Idol Smashers – Part Six

dreamer

“Idol Smashers” is a work of fiction set in the biblical era of the Judges.  Apart from persons mentioned in the Bible, it is entirely fiction and presented here in serial form strictly for the entertainment of my readers.  “Idol Smashers” is an original work, copyright Brett Best, 2011.

Day  One – Heshonib

(Previously, in Idol Smashers: As these heroes of Israel have begun their mission, they were lead to the remote village Heshonib where they found a miraculous message from God demanding all the villagers be killed for their idolatry.)

The countenance of the men all took on a grim aspect as the significance of the message hit them.

“The LORD has spoken,” Maaz said firmly.

“Now wait a moment,” Ammihud cautioned.  “Wait a moment.  You’re sure these words were not carved by the hand of man… ?”

Barek and Jezreel exchanged looks.  “Definitely.  No instrument wielded by a man burns brick,” Jezreel responded.

Mattan’s face was ashen.  He busied himself with the teraphim, and then spoke suddenly.  “These are burst from within!  What craft could accomplish this destruction of wooden, clay, stone and metal idols?  All destroyed from within, but all of them are made of different materials.  My masters, this was a supernatural act!”

Taking the idol from Mattan, Micah turned it over and looked at the bottom.  His mouth set in a line, he showed it to Maaz.

“That’s the same mark!” Maaz exclaimed.

“What?  What mark?” Caleb queried.

Micah handed the idol to Caleb and pointed out the figure carved on the base.  “This mark.  It was carved on the base of the Asherah pole at the top of the hill.”  As Caleb examined the mark for himself, Micah turned all the idols over.  “Underneath all these idols – on the base – a marking is inscribed.  It looked to me like a man dancing.”

“That is a trader’s mark,” Caleb said.  “It is meant to identify the craftsman so that others will buy his wares.  Should we find out who this mark identifies, we will find the supplier of these idols.”

“To what end?” Maaz demanded curtly.  “It matters not how they came to be here.  The message is unequivocal.  We must obey the LORD and end the lives of these foul idolaters!”  He smashed his iron-shod goad on the ground to punctuate his point.

Ammihud stepped forward, not intimidated.  “A moment, brother.  As you cannot replace a life once it is taken.  We must be certain.”  He held out his hand to Caleb and, receiving the idol, looked carefully at the base.  He set it down thoughtfully and took time to look at  the entire circle of words around them.

Finally, he spoke.  “I believe we must deal with the Heshonibites as instructed.”

“Yes,” Maaz seconded.

“BUT,” Ammihud continued.  “I do not believe our mission ends there.  There are villages like this all over Israel.  We must admit it.  Why would the LORD single out this one?”

“As a warning to all idolaters,” Maaz quickly explained.

“Yes, that,” Ammihud agreed, but began pacing and thinking aloud.  “But more than that.  There was something else going on here.  What if the LORD exposed this village in this way to give us a warning?  We must follow all trails until we understand WHY this happened.”

Joseph moved to stand next to Ammihud.  “What he lacks in stature, our brother makes up for with insight.”  Joseph smiled down at Ammihud.  “I agree.  My dreams have been troubled of late.  Just two nights ago I saw a pile of broken idols.  The LORD told me to sweep them away, for beneath them I would find something more evil at work.”

“What happened?” Mattan asked.  “What did you find?”

“I awoke before I could sweep them away.”

Maaz snorted.  “Prophets and their dreams.  Well, what of it?  We can destroy this place, then the pagans who lived here, THEN go chasing idol-makers.  First things need doing first, my father always said.”

“All right, all right,” Ammihud said.  He walked over and swept the idols off the side of the well and dropped the one he was holding beside them.  “I agree.  But we all must be agreement on this, for blood will be on our hands.  If it is the LORD’s will, then I shall take up vengeful arms beside you.”  He held up his two short-fingered hands.  “But I want no innocent blood on these hands.”

“Nor do I,” Joseph said, one prophet agreeing with the other.  “But I am fully convinced.  They must die.  All of them.”

Barek picked up a handful of dirt and then dropped it on the ruined idols at their feet.  “Let’s bury them, then uncover the whole truth.”

“You can count on me,” Caleb said, stepping forward.

“It’s awful work, but the Lord’s will must be done,” Jezreel said, nodding.

Micah simply said, “I agree,” and put his hand on his sword.

“Very well then,” Maaz said soberly.  “Let’s destroy this village and then the villagers.”

“But we’re freeing the animals,” Joseph said.  “They are innocent beasts.  Let the Lord do with them as He wills.  Set them free.”

“All of them?” Mattan said, suddenly joining the conversation.’  “There’s a great deal of…  a tithe could be…”  Seeing the determined looks on the faces around him, he simply sat down on the well and muttered, “My masters know best.”

“Seems we ought to get started,” Micah said, an eye on the sky.  “It’ll be dark soon enough.”

Ammihud turned to Mattan.  “How far away is the secret cave in which you’re holding the Heshonibites?”

“Oh, master, it is on the other side of the city.  We should not expect to have all this done before sundown,” Mattan replied, his eyes darting to each face.  “I would not advise going there in the evening.  The people of Aphek will become suspicious if we go out again after dark.  Our secrecy will be lost, I fear.”

“We should not delay in obeying the will of the LORD,” Maaz protested.

“Really,” Ammihud said, crossing his arms.  “You are a tiresome fellow.  I agree with Mattan.  You remember how Deborah herself pledged us to secrecy, only this morning?  Would you risk violating that pledge?”

Maaz was about to answer when Micah put a hand on his arm.  “Besides, we can’t risk any of them escaping into the night.  Remember the message – ‘all must be killed’.”

When Micah did not wither under the glare of his brother-in-law, Maaz conceded, “Very well.  How I wish Deborah had left me in charge!”

“One more thing, if I may – without sounding impudent?” Mattan asked quietly.

“Yes – what?” Ammihud asked.

“You may wish to question the villagers before putting them to the sword.  Something may be gained from their words that helps your subsequent investigations.”

“You can’t trust the word of idolaters,” Caleb objected.

“Of course not, my master.  But… as there is some truth in every lie, we can perhaps gain some morsels of truth from them.”

There seemed to be general agreement that Mattan spoke wisely.

“Let’s burn this place and cleanse the earth on which it stands,” Maaz said slowly.

 

They rode out of Heshonib just after sunset, seven figures silhouetted against the burning village.

Upon their return to the home of Mattan, the men washed in silence.  The savory smells of food cooking did nothing to lift their spirits.  They encircled the room and standing, lifted their faces, and offered prayers of thanksgiving to God.

After they were all seated on mats on the floor, Mattan’s servant set forth the supper he had prepared.  The new day had begun at sunset, but it was not welcomed during the meal as was customary.  There was no conversation that included all of them.  Instead, scattered snatches of talk in low voices was the only sound accompanying their eating.

Mattan was mostly silent and subdued.  This was quite out of character, but he was taking his cue from the men Deborah had sent him.

For their part, the seven were both introspective and weary.  The day had begun with the promise of worship and feasting.  It had taken many unexpected turns since then, and to a man, they felt as if it had been a long journey.

One by one, they thanked and blessed their host, then took their belongings to the roof and lay down to sleep.

 

Joseph’s sleep was troubled.  Deborah was before him, angrily remonstrating him.  “Why did the LORD destroy those idols?” she demanded, her voice stretched thin to keep from shouting outright.  “That was a miraculous sign to point to something, but what?!”  Joseph was not given time to answer.  He felt panicked, his throat constricted.  Why was she angry with him?  How had he failed her?  How could he have done better?  “Answer me!” Deborah cried.  “Tell me the answer!”

Awaking with a start, Joseph sat up.  Barek alone was still awake.  He nodded at Joseph, a sympathetic look on his face.

Without a sound, Joseph padded downstairs and through Mattan’s home into the courtyard.  The dream had disturbed him – deeply.  He needed to pray and think before attempting to sleep again.

 

For his part, Barek found sleep elusive.  He was weary, but his mind was troubled by what the upcoming day would bring.  The notion of destroying an entire village was… well, it was something his ancestors had done when they took possession of the Promised Land, but those were tales of people long gone.  The deed seemed difficult to contemplate when it would be his sword, his hand.  Surely there would be women.  Children.  Perhaps babies.  Part of him understood the reason for the LORD’s command, but another part was repulsed by it.

