Tag Archives: Integrity

Hannah: A Testimony of Faith, Love, and Sacrifice (1 Samuel 1)

Scripture reading – 1 Samuel 1

Our chronological devotional schedule brings us to 1 Samuel; one of my favorite books of the Old Testament.  In this volume we will find a rich history that marks the beginning of a monarchy in Israel.

1 Samuel 1 concludes an era when judges ruled Israel, and introduces an age when kings reign. Let us recall, it was God’s desire to rule His people through His Law and Commandments. The role of the judges had been to instruct the people, by communicating the Word of the LORD, through the Law that was given in the Covenant at Sinai (Exodus 20). It will be the failure of the priesthood, that will provoke the people to demand a king. Tragically, Eli, the high priest, and his wicked sons, Hophni and Phinehas (1:3; 2:12-17; 4:10-18), will disgrace the priest’s office. Their sins would stir up the people to demand “a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5-6).

Several notable names come to the forefront in today’s study: Elkanah (1:1), who was of the tribe of Levi, descended from Kohath, the son of Levi. He was a godly man, and observed the law, going up “yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh” (1:3), where the Tabernacle was located.

Elkanah had two wives, “the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah” (1:2). “Peninnah had children,” and had borne to her husband sons and daughters (1:2, 4). “Hannah had no children” (1:2), and though her husband loved her (1:5), she carried the shame, and sorrow of a barren woman, and was treated spitefully by Elkanah’s other wife (1:5-7).

Year after year, Hannah went up to Shiloh with her family, and wept and fasted before the LORD, praying He would open her womb (1:5), and give her a son (1:7). She vowed, if the LORD would give her a son, she would dedicate him to serve at the Tabernacle, and promised he would be a Nazarite, and “there shall no razor come upon his head” (1:10-11).

Hannah prayed to the LORD, speaking to Him from her heart; “only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken” (1:13). Eli, the high priest, rebuked her, judging she had too much wine, and commanded her to “put away thy wine from thee” (1:14). Hannah, replying to the high priest, said, “No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. 16Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial [worthless, immoral, wicked]: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto” (1:15-16).

Judging the sincerity of Hannah’s confession, Eli assured her the LORD had heard, and would answer her prayer (1:17). Hannah went from the Tabernacle, no longer despondent, but believing the LORD would show her grace, and grant her a son (1:18). Elkanah and his family returned to their house in Ramah, and the LORD remembered Hannah’s prayer. In God’s perfect time, she conceived a son “and called his name Samuel [lit. “heard of God], saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord” (1:19-20).

The next year, Elkanah prepared to go up to Shiloh on his annual pilgrimage (1:21); however, Hannah requested she be allowed to remain at her home, and not go up to the Tabernacle, until her son was no longer nursing, for she knew the day would come when she would leave Samuel to minister at Shiloh with Eli, the high priest (1:22-23).

A woman of faith, and one who honored her vow to the LORD, Hannah “weaned” her son (probably around three years old). The day came when she took her son and went up with Elkanah to present offerings and sacrifices, at the Tabernacle. Hannah “brought [Samuel] unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young” (1:24). After sacrificing a bullock, Elkanah and Hannah brought their son to Eli, and she reminded the high priest, “I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord. 27For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him” (1:26-27).

In an act of faith, and sacrificial love, Hannah confessed, “I have lent [given; claimed] him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord” (1:28a). Elkanah and Hannah’s example of faith, prayer, and sacrifice has inspired the saints of the LORD down through the centuries. Before Samuel was conceived, Hannah offered him to the LORD, and the LORD heard, and answered her prayer.

Perhaps only mothers can imagine the pull of the heart strings when Hannah left her son at Shiloh (especially knowing the wickedness of Eli’s sons). Hannah fulfilled her vow to the LORD, and He honored her faith and sacrifice, blessing her with three sons, and two daughters, in addition to Samuel (2:21).

I invite parents and grandparents to take a moment, pray and dedicate your children, and grandchildren to the LORD.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Here Comes the Bride! (Ruth 3-4)

Scripture reading – Ruth 3-4

Naomi had left Bethlehem during a time of famine (1:1), and ten years later returned from Moab as a widow, and childless. She buried her husband, and two sons in Moab, and her sojourn had proven bitter. In her words, “I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty” (1:21). Only a Moabitess named Ruth was with her, and she was Naomi’s daughter-in-law, and a widow herself.

From an earthly perspective, life had dealt some significant, harsh blows against Naomi, and Ruth. There are many details I could cite to justify that observation, but suffice it to say, that both these women faced deep sorrows, a feeling of destitution, and a loss that left them without a provider. Entering the Land, Ruth was a young widow, a stranger in Israel, far from her family, and country. She was the daughter-in-law of a widow, who was bitter (1:20-21). She was an outsider, and dependent upon the charity of those who were not her countrymen.

She was far from home; however, never far from the providence of the LORD, whom she confessed to be her God (1:16-17). In a testimony of the LORD’S sovereignty, Ruth found herself gleaning grain in the fields of Boaz, a mighty, and wealthy man, who was the kinsman of her mother-in-law (2:21-23).

