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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Gideon's "Fleecing" of God

"Contrary to popular interpretation, these fleecings have nothing to do with discovering or determining God's will. The divine will is perfectly and absolutely clear in Gideon's own mind. These 'signs' revel his lack of faith."

- K. Lawson Younger, Jr in The NIV Application Commentary on Judges & Ruth, pg. 187

Friday, June 29, 2012

Intimacy with God: An Indescribable Gift, Not An Inalienable Right

"This sort of talk (Judges 6:22) is strange to us, because we have no real sense of the terror and awesomeness of God, for we think intimacy with God is an inalienable right rather than an indescribable gift. There is nothing amazing about grace as long as there is nothing fearful about holiness."

- Dale Ralph Davis, "Judges: Such a Great Salvation," pg. 97

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tossing Her Sister in the Lake ? - A Book Review by Heather Mitchell: "1000 Gifts"

EFCA Today has published a book review by the lovely and wise Heather Mitchell on the book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp.

An excerpt: "You know how, in the summer, the sun prickles your skin with its heat? If, seeking relief, you then dive into a clear, cold mountain lake, you’ll break the surface gasping and wide-eyed with shock but feeling brilliantly alive and refreshed. One Thousand Gifts leaves me gasping."

Read the whole thing at EFCA Today and find out why Heather asks us if she should toss her sister in the lake.

Kevin DeYoung on Preaching

I am a preacher, and I love it.

I just finished listening to some lectures by Kevin DeYoung on preaching given at Westminster Theological Seminary (which I can now say is one of my alma maters!) that was excellent:

How Can a Biblical Sermon Be So Boring? Part 1: The Case for Clarity, Specificity, and Authenticity

How Can a Biblical Sermon Be So Boring? Part 2: The Case for Ingenuity, Spontaneity, and Authority

One of the things I really enjoyed about DeYoung's talks was that I am already doing 95% of what he talked about. Not only was it not "new," but it was fun to hear someone else talk about what I do week in and week out. It encouraged me that I'm on the right track.

At the same time, DeYoung challenged me to keep growing in my craft, and he gave me some strong exhortation to truly believe that God is doing His work through the preaching.

I needed to hear that. In the second lecture, DeYoung taught on Mark 4:26-29 and pressed home that the Word is the seed, and it is powerful even though it work is mysterious. Good reminders to keep preaching going.

These lectures easy to listen to and are highly recommended.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "Run to the Battle: Shamgar, Deborah, Barak, and Jael"

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“Run to the Battle: Shamgar, Deborah, Barak, and Jael”
Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
June 24, 2012 :: Judges 3:31-5:31

That’s where we left off before Family Bible Week. And now, we’re starting back up right there.

I’ve got a very looong title for you for today’s message:

“Run to the Battle: Shamgar, Deborah, Barak, and Jael.”

I tried to think of something shorter, but this was the best I could do.

These are the “good guys” (and gals!) in the stories we are about to read in Judges 3:31 through 5:31.

And one common denominator that runs through these stories is the theme of battles and whether or not someone runs towards them or away from them.

We’ll see what I mean by that as we go through it.

The exhortation for today is when God calls you: “Run to the Battle.”

Judges 3:31 is the one sentence story of the judge named Shamgar.

If there was somebody who didn’t run from a battle, it was Shamgar.

Let’s read his one sentence story.

“After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.”

There is a lot in that one sentence.

Obviously, Ehud died. We learned about Ehud the left-handed judge two weeks ago. The land had 80 years of peace under Ehud.

But then Ehud died. And, obviously, Israel was oppressed again.

The “cycle of the judges.”

Now, this doesn’t say that they cried out, but it says that the Philistines needed struck down. And God sent Shamgar son of Anath.

Most scholars believe that Shamgar was not a native Israelite. His name is not Hebrewish.

But v.31 says that “He too saved Israel.”

How did he do it?

He took a common farm tool and went to battle.

An oxgoad was a long stick, kind of like a paddle on one side with a sharp point on the other used to poke the oxen to get them where you wanted them to go.

Shamgar used it like a weapon and killed 600 men with it.

I think we’re supposed to assume that it this was at one time. In one battle.

Can you imagine that action movie of that battle?

For that one day at least, Shamgar was the superhero of Israel.  The savior of Israel.

Point #1 of just three this morning.

#1. REMEMBER THAT GOD IS DOING MORE THAN WE CAN SEE.

Why do I say that?

Because most of us have no idea who Shamgar was.

In fact, even if we have this verse memorized, we still have very little idea of who Shamgar was!

He was probably a legend in his own time. The little Jewish kids ran around with “I Want To Be Like Shamgar!” on their t-shirts.

He killed 600 men with a pitchfork!

Chuck Norris, eat your heart out!

But we don’t know that much about him.

We’ll see his name one more time in the whole Bible today in chapter 5, and we learn that his “judgeship” must have overlapped with Deborah’s and Barak’s.

Shamgar was probably mostly in the South and Deborah and Barak were mostly in the North.

Shamgar is mostly a “nobody” to us.

But he was a “somebody” to God.

And God used him to save Israel.

I take great comfort from that because I am a virtual “nobody” and yet I know that God can use me.

I expect to disappear from human history in at least 3 generations.

Nobody on Earth will remember me in 120 years if the Lord tarries.

I’ll just be a name in somebody’s genealogy.

Matt “Shamgar” Mitchell.

But to God I am a “somebody” that He loves and can use.

Does that help you?

Remember that God is “up to” more than we can see.

Right now around the world God is writing little one-sentence Shamgar stories through people’s lives.

We don’t see them. We don’t hear those stories.

CNN, FoxNews, and CBS don’t pick up on those stories.

But God is doing more than we can see.

And in His power, mighty things are being accomplished.

Amen?

What’s our job?

#2. RUN TO THE BATTLE.

