Joshua 2 and 6

Judges 2 – Lesson Notes for August 16, 2020

Introduction

As we mentioned last week, the book of Judges chronologically follows the book of Joshua (more or less), which isn’t always the case for consecutive books of the Bible.  Having described the last recorded works of Joshua in the last chapter of the book that bears his name (where he renewed the covenant between Jehovah God and the leaders of Israel), the next era of Israel’s history is about to begin.

The first chapter of Judges reads like an action movie: “Taking over the land”, “Win a battle, get a prize” (not that women are property), “Sell out your city and we’ll let you live”, “Almost victorious, but not quite”.  I encourage you to read it on your own.

Today’s lesson is from the second chapter of Judges.  That chapter starts with God’s rebuke – really just a reminder of the “rest’ of His promise – for the Israelites’ disobedience.  God had promised them a lot of blessings, but if they rejected His instructions, there were promises for punishment as well.

After Judges 2:6-9 more or less recaps Joshua 24:28-31, let’s pick up in verse 10.

Judges 2:10-13

Verse 10: One generation succeeding another is not a new thing.  In itself, that is the normal course of history, and – as a parent who is scheduled to drop his oldest son off at college for the first time this week – the concept of preparing children to become adults that can stand on their own is one that I’m familiar with.

While a transition from one generation to the next is normal, the last part of this verse identifies the key variable: what will be different in the next generation, as compared to the previous one?

In this case, we find that the later generation failed to carry on the commitment to God that the previous one had made.  However, there are also cases where one generation may actually improve in some ways from the previous one.  Abraham was called out of a pagan land to serve the true God, for instance.  Sometimes, children break cycles of bad behavior that had existed for generations in their family.

In reality, I suspect that most generations do some things better and some things worse than their forefathers.  You can think for yourselves how your generation compares to the one that came before it.  (It’s probably more productive to do that, rather than to judge those that have come after us!)

As we said last week, we shouldn’t be too hasty to pin the blame on a particular group for this downhill slide.  We can agree that it was bad for the people to lose their commitment to God, but whether they rebelled, or the previous generation failed to pass along the message adequately, we don’t necessarily know for sure.

However, when one does not have a correct and complete understanding of God, the result is usually destructive choices.  While I’m not suggesting that we know everything about God, people fall short when they have only incorrect portrayals of Him, or don’t know enough about His character, His nature, and His past work.  We don’t get to make heart-decisions for other people, but we can do our best to educate them about God, including His Son, Jesus Christ.  We can also study in our own lives, to ensure that our understanding about God is as complete and correct as possible, even if our minds aren’t big enough to grasp His infinite-ness!

Verses 11-13: Here, we see three things that happened.  First, the Israelites did evil things and served other gods (OK, so maybe that’s two things, but as we said last week, you “gotta serve somebody”, so choosing to not obey God means serving someone or something else.)

Next, their behavior is described as “forsaking” God – not just any god, but the One who literally and miraculously brought their nation out of slavery, and made them a free nation.  I think that the word “forsook” paints a good picture, here: It implies to me that they made a choice.  God was someone that they were aware of, and could choose to follow, but they turned away.  This is kind of like the opposite of repentance (turning back from a sinful life to God): as a whole, the Israelites weren’t necessarily ignorant about God, they had decided to turn away from Him and to other gods.

I think that this is a good reminder for all who are deciding how to live today: the supposed defense of apathy or not making a decision is simply invalid.  Everyone who has the ability to choose their actions is deciding what or who their god will be, and claiming that one is not choosing (which probably includes the honest agnostics), is really making a choice to follow a god other than Jehovah (see Mark 9:39-41).

Remember, we said that week that the Israelites had their choice of gods to serve.  In addition to Jehovah God, they would have been aware of the idols from “beyond the Euphrates” where Abram was called out of, the idols of Egypt where they lived for centuries, and the idols of Canaan where they were living at this time.  Looks like they chose “option #4” (which, as you know, was not the right answer).

