Idol Smashers #9

bible battlers

“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 Two – Aphek

 (Previously, in Idol Smashers: The unexpected appearance of an idol animated by demon allowed some of the Heshonibites to temporarily escape their fate.  The men of Israel quit the cave and return to Aphek to rest and recover.)

The sun was in descent by the time the weary and wounded trudged into Aphek.  Maaz’s waterskin had been slashed during the battle; he didn’t remember when.  But it didn’t matter as everyone shared freely of their supply of water.  The remainder of Micah’s wine had been poured on wounds, in spite of his sputtering about “waste.”  The city did not come into view soon enough to suit them.

Upon their return to his home, Mattan plopped himself down on cushions and reached for a little golden bell.  He rang it and waited.  Nothing happened.  He rang it again, more forcefully.  Still nothing.  He rang it loudly until Joseph sat down next to him and gently put his hand on Mattan’s, stopping the peals.

“It appears your servant is elsewhere,” he said slowly.  “I’d appreciate it if you would not ring that anymore.  It resounds like a gong in my aching head.”  He reclined against a wall and closed his eyes.

“What am I to do, master?” Mattan asked, almost pleadingly.  “Who will go to get the healer?”

Barek offered to help Micah sink into a cushion, but was rebuffed by the proud man.  He turned to Mattan.  “I will go.  My stride is long and he will be here all the sooner.”

Mattan bowed his head in response, obviously relieved.  “Very well, my master.  I regret that little dog of mine has run off.  He will be punished; I assure you of that.”

Waving away his concerns, Barek said, “Never mind.  Where is the healer?”

“Simply go to the market and ask anyone there for Sharon.  She is well known.  Anyone can direct you.”

Caleb approached Barek slowly, a little cautious of the giant who had performed so ferociously in battle.  “I’ll go with you,” he offered.

Barek merely nodded in response and the two men went out the front door.

After a pause, everyone else sat down and made themselves as comfortable as they could. Mattan spoke to Samuel in a brusque voice, “Samuel, you had better get back home.  Your parents will be looking for you.”

The youth’s face bore a conflicted, thoughtful expression.  “No, sir.  I want to stay and hear about these men and Deborah.  I am one of you, now.  I believe I have earned the right.”

Mattan’s face became more florid.  “Earned…?  Now listen, boy…”

Maaz’s eyes snapped open and he fixed Mattan with a look that would have melted bronze.  “You will not address this man as you would a servant,” Maaz said in a low voice.  “He fought beside us this day.  The LORD used his arm to vanquish many idolators.  I say he has become one of us!”  Maaz looked around the room at each of his comrades.  Joseph’s eyes were closed and he appeared asleep.  Ammihud looked for a moment as if he might offer argument, then shrugged.  The others gave their agreement.

“There you are, Samuel ben Abram.  You are a man of Israel and no longer Mattan’s lackey.  You are now one of us.”

Rebuffed, Mattan folded his arms across his chest and appeared as if he might actually pout.  It had not been his day.  For once, he kept his tongue still.

Mattan’s discomfiture prompted one of Maaz’s rare laughs.  “As Ammihud is a man of many words, he will now tell you the tale. “

Though a cubit or two smaller than Maaz, Ammihud showed him he was capable of delivering a withering look too.

He heard his own voice begin almost independent of his thoughts as he turned his gaze to Samuel.

“It began yesterday, at Yom Hakkipurim…” Ammihud said.

 

After a lengthy conversation, Mattan’s back door burst open suddenly.  The dozing merchant was startled and cried, “My masters!”

The men looked with some surprise on Barek, who strode into the room carrying a struggling form.

“Let go of me, you big bully!” a shrill, young voice cried.

Joseph opened one eye.

“Barek, what have you got there?” he asked wearily.  “It makes much noise.”

The giant Israelite shook the small person he carried as easily as others might carry a sack of bread.  “Stop squirming and squealing,” he said.  Then he nodded to Caleb who took the hint and shut the door.

“If I let you go, will you not try to run?”

The form went limp, then the hooded head nodded.

As soon as its feet touched the floor, it broke out in a sprint for the door but found Caleb waiting there.  Although Caleb was half Barek’s size, he had a few pounds on the stranger and threw him away from the door and into Mattan’s lap.

The merchant chuffed as the air was knocked out of him, but the Barek’s prisoner was soon off him and on his feet again in the middle of the room.  A knife appeared in his hand.

“This dog has teeth,” Maaz said indolently.

“Why bring it here?” Micah asked.  “This isn’t the healer, is it?”  Under his breath, he whispered to Maaz, “I thought the fop said the healer was a woman.”

“Funny you should mention that,” Barek said.

Mattan wondered who “the fop” was supposed to be.

Jezreel sighed.  “This would be entertaining if my head didn’t hurt so.  What’s going on, Barek?”

The big man laughed.  “Took Caleb’s purse,” he said, tipping his head at his prisoner.

“Tried to…” Caleb corrected.  “I’d have gotten it back in a moment.”

This prompted another chuckle from Barek.  “Got a very light touch this one.  When I got ‘im and yanked off this,” he said, untying a bronze helmet from his sash.  “I found out why he’s got light fingers.”

The small figure still crouched, still looking anxiously around the room for some means of escape. Barek said, “Put away that toy.  You’re in a room of warriors.”  When the dagger reluctantly disappeared, the form straightened.

“Pull back your hood.”

A sigh emanated from under the hood before a pair of hands came from underneath the robe and lifted the hood.

Thus unveiled was the face of a woman!  A very beautiful woman indeed!  She had the prettiest, most innocent face Barek believed he had ever seen.

Both of Joseph’s eyes popped open.  And widened.  It was as if he’d awakened to a dream.  Here was a woman of great beauty, all the more beautiful for the wild, hunted look in her eyes.  She was more comely even than Rizpah, whose love and loss had first driven him into the desert.

The boy now exposed to be a woman looked all around the room.  When she saw how Joseph stared at her, the two lace-like brows above her dark eyes furrowed.

“Have you never seen a woman before?” she sneered.  “You gaze upon me as if I were made of gold!”

The rebuke startled Joseph from his reverie.  Looking at the amused expressions on the faces around the room, Joseph’s face reddened.

“Ah.  You startled me is all.”

“The only thing wrong with her teeth are the hard words that pour forth from them,” Caleb said.  He had become wary of the creature after she landed a swift kick when he’d gotten too close.

Joseph quickly gathered his wits.  “I… I did not expect Barek to bring us a woman in a man’s guise.”

Ammihud was not above seeing the humor in Joseph’s discomfiture.  “Yes, Barek.  Tell us how you left to find a healer and bring back a heel-biter?”

Barek joined in the laughter about the room.  “I said she had a light touch.   From across the market I saw her lift Caleb’s purse without disturbing the folds of his robe.”

“I was just about to take care of it,” Caleb said, trying to defend himself.  He was regaled with hoots of derision.

“I picked the struggling boy… I thought she was a boy wearing his father’s helmet…when I picked her up off the ground, the helm came untied and out spilled a woman and all her hair besides.”

Caleb strode into the middle of the room and continued the tale.  “After I retrieved my money, I searched her own sack and found this…”  He dumped the contents of a rucksack onto Mattan’s floor.  Out spilled a sickle, a sling and bag of stones, a waterskin, some bits of food, a red robe, and four purses!

The woman fell to the floor and scrambled to get all these possessions back into the rucksack which she snatched from Caleb’s hand.  “These are MY THINGS!” she cried.  “They are all that stand between me and Sheol!  You have no right to them!”

“A red robe,” Maaz observed thoughtfully.  “You wish to appear as a man but you have a woman’s  robe to wear when the bloody days of the month come.”

Her fiery gaze tore into Maaz.  “I wear that when I want to be left alone.  Men will not try to have me or even touch me when I wear that robe,” she explained.

Maaz suddenly snapped his fingers and then pointed at her.  He did not find this amusing and now he knew why.  “The Law says, ‘A woman must not wear man’s clothing, nor a man wear woman’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this’.  She has violated the LAW!”

Joseph exhaled slowly.  He searched his own memory of the Scriptures.  Having memorized the Torah as a youth and studied it as a man, his mind went quickly to the scroll and the passage Maaz quoted.

“True,” he said, “but there is no specific punishment stipulated for this sin.”

Now Ammihud’s academic side went to work.  “That’s so, but other things that the LORD detests call for stoning.”

A sigh escaped the woman’s lips and she seemed to fold upon herself.  She sat on the floor with a thump and slowly gathered her rucksack to her chest.  “Men of Israel.  Always so eager to solve their problems with a stone.”

This sobered the men in the room and they thought silently.

Finally, Jezreel spoke.  “It is almost sundown.  There can be no stoning, for the elders at the gate have gone to their homes.  This seems to me to be a point of concern, both for the Law and the woman.  Perhaps we should think…and pray about it this evening.”

“We can’t just let her go!” Caleb protested.  “Whatever she’s pretended to be, she is a thief!”

“Would you cry for justice as loudly if it was my purse she lifted?”  Barek reproached his brother Israelite gently.

“Of course,” Caleb said definitively, but with slightly less enthusiasm.

