Judges 21, Ezekiel 10, Acts 27

Today read Judges 21, Ezekiel 10, and Acts 27. This devotional is about Judges 21.

This chapter continues a brutal story that began in Judges 19. In that chapter, a Levite and his concubine were traveling home late at night. Although it would have been easier to reach one of the Gentile cities on their journey, they went to a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by families from the tribe of Benjamin. The text does not say so exactly but the expectation is that they would be safer in Gibeah because their brothers from another tribe would welcome and care for them.

That is not what happened, to put it mildly.

Although one old man took the family into his home, the Benjaminites in Gibeah decided to impersonate the men of Sodom and demanded that the Levite be turned over to them to be abused sexually. The Levite handed over his concubine instead and they raped and killed her. The Levite took her dead body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one body part to each tribe in Israel. That was Judges 19.

In Judges 20 the leaders of Israel’s tribe responded to the Levite and demanded that the rest of the Benjamites hand over the men of Gibeah for some rough justice. The Benjamites refused and civil war began–11 tribes against Benjamin. After some initial success, the Benjamites were soundly defeated by the rest of Israel who killed many of them and burned every town they came across. The author of Judges was coy when he wrote that they “put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found.” The “everything else they found” was the women and children in these towns–a brutal overreaction that was similar in immorality to the way the concubine was killed in Judges 19 which stared this whole mess, but this brutality was done at a much larger scale.

Now, here in Judges 21, we read that those who turned out to fight then took an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites (v. 1). Then they realized what a stupid move that was. Since they killed all the women and children, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce so the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7).

Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead had showed up to fight, so they killed all the men and women of that town and handed over their virgin daughters to the Benjamites (vv. 7-14). That helped but didn’t provide enough women for all the Benjamites so they told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, since the girls were kidnaped, their fathers weren’t technically guilty of breaking their oath.

Verse 25 ends the book of Judges with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” What we are to conclude, then, from this awful story is that people need wise, godly leadership.

When people do what seems right in their eyes, they do wretched things to each other: overreact in their attempts for justice, make wicked, rash vows, then rationalize immoral ways to solve the problems they have created. A wise leader, however, can save people from these wicked abuses.

Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of Israel and Judah did some wicked, unwise things themselves. However, they generally showed better leadership than what we read about in here in Judges.

But the only king who can truly lead perfectly and judge wisely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. While we should seek wise solutions to our problems with each other and we should seek good, righteous leaders, we should never fall too much in love with any one leader because they will fail.

The failure of leadership and government in this world should not surprise us but it should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will judge in righteousness. Let the bad decisions of leaders in this world and the foolish outcomes that men come up with lead you to pray, “Your kingdom come!” When God’s kingdom comes in the person of King Jesus, then human society will finally function and flourish like we want it to and God created it to.

Judges 16, Ezekiel 5, Acts 24

Read Judges 16, Ezekiel 5, and Acts 24. This devotional is about Judges 16.

After the events of Judges 15, Samson found himself unexpectedly single and still feeling lonely. So he turned to a prostitute here in Judges 16:1 to find the satisfaction he did not find with his now late ex-wife. The Philistines thought they would gang up on him and defeat him when he left the next morning (v. 2), but Samson decided to leave in the middle of the night (v. 3).

The gates to the city were undoubtedly locked, both due to the hour of the night and to keep Samson from escaping so they could take him in the morning. But Samson, never one to miss a chance to mess with the Philistines, let himself out of the city by ripping off the gates and carrying them to a hill (v. 3). where everyone would know that something unusual and terrifying had happened overnight.

Then he met Delilah (v. 4) and even “fell in love with her.” These words suggests that Samson’s infatuation with her was more than physical and his intentions toward her were more than temporary. Since his first marriage had gone so poorly and since the Philistines had loose morals anyway, Samson apparently had a “sleep-over” arrangement with Delilah that allowed him to spend personal time with her without the costly entanglements of marriage.

Delilah, however, remained loyal to her nation, especially given the promise of her rulers to pay her well if she betrayed Samson (v. 5). She agreed, then, to obtain “the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him” (v. 5). Despite what we tend to think and may have heard, Samson may not have been an unusually muscular man. The great feats of strength that Samson accomplished were done by God’s power, not because he was a workout warrior. If the Philistines could discover his secret, they could eliminate him as a problem in their lives.

