Israel’s first king was not God’s choice for a king; it was a pretender, a usurper. Beware that you do not usurp what is God’s! He is the rightful God and King and He will not share His throne.

The Not-So-Great Pretender

Posted: December 31, 2020 in Judges

Judges 9, “The Not-So-Great Pretender”

Pretend is great as a child when playing with friends; it is potentially dangerous as adults. It is one thing to play “cops and robbers” or to even act out a play; it is quite another when someone with phony credentials wants to do important work. When going into surgery, you want an experienced and properly trained medical doctor; not a quack who happened to sleep at a Holiday Inn Express!

This is also important when it comes to leadership, particularly among the people of God. Just like a church needs a pastor who truly knows Jesus and the Bible, without false piety or conversion – just like the overall Church needs to follow the true Christ rather than fake versions of Jesus from different cults – so did ancient Israel need to follow the God-anointed and ordained king, rather than a pretender or usurper. For a false man to take the throne was attempted subversion of the plan of God. Not only was it harmful to the people but it was a severe act of rebellion against God Himself.

What makes this even more important is that, in our study of the Old Testament, the time of the kings had not yet begun. This was the time of the judges, as God had not given Israel any kings. God Himself was their King. That makes the evil pretense and usurpation in Judges 9 all the worse.

At the time, Israel had not yet fallen into complete chaos, though it wasn’t far off. With every cycle of apostasy and resulting rescue, things got progressively worse for the nation. It hadn’t begun this way. When Joshua retired, he had given the people every opportunity to walk with the Lord in faith and victory, having modeled it to them during his life and ministry. The nation however, chose the path of laziness and sinfulness, so God allowed their enemies to remain in the land, becoming persistent sources of temptation and oppression.

The most recent enemy was Midian, whose forces overwhelmed the Israelites through ongoing raids. To this threat, God raised up Gideon as Israel’s judge, empowering his tiny band of 300 men to defeat an army that numbered as a locust swarm. Through God’s grace, Gideon prevailed and a relative quiet once more came to Israel.

Sadly, Gideon did not rule with the same faith-filled dependence upon God with which he initially fought. To his credit, Gideon refused the title of king, but still enjoyed the wealth and benefits that came with it. Because of his sinful extravagance, the nation once again fell into idolatrous apostasy as the people no longer remembered the true God of their covenant.

Thus, the cycle would begin again. This time, the dangerous oppression would not come from without, but from within. This time, the oppressor would be an Israelite as he took for himself the throne of Israel, usurping the rightful place of God. This man wanted what God had not given and he was willing to do whatever it took to get it.

It is a fascinating piece of history for Israel. What does it have to do with us? Much! At one point or another, we have all been little Abimelechs, pushing God off His throne. Ever since the Garden of Eden, humans have wanted to usurp the place of God in our lives, declaring for ourselves what is right and wrong. It is only by the transformation that comes from the Holy Spirit that we find contentment in our rightful place as God’s servants and sons.

Beware that you do not usurp what is God’s! He is the rightful God and King and He will not share His throne. (And it only makes God’s grace more wonderful that we get to share in Jesus’ inheritance and sit on His throne with Him!)

Chapter 9 breaks into three main sections: (1) The usurper’s conspiracy, which leads to a false king. (2) A parable of judgment, which proclaims the usurper’s condemnation. (3) The war of the evildoers, which leads to the usurper’s final judgment.

Beware that you don’t pretend to be what you are not. Don’t take the place of God! Jesus belongs on the thrones of our lives – Him, and no other!

Judges 9

  • Conspiracy: A false king (1-6)

1 Then Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem, to his mother’s brothers, and spoke with them and with all the family of the house of his mother’s father, saying, 2 “Please speak in the hearing of all the men of Shechem: ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal reign over you, or that one reign over you?’ Remember that I am your own flesh and bone.”

  1. Abimelech was introduced to us at the end of Chapter 8. He was the son of one of Gideon’s concubines. For the things that Gideon did well early in his life, Gideon was not slow to polygamy, taking many wives for himself and ending up with 70 sons. In addition to those many wives, he apparently also kept other concubines on the side, through whom he fathered even more children…Abimelech being one of the results. It demonstrates how far Gideon fell from a position of humble faith. At first, Gideon saw himself being unworthy of being used by God, even thinking himself and his family to be the least clan in all Israel (6:15). By the end of his life, though he turned down the official title of king, he acted no different from the kings of the ancient near east, collecting a vast harem and engaging in all its lusts. It is no wonder that at least one of his offspring longed for the same notoriety, and it showed itself in Abimelech. His very name means “my father is king,” so although he grew up on the outside of his family, he no doubt thought himself deserving of royal power and riches.
  2. If these things were not given to him by God, Abimelech found a way to grab them for himself. He stirred up strife among the “men of Shechem.” His logic seemed to make sense to his brothers and the people of the land: it was the choice between 70 judges vs. 1 king. Keep in mind that God raised up Gideon as Israel’s judge; God did not ordain Gideon’s sons. That isn’t to say that the sons did not act as if they were judges (Scripture is relatively silent in this case), but they were not put there by God. Even so, Abimelech acted as if his 70 brothers ruled the land and he made the people think that a single ruler was far better and more efficient than a council or committee. In the end, it wasn’t a true reason for a national king; it was a convenient excuse for Abimelech to seize power.

3 And his mother’s brothers spoke all these words concerning him in the hearing of all the men of Shechem; and their heart was inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.”

  1. His brothers followed through, serving as his messengers in Shechem. They spread the word and likewise sowed the seed of division. Sadly, people listened to them and joined in the rebellion.
    1. As an aside – the quickest way to stop division is not refuse to engage in it. If less people would give an audience to those who sow rumors and gossip, then far more trouble would be stopped before it even got started. “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases,” (Pro 26:20).
  2. Interestingly, these men saw themselves as Abimelech’s brothers, when they shared only one parent with him (his mother, vs. Gideon as being his father). Abimelech did not share the same affinity for the other sons of his father. His mother, being a concubine and not an “official” wife, made Abimelech a second-class son, whereas he was on equal footing with his other half-brothers through his mother.
    1. This was not unusual for the culture but it certainly is a sad commentary. It is one more example that God’s original intent for marriage and family is best: one man joined to one woman, mutually submitted unto God for life. Whenever we depart from that standard, we open the door to heartache and trouble.

4 So they gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless men; and they followed him. 5 Then he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, because he hid himself.

  1. There is all kind of wrong going on here…and that doesn’t even include the horrific crime! 70 shekels are taken from the local idolatrous temple to hire “worthless and reckless” mercenaries. Remember that “Baal-Berith” translates to “lord of the covenant,” showing Israel’s terrible substitution for YHWH God from the pagan deities of the land. Not only was this false god worshipped, but he had a temple and even a treasury. Of course, once they abandoned the true God it only follows that they abandon the morality of God and they embezzle money from the local place of worship (though false worship) to hire mercenaries. 
  2. Ultimately, these mercs were hired to commit a massacre. They corralled the 70 sons of Gideon to one place and murdered them all. What it means that they were killed “on one stone” is uncertain. Perhaps they were slain one-by-one; perhaps they were killed and laid up in a heap; maybe it was a large stone and they killed the group all at once. Whatever the case, the outcome was tragic. Only one son escaped: the youngest, Jotham. He comes into play later in the chapter.

6 And all the men of Shechem gathered together, all of Beth Millo, and they went and made Abimelech king beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that was in Shechem.

  1. Abimelech was declared king. His plan was “successful,” as he got what he always wanted. It didn’t matter that he had to kill almost 6 dozen men (his half-brothers) to make it happen. He didn’t care how much blood he shed as long as he gained power.
    1. Beware the pride and greed that comes with a lust for authority! It was for power that Satan rebelled against God, and it was arguably the same thing that took out Adam (as he and Eve wanted to be “like” God). We see it among politicians in our culture as well as among people in the church. Such lust is ancient and dangerous!
  2. Knowing that Abimelech was declared to be king, it begs the question: king over what? One city (perhaps two different parts of the city) declared Abimelech king, but was he king only over the town? City-states were not unusual at the time – Joshua and the rest of Israel conquered many when they came into the land. But the people of Israel were supposed to be different. They were one nation, spread out over many cities and towns. Was Abimelech supposed to be king over all Israel, or had Shechem splintered itself off in secession? It began in one town but (as becomes apparent later) it soon spread across the land. Sin is sadly contagious. If it isn’t dealt with early, it becomes more and more difficult to put down later.
    1. That said, sin can be stopped in its tracks, but it requires something drastic: confession and repentance towards Christ! We need to be willing to admit that we have wronged God, rebelled against Him, and then humbly submit ourselves to Him in faith through Jesus. It is only when we put “ourselves” aside that God will empower us to kill of the sin in our lives.

Israel found itself with a big problem! For the first time in their history, there was a man declared as king in the land. But this wasn’t a king set up by God. This wasn’t a king according to God’s plan. Remember that God did have a monarchy in mind; it just wasn’t this one. Abimelech was taking something that wasn’t his, subverting the perfect plan of God. Think it through: not only was Abimelech’s covetousness and evil harmful in the short-run, but if he succeeded in the long-term, then how would the dynastic line of the kingdom move to the lineage of David? Abimelech’s rebellion was not only an attack against God’s peace but also His plan of salvation.

We don’t often think about the long-term consequences of our sin. When we sin, we inevitably look to the short-term. We want to feel good right now, right here. We want what we want, when we want it, consequences be darned. (Or pick your word of choice!) But there are always long-term consequences. And even when we don’t know what those things might be, any sin still need to be seen as treason against our Lord and King. It is us usurping the rightful place Jesus has in our lives. Though we asked Jesus to be our Lord, we seize back lordship for the moment and try to pretend everything is okay. It isn’t. And God will deal with us, when necessary.

  • Parable: The usurper condemned (7-21)

7 Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and cried out. And he said to them: “Listen to me, you men of Shechem, That God may listen to you!

  1. Recall that the town of Shechem sits in the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, the two mountains from which Moses commanded that the children of Israel recite the blessings and curses in the book of Deuteronomy. This act was fulfilled by Joshua after the nation repented from Achan’s sin of stealing some of the devoted spoil of Jericho (Josh 8:30-35). Out of the two mountains, Mount Gerizim was the mount of blessing. Yet it was used by Jotham to proclaim a curse. This would not have been lost on the people, underscoring what kind of evil had taken place.
  2. Interestingly, the “men of Shechem” could literally be translated “lords of Shechem,” as the word “men” is the plural form of the word baal…the pagan god/lord used among various idols. The same phrase is used throughout Chapter 9, with nearly every instance of “men of Shechem” being literally “baalim/lords of Shechem.” Recall that the Israelites had once again forgotten the true God as they worshipped Baal-Berith, the “lord of the covenant.” So in addition to their outward idolatry, they set themselves up as tiny “lords,” not unlike how Abimelech set himself up as “king.” They thought too much of themselves and too little of YHWH God. In fact, they thought so little of the true God (Elohim, as stated by Jotham), that He no longer listened to them. There was a dire need in the land to repent, so Jotham put out the call.
    1. FYI: This is the first mention of God in the chapter. In fact, apart from a couple of minor references in the parable taught by Jotham, this is one of three mentions of God in the entire chapter (vss. 7, 23, 56-57), none of which are His covenant name YHWH. This is the sad spiritual state of Israel. They had all but completely forgotten the One who gave them their home and freedom.
    2. This is what sin does. It blinds us to the goodness of our God! It deceives us, telling us that we can do better for ourselves than what God has ever done for us. May God open our eyes to the truth!

8 “The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ 9 But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, With which they honor God and men, And go to sway over trees?’ 10 “Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us!’ 11 But the fig tree said to them, ‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, And go to sway over trees?’ 12 “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us!’ 13 But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, Which cheers both God and men, And go to sway over trees?’

  1. The story starts with the olive tree and gradually decreases in size/value. These first three examples are all worthy plants. Olive, figs, and grapes were all considered blessings of the land of Israel, the benefits of their new home. In the story, the generic “trees” ask these various plants to rise up over them. To “sway” is to wave or tremble, which might not make sense regarding leadership. ESV and NIV translate this as “hold sway” to give the idea.
  2. Yet to this request, all the various plants refuse. Each variety understood its place and role, and was content in what God had given it to do. For them to do anything else would be unnatural. In fact, when the plants did what they were meant to do, God Himself was glorified among them.
    1. Want to glorify God in your life? Walk in the calling Jesus has given you! Instead of coveting that which God hasn’t given you (like Abimelech), use what He has
  3. There is an underlying problem under all of this: why exactly did the larger group of trees desire a king in the first place? Obviously, we don’t want to read too much into a parable or fable, but there is a definite parallel between the trees and Shechem/Israel. There was no need for them to set forth and anoint a king yet they did it anyway. If the various plants were satisfied with their callings, the general trees were dissatisfied with God’s provision. Discontent led to rebellion which led to sin.

14 “Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us!’ 15 And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you, Then come and take shelter in my shade; But if not, let fire come out of the bramble And devour the cedars of Lebanon!’

  1. How low did the trees (the mighty trees, the plants that reached up to heaven) stoop? All the way down to the dust (where Satan crawled as the serpent). They next looked to the bramble, the tumbleweed, the thorns. The bramble/thorns were least worthy, yet they were offered the kingdom.
  2. In response, the bramble gave an honest warning: once the trees took the bramble as king, they would be stuck with it. If the trees later changed their minds, there would be severe consequences. As the old saying goes, “You made your bed; now lie in it.”

16 “Now therefore, if you have acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done to him as he deserves—17 for my father fought for you, risked his life, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian; 18 but you have risen up against my father’s house this day, and killed his seventy sons on one stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother—

  1. The “if” was sarcasm. Obviously, the men/baalim of Shechem had not “acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king.” There was deception and violence and blood when they took the bramble Abimelech to be their king. They had not “dealt well” with the house of Gideon/Jerubbaal – they had not done to him as he deserved. What did Gideon deserve from the people? Honor! He freed them from the oppression of Midian. Granted, Gideon wasn’t perfect, but he was the man raised up by God for the time. Yet the people of Shechem repaid Gideon by murdering all but 2 of his sons: Abimelech and Jotham. It was terrible sin, known by God and exposed by Jotham.

