Paradoxes of Samson (JUDGES 13-16)

Our lessons last week focused upon the life of Samson. Today we will conclude this series on Samson by considering six paradoxes of this great man of faith. These paradoxes should help us remember the key points in Samson’s life.

PARADOX #1: SAMSON WAS RELIGIOUS YET REBELLIOUS.
Since there was no one suitable to lead the Israelites against the Philistines, God saw fit to raise up a special man for the task. Samson was “a Nazirite unto God from the womb” (Jud. 13:5). A casual reading of that chapter reveals that the parents of Samson were God-fearing people. They were religious and undoubtedly reared their son to be religious also. However, even though Samson was brought up in a spiritually rich and wholesome environment, he later rebelled. When he was contemplating marriage, he was encouraged to seek a wife from among his own people. He rebelled against the wisdom of his parents and married a Philistine woman. His rebellious nature was further manifested in his illicit sexual encounters. The purity of life which should have characterized one separated to God by the Nazirite vow was mocked by his associations with the harlot in Gaza and also Delilah (Jud. 16:1-21). His rebellious attitude cost him dearly (Jud. 14:20; 16:21).

PARADOX #2: SAMSON WAS CONSECRATED YET CORRUPT.
Samson was separated to God from before his birth through the Nazirite vow or a divine modification of it. Thus, he was a consecrated man. However, Samson did not keep the vow as faithfully as he should have. He corrupted himself sexually as noted above. Additionally, he disobeyed God by cutting his hair. It is true that he did not personally cut his hair, but he allowed it to happen. He behaved in an irresponsible way.

PARADOX #3: SAMSON WAS KNOWLEDGEABLE YET NAIVE.
Samson’s intelligence and resourcefulness are demonstrated in several ways in the divine record (e.g., the riddle he posed, the manner in which he paid off his debt of thirty garments, his burning of the Philistine crops, the use of a donkey’s jawbone in battle, the removal of city gates to escape, as well as the destruction of the temple of Dagon). But, in spite of moments of brilliance, he often acted foolishly, even naively. His association with Delilah in Judges 16 is a source of constant amazement to me. His previous dealings with the Philistines should have taught him many lessons, not the least of which that they could not be trusted. Also, the first three attempts of Delilah to ascertain the source of Samson’s strength ended with her trying to strip him of that strength. Was he so naive to think that she wouldn’t test him again after he “told her all his heart” (16:7)? Why would Samson knowingly reveal such information to one who had demonstrated not once but three times that she could not be trusted? It truly boggles the mind.

PARADOX #4: SAMSON WAS AWARE YET APATHETIC.
Samson knew that the Philistines were nothing but trouble, but he dove into relationship after relationship with them. He knew better than to do this and was certainly aware of the danger he was putting himself in. But, his selfish impulses, combined with an outlook of indifference, ultimately lead to his demise. It appears that he simply didn’t care about the foolish risks he took in his life. One cannot help but wonder if this attitude emerged over the years as a result of trusting in his own physical strength instead of God who made that strength possible!

PARADOX #5: SAMSON WAS A LEADER YET A LONER.
Samson, as a leader of Israel, had little support from his brethren. Throughout the narrative of his life, he is seen as a solitary figure standing against the numerous, uncircumcised Philistines. On one occasion, his brethren even turned upon him to deliver him to the enemy for fear of their safety (Jud. 15:9-13). They were content with the situation as it was. They were content with being oppressed by the Philistines! How tragic that they did not rally behind Samson as the leader God had raised up for them!

PARADOX #6: SAMSON WAS FORCEFUL YET FEEBLE.
The physical strength which Samson possessed is the quality that stands out in the minds of most people. His “Herculean” feats astound young readers and amaze older ones. He is sometimes pictured as a massive, powerful specimen of muscular physique. However, the source of his strength is often overlooked. It is not to be found in the bulk of his body or even in the length of his locks of hair. His strength was found in “the Spirit of the Lord” which “came upon him mightily” from time to time (e.g., Jud. 13:25; 14:6,19; 15:14). His uncut hair was symbolic of his obedience and he did need it to be strong, but his strength itself certainly wasn’t in his hair–it was in the Lord! It should be noted that it was when Samson was with an ungodly associate that he relinquished the source of his strength. This man of great force was reduced to a feeble boy in the presence of Delilah. It is still true today that ungodly associates cause many people to relinquish the source of their strength. As Paul proclaimed – “Evil companions corrupt good morals” (I Cor. 15:33).

If I only had a few sentences to sum up Samson’s life, I’d use a quote from Old Testament scholars Keil and Delitzsch: “Samson, when strong and brave, strangled a lion; but he could not strangle his own love. He burst the fetters of his foes, but not the cords of his own lusts. He burned up the crops of others, and lost the fruit of his own virtue when burning with the flame kindled by a single woman.”

There are other lessons from Samson’s life that could be analyzed, no doubt. But, no matter how long we could continue to enumerate them, they will do little good if left unapplied to our lives. Don’t be too quick to criticize Samson and his character flaws. We often share many of these same paradoxes. Here are just a few applications for Christians to reflect upon and ask themselves:

Am I guilty of rebelling against the Lord’s will? We are called to be sanctified, or separated to God, but many Christians try to befriend the world. One cannot be a friend of the world without becoming an enemy of God (James 4:4). No man can serve two masters (Matt. 6:24). We cannot hold God’s hand and pat Satan on the back–it just won’t work!
Am I growing in knowledge of the Holy Scriptures daily? Am I striving to become more wise (Matt. 10:16; James 1:5)? Or, am I still as naive as I was when I first obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Am I zealous to do what I know is right or am I afflicted with a spirit of apathy and selfishness (Rev. 3:15-17)?
Am I being the kind of leader that God expects me to be for my family and Christian brethren? Am I endeavoring to work with others (and not against them) for the cause of Christ?
Am I allowing myself to be led into sin by corrupting influences? Am I choosing my companions wisely or carelessly?

