SOAP Journal – 08 August 2017 (Judges 19-21)

So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God until evening, and lifted up their voices and wept bitterly.

Judges 21:2

The book closes with the history of a Levite, his concubine, and the near-destruction of an entire tribe.

The Levite is from the hill country of Ephraim and his concubine runs back home to her father in Jerusalem. The Levite goes after her and her father persuades the Levite to stay a little extra time. When they finally do get going, it is late and they end up staying in a town belonging to Benjamites.

The scene turns sadly familiar as the men of the city surround the house where the Levite is staying wanting to sodomize him. The concubine is thrown to the wolves and they do horrible things to her until daybreak, at which time she succumbs to the trauma and dies. The Levite takes her corpse home, cuts it up in twelve pieces, and sends a piece to each of the tribes. The Israelites gather and the story is told to them and the Israelites determine that the city must be punished.  The tribe of Benjamin disagrees and a civil war ensures. The net result of this civil war is that only 600 men are left of the entire tribe of Benjamin when the dust settles.

The Israelites figure out how to get wives for those remaining men and allow the tribe to continue, but there is more than one instance of weeping and more than one cause for it.

The book wraps up with the statement that In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:35).

This close of the book serves as a stark reminder of how far human depravity can go if left unchecked. If the preceding account was a reminder of how an individual’s sin can spread, then this is a cautionary tale against defending sin. Had the tribe of Benjamin allowed the guilty to be punished, then there would have been a much shorter account. Levite tells what happened, all of the Israelites go wipe out the guilty parties, everyone goes home grateful that things did not turn out worse. Instead, the entire tribe of Benjamin is nearly wiped out and thousands of Israelites along with them.

It is, perhaps, telling that the first king of Israel comes from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul is the king that the Israelites wanted. Tall, good-looking, strong, impressive in just about every way. He was also an often godless person. He is shown to frequently be ruled by his impulses. In short, he is an example that the tribe of Benjamin had not really learned all that much from what happens here.

Another notable Benjamite shows up in the New Testament. Another Saul, as it happens. This one persecutes followers of Christ, throwing them in prison and delivering them up to be beaten and killed. He thinks that he is doing God’s work, but he, like King Saul before him, is ruled by impulses and what he thinks is right. Until he meets Jesus.

If the unrepentant tribe of Benjamin in Judges and the impenitent King Saul in 1 Samuel are examples of what can happen when sin goes unchecked, then Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) is an example of how expansive the grace of God is. Paul repents and is used mightily by God — everything forgiven and remembered no more. King Saul does not repent, his life ending as he kills himself on the battlefield to avoid capture, and the throne passes to another line. The tribe of Benjamin does not repent and is almost wiped out. The difference is repentance.

And that is how this comes home to me. Repentance is the difference between a life that is squandered and a life into which God can pour His grace. Let me be searched by God and repent of whatever objectionable thing He finds in me. It is that repentance that opens the door to God’s grace and to my life being a blessing instead of a by-word.

Father, thank You for this example of how damaging sin can be. Please search me and reveal wrongs in me. I know some of them and I repent of them now, asking You to uproot them from me and lead me in the paths of righteousness. Please let my life be a testimony of what Your grace can accomplish instead of a cautionary tale about the damage that sin can do.

SOAP Journal – 07 August 2017 (Judges 17-18)

In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.

Judges 17:6

The book of Judges takes a sudden turn in chapter 17 and pans the lens around from the judges to the people at large.

Chapter 17 tells the story of a man named Micah who takes money from his mother. He returns the money and mom is so happy that she gives some of the money to a silversmith to make a household idol. There are so many things wrong with the story already that it is amazing. The son steals from his mother. I have known kids to raid their parents’ change drawers looking for small change to buy ice cream and whatnot, but Micah stole 1,100 pieces of silver. Mom rewards him for returning what he stole. There is nothing recorded about her chastising him or disciplining him, just her being happy that he returned what he took from her. And she rewards him with an idol. There is an impressive amount of dysfunction.

But Micah meets with a Levite and offers the Levite a living in his (Micah’s) household as their priest, figuring that God will sanction idolatry if a Levite is involved in it. And the Levite accepts. It is no wonder verse 6 tells us that every man did what was right in his own eyes, because the people are just going haywire. The Levites were not the priests, but temple servants. And having a temple servant or a priest would not make God happy with doing what He commanded not be done.

Chapter 18 continues the saga with the tribe of Dan visiting and some Danite spies meeting up with the Levite on their way to spy out a city to take for their own. They end up conquering the city and taking the Levite, the idol, and a fair bit of what had belonged to Micah’s household on their way. Micah, the idolatrous thief, is left destitute and whinging that his god had been stolen. Which brings us back around to the truth that every man did what was right in his own eyes. And worse, gives the impression that sin is highly contagious. Micah was a thief from whom the Danites stole. Micah was an idolater whose god was taken by the Danites who then became idolaters until the time of the captivity (Judges 18:30-31). One man’s sins grew larger and manifested in an entire tribe of Israelites.

