Judges 14:10-20 The Riddler

Samson compromised control over himself, allowing himself to burn with anger. The flesh got the best of Samson again, he did not control his tongue. But despite Samson’s failure to maintain control of himself, God took his failures and used them to execute justice upon the Philistines.

Our story begins with a stag party which included thirty male companions provided by the Philistines, probably provided by the family of the bride. To entertain the guests, Samson posed a gambling riddle to his thirty Philistines guests. The wager was to be thirty linen robes and thirty sets of clothes. This was a costly wager, involving a good deal of money for both parties. The guests had to figure out the riddle within the seven days of the stag party. Sadly, Samson constructed the riddle out of his sinful experience with the dead lion. The fact that he had broken the commandment of God, violating his commitment and vow mattered little to Samson. He was able to make a joke out of his sin, showing the depth of his spiritual insensitivity. For three days, the guests tried and tried to solve the riddle, but they were unable to come up with the answer. The guests had no choice, for the wager was very costly; they had to seek the help of Samson’s wife to solve the riddle. Thus, they approached her and demanded that she coax her husband into explaining the riddle to her. They backed up their demand by threatening to kill her and her father’s household and destroying all their property. The unbelieving Philistine wife nagged and pleaded with Samson to reveal the riddle to her. She finally challenged him to show his love by telling her the solution to the riddle. She nagged the full seven days, and Samson stood fast during the entire period. But on the seventh day she succeeded in breaking Samson. Then, she in turn explained the riddle to the thirty Philistine guests who had threatened her and her family’s lives. Right before sunset, apparently just a few minutes before the time for solving the riddle was to expire, the guests were able to explain the riddle to Samson. The reaction of Samson was to lose control of his temper. He charged the Philistines with breaking the rules by securing the information from his wife; he knew they could never solve the riddle on their own. He knew they had cheated, and he let them know by using another riddle. Samson burned with anger, but God overrode and used his anger to execute justice upon the Philistines. The Spirit of the Lord again came upon him in great power, and he went down to Ashkelon to attack and take vengeance upon the Philistines. This city was over twenty miles away, but it was one of the major cities of the Philistines. God used the anger of Samson to bring judgment on the evil, cruel Philistines. Samson killed thirty Philistines, stripping them of their clothing and using their clothing to pay the wager. Samson continued to burn with anger for a long, long time. He never even consummated his marriage, but instead returned to his father’s house.

What was the root sin of Samson, his wife and the Philistines?

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Judges 13 The Available Ones

In our text we have the promise by God that He would send a very special deliverer. This promise was given to the wife of Manoah and is similar to the promises of the birth of Isaac, Samuel, John the Baptist and Christ. This is a picture of a person being set apart – dedicated to God in a special way.

Samson and his family were from the tribe of Dan. The tribe of Dan was complacent in conquering the territory of their inheritance in the Promised Land. They were living along the coast because of the enemy’s iron chariots, unwilling to fight against them. Consequently, a large number of the tribe had migrated and relocated in the north. The birthplace of Samson was to be the city of Zorah which was located in the foothills about fifteen miles from Jerusalem. Zorah was only a short distance from the Philistine border and one of the major cities of the Philistines.

In our narrative we see that a special circumstance confronted Manoah and his wife – her womb was barren. This dear man and wife were obviously true believers in the Lord God and walked righteously before Him, but their hearts were broken, for they had no child. To die childless was a tragedy because the Israelites considered children to be a very special gift from God; if a couple was barren, they felt they were not pleasing God and were not favored by Him. Thus, the heart of Manoah and his wife were broken because they had no child. But the Lord stepped into the situation to meet their need and gave them a very special promise. The angel of the Lord promised that Manoah’s wife was to miraculously bear a son. “The angel of the Lord” was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, a preincarnate appearance of Him. Some very special instructions were given by the Lord, to the pregnant mother – she was to drink no alcoholic beverage nor eat any unclean food; after the child was born, she was never to use a razor on his head. The reason for these special instructions was that the child was being sent on a very special mission for the Lord. He was to be a Nazirite, that is, totally set apart to God from his birth; and then once grown, he was to begin to deliver Israel.

The word “Nazirite” (nazir) means to be set apart, dedicated, or consecrated. Any person could take the Nazirite vow; it was voluntary and usually temporary. A person, who sensed a deep desire to draw closer to the Lord would totally set himself apart to the Lord for a brief period of time. He made three commitments to the Lord that controlled diet, appearance, and associations. These commitments or vows were: to abstain from all intoxicating drink and unclean food, to never cut his hair, and to never go near a dead body, not even of his family, lest he become defiled and unclean. Samson did not choose to be a Nazirite, but he was given the privilege by God Himself. Samson was not to be temporarily dedicated to God; his entire life belonged to God. His commitment was to be a lifetime of being set apart and being consecrated. He was also to be the great deliverer of Israel from the Philistines, this was part of the promise given to the mother by the Lord.

