Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Judges 3:31

Judges 3:31: Shamgar

Synopsis

Apparently Shamgar had a fairly boring reign as Israel’s judge: He only gets one verse. (Still, it’s one more verse of the Bible than I’ll ever get.)

After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel. (Judges 3:31)

Thoughts

There’s not a whole lot to say about this passage. Except that an “oxgoad” is some type of sharp implement, used for driving oxen.

Judges 3:12–30

Judges 3:12–30: Ehud

Synopsis

In this passage we read about Ehud. His isn’t a name that you come across often—not like Samson or Gideon—but his story is quite interesting, compared to some of the other judges.

Once again, the Israelites do evil in the eyes of the LORD, so He hands them over to Eglon, king of Moab. Eglon—along with the Ammonites and Amalekites—attacks Israel, and captures the “City of Palms” (Jericho) (verse 13), and subjugates the people of Israel for eighteen years.

So again, the pattern is followed: The Israelites cry out to the LORD, and He sends Ehud, as their judge. (Ehud is specifically mentioned as being a left-handed man, so I’m betting that left-handed people mention him quite a bit…) And here’s how Ehud delivers Israel:

The Israelites send him to Ehud, with their tribute, but before he goes, he makes a double-edge sword, about a foot and a half long, and straps it to his thigh, under his clothes. When he presents his tribute, he actually brings it to King Eglon himself—who, it turns out, is a very fat man. Ehud sends away his fellow Israelites, who had carried it, and is about to leave himself, when he turns around, and tells King Eglon that he has a “secret message” for him (verse 19). So the king sends out all of his attendants, which leaves the king and Ehud alone together. Which means that it’s Ehud’s time to strike:

Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his summer palace and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them. (verses 20–23)

Ehud then leaves, and the king’s servants come back, but find the doors locked. They assume that the king is relieving himself, so they decide to wait outside, but they wait a long time—“to the point of embarrassment,” according to verse 25. They finally decide that they can’t wait any longer, so they get a key and open the door, only to find the king dead. Of course, while they spent all that time waiting, Ehud had made his escape.

And Ehud wastes no time: As soon as he gets back to his fellow Israelites, he blows a trumpet, to summon them to battle. He tells them that the LORD has given Moab into their hands, so the Israelites do battle with the Moabites, and strike down about ten thousand of them. In fact, they turn the tides completely: Israel, which had been subject to Moab, now subjugates the Moabites, and the land has peace for another eighty years.

Thoughts

The Israelites were subject to the Moabites for eighteen years, before the LORD sent Ehud to save them. But I wonder: Were they crying out to the LORD for that whole eighteen years, or only at the end? In other words, did He send a deliverer as soon as they asked for one, or did He make them wait, first? The passage doesn’t say, although, the way that it’s worded, it sort of sounds like they asked near the end of the eighteen years.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Judges 3:7–11

Judges 3:7–11: Othniel—the first Judge

Synopsis

This passage discusses Israel’s first “judge,” Othniel, who is Caleb’s younger brother. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Israelites do “evil in the eyes of the LORD” by worshipping the Baals and the Asherahs, (verse 7), and therefore He lets a foreign king subjugate them. (Verse 8 says that He “sold them into the hands of” this king, which I think is a nice way of putting it.) The king’s name is Cushan-Rishathaim, and he’s king of a kingdom called Aram Naharaim. And this isn’t a short-lived subjugation, either; the Israelites are subject to this king for eight years.

But after eight years, God raises up Othniel to lead the Israelites in battle against Cushan-Rishathaim, the Holy Spirit comes upon him, and he saves the Israelites from this king. After this, Israel has peace for forty years—until Othniel dies.

Thoughts

I forgot to mention it, when writing about the last passage, but according to the footnotes the Hebrew word translated “judge” can also be translated “leader.”

Notice that God is not passive in this passage. He didn’t “let” the Israelites get subjugated by the king of Aram Naharaim, He “sold them into his hands.” And Othniel didn’t just lead the Israelites, he did it in the power of the Holy Spirit. So He is taking an active hand in this, even though, at first glance, it might seem that the book of Judges is all about the judges.

Speaking of the Holy Spirit, I’m not sure what to make of the Holy Spirit coming on Othniel. Did He come on Othniel in the same way that He comes on modern-day Christians? In the way that He came to me, when I became a Christian, or that He first came on the Christians at Pentecost (Acts 2:1–13)? I’m not sure. Jesus promised the disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit after his ascension, and made it sound like something new, but there are rare occasions in the Old Testament where the Holy Spirit did appear.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Judges 2:6–3:6

Judges 2:6–3:6: Disobedience and Defeat

Synopsis

This passage starts out with yet another recap of what has happened before: At the age of a hundred and ten, Joshua reconfirmed the LORD’s covenant with the Israelites, and then died. The people had served the LORD throughout his lifetime, and when he died, they went to take possession of the Promised Land. But then…

After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.

Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the LORD’s commands. Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

(verses 2:10–19)


Because of this cycle of disobedience—disobey God; He sends a judge; they sort of repent; the judge dies; they do even worse than before—the LORD is angry with them, and, as mentioned before, He tells them that He will no longer drive the nations out of the Promised Land, as He would have, if they’d have obeyed Him.

So, because He is not driving out the other nations, they’re still there. And the Israelites are living among them, and even inter-marrying with them:

The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. (verses 3:5–6)

Get used to seeing the list of peoples listed above; the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. I seem to recall seeing that phrase a lot in the book of Judges, and maybe the rest of the Old Testament, too.

Thoughts

You’ll see “Baal” or “the Baals” mentioned a lot in the Old Testament. Sometimes you’ll see references to “Baal” as if that’s the name of a particular god, and sometimes you’ll see “the Baals,” which seems to indicate that it can be used as a particular category of gods. I don’t think it really matters; the point is that the Israelites were worshipping other “gods,” and forsaking God.

This passage sort of sums up the entire book of Judges that we’re about to read, with the cycle of disobedience/obedience/disobedience. And notice also that the Israelites inter-marrying with the other peoples goes hand in hand with them worshipping the other nations’ gods. Which should come as no surprise, since that’s exactly what God had warned the Israelites would happen.

But there is another important point in this passage: When did this start happening? When the next generation of Israelites came along. The generation that had followed Joshua was fine, but the next generation “knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel” (verse 2:10). And why is that? Well, as faithful to the LORD as the Israelites were, during Joshua’s time, what they didn’t do was teach His ways to their children.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Judges 2:1–5

Judges 2:1–5: The Angel of the LORD at Bokim

Synopsis

After the failures in the last chapter, the Angel of the LORD comes to rebuke the people. God has brought them out of Egypt, to the Promised Land, and swore never to break His covenant with them—if they would refrain from making covenants with the people in the land, and if they would break down the altars of the foreign gods.

But the people didn’t do this. They disobeyed. So, therefore, the LORD has decided that He is no longer going to drive the non-Israelite people out of the land. They will be thorns in Israel’s side, and their gods will ensnare the Israelites (verse 3).

To their credit, the people are heartbroken to hear this. They weep aloud, and offer sacrifices to the LORD. They also rename the place where the angel appears as Bokim, which means “weepers.”

Thoughts

I fully admit to not knowing whom the Bible is referring to, when the term “the Angel of the LORD” is used; is this just an angel, like Gabriel? Or is this Jesus? (This past week I heard a preacher indicating that it means Jesus, but I’m not sure.) I’m also not sure if it even matters; whoever it was, who came to speak to the Israelites, the message was from God.

Notice that God is no longer promising to drive the people out before the Israelites; this is a reminder to them that they haven’t won any of their battles on their own. The LORD has won those battles. So if He is not going to fight for them, they don’t have a chance of winning.

And, of course, none of this should surprise us. God had been promising the Israelites that He would do this if they didn’t obey Him, and they didn’t.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Judges 1

Judges 1: Israel Fights the Remaining Canaanites

Synopsis

The book of Judges opens with the Israelites continuing to fight the peoples living in the Promised Land, in an effort to destroy them. (Some of the events in this chapter seem to be recaps of what happened in the book of Joshua.)

After Joshua passes away, the Israelites get ready to fight the remaining people living in the land, and they ask the LORD who should go first. He sends the tribe of Judah to fight the Canaanites, and the tribe of Judah brings along the tribe of Simeon to help them (with a promise that they, in turn, will help the Simeonites when it’s their turn).

The tribe of Judah is mostly successful in their efforts. They conquer their entire territory—including the city of Jerusalem, which they put to the sword and set on fire (sort of)—and drive out or destroy the people there. (This passage also recaps the story of Caleb giving his daughter Acsah in marriage to Othniel, which we read about in Joshua 15.) They then help the Simeonites take over their territory. (Including the city of Kephath, which they totally destroy; they decide to rename the city Hormah, which means “destruction.”

The Kenites—who are descendants of Moses’ father-in-law—also settle with the tribe of Judah in their territory, and live among them. I don’t know if this is good or bad, since they aren’t Israelites, but I know that it’s bad when the men of Judah fail to drive out the people who are living in the plains, because they have iron chariots. Also, it turns out that the destruction of Jerusalem wasn’t complete, because the Jebusites were left there, and lived among the tribe of Benjamin. (My guess is that the city of Jerusalem was destroyed, but the territory around the city is the place where the Jebusites were left. Especially since verse 21 indicates that it’s the Benjamites who are unable to remove the Jebusites, not the tribe of Judah.)

