Bible reading for July 28.
"So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD gave them into his hand." (Judges 11:32)
THE STORY SO FAR. In the past few chapters (ch 7 to 11), from Gideon to Jephthah, we have covered the period from 1210 to 1125 BC. Gideon was a commendable leader (8:35), but we see how he (or rather, his gold-laced priestly tunic) becomes an idol to the people at that time. John Calvin once wrote, “Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”* Abimelech, one of Gideon's sons, manifests the worst traits of leadership, unlike his father. (Though it could be argued that with so many wives and so many sons, how could Gideon ever had time to nurture them in the faith?) It seems that even justified violence (e.g., in a war of defense) can gradually lead to acceptance of violence in unjustified ways (e.g., ch 9). But Abimelech comes to the end that he deserves. "Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'" (Rom 12:17-19). In chapters 10 and 11 we learn about Jephthah, a brave warrior who tragically makes a very rash and heart-breaking vow.
POWER AND AUTHORITY. Leadership amplifies a person's weaknesses as well as his strengths. Very few people, it seems, can handle power and authority in a good and noble way. The weaknesses, foibles, cruelty, and shortsightedness of the Judges reveal to us that what we really need is a godly leader who exemplifies unfailing righteousness, wisdom, power, and compassion. It has long been the hope of Israel that God would send a truly "good shepherd" to lead them. Jesus said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:10-11).
*IDOL FACTORIES. In commenting on Calvin's quote above, Tim Keller writes, “English minister David Clarkson preached one of the most comprehensive and searching sermons on counterfeit gods ever written. About idolatry he said, 'Though few will own it, nothing is more common.' If we think of our soul as a house, he said, 'idols are set up in every room, in every faculty.' We prefer our own wisdom to God’s wisdom, our own desires to God’s will, and our own reputation to God’s honor. Clarkson looked at human relationships and showed how we have a tendency to make them more influential and important to us than God. In fact, he showed that 'many make even their enemies their god . . . when they are more troubled, disquieted, and perplexed at apprehensions of danger to their liberty, estates, and lives from men' than they are concerned about God’s displeasure. The human heart is indeed a factory that mass-produces idols.” (From Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters)
REFLECT. Why is good leadership so important? What are the most important traits for a leader to have? How do we go about identifying and dethroning the idols in our life?
"Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." (Acts 15:10-11)
THE STORY SO FAR. In chapter 12 James (a son of Zebedee) is martyred, and Peter imprisoned, but miraculously released. Herod Agrippa I dies horribly. In chapters 13 and 14 we read about the first missionary trip of Paul and Barnabas. Chapter 15 records for us the highlights of a council held in Jerusalem in AD 49. The issue is, how should Gentile believers in Christ relate to the Mosaic covenant? There was lively debate and at the end, a letter was drawn up to be circulated to all the churches. In short, non-Jewish believers were not required to conform to the Jewish ceremonial law, with the exceptions listed in the letter. The main point was to not create offense between Jewish and Gentile believers. This council did not answer all the questions related to the continuity and discontinuity of old and new covenants (see the book of Hebrews), but it was formulated in a healthy manner and was a good solution to a very divisive issue. Paul and Barnabas separate over an issue with John Mark, and the result is that two teams are now on the field. Paul later commended Mark as a qualified laborer for the Lord (2 Tim 4:11).
REFLECT. What has your experience been regarding conflict within the church? Have you seen divisive issues or personality conflicts handled with wisdom and grace?
Image credit. Photo of sheep on a mountain is by Jaka Skrlep on Unsplash.
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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