The Spirit of God and Faith

Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the sons of the east assembled themselves; and they crossed over and camped in the valley of Jezreel.  So the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon; and he blew a trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him.  He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, and they also were called together to follow him; and he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they came up to meet them.  Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, (Judges 6:33-36 NASB)

If you have the Holy Spirit, you have all you need, right?  Well, yes, except, having the Holy Spirit, is not like having a cool new power tool.  The Holy Spirit is His own Person.  So, when He comes upon you, it’s still sometimes a struggle for control.

The common understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures is that the Spirit of Yahweh would come upon a person rather than upon a people.  In the Christian Scriptures we see groups being affected by Him at once, and the effects are durable.

So, when the Spirit of Yahweh comes upon Gideon, then Gideon should be all set to accomplish all Yahweh has for him, right?  Well, yes.  But, while even faith is a gift of Yahweh, having His Spirit present upon us doesn’t guarantee we receive the faith He has for us.

Clearly Gideon needed more than the Spirit of Yahweh to fall on Him in order to have the necessary faith.  Gideon needed some proof, actually, more proof.  And Yahweh acquiesced to his need.  It’s possible we have higher expectations of ourselves and others.

Paul says, in Ephesians 2:8 and 9, that we are saved by grace through faith, and that this is a gift of God.  The antecedents of the pronoun “this” is the “this” that says, “…and this is not from yourselves…”  So, the “this” refers to the whole, “…saved by grace through faith…” phrase.  It’s the entirety of salvation, not just any one part.  But it has to include the parts.  So, faith is a gift as part of salvation.

The point is that the Holy Spirit on Gideon provides the faith, but as a gift, Gideon must accept the gift.  Fear, fear of a vast army of nomads, impeded his reception of the gift.  Those nomads weren’t a figment of his imagination, they were real, and a real danger.

So, reality, a firm grasp of our circumstances can impede our reception of faith.  When our Master asks us to do the scary thing, to face the scary circumstance, the terrifying person, place, or action, faith can be difficult to receive.

But on the other hand, rather than the Holy Spirit “coming upon us”, He’s within us already, if we have a relationship with our Master.  So, the faith is available, immediately.  It’s the game of “what-if” that impedes our reception of it, our fear (Future Events As Real).

God understands our fear.  He already knows we can’t see as He sees.  But as He accommodates our weaknesses, let’s take steps ahead in His plan.  Obey as we have faith to continue to receive more faith.  Let’s work the work He has for us as He provides for us.

It’s time to stop operating in fear, which keeps us from acting (therefore halts operations).  Instead, lets receive the faith offered, take the next steps, and seek the faith for the next steps of obedience.

Well, it’s time for me to carry out the trash, metaphorically as well as concretely.  I’m putting what fears I can into a separate bag, and kicking them to the curb.  How will you deal with yours today?  Obedience awaits!

What’s your view of our Master through the fence?

Strong Little Father

He said to Him, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.”  But the LORD said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.” (Judges 6:15-16 NASB)

When the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was torn down, and the Asherah which was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar which had been built.  They said to one another, “Who did this thing?” And when they searched about and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash did this thing.”  Then the men of the city said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he has cut down the Asherah which was beside it.”  But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever will plead for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar.”  Therefore on that day he named him Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he had torn down his altar. (Judges 6:28-32 NASB)

Gideon makes excuses.  He asks for proof, repeatedly.  And he seems to stretch the truth.  “My family is weak, and I’m the weakest.”  You may almost hear him whine it out to God.  The truth, as it ekes out in the story, is a bit different.  His family has the local altar to Baal on their “stronghold” (to protect the grain), making his father’s place the center of community life, the strongest, safest place to store grain for the surrounding farms, and probably the village.  So, how weak are they again?

But the most telling diversion from Gideon’s complaint is his father.  Joash is no wimp.  The whole community gathers with their torches and pitch forks, and it’s not for the ogre.  They gather to execute Gideon for tearing down the altar to Baal and offering to Yahweh on a new one he built.  Sorry, but wasn’t the “prophet” just here saying we shouldn’t be worshiping Baal?

