Judges 15-16

The story of Samson and Delilah. It almost reads like folklore. If you’re familiar with the story, I still encourage you to read today’s chapters with fresh eyes. 

God makes Samson special, and slowly but surely, Samson takes credit for this himself and pride seeps into his long-haired head. 

“With the jawbone of a donkey I’ve piled them into heaps”, he boasts after God grants him success. 

It’s so easy to think that we do the work and we deserve the praise. Samson’s strength was God-given, and his pride about this slowly took over and brought him down. It left him blind, his eyes barbarically ripped out of their sockets. He ends his own life in a messy heap of his enemies, as their prisoner. Has God made something really special about you? Stay humble. 

His relationship with Delilah has always fascinated me. After three attempts to defeat his strength, he’s still with her and eventually gives in to her?! There really is no reasoning with someone in love. 

Are like Delilah? Is there someone in your life you hold power or influence over? A significant other, a friend, a peer, a sibling? Take a minute and evaluate how you steward this relationship. Do you exemplify godly love towards them, or use it as an opportunity for personal gain? 

Pride really is the root of all sin. Let’s humble ourselves before God and thank him for the gifts he’s given us and the relationships we’re in. 
-Carly 

Judges 13-14

“If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time.” (13:23‬)

This nameless woman is right. At this time, Israel was very fortunate to not be wiped out. But, really, not much separates us/now from them/then. We only have more evidence of God’s astounding grace.

“So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth.” ‭(Hosea‬ ‭6:3‬)

God is GOOD. This is my one thought, today. And I want to press on to know Him.

He doesn’t want to kill us. He accepts our measly sacrifices. He reveals Himself to us. He tells us stuff. Whyyyyy??!

He is Good, Holy, absolutely different than me. I want to get to know Him. More. Every day. 

-Bethany

Judges 11-12

Jephthah does one thing well: he recognizes God as the one true judge. He knew, and proclaimed, that he could only conquer his enemies with the help of the Lord. (11:27)

Unfortunately, he makes the grave mistake of unnecessarily bargaining with God. Out of fear of losing in battle, he bellows out a hasty vow to God that he will sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house when he arrives home, if God allows him to prevail. 

Scholars go back and forth on whether or not Jephthah actually ended up sacrificing his daughter. They all agree on one thing: God did not instruct, or condone this. 

Not only is God’s voice missing from this narrative, but he strictly forbids human sacrifice in Leviticus 18:21 & 20:1-5).  Ecclesiastes also mentions that God doesn’t like frantic promises made to him out of fear: 

“Don’t make rash promises and don’t be hasty in bringing matters before God. After all, God is in heaven, and you are here on earth. So let your words be few.” 

I can relate to Jephthah. I have no doubt that God is in charge, that he can deliver me from my enemies and is sovereign over my problems. But I get it wrong too, when I think he needs something from me. I’ve been there. Desperate for something to change, and believing that God is the only one who can change it. He is! But not because of anything I can do. This behavior, scrounging around and emptying our pockets to offer what we have, is very human-to-human. We are trying to bargain with the Creator. What are we thinking? 

God doesn’t do things for us because he gets anything out of it. He loves us and has a plan for us. Let’s remember what we’re told in Ecclesiastes: God is in heaven and we are on earth. 

More than our future promises to do good, he wants obedience. If Jephthah wanted to offer something to God, it should’ve been faith that God had a plan for him. 

Let’s have obedient, trusting hearts that don’t act of desperation! 
-Carly 

Judges 9-10

Chapter 9 is long and gruesome. A nasty little interlude between judges when we start to see everyone’s true colors. Murder, strife, revenge. There’s nothing which distinguishes Israel from their neighbors. They’ve abandoned the LORD who made them to be beautifully different, but they cast Him aside.

“You have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you. Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” The sons of Israel said to the LORD, “We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day.” So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer.” (10:13-16‬)

This is a deeply powerful passage, and totally applicable. We are all shaped by the culture around us. We’ve been marinated in it. Jesus calls us into the culture of His Kingdom, but the struggle is real. I am blind to ways culture has made me contrary to God’s design for me. Things are revealed over time, but our cultures idols are hard to keep out: Safety, along with the success and money, which could make us feel safer.

Popularity. We want to be beautiful, magazine people. Maybe you don’t want to be Martha Stewart, but you want to be Joanna Gaines. It’s easy to make “acceptable Christian versions” of our idols. Maybe you don’t want to be a reality TV star, but you want to be a well-known pastor, invited to speak at conferences. 

Suddenly we find ourselves drowning in anxiety and stress. We work hard for the money. We’ve sacrificed, worn ourselves out. What if we, then, cry out to God and He says: “Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress”?

Divorce rates among Christians are statistically the same as divorce rates in non-believers. Anti-anxiety medication, depression, etc. We are the same when God created us to be different. What distinguishes us from our neighbors.

Please hear me. I do not say this to shame. I am in it. I’ve got a lot of eyes on my ministry and I let it become a burden instead of a gift, because I’m afraid of what people will think. 

I’m convicted today, about the idols I’ve sacrificed to, but I don’t have to get stuck there. I repent, put them away, and set my safety, success, finances and reputation back on the LORD. He alone can save, heal, restore, fulfill. King of my heart, please re-take the throne.

-Bethany 

Judges 7-8

This is some epic story-telling! God thins the deck and uses only 300 men to go up against the Midianites. He doesn’t want any wiggle room for the Israelites to take credit; they merely stand back and watch the army of Midian panic and retreat in response to their presence. Of course, despite God’s huge victory, there are still some complainers:

”Then the people of Ephraim asked Gideon, ‘Why have you treated us this way?’ Why didn’t you send for us when you first went out to fight the Midianites?’ And they argued heatedly with Gideon.” 8:1

Feeling left out that they didn’t get to battle, these guys whine to Gideon about getting stuck with clean up duty. Gideon soothes their ego by assuring them that their task, in hindsight, is even greater than his own.

But sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes your task is just less glorious, less productive and not on the front lines. But it is still a God-appointed task and still important work.

Are you content in the work God has you? Or do your resent the spot you’re in? Are you whining to someone, asking them for more visible leadership, even when God has just accomplished something great right in front of you?

God wants, and deserves, to be the hero of the story. He includes us in his work and often we find ways to complain about not being center stage. Our pride is hungry for recognition. Instead, feed it truth. If the leaders of Ephraim had stepped back and recognized what God had done in battle, maybe they would’ve felt honored to be involved at all (and thankful to be alive), instead of greedy for more noticeable involvement. Perspective is a great truth-teller.

Check your heart today and ask God to keep you humble as you work alongside him.

 

-Carly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judges 5-6

After a really twisted victory song including the lyrics: “she smashed his head” and a sad mocking of the man’s mother, possibly looking out her window, wondering why her son is late for dinner, we meet the next sin cycle and judge: Gideon.

Israel has, once again, flung themselves into evil practices and this time the foreign oppressor is Midian. Despite numerous warning and pleas to remain faithful, they’ve rebelled and begun reaping what they’ve sown. It would be entirely just for God to leave them in this state (his fathers household has alters to Baal and Asherah), but instead He comes to them to rescue His people, and this is the welcome He gets:

“Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (‭6:13‬)

Hello, LORD, I can’t believe you did this to us, I thought you were on our side!

This response is waaaaaaaay too familiar. I think we’ve all said/thought it at least once. Drowning in the consequences of our own actions, we judge God to be a liar. 

Still the angel arrives with the greeting: “the LORD is with you, O valiant warrior!”

Gideon is full of fear and hesitation, but the LORD remains upbeat and even complies with numerous requests for signs. 

Gideon mentions the LORD’s power against Egypt, perhaps as a “why don’t your reign down plagues from the sky again?”, but God has already begun to introduce a theme to His people: I want to do this WITH YOU. I want to USE YOU to affect change. I told Abraham I would MAKE HIM A BLESSING to all nations. 

Sure it’s easy to God to rain down fire from heaven (heck, His presence existed as a constant pillar of fire), but what is truly impressive is how He can bring about beauty, justice and change through deeply broken people. This is the hope I glean from Gideon’s story. He is a scared man with few resources and God calls him valiant.

What could God do through you today? Are you available to be used as His conduit of blessing?

-Bethany 

Judges 3-4

After failing to drive out their enemies, the Israelites find themselves tested and tempted by pagan practices. Later, they start marrying them and giving in tha worshipping to their gods. 

Relationships with unbelievers is crucial. But how do we do this in a way that doesn’t compromise our own morals and entangle us in their sinful practices? 

I don’t know the answer to that, and some people have different limits than others because of their maturity of faith. But no one is excluded from this warning. 

Examine the relationships you’re in with people who don’t know God. Who is influencing who? Submit them before God and ask him to examine them to. 
-Carly 

Judges 1-2

Watch the Bible Project Overview first. It’s good to note the point of this story. I used to think Bible characters were all cool role models. Sunday school flannel graph versions of them only ever highlighted their moments of obedience. When Paul says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction,” (1 Corinthians 10:11) he means example of what not to do. Jesus is our only true good example.

God saves, gives His Spirit, and uses us in spite of ourselves, because He loves us and wants to redeem us, making us conduits of blessing. This is not what happens in Judges. No one is blessed. Many don’t make it out alive.

But the LORD never abandons His people.

“When the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.” ‭‭(2:18‬)

He says “I will never break my covenant with you.” (2:1) Thank God, His promises are dependent on His character and not our own.

-Bethany 

Exodus 39-40

“Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted.” 40:36

What a beautiful ending to an incredible book. We read along as the Israelites went from slavery in Egypt, to impatient wanderers in the wilderness, watched Moses mediate their position with God and finally, here we are at the end of their pilgrimage.

What part of the story are you in?

Are you still enslaved in sin? The rescuer has already come, the Pharaoh of slavery has already been defeated.

Are you wandering the wilderness? Every day is hard and unexpected. You’re struggling to follow along, depending on the spiritual strength of the leaders around you. You feast on the daily manna, desperate for God’s provision in this season of unknowns.

Are you working on building the Temple? Up to your elbows in good, hard work that drains all your resources. Some days it feels daunting, like maybe you’ll never finish. You don’t feel qualified enough for this, but every day you’re amazed at the progress you make working alongside God’s builders.

Or are you in a season of waiting? Your life seems still. Your hard work complete. You pull the curtains back and peer out the window, seeing if the cloud of God’s presence is leading you elsewhere? Be all in, wherever you are, until he starts leading you elsewhere.

Whatever part of the journey you’re on, the Israelites have really taught us a lot. Let’s learn from them and be obedient, patient followers who trust him. He always has a plan, he always provides and he always rescues. Even if it feels like you’re wandering around in circles in the dessert.

 

-Carly

Exodus 37-38

“Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half was its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height.” (37:1)

There’s no way Bezalel could know the significance of the piece he was crafting. He couldn’t have known that one day it would give all the Philistines tumors (1 Samuel 5), or that Uzzah would be struck down dead for touching it (2 Samuel 6:7), or that it would melt Nazi faces (Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark). It was about to be possessed by the Holy Creator God.

No one would ever be audacious enough to suggest the ark was powerful because of Bezalel. I’m sure some of you have never heard his name before. So why, when we witness the power of God through the work of a simple person, do we give that person glory?

Think about it. Some pastor has a really successful church. What happens? He gets a book deal and a podcast and everyone tries to make their ark with exactly the same demensions. The method and the man become the source of power to be replicated. 

I’ve spent a lot of my time in YWAM helping with marketing, and recruiting for our Discipleship Training Schools. I’ve worked my booty off and it’s really discouraging when each quarter our school size is still small. Then it’s back to the drawing board, what are we doing wrong? I’ve spent a lot of this time stewing in the corner occasionally barking, “you can’t schmooze someone into following God. You can’t build something and run around like the priests of Baal, cutting ourselves, asking God to bring down the fire.” (1 Kings 22). But somehow I still find myself making 50 phone calls a day and hoping something sticks.

A theme of this year, for me, has been humility and obedience. I am convinced these are the only methods we need. What did Bezalel do? He followed instructions. This is the only “philosophy of ministry” I will ever need. And if, someday, God erupts in some revival situation, I’ll be as surprised as anyone else. He is the only one who builds eternal things. He is the reason for “ministry”. It can never be numbers. It can never be perceived success.

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes‬ ‭12:13‬)

Crown Him with many crowns! Let’s be like Bezalel. Let’s build a place for God’s glory, by His design and instruction, and never attempt to steal His glory (unless we’d like our Nazi faces melted off).

-Bethany