Ruth 3 – Naomi, the Matchmaker

Sensing the providence of God at work in her, and Ruth’s life, Naomi declared she would not rest until she knew it would be well with her widowed daughter-in-law (3:1). Naomi revealed to Ruth that Boaz was their kindred. She knew he would not go home while the grain was being winnowed (culled out of its outer shell), and would sleep on the threshing floor to secure his harvest (3:2). Naomi instructed Ruth to bathe, put on a fresh robe, and make her way to the threshingfloor, where she was to lie down at the feet of Boaz unnoticed (3:3-4). Ruth agreed to Naomi’s instructions, and did as she was told (3:5-7).

Boaz aroused from his sleep at midnight, and discovered Ruth sleeping at his feet (3:8). When she declared he was her “near kinsman,” she had, in essence, made her plea to be his wife (3:9). Boaz praised Ruth’s godly character (3:10), and pledged he would honor his role as her kinsman, but only after one closer than himself disavowed his right to be her redeemer (3:11-12).

Ruth 4 – From Bitterness to Joy

Boaz set out early the next morning, and sat in the gate of the city, where he met the man who was the “nearer kinsman” of Ruth (4:1). With ten elders of the city as witnesses, Boaz offered to the “nearer kinsman” the right to purchase the land, but with a reminder that the responsibility would mean taking Ruth as his wife (4:1-5). Confessing it would complicate his “own inheritance” (meaning his will), the “nearer kinsman” deferred his right to redeem the land, saying, “redeem thou my right to thyself; for I cannot redeem it” (4:6).

With ten witnesses watching, the “nearer kinsman,” surrendered his right of ownership by taking off his sandal (as was the custom to transfer ownership of land), and gave it to Boaz as a sign of transfer. Boaz acknowledged his obligation to redeem the land from Naomi, and thereby redeeming Ruth to be his wife (4:10). All who witnessed the transaction, and Boaz’s pledge, blessed his union with Ruth, and prayed that she would bear sons to him, as had Rachel and Leah, the wives and mothers of Jacob’s sons (4:11).

Boaz took Ruth, “and she [became] his wife: and when he went in unto her…she bare a son” (4:13). Naomi’s shroud of bitterness was lifted, and the people rejoiced with her (4:14). They praised Ruth, the Moabitess, and outsider, and said she had been better to Naomi than had she given birth to seven sons (4:15).

A closing thought: The son born to Ruth and Boaz was named Obed, and he would be the father of Jesse, and the grandfather of David (4:17-22). David, would become the king of Israel, of whose lineage Jesus Christ would come. Ruth, the Mobaitess, became the great-grandmother of David, Israel’s beloved king (4:22). The romance of Ruth and Boaz will culminate in the birth of Jesus Christ!

What an amazing story of romance, grace, and redemption!

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: 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

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

When Third Generation Leaders Lack Spiritual Fortitude (Judges 1-2)

Scripture reading: Judges 1-2

The Book of Judges begins with a revealing statement indicating a void in leadership left by Joshua’s death. We read, “1Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?” (Judges 1:1)

Though Israel possessed the land, they still faced the presence of enemies in their midst. The LORD answered Israel’s inquiry, not with the name of a man, but with that of a tribe: “2And the Lord said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his [the tribe of Judah’s] hand” (1:2).

In the absence of Joshua, the LORD chose Judah to be the first to wage battle in the post-Joshua era. Why Judah? Judah had the largest population of the twelve tribes, and was the most powerful among them. Judah, Jacob’s fourth born son, was blessed by Jacob (Genesis 49:8-12), and his lineage bored the noble character out of whom would emerge the line of kings, beginning with David, and concluding with the LORD Jesus Christ, the lion of Judah (Matthew 1:1-3).

Judah accepted the challenge, and invited the tribe of Simeon saying, “Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot.” (1:3). The people of Simeon accepted Judah’s invitation, for their land was encircled by Judah’s territory (Joshua 19:1).

In the midst of victories, a repetition of failures emerges in Judges; failures that would haunt the people as a nation for generations to follow. Though Judah and Simeon fought against the Canaanites and the Perizzites, and God blessed them with victories over their enemies (Judges 1:2-20); regrettably, they fell short of the LORD’S will. The LORD had not failed Judah, but Judah had failed to trust the LORD, and they “could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron” (1:19).

A pattern of failing to obey the command of the LORD, and drive out Israel’s enemies continues throughout Judges 1. The tribe of Benjamin failed (1:21), and Manasseh failed (1:27-28). Ephraim did not “drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer” (1:29). Zebulun, failed to “drive out the inhabitants of Kitron” (1:30), and Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of cities in their land (1:32). Naphtali failed (1:33), and “the Amorites forced the children [tribe] of Dan into the mountain” (1:34).

