Monday, April 27, 2020

Inspiration for the Battle- Judges 4:11-24

Have you ever been asked to do something that you believed you were ill-prepared to do? Perhaps even now you wonder whether you are up to the challenges we are all facing. Added to simply “making it” and keeping sane are the callings upon us as God’s people as found in his Word. It is a lot and given the present circumstances, you might be led to wonder if it isn’t too much or if you should even try. These thoughts and feelings, while understandable, can be overcome if we remember what Barak was reminded of in Judges 4:11-24. In this passage, God hands three victories to his people despite their many limitations and reminds us of the confidence we all can have when we recognize that God’s presence, power, and promises go with us in whatever season we may face. 

Remeber from last week (in Judges 4:1-10), Deborah, a prophetess, has called Barak, a hesitant deliverer, to assemble a coalition of troops to drive out a Canaanite general, and his army. Now that the coalition has been formed, the plan can be put into action that would ensure victory for God's people. 

However, the narrative of this cycle is interrupted by what appears to be an unrelated detail that is awkwardly inserted in verse 11—“Now Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites from the sons of hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh,…” (4:11). The original audience and today’s reader might wonder, “okaaaay? Sooooo?..... can we get back to the story?” Little do people know that what appears to be a literary red herring is actually a piece of foreshadowing that will be satisfied in just a few verses. For now, all we know is that a man connected to the family of Moses left his homeland to “pitch his tent” on the outskirts of the region.

1. Victory over the Iron Chariots-4:12-16

As the author moves back to the unfolding action, the bait is set in verse 12—“Then they told Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor,…” (4:12). Remember, Deborah had called Barak on God’s behalf to assemble troops and lead an insurrection against Sisera and his army. Hesitant at first, Barak finally concedes once Deborah is willing to hold his hand and go with him. They form a coalition, and by this point, they have made it to their post. Remember, the plan was recorded earlier as follows: “I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troop to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand,…” (4:7).
Sisera takes the bait in verse 13—“Sisera called together all his chariots, nine hundred iron chariots, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon,…”. Confident in his military advantage and excited to prove his might against what appeared to be inferior Israelite forces, Sisera lead his huge brigade through a valley that was well-suited for his brad of warfare. “Verse 13 is written from the perspective of the casual observer, who sees the massive Canaanite force moving into a strategic battle location, but does not detect the invisible hand of God drawing it to its demise” (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 229).

That said, you wouldn’t know that Sisera and his men were vulnerable at all if you took your cue from Barak. While Sisera proved decisive in the initiative he exhibits to meet the threat the Israelites posed head on, Barak has to be reminded of where he is, what he is doing, and who called him there, before he is willing to execute the plan. Thankfully, Deborah is there to jolt this “lightning bolt” to action—"Deborah said to Barak, ‘Arise! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the Lord has gone out before you.’ So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him…” (4:14). Notice what Deborah says to get him moving. First, she wakes him up with “arise!” Then she reminds him of who is really handling this for them all—“this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera you’re your hands” (because Lord knows that Barak isn’t going to earn/achieve this himself). After reassuring Barak of God’s power, promise, and presence, and only after this reassurance, “Barak went down.”

Barak’s behavior here has me considering how some of us fail to answer the call of God until we are convinced of God’s presence in our lives. If you are paralyzed today or just a bit hesitant concerning what God has called you to do, let the words of Deborah also serve as a reminder to you: God is with you, he goes before you, and the victory is dependent on HIM not YOU! What are you so afraid of? Why are you discouraged? Get going and let God do his work!  

This theme of God granting the victory to Barak is verified in the very next verse when it explains that “The Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot” (4:15). Like a skilled fisherman reeling in a “keeper,” God leads the army of Canaan into the ambush laid before them. While the pagan army suffers fits that leads to disaster at the hands of Barak and his coalition, Sisera, the army’s commander, flees the scene.

When Sisera leaves his army behind, it is almost as though he and Barak switch roles. Sisera goes from the decisive and bold leader to the coward who leaves his men to die. Barak, the hesitant leader, turns into a successful military commander. What explains this change?—the hand of God. God picks the winners and losers on the worlds stage and can determine the outcomes despite the players involved. In the battle between Barak’s coalition and Sisera’s legions, God saw to it that “Baraka pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left,…” (4:16). This account demonstrates that when God comes through for his people, he does so completely. Now for that pesky Sisera who escaped.

2. Victory over Sisera-4:17-22

“Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kennite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite” (4:17). Remember that odd interruption offered in verse 11? Here is where we see/learn a bit more about who was introduced there. Some have speculated that perhaps Heber—that distant relative that moved out of town—was a Canaanite sympathizer and that Sisera believed that he would find friends in this tent that would help him hide out until Barak and his forces passed by. After all, because there was peace between Heber and Jabin (the ruler of the Canaanites and Sisera’s boss), Sisera probably believed that fortune was smiling down on him as he stumbled upon this dwelling. Little does he know that God is orchestrating his demise.  

Sisera is greeted, not by Heber, but by his wife Jael. The text reads, “…Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, ‘Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.’ And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. He said to her, ‘Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.’ So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him…” (4:18-19). Notice to what lengths Jael goes to make Sisera feel welcome and comfortable in his new hide out. In fact, according to historians, her offering of hospitality was something that the man of the house typically took care of, illustrating that Jael is transgressing cultural norms with her friendliness. Readers have already been tipped off that something else may be going on here. Remember what Deborah told Barak in verse 9—“For the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” This prediction along with the glass of warm milk and a warm blanket, demonstrates that Jael is offering more than what is asked for so that she might have the opportunity to take care of Sisera herself (and I mean that sarcastically). I mean, come on, the only thing missing here is a bedtime story!  

