Samson’s Women

And she said unto him, “How canst thou say, ‘I love thee,’ when thy heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth” (Judges 16:15).

Samson’s women do not reflect well on the feminine gender. The unnamed Timnite woman whom he married begged him to tell the secret of his riddle and then explained it to her people (Judges 14:13-19). Delilah, whom he loved, constantly asked regarding the secret of his strength, and every time told the lords of the Philistines whatever answers he gave (Judges 16:4-21). These women manipulated Samson, dealt faithlessly with him, and, ultimately, led him to destruction.

Francesco Morone 001

Yet the lesson of Samson’s women has less to do with their being women and more with their being Philistines. Their treachery, faithlessness, and obnoxiousness derives from their greater loyalty to their families and nation. They are Philistines first, and Samson’s wives second.

God’s people would do well to learn from Samson. Even though he was one of the strongest men who ever lived, he was undone by the treachery of the women he kept close to his breast. He could not win them over.

When we intimately involve ourselves with people who are not God’s people, we run the risk of following Samson’s path. We can love them and be loyal to them and perform our duties faithfully, but if their loyalty is not with the Lord, we may find ourselves easily compromised. When the price is right, their treachery may be our undoing!

Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? Or what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement hath a temple of God with idols? For we are a temple of the living God; even as God said,
“I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, And touch no unclean thing; And I will receive you, And will be to you a Father, And ye shall be to me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

Ethan R. Longhenry

Knew Not the LORD

And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, that knew not the LORD, nor yet the work which he had wrought for Israel (Judges 2:10).

Humans are creatures of habit. We participate in “good” habits and “bad” habits; it is easy to perpetuate “bad” habits, and far harder to stop them, but the opposite tends to be true for “good” habits. What is true about us as individuals can also be seen in terms of larger groups and even on a generational level. Certain practices, for better or worse, get communicated from generation to generation. Other practices can be neglected and forgotten.

When it comes to habits, the beginning of the process is extremely important. Some say that it takes twenty-one days to start or break a habit; after that point, it is easier to keep on going (or not going, whatever the situation might be). Whatever starts well has a better chance of ending well.

The same is true when it came to God’s work amongst the Israelites. The generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt saw God’s powerful hand both defeating their enemies and keeping them alive. The generation afterward saw God’s hand in the conquest of Canaan. A legacy had been established which could be now communicated to successive generations of Israelites: the powerful story of God’s working on behalf of Israel. The story was to be perpetuated for generations so that Israel would always remember how YHWH delivered their fathers out of Egypt and knew that YHWH, not Baal, not any other god, was truly God (e.g. Exodus 12:24-27). It was intended to be a catalyst toward faithfulness for each successive generation.

Yet as soon as the Israelites enter the land, something goes wrong. Perhaps the fathers did not properly instruct their children; perhaps the children, as they grew up, rebelled against the teachings they received. Nevertheless, the next generation grew up without knowing YHWH nor the work which He had done for Israel.

The “good” habit had been broken; the “bad” habits began to perpetuate themselves. The Judges author goes on to describe the faithlessness of Israel, following the customs of the nations around them, turning to the Baals, provoking YHWH to anger (Judges 2:11-14). This will be the paradigm that marks Israelite history for another 800 years, culminating in the exile of Israel and Judah (cf. 2 Kings 17:7-23, 2 Chronicles 36:13-16).

The challenge makes sense: everyone has to get some sort of story about who they are and the world in which they live from somewhere. God provided that story for Israel through His saving acts of deliverance, but for a generation who did not know YHWH and what He did, all was left was the story the Canaanites were telling.

The challenge remains to this day. Everyone has to get some sort of story about who they are and the world in which they live from somewhere. God provides that story for us in Scripture: God as Creator, man’s fall, God’s work to redeem mankind through the Patriarchs, Israel, and ultimately and completely through His Son, Jesus of Nazareth. As God did for Israel in Egypt and the Wilderness, so God has done for all mankind in Jesus: God has acted powerfully to redeem us and rescue us from bondage (cf. Romans 5:6-11, 6:16-23). This is the story that should be told from generation to generation.

Yet rebellion persists. Some never learn of the story; some only receive a portion of the story; others learn it but reject it. Plenty grow up and live, never knowing God, and as a result, believe in whatever story they hear from their society and culture through its various agents.

While we all enjoy the creation which God has made for us, and should be able to perceive His hand within it (cf. Romans 1:19-20), we should not expect to see in our generation any of the powerful acts of deliverance akin to what God wrought for Israel in Egypt and the Wilderness and in Judea in the days of Jesus of Nazareth. This does not minimize the power of those events; it shows us how God acts decisively within human history in order to transform humanity, and it then becomes incumbent on every successive generation to communicate the message of God’s deliverance and to orient others back toward a reconciled relationship with their Creator. It is a never-ending process. Even if we have accepted it in the past and seek to communicate it to others, we must be reminded of it again frequently, lest we forget. And we must take special concern not to see the message confused and distorted by later adaptations and changes meant to make it all more palatable to the audience of the day.

