Tag Archive: Israel


God’s Messengers (Bible Study)

Dark-Days-screen-one

Recap of Chapter 15-

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does.  Israel sunk deeper and deeper into the cesspool of idolatry under the royal wickedness of Ahab and Jezebel.  They led the people further into idolatry and disregarded the God who had made them a nation. The people of promise had broken their promises.  But YHWH is a jealous God who would not sit idly on His heavenly throne and allow worthless non-gods and their followers to go unchecked.  So He called prophets who would speak on His behalf and demonstrate that there is no God but Himself.  Sounding the alarm, these prophets warned faithless Israel that her unbelief would march her right into captivity.

Elijah warned Ahab that Israel would experience a 3-year drought because of their worship of the pagan god, Baal.  The shriveled up land seemed a fitting picture of Israel’s desiccated hearts and shrunken worship. Ahab had gone so far as to build a temple for Baal in the capital city of Samaria.  Then, atop Mount Carmel, the supposed sacred dwelling place of Baal, Elijah challenged the idolaters to the ultimate smackdown—YHWH vs. Baal.  Baal failed to show up but the LORD made a dramatic statement when He consumed the water-logged sacrifice with fire.  Elijah then put to death the 450 prophets of Baal.  Ahab’ wife Jezebel, the Queen of Mean, threatened to kill him so Elijah fled into the desert.  Fatalistic, fearful and not without some Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Mount Horeb.  God revealed Himself there to Elijah, much like He had done nearly 600 years earlier to Moses at Sinai.  He told Elijah that he had kings and prophets to anoint – one of whom was his successor, Elisha.   Once again, as with Moses and Joshua, God was passing the baton to the next generation of leaders who would speak for Him.

While the two prophets were traveling together, Elijah parted the Jordan by striking the water with his cloak – another throwback to Moses.  As they continued on, a whirlwind took Elijah up to heaven in a chariot of fire.  The cloak fell to Elisha whose authority was confirmed when he too divided the Jordan.  Similar to Elijah before him, Elisha performed many miraculous feats for the benefit of the faithful remnant in Israel.  He promised a barren Shunammite woman a son. When the boy suddenly died years later, Elisha brought him back to life. When the Aramean king sent his troops to capture the man of God, Elisha prayed.  He asked God to open his servant’s eyes so he could see the angels who were standing guard around them, and to blind the Arameans.  The prophet then led his captives to Samaria where he asked the king of Israel to prepare a feast of friendship in lieu of execution. This unconventional act of grace established peace between Israel and Aram.

Even with the powerful ministries of Elijah and Elisha, the deeply embedded idolaters remained powerful, numerous and unrepentant in Israel.  God sent Amos, a herdsman from the southern kingdom of Judah, to warn the northern kingdom of Israel that her prosperity, injustice and sinful ways would soon be judged.  He promised them that if Israel did not repent, they would be taken captive. God also sent Hosea to Israel as a living object lesson of His faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness.  Israel refused to hear the pleas of God to return to Him.

God’s holiness demands judgment against rebellious men, but His redemptive love always provides a way of escape.  Whether it’s a mountaintop showdown, a boy raised from the dead, a vision of guardian angels, or a prophet commanded to marry a woman who would become unfaithful, God is always telling His Upper Story of redemption and compassion through His messengers.

Hosea, A Living Object Lesson of God’s Loyal Love

An object lesson is supposed to be a powerful tool in teaching. There are times, however, that an object lesson can go very wrong. My friend back in seminary had children’s messages that he was supposed to deliver during the worship service. He brought in a plate brownies and displayed them before all the kids. He talked about wanting to give them a brownie and he was positive they would taste good, but…as he was preparing the batter he dropped the butter in the grass where the dog did his “business.” It may have touched the dog’s waste but it was only a little bit. He then asked if they wanted a brownie. He said just like the waste was a just a small bit, it still spoiled everything. Sin, even a little bit, spoils everything.

plate-of-brownies-600x400

It was an object lesson that no one forgot. Parents were in an uproar and kids were crying because they couldn’t eat a brownie. It was a “mess” of an object lesson that was burned into the minds of all who were present.

An object lesson is a powerful teaching tool.  For the prophet Hosea, his whole life was to be an object lesson for the nation of Israel.  Like Hosea, our lives are to be the same.  It has often been said that you may be the only Bible someone else ever reads.  If that is true, what would others learn about Jesus simply by watching you?

I.       Hosea:  The Minister

A. The era of the prophets was a unique time in Biblical history.  Although by this time Israel had been prone toward idolatry since the golden calf at Mount Sinai, the nation’s unfaithfulness to the LORD and the spiritually corrupt priests compelled Him to call Israel back to Himself through these individuals or risk the tragic and severe consequences of judgment through captivity or death.

