I Am “These People”

I’m spending time in prayer while reviewing Judges 10, and I stopped thinking about “them”, and started confessing from my own life, and, WHAM!  There was this collision of my life and “these people” that shook me up…

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Senseless Senselessness

Sometimes, looking at the world around us, stuff just seems senseless.  Warlords finance a purposeless war machine through an illegal ivory smuggling ring, so an up-and-coming Chinese wealthy class can have ivory chopsticks.  Human trafficking is actually on the rise in the United States, which is probably the only area in which we compete with Sudan and Ethiopia in an industry.  So, people will wipe out elephants in their continent so they can kill more people.  And we are loosing more of our children to slavery because we can’t figure out how families are supposed to work.  It’s ridiculous.  But it’s not new.

Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the sons of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; thus they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him. (Judges 10:6 NASB)

One of the ironies of humanity is the characteristic that probably best describes the “fallen nature”.  We love to repeat mistakes.  Oh, we say we don’t, but our actions never bear that out.  We have a World War I and II.  How many empires fell before Europe was plunged into the “Dark Ages”?  And, we do remember that was regional, right?  We remember that the rest of the world was doing just fine, and only Europe “went dark”?  Probably not.

When “our world becomes about us”, we have lost the mooring to a fundamental truth about “the world”.  This has never been “our world”.  Scripture doesn’t tell us that God gave us the world, it teaches us that He made the world, and placed us in it.  Yes, we are to exercise dominion over the land, but only in the sense that we manage it, not own it.  I think for many, renting, instead of mortgaging, might be the perfect spiritual discipline.

Has the implication that our economy is based on ownership caused anyone else to be “unsettled”?  Do you realize that this economic principle puts us at odds with our Creator?  The spiritual challenge, then, is to live within an economic system, but think within a relationship with God.  This is the same challenge, and point of failure, for the people of Israel.

Everyone around the Sons of Israel worshiped a pantheon of gods.  These gods were responsible for various functions of the world, spheres of existence, or spiritual realms.  They had responsibilities, and internal relational struggles.  The myths of these gods made up the lessons for humanity, and so on, and so on…

Yet the Sons of Israel had this national self-identity of being chosen by a Supreme God.  That’s already a mark to make them odd.  But then that this Supreme God also demands exclusive worship was just down right crazy.  No one supernatural being, regardless of how supreme they claim to be, can manage this entire mess in which we live. The only way to get along in this chaotic mess of a life is to work within the system that is, not some fantasy propagated by whacky religious nuts claiming a “special relationship” with some “unknown” deity.  There’s a danger in being too counter culture…

You see what I did there?  In one paragraph, we traveled 4,000 years into the future.  We began with describing the cultural situation of the Sons of Israel, and ended describing the cultural tension between belief in Jesus and “science”.  People are still crazy.  People still cling to the irrational insistence of spontaneous generation instead of accepting the truth of the One True Creator-God.  Afterall, if God exists, then all this ignorant crap about gender confusion is no longer allowed.  And we can’t have that, now can we?

Animals have become more important than people, at least until we need to destroy an entire species so we can kill more of the annoying people.  How many infants are still being murdered in the name of convenience disguised as “rights of the mother”?  Yes, Jesus is the answer, but we’re still so confused about the question.  We were confused in the days of the Judges, and we are still confused in the days of the church.  We’re afraid to be different, much like they were.

So, like they did then, we need to do today.  We, as a people, need to return to Yahweh, and “put away our foreign gods”.  We need to become solely God’s people, and less like the world in which we live.  The call to be holy is nothing new.  It’s the timeless call to “repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!”  It’s sill near, in many ways, nearer.  Let’s become disciples living out repentance.  In that way we will become holy, sort of by association, and sort of by a natural development from within.

So, what’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Geography of Deliverance

One of the interesting details of Judges is the geography of the events. Never having been to Israel (a travesty I hope to remedy one day), I don’t exactly know the lay of the land.  But generally speaking the spaces covered on a map are confusing, and that’s when we can find the locations on map.

The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.  So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the people of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead.  And the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed. (Judges 10:6 — 9 ESV)

The confusing geography here has to do with Gilead. This region is on the East side of the Jordan, and north of the Sea of Galilee. It was the tribal inheritance shared by three tribes, Gad, Rueben, and Manasseh (The half-tribe of Manasseh). And this region is inconveniently located away from Judah and Benjamin.

So, the nation list looks like this: Syria (NE), Sidon (NW), Moab (SE), Ammon (E), and Philistia (WSW). The people of Israel are entirely encompassed by pagan nations. So, the cultural pressure to conform religiously is obvious. Now the political dominance of one neighbor is used by Yahweh to correct His wayward people.

