The Hill Are Alive With The Sound Of Mourning (Judges 11:29-40)

It’s a word that can be offensive, but if Jerry Seinfeld could get away with it on television, then I should be OK using it.

I’m talking about the word ‘Nazi’ in the season seven episode of Seinfeld titled The Soup Nazi.

It’s usage revolved around an exaggeration of the excessively strict requirements for ordering soup. Deviate even a little and the Soup Nazi would proclaim, “No soup for you!”

One of the recurring issues in the New Testament is the excessively strict requirements that certain so-called religious men put on both Jews and Christians:

Among the Jews, the strict sect of the Pharisees kept on heaping religious burdens upon the average Jew that they had no real hope of keeping. Jesus said of them, “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23:4 NLT).

Among the Gentile Christians, the Judaizers insisted salvation required that in addition to faith in Jesus, you must keep the Law of Moses – especially the rite of circumcision.

These men might as well have said, “No God for you!”

There seems to be a natural tendency, a bent, towards adding works to the promises of God. Christians do it, too. If you listen carefully to many Bible studies and you’ll realize the emphasis is on what you must do for God.

The same is true of most Christian lifestyle books. The author outlines a program of behaviors that will bring God’s blessings upon you to the extent you are vigilant and obedient in your personal commitment to the program or the principles.

That approach to Christian living can, and often does, have the opposite effect. Instead of experiencing the blessings of God, you lose all joy as you constantly fall short in your commitments to the points of the program.

Or worse yet – you keep the points of the program and begin to think of yourself as more spiritual because of your external efforts.

In our verses, what God has provided and promised Judge Jephthah is overshadowed by something Jephthah thought he needed to do for God, in order to earn what God promised:
We’re told “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah” assuring him of victory over the Ammonite invaders (v29).
After he had received the Spirit, and knew God’s promise of victory, Jephthah vowed to offer a burnt sacrifice IF God would give him victory.

It turned out disastrously for Jephthah; and it will for us, too – every time we add to our faith some work of the flesh.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 God Supplies The Spirit To You By Hearing With Faith, and #2 God Won’t Supply The Spirit To You By Works Of The Flesh.

#1 – God Supplies The Spirit To You By Hearing With Faith (v29-33)

I’m plagiarizing the phrase, “hearing with faith.” Those are the inspired words of the apostle Paul when he wrote to confront the Christians in the region of Galatia with adding works to their faith. He said,

Gal 3:1  O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?
Gal 3:2  This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Gal 3:3  Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
Gal 3:5  Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Paul preached the Gospel to the Galatians. They heard it, and received it by faith, and were saved.

The Judaizers came after Paul and taught the Gentile Christians that salvation was by grace through faith PLUS the keeping of the Law of Moses. The Galatians were going for it.

They needed to – and we need to – hear God’s promises with faith and take Him at His Word, not adding our own works.

Jephthah was the latest hero to be raised-up by God to deliver Israel from her enemies – in this case, an invasion of Ammonites. Jephthah began in the Spirit:

Jdg 11:29  Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah…

Having read just that far, you already know the results of this battle. When Israel was walking with God, following God’s leader, no force on earth could withstand them. Victory was assured before a single sword was sharpened.

The author says the Spirit “came upon Jephthah.” We might say Jephthah was filled with the Spirit; or anointed by the Spirit; or baptized with the Spirit; or clothed with the Spirit.

Pick the one that makes the most sense to you to describe you believing God, then by faith receiving the power to walk with God to accomplish whatever He has set before you.

Jdg 11:29  Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon.
He “passed through”; he “passed through”; he “advanced.” The writer is describing more than just the physical troop movements. It’s language that suggests the walking in victory of a man dependent upon the Spirit of God.

Your life, and my life, ought to be described as us passing through, advancing to our assured, already-won victory over sin, death, and Hell.

Does that mean we never sin? Of course not. As long as we remain in our current unredeemed physical bodies, we have a predisposition to sin.

But we also find the Holy Spirit in residence in these bodies – never less powerful than the moment we were born-again.

It’s why one of our favorite Bible verses is,

Rom 8:11  But [since] the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Doesn’t it make sense that the Person Whose power raised Jesus from the dead can give you victory over any sin?

Jdg 11:30  And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands,
Jdg 11:31  then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”

Hold your thoughts on verses thirty and thirty-one for a moment. Let’s finish looking at the battle.

Jdg 11:32  So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his hands.
Jdg 11:33  And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith – twenty cities – and to Abel Keramim, with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

What was Jephthah’s strategy? How large were the respective armies? What weapons were utilized? Did anything miraculous occur on or off the field of battle? I have a zillion questions like those.

They are unanswered for a reason; or, at least, their being unanswered suggests something. It suggests that the emphasis in this story is the power of the Spirit Who came upon Jephthah.

As I pointed out earlier, the battle was won the moment Jephthah was filled; anointed; baptized; clothed with the Spirit. The details would be interesting, but they only detract from the ministry of the Spirit.

With that in mind, let’s revisit verses thirty and thirty-one.

Jdg 11:30  And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands,

“If?” Who said anything about “if” the Lord would do this?

In verse twenty-nine, the Spirit came upon Jephthah. End of story; everything else is mop-up.

Jephthah “made a vow.” Did God ask him to make a vow? Were there any conditions to Jephthah receiving the Spirit?

No; all Jephthah need do was believe God and receive the Spirit as His gift.

The vow was all Jephthah, all flesh, all an attempt to earn God’s gift by adding a Law that need to be obeyed. In the language of the New Testament, having begun in the Spirit, Jephthah was trying to go forward in the flesh, by adding works of righteousness to the grace of God.

Do Christians do this today? Sure we do. Any group who, for example, teaches that water baptism is necessary for salvation is adding a work of the flesh to the grace of God. Salvation is by faith alone, through grace alone – plus nothing, not even baptism.

Sure, you should be baptized in obedience to God. But it does not save you. And it does not make you more spiritual.

You are passing through life as a Christian. Would you say you are advancing? If you’re not advancing, if you’re struggling, it might be that you think that God the Holy Spirit is something you must earn by keeping some vows or laws, rather than Him being available to you in His fullness right now.

What we are talking about today is our very human tendency to add the works of the flesh to the promises of God.
If you are struggling with some sin… God the Holy Spirit, Who raised Jesus from the dead, and saved you from sin and death and Hell, lives in you.

I was watching The Matrix the other day. Hey, it was free on Amazon.

Anyway, it echoes a familiar theme: The main character finds out over time that he is much more powerful than he ever realized. Once he comes to that knowledge, it’s all over for the bad guys.

Same thing with Star Wars and the Force. “Use the Force, Luke,” and when he does, young Skywalker blows the Death Star to smithereens.

In the next two installments of the original films, Luke grows in his knowledge of the Force until he can successfully face Vader and defeat the Emperor.

Whether we are taught to think this way, or whether we are wired to think this way, Christians live as though we must deserve the fullness of God’s Spirit. We’re told that “The Holy Spirit only comes upon holy people.”

That might be true if the Holy Spirit were a force. The Holy Spirit isn’t a force. He is a Person – the third Person of the Tri-une God.

As a Person, He doesn’t enter our lives a little at a time, in response to our holy living. No, He comes and takes residence in us, in His fullness.

It is therefore counter-productive, even harmful, to think that we must somehow earn His power.

If you were saved later in life, you likely have a radical testimony of the Holy Spirit’s power. One minute you were dead in your trespasses and sins, and the next you were born-again as a new creation in Jesus.

It’s likely that you were given immediate victory over many things that had held you captive. Drug addictions… Drunkenness… Sexual immorality… Were all conquered effortlessly by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Over time, Christians who were miraculously changed find themselves entangled in those same sins they were delivered from. The Holy Spirit seems unable to deliver them a second time. They turn to some system of vows, or promise keeping, or accountability to others, but find no lasting victory.

Having begun in the Spirit, we are going forward in the flesh; and it isn’t working.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit in His fullness to any believer who asks for Him, and then believes in faith he or she has received Him. He said, “How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13).

Listen carefully to Jesus’ words. He didn’t say, “How much more of the Holy Spirit will the Father give.” He says, “How much more will your Father give the Holy Spirit.” In other words, we are to realize that the Holy Spirit is given in His fullness.

Maybe by taking a look at Jephthah we can free ourselves of thinking the Holy Spirit is a force to be earned and instead believe we’ve received Him to empower us.

#2 – God Won’t Supply The Spirit To You By Works Of The Flesh (v31; 33-40)

Let’s refresh our memory as to the vow Jephthah made:

Jdg 11:31  then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”

What harm could such a simple vow be? After all, burnt offerings were prescribed by the Law. It sounded very spiritual.

Jephthah was victorious, but not on account of his vow. His vow would in fact completely, permanently taint the joy of Israel’s victory for generations to come.

When he made the vow, he undoubtedly had in mind the first animal of his livestock that would come forth. He should have been more specific.

BTW – Therein is a problem with all of our extra-biblical vows and promises. We cannot see their disastrous consequences – for us and for others. It’s better to simply walk by faith, listening to the Lord, depending on the Spirit to empower His Word, not ours.

Jdg 11:34  When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter.

This scene is powerful with symbolism. A fruit of the Spirit is “joy.” The apostle Peter speaks of “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (First Peter 1:8). Jephthah’s daughter represented the joy and rejoicing that ought to have resulted from her dad simply taking God at His Word.

But because Jephthah added works to his faith, joy was destroyed, and rejoicing was turned into mourning.

Promoting works of the flesh as being spiritual is the great joy-killer of the Christian life.

Jdg 11:35  And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.”

Jephthah blamed his daughter. It was her fault, he said, that there could be no joy.

Not true. It was all his fault.

He refused to repent of his vow, instead saying “I have given my word… I cannot go back on it.” In other words, he was too religious to admit he had been wrong… And too proud to renounce what he had done.

Another word for what we are talking about is legalism. Loosely defined, it is thinking that by performing certain works I am more spiritual.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day and their Sabbath regulations are a good example. They thought themselves spiritually superior for keeping their Sabbath laws. It only exposed their spiritual bankruptcy.

Whenever Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath, they were angry, even wanting to murder the Lord, because they said, “No work on the Sabbath!”

Jdg 11:36  So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the LORD, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.”

The girl’s got game. She would submit to her father’s rash vow in order to not make the situation any worse than it was.

Legalism hurts others who are trying to be spiritual. It derails their walk with God. Don’t be someone who heaps burdens upon others but, rather, help carry them.

Jdg 11:37  Then she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.”
Jdg 11:38  So he said, “Go.” And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains.

Jephthah’s daughter is worthy of her own sermon. Once in the hills, I would have kept going. But she was willing to submit for the glory of God.

She gave-up the pleasures of this life – a husband, children, grandchildren – in order to bring glory to God in obedience to her father.

Many of you have had a difficult life. Things did not go well, or as planned. Maybe right now you’re in a tough situation; you’re not really happy. You feel you are giving-up too much.

I want to be careful in what I say next. I’m not advocating you submit to sin. I’m not saying that, for example, if you are being physically abused, you should take the abuse. Not at all.

But all that aside, the Bible is saying, through Jephthah’s daughter, that your obedience to God, to bring Him glory in a difficult life, outweighs your need to be happy.

I know that’s a hard saying… But it’s true.

Jdg 11:39  And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. And it became a custom in Israel
Jdg 11:40  that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

I know what you’re wondering: Does this mean Jephthah offered her as a human sacrifice?

Although that’s possible, and some scholars say “Yes,” I say, “Of course not.”

I’ll let one of the commentators who agrees with me speak:

… the writer does not give us details of the young girl’s death. He tells us that she told her father to ‘do… just as [he] had promised’ (v36). She requested that she be allowed to go out to the hills for two months to grieve over the fact that she would never marry (v37), and it became an annual custom for the young women to lament her (v39-40). The last detail appears to be linked with the fact that she never married. The passage emphasizes that Jephthah’s only daughter would never marry, which meant that his line would end. If we add to this the fact that Jephthah is listed among the faithful in Hebrews 11:32, it is very difficult to believe that he put her to death.

Be real: I know some of the saints in the Hall of Faith were deeply flawed, and did some crazy stuff; but do you think a guy who practiced human sacrifice could be listed there?

Just looking at the text, we see in verse thirty-nine that Jephthah performed his vow, and immediately it says “she knew no man.” Of course, if she was dead, she would have “known no man.” But it seems a strong clue that the manner in which the vow was kept was to render her a virgin in life-long service to God.

Her life became a continual burnt offering as she offered herself a living sacrifice.

Besides, whether or not she was sacrificed, or became a living sacrifice, is not the point. Or at least we miss the point by spending so much time debating it.

What’s that old saying – “He snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory”? Seems an appropriate commentary in this situation.

Ask yourself: “What am I doing that I believe makes me more spiritual and puts pressure on God to bless me?”

For example: You should have what Christian commonly call ‘devotions.’ But you should have them to enjoy the presence of God – not to perform a work that you think is necessary in order to be more spiritual. On the days that you don’t have devotions, you are no less empowered by God the Holy Spirit.

If you are a Christian, you began in the Spirit, when you heard the Gospel and responded by faith. You were forgiven your sins – past, present, and future. You experienced the power of God indwelling you, and you likely walked away from habits and addictions into a newness of life.

Over time, you may have gotten sidetracked by some teacher or teaching, in a church or on the radio or in a book, that suggested certain behaviors you must adopt in order to pressure God into blessing you.

You were told you need to pray like an Old Testament character… Or keep a certain set of promises to God… Or spend 40 days discovering your purpose in life…

You were told you can’t be saved unless you have been baptized… Or unless you speak with other tongues… Or unless you ‘keep’ a set of modern Sabbath regulations…

One author said, “When various man-made standards are elevated to be an essential doctrine of Christ, or held as a pivotal element of salvation, even what is believed with good motives ends up being serious false teaching about holiness and the doctrine of the Gospel.”

Some people think that we need to work for the gift of the Holy Spirit, or earn this gift from God. But Jesus made it plain that all we have to do is ask:

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:9-13).

Why go on asking if we’ve received the Holy Spirit? We like to say that He permanently indwells us, and constantly infills us. We ask to remind ourselves of His infilling – because we tend to stray away from the hearing of faith into the works of the flesh.

We ask to remind ourselves that He Who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in us to give life to our mortal bodies.

This morning – “Ask,” and believe you have received Him.

Valor-Dictorian (Judges 11:1-28)

Movies about tough cops who push the limits to get the job done seem to always include a scene in which they negotiate with a jumper who is threatening to commit suicide.

Inspector Callahan, a.k.a., Dirty Harry, tells the jumper he’s not there to negotiate. He just needs his name and address. When asked why, Harry explains to him that once his body hits the pavement, it will be such a mangled, bloody mess, it will make identification impossible – even if they find his driver’s license.

Detective Martin Riggs, the original ‘lethal weapon,’ gets friendly with the jumper, offering him a cigarette. When the guy leans in so Riggs can light it, he handcuffs him to himself. Then he says, “Do you really wanna jump? Do you wanna? Cause that’s fine with me. Let’s do it; let’s do it… I wanna do it.” Murdoch jumps, pulling the guy with him, and they land safely on the inflatable down below.

Note to self: Movie cops are probably not the best negotiators.

I got to thinking about negotiators because Israel’s next judge was a good one. Jephthah is called upon to serve as Israel’s hero against the invading army of the Ammonites. Before he agrees, there is some old business to take care of. You see, Israel had rejected and exiled him. Jephthah negotiates terms to make peace between Israel and himself.

After he agrees to fight for Israel, he attempts peaceful negotiations with the Ammonites, seeking to avoid open conflict.

Ammon was Jephthah’s enemy; but he sought peace.

You might call Israel Jephthah’s ‘frenemy.” He sought peace.

The observation of Jephthah’s seeking peace is a good point of contact for us, because Christians are told in the New Testament, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

We read that “peace” is a fruit that the Holy Spirit is working to produce in and through us (Galatians 5:22-23).

And we remember that Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:9).

As we discuss the short but colorful career of Jephthah, we’ll also be looking for principles of peacemaking. I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 As Far As It Depends On You, You Should Seek Peace With Your Frenemies, and #2 As Far As It Depends On You, You Should Seek Peace With Your Enemies.

#1 – As Far As It Depends On You, You Should Seek Peace With Your Frenemies (v1-11)

In case you were wondering, “frenemy” is a real word. It’s used to describe situations where one party is friendly toward another for the benefits it can bring, even though they harbor resentment.

It’s a pretty good description of how Israel treated Jephthah.

The closing two verses of chapter ten set-up the action in chapter eleven. After eighteen years of general oppression yielding no spiritual improvement, an army of Ammonites encamped against Israel. It was the goad they needed to sincerely repent, and return to the Lord.

They were ready for a judge to be raised-up, to deliver them from Ammon.

Jdg 11:1  Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah.
Jdg 11:2  Gilead’s wife bore sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out, and said to him, “You shall have no inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.”

Jephthah’s dad was monogamous, and his wife bore him sons. At least once, however, he was unfaithful and visited a prostitute, who became pregnant, bearing him a son.

I say “at least once,” because we have no justification for thinking that Jephthah’s dad was a womanizer. He may have been.

Or this may have been a one-and-done situation – especially after the consequences of the pregnancy.

I’m highlighting this to establish that the consequences of sin don’t always take a long time to present themselves. The worst thing that we can think is that we are getting away with sin – that no one will ever know, and that there will be no lasting effects.

It can take a long time for your sin to be discovered. Or it could happen immediately. Don’t play around with sin.

Jephthah’s dad took him in, and raised him along with his other children. That arrangement lasted until dad died and the issue of inheritance came up. Being the son of a prostitute, Jephthah had no legal claim to any inheritance whatsoever.

Worse than that, his family kicked him out.

Jdg 11:3  Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out raiding with him.

“Fled” has a connotation that his well-being was in jeopardy. You get the impression he left with nothing but the clothes on his back.

“Tob” seems to have been a safe haven for the dregs of society. Think of the Star Wars cantina located in the pirate city of Mos Eisley on the planet Tattoine. It is the haunt of freight pilots and other dangerous characters of various alien races. The clientele and the management give incidents of deadly violence no more than a moment’s attention.

Or maybe it was more like Tortuga, the safe but dangerous haven for pirates like Captain Jack Sparrow.

Although he was rejected, exiled, and considered a pirate, Jephthah was no degenerate. In verse one he was described as “a mighty man of valor.” We last heard that title when the Angel of the Lord first called Gideon to be Israel’s hero.

It tells us that Jephthah was definitely God’s choice to be judge. He will come to the position in an unusual way – he will be sought out and appointed by men. But make no mistake: He was God’s choice.

Do you have a sad story to tell? Has your life been difficult? Can you relate to rejection and exile? It doesn’t cancel-out God choosing you to serve Him. Forget those things that are in your past, and concentrate on the new creation you are in Jesus Christ.

