God’s People, part 34: Jephthah

Read Judges 11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But I say, do not make any vows! Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:34a, 37 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

1909 Jephthahs DaughterPart 34: Jephthah. Daughter, O daughter, wherefore art thou daughter? I wonder if you have even heard the name Jephthah before. He was, believe it or not, one of the major judges who rose up to deliver Israel from her enemies. He was a judge for a period of six years and was a great, great warrior. Yet, like all of God’s people, Jephthah was far from perfect.

The Bible indicates that Jephthah was the son of Gilead and a prostitute, who lived in the land of Gilead. Given the nature of a prostitute’s job, this might mean that his father was not named Gilead, but was unknown. In other words, his father could have been any one of the men of Gilead consorting with a prostitute. So, the great and mighty warrior’s story starts off with the detail that he was an “illegitimate child”.

Yet, this child (as all children are) was created and loved by God, and he rose up to defend his people against the Ammonites. With that said, he was reluctant to at first, because of the way he had been treated by his own people, the Israelites. Since his birth was scandalous, he was shunned and driven out of Gilead by the residents there. He was told he would have no inheritance in his father’s house. Again, his father might have been named Gilead, or this might be symbolic of not being welcome in his home town due to the scandalous nature surrounding his mother.

When asked to defend Israel against Ammon, Jephthah refused to do so unless they made him a permanent ruler over all the Israelites. The people, desperate for his help, vowed an oath under God to make him the permanent ruler. So, Jephthah agreed to lead the Israelites against the Ammonites. Scripture tells us that he was filled with the Spirit of God; however, Jephthah wanted to ensure victory and, in doing so, made a tragic and fatal mistake. He vowed that if the Lord would give him victory, he would sacrifice the first thing that walked through the front door of his house.

What a silly, silly vow. Why would he vow such a thing? Didn’t Jephthah know that the first thing that would walk through his door was his one and only daughter? This is, yet again, another one of more vile texts we find in the Bible, for Jephthah does indeed hold true to his vow to God and sacrifices (aka murders) his daughter. He lets her wander the hillside with her friends for two months but, following that, he sacrifices her.

The Bible is not clear as to whether or not God wanted such a sacrifice, or whether God wanted Jephthah to carry that sacrifice through. All we have is the vow that he made and the action that he carried out. With that said, God’s silence does not mean that this is what God wanted, let alone what God demanded. The reality is that people do all sorts of evil and sick things, and God does not come down out of the heavens (as was the case with Abraham) to stop them from carrying it forward.

The point of this story is not to take it literally and get hooked on the gory and horrific details. The point of is to learn something about ourselves in it. Had Jephthah trusted that the Spirit of the LORD was with him, he would not have made such a rash, foolish and ultimately tragic vow. Had he merely trusted in God’s presence, he would have simply led his people out to victory and won. Instead, by trying to secure his victory through bartering with God, he put himself and his daughter in a situation that should have never existed.

I believe that Jephthah should have never carried that vow out to conclusion, just as he should have never made the vow to begin with; however, he did what he did and we’re left horrified by the whole scenario. Let this be a reminder to us that we need not barter with God, as if God can be bought by our silly vows and promises. All God asks of us is to seek to live justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with the LORD, our God. The challenge for us is to be satisfied in our faith, to be satisfied with the assurance Scripture gives us of God’s presence in our lives, to be confident in the hope that GOD will not abandon us, and that salvation and deliverance will come. Why? Because God delivers and is faithful. Let us be faithful back to God and place our trust in the Holy Spirit within us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Those that vow the most are the least sincere.” – Richard Brinsely Sheridan
 PRAYER
Lord, your Holy Spirit is within. Give me the assurance to trust in your presence. Amen.

God’s People, part 33: Abimelech

Read Judges 9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“‘Wasn’t Abimelech son of Gideon killed at Thebez by a woman who threw a millstone down on him from the wall? Why would you get so close to the wall?’ Then tell him, ‘Uriah the Hittite was killed, too.'” (2 Samuel 11:21 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people

AbimelechPart 33: Abimelech. One would think that the son of a faithful follower of God would, him or herself, rise up to be a faithful follower of God. That would seem to be the natural progression, right? We tend to learn our behaviors, our beliefs, and our very identity from the ones who raised us up, right? Isn’t that the conventional wisdom. Even if we stray a little, and we all do, we are still products of our parents, right?

