Judges 20: Battling Tribes

After the children of Israel saw the results of the sin that took place in Gibeah, they assembled armies and prepared for retribution. The man whose concubine died tells them the story of what happened and the armies commit to taking vengeance on Gibeah, where the concubine was victimized by the evil men.

The tribe of Benjamin resides in or near Gibeah. The other tribes together inquire of them about the wicked deed. They also ask the tribe of Benjamin to hand over the evil men. But instead Benjamin took up arms against the other children of Israel. 

Judah is decreed to go first into battle. The children of Israel are defeated twice by the forces of Benjamin, each time asking God whether they should continue fighting. God says yes each time. The third time they ask, God says yes once more and also says that He will deliver Benjamin into their hands. 

Using a new battle strategy was the providential tool needed to defeat Benjamin on this third day. The children of Israel took the city of Gibeah and set the whole city up in smoke. They chased the Benjamites, killing and pursuing them into the wilderness. Only 600 Benjamites escaped to the rock of Rimmon for about four months. The Israelites continued hunting down and killing Benjamites among the cities, burning every city they came to.

This violence served to repay the evil that took place in Gibeah under Benjamin. In light of so much carnage, what is the spiritual application for this chapter? Well, there is a sequence that we can follow, revealing learning opportunities from these events:

– Had the Israelites driven out all of the inhabitants of the land as instructed by God, this evil influence would not have manifested

– Had the Benjamites been true to God, they would not have endorsed and protected the sinful activity taking place in Gibeah

– The punishment of the city of Gibeah and the tribe of Benjamin, however horrible and severe, cannot compare with eternal punishment, where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:47-48)

These last chapters of the book of Judges are sobering, but let that not take away from their importance: to ignore God is not only folly, to ignore God is death. 

Take comfort, rest and instruction then from the Lord. In Him are all the answers, protection and love that a soul could ever need. God is great and merciful and His grace reaches every one of us that seek it. 

Tonight let us conclude this study of Judges 20 with an uplifting meditation on God’s salvation of His people, for those that follow, have faith and obey. As we read this chapter, compare the discussion of the righteous and the wicked with the children of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin and Gibeah the wicked city. Also consider the battle that rages daily in the human heart, the struggle to do what is right amidst a sea of temptations. Commit to righteousness!

Psalm 17

“Hear a just cause, O LORD, Attend to my cry; 

Give ear to my prayer which is not from deceitful lips. 

Let my vindication come from Your presence; Let Your eyes look on the things that are upright. 

You have tested my heart; You have visited me in the night; You have tried me and have found nothing; I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress. 

Concerning the works of men, By the word of Your lips, I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer. 

Uphold my steps in Your paths, That my footsteps may not slip. 

I have called upon You, for You will hear me, O God; Incline Your ear to me, and hear my speech. 

Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You From those who rise up against them. 

Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings, From the wicked who oppress me, From my deadly enemies who surround me. 

They have closed up their fat hearts; With their mouths they speak proudly. They have now surrounded us in our steps; They have set their eyes, crouching down to the earth, As a lion is eager to tear his prey, And like a young lion lurking in secret places. 

Arise, O LORD, Confront him, cast him down; Deliver my life from the wicked with Your sword, With Your hand from men, O LORD, From men of the world who have their portion in this life, And whose belly You fill with Your hidden treasure. 

They are satisfied with children, And leave the rest of their possession for their babes. 

As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.”

Judges 19: When The Heart is Polluted

After chapter 18, we know that the group of Danites was sinful, murderous and idolatrous. They took the Levite “priest” from Micah, among with the attending idol, ephod, etc., and took Laish for their own. This story clues us in on the godlessness of the Lord’s people. Here in Chapter 19, we delve deeper into the sin caused by turning away from God.

This chapter, and the remaining chapters of the book of Judges are unsettling. As we close out this book, let our studies serve as reminders to dwell with the Lord in our minds, spirits and hearts. No earthly temptation is worth spiritual death. 

