Friday, April 16, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - April 16 - An Ugly Story But a Happy Ending

Today's OT reading (Judges 19-21) is the most repulsive story in the Bible. It is not repulsive because the Bible is bad, but because people are bad. It contains the worst elements of sinful humanity: sexual perversion, brutality, stubbornness, cruelty, impudence.

It begins with a Levite from Ephraim tracking down a run-away concubine. As they return home, they stop in the city of Gibeah (in the territory of Benjamin), where no one offers to take care of them. Eventually a fellow Ephraimite who happened to be staying in the city took them in. What follows is a nightmare. The men if the city demand to gang rape the Levite. In desperation the man and the Levite give the mob the concubine, who is abused all night and falls dead at the threshold (was she begging to be let back in? what a horror!). The Levite dismembered her, sending a grisly message to each tribe to let them know what had happened.

The tribes were outraged, and demanded that Benjamin punish the men of Gibeah. Not only did the Benjamite refuse, they mustered for battle, and at the end of the incredibly bloody conflict 40,000 Israelites were dead and nearly all of the men of Benjamin were annihilated (25,100 of 26,000). The book concludes with Israel trying to find a way around its impudent vow not to marry anyone from Benjamin, leading to the brutal invasion of Jabesh-gilead and the kidnapping of hundreds of women for the survivors of Benjamin to marry.

The book of Judges began with the story of Israel's efforts to subdue to the Canaanites. It ends with a tribe of Israel nearly wiped out like the Canaanites were supposed to have been, a sad reminder than in many ways Israel had become indistinguishable from Canaan.

However, today's NT reading (Acts 2) presents a much different picture. Instead of Israel at war with itself, Jews from every nation under heaven were gathered in one place, and by the miracle of tongues able to hear the message of the gospel. And that message was not just for Israel, but for "whoever calls on the name of the Lord." By the end of the chapter, thousands of new Christians "were together and had all things in common."

This is the power of the gospel. It reconciles sinful men with God, and with each other.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - April 15 - Religion for the Highest Bidder

I once heard a joke about a man who decided to proposition a woman.
"Will you sleep me with for one million dollars?"
"Sure!" she replied.
"OK, what about a thousand dollars?"
"Just what kind of woman do you think I am?"
"Lady, we've already established that - now we're just figuring out the price!"
This joke is a not-so-funny commentary on human depravity. A sell-out is a sell-out; the price is just a quibble. And today's OT reading is a tragic illustration of this.

In Judges 17-18 a man in the hill country of Ephraim named Micah decides to create his own religion. He sets up shrine, complete with an idol and ephod (a priestly garment), and installed his own son as a priest. Some time later a Levite wandered into his house, and Micah offered to set him up as priest - offering a handsome salary and new wardrobe! The Levite accepted the offer, and became Micah's "house priest."

Having demonstrated he was for sale, the Levite was bound to find a better deal. And he did - the form of a group of Danites leaving their tribal territory and migrating north. When they stumbled upon Micah's house and saw the Levite, they offered him a chance to be a priest not just for one man, but "to a tribe and clan in Israel" (18:19). The Levite's "heart was glad" (18:20). Of course it was - we already knew what kind of man he was; this was just a discussion about the price.

The most shocking detail of all comes in 18:30, where we learn the identity of this priest for hire. It was none other than the grandson of Moses - Jonathan! How quickly a family can turn from conviction to compromise.

All of this happens under the refrain that appears several times at the end of Judges - "in those days there was no king in Israel" (18:1). Rather than submit to God as king and worship according to His rules, Micah made up his own religion. Rather than live in his own city, the Levite looked for greener pastures. Rather than remain in their ancestral home, the Danites looked for better land. In such an environment, with respect for the rule of God's law gone, the only rule is might - which is why muted protest is all Micah can do when the Danites carry off the god that he made.

What is your price? For what will you sell out? And what do you think you will gain?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - April 14 - When I Am Weak Then I Am Strong

(My apologies for my month-long sabbatical from blogging!)

Today's OT portion is the story of Samson (Judges 12-16). His very name is synonymous with strength, yet the text makes it clear that Samson was beset by many serious weaknesses: lust, anger, and revenge, to name a few. In fact his story revolves around two women: his marriage to a Philistine woman from Timnah (Judges 14-15), and his dalliance with the Philistine temptress Delilah (Judges 16).

In the larger context of the book of Judges, Samson is the very personification of what the nation of Israel as a whole was like at this time. Judges 17:6 says that, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." This is Samson's story in a nutshell. Judges 14:3 says that Samson wanted to marry the Philistine girl because "she is right in my eyes." What mattered to Samson was not God's will - all that mattered was what looked good to him.

Ironically, by pursuing a lifestyle based on what looked good in his eyes, Samson eventually lost his eyes when he was captured by the Philistines (16:21). And just as God allowed Israel to be sold into bondage for becoming indistinguishable from their pagan neighbors, God allowed Samson to be pressed into slavery after a life of reckless relationships with the Philistines.

It was in that very hour of weakness and blindness that Samson finally saw that God was the true source of strength. He prayed to God for help, and God enabled him to bring down the house of Dagon, killing more of the enemy in his death than he had in all his other exploits combined (16:30).

In 2 Corinthians 12:10 Paul stated a basic principle: "when I am weak, then I am strong." It is only when we are vulnerable and helpless that we are driven to rely on God's strength rather than our own. But since God's strength is so much more potent than our own, this is a good thing!

Of course very few of us suffer from the physical blindness that Samson suffered from. Ours is more like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who walked for a while with Jesus but did not initially recognize who He was. The great news is that Jesus opened their eyes, and He can open ours - to see who He is, to see how weak we really are, and to see what He can do through us.