While there is truth to the above, the fact remains that not everyone turns out like their parents. In fact, if God is our parent, none of us have turned out like God. We are sinners, we are broken and we tend to let our brokenness get in the way of the love of our Creator. If that is true on the macro-level, then it is also true on the micro-level. As much as our parents would love nothing more than for us to become like them, at least the positive and good aspects of them, and they would want nothing more than for us to show others the love they had for us.

Abimelech was the son of the very faithful judge, Gideon. He was brought up by the man who saved Israel from the Midianites (the very people of Moses’ wife) and others who were trying to come in and conquer them. What’s more, Gideon set the people of Israel back on a course of honoring and loving God their Creator. So, one would think, that Abimelech would certainly follow in his father’s footsteps.

Not so, instead of being a humble yet bold and just warrior like his dad, Abimelech was power hungry, cruel and greedy. Instead of being the sheepdog herding the sheep for the Good Shepherd, so to speak, Abimelech was murderous, unjust, and a snake that sought to divide and conquer. Following his father Gideon’s death, he conspired with his mother and her family and he murdered his half-brothers who were his father’s heirs. He didn’t stop there either; rather, not being satisfied to be a judge, he proclaimed himself king and ruled over Israel for three years. Understand this, up until this point only God was the king of Israel. Thus, Abimelech put himself above God and stole the throne.

This is a challenging and most uncomfortable devotion because it causes us to look at ourselves and ask some pretty uncomfortable questions. How many of us are like Abimelech? How many of us have take what is not rightfully ours? How many of us have schemed against others, and even murdered them in our hearts with our anger and bitterness toward them? How many of us have put ourselves and our own selfish desires above God, dethroning our Creator of much due glory, allegiance and/or loyalty?

The challenge for us is to be honest in answering those questions. Do we want to end up like Abimelech, sealing the fate of our own destruction because we are too ambitious, too greedy, too power hungry, and too clueless to see the sinful harm and the evil we are doing? Or will we, like Gideon and others, rise above our shortcomings in humility as well as humble service to the one, true Ruler of our lives. This is only an answer we can individually come to, and I pray you do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Nearly all [people] can stand adversity, but if you want to test a [person’s] character, give him [or her] power.” – Abraham Lincoln

PRAYER
Lord, put me in a place of humility so that I may see you are the one with the power and I am the one who submits to it. Let me fully put my trust in you and you alone. Amen.

God’s People, part 32: Gideon

Read Judges 6-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.” (Hebrews 11:32 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

GideonPart 32: Gideon. If there is one thing that is consistent, it is that people forget quickly the things that lead them astray. This is true in the accounts of the judges. Following each judge, it reads, “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD…” This is usually followed by God handing them over to their enemies. While that is the way the authors articulated it, what really happened was that the Israelites got too big for their britches and found out that they were no match against some of their enemies. God was not punishing them; rather, their own sinful propensity of ignoring God left them facing the unintended consequences of their own designs.

Out of those periods of unintended consequences, rose up new judges who were being called to bring people back to God. Gideon, was one among many of those judges. When one reads the three chapter account of Gideon, it is amazing how he was able to not only defeat the enemies of the Israelites, but he did so without ever forgetting who empowered him. When I think of Gideon, I think of people like George Washington who, after winning the Revolutionary War (a miraculous feat unto itself) and serving two terms as the first President of the United States of America, stepped down from the seat of power in order to hand it off to the next person in line.

Gideon was such a leader, for sure! When the Israelites begged the victorious Gideon to rule over them as a king, and to place his sons up as his heirs and successors, Gideon replied, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The LORD will rule over you” (Judges 8:23 NLT)! What faith, and faithfulness, it must have took for him to turn aside the lure of power.

Still, Gideon did not start off as such a commanding person of faith. As God called him, he found himself doubting that God was calling him. He puts God to the test to prove that God was really calling him. Even after the LORD proved to Gideon that it was God calling him, he still found himself fearful and in doubt. When God asks him to destroy the altar of Baal, and to cut down the pole dedicated to Asherah, he does so in the middle of the night so nobody sees him. Of course, one they see that both were destroyed, they end up finding out it was him anyway.

