Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Samson and the Gates of Gaza

Judges 14 to Judges 16

Samson married the daughter of one of the Philistines. Her father took her away from him, and, in revenge, he killed great numbers of them, and destroyed their crops and vineyards.

The Philistines then came out in great force against the men of Judah, and demanded that Samson should be given up to them. The men accordingly came to Samson, and said they must give him up to the enemy.

Samson let them bind him with strong cords, and take him to the Philistines. But at that moment God gave him strength to snap the cords and, snatching up the jaw-bone of a donkey, he killed one thousand of them!

After this, Samson went to Gaza, a city of the Philistines, and at night the people shut him in, saying to each other that they would kill him in the morning. But in the middle of the night he got up, tore down the gates of the city, and, throwing them upon his shoulders, carried them to the top of a hill. His enemies now saw that they could not overcome him by force, so they bribed a woman to get from him the secret of his strength.

Samson deceived both her and them several times, but at last told her the truth, that if his hair were cut off, he would not be stronger than any other man. When he was asleep, Delilah cut off his hair and then, calling the Philistines, they took him, blinded him and put him to work grinding corn.

As he toiled in prison, God gave his strength to him again. One day, when the great men of the Philistines were going to worship their false god Dagon, they made Samson entertain them. He begged the boy who led him in to let him rest against the pillars of the building where they were assembled.

Samson prayed to God that He would once more enable him to destroy his enemies. He held onto the pillars, and, bending forward with all his might, pulled the building down, crushing both himself and thousands of the Philistines. Thus it happened that he killed more in his death than in life.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Samson and the Lion

Judges 13 to Judges 14:6

The children of Israel made many other conquests after the fall of Jericho. On one occasion God caused both the sun and the moon to stand still in the heavens, that the day might be long enough for them to complete the defeat of their enemies. They had possession of almost the whole land of Canaan, and they divided it by lot among their twelve tribes, the descendants of Israel's twelve sons. Then God gave them rest from the attacks of their enemies round about them and they served Him faithfully.

After the death of Joshua, and those who had come with him into the promised land, the people began to forget God, and to worship false gods. So, to punish them, God allowed their enemies to distress them on every hand.

From time to time, He took pity upon them, and gave them rulers, called judges, under whom they were victorious in war. But, as soon as the judge was dead, they returned to their evil ways; and then God again let them fall under the power of their enemies.

The Philistines were the most powerful of nations that oppressed the Israelites and to help them against these, God gave to them a judge named Samson. Before he was born, an Angel appeared to his mother and told her that her son should begin the deliverance of the people from the Philistines. She did not know it was really an Angel, but told her husband that a man, who looked like an Angel of God, had said these things to her. Manoah, her husband, prayed to God that the man might come again, and tell them how they should bring up their child.

So God sent the Angel again, and they still thought he was a man. When they began to dress food for him, the angel told them offer it to God as a burnt-offering and when they did so, he went up, as it were, to heaven, in the flame that rose from the altar. Then they knew it was God's angel with whom they had been speaking.

When their child was born they called him Samson, and did all that the Angel had said they should do with him. God blessed Samson, and made him the strongest man that ever lived. One day, when he was going with his father and mother into the country of the Philistines, a lion sprang out roaring against him and God gave him such strength that he seized it with his hands and tore it to pieces.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Jephthah's Daughter

Judges 10 to Judges 11

In the land of Israel east of Jordan there lived a man named Jephthah. His brothers despised him and drove him away from their father's home. He went to live in the land called Tob where he became a strong man, and his brave deeds were told by many people and even his brothers heard about them.

At this time the Israelites were in great trouble again. They had stopped going to the tabernacle at Shiloh to worship God. Everywhere in the land they were bowing down before the gods that other nations worshiped. The very nations whose gods they were serving began to trouble them! They began to make war against the Israelites and to take away their riches. The Ammonites came from the east and the Philistines came from the west and ruled over the Israelites. The Ammonites even threatened to take away the homes of the Israelites and to drive them out of their country. This was an unhappy time for the people who had once enjoyed the blessings of God.

After suffering for eighteen years under the rule of their enemies, the Israelites remembered how God had long ago given them all the land and had made them stronger than all the nations who lived around them. So they cried to God for help, and they expected God to send a deliverer, just as he had done at other times when they were in trouble.

