SOAP Journal – 21 July 2017 (Judges 3:15-16)

But when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. And the sons of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his cloak.

Judges 3:15-16

Ehud is one of the more interesting judges. He is a left-handed man who makes his own sword and straps it on so it is obvious that he is either left-handed or has no intention of drawing his sword. He finds Eglon, the king of Moab, while he (Eglon) is in his “cool roof chamber” and stabs Eglon there, then lets himself out and locks up on his way out. Neither he nor his method is what anyone expects. And, in that way, he and my Lord are alike.

Ehud’s sword had two edges. The Word of God is described as sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). What is more, John sees Jesus carrying His (Jesus’) sword in an unexpected manner as well: coming from His mouth (Revelation 1:16, 19:15). While I know that the sword coming from Jesus’ mouth in John’s vision is most likely a metaphor, the idea that sticks with me is that neither Jesus nor Ehud does things in the way that the people expect. Ehud assassinates Eglon while the Moabite king is in the bathroom. Jesus came not as a political and military ruler, as the Jews of His time thought the Messiah would be, but as a servant Who was eventually executed in our place. Ehud keeps his victory quiet long enough to get things where God and he want them. While Jesus’ victory is not quiet — we Christians have much to say on the subject — there is a gap between Jesus winning the victory at Calvary and when he will gather His troops and come to claim that victory.

From this, I am reminded that Jesus is not going to do things the way I expect Him to. He might very well work in the way that I think He ought to, but He is in no way bound to that. He is my Deliverer, and, like Ehud, does things in a fashion that will not always seem normal to me.

Jesus, thank You for being my Savior. Thank You for saving me and for doing so in the way that is effective, not in the way that anyone was expecting. Please keep me mindful that You continue to work in ways that I will not always understand. Please keep my heart ready to cooperate with Your plans.

SOAP Journal – 20 July 2017 (Judges 3:9-10)

When the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel. When he went out to war, the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand, so that he prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim.

Judges 3:9-10

The first judge recorded in this book is Othniel, the son of Kenaz. I am looking for parallels between Christ and the judges and Othniel has a couple of interesting parallels.

Othniel means “lion of God,” so there is already something of a parallel in the form of one of the names of Christ: the Lion of the tribe of Judah. The book has already had something to say about Othniel. Judges records that Othniel captured a city — Kiriath-sepher; the “city of the book” — in pursuit of the woman who became his wife — Achsah, the daughter of Caleb. The “lion of God” conquers a single city; just one thing the first time we see him and it is in pursuit of his bride. The second time we see the “lion of God,” he is waging war on the enemies of God’s people. War and judgment are confined to the second coming of the “lion of God.” Likewise Christ came the first time to get his bride — the Church — and will come a second time to judge and to make war.

Achsah, Othniel’s bride, is the daughter of Caleb. Caleb means “dog.” It is interesting that the Jews of Jesus’ time regarded non-Jewish people as dogs and it is from these “dogs” that Jesus draws His Church; His Bride. And the gentile-to-dog comparison is not some bit of historical conjecture, but something recorded in the pages of scripture. Jesus speaks to a gentile woman and tells her that it is not good to throw the children’s food to the dogs when she asks for a healing and she replies that even the dogs can eat the scraps that fall from the table (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30). The comparison of gentiles to dogs was well-known at the time.

As Othniel conquered a city for Achsah, Jesus conquered sin and death for me and all believers. As Othniel’s first appearance was to claim his bride and his second appearance to judge and make war, so, too, Jesus came the first time to claim His Bride and will return to judge and to make war.

Thank You, God, that Your first appearance was to make me Your own — to conquer sin and death that any who believes might be Your Bride. Thank You that the judgment is not withheld, but just waiting on the right moment. Please make me faithful to You, that I might bless Your heart.

SOAP Journal – 19 July 2017 (Judges 2:16-19)

Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do as [their fathers]. When the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them. But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways.

Judges 2:16-19

Chapter 2, particularly verses 16-19, is a summary of the remainder of the book. The Israelites act unfaithfully toward God, bad things happen to the Israelites, God raises up a judge, the judge delivers the Israelites, everything is fine while the judge lives, the judge dies, the Israelites act unfaithfully toward God, and so on and so forth. As I read these verses this morning, a new idea (new to me, anyway) occurred to me: Do the judges all tell me something about Jesus Christ?

The word “judge” in these verses is from the same root as the word Abraham uses when he pleads with God to spare Lot from the destruction of Sodom and calls God the Judge of all the Earth (Genesis 18:25). So the idea might not be too far-fetched. And Jesus is called the Judge in the New Testament. There are certain parallels to note.

One, the LORD raised up judges who delivered them. God also raised up Jesus — both on His cross and from the dead — to deliver us.

Two, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. As with the judges in this book, the deliverance effected by Christ is not dependent on us, but on Christ and is effective all the days of Christ, Who lives forever.

