God’s People, part 42: Eli & Sons

Read 1 Samuel 2:12-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.” (Matthew 7:13 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.

Steinway-and-SonsPart 42: Eli & Sons. There is nothing quite like an exquisitely made, top of the line, grand piano. The sounds that come from such an instrument are enough to inspire, strike fear, haunt, elicit grief, elicit love, elicit anxiety, and stir the heartstrings within the being a of a person. For instance, one is horrified by the skeletal dancing on the fingers down the “ivory” keys in a song like Franz Liszt’s arrangement of Danse Macabre, and one is moved by the overwhelming beauty of Beethoven’s reflective “Moonlight Sonata.”

There is no doubt that such songs would not carry the same effect on cheaply made piano, or on a Yamaha keyboard. There is nothing like a quality piano. One of the best makers of pianos is Steinway & Sons. There impeccable design and attention to detail make for an instrument of no parallel. The company was formed by a German immigrant, Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, who changed his name to Henry Steinway upon arrival in America. Between him and his sons, the business grew and expanded and made an incredible name for itself.

Unfortunately, this is not a devotion about Steinway & Sons, or about the history of the piano empire they built; rather, this is a devotion about Eli & Sons and the brand they never ended up building. Eli was God’s high priest and was appointed to that position to lead others in worshiping God and living in a godly fashion. Not only that, but he was also the second to last judge of Israel, preceding Samuel.

Eli, himself, was not the most discerning of individuals. When Hannah came to the tabernacle to pray to God in order to request that she be allowed to bear a child, Eli was quick to think she was drunk and tried to send her away. With that said, he did bless her when he heard that she was merely there to pray and wished that God grant her the request she made.

Eli also was able to point Samuel, as we will soon see in the next devotion, to realize that it was the Lord that was calling him. So, like most human beings, Eli was wishy-washy at best. He was definitely someone worthy of leadership and someone who was attuned to God; however, he did not always reamin attuned and was often quick to make rash judgments. What’s more, he wanted his family to reamins the judges of Israel. Yet, his sons (who were also priests) were corrupt and would steal meat and goods that were meant to be sacrificed to the Lord.  They ended up ruining the family name as well as the people’s confidence in them to lead.

As such, they brought on themselves their own destruction and the Bible says that God rejected Eli’s household. To Eli’s credit, though, he called his own sons out for being disgraceful and, when push came to shove, Eli did mentor Samuel and knew that God was calling him to be the leader his sons never would be. In the end, despite his flaws, Eli served the Lord and gave Israel their next judge and leader: Samuel. This is the same Samuel who would eventually find, annoint, and advise the greatest King in Israel’s history: the shepherd boy and songwriter, David.

As can be seen, God knows our imperfections and works in us, through us, and even in spite of us when need be. The question for us is not whether we will be perfect, for will never will. The question for us is this: will we, despite our imperfections choose to serve the Lord as faithfully as we can? Or will we, like Eli’s sons, choose our own twisted and corrupt path? One way is a redemptive, grace-filled path, and the other is the path that leads to destruction. One path is narrow and hard to find, while the other is broad and wide and chosen by many. The choice is ours. Choose wisely.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Sartre was only half-right. Both heaven and hell are other people. The difference is how you treat them.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, I recognize that I can either be an ambassador to heaven or an agent of hell. Steer me and correct me when I stray off of the narrow road so that I may walk The Way that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven.

God’s People, part 41: Hannah

Read 1 Samuel 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Hannah prayed: ‘My heart rejoices in the LORD! The LORD has made me strong. Now I have an answer for my enemies; I rejoice because You rescued me.’” (1 Samuel 2:1 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.

HannahPart 41: Hannah. Here is yet another “barren woman” story in the Bible. There are no doubt countless ways to go with this account, and certainly plenty of women’s studies classes could be taught on all of the women in the Bible that are degraded and dehumanized in the Bible. No doubt, the way women are represented in the Bible does reflect their status in the societies and cultures that produced the Bible; however, I think to over read 21st century women’s issues into the Biblical accounts, as fascinating as that may be, would be to miss the ultimate point they are making.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that our much more egalitarian view of the sexes today shouldn’t inform our interpretation; however, I think if we get too caught up in the details we will miss the underlying beauty of what is going on. Suffice it to say that the role of the woman in ancient Israel was to bear children and raise them up to be contributing members of the household. Part of that duty included passing the Hebrew faith on to the children.

Hannah was the first of the two wives of Elkanah and she happened to be barren. Since having children was a must for survival and for the continuation of one’s lineage in that patrilineal society, Hannah’s barrenness would not be viewed positively by her husband. It is probable that Elkanah married a second wife, Peninnah, in order to have children.

Hence Hannah’s despair. Peninnah was able to bear children for Elkanah, whereas Hannah could not. She could not perform the most basic and important role for a woman in that time period. One can only imagine the shame and disgrace she was feeling. No doubt, others probably judged her barrenness to be a “punishment of God” for either her sins or the sins of her parents. Perhaps even Hannah questioned that as well.

Still, that did not stop her in petitioning God to be blessed with her own child. She didn’t just petition in a one-sided way, rather, she promised that if she bore a child, she would dedicate that child to the Lord. God, according to the Bible, indeed granted her request after she was blessed by Eli, who we will look at in our next devotion. Indeed, once she bore and gave birth to a child, she named him Samuel (literally meaning, “heard by God”), raised him until he no longer needed to be weened, and then put in him the care of Samuel at the tabernacle so that he could  live out his days serving God.

The point of this is that God does not abandon those who society has abandoned. In fact, while Peninnah may have been the first to bear children, her children fade into obscurity. All the while, rejected and shunned Hannah has a child who becomes the final judge of Israel and the right prophet for the task of finding Israel a suitable king. What’s more, he serves as prophet and advisor to the king, acting as the accountability mouth piece off God. On top of being blessed by God, she not only rose up to be the mother of Samuel, but she was a prophetess in her own right (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10).

The challenge for us is to have the faith and the persistance of Hannah. She did not allow herself to be defined by her circumstances and she had faith that God not only could, but would, aid her in overcoming the obstacles in her way. Her faith led to faithfulness, and her faithfulness led to the raising of a great judge who would forever shape the history of Israel and establish the Davidic line that would eventually lead us to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. She didn’t know it would work out that way, but she had faith that God would not abandon her in her circumstances. If we model ourselves off of the faith of Hannah, there is not limit to what God can do in and through our lives.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No one is holy like the LORD! There is no one besides You; there is no Rock like our God.” – Hannah, mother of Samuel, prophetess of God (1 Samuel 2:2 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, give me the unwavering and persistent faith of Hannah, that I may see you working in all situations. Amen.

God’s People, part 40: Divided

Read Judges 20-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, ‘Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart.’” (Matthew 12:25 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.

MelGibson-BraveheartPart 40: Divided. One of my all-time favorite films was the 1995 Mel Gibson movie, “Braveheart”. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this film, if such a person exists, it is the tale of Sir William Wallace who rose from being a Scottish peasant to the noble whom Scotland hailed as the Guardian of their kingdom. While the film has many historical inaccuracies, it certainly captured heart of a people who were seeking to be unified under a single leader who would rule justly with a pure heart.

The film tells the tale of a Scottish peasant who had to marry his wife in secret so that he didn’t, by law, have to share her with the local English lord. Unfortunately, the English discovered she was married and tried to rape her; however, not before Wallace tried to free her. The attempt to liberate his love from the tyranny of the English failed, and his wife was publicly put to death in order to lure Wallace out of hiding.

It did, indeed, lure him out. It was that evil, murderous act that sparked the peasant to rise up into a brilliant noble who would lead his Scots to victory against the English at the Battle of Stirling. Again, no one knows if this truly happened this way or if this is more legend than it is history, and we do know that the battle of Stirling Bridge was missing the bridge in the film; however, the reality is that William Wallace did end up leading the Scots to a number of victories against the English.

Yet, in the end, William Wallace was betrayed, captured and ultimately killed by the English. Why? Because the leadership of Scotland were divided. Some of the nobles prized their land and money over the people they served and chose to side with the English King, while others took the side of William Wallace. A people that are divided among themselves cannot stand, but are bound to fall.

We see the same thing going on here throughout Judges, culminating in Judges 20-21. In fact, the last verse of chapter 21 is, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 NLT) Not only did they not have a king and not only did they do whatever they deemed to be right in their own eyes, but they also fought against their own people who were of different tribes.  There was utter chaos among God’s people.

We can learn from this. When we do not look to Christ as our King, when we do not follow and obey our sovereign God, we fall into chaos. We can look to all of the human rulers we want to save us, we will never find salvation through the world, nor through the women and men who lead it. Our salvation comes through Christ, the one and only true King, who has commanded that we be a people of love. When we choose, hatred, enmity, strife, division, and chaos over LOVE, we are choosing the world over God. Let us be a people who know AND FOLLOW our one, and true, Sovereign Ruler. Let us be a people who know AND FOLLOW LOVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Out of ignorance and fear comes judgment and division.” – David Furnish

PRAYER
Lord, help me to choose you and not become mired in the chaotic fear and ignorance of this world, which leads to division. Use me as an agent of hope, peace, love and unity. Amen.

God’s People, part 39: The Levite

Read Judges 19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23 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.

LeviteConcubinePart 38: The Levite. This is one of those rare instances that a male character is not named in the Bible. While this is not uncommon for minor women characters, most of the male subjects in the Biblical stories are named and, when they are not, it is usually because they are just THAT bad. Like Harry Potter, such people are “they who shall not be named.” Pharaoh is one such character who is only known by his title and role in Egypt.

The Levite in Judges 19 is another one of those characters and, quite honestly, his story is that of a horror story. It is a macabre fest filled with stuff that would send Stephen King running away in sheer fright, and would send shivers down the spine of Edgar Allan Poe. The story is repulsive, twisted, and completely random. It is also one of those texts that have people up in arms over the “violence” in the Bible.

Prior to dealing with the story, we need to first understand what a Levite is. If you recall, many devotions back, we discussed Jacob/Israel and his 12 sons (not counting Joseph) who became the 12 tribes of Israel. Levi was one of those 12 sons and his tribe. Out of that tribe descended Aaron, brother of Moses, who became the first “high priest”. From that point forward, all “levites” were dedicated to the priesthood and were set apart for leading the Israelites in worshiping the God of Israel.

So, it is important for you to realize that this unnamed “Levite” is a priest. This priest, while traveling, takes a woman to be his concubine or mistress. That sounds priestly, doesn’t it? Upon traveling home, the priest decides to stop off at a town along the way called Gibeah. While there, an old man invited them in to stay at his home; however, trouble was brewing and what happens next is sure to curdle the blood at the very thought.

The townspeople formed a mob and came to the house of the old man, demanding that he hand over the priest so that they could rape him. This narrative is not all that different than what happened to Lot and his family. Refusing to do so, the old man instead offered the mob his own virgin daughter and his guest’s mistress, so that they could rape them instead. For raping the priest would be “evil.”

The mob wanted none of that. So, Levite (out of what I can only imagine was fear) pushed his mistress out the door and toward the mob. The author than writes, “The men of the town abused her all night, taking turns raping her until morning. Finally, at dawn they let her go” (Judges 19:25 NLT). How horrifying, right? How can a priest, a person of God, do such a cowardly and terrible act?

Well, that is not the worst of the story. At daybreak, the raped and battered woman returned the priest, who found her unconscious at the doorstep. He commanded her to get up and get going (as they were going to continue traveling onward), but she did not respond. So, he put her body up on his donkey and brought her home. Once he arrived, he butchered her body into twelve pieces and then sent a piece of her body to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Who knows if the woman was dead already or not, as the text never specifies.

This is a truly gruesome and greuling narrative. Apart from those who have seriously read the Bible, it is unlikely most Christians even know it is in there. Yet there it is, in black and white. Again, I want to remind you, the reader, that this man was a priest. He was supposed to be a representative of God, yet he chose to save himself and the household he was staying in by sending his concubine out to be raped and battered.

I am not sure what the point of this story was, except perhaps to remind the reader of just how sinful people had gotten and how society was pushing closer and closer to the need of a “just ruler” who would keep the peace and execute justice throughout the land. This story reminds us that we live in a cruel and broken world; honestly, not even pastors or other Christian leaders are immune to the reality of sin and evil. Christians, leaders or not, are prone to sin and fall short of God’s glorious standard, just like the rest of humanity. Let us reflect on that, on our own propensity to sin and put ourselves first. Then let us turn to God in humility and penitent heart.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Sin is too stupid to see beyond itself.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

PRAYER
Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

God’s People, part 38: Lawless

Read Judges 17-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Now in those days Israel had no king.” (Judges 18:1a)

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.

MicahLawlessPart 37: Lawless. The story of Micah and the Levite is like a story out of the wild, wild west. Do you know what I mean? It is the story of utter and complete lawlessness. It was an “anything goes” kind of time. In fact, in Judges 17:6, the author wrote, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.”

This declaration came right amid a story of a son, named Micah, who stole money from his mother. As soon as he heard that she had prayed for God to curse the thief, he told his mother that he was the one who stole the money, and then he returned to her.  She then blessed him and took some of the silver coins and had it fashioned into an idol for them to worship. It is important to note that Micah and his mother were from the tribe of Ephraim.

Micah eventually had a Levite stop by his house and offered the Levite money and a paid job acting as his family priest. The Levites, like the Ephraimites, were another of the twelve tribes of Israel. This tribe was established to be the priestly tribe, who were charged under Moses to be the tribe that kept the people straight with God; however, this Levite decided to take the offer to be the paid family priest of an idol worshiper.

Later, people from the tribe of Dan came by Micah’s house and saw the treasurer it had in it: namely the idols made from silver. They went back to the people of their tribe, another of the twelve tribes of Israel, and brought back a small army to Micah’s house. Upon arrival, they stole all of Micah’s idols and told the priest that they would pay him to come back with them. So, he took the offer and went with them.

As you can see, there is nothing but lawlessness going on here in this story. First, if it wasn’t already noticeable, the characters are all Israelites. Second, they are warring and stealing from each other. They are made up people who know better but do what is wrong anyway. What we have here is a story about thieving sons, warring sects, idolatrous priests, and a people who have completely abandoned God.

Israel was supposed to be a people set apart as a witness of the love of God and, instead, became a people ruled and controlled by sin. Over and over, the Israelites would go from redeemed to fallen and back again. Yet, God did not abandon the people. The truth is, these people are no different than us. I hope this becomes self-evident. We are a people called to be set apart as witnesses of God’s unconditional love, yet we often fall short of that. The good news is, no matter how we might try to short change God in our commitment, God never, ever, short-changes us!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We can be free from God and imprisoned by our sins, or we can be bound to God and freed from our sins.

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me, a sinner. I submit my life to you and follow your lead. Amen.

God’s People, part 37: Delilah

Read Judges 16:1-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray [Jesus] to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.” (Mark 14:10-11 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.

delilah Part 37: Delilah. Who was Delilah? Was she a Philistine woman who turned on her lover to help her own people out? Or was she a Hebrew woman who was bribed to sell her people’s leader out? These questions and more have plagued scholars and religious thinkers through the last 2-3 millenia. The Bible offers little to no hints as to who Delilah was and what her true motivation was for what she did.

Delilah is the only woman in Samson’s story who was named; however, it is questionable whether that was her real name or whether that name was merely given to her to fit her character. Professor, J. Cheryl Exum, writes, “Whatever its etymology, her name is a wordplay on Hebrew layla, ‘night,’ for as the night overcomes the mighty sun (the name Samson, Shimshon, is related to ‘sun,’ shemesh), so Delilah overcomes the apparently invincible strong man, Samson” (Exum, https://goo.gl/N5yeZr).

Most people have tended to see Delilah as a Philistine woman. This is certainly understandable, as Samson seemed to have a thing for Philistine women. As a warrior, nothing symbolized his dominance over the Philistines than taking their woman as his own and mating with them. This may sound messed up in our time period, but would not have been uncommon for warriors to do back in that time period. Add in the fact that Delilah betrays Samson to the Philistines, and it is easy to understand why people would view her as one of the Philistines.

With that said, that theory is not conclusive by any stretch of the imagination. Would a Philistine need to be bribed by her own people to give up an enemy of her people she was not even married to? Her name, as mentioned before, was Hebrew (provided that was actually her name). So, it is possible that Delilah was a Hebrew who sold out her lover for Philistine money. Neither theory is conclusive and, therefore, this is all speculation.

What is conclusive is that, for whatever reason, Delilah sold out her lover. She made ongoing attempts to figure out Samson’s weakness, not even hiding the fact that she was trying to do so. Samson, the big lug, never even suspected anything and, eventually, gave her the information she was looking for. That proved to be fatal for Samson, who was delivered to the Philistines and had his eyes pushed into his skull.

The question for us is simple. What is our buying price? What is the price that we are willing to forfeit righteousness for. Whether she was Hebrew or not, Delilah was a child of God as we all are. Whether or not she was Philistine, she had the chance to serve God by not betraying Samson, yet she was bought out. As we’ve seen, she was not the first to have a selling price, and she was not the last.

It is important we ask ourselves this question: have we sold ourselves out and betrayed God? Perhaps it is over our political views, or over our view of “country first”, or over our business practices, or over our desire to please people. Whatever the case may be, what is our selling point? What will we take in order to “feel okay” with selling out? If we discover what that is, and how we might have sold out in the past, such awareness will hopefully prevent us from committing such an egregious sin and betraying the one who loves us, literally, to death.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Tragedy in life normally comes with betrayal and compromise, and trading on your integrity and not having dignity in life. That’s really where failure comes.” – Tom Cochrane

PRAYER
Lord, help me to become aware of me selling point, so that I can resist against being bought out by anyone or anything looking to take me away from your righteousness. Amen.

God’s People, part 36: Samson

Read Judges 13-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’ He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life.” (Judges 16:30 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.

Bible_03_06_Samson-and-DelilahPart 36: Samson. Of all the people in the Bible who you think would have it together, one would think Samson would be it.  After all, his mother and father promised to raise him up as a Nazarite, meaning that he would basically eat a super restricted, Kosher diet that excluded drinking alcohol and other sorts of excesses that were permitted in Jewish society.

He was taught from birth on that he had been a miracle child, that he was to dress a certain way, keep his hair a certain way, and eat a certain way. Actually, come to think of, it makes perfect sense that Samson would grow up to be a bit of a rebel. With that said, it is not rebelliousness that comes through as a character flaw in the Scriptures. Rather, he comes across as pompous, high maintenance, and entitled. So we are back to square one, that of all the people in the Bible, one would think Samson would not be like this.

Yet he is. Right off of the bat, Samson sees a Philistine woman and demands that his father and mother bring her to him as his wife. I guess Samson felt that “courting” her was too much a waste of his time. He wanted to cut the chase and get straight down to business.  The marriage, as could be expected, turned out to be a disaster.

What’s more, Samson made mortal enemies with the Philistines, who would not forget all the humiliation he caused them.  While it was not Samson’s call to be friends of the Philistines, he fought them with reckless abandon, mocked them, disgraced his Philistine wife’s family, slept around with prostitutes, and began an affair with a woman named Delilah. To that end, Samson ended up meeting his match and sealed his fate.

While Israel was desperately in need of a Judge who would keep them on the straight and narrow path, and protect them from themselves and their enemies, they instead received in Samson a brute of a man who thought only of himself, if he thought much at all. Instead of another type of Gideon, Israel ended up with someone more like Conan the Barbarian. All brawn, not so much in the way of a brain.

Yet, by the grace of God, Samson did end up fulfilling his role as judge. In the end, having lost his pride, his place, his family, his hair, and his eyes, Samson finally came to the place of humility. Samson finally found his dependence on God and called out to God in faith. What’s unfortunate is that Samson waited until the only way out of his situation was death. God never abandoned Samson; however, things might have been different had he looked to God rather than the pleasures he felt entitled to. Things might have been different had he simply placed his faith in God, rather than in his ability to battle his way out.