God was very displeased with the people, they had turned away from Him to worship the gods of other nations. He said, "Let the gods that you have chosen instead of me help you out of your trouble. I will not be your God when trouble comes upon you if you will not worship me when you have rest from your enemies."

The Israelites became very sorry for having sinned against the true God. They saw that the gods they were serving could never help them at all. They knew that the true God whom their fathers had worshiped could deliver them out of the power of their enemies. So they tore down their idols and began to serve the Lord. They confessed their sins to the Lord and asked Him again to help them.

When the Lord saw that the people were really sorry for their sins, he began to pity them. He told them to gather their soldiers together at a place called Mizpah, to fight against the Ammonites. But they had no leader. Finally some one remembered Jephthah whose brave deeds had been told through all the land. They sent quickly for him to come to lead them to the battle against the Ammonites. Jephthah was not willing to come, not until his brothers had promised to treat him kindly would Jephthah return again with his family to his old home and help his people out of their trouble.

Jephthah knew that only if God were with him he could be victorious over the Ammonites. So he asked God to help him, and he promised to give as a present to God the first thing that should meet him on his return home from the battle. This was not a wise promise, Jephthah did not know what might come first to greet him on his return.

The Ammonites sent a message to the Israelites and wanted them to give up all the land east of the Jordan River, they said this land belonged to them first.. Jephthah sent back an answer that God would be the judge, for he had given the land to the people of Israel. The battle began and the Israelites won the victory.

News of the victory reached Jephthah's home before he returned with the army. Everybody was glad because God had helped them again. Jephthah's daughter, his only child, came hurrying out to meet her father, singing for joy. But her song ended quickly when she saw her father's troubled face. He had remembered his promise to the Lord. Now he believed that he must give his only child as an offering to God. How sorry he felt because he had made such an unwise promise! He tore his clothes and cried out in distress. Then he told his daughter about the promise that he had made.

The people of other nations sometimes gave their children to their gods but the law of Moses forbade the Israelites doing such a thing. Perhaps Jephthah had never heard that part of the law read, and he had often heard about the cruel custom of his heathen neighbors. He believed that he would need to keep his promise, although it was not a wise one. His daughter urged him to keep it. because God had given him the victory over their enemies. But first she asked for two months time to spend alone with her friends in the mountains, weeping because she must soon be taken away from them. Afterwards she returned again to her father that he might fulfill his promise to God.

Jephthah judged Israel for six years after his victory over the Ammonites, and then he died.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Story of Gideon

Judges 6 to Judges 7

The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and He delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years. The Israelites took refuge in dens and strongholds in the mountains, and in caves. At harvest time, when the crops which had been sown by the Israelites were ready for the reaping, the Midianites came with their numbers of camels and ate up the crops. They were so many of them that when they left, the land was bare, with no food for man or the animals.

The children of Israel cried out to God and wanted to know why this great trouble had come upon them, and He sent them a prophet to tell them that it was because He had brought them up out of Egypt, and had delivered them from all oppression, and He had told them not to worship the gods of the country in which they lived, for He was the Lord their God. They had not obeyed Him, and for this they were being punished.

There was a man among the Israelites who did not want to worship any but Yahweh. His name was Gideon, and one day as he sat threshing wheat by the wine-press to hide it from the Midianites. An angel of the Lord appeared and spoke to him, saying, "The Lord is with you, mighty man of valour and you have been chosen to save Israel."

The next day Gideon took ten of his servants and went up to the hill on which an altar had been erected to the false gods whom the people were worshiping. He threw down the false altars, and built an altar to God in the same place, and on it he made a burnt offering to God.

The next morning when the people saw what had been done, they cried out to one another. "Who has done this thing?" they shouted. The men of the city went to Joash, Gideon's father, and they asked him to send his son out, that he might be put to death. Gideon's father refused, saying, "Why should you plead for Baal? If he is a god, he should plead for himself against the one who has wronged him."

All the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, and called a great army together. Before he set out to save Israel, he wanted to be sure that he was the one chosen to do it, so he said to God: "If I am the one chosen to this task, I should like a sign. I will put this fleece of wool upon the earth. If the dew forms on the fleece, but not on the earth, I will know that it is indeed so."

God did so that night. Gideon returned to his army, and prepared for the battle. God told him that his army was far too large, and he asked Gideon to send home all who were fearful and afraid. So twenty-two thousand went home, and ten thousand remained. Yahweh said that it was still too large, and sent home all but three hundred.

