Judges 9, Lamentations 3, Romans 15

Read Judges 9, Lamentations 3, and Romans 15.

This devotional is about Judges 9.

Gideon, in Judges 8, refused to become the ruler of Israel (Judges 8:22-23). He was too busy impregnating his many wives, apparently (Judges 8:30) to be bothered with national leadership. But he wasn’t too busy to find a girlfriend in addition to his wives; she lived in the city of Shechem and Gideon had a son with her named Abimelek (Judges 8:29-32).

Here in Judges 9, which we read today, Abimelek, Gideon’s illegitimate son, convinced the citizens of Shechem to pay him to become their king. Remember that he, unlike the rest of Gideon’s kids, was from Shechem (8:31), which is why he said to the citizens of Shechem, “I am your flesh and blood” (9:2). 

There is a bit of a gap in the story here that we have to fill in by implication. Although Gideon (aka “Jerub-Baal”) said he and his children would not rule over Israel (8:22), some people in Israel must have looked to Gideon’s many, many sons for some kind of leadership. If they didn’t, then Abimelek’s statement in verse 2 about having “all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you” would have made no sense. Probably, whatever leadership Gideon’s boys gave to Shechem also came with some kind of price tag. It also seems probable to me that it was confusing and probably oppressive to have seventy guys as “leaders” for one town, where they didn’t even live. Gideon’s sons, then, may have offered protection to Shechem in exchange for money and authority. Abimelek offered them a simpler, cheaper solution. “Pay me to become your king and I’ll do a better job because this is my neighborhood, too.” 

The people of Shechem thought this was a good deal, so they gave Abimelek some money. He hired some street thugs to be his army (v. 4) and they slaughtered all the rest of Gideon’s sons except his youngest, Jotham, who escaped (vv. 5-6). Jotham called to the Shechemites and told them a weird little parable about trees (vv. 8-15). The parable makes sense for a while—truly productive trees want to continue to be productive instead of becoming king. It is the unproductive plant, the thornbush, who wanted to be king.

Every citizen of America should reflect on that parable. People who seek power want to portray themselves as wise public servants who could be very successful in private enterprise but instead seek to serve humanity by ruling over everyone else. There may be some examples where that is true, but we should be skeptical. Rulers have incredible power to enrich themselves at the expense of the productive.

The point of Judges 9 is to show how God did not allow Abimelek’s murders to stand unaddressed (see verses 23-24, 57). Although he was a reckless, unaccountable, self-anointed “leader,” his brutality did not escape the notice of a just God. But I think the lesson of the trees is one for us to consider anytime there is an election. God gave Israel very specific, very limited laws. Most of God’s laws were ceremonial and those were regulated by the priests. So there was central government for Israel in terms of religion. But Israel’s civil laws were few and specific and so were Israel’s moral laws. Both those laws and the penalty for breaking them was written down in God’s law. God’s intention was not for Israel to have a central, civil government. Rather, the elders of individual tribes and clans were to read God’s laws for themselves and interpret and apply them as a group of leaders when there was an infraction. In other words, they were supposed to live productive lives farming, ranching, manufacturing, etc. and only govern when necessary. There were not supposed to be permanent government  leaders, just family leaders (aka “fathers” or “patriarchs”) who worked together with other family leaders when necessary.

Moses’s law did contemplate Israel having a king but that king was to be the Messiah, not a human ruler. What we see again and again in the Old Testament is that most human rulers are unproductive themselves and seek power to enrich themselves by taking, forcefully if necessary, from the productive. If the men of Shechem had stepped up to their responsibilities—teaching their families God’s laws, living by God’s laws themselves, and working together with other fathers to punish offenders appropriately—none of Judges 9 would have happened.

What would happen in our country if the productive people in our nation limited the power of its “leaders,” kept the laws simple and few, held leaders accountable to follow the law themselves, and worked out issues on a local level rather than letting the big federal government impose its will on everyone?

Numbers 32, Isaiah 55, 2 Thessalonians 3

Read Numbers 32, Isaiah 55, and 2 Thessalonians 3.

This devotional is about 2 Thessalonians 3.

When I was growing up my pastor used to frequently say, “Some people are so heavenly-minded that they’re no earthy good.” That might be an apt description of the Thessalonians. The things Paul wrote about in 1 & 2 Thessalonians indicate a church that was focused on end time events–the coming of Christ, the arrival of the man of lawlessness, and the final judgement on earth were all topics Paul discussed in these letters.

Here in chapter 3, however, he urged them to pray for the spread of the gospel through his work (vv. 1-2). While it is good to be looking for the Lord’s coming, Christ has charged us with work to do here until he comes–namely reaching people for Christ and discipling them to obey him. Paul was more than willing to teach about the end times, but he wanted the churches to remain faithful in prayer for the gospel to keep growing.

In the meantime, it is possible that some of the believers in Thessalonica had quit working and were living on charitable giving from other members of their church (vv. 11-12). This might be because they were so convinced that Christ would return any moment that they lost motivation to work. Or, perhaps that was unrelated to their interest in eschatology. Regardless of the reason, Paul must have heard that there were loafers in the congregation. He wrote this chapter, therefore, to remind them of his own example and teaching when he was in Thessalonica (vv. 7-10), to instruct the unproductive people to get to work (v. 12), and for the obedient people in the church to be wary of the disobedient and unproductive members (vv. 6, 14-15).

These strong statements remind us that the Christian life is more than words; it is truth lived out in a holy and productive life. God created us to care for and make productive use of the earth. Now that, in Christ, we are seeking to be obedient to the Lord, we must realize that living a productive life is part of God’s will for us. These passages apply to those who are “unwilling to work” (v. 10), not those who are unable to work. Other passages of scripture show us that homemakers are living productively, so this doesn’t mean everyone must be in the secular workforce. Still, there are some believers today who could work or do something productive who instead are “idle” (v. 6) and even “busybodies” (v. 11). This chapter calls all of us to put our faith into practice by providing for ourselves and our families.

I think it goes further, too, and reminds us of our need to be good managers of what God allows us to produce. So many Americans are building mountains of debt and are one financial setback away from dependency.

Are you working productively? Keep it up. Are you living below your means and preparing for the future? That’s what God wants us to do, too.