Behold, I do a new thing

The natural response to death is grief, but in some cases, the result of death is repentance. The word repent or nâcham (naw – kham´) in Hebrew can mean comfort as well as comforter. “Comfort is derived from ‘com’ (with) and ‘fort’ (strength). Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action” (5162).

There are several instances in the Bible where it says that God repented. In Exodus 32:14 it says “And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” Repentance is necessary for change to occur. There has to be an intentional effort to change and therefore, motivation is a key ingredient in the process. Death is an effective motivator because it stirs up our emotions and causes us to see that things don’t always work out as we expect them to.

The primary message that preceded Jesus’ ministry was delivered by John the Baptist who said, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Many people repented and were baptized by John in the Jordan river, but the real change, the transformation of the world didn’t begin until after Jesus’ death. The death of Jesus brought deep grief to his disciples and most of his followers went into hiding for fear that they might be killed too, until Jesus’ resurrection. When Mary and the others went to the tomb and saw that it was empty, they were comforted, they gained strength and were willing to come out in the open again.

The only instance recorded of God’s people repenting in the Old Testament of the Bible is in Judges 21:13 where it says “And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.” When Jesus died, there was a breach in the family line of the Messiah. Jesus had no descendants and therefore, had no way to pass on his inheritance. The inheritance of the Israelites was intended to be perpetual, so to cut off a tribe or a family line was the equivalent to destroying the title deed to a property, there was no way to transfer or pass along ownership to anyone else.

In order to preserve the tribe of Benjamin, the Israelites took virgins and gave them to 600 men that had fled into the wilderness during a battle that wiped out every other person in the tribe of Benjamin. This act made it possible for the small band of survivors to start over and rebuild their cities. “And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel” (Judges 21:17).

The key to repentance is that some visible action is taken for the purpose of turning from a less desirable course to a more positive course. Many people think of repentance as merely turning away from sin or being sorry for something that you have done. After Jesus’ death, his disciples no doubt felt a tremendous amount of grief and were probably very sorry that they had abandoned him in the Garden of Gethsemane, but there was no actual repentance until they came out of hiding and began to preach the gospel.

The disciples felt that Jesus had abandoned them, that they would never see him again. At the end of the last supper, Jesus said to his disciples, “Verily I say unto you, I will not drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). The disciples knew they would be reunited with Jesus in Heaven, but what they didn’t understand was that the kingdom of God would be established on Earth after Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus did not have to appear to his disciples to show them evidence of his resurrection. The work of the Holy Spirit was to convict and convince Believers that Jesus was alive. Saul of Tarsus had an encounter with the LORD after he had risen into Heaven. The only reason Jesus could have had for spending 40 days on Earth after his resurrection was to comfort his disciples. Jesus repented by taking action to bring the disciples out of hiding and restore their confidence in him.

If Jesus had died, been resurrected, and gone straight to Heaven, I don’t think God’s kingdom would have been established as God wanted it to. The disciples and others may have made it to Heaven, but It was Jesus’ act of repentance that made it possible for the disciples to continue his work and transform the world. Jesus had to change the course of events for God’s kingdom to be established on Earth as it already was in Heaven.

Repentance does not lead to our salvation, it leads to the salvation of others. God’s kingdom is made up of people that have experienced transformational change in their lives. Many times people claim to be saved and yet there is no evidence of repentance, nothing is different in their lives. Even the disciples went back to their old lives, they were fishing when Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection.

It says in Romans 2:4 that it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance and in Romans 2:6 that God will render to every man according to his deeds. I believe the deeds spoken of here are deeds of repentance, the comfort we give to others that results in a change to the course of their lives.

In essence, repentance means to turn things around by doing the opposite of what is expected. Instead of taking a life, you save it, instead of keeping something for yourself, you give it away, instead of punishing someone that has hurt you, you reward him with kindness. Repentance is essential for salvation and must precede it because the turning of events is what makes it possible for there to be a different outcome.

Rather than turning in any direction, repentance focuses on the turning from a less desirable course to a more positive one. It is intended to correct or improve things not to make them worse. Sometimes repentance involves going against the tide in order to reach a destination that would not be arrived at unless an intentional effort was put forth to get there.

I think it is a mistake to assume that we are only responsible for correcting our own mistakes. Jesus died or the sins of others. I believe repentance is meant to correct the mistakes of others. I see Jesus’ death on the cross as an act of repentance to save the world from destruction. His resurrection and return to Earth to fellowship with his disciples was an act of repentance on the part of his Father who would otherwise have welcomed him home immediately after his death on the cross. God’s last act of repentance will be when he welcomes each of us into his kingdom that has sinned against him and his son Jesus.

