Is there evidence for God’s existence?
Over the last six months or so I’ve been introduced to an internet TV show called The Atheist Experience – it’s put on by a community of Atheists in Texas who basically sit behind their desk and take calls from people, talking about whatever the topic of the day happens to be (or, more often, the topic of the call).
What I’ve found is that they’re all very bright people and I actually thoroughly enjoy hearing their opinions and thoughts, even if I don’t always agree – and at times think they’re downright wrong. However; probably due to the nature of the show, they don’t always attract the most intelligent Christians who call in and “gently explain” to these atheists why they’re wrong – usually with disastrous and often comical consequences.
I find myself cringing so frequently.
(To ensure I’m clear, by the way, The Atheist Experience isn’t some “Christian mocking” show at all, and they certainly don’t come across as specifically anti-Christian; it’s just that the majority of non-atheist callers they receive are Christians and therefore Christianity receives it’s overly fair share of airtime.)
That, however, isn’t actually the point of this post. What is the point is that frequently I’ve seen on these videos the same argument that I’ve heard from other atheists that I’ve had discussions with, regarding evidence of God’s existence. What I find with many atheists is that they’re happy to change their minds if only proof could be provided that he’s real.
Proof: the cogency of evidence that compels acceptance by the mind of a truth or fact.
The question that has always sat in my mind when people ask for this proof of God’s existence – what, exactly, would they define as proof of his existence?
See, when I’ve seen the discussion move a little further down the line, basically nothing would classify as proof of God’s existence. Proof and evidence are all about what is physically observable – what we can see, touch, taste, hear and smell with our physical senses. If you follow this line of reasoning, then you come to a problem – how do you provide physical evidence of a supernatural being?
See, let’s say that you’re at a religious healing meeting – it doesn’t matter what religion – and you see someone stand up out of their wheelchair. Well, many of us would say that “God” must have done it. To the atheist, though, they don’t have to admit that. The only physical proof they have is that someone stood up out of a wheelchair. Even with additional documentation to verify that the healing wasn’t a hoax, and the person was a genuine invalid, the atheist is still able to point out that this is not evidence of God, just of a person being able to walk – and I have heard this argument used over and over, that this would not be evidence of God.
Now, if this were a murder trial, the fact that you have a guy threatening the victim, and being found in the house, alongside the dead body, with the gun in his hand being matched to the bullet – it would be considered beyond reasonable doubt that he was the murderer. However; if you’re at a religious meeting, where the leader prays to “God” for healing, and at that same time the person who is being prayed for is healed – well, apparently that’s not sufficient evidence to prove God’s existence.
So what would be?
Here’s the problem. Like I mentioned earlier, how do you provide physical evidence of a supernatural being? You can’t – not to the point of certainty that would allow every single person to be convinced without doubt. Those who don’t want to see, will never see.
A few years ago, when I was in a very different state of mind and belief, I was introduced to the concept of Flatland. I haven’t yet read Edwin Abbott Abbott’s 1884 novella (I’m waiting for it to appear on my Kindle – hurry up Amazon!), but the concept really intrigued me.
Imagine, if you can, a being who lives in a world of only two dimensions. There is no concept of height, of ‘up’ and ‘down’ in this world, everything is just visible as lines (“Tell her you’re a circle, Flatland girls are all hot for circles!” ~Sheldon Cooper.)
How would you prove to this being the existence of a cube?
No matter what you tell this being, the fact is that their existence is limited to two dimensions, so their “physical senses,” whatever they may be, would still only be able to conceive of what exists in two dimensions. You couldn’t bring a cube into flatland, it would still only look like a line to them, meaning that they still wouldn’t believe in this ‘three dimensional’ object’s existence, because there is no evidence that you could provide to them that would prove the existence of three-dimensional objects. Everything they observe is limited to two dimensions, therefore they cannot possibly observe a third dimension based on just their physical senses.
It would require faith.
The evidence of things not seen
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. ~ Hebrews 11:1
If God suddenly appeared in front of you and introduced himself, how would you react? Those of us who believe in God (whether that be Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religion) would probably accept that this materialising man was actually God, and would listen intently to everything he had to say.
But in our minds, there would be doubt, wouldn’t there? After he was gone, we’d probably replay the conversation in our minds, we’d question whether what he said actually sounded like God, we’d test it against what the Bible says, what we already know about God, all of this kind of thing.
