Thursday, August 28, 2008

1 Samuel 12 -- Samuel's Farewell Address

LINK: 1 Samuel 12

The people of Israel have insisted that they get a king, so this chapter is a farewell address of sorts from Samuel. He will continue as a prophet and priest in Israel, but he is relinquishing to Saul his role of leadership over the tribes.

In this address, he reminded the people of his honesty and integrity as he served the Lord as leader of Israel (vs. 1-5). He recounted God's righteous dealings with Israel over the years (vs. 6-12). He presented them with their king (vs. 13). He admonished them to fear the Lord and serve him (vs. 14-15). He asked God to show them a sign (vs. 16-18), and the people were greatly afraid when God did (vs. 19). Samuel assured them that God will not abandon them as long as they fear and serve the Lord, but destruction will come if they don't (vs. 20-25).

In verse 20, Samuel said, "Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart." Even though I sin and mess things up, God gives second chances. The key is what is in my heart. If I come to him in humility and confess my sin, he forgives me. And he can even take the situation I've created with my sin and use it for his glory! Isn't God amazing!!!

One verse jumped out at me for application in this chapter. In verse 23, Samuel said, ". . . far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way." As a priest, it was Samuel's responsibility to pray for the people of Israel. He would continue in this role and will keep praying for Israel. He will also continue his role as prophet, giving instruction from God. In the New Testament epistles, Paul frequently tells his readers that he is praying for them and often tells them specifically why he thanks God for them and what he is praying that God will do in and through them. Paul also asks his readers to pray for him with specific requests. As a believer, it is my responsibility to pray for others, but this kind of intercessory prayer is often lacking in my own life. So, I am convicted here to be praying more specifically for others and to tell them that I am praying for them, as well as to be more willing to ask others to pray for me.

Lord, you are the source of our strength and the one who can bring change in our hearts and lives. Help me to be more humble and ask for prayer and to pray for others more consistently. You have so graciously given me access to you through prayer; let me boldly approach your throne of grace to make requests to you. Amen

Monday, August 25, 2008

Psalm 45 - Love Song for a King!



Composed as a wedding song for a king of Israel, either David or Solomon, Psalm 45 also celebrates the Messiah’s union with His bride. So as with many of the psalms there is a double layer of meaning: the actual historical happening that it marks and the insights and truths it reveals about the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is a love song. But it isn’t only a love song. Its title also identifies it as a maskil or teaching psalm. So we can learn something from it. Psalm 45 quite obviously points to a future king and a kingdom that is eternal. But just so we know for sure, it is also quoted in Hebrews 1: 8 -9 about God the Son, the Lord Jesus.


This psalm is about a groom and his bride. We, the universal and invisible church, are the bride. Our groom is King Jesus. Someday we will have our wedding banquet!

What characterizes the groom?

He speaks with grace. He is powerful and strong - splendid! He does victorious battle for truth, humility, and righteousness. His eternal kingdom is ruled in justice. He carries his sword with him – his Word.

His arrows pierce the hearts of his enemies. His arrows of love and grace and mercy?

He loves righteousness and hates wickedness.

He has great joy on his wedding day!

What about the bride? How does she try to please her bridgroom?

She forgets her past and her people – what formerly gave her security and comfort.

She honors her bridegroom, her lord.

She waits, beautifully clothed, for her bridegroom and king.

She will enter the palace of her king with joy and gladness.


This psalm is full of hope and joy and expectancy. Sometimes I get bogged down in the past and forget the joy that is set before me. What bride does that? This psalm is a glimpse of the joy we will experience when we see our Bridegroom!

Meditate on this psalm today and rejoice in your King and Bridegroom!


We wait for you, Lord, clothed in your beautiful clothes of righteousness. Thank-you for being the Almighty King of truth, humility, and grace.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

1 Samuel 9

LINK:1 Samuel 9

Chapter 9 is a lead-in to Chapter 10, where Samuel anoints Israel's very first king--an unknown (but physically impressive) young man named Saul from the small tribe of Benjamin. The chapter begins by introducing Saul and telling how his father sends him with a servant on an errand to find some lost donkeys (and some people think God doesn't have a sense of humor--what a perfect picture of Saul's future job as king of rebellious, willful Israel!). Saul searches far and wide with no luck. Finally the servant suggests they go and ask the "man of God" for some help. This man of God turns out to be Samuel, whom God has previously given a heads-up to be on the lookout for the man God has chosen to be king. When Saul appears, the Lord tells Samuel, "This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people." Samuel greets Saul and invites him to supper as the honored guest for whom the meal has been prepared. They spend the evening chatting, and when Saul is ready to leave the next morning, Samuel tells him that he has a message from God. To find out what the message is, you have to keep reading on into Chapter 10.:-)

I can imagine that Saul was quite surprised and bemused by Samuel's attention. What Saul thought was a simple chore of finding his father's wandering donkeys all of a sudden became a party in his honor. Furthermore, Saul knew his family, his tribe, and himself were of no special importance, so why would Samuel say that the "desire of Israel" was turned toward him? Saul is not yet aware that none of this is an accident or coincidence or mistake; it's God at work. Even though the Lord realizes that this change to a monarchy will spell disaster for Israel, he gives them what they ask for, but even in their rebellion he is watching over them and guiding them and providing them with what will ultimately be for their best good. It's noteworthy that God chooses his king from among Israel's humblest tribe; this "raising of the poor" (1 Sam. 2:8) is a theme running throughout the book.

I find this chapter comforting, in sort of an uncomfortable way. Like Israel, so often I try to take matters into my own hands. Like Saul, so often I am simply clueless. And yet, whether I think I've got it covered or am completely confused, God still works. There is no circumstance of my making or situation I stumble into that is outside his care and concern: God leads and preserves his people. Whether they know it or not, whether they want it or not, he still acts on their behalf.

Heavenly Father, thank you that your care and concern extend beyond me; you direct all things according to your good purposes. You don't return evil for evil, but shower me with your grace and mercy and good gifts even when I turn away from you. Thank you so much that you send Jesus after this wandering donkey and bring me back to your tender loving arms. Amen.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

1 Samuel 7 & 8

LINK:1 Samuel 7-8

Chapter 7 is an "up" in the up-and-down cycle of Israel's devotion to the Lord. The episode with the loss and return of the ark seems to have inspired in the Israelites a resurgence of concern for their relationship with the Lord. A contributing factor might also have been that they were desperate to get the Philistines off their backs, but in any case, they "mourned and sought after the Lord" (verse2) and confessed, "We have sinned against the Lord," (verse 6) and God allowed Samuel to lead them to victory over the Philistines. That peace lasted throughout Samuel's lifetime as he served as judge over Israel.

Chapter 7 reads like a "same song, different verse" installment in the history of Israel, another summarization of a small portion of the good judge/bad judge, peace/war, faithfulness/unfaithfulness cycle so often repeated up to this point. Chapter 8 continues the theme when Samuel grows old and passes the baton on to his sons, who line up in the "bad" column with Eli's sons. At that point, the people of Israel have apparently had enough of this cycle and ask for a change. They want "...a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have" (verse 5). The people may have seen this as an admirable solution to their problem of finding reliably good judges, but Samuel and the Lord know there's more to it than that.

The Lord tells Samuel, "It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king." This was not a tiny little change in mode of government, it was a rejection of God as king. In a "you reap what you sow" response, God tells Samuel to allow them their king but to warn them that having a king would cost them dearly, not only in taxes and service, but also because he would not bail them out this time. Samuel warns the people, " will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day." Their answer, in effect, was, "We don't care. We'd rather have a king to fight our battles and to be like the other nations than to be led and rescued by God."

The Israelites made a bad deal here. What they wanted, I think, was a strong visible leader who would deliver the security and prosperity they hoped for. They were tired of having to trust in a God they couldn't see or understand or control and who wouldn't behave as they saw fit. They preferred to take their chances with a human. Maybe they were impressed with the leaders of their enemies. Maybe the ancient world had its own version of "star power" politics, and the Israelites were looking for change and someone to put their hope in. Probably they thought they could have it all--they could stay on God's good side AND gain the benefits of an earthly king. Maybe they thought having a good, honorable, moral leader with good ideas and a strong army would be the best way to secure God's blessings. They apparently didn't realize that they were replacing God, even when Samuel laid it on the line for them. But the fact of the matter was: they were replacing God.

