Day 93 (April 3): Shechem faces Abimelech, Tola and Jair are judges, Ammonites oppress Israel, Israelites seek exiled Jephthah as new commander

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 9:22-11:28

Questions & Observations

Q. (9:57): So the curse Jotham delivered was from God?  I’m just asking because I don’t think that the Bible states that God was with Jotham.  Also, for our purposes, we don’t know much about Jotham except that he was Gideon’s youngest son and the only one of 70 sons who escaped his half-brother, Abimelech’s, killing spree.  In a Bible study I was in a year ago, we talked about how God has a purpose for everyone.  One mom had a daughter who had a severe issue with her brain.  I think she had a tumor and her life was pretty fragile.  The mom also had a brother with a severe ailment and I believe he died.  She always wondered what her brother’s purpose in life was if he was born with a disease that cut his life on earth so short.  Then, after her daughter was born, she wondered if her brother’s purpose was to prepare her for her own daughter’s medical condition, which of course, seems like a selfish reason for her and a selfless reason for her brother.  Likewise, my oldest sister has Down’s Syndrome.  I have yet to see the purpose God has for her.  She is very loving and always showed a lot of love for everyone growing up.  She would go to church and hug anyone she could.  Anyway, I know it’s not for me to figure out and it’s not important.  I just enjoy seeing God’s work.  Here, it seems that Jotham’s sole purpose, for our purposes, was to complete a scripture, which reminded the people of his curse.  Jotham does acknowledge God in his parable, but he seems to give his loyalty to his father, Gideon, alone.  He says in 9:16: “Have you treated him (Gideon) with the honor he deserves for all he accomplished?  For he fought for you and risked his life when he rescued you from the Midianites.”

A. Regarding the story, it appears that God avenged Himself against Abimelech for his misuse of the things given to him by his father, Gideon.  Gideon was the very fulfillment of what God can do with someone who society, or even the person themselves, thinks is a nobody.  But his son is the exact opposite: he took the things that God had provided his father (note that the story told us that making the ephod that caused this mess was a bad idea) and used them to corruptly rule the nation, and even murder other potential heirs to the “kingdom” Gideon established, even if Gideon explicitly said he didn’t want to be king.  Abimelech sinned greatly against God, and was called to account for it by being killed in battle in a dishonorable way — by a woman, rather than in combat, even if he tried to “fake it” afterwards.

Regarding a person’s purpose in life, you’ve literally opened an entire world of theological questions that simply do not have answers this side of heaven.  I believe that God has some purpose for each and every human life, but these purposes are not always revealed to us, and God is under no obligation to do so (Isaiah 29:16, Romans 9:20).  But since God is good, he often does reveal to us the purpose of life, and sometimes it is only at the end of our lives that we see the purpose and redemption of our lives or the lives of others.  But I suspect that because God is not a human being, and His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), we may still not be satisfied — or frankly not understand — the purpose of some of the lives around us.  Until Christ returns, we live in a broken and sinful world, but even here, God has the power and desire to bring light even out of the apparent darkness of many human lives.  As with our discussion yesterday, we must ultimately decide whether we can and will trust God in these matters.  The final justice of life lies with Him alone.

Q. (10:4): I don’t think we have mentioned any importance of the number 30?

A. The number 30 is not one that is used frequently, and doesn’t appear to be a “symbolic” number.  The use of the number here is indicative of Jair’s wealth- only a wealthy man could have so much land, heirs, and livestock.

O. (10:6): This is the first time that I remember the Bible saying “again” when talking about the Israelites turning away from God.

O. (11:23-24): I like the way Jephthah turned the charge of the king of Ammon when Jephthah said the Lord gave the Israelites the land, so why should they give it back.  And for the icing on the cake, he said (11:24), “You keep whatever your god Chemosh gives you, and we will keep whatever the Lord our God gives us.”

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 12 (Jan. 12): Jacob plans trip to face Esau, Jacob wrestles with God, Esau happy to see Jacob, Revenge at Shechem, Jacob returns to Bethel, Rachel and Isaac die

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.

Genesis 32-35

Questions & Observations

Q. (32:22, 30): Why did God and Jacob wrestle?  How did he know the man was God?

A. The story tells us that Jacob has been struggling against God and men his entire life (his father, his brother, his uncle, etc.) but in the end he conquered each of them.  The timing of the event is crucial to recognize: Jacob is leaving his confrontations with Laban, and about to confront Esau, but it is at this moment that the person who Jacob has struggled most with appears: God Himself.  (There are some who think that Jacob is wresting with an angel of God, though as we established the angel would have basically been seen as the same thing as God Himself).  God wanted more than Jacob’s worship and acknowledgement, He wanted Jacob’s heart, and this is the way that He wins it.

While it is not directly stated that the man is God (or an angel), verses 28 and 30 point to this reality.  In case it is not directly stated by the text (some translations do), the word Israel (the name for the entire nation in the Old Testament) means “wrestles with God.”  We shall indeed see what an appropriate title this is.