Joash faces down the entire community, and harshly.  “But Joash said to all who stood against him…” That took courage.  And what does he say, “Will you contend for Baal?  Will you deliver him?”  Great words!  The altar was in his yard, but it seems, not so deep in his heart.  These words will be echoed, to a degree, later on by a prophet of Yahweh on Mount Carmel.  Let the real god contend for himself.  Hard to argue with that.

But Joash goes further.  He also says, “Whoever will plead for him will be put to death by morning.”  In other words, whoever sticks up for Baal will be executed, which pretty much turns the tables on the community pitch-fork committee.  Consider the courage and faith of Joash.  Honestly, it should make us wonder why God didn’t choose him instead of his youngest son.

Again, the obvious choice may not display the mercy and grace of God as well as the weaker choice.  And so, brave and faithful Joash – well, that’s probably too strong a description.  How long was the altar in his yard, we don’t know.  It took the work of his son in the night to bring out his own faith.  But it did bring out his own faith.  Perhaps Joash winds up being one of the 300 torch-and-pot guys in the next chapter.

Regardless of when the character reveals itself, Joash’s character comes out.  And it’s good character.  He is a good father for Gideon.  Consider how encouraging it would be for Gideon to have his father stand up for him like that.  And the people of the community are cowed by Joash.  They rename Gideon (like it’s an insult), but they don’t lay a hand on him.  Joash is a good father, he’s strong and demonstrates faith.

So, how do we, when faced with our kid or one close to us tearing down that altar we’ve been ignoring in the front yard, how will we respond to the world?  When our culture accuses our family member or close friend of betrayal, will we acquiesce, sacrificing them as they sacrificed for us?  Or will their act of courageous faith inspire the same in us?  Will we be the strong, courageous friend or parent or sibling they need?

The truth is that people do stand against culture, and we, who should back them up, don’t.  We bow to culture way too often.  We have platitudes like, “you can’t fight city hall” or “that’s just how things are in the ‘real world'” and so on.  They’re lies.  They’re the whisperings of our enemy telling us to give up.  Otherwise we might actually win, or, more accurately, his Enemy might win through us.

So, if you’re a father, stand up for your kids’ faithful counter-culture acts.  Defend them from this insidious culture rebelling against their Creator.  If you’re a friend or sibling of one who stands against culture, defend them.  The culture has plenty of defenders, they don’t need another.  And defending someone’s stand for faith may increase your own faith.  And, can’t you live without the altar in the front yard?  Shouldn’t you?

Well, I think I hear someone in my front yard with a tractor and chains doing some damage.  I probably should go get dressed, and help them out…

What do you see of God through your knothole?

Supernatural Selection

So Gideon said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me.  Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.” And He said, “I will remain until you return.” (Judges 6:17-18 NASB)

Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.” (Judges 6:36-37 NASB)

Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.”  God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground. (Judges 6:39-40 NASB)

Why do we think God thinks like we do?  Don’t we?  Don’t we fall into the default of believing that God will do the expected?  He will choose the strongest, smartest, tallest, best looking, anyone but me (or you).  He will choose the others, the others our culture claims are the best of the best.  Or even those of stronger faith, the righteous, He’ll choose those, but not us.

Or, maybe, as Scripture teaches, He’ll chose people like us instead.  Remember us, the ones with the altars in the front yard about which we are in denial?  Us, the ones who judge others but not ourselves.  We are the ones failing our Jesus as we selfishly seek whatever we want in our days.  It’s possible that this choice our Master makes is rigged in favor of the weak ones, like us.

Here’s an excellent specimen.  Gideon, a coward threshing wheat in a wine press, is hailed as a mighty warrior.  He has God’s favor.  And God is with him, even though he lies about the status of his family, has an altar to a pagan god in his front yard, and seems completely disinterested in national covenant obedience.  That’s right, let’s choose this guy, because at least he has faith, right?  Well, no.  He doesn’t seem to have that either.

Okay, if it is You calling, let me test you with an offering.  Okay, if it is you let me put out a fleece…twice.  Let me test You, let me test You, and once more, let me test You.  And then I’ll create an idol after I’m done.  Leave it to Yahweh to pick a real winner.  But isn’t it cool that He does pick such people?

Think about it.  Jesus picks Simon the Zealot (i.e. “terrorist”), and Matthew the tax collector (professional cheat).  Wouldn’t you think there would be room for us among such persons?  It seems I’m perfect for the job.  I’m not a terrorist, but I’ve cheated.  I’ve tested God, on several occasions.  I’ve acted faithlessly, ignored Him and His calling, walked away from faith (as far as He let me go anyway).  I’m perfect for Him!

