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Yahweh’s Begotten Son in Ps. 2

As I prepare for my study of Psalms in 2015, I found and dusted off a paper I wrote in April 2012.  In the end, this is a paper about what it means that Jesus is the Son of God.  There is more to this than Jesus as the “child” of God who was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit.

One thing that this paper touches on, but does not deal with, is the concept of the collective community as the Son of God.  I would eventually like to look into this a little more.  Connected to this, I’d like to look into the similarities and differences between Jesus’ appointment as Son and my own at my spiritual, and eventual, resurrection.

Yahweh’s Begotten Son in Ps. 2.7 – Ryan Boyer

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Forward Controls

One of my favorite modifications to the pig is my forward controls.  Who would ever think that moving your feet forward 6 inches would make such a major difference in comfort!

The Wilderness in Mark 1

At the beginning of April we began to study the Gospel of Mark in our adult Bible class.  Following two Sundays of introduction, we started Mk. 1:1-13, which is set in the context of wilderness.   Here is a quick look:

 

Mark 1:2–3 (ESV)

2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ”

Even though the word, wilderness, is not used here, Jesus goes to where John is—which is in the wilderness.

Mark 1:9 (ESV)

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

Mark 1:12–13 (ESV)

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

 

Mark wants us to understand that from the very start, God’s work of redemption through Jesus happened in the wilderness.  Here is a major Biblical theme.  By way of interesting facts, the word wilderness is common throughout the Bible:

  • ESV – 280 times
  • NASU – 295 times
  • NKJV – 306 times
  • NIV’11 – 166 times (because the NIV often treats “wilderness” as “desert”)

 

Think about all the major stories in the Bible that have wilderness as a central theme:

  • Moses (Ex. 3:1)
  • Exodus (Ex. 5:1; 13:17-18; 14:11-12; Num. 14:21-23, 32-34)
  • David (1 Sam. 23:14)
  • Elijah (1 Kgs. 17 – Here is a neat article that is worth your while)
  • The captivity is considered by the prophets as time in the wilderness
  • John the Baptist
  • Jesus
  • Paul (Gal. 1:17-18)

 

Now that we see the dominance of the theme throughout the Bible, perhaps we can think about some other places where we see wilderness where the specific word is not used.  Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden to live “out there” (wilderness).  Abraham left his home in metropolitan Ur for the podunk nowhere land of Canaan (wilderness). We could literally do this all day.  To summarize the wilderness theme I strongly encourage you to read Deut. 8.

 

God has clearly given us a message within this wilderness theme, which is certainly why Mark begins his Gospel this way; so what is it?  Here are some quick thoughts about what we might say about the wilderness:

 

  1. The wilderness is the place where God is.

 

It might not seem like it initially, but it’s true.  In Ex. 5:1 God called Israel out of Egypt in order to hold a feast to him in the wilderness.  The wilderness is where Jesus went when he wanted to be intimately close to the Father, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mk. 1:35).  My favorite wilderness example is Hos. 2:14.  Even after Israel has spiritually cheated on Yahweh, he longed to have her back.  In order to win her, though, he needed to remove the adulterous distractions of life that lured her away in the first place, so he says, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.”

 

  1. The wilderness is hard.

 

In Jer. 2:6 the wilderness is described as a land of deserts, pits, drought, deep darkness, a land that none passes through, where no man dwells.  That’s pretty hard.  While John was in the wilderness he wore camel’s hair and a leather belt and he ate locusts and wild honey.  He didn’t do this because it was cool.  He did it because the desert is a hard place to be.

 

  1. The wilderness is a middle place.

 

Throughout the Bible, the wilderness is never the final destination.  It is the place that people go through to get from point A to B.  For the Exodus generation the wilderness rested between Egypt and the Promised Land.  For Israel during the captivity, the wilderness rested between disobedience and restoration.  The wilderness is only ever permanent by our own choosing.

 

  1. The wilderness is a place of preparation.

 

The middle place isn’t just there for the fun of it—there is something to be gleaned from this liminal period.  It is a time of learning to trust God, to gain faith, patience, hope, fear, etc.  John the Baptist was in the wilderness preparing the world for Jesus.  Even Jesus was personally able to learn obedience in his wilderness time on earth (Heb. 5:8).