O. (33: 4): The differences between siblings can be night and day to where they want to be worlds away from one another.  Yet, when they have been apart for some time, their differences go by the wayside and their love for one another takes over.  This happened between my sister and I when she went away to college.  She purposely did things to annoy me … I’m sure for good reasons.  But, once she left for college and I had my own space, we became much closer.  Can anyone relate to the Jacob and Esau reunion?  Or, have you had a different experience?

O. (33:10): This reminds me of when we visit our siblings’ families and go out to eat.  There is always a race to pay the bill.

Q. (33:16): Why did Jacob not follow Esau to Seir?

A. Honestly, my suspicion is that he still didn’t trust his brother, and therefore wanted to put a little distance between himself and Esau.

Q. (34:15):  This is an intense scene.  I am glad that Jacob stood up for his daughter.  It was quite a trick to have them agree to be circumcised, then when they are still healing from the procedure, Jacob’s family attacked.  If this hadn’t been a trick, God would not have supported the agreement, right?  Doesn’t God have to be the one that chooses the people to bear the sign of His chosen?

A. Circumcision was one of the most important rules of the Law.  And indeed, there are sections of the Law that describe the procedures for admitting alien people (usually slaves, an entirely different topic) into the “house” of Israel.  The simplest rule: if you weren’t circumcised, you weren’t part of the tribe.  Actually, marriage, the reason for this little event, was the major way that people could join the tribe of Israel (think of people like Ruth).  There were particular rules about which other tribes were not to be admitted (we will see these later), but generally, there were some routes for a people of various other tribes to “join up” in certain circumstances.

Q. (35:1) Bethel is where Jacob spent the first night on his journey to Laban’s, right?  Bethel means House of God.  Does this place have long-term significance or importance in the future?

A. That’s the one, where Jacob saw the ladder.  Bethel does not appear to play a major role in the future of the nation of Israel.  The town is mentioned throughout the territorial sections (land distribution in the book of Joshua after the land is conquered) and Bethel is given to one of Joseph’s sons named Ephraim.  It did gain one infamous role: it became the center of cult worship in the Northern Kingdom (this is way in the “future” of the story, if you will) after the death of King Solomon.  So in the era of 1 and 2 Kings, it would have been known, but not in a good way.

Q. (35:5): Any idea what the terror was?  It would be so awesome to see God’s power like that.  Do you think it happens today, like in earthquakes, floods, etc.?

A. It would be tough to guess what God exactly did to make the people afraid.  Usually if it is a natural disaster, the text will say so, so this might have been something more psychological.  Whether one sees the power of God displayed in earthquakes and floods is one of the toughest questions a Christian can ask.  I leave that up to the readers to decide.

Q. (35:8): Can you tell us anything about servants of those days.  The master’s family obviously cared about them as we see in this passage as they name the tree where a nurse was buried “weeping tree.”  How did one become a servant versus a master?  How were they revered?

A. Part of the implication of Jacob’s wealth (which would have been assumed by the audience) was that he would have servants, including slaves, who came to work for him seasonably (think migrant workers today) or other servants who were hired to keep the flocks or crops, supervise workers (like field managers), cook and prepare meals, work closely with the children (like the nurse in question), or keep the tents and other dwellings clean.

While we tend to think of slavery and servanthood as racially motivated, it was mostly the result of financial considerations in the ancient world.  Servants could be hired and align themselves with masters (which would likely use the covenant ceremony we discussed last week) for protection and even have families of their own.  We must be very careful about not applying Western American notions of slavery and service to the ancient world that thought very differently about people’s value.  There would have been none of this “all men are created equal” business (actually Jesus is the person single handedly most responsible for that concept, so that gives you the timeframe- more than a thousand years in the future), they would have understood masters as being superior to servants.  People would have worked for masters, be bought and sold as slaves (sometimes to pay off debt, sometimes as a result of being taken prisoner during war), and depended upon the wealthy to survive.

Even in such a harsh world, it is not hard to see how certain servants (head servants or nurses for example) would have come to be revered by the family due to their years of service.

Q. (35:20):  Can the monument be seen today?

A. When the writer says, “the monument can be seen today”, we do not know exactly when “today” is, and there are a number of theories about that.  But if you mean, can you still see the original site, well, that depends on who you ask.  For many of the important landmarks of this story (including events that take place in the New Testament, so you’re talking about literally thousands of years later), there are usually what are called “traditional” sites of an event or marker.  (You can read about the traditional site for Rachel’s tomb here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel’s_Tomb).  If you read the article, it notes that there are several sites that claim to be the “correct” one, but that generally we can only guess about the accuracy of the assessment.  The same is actually true for the site of Christ’s crucifixion and burial (there are TWO traditional burial sites for Christ).  The biggest problem for a lot of these sites is that for Rachel’s tomb as example, we are talking about a place that was marked more than 3000 years ago.  With all of the war, destruction, new construction, and endless movement and death of people, it is sometimes surprising that we know so much about this era at all.

Q. (35:27): If I remember right, Abraham and Isaac lived in Hebron as foreigners because this was the land God had promised to them and their descendants.

A. Most of the areas described in these stories (notably around the Jordan river) will ALL be taken over by Jacob/Israel’s descendants in about 400 years.