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The Execution of Abimelech’s Brothers

“And he entered his father’s house at Ophrah and executed his brothers, the sons of Jeruba’al, seventy men upon a single stone. Yet, Jotham, the youngest son of Jeruba’al, remained because he was hidden. And so he gathered all the leaders of Shekem and all of the house of Millo and they went and enthroned Abimelek king. At the oak which was standing in Shekem.”

(Judges 9:5-6)

Isn’t it sad just how quickly reforms that are made go away? Here, Abimelek’s father had torn down the Asherah (a cultic totem pole of sorts) in his hometown to rid them of the evil of the idolatry and here we have a coronation that takes place…yes, it is of a usurper, we will get to that…but it is under a sacred oak of sorts that happens to be in the town of Shekem. The hearts of men are wicked indeed, but how quickly they flee back to paganism even after being delivered by the one true God.

Now for the attack. It seems that the sons of Gideon were meeting at his home at a predicted time when Abimelek and his “unprincipled and reckless men” laid siege on the house. The language here implies that the thugs were used by Abimelek to capture the brothers, not to slay them. These men were all slain on a single stone by Abimelek, execution style. If you remember in chapter 8, when Gideon had captured Zebah and Zalmunna, he instructed his eldest son, Jether, to slay execute these kings (Judges 8:20-21), here Abimelek is gladly doing what his brother proved unwilling to do.

Recognizing that this is taking place at an oak in Shekem and recognizing the presence of idolatry and the emphasis that is placed on this “single stone,” there is also an implication here that these executions may have been done as a kind of pagan sacrifice. Just as Gideon had sacrificed to the Lord prior to his taking on the role of leadership, one can make the argument that Abimelek is doing the same…just instead of sacrificing to the Lord, he was sacrificing to his pagan gods. Again, how far we have fallen.

The one glimmer of hope is in the news that one of the sons of Gideon escaped slaughter because he had hidden. Notice that the verb, חבא (chaba — “to hide”) is in the “niphal” or passive tense. While this verb is most commonly found in the passive tense, it leaves open the question as to whether Jotham might have been hidden by one of his brothers (to preserve the youngest’s life) or whether he might have been hidden by God himself (who superintends all things). This we do not know for sure, but it is not out of reach of the text. So, whether Jotham skillfully hid himself, whether one of his brothers nobly sacrificed himself to keep Jotham hidden, whether God supernaturally kept the thugs blind to where Jotham was hidden, or whether it was a combination of all of the above, God had determined that one in the line of Gideon — a remnant — would survive not only to tell the tale and to lay a curse of judgment upon Abimelek and his followers. While the wicked rarely fear the curse of a godly man; they almost always regret what follows.

The Cost of Silence

“And the Spirit of Yahweh was upon him and he judged Israel. And he went into battle and Yahweh gave into his hand, Cushan Rishathayim. And the land was peaceful for 40 years. And Othniel, son of Qenaz died.”

(Judges 3:10-11)

Isn’t it interesting that in this first cycle, the paradigm against which all of the others will fall short, that the peace which God gave to the people lasted the equivalent of one generation. Often when we read this, we focus on the life of the judge — while he was alive the people followed the commands of God, but when he died, the people fell back into their old sins. And it is proper to make that connection, as we often observe in the Bible and in history, the godliness (or lack thereof) of a nation’s leader affects the godliness of the people for good or for ill.

While that is true, may we not stop there because the responsibility to hand down the matters of faith from one generation to the next does not lie with the national leaders. It lies in the family. In particular, it lies with the father, the spiritual head of the households. And if the fathers are silent about the things of faith, the commands of God, and the works of God in history, then the next generation will drift away.

We are seeing the effects of this in America today. In the 1950s, people bought into the lie that spiritual things were private things and not to be talked about in the public sector. Many of the children of that era followed that practice and thus the grandchildren of that era began growing up in a world where godliness became a more or less optional matter (or embraced the notion that one could find spirituality in a variety of places. Today, the culture has almost entirely rejected the authority of God over life in the social square, and the people, much like what we will find here after Othniel’s death, have fallen into idolatry.

So, what is the solution? The solution is not Christian politicians. The solution is not laws that reflect Christian values. The reality is that politicians and laws are impotent when it comes to transforming our culture; at best, having Christian politicians and laws is only a byproduct of getting the more significant problem squared away properly. What is the most significant thing to do? We need to teach our kids the word of God and we need to model obedience to that word in our families. We need to train our children to refute the nonsense that is being taught in the broader and more secular culture and that means we need to teach ourselves not only what is taught but also how to refute it. Wen need to engage the culture with Truth and not be silent, for as we read the book of Judges, we will be confronted over and over again with the cost of that silence.