Right before catching some shuteye, Sisera has the wherewithal to ask for Jael to keep on the lookout for Barak’s men who are currently searching for him. If approached, she is supposed to divert their investigation and have them look elsewhere—“ He said to her, ‘Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ and you shall say, ‘No.’” (4:20).

However, instead of taking care that nothing happened to Sisera, “Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died” (4:21)—well I guess he did! Vulnerable and defenseless Jael does what Barak and his army hadn’t yet had the chance to do and she kills Sisera, the leader of the Canaanite army.

The victory over Sisera concludes with Barak showing up too late—"And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him and said to him, ‘Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.’ And he entered with her, and behold Sisera was lying dead with the tent peg in his temple,…” (4:22). Much as Deborah took the initiative at the beginning of this cycle, Jael takes the initiative here by being the first and only speaker upon Barak’s arrival. Before Barak can get a word in, Jael invites him into her tent to see that she has already “taken care of business” (to put it mildly). The reader is left to wonder how Barak would have responded to such news. The author seems to cast Jael as the agent of divine deliverance, the fulfillment of Deborah’s prediction in verse 9. Jael’s husband probably marveled at the fact that his wife had transgressed so many ancient cultural norms not only in offering hospitality to this stranger but also in carrying out this shocking act. To Barak, Jael had triumphed  in a masculine role, and in so doing had shamed and robbed him of the glory of victory. No matter how she was perceived and by whom, Jael had all but guaranteed Israel’s victory over Jabin’s regime by assassinating his decorated general (Block, Judges, Ruth, 209).

3. Victory over the Jabin-4:23-24

The destruction of Jabin and Canaan is described in verses 23-24—“So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the sons of Israel. The hand of the sons of Israel pressed heavier and heavier upon Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin the king of Canaan” (4:23-24). This is the third victory described in the passage. First there was the victory of Barak’s coalition over the 900 iron-clad chariots. Then there was Jael’s victory over Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite forces. These two victories inevitably lead to the third—Israel’s victory over Jabin and, by proxy, Canaan.

So What?

In the midst of the many victories, fascinating characters, shocking brutality, and peculiar details of this story, there is a clear principle that readers ought to glean: God’s people have every reason to believe that He will keep his word to them and this confidence ought to result in obedience. In this particular case, God called Barak to lead his people to victory and promised him that he would be successful doing so. When he was hesitant God brought Deborah to be by his side. When he was slow to start, God reminded Barak of the promise of victory and that he would go with and ahead of him. Despite the situation and players involved, God came through and executed his will.

That was Barak’s story. What is yours? What has God called you to do, me to do, the church to do? I can think of at least one commission we’ve all been given regardless of where we are or in what situation we find ourselves: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20a). In lieu of such a tall order and all the circumstances around you, perhaps, like Barak, you are a bit hesitant or doubtful. Maybe you are tempted to put this calling off until things return to relative normalcy. However, let me assure you, if there was ever a time to be obedient to the mission at hand, it is NOW. Feeling a bit like Barak today and need a little reassurance? Consider the very end of verse 20 of Matthew 28 when Jesus says, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." God goes with you and ahead of you whenever we are on mission for him. He does not give us a commission without the promise of his power and presence. Need a little more to push you over the edge? Consider that you are one member of the body of Christ called the church and God himself has promised that the gates of hell itself will not prevail against it! Friends, if the gates of hell are no match for the church, certainly COVID 19 isn’t either, certainly physical distancing isn’t either, certainly whatever we may face today or tomorrow isn’t either. The same encouragements Deborah offered Barak--the promises, power, and presence of God-- are available to you today. Embrace these, rise, and be obedient to the call on your life and watch what God can do!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

NOW HIRING: Courageous Leader-Judges 4:1-10

As we continue to navigate these weeks marked by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are beginning to question/debate who has the authority to make which decisions and which leader should be taken seriously on particular issues. Whether these questions are asked of governing bodies (i.e. local vs. state vs. federal government) or medical institutions (CDC, WHO, DHS, Dr. Fauci), many, I imagine are left wondering “who is in charge here?” or “who should I listen to?” Many crave courageous, clear, and compelling leadership, especially during these difficult times. Israel found herself with similar questions and desires in Judges 4:1-10. Under their own set of difficult circumstances, people were left wondering, “who is in charge?” and “who is going to lead us out of this?” Thankfully, God, steps into the gap and assembles a coalition that will be used to provide victory for his people. However, the process of putting this coalition together highlights an important lesson that leaders must heed, especially today.

1. A Familiar Situation-4:1-3

Judges 4-5 offers the same story in two versions—one in narrative form and one in poetic form. In other words, the same story of victory is celebrated in two different ways—in story and in song. That said, we are going to begin looking at Deborah/Barak judge cycle by reading part of the story in chapter 4. The story begins as almost every cycle does, with what some call a “negative evaluation formula”—“Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died” (4:1) (Block, Judges and Ruth, 188). Similar statements kicked off Ehud’s cycle in 3:12 and Othniel’s cycle even earlier in 3:7. The same formula is repeated here. Unable to kick their habit of sin and idolatry, Israel finds herself once again in a familiar situation—bereft of a leader and steeped in sin.
The Lord responds to this loathsome display of disobedience the same way he has already proven to earlier—with forceful discipline—“And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; and the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim” (4:2). Jabin is probably not a personal name as much as it is a title of the head of this regime (like “Caesar”). Hazor was a strategic location on the road between Damascus and Megiddo in northern Galilee with a colorful past. This city that was destroyed once in the days of Joshua (see Josh. 11:3) appears to have experienced something a resurgence and is used by God to place his people into involuntary servitude. Think of how embarrassing this must have been—to be ruled by a people from a location that had already been destroyed by your former leader.