“There must be another way,” Barek mused.  It was half thought and half prayer.  Barek lifted his eyes to the starlit horizon, searching for an answer.

His thoughts were interrupted by a noise behind him.  Joseph had awakened.  His sleep had apparently been uneasy.

Not wanting to awaken the others, Barek merely nodded at Joseph, thinking, I share your disturbance, brother.

He watched Joseph step downstairs with a grace that was something a man had to learn and then practice.  Barek thought about Joseph for a moment.  A prophet, certainly but he had not always been a holy man.

Barek returned his gaze and thoughts to the stars.

 

Ammihud turned over.  He noted with some irritation that the cool night air would be more tolerable in his own home.  Then he dismissed the complaint as unworthy of a prophet on a mission from God.  After some moments of silent prayer, sleep finally claimed him.

He was surprised to be back at the Tabernacle.  Or what was left of it.  An old man wailed in grief among the ashes of what had been the Tent of Meeting.

Ammihud was stunned to see it destroyed.  Tears began to stream down his own face as he mourned the loss of Israel’s most sacred site.  “How has it come to this?” he wondered, both aggrieved and enraged.

The old man stood suddenly, and started walking backwards around the Tabernacle.  As he walked, backwards, the ashes turned to flame and the flame raced up the sides of the Tent itself and it’s fabric outer wall, restoring both!  The man paced around the Tabernacle to the rising and setting of five suns!

With a sharp breath, Ammihud was awake.  The LORD spoke to him more often in portents and in the words of the scrolls than in dreams, but there was no doubt in Ammihud’s mind that this startling dream was a revelation from Yahweh!

The stiffness of sleep slowed his motions, but Ammihud turned over.  He was startled to see Micah looking at him!  A few cubits away, the man’s eyes stared at him vacantly.  What was going on here?  “Am I still dreaming?” Ammihud wondered.

Then he looked up and saw that Maaz was sitting up.  Seated on the other side of Micah, Maaz must have noted the look of surprise on Ammihud’s face.

“Sleeps with his eyes open,” Maaz whispered.  “My sister says you get used to it.”

Troubled by the dream, Ammihud was in no mood to converse about Micah’s sleeping habits.  He rolled back on his side, facing away from Maaz and Micah’s sleep-gaze.  As he turned, Ammihud saw Barek was also sitting up, but his head bowed forward.

“What have I got myself into?” he wondered, and not for the last time.

 

Caleb would have preferred to dream about the livestock they’d released before destroying Heshonib.  About all of them herding themselves into his pen at the seller’s market.  Instead, the animal in his dream was some kind of cat, over-sized and ferocious.  It’s giant, black paw lashed out of the darkness.  Caleb ducked, but he was not the intended target.  Surprisingly, the animal was slashing the Tent of Meeting.  The Tabernacle was being torn to shreds!

When he reached out to fend off the blows, putting himself in harm’s way, Caleb awoke.  He was on his back, looking at the stars.  The sounds of the other men sleeping soothed him and he dismissed the dream, going back to sleep.

 

The seven were restless and woke Mattan before dawn.  He was not easily roused, but when he realized who it was that stood around him, Mattan hoisted his ample frame off the mat.

“Yes, my masters,” he said with a yawn.  “Let me see that water is brought, and some food.”

He stumbled out of the room and into the courtyard.

Caleb yawned and stretched.  “Brothers, you should have left Mattan and I to rest at least until sunrise.  This is hardly civil treatment.”

Maaz merely grunted and began pacing.

“I could wait no longer,” Micah commented, but was unable to stifle a yawn of his own.

“My sleep was broken by a dream – a nightmarish portent,” Joseph said, seeking each man’s eye.  “I dreamed that Deborah was rebuking me for not having investigated this matter fully.  There is more to this than what has happened in Heshonib.  The destruction of those idols was meant by the LORD to alert us to something.  An even greater evil, whose path merely crossed at Heshonib.”

“I can tell you where that evil will descend and when,” Ammihud added, hurriedly.

“What is this…” Maaz said derisively, “dueling prophets?”

Joseph waved him off and spoke to Ammihud.  “What did you see, brother?”

Sparing a withering glance at Maaz, Ammihud answered, “I saw the Tabernacle as a smoldering ruin.  An old man – perhaps the High Priest Ulla – wept at its destruction.  Then he stood and walked backward as the Tent was restored.  He walked backward as the sun rose and set five times.”

“The Tabernacle is in danger, and the danger will fall before the next Sabbath,” Joseph said, thinking aloud.  “This is a warning to us.  We must resolve this mystery quickly to see the Tabernacle spared.”

“My interpretation exactly,” Ammihud said, nodding.

“The Tabernacle?” Maaz cried, stepping to the two prophets.  “Who would dare raise a hand against the sanctuary, our beloved Tent of Meeting?!”

Ammihud looked sheepish.  “The hand of the arsonists was not revealed in my dream.”

“Nor in mine,” Joseph seconded.

“Say,” Caleb interjected.  “I had a dream too.  There was a… giant cat.”

“Cat?” Micah interrupted, his eyes narrowing.  “A cat, you say?”

Caleb was taken aback by this kind of attention.  “Um.  Yes.  I guess so.  I don’t remember much, I was, uh, I was sleeping at the time.”

Joseph turned and, stepping to the other side of the smaller man, put his hand on his shoulder.  “And what did this giant cat do?”

Caleb considered Joseph for a moment, then seemed reassured and continued, “It… lashed out with it’s claws and tore the Tabernacle to shreds.”

“Ha!” Ammihud exclaimed and slapped Maaz in the chest with the back of his hand.  “See there?  The Tabernacle, I tell you!

Maaz was about to answer when Barek, who was standing by the door, said, “Brothers, let us discuss this at another time.”

No one spoke as Mattan entered.  He was suddenly conscious of the silence and seven pairs of eyes on him.  He was at a loss to understand why.

“Pardon the delay.  My boy is… unaccustomed to service this time of the morning…” he offered, by way of explanation for the delay.

Six of the men took their seats.

Joseph said, “It is of no consequence, Mattan.  This day holds a difficult task before us and we would have it over with.  We wait at your leisure.”  With that, he turned and sat down, regarding Barek with a curious look.  What had prompted him to keep secrets from Mattan?  Joseph vowed he would find out later.

Idol Smashers – Part Four

caravan

“Idol Smashers” is a work of fiction set in the biblical era of the Judges.  Apart from persons mentioned in the Bible, it is entirely fiction and presented here in serial form strictly for the entertainment of my readers.  “Idol Smashers” is an original work, copyright Brett Best, 2011.

Day  One – Shiloh

(Previously in Idol Smashers: Judge over all of ancient Israel, Deborah addressed the men the Lord has chosen by lots.  She described a secret mission she needed them to undertake, to assess what she feared might be a  dangerous supernatural threat to their nation’s security.)

Each man silently gathered himself up and left the tent.  Immediately outside, in the path between the tents, Deborah’s servants had assembled a caravan presumably equipped with essentials for a short journey.  It was about fifty miles to Aphek, a journey that would, with the blessing, take a few hours to complete.

A donkey was provided for each man to ride and one more to pull a small cart that was covered with a cloth.  Jezreel marveled at the swiftness of these preparations.  As far as he knew, Deborah did not have an armory or storehouse, but all this material came from somewhere.

Maaz strode to the lead donkey and mounted up.  Micah was right beside him.  It was clear the two of them were used to one another, but how would all of them, strangers to one another, get along?  Jezreel shook his head to clear it of discouraging thoughts.  Now was the time for faith, not doubt, and he purposefully shouldered the pack that held his lyre.  Clambering aboard the nearest donkey, he set his eyes and his heart on the road ahead.

Deborah’s servant was clearly eager to get the caravan underway and did everything he could to get each man on a donkey and get the caravan moving, short of actual nagging.  It would have been unnecessary to goad these men anyway; the need for haste had already been impressed on them.  The giant, Barak, hesitated for but a moment as he was clearly too large for his mount.  He straddled the beast anyway and chose a position at the rear, riding behind the cart.  Caleb volunteered to take the cart donkey’s reins in one hand and his own with the other hand and said, “Let’s go.”

