Daily Bible Reading

Daily Bible Reading
WBF Building before the Great Fire of 1909

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Mar 23, Jdg 13-15

Today's readings are Jdg 13-15.

Ah, yes. Samson. If you read his story carefully, it runs through Jdg 16, you get an overview of how Israel is in total disarray and confusion. Samson is a snapshot of what Israel looks like in his day.

Far from the brave hero we learned about in Sunday School, Samson is a living dichotomy. Samson is of the tribe of Dan. You remember them. They were the ones who could not take their allotted land and went north to take the town of a passive and weak people (Josh 19:40-48).

Samson is physically strong but morally weak. He made incredibly poor decisions and was unable to control his emotions, yet God continued to use him. Samson held faithful to the letter of his Nazarite vows (except when he touched the carcass of the lion!) but totally disregarded his Hebrew tradition and the tenets of his faith. He was far from conforming to the intent of the vows, which was to practice holiness (Num 6:5-21). He married the wrong women (Jdg 14:2), did questionable things (Jdg 15:4-5, 16:1) and was so enamored with pleasing himself, became astoundingly naive with Delilah, who seduced him the same way the Philistines were enticing Israel. Delilah was clearly Samson's enemy, but Samson was so blinded by lust that he was unable to see it. Israel was in the same position with Philistia, opposed to them but lusting after the things they had.

There is something to be learned from practicing our faith (Samson's dedication to the Nazarite vows) without having our hearts committed to being faithful (his disregard for God's commands). God gave Samson life through a barren woman, blessed him with extraordinary strength, gave him victory and shed His grace on him despite Samson's recklessness and self-absorbed nature. In the end, it was Samson's own self-centeredness that defeated him.

Samson's victories, while spectacular (Jdg 16:28-31), are short lived and have no real significance. The Philistines will remain a problem until well after David becomes king.

The real encouragement in this story is not in Samson’s goodness, physical strength, and courage, but in God’s goodness in using him regardless of his flaws, moral weakness, and mistakes. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Mar 22, Jdg 10-12

Today's readings are Jdg 10-12.

As we continue in Judges, notice that problems begin to arise as those pagan inhabitants of Canaan who were allowed to remain living in the land exert an ungodly influence on Israel. The first of Israel’s tribes to struggle are the those that opted to settle East of the Jordan instead of going into the Promised Land. They live in proximity to and among the Moabites, the Syrians (Bashan) and the Ammonites. The tribes living west of the Jordan struggle with the nations they failed to dispossess beginning with the Philistines and the Sidonians (Jdg 10:6). 

The longer Israel allows these others to live among them, the more Israel drifts toward their gods. God leaves Israel to their own devices until they begin to realize how desperate their situation has become and they call out to Him (Jdg 10:10-16). God responds to their repentance in grace and mercy.

A few notes about the various stories follow. 

We see how fickle Israel is in Jephthah's story. They ostracize him, then plead for him to help when they’re in trouble (Jdg 11:1-8). Israel is so confused they are fighting the enemy and fighting themselves as well (Jdg 12:1-6). 

Meanwhile, Jephthah's vow and the sacrifice of his daughter is a tragic and arduous tale (Jdg 11:40). God never asks Jephthah for anything or to make any commitment. The good-intentioned vow Jephthah makes is self-initiated and places him in a dreadful situation.

Some background context will help in understanding how Jephthah found himself in such a dire set of circumstances.

We know from archaeological evidence that most houses in Jephthah’s time have a room for livestock on the ground level, to keep the animals safe from predators and thieves. The animals were usually the first ones to emerge from the lower level when the door was opened, similar to the way many people today take their dog out for a walk. Because of this, Jephthah probably assumed an animal would come out of his house as he approached. Instead, to his utter horror, his daughter comes running out to greet him.

Jephthah is a godly man who places a high value on his word being a reflection of the faithfulness and integrity of his God. As such, he feels he has to follow through on his vow. He is trapped between the love he has for his daughter and the obligation he feels for the vow he made.

This is a difficult situation to understand for folks who live in western culture. For most of us, we think, “Why doesn’t Jephthah just claim he made a mistake and has no intention of sacrificing his daughter? God will understand.” Furthermore, we all know human sacrifice is contrary to God's law. However, Jephthah lives in a culture that places tremendous value on a man’s word and fully expects whatever he says to be binding. Even though God never speaks a word about Jephthah’s dilemma, Jephthah feels obligated to carry out the letter of his vow, painful as it may be. It's a gut-wrenching tale and a harsh lesson that teaches us to avoid making promises or vows to God without prayerfully considering the ramifications.