It will be interesting to watch how God responds to this rejection. Stay tuned!

How have I replaced God? With what have I replaced him? What do I put my hope in that isn't God? How does a desire to be "like the other nations" affect my choices and feelings and priorities?

Lord God, forgive us for choosing to be ruled by things other than you. Open our eyes to your compassionate, generous, righteous leadership and teach us to be content to follow you. Amen.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I Samuel 5-6



An idol that mysteriously falls down before the ark of God during the night, not once but twice …

Golden tumors and golden rats …

Milk cows, never yoked before, leaving their calves and unwillingly but unerringly carrying their burden of the ark back to Israel …

When I was a little girl my mom had Bible clubs in our home and this story, the one about the idol Dagon falling in front of the ark of God, is one of the ones I remember best. I’m not sure why – it just struck me. I can still imagine the flannel graph figure of Dagon set up with the one of the ark and how it would go face first onto the floor, not once, but twice! It struck my sense of humor or something. And then I could picture the cows, separated from their calves and lowing all the way, unwillingly sent on their way to Israel pulling the ark on a cart.

A couple of points before I reflect on the passage:

The ark was where the presence of God resided – a HOLY PLACE FOR A HOLY GOD. Where was it supposed to stay?

The Israelites, as Katrina pointed out yesterday, treated it as a kind of lucky charm, by taking it into battle when they had been told to keep the ark behind the veil in the most holy place in the Tabernacle (Exodus 26: 33). Then when the men of Beth Shemesh opened the ark to look inside in curiosity – something even the Philistines didn’t do - they were again treating God’s presence casually. God reminded them swiftly and forcefully that He is not to be treated casually. He is the Holy and Almighty God.

Every commentary I’ve read questions the translation of number of people who died at Beth Shemesh (6:19). There just weren’t that many people who lived in that region, for one thing. There is some disagreement on exactly what the Hebrew means – whether it’s talking about people only or people and livestock, but they all agree the number of people killed for looking into the ark was much less than 50, probably between 70 and 1400, depending on how the Hebrew is translated.


God went to great extremes here to make sure that the ark wasn’t treated like an idol or another talisman or something. He made sure the Philistines understood that they couldn’t claim God as one of their gods. He’s not just one among many.

And He made it clear to the Israelites that He is holy, something that they had forgotten.

The question the people of Beth Shemesh ask at the end of chapter 6 is a good one, “Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God?” Not one of us, in and of ourselves, can stand before the holy LORD. And like the Israelites, we forget that.

Jesus split that veil dividing Holy God from us. We can come directly into the presence of God through Him. Not because we deserve it, not because we earn it, but because Jesus gave his life.


Have you found yourself being casual about God’s holiness?

Do you treat God like a talisman or good luck charm, something to pull out to fulfill your desires or needs?

Does God exist for you or do you exist for Him?


You are holy, LORD, and truly not one of us can stand before you apart from Jesus Christ. Thank-you for coming in the flesh, for dying and splitting the dividing veil, so that we can be intimate with You in Your holiness, so that You can live IN us!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

1 Samuel 3-4

LINK: 1 Samuel 3-4


Chapter 3
God has been mostly silent in Israel at this time. It is still the time of the judges, and Israel is drifting through its cycles of disobedience and redemption. This is the first time Samuel ever heard the voice of the Lord, but it certainly won't be the last. He didn't understand who was calling him at first, but Eli figured out it must be God and instructed Samuel to listen. The message God gave to Eli through Samuel was a difficult one, but Samuel gave a faithful account of God's message and Eli accepted it as God's will. Now the people of Israel knew that God was still there because they heard about Samuel's encounter with God.

Chapter 4
The ark of the covenant symbolized God's presence and power in Israel. But the Israelites took God's presence lightly and came to regard the ark of the covenant as a superstitious object. They used it like a good luck charm and carried it into battle against the Philistines. God was not with them, however, and they were defeated. The Philistines recognized the ark as powerful and feared it before the battle but were later able to capture it. Eli's sons died in the battle, and when Eli heard the news, he fell over and broke his neck so that he died as well. His daughter-in-law went into labor when she heard the news of their deaths, and then she died in childbirth. Before she died, she named her son Ichabod, which means "no glory," because the ark of God had been taken.

Word from the Lord was rare in those days so Israel wasn't hearing much from God. In contrast, as believers we have God's word and the Holy Spirit to communicate to us continually. We never have to experience the same kind of lapse in communication. That's not to say that we don't always do our part to keep up the communication, but God is always there. And the loss of an object does not remove God from us.

We also have full access to God. Hebrews 4:16 says, "Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need."

There's a contrast here between Eli and Samuel. On chapter 2, God rebuked Eli because he was allowing his sons to despise the offering of the Lord. Eli talked to his sons about it, but didn't act on it by removing them from service. God saw Eli's response as honoring his sons above God, and in chapter 4 God removed the family from service. In contrast, God has placed Samuel (a descendant of Ephraim, not Levi) into service. Samuel will come to have great respect for the sacrifices of the Lord and will honor God above men. I want to be like Samuel when he said to God, " Speak, for Thy servant is listening." And I want to truly listen to God, to obey and honor him above all others.

Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

1 Samuel 2

LINK:1 Samuel 2

There are two distinct parts to Chapter 2 of 1 Samuel. First, there is Hannah’s prayer, which gives a wonderful description of God. Second, we read about the sons in two different families—Hannah’s and Eli’s.

After Hannah brought Samuel to learn and serve God with Eli, she shows her praise and thanksgiving to God in a prayer that clearly reveals his work and ways. “There is no one holy like the Lord,” she says. Because he “is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed” she warns against pride and arrogance. She acknowledges his sovereignty (he brings death and makes alive; he raises the poor from the dust; the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s) and notes that he often works in strange ways and goes against natural expectations, which she herself experienced as a barren woman who amazingly bore a child. (Watch for more examples of surprising reversals throughout the Old Testament.) Her prayer is also prophetic, speaking of the strength and victory God gives “his king” and “his anointed” before Israel ever had a king. (Note: in the Greek of the New Testament, the Hebrew term here used for king and anointed is translated “Christos” from which comes the English word “Christ.” Does anyone see a scarlet thread here?) Hannah paints a picture of God’s character and activity.

With that picture as the background, the rest of the chapter adds people to the canvas. We get to see how two different families live in the context of a holy, powerful, active, surprising God, whether their lives are consistent with that truth, or whether they are living at cross purposes to reality.

Eli’s sons were priests. They were supposed to act as go-betweens in the God/man relationship, to help keep the people focused on serving God and to instruct them in God’s ways. One hopes that the heart of a priest will be true, honest, compassionate, and most of all, filled with reverence and love for God. Eli’s sons had other priorities, though, Verse 12 says, “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord.” They weren’t satisfied with God’s provision and unlawfully took more and different meat than they were allotted, which was a definite snub to God. According to verse 17, they were “treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.” As if that weren’t bad enough, they were sleeping with the gals who served at the Tent of Meeting and paid no attention to their father when he tried to tell them to cool it. Obviously, they wanted to do what they wanted to do and weren’t going to let anybody tell them they couldn’t. God didn’t figure into their lives much at all.

The contrast is Hannah’s family. Samuel continued to minister before the Lord as a young boy, and each year his parents reaffirmed their decision to “give him to the Lord.” Verse 21: And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Verse 26: And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men. This family behaves as if the God described in Hannah’s prayer is real; they revere him, they serve him, they don’t blow him off as if he’s nothing, they don’t live their lives by their own priorities. They lived at peace with God, and they enjoyed his favor.

Eli’s sons were not at peace with God. They totally blew him off and acted like he didn’t exist or didn’t care that they abused their positions or was too weak to do anything about it. They lived as enemies of God, in rebellion against him. The result is announced to Eli: …the Lord declares “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained…I will cut short your strength…your sons will both die.” The family of Eli will not thrive in a world that belongs to God.

This world is God’s. He created it; he designed the way it would work best; he set in motion the laws (physical, spiritual, behavioral) that would govern it and preserve it. He himself is the life-giving force that allows this world to thrive. He is its health. This chapter illustrates what happens in the lives of two families, one which is happy to let God be God, and one which doesn’t. The one grows strong and healthy; the other withers and dies.