“My masters,” Mattan said slowly.  “You cannot consider keeping her here.  A woman alone among all these men.  In my home!  The scandal…”

“I’m not concerned about the niceties of your reputation, Mattan!”  Maaz said as he stood to his feet.  He reached down and gathered up a bit of the woman’s cloak.  The cloth felt rough and was dirtied by the dust of the road.  “This one is a wanderer and a thief and the LORD alone knows what else.  She must remain in our custody until morning.  Let the elders of this city decide her fate.”

Looking around the room, Maaz saw agreement on each face.  He turned to Mattan last of all and said to him, “You will arrange a suitable chaperone.  None of us will be stained by association with this unclean thing!”

Mattan opened his mouth as if to protest these unfair demands, but thought the better of it, and shut his mouth.  He nodded, then began to think about who might be available and could trusted to protect his reputation.

Maaz returned to his seat and attempted to melt the offending woman with his gaze.

He was surprised when Micah leaned forward and with tenderness asked her, “What is your name, child?”

A defiant look returned to her perfect face.  “Ruth,” she replied, then began to plait and braid her hair.

The men looked away, as this was a private act and a woman with her hair down in the middle of all these men not her family was unseemly enough.

“Ruth.  I had a sister by that name,” Micah said wistfully.  Maaz was flummoxed.  He knew Micah well and knew of no such sister.  But Maaz did not know everything about Micah.  “She died shortly after birth,” Micah explained.  “No one is going to stone you.  But you understand why we can’t just let you go.”

“If you won’t let me go, then feed me!  I’m hungry!”

“Ha!” Barek laughed.  “So am I!  Mattan, have you nothing to eat around here?”

Startled from his thoughts, Mattan jumped to his feet, then had to be steadied by Caleb.  “Fie on that boy!” he exclaimed.  “I shall get us a supper, my masters!  I am a good cook myself and need no help to prepare us a strengthening repast!”  He gestured to the cushion he’d vacated and to the remaining place in the circle.  “Please, please be seated,” he said, suddenly eager to please.

The back door exploded and Mattan’s servant sped into the room, then stopping in an equal hurry when Mattan lashed out, clutching the collar of his tunic.  “There you are, boy!  Where have you been?” he hissed.

“The healer comes!” the boy uttered between gasps.  He pointed to Balek.  “The giant found me with friends in the marketplace and told me to fetch her!”

As if on cue, there came a knock at the door.  Mattan’s eyes narrowed.  “Go answer the door, then.”  He half-released, half-threw the boy toward the door.  He winced at the discomfort this angry action caused his wounded side.

Scrambling around Caleb and Barek, the boy ran nimbly to the door and opened it.

A crone occupied the space, attended by a young man.  “May the house of Mattan be blessed,” she said, entering.  “I am told there is need of a healer.”  Her gaze fell upon Ruth, seated demurely in the circle of men.  “Who is it that needs me?” she said.

 

Day Three – Aphek

 

Breakfast centered around a debate about Ruth’s helmet – whether on not it should be returned to her before they took her to the gates of the city.  It was decided that it would be given back to her, as the evidence was more damming in the possession of the accused.

A couple of meals and a good night’s sleep had tempered Maaz’ insistence that she be stoned immediately, and he even agreed to let Jezreel present the whole matter to the elders.  Jezreel was gifted with words; he could even read and write them!

Last night the healer had vowed her silence to Mattan after he graced her palm with some shekels.  She’d stayed the night with Ruth as chaperone and after breakfasting to an extent that rivaled even Barek’s voluminous appetite, she bid them the blessing and departed.

Though his provisions and pocket were thus lightened, Mattan was confident his reputation would survive this ordeal intact and was generous in his good humor.

“Soon the elders will arrive at the gates, my masters,” he cooed.  “Then we can dispense with this matter and return to rest and let our wounds heal.”

“Rest?” Maaz growled.  “There will be no rest.  We have but today and tomorrow before we must resolve this matter else the tabernacle itself will be threatened.

Joseph tore his gaze away from a surreptitious look at Ruth.  He arched an eyebrow.  “What?” he said.  “I thought you gave no heed to dreams.”

“I didn’t.  Until I had one myself.  Last night.”

“You had a dream?” Ammihud asked, not quite trusting his ears.

“Yes, I had a dream.  Is that so difficult for you two to accept?”

Ruth looked confused.  This was a strange topic of conversation, but she’d learned by listening there was something going on with these men.  Her ears were as sharp as her eyes and curiosity had long been a failing of hers.

“I dreamed that the figure – the stick man on the idols – became alive.  He danced about me and taunted me.  He told me I was too dull-witted to divine his purpose, and then he ran off to Joppa.”

Thoughtful faces and silence were their response to Maaz’s dream.

“So we go to Joppa.  Today.  Though our cuts may run crimson again, we cannot delay.”

“You will not be taunted, brother,” Micah said, smiling.

“No, I will not.”

 

They had scarcely prepared to leave – Joseph’s hand was on the latch – when someone banged on the door from the other side.

“Who is there?” Joseph said without opening the door.

“I am Seth.  I am here for Mattan.  Is he at home?” said a young voice from the other side of the door.

Bowing to everyone that he jostled his way past, Mattan took Joseph’s place at the door and opened it.  Outside there stood a boy who quickly touched his lips and then the mezzuzah on the door post.  “Shalom,” he said, a little breathless.

“Seth?” Mattan asked cautiously.  “Why are you here?”

“The elders at the gate have sent me.  They are calling for you… and your… guests.  There is a war band of men at the gate.  They were denied entrance and then challenged the elders with their right to blood vengeance.  They said their kin from Heshonib have been massacred and their village destroyed.”  He looked at the men standing behind Mattan.  “They say all of you did it.”

Maaz was about to growl a reply but was cut off by a gesture from Mattan, of all people.  Mattan turned back to Seth; “Tell the elders we will be there shortly.  Shalom, Seth.”

Mattan quickly shut the door and leaned against it.  “This is a disaster!  We are found out!  What will we do?  How did they know it was us?”

Caleb quickly responded, “The escaped villagers.  They must’ve quickly found someone.  Some friends.  They may have even come here to Aphek while we were still walking.”

Still scowling at Mattan, Maaz opined, “It matters not.  We have been called out before the city.  Any hope of secrecy is gone.  Let us go out and face these pigs.  Perhaps we can find out where the survivors have fled.”

Ruth stepped into the middle of the group of men, her curiosity ablaze.  “Survivors?  What have you done?  What’s going on?”  Her own troubles were momentarily forgotten.

“None of your…”

“Brother,” Micah said, gently chiding his brother-in-law, “don’t forget Ruth is a woman.  Don’t be so rough.”

Maaz was stunned by this remonstrance, so rare from his brother-in-law.

Micah turned to Ruth.  “We’ve no time for tale-bearing,” he said patronizingly.  “These men are here to kill us.”

“We must face them, of course,” Ammihud said, thinking out loud.

“I was thinking about riding out the opposite end of the city,” Mattan offered with a weak smile.

“You will get us horses,” Maaz said slowly, punctuating his instructions with a prodding finger in Mattan’s chest.  You will have them brought to the gate of the city, along with our cart and belongings.  We will deal with these avengers of blood, if that’s what they really are.  Then we will leave for Joppa.”

Ammihud grabbed Ruth by the arm.  “We were going to take this one to the elders anyway.”

Ruth was about to protest, but saw steel in the gaze of every man save Micah and Mattan.  Nevertheless, she yanked her arm from Ammihud’s small hand.

“I would be happy to go in Micah’s company!” she said, taking the older man’s arm in hers.

In spite of the occasion, Micah had to smile.  “Just like my Ruth would’ve been,” he muttered and smiling, escorted Ruth past Mattan and out the front door.

 

As a group, they walked warily up to the gates of the city of Aphek.  So intent were they on the looming threat that only Micah noticed Ruth had put on her helmet, stuffing her braided hair up into it.  “This is not her fight, but she intends to survive it,” Micah thought.

A crowd had gathered.  People gather in much the same places vultures do.  The difference between the two being, where one hopes for a meal, the other for a spectacle.

A spectacle was unfolding here.

Thirteen heavily armed men stood before their mounts outside the city gates.  This band of thugs were inadequately met by a trio of guards and a half-dozen elders.  Four slingers had mounted the walls and kept a nervous eye on the proceedings.

The self-proclaimed “avengers of blood” were obviously professional soldiers or brigands, desperate men who made their living by works of violence.  If they really were kin to the Heshonibites, it was a remarkable coincidence that they were all professional killers too.

Worried looks crossed the faces of the elders as the group strode out of the gates, the crowd parting before them as the waters parted before Moses’ upraised rod.  Deborah’s men were no strangers to battle and strode into this arena with weapons at the ready.  Arms lost in yesterday’s battle were resupplied from their cart.

“Where is Mattan?” one of the elders asked.

Before anyone else could frame a reply, Joseph spoke in a confident voice, “Mattan is of no account here.  He is merely our host in Aphek.  We are the men you seek.”

Ammihud and Maaz looked at one another with mild surprise, as if to say, “Who put him in charge?”

