Monday, December 31, 2012

Samson Lost His Bet

Judges 14:8-20

“And after a time he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion.  And he took thereof in his hands, and went on eating, and came to his father and mother, and he gave them, and they did eat: but he told not them that he had taken the honey out of the carcase of the lion.” (Judges 14:8-9)

On his way down to the wedding, Samson stopped to gloat over his victory over the lion, still not recognizing it as a warning from God.  Seeing that some bees had used the carcase for a hive, he took the honey and shared it with his parents without telling them where it came from.  In doing so he violated the command that a Nazarite was not to touch a dead body as Numbers 6:6 commands.  “All the days that he separateth himself unto the LORD he shall come at no dead body.” Knowing that as Jews they were not to eat potentially contaminated food, he encouraged his parents to eat the honey taken from a rotting corpse without telling them where it came from.

Although he was the judge chosen by God to teach and enforce God’s law, Samson clearly didn’t consider it of great importance.  It didn’t really apply to him and could be ignored any time it was inconvenient to follow it.   It is a common attitude, and like many today, he deliberately involved innocent people who were trying to do what was right.

“So his father went down unto the woman: and Samson made there a feast; for so used the young men to do.  And it came to pass, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him. 

And Samson said unto them, I will now put forth a riddle unto you: if ye can certainly declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty sheets and thirty change of garments: But if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty sheets and thirty change of garments. 

And they said unto him, Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it.” (Judges 14:10-13)

Rather than inviting his Jewish friends, who might offend the Philistines, Samson let who was invited be dictated by the Philistines, and had a Philistine wedding.  In order to be accepted by the Philistines, he gave up any testimony he might have for the Lord, adopting the Philistine customs.

When I flipped on the TV the other night they were questioning a woman who was on the show Survivor about being on the show as a Christian.  She said she had deliberately chosen not to pray or do other things that might raise the issue.  It is essentially what Samson was doing.

Seeing an opportunity to make an extra profit, Samson got up a bet with the Philistines that they couldn’t guess his riddle.  In doing so he again demonstrates his essential selfishness and lack of concern for what is right.  It would be impossible for them to know what he was thinking.  They had no chance.

A suit of clothes in that day was hand sewn from hand woven and home grown materials, requiring hundreds of hours of labor.  Like buying old style traditional Navajo dress made of two rugs, along with the other accoutrements, it was very expensive.  Being able to bet thirty complete sets would hopefully impress the Philistines, and he was sure he wouldn’t have to pay up, so they’d never know it was a scam.

“And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days expound the riddle. 

And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they said unto Samson's wife, Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father's house with fire: have ye called us to take that we have? is it not so? 

And Samson's wife wept before him, and said, Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not: thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people, and hast not told it me. And he said unto her, Behold, I have not told it my father nor my mother, and shall I tell it thee? 

And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted: and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she lay sore upon him: and she told the riddle to the children of her people.” (Judges 14:14-17)

Since not even his parents knew about the lion or the honey he’d gotten from it, there was no way the guests could guess what Samson was referring to.  After hearing the riddle, and knowing they had no way of guessing the answer, the guests threatened to kill Samson’s fiancĂ©e and her family if she didn’t find out what the answer was.  They were not about to lose that much money.  Terrified, the girl finally wheedled the answer out of him by crying and claiming he didn’t love her or he would tell her the secret.  Like most guys, Samson couldn’t stand to see a woman cry, so he told her, and she told the others.

“And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion? 

And he said unto them, If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.  And the spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle.” (Judges 14:18-19)

When the men answered his riddle, Samson became very angry, accusing them of cheating, totally ignoring the fact that he had been trying to cheat them.  It was okay for him to cheat, but not for them to.  Not having thirty sets of clothing, he went down to the city of Ashkelon and robbed and murdered thirty men, giving their clothing to pay off his bet.

“And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father's house.  But Samson's wife was given to his companion, whom he had used as his friend.” (Judges 14:19b-20)

Acting like spoiled little child that didn’t get his way Samson walked out and went home.  Not knowing whether he’d ever come back or not, and knowing that everyone knew she’d gotten married, she was given to the guy who’d played the part of best man to remove any shame that her husband had walked out on her on her wedding day.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ignoring God’s Warning

Judges 14:1-7

“And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines.  And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife. 

Then his father and his mother said unto him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines?

 And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well. 

But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.” (Judges 14:1-4)

As a Nazarite, Samson was to be dedicated to the Lord for his entire life.  While the Philistines were not among the races God had forbidden Israel to marry, they were enemies of Israel, and did not worship God.  It is easy to understand his parents concern that he insisted on dating Philistine girls.

Living very close to the Philistines, even though he hated the Philistine culture, Samson was physically attracted to them as being different.  Perhaps he found it a little exciting to get back at them by taking one of their girls or perhaps he thought it would give him prestige among them.  Far too often such things play a bigger role than any feelings of love in people’s marriages.  In any case he told his parents get her for him.  

Knowing that Samson had been chosen by God, it seems as though his parents had always given him pretty much what he demanded.  His disrespectful demand that his father get the girl for him sounds much like the demand of young man who has never been told no.  The first of the ten commandments relating to treatment of other people was, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee,” in Exodus 20:12.  It was repeated in Deuteronomy 5:16.  Samson did not have a very good attitude.

God was going to use Samson’s desire to prove he is better than the Philistines and his bad attitude to accomplish God’s purpose.   Samson does not fight the Philistines out of patriotism or obedience to God, his only reason for what he does is selfish.  God is simply arranging things so that Samson’s selfishness will accomplish his will.

“Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him.  And the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done.  And he went down, and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well.” (Judges 14:5-7)

On his way down to make the arrangements. God sent a young lion out to attack Samson, as a warning that he was doing wrong.  Using the power that God gave him. Samson easily killed the lion, dismembering him as easily as a strong man might a baby lamb.  Rather than taking the attack as a warning from God, Samson gloried in being able to get the victory, ignoring the warning.  He didn’t even take it seriously enough to tell his parents.

I shudder to think how many churches have started a new building, Christian school, or other ministry, ostensibly for the Lord, but in reality for the prestige of having it.  Financial difficulties arise, often threatening the very existence of the church.  If they are successful in getting out of debt, they view it as God blessing the new ministry and continue the same way rather than considering that God was warning them to change what they are doing.  They fail to understand that God is not blessing what they are doing, but preserving his church in enabling them to pay the bills, just as he was protecting Samson.

Unfortunately, pastors and churches which do this teach their people to do the same things.  God does not bless disobedience, although he may use it to accomplish his purposes for a while.  Samson epitomizes the modern American church in many ways.

Undeterred by God’s warning, Samson continued on the same path and was convinced that he was about to accomplish the greatest thing of his life.  It all seemed wonderful, and the arrangements were made.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Samson’s Birth Announced

Judges 13:1-25

“And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.” (Judges 13:1)

This is the sixth time Israel has done “evil in the sight of the Lord” as a nation.  In the four hundred twelve years since Cushanrishathaim of Mesopotamia first conquered them in Judges 3, they had been enslaved six times because the nation as a whole turned away from God.  About every eighty  years or so, as Judges 2:10 states, “…all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.”    As long as there were enough of the old fogies left with power to stop them and tell them what was right, there was at least a modicum of serving the Lord.  When the old fogies died off they forgot what they had been taught, and each time it led them into captivity.

