Judges 6:11 The meeting at the oak

GOD’S WORD FOR YOU 
JUDGES 6:11
 
11 And then the angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. His son Gideon was threshing wheat there in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites.  
 
Jesus said, “It’s easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law” (Luke 16:17). This verse begins with the stroke of a pen (vav, “and”) which continues the narration from the previous verse. Commentaries sometimes point out that the prophet’s sermon (6:8-10) is missing a part. After condemning Israel for disobeying the Lord, and repeating what the Lord had said, the prophet quoted God, “But you have not listened to me.”  Shouldn’t there be something more? Shouldn’t there be a “So then” clause? Not at all. The “So then…” is the seven years of mistreatment that Israel had by the locust swarm of Midian coming in like a tide every spring and going out again every fall. 
 
However, the prophet’s words do indeed break off. The Lord had something more to say, but instead of giving his words to the faithful prophet, the Lord himself came (we will find out that this angel of the LORD is in fact the LORD himself in verse 14) to have a talk with a man named Gideon. 
 
As with a good symphony or opera, a theme reappears here to supplement the story. Deborah sat under her palm tree (Judges 4:5) and the angel comes here to sit under the oak that belongs to Gideon’s father. Later, Gideon’s cruel son Abimelech would try to sway the people of Israel under another tree, the “soothsayer’s tree,” also known as “the great tree at the pillar in Shechem” (9:6,36) which was probably Joshua’s oak “near the holy place of the LORD” (Joshua 224:26). More about that later. 
 
Gideon was threshing a pitifully small harvest of wheat. Normally threshing takes place out in the open, on a hillside with a wide open space (a threshing floor). Oxen pull a threshing sledge over the grain to break up the hulls (note Isaiah description of threshing and winnowing, Isaiah 41:15-16). Gideon was making due with a small winepress, probably beating the grain with a staff or a stick of some kind. The Midianites wouldn’t look for wheat in a winepress, so he hoped his work would be hidden from view. The Lord could see that Gideon was an innovative man, improvising with what was on hand to accomplish his task. This was just the sort of man to accomplish what was needed for Israel.
 
What is important here is not the man threshing. From our Christian perspective, he’s all messed up. He is, in effect, trying to make bread where he should have made wine. This was because he didn’t want the Midianites to steal it all away, but there is a spiritual red flag about Gideon that will remain with his family throughout Judges. But Gideon isn’t the one we should be watching. Our eyes need to travel back to the one sitting beneath the tree. The LORD God, here appearing as an angel with arms and legs and a body and eyes and a voice—he is the one who has come to do something for Israel through this sneaky man threshing in a winepress. For us, it is the one under (or on) the tree who matters. He atoned for our sins, was taken down from the tree, and laid in a tomb. But he rose again and was seen by many people before being carried up into heaven. Then he will judge all mankind. “He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice” (Psalm 72:2; 98:9), and he himself says, “I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge uprightly” (Psalm 75:2). Until that day, we go about our work as forgiven children of God. We offer up our lives to him, and we know that he is our true Judge, our Savior, and our King.
 
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 6:7-10 The sins of the Amorites

GOD’S WORD FOR YOU 
JUDGES 6:7-10
 
7 When the Israelites cried to the LORD because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I snatched you away from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”  
 
This unnamed prophet is the 77th prophet of God in Scripture. If Moses was the first prophet (apart from the Patriarchs), Aaron (Ex. 7:1), Miriam (Ex 15:20), the seventy elders (Num 11:25-27), Eldad and Medad (Num. 1:28-30), and Deborah (Judges 4:4) bring the number to 76 prophets prior to this (Joshua is never called a prophet).  We know nothing at all about him; not even where he was from. We can’t even say that he was probably from one place or another (such as a serving priest) since prophets came from all over Israel and all walks of life (Amos 7:14; 2 Kings 19:19). The most important fact is that he spoke the word of God truthfully and publicly (he said “to them,” meaning the whole nation). 
 
The source of the prophet’s message was the LORD God himself, not the prophet’s opinion or understanding, no matter how godly or correct his opinion may have been. God identifies himself with his name (the LORD) and his title (the God of Israel, your God) and as the speaker and source of the message (“I…”). He also describes himself by his actions and words: “I brought you…I snatched you… I drove them out… I gave you their land… and I said to you.” God did all of these things on behalf of this people, the people he loved. Remember Luther’s explanation to the First Article in his Small Catechism:
 
“And I believe that God still preserves me by richly and daily providing clothing and shoes, food and drink, property and home, spouse and children, land, cattle, and all I own, and all I need to keep my body and life. God also preserves me by defending me against all danger, guarding and protecting me from all evil. All this God does only because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it. For all this I ought to thank and praise, to serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.”
 
God had previously warned Israel about idolatry. He condemns them here in a severe preaching of the law. God had said, “Completely destroy the Amorites, otherwise they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God” (Deut. 20:17-18, omitting a list of five other nations). Now, what had they done? Their idolatry is not described in detail, but God’s judgment was certainly based on what was going on among his people. They must have fallen into Amorite worship.
 
The Amorites were a nation of Canaanites who lived on the hilltops and mountainous regions of Canaan. Moses defeated their two great kings, Sihon and Og, shortly after the death of Aaron (Numbers 21:21-31). This enabled Israel to settle briefly on the east side of the Jordan while Moses preached his last great sermons (the book of Deuteronomy) before his death, after which the people crossed the Jordan. Then Joshua defeated five more Amorite kings on the day that the sun stood still (Joshua 10:13-27). The Amorites inhabited the heights of what would become the hill country of Judah, the area of Jerusalem, the hill country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and the heights of Gilead and Bashan beyond the Jordan. This means that although they seemed to be defeated as a nation, their population was spread out over the entire eastern, central and northeastern portions of Israel. Their religion had infected Israel, and the people of God had fallen into sins against the First, Second and Third Commandments. The details of these sins are unimportant. What is important to remember is the ease into which anyone falls away from worshiping the true God by being misled by the lies of the devil. David complained: “Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets” (Psalm 55:11), and “false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence” (Psalm 27:11). It’s easy to jump onto a lie if it seems to agree with what you think, whether it’s actually true or not.
 
When anyone begins to trust in anything—an idol, an idea, a lie, an economic policy, a dynamic human leader, or even a trusty old adage like “a stitch in time…” or “a bird in the hand,” and sets that above trusting in God above all things, he has fallen into idolatry and unbelief. 
 
Luther warned: “Let us therefore learn the first commandment well and realize that God will tolerate no presumption and no trust in any other object; he makes no greater demand of us than a hearty trust in him for all blessings. Then we shall be on the right path and walk straight ahead, using all God’s gifts exactly as a cobbler uses his needle, awl, and thread (for work, eventually to lay them aside) or as a traveler avails himself of an inn, food and bed (only for his temporal need). Let each person be in his station in life according to God’s order, allowing none of these things to be his lord or idol” (Large Catechism, par. 47). Then we will fear, love and trust in God above all things. 
 
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 6:1-6 The Midian Tide

GOD’S WORD FOR YOU 
JUDGES 6:1-6
 
6 The people of Israel did what was evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD gave them into the hands of the Midianites for seven years.  
 
This verse is very similar to Judges 4:1, except that there is no “once again” (ve-yosephu, וַיֹּסִפוּ) as there is there in chapter 4. The Medieval Jewish Rabbi Rashi (1040-1105) comments (quoted in Daniel Bomberg’s Second Rabbinic Bible):
 
“Until now it was said (above 3: 12, 4:1), “and they continued to do,” because one sin was piled on another sin, but with this song (ch. 5) they were forgiven for all they had done and it was as though now they were beginning to sin.” 
 
This is a misunderstanding of the relationship of sin and grace. First, there is no proclamation of forgiveness for Israel’s sins in Judges, there is only rescue sent by God to deliver the people. This deliverance throughout the book was done to present the gospel of God’s loving protection in a tangible way so that the people would ask for pardon and deliverance. But there was no such plea for forgiveness—there were only repeated pleas for help. 
 