Dare we sit here in judgment and condemn Samson for his failures? I think not. Especially since, when all was said and done, Samson was faithful! The only way in which I can explain why Samson is listed in Hebrews 11 as a great man of faith is because of his repentance! Samson’s overall life could arguably be described as one governed by faith in Jehovah. But, it is obvious that he was a sinner. Of course, this is true of us, as well as all those who found their way into the list of Hebrews 11. All had blemishes to overcome, but all overcame them to live lives dedicated to the service of God. Many of them were far from perfect, but they were faithful! When one considers the failings of these heroes, let him remember that divine approval of an individual in one aspect of his life does not necessarily imply that there is divine approval of that individual in all aspects of his character and conduct.

As one reads Judges 16:28-31, Samson’s repentance should be evident. Samson had faith in God. He asked for Jehovah to remember him. Samson had enjoyed fellowship with God. He asked God to strengthen him one more time. No doubt Samson remembered the times he and the Lord had reaped victories for the cause of Israel against the Philistines. Samson’s final act was for God, and that’s why he is a great man of faith!

But, what about you and I? Our history is being written too, so to speak. The decisions we make in our lifetime and the way in which we serve God will ultimately determine whether we too will be great men and women of faith. What do you think would have happened to Samson had he died before he restored his fellowship with God? He would have been lost! However, because of Samson’s repentance, the Lord accepted him again, allowing him to do his greatest work in his death. God has the same grace for His people who will return to Him today.

#judges

Samson, Part 5 (JUDGES 16)

As we continue in Judges 16:4ff, Samson’s lust is seen again in his relationship with Delilah. She was bribed with a large amount of silver in order to deceive Samson and discover the source of his strength. She began by simply asking him to tell her his secret. He first told her that he would lose his strength if he was bound with fresh bow strings. She tested him after he had fallen asleep and he broke the bow strings like a strand of yarn that had touched fire. Samson had lied to Delilah, and she cried about being deceived and mocked. He then lied to her again by telling her that new ropes would be able to restrain him. She tested him in the same manner and learned that he had lied to her a second time. Delilah was deceived yet a third time by weaving his hair into the web of a loom. Samson came dangerously close to telling his secret on that third occasion.

“And it came to pass, when she pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, so that his soul was vexed to death, that he told her all his heart, and said to her, ‘No razor has ever come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.'” (Jud. 16:16,17). Samson finally gave in to her nagging and told her the truth. It should be obvious that Samson cared for Delilah. If he didn’t, why would he have even bothered to answer her pestering? Of course, it should have been obvious to him that she tested everything he told her! Was he really so foolish to think that she wouldn’t try shaving him too? Or, had he deceived himself into thinking that he was a strong man–with or without his hair?

Whatever he was or wasn’t thinking, Delilah lulled him to sleep and had his head shaved in Judges 16:18-20. One of the special conditions that set Samson apart had been broken and the Lord and his miraculous strength had departed.

Samson was consequently easily captured without his miraculous strength. His eyes were put out and he was used as slave labor. He was also mocked for the Philistines’ entertainment. However, the outward sign of his strength began to come back. The Philistines were careless in not keeping him shaved bald.

On one occasion, the Philistine leaders were gathered together to offer a sacrifice to their god, Dagon, and they had Samson brought in for entertainment purposes. No doubt they wanted to celebrate their victory over him and hurl insults and abuse at him again. However, they made a terrible mistake in putting him near the support pillars of their temple. “Then Samson called to the LORD, saying, ‘O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!’ And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars which supported the temple, and he braced himself against them, one on his right and the other on his left. Then Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines!’ And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life” (Jud. 16:28-30).

Samson had come to learn that his strength was in Jehovah. This was not a suicide but a plunging into battle for Jehovah, knowing that death would come. The Lord approved of it by granting Samson the strength to perform the task. He killed approximately 3000 men and women on that occasion, and he also destroyed the house of Dagon. As our record of Samson’s life closes, we see him being given a proper burial by his family.

#judges

Samson, Part 4 (JUDGES 15 & 16)

“Now the Philistines went up, encamped in Judah, and deployed themselves against Lehi. And the men of Judah said, ‘Why have you come up against us?’ So they answered, ‘We have come up to arrest Samson, to do to him as he has done to us.’ Then three thousand men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and said to Samson, ‘Do you not know that the Philistines rule over us? What is this you have done to us?’ And he said to them, ‘As they did to me, so I have done to them'” (Jud. 15:9-11). It was a sad day in Israel on several accounts. First, God’s people were subject to the Philistines because of their sins. Second, the men of Judah did not recognize that Samson was a deliverer for them. They should have rallied around him and driven the Philistines out! But, their overall attitude was poor. They seemed satisfied being in bondage to the Philistines.

It would be easy to think that Samson was fearful for his life because of the three thousand men of Judah who came down to arrest him. But, I believe he was actually fearful for their lives! Note carefully what Samson made them promise – “Swear to me that you will not kill me yourselves” (Jud. 15:12). Why would Samson be afraid of the Israelites trying to kill him if he was not fearful of being turned over to the Philistines bound? I believe the answer is simple. Samson was not afraid of the Israelites, but he didn’t want to end up hurting them if they attempted to kill him. Samson allowed them to arrest him and deliver him to the Philistines bound in two new ropes.

“When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting against him. Then the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him; and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds broke loose from his hands. He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached out his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it” (Jud. 15:14,15). With the Lord’s help, Samson piled up heaps of dead bodies on the battle field. He was invincible as long as Almighty God was with him! What a sight it would have been to see one man take on an army–with hand-to-hand combat–and win! How could this not inspire his fellow Israelites to fight alongside of him and overthrow the Philistines?

The chapter closes with Samson acknowledging Jehovah as his strength and the true victor. He then requested water and was divinely given such. We also learn that Samson judged Israel for a span of twenty years. These events happened somewhere amidst those years.