Always before, the Philistines had just been opportunistic raiders or terrorists, striking unprotected farms, and villages.  This time they brought an organized and cohesive force and actually conquered the land, ruling it for forty years.

“And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not.  And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.  Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing: For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:2-5)

About twenty years into the captivity, God began to prepare another Judge to lead Israel back to him.  He sent an angel to announce the miraculous birth of a young man who would deliver Israel. The young man was to be  dedicated to God as a Nazarite from his youth.  Numbers 6:2-12 tells us what was entailed.

“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD: He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk. 

All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. 

All the days that he separateth himself unto the LORD he shall come at no dead body.  He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die: because the consecration of his God is upon his head.  All the days of his separation he is holy unto the LORD. 

And if any man die very suddenly by him, and he hath defiled the head of his consecration; then he shall shave his head in the day of his cleansing, on the seventh day shall he shave it.  And on the eighth day he shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, and make an atonement for him, for that he sinned by the dead, and shall hallow his head that same day.  And he shall consecrate unto the LORD the days of his separation, and shall bring a lamb of the first year for a trespass offering: but the days that were before shall be lost, because his separation was defiled.” (Numbers 6:2-12)

Because Samson was to be a Nazarite from his birth, Samson was to be trained to live his entire life as a Nazarite. Even before his birth he was not to be exposed to anything made of Grapes.  It has been discovered that children whose mothers drink during pregnancy often become addicted even before they are born.  Just one drink may trigger full blown alcoholism.   God ensured Samson would have no such problem.

“Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, A man of God came unto me, and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible: but I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his name: But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.” (Judges 13:6-7) 

The woman didn’t recognize the angel as such, describing him as a man of God, although she recognized something was different about his face.  Our world usually portrays angels with wings and a halo, but most of the times when they appear to humans they just look like other people.  In Genesis 19:1 we find, “And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground.”  At the time Lot thought they were just men, as did the other people around, who wished to sexually abuse them in Genesis 19:5.  “And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.”

The next morning they still appeared as humans in Genesis 19:15-16, although it is very obvious they were angels.  “And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.  And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.”

“Then Manoah entreated the LORD, and said, O my Lord, let the man of God which thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born.

 And God hearkened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again unto the woman as she sat in the field: but Manoah her husband was not with her. Jud And the woman made haste, and ran, and showed her husband, and said unto him, Behold, the man hath appeared unto me, that came unto me the other day.

 And Manoah arose, and went after his wife, and came to the man, and said unto him, Art thou the man that spakest unto the woman? 

And he said, I am. 

And Manoah said, Now let thy words come to pass. How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?” (Judges 13:8-11)

Manoah didn’t doubt his wife’s word, but he wanted to be sure they knew exactly how they were to raise the child to please God.  God answered his prayer, sending the angel again talk to them and repeat the message.

 “And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Of all that I said unto the woman let her beware.  She may not eat of any thing that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing: all that I commanded her let her observe. 

And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, I pray thee, let us detain thee, until we shall have made ready a kid for thee. 

And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the LORD. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the LORD.” (Judges 13:13-16)

Still not recognizing the angel as such, Manoah asked him to stay while they prepared a special meal for him.  The angel agreed to stay, but refused to eat the food or accept it as an offering, insisting that it be given to God instead.  Hebrews 13:2 instructs, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  We probably will not recognize them.

“And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, What is thy name, that when thy sayings come to pass we may do thee honour? 

And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret? 

So Manoah took a kid with a meat offering, and offered it upon a rock unto the LORD: and the angel did wonderously; and Manoah and his wife looked on.  For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. 

And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground.  But the angel of the LORD did no more appear to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was an angel of the LORD."  (Judges 13:17-21)

A messenger or angel that is truly from God will focus attention on god, rather than on himself.  The angel refused to tell them his name or allow them to honor him.  When they offered and offering to the Lord, he ascended toward heaven in the flame.  Manoah was terrified when he realized what they had seen, thinking it might be God himself.

“And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.  But his wife said unto him, If the LORD were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have showed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.” (Judges 13:22-23)

His wife was thinking more clearly, reminding him that if God intended to kill them there was no point in telling them how to raise their son, nor would he have accepted their sacrifices.

“And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him.  And the spirit of the LORD began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.” (Judges 13:24-25)

Samson grew up in the area around Zorah and Eshtaol, very close to Philistine territory, and the Lord used him occasionally in confrontations with them.  He seems to have developed an attitude similar to what is so often seen in slums today.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fed Up!

Judges 12:1-15

“And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with fire.” (Judges 12:1) 

Joseph had been the Jacob’s favored son and Ephraim was the older of Joseph’s two sons.  Apparently Joseph favored Ephraim, becoming upset that his father placed Manasseh ahead of him when he blessed them.  He tried to get Jacob to change the blessing because Ephraim was the elder. “And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations,” in Genesis 48:19.

Ephraim passed the attitude that he deserved special recognition to his descendants and in Joshua 17:14-15. They had gotten Manasseh to support them in their complaint that the of Ephraim was not big enough.  “And the children of Joseph spake unto Joshua, saying, Why hast thou given me but one lot and one portion to inherit, seeing I am a great people, forasmuch as the LORD hath blessed me hitherto? And Joshua answered them, If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants, if mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee.”  Seven of the tribes had not yet gotten any land and Joshua told them if they needed more they’d have to get it for themselves.

When Gideon had defeated the Midianites Ephraim got upset because they weren’t called to lead the battle, in Judges 8:1.  “And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply.”  In actuality they had been informed but didn’t bother to show up right away in an attempt to make everybody wait for them, and they resented people not doing it.

Now that same attitude resurfaces, nine hundred years after Joseph got upset with Jacob, showing up after the battle was over, angry that Jephthah hadn’t waited on them. This time they weren’t going to be passed off or talked out of it.  They deserved better treatment and they would teach the others a lesson. They threatened burn Jephthah’s house down with him in it.  Few parents realize how the attitudes we instill in our children will affect their future or that of future generations.

"And Jephthah said unto them, I and my people were at great strife with the children of Ammon; and when I called you, ye delivered me not out of their hands.  And when I saw that ye delivered me not, I put my life in my hands, and passed over against the children of Ammon, and the LORD delivered them into my hand: wherefore then are ye come up unto me this day, to fight against me?  Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites.” (Judges 12:2-4)

While they griped a him they didn’t threaten Gideon and he buttered them up by making a big deal of what they had accomplished,  as Judges 8:2-3 describes.  “And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?  God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you? Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that.”

Jephthah was offended by their insults to the people who had risked their lives for them, claiming the battle was won because of renegades from Ephraim fought for them.  The threat to kill him and his family was just more than he could take. He attacked and defeated them.

