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Archive for March, 2018

A Note About Obeying God Rather Than Men:

It may seem obvious that we should obey God rather than men when there is a conflict between those two authorities. But it is not always so easy when worldly authorities have the power to command our obedience and to punish us if we disobey them.

A familiar New Testament story involves the apostles Peter and John. The Jewish priests and Sadducees were angry when the apostles were preaching about Jesus and threw the disciples into prison. The next day when the rulers met they questioned Peter and John. It was apparent that the rulers could not keep them in prison so they let them go but admonished them to stop preaching in Jesus’s name. Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you or to him? You be the judges!” (Acts 4:19).

The Jewish leaders saw themselves as the authorities in Israel. But the apostles said that God is a higher authority.

Peter and John were not the first to disregard earthly authority. When the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt, Pharaoh instructed the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill all of the male babies. “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do: they let the boys live.” God blessed the midwives with families of their own for obeying Him.

There is another in the Old Testament of someone who believed that it is better to obey God rather than men. This was a woman named Abigail.

Her husband Nabal was her authority. Nabal acted foolishly and his faithful wife tried to rescue the situation and save his life. The way that Abigail took things into her own hands would have made her husband angry. If Nabal would have known what Abigail was going to do he would have forbidden it. Abigail risked severe punishment, but she feared God more than her husband.

Let’s turn to I Samuel 25 and read this story of a wise woman – Abigail.

 

Abigail – Wise Counselor

 Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him, and they buried him at his home in Ramah. Then David moved down into the Desert of Paran.

A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings – he was a Calebite.

While David was in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. So he sent ten young men and said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. Say to him: ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours! Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. Ask you own servants and they will tell you. Therefore, be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.’

When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name. Then they waited. (I Samuel 25:1-9)

At the time our story takes place, Saul is the king of Israel. You may remember that the Israelites were at war with the Philistines during these times. When David was a lad, he fought the champion of the Philistines, the giant Goliath. After that he went to work at the palace for Saul. As Saul grew older, he became jealous of David. He even threatened to kill him, so David had to go away and hide from Saul. He was on the run.

He had a large following of men who stayed with him, living in the wilderness of Paran. There he was not only safe from Saul, but he was able to be of real service to his countrymen by protecting the large flocks which pastured far and wide from the predatory raids of the wild tribes of the desert.

One of the people that David protected was Nabal, a wealthy land owner. Nabal had many flocks of sheep. A special time for sheep farmers was when they did the shearing. It was a time of rejoicing, for when the fleeces were sold, there would be much money and a big celebration. Nabal had sold his wool and was throwing a huge party. Because David and his men had protected Nabal’s sheep, they felt that they should be invited to the celebration. David sent a delegation of ten men to greet Nabal and ask for something in return for his service.

Nabal answered David’s men roughly and sent them away empty handed. He had insulted them by acting as if he didn’t even know who they were. They went back to tell David about Nabal’s rejection, and when David heard this, he was very angry. He had four hundred men put on their swords and follow him back to Nabal’s place. Two hundred men stayed behind with the supplies.

Continue with I Samuel 25:14-17:

One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”

In the meantime, one of Nabal’s servants had heard how Nabal mistreated David’s emissaries. This servant knew that it would be no good to try and reason with his master who was “such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.” He ran and told Abigail, Nabal’s wife. Abigail was a wise woman and could be trusted to know what to do. The servant told her all about how David and his men had protected them all those months that they tended the sheep. Abigail immediately resolved to take action.

Abigail was not only beautiful, but intelligent. She knew what needed to be done, and that it had to be done quickly. She had the servants load up some food and beverages and put them on donkeys. She told them to go on ahead of her to meet David. She herself followed on her donkey as soon as she could. “But she did not tell her husband Nabal” (I Samuel 25:19).

Imagine what courage Abigail must have had. She had heard that David and four hundred armed soldiers were coming after her husband. She had no way of knowing what the outcome would be. She did not know if David was so angry that he would punish everyone before she had a chance to talk to him. She knew that she had to hurry and meet David before he reached her house.

Continuing at verse 20:

As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. David had just said, “It’s been useless – all my watching over this fellow’s property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!”