19 if then you have acted in truth and sincerity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. 20 But if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo; and let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech!”

  1. Picks up again where verse 16 left off. If this was the right thing to do, then Shechem had every reason to rejoice. Go ahead and party in the streets. If this was right, then celebrate like it was right without fear of the judgment of God. Yet if not (and it wasn’t!), let the people be cursed!
  2. Notice the detail of the curse: fire was to come from each party and destroy the other. Both Abimelech and the men of Shechem had acted in wicked violence towards others; now that wicked violence would be turned against themselves. The old cliché says that “there is no honor among thieves,” and such was prophetically proclaimed to be true of Abimelech and Shechem. Although they began in a unified conspiracy, their alliance would break apart and they would devour one another to the death.

21 And Jotham ran away and fled; and he went to Beer and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.

  1. Jotham was brave in his message but soon fled…and for good reason! Abimelech did not hesitate to murder dozens of his brothers. What would stop Abimelech from murdering him as well?
  2. Jotham’s escape does not speak poorly of his courage; on the contrary, he was brave enough to say what needed to be said and wise enough to do what was necessary to preserve his life. He had no idea how long or how far his half-brother or his murderous allies would search for him. For all Jotham knew, he would live in hiding for the rest of his life. Even so, he still spoke the truth. 

Jotham called out the evil usurper, prophetically condemning him for his sins. Abimelech was nothing but bramble, taking on for himself what didn’t belong to him. Worse yet was the response of the people of Shechem, going along with it, endorsing it. They were all guilty of great sin. They may not have been willing to admit it, but Jotham called it for what it was.

Sin needs to be called out, even when it is among ourselves. Sin thrives in darkness when what it needs to be exterminated is the light. This is the wonderful aspect about confession. As difficult as it may be to our pride to confess sin, it sheds light on that for which we are (or ought to be) ashamed. But once it is seen, then it can be addressed. We never address what we never see. It’s like the stuff we throw in our closets, always procrastinating when we happen to open the door. As long as it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. But sin that remains out of sight still causes problem. It still interrupts our fellowship with God. It still causes difficulties in our relationship with others. It must be exposed, confessed, and addressed…then it can be forgiven and cleansed, according to God’s promise! (1 Jn 1:9)

  • War: The usurper judged (22-57).

22 After Abimelech had reigned over Israel three years, 23 God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 24 that the crime done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might be settled and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who aided him in the killing of his brothers.

  1. Note the timeline. Things did not happen immediately. Abimelech “reigned over Israel three years” (eventually assuming far more command than over the city of Shechem alone). Three years passed before God moved, though God did move.
    1. Question: Is this justice? The catchphrase today says, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” If true, that condemns God Himself. After all, there are some acts of injustice that take place on earth that will have no answer until the final day of judgment at God’s great white throne. No; justice need not happen according to our own timeline for justice to be done. When God moves, justice is God alone determines what is/is not just for He is the very definition of justice. Whatever God does is right and just – even if that means injustice is not answered till the end of the age. But even knowing that, justice will be done in every instance, of that we can be sure!
  2. How did God move in this case? “God sent a spirit of ill will,” or perhaps a better translation, “God sent an evil spirit” to cause trouble “between Abimelech and the men of Shechem.” Question: Can/would the Holy Righteous God send an “evil spirit” to anyone? He did so here and he did it again with Saul (1 Sam 16) and also with Ahab (1 Kings 22). God is not evil, nor is He the author of evil, but He can use evil things for His own glory and purposes. How could He not? If this were impossible for God, then God would not be truly sovereign. If this were impossible for God then there would be some things outside of His control. God would be forced to react to circumstances, not really knowing the future. Perish the thought! The Bible teaches that God is absolutely sovereign, that there is nothing outside His ultimate control and no future of which He is unaware. – This does not mean that God actively desires or plans evil. Not at all. This is the difference between God’s perfect will and His permissive will. His perfect will is that which He directs and commands. He permissive will is that which He allows. His perfect will for Adam and Eve was for them to refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; His permissive will was to allow them to freely eat in rebellion. God’s perfect will is seen accomplished in Jesus, who only did what the Father commanded. God’s permissive will is seen in the suffering of Job, who was attacked relentlessly by Satan (and even then, Satan had certain restrictions placed on him by God). How does this relate to the evil spirit sent by God? God’s perfect will was for justice to be done on Abimelech and Shechem for their acts of rebellion. His permissive will was to allow an evil spirit to work so much division and evil within them that they were brought to God’s perfect justice.
    1. We do not always understand why God allows the things He does. We can understand God’s goodness and perfect character. To put it another way, we cannot always answer the question “why,” but we can always answer the question “who”. And the “who” is good!

25 And the men of Shechem set men in ambush against him on the tops of the mountains, and they robbed all who passed by them along that way; and it was told Abimelech.

  1. The men/baalim of Shechem were as worthless as ever! This is simply a preliminary statement overviewing the conflict that will happen between the parties in the rest of the chapter.

26 Now Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brothers and went over to Shechem; and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him. 27 So they went out into the fields, and gathered grapes from their vineyards and trod them, and made merry. And they went into the house of their god, and ate and drank, and cursed Abimelech.

  1. Who was “Gaal?” His name is interesting, in that it is comes from the word for “abhor / loathe.” Combine that with his father’s name which translates as “servant,” and it could refer to “loathsome one, son of a servant.” (NET) “This individual’s very name (which may be the narrator’s nickname for him, not his actual name) seems to hint at his immoral character and lowly social status.” Whoever this man was, he gained a following for himself. He gathered a bunch of people together, got drunk on idolatrous wine and conspired against Abimelech.

28 Then Gaal the son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerubbaal, and is not Zebul his officer? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him? 29 If only this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech.” So he said to Abimelech, “Increase your army and come out!”

  1. Gaal boasted in himself, basically following the example of Abimelech before him. Basically said, “Who is this nobody who’s never around? Why follow the son of the man who didn’t want to be king? Make me king instead!” In the end (and likely, in his drunkenness), Gaal called out Abimelech. Talked a big game when drinking with his friends. (It would prove different when he later had to face Abimelech head-on!)

30 When Zebul, the ruler of the city, heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was aroused. 31 And he sent messengers to Abimelech secretly, saying, “Take note! Gaal the son of Ebed and his brothers have come to Shechem; and here they are, fortifying the city against you. 32 Now therefore, get up by night, you and the people who are with you, and lie in wait in the field. 33 And it shall be, as soon as the sun is up in the morning, that you shall rise early and rush upon the city; and when he and the people who are with him come out against you, you may then do to them as you find opportunity.”

  1. Abimelech’s representative in the city (“the ruler,” or the “chief” – the one assigned by Abimelech as the governor/mayor) got wind of the drunken boasting and sent word to his king. He turned the tables on Gaal. Although Gaal boasting in his strength, Zebul counseled Abimelech to show up in his own strength. Once the king showed up with his armies, then all Israel would see who was really strong.

34 So Abimelech and all the people who were with him rose by night, and lay in wait against Shechem in four companies. 35 When Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance to the city gate, Abimelech and the people who were with him rose from lying in wait. 36 And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, “Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!” But Zebul said to him, “You see the shadows of the mountains as if they were men.”

  1. Abimelech took a page from his father’s playbook, dividing his army into several companies and travelling by night for a sneak attack. They got all the way to the gates of Shechem before they were seen, and Gaal panicked. He saw at least a portion of Abimelech’s forces and got scared. In response, Zebul lied to him, trying to buy more time for Abimelech’s forces to arrive.

37 So Gaal spoke again and said, “See, people are coming down from the center of the land, and another company is coming from the Diviners’ Terebinth Tree.” 38 Then Zebul said to him, “Where indeed is your mouth now, with which you said, ‘Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him?’ Are not these the people whom you despised? Go out, if you will, and fight with them now.”

  1. Once the size of Abimelech’s army was undeniable, Zebul called Gaal’s bluff. Time to put up or shut up.

39 So Gaal went out, leading the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech. 40 And Abimelech chased him, and he fled from him; and many fell wounded, to the very entrance of the gate. 41 Then Abimelech dwelt at Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his brothers, so that they would not dwell in Shechem.

  1. Gaal was roundly defeated. He was whipped like a dog and fled with his tail between his legs.

42 And it came about on the next day that the people went out into the field, and they told Abimelech. 43 So he took his people, divided them into three companies, and lay in wait in the field. And he looked, and there were the people, coming out of the city; and he rose against them and attacked them. 44 Then Abimelech and the company that was with him rushed forward and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city; and the other two companies rushed upon all who were in the fields and killed them. 45 So Abimelech fought against the city all that day; he took the city and killed the people who were in it; and he demolished the city and sowed it with salt.

  1. Abimelech destroyed the rest of the city. Conducted total warfare against it, willing to not only destroy every building in town but also to sow the fields with salt, making the land uninhabitable for anyone to follow.
  2. Abimelech acted far more like an oppressor of Israel than its king! And that was the problem. For all the other cycles of apostasy in Israel that left the Hebrews in the hands of their foreign enemies, this time their enemy was not foreign. He came from within their own ranks as one of their own. 
  3. Notice how this fulfills the first part of Jotham’s curse (9:20a). Symbolic fire had come from Abimelech and devoured the men of Shechem. Sadly, Abimelech wasn’t done. More destruction would soon follow with even a more literal fulfillment of the curse.

46 Now when all the men of the tower of Shechem had heard that, they entered the stronghold of the temple of the god Berith. 47 And it was told Abimelech that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together.

  1. If Shechem was destroyed, what was “the tower of Shechem”? There are different thoughts, but it seems most likely to be another name for Beth Millo (“house of filling” could refer to a raised place, which would be suitable for a tower). This would be a subset area of Shechem not initially burned and salted by Abimelech.
  2. Notice where the people sought refuge: in the idolatrous temple. Of course, synagogues did not yet exist at the time and the tabernacle was likely in far-off Shiloh. Even so, for all the places for the people to flee, they go to the place of worship for Baal-Berith, their imposter god. 

48 Then Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who were with him. And Abimelech took an ax in his hand and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it and laid it on his shoulder; then he said to the people who were with him, “What you have seen me do, make haste and do as I have done.” 49 So each of the people likewise cut down his own bough and followed Abimelech, put them against the stronghold, and set the stronghold on fire above them, so that all the people of the tower of Shechem died, about a thousand men and women.

  1. In an incredible act of cruelty, Abimelech instructed his army to join him in burning the people of Beth Millo/the tower of Shechem to death. Here, we see the awful literal fulfillment of fire coming from Abimelech to devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo (9:20a).
    1. Sadly, acts like this are not unusual even in modern history. On March 22, 1943, the entire village of Khatyn, Belarus was rounded up by Nazis into a barn and burned. Human evil has been unchanged for centuries. (Which makes the gospel even more important!)
  2. Does this sound like a king of Israel or an imposter and oppressor? Someone might make the argument of making an example out of Gaal and his followers, but this act shows a different level of evil altogether.

50 Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and he encamped against Thebez and took it. 51 But there was a strong tower in the city, and all the men and women—all the people of the city—fled there and shut themselves in; then they went up to the top of the tower. 52 So Abimelech came as far as the tower and fought against it; and he drew near the door of the tower to burn it with fire.

  1. Things are set up for another murderous tragedy. What Abimelech did at the tower of Shechem, he tried to do at the tower in Thebez. This guy was on a rampage with no apparent end in sight. God had different plans…

53 But a certain woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull. 54 Then he called quickly to the young man, his armorbearer, and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest men say of me, ‘A woman killed him.’ ” So his young man thrust him through, and he died. 55 And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed, every man to his place.

  1. Finally, justice! Abimelech was killed, ignominiously by a woman despite his attempts to show otherwise. The “upper millstone” was perhaps a circular disc over a foot in diameter with a hole drilled through the center. The woman had God-given aim for it to land so precisely on the head of Abimelech and the weight of it made his death certain. As he lay wounded with his crushed skull, he begged his young armorbearer to put him out of his misery and hopefully regain some dignity. Abimelech may have technically died by the sword but his disgrace remained.
  2. This fulfills the second part of the prophetic curse (9:20b). Although it was not literal fire, Abimelech was finally devoured by his own violence.

56 Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers. 57 And all the evil of the men of Shechem God returned on their own heads, and on them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.

  1. With all the evil and conniving and violence taking place, we get a peek behind the curtain and see that it was anything but random. All of this was brought about by God, as God sovereignly used the wickedness of Abimelech and Shechem to judge their wickedness. This was not justice delayed; this was justice fulfilled – even brought about through their own evil hands as God worked all things for His own good and glory.

Conclusion:

Such a sad chapter in the history of Israel! When Abimelech stole the title of king to himself, he committed terrible sin: not only in the murder of his brothers and oppression of his people, but also in usurpation and rebellion against Almighty God. But Abimelech was not ignored by God. Although no judge was raised up, God worked behind the scenes to bring down the rebellious traitor. This act of evil was condemned as evil and judged according to its evil.

What does this account mean for us today? It might seem so remote and almost irrelevant to us as 21st century New Testament Christians. What does the historical account of a false, almost-forgotten usurper king in Israel have to do with us as the New Testament church? Abimelech provides a sober warning to us of what it is like to usurp the place of God and try to push through our own will, rather than submit ourselves to His rule and reign in our lives. It shows that the wages of sin is death and that there is no escape from it through human manipulation.

