Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #19 - The Reign of the Judges

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #19 - The Reign of the Judges
Judges 2; 4; 6–7; 13–16

Samson - Destroying the Philistine Temple

Background: Joshua led the children of Israel in their first forays and battles in the Promised Land. After several years of fighting, some land had been conquered, but it was far short of the lands God had promised Israel. The lands intended for Israel stretched to the river Euphrates, beyond the Hittite empire and into Assyria. However, at the death of Joshua, very little of the land had been conquered by Israel (see Joshua 13). Prior to Joshua’s death, much of the nearby land had been divided by lot to the Tribes of Israel, and those tribes were expected to drive out the inhabitants prior to inhabiting the lands. Joshua’s last warning and counsel was for Israel to choose God and follow him, and in doing so they would successfully conquer the land before them.

Israel Ignores Joshua’s Counsel
Judges 1

While some Israelites, such as Caleb were faithful in driving out the wicked inhabitants of the land, and possessing the inheritance completely, most of Israel failed to obey God’s command.

Presumably through the chief priest’s Urim and Thummim, Israel asks who should go against the Canaanites first to obtain their land. Judah is told to go to battle. Judah took the warriors of Simeon along. They slaughtered the Canaanites and Perizzites in the area, killing ten thousand men in the city of Bezek alone. In a Shakespearean irony, we find Judah capturing the local king, they cut off his thumbs and big toes, something this king was renowned for doing previously to 70 kings he had captured in battle. The story notes they brought him to Jerusalem, where he died. According to Judges, Judah had taken the city and set it on fire. While the city was in Judah’s area, the tribe of Benjamin seems to have taken the city, allowing the Jebusites to remain therein (1:21). This differs from Joshua 15:63 that states Judah dwelt at Jerusalem with the Jebusites, whom they could not dislodge from the area.

Next, the house of Joseph, made of Ephraim and half the tribe of Manasseh, went into the mountains to gain their lands. They first went to claim the city of Bethel (House of God), where Abraham and Jacob both offered sacrifice, and Jacob built an outdoor temple to God.

Once the tribes had obtained some choice possession in their lands, they seemed content to stop and farm the land:
27 Neither did Manasseh drive out the inhabitants ....but the Canaanites would dwell in that land.
28 And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out.
29 Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them.
30 Neither did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants...but the Canaanites dwelt among them, and became tributaries.
31 Neither did Asher drive out the inhabitants ...:
32 But the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land: for they did not drive them out.
33 Neither did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants.... became tributaries unto them.
34 And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain: for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley:
35 But the Amorites would dwell in mount Heres in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim: yet the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed, so that they became tributaries.

Why slay the people you conquer, when you can collect tributary taxes from them? Israel was expected to work the land for themselves, alone, and reap the harvest given of God. Instead, they chose to allow the Canaanites and others to dwell among them in order to enrich themselves from slave labor.

No sooner was Joshua dead, and Israel was already ignoring the path God commanded them. It seemed easier to make peace and accept the tribute from people who now feared them, than to make continual war for several years. Yet this would soon show to be short-sighted, as the enemy within is worse than the enemy without.

The Party’s Over
Judges 2

It took less than a generation for the problems to occur.

1 And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you.
2 And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this?
3 Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.
4 And it came to pass, when the angel of the Lord spake these words unto all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice, and wept.
5 And they called the name of that place Bochim: and they sacrificed there unto the Lord.

Here we have an angel, not descending from heaven, but coming up from Gilgal! The word “angel” means messenger, and can equally mean a heavenly messenger as well as a mortal messenger. It seems that God sent a prophet to Israel to tell them they were now going to suffer the consequences of their poor choices.

The word, “Bochim” comes from the Hebrew “to weep”. Because they did not listen to God and destroy the inhabitants of the land, they would now suffer under the hands of those inhabitants.

The generation of Israel that entered into the land, who remembered Moses and Joshua, eventually died. The covenants that were made in crossing Jordan were now well in the past, and soon forgotten:

The Canaanite gods - Baalim
Judges 2

10 And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.
11 And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim.

Baalim is the plural form of the word Ba’al, which means Master or Lord. So Israel served the gods of the land. Ba’al was the main Canaanite god, who had various versions, depending on the locality. Previously, the Israelites struggled with Baal-Peor and went after the harlots at his temple. Now, well within Canaanite lands, they will discover the many faces of Ba’al, and find there is an enticing version for each Israelite to chase after.