Judges 2 – A Crisis in Third Generation Leadership

Judges 2 begins with an ominous declaration from “an angel of the LORD” (whom I believe to be a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ). Israel’s failure to drive the idol worshiping nations out of Canaan was a breach in their covenant with the LORD. He reminded them of His promise: “I will never break my covenant with you” (2:1). The people, however, had failed to drive the inhabitants out of the land, and destroy their altars (2:2).

God warned, “I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you” (2:3). When they heard what would befall them because of their sins, the people “sacrificed there unto the LORD” (2:5); however, the consequences of their sinful failures followed them.

Notice the narrative in Judges 2 turns briefly to a reflection on the death of Joshua (2:6-10), and his influence on his generation, and the one that followed. We read, “the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord, that he did for Israel” (2:7). When that generation passed from the scene, a third generation arose, and “did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim” (2:11). That generation “ forsook the Lord God of their fathers…and followed other gods…and provoked the Lord to anger. 13And they forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth” (2:12-13).

The LORD did not altogether forsake Israel, and He began raising up judges in Israel, to call the people to return to the LORD, His Law, and Commandments (2:16). He would bless the judge of His people, and deliver them “out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge” (2:18). Nevertheless, “when the judge was dead, [the people] returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers…[and] ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way” (2:19).

I close on a personal note: I have witnessed the failings of transitional leadership throughout my lifetime. A nation, organization, corporation, school, and a church are never more vulnerable than in a time of leadership change. Judges 2 proves the nation of Israel was no exception.

Why are third generation ministries so vulnerable? I believe the reason is summed up in an old adage: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Israel’s third generation in the land had not experienced the sacrifices, or the victories of the generations before them. They had grown comfortable, and familiar with the heathen in their midst. Invariably, their parent’s failure to drive the wicked out of the land proved to become a fatal attraction, and invited God’s judgment (2:20-23).

What about you? Have you become so familiar with sacred truths, and the blessings of the LORD, that you have become insensitive to the conviction of His Word?

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Joshua – Strength and Courage (Joshua 22-23)

Scripture reading – Joshua 22-23

Proving the propensity of humanity is often war, and little peace, Israel’s victories over the nations that had occupied Canaan, and the division of the land among the tribes, was immediately followed by a misunderstanding that brought the nation to the brink of civil war (Joshua 22).

Joshua 22 – A Misunderstanding, and a Threat of Civil War

With the battles over, and the nation secure, Joshua summoned the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half of the tribe of Manasseh (22:1). Those tribes had chosen the land of Gilead, on the east side of the Jordan River (Numbers 32; Deuteronomy 3:12-20) as their inheritance. Their families had remained behind, while their men went to war with their brethren, as they had promised Moses and Joshua (Joshua 1:12-18). With the nation at rest, and the land divided, the warriors of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were discharged, and allowed to return to their families and lands on the east side of the Jordan (22:1-9).

Acting as the shepherd leader, Joshua challenged the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to take “diligent [highly disciplined] heed [observe; keep; obey] to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave [abide in His presence] unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul” (22:5).

A Provocation of War (22:10-20)

Crossing the Jordan, the tribes on the east side determined to memorialize their relationship with the LORD and Israel, and built an altar as a testimony to the generations that would follow (22:10).

Misunderstanding the purpose of the altar, some in Israel feared the tribes on the east side had departed from worshipping the God of Israel at His altar in Shiloh, and determined to go “to war against them” (22:11-12). Fortunately, a delegation of leaders that included Phinehas, the son of the high priest, were sent to investigate, and question the purpose of the altar (22:13-14).

Learning the altar was a monument, and meant to serve as a testimony of their relationship with the LORD and Israel, and not as a place of worship (22:21-29), the tribes on the west side accepted the explanation, and made peace with Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh (22:30-34).

Joshua 23 – Joshua, “Old and Stricken in Age”

This chapter is the first of two final assemblies called by Joshua as he recognized his life was numbered, not in years, or months, but in days and hours. We are reminded, Joshua is “waxed old and stricken in age” (23:1).

Summoning the leaders of the nation, Joshua said, “I am old and stricken in age” (23:2). He then reminisced all the LORD had done for Israel, how He had driven the nations out of Canaan, and given them their inheritance as He had promised (23:3-4).

Like the great leader he was, Joshua foresaw the challenges Israel would face in the years after his death. His words herald the passion of every godly leader who longs to see God’s people walk in the ways of the LORD.  He reminded them how the LORD had fought for Israel, and never forsook His people (23:4-10). He challenged them to be “very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left” (23:6). He admonished them to separate themselves from the heathen who continued to live in parts of the land (23:7). He promised, as the LORD had driven out nations greater than Israel, He would bless them and do the same if they would love, and obey His Law and Commandments (23:8-11).

Joshua warned: should the people fail to love the LORD, keep His law, and separate themselves from the heathen and their ways, “the anger of the Lord [would] be kindled against [them],” and they would perish (23:16).

What a tragedy! The LORD longs to bless His people, but His blessings are conditioned upon us loving, and obeying Him.

Joshua 22:55But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord charged you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith