“And the Sons of Israel did not remember Yahweh their God who had saved them from the hand of all of their enemies which surrounded them and they did not show faithfulness to the Sons of Jeruba’al (Gideon) for all of the good things which he did for Israel.”
We have spoken before about the Biblical importance of memory. When the people remember the good works of God they remain faithful. But when the people forget, they fall into sin. And we see this pattern showing up over and over to us in the scriptures and in church history.
But remembering is not just the intellectual recognition that an event took place; remembering also reflects a life that has been influenced by those events that took place in the hopes that we not repeat the same errors that brought us to the condition we were in. Yet, how often we as a church are also near-sighted and forget God’s work amongst us to deliver us from the evil that lurks in our midst.
And, too, how often people forget the faithfulness of those who served them well. Gideon was far from perfect as a leader, but he was God’s chosen tool to deliver the people from their oppressors. In the same vein, pastors and church leaders, too, are not perfect. Yet, if they are faithful to God’s calling, they are deserving of the respect of those they serve — “double-honor” to use Paul’s language in 1 Timothy 5:17-19. Yet, how often have there been times when, for a single misstep, congregations have turned on their pastors like a pack of angry dogs. Such is the way of sin.
Unlike what we have seen with the previous judges, we do not shift immediately into the next cycle of leadership. Instead, we see a cycle within Gideon’s own house, where the sons will vie for position in Israel’s leadership (remember our earlier discussion of Gideon wanting to pass down his role to his sons). And sadly, it will be Abimelech who rises to the forefront…God’s punishment on Gideon’s household for their sin and arguably even God’s punishment on Israel for their forgetting…
“And Baraq said, ‘If you will go with me, I will go; if you will not go with me, I will not go.’”
We have spoken already of the theme of this account…that of men not standing up and taking leadership in the life of Israel. Here we see Baraq, the flash of lightning, showing his true colors. This is the reason that he did not obey God’s command in the first place. And here, even after the Judge and prophetess is confronting him in his disobedience, we find Baraq still being obstinate and stubborn in disobedience. Such is what happens when one places oneself before God.
Lest in hindsight, we condemn Baraq based on his cowardice and disobedience, we must be reminded that his actions are little different than men in America today. In our culture women tend to be the driving force when it comes to the spirituality of their families and many men are absent or otherwise too preoccupied to work or projects to be bothered. Many men take Baraq’s exact attitude toward Deborah when it applies to church worship on Sunday morning — “I’ll go if you really want me to, but unless you go, I won’t go.”
Yet, as men, we are called to be the spiritual leaders of our homes. We should be setting the bar for our families and living out a model of spirituality and faithfulness for our children and our wives to imitate. We should value the word of God and commit ourselves to studying it so that we can teach our families and then lead our families in the wisdom of the Word. Yet, more often than not, men in the west — men who are professing Christians — do not do so. Thus, if there is repenting to do, Baraq is not alone.
“And Rebekah had a brother and his name was Laban. Laban ran to the man which was standing by the spring. Thus it was when he saw the nose-ring and the bracelets over the hands of his sister and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister saying, “This is what the man said to me,” he went out to the man and behold, he was standing by the camels by the spring.”
The temptation might be to see these two verses as somewhat redundant, the second just giving more detail than the first. Some have even gone as far as to suggest two sources are being combined here by a later editor, but such misses the point of what the author is seeking to do. One must remember that the audience would largely have heard these stories told orally and that this story is meant to be a dramatic one. Here too we are at the climax of the story when Eliezer has finally found and identified Rebekah and we are excitedly waiting to find out what might happen next. In addition, we are being introduced to Laban, who will once again become a major character in the life of God’s chosen people for it is to Laban that Isaac’s son, Jacob, will go to find a wife. So, as the story is told, all of these things are being combined together with narrative style to build tension and to give a taste of what is to come.
Thus, when we read the second verse, we should not see it as redundant but as a dramatic foretaste of the character of Laban. We are told that Laban ran to the man who was standing by the spring, but as Moses is writing this account many years later, he also wants to give us insight as to why Laban is running to meet this man. And the “why” begins with the fact that Laban has seen the wealth with which Rebekah so casually returns. It will not be until Isaac’s son encounters Laban that we see the extent of the man’s greed and conniving ways, but here we are given clear enough indication that money and personal gain is a focal point of his life, hence what some perceive as repetition.
Sadly, Laban is not all too different than many professing Christians. How often people take the mindset of, “what will this do for me?”, rather than “how can I serve you?” How often churches also fall into this trap, focusing on their own personal agendas rather than on the glory of Christ and on His greater kingdom. How often do we find one church helping to pay off the mortgage of another in the community? How often do we find one group within a church saying, “let’s work together to see your goals realized before we see our own goals met.” How often we have agendas and not goals, ideas but no vision? All too often we act more like Laban than like Abraham or even like Eliezer.
It is said that in church leadership what we usually get is managers, people who labor to maintain the status quo, keep people happy and content, and seek to make sure that the financial obligations of the church are met. Yet, leadership is not management. Anyone can manage; few can lead because leadership takes vision and direction and means walking forward and challenging people to follow. Management means keeping expectations consistent where leadership demands that the bar of expectations be raised and then reached for. Management will raise up Labans into authority; Leadership calls for Abrahams. The question is which will it be? Labans lead to churches, segments of churches, and people that are self-serving and who will protect their assets; Abrahams lead to churches and people who walk forward in faith no matter what the cost. Which looks more like the church that Christ has called us to be?