In the parable of the vinedresser, Jesus tells the story of men who are given the responsibility of caring for another man’s vineyard. When the owner sends his servants to collect the fruit of his vineyard, the men beat the servants and refuse to give the owner the fruit that belongs to him. Finally, the owner sends his son thinking the men will respect him. “But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours” (Luke 20:14). At the end of the story, Jesus asks the question, “What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?” (Luke 20:15).

Satan’s intent in putting Jesus to death was to take away his inheritance, but like the Israelites when the children of Benjamin were killed in battle, God made a way for Jesus’ inheritance to be restored to the rightful owners. The kingdom of God is among us. We who have been chosen and adopted into the family of Jesus Christ are joint heirs with him, the evidence of which is that we have the Holy Spirit living inside us.

Jesus told his disciples that his Father would give them another Comforter, “that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit gives us divine strength and enables us to transform not only our lives, but the lives of others. Repentance is the method through which that change comes and the first step in the process is to give God what he already rightfully owns, our lives.

Take my life

Family conflict may be the hardest to deal with because it can be very personal. Some family conflicts go on for years, even decades or entire lifetimes. In some instances, conflicts are generational and resolution seems impossible. The Israelites’ family conflict centered around the fact that Jacob had two wives, one that he loved and one that he didn’t. The wife that Jacob loved, Rachel had two sons, Joseph and Benjamin.

When Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, Jacob became so attached to Benjamin that he wouldn’t let him out of his sight. Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin, so his father became his primary parent and no doubt had a strong influence on his personality and character.

The tribe of Benjamin grew very strong in the Promised Land. His favored status in the family may have caused Benjamin’s descendants to become prideful and what my grandma used to call, a little too big for his britches. The men who raped the Levite’s concubine were from the tribe of Benjamin and so there was a confrontation to have the men handed over so they could be punished, but the Benjamites wouldn’t do it and decided to go to war instead.

The children of Benjamin had 26,000 men in their army and “among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men lefthanded: every one could sling stones at a hair breadth, and not miss” (Judges 20:16). The men of the tribe of Benjamin’s army are described as men of valour, which means they were very powerful. They were probably not only physically strong, but smart and able to conduct themselves well in battle. They must have been very confident because “the men of Israel, beside Benjamin, were numbered four hundred thousand men that drew the sword: all these were men of war” (Judges 20:17).

The battle between Benjamin and the rest of the children of Israel lasted three days. The first two days, the Benjamites had the upper hand and killed 40,000 of their brethren. On the third day, God delivered the children of Benjamin into the hands of their brothers, 25,000 men were killed and their cities were set on fire.

The result was the purging of sin from among God’s people. The cost of the battle, 65,000 lives for the rape of one woman, seems rather high, but it demonstrates the importance of holiness to God. It is not surprising then that he gave his only begotten son to cleanse the entire world of all sin. Thank you Jesus!

How low can you go?

It’s not surprising that the low point in Israel’s history, when every man was doing what is right in his own eyes, is marked by the brutal rape of a woman described only as a Levite’s concubine. The event is similar to one that took place in Sodom just before God destroyed the city. It shows that the children of Benjamin, Jacob’s youngest son, had become just like the Canaanites that were still living among them.

The account of what happens sounds like something you would see on a crime show today where the victim is raped and then chopped up into pieces to dispose of the body, except in this instance, the body pieces were distributed throughout the tribes of Israel, one piece for each family member (Judges 19:29).

And it was so, that all that saw it said, There was no such deed done nor seen from the day the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt unto this day: consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds.

Doing the right thing for the wrong reason

I think the worst thing a Christian can do is do the right thing for the wrong reason. It seems like if you do the right thing, you should always get a good result, but that is not the case. What is more important than what you do is why you do it. God does not tally up all the good things we do and reward us for our effort; he looks at our heart. God judges the motive behind every action we take and makes sure that bad motives do not produce good results.

I married my ex-husband for two reasons: 1) I was pregnant, and 2) I had no means of supporting myself. I had only been a Christian for a few months. I was still recovering from being abducted and raped by a serial rapist the year before and had overdosed on sleeping pills, so my emotional state was unstable.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had completely cut God out of the picture. There was no repentance or asking for forgiveness, just a desperate attempt to fix things and conceal my wrong doing. I thought I was doing the right thing and would be rewarded for my effort, but I had no interest in being married to the father of my child; I just wanted him to take care of us.

It says in Judges 18:30 that the children of Dan worshipped a graven image or false god until the day of their captivity. The word translated captivity, gâlûwth (gaw – looth´) is derived from the Hebrew word gâlâh (gaw – law’) which means “to leave, depart, uncover, reveal” (1540).