B. Both prophets Hosea and Amos proclaimed the failure of Israel to remain faithful to the covenant of the Law given by Moses and therefore judgment was coming.  Both prophets pled with Israel to repent and return to the Lord.

C. His Ministry:  Hosea began ministering during a period of great material prosperity and military success under the reign of King Jeroboam II in Israel and King Uzziah of Judah.  King Jeroboam II had expanded the borders of Israel through military successes and her economy was fattened right along side.  This led the people of Israel to feel very secure in their military and wealth.  They could not imagine that in thirty short years, they would be so utterly defeated that they would be taken captive.  He prophesied during the reigns of probably 11 kings in both the north and the south–more kings than any other prophet—although he does not mention all of them by name.

  1. Hosea did not date his prophecies, but from the names of the kings mentioned, we can be reasonably sure that his ministry spanned about fifty years, from about 760-710 BC.  Although the exile of Israel to Assyria will come in chapter 16 of The Story, Hosea’s ministry began well before the Assyrian exile in 722 BC and went beyond it by several years.  He was a contemporary of the prophets Amos, Isaiah, and Micah who describe similar conditions of prosperity, injustice and apostasy in the Northern Kingdom.

  2. Unlike Amos who was from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, Hosea was from the Northern Kingdom of Israel (7:5).

  3. Israel was marked by religious apostasy.  They had been in and out of Baalism for centuries, but King Ahab and Jezebel had nationalized it.  Baal was a Phoenician fertility god and could be considered the most perverse form of religion around.  Its worship promoted drunkenness, cultic prostitution, and even human sacrifice.  When Hosea accused Israel of “playing the harlot,” he meant it as more than a figure of speech.

II.       Hosea:  The Man

A. Probably no single book of the Bible paints a clearer picture of God’s redemptive love than the book of Hosea.  Through the life and message of Hosea, God shows us that He will never stop loving His prodigal people and graphically illustrates to us just how far He will go to bring us back to Himself and restore us to a right relationship, even in spite of our sin.

B. His Marriage:  The life of a prophet was never an easy one, but from the very beginning, God called Hosea to be a living object lesson to the faithless people of Israel.  Hosea was not the only prophet called to do bizarre things that would shock the Israelites into hearing the Word of God.  Isaiah went around naked and barefoot for 3 years (Isa. 20:1-4) and Ezekiel had to lay on his side for over a year near a model of Jerusalem under siege because of Judah’s sin (Ezek. 4:1-5:4).   But no prophet was asked to sacrifice himself more personally and more painfully than Hosea.  “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.”  (Hos. 1:2 NIV)  The Message is even stronger, “Find a whore and marry her.  Make this whore the mother of your children.  Here’s why:  This whole country has become a whorehouse, unfaithful to me, God.”  (Hos. 1:2 Message)  Yes, you heard right!  God actually called Hosea to marry a woman who would become unfaithful to him after they got married and poor Hosea would know this beforehand.

  1. Why would God do such a thing?  The text tells us that Hosea’s marriage was to be a living object lesson to the people of Israel because of the nation’s “flagrant harlotry” toward God.  The covenant between God and Israel was a marriage-like covenant.  He expected Israel to love Him faithfully while Israel could depend upon the provision and protection of her Husband.
  2. That Hosea immediately took Gomer as his wife is a remarkable testimony about the man’s commitment to obey the will of God!  There is nothing to indicate that Hosea even for a moment hesitated or questioned the Lord.  Hosea was an Upper Story kind of guy!  He recognized that his Lower Story obedience would contribute to Israel’s (and our) understanding of God’ Upper Story of redemption.
  3. Just like Hosea’s marriage to an unfaithful woman illustrated God’s covenant faithfulness to an unfaithful Israel, so too did his redemption and restoration of his adulterous wife picture the love of God for Israel.  In Hosea 3, God told Hosea to continue to love his wife.  Gomer had chased after other men, and ended up on the auction block.  Humiliated Hosea had to buy her back—the quintessential picture of God’s redemption in Christ—for the price of a slave.  Because he loved her with a godly love, he informed Gomer that her adulterous lifestyle was over and shut her up for a while.  Hosea had to “save her from herself” so to speak, and cut off her temptations so that she would learn how to love her husband and only her husband.

C. His Children:  Even Hosea’s children were to be a living message to Israel of God’ love for His prodigal people.

  1. His son was named Jezreel to commemorate the bloodshed in the city of Jezreel. King Jehu had rightly killed Ahab and Jezebel’s descendents but he went too far and slaughtered others too.  Therefore Jehu’s dynasty would be judged.

