The integrity of Boaz…the hypocrisy of the Pharisees

31 05 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY SIX : Ruth 1 v. 1 – 2 v. 23; John 9 v. 1 – 34; Proverbs 12 v. 8 – 17

RUTH

After the bloodthirsty, horrid ending of the book of Judges, and before the Israelites gear up for the era of ‘kings’, there’s a beautiful, simple story about family loyalty, humility, integrity and God’s amazing purposes coming through unlikely people and difficult circumstances…enter Naomi, Ruth and Boaz…

Naomi and Ruth – there’s a famine in the land, so Elimelech and Naomi, husband and wife, leave their home town of Bethlehem and settle in Moab (outside of the Promised Land), with their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. Elimelech dies, and whilst their sons marry Moabite women, they too die after about ten years, leaving three widows. There are better reports coming out of Bethlehem, so Naomi decides to return ‘home’, and her two daughters-in-law venture with her.
But en route, Naomi decides to encourage the younger women to return to Moab, as their chances of finding new husbands and a good life will be better there. There are tears, and initially both Orpah and Ruth say they’d like to continue to Bethlehem with Naomi, but after a second go at persuading them, Orpah decides to part company and go back to Moab. Naomi states, ‘It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me.’
Ruth clings to Naomi, and pledges her future to her mother-in-law :
‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die…may the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.’

What a remarkable pledge of family loyalty – one which will be seen to be in line with God’s will for them, for the nation, and for all people across all generations…

There’s an excitement in Bethlehem when Naomi arrives, people are so pleased to see her back. But she is different these days. Her joy is gone. Her love of life has been replaced with a look of bitterness, of hardship. Life has been very cruel to her – worse than that, Naomi believes the Lord has been hard and cruel to her, bringing her back empty-handed, and broken-hearted. She wants people to call her ‘Mara’, which means ‘bitter’.
So, they arrive in Bethlehem, just as the harvest is ripe for gathering.

Ruth Meets Boaz – Naomi and Ruth, as widows, returning after a long time away (and Ruth an outsider), are destitute and are dependent upon the provisions made for the poor in Israelite law. Ruth goes out to glean the scraps of grain which are left on the ground as the harvesters do their work.  By some strange coincidence (God-incidence), she finds herself in Boaz’s field (Boaz is a relative of Elimelech, Ruth’s father-in-law).
Boaz’s greeting to his workers is fantastic :
‘The Lord be with you’
‘The bless you’, is the reply from his workforce.

Mark Greene (LICC) writes a brilliant article around this interchange between boss and workers. The phrase ‘The Lord be with you’ is heard most often these days in church / cathedral, where a priest / vicar / minister uses the words with the congregation. But these words originate in scripture from the workplace, and indicate a real connection for Boaz between his faith and his work. If God is blessing him and his workers, then the work of the day will be truly blessed !
Again, after the last chapters of Judges, Boaz stands out as a man of faith, integrity, and godliness.

Boaz shows interest in this poor young woman and is told she is the Moabite, Ruth. It has been noticed how hard she has been working for herself and Naomi. Boaz speaks to Ruth, and offers her the protection of his field – he’s instructed his workers to look after her, where she would be very vulnerable to attack and abuse in other fields, as a poor outsider.
She is also allowed to drink the fresh water reserved for his workers.
When Ruth asks why he is showing such kindness towards her, Boaz says it is reward for the kindness she has shown to Naomi.
‘May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.’

A beautiful prayer-filled desire Boaz has for Ruth.

Even at meal time, Boaz includes her (bread and wine !! Mmm), and then he is generous towards her by asking his workers to make sure she gets some of the best stalks, by dropping some of those along the way.
At the end of the day, Ruth returns to Naomi with such a lot of grain, and the left-over food from meal time. As they ate and talked together, Ruth told of Boaz’s kindness, and Naomi recognises that Boaz is one of their relatives, and proclaims a blessing upon him.
So, Ruth continued to work safely each day till the end of the harvest, thanks to Boaz’s generosity and kindness.



JOHN

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind – there’s another teaching moment for his disciples as they pass a man born blind. The question in the disciples’ minds is, ‘who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind’.
Jesus immediately teaches that this man’s blindness is not punishment for the sin of either the man or his parents, but for some glorious purpose of God’s. Jesus is about to show a sign that He truly is ‘Light for the World’.
Jesus makes some mud with his spit and puts it on the man’s eyes, telling him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam (which means ‘Sent’). The man did this and was given his sight.
Some recognise him and others don’t, but those who do ask him how it all happened. He tells them the facts – spit, mud, eyes, wash, and now he can see.
When asked, however, who had done this for him, he didn’t know. No idea it was Jesus – not even His name!