The day of my captivity was the day my ex-husband left me for another woman. At that point, I had no one else to rely on but God. I wish I had turned to God sooner, but unfortunately, like the Israelites, I was a stiff-necked, stubborn woman and thought I could take care of my own problems.

“And they set up Micah’s graven image, which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh” (Judges 18:31). My guess is that Laish, where Micah’s idol was kept, and the house of God in Shiloh were not that far apart in distance. It was probably not for convenience that the Danites wanted to worship at home rather than going to the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was where you went to acknowledge your sin, and like me, the children of Dan wanted to keep that a secret.

Twisted Religion

There was a time in my life when I thought going to church every week was all that mattered. If I read my Bible everyday and listened to a Christian radio station, I was good with God. I had no idea my life was totally messed up and I was headed for a disaster.

I had good intentions and wasn’t completely aware that I was just going through the motions. In some ways, my worship was genuine, but my heart had grown cold and I was disappointed about how my life had turned out. I guess you could say I was backslidden. I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to, but I still expected God to bless me.

There is one thing I can say for sure about twisted religion, it feels like you are still in fellowship with God, you don’t know until it is too late that your effort is wasted and God is going to let you reap what you have sown.

In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes. (Judges 17:6)

A matter of the heart

The expression, he has a good heart is usually used to describe someone that is kind, thoughtful, and loving toward others. The heart is said to be the seat of emotions and it can be the source of motives, feelings, affections, and desires (3820). It is the heart that enables us to love, and hate, and develop a relationship with God When our heart is wounded, it affects our ability to connect with people and may cause us to turn away from God because we cannot related to him.

A characteristic that is connected to the heart is courage. In one sense, to be courageous means to be strong, whether in physical strength or something called fortitude which is the will to press forward or through with something. There are many accounts of people that have acted courageously and performed supernatural feats to rescue or protect someone that did not have the physical strength to do so.

I think most people assume Samson was a big, burly man that looked like a sumo wrestler or a professional weight lifter. The only thing recorded about Samson’s appearance is that he was a Nazarite from birth and therefore, he never cut his hair. The source of Samson’s strength was unknown to everyone except Samson and perhaps his parents. It is possible that Samson assumed his strength came from being a Nazarite, when in actuality, it was his relationship with God that enabled him to overpower the Philistines and perform mighty acts to defeat them.

To be a Nazarite means to be separated or consecrated to God. It is similar to the virginity of a woman in that virginity is a sign of purity and is intended to keep a woman separated or consecrated to her husband until they are married. In a way, you could say that a Nazarite’s heart belongs to God and he is not free to love anyone else but God during his time of consecration which in Samson’s case was his entire lifetime.

It says in Judges 16:4 that Samson “loved a woman, in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.” Delilah was a Philistine and she agreed to find out the source of Samson’s strength so that the Philistines could bind him and afflict him. “And Delilah said unto Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee” (Judges 16:6).

The word translated afflict, ‘ânâh (aw – naw´) means to be bowed down, be humbled. ‘Anah often expresses harsh and painful treatment” (6031). One of the ways the word ‘anah is used is to express the act of rape. “To take a woman sexually by force may be ‘to humble’ her” (6031) as was the case with Jacob’s daughter Dinah. It is believed that the Philistines sought revenge against Samson and intended to kill him after a prolonged period of torture. Delilah’s request to know the source of Samson’s strength so that he could be afflicted was a straight forward attempt to take advantage of his love for her and to determine if he was even willing to die for her.

Isaiah 53:3-4 says of the Messiah “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” Jesus also told his followers that they would be delivered up “to be afflicted” and would be hated by everyone in the world because they identified themselves with his name.

Not many people would agree that if you are a Christian, you should expect to be afflicted, to receive harsh and painful treatment for no reason other than you are a follower of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you have taken a vow of chastity and are being tormented by your friends because you won’t do what everyone else is, having sex outside of marriage. The most common group of women to be targeted by sexual predators is young virgins who will experience rape as their first sexual encounter with a man.

When Samson’s soul was vexed unto death by Delilah’s daily pleading and nagging, he finally “told her all his heart” (Judges 16:17). Immediately, Delilah called the Philistine leaders and told them Samson’s weakness had been revealed.

After Samson is imprisoned by the Philistines, he seeks one last opportunity to gain strength so that he can be avenged. He prays that God will remember him and strengthen him. Samson’s two-fold request indicates that he is no longer relying on his Nazarite vow for power. The interesting thing about Samson’s prayer is that the LORD didn’t answer it. It is believed that Samson was able to topple the house where three thousand Philistines were gathered because his hair had begun to grow back while he was in prison. But, I think it is more likely that Samson’s courage returned because he sought to restore his relationship with the LORD.

