Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Tuesday, 17 Apr 18:
1. Judges 1:1 — “After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’” The Israelites begin the book of Judges well by inquiring of the Lord before making important decisions. After verse 1 in Judges, the Israelites do not “inquire of the Lord” again until the end of the book: “The people of Israel arose and went up to Bethel and inquired of God, ‘Who shall go up first for us to fight against the people of Benjamin (Judges 20:18)?’” The Book of Judges reveals what happens when God’s people disobey God and compromise their holiness. It also reveals what happens when a nation rejects God’s commands. Judges is highly relevant to us today – consider carefully what you read. At the beginning of the book, God’s people, from a position of great national strength, are inquiring of the Lord as to how to have dominion for His glory. By the end of the book, in a state of complete lawlessness, they are asking God how to massacre each other – spoiler alert: The Book of Judges does not end on a high note. Today we read how after a long period of triumph under the leadership of Joshua (because the Lord was with them), the Israelites disobey God by allowing the Jebusites, Canaanites, and Amorites to live among them rather than driving them out completely as the Lord had commanded. As soon as God’s people chose to be led by their own desires and wisdom rather than the “voice of God,” God no longer supported their efforts (Judges 2:3). At that point, all of their religious activities were meaningless (Judges 2:5). After just one generation, the people “did not know the Lord.” The national decline was shockingly fast – “And the people… did what was evil in the sight of the Lord… and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers…. And they provoked the Lord to anger…, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress (Judges 2:11-15).” God in His mercy and grace raised up leaders (Judges) to steer the people back on the course of obedience to God, but “they did not listen to their judges…; they did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.” Therefore, the nation remained under God’s judgment. Of the Old Testament, the New Testament says, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did…. these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).” What will we learn from Judges? How will we apply what we learn?
2. Judges 1:7 — “As I have done, so God has repaid me.” The Bible repeats the theme that God judges you the way you judge others.
3. Judges 1:27, 29, 30, 31, 33 — “Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants…. And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites…. Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants…. Asher did not drive out the inhabitants…. Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants.” The Israelites did not complete the task God had given them, a sin that would rob them of the peace and blessings God had intended for them. Partial obedience is disobedience. God does not accept half measure.
– “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27-33).”
4. Judges 2:1-3 — “Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, ‘I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’” Though the Jews were in a covenant relationship with God with the promise of His protection and blessings, there remained a terrible and permanent consequence for their disobedience. Rather than remaining obedient, holy, and pure, the Jews chose the easy, and likely profitable (temporarily), path of compromise with the sinful culture around them. They thought erroneously that they could control and contain the sin that they permitted in their land — “Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants…. When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely…. the Canaanites lived among them, but became subject to forced labor.” (Judges 1:27, 28, 30) However, as is always the case, when God’s people attempt to compromise with sin, they are ultimately destroyed by it. As Proverbs says, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27) “The little foxes spoil the vineyards.” (Song of Solomon 2:15) “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” (Proverbs 25:26) When we compromise with sin, our light is dimmed, and our salt loses its saltiness. We become unusable in some ways and deny ourselves the blessings of God. We all have allowed wickedness into our homes. Have we torn down the alters in our lives, or have we found convenient ways to keep them there. We must repent and remove the wickedness from our tents.
– “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you. Receive instruction from His mouth, and lay up his words in your heart. If you return to the Almighty you will be built up; if you remove injustice far from your tents, if you lay gold in the dust, and gold of Ophir among the stones of the torrent-bed, then the Almighty will be your gold and your precious silver. For then you will delight yourself in the Almighty and lift up your face to God. You will make your prayer to him, and he will hear you, and you will pay your vows. You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you, and light will shine on your ways. For when they are humbled you say, ‘It is because of pride’; but he saves the lowly. He delivers even the one who is not innocent, who will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands (Job 22:21-30)
5. Joshua 2:2, 3 — “But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” Disobedience has consequences that might be permanent. We are warned over and over in the Bible to not take sin lightly but to respect the holiness of God and to obey wholeheartedly. We must not presume upon God’s mercy and grace.
6. Judges 2:4 — “As soon as the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept.” Be sorrowful because you are being punished is not the same as being repentant. God knows the difference and knows your heart.
7. Judges 2:10 — “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” It is critical that Christians effectively disciple the next generation. This is the primary role of parents but also of senior Christians to junior Christians.
8. Judges 2:11, 12 — “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals…. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them…. And they provoked the Lord to anger.” The Israelites compromised with the pagan culture and became more influenced than an influence. The greatest risk to God’s people is syncretism, the blending of belief systems. God is Holy and demands holiness from His people. We cannot allow popular culture to tarnish our fidelity.
9. Judges 2:15 — “Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.” When we join with the world, we make ourselves practical enemies of God, fighting against His will – “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Luke 11:23). God cannot support sinfulness.
10. Judges 2:17 — “…for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them.” The Bible calls the church (us) the bride of Christ. Likewise, the Bible compares our unfaithfulness to God with adultery and prostitution. Do you see your sin this way? Do you see God’s forgiveness from the perspective of an adulterer? Do you understand the magnitude of grace you have received? How do you respond to such love?