“Ah,” the man said and gave way to an older man who stepped around him.  “These men came this morning demanding the right to face and accuse you of murder.  They say the nearby village of Heshonib has been razed and its people killed… by you.”

“That’s right” a rough voice spoke from the middle of the line of the avengers.  A tall man with dark hair and a weather-beaten, scarred face strode forward.  “You lot have blood on your hands.  The blood of my people.  I claim yours.”  It was plain by the look on his face that he didn’t care whether anyone believed his claims or not.  He was primed for a fight and would broach no disappointment.

Maaz was, as ever, ready to meet him nose to nose.

But the elders were in the way.

“Yes.  Well.  That’s what he’s said right along.  In fact, that’s all that he’s said.  Over and over again.”  This man saw through the avenger’s subterfuge, but had the safety of the city to think about.  “We have impressed upon him that though Aphek is not a city of refuge – no place to escape legitimate vengeance – we are not prepared to just hand people over on an accusation.  You may only be guests in our city, but you are in our city.  And we have rules.”

The avenger’s spokesman showed what he thought about Aphek’s rules by spitting a bilious brown stream on the ground.

The elder sighed.  “So.  Here you are to tell us your side of this story.”

Joseph took a moment to physically insert himself between Maaz and the avenger.  Interrupting Ammihud, he said, “We are only passing through Aphek.  We have no business with a village called Heshonib nor with these idolators.  Very soon we will be prepared to leave and will take our business elsewhere.”

“But what about these men – their charges?”

“Have they any proof?”

The avenger grunted and raised two fingers.  Another member of his party came forward, pushing along a boy child, one not ten years of age.

“Tell ‘em, boy,” the ringleader grunted.

Wide-eyed, the boy child regarded Deborah’s men and told a halting, confused tale of the events at the cave.  Upon their escape, they fled to Heshonib, only to find it burned to the ground.  These men, the avengers, were poking about the ruins.

“That’s enough, boy,” the spokesman said, roughly grabbing the child and pushing him back to the man who’d brought him forward.  Giving him equally rough treatment, the man hustled the boy back behind their line and directed him to hold their horses.

“You don’t seem very tender-hearted toward this survivor,” Maaz observed drily.

The avenger was losing the little patience he possessed.  “That’s all the proof you need.  Elder, tell your men to not interfere.  This lot can try to defend themselves and let blood decide.”

The oldest of the ruling elders looked into the eyes of each of his fellows.  Without speaking, they came to a decision that let them off the hook.

“If you intend to leave Aphek,” he said to Joseph, “you may leave peaceably.  What you do afterward is none of our concern.”

“So you would leave your Israelite brothers to be hounded by these curs,” Ammihud said stepping forward.  The courage in his voice exceeded the menace of his stature.

“We who live here on the borders learn to get along.  We don’t have the privilege of choosing our neighbors as some of our other tribes do.  You who do not live on the borders do not understand.”

The warrior spoke quickly, barely restraining himself from reaching out and shaking the old city leader into submission.  “We will not stand by and let this lot just ride off.  We demand the right to combat now.  The blood of our people demands satisfaction.”

Joseph looked to his fellows.  “I think we’ve learned all we can here.  Why don’t we go get our mounts and leave?”  Cautious nods of assent were the only reply he got.

The chief elder looked from man to man and nodded too.  “It is the best way.”

“I told them being civil wouldn’t work,” the avenger’s spokesman said.  He raised four fingers and immediately in the line behind him, four men twirled slings over their heads and loosed stones.  Heads turned just in time to see a couple puffs of dust appear near the top of the stone wall and one of the guards fall just before the “Thump!” of the stone hitting flesh reached their ears.

The avengers’ leader pushed the elder into Joseph and stepped back to draw his sword.

Joseph caught the man and gently pushed him aside.  In that instant, people were scattering everywhere.

The spokesman lunged for Joseph, following the point of his sword with his massive bulk.  Joseph adroitly sidestepped his attack and delivered an ineffectual blow to the man’s armored midsection.  The leader of the avengers reared back and lunged again at the prophet, counting on the speed and mass of his body to carry the day if his sword did not.  He learned too late of Joseph’s deftness and this second assault was rendered as ineffective as the first.

Another avenger barreled through the elders and guards, scattering them.  He swung a curved sword at Maaz, who blocked the strike with one end of his goad and brought the other end smashing into the man’s throat.  He fell to his knees, gasping for air.  Seconds later, the big Isrealite’s goad swung again and knocked the man’s helmet off, crushing his skull in the process.

With a cry, Ammihud dashed around a fleeing elder and confronted another of the avengers.  His bravado made no impression whatsoever on the seasoned warrior who merely grinned evilly.  The bladed polearm the man wielded was only a blur in the corner of Ammihud’s eye as something slammed into him, knocking him to the ground.  His side felt wet and tears filled his eyes before the world went dark.

A guard stepped over Ammihud, to strike at the fallen Israelite’s attacker, but his sword strike was easily parried.

Micah drew his axe with one hand and pulled Ruth behind him with the other.  “Stay behind me,” he cautioned.

On the wall behind the melee, one of the slingers summoned his courage and his sling and let a stone loose back at one of the enemy slingers.   Unfortunately, the enemy’s aim was better and he felt the impact of a stone smash his shoulder.  He nearly tumbled off the wall, but managed to steady himself enough to see a red welt already forming.  He felt his right arm going numb and dropped his sling.

Another stone zipped over the melee.  This one struck home with a loud smack on the leading leg of one of the enemy slingers.  He managed to loose a stone himself, but his aim was spoiled and the shot struck the city wall.

His fellow prepared a sling, but before he could wield it, something struck him on the side of the head and drove him to the ground.

The third guard caught in the melee had opportunity to draw his weapon before one of the avengers was upon him.  The black-armored warrior’s blade sliced the air, missing by the narrowest of margins.

Seeing Ammihud fall, Barek let cry an angry roar.  Rushing forward, he drew his sword and charged into the melee, determined to save his diminutive friend.

Most men would have at least hesitated when beholding the giant Barek bearing down on them.  But this avenger felt only a cold resolve as he strode forward to meet the immense Israelite’s charge.  It would be his last act of bravado.  Barek’s blade had hewn him in half even as the man was congratulating himself on his bravery.

One of the city gate guardians let out a cry, clutching at his back.  An avenger of blood withdrew his sword from the guard’s back, the blade stained with life-blood.  The stricken guard slumped forward and did not stir.

The chief elder had been flung behind the lines of battling warriors.  Caleb reached out to steady the old man and with two hands full of his robe, pulled him close and yelled, “GO GET HELP!  SEND MEN TO FIGHT!”  When the chief elder nodded his assent, Caleb turned and pushed him toward the city gate.

Caleb watched him go, then turned back to the battle before him.  He reached first for the dagger, then thought the better of joining in close combat so ill-equipped and drew his bow instead.  He waited for a clear shot.

At the southernmost end of the line of avengers, a man ran forward, brandishing his spear.  Samuel’s scimitar was in his hand, and he answered the avenger’s charge with a battle cry and charge of his own.  In spite of his opponent having the advantage of reach, Samuel’s blade tasted blood first, being buried deep within the “avenger’s” abdomen.

Though relatively inexperienced in actual battle, Samuel was well-practiced in martial arts and held keen senses.  Samuel knew that an avenger rushing at him from behind.  The pagan thug’s face bore a look of surprise when Samuel spun around suddenly, the arc of his scimitar a blur that arrived first.  The thug ran into Samuel’s attack and folded in half upon his weapon.  A spray of blood came from between his wordless lips.

Jezreel’s sling was in his hand.  Faster than conscious thought, the leather strap whistled over his head and the stone flew from it.  The missile struck the man at the north end of the line of avengers.  It caught him in an armored upper chest, and nearly spun him around.  However, the powerful warrior quickly recovered.  He cracked his neck and grimaced at Jezreel.  He strode forward, drawing both a sword and dagger.

In spite of the menace of this figure, Jezreel calmly stepped backward and reached for another stone.  He hummed the tune of his favorite psalm.  With a supernatural calm settling like dew on his soul, Jezreel stepped back and prepared another shot.

His opponent was running now, and Jezreel would be blessed indeed to get off another stone before the avenger was close enough to strike.  A blessing came in the form of a slingshot that came from behind Jezreel, striking his onrushing assailant in the side.  This forced the man to break stride, stumbling a bit.  Jezreel blessed the slinger on the wall behind him, and quickly let his own stone fly.

He had hurried too much and the shot sailed over the head of the avenger.  All he had succeeded in doing was getting the entirety of the man’s angry attention.  He lurched toward Jezreel, closing the gap between them.

The murderous look in the eyes of the avenger closing upon Jezreel changed to indecision as he stopped in his tracks.  Behind the psalmist he saw armed men pouring out of the gates of Aphek.  Though they were but simple peasants armed only with tools and daggers, their numbers were a threat.  With a grunt at Jezreel, he turned to run, but his injured leg gave way when he attempted to pivot on it.