The word used for strength in Samson’s prayer, châzaq (khaw – zak´) is the same word that was used when the LORD said he would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not let his people go. Samson knew that he sinned by telling Delilah all that was in his heart. It says in Judges 16:20 that Samson thought he would be able to escape like he had at previous times, but “he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.” Samson was on his own when he suffered torture at the hands of the Philistines and his desire to be avenged had nothing to do with God’s plan to deliver the Israelites from Philistine rule. His heart was hardened after being afflicted and he thought the LORD had left him for good. He wanted to die because the sorrow and pain in his heart were too much for him to bare.

In the last moments of his life, Samson reached out to God and God was there, just not in the way Samson expected him to be. God didn’t harden Samson’s heart, he gave him courage. I think Samson believed he was forgiven and would be able to bring down the house with his bare hands. “And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein” (Judges 16:30).

How could you?

In dysfunctional and abusive relationships, you often see people doing things that hurt someone they do or at least should love. For instance, husbands that beat their wives or parents that sexually abuse their children,. Victims of abuse may start acting like slaves or prisoners that have no ability to fight back because they are used to being overpowered and perceive their enemies as rulers over their lives.

Samson’s supernatural strength was a mechanism God used to show the Israelites that they could break free from the tyranny of the Philistines. When Samson’s wife was given to one of his companions, Samson avenged himself by setting fire to the city’s corn supply. Instead of going after Samson, the Philistines went to the men of Judah and beat them up. “Then three thousand men of Judah went to the top of the rock Etam, and said to Samson, knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? what is this that thou hast done unto us?” (Judges 15:11).

Basically, the men of Judah were saying, how could you? They were blaming Samson for their beating from the Philistines and making it seem as if Samson had no right to stand up to them. Instead of mustering an army and going to war with the Philistines, they gathered together 3000 men to bind Samson and deliver him to their enemies.

Samson’s supernatural strength was not something he got from working out. In fact, it was not even his own strength that enabled him to do what he was able to do. Whenever Samson got into a conflict with the Philistines, he received help from God, he became powerful because God’s spirit came upon him.

It says when the Philistines shouted against Samson, “the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him” (Judges 15:14). The word translated spirit, rûwach, (roo´ – akh) means wind or breath, such as in exhalation. “It is clear that the wind is regarded in Scripture as a fitting emblem of the mighty penetrating power of God. Moreover, the breath is supposed to symbolize not only the deep feelings that are generated within man, such as sorrow and anger; but also kindred feelings in the Divine nature” (7307).

The decision of the men of Judah to bind Samson and hand him over to the Philistines must have caused sorrow and anger in Samson. He was doing God’s will when he stood up to the Philistines and so God helped him to escape before the Philistines got their hands on him. After Samson was free from the ropes the men of Judah used to bind him, it says “he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith” (Judges 15:15). What it doesn’t say is who he killed, the men of Judah or the Philistines?

It doesn’t make sense

I can’t think of a life more tragic than the life of Samson. If I had to pick one word to describe it, I would have to say Samson’s life was stupid. That is probably because I don’t understand it. It doesn’t make sense to me. One of the first things recorded about Samson’s life is that he chose a wife of the daughter of the Philistines and “it was of the LORD” (Judges 14:4). How could it be God’s will for a man like Samson, a man separated unto God, a Nazarite from a miraculous birth, to marry a woman from an enemy country?

The only explanation given is that the LORD sought an occasion, which means he was looking for an opportunity, that there was some purpose for Samson to marry this woman because “at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel” (Judges 14:4). I think Samson knew what he was doing. Even though there is little information given about the situation, it appears the LORD directed Samson to the woman and Samson was acting in obedience to the LORD when he asked his father to get her for him to be his wife.

A tactic that Samson used to gain an advantage over his Philistine companions was to “put forth a riddle” to them (Judges 14:12). It seems kind of strange that days before his wedding Samson would want to insult the members of his wedding party, but it is clear Samson was not trying to win them over. In fact, he may have been trying to start a fight.

The issue that started the conflict may have been a custom of the Philistines that required the groom to supply everyone in the wedding party or what was referred to as his companions, with a set of wedding clothes. It says of Samson in Judges 14:11, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him.” I don’t know what was typical in that day, but 30 seems like a lot of companion. The reward for solving the riddle was thirty sheets and thirty changes of garments, so it could have been that Samson intended that if they didn’t solve the riddle, they would have to pay him back for the wedding clothes he had provided them with.