In a prayerful tone, Joseph said, “Let us go with God.”

The group started their journey.

Day One – Aphek

            With the festal days being observed in Shiloh, there was very little traffic along the road and all of it going in the opposite direction.  As they journeyed, there was little small talk among the men.  Discussions of the situation were discreetly left unsaid and absolute silence was observed while other travelers are met or passed.  With all this talk of intrigue and mystery, Jezreel felt an unsettling kind of paranoia descended on him and he surprised himself by the degree to which he was suspicious of others on the road.

Ammihud muttered to himself and was apparently rehearsing the facts of the situation as Deborah had presented them.  Presently, he regarded the back of Maaz with a doleful look.  “I wonder who he thinks he is?” he whispered.  “Deborah chose me to bear the scroll.  Was this not a sign that she had chosen me to lead this expedition?”  Being of short stature, Ammihud had too often been left a place in line behind taller men.  He resolved to assert himself among this group, to not be relegated to the rear.

“I think we should stop for a moment,” he said aloud, in his most commanding voice.  All eyes turned to him.

“To…ah.. allow the animals a respite, and…for us to take council together about our next step,” Ammihud offered.  Inwardly, he regretted his choice of words.  Thinking on his feet was not necessarily his best skill.

Maaz turned and regarded him with an intent look.  “Why stop?  We and the animals can be rested at Aphek, when we meet this Mattan.”

Ammihud took this as a challenge.  “True, but we’ve had no opportunity to take stock of our situation.  This is highly unsual.  Better to be well-planned.”  Ammihud looked around at the rest of the men.  Micah’s face bore a look of disinterest or perhaps he was prepared to follow Maaz’s lead.  The rest were noncommittal.  “Besides, I could do with a bite to eat.  There must be some food and drink under that tarp,” Ammihud said, pointing to the cart.

“I don’t like to tarry in the LORD’s work,” Maaz said flatly.  His eyes locked with Ammihud’s.  Neither man backed down for several seconds.  Finally, Maaz shrugged his shoulders, turned forward, and drove his donkey off the side of the road.

When they had dismounted, Barek patted Ammihud lightly on the shoulder and said, “A bit peckish myself.”  He untied the tarp and they men looked over the contents of Deborah’s provisions.  There were several jars of water, and baskets filled with flat loaves of bread, fig cakes and other provender.

Caleb took it upon himself to open the lone chest and found it contained a sack of silver coins.  He weighed it in his hands and said, “I’d guess there’s forty silver here.”  His eyes had a glitter that Ammihud disliked.

“Better keep that on the cart and under cover,” Ammihud advised.

Joseph looked over the small amount of trade goods and the shelters.  “Deborah is wise.  She has seen to our every need,” he said.

“Brothers,” said Jezreel, “Let us offer a psalm of thanks and have a meal while we talk.”

“A short meal,” Micah added.

Jezreel nodded, then led the men of Israel in a psalm of thanksgiving to their God.

The men sat in a circle and one of the jugs of water was passed around.  Then a loaf and a fig cake for each, as he wished.

They had eaten in silence for a few moments when Ammihud became aware that Maaz was looking at him.

“Well?” Maaz said.

“What?” Ammihud replied.

“He wants to know what you had to say that was so urgent we had to stop,” Micah explained.

Ammihud reached for another fig cake.  Taking a bite was an excuse to consider his words.  “I was wondering what you men thought we should do with these Heshonibites when we solve this mystery, determining their guilt or innocence.”

“I have already determined their guilt,” Maaz said.  “They are idolaters and idolatry is punishable by death.”

This was something the men had not wanted to think about.  Killing a whole village, particularly women and children, was not something they were eager to do.

“Yes…” Ammihud said, “but that’s something we all must decide together.  After all, Deborah did not designate any one of us as the leader.”

Maaz merely folded  his arms across his chest.

“But she did give me the scroll…” Ammihud said.

Micah snorted.  “That doesn’t make you chief.”

Joseph poured a portion of water onto the ground.  “Thus shall all pride disappear.  The LORD has chosen all of us.  We shall decide all together and work together to protect His people Israel.”

Barak said, “That is wisdom.”

A moment of awkward silence hung in the air, then Ammihud and Maaz nodded to one another.

As if he were unaware of anything untoward passing between them, Jezreel said, “So, once we’ve gone to Aphek and met this Mattan, do you suppose we’ll have time today to interview these Heshonibites?”

Caleb looked around at the sky gathered above them and observed, “The wind comes up.  What time does not prevent us from doing, weather may.”

“As the Lord wills,” Jezebel added.

“As the Lord wills,” Jacob agreed.

“I can see no other counsel we can keep here, until more is known,” Maaz offered.

“I agree,” Ammihud said.

In spite of his earlier irritation, Maaz found the little man amusing and he smiled.  “Good.  We can strategize more on the rest of the journey.  I propose we decide whether to see the village or the villagers first.”  With that, he stood to his feet.

The other men showed their agreement by also standing.  Caleb bound the tarp back on the cart after the supplies were returned to it.

Ammihud made a little bow to Maaz, “Shall we…?” he asked, gesturing to the road.

Maaz clapped him on the back, “After you, brother!”

With a laugh, each man mounted and they were off.

After a few moments, Barak said, “I vote for seeing the village first.”

Micah said, “Me too. How can we know their guilt without seeing the evidence?”

No one could offer an argument to that, except Joseph.  “The eyes of the villagers will offer a different kind of evidence.  The eyes are the windows to the soul.  We will be able to see the truth, no matter how they try to shutter it.”

Caleb ventured his opinion, “Perhaps that kind of insight comes to those with a gift of prophecy.  But for the rest of us, solid things reveal more.”

Some of the men murmured their assent.  Ammihud considered all this.  He started to say, “Then we will go to the village first,” but glanced at Maaz, riding beside him, and said aloud, “Are we agreed, then?  First to the village, then to the villagers…?”

Each man voiced his approval of this shape of a plan.

Micah and Maaz began to chat comfortably about one of Maaz’s children, a son he hoped to have soon matched and married.  Ammihud tired quickly of a conversation that included no one he knew and purposely reigned in his mount a bit until he fell back to ride alongside Joseph.

“Deborah said you came from the desert,” he stated in a leading tone.

“Are you asking or reminding me?” Joseph said, giving Ammihud a blank look he had perfected with years of practice.

Ammihud did not allow the look to deter him.  “Neither.  What I am wondering is if it was in the wilderness that the LORD gave you the wisdom with which you speak.”

Joseph sighed and considered the path ahead of them for a few moments before answering.  “It is both a gift and a burden.  The desert does open a man’s eyes to other sources of truth.”

“So you can look into a man’s eyes and see his soul?”

Joseph regarded Ammihud candidly.  “Yes.  But no one needs an oracle to see that you think you should lead this group.”

Uncomfortable and feeling a bit exposed, Ammihud said, “Deborah did give the scroll to me.”

“Who’s to say why a prophetess and judge does as she does?  Those who follow the will of Adonai can be as inscrutable as He.”

Ammihud drew himself up with a big inhalation.  “I pray your gift serves our mission when it is needed.”  When Joseph made no reply, Ammihud let the conversation lapse.

Jezreel began to sing a traveling psalm, his clear baritone voice carrying across the empty space.  One by one, these men of Israel joined him in the song.  Presently, Ammihud felt a lightening of his spirits.  It seemed to him as if this group of men, apparently hastily thrown together, might just be used of God.  Surely the One who directed Moses and Israel for forty years would direct them too.

They sang the psalm several times until Jezreel fell silent.  Joseph looked at Ammihud and smiled.  Ammihud returned the greeting with a nod of his head.

“There lies the city!” Maaz called out.

Ammihud spurred his donkey ahead.  “Remember,” he said to the men, “we are traders, bound for Joppa.  We seek out Mattan as a trade contact.”

They agreed to this contrivance as a necessary mask for the face of Deborah in this journey.  “Maaz, you will do the talking for us,” Ammihud said, too late in catching himself in giving an order.

Maaz laughed.  “You are the better talker, but I will do my best.”  Relaxed by the psalm they’d sung, the men readily laughed at the joke made at Ammihud’s expense.  His only reply was to reign in his donkey and line up next to Barak.  “I prefer your side, should a fight ensue,” he whispered up to the giant.