 

  1. The wilderness is a place where God provide.

 

Moses found respite from his life as an Egyptian.  The Exodus generation was given manna, quail and water.  Elijah was fed by birds and oil was miraculously provided for him.  When Jesus was in the wilderness “he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him” (Mk. 1:13).

 

For the sake of illustration, I will assume that Mark wrote to Christians who were being persecuted for their faith in Rome.  The historian, Tacitus, describes what it was like to be a Christian in Rome following Nero’s great fire,

 

Neither all human endeavor, nor all imperial largess, nor all the modes of placating the gods, could stifle the scandal or banish the belief that the great Roman fire had taken place by order [of Nero].  Therefore to scotch the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost exquisite cruelty, a class loathed for their abominations, whom the crowd styled Christians.  Christus, from whom the name is derived, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate.  Checked for the movement, this pernicious superstition again broke out, not only in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself [Jerusalem] – that receptacle for everything hideous and degraded from every quarter of the globe, which there finds a vogue.  Accordingly, arrest was first made of those who confessed to being Christians; next, on their disclosures, vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson as for hatred of the human race.  Every sort of derision was added to their deaths:  they were wrapped in the skins of wild beasts and dismembered by dogs, others were nailed to crosses; others when daylight failed, were set afire to serve as lamps by night.  Nero had offered his gardens for the spectacle and gave an exhibition in the circus…  Hence even for criminals who merited extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of pity, due to the impression that they were being destroyed, not for the public good, but to gratify the cruelty of a single man (Tacitus, Annals 15:44).

 

Mark is the only Gospel writer that mentions that Jesus’ time in the wilderness was spent in the midst of wild beasts.  He is telling his readers—I know your suffering!  I have been there, and I care!  Even if this is not what Mark specifically has in mind,

“The desert, however, remains a barren place…Thus it is better to interpret the reference to the wild beasts as conveying the idea of desolation and danger.  The beasts are malevolent and are the natural confederates of evil powers.  The desert represents the uncultivated place of the curse, Paradise lost, and the realm of Satan.”[1]

Ben Witherington remarks,

“No sooner had the Spirit come upon Jesus than it cast or drove him out into the wilderness.  Jesus must experience the full wilderness experience of God’s people and, in a sense, the full consequences of their sin.”[2]

 

The irony of the wilderness theme is that when we enter our own wildernesses of life we often fail to see them for what they are.  We cry out, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me!  Why are you torturing me!  Why do I have to suffer!  We make theologically ignorant statements about how this wilderness time is the result of Satan’s work because (of course!) God would never cause a person to endure the hard wilderness.  Every wilderness example in the Scriptures that I can think of off the top of my head was directly caused by God.

 

What if, instead, we willingly walked straight into the wildernesses of life with the understanding that they are, in fact, hard.  Nobody actually wants to fight against wild beasts, but when we go into the wilderness we are walking onto their turf.  We know this.  At the same time, I am walking into the place where God is.  This is the place where I am going to grow.  It is a middle place.  It is a time of preparation and teaching to help me along to wherever God sends me next.  God will provide for me in the wilderness just as he always has; so here we go…into the wilderness.

 

Help me, Lord, to see this time for what it is.  Help me to learn to lean upon you and protect me from the wild beasts.

 

[1] David E. Garland, Mark. The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 50-51.

[2] Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 75-76.

Gideon: A Good Guy or Bad Guy?

In my last post about Gideon I tried to point out that there is a thread of doubt and fear that runs through the narrative.  I did this because, in my opinion, Gideon is not normally viewed in the way that that author of Judges portrayed him.  Instead, we rely upon Heb. 11:32 and the ONE (short) time he went to battle against all odds (Judges 7:19-22).  We teach our kids in Bible class about Gideon as if he is some kind of role model of faith.  I do not want to downplay the good parts of Gideon, but since the good parts are frequently the only aspects we talk about, I wanted to bring to the surface that Gideon is not all great.

