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JOSHUA | Colossians | JUDGES | 1 Thessalonians | RUTH

DateScripturesDaily devotional commentary
Apr 3: Colossians
Apr 4 Judges 1-3 The Time of the Judges, by Rabbi Spiro, Aish.com
Apr 5 Judges 4-6 Studies in Leadership: Deborah and Gideon
Apr 6 Judges 7-10 Measuring Success
Apr 7 Judges 11-13 Of Victory and Defeat
Apr 8 Judges 14-17 Samson
Apr 9 Judges 18-20:13 "I'll Do It My Way"
Apr 10 Judges 20:14-21:25 Dealing With Sin By War
Apr 11: 1 Thessalonians

The Time of Judges       by Rabbi Ken Spiro from Crash Course in Jewish History, part 15, Aish.com
April 4 reading
Judges 1-3
Judges Commentary
Dictionary and Books
* Intro to Judges, BibleReferenceGuide.com
* General Judges resources, TextWeek
PROMISE: "Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their forefathers did." (2:20b-22)
Thought for today: Without first-hand knowledge of the LORD, younger Israelites followed various gods of the people living around them. Ignoring their LORD led to distress, not success. Calling them back to Him, besides using discipline, sometimes the LORD used compassion, giving Israel a judge to save and rescue His people. But the people didn't pick up the LORD's ways for themselves, and when the judge died, they went back to disobedience. (from ch 2)
Special thanks to Rabbi Ken Spiro who wrote the Crash Course in Jewish History series at Aish.com, including The Time of the Judges, begun below.

The Talmud calls the Book of Judges, "the Book of the Straight."

Why?

Because the ultimate goal of every Jew is to use his free will to work out what is wrong and right, using the Torah as a guide. And this is what happens in the Time of Judges.

In those days, there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his eyes. (Judges 21:25)

Some say this verse sounds like a description of anarchy. But there was no anarchy; the vast majority of Jews were totally dedicated to Torah and were making decisions in the right way, and didn't need someone tell them what to do. Indeed, that is the ideal situation.

Of course, the lack of leadership following the death of Joshua did have negative consequence; a small minority took it as a license to slip into idolatry and immorality. This happened largely because the Jews did not get rid of all of the Canaanites, as they were commanded to do, and the Canaanite pagan influence was felt.

Whenever the Jews abandon God, the repercussions are immediate:

And they forsook the God of their fathers and they went after other gods. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel and He delivered them into the hands of spoilers and he gave them over to the hands of their enemies. (Judges 2:8-14)

This is one of the most important patterns we have to understand in how Jewish history works. When the Jews betray their covenant with God, bad things happen -- usually, an enemy comes and attacks.

When we betray our covenant with God and bad things happen -- an enemy comes and attacks us.

The covenant with God doesn't just cover the behavior of man toward God, it also includes the commandments mandating the behavior of man toward man. But both are a must.

HEED THE WARNING

God says over and over again -- keep the Torah, all facets of it and no one will bother you. You will live in peace in your land. You will prosper, and not only that, the whole world will come to learn from you and you will elevate the entire planet.

But if you don't, a big fist will not come out of heaven and swat you, because God acts in history. What will happen instead is a physical enemy will appear or a famine will hit the land, and all will suffer.

When bad things happen to Jews, it is never by chance. It is always a consequence of Jewish actions, and therefore, the remedy is never to deal solely with the external threat. If an enemy attacks, defense is in order, but so is introspection; the presence of enemy is only a symptom of a deeper problem that must be dealt with.

We see this in the Time of Judges which extends from 1244 BCE to 879 BCE.

And the Lord raised up judges and they saved them [the Israelites] from the hands of those who had spoiled them. (Judges 2:16)

Who are the Judges?


The Judges were individuals who unified the people and dealt with their spiritual and physical problems.

The Judges are Jewish leaders who arise during this time, unify the people, get them to repent, deal with the spiritual problems of the nation, and also deal with the physical threat.

They are military leaders who know how to mobilize the nation for war against an enemy, but their real power lies in their Torah knowledge and ability to adjudicate Jewish law.

We will highlight a few of the 16 Judges described in the Bible:

continued... at Aish.com



Studies in Leadership: Deborah and Gideon
April 5 reading
Judges 4-6
Judges Commentary
Dictionary and Books
* Devorah the Prophet, Torah.org
* Men and Women, TorahBytes.org
PROMISE: "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?" (6:14b)
Thought for today: Get rid of rabbit's feet, lucky charms, wishing on stars, whatever.
When the LORD speaks, I'm to go in the strength I have. (from 6:25b, 6:14)
A child learning to ride a bicycle sometimes starts out with training wheels, but eventually he or she learns the balance and rhythm necessary to ride on their own two wheels. Similarly, the LORD wanted Israel to give up their idols and always follow Him. But that didn't work, and after some of them forgot the LORD, He promised them that their opportunity for ridding the land of evil according to His covenant plan was no longer an option. When they cried out to the LORD, He would provide them with judges, but the people used them as "training wheels" that worked fine until they were expected to exercise their own spiritual muscle. Sticking with the judges during trouble worked so well that after a victory, when more was expected, the people just didn't have the strength to persevere. They went off, forgetting the LORD and worshiping elsewhere.

Othniel of Judah, Caleb's nephew son-in-law, was the first judge. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he led Israel to defeat the king of Aram. The people had peace for 40 years until Othniel died. Eighteen more years went by, then the LORD sent Ehud of Benjamin, to deliver Israel from the very fat king of Moab. The LORD made Ehud cunning to kill the king and make Moab subject to Israel. Jabin king of Canaan oppressed Israel for twenty years while Deborah, a prophetess and wife of Lappidoth, led Israel. When she gave Barak an order to attack Jabin's army commander, Sisera, Barak said he wouldn't take his troops to fight unless Deborah went along. She did, and another woman, Jael, defeated Sisera. Then Deborah sang a new song, telling the story of the Lord, of the battle, of the amazing turn of events, of the laments of the enemy Sisera's mother.

The LORD rose up Gideon after the Midianites stole from Israel so much that they were oppressed again for several years. At their wit's end (what else could they do?) Israel cried out to the LORD to help them. He sent them a prophet, reminding them of the covenant Israel had agreed to, then ignored. The angel of the LORD came down and watched as Gideon threshed wheat he was hiding from the Midianites. "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior," the angel said. Not taking that personally, Gideon asked, "If the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about..?" "Go in the strength you have," answered the LORD. "Am I not sending you?" ME? asked Gideon. "I'm the least of the weakest clan in Manasseh." The LORD was patient - "I will be with you." And so the story continues with Gideon trying to see through the LORD's eyes and to grasp the LORD's plan. It didn't come quickly. When asked to do a very brave thing, Gideon did it - but at night. When the neighbors were ready to kill Gideon for knocking down their idol altar, his own father stood up for him, saying, "If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar." Now there was a surprise for Gideon! With doubting confidence that came from asking God to prove His promise over and over, Gideon asked God for just two more proofs - and got them. Now what?


Measuring Success
April 6 reading
Judges 7-10
Judges Commentary
Dictionary and Books
* Gideon, DesiringGod.org
* Jamiseon, Fausett, & Brown
PROMISE: "This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it - the LORD is his name: Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." (Jeremiah 33:2-3)
Thought for today: Try as they might to follow the LORD, Israel obeyed Him sporatically. Obeying Him does not come naturally. Other measures of success, like ambition and personal goals, get in the way.
Hard as it was to believe at first, Gideon finally had confidence that the LORD would work through him, of all people, to defeat the Midianite (aka Ishmaelite) enemies. His Abiezrite clan relatives even gave him a new name, Jerub-Baal ("Let Baal contend"), after finding out he had carried out the night raid to break the Baal altar in Ophrah, their hometown, by instructions from the LORD. This clan - the weakest family group in Manasseh - rallied 32,000 men to fight the Midianites. But the LORD told Gideon the army was so large it would try to take credit for the win. The LORD gave situation-specific instructions for whittling the army down to only 300 men. The LORD knew Gideon was afraid to attack, and gave him a way to get inside information from the Midianite camp. Armed with information, torches, trumpets, empty jars, and swords, Gideon first worshiped God then led his men in a surprise night attack at Gilboa. Awakening to confusion, the Midianites stabbed each other then ran, and Gideon called all of Manasseh plus two other tribes to help deal with the enemy. He sent ahead for Ephraim to cut the Midianites off at the Jordan.

Gideon's victory had mixed reviews. The men of Ephraim criticized his strategy. Two cities of Succoth and Peniel refused to give bread to Gideon and his 300 men, as they pursued to capture two more Midianite leaders they brought back to Succoth, and killed. Gideon punished the elders of Succoth with desert thorns for refusing to feed them. The Midianites described Gideon as princely as they confessed to killing similar men - Gideon's brothers - at Tabor. Now Israel was greatful enough to Gideon for defeating the Midianites that they wanted him to start a hereditary monarchy over them. He refused - the LORD already rules over Israel. Instead, Gideon asked for a share of the gold earrings the enemy warriors had worn. From them Gideon made a gold ephod vestment usually only worn by priests. Gideon would wear his as a civic leader. But the LORD was no longer instructing Gideon. People in the area started worshiping the ephod and were snared by it.

The man who did his best soldiering at night must have had other wakeful nights as his many wives presented him over the years with 70 baby sons. Ultimately his family did not turn out to be Gideon's success. When Gideon died in his old age, neither his family nor his God was respected. Abimelech, son of Gideon by his concubine/slave in Shechem, plotted with his uncles for a way to kill all his half brothers. (Only Jotham, the youngest, hid and survived). Shechem crowned Abimelech their king, but within three years the murderers in Shechem had set up a robbery ring in the hills around the city. The LORD repaid Abimelech's treachery as the thieves of Shechem planned rebellion against him. Setting up at night as his father had once done, Abimelech first destroyed the rebellion, then the thieves, then the city of Shechem, over which Abimelech scattered salt, hoping to put an end to the city forever. Encouraged by this apparent success, Abimelech went to Thebez, co-conspiritor with Shechem. But a woman dropped a millstone on his head, and dying, Abimelech commanded his armor bearer to kill him with a sword, so it wouldn't be reported that a woman had killed him.

After the next two judges, Tola of Issachar then Jair of Gilead had died, Israel went back full time to idol worship. The Philistines, Ammonites, and Amorites fought Israel for several years until they began crying to the LORD. "Let your idols save you when there's trouble," the LORD said, and refused to save them again. But Israel acknowledged their sin, got rid of the foreign gods, and served the LORD until he could no longer bear their misery. Things apparently came to a head when the Ammorite army camped in Gilead and the Israelites camped at Mizpah without anyone to lead them.

Compare God and Israel with a father teaching a child to ride a bike. When the father initiates the bike ride, holds you up balanced, and helps you steer, your ride goes just fine. But the test comes when the father lets go to see how you'll do on your own and if you'll remember all the things he taught you by originally doing them for you. Get it?

Of Victory and Defeat
April 7 reading
Judges 11-13
Judges Commentary
Dictionary and Books
* 13:2 and more on Samson, Torah.org
* Matthew Henry

Chronological Bible reading plan: Ruth 1-4 comes between Judges 12 and 13

PROMISE: "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." (1Peter 3:14)
Thought for today: Events that irritate or amaze me - even things I might promise in haste - may be opportunities the LORD uses to teach me and shape my life.
Even though Jephthah grew up to be a mighty warrior from Gilead, his mother was a prostitute and his half-brothers wanted nothing to do with him. That is, not until the Ammonites were ready to attack Israel, and Gilead had no leader and needed help. In an early example of the stone that the builders refused, the elders of Gilead swallowed their pride to go find Jephthah a few miles east of the Jordan where he led a small band of men. Jephthah bargained with them - why could he trust them now? - then came back to Gilead, and restated the offer and his response before the LORD at Mizpah. Even though we have not been reading about priests in Israel, there were evidences of Jephthah's training in the LORD. Jephthah's first encounters with the Ammonites were diplomatic through messengers, stating the history of the past 300 years while Israel has been in Canaan and seeking a bargain. "Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the LORD our God has given us, we will possess." But the king of Ammon was not deterred from his plans to fight Israel. As noted with Gideon and later with Samson, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah as he led Israel into battle. Jephthah's early life had given him the confidence Gideon lacked, so he did not ask for a fleece from the LORD. Instead, he promised by a vow that if the LORD gave Israel the victory, he would sacrifice a uniquely designated burnt offering. Jephthah subdued Ammon, not destroyed it. The days of total destruction of kingdoms in the Canaan area were history. In victory, Jephthah paid his vow and suffered the loss of his only child, apparently without the LORD's intervention as when Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac. And in victory, like Gideon, the men of Gilead got the criticism of the men of Ephraim.

Before Samson, there were three other judges. Ibzan of Bethlehem (Judah) was remembered for his 30 sons and 30 daughters all marrying outside their clan. Apparently there was nothing outstanding about Elon of the Zebulun tribe, but he led Israel 10 years. Abdon of Ephraim is remembered for having 40 sons and 30 grandsons who rode on 70 donkeys.