If the earlier chapters were pictures of my Redeemer, then this chapter is a picture of those in need of redemption. When there was no king in our lives, we did whatever seemed right to us. In rare moments, we might have gotten things right, but more often we tried to do the right thing — Micah was seeking God’s approval and even hired a Levite in hopes he might get it — and got everything terribly wrong — what Micah was seeking God’s approval for (idolatry) directly contradicted God’s Ten Commandments. These chapters of the book of Judges seem to be a reminder of how desperately we need the King of Kings in our lives; how we need the Judge of all the Earth to render His verdict on our actions and tell us where we are going wrong (Hint: It is almost everywhere).

Let me examine myself and see if Jesus is, in fact, my King or if I am just paying Him lip service. If He is King in my life, then I should be seeking to obey Him. If there is no desire to obey and no effort in that direction, then I might very well have no King of Kings in my life.

Father, thank You for this reminder of how wrong my best efforts can be. Thank You that my efforts are not the basis of my salvation. Please search me and reveal to me whether or not Jesus is King in my life or if there is some pretender on His throne. If He is King in me, please give me a heart that seeks to obey Him more. If He is not, please pull down the usurper and set my heart to rights.

SOAP Journal – 04 August 2017 (Judges 13-16)

Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no [children], but you shall conceive and give birth to a son.”

Judges 13:3

Samson may be the single best-known judge in the book of Judges.

The first recorded thing he did is that he saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines and said to his father, “Get her for me, for she looks good to me.” (Judges 14:1, 3). After that, he makes a bet over a riddle and ends up killing 30 people to keep up his side of the wager and walks out on his wife because she gave away his secret. He later goes back and finds that she married someone else and Samson ties together 300 foxes with torches between their tails and sets the poor animals loose in the Philistines’ grain fields. When the Philistines come to capture him for his arson, he takes a donkey’s jawbone and kills 1,000 men. Later in life, he visits a prostitute and carries away the city gates when people lie in ambush for him. At the tail end of his life, he loves Delilah and is betrayed by her. He loses his God-given strength and his eyes are gouged out. He grinds grain for the Philistines and is brought into their temple to amuse them before he pulls down the pillars and crushes 3,000+ Philistine lords and their wives to death, killing himself in the process. With a biography like that, does he have anything in common with Christ? Yes, actually.

Samson’s birth is announced by the angel of the LORD (Judges 13:3) to both his mother and father (Judges 13:11-14) and Jesus’ birth was announced to Mary and to Joseph.

Samson comes to his own (his wife) and his own does not receive him (Judges 15:1-2). In a similar way, Jesus came to His own (the Israelites) and His own did not receive him (John 1:11).

Samson was betrayed by one close to him … on more than one occasion. His riddle was betrayed by his first wife (Judges 14:16-17). The best man at his wedding is the person his first wife married when Samson walked out (Judges 14:20). And Delilah betrays Samson in ways for which I cannot find adequate description (Judges 16). Jesus was also betrayed by one close to Him (Matthew 26:14-16).

And my last observation is that Samson’s death brought deliverance (Judges 16:30). In his death, Samson killed more of the oppressors than he did in the entire rest of his life. It is by Jesus’ death and resurrection that I am saved.

There is more that could be discussed: the meaning of the names and how Delilah feels a bit like a parallel to believers, but the focus this morning is on Samson and the parallels between his life and that of Christ.

I do not want to apply this in the wrong way. It would be a simple thing to look at this and think that God can use any life, no matter how mangled and marred it might be and to use that reality as a license to go about twisting my life and my self into all the wrong shapes. It is true that God can use any life and that Samson is an excellent example of that. It is also true that this cannot be used for license to mess my life up and expect God to make good of it. As Paul wrote, What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2) The entirety of Romans 6 is an excellent read on the subject of license.

So, yes, God can use any life. It is also true that some lives are more effective than others. Samson delivered by killing. Jesus delivered by dying. Samson did what his desires told him and was constantly caught by his circumstances. Jesus did what His Father told Him and was Master over every circumstance. Samson ended his life maimed, miserable, and crushed. Jesus triumphed over death and ascended into glory. Which life would I rather live?

Thank You, Father, that You give us the judges for our instruction. Thank You for sending Your Son, the ultimate Judge, to show us what the other judges only hinted at. Please make my life like that of Your Son: a life submitted to You and lived for Your glory.

SOAP Journal – 03 August 2017 (Judges 12:13-15)

Now Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel after him. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons who rode on seventy donkeys; and he judged Israel eight years. Then Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died and was buried at Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.

Judges 12:13-15

Next in the line-up of judges is Abdon. Abdon’s summary includes very little. He had quite a large family — forty sons and thirty grandsons  — and was buried at Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites after his death.