So I ask: Is Gideon a good guy or a bad guy?  I think the answer is—Yes—and I think that is the point.  Let me explain.  In an article by Daniel Block (“Will the real Gideon please stand up? Narrative style and intention in Judges 6-9.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 40.3 (Sept. 1997): 353-366.), both sides of Gideon explored.  I have created a chart that is pretty well in textual order where the good parts of Gideon are on the left and the bad parts of Gideon are on the right.  (Please note that most of this chart, and even some uncited language comes from Block’s article).

Tradition Pius View of Gideon

Not-So-Great (Realistic) View of Gideon

Gideon – Hacker (6:25ff.)

Cf. Deut. 7:1; 12:3

Jerubbaal (6:31-32)

  • Are there any other faithful Biblical characters with a theophoric name commemorating Baal?
  • cf. 2 Sam. 11:21 – Jerubbaal changed to Jerubbesheth
    • Meribbaal (1 Chron. 8:34; 9:40) changed to Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 4:4; 9:1-13; 16:1-4; 19:24-29; 21:27)
    • Eshbaal (1 Chron. 8:33; 9:39) changed to Ish-bosheth (2 Sam. 2:8, and many more in chs. 2-4)
He was “beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites” (6:11) This was an act of fear mentioned in the notes above.  The fear theme in this section is not positive.
Angel refers to him as “man of valor” (6:12) and later says “God in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian” (6:14) He was making fun of him
Gideon’s response, that he was the least of Manasseh, fits a Biblical ideal of humility (6:15)
  • It also resembles Moses’ excuses (Ex. 3-4)
  • “Throughout this call narrative cracks appear in Gideon’s character.  His response to the messenger’s claims and commands are ‘why’ (v. 13), ‘where’ (v. 13), ‘how’ (v. 15), and ‘show me’ (v. 17)…These are not exploratory questions.  They are angry, defiant, confrontational questions.”[1]
The angel responded favorably to Gideon’s request (6:17-23)
Gideon responded with worship and faith (6:24)
God responded favorably to everyone of Gideon’s questions throughout the narrative
Gideon destroyed his father’s idols (6:25ff.) He did it at night because he was afraid (6:27)

Why did his father have idols?

“But the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon” (6:34) “Why, despite being clothed with the Spirit of Yahweh and despite the response of his northern countrymen, does Gideon continue to seek ways (the fleece) to get out of attacking the Midianites (Judg 6:36-40?” (Block, 360).
  • After God reduced his army from 32,000 to 300 he obeyed through faith
  • God accomplished victory through Gideon (7:19ff.)
  • Why did Gideon add his own name to the battle cry? (cf. 7:15, 18, 20)
  • cf. Ehud in an early stage of Israel’s decline (3:28)
    • “Why does Gideon summon the forces of Manasseh, Asher and Naphtali (7:23) to finish off the Midianites when Yahweh had said he would deliver the Midianites into the hands of the 300 (7:7)?” (Block, 361).
    • He skillfully wins them after their complaint (8:1-3) (cf. Jephthah’s failure)
Why is there no mention of God’s command or even presence in this section? (8:4-21).  Gideon seems to be acting out of personal revenge (8:19).
Notice how Gideon treats his own countrymen (8:4-17)
What are we to think of Gideon’s shameful request of his son to kill the kings of Midian (8:20-21)?
He rejected the crown (8:22-23) He acted like a king

-He requested that each man give him a gold earring from their share of the spoils of war (8:24)

-He kept crescent amulets and pendants, purple robes formerly worn by kings

-“…Gideon assumes a king’s role as sponsor of the cult by crafting an ephod…” (Block, 361).