As soon as the angel left her, Manoah’s wife rushed to share the wonderful news with her husband. She did not yet realize who the messenger of the promise was; she was not sure whether he was merely a man of God, a prophet, or an angel. She told her husband that the messenger looked like an angel – awesome and terrifying, but he did not identify himself. Then she shared the wonderful promise that she was to bear a son who was to be reared as a Nazirite from the first day of his birth. God gave Samson the privilege of being a Nazirite, the privilege of being totally set apart and dedicated to God. This is wonderful news for us, for God has given us the very same privilege. We are called to be committed, dedicated, and totally set apart to God. Our hearts are to be set upon God, committed to follow Him. Our lives are to belong totally to Him. We are to be an ‘available one.’

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Judges 11:1-11 The Rejected

In our text today, we have the rise of Jephthah as God’s deliverer. This is a clear picture of a rejected person, a person who is unacceptable to others, being called by God.

The leaders of Israel made a strong appeal to Jephthah to become their commander and rescue or save them from the Ammonite. Remember, the Ammonites had mobilized for war to attack Israel, most likely to replenish the supplies and provisions of their own people. Once again, the land of Israel was about to be ransacked, their crops, livestock, and possessions plundered or stolen. In response, the Israelites had also issued a call to arms in order to defend themselves.

Now the two armies were camped just a few miles from one another, making the last preparations for war. But the Israelites lacked a commander-in-chief, a man who was strong enough to command the entire army and who had the skill and knowledge to plan the military strategy. The Israelites were desperate for leadership. The reputation of Jephthah as a mighty warrior and strong leader had reached the ears of the leaders of Gilead. Thus, they sent a delegation some eighty miles to the land of Tob to make a desperate appeal for him to become their commander. In response, Jephthah made a painful and bitter complaint against the leaders of Gilead: they had taken part in driving him away from his home and the inheritance that had been due him. Bitterness was bound to fill the heart of Jephthah against these leaders for their part in his mistreatment, his being exiled, and the threat against his life. He wanted to know why they had taken part in his brothers’ greedy attack against him. And now they were coming to him for help when they were in trouble. Hearing this bitter response, the elders became even more desperate. They replied that they were willing to lift the banishment permanently, and they would make him the ruler over all Gilead. Note that this was the very offer the leaders had made earlier to the officers and soldiers of the army. This offer shocked and astonished Jephthah. Because of his past experiences with them, he doubted their honesty, so he requested a guarantee of their promise.

Note the faith Jephthah expressed in the Lord: it would be the Lord who would give him victory if he accepted the proposal. Victory would come from the Lord’s hand and His hand alone. The leaders of Gilead guaranteed or sealed their proposal with an oath, swearing that the Lord was their witness. They would keep their word. Moreover, the oath was ratified at a coronation service held at Mizpah, the campsite of the Israelite army.

Jephthah repeated his part of the agreement or oath at the coronation service before the Lord. By demanding a coronation service before the troops and the Lord, Jephthah was acknowledging his faith in the Lord and his dependence upon the Lord. He was declaring before the leaders and the armed forces that his trust was in the Lord. Victory would come through the Lord and the Lord alone. Becoming the commander-in-chief and the supreme leader of Gilead was not a political opportunity for Jephthah, but an occasion for trusting the Lord and serving the Israelites.

The Lord Himself was working behind the scenes and calling Jephthah to serve Him and His people in a remarkable way. The New Testament makes it plain: Jephthah was not an opportunist, but a man of strong faith.

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Judges 9:22-57 A Kingdom Divided

After Abimelech had reigned over Israel three years, God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech … Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers. 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.

Judges 9:22-23, 56-57

Judges chapter 9 verses 22 – 57 deal with the rebellion against Abimelech. What now happens is a clear picture of division, of a divided kingdom that could never stand. In the words of Jesus Christ: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (Matthew 12:25)

The root of the rebellion was a spirit of division aroused by God between Abimelech and Shechem. Note that the “evil spirit of division” was sent by God Himself. God’s purpose was to execute judgment upon this tyrant and upon the citizens of Shechem because of their horrible sin and evil. Abimelech’s rule had been brief, lasting only for three years. No doubt, his rule had been that of a tyrant, and opposition against him was soon aroused. In direct opposition to Abimelech, the leaders of Shechem hired bandits to ambush and rob the traitors (caravans) doing business with Abimelech. By being a major city, Shechem sat on one of the major routes of trade; therefore, the merchants passing through or spending the night in the city were an easy mark for bandits. But this was not the only problem created for Abimelech.

A conspiracy was being plotted by a man named Gaal who moved into the city with his brothers. He set out to exploit the displeasure of the citizens with their renegade king by seeking their political support. God was about to apply the principle of sowing and reaping in Abimelech’s life.

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Judges 8:22-35 The Ruler

Remember, the book of Judges is the story of the inconsistency of the Israelites and the permissive lifestyle in which they lived. Looking around at their neighbors, they were attracted to the bright lights and pleasures, and the possessions and wealth of their neighbors. Instead of living a life of holiness, righteousness, and spiritual separation, the Israelites began to compromise with their neighbors and live the very same permissive lifestyle as the unbelievers who surrounded them. They gave in to the immoral, covetous, and idolatrous ways of the Canaanites, even to the point of intermarrying with them. And once intermarriage took place, it was just a short step to serving and worshipping the false gods of the Canaanites.

