Monday, 31 March 2014

(91) April 1: Judges 3-5 & Luke 7:1-30

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read note what God does for Israel.

To ponder:
The nations God leaves to “test” Israel, not only display her readiness to obey, but teach her warfare for her own protection. And it is as each new generation in the church suffers pressure from the world, that they learn for themselves how to stand firm.
            Israel immediately fails her test, intermarrying with the Canaanites, serving their gods and “forgetting” the LORD, so doing “evil.” As promised, God’s anger therefore “burns” against the people, “selling” them into the hand of the King of Aram (see 2v14). So begins the cycle that repeats throughout the book: The people sin, are handed over to their enemies, cry out to the LORD who in compassion responds by sending a deliverer in the form of a judge. The people then find rest for a number of years before the judge dies, they turn from the LORD again, and the cycle repeats.
            Despite his heroic pedigree, it is clear, like all subsequent judges, that God lies behind Othniel’s success as “the Spirit of the LORD” comes upon him. Israel’s first period of rest is then a full forty years, with its symbolism of a time of testing and potential deliverance – as in the desert.
            So we are immediately looked with thanks to God’s provision of Christ as his greatest saviour, to whom God gives the Spirit without limit (Jn 3v34) and who lives forever and so establishes an everlasting peace for those who cry out to him (Heb 7v24-25).
            Ehud’s story is longer, framed to be retold dramatically to future generations. The event is significant because it resulted in the subjection of Moab, Israel’s great enemy (see Num 25). In response to Israel’s evil, God “gave” Moab’s King Eglon “power over” them for eighteen years – the very thing he had refused to do previously (Num 22-23). Ehud’s left-handedness may have been thought a disability. Nevertheless, using this, God enabled him through cunning to kill the king. The two notes of Ehud passing Moabite idols hints to their impotence and God’s supremacy. It is for this reason the Israelites called together by the battle trumpet “struck down” ten thousand “vigorous and strong” Moabites. And so the land this time had peace for eighty years.
            Little is mentioned of Shamgar. In “saving” Israel he may have been a judge. However the next said to follow Ehud is Deborah. As in Egypt, they again cried to the LORD under the cruel oppression of the Canaanite king Jabin. God’s provision of Deborah is portrayed as a rebuke on Israel’s men. As a prophetess, she relates God’s command to Barak to do battle, with God’s promise to lure the enemy to the Kishon River and “give him into” Barak’s hands. But Barak won’t go without Deborah. So Deborah says the honour for killing Sisera, the enemy commander, will go to a woman. Although Barak is victorious, it is therefore Jael, the wife of one of Moses’ Gentile father-in-law’s descendents, who finishes Sisera off with the famous tent peg. This then leads to the destruction of Jabin by the Israelites.
            Both Ehud and Deborah show how God uses those who are least expected in the fulfilment of his purposes, just as he eventually used an everyday labourer from Nazareth, a group of fishermen and a persecutor of his church. By his Holy Spirit, he uses us too, if we will only step up.
            The song stresses just this, praising God for when Israel’s “princes” “take the lead.” It tells of the dark days of life in Israel before Deborah “arose” and of the “righteous acts” of the LORD and Israel’s “warriors.” The tribes who came to fight are therefore acknowledged, and those who didn’t criticised. And God’s act of using the forces of heaven (stars) and earth (river) are told. (It seems the river may have suddenly flooded to hamper the enemy – an echo of God’s defeat of Pharoah’s armies at the red sea.) The now unknown town of “Meroz” is cursed for not helping (5v23), whilst Jael is “blessed” for her act. They therefore display God’s disposition to the equivalent responses in the tribes. By drawing out Sisera’s death, the “perishing” of Israel’s enemies is then brought home.

Praying it home:
Thank God that Christ is the perfect deliverer and ruler, who has established an everlasting peace. Pray that you and others in your church would courageously step up to play your part in God’s purposes in the power of his Holy Spirit.

Thinking further:
Deborah continues to challenge men. Her role suggests it is not inappropriate for women to hold high office in government, nor in some capacity to speak God’s word in a way equivalent to prophecy. Yet she also reminds us that in all sorts of spheres today women are simply having to take on extra roles that they shouldn’t have to, because men are stepping back from their responsibilities. For example, every couple will need to agree on how they divide what needs to be done in their marriage. However, in some instances wives end up doing almost everything because their husbands won’t play their part. Men: We need to think on this.

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