Delilah dedicated herself to the task, asking him to tell her his secret in order to deepen their relational intimacy (v. 15), then keeping Samson around her house until he was good and sleepy. Each time he lied to her but each time she did exactly what he told her would sap his great strength. I suppose her excuse was that she wanted to test him to see if she was telling the truth, but you’d think that he would have gotten suspicious after she repeatedly tried to weaken him using the information he gave her.

Foolishly, after all the times she had tried to use his words against him, Samson trusted her and told her the truth. They say “love is blind” but it can also be really stupid, too.

I said that Samson “trusted her and told her the truth” in the paragraph above, but that’s not exactly correct. He told her what he thought the truth was; the real truth was that his strength had nothing to do with his hair. It was God’s spirit coming on him in power that gave him such super-human strength.

But Samson had been disobedient to God repeatedly—marrying a Philistine woman, consorting with a prostitute, and living with a woman he had married. When he started revealing his Nazarite vow, that was when the Lord “left him” (v. 20). It was not the length of his hair or anything else about him as a man that made him so strong. It was the power of God in his life, but his repeated selfishness and sin caused God to withdraw that power from Samson.

This is what happens to us when we stop relying on the Lord and start to arrogantly trust ourselves instead. Although God used Samson for one mighty final act, his story is mostly about how one man presumed on the grace of God and lived his own sinful way, without regard to the consequences in his life.

Instead of cultivating a strong relationship with God, Samson cultivated his sin nature. Instead of becoming the godly leader he could have been, Samson became a tragic figure who was used by God despite his lack of faith, not because of it.

Don’t ever let success in any area of your life be the barometer of your walk with God. Walk with God and let him handle the rest.

Judges 12, Ezekiel 1, Romans 16

Read Judges 12, Ezekiel 1, and Romans 16 today. This devotional is about Judges 12:8-15.

This little paragraph of scripture described three insignificant regional judges in Israel: Ibzan (vv. 8-10), Elon (vv. 11-12), and Abdon (vv. 13-15).

I wrote that these men were “insignificant” but their names are recorded in Scripture; that’s more than anyone can say about me. But they were insignificant in the sense that nothing remarkable happened during their tenure as Israel’s leaders. Other than his tribe and burial place, all we learned about Elon was that he was a judge for 10 years (vv. 11-12).

This chapter gives us a bit more information about the other two men. Ibzan had a large family–thirty sons AND thirty daughters. Only a wealthy man could provide for such a large family, so these verses suggest a time of peace and prosperity in Judah. If the other nations around Judah were attacking her and oppressing her people, it would be hard to keep such a large family alive and thriving. So, the period of the Judges was not all about war, oppression, and turmoil.

Ibzan had some political savvy, too. By making sure that all sixty of his children married outside their clan (v. 9b), Ibzan created a network of positive relationships with other Israelite clans and (possibly) tribes. That would have been good for trade and commerce, too.

Ibzan may have left a boring historical legacy but that’s only because there were no major problems during his leadership. We find him forgettable but I’m sure the people he led were grateful. Dull times politically result in stable communities where people can thrive.

Abdon, in verses 13-15 was likewise a pretty boring guy. His strength was delegation; he led using other people, namely, his forty sons and thirty grandsons. An effective leader is not someone who burns himself trying to hyper-serve those he leads, doing all the work himself. An effective leader is one who can enlist and train others who can bear the responsibilities of leadership with him. The fact that these men rode around on seventy donkeys also indicates a time of prosperity. Donkeys were useful farm animals, the pickup trucks of the ancient world. They could carry heavy loads as well as pull a plow through the field. If God’s people were having a hard time providing for themselves, these 70 men would have had a hard time justifying using 70 donkeys to ride around town on. So, evidence suggests that God was good to his people during the days of Abdon. The lack of crises recorded in Judges during Abdon’s days can be traced to prosperous times and good leadership.

We do not read in these verses that these men were godly, righteous men but they must have been. Judges 2:12-15 told us that the squabbles God’s people had with other nations were actions of God’s divine justice for the idolatry and sins of the people. When we read about times like these where there were no raids or conflicts, it stands to reason that people were faithful to the Lord, including their leaders. Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.”

We tend to think that great leaders are kings and presidents and prime ministers who fight and win political and military battles. God’s word indicates that the best leaders are those who stay out of the news. They lead righteous lives, judge with justice, manage with diplomacy, and generally are pretty boring.