The point of this is that while Gideon’s story ends with him being shown as a warrior who protected his people against the vicious Midianites, he was far from perfect. He hesitated when he knew that God was calling him, stalling out of fear of failure as well as death. Instead of boldly stepping out in faith, he was sheepish and cowardly at first. Yet God did not hold that against Gideon at all. In fact, God humored Gideon in his tests and in his initial cowardice.

The point here is this, God is calling each of us into service. God is calling us to defend the defenseless, to speak out for those who have no voice, to protect those who are weak, to serve those in need of help, and to help people return to a right relationship with God. God has been calling us all our lives to such a divine purpose, but many of us have either ignored the call, or have been ignorant to it.

What’s more, when we do answer God here or there, it is often in a way that mirrors Gideon’s initial response. Yet God still called Gideon and patiently waited for Gideon to do what he was created to do, and God still calls you and is waiting for your repsonse as well. If you respond, if you make the effort to continually respond, over time you will become stronger in your faith and will begin to boldly step out with faith in service of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” – St. Augustine

PRAYER
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief so that I may grow in my faith as Gideon did, and answer your call to serve boldly. Amen.

God’s People, part 31: Deborah

Read Judges 4-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:32 NRSV)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

DeborahPart 31: Deborah. Deborah is both a familiar Biblical name to many people, as well as an obscure character. I would wager that most people, while recognizing her name, don’t really remember who she was or what she did. It is also what drives me crazy about those in Christianity who would like to keep women in their pretty little boxes, put nicely in their place within the church, as is if they are nothing more than second-rate members of the church that are meant to “compliment” men by being subservient to their every whim and wish.

To support such a view on women, such Christians skip over (almost literally) 98% of the Bible in order to hone in on a few (and I mean only a few) passages that the Apostle Paul most likely didn’t write (1 Timothy 2:11-15, Ephesians 5:22-24, and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36, which is really suspect given the context surrounding it). By honing in on those verses they, of course, skip over all of the other passages where Paul celebrates women leaders in the church (one even named an apostle), call for their equality in Christ, and lists himself as a benefactor of women contributors and supporters of his ministry (e.g., Romans 16:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:10-11; 12:12-13; Philippians 4:2-3; Galatians 3:27-28).

While there are many verses that are not kind to women in the Bible and, honestly, there are many verses that are not kind to men, children, and animals too, there is no doubt that certain women were leaders. Deborah is among them and she wasn’t just a leader but a prophet as well. In fact, though I previously said, these judges were not “penal judges”, like we have in our court systems, it seems that this Deborah did act in such away, making judgments on disputes between people.

Most importantly, though, is that she was a prophet and that her prophecy led to Barak (I am sure this name sounds familiar) having victory over the Canaanites. What’s more, while the Canaanites were defeated, the victory did not go to the Israelite general Barak, but to A WOMAN who drove a tent peg through the head of the Canaanite general. Brutal, I know; however, it is important to name it and claim it that it was a woman, as prophesied by Deborah, who brought victory to Barak and the Israelites.

Following this, Deborah broke into one of the most epic war songs found in the Bible, making her among the Psalmists as well. Deborah led Barak in a song that gave the victory and the glory back to God. She was quite a woman, for sure. While her tale does not inform us of her “shortcomings”, no doubt Deborah had them as we all do. With that said, we Christians can certainly ascertain our own shortcomings while reading of Deborah.

How have we, as Christians, been Spirit blasphemers? How have we as Christians denied the work of the Holy Spirit as a result of our cultural and personal biases? How have we passed the Holy Spirit by because we could not see past gender, race, age, ability, sexual identity, or anything that we label people by? The challenge for us is to remove the LOG from our eyes so that we can clearly see the speck in our sisters’ and brothers’ eyes. If we do, we just might find out that, at least in some cases, what we initially saw as a “speck” might actually be the work of the Holy Spirit.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Did you know that American President Barack Obama was named after the Israelite general Barak, who sought guidance from Deborah? Think about the resistance our former president initially received over his name/ethnicity/religious affiliation/place of birth and what that says about our sinful (if not evil) biases, as well as our own Biblical ignorance.

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for I have sinned against you and against heaven. I am not worthy of being called your child. Yet, you have redeemed me and set a feast before me to celebrate my return. Help me so that, in all that I do, I bring honor and glory to your name, just as your daughter Deborah did!

God’s People, part 30: Judges

Read Joshua 2:16-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

judgesPart 30: Judges. When we hear the term “judges”, we think of a number of things. We think of people who are in a position of legal authority, whose job it is to make decisions and sentence people under the laws of the town, the county, the state or the federal government. We think of people who determine the winners at competitions. We think of people who look down their noses at people and make sweeping generalizations and self-righteously determine other people’s eternal fate. The latter one is the kind of “judge” that Jesus warned against becoming, for who can truly be THAT kind of judge?

Yet, the book of judges was not written with hypoctical judging in mind, nor was it written with our understanding of a penal judge in mind; rather, the judges were people who were placed in charge to keep the law and order in the land and, esepcially, to protect Israel from outside threats such as the Philistines. With that said, those designated as judges were still human and had their flaws. They still had the tendancy to be hypocritical, sinful people who wrongly “judged” others; however, their role as Judge was ultimately to serve and protect the people of Israel!

What’s more, it is important to understand the theological underpinnings that led to this form of governance. From the time of their exodus from Egypt, the multitude of slaves that became the people of Israel wandered for forty years in the wilderness. That’s right, for FORTY YEARS they wandered, only to end up settling in a place that was a mere 250+ miles away! Through that time of wandering, they put the Ark of the Covenant (which was seen as the throne of God) in front of them, for God was the leader who was leading them to their freedom.

Moses, Joshua and those that followed were people in conversation with God, who was their leader. What an amazing display of faith it was; then again, what else do desparate people have to rely on but their faith? Once the nomadic multitude from Egypt settled in Canaan and became established, things changed. For one, they made a number of enemies along the way. Also, as they began to prosper, they came up in competition against competing Kingdoms. So, even if they had not made enemies, competition would have made them enemies.

As such, neighboring countries began to threaten and attack them and they began to panic. Many of the people were pushing to have a king rule them and, of course, a king would have led to fortresses and armies and some sense of security. With that said, prophets also warned the people that such a king would grow in power and eventually abuse that power. They urged the people to keep their focus on God and to see God as their King.

For a time, these prophets served as “judges” who saw themselves as accountable to God and led by God to hold Israel accountable. They were not kings or queens who could rule over people; however, they were given the duty of basically protecting the people of Israel from threats, both within and without. If God was still ruler of Israel, the judges were the enforcers of God’s reign. That is how the ancient judges saw themselves, and how they functioned.

As we will see with a few of the judges I will highlight, that plan was really a bandaid response that that only temporarily stalled Israel’s quest for a human ruler to place faith in. They wanted to place their faith in what they could see and was tangible. This switch in the placement of faith proved, as we’ll see, to be quickly disasterous. While there is no need to take the judges’ accounts literally, quibbling over whether we should have human rulers or not, it is a good exercise for us to look at it metaphorically and see the truth that lies in there.

Do we place God as the ruler of our lives? Do we place our faith completely in God and follow God where we are being led. Or do we place our faith in ourselves, or other human leaders, and hope that God will come along with us? While it is important to recognize that humans are key players in God’s plan, there is a fine line between being a key player in God’s plan and seeing God as a key player in our plan. I pray that we all can discern who’s lead we are ACTUALLY following, God’s or our own.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The same God who made a way in the waters, will make a way in the wilderness” – Unknown, based on Isaiah 43:15-19

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for the times I have done things my way and give me the wisdom to see things your way. I desire to follow your lead. Amen.

God’s People, part 29: Israel

Read Judges 2:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“My people bend their tongues like bows to shoot out lies. They refuse to stand up for the truth. They only go from bad to worse. They do not know Me,” says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:3)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

masadaPart 29: Israel. You may be scratching your head and thinking, “Wait a minute, Israel is the other name of Jacob. Didn’t we already talk about Israel?” If so, my answer to you is yes, we did. With that said, we still have yet to talk about people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or, rather, the people of Israel. While Israel, the person was a character, it should be clear to anyone who is familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, that Israel (the collective people) is a character as well. In fact, Israel in the latter sense is featured far more than any other character in the entire Bible.