  2. His daughter’s name was Lo-ruhamah, which means “she is not loved.”  The compassionate God who is willing to forgive sin, at times, says that He will no longer allow the guilty to continue to go unpunished.

  3. Gomer gave birth to another son and named him Lo-ammi, which means “not my people.”

III.       Hosea:  The Message

A. His main message to Israel, and to us, is that God’s love is loyal toward those who are His own.  God showed Israel, through the startling object lesson of Hosea and Gomer, that His faithfulness was sure even when they were unfaithful to Him time and time again.  He is a covenant-keeping God and His character is marked by faithfulness.

B. Hosea’s message to Israel stressed her sin, God’s judgment, God’s salvation and His loyal love for His prodigal people.

C. Hosea used very strong—even shocking—words to describe the spiritual adultery of Israel.

D. Israel’s unfaithfulness to God also caused her to be oppress the poor (12:7), participate in violent crimes (4:2, 6:9, 12:1), and live in selfish arrogance (13:6).  Consequently, Hosea gave 5 passages of judgment, but with each one He provided the hope of salvation upon repentance.

Gomer

Wife of Hosea

A prostitute

Chased after other men

Israel

Spiritual “wife” of God by covenant

A spiritual harlot (idolatry)

Chased after other gods

Hosea

Suffered because of Gomer’s adultery

Continued to love Gomer with loyal love

Did not divorce her

Purchased/redeemed her

Punished her

Restored and forgave her

YHWH, God of Israel

Suffered because of idolatry

Continued to love prodigals with loyal love

Has not forsaken His own

Purchased and redeemed

Punishes/disciplines His own

Restores and forgives

E. Gomer’s life story parallels that of Israel’s life story of sin, judgment and redemption.

IV.       Hosea:  The Message for Us (Applications and Implications)

A. The relationship between Israel and God is parallel to the relationship between Christ and the Church.  The Church is the “bride of Christ.” (Eph. 5:22-33)  The Church is the “bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:9, 22:17).  The Church is betrothed to one husband, Christ, and she is to be a pure virgin (2 Cor. 11:2).  Therefore, we are to put away sin and live righteously and faithfully in Christ.

B. Living like Gomer is painful to the LORD who loves you.  It distorts the relationship that God intended us to have with Him.

C. Marriage is God’s idea and our loyal, covenantal love for our spouse is to represent the loyal, covenantal love of Christ toward His bride, the Church.  God calls us to continue to be faithful and loyal even when our spouse does not deserve it.  Represent Him!

D. Any nation that rejects the LORD will also reject morality, justice and spiritual hope.

E. Outward forms of worship mean nothing unless we believe and obey.

F. The mature give up their rights.  Believers have opportunities to show people what God is really like and what the gospel is about by being a living picture or “object lesson.”  While we enjoy Christian liberty, God often calls us to set aside our freedoms to become a more effective witness for the benefit of others.  I can sacrifice personal comfort and ease to “preach the gospel without using words.”

Living Testimonies

God called Hosea to give up his right to a faithful wife and happy marriage (Lower Story Life) to show Israel her own infidelity and portray God’ redemptive love (Upper Story life).  Do you have examples of people you know or know of whose lives are living testimonies of God’s love.  How do those “living testimonies” impact you?  What effect does that person have on your understanding of the character of God?  How can you be a living testimony right now in your life?

Elijah and Elisha, “God’s Messengers” are introduced in chapter 15 of THE STORY.  Their efforts to warn the kings, and to herd the people toward God, were a struggle.  Many miracles and acts of kindness are attributed to the prophet Elisha as he walked among the people.  Whatever hospitality was shown to him must have blessed and refreshed him.  Hospitality has always been an attribute of God’s followers. Before going to Shunen, where he met the gracious Shunammite woman, Elisha had experienced some stressful events.

 

I. Elisha experiences hospitality.  2 Kings 2:23; 3— 4:1-10

1.  What kind of treatment did he receive as he went up to Bethel? (2:23-25)

2.  Who did he have to contend with next? (3:9-13)

3.  How did he help the widow of one of the prophets? (4:1-7)

Elisha was a servant of God who handled disrespectful young men, powerful kings, and suffering individuals.  But the Shunammite woman was not asking for anything, she was offering something.

4.  How is the Shunammite woman described? (4:8a)

5.  Why did Elisha stop there when he was traveling through the area? (4:8b)

6.  What did she offer Elisha? (4:9-10)

7.  What would have been the cost of this hospitality to the Shunammite woman?

8.  What did her attitude seem to be toward any burden her hospitality might have been?

II. Hospitality in the Bible.

The Old Testament examples of hospitality are plentiful; the New Testament includes examples as well as commands to be hospitable.  From the following examples what kind of care and cost was required to extend hospitality?  What kinds of blessings result from godly hospitality?