The house of Joseph then gets ready to attack Bethel. They send in some spies, and they strike a deal with a man who lives in the city: If he helps them destroy the city, they’ll spare him and his family. He goes for the deal, and they destroy the city, but spare him. And there is an interesting side-note to this story: The city of Bethel used to be called Luz, and when the man from Bethel and his family are spared, they go off to the land of the Hittites and build a city, which the man calls Luz. I guess he was homesick for his old city.

The passage ends on some bad news, though; a number of examples are given of where the Israelites failed to drive out or destroy the people living in the Promised Land. In verses 27–36, numerous examples are given of Israelite tribes that fail to drive out or destroy different people groups. In most cases, the people who are not destroyed are pressed into forced labour, but in some cases, the Israelites can’t even do that, and just end up living among the people—which is the worst-case scenario!

Thoughts

I’ve been saying over and over again, in the book of Joshua, that the Israelites were going to get in trouble for not completely following the LORD’s command to destroy the people living in the Promised Land. This chapter (and the next) seem to be a bridge between the book of Joshua, in which they were mostly successful, and the book of Judges, where we will start to see that trouble manifesting itself. (I don’t know why I felt that I had to include so much foreshadowing; I knew that we’d get to the book of Judges eventually…)

When I see that the Israelites fail to drive out some of the people in the Promised Land, and that they press them into forced labour, I get a bit suspicious; is it possible that they purposely fail to destroy these people, because they want slaves? (Wouldn’t it be harder to subjugate a people than to destroy them?)

This is bad enough, but in some cases, the Israelites just seem to give up, and decide to live among the people they are supposed to be destroying. The LORD has been warning them all along not to mix with these peoples, because they’ll be ensnared by their foreign gods. The book of Judges will show us how this will play itself out.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Joshua Summary

The book of Joshua is the first book that wasn’t written by Moses. In fact, Moses—who is the man the Israelites considered to be their greatest leader, against whom future leaders would be measured—has left some pretty big shoes to fill, and that was probably somewhat intimidating for Joshua, his replacement. Or at least, it would have been, if Joshua had to do it on his own. But if God was the Israelites’ true leader, and all Joshua had to do was faithfully follow Him, then there was nothing for him to be worried about. Based on the evidence, I think Joshua did very well.

This period in the Israelites’ history represents a high point for them. In fact, I would say that it’s probably one of their highest points, in terms of obeying the LORD and following His commands (although a good case could be made that the Israelite nation under King David might have done just as good or better).

This book is concerned with the Israelites taking over the Promised Land, and destroying the nations who had previously lived there. Although the Israelites didn’t do a perfect job—and we’ll see the results of that as we move into the book of Judges—they did do a pretty good job, and I believe that, for the most part, they were at least trying to follow the LORD.

You’ll also notice that Joshua himself is not mentioned that much, in the book. (At least, not when compared to how present Moses was, in the last few books.) Personally, I think this is a mark of good leadership, on Joshua’s part. He knew to get out of the way, and let the LORD rule His people. (Not that I’m saying that Moses did badly in this respect, mind you. But with the Israelites taking over the Promised Land, and becoming a warring nation, it was good for them to remember that it was the LORD who was winning their battles, not their leader Joshua.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Joshua 24:28–33

Joshua 24:28–33: Joshua passes away

Synopsis

After having faithfully led the Israelites, and renewing the covenant with them, Joshua passes away. And he has led a good life, too—he is a hundred and ten years old, when he dies! The Israelites bury him in his inherited section of the land, and, while they’re at it, they also bury Joseph.

Also, just to round things out, Eleazar also dies in this chapter, and is buried.

Thoughts

This is a very short passage, but there is one one particular verse which nicely sums up Joshua’s leadership:

Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel. (verse 31)

If I had been the leader of Israel, I can’t think if a better way to sum up my life: If the people under my leadership had “served the LORD.”

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Joshua 24:1–27

Joshua 24:1–27: Renewal of the covenant

Synopsis

In the last passage, Joshua gave a farewell speech to the Israelite elders/leaders. In this chapter, he turns his attention to the entire nation of Israel, to renew their covenant with the LORD. But first, as is usual for these speeches, he reviews with them all that the LORD has done for them so far; he mentions:
  • Abraham, who used to worship other gods, before God took him out of his land, and gave him many descendants.
  • Moses and Aaron, and the LORD’s affliction of the Egyptians, which allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt. (Along with the incident where the Red Sea swallowed the Egyptian army.)
  • The Israelite defeat of the Amorites, East of the Jordan.
  • Balak hiring Balaam, to curse the Israelites, but God forcing Balaam to continually bless them, instead
  • The battle of Jericho, and subsequent battles with the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites.