Jezreel watched him sprawl in the dirt and blinked.  Not knowing the cause of his good fortune, the psalmist was a bit stunned and undecided as to what to do next.  Moments later, several men of Aphek swarmed on the avenger.  Their enthusiastic, if inexpert, attacks soon finished the man.

Trapped in the middle of a sudden conflagration of flashing weapons, the third elder dropped to the ground and held his hands over his heads.  Prayer was his best defense, and he pursued it with all his heart.

At the other end of the line of battling men, one of the pagan thugs attacked a gate guardian who was already set upon by another of the avengers.  But the guard proved his mettle by parrying this second attack.  Confronted by two attackers, the guard acquitted himself well.  He deflected all but a slash that caught his shoulder above the round shield that he carried.

Seeing out of the corner of his eye that one of the gate guardians was beset by two attackers, Samuel rushed to his aid.  Catching the nearest avenger unprepared, Samuel hewed him down with a single slash.

From the relative safety of her position behind Micah, Ruth watched the bloody combat with wide eyes.  Where seconds earlier she had foolishly considered joining the battle, she now thought the better of it and began to back away.

Fumbling in her rucksack, Ruth’s fingers closed about the handle of her sickle.  She withdrew the farm implement-turned-weapon and continued to back slowly away from the horrifying sight of men slaughtering one another.

Micah glanced over his shoulder to see that Ruth was indeed behind him.  She was and getting further behind him by the minute!  “I didn’t say that far behind,” he muttered.  With an oath, Micah turned and rushed forward, intent on attacking one of the enemy slingers before him.  The slinger was a taller, thinner, man and he deftly avoided the Israelite’s strike.

The leader of the avengers summed up the battle field in a glance.  Half his party was already down and even the spineless fish in Aphek would overwhelm them.

“MEN!  WE ARE AWAY!” he yelled.  He backed away from Joseph, just avoiding the roundhouse kick the Israelite launched at his head.  He turned and sprinted toward the horses a few paces behind him.

One of the avengers ducked under Barek’s sword slash.  Backing away, he turned to run toward the safety of the horses.  But Barek’s giant strides covered a greater expanse of turf and his second swing took the man at the place where neck meets shoulder.  The back of the fleeing avenger’s armor was rent in two and he was driven to the ground, face first.

Caleb would have loosed his arrow into the back of the retreating leader of the avengers of blood, but Joseph was interposed between them.  Sighing, Caleb tried to step around Joseph, to a clear field of fire, but only succeeded in bumping into Maaz.

Wide-eyed, Maaz turned on Caleb, brandishing his goad.  At the last moment, he recognized his comrade and aborted his attack.  “Caleb!” he said through gritted teeth.  “Watch where you tread!”

Hearing the leader’s command, the northernmost avenger slinger turned on his heel and sprinted toward the horses.  A pair of stones slung from the wall behind him slammed into the man.  One shattered his ankle, dropping him in mid-stride.  The second stone clattered against his helmet before he hit the ground.

One of the avengers ignored the behest of his commander and sank his spear into the throat of a gate guardian.  Dropping his own weapon and clutching ineffectually at the shaft of the spear, the guardian was driven down by the force of the dark avenger’s attack.

Joseph sprinted to catch the retreating commander of the avengers.  He leapt at the man, snatching at his billowing robe, but fell short of the mark as the avenger leapt onto the waiting horse.

“TAKE ME!” the Heshonibite boy wailed, but the leader of the avengers of blood merely spurred his horse over the top of the youth, crushing him beneath pounding hooves.

When one of the dark-clad avengers turned his head to see his commander galloping away, Micah pressed his sudden advantage and stabbed at him with his sword.  The avenger recovered in time, however, to deflect the force of Micah’s blow away with his shield.  They traded swings and parries before Micah’s blade bit flesh twice and his opponent fell backward.   He cast aside both weapon and shield and pleaded for mercy as his blood stained the soil.

Maaz spun away from Caleb and sprinted into the melee.  The thick goad in his hands described a wide arc that came to a sudden end when it struck the head of the avenger.  He crumpled against a man of Aphek, who stabbed him for good measure.

The last of the avengers discarded all pretense of bravery and sprinted toward the horses.  Maaz ran up and cried, “Let us give chase!” but Barek restrained him.

“Rather let him deliver a warning to his keepers that men of Israel are not idle while their enemies spin dark webs,” Barek said quietly, a little winded from his exertions.

Maaz relaxed in the giant’s grip, glaring at the retreating rider as if a look could kill.

Caleb considered shooting the rider, but weighing the distance and his expertise against the expense of arrows, decided against it.  He grunted and relaxed, replacing the arrow in his quiver.

Picking himself up off the ground, Joseph drew in a sharp breath and said to Maaz and Barek, “Let’s see who holds the leash of these dogs.”  He strode toward one of the fallen avengers, then knelt to search the man.  Maaz had joined him when he found the avenger’s purse and withdrew it from his sash.   Shaking the contents into his hand, Joseph showed Maaz the coins.

“Philistine,” Joseph said.

Maaz spit on the inert form and muttered, “Philistines, sure.”

Behind them, Barek cried out, “Ammihud!”  A few giant strides took Barek to his fallen comrade.  He knelt beside Ammihud and roughly hauled his fallen friend’s head and shoulders onto his lap.

“Ammihud!” he cried, “Do you live?”

Ammihud groaned.  “Only in this life could a clumsy, ham-handed oaf like you cause me such pain!”

Barek saw that the left side of Ammihud’s robe was stained with blood.

“MATTAN!” the giant thundered.  “BRING THE HEALER!”

Ammihud winced.  “You are so loud,” he said weakly.

Micah turned from his felled opponent and looked for Ruth.  He saw her kneeling next to the unmoving form of one of the avengers.  With hands that were adept and obviously experienced, she quickly found the man’s purse, cut it loose with her sickle, and hid it beneath her own robe.

Standing, Ruth turned to see Micah staring at her, agape.  She saw no shame in the dead providing for the living.  Spoils of war, she would call it.

She avoided Micah’s eye and moved on to the next slain adversary.  She had to reach around the gore of the man’s insides out to try to find his purse.  She nearly had it when something strong pulled her away from the corpse and to her feet.

The next thing she saw was Micah’s steely gaze beneath furrowed brows.

“Have you no shame?!” he growled.

Advent Angel Sightings #1

hand it to you

Please read Daniel 8:15-27 in your Bible.

A man who lived on Long Island, New York ordered an expensive barometer.  It was advertised as a precision scientific instrument, a reliable guide for predicting the weather.  When it arrived he was extremely disappointed to find that the dial was stuck, pointing to “Hurricane.” After shaking the barometer very vigorously several times, its new owner sat down and wrote a scorching letter to the store from which he had purchased the instrument.  The following morning, on his way to his office in New York, he mailed the letter. That evening he returned to Long Island, to find the barometer missing – along with his house! The barometer had been right. There was a hurricane!

When we receive bad news we have an unfortunate tendency to blame the messenger.  That tendency is at play in Daniel, the scene of our first Advent Angel Sighting in this series of messages.  Daniel lived during the time the Old Testament people of God (Judah) were conquered by the Babylonians.  They suffered this setback in fulfillment of God’s prophecy of 70 years of captivity in a foreign land.  Daniel was the best and brightest young men of Judah.  The Babylonians cultivated his leadership skills and gave him considerable authority in their government.  The story of the lion’s den is a small part of the life of this extraordinary man of God.

CONTEXT: Chapter eight records the second of Daniel’s prophetic visions.  This one involved a supernatural ram and goat locked in an epic struggle.  The appearance of the angel Gabriel is to explain the meaning of the imagery employed in chapters two and seven, which were beyond Daniel’s understanding.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not fearful – response.

  1. Angels are God’s messengers:

their messages can be disturbing.

Here in Daniel eight we learn two things about angels. The first is that angels can take on the appearance of a human being (verse fifteen refers to Gabriel as ONE WHO LOOKED LIKE A MAN).  The Hebrew word for MAN (geber) is literally, “strong man.”  The visitor is named Gabriel, which means “man of God.”  Note the similarity of geber and Gabriel: we could translate his name as “strong man of God.”  If it helps, picture Arnold Schwarzenegger in a robe.

In the Old Testament, only Daniel names angels.  Those named are Gabriel and Michael.  The fact that they are named distinguishes them from the innumerable host of angels and may imply they are of a superior rank.

Notice how Daniel down-plays this event: the angel Gabriel “looks like a man” and the voice of God “sounds like a man’s voice.”  But there is no doubt this is a divine visitation.

Secondly, angels are messengers who deliver God’s messages to people.  As we read in verse sixteen, “GABRIEL, TELL THIS MAN THE MEANING OF THE VISION.”)

Daniel was disturbed by the vision and the visitation.  In verse seventeen he wrote, I WAS TERRIFIED AND FELL PROSTRATE.  Elsewhere in the Bible, we see this self-humiliating pose as typical when approaching royalty.  This was how Esther approached the king in Esther 5:2.  The Apostle John took this position when he encountered the SON OF MAN (Revelation 1:17).