Barak was puzzled.  “Why would there be a fight?”

Ammihud’s tone became more conspiratorial.  “Because that abrasive man is always trying to start one!”

Barak returned his attention to the city’s gate.

As always, men stood outside the gate, gossiping, laughing, and arguing.  The city elders sat in shaded shelters, holding an informal kind of court.  This was very much the usual scene at the gate to a walled city.  It was a place where civic and commercial concerns were dealt with.

Men at arms sat atop the city walls, largely indifferent to what was below them.  Their eyes were instead on the approaching caravan.

A guardian of the gate set down a flask from which he’d been drinking and put on his leather helm.  He walked out to the middle of the road and waited for the caravan to stop.

Maaz held up an open palm and reined his donkey to a halt.  The others slowed and stopped their mounts too.

“Hail to the gates,” Maaz said, greeting the soldier and the men assembled.  It was the usual sort of greeting, a balance between enthusiasm and disdain.

“Hail travelers,” the guard replied.  “Do you mean to enter Aphek?”

“We do,” Maaz said.

“What is your business, stranger?” one of the elders asked loudly.  The guard rolled his eyes in disgust.  This elder was meddling in his business, but the guard had no means of redress.  Elders were to be respected; tolerated if necessary.

Holding forth as if he had not noticed the gate guardian’s reaction, Maaz merely said, “We are traveling to Joppa, to do some trading.  We mean to get some horses to ride on our return.”

“Your accent says you are an Ephraimite,” the elder ventured.

“Just so,” Maaz said.  “My partners and I met only this morning at the sacred tent.  We offered our sacrifices early and journeyed from there straightway.”

The soldier seemed satisfied with this, but the elder persisted.  “What is your business in Aphek?”

“We seek Mattan.  He was made known to us as a trader who ventures into Philistia on occasion.”

The elder’s wrinkled face betrays derision.  “Mattan.  He is within.  And a trader he is.”  The old man laughed a wry laugh, a sound not unlike stones scraping.  “One of Aphek’s finest.”  He made some kind of signal to the guard, who walked through the caravan to the cart.  When he made to loosen the rope holding it down, Caleb jumped down from his donkey.

“Let me assist you, brother,” he said.  Loosening only a corner of the cover, he showed the guard a bolt of cloth and a sack of household items.

“Thank you – brother,” the guard said.  A look passed between him and the elder.  He resumed his previous place in the middle of the street, ahead of the caravan.

“You will find him on the street named Crescent,” the suspicious-eyed elder intoned.  Waving at the other gate guardian on duty he said, “Move aside, Carmi.  Let them in.”

With a bow to the elder, the soldier returned to his shaded spot and removed his leather helm.

The way clear before them, the caravan passed into Aphek, greeting men at the gate as they entered.  To a casual observer, it was business as usual.  They found that Crescent Street received it’s name for the half-circle shape it took as it followed the city wall.

They had not gone far when a man suddenly appeared and stood in the street before them.  Maaz stopped his donkey and glared at the man.  Before Maaz could form a word of rebuke, the man said,   “Follow me, please, masters.  I am Mattan, your humble servant.”  With that, he turned off Crescent street, passing between two sizable homes.

Idol Smashers – Part Three

Israel

“Idol Smashers” is a work of fiction set in the biblical era of the Judges.  Apart from persons and places mentioned in the Bible, it is entirely fiction and presented here in serial form strictly for the entertainment of my readers.  “Idol Smashers” is an original work, copyright Brett Best, 2011.

Day  One – Shiloh

(Previously, in Idol Smashers 1 and 2: Deborah, Judge over Israel, has introduced her seven champions chosen by drawing lots, yet foreseen by her.  Now they will learn what the Lord wants of them.)

“Very good” Deborah said,  “You are all aware that I am in my thirty-seventh year of judging over Israel.”  She sighed.  “There are many who say I have overstayed my welcome.  That my arm grows short, my grip weakens.  The death of Barak four years ago has added to these rumors, given false courage to my critics.”

Taking a moment to look at each of the men in the council circle, Deborah smiled at a private thought.  It is a smile utterly without mirth and Jezreel felt a chill.  “I see from the half-concealed looks on your faces you have heard these slanders too.  I tell you – the Holy One is still with me.  I am still HIS judge over His people.”

Reaching for something behind her, Deborah showed the council a map that had been hand-tooled into an animal skin mounted on a frame.  She set it down in the middle of the circle so all could see it.

“Heshonib is a frontier village west of Aphek,” she said, pointing at an unnamed spot on the map.  The place is evidently just inland of the Great Sea, very near the Philistine city of Joppa.  It is an unremarkable village, a kind of melting-place where the border between Israel and Philistia blurs.  It would still be an unremarkable, unnoticed eyesore except for recent events that I shall now relate to you.”

Deborah paused and sat back.  Taking a sip from her cup, she continued, “These fools put Philistine idols in their homes and an Asherah pole on a hilltop overlooking them.  Where these idols came from, who is responsible for their being there, is knowledge no one is willing to admit having.  Just six days ago, something happened in this village, home to about sixty souls. Their home idols, their teraphim, burst open, burned and melted.  The Asherah pole caught ablaze.  All this happened in an instant.  The people fled, superstitiously believing that the gods of Philistia were expressing anger at them.  I believe the One True God has exposed their sin in this miraculous way, but more needs to be known before my judgment can be rendered.”

A slender index finger was raised and pointed around the circle.  “That is why I have called for men from the assembly, men whom the LORD has chosen.  You will go to Heshonib for me.  You will find out all you can, discern the LORD’s will, and, if necessary, act accordingly.”

Reaching behind herself again, Deborah handed Ammihud a leather scroll that bore her seal, the palm tree insignia indented in the clay.  “Here is your authorization, should any elders challenge you.  Bear this document as secretly as possible, however.  Reveal it only when you have exhausted all other options.  It is best for all that my hand in this matter be concealed until all is known and my judgment rendered.”

With a conspiratorial look, Deborah continued, “I chose this moment and this means of summons.  The elders will be occupied with the Yom Hakkippurim and the Feast of Tabernacles.  You may even be able to resolve the thing before the Feast is over.  This timing allows you to act and not the elders over you.  Had I summoned them to a council in the usual manner, many would know and be alerted to this incident.  Holding council with the elders of Israel is like telling secrets to the wind – what is said here is soon borne aloft for all to know.  You men of Israel have sworn yourselves to secrecy and I trust you.”

Jezreel felt a determination come over him, such as he had never felt before.  He resolved to serve the LORD and Deborah, his appointed Judge.  But still, her remarks about the elders were somehow disconcerting.  The inexperienced youth was idealistic, unaccustomed to the notion that elders could be self-serving in their leadership.

As if sensing the men’s mixed emotions, Deborah immediately added, “I can tell what some of you have questions.  Perhaps you are wondering, ‘What of the villagers of Heshonib?  What has kept them from telling this fearful tale and spreading this news all over Israel?’  Thanks to the Almighty for this gift – my man in Aphek saw the potential for trouble and has kept the Heshonibites in a remote place.  He has sheltered and fed them and told them that I myself am coming to see them about this incident.  However, if I leave Shiloh during the feast, suspicious elders will send men to spy where I have gone.  I remain to keep their attention on the festival.

“As for the Heshonibites, food and promises will placate them only so long.  That is another reason why haste must be made.  I have prepared a caravan: it is ready for you to depart this instant.  To all who ask, you are travelers bound for Joppa.  Traders in horse flesh or whatever seems best to you.  Of course, you are not bound for Joppa.  Stop instead at Aphek.”  Deborah pointed to another dot on the map, this one labeled as “Aphek.”  It is further inland from Joppa, more or less due east of it.

“In Aphek, seek out my man Mattan, who awaits you at the city gates.  Show him only the scroll and my seal, but not its contents.  The seal alone is sufficient to assure him that it is I who have sent you.  He will assist you in your investigations into this matter.”

The man called Micah objected, “But what about my family?  They have traveled with me here to Shiloh.  What will become of them when I leave?”

Deborah held up her open palm to silence him.  “I will see to all.  They will be under my protection and thereby under the wing of Adonai Himself.  Do not worry about a thing.”

