approximately 244,000 American children and youth that are at risk for sex trafficking each year.

There are a number of Christian organizations you can support that are working to end human trafficking.

Jdg 19:26  Then the woman came as the day was dawning, and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, till it was light.

You know what this tells us? It tells us that the Levite went to bed. He slept while his concubine was being sexually assaulted. He did nothing to come to her aid.

Jdg 19:27  When her master arose in the morning, and opened the doors of the house and went out to go his way, there was his concubine, fallen at the door of the house with her hands on the threshold.

He didn’t, first thing, go out to search for her. You get the impression he had his coffee, a little breakfast, and read the news.

He had already abandoned her in his own mind.

Notice, too, he is now referred to as her “master,” not her husband.

Jdg 19:28  And he said to her, “Get up and let us be going.” But there was no answer. So the man lifted her onto the donkey; and the man got up and went to his place.

It’s not clear whether she was dead or merely unconscious. His words are haunting: “Get up and let us be going.”

If you have been the victim of a sexual assault, all of this may be dredging-up emotions. We want to represent Jesus to you, in His compassion and healing. We don’t always know how to do that without making you feel worse… But know that you are loved.

Could things get any worse? In the time of the Judges, yes.

Jdg 19:29  When he entered his house he took a knife, laid hold of his concubine, and divided her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel.

Once again, it is unclear if she was dead or merely unconscious. No mourning for her; no funeral; no burial. Her body was nothing more than an object to be used as the Levite saw fit.

Why send a piece of her to each of the twelve tribes? Personal revenge.

Jdg 19:30  And so it was that all who saw it said, “No such deed has been done or seen from the day that the children of Israel came up from the land of Egypt until this day. Consider it, confer, and speak up!”

We’ll see in chapter twenty that the Levite precipitated a civil war that got a ton of people killed. It was all for his own self-promotion and self-esteem.
As one charged with teaching God’s Law, the Levite knew it was summarized in loving the Lord, and thereby loving your neighbor as yourself. However, the Levite was unwilling to take neighbor-love to its logical, spiritual extreme.

He quite obviously loved himself more than God and, therefore, had no real love for others.

If you are a first responder… Or military… You’ve committed to Good Samaritan-ing. You regularly are risking your lives for strangers.

You are our heroes.

Most of us will never face a life-and-death Samaritan choice. I’m thankful for that.

But our invisible love for God should nevertheless find expression in visible, practical and sacrificial love for others.

All of us can up our game, as it were, by getting more-and-more involved helping others – first, in the household of faith (the church), but then out in the world as well.

Ask the Lord, “Whose neighbor am I?,” then act on it.

This Land Was Your Land, This Land Is My Land (Judges 18:1-31)

It is arguably Lawrence Tureaud’s greatest on-screen performance. We know him better as Mr. T, and the role I’m talking about was Clubber Lang in the 1982 film, Rocky III.

Mr. T was a dangerous contender seeking a title bout against the reigning champion. Mick had been dodging the fight. As Rocky’s manager, he didn’t believe the Rock could defeat Clubber Lang, so he protected him by arranging fights with lesser opponents.

In our text, the Israelite tribe of Dan decides that the fight to conquer the territory allotted to them by God through Joshua is just too hard. Instead of eliminating the enemies in their own land, they go searching for a territory that is easier to conquer.

Their faithlessness resulted in the slaughter of an innocent and peaceful people.

The Israelite conquest of the Promised Land can be seen as typical of our own walking with Jesus in the world. We are called “conquerors” (Romans 8:37). In fact, we are called “more than conquerors.”

One pastor commented, “To be more than a conqueror means we not only achieve victory, but we are overwhelmingly victorious.”

We aren’t given a physical inheritance of land to more-than-conquer. But we do have a sense that the circumstances of our lives are the territories where we are to be overwhelmingly victorious.

Unless I am like a Danite, and decide that my circumstances are too hard, and I set out to find an easier territory.

Being more-than-conquerors in our allotted circumstances will be the application as we work through this chapter. I’ll organize my thoughts around two questions: #1 Are You Treading In The Territory God Has Given You To More-Than-Conquer?, or #2 Are You Trespassing Into Territory God Has Not Given You To More-Than-Conquer?

#1 – Are You Treading In The Territory God Has Given You To More-Than-Conquer? (v1-10)

A couple of disclaimers before we move on:

There are circumstances in your life that you have the freedom to change. Your employment, for example. There’s nothing wrong with you looking for, and getting, a better job. Unless God wants you to stay in your job and meet its hardships in His power. Only you can determine, with the Lord’s help, if He is moving you on, or if you are escaping.

There are circumstances in your life in which you do not have the freedom, as a Christian, to escape. Your marriage is the prime example. If you do not have the narrow grounds for a biblical divorce, then you are to remain in the territory of your marriage as a more-than-conqueror.

I don’t want anyone to think you’re stuck somewhere if God is giving you new direction. But the main exhortation is to realize that we most often want out of any circumstances that are less than favorable. Those are the territories within which we are to conquer.

A variation of that is thinking we have total freedom to choose where we live and work. God wants to give you the desires of your heart. But He is also changing you, day-by-day, into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. He uses your circumstances to make you, and to mold you.

So while I may think I’d be better-off pastoring Calvary Chapel of Anaheim, so I could minister to Mickey more often, God has assigned me Hanford as a territory.

Don’t get me wrong: I love serving here. But way back more than thirty years ago, Hanford wasn’t my choice. It couldn’t have been, because I had never heard of it. It was God’s choice.

Jdg 18:1  In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking an inheritance for itself to dwell in; for until that day their inheritance among the tribes of Israel had not fallen to them.

When the writer (who we believe was Samuel) said “there was no king in Israel,” he meant two things:

It was before the time when Israel had human kings.

It was a time in which they had rejected God as their King.

After leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, they were told by God, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses” (Joshua 1:3). In that faith, they were to conquer the enemies in the land.

Joshua had led them to decisive, major victories. But it was up to each tribe to finish the job and destroy or dispossess the pagan peoples squatting in their allotted inheritance.

The Danites were “seeking an inheritance” because they failed to conquer the enemies that were in the land God had allotted them.

The Amorites were in the territory given to the tribe of Dan. Moses had some earlier dealings with the Amorites. Notably he defeated one of their kings, a guy called Og. He is first introduced in the Book of Numbers. In Deuteronomy we learn he was a giant.

Not just a tall guy. We’re told that he slept in an iron bed that was at least 13½’ x 6’ when converted from cubits. There were three different cubit measurements; using what was called the longer cubit, Og’s bed would be even larger, and he may have been 16’ tall.

He was Nephilim – the offspring of the mating of fallen angels with human women. It was something you read about in Genesis six, that precipitated Noah’s global flood. In Genesis six you read that there were Nephilim on the earth again, after the flood.

Og was long dead but the Old Testament mentions several times that giants remained in the land until David and his mighty men eradicated the last of them.

The Amorites were formidable. They forced Dan up into the mountains, and would not let them come down into the plain (Judges 1:34 & 35).

What do you do when you’re facing giants? Some years later, when David was still a gangly young boy, he had the faith to believe that any Israelite could defeat another giant, Goliath, who had four brothers who were similar in size. It wouldn’t be by might, or by power; it would be by the Lord empowering him.

It’s clear God had called the tribe of Dan to more-than-conquer the Amorites, by faith. The Danites had a different approach. They got out of Dodge to find their own inheritance.

Does your ‘fight’ seem too difficult? It is – for you to battle alone. But you’re not alone. Cast your care upon the Lord; let Him take the lead in the fight by yielding to His indwelling Holy Spirit. Rest in His grace and mercy. Your circumstances may not change; but you can conquer within them by enduring them.

Jdg 18:2  So the children of Dan sent five men of their family from their territory, men of valor from Zorah and Eshtaol, to spy out the land and search it. They said to them, “Go, search the land.” So they went to the mountains of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there.

Danites had mighty warriors – “men of valor.” But this was a human evaluation. These were big, skilled guys, who among their peers were skilled combatants. Compared, however, to Nephilim, they were like grasshoppers in their sight.

And that’s the problem. They were walking by sight, not by faith. We must analyze our circumstances, and walk in them by faith.

Take your job, for example. Sure, you can quit, and get another one, if your circumstances aren’t ideal. But even then, you are to more-than-conquer while you remain employed there. Handle the stress in the power of the indwelling Spirit.

I hear the word “represent” used popularly. Let’s say you go to some kind of competition and excel; your peers will say, “Way to represent.”

We represent Jesus in all of our circumstances. We want others to be able to say, “Way to represent.”

Jdg 18:3  While they were at the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young Levite. They turned aside and said to him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What do you have here?”

We met “the young Levite,” whose name was Jonathan, in chapter seventeen. He was a poser. Levites were to remain in their assigned cities, teaching and counseling from God’s Word.

Instead, because worship at the Tabernacle in Shiloh had fallen-off, and times were lean, Jonathan hired himself out to idolatrous Micah as his household priest – something he was not called or qualified to be.

Jdg 18:4  He said to them, “Thus and so Micah did for me. He has hired me, and I have become his priest.”

Jonathan served in a forbidden household shrine that featured a replica of the high priest’s ephod, and two carved idols.

He made it sound spiritual, but the entire arrangement was evil. He should have remained in the city assigned to him, and more-than-conquered the financial hardships that were besetting the Levites in apostate times.

Instead he did exactly what the Danites were doing – he abandoned his allotted territory to find something easier.

We can make almost anything sound spiritual. But not if we honestly measure everything by the objectivity of the Bible.

Jdg 18:5  So they said to him, “Please inquire of God, that we may know whether the journey on which we go will be prosperous.”
Jdg 18:6  And the priest said to them, “Go in peace. The presence of the LORD be with you on your way.”

Not spiritual; not at all. The place to “inquire of God” was near – at the Tabernacle, which was in Micah’s Ephraimite territory.

There’s no way God could have given this answer, because their “journey” was wrong from the get-go.

We can assume that Jonathan’s answer was typical of the false counsel he always gave, telling everyone what they wanted to hear.

You can sometimes get godly counselors to tell you what you want to hear. One way is to omit certain key details from the story you tell them. If you’re going to seek counsel, be honest, and lay everything out.

Jdg 18:7  So the five men departed and went to Laish. They saw the people who were there, how they dwelt safely, in the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and secure. There were no rulers in the land who might put them to shame for anything. They were far from the Sidonians, and they had no ties with anyone.

About forty years earlier Joshua led the Israelites to conquer Canaan but Laish was not part of the territory they were commanded to occupy. The inhabitants of Laish were peaceful and secure, not cruel and war-like.

They were just the opposite of the Amorites; they were an easy conquest.

Don’t go for the easy conquest. Take the ministry as an example. Don’t establish something that is easy when there are real needs to be met. Don’t start a church in a town where there are other good churches. Go someplace that is hungry for God’s Word.

Jdg 18:8  Then the spies came back to their brethren at Zorah and Eshtaol, and their brethren said to them, “What is your report?”
Jdg 18:9  So they said, “Arise, let us go up against them. For we have seen the land, and indeed it is very good. Would you do nothing? Do not hesitate to go, and enter to possess the land.
Jdg 18:10  When you go, you will come to a secure people and a large land. For God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is on the earth.”

God was not giving the Danites anything. They were going to take it, and invoke the name of God. It was blasphemy.

Christians do this, too. They disobey God, very blatantly, then point to all the ways God seems to be blessing them as proof that their disobedience is approved by Him. It is blasphemy.

What are your territories? In one sense, they are everything about your life. Whether home or church or employment or school or relationships in general, God has called you to more-than-conquer.

One reason we don’t experience victory more in our Christian walk is that we escape rather than take our stand.

You are either David facing Goliath… Or you are the Danites fleeing the Amorites. The choice is yours.

Your circumstances are no match for the indwelling Holy Spirit and for all the spiritual resources at your immediate disposal. You are provided every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in order to live-out a godly life. You are promised that you can do all things through Christ strengthening you.

God wants you to discover Him in your circumstances. He is using them to mold you and to make you like Jesus.

#2 – Are You Trespassing Into Territory God Has Not Given You To More-Than-Conquer? (v11-31)

In some cases, the law requires that you post a sign declaring “No Trespassing” on your property in order for it to be enforced.

I came across the following expressive No Trespassing signs:

No Trespassing – Are You Bulletproof, or Just Stupid?
No Trespassing – We’re Tired of Hiding the Bodies
No Trespassing – Do Not Stand, Sit, Climb, or Lean on Zoo Fences. If You Fall, Animals Could Eat You, and That Might Make Them Sick
No Trespassing – This Home Protected By Husband with Gun and By Wife with PMS.

The Danites were going to trespass twice:

First, on Micah’s property.

Second, in the territory of Laish.

Sadly, in these cases, it wasn’t the trespassers who suffered. It was those trespassed against. The Danites would suffer consequences later.

When you or I abandon the circumstances in which we should stand and more-than-conquer, we end up trespassing – and everyone suffers from our faithless disobedience. People get hurt.

Jdg 18:11  And six hundred men of the family of the Danites went from there, from Zorah and Eshtaol, armed with weapons of war.
Jdg 18:12  Then they went up and encamped in Kirjath Jearim in Judah. (Therefore they call that place Mahaneh Dan to this day. There it is, west of Kirjath Jearim.)
Jdg 18:13  And they passed from there to the mountains of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah.
Jdg 18:14  Then the five men who had gone to spy out the country of Laish answered and said to their brethren, “Do you know that there are in these houses an ephod, household idols, a carved image, and a molded image? Now therefore, consider what you should do.”

I think you have a pretty good idea where this was leading. They were going to rob Micah.

Note the phrase, “Consider what you should do.” By itself – great counsel. Someone should have been able to say to the entire tribe of Dan, “Consider what you SHOULD do.” They should abandon their trespassing, return to their inheritance, and beat the giants.