2Co 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

We are to “[forget] those things which are behind and [reach] forward to those things which are ahead, [pressing] toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

We learned from unlikely Gideon that we are already, right now, God’s mighty men and women of valor. Don’t be crippled by your past; rise up and walk with the Lord.

We are each Valor-Dictorians.

Who did Jephthah raid? It’s unlikely he raided Jews, or they would not have approached him to help them. Jephthah and his raiders pirated and pillaged the neighboring Canaanite tribes. They struck the enemies of Israel – not the Jews.

It shows the spirit of peace in Jephthah’s heart. He wasn’t striking out, striking back, at Israel for the way that he had been treated. As badly as Israel had treated him, they were not his enemy.

People who are against you are not the real enemy. Chances are they have been taken captive by the devil to do his will. Your enemies are the non-flesh-and-blood, behind the ‘seen’ supernatural powers of wickedness that seek your destruction.

Jdg 11:4  It came to pass after a time that the people of Ammon made war against Israel.
Jdg 11:5  And so it was, when the people of Ammon made war against Israel, that the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob.

Chapter ten ended on this note, but with the Israelites wondering who would lead them.

Somehow they discovered Jephthah would lead them. I say “somehow” because we don’t know how. We assume that they thought of him because he was a successful raider of Canaanites; that he seemed qualified.

But it is more likely that the Lord gave the elders direction and that they sent for Jephthah out of obedience to the Word of the Lord.

I say that because we don’t want to fall into the resume checking pattern of the world, picking-out who we think is ‘best,’ or most suitable based on skill or appearance. We need God’s man; God’s woman. We need to proceed spiritually in our choices.

The great example of this is the choice of Israel’s first king. The Israelites chose Saul, because he was tall, dark, and handsome. The prophet Samuel would have chosen any of Jesse’s older sons, in birth order.

God had chosen David. Good choice; but Samuel needed to be willing to receive God’s leading instead of his own logic.

If we’ve learned anything in Judges, it’s that God makes unusual choices. You know what? You are an unusual choice, too.

Jdg 11:6  Then they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon.”

The offer was on the table. But there was unfinished business. These elders had done nothing to aid Jephthah when he was rejected and exiled by the only family he had ever known. As far as Jephthah knew, they were still against him.

Jdg 11:7  So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?”

I don’t think Jephthah was looking for an apology, or anything like that. He wanted to know if they were willing to be at peace with him. He held no grudge against them; but did they harbor hatred against him?

It would be hard to command them, if they hated him.

Jdg 11:8  And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned again to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the people of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

“Be our head,” or leader, indicates they were willing to submit to Jephthah after the battle. It was a formal way of saying that Jephthah would be their leader – that he would be God’s judge.

It was, therefore, a gesture of peace – genuine peace.

Jdg 11:9  So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you take me back home to fight against the people of Ammon, and the LORD delivers them to me, shall I be your head?”

He wanted to be clear – “Shall I be your head?” He was asking if they indeed recognized him as the Judge God was raising up.

Did you catch the tender phrase, “take me back home?” After all they had done to Jephthah, he considered Gilead his home.

It’s amazing he harbored no ill will, but instead held on to fond memories.

Jdg 11:10  And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The LORD will be a witness between us, if we do not do according to your words.”
Jdg 11:11  Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.

“Before the Lord in Mizpah” means that either at the Tabernacle, or before the High Priest, everything that had transpired between the elders and Jephthah was ratified in the presence of God.

A true peace was achieved. Jephthah and the elders were reconciled; together they were reconciled with the Lord.

In unity, with God’s leading them, they would stand against the Ammonites.

That’s the narrative. In it there are some real nuggets regarding peace, and seeking peace. I’ll highlight a few obvious ones.

Although grossly mistreated, Jephthah did not grow bitter. He did not seek any retribution, or revenge, against his family, or against the elders.

More than that, he did not grow bitter towards God. He did not blame God for his life being difficult. Instead, he respected God, raiding only Israel’s enemies.

When he was approached by the elders, his goal was reconciliation. He pressed them for unity. The unity of God’s people was more important to Jephthah than his own feelings.

Finally, Jephthah brought everyone together before the Lord – giving Him all the glory.

This whole episode could have gone differently. It could have gone badly. But Jephthah saw to it that it went godly, because at heart he was a peacemaker.

#2 – As Far As It Depends On You, You Should Seek Peace With Your Enemies (v12-28)

I ran across this definition of what it means to be a peacemaker:

A peacemaker is someone who experiences the peace of God (Philippians 4:7) because he is at peace (Romans 5:1) with the God of peace (Philippians 4:9) through the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6), who, indeed, is our peace (Ephesians 2:14), and who therefore seeks to live at peace with all others (Romans 12:18) and proclaims the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15) so that others might have joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13).

Here is what I think that is saying: Focus on what God had done in making peace with you, and you will concentrate on being at peace with everyone else.

Jephthah had resolved his frenemy problems with Israel… But he still had enemies in the Ammonites.

Jdg 11:12  Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, saying, “What do you have against me, that you have come to fight against me in my land?”

This is totally unexpected. No previous hero had tried diplomacy, let alone the pirate of Tob most known for his daring raids.

If you are truly at peace with God, you won’t be rocked when others challenge you. You derive your identity from your union with Jesus – not from the opinions of others. You don’t need to lash out at them.

Jdg 11:13  And the king of the people of Ammon answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and to the Jordan. Now therefore, restore those lands peaceably.”

It seems that Israel is always being accused of claiming land that belongs to others. In our modern world, people get worked up against Israel because, they say, she will not allow there to be a Palestinian state.

The truth is that Israel has offered the Palestinians a state of their own on five separate occasions. The real problem is that the Palestinians, and others in the Middle East and around the world, refuse to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Their idea of peace is the extermination of all Jews.

The Ammonite claim of land was false. It was revisionist history.

Jdg 11:14  So Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon,
Jdg 11:15  and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: ‘Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the people of Ammon;
Jdg 11:16  for when Israel came up from Egypt, they walked through the wilderness as far as the Red Sea and came to Kadesh.
Jdg 11:17  Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please let me pass through your land.” But the king of Edom would not heed. And in like manner they sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained in Kadesh.
Jdg 11:18  And they went along through the wilderness and bypassed the land of Edom and the land of Moab, came to the east side of the land of Moab, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the border of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab.
Jdg 11:19  Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land into our place.”
Jdg 11:20  But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together, encamped in Jahaz, and fought against Israel.
Jdg 11:21  And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them. Thus Israel gained possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country.
Jdg 11:22  They took possession of all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan.

There’s a lot of history here, so let me boil it down. Jephthah told the king of the people of Ammon that it never was their land to begin with. Israel took no land controlled by the Edomites, the Ammonites, or the Moabites. The land in question was a part of the spoils of the Amorite conflict. The Ammonites had no claim on it.

Jdg 11:23  ‘And now the LORD God of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites from before His people Israel; should you then possess it?
Jdg 11:24  Will you not possess whatever Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God takes possession of before us, we will possess.
Jdg 11:25  And now, are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive against Israel? Did he ever fight against them?

The victory over the Amorites came about only because the God of Israel drove them out. Jephthah appealed, for the sake of argument, to their own theology. If they believed they should possess what they thought their god Chemosh gave them, did it not make sense that Israel should possess what they knew the Lord gave them?

Jdg 11:26  While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities along the banks of the Arnon, for three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?

Israel had possessed this land and these towns for three hundred years. The Ammonites made no efforts during all that time to recover what they claimed was theirs. Their argument was a smokescreen for their aggression.

Jdg 11:27  Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the LORD, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon.’ ”

This may not sound like a strong declaration of war, but it was. The people of Canaan were always terrified of the God of Israel. They knew they could not withstand Him if Israel was walking with Him. They had experienced His miraculous hand against them.

By invoking the “judgment” of God, Jephthah was calling to mind all this history of Israel’s victories in the Promised Land.

Our current United States Secretary of Defense is retired General James Mattis. His nickname is “Mad Dog.” He’s a warrior who prefers peace. But when diplomacy fails, watch out.

My favorite quote of his goes like this:

“We’ve backed off in good faith to try and give you a chance to straighten this problem out. But I am going to beg with you for a minute. I’m going to plead with you, do not cross us. Because if you do, the survivors will write about what we do here for 10,000 years.”

That is what Jephthah was saying to the king of the people of Ammon. He was pleading with the Ammonites to not cross Israel. If they did, they’d regret it. And here we are approximately 3200 years later, still talking about what Israel did there.

Jdg 11:28  However, the king of the people of Ammon did not heed the words which Jephthah sent him.

As much as it depended upon him, Jephthah sought a peaceful solution. It wasn’t to be, and we will see next time that the Lord delivered the Ammonites into his hand “with a great slaughter.”

We can glean a few more peacemaking principles from Jephthah’s dealings with the Ammonites.

He did not take their aggression personally. He didn’t get angry about it. He stayed reasonable. It’s because he knew there was something greater going on than just his feelings.

I’ll go out on a limb here and remind all of us that Israel was always to remain optimistic that Gentiles would convert.

Sure, their mandate was to destroy the Canaanites. But along the way, any who trusted the God of Israel were brought into the fold.

Think Rahab and her family in Jericho.

If your “enemies” are nonbelievers, remind yourself that their eternal destinies are of critical importance. You’re to try to maintain peace with them, even if they are against you, for their good, and for God’s glory.

Peacemaking requires we be patient. Jephthah was willing to wait, giving the king of the people of Ammon time to respond. We don’t always need to jump on something immediately – or at least without seeking clarification.

As peacemakers, we are not to compromise the truth. Jephthah’s answers to the Ammonite king were concise and truthful. He didn’t yield, not one bit.

We can’t achieve peace at any price. Peace is a goal, but it must be genuine, relying on truth.

We won’t see Jephthah’s victory until our next study, but we can peek at it:

Jdg 11:32  So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his hands.
Jdg 11:33  And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith – twenty cities – and to Abel Keramim, with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

If we were making a movie about this, we’d spend a ton of time on the battle, inventing new ways of showing-off Jephthah’s mad warrior skills as a mighty man of valor.

What is communicated instead is that the Lord gave the victory. All Jephthah and Israel needed was to be on the right side.

A good question to ask is, “Am I right with the Lord in my current struggle?”

To keep it in context, ask:

“Am I experiencing the peace of God because I am at peace with the God of peace through the Prince of peace?”

“Am I therefore seeking to live at peace with all others and proclaim the gospel of peace so that others might have joy and peace in believing?”

For some of you, the place to begin is to realize you are at war with God. You are His born enemy.

For His part, God has made peace with you at the Cross, where Jesus took your place. You can therefore be born-again, and experience both peace with God, and the peace of God that comes from having your sins forgiven.

Surrender today.

Scripture Tells Me I’m Into Someone Good (Judges 10:1-18)

It’s one of the great advertising slogans of all time. I know you can finish it: “You’re in good hands [with Allstate].”

How about this one: “Good to the last [drop].” Whose slogan is that? That’s right; Maxwell House Coffee.

One more: “M’m! M’m! Good… M’m! M’m! Good… [That’s what Campbell Soups are – M’m! M’m! Good].”

Because you’re sharp, you noticed that the key word in each of those slogans is “good.” It’s a robust, comforting word that instills confidence.

Christians use, as a slogan, the phrase, “God is good.” I don’t think a day goes by I don’t hear it said, or read it on social media.

It figures prominently in the recent popular Christian film, God’s Not Dead. Two of the main characters say, “God is good… All the time”; and “All the time… God is good.”

We get it from verses like the following:

Psa 31:19  Oh, how great is Your goodness, Which You have laid up for those who fear You, Which You have prepared for those who trust in You In the presence of the sons of men!

Psa 34:8  Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

Psa 107:1  Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.

Something I didn’t know. According to A.W. Pink, “The original Saxon meaning of our English word God is “The Good.”

I got to thinking about “good,” and God’s goodness, because it is one of the things we can see illustrated for us here in chapter ten of the Book of Judges.

The chapter opens with a quick summary account of two of Israel’s lesser-known Judges, Tola and Jair. God, in His goodness, gave these two men to Israel to provide them a measure of peace for quite some time.

Then the bulk of the chapter describes Israel being overwhelmed by several of her enemies. God explained to them that their subjection to their enemies was His doing on account of their sin.

When Israel cried out to God, He answered them, saying, “I will deliver you no more” (v13).

On the surface, God’s response does not seem consistent with His goodness. It seems the direct opposite of goodness.
Wait for it; we will see that it illustrates His goodness leading them to repentance, after which God does deliver them.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 God Is Good & He Shows It By Looking Out For You, and #2 God Is Good & He Shows It By Coming After You.

#1 – God Is Good & He Shows It By Looking Out For You (v1-5)

When Frodo first encountered him at the Prancing Pony, Aragorn had spent most of his adult life as an unheralded Ranger protecting the borders of the Shire from the Enemy.

Aragorn says of his task, “Travelers scowl at us, and countrymen give us scornful names. “Strider” I am to one fat man who lives within a day’s march of foes that would freeze his heart or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly.”

As far as our world is concerned, it is because God is good that life can proceed on the earth day-after-day. God is on guard. His goodness looks out for His creation. If it weren’t for His goodness, our enemies would do far worse than freeze our hearts and lay our world in ruin.

One book on systematic theology asks the following questions:

How can we explain the comparatively orderly life in the world, seeing that the whole world lies under the curse of sin? How is it that the earth yields precious fruit in rich abundance and does not simply bring forth thorns and thistles? How can we account for it that sinful man still “retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior”? How can the unregenerate still speak truth, do good to others, and lead outwardly virtuous lives?

The answer is that God is good, and in His goodness He preserves life in order to give men the opportunity to be saved.

Keep that very basic thought in mind as we work through verses one through five and see God’s goodness preserving and protecting Israel.

Jdg 10:1  After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar; and he dwelt in Shamir in the mountains of Ephraim.
Jdg 10:2  He judged Israel twenty-three years; and he died and was buried in Shamir.

Abimelech is named just ahead of Tola. Abimelech’s story takes-up a verse in chapter eight, then fifty-seven verses in chapter nine. He was not a Judge. He was the least son of Gideon who promoted himself to be a king by murdering his 69 brothers.

Murder and destruction stain his career.

The entire twenty-three year hero-ship of Tola is summarized in two verses.

It doesn’t seem right, or fair. Tell me more about Tola – a real hero, raised-up by God, with a more than two-decade spotless record.

You and I are probably destined to be Tola’s. I mean, my opportunities to be famous, as a Christian, are pretty much over.

That’s OK. I’d rather have a short epitaph as a faithful servant than a long explanation of my failure. Be content as a servant of God.

Jdg 10:3  After him arose Jair, a Gileadite; and he judged Israel twenty-two years.
Jdg 10:4  Now he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys; they also had thirty towns, which are called “Havoth Jair” to this day, which are in the land of Gilead.
Jdg 10:5  And Jair died and was buried in Camon.

We talk about “the American dream.” These verses describe something like that in Israel. There was a donkey in every garage, and everyone could have their own city if they wanted to.

That’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea. God’s work through Jair preserved a twenty-two year peace. In that peace, they prospered. God was good – obviously good – to His people.

When we declare that God is good, we are not ignoring sin and suffering on the earth. In a way, sin and suffering highlight His goodness. God could end all suffering; He will end it, at about Revelation twenty-one. But when He does, His longsuffering with men, to see them saved, also ends. The fact that suffering continues means there is still time for God’s goodness to reach lost souls and save them.

To quote from A.W. Pink again:

If man sins against the goodness of God, if he despises “the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering,” and after the hardness and impenitency of his heart treasurest up unto himself wrath against the day of wrath (Romans 2:5-6), who is to blame but himself? Would God be “good” if He did not punish those who ill-use His blessings, abuse His benevolence, and trample His mercies beneath their feet? It will be no reflection upon God’s goodness, but rather the brightest exemplification of it, when He will rid the earth of those who have broken His laws, defied His authority, mocked His messengers, scorned His Son, and persecuted those for whom He died.

The ultimate goodness of God, of course, is salvation through Jesus Christ. At the birth of Jesus, the angels announced God’s “good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). Here was the One Who was born to die for your sins, and for my sins. It is good that when we were yet sinners, and the enemies of God, He sent His Son to take our place in death, that we might live forever.

Titus 2:11 proclaims, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men…” “Grace” is the goodness of God in action. It doesn’t just preserve the universe, as a theater within which the drama of redeeming a lost race plays out.

No, grace is active, working on the hearts of all men everywhere, freeing their will in order that they might make a decision to surrender to Jesus and be saved.

“God is good… All the time.”

#2 – God Is Good & He Shows It By Coming After You (v6-18)

If I use the phrase, “relentless pursuit,” probably only negative images come to mind. I can’t help but think about the Terminator, or after him, the T1000 liquid metal man. They just kept coming.

We need to suspend any negative connotations about relentless pursuit, because God’s goodness is presented as relentlessly pursuing mankind:

First, as we’ve said, He pursues us through grace, with the Gospel, to bring us salvation.
Second, after we are saved, when we sin, His goodness pursues us to bring us to repentance.

In the Book of Romans, where we are told, “the goodness of God leads to repentance” (2:4). The statement is made in the context of God withholding the judgment the human race deserves in order that we might repent, and either receive Him or return to Him.

One pastor put it this way: “God’s goodness is the reality that we have not yet experienced His judgment. That is what leads us to repentance.”

In Second Corinthians 7:9-10 we read,

2Co 7:9  Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.
2Co 7:10  For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

In the remaining verses of chapter ten, we see the goodness of God leading Israel to repentance.

Jdg 10:6  Then the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; and they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him.

I’m not sure if the years Tola and Jair judged Israel were concurrent or consecutive; localized or national. But the author of Judges, the prophet Samuel, wants to emphasize that the Israelites sinned grossly at the first chance they got.

If there was a god to be found among the Canaanites, find him or her they did, and serve them.

Jdg 10:7  So the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and into the hands of the people of Ammon.

Do you think of God as having emotions? Theologians debate what they call “the impassibility of God.” While some of them would argue for the position that God does not possess any feelings or passions, the real question is whether or not God’s passions are voluntary or involuntary. Does God actually react to his creation in an emotional way? Can humanity hurt God?

We won’t solve the great impassibility debate. We can confidently state that God has emotions; we’re told that over-and-over in the Bible. He loves; He hates; He has compassion; He grieves; He rejoices.

In Judges, He is hot with anger. Don’t think of God as losing His cool, or in any way over-reacting. His emotions are not like ours.

Don’t think of God as having mood swings; or of being depressed; or manic.

But since He is holy and good, His emotions must be so much stronger than ours, in their perfection. I’m not sure what it means to say this, but, in this case, God has a perfect hot anger against Israel. It motivates Him to act – on their behalf, for their good.

Does your hot anger motivate you to do good? Most likely, not.

The good God did was that He “sold them” into the hands of their enemies.

One way of understanding this is to say that God simply gave them what they wanted. They chose to “serve” foreign gods, so Jehovah “sold them” to those gods by allowing their enemies to dominate them.

God accelerated what would have happened anyway.