Israel was chosen by God to be set a part for God’s redemptive plan in the world. Right from the beginning of God’s covenant with Abraham, Israel’s purpose was to be a blessing to all the nation so of the earth (Genesis 22:18). Yet, the struggle to live up to their divine purpose was real. Just like their forefather Jacob was renamed Israel because he had spent his whole life wresting with God and with people, the Israelites were constantyl wrestling with God and with people. The struggle for Israel, just as it was for Jacob, was real.

In Judges 2, we see Israel at its outset. One would think that beginnings ought to be inspiring and lead people into the golden years, the opposite seems to be the case for Israel. Right from the get go, Israel choose to do their own thing, rather than doing what God instructed them to do. Case in point: God instructed Israel to take over the Promised Land and drive the inhabitants out. While Israel conquered the land, they failed to follow the “driving out” part of God’s instructions. Instead, they enslaved those they didn’t kill (Judges 1:28).

Slavery, of course, profitted Israel greatly as slaves work their tails off for free; however, God did not free the Hebrew slaves so that they could go and enslave others. What’s more, those slaves didn’t remain slaves forever and the land ended up filled with TONS of people who did not believe in God and who were most definitely enemies of Israel. The end result: Israel found itself in a constant state of sin and falling away from God as a result of competing ideologies, and Israel also Israel also found itself under constant threat of attack both from within and without their Kingdom.

Unfortunately, the end result also led Israelites later on to seek to purify their kingdom. They sought to isolate themselves from any multicultural experiences, and to isolate themselves from marrying anyone outside of their own religious identity. The more trouble Israel found itself in with competing kingdoms, the more Israel felt the need to be LESS engaged with the rest of the world. While the history is a long and complicated “back and forth” between the two extremes of embracing and shunning diversity, the ultimate reality is that Israel was failing to live up to its divine purpose of being a BLESSING to the nations.

Much later in this series, we’ll see how God still ultimately finds a way to make Israel the blessing it was intended to be; however, there is a challenge for us here today. Do you realize that God created you to be a blessing to the nations as well? Do you realize that God created you to reflect the love, the mercy, the grace, the hospitality and the inclusivity of God? Do you realize that God created you to be a blessing today and always?

Instead of looking for God’s blessing on us, which was given to us the minute life was breathed into our nostrils, we should be looking to fulfill that divine purpose God gave each of us. We have been equipped with gifts to bless others uniquely. All we need to do is to let God reveal those gifts to us and then use them as God intended us to do. While we all play the part of Israel in “wrestling with God and other people”, and that is quite natural, God does not want us getting so preoccupied with wrestling that we fail to do anything else. Stop wrestling and begin to bless others as God created you to, then you will know just how blessed you truly are.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“After the first blush of sin comes its indifference.” – Henry David Thoreau

PRAYER
Lord, you have created me to be a blessing. Turn me away from sin so that I may fulfill that divine purpose you have given me. Amen.

God’s People, part 28: Conquest

Read Judges 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When the Israelites grew stronger, they forced the Canaanites to work as slaves, but they never did drive them completely out of the land.” (Judges 1:28 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

heb-ass01sPart 28: Conquest. “Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection”, proclaimed the famous Puritan John Winthrop in his sermon A Model of Christian Charity.

“We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”

John Winthrop paused. It had been a long journey to the New World. They had crossed the entire Atlantic Ocean with the hopes of getting to his place filled with such hope and such uncertainty. Looking out at his band of exiles, Puritans fleeing religious oppression in England, Winthrop continued, “The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with… For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.”

While I don’t normally use long quotes in these devotions, the words above are words that continue to live on in the American psyche. They were idealistic and Americans still hold on to the hope those idealistic words created; however, they were also prophetic, for they warned of the consequences of failing to live up to the kind of justice, mercy, and humility that honors God. Since that time, America has been a struggle between the righteous idealism found in Winthrop’s words, and the reality of the consequences of conquest, greed, injustice, cruelty and pride, which Winthrop warned of.

Like Winthrop leading the Puritans to a new world of promise, Joshua had led the Hebrews to the land that God had promised them. And like the Puritans, the Hebrews came upon a land that was already occupied by people long established there. The Bible, of course, states that God intended for it to be this way and that God was giving this land to the Hebrews. What’s more, God commanded the Hebrews, under the leadership of Joshua, to drive out the people from that land.