Those are the kinds of leaders we should seek. First Timothy 2:1-4 commands us to pray for rulers who will leave people alone and cultivate a peaceful, predictable world: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” When men in authority leave us alone to “live peaceful and quiet lives” God is pleased because the gospel can spread.

Let me just get really specific here: politics in our country has become sport and entertainment. The party in power in Washington will change laws, pick fights with political enemies, and go to war against nations that have not attacked us. The people who voted for that party love it, too. They love winning these skirmishes and mocking the other side. Both major political parties do it and news channels on TV and online love it because it gives them something to talk about, something to generate controversy with which drives up their ratings or page views.

I guess this provides people with entertainment but I think it makes society less productive, less happy, less prosperous and, most importantly, makes Christians less focused on the mission Christ gave us.

Personally, I’d like to see Washington become a lot less relevant to everything and a lot more boring. I’d prefer any of these guys Ibzan, Elon, or Abdon to The Donald or Hilary or Obama or Biden or Notorious AOC.

I think God would, too. Let’s pray for our leaders to get out of the way and let us live our lives. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:3).

Judges 7, Lamentations 1, Romans 13

Read Judges 7, Lamentations 1, and Romans 13 today. This devotional is about Judges 7.

God chose some unusual characters to lead Israel in this book of Judges. Some of those unusual characters used some unusual weapons, too.

Gideon fit right in with the other oddballs God used in Judges. He was a weak man from a weak family and a weak tribe in Israel (6:15). He had no military experience and no killer instinct. He did everything he could to shirk the assignment God gave him to rescue Israel from the Midianites.

I think Gideon had enough disadvantages already, but in today’s chapter God weakened his army even more. In verse 3, God told Gideon to announce that anyone who was too scared could go home. Twenty-two thousand men took him up on that offer but God thought Gideon still had too many troops. I’m sure Gideon didn’t think it was funny but I laughed when I read, “I will thin them out for you” (v. 4). Uh.., thanks?

Anyway, after sending home all the guys who kneeled down to drink, Gideon was left with three hundred men (v. 8). Using nothing but trumpets, torches, jars, and their voices, God defeated the Midianites with those three hundred water-lapping Hebrew men.

The point of this strange approach to fighting was to give glory to God. In verse 2 we read, “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, “My own strength has saved me.”’” By choosing a weak man to lead using a small group and an unconventional method, God was able to demonstrate his power to Israel again and call them to trust him and stop worshipping those false gods.

God doesn’t always use weakness and strange methods to do his work but this certainly wasn’t the only time he worked this way either. The lesson for us is to rely on God to use us not our superior tools or preparation. I’ve been guilty in my life and ministry of relying on excessive preparation and the best tools possible, at times, while neglecting prayer and faith in the power of God to work. Passages like this remind us that we need God’s power and promises far more than we need human power, ingenuity, and tools.

Have you ever thought or said, “I could never do “x” for God because I don’t have “y?” For instance:

  • I could never teach a Calvary Class because I don’t have enough time to prepare.
  • I could never give my testimony in church because I don’t have confidence to do public speaking.
  • I could never talk to someone else about the gospel because I don’t know every answer to any question they might ask me.

If you’ve ever thought or said something like this, then you should apply this lesson from Gideon to your life. God wants to use you and has promised to do so if you rely on him. What kind of act of faith might he use you for if you trusted him?

Judges 6, Jeremiah 52, Romans 12

Read Judges 6, Jeremiah 52, Romans 12 today. This devotional is about Judges 6.

This chapter in Judges describes how the Lord disciplined Israel’s idolatry using the Midianites. The Midianites’ flavor of oppression was unusual. They weren’t into swordplay and slaughter; rather, stealing was their brand. They would enter your property and do whatever they wanted to your family and your stuff, so the Israelites fled to the hills for some privacy and protection (v. 2).

The Midianites treated Israel like slaves. They allowed God’s people plant crops on their own land, doing all the hard work of breaking up the ground, planting the seed, and nurturing the plants as they emerged from the ground (v. 3a). Then the Midianites would swoop in, camp on Israel’s land and take everything from the harvest (vv. 4-6). In desperation, Israel cried out to the Lord for help (vv. 6-7). Before sending a military leader, God sent a prophet (vv. 8a). His prescription was repentance, reminding Israel of their disobedience to God’s covenant (vv. 8b-10).