Our one hope is Jesus! Through Him, we are set free from death. Through Him, we are set free from ourselves, or at least the evil we otherwise bring to ourselves. It is only because of Jesus that we are transformed, able to live lives glorifying to God rather than according to our sinful passions and lusts. Left to ourselves, we are all Abimelechs – we are all our own false gods and baalim: wicked, worthless, and reckless. But in Christ? In Christ, we are new creations! We are transformed – we are the sons and daughters of God!

When John saw Jesus incarnate for the Revelation, he saw Jesus as the glorious Man and the glorious God. He saw Jesus, as Jesus will return for His Second Advent. Our Lord has come once and He is coming again!

Joy to the World!

Posted: December 27, 2020 in Revelation
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Revelation 1:9-18, “Joy to the World!”

Surprise! Surprises are common on Christmas morning as we eagerly unwrap the presents under the tree. Sometimes we get what we want; other times we get what we don’t expect. Sometimes the unexpected things can be the best gifts of all.

You might find a similar thing today. To the surprise of many, we find our Christmas Scripture not at the beginning of the New Testament, but at the end, in the book of Revelation. But considering that Christmas is all about Jesus, the book of Revelation is more than appropriate!

Many decades had passed since Jesus’ cross and resurrection. The church had grown and taken on a distinct identity from the typical Jewish traditions. Although both Jew and Gentile are included in the Body of Christ, by this point in history the Gentile believers had become more numerous than the Jewish ones. Additionally, the overall Jewish nation had increased troubles with Rome, to the point that the Jerusalem temple was destroyed, exactly as had been prophesied by Jesus.

In this harsh environment, Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ settled into their own “new normal.” Persecution was common, to the point that most of Jesus’ original apostles were already dead – killed in martyrdom. John the son of Zebedee remained, perhaps alone by now. He was a beloved elder among the churches but not even he was immune from persecution. Legend says that he survived being boiled in oil. Scripture tells us that at the very least, he suffered exile.

To this, many in the church were wondering the obvious question: Where was Jesus? Jesus had spoken of His own return and the apostles (particularly Paul) wrote of it often. If Jesus was returning, where was He? When would He come? If not now, when?

Many people today ask the same question. Nearly every generation in history believed that they would be the last generation prior to Jesus’ return, and ours is no different. The world is in chaos and so much prophecy has seemingly been fulfilled that Jesus’ return appears more imminent than ever. Is it? Yes! We can say with absolute confidence that we are closer to Jesus’ return than ever before.

Question: Why does this matter at Christmas? Because at its core, Christmas is not about a babe in a manger so much as it is about the advent of the Son of God. In famed Bethlehem of Judea, Mary gave birth to Jesus and laid Him in a manger…but that was not the beginning of the Son of God, the Son of the Highest. As the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son has always existed, being in the very beginning with God, being God. Jesus was never created; He is the Creator. There was a moment in time when He took the name “Jesus,” but as God the Son, He has always been. At Christmas, we celebrate the Advent, or the arrival of God the Son. We celebrate the incarnation, that God came to dwell among us, ultimately to go to the cross for our sins and to rise again from the grave for our forgiveness.

But we cut the story short if we stop there. How so? Because there is more than one advent. Jesus has come once but He is also coming again. Although He remains incarnate and will not require a second physical birth, there is no doubt about His physical return. And that return will be glorious! He came first as a babe; He will come again as a King.

This is what we see throughout the book of Revelation and we are given a preview of it in the opening chapter. In it we see (along with John) the Incarnate God, the glorious Lord Jesus Christ. This took, is a “Christmas” experience for John. Not in the form of a classic nativity scene, but in the stark reminder of Jesus’ soon Second Advent, when He will come to the earth in power and victory.

In fact, Jesus’ Second Advent is the subject of one of our most beloved Christmas carols, “Joy to the World.” Just listen again to the lyrics, adapted from Psalm 98 by Isaac Watts:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;

Let earth receive her King.

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns;

Let men their song employ.

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrow grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground.

He comes to make His blessing flow,

Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world through truth and grace,

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness

And wonders of His love.

To speak/sing of a reigning, ruling Savior, already having conquered sin, death, and the curse from the Garden of Eden – this is to speak of the Second Advent of our Lord. Not to diminish the wonder of His First Advent, but to join with it the anticipation of His glorious return. Our King has come and He is coming again!

This was John’s own wonder as he heard and saw Jesus that amazing day of the Revelation. This was what he described in Chapter 1:9-18. (1) He acknowledged his own weakness, (2) he saw Jesus as the glorious Man, (3) he knew Jesus as the glorious God. How do you respond to Jesus this Christmas season? Do you see only an infant child – or do you see Jesus as the Incarnate God?

Revelation 1:9–18

  • John as the weak man (9-11)

9 I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, 11 saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”

It is only natural that John begins with a bit of background. This could perhaps be seen as the “official” start of the account as the first eight verses of Chapter 1 are prologue and greetings to his readers. With those preliminary words written, John begins his narration with a few words about himself. And considering how much he will say of Jesus, it is not unexpected that John writes of his own relative weakness. He does not describe himself as an authoritative apostle, one of the original followers of Jesus through whom God worked great miracles. That much was true, but it was not what John wrote.

True to fashion for the same apostle who did not even name himself in his own written gospel book, John uses terms of humility in his self-introduction. He is simply a “brother” to those in the church. He was not exempt from troubles, being a “companion in the tribulation,” just as every other believer in Christ faced during the first century. He too awaited the “kingdom,” even patiently enduring his wait while under Roman arrest. Like many other Christians, John was imprisoned for his unbreaking “testimony of Jesus Christ” as he preached the gospel in “the word of God.

This is not at all a description of strength. Other prophets in other religions might write of their own supposed glories, riches, and victories, which would boost their reputations in the ears of those who would listen. Not John. John just told the truth: he was a normal, weak human being…one with a jail record at that. There was not a single thing that John could have done to change or improve his situation. He was completely reliant on the power of God to endure day-by-day.

  • As an aside, this is exactly the place at which we need to be if we are ever partake of the grace of God. We need to see ourselves in our weakness and helplessness. We need to understand our dependence on the Lord, casting ourselves on His mercies in Jesus. Otherwise, we will never experience those mercies. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble!

What was John doing in his weakness? Seeking the Lord. For John to write that he “was in the Spirit” is to say that he was experiencing a specific experience of some sort with God the Holy Spirit. None can say definitively what it was, as John does not give any details. Of course, he was about to experience something even more spiritual in the Revelation – something that would make this initial thing seem relatively minor. Whatever it was, this much is clear: John was already seeking the Lord when the Lord responded in a special way.

  • Does this mean we can each expect something similar during Spirit-filled times of prayer? But there is something to be said for an ongoing habit of prayer – be it on the Lord’s Day (Sunday) or any other day of the week. Do you want to be used by God? Start by spending time with God in His word and in prayer.
  • In this, note that John did not let his tribulations keep him from prayer. If anything, it probably hastened them! Trials have a way of sending us to our knees. We do not wish for them but we can be grateful for how God uses them!

And Jesus answered John! Jesus came to John in his weakness, just like Jesus comes to us in ours, showing Himself to be strong. John was patiently enduring tribulation, being exiled to a remote island. Yet Jesus did not answer in timidity but with a “trumpet.” Jesus called out to John with “a loud voice,” literally, with a “megaphone.” This is no secrecy nor shyness nor shame with our Savior; He does not wait for permission to speak!

What Jesus had to say, He wanted John to record. It was to be comprised of a vision, but this was a vision that all the church needed to know. Jesus was sending His word to real people in the seven churches of Asia, indicative of real Christians everywhere. All the church needed to know of God’s plan to send Jesus in power and glory and to know of the glory Jesus has even in this present day. 

  • Jesus as the glorious Man (12-16).

12 Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.

Upon hearing the megaphone trumpet-like voice, John turned to see something amazing: a Man standing among “seven golden lampstands.” Although nothing is explained initially, the explanation comes in verse 20 that the seven lampstands were representative of the seven churches. All the specific churches identified by Jesus just moments earlier were symbolized as lampstands, much like the ancient Hebrew tabernacle had a single lampstand within. More important than the lamp was the One who stood among them. Dressed similarly to an ancient priest, this Man was among the lamps, almost as if tending to them. (Being that Jesus is both King and Priest, the symbolism is appropriate.)

Don’t miss the point that this was a real person. John noted that the appearance was “like the Son of Man,” a reference not only to Jesus’ favorite designation for Himself but also Daniel’s description of the Divine Messiah (Dan 7). Yes, it is a reference to Jesus’ deity but it is also inherently a reference to His humanity. Jesus came as a Man, a literal human being.

Again, this is the main point of Christmas: Almighty Infinite God clothed Himself in finite limited human flesh to dwell among us and become a sacrificial substitute for us. The Son of God needed to become a man, that He might be that substitute. If the Son had remained without humanity, there was no way He could step in and pay the price for humanity. It was the human Adam who fell in the Garden of Eden and the Son of God needed to become like Adam (being the second/last Adam) if He was to reverse the fall and redeem mankind.

What Revelation 1 tells us regarding this is that Jesus’ incarnation has not changed. When Jesus died on the cross, rose from the grave, and ascended physically to heaven, He did not shed His humanity upon His arrival. He did not have a temporary physical ministry in the 1st century, only to discard it and go back to the way things were prior to Mary’s pregnancy in Nazareth and Bethlehem. No…Jesus remains incarnate. Jesus is still human today, just as much as the Friday that He died on the cross and the Sunday He rose from the grave. The humanity that Jesus took to Himself, He kept. And He will keep it for all time. When Jesus returns in His 2nd Advent, He will come as a Man. When Jesus reigns over all the earth from Jerusalem, He will reign as a Man. When Jesus institutes the eternal state, He will do so as a Man. Not that He ever stops being God (as will be seen in a moment) but He will forever have His humanity, being the Perfect Man.

  • How wonderful this is! How amazing and gracious! One of the reasons the Bethlehem shepherds were so astounded, marveling at the things they saw was because they realized that they had seen Christ the Lord, God Himself. God put on human flesh to be with us. Yes to save and to redeem us, but also to be with us. We could not dwell with Him in our sin, so He came to be with us. He dealt with our sin, cleansing and justifying us. Now we can be with Him forever! Jesus’ humanity made this possible and it is something that will always remain.
  • Perhaps you’ve never considered the idea that the Son of God loves you so much that He made a permanent change to His existence when He took on humanity. His character did not change (for God’s character never changes), but the mode of Jesus’ existence forever changed. He became human for the glory of God, for the redemption of mankind, and for the love of people like you and me.

The apostle John describes what Jesus’ glorified humanity looked like. Surely this was different than how John had seen Jesus during the three-year earthly ministry. At least, it was different except for one day: the Transfiguration. A the mount of Transfiguration, Peter, John, and James got a glimpse of what John would later see during the Patmos revelation: Jesus in His glory! At the time, the three apostles described only Jesus’ shining (i.e., glorious) whiteness, particularly of His clothing. This time, it was Jesus’ whole personage. His head and hair shone white, His eyes burned with fire, His feet even shone as a kind of unearthly bronze that virtually glowed with brightness. It was astounding in every sense of the word. For as much as John writes, he still seemed to run out of words for Jesus’ appearance. He was a Man, but He was not like any other man; Jesus was glorious.

  • He still is glorious! This is the way our Jesus looks today. As wonderful as they can be, the potential danger of nativity scenes is that people might only conceive of Jesus as a baby. Yes, He was a baby, and it is important to remember how Jesus entered the world in such a humble fashion. But Jesus did not remain a baby – despite the many paintings of the Renaissance or Eastern icons or Roman statues that depict Him that way with Mary. Jesus forever took on humanity, but as with all humans everywhere, Jesus’ childhood was only temporary. Jesus grew into a Man. More than that, He is now a glorious Man in the power and authority of God!

Even Jesus’ voice demonstrated that authority. In the writings of the prophets, it was God who had a voice that sounded like many waters (Eze 43:2). The sword coming from His mouth was nothing less than the word of God (Eph 6:17, Heb 4:12). This is the same sword seen and used during Jesus’ actual 2nd Advent during the battle of Armageddon (Rev 19:15). Everything about Jesus’ voice, appearance, and stature shone forth the glory and authority of God even as it was invested (poured into) incarnate Man. This is our Jesus!

  • Is this how you know Him? For many, Jesus is an idea. For others, Jesus is ancient history or even myth. In truth, Jesus is the living, resurrected, glorious Son of God and Son of Man. Unless we know Him in that way, personally and relationally submitted to Him in faith, then we do not know Him at all.
  • Jesus as the glorious God (17-18).

17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. 18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

It ought to be no wonder why John fell as if he was dead. What other response could someone have to such a sight? When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, he declared his own woe, knowing that he had seen the Lord of Hosts (Isa 6). When Ezekiel had his initial vision of the Lord’s throne, he also fell on his face (Eze 1). When it dawned on Gideon that he had a conversation with Almighty God, having seen the Angel of the Lord, he feared for his life (Judg 6). To get a true glimpse of the glorious living God is a frightful thing. How could it be otherwise? The Bible says that our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). Such an encounter leaves us trembling…or at least, it should. It should, if we rightly understand our own sin. The moment we come to grips with the fact that our sin condemns us to death and judgment is the moment that we will fear that the mention of a perfectly holy God. And this is good! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and this fear is the first step to helping someone seek the refuge and forgiveness of Jesus as Savior!

Even as a born-again believer, the apostle John was right to fall at Jesus’ feet. After all, who should understand the righteous fear of God better than a Christian saved by God’s grace? We are those who have admitted our sinfulness, crying out for salvation. We have received the forgiveness of Christ and should be loathe to take it for granted! Jesus rightly deserves our worship and we should give it to Him eagerly and gladly.

Yet even in John’s righteous fear and reverent act of worship, Jesus reached out to him in comfort. Jesus took His right hand (the one that had been holding the seven stars, representing the seven angels/messengers of the seven churches) and put that same glorious hand upon John, comforting him. Jesus even spoke to John, telling him not to fear – just as did the angel Gabriel said to Mary regarding her pregnancy, or the angels said to the women at Jesus’ empty tomb. This time, it was no angel but Jesus Himself, offering comfort to His beloved friend and apostle, John.