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing – enter the Pharisees…they pick up on the fact that this has all happened on the Sabbath.
‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.’
The man who has received his sight will go only as far as saying he thinks his healer is a ‘prophet’.
The Pharisees need to test out this man’s story, so they fetch his parents, and check out with them about their son’s blindness. They confirm that he is their son, and that he had been born blind. Out of fear of punishment from the Jews, however, they wouldn’t be drawn on who had done this, and what they thought of Jesus.
So they speak with the healed man again, and try to get him to admit that Jesus is a sinner.
The man simply states, ‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see’

I am reminded of the words of Amazing Grace, and that there is no denying the gracious, healing work of God in a person’s life, wherever they are on their journey of faith in Jesus.

He’s a bit of a cheeky chappy, and I like that, when he challenges the Pharisees about their over-interest in what’s happened and who Jesus is, ‘Do you want to be his disciples, too ?’, but he experiences an outpouring of insults and fierce interchange, where they accuse him of being a disciple of this stranger, whereas they are the pure disciples of Moses. It’s this un-learned man who so courageously challenges their theology
‘Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’
The Pharisees aren’t going to take lessons from this man, so they continue to show their true colours, by picking on / insulting him further
‘You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’ And they threw him out.

Poor guy – he hadn’t even asked for healing – but all this is to reveal God’s glory, Jesus says.
Maybe, the glory of God is even revealed by standing against the hypocrisy and self-righteous vindictiveness of the religious elite.

PROVERBS
Lots of verses outlining the difference between the life of the wicked, and the life of the righteous :
‘A man is praised according to his wisdom – but men with warped minds are despised’
‘A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal – but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel’
‘The wicked desire the plunder of evil men – but the root of the righteous flourishes’
‘The way of a fool seems right to him – but a wise man listens to advice’
‘A fool shows his annoyance at once – but a prudent man overlooks an insult’





War and peace….truth and lies

30 05 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY FIVE : Judges 20 v. 1 – 21 v. 25; John 8 v. 31 – 59; Psalm 61 v. 1 – 8

JUDGES 

so to the last day of reading the book of Judges, and the Israelites are definitely headed for further disasters, unless Godly kings / rulers are raised up soon….

Israelites Fight the Benjaminites – in response to the horrendous acts of chapter nineteen, all Israel gathers before the Lord in Mizpah. 400,000 men armed with swords, demanding to know how these things had happened. The Levite explains how his concubine had been raped to the point of death. He tells how he cut her body to pieces…‘because they committed this lewd and disgraceful act in Israel….Now, speak up and give your verdict’.
So, all Israel prepares to attach the territory of Benjamin (as the Benjamin clans refuse to surrender the wicked men of Gibeah to them), and Gibeah in particular. It’s a bloodthirsty few days – Benjamin winning day one, slaying 22,000 Israelites; Benjamin winning day two, slaying 18,000 Israelites. Before each day, the Israelites sought God’s guidance in Bethel (where the ark of the covenant was to be found), weeping for their loss of life. After the second day, they wept, fasted and offered sacrifices (like the good-old days). The following day, they succeeded in ambushing the town of Gibeah, and defeating the Benjaminites – 25,000 falling to the sword, and many towns set on fire. Six hundred Benjaminites flee to the desert. 

The final chapters of Judges see Israel at war with itself…so much for the peaceful land, flowing with milk and honey…it’s like the creation and the fall all over again !!

Wives for the Benjaminites – the Israelites weep at the loss of one of the tribes, and seek to provide wives for the Benjaminites who had fled, as they don’t want to lose that tribe for ever.
They attack Jabesh Gilead, a city which had not sent anyone to the gathered assembly, and take their virgin daughters to offer as wives to the Benjaminites, but there aren’t quite enough of them. So they arrange for the remaining Benjaminites to take a girl each from the dancing procession from the annual festival at Shiloh.
This is what they do, and the Benjaminites return to their devastated towns and cities to rebuild their tribe.
Oh, and by the way….
‘In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.’


JOHN
Children of Abraham –
Jesus challenges those Jews who are putting their trust in Him :
‘hold on to my teaching to be my true disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’
They claim to be descendants of Abraham, therefore already ‘free’ people, never being slaves to anyone. Jesus teaches that everyone who sins is a slave to sin, but that He, as Son, will set people free to become full members of His family.
‘If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’
They start disputing whose sons they are – sons of Abraham, but Jesus suggests they are more like sons of their human fathers, and not like Abraham’s sons for not listening to Him, and even wanting to kill Him.
‘We are not illegitimate children’, they protest, ‘The only Father we have is God Himself.’

The Children of the Devil – again, like the argument that they are Abraham’s sons, Jesus knocks down the suggestion that they are sons of Father God, by claiming they are acting more sons of the devil, twisting, lying and plotting murder:
‘You belong to your father, the devil…he was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. He is a liar and the father of lies….’
‘The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.’ and ‘He who belongs to God hears what God says.’

The Claims of Jesus About Himself – so Jesus is now accused of being Samaritan (outsider) and demon-possessed. Isn’t that the truth ?
Jesus says He is not demon-possessed, He honours His Father (unlike these Jews), seeking God’s glory; He says ‘if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.’
The Jews again speak of Abraham and the prophets – how dare Jesus claim to spare people from death, when even Abraham and the prophets died. Is Jesus claiming to be greater than them?
‘If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.’
He speaks of Abraham looking forward to Jesus’ day, and rejoicing in it now. How can Jesus claim to know / have known Abraham?
‘I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I AM!’

Wow, the audacity of Jesus! The great name ‘I AM’, reminding the Jews of the name of God at the calling of Moses, spoken of Himself.
No wonder, the Jews took up stones to kill him.
Jesus plays hide and seek, and disappears from the temple grounds.

PSALM – a beautiful psalm set to stringed instruments
‘Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer….
From the ends of the earth I call to You…
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for You have been my refuge.
I long to dwell in Your tent for ever, and take refuge in the shelter of Your wings’

and the psalmist prays for the king – the length of his days, and the blessings of God’s love, faithfulness and protection





A very dark day….and some Light relief

30 05 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY FOUR : Judges 18 v. 1  – 19 v. 30;

JUDGES
Danites settle in Laish – We are reminded that this is the period before Israel had kings. The Danites are seeking land to settle and they send five warriors to spy out the land. They arrive in Ephraim and at Micah’s house (see yesterday’s readings), where they spend the night. They encounter the Levite priest there who gives them a blessing on their onward journey (‘Your journey has the Lord’s approval’).
The men arrive in Laish, a place of security and peace, and so they return to tell their clan all they had seen. It sounds like an easy target, and a fruitful land to possess.
600 Danite men head out for battle, camping en route. When they reach Micah’s house, they take the idols, the ephod and the other household gods and the priest also (better that he serve a whole clan in Israel, than just one household), to go with them to Laish. Micah and his neighbours ran after them and overtook them, challenging them to return the goods and their priest.
The Danites warn them that destruction will fall heavily upon them if they don’t turn back, and leave them to their mission.
That’s what they do, fearful of the repercussions. The Danites continue to Laish and attach, burning down the city. There was no near neighbour to help the people of Laish.
The Danites claim that land, settling there, and naming it…..Dan (how original!).
However, the Danites set up the idols, and their priests tended a shrine there (all the while the ‘house of God was in Shiloh’).

A Levite and His Concubine – Oh, and by the way….‘in those days Israel had no king’…and look what else happens…
This is a horrendous story – almost too sordid to tell. How far humanity can fall….so far from all God desires and requires.
A Levite from Ephraim’s hill country takes for himself a concubine from Bethlehem. She is unfaithful to him, and so returns to her father in Bethlehem. After four months, he goes to Bethlehem to bring her back to himself (taking his servant and a couple of donkeys….why am I still fascinated by the presence of donkeys in so many Bible stories).
He is made welcome in his father-in-law’s home, treated to great hospitality (food and drink) over three days, and encouraged to stay a fourth night, and pressed to stay a fifth. However, the Levite leaves with his concubine heading towards Jerusalem. The servant encourages them to stop locally for the night, but they press on towards Gibeah in Benjamin’s territory (the Levite believes the hospitality in an Israelite town will be so much better than in a ‘foreign’ town – how wrong he proved to be !!).
No-one in the town of Gibeah offers them a place to stay, and they are stranded in the town centre.
Eventually, an old man returning from working in the fields, invites them to stay at his house, and he gives them food and drink.
Evil men from the town encircle the home, demanding that the old man brings out the visiting Levite, so they ‘can have sex with him’.
The owner of the house makes an unbelievably appalling offer – ‘not the man, but you can have my virgin daughter and his concubine’.
When they refuse, the Levite sends his concubine out to them, and she is abused and raped throughout the night and dumped at the door to be found in the morning.
The Levite shows no compassion, no love, simply saying, ‘Get up; let’s go’. What a disgusting ordeal. And once he gets her home, he cuts her body up (her having fallen at the doorway the night before, and her lack of response, suggesting that she is dead at the door, or in a coma, or similar…), and sends twelve portions of her body to the twelve tribes of Israel, as a sign, to rouse them to bloody action….

horrendous, criminal activity, a dreadful indictment of those whom God had brought into the promised land….the time is nearing for new leadership, the time for a King is approaching

JOHN
The Validity of Jesus’ Testimony – so, following on from the unbelief of the Jews, and the dispersal of those who were accusing the woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus’ next words to the people are:
‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’

Referring back to John’s prologue (chapter one), where Jesus is the Word made flesh, in Him is life, and that life is the light of men – Jesus is Word, Light and Life…all reinforced in this one verse (above).