JUDGES 16
Samson’s lust is apparent in this context. First, he had sexual relations with a harlot. Some of his enemies learned that he was spending the night with her, and they planned to kill him at daylight. However, he rose at midnight and left the city by pulling up the doors of a city gate and its gateposts and by carrying them some distance. Although commentators disagree on the distance, most believe it was at least several miles and up a hill. Although the size and weight of the load he was carrying is unknown today, it is obvious that the task required extreme strength that the Holy Spirit gave to Samson at that time.

#judges

Samson, Part 3 (JUDGES 14 & 15)

It was a custom in Samson’s day for the bridegroom to give a party which typically lasted for a week. Since Samson didn’t bring any friends to celebrate his marriage to the Philistine young woman, her people provided some for him–thirty in all. Samson made a wager with these men that lasted for the entire celebration week. If they could solve his riddle, he would give them thirty fine outer and inner garments. However, if they could not figure it out, they would have to give him thirty sets of clothing.

The riddle was stated as follows: “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet” (Jud. 14:14). They struggled mightily with the riddle for three days but then let it rest until the seventh day. On that final day, they brought pressure upon Samson’s bride by threatening her life and her family if she didn’t help them solve the riddle.

“Then Samson’s wife wept on him, and said, ‘You only hate me! You do not love me! You have posed a riddle to the sons of my people, but you have not explained it to me.’ And he said to her, ‘Look, I have not explained it to my father or my mother; so should I explain it to you?'” (Jud. 14:16). Samson brought up a good point. He wasn’t being unkind or unloving to her by withholding the solution to the riddle. After all, he had not even shared it with his parents! His bride had wanted to know the answer all along, but after the threats were leveled against her she grows desperately persistent. She would have been much better off simply informing Samson of the threats her people had made against her.

Samson finally explained the riddle to her and she then communicated its meaning to the sons of her people. They gave the correct solution to his riddle and he reacted strongly. “The Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of their men, took their apparel, and gave the changes of clothing to those who had explained the riddle. So his anger was aroused and he went back up to his father’s house” (Jud. 14:19). I find the order of the actions recorded here intriguing: (1) the Spirit came upon Samson, (2) he slew the Philistines, (3) then his anger was kindled, and finally, (4) he went back to his father’s house without his wife. The Lord was indeed seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines, and Samson was the man He would use for the job!

The chapter closes with Samson’s wife being given to his best man. Samson was not aware of this.

JUDGES 15
After a period of time, Samson returned to his wife but was offered her younger sister instead by his father-in-law. Samson was greatly displeased and declared his innocence for his actions to follow because of this injustice. He proceeded to burn the Philistine fields by releasing 300 foxes he captured (after tying them together in pairs with a lit torch between their tails). Surprisingly, the Philistine people do not pursue Samson after learning who was responsible for the destruction of their crops and why. They recognized that his rights as a husband had been violated. They show their cruelty, however, by burning his wife and father-in-law and their home. This action provokes Samson to seek further vengeance. He attacked them with “hip and thigh, with a great slaughter” (Jud. 15:8). In other words, his attack upon them was brutal and unmerciful. But, this was just the beginning of the bloodshed.

#judges

Samson, Part 2 (JUDGES 13 & 14)

In Judges 13:6ff, Manoah’s wife informed him of the Angel’s visit and His conversation with her. Their son would be a Nazirite from the very beginning. Samson would have no choice in the matter! Manoah then prayed for the Angel to return, and his petition was answered. The Angel came again and repeated His message. It is of interest to note that Manoah’s wife was personally bound by the Nazirite conditions even while she was pregnant. The implication is crystal clear–life begins at conception! If life didn’t begin until birth, then she would not have been required to keep any aspects of the Nazirite vow for the sake of an “embryo” growing inside of her. This very context proves that abortion is wrong. Samson would be a Nazirite even before he was born. There are many other Bible passages that also teach the truth about life beginning at conception.

The chapter closes by sharing some details pertaining to the Angel’s second visit as well as the fulfillment of the prophecy pertaining to Samson’s birth. Manoah offered to be hospitable to the Angel, but He declared that He would not eat anything. However, if Manoah desired, he could make an offering to Jehovah. Manoah wished to honor the Angel, but the Angel answered Him rather enigmatically – “Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful?” (Jud. 13:18; cf. Isa. 9:6). As a side note, I believe that the Angel of Jehovah is the second Person of the Godhead (i.e., the Angel of the LORD is the same Being we know today as Jesus the Christ). It is not in the scope of this study to prove such, but we will plan to undertake this task in the future.

As the Angel of the LORD departed, He did so in the flame of the altar. Manoah and his wife were convinced that they had seen God Himself. He feared for their lives, but she wisely pointed out – “If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have told us such things as these at this time” (Jud. 13:23).

JUDGES 14
The transition from chapter 13 into chapter 14 covers many years. We know nothing of Samson’s childhood. He was already grown up at this time. In fact, he was of marriageable age–and the LORD was with him.

Samson foolishly desired a Philistine wife. His parents were against the idea, but the Lord was working in the matter. God intended to seek “an occasion to move against the Philistines” who had dominion over the Israelites at that time (14:4).

“So Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came to the vineyards of Timnah. Now to his surprise, a young lion came roaring against him. And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart as one would have torn apart a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well” (Jud. 14:5-7). The killing of a lion with his bare hands certainly demonstrated Samson’s miraculous physical strength which was made possible via the Nazirite vow and God’s favor. The woman pleased Samson very much; he planned to marry her.

“After some time, when he returned to get her, he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion. And behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the carcass of the lion. He took some of it in his hands and went along, eating. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they also ate. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey out of the carcass of the lion” (Jud. 14:8,9). In that area, the intense heat has been known to dry up the moisture in a carcass within a day or so. Then it would lie mummified for some time. This experience would inspire the riddle Samson would soon pose.

#judges

Samson, Part 1 (JUDGES 13)

Hebrews 11:6 teaches – “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” There are some important things we can learn from this context about faith. First, one who has no faith is one who cannot please God. This is true no matter how morally upright a person may be. Genuine faith is not guesswork; it is not a blind leap into the dark. Faith is always based on evidence – “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1). Faith is believing and trusting God (i.e., taking Him at His word). Additionally, God rewards those who diligently seek Him. Those who choose to serve Him and live obediently to His will at any cost will not go unnoticed by the Lord.