And that brings us to chapters 4 and 5 and the story of Deborah.

Chapter 4, verse 1.

“After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD. So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the LORD for help.”

Let’s stop there for a second.

Notice, again, that it says that Ehud died. This is during the same period as Shamgar.

The Israelites once again did evil in the LORD’s eyes. In other words, they fell into idolatry.

And God cares! He is jealous for their affections and won’t let them get away with it.

They are HIS people!

So, they were “sold” into the hands of Jabin, a Canaanite king. This is the cycle of the Judges.

And Jabin has a top generalissimo named Sisera who has a fleet of tanks, mobile killing machines called iron chariots. 900 of them!

And for 20 years, they run roughshod over Israel.

And, (cycle of the Judges) Israel cired to the Lord for help.

And God sent, this time, a team of judges.

And the first one mentioned is a classy lady named Deborah.

Deborah is the classiest lady in the book of Judges and, probably, the classiest character, under the LORD, in the whole book of Judges. V.4

“Deborah, a prophetess [that’s important], 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 came to her to have their disputes decided.”

When I was finishing up seminary and looking to find a church to pastor, I was contacted an EFCA church in Pennsylvania that was looking for a pastor.

And one of the leaders of this church, the contact person for the search committee sent me an email saying, “Who was the wife of Lappidoth? And if you have to look it up, then you maybe you aren’t as smart as you think you are. Maybe you’ve still got a thing or two to learn, preacher boy!”

I didn’t end up going to that church!

I’m glad this church didn’t have a Bible trivia test to take to get this job!

But I’ve always been ready ever since.

“Who was the wife of Lappidoth?” This extraordinary prophet-lady, Deborah.

She was the only female judge. And people came to her for a word from God and for wisdom that only God can provide.

V.5 says that they came to have their disputes decided. That is they came for a decision, for a judgment.

And Deborah sent for Barak. V.6

“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 the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.'’”

Now, what should verse 8 say?

What should it say?

Deborah is leading Israel. Deborah is wise. Deborah is (v.4) “a prophetess” speaking for the LORD.

What should Barak say?

“We’re on our way, ma’am!”

Run to the Battle!

God says, “Go?”  “We’re on our way.”

V.8

“Barak said to her, ‘If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go.’”

Barak hesitates.

He is no Othniel. He is not even an Ehud.  The quality of the judges keeps going down from here on out.

Deborah is stellar.  But Barak hesitates.

He wants assurance. He wants Deborah, a lady(!) to go with him to assure him that things will go well in battle.

“‘If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go.’” v.9

“‘Very well,’ Deborah said, ‘I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.’ [Assumedly Deborah herself, though she is not going to fight. She is not a warrior princess. She is a prophetess.] So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh, where he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him.”

And they ran to the battle.

Side note. V.11

“Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses' brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.”

That sounds like a “what?” But hold onto this one verse story. It’s is foreshadowing.

Heber the Kenite. Remember the Kenites? Caleb was a Kenite. Acsah was a Kenite. Othniel was a Kenite. They are attached to the tribe of Judah though they are actually non-Israelites by lineage.

Heber has left the Kenites and is living (at peace!) with the bad guys up north near where all of this big battle is going to happen.  Don’t forget about Heber. V.12

“When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor [there are spies about], Sisera gathered together his nine hundred iron chariots and all the men with him, from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River.” 

Time for war.

“Then Deborah said to Barak, ‘Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the LORD gone ahead of you?’ So Barak went down Mount Tabor, followed by ten thousand men.” 

Run to the Battle!

Now, 10,000 men sounds like a lot, but if Sisera’s got 900 chariots, he has a lot more men.

What will happen?  V.15. Key verse of this chapter.

“At Barak's advance, the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot.”

Now, we aren’t told here how this happened. Just that it did.

Chapter 5 will tell us poetically that there was some nature involved! Creational warfare.

But verse 15 gives us the most important data.

“The LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and army....”

We run to the battle, but the battle is the Lord’s.

Poor Sisera. 900 chariots, and he has take off on foot to try to get away.  V.16

“But Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim. All the troops of Sisera fell by the sword; not a man was left.”

Except the “mighty Sisera” himself.

Barak will not get the honor of striking him down.

Because he hesitated, tat honor will go to a woman. V.17

“Sisera, however, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of [dun ta dah!] Heber the Kenite, because there were friendly relations [peace] between Jabin king of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. [Sisera thinks he should be safe here.] 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 put a covering over him. ‘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 here?' 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.

Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. ‘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.

On that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king, before the Israelites. And the hand of the Israelites grew stronger and stronger against Jabin, the Canaanite king, until they destroyed him.”

Just like God said.

Now, Judges chapter 5 tells the same story over again but, this time, in a poetic song format.

Judges 5 gives us a very different perspective. Not conflicting but complementary, but very different. And it also gives us more details.

Chapter 5, the Song of Deborah.

“On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song: [Should I sing it? Don’t worry, I won’t!” ‘When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves–praise the LORD!”

What is she saying?  “When the leaders of Israel run to the battle, praise the Lord.

When they volunteer to fight for the LORD, praise the Lord! V.3

‘Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I will sing to the LORD, I will sing; I will make music to the LORD, the God of Israel. 

‘O LORD, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the land of Edom, the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water.  The mountains quaked before the LORD, the One of Sinai, before the LORD, the God of Israel.”

Deborah and Barak’s song starts way back at Mount Sinai as God majestically marches with His people up from Sinai, up through Edom, up to the Promised Land.

That’s a flyover of the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy and Joshua.

And then it lands here in Judges. V.6

“‘In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the roads were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths. Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel. When they chose new gods, war came to the city gates, and not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.”

Life had become very difficult.

You couldn’t take the highway because the Canaanites rules the land. Yo uhad to take the back roads.

And why?  Because Israel had chosen new gods and it brought, not peace and prosperity but war.

