Day 92 (April 2): Gideon defeats Midianites, Gideon kills Midian’s kings, leaders of Succoth and Peniel make wrong decision, Gideon makes trophy ephod, Abimelech kills all of his brothers except for Jotham who escaped

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Judges 7-9:21

Questions & Observations

Q. (Judges 7:3): What does this say about the resolve of the Israelites?  There were 32,000, but only 10,000 were willing to fight?  I see why the Israelites’ faith is a roller coaster with that many who have not committed to God.

A. Maybe it is talking about their eagerness to fight?  But you have provided an apt description of their faith: a roller coaster suits it nicely.

Q. (Judges 7:4-6): I certainly understand why God wanted to thin out the Israelite army: to let them know that without God, they couldn’t possibly defeat anyone, especially with only 300 men.  Do you have any comments as to why — or the significance of — God testing the Israelites by how they drank water?

A. I actually remember hearing a sermon on this: supposedly the men who drank by taking the water in their hands rather than stopping down to drink were the most seasoned veterans: they never took their eyes off of the battlefield.  That is most likely your answer.

Q. (7:8): We have seen a lot of ram’s horns used.  Why were they so important?  I guess they were a way to make noise and gather folks together from afar.

A. The instrument referred to here is called a Shofar (read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shofar), made from the horn of a domestic animal that had a horn you could hollow out, usually a ram as mentioned.  The instrument is first referred to in Exodus 19 when the presence of God causes great distress among the people.  The horn was used for religious purposes, and still is today, to call the people to important festivals.  The sound is quite loud and distinctive (listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6iNXRVN-WE) and would also have been very useful in battle to summon soldiers or intimidate the enemy, as it is used here.

Q. (7:10): I don’t know why God gave Gideon an act of assurance here.  God is God and Gideon believed in Him.  Why did he need some proof?

A. Apparently his self-doubt was strong: in the story God tells him to go “if he is still afraid.”  Apparently he is.

Q. (7:18): So they included Gideon in their shout so the enemies would know that God is with Gideon giving him power?

A. I think they did that because Gideon was the commander of their force.

Q. (8:1-3): So is Gideon telling the people of Ephraim to not be upset that he didn’t call them to help, they should be rejoicing that God gave them a victory over Oreb and Zeeb?  In other words, they need to feel joy for the win for all of Israel and not concern themselves what part they had in the victory?

A. I think that’s partly right.  He’s also saying that he didn’t have much of a victory, and that he called the other tribes for the “good part” of the fighting — they got to spoil the conquered people.

Q. (8:4-21): Of course, the leaders of Succoth and Peniel should have fed Gideon’s army.  I assume they knew that Gideon was fighting for the Lord.  Is there something we should take from this, like always help a stranger or always help those who are doing good work?

A. I think the folks in Succoth and Peniel (where Jacob wrestled with God back in Genesis) were caught between two powerful warring tribes, and hedged their bets.  They were concerned that if they supplied Gideon’s troops, they risked alienating the Midianites — or they may have been related — and if the Midianites won, there could have been repercussions against them.  It looks to me like these towns were in a no win situation, and they probably should have just picked a side.  In choosing neither, they lost either way.

O. (8:10): It’s truly amazing that 300 Israelites with the power of God could kill 120,000 warriors and capture the remaining 15,000.

Q. (8:23): Gideon sure shows an immense amount of faith and loyalty in the Lord.  But, why did he make an ephod?  In Moses’ days, the ephod was a design that God ordered, not a man.  Was this an egotistical move of Gideon — similar to Joseph bragging about his dreams, which, in turn gave him the punishment of being sold as a slave and spending years in Pharaoh’s jail?  Is this why a trap came to Gideon’s family as a result of the ephod?  I don’t know what that means: a trap for Gideon and his family, especially because it goes on to say that the Israelites lived in peace for 40 years.

A. Gideon’s indulgence in taking the gold of his conquest and making the ephod (we’re not clear on exactly WHAT he created — it may have been something very different from what God had made for the high priest) would be the downfall of his family due to his son’s desire for power.  I think that Gideon had it made to celebrate his own accomplishments, and also something to share with his town and family, but this was a poor decision.  The 40 years of peace refers to outside invasions, not necessarily what was going on inside the nation.  There was clearly prominent unrest among Gideon’s many descendants.