That’s a great principle for counseling, is it not? To hear the matter, in full, then say, “Consider what God says you should do.”

And by “consider,” we mean do it.

Jdg 18:15  So they turned aside there, and came to the house of the young Levite man – to the house of Micah – and greeted him.
Jdg 18:16  The six hundred men armed with their weapons of war, who were of the children of Dan, stood by the entrance of the gate.
Jdg 18:17  Then the five men who had gone to spy out the land went up. Entering there, they took the carved image, the ephod, the household idols, and the molded image. The priest stood at the entrance of the gate with the six hundred men who were armed with weapons of war.

It was bad enough that the Danites left God’s enemies in the land for other Israelites to deal with. Now they were stealing from their brothers.

Once again it’s an example of just how deceived we can be in thinking that God is “blessing” us in our disobedience.

Jdg 18:18  When these went into Micah’s house and took the carved image, the ephod, the household idols, and the molded image, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?”
Jdg 18:19  And they said to him, “Be quiet, put your hand over your mouth, and come with us; be a father and a priest to us. Is it better for you to be a priest to the household of one man, or that you be a priest to a tribe and a family in Israel?”
Jdg 18:20  So the priest’s heart was glad; and he took the ephod, the household idols, and the carved image, and took his place among the people.

Jonathan’s influence in the household of Micah was terrible. But at least it was confined to one family. Now it would be multiplied to a whole tribe of people, who were already deep into disobedience.
The Danites desperately needed a Jeremiah to tell them the truth.

For his part, Jonathan saw this as a promotion. It was a promotion, but it was a worldly one, not a godly one.
Promotion needs to come from the Lord – and that means it has to be in accordance with godliness.

In our society, promotion is almost always seen as not only good, but necessary. There is pressure to promote. But not every promotion is good, let’s say, for your family. Sometimes the godly thing to do is to stay put.

Jdg 18:21  Then they turned and departed, and put the little ones, the livestock, and the goods in front of them.

“Little ones” means children, and this is telling us that they kidnapped members of Micah’s extended household. These guys keep sinking deeper and deeper into sin.

Jdg 18:22  When they were a good way from the house of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house gathered together and overtook the children of Dan.
Jdg 18:23  And they called out to the children of Dan. So they turned around and said to Micah, “What ails you, that you have gathered such a company?”

This is incredible. They were so convinced that they were in the right that they thought it an affront to be pursued.

Jdg 18:24  So he said, “You have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and you have gone away. Now what more do I have? How can you say to me, ‘What ails you?’ ”

Just a quick note: If your gods can be kidnapped, that ought to tell you something.

Jdg 18:25  And the children of Dan said to him, “Do not let your voice be heard among us, lest angry men fall upon you, and you lose your life, with the lives of your household!”
Jdg 18:26  Then the children of Dan went their way. And when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his house.

Bullies. The real fight was back home, against Amorites. Instead they picked on those who were weaker.

Jdg 18:27  So they took the things Micah had made, and the priest who had belonged to him, and went to Laish, to a people quiet and secure; and they struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire.
Jdg 18:28  There was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon, and they had no ties with anyone. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth Rehob. So they rebuilt the city and dwelt there.

The end result was murder; mass murder. What began as a simple act of disobedience started an avalanche of sin resulting in the mass murder of innocent people.

What’s even worse is that the Jews were to be an example to the non-Jews, leading them to convert to Judaism. They ought to have come to Laish as missionaries – not as murderers.

When we abandon our circumstances, and trespass, it kills evangelism. For one thing, we no longer “represent” Jesus – and that might be the very reason God has us in those places.

Jdg 18:29  And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born to Israel. However, the name of the city formerly was Laish.

They called it “Dan” as if it was the land God had allotted them. If some traveler came by years later, by all outward appearances it would seem as though they were in their own territory.

Ah, but their story – their real story – was recorded in the Bible.

What’s your story? If you told it, all of it, would it be godly?

You’re working on it all the time, by your choices. Make it a good one, a godly one.

Jdg 18:30  Then the children of Dan set up for themselves the carved image; and Jonathan the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land.
Jdg 18:31  So they set up for themselves Micah’s carved image which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh.

They settled down into a false city, with a false worship, and seemed to prosper for many, many years.

They enjoyed a land without any enemies to overcome, and they followed a feel-good religion.

Is that what we want? To enjoy a life without any conquest, and to be reinforced in our own selfishness?

Well, on some level, that sounds just fine. If you are in the midst of an intense conflict, it is tempting to escape it. Some trials are so, so hard.

God left enemies in the land because the Israelites needed to learn how to do battle with them. They needed to see God overcoming their enemies through them, as they walked by faith.

In law enforcement, and in emergency services, personnel require continuing training in their perishable skills. Christian – you need continuing training in applying your spiritual resources to the circumstances of your life.

Take inventory of your life. If you are where you are supposed to be, and I’d wager most of us are, then believe that victory can be yours, despite your hardships.

Your circumstances may not change; they may even worsen.

But you are more than a conqueror through Jesus, Who loves you.

And remember that He is changing you from glory-to-glory, to look a little more like Jesus in every way, every day.

Fraudulent Priests & Where to Find Them (Judges 17:1-13)

At the Council of Elrond, convened to determine what to do with the one ring of power, Boromir immediately dismisses the opinion of Strider, saying, “What would a Ranger know of this matter?”

Legolas steps forward, chastising Boromir, revealing that Strider was no mere Ranger. He was Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir to the throne of Gondor, and Boromir’s rightful king.

Angered, and taken aback, Boromir answers, “Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king.”

The major note of the remaining five chapters in the Book of Judges is stated in verse six, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

This phrase will repeat in chapter twenty-one. In between we will be told twice more that Israel had no king.

When the author of Judges (who we believe is Samuel) says “there was no king,” he didn’t only mean that it was before the time of the monarchy that would begin with Saul. He meant that the Israelites had rejected God’s governance over them.

Way back in Deuteronomy 33:5, Moses wrote, “Thus the LORD became king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people were gathered, all the tribes of Israel together.”

Refusing to submit to God as their King, they did what was “right in their own eyes.”

It was a disaster – yielding one of the most sordid episodes not just in the Bible, but in the history of mankind. In these closing pages of Judges there is wife abuse, brutal homosexuality, gang rape leading to murder, injustice, brother killing brother, kidnaping, and the mutilation of a corpse.

As we work through these final chapters (and are thankful we’re not in them) we nevertheless want to discover honest application to our lives as believers in Jesus Christ. Since He is our King, and is coming again to reign over the Kingdom of God on the earth, we can ask a couple of pertinent questions: #1 What Does Your Household Reveal About Who Is King?, and #2 What Does Your Household Of Faith Reveal About Who Is King?

#1 – What Does Your Household Reveal About Who Is King? (v1-6)

There are a couple of things we need to know about chapters seventeen through twenty-one:

First, they are not chronological, but are, in fact, a prequel. They happened before the heroes emerged in the previous chapters.

Second, they largely focus on the activities of two Levites.

Levites were helpers to the priests. When Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land (Joshua 13:33), the sons of Levi were the only Israelite tribe that were assigned cities but were not allowed to be landowners “because the Lord the God of Israel Himself is their inheritance” (Deuteronomy 18:2). They were to be supported by the sacrifices and the offerings presented to the Lord at the Tabernacle.

Like the priests, Levites served on a rotation. When not serving at the Tabernacle, they were supposed to be teachers of the Word of God, and counselors, in their assigned cities.

The two Levites highlighted in these chapters were total failures, indicating that a good part of the problem in those days was with the religious authorities failing to preach God’s Word.

The pew is often under attack as folks tell you how badly you are falling short in things like your giving and your serving. The pulpit needs to be examined as well; in fact, it ought to be examined more, since it is a calling that comes with great responsibility.

Jdg 17:1  Now there was a man from the mountains of Ephraim, whose name was Micah.

We get the feeling that a similar story could have been told about any of the Jews. What we will hear about Micah and his household was typical of the conditions throughout Israel. This was the average household.
Jdg 17:2  And he said to his mother, “The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you, and on which you put a curse, even saying it in my ears – here is the silver with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “May you be blessed by the LORD, my son!”

Right off you’re shaking your head at their behavior. The adult son was a thief. And not a petty thief, either. He stole a fortune.

He seemed to have no conscience bothering him. It was only when he heard mommy utter a “curse” on the thief that he came clean.

I’m guessing mom knew all along it was her son who stole the money. Once she flushed him out, she uttered a blessing to cancel-out the curse.

The word, “superstitious” comes to mind. They were caught-up in curses and anti-curses, as if these meant anything.

Do you think there are any Christian superstitions? Would you live at 666 Main Street? Does it bother you if the elevator has a button for the 13th floor?

Here’s a common Christian superstition: “God wants you to be happy.”

No, God wants you to be holy. He’s more interested in your character than He is your comfort.

In fact, being a Christian brings persecution. Jesus promised we would have trouble in the world, but encouraged us to have joy in it. The first disciples rejoiced anytime they were counted worthy to suffer for identifying with Jesus.
If happiness is your talisman, you won’t recognize the hand of God at work in your life, deepening your relationship with Him.

Some Christian superstitions seem spiritual. There’s a famous saying about the Bible, “Sin will keep you from this book, or this book will keep you from sin.”

How do you explain it, then, when a Bible teacher, often in his prime, falls into sin? Surely he has been “in this book,” studying.

A statement like that reduces the Bible to a superstitious charm.

Here’s a more subtle version I came across: “The Gospel brings man to God; devotions keep him close to God.” Daily devotions, that is. It’s one of many such sayings that elevate the importance of having daily devotions.

This is a tough one because I absolutely want to encourage you to have daily devotional time with Jesus. No question.

With that said, ask yourself, “Why am I having devotions?” Let me give you an illustration. Do you have a daily time with your wife (or your husband)? If you do, why is it? Is it because you love them, and would rather be with them than with anyone, or anywhere, else?

Or is it to maintain a bare minimum standard of communication?

Or, worse, because you want to keep him or her happy so they will continue to bless you by performing their part in the marriage?

Have devotions with Jesus because you love Him.

I would be willing to say that we all have subtle superstitions. Ask the Lord to show you yours.

So far nothing remotely spiritual has taken place in Micah’s household. Everyone’s actions and reactions are outside the context of the Old Testament law. They were making this stuff up as they went.

Jdg 17:3  So when he had returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, “I had wholly dedicated the silver from my hand to the LORD for my son, to make a carved image and a molded image; now therefore, I will return it to you.”

Micah stole the silver and gave it back. The Old Testament law required Micah to add a fifth to what he had stolen, but there is no record of him doing so. The theft cost him nothing; there were no consequences. In fact, he benefitted, as we read next that mom indicated she had set it aside to make two household idols for her son.

Jdg 17:4  Thus he returned the silver to his mother. Then his mother took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to the silversmith, and he made it into a carved image and a molded image; and they were in the house of Micah.

I’m not good at math, but it seems that the silver mom returned to Micah was nine hundred shekels less than the original amount. Micah had learned his thieving ways at home, from his mom.

Jdg 17:5  The man Micah had a shrine, and made an ephod and household idols; and he consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest.

The Jews were supposed to worship at one central location – at the Tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat were.

The Tabernacle was in Gilgal for the first fourteen years of capturing and dividing the land. It then moved to Shiloh for the next 369 years.

Shiloh was in the territory of Ephraim. It therefore wasn’t even a long, hazardous journey for Micah to worship as prescribed by the Law.

I don’t want to belabor it, but this would be a good time to check my attendance at the gatherings of the church. We shouldn’t make attendance a superstition. But we are, as believers, exhorted to not forsake gathering together as often as possible, especially as we see that we are living in the End Times (Hebrews 10:25).

Priests must be descended from Aaron. The high priest wore the ephod, a kind of outer vest with precious stones on it representing the tribes of Israel as he ministered before the Lord.

Making your own ephod and household idols; worshipping at a home shrine; appointing your own Ephraimite son to be your priest; these were heresies of the highest order.

Several commentators point out that Micah and his mother managed to break seven of the Ten Commandments without even stepping outside their household.

The son didn’t honor his mother; instead, he stole from her and then lied about it. First, he coveted the silver, and then he took it. (According to Colossians 3:5, covetousness is idolatry). Then he lied about the whole enterprise until the curse scared him into confessing.

Thus he broke the fifth, eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments; and he broke the first and second commandments by having a shrine of false gods in his home. According to Proverbs 30:8-9, when he stole the silver, he broke the third commandment and took the name of the Lord in vain.

For her part, Micah’s mother broke the first two commandments by making an idol and encouraging her son to maintain a private “shrine” in his home.

I’m sure you’ve heard some Bible teacher say of the that, “They are the Ten Commandments – not the Ten Suggestions!” Behind that statement is an important truth – the Word of God is objective, not subjective. Here’s a quote that better explains what I mean:

Biblical truth is objective. It is true by itself. It is true whether or not we feel it’s true. It is true whether or not it has been validated by someone’s experience. It is true because God says it is true. It is wholly true, and it is true down to the smallest jot and tittle. Psalm 119:160 says, “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.”

The world sees the Bible, at best, as being subjective. If they read something in it that they disagree with, they go with their own sin-inspired wisdom.

We should expect nonbelievers to ignore and oppose the Bible. The Book of Romans describes them as those who “did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (1:28).

More-and-more, however, it is professing Christians who are handling God’s Word as if it was subjective. The topic of marriage, divorce, and remarriage is the most obvious example.

Now, I don’t mean to pick on marriage all the time; it’s just that it makes for the most obvious example. We all can relate to it. There’s nothing more fundamental to a talk on the household than to assess the current state of marriage.

God’s Word is clear: Marriage is to be monogamous, heterosexual, to last as long as you both shall live. That is the basic objective truth by which all things regarding marriage must be measured. Things like polygamy, and homosexual marriage, are subjective. It is people doing what is right in their own eyes, contrary to what is right.

The biblical grounds for a divorce are somewhat narrow – sexual sin and abandonment by a nonbeliever.

We expect the world to redefine marriage, and to council divorce.

Sadly, professing believers also act as though they have the freedom to divorce and remarry for almost any reason, as long as it makes them feel good. They don’t see God’s Word as providing the grace-filled objectivity they need in order to obey the Lord in His power.

We are right in preaching to the world about the sanctity of marriage. But we ought to do so from a strong position with regards to our own obedience to God’s Word.

Jdg 17:6  In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

There was no human king; no man sat on the throne, ruling the tribes. There would be, one day; God spoke of them having a king in Deuteronomy, and outlined his qualifications.

The lack of a human king was no excuse, because God was their King. Micah had all the governance he needed, from the Word of God.

It might be bumper-sticker theology, but you’ve seen it: “God said it; I believe it; That settles it.”

If that’s too juvenile, here is how a scholar put it: “Our faith is grounded in the conviction that God has spoken, and His Word is objective truth. What He has given us is absolute and unshakable – and it is the truth by which all other truth-claims are measured.”

If you have children in the home, you probably have a wall with lines on it where you measure their physical height at different ages.

The Bible is a measuring tool. With it you measure your behavior. God’s objective truth is for His glory, and it’s for your good. If you are facing a situation where you think you’d be happy, but you know it’s against God’s Word, go with objectivity – not your own subjective feelings.

Subjective Christianity may not make ephods and shrines and carved images, but the spirit behind it is just as heretical.

Know and believe that as you submit to God’s objective truth, He knows the plans He has for you – “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

#2 – What Does Your Household Of Faith Reveal About Who Is King? (v7-13)

One of the names for the church on earth is “the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). We’re told, “You will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God” (First Timothy 3:15). Also, “You are fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Ephesians 2:19).

It’s the Lord’s household; we are the family of believers who occupy it. Our behavior communicates something about who we believe is the King.

For example, in the church at Corinth – in that household – the believers gathered each Sunday evening for a pot-luck, followed by a Communion service. At the pot-luck, the wealthier believers were hoarding their food, and were getting drunk on too much wine. It was a terrible representation of the household of faith.

As we work through these verses, we want to pay attention to any prompting from God’s Spirit, to see ourselves, and what we are revealing about Jesus to onlookers.

Two Levites dominate these remaining chapters. We meet the first one right now.

Jdg 17:7  Now there was a young man from Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah; he was a Levite, and was staying there.

If you’ve got your thinking cap on, you’re wondering how this guy could be both a “Levite” and “of the family of Judah.”

One solution is that there are two cities called Bethlehem – one belonging to Zebulun and the other Judah (Joshua 19:15). The text emphasizes that the city under discussion is the Judean Bethlehem. Thus the words “of the family of Judah” might not be referring to the Levite, but rather to the city.

The Levites received no inheritance of land. Instead, there were (I think) forty-eight cities they were assigned to throughout the land. When it wasn’t their rotation to serve the priests in the Tabernacle, they were to be teachers of God’s Word, and counselors, in their assigned cities.

Right away we know that this Levite was a little off, because neither of the Bethlehem’s were on the list. He was in an area that was unassigned, and that was itself wrong.
In chapter eighteen, we’ll learn that the Levite’s name was Jonathan (v30).

Jdg 17:8  The man departed from the city of Bethlehem in Judah to stay wherever he could find a place. Then he came to the mountains of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, as he journeyed.

Times were lean for the priests and the Levites. They depended upon the people bringing their sacrifices and offerings to the Tabernacle, and that wasn’t happening. Jonathan was, in essence, looking for work, instead of trusting in the Lord where he had been assigned.
Do you think it is up to you, or up to God, to determine things like where you live, where you work, and where you attend church?

With so much freedom in our great nation, and with so many choices, it can seem as though God has left our life’s path totally up to us. He hasn’t; He wants to lead us.

Is your plan God’s plan for your life? Only you can answer that; but you first need to ask the question.

Jdg 17:9  And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” So he said to him, “I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, and I am on my way to find a place to stay.”

In other words, “I’m available, if you’re looking to hire a Levite.”

We’ve already seen that Micah is not spiritual; he’s an idolator. That’s why he overlooks the facts that this Levite was from the wrong town, looking for the wrong ministry. Those things ought to have been red flags.

Jdg 17:10  Micah said to him, “Dwell with me, and be a father and a priest to me, and I will give you ten shekels of silver per year, a suit of clothes, and your sustenance.” So the Levite went in.

“Be a father” meant that Jonathan would advise Micah. Of course, since neither of them had any concern for the objective Word of God, the advice would always be subjective.

And because Jonathan was directly beholden to Micah for his sustenance, the advice would always be in agreement with what Micah wanted to do. He’d only hear what he wanted to hear.

I know that is so, because right off the bat Jonathan says nothing about Micah having household idols. He ought to have rebuked Micah and demanded he destroy them, along with the ephod and the shrine.

Believe it or not, one characteristic of a good, properly functioning, household of faith is that we don’t always hear what we want to hear. That means at least two things:

First, it means that we ought to be going through the Word of God, all of it, verse-by-verse. We should be teaching all of it – not just parts we like.

Second, the Word of God should challenge us. It should direct and redirect us.

Jdg 17:11  Then the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man became like one of his sons to him.

Jonathan was a father… And a son… to Micah. That had to get confusing. On top of that, Micah’s own blood son had been serving as the family priest, but got muscled out when Jonathan arrived. And don’t forget mom was a weirdo.

This would have been great fodder for reality television. What we’re reading is like the pilot episode for Micah & Me; or Real Levites of the Mountains of Ephraim. It’s compelling.

Jdg 17:12  So Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and lived in the house of Micah.

“Consecrated.” I don’t even know what that means. An Ephraimite idolator couldn’t “consecrate” his own non-Levitical priest to serve in his idolatrous household shrine.

A lot of folks had shrines and ephods and carved images. Few could boast of their own personal Levite. Micah had succeeded in establishing his own entirely self-sufficient religion.

Jdg 17:13  Then Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since I have a Levite as priest!”

I don’t doubt that Micah was sincere. He was sincerely wrong, however.

Jonathan was unqualified to be a priest; he wasn’t a descendant of Aaron. He was not in his assigned city. He wasn’t even teaching Micah God’s Word, but was only telling him what he wanted to hear.

He was on the payroll, when Levites were supposed to live off of the free-will offerings of the nation.

When the author says “everyone did what was right in their own eyes,” he meant the religious leaders as well. Jonathan was tragically typical of the Levites.

Any church ought to hold up to scrutiny. We ought to have objective, biblical reasons for what we do, and for what we don’t do. We want to reveal, among other things, that Jesus is the Head of our household of faith, and that He is the King Who is coming to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth.

If there is one take-away from today, it’s this word, and this concept, of objectivity. We have the inspired, authoritative Word of God – the Bible. In it we find everything we need for life and for godliness.

If God says it, I am to believe it – even if it does not sit well with me, or is contrary to what I feel, or what I want to do. His Word ought to settle the matter. No matter how much pressure I feel from myself or from the world to do what is right in my own eyes, I must go with God’s assessment.

Further, I must understand and believe that what God commands, He enables me to do. It isn’t by my will power that I obey the Word of God, but by His empowering through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

All the things for life and godliness are set out in Scripture; and I can do all those things through Jesus, Who strengthens me.

The Daily Grind (Judges 16:1-31)

Jim Croce sang, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape.” Normally it’s good advice.

But in the feature film, Superman 2, the man of steel temporarily relinquishes his power because he is in love with Lois Lane. Only as strong as the average human, he promptly gets beat-up by a bully in a diner.

The waitress turns on the television to try to get things back to normal. Moments afterward the President of the United States, speaking on behalf of all the leaders of the world, announces that the planet has surrendered to General Zod from Krypton.

At the end of his scripted speech, the president yells out, “Superman, can you hear me? Superman, where are you?”

Christian – Have you ever thought of yourself as having super powers? If you don’t like the word “super,” substitute “supernatural.”

After all:

A Christian is “a new creation” (Second Corinthians 5:17).
The Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead lives within us (Romans 8:11).
He Who lives in us is greater than the malevolent supernatural being who is the current god of this world (First John 4:4).
We’re told that we can do all things through Jesus Christ strengthening us (Philippians 4:13).

I’ll bet you can think of a few other verses that highlight the supernatural power provided by the indwelling Spirit.

Since all that is true, why is it we do not always walk in victory? Why do we sometimes feel so defeated?

“Where are you, super Christian?”

Samson may provide some answers. Samson was something of a super man – empowered by the Spirit to do incredible feats of strength. But he did not always walk in victory, and was for a time at the end of his life completely defeated.

What was his downfall? Like Superman, Samson was in love, but it wasn’t with Lois Lane. He was in love with a prostitute who betrayed him for her own profit. He relinquished his power for her, only to be blinded and bound.

There is a similar love that can cause us to relinquish our supernatural power. It is the love for this present world. The apostle John warned us, saying, “do not love the world, or the things in the world” (First John 2:15).

Love for the world, and the things of the world, is at least one reason we might be defeated. Let’s see if it’s true of us.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Reckon That Your Strength Is Not Like That Of Other Men, and #2 Refuse To Relinquish Your Strength To Be Like Other Men.

#1 – Reckon That Your Strength Is Not Like That Of Other Men (v1-3)

I enjoy super hero movies. What I don’t enjoy in some of them is super hero angst.

In every reboot of Superman, there’s attention given to young Clark Kent having angst because he can’t do the things the other boys do. He can’t play football, for example.

Well, he could… But it would be pretty one-sided.

At some point he always exclaims, “Why can’t I be like everyone else?”

Because you’re Superman, that’s why. Give me a break. Do I want to letter in high school sports – or save the world?

At many points in our Christian lives, sometimes daily, part of us can yearn for the world, and the things of the world. Our children provide a good example. If you are raising them to be godly, there’s a separation from the world. They will eventually, then repeatedly, ask you, “Why can’t I be like everyone else? Why can’t I do what all the others kids are doing?”

As grown-ups, we don’t say those exact words; but we can sometimes look longingly upon the world, and the things of the world, and be willing to relinquish our being strengthened to overcome the world in order to be like everyone else.

We need to quit with the angst. We’re part of saving the world – by bringing forth the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation to those who are perishing.

Is being a living sacrifice, and a disciple who daily picks up his Cross, worth it? You bet it is.

Samson’s great strength is an illustration. What he was empowered to do physically we are empowered to do spiritually. We are therefore not like other men.

Let’s see just how strong in the Lord Samson was, so that we can believe how strong in the Lord we are.

Jdg 16:1  Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her.

Gaza was deep in Philistine territory, and one of its major cities. Commentators are all over the place on why Samson “went to Gaza,” and if he should even be there.

I remembered something interesting about Gaza. We’re told in Joshua 11:22, “None of the Anakim were left in the land of the children of Israel; they remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod.”

The Anakim were Nephilim – the giant offspring of fallen angels mating with women.
Giants lived in the Promised Land until eradicated by King David. Perhaps Samson went to Gaza to confront these giants. He was, after all, Israel’s hero.

Dug the dog in the Pixar film, Up, can talk through his electronic collar. As he’s talking, he will yell out, “Squirrel!” when he is momentarily distracted by one running by. He loses his train of thought afterwards.

Whatever Samson’s reasons for going to Gaza, he sees a prostitute and his hormones yell “Squirrel!”

Jdg 16:2  When the Gazites were told, “Samson has come here!” they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the gate of the city. They were quiet all night, saying, “In the morning, when it is daylight, we will kill him.”

There’s some debate on whether or not this was a good strategy. All I can say is that Samson was a difficult target; this was as good a plan as any – at least on paper.

Jdg 16:3  And Samson lay low till midnight; then he arose at midnight, took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two gateposts, pulled them up, bar and all, put them on his shoulders, and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.

Samson decided to check-out of the brothel early. The gates of the city would have been locked and guarded. No problem – he just picked them up and carried them off.

I read a scholarly paper on the Gates of Gaza. Using the gates of other known cities as a model, the author estimated, conservatively, that the gates could have weighed as much as ten tons – two thousand pounds – or more.

If I did my research right, the world record for the clean and jerk is around 550 pounds. Samson lifted four times that.

I might add that it didn’t matter if those gates weighed ten tons… Or a hundred tons. Samson wouldn’t have strained under any weight, because it was God strengthening him to lift them.

A weightlifter holds the clean and jerk for just a few seconds. Samson walked an estimated forty miles to Hebron, some of it uphill. It may have taken him twenty hours.

It is an incredible physical feat. It’s no wonder that none of the Philistines who may have been awakened dared to challenge him.

Samson removed and carried away the Gates of Gaza. There are a set of gates that you obliterate.

Jesus once said that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18). Gates represent power. In context, Jesus was telling us that He would conquer the power of death and Hell. By His own death and resurrection, the power of Hell would be obliterated for those who believe in Him. Death would lose its fear.

Do you ever dwell on the fact that when you die, as a believer, you are immediately absent from your body and present with Jesus? Or that you might be raptured and never die? And that Jesus is preparing your heavenly home?
But it isn’t just for eternity you are strengthened by the indwelling Spirit. It is for living right now.

I’ve pointed out before that Samson was an average Jew. He wasn’t a musclebound gym rat. His strength came from God.

We tend to think that only spiritually musclebound believers can achieve victory in Jesus. You know, the guys and gals who never miss devotions, and pray all the time, and in every way seem practically perfect. (They’re not, BTW).

We’re learning from Samson that the average believer – any believer – is just as able to have victory in Jesus, because the power comes from the Spirit Who indwells us, and not from our will power or discipline or personal strength.