The list of things that our enemy brings against us as accusations are actually the things that should drive us to Jesus.  Bring them on!  List them off!  Guilty as charged, but redeemed!  He chooses me, not because I don’t have such a list, but because of the list.  He looks at me as an opportunity to display His grace and mercy.  Because we forget that those are the qualities He wants His human creatures to know about Him.

Think about the accusations leveled at the church and “God” by detractors.  Don’t they all seem to fall on character?  How many attempt to undermine the qualities of grace and mercy?  In fact, a good case can be made that the “wrath of God”, so often pointed out in the Hebrew Scriptures, is only there to highlight the grace and mercy also found there.  Yeah, I’m a mess.  And that’s perfect for Him.  And so are you.

So, here’s a challenge, stop reading the Bible to be a good person.  Just stop it.  Stop praying to make God happy.  Just don’t.  He’s happy.  You’ll never be good enough to impress God.  It won’t happen, stop trying.

Instead, let’s read the Bible so we won’t miss a word He says to us.  Let’s pray to spend time with Him.  Let’s do that.  Make that our priority.  Because doing those things for those reasons brings us into relationship with our Creator, and makes Him the priority, not ourselves.  Let’s do that.  I mean, if He’ll spend so much time on Gideon, we have a pretty good chance He’ll choose us too.

That’s my view this morning.  What do you see of our Master through the fence?

Grace In The Picking

The LORD looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”  He said to Him, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.”  But the LORD said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.”  So Gideon said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me.” (Judges 6:14-17 NASB)

When confronted by God, the first thing Gideon does is show off his ignorance.  He is in a culture completely unaware they live in violation of their covenant with God.  And yet, God doesn’t say to Gideon, “What’s wrong with you people?”  We say that as we read, but God’s response is different.  He drags this guy back into a covenant relationship with Him.

There are some interesting details given about God’s interaction with Gideon.  For instance, the Angel of Yahweh sits under the oak in Ophrah, and then appears to him.  The language is specific that Gideon couldn’t see Him until after He sat under the oak.  And now, we have the description that Yahweh looks directly at Gideon.  Gideon has His full attention, a dangerous thing of Yahweh’s to have.

These details may not seem like much, but they provide some insight into God’s character.  And it’s His character here that I think is so important.  Gideon gives one excuse after the other, and Yahweh patiently ignores and sweeps them aside.  First, Gideon is a “valiant warrior” with whom Yahweh hangs out, but Gideon asks the insulting question of where is this Yahweh.  Then Yahweh ignores the response, stares at him and tells him to go “in this your strength” and defeat Midian.

The fact that Yahweh doesn’t debate the first question, nor accept the falsely humble statements of Gideon about his family, and then waits around for the first “test”, all indicate that Yahweh is patient.  When He sends the prophet with the scathing rebuke, we think Him harsh.  But we forget that Yahweh didn’t wait around for their repentance.  In fact, there’s no real indication that the people truly repented.

God’s grace in this story is truly grace.  It’s not conditional on the objects of His favor, it didn’t wait around for some criteria other than the people calling out for God.  He just wanted to be acknowledged.  Clearly they didn’t understand their covenant relationship with Him.  Obviously they didn’t change their ways, they try to worship the stupid gold pendant Gideon has made at the end.

The point of this story, for the author and for us, is that God’s mercy is always available.  It may not look like we want.  It may not involve the people we would choose.  It may not be the most comfortable thing to receive.  But it’s always available, and available for the asking.  We may be amazed at how much we can survive, but we’ll survive.  It may be we only see the sheer amount of mercy He shows when we are before Him in heaven.

The thing is, God is merciful to the idiot, the ignorant, and the bonehead.  He is faithful to the unfaithful.  So, what are we?  Do we have all the answers?  Do we “get it”?  Are we faithful?  Don’t we have altars to other gods in our front yards?  Don’t we demonstrate the same level of ineptitude that Gideon showed?  Sure we do.  Daily, we display our ignorance and arrogance before God and everybody.  And yet, He continues to show His love for us.