Q. (8:30, 31): What happened to the rules of a man should marry one woman?  Here, the Bible says Gideon has many wives.  Also, does God view a child that comes from a concubine as less than a wife?  We saw this with Abraham too — that Isaac was favored over Ishmael.

A. While one man and one woman, Jesus tells us, is God’s IDEAL for marriage (Matthew 19:4), there were no particular laws regarding multiple wives (never multiple husbands) or concubines.  Since concubines were, in a sense, promoted slaves, their children probably did not have the full status of the more “legitimate” wives.  And it is important to note that just because God allows men to keep multiple wives (we wouldn’t have the 12 tribes of this nation without Jacob’s four wives- probably 2 wives and two concubines), it NEVER endorses this practice.  God’s ideal remains one man and one woman.

The example you gave with Abraham is different because God had already promised Abraham a son VIA his wife Sarah.  Hagar and Ishmael enter the picture because Sarah couldn’t wait and frankly didn’t believe God.  I certainly think that Abraham thought Ishmael was just as much his son as Isaac, but God chose to carry on the line of Israel through Isaac, as He promised.

Q. (9:5): God seems to have a fondness of the youngest siblings.  Here it is Jotham.  Also, Joseph, Benjamin, and Jacob was actually the younger twin, I think.

A. Jacob/Israel was the younger twin to Esau, and Joseph and Benjamin were indeed Jacob’s favorite sons — and it appears God favored them as well.  I would say that God tends to favor the least and the last.  We will see this again with David in 1 Samuel.  But also He tends to choose people who have a heart for Him alone, and can’t get by on their favored position — as firstborn son or similar — alone.

Q. (9:21): I would like to talk about when to trust God.  Like Jotham knew his brother would kill him if he caught him.  But, how much are we supposed to rely on God that He will take care of all things?  Are we true Christians if we go to the doc and get treatment, or should we just rely on God to heal us?  A lady I talked to last week was talking about what and when to teach certain things in the Bible to kids.  She gave an example of Shadrick, Meshak and Abednego.  They were thrown into a furnace, but they prayed and God protected them.  She said she didn’t think that was appropriate for preschoolers because they could think that if they prayed to God to protect them that they could walk through a fire unharmed.  She said if they walk into a fire, they are going to get burned.

A. Wow, way to save it for the end there.  Shadrick, Meshack, and Abednego story is recorded in Daniel 3.

Regarding the teaching of that story to children, I guess I could see why you would want to avoid it, but it is one of the strongest Biblical examples of pure faith in the entire story.  I would say that if you told the story correctly (and she did not for multiple reasons besides the names — read the story yourself and you’ll see what I mean), you would have no need to fear of your child walking through a campfire.

Regarding the VERY DIFFERENT issue of when to trust God, that is something that ultimately must be worked out between you and Him.  There are various semi-church groups out there who argue that, as you mentioned, we should trust in God for faith healing and not seek modern medicine.  However, many Christians have argued that God has given us minds to think and to solve problems, including problems that have plagued mankind for millennia: disease, recovery from injury, and other traumas.  I have no problem with arguing that these provisions — antibiotics, immunizations, other drugs —are gifts from God to make our lives easier and less brutal.  Frankly, modern society couldn’t exist without them.  But these things are not the be-all-end-all: we will still face death, and to this point, there is no coming back from it (Easter events not withstanding).  If we are without a relationship with God, then the drugs and attempts to prolong our life will literally be all we have left at the end.  But if we do trust in God, ESPECIALLY in dying, then we will see that death is only a step — one that is necessary for God to complete His final work in us, just as He did with Jesus’ death.

We are celebrating the Easter season, and it is the very resurrection that we celebrate that personally gives me the courage to trust God no matter what.  That doesn’t mean I don’t take advantage of modern medicine and efforts to be healthy, but I would most likely draw the line at prolonging my life simply for the sake of having it continue.  I believe that there is more than this life alone.  Ultimately, if I do not trust God with my eternity, then the decisions I make about vaccines or antibiotics will make little difference in the end.  The Easter story is about God demonstrating His ability to conquer even death, and to show us that He is worthy of our trust, even in light of eternity.

Thanks for reading along.  See you tomorrow!

Day 91 (April 1): Deborah leads victory, Jael kills Sisera, Song of Deborah, Gideon becomes new judge

Happy belated Easter!!!

Wow!  We are one-fourth the way through the Bible!  Congrats!  It feels great to me.  I don’t know about you, but many clouds of wonder — not doubt — are clearing.  I’m getting a much better understanding of what the Bible is about.  I hope you are too!  If you are new to BibleBum, WELCOME!  Through this blog, we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.  Enjoy!

Judges 3:31-6:40

Questions & Observations

Q. (Judges 4:4-5): Rob, I am confused.  These stories seem to come as a little of a surprise.  Up to now, they have all been linked — except for Job.  Where did the judges come from?  We have never heard of Deborah.  And, if God handed over the Israelites to King Jabin, why were there judges around who still followed God and judged according to His laws?

A. Your confusion is understandable.  Basically, Judges is the book that covers the time period between Moses/Joshua’s leadership, and Saul/David/Solomon as the first monarchs or Israel.  During this time, there is no one united leader: the Lord calls into service particular individuals, who are otherwise of no importance, to fulfill His desires.  Basically, this story exists in its own timeframe: while the judges are mentioned from time to time, they are basically a more minor part of the history of Israel — they are the transition from a period of one leader, Moses, to another, David.

Don’t worry if you haven’t “met” any of these characters before, the narrative is telling us everything we need to know about them: what tribe they come from.  For His own glory, God is raising up people who have served Him faithfully to either personally carry out His will — as with Ehud killing the king — or by giving someone like Deborah, the only female judge, a prophecy about how Israel can be victorious in battle.  This trend will continue: you won’t have heard of any of these judges before their part in the story. That’s just the way the narrative is set up right now.  It will be this way until Samuel in the book of 1 Samuel (Ruth takes place during this same period).

Keep in mind that when we use the word “judge” in this story, we don’t necessarily envision a person who interprets the law as a judge does today (though in Deborah’s case this is accurate).  We mean a tribal leader or warlord — someone who can bring the tribes together for the purpose of winning in battle.  In Deborah’s story (she’s from the tribe of Issachar according to Jewish tradition, the story didn’t say explicitly), she united the warriors from the clans of Zebulun and Naphtali to gain victory over the evil king, using the warrior Barak as her “general.”  I hope that helps clear up what Judges is about.

Q. (4:14-16): I notice that when the Israelites defeat their challengers, it is by no strength of their own, it is by God’s power that they are victorious.  Believing in someone so much that you know they will fight and win for you is awesome.  But, how about their self-esteem?  It’s kind of like having someone fight your battles for you, you rely on them instead of getting stronger yourself.  Does this sound like something God wants from us?  In verse 23, we see that Israel was on the side of God and get a feeling that God is pleased.

A. Don’t forget, God’s response in each of these situations is a response to the people crying out for deliverance, and God acts.  How He chooses to do so is up to Him.  But, ultimately, that was the deal He set up with the people: if they trusted Him, and did what He ordered, He would make them victorious.  These battles still have to be won by His people, but God is providing assurance that it will be, often by “tilting” the battle in Israel’s favor as He did here (4:15).

Q. (5:7): We haven’t really seen God use a woman as a leader or have a major role — except for the smaller roles of Sarah and Miriam.  Any reason why He chose to now?  Here she is called the “Mother of Israel.”

A. Nothing that I am aware of.  She was the right person at the right time, but only God knows the reason He chose her.  There will not be many strong female leaders in Israel, but Deborah is one of the strongest of ALL Israel’s leaders: even the mighty King David didn’t manage to keep peace in his kingdom for 40 years.

O. (5:11): I feel an underlying calling here from the poor and meek.  It feels almost like God is talking to them and they know more than the well-to-doers.

Q. (5:15-23): Deborah and Barak are coming down on the named tribes, but I only thought they requested certain tribes to come.  Who are the people of Meroz in verse 23?

A. Apparently it was a town somewhere near the battle that refused to participate in the war effort.  We don’t know anything else about it, including which tribal territory it was in.

Q. (5:31): This verse is saying that all of God’s followers should obey Him so much that they will not hesitate to fight for Him.  If so, God will give them all the power in the world?

A. No, I don’t think that’s right.  Deborah is using the imagery of the rising sun to connect with the increasing power of the nation as they ascend through victory.  But there is no reason to assume she means that this power will be infinite.

Q. (6:1-6): I am amazed that the number of times that the Israelites turn away from God and yet they still call out to Him when they are desperate.  And, God delivers them again and again.  Can we apply this to our lives today?

A. I think you just did.

O. Gideon sounds similar to a choice God has made before — Moses.  And, I know there will be more like this.  Although, I am not saying that all of God’s choices are meek.  I am not trying to say that God is predictable.  I’m just saying that he has chosen another person with little self-pride.  On the flipside, He did choose Joseph who was a little egotistical, being the favored son of His father and bragging about his dreams.  Like every human, no two leaders are the same.

Q. (6:36-40): God is putting up with Gideon doubting him.  He caters to his requests.  Gideon has already seen the angel of God consume his offering by fire.  Why does he ask for more proof?  We have seen that even his father worshipped Baal.  So, is it that the Israelites have been devoid of God for so long that the current generation barely knows of His existence, and thus fuels their disbelief?

A. That’s a good question, and a reasonable assumption, but honestly I do not know.  I would say that it is equally likely that Gideon is a man who is haunted by self doubt.  He characterizes himself as the weakest member of the weakest family of the weakest tribe, so I think that at least part of what’s going on here is that Gideon is so fearful that he refuses to follow God’s instructions until he is ABSOLUTELY certain that God is calling him.  Gideon, unlike later judges like Samson, will actually put on display the full ability of God to use literally anyone, even a person who is racked with self-doubt.  For once he clears these hurdles of doubt, we will see Gideon act bravely and faithfully to bring Israel great victory.  Come check it out tomorrow!

Day 68 (March 9): Vows to God are serious, victory over Midianites, dividing the spoils

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  Take the challenge.  You won’t regret it.

Numbers 30-31

Questions & Observations

Q. (Numbers 30:1-16): So the Lord expected the Israelites to keep their promises to the Lord.  What kind of vows were they talking about?  The first verses say that men must always keep their word.  However, women and girls are subject to their father or husband’s acceptance of the vow.  Why the difference between men and women?  And, boys are not mentioned.  Do they follow under the first verses of men?

A. Basically, the rule here is that vows, of any sort, were not to be made rashly, and each person was responsible for vows they made.  The only two exceptions were both for women, who were subject to the authority of their fathers (if not married) or their husbands (if they were).  These men had the authority to overturn any vow that they, as the authority over the woman, would have a hand in fulfilling.  So basically, if you were a man, a boy, or a divorced woman, you had no one to blame for your foolish vows but yourself!  No one else would be able to take responsibility for them.

Q. (31:6): Phinehas, son of Eleazar has been mentioned several times.  Should we discuss him at all?

A. Eleazar was Aaron’s son, who took over the role of High Priest when Aaron died back in chapter 20.  This makes Phinehas Aaron’s grandson, and the priest who was responsible for the killing of the man and woman who flaunted their sin in front of the Tabernacle in 25:7.  He thus becomes a person who has a great zeal for God’s holiness, and God rewards Him for this zeal.  He is mentioned again in Joshua, but this is his most prominent role.

Q. (31:9): Any idea where or when the gentleman’s rule started — the rule of fighting men, but leaving women and children unharmed?  31:17 does not make for a nice visual.

A. As far as I know, the idea of warfare being only among the men who are fighting it goes back for thousands of years.  Its the understood difference between soldiers and civilians.  Now sometimes this gets blurry, as in instances of a siege, where the entire intent is to starve out people who have blockaded themselves for protection, but generally the “rule” in question is the way that warfare has been conducted for some time.

Verse 17 is indeed pretty brutal, but there were two important reasons for Moses’ command, though they don’t soften the blow much.  The women, rather than the male soldiers, were indeed the ones who brought about the plague at Peor, and therefore it would have been risky to let them live.  The death of the boys was done in order to prevent issues with inheritance in future generations of Israelites.  Moses is attempting to prevent non-Israelites from inheriting the Promised Land in future generations.

Q. (31:32): I know it’s not important, but I have no idea how they would have accurately counted that much livestock, and girls.

A. I have no idea how they did it either.  You should always consider numbers of this sort to be rough estimates.  Keep in mind, prior to these volumes being written down, they would have been passed down generation to generation orally.  That means that having rough numbers is a more manageable system then going into specifics.  It is also possible that the number became more “rough” as the story was handed down (i.e. originally the count was 36,588 cattle, but it became 36,000 over time).