Thirdly, when the Israelite people chose the wrong option, God became angry.  God is indeed gracious and loving, but He does get angry when it is appropriate for Him to do so.  God knew that the Baals and the Ashtoreths were not only destructive to His people, but that these idols also took the people away from the blessings of living according to His loving plan.  When an evil force pulls the attention of my children away from righteous behavior into sin and harmful temptations, I am not only justified in being angry, I can actually show them love when I fight back against that element of evil on their behalf.  If I can be righteously angry in cases like this, how much more would a loving God be angry when His people turn away to inferior, false gods?

And, in case you were wondering, the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth wasn’t even about being a good citizen or a loving parent.  The very practices of worship for these false gods were inherently evil.  Beliefs today that have an appearance of being “good” are even more insidious, though, in that they take people away from God, but the sins that they lead adherents into are less obvious.

Study:

Let’s pause here and consider something: Why do people follow other gods?

We established last week that everyone serves something that they believe in.  Whether or not they call something a god, that which they give their time, talent, and treasure for (and which controls their decisions) functions as an object of worship, even if it is internally focused (like one’s selfishness, comfort, or pride).

So, why would someone follow other gods?  What is the draw of them?  Here are some reasons that I thought of:

  • A belief that they will be blessed.
  • The feeling of having power, whether in choosing what to do, or in bringing the power of that god to bear on one’s world.
  • Peer pressure / popular opinion.
  • Perceived entertainment value in the corresponding worship practices.

If we understand what draws us away from Jehovah God, then we can not only resist those temptations (with truth), but also help others fight their battles.

  • For those who believe that their god will bless them, Jesus enumerated multiple blessings in the Beatitudes.  See also Ephesians 1:3.
  • For those who believe that their god gives them power, the true God created all that we see, and has the ability to do what He chooses with it.  (Romans 1:16, 20).
  • For those who just try to fit in so that others will like them, Jesus reminds us of a more important perspective in Luke 12:4-5.
  • And, for those who think that following certain gods is more fun, remember who invented all good things in the first place.  (See Titus 3:3-7.)

Judges 2:14-15

So, God kept His promises.  When Israel failed to remain faithful to Him, the corresponding blessings were replaced with discipline.  Where the Israelite armies had seen lots of success in Canaan during the days of Joshua, they were now defeated in battle.  Not only did God stop helping them, it looks like He actively worked against them.

Matthew Henry wrote, “the way he took to punish them for their apostasy was to make those their tormentors whom they yielded to as their tempters. They made themselves as mean and miserable by forsaking God as they would have been great and happy if they had continued faithful to him.”

This really put the people in a no-win situation during their battles, but it wasn’t like they didn’t have a choice.  Their actions had led to consequences, and since God had made this relationship clear to their ancestors, they really didn’t have anyone to blame but themselves.  (I suspect that they may have tried to blame those who, they might say, didn’t teach them better; however, that’s just a theory and not necessarily something we find in the Bible).

One commentary [Reformation Study Bible] says, “The hand of the Lord was associated with the saving power of God…. Now the same hand was turned against them in punishment. The Lord was faithful both to bless and to judge.”

Verse 15 pretty clearly spells out the results of being unfaithful to God: “They were in great distress”.  People today are in great distress, too, when they don’t follow God.  Without hope, a purpose, and direction for living the life for which we were created, it’s a pretty sad state to get into.  Yes, some are still papering over the gaps in their lives with things that dull or distract from the pain, but anything less than the life Jesus offers ultimately leads to distress until someone makes the turn back to God.

Judges 2:16-19

Even in their unfaithfulness, God provided for His people.

Throughout the book of Judges (as you can read for yourself, or tune in for lessons in upcoming weeks), God heard the cries of His people when they were experiencing the consequences of unfaithfulness, and sent judges, under whose leadership He could rescue His people.  These judges were an odd bunch, with all sorts of personal issues (not unlike those of us in the church, today), but God used each of them for a purpose.