This chapter leads me to self-examination. In what ways am I living at cross purposes to the reality of God? How am I blowing him off? Where am I despising his provision for me or indulging myself wrongfully? In what ways am I disregarding God? And self-examination leads to repentance, which I believe is the foundational work of the Christian life. And repentance leads to Christ, and Christ to forgiveness, and forgiveness to peace with God. Hallelujah!

Let’s pray with Hannah:
My heart rejoices in the Lord;
In the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
For I delight in your deliverance.
There is no one holy like the Lord;
There is no one besides you;
There is no Rock like our God.

Rock, on, God! Amen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

1 Samuel 1

LINK:1 Samuel 1
BACKGROUND: Judges ends, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” Beginning in 1 Samuel, one part of that statement changes as God allows the Israelites to incorporate a monarchy into their covenantal relationship with him. The priest Samuel is instrumental in negotiating this transition, similar to the role Moses played earlier in Israel’s history.

1 Samuel begins with a normal, everyday family living in the time of the Judges. In what apparently was a common occurrence, a childless woman endured years of sorrow, longing, and ridicule by her husband’s fertile second wife. In spite of loving treatment by her husband, Hannah didn’t join in the feasting and rejoicing when the family went up to Shiloh each year to worship the Lord. Instead, she wept because of her barrenness.

One year, as she prayed fervently in the tabernacle for a son and made a vow to dedicate that son to the Lord, the priest Eli saw her and thought she was drunk. She assured him she was not but had been pouring out her soul to the Lord. Eli then blessed her and joined his prayer to hers by saying, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him,” This comforted Hannah, and when she returned home with her husband, she became pregnant and gave birth to Samuel, whose name means “heard of God.”

Later, after Samuel was weaned, Hannah kept her vow and brought her son to Eli to be trained in service to the Lord. Hannah said, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”

REFLECTION: There are many similarities here to Samson’s birth: two families living while Israel wandered from God, two barren women, two surprise births, two sons upon which “no razor will ever be used,” two children marked for special service and dedication to the Lord. These similarities highlight a frequently-repeated pattern in Israel’s history: God blesses the Israelites, but they eventually fall away and become rebellious. Soon God allows trouble to find them, and in their misery they cry out to God (or maybe don’t even have the sense to cry out to him), who then rescues them, thus beginning the rescue/falling away/rescue cycle that typifies Israel’s relationship to God. Both Samuel and Samson are on God’s “Rescue Squad” and are used by him to help and bless the Israelites.

There are differences between Samuel’s story and Samson’s, though, especially later in their lives when Samson was pretty much a jerk while Samuel was much more faithful and teachable. That’s kind of like God’s people now—we, like Samson and Samuel, are “set aside” (sanctified) for God’s purposes. We’re his people; the church of Christ is today’s Israel. We’re stewards and conduits of God’s message of salvation, just like Samson and Samuel were. We can be wayward, sensual, and cavalier like Samson or we can by loyal, listening, and bold like Samuel will show himself to be in coming chapters. Sometimes I’m a little of each at the same time. And if the story were primarily about people, we could talk about how important it is to be more like Samuel than like Samson, but since the big story is God, let’s talk about him—how he is always the same, always the rescuer, always faithful, always finding a way to work in the lives of his people whether those people are strong, weak, healthy, sick, rich, poor, aware, or unaware. God called Samson to save his people from the Philistines. God called Samuel to lead his people through a tough time of transition to a monarchy. But the ultimate call of God and work of God fell on the shoulders of his only son, Jesus, who once and for all defeated the sin that so easily entangles us and pulls us away from our Lord. The temporary blessings given to Israel through Samson and Samuel were made permanent for us by Jesus. In the same way that God “remembered” Hannah and granted her most treasured wish, God remembers us and grants us our greatest need—to be in fellowship with him.

APPLICATION: Look at Hannah’s responses:
V. 18 & 19—she went her way…and her face was no longer downcast….they arose and worshiped before the Lord.
V. 28—“So now I give him to the Lord.”

What better application can there be than that? Rejoice, worship, and in thanksgiving return to the Lord what is his anyway—ourselves and everything he has given us.

PRAYER: Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lord, that you are faithful to rescue us.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Psalm 44: When God Seems to Sleep



Do you ever wonder where God is, why He’s not answering your prayers, why He doesn’t help?

Guess what? That’s exactly what this psalm is about. This unknown psalmist begins his song with remembering that God has helped in the past – that it wasn’t the strategies or weapons that were used that enabled the Israelites to have victory. He remembers the stories he’s been told; he even remembers his own past; he realizes that God is the one who won the land of Canaan for them, who gave them victory over their enemies. God helped them because He loved them. God’s help resulted in praise to Him.

So often we want to stop there, with the victory. That’s what we hear about. So I’m glad that God included this psalm in His Word. The psalmist wonders what’s happened. He still trusts God; he and his people continue to follow the Lord. But they’re not being given victory now. They are being humbled by the enemy; people look at them with scorn and derision; they are taunted and made fun of.

The psalm ends with another plea to God for help – a plea from a hurting and helpless heart.


Lessons from this psalm:

1. There will be times when it seems to those of us who belong to God and follow Him, that God is sleeping and doesn’t know or care what is happening. That’s what the psalmist wonders here. As I reflected on this psalm, I thought of the time when the disciples were with Jesus in the boat on the lake and a storm came up (Mark 4:36-41) and the boat got swamped. That incident pretty much echoes this psalm. Jesus was sleeping then! The disciples got scared and worried and woke Jesus up. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus calmed the storm and then asked the disciples his own question, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Jesus let them experience some of the storm; He didn’t operate on their timetable.

2. It helps to remember the times God has helped, to note the times He has intervened and answered prayer. Remembering reminds us that God is the one who gives victory. It’s not because we’re strong or because we have certain talents or gifts or do things a certain way that we succeed. It is because of the LORD. Remembering also helps us trust that if He isn’t helping right now, there’s a reason, because He is able to help and He has helped in the past.

3. Keep praying!! Keep trusting. Even in the dark places, even in the storms, God is with us. He doesn’t tell us why there are times when He seems to be sleeping. Perhaps it is to build our faith (not fun, I know!). Perhaps it is so that we KNOW, when the help comes, that it is from Him and not because we figured out some strategy or used some tool that worked. Perhaps there is some other reason. We’re not God and may never know the reason for His silence. I love the last verse of this psalm. “Rise up and help us;/ redeem us because of your unfailing love.” The psalmist clings to God’s love. He appeals to God because of God’s nature, not because the psalmist or his people deserve anything.


We live in a world that is pretty instant. We can communicate across the world in a moment. Politicians try to speak in sound bites. If I go to a fast food restaurant, I get impatient if I have to stand and wait for five minutes to get my meal. Somehow, though, I don’t think God is interested in performing instantly. He has His own timetable and His own purpose and He is working it out in each of us and in history. Sometimes He may give a quick and decisive answer; He may intervene immediately and help. Other times, though, He waits and is silent. It’s so easy to wonder if He’s sleeping or if He cares.

I think that’s one reason for reading the Old Testament. We sometimes think of the LORD as a kind of vending machine: If I put in the right change (trust and obedience), then God will give me what I ask for when I want it. But God is so much more than that. As I have read the Old Testament this time while also doing the entries on the Psalms, I have been overwhelmed by how the stories illustrate what the psalms are saying. I look at Manoah and his wife, Samson’s parents, and I see how they trusted God and obeyed Him in raising Samson and I wonder what they thought when their son, the son specially sent by God, strayed from Him. Don’t you think they probably wondered what was going on and experienced anguish? And Naomi, who for years didn’t see God actively involved, who had to leave her home to find food and whose husband and sons died, she herself thought she should be named, Mara, or “bitter.” It’s easy to read the stories and gloss over the hard times to the times when God actively intervenes.

So I guess I’m asking those of you still reading along, to read the stories and put yourself in the places of those in them. What would you be thinking if you were Naomi? How would you have reacted if you’d been the mother of Samson?

When God does answer a prayer or intervene or help in some visible way – note it!! Write it down. Mark it in your memory. Talk about it! It will encourage you and your children and friends at some time in the future.

If you’re going through a very difficult time right now and it seems that God just doesn’t care or isn’t involved, think of the disciples in the boat in the storm with a sleeping Jesus. He was there. He, even asleep, was in control. He has reasons we may never know for acting as He does. But we can cling to the sure knowledge of His love, demonstrated in the greatest act of redemption ever – His death for us. Read Romans 8: 31-39 and keep on trusting and praying.


Father, thank you for your visible help to us in the past. Keep us from fear and enable us to have faith in you even when stormy circumstances rock our lives and it seems to us that You don’t know or care. Thank-you for becoming flesh and being obedient to death to show us that no matter what it may seem like – NOTHING can separate us from Your love.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ruth 3 & 4


In chapter three, Naomi sets things in motion! She realizes that Boaz is a close enough relative to act as their kinsman-redeemer. She instructs Ruth how to present herself as an offer of marriage – she was to make herself attractive by washing, anointing and dressing herself in her best clothes. Then she was to go secretly to Boaz’s threshing floor and as he was sleeping, uncover his feet and lie down and wait. Ruth follows Naomi’s instructions and when Boaz discovers Ruth, he understands what she is asking. He praises her merits and reveals his desire to redeem her but tells her that there is a closer relative with rights to redeem. He promises to settle the matter the next day.

Chapter four begins with Boaz, indeed seeking out the closer relative. The closer relative is all ready to redeem the land of Elimelech until Boaz reveals that marrying Ruth is part of the deal. The closer relative is no longer willing to be the kinsman-redeemer because it will jeopardize his own inheritance. He transfers the right to Boaz and Boaz takes Ruth as his wife. We are finally introduced to the fourth main character of story, Obed – the son of Ruth and Boaz who will get the inheritance of Elimelech. The story ends with Obed on the lap of Naomi, who is now full again. A brief genealogy is given at the end and it is revealed that this Obed is the grandfather of King David. (Note on Ruth 4:21 – Matthew 1:5 reveals Salmon’s wife is Rahab.)


The role of the Kinsman-Redeemer is a major theme in the book of Ruth. From our reading and study of the books of Moses, we know that God is Israel’s Redeemer –specifically from their bondage in Egypt. In the Law, a family member could serve as a redeemer for one sold into slavery (Leviticus 25:47-55). In the New Testament, Jesus came to redeem mankind from the bondage of sin. It is interesting to see the parallels between the Kinsman-Redeemer Boaz in Ruth and the Kinsman-Redeemer Jesus Christ in the New Testament. For example look at the four requirements of a redeemer:
1. A redeemer must be a near kinsman – Boaz was. Christ fulfilled this by taking on human form. 2. The redeemer must be able to redeem – Boaz was a wealthy landowner. The blood of Christ was the only thing that could pay man’s debt.
3. The redeemer must be willing to redeem – Boaz is contrasted with the closer relative. Christ was willing to be our redeemer (Hebrews 10:4-10).
4. The redeemer must not need redemption himself – Boaz was free from debt. Only Christ was free from the debt of sin and therefore able to redeem mankind.

Boaz’s willingness to redeem Naomi and Ruth gave them freedom and rest. In the same way, Christ’s redemption of us brings us freedom and rest. Remember how bitter and empty Naomi was at the beginning of the story? Her redemption brought her happiness and fullness. In the same way, our bitterness and emptiness are restored in Christ.

Obed is also a picture of Christ in the book of Ruth. Five things said of him are also said of Jesus!
Redeemer (Obed – Ruth 4:14; Jesus – Gal. 3:13)
Restorer of Life (Obed – Ruth 4:15; Jesus – John 11:25)
Sustainer (Obed – Ruth 4:15; Jesus – John 4:14)
Name Famous (Obed – Ruth 4:14; Jesus – Phil. 2:9)
Servant (Obed’s name means servant – Ruth 4:17; Jesus – Matt. 20:28)


In the book of Ruth, we see God working in the affairs of man in order to carry out His divine purpose. Can you think of a time in your life where you saw God working in the same way?

One thing that really strikes me about Boaz is his driven personality. It is the middle of the harvest season and yet he stops everything to resolve the redemption of Naomi and Ruth. It sounds like the closer relative was either clueless or ambivalent about his role, so Boaz’s urgency had to be because of his own integrity and desire to marry Ruth. How often do I make excuses for putting off the right thing or even something I want to do – “Oh, it’s really busy right now with the harvest and all and I don’t even think anyone else is going to jump in and take Ruth from me, so I’ll get to it later.” No! He jumped on it - I need to jump on the things God has given me to do, too!

Claim Jesus as your kinsman-redeemer. The problem of sin is the dilemma of mankind. We might pretend there is no god or that he cannot be known but really you can’t ignore the evil heart of man. What to do? Only Christianity has an answer to the problem of sin – man’s redemption was bought through the blood of our kinsman, Jesus, the Incarnate Christ. We our free from our debt of sin by claiming his death and resurrection as the basis of our faith and worship.


Lord Jesus, thank you for coming as our kinsman-redeemer. We are in such hopeless bondage without you. Thank you for restoring us and sustaining us. May we praise you for your great and mighty work.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ruth 1 & 2

This winter I did a six week study on the book of Ruth…this short book is rich…and we only get two days to mull it over. I hope you enjoy it! It should be a peaceful change of pace after all the bloodshed in Joshua and Judges.


The events of the book of Ruth take place during the days of the judges, which we just spent the last few weeks reading. This would be about one thousand years before the birth of Christ. Scholars debate when this book was written – some think Samuel was the author and others date it much later, during the monarchy period.

One of the neat things about this book for us who are reading the Bible from the beginning is all the references to things we’ve already read and studied. We have context for this book! Hopefully, the laws regarding redeeming, who the Moabites were and the period of the judges are familiar.

In chapter one, we are introduced to two characters; Naomi, an Israelite woman who went with her husband and two sons to Moab to find food during a famine at home in Bethlehem, and to Ruth, the Moabitess wife of one of her sons. (Remember who Moab was? He was the son of Lot and Lot’s oldest daughter. Later, his people would not allow Moses and the Israelites to pass through their land into Canaan and hired Balaam to curse Israel. That didn’t work, so they sent their women to seduce the Israelites. Obviously, not such a great history between the two people groups!) While in Moab, all the men die and Naomi is left “bereft” – and here is where the story of the book of Ruth really begins. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem and releases her daughters in law of any attachment. They refuse, she insists and one returns home to Moab. However, Ruth refuses to leave her side and reluctantly Naomi allows her to accompany her. When Naomi is greeted by her friends in Bethlehem, she admonishes them not to call her Naomi (meaning pleasant, delightful) but instead Mara (meaning bitter, hard – remember the waters of Marah in Ex 15? You can bet that she is evoking this!) Also, in chapter one, Naomi references the custom of Levirate Marriage (described in Deuteronomy 25) – if a married man died without any children to carry on his name and inheritance, it was his unmarried brother’s responsibility to marry the widow so that “The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.” This will be significant later in the book. Also, the town of Bethlehem is significant as the hometown of King David and of course, the birthplace of Jesus the Christ.

Chapter Two begins with the introduction of the third major character in the book, Boaz! He is a wealthy landowner in Bethlehem and a relative of Naomi’s husband. Ruth “just happens” to glean in his field one day. (See Leviticus 19:9 for rules on gleaning.) Boaz has heard of how Ruth has devoted herself to Naomi and shows favor on her by allowing her to have his protection and to eat at his table. When Naomi hears of it, she is pleased.


There are many themes revealed in the characters of the short book of Ruth.
On the one hand, we have Ruth, the Moabitess. She is a foreigner who naturally would have been despised but is given praise all over the book as a virtuous, kind, faithful and excellent woman. She is a young woman who was brave enough and had enough faith to put herself under Naomi, in spite of the fact that Naomi was a pretty bitter woman at the time. This is an example of Christian humility and love. She is also an example of the bride of Christ – in chapter three her preparation to be the bride of Boaz mirrors the church’s preparation – we wash in the Word (Eph 5:26), we are filled/anointed with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) and are to be clothed with righteousness acts (Rev 19:8). Her story also shows that God’s grace and mercy extend beyond Israel to include all peoples.

