Who’s the Good Guy?

Scripture Focus: Judges 15.18-20
18 Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the Lord, “You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19 Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi. 

20 Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines.

Student Writers Month:
In July, The Park Forum welcomed college and seminary student writers pursuing ministry careers. This year, like last year, we have one more “bonus” student writer for you writing on yesterday’s reading, Judges 15. We will start with your selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals tomorrow. For more info about our yearly Student Writer program, see our website. To submit a Readers’ Choice post, follow this link.

Reflection: Who’s the Good Guy?
By Ava Ligh

We love the “Lord of the Rings” films and the entire Marvel repertoire because we long to root for a good guy. In these stories, we are spared the difficulty of figuring out who is good and who is bad.

Judges chronicles the moral decline of Israel once they occupy the promised land. By the time we get to Samson, it is no longer clear who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. On the surface, it would appear readers should root for the people of God, the Israelites. But it becomes confusing when the actions of God’s people are indistinguishable from the actions of God’s enemies.

Samson appears to be a hero when, with superhuman strength, he kills 1,000 Philistines, the enemies of God and his people, with the jawbone of a donkey. Except we know that the Philistines raided the men of Lehi because Samson had struck and killed some of their men.

Why?
Because the Philistines had set Samson’s wife and father-in-law on fire. 
Why? 
Because Samson set their harvested grain and olives on fire. 

Can one be a hero if he created the problem that he then solves?

Bible stories like this are confusing. It is easier on us if we flatten out real people by making complex human beings either all good or all bad. This is a form of dehumanization. It takes mental strength and energy to tolerate ambiguity. However, we can tolerate that people are complex mixes of good and bad because there is someone we can look to who is purely and only good.

For all of his faults, Samson knows who is truly good, and the author of Hebrews recognizes his faith (Hebrews 11.32-34). Samson knows that it was God who “granted this great salvation” to the Israelites. Samson also knows that it is God who can provide water for his thirst.

We, like Samson, often need to be reminded through our limitations that our strength comes from the true hero and that we depend on his living water to sustain us. Jesus is unambiguously good and the source from which we receive our strength and living water. With his help, we can love and accept complex people. And he says to each of us “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4.14).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
“This is my son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.” — Luke 9.35

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Judges 16 (Listen – 5:59)
Acts 20 (Listen – 5:22)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
It is time to hear from you about the posts from the past eleven months (September 2020 – July 2021) that have challenged, comforted, and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.
https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about Do Not Hold Men (or Women) Up as Sinless
We must stop confusing a man failing with the gospel failing.

Samson Begins

Scripture Focus: Judges 13.5 (ESV)
And he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.

Student Writers Month:
This month, The Park Forum welcomes college and seminary student writers pursuing ministry careers. For more info about our yearly Student Writer program, see our website.

Reflection: Samson Begins

By Carolyn Westendorf

Humans struggle to understand why God does what He does. The life of Samson is no exception. An angel announces his birth. Only a few receive this honor (Issac, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ). We expect him to be special, important, or worthy of emulation. Unfortunately, by the end of Samson’s story, we feel a sense of failure. We feel as if Samson did not reach his potential.  We feel as if God failed.

Did God’s purpose fail? What did God prophesy concerning Samson? The angel declared, “He will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (Judges 13.5 ESV). Samson was to begin the process of deliverance. The angel never said he would complete the task. A different expectation was given. There was an enemy in the Promised Land, so God sent Samson as a lone man to start a fight. In Samson’s story, we see him confront the Philistines. He starts to reverse the Israelites’ complacency under Philistine rule.  

He brought partial freedom to his people by lighting the fires of liberation for later generations. No one expected this from Samson, even though God revealed a brief glimpse into Samson’s future.

Samson’s parents received instructions on the child’s purpose and way of life. He was to be a Nazirite – devoted to God. Yet, even with these instructions, they had no idea how the Lord would use Him (Judges 14.4).

Today, we have the complete word of God. We see what God is doing from beginning to end. Yet, we still question what God is doing. When it appears God is unfaithful we blame Him. We hold Him responsible when our expectations go unfilled. When we read about Samson today, we hope for a hero deliverer; yet we get a flawed man who disappoints us. However, God’s purpose prevailed. Perhaps we should reevaluate our presuppositions.

Samson’s origins show us God does not leave us to guess His purpose. He tells us from the beginning. However, our expectations often get in the way of understanding it.

God consistently acts through unexpected people in unexpected ways. Yet, He remains trustworthy even when we don’t understand. When surprised by God, we must take the opportunity to question our expectations and evaluate our reactions. Take the initiative to listen to God’s word. As He transforms and renews our minds, we become better equipped to comprehend God’s ways. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer

Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle


Today’s Readings
Judges 13 (Listen – 3:44)
Acts 17 (Listen – 5:28)

This Weekends’s Readings
Judges 14 (Listen – 3:35), Acts 18 (Listen – 4:06)
Judges 15 (Listen – 3:13), Acts 19 (Listen – 5:47)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
It is time to hear from you about the posts from the past eleven months (September 2020 – July 2021) that have challenged, comforted, and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about Faith of the Flawed
These women and men found their place in God’s story not because they were flawless and perfect examples of obedience.

Choosing Worldly Leaders

Scripture Focus: Judges 12.4-6
4 Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.” 5 The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” 6 they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’ ” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time. 

Student Writers Month:

This month, The Park Forum welcomes college and seminary student writers pursuing ministry careers. For more info about our yearly Student Writer program, see our website.

Reflection: Choosing Worldly Leaders

By Jolene Davidson Crouch

In Judges 11, the Gileadite leadership chose Jephthah as the man to lead them against the Ammonites. They did not call out to the Lord for a leader, instead they picked him by a committee which based their choice on Jephthah’s reputation as a mighty warrior.  

In return for Jephthah’s leadership and conquering the Ammonites, he was made the head over all Gilead. 

Men and God very rarely choose the same leaders. When God chooses a leader he chooses a shepherd boy like David. When men choose leaders they want someone with a proven record in battle, someone who can win, often someone who can command. Jephthah knew about God, but he never consulted God in chapter 11 and when he did, his vows were rash, meaningless and performative religion. None of this honors God.

And yet, God comes through for the Gileadites.  The Ammonites were conquered.  Do the ends justify the means? 

What do we have to lose?

Jephthah’s character flaws are like small cracks in chapter 11 but they grow.

In chapter 12 the war is no longer with those outside the tribe. Jephthah was rash, proud, and impatient. He held grudges against those who did not agree with him. A civil war broke out. He and those he commanded sought ways to divide. They even used regional accents as cause for execution. 42,000 souls were lost.

Chapter 12 continues in hope and restoration. Ibzan of Bethlehem gave his thirty daughters in marriage to those outside his clan while his thirty sons married women from outside his clan. Perhaps this was an attempt to heal and unify after the civil war. By coming together in one family, there was the possibility of moving forward and creating new life where there had been death.

When we seek to find leadership on our own rather than seeking the leadership of God, or when we seek to fill leadership positions without seeking God’s input, short term success may come at the expense of long term success. We simply cannot afford to exclude the wisdom and input of the one who can see past, present, and future when we make decisions concerning our leaders. The consequences of empowering the wrong person are too great. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
To you I lift up my eyes, to you enthroned in the heavens. — Psalm 123.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle


Today’s Readings
Judges 12 (Listen – 2:21)
Acts 16 (Listen – 5:53)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
It is time to hear from you about the posts from the past eleven months (September 2020 – July 2021) that have challenged, comforted, and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about Marks of Leadership — Selflessness
Tests of leadership are almost always connected to selflessness. Humility, compassion, empathy, and service should flow from selflessness.

The Judge’s Decision

Scripture Focus: Judges 11.27
27 “I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the Lord, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.”

Student Writers Month:

This month, The Park Forum welcomes college and seminary student writers pursuing ministry careers. For more info about our yearly Student Writer program, see our website.

Reflection: The Judge’s Decision

By Dennis Nicholson

If I’m being honest, I find it hard to read stories like Jephthah’s in the Bible. My first instinct isn’t to contemplate what I’ve read but to condemn it altogether. The cruelty of Jephthah’s brothers, his godless companions, his rash vow, and his daughter’s resulting sacrifice—these aren’t pleasant things to read about. And in a sense, that’s the point of the book of Judges. When everyone does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6), in ignorance of God’s law, injustice and cruelty result.

But it’s easy to turn this one lesson in the book of Judges into a blanket condemnation. It’s easy to shake my head at Jephthah’s unfaithfulness and the Israelites’ obvious failings. It’s hard to point out my own unfaithfulness, my own insidious failings. 

It’s easy to play favorites. But God doesn’t show favoritism (Romans 2:11).

“Let the Lord, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites” (Judges 11:27). If it were me who were judging, perhaps I would have decided against Israel. But in the eyes of God, the perfect judge, there is no distinction. “All who sin under the law will be judged by the law” (Romans 2:12). Israelite and Ammonite alike, Jew and Gentile alike, ancient and modern alike—all people deserve judgment for sin.

Why, then, did the Lord judge for Israel? How can a just God favor an unjust people? Because, despite their unfaithfulness, God was working through the Israelites to bring about his perfect justice. Israel’s final judge, Samuel, would anoint Israel’s greatest king, David. And one thousand years later, a son of David would bear the just punishment for Israel upon his shoulders. 

The perfect judge would send his own son to die a criminal’s death on a cross so that the sons of Israel could be set free.

The day is coming when that same perfect judge will preside over a grander trial: the final judgment. That day, we will have to give an account of all we have done (Romans 14:10-12).

But—thanks be to God!—our pardon is secure. Our sins have been covered. We will stand before the judge’s seat as innocents, not because of our own faithfulness, but because God was working through us to bring about his perfect justice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

For as the heavens are high above the earth, so is his mercy great upon those who fear him. — Psalm 103.11

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle


Today’s Readings
Judges 11:12-40 (Listen – 5:53)
Acts 15 (Listen – 5:43)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
It is time to hear from you about the posts from the past eleven months (September 2020 – July 2021) that have challenged, comforted, and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about The Righteous Judge :: A Guided Prayer
And this is your justice on earth—to be a refuge and stronghold for the weak and troubled.

Surrendering Hearts

Scripture Focus: Judges 10.6-7, 10-13
6 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the Lord and no longer served him, 7 he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites,
10 Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, “We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.” 
11 The Lord replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, 12 the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites n oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? 13 But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. 14 Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!” 
15 But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” 16 Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer. 

Student Writers Month:

This month, The Park Forum welcomes college and seminary student writers pursuing ministry careers. For more info about our yearly Student Writer program, see our website.

Reflection: Surrendering Hearts

By Carolyn M. Soto Jackson

How many times did our parents tell us not to touch the hot plate? And what was the first thing some of us did? We touched the plate and burned ourselves. Most of us can agree our parents seemed to always be nagging us about something. Now as adults, we realize it was for our own good, we just could not see it. 

Things were not much different 2000 years ago. We read in the Book of Judges how the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, again. Not behind God’s back but blatantly in front of Him, serving multiple gods. These were gods of weather, finance, love, and sex. After years of blatant idolatry, eventually God was angered enough he turned them over to the Philistines and the people of Ammon. We know this broke God’s heart. By allowing them to be conquered and serve other gods He gave them what they desired. Like many injured and desperate children, the Israelites cried out after constantly being harassed and oppressed. Scripture goes on to say the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, but God said he would not deliver them. This would be the first time it was recorded that God would not save his children. In God’s rejection of the Israelites, it begs the question, what was lacking in their initial repentance? 

Not their voice, but their hearts. 

It is one thing to say something and it is another to express it with action and a surrendered heart. All along, this is what God wanted, a relationship with His children. After ridding themselves of false gods and demonstrating true repentance, God’s heart was moved with compassion by their change of heart. God’s soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.

Like many loving parents, it is difficult for God to see his children in misery, but he knows we have to humble ourselves because it is good for us. Our unfailing and unchanging God still wants our fullest attention and our whole hearts. You can be confident to know our parents may discipline us (Hebrews 12.10) for our own good, but our God knows what is best for not only us but for the Kingdom. 

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading

Jesus taught us, saying: “ I give you a new commandment: love one another; you must love one another just as I have loved you. It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples.” — John 13.34-35

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle


Today’s Readings
Judges 10-11:11 (Listen – 8:13)
Acts 14 (Listen – 3:54)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
It is time to hear from you about the posts from the past eleven months (September 2020 – July 2021) that have challenged, comforted, and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about Spiritual Indicators
These groups are spiritual indicators, testifying to the condition of the hearts of those who claim to follow God.

Spur a spiritual rhythm of refreshment right in your inbox
By joining this email list you are giving us permission to send you devotional emails each weekday and to communicate occasionally regarding other aspects of the ministry.
100% Privacy. We don't spam.