Genesis 18:2—8, 16.

Genesis 19:1—8.

Luke 10:7.

Hebrews 13:2.

 

III. The Shunammite woman experiences blessing. 2 Kings 4:11-37; 8:1-6

Of course the cost and the risk of hospitality can sometimes be burdensome.  Imagine, however, what it would have cost the Shunammite woman if she hadn’t offered hospitality to the prophet Elisha.

1.  What caused Elisha offer a blessing to the woman? (4:11-13a)

2.  With what kind of attitude did the woman respond? (4:13)

3. What surprising gift did Elisha give her? ((4:14-17)

4. What was the ultimate gift that followed?  (4:18-37)

5.  What warning and help did Elisha later give to the Shunammite and her family?  (8:1-6)

IV. Hospitality as a picture of God.

Significant blessings come to the one who offers hospitality and to the one who receives hospitality.  Hospitality is about relationship.  Christians receive the gracious hospitality of God as he invites us into relationship with him.  In turn, we bless God by opening our lives as the gracious invitation of a spiritual home to others who have not yet experienced God as their Father.

1.  Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  How is this a picture of hospitality?

2. Analyze these instructions about hospitality:

Matthew 25:41-46.

1 Peter 4:9.

3 John 5—8

The Shunammite woman went out of her way to show hospitality to Elisha when he needed it.  Because of the friendship that developed between them, Elisha went out of his way to bless her when she needed it.  This kind of godly hospitality is almost a lost art, but those who conform to the biblical model of hospitality experience much of the same kind of blessing.

3.  What has happened to the custom of hospitality in our culture?

4.  What are the hindrances to practicing this act of grace?

5.  Share how showing hospitality has been a blessing to you or to others?

6.  Whom should we consider as our guest each time we open our homes to others? (Matthew 25:45)

Key Question:  How will you show Christian hospitality to a servant of God who would be blessed by your kindness?

For additional reflection:

Meditate on the following passages about the kinds of hospitality Jesus and the Apostles received.  What can we learn from each of these occasions?

Luke 2:4-7           Matthew 10:8-15            Luke 7:36-35           Luke 10:25-37              Luke 14:1-12            Luke 19:7

Acts 10: 23, 24-48                Acts 16:13-15

A Kingdom Torn in Two (4 Perspectives)

Kings

Perspective 1- Kelsey Rath

In chapter 14 in The Story, it made me think. Once Solomon died, everything was left for his son, Rehoboam.  So I started to think, when have I left something for someone to deal with? During the story Rehoboam became mad and mean to the poor and pretty much everyone. If you have had something left for you, or have an obstacle to overcome do you take it out on others? Do you go to God with your troubles, worries, and everything you’re going through?

“Be still, and know that I am God”

Even through the tough, the hurting, and all the miserable times, come to the Lord. Do not hurt others or take your anger out on others. Believe that God will guide you wherever you want, need, or tend to go.

Perspective 2- Pastor Ron

Are you kidding? God gives to Jeroboam rule over all of Israel except Judah and Jeroboam responds by making up his own religion!?! I had to read it twice to make sure I was getting it right. Yep, God gives him the lion’s share of the kingdom, but Jeroboam worries that the people will return to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices.  Jeroboam reasons that if they travel to Jerusalem in the southern kingdom that they will switch allegiance to Rehoboam, so he invents his own religion. He builds altars, comes up with holy days, and appoints priests from whomever steps forward.

Soooo, God came through on His promise to give him rule over all but one tribe, but God couldn’t handle the people going to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices? I understand that there was more going on than what is recorded. Jeroboam is living life each day and he is seeing things happening with his people, but it still seems unbelievable to me. God can do the impossible, but the seemingly little things in life we need to take into our own hands?

Perhaps this is what Paul was getting at in Romans 8:31-32.

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

I wonder how many times I have doubted that God would come through and took matters into my own hands. Am I much different from Jeroboam? God was willing to sacrifice His son for me, but to make sure the project is done on time, or the relationship healed…yeah, not sure He is up to the task. Sigh, I wonder if God at times looks at me and thinks, “Are you kidding?”

Perspective 3- Barb Miles

My lower story perspective is focused on Solomon’s son, Rehoboam who was asked by Jeroboam and his leaders to lower the expectations of the laborers who were forced to work very hard long days and were also taxed at a high level.  Rehoboam did ask the elders, but he also asked his peers.  Who’s advice did he take?  His peers.  Rehoboam chose not to lower the work standards.

