Category Archives: Leadership

“Reject God’s Law, and Man Will Do That Which Is Right In His Own Eyes” (Judges 21)

Scripture reading – Judges 21

Today’s Scripture marks the conclusion of our study in the Book of Judges. The era known as the “Judges,” began with the death of Joshua (Judges 1), and concluded with the death of Samson (Judges 16). As I mentioned in an earlier commentary, it is my opinion that the events in Judges 17-21, fall chronologically between the death of Joshua, and the appointment of Othniel (Judges 3:9-10), as the first judge in Israel.

Judges 21 concludes the time when judges ruled in Israel, and soon after the love story of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 1-4), we will see the prophet Samuel step onto the stage of Israel’s history. As Samuel begins ministering in Israel, the tribes will come to demand a king to rule over the nation. Remember, it was God’s will to rule His people as the benevolent King of Israel, and His Law and Commandments serve as their guide. Yet, Samuel will anoint Saul to be king, and following him the LORD will establish the Davidic lineage through whom Jesus Christ will be born the rightful heir to the throne of Israel (Matthew 1:1).

Judges 21 – A Crisis in Israel

Though victorious, the tribes of Israel were broken over the sin and wickedness that had taken hold in the land, and left one of the twelve tribes nearly destroyed (21:2-6). The tribe of Benjamin was decimated by its battle with the children of Israel (Judges 20), and the sin of that tribe had been so dreadful, “the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh [most likely a military outpost], saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife” (21:1).

Though bound by their oath, the people sought the LORD, wept (21:2), “and said, O Lord God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be to day one tribe lacking in Israel?” (21:3). Israel lamented the devastation of Benjamin’s population, as a judgment for the sins of Gibeah. The thought that one of the twelve tribes would cease to exist, and be cut off forever was surely beyond the demands of the Law. And so the people went up to Bethel, “the house of God,” and they “built there an altar, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings” (21:4).

A Resolution to Seek Wives for the Tribe of Benjamin (21:5-7)

A survey was taken, and the question asked, what tribes in Israel had failed to go up to Mizpeh, and therefore not vowed that their daughters would not marry any man of the tribe of Benjamin? (21:4) Any who had failed to join Israel at Mizpeh, and meet the LORD there, were to be put to death (21:5). It was decided that the virgin daughters of any who had failed to come to Mizpeh would become the wives of the men of Benjamin who had survived the battle, and retreated to “the rock of Rimmon” (20:47-48; 21:5-7).

Attendance was taken, and it was discovered that no man of Jabesh-gilead had come to Mizpeh (21:8-9). Israel then sent “twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying, Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the children” (21:10). All the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead were killed, but “four hundred young virgins [were spared], that had known no man by lying with any male: and they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan” (21:12).

Messengers carried a word of peace to Benjamin, and the six hundred survivors of the tribe of Benjamin, came to Israel and were given “wives which they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead: and yet so they sufficed them not [there were six hundred Benjamites, but only four hundred virgins of Jabesh-gilead]” (21:14). The people then contemplated what more could be done to give wives to the men of Benjamin, for they had sworn an oath not to give them their daughters (21:15-18).

Catch a Wife, and Flee (21:19-23)

A decision was made, and an invitation given to the men of Benjamin who did not have a wife, to go up to Shiloh for an annual feast (either the feast of the Tabernacles, or the Passover, 21:19). The Benjamites were instructed to lie in wait in the vineyard, and when the virgin “daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances” (21:20), they were to “catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin” (21:21). Should the virgins’ fathers protest, the leaders of Israel assured the men of Benjamin, they would intercede for them (21:22). And so, Benjamin returned to their territory, claimed their inheritance, and began to rebuild their cities (21:23). With the future of Benjamin assured, the children of Israel returned to their land and families (21:24).

I close with a reminder of what becomes of a nation when men refuse to hear, and heed God’s Law and Commandments:  “Every man [will do] that which [is] right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25b)

Does that statement not describe our day?

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

“Lawlessness Breeds Moral Degeneracy” (Judges 19-20)

Scripture reading – Judges 19-20

A familiar refrain in the latter chapters of the Book of Judges is: “It came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel” (19:1).

Consider the question, “When was there no king [literally, no ruler or judge] in Israel?” The answer gives us a different perspective for the events recorded in today’s Scripture reading. I believe Judges 17-21 falls chronologically between the death of Joshua (Joshua 24:29-33, Judges 1:1-2:15), and the beginning of the era of the judges (Judges 2:16), when “the Spirit of the LORD came upon [Othniel], and he judged Israel” (3:8-10).

A contemporary application: The tragic events that occur in today’s Scripture reading, Judges 19-20, are a reflection of the lawlessness, and moral degeneracy of a society when men reject the Law of the LORD, and His Commandments.

Lesson: When spiritual leaders fail to preach, and teach the Word of God, they not only fail the LORD, they fail their families, community, and nation. Consider with me a time of lawlessness, much like our day, “when there was no king [no judge, no ruler] in Israel” (19:1).