Three, the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them. God’s compassion is also roused for us when we are enslaved to sin. Our sin oppresses and afflicts us and God wants us to live in freedom in Him.

As I work my way through this book, I will be looking for parallels between each of the judges and Jesus Christ.

Which brings me to the issue of application. Unlike the Israelites, who were delivered by a judge who eventually died, I am delivered by a Judge Who lives forever. He continues living and delivering me until I reach a place where I am completely free. Like the Israelites, the trouble I find myself in is often trouble of my own making. It is often the case that my own faithlessness gets me in trouble and God must step in and rescue me. Like the Israelites, I need to call out to God for deliverance when I realize that I have gotten myself in trouble, because He is faithful even if I am not.

Thank You, Father, that my state can arouse Your pity and invite Your deliverance. Thank You for Your faithfulness despite my lack of it. Please keep me aware that You are always ready to deliver me if only I will turn and call to You. Please keep me mindful that my Judge is still alive.

SOAP Journal – 18 July 2017 (Judges 1:20-21)

Then they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had promised; and he drove out from there the three sons of Anak. But the sons of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.

Judges 1:20-21

The first chapter of Judges is a rehearsal of the victories and defeats of the Israelites after the death of Joshua. In a way, this first chapter feels like it ought to be the last chapter of Joshua. The victories end in this chapter and the Israelites go from idolatry to repentance to victory and on through the loop for the remainder of the book.

This morning’s verses caught my attention. These two verses feel like a comparison. Caleb, a solitary man of faith drives out three giants from his land, but the entire military might of the tribe of Benjamin — with the ability to call all of the other tribes for aid — cannot drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem; cannot conquer a single city.  There is a temptation to look down on the tribe of Benjamin, then God whispers a question to me: “Have you done better?”

There are, basically, two ways to live my Christian life. I can live like Caleb: driving giants out of the land and conquering through faith. Or I can live like the tribe of Benjamin: falling short of fully taking possession of all that God wants to give me. There is not, as far as I can discern, anything in between.

How do I want to live?

Father, thank You for this comparison. Thank You that the battle belongs to You and that victory depends almost exclusively on You, though I know that I still have to obey. Please give me a heart like Caleb; a heart that trusts in You and Your promises and looks to receive all that You have for me.

SOAP Journal – 17 July 2017 (Joshua 24:31)

Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the LORD which He had done for Israel.

Joshua 24:31

Joshua’s final address to the Israelites is in chapters 23-24. In his final address, he reminds the Israelites of the things they have seen God do in their midst and calls them to make a choice: serve God or serve someone else. Joshua asserts that he and his house will serve the LORD and the leaders of the Israelites echo that intent. Then verse 31 happens.

The sad implication of saying that Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua is that the Israelites who came after did not serve the LORD. Knowing that the book of Judges is next and knowing what that book contains, I know full well that the Israelites did not continue to serve God. There is a rather famous saying that “The price of peace is eternal vigilance.” And the Israelites failed to pay this price. They grew complacent and wandered away from the LORD by slow degrees, eventually finding themselves in the place where every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6, 21:25).

The same, I think, is true in the life of believers. We come to the LORD and He gives us victory over things and our lives settle into peaceful patterns. And we grow complacent. Another famous saying has it that to secure the peace is to prepare for war. We do not consistently do this. We do not secure the peace in our lives by preparing for the next attack from our enemies — the worldly outlook, the devil and his minions, and our own carnal desires — and that is why we fail.

The other issue is that those who had known all the deeds of the LORD which He had done for Israel followed God. There is a tendency to forget. Whether it is one generation dismissing the testimony of their forebears or individual believers forgetting the goodness of the LORD in our own lives, we lose sight of the mighty things that God has done and may be tempted to think that God cannot handle the problem we are facing. We fail to “Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry!” We fail to trust that God can handle anything that comes at us and to be prepared for the things we know are coming — temptation and trial and difficulty.

Father, please forgive my forgetfulness. I would not forget if I would regularly call to mind the great things that You have done in my life and in the lives of those I know. Please work in me to develop a character that wears ruts in my mind where Your great deeds are concerned. May I rehearse them in my mind and continually call them to remembrance so that I might always be ready to trust You. Please also work a spiritual vigilance in me, that I might be always prepared for the inevitable attacks of my enemies — the world’s way of thinking, the devil and his minions, and my own lusts. Thank You for being my help and my safety and for being faithful to me despite my faithlessness.

SOAP Journal – 14 July 2017 (Joshua 23:8)

But you are to cling to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day.

Joshua 23:8

This morning’s verse is part of Joshua’s farewell address to the Israelites. It is during this address that Joshua will give the Israelites the choice of whom they will serve: the LORD Who has performed miracles in their midst or the false gods of the peoples living in the Promised Land. That is the most often quoted passage in this book, I think, and there are teachings in abundance on the concept. Before Joshua puts the decision to them, he tells them which choice they should make and which they should not make.