Ba’al was originally a Phoenician god. The Phoenicians were believed to be Sea People that came to the area from the islands around Greece. By the time Israel showed up, Ba’al took upon himself other abilities. In previous lessons, we discussed the ancient Semitic belief that the chief god, El Elyon/Elohim had 70 divine sons, each given a land and people to rule over. Jehovah was given Israel as the most important kingdom. The Canaanites were originally ruled by a god named Yam. He was the god of oceans and rivers. However, Yam was eventually eliminated as a local god when the Phoenicians showed up and the worship of Ba’al replaced Yam. Later, Jehovah would note this radical change in gods among the Canaanites by stating:

9 Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and shew us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth.
10 Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.
11 I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour. (Isaiah 43)

It isn’t that there are no other gods, but that Jehovah is Israel’s one and only God. Never was there a God before him in Israel, and he would never be replaced, as we see in the case of Yam and Ba’al.

One key form Ba’al takes is that of the Canaanite god Hadad. Hadad was a son of El Elyon. According to Canaanite tradition, Hadad was the “the lord over the assembly of gods on the holy mount of Heaven” or in El Elyon’s divine council. He was to Canaan what Jehovah was to Israel - the chiefest and divine son of God, given the most important people on earth to lead and bless. In the book of Judges, we see the battle that goes on between the two gods, as each seems to gain strength from the devotion of their followers. Jehovah will not bless Israel when they sin. If they are worshiping Ba’al, then let Ba’al bless them! Instead, we find that their worship of Ba’al strips them of Jehovah’s blessings, and in the end Israel becomes enslaved not only to Ba’al but Baal’s people, as well.

Who is our Lord, Master, Baal?

Today with our modern outlook, we can sometimes think how stupid Israel was forgetting their own God, who provided such huge miracles as in Egypt, the Red Sea, and in providing them water and manna in the desert for forty years. Yet we often are as blind to the gods around us, who entice us to forget our God and his previous miracles in our lives.

I received my patriarchal blessing, a special personal revelation given by a patriarch of the LDS Church in 1976. The patriarchs give blessings, even as Jacob blessed his children, and as Moses blessed the tribes of Israel. In talking with my patriarch, prior to the blessing, he shared with me a life changing experience he had had as a young man. He was recently married and very strong. He reasoned that with his health, he could easily work two 8 hour a day jobs, make lots of money, and have a happy life. One night, as he slept, he said an angel came to him and told the young man to follow him. They walked through the wall, and into a land where all the homes were elegant and white. Everything was perfect, and (in his own words) “there was nothing out of place.” They entered a building and into a large room, where he noted several deceased people he knew in the background. The angel motioned towards two individuals standing on pedestals, and told him to choose between Jesus and Satan. At first, he thought it would be an easy thing to do. But as he looked, he saw they were indistinguishable. The more he looked, the less he was sure of himself. He heard someone in the background exclaim, “He doesn’t even know who Jesus is!” He sank to the floor, and awoke in his own bed. He was so weak from the experience that he did not get out of bed for several days. Immediately he changed his plans, and spent his life serving God.

The Baal or god in our life is whatever becomes our “Master.” Is Jesus Christ first in our lives, or is he secondary? What comes before Jesus in our lives? The same things that precedence in our lives instead of God, are the things that become “thorns” in our own sides. We are conquered from within, just as the Israelites were. Our little weaknesses start as tributaries to us, but eventually become the Master/Lord/Baal over us. Whether it is addiction to alcohol, tobacco, drugs, sex, sports or video games, most of these began as something people could control - only to find they eventually were the slave. It isn’t that having a Canaanite living in one’s backyard is necessarily evil, but allowing the Canaanite to then entice us to forget God and follow the lusts of the heart becomes the crime. We leave behind God in our search for other gods to satisfy the flesh. And those gods become our masters.

The Judges Introduced
Judges 2:16-20

God explains that Israel would receive Judges, people called of God to act in His stead to deliver Israel. The Judges symbolized the future Jesus Christ, who seeks to deliver us from our captivity. Each time we are rescued and fall again, Christ is in the wings, waiting for us to again be chastened and humbled, so he can step in and rescue us once more.