Could God have intervened? Of course, He could have, but Jephthah’s grievous loss shows us something about God and His children. It’s not until we step back and look at the big picture of this scenario to see the profound nature of Jephthah’s story. Jephthah was the illegitimate son of the judge of Israel. He was rejected by his own people. He agonizingly sacrifices his only child to redeem those who oppose him and remain steadfast and faithful to his word, regardless of what it costs him. The parallels to what we will see in the life, ministry, and crucifixion of Christ are remarkable.

But, there’s more! Jephthah’s daughter teaches us another lesson about God’s plan of redemption. In an incredible act of obedience, she allows herself to be sacrificed for the deliverance of the very people who rejected her father.  

It’s all a picture of the gospel. One day God will be true to His word, regardless of the pain it causes Him, and sacrifice His only Son to deliver His people from their enemy, death.

Meanwhile, as we look at the narrative arc in Judges, we’re seeing Israel exhibit a breath-taking fickleness toward God and toward each other. Sadly, it will get worse! They have yet to learn the value of a consistent walk, the appropriate exercise of spiritual disciplines (prayer, reading, etc.) and the need to be constantly wary about how the world around them can draw them into ungodly behavior.
As for us, we can learn from this. We should never take our relationship with the Lord lightly or for granted and always be aware that "some participation is required." Moreover, we should realize that there is always a price to pay for drifting from God. He is faithful to redeem those who are His, but we don't know when redemption will come and the time between our drifting away and restoration can be very painful.

On a lighter note, we see the pronunciation of "Shibboleth" (Jdg 12:6) has regional differences in much the same way the pronunciation of "ambulance" does. In our time, some folks accent the first syllable of "ambulance," some the last. One can usually tell what region anther comes from by speech patterns. It was the same in Israel in ancient times.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Mar 21, Jdg 8-9

Today’s readings are Jdg 8-9.

As Gideon pursues the Midianite army and their allies, two cities along the way refuse to help (Jdg 8:1-9). Succoth and Penuel are towns belonging to Gad, Penuel (Penial) being the very place where Jacob wrestled with God and became Israel (Gen 32:28-30). The reason the towns refuse to help their brothers is for fear of Midianite reprisal in the event Gideon loses his war with them. Apparently, between the time of the tribal allotments and Gideon’s day, the region has become unstable. The inability or unwillingness of the original tribes to thoroughly remove all the ungodly peoples from the conquered areas is bearing rancid fruit.

With a decisive victory over the pagan kings, Gideon, seemingly over his doubts and fears, has become a conquering hero and a statesman. We see the first hints that Israel desires a king when they implore upon Gideon to become their king. Gideon wisely tells them that God is their leader (Jdg 8:22-23).

However, it all goes to his head, and he creates his own ephod, a garment designed by God to be worn only by one of His designated priests (Jdg 8:24-28). People begin to worship the garment rather than the God the garment honors and things start going downhill.

We also hear that Gideon has multiple wives and seventy sons. Note, Scripture neither endorses nor condemns polygamy but the man who has more than one wife always seems to struggle mightily. Regardless of his many wives, Gideon has at least one concubine who bears him a son, whom Gideon names "Abimelech", which means, “my father is king.” Although Scripture does not judge Gideon harshly, he is incontestably struggling.

The magnitude of his struggle manifests itself when Gideon dies as Israel begins to pursue other gods (Jdg 8:33-35). His legacy as a godly leader is not a lasting one.

When Abimelech comes of age, he accelerates Israel's slide away from God. He wrests control by bloody and deceitful means, laying siege to his own hometown and killing all seventy of his brothers but one, Jotham (Jdg 9:1-6).

Abimelech comes to a bad end. It seems that Israel has learned neither from previous mistakes nor prophetic warnings. They’re losing their grip on the Transjordan region, struggling in Canaan, looking for an earthly king and blindly following the wrong people. The warnings about eliminating all ungodly influences have gone unheeded, and the consequences are beginning to make themselves known. 

Israel's stunning shift away from God occurs as they begin to prosper and enjoy peace. During their times of oppression and difficulty, they call out to God and beseech Him for help and deliverance. When things go well, they become complacent and drift toward self-interest and worship of just about anything or anyone other than the one true God of the universe. Their pattern of behavior is a lesson in how God uses trials to bring His children closer to Himself and refine them.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Mar 20, Jdg 6-7

Today's readings are Jdg 6-7.

Once again Israel begins to "do evil in the sight of the Lord" (Jdg 6:1) and falls captive to Midian, a former enemy (Num 25:16-18). 

God calls Gideon to go against the Midianites. While he is called a "mighty man of valor" (Jdg 6:12), Gideon seems to have his struggles. He immediately questions God’s decision, explaining why he’s not qualified (Jdg 6:15). When the angel persists, Gideon asks for a sign and receives a spectacular one (Jdg 16:19-24). Notice, Gideon acknowledges his divine calling even building an altar. Gideon is confident of his calling but evidently harbors some fear (Jdg 16:27). So far Gideon is not acting much like a “man of valor.”