It seems, at this time, that Ammon is beginning to assert themselves into the region across the Jodan, but then stop, and go due north. They’re already there, right below Gilead, but they first attempt the steep ascent into the highlands held by Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim. It’s easier to go north. The land is good grazing land (Numbers 32), so, it has resources. Why make the painful western climb first?

It’s possible that the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim were the stronger of the tribes. So, in order to effeftively subdue Gilead, the hill tribes had to be de-clawed first.  But the timing, never a real important detail for the author of Judeges, seems confusing. We are left unsure whether the last part went first, or if Gilead was subdued first. What’s the deal with the “that year” reference, and then “eighteen year” oppression? 

Okay, so, there are two issues, geography and timing. Timing isn’t new, we run into that all the time in Judges (see what I did there?). The geography isn’t new either, because we are often left wondering if a judge’s success is limited by region, or “national”. Or, does a regional success solve a problem for the whole nation? And that question with Jephthah is what I think the author is trying to answer.

If, as I suspect, Ammon had to subdue the hill country first, then a regional victory would serve a national purpose. In fact, the implied need to subdue the hills first would further imply Gilead is considered an easy target. And that would further heighten the miracle of Yahweh’s deliverance through Jephthah. 

So, while confusing at times, geography is an important part of the story. The audience of the author already knew it, but we have to use our imaginations to understand the geographical significance. Once we do, we can sense better the power of our Master to overcome obstacles, even the obvious ones we take for granted. “Can anything good come from Gilead?” I suppose that’s what we’re about to find out.

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

Literary or Legacy?

To this point in Judges, the people have not been repentant, only whiny. They complain about the oppression, but seem unconcerned about their iniquity and rebellion toward Yahweh. They had no idea up to this point. But now…

And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.”  And the Lord said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines?  The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand.  Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more.  Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.”  And the people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.”  So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel. (Judges 10:10 — 16 ESV)

The question I have here is whether this change is literary device, or a legacy from past judges. Are the people finally getting the point? Or, have they all along, and the author is including the detail here, he omitted before? This is a serious question for me, because Yahweh seems unimpressed with any evident progress made here. So, have they been aware all along, and confessed in this way in the past?

On the other hand, is confession repantance? Or, does confession progress toward repentance only when the words accompany a change of mind and heart, and then result in action? When is repentance authentic? Or, is that even the point? The people clearly weren’t authentic in Gideon’s day, and Yahweh delivered them.

But, here, Yahweh has had it. He’s no longer interested in delivering them, only to have them betray Him again. So, whether the change is only in that the detail was included here, or, this is truly a new development for them, it doesn’t impress Yahweh. He refers them to the gods with whom they have “cheated” on Him.

This concerns me. Can I exhaust the mercies of my Master? This isn’t simply an “Old Testament problem” either. Read the first three chapters of Revelations, and see how similar is my Master’s view there to Yahweh’s here. 

So, if the people have been “putting away the foreign gods from among them” before, Yahweh knows this won’t last. But if, as I fear, this marks a new development for the people, that Tola and Jair have left a 50 year legacy of faithfulness imprinted on the people, then development isn’t what gets my Master’s attention. I can’t claim “improvement” to win His favor in the face of continual failure.

On the other hand, His mercy eventually overcomes His pain of rejection. He becomes impatient over the misery of Israel. Literally, “His soul was shortened in the misery of Israel.” Yahweh felt the misery of His people in His soul. We don’t think of our Master having one of those, but it seems He does. The misery of those He loves hurt Him more deeply than the hurt of their betrayal. 

How can we not weep for our Master? How can we be so callous as to turn a blind eye to His pain, and harden our heart toward the hurt we cause Him; He who loves us without limits? We don’t expect our human friends to put up with what we put our Creator and Savior through. We know the standards of our human relationships, but we flagrantly disregard the standards of our spiritual relationship. And which is more important? Our actions say something other than our bumper stickers.

Perhaps weeping over our misery is the wrong response. Maybe weeping over the pain we have caused our Master is a better response. Perhaps when we acknowledge the relational pain we cause Him, then we truly repent. When we mourn plight of our Master, then we join Him in the amazing relationship He wants with us.

Those are my questions as I peek through this knothole at His work and play. What do you see of our Savior through your knothole in the fence?

Surviving In Political Culture Change

Times change. People come and go. Nations rise and fall. And then we do it all over again. The sons of Israel walked into a “power vacuum” in Canaan when Joshua led the people into the Promised Land. Every city was pretty much on their own. It was a perfect situation for an invading people. But then…

The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.  So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the people of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead.  And the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed. (Judges 10:6 — 9 ESV)

Egypt was on marginally interested in what went on in Canaan because they had a lot of local problems to distract them.  But they would sweep through soon enough. Mesopotamia was between empires following their own invasion of mountain peoples. Soon enough, Assyria would rise up and conquer the “known world”. 
In the meantime, nations began to reform in Canaan along their normal native cultural lines. Soon Ammon was a power, Moab, Phonecia (Tyre and Sidon), and now Philistines were another new-comer to the scene. These groups formed kingdoms, while the people of Israel remained a collection of confederated tribes.