“And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.” (Judges 12:5-6)

When the Ephraimites began to try to get home, the Gileadites seized the fords with the intention of killing every Ephraimite.  Though both groups were Jewish and spoke Hebrew, they had different accents, and the Gileadites used the difference to identify them, killing forty two thousand Ephraimites.

Self centered people are so concerned with getting their own way they don’t consider how offensive their actions are.  They keep pushing until others finally loose control of their tempers, ignoring or disparaging their complaints.  They are usually shocked and offended by the violence of people’s reactions, feeling it was a totally unjustified reaction to the last thing they did, not realizing the last one was just the final straw that broke the camel’s back, it was not the only problem.

“And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.

And after him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.  And he had thirty sons, and thirty daughters, whom he sent abroad, and took in thirty daughters from abroad for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years.  Then died Ibzan, and was buried at Bethlehem. 

And after him Elon, a Zebulonite, judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years.  And Elon the Zebulonite died, and was buried in Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.

 And after him Abdon the son of Hillel, a Pirathonite, judged Israel.  And he had forty sons and thirty nephews, that rode on threescore and ten ass colts: and he judged Israel eight years.  And Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died, and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mount of the Amalekites.” (Judges 12:7-15)

For thirty one years after the defeat of the Ammonites, Israel served the Lord under various judges who constantly corrected them when things went wrong.  All of the judges during this period were older men who died within a few years of taking on the responsibility.

** Earlier in this study I referred to Israel as having turned away from God thirteen times in the Book of Judges.  In fact they did not, although they had thirteen judges.  There were no breaks and turning away between these four judges, nor during Tola and Jair's judging Israel.  Sorry about the misstatement.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Foolish Vow

Judges 11:29-40

“Then the spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. 

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:29-31)

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Jephthah came out of the land of Manasseh to Mizpeh of Gilead, confronting the Ammonite army close by.  Not completely trusting God to give the victory, Jephthah offered an incentive to God to give him the victory.  If they won, he would offer the first thing that came out of his house to greet him as a sacrifice to God.  It was not something God asked him to do, but arose as the result of a lack of faith.  God does what is right, and doesn’t need a bribe to do it.

Clearly he didn’t stop to think about what he was saying.  How many things come out of your home to greet you?  Your dog or cat, your children, your mate or a close friend or relative are about the only things I would expect.  Luke 14 stresses the importance of considering the cost before making a commitment, and especially to God.

"So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.  And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.” (Judges 11:32-33)

The Ammonites had completely taken over the eastern side of the tribes of Reuben and Gad and part of Manasseh.  Jephthah was able to defeat them and reclaim an area stretching from Aroer on the south border of Reuben to Minith in the land of Manasseh.  Comprising nearly half the trans Jordan’s property, it included twenty cities, forcing the Ammonites back into their own land.  God did exactly what he had intended to do.

“And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. 

And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.” (Judges 11:34-35)

When Jephthah saw his only daughter come out to greet him, he was heartbroken because under the law a promise could not be broken.  He was obligated to keep his promise even though it would require the loss of his daughter.  While his making the promise demonstrates a lack of faith, his intention to keep it is a testimony to his commitment to obey God.  He had obviously taught his daughter to have a similar commitment to obey.

“And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.  And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.

And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.  And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. 

And it was a custom in Israel, That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.” (Judges 11:36-40)

His daughter did not question his obligation to do as he had promised, asking only that she be allowed to take a two month camping trip with her friends much like a person dying of cancer might wish to take his family to Disneyland  before his death.  After two months she returned and was sacrificed as Jephthah had promised.  For many years, the women of Israel memorialized her sacrifice.

Not only had God not asked for the sacrifice, it was something he didn’t even want, according to Heb 10:5-6.  “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.”

Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 warns, “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.  Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.  Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?”

I am troubled by the youth ministers and “Evangelists” who try to get boys to commit to becoming a pastor or missionary, and the pastors or missionaries who get people to pledge future financial support with no awareness of what it may cost them.  Romans 14:13 warns, “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.”  I Corinthians 8:12 says, “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.”

Monday, December 24, 2012

Diplomacy Fails

Judges 11:12-29

“And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land? 

And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably.” (Judges 11:12-13)

When Israel came in to possess the land, God commanded, “And when thou comest nigh over against the children of Ammon, distress them not, nor meddle with them: for I will not give thee of the land of the children of Ammon any possession; because I have given it unto the children of Lot for a possession,” in Deuteronomy 2:19.  Israel had carefully kept that command, giving The Ammonites no cause for complaint, but, as so often happens were trying to justify wrong doing on their part by making false accusations.

“And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon: And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon: But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh; Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land: but the king of Edom would not hearken thereto. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab: but he would not consent: and Israel abode in Kadesh. 

Then they went along through the wilderness, and compassed the land of Edom, and the land of Moab, and came by the east side of the land of Moab, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, but came not within the border of Moab: for Arnon was the border of Moab.

 And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon; and Israel said unto him, Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land into my place.  But Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his coast: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and pitched in Jahaz, and fought against Israel. 

And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they smote them: so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country.  And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan.” (Judges 11:14-22)

Jephthah reviewed the records of how Israel had contacted each of the nations whose land they needed to cross and had been denied.  They had honored the those denials and gone around them on the east sid until they came up against the Amorites.  When they requested permission to cross the Amorite lands, the Amorites attacked them without provocation, and Israel defended themselves, defeating them and taking their land.  It had never belonged to the Ammonites.

“So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it?  Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.” (Judges 11:23-24)

The Ammonites did not hesitate to claim the land they conquered, so they should concede Israel the same right.  There should be no double standard.  If God gives the land, they have the right to it.  Their complaints were much like the countries aroungd Israel today, who do not hesitate to take land from Israel by force, but file complaints with the UN when Israel takes it from them.

“And now art thou any thing better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them, While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that be along by the coasts of Arnon, three hundred years? why therefore did ye not recover them within that time? Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.” (Judges 11:25-27)

The Moabites would have had more reason to fight Israel than the Ammonites, because they had occupied land adjacent to theirs, but the Moabites had not seen fit to fight them.  The events they were complaining about had happened more than three hundred years before, and if there was any validity to their claims it should have been mentioned before this.  Their claims had no merit and a war to get them would be wrong, resulting God’s judgment on them.

“Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.” (Judges 11:28) 

A diplomatic approach may work when there has been an honest misunderstanding.  It never works when there is a deliberate intention to do wrong.  The one intending to do wrong merely pretends to listen to give the impression he is being reasonable in hopes of getting his way without a fight, or to sway others to his side, but is adamant about having his way.  He will consider no compromise.  This is true whether talking about governments, political parties, labor disputes, marital conflicts, or legal disputes.  The Ammonite king was no exception.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Jephthah Asked to Lead Israel

Judges 10:17-11:11

“Then the children of Ammon were gathered together, and encamped in Gilead. And the children of Israel assembled themselves together, and encamped in Mizpeh.  And the people and princes of Gilead said one to another, What man is he that will begin to fight against the children of Ammon? he shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” (Judges 10:17-18)

The Philistines at this point were just opportunistic raiders, attacking only when they saw weakness.  The Ammonites, Lot’s descendants, were bent on conquest, and gathered their armies in Gilead, in present day Jordan.  The Gileadites included the entire tribe of Gad, part of Reuben and part of Manasseh.  They began to look for a leader, a man who would be willing to confront the Ammonites and could unite the people.  They would make him the leader of the entire district.

“Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.  And Gilead's wife bare him sons; and his wife's sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman.  Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.” (Judges 11:1-3)

Jephthah was the illegitimate son of Gilead and a prostitute, and Gilead raised him.  After Gilead’s death, His other sons drove Jephthah away, as not being a really member of the family.  Jephthah fled north to Tob, just east of the Sea of Galilee in the land given to Manasseh.  Though he had no property in the area, he soon gathered a following of men, although they were not highly respected men.

“And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel.  And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob: And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon. 

 And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father's house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?” (Judges 11:4-7)

When the Ammonites invaded Gilead, the older men in Gilead contacted Jephthah, recognizing him as natural leader, and offered him the job.  They had stood by and helped his brothers drive him out and take his share.  Why should he come and help them get what they wanted when they had made it so obvious they wanted nothing to do with him?

“And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead. 
And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your head? 

And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words.

Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the LORD in Mizpeh.” (Judges 11:8-11) 

When they promised Jephthah that he could be leader if he’d come help them, he didn’t trust them, asking them if they really meant it.  Only when he was convinced did he consent to go with them.  Though he had forgiven them and could talk to them, they still needed to demonstrate that they would not turn against him again.

In modern society, forgiveness is often believed to wipe out all trace of the sin as if it had never happened, and that is often the way justified is frequently defined.  Forgiveness means they are willing to give you another chance.  It does not mean that the former wrong was forgotten, but that you have the chance to make up for it.  Trust still has to be re-earned.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tola and Jair

Judges 10:1-4

“And after Abimelech there arose to defend Israel Tola the son of Puah the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, and he dwelt in Shamir in mount Ephraim.  And he judged Israel twenty and three years, and died, and was buried in Shamir.” (Judges 10:1-2) 

Repeatedly, when Israel went into sin. God sent someone to subjugate them and cause enough trouble that they would turn back to him.  When they turned back, he destroyed the power of their oppressors and sent them a judge to guide them back to the right way.

After Gideon’s death, Israel turned away from God, and Abimelech seized power over them by political maneuvering and murdering his brothers.  Three years later God destroyed Him and his political allies, and raised up Tola to judge tham and guide them back to following God.  For twenty three years, Tola sought to guide them back to God.

“And after him arose Jair, a Gileadite, and judged Israel twenty and two years. And he had thirty sons that rode on thirty ass colts, and they had thirty cities, which are called Havothjair unto this day, which are in the land of Gilead.  And Jair died, and was buried in Camon.” (Judges 10:3-5)

When Tola died, Jair became the judge continuing to teach Israel God’s ways and sttandards.  He was from Gilead, as the area given to Gad was known, on the east side of Jordan.  He established a strong confederacy of thirty of the cities of Gilead, with each of his thirty sons serving as representatives to maintain the alliance.  They served the Lord twenty two more years under Jair’s leadership.

Oppression by Philistines and Ammonites
Judges 10:6-16

“And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines, and forsook the LORD, and served not him.” (Judges 10:6) 

After Jair’s death Israel turned to the gods of all the people around them, the Phoenician god, Baalim, the moon goddess Ashtoreth, the gods of the Syrians and of the Zidonians, the Moabites , Ammonites and of the Philistines.  In fact they were so completely involved in worshipping those others they completely forgot about God.

“And 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 children of Ammon.  And that year they vexed and oppressed the children of Israel: eighteen years, all the children of Israel that were on the other side Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. Moreover the children of Ammon passed over Jordan to fight also against Judah, and against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim; so that Israel was sore distressed.” (Judges 10:7-9)

Once again Philistine raiders harassed the western Israelite communities like they had in the days of Shamgar.  The Ammonites conquered the trans Jordan tribes, ruling them for a period of eighteen years and invading the western tribes of Benjamin, Judah and Ephraim, becoming a severe threat to their survival.

“And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, saying, We have sinned against thee, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim.

 And the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Did not I deliver you from the Egyptians, and from the Amorites, from the children of Ammon, and from the Philistines?  The Zidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, did oppress you; and ye cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand.  Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more.  Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.” (Judges 10:10-14)

The Ammonite attacks became such a problem that Israel again cried out the Lord, confessing their sin, both of ignoring God, and of worshipping other gods.  God reminded them that he didn’t owe them anything, but rather that they owed him for all the times he had delivered them.  If they thought these other god’s were better, they should depend on them rather than on God.

“And the children of Israel said unto the LORD, We have sinned: do thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto thee; deliver us only, we pray thee, this day.  And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the LORD: and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.” (Judges 10:15-16)

Realizing they gotten in trouble by depending on those other Gods, Israel repented of their sin, not only apologizing but putting it away and beginning to serve God again, and acknowledging they had no right to claim his blessings.  They simply threw themselves on his mercy, making no demands, willing to accept whatever he decided to do.  God is not vindictive, and when they did so, he responded with sympathy for their plight, grieving at what they were suffering.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

God Terminates Abimelech’s Reign

Judges 9:22-57

“When Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel, Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech: That the cruelty done to the threescore and ten sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid upon Abimelech their brother, which slew them; and upon the men of Shechem, which aided him in the killing of his brethren.” (Judges 9:22-24)

Three years after the men of Shechem had declared Abimelech king, God sent an evil spirit to cause a bad attitude to develop between them.  God would not allow the wrong done in murdering Gideon’s seventy sons to go unpunished.  While the murders were committed by Abimelech, the men of Shechem had made it possible and refused to punish him, making them accessories to the murders.  God would use the resulting resentment to punish all who were involved.  God holds even kings and governments accountable for their actions.

“And the men of Shechem set liers in wait for him in the top of the mountains, and they robbed all that came along that way by them: and it was told Abimelech.  And Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brethren, and went over to Shechem: and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him.  And they went out into the fields, and gathered their vineyards, and trode the grapes, and made merry, and went into the house of their god, and did eat and drink, and cursed Abimelech. 

And Gaal the son of Ebed said, Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? is not he the son of Jerubbaal? and Zebul his officer? serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem: for why should we serve him?  And would to God this people were under my hand! then would I remove Abimelech. And he said to Abimelech, Increase thine army, and come out.” (Judges 9:25-29)

Though it was them who had made him king. Abimelech began to lord it over the men of Shechem.  They rebelled, and aware of the murder of his brothers they knew he wouldn’t hesitate to murder them if they opposed him so they began to plan to assassinate him, hiding in the mountains and robbing passers by in hopes of drawing him out where they could kill him.

Night after night the men met and complained about what Abimelech was doing.  Gaal the son of Ebed stirred up the unrest, organizing the rebellion and putting himself forward as a better king than Abimelech and defying him to come out and fight them, playing up the unjustified destruction of Shechem in Genesis 34 by Jacob’s sons and implying that Abimelech was just another of those  horrible Jews.  He claimed the Mayor of Shechem was just Abimilech’s stool pigeon and didn’t represent Shechem at all.

