Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Wednesday, 10 August 2022:
Judges 9:3-5 — …their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.” … Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. And he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone.
When greed and prejudice dominates politics, corrupt and heartless leaders are chosen who will destroy.
Judges 9:14, 15 — Then all the trees said to the bramble, “You come and reign over us.” And the bramble said to the trees, “If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade.”
The first parable recorded in the Bible is about the consequence of raising up corrupt leaders, professional politicians: Abimelech (meaning: “my father is king”), an illegitimate son of Gideon, born of a concubine who was in Shechem, convinced the leaders of Schechem, appealing to their racism (Shechem was a Canaanite city), to make him King. With the money he was paid, Abimelech hires “worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him,” and he eliminates his legitimate opposition, the rightful successors of Gideon – he kills “his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself.”
At Abimelech’s inauguration ceremony as King before the people of Schechem, Jotham stands on top of a distant hill and shouts out the “Parable of the Trees.” In this first parable of the Bible, the trees decide to elect a king, and they first ask the Olive tree, then the fig tree, and then the grape vine, but all these refuse to be king because they are all successful, important contributors to society and have no desire to leave their productive industry and societal contribution to “hold sway over the trees.” So, finally, they go to the bramble (thorn bush), and ask the bramble to reign. The bramble, who serves no productive value in society, produces nothing, but only feeds off of the labors of others, gladly accepts leadership, promising to give all the other trees “refuge” in his “shade,” as if a thorn bush offers any shade. The parable accurately predicts that the bramble will “devour the cedars of Lebanon,” as will be revealed in our continued readings.
This story in Judges goes far beyond revealing the consequences of Gideon’s sin (an important lesson in itself), it sends an important message/warning about self-serving politicians. There is a terrible consequence of electing worthless leaders, lacking character and competence, men and women who make empty promises and rally rabble to political action in order to remain in power, who feed off of the productivity of others. These career politicians, brambles, offer refuge and shade they don’t have while they choke the life out of communities and destroy. Our Founding Fathers had a healthy distrust of government that came from not only their own experiences but also from their knowledge of the Bible:
- 1 Samuel 8:11-18 — These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth [you wish it were just a 10th] of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
Government is important to maintain stability, and Romans 13 (along with other Bible verses) makes it clear that we are to obey civil authority when civil authority doesn’t demand that we directly disobey God. But, how important is it to elect men and women of true character and competence to office? I don’t believe this can be done without a concerted effort on the part of Christians who have always served as the conscience of the Nation. Like the olive tree, the fig tree, and the grape vine, we can get so focused on contributing to society that we turn governing over to the thorn bushes which are slowly devouring us. Christians must rediscover their voice in the social/political dialogue in order to influence change. However, we must not allow politics to distract from our primary message of the Gospel. On the contrary, we must put social issues within the context of the Gospel.
As the late theologian Jacques Ellul stated, “The Christian who is involved in the material history of this world is involved in it as representing another order, another Master (rather than the prince of this world), another claim (rather than that of the natural heart of man). Thus he must plunge into social and political problems in order to have an influence on the world, not in the hope of making it a paradise, but simply in order to make it tolerable — not in order to diminish the opposition between this world and the Kingdom of God, but simply in order to modify the opposition between the disorder of this world and the order of preservation that God wills for it — not in order to ‘bring in’ the Kingdom of God, but in order that the gospel may be proclaimed, that all men may really hear the Good News of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ.”
Again, we must be very careful not to get so wrapped up in the current political process and specific issues that we fail to proclaim first and foremost the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the late Chuck Colson stated, “When the church aligns itself politically, it gives priority to the compromises and temporal successes of the political world rather than its Christian confession of eternal truth. And when the church gives up its rightful place as the conscience of the culture, the consequences for society can be horrific.”