    Because of this, God tells the Israelites:

    So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant. (verse 13)
So Joshua urges the Israelites to serve the LORD. And then there’s an interesting dialog between Joshua and the people:

[“]But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.”

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the LORD.”

Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD.”

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.

“Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.”

And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.”

(verses 15–24)


I notice that Joshua tells them to throw out any foreign gods that they have, but there is no mention of them doing so; I assume that this is because they don’t have foreign gods at this point. The Israelite nation will fall into idolatry very soon, and continue in its idolatry for hundreds of years, but in terms of spirituality, I believe they are at a high point in the book of Joshua, so I’m comfortable with making this assumption.

So Joshua renews the covenant between the LORD and the people. He draws up decrees and laws for them, records the event in the Book of the Law of God, and sets up a large stone as a reminder to the people of this covenant. More to the point, the stone will serve as a witness against them if they ever break the covenant.

Thoughts

This passage contains a very famous phrase, by Joshua, in verse 15b: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

I find this exchange with the Israelites very interesting. I’m sure there are some cultural nuances that I’m not getting, being a 21st Century Christian instead of a B.C. Israelite, but still, it’s fascinating.

“Obey the LORD.”

“Okay, we’ll obey the LORD.”

“No… on second thought, I don’t think you’re capable of obeying the LORD.”

“No really! Seriously! We’ll obey the LORD! Honest we will!”

And of course we know that the nation of Israel will break the covenant with the LORD, later on. But I believe that the people really mean it, when they tell Joshua that they will follow the LORD. It’s true that they haven’t fully destroyed the nations who were living in the Promised Land, like they were supposed to, but on the whole, I think they’re trying to follow God.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Joshua 23

Joshua 23: Joshua’s Farewell to the Leaders

Synopsis

This passage is a speech that Joshua gives to the Israelite elders, near the end of his life. Since he knows that he’ll be passing on, soon, he wants to encourage them to continue following the LORD. (Moses’ farewell speech took up the whole book of Deuteronomy, whereas Joshua’s just takes up one chapter.)

He starts out by reminding them that the LORD has fought for them, so far, and that He will continue to do so:

You yourselves have seen everything the LORD your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the LORD your God who fought for you. Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain—the nations I conquered—between the Jordan and the Great Sea in the west. The LORD your God himself will drive them out of your way. He will push them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the LORD your God promised you. (verses 3–5)

I find that little aside—“the nations I conquered”—very interesting. Obviously, in the context, Joshua is not trying to take credit for something that the LORD has done; could it be that he is trying to shame the Israelites? “I’ve done so much, and you haven’t finished the job you were supposed to do,” type of thing?

He then reminds them to obey the laws that were handed down from the LORD to Moses, “without turning aside to the right or to the left” (verse 6). They are not to associate with the nations still left in the Promised Land, nor to bow down to or serve their gods.

Then, on a related note, he reminds them that God has driven out nations from the Promised Land that were bigger than the Israelite nation, so they should be careful to love Him. They should also not ally themselves with the peoples of the nations still remaining in the Promised Land. If they do—and intermarry with them—two things will happen: 1) God will no longer drive these nations out; 2) Their relationships with these nations will become “snares and traps” (verse 13) for the Israelites, and they will perish from the land.

And Joshua’s last words (from this speech):

“Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. But just as every good promise of the LORD your God has come true, so the LORD will bring on you all the evil he has threatened, until he has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. If you violate the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.” (verses 14–16)

Thoughts

One thing I find interesting from this speech is that Joshua reminds the Israelites that God has driven out larger and more powerful nations than them, and that therefore, they should love Him. He doesn’t say that they should obey Him—although that is stated elsewhere—but that they should love Him. Which is, after all, the greatest commandment. And what is the opposite of loving Him? Allying themselves with other nations. That may seem strange; the opposite of loving Him should be not loving Him, or something. But by allying themselves with other nations, they are, in effect, discarding Him, and trusting in their alliances instead of trusting in their God.

Regarding the last part of Joshua’s speech, I’ve mentioned it numerous times before, but the LORD was very clear, when He made His covenant with the Israelites: He will be with them if they follow Him, and if they stop following Him, He will not be with them. Later on in the Israelites’ history, they’re going to forget this little caveat, and start thinking that they’re His people, no matter what. And when prophets start warning them that the LORD is going to punish them for their sin, they’re not going to believe the prophets—“God would never punish us! We’re His chosen people!”

I’m sure there’s a lesson there for modern-day Christians, too, but the specifics of it are eluding me.