Without question, the importance of faith is a central theme of the Scriptures. From the beginning, God has always expected man to exhibit faith. But, how can an individual demonstrate his faith? The answer: through his actions! A mere verbal acknowledgment of belief in God has never been enough. A study of James 2:14ff reveals that God desires that we prove our faith through obedience! It is still true that “faith without works is dead” (2:26).

It is accurate to affirm that all of the great men and women of faith of the Bible had an active, obedient faith. This was true of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and many others–including Samson (cf. Heb. 11, especially verse 32).

Admittedly, when I think of Biblical characters known for great faith in God, Samson typically doesn’t come to mind. When I think of Samson, I envision a man with great physical strength who had little self-control. I picture a man who violated his Nazirite vow, chose evil companions, fornicated, and caused an idol to receive glory that belonged to Jehovah. But, in spite of his flaws, Samson is proclaimed as a hero of faith according to Hebrews 11. We will study his life this week and examine the key events that were recorded for us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is our desire to learn what we can from his successes and mistakes.

We will begin by considering Judges 13-16. These four chapters are all we have recorded pertaining to the life of Samson, the thirteenth judge of Israel. Four chapters is not much in comparison with some Biblical characters, but it is quite a bit of information in contrast to what we have available on some of the other judges.

We will not read the chapters in their entirety due to time constraints, but we will read certain verses and summarize what is happening in the text.

JUDGES 13
In verse 1, we see apostasy in the nation of Israel once again – “Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.” Then, we are introduced to Manoah and his barren wife. The Angel of the Lord visited her and delivered a promise of a son. Undeniably, a family with no children is a good type to place a child in when special care is required. Three specific conditions were given by the Angel regarding the child who would be born. First, he was not to partake of strong drink. In fact, he was to abstain from the fruit of the vine period. Second, he was to avoid ingesting any unclean food. Finally, he was not to allow a razor to touch his head. The second condition was really not special in that no Israelite was to eat unclean food. However, the other two conditions were unique and included in what was called the Nazirite vow. This vow is explained in detail in Numbers 6. It seems that a special case of the Nazirite vow was in force for Samson since he was not prohibited from touching the dead. Obviously, God would not require him to fight in battle and also expect him not to go near dead bodies. Therefore, it appears as if Samson lived under a modified version of the Nazirite vow, and he was to do so for life. His life would also be special in that he would “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Jud. 13:5).

#judges

Shibboleth (JUDGES 12)

“Then the men of Ephraim gathered together, crossed over toward Zaphon, and said to Jephthah, ‘Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you with fire!’ And Jephthah said to them, ‘My people and I were in a great struggle with the people of Ammon; and when I called you, you did not deliver me out of their hands. So when I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the people of Ammon; and the LORD delivered them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?'” (Judges 12:1-3).

At first glance, one might wonder what the problem is here. Jephthah subdued a common enemy! Shouldn’t the men of Ephraim be thrilled? One would think so, but obviously a deep spirit of jealousy is at work here, as had been manifested previously (e.g., 8:1). These men of Ephraim were immature and didn’t like others to be successful. They have an attitude problem and they lash out at Jephthah for no good reason. Jephthah had invited them to help but they refused, and now they are angry at him being successful without their assistance and they want to kill him! Ridiculous!

“Now Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. And the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, ‘You Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites and among the Manassites.’ The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, ‘Let me cross over,’ the men of Gilead would say to him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ If he said, ‘No,’ then they would say to him, ‘Then say, “Shibboleth”!’ And he would say, ‘Sibboleth,’ for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites. And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in among the cities of Gilead” (12:4-7).

The Ephraimites chose to fight against the men of Gilead for no good reason, and God blessed the Gileadites with victory. Over 40,000 Ephraimites died needlessly because of pride and stupidity! The Ephraimites who escaped from the battle would desire to cross the Jordan River to flee. However, the Gileadites took control of the fords and killed any Ephraimite who tried to cross. Even if an Ephraimite lied about his identity, the Gileadites would have him pronounce a word (“Shibboleth”) and his diction would betray him. In America, it is generally easy to tell from what part of the country someone has lived most recently because of his accent. So it was in Israel (e.g., Matt. 26:73). Apparently the Ephraimites had difficulty pronouncing the “sh” sound and the Gileadites knew this and used it against them for identification purposes. Jephthah was no fool; he tested those who claimed to be friends and would ascertain whether they were truly foes (cf. I John 4:1). Jephthah’s time as a deliverer (or judge) was short-lived (only six years), but he made an impact, endowing the next generation with peace.

“After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. He had thirty sons. And he gave away thirty daughters in marriage, and brought in thirty daughters from elsewhere for his sons. He judged Israel seven years. Then Ibzan died and was buried at Bethlehem [this is probably Bethlehem in Zebulun, not the same place Christ was born – SRB]. After him, Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel. He judged Israel ten years. And Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the country of Zebulun. After him, Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy young donkeys. He judged Israel eight years. Then Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mountains of the Amalekites” (12:8-15).

It is interesting that no significant events are recorded during the reign of these three judges. In one sense that is good, for it implies peace. However, we learn in the next chapter that the peace is short lived because Israel does not remain faithful to the LORD! It doesn’t take long for a nation to corrupt itself and leave behind the way of righteousness! Also, we have a record here of more extremely large families with dozens of children. Such was made possible by one man marrying a multiplicity of women. Polygamy, though not a part of God’s ideal will for marriage, was widely practiced throughout the nation’s history and caused many problems, as the Scriptures illustrate elsewhere (e.g., II Sam. 13ff; I Kings 11). The people seemed to live in peace and prosperity during this time, but it will not last because of their sins!

#judges

Jephthah’s Vow, Part 2 (JUDGES 11)

In our prior lesson, we read the entire context of both the uttering and implementation of Jephthah’s vow (cf. Jud. 11:29-40). Although some believe this judge offered his daughter as a human sacrifice, I do not believe that to be the case for the following seven reasons:

It is unlikely that the thought of offering a person as a burnt offering crossed his mind. Human sacrifice was always understood, from the days of Abraham, to be an offense and an abomination to God, being expressly denounced and forbidden (cf. Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut. 12:31; 18:10). There is no evidence that any Israelite ever offered human sacrifice prior to the days of Ahaz (734 B.C.). It is inconceivable that a man like Jephthah, who was God-fearing and knowledgeable of the law, could have supposed that he would have been pleasing the LORD by perpetrating such a crime.

Although some might call his vow foolish, it does not appear to be impulsive. His vow is not made in the midst of the confusion of battle where we might expect him to speak without fully weighing his words. No, his vow is made before he sets out to fight the Ammonites.

In 11:37, his daughter requests two months to bewail her virginity. This is significant. Note that she is not going to bewail her approaching loss of life. If she was going to die, why would she care about the fact that she was a virgin? However, if she is not going to be offered as a burnt offering but instead devoted to the LORD for His divine service, then it makes sense for her to bewail her virginity. Evidently she understands that under such circumstances she will not have the right to marry, and thus she will always remain a virgin.

11:39 states that “she knew no man.” This fact is mentioned after Jephthah had already carried out the vow. This would be a very pointless remark if she had been put to death. But, it has perfect relevance if she was devoted to the service of God at the door of the tabernacle for the rest of her life (cf. Exo. 38:8; I Sam. 22:2; Luke 2:36,37).

It is extremely unlikely that any priest in that day and time would be so corrupt as to assist Jephthah in offering a human as a burnt sacrifice. A priest would need to be involved since all burnt offerings made to the LORD had to be offered at the tabernacle by a priest.

The Bible does not explicitly say that he gave his daughter as a burnt sacrifice. It simply states that Jephthah did with her according to his vow. How one interprets that vow determines whether or not one is forced into concluding that Jephthah offered his daughter as a literal burnt offering. If one interprets Jephthah’s words in a spiritual or symbolic sense, then the difficulty vanishes. That is, perhaps Jephthah fulfilled his vow through the fact that his daughter knew no man and that her life was dedicated to God, as a “spiritual burnt offering,” not a literal one.

Jephthah is listed among the faithful in Hebrews 11:32. Admittedly, that doesn’t prove that he did not do something heinous here and seek forgiveness later, but the position I’m arguing for here (i.e., a spiritual fulfillment of the vow) is consistent with Jephthah being named among great heroes of faith.

Regardless of whether Jephthah offered his daughter as a literal or symbolic burnt offering, we must admire the great faith of his daughter. She encouraged him to keep his word to God, even at great expense to herself! What an example of submission and faithful obedience she manifested! She was not forgotten by her contemporaries and we should not forget a young woman of this caliber either!

#judges

Jephthah’s Vow, Part 1 (JUDGES 11)

After the king of Ammon refused the path of peace, “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon. And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, ‘If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering'” (Judges 11:29-31). Before we focus our attention on this vow Jephthah made, let us note the victory that God gave to him. He successfully subdued the Ammonites before the children of Israel. This is what he desired to do, and God’s Spirit made it possible!

Now, regarding the vow, let it first be observed that Jephthah pledged to God–if victorious–whatever came out of his house to greet him. This could perhaps be an animal, but it would be much more likely to be a human! Surely Jephthah realized this possibility. Some scholars believe that the “and” of 11:31 could be properly rendered as “or.” That is, Jephthah promises to either devote to the LORD (a person) or offer a burnt offering (animal), depending upon what greets him. Although we may have an understandable hesitancy to change the “and” to an “or” in the text, if correct the difficulty we struggle with here dissolves. But, I’m not absolutely certain that this is the proper solution, so let us assume that the “and” of 11:31 is correct as is. Does this mean Jephthah would offer a human sacrifice in order to keep his vow if a human greets him first when he returns? Reflect upon that as we read the rest of the narrative. Carefully consider all of the recorded details.

“When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.’ So she said to him, ‘My father, if you have given your word to the LORD, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.’ Then she said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.’ So he said, ‘Go.’ And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. And it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite” (11:34-40).

Although some argue that Jephthah offered his daughter as a human sacrifice, I do not believe that to be the case for seven reasons, which I will expound upon in our next lesson.

#judges

Jephthah the Judge (JUDGES 11)

Recall that as Judges 10 closes, Ammonites are gathering against Israel in Gilead. The Israelites lack a strong leader, however, but God will provide one. The opening section of Judges 11 introduces the man–Jephthah. Earlier in life he was not well-received. He was “a mighty man of valor” but also the son of a harlot! Because of this, he was rejected by his brothers and community. He leaves his home and goes off on his own. Many “worthless men” band together with him and he leads them. Eventually, when the elders of Gilead are desperate for a leader, however, they turn to Jephthah – “Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon” (11:6). Jephthah’s reply was this – “Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” (11:7). Their dialogue continues and Jephthah is willing to help them–if they make it worth his while. He will come back and lead the fight against Ammon if they will make him their leader (in both civil and military matters), assuming he is successful. The elders agree and give their word before the LORD.

Jephthah then proceeds as any wise military commander would in this situation: he communicates with the enemy. Before engaging in battle, it is generally wise to attempt peaceful negotiations. If a conflict can be properly resolved without bloodshed, obviously that is the preferred method of resolution. Jephthah wanted to get the facts settled in his own mind also, regarding the underlying cause of the Ammonite aggression, so he asks how Israel had offended Ammon.

The Ammonite king replied – “Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and to the Jordan. Now therefore, restore these lands peaceably” (11:13). Jephthah will reply with a history lesson containing four reasons why the Ammonite claim to the land is invalid:

It was the Amorites, not Israelites, who had initially taken this land away from the Ammonites.