Abigail may have been trembling when she saw David, but she met him bravely. She got down off of her donkey and bowed to the ground and begged him to listen to her.

Continuing at Verse 24:

She fell at his feet and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name – his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And now my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you.

This is a pretty amazing speech. Abigail is speaking disrespectfully of her husband. But there is a good reason for this; Abigail wants David to know that Nabal’s reputation is terrible with everyone. He’s just a fool, and not worth David’s time. In contrast to Nabal’s wickedness, Abigail praises David, calling him “lord”. She appeals to his honor as a man who wants justice. She reminds him that God has stopped him from avenging himself with his own hands. Abigail is the one who prevented David from committing bloodshed, but she tactfully gives him the credit for not continuing to pursue revenge.

Instead, Abigail asked him to put all of the blame on her. She told him to treat her as his maidservant. She apologized for not knowing sooner about the young men that David had sent to see Nabal.  She begged him to accept the gift of food that she had brought.

Abigail continues with a prophecy for David. Turn to verse 28:

Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live. Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.”

Abigail shows foresight and wisdom in this speech. She continues to build David up as a man of God who would not really want to do something that would stay on his conscience forever. She gave David a chance to save his face. By then David had cooled off. Abigail appealed to his character as a man of God. David repented and admitted to Abigail that she was right.

Continuing with verse 32:

David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.”

David accepted Abigail’s gift with thanks. He then told her to go home in peace.

When Abigail went to Nabal he was holding a great banquet. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she decided not to speak to him until the next morning.

In the morning Abigail told Nabal all that had happened the day before. Nabal’s heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later the Lord struck Nabal and he died.

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he knew for certain that God had upheld his cause against Nabal for treating him with contempt. God had also kept him from doing wrong by avenging himself on Nabal.

God rewarded the faithfulness and courage of Abigail. Turn to verse 39:

Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.” She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.” Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five female servants, went with David’s messengers and became his wife.

Abigail was now under David’s protection as one of his wives. David was getting a wife that would be his spiritual equal as a good companion and counselor.

We don’t know any more about Abigail than what we read in I Samuel 25. We can be encouraged from what we do know that God cares for His children. How exciting it will be to hear about the rest of her life when we get to Heaven!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Note About Courage:

When we think of brave heroes in the Bible we usually think of the stories of men. As a young boy, David was certainly courageous to go up against the giant Goliath. Though Gideon needed a lot of encouragement from God, he eventually went up against the whole Midianite army with only three hundred men.

But there were many courageous women in the Bible, too. Most often we think of how brave they were as wives such as Sarah and Rebekah who left their homes to share life with their husbands in strange lands. But God sometimes asked more of His daughters.

It takes two chapters in the Bible to tell the story about two women who served in uncommonly courageous ways – Judges, chapters 4 & 5.

As a judge in Israel, Deborah was called on to lead the people in time of war. She relied on Barak as the military commander. Though not a coward, Barak was not trusting of God enough to go to battle without Deborah by his side. Because of Barak’s weak decision, God gave the honor of the battle to an incredibly courageous woman – Jael.

These two women had extreme courage because they had strong faith in God. They knew that whatever God had said would come to pass. They could follow their calling courageously while trusting in Him.

These are two of the more colorful and exciting stories in the Bible. Let’s turn now to Judges 4:4.

Deborah – Judge and Mother in Israel and Jael, Most Blessed of Women

 Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’” Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

 

When the Israelites arrived in the Promised Land after the Exodus, they were supposed to rid the land of the Canaanites. They succeeded to a large extent. However, many pagan nations did not get driven out and these became a snare to the children of Israel.

Over the next few centuries the Israelites would fall to the temptation to serve the false gods of the Canaanites. God would send persecution at the hands of one of these nations and the Israelites would have to serve these pagans. Eventually the people would repent and ask God to forgive them and save them from their oppressors. This “cycle” in the book of Judges would be repeated over and over again. The people would sin with idolatry, God would send oppressors against them, the Israelites would cry out to God, God would forgive them and send a judge to lead them out of their bondage, the people would have rest for a few years, while at ease they would fall back into idolatry, and the whole cycle would start over.