At first, we don’t see how this was good. It was – infinitely so.

Jdg 10:8  From that year they harassed and oppressed the children of Israel for eighteen years – all the children of Israel who were on the other side of the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, in Gilead.

That’s a long time. But it doesn’t reflect so much on God as it does the Israelites. It took eighteen years for them to cry out to God for help.

Are you praying for someone who has walked away from the Lord? Have you grown discouraged because that person seems no closer to returning to the Lord; maybe they are even further away?

Be confident in this: God is at work – even though you cannot see it, and even though there seem to be no results. People are stubborn sinners. God will strive with them, but He cannot overrule their free will. Keep praying for them.

Jdg 10:9  Moreover the people of Ammon crossed over the Jordan to fight against Judah also, against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed.

This marks an acceleration of oppression. God allowed their enemies to subject them for eighteen years. They continued in their rebellion against God. So God turned up the heat, and brought an army against them – an imminent threat.

It worked:

Jdg 10:10  And the children of Israel cried out to the LORD, saying, “We have sinned against You, because we have both forsaken our God and served the Baals!”
They made a strong confession. They used the “S” word – sin. They fessed-up to turning from God to idols.

Jdg 10:11  So the LORD said to the children of Israel, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites and from the people of Ammon and from the Philistines?
Jdg 10:12  Also the Sidonians and Amalekites and Maonites oppressed you; and you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hand.

The Mailman. Not the one who comes to your house; the one who played for the Utah Jazz. Karl Malone was called “The Mailman,” because he delivered.

[His lack of success in the playoffs led many to joke that The Mailman didn’t deliver on the weekends].

God delivered every time. Enemy after enemy was overcome. But after each victory, His people returned to their sin.

Your flesh is powerful. By “flesh” we mean the unredeemed humanity that has a propensity to satisfy its lusts in sinful ways.

I used to think that the longer I walked with the Lord, the weaker my flesh would get.

It never weakens, and the case can be made that it gets stronger, in the sense that I get more-and-more sensitive to sin. Things I never considered sinful – like attitudes – are shown to me to be ungodly.

God has delivered me from sin; but if I don’t constantly crucify my sin, and die to self, I can still serve the various Baal’s of our culture.

Jdg 10:13  Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more.

Uh-oh. Seriously? Did God just say that?

Jdg 10:14  Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress.”

This at once seems so unlike God, and so much like Him.

It seems unlike God in that we always think of Him as the father of the prodigal son – waiting to run out and embrace his wayward child upon his return.

But it seems like God in that He alone can divide between our soul and our spirit, to know if our sorrow is mere regret, or genuine repentance.

Israel regretted their situation, but their confession was not accompanied by the attitude, or the actions, of true repentance.

Jdg 10:15  And the children of Israel said to the LORD, “We have sinned! Do to us whatever seems best to You; only deliver us this day, we pray.”
Jdg 10:16  So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD. And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.

They repeated their confession. But this time they had a change of attitude, surrendering by saying, “Do to us whatever seems best to you.”

And they had a change of action. This time they abandoned the foreign gods and served the Lord.

Repentance means a change of mind about sin, leading to a change of behavior. It can be hard to recognize true repentance.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize because we simply do not believe the repentant sinner. Especially if he or she has sinned against us, we can be reluctant to forgive them. We think they are just saying the words with no change of heart. We want them to jump through all kind of hoops. We want them to suffer a little.

As wrong as that may be, a person who has genuinely repented will remain humble, and be willing to jump through those hoops. They will recognize the ruin they have caused, and not demand their rights when they have so wronged others.

They will rejoice they are forgiven by God, then seek forgiveness from others – but with grace.

The prodigal son is a good example. Upon his return to his father’s house, he was willing to be a mere servant. He didn’t demand to be treated as a son. He didn’t demand a celebration during which they killed and consumed the fatted calf.

“And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.” More strong emotion from God. He had compassion on His repentant people.

That person, or those people, who are backslidden and you are praying for. Your soul can barely endure the misery their sin is causing. It stresses you that God is doing very little – as if He does not see, or care.

He sees; He cares. But their heart is not repentant. God’s soul is not in misery yet because they are not yet repentant.

He remains faithful, in His goodness, to lead them to repentance.

We need to think of the Lord as both the patient father of the prodigal, and as the One Who goes after His wayward children:

On the one hand, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, He must wait for their heart to change. He must wait for them to become aware of the pigpen they have sold themselves into.
On the other hand, we must believe His goodness is actively working to bring them to repentance. We may not see it, but we can believe it. He is bringing armies to encamped against them – imminent threats that are designed to point sinners to Him for deliverance.

Jdg 10:17  Then the people of Ammon gathered together and encamped in Gilead. And the children of Israel assembled together and encamped in Mizpah.
Jdg 10:18  And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, “Who is the man who will begin the fight against the people of Ammon? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

These verses set-up the next chapter. The “man” who answers God’s call is Jephthah the Gileadite.
For now, we simply note that the Israelites had returned to a place of faith. They weren’t wondering if God would raise-up a hero, but who that hero would be.

They knew they would be delivered – just not by who.

And they were willing to fight. They said, “who will begin the fight,” indicating they would follow the Lord’s man into battle – against any and all odds.

These people who had been sinning grossly for the past eighteen years were transformed into a people of faith, ready to act.

God had shown them the depth of their sin. In His initial refusal to deliver them, He had shown them that they deserved only judgment.

His goodness led them to a genuine repentance, and a return to serving Him with their hearts, their minds, their souls, and their strength.

Kurt Russell portrays Wyatt Earp in the film, Tombstone. He utters a classic line towards the end that I’m going to change a little.

In this text, we can hear God proclaiming to backsliders, “You tell them I’m comin’, and Heaven’s comin’ with Me. You hear? Heaven’s comin’ with Me!”

Have you ever heard the phrase, “The Hound of Heaven?” It’s the title of a poem written by English poet Francis Thompson (1859–1907).

One commentator said this about the poem:

The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.

Concerning the backslider, the poem says,

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.

Concerning God, it answers,

Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!

The Woman With The Man Crush (Judges 9:22-57)

A twitter poll asked Christians to list reasons for church splits they had been through, or had first-hand knowledge about. The following are a few of them.

These are factual, not made up.

First a few random ones:

• An argument over the appropriate length of the worship pastor’s beard.
• An argument and vote to decide if a clock in the sanctuary should be removed.
• A major conflict when the youth borrowed a crockpot that had not been used for years.
• A fight over which picture of Jesus to put in the foyer.

There were these two about food:

• An argument on whether the church should allow deviled eggs at the church meal.
• A disagreement over using the term “potluck” instead of “pot blessing.”

There were these two about the Lord’s Supper:

• An argument over whether to have gluten-free communion bread or not.
• A dispute in the church because the Lord’s Supper had cran-grape juice instead of grape juice.

There was only one I thought had any real merit: Two different churches reported fights over the type of coffee to serve. In one of the churches, they moved from Folgers to a stronger Starbucks variety. In the other church, they simply moved to a stronger blend.

Factions and divisions in churches are nothing new. In the New Testament church in Corinth there were divisions over the following things:

• Which apostle was superior.
• Sexual morality.
• Lawsuits.
• Marriage.
• Eating meat that had been first sacrificed to an idol.
• Headcoverings for women.
• The Lord’s Supper.
• Spiritual gifts.
• The resurrection of Jesus; and
• The resurrection of believers.

By the way… In my research I found one source that claimed the church at Corinth may have been significantly under 200 members. That’s a lot of fighting for such a small group.

The apostle Paul made a surprising statement to the Corinthians regarding their factions and divisions:

1Co 11:19  For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.

Factions and divisions can have a positive effect in that they reveal who, if anyone, is acting like a genuine believer.

I got to thinking about factions because our verses in the Book of Judges chronicle a time of factions in Israel.

Sadly, no one in these factions are “approved”; they are all wrong. We don’t want to identify with any of them.

But from their failures we can understand two things: #1 You Can’t Avoid There Being Factions In Your Church, but #2 You Can Bring To An End The Factions In Your Church.

#1 – You Can’t Avoid There Being Factions In Your Church (v22-49)

We tend to have a romantic notion of what the first century church was like. For sure, it was vibrant with the life and ministry of God the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless all of the letters written to churches were corrective of problems in them.

Five of the seven letters Jesus dictated to John in the Revelation were likewise critical and corrective.

There are no perfect churches because there are no perfect people. Sooner or later there will be factions in any church.

We’ve had a few over the years. I’m not aware of any now; but it’s likely we will have others up until the rapture of the church.

Looking to our verses, it was a time of factions that escalated to civil war.

Jdg 9:22  After Abimelech had reigned over Israel three years,

Abimelech was the son of Gideon by a Gentile concubine. When Gideon died, Abimelech rallied his mother’s kin in the city of Shechem to support him against the 70 sons of Gideon who stood to rule over them. They hired worthless and reckless men to kill the 70 half-brothers of Abimelech for one shekel each.

They killed 69, but Jotham, the youngest, escaped. Before he went into self-imposed exile, he rebuked both Abimelech and the men of Shechem, predicting they would destroy one another.

Israel was a theocracy. They were ruled by God; they had no king. They always wanted a king, in order to be like the other nations.

Abimelech set himself up as king, by his own authority. It couldn’t last, since it was totally a work of the flesh.

Jdg 9:23  God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech,

Your Bible might say, “God sent an evil spirit.” One scholar I consulted says, “the word evil in this passage (ra’) can simply mean troubling or disastrous. It does not have to be interpreted as referring to a morally evil spirit. Hence this passage may simply mean that as an act of judgment God sent a spirit whose job it was to trouble or bring disaster to Abimelech.”

We assume that the spirit is a demon. But the word used could identify an angel’s task.

Angels are sometimes dispatched to cause trouble, and lots of it:

An angel of death was sent on the eve of the Exodus to kill all the firstborn of Egypt.
In Numbers chapter twenty-two, an angel was sent to kill Balaam.
One angel killed 185,000 Assyrians encamped against Jerusalem (Second Kings 19:35).
Angels figure prominently in the Book of the Revelation in carrying-out destructive judgments upon the Christ-rejecting population of the Tribulation earth.

At the same time, there are examples of individuals in the New Testament being turned over to Satan or his agents for punishment:

A man in the Corinthian church was committing incest and adultery, and God commanded the leaders to “hand him over to Satan” to save his soul (First Corinthians 5:1-5).
God allowed a messenger of Satan to torment the apostle Paul in order to teach him to rely on God’s grace and power and not become conceited because of the tremendous abundance of spiritual truth he was given (Second Corinthians 12:7).

If it was an evil spirit, then as an act of judgment God allowed it to do what it wanted to do to Abimelech. God was not the author of its evil.

For his part, Abimelech was not forced to act one way or another. He wasn’t possessed. He simply had the freedom to act according to his sinful nature without restraint.

It provides an example for us of God’s providence. God gets the outcome that He requires, but without violating anyone’s free-will. Whether by angel or demon, the Lord gives these nonbelievers a nudge, but they act according to their own natures.

Jdg 9:24  that the crime done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might be settled and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who aided him in the killing of his brothers.

Having them turn on each other was God’s divine judgment for their heinous crime. His sentence would be carried-out by this troublesome spirit.

Jdg 9:25  And the men of Shechem set men in ambush against him on the tops of the mountains, and they robbed all who passed by them along that way; and it was told Abimelech.
The “ambush” was against Abimelech in this sense: They robbed the merchants before they could pay the toll and tribute that was being collected by Abimelech. He was therefore suffering economically.

More than that, it was an affront to Abimelech’s authority.

These were men of Shechem, who had previously supported Abimelech. Apparently his policies were no longer prospering them so they rebelled.

Jdg 9:26  Now Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brothers and went over to Shechem; and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him.

The Gaal Group swoops in for a hostile take-over. They seem to be a band of brothers who go from place-to-place taking advantage of local strife to line their own pockets.

They’re like a traveling street gang.

Jdg 9:27  So they went out into the fields, and gathered grapes from their vineyards and trod them, and made merry. And they went into the house of their god, and ate and drank, and cursed Abimelech.

They must have had mad winemaking skills. I tried to find out how long it takes to go from grape-to-glass in fermentation. One site for do-it-yourselfers said six months.

Then I came across an article titled, Turning Welchs into Wine in 48 Hours. There is a product called Spike Your Juice.

It’s a yeast-based kit, a powder you add, that ferments any 100% fruit juice, so long as it has 20gr of sugar or more per serving, into an alcoholic brew with anywhere from 4-14% alcohol by volume. That puts the resulting potency somewhere between beer and wine.

One reviewer commented, “You know what’s infinitely better than a carton of Tropicana? A carton of boozy Tropicana.”

The Gaal Group knew something we don’t know, and in a wine-induced moment of bravado, “cursed Abimelech.”

Jdg 9:28  Then Gaal the son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerubbaal, and is not Zebul his officer? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him?
Jdg 9:29  If only this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech.” So he said to Abimelech, “Increase your army and come out!”

Gaal played the race card. Abimelech identified with the men of Shechem, as their kin, because of his mom. But his dad was Israeli.

Jdg 9:30  When Zebul, the ruler of the city, heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was aroused.

Abimelech was living elsewhere, and had left Shechem in the very capable hands of a ruler loyal to him, Zebul.

Jdg 9:31  And he sent messengers to Abimelech secretly, saying, “Take note! Gaal the son of Ebed and his brothers have come to Shechem; and here they are, fortifying the city against you.
Jdg 9:32  Now therefore, get up by night, you and the people who are with you, and lie in wait in the field.
Jdg 9:33  And it shall be, as soon as the sun is up in the morning, that you shall rise early and rush upon the city; and when he and the people who are with him come out against you, you may then do to them as you find opportunity.”

Zebul believed an early morning surprise attack from the East, with the sunrise obscuring them, would overwhelm a sluggish, hung-over Gaal.

Jdg 9:34  So Abimelech and all the people who were with him rose by night, and lay in wait against Shechem in four companies.
Jdg 9:35  When Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance to the city gate, Abimelech and the people who were with him rose from lying in wait.
Jdg 9:36  And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, “Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!” But Zebul said to him, “You see the shadows of the mountains as if they were men.”

Blurry-eyed from the previous night’s merry-making, Gaal couldn’t easily make-out the advancing army. Zebul convinced him he was seeing pink elephants on parade.

Jdg 9:37  So Gaal spoke again and said, “See, people are coming down from the center of the land, and another company is coming from the Diviners’ Terebinth Tree.”

Maybe it’s just me, but Gaal seems a little slow.

Jdg 9:38  Then Zebul said to him, “Where indeed is your mouth now, with which you said, ‘Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him?’ Are not these the people whom you despised? Go out, if you will, and fight with them now.”

Too late to make a run for it. Couldn’t try to hide in the city, or the citizens would see them as cowards and withdraw their support. The only option was to fight.

Jdg 9:39  So Gaal went out, leading the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech.
Jdg 9:40  And Abimelech chased him, and he fled from him; and many fell wounded, to the very entrance of the gate.

It seemed all too easy. But that would prove Abimelech’s downfall. He wouldn’t see the days events as God’s divine judgment on him until it was too late.

Jdg 9:41  Then Abimelech dwelt at Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his brothers, so that they would not dwell in Shechem.

This seems to be a summary of what happened. Abimelech came from Arumah where he was dwelling to engage Gaal and his brothers, who were driven out of the city by Zebul’s strategy.

Jdg 9:42  And it came about on the next day that the people went out into the field, and they told Abimelech.

The citizens of Shechem resumed their daily lives, thinking that their temporary defection would be overlooked.

Jdg 9:43  So he took his people, divided them into three companies, and lay in wait in the field. And he looked, and there were the people, coming out of the city; and he rose against them and attacked them.
Jdg 9:44  Then Abimelech and the company that was with him rushed forward and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city; and the other two companies rushed upon all who were in the fields and killed them.
Jdg 9:45  So Abimelech fought against the city all that day; he took the city and killed the people who were in it; and he demolished the city and sowed it with salt.

Abimelech and his men slaughtered unarmed farmers and their families. Yes, it was merciless; but so was the support of the citizens of Shechem for the murder of the sons of Gideon.

God is longsuffering, not wanting men to reap what they deserve. But His longsuffering has an end, and for these Shechemites, this was it.

Jdg 9:46  Now when all the men of the tower of Shechem had heard that, they entered the stronghold of the temple of the god Berith.
Jdg 9:47  And it was told Abimelech that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together.
Jdg 9:48  Then Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who were with him. And Abimelech took an ax in his hand and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it and laid it on his shoulder; then he said to the people who were with him, “What you have seen me do, make haste and do as I have done.”
Jdg 9:49  So each of the people likewise cut down his own bough and followed Abimelech, put them against the stronghold, and set the stronghold on fire above them, so that all the people of the tower of Shechem died, about a thousand men and women.

Of interest here is that in his rebuke of Abimelech, Jotham had compared him to a bramble-bush ready to burst into flame, and he predicted that he would destroy the men of Shechem by fire.

No one in this story had any consideration of God; yet He was behind what could be seen, delivering justice.

Factions abound in this narrative. They clash in destructive ways.

Factions will abound in the church. They must occur, Paul said to the faction-filled Corinthians.

It doesn’t mean we ignore them. It doesn’t mean that we are influenced by them.

Instead of being influenced by them, or ignoring them…

#2 – You Can Bring To An End The Factions In Your Church (v50-57)

The weakest, most unlikely person in a church can be used to end conflict. Let’s see how things played-out in Judges to reinforce that idea.

Jdg 9:50  Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and he encamped against Thebez and took it.

We can only guess that Thebez had somehow sided with, and supported, Gaal against Abimelech and now he wanted to punish them. Flushed with victory, he consulted only his own pride.

Notice how Abimelech seems to be prospering. He defeated Gaal. He overwhelmed the men of Shechem. He made it look easy.

Just because evil seems to be prospering is no reason to think God is not at work. He is always working all things together for His glory, and for our good.

At any moment along the way, Abimelech could have turned to the Lord. He was the man who would be king, however, when God wanted no king over His people.

It was time to deal with Abimelech.

Jdg 9:51  But there was a strong tower in the city, and all the men and women – all the people of the city – fled there and shut themselves in; then they went up to the top of the tower.
Jdg 9:52  So Abimelech came as far as the tower and fought against it; and he drew near the door of the tower to burn it with fire.

If something works, why not stick with it? Abimelech was almost nonchalant now. It was all in a day’s work, burning towers with unarmed men, and with women and children.

No one had any thoughts of divine intervention – yet God’s intervention had brought Abimelech, of his own free will, to this very spot.

Jdg 9:53  But a certain woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull.

I never took Ancient Architecture in college, but I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that there wasn’t a grinder way up in the top of that tower.

So how was it this gal had the smaller of the two millstones on her person? I don’t know, but it seems she must have brought it with her when she fled to safety.

Have you ever had to evacuate, and do it quickly? It happened to us a few times in Southern California when destructive fires endangered our homes. You almost always take something that you later look at and wonder, “What was I thinking?”

