Bible Reading Blog

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Not Those Who Shrink Back

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

BIBLE READING: Judges 15

Samson is one of the most difficult of the judges to understand and evaluate. He had certain glaring weaknesses of character which are made prominent in scripture, and we tend to think of him poorly. It is easy to regard him as a person from whom to learn negatively rather than positively. But we should be carful about judging him too harshly. After all, he is in the hall of faith for a reason…

A key event regarding his faith occurs in Judges 15. With just the jawbone of a donkey Samson killed 1,000 Philistine men (15.15). Afterwards, Samson acknowledged it was God who gave him the strength for this victory (15.18). Sure, he had a personal vendetta (15.11), but Samson knew his calling and strength were given on purpose, from God (see 13.25; 14.4-6; 15.18). Although obstinate and proud in many ways, from the start, Samson credited God with his strength and power, even calling on God to continue supplying him (15.18-19).

Samson was resolute about God’s power even when the odds were against him. Consider the events leading up this victory. His own countrymen freely handed him over to the Philistines (15.10-14). They were afraid of the trouble he would cause them. I think we can understand that on a human level. But their actions showed cowardice rather than faith. Samson’s strength was evident but the people were more inclined to let the enemy win. Perhaps they didn’t know of Samson’s calling and saw his actions as rash. Obviously they had a spirit of fear that was thoughtless of God’s power or presence. Either way, unlike other judges, Samson’s countrymen didn’t support him  (15.11-12).

Certainly this would be a challenge to anyone’s faith. Imagine, being surrounded by 3,000 Christians (some who you went to church with) and being told not to stand against false teaching. The people who ought to encourage you to trust more are calling you to back down and let the enemy win. This was Samson’s test of faith. Many would fold in this situation.  The pressure and weakness of others can cause us to distrust God’s promises. But Samson didn’t fold and instead he subdued the enemies of God. Sometimes by faith we need to stand where no one else stands. Sometimes we need to show our brethren that it is God who fights for us and who will prevail if we trust in him.

To be clear: Samson’s pride and sensual nature are nothing to be praised. But when it came to trusting in God, he was unwavering. He acted with the belief that God’s strength would be accomplished through him. We don’t have the physical enemies of Samson, but we live in a time where godless agendas not only have a voice but significant support and momentum. Our belief system is seen as narrow-minded, outdated and hateful. Many will stand against us from the outside. Sometimes even those we know and love will be our “enemies”. But this is nothing new. Like Samson we must learn to be resolute in our faith, being firmly rooted in the power of God. By faith, “let us hold fast our confession of hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10.23), for “we are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Hebrews 10.39).

Confident in Weakness

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

BIBLE READING: Judges 6

“And Gideon said to him, “Please, my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’…” (Judges 6.13)

Gideon was the youngest son from the weakest clan. When the enemies were near, he was hiding. When approached by the angel of the Lord, he questioned and cowered. Even after being called by God, he was scared to act publicly. Not exactly the face of someone you would expect to be the next leader of the people. 

Fast forward a short time and this same man would tear down the idols in Manasseh, lead Israel to victory over the Midianites, and lead the people for 40 years. Based on the initial picture we have of Gideon, I wouldn’t have guessed he was the man for the job. But we’ve seen from Hebrews 11 that faith is not defined by conventional wisdom or worldly standards. Instead, it is deeply rooted in trusting God.

That’s what we see in Gideon. Despite his faults and fears...

  1. Gideon knew about God. The nation was in a God-forgotten period (Judges 2.10), but his family hadn’t forgotten God. They recounted God’s wonderful deeds in Egypt, which had an obvious impact on Gideon’s life and belief (6.13). This information prepared him for his encounter with the angel and encouraged him as…

  2. Gideon acted in faith. He tore down the altars just as God had instructed. He culled his army down to 300 and followed God’s battle plan. Sure, he had some concerns, but he didn’t shrink back or make excuses.

We must never underestimate the power we have to prepare the next generation. The efforts of Gideon’s fathers to tell him about Egypt impacted Gideon even though he saw a very different world. It motivated Gideon to look for God to work and trust him more deeply when his world seemed to be going to pot.

