REJECTION

The Lord told Samuel, “Listen to everything the people are saying to you. They haven’t rejected you; they’ve rejected me. They’re doing just what they’ve done since I took them out of Egypt—leaving me and serving other gods. Listen to them now, but be sure to warn them and tell them about the rights of a king.” [1 Samuel 8:7-9 (GW)]
hibiscus

Following Samson, the high priest Eli may have acted as a sort of judge. His sons, however, were scoundrel priests who treated God’s offering with contempt and slept with the women serving in the Tabernacle. When God’s judgment came down upon Eli and his sons, Samuel became the high priest and judge. While Samuel clearly was called by God to his role, his sons Joel and Abijah were not. Nevertheless, when Samuel grew old, he appointed his boys as judges. Like Eli’s sons, they were greedy rogues who took advantage of their position by accepting bribes and corrupting justice. Fed up with their wickedness, Israel’s elders met with Samuel. Wanting to be like the nations surrounding them and hoping to bring the tribes into a cohesive union, they demanded a king.

Rather than depend on God in time of crisis, Israel wanted to depend on human wisdom, power, and strength. Samuel cautioned them about all that came with a king: conscription of their sons and requisitioning of their crops along with demands for their daughters’ labor and a ten percent tax. Although amply warned by Samuel that they would beg for relief from the king they wanted, the people refused to listen. Allowing Israel to make choices (and learn from their consequences), God had Samuel appoint Saul as their king. Less than 120 years later, Samuel’s warning was fulfilled when they implored King Rehoboam for relief from excessive work and taxes; shortly thereafter, the kingdom divided.

Saul was exactly what the people wanted; he came from a wealthy and influential family, was tall and handsome, and even courageous. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a good leader or knowledgeable in spiritual matters. He had an inferiority complex and issues with impulse control, godly obedience, jealousy, and selfishness.

If I’d been in God’s position at this point in Israel’s history, I might have responded to them with an ultimatum of “it’s my way or the highway!” When they encountered difficulties with their plan, my cold response might have been, “You reap what you sow,” or “You wanted him, now you’re stuck with him!” I may have turned away from those who’d turned from me and stopped listening to those who’d stopped listening to what I had to say.

Fortunately for Israel (and us), I’m not God and that’s not how God responded. He never gave up on his people after their disobedience and rebellion in Eden, during the Exodus, or during the time of the judges and He didn’t this time either. After all, a promise is a promise and God promised the Israelites that He never would leave or forsake them! Samuel continued to serve the Israelites as their prophet, priest, and judge and David, a much better man than Saul, eventually became king. In spite of Israel’s continued failure to follow the Lord during the time of the kings, He gave them prophets like Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah who continued to speak God’s word to his people. He gave them John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Messiah and then He offered His only son, Jesus, as payment for our sins.

Mercifully, God doesn’t hold a grudge or respond in a snit when we ignore or disobey him. He didn’t abandon the Israelites and he won’t abandon us. When we reject Him, He doesn’t reject us; when we ignore Him, He doesn’t ignore us. When we take the wrong path, He continues to give us opportunities to turn back or offers new and better paths along the way.

Thank you, God, for never giving up on your rebellious children.

The Lord is compassionate, merciful, patient, and always ready to forgive. He will not always accuse us of wrong or be angry with us forever. He has not treated us as we deserve for our sins or paid us back for our wrongs. As high as the heavens are above the earth—that is how vast his mercy is toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west—that is how far he has removed our rebellious acts from himself. As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. [Psalm 103:8-13 (GW)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved

THE SAD STORY

After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. … In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. [Judges 2:10, 21:25 (NLT)]

tulipAs a history of Israel’s disobedience, idolatry, and moral depravity, Judges is one of the saddest books of the Bible; it also is one of the bloodiest and violent. After starting well with war against the pagan tribes of Canaan, it ends with civil war and Israelite killing Israelite. While some tribes obediently drove the pagan people from their land, others found it easier to tolerate sin than fully eradicate it. By the time of Gideon, altars to Baal and Asherah poles had been erected and people wanted to kill Gideon for destroying them. It only went from bad to worse after Samson. Micah sinfully set up a shrine for his idols, wrongly fashioned a priestly ephod, ordained his son into the priesthood, and then purchased the services of a Levite as his personal priest! After the Danites stole his idols, ephod, and Levite, they set up their own idolatrous shrine with the Levite as priest. Did no one remember God’s laws given to them by Moses that specifically covered priests, ephods, Levites, and the worship of idols?

As for violence—along with the carnage of battle, there’s a disembowelment, a tent peg hammered into a head, eyes getting gouged out, and a king’s thumbs and big toes get amputated to humiliate him. Thirty men are killed just to pay a gambling debt and a father’s foolish vow ends in the sacrifice of his daughter. After 300 foxes are set on fire in a vengeful act that destroys a town’s grain fields, vineyards, and olive groves, a father and daughter are burned to death as payback!