In her case, the small but heavy upper millstone would change lives.

Abimelech was over confident and got too close to the door. Blamo. Skull crush.

I wonder what they’d use to make the sound of his skull being crushed if they made this into a movie? Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt created the distinctive sound of a lightsaber by combining the hum of an idle film projector and the buzz from an old TV set.

The horrifying sound of the shower-stabbing in the original Psycho was achieved by Alfred Hitchcock listening to someone stab various melons. In the end, it was the Casaba.

I only mention this to reach out to any Foley artists listening.
Jdg 9:54  Then he called quickly to the young man, his armorbearer, and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest men say of me, ‘A woman killed him.’ ” So his young man thrust him through, and he died.

Come on. Really? As if being killed by your own young armor bearer was more glorious. We all know he was killed by a woman.

Abimelech may have thought the story could be altered showing a more heroic death. But this is the Word of God, accurate and authoritative, inerrant. He would not be remembered as a hero.

Jdg 9:55  And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed, every man to his place.

There was no real cause here to inflame their patriotism. They were following a madman. With Abimelech dead, everyone returned to their normal lives.

Jdg 9:56  Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers.
Jdg 9:57  And all the evil of the men of Shechem God returned on their own heads, and on them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.

We should pause to marvel at the spiritual strategy at work. I mean, the men of Shechem and Abimelech must somehow be used against each other, as a judgment upon both, leaving both defeated and destroyed.

How would you have done it?

Turning again to ourselves… The apostle Paul didn’t simply list the various factions and divisions in Corinth. Paul told them what to do, case-by-case, to overcome the factions.

Probably the best advice he gives is the famous love passage in First Corinthians chapter thirteen. If you will allow God’s Spirit to have His way in you, and respond in love, you will overcome factions – at least for your part.

People who are divisive can only continue if you go along with them. Factions depend on numbers, so all you need to do is refuse to join.

It’s funny how we get so interested in trying to figure out exactly what is meant by the evil spirit God sent, when all the while we have within us the Holy Spirit He sent to permanently indwell us, and to constantly infill us. He is the only Spirit I need concern myself with.

He will promote unity, not division. Division is a work of the flesh, no matter how I might try to justify it.

As I said, there isn’t anything like that going on in our church. I’m not preaching a message against anyone.

But until we are raptured, there will always be a tendency to break into factions.

Just say “No,” and work to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Lord, I Was Born a Bramblin’ Man (Judges 9:1-21)

According to a very recent Gallup poll, more Americans would say that the Bible is a book of fables than it is the Word of God.

Gallup reported that a mere 24% of Americans believe the Bible should be taken literally.

By comparison 26% view the Bible as “a book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by men.”

This is the first time in four-decades that biblical literalism has not surpassed biblical skepticism.

Answering this charge, one apologetics source says the following:

The Bible is most assuredly not a fairy tale [or fable]. In fact, the Bible was “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), and this essentially means God wrote it. Its human authors wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (Second Peter 1:21). That’s why this divinely woven text of nearly three quarters of a million words is perfect in harmony from start to finish and contains no contradictions, even though its sixty-six books have forty different authors from different walks of life, written in three different languages and taking nearly sixteen centuries to complete.

In defense of the Word of God, we could cite it’s accuracy, which has been confirmed by history, biology, geology, and astronomy.

We could cite the over 2000 fulfilled prophecies – most of them extremely detailed, and with no way of being fulfilled other than divinely.

We could cite the millions upon millions of changed lives, attesting to the power of our resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Bible is not a fairy tale, but it does contain at least two fables. A fable is a short story, typically with animals or inanimate things as its speaking characters, that conveys a moral.

In Second Kings we read,

2Ki 14:9  And Jehoash king of Israel sent to Amaziah king of Judah, saying, “The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, ‘Give your daughter to my son as wife’; and a wild beast that was in Lebanon passed by and trampled the thistle.

It was Jehoash’s way of saying that Amaziah’s request was like that of a weed making a demand upon a mighty tree.

The other fable is in our text today. In it, the youngest son of Gideon, Jotham, exposes his half-brother Abimelech as being altogether evil and destructive. He puts it in the form of a fable involving an olive tree, a fig tree, a grape vine, and a bramble.

Abimelech is not like an olive tree, or a fig tree, or a grapevine, bearing fruit. No, he is a bramble, good only for starting destructive fires in the groves or vineyards.

Jotham did not have us in mind in the telling of his fable. Nevertheless there is a point of contact for us.

We’ll see that the fruit-bearing trees and vine were selfless, while the bramble was selfish. Since we, too, can be either selfless or selfish, there’s a moral here for us.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Live Selfish And You Kindle A Destructive Fire, or #2 Live Selfless And You Contribute Delightful Fruit.

#1 Live Selfish And You Kindle A Destructive Fire (v1-6)

Phil Cooke is President and CEO of Cooke Pictures, a media production and consulting company based in Los Angeles. He advises many of the largest Christian and nonprofit organizations in the world on media issues. In an e-mail to the Christian Post, he wrote, “If you filmed ‘The Bible,’ much of it would be R-rated and some of it possibly ‘X.’ That’s the remarkable thing about the Bible – it tells honest, authentic and true stories.
So why do we spend so much time trying to convince Hollywood that serious films about real life that push the edge aren’t welcomed by the faith community? I think the culture would respect our message much more if we stopped producing just cheesy, G-rated films and started telling gritty stories about real life.”

I suggest they start with the Book of Judges. If you want grit, the post-Gideon period would be high on the list.

As part of his unspiritual eulogy in chapter eight, we learned that Gideon had multiple wives that produced for him seventy sons. He also had a girl on the side, in the Gentile city of Shechem. This concubine also bore Gideon a son. They named him Abimelech, which means, my father is king.

Gideon was not king; but he acted like he was. When he died, it created a leadership void. Abimelech rushed in to fill it.

Jdg 9:1  Then Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem, to his mother’s brothers, and spoke with them and with all the family of the house of his mother’s father…

“Jerub-Baal” was the nickname the men of Israel gave Gideon after he destroyed the altar of Baal in his father’s house. He “contended with Baal,” which is loosely what Jerub-Baal means.

Abimelech called a secret counsel with his uncles. The whole thing has the feel of a Godfather movie, with Abimelech making moves to consolidate his power over the family.

Jdg 9:2  “Please speak in the hearing of all the men of Shechem: ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal reign over you, or that one reign over you?’ Remember that I am your own flesh and bone.”

Abimelech was the least of Gideon’s sons, since he was part Gentile, and beingborn of a concubine he had no legal rights. With Gideon dead, he was #71 on the depth-chart for leadership.

He argued that, for Shechem, it would be like all seventy of Gideon’s Hebrew sons were lording over them, with no relief in the foreseeable future. It made more sense for them to throw-in with someone related to them.

Abimelech convinced them it was time to make a bold move.

Jdg 9:3  And his mother’s brothers spoke all these words concerning him in the hearing of all the men of Shechem; and their heart was inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.”

The power base widened to include “all the men of Shechem.” They took up Abimilech’s argument, convincing the town to back him.

Jdg 9:4  So they gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless men; and they followed him.

“Baal-Berith” was their local interpretation of the so-called god, Baal. According to one source, “berith” refers to an erotic, obscene object that was carried around on your person.

From the moment he first spoke to his uncles, everyone knew that in order to prevail, Abimelech would have to murder the sons of Gideon – all of whom preceded him in any succession. Thus “seventy shekels” – one for each of his half-brothers.

“Worthless and reckless men.” Abimelech’s administration was off to a great start:

He was backed by guys who were so addicted to pornography that they carried erotica around with them.
He was funded in his bid to take over Israel by a pagan Temple.
His military force was murderers for hire.

Jdg 9:5  Then he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, because he hid himself.

They were murdered in their father’s house, where his wives slept, and his children played with their toys.

“On one stone” indicates individual, formal execution. One-by-one, probably in order of birth, the sons of Gideon were murdered.

All but one – the youngest – who somehow had opportunity to hide, and to escape. After all, worthless, reckless men aren’t very reliable.

Jdg 9:6  And all the men of Shechem gathered together, all of Beth Millo, and they went and made Abimelech king beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that was in Shechem.

“Beth Millo” is believed to be a nearby Canaanite stronghold. They joined with Shechem, seeing it as the smart move in the current political climate.

Warren Wiersbe says the “terebinth tree” is probably the “oak of Moreh,” where the Lord appeared to Abraham and promised to give him and his descendants the land (Genesis 12:6).

It was near this site that the nation of Israel heard the blessings and curses read from the Law and promised to obey the Lord (Deuteronomy 11:26-32; Joshua 8:30-35). Jacob buried the idols here as he called his family back to God (Genesis 35:1-5), and here Joshua gave his last speech and led the people in reaffirming their obedience to God (Joshua 24:25-26).

All of that sacred history was tainted by the selfish ambition of Abimelech. In one long afternoon, for his own desires, he spoiled so many things that the Lord had ordered for the good of Israel.

Anymore it seems that folks don’t think very much about establishing their own ‘sacred history.’ I’m thinking particularly of the too-many marriages I’ve seen go bust over the years as one of the spouses walks away from the Lord.

What they walk toward is always their version of Baal – the fulfillment of some lust or desire that ought to have been brought to the Cross and crucified.

It’s Baal-Materialism; or Baal-Personal Freedom; or Baal-God Wants Me to Be Happy; or Baal-I’m in Love with Someone Else.

Whatever ungodly, unbiblical reason they give for reneging on their sacred marriage vows, it’s a Baal.

It all finds its root in living for self, rather than in dying to self and living for Jesus.

Jotham is going to compare Abimelech to a bramble among fruit-bearing trees and vines. Brambles were dry weeds that could easily ignite, creating fires destructive to the many valuable fruit bearing trees and vines.

And that’s what selfishness does. It causes severe damage to those bearing fruit.

If you find yourself now, or ever, carrying around with you some desire that is ungodly and unbiblical, get rid of that Baal immediately. Otherwise you run the risk of bursting into flame, and damaging all that is beautiful and holy.

There’s a saying in the Bible, “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). It means that what God says is true, no matter what you might think or say. His morals, His virtues, His commandments, are true, no matter what a society might say.

Marriage itself, as instituted by God, has been under attack. It’s nothing new, by the way. God has given His instruction on marriage. What He says is true, regardless man making laws that contradict it.

If you contradict God, you’re the liar – not Him.

Let me be unusually blunt: If you are contemplating divorce, and you do not have grounds biblically, it is sin. If you’re thinking about a marriage that is outside the biblical boundaries, it is sin

God is right; you are wrong. Instead of kindling that fire…

#2 Live Selfless And You Contribute Delightful Fruit (v7-21)

Saturday morning cartoons meant Rocky & Bullwinkle, and that included Fractured Fairy Tales (as told by Edward Everett Horton). They were classic tales retold with a comic twist.

The dark drama of Abimilech’s bloody reign has one positive: Jotham’s fable. It pictures for the men of Israel, and Shechem, a better life, a spiritual life, a fruitful life – if they will follow the Lord, and not Abimelech.

Jdg 9:7  Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and cried out. And he said to them: “Listen to me, you men of Shechem, That God may listen to you!

Those who have been to this spot say there is an outcropping of rock, a ledge, and the natural acoustics allow you to be heard in the valley below.

Still mourning the murders of his brothers, and himself in danger, Jotham holds out the possibility that God would be merciful to them if they will “listen.”

Jotham’s obedience is itself evidence of spiritual fruit. He wasn’t looking for his own worthless, reckless men. He appealed to something higher.

If you’ve sinned… If you are sinning now… Listen for God’s mercy. Flee to Him, to His throne – to His will – and find grace and mercy in your time of need.

The fable itself is straightforward:

Jdg 9:8  “The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’
Jdg 9:9  But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, With which they honor God and men, And go to sway over trees?’
Jdg 9:10  “Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us!’
Jdg 9:11  But the fig tree said to them, ‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, And go to sway over trees?’
Jdg 9:12  “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us!’
Jdg 9:13  But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, Which cheers both God and men, And go to sway over trees?’

Smart trees. They had no ambition to rule over other trees. They were more than content with what God had made them, and the work He had given them to do. Their only concern was fruitfulness.

We know from the New Testament that Jesus is pictured as a vine, with us as the branches. Fruit is the natural result of our remaining connected with the Lord. We sometimes describe it as “abiding in Christ.”

The one requirement that we have as servants is that we be found faithful. Be faithful and you will be fruitful. The fable is encouraging us to faithfulness that contributes to fruitfulness.

The olive tree, the fig tree, and the grape vine were content with what God had made them. They had no envy, no selfish ambition. Just keep cranking-out olives, and figs, and grapes, for God’s glory, and for the good of men.

Let’s once again use marriage as our illustration, since we can all relate. One thing I dislike at weddings is talk about how hard it’s going to be; about the tremendous difficulties the couple will face.

It can be so negative, that I wonder why some couples don’t interrupt the service and change their mind.

The place to discuss what marriage will be like is before the wedding, not at it. The ceremony should be a celebration through-and-through.

Having said that, once in the marriage you need to abide in Jesus. Times it might be hard, or stressful, are times to produce fruit in the orchard of your marriage – not times to seek a way out.

Make the decision to abide in Him, in His will, rather than follow your own will. Let God be true.

Jdg 9:14  “Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us!’

Behind some of this is the understanding that Israel always clamored for a king. God was their king; they needed no earthly king. But they wanted to be like the other nations.

If the Israelites had been walking with the Lord, the other nations would have wanted to be like them.

I should not want to be more like the unsaved. They should want to be more like me. If I’ve got that backwards, I’m in for trouble.

Jdg 9:15  And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you, Then come and take shelter in my shade; But if not, let fire come out of the bramble And devour the cedars of Lebanon!’

If you search for “bramble” in a Bible dictionary, you might be redirected to search for “thorns.” There are many varieties of these thorn bushes. Think tumbleweed – only much stouter, and with huge thorns.

In fact some sources say the thorny crown plaited and placed upon the head of Jesus was from a bramble.

There was no shade from a bramble. Even a variety that grew tall enough wouldn’t produce shade. The bramble thought more highly of himself than he ought to.

The bramble had the potential to cause damage to the mighty cedars. It was threatening to destroy if it didn’t get its way.

It’s a great contrast between selflessness and selfishness. The fruit bearing trees and vine were selfless, contributing good things to God and to man, asking for no glory. The bramble threatened to upset nature, and demanded recognition.

Look into your heart and ‘weed-out’ the attitude of the bramble.

Jotham makes the application:

Jdg 9:16  “Now therefore, if you have acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done to him as he deserves –
Jdg 9:17  for my father fought for you, risked his life, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian;
Jdg 9:18  but you have risen up against my father’s house this day, and killed his seventy sons on one stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother –

Jotham was diplomatic, but direct. Of course they had not “acted in truth and sincerity.” Sadly, they didn’t care.

Too many professing Christians don’t act in the truth of God’s Word. They are insincere.

For example, I hear quite often that obedience would require sacrifice, and the person feels they have somehow sacrificed enough.

Jesus His life so that they we might be delivered from sin and death and Hell. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He desired that the suffering of the Cross not be necessary; but it was.

Can you imagine Jesus saying, “That’s it. I can’t take it anymore. God wants Me to be happy.”

Jdg 9:19  if then you have acted in truth and sincerity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you.

They could not “rejoice.” They might feel happy, for a time; but there could be no settled, spiritual joy.
Sin is definitely pleasurable for a time. But it brings forth death.

Jdg 9:20  But if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo; and let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech!”

If you choose as your leader a murderer, he just might murder you.

If you choose for your subjects murderers, they just might murder you.

Jdg 9:21  And Jotham ran away and fled; and he went to Beer and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.

Jotham was never heard from again. Whatever his life had been like as the 70th son of an idolator, he had this one outstanding moment. It is what we remember about him.

God gave him a word, and he spoke it, at great risk, and through much personal difficulty.

He presented this fable, and its application, just after his whole world had been shattered and his siblings murdered.

He did it with dignity and integrity. He did not seek retaliation or revenge; he left that with God.

At arguably the most difficult moment in his life, Jotham remained connected to the vine, and contributed spiritual fruit.

He was selfless in his obedience, a good and faithful servant. In a more spiritual setting, the men of Israel would have repented, and sought to elevate Jotham to be king.

For his part, Jotham would have refused, letting the Lord reign over them.

Seeing that, the men of Shechem would have repented, and converted to Judaism.

None of that happened. But it wasn’t on Jotham. He did what he was told; he was faithful.

Have you ever thought about how many Bible heroes seem like failures?

Jeremiah warned his countrymen for I think forty years, but they consistently ignored him when they were not persecuting him.
Isaiah was told that his message would not be received by the Israelites (6:8-13).

It was so bad that Stephen, the first martyr of the church, said to the Jewish leaders, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers…” (Acts 7:52).

A servant is to be faithful – not successful. Faithfulness contributes fruitfulness no matter what the brambles are doing to damage and destroy.

A great way to conclude this passage is to ask this question: “Who do I want to be in this story?”

You certainly don’t want to be Abimelech, do you? You don’t want to be a person who is willing to murder what God says is true and good just to get your own way.
With apologies to Led Zeppelin, you don’t want to bramble-on through life, leaving destruction in your wake.

No, you want to be Jotham – standing your ground on God’s truth, regardless that life isn’t quite the way you’d like it to be; or is, in fact, terrible.

The Lord of the Earrings: The Resemblance of the King (Judges 8:22-35)

If you are culturally savvy, and I say, “Who’s on first,” you’ll most likely respond by saying, “Yes,” or, “That’s right.”

It goes back to the classic comedy sketch first performed by Abbott and Costello in the late 1930’s.

Lou Costello wanted to know the names of the players on the baseball team.  Bud Abbott told him Who was on first; What was on second; and I Don’t Know was on third.

The rest of the players were Why in left field; Because in center field; Tomorrow was the pitcher; Today was the catcher; and I Don’t Care was at shortstop.

The right fielder was never named, but he has come to be called Nobody.
If I reword the question, and ask “Who’s first?,” and you’re a Christian, you’d most likely answer, “Jesus!”

Having said that, I think we’d admit Jesus is not always first in our actual day-to-day living.  It’s a biblical fact that we still contend with the flesh, and that we too often yield to our flesh rather than to the Spirit of God.

As we close the book on Gideon, he provides the extreme example of a believer confessing God is first, but making choices that contradict his confession.

Hopefully none of us is as extreme a case as was Gideon.  But each one of us will benefit by taking a look at our day-to-day choices.

I’ll organize my thoughts around the following two questions: #1 Do You Confess That Jesus Is First?, and #2 Do You Choose As If Jesus Is First?

#1    Do You Confess That Jesus Is First? (v22-23)

Here are three quick thoughts about Jesus being first.

1.  He is first in that He created all things.  In Colossians 1:15 we are told that Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).  It means that He is preeminent over creation – not that He is a created being.  This can be seen from the verses that follow:

Col 1:16  For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.
Col 1:17  And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

2.  In the very next verse, Colossians 1:18, Jesus is called “the firstborn from the dead.”  Jesus was the first person to come back from the dead never to die again.  He is therefore preeminent over the dead and death itself.  He has the keys, or the authority, to death and Hades.

3.  Jesus is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (First Corinthians 15:20).  His resurrection is the guarantee of the resurrection from the dead, or the rapture, of the church age saints.

Even when the words firstborn, or firstfruits, or first, are not used, it is easy to see that Jesus is preeminent.   He said of Himself, “‘BEHOLD, I HAVE COME – IN THE VOLUME OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME – TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD’ ” (Hebrews 10:7).

It’s a quote from the Old Testament, from Psalms 40:7, that gives rise to the much repeated statement that Jesus can be found on every page of the Bible.

He is first whether you acknowledge Him or not.  There is coming a time when every knee will bow, and when every tongue will confess, that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:11).

Gideon will make a strong confession that the Lord is first in his life, and in the life of the nation.
It comes in the aftermath of their victory over the mighty Midianites.

Jdg 8:22  Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.”

The men of Israel were asking Gideon to become their king, and to establish a dynasty of succession in his family.

After seeing what God did, to immediately ask for a king made no  sense.  If they needed it, God could raise up a Judge, or Judges, at any time from among their ranks.  A king was totally unnecessary.

It’s important that we be content with the methods and ministries God has established in the church age in which we live.  We don’t need to borrow any of the world’s ideas.

And we don’t need to be like other churches, doing what they are doing.  It seems there is always a book, or a series, that churches jump on, as the latest must-do in order to keep pace.

Way back in the Book of Deuteronomy, God predicted that Israel would demand a king (17:14-15).  After the time of the Judges, the people pressured Samuel to appoint a king.

It was wrong of them.  God told Samuel, “it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (First Samuel 8:7).

Later Samuel would say to the men of Israel, “you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the Lord when you asked for a king” (First Samuel 12:17).

In another place we’re told that their motive for wanting a king was to be like the other nations.  God had set them apart, and would rule them Himself.  But they felt odd and weird in the world, and wanted to be more mainstream.

There is always a tremendous pressure for you, as a Christian, to conform to the ideas and the practices, to the morals, of the world.  If you’re raising kids, you feel this acutely, because your kids aren’t doing or saying what all the other kids are doing and saying.

Your kids want to fit in, so they put pressure on you to relax your standards.  Hold your ground.  Being thought of as having high standards is a good thing.

It’s not just your kids who want to fit in.  You and I do, too.  Everywhere we live and work and play, there are opportunities to conform, to compromise – or to communicate something better.

Those are really opportunities to confess that Jesus is first, and because He is, you’re not interested in certain things; things that are inherently sinful, or that are not helpful to your Christian walk.

So while we might not clamor for a king, we can shrink away from our King, not always wanting to be identified with Him, because we will stand out from the crowd.

The men of Israel thought Gideon qualified because he had “delivered [them] from the hand of Midian.”

Gideon had done no such thing.  God had made it clear at each step that it was He Who delivered Israel, using Gideon and as few men as possible.  He did it precisely so He, and not a man or men, would get the glory.  Nevertheless, God’s glory was given to Gideon.

Basic principle: Give God the glory.  Don’t hold up a man, or a woman, who is merely a servant, and give them glory.  We can encourage one another; we can be grateful for spiritual people in our lives; we can love them, and show respect.

But in the end, it is Jesus Who began this great work in us, and He is the one bringing it to pass.

Israel had just been blessed with a supernatural victory over the Midianites and their alliance of evil.  God had accomplished it in the most odd way possible, starting with His choice of Gideon to be His Judge.

Instead of Israel wanting to be like the other nations, the other nations ought to have wanted to be like Israel.

They were missing a chance for evangelism.  So do we when we conform while we understand the power to transform.

Jdg 8:23  But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.”

Do we still say, “You go, girl?”  If we do, we can say, “You go, Gideon!”  Great confession.  He immediately, unequivocally, rejected the attempt to enthrone him.  Sadly, we’re going to see that it was merely lip service.

Before we see that, let’s give a little credit.  It wasn’t easy to say what Gideon said.  We’ve shown that the men of Israel had a strong desire to appoint a king, and a dynasty.  This was huge pressure, and it took a lot to make this confession.

If you are a Christian, just letting folks know, even in the most subtle ways, is a confession that He is first in your life.  Sure, we can always say more; but anything we say that lifts up Jesus is wonderful.

You can practice passive evangelism by having a Bible out in the open, or displaying Bible verses, or wearing clothing and jewelry that witnesses to others.  Do everything you can to say, “I’m a believer, and Jesus is first in my life.”

Some who see it will want to know more.  Others will try to get you to stop.  No matter; just give God the glory, and keep growing in your public confession that He is Lord.

#2    Do You Choose As If Jesus Is First? (v24-35)

Various internet sources estimate that an adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day.  We make 227 decisions each day on just food alone, this according to researchers at Cornell University.

Whether 35,000 is a real number or not, it’s clear that we all have choices, and that many of them have to do with our spiritual lives.

Gideon made a great confession, then demolished it by his subsequent choices.  He refused to be appointed king, but immediately began living like one.

Jdg 8:24  Then Gideon said to them, “I would like to make a request of you, that each of you would give me the earrings from his plunder.” For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.

I thought they were Midianites?  They were, but there were other nations and tribes with them, and collectively, according to anthropologists, at that juncture in history, non-Jews could collectively be called Ishmaelites.

Piercings were a big part of Ishmaelite culture.  They were especially into earrings.

What about the Israelites?  Well, we know that they practiced one type of piercing.  If a Jew who had sold himself into servitude to pay off his debt wanted to remain a servant after his time was ended, he’d be taken to the doorpost of his master’s house.

Using a hammer and an awl, the master would pierce the servant’s ear, marking him as a permanent bondservant (Exodus 21:16).

There are other positive references in the Old Testament to Jewish women wearing earrings and nose-rings – although these may not have been piercings.  Abraham’s servant, on mission to find a wife for Isaac, gives Rebekah a nose-ring.

Go easy on the question of body piercings and tattoos.  Be interested in the inner person.  Outward things don’t defile us.

Gideon didn’t want the earrings as a fashion accessory, but as tribute.  In the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, when a young Jack Sparrow becomes captain, his crew file by giving him various objects as tribute, and to suggest their loyalty.
Besides making Gideon rich, it was a very public statement that he was the one responsible for their victory – that he deserved the glory for it.

We can confess all we want that Jesus is first, but it is our choices that reveal who is truly first in our lives.

Commentators make a comparison between Gideon and Abraham.  He once led three hundred eighteen men from his household into battle against a coalition of kings who had, among other things, carried off his nephew, Lot.  After God gave Abraham the victory, he refused all the spoil, saying, “I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten” (Genesis 14:22).

Gideon and Abraham had solid confessions, but Abraham made choices consistent with his confession, while Gideon did not.

Jdg 8:25  So they answered, “We will gladly give them.” And they spread out a garment, and each man threw into it the earrings from his plunder.

There are times in the Bible when God allowed the Israelites to take the spoils of victory; and there were times He told them to not take anything.  We can’t say whether taking spoil was good or bad in this case, because there’s no record of God permitting it, or prohibiting it.

Taking spoil from the enemy can be a snare; it can be detrimental to our spiritual life.

Thirty years ago, when secular psychology was making an assault on biblical Christianity, its Christian proponents likened it to the Israelites taking spoil from Egypt as they left in the Exodus.  They said the theories and the practices of god-hating atheists should be taken from the world and used in the church.  One huge problem with that is the kind of psychology they were talking about isn’t science; it’s philosophy – theories of human behavior that discount the fall of man, and our sin nature.

God would have us not touch upon that kind of spoil.  Bringing it into the church has been detrimental, leaving folks in a state of helplessness, when all the while they are indwelt by, and can be infilled by, God Himself, in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Jdg 8:26  Now the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments, pendants, and purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the chains that were around their camels’ necks.

By “earrings,” Gideon meant earrings and crescent ornaments and pendants and purple robes and chains.  He wanted it all, and the men of Israel were all too happy to oblige him.

Once you start taking spoil from the world, it’s easier to justify more and more.

Let’s apply this to our lifestyles in general.  We could ask of ourselves, for example, “How many pendants are enough?”

But instead of “pendants,” it’s something else.  With me, let’s say it’s coffee makers.  I’m half-joking, but the point is this: We all need to choose how we will live, and to what standard.

I can’t choose for you, and I can’t judge your choices – unless they are obviously sin.

But in a wealthy culture like ours, and where there is pressure to keep up with or surpass the mythical Joneses, we need to take inventory of the spoil in our lives versus the spiritual.

I was reading a book a few months ago by a young megachurch pastor who is currently popular.  It was about the Lord showing him to simplify his life, materially.  To have less, in order to accomplish more.

To help him, God allowed the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina to destroy all his worldly possessions.  Ground zero; fresh start.

To his credit, he honestly admitted that within a short period of time, with insurance money, he and his wife had replaced everything.  In fact, they had more than before their losses.

It’s not easy to quit living large, and to choose living larger spiritually.

Environmentalists talk about your carbon footprint.  Maybe we should talk about our carnal-footprint.  A believer can, sadly, be carnal – giving in to the flesh.  We can be saved but nevertheless live as if we were still dominated by fleshly desires.  We need to eradicate our carnal-footprint.

Jdg 8:27  Then Gideon made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house.

The original “ephod” was a vest that was worn by Israel’s high priest.  It had on it twelve precious stones – one for each of the tribes of Israel.

Scholars say it also had pockets within which were the mysterious  Urim and Thummim.  According to one source, they were “gemstones that were carried by the high priest of Israel on the ephod priestly garments.  They were used by the high priest to determine God’s will in some situations.  Some propose that God would cause the Urim and Thummim to light up in varying patterns to reveal His decision.”

Not only was Gideon acting like a king; he was in some sense acting like a priest – or at least someone with authority in discovering the will of God.

Whatever his intention, the Israelites treated it as an idol, and looked to it and not to the prescribed worship of the Lord.

It was an interesting idol in that it resembled something genuine that the Lord had given them.  It serves as a reminder to us that we must never think the outward trappings of our walk with the Lord can excuse a heart that is not fixed on Jesus.  The disciplines of the Christian life can become shallow, empty rituals.

We used to describe it as going through the motions without the emotions.

Jdg 8:28  Thus Midian was subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted their heads no more. And the country was quiet for forty years in the days of Gideon.

God is good.  Even in the face of Gideon’s blatant disregard for putting God first; and even as Israel was committing spiritual adultery with the ephod; God honored His word and gave them peace.

God’s graciousness should not be confused with His blessing.  I mean, you can be wealthy, and healthy, but not be anywhere near the will of God.  The unsaved have wealth and health.  His physical or material blessings are not always in synch with your spiritual life.

Jdg 8:29  Then Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house.

Jerubbaal was the name the men of Israel gave Gideon when he destroyed the altar of Baal and its idol in his father’s house, right after he was first called into serving the Lord.  It was his superhero name, proclaiming that Baal could not contend with Gideon.

The DC movie franchise of superheroes calls them MetaHumans.  As Jerubbaal, he was thought of as some sort of MetaHuman.

He chose to live like a king, and like a priest – and like a larger-than-life hero.

Jdg 8:30  Gideon had seventy sons who were his own offspring, for he had many wives.

Gideon was in demand among the ladies – MetaHuman as he was.  His “many wives” were certainly not in God’s will.  He did not need an ephod to determine that.

Jdg 8:31  And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, whose name he called Abimelech.

Multiple wives were not enough.  Gideon needed a girl in Shechem.  As a concubine, any children born to her had no legal rights to any inheritance.  Nevertheless Gideon named him “Abimelech,” which means, my father is king.

I’ll give you a sneak peek into chapter nine.  Abimelech is going to murder sixty-nine of Gideon’s other sons, in an attempt to become Israel’s sole ruler.

Jdg 8:32  Now Gideon the son of Joash died at a good old age, and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Jdg 8:33  So it was, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-Berith their god.

No one is quite sure exactly who or what Baal-Berith was.  These people made-up gods, and ways to worship, to suit their lusts.

The point is, God withheld discipline until Gideon was dead, for the sake of His word.

If you are in some sin, be thankful for God’s grace.  But don’t think you are getting away with something.  God is graciously giving you time to repent.

Jdg 8:34  Thus the children of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side;

God went to crazy lengths to show it was Him Who had delivered them, for their own good and for His deserved glory.  They honored Gideon, and continued in idolatry.

I like the phrasing, “remember the Lord.”  We need to do it more.  If you got saved later in life, do you often “remember the Lord,” how He saved you?  What He saved you from?

Is it not an incredible thing to be delivered from sin?  To be safe from Death and Hell?  To know mankind’s future, and your own future as a person who will be raised from the dead or raptured to live with the Lord in glory?

Jdg 8:35  nor did they show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal (Gideon) in accordance with the good he had done for Israel.

The relationship between Gideon and Israel wasn’t genuine.  It was tenuous; it was shallow.

In the Lord, we can have deep, genuine relationships.  That’s because we have within us His Holy Spirit.  He unites us; He sheds His love in our hearts, so we love one another.

He also provides us with the power to forgive one another, and to be reconciled with one another, after inevitable faults.

Gideon died, and was buried.  He did not end well.

Remember the pizza ads, “What do you want on your Tombstone?”  During a public execution, the executioner would ask “What do you want on your tombstone?,” and the accused would reply along the lines of “pepperoni and cheese.”

A Tombstone pizza would then be summoned.

In Gideon’s case, it wasn’t pepperoni and cheese.  It was earrings and pendants; it was idolatry and polygamy; it would lead to fratricide.

If it weren’t for him being mentioned in Hebrews chapter eleven as a member of God’s Hall of Faith, I would doubt Gideon was even saved.

He was; but what a terrible legacy.

By nature of my profession I’ve been to more funerals than most of you.  I’ve heard many, many eulogies.  The worldly things some people are remembered for can be so terribly sad, considering they are now passed into eternity.

One such individual, most likely unsaved, was remembered most for having the most meticulously manicured lawn and yard on the block.  Once it was mentioned, each subsequent eulogy added to it.  How incredibly sad.

So I ask us all: “What do you want on your tombstone?”

It’s up to you, by your choices, to carve-out your legacy.  Let it be spiritual.  Remember the Lord, and be remembered as His servant.

Hello. My Name is Gideon. You Killed My Brothers. Prepare to Die. (Judges 8:1-21)

What must have it been like to look up and see Hannibal marching an army of war elephants over the Pyrenees and the Alps into Italy?

Peter Jackson captured that kind of astonishment in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.  Just when King Theoden of Rohan thought that his horsemen had turned the tide of the battle, horns were blown, and you saw the approach of what the Hobbits call oliphants.  They came galloping along, with warriors riding atop them, crushing everything beneath.

The expression on Theoden’s face captured all the intensity of the moment.

Hannibal Barca (not Lecter) is considered one of the greatest military commanders in history.  One strategist pointed out that Hannibal never lost a significant battle during his entire time in Italy.

But as the years passed he found himself steadily further south, until he occupied just the toe of the Italian boot, leaving finally in 203BC to preside over his own country’s surrender.

The writer of the article said, “Thus ended history’s most flagrant example of winning all the battles but losing the war.”

As we pick-up our study in the Book of Judges, Gideon and his army of three hundred men is pursuing a retreating army of Midianites.  He seems to win all the battles, and to win the war, as the Midianite threat is overcome.

Trouble is, the skirmishes with the Midianites are not the only ‘battles’ that are waged in this account.  Fellow Israelites decry and defy Gideon.  The weapons they raise against him are not swords and spears; it’s more psychological, we might say.

Gideon seems to lose those internal battles.  Furthermore, when we get to the conclusion of his time of judging Israel, we’ll see that, although he won the war against Midian, he loses the bigger, spiritual war.  We’ll read of him, “Gideon made… an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah.  And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house” (8:27).

As Christians, we are assured that the war is already won.  Jesus has defeated sin and death and Hell.

We can read about the final days of mankind’s rebellion against God and see it crushed, first temporarily at the Second Coming of Jesus, and then permanently after His one-thousand year reign over the earth.

The final incarceration of Satan and the fallen angels, along with all Christ-rejectors, is described for us in awful detail.

The work He has begun in us will most certainly be completed.  We will be presented faultless and blameless before the throne of God.  Our mansions in the golden city, New Jerusalem, will be waiting for us to inhabit for all eternity in perfect fellowship with God and one another.

We are in the odd situation, however, of being able to lose battles even though we’ve won the war.

Do you ever sin?  Sure you do.  The apostle John points out that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (First John 1:8).

Jesus conquered sin at the Cross, and by His resurrection.  We are crucified with Jesus; we are raised with Jesus.  But we can still yield to our flesh, rather than to God, and sin – losing the battle even though the war is won.

I want to win the battles, not just content myself that the war has been decided.  So do you.  Let’s keep that in mind as we work through our verses.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two observations: #1 Your Battles Are Winnable, or #2 Your Battles Are Sin-Able.

#1    Your Battles Are Winnable (v1-12)

Gideon was assured of victory in the war against Midian.  A chapter earlier, God promised him, “By the three hundred men… I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand” (7:7).

Along his way to victory, Gideon fought a few battles against his own countrymen.  Not with swords, but with words.  He seems to have won the first, but lost the rest.

They were all winnable, spiritually speaking.

Jdg 8:1  Now the men of Ephraim said to him, “Why have you done this to us by not calling us when you went to fight with the Midianites?” And they reprimanded him sharply.

God had given, and was still giving, Gideon a great victory that extended to all of the tribes.  Instead of rejoicing, the men of Ephraim rebuked Gideon because they had not been prominent in the battle.

A little background on the Ephraimites:

Jacob, when blessing the sons of Joseph, set Ephraim before Manasseh.

Moses, in his last blessing, spoken of the ten thousands of Ephraim and only of the thousands of Manasseh.

Joshua was of the tribe of Ephraim.

The tabernacle for a long time was placed in Shiloh which belonged to the tribe of Ephraim.

And, for a long period, their numbers very great so as to justify their being regarded as a leading tribe.

Ephraim was used to being prominent, to feeling first in line.  Now feeling slighted, the men of Ephraim revealed what was truly in their hearts: pride and envy.

When you get overlooked in the church; or don’t receive recognition; are you bitter that you have been overlooked, or treated less honorably, than you feel you deserve?

It may be that the Lord wants to show you what is in your heart.  It’s far more important to your spiritual life that you weed out pride and envy, than you receive some temporary honor or recognition.

Gideon only did what the Lord told him to do.  Thus the Ephraimites were not rebuking Gideon, but they were rebuking God.

When I am envious toward another or others, I am rebuking God, disagreeing with Him.  I am revealing that I dislike His plans.  That should worry me.

In the midst of the war he was told was won, Gideon found himself in a battle against his own countrymen.  It always hurts when the conflict is internal, when it’s in-house; but it is to be expected, seeing we are far from being finished.

Bumper sticker theology tells us, “Be patient; God’s Not Finished With Me Yet.”  Or, “I’m Not Perfect – Just Forgiven.”

How would Gideon handle this rebuke?

Jdg 8:2  So he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?
Jdg 8:3  God has delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. And what was I able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger toward him subsided when he said that.

Gideon threw out an illustration from the vineyard, comparing his work as preliminary, and that of the Ephraimites as more crucial.  He said that Ephraim’s accomplishment of killing the two Midianite princes, Oreb and Zeeb, exceeded what he and his men had done.

Gideon and his men destroyed the rank and file of the enemy, while they had slain two leading generals, and doubtless, in doing so, had made a great slaughter of their followers.

The first slaughter commenced by Gideon and his men was the vintage, and the smiting down of many afterwards by the Ephraimites, was the gleanings.

It’s undeniable that Gideon humbled himself, sought peace rather than to incite more conflict, and used a soft answer to defuse anger.  He allowed the men of Ephraim to claim honor.

I have a hard time with this; and that’s probably the point.  The Ephraimites were clearly wrong, yet Gideon was conciliatory.

You can say the men of Ephraim were wrong; that they were in sin; that they needed to be rebuked.  Maybe; but Gideon took the high ground, looking ahead to the greater victory that God was giving him.

He refused to fight his own countrymen when there was a greater enemy.

Dwell on this attitude in Gideon for a moment, because it’s not going to last.  Gideon is going to face a few more such battles, and he’s going to lose them.

Jdg 8:4  When Gideon came to the Jordan, he and the three hundred men who were with him crossed over, exhausted but still in pursuit.

Another theme that runs through these verses is perseverance.  Although victory had been assured, Gideon and his men had to pursue it, and they had to persevere.

In a passage that might allude to, and apply, this account in Judges, the apostle Paul described us, saying,

2Co 4:8  We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
2Co 4:9  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed..

It’s a poetic description of spiritual perseverance.  You can be exhausted, ready to faint, while simultaneously be pressing hard after victory.

I’m tired of the Energizer bunny, but that’s the idea.  Except our “battery” is God the Holy Spirit.  We just keep going forward, empowered by the inexhaustible Holy Spirit, trusting in our certain victory.

Jdg 8:5  Then he said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian.”
Jdg 8:6  And the leaders of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?”

Gideon did not have Zebah and Zalmunna in custody.  The men of Succoth lacked faith in God to believe Gideon would prevail as promised.  They thought the Midianites might mount a last stand and overcome Gideon.  They wanted to remain neutral.

You can’t be Switzerland when it comes to Jesus.  If you’re not for Him, you’re against Him.  You can’t serve God and this world.

Miracles are great, but they mostly seem to harden unbelief.  Gideon and his three-hundred man unarmed, unmounted army had routed over a hundred thousand heavily armed troops, who also had a multitude of camels to ride into battle as war machines.

It was unconvincing to the men of Succoth.

If you think Gideon is going to respond with another soft answer… Think again.

Jdg 8:7  So Gideon said, “For this cause, when the LORD has delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers!”

OK, that’s different.  Sure, these guys were wrong; but where was the Gideon of a few moments ago?

Certainly Gideon’s physical exhaustion was a factor.  But it was no excuse.  We just read, from the apostle Paul, how we are to persevere.
The weaker we are, physically, the stronger we can be seen to be, spiritually.  We can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us.

Jdg 8:8  Then he went up from there to Penuel and spoke to them in the same way. And the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered.

Battle number three along the path to the winning of the war.  Again it is fought against Gideon’s own countrymen.

Jdg 8:9  So he also spoke to the men of Penuel, saying, “When I come back in peace, I will tear down this tower!”

The “tower” might have been a fortress that the people of Penuel could retreat to in order to be kept safe.  Gideon continued to be in a foul mood about the lack of support he was receiving.

Remember, Gideon was assured of victory.  He needed to keep focused on God’s provision for it, not the lack of cooperation he was receiving.

We minimize God to the extent we maximize the support we think we lack.

Jdg 8:10  Now Zebah and Zalmunna were at Karkor, and their armies with them, about fifteen thousand, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East; for one hundred and twenty thousand men who drew the sword had fallen.

These guys had suffered considerable losses, but they still outnumbered Gideon fifty to one.  To see them retreating is to know that they were infected with the terror of the Lord.
Being outnumbered means nothing to us.  We are always, as Christians, going to be hard pressed on every side, surrounded by fierce spiritual foes.  It only serves to make our victory all the more glorious.

Jdg 8:11  Then Gideon went up by the road of those who dwell in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah; and he attacked the army while the camp felt secure.

It seems Gideon took a route they didn’t expect, snuck-up on them, and attacked again at night.

Jdg 8:12  When Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued them; and he took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and routed the whole army.

Victory had been assured by the Word of God.  Gideon persevered and experienced the promised victory.

He won, and he lost, battles along the way to victory.  We’re going to look at the losses in greater detail in a moment, but not before we dwell on the fact that the battles were all winnable.

In the end, Gideon didn’t need supplying from Succoth, or from Penuel.  It was to their shame that they refused to help.  There was no need for Gideon to go all vindictive on them.

Your battles are all winnable; they demand, however, that you walk in the Spirit, denying your flesh.

It’s not an excuse, but I think sometimes we don’t realize we are in a battle.  The conflict we find ourselves in, at work or at home or in church, seems to be with others who we believe to in some way be wrong, or to be wronging us.

We need to be reminded that our battles aren’t against those people, but against the spiritual forces at work.  The weapons of our warfare are things like humility and peace – not revenge and retaliation.

Let’s be winners.

#2    Your Battles Are Sin-Able (v13-21)

I know; it’s not a real word.  It is only to emphasize that you and I are still able to sin.

One commentary I read said this:

Jesus sets us free from sin (John 8:31-38) so that we are able to not sin (John 5:14; 8:11; First John 2:1).  We may sin (First John 1:9) and salvation does not take away the ability to sin (James 1:12-15) but as we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus continues to cleanse us from all sin (First John 1:7).  The believer does not have to sin (First Corinthians 10:13).  We are able to sin though we are not to sin (First John 2:1-2; 3:4-10).  

Gideon put on quite a sin-exhibition in the aftermath of victory.

Jdg 8:13  Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle, from the Ascent of Heres.
Jdg 8:14  And he caught a young man of the men of Succoth and interrogated him; and he wrote down for him the leaders of Succoth and its elders, seventy-seven men.
Jdg 8:15  Then he came to the men of Succoth and said, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you ridiculed me, saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your weary men?’ ”
Jdg 8:16  And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth.

Knowing you’d want gory details, I did some research on this:

When captives were thus put to death, the briers and thorns were laid on their naked bodies, and then some heavy implements of husbandry were drawn over them, so crushing them to death.  Or sometimes they were whipped, stroke on stroke, with thorns and prickly plants.  The Chaldee version has it, “I will mangle your flesh on the thorns, and on the briers.”  It was an old punishment “to tie the naked body in a bundle of thorns and roll it on the ground.”

Whether Gideon killed these seventy-seven elders, or only severely maimed them, I think we’d all agree that this was not from the Lord.  This was all Gideon, all flesh.

Interesting choice of words – “he taught the men of Succoth.” Gideon could have taught them something amazing about God’s faithfulness, about His mercy and grace.  Instead he schooled them on revenge and retaliation.  It was a stain on what God was doing in Israel.

It’s remarkable, is it not, that in the midst of great spiritual victory, so much flesh can be present.

Ah, that’s not just true of Gideon.  You and I stand in great victory – victory in Jesus, my Savior forever.  Yet believers are capable of terrible sins.

Jdg 8:17  Then he tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.

No matter how the men of Penuel had treated Gideon, they did not deserve this.  The Angel of the Lord had not raised-up Gideon to slay Israelites.

Jdg 8:18  And he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men were they whom you killed at Tabor?” So they answered, “As you are, so were they; each one resembled the son of a king.”
Jdg 8:19  Then he said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the LORD lives, if you had let them live, I would not kill you.”

Do you try to guess what is going on in a movie?  In the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, one of the characters is trying to find out who her father is.  I know.

In some previous raid on Israel, Zebah and Zalmunna had murdered Gideon’s brothers.  If this were a movie, the tagline might be, “This time, it’s personal.” (Jaws – The Revenge).

(BTW – The expression “sons of my mother” indicates that Gideon’s father had multiple wives).

I’m intrigued by what Gideon said.  If we take him at his word, he would have let them live, except he felt a duty under the Law as the avenger of the blood of his brothers.

He killed or severely maimed seventy-seven Israelite elders; he killed the men of Penuel.  All because they had slighted him.

But he hesitated to kill the enemies of God, desiring to show them mercy, even though they had murdered his brothers in cold blood.

It gets weirder:

Jdg 8:20  And he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise, kill them!” But the youth would not draw his sword; for he was afraid, because he was still a youth.

It’s not like it was dove hunting, or the boy’s first deer.  Twice the writer emphasized the word “youth” to indicate this was an improper request.

Gideon was not exactly father-of-the-year material.  Is this really the take-away Gideon wanted for his son?

Jdg 8:21  So Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself, and kill us; for as a man is, so is his strength.” So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments that were on their camels’ necks.

Zebah and Zalmunna wanted honorable deaths – to be killed by the conqueror, not a mere boy.

Gideon showed honor and respect to these vicious enemies.  I’m not saying God would have condoned it, but if you’re going to use “thorns of the wilderness,” use them on these guys.

Gideon took souvenirs of his kill.  They would be physical relics of his victory.

Too bad he would become a relic by not emphasizing the spiritual side of his victory.  Think of it this way: When we first met Gideon, he was a timid young man, afraid to be used by God.  The Lord came upon him like a garment, transforming Gideon into what He called “a mighty warrior.”  But Gideon settled in to the physical, fleshly dimension of the victory, and will end up finishing poorly.

These camel ornaments represent his efforts of snatching defeat out of the victory he was promised.

You can call them battles, or circumstances, or situations, or trials, or testings.  As you walk in the victory that is yours in Jesus, you’ll encounter Ephraimites, and people from Succoth and Penuel.

Every battle, against every foe, is winnable, because you are permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and you can be constantly infilled by Him.

We’ve won, in the end.  Let’s win along the way, and bring others with us to Jesus.

Trumpets Of Mass Destruction (Judges 7:16-25)

“Who so pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise ruler born of England.”

By “England,” the Cast Member means Fantasyland.

At Disneyland, the Sword in the Stone ceremony is held on the castle side of the King Arthur Carousel, where, coincidentally, there is a rather large anvil with a rather large sword embedded in it.  Merlin the Magician appears several times a day to announce that the realm is having a (temporary) leadership crisis, and is in need of a new (temporary) ruler.

Can someone be found who has the necessary courage and strength to be the new ruler?  Merlin selects volunteers who attempt to pull the sword from the stone.  Typically a rather burly man will be the first selected, and will fail miserably, only to be shown up by a 5-year-old.

The triumphant volunteer is proclaimed “Ruler of the Realm,” with all of the privileges and responsibilities that go with it.

Which means that they receive a “Sword in the Stone” medal and a certificate acknowledging their accomplishment in pulling the sword from the stone.  (Courtesy

At first reading it seems that swords will figure prominently in the verses we are studying today, because they are twice mentioned:

In verse eighteen, Gideon’s three hundred men are instructed to say, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!’ ”

Then, in verse twenty, the battle commences in earnest when they cry, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!”

Despite the dual mention of swords, however, Gideon and his men are not armed with them.  They carry only trumpets, empty pitchers, and torches.

It begs the question, What is the sword of the Lord?  In this passage, the sword of the Lord is not a what; it’s a who.  It is Gideon, being wielded by God as His weapon of choice, to defeat the Midianites and their evil coalition forces.

By extension, the sword of the Lord is each of the three hundred men in Gideon’s army.

I don’t think it a stretch to say that you – if you’re a Christian – you are likewise God’s sword.

Yes, the Word of God, the Bible, is the sword of God.  But He puts it in your heart and in your hands, and in that sense you are His sword.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 You Are The Sword That The Lord Has Deployed Against His Enemies, and #2 You Are The Sword That The Lord Has Engaged To Defeat His Enemies.

#1    You Are The Sword That The Lord Has Deployed Against His Enemies (v16-18)

If you think I’m going too far to say that you are the sword, maybe this quote from Robert Murray M’Cheyne will ease your doubts.

Never heard of him?  He’s quoted by Charles Spurgeon.

Never heard of him?  Then you need to get out more.

M’Cheyne said, “Remember you are God’s sword… A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”

As spiritual as he was, M’Cheyne’s words aren’t the Word of God.  Can we find anyplace in the Bible that might justify our thinking that the Lord’s servant could be considered His sword?

There’s a passage in the forty-ninth chapter of the Book of Isaiah that describes God’s servant as His weapon.  The servant is talking, and he says,

Isa 49:2  And [God] has made My mouth like a sharp sword; In the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, And made Me a polished shaft; In His quiver He has hidden Me.”
Isa 49:3  “And He said to me, ‘You are My servant, O Israel, In whom I will be glorified.’

God’s servant was identified as Israel, but commentators see a dual meaning because later in the chapter it is clear that the Messiah is also in view.  Either way, they are described as being God’s weapon.

Then there is Jeremiah 51:20.  God says to King Cyrus, “Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war.”

You know what this means?  You can call your wife “an old battle axe,” and it’s a biblical compliment.

In His Word, God’s servant was a sword; he was an arrow in the quiver; he was a battle axe.  So, yes, a believer can be considered God’s weapon.

God had hold of Gideon and was about to wield him as His sword – an awful weapon in the hand of God.

We are picking-up the story, so a bit of review is in order.  The Israelites were idolaters, neglecting the worship of Jehovah.  He disciplined them by empowering the Midianites to oppress them.  Every year for seven years, they and their allies would come at the harvest to steal the crops, and to spoil the grazing land.

The Angel of the Lord came to Gideon to raise him up as a judge to deliver Israel.  By ‘judge’ we mean someone we’d call a hero.

After a few preliminaries, Gideon was instructed to raise an army.  Thirty-two thousand men rallied to him.  God said it was too many for Him to get the glory.  Gideon was told to send away all those who were afraid.  When the dust of their leaving settled, he was left with ten thousand men.

God said that was still too many, so He whittled them down to three hundred.

Did I mention that their enemy numbered one hundred thirty-two thousand?

Israel was unmounted and unarmed.  Their enemy was armed, and possessed multitudes of camels – which were formidable creatures on the battlefield.

God invited Gideon to go down to the enemy encampment, to do surveillance.  By divine providence, Gideon went just to the spot where two Midianites were discussing a dream one of them had.  In it, Gideon defeated the Midianites.

Encouraged by God’s promises and providences, Gideon returned to his unarmed army and declared, “Arise, for the LORD has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand” (v15).

Jdg 7:16  Then he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and torches inside the pitchers.

In the The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers, there’s a scene where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are choosing their weapons from the armory in Helm’s Deep, and adjusting their chain mail.  The men of Rohan are handed various weapons – swords and helms and spears.  They are each outfitted as well as possible.

As Gideon’s men stepped up, they were each outfitted with a trumpet, an empty pitcher, and a torch.

It’s upsetting when we hear reports that our service men and women are inadequately supplied.  Or that our police officers and Sheriff’s deputies, or our firefighters, lack the necessary equipment to keep them safe, and to perform their jobs.

Gideon’s men seemed hopelessly, inadequately supplied.  The more spiritual among them might have taken some courage from the story of a previous hero.  Shamgar had defeated six hundred Philistines with only an oxgoad for his weapon.

Even so, an oxgoad at least looked like a weapon; it was spear-like, with a sharp, pointed tip.  No way that a trumpet, an empty pitcher, and a torch were weapons.

Ah, but that’s the point, isn’t it?  The real weapons were the men themselves.  So equipped, they would function as God’s sword against the Midianites.

You have been outfitted with weapons:

In Ephesians six you discover that you have been clothed in spiritual armor that can withstand any enemy attack.
Your weapons are said to “have divine power to demolish strongholds” (Second Corinthians 10:4).

That sounds great, until you inventory the weapons.  The armor you’re clothed with consists of things like truth, righteousness, the Gospel, faith, and salvation.  The kind of warfare they are designed for is explained by the apostle Paul in this passage from Second Corinthians:

2Co 6:4  But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses,
2Co 6:5  in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings;
2Co 6:6  by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love,
2Co 6:7  by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,
2Co 6:8  by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true;
2Co 6:9  as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed;
2Co 6:10  as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

When I’m in a trial, or enduring some affliction, I want to be granted an armored transport to safely escort me out of my circumstances.  I want the spiritual equivalent of a HumVee.

Instead I must reach for things like purity, knowledge, longsuffering, and kindness.

Have you heard the expression, “kill them with kindness?”  While we certainly don’t want to apply lethal kindness, it is, in fact, one of the ways God can wield us to defeat His enemies.
To use words from the passage I just read, when folks are attacking me with “dishonor” and by “evil report,” my supernatural kindness disarms them, and defeats them.  God draws down on them, with me or you as His weapon of kindness.

It seems like I’ve been given a trumpet, an empty pitcher, and a torch, when I’d prefer an uzi.  But the uzi won’t defeat my spiritual enemies; these spiritual resources will.

We need reminding that our real enemies are not “flesh and blood,” but are supernatural.  You can destroy a stronghold with kindness that is a fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Jdg 7:17  And he said to them, “Look at me and do likewise; watch, and when I come to the edge of the camp you shall do as I do:

How many times in your Christian life have you been told to “keep your eyes on Jesus?”  It is illustrated nicely by Gideon.  His men must keep their eyes on him, in order to know what to do.

Jdg 7:18  When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets on every side of the whole camp, and say, ‘The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!’ ”

Gideon did not give his men a full briefing on the battle strategy.  I’m guessing he did not yet know himself what the Lord wanted him to do, exactly.

It might seem scary, or fanatic, to set out without a full plan.  It isn’t, if you’re following the Lord, because He will only lead you along the path most perfect in order for you to become more like Him.

It’s intriguing to me that there were three hundred trumpets.  True, the initial roll call was thirty-two thousand Israelites.  If they traveled in troops, three hundred trumpets was no big deal.

But most of those thirty-two thousand had been dismissed.  How did they know to leave their trumpets behind?

It tells me that God is always at work, providing for His plan, when I have no inclination as to what He is doing.  If He knows I’ll need a trumpet, He will see to it I have one.

The translators added the words, “the sword of the Lord,” but it’s a good addition, because in verse twenty you see that was indeed part of their battle cry.

In the Gideon scenario we are developing, God’s servants are His sword.  If He wields the sword, it will always hit its mark, to wound, or to overcome.  He is a weapons expert, knowing just what spiritual qualities are needed to defeat the enemy, and to bring Him glory.

We don’t fight Midianites.  Our struggles are against things like “tribulations,” “needs,” “distresses,” “stripes,” “imprisonments,” “tumults,” “labors,”sleeplessness” and “fastings.”

For our part, we are called upon to yield to Him, and watch as He uses “purity,” “knowledge,” “longsuffering,” “kindness,” “righteousness,” and “sincere love” with amazing skill.

#2    You Are The Sword That The Lord Has Engaged To Defeat His Enemies (v19-25)

The following is quoted from an article I read:

Fifty years ago, during the dramatic events of the Six-Day War, the entire world saw a great miracle as God made war against Israel’s enemies and redeemed the holy city of Jerusalem.  Israel’s sweeping victory against the seemingly insurmountable opposition of surrounding nations is one of the great miracles of the modern era.  Within that great, overarching miracle are uncounted smaller miracle stories about God’s hand at work in the midst of the conflict.

On the first day of the war, the Israeli ground forces had overrun the strategic road junction at Abu-Ageila to gain access to the central route into the Sinai Desert, sending a wave of panic through the Egyptian command.  In Bible times, God often assisted the people of Israel on the battlefield by throwing the Canaanites, Philistines, Arameans, and other enemies into panic and confusion. The Torah says, “I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you” (Exodus 23:27-28).  By the second day of the Six-Day War, the Egyptian army had fallen into that same kind of confusion.  Orders from Egyptian commanders contradicted good sense, calling for unnecessary retreats and withdrawals.

The Israeli army expected to face a serious battle at the heavily defended Kusseima outpost in the Sinai, but as they drew near, they heard explosions.  When they arrived, they discovered that the Egyptians had destroyed their own equipment and abandoned the base.  At other bases, the Egyptians had not even bothered to scuttle their equipment before fleeing.

Gideon and his men were about to be part of a military miracle.
Jdg 7:19  So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands.

Probably around midnight, Gideon deployed his army.  The three hundred Israeli’s must have been spaced equally apart in three directions around the Midianite camp, giving them maximum coverage.

Think of that moment.  They were hopelessly outnumbered and out gunned.  They still did not know the entire strategy.  What if one of them had a sneezing fit, alerting the sentries?  The sheer number of things that could go wrong were staggering.

One thing we could highlight in their poise before the battle is unity among the brethren.  They were solidly behind Gideon, trusting in the Lord, in formation.

Every church has its proper formation.  As I set about to accomplish the tasks God has gifted me to perform; as I set out to discover the good works He has before ordained that I should discover; I am visible to those in the formation who are doing likewise.

Sadly, too many believers abandon their posts.  Whether it’s because of sin, or apathy, I might look to the left, or to the right, and see a gap in the formation, weakening the defense and lessening the chance of defeating the enemy.

Let’s continue to stand our ground, and look to one another.

Gideon blew his trumpet.  His company of one hundred blew their trumpets.  They also broke the pitchers – something Gideon exampled, but had not yet instructed.

Jdg 7:20  Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers – they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing – and they cried, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!”

The full strategy was finally revealed.  Blow your trumpet… Break your pitcher… Hold out your torch.

The trumpets were most likely ram’s horns – shofar they are called.  Trumpets were used to announce many things, and among them were troop movements.  Three hundred being blown at once would normally indicate a vast army, numbering tens of thousand.  Sounding all at once, in the middle of the night, would be terrifying.

The pitchers breaking would have made considerable noise, but it seems that their main purpose was to conceal any trace of light from the torches.

The torches are described like this by one commentator: “here the word means not “lamps,” but “firebrands,” or “torches.”  The best illustration is furnished by a passage in Lane’s Modern Egyptians, where he tells us that the zabit or agha of the police in Cairo carries with him at night “a torch, which burns, soon after it is lighted, without a flame, excepting when it is waved through the air, when it suddenly blazes forth.” ”

Another commentary stated:

… the lamps were not of oil; for then, when the pitchers were broken, the oil would have run out; but were a kind of torches, made of rosin, wax, pitch, and such-like things; and these were put into the pitcher, partly to preserve them from the wind, and chiefly to conceal them from the enemy, till just they came upon them, and then held them out…

Jdg 7:21  And every man stood in his place all around the camp; and the whole army ran and cried out and fled.

There was no need to advance.  In fact, any advance would be counter-productive, because it might reveal to the Midianites that there were not so many Israelites as they were being led to believe.

Standing for the Lord can be challenging:

In trials, and in sufferings, rather than stand, I want to retreat.

In triumphs, I want to advance, and take ground as a spoil.

In both cases, I must wait for further instruction from the Lord.  Otherwise, I might make a serious mistake.

King Saul won a great victory, but got tired of waiting for Samuel to show up, so he took matters into his own hands.  When Samuel arrived, he rebuked Saul, saying, “Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD?  Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD?” (First Samuel 15:19).  Samuel went on to let Saul know he had been rejected by the Lord as king.

The ten spies who gave Moses a bad report about the Promised Land are poster boys for wanting to retreat.  Their fear convinced the nation to disobey God, leading to the death of all that generation as they wandered in the wilderness for the next forty years.

Meanwhile, back to Gideon… The army encamped against Israel fled in terror – with a little reckless confusion thrown in for good measure.

Jdg 7:22  When the three hundred blew the trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled to Beth Acacia, toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel Meholah, by Tabbath.

It was dark… It was late… They thought they were being overrun by superior forces… There were several groups in the camp besides Midianites.  Those are a few logical reasons that they hacked at each other.

Mostly it was the supernatural terror of the Lord coming upon them.  In Proverbs 28:1 we read, “The wicked flee when none pursueth.”  Job 18:11 says, “Terrors make him afraid on every side, and drive him to his feet…”

The Lord can be terrifying to His enemies.  Looking far into the future, one writer said, “Who shall be able to stand before the last terror, when the trumpet of the archangel shall sound, the elements shall be on a flame, the heavens pass away with a great noise, and the Lord himself shall descend with a shout!”

Jdg 7:23  And the men of Israel gathered together from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh, and pursued the Midianites.
Jdg 7:24  Then Gideon sent messengers throughout all the mountains of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites, and seize from them the watering places as far as Beth Barah and the Jordan.” Then all the men of Ephraim gathered together and seized the watering places as far as Beth Barah and the Jordan.

These were those who had been honorably discharged on account of their fear; and those who had been dismissed by the Lord when He was whittling down to three hundred.  They remained in the vicinity, and now were called into the fray.

You may think you’re living on the outskirts of Christian service, but it behooves you to remain ready.  You can be called upon to join at any moment.

The fleeing enemies were nearest the area in which were the Ephraimites.  Gideon sent runners to enjoin the men of Ephraim to engage in the mopping-up operation.

They were specifically told “seize from them the watering places,” which they did.  Gideon did not want the weary, dehydrated enemy to regain strength.

Are you battling something – maybe some sin?  Don’t nourish it by giving in even a little.  Let it dehydrate, shrivel, and die.

Jdg 7:25  And they captured two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued Midian and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on the other side of the Jordan.

As an aside: My spell check keeps changing “Oreb” to “Oreo.”

The places where they killed Oreb and Zeeb were renamed to commemorate Israel’s triumph over them.

Take a look at Gideon and each of his three hundred men.  They were each trumpeters who had fire contained in clay vessels until broken to expose it to the wind.

It’s not a stretch to say that we are trumpeters.  We need no shofar; our trumpet-blast is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which we are called upon to proclaim throughout the whole world.

We are told by the apostle Paul that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (Second Corinthians 4:7).  I can’t help but wonder if maybe Paul had Gideon in mind, because in the verse directly preceding that he said, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v6).

Isn’t that what happened when Gideon and Company broke the pitchers – light shining out of darkness?  Only in our case, we are the vessels, and what shines is the “light of the glory of God” as we reveal Jesus to a world trapped in darkness.

The torch exposed to wind is, of course, an emblem of the Holy Spirit, Who is God permanently indwelling us, and constantly infilling us.

If that is indeed what Gideon typifies for us, than is it going too far to borrow his battle cry?  In verse twenty it reads, in the NKJV, “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.”  The scholars who wrote The Bible Knowledge Commentary translate it, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”

My loose, interpretive paraphrase, based on what the passage is illustrating, would be, “A sword for the Lord – Gideon!”

Want to get Pentecostal?  Go ahead and insert your name: “A sword for the Lord – Gene!”

The Nightmare Before Conquest (Judges 7:9-15)

It was an odd headline, enough so that I clicked on the story.  Nurse Accused Of Murder By Bagel.

An unlicensed nurse has been charged with murdering a multiple sclerosis patient by feeding her a piece of bagel and letting her choke to death so she could carry on an affair with the patient’s husband.

The nurse told detectives she fed Darlene Amberik a piece of bagel soaked in milk but never intended to kill her.

Fascinated, I found other murders involving bagels:

In 2007, a Long Island man who gunned down the mother of his four children confessed to police that he shot her over a pair of bagel shops that a court had recently awarded her in their bitter divorce.

In 2008, a woman was convicted of voluntary manslaughter after what began as an argument with her boyfriend over a cold bagel.  Patrice Rogers admitted to police that she stabbed Geno Crenshaw after the couple had an argument over a bagel he’d brought her.  She didn’t eat it because she said it was cold, which prompted him to become upset that she was ungrateful. She said he began hitting her from behind.  She stabbed him once with a backhanded motion with a kitchen knife, puncturing his heart.

Something like a bagel plays a prominent, and fatal, role in our story.  Gideon went down to the camp of the enemy.  We read,

Jdg 7:13  And when Gideon had come, there was a man telling a dream to his companion. He said, “I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed.”
Jdg 7:14  Then his companion answered and said, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.”

We’ll see in subsequent studies that this prediction comes true, as Gideon and his 300-man unarmed-army overcomes 135,000 enemy troops.

Down in the enemy camp, Gideon discovered that God had a good work for him to perform.  Gideon heard that God has foreordained victory.  All he needed to do was stand and watch the deliverance the Lord had promised.

You’ve undoubtedly heard it said of the two testaments in the Bible, that “the New is in the Old contained, and the Old is in the New explained.”

That being the case, we should look for New Testament precepts and principles to be illustrated in Old Testament stories.  What we’ve just said about Gideon reminds us of a great promise to us in the New Testament:

Eph 2:10  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Gideon was “God’s workmanship,” a work in progress, made possible by the promise of the coming Savior, Jesus Christ.  In the camp of the Midianites, Gideon discovered the good works God had prepared beforehand for him.

Now that we know what we’re looking for, we can apply it to ourselves as we consider the good works God has prepared for us.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 God Will Strengthen You To Perform The Good Works He Has Prepared For You, and #2 The Good Works God Has Prepared For You Cannot Fail If Performed In His Strength.

#1 God Will Strengthen You To Perform The Good Works He Has Prepared For You (v9-11)

All over town, there are yard signs announcing on-going construction projects.  Whether it’s a roofing company in a residential neighborhood, or a construction firm in a commercial zone, the contractor wants everyone to know his crew is at work.

A Christian is the “workmanship” of the Creator of the universe.  In fact the universe itself, in all its microcosmic and microcosmic splendor, was only created in order to provide an environment within which God could create mankind.  The current earth and stellar heavens will one day be consumed, to be replaced by new ones.  The men and women with whom God has been dealing since the Garden of Eden will go on forever.

God began His workmanship on us and has promised He will complete it.  His goal is to transform us into the image of Jesus:

The apostle John said, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (First John 3:2).

The apostle Paul said, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (Second Corinthians 3:18).

Paul also said we were “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).  We take that to mean not that certain men and women are predestined to be saved, while others are not, but to mean that, once you are saved, you are destined to become like Jesus.

You’re like one of those yard signs, in that God lets the world know He is at work through you.  He is excited about what He’s doing, and wants everyone to know.

Construction projects, especially big ones, follow plans that have been discussed and approved in advance.  One of the things we are told about God’s workmanship in our lives is that He has planned good works for us to discover and to perform in His strength.

As one commentary put it, “The purpose of these prepared-in-advance works is not “to work in them” but “to walk in them.””

In other words, God has prepared a path of good works for believers which He will perform in and through them as they walk by faith.  This does not mean doing a work for God; instead, it is God’s performing His work in and through believers.

Any confusion about how this happens is cleared-up by looking at Gideon as an illustration of discovering the good works God has prepared in advance.

If you are not familiar with the story thus far: It’s a time in Israel’s history where they are disobeying God, and worshipping idols.  Every man was doing what was right in his own eyes.  Every so often, God raised up a judge – we would call him or her a “hero.”  The judge was empowered by God to deliver Israel from her enemies, and hopefully restore worship of Jehovah.

The Israelites had been oppressed and subjected by the Midianites and their allies for seven years.  The Angel of the Lord found Gideon hiding, but nevertheless called him a “mighty man of valor.”  That’s because He knew the good works He had in store for Gideon to discover, and to perform, in God’s strength.

Gideon had blown a trumpet, rallying 32,000 Israelites to join his army.  God said they were too many in order for Him to get the glory, so He whittled Gideon’s army down to 300 men.  It’s hard to call them soldiers, since they had no weapons or armor, and no training.

As we pick-up the story, God was ready to execute His conquest over the Midianites.

Jdg 7:9  It happened on the same night that the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have delivered it into your hand.

God starts with the finish.  Go, because I’ve already delivered the enemy into your hand; the victory is already won.

There’s no talk of “how” to go, or “how” the victory is to be achieved.  Just go – start out for the Midianite camp.

In a future situation, facing a great enemy force, one of the Bible’s true heroes, Jonathan, is described this way:

1Sa 14:6  Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the LORD will work for us. For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few.”
1Sa 14:7  So his armorbearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart.”

Jonathan ‘got it.’  Just go, and see what the Lord will do.  After all, it is His work, not yours.

Remember when they were rivals, running for vice-president, and Dan Quayle said to Lloyd Benson that, even though he lacked experience, he was like a young John Kennedy?  Benson uttered a classic, debate-winning comment when he said, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

Gideon was no Jonathan.  What about me?  Am I more like Jonathan, or Gideon?  What about you?

We of course want to be more like Jonathan.  Whether we are or not, God has set before all of us good works to make us more like Jesus.

Being a Gideon is no excuse.  As Cher said to Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck, “Snap out of it!”  God is working in and through each of us, all the time.

Jdg 7:10  But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant,

God was so patient with Gideon.  Reluctant and doubting, God worked with the young man, rather than moving on to someone else who was more Jonathan-like.

God’s patience with Gideon is intended to reinforce that He who began a good work in us will complete it.  For his part, Gideon made it harder for God.  But God was committed to His workmanship.

Obviously I need to show godly patience toward you; and you towards me.  We can’t simply overlook one another, and move on to someone more mature.  We’re in this together, maturing at different rates of spiritual speed.

Even if you are what could be considered a mature believer, you still have areas of immaturity, and stubbornness, and sin in your life.  To paraphrase Yogi Bera, “You ain’t finished til you’re finished.”

God suggests Gideon take “Purah,” his servant.  This is the only mention of Purah; here and in verse eleven.

God sends with Gideon a servant to encourage him.  Purah might therefore be a type of God the Holy Spirit.  He is described as a servant Who encourages us by coming alongside of us, to help us.

Whether we are meant to see the Holy Spirit or not (I think so), we know that, in our case, He permanently indwells us, and He can constantly infill us.  Jesus said He would never leave us or forsake us, and He fulfills that promise with the gift of the Holy Spirit in us, and coming upon us.

God told Gideon, “if you’re afraid, go…”. He didn’t tell him to repent of his fear; He didn’t tell him to get counseling for his fear.

He told Gideon to do something that almost seemed more fear-filled, to go with only one other Israelite towards the enemy, instead of his army of 300.

He wasn’t even telling Gideon to “Fear not,” as God often does in the Bible, but only to trust and obey.

Fear is very real, but it shouldn’t stop you from walking with the Lord.  “Fear not” is a promise you can always claim, but whether you hear God say it or not, keep walking with Him.

Jdg 7:11  and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outpost of the armed men who were in the camp.

Gideon was going to receive intel about the enemy that would serve to strengthen him.

We have a fierce, malevolent enemy in Satan.  He’s not alone in his opposition to us, but is aided by an army of fallen angels.

He’s the god of this world, and he designs the world system in a way to defeat us, and to destroy us.

And did I mention that even though we are saved, and born-again, we still have the flesh to contend with?  We find within us the impulse and the propensity to satisfy our human appetites in sinful ways.

The intel we receive from reading the Bible is good, and it ought to strengthen us.  For example, we’re told that if we resist the devil, he will flee from us.

We’ve been clothed by the Holy Spirit in a spiritual armor that can easily withstand the principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age, and the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

We’re told that we have been crucified with, died with, and raised with, Jesus – spiritually speaking – so that we are dead to sin, and can thereby always yield to the indwelling Holy Spirit, and not our flesh.

Looking forward, we see the final incarceration of the devil, his followers both angelic and human.  We see the new earth, the new heavens, the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem – that great Golden City within which Jesus is building our eternal mansions.

I guess what I’m saying is that God has given us insight into the future similar to what He did for Gideon.  We may not see the immediate future; we may not see the good works God has planned for us to discover tomorrow.  But we see our ultimate future, with its sure promise we will be completed, finished, transformed.

One commentator said, “God prepares us for good works.  He prepares good works for us to perform.  Then He rewards us when we perform them.  Such is His grace!”

#2 The Good Works God Has Prepared For You Cannot Fail If Performed In His Strength (v12-15)

Comparing God to a contractor is somewhat dicey in that contractors have such a terrible reputation.  A few bad ones seem to spoil it for the rest.  Almost everyone who has ever hired contractors has some horror story.

I don’t need to point out that God is not like that.  Regardless our impatience with Him, He is never late to the job site, and His projects are finished on schedule.  We can’t always see it, but what He is building is always perfectly crafted and, as we’ve said repeatedly, it will come to completion in eternity.

Gideon overheard the good work he was about to perform:

Jdg 7:12  Now the Midianites and Amalekites, all the people of the East, were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude.

The Midianites were the main oppressors, but these others took advantage.  Doesn’t it seem that when you’re in a trial, everything starts going wrong?  Satan is definitely a kick-you-while-youre-down fighter.

We keep getting clues to how overwhelming the odds were against Gideon:

It was the Midianites, plus many others.

Together their number was like a locust plague on the land.  They were like the grains of sand on a beach.

They had camels.  It’s not just an observation.  Camels were war animals.  By that I mean they were used in battle.  Riding their camels, the enemies of Israel would crush them.

I’ve pointed this out before in our studies in Judges, but we need to realize that, as Christians, we are always outnumbered, and out gunned, by the supernatural enemies that we face.  Alone we are no match for any of their attacks.

This is one reason it is so important to be in fellowship with other believers:

You are a member of the earthly body of Jesus; a disembodied member lacks life-giving nourishment.
You are a living stone in the household of faith; a misplaced, unused stone leaves both you and the church vulnerable.

Jdg 7:13  And when Gideon had come, there was a man telling a dream to his companion. He said, “I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed.”

Bread made from barley grain isn’t something to copy, as if it is some secret nutritional component to a new fad diet derived from the Bible.  It was often the food of animals, but lately it was all the Israelites had left when the Midianites finished with them.

The barley bread represented Israel at its lowest point.  The tent in the dream obviously referred to the nomadic Midianites and their allies.

What destroys the tent?  Not a hurricane; not a cyclone; not an earthquake, or a tornado, or a brush fire, or a plague, or a rockslide, or a bolt of lightning, or a tidal wave, or an avalanche.

Not an angel, either.  No, it was a barley loaf.  Not a big, oversized loaf, either.  If you want to get the idea here, think of a bagel. (Kosher, of course).

You’d think the Midianites would crack-up at this.  They did not; they took it very seriously.

Jdg 7:14  Then his companion answered and said, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.”

Ever since the Exodus from Egypt, Israel’s enemies were afraid of Israel’s God.  When Joshua sent spies to reconnoiter Jericho, Rahab told them,

Jos 2:9  … “I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you.
Jos 2:10  For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.
Jos 2:11  And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”

In Deuteronomy the Israelites were promised:

Deu 7:17  “If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?’ –
Deu 7:18  you shall not be afraid of them, but you shall remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt:
Deu 7:19  the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs and the wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid.
Deu 7:20  Moreover the LORD your God will send the hornet among them until those who are left, who hide themselves from you, are destroyed.
Deu 7:21  You shall not be terrified of them; for the LORD your God, the great and awesome God, is among you.

Commentators are disagreed over whether the reference to “the hornet” is literal or figurative.  I think it’s a figure for whatever God decided to send against the enemies of Israel.  All the plagues in Egypt were, in that sense, “the hornet.”

But so was the Angel of the Lord, Who often appeared to Israel, and Who was guiding Gideon in this fight.

Do you realize that your enemies are afraid of the Lord?  When Jesus was on the earth, the demons He encountered were terrified of Him.  In the Book of James, we’re told that demons “tremble” at Jesus (2:19).

William Cowper is credited with the quote, “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon their knees.”

Part of our problem believing that our enemies tremble is that so much of this happens in the spiritual realm we cannot see.  Let me illustrate.

In the Book of Second Kings, the king of Syria sent a great army out against God’s prophet, Elisha.  His servant was afraid.  Here’s the story:

2Ki 6:15  And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”
2Ki 6:16  So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
2Ki 6:17  And Elisha prayed, and said, “LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2Ki 6:18  So when the Syrians came down to him, Elisha prayed to the LORD, and said, “Strike this people, I pray, with blindness.” And He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.

Whether it’s angels watchin’ over me, every move I make, or some other thing, greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.

The twist is that we live in an age, in a spiritual dispensation, when God’s strength is revealed most effectively by our weakness.  In the Book of Acts, when Stephen was surrounded and about to be martyred, he didn’t strike God’s enemies with blindness.  Instead, he was supernaturally enabled to see Heaven open.  The impact of God’s grace upon him as he was killed was incalculable in its spiritual effect.

Indeed, we’re told that Saul (who we know as the apostle Paul) was there as a nonbeliever.  The indication is that God used the scene to begin opening Paul’s eyes to the power of the Gospel to salvation.

Back to Gideon… BTW, what an amazing providence that in a camp of 135,000 men as numerous as locusts and grains of sand, Gideon went right to the place he could overhear two specific men discussing the nightmare.

Whether news spread from this one dream, or whether others also dreamed it, the camp of the enemy was afraid.

Jdg 7:15  And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Arise, for the LORD has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand.”

I can only wonder if Gideon named his army The Barley Brigade, or The Band of Bagels.  I’m guessing not.

Gideon should not have needed assurance.  He could have simply trusted the Word of God.  But God condescended, in grace, to Gideon’s lack of faith, and to his fear, in order to encourage him.

We already have tremendous assurances in the completed Word of God.  We should thus not expect God to show us proof of what He is going to do; we can trust Him to accomplish His work in and through us.

His work, done in His power, simply cannot fail.

Our part is to believe Him, and to obey Him.  In the Book of Ephesians, where we are described as God’s workmanship, and where we are told to discover the works God has ordained, chapter four begins with the apostle Paul saying, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called…”

The rest of the book amplifies what it means to “walk worthy.”  It sets forth how we are to yield, empowered by the indwelling and the infilling of God the Holy Spirit.

It isn’t so much about what we must do for God, as it shows what we can do through Him.  It is the good works He has before ordained that we should walk in them.

Are you indwelt by God the Holy Spirit?  You are if you’re a believer.  If not, the Holy Spirit is convicting you of sin… And of righteousness… And of the coming judgment.

You say you are indwelt by God the Holy Spirit?  Then ask for His constant infilling in order that you might discover and perform the good works that are transforming you, from glory to glory, into the likeness of Jesus.

Let Lap The Dogs Of War (Judges 7:1-8)

300 is a number you might associate with the Battle of Thermopylae.

In 480BC the Persians attacked a combined force of Greeks at Thermopylae, a strategic small mountain pass that controlled access to most of the rest of Greece.  A group of 7000 soldiers easily held off the several-hundred thousand man army of Persians for two days.  But then a Greek traitor showed the Persians a secret passageway that allowed them to strike the Greek army from the rear.

Most of the defenders retreated.  A group of 300 Spartans stayed on the battlefield, fighting to the death and covering their fellow Greeks’ retreat.  This heroic act allowed the rest of the Greek army to escape capture or certain death.

Commenting on this, one historian said:

Both ancient and modern writers have used the Battle of Thermopylae as an example of the power of a patriotic army defending its native soil.  The performance of the defenders is also used as an example of the advantages of training, equipment, and good use of terrain as force multipliers, and has become a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.

I wanted to get that out of the way, especially if you’ve seen the 2006 fantasy action film, 300 (which I have not).

I wanted to get that out of the way so it will not influence your thinking about the original ‘300’ that we will read about in the Book of Judges.

Six hundred years before Thermopylae, the success of Gideon’s 300-man army had nothing to do with the power of patriotism, or native soil; certainly it had nothing to do with training, equipment, and good use of terrain.

It had everything to do with God showing His strength through Israel’s weakness:

Gideon started out with thirty-two thousand men.  God immediately had him pare down the force to ten thousand.

God then pared down the ten thousand to 300, saying, “By the three hundred men… I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand” (7:7).

The great, over-riding lesson in this text is that it’s not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord that we are to go forward serving Him.

I find something else, something devotional, for us to ponder.  See if this makes sense to you.

A large group of Israelites, the majority, either by their own choice or by God’s, are eliminated from serving in the main battle.  Later they get involved serving in the mopping-up after the main battle.

A smaller group, the minority, the 300, are enlisted in the main battle.

Ask yourself, “If God were eliminating and enlisting believers to serve Him today, which group would I want to be in?”

Which group are you in?

I hope all of us would want to be those enlisted, rather than those eliminated.  To that end, I will organize my thoughts around two questions: #1 Are You In The Majority Who Are Eliminated?, or #2 Are You Among The Minority Who Are Enlisted?

#1    Are You In The Majority Who Are Eliminated? (v1-6)

On the reality show, Survivor, there are a number of times each season that teams are chosen using what Jeff Probst calls “a schoolyard pick.”

Do you remember those?  Are they fond memories?  Or were you always the kid to be chosen last, to forever have your psyche scarred?

When we talk today about those eliminated and those enlisted, please don’t think of it as if God were picking the best players – those most spiritual.

As I indicated, those initially eliminated still found themselves serving the Lord.  And those enlisted were certainly not chosen because they were holier.

The application for us, in asking these questions, is, Do I want to be among the enlisted?  Or am I OK – even happy – with being eliminated most of the time?

In other words, do you approach serving the Lord as if it were jury duty?  I know it’s my responsibility, and a privilege, to serve on a jury.  But I do a happy dance if I’m eliminated.

As a Christian, I should not have that attitude when it comes to serving the Lord.

With that in mind, let’s see how the story unfolds.

Jdg 7:1  Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the well of Harod, so that the camp of the Midianites was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley.

Gideon had been given a nick-name, “Jerubbaal,” after he destroyed the altar of Baal at Ophrah, and burned its idol.  It means, “let Baal contend with him.”  It was at first a challenge to Baal to avenge himself against Gideon.  When Baal didn’t act, the name stuck as a kind of superhero alter-ego.

It tells us that the Israelites were superstitious, and not really on board with a true worship of Jehovah.

Their ‘hero’ wasn’t the Angel of the Lord Who was leading Gideon.  Their ‘hero’ was Jerubbaal – someone they thought Baal feared to fight.

God was faithful to His people when they were faithless.  He delivered them while they remained idolaters.  Our God is an awesome God.

We’ll see that “all the” Israelites “who were with” Gideon numbered thirty-two thousand.  Impressive, but they were outnumbered four-to-one, and had no weapons or armor.

Jdg 7:2  And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’

People… Money… Gear.  We always think more of all of them will further the Gospel.

The apostles, and the disciples that they made in the first century, turned the world upside down for Jesus, with no resources except those that were spiritual.

Peter and John could say to the lame man, “Silver and gold, I have none.”  But what they did have – Jesus – was beyond all the world’s resources.

If God isn’t giving us as a church, or you as a Christian, more material resources, it’s because we don’t need them – regardless the good that we think we would do with them.

I’m guessing Gideon wasn’t too excited about the prospect of whittling down the size of his fighting force.  Nevertheless this was not a negotiation.  It was God revealing His divine strategy for the fight against the Midianites and their allies.

Jdg 7:3  Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.’ ” And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained.

If any of the men were afraid to go to battle, they were to be granted an immediate “honorable discharge.”  When the dust of their leaving settled, the odds were now at fourteen-to-one.

The Law of Moses prescribed reasons men could refuse military service.  You find them in Deuteronomy 20:1-8.

Deu 20:1  “When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.
Deu 20:2  So it shall be, when you are on the verge of battle, that the priest shall approach and speak to the people.
Deu 20:3  And he shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel: Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies. Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them;
Deu 20:4  for the LORD your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’
Deu 20:5  “Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying: ‘What man is there who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it.
Deu 20:6  Also what man is there who has planted a vineyard and has not eaten of it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man eat of it.
Deu 20:7  And what man is there who is betrothed to a woman and has not married her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man marry her.’
Deu 20:8  “The officers shall speak further to the people, and say, ‘What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart.’

Because Israel was being oppressed and occupied by enemy invaders, probably no one could honestly claim the first three reasons.  They were about maintaining a normal, stable life – something the Israelites hadn’t been able to do for the past seven years.

Fear, however, was very real.  So that it wouldn’t  spread through the ranks, those who were afraid were dismissed.

They will be called into service after the initial attack, to chase after the defeated enemies.  Don’t think of these guys as losers, or as being rejected by God.  He eliminated them, but it was based on an out that He provided them in the Law.

We have our ideas about what is more spiritual.  If God gives someone freedom in an area, to make a choice, then who am I to decide which choice is the more spiritual?  That is a matter for them to decide with the Lord.

Jdg 7:4  But the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Then it will be, that of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ the same shall go with you; and of whomever I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ the same shall not go.”

There’s a series of jokes about how many people it takes to change a lightbulb.  Q: How many polite New Yorkers does it take to screw in a light bulb?  A: Both of them.

Gideon must have begun wondering just how few men it would take for God to get the glory.

The Law provided four reasons for you to eliminate yourself.  This next elimination was going to be by God.  He designed an elimination test, but at first didn’t tell anyone what He was looking for.  Gideon was to observe, and then God would tell him to eliminate based on something he saw in their behavior.

Jdg 7:5  So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.”

How do you get ten thousand men to all drink from the river at the same time?  This is totally a guess on my part (it’s not in the text) but I think God made them thirsty.  Suddenly they were all, to a man, parched, and wanting to get a drink of that fresh, running water.

I hope in Heaven we will be able to look back on our lives to see all the times that God gently manipulated circumstances to try to lead us, or to protect us.  All the times that what seemed like a weird coincidence was really His providence.

There were two kinds of water-drinkers in Gideon’s army: Lappers and kneelers.  It would determine the final number of Gideon’s men.

Jdg 7:6  And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink water.

Finally Gideon had his army.  Nine-thousand seven hundred men were kneelers.  It wasn’t thirty-two thousand; it wasn’t twenty-two thousand; but nine-thousand seven hundred men might hold their own.

Except that God was going to dismiss the kneelers, not the lappers.

Jdg 7:7  Then the LORD said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place.”

The day had started so favorably.  Gideon blew the ram’s horn and thirty-two thousand men from several of the tribes rallied to his side.  Gideon may have thought more would come.

It seemed supernatural.  God must be at work, or else why would so many be drawn?

End of the day he was left with 300 lap dogs.

Let’s pause to draw some application from the majority who were eliminated.

You can likewise be eliminated from serving God; or, at least, from certain ways of serving God.

We read the passage in Deuteronomy that listed four reasons an Israelite could eliminate himself.  The first three had to do with house, home, and family concerns.

Those same concerns can eliminate you and I from certain ministries; or they can at least limit our commitment to them.
Listen to what the apostle Paul said in First Corinthians 7:32-35.

1Co 7:32  But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord – how he may please the Lord.
1Co 7:33  But he who is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife.
1Co 7:34  There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world – how she may please her husband.
1Co 7:35  And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.

Tough times for believers were ahead.  Paul encouraged them to make life-choices that were consistent with those tough times.

The responsibilities of family would weigh heavy on them – especially when persecution hit.  Those who had spouses and families would be distracted from the Gospel.

In the movies, the hero’s weakness is always his girlfriend or wife or children.  In the recent film, Batman vs. Superman, Dawn of Justice, Lex Luther kidnaps Martha Kent, and almost kills Lois Lane.  It’s worse than Kryptonite.

In the Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer, the Vulture warns Spidey that he will kill everyone he loves.

It would be better for superheroes to remain loners.

Paul wasn’t suggesting there was anything wrong with establishing a home and family.  But you need to realize that house, home, and family choices will affect your ability and availability to serve the Lord.

You should therefore make those choices with that in mind.

The fourth reason an Israelite might eliminate himself was fear.  Do you have fear of being used by God?  I’ll bet you do.  I do.

Fear keeps us from sharing Jesus; from serving Jesus.  Rather than eliminate ourselves because of fear, we ought to eliminate our fear.

Our fear can come from a sense that we aren’t ready; that we aren’t knowledgeable enough; that we aren’t holy enough.  Well, neither were Gideon’s men, yet God was going to use them.  It wouldn’t be by their readiness, or knowledge, or holiness.  Not by their might nor power, but by His Spirit.

You have the Spirit indwelling you.  You can ask, anytime, and God has promised to give you the Spirit in greater measure.

We need to believe God and let His promise of the Spirit overcome our fear of serving Him.

In our story, God eliminated some of the men Himself.  How might He do something like that today?

One way is by the gifts that He chooses to give to you.  God the Holy Spirit is described as granting spiritual gifts to believers.  He does it, we’re told, as He wills – not as we will.

Your gifts will suggest when and how you serve the Lord; so, in that sense, God eliminates you from certain things in favor of the good works He has set before you to accomplish in His power.

The men eliminated by God from Gideon’s army would be called into service, supporting the three hundred by mopping-up after the initial battle:

Jdg 7:23  And the men of Israel gathered together from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh, and pursued the Midianites.

You may eliminate yourself, or be eliminated, from certain things, but you remain a servant wherever you are.  You can go from eliminated to enlisted at any moment.

None of those who were eliminated from Gideon’s army were in sin.  But I should mention that sin is a way that we eliminate ourselves, and are eliminated by God, from serving Him.  We pull ourselves out of the battle when we yield to sin.

I can think of at least two possible reactions to all this talk about being eliminated:

One reaction would be a sense of relief that I’m too busy, too involved, in my everyday life to be on the front lines of ministry.
Another reaction would be a desire to alter my lifestyle as much as possible in order to get out more on the front lines of ministry.

Pick door number two.

#2    Are You Among The Minority Who Are Enlisted? (v7-8)

TIME Magazine named the Navy Seals the top elite fighting force in the world.

It was in an article in which they listed their Top Ten elite fighting forces, both current and in the history of modern warfare.

Israeli Special Forces made the list at number nine.

There is a tendency to see Gideon’s 300 as a sort of Israeli Special Forces.  Were they?  Let’s read again how they were enlisted.

Jdg 7:7  Then the LORD said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place.”

It’s only natural to want to come to some conclusion as to why lappers were preferred over kneelers.  It’s been suggested that by  lapping the water, cupping their hands and bringing it to their mouth, they could remain alert to what was happening around them.

Commentators insist that God therefore designed the test in order to select only those men who maintained a greater overall sense of military preparedness or vigilance.

While that might make sense, it absolutely does not fit the context.  In fact, it contradicts what God intended.

God was whittling down Gideon’s forces in order that He, and not they, would get the glory for the victory over the Midianite alliance.  If you say that these 300 men were the most prepared, and possessed the greatest vigilance, then you make them a heroic, elite fighting force.

You make them the 300, like those Spartans at Thermopylae.  In that scenario, God doesn’t get the glory; the Dog Soldiers do.

God’s test was arbitrary.  Whether you lapped water or knelt with your face in the river, it revealed nothing about your military prowess.  God’s foreknowledge was that there were more lappers – only 300 who would drink that way.

These were not “a few good men.”  They weren’t going around saying, “the only easy day was yesterday”; or, “always ready, always there”; or “death from above.”

They weren’t those who completed rigorous physical and mental training in order to qualify.  There was absolutely nothing special about these men that set them apart from their fellow Israelites.

They weren’t, as Agent J says in Men in Black, “the best of the best of the best, Sir!”

They were simply 300 random guys out of thirty-two thousand.

Jdg 7:8  So the people took provisions and their trumpets in their hands. And he sent away all the rest of Israel, every man to his tent, and retained those three hundred men. Now the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

The 300 outfitted themselves so that each had a trumpet.  It’ll be important when we get to the battle.

The rest of the men did not go home.  They went back to camp, where they would be ready to serve when called upon.

I want to have us hear once again the beginning of Deuteronomy 20.

Deu 20:1  “When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.
Deu 20:2  So it shall be, when you are on the verge of battle, that the priest shall approach and speak to the people.
Deu 20:3  And he shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel: Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies. Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them;
Deu 20:4  for the LORD your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’

Four-to-one… Fourteen-to-one… Four-hundred-fifty to one.  Those were the odds Gideon faced.

You and I always face greater odds.  We can’t even calculate them numerically, because our foes are supernatural.  They are “principalities… powers… the rulers of the darkness of this age, [the] spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

We are always “on the verge of battle with” our enemies.

But we need never faint or lose heart.  Our Great High Priest is with us.  To the extent we stand in His strength, He is the one Who fights, not us.

I don’t like trite, over-used sayings, but I am compelled to say that “One with God is a majority.”

As you reflect on this text, determine whether or not, in your heart, you want to be among those enlisted by God to serve Him.

Then ask Him for a refreshing of the Holy Spirit upon you.