And they had disarmed us. No shields or spears for the troops.

“What will happen?” Deborah sings!

“My heart is with Israel's princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the LORD! ‘You who ride on white donkeys [rich, leader types], sitting on your saddle blankets, and you who walk along the road, consider the voice of the singers at the watering places. They recite the righteous acts of the LORD, the righteous acts of his warriors in Israel. ‘Then the people of the LORD went down to the city gates.

'Wake up, wake up, Deborah! Wake up, wake up, break out in song! Arise, O Barak! Take captive your captives, O son of Abinoam.'”

Run to the battle!  Run to the battle, you “willing volunteers.” v.13

“‘Then the men who were left came down to the nobles; the people of the LORD came to me with the mighty [Deborah sings. Who came?].”

“Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek; Benjamin was with the people who followed you. From Makir captains came down, from Zebulun those who bear a commander's staff. 

[Do you see what she’s doing?  All of Israel had been called. Who answered the call?]

“The princes of Issachar were with Deborah; yes, Issachar was with Barak, rushing after him into the valley. 

In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart. [Should we? Or shouldn’t we?] Why did you stay among the campfires to hear the whistling for the flocks? In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart.

Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan. And Dan, why did he linger by the ships? Asher remained on the coast and stayed in his coves.

The people of Zebulun risked their very lives; so did Naphtali on the heights of the field.

‘Kings came, they fought; the kings of Canaan fought at Taanach by the waters of Megiddo, but they carried off no silver, no plunder.”

Because God ran to the battle.

From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. 

The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul; be strong!

Then thundered the horses' hoofs–galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds.

'Curse Meroz,' said the angel of the LORD. [A city in the North that should have come to aid of Barak] 'Curse its people bitterly, because they did not come to help the LORD, to help the LORD against the mighty.'”

Curse Meroz but bless Jael. She ran to the battle. V.24

“‘Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk. Her hand reached for the tent peg, her right hand for the workman's hammer. [Can you see it?] She struck Sisera, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple.

At her feet he sank, he fell; there he lay. At her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell–dead.”

There is one more verse to this song.

A song of triumph and victory over cruel, Satan-powered enemies. V.28

“‘Through the window peered Sisera's mother; behind the lattice she cried out, 'Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?'

The wisest of her ladies answer her; indeed, she keeps saying to herself,

'Are they not finding and dividing the spoils: a girl or two for each man, colorful garments as plunder for Sisera, colorful garments embroidered, highly embroidered garments for my neck–all this as plunder?'”

No! That’s not what’s going on. Sisera and his men are not raping Israel once again!

Sisera has been defeated by a woman with bowl of milk and a tent peg. V.31

“‘So may all your enemies perish, O LORD! But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.’ Then the land had peace forty years.”

Do you see the pattern?

If you run to the battle, you will be blessed.

But those who did not run to this battle were not blessed.

They were called out and chastened by the Deborah.

And some of them even cursed by the LORD.

There is shame in verse 15-17 on Reuben and Gilead, and Dan, And Asher.

And v.23 on Meroz. Because they didn’t run to the battle.

God called them to do something, and they didn’t show up.

They didn’t volunteer. They weren’t willing. They wimped out.

They “thought” about it!

V.16 says that in the district of Reuben there was much searching of heart.

But they couldn’t be counted on when it counted.

Are you running to the battle?

We don’t have to discuss Jael methods much because we know that our battles today are not with flesh and blood like Jael’s was.

But God definitely pronounced her “blessed” because she lifted her hand against God’s enemies.

Where the men of Reubun and Meroz couldn’t be bothered to leave the nice whistling  songs by their campfire, Jael took up a tent peg in the service of the LORD.

“Most blessed of women be Jael.”

When you run to the battle, you are blessed.

The battle against sin.
The battle to share the gospel with the world.

We have some a Shamgar and Jael here with us today.

These two ran to the battle for the last 8 years.  They went to the frontlines and we celebrate them. Thank you for serving the LORD.

But you don’t have to go there to be on the frontlines either.

So many of you ran to the battle at Family Bible Week.

You could be counted on.

Thank you for serving the LORD.

We need willing volunteers for the Good News Cruise.

Will you show up for the battle?

How about a work this week?  That’s the frontlines, too.

Not just to make a buck, but to witness for the Lord in word and deed.

It’s scary. I know. I’m scared, too.

It’s easy to get up here and preach at you, but it’s a lot harder to talk about Jesus “out there.”

But that’s where the blessing comes.

It comes when we run to the battle.

But what about Barak?

He hesitated. Was that good?

No. He forfeited blessing that could be his.

And so do you and I.

We don’t realize what blessing could be ours just because we trusted God and ran headlong into the battle.

But Barak was blessed, too.

Because he had faith.

He did go!  He hesitated and then he ran forward.

If you have hesitated to run into the battle, don’t fear that all is lost.

Just do it now.

Go. Get into the game.

Get out of the bleachers and into the playing field.

I don’t know what that means for you specifically, but I’ll bet you do.

Run to the battle.

The author of Hebrews says in chapter 11 that he doesn’t have time to tell about the faith of guys like Barak who “through faith” conquered kingdoms and became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies (vv.32-34).

Barak believed! And he was blessed.

Run to the battle.

Because, we run to the battle, but the battle is the Lord’s.

Number Three and Last:

#3. REJOICE IN THE LORD’S VICTORY OVER HIS ENEMIES.

That’s the point of chapter 5, the song of Deborah.

The battle was won by GOD!

He stirred up the river Kishon and swept away the 900 chariots.

He arranged the battleground.

He brought His own weapons against His enemy, Sisera.

The stars fought!  The river fought!

God sovereignly arranged where Heber would live.

And though Heber made a treaty with Jabin, his wife sure didn’t!

Sisera “just happened” to run by Jael’s tent!

V.31

“‘So may all your enemies perish, O LORD! But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.’”

Rejoice in the Salvation of the Lord.

Rejoice in the Lord’s Victory of His Enemies.

Sing! God did it. God saved His people.

V.3 “Hear this, you kinds! Listen, you rulers, I will sing to the LORD, I will sing; I will make music to the LORD, the God of Israel.”

If these guys should rehearse the salvation they received and rejoice in the victory of the LORD over these bag guys, then how much more should we rehearse the details of our salvation and rejoice in the LORD’s amazing victory over Satan and our sin at the Cross?!

Christians should write the best songs.

Because we have the best thing to sing about.

The victory of the Lord over all of His enemies: past, present, and still to come.

Rejoice!

God did it!

It looked like Jabin would win.
It looked like Sisera would win.
It looked like Satan would win.

Jesus died on the Cross.

Died!

The serpent struck his heel.

But the seed of the woman crushed the serpent’s head.

So may all of your enemies perish, O LORD! But may those who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.

Run to the Battle and then Rejoice in the Lord’s victory!


Messages in This Series:


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Barak's Hesitation (and Mine)

"God in his goodness is constantly looking for opportunities to give good gifts to men and women. Yet because of their lack of faith, they forfeit these blessings that God would freely give...When Christians fail to trust God, demanding assurance when God, in fact, has already spoken, they lose out on the opportunity to be used by him to the fullest extent."  - K. Lawson Younger, Jr on Barak's hesitation in Judges 4.

Lord, help me to trust you!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "No Matter What" Bible Stories: How To Understand and Apply Old Testament Narratives - Family Bible Week 2012

“No Matter What”
Bible Stories: How To Understand and Apply Old Testament Narratives
Family Bible Week 2012 :: Fathers’ Day
July 17, 2012 :: Daniel 3:12-30


We’ll return, Lord-willing, to the book of Judges next Sunday with Shamgar, “the one-verse judge.”

But this week, our Adult Class at Family Bible Week has picked Daniel 3 as our sermon passage for today, a message I’m going to call “No Matter What.”

Yes, you heard me right. I didn’t pick this week’s text; the adult class did.

You can blame them!

We did something new this week. In fourteen years of ministry at Lanse Free Church, I have made the decision (prayerfully) about what should be the passage that I preach on Sundays.

But since we’re entering our fifteenth year of pastoral ministry here, I thought it might be time to do something different.

Our adult class this week studied what I call, “Bible Stories” that is “How to Understand and Apply Old Testament Narratives” to our lives today.

On Monday night, we did Ehud the left-handed judge and saw how I came preach what I did last Sunday.

On Tuesday night, we did the rescue of Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19.

On Wednesday night, we studied Moses’ adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter and the defiance of the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1.

On Thursday night, we did Daniel’s adventure in the lion’s den.  And then I gave the adult class their choice.

Name a story from the Old Testament, we picked out five. We took a vote, and I would apply what we learned about how to interpret and apply Bible stories to our lives from whatever passage our class picked.

Because All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.

And our adult class, going with the theme of fire-fighting, picked Daniel chapter 3.

There was one stipulation from me, however, and that was that anyone in our class would be ready to help me this morning as we went along.

So, our adult class is to be ready to answer some questions about Daniel 3 as we dive into it this morning.

If this plan goes well, maybe we should do it more often to have you pick the passages!  

Okay, class, first question.

What are the common story-telling-elements in most if not every good narrative?

Characters - the actors in and doing the story.
Plot - the problem or conflict and how it plays out.
Setting - the when and the where that the story takes place within.
Structure - the scenes, and often speeches, and dialogue between characters
Style - the unique approach and tricks of the author to get across their story.

There are probably others, but those are the five that we talked a lot about this week.

Before we start reading, we should probably establish at least one of those for this story–setting.

Anybody from our class able to tell us something about the setting of this story? When and where it happened?

This story takes place in Babylon, not in Israel.

And it takes place during the exile.  Not before or after.

This is a long time since the book of Judges that we’re normally in right now.

There has been a monarchy, a kingdom, which has even split into two and gone through many many kings.

And the downward spiral of the monarchy has happened and God has judged the nation of Israel and sent His people into exile from the promised land.

That’s when and that’s where.

Next question.  Who are the major characters in Daniel chapter 3.

How about Daniel? No, he’s not in this chapter. That’s strange....

Who else?

A king named Nebuchadnezzer. He was introduced in the first two chapters of Daniel. He is very powerful and very prideful. He was given a message in a dream in chapter 2 that said that he was the head of gold of big statue.

And it appears that this went to his head. {Pun intended!}

Who else are main characters?

Hanniah, Mishael, and Azariah. Right?

Actually, yes, those are the Hebrew names of these three bright young leaders that, with Daniel, were taken into captivity during the exile.

Hanniah, Mishael, and Azariah. And they were given the Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego.

And there are other, unnamed characters, as well.

But there is one more main character. Who have we missed?

The LORD.

We learned this week that the LORD is the main character in the whole Bible.

It’s all about Him. Glory to His name.

So, even as we read about these characters and the plot they get into, we need to keep one ear cocked to hear what this story has to say about the LORD.

Ready? Chapter 3, verse 1.

“King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.”

That is quite a statue. It’s probably gold-plated, because the world hasn’t seen enough gold mined to fill a statue like that.  Ninety feet high and nine feet wide.

Why?  V.2

“He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.”
Now, wait a second.

This is an example of style.

Did Daniel need to repeat that line in verse 3 and that was in verse 2?

The one about the “satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials”?

No, he didn’t.

Why do you think he did?

I think he’s being funny.

Sometimes repetition is emphasize the thing being repeated. 

And it is emphasizing it, but I think he’s poking fun at Nebuchadnezzar and his stooges.  We’re supposed to chuckle when it’s read. 

However, Nebuchadnezzar’s plan is no laughing matter.  V.4

“Then the herald loudly proclaimed, ‘This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.’”

However dubious the ruler and dumb are his plans, this is serious business.

If you do not fall down and worship the golden image, you will be executed in the hottest way imaginable.

How would you like to live in that kind of a religious environment?

Now, notice, that King Nebuchadnezzar has not said you can’t worship the god you like. You can do that if you want.

But you must worship this god.

And I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that this 90 foot tall god looked a lot like a certain king of Babylon.

“National unity will be promoted if everybody bows down.

And I mean, everybody.

Hit it, boys!”  V.7

“Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.”

“Muhuhahahaha!”

How good that must have felt for King Nebuchadnezzar!  His planned worked.

The royal Babylonian orchestra played the fanfare for the golden image, and everybody fell on their faces.

That’s the end of the first scene.

If you are keeping track, there are really only two scenes.  It all seems to take place in a very short amount of time. And the second scene has two main parts, before and after.

Scene #2. V.8

“At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘O king, live forever! You have issued a decree, O king, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon–Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego–who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.’”

They didn’t bow down!

Why did these astrologers care? Was it written in the stars?

No, this was probably just another case of ugly office politics.

These were co-workers of Hanniah, Mishael, and Azariah, and they were probably enflamed with the green-eyed-monster of jealousy.

The Hebrew boys had risen quickly in the ranks and were envied and hated by their  peers and so were finked upon.

“O king, you have issued a decree, in your infinite wisdom, that if [that long list of instruments] played, we all bowed down. But these fellows didn’t. Get ‘em!”

There’s the plot for you.

There is a plot within the plot.

What will happen?

First, the king will get angry.  V.13

“Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, [and given a chance to prove their accusers wrong] and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? [We’ll take a little test.] Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?’”

Oooh, Oooh! I know, I know!

But Nebuchadnezzar does not. He should, but he does not.

Why should he?

Because of his servant Daniel and what he’s learned from him.

Where is Daniel?

Are we to assume that because these three men are accused and dragged before the king, that the Daniel has succumbed and bowed down before the golden image?

Class, what you say to that, from what we learned this week?

All narratives are selective. They don’t tell us everything we’d like to know.

Maybe Daniel was out of town that week or had another job to do. Maybe he was on vacation.

Or maybe he just wasn’t noticed and picked on like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were.

I don’t think we should assume that Daniel gave in. He’s not that kind of a man. We can see that in chapter 6.

And because we don’t know, we shouldn’t make anything of it and it’s not the point of the story.

Here’s the point of the story: will they bow down now or not?  Will they break the first of the ten commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

And we find out the answer from their own mouths. Listen to the speech of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Verse 16.

“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’”

No. Matter. What.

“Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace.


So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 

The king's command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.”

Is there more to the story?

Yes, there is a climax to this plot. And a resolution. V.24

“Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, ‘Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?’ [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” They replied, ‘Certainly, O king.’ He said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.’

What is going on here?

“Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!’ So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.”

Now, that is storytelling!

“Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.’

Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.”

Okay, class, we learned about two mistakes that we often make when it comes to applying Bible stories to our lives.

Riding on the rumble strips in this direction is what:

Jump too quickly to application.

We need to figure out what the story means before we go applying it.

Does this story sit in your Bibles to tell you what kind of music to listen to?

Does it sit in your Bibles to tell you to disobey whatever the government says to do?

Does it sit in your Bibles to tell you how dress when you are barbecuing? Of course not.

But we could jump to some of those conclusions if we aren’t paying attention.

But what is the error on the other side of the road, the rumble strips on the left?

Not getting to application.

We love to read the story and then go do whatever we feel like.

But this story exists to motivate God’s people to action.

To motivate God’s people to stay faithful even when they are far from home in conditions are far from perfect.

Do you feel like that today?

Far from home and in conditions far from perfect?

This world is not our home. America is not our home.

We are just passing through.

We are exiles and strangers just passing through.

But this world wants us to bow down and compromise and live for its values and worship its gods.

The question is, will we give in?

Here are three applications from this Bible story.

#1. DON’T BOW DOWN. NO MATTER WHAT.

Shad, Mesh, and Abed did not bow down.

They did not compromise. They stayed faithful to the one true God.

And they made it look easy!

Is it easy?

It is not easy most of the time.

Everybody else is bowing down.

Everybody else is doing it.

Have you heard someone say that recently?

“Everybody else does it.”

Have you said that recently?

Don’t go with the flow. Don’t be like everyone else. Don’t put another god before the LORD.

No matter what. Don’t bow down.

#2. TRUST GOD AND DO WHAT YOU KNOW IS RIGHT. NO MATTER WHAT.

This impressed the king so much that he praised them afterwards. V.28

“Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego . . . They trusted in him and defied [my!] command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”

They trusted Him and did what was right.

Why?

Because they knew Him.

I love their speech before the King in verses 16-18.

It is realistic and full of faith at the same time. Did you notice that?  V.16

“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. [We serve a greater authority whom we will answer to.] If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not [choose to do so], we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’”

They had no promise that God would save them from the fire.

But they knew God.

They knew what He is able to do.

Do you know God?

Do you know what God is able to do?

They knew that God was a deliverer.

We saw that again and again this week in our class–God delights to deliver His people.

That’s what God was doing at the Cross.

God was delivering His people from their bondage to sin and Satan and self.

Jesus died to set His people free.  To save, to rescue, to deliver.

“He will rescue us from your hand....”

So, no matter what, we will trust Him and do what we know is right.

Are you tempted in life right now to cut some corners and do what you know is wrong?

My guess is that most of us here what to do what is right.

But it seems so SCARY!

“I can’t do that.”
“You don’t know what would happen to me if I did that.”
“I can’t tell her that.”
“I can’t break that off.”
“I can’t go there.”

I’d get burnt.

It seems to scary.

But this Bible story says, “Trust God and Do What You Know Is Right.”

Because (as Nebuchadnezzar so rightly says in verse 29), “No other god can save in this way.”

He is mighty to save!

He can turn everything upside right.

Your world might seem upside down right now, but if God can do Daniel 3, He can turn your world upside up.

Trust Him and Do What You Know Is Right.

#3. BE BOLD FOR THE LORD. NO MATTER WHAT.

Talk back to the evil rulers of this world that have you under their thumb.

Talk back to those who want your worship and tell them, “No way. I know my God, and I will not forsake Him. If I die, I die, but I will not serve your gods or bow down to you.”

Be bold and tell others about Jesus.

Family Bible Week is only a success if we go out and tell the world about Jesus afterwards.

If we just gather and have a good time and sing fun songs and enjoy ourselves and then don’t lift a finger to reach the world, we have just wasted a week.

But if enjoy ourselves and enjoy our church family and sing and study, and then go be bold for Jesus, it makes every minute worthwhile.

Nebuchadnezzar was overly zealous to command that everyone everywhere not speak against the LORD or get cut into piece and their homes destroyed, but he was right when he said, “no other god can save in this way.”

Let’s tell everyone about Him.  No matter what.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I love my job.

Goofy pastor-teacher at Family Bible Week
I love my job.

I just completed my 14th year as pastor of Lanse Free Church this weekend (first Sunday preaching was June 14, 1998), and it’s really come home to me this week how much I enjoy what I do.

This week has been our Family Bible Week--our VBS for the whole family--and I got to do all kinds of different things:

- blow the whistle to call in the kids for supper
- tie a little tyke’s shoes for them
- set the trash cans in the corner for the nightly meals
- pray with the kitchen crew
- lead the singing of raucous kid-friendly worship songs
- goof around with some teenagers
- teach an introduction to Bible genres-study class for adults, this week: how to understand and apply Old Testament narratives
- counsel someone on the playground after class
- prepare a sermon on Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
- hear about God’s work in our kids’ classes and in the FBW offering (we’re sending 4 students to school in Haiti this year!)

And much more.

In fact, in the last month, I’ve also gotten to:

- visit someone in prison and at court
- sit at the bedside of someone in the hospital and the nursing home
- prepare a sermon about Ehud, the left-handed judge
- teach a class on the Holy Spirit
- pray with a committed group of prayer warriors at Prayer Meeting
- counsel folks on the phone, Facebook, in my office
- connect with community people at baseball games
- speak at the High School Baccalaureate service
- chair an ordination council examination
- make decisions with our faithful elder board
- have our link group over to our house for a picnic

I love having a finger in every pie.

I think that some of our folks were worried that when I got my doctorate, I would be “outta here.”

Oh no. I’ve got my dream job already. It would take dynamite to move me.

I love being the pastor at Lanse Free Church.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Goodbye, Turabian Nights!


We had a book burning at our small group picnic a few weeks ago.

Heather and I said a fiery "goodbye" to our personal nemesis copy of Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Seventh Edition: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers which you might remember was giving me fits last year about this time.

Hooray!  No more maddening footnotes to get in the proper order! It is good to be done.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "Ehud"

Image Source
“Ehud”
Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
June 10, 2012
Judges 3:12-30


If you are ever asked the Bible trivia question, “Which Judge of Israel was Left-Handed?”, the answer is “Ehud.”

To graduate from our seminary, you had to pass a test that that was one of the questions.  “Which Judge of Israel was Left-Handed?”, the answer is “Ehud.”

Why is important that Ehud was left-handed?

We’ll see about that in just a second.

But before we jump into the text, I have to admit something. Ehud’s story can be a hard Bible story to tell because of certain, shall we say, “Gross” elements in it.

Ehud’s story is not one that the ABC Kids ever get a lesson on.  I’d love to see the flannel graph for that one!

In fact, if I heard a group of pre-teen boys telling this story in mixed company, I might stop them.  That’s true of a lot of the stories in the book of Judges.

Buckle your seatbelt. It’s just going to get harder as the series goes on.

But this is God’s Word. Every single word is inspired and is useful to teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.  Even the gross ones.

So, if I have a problem with it–that’s just it–I have a problem. Not the Bible.

This is God’s word, and we will revere it by reading it–even the disagreeable parts.

And once we get over that, we’ll begin to enjoy it, too. Because it is a really funny story.

Remember this picture from last week?

Israel’s downward spiral?

The Israelites did evil.
They anger of God burned against them and He gave them over to rulers.
They cry to God for help (not necessarily out of repentance but out of groaning)
God sends a deliverer, a judge, a savior to rescued them.
Peace follows for so man years until it starts all over again.

We saw that cycle with Othniel. But then he died. V.11

Guess what we’re going to see with Ehud? V.12

“Once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and because they did this evil the LORD gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel.”

We’re at the top of the cycle.

The Israelites (v.1) “did evil in the eyes of the LORD,” what does that mean?

Well, last week, we said that it mainly consisted of idolatry–following after other gods, worshiping other gods than the LORD.

And that, of course, leads to every other kind of sin and wickedness.

And God cares, He is zealous, He is jealous for His people’s affections, so He does something about it.

Verse 1 says that He empowered Eglon King of Moab.

Now, there are two main characters in this story and they are easy to get confused.

Which one was the evil king?  E-what?  EGLON.

His name means “Bull,” and he was a bully. And his name in Hebrew sounded like “hagol” which means “round, rotund.” I think that Eglon was probably a nickname.  We’ll see how in a second.

Which one was the deliverer? E-what? EHUD.

He was left-handed.

Which one was empowered by God?

Trick question.

In verse 1, it says that God empowered Eglon to rule over Israel.

Not because Eglon was good, but because he was bad.  He was judgement, discipline, consequences for Israel’s wickedness. V.13

“Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms. The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years.”

Eglon was a successor of Balak who hired Balaam to curse Israel.

Balak mostly failed, but Eglon succeeds.

And he sets up his rule in the city of Palms, which is traditionally thought to be Jericho the site of Joshua’s first big victory.

How symbolic.  It’s like a foreign nation taking over the US and parking its capitol at Lexington and Concord or in Boston Harbor or at Valley Forge.

And for eighteen back-breaking years, Eglon ruled over Israel.

And it was no picnic.

What’s next in the cycle?

V.15

“Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer–Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite.”

This is a story about a lot of things, but it is primarily a story about salvation.

“Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer...”

He gave them a savior.
He gave them a rescuer.

God is in the business of saving His people.

In fact, let’s make this the overarching application for our whole message today.

REJOICE IN THE SALVATION OF THE LORD.

“Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer–Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite.”

Rejoice in the salvation of the Lord.

Now, I have 5 points about the Lord who saves from this story.

The first two are going to be very quick because we already talked about them last week, and we’ll see them again and again.

But we can’t miss them here.

#1. THE LORD IS RIGHTLY JEALOUS.

To understand this amazing salvation, we have to see how they got into this predicament.

They followed other gods!

And God cares about that.

God is perfectly jealous for the affections of His people.

Last week, we talked about how good that is. What if God didn’t care?

What if He said, “I don’t care what gods my people mess around with. They can just go to hell for all I care.”

They would be terrible.

But God is rightly, perfectly jealous.

And because of that, there are consequences for His people when they stray.

Here the consequences are 18 years under big, fat, ugly Eglon.

And they cry out for help. They groan. And God hears.

And even more astonishingly, He moves.

V.15 once again. “He gave them a deliverer.”

#2. THE LORD IS ASTONISHINGLY COMPASSIONATE.

Don’t miss this. God sent a deliverer.

Did He have to?
Did they deserve it?
Did they earn it?

This is one of the chief miracles of the book of Judges: God saves His people again and again and again from trouble that they deserve.

From trouble that they have earned.
From trouble that is rightly coming their way.

And that’s one of the chief miracles of the whole Bible, isn’t it?

Aren’t you glad that God didn’t wait until you had cleaned up your act before He got involved in your life?

If you think that you have to clean up your act before God will enter in, put away that thought. God is astonishingly compassionate.

His grace is truly amazing.

Rejoice in the salvation of the Lord.

Now, let’s find out some more about this Ehud guy.

We know that he is from the tribe of Benjamin. “Benjamin” means “Son of my right hand.”  But Ehud is (v.15) “a left-handed man.”

A lefty from the tribe of righties.

Now, it’s possible that this was some kind of handicap.

The Hebrew literally means someone whose right hand is impaired.

So, this detail might be included to show that God uses all kinds of people with all kinds of limitations, even disabilities.  That’s a good point, if that’s part of the story here.

Or it could be pointed out that left-handed people were looked down upon and so he was a despised person that God still used. That would be a good point, too, and one that is true of other passages in the Bible.

But I’m inclined to believe that Ehud intentionally impaired the use of his right hand to beef up the use of his left hand to become ambidextrous and especially deadly with the unexpected left-hand.

We’ll see more Benjamites in chapter 20 who have this left-handed skill.

And it comes in handy (pun intended) for Ehud when he assassinates Eglon.

Verse 15 once again.

“The Israelites sent [Ehud] with tribute to Eglon king of Moab.”

He’s in charge of a delegation bringing the regular tribute (probably grain and livestock and other foodstuffs as a heavy taxation to the heavy ruler). V.16

“Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a foot and a half long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing.”

Crafty.

A shorter sword, longer than a dagger, very deadly, very sharp, and concealed. A concealed weapon.

What side did he put on it?

The right side.

Is that the normal side for your sword?  Not for a right-handed man.  V.17

“He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man. [Eglon was the Jabba the Hutt of the Old Testament.”

At this point in the story, imagine that you are an Israelite who had lived under Eglon’s terrible reign for eighteen years.

And now, you’re hearing about your salvation.

Don’t you chuckle when you hear about how fat he is?  V.18

“After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way the men who had carried it.  At the idols near Gilgal he himself turned back and said, ‘I have a secret message for you, O king. The king said, ‘Quiet!’ And all his attendants left him.”

Now, I want you to notice something. We’ll note it and come back to it.

Notice that Ehud turned back near what? The idols near Gilgal.

Now, your Bible might says “quarries.”  There were big cut stones there.  Like a big Israeli Stonehenge.

It might have been the ones that Joshua put up as remembrances.

But I think it’s more likely that these were some of Israelites idols that they had come to share with the Canaanites.

Or, even more likely, these were Eglon’s idols that he had had set up over the last 18 years.

Now, I have never in my life seen these idols in this story until this week.

They have just been a detail that I have missed.

I think that they are significant. Not all scholars agree, so I won’t be dogmatic about it, but I’ll tell you what I think they mean when we get to verse 26.

Okay?  Stick that in your head and follow Ehud back to Eglon’s lair.

Ehud is taking a big risk here.

I don’t know if anyone else knew that he was doing it.

He is like a secret agent, bluffing his way in to kill the king.

“I have a secret message for you, O King.”

And believe it or not, Eglon falls for it!

Eighteen years of ruling, and he doesn’t see this one coming.

I don’t know what he expected. My guess is that he expected a plot to unfold.

But he felt too safe.

In the movies, the thugs that guard the bad guy always pat down the good guy, right?

Well, there was no suspicious bulge on the left side of this Ehud guy.

And they just left the room.  Can you see in your mind’s eye? V.20

“Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his summer palace and said, ‘I have a message from God for you.’ As the king rose from his seat,  Ehud reached with his [you guessed it!] left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king's belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it.”

Eww!

Now, the Hebrew here is hard to follow, but I think that the NIV 1984 doesn’t quite get it right.

If you have the King James, yours says, “And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.”

The English Standard Version says, “And the dung came out.”

The NIV 2011 update says, “and his bowels discharged.”

Eww!  Double Eww!

That’s important because of what happens next.  Ehud escapes!

“Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.”

That word “porch” is hard to translate. It might actually mean that he used the sewer system.

Somehow, he used a back door.

And he locked the door behind him.

More humor. The three stooges –  Eglon’s guards. V.24

“After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, ‘He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the house.’ [The smell probably added to that. I wonder if Ehud passed by them, smiling, or if they just forgot about him?] v.25 “They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead.”

This is what happens to the enemies of God.

By the way, there are a lot of phrases in the Hebrew here to remind the reader of the sacrificial system.  Bull the Bully became a sacrificial bull.

Yes, God used him, but God also judged him.

Now, here is point #3.

#3. THE LORD IS MYSTERIOUSLY INVOLVED.

Does the Lord approve of Ehud’s methods?

I don’t know.

Ehud is, I think, no Othniel. Othniel was everything a judge should be.

But Ehud is, I think, a step down.

When Joab acts much like this in 2 Samuel, the narrator seems to think it is a bad thing.

Here, it doesn’t say.

It says that God gave Israel a deliverer–Ehud. It doesn’t say that God approved of all of His methods.

It doesn’t gloss over them and even seems to celebrate them–imagine how the Israelites must have hooted and hollered when they heard this story!

“The whole sword went in and the fat closed over it?”

“Nobody checked on him? They thought he was going to the bathroom?”

“Guess he was on the throne, huh?!”

I don’t think that we have to figure out how much of this was God’s best and how much of it God just used in His providence to get the point.

It’s not like God wants us to be “assassins for Christ” today so we have to figure out how much is good and how much is bad.

But we do have to say that God is mysteriously involved.

We’re going to see this again and again as Israel spirals downward in this book of Judges.

God uses all kinds of bad men and bad behavior to do His good work.

And we should rejoice in that.

God is not afraid of a little messiness to accomplish His purposes.

In fact, He is the king of using messiness to accomplish His purposes.

God Himself never does anything dirty, but He is able in His providence to use the messiness of life to bring salvation to His children.

That’s good news.

I learned this from reading Dale Ralph Davis’ little book on Judges.

Let me read to you an extended quote.
Let us return to our imaginary objector over here, who still feels this humor is gross and that this narrative sullies the pretty white paper of his Bible, who sees no practical use in this and is especially upset that God should have some role in it. Yet that is precisely why Israel relishes and rejoices in it: because her God and our God is not a God who stand off by himself in the chaos of our times. Isn’t it true that for some readers life right now is like those wild, uncontrollable, rampaging days of the judges? Don’t some of God’s people today have to confess that life seems to have gone haywire, perhaps due to their own folly and sin and stupidity? Is Yahweh in touch with times like that? Does he bring his help near his people then?
Do you feel like that right now?
Davis says, And that is the glory of this passage: it tells us that Yahweh deals wiht the dirty, mixed-up affairs of life in which his people find themselves. Here we are – some in family situations we have messed up; some in emotional trauma; some in grief and sorrow or in the clutches of temptation. Life seems to be a mass of twisted coathangers and disconnected doorknobs. And the glory of this text is that it tells us that Yahweh is not a white-gloved, standoffish God out somewhere in the remote left field of the universe who hesitates to get his strong right arm dirty in the yuck of our lives. The God of the Bible does not hold back in the wild blue yonder somewhere waiting for you to pour Clorox and spray Lysol over the affairs of your life before he will touch it. Whether you can comfortably put it together or not, he is the God who delights to deliver his people even in their messes and likes to make them laugh again; he is the god who allows weeping to endure for a night but sees that joy comes in the morning.
Did you need to hear that?  I sure did.

The LORD is mysteriously involved.

He raised up and used Ehud to save His people.

And Ehud got away. V.26

“While they waited, Ehud got away. He passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah.”

Stop there for just a second. Here are those idols again.

Now, it could be just a mile marker, a geographical note, but why did Israel get into trouble in the first place?

Because of idols, right?

I think what’s going on here is that the idols can’t stop God’s deliverer.

They just stand there.

In verse 19, they do nothing to stop Ehud from going back and killing Eglon.

In verse 26, Ehud passes them by and they don’t lift a finger to stop him.

Now, you and I don’t expect them to, because we know something about idols.

They aren’t real!
They don’t see!
They don’t hear!
They don’t act!

They make big promises, but they can’t keep them.

Eglon trusted in idols, and look where it got him!

#4. THE LORD IS REALLY THERE!

Do you need to be remind of that this morning?

The LORD is really there.

Idols are dumb. Idols are stupid.

We have to remind ourselves of that.

False gods vie for our attention, but they are false.

They are not real. They cannot do what they promise.

Psalm 115 says,

"Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.  But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they  cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”

But Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases Him.

He is really there.

And He is #5 and last:

#5. THE LORD IS MIGHTY TO SAVE. V.27

“When he arrived there, [Ehud] blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them. ‘Follow me,’ he ordered, ‘for the LORD has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.’ So they followed him down and, taking possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab, they allowed no one to cross over. At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous [literally, “fat” like Eglon] and strong; not a man escaped. That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.”

The Lord is mighty to save.

V.28, “the LORD has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.”

V.30, “That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.”

Now, we know what happens next.

Ehud dies and the cycle starts over again and it just get worse.

But this is a glimpse of what God can do.

What a rightly jealous God can do.
What an astonishingly compassionate God can do.
What a mysterious God can do when He roles up His sleeves to dip His hands into our messiness and bring out salvation.
What a God who is really there and mighty to save can do.

Rejoice in the salvation of the Lord!


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