Instead of conquering the fertile land they’d been given, the Danites moved north, burned the peaceful city of Laish, and mercilessly killed its inhabitants. When the men of Gibeah raped and killed a Levite’s concubine, the Levite dismembered her body to summon the tribes of Israel. Then, after they nearly eradicate the entire tribe of Benjamin in retaliation for the concubine’s death, the men regret their actions. To right the wrong, they slaughter every man, woman, and child in Jabesh-gilead except for 400 virgins who are given to the surviving soldiers of Benjamin. Needing more virgins, another 200 young women were forcibly abducted from Shiloh. How did this happen? What happened to God’s law? How did Israel fall into such sin, violence, and mayhem?

Scripture tells us that one generation after Joshua’s death, the people forgot and, within one generation of the death of each judge, they forgot again! There was a reason God wanted his word passed on through the generations and a reason he commanded people to keep repeating the law to their children. Whether the command to put His words on hands, foreheads, and doorposts was literal or figurative, God wanted His word to be an inescapable part of His people’s lives and the lives of every generation that followed. Why? Because God’s Word means life!

When I look at the disobedience, idolatry, moral depravity, and violence in Judges, I can’t help but see parallels today. As my mother would say, it seems that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Indeed, it does! There’s a reason the world doesn’t seem much better in 2022 than during the 300 plus years of turmoil recounted in Judges. As they did nearly 3,400 years ago, people continue to do whatever seems right in their own eyes. We’ve allowed the full story of God’s redemption to be forgotten, disregarded, or never heard. The people of Israel didn’t need a king; they needed God. So do we! What are we going to do about it?

And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. [Deuteronomy 6:6-8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved

BLIND (Samson – Part 2)

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. [Ephesians 6:10 (NLT)]

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. [Philippians 4:13 (NLT)]

HibiscusWhile the Nazarites’ long hair was supposed to be a constant reminder of their commitment to God and a sign to others of their vow, I don’t think his hair was what gave Samson his strength. Three times Delilah asked Samson the source of his strength, three times he lied in his answer, and three times he woke to find himself incapacitated in the way he said he could be defeated. After being betrayed by Delilah three times, why would the man finally tell her the truth the fourth time she asked? He couldn’t possibly have been that foolish. Perhaps, his Philistine wife’s betrayal years earlier taught him a thing or two about deceit. When Samson finally told Delilah the source of his strength, could he have thought all four of his answers to be lies? Wanting to continue enjoying her favors in bed, he might have thought he’d given her an answer as outlandish as tying him with seven bowstrings or weaving his hair onto a loom. I’m not a Bible scholar but I suspect the boastful warrior thought that, in spite of having the long hair of a Nazarite, he alone was the true source of his strength.

What the proud man didn’t understand was that his strength wasn’t found in bulging muscles, six-pack abs, or even untrimmed hair—it was found in God. Samson didn’t lose his strength when he lost his hair. He lost his strength when he lost sight of God—when he decided his lustful desires were more important than his Nazirite vows. Nazarites’ hair was dedicated to God and their heads were shaved only when their vows came to an end. This was to be done publicly at the door of the tabernacle. Considered sacred, the hair was part of their offerings presented to the Lord and was to be burned with the peace offering. Because the hair was consecrated to the Lord, it was not be cast into any profane place—and there probably was no place more profane than the pagan Delilah’s bedroom. Samson’s strength didn’t leave him because his head was shaved. He lost his strength when he ended his Nazirite vows by choosing the pagan and treacherous Delilah over the God to whom he’d been dedicated.

Samson’s long hair was merely a symbol of his being set apart and it didn’t give him strength any more than wearing a cross or a clerical collar endows people with virtue or makes them Christian. Earlier in life, it wasn’t Samson’s hair that enabled him to break out of restraints and kill 1,000 Philistines with a bone—it was the Spirit of the Lord that had come upon him. Rather than thanking God, however, Samson proudly boasted of his personal triumph: “With the jawbone of a donkey, I’ve killed a thousand men!” After claiming the victory for himself, he complained to God about his thirst. When water gushed from a rock, rather than offering thanks to God, Samson called it “The Spring of the One Who Cried Out.” A better name would have been the “The Spring of the God Who Answers!”

Although Samson called to God to deliver him from thirst, he might have been wiser if he’d called to God to deliver him from temptation and desire. Sadly, there is no mention of Samson calling to God again until we find him blind, weak, and humiliated as he is paraded in front of the Philistine crowd in their temple. Thinking God’s purpose was to serve him rather than his purpose being to serve God, Samson was blind long before the Philistines gouged out his eyes. He’d been blind to the power of God throughout his life. As Craig Groeschel aptly said, “He lost sight of his blind spots, which ultimately cost him his sight.”

It was only when he was blind that Samson finally saw the real source of his strength and prayed, “O God, please strengthen me just one more time.” God heard his prayer and Samson killed more Philistines as he died than he ever did when he lived. Without God, no matter how good our eyesight, we are blind and, without Him, no matter how many hours we’ve spent at the gym, we will be weak. It is when we look to God that we see, when we admit our weakness that we become strong, and when we are humble that we can be great.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see. [John Newton]

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved

THE NAZIRITE (Samson – Part 1)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)]

great egretThe word Nazirite comes from the Hebrew words nazir, meaning to consecrate, and nazar, meaning to separate. By taking on the vows prescribed in Numbers 6:2-21, Nazirites separated themselves from the world and were consecrated to God. For the length of their vows, they abstained from wine or any fermented drink. They also were prohibited from eating, drinking, or touching anything coming from a grape vine such as grape juice, wine vinegar, raisins, grapes, and grape seeds, skins, and leaves. Their hair was not to be cut during the entire length of the vow and the Nazirite was prohibited from becoming ceremonially unclean by being anywhere near a dead body. Both men and women could take the Nazirite vow and, at its conclusion, their hair was shaved and special offerings were made to the Lord. Typically, the vow was taken voluntarily and had a specific time frame, usually thirty days. For three men in Scripture, however, becoming a life-long Nazirite was decided for them. Angels of the Lord determined that both Samson and John the Baptist were to be Nazirites and it was Samuel’s mother who dedicated him a Nazirite.

Perhaps it was because it wasn’t his choice to become a Nazirite that Samson seemed particularly flawed in his role. While his hair remained uncut until that unfortunate night with Delilah, he certainly didn’t remain set apart from society or consecrated to God. He deliberately defied both Jewish law and his parents by marrying a Philistine woman and, later in life, he continued to consort with Philistine women of questionable morality. Samson’s first wife finagled the answer to his riddle with a combination of feminine wiles and nagging. More than twenty years later, the enticing Delilah managed to do the same thing. But, because of his lust and braggadocio, the man who could kill a lion with his bare hands and slay thousands of Philistines, was putty in the hands of a sexy nagging woman.

As for being ceremonially unclean—after killing thirty men, Samson stripped them of their clothing to pay off a gambling debt and, after killing a lion, he later returned to its carcass. Finding a bee hive in the animal’s remains, he scooped out handfuls of honey. As a Nazirite, he never should have touched the dead men or returned to the dead animal or reached inside its decaying body. The lion had attacked him near the vineyards of Timnah but, as a Nazirite, he never should have been anywhere near a vineyard. Later, during his week-long nuptial celebration, in a move that that seems suspiciously like the sort of thing a young man would do after having too much to drink, Samson asked a riddle and bet thirty Philistine men that they couldn’t answer it. The prohibition about grapes and wine was supposed to show self-discipline and restraint but most of Samson’s behavior speaks of hotheadedness, pride, entitlement, lust, and self-indulgence rather than consecration to the Lord, ritual purity, or self-control.

Although Samson’s story is told in three chapters of Judges, his twenty years as a judge are dismissed with one short sentence. The mighty warrior—the man dedicated to God while still in the womb and selected by God to deliver His people—ended up blind and grinding grain in prison. He squandered his strength on foolish wagers, getting out of scrapes that were his own fault, and chasing after pagan women. He was a lustful braggart who was physically strong but morally weak. Granted, in his last act, he killed thousands of Philistines by destroying their temple but consider what this man could have accomplished if he truly had consecrated his life to God!

Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee. … Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee. [Francis R. Havergal]

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved

DEBORAH 

One day she sent for Barak son of Abinoam, who lived in Kedesh in the land of Naphtali. She said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: Call out 10,000 warriors from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor. And I will call out Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army, along with his chariots and warriors, to the Kishon River. There I will give you victory over him.” [Judges 4:6-7 (NLT)]

rainbowSince the judges usually were military leaders, it’s not surprising that only one of the twelve, was female: Deborah. Normally, the culture of the day wouldn’t support a woman in this role. Judges were called to save Israel from their enemies and to restore peace and prosperity. They did it by driving out or annihilating Israel’s oppressors—not considered women’s work in 1150 BC. Nevertheless, God designated the prophet Deborah as Israel’s judge. At the risk of sounding sexist, it could be that God appointed a woman as the judge because there were no qualified men at the time!