Judges 19 – The Levite, and His Unfaithful Concubine

A man of the priestly tribe of Levi, passed through Mount Ephraim (near the place where the Tabernacle was located), and took to wife “a concubine out of Beth-lehem-judah [Bethlehem of Judah]” (19:1). The woman was most likely a concubine, because she had come to the marriage without a dowry. She would have been considered a lesser wife, and her children would have had no right of inheritance.

Tragically, the Levite’s concubine played the harlot, and left the Levite and returned to her father’s house (19:2). Four months passed, and the Levite and his servant, determined to travel to Bethlehem, and with kind words, endeavor to “bring her again” to his home (19:3). The concubine’s father rejoiced when the Levite came to claim his daughter (19:3). The man pressed upon his son-in-law to accept his invitation to continue in his home, and “he abode with him three days: so they did eat and drink, and lodged there” (19:4).

For four days, the Levite, his concubine, and servant continued with his father-in-law, and on the fifth day, though the father protested, the Levite set out on his journey to Shiloh (where the Tabernacle was located, 19:18). Because the hour was late, the servant pressed the Levite to stay the night near “Jebus” (ancient Jerusalem, 19:10-11). The Levite, however, refused to spend the night in Jerusalem, for it was occupied by Jebusites, and not the children of Israel. Instead, they made their way to Gibeah, a city occupied by the tribe of Benjamin, and arrived in the city as “the sun went down upon them” (19:14).

The Tragedy of Depravity in Gibeah

Contrary to the Law’s injunction to show compassion to the sojourner, no man of Gibeah offered the Levite, and his concubine provision or lodging for the night, and he settled to spend the night in the city street (19:15). An old man, however, whose birthplace was Mount Ephraim, resided in Gibeah, and spied the Levite and his company. The old man offered them lodging for the night (19:16-20), and though the Levite resisted his invitation, he pressed upon him, saying, “lodge not in the street” (19:20).

The old man was entertaining his guests, when “the men of the city, certain sons of Belial [wicked, immoral men], beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him” (19:22).

Like Lot, who found his household beset by the wicked men of Sodom (Genesis 19:4-9), the old man’s endeavor to reason with the sodomites of Gibeah proved futile (19:23). Though he defined their passions as wickedness, and folly (19:23), their immoral desire, and lust would not be assuaged. Following the manner of Lot, and to save the Levite from the violence of the mob, the old man offered his virgin daughter, and the Levite’s concubine to “do with them what seemeth good unto you” (19:24). Even that shameless attempt to pacify the lusts of the sodomites failed, and did not deter them from their debased objective (19:24).

Tragically, choosing to save himself, and his host from the degenerate mob, the Levite thrust his concubine out of the house. The men of Gibeah raped, and “abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go” (19:25), and retreated to their households (19:26).

What a hideous thought, that a man would give his wife to a mob to be abused, while he sheltered in the security of a household! Nevertheless, we read, the Levite “rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way: and, behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold” (19:25).

Can you picture this tragic moment? With a callousness that defies love, the Levite opened the door, not to search for his wife, but to go on his journey (19:27). He knew the violence of the Sodomite culture, and what she would have suffered, and no doubt believed she would be dead. Instead, she had made her way to the threshold of the house; battered, bruised, bleeding, and demeaned, she found the door closed to her cries, and died (19:27).

What manner of man would give his beloved to suffer, and himself be spared? The same who would fail to stoop, and caress her, and say, “Up, and let us be going” (19:28). The abused woman did not stir, and she did not answer. Her life was gone, her soul departed. She had died from the violence of the mob that had made her the object of their lusts. Taking up her lifeless body from the threshold, the Levite placed her upon his donkey, and went to his house (19:28).

Remembering there was no king, judge, or ruler in Israel, the Levite had no place to appeal for justice.

The city of Gibeah, and the tribe of Benjamin had sheltered, and tolerated a great evil in their land, and the Levite determined to appeal to all Israel for justice. He “took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her [body parts] into all the coasts [boundaries, tribes] of Israel” (19:29). The Levite’s deed left Israel shaken, and the children of Israel gathered to weigh the spiritual state of their nation, and what must be done (19:30, 20:1).

Author’s note: In a later devotional, I hope to consider the events that follow in Judges 20, and their application to our own society, and world.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Samson and Delilah (Judges 16-17)

Scripture reading – Judges 16-17

Today’s study in the Book of Judges brings us to an event in the life of Samson that is as dramatic, as it is tragic.

Samson’s super-strength exploits, his infatuation with Delilah, her betrayal, and the tragic finale of his life has filled childhood imaginations, and been the inspiration for plays, operas, and Hollywood films. It might be said, never has a man been born with such promise, and died with such infamy. He was the hope of Israel, and his strength was legend; however, his moral failures shadowed his life, and ended inglorious.

This final chapter of Samson’s life opens with a reminder of his flawed character. Though set apart by the LORD, and dedicated by his mother when he was yet in her womb (13:3-5), Samson’s lusts eclipsed his calling as the judge of Israel (15:20+). While his physical acts of valor were renown, his unbridled lusts were ultimately his demise.

Judges 16 – Samson, Delilah, and the Philistines

The early verses of Judges 16 placed Samson in Gaza, a Philistine town fifty miles southwest of Jerusalem, and was only a short distance from his home. Unafraid of the Philistines, Samson visited with a harlot of Gaza (16:1), and the men of that city waited at the gate, plotting to kill him (16:2). Sensing the danger, he arose at midnight, and stormed out of the city, pulling the great gate up by its posts, and carrying them a distance of nine miles where he sat them at “the top of an hill that is before Hebron” (16:3).

Delilah, the Temptress, and Vixen (16:4-21)

The story of Samson and Delilah is well known, and I feel no need to be detailed in my commentary; however, let it serve as a warning to any who might trifle with sexual immorality.

Samson came to love Delilah (16:4), with whom he not only indulged his lusts, but trifled with his Nazarite vow, under which he had been born. When the Philistines offered Delilah a bribe of “eleven hundred pieces of silver” (16:5), she began to entice, and plot to betray Samson into the hands of his enemies (16:6-14). Three times she urged Samson to reveal the secret of his strength, and three times he deceived her, and foiled the plot to capture him (16:6-14).

Delilah’s unrelenting pleas for him to trust her with his secret, weakened Samson’s resolve, until he confessed “all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man” (16:17).

Knowing his secret, Delilah betrayed him, and as he slept she sent for a man to shave his head (16:18-19). With the locks of his hair shaved, Delilah awoke Samson, and “his strength went from him” (16:19). She lifted up her voice as she had in the past, and said, “The Philistines be upon thee, Samson” (16:20), and when he rose from his bed to face his enemy, “he wist not that the Lord was departed from him” (16:20).

Seized, Enslaved, and Scorned (16:21-31)

With the Spirit of the LORD no longer upon him, Samson was bound by the Philistines, his eyes gouged out, and like a dumb beast, he was forced to push the mill wheel to “grind in the prison house” (16:21). Days and weeks passed, and Samson’s hair began to grow (16:22). We know the disgrace he endured in prison; however, it was the humiliation he suffered when he was taken from prison that turned his thoughts to the LORD. Led by a boy to the temple of Dagon, the once mighty Samson become an object of buffoonery for the Philistine men and women (16:23-25).

Samson asked the boy to guide him to the main pillars that supported the roof of the temple, and there he prayed, “O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes” (16:28). Standing in the midst of the two pillars, Samson pushed against them, and prayed, “Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life” (16:30).

The story of Samson’s life ends with a sad scene, as his brethren (the tribe of Dan), and those of his father’s house, claimed his body from the rubble of the temple of Dagon, and buried him with his father (16:31).

Judges 17 – Wickedness, and Idolatry in Israel

To illustrate the wickedness and depravity that had taken hold in Israel, we are introduced to a man of the tribe of Ephraim named Micah.  Micah was a wicked sort, for he is introduced as one who had stolen eleven hundred shekels of silver from his mother! When he learned his mother had uttered a curse on the thief, he returned her silver, and excused his theft on the pretense of religious piety, claiming it was his desire to have an idol shaped from the silver and revered in his “house of gods” (17:3).

Micah’s mother, no doubt deluded by her son’s pretext of spirituality, rewarded him with two hundred shekels of silver, which he melted at a foundry, and poured into a mold of the image that would serve as one of his idols (17:4-5).  Increasing his wickedness further, Micah employed a Levite priest to serve him and his gods (17:7-13).

I close today’s devotional with a revelation of the sin problem that was present in Israel, for 6in those days there was no king [no ruler, no judge] in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes”(17:6).

Samson had been the hope of his nation, but his moral failures overshadowed his life, and ministry as Israel’s judge.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Samson: A Man of Raging Passions (Judges 14-15)

Scripture reading – Judges 14-15

Although the Scriptures do not go into a detailed description of Samson’s physical appearance, he must have been a striking figure. Various artists have portrayed him as a hulk of a man, with bulging muscles, and longer hair that was a visible testimony of his Nazarite vow (13:5).

Judges 14 – A Woman, A Wedding, and A Riddle

Samson had made a short journey from his home “down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines” (14:1). As was the custom of his day, Samson returned home, and demanded of his father and mother, saying, “I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife.”

The Philistines were an idolatrous people, and Samson’s parents rightfully objected to his desire to marry a Philistines woman. They asked their son, “Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren [that being the tribe of Dan], or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines?” (14:3) Nonetheless, Samson’s desire for the woman was undeterred, and he “said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well” (14:3).

Judges 14:4 gives us a testimony of the sovereignty, and providence of God, working through Samson’s desire, for we read: Samson’s “father and his mother knew not that it was of the Lord, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel” (14:4). The stage was set for Samson to find a cause of conflict with the Philistines, and the LORD meant to use the occasion to set his champion against the enemies of His people.

Samson’s physical strength is one of his enduring characteristics. On the way to meet his future bride, Samson slew a lion with his bare hands (14:5-9). His meeting with the woman confirmed his desire to make her his wife (14:7), and upon his return home, he found the dried carcass of the lion he had slain, filled with a swarm of bees, and honey which he did eat (14:8-9).