We see this again in verse eighteen: I WAS IN A DEEP SLEEP, WITH MY FACE TO THE GROUND.  This wasn’t a sudden urge for a nap or a swoon. This word for SLEEP is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe a trance-like state in which a prophet receives a vision.  The fact that Gabriel lifted Daniel to his feet with a touch is another detail that gives this scene a supernatural quality.

The encounter took its toll on Daniel, as we see in verse 27: I, DANIEL, WAS EXHAUSTED AND LAY ILL SEVERAL DAYS.  I WAS APPALLED BY THE VISION THAT WAS BEYOND UNDERSTANDING.  We’ve all had the experience of having a nightmare that affected us so profoundly we lose sleep over it.  But not many of us have been so deeply affected that we were ILL for DAYS afterward.

But why was Daniel APPALLED at the message he’d received?  That Hebrew word can also be translated as “desolate, devastated, wasted, helpless,” so it is an extreme condition.  The simplest explanation is that he understood verses nineteen to twenty-five as warning of additional persecutions that would befall God’s people. He may have understandably felt they had already suffered enough and was saddened to hear more was to come.

What can we understand about this vision?  This passage, like all of Daniel’s visions, has been the subject of much speculation by people looking for clues to the end times events that are part of our future.  Based on the text alone, there are three things we can say with certainty.

Firstly, the vision looks to the future from Daniel’s perspective: to THE TIME OF THE END (verses seventeen and nineteen), a time in the DISTANT FUTURE (v. 26).  The expression THE TIME OF WRATH is used four ways in the Old Testament:

– One, for God’s wrath against His people for their unfaithfulness.

– Two, for God’s wrath against the foreign nations who made themselves enemies of His people and persecuted them.

– Three, the term marks the end of one historical era and the  beginning of another.

– Four, the end of reality as we know it; the putting away of the physical universe to replace it with an eternal creation.  We are tempted to assume the vision depicts God’s WRATH against the wicked at Judgment Day, but we need to be careful to note the context and determine which of the four meanings is appropriate to the text before and after it.

Secondly, verse 25 tells us this vision depicts the victory of God over the forces of evil in the world.  The fact is that the time of evil is limited and that God will win.  Apocalyptic literature like Daniel’s visions are given to encourage the faithful to resist the temptation to give up.  We are to be steadfast in our faith because we are assured the time of our trials is limited and that the end of the story is that God wins.

Thirdly, as this vision was BEYOND the UNDERSTANDING to a great man of faith like Daniel, we must approach it humbly.  As God gives us wisdom to attempt to understand it, we must give grace to others whose interpretations may not agree with ours.

  1. How are we to react to disturbing messages?

We can do no better than to follow Daniel’s example – humble yourself and pray (as we read Daniel’s prayer in chapter nine).  It was humbling for Daniel to admit he could not UNDERSTAND all the implications of this vision.

Chapter nine records a prayer of worship, recounting God’s mighty deeds on behalf of His people in times past.  It’s as if Daniel is reminding God He has been merciful with His people in the past in the hope He will show them mercy in the present.

In the Bible anyway, angel sightings are almost always shocking events.  Again, following Daniel’s example, we should be shocked into action, not frozen with fear.  Notice in verse 27 that the vision laid Daniel out for SEVERAL DAYS, he GOT UP AND WENT ABOUT THE KING’S BUSINESS.

After the vision had been explained to Daniel, the angel Gabriel ordered him to SEAL it up until the time the prophecy was fulfilled.  This command was a common feature of apocalyptic literature.

However, Daniel obeyed this command in an interesting way.  He did not put a physical seal on it, but a linguistic one.  Chapters two through seven of Daniel were written in Aramaic, a commonly used language in Daniel’s time, one his Babylonian captors would have readily known.  From chapter eight on, Daniel wrote in Hebrew – his home language – something his Babylonian overseers would not likely have been able to read.

The Apostle Paul would come along 100s of years later and explain the MYSTERY of the Gospel, revealing God’s plan for salvation as realized by Jesus Christ.  In effect, he was opening and explaining the salvation significance of OT prophecies like Daniel’s.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not fearful – response.

          Preparing this message, I searched “angel sightings,” and as you can guess, there was quite a variety of stuff on the web related to that title.  One website had a page where they had photographic evidence of the existence of angels.  Another one offered similar claims of sightings of Santa Claus.  This is a problem that occurs when we try to convince people of the reality of spiritual things by using earthly means.  I wonder why an angel would bother to mask his appearance to the naked eye but allow his picture to be taken.

It is a hard balance to achieve, but I believe it’s good to retain a healthy dose of skepticism when people want to use science to prove faith.  Angel sightings and miracles are a couple instances where the line gets blurred and it makes me skeptical about the means and the motive.

So we will limit our search for angels to the pages of Scripture.  My prayer is that our search will be part of for our Advent search for the Christ child, our personal spiritual preparations to celebrate His birth.  Keep your eyes and your heart open to God’s messages to you in this Advent season.

 

Resources:

Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Daniel, A. R. Millard

Kingdom Come, Sam Storms

The Daily Study Bible Series, Daniel, D. S. Russell

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Daniel, Gleason L. Archer, Jr.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/19164/in-september-1938-a-man-who-lived-on-long-by-stephen-wright?ref=TextIllustrationDetails

How Can I Trust God?

How can I trust God_final (1)

(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

The front of a woman’s red station wagon was crushed when an elephant at a circus sat on it.  The owners of the animal apologized, explaining that the animal, for some reason, simply liked to sit on red cars.

In spite of the damage, the woman’s car could still be driven.  On the way to the garage she was stopped short by an accident involving two other cars just ahead of her. When the ambulance arrived a few minutes later the attendants took one look at her car, then ran over to assist her. “Oh, I wasn’t involved in this accident,” she explained. “An elephant sat on my car.”

The ambulance attendants quickly bundled her off to the hospital for possible shock and head injuries, despite the lady’s vehement protests.

(Bits and Pieces, October, 1991, retrieved from https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/6805/elephant-sat-on-my-car/)

Sometimes you don’t know who to believe!  Or whom to trust.  Good news – our God is trustworthy!

Trust in God is founded in faith and deepened with experience.

  1. We need faith to trust God (Proverbs 3:5-6).

CONTEXT: Proverbs three is a chapter that extols the benefits and value of wisdom.  There is a pattern in 3:1-12: the odd-numbered verses express the obligations of the person seeking wisdom and the even-numbered verses promise a reward for keeping those obligations.  We will focus on verses five and six explain the role of TRUST in our search for wisdom.

COMMENTS:

The word TRUST meant to rely on someone for security.  It is a confidence based on who God is, not on who you are.  TRUST IN THE LORD requires three things of the faithful wisdom-seeker.

First, TRUST…WITH ALL YOUR HEART (5).  The key word here is ALL.  Trust is not indicated in partial commitments, withholding some for self.

Second, LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING (5).  There is certainly a practical side to wisdom, but that is not an aspect of the spiritual.  Truly wise people are not limited to the things they know because of training and experience, they know other things because God has revealed them.  God reveals wisdom in His word and by the Holy Spirit, working outside “common sense.”  If there is ever a conflict between worldly wisdom and divine wisdom, we must choose God’s wisdom.

Third, IN ALL YOUR WAYS ACKNOWLEDGE HIM (6).  Biblically, the word “way” can be equivalent to our word “lifestyle.”  It is the direction our choices take us.  The words WAYS and PATHS in this verse both refer to the character our decisions have created within us.  We encounter the word ALL again in v. 6.  We need to acknowledge God’s ownership of our bank accounts, home, family – everything.  If Jesus is not Lord over all, He’s not Lord at all.

The benefit of trusting God promised here in Proverbs 3:5+6 is HE WILL MAKE YOUR PATHS STRAIGHT.  As anyone who’s driven down a long straight prairie highway can tell you, it’s easier to stay on the road.  The promise of a “straight path” is a promise of a life that’s easier to live.  By way of contrast, Proverbs 2:15 + 9:18 uses the image of a crooked path as a sinful way through life.  These verses warn that crooked paths lead to death.

  1. We deepen our trust as we experience reliance on Him (Malachi 3:9-12).

CONTEXT: Malachi 3 warns that the Day of Judgment is coming and it will not go well for the Israelites because they have stolen from God by being unfaithful in their tithes and offerings.

COMMENTS:

Verse nine states the WHOLE NATION is UNDER A CURSE because they dared to rob God.  The Hebrew word used here for NATION typically referred to the pagan nations, not Israel.  This is a clue how upset God is with His people at this point.  Their failure to be obedient in the command to tithe is cast in the worst possible light: it is robbery, stealing from God! The penalty for robbing God is being CURSED by God.

Verses ten to twelve move away from the threat of curses to the promise of blessings if they would only obey God.  These verses emphasize the value of personal experience as a means of deepening our trust in God.  “TEST ME IN THIS” the LORD declared.

God called upon His people to do the right thing; to bring in THE WHOLE TITHE.  Upon the condition of their obedience  He promised to THROW OPEN THE GATES OF HEAVEN AND POUR OUT SO MUCH  BLESSING THAT YOU WILL NOT HAVE ROOM ENOUGH FOR IT.  He promised to prevent negative things like loss of crops.  He promised positive things like respect and success. The promise is that many blessings – material and personal – will be poured out from heaven to the degree that even the pagan NATIONS have to acknowledge Israel was BLESSED.