The part of the story that doesn’t make sense is that when the companions went to Samson’s wife to find out the answer to the riddle, they threatened to burn her and her family to death, so Samson told her the answer to the riddle. This seems like a lot of drama over 30 changes of clothes. I can’t help but wonder why did the conflict become so heated and why Samson gave in to his wife’s plea if he was trying to teach the Philistines a lesson?

The Philistines gained dominion over the Israelites not because they were strong, but because they were smart. I believe Samson put forth a riddle to his companions for two reasons, first to demonstrate he could out smart them, and second because he wanted them to find out that he had killed a lion with his bare hands. He wanted them to know about his supernatural strength.

The answer to Samson’s riddle was a two-part question: 1) What is sweeter than honey?, and 2) What is stronger than a lion? The answer to the second question was obvious, Samson was stronger than a lion because he killed one in the vineyards of Timnath. The answer to the first question was not so obvious. What is sweeter than honey?…revenge?

It’s a secret

A characteristic of God that differentiates him from man is that he is eternal, there is no beginning or end to his existence. Because Jesus was born as a man, it is natural to assume that he did not exist before he was born in Bethlehem. Perhaps that is why he made several visits to Earth before then to establish he existence beforehand.

“And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art baren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son” (Judges 13:3). The woman’s name is not mentioned even though she is clearly a significant person to have had the privilege of a personal visit from God.

The woman describes her visitor as a man of God whose “countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible” (Judges 13:6). The word translated terrible, yârê’ (yaw – ray´) means stand in awe. Today we might say that the angel looked very awesome, but there is an element of holiness that would have been lost in the translation.

After the woman tells her husband, he prays that the man of God will visit him also. “And God hearkened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again unto the woman as she sat in the field: but Manoah her husband was not with her” (Judges 13:9). Eventually, Manoah joins his wife and has a conversation with the angel of the LORD and determines that he and his wife have seen God.

At one point, Manoah asks the angel of the LORD, “what is your name?…And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name. seeing that it is secret?” (Judges 13:17, 18). The word translated secret, pâlîy’ (paw – lee´) means wonderful. So in a sense, the angel was revealing his identity without actually telling Manoah his name. Isaiah wrote of the Messiah that “his name shall be called Wonderful” (Isaiah 9:6).

When the angel told Manoah that his name was secret, he may have been intentionally revealing his identity without giving his name away. If the angel had said his name was Jesus, it would not have made sense to Manoah that he was speaking to the pre-incarnate Christ because God was known to the Israelites as Jehovah. Rather than using his name the Israelites often referred to God by the characteristics that distinguished him from man.

The word paliy’ is derived from the word pâlâ’ (paw – law´) which means “to be marvelous, be extraordinary, be beyond one’s power to do, do wonderful acts” (6381). Another word that is derived from pala’ is pele’ (peh – leh´) which means “a miracle” (6382). Only God can do the miraculous and being able to appear on Earth before you have been born is definitely a miracle.

Mind your own business

One of the signs of a dysfunctional family is everybody getting into everybody else’s business. There always seems to be at least one instigator who spends all his time finding out what everyone is doing and spreading the news to others. Whether you want to think of them as busy bodies, gossips, or trouble makers, they feel it is their job to keep everyone informed.

My family is no different than any other. Our instigator happened to be the grandma with too much time on her hands. She thought she was doing the family a service, but in reality, she was just stirring the pot and perpetuating conflict. I believe the instigator in our family was motivated by a need to be the center of attention and a deep concern for the well being of her family. In a sense, you could say she was a worry wart that was not able to trust God for her family’s protection.

The men of Ephraim appear to be the instigators among the children of Israel. On two occasions, they asked why they had not been contacted regarding battle plans. Jephthah’s response to their question “Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us  to go with thee?” (Judges 12:1) my have been sarcastic because he uses a different word for call when he says “I and my people were in great strife with the children of Ammon; and when I called you, ye delivered me not out of their hands” (Judges 12:2).

The word Jephthah used for called, zâ‘aq (zaw – ak´) is typically used in reference to crying out to God for deliverance. “Its first occurrence is in the record of the Israelites bondage in Egypt” (2199). There is a distinct difference between za‘aq which refers to divine aid and qârâ (kaw – raw´) which “signifies the specification of a name” (7121). So Jephthah may have been trying to make a point: I didn’t call you because only God has the ability to deliver us from our enemies.

“Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim…and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand” (Judges 12:4, 5). Family conflicts are sometimes necessary and can serve a purpose, but often the damage is not worth it. The loss of 42,000 men was significant. The Ephraimites might have been better off to mind their own business.