Samson’s wedding feast continued seven days, and he told a riddle to challenge his guests, and made a wager of “thirty sheets (under garments) and thirty change of garments” (probably fancy embroidered robes worn on special occasions, 14:12), if they should solve his riddle 14:13-14). When the seventh day of the feast came (14:14), the nefarious wedding guests threatened Samson’s wife, and her father if she failed to tell them the answer to the riddle (14:14-15). She wept, and pressed Samson to give her the answer. When he did, she betrayed him to the men who had threatened her, and gave them the answer (14:16-18). Samson was furious (14:16), and to fulfill his promise of new garments, he “slew thirty men” (14:19), and provided his guests with their robes.

Betrayed, Samson left his wife, and returned to his father’s house (14:19). In his absence, his wife’s father gave her to “his companion” [his best man] (14:20).

Judges 15 – Betrayed and Bound

When time passed, and his rage dissipated, Samson returned to his Philistine wife, only to learn she had been given to another man (15:1-2). Fearing Samson’s response, her father offered him his younger daughter, but Samson was determined he would have his revenge (15:3). He went out, captured three hundred foxes (scholars suggest jackals that inhabit that area to this day), bound their tails to one another, and placed a fiery torch between them (15:4). Fearing the fire, the foxes ran wild through the fields of the Philistines, burning their wheat, vineyards, and olive trees (15:5).

The Philistines responded, killing, and burning his wife, and her father (15:6). Threatening vengeance, Samson took in hand the jaw bone of a donkey, and slaughtered a great number of Philistines (15:7-8).

Mustering their army, the Philistines invaded Judah (15:10). When the men of Judah learned the cause for the invasion was to capture Samson, they raised up three thousand men. Those men made their way to Samson, and reproached him asking, “Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? what is this that thou hast done unto us?” (15:11) Samson, defended his actions, saying, “As they did unto me, so have I done unto them” (15:11). With the promise they would not harm him, Samson submitted to the men of Judah, who bound him with two new ropes, and brought him to the Philistines (15:12-13).

Bound, and led away by three thousand men, Samson came into the encampment of the Philistines, and they rejoiced, and scorned him (15:14). In that moment, “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands. 15And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.” (15:14-15). The bodies of the Philistine soldiers were stacked in two heaps” (15:16).

Judges 15 concludes with the observation that Samson “judged in Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years” (15:20). He was not dead, but Judges 16 will give us the tragic history of the last days of his life.

The champion of Israel will follow the lust of his flesh, fall and come to ruin.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Samson: The Legend, and the Man (Judges 13)

Scripture reading – Judges 13

Today’s Scripture brings us again to the cycle we have observed throughout our study in the Book of Judges: Sin, leading to Servitude, leading to Sorrow, and leading to Salvation (Repentance). Judges 13 begins with a sad, and all too familiar condition: for “the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord” (13:1).

Faithful to His promise, “the Lord delivered [Israel] into the hand of the Philistines forty years” (13:1). The LORD, merciful, and forgiving, had not forgotten Israel, and we find Him sending a man who would be the judge, and deliverer of His people.

The focus of Judges 13 is the angelic announcement of Samson’s conception, and his unique dedication in his mother’s womb. His father’s name was Manoah, of the tribe of Dan, and one whose wife was barren. Though barren, Manoah’s wife gives evidence that she was a woman of faith.

The LORD sent one described as “the angel of the LORD” to Manoah’s wife (13:3), and she received the news, “thou shalt conceive, and bear a son” (13:3). Because her son was chosen of the LORD, she would live under special prohibitions, and was to drink no wine, strong drink, nor eat anything unclean (13:4). The son she would bear would be “a Nazarite unto God from the womb,” and his hair was never to be cut (13:5; Numbers 6:1-8). He was destined to be the champion of Israel, and would “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (13:5).

Manoah’s wife came to him with the news that “a man of God” had appeared to her, whose “countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible: but I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his name” (13:6). She told her husband what had been prophesied to her, and that her son was to be “a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death” (13:7).

Manoah did not discount his wife’s tale of her visitor, nor of his prophecy; however, he longed for the “man of God” to appear to him, and he asked the LORD to send the messenger again. He prayed, “teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born” (13:8). What a wonderful request, and prayer for every parent. “Lord, ‘teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born!’”

The LORD heeded Manoah’s prayer, and “the angel of God came again unto the woman as she sat in the field: but Manoah her husband was not with her” (13:9). It was in her solitude, that the heavenly messenger returned, and she ran to her husband and said, “Behold, the man hath appeared unto me, that came unto me the other day” (13:10). Manoah, assured this was the “man of God” who had announced his wife would bear a special son (13:11), asked, “How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?” (13:12)

The “angel of the LORD” repeated those things that were prohibited of his wife (13:14). Desiring to be a gracious host, Manoah asked the man to stay for a meal, not realizing “he was an angel of the Lord” (13:16). His guest declined, but urged Manoah to “offer a burnt offering…unto the LORD” (3:16). Manoah asked for the name of his guest, that he might honor him when his son was born (13:17), but the “angel of the LORD said unto him…it is secret [literally, “It is Wonderful]” (13:18; Isaiah 9:6).

Manoah then prepared, and offered a young goat to the LORD (13:19), and suddenly a “flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, [and] the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground” (13:20). In that moment, Manoah and his wife realized their guest had been more than “a man of God,” and Manoah confessed, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God” (13:22). He feared they would die, but his wife expressed her faith, and said, “If the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have shewed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these” (13:23).

