Bible reading for July 22.
"My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless the LORD." (Judges 5:9)
A SONG OF VICTORY. Deborah writes a poem about God's deliverance (see yesterday's post). These Israelites (primarily tribes from the central region) had lived in fear of the powerful Canaanites in that region, led by the military commander, Sisera. The Israelites kept off the main roads, likely to avoid encounter and abuse from their cruel overlords. The tribes rallied and faced their enemy in the plain between Megiddo and Mount Tabor. This flat region gave great advantage to the chariot warfare waged by the Canaanites. As we saw yesterday the Canaanites, despite heavy odds in their favor, were totally defeated. So what happened? Apparently, a most unusual and massive storm -- possibly along with an earthquake -- took place and flooded the plain between Megiddo and Tabor (vv 4-5, 20-22). The terrifying iron chariots -- and likely the terrified horses pulling them -- were of no use in battle. Sisera, the army commander, fled and was killed by a woman, Jael, with a hammer and tent peg. The poem closes with a touching scene, written by one mother (Deborah) about another mother (of Sisera), who was waiting for her son's safe return, but in vain. Truly, this was poetic justice.
BY FAITH. God's intervention in this battle used many natural means -- infantry troops, a rain storm, an earthquake, and a seemingly random encounter with a tent peg and hammer. Yet the combination of all of these was providentially guided by the Lord. The first remarkable thing was the people's willingness to fight (vv 2, 9, 13; cf Ps 110:3). The tribes of Reuben, Dan, and Asher were called upon for aid, but they did not respond. The tribes that did respond stepped out in faith, not knowing how the battle would unfold, only that they were taking on a major military power that was equipped with advanced weaponry. Even though this was the iron age, the Israelites were probably limited in their weaponry (e.g., Shamgar's ox goad, 3:31; cf 1 Sam 13:20-22). They were meeting their enemy on a field that gave immense advantage to the Canaanites. Who knew that the storm would come, and the chariots would be mired, and that the greatly-feared commander would be killed with a tent peg? The lesson here is that God's people "...through faith conquered kingdoms, ... [and] were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight" (Heb 11:32-34). As King David wrote later, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God" (Psalm 20:7). The lesson is the same for us today.
"So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied." (Acts 9:31)
TWO APOSTLES, ONE GOSPEL. It's difficult to overestimate the impact that Paul the Apostle -- formerly Saul the persecutor -- has made upon Christianity. The first half of this chapter tells the story of Paul's conversion (vv 1-31) and the second half relates two miracles God gives through Peter: the healing of Aeneas and raising Dorcas from the dead (vv 32-42). These events take place not in Jerusalem but in nearby regions as the gospel is expanding in its outreach (cf. Acts 1:8; 8:1-4). From chapter 13 onward, Paul will be the central figure in Acts. Some scholars have tried to read into the NT a kind of rift or tension between these two Apostles. They certainly had different spheres of ministry. But note Paul's words in Galatians 2:7-9 and Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:15-16. And we will see in Acts 15:7-12 that Paul and Peter (along with James) had the very same view of the gospel. Critical scholars have not known how to explain the Apostle Paul. They may dismiss Peter and the other disciples as unlearned, backward commoners, but Paul was a Roman citizen, raised within the Greek culture, and educated both in philosophy and Judaism. He cannot be easily dismissed. He would be the one to write most of the letters in the NT. We should thank God for both of these men, and their dual testimony of Christ -- both the eyewitness who walked with Jesus for several years and also the rabbi converted on the road to Damascus.
WHAT IS CONVERSION? Sometimes those who were raised in Christian homes have said something like, "I wish I had a Damascus road experience like Paul. I just believed on Jesus as a child and there's been no dramatic experience like that in my life." But what makes Paul's experience so unique was not the dramatic nature of it, but the sovereign nature of it. "Saul" becomes "Paul", and this Paul is included as the last NT witness of Jesus' resurrection (1 Cor 15:8). We really can't reduplicate that experience, any of us. But both Paul and Peter, and actually all of us who come to Christ, experience the same thing: Christ's authoritative claim upon our lives. We sense it, we respond to it. Paul was not a seeker. He was not given an invitation to come forward and receive Jesus. He was told to get up and do the next thing Jesus commanded him. Peter may have been more of a seeker, but that is not exactly clear. What is clear is that Andrew brought his brother Simon to meet Jesus, and Jesus changes his name to Peter (Jn 1:42; new name = new Lord = new destiny) and next thing we know they're travelling on the road together. Probably Peter's faith grew much more slowly than Paul's, but they are both followers of Christ by the call of Christ. The point is, it's not the dramatic nature of any encounter with Christ, it is that each of us, whether raised as pagan or Christian, at some point hear the claims of Christ in the gospel. He died for our sins. He rose for our justification. He bids us come to him. In faith we arise and follow. It may have been early or late in life, dramatic or quiet, sudden or gradual... yet it is the sovereign call of Christ which comes to us through the gospel. It changes our direction, our identity, our destiny. What makes it dramatic is the One who has called us: Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord who reigns in glory. You can praise God if you were raised in a Christian family, for God's claim has been upon you from your earliest days.
Image credits. One is an aerial view of Megiddo, courtesy of Israel National Parks Authority. And the other is a photo of me in 1997 on Tel Megiddo with Mount Tabor in the distance. The battle led by Barak took place in the plain between the two locations.
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.
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