In addition to king Jabin, the reader is introduced to the general of his massive army—“ the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim,…”Exactly where or what this location refers to is relatively unknown, but what is known is this ruling regime held considerable sway over God’s people during this time due to this massive army.

As in every cycle thus far, “the sons of Israel cried to the Lord;” (4:3a). It is important to recognize, as with each and every case up to this point, that this cry is not the cry of contrition or repentance given from a people who have learned the error of their ways and want to do better; it is the cry of pain and agony for simple relief (whining for lack of a better word). Something of the motivation of this cry is learned in the next phrase—“for he had nine hundred iron chariots, and he oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years,…” (4:3b). Intimidated by the supply of iron-clad chariots (powerful and superior technology for this day and age, rendering the Canaanites near-invincible to Israelite armies marching out in their own strength), frustrated, and a bit scared, God’s people finally have enough after twenty years of being pushed around by their neighbors to the north.

2. A Fascinating Coalition-4:4-10

In response to this familiar cry, God assembles a fascinating coalition (or, perhaps more appropriately, a “rag-tag team”). The first member of this team mentioned is Deborah—“Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at the time,…” (4:4).  The quick mention of this heroine highlights the unprecedented nature of her leadership and would have caused original readers to wonder whether or not she would/could be as victorious as her predecessors in leading the Israelites to victory. Typically at this point in the cycle pattern, some mention of divine intervention would be given (see “The Lord raised up” in 3:15 and 3:9). Here, Deborah is simply introduced. Breaking the pattern calls unique attention to this woman—attention that would have certainly led the original audience to question her suitability for delivering God’s people. However, as in many situations before, this cycle will prove the Lord’s ability to rescue his people regardless of how expected the means he chooses to use may be. Deborah’s role comes as a real surprise, “for nowhere else before or after this do we find a woman functioning in such a leadership position in Israel” (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 222). This causes many scholars and historians alike to ask, “Why was a woman leading in this way?” Some suggest that perhaps the people of God had run out of Calebs, Othniels, and Ehuds and, by default, looked to this prophetess (which is an entirely different and distinct office) to fill in the leadership vacuum (Block, Judges, Ruth, 192). Regardless of how this fell to Deborah, the original text and surrounding context suggest that having this prophet serve, even superficially, in the capacity of judge was unexpected and, perhaps, less than ideal. After all, consider the following questions:

1) Why is she not introduced as one whom Yahweh had raised up?
2) Why is there no reference to her inspiration and empowerment by God’s Spirit?
3) Why is Barak tapped to accomplish the deliverance?
4) Why is the verb yasa “to save” never applied to her? (consider 8 more questions outlined by Block, Judges, Ruth, 194).

Something is off (isn’t everything in Israel during the period of Judges). In fact, while little is criticized about the first two judges (Othniel and Ehud), following Deborah’s cycle, the judges exhibit a rapid downward spiral and instead of being compelling solutions to the syncretism that was taking place between Israel and Canaan during this period, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson prove to be part of the problem. Deborah, in many ways is the midpoint between the noblemen of the beginning of Judges and the antiheroes to follow. She is unique, and probably because she is first and foremost a prophetess (one who speaks for God), Perhaps this is why in later lists of the deliverers, Barak’s name appear and not hers. Many believe that while Deborah communicates God’s response to his people’s cry, she is not the ultimate answer to their request. This will play out in the remainder of chapter 4 and 5.

As unexpected as Deborah’s introduction may be, so too is what follows this in verse 5 when the author reports “She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment,…” (4:5). Her location her places her in a central location where she would have been easily accessible to the majority of Israel. Though interpretations about exactly what she was offering here abound,  Chisholm concludes that the most reasonable interpretation of Judges 4:4-5 is “Deborah was exercising a dual role of prophet and [de facto] judge, much like Samuel did at a later time” (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 226). In this role the individual can offer decisions on important matters such as war and his/her advice is followed because it is believed to be from God. Therefore, when it says “the sons of Israel came up to her for judgement” it probably means something like “they came up to her for godly advice and wisdom on a whole host of matters.” Others, like Block believe that people were treating her as a mediator between them and God—coming to her instead of priests to voice their complaint before God. If this is the case, this would no doubt reflect poorly on the state of the priesthood during this dark period in Israel’s history (Block, Judges and Ruth, 197). Again, to put things simply, something is off here one way or another, leaving readers wondering, can God bring about a victory in this confused situation? Regardless of exactly what she was doing, the text quickly shifts from her role to another character.

The text reads, “Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, ‘Behold, the Lord the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun,…” (4:6). In answer to the people’s cries, the response is to call upon a man named Barak to lead an army again the Canaanites. Why Barak (“lightning”) is chosen is unclear, but perhaps his being from Kedesh-naphtali (relatively close to Hazor, the seat of Jabin, Israel’s oppressor) may have something to do with it. Her message to Barak is clear. God has commanded him (notice, not herself) to go and assemble a large coalition to mount an attack against their enemies and deliver God’s people.