Israel’s First Trial and Judge
Judges 3

Intermarriage is a big problem for Israel. It won’t go away anytime soon, either. The same curse falling on Israel now will affect King Solomon centuries later. This is also the same danger that affected the sons of Adam prior to the Flood. When the sons of Adam married the daughters of men, the women led the men astray into worshiping other gods. In the New Testament, it is Salome, dancing before her step-father King Herod Agrippa that will lead to the beheading of John the Baptist. It makes me wonder how many young LDS men have chosen not to serve on missions, because they didn’t want to leave their girlfriends behind. The problem is not necessarily the women, but the weakness of the men, who did not seek to convert the daughters of men first to the worship of Jehovah, but rather indulged with them in following Baal and other gods.

In Judges 3, we find Othniel as the first of the Judges to deliver Israel from their own sin and stupidity. Not long afterward, though, they returned to sinning and God placed them in slavery for another 18 years under the Moabites.

Ehud is the second Judge sent by Jehovah. He is noteworthy because he is left-handed. Ehud goes before the Moabite king, Eglon, who is a very fat person. In meeting with the king alone, he takes a dagger and runs it into Eglon’s stomach. The king’s fat stomach engulfed the dagger so it could not be taken out. Ehud escaped and brought forth his army to slay a Moabite army of 10,000. Israel was free for eighty years.

Deborah, the Prophetess
Judges 4

The Prophetess Deborah

Upon Ehud’s death, Israel sinned again, falling this time into the hands of the Canaanite king, Jabin. Sadly, there seems to have been no men in Israel righteous enough to be a Judge, and God called Deborah as a prophetess and Judge over Israel. Judging from where she dwelt near Bethel, Deborah was probably from the tribe of Ephraim. She called forth Barak, a major military leader in israel, and told him that God commanded him to free Israel.

But Barak would not go without Deborah to fight the Canaanite general Sisera. He understood the importance of her being present in the war. She was the Judge of God. She was a prophetess, who could foresee what needed to be done in the battle. The people looked up to her for guidance and deliverance.

Sisera was confident in the ability of his many chariots. He would be able to route any foot soldiers easily on the plains. However, we read that God disrupted the chariots, perhaps bogging them down so they were unable to continue, and the Canaanites were forced to fight on foot. The Canaanites were quickly slain by Barak’s army.

Yet Sisera escaped on foot. He had a colleague nearby, and asked Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite to hide him. She offered to do so, had him lay down to rest, and while he slept, ran a nail through his temple. Jael clearly saw that the battle was on the Lord’s side, and to assist Sisera was to embrace ruin for her husband and household.

In Judges 5, Deborah and Barak compose and sing a battle song for Israel. Even as Moses and Miriam sang at the Red Sea to celebrate the defeat of the Egyptians, so we receive another memorial psalm or hymn that was suited for Israelite festivals and holy days.

The land had 40 years more of rest for Israel.

Judges 6-8

Israel fell captive to the Midianites. The Midianites constantly destroyed the Israelite crops in order to keep them poor and stricken down, unable to rise up against their oppressors.

The Church lesson focuses on Gideon’s faith. Yet it may be better to discuss Gideon’s struggle with faith. For many of us, if an angel came to us and told us to perform a work for God, we would have enough faith to accomplish it. Gideon is full of doubt, but willing to serve God if he is able to do so in stealth. Gideon took ten men and destroyed the idol of Baal that his father built in the city, yet “because he feared his father’s household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night. “

As Gideon later went forward to gather an army, he still feared. Even after seeing an angel, he insisted on proof. Laying a fleece of wool on the ground outside his tent, he first asked that the fleece be wet with dew and the ground dry. The next night, he switched the situation, dry fleece and wet ground, in order to verify God was really with him.

This is not a sign of strong faith. God normally did not have to prove himself to his prophets on such a tall order. Gideon was not like Deborah. However, God works with those who are available, as we’ll see again in the story of Samson. Gideon was the best God could get in Israel in this time period, and patiently worked to strengthen his faith. Often, God will work with us to strengthen our faith, prior to giving us a great task to accomplish. Eventually, though, the Lord expects us to obey and not require signs and proofs continually.

The Lord, wishing to prove He would deliver Israel and not the army of Gideon, had Gideon reduce his army down to 300 men. Given the thousands in the Midianite army, it was obvious they could not accomplish it alone. Seeking another sign, Gideon slipped quietly into the Midianite tent at night to listen in on conversations. Hearing the soldiers fearing the Israelite army and Jehovah’s power, he knew he could safely go to battle. Fear was the tactic used by God to discomfit the Midianite army, as trumpets and lanterns turned the area into mayhem. Midianites began fighting among one another, as others fled, leaving the field to Gideon in victory.