Then in one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible, Gideon questions God's call yet again. He wants additional signs and utilizes a fleece twice (Jdg 6:36-40)! Suffice it to say, while many have been taught to "lay a fleece before the Lord," it may not be the best idea to continue testing and questioning God.

Even though Gideon is acting fearful and testing God, God is gracious and forgiving. However, as believers, we should not take this as a license to question God and test Him. We have the blessing of the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us. Gideon does not.

Perhaps God's grace is provided to Gideon to prepare him for what was to come. The fleeces work but whether Gideon likes the outcome is doubtful. Ultimately, God reduces Gideon's army to the point that defeat is assured without supernatural intervention (Jdg 7:1-8). 

Much has been made of the last three hundred men and how they were chosen (Jdg 7:7). There are several explanations as to why they were singled out, most of them having something to do with the remnant being alert and cautious to the point that they did not kneel to drink but remained upright and vigilant. This line of reasoning misses the point made in Jdg 7:2. God is reducing the army to ensure that credit for the victory goes to Him, not any man. If these three hundred men were somehow more capable than the others, they would get the glory. They are chosen only because God chose them not because they were more valiant or more qualified.

Notice, as Gideon prepares to spy on the enemy camp, God tells him to take Purah if he is afraid to go alone (Jdg 7:10). Gideon reveals his fear by taking his servant.

Be careful with those fleeces, folks! The modern tendency is to use them to feel some security and assurance about a tough decision. The fleece neither allayed Gideon’s fears nor made his task any easier.

 Once God responded to Gideon's fleece, Gideon had to respond to God's directives. With all the testing and questioning completed, God then made Gideon’s calling impossible to accomplish without divine and supernatural intervention.  

Gideon’s men set the vast army on the run, apparently without ever engaging in hand-to-hand combat, but by breaking jars, blowing horns and standing in their places (Jdg 7:20-22). Once the panicked and confused enemy army was put to flight, the rest of Ephraim was rallied to engage (Jdg 7:24-25).

Gideon’s doubts and testing of God, rather than giving him confidence and assurance, only led to a set of circumstances in which he had to trust God’s word completely. Look at the progression of events. Gideon went from “I want to be sure God is calling me” to “God is surely calling me to do the impossible!” God called Gideon a “man of valor” not because he was a fierce or capable warrior, but because he was willing to obey God regardless of his fears. 

If we lay a fleece and God responds, are we ready to do whatever He tells us?

Canonical Reading Plan for Mar 19, Jdg 3-5

Today's readings are Jdg 3-5.

Some will find today's chapters interesting and challenging.

We heard about judges for Israel in Jdg 2:16-23. Jdg 3 begins a chronology of the judges God raises up.

The first thing we learn is that the nations allowed to remain among the Israelites will have a purpose; they will teach coming generations how to fight (Jdg 3:1-6)! God wants His people to be adept at war! Then comes a breathtaking pattern of events in which God's people repeatedly turn their backs on God, fall under oppression by another nation, cry out and are delivered through a redeemer (Jdg 3:7-31). 

Deborah's case is a curious one. Israel has done evil yet again and is oppressed by yet another king in Canaan (Jdg 4:1-3). She is clearly the leader of Israel (Jdg 4:4-6). Barak doesn't want to fight unless Deborah leads them. Barak defers to her in making strategic decisions, and she obviously has the authority to make them. Deborah gets credit for the victory then rightly gives glory to God (Jdg 3:14-16). Some call Barak passive claiming Deborah had to step in because Barak defaulted. Yet, Heb 11:32 names Barak among those in the "Hall of Faith."

Deborah’s victory song is revealing. Aside from the fact that we see a woman governmental/military leader being blessed by God (Jdg 5:10-11), we also hear that some of Israel’s tribes, notably Reuben, Gad, and Dan seem to have sat out of the conflict (Jdg 15b-17) and are judged harshly. In their lack of participation, we see early signs of tension among the tribes even though Deborah’s reign ushers in a time of peace (Jdg 5:31).

Throughout all the conflicts we see in these chapters, we also see the incredible grace and patience of our Lord as He continues to refine and sanctify His people, blessing them, even when they are unfaithful and follow after other gods, which they seem to do far too frequently.

We may not be oppressed by kings like Jabin, but each of us has a tendency to place things other than God in a place of higher priority and importance than Him. It's really easy for us to portray the same behavior and patterns Israel demonstrated. Praise God our sanctification is in His hands. The lesson we should learn is the same lesson God is teaching the Jews--there is always a price to pay for unfaithfulness.