I remember when my grandfather was still alive, people from the community would come to him with their own story and would ask him to listen.  I have newspaper articles from “Letters to the Editor” that thanked him for his time, listening ear, and open mind.  Grandfather was 80 years old then and lived to 96.  After he retired, he had a desk in his own home and he always had a Bible sitting on the corner of it. I have learned to listen to the generation before me, they have lived a varied life of valuable insight and experience.  If Rehoboam would have listened to his elders, would the nation have been torn in two?

Perspective 4- Dan Petrak

 

A Few Good Men…and Women (Bible Study)

Chapter 8 Recap

The nation of Israel had a place to call home at last. Settling into the Promised Land enabled them to leave behind their wandering ways and fulfill one of the key promises to Abraham:  a land for God’s people to occupy.  But, failing to evict the Canaanites from the land, these pagan neighbors became a toxic influence on a nation called to be different.

After the death of Joshua, God’s people felt this pull of worldly culture and a destructive pattern emerged:

  • Israel turned again and again to the worship of pagan gods.
  • God brought divine judgment.
  • Israel cried out for God’s help.
  • God raised up a judge to save them.

This cycle of sin became the pattern of life in Israel for the next 300 years.

Early on, Israel was conquered by the Canaanite king, Jabin. God appointed Deborah, a prophet, judge, and strong leader to deliver her people.  She and her military leader, Barak, defeated the powerful Canaanite army led by Sisera. He escaped and took refuge in the tent of a woman named Jael, who killed him while he slept.  Israel had been delivered for now, but the cycle would continue.

Israel was later oppressed by the Midianites.  God called Gideon out of nowhere to deliver His people. Gideon was pretty sure that God has mistaken him for some well-built four-star Israelite commander, and asked twice for a miraculous sign. God confirmed His intentions, and Gideon gathered 32,000 troops to take on the vast Midianite army.  God, however, trimmed their forces to just 300 men.  He used them to rout the Midianites, and the people enjoyed freedom…for a while.

The cycle continued, and Israel was soon dominated by the Philistines. This time God prepared a deliverer by promising a child to a barren woman. This child, Samson, was to be raised as a Nazirite, who was set apart to God.  His hair was not to be cut and he was to drink no wine. He was well-known for his superhuman strength and less than super character, especially in the company of beautiful women.  His second wife, Delilah, betrayed him by cutting his hair so he would forfeit his advantage and God’s favor.  Samson himself embodied this insidious cycle that had enslaved Israel, with his saw-tooth history of indiscretions and victories.

As a result, the Philistines took him captive and gouged out his eyes. But his hair grew back, and his strength returned.  Samson’s last day was his best one. He was brought into the Philistine temple to entertain their leaders.  He prayed to the LORD, collapsed the pillars of the temple and defeated the Philistines at last.

God is never bashful about His intentions for His people. He never tolerates sin and, at the same time, never breaks His covenant with His people.  Israel may not have fully understood God’s discipline, but over and over He had to bring them to their knees in order to bring them to Himself.

Israel is constantly running from the true God to other false gods.  Make a list of the false gods in our culture today.  Which of them have you trusted?

Here is a map of how the land was divided at this time according to the 12 tribes

The Canaanization of Israel and the Church

How many times have I told you…?  Stay away from them. They are the wrong crowd to hang out with.   They are dangerous to you.  Well, if someone told you to jump off a bridge, would you do that too?  Every child has heard them and every parent has spoken them—the warnings not to give into “peer pressure.”

The Perfect Parent gave those same warnings to His people.  The Canaanites were bad news.  They were the drug dealers, the prostitutes and the criminals of their time.  They were the kind of people who any good parent would warn their beloved children to stay away from.  God had warned but the Israelites began to ignore those warnings.  The consequences of covenant disobedience were tragic.

I.       The Call of Israel

A. God had chosen Israel to be a holy nation.

– The Abrahamic covenant had called them to be a blessing to all nations.  They were to represent Him to the world.

– They were given the covenant of the Law to tutor them how to fear God and how to live justly with one another.

– They were to be a kingdom of priestly people (Ex. 19:6).

B. They were the covenantal community of faith.

– They were given the divine gift of revelation from God and expected to believe it by faith.

– They were a people of God’s own possession (Ex. 19:5)

II.    The “Canaanization” of Israel

A. Instead of destroying the Canaanites, Israel joined them.

– They turned away from YHWH, the God of Israel.

– They began to worship Baal, the god of Canaan.

– They participated in the cultic practices of Baal worship including the sexually immoral unions that accompanied the seasonal feasts.

– They participated in their sacrifices.  It is unclear to what degree Israel became like the Canaanites in their sacrifices at this time, but the Canaanites participated in child sacrifice in the fire, and buried children in the foundations of their buildings.  Later Biblical texts, like Jeremiah and 1-2 Kings, give further insight into these atrocities.