Deborah was the fourth judge in Israel. The oppressor that God sent against the Israelites this time was a king of Hazor – Jabin. Jabin had a very strong army that included 900 chariots of iron. The commander of his army was the formidable Sisera. The Israelites did not master the craft of ironworking until much later during David’s time. So these Canaanite oppressors were able to take over the Israelites and dominate them completely with their superior advantage of iron weaponry and chariots.

Deborah sat under a special palm tree where anyone who wanted to come to her for advice or for adjudication could find her. Though she was a married woman, this was the job God called her to do. We know that her husband’s name was Lappidoth but the Bible says nothing more about him. In those days the husband’s family name identified the household. It is important to see that though Deborah was the one called to be a judge, and not her husband, she in no way was going against the traditional roles for women as wives. Because of her godly example, both she and her husband were honored. This amazing woman found time to be a wife, a judge, and a prophet.

There were two ways in which Deborah was different from the other judges in Israel. First, she was a prophet. Other than Samuel who was a judge, priest, and a prophet, none of the other judges were prophets. If you look at the lives of some of the other judges, there is a clear difference in the godly way Deborah lived. Just look at Samson’s behavior with Delilah for example. Gideon showed less than stellar trust as well. Deborah’s life showed her complete trust in God, and the Israelites recognized her as a spiritual leader. They honored her recognizing that Deborah’s other special calling besides judge was as prophet.

Secondly, Deborah was not a military leader. Some writers assume that she was because all of the other judges were. Yes, she went with Barak to war, but notice that Barak was the military commander, not Deborah. Her place in God’s plan was as the spiritual leader to appointed Barak at the command of God. When Barak showed less than perfect faith in God, Deborah the prophet foretold that the victory over the leader of the Canaanites, Sisera, would go to another woman – Jael.

In Deborah’s song, which we will read in chapter 5, she gives us a picture of just how dire things were under the cruel oppression of King Jabin. Deborah said that the “highways were deserted, and travelers went by in roundabout ways” (Judges 5:6). The Israelites had no matching weapons with which to fight Sisera’s army. The people were hiding out in fear avoiding the main roads that were full of soldiers.

The Lord heard their cry and was merciful again. Judge Deborah selected an Israelite commander, Barak, and went with him to battle against Sisera and his 900 iron chariots. Deborah told Barak to place himself on the high ground of Mount Tabor and wait for Sisera’s army to come to him. Barak chose 10,000 men to go with him. Then Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go” (Judges 4:8).

Many people think that Barak said this because he was a coward. But note that 10,000 men from only two tribes, Zebulun and Naphtali were willing to go with him. Barak would not have gotten this following if he had the reputation of a coward. A mere 10,000 men against the formidable army of Sisera would never have followed a weakling. They had faith in the Lord and in Barak. Barak was willing to go and fight as long as he had some assurance.

Barak was merely seeking to have Deborah, God’s spokesperson with him in the battle. Deborah was not only the judge, but also recognized as a prophetess. All Israelites honored Deborah as the one who spoke for God. Barak’s faith in his own strength was weaker than Deborah’s, but he was no coward. Nevertheless, for his weak faith in God, Deborah told him that he would not get the glory of killing the leader, Sisera. That honor would go to a woman.

The Israelites went to battle and they were successful with a lot of help from God. The battle took place near the Kishon River. God sent heavy rains that made the ground soft and muddy, causing the heavy iron chariots to sink. The frustrated Canaanite soldiers lost their advantage.

Deborah told Barak, “Arise! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the Lord has gone out before you” (Judges 4:14). Barak realized that the Canaanites were struggling in the mud and took advantage of that to go down with his 10,000 men and fight with them. All of the Canaanites were killed except for their commander, Sisera.

Sisera fled on foot to the tent of Heber the Kenite. Heber was away but his wife Jael was there. Jael bravely killed Sisera. Indeed, as predicted by Deborah the victory of the conquest over the leader of the enemy would go to a woman – Jael.

Jael showed incredible courage when her time came to do her part in the war between the Israelites and King Jabin. If you have never heard the story before, hold onto your seat. It’s gruesome but was part of God’s plan to save His people. Deborah will sing the praises of Jael in her song after the defeat of Sisera.

