Archive for June, 2011

June 30, 2011

The Apex of Evil Achieved the Apex of Glory

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Jdg. 14:1-4
Full Text: Jdg. 13-14 & 1 Chron. 9:35-59

Our Sin | How does God work in the midst of our sin? Can He make good of things that we have done against Him? Is His glory diminished and His name defamed when we consciously and willfully disobey Him and His will?

The Sin of Samson | Once again, the Israelites repeated their pattern of spiraling downward – they sinned, God handed them over to their oppressors (here, the Philistines), they cried to Him for help, and He sent them a deliverer that is even worse than his predecessor (here, Samson). Yet, when Samson grew up [1], he decided to marry a Philistine woman – even though his parents knew that the law prohibited an Israelite man from marrying a Philistine woman [2]: “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people?” [3]. Nevertheless, he insisted on what seemed right to him – irrespective of God’s command: “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes” [4]. Yet, God had not lost control; He was sovereign over Samson’s sin: “His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines” [5]. It would still be His Spirit [6] that would bring about the Israelites’ victory over the Philistines.

The Sin of the Cross | The sin of Samson, however, pales in comparison to the most appalling sin ever committed – namely, the murder of Jesus Christ. Yet, even this outrageous sin displayed Christ’s glory and obtained God’s grace magnificently! In Christ’s death, God did not merely defeat evil; He made evil destroy itself. Although the dark powers did their best to destroy His glory, they found themselves “quoting the script of ancient prophecy and acting the part assigned by God” [7]. Thus, by killing Christ, they displayed His glory – the same glory that they wanted to destroy. Thus, “the apex of evil achieved the apex of glory of Christ” and His grace [8].

Prayer | Lord, We are sinners – we do things that we should not do and we fail to do things that we should do. Thus, we are in need of Your grace. We need You to right our wrongs and to work all things – even our sins and mistakes – to the good of Your kingdom. And, although our hearts do not aim to sin that Your grace may increase [9], we pray that the depth of our sin would magnify the height of Your forgiveness and grace. Amen.

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[1] Jdg. 13:3-5  |  [2] See, e.g., Deut. 7:3-4. See also 843 Acres, “Our True Identity” (19 May 2011).  |  [3] Jdg. 14:3 NIV  |  [4] Jdg. 14:3 NASB. See also Jdg. 21:25 NIV, which ends the downward spiral in the book of Judges and is foreshadowed in the account of Samson (“In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”).  |  [5] Jdg. 14:4 NIV  |  [6] Jdg. 14:6 ESV, see also 14:19; 15:14  |  [7] John Piper, Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. Wheaton: Crossway, p12.  |  [8] Id.  |  [9] See Rom. 6

June 29, 2011

Where Love and Righteousness Kiss

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Jdg. 10:10-16
Full Text: Jdg. 10:6-12:15

Riddle | After God delivered the law for the second time [1], He proclaimed His name to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” [2]. Referring to this passage as “the riddle of the Old Testament”, Mark Dever asks, “How can this be? How can God both ‘forgive wickedness, rebellion and sin’ and yet ‘not leave the guilty unpunished?’” [3].

Impatience | An example of this riddle is found in His dealings with the Israelites when they were under Jephthah’s leadership. Again, God handed them over to be oppressed because they sinned against Him. This time, however, when they cried to Him for help, He was impatient because He had rescued them so many times already: When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!” [4]. Yet, in humility, they repented: [T]he Israelites said to the LORD, ‘We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.’ Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer” [5].

Cross | How could this be? Although God had forgiven their “wickedness, rebellion and sin,” how could He leave “the guilty unpunished”? Having persistently worshiped idols, were they not subject to His justice? Yet, God was looking ahead to the cross – the answer to the riddle of His name. In Christ’s death, God executed His judgment on our sin and secured His love for us. Thus, the cross is where “love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other” [6].

Prayer | Lord, You have been patient with us for many generations and, on the cross, You championed Your faithfulness, for You are just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus [7]. So, like the Israelites, we pursue hearts of repentance and humility, as we cherish Your great name – a name that is a riddle apart from the cross. Amen.

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[1] After God delivered the Law to Moses atop Mount Sinai for the first time, Moses descended the mountain and found the people worshipping a golden calf rather than the Lord. Moses then smashed the two stone tablets and the Lord executed His judgment on those who refused to follow Him. Thus, when He called Moses to meet Him again for a second delivery of the Law, the Lord was demonstrating His forgiveness to His people. Thus, He passed in front of Moses and proclaimed His mighty name.  |  [2] Ex. 34:4-7 NIV  |  [3] Mark Dever, The Message of the Old Testament.  |  [4] Jdg. 10:11-14 NIV  |  [5] Judg. 10:15-16 NIV  |  [6] Ps. 85:10 NIV  |  [7] See Rom. 3:24-26 NIV (“… all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus”).

June 28, 2011

Leadership: From Thornbushes to a Crown of Thorns

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Jdg. 9:7-20
Full Text: Jdg. 8:22-10:5

Election | After Gideon’s spectacular victory over the Midianites, the Israelites asked him to lead the nation [1], but he refused: “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you” [2]. When Gideon died, however, they returned to worshiping idols and his son Abimelek made himself king [3]. In order to ensure his throne, he hired “reckless scoundrels, who became his followers” and then “murdered his seventy brothers” [4].

Allegory | His half-brother Jotham, however, escaped and, when he heard that Abimelek was crowned as king at Shechem [5], he publicly delivered an allegory: “One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’ But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil … to hold sway over the trees?’ Next, the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’ But the fig tree replied, ‘Should I give up my fruit … to hold sway over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be our king.’ But the vine answered, ‘Should I give up my wine … to hold sway over the trees?’ Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘Come and be our king.’ The thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’” [6].

Careless | Like the allegorical thornbush, Abimelek was incapable of offering shade or protection. Having not sought the Lord’s guidance, the Israelites had been careless when they selected Abimelek as leader – although he was an Israelite, he was a deceiver and an aggressor. Yet, again, however, God lovingly protected His people. After three years, He raised up a disloyal and self-serving faction to divide Abimelek’s followers and, ultimately, to bring about his destruction: “Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelek had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers” [7].

Prayer | Lord, Like the Israelites, we are tempted to choose thornbushes as leaders without seeking Your counsel. Yet, we praise You that, even though we mockingly put a crown of thorns on our ultimate king – Jesus Christ – You established His throne forever. And, as a result of His everlasting and merciful rule, we are saved and have full assurance of faith and salvation. Amen.

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[1] Jdg. 8:22 NIV  |  [2] Jdg. 8:23 NIV  |  [3] See Jdg. 9:1-6  |  [4] Jdg. 9:4, 5 NIV  |  [5] Shechem has a special place among the Israelites. It is where God appeared to Abram and said that He would give him the land and where Joshua met with the tribes and led them in a rededication. It was the center of the Promised Land – not only in its location but also in the hearts of the people.  |  [6] Jdg. 9:8-15 NIV  |  [7] Jdg. 9:56 NIV

June 27, 2011

Risk-Taking Is Our Native Air

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Jdg. 7:2-7
Full Text: Jdg. 6:1-8:21

Risks | God does not take risks – for every decision He makes, He has all necessary and relevant information. Not so with us. Uncertainty and risk are inescapable parts of our lives. All of our plans can be exploded by hundreds of unknowns. We do not know how things will turn out. Thus, uncertainty about tomorrow is our “native air” [1].

Inability | As we have seen [2], the period of judges was marked by a repetitive cycle – the Israelites would sin [3], God would hand them over to be oppressed by other nations, they would cry to Him for help, and He would send a deliverer to rescue them [4]. Gideon was one of those deliverers [5]. Yet, when God called him to rescue His people from the Midianites, he focused on his inability: “Pardon me, my lord, but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” [6]. Yet, God – abounding in mercy and not disqualifying people because of their fears or doubts – replied, “I will be with you” [7].

Numbers | God was going to save Israel in a way that displayed His power, not Gideon’s ability. Thus, He pared down Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 – so that the Midianites heavily outnumbered them [8]. As a result, Israel’s victory would only be possible by depending on Him: “The LORD said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me’” [9]. Yet, Gideon could not be certain about what was going to happen. In his mind, he had to make a choice – either take the risk of sending his men to be slaughtered, or depend on God and His promise to give them victory [10]. Thus, God reassured Gideon again [11] and, ultimately, kept His promise: “While each [Israelite] held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled” [12].

Prayer | Lord, We often cannot understand how You accomplish Your purposes [13], which sometimes leads us to question Your ways. Yet, we long to grow in our appreciation of Your love for us so that, even if we do not understand Your ways, we can trust You more deeply and venture with You more boldly in ways that display Your glory for the world to see [14]. Amen.

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[1] John Piper, Risk and the Cause of Christ, Sermon, 26 April 1987.  |  [2] See 843 Acres, Preserving the Knowledge of the Lord, 22 June 2011.  |  [3] See Jdg. 17:6; 21:25  |  [4] Jdg. 2:16  |  [5] Jdg. 6:1  |  [6] Jdg. 6:15 NIV  |  [7] Jdg. 6:16 NIV  |  [8] Jdg. 7:12  |  [9] Jdg. 7:2 NIV  |  [10] Jdg. 7:9 NIV  |  [11] Even when God called Gideon and Gideon protested, God sent reassurances through the testing of the fleece. Again, when Gideon was nervous about sending his army into the Midianite camp, the Lord spoke to him through the dream of another man. This was a divine appointment. Thus, in the life of Gideon, we see that God uses less-than-ideal people – people who need extra signs and encouragement.  |  [12] Jdg. 7:21 NIV  |  [13] We cannot understand His ways in the same way that infants cannot fathom how their parents feed them, clothe them and protect them from harm. His ways are mysterious. Here are a few examples: (a) He called Noah to build an ark in the desert, (b) He called Moses to escape through – not around – the Red Sea, (c) He called Moses to speak to a rock to get water, (d) He called Joshua to march around a walled city while blowing trumpets to bring about its defeat, and (e) here – Gideon to go against a great number of opponents with merely an army of 300.  |  [14] This may mean giving sacrificially without knowing where certain funds will come from, passing up a particularly attractive opportunity without knowing whether another one will come along, etc. Obviously, some have abused this type of thinking – people have drowned from trying to walk on water, died from being bitten by snakes, gotten sick from being refused medication, etc. Nevertheless, there is a pattern in the Bible that shows how God delights to work in our lives through ways that seem unusual – or even foolish – to the world so that He gets the glory and we get the blessing.

June 24, 2011

Sisyphus and Israel

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Judges 4:1-7
Full Text: Judges 4-5

Sisyphean Task | In Greek and Roman mythology, Sisyphus was a king who rebelled against the gods by putting Death in chains. When Death was freed and Sisyphus was dying, however, the gods decided on his punishment: for all eternity, he would have to push a rock up a hill, watch it roll down again, and then start over – again and again [1]. There is a sense in which the cycle in Judges seems like a Sisyphean task. Here, in the account of Deborah and Barak, we see the same cycle that has happened twice already – and will repeat again [2]. Once more, (a) “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD” [3], (b) “the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan” who cruelly oppressed them for twenty years [4], (c) they “cried to the LORD for help” [5], (d) He responded by calling Deborah the prophetess and Barak the army leader to deliver His people: “Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the LORD gone ahead of you?” [6], and (e) finally, the Lord delivered them and “the land had peace forty years” [7].

Measuring Progress | Were the Israelites merely attempting a Sisyphean task, ceaselessly and pointlessly toiling at their feeble attempts to become holy – finally enjoying peace, only to do evil once again? No! Although their account does serve as a warning, our Lord is diametrically different from the Greek and Roman gods – where they repeatedly caused the stone to roll back down the hill (despite Sisyphus’ best efforts), our Lord repeatedly rescues His people from their own folly (despite their repeated idolatries). He recognizes our sinful nature – to fall and rise and fall again – and He never exhausts His infinite love on our behalf. Our success, therefore, is not dependent on how far we have rolled the stone up the hill, but on how much we have depended on His mercy and power that rolled the stone away from the grave.

Prayer | Lord, Thank You for abounding in love, mercy and forgiveness. We confess that, although we often feel like Sisyphus in our obedience to You – moving towards You and then falling away, we are not in fact like him – for You continually draw us towards You. Give us eyes to depend on Your mercy as the source of our progress, as You remain faithful to finish Your work in us. Amen.

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[1] French philosopher Albert Camus presented Sisyphus’ ceaseless and pointless toil as a metaphor for modern lives spent working at futile jobs: “The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it become conscious.” Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942).  |  [2] Othniel (see Jdg. 3:9-11), Ehud (see Jdg. 3:11-29)  |  [3] Jdg. 4:1 NIV  |  [4] Jdg. 4:3 NIV  |  [5] Jdg. 4:3 NIV  |  [6] Jdg. 4:14 NIV  |  [7] Jdg. 5:31

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