The average, everyday believer is “more than a conqueror” (Romans 8:37), enabled to be an “overcomer.”

You can obey the Lord; you can say “No” to sin, reckoning yourself dead to sin but alive to God.

Maybe your problem isn’t sin; it’s a trying circumstance. You are empowered to endure.

First John 5:5 asks, “Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Then your strength is not like that of other men. Reckon it to be true. Walk in that strength.

#2 – Refuse To Relinquish Your Strength To Be Like Other Men (v4-31)

You don’t have to chase the squirrel. Samson didn’t either; but he did, and it cost him.

Jdg 16:4  Afterward it happened that he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.

Since her name means “devotee,” commentators suggest Delilah might have been a temple prostitute at the Temple of Dagon.

Samson fell in love with the wrong girl. It’s possible to do that; it happens all too frequently. A Christian who is married can fall in love with someone other than their spouse. Guess what? It’s wrong, and you should rather obey God.

Jdg 16:5  And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Entice him, and find out where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to afflict him; and every one of us will give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.”

I’m guessing the Philistines knew that Samson’s strength came from the God of Israel. They were well aware of the Exodus, and the conquest of Canaan by Israel. They would also have known the doctrine of Balaam – that if a Jew was walking with God, he was invincible, but if you could get him to disobey, God would discipline him for you.

I think they were wanting Delilah to get Samson to somehow cross the line with his God.

God is so gracious. You’d think Samson had already crossed the line. But God was still using him, still empowering him.

Jdg 16:6  So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and with what you may be bound to afflict you.”
Jdg 16:7  And Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings, not yet dried, then I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”
Jdg 16:8  So the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven fresh bowstrings, not yet dried, and she bound him with them.
Jdg 16:9  Now men were lying in wait, staying with her in the room. And she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he broke the bowstrings as a strand of yarn breaks when it touches fire. So the secret of his strength of was not known.

Samson must not have practiced situational awareness. Could he not surmise that there were Philistines “lying in wait?”

How crazy was Samson? The minute Delilah started quizzing him about his strength, and asking about bindings, he ought to have run out of her house. Instead he was drawn further in.

How crazy am I, if I toy with some sin? I know it wants to bind me, but instead of fleeing, I am drawn further in – thinking I can stop whenever I want.

Jdg 16:10  Then Delilah said to Samson, “Look, you have mocked me and told me lies. Now, please tell me what you may be bound with.”
Jdg 16:11  So he said to her, “If they bind me securely with new ropes that have never been used, then I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”
Jdg 16:12  Therefore Delilah took new ropes and bound him with them, and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And men were lying in wait, staying in the room. But he broke them off his arms like a thread.

I was struggling, trying to explain this, when I realized that the point is that sin makes you an idiot. If any of us are playing around with sin – it’s idiotic because the devil is lying in wait.

Jdg 16:13  Delilah said to Samson, “Until now you have mocked me and told me lies. Tell me what you may be bound with.” And he said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my head into the web of the loom” –

We can’t be sure how old Samson was at this point; but he must be forty at least. His hair had never been cut, and to manage it, he wore it in seven braids.

China’s Xie Qiuping is on record as having the world’s longest hair, measured at a little over eighteen feet in 2004, according to the Guinness World Records.

Jdg 16:14  So she wove it tightly with the batten of the loom, and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he awoke from his sleep, and pulled out the batten and the web from the loom.
Jdg 16:15  Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and have not told me where your great strength lies.”
Jdg 16:16  And it came to pass, when she pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, so that his soul was vexed to death,
Jdg 16:17  that he told her all his heart, and said to her, “No razor has ever come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”

Part of the Nazirite vow was that “All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD, he shall be holy” (Numbers 6:5).

When the period of time you volunteered to be a Nazirite ended, you shaved your head as a sign you were done (Numbers 6:18).

By allowing his head to be shaved, Samson was announcing that he was done being God’s Nazirite. In his case, since he was called by God to be a Nazirite for life, in order to judge Israel, it was like turning in his resignation.

Think of it like this: God wanted His judge to be a life long Nazirite. If Samson wasn’t going to go Nazirite, then he wouldn’t be judge – and that meant he’d no longer need the supernatural empowering of the Spirit.

There’s something about his seven braids. Samson didn’t have the scroll of Isaiah, or John’s Revelation, but we do. In them we see that “seven” is used to describe the Holy Spirit:

Isaiah 11:2 mentions seven attributes of the Holy Spirit.
Harking back to Isaiah’s description, in Revelation 1:4 and 3:1, the Holy Spirit is referred to as “the seven spirits.”

Samson’s seven locks of never-cut hair represented the Holy Spirit upon him, strengthening him. Cut his hair with his permission and it represented him relinquishing the Spirit.

Jdg 16:18  When Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up once more, for he has told me all his heart.” So the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hand.
Jdg 16:19  Then she lulled him to sleep on her knees, and called for a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him.

Samson was a sound sleeper, for sure. Even so, this is one brave hairdresser.

Jdg 16:20  And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” So he awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him.

God did not abandon him; Samson was still saved. God withdrew the empowering of the Spirit. David would later write, “take not thy Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11), referring to His empowering.

If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit resides within you permanently. You can, however, forfeit His power. If you refuse to yield to Him, and instead yield to the flesh, you disconnect from His empowering. It’s there but you’re unplugged, as it were.
Jdg 16:21  Then the Philistines took him and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza. They bound him with bronze fetters, and he became a grinder in the prison.

These ancient cultures loved to blind their victims. I came across this summary:

It was not uncommon for the king to punish a rebellions district by exacting so many pounds of eyes, and the executioners go and scoop out the eyes of those they met till they have the weight required. Sometimes the eyes were pulled or cut out; sometimes a red-hot iron was drawn before them. At other times the pupils were pierced, or destroyed, or they were taken out whole with the point of a dagger, and carried to the king in a basin.

The word used regarding Samson’s eyes means “bored out.”

You’ve probably seen depictions of Samson harnessed to a large grinding apparatus, the way an oxen would be. That’s not accurate. He was doing woman’s work, using a simple grinding stone and bowl, all day, everyday. It was humiliating, not a show of strength.

Jdg 16:22  However, the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaven.

You’d think Samson would have a standing appointment with the prison barber. For whatever reason, the Philistines thought his strength would not return to him.

Have you ever sinned, then thought you’d never be able to recover?
I’m not saying there weren’t consequences, but didn’t you find that where your sin abounded, God’s grace much more abounded?

Perhaps the Philistines could not conceive of grace.

EJdg 16:23  Now the lords of the Philistines gathered together to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice. And they said: “Our god has delivered into our hands Samson our enemy!”
Jdg 16:24  When the people saw him, they praised their god; for they said: “Our god has delivered into our hands our enemy, The destroyer of our land, And the one who multiplied our dead.”

Fictional fighter Apollo Creed has several nicknames: The Master of Disaster; The King of Sting; The Dancing Destroyer; The Prince of Punch; The Count of Monte Fisto.

Samson had earned nicknames for his exploits. I think we can be sure he did more damage to the Philistines in his twenty year career than what is recorded for us in Judges.

Jdg 16:25  So it happened, when their hearts were merry, that they said, “Call for Samson, that he may perform for us.” So they called for Samson from the prison, and he performed for them. And they stationed him between the pillars.

These were not feats of strength. They thought his strength gone. We can only surmise the awful humiliations they put him through.

They put him on display between two load bearing pillars of the Temple.

Jdg 16:26  Then Samson said to the lad who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars which support the temple, so that I can lean on them.”

The once powerful hero was now able to be led along by a child. The Philistines did it to humiliate him.

Jdg 16:27  Now the temple was full of men and women. All the lords of the Philistines were there – about three thousand men and women on the roof watching while Samson performed.

I can’t decide if three thousand is a total number, or just those in the chief seats.

Jdg 16:28  Then Samson called to the LORD, saying, “O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!”

Samson was certainly sincere in repenting. We know he was, because God honored his request. Nevertheless he still had an “I” problem – as in thinking this was still somehow about him and not the glory of his God.

Jdg 16:29  And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars which supported the temple, and he braced himself against them, one on his right and the other on his left.
Jdg 16:30  Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life.

We talk about suicide missions. The soldiers who volunteer for them don’t want to commit suicide, but they know they are probably going to die. It’s for the greater good and we honor them for it.

Jdg 16:31  And his brothers and all his father’s household came down and took him, and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. He had judged Israel twenty years.

Who knew Samson had brothers? These heroes are just like us.

He did it imperfectly, but for twenty years Samson kept the Philistines at bay, giving Israel some rest.

Samson relinquished his strength and became like other men. He didn’t know it was going to happen; but he should have.

That thing or that person you might be lusting after, or coveting… Is it really worth it to turn your back on the Lord, Who bought you, in order to experience what might bring a moment’s pleasure but a lifetime of regrets?

What or who is it that makes you stop and say, “Squirrel?”

You’ve been delivered from sin and are not like other men. Don’t be quick to relinquish your strength. God the Holy Spirit is in you. Yield to Him. Believe that God’s commands come with His enabling to obey them.

If you’re in a tough situation, but you know it is of the Lord, endure it in His strength.

You are not like other men… Don’t lament it, and want to be like them. Instead be part of saving the world.

“Where is super Christian?” It’s you.

Shock And Jaw (Judges 15:1-20)

In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, once the adamantium is in him, Logan easily breaks free from his restraints and wreaks havoc on his captors as he makes his escape.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in Total Recall breaks through metal shackles… twice.

In Man of Steel, when Superman is in military custody, he effortlessly breaks the handcuffs they put on him to show that they couldn’t control him.

Top of my list – In The Muppet Movie, Miss Piggy snaps her bonds to save her frog.

Movie heroes love to show off their power by busting out of chains, ropes, or similar restraints.

I say it originated with Israel’s hero, Samson. Early and later in his career, he was bound, only to easily break his restraints.

The first of those episodes is in chapter fifteen. His own people bound him, to turn him over to the Philistines:

Jdg 15:13  … “we will tie you securely and deliver you into their hand; but we will surely not kill you.” And they bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock.
Jdg 15:14  When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting against him. Then the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him; and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds broke loose from his hands.

It’s a great story, with lots of intrigue. It’s also an illustration:

God was trying to show the Israelites that, like Samson, they had yielded themselves to be bound. God warned them that if they chose to worship the gods of the surrounding nations, He would deliver them to their oppression. They did, and in that sense, they had yielded themselves to being bound by them.
But also like Samson, the Israelites could easily, at any time, break their bondage and overcome the Philistines, by humbly returning to God.

It’s a picture for us, too. A Christian can be bound by yielding himself or herself over to sin, or you can break free by yielding yourself to the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here is how the apostle Paul explained it:

Rom 6:13 (KJV) Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
We have a choice. We can walk in the freedom of serving Jesus by yielding ourselves to Him. Or we can yield ourselves to sin and return to its bondage.

The same Holy Spirit Who empowered Samson physically can empower you spiritually. There are, therefore, no bonds that can possibly hold you, unless you voluntarily yield yourself to sin.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Quit Yielding Yourself To Be Bound By Sin, and #2 Keep Yielding Yourself To Be Unbound By The Spirit.

#1 – Quit Yielding Yourself To Be Bound By Sin (v1-13)

I know a lot of you enjoyed the recent version of Beauty and the Beast with live actors, but for my tastes, the animated version is superior. I especially like Gaston. The song sung by Lefou about him perfectly captures his self-absorbed nature:

No one hits like Gaston
Matches wits like Gaston

In a spitting match, nobody spits like Gaston

I’m especially good at expectorating!


I don’t want to suggest Samson was like Gaston in terms of his physique. Samson was average, at best – otherwise why would the Philistines wonder where his strength came from?

When we left Samson, he had killed thirty Philistines to pay his gambling debt. He had lost the bet because the Philistines pressured his betrothed wife to discover the answer to Samson’s riddle.

Angered, Samson left his betrothed wife at the proverbial altar.

Jdg 15:1  After a while, in the time of wheat harvest, it happened that Samson visited his wife with a young goat. And he said, “Let me go in to my wife, into her room.” But her father would not permit him to go in.

In chapter fourteen, Samson had referred to his betrothed as a “heifer.” He abandoned her; we’re not sure how long, but it seems a significant period of time.

The fix, in his mind, was to bring her… A goat.

Some commentators try to argue that a young goat was their version of a box of chocolates. I’m not buying it. It was Gaston-like.

She was betrothed to Samson, by the legal arrangement of the parents. The marriage feast had been thrown, but Samson left before the marriage was consummated.

Because everything was about him, he assumed that the jilted bride would be waiting expectantly for him. He was in for a rude awakening.

Jdg 15:2  Her father said, “I really thought that you thoroughly hated her; therefore I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister better than she? Please, take her instead.”

Samson may have abandoned the wedding feast, but this Philistine father of the bride was not about to lose his deposit. They went ahead with the marriage without the groom, giving the daughter to a Philistine who was standing in as best man.

To resolve the matter, he offered Samson his younger daughter. What’s with these Old Testament fathers, always offering up their daughters to be abused?

Jdg 15:3  And Samson said to them, “This time I shall be blameless regarding the Philistines if I harm them!”
Jdg 15:4  Then Samson went and caught three hundred foxes; and he took torches, turned the foxes tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails.
Jdg 15:5  When he had set the torches on fire, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burned up both the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive groves.

This capture required some supernatural help. I find it hard to catch my cat inside the house.

Samson was not a member of PETA, that’s for sure. I doubt the foxes survived.

Overlooking that fact, I have to say that this was a brilliant strategy. It allowed one man to destroy the entire agrarian economy of that region in one day.

Jdg 15:6  Then the Philistines said, “Who has done this?” And they answered, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he has taken his wife and given her to his companion.” So the Philistines came up and burned her and her father with fire.