“And when Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled.  And he sent messengers unto Abimelech privily, saying, Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his brethren be come to Shechem; and, behold, they fortify the city against thee.  Now therefore up by night, thou and the people that is with thee, and lie in wait in the field: And it shall be, that in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, thou shalt rise early, and set upon the city: and, behold, when he and the people that is with him come out against thee, then mayest thou do to them as thou shalt find occasion.” (Judges 9:30-33)

Offended by Gaal’s aspersions, Zebul reported his claims to Abimelech and devised a plan to destroy him.  While they had reinforced, the city to withstand an attack, Abimelech could sneak close at night, then attack before they were ready, forcing them to come outside the city they could nullify the extra fortifications.

“And Abimelech rose up, and all the people that were with him, by night, and they laid wait against Shechem in four companies.  And Gaal the son of Ebed went out, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and Abimelech rose up, and the people that were with him, from lying in wait. 

And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, Behold, there come people down from the top of the mountains. 

And Zebul said unto him, Thou seest the shadow of the mountains as if they were men. 

And Gaal spake again and said, See there come people down by the middle of the land, and another company come along by the plain of Meonenim. 

Then said Zebul unto him, Where is now thy mouth, wherewith thou saidst, Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him? is not this the people that thou hast despised? go out, I pray now, and fight with them.” (Judges 9:34-38)

Coming at night, Abimelech’s troops were not observed.  They split into four companies, surrounding the city.  The next morning, Gaal was standing by the gate talking to Zebul. Spotting some of Abimelech’s men, Gaal mentioned it to Zebul who told him he was just imagining things.  Spotting some other groups, Gaal pointed them out as well to prove he wasn’t imagining things.  Zebul told him that he had bragged about what he would do to Abimelech and his forces, but now he needed to make good on his brag.

“And Gaal went out before the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech.  And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him, and many were overthrown and wounded, even unto the entering of the gate.  And Abimelech dwelt at Arumah: and Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren, that they should not dwell in Shechem.

And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people went out into the field; and they told Abimelech.  And he took the people, and divided them into three companies, and laid wait in the field, and looked, and, behold, the people were come forth out of the city; and he rose up against them, and smote them.  And Abimelech, and the company that was with him, rushed forward, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and the two other companies ran upon all the people that were in the fields, and slew them.  And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; and he took the city, and slew the people that was therein, and beat down the city, and sowed it with salt.” (Judges 9:39-45

Gaal and his army were forced to withdraw into the city for protection with many wounded and killed.   Abimelech bulled back to Arumah for the night.  Blaming Gaal for the defeat, Zebul refused to allow him and his brothers to stay in the city.  When Abimelech heard that the troops had gone out to Gaal the next morning, he divided his forces into three groups and attacked from all sides, killing them.  He then attacked the city, killing the occupants, tearing down the walls and scattering salt over everything to prevent things from growing.

"And when all the men of the tower of Shechem heard that, they entered into an hold of the house of the god Berith.  And it was told Abimelech, that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together. 

And Abimelech gat him up to mount Zalmon, he and all the people that 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, and said unto the people that were with him, What ye have seen me do, make haste, and do as I have done.  And all the people likewise cut down every man his bough, and followed Abimelech, and put them to the hold, and set the hold on fire upon them; so that all the men of the tower of Shechem died also, about a thousand men and women.” (Judges 9:46-49)

The tower of Shechem was a fortified tower which would serve as the last line of defense.  If the walls of the city were breached, the people would retreat to the tower.  Because it was so tal and strongly built it would be very hard to take, giving the defenders the advantage of being above their attackers.  Rather than trying to storm the tower, Abimelech piled wood around it and set it on fire and suffocating or burning about a thousand people.

“Then went Abimelech to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and took it.  But there was a strong tower within the city, and thither fled all the men and women, and all they of the city, and shut it to them, and gat them up to the top of the tower.  And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire. 

And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to brake his skull.  Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died. And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man unto his place. ” (Judges 9:50-55)

At Thebes Abimelech did the same thing, except when he ran up to place his wood by the door of the tower to set it on fire, a woman threw a piece of a millstone and hit him in the head, almost crushing it.  Fearing people would say he had been beaten by a woman, he had one of the men kill him to preserve his pride.  With their king killed, there was no reason to continue the fight and the rest of Israel went home.

“Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren: And all the evil of the men of Shechem did God render upon their heads: and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.” (Judges 9:56-57)

Leaders and kings are to be held to the same standard as everyone else, but since they are in the position of leadership it is even more important that they meet that standard.  James 3:1 warns, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.”  Far too often leaders are held to be above the law.

Abimelech was killed for having murdered his brothers.  The people of Shechem were killed for condoning the murders.  Jotham had warned that if they were wrong in ignoring his sin and making Abimelech king, they would destroy each other, and that is what happened.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Abimelech Seizes The Throne

Judges 8:33-9:21

“And it came to pass, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baalberith their god.  And the children of Israel remembered not the LORD their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side: Neither showed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had showed unto Israel.” (Judges 8:33-35)

Though the ephod Gideon made was a copy of the high priest’s, and was intended to focus attention on God, it drew attention away from God’s plan.   As soon as Gideon was not there to refocus their attention on God, they turned aside after the people around them’s gods.  In our day, many organizations have been started to support or enhance the church.  Unfortunately, when the founder dies, they often turn away to other goals.  The ACLU is a prime example, started to protect religious freedom for Christians, it has become one of the most anti Christian organizations in America.  Harvard University was started to train men for the ministry.  Today it is one of the most influential promoters of atheism.  Almost every para-church movement eventually does the same thing, regardless of the founder’s intentions.

“And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem unto his mother's brethren, and communed with them, and with all the family of the house of his mother's father, saying, Speak, I pray you, in the ears of all the men of Shechem, Whether is better for you, either that all the sons of Jerubbaal, which are threescore and ten persons, reign over you, or that one reign over you? remember also that I am your bone and your flesh. 

And his mother's brethren spake of him in the ears of all the men of Shechem all these words: and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech; for they said, He is our brother.  And they gave him threescore and ten pieces of silver out of the house of Baalberith, wherewith Abimelech hired vain and light persons, which followed him. 

And he went unto his father's house at Ophrah, and slew his brethren the sons of Jerubbaal, being threescore and ten persons, upon one stone: notwithstanding yet Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left; for he hid himself.

And all the men of Shechem gathered together, and all the house of Millo, and went, and made Abimelech king, by the plain of the pillar that was in Shechem.” (Judges 9:1-6)

Gideon had many wives, including one he never formally acknowledged.  Her son Abimelech was understandably resentful, as were her family.  Knowing that Gideon had been offered the monarchy, Abimelech played on the family resentment, asking his realtives whether they’d rather have a family member as king or a group of seventy of his brothers who wouldn’t even claim them.  He totally ignored Gideon’s reasons for turning down the throne.

His relatives campaigned for him, raising money to hire a support staff of people who weren’t doing anything of value to give the illusion of a popular following.  He also had his seventy brothers killed, but the youngest hid and escaped.  The only real difference from today’s political campaigns was that Abimelech actually murdered his opposition while today they just murder his reputation, as shown by the negative political ads of the last election.

With his opposition defeated, the men of Shechem gathered all their relatives and declared Abimelech king, even though they were only a small part of the tribe of Manasseh.  Had they been following the Law as commanded, they would have executed Abimelech for murder instead.  They chose to overlook his sin contrary to God’s law.

“And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.

 The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.  But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? 

And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.  But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? 

Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.  And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? 

Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.  And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” (Judges 9:7-15) 

When he heard that Abimelech had been made king, Jotham warned the men of Shechem that they would be held accountable by God for their decision.  He started with a parable about trees, which, like Israel needed no king but decided they wanted one.  All the qualified candidates were doing things that they considered more important than telling people what to do.  The only one willing to take the job was the bramble, which did nothing of  but cause problems anyway, and was not even qualified, as it really wasn’t a tree at all.  Given the job, the bramble demanded absolute obedience, threatening to destroy any who didn’t comply.

An analyst recently pointed out that throughout history, most of those who sought political power have been people who were pathological control freaks, with few other qualifications, who devote their lives to gaining power.  Ultimately they destroy everything in their efforts to demonstrate their power.

“Now therefore, if ye have done truly and sincerely, in that ye have made Abimelech king, and if ye have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done unto him according to the deserving of his hands; (For my father fought for you, and adventured his life far, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian: And ye are risen up against my father's house this day, and have slain his sons, threescore and ten persons, upon one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother;) If ye then have dealt truly and sincerely with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice ye in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you: But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem, and the house of Millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech.” (Judges 9:16-20)

Jotham then called on the men of Shechem to consider the choice they had made.  Could they justify the betrayal of Gideon’s principles and murder of his sons to make Abimelech king because he was a relative?  If they were right in doing so, then they should enjoy having him as their king and everybody should be happy.  If it was a bad decision, there would be conflict between Abimelech and his supporters that would lead to many on both sides being destroyed.

Far too often major decisions are made on the basis of what we think would be best for us without thoroughly considering what is right.  The consequences can be quite serious.  Choosing a candidate simply because he is a member of a particular party or stands for a certain preferred position despite other concerns is as silly as buying a car simply because it is a certain color.   Other factors may turn out to be far more important than the one you considered.

“And Jotham ran away, and fled, and went to Beer, and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.” (Judges 9:21) 

Having delivered his warning, Jotham didn’t hang around to see how Abimelech would respond.  After all, he’d already killed all his other brothers.  He probably wouldn’t hesitate to kill another one.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Israel Offers Gideon A Monarchy

Judges 8:22-23

“Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son's son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian.  And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you.” (Judges 8:22-23)

In the two hundred sixty years or so since they had first crossed the Jordan, Israel had been dominated by other groups four times.  Each time it had been the result of their deciding that God’s commandments were no longer relevant.  Each time they had been delivered when they turned back to God and Followed the instructions of a Judge God sent to teach them.  They had had far less turmoil than any of the nations around them.

Having seen how completely Gideon defeated the Midianites, the people decided to make him king.  Three hundred years later, when they demanded a king, in I Samuel 8:20, it was “That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.”  Literally, they wanted a king to take responsibility for their serving the Lord, and for fighting their battles for them.  The people in Gideon’s were probably thinking the same thing.

Gideon flatly refused to take the monarchy or allow his son to, stating that God was Israel’s king.  To do as they asked would be to usurp God’s authority.  In I Samuel 8:7, God stated, “…they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.”  God’s plan was(and is) that they should be responsible directly to God, and that he would fight for them and protect them from their enemies as he promised in Deuteronomy 20:4, “For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.”  

Two hundred years later, they were still following this plan, when Judges 17:6 declares, “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”   No one forced them to follow the Lord, but each man made his own decision.  It is repeated in Judges 21:25.

Today many use Judges 17:6 and 21:25 as a reason for having a powerful ruler.  In doing so they ignore the results after Israel got kings.  The kings more often led the people away from God than to him, and were constantly embroiled in wars.  Only about a fourth of the thirty eight kings that reigned in Judah and Israel even pretended to serve God.  In Revelation 2 we are told that God hates both the doctrine and the deeds of the Nicolaitanes.   Matthew 20:25-27, Mark 10:42-44, and Luke 22:25-26 all teach that we are not to have powerful rulers in the church.  Christ is to be the head, not the pastor.

A Symbol Becomes An Idol
Judges 8:24-27

“And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) Jud 8:25 And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the earrings of his prey.  And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was a thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold; beside ornaments, and collars, and purple raiment that was on the kings of Midian, and beside the chains that were about their camels' necks.

 And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house.” (Judges 8:24-27)

The Midianites and Amalekites were descendants of Ishmael, and wore gold earrings as a means of identification, as well as a means of showing off their wealth.  They also wore other jewelry as well as decorating their camel tack.  When they killed them Israel had kept the gold, and much of the rich clothing for themselves.  Gideon requested that he be given some of the spoil to be used to make an ephod similar to the one the high priest wore, apparently to try to focus people’s attention on God.

Described in Exodus 28, the ephod was a tunic of fine linen, woven in pattern of blue purple, scarlet and gold, fastened at each shoulder with a large  stone in a gold setting which supported the breastplate on gold chains.  The breastplate had twelve more large semiprecious stones in gold settings and contained the Urim and Thumim.  It symbolized the High Priest’s function as the mediator between God and man as described in Hebrews 5:1-2.

Used in the temple as just a part of the entire  service of God, the ephod helped people to understand, but isolated, it lost it‘s symbolism, becoming an object of worship.  Today we see a similar attitude toward baptism, or the communion service.  Misused symbols become a snare hindering even sincere believers and completely misleading others. Gideon’s Last Days
Judges 8:28-32

“Thus was Midian subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more. And the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon.” (Judges 8:28) 

After their defeat at the hands of Gideon, the Midianites never again attacked Israel.  For forty years, while Gideon lived, Israel served the Lord and lived in peace.

“And Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house.  And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body begotten: for he had many wives.  And his concubine that was in Shechem, she also bare him a son, whose name he called Abimelech.  And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.” (Judges 8:29-32)

While Gideon served the Lord, he let down his guard in certain areas.  Although there was no prohibition of polygamy, the law specified they were not to multiply wives to themselves.  Gideon had many wives, including a concubine that was never formally married.  His involvement in questionable behaviors such as making the ephod and marrying many women set the stage for Israel’s next turn

Friday, December 14, 2012

Actions Produce Consequences

Judges 8:4-21

“And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them. 

And he said unto the men of Succoth, Give, I pray you, loaves of bread unto the people that follow me; for they be faint, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian. 

And the princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army? 

And Gideon said, Therefore when the LORD hath delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into mine hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.“ (Judges 8:4-7)

After Gideon’s initial defeat and breaking up of the Midianite army, Joint forces from all the northern tribes had blocked escape routes and begun to hunt down survivors.  While we are not told how long it took, we know that some of the forces needed a couple of days to get there, so Gideon and his men were out of provisions by the time they crossed the Jordan.

Because the were on the eastern side of the Jordan and did not have it to protect them from the Middianite raiders, the Trans-Jordan tribes had been even harder hit than the others.  They would benefit most of all from the defeat of The Midianites.

Though they hate the situation they are in, some people are unwilling to give up any of the things they have to change it, fearing something might go wrong.   Many today realize the danger of our present spending programs, but are unwilling to make any changes to Social Security or Medicare for fear they will lose some benefits, even though failure to do so may ultimately cause the total collapse of the system.

The men of Succoth had the same attitude, and when Gideon requested food for his men, refused it because there were still some Midianites left who might come back and raid them again.  They didn’t consider the possibility that giving the food might ensure that the Midianites were unable to come back.

Gideon warned them that they would suffer because of their refusal to contribute to the victory.  The leaders would be beaten with the branches of thorn bushes.

“And he went up thence to Penuel, and spake unto them likewise: and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered him. Jud 8:9 And he spake also unto the men of Penuel, saying, When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.” (Judges 8:8)

A few hours later, at Penuel, Gideon got the same response.  His men were even hungrier, and he promised to destroy the walls of Penuel so that they would be unprotected if the Midianites came back.

“Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the hosts of the children of the east: for there fell an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword. 

And Gideon went up by the way of them that dwelt in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and smote the host: for the host was secure.  And when Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued after them, and took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and discomfited all the host.” (Judges 8:10-12)

Israel had killed all but fifteen thousand of the hundred thirty five thousand men in the Midianite army, nearly ninety percent of them.  Near the Ammonite border, the Midianites stopped to rest and regroup, believing themselves safe in the desert afew miles from present day Aman, Jordan.

Catching them off guard, Gideon and his three hundred men attacked and scattered them, capturing the two kings.

“And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle before the sun was up, And caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and inquired of him: and he described unto him the princes of Succoth, and the elders thereof, even threescore and seventeen men.” (Judges 8:13-14) 

Before the sun was up the next morning Gideon and his army had returned as far a Succoth where they found a young man and got him to describe seventy seven of the leaders of Succoth.

“And he came unto the men of Succoth, and said, Behold Zebah and Zalmunna with whom ye did upbraid me, saying, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thy men that are weary?  And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth.  And he beat down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city. ” (Judges 8:15-17) 

At both Succoth and Penuel, Gideon demonstrated he had captured the two kings of the Midianites.  He then proceeded to punish the elders of Succoth with branches from thorn bushes.  At Penuel he destroyed the city’s defenses and killed the men who had refused to help.  They had to learn that there were consequences for their actions.

“Then said he unto Zebah and Zalmunna, What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? And they answered, As thou art, so were they; each one resembled the children of a king. 

And he said, They were my brethren, even the sons of my mother: as the LORD liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you.  And he said unto Jether his firstborn, Up, and slay them. But the youth drew not his sword: for he feared, because he was yet a youth.” (Judges 8:18-20)

Questioning revealed that the two kings had been personally involved in killing Gideons brothers.  Gideon told his son to fulfill the responsibility of the avenger of blood to execute murderers, but Jehter was young and hesitated to do it.

 “Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, Rise thou, and fall upon us: for as the man is, so is his strength. And Gideon arose, and slew Zebah and Zalmunna, and took away the ornaments that were on their camels' necks.” (Judges 8:21) 

Implying Gideon must not be much of a man since his son was afraid to kill them, Zebah and Zalmunna dared Gideon to do it.  He executed them and claimed their symbols of power.  He would have let them live, had they not murdered his brothers.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Midianite's Defeat

Judges 7:16-8:3

“And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man's hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers.  And he said unto them, Look on me, and do likewise: and, behold, when I come to the outside of the camp, it shall be that, as I do, so shall ye do.  When I blow with a trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets also on every side of all the camp, and say, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon.” (Judges 7:16-18) 

Realizing how demoralized the Midianite army was, Gideon moved quickly.  Dividing his three hundred men into three groups, he equipped each one with a trumpet, a large pottery pot of pitcher, and a lamp similar to a liquid candle.  The lamps were lit and concealed inside the pitchers to hide the light until the proper moment.  The plan was to surround the Midianite camp, blow the trumpets, then break the pitchers and hold upt eh lamps to give the illusion of being attacked by a huge force.

“So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch; and they had but newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers that were in their hands.  And the three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: and they cried, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon.  And they stood every man in his place round about the camp: and all the host ran, and cried, and fled.” (Judges 7:19-21)

With the Midianite camp sleeping soundly except for the guards, three hundred trumpets sounding from all sides created total confusion, greatly accentuated by the sound of the smashing pitchers and lifting aloft of the lamps.  The lamps forming a solid line around them, left no question that they were surrounded, and the trumpets were normally used to direct large groups, so it appeared that there must be many thousands attacking. Yelling the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.  Pandemonium reigned in the Middianite camp and panic set in.

“And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the LORD set every man's sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled to Bethshittah in Zererath, and to the border of Abelmeholah, unto Tabbath.” (Judges 7:22)  

A panicked swimmer may tip over the boat or shove those who are trying to save him underwater, or a people panicked by a fire may fight the fireman trying to save them and refuse to be carried through the fire to safety.  The panicked Midianites cut down anyone who impeded their flight, with no concern which side he was on.   I suspect the Israelites were glad to remain on the high ground after seeing the slaughter the Midianites and Amalekites were doing among themselves as a result of that initial panic.  The Midianite army split with some fleeing to the northeast to Bethshittah and others to the southeast to Abelmeholah, both known crossings of the Jordan.

“And the men of Israel gathered themselves together out of Naphtali, and out of Asher, and out of all Manasseh, and pursued after the Midianites. 

And Gideon sent messengers throughout all mount Ephraim, saying, Come down against the Midianites, and take before them the waters unto Bethbarah and Jordan.

Then all the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and took the waters unto Bethbarah and Jordan.  And they took two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb; and they slew Oreb upon the rock Oreb, and Zeeb they slew at the winepress of Zeeb, and pursued Midian, and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on the other side Jordan.” (Judges 7:23-25)

With the Midianite army is disarray and hiding from Gideon’s forces, the men who had been sent home returned, probably in even greater number than had originally come out.  Gideon also sent messengers to Ephraim asking for their assistance to block the crossings to the south.  Catching them at the Jordan, the Ephraimites pursued them. capturing to of the main leaders, Oreb and Zeeb, and executing them before meeting up with Gideon on the west bank.

“ And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply. 

And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?  God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you? 

Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that.” (Judges 8:1-3)

The men of Ephraim blamed Gideon for attacking the Midianites with such a small force and leaving them out.  They did not understand he was acting according to what God told him.  They thought he had been trying to get all the glory for himself.  By crediting them with the biggest victory in having captured the leaders, he was able to mollify them.