We could get into a debate about whether we should interpret the Bible literally here and/or whether God would ever truly want anyone to come into the homeland of another and obliterate them; however, that debate is neither here nor there for the purposes of this devotion. The fact is that the Hebrews began a systematic campaign of conquest in the land of Canaan and, one by one, took over all the land. The other fact is that they made many missteps along the way, and often sought their own glory, rather than heeding the guidance and warnings of God.

The rest of the Bible outlines all the problems that arose out of that flawed conquest. While they did successfully take possession of Canaan and forged their own kingdom in it, they also had created enemies throughout the entire region, including some who were still living in the land. The rest of the Hebrew Scriptures are spent detailing all the conflicts that were sparked by competing kingdoms in the surrounding area. Soon after Joshua died and the conquest was complete, the people ended up electing guardian rulers, called judges, to protect them from their enemies.

While we will be talking about some of these judges in upcoming installments of this series, it goes without saying that the negative consequences of their conquest went on to haunt the Israelites throughout the years, even into the modern age. The same is true for every major empire, including the United States of America, that waged wars of conquest. Violence begets more violence and, as Winthrop warned, one falls hard when they claim to be God’s but don’t live up to God’s standard. God’s conquest has never been for land or money, but for the very hearts of people. The question for us is this, are we the type of people who will seek out our own glory in God’s name, or will we bring glory to God’s name by giving God our hearts?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The march of conquest through wild provinces, may be the march of Mind; but not the march of Love.” – Herman Melville

PRAYER
Lord, I lay down my pride and give you my heart, so that I may be changed by your love. Amen.

God’s People, part 27: Rahab

Read Joshua 6:20-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth). Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).”  (Matthew 1:5-6 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

rahabPart 27: Rahab. Most people familiar with the story of Joshua are familiar with the name Rahab. She was the “prostitute” who helped Joshua’s spies escape Jericho without getting captured. She was the unseemly woman who read the “tea leaves”, as it were, and did the seemly thing in order to save herself and her family.

At best we look at Rahab in the same light that Vivian Ward is viewed in the 1990 hit film, Pretty Woman. If you recall that film, you will remember it centers on the main character, Vivian, who is a “hooker” who is down on her luck. She can barely turn enough “tricks” to make end’s meet and pay her rent. She’s ultimately looking for “Mr.Right” to come in like a knight in shining armor; however, what man of that caliber consorts with prostitutes?

Of course, such a man does come to the rescue and saves the day. Well, sort of. He was actually a rather cold, calculating, arrogant, and driven business man who was ultimately looking to “let loose” with a call girl. It was only through getting to know her situation, and through getting to appreciate the quirky aspects of her personality that he saw the human behind the label. It is only in that moment that he began to fall in love with who she was as opposed to what she could do for him.

At best, Rahab is seen in that kind of light. She’s the “hooker” who was lucky enough to have a couple of men (no stereotypical thinking there, right?) come in and save the day. At worst, she is seen as the kind of “low life scum” that God is willing to save if they would only do the right thing for a change. Sadly, both the best and the worst case ways that Rahab is often thought of in only goes to betray how judgmental we are, and how much this story was MEANT FOR US as a reminder that our judgment is  way, way off.

Yes, Rahab was a prostitute. Yes, more than likely, the house that she “lived in”  was an inn and a brothel one of the major city-states in Canaan. Yes, it is more than likely that she and/or other prostitutes that worked under her “serviced” the two spies of Israel. Yes, that her line of work was shady and not what God would want for any human being to do for a living. And, yes, it is true that she did strike a deal with the spies, because she had a hunch that their God was going to deliver the victory to them over her own people. Smart move on her part.

There is no doubt that Rahab was a sinner and that her line of work is sinful. Prostitution is a degrading of one’s own body, one’s own sacred sexuality, for the purpose of making money. No one…well, mostly no one would argue against that. But the real sin here was not Rahab’s,  but that of the society. The real sin was the society’s for creating a culture where women were left destitute and forced to exploit their own bodies in order to survive.

The sin was that of the men, and men were ruling Rahab’s world, who saw women as nothing more than property and/or objects to use and abuse. And let’s not be fooled, women weren’t the only one’s being exploited. Men and women alike, in the ancient world as in our time, have been exploited and prostituted out for profit. Men and women alike have been bought and sold as property and seen as nothing more than a means to an end. The word shameful doesn’t even do it justice. The world EVIL, on the other hand, does.