I think that Samson is a reminder for us that we can often feel entitled to God’s love for us and forget that LOVE is a two-way street. Rather that seeing God’s love as a free pass to do things our way, as well as to have our way, let us see God’s love as the very essence of our being. If we understand God’s love in that sense, we will find that we will be living into God’s love, rather than taking it for granted. Let us also be reminded, through Samson, that no matter how off the beaten path with may stray, God never abandons us.  We are loved, even when we are not so loveable.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We are loved, even when we are not so loveable.

PRAYER
Lord, I am loved by you. Continually remind me and hold me accountable to that love. Amen.

God’s People, part 35: Barren

Read Judges 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. (Ezekiel 37:1 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.

Desert_Background_with_TreePart 35: Barren. As I am sure you have seen in this series, thus far, I like to shake things up a bit. The heart of this series is about looking at individuals in the Bible and showing them to be just like us: human beings prone to error, yet saved by the grace of God. Yet, from time to time I have decided to show the people of Israel as a whole, to pinpoint how sinful society (which is made up of sinful people) can truly be, with the hope that you, the reader, can reflect on how our society mirrors theirs, as well as the part we individually play in that.

Here is such a time. As we approach the well-known, exciting persona that is Samson, it will prove beneficial for us to pause and look at his parents, Manoah and “his wife.” Once again, we will notice that “his wife” doesn’t really have a name. That is not because she didn’t actually have a name, but because the author didn’t seem to think that “her name” was all that important. On the other hand, Manoah is named, which shows the patriarchal bias at work in this author’s writing.

In that time, and in that culture, the lineage was traced through the man and not the woman. So, as can be seen here, the woman was barely mentioned if not totally left out of the equation. That is not to say that the woman had no place in the family, or that women were looked down up on by their husbands or anything like that. I do not want to overstate things. All that is being said is that the society as a whole did not favor the woman equally and, in terms of lineage, traced the family tree through the father.

What’s more, all societies treasure productivity. From childbearing to work, societies look toward its people to produce in every sort of way. It is what keeps a society thriving and pushing forward. Without production, a society, in time, would die. But societies, unfortunately, put so much pride in those who “produce” that they become neglectful (at best) or damning (at worst) of those they deem to be unproductive. What’s more, societies will hone in on one area lacking productivity over and above all of the productivity going on elsewhere.

Such was the case with Manoah and his wife. It was automatically assumed that if a woman could not get pregnant, it was because she was barren. That was the bias that existed in Manoah’s culture. Despite that truth, both the husband and the wife were left in shame and bewilderment when there was no productivity in childbearing. Society, heavily valuing productivity, would look with scorn and judgment on those who could not produce chidlren, as being under God’s curse and as a shame. Of course, by “society”, I am not just meaning religious leaders, town elders, villagers and/or townsfolk, but also family and extended family.

So, it is not hard to imagine the joy that both Manoah and his wife are feeling when they learn that they will, indeed, conceive and produce a child. They both are willing to do whatever God wants of them, and whatever God wants of the child, in order to thank and praise God for such a glorious blessing. In the end, God would be blessing far more than just two eager parents in the birth of Samson.

While this story seemingly has a happy ending, there is a dark sadness that casts its shadow over it. Instead of being valued and encouraged in the ways they may have contributed aside from childbearing, the society was structured to shun, mock, judge and condemn people who could not have children. Again, when I say society, I do so fully recognizing that societies are made up of individual people. Knowing this, how do we contribute to people getting shunned, mocked, judged, and condemned in our society. In what ways does our society inform our own biases, and how do we allow those socially constructed biases to hurt and destroy others? Honesty is the only way we will be reflective enough to allow God to change us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Putting societal values over and the love of God and neighbor results in a barren people who possess barren souls.

PRAYER
Lord, open my eyes that I may see. Change my heart, making it more and more like yours. Amen.

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.