-Why did he have so many wives? (8:30)

-Abimelek’s name (see later)

Ant. 5.6.7 (232) “Hereupon Gideon would have laid down the government, but was over-persuaded to take it, which he enjoyed forty years, and distributed justice to them…”[2]

He achieved what he was put in place to accomplish (8:28)
Abimelech could mean “The [Divine – Yahweh] King is my Father” It could also mean “[The Pagan Deity] Melek is my Father” or, more likely “The King [Gideon] is my father”
“The narrator’s note that Baalism broke out afresh after the death of Gideon seems to imply that he had a restraining influence on Israel’s spiritual drift into paganism” (Block, 357). (8:33) Gideon encouraged his own brand of idolatry (8:27)
Had many wives, and through a concubine bore Abimelech (8:30-31)
8:35 – “and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel.”
Jotham’s eulogy speaks favorably of Gideon (9:16-17)
Sirach 46:11–12 (NRSV) – 11 The judges also, with their respective names, whose hearts did not fall into idolatry and who did not turn away from the Lord— may their memory be blessed! 12 May their bones send forth new life from where they lie, and may the names of those who have been honored live again in their children!
Josephus, Ant. 5.6.1-7
Heb. 11:32

I’m not sure anyone can say either way whether Gideon was a good guy or a bad guy, and as I said before, that is the point.  What we can say about Gideon is that he was wishy-washy.  Viewing Gideon this way fits right into the larger structure of Judges where the good and ideal Judges (Othniel, Ehud, Deborah) are on the left, and the not-so-great and even outright bad Judges are on the right (Jephthah, Samson).  Gideon is in the middle and represents a turning point.  He is some good and some bad.  Further, it is not an accident that most of the good that we can say about Gideon is included on the front side of the narrative, whereas chapter 8 paints a picture of Gideon acting without God and as motivated by personal vengeance.

That Gideon is wishy-washy is the very point of the story.  And even more to the point, nothing good can come from a divided heart, as Judges 9 and the Abimelech narrative will demonstrate.  If we are to follow the theme of the decline of the home through the Gideon narrative we can see that Gideon’s father was obviously torn in his devotion to Yahweh (he had idols), as was Gideon who became a snare to his family and all Israel at the end of his life.  Michael Smith notes,

Gideon demonstrated syncretism in his allegiance and in his lifestyle. He proclaimed that only the Lord should rule over them (w. 22-23), and yet he lived the kingly lifestyle people asked him to assume. The failure of Gideon to establish normative worship of Yahweh, both in Israel and in his home, along with his accompanying lifestyle, resulted in a murderous, Baal-worshiping son who tried to claim the kingship his father refused as a title.[3]

God wants nothing less than whole-hearted devotion (Deut. 6:5/Matt. 22:37; Ps. 199:2).  There are a couple of places where this theme is brought out in the NT (Rev. 3:15-16; James 1:5-8; 4:8; Lk. 9:57-62).  Gideon may have been regarded as a man of faith because he went to battle against all odds, but his wavering heart ultimately produced an unwaveringly evil Abimelech, and so will be the case in our own homes if we are not fully devoted in word and deed to the service of the King.


[1] Hamilton, 130.

[2] Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987).

[3] Michael J. Smith, “The Failure of the Family in Judges, Part 1: Jephthah.” Bibliotheca Sacra 162 (Jul.-Sep. 2005), 282.

Gideon: Doubt & Fear

Judges’ presentation of Gideon is perplexing for at least a few reasons.  First, I have a general opinion that Gideon is presented primarily in Children’s Bible classes as a positive model of faith.  Since I did not grow up going to Bible classes I can’t speak to this first-hand, but my own kids have told me about their Bible class lessons where Gideon was portrayed in a positive way.  I have frequently seen this in Judges 7 and the victory over the Midianites with only 300 men.  I’m not sure this is the part of Gideon’s life we should be focusing on.

Second, whatever we might say about Gideon deserves a good deal of attention.  There is good reason to believe that the Gideon narrative is the most important story in the book of Judges.  I may have more to say about the structure of Judges later, but here is a brief introduction why I suggest that the Gideon-message is the focal point of the book.

The Greek letter, chi, looks like an English “X.”  That is why a form of Hebrew literary structure is called “chiasm.”  The points in a chiastic text are laid out in the shape of a X where point A corresponds to anti-point A’, B to B’, etc.