And then Naomi. Here is a woman that many of us can relate to because she is so honest. Her life has been hard and sad. She feels totally abandoned by God – in chapter one she declares that His hand had gone forth against her (13), He had dealt very bitterly with her (20), He had brought her back empty (21), He had witnessed against her (21) and He had afflicted her (21). I’d say that’s a pretty dark spot. As the book progresses, Naomi is brought to redemption, is reinstated and is full again. She regains hope. She is now Full vs Empty


Who do you most identify with in these first two chapters? Have you ever gone through a time when you felt like Naomi? Have you been honest enough to admit any bitterness that you are harboring about that time? How should suffering affect a person’s attitude toward God?

Maybe you relate to Ruth or at least hope to be like her! She is such a beautiful woman of faith, humility and kindness to others. Maybe you know someone like Ruth – take time today to thank God for such a woman in your life – call her or send her a note telling her how much you appreciate her.

Whenever I read Ruth, I can’t but help think of the relationship between me and my own mother in law. Perhaps you’ve thought about that, too. Is there anything you need to do about that relationship – is there anything you need to do to improve it? are you able to say prayers of blessing for her? is she amazing – tell her! I have two sons myself and pray that someday I will be a delightful mother in law to their wives.


Thank you for this sweet book of love, hope and redemption. I am reminded of how you use women of faith to reveal yourself. May we be people of faith who see you revealed in our lives.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Proverbs 10: Oh Be Careful, Little Mouth, What You Say!



The first nine chapters of Proverbs delve into what is at the core of the wise person; now the book moves on to comment on the way the wise person is to live. The first part of the book made clear that a wise person is one who fears and trusts the LORD and has committed to following wisdom. Now the details are given. We are told how to please God in even the smallest pieces of life.

Proverbs 10 is almost entirely made up of a series of contrasting couplets. A statement is made on the first line; this is followed by a similarly structured, but contrasting statement.


This chapter (as does the remainder of the book of Proverbs) contains many short, pithy statements. As I’ve read through the chapter certain ones have hit me, and I assume it is that way for everyone.

There are couplets that deal with diligence and laziness, and some that point out truths about poverty and wealth.

I notice two general categories of proverbs: ones that deal with the difference in the choices of the righteous (godly and wise) and the wicked (ungodly and foolish) and proverbs that deal with the use of the tongue and what we say.

James 3: 2 says that “those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every other way.” The tongue is compared there to a rudder of a ship, something very small, yet controls the direction of the ship against prevailing winds. The tongue is also compared to a spark – the wind can lift that spark and whip it up and a whole forest is set on fire!

What does Proverbs 10 say about our words, our use of our tongues?

The more we say the more danger there is of speaking foolishly (10).

Words can either build up and refresh and sustain (like a well of life) or they can harm and hurt (11). If I am following God then my words will reflect that. Perhaps my words are a good weather vane for discovering just what’s going on in my heart.

A person of understanding will speak wisely (13) while the fool meets with animosity, probably largely due to what he says. A wise person seeks to learn, to store up knowledge – we need to keep our mouths shut to do that! The foolish talk so much that they don’t find out how near destruction they are (14).

Lying and slander and two of the worst forms of speech. They reveal a heart of hatred and foolishness (18) (Interesting that verse 18 is one of the exceptions to the contrasting statements. Its two lines continue the same thought rather than contrast.)

Look at verses 19 – 21! Again it seems that the more we talk the more we will sin with our words. It is wise to use restraint and watch our speech. And I love the comparisons there: “the tongue of the righteous is choice silver;… the lips of the righteous feed many.” Contrast that with fool, who generates little of value and who can’t even nourish themselves.

The chapter ends with the observation that the person who is righteous will speak wisdom; she knows the right thing to say at the right time. Those whose hearts are not seeking the Lord will seek to stir up trouble and end up bringing trouble on themselves.

I think verse 12 sums up the use of the tongue quite well: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.”


Spend some time meditating on this chapter. Think about what characterizes your speech. Do you stir up conflict with your words? Do you heal? Do you forgive? Our words are a good indicator of what’s going on in our hearts.


Father, help me to seek You. Help me to be a woman of understanding and fill my heart so that it overflows with words that heal rather than words that stir up conflict. Make me someone who listens and learns. Help me to know when to speak and when not to speak.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Judges 21 - Wives for the Benjamites

LINK: Judges 21

Whew! The last few chapters of this book have been difficult to read! What horrible events! In chapter 21, Israel finds herself in a difficult situation. They sure come up with some creative solutions to their problem!

Somehow, all the problems aren't anybody's fault. The people complain to God that the tribe of Benjamin will disappear, but they don't acknowledge their role in the predicament. It's almost implied that the problem is God's fault. No one seems to accept any responsibility for the immorality. We have seen the cycles of the time of the judges throughout this book, and how it only took a few generations for the nation to become immoral and godless. The nation as a whole has not in any way kept itself separate from the pagan nations around them. The last sentence sums things up pretty well -- ". . . everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

Do I do what is right in my own eyes rather than what God says is right? Do I think I'm the exception and don't need to follow the rules? Do I take the time and effort needed to determine what is right before God, or do I just rely on my own reasoning? My view of right and wrong must line up with God's view in order to be correct. I don't get to make the rules myself. I mustn't let the lure of the culture draw me away from God but must continually seek him and follow his ways.

Lord, you are holy and call us to be holy. Help me to remember that it's not my place to decide what is okay to do and what is not. You set the standards, and I must obey you. Let me learn to do what is right in YOUR eyes rather than relying on myself to determine what is right. Draw me ever closer to you, to learn to think like you and to follow your heart. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Judges 20: The War Against Benjamin

LINK: Judges 20

BACKGROUND: This chapter is quite straightforward. Israel arrives after being summoned by the rather macabre method of calling, and they are completely united, "knit together as one man," as the King James phrases it. First Israel hears the Levite's version, then they ask Benjamin for their version, demanding the "children of Belial" to be given to Israel to be put to death. Benjamin refuses and readies for war. On the first day, Benjamin, much fewer in forces, wins out against Judah, whom God told Israel to send out first to do battle when Israel sought the Lord's counsel. Judah loses 22,000 men on the first day of battle. On the second day, Israel not only sought the Lord but they also wept before him until evening, asking if they should fight their brother Benjamin. The Lord replies, "Go up against him," and they do, losing 18,000 men the second day. Then on the third day, Israel not only sought counsel and wept but fasted before the Lord, offering both burnt and peace offerings. Phinehas asks the Lord if they should attack their brother Benjamin again, and the Lord replies, "Go up; for tomorrow I will deliver them into thy hand." The third day of battle shows Israel tricking Benjamin into an ambush similar to Joshua's strategy against Ai, with only 600 of Benjamin's men surviving, 25,000 of them losing their lives. The chapter ends with Israel setting fire to many of Benjamin's cities after their final victory.

REFLECTION: The 400,000 Israelite fighters who responded to the Levite's summons illustrates Israel's zeal in punishing the villainy of Gibeah. Benjamin, on the other hand, demonstrated their blindness to their sin by refusing to turn over the men who had abused the Levite's wife to death. Israel resolved not to depart until they had taken vengeance on this wicked city which was the reproach and scandal of Benjamin. The Israelites were totally united -- "knit together as one man" -- in punishing Benjamin for this trespass of hospitality, something the tribe of Benjamin was famed for. It's interesting, even ironic, to notice that the ONLY time Israel is united is whn they're fighting a civil war, fighting among themselves. So, why did Israel fail the first two days? John Wesley suggests that the sins of Israel itself were such that, in Wesley's words, they "should not have come to so great a work of God with polluted hands." It was not until Israel fasted and offered sacrifices that God answered their prayers and helped Israel defeat Benjamin. Wesley states that it is not until Israel sought God after due order and truly humbled themselves does God give them a satisfactory answer.

APPLICATION: If we do the right thing with wrong motives, we sin. We are to cleanse our hearts constantly and consistently, keeping short accounts with God and His people so that all we do is pleasing to God. May the Lord reveal our sin to us so that we may not be as blind to our sin as Israel, much less Benjamin, was and have God refuse to bless us. Doing what is right may very well be painful.

The word "turn" is used six times in this chapter, referring three times to Israel and three times to Benjamin. We must ask ourselves, "To whom do we turn in the heat of our battles?" If we desire the blessings of God, we need to turn to Him first and foremost.

PRAYER: Father, forgive us for our trespasses. Reveal to us our "blind spots," the sins we don't or won't recognize in our lives, and give us humble hearts, ready to ask forgiveness of You and of Your people. Give us, we pray, sensitive hearts to sin so that we may recognize insidious sins in our lives and beg Your merciful forgiveness for our trespasses. For Your gracious mercy, O Father, we thank and praise You with grateful hearts. In the Name of Christ our Lord and Savior, Amen.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Judges 19: Tragedy Strikes

LINK: Judges 19

BACKGROUND: This chapter tells a sad and rather odd story of an unnamed Levite and his concubine. The events in this chapter take place after the death of Joshua but before the time of the judges. John Wesley reminds us that the Hebrew word for "concubine" ("piylegesh") can also mean "wife"; in fact, Wesley explains that she is called a "concubine" only because she was not endowed by her husband, perhaps because of his financial position as a sojourner or traveler.

Matthew Henry contrasts this chapter with the last in which we saw an active Levite; in chapter 19 we see a passive Levite. Even though his concubine ran off with another man, she is protected by her father when she should have been put to death for her misdeeds. But as there is no judge or king in Israel, as we are told in the very first verse of the chapter, there is no one to enforce the punishment if the family decides not to follow through as the Law dictates. The woman's father is so delighted when the Levite comes to fetch his wife with kindness that he invites the couple to stay with him night after night. One could speculate that perhaps the father feared that the Levite might punish his wife after the couple left and that's why he kept delaying. Another theory is that the father is just SO thankful that the Levite took his wife back that he couldn't help but shower them in all he could offer them as a host.

The young couple leave very late in the day because of the father's insistence on their eating another meal, and although their servant asks them about staying the night in Jerusalem, which was not in Israelite hands at this point in history, the Levite insists on staying the night in an Israelite town where he thinks they will receive a warmer welcome. Unfortunately, it's Lot in Sodom all over again. This time the host, who rescues them from staying the night in the streets, sets out to imitate Lot in Genesis 19:6-8 but goes too far by offering not only his daughter but his guest's wife as well.

The Benjamites, who were known in the past for their hospitality in Deuteronomy 33:12, were banging on the door with such force that the host felt compelled to offer the women rather than have the Levite, a holy man, harmed. These particular Benjamites are referred to as "sons of Belial" or children of the devil, totally ungovernable men in complete rebellion as there is no king or judge in Israel to enforce the Law. They abused the wife of the Levite to death. Josephus remarks that the Benjamites' goal was the woman all along, that they had spied her in the streets and were smitten by her beauty.

One must ask if God is punishing her for her former adultery. By the Law of Moses she should have been put to death for adultery; she escaped the punishment of men as there was no king nor judge -- but there is still a God. Her hands on the threshold demonstrate her "begging pardon" for her sins in the posture of a penitent, asserts Matthew Henry. I wonder how the Levite could sleep, knowing she was being abused all night? Once he realized that she was dead rather than sleeping, he waived his purpose of traveling to Shiloh and went home instead. As he cannot call for fire from heaven to consume Gibeah and as there is no method of justice open to him with no king or judge at the time, the Levite appeals to the people by sending portions of her body (after dismembering her) to the twelve tribes (including Benjamin itself, the guilty party). According to Matthew Henry, the like of Benjamin's guilt had never been seen in Israel.

REFLECTION: No sin escapes God. Even without judges or a king, with a forgiving father and husband, God still enforces his Law. When everyone does what is right in their own eyes, chaos ensues. The laws of hospitality were also broken, and God will also enforce his Laws therein as well, as we'll see in the next chapter.

APPLICATION: One can't get away with sin, even when one thinks no one sees. God sees all, and His righteousness cannot countenance sin. While we can't be perfect, we need to be always before God, confessing our sin and relying not on our human righteousness but on the perfect, splendid righteousness of Christ Jesus our Lord.

PRAYER: Lord, we come before you, asking for Thy forgiveness for every way in which we transgress Thy laws, both is what we leave undone and also in what we do. We ask for Thy mercy O Lord, which we do not deserve in any way except through the blood of Christ. Help us to see our sin for what it truly is rather than justifying or excusing our sins, and help us to keep short accounts with You, O Lord. We ask for Thy blessing and forgiveness, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalms 42-43: HOPE!

LINK: Psalms 42-43


These two psalms were probably originally one psalm. Several early Hebrew manuscripts put the two together. United by a single theme (a lament), the two psalms echo with a refrain that is repeated three times. The author is unknown, but it seems he longs for the house of God, the temple. He can’t get there; perhaps he’s in forced exile and alone.

Psalm 42 begins the second book or division of Psalms. There are five books, which some scholars believe correspond to the five books of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). So the first book of Psalms lays a foundation or beginning: the ultimate emptiness of ungodliness is contrasted with the fruitfulness of godliness. Book Two of the Psalms corresponds with the book of Exodus and deals with redemption. Its songs center on God’s help and rescue of His people in trouble. I plan on seeing what I think about the themes of the books of Psalms we continue reading.


Emily Dickinson calls hope a “thing with feathers” and we do commonly think of hope as something with wings, something that lifts us up. But hope is called the anchor of the soul in Hebrews and that is also the image given of it in these two psalms. Hope is what gives us stability when our emotions are engulfing us, when torrents of despair threaten to drown us. Hope in God is what anchors us and keeps us from being swept away.

Matthew Henry says that these psalms are like an internal argument between sense (what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell) and faith (which believes in what is unseen). I like that. I have those internal arguments sometimes myself. Do you? See if you can see the back and forth conversation between sense and faith .

There are times when circumstances lead us to a place of discouragement and we despair; we experience depression. Look at these psalms and what the author is experiencing. He is lonely and longs for the joy he’s known previously. He feels forgotten by God. Wave after wave of sorrow sweep over him. He’s depressed and to add to his anguish of soul, enemies (the voices of The Enemy) are asking him where his God is and why He doesn’t help.

I’ve been there.

For some reason it helps to know that someone else who loves God has been there: engulfed and overwhelmed with sorrow.

Where does this writer turn? He longs for God. Like a deer that is thirsty and tired and needs refreshment, this psalmist yearns for the lifegiving refreshment that God gives.

And three times in these psalms the same refrain is repeated:

The first time –

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.
(42: 5, NKJV)

The next two times the refrain ends a bit differently –

Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.
(42: 11; 43: 5 NKJV)

Looking at God’s face changes my face!


When you are depressed due to circumstances in your life where do you look for answers?

Do you focus on the circumstances and become even more overwhelmed? Do you look within yourself for the answer? Do you seek escape of some kind?

Or do you actively turn away from looking around and from looking within, to look up, to look at God? It takes a conscious act of the will to do that. It’s not something that comes naturally or easily.

Look at the psalmist’s lament and imitate it.

Hope in God.
Someday you will praise Him again with joy!
Help (salvation) is in Him.


LORD, send me Your light and Your truth! Let them lead me. Let them bring me to You so that I may hope in You and once more experience fulness of joy to Your praise.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Judges 17-18: Micah and His Idols

LINK: Judges 17-18

BACKGROUND: These two chapters, and the chapters following, are not in chronological order; the events in chapters 17 and 18 do not occur after chapter 16 as Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, was priest at this time (20:28). The events are a little confusing -- at least they were to me at first.

Judges 17: We are introduced to Micah, whose name means "who is like God." Micah was an Ephramite during the time of the Judges, and we immediately discover that he is a thief, stealing his mother's 1,100 pieces of silver. At least he admitted it and returned it to her, and she blesses her son "by the Lord" (v. 2). Yet she dedicates 200 pieces of the silver to be made into idols for her son. Micah them used these idols to create his own religion, making a ephod (a priestly garment) and household gods, and ordaining one of his sons as a priest. Verse 6 is the focus of the problems in Israel: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (ESV). It was also apparent, according to John Wesley's commentary, that the Levites were neglecting their office and were therefore neglected by the people of Israel.

Then enters a young traveling Levite whom we learn later is named Jonathan (which means "gift of God"). Looking for a place to stay, Micah invites the young Levite to not only stay the night, but also to remain with them: "Be to me a father and a priest," Micah offers, "and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living" (v. 10, ESV). Micah then "ordained" the Levite and was sure that God would now bless him. According to Wesley's commentary, Micah was blind and grossly partial in his judgment to think that Jonathan's agreement to stay would show God's blessing, for Micah's errors in making and worshiping idols were against God's express commands. Micah was worshiping God in a forbidden place, with forbidden idols, and by a priest who was illegally appointed. He certainly has three strikes against him.