A Levite’s concubine leaves the Levite and goes to her father’s house. Her husband pursues her there (with kindness) to bring her home, but his father-in-law, the concubine’s father, will not let them leave. It is for good reason. When the couple finally does leave his home, they cannot find a place to stay and the man is in the town square. Shortly there comes along an old man that knows of the dangers of being out alone in the town at night. The older man urges for the man and his wife to come and stay at his house, which they do.

(This passage echoes the story of Sodom from Genesis 19)

Not long after, a group of perverted men with sinful desires is pounding at the door, wanting the man. The old man offers them his virgin daughter and the concubine of the visiting man. They refuse. 

The episode concludes with the man’s concubine losing her life to the mob of men via abuse. Reading this passage, it is painful to imagine what it must have been like for her. 

The next gruesome act had significance: The man takes her back to his place and cuts her body into twelve pieces and sends each of the pieces to one of the twelve tribes of Israel. 

The man was trying to alert the tribes to the abject state of sin that led to her death. The people of God were to be ashamed. The tribes, upon receiving his “message” remark that “No such deed has been done or seen from the day that the children of Israel came up from the land of Egypt until this day.” He definitely got their attention. It is not clear, however, whether they were referring to her dismembered body or her manner of death when they said this.

In any case, the death of this concubine was brought upon by bold sin and a disregard for God. The man knew this and his methods to promote awareness of the awful actions were callous. Yet they matched the brutal and abhorrent nature of the sin that led to her death.

Judges 18: A Group Without A Leader

This chapter really expands upon the idea from last week that showed us how wayward we can be when we don’t truly seek to do the will of God.

The Danites seek a home for themselves and find Micah, ultimately usurping his “priest” and his idols for their own use. Micah learns the lesson of “easy come, easy go” but this was not the true lesson that needed learning. 

What Micah and the Danites are actually in need of is a desire to seek and serve God the way that He would have it. Instead they are wayward and confused, fighting over things that ultimately have zero import in the Lord’s Kingdom.

We can learn from their poor examples to deny what we want and to seek the true will of the Lord. We should read our Bible daily to seek His true will.

Judges 17: A Ship Without A Rudder, A Car Without A Steering Wheel

After having witnessed faithful leaders, we come to Micah. Micah and his mother adopt idolatry and fail to honor God. The family dysfunction in verses 1-6 is pretty clear. Micah had stolen money from his mother, and she had accursed the one who had stolen it before he came clean to her. But once he fessed up, she praised him and said that he should be blessed by the Lord. 

Next she says that the money is to be as a dedication to the Lord, then the money is used to fashion the image of an idol. Then Micah has his son be the priest of this arrangement. Still later, Micah makes the request of a young Levite priest to live with him and to also serve as a priest. Micah assumes that God will be proud of him for having such an arrangement.

However, what sort of arrangement is it when there are two consecrated priests, no temple, the true God, and idols as the subjects of worship? It is an arrangement born of ignorance and self-serving. And Micah’s family’s example is an abomination. It is sad when people know God’s will and willingly turn away from Him, forsaking His grace and mercy in favor of worldly pleasures.

But it is something altogether different when people are deluded into thinking that they are doing what God wants. We have the Bible, we need only to read it. Not the Quran, not the Bhagavad-Gita, not the Book of Mormon or another book written by man. God has done so much for me. The very least I can do is listen to Him in His Way and do as He would have me.

When He has made it so easy for me to know His will, I must take the time to listen to Him by reading His Word.

Not one of us is too good to take the time to find out how God would have us serve Him.

Judges 16: Samson’s Character Revealed

In this chapter we see the culmination of Samson’s character. Samson was imperfect, yet his faith in God led him to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. Samson is mentioned by name as one among many in Hebrews 11:32-34 that accomplished much through faith.

In verses 1-3, there is evidence of Samson’s lack of righteousness and weakness in that he goes in to a harlot at Gaza. But he outsmarts his adversaries that wish to trap him by fleeing at midnight. His strength is indeed great as he places the gate doors of the city on top of a hill. 