An example of a larger chiastic presentation is Dan. 2-7:

A – Ch. 2 – vision of the 4 kingdoms where God overcomes

B – Ch. 3 – Deliverance of the faithful (furnace)

C – Ch. 4 – Humbling of proud king (Nebuchadnezzar)

C’ – Ch. 5 – Humbling of proud king (Belshazzar)

B’ – Ch. 6 – Deliverance of the faithful (lion’s den)

A’ – Ch. 7 – vision of the 4 kingdoms where God overcomes

In a chiastic presentation the center is almost always the point of emphasis.  The reason why I mention chiastic structure is because there is good reason to believe that the entire book of Judges has been laid out in this form.  I will not detail the entire book at this time, but I will give a general picture to make my point:

A – Ch. 1 – First introduction

B – Ch. 2 – Second introduction

C – 3:7-11 – Othniel, the ideal Judge

D – GIDEON

C’ – Chs. 13-16 – Samson, the worst Judge of all

B’ – Chs. 17-18 – First conclusion

A’ – Chs. 19-21 – Second conclusion

This outline serves one purpose at the moment, which is to show that if Judges is, in fact, presented in a chiastic format, then Gideon is the center.  If Gideon is the center of the book, then what we learn in this section was intended to be the key message of Judges.  In that case, we should be asking what is the message of the Gideon narrative?

If you happen to be interested in pursuing this structural outline of Judges, I suggest starting here:

  • J. Paul Tanner, “The Gideon Narrative as the Focal Point of Judges.” Bibliotheca Sacra (Apr.-Jun. 1992): 146-161.
  • Daniel I. Block, “Will the Real Gideon Please Stand Up?  Narrative Styles and Intention in Judges 6-9.” JETS 40/3 (Sep. 1997): 353-366.  You can start reading on p. 636 to get an idea about the topic.
  • D. W. Gooding, “The Composition of the Book of Judges.” Eretz Israel 16 (1982): 70-79.

I will have more to say about this structure and the lessons we can glean from it in following posts about Gideon.  This structural presentation, by the way, is the reason why I will give so much more attention to the Gideon narrative than any other part of the book.

My thinking for the present post is that there is a theme that is so prominent in the Gideon narrative that we would be foolish to overlook it: It is doubt and fear.  Here is a short list of some of the places where this theme can be seen.

6:1-10 – Intro to the Gideon narrative

Israel is hiding in caves (6:2) and God reminds them “you shall not fear.”  This exhortation to not fear needs to be read in light of what God told the Israelites at the end of their wilderness wandering (Deut. 7:17-21).

6:11-24 – Gideon’s call

In v. 11 we see Gideon “beating out wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites.”  Here is a neat little video that demonstrates the public nature of a typical wheat harvest.  Instead, Gideon is hiding and doing his work privately in a wine press.

Because of this the angel sarcastically makes fun him by calling him a “mighty man of valor” (6:12).

Gideon’s response is filled with “if” and an a tone of irreverent unbelief.  Victory Hamilton says, “Throughout this call narrative cracks appear in Gideon’s character.  His response to the messenger’s claims and commands are ‘why’ (v. 13), ‘where’ (v. 13), ‘how’ (v. 15), and ‘show me’ (v. 17)…These are not exploratory questions.  They are angry, defiant, confrontational questions” (130).

After the angel miraculously proves his authenticity, the words to Gideon are, “Do not fear…” (6:23).

6:25-32 – Gideon’s first task

Gideon was told to take down his father’s idols, which he did.  Don’t miss the key verse in this section, “So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had told him.  But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night” (6:27).

6:33-40 – Gideon questions God

Gideon’s request for God to “prove” himself (even after the sacrifice/angel story) needs to be read in the context of Gideon’s ongoing doubt and fear.

7:1-8 – Selecting an army

It is not accident that the first test is to send home the men who are afraid.  Certainly, this was a direct command from the Law (cf. Deut. 20:8), but don’t miss that of the 32,000 men who showed up for battle, 22,000 of them went home because they were scared.    Gideon, like all the other Judges is but a representation of the nation at large.