The Idol of Self

“And the Sons of Israel did The Evil in the eyes of Yahweh: they forgot Yahweh their God. Thus, they served the Ba’als and the Ashtoroth.”

(Judges 3:7)

We have already seen the language that refers to “The Evil,” earlier in the text of Judges, so we understand that the people are not simply doing any old evil thing, but they are doing “The Evil Thing,” which, as we discussed before, normally ties in with idolatry. This verse is worded in such a way that it permits us to narrow the discussion of the evil thing even further, for the evil thing here is “forgetting” Yahweh their God. And what then is the result of this forgetting? Idolatry.

But what does it mean to “forget” God? Is it the same thing as when we forget a fact or a figure or forget to bring home something from the grocery store? One could argue that forgetting includes just that, but when the scriptures speak about forgetting God, it means so much more. Forgetting God is reflected in the way we live our lives. We may remember the things of God, perhaps taught to us when we were children and in Sunday School, but if we do not live our lives in submission to the God we know and even claim as our own, then we are guilty of forgetting. With this in mind, there are many professing Christians (even in our churches!) who have effectively “forgotten” Yahweh because the knowledge of Yahweh has no effect on their lives. In our modern sense, they may not bow before Ba’al or Asherah, but they bow to another, arguably more insidious, idol: self.

When people pursue the idol of self — when church bodies pursue the idol of self — virtually all things become permissible and often those things that the Bible permits, these things become impermissible. The first is a tendency toward antinomianism, the latter is a tendency toward legalism — both are sin. On the one end, churches in America have embraced a model of worship that is built on entertainment and not on thoughtful, Biblical worship. The man becomes the center of the stage and the gathering becomes an event. Theology takes a back seat to passion.

On the other end, we find a pervasive legalism when it comes to pet objections — things that become sin to the church, though they are not sins before God. Some denominations have taken a strong stand against ever drinking an alcoholic drink. While the Bible clearly condemns drunkenness, Jesus was known to spend time with people who enjoyed drinking and even turned water into wine at a wedding. Paul even instructs Timothy to take some wine with his meals as a remedy for his stomach ailments. Other denominations ban gambling, yet where in the scriptures is gambling condemned? Does not God ordain wherever the dice fall (Proverbs 16:33)? Did not Peter choose Mathias through a form of gambling? Certainly abuse of gambling would fall into the realm of theft from one’s own family, but responsible gambling as a form of entertainment surely cannot be condemned Biblically.

In both cases, what often happens is that some sins are condemned unequivocally while others are ignored. It is true that homosexual behavior is condemned in scripture, yet how many church leaders openly condemn homosexual behavior as immoral while ignoring the immorality of heterosexual behavior outside of marriage? Or how many speak of the first, pay lip-service to the second, and then ignore auto-erotica as immoral? Yet are not all sin before God? Isn’t any sexuality outside of that which honors the spouse in the marriage bed immoral? Shouldn’t all be equally condemned from the pulpit? When one makes an idol of self and forgets Yahweh, this happens.

Perhaps the most dangerous side-effect of forgetting Yahweh is the neglect of His word. Pet passages of scripture are upheld, but not the whole. Again, if we are to claim to be Christians, we must be whole-Bible Christians. And so, we could fairly say that much of the church in America has forgotten Yahweh, their God and turned toward idols. That means it is time to repent.

Ignorant and Stupid

“The man who is stupid does not know;

The ignorant one does not understand this.”

(Psalm 92:7)

 

The language of one who is stupid and ignorant is used in a very specific way in the Bible. Today, we often refer to people who are uneducated as ignorant and use the term “stupid” as more of an insult. We might cruelly comment, “What are you stupid or something,” if someone just does not understand a basic idea.

But the Bible prefers to reserve these terms for a very specific class of people: those who pursue idols. It is the stupid man who bows down to idols of silver or of wood or who crafts such abominations for sale amongst the people. Those who are ignorant are ignorant in practical aspects of living — they cannot make the kind of decisions that will be wise for them or for their families. And since the fear of the Lord is the most basic decision we can make that leads to knowledge and wisdom, those who reject such fear reject that which will allow them to make wise decisions and live life well.