Now if we, who have faith, would react that way, how much more sceptical would an atheist be?
Our eyes don’t connect us to God, our ears, tongues, noses and fingers – none of this connects us to God. What connects us to God is our faith. It is the evidence of things not seen – or not perceived by any of our physical senses.
Faith does not simply believe in something that doesn’t exist. It’s more than that. Faith is the evidence of things not seen – meaning that we can know that which we do not see is true because of faith. Faith is like that “sixth sense,” it’s our ability to observe beyond the physical and into the spiritual realm – that which cannot be seen or perceived by natural means.
In His Image
So God created man in His own image; in the image ocf God He created him; male and female He created them. ~ Genesis 1:27
Ever really thought about this verse? Growing up, I know that in my mind it meant that God has two arms, two legs, a torso, a head – and probably white hair and a beard to go with it. After all, we’re in his image, right?
Right, but what is God’s image?
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of an image? For most people, I’d imagine, it would be a picture – a two-dimensional representation of a moment in time.
See, I don’t think that God is this giant man sitting in the clouds. I think that when he made us in his image, he means that he made us physically in his image – to me, it means he gave us a spirit. He made a part of us eternal.
This is why it requires faith to connect to God, because it cannot be a physical connection, because God is not a physical being. The evidence for God in our world is like the evidence of the artist in a painting. You have to look beyond the creation to the creator.
If he is not a physical being, there cannot be physical evidence of his existence. We must recognize God, not with our eyes, but with our spirit – with our faith.
Again, it’s been a while since I posted one of these, but I’m getting there, I promise.
I’ve had to read this chapter several times through to really make sense of it. On the face of it, it just seems to stand out strangely against the rest of the book of judges. What we have here is this bloke called Micah.
Now Micah’s Mum, apparently, had a fair bit of cash – 1100 shekels of silver – in today’s terms, around about $10,000 worth – which went missing. Ruing the loss of her silver, she curses, and Micah suddenly shows up with it, saying that he was the one who took it.
When I was a kid, I stole money out of Mum or Dad’s wallets … not regularly, per se, but a fair few times. One one occasion, I thought it would be really clever to hide it in my sock, like a shin guard, just pressed up against my leg with the sock pulled up over it. It wasn’t necessarily my best idea. As I’m asking Mum if I can go out and play (read, spend money on lollies and chocolates), she notices this little blue patch peeking out over my sock and asks what it is. Let’s just point out, there’s not a lot of things that can be substituted for a $10 note sticking out of your footwear. I was sprung, and boy, did I get in trouble.
I certainly didn’t get blessed – well, unless you’re Eliphaz in Job.
Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. ~ Job 5:17
Micah’s Mum, though, responds when her son brings back her silver, with, “The LORD bless you, my son!”
Not only that, she then decides to consecrate it to God, and asks Micah to make a cast image, an idol, out of it. Which Micah does, not only that, but he finds a wandering Levite and invites him to come and live in the house and be his own personal priest – he’ll get a salary, clothing, food and a roof over his head. Sounds like a sweet deal, really.
So hence my confusion over this chapter. Everythign seems to be working nicely.
And Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.” ~ Judges 16:13
Then I was reading through it the third time, and finally something jumped out at me.
In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. ~ Judges 16:6
Isn’t this kind of like the world today? We’ve built this society that becomes more and more about doing what we see fit. As long as I’m not harming anyone else, then what do my actions matter? If it feels good, do it. Or even the one that I stood and lived by for several years: An’ ye harm none, do what ye will.
And for a humanistic form of morality, this is fine. If there is no God, then this is actually perfect. In fact, morality of this level still demonstrates that there is something more to us than just the physical need to survive, because in reality, without God, without something beyond what the physical, there’s no need to even concern ourselves with the harm of anyone else. Do as you see fit becomes simply do what’s best for yourself. Really, without any higher purpose, why should I even be concerned with inflicting pain, suffering or death on anyone else if it best serves my purposes?
And if you want to argue it, I’ve seen more than a few times, the meme come up on Facebook saying something along the lines of, “Like this if there are people alive today just because you don’t want to go to jail.”
That’s not about not harming others, it’s about keeping yourself safe. I don’t think there are many people in the world who haven’t at least thought once in their life that something would be good to do if it weren’t for the negative consequences they would potentially suffer.