The truth is that we are as dependent upon our Master as any believer in a third-world country.  In some ways we’re probably worse off.  And yet, as bad off as we may be, or may get, the love of God for us is as strong as His love for those more faithful followers in other countries.  He doesn’t wait for us to “get it”, to understand Him more, or even to repent.  Repenting is good, but God doesn’t wait for us to be faithful to Him, He simply is to us regardless.

Even repentance is a response to the love and faithfulness of God.  Even falling before Him in anguish over our sinful ignorance and boneheadedness is a response to His mercy.  We worship because He already loves us.  We honor Him because we’re already accepted.  We serve because we have already received His blessing.

I suppose the question for today is, what will you do in response to Him today?

That’s my view through the knothole.  What’s your view of God this morning?

How Does He NOT Know?

Then the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites.  The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.”  Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:11-13 NASB)

Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and named it The LORD is Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.  Now on the same night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.” (Judges 6:24-26 NASB)

The Angel of the Lord is Yahweh, Himself, in visible form, dressed for a visit.  He goes to a guy threshing wheat where there is no wind, a wine press.  That’s a job that will take a while, and will seem pointless through much of it.  Gideon can’t be happy.  At the point of the visit, his life is pretty much at an all-time low.  Hence his reply to his Creator.

It’s Gideon’s reply that is so incredibly ironic though.  “Why…”  It’s a good question for someone suffering wrongfully.  It’s a good question for the righteous man to ask of God, like Job, for instance.  The impression received from the question is that Gideon asks from a standpoint of innocence.

At first I thought, perhaps, it was the prophet who reminded the people about Yahweh.  Perhaps the previous generation had forgotten to pass down the stories.  Yet Gideon replies to this Yahweh that the “…miracles which our fathers told us about…” were lacking at the moment.  It seems they hadn’t forgotten to pass down the stories.

So, then I figured that Gideon didn’t know that it was wrong to serve Yahweh and Baal…and Asherah, and so on.  That’s possible.  He at least knows that the people around him won’t like being exclusive.  He immediately builds an altar to Yahweh, there at the wine press.  And he tears down his father’s Baal altar… in the dark.

But think about it.  His first task given to him by Yahweh is to tear down his father’s altar to Baal, and the Asherah pole next to it.  There is an altar to Baal and an Asherah in the front yard.  And Gideon has the audacity to ask, “Where is Yahweh, and why has He abandoned us?”  Are you kidding me?  Seriously, he doesn’t get that?

The condition of the people of God at this point in their history is shocking, or should shock us.  We should be slapping our foreheads, going, “REALLY?”.  The thing is, we’re not.  Instead, we glibly read through, barely stopping to notice the incongruity before us.  Gideon is a hero, and heroes are great people.  Keep reading, we have a lot to get through.

But when we stop and look at what is happening, it should startle us.  It was supposed to startle the author’s audience when written.  It was supposed to shock them into realizing what they were doing, how they treated Yahweh.  They were supposed to see how boneheaded ignorant they were.  And that’s what is supposed to happen to us.

Is gathering together as believers something that only happens once a week?  Does it happen in a large crowded venue?  Are you able to hide there, choose not to interact?  Does your experience as a “church-going” follower of Jesus make a minimal impact on your time during the week?  People, there is probably an altar in your yard, and you don’t even realize it’s a problem.

Is your church constantly preaching about giving, and wanting you to give more, and harping on how much it doesn’t have…are you tithing?  Is all you have, God’s, and you’re simply the steward?  Would your neighbors say you’re weird because you clearly honor God with all your stuff, money, and time?  Or do you look and act a lot like them?  There could be an altar in your yard you have learned to pretend isn’t there.

You see where this going?  Do you need another example?  Okay, what would your kids say about your devotion to God?  Would they, one, say you’re truly devoted; and, two, want that for themselves?  Or does your attitude toward, and your treatment of, your family deviate widely from what you say you believe?  Do you have an altar to yourself in the yard, one you’ve been using regularly, but pretending is something else?

Are you sufficiently depressed? Has conviction angered or saddened you to near uselessness this morning?  As my dad would say, “Have I gotten your goat?”  I still don’t know what that means, by the way.  I mean, I do, from the way he used it, but why does it mean that?  So, if you take my goat, does that mean I mow my yard myself?  Maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe I’ll get tired of mowing around the altar, and TEAR IT DOWN!