– They intermarried with them, which explicitly violated their covenant.

– Israel had become just like their pagan neighbors, the Canaanites.

B. Remember Joshua’s charge, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD”? Israel exchanged the One True God for worthless idols which, according to the covenant (Lev. 26, Deut. 28), makes them His enemy.

C. God was furious!

– God’s anger must be understood against the backdrop of His extravagant acts of grace in the past.

– God is passionate and cannot stand by while idolatry snatches his people from Him.

– Nor will he passively accept Israel’s adulterous affairs with other gods

III. The Call of the Church

In much the same way that God called Israel to be a holy people, He calls the Church to a righteous standard. Read or look up these verses that spell out the believer a life that is different.

  • Called as saints
  • Called out of darkness and into light
  • Called not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person (1 Cor. 5:11)
  • Called to freedom to serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
  • Called to walk in a manner worthy of God, with humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and love for one another, (Eph. 4:1)
  • Called to a new life of righteousness, and holiness of the truth (Eph. 4:24)
  • Called not for impurity but for sanctification (1 Thess. 4:7)
  • Called for salvation, sanctification and glory in Christ (2 Thess. 2:13-14)
  • Called for eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12)
  • Called by grace through faith for good works prepared by God (Eph. 2:8-10)
  • Called to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession to proclaim the gospel (1 Pet. 2:9)
  • Called to be a light to point others to Christ (Matt. 5:16)
  • Called to be a living sacrifice, not conformed to this world, but transformed to live out the will of God (Rom. 12:1-2).

Bottom line:  Called to be God’s hands, feet, and heart on earth; called to be holy and different from the world around us.

Do you think more people try to stand out as believers in this world or spend time fitting in? Why do so many people fear standing out? 

IV. The “Canaanization” of the Church

As the culture goes, so goes the church.  Sadly, the Church in America has become “Canaanized” in much the same way that Israel did during the days of the judges.  According to highly regarded pollsters and researchers such as Barna Group, the Gallup Organization, and others, the lives of American Christians bear far more resemblance to their unbelieving neighbors than they do to the transformed life expected by the New Testament writers.  George Barna concludes, “Every day the church is becoming more like the world it allegedly seeks to change.”  So, how bad is it really?

1. Divorce:  In Aug. 2001, Barna found 33% of born-again Christians to be divorced; 34% of non-born-again Americans (90% of all divorced born-agains were divorced AFTER they became Christian.)

  • In many parts of the Bible belt, the divorce rate is well above the national average.

2. Materialism and the Poor:  A 30-year study by John and Sylvia Ronsvalle showed that the richer we become, the less we give in proportion to our incomes.

  • In 1968, the average church member gave 3.1% of their incomes
  • In 2001, the average church member gave 2.66%
  • Today, on average Christians give about 4%
  • In 2002, Barna discovered that only 9% of Christian adults tithe.
  • 1.2 billion of the world’s poorest people try to live on just $1 a day, and at least 1 billion have never heard the gospel.  If American Christians tithed 10%, they would have another $143 billion dollars per year to help the poor and spread the gospel.
  • One of the most common themes in the Scriptures is that God and His people have a special concern for the poor.

Why do you think this contradiction between belief and practice exists in the Church today?

3. Sexual Disobedience:

  • In the 1990’s, unmarried couples living together rose 72% nationwide.
  • In the Bible belt, it rose even more.    97% in OK, 123% in TN, 125% in AR.
  • Christian teens are only 10% less likely to engage in premarital sex than non-Christian teens.
  • A study by Professor John C. Green of University of Akron found that 26% of traditional evangelicals do not think premarital sex is wrong; 46% say it is morally okay.
  • 13% of traditional Christians say it is okay for married persons to have extramarital sex while 19% of nontraditional Christians think it is morally okay.  It is higher among mainline Protestants and Catholics.
  • Steve Gallagher says that pornography among Christian men is not much different from among the unsaved.

4. Racism:In 1989, Gallup published the results of a survey to determine which groups in the US were least and most likely to object to having black neighbors.

  • 11% of Catholics and nonevangelical Christians objected
  • 16% of mainline Protestants objected
  • 17% of Baptists and evangelicals objected
  • 20% of Southern Baptists objected
  • To say that there is neither Jew nor Greek, black nor white, but not put it into practice, is a blatant disparity between practice and belief.

5. Lifestyle habits:

  • Christians spend 7x more hours each week watching TV than in Bible reading, worship and prayer.
  • Only 9% of Christian adults have a Biblical worldview
  • Only 2% of Christian teens have a Biblical worldview

6. Faithful remnant:

  • A 2001 Pew Center poll showed that those who were highly committed to their faith were 3x more likely to have volunteered with the poor, sick and elderly in the last month.
    co products
  • Barna found that those with a Biblical worldview showed genuinely different behavior.