According to my concordance, Abdon’s name means “servile,” Hillel (his father) means “praising,” and Pirathon means “princely.” These names hint at things that pertain to Jesus. Jesus did come as a servant and His Father both praised Him (Jesus) and is to be praised Himself (the Father). And Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. All of this is, as has been true of several judges, association by implication. Our Judge is servile; He serves. Our Judge is to be praised. Our Judge is princely. All of this is by implication of the meaning of the names in verse 13.

The application feels a bit like a repeat to me, but it may just be that God wants to drive home the lesson. I see in this judge that it is possible that my life can only be associated with Jesus by implication. Some of the judges have obvious parallels with Christ while others require research and learning what the names mean and whatnot. My life can be similar. It is possible that people can look at my life and see nothing remarkable unless they really dig into it. Such is likely true of many believers.

Father, thank You that I do not have to be remarkable in the world’s eyes to be counted faithful and noteworthy by You. Please make me someone that You notice and give me eyes that see things as You do.

SOAP Journal – 01 August 2017 (Judges 12:8-10)

Now Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel after him. He had thirty sons, and thirty daughters [whom] he gave in marriage outside [the family], and he brought in thirty daughters from outside for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years. Then Ibzan died and was buried in Bethlehem.

Judges 12:8-10

I have trawled through more than a few resources this morning hoping that I could find something about Ibzan of Bethlehem that might connect him to Jesus in some fashion. The best I have been able to find is his name. Ibzan means “their whiteness” which makes me think of the verse that says that The Father made Jesus to be sin in our place that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). And that is all. That is where the tenuous parallels stop.

There are plenty of resources discussing whether Ibzan was from the commonly known Bethlehem in Judah or a lesser known Bethlehem in Zebulon. Some that discuss unsubstantiated notions that he and another notable Old Testament person are the same individual. And even one or two that had something to say about his plentiful offspring. None of the things I found connected him with Christ except his name.

And that brings me to an application for my own life. Is there more that connects me with Christ than just the name Christian? There should be. If I am truly a follower of Christ, then my life should be marked by the transformative power of God and not merely by a name. I should find myself transformed into the righteousness of God one step at a time.

Thank You, Father, for wanting more for us than a connection in name only. Please conform me to the image of Your Son that I might truly become the righteousness of God in Him.

SOAP Journal – 31 July 2017 (Judges 10:6-12:7)

Gilead’s wife bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah, and they went out with him.

Judges 11:2-3

The book of Judges takes a moment to highlight the cyclical nature of the Israelites’ rebellion (Judges 10:6-16) and how that rebellion results in hardness of heart — the Israelites cry out in verse 10 but do not repent until verse 16 and we are not told how much time lapsed between recognition of the problem and repentance.

After the Israelites repent of their idolatry, the Gileadites have a little thing that they need to repent of, as well. There was a man named Jephthah whom the Gileadites had run out of town because his mother was a prostitute. Jephthah is described as a mighty man of valor and the Gileadites had plenty of reason to wish they had not run him out of town. The Gileadites make Jephthah their leader and Jephthah proceeds to send a message to the king of the Ammonites and speaks truth to power. The king of the Ammonites demanded that the Israelites “give back” land that they had “stolen” from the Ammonites. The land in question had previously belonged to the Amorites and Jephthah points this out. The Ammonite king refuses to listen and is soundly trounced (Judges 11:12-33).

Jephthah has some parallels with plenty of other people in The Bible. The fact that worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah is a parallel to King David, who also had the dregs of society gather around him (1 Samuel 22:2) and those people who gathered together with David were the ones who would go on to become David’s Mighty Men and accomplish amazing victories. Jesus’ disciples were not the cream of the crop either. Among the people who followed Jesus around were insurrectionists and tax collectors, prostitutes and people who had been demonized, thieves and fishermen. As Jesus Himself put it, I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32).

Like Jesus, Jephthah was rejected by those he would eventually deliver. Jephthah was hated and scorned because of his parentage (Judges 11:2). Jesus was also scorned for His apparent parentage — people thinking that Mary and Joseph just could not keep their hands off of one another until after the vows (Mark 6:1-6) — and hated for His actual parentage — the Son of God (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-18).

Any parallels beyond these feel like I am trying to force things and I do not want to try to shape The Bible to fit my ideas, but the other way around.

The application for me is that I need together together with Jesus. I am one of those worthless fellows who should be gathering to Christ. Society sees no value in some people, but Jesus saw enough value in each and every one to hang on the cross to save us. I may be worth nothing in some peoples’ eyes, but in God’s eyes I am worth any price — and He proved that at the cross.

Father, thank You that You see a worth to every person that is not always perceived by society. Thank You for caring enough to demonstrate that worth by purchasing us back from our bondage to sin by dying on the cross. Please keep me gathered to You; following You closely.