This compromising, permissive lifestyle even had a significant impact upon Gideon, influencing him greatly. Despite the wonderful growth and victorious faith experienced by Gideon, he too began to demonstrate a heart that was not pure toward God, and a life that was not totally committed to Him. Tragically, as Gideon aged — from this point on until his death — he slipped more and more into the permissive, wicked lifestyle of his unbelieving neighbors. He compromised more and more until by the time of his death he became an utter disgrace to the holiness demanded by God. He had rejected the throne, but he had lived like a king: requesting wealth from the people, securing a large harem and family, acquiring the royal, purple robes worn by kings and making an ephod, a breastplate to be worn only by the priests. Gideon did not exalt himself to be king, but he lived like a king. The permissive, compromising life he lived up until his death is clearly spelled out by Scripture. Gideon had become a man who, like the world around him, had an inconsistent testimony and witness.

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Judges 8: 1-21 The Pride of Ephraim

Gideon was a man who sought peace; he sought to avoid controversy among God’s people. What now happened is interesting. The tribe of Ephraim felt snubbed, insulted because Gideon had not called for their help in the initial battle against Midian. Thus, they sent a delegation to confront Gideon. They complained bitterly, and forcefully challenged his having bypassed them. Why would Ephraim complain against being involved in only “mop-up operations?” Why would this tribe launch a complaint against Gideon for not giving them a part in the initial fight, claiming that they felt snubbed and insulted? It is true that Ephraim was a large, important tribe, second only to Judah. And because of this, they were a proud people who had earlier responded when the call to arms was issued by Ehud and Barak. But note this fact: the Midianites had been oppressing the Israelites for seven long years. If the tribe of Ephraim was sincere, why had they themselves not earlier taken the lead and called all Israel to drive the Midianites out of the promised land? Scripture does not expose the true motive of the Ephraimites. Perhaps they felt they were going to be bypassed in the distribution of the plunder of Midian; or perhaps the Spirit of God led Gideon not to appeal for Ephraim’s help because of their pride. God knew that He was going to reduce the number of fighting men down to 300. And because of Ephraim’s pride and warrior-like nature, most likely the tribe would have rebelled against having its ranks reduced. Whatever the case, note the humble, soft answer of Gideon. He boosted their ego, seeking peace with the tribe of Ephraim and trying to avoid controversy. He praised them for their accomplishment in the mop-up operation and in capturing the two commanders of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. Note that he used a parable to get the point across: he pointed out that the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes were far better than the full grape harvest of his small city of Abiezer. Their conquest of the two commanders was a far greater achievement than the initial victory won by his small band of 300 soldiers. Gideon’s humble, soft answer avoided controversy and secured peace between him and the tribe of Ephraim. Their resentment against him subsided; they were no longer angry or upset.

We are to seek peace with all men, seek to avoid controversy among people, especially among God’s people. The spirit of peace is to be cultivated among believers. And peace is to be maintained as much as is possible. When differences, divisions, and strife arise, we are to do all we can to make peace.

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Judges 7:9-25 Trumpets and Pitchers

And every man stood in his place all around the camp; and the whole army ran and cried out and fled. Judges 7:21

God had met the need of His dear servant Gideon, by giving him a third assurance or sign of victory. The Lord instructed Gideon to take his personal servant and sneak down to the Midianite camp. Gideon needed this reassurance, for the sight of the overwhelming enemy was frightful, disconcerting, and unsettling. They were camped together as thick as locusts and had innumerable camels. Courageously, Gideon and his servant snuck close enough to overhear a dream being discussed by two enemy soldiers, probably sentries. One soldier had dreamed about a round loaf of barley bread that came tumbling into the Midianite camp, striking a particular tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed. The two enemy soldiers themselves interpreted the dream as meaning their defeat by Gideon. The round loaf of barley bread represented the small army of Gideon that was to strike and destroy the army of the Midianites.

Overhearing this dream, Gideon immediately knew that the enemy army would collapse – be overturned and overthrown by the miraculous power of God. Victory was assured. As soon as Gideon could reach a safe distance, he fell prostrate upon the ground, giving thanks to God and worshipping Him. He then returned to camp and aroused his 300 soldiers, assuring them that the Lord had given them the victory. We often need our faith strengthened. We need God to help our unbelief, our distrust. We need extra strength to face some trial or temptation when the pressure has us in a vice, squeezing us ever so tightly. The pressure may be coming from some problem or difficulty, trial or temptation such as sickness, loss of job, persecution. On and on, a list could be made of problems, trials, and temptations that regularly put pressure upon us. But the point to see is this: God will strengthen us, meet our need, and deliver us through the trial or temptation. He met Gideon’s need, and He has met the need of every believer down through the centuries who have called upon Him for help. God is always proven faithful; and He will be faithful to us, overcoming the pressure and meeting the needs of our hearts. God will strengthen our faith, enable us to stand strongly and to march through life victoriously.

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