Israel has entered the time of the judges, the time between Joshua and Samuel. Judges will be a combination of civil and military leaders. Judges came and went, depending on the needs of the people. The judges usually were a response to apostasy, or turning from the covenant and worshiping false gods. When the people repent, God sends a rescuer.
The first judge is Othniel in Judges 3. He’s called the younger brother of Caleb, a contemporary of Joshua. That means that the turn to apostasy did not take more a generation. Othniel rescued the people under God’s rule, and there comes a common refrain: “And the land had rest for forty years.” That phrase will come up a few times, showing that the problem is that of the human heart. If one generation does not teach the next, the next generation will not naturally follow the Lord.
When the people turn from the Lord, the next judge is Ehud. He has an interesting story about stabbing quite the rotund king named Eglan in the gut. Some judges, such as Shamgar, basically get an honorable mention. But the sheer number of judges shows us how little the people of Israel care about keeping the covenant.
However, the fourth judge, Deborah, gets quite the amount of space dedicated to her time as a judge. Israel has been under the rule of King Jabin of Canaan for thirty years when God raises up Deborah. Jabin’s army general, Sisera, is more important to the story than Jabin.
God speaks through Deborah to a man named Barak, and he is told to muster 10,000 soldiers to fight Sisera. Barak says that he will only go if Deborah goes with him. For this reason, some have argued that God raised up Deborah, the only female judge, as a response to the effeminacy and weak will of the Israelite men. There might be some truth to that, but it should be held with charity since the text does not explain why God chose most of the individual judges. The fact is that we’re not told why God chose Deborah, so even if we imagine some biblical reasons, we should not make more of it than it is. There is no mention of anyone being offended that the current judge was a woman, and Barak would only go if she went with him. Before we start to make connections between the time of apostasy in Israel and the church, we must clearly place each body in its appropriate place in redemptive history.
As Sisera is fleeing the battlefield, he arrives at the home (tent) of a man named Heber. Heber’s wife, Jael, is at home when Sisera arrives. She invites him in, and she lets him take a nap. He wants her to guard the door, but instead, as this doofus is sawing logs, she pins his head to the ground with a tent peg and a hammer. Jael is another instance of a strong woman taking action and being rewarded for it.
Barak’s army is successful. All of chapter 5 is a song sung by Deborah and Barak about the goodness of God in successfully expelling the Canaanites from the land.
Again, forty years later (5:31), the people apostatize again. For seven years, the people are ruled by Midian. Gideon’s story begins somewhat like Barak’s. He’s a nervous leader. An angel appears to Gideon, essentially commissioning him as a judge. Gideon is fearful of taking up the charge because he sees himself as a weakling, though the angel has already called him a man of valor. Gideon is told to take his father’s idols, turn them into an altar, and sacrifice two bulls. He is to show the people the only proper way to sacrifice.
Gideon asks twice for evidence that his charge is from God. It simply is not clear why God answered Gideon’s testing. The angel of the Lord had already told Gideon what his job was. What is clear is that Gideon’s faith is quite weak. But notice that what mattered most was that Gideon’s faith was in God, even if it was weak. It is the object of our faith that matters, not the quantity.
Gideon gathers an army, but God said that it was too many. It would be tempting to argue that the army was strong, not God, leading the people into deeper apostasy. Gideon asked if anyone was suddenly too afraid to fight, and 12,000 men went home. The next test was if when the men drank water from a river they lapped like a dog or knelt to drink and brought the water to their mouth. Presumably, those who lapped like a dog had their face in the water and could not seen an enemy approaching, whereas those who knelt down were still ready to fight. From 10,000, now only 300 remained.
God sends Gideon into the Midianite camp for some recon. Gideon is still fearful, even after God’s clear promises, and takes his servant with him. But finally, when Gideon overhears one of the Midianite soldiers talking about a dream he had, he believes that God will be true to his word. He gathers the Israelite soldiers together and are successful in destroying the Midianites.
Gideon’s success turns the people into thinking that he should be their king. They even want a dynasty. In Gideon’s defense, he rejects that offer and reminds the people that God is their only king. From the spoils of war, Gideon makes an ephod, something that only the high priest wore. Gideon will not make himself a king, but he seems to want to make himself a priest. No man declares himself either of those roles; only God raises up kings, and Old Testament priests were from the tribe of Levi, not Manasseh as Gideon is.
As is keeping with tradition, as soon as Gideon died, the people rebelled and turned against the Lord again. Gideon rejected the Israelite offer of kingship, but one of his sons, Abimelech, wants to take them up on it. He’s a horrible, wretched man. He kills all of his brothers so that there no chance of an uprising. One brother, the youngest, escapes and hides.
The people accepted Abimelech’s kingship for three years. Eventually the tribal leaders turned against him because God sent an “evil spirit” on them. This is also accurately translated as “harmful” or “ill” spirit. This definitely is not the Holy Spirit of God. It’s a euphemism for ill will or antagonism between parties. God has alienated them from each other; God has not done evil. The Scripture says it is retribution for him killing his brothers.
A black hat rides into town named Gaal. He doesn’t like that someone else has named himself king over these people. But Abimelech catches wind of the treachery and overtakes Gaal and his men. As Abimelech enters the city of Thebez, many people rush to the top of one of their main buildings. He decides to burn it down. But from the roof, a woman pushes off a stone and crushed his skull. It doesn’t kill him immediately, so he tells his armor-bearer to run his sword through him. He doesn’t want anyone to think that a woman killed him.
There seems to have been no judge during Abimelech’s short-lived reign. But after him comes Tola, who serves for 23-years. Then comes Jair, who reigns for 22-years. Not much is said about either of them. But the people quickly turn away from the Lord again and serve false gods from the people living around them. This takes place for 18-years.
In comes Jephthah. He was born from a prostitute, so he was not eligible for any of father’s wealth or inheritance. However, he was known to be a great fighter and extremely brave. So when the Ammonites start to fight against Israel, Jephthah is called up to lead the army. He has a chip on his shoulder for the wya the people treated him in his youth because of his mother’s participation in the world’s oldest profession. But he says that he will do lead them and be their king if God provides the victory.
The aggression comes from a poor understanding of history. The Ammonites believe the Israelites stole their land when they left Egypt. When the Israelites were leaving Egypt, they asked for permission to pass through Moab and Edom, but they were rejected. It was because of this that the Lord gave their land to the Israelites. Of course, the king of the Ammonites will not cave to Israel.
What happens next is an abomination. Jephthah vowed that if God gave him victory over the Ammonites, he would sacrifice the first thing to walk out of his house. God had already been clear about what an acceptable sacrifice would be. A random, haphazard approach to sacrifice was never acceptable. In this way, Jephthah pretended to think he could please God on his own.
After his victory, Jephthah returns home only to have his daughter, his only child, come out to greet him. In Judges 11:31, the “whatever” he promises to sacrifice as a burnt offering can just as clearly mean “whoever”. It is well within the realm of possibility that Jephthah was always ready to commit a human sacrifice. Not only does Scripture never command human sacrifice, but if anyone did it, they would be put to death themselves (Leviticus 20:2). And, if anyone vowed to do something evil unintentionally, they were not bound to keep it (Leviticus 5:4-6). The bottom line is that Jephthah was in no way bound to keep such an oath. This is an instance of Scripture simply describing what happened, not prescribing what is good.
Jephthah judged for six years, followed by a quick succession of judges: Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. After their judgeship, Israel again abandoned the covenant. Enter Samson.
A man named Manoah and his wife were barren. And angel of the Lord appeared to her and promised her a son. Her son would be a Nazirite his entire life. The Nazirite vow is described at length in Numbers 6. What was unusual about Samson’s vow is that he does not take it on voluntarily, and it is lifelong. The Nazirite vow required no strong drink, not cutting ones hair, and not coming in contact with dead things. As Samson’s life and judgeship is explored in the upcoming chapters, we’ll see him break every one of his commitments.
It is no coincidence that the disciples saying to Jesus “Increase our faith” comes immediately after Jesus commanding to forgive our brothers every time they offend us. If you have ever been wronged by someone you love or respected, you understand the effort it takes to forgive them. Jewish tradition said that a good man forgives the offending party three times. Jesus does not say that tradition is bad, but he says that every offense, if repented of, can be forgiven.
When asked about increasing their faith, Jesus says that a small amount of faith is suitable for doing great things. What is the object of your faith? If the object of your faith is Christ, then regardless of quantity, it is sufficient. We are to forgive relentlessly, trust in God, and do our Christian duty. We are “unworthy servants” (17:10), only doing what Christ commands.
Jesus is passing through several towns on his way to Jerusalem for the crucifixion. In Jericho, he meet Zacchaeus, a wealthy taxman. He just wanted to get a glimpse of Jesus, but Jesus had plans for him. When Jesus says, “I must stay at your house today”, we hear the certainty with which Jesus saves him and us. When Jesus enters Zacchaeus’ house, he says, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.” A true son of Abraham is a son by faith, not by genealogy.
In the interaction with the rich young ruler, Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom. But, what is impossible with man is possible with God. When Jesus enters Zacchaeus’ house, the impossible takes place. A rich man divests himself of his wealth which was acquired through fraud and calls Jesus Lord.
Money is a major theme in Jesus’ parables. Some scribes and chief priests are out to kill Jesus, but they need a reason to arrest him. They do so by asking political questions (it’s as if some things never change). “Should good Jews pay taxes?” they ask. But Jesus knows their heart and their intentions. When he sees a coin with Caesar’s face on it, he says that a good citizen renders obeisance to civil rulers. How much more, then, do you owe to God, your creator and sustainer?
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem for the final time. We’re not told what village he stays in, but at a stop along the way ten lepers say to him, “Jesus, Master, having mercy on us” (17:13). Jesus certainly does so, and he has them fulfill the lawful duty of having a priest confirm their new clean status. What we soon find out is that one of them, at least, was not even an Israelite, but a Samaritan. Jesus has already told the parable of the Good Samaritan, and now a Samaritan falls at Jesus’ feet to worship him and give thanks. Jesus came for the sick, not the healthy.
A beggar is sitting along the road, and he says to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” People are trying to shut him up and telling him to leave Jesus alone, that he can’t be bothered. But the man knows that Jesus is his only hope. But instead of listening those people, Jesus has them bring the beggar to him. When asked what he wants, the beggar tells Jesus that he simply wants his sight restored. By calling Jesus the Son of David, he has recognized Christ’s messianic status. As with the Samaritan leper, his faith has made him well.
Luke 17:20-37 is the parallel passage to Matthew 24-25 and Mark 13. As on the topic of prayer, Jesus taught on the end of the age and his return multiple times. In Matthew, Jesus is responding to his disciples’ remarks about how the state of Jerusalem is not as bad he said it was in Matthew 23. Now in Luke, Jesus is asked a question by the Pharisees about the timing of the coming of the kingdom.
Jesus makes the same points as he does in other instances of this teaching. There will be many who say they know when he will return, but they will be each be wrong. When he returns, it will be visible to all to see. You will not need a prophet to tell you that he has returned. Before the kingdom comes, Jesus will suffer and die, then he will inherit the kingdom. Like in the days of Noah, life was going on like normal before the waters rose. Like in the days of Lot, life was going on like normal until the fire and brimstone fell. In like manner, life will go on like normal until the day Christ returns. There will be no secret return, but a single, glorious, visible return for the world to witness.
When the disciples ask where these things will take place at his second coming, he replies, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (Luke 17:37). He is simply saying that in the same way you can see vultures circling in the air over a dead animal from a distance, you will see Christ coming. It means the same thing as being able to see a lightning strike in the east and in the west at the same time (Matthew 24:27). In fact, in Matthew 24, Jesus says both sayings back-to-back.
Later, Jesus gives a parable specific to eschatology. Many believed that Jesus would establish his kingdom when he entered Jerusalem, which he is just about to do. But to correct the notion that the kingdom will come sooner than later, he tells the parable of the ten minas (one mina is equal to about three months’ average pay for a laborer). A man leave his servants with his money, telling them to conduct business while he’s gone. Two of the three servants give their master a return on his investments, while one servant wastes it. There were also citizens of this man’s land who hated him and did not want to have him rule over them.
When this man returned (let the reader understand), he rewarded the servants who prospered and condemned the servant who wasted his master’s money. Actually, the servant’s own words condemn him; if the servant really believed that the man was as strict and austere as he said, he would have at least let the money sit in a bank instead of a handkerchief. Those citizens who hated the man were destroyed. When Christ returns, he will reward those who lived for him, condemn those who betrayed him, and destroy those who reject him.
Jesus’ parables about the coming kingdom continue. First comes the parable of the persistent widow. Again, think about whether we should compare or contrast the parable with the kingdom of God. A certain judge is so bothered by a widow who kept showing up to his courtroom demanding justice that only because of her incessant squawking does he give her what she wants. How much more, then, does God want to bring justice for his children?
After all of these parables involving money, a rich young ruler comes and asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. The young man thinks that he has kept the law perfectly, but at best he has kept it superficially. To keep the spirit of the law, his spirit must be broken, and he must part with the false god of money that he actually serves with his heart.
After entering Jerusalem, he tells the parable of the wicked tenants as he teaches in the temple. In keeping with the theme of the second coming, a vineyard owner leaves for an extended period of time. In fact, he’s gone so long that he sends servants to do some inspections. He sends three servants, all of whom are beaten by the tenants/workers of the vineyard. Finally the owner sent his own son, thinking that he would be respected. However, the tenants kill the son, treating him worse than the previous servants. When the owner returns, he has the tenants destroyed.
The Sadducees also try to trick him, and it is noted that they outright reject the resurrection (as they did most supernatural phenomena and explanations). It was customary for the brother of a dead man to have children on behalf of that man. So the Sadducees create a somewhat nonsensical scenario. There are seven brothers, all of them die, and the widow has no children with any of them. When the woman dies, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?
Jesus rejects the premise altogether. Marriage is an image of how Christ loves the church, therefore, marriage is only suitable for the current age. In the age to come, no one will marry, just like how the angels in heaven do not marry in the present age. He goes on to say their own Scriptures prove the resurrection (from the Old Testament!). If God is able to say to Moses that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were all long dead, then God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Even without their physical bodies, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive right now.
Death and resurrection
On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus teaches abut his upcoming death and resurrection for a third and final time. He gives plenty of information about what will take place: he will die, but on the third day he will rise again. The point in this foretelling is that the prophets have said that all of this will happen. Jesus will fulfill not only the law but the prophets, as well.
The triumphal entry is the last time the people will show any kind of respect and honor to Jesus until after his resurrection. They sing Psalm 118 over him as he enters the holy city. As he enters, he sees Jerusalem and weeps for her. Israel/Judah/Jerusalem has always been under threat of foreign oppression because of unfaithfulness. Even at that time, they were under Roman occupation. And in the same way they had rejected the prophets before him, because they will reject the final prophet, Jerusalem will be destroyed again within a generation.
He enters the temple (possibly to show that the presence of God had finally filled the temple in the coming of Christ) and kicks out those selling animals for sacrifices. That was a perfectly legitimate transaction, but the sellers were exploiting the people traveling to Jerusalem who lived far enough away to warrant not bringing live animals with them. During holy week, Jesus was teaching in the temple. During those few days, the religious leaders finally decided he had to go.
Psalm 81: God calls for obedience to the covenant.
Psalm 82: God will judge in righteousness at the right time.
Psalm 83: The nations rage against God, but he will overcome them all.
Psalm 84: It is better to be in the presence of God than anywhere else.
Psalm 85: God is near to those who love and fear him.