April 6, 2017

Today you should read: Judges 14

 When I was younger my sisters and I played a game called “Chutes & Ladders.” You hit some spots on the board and you climb up, you hit others spots, and you slide down. The book of Judges is a lot like that: a judge is surfaced and Israel repents and rises up; the judge dies and Israel slides back down into idolatry leading to oppression.

Here we go again down the chute. Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, so that the Lord gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years (Judges 13:1). However, God provided another ladder, a deliverer-judge—a man who was to be a “Nazirite to God,” from the womb, to the day of his death (13:5, 7). As Dakota may or may not have mentioned yesterday,

A Nazirite (meaning “devoted” or “consecrated”) was a person whose vow of separation to God included abstaining from fermented drink, refraining from cutting his hair, and avoiding contact with dead bodies (Num. 6:2–6). Nazirite vows were normally for a limited period of time but Samson was to be a Nazirite of God all his life (Jud. 13:7). (Bible Knowledge Commentary)

Stepping into chapter 14, Samson’s all grown up and acting very un-Naziritely. In terms of the plot of Judges, only the refrain from cutting hair is specifically mentioned in Judges 13:5, so there seems to be something special about that part of the vow. However, this is also the only part of the vow not broken in chapter 14!

I once read a book about dating/marriage that had a chapter title that I’ll never forget: “Before you tie the knot, make sure the noose isn’t around your neck.” This betrothal is quite odd because of the prohibition of Jews to intermarry with non-Jews, not to mention Samson is a Nazarite. Verse 4 give a great insight into this arrangement—that it was of the Lord. This was not so much Samson, a pious man, seeking God’s will for his life and surrendering to God’s wisdom, not even close. Instead, Israel had become chummy with the Philistines and were content to coexist, whereas “Yahweh is determined to shatter the status quo. Samson is his tool chosen to rile up the Philistines, and this woman offers the opportunity to make it happen” (New American Commentary).

Samson marries a Philistine, eats honey from a dead animal (making him ceremonially unclean), and spends seven days feasting (the word “feast” could also be translated “drinking party”). Samson is very very un-Naziritely. Yet, in all of this, God redeems Samson’s ignorance and bad behavior to accomplish his purposes—to upset the apple-cart, as it were, between Israel and the Philistines.

God’s grace and mercy is unlimited and his power to redeem fallen people should never cease to amaze us. Likewise, while tremendously imperfect, Samson was recorded in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. If God can use Samson, he can use you.

Ask yourself today, “What has God asked me to do that I’ve not done?” Or “What sin have I not confessed that might be holding me back?”

By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate

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April 5, 2017

Today you should read: Judges 13

At first glance in this chapter most often I have always either personally focused on Samson or I have heard this passage taught in reference to Samson. This passage does tell of how the birth of Samson would come to pass; the events that transpired with the interaction Manoah and his wife and the angel.

It is very interesting that when the angel appears to Manoah’s wife initially she just believes that he is an angel. When she tells Manoah his response is not criticism, or doubt, rather it was to pray and ask God to send the angel again for direction. God was faithful to this prayer. The angel comes to them again and gives them much more information about the future of Samson.

What is truly beautiful about the interaction is the moment that Manoah realizes that this angel was not just an angel. This was the Lord. Can you imagine having a personal encounter with God and not realizing it until after? So often this passage is focused on Samson and the telling of his birth and the description of what his life should be. But the fact that they did not realize they were in the presence of God until the end is a big deal. They were obviously people who believed in God but they missed that they were in His presence until He left.  How many times have we missed the presence of the Lord because we were focused on something else? Manoah wanted so badly to honor this angel, all the while the angel was saying to honor God instead. Even as believers we can get distracted by good things and miss the best things. A professor told me in college “good is bad when it keeps you from the best.”

By: Dakota Gragg — Student Ministry Associate

April 4, 2017

Today you should read: Judges 12

As you read Judges 12 today, you may wonder what is going on – what is happening in this chapter.

In verse 1 we read about a conflict between Jephthah and the Ephraimite people. Jephthah was a judge over Israel for a period of six years (Judges 12:7). According to Judges, he lived in Gilead and was a member either of the tribe of Manasseh or of the tribe of Gad.