The thing is that God is always on the side of the oppressed, not on the side of the oppressors. God was on Rahab’s side that fateful night she brought two spies into her brothel. God was on Rahab’s side the fateful night the spies returned with their army and spared her life. God was on Rahabs side, and chose her to be the mother of royalty, and one of the pillars in a long lineage that led right to the Messiah, the Son of God, himself.

That’s right, Jesus descended from a prostitute. But God saw more in her than the labels other human being threw on her. God saw more in her than she saw in herself. God saw a woman of character, a woman of integrity, and a woman whose gracious hospitality would lead to the ultimate embodiment of grace. The challenge for us is to see other human beings through God’s eyes and not our own. After all, who are we to deem the worthy from the unworthy. Only God can be that judge. Rather than placing ourselves in God’s place, let us put ourselves to the work of God…the work of liberating all human beings from exploitation and oppression.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” – The Holy Spirit (Acts 10:15)

PRAYER

God, it is not what is on the outside that defiles us, but what comes from within. Purify me, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

God’s People, part 26: Spies

Read Joshua 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road.” (James 2:25)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Rahab_Helping_the_Two_Israelite_SpiesPart 26: Spies. I am a huge fan of spy movies. Agent 007, James Bond, is one of my all-time favorites of the spy genre. I think, though, without a shadow of a doubt, my absolute favorite series of spy movies is Mission: Impossible. Being that the TV show was before my time, I have only ever watched a few of the originals, and have loved what I little I have seen; however, I have watched all of the films starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, and just love the series. Why? Because it is spectacular.

Tom Cruise has charismatic charm, brings a level of physicality to the role that few actors are capable of doing, and the films are filled with mind-blowing stunts. Take the most recent film, Mission: Impossible 5, Rogue Nation, for example. In it Tom Cruise can be seen hanging off of a flying Atlas C1 plane, suspended on the aircraft over 5,000 feet above the ground. He actually did this without the use of a stunt double, so when you see Tom Cruise hanging on to a plane for his life, it is really him hanging onto the plane for his life. Granted, he had harnesses on for sure (later edited out); still, that kind of stunt commitment from an actor of Cruise’s caliber is second to none.

So, it is no wonder that I find Joshua’s spies and the tale of their mission in Jericho to be quite an awesome story. Here were two people who snuck into the city-state of a known enemy in order to find out what the nomadic Hebrews were up against in battle. It was an important mission that was going to provide quite a wealth of intelligence to Joshua and his army. Any great military leader will do what it takes to have the advantage in battle. Julius Caesar did it against Veringetorix, George Washington did it against the British in the American Revolution, and Joshua, too, appointed spies to the task of gathering intelligence that would give him the advantage in battle. Joshua, for sure, was a great military leader.

What I love about this particular narrative in the Bible, is that these spies did more than just gather intelligence, they also built a relationship that would come to serve not only them, but the entire people of Israel. With that said, the circumstances that enable these two spies to build such a relationship is less than moral at best. In Joshua 2:1, after their commander had secretly sent them into Jericho, it reads that these spies went to the “house” of Rahab the prostitute and stayed the night.

It is believed, given the context and also given what the first century historian, Josephus, wrote, it seems that Rahab was running an inn. Also given what we know, it was more than likely that the inn also served as a brothel. This was not an uncommon thing at the time. Inn’s were both a social venue, a place to stay, and a place to “get it on” with women who did so professionally. What’s more, it would not have been a deviation from Joshua’s order to go to such a place, because social venue’s and brothels attract soldiers, politicians and all sorts of sources of intelligence.

We can not know what “staying the night” meant for these two spies, but in all likeliness these two spies gave their business to Rahab or one of the other women “serving” at the inn that night. Certainly, collecting intelligence would not condone the having sex with prostitutes (if, indeed, these men did that), and to use such services only would serve to support an industry that shamefully exploited women as sex objects and defiled what God had deemed to be holy (namely, the sexual union between to consenting, life-long, partners).

Yet, the book of Joshua is not only silent on the details of the night (which can be reasonably assumed), but it is also silent on God’s anger toward such a “collecting” of intelligence. What’s more, while we will discuss Rahab in our next devotion, God went on to honor her and the spies who came to “know” her. Through the Hebrew spies, Rahab found deliverance from the Canaanite society that exploited her, and she found herself accepted as one of the Hebrews. Quite an outcome. What’s more, Rahab becomes yet another woman of strength in the family lineage of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of God!

