Is Timing Really Everything?

When the dust settles, the wounds have been bandaged, and the clean up begins, it often becomes the time to wonder, “what went wrong in the first place?”.  The author of Judges looks back over 400 years to examine the early history of his people and their God, and he chronicles the answer to that question.  In the introduction, the “prelude” to Judges, several answers are offered, and they all tend to center around Israel’s faithlessness to Yahweh.  And yet, at times, this answer seems at odds with the setting.

The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.  Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. (Judges 3:7-8 NASB)

The account of the judges finally begins, the prelude is over.  One of the elements we were expecting from the notes of the prelude is time.  A generation should have passed of those who were familiar with how Yahweh led the people in war (Judges 3:1-2).  A generation should have risen who did not know Yahweh (Judges 2:10).  For instance, we expect a people who would know nothing of Caleb (Judges 1:11-15).  That’s what we expect from the prelude.  But here’s what we find:

When the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.  The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel. When he went out to war, the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand, so that he prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim.  Then the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died. (Judges 3:9-11 NASB)

If that bothers you, then at least you’re thinking about what you read.  If you only get that far, you’ve moved beyond simply reading to complete a task.  If it doesn’t bother you, and you’re already bored with this entry, then either you’ve already found someone’s explanation, or you don’t care.  In either case, you’re free to move on to another blog.  There’s plenty to entertain out there.

This is a challenge around the setting of Judges.  The prelude was supposed to give us a sense of what to expect throughout the book.  Yet, right at the outset of the account of these judges, the timing alluded to in the prelude seems off.  We didn’t get what we expected. But think through the explanation again.  Think through the pattern.  Think through those elements in the prelude about the people, about their failure, and repentance.  How could they repent if they never knew Yahweh in the first place?

The problem for us is a misunderstanding of some of the details in the prelude. We’re missing something about the succeeding generations after Joshua and those elders.  We assume they didn’t know as in knowledge.  But what we discover as we read further is that they didn’t know, as in experience.  Each generation seems destined to repeat the same lesson, that they can’t get along mixing Yahweh worship with any other god.  And that can happen as generations overlap.

When the young and vigorous refuse to listen to, and believe, their elders, this is what we get. We get it today.  We see that the younger generations “know better” than their elders, because the world is so much different now than when they were young and vigorous.  The reasons the young gave then were probably explained differently, but we can see the results repeatedly in Scripture.

Generations in Scripture flip-flopped in their devotion to Yahweh.  And not just in Judges.  Look at the sons of Samuel, neither of them could judge rightly.  The sons of David had only one “good egg” who eventually went bad, and had to recant.  Then his son splits the kingdom.  The succession of kings in Judah went back and forth to the point it becomes difficult to follow.  Look at the sons of Jacob, they didn’t really get their act together until after selling their brother, Joseph, into slavery.  And even then we see hints they weren’t really devoted to Yahweh (Genesis 38).

We point fingers at the people depicted in Judges, but they’re just like the rest.  That’s really the author’s point.  These people are just like his audience.  And, in many ways, they’re just like us.  We point at a generation around us that wanders from Jesus.  But, let’s be honest, they’re simply wandering further than we do.  And we do wander from Jesus.

Take a litmus test of your devotion to Jesus.  Are you what He would describe as a “disciple”?  Keep in mind that the purpose of His church is to make disciples, not “followers”. There’s no valid excuse for not being a disciple.  And as we read the gospels of Luke, Matthew, Mark, and John, we discover a disciple is a radical.  Our culture isn’t friendly to radicals, of any sort.  “Right-wing nut jobs” and “Leftist Guerillas” get the same treatment, suppression.  They’re disruptive – intentionally and dangerously.  And Jesus suffered the same treatment.

We look at the timing of Judges, and we don’t understand.  But, if we look deeper, see the experience from which they learned, the timing stops being the problem.  So, the first judge overlaps with the elders following Joshua, and is, in fact one of them.  That doesn’t take away from the truth that those around Othniel had wandered from Yahweh.  The generation having forgotten Yahweh was right there, rising up among the elders.  Finally, they stopped to listen to Othniel and his account of what Yahweh had done for His people.  Having finally listened, they believed. Only then was Othniel empowered to act as judge and deliverer.