– 49% had volunteered to help the poor, sick and elderly
– 3x more likely not to use tobacco products
– 9x more likely to avoid adult-only material on the internet
– 5x less likely to report that their “career comes first.”

Bottom line:  Learning to think Biblically and theologically DOES matter.
Why does the Christian church today have such a hard time with these issues?

V.    Applications and implications for us today

  • Although the Church may have become Canaanized in our present culture, the Holy Spirit is still at work in me. I can be different.
  • I should evaluate my life in light of Biblical truth, not the world’s standards.
  • I should guard myself against the gradual slide into cultural relativism.
  • I am to be in the world, but not of it.  But am I being truly transformed?
  • My checkbook reveals my true priorities.  My practices belie my beliefs.
  • God is faithful to forgive me and restore me when I repent and confess my sin.
  • I am an ineffective witness if there is no evidence for change in my life.
  • The incomprehensible privilege of grace compels me to live righteously according to the revealed Word of God.

I know there is a lot of law piled up here right now, but I share this data with you so that you can identify for yourself how culture and the world around us starts to shape who we are and what we are all about.

False gods trigger a cycle:  a web of sin, God’s judgments, crying out for help, and God providing deliverance.  What are some destructive cycles you have seen in your own life?

Do you think that the Israelites did a good job of passing their faith to the next generation?  How can we do this better in the church and in our own families?

Which character in chapter 8 stands out to you and why?  How can you be more like them? Which of their bad qualities would you leave out? 

I hope you have a great week!

Additional Study on one character in chapter 8: Deborah

The period of the Judges is the subject of The Story Chapter 8.  Commentators described the period as “a time of free, unfettered development, in which the nation was to take root in the land presented to it by God” (Keil & Delitzsch,239). The fickle Israelites repeated cycles of “doing evil in the sight of the Lord”; bearing the consequences of that evil as God allowed surrounding nations to pummel them; and finally, penitence with a humble return to faithfulness.    Each time God provided a judge to rein them in; Deborah was one of the most courageous.  Yet, she describes herself as “a mother in Israel” Judges 5:7.

I.   Deborah as a wise judge:  Judges 4:1-5; 5:6-7.

Deborah, the fourth Judge, lived approximately 140 years after Joshua’s death.  She was probably middle-aged at the time of the events described in the Book of Judges.  Yet she had seen and heard enough to be a wise and respected woman whom God used in an extraordinary way.

Describe Deborah’s life as a judge:

1.  Israel fell into evil after Ehud’s death.  From Judges 2:19, what was particularly odious to God?

 

2.  God punished them through Jabin, a Canaanite.   Why was Jabin’s army, under the command of Sisera, a lethal threat, Judges 4:2-3?

 

3.  Describe the severity of this oppression? How long had it lasted?

 

4.  From Deborah’s song, Judges 5:6, describe what life was like for the Israelites.

 

5. To whom did they finally turn for help?

 

6.  Fill in the words to describe Deborah from Judges 4:4.

 

“Deborah  a _________________________, the _____________ of Lappidoth, was _______________

Israel at that time.”

 

7.  How did Deborah serve the Israelites?

 

II.  Deborah as a strong military leader:  Judges 4-5.

1.  What message did God give Deborah for Barak?

 

2.  Who would actually win the battle for the Israelites (4:7, 14)?

 

3.  In your opinion, what did Barak’s response to Deborah’s message reveal?

 

4.  The expressions translated “Go” (4:9), and “Go!”(4:14) in the NIV can carry the meaning of “Get up and go”, and “Stand up and go!” or “Take your stand”.  Knowing that Barak refused to lead his army without Deborah, what is the implication of her use of these words?

 

5.  Should Deborah’s prediction, that a woman would have the honor for the victory, shame Barak? Why or why not?

 

6.  In Deborah’s song we have a poetic description of the battle.  What does it reveal about the 10,000 man army (5:2)?

 

7.  From Judges 4:15 and 5:4-5, why was Sisera on foot and how did God hinder his army?

 

8.  Who was the woman who received the honor for Sisera’s defeat, and how was she able to accomplish it (4:18-21; 5:24-27)?

 

The Kennite women had responsibility for the tents.  Due to the harsh winds and the hard, sunbaked land, “she would had to have been swift and accurate in her use of the tent-peg” (Robinson).

The literal translation of Deborah’s prediction about Jael is “Into the hand of a woman the Lord will sell Sisera” (Fleenor,Ziese 86).  Any reader of Deborah’s story will notice how gender roles play against each other in the account.  Even simple words are implicit.  We understand “the hand that rocks the cradle…” and the gracefulness of a woman’s hands. A woman’s hands driving a tent-peg into a man’s temple just don’t fit the picture.