And thus, those who pursue idols or the illusion of atheism do not understand this. But what is the “this” in question? It is the strength of God and his mighty works. They don’t understand the basis for worship. For them, coming to church is either habit or foolishness, they don’t see it as an engaging with the God of the universe who rules over all things.

The condemnation, then, is there, for there are many in our communities and even in our churches that are stupid and ignorant because of their attitude toward God and life. And one need not be conscientiously an idol worshipper or atheist to fall into this category; many do so by their actions. So, beloved, the question is first, will we look at our own lives and honestly ask ourselves whether we are guilty of such things? And then, will we address those areas in a way that honors our God? In addition, will we then share what we do know about the power of God with those who are ignorant and stupid in our midst, pointing them to the God who claims our allegiance, our worship, and our obedience in every area of our lives…not just in what we do in church.

Warnings from Israel’s Past: Egypt (Idolatry)

“Now I want to remind you, though you have known all these things, that the Lord once saved a people from the land of Egypt and afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

(Jude 5-7, ESV)

 

Within this section that offers warnings from the history of Israel, we find three sins that are being addressed:  Idolatry, Pride, and Sexual Perversion.  In the context of the letter of Jude, these sins are likely the sins that these false teachers have brought with them.  Jude wants the church of his day, and by extension, the church of all ages to understand just how dangerous these sins are and that God will not permit these sins to flourish in the life of his people.  These are sins of the world and Christians are not to be of the world.

These are also extraordinarily dangerous sins.  The medieval church developed what they called the “Seven Deadly Sins” which were wrath, avarice, sloth, pride, lechery, envy, gluttony.  One pastor friend of mine argues that all sins stem from the sin of pride—as pride was at the heart of the first sin.  I would argue that Jude is laying out a trio of sins that God deals most harshly against.  There are certainly some sins that God is a bit more lenient towards when you read the ancient law, for example, but these three sins are sins against which God’s heaviest wrath is poured out.  And, I would suggest that the reason for this is two-fold.  First, these three sins will surely and rapidly take you out of fellowship with God.  Second, these sins produce other sins in a person’s life. 

Remember well the Apostle Paul’s argument in Romans 1.  The reality of God can be seen in his natural revelation—Creation itself—but people chose to chase after their own desires, “exchanging the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:25).  Their punishment for their denial of God was to be left to their sin.  Sin destroys—it corrodes our souls.  But Paul emphasizes three sins in particular:  Idolatry (vs. 25), Sexual Perversion (vss. 26-27), and Pride (vs. 28).  These are the same three sins that Jude is bringing out, and from these three sins, flow all other sinful living (Romans 1:29-32).

The greatest problem that the Israelites had in their wilderness wanderings was Idolatry.  Over and over again, the people are contending with Moses about how things were so much better in Egypt.  They made the golden calf, and as they approached the promised land, they also engaged in idolatry with the pagans of the region.  Because of this, God kept them in the wilderness for forty years so that none of the original people who left Egypt would enter the Promised Land.  Many of these were even killed directly with sickness, war, or natural disaster.  Yet, even in the midst of such idolatry, God preserved a faithful remnant for himself.

We may be tempted to wonder about what God was doing, rescuing his people and then killing off those who were unfaithful.  Yet, what happened in the wilderness is a picture of what will happen in judgment.  There are many who have entered into fellowship with the visible church, but not all of these people are born again believers.  There will come a time when we will all stand before God’s throne of judgment and whether we are redeemed or condemned will have nothing to do with which membership card we held in life.  It will have everything to do with whether we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Anything that has captured our hearts other than Jesus—whether that be our money, our careers, our families, our accomplishments, etc…–this is idolatry.   And idolatry is not something that God tolerates in his body.

Idols Do Not Growl (Psalm 115:5-7)

“Mouths are theirs, yet they do not speak;

eyes are theirs, yet they do not see;

ears are theirs, yet they do not hear;

noses are theirs, yet they do not smell.

There are hands, but they do not feel;

there are feet, but they do not walk;

there is no utterance in their throats.”

(Psalm 115:5-7)

 

            The psalmist continues to point out the foolishness of idolatry.  Though you carve a mouth onto a piece of gold or silver, such does not impart the ability for such an item to speak.  Though you give it eyes, it will never see.  It may have ears, a nose, hands and feet, but it is still a cold, inanimate, lifeless hunk of metal created by the hands of men and of no more value than it has in artistic merit.  In contrast, we worship a God who does hear our prayers; he speaks from heaven as recorded in his word and he sees even what is done in dark places where no man may see.  Our God is a God who moves in this earth and is bound by nothing, and the value of our God is not based on the limited skills of men’s craftmanship, but is infinite and based in His eternal glory and character.  What a contrast there is between the gods of men and the One True and Living God!