The Israelites later took the land from the Amorites, although this was only because the Amorite king Sihon would not let them pass through the land peaceably. Israel intended to go on to her own inheritance, but Sihon gathered against them and fought. “And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them. Thus Israel gained possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. They took possession of all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan” (11:21,22).

The Israelites laid claim to the land by what might be called “divine right.” Their God had given them the land. Why should they give it up? Other nations practiced this same principle. Jephthah expressed the thought like this – “And now the LORD God of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites from before His people Israel; should you then possess it? Will you not possess whatever Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God takes possession of before us, we will possess” (11:23,24).

Israel had maintained possession of the land in question for approximately 300 years! Why was this becoming an issue now? Balak didn’t ask for land back that had been lost in battle, so why are you (cf. Num. 21:21ff)?

Jephthah closes his communication with the Ammonite king with these words – “Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the LORD, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon” (11:27). Jephthah believes it is the Ammonites who are in the wrong, and he is ready to let God be the judge on the battlefield if the king of Ammon will not desist.

#judges

Tola & Jair (JUDGES 10)

“After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, and he dwelt in Shamir in the mountains of Ephraim. He judged Israel twenty-three years; and he died and was buried in Shamir” (Judges 10:1,2). Very little is recorded about this seventh judge of Israel. Such is also true of the eighth judge. “After him arose Jair, a Gileadite; and he judged Israel twenty-two years. Now he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys; they also had thirty towns, which are called ‘Havoth Jair’ to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. And Jair died and was buried in Camon” (10:3-5). One observation gleaned from these two judges is that tribal ancestry was irrelevant; God could raise up a judge from any Israelite tribe. After these two judges die it is only a short time before the nation goes off track yet again!

“Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; and they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him. So the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and into the hands of the people of Ammon. From that year they harassed and oppressed the children of Israel for eighteen years–all the children of Israel who were on the other side of the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, in Gilead. Morever the people of Ammon crossed over the Jordan to fight against Judah also, against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed” (Jud. 10:6-9).

This is the same basic theme over and over again (sin leads to suffering). When will they learn (and when will we learn)?! This self-inflicted oppression was avoidable. Obey God and be blessed! Don’t stir up His anger against yourself!

“And the children of Israel cried out to the LORD, saying, ‘We have sinned against You, because we have both forsaken our God and served the Baals!’ So the LORD said to the children of Israel, ‘Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites and from the people of Ammon and from the Philistines? Also the Sidonians and Amalekites and Maonites oppressed you; and you cried out to Me, and I have delivered you from their hand. Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress'” (10:10-14).

It would have been bad enough to forsake the true and living God and become atheists. However, they had left the LORD and embraced seven dead idols, attributing the blessings God provided to the generosity of worthless idols! There was no good reason for them to do this. The LORD had delivered them time after time from bad situations. The false gods had done nothing beneficial for them, and they seemed to realize this when they got in a jam since they eventually would always plead with the true and living God! He is so upset with them, however, that He tells them to cry out to the gods they had been serving. Let them provide deliverance!

“And the children of Israel said to the LORD, ‘We have sinned! Do to us whatever seems best to You; only deliver us this day, we pray.’ So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD. And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel. Then the people of Ammon gathered together and encamped in Gilead. And the children of Israel assembled together and encamped in Mizpah. And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another. ‘Who is the man who will begin the fight against the people of Ammon? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead'” (10:15-18).

The people beg and plead for deliverance; they repent and get rid of their idols. They are serious about changing (at least for the time being). They want to be free from their enemies but will accept any other punishment God metes out. God relented. He will raise up another deliverer for them–Jephthah.

#judges

The Rise & Fall of Abimelech (JUDGES 9)

“Then Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem, to his mother’s brothers, and spoke with them and with all the family of the house of his mother’s father, saying, ‘Please speak in the hearing of all the men of Shechem: “Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal reign over you, or that one reign over you?” Remember that I am your own flesh and bone.’ And his mother’s brothers spoke all these words concerning him in the hearing of the men of Shechem; and their heart was inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, ‘He is our brother.’ So they gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal Berith, with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless men; and they followed him. Then he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, because he hid himself. And all the men of Shechem gathered together, all of Beth Millo, and they went and made Abimelech king beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that was in Shechem” (Jud. 9:1-6).

Jerubbaal (Gideon) had many sons, and Abimelech in particular was exceedingly power-hungry! Not only would he use the influence of his mother’s brothers to help persuade the men of the city to make him their king, but he would then use idol-money to hire wicked scoundrels who would help him eliminate any competition for the throne from his brothers. Although there is no evidence that the position of judge was to be passed down in one’s family, the idea had been suggested previously (cf. 8:22). Abimelech, with the help he hired to do dirty work, executed all of his brothers except Jotham who hid himself. To murder anyone is bad enough, but to murder nearly 70 siblings is unthinkable! This act shows the depth of Abimelech’s depravity and his lust for power. Technically speaking, Abimelech is the first king in Israel. However, he is generally not considered the first king since he forced himself into the position and his reign was not necessarily embraced by all twelve tribes (as Saul’s reign was).

Jotham, the youngest son of Jerubbaal, had escaped and would not remain silent about the tragedy that had occurred. While in a safe location (on Mt. Gerizim), he shouted down to the men of Shechem a fable about trees. The trees want a king to rule over them. They ask the olive tree to be their king, but he declines; he has other work to do. They ask the fig tree to be their king, but he rejects their offer; he has other work to do. They ask the vine to be their king, but he refuses; he has other work to do. Finally, they ask “the bramble” (which is basically a shrub with long, sharp thorns). He is willing to be their leader! Why? Because he has nothing else better to do than to boss others! Those who aspire to be king are generally tyrants at heart. The bramble invites the other trees to “come and take shelter in my shade” (9:15). What a joke! The bramble promises much but provides very little shade because it is so close to the ground. It makes no sense for a tree to seek shade from a position that is lower than it is! The worthless bramble would make a terrible king for the trees, and likewise the worthless Abimelech will make an awful king in Israel.