There is no indication that Israel repented of their sins, but God identified a military man anyway; his name was Gideon. The only problem was that he was a military man disguised as a complete coward. We see this first of all based where God met him. Verse 11 says he “was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.” This was an impractical place to thresh wheat. The best threshing was out in an open place where the wind blew freely, not down in a pit where the grapes were crushed. But what the winepress lacked in practicality it made up for in privacy. Gideon went there “…to keep it from the Midianites.” Only a complete moron would thresh in the winepress, so Gideon went there on purpose, not because he was a moron but because they wouldn’t look for the wheat there.

That choice of Gideon’s, however, shows that he was not a mighty man by nature despite what the angel of the Lord said of him in verse 12. If he were a mighty man by nature, he would have threshed in the open with his sword strapped to his belt. He would have been ready to defend his food against the Midianites instead of hiding from them. So, when God spoke to Gideon, he was designated a “mighty warrior” not because he really was but because “The Lord is with you” (v. 12b).

In addition to being a weakling warrior, he was also not much of a theologian. His response to the assertion that God was with him was to question God’s faithfulness in verse 13. Maybe he believed that God’s promises were only positive; if so, he hadn’t read the law very well. The kind of oppression he experienced was exactly what God had promised if Israel worshipped idols. Ignoring the idols in his very own household (v. 25), Gideon blamed God for Israel’s problems rather than realizing their problem was sin.

What he lacked in military strength and theological prowess was more than matched by his lack of leadership positioning. In verse 15, Gideon pointed out that he was the youngest member of his family, which was from a weak clan, in a weak tribe. In a culture that valued positional leadership, there was nothing in his position to suggest that Gideon was poised for leadership.

Then there is the issue of his faith. God urged him twice to stand on God’s promises to Israel and defeat the Midianites (vv. 14, 16). God’s written word in the Law alone was more than enough for Gideon, or any other man in Israel, to liberate God’s people. But even after hearing God’s direct call (v. 16), seeing God face to face in the angel of the Lord (vv. 17-23), being used by God to destroy the altar to Baal and replace it with a proper altar to Israel’s God (vv. 25-32) and to summon an Israelite army when Israel’s enemies threatened invasion (vv. 33-35), Gideon got scared again and tests God twice (vv. 36-40). Christians talk all the time about “putting out a fleece” to discern the will of God, but that’s not what Gideon was doing. He was looking for a loophole, a way out of doing what God had commanded him to do (v. 36b: “…If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised…”).

It is hard to respect Gideon after reading this passage, yet God used him as we’ll see in the next two chapters of Judges. When it comes to our own lives, however, we are often like Gideon. We sin, then blame God for the consequences. We know that we should live obediently to God’s commands because we’re banking on God’s promises, but we get scared and we look for loopholes, exceptions, and emergency exits. Yet, God is gracious to us still. He does not become angry with us, judge us, and move on from us in anger. He works through our unbelief with us and shows us that, if we will just trust him by living obediently, he’ll be with us. So, can you trust him today and do the right thing—the thing that scares you but that you know from God’s word is the thing you’re supposed to do?

If God can use a guy like Gideon, certainly he can use us. We’re made of the same weak stuff that Gideon was made of but we have the same almighty God who stands by us when we live in faith to his promises.

Judges 1, Jeremiah 48, Romans 10

Read Judges 1, Jeremiah 48, and Romans 10 today. This devotional is about Judges 1.

A repeated theme of Joshua and Judges is Israel taking the land God promised to them, but not completely. Their territory was larger at times and smaller at other times but Israel never occupied all the land God promised them.

Why not?

Unbelief which leads to inaction.

Here in Judges 1, Joshua was dead (v. 1a) but Israel still procrastinated when it came to taking their land. Judah followed God’s word in verses 1-21 and won some significant territory. But notice that they took Jerusalem at one point (v. 8) but then apparently lost it again (v. 21) and did not have it again until David took it many years later.

Notice also the intriguing words of verse 19: “The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron.” The Lord was with them… but they couldn’t dislodge the guys with iron chariots. Why not? Because God is no match for iron chariots? No; because Judah did not believe God would give them victory over people with iron chariots.

In other words, they were willing to follow God to a point. But, when it came to confronting their fear and moving out of their comfort zones, they stopped obeying God’s word, claiming God’s promises, and decided to be happy with less than all the land God had promised them.