  • As an aside, if there is one more reason why we as born-again Christians should not take Jesus for granted or disregard a righteous fear of the Lord, consider that it was John who fell at Jesus’ feet. If there was anyone who might have grown overly comfortable with Jesus, it would have been one of the original apostles who lived and traveled with Jesus for three years. They ate together, camped out next to each other, probably told jokes to each other, and worshipped side by side in synagogue and during the feats. John was so comfortable with Jesus that he even leaned back against Jesus’ chest during the Last Supper. Yet this John fell in fear, worshipping at Jesus’ feet. If John did not lose his fear of God, neither should we!

Once Jesus calmed John, Jesus identified Himself. This might seem strange considering how well John knew Jesus, but we need to remember (1) Jesus looked very different at the time, and (2) Jesus’ words would be given to vastly more people than to John. Jesus was identifying Himself to all the church, declaring His credentials that the church might listen to Him as He is: the glorious God.

For descriptions are given: (1) The Divine One, (2) The Resurrected One, (3) The Eternal One, (4) The Victorious One.

The Divine One: Jesus is the “the First and the Last.” He was in the beginning with God, being God, and He will be in the end and beyond. There is no period of time that has or will ever exist without God the Son. It emphasizes again how although Jesus of Nazareth came at a specific time and place, being born of Mary in Bethlehem, the Son of God has always been. He has always existed temporally (in time) and He has always existed in priority. He Himself is the focus and goal of creation, as all things were created by Him as God and for Him as God.

The Resurrected One: No discussion of Jesus is complete without a recognition of His death and resurrection. This is true even at Christmas. The babe was born for one reason: to suffer, die, and rise again. There was a reason His birth was first announced to shepherds. They tended the flocks that would be given in sacrifice for the people. These shepherds were blessed to be shown the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Likewise, when the magi finally arrived (up to 2 years later) they brought among their gifts the appropriate spice of myrrh. This was a spice used, not in celebration of life as might be expected with the arrival of a child, but in recognition of death when a corpse was packed with spices. It was an acknowledgement of Jesus’ purpose in dying for the sins of mankind.

Yet Jesus’ work does not end with death, but resurrection. The earthly narrative of Jesus beings with a manger, proceeds to a cross, and culminates with an empty tomb. Jesus “was dead,” with the emphasis being the past tense. Jesus now is the Living One, “He who lives.” The Lord Jesus did not appear to John as a ghost or apparition, but as the living Lord God.

The Eternal One: Not only is Jesus alive, He will forever remain alive. He is “alive forevermore,” or He lives into “age upon age,” “eon after eon,” never to die again. This is an important distinction, symbolized in His physical ascension to the Father. How so? Because Jesus was not the first person ever to rise from the dead. Although it was a rare miracle, it did happen in Israel’s past, and it happened with increasing frequency during Jesus’ own ministry. Most famously, Jesus raised His friend Lazarus from the dead after being four days dead and buried. In fact, Lazarus’ revival was so well known that his life remained in danger – not from renewed sickness, but religious assassination.

But Jesus’ resurrection was different! Jesus was the first one risen from the dead to never die again. Lazarus and all the others faced death twice. Jesus faced it once and conquered it forever (which is seen in the next part of the verse). For this reason, Paul can say that Jesus is the firstfruits of those risen from the dead (1 Cor 15:23). His resurrection is thus far unique in history, and will be echoed by all those who believe in Him as Savior and Lord.

The Victorious One: Jesus is God, the living God, the forever alive God, and the God who has the power of life. Jesus told John that He had “the keys of Hades and of Death,” having personally conquered death in His own resurrection. In fact, it is this goal to which all of Scripture points. This is the reason for Christmas and everything about the life and ministry of Jesus. Genesis shows how life was lost in the Garden of Eden with death reigning over every man. Yet in the tragedy of the Fall, God gave the hopeful promise of One who would come, born of the seed of the woman who would crush the head of Satan and take away the sting of death. This is Jesus, born of a virgin (the seed of the woman), crucified to death but risen from the dead, having all power and authority over death itself. Though He bore all the sin of mankind, all of it carrying the penalty of death for every human that ever lived, Jesus’ one death was sufficient for all. He paid the whole bill! He conquered our most persistent enemy, the foe from which none of us can escape. We find our escape in the glorious victory of Jesus. Though we may face physical death, we who believe will never face eternal death. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and our eternal lives are in His more-than-capable hands!

This was how Jesus appeared to John: as the divine, resurrected, eternal, and victorious Lord. He showed Himself to be the glorious God – the One to whom all praise is due – the One in whom all our hope and faith rests.

Conclusion:

Put it together and what do we find? John was in his weakness when the Son of God graciously came to him, showing Himself to be the glorious Man and God. Jesus came in power and glory demonstrating Himself to be God Incarnate.

This is the gift of God we celebrate at Christmas. But may we remember that Jesus’ incarnation spans far more than Christmas! Just as we celebrate Jesus’ birth and 1st Advent, so should we celebrate and wait with anticipation Jesus’ 2nd Advent. As the song says, “The Lord IS come.” He has come, and He is coming again. Next time it will not be as a babe in a manger; it will be as Jesus is right now, right at this moment: the glorious incarnate God who has been given all authority in heaven and earth, invested with all the power and glory of God.

For those of us who are born-again Christians, it can be easy to lose sight of this at Christmas. So much attention is put on a Bethlehem baby that all we think about is the birth and the Child. And yes, it is an absolutely essential and beautiful part of the story. It just is not all of the story. For us as believers, we can look back on the fulfillment of Jesus’ 1st Advent as not only the prelude to the cross and resurrection, but also as the guarantee of His 2nd Advent. Because Jesus came once, we as Christians can be certain that our Lord is coming again, exactly according to His word and promise.

Are you to ready to see Him? Are you looking for His coming and advent? Are you listening for His call, with the assurance that you are one of His own? 

To see the living God in all His glory is a fearful thing. Even the apostle John fell on his face as though dead. It is shocking for believers and unbelievers alike. Know this: one day (perhaps one day soon) you will see Him. The Bible tells us that it is appointed to man once to die, then face the judgment (Heb 9:27). For those who today know Jesus as Lord, we (like John) will experience and receive the comfort of God. We will be received into His presence, given a home in the place that Jesus has personally prepared for us to dwell with Him forever.

For those who do not know Jesus – who have rejected Jesus as Lord, choosing instead to live for themselves and their own glory, your fate is dramatically different. You too will see Jesus in His incarnate glory, but you will not receive His comfort. Instead, you face the judgment of the One who holds the keys of Hades and Death. To whom will you appeal in that day, when you have already rejected Jesus? There is no hope for life apart from Him. Turn to Christ in faith today.

Christmas Eve 2020

Posted: December 25, 2020 in Luke
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Christmas Eve 2020

Luke 1:26–38 (NKJV) — 26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” 29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” 35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” 38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Try to imagine the situation. It is ancient Judea in the Roman Empire. Although the Pax Romana brought a relative “peace” allowing for travel, it was a peace brought about by violent force, enemy occupation, and oppressive taxation. The Jews were no longer a free kingdom of Israel – and apart from a few brief years under the Maccabees, they had not known true independent freedom since the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon 500 years earlier.

To our ears, this sounds natural and normal, for we read it in our history books. For the ancient Jew, it was anything but normal. For them, “normal” was what they experienced during the Davidic dynasty when there was a king on the throne and prophets of God in the land. Now the only king was a Roman puppet and the prophets had been silent for centuries. Any Jew could look in the Scriptures and read repeated promises about a victorious King and everlasting kingdom. But where was He? Where was any indication He was coming? Had God forgotten about His people? Had God forgotten His word and promise?

God had not forgotten anything, which was plain through Gabriel’s announcement to Mary. Not that this was yet made known to the nation. The majority of Jews would know nothing of Jesus for another three decades. And they certainly would not have paid much attention to Mary, either. A poor girl from the backwater town of Nazareth was not newsworthy…at least, so they thought. How wrong they were! If they only knew.

Not that Mary thought too much of herself, either. She was just a normal girl from a normal town, expecting to have a normal life. All of that changed the moment she met the angel Gabriel. Unlike her betrothed husband Joseph who was asleep when he received his later angelic message, we are not told what Mary was doing when Gabriel appeared, greeting her. Whatever it was faded to obscurity, as her life was forever changed.

Why? Like Christmas itself, it is all about Jesus. Mary would give birth to the King of the Jews who was destined to be the King of the world and the Savior of mankind. God would do the impossible and the world would be turned upside down.

Luke shows it to us in four brief sections: (1) Salutation, (2) Proclamation, (3) Explanation, (4) [Mary’s] Affirmation.

Salutation (26-30)

Here, we are told all the necessary information for us to understand the background of this angelic encounter. We get the “who, when, where, what, and how” of the event. It was in the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (something that was later explained to Mary by the angel) that Gabriel appeared to the young virgin girl Mary in her hometown of Nazareth. That she was betrothed (engaged) to a man descended from King David did not carry with it the promise of kingly riches (Mary herself had Davidic ancestry through a different line), but it did mean that the ancestry was known and hope for a future king remained.

To this virgin girl, the angel appeared and spoke, declaring Mary to be highly favored of God. The Almighty God was with her in a special way and this was something worthy of joy. Question: Did Mary see any of this coming? Had she known? Of course not. But just because she did not know God was working did not mean that He wasn’t. Just because she did not know God was with her, favoring her, planning to use her, did not make it less true. This is the reason Gabriel told Mary to rejoice. He informed her of the grace already given her by God.

  • Is this not what we do when we tell others of Jesus? Yes, we need to tell them the bad news of their sin, guilt, and deserved judgment. But we also get to tell them about God’s undeserved favor and grace, already available to them in Jesus Christ. We get to tell them what God has already done so they can rejoice.
  • Can you rejoice in the good news of Jesus? Can you rejoice in the grace that God has made available to you?

Mary was not sure what to make of all this, being understandably frightened by this supernatural activity. That was when Gabriel moved to his proclamation of what was going to happen.

Proclamation (31-33)

The angel calmed Mary’s fear, giving her the good news about God’s favor and grace upon her. What was the sign of His favor? A Son. Never mind that she was a betrothed virgin. Never mind that this was humanly impossible and personally scandalous for the girl. Put that aside for a moment and for now, just hear the good news: a Son would be born of her, and not just any son: the Son of the Highest, i.e., the Son of God. And His name? Jesus – Yeshua = YHWH of our salvation, or “the LORD who saves.” By no means had God forgotten His people. He knew their suffering – He knew their need (just like He knows ours), and He brought forth His salvation in the Person of His Son, Jesus.

  • How badly we need to be saved! How desperate is our own situation! We are not enslaved to the Roman empire but to sin and death. And into our desperation, God offers His holy Son – He gives us Jesus the God who saves. He gives us Immanuel, God with us. He gives us life when He gives us Jesus!

Not only did Gabriel promise a baby boy, but he declared how the boy would grow into a man and that Man would be the King of all Israel. The ancient promises made to David and his descendants were not made in vain. The prophecies about a future Davidic kingdom would not go unfulfilled. The baby born through Mary would be the fulfillment of those things. The reign of this Man (known as the Messiah / the Christ – the Anointed One of God) would reign not only over Israel but over all the earth. And His reign would not last only for a few decades, but for all eternity: “of His kingdom there will be no end.

  • How wonderful was the proclamation of Gabriel regarding Jesus! Mary would bring forth a baby who would grow into a King – the best King – the King who had been promised since the Garden of Eden. Praise God for His indescribable gift!

How would all this be possible?

Explanation (34-37)

As a virgin, Mary understandably had questions how it would all work. She was not rebelling against God’s will for her or doubting His promise, but there was no question that this would require the miraculous. She asked a question that almost anyone would ask: “How?” Interestingly, she did not ask “why.” All too often, we question the reasoning and motive of God as if we have the right to do so. Not Mary. If she had not already understood hers and Israel’s need for a King and Savior, she at least trusted that God knew what He was doing. Instead, she asked “how,” to which Gabriel’s response lay in the infinite power of Almighty God. God the Spirit would come over her in a holy way, making it possible for the virgin to become pregnant and give birth to a Child unstained by the hereditary sin of man.

That it was possible could be seen in Mary’s own family, with her elderly cousin Elizabeth. Just as it seemed impossible for the aged to give birth, so it was even more impossible for the virgin. Yet what do we know of God? There is nothing impossible for Him. There is nothing too hard for his hands, no problem too difficult for Him to solve. He can do anything.

  • That includes saving people like you and me! What could be more difficult than erasing the bloody stain of sin? What is harder than making sinful traitors into sons and daughters of the King? Yet God does it in Jesus. He does the impossible through the gift of His Son, for nothing is impossible for Him!

Mary’s response?

Affirmation (38)

How Mary responded to the angel (and ultimately to the Lord) was so simple and pure. She affirmed the word and surrendered herself as a slave into the will of her Master and God. There was no argument, no dialogue, no objection – not even a fear raised, though she had reason to fear what might happen to her as a suddenly pregnant unwed Jewish girl in 1st century Judea. She had only faith and submission. She believed the promises of God concerning the soon-to-be-born Jesus and gave her own life into His merciful hands.

  • How do we respond to the news of Jesus, be it during Christmas or any other time? Through faith-filled affirmation of the word of God! We dare not ignore Christ, seek to replace Christ, or argue against Christ. Instead, we believe God’s word regarding God’s Son and surrender ourselves into His hand. We have faith, affirming everything that God said is true, and we give ourselves to Him as His servants, slaves, and children.

Conclusion:

“Wait a minute! Where is the Christmas message? Where is the celebrations of love, hope, white Christmases, and Santa Claus?” Go to Hollywood and the Hallmark Channel for that. There is love and hope at Christmastime, but it is not found in romance and good feelings; it is found in the Savior sent by God to be King of Israel and King of the world. The Biblical response to Christmas is not found either under the mistletoe or under a fir tree, but under the gospel proclamation of Jesus Christ. Like Mary, we too can rejoice at the news of God’s favor, that He has graciously brought forth the Son of the Highest to be Savior and King through nothing but His own power, which makes the impossible possible. Thus, we believe, surrendering ourselves into the hands of Jesus Christ, rejoicing in Him forever!

Just because we CAN do something doesn’t mean we SHOULD do it. What is it that helps our brothers and sisters in Christ? Our love for God is expressed in our love for others as we lay aside certain liberties for the sake of Christ.

Could vs. Should

Posted: December 20, 2020 in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 8, “Could vs. Should”

In the original Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum’s character Dr. Ian Malcolm criticizes the idea of a potentially deadly dinosaur attraction by saying to the park’s founder, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Opinions on the movie aside, the statement could be applied to any number of scenarios. Some things which are possible to do are not necessarily wise to do. Just because we can does not mean that we should.

It isn’t true only in movies and the wider culture, but also in Biblical Christianity. As born-again believers, we are given all kinds of wonderful liberty in Jesus. The doors of possibility open up for us in immense ways of what we can do. However, often the question is whether we should do it.

That was the issue for Paul as he answered the questions of the Corinthians. That they had questions for him, ought not to be a surprise. As might be expected, letters were exchanged between the church and its founder. Although Paul began this particular letter with agenda items of his own (dealing with matters of sin and discipline), he soon transitioned into the Q&A section. 

Paul tackled the first in Chapter 7, writing on the issue of sex, marriage, and singleness. Sex is good within the context of marriage, and marriage is good because it was created and ordained by God. It is so good that those who are married are supposed to remain married, in recognitions of the work God did among them in joining them together. That said, not every Christian is required to get married, as God specifically gifted some people for singleness. This happened to be Paul’s own status, as well as his personal preference for as many Christians as possible. The more believers who remained single maintained their free availability for Christ, which is a benefit that cannot be easily ignored.

With the subject thoroughly covered, Paul moved on to the next topic: idolatry and liberty. The ancient city of Corinth was filled with pagan idolatrous temples, and many of the new Christians were saved out of those idolatrous religions. It was only natural for questions to arise regarding how much/how little the Christians could use the things in the city that were touched/affected by idolatry. After all, most of the people in their city were idol-worshippers. What kind of freedom the Christians had with idolatrous items had a major immediate impact on their everyday lives.

Before we get into the text itself, we need to address the issue of why this matters. After all, we do not live in ancient Corinth where there were many temples literally sacrificing animals to false gods. We do not have markets where we might purchase meat that had been used in pagan worship. All of this was very important and relevant to the Christians living in 1st century Corinth but what does it matter for 21st century Americans?

First of all, we need to remember that idolatry has not disappeared. Although the idolatrous Hindu temples in India are easier to identify, the United States has its own share of pagan temples. There are many temples and items of false, non-Christian religions here in the pluralistic USA. (For example, there are 2.3 million Hindus in the USA, as well as 3.45 million Muslims. That does not even begin to get to the western pseudo-Christian cults like Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses, nor the versions of Christianity that have departed from the authority of the Scripture like the Catholics, etc.) There are many literal religious places that participate in what can Biblically be defined as idolatry. Moreover, those are only the religious examples. There are other forms of idolatry that have nothing to do with overt religion, such as sports, politics, materialism, and more. Idolatry is alive and well in the contemporary United States!

Secondly, we need to understand that the principles that Paul gives to Corinth regarding idolatry has wide-reaching application to how Christians relate to one another regarding liberty. In fact, liberty is arguably the core issue that Paul addresses in Chapters 8-9. At the base of Corinth’s questions of idolatry is the idea of how Christians deal with each other in matters of preference. In that sense, much of what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8-9 is echoed in Romans 14. Idolatry was the present pressing example; liberty was the foundational idea.

With all that in mind, what does Paul have to write regarding liberty and idolatry? For the weaker Christians who came from idolatrous backgrounds, other Christians needed to be willing to lay aside certain liberties in love. Our love for God is expressed in our love for others as we lay aside certain liberties for the sake of Christ.

Paul expresses this in two basic points:

  1. Know God (1-6)
  2. Know your brother (7-13).

1 Corinthians 8

  • Know God (1-6). Know His love and truth.

1 Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.

  1. Considering that Paul starts answering the new topic of idolatry (or more accurately, “things offered to idols,”) we need to deal with the definition of terms. What is an idol? The original Greek refers to an image or picture. It is a copy of something, purportedly, the copy of the god that is claimed to be worshipped. (Which ought to give Bible-believing Christians pause when it comes to the issue of icons, as used within the Eastern Orthodox church, as they are supposedly “copies” as well.) For all intents and purposes, the people who use idols treat those items as the actual things themselves. They see the statues (or paintings, or whatever) as representations of the god/goddess worshipped, bowing to the physical item as if they are bowing to the deity. For Paul and Corinth, the specific issue is “things offered to idols,” which is the translation of a single Greek compound word comprised of “idols” and the verb “to sacrifice.” Thus, Paul is writing of the things used in pagan, idolatrous worship. Any item (though contextually, it is more often food) that is given to a pagan god/goddess in an act of sacrifice.
  2. With these things, Paul writes that “we all have knowledge” – everyone in the Corinthian church has some sort of understanding of what it is and how to handle it. Or, so they thought. Certainly, they all had an opinion and they may have had some knowledge of these things, but they all didn’t have all That much was evident from their question. They would not have asked Paul about it if they had all the information they needed to deal with it properly. They knew something about the issue but what they knew wasn’t enough. Or perhaps, what they knew in themselves was not enough. They had knowledge, but they had prideful knowledge. As Paul wrote, “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” The ESV brings out the wordplay in its (accurate) translation, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Knowing something about a subject is good, but mere information can be a source of egotistical pride. Even with a sin as plain as idolatry, knowledge about it needs love for it to be godly. 
  3. Knowledge is valuable but it can also be empty. Knowledge, in itself, can be vanity. What is needed more than knowledge alone is love. What is better, is knowledge with We have a definite need for right doctrine but doctrine without love is potentially harmful. It is possible to have a full head with a cold heart. Later in the letter, Paul points out to the Corinthians that this kind of knowledge is worthless, being nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” The overall context of the passage references spiritual gifts – things, in which the Corinthians put a lot of pride. Paul made it clear that his experience with spiritual gifts surpassed all of them to an unfathomable degree – but none of it meant anything if he didn’t have love. That was true not only of spiritual gifts but also something as fundamental as doctrine. Paul was a fantastic teacher of the spiritual mysteries and Biblical knowledge, but even that required God-given, Christ-centered love. Without it, anything Paul had to offer was useless.
    1. The empty pride of spiritual knowledge did not cease with the Corinthians. It was carried over to the cult of Gnosticism (which very name is derived from the word used for “knowledge”: gnosis – γνῶσις), even into the institutional church. There is a reason why the Catholics and Orthodox maintain a “priesthood” in which the priests have access to knowledge and rituals that the laypeople do not. In the traditional Latin mass, a Roman Catholic priest even turns his back to the congregation and utters some parts of the liturgy quietly, intentionally restricting the common people from listening and participating. Such practices have their root in sinful religious pride.
    2. Lest we think Evangelical Protestants are immune, we are not. There is always a danger that pride takes root in the debates between various theological camps, such as Calvinism vs. Arminianism, or pre-tribulational rapture vs. post-tribulational rapture, etc. Each side strongly holds to their belief, often believing themselves better than the other because they have a “better” understanding of the Scripture. Let us beware and let us be humble! What is better than mere Biblical knowledge is Biblical knowledge practiced in Biblical love.

2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.

  1. Pride in knowledge is shortsighted. After all, how much doctrine do we truly know and understand? Our knowledge is limited and incomplete. We might think we know something when we know only a small part. This is true even in established sound doctrine. Just how much do we truly know about Jesus’ incarnation? Whatever it is, it just barely scratches the surface. Or think of the gospel, which we (think we) know inside and out. To consider that the infinite Son of God died for sinful people like us is astounding, something beyond full comprehension. Yes it is true, and yes we know it…but we know only a part and portion of it. The famed physicist and astronomer Isaac Newton wrote this about his own scientific discoveries: “I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” In his own commentary on 1 Corinthians 8, the Greek scholar AT Robertson referenced Newton’s quote as being “pertinent” here, noting, “The really learned man knows his ignorance of what lies beyond.” As much as we learn about God (and it is a joy and privilege to do so every day of our lives!), we will only in this life learn just the smallest fraction. It will take an eternity to take in all of His infinite glory. (And guess what? Jesus has promised us an eternity with Him!)
    1. Again, this brings out the importance of theological humility. Although we hold to Biblical convictions firmly, some of our convictions regarding less-clear ideas ought to be held in humility. There is room for Biblical debate on aspects of spiritual gifts, end-time chronology, ideas on church government, the tension between predestination and freewill, and more. We need to be careful to keep the main things the main things, being humble and loving with other brothers and sisters who disagree in issues not essential to salvation.
  2. More important than a Christian’s knowledge of idolatry is God’s knowledge of the Christian! What really matters is that we love God – that we know Him through faith in Jesus Christ and that we are known by Him as one of His own. — Not everyone has that assurance. Those who truly know Christ know that they know Christ and are known by Him. We have had an encounter with the living Lord Jesus through faith, having come to a point that we knowingly entrusted ourselves to Him, believing Him to be crucified for our own sins and risen from the dead. But not everyone has had that experience. Some claim to love God yet have no assurance that God knows them. They might say “grace” over dinner and even give intellectual assent that Jesus is God who died on the cross and rose again, but they cannot say that Jesus died for them because they have no assurance of that. This gets to the crux of the difference between knowledge and love, or as other have put it, between head-knowledge and heart-knowledge. The person who truly “loves God” has a heart-knowledge of Him through Jesus. It is more than the ability to recite a creed; it is the ability to say you know a Person. To say that you’ve met Jesus through faith, believed upon Him, entrusted your life and your eternity to Him, to love Him with all your heart, soul, and strength. To this person, the Bible gives the assurance: “this one is known by Him.” To you who truly love God, God knows you and loves you too. He gives you His assurance (via the Holy Spirit) that you are His child and that you belong to Him through Jesus.

With this said about knowledge, Paul looks at the things we all do know (or should know) regarding false idols and the true God…

4 Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords),

  1. The first issue is straightforward: idols are “” The statute or painting might be a real statue or painting, but the so-called “god” behind it is nothing. It is hot air – it is a vain imagination. It is like the mythical leprechaun with a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow: totally non-existent.
  2. That doesn’t mean they are treated that way. False gods are not real, but they are really worshipped. This is what Paul gets to with the “if” in verse 5. Paul does not admit the real existence of other gods either in heaven or on earth. After all, his statement in verse 5 comes right after his statement in verse 4 where he affirms there is but one God (something which he explains more in verse 6). Paul only acknowledges there are many false ideas worshipped as gods and lords by the pagan people of the world. Corinth itself was famous for its temple to Aphrodite, who was just one of the many Greek deities in its pantheon. No one would walk into Corinth denying that many people worship many gods. The gods were not real; the people who worship them were real. We see the same thing today with Islam and its version of God, Allah (which is not the Biblical God YHWH), or the many false gods within the Hindu pantheon. There are individual people who worship these gods as if they were real, but they themselves are not, in fact, real. They are nothings, vain things, unholy imaginations.
    1. This is not a contradiction in Chapter 10 when later, Paul writes of these false gods that they are demons, to whom the pagans unwittingly sacrifice when they give their offerings (10:20). Again, it is not an admission that the demons are true gods; it is an acknowledgement that they are worshipped as gods. In comparison with the true living God, demons are nothing! They are mere examples of God’s creation whereas God Himself is the infinite Creator. There can be no comparison between them!
  3. Contextually, Paul is still writing of the “things offered to idols,” and he only briefly introduces the idea of Christians eating some of that idolatrous food at this point. He will first describe the true God worshipped by Christians before coming back to the questionable practice of eating food previously sacrificed to idols. But don’t miss the main point he makes in verse 4 on the subject. If idols are “nothing,” than food sacrificed to them is nothing. The sacrifice itself is nothing because it was made to a made-up god. The actual effect on the food placed in one’s mouth is the same as an imaginary cookie given in a tea-party thrown by a 4-year old girl: nothing. Nothing real has been done to the food – there are no theological “cooties” of which we must be aware. The effect that an imaginary god can leave is likewise, only imaginary. There is nothing real that happened. (That isn’t to say that pagan worship is not significantly sinful. It is, and Paul gets into more detail with this in Chapter 10. It is only to say that imaginary idols remain imaginary.)

6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.

  1. There is one God, just like Paul briefly mentioned in verse 4: “there is no other God but one.” The wording is reminiscent of the Great Commandment and the foundational doctrinal statement of every Old Testament Hebrew, found in the Shema: Deuteronomy 6:4–5, “(4) “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! (5) You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” As a faithful Jew, Paul would have recited this several times per day, always being reminded of unity of God and the exclusivity of God. The Bible (Old Testament and New Testament alike) teaches monotheism, meaning that there is only one God, even as this one God is eternally revealed in three Persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). He is perfectly united within Himself and He is exclusively the only God in existence. There are not three gods; there is but one God and there is none like Him. The God of the Bible is without comparison or competitor. Even Satan, as an enemy of God, cannot compare with God. As powerful as Satan may be, he is still infinitely weaker than the Creator God. God made Satan and God could blast Satan out of existence if He chose to do so. The devil may think of himself as a competitor to the rule of God, but in reality, he is no competition.
  2. Because God is one and the only one God, our theology is exclusive to Him. That is Paul’s point when he writes “yet for us there is one God.” e., “for us,” in comparison with the pagan idolators who worship nothings and demons. They believe they worship something but they worship nothing. We believe we worship something and our something is true – our something is the true God. This is not spiritual relativism; this is objective fact. This is not “It might be true for you, while something else is true for me;” it is true, period. We know the truth because the truth has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. 
  3. What do we know about this one God?
    1. He is “the Father,” the God who created “all things,” thus, “of whom” (or “out of whom”) “are all things,” including us. He created the world and everything in it through the exercise of His sheer will (and as expressed through His Word, the Logos, Jesus). He is the Father of all beings, even those who reject Him to worship creatures rather than the Creator. No human baby would ever take its first breath without God the Father knitting together that child in the womb of its mother. God the Father does so for those who will grow to know Him and love Him, as well as for those who will grow to reject Him and rebel against Him.
    2. He is the purpose of our existence. As Paul writes, “and we for Him,” meaning that we exist for His pleasure and His glory. God did not bring us into existence to make us the center of our own individual universes; He gave us life because we are to give Him glory. He made us so that we would know Him.
      1. How evil is the self-centered nature not only of our culture but also of the church! It is bad enough that the general population of the world focuses on self-pleasure and self-fulfillment (as demonstrated in Maslow’s infamous hierarchy of needs with “self-actualization” being at the top). People want what is best for them, regardless of what is best for anyone else. Of course, we expect that in our culture; we ought not to expect it within the church! Sadly, this is exactly what so many Christian congregations promote. “Worship” services become self-worship with the congregants singing “I” far more than to/about God. Sermons are designed to be practical self-help “talks” rather than Christ-centered Biblical doctrine and exhortation. As the Evangelical church, we need to get back to living by Paul’s statement of “we for Him,” that we exist for the glory of God! 
    3. Moreover, this one God is revealed in “one Lord,” the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is not a second god nor a replacement god; He is the second Person within the one God, revealed throughout the Bible as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Paul brings out the idea of the Trinity which are deep waters, understandably confusing to many. Time forbids a thorough treatment; suffice to say that this is the consistent testimony of Scripture and something to be affirmed by every Bible-believing Christian. This is Paul’s own affirmation, that Jesus is God, as he uses basically the same descriptions of Jesus as he did of the Father: “through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” When God the Father created the world, He did so through His Son – and just like we exist for the pleasure and glory of the Father, we would not/could not exist without the express will of the Son. Colossians 1:15–17, “(15) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (16) For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. (17) And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” For every Jehovah Witness or every Mormon or every Muslim that says that the Bible never makes any claim about Jesus’ deity, let them be silenced by the testimony of Scripture! Jesus is clearly portrayed as being God of true God, the express image of the Father, and the One to whom all worship is due!
      1. Is this how you know Jesus? Do you see Him as the glorious God? Christmas is just around the corner and for too many people, Jesus is only the Babe in a manger. Or at most, He is the tortured and dead sacrifice hanging on a crucifix. Not so! He is the living God, the glorious God, the resurrected God – the One to whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father! Jesus is He whom we should fear, love, and worship – Jesus is He who is our salvation and our only hope for forgiveness – He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him. This is how we must know Jesus if we are to know Him at all!

Whatever we think we know about idols and our behavior concerning them, it begins with our knowledge of God. When we have a right knowledge of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit as the one true God, it puts all other pretenders to deity in the proper perspective. Every idol made by men and women is shown to be nothing. They are lifeless things of wood, stone, and metal, not worthy of worship but rather worthy of disdain. As representatives of demons, these things are not even worthy to be used as paperweights, but rather thrown into the fire or other garbage.

This is what we should know about God, which far too few people do know. This gives us the urgency in the gospel and the humility and love in which we share it. People worship emptiness (if not statues, then empty ideas and philosophies and so-called “sciences” – even the emptiness of themselves) yet their empty worship is not without consequence. It leads them directly to the punishment of hell. Thus, we lovingly preach Jesus! Not to puff up ourselves, nor to prove ourselves better than anyone else; but to build them up in the love of God.

  • Know your brother (7-13). Know his weaknesses and act in love.

7 However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

  1. As we’ve repeatedly seen throughout the letter, we cannot forget the context and the original audience to whom Paul wrote. Although many of the Christians in this local congregation were from Jewish backgrounds, others were not. They were Gentiles in Corinth, meaning that they came from pagan idolatrous worship. They formerly were those who visited the temples, offered food to the false gods of nothingness, and worshipped (either in sincerity or in ritual) demonic pretenders to the throne of God. Though now born-again by the grace of God in Jesus, the memories of their past days were not quickly erased. When they saw food that had been sacrificed to the idols, they didn’t see food that had nothing truly done to it in reality; they saw something inherently tainted by pagan practice. They could not escape their “consciousness of the idol,” any more than a former Hindu can divorce yoga from its use in Hindu worship or a former Catholic can see a rosary as a mere necklace rather than something used in Catholic prayers. They cannot partake of those things without their consciences being “defiled.
  2. Does this mean that the former Corinthian pagan (or Hindu or Catholic, etc.) is irreparably “weak”? Although the Greek word can refer to some inherent deficiency or sickness, that is not the context here. Think of it: Paul is writing of former pagans, converted born-again believers. They had been saved out of weakness by the grace of God in Jesus. But there would be some areas of their lives that would remain sensitive to the things of the past. Although they were new creations, their memories and experiences were not wiped out. It is like when certain optical illusions are seen, you cannot “unsee” it and look at them the way you did in the past. The Christians who had previously worshipped false gods through those offerings could not “unsee” the pagan use of that food (whatever it was). Yes, they might be able to theologically and intellectually agree that the idol was nothing, but they might never be able to partake of the food without some thought back to that false god. In this one area, they were “weak” or sensitive.
    1. BTW – That didn’t make the Jewish Christians (or any other non-idolatrous Gentile) any stronger. It meant that they were stronger in this one area…but there was likely some other area in which they were weaker or sensitive. This is one reason why is it such a blessing to be a part of the body of Christ. It is one reason why we should participate with the body of Christ. One area in which you are weak may be one where I am strong, and vice-versa. You can help me in my weakness and I can help you in yours.

8 But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.

  1. Regarding the meat sacrificed to idols, meat (or food in general) does not affect our relationship with God. The word for “commend” is a strengthened form of the verb for “to stand,” referring to being presented or standing by. Food will not bring us any closer to God. It will not improve our standing with Him. Granted, people can turn food into an idol itself – but apart from wrongly worshipping the meal, the meat does not affect our relationship with God one way or the other.
  2. Ultimately, food isn’t the issue; worship is. Who/what are you worshipping? The pagan in Corinth worshipped the false idol through the sacrificed meat. That was what was bad; not the food itself. Yet when a person worships the real God in Spirit and truth, it doesn’t matter what food is on your plate. 
  3. It emphasizes how we are made holy in the sight of God: not by works, but by grace. Jesus makes us holy by washing us and cleansing us by His work at the cross and through the work of the Holy Spirit within us. Will our actions change? Certainly! Changed lives are the evidence of the work of Christ within us. But our works do not make us holy; they demonstrate our holiness. They show what Christ has done and we can take none of the credit. To put it in Paul’s context, a Christian choosing to put certain food on his plate was not him making him any more holy in the sight of God. Nor was a Christian who fasted, depriving herself of food any “holier” than a Christian who did not fast. Or vice-versa. Those actions were works. They might be proper when done in a response to Jesus’ work of cleansing us, but they themselves do not cleanse us.

9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.

  1. The Corinthians had liberty to eat whatever they wanted, as do we. But we ought to be careful and take heed of others. Our liberty can be harmful to others. If food doesn’t improve our standing with God or take away our standing with Him, why not eat all the sacrificed meat? Because it might hurt someone else with a conscience sensitive in this area. Can you imagine the scene? A Jewish Corinthian Christian goes to the agape meal (the “love feast” or potluck) with a plateful of freshly roasted sacrificial stew. He’s slurping back his meal while his formerly pagan brother is sitting there aghast, knowing that only a few weeks ago he was the one offering the same kind of meat to Athena. How is that former pagan supposed to now eat without distraction, or even go on to worship and offer prayers with his Jewish-Christian brother? The meat has become the proverbial elephant in the room and the whole ability to worship has been disrupted. The liberty of one has “become a stumbling block” to another.
  2. Question: Do we really have “liberty” to recline in an idolatrous temple, engaging in ritualistic meals? The word for “liberty” is elsewhere translated “authority,” referring to one’s right (authority) to do something. And on one hand, we do have the liberty/right to eat whatever we want, wherever we want. As Paul wrote earlier in the letter and will again affirm and repeat later, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful,” (6:12, 10:23). Strictly speaking, we have the right to do it, for as long as we maintain our faith in Christ, food is only food. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean,” (Rom 14:14). IOW, if your conscience is clear as you participate knowing you do this before the Lord God, then it is not illegal. But again, that does not make it helpful. — That brings us to the other hand. Just because something is technically allowed does not mean that it is recommended. It is legal in the State of Texas for adults to smoke as many packs of cigarettes per day as they desire. But it is also a quick trip to lung cancer and other disease. Likewise with our liberties in Christ. Just as it is possible to use our liberties for the glory of God, it is also possible to use them for harm. Some things simply do not help us, regardless that it is our right to do it.
  3. Additionally, we need to keep the broader context of the letter in mind. What Paul writes in Chapter 8 needs to be taken hand-in-hand with what he writes in Chapter 10. There, he returns to the subject of eating food sacrificed to idols and shows that our knowledge of the idolatrous sacrifice makes all the difference. It is one thing for our eating to be done in ignorance. It is quite another for it to be done with knowledge – much more, in the situation described here in Chapter 8 when the Christian might actually recline for a leisurely supper in the pagan temple (as Paul describes in verse 10). Paul makes the point that we cannot drink both the cup of the Lord and that of demons (10:21). We cannot have fellowship with idols in that way. Using our liberties in such a fashion harms us, just as much as it potentially harms others.

10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? 11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

  1. The problem? Our actions might accidentally endorse sin and idolatry. More than wounding another brother’s or sister’s sensitive conscience by openly practicing something they cannot see as other than harmful, the practice of our liberty might actually promote the sin of which the other brother or sister is most afraid.
  2. Again, it is important to understand the issue Paul presents from its original cultural context. When he writes of “eating in an idol’s temple,” he uses a word that refers to “lying down” or “reclining for a meal.” He’s talking about more than just grabbing a snack from a street vendor who just happened to be selling meat that was previously sacrificed to an idol. Instead, he refers to someone who took time at the idolatrous temple – someone who stopped to recline for a meal. It may be difficult for us to imagine today, but the idea is of a born-again Christian waltzing straight into the ancient temple of Athena, sitting down at the table where all the sacrificed meat was, and taking the time for a leisurely meal. Seeing a Christian in that scenario, other member of the church might rightly ask, “What on earth are you doing here in the first place?”
    1. It might not be too different from seeing a Christian walk into a bar and start throwing back shots. Do they have the liberty to do it? Perhaps, as long as they aren’t getting drunk (though it wouldn’t take too many shots to do it!). But is it wise? It is potentially harmful to former alcoholics? Does it potentially endorse the practice for others? There is far too much that can go wrong. Attempting to justify such an act under the guise of “liberty” simply is not worth it.
  3. Interestingly (and sadly), the word “emboldened” is the same word used back in verse 1 for “edifies,” meaning “to build/strengthen.” We could be building up our brothers and sisters in the Lord through acts of love. Instead, we bolster and strengthen the wounding of their conscience. We say, “I know you feel guilty about this. Deal with it.” That isn’t love. That isn’t someone exercising their strength; it is a spiritual bully imposing on someone else who is weak. If we truly want to build someone up, we first understand their weakness and start from where they start. Imagine going to gym and hiring a personal trainer. The trainer is likely far stronger than you. Do you think the trainer is going to force you as a newbie to lift as much as him/her? He/she will assess where you’re at and start you at a weight that is appropriate for you. They will be aware of your weakness and start building you from there to strength. This is the way we should be with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not about exploiting their weaknesses; it is about being aware of them and helping them grow in their walks with Christ…to help, not harm.

12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

  1. Don’t miss this point. Sinning against believers = sinning against Jesus. The apostle Paul was keenly aware of this the day of his conversion on the road to Damascus. Although he had actively and intentionally persecuted believers in Jesus wherever he could find them, Jesus pointedly asked Saul/Paul, “Why do you persecute Me?” When Saul hunted Jesus’ disciples, he hunted Jesus Himself. When he jailed them, he jailed Jesus. Just as Jesus will say to the nations in the future judgment between the sheep and the goats, “When you did it unto the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” When we sin against our brothers and sisters in Christ, we sin against Christ. When we hurt them, wounding their conscience, we attack our Lord and Savior, sinning against Him. (God forbid! And may God forgive us where we have!)

13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

  1. Paul’s conclusion? If meat sacrificed to an idol wounded his brother’s or sister’s conscience – if it stumbled (lit. “scandalized”) them, then the meat wasn’t worth it. In fact, Paul would rather be a vegetarian, if that was what it took to build up his fellow Christian. Why take the chance of wounding a fellow believer? Why potentially stumble them and sin against Jesus? At the end of the day, meat simply wasn’t worth it (no matter how tasty it might have been or how much “right” Paul had to eat it). He was willing to sacrifice it, out of love for his brother and sister.
    1. Be willing to make a sacrifice of love! If we know something causes another brother or sister harm, then why not set it aside? 
  2. Objection: “But I don’t want to give unwarranted veto power to other people! Just about any freedom I exercise is potentially harmful to someone else. I can’t walk around on eggshells never doing anything hoping never to offend anyone. Besides, some people get offended at stupid things.” True – some people look for reasons to be offended. We need look no further than our current political climate! Firstly, remember that Paul is not writing about Christians never offending the world. After all, the gospel is an offense to those who are perishing. Although we don’t want to be obnoxious, we will never be able to cease from offending the world if we are to be Biblical. Secondly, Paul was not so concerned about a lack of offense that he never corrected anyone. Most of the letter of 1 Corinthians is devoted to correcting false ideas and practices among the church. Surely many in the congregation were initially offended, even if it helped them grow. Paul never ceded veto power to the errant congregation in Corinth…not by a long shot. However, Paul was careful not to do anything that might stumble them into sin. And that’s the key point. Everything Paul did among the Corinthians was to build them up in Christ; not to flaunt his own spiritual liberties, potentially setting them back in their own spiritual growth. It was the flaunting and parading that he set aside; not the essential truths and practices of the Christian faith.

Know your brothers and sisters in Christ! Be mindful of them. When we act in our freedoms, are we aware of our fellow Christians around us? Are we mindful of the example we set towards others? Do we build them up…or box them in? We can either be willing to lovingly sacrifice for them, or callously stumble them. May we choose what is best. May we choose what is most loving towards Christ!

Conclusion:

We have liberty to do all kinds of things when we know the one true God. But just because we can do something does not mean that we should do it. Liberties that stumble other believers are worth setting aside because God is worth every sacrifice we might be called upon to make. Consider how much Jesus was willing to sacrifice for you and me? Anything we give in return is a pittance in comparison!

Remember that although Paul’s immediate context was food sacrificed to idols in the ancient city of Corinth, the principles of knowing God and knowing our brothers still apply to us today. The specific examples might change, but the general issue remains. Perhaps your sister is stumbled by your freedom with alcohol. Don’t drink around her. Perhaps your brother argues against the gift of tongues. Don’t practice it around him. It does not mean that we must always be silent and conversations can never be had. It does not mean that we cannot teach one another and continually grow in our knowledge of the Scriptures and spiritual maturity. It means that we treat one another with love and humility, as we all follow Jesus together. It means that we do what we need to do to love God together, love each other in the Lord, and follow Christ as a church family.

For all that Gideon did right, following God in faith, he sadly didn’t finish well. We want to finish well with Christ!

Finish Well!

Posted: December 17, 2020 in Judges

Judges 8, “Gideon’s Rule”

The things we start, we want to finish. No one wants to begin a construction project only to abandon it prior to completion. Neither do athletes want to be pulled from their contests before the end. In running, this failure is known by three dreaded letters: DNF – Did Not Finish. Although the designation is fairly common (especially in longer races), no one wants it. I have one DNF to my name and I do not want another! For every race I run – for every challenge I begin, I desire to finish well.

Christianity is no small challenge while living in a world of sin. It is no short journey. It is something that once begun, we want to finish well. Not only do we shudder at even the possibility of a spiritual DNF, we certainly want to finish well. Who among us does not want to hear the words from Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant,”? Truly, to hear those words from Christ is to know we finished well.

Sadly, not everyone does. Christianity is filled with the stories of those who started well but did not finish in the same way. Even setting aside the theological debate of eternal security, there is the issue of the born-again Christian finishing his/her journey with Christ on earth with the same fervency with which it began. The Bible is filled with such example. Solomon famously began as a young man seeking nothing but the wisdom of God, yet ended as a man willing to compromise any godly principle for his own pleasure. Uzziah attempted to offer incense in the temple, falling from faithfulness to presumption and leprosy. Hezekiah saw revival in the land yet boasted to the Babylonians about his wealth. These men (and others) started well but did not finish well.

Such was the case with Gideon. Gideon was the latest in a succession of judges raised by God, helping to lead Israel and deliver them out of the hands of their enemies. Of course, Israel never had to go into the hands of their enemies. This was a consequence allowed by God in response to their persistent idolatry…something that would only worsen as time progressed.

The latest oppressor was Midian, assisted by the Amalekites and various peoples of the East. They brought violent raids to Israel, taking whatever crops and livestock they desired while leaving the Hebrews scared, hungry, and destitute. It was in this situation that God raised up Gideon from the family of Abiezer in the tribe of Manasseh. Gideon did not seem as the most likely candidate to be a judge, considering that he was hiding in his father’s winepress when called by God as a mighty man of valor. Nor did he initially have much faith, as he repeatedly tested God with requests for supernatural signs even after God plainly called him. Even so, God used him mightily, despite his weaknesses.

In fact, the way God used Gideon showed far more of the might of the Lord than of Gideon himself. God wanted it to be perfectly obvious that salvation form the Midianites was a divine gift of grace rather than the work of men. This was why God slashed the size of Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300. Without even a sword drawn among them, these 300 men surprised the Midianite hordes with nothing but trumpets, torches, and (most importantly) the Lord. God sent confusion among the soldiers and they went to battle against themselves, soon fleeing the scene with Israel in hot pursuit.

It was an incredible supernatural victor, a demonstration of the power of God on behalf of His people. Yet it was not appreciated to the extent it should have been. Sinful Israelites kept acting like sinful Israelites, with Gideon being little different. Why/ Because people are sinful, period. Unless we who start in God’s grace continue in God’s grace, we soon find ourselves deep in sinful muck. We get caught up in ourselves and the stuff of this world, missing out on faithfulness.

We who start with Jesus need to continue. We need to finish well!

We’ll see it throughout Chapter 8 in three sections:

  1. The battle’s aftermath (1-27)
  2. Gideon’s attitude (22-32)
  3. Israel’s apostasy (33-35)

Judges 8

  • The battle’s aftermath (1-27).

1 Now the men of Ephraim said to him, “Why have you done this to us by not calling us when you went to fight with the Midianites?” And they reprimanded him sharply.

  1. One would think that Ephraim would have been thrilled at the defeat of Midian. The Midianites hadn’t oppressed only a few cities of Manasseh, but had caused trouble for men and women all over Israel. And although Ephraim had not joined in the original battle, they weren’t the only ones. In fact, very few of those who did initially go with Gideon were actually chosen by God to be used. 31,700 soldiers left the battlefield before the fighting began. And out of the 300 that were left, not even they did any fighting; it was all the work of God. Ephraim was like the vast majority of the rest of the tribes of Israel in this regard. Yet they assumed themselves better and had their feelings hurt.
  2. Accused Gideon of the sin of neglect. They were jealous of battle glory (which not even Gideon had earned). The only thing Gideon called Ephraim to do was cleanup, and that was not good enough in their eyes. It wasn’t important enough – it was too small a thing for such a “great” tribe as Ephraim. IOW: Ephraim was arrogant. Their ego was too big for them to take on a duty so small as to merely track down the princes of Midian and execute them after-the-fact, when the battle was already won.
  3. Question: Had Gideon neglected them? Perhaps, although we cannot say for certain. Ephraim was not among the tribes to whom Gideon initially sent messengers in his original attempt to call up an army (6:35). Was it neglect? Not necessarily. Perhaps he thought no one from Ephraim would answer the call. Maybe he thought that the other closer, neighboring tribes would provide him enough men. Maybe he only had enough messengers willing to go to the neighboring tribes and didn’t have an opportunity to send word to Ephraim. There could be several possible explanations. The problem with Ephraim was that they assumed the worst. Their pride was so inflated that they couldn’t conceive of any reasonable explanation for their exclusion and they believed the job that Gideon did give them to do was beneath them.
    1. Sadly, that is the way some Christians look at ministry. Although there is work to be done, it isn’t the work they want to do. They want to lead a Bible study; not clean the church building. They want to be a missionary overseas; not share Jesus with someone across the street. They want a position that gives them prestige and glory, not realizing that no Christian ought to receive any glory for anything. All the glory goes to God. And because God gives the work, any work God gives is good. No task should be too small. If the president of the United States personally asked for a favor, no one would think about denying him. How much more should we be willing to fulfill the requests and commands of God? If God gives you something, it cannot be too small because the infinitely massive God gave it to you. Don’t despise the days of small things; praise God for whatever He gives!

2 So he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? 3 God has delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. And what was I able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger toward him subsided when he said that.

  1. Gideon (perhaps for the only time in his life) answers gently and wisely. “A soft answer turns away wrath,” (Prov 15:1) and that was exactly what Gideon gave. He was incredibly diplomatic, noting (correctly) that Ephraim had a far better reputation than him. Besides that, Ephraim was huge! Gideon’s family was tiny. The “little” that Ephraim did still dwarfed the “much” work done by Abiezer. Think of it like comparing population sizes. 10% of the population of New York City is still vastly bigger than the entire population of Tyler. Anything Gideon could have done on his own paled in comparison to the work of this much larger tribe. In pursuing Oreb and Zeeb to capture and execution, Ephraim had a true military victory; Gideon had only a surprise with trumpets and torches. Gideon had no military glory to claim, thus, he left Ephraim out of nothing.
  2. Don’t miss Who it was that actually did the work: God. And God worked through both Gideon and Ephraim. “God has delivered into your hands…” Was the work of God through Ephraim not enough? Again, anything that God gives is a blessing. Any work that God does through us is work He could have done through someone else. God never has to use us; He chooses to use us. For God to have worked through Ephraim was a glorious thing and should not be despised.

4 When Gideon came to the Jordan, he and the three hundred men who were with him crossed over, exhausted but still in pursuit. 5 Then he said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian.”

  1. This was a reasonable request. Gideon had 300 men who had neither food nor rest as they pursued the kings of Midian to the point of exhaustion. These men were fighting for the future and freedom of all Israel. The least the towns could do would be to give them some food and supplies along the way. It was a common practice in the ancient near east for chieftains and generals to ask such a thing. David famously asked for food for his men from Nabal, who (true to his name) foolishly refused, endangering his entire household (1 Sam 25). This was all Gideon was doing and he should have been received favorably. He wasn’t…

6 And the leaders of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” 7 So Gideon said, “For this cause, when the LORD has delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers!”

  1. Gideon was met with mockery. “Where is the proof of your work that you deserve ‘wages’?” If Gideon claimed to be pursuing the Midianite kings than he ought to show up with the evidence that the kings had been captured. The leaders of Succoth treated him and his men like hired servants, only eligible to be paid at the end of the day after the service was rendered, rather than men who (like policemen today) were in the very process of rendering that service by keeping them safe. It was absolutely wrong on the part of the Succoth elders and Gideon rightly calls them on it, promising harsh discipline upon his return. (And lest we think Gideon is being overdramatic with symbolism, these were literal sentiments for him. Later in the chapter, we find that this was exactly what Gideon did!)
  2. Note Gideon does not doubt that he will return with the Midianite kings. He has faith that YHWH will act. This was not an “if the LORD delivers them,” but “when the LORD has delivered” them. God had started this battle and God would see it through to the end. Back when God first called Gideon, raising him up as a judge, God promised that Gideon would “defeat the Midianites as one man,” (6:16) and that Gideon would “save Israel from the hands of the Midianites,” (6:14). This was the declaration and promise of God, and God doesn’t leave things half-done. The work He began, He would see to completion (just like He does with our salvation! – Phil 1:6). Gideon remembers that promise, believes it, and bases his actions upon it.
    1. And why not? That is what we do when we truly believe the word of God. If we really believe a promise, we base our actions and decisions upon it. If we really believed that a long-lost rich uncle wanted to meet us in the town square on Christmas Day with a bucketload of cash, we’d be sitting in the square bright and early. Yet if we stayed home all day long, it wouldn’t matter what we said we believed…our actions proved otherwise. Likewise with the very real promises of God. If we really believe His word, we will act upon them. If we don’t, we won’t.
  3. Interestingly, this is the first of only four direct references to the Lord in Chapter 8. Although the Lord is prominently featured in Chapter 7, there is very little reliance upon Him in Chapter 8, and thus, very little acknowledgement of Him. Sadly, Gideon’s character and attitudes reflect this absence (as will all of us when we push the Lord to the back).

8 Then he went up from there to Penuel and spoke to them in the same way. And the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered. 9 So he also spoke to the men of Penuel, saying, “When I come back in peace, I will tear down this tower!”

  1. Penuel wasn’t far away, which makes sense. Gideon’s men were hungry and tired and couldn’t afford to wait too long to get provisions. After all, the Midianite kings were on the run – the Hebrews didn’t have much time to waste trying to round up supplies. Once they were denied at Succoth, they went to the next closest town…only to find exactly the same sinful reaction. There were towns and two mockeries, which led to two threats from Gideon. What was the threat? When Gideon returns in “peace,” his return will be anything but He promised to destroy the tower for which Penuel was known.
  2. Ironically, Penuel is the location where Jacob had a great moment of faith, wrestling the Lord God till the break of day, refusing to let go of him (Gen 32:22-32). This was the place Jacob finally understood his utter dependence on the Lord, where God renamed him “Israel,” for he had struggled with God. Yet it became the city that denied the judge raised up by God, instead fighting against God’s will for Israel.

10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were at Karkor, and their armies with them, about fifteen thousand, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East; for one hundred and twenty thousand men who drew the sword had fallen. 11 Then Gideon went up by the road of those who dwell in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah; and he attacked the army while the camp felt secure. 12 When Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued them; and he took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and routed the whole army.

  1. Remember how 120,000 of the Midianites had died – how it was that out of those who fled, only 15,000 of the Midianite soldiers were left. It was all because of the miraculous work of the Lord, how God caused Gideon’s surprise “attack” to so disorient the Midianites that they all fought each other.
  2. Now at Karkor, Gideon initiated another surprise attack. This time, actual swords were used by the Hebrews but God still obviously empowered them for the battle and the victory. After all, Gideon still had only the 300 men with them, and those 300 were enough to defeat 15,000 of their enemies. Though outnumbered 50:1, through the power of God, the Hebrews were able to route/turn aside “the whole army” and capture the enemy kings. This may have been a lesser battle, but it was no “less” miraculous! This was obviously the power of God, ensuring that at no point could Gideon stop and take credit for himself. This should have stuck with him the rest of his life, knowing that any and every victory he experienced was handed him by the Lord God. Sadly, it was something he seemed to forget.
    1. May we never forget! How much can we do for Jesus without Jesus? Nothing! Jesus made this clear to His disciples on the night prior to His crucifixion. John 15:4–5, “(4) Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. (5) “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Whether we speak of eternal life or simply daily life, there is not a thing we can do for God without the power of the Son of God within us. We cannot please Jesus without Jesus. We cannot accomplish the work of God without the power and Spirit of God. We need Him for everything. Think about it: we cannot even get out of bed in the morning without God granting us merciful health. How much less are we able to do anything of spiritual value? We need Him for everything! We are dependent on Jesus for all.

13 Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle, from the Ascent of Heres. 14 And he caught a young man of the men of Succoth and interrogated him; and he wrote down for him the leaders of Succoth and its elders, seventy-seven men.

  1. Succoth was the first town that had mocked Gideon. As Gideon returned from this miraculous victory, he came across a youth of the town and “interrogated him.” What exactly that included, is unsaid. It’s doubtful that Gideon tortured the boy, but there was surely much pressure brought to bear. He likely intimidated the young man to get the names of the city leaders out of him. Why? Because Gideon was going to be good to his word. He was about to teach those elders a hard lesson.

15 Then he came to the men of Succoth and said, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you ridiculed me, saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your weary men?’ ” 16 And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth. 17 Then he tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.

  1. Gideon kept his word with both cities. He took the elders of Succoth and whipped them with briers and thorns. And likewise, he tore down the tower in Penuel, just as he promised. With the leaders of Succoth, the punishment was harsh, yet earned. They mocked the God-given judge in Israel, and not only him, but all the 300 men serving with him. When the town leadership despised the ongoing provision of God through these men, they taught the rest of the city to do the same. Their terrible example earned a terrible judgment, which they received. But that was Succoth. Penuel was different. With Penuel, Gideon’s actions seem excessive. Not only did he destroy the tower, but he destroyed the men. He actually slaughtered the men of the city. 
  2. What made the difference? It’s impossible to say as the Bible is silent to Gideon’s motivations though it records his actions. Perhaps there was a direct mockery of God in addition to the ridicule of Gideon. Or perhaps Gideon was simply cruel. Either way, it was a truly harsh punishment and it darkened what should have been a glorious day of victory. It also shows a progression in Gideon’s character that isn’t good. Those who spend time with the Lord show a conformity to the character of the Lord. We might say, the more time we spend with God, the greater we grow in godliness. The less time we spend with Him, the less of Him we see in our lives. Gideon was no different. In Chapters 6-7 when Gideon had much communion with the Lord, his faith grew by leaps and bounds. In Chapter 8, when God became much more an afterthought in Gideon’s life, Gideon’s character looked far more like sinful man in response. The same thing happens with us…which underscores our need not only to start with Christ but to finish with Him!

18 And he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men were they whom you killed at Tabor?” So they answered, “As you are, so were they; each one resembled the son of a king.” 19 Then he said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the LORD lives, if you had let them live, I would not kill you.” 20 And he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise, kill them!” But the youth would not draw his sword; for he was afraid, because he was still a youth. 21 So Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself, and kill us; for as a man is, so is his strength.” So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments that were on their camels’ necks.

  1. At this point we see the personal interest Gideon took in this pursuit. Why had Gideon gone after Zebah and Zalmunna the way he did? Because apparently his brothers were killed by them in some past battle. Perhaps that was why Gideon was in the winepress threshing the grain: it was the only safe spot left after the massacre of his brothers at Tabor. Gideon had skin in the game (so to speak) and he had a personal score to settle with these two kings.
  2. With Zebah and Zalmunnah captured, Gideon pressured his son to kill them. According to the general culture, it would have been an honor to give to his son, allowing the youth to strike down the kings – not to mention a great disgrace to the kings, denying them a battlefield death and allowing them to be struck down by a youth. However, Gideon’s son was understandably afraid and unresponsive. No matter how much he pressured the boy, his son didn’t follow through. At this, the two kings taunted Gideon accusing him of a lack of manliness. Not being one to back down from a dare, Gideon rose to the challenge and killed the men.
  3. Question: Was this an execution or a murder? It depends on whether this was commanded by God or if this was some crusade of personal vengeance. If Gideon was just on a personal vendetta, then this was wrong as justice should have been administered by another warrior within the Hebrew ranks. If it was commanded by God, being administered by the judge ordained by God, then it was right as this was justice towards the Midianite oppressors. Unfortunately, the questioning by Gideon regarding his brothers taints the whole process. What could have been the righteousness of God through His judge gets mixed with the carnal acts of a Hebrew warlord.
    1. How careful we need to be to let God be God and to get “us” out of the way! The more people see Jesus, and the less people see us, the better.

Thus ends the major battle of Gideon. What originally took place with the 300 was only the beginning; the aftermath finally ends with the death of both the Midianite kings (which was perhaps justified) and the massacre of the men of Penuel (which does not seem justified). What is going on with Gideon? What is at the root of his confusion? We find Gideon walking with two minds: there is part of him that follows the Lord, and part of him that does whatever he wants. He started out walking with the Lord, but kept inserting his own will along the way. 

  • Gideon’s attitude (22-32).

22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” 23 But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.”

  1. Credit where credit is due: this was a good response to a terrible request! Israel asked for a king, but Gideon rightly points out that YHWH God was their King. Israel’s request was sinful and foolish, asking to be ruled by generations of imperfect men when they had the current opportunity of being ruled by the perfect God. Yet God did not satisfy their worldly cravings and they desired to be just like the rest of the world. It may have been the first time Israel asked this, but it wouldn’t be the last. Generations later, when Samuel serves as the final judge of Israel, the nation again asked for a king and God finally gave them Saul (1 Sam 8). At least at this time, Gideon was able to dissuade them in his personal refusal of the title. (And for all the things Gideon did wrong, this was one thing he did right!)
  2. That Israel asked for a king demonstrates that they missed the most important lesson of the previous battle: it was not a man that delivered them from Midian; it was God. Even though God ensured that the supernatural aspect of the victory was painfully obvious (defeating thousands upon thousands through only 300 men), the Israelites still gave credit to men instead of God. Their sin had made them just that blind.
    1. How many people today do the same thing? Because they are so opposed to the idea of a just Creator God, they give their worship to the creatures rather than the Creator – they exchange the glory of God for the images of beasts and things despite the things that are clearly seen about Him (Rom 1:19-25). They are blinded to the truth of God despite the evidence of God all around them. Thus, they (like Israel) are left without excuse.
    2. Lest we think this is only true of the unbelieving pagans and atheists, it can be similarly true of born-again believers. Sure, we acknowledge the existence of God in our lives, claiming Jesus as our Lord and Savior, but we still blind ourselves to His work in our lives. We forget (or deny) His providence and sovereignty, wanting our rule and our will, rather than submitting ourselves to His will for us. Be careful that you do not blind yourself to the evident work of God all around you!

24 Then Gideon said to them, “I would like to make a request of you, that each of you would give me the earrings from his plunder.” For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites. 25 So they answered, “We will gladly give them.” And they spread out a garment, and each man threw into it the earrings from his plunder. 26 Now the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments, pendants, and purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the chains that were around their camels’ necks.

  1. It was a good thing for Gideon to deny himself the throne…but he did not deny himself much else. Gideon had a weakness in wealth. Like the song says, he “wants to be rich!” and he had a way of ensuring that he would be. He asked for the “golden earrings” of which there were many. 1700 shekels = 43+ pounds of gold. Roughly equivalent to $782,000. And that was only the gold. Gideon took in all other kinds of wealth. He started the day with little-to-nothing; he ended it close to being a millionaire.
  2. Keep in mind that this is not a commendation of Gideon. This is not presented as an example that should be followed (as will be seen in verse 27). For those who might be tempted to read this as “Gideon turned down the title of king and God blessed him with immense riches, so we should do likewise. God wants us to be rich!”…think again. Gideon may have refused the title of “king,” but in his pride, he certainly desired the trappings of it. He wanted the wealth, status, and power of the royals, even if he technically denied himself the responsibilities of it. He wanted to be treated as a king, regardless of what people actually called him.

27 Then Gideon made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house.

  1. Remember that an “ephod” is a kind of a priestly apron. There was already one ephod, worn by the high priest as a part of his uniform as he ministered in the tabernacle. That Gideon turned his own gold and riches into a type of ephod suggests that he wanted some kind of priestly ministry outside of the tabernacle. He wanted something for himself. Like Uzziah who was unsatisfied with “only” the role of king and wanted to also participate in the priesthood, apparently Gideon wanted something similar. He didn’t want to travel to wherever the tabernacle was for worship; he wanted to go to God on his own terms according to his own conveniences.
    1. Thankfully, we do not worship God in certain locations (temples, mountains, etc.). But we still can only worship God on His terms. We do not dictate to God how we want to worship Him; He tells us how He wants us to worship. He alone gives us the invitation to worship (through faith in Jesus Christ), the power to worship (in Spirit and truth), and the way to worship (as we are instructed in the Scripture). It comes from God to us; not the other way around.
  2. That wasn’t even the worst part for Gideon. Aside from being designated for some personal item of worship, the ephod soon morphed into an idolatrous “snare” for the people. Specifically, this was a trap to his own family: “to Gideon and to his house.” Gideon’s arrogance tripped up his entire family. He stumbled his wives and children through his own lack of respect for God and God’s word.

28 Thus Midian was subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted their heads no more. And the country was quiet for forty years in the days of Gideon.

  1. What is translated “quiet” in verse 28 is the same description as what is elsewhere translated “rest” after the works of the previous judges in Israel (3:11, 3:30, 5:31). Interestingly, this word for “rest/quiet” (shaqat) is not the normal word we generally think of regarding the Hebrew concept of peace (shalom). Having a lack of disturbance in terms of warfare is not the same thing as experiencing true peace and wholeness. As long as the Israelites continued to go back to their old sinful ways, they never had shalom-peace. All they had was temporary quiet.
    1. Although quiet from struggle is always welcome, what we really need is something lasting. There will always be another struggle/battle down the line. True peace, lasting peace, real peace, only comes when we surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ, being finally reconciled unto God!

29 Then Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and dwelt in his own house. 30 Gideon had seventy sons who were his own offspring, for he had many wives. 31 And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, whose name he called Abimelech. 32 Now Gideon the son of Joash died at a good old age, and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

  1. Not only did Gideon build up wealth, he built up wives. Technically, this was not illegal, but it was not recommended. It was specifically prohibited for kings (though nearly every king of Judah and Israel ignored this). But it was an extremely common practice for kings in the Ancient Near East.
  2. Along with many wives came many sons…seventy, to be precise. One of them (who was tellingly not born via a wife, but a concubine) was named “” Literally, the name means “My father is king.” Again, Gideon may have officially refused the title, but he didn’t hesitate to act like royalty. Even if Gideon wasn’t thinking of the technical meaning of the name, it was a common title given to the kings of the Philistines (as seen in the days of Abraham and Isaac). There is no doubt Gideon was acting like a king, even while being able to say that he never claimed it for himself.
    1. How many times have we gotten “technical” on God, looking for loopholes? Like lawyers or trial defendants, we parse the definition of certain words trying to paint ourselves in the best light, despite the blatant nature of our sin. Don’t get technical regarding sin; confess it and repent from it! (The sooner, the better!)

Such ends Gideon. Gideon’s attitude went though a steady descent. He hadn’t started with much faith but in His mercy, God increased it mightily. Sadly, it seemingly peaked on the day of battle and went down afterwards. Why? His walk with the Lord was not consistent. Again, he was double-minded serving double-masters: himself and God…and God does not share a throne. Ultimately, Gideon found himself serving himself, with the sad results played out among his family and the rest of the nation.

  • Israel’s apostasy (33-35).

33 So it was, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-Berith their god.

  1. Gideon wasn’t gone long before the people started the cycle of apostasy all over again. They went right back to their idolatry, perhaps with the golden ephod of their previous judge paving the way. And why not? If Gideon (or at least his family) would potentially engage in idolatry, why not everyone else? What is good for the leader is surely good for the citizens. Despite the actions of many mayors and governors today, double-standards are no standards at all. What the people see the leaders do, they will naturally imitate. (The solution: YOU be the leader as you follow Christ!)
  2. Notice which false god was among those worshipped by the Israelites. “Baal-Berith” literally means “Baal/lord of the covenant.” Considering that YHWH God was the God who made His covenant with Israel, this was a sad substitution!

34 Thus the children of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; 35 nor did they show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal (Gideon) in accordance with the good he had done for Israel.

  1. They forgot all about the salvation of God and the goodness He did for them as a nation.
  2. We have shorter memories than we care to believe. Be careful not to forget! There is a reason that the Bible calls us to “remember!”

Conclusion:

In all of Gideon’s failings, we cannot forget that the Bible labels him as a man of faith. Considering his many requests for supernatural signs as well as his stumbling pride later in life, it seems almost inconceivable that the Bible would have anything to say well of Gideon. But it does. The author of Hebrews includes Gideon with men like Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses in the hall of faith (Heb 11:32). Gideon did have faith…he believed God. He started well, even though he did not finish well.

Praise God for grace! Praise God that because of the work of Jesus for us at the cross and resurrection, that our salvation is not dependent on us finishing well; it is dependent on Jesus alone. And HE finished well! Because He did, the salvation of those who believe upon Him is secure.

That said, we still want to finish well. We need to finish well! We need to walk in faith not only during the obvious times (such as battle, spiritual or otherwise) but also the less-obvious times (such as the aftermath). We need to walk in faith when encountering opposition from both our friends and our enemies, having our attitude reflect our trust in God’s sovereignty. We need to walk in faith always, unto the very end, never leaving Christ for He never leaves us.

Paul’s message to the Corinthian singles (as well as to everyone else): keep Jesus first place!