Judges 7:16-23 Broken jars, broken silence, broken darkness

GOD’S WORD FOR YOU 
JUDGES 7:16-23
 
16 After he divided the three hundred men into three companies, he gave each of them horns and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. 17 He said to them, “Look at me, and do the same thing. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do.  18 When I blow the horn, I and all the men who are with me, then you also blow your horns around the whole camp, and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon!’” 
 
Dividing a force into three groups was a typical Israelite strategy. Saul used it against the Amorites (1 Sam. 11:11), David used it when hunting Absalom (2 Sam 18:2), and later in Judges, Gideon’s son would use three divisions in his attack on the city of Shechem (Judges 9:43). Judas Maccabeus also used this strategy against Timothy and the Ammonites (1 Macc. 5:33). 
 
Now we see that although Gideon took the rations from many of the other soldiers, it was really more the containers—clay jars—that he was interested in, and not so much the bread and dried fruit and mutton jerky (or whatever it was) that they contained. The clay jars enabled Gideon and his men to carry lit torches close to the Midian camp without being seen, and without having to take the time later to use flint and tinder to get them going. 
 
19 So Gideon and the hundred who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. They blew their horns and smashed the jars that were in their hands. 20 So all three companies blew their horns and broke their jars, holding the torches in their left hands and the horns in their right hands as they blew them, and they cried, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” 21 While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran. They cried out and fled.
 
In Matthew 14:25, we are told that the Romans divided the night into four watches (6-9 PM, 9-Midnight, Midnight-3 AM, and 3-6 AM). The Jews divided the night into three watches, with the middle watch falling between 10 PM and 2 AM. It was the beginning of the middle watch, after 10 pm and therefore several hours after night had fallen, when Gideon and his men broke the sleepy silence, broke out of the darkness with their torches, and broke the orderliness of the Midianite camp. Suddenly the sleeping nomads heard hundreds of rams’ horns blasting away in the darkness, and suddenly the darkness was lit all around them by torches, and suddenly there was shouting from all around. Men were shouting, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” 
 
The result was chaos—just as the Lord know it would be.
 
22 When they blew the three hundred horns, the LORD caused them to turn on one another with their swords. The army fled as far as Beth-Shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. 23 Then the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali, from Asher and from all of Manasseh, and they pursued the Midianites.  
 
The Midianites drew their swords—some in a natural soldier’s reflex, some in self-defense, some in fear, and some because everybody else was doing it. But in the ten-o’clock darkness of the Jezreel Valley, no one could tell anybody else apart, and the Midianites began to attack one another. At least three and perhaps more dialects were spoken by these people (Midianite, Amalekite, and the other desert peoples), so it wasn’t just a matter of calling out in your own tongue. In the excitement, the vast army began to cut itself to pieces. 
 
The nomads ran south and east, down into the Jordan valley. They made for Abel Meholah,  about fifteen miles south-southwest  of the Hill of Moreh, and Gideon called in reinforcements. The Midianites were chased away, and as we pause here, the chase continues. 
 
The servant of God can be confident of God’s protection and can ask God to strike his enemies. David sang about this many times. “All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed, they will turn back in sudden disgrace (Psalm 6:10). “My enemies turn back, they stumble and perish before you” (Psalm 9:3). “Rise up, O Lord, confront them. Bring them down! Rescue me from the wicked by your sword” (Ps. 17:13). “Pour out your wrath on them, let your fierce anger overtake them” (Ps. 69:24). These are known as imprecatory psalms; they contain curses or prayers for punishment on God’s enemies (and the psalmist’s enemies). These prayers leave the concept of punishment in God’s hands, and we do the same thing when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Whenever we pray “Hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” we pray that God would judge the devil and all those who do not bless God’s name, who try to thwart the work of his kingdom, and who do not do his will. So when we read “In your unfailing love, silence my enemies, destroy all my foes, for I am your servant” (Ps. 143:12), we’re not breaking the Fifth Commandment by wishing violence or evil on someone. We’re keeping the First Commandment by asking God to carry out his will in the world. We don’t take this work into our own hands—but we recognize that the Lord put this work into the hands of Gideon (those are his very words, Judges 7:7, 7:9 and 7:15), to save his people and to bring about his plan to take away the sins of the whole world. 
 