The but at the beginning of this verse links it to what preceded, setting this verse up in contrast to what has just been said. Joshua previously told the Israelites to be very firm … to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses. Since that statement agrees with this morning’s verse, it is not what this verse is contrasting. Joshua follows up his exhortation to keep and do the law with warnings not to mix and mingle with the nations still left in the Promised Land or to engage in the same worship as them.

Instead, Joshua tells the Israelites that they are to cling to the LORD [their] GodCling is one of those Bible Words that gets my ears tingling and my curiosity piqued. So I looked it up in the concordance. And it turns out that the verb used is the same verb used to describe how a husband and wife are supposed to relate to one another. The man is to be joined to his wife, and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Joshua is telling the Israelites that they are, to paraphrase a bit, be married to God.

In the Modern Westernized World (MWW), marriage has fallen into disrepute. I saw a movie trailer that seemed to be advertising a movie about marriage being an obsolete concept. While the MWW has lost respect for just about everything — especially marriage — there are places where people marry and stay that way; where the vows of not parting until death separates them are held sacred and kept. It was to a culture of this type that Joshua said that they were to hold fast to God in basically the same way a husband holds fast to his wife.

As a husband, that is some powerful imagery. This imagery not only gives me an idea of what I should want things to be like, but the verb has as another potential meaning (not in the way it is used in this verse, but as it is used elsewhere) of pursuing closely. The concepts bound up in this word choice are evocative. I am given the idea that I should hold fast to God; that I should be coming to Him with my rough days and with my summary of what happened today. I should seek out His presence and His company. And, as is the case with the relationship between husband and wife, there is a way that I can pursue Him to which He will respond and many ways to pursue Him to which He will not respond. Just as my wife receives certain actions and words as gestures of love, so, too, does God receive certain actions and words in that way. Just as my wife may perceive things that I think are acts of love as nothing really worth noting, so, too, does God.

There is a key difference — one of many — between God and my wife. God knows my intent. My wife does not always know what I am on about. God can see, as plain as day, that my words or actions are prompted by love for Him and He understands that my attempts to properly communicate that love will often be clumsy. This does not mean that He leaves me that way, but that He comprehends.

Joshua’s exhortation to the Israelites is to cling to the LORD. The same exhortation comes to me this morning. Things have been rough in many ways in recent times and I have not heeded this instruction as I should. I need to cling to the LORD [my] God. I need to yearn for Him in a fashion similar to (but not exactly the same as) the yearning I have for my wife.

Father, thank You for loving me and seeing my feeble love for You and my sad attempts at expressing that love. Please stoke the fires of love both for You and for my wife (since both are on my mind after this morning’s time) and help me to express that love in ways that can be received by the beloved.

SOAP Journal – 13 July 2017 (Joshua 22:5)

Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Joshua 22:5

After the Promised Land was parceled out, Joshua summoned the 2½ tribes that settled in the land of Gilead on the opposite side of the Jordan from the rest of the Israelites and releases them from service. They had promised to go to war alongside their brethren and the land was now solidly in the control of the Israelites. There was still conquering to do, but the war was over for a time. Joshua tells the 2½ tribes that they have served faithfully and discharges them with a blessing and a warning. This morning’s verse is the substance of that warning.

In the New Testament (NT), believers are warned not to forsake the gathering together of the brethren (Hebrews 10:25). The 2½ tribes looked to be doing exactly that. And Joshua’s exhortation to the 2½ tribes contains, I think, part of the reason why fellowship is strongly encouraged.

Joshua warns the 2½ tribes to be very careful to observe the commandment and the law … to love the LORD your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When Paul writes similar exhortations to the NT believers, it is usually phrased without the very included. He might emphasize a point, but I cannot recall an instance in which Paul added an emphasis word. The reason for the emphasis is, I think, in the verses preceding Hebrews 10:25. Hebrews 10:23-24 says Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds …. The idea there is that fellowship; being in the company of others who believe as you do and follow the same God you do gives all involved the opportunity to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.

If the 2½ tribes had remained with their fellow Israelites and not had a river dividing them, then the near civil war that follows hard on the heels of the 2½ tribes heading home would never have happened. Moreover, the river between them leads later to slow division as deep as language. All of the Israelites should speak the same language, but those in Gilead began to develop a dialect that divided them from their brethren.

Where all of this leads, for me, is to the place where I am reminded that I need regular fellowship with brothers in Christ. I may not live next door to them (although I might) and it may require planning (I do not like to plan), but I need regular time spent with those who have my Savior in common so we can stimulate one another to love and good deeds and so that we help ease the burden and ratchet the intensity of effort down from being very careful to simply being careful. Maybe I will still need to be very careful, but it is still a simpler thing than trying to go it alone.

Thank You, Father, that You have placed us in Your family and that we can support one another and bear one another’s burdens and make walking with You even less laborious. Please give me a willingness and a desire to work at fellowship.