True to God’s promises, Manoah’s wife conceived “a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him” (13:24). “25And the Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times in the camp [tribe] of Dan” (13:25).

If you are a father or mother, I urge you to follow the example of Samson’s parents, and pray daily to the LORD…

“Teach us what we shall do unto the child” (13:8).

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

The Son of a Harlot Becomes a Hero, and a Trophy of Grace (Judges 11-12)

Scripture reading – Judges 11-12

Our ongoing chronological study of the Book of Judges brings us to Judges 11-12. Judges 10 concluded with Israel turning to the LORD in a time of repentance. The people put away their idols, and committed themselves to serve the LORD (10:15-18).

With the Ammonites gathering against Israel, and in the absence of a judge, the people who lived in Gilead (the land on the east side of Jordan), asked one another, “What man is he that will begin to fight against the children of Ammon? he shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead” (10:18).

Judges 11 – The Rule of Jephthah the Gileadite

There was a man living in Gilead named Jephthah. He was known among his people as “a mighty man of valour,” and was the son of a man named Gilead; however, his mother was a harlot (11:1). Gilead also had sons of his lawful wife, and when they were grown, they rejected Jephthah as an illegitimate son. They thrust him out of their household, thus giving him no claim to an inheritance (11:2). Jephthah then retreated to the desert, and was joined by “vain,” lawless men (11:3).

When the Ammonites began to “war against Israel,” the leaders of Gilead sought for a leader among themselves (11:4-5), and sent a message to Jephthah, saying, “Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon” (11:6). Jephthah did not immediately accept the leadership role over the men of Gilead (the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh). It is possible some of his own brothers, the ones who had cast him out as an illegitimate son, were among the elders that requested his leadership (11:7-10). The elders vowed an oath to the LORD that Jephthah would be their head if he was victorious (11:10), and he acknowledged God’s providence, and assumed the leadership of his people (11:11). Thus, Jephthah became the eighth judge of Israel.

After assuming his role as captain of Gilead’s army, Jephthah endeavored to negotiate a treaty of peace with the king of Ammon (11:12-24). He rejected the Ammonite king’s claim to the land (11:25), noting that Israel had possessed the land for three hundred years. He asserted; the LORD had given the children of Israel the land for their inheritance (11:26-27). With the assurance that the “Spirit of the LORD” was with him, Jephthah vowed, if the LORD would “deliver the children of Ammon into [his] hands…whatsoever [came] forth of the doors of [his]house to meet [him]…[he would] offer it up for a burnt offering” (11:30-31).

The LORD gave Jephthah, and Israel a great victory (11:32-33). When he returned from the battle he was met by his daughter, and remembering his vow to the LORD, was overcome with sorrow (11:34-35). He accepted his sacrifice to the LORD would be his own daughter (11:35). Loving, and humble, Jephthah’s daughter accepted the consequences of her father’s vow, and requested two months to mourn that she would never bear children (11:36).

In his zeal, Jephthah had made a rash vow to give as a burnt offering, the first one who came out of his house to meet him (11:31). While human sacrifice was the way of the heathen, it was contrary to God’s nature. I believe the sacrifice of Jephthah, was that his daughter would live a celibate life, never know a man, and therefore never bear a son or daughter to be her father’s heir (11:39-40).

Judges 12 – The Tribe of Ephraim, a Fool Twice Over

You may remember that the tribe of Ephraim had confronted Gideon when he returned victorious from battle. They had complained, they had been slighted, and not been invited to go to war against the Midianites (Judges 8:1). We find the same disingenuous protest in Judges 12, when Jephthah returned victorious from his battle with the Ammonites!

Grieving his daughter’s celibacy, Jephthah was confronted by the men of Ephraim who, staying true to their nature, complained they had been slighted. Ephraim gathered to war against Jephthah, and threatened to burn down his house for not having chosen them to go to war (12:1). Jephthah’s answer revealed the men of Ephraim had been summoned to war, but refused (12:2-3). Calling his army to arms, he warred against Ephraim, and forty-two thousand men of that tribe died (12:4-7).

What an unlikely hero! Jephthah, the son of a harlot, and rejected by his brothers, with the Spirit of the LORD, became a hero in Israel. What an amazing story of God’s grace, and power! Like Joseph, he had suffered the rejection of his brethren, but when God called him, he rose to the challenge, and God used him mightily!

What is keeping you from serving the LORD?

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Broken Covenant, and a Path to Forgiveness (Judges 9-10)

Scripture reading – Judges 9-10

The last years of Gideon’s rule as judge left Israel ill-prepared for the years that followed his death (Judges 8:29-35). Upon Gideon’s death, Israel forsook their covenant with the LORD (8:34).

Judges 9 – The rise of Abimelech, son of Gideon

We remember how Gideon had many wives, and “threescore and ten sons” (8:30); however, there was another son, not numbered with the seventy sons born to Gideon’s wives. His name was Abimelech, a son of Gideon born of a concubine (and not a wife). After Gideon died, he aspired to claim his father’s leadership in Israel, and stirred the men of Shechem, his mother’s people, to make him king (9:1-2).

Abimelech plotted to murder the seventy sons of Gideon, and his mother’s people reasoned they would be better off with one of their own ruling Israel, rather than one of Gideon’s other sons (9:3). With seventy pieces of silver, Abimelech hired wicked mercenaries, described as “vain and light persons” (9:4), and they “slew his brethren the sons of Jerubbaal…notwithstanding yet Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left; for he hid himself” (9:5). Imagine the breadth of depravity present in Israel, that men in their midst would slay the sons of Gideon!

Jotham, Gideon’s youngest, and only surviving son, stood upon “the top of mount Gerizim,” towering eight hundred feet about the plain. Lifting up his voice against the men of Shechem who had made Abimelech king (9:6-21), he told a parable (9:8-15) how the olive trees, fig trees, and vines invited a bramble bush to be king, saying, “Come thou, and reign [i.e. be king] over us” (9:14).

A prickly, thorny bramble is a wild bush, and lacks the majesty, beauty and height of other trees. The parallel Jotham drew with his parable, was that his brothers had been great men, like the cedars of Lebanon (9:15), and Abimelech was nothing more than a bramble bush, and yet they had chosen him to be their king. Jotham cursed the men of Shechem (9:15), and they would come to hate Abimelech, and he would hate them, to their destruction (9:17-49).

Three years passed, and the men of Shechem’s plot to kill Abimelech failed, forcing them to flee into a tower. Abimelech set fire to the tower, and “a thousand men and women” died (9:46-49). He then went to Thebez, and the men of the city fled into their strong tower, and Abimelech would have burned the tower, but “a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech’s head, and all to brake his skull” (9:53).  Realizing he was dying from his wounds, Abimelech commanded his armorbearer to slay him with his sword, lest it be said of him, “A woman slew him” (9:54).

Judges 10 – The LORD Sends Revival in Israel

Two judges ruled in Israel after Abimelech died (10:1-5). If we assume that Shamgar was the third judge (3:31), Deborah the fourth judge (4:4), and Gideon the fifth judge (6:12; 8:28), Tola would have served the LORD as the sixth judge, and he judged Israel twenty-three years (10:1-2). After Tola, Jair judged Israel twenty-two years (10:3-5).

Following Jair’s death, Israel turned from the LORD, and “did evil again in the sight of the Lord,” and served many gods; however, they “forsook the LORD” and did not serve Him (10:6). Then the LORD turned Israel over to her enemies, to be chastened by them eighteen years, until they cried out to Him (10:7-10). Humbled, broken, and oppressed by their enemies, Israel confessed, “We have sinned against thee” (10:10).

The LORD answered their cry, and rebuked Israel’s ingratitude, and reminded them of the times He had delivered them out of the hand of their enemies (10:11-12). He admonished Israel, saying, “14Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation” (10:14).

The children of Israel, however, cried out the more, and not only confessed their sins, but surrendered to the LORD to do with them as He pleased (10:15). Israel repented, and destroyed the idols they had worshipped, and set their hearts to serve the LORD (10:16).

Judges 10: 6-16

What a wonderful lesson in repentance we have in today’s devotional! Israel realized it was not enough to confess they had sinned. They knew their fellowship, and covenant with the LORD could not be restored until they put away their idols. Then, in a beautiful act of God’s grace, we read, the LORD “was grieved for the misery of Israel” (10:16). With their sins forgiven, and the covenant restored, Israel was ready to go to war, knowing the LORD was on their side (10:17-18).

Observe the cycle: Sin, leads to Slavery, that leads to Sorrow, and leads back to the LORD for to Salvation.

God takes no pleasure in the sorrows that befall us because of our sin. He is gracious, merciful, and longs to forgive, and restore us.

1 John 1:99If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Gideon: Gone, and Forgotten (Judges 8)

Scripture reading – Judges 8

I invite you to return with me to Judges 7, as we continue our study in the Book of Judges. Gideon had obeyed the LORD’S command, and in return, his army was reduced to three hundred men (7:7). Humanely, the task before Gideon was an impossible one; Israel was about to face an army that numbered one hundred thirty-five thousand men (8:10).

The night before the battle, the LORD came to Gideon and “said unto him, Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand” (7:9). Knowing Gideon’s heart, the LORD gave him an opportunity to assuage his fear, and invited him to go with his servant, Phurah to the host of Midian, to “hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host” (7:11).

Providentially, Gideon overheard the telling of a soldier’s dream, and the interpretation that predicted how God had “delivered Midian, and all the host” into his hand (7:14). Gideon then worshipped the LORD, and returned to his soldiers, and exhorted them, “Arise; for the Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian” (7:15).

Dividing his army into three companies of one hundred men, Gideon gave each man a trumpet, a pitcher, and a lamp whose light would be concealed within the pitcher (7:16). Under the cover of darkness, Gideon commanded his men to encircle the encampment of the Midianites. He instructed his men, when they heard him blow his trumpet, they were to blow their trumpets, break the pitchers that concealed the light of their lamps, and cry with one voice, “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon” (7:20).