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
 
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Judges 7:8-15 The dream of the tumbling dinner roll

GOD’S WORD FOR YOU 
JUDGES 7:8-15
 
8 So Gideon took the provisions from the troops and also their horns; and then he sent the rest of the Israelites back to their tents, keeping the three hundred. 
 
“Provisions” here is the word tseydah. It’s the provisions a soldier would carry for the day’s march or a longer journey (like Joseph giving his sons provisions for the trip down to Egypt, Gen. 42:25; cp. “I will bless her with abundant provisions,” Psalm 132:15). In this case, it was not just the food, but the containers that were important, as we will see.
 
The horns were the shofar or ram’s horns common in Israel in those days. Later, straight metal trumpets (hatsotsarah) without valves were used in temple worship (2 Chron 5:13, etc.). The shofar is difficult to master and takes a great deal of breath; Gideon and his men seem to have been comfortable with this kind of instrument, which would have been the kind of signal device they used in attacks as well as religious festivals. 
 
Now, the camp of Midian was below him in the valley, 9 and that same night the LORD said to him, “Get up, go down and attack the camp; for I have given it into your hands. 10 But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah 11 and listen to what they are saying. Then you will have the courage to attack the camp.” 
 
God knew his servant. Gideon would be an effective leader, but he still needed confidence and more encouragement. So God sent a dream into the sleep of one of the Midianites, the man who would be posted near a path Gideon could take into their valley; a man who, God knew, would talk about his dream with a wise friend. So God told Gideon to go down with his servant Purah and listen.  This is God’s hand yet again at work, arranging everything very carefully for a sure victory for his people. It didn’t matter if Gideon’s faith was shaky at best. All that mattered was the God was on their side. 
 
So he went down with his servant Purah to the outposts of the encamped army. 12 The Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the east lay along the valley as thick as locusts; and their camels were without number, countless as the sand on the seashore. 13 When Gideon arrived, there was a man telling a dream to a friend. He said, “Listen! I had a dream—listen—and in it a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian. It rolled to the tent and struck it so hard that it fell down. The tent overturned and collapsed.”  14 His friend answered, “This is none other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given Midian and all the army into his hands.”  15 When Gideon heard the dream being told and its interpretation, he worshiped God and returned to the Israelite camp. He said, “Get up! The LORD has given the army of Midian into your hands!” 
 
It didn’t help Gideon’s faltering faith that the Midianites seemed “as thick as locusts.” Even the camels were uncountable. But what was of help was that a lookout had just awakened from a dream. People in Old Testament times were especially interested in dreams, and people of almost every religious belief felt that his gods were speaking to him through dreams. Indeed, the Lord tells us that the spirits of demons can perform miraculous signs that “go out to the kings of the whole world” (Revelation 16:14). But in this case, it was not a demon masquerading as a Midianite god, but the true God who sent a dream. 
 
The man’s excited state comes out as he says hinney (behold, listen) twice as he introduces it to his friend in verse 13. A “round loaf of barley bread” was rolling into the camp. The otherwise unknown word tsalil might be related to an Arabic word meaning a dry, cracked or stale loaf. This would be a fitting image of Gideon’s meager barley farm. The tent in the dream is clearly a picture of the tents of the Midianites and the other nomadic tribes who were allied with them. The tumbling, bouncing loaf toppled the tent—it “overturned and collapsed.” This wasn’t just a freak happening, but a violent blow. Who would ever imagine that a tumbling dinner roll could knock down a tent? But this reflected the odds that the Lord had set up to show his glory in Gideon’s victory.
 
The lookout’s companion understood it right away. And now, hearing this, Gideon was encouraged to go and attack without delay. But before running back to his half-brigade, he stopped to worship God. This was certainly a prayer rather than a song or sacrifice. But it’s a good reminder to us that even prayer is a form of worship (Luke 2:37),  and that we give God glory when we approach his throne in our prayers. When he gives you success, give him praise. When he answers one prayer, thank him with another. He doesn’t demand this from us; it comes naturally from our faith. “Give thanks to him and praise his name” (Ps. 100:4), because his love endures forever.
 
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
 
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Ruth 2:4-7 Good hard work

GOD’S WORD FOR YOU 
RUTH 2:4-7
 
4 Now Boaz had just come from Bethlehem, and he called out to the harvesters, “The LORD be with you!” They answered him, “May the LORD bless you.”
 
Verse 4 begins with the Hebrew word hinney, “Behold!” In fact, the accent marks  stress the name of Boaz as one of the more important phrase breaks in the passage, so that the reader would say, “Look—here comes Boaz! Just now from Bethlehem…” 
 
We don’t know whether “The LORD be with you!” and the response, “May the LORD bless you” were commonplace greetings, but it’s clear to us that Boaz and his workmen were not worshipers of Baal. They showed their faith in a simple, sincere, everyday greeting. There are very few religious greetings like this in the Old Testament. An angel might give a greeting like this (Judges 6:12). Saul tried to cover over his sinful impatience by greeting Samuel with “The LORD bless you!” (1 Samuel 15:13). In the New Testament, Jesus used a similar greeting: “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36). But ultimately it became commonplace for the New Testament writers to replace the more conventional “Greetings” with a Christian greeting like “Grace and peace to you” (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; 2 Peter 1:2), or “Grace, mercy and peace to you” (1 Tim 1:2; 2 John 3) or even “Mercy, peace and love be yours” (Jude 2). 
 
5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the harvesters, “Whose young woman is this?”
 
It is almost impossible to convey the implications of the simple Hebrew nouns in this sentence into smooth English. The words are na’ar “boy, servant” and na’arah “girl, servant girl.” Boaz asked his “boy” who this “girl” was. The term na’ar is generally used of a boy or a child, but in many languages including Biblical Hebrew and the English of the American Old South, “boy” can refer to a servant or a slave. Today in America it is considered impolite and derogatory, even demeaning, to call any grown man “boy,” but for Boaz there was no disrespect intended. At first, he seems to have taken Ruth for a servant girl (calling her na’arah). However as we will see, Boaz had heard her story, and now for the first time he was putting Ruth’s face to the name he already knew. 
 
Boaz was impressed with her, by what he had heard, and now by what he had seen.
 
6 The servant in charge of the harvesters said, “She is the Moabite girl who came back with Naomi from the land of Moab. 7 She asked, ‘Please let me gather fallen grain behind the harvesters from among the sheaves.’ So she entered the field, and has worked continually from morning until now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”
 
This report from the servant (or foreman, since he was in charge of the harvesters) was simple and accurate. He quoted the one thing Ruth asked, about getting permission to glean. She seems to have overstepped things by asking to glean even among the harvested sheaves, which should have been off-limits, but Boaz and his foreman overlooked this, either with indulgent humor or because she was a stranger. The foreman also reported on how hard she had worked. In fact, the shortness of the break she had taken was so unusual that the servant saw fit to mention it.
 
It’s not clear what “the shelter” was. The Hebrew word bayit means “house” but can also mean any kind of habitation. It’s unlikely that there was an actual house near this field, or that Naomi’s house was nearby. It’s more probable that there was some kind of temporary shelter like a tent set up to give hot workers some shade, and there is evidence in the Bible that field workers took a siesta-style nap in the heat of the afternoon, often in a make-shift shelter (2 Samuel 4:5; Isaiah 25:4; Jonah 4:5). 
 
Our attitude toward hard work can show people a lot about us. The older we get, the more difficult it can be to have the stamina that Ruth showed, and yet our willingness to do whatever is necessary is a lesson that not everyone learns. But for those who do, it can be a way of showing our faith and our love for Christ even under the difficult conditions of hard physical labor. Work is a gift God gives so that we each can contribute to his plans for the world. Physical work was part of man’s time in the Paradise of Eden before the fall in to sin (Genesis 2:15), and God will certainly bless us with useful labor in heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:22), whether singing (Rev. 14:3) or tending things (Lev 24:4). Whatever it may be, we will be fulfilled; we will not ask for anything more or less. 
 
Our attitude, our language, and even our very thoughts can preach the sermon that we have faith in Christ, and we’re willing to show it in everything we say, think and do. For Ruth, it got her noticed by a believing man. Only the Lord knows, but he may have something remarkable in store for you to which even your attitude towards hard work may contribute. Give God glory with whatever you do.
 
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
 
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Judges 7:1-7 The 300

GOD’S WORD FOR YOU 
JUDGES 7:1-7
 
7 Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men rose early in the morning and camped at the spring of Harod. 
 
Many of us acquire nicknames in our lifetimes. I have been known at various times and by various people as Teej, Feet, Curly, Fuzzy, Art Garfunkel, Maurice (thanks to a Steve Miller Band song), Chytraeus (from Seminary days), and (by my brother’s high school friends) Li’l Smuck. That the Holy Spirit would call Gideon by his nickname Jerub-Baal shows us that God knows everything about us and about our lives.
 
We don’t know exactly where the spring of Harod was located, but a good guess is a place called ‘Ain Jalud at the foot of Mount Gilboa.
 
The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh.  
 
If our guess about the spring of Harod is correct, then the Midianites were camped just five miles away. They were near the hill of Moreh in Galilee. Nearby was the village of Shunem, where one day Elisha would raise a boy from the dead (2 Kings 4:4, 34-35) and also the village of Nain, where Jesus would do the same thing (Luke 7:11-17). 
 
2 The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to give Midian into their hands. So that Israel will not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, 3 say now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” Then twenty-two thousand men left, and ten thousand remained. 
 
In war, superior numbers are not always a guarantee of success. God wanted his people to understand that success is only possible through faith in him—nothing else at all could bring any victory. The Israelite army was reduced by two-thirds right away. Anyone showing fear (which in this case was taken to be a sign of mistrust and doubt) was dismissed.
 
4 But the LORD said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, ‘This man shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This man shall not go with you,’ he must not go.” 5 So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD said to him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.” 6 Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. 7 The LORD said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own home.” 
 
The Israelites started this outnumbers 4 to 1. To further reduce the army by two-thirds was, in the words of Werner Franzmann “absurd.”  The Israelites were now outnumbered 13 to 1. But God knew that there still might be a chance that Israel would boast about their achievement if they overcame the Midianites, so he reduced the numbers even further, down to 300 men. 
 
The significance of the test might be that the men who lapped “like a dog” (out of their cupped hand rather than kneeling all the way down) might show that those 300 men were especially alert warriors, not letting their guard down even for a moment to drink. But it also might simply be that it tore a much larger chunk out of Israel’s army, and God wanted to use just a few, half a brigade, to achieve the impossible. Outnumbered now 450 to 1, God was ready to use this tiny band of men to show that the Lord is the one who directs history and brings about his plans to save us. 
 
In the late summer of 480 BC, a small Greek force held off a vast Persian army in the Battle of Thermopylae. About 300 Spartans and about 1,000 other Greeks held off between 100,000 and 150,000 Persians before being wiped out (the move 300 is based on this event). That battle is often used as an example of the success a small nation can have when fighting on its own soil against an invader (the Greeks eventually defeated the Persians, although the “300” were killed). The battle that Gideon was about to fight pitted just 300 Israelites against 350,000 Midianites, three times the number of Persians at Thermopylae. This was a case of God showing with no uncertain terms at all who is in control of the world, and what he will do for his people. One of Job’s friends asked: “Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?” (Job 27:15-16). God is the one “who brings everything under his control” (Philippians 3:21). He accomplishes everything for our good, and to his glory. 
 
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
 
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Judges 6:39-40 The fleece was dry

GOD’S WORD FOR YOU 
JUDGES 6:39-40
 
39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let your anger burn against me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time let only the fleece be dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. The fleece alone was dry, but the ground was covered with dew. 
 
Gideon wanted another test. He had the word of the Lord, spoken by the mouth of the Lord, and so he shouldn’t have needed any test at all, but God showed his patience with him by granting him the first test, and now even a second one. The weak and sinful mind cries out, “My knees are weak! Help me, O LORD my God! Save me according to your steadfast love” (Psalm 109:24,26), and God does exactly that. Why is God so patient? First, because of his unfailing love, and second, to give himself even more glory, since when he is patient with us, we praise him. “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds” (Psalm 57:9,10). 
 
This second test reminds me that our baptism also sets us apart from the world. Although the world was once destroyed by water, God “waited patiently in the days of Noah during the building of the ark” (1 Peter 3:20), waiting for 120 years until Noah and his sons—the sons who were not yet born when Noah was first commanded to build the ark—completed the monumental task. Then, while the world was inundated with water, the ark kept Noah’s family dry like Gideon’s fleece. “Surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him” (Psalm 32:6).
 
“This water,” Peter says about the flood, “symbolizes baptism. And baptism now saves you. Not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). Peter also said about baptism: “The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away—everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:39).  So we are lifted up by baptism out of the destruction of sin and away from the dissolution of the world, and we are lifted up, up into the bliss of heaven by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from dead. “Lord, have mercy on me; raise me up” (Psalm 41:10). For everyone who puts their faith in the risen Christ will also rise to everlasting life.
 
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
 
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

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