She continues in verse 7 with by sharing the following message from the Lord: “I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand” (4:7). God promises Barak here (through Deborah) that he would lure the Canaanite forces to the river, set up the ambush, and bring about ultimate victory for Israel.
This message to Barak demonstrates two important things about the way God works. First, God not only calls people to do his bidding, he determines the strategy that he wants his people to take. Second, God maintains ultimate control over the lives of his people in good times and bad. The same one who had sold Israel into the hands of Jabin in verse 2 will engineer this enemy’s defeat. While the Israelites may have perceived their enemy here as a mighty force of opposition, God reveals here that ultimately Jabin and his forces are puppets that he can easily string along as he wills to bring about their demise.

Though this cycle has been a bit mysterious from the start, this call of Barak and the promise of victory for Israel seems promising and headed in the right direction. One might hope that upon being introduced to Barak we are going to see a confident and bold hero figure ready for battle, leading an army into victory. However, instead, we are met with hesitation—“Then Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go” (4:8). It is clear that Barak is not impressed with nor inspired by what he has heard in and of itself (some lightning flash he is proving to be!). Instead of responding to this commissioning with courage and decisiveness like Othniel and Ehud before him, Barak sheepishly asks for the support of Deborah, the prophetess, further supporting the idea that Israelite male leadership in this era had fallen on hard times.

Also, Barak’s desire to have his hand held in this enterprise might also betray his desire to be accompanied by God’s confirming presence (after all, Deborah is a prophetess). This sounds holy, but following a clear commissioning from the Lord and promise of victory, one ought not respond to the call of God with “Not unless X, Y, Z.” Barak’s failure to believe God at his word and be obedient to the call is inexcusable and Deborah lets him know as much in what she shares next.

“She said, ‘I will surely go with you, nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman,…” (4:9a). Here, Deborah assures Barak of her presence (and, more importantly God’s presence). However, she also informs him that his hesitation and weak faith has caused him to forfeit the full glory of the victory that God would accomplish (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 228). In a sad commentary on his leadership capacity (and perhaps, even his masculinity), she predicts that ultimately the Lord would deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman. While most readers at this point might assume that Deborah is referring to herself with this statement, little do they know that there is more to the story (STAY TUNED).

Following through with her promise, “Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh” (4:9b). These two—Deborah and Barak—form the core of a fascinating and unexpected coalition that God would use to deliver his people from the hands of Jabin and Sisera of Canaan.

Added to these two, “Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him…” (4:10). No explanation for why these men respond positively to Barak is given, however, one might assume that having Deborah with him (a person recognized as a prophet throughout Israel) was a critical factor. By the end of this passage, Deborah’s mission has been successful. A reluctant general has been commissioned and a coalition of ten thousand men has been gathered. This lays the groundwork for what will unfold in the remainder of this cycle.

So What?

However, before we get to the rest of the story next week, let us examine what application we might draw from this account. In this precarious situation we learn that while God can certainly move in spite of a lack of courageous leadership and provide much-needed direction when no one else will. However, we also learn that failed/absent leadership is a sad commentary on a people that has lost its way. Here we have Israel in a difficult, but familiar, predicament—they are under the oppression of a pagan entity. If there was ever a need for courageous leadership, especially among the men that God had appointed and called to lead during this era, it was now. And yet, instead of rising to the occasion, we see Deborah, a prophetess, having to leave her own post, approach Barak, and agree to hold his hand prior to him agreeing to be a part of God’s program of victory. If nothing else, this text demonstrates how pathetic it can be when leaders who are called are unwilling/hesitant to lead.

May this not be said today in the midst of our present and precarious circumstances. If there was ever a time for courageous leadership, it is now, especially among those who have been called to lead. 
This goes for you Husband/Father in your household. This present situation ought to be used by some of you to reclaim your spiritual leadership of your household. Are you leading your wife and kids in the word and in prayer, providing godly perspective in all the noise? Now is not the time to be hesitant or sheepish about your God-given role in your family as articulated in places like Ephesians 5:22ff and 1 Peter 3. This goes for you Moms/Dads as your lead your children as stipulated in places like Ephesians 6:1-4. This goes for pastors, bosses, servant leaders, and others whom God has called to exercise influence in appropriate ways. If ever there was a time for godly and courageous leadership, it is NOW. May we not prove like Barak and need added coaxing to do what God has called and expects of us. May we, in response to this text, pray for godly and courageous leadership, and, if you have been given a leadership role, now is the time to own it and fulfill your calling. We need you, your family needs you, your churches need you, this world needs you, and God has called you!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A Lefty, A Dagger, and a Second Cousin-Judges 3:15-30

This week we are reentering a series that we took a brief break from a few weeks ago when all of the mitigation efforts to curb the spread of this pandemic hit. The truth is, times are tough for so many people in the present situation and most of us are left wondering how we ought to respond as God’s people. The Book of Judges gives us lesson after lesson of what NOT to do and yet, today, as we look at Judges 3:15-30, there is a surprising and unexpected lesson God’s people can learn from a peculiarly-equipped hero and his victory over a fat second-cousin. Today we are going to look at FIVE STAGES of the Saga of Ehud and Eglon and learn how executing God’s will is not always a neat and clean proposition. Let’s dive in!