So, how does a group of loosely knit tribes survive in a world of centralized kingdoms?  You make friends!  You try to fit in, do business, “play ball”, swap stories…maybe share stories, or, as in the case of this tribal confederacy, adopt stories.  “Yeah, my story is kind of like that, only…” eventually became, “Yeah, we worship that god too, only…” which led to, “What a coincidence, we worship the same god! Who would have thought?”  All to survive in this changing political cultural landscape.

We do it too. We adapt creation as a belief to macro-evolution. We subscribe to the Big Bang Theory as a “world origin” story.  Sure the science is more metaphysics than actual physics, but it’s popular, and no one respects our beliefs any more. Dark matter and string theory makes so much more sense than a supreme Creator Deity to everyone else, so we need to subscribe too. 

Eventually, belief in God will become lost within the cultural adaptation through which we have filtered it. Or, we can honestly look at the universe from the perspective of a Creator Who has a purpose within His design. In such a model, we look for His handiwork and craftsmanship, not some way to explain Him away. We marvel and wonder at Him, rather than become enamoured with what He has made. 

We have a choice of approach. The easy and popular approach is to go along with popular science. The less fun, less respected approach is to go along with the Creator, and believe what He reveals.

I choose to walk with my Master in the cool of the day, and believe what He tells me. How about you? What’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Clever Literary Bio’s

Ever wonder why some things were even included in Scripture?  Sometimes it can be baffling.  And 2,000+ years removed from the writing, it’s impossible to know the author’s intent for sure.  So, often we’re left with a mystery.

After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, and he lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim.  And he judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died and was buried at Shamir. After him arose Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years.  And he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities, called Havvoth-jair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead.  And Jair died and was buried in Kamon. (Judges 10:1 — Judg 10:5 ESV)

What did these guys do that warranted lines of Scripture? I get they judged Israel, but there are no battles, no acts of faith, no turning of the people, no feats of leadership. What did they do as judges that gets them on the list?

To heighten the mystery, why does a man of Isachar judge in Ephraim, and then have himself buried there?  Where is “his father’s tomb”?  Why not be buried there?  Is it that this man of Isachar belongs more to the “sons of Israel” than to any one tribe or family?  

What about the Gileadite? We miss the literary device of the author in translation. His thirty son ride thirty jackasses and have thirty cities.  In Hebrew, the word for jackass and the word for city are essentially the same.  It’s a Hebrew pun. The spelling of “city” is odd to make it work, but it works. But what’s the point? This can’t be simply an opprtunity to pun?

That ordinary judges, whose claim to fame is that they judged, are included without drama means that undramatic people are acceptable!  We can be what we’re called to be without fear we’re too boring. We can live out the design and plan of our Master without the need for some crisis to make the plan and design meaningful.

That’s kind of a relief. I thought there was something missing, like I wasn’t doing enough. But I’m called to be a disciple, not a drama king. His plans don’t require “management-by-crisis”. What my Master wants is a daily walk with me in the cool of the day. That’s when I live out my divine purpose, when I spend time with Him.

So, be the pun, be the man-of-the-people, be whatever our Maker has designed you to be. And rest in the walk with your Master in the cool of the day. That’s what garden’s are for.

What’s your view through the fence this morning?

A Stitch of Literature

Ever read through a story in Scripture and go, “Wait, what? That doesn’t sound right.”  Well, you may often do that in Judges.  If you consider what it took to write this book, the task would seem impossible.

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Behavioral Approach to Spiritual Mental Health

There is a behavioral pattern among people that we continually return to our fractured busted dangerous habits.  Addicts of any type continue destructive behavior even though they hate it, and themselves because of it.  The result of shame from the activity, feeds the need for the activity, and the cycle continues.  Eventually, they loose everything to this destructive pattern, even though they see it coming.  What is wrong with us?

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The Fabled Curse of Jotham

There are a lot of things in the Bible that confuse people, and I don’t want to add to the list. Yet, we have here one of the oddest accounts, but which clearly illustrates God’s hand at work through seemingly unrelated circumstances.

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Good Roots Gone Very Bad

The sad story of Judges continues after Gideon dies, with the sad story of his children.  Gideon’s faithfulness and courage seems to have imprinted only a few, for some reason.  I would hope to have more of a lasting impact after having done so much for a people.  He sank good roots into his people, but the produce was lacking when it came to harvest.

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