7:9-15 – Gideon questions God…again

God tells Gideon, “But if you are afraid to go down…”  So Gideon and his servant go to hear what the Midianites have to say about the present circumstances.  Again, Hamilton notes, “What finally brings Gideon to full belief is a dream he overhears one Midianite telling another Midianite.  But that is certainly both ironic and pathetic.  Hearing the promise from a Midianite soldier convinced him, but not hearing it directly from God” (132).

These are just a few indicators of the thread with which this entire narrative is sewn together.  In every aspect of the story we see doubt and fear.  If we are going to read Judges as a description of Israel’s downward spiral, and as an indicator of the decline of the home, then the doubt and fear presented in this primary story of Judges needs to be given some serious consideration.  I might not be able to articulate the why’s and wherefore’s here, but I think the point deserves some serious consideration.

Maybe someone can comment and provide some feedback about why doubt and fear are given such a place of primacy in this narrative and the book as a whole.  Why are these points key for Israel’s moral decline?  What lessons of application might we find here?

Judges 4: Where are the men?

I am afraid that in my treatment of Judges 4 I will devalue the contributions of Deborah and Jael.  If that is what you take away from me, then I have failed to properly articulate my message.  I share Daniel Block’s sentiments, “As for Deborah, this remarkable woman is without doubt the most honorable human figure in the Book of Judges and one of the most remarkable characters in the entire Old Testament” (p. 246).  Please do not take my treatment of Judges 4 as indicative of how I regard Deborah and Jael.

Judges 4 reminds me of how I treat my kid’s soccer teams when I am the coach.  I tried yelling at them.  It doesn’t work.  I once had a boy on my team named Joshua whose job it was to teach me patience.  I would try speaking kindly, then firmer, then I would yell.  When I would yell he would look at my arm and say, “You have hairy arms.”  It took me a while, but I finally figured out how to manage Joshua.  I would praise the rest of the team for everything they did right that I wanted Joshua to do.  I would get excited and say, “I am SO proud of you guys!  You stayed with the ball, and you listened to me when I gave directions…(and nobody made fun of my hairy arms).”  In my praising the rest of the team for their good behavior I was shaming Joshua for his bad behavior.  That is what Judges 4 is.  The author of Judges is painting a picture of female supremacy, while shaming the men of Israel for their apathy and indifference.

1. Deborah – a woman

Judges 4:4–5 (ESV)

4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.

What makes Deborah such an outstanding figure is that she is a gem in the the biblical narrative.  How many women like Deborah do we find in leadership roles in the Scriptures?  She stands out because she is rare.

As a side note, anyone interested in pursuing a study on Deborah should see Bruce Herzberg, “Deborah and Moses,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 38.1 (2013): 15-33.  While I tend to think that Herzberg overstates his case, his point is well made: Deborah is a fitting successor for Moses.  The stunning parallels between Deborah and Moses serve to make my point all the more: Deborah is a rarity; and how much more so that she is a women!

2. “the wife of Lappidoth”

Don’t forget to notice that Deborah’s husband is mentioned.  I will have more to say about this when Jael’s husband is mentioned as well; but one might just wonder about what it was like in a male-dominated society to live in the shadow of his wife, Deborah.

3. Barak

Judges 4:6–9 (ESV)

6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” 8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh.

One might think I am overstating the case by entitling Judges 4, “Where are the men?” but Barak gives us every reason to think that is exactly the point.  First, this apparent leader of God’s people takes his orders from a woman.  (Please note, this is not to speak disparagingly of women, but to simply acknowledge the society in which this text was written.)  Further, when Deborah told him to go he came back with the whiny and pathetic plea, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”  Now, there’s a picture of leadership right there, folks!

Some have tried to help Barak out by saying this is just his way of acknowledging the necessity of Deborah’s (and ultimately God’s) presence in overcoming the enemy.  This is comparable to the song we often sing by C. Austin Miles, If Jesus Goes With Me.  The chorus says, “If Jesus goes with me, I’ll go anywhere!  ‘Tis heaven to me, where e’er I may be, if he is there!  I count it a privilege here His cross to bear; if Jesus goes with me, I’ll go anywhere!”  This conditional clause and the use of “If” is an indicator of faith, not of cowardice or weakness.  I just cannot see how we can possibility attribute this kind of thinking to Barak in light of Deborah’s response, “I will surely go with you.  Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”  These are not favorable words, and neither is the tone.  I might be willing to think Barak’s plea was a sign of faith were it not for this response (but probably not).