Stay tuned.  It gets better.  God didn’t reject Gideon for being an ignorant moron.  So, we’re probably safe.  Be honest about it, though.  That’s the process of repentance, honesty about who and what we are before God.  Seeing ourselves for who we really are, and then appreciating what He does for us, is rearranging our mind to be like His.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.  What do you see?

What’s the Problem?

So Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the sons of Israel cried to the LORD.  Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD on account of Midian, that the LORD sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery.  ‘I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, and I said to you, “I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me.”‘” (Judges 6:6-10 NASB)

Before we even get to the discussion between Yahweh and Gideon, we have this setup by the author of Judges.  It’s important to know, not only what God does for His people, but the condition they are in before He helps them.  It’s a big part of the author’s point to his audience.

So, what is the condition of God’s people?  They cry out to Yahweh because of the oppression of the nomads, and He sends a prophet with a scathing message.  The word from Yahweh to His people that He has kept His side of the covenant by bringing them out of Egypt and into the land, but they have not kept their part of the covenant by not fearing the local deities.  That wasn’t the only part of the covenant, but it was a key, repeated, element of it.

So, you would expect repentance.  You would think at this point, if they’re crying out to Yahweh, they would also put away the other gods, idols, altars, practices, and what not?  You would think they would change their minds and hearts to agree with God’s mind, search out His heart.  And yet, no.  In fact, they seem confused by the prophet.  Yahweh has done all this stuff, and told them to not fear the gods of the Amorites.  But they did.

See, you’d think the prophet would even wake them up, wouldn’t you?  Sure they cry out, but don’t get exactly what they’re doing wrong.  In that case they wouldn’t know how to repent.  But when the prophet delivers his message, they still seem baffled.  If you keep this part in your mind as you read the rest of the chapter, the heart condition of these people is nearly unfathomable.  It’s so wrong it’s baffling, it can’t possibly be that bad.

This setting for the rest of Gideon’s story is critical to the author’s point.  After all, if you’re going to make a point that God is, and has always been, gracious, wouldn’t a drastic contrast between His goodness and the people’s rebellion be a good illustration?  The author doesn’t use the term “grace”.  Instead, he shows Yahweh, the God of the Sons of Israel, being gracious.

This chapter especially, is the Creator of the universe rescuing this ridiculous people of His in spite of themselves.  They are so far gone, they don’t even know they’re gone.  They have no concept of their wayward, rebellious, and adulterous ways.  They are confused by why Yahweh would be upset with them in the first place.  They are blind to their sin, completely ignorant of the problem.

And, so are we.  We don’t really believe that the Bible should be taken seriously.  We don’t.  Don’t even try to act innocent.  I spend hours weekly sifting minutia in the original texts, and I don’t really take it seriously.  It’s not about how much we know or don’t know.  It’s not about what church we attend or translation of the Bible we use.

It’s about, when we read the Beatitudes, whether we truly put such attitudes ahead of our cultural attitudes Monday through Saturday.  It’s about whether, when we read about the cost of discipleship, whether we pay it or not.  It’s about whether we truly love God, the One having already sacrificed His only Son for us, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.  We don’t.  I know I don’t.  My behavior is evidence enough of that.

So, before we characterize these unfathomable clueless people as aberrant, perhaps we should stop, and see where we stand.  Let’s ask ourselves some tough questions, like, “Do I really believe the Bible?”, “Do I live like Jesus is first in my life?”, and perhaps ask our Master for that prophet to point out in us that blind spot in our relationship with Him.

Because here’s the thing, we will always have one more thing to work on in our relationship with Him.  But, His grace to us is evidenced in that, while we wander cluelessly, He preserves our relationship with Him.  This isn’t about being good enough for Him, it’s about clinging to the One having already loved us unfathomably.

How ridiculously obtuse is it of us to consider anything of the stuff of this earth to be of any value compared to our relationship with Him?  And yet we let our relationship with Him languish, while we pursue one more thing of this world.  Silly people, let’s put things back in proper order.  Let’s do it, not because He will punish us if we don’t, but because He has already rescued us from punishment.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What do you see of our Master through yours?