1. STAGE #1: The Call-3:15

Let’s briefly remind ourselves of where we are in the journey of Israel at this point in Judges. At this point the people of God have already traversed through their first judge experience. At the beginning of chapter 3, the Israelites found themselves under the oppressive rule of a powerful emperor in a faraway land. They landed themselves in this situation because of their gross idolatry and stubborn sin against God. That said, after crying out to their Lord (not in repentance, but as a complaint) God raised up Othniel (a humble leader) to lead a successful campaign against the far more powerful Mesopotamia. After proving successful, God’s people enjoyed forty years of relative rest. However, once these forty years was up, Israel was back to her idolatrous and sinful habits and she was overrun by a fat Moabite second cousin named Eglon (whose very name means something to the effect of “fat cow”). With a base in a newly-conquered Jericho, Eglon ruled God’s people for 18 years and by the time we reach our text here in verse 15, the Israelites had reached their limit. The “sons of Israel cried to the Lord (again, not out of contrition/repentance as much as out of agonizing annoyance), (and) the Lord raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man” (3:15a).
While Othniel was the undeserved protagonist in the first phase of the judges, Ehud will prove to be the same in this second iteration of the story. Ehud’s name helps describe the nature of the times in which he lived as it means “where is the majesty?” (Block, Judges, Ruth, 160). At this point in Israel’s history, things were not very glorious or majestic; but even still God reaches out in love and raises up this leader to provide relief from oppression. There are several special characteristics of Ehud that render him uniquely equipped for what he would be used to do. Of particular interest is his being “left-handed.” This is most ironic given that he is a “Benjamite” (which means “son of my right hand”)! Talk about not living up to your family name!  Some suggest that “left-handedness” actually alluded to a practice among those in the tribe of Benjamin of teaching sons an ambidextrous use of weapons. Either way, while the left-hander might be an oddity with a less-than-inspiring name, he will prove to be the right man for the task at hand (pun intended).

Next, the writer reveals that Ehud would be tasked with delivering the tribute that was owed to Eglon—one of the many causes of annoyance among the people of God during this time. Already, one can sense that the combination of Ehud’s unique characteristics and his being tapped for this errand will be working together to set in motion God’s unusual plan for Eglon’s demise. This is carried along into the next stage of the passage—the scheme.

2. STAGE #2: The Scheme-3:16-23

The tension builds as the details of the saga are revealed—“Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his cloak,” (3:16). This special weapon fashioned for the occasion was probably eighteen inches in length (1 cubit) so that it could be easily concealed, rendering it especially dangerous. Adding to the capacities of this weapon is it being double-edged so that it might prove useful in a straight stabbing action, slicing easily through the victim’s flesh. The detail of it being carried “on his right thigh under his cloak” is important because that would have been the very last place anyone would have suspected it (as most people would wear such weapons on their left side so that they might easily retrieved with the dominate right hand). That said, because Ehud was left-handed, this position was exactly where he could have easily drawn his dagger and used it for its purpose (see Walton, Matthews, Chavalas, IVPBBC, 248).
By this time the reader can already expect what is coming and now is made to wait and watch for everything to unfold. Like a dramatic movie with an unsurprising but no-less compelling climax, readers in verses 17-20 are made to watch expectantly and with every passing phrase the tension rises more and more. Ehud “presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man” (3:17). Living up to his name (fat cow), Eglon, the text says, was morbidly obese (a fact that makes what is about to happen all the more grotesque).

The writer continues with the story by saying, “It came about when he had finished presenting the tribute, that he sent away the people who had carried the tribute” (3:18). Obviously, the custom must have involved a parade of conquered people sending some of their very best to this pagan ruler only to then be escorted away with the festivities were over and sent on their way until next time. Once this was finished Ehud sends away the party that accompanied him and he returns back to Eglon alone.

“But he himself turned back from the idols which were at Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.’ And He said, ‘Keep silence.’ And all who attended him left him. Ehud came to him while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, ‘I have a message from God for you.’ and He arose from his seat,…” (3:19-20). Taking advantage of the report that he had built during his recent encounter with Eglon (when he offered tribute) Ehud requests a private audience to convey a mysterious and secret message. Ehud takes the bait. The original audience would not doubt have held its collective breath as this was read especially given that “message” in “I have a secret message for you” can also be translated “object” or “experience.” While Eglon must have expected a secret correspondence, the audience listening to this account knows that a concealed weapon and experience of death awaits him. Eglon dismisses his entourage—“keep silence”—and he and Ehud make their way to the privacy of a special chamber—“cool roof chamber”—adjacent to the more public meeting space. The tension mounts even further when Ehud approaches the king, now alone, again reiterating “I have a message/object/experience from God for you.” Eglon rises from his chair, making himself an even easier target than before, and then it happens.

The reader and Eglon are put out of their misery in verse 21 when“Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly. The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out…”(3:21). Ehund thrusts the blade in with such force that the entire weapon enters the fat rolls of Eglon’s massive body. The whole dagger (probably bereft of a hilt) is swallowed up in the ruler’s fatty flesh. Eglon soils himself and dies. It is a gross and pitiful end to this pagan ruler from Moab.
However, the job is not finished. Ehud must escape without the court noticing that its leader is dead. The text continues, “then Ehud went out into the vestibule and shut the doors of the roof chamber behind him, and locked them,…” (3:23). The scheme now complete, the story moves to its next stage—the discovery.

3. STAGE #3: The Discovery-3:24-25

“When he had gone out, his servants came and looked, and behold, the doors of the roof chamber were locked; and they said, ‘He is only relieving himself in the cool room” (2:24). Ehud quietly slips out of the private room by himself and Eglon’s entourage attempts to return to king’s side only to meet a locked door and a stench. They conclude that Eglon is relieving himself behind the closed door and decide not to disturb him.