Samson
April 8 reading
Judges 14-17
Judges Commentary
Dictionary and Books
* Samson Conquered, Spurgeon
* 14:1-14, Jesus Chapel
FACT: "... The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power..." (15:14) "Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." (2Cor 5:5)
Thought for today: The LORD knew what Samson's flaws would be, and planned to use them.
Why are the stories of Samson so intriguing? For one thing, the LORD God sends his angel to intervene with Israel individuals once again. This was a very rare occurance. Centuries before, the LORD had announced to Abraham and Sarah that they would finally have a baby boy after years of her being childless. In Samson's case, the angel of the LORD appears to the childless wife of Manoah (tribe of Dan), not to her husband, and she remains unnamed. They will have a son, and she must not drink any fermented drink nor eat anything unclean. The only instructions for the boy's upbringing are that his hair is never to be cut. He will be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth. His assignment will be to begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines, who were ruling over Israel.

When his wife told Manoah all the man of God - who looked like an awesome angel - had told her, Manoah believed her, but was sure there must be more to raising and training such a special boy. He prayed to the LORD to send the man of God back for more instructions on this. When He did, again it was only to the woman, as she worked in the field. She ran to get her husband up, to come meet the man. The only instruction the angel changes is that the woman is also not to eat grapes. Still not knowing he is talking with an angel, Manoah wants to feed him and wants to know his name. Both are denied, but Manoah is invited to prepare the kid as a burnt offering, offered to the LORD. Manoah realizes the man is the angel of the LORD when the latter ascended toward heaven in the flame of the burnt offering. They had seen God and been spared.

The LORD had secret plans for Manoah's son, Samson, and was not surprised by his spoiled behavior, his unusual strength and viciousness, nor his romantic interest in a young Philistine woman. Samson's parents gave him space to do as he pleased. When they went to arrange marriage with this woman, they missed seeing Samson kill a lion barehanded, with the power of the Spirit of the LORD. When they went back for the wedding, they didn't see him get honey from the carcass of the lion. Samson made up a riddle about getting honey from the lion for the wedding guests, and when he wouldn't even tell his wife the answer, she cried all seven days of the wedding feast. In this bleak honeymoon, finally Samson told her the answer. When the guests "solved" the riddle, Samson knew she had told them. To give the guests the promised prize, Samson killed 30 Philistines, left his wife with his friend, and angrily went home to his father.

During harvest Samson went back to see his wife but was denied by her father. Samson demonstrated his ingenious destructiveness to burn the Philistine grain, vineyards, and olive groves. Retaliating, the Philistines burned Samson's wife and father-in-law to death. Samson continued taking revenge every chance he got, and led Israel for 20 years.

Delilah was yet another Philistine woman who caught Samson's eye. Seeing they were an item, the Philistine rulers insisted she find out the source of Samson's great strength. At first Samson teased her with phony explanations, but finally her nagging defeated him and against any better judgement, Samson explained the relation between his being a Nazirite set apart to God from birth and his uncut hair. She betrayed him for the money, and he was shorn, blinded, bound, and put to what was now hard labor for Samson. Enduring praise to the Philistine god Dagon for his defeat, Samson asked the LORD to strengthen him one more time. Samson ended his life callapsing the Dagon temple pillars, killing Philistine rulers and worshipers along with himself.


"I'll Do It My Way"
April 9 reading
Judges 18-20:13
Judges Commentary
Dictionary and Books
* The Worst of Times, Ashton

FACT: "When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony!" (Isaiah 8:19-20a)
Thought for today: This sections of "Judges" shows that when people have no judge or leader, the law and God seem far away - inconsequential. People without a leader follow the latest situation and their own theories of right and wrong.
My first encounter with some of these judges, like Gideon and Samson, were through Sunday School and Bible story books. I don't remember stories about either of the Levite priests in today's reading. In fact, the underlying idea that "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit" (17:6) was exactly the lesson we were taught NOT to do. Don't do our "own thing" - because Christ has bought and paid for us. Being His, we watch and do what we see Him doing.

One of the Jewish resources said that doing your own thing doesn't have to be bad, so long as you earnestly follow the LORD. But today's scripture points out problems with earnestness. Micah was an earnest, religious man, building a shrine and making an ephod, a carved image, and some idols. So what if he stole silver from his mother - he confessed it! He brought up his family to be religious, even appointing one of his sons to be a priest. When a Levite from Bethlehem showed up one day looking for a place to stay, Micah was happy to pay him well to add a priest of the LORD to his religious collection, for his family. The Levite priest didn't mind the idols being there. Or look at the tribe of Dan. They still hadn't found a section of the promised land they could conquer and live in. One day they passed Micah's house and heard the Levite priest. What a great opportunity! The Danites asked him to check with the LORD - not for a spiritual answer, but more like fortune telling. Would their spying journey looking for land be successful? Speaking only when spoken to, the LORD said, "Yes."