Perspective On Sin

Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years. The power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.  For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against them.  So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey.  For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it. (Judges 6:1-5 NASB)

Context and perspective are everything?  Well, no, not really.  We say that, but then we tend to “emphasize” a particular perspective to suit our desired point.  Our behavior differs from our pithy statement.  Perspective isn’t everything. Actually, we focus on what we want, and find a perspective that supports that conclusion.

The writer of Judges has an audience.  They have these kings who, every other generation, wander from God.  It’s frustrating, and causes no end of confusion.  It’s not that they don’t know who the One True God is, but for one reason or another, these kings add another god into the worship of Yahweh.  The writer of Judges points out that this is nothing new.

But there are things about the time of the judges which are very different from the time of the kings.  For instance, without a central standing army, nomadic peoples can descend on Canaan and overwhelm the farmers.  And that is what’s happening here.  The writer of Judges has the perspective that this happens due to the people’s sin.  That’s his perspective.

On the other hand, this also affects the Canaanites who have not been driven out, the Philistines living in the plains, and the “city folk” who don’t live on farms.  We sometimes forget to view these descriptions with the “response to sin” removed.

At this time, Egypt is busy getting their stuff together, recovering from a recent occupation.  Mesopotamia is between empires at the moment.  The kings of Syria haven’t yet arisen, and the Hittites are still in the mountains of Asia Minor.  It’s pretty much up to the squabbling city-states of Canaan to address this issue.

The land is in chaos during the time of the judges.  The Canaanites of Meggido have iron chariots, but they do them no good against the camel cavalry of the desert nomads.  The only option in response to these migrant invaders is to hide the produce in mountain strongholds and caves.  And that is only partially effective.

Saying that seven years of these nomadic invaders comes as a response to the sin of the Sons of Israel is one perspective.  It’s one that interprets the events of that day in light of the relationship of the people, chosen by Yahweh, to be His people.  Whenever they chose not to be “exclusive” in their relationship with Yahweh, they suffered.

But this perspective does not address all the “bad” stuff that happened to the people.  Some bad stuff happened while the people were following Yahweh.  We’re not given those events.  They don’t support the author’s point.  On the other hand, he never says they don’t happen.  We know they had to happen.  This author sticks to his point, his perspective supports it, and other points are left to others to make.

These events are what they are.  The perspective used to derive meaning from the events can vary.  But, the choice of perspective is driven by the author’s intended point to make to his audience.  The chosen message for this author is that, when God’s chosen people are unfaithful to Yahweh, He permits them to suffer.  That is not to say that this is the only time people suffer.  But it does point out that God holds His people accountable for their actions.

That perspective isn’t an error.  It’s true.  It’s not the only explanation of why bad things happen, but it was never intended to be.  Later on, during the reign of Hezekiah, Assyria attacks Judah, and gets all the way to Jerusalem.  Yet Hezekiah and the people are doing well with God.  So, why did the Assyrians have so much success?  Answering that question wasn’t the author’s point, so we aren’t told.  But, we are told that God used that attack to demonstrate His power over even earthly powers considered unbeatable.  But only the Sons of Israel were given that point or perspective.

The unfaithfulness of the Sons of Israel was the explanation of why the nomadic peoples were able to oppress the land.  The reason given for most of the events in Judges is the same.  God holds His people accountable for their relationship with Him.  That point is supposed to be our take-away, our lesson, our insight gained from Judges.  So, keeping that point in mind, what’s going on in our world?  Are there things that indicate we may not be honoring our relationship with God?

God still holds His people accountable for their relationship with Him.  We live under a new covenant, but it’s still a covenant.  There are things for us and for God by which to abide in order to be faithful to the covenant.  He has done His part through His Son, Jesus.  We do our part when we rely on Him, and put this relationship ahead of every other, including ourselves.

Stuff happens when we are not faithful.  Stuff often happens anyway, but why ask for more?  Why not be faithful and avoid additional problems.  Isn’t closeness with God what makes it easier to get through the stuff of this life anyway?  If we have a solid relationship with the Creator of the universe, what else matters anyway?  If nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35-39), then why does stuff bother us?  The only stuff that should bother us is the stuff our Master uses to bring us back to Him.  The other stuff just deepens what we already have with Him.

Well, that’s my perspective through this knothole this morning.  What do you see of God through yours?