More Apostasy and Chaos
Judges 9-12

After Gideon’s death, his son Abimelech became king. However, it was done through treachery, as he slew his 70 brothers and installed himself as king in wickedness.
Abimelech sought to control more territory and had a series of battles with the people of Shechem. Eventually, in storming a tower, a woman dropped a millstone upon Abimelech’s head and slew him. Abimelech’s people stopped warring and returned to their own homes, tired of war.

Then came judges to rescue Israel from its continuing sins and captivity: Tola, Jair, and others. Yet Israel continued to sin, worshiping gods from many of the nations. Finally, the Lord said ‘enough’ and sent several nations to afflict various portions of Israel. When the nation cried to God for deliverance, the Lord responded, “Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation” (10:14).

Israel put away its gods, and brought its armies against the Ammonite army. Yet, they were uncertain what to do, as God had not chosen a Judge to lead them. The Lord chooses Jepthah to lead the armies of Israel in their battle against the Ammonites east of the river Jordan. Jepthah makes a rash vow, that if God will allow him to defeat the Ammonites, he will sacrifice to god the first living thing that he sees on his return home.

The Ammonites are thwarted, and on returning home, Jepthah sees his only daughter running and dancing to celebrate her father. Jepthah allowed his daughter two months of mourning, as she would die a virgin. The story ends there, with the anticipation that Jepthah fulfilled the grisly human sacrifice, and that Israel’s virgin daughters grieved her annually (Judges 11).

Judges 12 begins with a civil war among Israelites. Jepthah was from the 1/2 tribe of Manasseh on the east side of the river Jordan. When Ephraim found out that Manasseh had gone to war without the rest of Israel, they determined that Manasseh had seceded from the house of Israel. War fell between Ephraim and Manasseh. Jepthah and the men of Gilead slew many of the Ephraimites. As Ephraim attempted to flee, Gilead was able to determine who in the wilderness were from Ephraim from the dialect. Ephraimites could not say “shibboleth”, but said “sibboleth” instead. Those who failed the test were slain. 42,000 Ephraimites were slain in the civil war.

So Jepthah and a few others judged Israel.

Samson and Delilah
Judges 13-16

In Judges 13, we find Israel falling into sin again. This time the Philistines conquered Israel. The Philistines were a Sea People related to the Phoenicians. They originally came from the Greek Isles, and were known for their pottery and art of the period. They were culturally and aesthetically more advanced than Israel. Samson would prove to be a bigger “philistine” than the Philistines.

Manoah’s barren wife was told by an angel that she would bare a son to be a judge in Israel. This son would be a Nazarite: one set apart to God’s service, who was not to drink alcohol, eat unclean things, cut his hair, or touch the dead. Samson would disobey virtually all the Ten Commandments of God. As mentioned before, God used what was available in Israel to deliver Israel. Samson was the best available, but was not that great.

For Samson, his purpose was not to serve God, but was to fight the Philistines because they annoyed him. He sought to marry a Philistine woman. When riddles and bets with the Philistines were rigged, he destroyed their crops by sending hundreds of foxes with firebrands tied to their tails through the land. An army of Philistines attempt to stop Samson, and he slew them with the jawbone (Lehi) of an ass.

He slew a lion, and later found in the dead lion (unclean and dead) that bees made a honeycomb within it. Instead of avoid the dead, he ate of the honeycomb and took some home to his parents.

As with Israel, so it was with Samson. Things went well for them, and they fell into sin. Samson met Delilah, a beautiful Philistine woman. Once again, Samson was engaged with women outside of Israel. And the woman became his downfall. She continually went from enticing him to be with her, to enticing him to reveal the secret of his strength. Eventually, he revealed his secret, and lost the power of his great strength. As the Philistines blinded him, and made him work as an ox grinding the grain in the prison house.

At length, his hair grew back. The Philistines were celebrating a great festival of one of their gods, and wanted to bring in Samson to mock as a display of Israel’s failure. Samson now had his power restored, or part of it. In grasping two pillars to bring down the building and slay the princes of Philistia, he did not have God’s work in mind: “O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes” (16:28). Samson doesn’t want to rescue Israel, he wants revenge for being blind. Of all the sloppy and poor judges of Israel, he was the worst. Samson probably had the greatest ability to free Israel, but wasted his great strength on his own lusts instead.

The Levite Stories
Judges 17-21

In Midian, an Israelite man with wealth spent a large portion of his money (200 shekels) on creating idols, and tabernacle-like statues (ephod, teraphim) for his house. In the time of the Judges, a shekel was a weight, probably somewhere between 9 and 17 grams or about 1/2 an ounce. In today’s (2010) value, 100 ounces of bulk silver equals about two thousand ($2000) dollars. That amount in silver coins would be worth almost $3000 today. It seems creating a center for worship in one’s home was all the rage. He consecrated one of his sons to be priest over the idols. It is possible this also became a local shrine, where he could charge others to worship the gods he created, and giving him a nice income on the side.

A young Levite came into the area, and Micah knew that he needed a priest of Jehovah, to ensure he covered all the bases in worshiping all the gods in the area. Offering to pay and maintain the Levite at a decent wage, he consecrated him as his priest for the Lord. “Then said Micah, Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest” (17:13).

In Judges 18, we find that the tribe of Dan still has not obtained an inheritance for themselves. Many dwelt along the coastline with the Phoenicians, and it is supposed by some scholars that most of the tribe of Dan disappeared, or was absorbed by the Phoenicians. They came and appropriated Micah’s ephod, teraphim and idols for themselves. The Levite priest was offered the job to be priest for a whole tribe, rather than just priest for one household. With the power of Jehovah’s Levite and symbols of the tabernacle, they took the coastline city of Laish for themselves. They set up the sacred items for their tribe in Laish/Dan, even though the Tabernacle was in the city of Shiloh.

The Desolation of Benjamin

The second story (Judges 19-21) tells of a Levite who found himself a concubine (a slave wife) in Bethlehem. After a short time, his wife was unfaithful and then ran away back to her father’s home. The Levite returned, spending several days with her father. Finally one evening, it was time to leave. They approached Jebus/Jerusalem, a few miles down the road, where his servants suggested they stop for the night. The Levite, however, would not rest in a city of the Jebusites, and so went on to Gibeah, a city of the tribe of Benjamin. For quite some time they waited in the streets to ask someone to lodge them. In finding an older man in the street, the Levite stated, “I am now going to the house of the Lord; and there is no man that receiveth me to house”. The Levite was on his way to Shiloh and the Tabernacle, and no one yet had opened their home to him. But the old man took him in and was a gracious host.

As the night progressed, many of the local men who worshiped Belial, known as one of the four crowned princes of hell, came to the old man’s house. As the men did at Sodom for Lot’s guests, the men of Benjamin insisted the Levite be sent out so they could “know him.” Instead, the concubine was sent outside. She was gang-raped until she died at dawn on the porch of the old man’s house.

.The Levite took the torn corpse with him. Cutting her into twelve pieces, he sent part of her to the princes of each of the twelve tribes. Incensed, Israel demanded that Benjamin turn over the men of Gibeah for punishment. The tribe of Benjamin refused. Once again, a civil war began in Israel. There were about 32, 000 men for Benjamin against 400,000 for the rest of Israel.

When they asked the Lord who should go first to battle, the Lord sent Judah went against Benjamin, but they were sorely defeated. Israel wept and then asked the Lord if they should go against Benjamin, and were told to go. Again they were defeated. 40,000 Israelite soldiers now were dead after two battles - one tenth of their armies! Benjamin still stood very strong with few dead on their side.

26 Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the Lord, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord.
27 And the children of Israel enquired of the Lord, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,
28 And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,) saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease? And the Lord said, Go up; for to morrow I will deliver them into thine hand.

On the third try, Israel realized that it took more than just asking God to have God go with them into battle. It required going to the Tabernacle/Temple, fasting, praying, and offering sacrifices, prior to the Lord going with them in strength.

The next day, Israel defeated Benjamin soundly. All of its cities were burned, and the inhabitants destroyed. Six hundred men escaped and hid in nearby caves. When the fighting stopped, Israel realized they had virtually wiped out one of the tribes of God. With the desolation of Benjamin, they entreated the 600 men to rebuild the tribe, each of the other tribes giving them their daughters for wives.

In this second story, we see that even God’s people can become as evil as Sodom and Gomorrah. The devil gives great power to the wicked, and it often takes more than just asking God to be able to defeat evil. Often it takes weeping, prayer, fasting, temple attendance, and sacrifice of one’s heart and soul, in order to then go forth with God’s power. One man complained to Jesus that the apostles were unable to heal his child from demonic possession. After healing the child, the Savior told his disciples that some of these “But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21).



The God Yam:

For more on the Divine Council, El Elyon/Elohim, Jehovah as king/God of Israel competing against other divine sons, etc, see my previous Old Testament Lessons (use key search word El Elyon):

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