July 13, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, July 14-19

Monday, July 14

Morning - Ps.119:49-64, Judges 13:1-24, Lk. 8:16-25
Evening - Ps. 119:65-80, Acts. 15:36-16:5
                                                 
Commentary, Judges 13

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 one of the judges 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 did not live up to the high demands of God.  Instead, the leader was flawed and sinful, and the revival was 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.

Tuesday, July 15

Morning - Ps.123, 124, Judges 16:1-14, Lk. 8:26-39
Evening - Ps. 126, 127, 130, Acts 16:6-15

Commentary, Judges 16:1-14

Samson lives a life of total wantonness.  He does not have the habit of Godliness.  He does not seek God, confess sin, or try to fulfill his calling.  He breaks his Nazarite vows and rejects the Covenant of God without remorse and without repentance.  There is no great revival of covenant keeping under his leadership, only continued moral decay.  Consequently, there is no deliverance from the Philistines.  Samson himself attacks them and prevents them from completely overtaking the Hebrews, but even Samson is no great threat to them without an army, and he will not give himself to his calling long enough to rally the Hebrews.  Instead of rallying around him, the Israelites attempt to hand him over to the Philistines in hope that his death will cause the Philistines to go easier on Israel (15:12).  But Samson escapes from the Philistines and, singlehandedly, inflicts a terrible slaughter on them (15:15).

Thus we come to tonight's reading of Samson and Delilah.  The Philistines desperately want to destroy Samson.  He not only killed many of their people (see also 15:8) and destroyed many of their crops (15:4-6), he has destabilised the area.  As long as Samson is alive there is a possibility of a Hebrew revolt and victory.  So they laid plans to destroy his strength and capture him.  Samson walks into their trap willingly.

Wednesday, July 16

Morning - Ps. 125, 138, Judges 16:15-22, Lk. 8:40
Evening - Ps.132, 134, Acts 16:16-24

Commentary, Judges 16:15-22

Samson seems to have trouble identifying the enemy.  He married an enemy; a Philistine woman (14:15) at a time when the Philistines had dominion over Israel (14:4).  And the Philistines threatened to burn her and her family if she did not help them against Samson.

Delilah was no better.  She cooperated with the the Philistines against Samson, and, each time Samson told her something will take his strength away, she tried it on him.  Did he think she would not try cutting his hair?  How could he not know she was an enemy, not a friend?

Samson had another problem, he did not realise the true source of his strength.  It came from God, not hair.  His hair was but a symbol that he belonged to God.  He may not have been very faithful, but he belonged to God and wore the symbol of his calling.  To allow someone to cut his hair was to allow someone to remove the symbol of his calling, which is the same as rejecting that calling.  So, in this passage, Samson takes the final step in a long journey away from God, and when that happens, he looses his strength.

Let us learn from Samson.  Let us learn from his habit of disobedience and his attraction to the ways of sin.  Samson identified with the enemies of God, and he moved toward them and away from God.  Finally, he took the decisive step.  But, as those who follow worldliness learn too late, he found not friendship among the Philistines, but cruel slavery.   

Thursday, July 17

Morning - Ps. 136, Judges 16:23, Lk. 9:1-17
Evening - Ps. 144, Acts 16:25

Commentary, Judges 16:23

In Old Testament times a person could set aside the normal occupations of life to dedicate himself to God.  This was done for a specific period of time on a voluntary basis (Num.6:1-21).  Presumably people took Nazarite vows in order to devote themselves to a time of prayer, fasting, and study, with possibly a time of service to the poor or helping in the Temple.  Samson was somewhat different, for he was born to be a Nazarite, and his time of separation was life from conception to the grave.  His calling was to be dedicated to God and lead Israel to repent of sin and win back her freedom from her Philistine oppressors.  But Samson was an utter failure.  Rebellious from the start, many infractions of his vows and the Law of God are recorded.  Others probably did not make it into the Bible.  Instead of Godliness, we see in Samson a worldly, self-indulgent life-style.  Samson's real god was Samson, and his real purpose in life was to indulge his own desires and comforts.  Self-control was unknown to him.  The idea that he should give up his own comforts and amusements to please God seems to have been completely foreign to his mind.  Thus, instead of a man who forgoes the pleasures of the flesh to find the pleasures of God, Samson was a man who disdained the things of God to bask in the pleasures of the flesh.

In last night's reading we saw Samson take the final step away from God.  In tonight's reading we see the terrible result. Finding that his strength was truly gone, the Philistines bound Samson and took him captive.  It was a festive day for the Philistines when they brought their once powerful enemy into Gaza.  One of the things they did to mock and cause pain to him, was to burn out his eyes.  They made a slave of him, forcing him to grind grain for other prisoners of the Philistines.  At a festival gathering they brought him before the crowd to taunt him, maybe even to kill him.  His strength was returned long enough to enable him to collapse the building in which they were gathered, but his action brought no real victory to the Hebrew people, nor did it deliver Israel from Philistine domination.

The Nazarite vow shows that the practice of setting time aside to seek and grow in God is good and helpful.  We are so pressed with busyness these days we hardly take Sunday mornings for worship and reflection.  We should.  Sundays should be a time to turn aside from the world and be still before the Lord.  They should be a day for worship and meditation upon God and the things of God.  They should be times of quiet stillness rather than incessant sound and motion.  Other days, while not replacing the Lord's Day, may also be spent in meditative stillness with God.  When did you last devote a day to reading Scripture and pondering its meaning and application?  When did you last put aside your own pursuits and pleasures to spend Sunday morning with God's people in Church?  When is the last time you denied yourself some worldly trinket and devoted that money to God's house instead?  I truly fear that many in the Church stand as near the door as possible looking for an opportune time to do as Samson; leave it all behind and throw themselves into the world and its pleasures.  The ancient prayer for the week of the Fourth Sunday after Trinity reminds us to hold to God instead of the world:

"O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.  Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Friday, July 18

Morning - Ps. 142, 143, Ruth 1:1-14, Lk. 9:18-27
Evening - Ps. 145, Acts 17:1-15

Commentary, Ruth 1:1-14

The book of Ruth is beloved for its literary beauty, but few understand its theology.  It begins in the turbulent time of the Judges; the time of people like Deborah and Samson, during which the Hebrews, deep in sin and unbelief, were being attacked by the Canaanite tribes, and starved by famine.  It was a famine in Israel that caused Elimelech and Naomi to leave Israel and travel to Moab.

Remember that Israel was called by God to be His people and to love and serve Him in the land He gave unto them. It was sin for Israelites to desert their homes and people to live among the Gentiles, and it was sin for them to marry their sons to Gentile women.  It is the sin of unbelief, of not trusting God to keep His promises, of not trusting Him enough to keep the Covenant and leave the rest to Him.  As in so many things, the names and places have changed, but the story remains the same.

We see here a gradual and intentional move away from the Covenant of God toward the pagan views and lifestyle of the Gentiles.  Elimelech and Naomi may not have rejected God entirely, but they were comfortable being part of an idolatrous people and having idolatry in their home and family.  In spite of their move, Elimelech and his sons died in the famine, leaving the three women to cope alone.

When Naomi hears there is food in Israel she determines to go home.  This is not a return to God, against whom she is very angry (13).  It is simply a move to find food.  Knowing her Moabite sojourn would be a hindrance to some of the Israelites, Naomi conveniently becomes a Hebrew again and tells her daughters in law to leave her.  This is difficult, for there is obviously great love between them.  It is partly due to her love that Naomi tells the wives to return to their own people.  They are young and will be able to find husbands in Moab, but taking financial obligations to support a wife and her mother in law might not be the first choice of a young Moabite man.

So the story of Ruth begins with sin and its complications in the lives of these people.  It also begins with Naomi's decision to return to Israel, but we need to understand this is not a desire to return to God and His Covenant, merely a decision to go where she might find food.

Saturday, July 19
Morning - Ps. 147, Ruth 1:15, Lk. 9:2-45
Evening - Ps. 148, 150, Acts 17:16

Commentary

Naomi's homecoming is not a happy one.  She says to those who greet her that she "went out full."  She means she left Israel with a husband and children, and, most likely enough money to buy property and start life over again in Moab. In Moab she found two loving daughters in law.  She had family, love, and hope.  Now that is all gone.  She has returned hungry, widowed, grieving the loss of her sons, and so poor she has to beg and glean the fields for food.  She laments, "I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty" (1:21) Thus she tells the people not to call her Naomi, meaning, "happy" or "pleasant", but Mara, meaning "bitter" or "angry" (1:20).  Why is she angry? Because the Lord has dealt very bitterly with her (1:20).  Or has He?  It was Elimelch and Naomi who left the Covenant people to dwell among the heathen.  It was they who left the benefits of the sacrifices, the Covenant, and the worship of God.  It was they who married their sons to Moabite women.  It was they who turned away from God, not God who turned away from them.  God simply allowed them to have what they wanted. He often does the same with us today.  "Christians" want to live like pagans, so God gives us what we want.  Only, like Elimelech and Naomi, we find Moab isn't so great after all. We go out full, but come back empty.  What else should we expect?  How can we expect to be at peace with God when our hearts are set on the world?

What Naomi does not see is that the hand of God is heavy upon her in grace.  It is heavy upon her because it is calling her back God.  It is calling her back to the Covenant.  God is saying to her, "I will be your God and you will be my beloved daughter. I will bless you and protect you, and I will give you better things than you can even imagine (see Eph. 3:20).  Come back to Me. Let Me love you. Let Me bless you."  It is as though God is saying to her;

"Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you.  Cleanse your hands ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded, be afflicted and mourn and weep, let your laughter [your desire for selfish pleasures] be turned to mourning [repentance] and your joy [pleasure in sin] to heaviness [grief in the soul over sin].  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up."
                                                                                                   James 4:8-10

Both Ruth and James call for the same kind of faith, a faith that turns from sin to God; a faith that removes us from the throne of our lives and enthrones God as King and God.  This kind of faith is not a single event; it is a pattern of life.  It is a habit of the mind and soul.  It is a call to continuously draw nigh to God, cleanse your hands, purify your heart, and live in the spirit of James 4:8-10.  Make it your habitual way of life.  This is the call of God to Naomi, and to us.

Ruth 1:16-17 is one of the most beautiful and moving passages in all of Scripture, and it ought to be treasured by every child of God.  In it we see the conversion of Ruth.  She has been an idolater.  She has been an alien and a stranger to God.  Her life and values were shaped by the culture of paganism, and they were the habit of her life.  But here she lays that life down and takes up a new life as a child of God.  She joins the Covenant people. She moves to the Promised Land.  She enthrones God as her God, and she intends to make this the habit of her life.


Thus our reading for today has brought us face to face with the major themes of the Book of Ruth.  We have seen the Providence of God in His care for His people and working out His plan and purpose for this world.  We have seen the Grace of God calling Naomi back to His people and Himself.  We have seen Repentance, for God's call to Naomi is a call to return to Him and turn away from her sin.  And we have seen Conversion, as Ruth has come to God and become a child of grace.  All of these themes will be developed further in the coming chapters of Ruth.

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