The story of Samson and Delilah begins in verse 4. The Philistines were still looking to subdue Samson at this time, and just like with the woman from Timnah, the Philistines try to get to Samson through Delilah. 

She is to find out from Samson where his strength lies and report back to the Philistines so that they can finally subdue him. Instead of using threats as they did with the woman from Timnah, they bribe Delilah with money. 

Thus Delilah asks Samson where his strength is and how he could be bound. Three different times he seems to suspect her motives and he tells her things that really could not bind him. Three different times he escapes the trap that the Philistines set for him. Then, starting in verse 15, Samson becomes tired of her endless questioning, “his soul was vexed to death” (vs. 16). He tells her that his strength lies in his hair and she arranges for his hair to be cut and for the Philistines to take him. They put out his eyes and take him to Gaza where he is bound by bronze and forced to grind grain. Samson is humiliated and enslaved, but his hair begins to grow again. 

Notice in the latter part of verse 20 that even though Samson’s strength seemed to lay in his hair, the true source was the Lord. 

The climax of Samson’s death and that of some 3,000 Philistines is a memorable one, full of vengeance and might. The Philistines are sacrificing to their false god dagon and they also are rejoicing in how they finally captured Samson. 

Samson wants to take vengeance upon the Philistines because they took his eyesight and generally because of the adversarial history he has with them. Samson is able to bring down the temple on the Philistines and kill more of them with one act than he has done ever before. It is not his desire for vengeance that enables him to push on the pillars and bring down the temple. Rather it is Samson’s faith through prayer that God will give him the strength to do so. Add Samson’s faith to an environment where God seemed to be inclined to make the Philistines suffer and that Samson was a judge in Israel for twenty years, and you have the will of God bring enacted through Samson. Even with Samson’s faults and sins, God’s saw fit to bless him and use him. The same is true for us today. Even though we turn away from God, He still answers our prayers when we repent and call on Him in faith.

I am a sinner like Samson. I behave foolishly and selfishly and make decisions based on sinful desires. 

Samson, living under the old law, was not subject to the gospel call of Jesus Christ. But we are, so what saves us?

 – Faith

 – God’s grace

 – Obedience to Him and His word

 – Baptism for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16, I Peter 3:21)

We hear the Word of God and we believe. We repent of our sins and confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Then we are baptized and our sins are washed away. We become a new creation. 

God bless you as you study along with me tonight. Thank you for reading. Samson’s story is remarkable. Is your faith as strong as his was? Have you been saved?

Judges 15: Mysterious Ways

Samson tries to make peace with the one he would call his wife by bringing a young goat to her house and asking to see her. Thus does he comes to know that she was given to someone else. Samson’s example here is noble. She, and her people the Philistines betrayed and tricked him. To sell peace again in such a way after having been mistreated so took a great amount of character. Little by little, we are being shown the nobility of Samson’s character, and little by little, we see God working through Samson to bring down the Philistines.

The woman’s father offers Samson her sister instead. But this is where Samson’s patience runs out. God then works through him and Samson makes the curious statement, “This time I shall be blameless regarding the Philistines if I harm them!” This means that Samson felt justified by his next actions – that considering what they had done to him and what he was about to do to them, he still was morally right to act in the way that he does.

Samson catches 300 foxes, ties their tails to torches, and releases them into the grain, vineyards and olive groves of the Philistines. All were burned up. When the Philistines found out that Samson was the author of this deed, they burned up Samson’s “wife” and her father. Remember in Chapter 14 when the woman was threatened to be burned unless she told the houseguests the answer to Samson’s riddle? That threat caused her to betray Samson and she thought that it was also an escape to the threat of the Philistines. But, no. She and her father were burned up anyhow. From this we learn of the cold-blooded relentlessness of the Philistines. And there is also an application for us: in trying to escape a quandary by dishonest means, we are the authors of our own destruction in the end.