The word DELIGHTFUL makes a great promise sweeter still.  In Isaiah 62:4 God called Israel “Hepzibah,” which meant “my delight is in her.”

These verses affirm the reality that only those who take faith-based risks will ever know how trustworthy God truly is.  To put it another way, “If all you ever do is what you can do by yourself, you will never know how trustworthy God is.”

Trust in God is founded in faith and deepened with experience.

          A little boy was walking down the beach, and as he did, he spied an elderly woman sitting on the sand. He asked, “Are you a Christian?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Do you read your Bible every day?”

“Yes.”

“Do you pray often?”

Again she answered, “Yes.”

With that the little boy asked his final question, “Will you hold my quarter while I go swimming?”

What do you need to give to God as you head back out into the waters of life? I invite you to establish your trust in Jesus.

(Author unknown, retrieved from https://www.family-times.net/illustration/Trust/202753/)

Let’s stop for a moment.  If you ask a room full of church people “Do you trust God?” 99.9% of them are going to answer in the affirmative.  If you ask them, “With what do you trust God?” be wary of the one who too quickly answers “Everything.”

The truth is likely to be something less than everything.  Trust in God is a matter of sacrifice.  To trust God means we sacrifice things most dear to us, putting them entirely under His control.  To trust God requires us to love God more than self, people, possessions, and church COMBINED!  People who trust in God may buy insurance, but they don’t rely on it to “take care of them.”  People who trust in God may set money aside as a sound financial strategy but they don’t believe that savings will prevent calamity nor will it console them when trials come.  People who trust in God will not manipulate others or wield legalisms because no one can stand in for you on Judgment Day.  People who trust in God have their eyes set on heaven: not just as a place they’ll end up “someday,” but also as a reality we are trying to recreate in our daily experience.

 

RESOURCES:

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III

Message #772

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

#5 – Proverbs – Allen P. Ross

#7 – Malachi – Robert L. Alden

 

 

Hardhearted and Tightfisted

generosity

Please read Deuteronomy 15:1-11 in your Bible.

A highly successful businessman was once asked to make a substantial donation toward an urgent charity appeal. The businessman listened to the case presented then said, “I can understand why you approached me. Yes I do have a lot of money, and yours is an important cause. But are you aware that I have a lot of calls upon my money? Did you know my mother needs 24 hour nursing care?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know my sister is struggling to raise a family of eight on her own?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know I have one son in a drug rehab clinic and another doing voluntary work overseas?”

“No we didn’t”

“Well, if I don’t give them a cent, what makes you think I’ll give it to you?!”

CONTEXT = The book of Deuteronomy is Moses reviewing the law with the Israelites prior to their campaign to occupy the Promised Land.  It is a collection of teachings in no obvious order, so context is not as important as it is for other parts of the Bible.  However, this section joins with 14:27-29, which identifies the needy persons requiring support: the Levites (assistants to the priests), aliens, fatherless, and widows.

Prosperity is given to empower & reward generosity.

  1. God attached a promise of prosperity to the 7 year cycle of debt forgiveness.

This command is one aspect of God’s commands to observe a “Sabbath Year” every seventh year.  Other aspects of a Sabbath Year include the release of slaves and allowing the land to rest (planting crops was forbidden; only what grew “volunteer” was to be gleaned for food).

Here in Deuteronomy 15, God commanded debt forgiveness of loans made to fellow Israelites (1-3).  Throughout the Old Testament law, God’s people were to give one another special treatment.  The language is a little ambiguous whether this was a permanent forgiveness of debt or a temporary one, just for the duration of the year.  Either way, it was to be a demonstration of faith in God and generous love to needy countrymen.

God’s gracious gift of prosperity was given to empower their gracious generosity.  Verse four states God gave them the LAND AS AN INHERITANCE.  Combine this with the promise of prosperity in v. 6 and we see their prosperity as a gift from God to be shared, not a personal achievement to be hoarded.

On the surface it appears verse 4 contradict verses seven and eleven. Verse four states, THERE SHOULD BE NO POOR AMONG YOU while in verse seven we read, IF THERE IS A POOR MAN AMONG YOUR BROTHERS and verse eleven says THERE WILL ALWAYS BE POOR AMONG YOU.

The way I see it, verse four is a promise: if this statute is observed, poverty would be eliminated.  It is a conditional statement: this effect would be achieved by a combination of the people’s obedience and generosity and by the Lord’s blessing.

On the other hand, verses seven and eleven are a prediction that the Israelites would NOT observe the statute and so poverty would continue.   Verse four reflects optimism, verses seven and eleven show pessimism or realism.  We see both these perspectives in other statements Moses made, so it is not at all out of character to see both of them here.  It is worth noting that in the Gospels Jesus agreed with the realistic tone of verses seven and eleven when He said, “THE POOR YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE WITH YOU.”  The situation had changed so much that an observance of Sabbath years was impossible and the cure for poverty unavailable.

Had this system been followed, it would have limited the centralization of wealth in the hands of the few.  The cancellation or suspension of debts would have put money back into the economy and eased the oppressive burdens of indebtedness.  As God promised it would work, I have no doubt it would have eventually eliminated poverty from Israel.  To observe the Sabbath Year as it was commanded would have been an act of trust in God and a huge faith-building experience.

Verses five and six develop God’s promise of future prosperity.  This is Moses assuring the people that if they follow these rules even though they appear to have no business sense, they do not need to fear poverty.  They can count on God to reward their faithfulness with fruitfulness.

Verse five conveys in two phrases the condition that predicated the fulfillment.  Firstly, IF ONLY YOU FULLY OBEY. In the Hebrew language, this is an “infinitive absolute construction indicating intensity” which is a fancy way of saying the original language stresses the condition of obedience more than we can in English.  Secondly, IF ONLY YOU…ARE CAREFUL TO FOLLOW ALL THESE COMMANDS, especially the Sabbath year laws of this section.  The Old Testament  law teaches us that God blesses complete obedience, not grudging obedience or faked obedience or partial obedience.  In order to do right by God we must obey completely, which includes body and soul.

Verse six is a promise of prosperity and security = THE LORD WILL BLESS YOU AS HE PROMISED.  Prosperity is promised in this phrase: YOU WILL LEND TO MANY NATIONS BUT WILL BORROW FROM NONE.  National prosperity would be one of the means God would use to end poverty in Israel.  Security is promised in the words, YOU WILL RULE OVER MANY NATIONS BUT NONE WILL RULE OVER YOU.  Economic prosperity would certainly be part of how this promise would be realized, but that does not exclude military or political means.

These promises came to their greatest fulfillment during the reign of King Solomon.  Israel enjoyed fantastic wealth and held the preeminent place among the nations of the world. However, as they did not keep this command and observe the Sabbath years, the wealth stayed in the hands of the minority and poverty remained.  We know from history that God clearly kept His part of the covenant but Israel did not keep her part.  As a consequence, Solomon’s sons divided the kingdom and the fortunes of both nations fell over several generations, ending in both nations being conquered by foreigners.

  1. God commanded generosity to the poor.

God condemned having a bad attitude toward the poor.  Verse seven forbade being HARDHEARTED and TIGHTFISTED.  Note this is a condemnation of both attitude and action that results in a person who could help refusing to help.

Verse nine goes a bit further, condemning WICKED THOUGHTS about abusing the Law and the poor.  After all, a businessman might, in year six, decide that he does not want to wait twelve months or more for repayment to start, and refuse to make a loan.  God appealed to the spiritual side of His people and condemned this selfish attitude as a sin.  There is a word of deterrent here in verse nine; help the poor lest they appeal in prayer and God declares the miser guilty of sin.  This is the only place a warning of this type is found in the Bible.  In the Old Testament, a miser is depicted as a sad and lonely figure while a generous person is shown as happy and social.

God commended generosity.  Verses eight and eleven command being OPENHANDED in order to meet needs.  Righteous and happy people are generous people.  While they exercise caution and give in an orderly fashion, they are nonetheless gracious in their giving.  Be aware of God’s grace and generosity to you and then follow His example.

In verse ten, Moses commanded the people to GIVE GENEROUSLY…AND WITHOUT A GRUDGING HEART.  Thoughtful and careful use of one’s resources is a part of wisdom, but that is not an endorsement of miserliness.  Hoarding and withholding from the needy is condemned as a sin.  A generous heart is indicated by the habit of thinking of the needs of others ahead of your own.

Prosperity is given to empower & reward generosity.

          I suppose economists would look on this regulation with horror.  So much of our economy is based on credit and loans earning interest, debt forgiveness would seem to them like rewarding slackers and creating poverty.

It’s possible the ancient Israelites shared this perspective on the Sabbath year laws.  We have no evidence these laws were ever observed.  Sadly, people with money and power are unwilling to release it and apparently their will triumphed.  Which is too bad for a host of reasons not least among them is that it would have been wonderful to see this economic system demonstrated and an actual end to poverty achieved.