Key Question for men or women in the church today:  After learning about Deborah, What is happening in your community, your church, or your family that demand your courageous leadership?  Will you step up to the challenge?

Deborah is one of the most interesting if the judges because her presence and her leadership of the men of Israel confounds many males in churches today. Yep, she was a woman; she was chosen by God; she was even the Commander in Chief of a general of God’s army.

The Bible doesn’t explain how God called her. It just says that God was allowing an enemy of Israel to push the nation hard because they had again turned from God to idols. The Bible says of the time, “Now Deborah, a prophet, … was leading Israel at that time.” The Bible adds that she held court and settled disputes among the Israelites.

When the time came for rescue, God directed Deborah. She was instructed to tell Israeli general, Barak, to take the army to a place named by God, where God would deliver the enemy into his hand. It is obvious that Barak did not receive the message from God personally, because his reply to Deborah was, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”  So, Deborah, General Barak, and ten thousand Israeli soldiers set out. This tells us that not only was Deborah the only woman to serve as a judge, but she was respected by the common people and the military leaders.

To finalize Deborah’s position as God’s chosen leader of the people, we see the climax of the day of battle.  “Deborah said to Barak, ‘Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera (the enemy leader) into your hands. Has not the Lord gone on ahead of you?'”  God delivered Sisera and his army into the hand of General Barak, as He had promised.

This victory under the leadership of God and his chosen leader brought a return by the people to God, and the nation enjoyed forty years of peace.

We don’t know if judges served for life, or if they melted back into their former lives when the danger to the nation had passed. We do know that none tried to take over as king (or queen), nor did they try to establish dynasties.

sue wilson

What Is So Special About The Rock?

God’s people have been wandering in the desert for 40 years and they are pretty thirsty. So this is what God tells Moses to do, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water…” (Numbers 20:8). The instruction to “speak” to the rock is in contrast to 40 years earlier, when Moses followed God’s instruction to hit the rock – and water gushed out (Exodus 17:6).

This time, Moses is supposed to speak and yet he again hits the rock. Nothing happens, so Moses hits the rock a second time, and water comes out. God’s response, “Since you HIT the rock rather than speaking to it, you will not lead the people into the Land of Israel” (Numbers 20:11-12).

I don’t know about you, but I read this story and thought, here’s the mighty Moses, who confronted Pharaoh, arranged the Ten Plagues, split the Red Sea, brought the commandments down from Mount Sinai, and defended the people through the difficulties in the desert. Now he makes what seems like a tiny-tiny mistake and God takes away his dream of entering the promised land. The consequence doesn’t seem to match the crime.

Let’s think through this a little. The people were at the critical juncture of transitioning from desert life to a land that God had promised. At the rock, God’s instructions to Moses are carefully chosen to reflect this transition. Forty years earlier, when Moses was told to HIT the rock, the people had just come out of brutal slavery in Egypt – and “hitting” was a language they understood. But this time, Moses was called upon to lead a generation who’d grown up in freedom; a generation which required the softer approach of “speaking.” God can communicate with his people in different ways. It is amazing to the see the subtle difference over the 40 years of wandering.

God wanted it done a particular way because as we just saw it was a teaching moment. Moses didn’t think it was the way it should be done. He was angry with the people and struck it twice before we see the water flow. After the first hit God was still giving him some room for error. But then he swings again because he is trusts in his own ability. God needed someone at that time and place to listen and follow directions. Moses had lived a long life of disappointments and frustrations and was at a point that he trusted in own decision, before trusting in God.

How many times has God led you to a place and given you a direction, only to have you go and do it your own way? This is a trust issue. We have a hard time trusting that God’s plan will be the right one or in the right way. God will not lead us to a place only to let us down or abandon us. He gives us every reason to trust and yet we fall short.

It all goes back to the rock. The rock was the source of nourishment for the people. Even when Moses failed to do it right, God still provided them with the water they needed. In Moses farewell speech (Deut. 32) to the people he references the rock six times (someone never let it go). There are two kinds of rocks, one is God, and the other is false gods. Moses recalls the nourishment from the rock but people have abandoned that rock and leaned on another rock.

Fast forward to the New Testament when Paul is talking about Moses and the history of Israel.

“They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” 1 Cor. 10:3-4

Paul has a warning for the Corinth church. He says don’t end up like those people who ended up leaning on another rock. The Rock, Jesus Christ, is the salvation you need to lean upon. It is awesome how the Old Testament story gets tied into the New Testament church as we are united by the one Rock. Praise God!

What kind of rock do you like to run to for security? Which rock motivates you in life?

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