The father of the bride had done nothing wrong – except get involved with Samson in the first place. Let’s hope our involvement with nonbelievers leads to greater spiritual life for them.

I hear they are remaking Death Wish. Bruce Willis is going to be the vigilante that Charles Bronson made famous in the original.

It’s doubtful that Samson was too torn-up emotionally, but it offered him the opportunity to do some damage to the Philistines.

Jdg 15:7  Samson said to them, “Since you would do a thing like this, I will surely take revenge on you, and after that I will cease.”
Jdg 15:8  So he attacked them hip and thigh with a great slaughter; then he went down and dwelt in the cleft of the rock of Etam.

No one is quite sure exactly the derivation of the phrase, “smote them hip and thigh.” I think our equivalent would be, “tore them limb from limb.” In chapter fourteen Samson had been attacked by an Asiatic lion in its prime. He “tore the lion apart.”

I think, quite literally, Samson tore the limbs off of these Philistines in a massacre. We aren’t told how many he killed, but it was a significant enough number to be called “a great slaughter.”

Samson thought he’d kill a few guys, then “after that I will cease.” He wanted to even the score; or, at least, have the last word. He didn’t have any sense that he was supposed to be Israel’s hero.

Jdg 15:9  Now the Philistines went up, encamped in Judah, and deployed themselves against Lehi.
Jdg 15:10  And the men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?” So they answered, “We have come up to arrest Samson, to do to him as he has done to us.”
Jdg 15:11  Then three thousand men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines rule over us? What is this you have done to us?” And he said to them, “As they did to me, so I have done to them.”

Three thousand men – to appeal to one man? The men of Judah were afraid.

Too bad they had no fear of God:

Had they feared God, they would not be subject to the Philistines, but instead would be ruling over them.

Had they feared God, they would not have been afraid of the man God was using against their enemy.

Had they feared God, they would be volunteering to become Samson’s army.

Jdg 15:12  But they said to him, “We have come down to arrest you, that we may deliver you into the hand of the Philistines.” Then Samson said to them, “Swear to me that you will not kill me yourselves.”

Surely, someone among the men of Judah must have known the story of the Angel of the Lord visiting Mr. And Mrs. Manoah, promising them a child who would grow up to be Israel’s next hero. Somewhere stories must have been told of him being a Nazirite from the womb.

Now here he was, clearly able to deal death blows to the Philistines. Sure, he was a little rough around the edges; but this was their hero, and he was bonafide.

Instead of rallying, they arrested him. Luckily for them, Samson agreed to be arrested.

Jdg 15:13  So they spoke to him, saying, “No, but we will tie you securely and deliver you into their hand; but we will surely not kill you.” And they bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock.

In the scene I alluded to earlier, in The Man of Steel, when Superman consents to be handcuffed, there is a veritable army standing by, with things like tranquilizer guns. We all know that it’s useless against him – that he is submitting because it will get him to the real fight.

Still, the men of Judah go down to Lowe’s and get “two new ropes,” thinking they will hold Samson secure.

The men of Judah don’t see it. They don’t see what is being illustrated right before their eyes. By worshipping the gods of the Philistines, which they were forewarned by God to not do, they had voluntarily given themselves over to be in bondage to a fierce enemy.

Sure, it was God Who delivered them to the Philistines, by withdrawing His protection. But it was their choice to go that route.

In front of them was an average looking Jew who had extraordinary supernatural enabling from God. That, too, could be them. It should be them.

Even though it was a time in which God was raising up judges, I submit that any devout Jew could have defeated the Philistines. I base that on the fact that some years later, just as the time of the judges was ending, giving way to the kings, a teenaged shepherd boy was amazed that not a single Israelite accepted the challenge of the giant, Goliath. David knew that any Jew could take him in a fight, because it wasn’t a fair fight with God on your side.

What about us? After we are saved, we are to yield our members – our bodies and our minds – over to God, to serve Him. But we find left within our unredeemed, mortal bodies, the flesh – a propensity to give ourselves over to sin; to use our bodies and our minds to serve ourselves, rather than God.

When we yield to sin, it’s as if we ask to be bound by the very things we’ve been delivered from. Then we act like it’s not our fault, and that there’s not much we can do about it.

The idea of being able to immediately break the bindings has become foreign to us. We believe that weeks or months or years or a lifetime is needed to say “No” to sin.

Notwithstanding that we will struggle against our flesh until we are immortal, we are to believe we can have immediate victory.

The apostle Paul bemoaned the fact that there is a struggle within against the flesh. He even sounded desperate when he declared, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

He quickly answered himself, saying, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord…” (7:25). Then he spent an entire chapter describing the Spirit’s power in our lives.

We quoted Paul earlier regarding yielding to the Spirit, not the flesh. Let me expand with the verses preceding what I quoted:

Rom 6:11  Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Rom 6:12  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.
Rom 6:13  And do not [yield] your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but [yield] yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

If you are bound by some sin, it’s because you have yielded to your flesh. You can break the bondage right now by instead yielding to God. Since it’s not by your power or will power, that bindings are broken, but by God’s supernatural enabling, then your sin is like new ropes that will easily fall away as you turn to Jesus.

#2 – Keep Yielding Yourself To Be Unbound By The Spirit (v14-20)

Both Steve Rogers and Tony Stark think that capturing Loki was a little too easy. They find out why: It was Loki’s plan all along to be captured, so he could do real damage to the Avengers and to SHIELD.

The Philistines must not have seen very many movies.

Jdg 15:14  When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting against him. Then the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him; and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds broke loose from his hands.

OK, maybe the men of Judah were no good with knots. Still it was at least one thousand armed soldiers against one seemingly unarmed, unassuming looking Jew.

They were about to discover that “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him.”

The result of the Spirit coming upon Samson was, initially, the breaking of the ropes. It wasn’t much, but it was a visible sign He was at work.

The Spirit’s work in our lives doesn’t have to always be spectacular, but there should be visible signs. We should seem free, and full of joy, worry-less, just to name a few.

I think it’s sad when nonbelievers think it is somehow a bondage to walk with Jesus.
They see us under legalism, loaded down with mostly things we can’t do, and are glad for what they see as freedom.

Jdg 15:15  He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached out his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it.

An old jawbone just would not do; too brittle.

Talk about God providing, just right and right on time. This is a tiny thing, but I’ll share it as an example.

Every year we are required to have the back-flow valve for our plumbing here at the building inspected. We had a certified tester come out on Tuesday. On Wednesday, because the valve is right outside my window, I noticed it dripping ever so slightly. I decided to what a day; you call it procrastination, while I call it faith.

Well, Thursday I had forgotten about it. After I’d been in the office for a few hours, I looked up and it was still wet under the valve. I went outside, lifted the cover, and was looking at it… When just at that moment, Michael Guy – a plumber most of us know and love – was driving by. He stopped and had it repaired in like two minutes.

It was a minor miracle of timing. I think the Lord did it just to remind me that His provision is always right, and right on time.

Don’t you love it when heroes improvise weapons? As Jaws is approaching him, Chief Brody notices that the shark is gnawing on a scuba tank. Brody takes aim, eventually hits the tank, and Jaws is blown to shark-ereens.

(Too bad that has been debunked by Mythbusters. Scuba tanks won’t explode like bombs if shot).

Jdg 15:16  Then Samson said: “With the jawbone of a donkey, Heaps upon heaps, With the jawbone of a donkey I have slain a thousand men!”

This might be the Bible’s first rap. There’s a play on words here that gets lost in the translation. The Hebrew word for “heaps” can also mean “donkey.” Samson was rapping that with the jawbone of a donkey, he had made donkeys out of the Philistines.

One thousand Philistines, slain one at a time, with an improvised weapon. And remember, these were trained soldiers, with weapons. Is there anything like it in the annals of hand-to-hand conflict?

Jdg 15:17  And so it was, when he had finished speaking, that he threw the jawbone from his hand, and called that place Ramath Lehi.

Speaking to who? It might be that the men of Judah who had extradited Samson were witnesses to the massacre. If so, how very sad that they stood there as spectators. Samson didn’t need the help, but it would have been a blessing for them to join in.

And it might have been just what was needed to rally all of Israel to throw off the Philistine oppression.

“Ramath Lehi” would be like us calling it, “Jawbone Hill.” Hamburger Hill… Hacksaw Ridge… Jawbone Hill. That’s the idea.

It would be a great name for the second movie in a trilogy about Samson.

He “threw the jawbone from his hand.” If there was an audience, this was Samson’s mic-drop.

Jdg 15:18  Then he became very thirsty; so he cried out to the LORD and said, “You have given this great deliverance by the hand of Your servant; and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised?”

Even though it was the Spirit’s empowering upon Samson that gave him victory over one thousand enemies, he still got thirsty.

Or maybe he was made thirsty by God? He wasn’t out of breath, even though his work had been rigorous. No, in fact he had so much breath that he could sing.

But God let him be thirsty. Why? Well, for sure to show Samson that he needed the Lord for his daily, moment-by-moment existence. Samson could be empowered to do incredible things, but he ought to remain humble.

Of course, his thirst has a spiritual lesson, which we will get to in just a moment.

Jdg 15:19  So God split the hollow place that is in Lehi, and water came out, and he drank; and his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore he called its name En Hakkore, which is in Lehi to this day.

“En Hakkor” means Spring of the Caller. Samson called and God answered by springing-up a well from a rock.
God didn’t take Samson’s thirst away. He met it with His provision of water from the rock.

Is there something you want God to take away? To remove? To reverse? He can. If He doesn’t, He will meet it with a different kind of provision. He will meet it with the sufficiency of His grace.

Jdg 15:20  And he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines.

It almost sounds like the writer (whom we believe is Samuel) is done with the Chronicles of Samson. He isn’t. The most infamous of his exploits is yet to come.

It’s a statement to remind us that even though Samson had broken two of the Nazirite restrictions, and would break the third, God was still using him as His hero. God won’t ever give up on you.

I think we’d all say that Samson wasn’t the hero he could have been. But God refused to abandon him.

Let’s return to “The Spring of the Caller.” With reverence, I think that would be a great name for God the Holy Spirit. We call out to Him, and His spring of living water is available to us, thanks to our Rock, Jesus.

In the Gospel of John, we read,

Joh 7:37  On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.
Joh 7:38  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
Joh 7:39  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

In John chapter four Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (4:14).

The Bible ends on this same note:

Rev 22:17  And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.

In Ecclesiastes God reveals that He has placed eternity in human hearts. There is a longing for Him that nothing else can satisfy. It can honestly be called a thirst. We go through life trying to quench it; but, sadly, we often drink from the impure reservoirs of the world, rather than the springs of life.

The world’s religions, and its philosophies, are sources of nasty, diseased water. God extends grace from the Cross to everyone in order that they might turn to Him and “take the water of life freely.”

After you are saved, you struggle against the flesh. The solve is to keep appealing to The Spring of the Caller – to the pure water provided only by, but abundantly by, the Holy Spirit.

Honey Boo-Boo (Judges 14:1-20)

In a memorable Got Milk? commercial, a criminal is being interrogated by two detectives. On the table are oh-so-gooey-chewy chocolate Hostess cupcakes. One of the cops says, “Go ahead – take a bite.”

The hungry suspect grabs one and begins to devour the entire cupcake. As he’s clearly struggling to swallow, the cop says, “We can do this the easy way,” while taking a carton of milk out of a paper sack. But then he puts the milk just out of reach and says, smirking, “Or we can do it the hard way.”

There are a lot of variations on the “easy way/hard way” decision. There’s a version in The Lord of the Rings when Saruman says to Gandalf, “I gave you the chance of aiding me willingly, but you have elected the way of pain!”

For the most part, the Old Testament hero Samson did it the hard way, and it definitely was a way of pain – especially in the end, when he had his eyes gouged-out and was put to work as a beast of burden.

What did he “do” the hard way? He judged Israel against the Philistines, wreaking havoc upon them. We’ll see him kill thirty Philistines, then one thousand, then anywhere from three thousand to seven thousand more.

But because he did it the hard way, along the way his own life was wrecked.

Samson illustrates the carnal Christian. Writing to the believers in Corinth, the apostle Paul said, “I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual… but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ… for you are still carnal” (First Corinthians 3:1&3).

Carnal Christians are saved, and can be used by God – but you don’t want to be one.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Be Horrified When Your Carnal Rules Over You, and #2 Be Humbled When God Overrules Your Carnal.

#1 – Be Horrified When Your Carnal Rules Over You (v1-3)

The word “carnal” can mean flesh, fleshly, or pertaining to the body. In the Bible there is also the connotation that “carnal” involves preferring things that are temporal rather than eternal.

The verse we quoted in First Corinthians goes on to say of the carnal Christian, “you are worldly and living by human standards.”

Another translation says, “are you not walking like mere men,” indicating their behavior was essentially that of an unsaved person.

Are there really carnal Christians? Paul certainly used it of believers in the church at Corinth, calling them “brethren.”

But some commentators point out that they were baby Christians who needed to grow, and once they did, they would no longer be called “carnal.”

I can see what they’re saying, but I don’t think it’s unbiblical to identify a mature believer as “carnal” if he or she is, in fact, dominated by their flesh rather than by the indwelling Holy Spirit:

In some cases, the mature believer is carnal because they have yielded their members to sin – either for a short time, or for a longer time.

Billy Graham identifies a carnal Christian as having left their first love for Jesus. You’re not committing any particular sin, but you no longer have a passion for the things of God.

In other cases, more subtle and more prevalent, the mature believer is not sinning, and outwardly seems passionate, but has chosen to walk in the energy of their flesh rather than continuing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

If you think it’s more accurate, you can call them Christians who are carnal rather than carnal Christians.

Samson was certainly saved. But I think it could be said of him, at the very end of his life, “you are still carnal.”