Turn to Judges 4:17:

Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite. Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket. “I’m thirsty” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up. “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.’” But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died. Just then Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet hm. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple – dead.

God had defeated Israel’s enemies by delivering their leader into the hand of a woman as Deborah the prophetess had foretold.

God used a courageous woman to help to defeat Israel’s enemy. Why did He choose this particular woman? What was so special about her and her act of bravery?

Some say that what she did was not courageous. They say that she heard from someone passing by that King Jabin’s army had been defeated and that Sisera was on the run. they assert that She just wanted to join the winning side and thought she could be the heroine if she betrayed Sisera. They say that she used a cowardly trick to dispatch him from this life. The Scriptures tell us otherwise.

In reality, Jael knew she would face approbation from her husband and her husband’s family for her treatment of Sisera. She knew that she had violated the very strict laws of hospitality that were followed in those days. She also knew that she could face the possibility of being put to death for assassination. The Kenites were supposed to be neutral in this war. Her act would have been seen as betrayal by her people. And, she took a very real risk of having to defend herself against a mighty warrior if he should awaken before she was able to complete his execution.

And so I believe that she was courageous and she feared God rather than men. There was a line that she would not cross. Her life was in danger, but she chose to do what was right. The Scriptures tell us that she was blessed for what she did. Deborah made a song of that great victory over God’s enemies and proclaimed, “Most blessed of women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite.’ (Judges 5:24).

Jael had faith in God, and this is why she chose to follow Him no matter what. It is my prayer that this story of strength and courage from God displayed in Jael will enable you to follow Him when you have hard choices to make.

After God had given the victory to the Israelites, Deborah and Barak sand a song of praise to God. In this song Barak is praised for his part in leading only 10,000 men against the mighty Sisera. Barak was the military leader that led Israel to victory with God’s help. This is further proof that God did not choose Deborah because Barak was a coward. He chose a woman because He wanted to. Deborah and Barak get equal praise for their parts in following God.

After this victory Israel had peace for forty years. We do not know how much longer Deborah lived but eventually she died. And, unfortunately the Israelites would do evil in the sight of the Lord again. The next judge would be the famous Gideon.

Deborah was with Barak to witness the victory over their enemies. She could not help but burst into song to praise God as the One Who really brought the victory.

Even today Deborah’s song is considered second only to the song of Moses. In the first part of the song, Deborah tells of God’s might from the time of the Exodus and Israel’s wanderings in the desert. God gave them the law at Mount Sinai and brought them to the Promised Land. Deborah recounts how much the Israelites have suffered since being in the land. Of course we know that their suffering was due to their disobedience to God, especially when they turned to the idols of the surrounding pagan people.

Deborah tells how beginning with the days after Shamgar, the judge who immediately preceded her, the Israelites were under such oppression that they could not even walk on public roads safely. “Travelers went by roundabout ways” (Judges 5:6). The people had no weapons with which to defend themselves. The people seemed to be helpless.

Then God chose Deborah, a mother to her people in Israel. Deborah appointed Barak to lead the Israelites in battle against the Canaanites. Men from the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, Zebulun, and Issachar came to fight in the war (Judges 5:14,15).

In poetic fashion, Deborah then describes the battle and gives the victory to the Lord.
“The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera” (Judges 5:20). This is obviously a metaphor for the Lord. She goes on to describe the miraculous way in which the Lord defeated Jabin’s mighty army. “The torrent of Kishon swept them away” (verse 21). Once again God delivered His people in a miraculous way by sending the flood that bogged down their chariots.

Her song goes on to praise Jael, the woman to whom God chose to give the honor of the defeat of Sisera. The story is gruesome but true.
Most blessed of women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite;
Most blessed is she of women in the tent.
He asked for water and she gave him milk;
In a magnificent bowl she brought him curds.
She reached out her hand for the tent peg,
And her right hand for the workmen’s hammer.
Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head;
And she shattered and pierced his temple.
Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay;
Between her feet he bowed, he fell; where he bowed, there he fell dead. (Judges 5:24-27)

Truly these two women showed unusual strength as they followed God.

 

 

 

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