Modifying God’s Plans

Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, “Behold, the LORD, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun.  ‘I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.'” Then Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”  She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. (Judges 4:6-9 NASB)

This probably never happens to you, but have you ever tried to bargain with God to change His plans for you?  I have.  Don’t.  Barak did, and his fun ended at a woman’s tent.  See, God will modify His plans to accommodate us, and our level of faith.  But those accommodations often will make clear that we need to up our game with Him, because we will see what we missed with our modifications.

Barak is told that if he will drag himself out in front of the army of Naphtali and Zebulun, then God will drag his enemy out to be defeated.  Well, fine, but Barak wants the prophet, the ‘mouthpiece’ for God, to come along as assurance.  After all, God wouldn’t let anything happen to her, right?  What if he needed a last-minute insight?  What if he didn’t understand the instructions (which seems to have happened)?

Barak wanted to obey, but with conditions.  His faith wasn’t where it needed to be for full obedience.  God called him to put 10,000 men up against 900 chariots and other soldiers.  That was simply too intimidating.  Those chariots just roll right over people.  They’re just not safe at all.  So, Barak wanted additional assurance that this scary plan would work.  And he got it.

The modification of Barak cost him the final victory, but not God.  God still won, but He used another woman, Jael.  Barak was not the guy.  He didn’t get Sisera, the chariot general of Jabin.  Jael, the wife of an ally of Jabin, got the general, and she got him with a tent peg through the temple, into the ground.  Very dramatic ending, but not very manly.  Barak was kept from defeating Sisera, but God still won the victory.

In similar ways, my Master will accomplish His plans, with or without me.  He will accomplish these plans using me as He intends, or, if my faith just isn’t there, in whatever way He wants, just with diminished returns for me.  I gain from my participation in His plans only to the level of my faith.  In other words, my level of cooperation determines the quality of what I get out of that cooperation.

God does negotiate.  Anyone reading Genesis 18:20-23 (a passage to be read with a Yiddish accent, or misunderstood) knows God negotiates.  In some ways, the Middle Eastern Bizarre is more the setting for our relationship than the military chain of command.  On the other hand, it’s in the midst of those negotiations that we lose something of what our Master has for us.  That’s what we bargain away.

On the other hand, there are times when our Master intends for us to negotiate; that’s the act of obedience.  Moses is told to step away from the Sons of Israel for Yahweh is going to destroy them.  But Moses negotiates for their survival.  That is what God wanted from Moses; that was the act of obedience.  So, how do you know?  What is it that tells you that negotiation isn’t obedience or that negotiation is the obedient thing?

The only way I can think of is to get to know God better.  The better we know His voice, His character, His plans and desires become clearer, and we’ll be able to better distinguish His will.  Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  It is the experience we gain with and of God that enables us to know God’s mind, His will, and then be obedient.  Then we will know the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Well, that’s my view through this knothole.  What’s your view of God through the fence today?

How to Play With New Toys

Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died.
And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; and the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. (Judges 4:1-2 NASB)

Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, “Behold, the LORD, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun.  ‘I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.'” (Judges 4:6-7 NASB)

Then they told Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor.
Sisera called together all his chariots, nine hundred iron chariots, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. (Judges 4:12-13 NASB)

The LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot.
But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left. (Judges 4:15-16 NASB)

Okay, that’s a lot of the chapter, but there is something here that is probably obvious to those in “Iron Age II” Israel which completely escapes us.  As has been pointed out in previous entries, these accounts of the Judges of Israel take place in the late bronze age, right on the cusp of the Iron Age.  But as with all technological advances, iron wasn’t achieved by everyone at once.  It was used by large “empires” but not by small city states, at least generally speaking.

With Sisera though, there may be something to the 900 iron chariots.  The clue is in the name of the city in which he lives and in which his army is garrisoned, Harosheth.  The name is literally “Craftsmen of the Nations”.  You have to admit, that’s a weird name.  The word for “craftsmen” can refer to anyone working anything, wood, metal, fabric, pottery, and so on.  Since it also includes “blacksmiths”, it’s fair to say that they could have had people who could work iron.

Here’s the problem though.  In order to work iron, there would need to be some familiar with it, and those people were typically found in large empires, and the skills and people carefully guarded (see 1 Samuel 13:19-22 for a biblical reference to this historical tidbit).  If you keep this in mind, then what was done was more likely taking existing material and fixing or adapting it.  So, the craftsmen of the nations collected and maintained the various chariots gathered from the battlefields of the major kings and Pharaohs.