11. Judges 2:18 — “For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them.” In His anger, God still has a heart for the sinner and seeks reconciliation.
12. Judges 2:19 — “But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers.” There are two types of discipline: internal discipline (self-control), and external discipline (law and authority). God expects Christians to have internal discipline (self-control being the last fruit of the Spirit), not requiring external laws and authority to control them. When people lack internal discipline, they require external discipline to keep them in line. Remove external discipline and you will discover what is truly in someone’s heart. The Israelites revealed their rebellious hearts whenever external disciplines were removed, proving that God could not trust them to obey from the heart. God disciplined the Israelites with foreign enemies to draw them back to Him. What does God have to do to keep you focused on Him and to keep you disciplined?
13. Proverbs 17:1 — “A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.” It is what is inside that counts (what is in your heart), not your circumstances or any other external factors which will determine the impact of your life. It is not what others believe to be true or even what you say is true about you that matters but what is really true – the truth of your character. And it doesn’t matter if you are rich and talented or have a great personality, ultimately your character will determine your future. The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus said it this way: “ethos anthropos daimon,” – “Character is destiny.” The character that Heraclitus spoke of, “ethos”, from where we get the word “ethics,” which involves the collection of ones virtues, with virtues being measured by something Heraclitus spoke of, something of which Christians should be well familiar: “logos” – “that which governs everything.” Heraclitus, the “Weeping Philosopher,” did not have the advantage of the revelation of God’s Word – “In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word (Logos) was with God, and the Word (Logos) was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5) .” Heraclitus did not know that “that which governs everything” is Jesus, but he still understood that our conformity with the “Logos” determined our fate. The Bible calls living by the Logos, “wisdom,” and, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 4:7, 9:10) Today’s Proverbs point out that wisdom prevails over any situation.
– The ancient Greek philosophers had another imperfect perception of the truth which Jesus made clear: you must be born again. The Greek philosophers understood that acting (the Greek word for stage actor is hypocrite) virtuous doesn’t make a person virtuous, rather a person had to truly be virtue, virtuous in their soul. To them, a virtuous person consistently does virtuous things because virtue is who they are inside. To them, the law was merely to contain the unvirtuous and had no purpose for the virtuous which are self-controlled from their souls. But the Greeks did not understand the power of the Holy Spirit and believed that consistent hard work could slowly transform an unvirtuous person into a virtuous person. However, the Bible reveals that we can only be set free from sin through Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:2) When Christ is in us, we are virtue, and the law is no longer required to govern our once wild spirits. Our minds are now controlled by the Spirit (Romans 8:5) The Holy Spirit within us now obligates us to live by the Spirit which puts to death the misdeeds of the body (Romans 8:12-15). Even so, the Bible points out that we must take hold of what we have already received. We must live by the Spirit and not quench the Spirit, grieve the Spirit, or get out of step with the Spirit. We struggle with the flesh and rely on God’s grace as we grow up in faith. As children, we must learn from the Father. The children of God naturally act like their Father. Don’t act godly; be godly.
14. Proverbs 17:2 – “A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.” How does this proverb relate to the Gentiles receiving the Good News? See Romans 11.
15. Proverbs 17:6 – “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.” God intends family to be a blessing.
16. Proverbs 17:10 – “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.” Wise people learn without having to suffer the consequences of their foolishness.
17. Romans 5:1 — “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Do you feel a peace that transcends all understanding today? Is your peace evident and bewildering to others?
18. Romans 5:2 — “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Are you rejoicing in your hope today?
19. Romans 5:3-5 — “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” A person of noble character is developed through adversity. There is no easy path to character. There is no comfort in the growth zone, and there is no growth in the comfort zone. It has also been said that the life of ease will ruin a person. Resolve to be willing to pay the price for character and to trust God through the process — that is faith. Faith trusts God now; hope is faith projected forward, trusting God with your future. As you grow in character (trusting God now), you will grow in hope, trusting God with tomorrow. Are you rejoicing in your sufferings today, knowing that God is using your sufferings to develop you?
20. Romans 5:6-11 — “While we were still weak… Christ died for the ungodly…. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…. while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…. we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Are you ready to show the love of Christ to others by giving your life to your weak, sinful, ungodly enemies in pursuit of their reconciliation? The Bible says, “Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…, entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us (2 Cor 5:18-20).” God expects you to bear the burden and suffering of maltreatment in relationships (your cross to bear) in order to reveal the grace of Jesus to others. Yes, it is completely unfair (from an earthly perspective). But aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t deal with you on the basis of fairness? Love is not about fairness or fair exchange – good for good, bad for bad. Love is about grace, mercy, and peace – giving to give, not giving to get. When you are abused for His Name’s sake, while on the mission of reconciliation, you fellowship with Jesus and truly worship Him. This is the type of suffering that builds your Christ-like character. Deny self, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. You will not be disappointed.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 17 April: Today, memorize Romans 5:3-5. Say it to yourself whenever you face challenging circumstances or challenging people.
– “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”