Future generations need to know how dependent we are on God. But more importantly, they need to know the power of having God on their side. Throughout these events, God encouraged and supported Gideon. God gave him a new identity (Judges 6.12), supported by God’s presence (Judges 6.16). God patiently responded to Gideon’s request for confirmation. At every turn and in every weakness, God was present to help Gideon do what he had been called to do. 

We can have this same confidence. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46.1). God is near the broken-hearted and humble (Psalm 34.18, James 4.6). “When the righteous cry out, the Lord hears them and delivers them out of their trouble” (Psalm 34.17). But notice these are all predicated on humble submission to the power and prerogative of God.

I relate to Gideon a lot. I don’t see myself as a person of significance or extraordinary talent. I have concerns and doubts about my own abilities. When things get hard, my natural inclination is to hide. I know my failures and limitations very well. But I also know the God I follow. He has been strong, dependable, and consistent for his people in the past. He makes good on his promises, and he supports those who faithfully walk with him. Despite my insufficiencies and weaknesses, I am confident God will be with me if I walk in faithful obedience. Let us hold fast to God in hope and flee to him for refuge in our times of strength and weakness.

A Discipline of Priority

Monday, November 21, 2022

BIBLE READING: Hebrews 11.30
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.”

“And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.” (Joshua 6.2). That surely was encouraging, but the battle plan was unconventional. The men of Israel were armed for battle (Joshua 6.9), but instead of storming the walls, God had them march around them (Joshua 6.3). "Blow the trumpets and yell and the city will be yours" (Joshua 6.5). Sounds like a good intimidation tactic, but how was this going to work? I’m sure there were some who had concerns, but by faith they marched, raising no weapon. After 7 days of faithful obedience, the walls fell, and they took what God had given them (Joshua 6.20-21).

It wasn’t because they people weren’t willing or able to fight. It was because God was making a point. Although liberated and more capable, victory came from God. They were God’s people because of his choosing (Deuteronomy 7.7). He had promised them this land, and nothing would stop that. The people in Canaan were no chumps – remember the report from the spies? (Numbers 13.28-29, 31-33) – but unlike the previous generation, these people trusted God at his word. He would make good on his promises. He only wanted them to trust and obey.

We are naturally geared to focus on what we bring to the table; and certainly, faith calls us to action. But many times, faithful obedience calls us to minimize our role to maximize God. Think about Gideon with his 300 soliders (Judges 6-7), mighty Naaman and his leprosy (2 Kings 5), and John the Baptist with Jesus (John 3.30). They had abilities but also significant limitations. In each circumstance, their limitations put the focus on God.

The same is true in our lives. If we were able to accomplish everything on our own, we would never have a need for God. We would overemphasize our ability and minimize our trust. Pride and self-sufficiency would rule where God ought to be. We need to keep our priorities in line.

God fights for his people. He is a strong deliverer, a mighty tower, a strong arm against our enemies. He serves his people in ways they cannot. He is near the broken hearted and afflicted. He is mindful of the needy and helpless. He is merciful, compassionate, and gracious. But his power can only be realized when we humble ourselves in obedience.

All people of faith must put their strengths aside at times to glorify God. It is a discipline of priority. We must never emphasize our ability or think-sos over God. He is Supreme and Sovereign. There is nothing too hard for him. He doesn’t need our help; he only desires our trust and obedience.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3.5-6)

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12.9-10)

Greater Than Moses

Thursday, November 10, 2022

BIBLE READING: Hebrews 3.1-6

If the bible had an all-star team, Moses would probably be one of the team captains. You would be hard pressed to find a page in scripture that’s not influenced by his life. He wrote the first 5 books of the bible. He delivered the law from God that would define the very lives of God’s people. Moses led Israel through one of the most challenging seasons in any nation’s history.

As you page through scripture, Moses is esteemed for his teaching and efforts. Even in the New Testament, he is cited for matters of judgment (Matthew 19.7). Religious groups were formed around his teachings and example (Matthew 23.2). His presence is nearly inescapable in the story of scripture. As such he was (and still is by many) treated with the utmost authority and respect. This is primarily because, in the biblical record, Moses is remembered as a man who was a faithful servant of God (Hebrews 3.2, 5). The refrain in Exodus 39-40 is that “Moses did according to all the LORD commanded him” (Exodus 39.1, 5, 7, 21, 26, 31, 42-43; 40.16, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32) ultimately finishing the work God gave him to do (Exodus 40.34). Moses was faithful in God’s house, so much that God would openly state his approval (Exodus 33.17).