How familiar they were with these weapons they “inherited” becomes clear when we see they tried to take them through the river Kishon.  Heavy, horse-drawn carts, made heavier by plating them with iron, will not go through mud very well.  Every river will have some mud (some, like the Mississippi, even more so).  How does a seasoned charioteer not know their heavy vehicle will not handle mud well?  Perhaps all mud is not equal?  In any case, they tried, and failed, to move 900 chariots through a river, and were massacred by foot soldiers.

The point I gain is this: just because the problem, or person, or situation, I face looks intimidating, if my Master has led to the fight, I’ve already won.  How was Barak to know Sisera didn’t know chariots don’t float?  How am I to know what whatever opposes my work for my Master does or doesn’t know, have, can or can’t do, or whatever?  I don’t.  So, my Master calls me to trust that He knows.  Just because my opponent has 900 iron chariots (or the modern equivalent thereof) doesn’t mean my Master doesn’t know something about this opponent I don’t know.  What I see is not what my Master sees.

This means that I can fearlessly tackle my calling.  That’s not typically my way, but it can be.  It really should be, because I know the stories, I’ve read about the people, and I know their circumstances were pretty much like mine.  So, it’s time to act.  Time to make a list, and begin accomplishing the things I’m called to accomplish by my Master.  No opponent can oppose such a calling nor the work to accomplish it.  I’ve already won.

What’s your view of God through your knothole?

Who Is She?

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.  She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5 NASB)

One of the unique elements to this account of God’s deliverance of the Sons of Israel is that His main person is a woman.  The writer of Judges does emphasize this uniqueness in that she’s not just a “prophetess” but a woman prophetess.  Like there’s another kind.  Obviously he’s emphasizing her gender.

Do what you want with that, but also take into consideration that, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the leadership role of a woman is not “moralized”, or characterized as evil, in the Hebrew narratives.  Even the “evil queen”, Athaliah was condemned for her actions in the same way as the other evil kings; her downfall was never tied to her gender.

In most cases, the husband of a woman in leadership is also mentioned.  In the case of Athaliah, it’s mentioned prior to her assuming the throne.  But in the case of Huldah and Deborah, their husbands are introduced along with them.  Deborah’s introduction with her husband is somewhat unique though.

In the case of Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), her husband is given the expected introduction so the hearer/reader gets a sense of who he is.  Even his role or occupation is listed.  But in the case of Deborah, her husband has a weird name, and no sense of his tribal affiliation.  Only their location in the hill country of Ephraim provides a clue as to the tribe to which they belong.

The introduction formula isn’t necessarily a problem.  Yet, another unique quality is that Deborah’s husband has a name in a feminine form.  The word it’s derived from is “torch”, which can also mean “lightning”, “fire brand”, “flame”, etc. In a sense, you could say that Deborah’s husband’s name is “she shines”, or “she’s bright”.  The problem being that “torch” doesn’t have a verb equivalent to the noun.

So, is it possible that the writer of Judges didn’t have any of that info for Deborah, and supplied a “placeholder”?  It’s not necessarily likely, but possible.  If that were the case, though, then God wasn’t really interested in that particular detail.  As it is, that detail isn’t very prominent, not nearly as prominent as it is in the case of Huldah.

So, what’s my point?  The point I see here is that Deborah’s gender is important to the account, but her “marital status” is not.  Even her tribal affiliation isn’t that much of an issue.  The point that is emphasized is her gender (woman prophetess), and that reluctance of the part of a male (Barak), for whatever reason, incites God to give the victory to another woman rather than the “chosen male”.

And I don’t see any reluctance on the part of God to use a woman.  He chose a guy local to the battle, but the guy wanted the prophetess to accompany him. God acquiesces, but then takes the “glory” away from the guy and gives it to a girl.  Once again, God seems to have no problem with that.

So, this entry only deals with God’s use of women as leaders in the Hebrew Scriptures.  And that’s as far as I’m going in it.  I’m not dealing with or addressing Paul’s writings here.  And as far as we’ve gone, I think it’s clear that God seems to have no problem using women as leaders.  Whatever that might mean to you, to me it means that I shouldn’t have a problem with it either.

Well, that’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What do you see through yours?