Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Learning to Fear the Lord

Today's Reading:
  • Deuteronomy 28:1 - 68
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Deuteronomy 28:1 - 68
Deuteronomy chapter 28 is a really harsh one to get through.  It starts off with the Lord offering blessings for obedience.  He tells the people that if they obey his commands, they will be blessed in all things -- wherever they go and whatever they do, they will be blessed.

The Lord tells them that the rest of the world will stand in awe of this nation claimed by God (28:10).  That verse really struck me -- can you imagine how glorious a nation that is claimed by God and true to His word would be?  Think of the most kindhearted Christian you know -- the person whose light just fills the whole room.  If we were to be an entire nation of people who are truly letting the Lord's light shine, it would be an amazing sight.

The chapter starts to turn real dark at 28:15.  From there to the rest of chapter 28, the Lord talks about the horrible things that will happen if the nation disobeys the Lord.  It's hard to read the rest of the chapter because it so bad -- imagery of women eating the afterbirth and new born babies out of raw hunger (28:57); sons and daughters carted away forever into slavery (28:32); everything they've ever known taken from them and lacking in everything (28:48).  The things described in this chapter are horrifying.

There are some things I had to keep in mind while I read.  First off, I have to remember that I'm reading God's covenant with an individual nation.  Then I had to remember that the Lord took this people out of Egypt in the most miraculous way -- sending horrible plagues down on Egypt and even parting the Red Sea for the escape.  These people lived on food that fell from the sky magically every day and every night.  The presence of the Lord literally lived among them and guided them the entire way.  The Lord was right there among them -- how could they even dare disobey?  What reason would they have to?

And now I have to wonder, are we really that different from them?  We have the instructions of the Lord right in front of us.  I have at least a dozen copies of the word of God in my house.  The Lord lives inside me, and His works are evident throughout the world.  The Lord provides for me and my family -- He has blessed us greatly.  So what's the difference?  Why shouldn't we be as fearful as the Israelites when it comes to disobeying the Lord?

I guess the answer is that we should.  We should fear to disobey the Lord.  I have seen many references to fearing the Lord in the bible.  But I think that our culture focuses on the love -- which is a great thing.  I certainly focus on the love.  But perhaps I should be a bit more mindful about truly fearing the Lord. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Showcasing the Greatness of God through Weakest of Thee - How Gideon Conquered an Army of 135,000 with just 300 Men

Today's Reading:
  • Judges 6:1 - 8:35
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Judges 6:1 - 8:35

Today's reading covers the story of Gideon.  We meet Gideon at the bottom of a wine press, where he was threshing wheat (6:11).  Gideon threshed wheat in a wine press in order to hide grain. This is because the Israelites were greatly oppressed by the Midianites, who ravished their land continuously, purposely removing any and all sources of food that could be found. 

The Israelites found themselves in this predicament for the very same reasons that they had been struggling throughout the entire book of Judges (and pretty much for their entire history from the exodus forward) - because they "did evil in the Lord's sight" and the Lord eventually handed them over to the Midianites (6:1-2). When the Israelites had everything taken from them, when they were broken, when they were hiding in caves, when their entire population was starving - then they cried out to the Lord (6:6).

The Lord, ever and always faithful, heard their cries.  An angel of the Lord came to Gideon and told him Gideon would be used by the Lord to deliver the Israelites (6:14).  Gideon then said some words that I want you to remember: "But Lord, ... how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!" (6:15) 

Eventually Gideon was convinced he was truly hearing from the Lord and made a call to arms. He amassed an army of 32,000 soldiers (7:3), but the Lord said that was too many men.  If that many men fought, they would claim the victory lie within themselves, instead of with the Lord (7:2). So Gideon obeyed, following the Lord's instructions on how to whittle down the army, until he had a mere 300 men (7:7). 

So here is Gideon, part of the weakest tribe of Israel, the weakest man in his own family, with an army of 300 soldiers against a combined army of 135,000 (8:10).  Gideon had his doubts leading up until that moment (6:17-22, 7:36-40), but he obviously had incredible faith, for he did as the Lord said.  Gideon surrounded the opposing army in the middle of the night, and, following the instructions of the Lord, managed to cause mass chaos and confusion throughout the opposing forces, until the entirety of the enemy's army was killed or fled (7:17-22). Gideon and his 300 men pursued the remaining army until all were captured or killed (8:4-12). 

Whenever we think to ourselves that we are weak, that we are worthless, that we cannot achieve the tasks set upon us to achieve - think of Gideon. God does not value us the same way we esteem ourselves.  This does not just apply to those who feel weak, insignificant, or less than others; it also applies to those who are strong and boastful of themselves - but for the opposite reason. God does not want things done for our own glory, but for His. That is the reason God knocked Gideon's army down to a mere 300 men.

After the wars were finished, Gideon had a sacred ephod made from the plundered gold (8:27).  That in itself was likely done with good intention. Great men like David wore an ephod (2 Samuel 6:14); it was a priestly garment that could be worn while worshiping the Lord. In this case, however, the ephod soon became a thing of worship to the Israelites and a crutch to Gideon and his family (8:27). The Israelites reduced the sacred ephod to an idol. Like the previous stories read in the book of Judges, the people lived in peace with Gideon for about 40 years (8:28). History repeats itself, however - because as soon as Gideon died, the Israelites started worshiping other gods and idols. Again.

My study bible had a small piece on Gideon that caught my attention.  It said that Gideon, who was dependent on visible signs (6:17-22, 7:36-40), eventually turned from worshiping the invisible God to worshiping idols.  Before I read that I never understood how people could worship all these things made of gold - how they could bow down to objects created by man and treat these things as their gods?  I now understand, in part, how that could be.

As a New Covenant Christian, I have the blessing of the Holy Spirit residing within me.  To me, it is a tangible thing I can feel.  That was not so under the Old Covenant - those people were reliant on prophets and judges and various men of God to communicate His commandments and decrees.  Without the Holy Spirit dwelling within my soul, perhaps I might desire something visible to worship.  I would like to say that isn't the case.  Where we have the Holy Spirit, the Israelites had miraculous signs that I can barely fathom. God's presence hung in a visible cloud within their people during their exile in the desert. Later, the Jews had Jesus Christ in the flesh. Even so, masses of people turned away from the Lord.

I do not know what my faith would be in a time that I did not live and in situations I did not encounter. It's easy to look back and judge, but that is a trap that keeps us from examining ourselves. Therefore let us learn from the past, so that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of others, while examining ourselves at the same time so that we are not blind to our own unrighteous and unfaithful behavior.