They wait, wait some more, and wait even longer. “They waited until they became anxious; but behold, he did not open the doors of the roof chamber. Therefore they took the key and opened them, and behold, their master had fallen to the floor dead,…” (2:25). What an awful and humiliating sight that must have been for them!

4. STAGE #4: The Aftermath-3:26-29

The account kicks into overdrive in the fourth stage as the aftermath of the scheme is detailed. First, “Ehud escaped while they were delaying, and he passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah” (3:26). This is the second time “idols” has been mentioned in the passage (the first occurred when Ehud left his company behind to return back to Eglon solo in verse 19). These idols were probably sculpted images of the Canaanite gods the Israelites were openly worshiping during this period—idols championed by leaders like Eglon and unfortunately adopted by God’s own people. The repetition of their presence before and after Eglon’s gross demise suggests that a similarly despairing fate ultimately awaits those who place their trust in such things. Instead of embracing idols, one should, as Ehud is shown to do here “pass by the idols.”

The story continues in verse 27 with “it came about when he had arrived, that he blew the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he was in front of them” (3:27). Taking full advantage of the Moabites who were fresh without a leader and in the frenzy of responding to this assassination, Ehud leads an army into the capitol city with great confidence, serving in the formal role of God’s appointed judge.

Confident of their coming victory, Ehud inspires his troops with the following message in verse 28—“Pursue them, for the Lord has given your enemies the Moabites into your hands” (3:28a). Notice here to whom the credit is given. Ehud does not draw attention to his own cleverness or cunning actions that paved the way for this victory. He doesn’t remark on his leadership skills or bravery. He bestows all credit to the Lord for making it possible for this successful campaign. After all, God had made him left-handed (or had trained him to be ambidextrous). God had lined up all the particulars so that he would be there offering tribute. God has seen to it that Eglon would entertain a private audience with him. God had seen to it that Ehud could escape without question. God had made the way and Ehud rightly celebrates that fact.

“So they went down after him and seized the fords of the Jordan opposite Moab, and did not allow anyone to cross. They struck down at that time about ten thousand Moabites, all robust and valiant men; and no one escaped,…” (3:28a-29). But cutting off the city from the fords of the Jordan near the river’s entrance to the Dead Sea, Ehud’s men kept the Moabites from retreating into their own land and cut off any opportunity to receive reinforcements. With no possibility of escape and no help, the text reveals that “about ten thousand” Moabites perished. In other words, Israel received total victory (Block, Judges, Ruth, 170). The nature of the victory God gave Israel is accentuated by the kind of warriors that were vanquished—“robust and valiant men” (i.e. these Moabites were no slouches). Not only that, the text goes on to say, “and no one escaped.” The implication given by these added details is that “when Yahweh delivers, he delivers!” (Block, Judges, Ruth, 170).

5. STAGE #5: The Consequence-3:30

The final stage of the passage concludes the saga of Ehud with a description of the consequence of his victory—“So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land was undisturbed for eighty years” (3:30). Following Othniel, the people of God enjoyed relative peace for 40 years (one generation). Following Ehud, the people of God enjoyed relative peace for 80 years (two generations). Mind you, this is undeserved peace offered by a gracious and merciful God.

So What?

A fascinating story to say the least, but what, if any application might this have for us today? After all, I’m fairly confident that none of us have been tapped to assassinate a grossly overweight and oppressive second cousin. That said, the New Testament reveals that everyone of God’s people is uniquely gifted for special tasks that are used to carry the mission of God forward into its next phase. (1 Peter 4:10-“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”). Just as God’s sovereignty over Ehud’s life saw to it that he was left-handed, proving instrumental to accomplish God’s will, so too has God’s sovereignty seen to it that you, yes even you, are uniquely equipped to do special things in his service! Sometimes what God calls us to might be unusual or messy, but all of us play a special role in carrying his plan forward. However, also like those in this bizarre story, when/if God calls us and appoints us for special use, it isn’t because we deserve it or have earned it in any way. Instead, it is a grace bestowed on us out of the Lord’s great mercy. This undeserved expression of love ought to propel us to action and obedience in every season and return back to the Lord all the glory that is due his name.
KNOW today that if you are a child of God, you are uniquely gifted for use in his great mission.
GROW in your appreciation of God’s grace and mercy in your life that has called and equipped you for service.

SHOW those around you how great and awesome your God is by putting those gifts to good use in the services of the Lord and others.  

Monday, April 6, 2020

Some Things Never Change Pt. 2 (An Easter Series)

As we take special time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ this Easter morning on this special site at this special time in this special company of people gathered together, I want to focus on the special message  offered immediately following Jesus' greatest ever miracle in Matthew 28:5-7. After all, it is the word of God that is most healing to a weary, lonely, or discouraged soul and unlike the ever-changing conditions around us, God’s Word never changes. That said, even seasoned believers can find themselves in some sort of stupor or state of depression that they cannot seem to shake—the mounting frustrations (economic, health, social, etc.) of this growing pandemic, the loss of a loved one, the missed opportunity, the stress of a job or lack thereof, the strife between someone you have a relationship with, etc. When I experience these humble moments, I realize that one reason for my fatigue is failing to remember the promises of God and His presence in my life. My failure is a result of me forgetting to trust God at His Word.