            The last clause in this passage must also be understood in terms of the Hebrew words that the psalmist employs, for it is not meant as a repetition of the first line of this passage, but intensifies it.  The passage begins with the idea that these idols have carved mouths, yet cannot speak, but in the case of the last clause, the psalmist uses the term hg”h’ (hagah), which literally means, “to growl.”  This is also the term that is often used to describe the faithful man deep in meditation over God’s word (see Psalm 1:2 or 63:6).  In the ancient Jewish culture, when one was deep in meditation over the scriptures, one would often quietly mumble the words that one was reading.  To an observer, that slow, almost rhythmic, mumbling would sound akin to the low, guarded growl of an animal—much like that of a large dog warning you that it does not wish to be disturbed.  There is no such growl in the throat of these created idols because there is no intelligence in them with which to understand the wisdom of God’s word.

            This begs the question about intelligence and where the source of intelligence is.  The presupposition of the secularist in our culture is that intelligence is nothing more than exchanged electrical and chemical impulses in the grey matter that we call our brain.  Yet, if this is so, it is genuinely impossible for us to have rational/creative thought and understanding.  In their mindset, ideas, for example, are nothing more than cause and effect and “rationality” is nothing more than a complex set of predictable signals from one part of the brain to another.  Yet, when you take this mindset to its rational end, our brains are really no more than complicated computers which are unable to create genuine, rational ideas or to understand—all we do is process.  It takes a soul that is able to act independently of cause and effect to be able to rationally interpret data and to understand.

            Why is this significant?  It is significant because we live in a culture that is working hard to create what they term as “Artificial Intelligence.”  Given that they believe human thought is just a mass of chemical-electrical signals, they believe that they can duplicate such within a sufficiently sophisticated computer chip.  What are the ramifications of this?  If their world-view is right, then when computers reach the point of being able to “think rationally” for themselves, they will be eligible for the same rights as we would give to a human.  In addition, they are trying to place themselves in the position of God, having “created” for themselves a new race—a race of intelligent computers.

            Certainly, much of this is still kept in the realms of science fiction, but often what is science fiction in one generation becomes science-fact in subsequent ones.  In the beginning of the 20th century, the idea of rockets flying into outer space was something dreamed of only by the writers, by the end of the 20th century, rockets in space had become commonplace.  When my parents were in college, they used computers that filled an entire room; when I went to college, laptops were becoming commonplace.  Today, even young children are computer literate.

            Why are we dwelling on this?  It gets back to what the psalmist speaks of in the last clause of this passage—there is no meditation or utterance in their throats.  A computer cannot “growl” over any information, let alone the scriptures because a computer does not nor can have any understanding.  You may program it with sufficiently complex algorithms to mimic some aspects of human thought, but there will never be any genuine understanding or creative thought—it will never be anything more than input and output.

            There is a wonderful little analogy given by a man named John Searle in the 20th century that describes why a computer cannot truly have independent thought.  The analogy basically says, take a man who knows no Chinese and has never even seen Chinese, and put him in a room with a slot and two books.  Through the slot, put in a list of instructions in Chinese.  The man’s job is to take that list, look up each instruction in the first book, which will tell him what response to write from the second book.  Instructions and responses are always in Chinese, there is never any translation given for him within the books and he never sees what takes place outside of the box when he gives said response. 

            Certainly, there will be many errors made at first, but over time, the man will get pretty proficient with it.  In fact, over time, the man may even begin to recognize the subtle differences between characters and even be able to remember the proper responses to common commands.  Yet, when you take the man outside of the box, he will not be able to read or comprehend Chinese.  He will not be able to understand it or be able to interact with someone else using Chinese.  Why?  When there is no translation, there is nothing more than input and output—exactly the way a computer chip works.  A computer chip cannot think, reason, or understand because it has no God-given soul—it does not have genuine life.  The works of our hands, no mater how complex or lifelike they may seem are unable to understand.  This is something that the psalmist understood nearly 3000 years ago—it is a shame that many today still have not learned that lesson.