That night Gideon went alone to the camp of the Midianites, and he heard one man telling of a strange dream. "I dreamed," said the man, " a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came to a tent, and smote it that it fell and overturned it, and the tent lay along." The other answered, "This is nothing else save that sword of Gideon, for into his hand God has delivered Midian and the entire host.”

Gideon returned to his camp. He called up his three hundred men, and gave each of them empty pitchers and lamps and trumpets. He then led them to the enemy camp. When they came to the camp, the three companies blew with their trumpets, broke the pitchers, so that the lights shone out, and shouted, "The sword of Yahweh and of Gideon." The Midianites were in utter confusion, and Gideon won an easy victory.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Joshua at Jericho

The Israelites only had to cross the River Jordan to enter the Promised land of Canaan.

Moses, for his sin at Meribah, where he struck the rock instead of speaking to it as he was told, had been forbidden to enter it with them. He was only allowed to see it at a distance, from the top of mount Nebo. So, by God's command, he appointed Joshua to be their guide and leader into it. After Moses had done this, he died. He was a hundred and twenty years old.

Then God told Joshua to prepare to pass over the Jordan into the land He had promised to the Israelites. But, before they did so, Joshua sent two spies to the city of Jericho, on the other side of the river.

The people of the city were very afraid of the Israelites, because they had heard what God had done for them from the time they left Egypt. When the King of Jericho sent men to take these spies prisoners, a woman of the city, here the spies had stayed, hid them. She begged that as her reward, when the city would be taken, her life, and the lives of all her family, might be saved.
They promised her this. She lived on the town wall and let them down by a cord through the window, and they returned to the camp.

When the people were about to pass over Jordan, the ark, in which were two tables of stones, was carried before them by twelve priests. As soon as they entered the river, its waters were divided, and all the Israelites went over on dry ground.

Then they camped at Gilgal, before Jericho. There God commanded that the armed men of the Israelites, with the priests carrying the ark, should go round the city for seven days with trumpets sounding. He told them that on the seventh day the walls would fall down before them.

Each day, for six days, as they had been told, they went once round the city. On the seventh day they went round it seven times, as God had said and at the seventh time, when the priest blew a loud blast with the trumpets, Joshua told the people to shout, for the city was theirs.

They gave a great shout, and the walls of the city fell down flat before them. They marched straight into it, and burned it to the ground.

Joshua remembered the woman Rahab, who had hidden the spies, and he brought her and her family in safety out of Jericho into the camp of the Israelites.

Balaam and the Donkey

Numbers 22

The Israelites had to fight their way to the Promised land, and God led them to victory in battle that the nations around were afraid of them.

Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, the king of Bashan, both came out with armies against them. The Israelites overcame them, and took possession of their territories.

The victorious army pitched their tents in the plains of Moab. Balak, king of that country, fearing he and his people would also be destroyed, sent for Balaam, who was a prophet (that is, one to whom God shows things that are going to happen), to come and pronounce a curse upon the Israelites, which might prevent their taking his kingdom from him.

Balaam at first refused to curse the Israelites because he knew that God had blessed them. But Balak bribed him, promising him power and riches and at last Balaam consented.

The next morning, he saddled his donkey and went with them. But God was angry with him for desiring Balak's riches and power and sent an angel to stand in the way to stop him.

God, who can do whatever He will, caused the donkey that Balaam rode, to see the Angel. The donkey moved aside to avoid him. For this her master struck her. Again the angel stood before him in a path where there was a wall on each side. The donkey, seeing him tried to move aside as before but crushed Balaam's foot against the wall.

Balaam struck her again. A little farther on the angel stood before them a third time. The donkey seeing him fell down under Balaam, who angrily struck her with his staff. God now wonderfully caused the donkey to speak and she asked Balaam why he had beaten her. Imagine how shocked Balaam would have been, a talking donkey!

Then God made the Angel visible to Balaam, standing with his drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed down before him to the ground. The angel corrected Balaam for striking his donkey, telling him that because he had wished to do what God did not will, God had sent His angel to oppose him in the way. If the donkey did not step aside he would have been killed.

Balaam confessed that he had done wrong, and offered to go back. The Angel told him go on to Balak, but to be careful to speak only what God would tell him say.

Balaam continued on. When he saw the camp of the children of Israel stretching far before him, by God's command he blessed the people whom Balak had sent for him to curse.

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