4. Jael

Deborah’s prophecy leads the first-time reader to think that she will be the victorious hero; but in the end the glory goes to Jael.  The description of Jael’s brutal act of violence (Judges 4:21) is just about as masculine as any we find in the Scriptures.  Let the feminists come at me for this; but I stand by these words – I do not imagine these to be the actions of a woman.

5. Jael’s husband, Heber

What is more, Jael did what she did as an act of blatant rebellion against her traitor husband.   In my post about Othniel and Achsah I talked about the Kenites and how they were incorporated into God’s promise to Abraham.  Throughout the Scriptures the Kenites are regarded as a faithful group of people.  But not Heber.  Heber was a traitor.  Sisera ran to Jael’s tent because he knew that her husband was a weasel who had abandoned the people of God for Jabin, the enemy of God’s people.

Judges 4:11, 17 (ESV)

11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.

17 But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.

So, at least for this occasion we don’t have to ask, “Where are the men?”  We know where they are – they are supporting the enemy!  This reality makes Jael’s contribution all the more glorious.

6. Barak

I know I already talked about how pathetic Barak is, but the text takes another shot at him, and so will I.  After Jael killed Sisera we see Barak coming back into focus.  The only problem is that he’s late to the party.  Judges 4:22 gives us a picture of this leader and general of God’s people following Sisera only to be met by a woman shaking the dust off her hands and saying, “He’s in the tent.  I took care of him for you.”  Not only does the glory go to Jael, but shame falls on Barak.  Victor Hamilton says, “Interestingly, when Barak does show up (v. 22), he has no reaction and says nothing.  He only observes, reinforcing the idea that at best, Barak’s contribution is a junior partnership in a female enterprise.”

WHERE ARE THE MEN!

The book of Judges is about the downward spiral of the nation of Israel; but the same principle that was true for Israel as is true today: When the home fails, the nation fails.  Judges 4 is really the first time in the book of Judges that we begin to see actual decline in the nation, and especially in the leadership.  The problem is male apathy, or indifference—where are they?  Why are women having to be the heroes of the story?  Where is the leadership?  Where are the fathers?  Where are the husbands?  Where are the men!  Although it is a bit lengthy, I will quote Robert Chisholm on this point,

The Book of Judges traces the changing roles of women in conjunction with the deterioration in male leadership. Against this background Jephthah’s daughter is definitely a sympathetic figure, while Jephthah’s folly marks a further descent in male leadership.  The early chapters of Judges present an ideal of male leadership, especially through the portrait of Othniel. Unfortunately later judges, who were plagued by deficient faith (Barak, Gideon, Jephthah) and/or lack of wisdom (Gideon, Jephthah, Samson), failed to live up to this ideal… By the end of the book no leaders are present. Instead Israelite men were warring with each other and caused untold suffering for Israelite women.  The changing roles of the women in tandem with the inadequate male leaders contribute to this account of Israel’s societal decline. In contrast to Achsah, who inspired mighty deeds, women were soon forced into other roles. Because of Barak’s weak faith and Gideon’s lack of wisdom, Deborah, Jael, and the unnamed woman in Thebez assumed the role of warriors, demonstrating the same courage, cunning, and prowess as the earlier heroes Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar. As the male leaders continued to lose effectiveness and then disappeared altogether, the highly valued and heroic women of the early chapters step aside for the brutalized victims in the later chapters.[1]

I suggest that the same problem in Judges 4 is a major factor in the moral and national decline that we are seeing around us right now.  Where are the men!  Instead of Othniel we are stuck with Homer Simpson.  Where is the leadership!  The problem is not that men are working against the cause (although many are)—the problem is that men are by-and-large indifferent.  Consider the words of Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” (US News & World Report).  The opposite of leadership is not to fight against God’s cause, it’s indifference.