Deborah served during the time Canaanite King Jabin oppressed Israel. After summoning Barak, she revealed God’s plan—promising victory, God commanded him to gather an army of 10,000 men and go to war. Even though Barak was assured of success, the warrior’s reluctance is understandable. Israel was nearly weaponless at the time. Either they lacked the technology to make weapons or had been required to turn in their weapons to their Philistine and Canaanite oppressors. The Canaanites, however, had 900 chariots (the superweapons of their time) at their disposal! The odds were against Israel!

Barak accepted God’s call on one condition—that Deborah join him! Deborah was a wife, prophet, and judge but she wasn’t a warrior; nevertheless, Barak wanted this woman at his side. Perhaps he trusted Deborah’s relationship with God more than he trusted his! After agreeing to go to battle, Deborah warned Barak that, if she did go, he would not be the battle’s hero—that honor would belong to a woman.

As Deborah prophesized, Barak’s troops were victorious. They killed every Canaanite warrior save one—the army’s commander, Sisera. And, as Deborah predicted, the honor for the battle’s victory went to a woman—but not to Deborah. While both Deborah and Barak are mentioned in the victory song, the honor went to Jael. The wife of Heber the Kenite, Jael sized up the situation when the fleeing Sisera arrived in her campsite. After welcoming him into her tent, she fed him and covered him with a blanket. Then, in what can only be called a serious breach of hospitality, Jael hammered a tent peg through Sisera’s skull after the exhausted man fell asleep!

Deborah’s story closes with a beautiful song of victory attributed to her. Believed to be some of the oldest poetry in the Bible, it is a beautiful narrative of the battle. When God caused a storm, the heavy rain caused the river to rise and the Canaanites’ chariots became stuck in the mud. The panicked troops were sitting ducks when Israel’s army descended upon them. The song pays tribute to all of the people and tribes who fought (and berates those who didn’t). As Jael’s part is recounted, she is called the “most blessed among women” and a prayer is offered that Jael “be blessed above all women who live in tents.” Deborah’s song, however, really wasn’t about giving Jael the honor of victory. That honor was given to God. Deborah gave credit where credit was due as she celebrated God’s righteous act in bringing the power of the heavens against their enemies!

When Barak insisted that Deborah come to battle with him, he seemed to forget that she was not the one guaranteeing victory; that guarantee came from God. The question before Barak wasn’t one of Israel’s success or defeat in battle. The question of victory was answered the moment God promised it. The question before Barak was simply whether or not He would believe God enough to claim that victory! He almost didn’t! May we remember to claim the victories that God promises to us!

So on that day Israel saw God defeat Jabin, the Canaanite king. And from that time on Israel became stronger and stronger against King Jabin until they finally destroyed him. [Judges 4:23-24 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved

THE JUDGES

In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. [Judges 17:6

red shouldered hawkWhen the book of Judges opens, Joshua is dead after leading Israel’s united force to military victory as they entered Canaan. The land has been divided among the twelve tribes and it became each tribe’s responsibility to clear any remaining enemies from their territory, which they failed to do. No longer a unified people, Israel lost its way spiritually and began to take on the pagan practices of Canaan. After the optimism in the book of Joshua, Judges is filled with immorality, political division, and spiritual decline. Angry at Israel’s apostasy, God turned His people over to their enemies and, when they went to battle, He fought against them.

Eventually, Israel’s suffering would be so great that the people would cry out and turn from their evil ways and idolatry back to the Lord. When Israel called out, God heard their cries. He would designate a judge and empower the person to deliver the people from their enemies. The book of Judges names twelve judges: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson.

Although they occasionally settled civil disputes, the judges’ main purpose was to serve as political and military commanders who would lead an army against their enemies. Like a judge, they executed judgment, condemned, and punished but the justice they meted out was to their pagan oppressors. After their victory, a period of obedience and peace would follow during the judge’s lifetime. Sadly, it never lasted and, eventually, the nation would fall back into its sinful ways. When the people repented, God would call up another judge and another cycle of regeneration and degeneration would begin.

Following Samson’s death, the people again returned to their old sinful ways and the last chapters of Judges are filled with horrific stories of idolatry, sexual perversion, lawlessness, civil war, and senseless slaughter. That downward spiral continued in 1 Samuel where we find four others referred to as judging Israel: Eli, Samuel, and Samuel’s two sons. These judges, however, were more like civil magistrates than military leaders. Although previous judges had been called by God, Samuel erred by appointing his corrupt sons as judges. Fed up with their wickedness and wanting to be like the nations surrounding them, Israel demanded a king and God gave them what they wanted.

While Judges clearly reveals that, without a leader, people will go astray, the books of Kings and Chronicles show us that having an earthly king isn’t any better. From the time of the judges through the period of the kings, we see a cycle of rebellion, retribution, repentance, and restoration. What Israel never seemed to understand was that they didn’t need a judge or a king to deliver them from foreign oppressors—what they needed was a Messiah to deliver them from their sins!

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. [Isaiah 9:1-2 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.