The sudden blaring of the trumpets, the shouts of the soldiers, and the piercing lights of their lamps made Israel’s army appear to be a great force. In the confusion, the Midianites turned “every man’s sword against his fellow” (7:22). They fled toward the waters of the Jordan, and Gideon sent messengers to the tribe of Ephraim, whose men pursued them, and slew “two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb…and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on the other side Jordan” (7:25).

Judges 8

What a glorious moment in Israel’s history; however, though the armies of Midian were routed, Gideon would not be satisfied until all the leaders of Midian were slain.

One would think all Israel would have rejoiced with Gideon, but that was not the case. The men of Ephraim came to Gideon, and complained that he should have invited them to the battle against Midian. According to Judges 6:35, he had summoned only the tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. How shallow, and self-centered was this protest! For seven years, Ephraim had suffered the Midianite invasion, and there is no evidence that tribe had made any effort to stand against their foe. Rather than chiding Gideon out of their wounded pride, they should have shown gratitude for his leadership!

Pursuing a remnant of the Midianite army, Gideon and his men crossed the waters of the Jordan, and entered the territory of the tribe of Gad. Passing by Succoth, Gideon appealed to its men, saying, “Give, I pray you, loaves of bread unto the people that follow me; for they be faint, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian” (8:5). The men of Succoth were of the tribe of Gad, and brethren of Israel; however, they refused to give Gideon’s men bread. He vowed to return after the battle, and warned he would “tear [their] flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers” (8:7).

Gideon went next to Penuel, another city of the tribe of Gad, and they refused his request. Angered by their heartlessness, Gideon vowed he would return, and break down their strong tower (8:9).

God blessed Gideon, and he captured the “two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and discomfited [terrified] all the host” (8:12). Faithful to his oath, he returned to Succoth, and fulfilled his promise, and “took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught [punished, disciplined them]” (8:16). Gideon continued to Penuel, and there “he beat down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city” (8:17).

Following his victory over the Midianites, there were some in Israel who would have made Gideon king, and said to him, “Rule thou over us…for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian. 23And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you” (8:22-23)

I conclude today’s devotional, on a sad note. Though Gideon was used greatly by the LORD, he was a man who made foolish decisions in the later years of his life. He raised up a memorial to his victory over Midian, overlaid it with gold, and it became an idol to some in Israel, and “a snare unto Gideon, and to his house” (8:27). He took “many wives,” and had seventy sons (8:30). When he “died in a good old age…as soon as Gideon was dead…the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim” (8:32-33).

Gideon’s life serves as a warning to any who desire to build a name, or raise up a monument to themselves. In spite of his heroism, and the adulation of the people, “the children of Israel remembered not the Lord their God…35Neither shewed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had shewed unto Israel” (8:34-35).

Gideon, gone, and forgotten! If you want to have a lasting legacy; remember, it is not in what you build, but whom you serve!

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Deborah: Prophetess and Judge (Judges 4-5)

Scripture reading – Judges 4-5

A personal note from the author of a Heart of a Shepherd: Passages with difficult, unfamiliar, and hard to pronounce names may be taxing, but I challenge you to persevere, and allow the ancient names of men, and places to serve as a reminder that God has preserved every word for His purposes. The names, though forgotten by man, are not forgotten by the LORD. The geographical locations may be unknown, but are real places, nonetheless, where historical events occurred. Agnostics, and atheists have scoffed at historical events found only in the Scriptures, but archaeological excavations in the past two centuries have unearthed evidences that support the Bible narrative as an accurate rendering of history.

Judges 4 – The Spiritual Cycle Continues: Sin, Servitude, Sorrow, and Salvation

With the death of Ehud, the second judge of Israel (Judges 3:12-30), “the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord” (4:1), continuing the cycle of sin, servitude, sorrow, and salvation. Because Israel had sinned against the LORD, He “sold them [children of Israel] into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor” (4:2). For twenty years, Israel suffered under the military rule of Sisera, captain of Jabin’s army, who commanded nine hundred chariots, not including foot soldiers (4:2-3).

When the LORD heard Israel’s cry, He moved on the heart of “Deborah, a prophetess…[who] judged Israel at that time” (4:4). She “sent and called Barak…and said unto him, Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?” (4:6).

Deborah prophesied that God had commanded Barak to muster ten thousand soldiers, promising to draw Sisera and his chariots “to the river Kishon,” where they would be defeated by Barak (4:6-7). Barak, however, was a reluctant leader, and he would not rally Israel’s men of war without Deborah’s promise to go with him (4:8). Deborah agreed to Barak’s terms, but she warned he was sacrificing his honor, “for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (4:9).

Time and space prevent a thorough commentary on the battle between Barak’s ten thousand men who came out of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali (4:10), against Sisera’s army of nine hundred chariots (4:13). The LORD was with Israel, and Sisera’s army was thoroughly defeated (4:14-16). When he realized the battle was lost, Sisera fled the battlefield on foot, and sought shelter in the “tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there was peace [a covenant or treaty of peace] between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite [the Kenites were a nomadic people]” (4:17).

“Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle” (4:18).

The events that follow are graphic, and fulfill Deborah’s warning that “the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (4:9). Realizing Sisera, and his army were defeated, Jael took advantage of his exhaustion, and while he slept, she took a hammer, and drove a tent stake through his temple, killing him (4:19-21).