Moses is a spiritual giant. But he’s not the one we follow. Why? There are obvious answers. He didn’t call us to do so. He played a very specific role in history. He didn’t die for us. In fact, he’s still dead, like every other leader in Israel’s history. Although prominent in the scriptures, the story doesn’t stop with him. There was always going to be someone greater than Moses. His faith serves to help us, and many others in history, see Jesus.

We should learn to emulate Moses’ faithful life, as well as others of faith (1 Corinthians 11.1; Philippians 3.17); but we must remember these are mere shadows of the perfect Christ. Even Moses knew this (see Deuteronomy 18.15-19). Moses was but a servant whereas Jesus is the son. Moses’ fell short of the promised land, but Jesus perfectly leads to the eternal promised rest. Moses had imperfections but Jesus did not. His faith paved the way for others to see the one God ultimately wanted us to listen to (Hebrews 12.25).

Here's what this means for us: Our faithfulness should always serve to elevate Jesus. Not only does this take significant pressure off us but establishes a clear goal with everything we do: point others to Jesus. I should practice faith to point to the one whose name “God has highly exalted and given the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2.9-11). Our practice of faith must be about someone greater than just me. 

I can teach, help and serve others, but I am limited. I cannot change their hearts and I cannot save their souls. But I know the one who can. And by faith, I hope to show Jesus more clearly to the world.

Moses Kept the Passover

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

BIBLE READING: Hebrews 11.28
“By faith, [Moses] kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.”

In the 1984 film “The Karate Kid”, a young man named Daniel befriends Mr. Miyagi who promises to teach him karate. But training doesn’t go anything like Daniel expected. Mr. Miyagi instructs him to wax his car using very specific motions: “Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. [Each time Mr. Miyagi makes circular motions with each hand to demonstrate] Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don’t forget to breathe, very important.” The labor-intensive project goes on day after day, week after week.

Daniel doesn’t get it an eventually his frustration boils over. As he begins to storm off, Mr. Miyagi sternly calls Daniel. Suddenly, Mr. Miyagi throws a punch at Daniel, and Daniel instinctively blocks it with the movements he had been using to complete the chores. The muscle memory Daniel developed had prepared him to defend himself when Mr. Miyagi delivers a series of punches and kicks at Daniel. In that moment Daniel understood that every seemingly mundane chore Mr. Miyagi had assigned was teaching him the basics of karate.

In similar fashion, we don’t always understand the reasons for God’s instructions. His instructions can feel counterintuitive and pointless. But they are both revelatory and instructive. They are preparing us for what is to come. This is something we learn from passages like Exodus 12 and the Passover.

God through Moses told the people to take a lamb without blemish (12.5) and kill it at twilight (12.6). They were to sprinkle the blood and eat it (12.7-9), and not allow anything to remain until the next morning (12.10). In this case, God had rationale for them in the present (12.26-27), but these details reveal God’s ultimate events of redemption through Christ. He was the perfect “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1.29). He was murdered at twilight and his body was taken down before the next morning (Matthew 27.45-50; John 19.31-37). The sprinkling of his blood would serve to save many (Isaiah 52.15; Hebrews 12.24).  

On this side of the cross we see the significance of these commands. But it was by faith that Moses kept the Passover.  His obedience to is an admonition for our faith. God’s instructions may not always make sense to us. Sometimes they oppose our cultural norms. Sometimes they defy our logic. Sometimes they’re just not what we want to do. We may get frustrated and want to reject what God tells us to do. But, by faith, we must let God’s way prevail in our lives. He is setting us up for future understanding and success if we will trust and obey.

Furthermore, our obedience both clarifies and confirms God’s plan for redemption. Just as the Passover allowed for future generations to understand the Christ, so too our faithful obedience will provide the foundation for future generations to see God more clearly. Let us join the cloud of witnesses who, by faith, kept the patterns of God.

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