Judges 18: The beginning of chapter 18 gives us a timeline for the following events: "In those days," according to John Wesley's commentary, refers to not long after the death of Joshua. We discover that after Joshua's death, the tribe of Dan did not take their original inheritance as commanded. So the Danites send out spies to check out the hill country of Ephraim, where Micah lived, to see if they could take that land instead. Somehow, the Danite spies recognize the young Levite, Jonathan, although we don't know how. After hearing about his position in Micah's household, they ask him to consult the Lord to see if their spying expedition will succeed. Jonathan tells them: "Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord" (v. 6).

The Danite spies go back, reporting that the land is "very good" and that the people there seemed peaceable and "unsuspecting" (v. 10). The spies continued, "The land is spacious, for God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is in the earth." So 600 armed Danite men went into the hill country and came to Micah's house. The spies told the other men about Micah's idols and the ephod and how Jonathan was the family priest, and they inquired of Jonathan while others sneaked behind his back into Micah's home and stole the ephod and the idols. Then the Danites persuaded Jonathan to leave with them, saying, "Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan of Israel?" (v. 19). And Jonathan gladly left with them, taking the ephod and the idols with him.

Micah's men soon overcame the escaping Danites, and Micah accuses them of stealing his gods and his priest, asking what does he have left? (Besides all the people of his household and all his other riches, that is.) The Danites respond with a threat to take the lives of not only Micah, but of his entire household as well. Micah, not strong enough to beat them in battle, turned around and went home. Meanwhile, the Danites, taking Micah's idols and priest, struck down the people of Laish, burning the city. They later rebuilt the city and lived there, calling it Dan after their ancestor. And there in their new city they set up Micah's carved images and his priest.

REFLECTION: Micah starts out being a thief, and then ends up a victim of thieves. Obviously, Micah is very confused about how to worship God properly, and values his idols and the priest he himself consecrated so greatly that he is willing to face 600 armed Danites to try to get them returned to him. The trouble all lies in the phrase given in 17:6: "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." When that happens, only wrong and evil will occur. It is when we do what is right in God's eyes that we can be truly blessed and can truly worship Him.

APPLICATION: The tribe of Dan took the easy way. They didn't fight for what was rightfully theirs, but took land that was good and peaceable and easier to obtain than their rightful inheritance. And the tribe of Dan eventually vanished into obscurity, probably from intermarriage with surrounding peoples. In fact, the tribe of Dan is not mentioned in Revelation when the rest of the tribes are listed. One of the applications of these chapters can be summarized well by the character of Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: "We will all have to make the choice between what is right and what is easy." The tribe of Dan chose the easy route, and their tribe disappeared into obscurity. Choosing that which is right in God's eyes is always the best course.

PRAYER: Father, help us to follow You, no matter the consequences. Help us to not try to find a way around difficulties, but rather to follow Your path, no matter how hard and/or dangerous it seems to us. Jesus chose to go forward to the cross for our sakes, scorning the shame, and we pray that You will prepare and strengthen us to do Your Will in every circumstance. In the Name of Christ our Lord and King, Amen.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Judges 16: Samson and Delilah

("Samson and Delilah" painted by Jan Lievens c. 1630 --

LINK: Judges 16

The 16th chapter of Judges finishes the sad tale of Samson, so powerful and mighty in God's Spirit, and so weak in his own. Again he is entangled with the Philistines as a result of a woman, this time Delilah, who again wears him down with nagging until he reveals his secret, which again is immediately betrayed to the Philistines by the woman Samson is so besotted by. Delilah, whose name means "feeble" or "weak," forces Samson to break the third of his Nazarite vows: leaving his hair uncut. Isn't it interesting how Samson the Strong is completely dominated by Delilah the Weak? We see Samson's strength in his carrying that gate 38 miles to Hebron, a journey that was not only lengthy, but was almost completely uphill!

Samson's relationship with Delilah really puzzled me at first. She tells him THREE times that "The Philistines are upon you, Samson!" before he reveals the secret of his great strength to her, so why in the world did he do so, knowing full well that she was going to betray his secret immediately to his enemies? In his three false answers to Delilah, he is guilty of the sin of falsehood, and he is also guilty of great folly in encouraging her inquiries instead of stopping her immediately when he realized the danger he was in. Samson doesn't flee sin; he flirts with it. But as Samson forsook God, so God forsook him (according to John Wesley's commentary, anyway). His hair itself was not his strength, but leaving his hair uncut was a chief condition of his Nazarite vows, and with the violation of this condition, God justly withdraws his help and strength from Samson. In his commentary, John Wesley observes that "...many have lost the favourable presence of God, and are not aware of it. They have provoked God to withdraw from them, but are not sensible of their loss."
As a result of his telling Delilah the secret of his great physical strength, Samson had both of his eyes gouged out by the Philistines, both out of their revenge upon him and also to disable him should he regain his strength. But after his blinding, we read that Samson's hair begins to grow back, a symbol of God's returning favor to him, probably as a result of his repentance and the renewal of his vows with God. In verse 28, Samson calls on the Lord to be with him one last time to strengthen him. This prayer was not an act of malice or revenge, but of faith and zeal for God who was being publicly dishonored, and for justice in vindicating all of Israel, which was his duty as judge. Samson is willing to die in order to contribute to the vindication of God's glory and to the deliverance of God's people, Israel. Some scholars consider Samson's sacrifice as a type of Christ who by voluntarily undergoing death destroyed the enemies of God and Israel. The mocking of God by the Philistines brought about the deaths of thousands of them, and probably their most prominent citizens who would have been present at such an event.

As we see in the cutting off and the growing back of Samson's hair, the symbol of his power and of his devotion to God, God's forgiveness is immediate, but His restoration is gradual. Despite his sinful ways, despite the breaking of his Nazarite vows, Samson's final sacrifice earned him a place in the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11. In the words of my inductive study teacher Kim when we studied Judges together: "Samson stayed, played, and finally paid." But God doesn't give up on Samson, and He doesn't ever give up on us, either.

When I studied this chapter with our Lady Bereans Inductive Bible Study, I wrote the following for my application: May I always see and acknowledge my weaknesses and sin before the Lord. May I not try to live a life pleasing to Him in my own strength but totally in His power. The power of confession is mind-blowing!

PRAYER (from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer: General Confession):
Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.... O Lord, have mercy upon us.... Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Judges 14-15: Samson and the Philistines

("Samson and the Jawbone" by Salomon de Bray, 1636; image from the Getty Museum)

LINK: Judges 14-15

Let's review a few things about Samson: He's the last of the Judges of Israel in the book of Judges. He's known for his great physical strength and his great moral failings. Like Samuel and John the Baptist, Samson was a Nazarite and should have served as an example to Israel of commitment to God. Yet Samson fell short of God's standards by his sin and disobedience. His life is a clear warning against the dangers of self-indulgence and lack of discipline. Although Samson still ended up in the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11, he violated all three aspects of the Nazarite vows: he touched something dead; he was exposed to the fruit of the vine, and he allowed his hair to be cut.

Chapter 14:
We first discover Samson as a grown man who has decided to marry from among the Philistines rather than from among the Israelites. His parents are very much concerned, understandably, but we learn that "it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines" (v. 4). But on his way to see his bride-to-be, Samson, with his amazing strength, kills a lion with his bare hands. On his way home, he sees that bees have built a hive inside the lion's carcase, and he touches the dead animal in scraping out the honey, violating his Nazarite vows. He then lays a bet that the Philistines would not be able to answer his riddle, but the Philistines, unable to solve the riddle, threaten Samson's Philistine wife unless she obtains the answer from Samson which she does by begging and nagging her husband for days on end. The Philistines answer the riddle and he knows why, and in his anger he kills 30 uninvolved Philistines and also gives his wife away to his best man.

Chapter 15:
Samson then goes to visit his wife with a goat, a token of reconciliation, only to find that her father has given her to his friend and instead offers Samson her younger sister. Samson blames the Philistines and burns down their crops in a very bizarre way. The Philistines, desiring revenge, not only attack Samson's wife as they had threatened before, but they also attack Israel in looking for Samson. The Israelites, fearing the Philistines, turn Samson over to the attackers, but he breaks free of the ropes binding him and kills 1000 men with the jawbone of a donkey as "the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him." God also provides water for Samson after the remarkable victory. The 15th chapter closes with the information that Samson "judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years" (v. 20).