Additionally, we must be willing to pay the personal price when obeying God means we cannot obey government, societal norms, or even current church denominational position. When the Pharisees sought to silence the disciples in Luke 19, Jesus said, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” In Acts 5, when the Sanhedrin ordered the Apostles not to preach Jesus, “Peter and the other Apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men!” They were flogged, and then the Bible says, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” Show yourself worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name, and rejoice in your inevitable persecution. After all, as Hebrews 12:4 reminds you, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
This is a challenging time for our Nation, and the only hope for our Nation is corporate repentance and revival, which can only occur among God’s people. We are not mere victims of our circumstances; we influence circumstances, either in a positive way or a negative way, and remember, “silence is consent.” As stated in 2 Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Finally, in 1 Samuel 13 and 14, the Israelites were up against seemingly impossible odds, facing the powerful, heavily armored and equipped Philistines whose soldiers were more numerous than the sand on the seashore. The Bible says, “When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical, that their army was hard pressed, they hid in the caves,” and some simply left the fight altogether. But Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come, let us go over to the outpost of the uncircumcised. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” His armor bearer said, “Do all that you have in mind; go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” Subsequently, Jonathan’s boldness caused the Israelites to rise up out of their holes, and he led them in a great victory. Be a Jonathan today, or at least be an armor bearer. As the Marines would say, “Lead; follow; or get the ‘heck’ out of the way.” Don’t miss out on your Gideon’s Army moment, but count yourself among the 300 that would be willing to participate in God’s victory. Semper Fidelis Coram Deo – Always faithful before the face of God.
Judges 9:56, 57 — Thus God returned the evil of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers. And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads, and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.
God will judge both corrupt leaders as well as those who chose them.
Luke 13:8, 9 – And he answered him, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”
God patiently waits for people to repent and accept Jesus, but there is a limit to His patience.
Luke 13:14-16 – But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
Many people use religion as an excuse to act unloving and to treat others poorly. Truth approached in a self-centered, selfish perspective becomes untrue in that person’s application.
Without love, God’s word and commands will be misapplied. When Jesus fulfilled the will of the Father, religious people, using God’s word, called Him a sinner. Jesus called people who claimed to know Him but lacked love hypocrites (stage actors), people pridefully pretending to be something they weren’t for personal recognition and other self-serving, unloving reasons. The Pharisees diligently studied the Scriptures, but they didn’t know God and the power of His love – “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5) “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)
Bible study is essential. You can’t love the God you don’t really know, and He reveals Himself to us through His word. The more you know God through prayerful, spirit-led study of His word, the better you can love Him and subsequently love others. The Bible says, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) So, if your Bible study isn’t leading you to ever-increasing love, it isn’t leading you closer to Him. Don’t be one of those who read and acquire rules without relationship, who seek principles rather than the Person of Jesus Christ, who learn but never learn how to love, and who practice externalism – cleaning the outside of the dish. Diligently study God’s word, but study it to know God rather than simply know about God, and apply God’s word in love, guided by the Holy Spirit.
- Proverbs 26:9 -- Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools. - 1 John 4:8 -- Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. - Matthew 7:15-20 -- “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 — If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
- Matthew 12:36 — I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak….
Luke 13:18-21 — What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.
The kingdom appears insignificant but grows into something miraculous. God uses your seemingly insignificant deeds to do amazing things, you need only be faithful in the little things.
Luke 13:22-30 – Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!”
Knowing about Jesus, knowing His teachings, and being around Him won’t save you. You must truly ‘know’ Him in genuine relationship, having been saved by faith in Him, putting all your trust and hope in Him, and seeking to obey Him.
Luke 13:24, 25 — Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us,” then he will answer you, “I do not know where you come from.”
Some people approach God half-heartedly and selfishly – that won’t work. It is all or nothing, and it’s all for Him. God knows the heart.
How different is Jesus’ message than the popular, worldly message of universalism being taught by so many today (often in the name of Jesus). Consider some of Jesus’ other less quoted statements that we have read from the Book of Luke so far:
- Luke 8:12 -- The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. - Luke 8:20-21 -- And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” - Luke 9:26 -- For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. - Luke 10:13-16 -- Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me. - Luke 11:23 -- Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. - Luke 11:27, 28 -- As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” - Luke 12:8 -- The one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. - Luke 12:51-53 -- Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. - Luke 13:5 -- No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Luke 13:29 – And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.
God’s plan includes people from throughout the world.
Luke 13:31-33 – At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’
Jesus wasn’t driven by fear of man but rather accomplishment of the purpose and mission the Father had given Him. When God is for you, who can stand against you? Don’t live in fear; live in confidence that your perfectly loving sovereign Father is in complete control of all things and has promised to work all things out together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)
Luke 13:34 – O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!
We tend to interpret much of the Bible verses dealing with judgment as applying to unbelievers, but most of those verses are spoken to God’s people, the church. Judgment comes with the salt loses its saltiness, and the light loses its brightness. As goes the church, so goes the nation.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 10 August 22: Endeavor to show radical hospitality and charity today, holding nothing back from those you can help in love. Use the opportunity to proclaim the love of Jesus. (Luke 13:15, 16)