I would say, as a challenge to us, that as shady as the spies may have been, it has been shown God is willing to work through anyone no matter their background. Let us keep that in mind and strive to refrain from judging any person on their past (or even their present) sins. Let us not judge ourselves or others, for who knows the mind and will of our gracious and powerful God?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Doing the will of God leaves me no time for disputing about [God’s] plans.” – George MacDonald
PRAYER
Lord, help me to put away my tendency to judge, and bring me into your service. Amen.

God’s People, part 25: Joshua

Read Joshua 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come.” (Hebrews 4:8 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

JoshuaPart 25: Joshua. Joshua is a very strong character in Bible, in fact, he may be one of the strongest. Sure, there is Samson; however, Joshua is displayed with little to no weaknesses, whereas Samson is filled with weaknesses a plenty. But we’ll discuss Samson at a later time. Joshua was the protégé of Moses. He was the son of Nun, born a slave in Egypt before the time of the Exodus.

Almost immediately following their escape from Egypt, selected Joshua to be the leader of a militia group and was put in charge of fighting and defeating the Amalekites in Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-16). Quickly, Joshua became Moses’ right-hand man. It was Joshua, and Joshua alone, who ascended Mount Sinai with Moses to accompany him as he communed with God “face to face” and received God’s vision for the Israelites in the land of Caanan, as well as received The Ten Commandments.

He ended up becoming the leader who took over for Moses, the one who led them to enter into Canaan and conquer the lands from the native peoples inhabiting it. He led with an iron fist, so to speak. He was a general, a warrior, and a conqueror and he had much blood on his hands.

While Joshua was most definitely a person of strong faith, and one who was faithful to God, he also was someone who saw things only in black and white. You were either for him or against him. You were either Hebrew or not Hebrew, which also translated to you were either allowed to live and flourish in the Promised Land, or you were slaughtered and killed. Even when one looks at the story of Rahab, she proved to be for Joshua and the Israelites and so she was spared.

Upon one’s theology and understanding of God rests how one interprets Joshua’s leadership. Joshua believed that he had been appointed by God to take over from Moses, and he was instructed by God to not turn to the right or to the left from Moses’ teachings (Joshua 1:7). What followed was a campaign to ethnically cleasnse all of Canaan and to build a Kingdom of Israel. This involved the raiding of cities, towns and the countryside and resulted the deaths of countless men, women and children.

I am not writing this to debate, one way or the other, as to the reason or the justification for what Joshua and his army did. We live in different times and, no doubt, the Israelites were not going to be able to just knock on the doors of Jericho, expecting a welcoming embrace and gracious hospitality. Joshua was made leader and, in his leadership, he turned his band of nomadic desert wanderers to a unified army that conquered the land it had in its sights. From that land rose judges, kings, queens, prophets and, ultimately, the Messiah.

What I also know is that Jesus is the english transliteration of the Greek word name for Yehoshua, which is the name Joshua in English. In other words, Jesus (which is Greek) really was named Joshua. That is why the author of Hebrews compares Jesus to Joshua…or rather, the two Joshuas. Joshua, son of Nun, brought them into the land of Canaan where they could rest from their wandering in the wilderness, Joshua (aka Jesus) the Christ, brings us into the Kingdom of God.

Unlike Joshua, Jesus didn’t do this by military conquest, but through unconditional love, compassionate grace, and merciful forgiveness. Rather than slaying his enemies, Christ sacrificed himself and was slain by his enemies. Rather than conquering by the sword, Christ conquered THE ENEMY, by loving those who persecuted them even to the point of forgiveness and he conquered death by resurrecting from the dead into true life. One Joshua led to the other, no matter how imperfectly.

To play upon Joshua’s own advice, we need to choose this day whom we serve. Will we serve a black and white mentality? Will we serve the imperfect Joshua who conquered by the sword? Or will we serve the Joshua who died because he loved instead of hated, who rose so that we might rise to life in him, and who calls us to conquer evil through unconditional love and divine grace? Choose this day whom you serve.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.” – William Blake

PRAYER
Lord, remind me daily that I am a servant of love. Let love be my ultimate campaign. Amen.