            Beloved, not only ought we not bow down to the works of the hands of men, we ought not be intimidated by them either.  Sometimes, when we see this person or that person with their strings of academic degrees, we set our God-given common sense and wisdom to the side and allow them to spout foolishness because we feel inadequate to stand up to them.  Beloved, don’t be.  The wonderful thing is that the facts and reality of this world—given that God created it—support the Biblical truth.  Much of what the secularists espouse is propaganda designed to intimidate.  It is like the old preacher who wrote on the side of his sermon notes: “weak point, preach loudly!”  Much of their “scientific” theory is anything but scientific and all they are doing is preaching loudly and passionately to try and get you to go along with them.  Don’t fall into that trap.  God has given you minds with which to think and to reason—it is part of the Imago Dei (the image of God) within you.  Don’t let them intimidate you for they are acting on their instincts, like unreasoning animals, but, we are getting ahead of ourselves.  Beloved, we worship a living and active God who is infinite in his glory and in his worth—why would you want to settle for anything less?

Our God in Heaven (Psalm 115:2-3)

“Why should the nations say,

‘Now, where is their God?’

Our God is in the heavens—

All that he delights in, he does.”

(Psalm 115:2-3)

 

            Indeed, those who have made gods to worship out of gold and silver do look at us and ask us how we can worship a God that we can neither see nor touch?  The psalmist’s reply is an important one.  Often, when we are pressed with the same question from a secularist, we retreat and are a bit defensive with our answer.  We usually say something to the extent of, “well, it takes faith…”  Or, if we are a bit more astute, one of the classic answers that is given is, “you cannot see the wind, but you see the effects of the wind—so it is with the Holy Spirit and with those born again of the Holy Spirit,” making a reference to Jesus’ language before Nicodemus.  Yet, there is nothing defensive about the psalmist’s response.  The psalmist replies to the question by saying, “Our God is in the heavens and he does all that he pleases.”  Do you see what the psalmist is doing here?  It is as if the psalmist is saying—you are criticizing me for not having a god made out of metal or stone that I can see, but your gods are inanimate objects—the creation of your own hands—how can I bow down to one who is incapable of answering my prayers?  I worship a God who rises high above the heavens—he cannot be constrained by puny things of metal or stone, nor can he even be constrained by the world itself—and all that takes place is a result of my God’s good will.  So, who will you worship, the god formed out of the dirt by the sweat of your own brow, or the God who created the dirt and all that is around with but a word of his power.  Beloved, statements like this are anything but defensive, they cut to the quick, and address the problem at hand—who is the true God of heaven and earth and what ought to be done with all of the bad imitations?

            Loved ones, why are we so often intimidated when people challenge our faith?  We know the effect of the hand of God in our own lives, we have seen God’s work in the world, and we know the truth of God that is found preserved for us within the Holy Scriptures.  In addition, creation itself testifies to God’s majesty!  Where is there room for anything but bold assurance?  It is not incumbent upon us to prove to the atheist that God does exist—it is his responsibility to prove that God does not exist if he wants to hold a position that is so contrary to reason and observation.  Because we have allowed ourselves to be intimidated by academic degrees and titles, we have allowed unbelievers to turn the tables on us, forcing Christians to swallow lies in the name of “science”—lies that do not even stand up to the secularist’s own scientific methods of scrutiny. 

            The final statement is also telling for two reasons.  First of all, it compliments the previous statement about God in the heavens.  We do not worship a God that was like the gods of the Greek philosophers—ones who were transcendent and so separate from the world that they do not act, but only observe—but we worship a God who does act within the realms of men.  But what is also important is that not only does God act, he takes pleasure in his acting.  We spend a lot of time talking about God’s sovereignty and that he works out all things according to the council of his own will (Ephesians 1:11), but we often neglect the principle that is expressed here—that God does take pleasure in his actions.           

            Beloved, think on things this way:  God is satisfied with himself to such a wonderful degree that all that he thinks and does brings him pleasure.  And, to continue the line of thought to its logical end, if God finds his ultimate satisfaction in himself and finds profound pleasure in all that he does, we can find our ultimate satisfaction in Him and pleasure in all that he does in our lives.  That is an easy statement to agree with when things are going well, but what about when the world around us seems to be falling apart?  Can you affirm, even in the midst of your greatest heartache, that God is still working all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose?  Though we may struggle with it, this is exactly how we should be thinking.  Our God rules the creation and works out his good pleasure in your life and in mine; let us strive to take our pleasure in the working out of these things by his strong and steady hand—finding our hope and satisfaction in Him and in Him alone.