[1] Robert B. Chisholm Jr. “The Ethical Challenge of Jephthah’s Fulfilled Vow.” Bibliotheca Sacra 167 (Oct.-Dec. 2010): 404-422.

Eglon and Shamgar

As we read through Judges there are certain characters that stand out.  In fact, I have generally outlined my Judges class based upon Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson.  An outline like this, however, falls dreadfully short.  What about Jael?  What about Jephthah’s daughter?  There are messages, and sometimes even more significant messages than we might initially think, throughout Judges in some of the minor characters that are normally not given much attention.

For example, Judges 3:12-30 is almost always given entirely to Ehud; but Ehud is not the only character God works through in this chapter.  Read the beginning of this narrative closely,

Judges 3:12–13 (ESV)

12 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord. 13 He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of the city of palms.

Did you notice that in the same way that God raised up deliverers and provided victory, he also caused Israel to suffer and to endure defeat when they became unfaithful.  In our presentation of the Judges Cycle make sure that you note that Israel’s enemies were not merely trivial, nor did they happen to rise to power out of lucky circumstances:

Judges 2:13–15 (ESV)

13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.

Eglon was just as much of an instrument in God’s hands as the Judges were.  I think we need to take serious inventory of what we are reading here.  Personal intent did not matter much – God was going to accomplish his will.  God called Assyria the rod of his anger with which he would punish Israel (Is. 10:5-6).  Then, he says about them, “But he [Assyria] does not so intend, and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few…” (Is. 10:7).  This reality is going to play a major factor in our understanding of Judges like Gideon, Jephthah and Samson.  They are mentioned in the faith hall of faith in Heb. 11 (alongside the Exodus generation, mind you!), so we may be inclined to lift them up as standards of virtuous character.  Not so.  They are no more to credit for their accomplishments than Eglon was.

Back to the point.  Just as God raised up Eglon, so he tore him down.  I love how Daniel Block summarizes the entire process, “The man whom God had strengthened will eventually be reduced to a heap of fat and excrement.” (For other examples in the OT of this same principle see Is. 10:5ff., 12ff.; Ezekiel 30:24/Hab. 1:2-5ff.; 2:6ff.)  It ought to cause us to marvel at God’s omni-everything when we consider his ability to play entire empires like a deck of cards.  It causes me to wonder about why God chose to put me right here, right now?  How will God use me?  Every feel-good preacher under the sun teaches that God uses us all for good.  The Biblical message simply is not so.

We might say something similar about Shamgar.  In the past, I have treated Shamgar like every other Judge of Israel.  I think that was a mistake and that he should probably be regarded a little more like Eglon than Ehud.  A. Van Selms rightly points out, “Of all the judges, whether ‘majors’ or ‘minors’, the names of their tribes or their cities are mentioned; but we have no direct indications with which to place Shamgar geographically.”[1]  Later, he notes, “Moreover there are the curious names : Shamgar, a name without an obvious parallel in Israelite nomenclature, and Anath, a name only too well known from Ugaritic and Egyptian sources as the name of a great Canaanite goddess…It can hardly be expected that the father of one of the judges of Israel would take the name of a female deity worshipped by the Canaanites.”[3]

The point in all this is that Shamgar may not have been what I always assumed he was: An Israelite Judge who was raised up to lead God’s people to victory.  It turns out that Shamgar was, more likely than not, a foreigner who was probably used by God to accomplish the divine will whether he intended it or not.  Consider that Judges 3:31 is the only time the text ever says, “and he ALSO saved Israel.”  Additionally, the only other time Shamgar’s name is mentioned in the Bible is alongside Jael (Judges 5:6) who was a Kenite (not a genetic Israelite).  There is a lot of speculation about who, historically, Shamgar might have been.  I’m not interested in going down that road.  I do think it interesting, though, how God works in our world whether we participate or not.  I realize this post may sound awfully Reformed in tone.  I fully committed to individual free will.  But how amazing must God be to know how to utilize my free will in order to accomplish his purpose.  We serve an awesome God!


[1] A. Van Selms, “Judge Shamgar,” Vestus testamentum 14.3 (July 1964): 294-309.

[3] Selms, 296.