Many times, people who do not understand God’s leading misjudge one’s motives.  By crediting others for accomplishments, rather than claiming it for oneself, resentment and jealousy can be minimized, just as Gideon did.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Encouraged By The Enemy

Judges 7:9-15

“And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand.  But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host: And thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host.” (Judges 7:9-11a) 

With only three hundred men remaining, Gideon’s army was out numbered by four hundred fifty to one.  Humanly speaking, it would be almost impossible to win.  Even Gideon must have had some qualms, and God recognized that, telling him to go down and listen to what the Midianites were saying.

"Then went he down with Phurah his servant unto the outside of the armed men that were in the host.  And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude.” (Judges 7:11b-12)

With over a hundred thirty five thousand warriors, the Midianites and Amalekites were not expecting much difficulty.  They had brought extra camels to carry off the grain and other loot they planned to take.  They were pretty confident and their guards were not overly alert, but it must have been intimidating to approach their camp.

“And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along. 

And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host.” (Judges 7:13-14) 

When they arrived at the camp, Gideon overheard one of the Midianites describing a dream he had had.  In the dream, a simple every day loaf of barley bread, about the size of biscuit rolled into the camp and knocked down one of the tents.  Their tents were designed to withstand the wind and dust storms of the open desert, and such a small thing would not be expected to have any impact.

His partner’s interpretation of the dream was that Gideon and his tiny army was going to wipe out the Midianite army in a similar unexpected fashion, because of the power of God.  The Midianites were as psyched out as the people in Jericho had been in Joshua 2:9-11.

“And it was so, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof, that he worshipped, and returned into the host of Israel, and said, Arise; for the LORD hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian.” (Judges 7:15) 

What an encouragement to find out that the Midianites didn’t really expect to win.  Gideon stopped to thank the Lord for what he had showed them, then returned to his men, confident of victory.  His confidence would infect his men as well, overcoming their reservations.  Sometimes it is amazing what God uses to encourage us.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Army God Chose

Judges 7:2-8

“And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.  Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand.” (Judges 7:2-3)

Convinced that God wanted him to lead Israel against the Midianites, Gideon had sent messengers to Manasseh, Asher, Naphtali, and Zebulon asking for volunteers.  Only thirty two thousand showed up to fight over a hundred thirty five thousand Midianites.  Already outnumbered by more than four to one, it must have been troubling when God said you’ve got too many soldiers.

God was concerned that they realize the victory was only possible because of God’s power.  After all, it is not impossible to defeat larger army if one uses better tactics or has better weapons.  History records many such cases.  God wanted people to depend on him rather than their own power.  It was necessary to eliminate any possibility of them winning on their own to teach them.

In Deuteronomy 20, God had given a number of conditions under which a man was not to be sent to war.  One of those was fear.  Deuteronomy 20:8 commands, “And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart.”  When Gideon followed that command, twenty two thousand, over two thirds of the volunteers went home, unsure that God would give the victory.

“And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.” (Judges 7:4)   

Now they were outnumbered by nearly fourteen to one and God said they still had too many.  I wonder how many times God has said you have too many and allowed our efforts to produce change to fail because we were focused on human numbers rather than the power of God?  God would set the standard for dividing them up.

“So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink.  And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. 

And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.  So the people took victuals in their hand, and their trumpets: and he sent all the rest of Israel every man unto his tent, and retained those three hundred men: and the host of Midian was beneath him in the valley.” (Judges 7:5-8) 

Out of the ten thousand that believed God would give the victory and were willing to take action, only three hundred met God’s criteria. All the others were sent home.   God did not need the crowd to win the victory.  Jonathan clearly understood this in I Samuel 14:6, when he said, “…Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the LORD will work for us: for there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few.”

His father, Saul was more like most religious leaders today, believing that the victory would be enhanced by having a larger crowd.  Like many today, he ignored the standards God had set to get a bigger crowd, replacing them with his own standards.  Too often today, salvation, biblical doctrine or moral standards are compromised and replaced with some religious standard of activity.  Though the results are blamed on God, they are the fruit of man’s efforts, producing no significant benefit.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Putting Out A Fleece

Judges 6:33-7:1

“Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel. 

But the spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him.  And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; who also was gathered after him: and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet them.” (Judges 6:33-35)

The Amalekites were nomadic people mainly centered in the northern part of the Arab peninsula and north along the edge of Mesopotamia, in present day Iraq and Jordan.  The Middianites claimed the area east of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Edomite kingdom, and were closely related to the Amalekites.  After seven years of oppressing Israel they came together to finally crush Israel, crossing the Jordan and assembling in the valley of Jezreel in central Israel, part of the area now held by the Palestinians.

The Spirit of the Lord moved Gideon to make a concerted effort to repel the invaders, and he sounded a trumpet to gather the men of Abiezer and the surrounding area.   He also sent messengers to each of the northern tribes asking for their help, and many came.

“And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said.  And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.” (Judges 6:36-38)

With an inexperienced and untrained army, and having no experience himself, Gideon was justifiably hesitant to take the small number of volunteers against such and overwhelming force without assurance that it was what God wanted.  After all, it might well anger the Midianites instead and lead to even worse attacks on Israel if it failed.

As a sign he asked that a fleece placed on the ground be wet with dew while none would be detected on the ground.  Under normal circumstances, the dew would wet everything equally.  The next morning, the ground was completely dry while the fleece was wringing wet, as he discovered when he wrung it out over a bowl.

“And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.  And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.” (Judges 6:39-40)

Recognizing that the dew might have not have evaporated off the fleece as fast ass it did off the ground, Gideon next asked that the opposite situation occur the next morning.  If it did, there could be no question that it was God who had caused it.  The following morning, the ground was soaked with dew, but the fleece was completely dry.  It was clearly God’s will.

The idea of putting out a fleece is sometimes recommended by preachers today, and God did not forbid it, but it would be wise to consider how Gideon used it.  The first thing we notice is that Gideon was basically sure what God wanted, and was just using the fleece to double check himself.  He was not just randomly throwing out an idea.

Secondly, he made sure there was no way the result could happen naturally.  While it could happen that more water would condense on the fleece, the results would always happen,  by asking for the opposite the second night, he ensured that their could be no mistake.

Unfortunately, many today neglect these two points.  Rather than using putting out a fleece to verify that what they have decided is the will of God, they make their decision based on the outcome.  Secondly, they base the decision on some event that while unlikely, is still possible, such as requiring a 100% favorable vote before moving to a different church or taking a vote of confidence to decide whether to leave one.

Asking the people to make one’s decision for him is unfair, since he is the one who must do God’s will.  God rarely reveals his will to others until we have made our commitment.  God only revealed his will to Deborah after Barak had refused to go on his own.  Furthermore, since most people prefer to not offend, they tend to vote for the person unless he has seriously offended them, so the vote is heavily weighted from the beginning.  Since Satan works by influencing people’s minds, he may well be able to  influence enough people to get the desired vote.

It is far better to ask physical events that would not naturally occur because they are far harder for Satan to manipulate.

“Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people that were with him, rose up early, and pitched beside the well of Harod: so that the host of the Midianites were on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.” (Judges 7:1) 

Convinced that it was God’s will, Gideon, also known as Jerubaal gathered his forces by the well of Harod, south of the Midianite camp by the hill Moreh, in the valley of Jezreel.