With surprising force of personality, Deborah said intently, “My friends.  This is an opportunity for me to demonstrate to Israel that the Lord is truly with me; that His Spirit makes my hand strong as ever to judge over Israel.  If I am able to tell the elders how I have solved this miraculous mystery even as I tell them it has occurred, this will restore some of my stature in their eyes.  We all know how our people are quick to leave the Lord our God and seek after false gods, how they fall away when there is no strong Judge in Israel.  Do not do this for my sake, but for the people; to defend them from their own worst nature.”  Gauging each man’s resolve by the look in his eyes, Deborah concluded, “Have you any questions?”

This day has already held many surprises.  The stunning effect of Deborah’s words and their vows to secrecy seem to bind the men’s tongues.  None uttered a word.

Standing, Deborah indicated that they should rise too.  “Let us pray for your success – for wisdom from the Almighty.”

Each one, tentatively at first, but with growing intensity raised his voice in prayer.  Each offered different words, but hearts were attuned to the Lord and to one another.  Deborah began the recitation of the Shema and the seven joined their voices with hers.  “Go in haste but go safely,” she said and concluded with a blessing.

Idol Smashers (Part Two)

“Idol Smashers” is a work of fiction set in the biblical era of the Judges.  Apart from persons mentioned in the Bible, it is entirely fiction and presented here in serial form strictly for the entertainment of my readers.  “Idol Smashers” is an original work, copyright Brett Best, 2011.

token

Day  One – Shiloh

Previously: The ceremony of Yom Hakkipurim was mysteriously delayed by the Judge Deborah to select seven champions for an as-yet-undisclosed mission.

Jezreel and the six other men were hurriedly ushered into the tent beneath the banner of the palm tree.  This was the sign of Tomer Deborah, the place where Deborah has judged Israel for thirty-seven years.  With the Blessing, they had been years of peace and prosperity following the defeat and death of the Canaanite King, Jabin.

The faces of the six other men bore signs of concern mixed with lingering surprise.  Silently, Jezreel took his place in a council of eight, with Deborah herself standing at the head of the circle.  The honor of sitting at her right was not one that Jezreel sought for himself, but watched as she gestured for another of the seven to occupy that spot.  Surely Deborah knew best which of them was most worthy of the honorific.  The rest shuffled into place, the deciding of order being made silently and selflessly, not the usual way of men who are strangers to one another.  Jezreel felt this was a good sign.

Deborah bowed, and gestured for all to sit.  Remaining on her feet, she greeted each of the seven by name, then gestured for her servants to bring bowls for washing.

Amid those moments of hospitality, Jezreel looked about the circle.  Noticeably absent are any tribal elders.  Each of these men were younger, like himself.  Wondering at this unusual circumstance and why the LORD willed such a thing, Jezreel took in Deborah herself.  She looked burdened and tired.  There was little joy in her face, more so the kind of weariness that is truly known by those in leadership.

An uneasy silence shrouded the room as Deborah’s servants washed the men’s feet and anointed their heads with aromatic oil.  These typical acts of hospitality generally comforted travelers, but today they did not cut the apprehension of the room.  The familiar contrasted too strikingly with the unfamiliarity of this morning’s events.  Food and drink were served, all in the austere style that rumor said to be typical of Deborah.

After these acts of hospitality had been offered, Deborah conferred briefly with her chief servant.  Waving all the other servants and bodyguards from the tent, he carefully backed out himself.  The dismissal of the servants was also surprising, for Jezreel had never heard of councils taking place in such secrecy.

Deborah waited for the bustle to subside.  The seven men looked to one another, each face betraying bewilderment, seeking an explanation.  Jezreel certainly had none to offer.  His experiences as a shepherd in his father’s house and as a psalmist’s apprentice at Kodash had not included political intrigue.  Meetings of the council were secret to most Israelites, a reality that rarely affected their daily lives.  Authorities figures better known to the common Israelite were the heads of his family and clan.  Tribal elders were the highest level of authority, except for the times during which the LORD raised up judges.  Though the heathen nations around them had strong central governments, the people of God enjoyed decentralized authority.  The system worked because it was what the LORD had decreed and it kept Him as the sole King of Israel.

Finally, Deborah spoke, “Men of Israel.  I have summoned you to council wearing a robe of secrecy that I must ask you to don as well.  There must be no words taken from this tent until the matter is resolved.  I will now have your word on this.”

Again the seven look to one another.  Then Ammihud, the oldest-looking member of the group and the man at her right hand, said, “I so swear.”  Others around the circle give their oaths and Jezreel offered his.  Deborah looked upon each of them intently, as if she were able to peer into their hearts and judge their sincerity.  It was rumored that a prophetess had such an ability.  Deborah was recognized as a prophetess of the LORD and her God-given insight had no doubt aided her in the commission of her office as judge over all Israel.

She looked at the man to her right.  “Ammihud ben Elishama, man of Shuthelah and Ephraim.  You served Barak on occasion.  Your prophetic insight has aided our people.”  Ehud’s round face bore a look of great pleasure.  His eyes revealed intelligence and power within his short, stout frame.

“Maaz ben Zophar, man of Beker and Ephraim.  Your iron-shod goad,” she pointed to the staff-like weapon he had leaned against the wall of the tent behind him, “has served other judges over Israel. Adonai has shown his wisdom in choosing you.”

Gesturing to the man to Maaz’s left, Deborah asked, “Micah ben Shema, I understand you are something of a brewer and vintner.  Is this wine to your liking?”

Micah was obviously pleased to receive this kind of attention from Deborah.  “Well, ma’am,” he began, “I find it to be a little dry.  I wonder if the grapes were picked a bit before their maturity.  You see…”

Beside Micah, Maaz cleared his throat.  Interrupted, Micah fell silent.  Shrugging his shoulders a bit, he said “It’s fine.”

At this, Deborah laughed aloud.  “Micah, you allow your brother-in-law to lead you thus?  It is a man of true humility who follows a worthy man.  You are of the clan of Beker as well, are you not?”

Micah merely nodded his assent to this question and took another sip of wine.  It appeared that on subjects other than vine-dressing, he was a man of few words.

Deborah looked further down the circle.  “Barak ben Caleb.  You have come to us from Hanoch.  You are a man of stature in the tribe of Reuben.”  At this, there was muted laughter, for Barak was a giant of a man, over four cubits in height.

“I am honored to be chosen,” he said simply and bowed his head in salutation.

Deborah’s gaze turned to Jezreel next.  “This man is apprenticed to a musician.  Jezreel ben Abraham is studying to be a psalmist.  I have heard one of your compositions.  It is good you left the fields.  Adonai bless you.”

“I am told that Joseph ben Joseph, of Carmi in Simeon has emerged from the desert to demonstrate his own gift of prophecy.  Speaking with the voice of God is a great responsibility.  You must take this responsibility very seriously to still be unmarried at your age,” Deborah said with a wry grin.

Joseph did not take the bait.  He appeared to be one who had secrets and kept them.  He said tersely, “I am ready to serve.  The LORD is with us.”

“Blessed be the name of the LORD,” Deborah replied.

Finally, Deborah’s gaze fell on the man to her immediate left.

“I am Caleb ben Jeremiah, clan of Beker and tribe of Ephraim,” he blurted out.

Deborah’s smile helped to allay some of his tension.  “Yes, I know.  All of you had been revealed to me in a dream.  Although you,” she said pointing at Jezreel, “gave me a bit of a start when you at first refused to draw a token from the basket.”

“Um…” Jezreel began.

But Deborah waved away any further comment.  “Say no more, please.  Each of you has been chosen by our LORD.  Yet each of you must in turn choose to stay and hear His will.  Your courage and faith will be sufficient for this task, but you must choose it.”

Jezreel considered each face in the circle, mentally joining them to the names he’d heard spoken.  He observed the cross-section of tribes.  The nation was well represented in this group, though Ephraim had been favored, for some reason known to God alone.

Come back again for the next installment in this serial.

Idol Smashers

“Idol Smashers” is a work of fiction set in the biblical era of the Judges.  Apart from persons mentioned in the Bible, it is entirely fiction and presented here in serial form strictly for the entertainment of my readers.  “Idol Smashers” is an original work, copyright Brett Best, 2011.

Installment One – Worship Delayed

cohen

Day  One – Shiloh

No matter how many times he attended the Day of Atonement sacrifice at the tabernacle, Jezreel still found himself humbled by the experience.  At dawn on the tenth day of Tishri, the seventh month of the year, the high priest personally selected the bullock, sheep and goat for sacrifice and the scapegoat to be released into the wilderness.  He then withdrew to bathe and don his ceremonial garments.  Emerging from his tent, the high priest Ulla seemed to take on a supernatural glow as the morning light glinted off his ceremonial headdress and breastplate.  Jezreel felt the glory of the LORD radiate from within the twelve stones on the breastplate Ulla wore.

Surely the LORD Himself was powerfully present in this moment.  He was at hand to forgive the sins of his people, restoring them to Him.

The men of Israel, including Jezreel ben Ebed, moved closer. They were eager to see the sacrifices, to hear the words and be comforted in knowing that Israel was once more firmly in the hand of their God.

But on this Day of Atonement, this Yom Hakkipurim, the traditional words, the familiar words, were not spoken by Ulla.  Instead, expressions of surprise broke upon the faces of the worshipers as Ulla began, “Men of Israel, children of Abraham, heirs of Isaac, descendants of Jacob – before we begin this sacred moment, before the sacrifices, I have been prevailed upon to seek the LORD and ask Him to reveal seven of you whom He has chosen for a special act of service.”

Some were immediately indignant and cried out angrily, “What is this?  Is today not Yom Hakkippurim?  Why do you delay this most important moment?  Who orders such a thing to be done?”

Not bothering to hide the disdain in his voice, Ulla merely said, “The Judge over Israel…Deborah.”  It was no secret that Ulla believed Deborah had outlasted her jurisdiction in the time since Barak’s death.  Many gossiped about the arguments fought between Ulla and Deborah.  There was speculation that Ulla’s motive was more than the usual prejudice against women; it was his desire was to extend his own authority over the tribes of Israel.

An undercurrent of murmuring and growling conversations arose around Jezreel.  Ulla silenced them with a wave of his hands over his head.

“Deborah’s servants walk among you now with baskets filled with clay tokens.  Let all true-hearted men of Israel draw one token from the basket without looking.  Let all those who draw forth a white token hold it over his head.”

This strange request produced a new round of complaints and arguments, but Ulla only glowered in the direction of Deborah’s tent.  As a woman, she was not allowed to attend the sacrifices herself, but stood beside her tent, staying at a respectable distance.  The banner flapping above her tent depicted a palm tree, her symbol.  This standard identified the place where the Judge over all Israel currently resided.

Contrary to the high priest’s command, some men refused to draw a chit or even to touch the basket.  Their faces betrayed outrage at this break from tradition. They folded their arms across their chests to make their defiance even more clear.

Seeing some of his elders act this way, Jezreel hesitated when a servant approached, holding the basket high.  A look passed between them and the servant understood that Jezreel also refused to draw.  He moved away, holding out the basket to other men who did draw from it.  Jezreel instantly regretted his indecision, even though it seemed to him that he’d hesitated only for a split-second; the speed at which thoughts fly between hurried heartbeats.

Ulla raised his hand to indicate recognition of the first, second, third and fourth men to raise a white token over their heads.  As the servants continued to distribute the chits to all who would take one, Ulla motioned these four men to come to him.

Some minutes passed as the servants worked through the crowd of men.  A fifth hand was raised, bearing a white chit.  This man too was beckoned to Ulla’s side.  Nearly all of the men had been offered a chance to draw a clay token when the sixth hand went up.

Minutes later, the servants made their way to the front, bearing their baskets.  One of them conferred with Ulla in whispers.

Anger rising in his voice, Ulla shouted, “I have not made myself clear.  The sacrifice will NOT proceed until seven men have been chosen in this fashion.  Refusal to draw is NOT an option!”

Jezreel only half-heard Ulla remonstrating them as “stiff-necked fools, reeking of their own stubbornness” as he stepped forward.  Smitten by his earlier missed opportunity, Jezreel was resolved to do the right thing.  He shouldered his way past the men ahead of him and said, “I will draw.”

Chagrined by the interruption, Ulla fixed him with a look.  Speaking with clear irony he said, “At last, here is a true son of Israel.  One who knows how to obey the leadership of the LORD’s people.”

With a hurried wave of his hand, Ulla gestured one of Deborah’s servants forward.  The man stepped up and held the basket high enough to prevent Jezreel from looking within.

Drawing in a breath, Jezreel reached inside the basket and took the first token he touched.  Withdrawing it, he looked down to the palm of his right hand.  He held a clay token that had been painted white and bore the imprint of the palm tree.  Tomer Deborah.  The emblem of the palm tree under which she had judged Israel for more than a generation.

Jezreel had been chosen!  He raised the white token aloft in a gesture of triumph.  With a cry, the men of Israel rejoiced.

Ulla sullied the moment by angrily grabbing the baskets from the servants and throwing both the baskets and their tokens high into the air.  The small clay tokens scattered over the assembly.

“The LORD has spoken!” Ulla shouted.  “Let these men be removed to the tent of Deborah and may the LORD Almighty give strength to their right arms!”

The chief of Deborah’s servants, thus relieved of his basket, moved to Jezreel’s side and spoke softly to him.  “Man of God, please accompany me,” he said.  Repeating this to all those who bore the white tokens, the servant lead the group away from the worshippers.

A sudden pain of regret shadowed Jezreel’s heart as behind him Ulla intoned, “Let the faithful of Israel gather.  Our bodies having been cleansed, let us now be cleansed in our hearts.”   With these tradition-laden words the Day of Atonement ceremony began.  Jezreel realized that though the cleansing would include him, he would not, for the first of many years, not be a witness to the Yom Hakkipurim.

He Brought Down the House!

Please read Judges 16:23-31 in your Bible of choice.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Here’s a story illustrating the character of “macho men” like Samson.  It is a cautionary tale but entirely untrue.

“MISSING HIS LOVED ONE”

A husband went to the police station and told the officer on duty, “My wife is missing. She went shopping yesterday and hasn’t come home.”

The sergeant grabbed some paperwork and asked, “What’s her height?”

“Gee, I’m not sure. A little over 5 feet.”

“Weight?”

“Don’t know. Not slim, but not real fat.”

“Color of eyes?”

“Sort of brown, I think. I never really noticed.”

The sergeant sighed and asked, “Color of hair?”

“It changes a couple of times a year. Maybe dark brown, I can’t remember.”

“What was she wearing?”

“Could have been pants or shorts. I don’t know exactly.”

“Was she driving a vehicle or walking?”       “She went in my truck.”

“What kind of truck was it?”

“A 2016 Ford F150, King Ranch 4×4 with eco-boost 5.0 L V8 engine special ordered with manual transmission and climate controlled air conditioning. It has a custom matching white cover for the bed, which has matching aftermarket bed liner. Custom leather 6-way seats and “Bubba” floor mats. Trail King package with gold hitch and special wiring hookups, DVD with full GPS navigation, satellite radio receiver, 23 channel CB radio, six cup holders, a USB port, and four power outlets. I added special alloy wheels and off-road Michelins. It has custom running boards and indirect wheel well lighting.” At this point, the husband started choking up.

The sergeant consoled him, “Don’t worry buddy, we’ll find your truck!”

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/price-of-haircut–devils-barbershop-john-gaston-sermon-on-cost-of-sin-202944?ref=SermonSerps

There’s a modern day Samson, right? The point of Samson’s life is that God’s plan will be accomplished.  Our life will be vastly improved if we cooperate with His plan rather than oppose Him with our sin.

The end of Samson’s life accomplished more than the middle.

  1. V. 22 = the short-sightedness of the Philistines.

Satisfied with finally capturing Samson, the Philistines let his hair grow.  The point is not the hair, but obedience to God.  The text does not tell us how long Samson was imprisoned, but if the average person’s hair grows at a rate of eight inches a year, then some time may have passed.

  1. The Philistines held a party to mock Samson (23-25).

The five rulers of the capitol cities gathered to humiliate their foe (23).   Ostensibly, the party was held to OFFER A GREAT SACRIFICE TO DAGON THEIR GOD.  DAGON was an idol worshiped by more than one of the pagan cultures bordering Israel.  Every year at harvest time they held a national gathering in Gaza, so Samson may or may not have been the guest of honor at this party.

The real reason was to CELEBRATE, as they said, “OUR GOD HAS DELIVERED SAMSON, OUR ENEMY, INTO OUR HANDS.” Modern people tend to interpret events scientifically; we think about cause and effect.  Ancient people interpreted events theologically; struggles between nations were at the same time struggles between the gods.  Whoever won the war had the stronger gods.  However, the truth was that Samson’s capture was not Dagon’s victory; rather, God abandoned Samson to his enemies.

They gave Samson a bit more credit than he deserved: “WHO LAID WASTE TO OUR LAND AND MULTIPLIED OUR SLAIN” (24). We should remember 15:3-5, where Samson destroyed at least part of one year’s harvest.  The fire may’ve been widespread.  So he did lay at least part of their land to WASTE.  Regardless of the truth of these charges, it is clear the Philistine people hated Samson and celebrated his current low circumstances as just punishment.  Also in chapter fifteen, you recall Samson killed 1000 Philistines, which does qualify for at least part of multiplying their SLAIN.

It is certain they were in HIGH SPIRITS (25).  They demanded Samson be brought in to ENTERTAIN them.  The word translated as ENTERTAIN meant to “play with” or “amuse one’s self with” something.  This mocking and scorning of Samson is the first demonstration of how the Philistines really hated Samson.

What does the text mean when it says Samson PERFORMED FOR THEM?  It means Samson acted in much the same way a bear does when people stoop to abusing the bear in “bear baiting.”  Samson performed so well he literally “brought the house down.”

  1. Samson fulfilled God’s promise for his life in his death (26-31).

It appears Samson had something other than a good performance in mind (25-26).  Having been blinded (21), he could not pick them out himself, so Samson asked to be guided to the pillars that bore the load of the temple’s roof.  Archaeology has supplied evidence of ancient structures that were based on two pillars giving primary support to the roof.  In this instance, the structure was made more unstable by the weight of 3000 people on the roof.

The specific nature of this request indicates that Samson is thinking strategically again.  It would have been easy to hear the shouts of the people around and above him.

The text tells us that the temple was crowded with people, setting the stage for what would follow.  There were 3000 people just on the roof, THREE TIMES more than Samson killed with the jawbone of a donkey (ch. 15).  V. 28 is the second recorded prayer of Samson and he’s asking for nothing more than revenge. This is disappointing.  After all he’s suffered, Samson still doesn’t understand. The entire chapter is devoted to the acts of violence Samson perpetrated because he wanted revenge for various slights and offenses.  I’ll grant you having one’s eyes gouged out is a serious thing, but it’s not worth killing thousands of people.  The prayer is still very self-centered as well; the word ME is used three times and MY used once.  All of that in one verse.

In the final act of his life, Samson got the revenge he desired. What’s confusing is that Samson’s great strength returned, but the Lord is not credited with endowing Samson.  The Spirit is not mentioned in the way that he has been previously.  BUT, as this is the way it’s been done before, I think we can assume the Lord answered Samson’s request with a “Yes.”

What counts is the result: Samson used his strength to pull the temple down on himself and his enemies (29-30).  It was a murder/suicide that surely made the evening news.  Somehow Samson  moved the massive pillars off their bases with his bare hands.

His declaration “LET ME DIE WITH THESE PHILISTINES!” measures both Samson’s anger and his depression.  He did not want to live as a blinded workhorse, a helpless captive to the wrath and scorn of his enemies.

THUS HE KILLED MANY MORE WHEN HE DIED THAN WHILE HE LIVED is a depressing statement isn’t it?  Because Samson wasted the gifts God gave him, he accomplished more of God’s will by dying than he ever did in life.  In fact, some time later, the losses inflicted solely by Samson helped the Israelites defeat the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:7-14).

Verse 31 is Samson’s epitaph.  He got a good burial.  The words BROTHERS and FAMILY here convey a larger group than Samson’s parents.  A good number of Samson’s people braved the trip to Gaza to retrieve Samson’s remains.  I assume this was at some personal risk, even though Samson killed the entire Philistine government with his one act.  His was the third-longest judgeship over Israel, leading the nation – sorta – for 20 years.  (V. 31 is a repeat of 15:20.)

Here’s how Herbert Wolf summarized the life of Samson; “Samson was ranked among the heroes of the faith (Heb. 11:32).  Yet he failed to live up to his great gifts.  Unable to conquer himself, he was ruined by his own lusts.  He stands as a tragic example of a man of great potential who lacked stability of character.  Still, God in his sovereignty used him.”  (the Expositor’s Bible Commentary #3, p. 479.)

The end of Samson’s life accomplished more than the middle.

In a sermon preached last year, Pastor John Gaston asked a great question; “What’s the price of a haircut in the devil’s barber-shop?”  In Samson’s case, the haircut in question cost him his eyesight, his freedom, and ultimately, his life.  His last act of disobedience was the culmination of a lifetime wasting the gifts of God on self-centered and sinful pursuits.

It’s easy to criticize Samson because he makes it so easy.  His sins are gross and obvious and excessive.  But we need to be careful.  Just because our sins are subtle, concealable, and contrived does NOT mean they are any less deadly in consequence than Samson’s.  As with all persons whose stories are told in the Bible, we must hold them up as a mirror to our own souls and pray for God to reveal any similar shortcomings.  Sins like gossip, back-biting, complaining, and lying are no less deadly than any of the things Samson did.  God regards them as equally serious.

As we conclude this series on Samson, we will fail to put these chapters to godly use if we don’t compare ourselves to Samson.  For example, we are gifted by God.  It is not with supernatural strength, but we are gifted in many other, less spectacular, ways.  What are we – as individuals and as a church – doing with our gifts?

Can we honestly say that we are joyous partners with God in using His gifts to accomplish His will?  Or are we wasting our gifts and our time satisfying ourselves?  Do we serve God with our days or are we indulging in sin, making excuses and winking at our misbehaviors.

We’ve had our fun with Samson, rightly noting the ridiculous excesses of his behavior and attitudes.  We must end this series with unflinching honesty as we look to ourselves.  If we walk down Samson’s path, we must confess and repent and choose God’s way instead.

Samson Didn’t Know How to Pick ‘Em

(Please read Judges 16:1-22 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but life is better when we obey Him.

Samson did not have success choosing the women in his life; he did NOT know how to pick ‘em.  Remember the Philistine bride he left at the altar in ch. 14?

Speaking of picking them, I read recently of similar relationship issues: a daughter texted her dad the following: “Daddy: I am coming home to get married soon, so get out your check book.  I am in love with a man who is lives far away, in Scotland.  We met on a dating website, became friends on Facebook, and had long chats on Whatsapp.  He proposed to me on Skype, and now we’ve had two wonderful months of relationship on Viber.

“My beloved and favorite Dad, I need your blessing, good wishes, and a really big wedding.  Lots of love and thanks, Lilly.”

The father replied with a text which read: “My dear Lilly.  Like wow!  Cool!!  I’d suggest you get married on Twitter, have fun on Tango, buy your kids on Amazon, and pay for all of it with Paypal.  Oh, and when you get fed up with this new husband, you can sell him on Ebay.  No need to thank me.  Lots of love, Dad.”

Today we’ll begin the final chapter of Samson’s story.  We’ll add two more sins to add to the tally, including the one that brought Samson to his end.

The story of Samson has had its humorous moments and we’ve had some fun pointing them out along the way.  But Samson’s life is also tragic; a tale of wasted time and potential.  He was gifted beyond most people in history, but taking his gifts for granted, Samson wasted time working for himself and disobeying God.

Let’s face a sobering fact: God is going to do what He has promised He will do.  We have the choice to join God in what He is doing or waste our lives on sin and selfish pursuits.  The choice is – as always – ours.

  1. Samson Sin #6 = Patronizing a Prostitute.

Samson made a bad decision and put himself in danger (1-2). Patronizing prostitutes is condemned in Scripture; it is morally dangerous.  For example, Proverbs 9:13-18 used a prostitute as a symbol of FOLLY and pointed out the foolishness of trusting one.  In 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, Paul singled out uniting with a prostitute as a particularly bad sin.  We have not seen in Samson much wisdom about relationships.  But this choice of partners is a new low in foolishness.

Samson put himself in physical danger by going all the way to Gaza, which was one of the capital cities of the Philistines.  It was surrounded by fortifications that worked to trap enemies INSIDE as well as to keep enemies OUTSIDE.  (That’s why the bit about the CITY GATE is important.)  Gaza was located 45 MILES from Samson’s home.  He really went out of his way to find trouble.

Verse two says THE PEOPLE OF GAZA WERE TOLD that Samson was within their walls.  Who told them?  Presumably, the prostitute or someone connected with her.  Or maybe Samson was so reckless as to make his presence public knowledge.  In either case, Samson’s enemies prepared to trap Samson in their city and kill him.  They surrounded the house and staked out the CITY GATE.

Having made these preparations, they then MADE NO MOVE DURING THE NIGHT, intending to kill him by day.  This seems like poor strategy to me, but they may have been so overconfident they believed they could afford to wait.  Or, more likely, they waited until the entire city was out and about; more people would see and applaud their vengeance against “public enemy #1.”

Samson relied on his strength to get out of danger and mock his enemies (3).  Samson was not surprised to find the enemy gathered outside the brothel.  He waited until the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, when sleep and boredom would distract the soldiers watching the house.

Demonstrating he was as stealthy as he was strong, Samson got out of the house and to the gates of the city.  There he yanked the massive gates out of the wall and carried them off to the top of a hill facing Hebron.

This is obviously a feat of supernatural strength.  Those gates, with all the connected woodwork, have been calculated to weigh between five and ten TONS.  Besides which, Samson carried them 36 miles and up 3,200 feet in elevation!

Why go to all that trouble?  Samson did this to rub the Philistines’ noses in their defeat.  They thought they had Samson dead to rights, but he made escape look easy.  Of course, we know this is another case of God bailing Samson out of trouble he’d created for himself.

  1. Samson Sin #7 = Sleeping with the Enemy.

What does the text tell us about Delilah (4+5)?  She lived in the Valley of Sorek, the same place Samson and his parents lived.  Delilah meant “amorous, temptress, delight, and devotee” in Hebrew.  This clue may suggest she was a temple prostitute.  Functioning as a priestess, Delilah may have used sex as a means of worshiping their false gods.  Just in case you thought Samson’s choice of the Gaza prostitute was the worst ever.

Samson FELL IN LOVE with her.  While this sounds different from vs. 1-3 and his engagement in ch. 14, it is clear that Delilah was still a bad choice for love interest.  Samson had “relationship issues.”

Samson paid no attention to his past (ch. 14) or present, and was thereby duped by Delilah (6-20).

The RULERS OF THE PHILISTINES have learned a lesson.  In chapter fourteen they threatened Samson’s fiancé.  Here, the made Delilah an attractive offer for her cooperation in capturing Samson. They each offered her 28 POUNDS of silver.  That translates into $7,804.16 in today’s market.  (That’s 28 lbs. X 16 oz. = 448.  448 oz. X $17.42/oz. = $7804.16.)  3:3 said there were 5 leaders of the Philistines, so that’s a grand total of $39,020.80!

Their aim is betrayed in the word SUBDUE.  In the original language that refers to subjecting someone to hard labor.  In my opinion, this is why the Philistines decided to capture Samson, not kill him.  Killing him would make a martyr of him and might cause the Israelites to revolt, but humiliating him might discourage resistance.

Samson’s first game of wits is recorded in verses six through nine.  Samson must’ve really been blinded by love; otherwise you’d think a question like Delilah’s in v. 6 would make a fella pretty suspicious.  Maybe Samson was suspicious, and that’s why he lied to her.

And what a lie.  What’s up with the BOW STRINGS?  Nothing.  My guess is he settled on the first thing he could think of that Delilah wouldn’t have in her closet.  We’ve already seen how clever Samson was with riddles and poems, so we know he can think on his feet.  Of course, the bowstrings weren’t at all effective in restraining Samson.

Later on, Delilah worked while Samson slept, but in this first game he is awake and allows her to bind him.  Why would he allow such a thing?

In the first three verses we saw Samson’s recklessness and arrogance.  It’s no stretch of imagination to see him as amused by Delilah’s actions.  That’s why I call these incidents “games of wits;” he was playing her.

Notice that when the trap is sprung (8-9), the Philistines are HIDDEN IN THE ROOM.  Though he might suspect the Philistines are using Delilah, Samson has no visual evidence.  (You’d think the feet sticking out the bottom of the curtains would be a dead give-away wouldn’t you?)

Samson’s second game of wits (10-12).  Though the text does not tell us any time passed between these events (just between the third and final game of wits – see verse sixteen), I have to believe that we’re looking at a set of events that happened over several days.  After all, what kind of lady has unused bow strings and new rope just lying about?

Just as Samson’s previous love interest had done (14:16), Delilah went into pout and nag mode (11); complaining, “YOU HAVE MADE A FOOL OF ME.”  Samson offered another lame lie.  NEW ROPE had already failed to incapacitate him (15:13-14), but Delilah apparently didn’t know that and fell for this second deceit of Samson’s (12).

Samson’s third game of wits (13-14).  Delilah makes it clear she doesn’t like being made a fool (13) but she makes it so easy for Samson.  He uses the number seven for a second time but gets closer to the truth by mentioning his hair.  This time Delilah waited until Samson slept to fall for the third lie.  When awakened, he jumped up and pulled his hair out and the loom apart.

Samson loses his wits (15-20).  Vs. 15+16 sound like 14:16; why didn’t Samson learn?  “YOU WON”T CONFIDE IN ME” is literally, “Your heart is not with me.”  That was true.  What he would not do for love, Samson finally did for relief from Delilah’s nagging; he told her the truth (17).  My guess is he tired of the game.  He was SICK TO DEATH OF IT.

Somehow Delilah was convinced that at last Samson told her the truth and she arranged her final betrayal (18).  The Philistines came back later (the fact that they’d left may imply they’d lost patience with her), with their bribe in hand and a barber in tow.  Why Samson trusted this woman enough to sleep around her is hard to explain, but he did it twice at least.  The barber came in and sheared Samson as he slept (19).

When she woke him, Samson, in his arrogance, believed that he was still invulnerable and would shake off the latest set of bonds.  Here’s a sad statement: BUT HE DID NOT KNOW THAT THE LORD HAD LEFT HIM (20).

Why did the Lord take His Spirit from Samson?  The better question is, “Why didn’t the Lord take His Spirit sooner?”  Samson’s character doesn’t bespeak someone worthy of all this divine assistance.  But rather than see this as a punishment, we have the benefit of hindsight and can see God had a higher purpose here: to get Samson in the middle of the Philistine leadership where he could do the most damage.  Once again, we’re seeing how God overcame the disobedience of Samson but still used him to fulfill the purpose He’d stated before Samson’s birth (13:5); to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

Later in Israel’s history, this same fate would befall King Saul for the same reason: arrogant defiance of God and taking His Spirit for granted (1 Samuel 16:14).  Both ended tragically.

The vengeance of the Philistines is terrible but short-sighted (21-22).  It was terrible to gouge out his eyes, chain him, imprison him, and set him to work grinding grain, which was humiliating because women and donkeys were used to run small and large grain mills (21). They literally added injury to insult by gouging out his eyes.  The Israelites counted blind people among lepers and others who were “walking dead,” not really people any more.

But they were short-sighted in that they didn’t have the barber come back to the prison; Samson’s hair started growing back again (22).  There was nothing magical about the hair.  The hair is not the point.  The point is obedience to the Nazirite vows that Samson had observed since birth.  The growing back of his hair is more like a symbol of Samson’s repentance.  At his lowest moment, Samson finally saw that cooperation with God was a lot easier than defying Him all the time.  It’s too bad he had to suffer blindness, imprisonment and the rest.  His life would’ve been so much better if he’d kept God as his focus instead of himself.

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but life is better when we obey Him.

In a way, Samson is a symbol of what we men typically go through – we lose our hair and our strength at about the same time!

The irony of Samson’s life is that his great physical strength stood in contrast to his great moral weakness. The bottom line: don’t repeat Samson’s mistakes.