Good habits are hard to start; bad habits are tough to break. Let us promote the Gospel of Christ, develop the “habit” of dependence upon God, lest we incur the same judgment and condemnation as those who did not know YHWH or what He has done!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jephthah’s Vow

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, “If thou wilt indeed deliver the children of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering” (Judges 11:30-31).

The vow certainly seemed to be a good idea at the time.

The Israelites were suffering under the oppression of the Ammonites. Jephthah was certainly not the first choice– the son of a prostitute (Judges 11:1), and now a gang leader (Judges 11:3)– but he’s the one that the Gileadites beg to help them defeat Ammon. If he is victorious, he will rule over Gilead. If he is defeated, he will bear ignominy and shame if not death! Thus he makes his vow, in all seriousness, to God. If he is granted victory, whatever comes out to greet him will become a burnt offering to God– a princely sacrifice indeed!

Yet Jephthah’s vow is a tragic one. He was, no doubt, expecting an ox, a sheep, or a goat to meet him first. The LORD grants him a mighty victory (Judges 11:32-33). But, as Jephthah comes home, his daughter– his only child– comes out to meet him (Judges 11:34). The text then indicates that she mourns for her virginity for two months and that Jephthah then “did with her according to his vow which he had vowed” (Judges 11:35-39). He had paid his vow. He offered up his daughter as a burnt offering.

People today recoil at this story. How gruesome! How terrible! Many wish to soften the story by declaring that Jephthah really didn’t sacrifice her, pointing out that God condemned human sacrifice, and saying that she was just left a virgin. While it is true that God does not demand human sacrifice and would not have commanded Jephthah to offer such a sacrifice, the text is pretty clear. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for his daughter to mourn her virginity for two months if she will be mourning it the rest of her life beyond that. And the text does say that he did to her according to his vow– and his vow was to offer up whatever met him as a burnt offering. The Judges author is describing the events that took place in the days of the Judges– he’s not necessarily condoning them.

Nevertheless, we rightly recoil at the horror of this story. The tragedy is that it was all very avoidable. The problem was not with Jephthah making a vow, or the victory the LORD gave him, or with his daughter coming to meet him. The problem was with the specific vow that Jephthah made. He was operating under a certain set of assumptions and did not factor other circumstances into those assumptions. Had the thought crossed his mind that it would be his only child that would come to meet him first, he would never have made that vow the way that he did!

Jephthah’s vow should be a great reminder for us about the power of words. As it is written,

Death and life are in the power of the tongue; And they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof (Proverbs 18:21).

And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37).

We have all, at some point or another, spoken casually, not really thinking about the whole range of consequences of what we have said. We may feel blindsided when the unintended consequences of our words come back to us and we realize that we have “put our foot in our mouths,” so to speak. Hopefully our words will not cause the same type of devastation as Jephthah’s did– but we will be called into account for everything we say.

Vows to God were serious business, serious enough that Jephthah considered it worse to break his vow than to offer his daughter as a burnt offering. Words, despite how easily they may flow off our tongue, are serious business, and life and death may even hang in the balance. Let us learn from the tragic story of Jephthah and his daughter, and be circumspect about how we speak!

Ethan R. Longhenry

No King in Israel

In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6).

Some people think that humans would do best under no government whatsoever: every man would be responsible for himself and his own decisions.  The Bible reveals how foolish such an idea really is.

Man is quite sinful, and his sin too often gets the better of him.  In the time of the Judges, while Israel technically was subject to God, in reality, they decided for themselves what they were and were not going to do.

Did this lead them to follow the Law of Moses?  Far from it!  They served the Baals and the Asherah.  They stole, made idols and called them YHWH, raped, slaughtered, turned blind eyes to kidnapping, and suffered greatly with internal conflict.

It is as Solomon and Jeremiah have established:

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; But the end thereof are the ways of death (Proverbs 14:12).

O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps (Jeremiah 10:23).

Government must exist to punish evil and praise good (Romans 13:1-6).  It is within the Gospel message, however, that we learn that we cannot direct our own steps as we ought.  We learn how we must instead trust in God, lean on Him for understanding and follow His paths (cf. Proverbs 3:5-7), and find the right path for our feet.

We may not have an earthly king, but we do have a Heavenly One, and we must do what is right in His eyes (1 John 2:1-6).  Let us strive to do so today!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Micah’s Certainty

Then said Micah, “Now know I that the LORD will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest” (Judges 17:13).

Statistics reveal that most people believe in God.  Most would say that they seek to curry favor with God.  They have it within their heads that if they do certain things that God will surely bless them.

Micah is a representative of this view.  We learn in Judges 17 that after taking 1100 pieces of silver from his mother and then restoring them, his mother decides to take some of the silver and make a molten image of YHWH of it.  Micah makes his own ephod and installs his own son as a priest.  When a Levite comes by who is willing to serve before the idol for him, he takes him in and then feels pleased with himself.

When we consider the whole of the Law of Moses, and how molten images are an abomination to God, let alone having one’s own sanctuary, we wonder how Micah can feel this way.  What does the LORD owe him?  How can he think that the LORD will bless him when he is presently sinning?

Yet we must not be too harsh on Micah, because many Micahs are all around us, and we may have a little Micah within ourselves.

How many people have we seen who make progress with one or two battles in their lives and then think that God is then okay with them?  How many will point to all of their generosity and act as if such will cover their iniquity?

How many times have we done the same?  How often have we prided ourselves on some spiritual accomplishment while neglecting other matters?  How many times have we labored under the pretension that if we curry favor with God that such automatically leads to blessings?

In Matthew 5:45, Jesus declares that God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust.  God may do people good even though they have been unrighteous; after all, we have all sinned, and God showed His love for us while we were in sin (Romans 5:6-11).  The righteous may experience difficulty and suffering in order to test their faith and to produce spiritual benefit (James 1:2-4, Hebrews 12:6-13).

We would do well to learn from Micah’s “certainty.”  God does not owe us anything, and there is nothing that we can “do” that forces God to “do good” for us.  God still provides life and blessing even though we all have sinned against Him.  As opposed to striving to gain God’s favor, let us be thankful for the blessings which God has already provided!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Samson and Revenge

And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, “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” (Judges 16:28).

The Judges author presents the story of Samson as a cycle of vengeance.  The father of the Timnite shames Samson, and in revenge, he has the grain of Philistia burned.  In revenge, they kill the Timnite and her father, and seek to do to Samson what Samson did to them.  Samson then kills more Philistines (Judges 15).  The Philistines, through Delilah, figure out how to capture Samson, and blind him in vengeance for what he did to them.  And here, at the end of his life, Samson asks God to give him strength to get revenge on Philistia for his eye.

What is the result? The death of thousands, but no real change.  Philistia is still in control, and Israel is still humbled before them.  Samson’s vengeance is not enough to save Israel.

Samson’s life provides a vivid demonstration of the fruitlessness of the cycle of vengeance.  Its desire is never satisfied; there is always some new affront that requires restitution.  This is not God’s way in His Kingdom.

Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written,
“‘Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense,’ saith the Lord.”
“But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:19-21).

Only by loving our enemies can we win them over or to at least demonstrate that we are God’s children (Matthew 5:43-45, Luke 6:27-36).  Let us leave judgment in God’s hands, and love all men!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Gideon’s Tests

And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, “Arise, get thee down into the camp; for I have delivered it into thy hand. But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Purah thy servant down to the camp: and thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thy hands be strengthened to go down into the camp” (Judges 7:9-11a).

If we consider the story of Gideon as described in Judges 6-8, we are struck by Gideon’s constant testing of God.  What is he trying to accomplish?

Is he timid?  He was willing to tear down the Baal and Asherah of his father’s people, and went within earshot of the enemy camp at God’s instruction.  He certainly is bold when he wants to be!

So what does Gideon seek?  The answer is not specifically revealed, but it seems to be that he seeks reassurance of God’s presence.  Gideon has enough faith to trust in God; he just wants to make sure that God is still with him in his endeavors.

What about us?  Do we seek God’s reassurance that He is with us in our endeavors? Do we want to make sure that what we are striving to do is, in fact, what God desires us to do?

We are to be people who walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Let us find reassurance in the Author and Finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ, and in the confidence of His Word (cf. Hebrews 12:2)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Gideon’s Perspective

And Gideon said unto him, “Oh, my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where are all his wondrous works which our fathers told us of, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD hath cast us off, and delivered us into the hand of Midian” (Judges 6:13).

Gideon (and Israel) experienced difficult times: Midian and the people of the East were strong, and Israel was greatly humiliated and oppressed.  Where was God in all of this?  If God is as great as the fathers made Him out to be, where is He?

What Gideon did not consider was Israel’s great sin in serving the Baals (Judges 6:10, 25-26).  He did not consider that God handed Israel into Midian’s hands because they transgressed His covenant (Judges 6:1).  He did not consider that Israel remained stubborn and did not heed God’s voice (Judges 6:10).

The situation was quite different than it seemed through Gideon’s eyes.

There are many times in our own lives when things do not seem to make a lot of sense.  We see pain and suffering and difficulty.  We read the stories about how God delivered people in the past, and yet there is no delivery for us.  Many want to know where God is in all of this.

Yet just as God was there in Gideon’s day, God is here today (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:8).  We may be experiencing God’s chastening for our sins.  We may be experiencing trial so that our faith can be properly tested.  God may have something entirely different in store for us.  In the end, it may even turn out for our own good.

Wisdom teaches us to remember that our perspective is limited, and we often neglect to remember that there are many other factors involved that we may not understand.  We can let our doubts, questions, and difficulties separate us from God, or we can let them teach us to trust Him more.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” saith the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Ethan R. Longhenry