Samson then attacks the Philistines with a great slaughter and flees. Then the Philistines pursue him, going to the men of Judah and asking that they see him so that they could do to him what he has done to them. The men of Judah, 3,000 of them, go to Samson and remind him of the position he had put them in as the Philistines rule over Israel at this time. Samson agrees that he will let them take him to the Philistines as long as the Israelites themselves do not kill him. They agree and take him to the Philistines securely bound with new (very strong) ropes. 

When he came to the Philistines, they began shouting against him. The Spirit of the Lord works through Samson again as he breaks through the new ropes as if they were weak strings. 

Then Samson kills 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey. 

Think of the pieces at work in this story: a strong man, made VERY strong by the Spirit of the Lord. A large force bent on killing that man. And a jawbone, a crude facsimile of a weapon, almost an absurdity. God’s power was made all the more evident through the use of such a tool. How else could one explain killing 1,000 by the jawbone of a donkey than to say that God had a hand in it?

After this, Samson is very thirsty with exertion and God provides him with water from a hollow place in the earth. Then Samson judges Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines, the strength of the Spirit of the Lord having gotten him there.

An Old Testament story like this one can seem at odds with the peaceful methods and teachings of Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, we received a new covenant from God, a perfect and loving solution to the problem of sin. God’s grace saves us now, through baptism into Jesus Christ. This portal allows us the assurance of eternal life with Him in heaven as long as we remain faithful. 

But before Jesus, God worked through men like David, Joshua and Samson. These strong men of faith were inspiring yet imperfect precursors to the perfect Son of the Living God.

Judges 14: A Lion Brings Honey

Samson is of age now and goes to visit Timnah. While there, he sees a Philistine woman and is enamoured of her. Samson tells his parents that he wants this woman for his wife, but they are not in favor because of her Philistine heritage. The Philistines were in control of the Israelites at this time; Samson’s parents preferred that he take an Israelite woman for a wife. But see verse 4: this was all part of God’s plan. 

So Samson went to Timnah with his parents to pursue the marriage. At one point, he is separated from them and encounters a lion. The Spirit of the Lord giving him great physical strength, Samson tears the lion apart with only his hands. He keeps this a secret from his parents and from the young Philistine woman he wants to marry. 

Samson visits with the young woman, then returns to his parents. Along the way, he finds the lion carcass again and notices that there is a honeycomb with honey inside. He takes it out and eats it, also sharing some with his parents. But he does not tell them where he found it. 

As according to custom, Samson throws a feast for some of the people of the area as part of the wedding festivities. Thirty Philistine companions joined the feast and Samson was compelled to pose a riddle to them:

“Out of the eater came something to eat,

And out of the strong came something sweet.”

If the thirty could answer within seven days, Samson would give new clothes to each of them. If not, they would give thirty new changes of clothes to him. Of course this riddle is in reference to the lion Samson killed, and the men could not answer it. So on the seventh day, the men compel Samson’s betrothed to get the answer out of him by threatening her. She accuses Samson of not loving her, of hating her in fact. Samson at first resists telling her, saying that he has not even told his mother and father, why should he tell her? But ultimately he relents and tells her due to her persistence. 

In turn, she tells the companions and they guess rightly:

“What is sweeter than honey?

And what is stronger than a lion?”

To which Samson replies: 

“If you had not plowed with my heifer,

You would not have solved my riddle!”

Samson’s retort shows us that he knows exactly what is going on. The Philistines conspired against him to find the answer. In an act of both honor and violence, Samson goes to Ashkelon and kills thirty men, takes their clothes, and makes good to the companions according to the terms of the riddle; he gives them the clothing. This he also does with strength from the Spirit of the Lord. After all this, the woman that Samson had been so enamored with, and who had betrayed him in telling the riddle answer, was given to another man in marriage, Samson’s best man. 

God is working through Samson to bring down the Philistines, who have dominion over Israel at this time. Even though the entire experience for Samson is not positive, the sequence of events serves God’s will. For us, remembering this hard truth during times of trial will help us to serve Him better. It may seem darkest just before the dawn when we find ourselves cheated. Or, as we will see in the coming chapters as Samson’s story unfolds, it may remain dark forever. 

The relief we seek is not always the relief we receive. Despite conditions, if we serve and seek God, He will be with us and we can do our small part in advancing His will. And that is the greatest honor of all.

Judges 13: Samson’s Arrival

The cycle continues as the Israelites are given over to the Philistines by God because they turn away from him once more. 

Manoah and his wife (unnamed in this chapter) have tried to have a child, but have been unsuccessful because Manoah’s wife is barren, unable to bear children. 

Manoah’s wife is visited by the Angel of the Lord, an emissary from God sent to deliver a special message from God. This Angel of the Lord tells her that she will bear a son, he will be a Nazirite, and that he will deliver Israel from the Philistines. She is also told to abstain from wine and to not eat anything unclean. These are restrictions placed on the diet of a Nazirite, and Samson’s mother should not ingest these while pregnant with Samson, lest they pass to him in her womb.

In Numbers 6:1-21 the Nazarite vow is explained. A Nazirite was one that dedicated himself to God. He was consecrated, set aside for service to God. Among other things, a Nazirite was to abstain from drinking wine and to not cut his hair. There was also a series of sacrifices he was to make. Manoah’s son was designated to become a Nazirite before birth. 

Returning to our text, Manoah’s wife tells Manoah that she was visited by an Angel of the Lord and what he said a about her bearing a son. Manoah wants to meet this man himself and prays to God that he come again. At this point, it appears that Manoah does not recognize that the man actually is an angel from God, and his wife, having seen him, seems to have an inkling that he was not merely a man. 

God hears Manoah’s prayer and sends the man again. When Manoah meets him, he wants to know what his son’s life and work will be like. The Angel simply repeats the Manoah’s wife ought to take care to abstain from those things previously mentioned while pregnant. Manoah wants to offer a sacrifice for this man, who he does not yet know is an angel, but the angel deflects this offering, iterating instead that it ought to be offered to God. The angel also does not give them a name for himself, instead drawing attention to the miraculous gift from God this yet unborn Nazirite son will be. As Manoah offers a young goat to God, the angel ascends in the fire on the altar up to God. It is at this point that Manoah realizes that this man was actually an Angel of the Lord.

Manoah is fearful at this realization and believes that they will die because they have seen God. But his wife, with sound reason indicates to him that if this was going to happen, it would have already. Instead, they simply receive the blessing of the birth of Samson, and the Spirit of the Lord begins to influence the child.

Notice the similarities of Samson’s birth with Jesus’s. Samson’s mother was not a virgin as Mary was when she conceived, but she was barren. Also an angel came from God to announce the birth of both, and to stress the importance of their arrival. Samson’s birth was an event, realized by God, just as Jesus’s birth was, although of course Jesus’s life and death had a much greater impact. 

Nevertheless, the lives of both Samson and Jesus follow the savior pattern. Samson’s saving is on a lesser scale as we will see in the coming chapters. When God decided to illuminate the importance of one whose birth was to fulfill a portion of His will, He made it known. 

Just as Manoah’s wife did in this chapter, we should also receive God’s blessings out of hand, with unquestioning acceptance. If God blesses us with a gift, it is His will that we have it and it is then our responsibility to express gratitude. An increase of faith and a renewed motivation to do His will should logically follow.

Judges 12: Run Away From the Spotlight!

Jepthah entertains contention with Ephraim. Ephraim is upset because they were not contacted by Jephthah to help fight and defeat the people of Ammon. Ephraim is so offended at this that they claim they will burn Jephthah’s people in their homes. 

So all the people of Gilead fought Ephraim and destroyed them, ridding the land of a self-seeking faction. Note the interesting method of identifying an Ephraimite with the pronunciation of “Shibboleth.” 42,000 of them died due to foolish pride.

Jephthah dies and is buried. After him comes Ibzan, Elon and Abdon. These last three were attended by years of calm, indicating peace and blessings. Given the choice, man would rather live in times of peace than in times of turmoil.

Think about the pride of Ephraim that would have caused the aggression at the start of the chapter. They were offended because they were not invited to help fight. In their minds, Jepthah’s people saw Ephraim as too weak to fight, or their strength was not worth an invitation. Ephraim was very wrong to think this way. Their pride clouded their ability to see what was most important: Ammon was defeated. From verse 2, Jephthah indicates that Ephraim was called, but they did not deliver.

How many relationships have you seen tainted with pride? Has an erroneous assumption led you to disagreements and arguments that really were unnecessary? Sometimes when we are the one holding pride and acting on behalf of it, it is very hard to see and even harder to admit our role as the wrongful instigator. The justification for such things is often far too easy and convenient.

The remedy is to work for peace. Be a peacekeeper. If I sacrifice my desire for praise, my desire for the spotlight and my desire to be right, I can mend infinite fences, I can be the answer instead of the problem. 

Also, sometimes God will bless us with the praise and the spotlight if we act with humility, but never if the praise or the spotlight is our goal.

Judges 11: A Hasty Vow

Jephthah was Gideon’s son through a harlot. At an early age, he was driven away from home to a place called Tob by other brothers, who were legitimate. There he engaged in raids with men of poor character.

Despite the nature of his activities, he must have made a name for himself as a leader of some stature. For when the people of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to retrieve Jephthah from Tob and asked him to lead an army against the people of Ammon. Jephthah eventually agrees to do this, but only if he be granted command should he win in victory over the people of Ammon. 

So Jephthah contacts the people of Ammon via messengers and after a lengthy exchange, during which the story of how Israel came to possess the Ammonites’ land is told, he tells them to leave the land and cease with the threat of fighting Israel. But the people of Ammon do not heed Jephthah. 

The Spirit of the Lord came to Jephthah and he was invigorated to fight the people of Ammon. Jephthah advanced upon the Ammonites and made a vow to God: If Jephthah was to be successful in battle, he would sacrifice whatever came out of his doorway first when he returned home successful.

Jephthah is ultimately victorious and it is his only child, a daughter, that comes out of his doorway upon his return home. She is celebrating with musical instruments as she comes out of the doorway. After she learns of her father’s vow, she accepts her fate. Jephthah fulfills his vow and it became a custome in Israel that the daughters of Israel would lament her fate for four days each year.

Throughout this chapter, Jephthah reveals himself as a man of faith. He deals justly with Gideon’s elders and with the Ammonites, citing God as the director of early events and the decision-maker. But does Jephthah go too far, considering the vow he makes?

The answer is yes. God did not need Jephthah’s vow in order for the Israelites to be successful over the Ammonites. I am sure the spirit of the vow from Jephthah’s point of view was noble, but the drama that the vow evoked was not necessary. The entire vow situation has more to do with teaching Jephthah and us a lesson than it does with Jephthah showing God how deep his allegiance ran. 

It is almost as if God was teaching Jephthah a lesson. As if to say – If you are going to be so reckless as to make a vow for which the sacrifice is determined by chance or happenstance, then I will make it the most difficult of sacrifices to be made. 

Indeed, Jesus warned against vows during the sermon on the mount. After all, if we compare the effects of our vows with the powers of God, how can we support our vows as a proof of faith in light of the powers of the Lord?

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37

As to whether or not Jephthah killed his own daughter to satisfy the sacrifice, that is a matter of debate even today. The chapter tells us that he did offer up his daughter as a sacrifice, but it does not say that he killed her. Consider that the daughter took care to go to the mountains for two months with her friends to mourn her virginity. In verse 39, after it is said that Jephthah carried out his vow, and the next statement reveals that his daughter knew no man. So it is reasonable assume that she was not killed as a sacrifice to God, but that her life was given in service to God and that she never married. 

Also consider that a human sacrifice to God would have been an abomination and would have certainly precluded mention of Jephthah’s name among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. 

Strong faith as Jephthah had can surprise even us, if we have it and if it is strong enough. Faith such as this moved Jephthah to keep an oath involving the life of his only child. 

Is my faith as strong as Jephthah’s? Even though I do not swear to the Lord, do I live my life in a way that shows such faith? Do I make decisions in accordance with God’s designs on my life?