In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson declared “war” on poverty.  His methods of war predictably involved expanding the federal bureaucracy.  The four pillars of this effort included an expansion of Social Security, food stamps, job agencies, and educational programs. We’ve been at this war for just over 55 years.  Are any closer to winning?  What’s really needed is what God’s law decreed in Deuteronomy 15; a heart of generosity and grace toward persons less fortunate than one’s self.

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (#3), Earl S. Kalland.

The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Deuteronomy), Peter C. Craigie.

https://storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/generosity/

 

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.

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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.

When Family Fails

Sons of Noah

CONTEXT = We generally have a high opinion of Noah.  This opinion is well-founded, as the Bible testifies to Noah’s standing in the eyes of the Lord.  Here are some examples of biblical testimony about Noah.

Genesis 6:8-9 = BUT NOAH FOUND FAVOR IN THE EYES OF THE LORD.  THIS IS THE ACCOUNT OF NOAH.  NOAH WAS A RIGHTEOUS MAN, BLAMELESS AMONG THE PEOPLE OF HIS TIME, AND HE WALKED WITH GOD.

Genesis 7:1 = THE LORD THEN SAID TO NOAH, “GO INTO THE ARK, YOU AND YOUR WHOLE FAMILY, BECAUSE I HAVE FOUND YOU RIGHTEOUS IN THIS GENERATION.”

Genesis 9:1 = THEN GOD BLESSED NOAH AND HIS SONS, SAYING TO THEM, “BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE IN NUMBER AND FILL THE EARTH.”

Noah is mentioned in the “Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11:7, where it is written, BY FAITH NOAH, WHEN WARNED ABOUT THINGS NOT YET SEEN, IN HOLY FEAR BUILT AN ARK TO SAVE HIS FAMILY.  BY HIS FAITH HE CONDEMNED THE WORLD AND BECAME HEIR OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COMES BY FAITH.

And so we find today’s passage a little shocking and disconcerting.

Please read Genesis 9:18-29.

          Now be careful.  There’s good information here even if it comes from a cracked pot.

One proof that the Bible is true is that it is completely honest about its heroes.  They are not paragons of perfection, but are fallible human beings.  They sin and are forgiven again and again, just like we are.  This fact alone should make them more accessible to us, more relatable as people.

More good news – God forgave Noah and blessed Noah just as He’d promised He would. We all mess up.  We fall into sin, have errors of judgment, and often inflict our worst behavior on our family members.  God is not done with you, so get over yourself, get forgiven, and get moving forward!

When we fail at being family, there must be room for forgiveness and restoration that causes our relationships to improve.  Today we look at a negative example, people who failed as family.  May we learn from their mistakes and not repeat them in our own family!

Our family deserves our best behavior.

  1. Noah got “three sheets to the wind,” minus the sheets! (18-21)

In vs. 18-19 we are re-introduced to Noah’s three sons (first mention: 7:13).  The author takes pains to point out two important facts.  One, Ham was the father of Canaan.  (This fact may be a reason this account is included in the Bible.)  These three sons are the “fathers” of all the people who were – in ch. 11 – SCATTERED OVER THE EARTH.  There are elaborate theories about the dispersion of the peoples across the earth – suffice it to say everyone alive is a descendant of one of the three sons of Noah.

Noah is described as A MAN OF THE SOIL in v. 20.  This is new information.  Previously, we’ve only seen his carpentry skills.  This item is offered to explain why he planted a vineyard in the first place.

Apparently some time passed between verses 20 and 21.  According to an article on Inc.com, it takes two years for vines to bear fruit and four years before the first bottle of fermented wine is available.  This is not a spur-of-the-moment decision by Noah, it was something into which he poured a lot of time and effort.  I mention this only because it puts the full weight of responsibility on Noah.  This was not a reaction to the stress of the whole ark incident.  It was a genuine, full-fledged mistake.  No excuses.

After four years of toil and waiting, Noah finally got to enjoy the fruit of his labors and enjoyed it too much (21).  First sin: HE BECAME DRUNK.  Drinking wine is not a sin.  For example, Psalm 104:14-15 says that God gave wine to gladden the hearts of men.  But drunkenness is a sin.  Ephesians 5:18 condemns drunkenness as it lead to all other kinds of sin.  Proverbs 20:1 calls wine a MOCKER.

Second sin: Noah passed out and LAY UNCOVERED INSIDE HIS TENT.  Recall that just six chapters earlier (2:25) Adam and Eve were both NAKED in the garden but they FELT NO SHAME.  Then they disobeyed God (3:7) and those days of innocence were replaced with shame over their nakedness. The two situations are parallel; Noah, as were our original parents, in a garden paradise.  They both sinned against God and were ashamed by their exposure.  Biblically, to get drunk and be exposed in this way was a disgrace (see Habakkuk 2:15 and Lamentations 4:21).  The grammar of the Hebrew makes it clear that Noah uncovered himself before passing out.  This was no accident; for whatever reason, Noah chose be naked.  That’s what makes this a sin, not an accident.

The three brothers reacted to the news in different ways.  We start with Ham, the troublemaker.   The Hebrew implies there was more to Ham’s reaction than mere amazement at seeing his father lying naked in his tent.  It implies Ham was somehow happy to see his father uncovered.  Medieval Jewish scholars theorized that Ham mutilated Noah or committed a homosexual act with him.  It could be Ham thought the whole episode was funny.

However you explain it, Ham went and told the “whole world” what Noah had done (22).  This is the only explanation the text supports: Ham was guilty of the sins of gossip and of disrespecting his father.  Had he simply not said a thing, this whole event would have passed peaceably.

Shem and Japheth had a more respectful attitude and devised a means to cover up their father without embarrassing him further (23).  That’s why they got the blessing and Ham got the bane.

  1. Noah got up angry and cursed Ham. (24-29).

In verses 24-25 Noah launched into a curse.  Given the usual state of a hangover, we can understand a certain amount of crankiness.  What’s not understandable is why he named Canaan, not Ham, as the object of the curse.  This is odd because the text does not name Canaan as having had anything at all to do with disrespecting Noah.

This discrepancy can be a clue into the purpose of including this account in the Bible.  The name “Canaan” should sound familiar to Bible readers.  Canaan was the set of people nations who settled on the east side of the Mediterranean Sea.  They would were a people of great wickedness.

Obviously, they are descendants of Noah’s grandson Canaan, the person Noah cursed.  Canaan was the region God gave to the Hebrews as their Promised Land.  It was the Canaanite people whom God commanded be utterly destroyed.  Therefore, a purpose of this event is to explain why God made that choice; why he took the newly-founded nation of Israel to take the Canaanites land and their lives.  Not only were they a wicked people (their sexual deviance has been revealed many times over by the archaeologist’s shovel), but they were also descended from the son Noah had cursed.

We need to look at the context to see another explanation for this discrepancy.  In verse one of this chapter it is written, THEN GOD BLESSED NOAH AND HIS SONS, SAYING TO THEM, “BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE IN NUMBER AND FILL THE EARTH.”  Noah was aware of this blessing and knew it was folly to curse Ham when God had already blessed him.  Canaan had not enjoyed God’s blessing and could be cursed.

Verses 26-29 deal Noah’s blessing of his other sons and the end of his days. He blessed Shem.  One of Shem’s descendants was Abram, the man whom God called into the territory of the Canaanites.  He would become known as Abraham.  The offspring of Shem have come to be known as “Semites,” a name we use as synonymous with Jews.

As later chapters in Genesis will testify, God promised Abraham all the territory occupied by the Canaanites.  In the books of Exodus, Joshua, and Judges, we read how, after 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites got that land.  Incredibly, the sons of Shem were to triumph over and enslave the sons of Canaan, bringing Noah’s curse into being.

Noah also blessed Japheth, but under the blessing of Shem: “MAY JAPHETH LIVE IN THE TENTS OF SHEM.”  In the curse and blessings Noah spoke predictively; foreshadowing world changing events that started with a disrespectful son.  It’s a shame that after having cleansed the world with a flood, humanity immediately returned to its sinful ways.

In spite of all the family drama, Noah lived a supernaturally long life (28-29).  This would be a good place to clarify; just because Noah’s curse and blessings came to pass throughout the course of history, it would be a mistake to say Noah “caused” all this.  Each person and each generation makes their own choices.  Neither God nor Noah’s offspring were in any way “fated” because of Noah’s words.  Noah’s blessing and curse were as much prophecy as they were disciplinary.

This passage may seem like a poor choice of texts for Father’s Day; a sad chapter of biblical history best forgotten.  However, this text has historically been misused to justify some horrible things by making them seem biblical.

This text was used to justify African slavery.  Without any biblical reason to do so, people said that Ham and his sons were dark-skinned; therefore the curse of slavery was applied to the Negro race by Noah and was therefore legitimate.

If that sounds superficial, unbiblical, and just plain stupid, it should.  Especially on Father’s Day, I’m ashamed to say it was someone who shared my family name that first popularized this so-called “Curse of Ham.”  In 1578 a sailing captain named George Best published an account of his travels in the southern hemisphere and attempted to justify his work as a slave trader.  In that book he set forth this false teaching.