In a far more difficult scenario than I have ever run across, Jesus’ mother and friends following his death proved to be a collection of weary, discouraged, confusion, and grieving souls. Failing to remember what God had said and Jesus’ many predictions of his triumphant victory over death left these women sad and grieving. However, God through one of His glowing messengers would soon shake them from their own spiritual stupor in the wake of the greatest miracle ever—the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. The angel of the Lord provides supernatural encouragement and comfort to these morose matrons by means of four proclamations that I believe will also encourage us this Resurrection Sunday. For the believer, these declarations kill worry and annihilate fear and birth inspiration to face each day and I can’t wait to share them with you!


At the outset of this passage, an angel confronts the most obvious problem that the women probably had at this point. Not only had they watched their King be slaughtered and buried in the ground, but now they could not even visit the body of their beloved Savior. All things point to despair and their lack of faith seems to begin obtaining justification. Anyone brought to this point would suffer great alarm and questions. Not to mention, the presence of an angel whose appearance “was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow,” would not do much to help calm things down. However, against all natural impulses and urges, the angel boldly proclaims, “Do not be afraid!”(28:5). One might assume from this clear call that the angel believes there is no good reason for fearing at this point and yet, the situation as far as the women could observe was undeniably bleak. It is to this situation that the angels then references.

The angel knew full well why the women were upset and now stricken with overwhelming grief—Jesus had been crucified. That was the simple fact. No one could deny the horror that must have taken place before these women who loved Jesus and devoted themselves to Him throughout His ministry on earth. It was this teacher, this Healer, this Leader, this King, who had been brutally executed. Watching a crucifixion went way beyond even some of the most gory movies or video games many are familiar with today. It was a spectacle of blood, excruciating pain, and unbelievable carnage that would have been forever imprinted on the mind of any witness. Such an act coupled with a weak faith would have driven anyone to fear. This would have been especially true of those who followed the victim, prescribed to His teachings, and believed in His saving power. However, it is in the midst of this despondency that the angel proclaims “FEAR NOT!” waking these women from their discouragement, readying them to receive the remainder of his message.

I’m not sure what you thought you would hear when you came in the door. I’m not sure what pain or trouble or confusion you are going through today. I’m not sure how bad things have become or how bleak the horizon is on your life, but I am confident that what you are traveling through now could not have been any worse than what these women at Jesus’ grave had witnessed. FEAR NOT! Allow these two simple words to awaken you to the message of hope that will follow.

The angel could prohibit the fear of these women, in part, because he was glowing and really cool-looking, but also because he recognized what they had failed to realize. This leads him to his second proclamation.


After describing the passion these women had witnessed and the death they had grieved, the angel calls their attention to the empty grave, stating the arrestingly obvious detail that Jesus was no longer in His assigned burial plot. However, was this not also a cause for their concern? Was this not one of the contributing factors of their fear and discouragement? Didn’t the lack of Jesus’ body cause their alarm that fateful morning?

What these women had grown accustomed to following Jesus’ death, due to their lack of faith, was a bad case of assuming the worst. Lack of faith in a job can cause a manager to assume the worst when the boss calls for a private meeting. Lack of faith in a loved one’s health can cause a son or a daughter to panic when they get a call late at night. In the same way, the lack of faith in what Jesus said of Himself caused these women to assume the worst when His body went missing. Maybe the body was stolen, or secretly disposed of, etc. However, instead of the worst possible scenario, the most wonderful miracle took place.

Jesus had been resurrected in the proper sense of the word. He was the first to be brought back to life in an eternal and glorified sense. While people like Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, had been resuscitated, only Jesus had received His eternal and glorified body upon being brought back to life. The verbal sense of the words “has risen” suggests the completion of an activity. The resurrection validated the entirety of Jesus’ ministry, completed His redemptive office, and finished the work He had come to perform as Savior. Through His resurrection, Jesus defeated death, sin, and the world system. This act implies that those who belong to Him can necessarily conquer these elements as well. Death no longer has sting, Hell has been defeated, sin no longer is binding, Jesus had been risen! However, this should not have come as a surprise to anyone, especially the women standing speechless.
Jesus had indeed made no secret that He would die. Similarly, He dropped plenty of hints that He would also be raised.
When did He say that

Matt. 16:21-“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.”

Matt. 17:23-“and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day, and they were deeply grieved.

Matt. 20:19-“and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up

Matt. 26:32-“But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee

Jesus time and time again desired to be taken at His Word. However, the fear and confusion of the women was constructed on weak faith—faith that believed the worst and forgot the best, faith that dwelt on the present situation and neglected to remember the hope they had for the future, faith that failed to take Jesus at His word and anticipate His resurrection.

Unfortunately, observing these women is a lot like looking in the mirror. When God does something we are astonished by or when things look bad around us we fear in large part because like these women we have failed to believe Jesus at His Word. However, in everything he said and did, in everything recorded for us in His word He gives evidence of His power over death, his love as witnessed in His death for humanity; and his saving ability as alluded to in His life and ministry. How can we trust His greatness? He IS ALIVE! The tomb is empty!!!! When the world scoffed at Jesus while on the earth and in the face of his claims yelled, like a child, PROVE IT! Jesus left a tomb empty and ignited the church!