It all started with a trip down to Timnah.

Jdg 14:1  Now Samson went down to Timnah, and saw a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines.

The Philistine oppression of Israel had a different twist than that of the other pagan nations. After subduing Israel, the Philistines lived alongside them, and tried to assimilate them by intermarrying with them.

Samson was a young man at this point – maybe still in his late teens, but more likely early twenty’s. We can suppose that Samson had done nothing spectacular up to this point. He traveled openly and unhindered to Timnah and back. The Philistines were not concerned about him.

They hadn’t established a threat-level for him yet.

While in Timnah, he “saw a woman,” and wanted her. That was a problem, because God had forbidden intermarriage with the surrounding nations – unless they first converted to Judaism. Samson certainly knew this, but he was thinking temporal thoughts rather than eternal – a sure sign he was carnal.

Today we try hard to restrict believers from marrying nonbelievers. We’re told in the Bible to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers (Second Corinthians 6:14).

Being unequally yoked, a believer with a nonbeliever, is the hard way. Too bad so many believers rush headlong into those marriages, only to feel the pain later.

Jdg 14:2  So he went up and told his father and mother, saying, “I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.”

Every parent’s nightmare. Your son, or your daughter, wants to marry the wrong person.

Mr. And Mrs. Manoah would have the additional crushing disappointment of realizing that the son who had been a Nazirite from the womb, set apart as a hero to deliver Israel from the Philistines, was instead demanding to marry one of them.

Jdg 14:3  Then his father and mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your brethren, or among all my people, that you must go and get a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” And Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she pleases me well.”

They were speaking of the spiritual importance of ritual circumcision – that it kept Israel separate from other nations.

It didn’t phase Samson. It was all about what pleased him, not what would please and bring glory to God. It was based on natural attraction, not supernatural leading.

I don’t need to point out that Samson was being disrespectful to his parents. He was carnal, through-and-through.

God’s boundaries, His restrictions, regarding marriage and human sexuality are for our good, and for His glory. Within monogamous, heterosexual marriage we experience both pleasure and joy. There is a spiritual element to marriage that simply cannot be reproduced if we disregard and disobey the Lord.

By giving himself over to his flesh, Samson would never know the joy of a deep and abiding love. He would never have a companion to share his life with.

Samson was called from the womb to deliver Israel from the Philistines. In his first recorded foray into their territory, he didn’t challenge them, or throw down their gods, or desecrate their temple.

No, instead he was immediately overcome by the sight of a beautiful Philistine woman.

It’s interesting that the emphasis was on what Samson “saw.” I’m sure he “saw” a lot of beautiful women in his life, and indulged in their pleasures. How ironic that he would end his life with his eyes gouged out.

Do you think it was worth it, in the end?

#2 – Be Humbled When God Overrules Your Carnal (v4-20)

Now is as good a time as any to correct a common misconception about Samson. He wasn’t muscle-bound. His strength didn’t come from being a gym-rat. It was supernatural.

Otherwise, why were the Philistines always trying to figure out its source?

He was an ordinary looking Jewish man who was empowered by God to do extraordinary feats of strength.

Before we see one of them, the writer has an insight for us to consider.

Jdg 14:4  But his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD – that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines. For at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.

There’s a lot of theology packed into that comment. We can see God’s sovereignty at work alongside of man’s free will, with God’s providence thrown in.

It’s also very simple. God stirred-up Samson to move against the Philistines; but when Samson got to Timnah, his flesh took over, and deliverance from the Philistines would have to happen the hard way.

I’m saying God had a plan to move against the Philistines, but it certainly did not involve Samson marrying one of them. In His sovereignty, God provided for His plan another way, without violating Samson’s free will.

Jdg 14:5  So Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came to the vineyards of Timnah…

With the mention of “vineyard,” maybe we should refresh ourselves concerning the lifestyle of a Nazirite.

Num 6:2  “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD,
Num 6:3  he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins.
Num 6:4  All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin.
Num 6:5  ‘All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.
Num 6:6  All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body.

Samson should not have been anywhere near “the vineyards of Timnah.” It almost reads like he went there for wine tasting (if they did that kind of thing).

Jdg 14:5  So Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came to the vineyards of Timnah. Now to his surprise, a young lion came roaring against him.
Jdg 14:6  And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart as one would have torn apart a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done.

“Young” means a lion in the prime of its life. These were what we today identify as Asiatic lions. There aren’t any in the Promised Land currently, but they were plentiful in Bible times.

Samson was surprised, but he easily prevailed as the Spirit empowered him.

Might this have been a warning to Samson? A roaring lion seeking to devour him… He would not have been in that situation had he honored his vows.

He was empowered to defeat the lion… If the Spirit could strengthen Samson physically against so fierce a foe, could He not also give him victory over his flesh?

Sadly, Samson missed the lesson:

Jdg 14:6  … But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done.

He couldn’t tell them without admitting he had been near or in a vineyard. His amazing exploit must be kept secret.

Jdg 14:7  Then he went down and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well.

This means they made the customary arrangements for a wedding.

Jdg 14:8  After some time, when he returned to get her, he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion. And behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the carcass of the lion.

Strike two. A Nazirite was to avoid dead bodies, even those of animals. Maybe if he could just see it, and not touch it…

Ah, but there within the carcass was irresistible honey.
If we build on the New Testament symbolism of Satan being the roaring lion seeking to devour, we see that even when we think he’s been beaten, he remains dangerous. There are some places you just should not go; some situations you just should not be in.

Jdg 14:9  He took some of it in his hands and went along, eating. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they also ate. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey out of the carcass of the lion.

Samson must have thought that what his parents didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. Secrets and lies, sneaking around, are works of the flesh.

Jdg 14:10  So his father went down to the woman. And Samson gave a feast there, for young men used to do so.
Jdg 14:11  And it happened, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him.

This was all very typical – a week long feast that preceded the wedding.

Samson had brought no friends of the bridegroom. His side of the aisle was empty, so thirty Philistines were invited.

I think it’s sad Samson had no friends. No one wanted to be around him.

Jdg 14:12  Then Samson said to them, “Let me pose a riddle to you. If you can correctly solve and explain it to me within the seven days of the feast, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothing.
Jdg 14:13  But if you cannot explain it to me, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothing.” And they said to him, “Pose your riddle, that we may hear it.”

Riddles were more of a thing in ancient cultures than they are today. J.R.R. Tolkien treats the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum as if it were something almost sacred.

Let’s call Samson’s riddle, The Lion, the Wife, and the Wardrobe.

Jdg 14:14  So he said to them: “Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the strong came something sweet.” Now for three days they could not explain the riddle.

It reminds you of Bilbo asking Gollum, “What is in my pocket.” It wasn’t a riddle in the truest sense because it couldn’t be guessed.

Jdg 14:15  But it came to pass on the seventh day that they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband, that he may explain the riddle to us, or else we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us in order to take what is ours? Is that not so?”

In chapter fifteen we’ll see the Philistines act on this threat, burning her and her father with fire.

Jdg 14:16  Then Samson’s wife wept on him, and said, “You only hate me! You do not love me! You have posed a riddle to the sons of my people, but you have not explained it to me.” And he said to her, “Look, I have not explained it to my father or my mother; so should I explain it to you?”

Jdg 14:17  Now she had wept on him the seven days while their feast lasted. And it happened on the seventh day that he told her, because she pressed him so much. Then she explained the riddle to the sons of her people.

The flesh is simultaneously weak and strong:

It was strong enough so that Samson easily denied his Nazirite vow for wine and honey.

It was weak enough that a man who could kill a lion with his bare hands could not withstand a nagging woman.

Jdg 14:18  So the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down: “What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?” And he said to them: “If you had not plowed with my heifer, You would not have solved my riddle!”

Samson wasn’t exactly romantic. “Heifer” doesn’t rank high as a term of endearment.

“Plowed with my heifer” was a common idiom to describe misusing something or someone, since you normally plowed with oxen.

Jdg 14:19  Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of their men, took their apparel, and gave the changes of clothing to those who had explained the riddle. So his anger was aroused, and he went back up to his father’s house.

Apparently Old Navy was closed, so Samson traveled to another town and killed thirty Philistines for their wardrobe.

His “anger was aroused.” This was not a righteous anger against their domination of Israel. It was Samson’s own personal anger – a sure symptom of the flesh dominating him.

I think it was another subtle nudge from God. Samson ought to have been representing God and His wrath against the oppressors. Instead Samson was overcome by petty emotions unworthy of a servant of God.

Jdg 14:20  And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.

As I said earlier, Samson had no real companion to act as his “best man.” We have to therefore assume this “companion” was one of the Philistines who had attended the feast.

God was “seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines,” in order to “begin to deliver” Israel from their domination.

The Spirit stirred Samson to go down into Philistine territory. What was God’s plan? How was He going to utilize Samson?

We’ll never know, because Samson got sidetracked by his flesh when he “saw” a beautiful Philistine woman and wanted to marry her – a thing forbidden in God’s Law.

Things began to cascade as Samson went into a vineyard, then touched a carcass – breaking two of the three lifestyle vows of a Nazirite.

(We aren’t told Samson drank wine at the feast, but I think we all know that he did).

The Nazirite vow was meant to be an outward show of inward devotion. While we no longer take the vow, it does have New Testament counterparts.

The Nazirite was to avoid everything concerning grapes, which in that culture included wine and (later) strong drink. The Christian is to remain sober. That doesn’t just mean you don’t get drunk. It means we have a sober, realistic, eternal mindset and lifestyle.

The apostle Peter said, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (First Peter 5:8).

The Nazirite was to never cut his or her hair. This speaks to us of being submitted to God, because in the Bible hair and head covering was a symbol of submission to authority. We are to look like, and live like, we are submitted to the authority of God.

James wrote, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (4:7).

The Nazirite was to avoid death. I think the spiritual counterpart here is our call to remain separate from the world. We are, to use the well-worn phrase, to be in the world, but not of the world.
Samson was to be a life-long Nazirite. We are to be living sacrifices, offering ourselves to God for His constant use.

Quoting the Old Testament, the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore “COME OUT FROM AMONG THEM AND BE SEPARATE, SAYS THE LORD. DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN, AND I WILL RECEIVE YOU” (Second Corinthians 6:17)

God was merciful to warn Samson about his sin, and to show him he could overcome it. If Samson could defeat the roaring lion, he could defeat the beast within – his flesh.

But Samson chose the temporal over the eternal. He remained carnal.

Here’s the amazing grace of it all: God used Samson despite all that.

It’s not something to brag about; it is, in fact, humbling. It was a kindness on God’s part that ought to have led Samson to repentance.

Samson sinned, but God’s grace abounded. The apostle Paul once asked, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”

His answer:

Rom 6:2  Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

Earlier I mentioned that a Christian is not to be unequally yoked with a nonbeliever. I said that too many believers ignore that, to their own pain.

But guess what: Sometimes the nonbeliever gets saved. Hallelujah. Does that mean it was God’s will all along?

No; that would be an example of continuing in sin so that grace might abound. The fact God is gracious doesn’t excuse sin.

If you have sinned… Or if you are in sin right now… Or if you’ve left your first love… Or if you having begun in the Spirit are trying to live the Christian life in the energy of your flesh… God’s grace abounds to you.

The question for each of us today, who are Christians, is this: “Have I chosen the easy way, or the hard way?”

Sin is the hard way. Trying to walk in the energy of the flesh is the hard way. If God still uses me while I’m choosing the hard way, I should not confuse that for His approval. It’s just His mercy and grace seeking to lead me to repentance. I should be humbled.

If I am sober, and submitted, and separated, then the roaring lion who seeks to devour me – Satan – must flee. He’ll keep coming back, but I already have everything I need in Christ to defeat him.

Make Womb For Samson (Judges 13:1-25)

I ran across a list of Rules to Live By. Here is a sampling:

Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.

If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

I have a rule of life: Just Google it. Why ask someone, and wait for their response, when you can search for it and have your answer in mere seconds?

Winston Churchill was once asked his rule of life. His answer isn’t what you’d expect. (Or maybe it is, if you know anything about him!).

Churchill said, “My rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them.”

Why am I talking about rule of life?

In our verses, the Angel of the Lord appears to Mrs. Manoah and tells her she will become pregnant, and that her son will be the Judge for Israel against the Philistines. He further tells her that her son will be a life-long Nazirite, and is to live by that rule of life.

His rule of life is that of a Nazirite; his work is to be a Judge.

Mrs. Manoah tells her husband about the encounter, but he wants to talk to the Angel of the Lord himself. When he does, even though the Angel has already told them, Manoah asks, “What will be the boy’s rule of life, and his work?”

It seems redundant, at the very least, since the Angel of the Lord was so specific.

As I was thinking about the clear instruction and Manoah’s dullness of hearing, I started to wonder if I might not be just as dense in my Christian life.

Has the Lord given us a rule of life? If so, what is our work?

Those are good questions that will put us into this story. As we work through the verses, let’s ask, #1 Have You Discovered Your Rule of Life and Your Work?, and #2 Have You Delighted In Your Rule of Life and Your Work?

#1 – Have You Discovered Your Rule of Life and Your Work? (v1-14)

I get a lot of requests to listen to, or to watch, Bible studies. I don’t mind. Trouble is, they are always so long, and it takes the speaker forever to reveal his point.

Rather than keep you in that kind of needless suspense, let me tell you our rule of life.

The apostle Paul told us in his letter to the Galatians:

Gal 6:14  But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Gal 6:15  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.
Gal 6:16  And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

What’s the “rule?” It is that you and I are “a new creation”; or as he puts it elsewhere, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (Second Corinthians 5:17).

To expand that a little, every Christian is crucified with Jesus Christ, and then raised with Him a “new creation” who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and no longer bound to observe rites and rituals, diets and days.