On the way to capture the unsuspecting and secure Sidonians' land, the Danite army went by Micah's house. The spies raided his shrine, and the Levite priest liked the offer to upgrade - to serve a tribe of Israel, rather than just one household. The leaders of Dan liked the bonus of getting an ephod, household gods, and the carved image with the Levite priest deal. It's unclear to me who the Levite priest was, but he may have been a descendant of Jonathan, son of Gershom, son of Moses (18:30). All this time the house of God was really in Shiloh.

The other story was of a Levite from Ephraim who went to visit his concubine at her father's home in Bethlehem. Far from sensitive to the spiritual needs of Israel, he spent several days eating and drinking with her father. Finally, he instisted on going back to Ephraim with the woman and his servant. Rather than stay in Jerusalem over night (it still belonged to the Jebusites, not Israel) the Levite insisted on spending the night a bit more north, in Gibeah in Benjamin. He said he was on his way to the house of the LORD, Shiloh, further north in Ephraim, and apparently near his home.

The night in Gibeah turned out to be a disaster. Homosexuals wanted to rape him, but he sacrificed his concubine to them instead. While the Levite slept in an old man's house, the men outside raped and abused the woman. When the Levite realized that she had not survived, he cut her body into 12 pieces and sent one to a part of Israel. This got their collective tribal attention as in the old days when they would punish sin, and they gathered together at Mizpah, northwest of Gibeah which was just north of Jerusalem. When the Levite presented his case against the men of Gibeah (tribe of Benjamin), the men of Israel were incensed. It was time to purge at least this kind of evil from Israel. The homosexuals had finally gone one step too far. Like the outrage and demands for the men behind killing and destroying so many lives on September 11, 2001 in New York City and Washington DC., these men sent word, demanding that Benjamin surrender the evil doers.


Dealing With Sin By War
April 10 reading
Judges 20:14-21:25
Judges Commentary
Dictionary and Books
* Chronological Bible reading,
Genesishistory.org
A Memory Verse: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." (21:25)
PROMISE: "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22b)
Thought for today: Doing things my own way results in injustice, which results in battles and clashes with those standing up for the Lord's way of justice. I choose to seek the Lord to study and learn His ways.
The Benjaminites refused to give up the men at Gibeah who had wanted to sodomize a traveling Levite, but raped and killed his concubine instead. Not only did they defend the rights of these men, but they also gathered together a skilled and excellent army to fight the other tribes of Israel. Meanwhile, Israel gathered their fighting men together at Mizpah. Then the Israelites went to Bethel (casually? obediently? routinely?) to ask God which of the tribes should go first to fight Benjamin. Again only answering what He was asked, the LORD said, "Judah shall go first."

Led by Judah, Israel was soundly defeated that first day of battle. So Israel encouraged each other, and went before the LORD a little more seriously, asking if they really should fight against the Benjamites. The LORD said they should.

To the 22,000 troups who died the first day, 18,000 more Israelites died the second day. Now all the people of Israel went up to Bethel to weep before the LORD that night. They fasted. They presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD. The ark of the covenant of God was there at Bethel, along with the priest Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron. For a third time, the warrior leaders asked if they should really go back to battle their relatives in the tribe of Benjamin. The LORD responded, "Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands."

Israel had new instructions and new confidence. They set up a secret ambush around Gibeah, but approached fighting Benjamin as they had the two days before. When Benjamin had moved away from Gibeah a bit, the ambush was sprung without Benjamin realizing they had lost their advantage. They stopped pursuing Israel warriors when someone noticed the smoke of the whole city of Gibeah on fire. Israel turned then, and during the day killed all but 600 Benjamites who escaped. This included the killing and city burning throughout the territory of Benjamin following the battle.

After soundly cleansing Benjamin, Israel wept before the LORD that night because of the loss of one whole tribe. After burnt offerings the next day, a plan was devised to kill all but the 400 virgins of the one clan that hadn't sent any soldiers to fight Benjamin. So when peace was made with the 600 man remnant of Benjamin, all but 200 of them had a new wife. Since all the warriors of Israel had vowed not to give their daughters to Benjamin as wives, a secret plan was devised for each of the 200 to seize a girl of Shiloh at their annual festival to the LORD. Then all the remnant of Benjamin would have a wife and a means to start families over again.

Tomorrow's Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1-5

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