When Jesus’ word was not enough for these women to believe ahead of time that Jesus would only remain in the tomb a few short days, the Angel aids their faith with a call to examine the evidence. He was not there! A guarded tomb with encased by a massive stone was unable to keep Jesus from leaving. Truly, while all should take Jesus at His Word concerning His life and ministry, Jesus left the tomb with plenty of evidence behind in order to prove that this crucial event actually took place.
 “There is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ.”-Brooke Foss Wescott. “No shred of evidence has yet been discovered in literary sources, epigraphy or archaeology that would disprove that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually empty on the morning of the 1st Easter.”-Dr. Paul L. Maier. “According to the law of legal evidence used in courts of law, there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than for just about any other event in history.”-Dr. Simon Greenleaf, Harvard law professor.

The call of these women concerning the resurrection is the same call given to us. FEAR NOT! Why? Because we do not have to wonder where our Savior is? He is risen as He said and as can be proven without question! WONDER NOT! He has made good on what He said and proven to be the Savior He claimed of Himself. What now? What does one do with this knowledge.


The angel assumed that these women would, having learned of Jesus’ resurrection, leave that place and head elsewhere with this new information. He assumes swift movement in response to such information. No doubt these women would have had quite a spring in their step after leaving the grave site.

The theme of “going” is carried on throughout the rest of the final chapter in Matthew. The angel speaks of the going of these women to the disciples here in verse 7. Jesus speaks of “going” to the brethren in verse 10, “Do not be afraid; go…”. Finally, in the last verses of Scripture, Jesus assumes that His disciples would “go” into all of the world, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,…” (28:19).

It would appear that the natural and assumed response to Jesus’ completed work of redemption involves movement, not complacency, intentionality, not laziness, action, not inaction. 
Throughout this series we have learned the value of true, persistent prayer, and real brokenness for the world. However, these don’t mean a thing if as a result we are not going into the world for Christ as He has commanded of us in light of His resurrection.

In their going, the angel desired that they would accompany their steps with a message, “Jesus has risen from the dead!”  This was the very best part of the “good news.” Such a message would have brought comfort to the disciples mourning the loss of their Savior. This message continues to spread and bring similar comfort to believers today.

Going accompanies proclamation in all of the cases we perused throughout the remainder of Matthew’s book. Here, the women are charged to god and tell the disciples. In verse 10, Jesus calls them to go and take word to the brethren. In verse 19, Jesus calls His disciples to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you,…” In each of these cases, the scope grows larger and larger.
FEAR NOT! Why? God is not dead! WONDER NOT! He has made good on His word and there are plenty of reasons to believe Him. TARRY NOT! There is message that needs to be taken to the world and unfortunately the church is treating the greatest news of all like it is old news.


In an effort to encourage these women further, the angel brings their attention to Jesus’ movement. Already, as they were encouraged to go and tell, Jesus was running ahead of them into Galilee where the disciples were. Suggesting that Jesus’ presence would precede their arrival would have brought much peace and excitement to these women as they made their way. This is the first time that Jesus’ present location is disclosed following the resurrection.

The angel then assures them that they will indeed look upon their Savior once again. Oh what a joy this would have been for Mary and her friends, who at the beginning of the day anticipated a corpse and now had learned that they would see their Savior and King alive and glorified!

Later in Matthew’s gospel Going and telling is shown to involve Jesus’ presence in much the same way. 28:10 says, “Go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see me.” Likewise, in the Great Commission, after calling them to Go and make disciples, Jesus comforts them with a promise of His presence.

Obedience to the call to go and proclaim assures God’s presence in one’s life in a special way. This is what the angel promises these women and what Jesus later promises to His disciples. In this way, neither had any cause for worry, He would be with them every step of the journey. 

The angel ends his proclamations with an appeal to his own authority. He, no doubt, was a glowing messenger from heaven charged by God himself to give this message and because of that, the women should take him at His word (although earlier we learned they had failed to extend Jesus that same courtesy). However, this time they had learned their lesson and would obey whole heartedly.

So What?

Fear Not! Wonder Not! Tarry Not! Worry Not! This is the message of the resurrection: Because Jesus is alive and not dead, those who place their trust in Him can embrace these declarations in their own lives. Praise the Lord! For those without Christ, the proclamations sound a lot different: “Fear everything because you are still of the world, keep wondering because you are still without any answers to the most difficult questions of life, tarry all you want because you are stuck in sin, and keep worrying things are very grim.” If you are living in fear, wonder, and worry, know that Jesus came, He died, and He rose, to save you and bring you the hope found in a world that will one day replace this disease-ridden, disappointing, and downright frustrating planet and the persevering strength necessary to endure this world in the meantime.

However, if you are already a believer today, how well are you articulating these declarations in your worlds and living? How well are you doing at the going and telling part of the Christian life? How great a gift we have been given through the cross! How great a Savior we have living within us because of His resurrection! What a message to proclaim and share with the whole world! If you and I want to experience God’s presence in a unique way today we need to be obedient to go and tell of Him. If we really believe our God was killed and then raised from the dead the way the Bible reveals, what is to explain our reticence? Friends, the world around us, today perhaps more than ever, needs to hear these declarations go forth and see the proof that we really believe them in the way we live. Every day for the believer needs to be lived out with the excitement and joy of resurrection Sunday! Why, because some things never change and Jesus’ victory over sin and death is one of them!

Be encouraged believer FEAR NOT! WONDER NOT! TARRY NOT! WORRY NOT! I don’t care how long this pandemic lasts or how long restrictions hold. Our Savior defeated sin and death and certainly isn’t troubled in the least by COVID-19. Do not be like those who forget the promises and God as witnessed in Jesus and become more impressed with the problems of this world than you are with Jesus’ greatest miracle. He is risen. He is risen indeed!