The “rule” we walk according to – our rule of life – is not a rule at all. It is to enjoy a relationship with Jesus by His indwelling Spirit.

Because we are in a relationship with Jesus, our “work” is not really work at all; it is to produce fruit – the fruit of the Spirit – as we enjoy the Lord.

One commentator called it the New Creature Rule. He described it like this:

By faith we are to reckon on the fact that we are new creatures in Jesus Christ, united with Him in a wondrous union, partaking in His death and partaking in His resurrection life. By faith we are to reckon upon what God has already accomplished at the cross.

Samson would be born into his rule of life and his work. As most of you are aware, he pretty much did his own thing, walking in the flesh rather than yielding to the empowering Spirit.

Like Samson, Christians are born-again into our rule of life and our work.

Like Samson, we too, can do our own thing, walking in the flesh rather than yielding to the indwelling Spirit.

This story just got a whole lot more interesting.

Jdg 13:1  Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.

The “evil” they did has been previously explained. They adopted the gods and practices of the surrounding nations, committing what amounted to spiritual adultery. God gave them over to the people they were wanting to imitate. In this case, it was the Philistines, who would prove to be an especially tough opponent.

Jdg 13:2  Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children.

Children were seen as a blessing. Barrenness was a severe trial. It was the proverbial double-whammy – oppressed by the Philistines, with no children.

The Manoah’s must have wondered, “Why us?”

Jdg 13:3  And the Angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son.
Jdg 13:4  Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean.
Jdg 13:5  For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”

The Angel of the Lord is a recurring character in the Book of Judges. It is none other than Jesus appearing to the Israelites before His incarnation. I’m just going to call Him Jesus from here on.

Jesus tells Mrs. Manoah she must live like a Nazirite until her son is born, because he will be a life-long Nazirite.

According to one source,

The Nazirite vow appears in Numbers 6:1-21. By definition, the Hebrew word nazir, simply means “to be separated or consecrated.” It is taken by individuals who have voluntarily dedicated themselves to God. The vow is a decision, action, and desire on the part of people whose desire is to yield themselves to God completely. The Nazirite vow has five features. It is voluntary, can be done by either men or women, has a specific time frame, it has specific requirements and restrictions, and at its conclusion a sacrifice is offered.

The three special obligations of a Nazirite include: (1) avoiding any grape product, including wine (later expanded to strong drink), (2) not cutting one’s hair, and (3) avoiding contact with a dead body.

Her son was going to be Israel’s judge to “begin” to deliver them from the Philistines. Israel would not be completely free from them until the reign of King David.

One thing to note before moving on is that the Nazirite vow was normally something you volunteered for, not something you were volun-told to do. We’ll return to that in a moment.

Jdg 13:6  So the woman came and told her husband, saying, “A Man of God came to me, and His countenance was like the countenance of the Angel of God, very awesome; but I did not ask Him where He was from, and He did not tell me His name.
Jdg 13:7  And He said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now drink no wine or similar drink, nor eat anything unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.’ ”

Mrs. Manoah wasn’t sure if this person were a prophet, or if it was the Angel of the Lord. Either way, His words carried weight. She was sure about his promises and his instructions.
Jdg 13:8  Then Manoah prayed to the LORD, and said, “O my Lord, please let the Man of God whom You sent come to us again and teach us what we shall do for the child who will be born.”

On the plus side, Manoah believed his wife, received the promise of a child, and went straight to God in prayer.
On the minus side, they had already been told “what [they] shall do for the child.”

Jdg 13:9  And God listened to the voice of Manoah, and the Angel of God came to the woman again as she was sitting in the field; but Manoah her husband was not with her.
Jdg 13:10  Then the woman ran in haste and told her husband, and said to him, “Look, the Man who came to me the other day has just now appeared to me!”

Why not appear directly to Manoah? I don’t know; but one thing it does is demonstrate for us that this couple was likeminded. Mrs. Manoah knew her husband had prayed to see this man, so rather than talk with him herself, she ran to retrieve her husband, that it might be a shared experience.

Jdg 13:11  So Manoah arose and followed his wife. When he came to the Man, he said to Him, “Are You the Man who spoke to this woman?” And He said, “I am.”
Jdg 13:12  Manoah said, “Now let Your words come to pass! What will be the boy’s rule of life, and his work?”

His rule of life, and his work, could not have been put any plainer. He would be a life-long Nazirite whose work was to judge Israel against the Philistines.

Jdg 13:13  So the Angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Of all that I said to the woman let her be careful.
Jdg 13:14  She may not eat anything that comes from the vine, nor may she drink wine or similar drink, nor eat anything unclean. All that I commanded her let her observe.”

Mrs. Manoah was to go on the Nazirite diet so that her son, not yet conceived, would be a Nazirite from the womb forward.

I used the coined word, “volunteer-told,” a moment ago. One of the brothers used it this week; I’d never heard it before, but it’s a great way of expressing the voluntary things you are told to do.

What is striking about this is that Mrs. Manoah was volun-told to go on the diet; and that her son would be a life-long Nazirite without being given any choice.

Part of us immediately objects to that. It seems so restrictive, and to violate free will.

First, let’s see if there were any other life-long Nazirites. Turns out, there were two (that we know of) – one in the Old Testament, and one in the New.

The prophet Samuel was a life-long Nazirite; so was John the Baptist. You don’t hear them complain, do you?

Jesus said of John, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). He had the singular honor of being the person who would announce that the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the world, had arrived.

Being a Nazirite wasn’t something Samuel and John the Baptist resented, because it was forced upon them. It was a blessing to have been so chosen by God, in light of their work.

Most of us are already familiar with Samson’s exploits. He one-by-one denies the prohibitions of his Nazirite vow. Do we applaud him for it? Do we celebrate his free will to choose the flesh over the Spirit?

Of course not. We wish he had simply followed the plan; and we’d like to think we would have been better Samson’s.

Once you are born-again, your rule of life and your work is thrust upon you. Remember what we said was our rule of life, and our work:

The “rule” we walk according to – our rule of life – is not a rule at all. It is to enjoy a relationship with Jesus by His indwelling Spirit.
Because we are in a relationship with Jesus, our “work” is not really work at all; it is to produce fruit – the fruit of the Spirit – as we enjoy the Lord.

It sounds great, and it is. But simultaneously we find remaining within us a propensity to say “No” to God, and to walk according to the flesh rather than the Spirit.

When we choose the flesh, we’re Samson – denying our rule of life and our work.

We are to go on discovering that our best life is one lived in submission to God, by yielding to His indwelling Spirit.

Our real freedom is in dying to self, in picking up the Cross on a daily basis, on reckoning ourselves dead to sin but alive to God.

Our free will is best exercised by surrendering to Jesus so He can produce fruit in and through our lives.

#2 – Have You Delighted In Your Rule of Life and Your Work? (v15-25)

Manoah knew his future son’s rule of life and his work. Nevertheless he asked the Angel of the Lord, “What will be the boy’s rule of life, and his work?” (v12).

One reason we might propose for his question was that it all seemed too simple. Surely there must be more to this hero-stuff than the three prohibitions of the Nazirite vow?

In Manoah’s defense, the choosing of Samson was unique. No other Judge had been chosen from the womb.

Shouldn’t there be training? If he was going to go up against the mighty Philistines, perhaps he should have special-forces training… Be physically fit… Go to the best scholars and strategists.

Some scholars think Samuel may have been a contemporary of Samson. Maybe they should get together to strategize.

Surely there must be a degree program for Judges somewhere in Israel. Jesus’ instruction did not seem sufficient.

It was sufficient. All Samson need do was to live by it.

This is maybe the most important thing I will say today. If you are a Christian, the indwelling Holy Spirit Who can constantly infill you is sufficient for you in every circumstance you find yourself in.

You can say “No” to sin right now, empowered by Him.

You can bring forth His fruit right now, empowered by Him.

Instead, we tend to go around asking God, “What is my rule of life?” “What is my work?”

We don’t put it that way, but that’s what we are doing. Wander through the shelves of the average Christian bookstore and you will find book-after-book that attempt to add to the simplicity of you being a new creature in Jesus Christ. Each of them is the author’s attempt to bring you to a place of victory in your life.

But to get there, you must do, or be doing, something a certain way. If by your will power you can stick with their program, you might find the strength to overcome.

Listen: You are an overcomer right now, if you are a new creature. The Christian life is always a one-step program – reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to God indwelt by the Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead.

As we continue in our text, we’re going to see two ways of approaching God – one that makes sense to Manoah, and the one that is prescribed by God.

Jdg 13:15  Then Manoah said to the Angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain You, and we will prepare a young goat for You.”
Jdg 13:16  And the Angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Though you detain Me, I will not eat your food. But if you offer a burnt offering, you must offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know He was the Angel of the LORD.)

Manoah’s first instinct was to cook a meal for the Lord. While in other passages of Scripture we might discuss our relationship to Jesus as supping with Him, that’s not what I see here.

I see Manoah wanting to “detain” the Lord in order to get more-and-more clarification about his future son’s rule of life and work.

All his questions had been adequately answered – twice. He was still thinking there must be more.

Instead of the long, drawn-out preparing of a meal, and eating it, Jesus told Manoah he ought to offer a sacrifice. Quick and more to the point.

“Offer it to the Lord,” Jesus said. Instead of doing something for the Lord by cooking Him a meal, do something that acknowledges what the Lord has done for you.

It is a basic principle of the new creature life that we ought to think more about what the Lord has done for us than what we must do for Him.

Jdg 13:17  Then Manoah said to the Angel of the LORD, “What is Your name, that when Your words come to pass we may honor You?”

Manoah just could not quit thinking there was something more he must do than follow a few simple restrictions of the Nazirite vow. Give him props for effort… But therein lies the problem. He would not simply rest in God’s promises and provision. He thought he must be doing something.

Jdg 13:18  And the Angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful?”

“Wonderful” is variously translated as mysterious, or beyond comprehension, or secret.

Jesus might be implying that Manoah need not have asked Him His name because He had already enough evidence from their conversation to know Who He was.

I mean, wasn’t everything Manoah had been told so full of wonder that only the Lord Himself could bring it to pass? He had spoken not as a prophet, for the Lord; He had spoken as the Lord.

When we approach God’s Word, I don’t think we wonder if He inspired it. We receive it as His Word.

But we can think it is insufficient to address our circumstances. We sometimes want more than His wonderful word, and His indwelling Spirit, and we seek it from secular sources.

The biggest example of this in my Christian lifetime has been the fascination among Christians with embracing the philosophies of secular psychologists. The godless principles of men like Freud and Jung and Skinner and Maslow are given Christian titles and then used to supposedly help believers work-through their issues.

Is that wonderful? No, it is not. It is defeating. It shouts, “God can’t help you.”

Jdg 13:19  So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it upon the rock to the LORD. And He did a wondrous thing while Manoah and his wife looked on –
Jdg 13:20  it happened as the flame went up toward heaven from the altar – the Angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar! When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground.

Goat and grain would have made a great meal. It made for a better sacrifice.

I have a devotional thought about this verse. I think sometimes we want to keep having meals when we ought to be on mission.

For example, there is nothing wrong with starting a Bible study. But if you’re already being well-taught, it might be better to start an outreach to nonbelievers.

It is at least possible on some occasions that we want to eat when we ought to be feeding others. And by “others,” in this case I mean ministry to nonbelievers.

Jdg 13:21  When the Angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and his wife, then Manoah knew that He was the Angel of the LORD.

Manoah was a little slow, spiritually speaking. He prayed and all, but it took him a while to see things.

I can totally relate to him; really. I don’t know how many times Pam has had to explain to me what was really going on in a situation.

Jdg 13:22  And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God!”
Jdg 13:23  But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have told us such things as these at this time.”

Mrs. Manoah was a good biblical counselor. Nothing Manoah had done could nullify the promises Jesus had made to them. It wasn’t a test that they could pass or fail.

God’s promises to you are true, and you should embrace them – not wonder if you’ve somehow nullified them.

The example I’d use is when a trial hits you. You immediately think you deserve it, for something you’ve either done or not done.

Yet you’re told, specifically, to not think it a strange thing when a trial hits (First Peter 4).

Here’s another way of applying this. The other morning, Greg Laurie’s daily devotion was on Job 1:8, “Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”

One of the brother’s joked with me about the trials that were about to be unleashed.

That’s a Christian inside joke, is it not? That if you read Job, you may as well go sit on the ash heap, because trials are at the door?

After joking back-and-forth, I realized that the encouragement in that verse is wonderful. God was bragging about Job – and God can and does brag about you, because you are in Jesus Christ.

Jdg 13:24  So the woman bore a son and called his name Samson; and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him.
Jdg 13:25  And the Spirit of the LORD began to move upon him at Mahaneh Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.

I ask you: Was the Nazirite vow a duty? Or was it a delight?

It was a delight because “the Spirit of the Lord began to move upon him.” There was no downside to the restrictions of the vow when you see the upside of having God’s Spirit.

For us, there’s no downside to saying “No” to sin by yielding to the indwelling Spirit. It isn’t a burden to be crucified with Jesus and share His resurrection life. It’s what new creatures are born for.

Have you seen Wonder Woman? The Amazon who is training her keeps defeating her in their practice. She tells her, “You are stronger than this.”

You are stronger than you sometimes act. You can, in fact, “do do all things through Christ who strengthens” you (Philippians 4:13).

SH-ibling Rivalry (Judges 12:1-15)

Does anyone really say, “po-tah-to?”

I ask on account of the old Ella Fitzgerald song,

You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto
Let’s call the whole thing off

Ahead of our trip to Kentucky in May, I practiced my pronunciation of Lou-Ah-Vul.

City names can be tough. One of the brothers in our fellowship once told me he was going to Ge-la Bend, Arizona.