Jotham continued:

“Now therefore, if you have acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done to him as he deserves–for my father fought for you, risked his life, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian; but you have risen up against my father’s house this day, and killed his seventy sons on one stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother–if then you have acted in truth and sincerity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you, but if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo; and let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech!” (9:16-20).

Jotham knows they have not treated his family fairly. Even if the men of Shechem were only indirectly involved, they had a role to play in the murder of his brothers. Jotham closes by cursing both Abimelech and the men of Shechem in that they would destroy one another. As fire spreads fast in bramble and destroys many good trees, so it would be with Abimelech and Shechem.

“After Abimelech had reigned over Israel three years, God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, that the crime done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might be settled and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who aided him in the killing of his brothers” (9:22-24).

The men of Shechem grow tired of Abimelech and, after several years, they seek to remove him from his position. God had allowed a spirit of bitterness to develop between the two parties. A man by the name of Gaal rose to prominence and gained the confidence of many of the men of Shechem. But, Abimelech was warned of this and encouraged to come to Shechem secretly at night and then storm the city in the morning.

“So Abimelech and all the people who were with him rose by night, and lay in wait against Shechem in four companies. When Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance to the city gate, Abimelech and the people who were with him rose from lying in wait. And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, ‘Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!’ But Zebul said to him, ‘You see shadows of the mountains as if they were men.’ So Gaal spoke again and said, ‘See, people are coming down from the center of the land, and another company is coming from the Diviners’ Terebinth Tree.’ Then Zebul said to him, ‘Where indeed is your mouth now, with which you said, “Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him? Are not these the people whom you despised? Go out, if you will and fight with them now'” (9:34-38).

Gaal turns out to be more of a talker than a fighter, and Abimelech defeats him. But, Abimelech isn’t satisfied with that. He then seeks vengeance against the city itself. He kills the inhabitants, demolishes the city, and sows it with salt. He proceeds to then destroy the tower of Shechem. He sets the tower on fire and kills approximately 1000 people who were seeking safety within it.

“Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and he encamped against Thebez and took it. But there was a strong tower in the city, and all the men and women–all the people of the city–fled there and shut themselves in; then they went up to the top of the tower. So Abimelech came as far as the tower and fought against it; and he drew near the door of the tower to burn it with fire. But a certain woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull. Then he quickly called to the young man, his armorbearer, and said to him, ‘Draw your sword and kill me, lest men say of me, “A woman killed him.”‘ So his young man thrust him through, and he died. And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed, every man to his place. Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers. And all the evil of the men of Shechem God returned on their own heads, and on them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal” (9:50-57).

Why did he attack Thebez? Likely they had tried to help Shechem in some way. Although the plan of attack is similar, Abimelech’s vengeance is cut short this time–and by a woman! Nothing says victory like a large stone dropped on the enemy leader’s head! God repaid Abimelech and those of Shechem for what they had done (cf. Gen. 9:6). It is interesting to note how the entire effort died with Abimelech. Bravery and plans often perish with their leaders. This is true for both good and evil efforts.

#judges

Gideon Subdues the Midianites (JUDGES 8)

As Judges 7 closed, God had given a great victory over the Midianites (including the death of two of their princes). We learn from 8:10 that 120,000 enemy men had fallen, but there were still 15,000 who were fleeing and Gideon and his men are in hot pursuit! The first half of Judges 8 details the exterminating of these remaining enemies and some hurdles Gideon faced along the way. First, Gideon faces sharp complaints from the men of Ephraim. They were angry about not being involved in the attack against Midian from the beginning. Gideon’s reply seemed to douse their anger. He told them that they had already played a most important part in the attack by capturing and killing the two Midianite princes. “And what was I able to do in comparison with you?” (8:3).

After crossing the Jordan, Gideon and his men are getting fatigued. They ask some fellow Israelites in that area for bread (a reasonable request) and explain that they are in pursuit of the Midianite kings (Zebah and Zalmunna). Amazingly, they are turned away with this verbal attack – “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” (8:6). Nearly 90% of the enemy forces had already been slain, but these men refuse to help Gideon and his men finish the job! Gideon, enraged by their reply, promises to punish them severely when he returns (after finishing off the Midianites). A similar exchange is recorded with a different Israelite city. They too refuse to help Gideon and he promises vengeance.

Even without their assistance, Gideon will be victorious with God’s help. He did not give up even though he and his men were exhausted. Even today Jesus’ soldiers must press on and not quit, even when we are weary (cf. Gal. 6:9; I Cor. 15:58). “Then Gideon went up by the road of those who dwell in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah; and he attacked the army while the camp felt secure. When Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he persued them; and he took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and routed the whole army. Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle” (8:11-13). He proceeded to severely punish the uncooperative Israelites (even to the point of death). He also tore down a tower according to his promise. Finally, Gideon slays the two enemy kings himself. He wanted his firstborn son to do it since he was young and this would have further humiliated the defeated kings. But, the boy was too timid to do so.

“Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.’ But Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you'” (8:22,23). What a wonderful reply to their request! Gideon knew who their real leader was; it wasn’t him but God. However, he then made a request of them that would lead to trouble. He desired the golden earrings from their plunder. They end up giving him approximately 50 pounds worth of gold! Although the text does not explain why, Gideon took the gold and “made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house” (8:27). An ephod is a priestly garment. Gideon had no right to make a priestly garment or attempt to worship God in a presumptuous way. Although Gideon did not worship a false god, it appears he failed to worship the true and living God in the manner exclusively authorized by the Mosaic law. Furthermore, he led others into sin with his foolishness. For all the good that Gideon accomplished for Israel (including subduing the Midianites and providing peace for 40 years), this account is a significant blemish on his record. Even great men make mistakes, and this is a most unfortunate one for Gideon.

As the chapter closes, mention is made of Gideon’s family. His many wives bore him 70 sons! His concubine in Shechem bore him a son also, named Abimelech (who will be the central character in Judges 9). Gideon lived a long life but “so it was, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-Berith their god. Thus the children of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal (Gideon) in accordance with the good he had done for Israel” (8:33-35). Ingratitude is a terrible sin. The people should have shown more respect to the memory of this great judge, Gideon. Sadly, when strong leadership ends, it is not uncommon for the people to fall into error quickly.