This is already starting to feel like a “name it and claim it” devotional. I definitely disagree with that theology and don’t want to bend the principles in this passage too far.

But, think about what’s going on in this passage.

Do you ever do that?

God has made many promises to us. You’ve believed and acted on one or more of those promises. And, God blessed your faith with results. But, then, the challenge started to look hard. So, you quit and settled for less than what God promised.

Hasn’t God promised to be with us to the end of the age as we go and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20)? Yes, he has.

But, how much effort do you put into making disciples?

Hasn’t God said that we are his “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10)? Yes he has.

But how much effort do you put into growing in grace, pushing out into new areas of ministry that might be uncomfortable for you?

What about in your work? Doesn’t God’s word say that, “All hard work brings a profit” (v. 23a)? Doesn’t it tell us to diversify what we do and try different things in order to find what will succeed (Ecc 11:6)? Why, yes, the Bible does say these things.

But are you stuck in a job that isn’t providing enough for your family because you feel comfortable and safe there?

How about when it comes to giving? Doesn’t the New Testament encourage generous giving to see God provide? Consider 2 Corinthians 9:6-8: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

But are you giving to his work sparingly or not at all?

Again, the New Testament doesn’t teach us that God wants us all to be rich or that we can have whatever we want in Jesus’s name if we just name it and claim it. But it does tell us that God will be with us and will bless things that we do for his glory. It may not be easy–iron chariots are nothing to sneeze at–but are we settling for less than God would give us if we stepped out of our comfort zone in faith and tried some things for his glory?

Judges 21, Jeremiah 35

Today’s readings are Judges 21 and Jeremiah 35.

This devotional is about Judges 21.

This chapter continues a brutal story that began in Judges 19. In that chapter, a Levite and his concubine were traveling home late at night. Although it would have been easier to reach one of the Gentile cities on their journey, they went to a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by families from the tribe of Benjamin. The text does not say so exactly but the expectation is that they would be safer in Gibeah because their brothers from another tribe would welcome and care for them.

That is not what happened, to put it mildly. Although one old man took the family into his home, the Benjaminites in Gibeah decided to impersonate the men of Sodom and demanded that the Levite be turned over to them to be abused sexually. The Levite handed over his concubine instead and they raped and killed her. The Levite took her dead body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one body part to each tribe in Israel. That was Judges 19.

In Judges 20 the leaders of Israel’s tribe responded to the Levite and demanded that the rest of the Benjamites hand over the men of Gibeah for some rough justice. The Benjamites refused and civil war began–11 tribes against Benjamin. After some initial success, the Benjamites were soundly defeated by the rest of Israel who killed many of them and burned every town they came across. The author of Judges was coy when he wrote that they “put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found.” The “everything else they found” was the women and children in these towns–a brutal overreaction that was similar in immorality to the way the concubine was killed in Judges 19 which stared this whole mess, but this brutality was done at a much larger scale.

Now, here in Judges 21, we read that those who turned out to fight then took an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites (v. 1). Then they realized what a stupid move that was. Since they killed all the women and children, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce so the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7). Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead showed up to fight, so they killed all the men and women of that town and handed over their virgin daughters to the Benjamites (vv. 7-14). That worked somewhat but didn’t provide enough women for all the Benjamites so they told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, since the girls were kidnaped, their fathers weren’t technically guilty of breaking their oath.

Verse 25 ends the book of Judges with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” What we are to conclude, then, from this awful story is that people need wise, godly leadership. When people do what seems right in their eyes, they do wretched things to each other, overreact in their attempts for justice, make wicked, rash vows, then rationalize immoral ways to solve the problems they have created. A wise leader, however, can save people from these wicked abuses.

Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of Israel and Judah did some wicked, unwise things themselves. However, they generally showed better leadership than what we read about in here in Judges. But the only king who can truly lead perfectly and judge wisely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. While we should seek wise solutions to our problems with each other and we should seek good, righteous leaders, we should never fall too much in love with any one leader because they will fail. The failure of leadership and government in this world should not surprise us but it should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will judge in righteousness. Let the bad decisions of leaders in this world and the foolish outcomes that men come up with lead you to pray, “Your kingdom come!” When God’s kingdom comes in the person of King Jesus, then human society will finally function and flourish like we want it to and God created it to.