George W. Bush was made fun of for saying “nuk-u-lar,” instead of nuclear. Jimmy Carter was also guilty of mispronouncing it, sometimes saying “nuk-u-lar,” sometimes drawling, “nukeer.”

While we’re on that word, I didn’t know this, but former President Dwight Eisenhower and Edward Teller, the father of the H-bomb, also said “nuk-u-lar.”

In the episode of Seinfeld, “The Chinese Restaurant,” George Constanza is waiting for a call from his girlfriend. The maitre d calls out, Cartwright several times, which George obviously ignores. When he asks if a call came for Constanza, the maitre d says, “Yes, I called out, Cartwright, Cartwright, just like that, nobody came up, I hung up.”

Mispronunciation was no laughing matter in the story we are going to read today in the Book of Judges. After picking a fight they wouldn’t win, the men of the tribe of Ephraim tried to retreat home by crossing the fords of the Jordan. The Gileadite army of Jephthah controlled the crossing and was out for blood.

Jdg 12:5  The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,”
Jdg 12:6  then they would say to him, “Then say, ‘Shibboleth’!” And he would say, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.

As we will see, this was a terrible sibling rivalry. It was brother versus brother, to the death.

Christians are brothers and sisters in the Lord. Is the church free from sibling rivalry? Hardly.

Writing to the Christian brothers and sisters in Corinth, the apostle Paul said,

1Co 3:3  for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?

Envy, strife, and division characterized the tribes in our verses. They can characterize us, as the church.

We’re not going to see a solution as the men of Gilead murder the Ephraimites. It serves as more of a warning.

However, twenty-three years later, God raises-up a judge from the tribe of Ephraim, demonstrating for us His desire for unity among His people.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points (that are going to be a pronunciation nightmare for me): #1 Don’t Divide Over Your Personal Shibboleths, and #2 Do Unite Despite Your Personal Sibboleths.

#1 – Don’t Divide Over Your Personal Shibboleths (v1-7)

“Shibboleth” means stream in Hebrew. Because of this incident in Judges, it has come to mean, “a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people.”

You and I can, and do, have our shibboleths. Some are essential points of biblical doctrine and practice. But others are things we can agree to disagree agreeably on.

There are things worth fighting for in the church. Jude, in his letter, encourages us to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (v3). There are essential doctrines that we cannot compromise.

Of course, by “contend earnestly,” Jude did not mean we murder nonbelievers.

And we are to “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” which I would take to mean essential doctrines.

Let me give you an historical example of a shibboleth failure on the part of the church. I’m quoting from an article titled, Persecution of the Anabaptists.

The term “Anabaptist” was used to describe and define certain Christians during the Reformation era. These Christians rejected infant baptism, choosing instead believer’s baptism. Since many of them had been baptized in their infancy, they chose to be baptized as believing adults. So their enemies called them Anabaptists – “re-baptizers.” For their “crime of believer’s baptism,” Anabaptists were heavily persecuted during the 16th century and into the 17th, by both Roman Catholics and Protestants.

We are, in practice, Anabaptist. We would therefore have been severely persecuted by Reformers like Martin Luther.

What kind of persecution? Anabaptism was declared a capital offense. You could be executed by beheading or drowning. The article goes on to say, “Thousands sealed their faith with their blood. When all efforts to halt the movement proved vain, the authorities resorted to desperate measures. Armed executioners and mounted soldiers were sent in companies through the land to hunt down the Anabaptists and kill them on the spot without trial or sentence.”

Baptism as a doctrine is a shibboleth we must contend for – but not by murder.
The method of baptism, and whether it be infant or believer’s, is worth disagreeing over agreeably.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m totally convinced that the Bible teaches believer’s baptism. But I’m not going to divide over methods of baptism with sincere Christians.

Having said all that, as we work through the story, be listening to the Lord to identify your personal shibboleths – the nonessential ones that cause envy, division, and strife.

Jdg 12:1  Then the men of Ephraim gathered together, crossed over toward Zaphon, and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you with fire!”

Ephraim and Manasseh were the two sons born to Joseph in Egypt. Even though Manasseh was the firstborn, when it came time for Grandpa Jacob to pronounce the patriarchal blessing upon him, he blessed Ephraim first. The tribe of Ephraim would therefore be greater than Manasseh.

There are times in the Bible where the northern ten tribes of Israel are collectively called Ephraim. They were a mighty tribe, and it seemed to go to their heads.

Earlier in the Book of Judges, we saw the men of Ephraim upset with Gideon because they weren’t called to the battle. Gideon was able to resolve the conflict with diplomacy.

This time they were upset with Jephthah and the men of Gilead. They seem pretty worked up, threatening to “burn [their houses] down on [them] with fire.”

Why the angst? There may have been some sibling rivalry. You see, the region of Gilead was in the territory inherited by Manasseh. Big brother Manasseh who was passed over by Jacob got the glory over the Ammonites, and little brother Ephraim with the blessing was envious.

A spiritual heart-exam would have revealed that the men of Ephraim thought more highly of themselves than they ought.

Have you ever been overlooked in the church? Do you think you’re being overlooked right now? Did someone else get chosen, or recognized, instead of you?

If you think you are Ephraim to their Manasseh, then you were probably overlooked so that God could show you your heart.

Jdg 12:2  And Jephthah said to them, “My people and I were in a great struggle with the people of Ammon; and when I called you, you did not deliver me out of their hands.

Jephthah thought he had sent a call out to Ephraim. From his perspective, they didn’t answer, so he proceeded without them.

It may have been a serious, but simple, misunderstanding. I submit to you that many, if not most, church conflicts are serious, but simple, misunderstandings.

Love believes all things. That’s a Christian way of saying that we give others the benefit of the doubt – but with more emphasis on believing the best of them, and not the worst.

Jdg 12:3  So when I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the people of Ammon; and the LORD delivered them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?”

In Proverbs 18:17 we read, “The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him.”

Jephthah’s side of the story seemed compelling. He clearly had no malice. The Ephraimites were totally overreacting.

Problem resolved? Hardly.

Jdg 12:4  Now Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. And the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, “You Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites and among the Manassites.”

We don’t know when they insulted the Gileadites. If this is chronological, it seems that this was their response to Jephthah’s explanation.

It revealed an underlying cause for their confrontation. It wasn’t that they weren’t called to fight. It was that they believed Jephthah and his men were trailer-trash.

Remember that Jephthah was the son of a prostitute. His father took him in, and raised him as his own, but once dad died, Jephthah’s family ran him off.

In Gilead, Jephthah attracted an army of similar misfits.

The description by the men of Ephraim was somewhat accurate. It should have been praiseworthy to see that God had used Jephthah and his men despite their social status. Do we not rejoice at some of the odd characters God saves by His grace?

They intended it to hurt. It did; and Jephthah, who we’ve seen as quite a diplomat, abandoned diplomacy in favor of conflict.

He may have had no choice. After all, the Ephraimites came to “fight” – meaning they were armed.

Both sides fueled the fire.

As I indicated earlier, there are no principles here for how to avoid open conflict. It serves more of a warning at the terrible consequences of envy, strife, and division.

I mentioned Paul’s rebuke of the Christians in Corinth. One of the ways they were fighting one another was by litigation. They were suing one another. He said, in part,

1Co 6:1  Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?
1Co 6:5  I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?
1Co 6:6  But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!
1Co 6:7  Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?
1Co 6:8  No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!

Did you catch what the apostle counseled? To the one suing he said, “Accept wrong… Let yourself be cheated.”

To the “cheater,” he said, “you yourselves do wrong.”

Admit you are wrong; or allow yourself to be wronged. Whatever you do, do not go to court.

If you must pursue the issue, do so in the church. Let believers judge the situation, and give their abiding counsel.

Jdg 12:5  The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived…

This tells us that the men of Ephraim were defeated, and retreating.

Jdg 12:5  The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?”

In We Were Soldiers, Mel Gibson portrays Lt. General Hal Moore in the Battle of la Drang in Vietnam. I recall the General being masterful at strategy – anticipating everything the enemy would do.

Jephthah, or one of his lieutenants, had the foresight to cut-off the Ephraimite’s escape route.

Jdg 12:5  The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,”
Jdg 12:6  then they would say to him, “Then say, ‘Shibboleth’!” And he would say, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.

The Ephraimites had insulted the parentage of Jephthah. Now the Ephraimites had to deny their own heritage in order to live.

But it was a trap, because they were asked to pronounce something that no Ephraimite could.

I Googled “U.S. Dialects,” and found a map showing 24 regions of American English.

In Jaws, Chief Brody is a city boy transplanted to Amity. His wife corrects his pronunciation of the word “yard,” saying, “In Amity, you say, yahd.”

He replies, “There in the yahd, not too fah from the cah.”

Jdg 12:7  And Jephthah judged Israel six years…
That’s not long at all. We can’t read anything into it, however, because Jephthah served at the Lord’s will, not his own.

Are you able to identify any personal shibboleths?

Remember, as Christians we do have shared shibboleths. They are the foundational doctrines of biblical Christianity.

One theologian suggested, “A reasonable list of fundamentals would necessarily begin with these doctrines explicitly identified in Scripture as non-negotiable: the absolute authority of Scripture over tradition, justification by faith alone, the deity of Christ, and the Trinity.

The apostle Paul explained,

1Co 15:1  Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,
1Co 15:2  by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.
1Co 15:3  For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
1Co 15:4  and that He was buried and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

The good folks over at list the following as “the essentials of the Christian faith”: (1) The deity of Christ, (2) Salvation by grace through faith, (3) Salvation through Jesus Christ alone, (4) The resurrection of Jesus Christ, (5) The Gospel, (6) Monotheism, and (7) The Trinity.

Michael Svigel, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, said this:

The Greek original of our word “orthodox” means correct opinion. In Christian theology it refers to the correct views on the essential truths of the Christian faith and the proper observance of central Christian practices. As a rule of thumb, orthodoxy is that which has been believed and practiced “everywhere, always, and by all.” Orthodoxy thus means the right opinion about crucial doctrines and practices in keeping with what true Christians have always believed about these things. Some of the beliefs that pass the general rule of what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all include: (1) The triune God as Creator and Redeemer, (2) The fall and resulting depravity, (3) The person and work of Christ, (4) Salvation by grace through faith, (5) Inspiration and authority of Scripture, (6) Redeemed humanity incorporated into Christ, [and] (7) The restoration of humanity and creation.

We contend earnestly for these, and other essentials, and must divide from any who do not hold to them.

But back to the question: Are you able to identify any personal shibboleths?

One example is Sabbath worship. There is no prohibition to worshipping on the seventh day. It’s easily provable that the early Gentile church worshipped on the first day of the week – on Sunday. But if you want to worship instead on Saturday, go for it.

It becomes a personal shibboleth when sabbatarians say you must worship on Saturday, and that to worship on Sunday is sin.

Often shibboleths are not doctrinal at all. They are your personal behavioral standards that you demand other believer’s meet in order for you to fellowship with them. They have to do with music and movies; piercings and priorities. Things like that.

Richard Baxter’s famous saying is still appropriate: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

#2 – Do Unite Despite Your Personal Sibboleths (v8-15)

Three judges of whom we know little bridge the gap between Jephthah and Samson.

Jdg 12:8  After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.
Jdg 12:9  He had thirty sons. And he gave away thirty daughters in marriage, and brought in thirty daughters from elsewhere for his sons. He judged Israel seven years.
Jdg 12:10  Then Ibzan died and was buried at Bethlehem.
There’s an immediate contrast to Jephthah, who had only one daughter who lived-out her life as a virgin in living sacrifice to God.

Ibzan is a stark contrast to Jephthah. Where Jephthah had only one daughter, Ibzan had thirty, besides thirty sons; and he acquired thirty daughters in marriage. This tells us that God can use us despite our personal circumstances. The way the apostle Paul once put it, we learn how to serve God whether we are abased or abounding:

Many a believer lives a life that is abased. Maybe they can’t have children; or they have an affliction. They’ve made mistakes. Their upbringing was horrible. Well, you’re a Jephthah, who is called to serve.
Many a believer lives a life that is abounding. You’ve got a wife, and kids, and grandkids; a career that’s demanding but going well. You’re an Ibzan with no excuse for not stepping up to serve the Lord.

Jdg 12:11  After him, Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel. He judged Israel ten years.
Jdg 12:12  And Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.

Come on, God! Give me at least one thing Elon did; one episode.

It doesn’t mean his service was insignificant. He is, after all, in the Bible.

I’ll tell you what I glean from Elon. Publicity breeds notoriety, which brings scrutiny. Most of us are better off being obscure. We couldn’t handle the pressures of the spotlight.

I’m sure a few of the men and women we meet in the Bible wish there were fewer details about their failures.

Jdg 12:13  After him, Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel.
Jdg 12:14  He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy young donkeys. He judged Israel eight years.

Let’s call him Grandpa Abdon. As far as I researched it, he is the only judge who is noted for his grandsons.

His sons and his grandsons rode around on seventy donkeys. My dad was a Shriner. He was part of a precision go kart troupe that performed in local parades.

I wonder if these sons and grandsons were a precision donkey troupe, riding through Israel performing at farmer’s markets and fairs?

Doubtful… But who knows?

Jdg 12:15  Then Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mountains of the Amalekites.

Ah. Abdon was an Ephraimite. That brings us full circle – at least with regard to the verses we’ve read today. After the Ephraimites were nearly wiped-out, twenty-three years later one of them is God’s choice to be Israel’s hero.

He was a sibboleth guy, who might have harbored a deep resentment, but God saw him as able to judge – and that meant he was able to unite where there had once been envy, strife, and division.

We can think of Christianity as having a multitude of dialects. I’m not talking about languages, although that’s true, too. I’m talking about differences in how we worship and serve the Lord.

Let’s be sure our shibboleths are essential and not personal, preserving unity while contending for the faith.