#judges

Gideon’s Valiant Three Hundred (JUDGES 7)

Gideon and his men positioned themselves near the camp of the Midianites. “And the LORD said to Gideon, ‘The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, “My own hand has saved me.” Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, “Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.”‘ And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained. But the LORD said to Gideon, ‘The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there'” (Jud. 7:2-4).

It’s hard to imagine a military leader turning away able-bodied men when up against an innumerable force, but that is precisely what God is doing here! The Lord wants all to know the source of the victory they will soon achieve is from Him, not them. The army is quickly cut down by approximately two-thirds when those who are afraid are sent home. Having them around was not necessary lest others become fainthearted also (cf. Deut. 20:8). Only the willing volunteers were left now. God will use water to test the remaining ten thousand. Only 300 will be kept, which is less than one percent of the initial force! Truly the thoughts of God are above those of men! If our understanding is correct, the test at the water was used to separate the most alert soldiers from those who would more easily let their guard down. All 10,000 men were instructed to drink from the water, but only 300 dipped their hands in the water and raised it to their lips (enabling them to continue observing their surroundings). The majority, who got down on their knees and put their faces in the water, were careless and less alert overall (making them more vulnerable to attack). I find this test with water fascinating; even more intriguing is that God still tests men and women with water today (via baptism)! Some pass the test, but many fail (e.g., Luke 7:29,30).

After the army is shrunk to only 300 men and everyone else is sent home, God is ready to overthrow Midian under Gideon’s leadership. It is implied that Gideon is somewhat timid again, perhaps due to the small number of soldiers that remain (cf. Jud. 7:10,11). God strengthens his faith yet again by enabling him to overhear a dream and its interpretation being explained in the Midianite camp – “‘I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed.’ Then his companion answered and said – ‘This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp'” (Jud. 7:13,14). That was the final encouragement Gideon needed. He expresses thankfulness immediately and springs into action!

He separates his men into three groups of 100. They are each provided with a trumpet, an empty pitcher, and a torch that could be put inside the pitcher (not exactly typical equipment for battle against an enemy as numerous as locusts; 135,000 to be more precise; cf. 8:10). The plan, which was executed perfectly (with the Lord’s help) is to surround the perimeter of the Midianite camp with these 300 men. They will not expose their torches until all are in place (allowing them to get into place secretly). Then, following Gideon’s lead, all would break their pitchers–exposing the torches–and immediately shout and play loudly on their trumpets. This threw the Midianite camp into a state of confusion. So much noise in the middle of the night from every direction woke them up and put terror in their hearts. Why? Because surely with that many trumpets and torches there were countless other Israelites bearing swords against the Midianities–or so they thought! Soon the Midianites are killing each other in the dark of night (“the LORD set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp” – 7:22) and they flee for their lives from Gideon and his 300 men!

God’s way is always the path to victory–even when the “wisdom of men” says otherwise! May we, like Gideon, trust God’s word and obey Him to the best of our ability, knowing that the Lord is in control.

#judges

Instilling Confidence in Gideon (JUDGES 6)

“Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years, and the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains. So it was, whenever Israel had sown, Midianites would come up; also Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. Then they would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep nor ox nor donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, coming in as numerous as locusts; both they and their camels were without number; and they would enter the land to destroy it. So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD” (Jud. 6:1-6).

What a sad description of the condition of the Israelites! They sinned against God, and He allowed them to suffer consequently (cf. 6:10). They were reaping what they sowed (cf. Gal. 6:7,8)! All of this suffering was preventable! In their sorrow, they penitently cry out for salvation and God hears them. He has a man in mind to deliver them–Gideon!

The Angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon and said – “The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!” (6:12). Gideon is skeptical, however. He asks why the nation has suffered so much and why God hasn’t performed miracles of deliverance as He did for their fathers. Things are so bad that Gideon was threshing wheat secretly in the winepress in order to hide it from the Midianites (who apparently were squatting on the land in great numbers and taking everything of value for themselves)! Disobedience was the reason for Israel’s pitiful condition, of course, and God was about to deliver them mightily through Gideon.

Gideon, after being told by the Angel that he would defeat the Midianites, speaks words of doubt – “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (6:15). Gideon’s reluctance to lead is understandable against such overwhelming numbers. The Angel reassures him, but Gideon asks for a sign. He wants proof that this message really is from God. Gideon prepares a young goat and unleavened bread and places them on a rock. The Angel of the LORD touches them both with his staff and fire rises out of the rock and consumes both! The Angel then vanishes from Gideon’s sight.

Gideon is convinced that he has seen the Angel of the LORD, and he is instructed to tear down the local altar of Baal as well as the wooden image beside it (apparently owned by Joash, Gideon’s father). In order to be a great leader, he must first get his own house in order. Sometimes it is necessary for the ground to be cleared before a profitable crop can be planted. Evil and error must be uprooted before righteousness and truth can flourish. Gideon obeys and destroys the idolatrous altar of his father, though he does so at night due to fear. The next day some are angry about what has happened and they demand Gideon be put to death. However, his father Joash comes to his defense – “Would you plead for Baal? Would you save him? Let the one who would plead for him be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down!” (6:31). Evidently Gideon’s actions stimulated Joash to take a stand for truth. Likewise today, many will follow the way of righteousness if a godly man or woman shows them how!

Gideon’s success here encourages him some and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. He blew the trumpet and gathered many thousands from various tribes of Israel to himself. He is preparing for battle against their oppressive enemies, the Midianites and Amalekites. But, before proceeding further he desires more confidence that the LORD really will save Israel by his hand. Thus, he asks God to perform two unique miracles (one each night) using a fleece of wool placed on the threshing floor: (1) To make the fleece wet with dew but the ground around it dry, and (2) To make the ground wet with dew but the fleece dry. God was willing to do so, and Gideon is now ready!

#judges