To understand this is to understand the chief problem of Judges: Why did the Lord keep permitting the people to fall into the hands of their enemies? Don’t we all keep sinning? Don’t we all deserve to fall into the hands of the Midianites—or whatever ‘-ites’ there are in our day? Certainly! If we think we are any better than Gideon’s Israel, we had better look into the mirror of the Law fast and see the filth and slime that cover us every morning, noon and night time. We keep turning to Christ in repentance, and his love covers us. The only thing that’s different about us is Christ—not anything inside of us. We deserve no better, and we should fall on our faces to thank God that we have not received worse up to now. 
 
2 The power of Midian was very oppressive to Israel. So because of this the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves and strongholds.  
 
Midian, it is generally agreed, was the land to the east of the eastern arm of the Red Sea (the right-hand side of the Sinai Peninsula). The Midianites were descended from Abraham by his second wife Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2; 1 Chron.1:32). It was a group of Midianites who sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:36), but it was also among the Midianites that Moses found his wife (Exodus 2:16-21). 
 
The oppression of Midian will be explained in verses 3-6. Israel’s response is described here. The people simply hid whenever the Midianites showed up. The Hebrew word minharoth is not exactly certain. The formation of the word, min “from, out of” a nahar “river” would suggest a hollow carved out by a river—a gorge or cave.  The way the word is used here suggests that the places were used as hiding places, and so this is the translation I have chosen. Mountains and caves are clear enough, but what were these strongholds? 
 
A massad was a high, inaccessible place, easily defended from attackers (it’s the root word of the famous Dead Sea fortress Massada). David and Jeremiah use this term and related words like sether (“hiding place”) and mahseh (“shelter”) to describe the way God looks after his people: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1); “O LORD my strength and my fortress, my refuge in time of distress…” (Jeremiah 15:19).  God is our Mighty Fortress, our trusty Shield and Weapon (Luther). He is our Hiding Place (Ps 32:7; Isaiah 4:6). Any other shelter is a lie and a deception, as Isaiah said: “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place” (Isaiah 28:17). 
 
3 Whenever the Israelites planted seed the Midianites and Amalekites and other people of the East would invade and attack them.  4 They would make camp and destroy the crops (even all the way to Gaza) and they would leave nothing for Israel, not a sheep or an ox or even a donkey.  5 For they would invade with their livestock and their tents, as many as a swarm of locusts. Neither they nor their camels could be counted. They laid the land waste whenever they invaded.  6 So Israel was brought down very low because of Midian, and the Israelites cried to the LORD for help. 
 
This Midianite oppression was like a tide that came and went each year. At first, Midianite raiders came into Canaan, perhaps because of famine or war in their own land (but all of this was the hand of God at work). They stole, and they got away with it. Israel still had no real skill in bronze working. Most of the metal used in Israel was taken as the spoils of battle, and therefore when the rest of Canaan was well into the Bronze Age or the Middle Bronze Age, Israel was really still in the Stone Age.  So Midianite raiders had little resistance. The next year, more Midianites came, and the crops were annihilated (stolen). Sometimes they came alone, and sometimes they were joined by Amalekites or “other people of the East” (a term meaning the many nomadic tribes of the Arabian desert and the Sinai peninsula). In came the tide of Midian, and Israel’s crops and animals disappeared. But out they would go again when the weather changed, and the people would plant, and barter, and trade—until the tide came back. The people of Judah, Simeon, Manasseh and the other tribes would scurry up into the hills to find their minharoth holes and caves, until the tide went out again. This went on for seven years, and the people remembered to cry out the LORD for help. 
 
Someone might ask, why didn’t they ask for help sooner? This isn’t the question. The real question is, why did they only cry out for help; why weren’t they crying out for forgiveness? Left to themselves, without leadership, Israel was slipping away from their faith. They didn’t understand the teachings of Moses anymore. They didn’t tell their children about repentance and the forgiveness of sins. God was allowing them the opportunity to examine their plight and their sinful lives, but all that they were getting out of it was the vague knowledge that they needed help. May God bless us with a more certain and soul-searching knowledge that we need a Savior from our sins. If we fail to address or acknowledge our sins, we are lost and condemned. When we confess our sin, God blesses us with the gospel of forgiveness. We pray, “Forgive my iniquity, though it is great” (Psalm 25:11), and we are comforted: “You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins” (Psalm 85:2). As we confess in the Formula of Concord:  “God forgives us our sins purely by his grace, without any preceding, present or subsequent work, merit, or worthiness, and reckons to us the righteousness of Christ’s obedience. On account of this righteousness we are accepted by God into grace and are regarded as righteous.” 
 
Thank and praise, serve and obey him!
 
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 5:31b Forty Years

GOD’S WORD FOR YOU 
JUDGES 5:31b
 
I apologize that an illness has kept me away
from these devotions for several days.
 
And the land had rest for forty years.  
 
I’ve been in the ministry for twenty years. Wait—no, I haven’t. I was a vicar (a kind of student assistant to a pastor who preaches and teaches and administers the sacraments) from August 1997 until August 1998. I completed my seminary training and was ordained in 1999, and I served as a missionary from July 1999 until February 2001. I accepted a call to New Ulm, Minnesota at that time and I have served here at St. Paul’s, New Ulm, up to today (January, 2017). So I was doing full-time work in 1997, with a year to finish my studies and receive my Master’s degree. So how long have I been in the ministry? 16 years in New Ulm, 1½ years as a missionary, and a year as a vicar. That’s 18½ years, spread out over 20 years. It’s easier and less complicated to say that I’ve been in the ministry for about twenty years.  
 
Sometimes in the Bible, especially in the days after Moses but before the reign of King David, there was a similar tendency to calculate dates in an “easier and less complicated” manner. Why would this be the case? In ancient times, almost all nations reckoned the passage of time according to the years that their kings spent on the throne. Moses simply used his own lifetime for dates during the Exodus, noting that when he and Aaron came to Pharaoh to demand that he let their people go, Moses was eighty, and Aaron was eighty-three (Exod. 7:7; Moses died at 120, Deut. 34:7). In the days of the judges, there was no such over-arching mechanism for chronology. Some dates are given exactly; others may not be.
 
The issues of chronology in the book of Judges cannot be answered simply and brilliantly in such a way that no one will ever wonder about the subject ever again. Professor John C. Lawrenz gives an excellent treatment of this subject in his People’s Bible on Judges (pages 9-15). Permit me to summarize his main points:
 
  □  We are told that the dedication of Solomon’s temple took place 480 years after the exodus from Egypt (1 Kings 6:1).
 
  □  The total of all of the chronological references (data) in the book of Judges (years of oppression, years of peace) adds up to 410 years.
 
  □  There are some other chunks of years to be accounted for: 40 years of wandering after the exodus, 40 years of David’s reign, 4 years of Solomon’s reign before the dedication, the 60 combined years of the leadership of Eli and Samuel after the time of the judges before Saul’s kingship, and the uncertain length of Saul’s reign (22, 32, 40 or 42 years, depending on how we resolve the uncertain text of 1 Samuel 13:1 and the possibly round number “forty years” of Acts 13:21). 
 
  □  All of these figures add up to about 560 years to “shoehorn” (Lawrenz’ apt term) 480 years into. 
 
Some possible solutions involve taking terms like “40 years” and its multiples and factors as round figures meaning “a generation,” and perhaps not always as an exact number (however, as with Moses’ age in Exodus 7:7, sometimes it must be taken as an exact number). A better solution may be to take the years of peace brought by some of the judges as overlapping. When the north, for example, was oppressed by Ammon, the south had peace from Philistia, and so forth. Dr. Lawrenz’ statement is well worth quoting: “Many schemes have been put forward to chart the chronology of the period of the judges. In view of the data at hand, none can claim authority. We can be sure that God knows the chronology. We can be satisfied that he has not chosen to reveal its internal precision” (People’s Bible, Judges p. 15). 
 
One other chronological detail will emerge along with the story of Jephthah (Judges 11:26). We will discuss his “three hundred years” in that place. 
 
The word translated “rest” here is the verb shaqat, “to be quiet, undisturbed.” After the victory given through Deborah’s encouragement, Barak’s generalship, and Jael’s hammer, God quieted the land, and Israel did not have any conflict for forty years. What brought conflict back was not a lack of diligence in God’s angels or a lack of vigilance in God’s watchfulness. It was sin in Israel. But that’s the way it is with fallen mankind. We fall back into sin, and we prove with our error that we need a Savior, a Savior who is not subject to error and who does not yield to sin. We need Jesus Christ. Praise be to God that we have him. 
 
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 5:28-31a Sisera’s mother

GOD’S WORD FOR YOU 
JUDGES 5:28-31a
 
28 Out of the window Sisera’s mother peered, 
    she cried out from behind the lattice: 
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? 
    What is keeping the hoofbeats of his chariots?’
 
Deborah takes us in a flash from Jael’s simple tent to the palatial house of Sisera in Hazor. Jael’s tent had a flap for an entrance, but Sisera’s home had latticed windows—crisscrossed strips of wood that allowed one to see out but which kept the birds from flying in (it’s also the way my grandmother taught me to make the top of an apple pie).  Lattice windows were still popular in Solomon’s time (Prov. 7:6; Song of Solomon 2:9). 
 
The contrast between the two women is filled with sarcasm. What’s the matter, mom? Wondering what happened to your boy, the general? Are you wondering why you don’t hear the thunder of his chariot horses? But Deborah doesn’t leave it at that. Jael was all alone, but Sisera’s mother isn’t alone…
 
29 Her wisest ladies answer her
    (in fact, she gives the answer herself):  
30 ‘Aren’t they finding and dividing the spoils? 
    A girl or two for every man,
plunder for Sisera—dyed garments;
    plunder of embroidered and dyed garments,
    two pieces of dyed work embroidered for my neck as plunder?’  
 
The ladies who attended Sisera’s mother, whoever they were (sisters? servants? ladies-in-waiting?) try to keep things light: He’s picking through the spoils after the battle. You know how men are—“a girl or two for every man” (remember Jan & Dean’s 1963 “Surf City”? Two girls for every boy…). . Even mom gets caught up in the thought of the plunder: “two pieces of dyed work embroidered for my neck!” Sisera always remembered to bring something nice back for mom. 
 
31 “So perish all your enemies, O LORD! 
    May your friends be like the sun 
    as he rises in his might.” 
 
Deborah doesn’t finish the scene with Sisera’s mother; she doesn’t have to. In fact, as a poet, Deborah shows her genius in leaving us wondering about this mother even as she was wondering about her son. By not describing the breaking of the sad news, she captures the moment of her wondering forever. 
 
This serious note is the final thought from Deborah: This is the way God’s enemies perish. They might not realize how dire their circumstance is, but they will face the true God in the Last Judgment. Confucius said: “If you look into your own heart and find nothing wrong there, what is there to worry about? What  is there to fear?” His thought is a perfect example of the limitations of the natural knowledge of God. Although we learn about God from nature (“The heavens declare the glory of God,” Psalm 19:1) and we see God’s hand in the way things are formed (“for he commanded and they were created,” Psalm 148:5), that knowledge doesn’t tell us who God is, or what he has done for us. We only learn those things in the revealed knowledge, which is his word, the Bible. In it, he says, “I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5). He also invites us to put our trust in him: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth” (Isaiah 45:22), and that salvation is found in Jesus alone: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Mortal men cannot save us (Ps. 146:3), but God did save from our sins through the blood of Jesus, “not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9).  
 
Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of Christians talking about the destruction of God’s enemies. Doesn’t revenge belong to God alone? Certainly it does.  But when we praise God for keeping his word -- even his word to punish unbelievers – we do so because we know that he also does the other things he promises: “I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy” (Ps. 140:12). God is holy, and in his compassion he shares his holiness with us and covers us with it: “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to life in your courts!” (Psalm 65:4). We are blessed to be brought to faith in Christ, who will bring us home to eternal 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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