Do you notice how the Israelites seem to struggle without a leader?  Under Moses’ and Joshua’s leadership, the people could remain somewhat faithful, but when left to their own devices (probably with local leadership, as noted Joshua 24:1), they fell away.  As much as our culture may value personal freedom, we often need good direction.  Some might say that God’s leadership should be enough for us, but even the church was established with elders to shepherd congregations, under the authority of Jesus Christ.

In verse 17, we find a reminder of how easily sin can ensnare people.  Notice the word, “quickly”.  Falling away from righteousness doesn’t have to be a slow, gradual process, and therefore, we must be on the alert, and regularly practice good disciplines in our own lives, as well as striving to help others do the same.

Still, the pull of sin is relentless, and human beings are tempted to fall back into it time and time again.  When we see this happen, we should understand that it is not new.  As verse 19 reminds us, people can find new ways of being more evil than those who have gone on before.  While there is usually one right way – the narrow path – there are plenty of inferior paths.

Like the Pharaoh of the Exodus, a hardened heart is a formidable obstacle indeed.  May we not allow such an affliction to establish a foothold in our lives.

Instead, may we fully understand the true God, and – from that perspective – appreciate who we are: not only how much greater than us God is, but how valuable we are to Him and how loved we are by Him.

Conclusion

So, which group are you more like?  Do you work diligently to serve God and remain committed to living according to His will, like the generation of Joshua and those who may have followed God during the time of the judges?  Or, are you pulled into idolatry – not necessarily the sacrifice of gifts to a graven image, but giving over to temptations and living a life far away from the one God designed you for?

In the life of a Christian, we may have times when we are in either group.  We have good days and bad days – good years and bad years.  However, the book of Judges reminds us that living for God is better, but we must work to remain faithful or else things can change in a short amount of time.  At the same time, this book proves time and time again that God is always faithful (even if we aren’t – see 2 Timothy 2:13).  He sees the suffering of His people (even when this is discipline, meant to bring us back to Him), and He provides opportunities for us to return to Him when we stray.

As those who have been saved by accepting the gift of Jesus Christ, we no longer have to fear for our salvation when we fall short of God’s ideal.  As Matthew Henry put it, “our Joshua lives for ever”.

However, the principles of Judges still speak to us: A life of righteousness is not only more God-honoring than serving other things, but it is better for us, too.  It takes work to remain faithful to God.  And, God disciplines us: not to be mean, but to help us correct our ways, because He loves us (Hebrews 12:5-6).

References:

  • Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 8, pages 83-84. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The Reformation Study Bible, English Standard version, by R C Sproul, © 2015 Reformation Trust, Orlando, Fla.
  • Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. Volume 2, 1706.

Judges 6 – Lesson Notes for August 30, 2020

Introduction

If we think back to last week, we were taught about Deborah and Jael, two women who God featured in His deliverance of Israel from the Canaanites.

Most of Judges chapter 5 is a poetic narrative song about those events, like one that a nation might use to remember events by (consider The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, or songs from Vacation Bible School that help children remember historical events from the Bible).

The last part of that chapter has good news: “Then the land had peace forty years.”

Regrettably, though, Judges 6:1 brings some bad news.  The Israelites fall away and turn to evil (again), and suffer from an invading nation (again).  This time, it’s the Midianites (and some other groups).  Matthew Henry points out (and I paraphrase) that a child who has been burned avoids the fire, but the Israelites didn’t seem to have that same wisdom.  He also suggests that the Midianites weren’t necessarily organized enough to have a single leader, but were more like a bunch of barbarians terrorizing the Israelites (and getting away with it), despite Israel previously having defeated them in a previous generation (see Numbers 31).

The Midianites drove the Israelites to make (what sound to me like) bunkers to hide in, and it appears that they destroyed (or maybe stole) both crops and livestock.  The Israelites put in the hard work of planting, while the Midianites took the fully-grown food  This should not have come as a surprise, though: God had made it clear (for instance, in Deuteronomy 28:15-68) that this would be the result of disobedience.

So, in this ruined state, the Israelites called out to God again.  (At least they remembered this option.  May we pray for and teach those who don’t even know that they can call to God when they are suffering, whether or not their condition is the result of their own sin.)

Judges 6:11-16

Verses 11-13: I think that it is significant that the Bible just talks about angels as if they were a regular part of life.  This passage doesn’t start with an explanation of who angels are, or some sort of disclaimer.  It just announces what the angel did, matter-of-factly.  And, in fact, angels are a very real part of the world around us, and while we shouldn’t worship them or spend too much time dwelling on them when we should be paying attention to God, they are as real as we are.

Observe that this angel didn’t appear in the sky or cause Gideon to fall down in terror.  Unlike some of the other angelic appearances in the Bible, the angel doesn’t have to start the conversation with “Do not be afraid”.  Instead, the angel “sat down”, like one might do on a park bench, I suppose.  I think that this might be what Hebrews 13:2 is talking about: the idea that sometimes angels might look like human beings, and we could interact with them without knowing that they are angels.

Gideon’s response is perhaps typical of our own skepticism: If God is with us, why are such bad things happening?  Do you ask yourself that when things go badly?

Rather than a philosophical statement or a trite response, the answer is a command for Gideon to go do something.  Maybe that’s the answer for evil in the world today: that God’s people should go out and do something about it.  (In fact, I’m pretty sure that is at least part of the answer.)

Here, we learn that Gideon had heard of what God had done for the people of Israel.  The history was known, even if the people didn’t always live for the God who had done these things for them.  For Gideon to make this statement, though, it seems that he had been looking for God’s deliverance.  It sounds like he was genuinely trying to figure out why his world didn’t look like those of his ancestors.

Two things from verse 13 are perhaps common to God’s people throughout history, just before He is about to miraculously deliver them:

  • People are asking, “Why are bad things happening, if God is so powerful?”, especially when someone else tells them that God is with us.
  • People are looking for God’s deliverance.

A society might find itself in the “seven years” of hardship, especially if the culture has turned to evil.  As individuals, we might have been suffering with a physical, mental, or situational problem for years.  However, when we ask why we are still suffering, even as we look for God’s help, it might very well be that God is just about ready to do something amazing…

Having said that, we might also need to be prepared for a surprising answer to both of those thoughts: Maybe God will be using us as part of His plan of deliverance – not only for ourselves, but for those around us, too!

Be sure to keep your ears open, but unlike Moses and Gideon, when you seek God’s help, be prepared to say “yes!” to God, when He calls you to take action.  Whether you rescue an entire nation, or just do your part this week for God’s kingdom, it’s exciting to be part of God’s plan.

Verses 14-16: God was about to save Israel through Gideon!  Remember that the angel might have seemed to be a human being (perhaps a prophet, as a commentator suggested), and Gideon’s response sounds like something we might say to a random stranger that strikes up a conversation with us about current events.

The next time you are tempted to complain about your situation, or the state of the world, to someone who you don’t know, remember that they could have a message for you that will change all of that.  (If they aren’t an angel from God, but just another person, they might also need to hear a word of encouragement.  Maybe a better reply would be to tell them about Jesus, rather than bemoaning the problems around us.)

It’s a little ironic that the angel calls Gideon, “mighty warrior”, when Gideon is trying to prepare some food as he hides from an invading force.  He certainly acted more like someone who was nearly defeated, rather than someone who was strong enough to stand up to his current problems.

Maybe Gideon had learned so much about Israel’s history that he was taking on the reluctance of Moses, but my guess is that he was probably just human.  When we forget that “God plus me” can do anything that God wants to achieve, we are prone to make excuses, or to try and explain to God that we’re not smart enough, strong enough, talented enough, rich enough, or “anything else” enough to follow His call for our lives.

The message to Gideon is that God will be with him.  Can we ask for anything more than that?

Note that the responses here are stated as coming directly from the LORD (God Himself).  I’m not sure if the fact that the angel’s words came directly from God meant that it was as if God was speaking, or whether this was actually an early appearance of Jesus.  Perhaps that is why Gideon was not afraid, just as most of those who spent time with Jesus in the first century weren’t afraid of Him.  (The Transfiguration might be an exception.)  Regardless, when anyone speaks the words of God (while being in God’s will, of course, and not taking them out of context to imply something else), God’s authority comes with them.  Remember that the next time you share scripture – at the leading of the Holy Spirit – with others!

In verses 17-24 (which aren’t part of the text for today’s lesson), Gideon asks for a sign.  Believe it or not, this isn’t the signs of the fleece for which Gideon is perhaps better known.  It is a separate request for a confirmation of the angel’s authority (the fleece comes later).

God obliges, and when Gideon brings bread and meat, the angel touches it with his staff and fire springs up to consume it.  I think that Gideon knew then that he wasn’t just talking with a random stranger.

Judges 6:25-27

It’s time for Gideon to stop bemoaning his current situation and suggesting that God is absent, and for him to start doing something about the problem.  (I’d say that it’s time for Gideon to stop hiding, too, but he’s not quite there, yet.)

Note that he doesn’t just go out and do what he wants, like grabbing a spear and trying to defeat the Midianites on his own.  Instead, he follows specific instructions from God.  We might have a lot of ideas about what God “needs” us to do, in order to “fix” things, but we are soldiers, not the general.  We take direction from Him, not the other way around.

Imagine what the people might have thought if God had Gideon defeat the Midianites right away, without this particular step.  Would they have thought that maybe Baal had saved them?  Would they have thought that their crops and livestock were restored because they had finally sacrificed enough to Asherah (or Ashtoreth)?

Instead, Gideon starts by getting rid of the symbols of worship to false gods, and builds an altar to the true God.  (See Deuteronomy 12:1-3.)  This starts to connect the dots between what God is about to do for His people, and the root cause of their problems in the first place.  God had made a covenant with His people, and they were expected to turn back to Him if they wanted to be blessed.  Gideon makes a dramatic step towards this.

Disclaimer: There are several ways that verses 26 and 27 have been translated.  Gideon may have been instructed to take one bull or two.  The “Asherah pole” may have been a single idol or a grove of trees.  The new altar may have been made of stones, or built upon a “stronghold”.  This shouldn’t impact our overall understanding of this chapter, but some of you may find that study interesting.

Regardless, we see that the Asherah pole (or possibly a grove of trees to worship the goddess Ashtoreth) was made of wood, and after it was cut down, that wood was used for burning the offering to God.  God takes both of these things – stone (or a foundation) and wood that He had created in the first place – that were being used for evil, and redeems them from evil to good.  God has made a habit throughout history of doing exactly that, including when He redeemed us!

Judges 6:28-32

However, people usually get angry when you tear down their idols, even when their worship of those idols is the very thing that is harming them (and even when God told you to destroy them).

I’m not sure how they figured out that Gideon had done this, but God knew that they would find out even before He commanded Gideon to do so.  My theory is that this connected Gideon’s efforts here – turning from idols to the true God – to the deliverance that God was about to provide to the Israelites with Gideon leadership.

I think that Joash’s reply is hilarious, but also an important reminder.  If Baal is so powerful that the people are worshiping him, can’t he take care of himself?  (Note that the altar to Baal was Joash’s, so if anyone were to extract punishment for its destruction, it would seem to be the owner of the altar and the father of the person who destroyed it.)

We’ve talked a lot about false gods and idols over the past few weeks, and there are still many things that we give our time, treasure, talent, and talk to today.  When we find ourselves feeling like we have to avenge bad things said about these other “masters” in our lives, whether that be a political party, a church denomination, or even a sports team, maybe we should reconsider their role in our lives.  If we’re so dedicated to an idea or a group that we are following it, shouldn’t it be strong enough to stand on its own?  We can absolutely tell other people the truth about what we have learned from God, but when we feel like we have to attack or punish anyone who says something different from what we believe, we are implying that the truth (or the recipient of our worship) can’t fend for itself, himself, or herself.

(Good news: God can take care of Himself just fine, thank you very much.)

Judges 6:33-40

Verses 33-35: Now, like any good drama, the stage is set for the big showdown.  Like when David ran out to meet Goliath, or Satan tempting Jesus, one side is going to win, and the other is going to lose.

Note the start of verse 34: Gideon was initially called by God, but now He is being empowered by God.  I wonder if the order of those two things is significant?  Would the Spirit of the LORD have come on Gideon if Gideon had refused to tear down the pagan altars?

Verses 36-40: Now, we get to the fleece, which is a part of the story that we’ve probably all heard before.

Note the timing of this.  Gideon has already called for soldiers, but he is asking for confirmation from God.  Gideon has started the ball rolling, but he wants to be really sure before committing to the final step.

Maybe he thought that, at this point, he could quietly send everyone back home (without the MIdianites finding out), if this proved to be a bad idea.  That way, no one would have to get killed.  That’s just a guess, though.

When I think about people asking for a sign, God often seems to be willing to accommodate them.  For instance, Moses asked for signs to verify his message to the Israelites, and God gave him two (the staff becoming a snake, and having his hand get sick and healed).  I guess that Zechariah (future father of John the Baptist) didn’t get off so easily, though (see Luke 1:8-22).

Where God seems to get angry, though (again, thinking about Moses), is when we simply refuse to obey His commands.  When we ignore the fact that He can do anything He chooses to through us, and claim that we don’t have the ability to follow His leading, we are disobedient, disrespectful, and dismissive of God’s power.  I think that behavior would make any of us a little angry with someone else.

Wait?  We’re through today’s Scripture reading?  What about the jars and torches?  Well, next week’s lesson will be from the book of Ruth, but you can read about those events yourself, in Judges 8 and 9.

Let’s wrap up with a few more thoughts, in review.

Action

Unlike followers of false gods (like Baal), we serve a God (Jehovah) who is all-powerful.  We would do well to remember that.  God doesn’t need us to avenge Him (see Romans 12:19).  He doesn’t need us to punish those who bad-mouth Him online or in the news.  He doesn’t need us to get back at those who ignore or attack Him in their words and actions.  The true God can take care of Himself.

So, what do we do instead, if we’re not spending our days calling other people out for disrespecting God?  Well, Jesus told us to make disciples, for one thing.  Rather than judging those outside of the church (see 1 Corinthians 5:12-13), let us tell them about the good news of Jesus, and teach those who have chosen to follow Him do the best job that they can.

Conclusion

Now, this might be a good time to pause and contemplate the timelines here.  For any of you who are older than, say, 55 or so, think about this: An Israelite from that time might have been a child while the Canaanites were oppressing them, heard the news about Deborah and Barak (as current events), and lived for 40 years of peace.  (Think about the 40 decades from when you were, say, 10 to 50 years old.)  This same Israelite might have watched the Israelites fall back into evil practices, experienced 7 more years of hardship from the Midianites, and still lived to see God’s deliverance – a second time – through Gideon.

Now, I’m not sure if we can say with certainty that the Israelite timeline was exactly like this.  Maybe there were a few years in-between the two chapters, or some overlap of events.  Regardless, though, God doesn’t always change things overnight.  We might have to wait years to see answers to our prayers, but He knows what He is doing.  In His wisdom and His love for us, His timing is always perfect.

One day this week, after reviewing this chapter in my devotions (which I usually read in a couple of other translations, to prepare for the lesson), I caught the way that another translation represented verse 16.  In the New Living Translation: Judges 6:16 NLT.  That was my prayer for that morning: that I – and others – would be able to overcome problems as if they were just “one man” or one opponent.  Even when we feel like the whole world (both natural and supernatural) is against us, following God’s will and letting Him act on our behalf evens the odds, we might say (even though God is always victorious in the end, so there’s really no contest), and gives us the ability to overcome.

Pray for God to do great things, and be patient, but make sure that you are ready to say “yes” when He asks you to be a part of His plan.  God plus you can take on anything He calls you to.

References:

  • Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 8, pages 91-92. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The Reformation Study Bible, English Standard version, by R C Sproul, © 2015 Reformation Trust, Orlando, Fla.
  • Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. Volume 2, 1706.

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