I mention this so you understand why this goofy little passage everyone overlooks needs to be scrutinized and understood.  It’s also important for us to see that choices have consequences.  Sometimes the consequences are temporary and personal; sometimes they are inter-generational and universal.

Noah sinned by getting drunk and being uncovered.  Ham sinned by gossiping and disrespecting his father.  The immediate consequence was Canaan being cursed.  The long-term consequence was all of Canaan’s descendants being enslaved by the descendants of Shem.

We tend to trivialize things, especially when we are the guilty party.  We say things like, “It was a little white lie.  Why are you making a big deal over it?”  This passage should impress us with the seriousness of all sin and the deadly consequences it can have even generations after us.

Look at it another way.  Consider something a parent or some other adult you trusted did or said that hurt you.  Forgiveness may have been offered and received, but the words are not forgotten.  Whether you repeat them or not, they affect your behavior and your behavior is repeated or avoided in the next generations.  Families are serious business!

All of this to explain and motivate us to adhere to this simple truth: Our family deserves our best behavior.  I tell you this not on the authority of an expert practitioner.  I have failed my family too often.  Instead, I tell you this on the authority of the Word of God and my calling to tell you the truth, no matter how unpleasant and unpopular it may be.

I have never preached on this passage and I would venture to say most preachers go their careers without bringing it up.  It’s like one of those “skeletons” in the family “closet,” the story we know but ignore because it’s embarrassing.  However, we ignore things like this at our peril.  We need to face it, confess it, be forgiven and do better.  That’s what we do when family fails.

 

RESOURCES:

https://www.inc.com/ss/8-steps-to-owning-your-own-vineyard

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_Ham

More Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, John H. Sailhammer.

 

More Than the Sum of Our Parts

Moses Aaron Hur at Rephidim (1)

Please read Exodus 17:8-16.

Just in time for Mother’s Day, we’ve had the birth of a royal baby in England.  I heard Prince Harry’s remarks after the blessed event, and he sounded pretty giddy about it.

As many of you have experienced, however, childbirth isn’t all cigars and flowers.  It can cause problems in family relationships.  I read an article published a year ago by Terra Marqutte, citing a study in Evolutionary Psychological Science.  The article is titled, “Study Finds Spats With Your In-Laws Increase When Children Enter The Picture.”

“What many of us have long suspected is true: Becoming a parent really does alter family dynamics, especially with in-laws. Researchers at the Academy of Finland found people with children experience more tension with their spouse’s parents than couples who have yet to enter parenthood.

“It seems that when children are added to a family, the in-laws begin to feel more of a direct kinship to the other side of the family. The ties that bind bring help to young parents, but also new conflicts.

“The biggest source of conflict comes when grandparents provide childcare, the authors say. Although very helpful, the degree of interaction involved is almost bound to lead to areas of disagreement.

“Researchers say the conflicts arise because grandparents begin to see themselves in an expanded role, sort of like investment bankers. In this case, though, the investment is in the future of the offspring.”

https://www.studyfinds.org/couples-children-in-laws-conflicts/

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents Day are all days created to celebrate relationships.  So the Lord lead me to this passage that demonstrates in a plain way how cooperative relationships can win the day.  When we cooperate with God and compromise with one another, we will see our homes, our communities, and our nation become more peaceful and productive places.  Let’s study up on how Moses accomplished it.

Compromise and cooperation create peace.

  1. The problem: Moses’ arms got tired. (8-11)

Verse eight sets the event in its context. This is a passage that is very dependent on its context for us to understand it properly.  The freed Hebrew slaves had just got out of Egypt by miraculously crossing the Red Sea. They have not yet got to Mr. Sinai, where they’d receive the 10 Commandments.

They had been fed with manna for the first time and were miraculously given water to drink at Meribah.  However, these gracious acts had come in God’s gracious response to their sinful bellyaching.  It was providence – not coincidence – that this military emergency comes immediately after two bouts of bellyaching. The Israelites have been testing God’s patience and are now going to be tested by God’s discipline.

The Amalekites were descendents of Jacob’s brother Esau.  Their attack at Rephidim, is a large-scale family feud.  The reason for the attack is not stated in the text, so we are free to speculate.  One reason is to continue the family feud between Jacob and Esau.

Of more immediate importance, the Amalekites would have known the ancient promises that Jacob’s offspring would inhabit Canaan.  So they knew where this group was headed and that they’d go right through their territory to get there.  The Amalekites wanted no part of that.

The Israelites were still a long way south of Amalek.  There was no immediate need for a direct assault.  To go out of their way like this implies the leaders of the Amalekites were intimidated and they didn’t want to suffer the same fate as Egypt.

Finally, there are limited resources in the desert.  The Amalekites were clearly in no mood to share.

That’s on the human side.  On the divine side, why would God allow an attack to take place?  I can imagine at least two Providential purposes.  One, God sent the Amalekites to test His people.  This experience would be an opportunity to prove they were ready to trust Him in battle.  They would have to trust Him fully when they got to Canaan.

Two, the Amalekites had chosen to do evil to God’s people before they launched the attack.  Deuteronomy 25:17-19 tells us Amalekite soldiers had begun hostilities by attacking the stragglers among the Israelites.  They picked off the sick, aged, and disabled people who lagged behind the main group.

The text does not give any divine directive, so we can assume Moses came up with this unusual battle plan on his own (9+10).  Moses decided it would be a good idea to stand on a hill overlooking the battle site with his shepherd’s crook – now known as the STAFF OF GOD –  upraised.  As this is the same staff and the same gesture that preceded their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, perhaps Moses assumed it would have a similar effect in that battle.  Also, standing with hands upraised to heaven was a typical posture of prayer for Jewish men.

Moses chose Joshua as his general and selected his brother Aaron and brother-in-law Hur (Miriam’s husband), to go up the mountain with him.  In retrospect, that part of the plan turned out to be a stroke of genius.  Moses would need both of them later.

From their vantage point on the high ground, Moses, Aaron and Hur could see the battlefront and easily tell how the tide of battle was going.  They saw that when Moses held the staff aloft, the Israelites turned back the Amalekites.  But when Moses lowered his hands for any reason, the battle went the other way.  The problem became how to keep those 80 year-old arms up in the air long enough to win the battle (11).  I suspect Moses did not foresee having to keep his hands in the air any length of time, certainly not all day.  Anyone’s arms would tire of being kept in that position.

  1. The solution: a support group. (12-13)

Moses may have bit off more than he could chew, physically speaking.  Try holding a staff over your head from sunup to sundown sometime; see how you do.  When it became clear that they would win the battle only if Moses’ arms were aloft, these three guys devised a plan where Moses was seated on a rock so Aaron and Hur – while standing – could take the burden off Moses’ arms (12).

Their plan succeeded.  As the sun set on the battlefield, the Amalekites were defeated (13).  This outcome does not prove there was something magical about Moses’ staff.  As is always the case in the Bible, the object used is merely a symbol of God’s power.

There are two clues in verse thirteen that this was Moses’ plan, not God’s. The first: JOSHUA OVERCAME THE AMALEKITE ARMY.  Normally, God got the credit for military success (for example, see Deuteronomy 20:1-4.  Here in verse thirteen, Joshua is credited.  How did Joshua do it?  WITH THE SWORD; a phrase implying this was a victory achieved by strength of arms.  There is no acknowledgement of God delivering the victory.

This will be the first time Moses would learn a lesson on the value of partners in ministry.  In the very next chapter, his father-in-law gave him sound advice about the folly of trying to lead what may have been 2-3 million people by himself.  Elders were appointed to help Moses administrate the immense group of people.

  1. The command: write this down. (14-16)

For the first time in this passage, we hear the Lord’s voice.  He commanded the event be recorded as He would otherwise blot out the memory of the treacherous Amalekites (14).  This is the first time in the Bible that there is a reference to writing things down. These things will eventually become the Bible.

History tells us the Israelites did not obey God in destroying the Amalekites, because they become a problem again during the reigns of Kings Saul and David.  Hundreds of years later, while the people of God were in exile in Babylon, an Amalekite named Haman very nearly eliminated the Jews!  (See Esther.)

Moses apparently learned his lesson (15-16).  He gave glory to God by building an altar as a memorial to the event.  He called the altar THE LORD IS MY BANNER, signifying that the LORD needed to be lifted up, not any staff.  Moses’ new motto should’ve been “The power is in God, not the rod.” (As if to underline this point, God commanded that Aaron’s staff be preserved in the Ark of the Covenant, not Moses’.)  And, as previously noted, the lifting of his hands TO THE THRONE OF GOD describes the posture of prayer.  In prayer, Moses gave all future battles with the Amalekites to the LORD.

Compromise and cooperation create peace.

          Whether Moses acted on his own initiative or not, the chief lesson of this passage is recognizing that God and His people must work together to achieve His will.  It is an interesting illustration of the power of good relationships.  The Israelites won a victory in their first battle because God, their leaders, and the people all cooperated.

This is not going to happen if we allow our sinful or selfish impulses rule our emotions and decisions.  Peace comes to our situations when we all work at it.  The work of peace is sacrifice and love; we love and obey God, we love and cooperate with each other.