The people of Ephraim were upset because Jephthah didn’t call on them help fight against the people of Ammon. They felt slighted because they were not afforded a prestigious role in the victorious battle over the Ammonites and didn’t receive any of the spoil. There is a tendency within all of us to not want to do a job unless we receive credit. It is evident that the people of the tribe of Ephraim were more concerned with getting the credit than with seeing a job done. Being a real servant of Jesus Christ means that we serve without concern for credit, knowing that it is up to Jesus to give any reward.

They got so upset with Jephthah, that they threatened to burn his house down! He responds to them in verses 2-3 and tells them that the Lord delivered the people of Ephraim into his hand. He points out how unjust their complaint was.

In verses 4-6 we learn that the Gileadites (led by Jephthah) overwhelm the people of the tribe of Ephraim. Apparently, the men of Ephraim were better at talking than fighting, because the men of Gilead seemed to conquer them easily. The men of Gilead defeated Ephraim and then they would say to them, ‘Shibboleth’. The word shibboleth means either “ear of grain” or “flowing stream.” With this word the people from the tribe of Ephraim were easily identified by their dialect. They had a hard time pronouncing the “h” in Shibboleth and said Sibboleth instead giving themselves away.

During World War II, the German soldiers sometimes identified Russian Jews by the way they pronounced the word for corn: “kookoorooza.” Their distinctive pronunciation revealed their ethnic background. So it was for these men of Ephraim. The term shibboleth came into the English language as something which determines which side you are one. In modern English usage a shibboleth is the same as an “acid test.”

Today, there are certain true shibboleths in a person’s vocabulary. In Judges 12, you could know something about a person by how they said Shibboleth. Today when someone talks about Jesus, you can listen to what they say and learn something about them. You can listen as they speak about the Bible, and you know something about them. It is also true that as much as our dialect gives us away, so does our everyday speech. Others should be able to tell that we are Christians by the way we talk.

▪ How does your talk give you away?
▪ What does it say?
▪ How could your use your “talk” to point people to Jesus today?

By: Tim Parsons — Lead Pastor

April 3, 2017

Today you should read: Judges 11

Et tu Brute? How would you respond if you were stabbed in the back?

Jephthah didn’t choose whom he would be born to. That didn’t change the acts of hatred shown to him by his half-siblings. Gilead’s other sons ditched him and sent him away. Oh, the pain that this must have caused! He had a Joseph-like experience. But that didn’t stop him from making an eternal impact. He’s even mentioned in the Hebrews Hall of Faith:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— (Hebrews 11:32, ESV)

How could the son of a prostitute (v.1) be mentioned with the greats in Hebrews 11? The only answer for that: obedience and faith. He was a living example of Proverbs 24:16a: for the righteous falls seven times and rises again. He didn’t let his circumstances ruin his opportunity to live for the Lord. Can you imagine the level of pride-swallowing humility he had to exhibit? These brothers all of a sudden now needed him. He could have left them to their destruction. The Ammonites would have devoured them.

Instead of ditching them in the same way they left him, he made a commitment to them and to Israel. He was victorious because God was with him.

The sad part comes in where Jephthah made a vow about burnt offerings, of which his own daughter would be the offering. He never came to his senses and ended up keeping the vow because he thought God would want him to. It is unsure as to whether he gave her up as a burnt offering or to perpetual virginity. Either way, this father’s choices would hurt his family deeply. This ESV SB commentary helped make sense of this to me:

Vows were solemn affairs, made only to God. People were not forced to take them, but, if they did, they had to be kept, under normal circumstances (Deut. 23:21–23; Ps. 15:4; Eccles. 5:4–5). But any vow that would end in sin was not binding; keeping it could not please God, and the Levitical laws provided for such instances (Lev. 5:4–6). Human sacrifice was an abomination, and Jephthah should not have followed through with killing his daughter. {v.39} Most likely this means Jephthah literally sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering. However, another interpretation is that Jephthah dedicated his daughter to perpetual virginity, as a figurative sacrifice (cf. references to her uniqueness [v. 34] and virginity [vv. 37–40]). This would be a tragedy for her, as she would bear no children; but it would also be tragic for Jephthah, whose line would come to an end. Some support for this comes from Jephthah’s speech in vv. 12–28, which shows enough grasp of Israel’s history that he might well have stopped short of literally sacrificing his own child.

Church, what did you learn from Judges 11? What did you think of Jephthah’s response to his siblings? What did you learn about his leadership and faith? What did you think of the foolish vow?

I pray you grow in Christ today!

By: Todd Thomas — Worship & College Pastor