July 17, 2011

Monday after the fourth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.119:49-64, Judges 13:2-14, 24, Lk. 8:16-25
Evening - Ps. 119:65-80, Acts. 15:36-16:5

Commentary

The morning readings over the past two weeks have brought us to the beginning of the life and work of one of the Bible's most famous people, Samson. Samson was a judge of Israel. These were not courtroom judges trying cases. They were military leaders who organised the tribes of Israel into forces that were able to fend off the attacks of the Canaanites. You may remember that Israel was told to drive the Canaanites out of the land when they returned from the Egyptian bondage. They failed to accomplish this. They did defeat the Canaanites enough to minimise them as a military threat, but rather than completely driving them out of Israel, the Hebrews settled down among them and began the process of building homes and farms and shops and enjoying the Promised Land. At first this appears harmless enough, but the Hebrews began to build relationships with the Canaanites. This involved a certain amount of cultural give-and-take, meaning the Hebrews began to adopt Canaanite ways of talking, dressing, thinking, and living. Worst of all, they began to adopt Canaanite religion. At first these compromises were small, almost imperceptible. But over time they grew, and, after a few generations, there was practically no difference between the people of God and the pagan Canaanites. There is much for the Church to learn from this, for compromise usually leads to more compromise. The Church, or Christian, who begins to adapt to the pop culture around them, may find that they have become that culture. God has ordained that an obvious difference exists between His people and the people of the world. It must be so because the world's values are reflected in its culture, just as our values are reflected in ours. And the two cultures are at war, for one is based on Godliness while the other is based on ungodliness. One is Light the other is darkness, and they cannot occupy the same space in peace. Nor can the Church build a City of Light using the tools of darkness.

The Hebrews in Judges 13 have been compromising with the Canaanites for generations. But compromise has not resulted in peace between the Hebrews and the Canaanites. Just the opposite; the Canaanites have fought against Israel, and, in many cases, have subdued the people of God under cruel domination. Suffering under Gentile rule, the Hebrews sometimes repented of their sin, and God, who is rich in mercy, raised up a deliverer to lead Israel in battle and freedom. The Hebrews followed God faithfully for a while after their deliverance, but soon began again the sequence of compromise, leading to subjection and domination by the Canaanites.

During one of the periods of sin and domination, the Angel of the Lord appeared to a Hebrew woman and revealed that she would give birth to a son who would be a Nazarite from the moment of conception. A Nazarite was supposed to be entirely dedicated to God, thus, while carrying the child, even the woman was to keep the strict customs of the Nazarites. The meaning is obvious; deliverance will come through religious revival led by a man completely devoted to God. Unfortunately, the people do not live up to the high demands of God. Instead, the leader is flawed and sinful, and the revival is half-hearted at best. Yet we see something important here. We see that true deliverance requires a leader that is stronger, greater, and more righteous than any mere human can possibly be. All of the judge/redeemers of Israel were tragically flawed, so a real revival, one that will really turn the hearts of people to God and produce the fruits of everlasting righteousness must be led by someone greater the Samson. It must be led by God himself.

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