Bible reading for July 29.
"Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in his city in Gilead." (Judges 12:7)
NICKELS AND NOSES. In chapter 12 we finish the story of Jephthah, followed by brief mentions of Ibzan, Elon (not Musk), and Abdon (from about 1130 to 1080 BC). As you read Judges it may seem that people are fighting all the time. These battles, however, are spread out over several hundred years, so there were often intervals of peace. But the battles become the high point, especially as the tribes are delivered from nearby oppressors. One thing we note also is the numbers of sons, daughters, donkeys, etc., some of these judges had. It represents their wealth and influence, and perhaps the blessing of God. However, it may also show how the powerful tended to gather wives and property for themselves (Deut 17:17; cf Gen 4:19), and we will see this problem arise with the later kings of Israel and Judah.
SAY AGAIN? In this chapter we also learn the origin of the word "shibboleth". The NET Bible notes: "The inability of the Ephraimites to pronounce the word shibboleth the way the Gileadites did served as an identifying test. It illustrates that during this period there were differences in pronunciation between the tribes. The Hebrew word shibboleth itself means 'stream' or 'flood,' and was apparently chosen simply as a test case without regard to its meaning."
REFLECT. What are we learning from the book of Judges? Here's a few things I would call attention to:
A) the depravity of man is revealed again and again. The cycles seen in Judges show the downward tendency of people when left to themselves (and their preferred idols). Even in our modern world we see how humankind can descend so quickly into injustice, brutality, and perversion of every kind. Last century has given us examples in Germany, Russia, Rwanda, and Cambodia, to name just a few.
B) the need for righteous leadership is very evident. Too little leadership and there is chaos. Too much leadership and there is abuse of power. Power amplifies both strengths and weaknesses, and it seems true that "absolute power corrupts absolutely" -- unless the ruler is absolutely good. I believe that America's founding fathers were wise in constructing a republic with limited and balanced powers. This was designed to prevent both chaos and totalitarianism.
C) the providence of God is seen in his answering prayer, empowering people, and guiding history. The tribes are preserved in the unfolding of God's plan. There are 12 judges listed, one basically for each tribe [see diagram]. There is a progress of God's revelation and progress of civilization (by God's grace) as we go through biblical history. God is the Alpha and Omega, guiding history, then and now. And through it all God cares for his people, then and now.
D) the cycles of life within the stream of history. Although the Bible teaches that history is linear, being directed by God to his desired result, there are also cycles, or seasons, within that stream. We have seen a particular cycle repeated in Judges of abandoning God, idolatry, suffering bondage, calling on the Lord, a deliverer raised up, release from bondage, and then rest for the land... and repeat! There are also cycles over which we do not have control, for example, times of war and of peace, of sorrow and of joy, of sowing and of reaping, and so on (Eccl 3:11). Biblical wisdom is learning the skills of navigating those cycles and seasons.
And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." (Acts 16:29-31)
THE FIRST CHURCH IN EUROPE. Paul and Silas (full name: Silvanus) add Timothy to their team and proclaim the gospel in Asia Minor (Turkey today) in what is called Paul's second missionary journey. They desire to head northward but the Spirit leads them westward, across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia (northern Greece). Chapter 16 records their ministry at the prominent city (and Roman colony) of Philippi. The Lord is at work in opening hearts (Lydia), deliverance (servant girl), a most timely earthquake, and the jailer's conversion. Paul uses his Roman citizenship not merely to his team's advantage but also to give some protection to this new Christian fellowship. The authorities might be more cautious before taking action against the young believers there.
REFLECT. When we think of Christianity in Europe we may envision the many beautiful cathedrals, monasteries, and artwork throughout Europe. But in this chapter we see the gospel first being preached (and received) at a riverside prayer meeting, and later a servant girl is delivered from a demonic power. This is followed by persecution, then songs of praise in the local jail, and a late-night baptism! May such a revival come to Europe again!
Image credits. At top, photograph of floor mosaic in the Octagonal Basilica in Philippi, taken by Berthold Werner. Paul's name is seen in the yellow letters of the third line (Paulo, ΠΑΥΛΟ). At bottom: Diagram of the Judges, taken from The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Victor Books, 1985).
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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