Barak, in pursuit of Sisera, came to Jael’s tent, and learned his enemy was dead (4:22). On that day, “God subdued…the king of Canaan…and the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed…until they had destroyed Jabin, the king of Canaan” (4:23-24).

Judges 5 – A Song of Victory

Israel’s victory over Jabin, and the defeat of his captain Sisera, was celebrated in a song that praised the LORD for avenging Israel, and memorialized how He had heard, and answered the cry of His people (5:1-3).

Deborah’s song recalled Israel’s distresses (5:8-11), and how the people had turned from the LORD to idols. Israel’s enemies had disarmed the people (5:8), and they could not draw water from a well, without fearing archers (5:11). There was no justice found at the gates of the city (where judges held court).

The balance of the song recalls how the LORD stirred Deborah to call upon Barak to rally the men of Israel (5:12-13). Some of the tribes responded to the call to arms (5:14-15a, 18). There were other tribes whose shameless failure was memorialized, for they had failed to go to war with their brethren (5:15b-17, 23).

The song concludes with a testament of praise to Jael, for how she had driven a stake through the temples of Sisera (5:24-26a), and how “she smote off his head” (5:26b). The LORD blessed Israel during Deborah’s rule as judge, “and the land had rest forty years” (5:31).

We have seen a spiritual cycle in Israel: Sin leads to Servitude (slavery), bearing the bitter fruit of Sorrow, until the people call upon the LORD for Salvation. That cycle is seen in the lives of individuals, families, churches, schools, and nations.

When a people, and nation embrace moral depravity, it will inevitably become the servant, and slave of its enemies.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

The Third Generation: A Tragic Rejection of Spiritual Leadership (Judges 3)

Scripture reading – Judges 3

Today’s Scripture introduces the beginning of a new era in Israel’s history, as the LORD began to raise up judges to rule the nation. Why judges, and not a king? Because the LORD Himself was to be the Sovereign Ruler of His people, and Israel, was bound by covenant to the LORD, and the people were to be ruled by His Law and Commandments.

After Joshua died, and the generation that followed had passed (2:6-10a), Israel turned from the LORD, and “knew not the Lord…[and] did evil in the sight of the Lord” (2:10-11). In His mercy, “the Lord raised up judges, which delivered [the children of Israel] out of the hand of those that spoiled [made spoil, or plundered]them” (2:16); however, when the judge died, the people “corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them” (2:19a).

Judges 3 – The LORD Raised Up Judges

Because Israel had broken covenant with Him, the LORD determined He would not drive out the enemies of His people, and left them in their midst to “prove [test; try] Israel by them” (3:1).

To what end was this testing? It was to test, and prove a generation that did not know the hardships, and trials of war as had their fathers before them. Longing for Israel to turn to Him, and obey His commandments, the LORD did not drive out those enemies with whom His people had compromised (3:2-7).

How far, and how wretched had the third generation become?

They allowed their sons and daughters to intermarry with idolaters, until they “served their gods…and forgat the LORD their God,” and committed whoredom in their groves (3:6-7). Thus, the sins of Israel provoked “the anger of the LORD” (3:8), and “He sold “them into the hand of Chushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushan-rishathaim eight years” (3:8).

Othniel, the First Judge in Israel (3:9-11)

When the people began to cry to the LORD, He heard their cry, and raised up “Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother” (3:9) who served as Israel’s first judge, and delivered the nation from their enemy (3:10). God blessed Othniel’s rule as judge, and Israel was at peace forty years (3:11).

Ehud, the Second Judge in Israel (3:12-30)

Judges 3:12-30 records a fascinating series of events. “The children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they [Israel] had done evil in the sight of the Lord” (3:12). Israel had strayed far from the law and commandments, and found themselves humbled, and enslaved by an enemy (3:12-13). For eighteen years, “the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab…15But when [they] cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded” (3:14-15). (The men of Benjamin were known as an ambidextrous people, and skilled marksmen, Judges 20:16; 1 Chronicles 12:2).

It was Ehud’s skill with his left hand, that gave him an advantage when he plotted, and carried out his attack on Eglon, the king of Moab (3:16-22). Thrusting the dagger into the obese king, the blade went so deep that Ehud left the knife in the king’s intestines, when he fled the palace (3:21-22). Returning to mount Ephraim, Ehud blew the trumpet, and rallied Israel to go to battle against Moab, and they slew “about ten thousand men” (3:27-29).

Shamgar, the Champion of Israel (3:31)

Judges 3 concludes with the heroism of a man named Shamgar (3:31). He is not identified as a judge; however, he is noted for slaying six hundred Philistines “with an ox goad [a sharp metal point on the end of a pole]” (3:31).

An Invitation

You will observe the emerging of a spiritual cycle as you study the Book of Judges. A cycle that was not only true of Israel, but is also true of believers through the ages: Sin leads to Servitude [enslavement], that leads to Sorrow, and moves the hearts of men to turn to the LORD for Salvation (3:11-19).

Sin…Servitude…Sorrow…Salvation: We are, as the songwriter penned, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; Prone to leave the God I love.”

Where are you in that spiritual cycle?

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith