Monday, March 26, 2018

READ IT! - Introduction to Judges 4-10

Readings for this week

Monday: Judges 4
Tuesday: Judges 5
Wednesday: Judges 6
Thursday: Judges 7
Friday: Judges 8
Saturday: Judges 9
Sunday: Judges 10

Introduction to Judges 4-10

Chapter 4

King Jabin of Hazor and General Sisera oppress Israel because the Israelites have once again done evil. Yet, it should be notes that Joshua had supposedly already defeated a “King Jabin” at this point.

Now, Deborah was a prophetess and the “wife of Lappidoth,” meaning “woman of fire.” There is hesitation on the part of Barak to go into battle, so Deborah tells him the victory will be given to “a woman.” Ironically, both of the women in the story, Deborah and Jael, show more courage than the leading man.

Deborah’s name means “honeybee.” Barak’s name means “lightning.” Yet in the story… “honeybee” is brave and “lightning” is chicken.

God throws Sisera’s army into a panic near the Kishon River and Sisera flees the battle. Sisera seeks refuge in the tent of Jael. Now Jael’s husband is a Kenite… a people known for their violence. However, Jael’s name is Hebrew and means “Yahweh is God.” “Sisera” means “snake.” So Jael gives Sisera milk to drink and he falls asleep. While he is sleeping, Jael drives a tent peg through Sisera’s head, or “temple.” Now The word used here as “temple” is in Hebrew “berragato,” which is related to “baraq.” When Jael crushes Sisera’s “temple,” she also crushes Barak with embarrassment, because a woman had to do what he had failed to do.

Chapter 5

The song of Deborah is thought to be the oldest section of the book of Judges. In this song, Deborah praises God for giving them victory in battle. She also praises Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for her violence against Sisera. The song also records some interesting details of the battle, such as that God had sent giant hailstones upon the armies of King Jabin and General Sisera. The song also provides us with a look at what Sisera’s own mother might have thought about his violent death. The text also says that there are forty years of peace after this successful battle.

Chapters 6-8

Deborah was successful, but the cycle of disobedience starts again, and Israel is impoverished by Midianite oppression. But God sends a leader to them in a man named Gideon.

Gideon was from the weakest clan in Manasseh, and he was the lowest-ranked person in his family. Gideon is hiding in a winepress, threshing wheat, when an angel appears to him. The angel says, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” He tells Gideon to go save Israel from the Midianites.

However, Gideon is very unsure of everything. Gideon responds to God’s messenger with: defiant questions, pointing out the insignificance of his own roots, repeatedly requesting signs, such as the fleece incidents.

Gideon’s name comes from “gada,” which means “cut down.” And Gideon’s name fits him because he cuts down the idols of his father Joash. The name of Joash is, ironically, a Yahwistic name, even though Joash is an idolater. His father renames him “Jerub-Baal,” meaning “one who contends with Baal,” still refusing to acknowledge Gideon as Yahweh's servant, but only as Baal's enemy.

And God tests Gideon by reducing the size of his army. The people who are afraid are told to go home. The People who get down on their knees to drink water instead of lapping it with their tongues are told to go home. Until finally, Gideon's army is reduced from 32,000 to just 300 men. And Gideon is only reassured of victory after listening to a Midianite conversation instead of listening to God.

The army uses trumpets and water pitchers to create noise confusion at night surrounding the Midianite camp, and the Midianites panic and slaughter themselves. And so Gideon is victorious in battle! And The people cry out “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!” But Gideon gets trigger-happy and wipes out several other groups of people along with the Midianite army.

The people try to make Gideon king, but he refuses, insisting that God is Israel’s king. And e rules as judge for forty years.

Overtime, the quality of Gideon’s leadership becomes less and less. There is still idolatry in the land. And Gideon even makes a golden ephod that the people worship, hearkening back to Aaron and the golden calf. And so Gideon begins by cutting down idols, and ends by setting them up. Previously, Gideon refused to be made king over Israel; now, he is living like a luxurious king. Gideon also has a son named Abimelech. “Abimelech” means “father is king.”

Chapter 9

Now, Abimelech was the son of Gideon and his concubine, and Abimelech had seventy half-brothers who e talked into supporting his kingship cause. And He used the money they gave him to hire a bunch of thugs. And Abimelech killed all but one of his half-brothers by crushing their heads against a large stone. Gideon’s youngest son, Jotham, escaped by hiding.

And Abimelech proclaimed himself king of Israel. But Jotham decided to resist his half-brother. He climbed to the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted a parable to the people of Shechem.

The Parable of the trees:

Olive Tree rejected kingship
Fig Tree rejected kingship
Vine rejected kingship
So the people made the Thorn Bush king

The Shechemites got the message and rebelled by robbing Abimelech’s allies.

Later, some guy named Gaal moves to Shechem and tries to get the people to follow him. But Abimelech finds out and slaughters the rebels. And the next day, Abimelech slaughters the farmers in their fields. He then enters the city to kill everyone else. Now the people were hiding in a temple-tower, and as Abimelech is preparing to burn the tower, a woman from above drops a large millstone on his head. As he is dying, he tells his men to quickly stab him so that he won’t be remembered as the one who was killed by a woman... even though that's what we remember him for that plan worked out great.

Chapter 10

Next, we have…

Tola, who was from the tribe of Issachar. He lived in Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim. And His father was Puah and his grandfather was Dodo. “He rose to save Israel.” And He led them for 23 years


Jair, who was from Kamon in the region of Gilead. He had thirty sons who rode thirty donkeys and who controlled thirty towns in Gilead. He led Israel 22 years.

Next up…Jephthah.

Again, Israel was evil in the LORD’s sight and began to be oppressed. However, they began to cry out and confess to Him and they “put away their gods.” The text says that Yahweh’s response is “impatient” for he could bear their misery no longer.

Friday, March 23, 2018

READ IT! - Introduction to Judges 1-3

Introduction to Judges 1-3

The book of Judges is the second book in the Deuteronomistic History, and it contains the history of Israel in the land of Canaan before Israel had kings.

It was written during the time of the kings, and is presented as a downward spiral, with an outlook on Israel’s entry into the Promised Land that is quite different than the book of Joshua.

Some of the themes of the book include…

Leadership… as scene with Deborah who holds court. Also, the other major judges are seen as deliverers of the people, while the minor judges usually govern in times of peace. Kingship is at first seen as negative because God should be Israel’s king, but later, kingship is seen as a good thing in light of the disasters Israel experienced without one.

Another theme is the Spirit of the Lord. God’s spirit comes upon certain people and allows them to perform great feats, but God’s spirit does not come upon everyone.

Another theme is Holy War, in which, the LORD alone wins victory, and Israel can only defeat her enemies because God fights on her behalf. And there is a sense of a spiritual battle taking place on top of the physical battles.

Chapter 1

So Judges begins with the Unfinished Conquest. Chapter One shows the Israelites continuing to conquer the land of Canaan. However, they begin to have great difficulties in doing so. Caleb offers his daughter to anyone who will attack a certain region, and Othniel leads the way.

Chapter 2

Now in Chapter Two, the Israelites are portrayed as settling among the Canaanites instead of driving them out, and God says that Israel has violated their covenant and He will no longer assist them in driving out the nations.

Chapter 3

And so we come to the first of many judges to rule over the people…
Othniel. Now Othniel is from the tribe of Judah and was Caleb’s nephew who ended up marrying Caleb’s daughter. Now Othniel is the model judge, but the Israelites were worshiping Baal and Asherah at this time, and they became oppressed by Cushan-Rishathaim of Aram Naharaim, whose name literally means, “one of double-wickedness from land of double-rivers.”

Othniel rescues the Israelites after they have been oppressed for eight years. Yahweh is given credit for the victory, and Othniel rules Israel for forty years.

Next, we have our second judge… Ehud.

Now The Israelites continued in their disobedience, and God allowed them to be oppressed by the Moabites, and so Ehud comes to the rescue. Ehud is from the tribe of Benjamin. In Hebrew, Benjamin means “son of my right hand.” Ironically, Ehud is a left-handed man. And Ehud kills King Eglon, Israel’s oppressor. Eglon is described as being very fat. The name “Eglon” sounds a lot like the word for “calf.” This is a pun, comparing Eglon to “a fattened calf ready for slaughter.”

Ehud saves the Israelites by assassinating Eglon with his left hand by thrusting a “double-edged” or “double-mouthed” dagger into his belly. This is fitting for a king described tongue-in-cheek as having a “double-mouth” with which he gorged himself. Even his belly is described as “swallowing” up the dagger. After this the text reads, “and the dirt fell out,” or in other words “he pooped himself.”

Ehud escapes via the sewer system (i.e., he jumps down the king’s poop chute to escape). And the king’s attendants thought Eglon was just taking a long time in the bathroom. Ehud then leads Israel in victorious battle against the Moabites and there is peace for 80 years.

“After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.” Judges 1:33 refers to a town named “Beth Anath,” or “House of Anath” that was in the territory of Naphtali, so perhaps Shamgar was from the tribe of Naphtali.

Monday, March 19, 2018

READ IT! - Introduction to Psalms 86-89

Readings for this week

Monday: Psalm 86
Tuesday: Psalm 87
Wednesday: Psalm 88
Thursday: Psalm 89
Friday: Judges 1
Saturday: Judges 2
Sunday: Judges 3

Introduction to Psalms 86-89

Psalm 86

In this Davidic psalm, the writer prays, “Hear, O LORD, and answer me. Save your servant! You alone are God. I will glorify your name forever. Show me a sign of your favor.”

Psalm 87

This psalm is attributed to the Sons of Korah. The writer says, “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God. The LORD will write in the register of the peoples of Rahab, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Cush: ‘This one was born in Zion.’” “Rahab” here is a reference to Egypt; elsewhere it applies to the mythical monster of the deep (see Job 9:13; Psalm 89:9-10).

Psalm 88

This psalm is attributed to the Sons of Korah, and contains a note at the beginning for the director of music, saying that it is according to “mahalath leannoth,” which is likely a reference to a stringed instrument used for mourning and laments. It then notes that this Korahite psalm is specifically a “maskil” of Heman the Ezrahite. Heman the Ezrahite may be one of the three Levites assigned by King David to be ministers of music. This Heman was a grandson of Samuel the prophet who went on to become King David's seer, and to have fourteen sons and three daughters.

He writes, “O LORD, day and night I cry out to you. You have put me in the darkest depths. Do the dead rise up to praise you? I am in despair.”

Several of the psalms that are attributed to “The Sons of Korah” deal with some of the darker issues of human existence, such as dealing with death and depression.

Psalm 89

This is another “maskil” written either by or in the tradition of Ethan the Ezrahite. The writer  says, “I will sing of the mercies of the LORD. You said, ‘I will establish the throne of David forever.’ O Lord, where is your love of old?”

This psalm is a prayer mourning the downfall of the Davidic dynasty and pleading for its restoration. The historical context may have been the attack on Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the exile of King Jehoiachin in 597 BC. The imagery in these verses was borrowed from ancient Near Eastern myths of creation. Rahab was the mythical monster of the deep, probably another name for Leviathan.

Monday, March 12, 2018

READ IT! - Introduction to Psalms 79-85

Readings for this week

Monday: Psalm 79
Tuesday: Psalm 80
Wednesday: Psalm 81
Thursday: Psalm 82
Friday: Psalm 83
Saturday: Psalm 84
Sunday: Psalm 85

Introduction to Psalms 79-85

Psalm 79

The writer of this Asaphic psalm says, “O God, the nations have invaded and shed blood like water. How long, O LORD? Save us for your name's sake. Make your vengeance known!”

Psalm 80

The note to the director of music at the beginning of this Asaphic psalm states that it is set to the tune of a popular song at the time called “The Lilies of the Covenant.”

The writer says, “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel! How long will you be angry? Restore us, O God. Watch over the vine that you planted. Restore us, O God.”

“Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh” likely represent the northern kingdom. Although Benjamin literally belonged to the northern kingdom, part of the tribe must have remained with the southern kingdom since its territory bordered Jerusalem itself, and the southern kingdom continued to control the region around Jerusalem. This suggests that the disaster suffered was the Assyrian campaign that destroyed the northern kingdom. Archaeological surveys of the region sow that Jerusalem and the surrounding area experienced a dramatic population increase at this time, probably the result of a massive influx of displaced persons from the north fleeing the Assyrians. This would explain the presence of “Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh” at the Jerusalem sanctuary and the national prayer for restoration with special focus on these tribes.

Psalm 81

The writer of this Asaphic psalm says, “Sing aloud to God our strength. I hear a voice: "I am the LORD. Oh, that my people would listen to me! I would subdue their enemies."

Psalm 82

The writer of this Asaphic psalm says, “God judges among the gods: ‘How long will you judge unjustly? Defend the weak. You are all gods, but you shall die.’ Arise, O God!”

Early Rabbinic tradition saw the “gods” as unjust rulers and judges in Israel. Today many identify them as kings of surrounding nations, who ruled with lofty disregard for justice. Others view them as supposedly divine beings in whose name these kings claimed to rule.

Psalm 83

The writer of this Asaphic psalm says, “O God, do not keep silent! Your enemies make plans against your people. Edom, Moab, Amalek and Philistia. Let them be put to shame.”

To pray for someone else’s well-being is to make intercession for that person, but to pray for someone’s destruction is to make an imprecation. The Bible contains a number of examples of imprecations; one of the clearest is Psalm 83. Here the psalmist called on God to take action against his enemies, the Gentile nations all around who were plotting harm against Israel. The prayer minces no words; the psalmist asked God to destroy them.

Psalm 84

This psalm is attributed to the Sons of Korah. The writer says, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD! A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. For the LORD is a sun and shield.”

Psalm 85

This psalm is attributed to the Sons of Korah. The writer says, “O LORD, you forgave the iniquity of your people. Restore us again! Surely his salvation is at hand. Love and faithfulness will meet.”

These verses may refer to the returning exiles and the hardships they experienced. Verse 12 suggests that a drought had ravaged the land, a possible reflection on the drought with which the Lord chastened his people during the time of Haggai.

Monday, March 5, 2018

READ IT! - Introduction to Psalms 73-78

Readings for this week

Monday: Joshua 24
Tuesday: Psalm 73
Wednesday: Psalm 74
Thursday: Psalm 75
Friday: Psalm 76
Saturday: Psalm 77
Sunday: Psalm 78

Introduction to Psalms 73-78

Book III of the Psalms

Psalm 73

This is “a psalm of Asaph.”  Asaph, a Levite of the Gershonite family, was appointed over the service of praise during the time of David and Solomon. He led the singing, sounded cymbals before the ark and apparently set up a school of music. Twelve psalms are credited to Asaph, but this accreditation does not necessarily imply authorship and may mean no more than that these psalms constituted an Asaphic collection, begun by the great man and then prolonged over the years by the Asaph singers. The psalms themselves cover a long span of time, and have a deep and contemplative nature.

He says, “Surely God is good to the pure in heart. I envied the wicked until I saw their end. They are swept away. God is my portion forever.”

Psalm 74

In this Asaphic psalm, the writer says, “O God, why have you rejected us? Foes have defiled your sanctuary. How long will they mock? You are king from of old. Rise up, O God!”

This psalm describes the Babylonian’s destruction of the Lord’s Temple. The imagery here is borrowed from ancient Near Eastern creation myths, in which the primeval chaotic waters were depicted as a many-headed monster that the creator-god overcame, after which he established the world order.

Psalm 75

This Asaphic psalm has a note at the beginning saying that it was written to the tune of a popular song of the time called “Do Not Destroy.” The writer says, “We give thanks to you, O God. I say to the boastful, 'Do not boast.' God is the judge. The wicked will drain the dregs of his cup.”

Psalm 76

The note at the beginning of this Asaphic psalm states that it was to be played on stringed instruments. The writer says, “God is known in Judah. You are glorious, more majestic than the mountains. The earth feared and was still when God arose to judgment.”

This psalm is in the form of a victory hymn. According to an ancient tradition it was written after God had destroyed Sennacherib’s army when the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem (see 2 Kings 19:35-36).

Psalm 77

The note to the music director at the beginning of this Asaphic psalm states that it is “for Jeduthun.” He was a Levite of the family of Merari, and one of the three masters of music appointed by David. His office was generally to preside over the music of the temple service.

He writes, “In the day of trouble I sought the LORD. Has he withdrawn his compassion? You are the God of wonders. Your path led through the sea.”

Psalm 78

Psalm 78 is an Asaphic psalm and it is a recitation of the history of God’s rule over Israel from the time of the exodus to that of David. The story is not fully chronological but selectively demonstrates that the Lord was sovereign over the Israelites, punishing them when they sinned but delivering them from oppression and slavery.

The writer says, “God worked miracles in Egypt. He brought his people to the holy land. They rebelled and he rejected them. He chose David to tend them.”