Our elders, examples of disciples devoted to Jesus, may have passed.  Perhaps you have discovered that you are not like them, not the devoted disciple they were.  And once you’re fed up with that life, do as the people of Judges did, and cry out to Jesus.  Cry out for His deliverance.  But, be ready to change, be ready to experience the effects of devotion.  Be ready to loose everything of this “life” to gain everything of His life.  Pray, but brace yourself.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.  What’s your view of our Master through yours?


Contrasts And Dilemmas

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.  Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?  And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?  No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:10-13 NASB)

Finances schminances, what’s the big deal?  Why is Jesus so interested in finances?  Most of the people in the crowds around Him didn’t have much “finance” to worry about.  They were more concerned with the next meal.  Of course that does beg the question of why they were in a crowd around Jesus and not working for that next meal.  And still Jesus continues into finances as part of His discussion with His disciples (those having left everything to follow Him).

In this discussion Jesus contrasts having much and little, managing unrighteous wealth versus “true riches”, managing another’s and being given your own, and finally, serving two masters.  Essentially, He says that if we can’t handle a little, why would we expect a lot?  I’m fairly certain that some or many among the crowd were of the opinion that wealth was proof of God’s favor.  So, they considered the source of wealth to be God.  Jesus’ point has to do with the irony of wanting the blessings of God without first honoring God with the blessings already received.

This is like when I teach on “giving” and the response (or rather excuse) I get back is that the people are too strapped to give.  They don’t have enough to give right now, but when they do, they’ll give more and then some.  Jesus teaches that is not actually the case.  Those unaccustomed to offerings when they have little, will not be overly inclined once they have much.  Keep in mind that biblical giving is in proportion.  So if we don’t even give the smaller amount when we have less, why would we be inclined go give the larger amount when we have more?  Ten percent is ten percent, little or much.  If we don’t do it at one end we’re not going to be doing it at the other.

But think through these contrasts.  I’ve already touched on little versus much, but what about unrighteous versus true riches?  What does that mean?  I wonder if unrighteous wealth is that which is gained apart from the Kingdom of God?  That doesn’t sound right since I believe that my Master gave me my job.  It’s not vocational ministry, but I wouldn’t consider the money made to be unrighteous.  On the other hand, the corporation for which I work is not what I would consider righteous either.  Does that make the money I’m paid unrighteous?

I think in this case I would again defer to the historical context and say that it may refer to those with wealth gained prior to their relationship with Jesus.  I don’t have any proof of that though, it’s just an easier interpretation, absolving me of any requirement to apply it to my current situation, except where some rich person joins our church and follows Jesus as His disciple, at which time it would apply…still, kind of a cop-out as well.

The other though may be easier.  Being faithful in what is another’s could refer to the “stewardship” used to refer to how we manage our households.  In other words, seeing all you have as truly belonging to God, and yourself as His steward.  If so, then what is “your own” you might receive later?  Heaven?  Not sure on that one, but I would hesitate long and hard before I made how we manage our finances the key to our gaining heaven.  It may be a marker of how dedicated a disciple we are, or perhaps whether or not we’re a disciple.  But it does not work as criteria used by our Master for who He allows into His heaven.

The final statement, serving two masters, is not that difficult.  Matthew uses it in the Sermon on the Mount.  And who hasn’t seen this truth in the lives of people attending church who seem more caught up their things than the Kingdom of God?  It’s easy to fall away from church attendance unless we engage in it.  Each summer here people seem to vanish each weekend.  Is that sin?  Well, sort of.  It’s indicative of a choice to not be a disciple.  It may not be that they hate God and His Kingdom, but it does seem they love their “recreation” more.

I think that this section can be understood as a nice corollary to the cost of discipleship.  It’s about finances, but that is often one of the biggest deterrents to discipleship and the required devotion to Jesus.  Let’s face it, honestly, isn’t it easier to let our relationship with Jesus lapse when we have more to enjoy doing?  Sunny weekends, camping, boating, dining, traveling, enjoying life, you name it; it all can easily wind its way in between us and our Master.  I get tired, stressed, frustrated, and so on; and the answer is to “get away”.  Why is it always getting away from church though?  It’s work and daily grind of the week that stresses me out, but I when I get away it’s from my family of fellow disciples.  Really?

What do you really think about these contrasts?