Jesus is challenged, again, about the way He witnesses to / for Himself, without need of other witnesses, therefore what He says cannot be validated.
‘I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going….I stand with the Father who sent me…my other witness is the Father.’
Jesus is next challenged about who His father is.
‘If you knew me, you would know my Father also.
Though the temperature is rising, it’s not yet time for Jesus to be seized. He continues to teach in the temple courts.
‘You are of this world; I am not of this world…if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins….when you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be…I speak just what the Father has taught me.’

Obviously, many are plotting and planning to seize Jesus, to ‘bring Him in’, whilst we are told many others ‘put their faith in Him’.

PSALM
‘With God we shall gain the victory,
and He will trample down our enemies…’





Let the one without sin cast the first stone….

27 05 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY THREE : Judges 16 v. 1 – 17 v. 13; John 7 v. 45 – 8 v. 11; Psalm 60 v. 1 – 4;


JUDGES

Samson and Delilah – okay, we’re getting the full picture. Samson is often filled with the Holy Spirit for acts of great strength and power. His downfall is his attitude to women, and his lust for them. Chapter sixteen begins with him visiting a prostitute in Gaza, and goes on to his relationship with Delilah who is manipulated to get the secret of Samson’s strength.
Samson nearly gets caught in Gaza, the people want to kill him at dawn, but he escapes and uses his strength to pull down the gates of the city.
His romance with Delilah is doomed from the start, when the Philistines bribe her (each of the rulers offer her 1100 shekels of silver) to ‘lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him’.
First attempt – Delilah simply asks Samson what his secret is. Samson tests her out with lie – all they need do, he says, is tie him up with seven fresh thongs !! Delilah passes that on to the Philistines, who get the thongs for her to try out. Delilah ties Samson up (with men hidden in the room), but he easily breaks out of the thongs – ‘and the secret of his strength was not discovered’.
Second attempt – Delilah complains that Samson has made a fool of her, and that he should tell her his secret. This time, Samson tells her that if he is tied up with new, unused ropes, he will be weakened. Again, Delilah tries this out (with men hidden in the room). He snaps the ropes easily.
Third attempt – Delilah complains even more about Samson fooling her. This time, Samson tells her that if his hair braids are woven into the fabric on the loom, and tightened, his strength will leave him. Unbelievably, Delilah tries this, also, but Samson easily frees himself from the loom.
So, three times now Samson has deceived Delilah.
Delilah becomes a real nag….how can Samson say he loves her, when he won’t confide in her….she nags him ‘until he was tired to death’, such that he finally tells her that his strength is in his Nazirite long hair – cut it, and his strength will go.
Delilah summons the Philistines again, and once Samson is sound asleep on her lap, one of the men cuts off his seven braids of hair.
‘And his strength left him’.
Samson is woken by Delilah’s shout that the Philistines are about to set upon him. Of course, Samson doesn’t realise straight away that his strength is gone (not a magical sort of strength in his hair, but that the Lord had left him, because of his disobedience), but the Philistines grab him, gouge his eyes out, and take him with them to Gaza.
They set Samson to hard labour in prison, and slowly, slowly, as his hair grows back, so his strength returns.

The Death of Samson – there’s a celebration amongst the Philistines, worshipping their god, Dagan, and praising him for delivering Samson into their hands. They summon Samson from prison ‘to entertain them’.
Blind Samson asks to be placed between the supporting pillars of the temple. The scene is pictured with the temple full of men and women, all the Philistine rulers, and with 3,000 people on the roof to watch the entertainment.
Samson prays to God :
‘O Sovereign Lord, remember me, O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.’
Then Samson pushes in hard against the pillars either side of him, and, willing to die with the Philistines, he is given the strength to push the pillars down, and the whole temple with them, killing many more in his death than in his life.
Samson is buried alongside his father, Manoah, having been a leader in Israel for more than twenty years.

Micah’s Idols – there then follow several chapters outlining the results of verse six in this chapter :
‘In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes’.
Here’s a story about Micah and his mother. Micah initially stole some money which was originally given for some religious purpose, but now returns it to his mother. She uses it to make molded and carved idols. Micah makes a shrine, an ephod and other idols, and appoints one of his sons as a priest over this shrine to false gods.
We also get a glimpse in this story of the corruption of the Levite clan, as a Bethlehemite stays at Micah’s house, and is drawn into the worship at this shrine. Micah installs the Levite as his own personal priest, and Micah expects the Lord to bless him and be good to him now that he has a Levite attending to the shrine he has set up.

No judgement of this episode is offered, but clearly, it stands to show how far God’s people are falling from the covenant relationship which brought them into the promised land, and how vulnerable the Levites and others are to being drawn into false ways….

JOHN
The Jewish Leaders’ Unbelief – here’s part two of the story, the journey, of Nicodemus. The chief priests and Pharisees are angry with the temple guards for not having arrested Jesus. The guards claim Jesus is speaking unlike any other, and the Pharisees are furious that Jesus seems to have ‘deceived’ their guards as well as the ‘mob’ who are believing in Him, in contrast with the religious elite who stand against Him, disbelieving.
It is Nicodemus who, in that intimidating setting, speaks out, suggesting the law, itself, instructs people not to judge and condemn someone without first hearing from them. He receives a rebuke for daring to speak out like that, asking if he, too, is Galilean (a term which sounds increasingly derogatory, labelling the peasant northern folk Jesus has gathered as disciples).

Jesus is on the Mount of Olives (favourite place to withdraw to, to be with His Father), returning to the temple in the morning, to teach the people. As a further attempt to test Jesus, a woman caught in the act of adultery is brought into the temple courts by the religious leaders. She is brought to stand in front of the group. The law of Moses is quoted – ‘we should stone her’ – and Jesus is asked for His opinion.
Jesus knew it was a trap. They wanted another reason to challenge / accuse Him.
Then Jesus bends down and writes something with his finger in the dust. The leaders are still questioning Jesus, when He stands back up and proclaims:
‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’. Then He goes back to writing on the ground.

 What does Jesus write on the ground ? My study bible suggest Jesus is writing a list of other sins which those standing round would have found difficult to deny having committed….
I guess I’ve always thought Jesus is creating a distraction, buying Himself some think/pray time and that, interestingly, no-one stays around long enough to read what He’s written…..another glorious mystery !!

As the people turn to leave, one after another, Jesus turns to the woman and asks her if there’s no-one left to condemn her? She acknowledges that there is no-one left to condemn her (of course, Jesus is left there, but maybe she has already picked up that there is no condemnation of her in his eyes). Jesus tells her that He doesn’t condemn her either, but commands her to ‘go and leave your life of sin’.

Jesus always offers the repentant, humble, broken soul an uncondemned second chance, a new start, free from a life of sin.

PSALM
again, there’s a tune mentioned in the introduction to this psalm – ‘The Lily of the Covenant’ – and the psalm is credited to David, during some of his significant battles.
‘You have rejected us, O God, and burst forth upon us…You have been angry, now restore us…
but for those who fear You, You have raised a banner to be unfurled against the bow.’





Honey from the carcass, water in the wilderness, and springs of living water…

24 05 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY TWO : Judges 14 v. 1 – 15 v. 20; John 7 v. 14 – 44; Proverbs 11 v. 29 – 12 v. 7

JUDGES
Samson’s Marriage – Samson sees a Philistine woman he’d like to marry, and asks his parents to fetch her for him. They ask him why he should want to marry outside of his ‘people’. Samson is convinced she is the right one for him (his parents unaware that this might be God’s plan to confront the Philistines).
So Samson takes his parents with Him to Timnah, where a lion jumps out at them.
‘The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands…’
Samson’s parents don’t know of this. Samson talks with the young women and likes her more and more.
When Samson returns some time later to marry the woman, he spots the lion’s carcass, filled with bees and wild honey. He ate some of the honey, and gave some to his parents (who still didn’t know where it had come from).
Samson prepares a feast, while his father goes to see the young woman. He sets a riddle for his companions:
‘Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet’.
He challenges them to come up with the answer within seven days. After three unsuccessful days, they try to get Samson’s wife to get the answer by threatening that they will burn her and her father’s household to death.
She cries out to Samson, who eventually gives in and tells her the secret answer. She passes the answer on, so that just before the deadline set, the men of the town present the solution to Solomon’s riddle.
Samson is furious, and fulfils his side of the bargain of providing 30 linen garments and sets of clothes by going down to Ashkelon and killing thirty of their men. Samson returned to his father’s house (to cool down!).
‘And Samson’s wife was given to the friend who had attended him at his wedding.’
 
Samson’s Vengeance on the Philistines – At some time later, wheat-harvest, Samson (and a young goat) head off to visit his wife. His father didn’t want to let him go, and explains he thought Samson hated her so much, that he’d passed her on to his friend. ‘Isn’t her younger sister more attractive? Take her instead.’
Oh dear. Samson is angry again. This time, he ties 300 foxes in pairs (how long would it have taken him to catch 300 foxes?), ties firelights to their tails, and lets them go free in the Philistine fields, destroying their crops.
Then the Philistines take revenge against Samson by burning his wife and her father to death.
Samson, in return, lashes out and slaughters many Philistines, pledging to not stop until he has got his revenge. He heads off and camps out in a cave in the rock of Etam.
The Philistines progress into Judah where they explain they’ve come to take Samson prisoner.
3000 men from Judah go down to see Samson (in his cave – why so many men from Judah ??). Samson explains how he was only trying to get his own back on them. They, however tie Samson up, promising not to kill him themselves, but handing him over to the Philistines.
‘They bound him with two new ropes and led him up from the rock’.
Once again, as he approaches the Philistines, ‘the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power’. He finds a donkey’s jaw-bone and strikes down 1,000 men.
‘With a donkey’s jaw-bone I have made donkeys of them….’
then, he throws the jaw-bone away.
Even when Samson is struggling in the heat of the day, without water, and he complains to God that he might die of thirst, God opens up a hollow in the ground and fills it with water for Samson to drink.
Samson leads the Israelites for twenty years.

JOHN
Jesus Teaches at the Feast – so, Jesus has arrived secretly, and it’s not until half-way through the feast that Jesus goes to teach in the temple courts. His teaching is attracting attention – where did He get such knowledge?
Just as in Capernaum, Jesus is bold in proclaiming to the Jews there that His knowledge comes ‘from Him who sent me’. He is told, in return, that He is demon-possessed, and paranoid that some are out to kill Him.
He then has a go at them again about the Sabbath thing – why were they upset that He had healed on the Sabbath, when they are simply obeying other commands when they circumcise on the Sabbath.
‘Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment.’

Is Jesus the Christ ?  – Now the people are discussing whether Jesus really can be the Christ, if they’re just letting Him preach and teach instead of arresting Him. And anyway, they quote the belief that the Christ will come from nowhere, whereas it is known full well that Jesus comes from Nazareth. Jesus says, ‘I am not here on my own, but He who sent me is true. You do not know Him, but I know Him because I am from Him and He sent me.’
Although they try to seize Him at this point, they fail to, because ‘his time had not yet come’.
Many others put their faith in Him, believing that no one else could possibly improve upon the number or impact of the miracles they’d seen Jesus perform.
The Pharisees hear these conversations and conversions and send guards to arrest Jesus. Jesus tells them that He is only around for a short time, and then He will be going somewhere they will be unable to go. The Pharisees are mystified…what does Jesus mean? Where does He intend to go ?
On the last (and greatest day) of the feast, Jesus proclaims:
If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink…whoever believes in me…streams of living water will flow from within him.’

John tells us that this ‘stream of living water’ is the Holy Spirit, who they would ‘receive’ later, after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.

The response from some is that Jesus is ‘the Prophet’, others say ‘He is the Christ’, whilst others are confused – how can the Christ come from Galilee? Surely scripture prophesies that the Christ will come from Bethlehem. Jesus was, and continues to be, one who divides people.

Who do you say that Jesus is…..?

PROVERBS
He who brings trouble on his family will inherit only wind…
the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise…
whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid…
the plans of the righteous are just…the house of the righteous stands firm…’





Accents and the words of eternal life…

23 05 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY ONE : Judges 12 v. 1 – 13 v. 25; John 6 v. 60 – 7 v. 13; Psalm 59 v. 9 – 17

Manoah and his wife, with the ‘angel of the Lord’ : www.bibleartbooks.com/index.shtml

JUDGES
Jephthah and Ephraim – the Ephraimites seem to have a bit of a recurring chip on their shoulder! In chapter eight they moaned to Gideon because they hadn’t been involved in his campaign, and here they have a go at Jephthah because he didn’t include them in his battle. Jephthah explains how he had ‘called’ them, but they didn’t come to help (some miscommunication there ?). So Jephthah calls the Gileadites to war against the Ephraimites, who were saying of them,
‘You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh’.
They captured some of the fords of the Jordan, and killed any Ephraimites who came that way, even to the point of checking how a person said ‘Shibboleth’ (Ephraimite accents sounded more like ‘Sibboleth’), and killing those with the accent of Ephraim!
42,000 Ephraimite were killed; Jephthah, himself, died after having led Israel for six years

 The tribes of Israel turning against one another, a time of civil unrest, when regional accents are beginning to be a sign that the tribes are settling and are, at times, distancing themselves from one another…

Ibzan, Elon and Abdon – Then comes Izban from Bethlehem, who led Israel (he had 30 sons and 30 daughters…neat!) for seven years, but must have spent so much of his time marrying off his sons and daughters to partners from outside his clan…
Following Izban, Elon the Zebulite led Israel for ten years.
Following Elon, Abdon led Israel (he had 40 sons and 30 grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys) for eight years.

not told much about these guys – was it a fairly stable twenty-five years ?

The Birth of Samson – once again, the people of Israel fall away and ‘do evil in the eyes of the Lord’, and they are overtaken by the Philistines for forty years.
Then there enters onto the scene Manoah (from the tribe of Dan) and his wife (who was unable to have children). Manoah’s wife (wish we knew her name…) is visited by the ‘angel of the Lord’ to tell her that she will conceive and give birth to a son (a form of God bringing to life that which seemed dead). She is to watch what she eats (nothing unclean) and drinks (no alcohol). There are instructions for the boy to be born – don’t cut his hair, as a sign that he is a Nazirite, ‘set apart to God from birth’. He will be the one to bring deliverance from the Philistines.
When she relays this to Manoah, telling how she’d been visited by a ‘man of God…an angel of God, very awesome…’, Manoah prays that God will send this messenger again to them, for further instruction about how to parent this boy.
God responded by sending the angel a second time, to the woman, who runs to get her husband, Manoah, to come out to the field where the angel was. Checking it’s the same angel, Manoah then asks about the ‘rule’ for this boy’s life – how are they to raise him ?
The angel restates the rule that Manoah’s wife is not to eat unclean food, or drink alcohol. ‘She must do everything I have commanded her.’
Manoah offers to make food for the ‘angel of the Lord’ (though Manoah doesn’t realise he’s speaking to ‘the angel of the Lord’), but he says he will not eat it, rather a burnt offering should be prepared for the Lord.
Manoah asks the ‘angel of the Lord’ what his name is, but he says that it is beyond understanding.
Manoah prepares the burnt offering, and as it is being consumed by the flames, the ‘angel of the Lord’ ascends to God in the flames. Manoah and his wife fall to the ground in worship, Manoah realising it was ‘the angel of the Lord’. Though Manoah is afraid this means the end for them, having seen God and expecting to die, but his wife reasons that the angel would not have gone to all the trouble to share this great news of their baby to be born, only for them to die before it would all come to pass.
In time, the boy is born, and is called Samson.
‘He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan.’

A Nazirite was someone who had taken a vow (the name itself drawn from the Hebrew ‘to vow’), and for a period of 30, 60 or 100 days would abstain from alcohol, from unclean food, would not cut their hair or beard, and would avoid contact with dead bodies, as a sign of being set apart for God. The only life-long Nazirites mentioned in the Bible are Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist (all appointed as such from birth, rather than personal choice later, perhaps). 

JOHN
Many Disciples Desert Jesus – after all that hard teaching about being the bread of life, and about eating Jesus’ body and drinking His blood, Jesus underlines the importance of belief in Him.
‘The Spirit gives life…the words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life, yet some of you do not believe.’
Many of his disciples turn back (to their ordinary lives), and no longer follow Jesus.
I’ve always heard a tone of sadness in Jesus’ question of the remaining twelve disciples, ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’
Simon Peter’s answer is fantastic – ‘to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God’.
Jesus simply reminds them that He has chosen them (not the other way round). 

Jesus Goes to the Feast of Tabernacles – Jesus is still enjoying this time away in Galilee, away from the prowling Jews in Judea, waiting to capture Him. Jesus’ brothers try to push Him to go to Judea to be noticed on a bigger stage : ‘No-one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret…show Yourself to the world!‘.
Jesus points out to His brothers, ‘The right time for me has not yet come…the world hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.’ Jesus stays in Galilee, whilst His brothers attend the feast in Jerusalem; but then Jesus does follow after them, attending the feast in secret. The Jews there were certainly watching for Him. Everyone was talking about Jesus (but not publicly for fear of the Jews), some saying He was a good man, others that He was a deceiver.

Jesus divides opinion !!

PSALM
O my Strength, I watch for You…my fortress, my loving God.’
 
the psalmist bemoans all those who slander him, who curse and lie about him, asking God to vindicate him.
‘I will sing of Your strength…I will sing of Your love;
for You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.
O my Strength, I sing praise to You…my fortress, my loving God.’





Body and blood sacrifice….

22 05 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY : Judges 10 v. 1 – 11 v. 40; John 6 v. 25 – 59; Psalm 59 v. 1 – 8

JUDGES
Tola – after Abimelech comes Tola, Dodo’s grandson, who is another raised up to save Israel. He leads for twenty-three years then dies. Wish we knew a little more about Tola.

Jair – next comes Jair, who leads for twenty-two years. His claim to fame – thirty sons, riding thirty donkeys (oh, the recurring donkeys !), controlling thirty towns in Gilead.

Jephthah – after Jair, Israel again ‘does evil in the eyes of the Lord’, worshipping and serving the Baals and Ashtoreth gods (gods of Aram, Sidon, Moah, of the Ammonites and of the Philistines. God is angry, and the Philistines and Ammonites prosper, crushing the Israelites, and oppressing them for eighteen years. As they spread their attacks across the Jordan into Judah and Benjamin territory, the Israelites cry out to God for help.
God’s reply is that, as they have turned to the other gods, they can go back to them for help – God will no longer save them :
‘Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you…’
 The Israelites, however, plead for God to punish their sin and restore them. They get rid of the foreign gods and pledge once again to serve the Lord. ‘He could bear Israel’s misery no longer.’
Jephthah from Gilead (his father was Gilead, his mother a prostitute) is driven away by his brothers who want to prevent Jephthah from inheriting from the family. He settles in Tob,
‘where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him’ – love that detail about the adventurers. Jephthah was an exciting guy to be around !!

So, when the Israelites need some help, and strong leader, to fight against the Ammonites, they call for Jephthah. He reminds them how cruelly the Gileadites had treated him, (‘why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble…’) and gets their assurance that he will truly be their leader when the campaign is successful.
There is some diplomacy between Jephthah and the king of the Ammonites, who asks for the land the Israelites took from them to be handed back peacefully. Jephthah sends back a message which says, in effect,
‘Israel didn’t take the land of Moab or of the Ammonites; because these people would not allow the Israelites peaceful passage through their land, ‘the Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his men into Israel’s hands….‘; because it is God who has given them the land, the Ammonites have no right to take it over…‘Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you?’
Jephthah’s reply has no effect. The king of Ammon readies the troops to attack.
‘The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah’, and he is equipped to lead the Israelites into battle. Jephthah makes a very rash pledge to God, that if He hands the Ammonites over to them, ‘whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph…will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering’….

what was he thinking !! If you do not already know what’s coming next, you dread the outcome. If you do, you’re horrified.

When Jephthah leads the Israelites to a famous victory over the Ammonites, he returns home and who should be first out of the house to welcome him, but his only child, his daughter. He tears his clothes in anguish, because of the vow he has made to God. She encourages her father to keep his word (this is so hard to read !!!), but is granted two months to spend time with her friends, shedding many tears over her untimely death, but then ‘after the two months…her father did to her as he had vowed’
So shocking is this story, that an annual ‘pilgrimage’ for four days is established for young Israelite women to commemorate Jephthah’s daughter.

First century Josephus writes that this human sacrifice was ‘ neither conformable to the law, nor acceptable to God’, and reflected the practices which made the Canaanites an abomination to God…other scholars have tried to interpret this passage differently to suggest that Jephthah didn’t sacrifice his daughter as a burnt-offering, but dedicated her to the Lord, un-married, a virgin forever…however, I think the meaning is pretty clear in the passage. 
This is just a horrific pain-filled story..

JOHN
Jesus, the Bread of Life – when they find Jesus, He has some pearls of wisdom to teach the crowds :
‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you….
The work of God is this : to believe in the one He has sent.’
When they ask for a sign, like the manna Moses provided in the desert, Jesus points out it was not Moses but the Father who provided the ‘bread from heaven’.
‘The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’

Just as the Samaritan woman asks for ‘this water’ which Jesus alone gives, so, too the crowd ask for ‘this bread’ which Jesus is talking about.

‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty….
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away…..
My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day….’

Then the Jews start grumbling, pointing out that this is just Jesus, the carpenter’s son. How can He claim to have come down from heaven ?
Jesus’ reply is suitably stark
‘No-one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day…
he who believes has everlasting life…
I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE….the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. This bread is my flesh which I give for the life of the world.’

The new grumble is how, on earth, Jesus can give His flesh to be eaten….

‘unless you can eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you…’
‘whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…’
‘Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.’

PSALM – this psalm (59) is credited to David when Saul had sent men to watch over David’s house to kill him, and is set to the tune ‘Do Not Destroy’.
‘Deliver me from my enemies…protect me from those who rise up against me…
deliver me from evildoers…from bloodthirsty men.
I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me…
Show no mercy to wicked traitors…You, O Lord, laugh at them’.