Samson is definitely one of the more imperfect vessels God used to deliver Israel. He also exacts his revenge not just privately, but as a Judge of Israel, acting as avenger of the public injuries of his people. He kills over a thousand men in his burning anger, and then in his celebratory song, Samson does not thank God nor even mention Him. Yet, Samson is God's chosen tool to deliver Israel from the Philistines. The Lord fills Samson with strength and power from His Spirit so that Samson can accomplish inhuman acts of violence. Yet even though Samson doesn't mention God in his victory song, the Lord still answers Samson's rather ungrateful request for water and provides him with what he needs. After all of these rather unsavoury events, the Lord allowed Samson to judge Israel for a full twenty years. So despite the fact that Samson is so very flawed, God used him to accomplish His purpose.

Samson did few things right. He married a foreigner, something that simply wasn't done by an Israelite, much less by a Nazarite who was to be fully devoted to God. He broke two of the Nazarite vows in the chapters we read: he went through the vineyards of Timnah and he also touched an animal carcase. His first impulse is for revenge and he focuses on himself and his issues rather than on how best to lead Israel. I find great comfort in Samson's story: if Samson messed up so very badly and God still used him, then God can use ANYONE to accomplish His perfect will. Including me.

Father, we pray that no matter how badly we miss the mark, no matter how badly we sin, we beseech you to use us in the accomplishing of your perfect will. Much in life is very confusing, and our first impulse is to strike back, to gain revenge, but we pray that you will help us to overcome our first reactions in every situation so that our responses to events in our lives may glorify you. In the blessed name of Christ our Lord, Amen.

Judges 12-13 -- Birth of Samson

LINK: Judges 12-13


Chapter 12
Now that Jephthah has been victorious in battle, the men of Ephraim complain that they didn't get to be a part of the glory. But when Jephthah had asked for their help, they had refused. Jephthah gave the Lord the credit for the victory -- no man would get the glory -- and then proceeded to slaughter the men of Ephraim. A very sad ending to Jephthah's story.

Three other judges are briefly mentioned. Apparently no major oppression occurred during this time. Two of these men were prosperous, but otherwise nothing is known about these judges.

Chapter 13
The upcoming arrival of Samson was announced to his parents. God said the boy was to be a Nazirite from the womb on. You might remember God's instructions to Moses concerning the Nazirite vow from Numbers 6. There were permanent and temporary forms of this dedication, and Samson's was to be permanent.

One who took the Nazirite vow was dedicating himself to God. He was to be different from the rest of society and consecrated for God's use. The specified actions of abstaining from the fruit of the vine and not cutting the hair or going near a dead person were outward signs that served as public testimony of the commitment. A Nazirite couldn't quite hide in the crowd. He was "different" and everyone knew why. The outward actions indicated the consecration of the heart.


In Samson's case, we will see that his heart didn't always line up with the vow. Paul told the Romans, "and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God" (Romans 6:13). Our lives should be fully consecrated to God, and there should be outward evidence of that commitment in our righteous behavior.

Lord, I want to be wholly consecrated to you, for your use, because you have purchased me with the blood of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Judges 10-11 - Jephthah the Judge

LINK: Judges 10-11

Probably the biggest question out of these two chapters is, "What happened to Jephthah's daughter?" Did he kill her? Although some theologians would argue that Jephthah took his daughter's life, I think not. First of all, God strictly forbade the Israelites to sacrifice their children. Second, God made a provision for difficult vows such as Jephthah's in Leviticus 27. Third, there was a standard way of redeeming a child dedicated to the Lord, such as the firstborn. If an animal had been the first to come out, then Jephthah would have given it as a burnt offering. But since it was a person who came out, the sacrifice would have been performed just as the dedication of the firstborn son -- a price would be paid to redeem the child. And fourth, the text here emphasizes the fact that she remained a virgin as a result of the vow and never mentions that she was killed.

I think it's significant that Jephthah kept his vow even though it was very difficult. His daughter was his only child, so he brought an end to his family line by offering her to the Lord.

Israel's "confession" in Judges 10:10 was not sincere repentance. They seemed to view God as their "magic genie" and if they just rubbed the bottle the right way, God would do whatever they asked. If they said the magic words, "We have sinned against Thee," God would listen and rescue them from their oppressors. But God saw through their false repentance and refused to deliver them (vs. 13). In fact, he taunted them saying they should seek aid from the gods they had chosen (vs. 14). When Israel really repented, there was action to back up their words (vs. 15-16). They put themselves at the mercy of God, got rid of the foreign gods, and served the Lord. Then God heard their pleas and delivered them.

How often do we ignore the Lord when things are going well and only call on him for help when we find ourselves in a difficult situation? Do we treat God like a magic genie? Is he there for my benefit? Is his purpose simply to be available when I need rescued? Do I serve other gods -- wealth, fun, self-gratification -- and then expect God to get me out of trouble simply because I ask?

God desires a relationship with his children. He wants me to belong to him, and him alone, every single day. He wants me to spend time with him and grow in him. I can't ignore him and go on my merry way until I hit a roadblock and then suddenly expect him to rescue me. I must decide to put away the other gods of selfish pursuit and serve him only.

Lord, we are often deceived and think we can have both the treasures of this world and your way. But we must choose which master we will serve. I want to commit all I have and all I am to you for your use. And when difficulties arise, I will know that you are right there with me to guide me in your way, because I will be with you on a daily basis. I know you are my God and there is no other. Amen.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Judges 9 - Treachery of Abimelech

LINK: Judges 9

Abimelech was Gideon's son by a concubine, and he decided he should rule over Shechem, his mother's home town. This chapter is the story of his scheming and treachery.

Abimelech was a Godless man. He pursued only his own greedy desires, and many people died as a result of his actions. But God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, that is what he reaps. It is very difficult for us to see the injustice in our world. We sometimes wonder, "Where is God?" But God is always there. He always sees it all. Regardless of whether we see it in this life, justice will eventually be served by God.

How we treat people usually comes back to us as the way we are treated. We will reap what we sow. Galatians 6:7-8 says, "Do not be decieved, God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life." Is my treatment of others based on my own fleshly desires? Or am I doing good to those around me? For the passage in Galatians goes on, "And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith." (Galatians 6:9-10)

Father, let me not be greedy but help me to see the good I can do for others in service to you. And let me not lose heart or grow weary of doing good. Because of the good you have done for me in Jesus, Amen.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Hope to see the locals there! Carol

Psalm 41 - Blessed Are Those Who Care

LINK: Psalm 41


Psalm 41 is the third psalm that begins with a benediction (a blessing). Psalm 1 begins, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…” Psalm 32 says, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven….” Today’s psalm begins “Blessed is he who considers the helpless….”

Psalm 41 is also the last psalm in the first of the five books (or sections) of Psalms. This book, and each subsequent book, ends with a doxology or statement of praise to God.


David is sick and helpless. He has sinned, recognizes that, and has asked for God’s mercy. He records in this psalm some of the ways people have responded to his helplessness. Look at some of the attitudes and responses of those who visited David and how instead of helping him, they only added to his suffering.

I think that’s why David begins this psalm with a passionate cry for blessing on those who consider the helpless. He had experienced sickness, poverty of soul, and loneliness. He wanted a trustworthy friend to wisely and kindly consider him – to think of him and help strengthen his heart.

It doesn’t say whether any person helped David or listened to him. All the people listed in the psalm hurt him, talked about him, and added to his anguish. He did find a friend, though, in God.


I have been on both sides of the situation that David speaks of in this psalm.

I have been hurting and helpless and wanted someone to wisely and kindly consider my plight, to turn to me with compassion and love and be my friend. I understand David’s cry of pain here.

And sadly, I have seen those who are helpless and hurting and I haven’t considered them with the wisdom and kindness that I should have. I know there have been times when I have not only been blind to the helplessness of someone, but I have probably added to their hurt by my attitude toward them. This psalm has convicted me of my callousness.

Like David, I am thankful for God’s mercy.


LORD, please give us eyes to see those who are hurting and helpless. Please give us compassionate hearts. Help us to take the time to wisely consider how to be kind and to reflect Your mercy to the weak – to those suffering, to the poor, to those hurting emotionally.