Bible reading for July 20.
"They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses." (Judges 3:4)
THE FIRST THREE JUDGES. This chapter records the exploits of the first three judges (the military, judicial leaders raised up by God) -- Ehud, Othniel, and Shamgar -- which covered a period of about 120 years (c. 1370 --1250 BC). The land had not been completely occupied. There were Canaanite strongholds still within their borders. It was God's plan that these remain in order to test Israel and to teach the next generation about war (vv 1-7). We see the cycle of compromise, bondage, and deliverance begin. (See the diagram in yesterday's post.) Compromise and inter-marriage were so dangerous because a) they resulted in the loss of the distinctiveness of the nation of Israel; b) they endangered the continuity and purity of the messianic lineage (Gen 12:2; 49:10); and c) they brought the people into bondage to foreign, idolatrous powers. The pressure to compromise and accommodate is ultimately a grab for power over us. We also see that the ministry of the Holy Spirit during this OT period was to convey wisdom to judge and strength to fight (v 10). We then read of the particularly gross death of the king of Moab. One thing is for sure: when Israelite parents were telling this story in their family devotions at home, none of the children fell asleep! ("Hey, Dad, tell us the story again about the fat king and the disappearing sword!")
WHY DOES GOD LET EVIL EXIST? As believers, why do we daily face temptations to sin? Why does the world keep pressuring us to compromise? Why does the devil never seem to take a vacation? This chapter teaches that the presence of evil still exists in order to test God's people. That is, to see if we will in fact choose to believe and obey God. God would not allow evil to exist unless he could bring a higher good out of it. Secondly, it is to train us for war, which may seem a bit militant to us today. We may think Jesus came to establish peace on earth, but he said, "I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!" (Lu 12:49) Peace is not appeasement. True and lasting peace will come only through being reconciled to God and by coming under Christ's reign of righteousness. The world rejected him, as seen by the cross. We cannot learn to "take up our cross" (Lu 9:23) if there is not a cross for us to take up. This means we are to learn that we belong completely to God (2 Cor 6:14-18) and that in actual practice we should say "no" to sin, and say "no" to the lies of the devil, and say "no" to the seductive pressures of the world. Just like ancient Israel, we must learn to "fight the good fight of faith" (1 Tim 6:12).
"But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'" (Acts 7:55-56)
STEPHEN'S DEFENSE. The first Christian martyr is this young man Stephen, who proclaimed Christ and served the church in a deacon's role. Stephen gives a marvelous summary of God's gracious dealings with Israel, along with Israel's unbelief. The question they were facing was, if Jesus was the Messiah, then why hadn't more people, especially the religious leaders, received him? Stephen's answer to that question was that Israel had rejected many whom God had sent: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you." (Acts 7:51) Tom Constable notes in his commentary, "Stephen’s purpose was to show that Jesus experienced the same things Abraham, Joseph, and Moses had experienced as God’s anointed servants" (NET Bible). In anger the crowd takes Stephen out of the city, and there he is killed by stoning. Though Jesus is most often described as sitting at the right hand of God, Stephen sees him standing there (v 55). Perhaps it was to welcome home this young martyr with honor. We also encounter for the first time another young man, Saul (from Tarsus), who later would be known as Paul the Apostle. The church in Jerusalem will enter a new phase, a time of persecution, which will also be a time of expansion. [See chart above.]
APOLOGETICS. If the evidence for Jesus being the Son of God is so compelling, then why don't more people believe in him? And we might add to that, why don't more educated and influential people believe in him? One thing we learn here is that it is not the preponderance of evidence that brings someone to the Lord. We can and should share the evidences for the Christian faith, but we must remember that the darkness and resistance within the human heart predispose people not to desire Christ (Rom 1:20-21; 1 Cor 1:18-24). This would mean humbling oneself and coming to depend upon the Lord rather than power, prestige, or education. For those of us who share Christ with others we must do so with dependence upon the Lord's working by the Holy Spirit to bring conviction and understanding (John 16:8-11).
We are following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson.
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The NET Bible is a free, online resource, and a ministry of bible.org.