Without leadership, the Israelites built this culture of everyone doing as he saw fit, but that left the door wide open for corruption to come in – not only to evey day you and me, but as this shows, even the priests could be corrupted against some of the clear instructions that God had given: like no idols.
There is a higher morality than what we come up with. There is a higher morality than the whims of society. We shouldn’t all just act as we see fit, because we don’t see clearly.
Men get stupid around beautiful women.
Either we turn into bragging peacocks thinking that we need to give the best show, or we just turn into blithering idiots who struggle to string a coherent sentence together.
And in some cases, we just fall completely under the spell and allow ourselves to become completely vulnerable.
Now that last one, of course, in the presence of the right woman is not necessarily a bad thing. However, in the presence of the wrong one, well it can have disastrous effects.
Many people know that one TV show I enjoy watching is The Big Bang Theory – and there’s a tale in the backstory where Leonard was once dating this nice girl who was so interested in his work on a secret government project, and of course, he wanted to show it to her. Turned out she was a North Korean spy.
Men get stupid around beautiful women.
Samson, though, perhaps has to take the cake on stupidity. Here’s this guy, who’s been destroying the Philistines for years. Now clearly the guy had a weakness for Philistine women. First he married one, even against his parents’ best wishes and advice for him. Then at the beginning of this chapter he goes to Gaza and sees a Prostitute – presumably also a Philistine woman.
Then he meets Delilah.
Samson falls in love with this woman – and it sounds like it’s a pretty quick fall, too.
So he’s shacked up with Delilah, and after a while she asks him what the secret to his great strength is. Samson tells her a fib about how if he’s tied up with seven fresh thongs (that’s leather straps, people…) he’ll be no stronger than any other man.
That night, Delilah wakes him up saying the Philistines are here. He’s bound, conveniently, by seven fresh thongs – and snaps them without a problem. Samson escapes.
Now, you’d think there’d be a few bells going off in your head at this point – nothing, though, compared to when your girlfriend starts pouting about how you made a fool of her by lying to her. She asks him again.
Alarm bells, anyone?
Not for Samson. He goes ahead and tells her some other story – and again, it’s wrong. Again, Delilah complains that he lied to her and made a fool of her, and he tells her a third story only to have the same result.
Now at this point, it would be fair to assume that maybe Samson’s smarter than we’re giving him credit for. Perhaps he’s just playing with Delilah’s mind because he’s clicked on to what she’s up to, right?
Men get stupid around beautiful women.
A fourth time, Delilah asks Samson what the secret to his strength is.
Seriously, why couldn’t he just say a paleo diet and Crossfit six days a week?
No. Samson actually goes and tells this chick that the secret to his strength is his separation as a Nazirite. His hair has never been cut, and that’s why.
Men get stupid around beautiful women.
Now here, though, is my question. Why did God leave Samson? Why, when his hair was cut, did his strength fail him? Was it because his strength was actually in his hair?
Here’s what I think happened. Samson let go of God. He trusted Delilah with a part of himself that God was supposed to have.
Being a single guy, I will admit that sometimes it’s a real struggle to actually balance a relationship with God and the desire to have a girlfriend, get married, have a family. Of course they’re not mutually exclusive, but the thing is that you end up feeling like that hole in your heart where God should be could be filled by a partner instead. Then, you wonder if any partner will do.
I remember talking to a friend of mine about this stuff around a year or two ago, and about options and things like that. His wife, from the other room, suddenly yelled out, “She’s not an option if she doesn’t love Jesus!”
Of course, not all non-Christian girls are Philistines, or akin to Delilah, that’s not what I’m saying. However what I am saying is that a partner cannot, and should never, take the place of God in our lives. That was where, I believe, Samson fell. Not because his hair was cut, but because he replaced God with something less.
Samson really had an odd life, when you think about it.
After the weird sequence of events that led to his getting married, only to then be betrayed by his wife and take it out on the Philistines, he goes home and her father gave Samson’s wife to someone else to marry instead.
Some time later, Samson cooled off a bit and decided that it was time to go back. So he returns back to Timnah again, only for his father in law to inform him that because he was sure Samson hated her, he gave her to someone else instead – as a consolation, he has another daughter that Samson can have instead. She’s younger, more attractive, take her instead! So Samson snaps again, goes out, catches 300 foxes, ties them together in pairs along with a torch each and sets them off in the Philistine’s fields to burn up their grain.
To borrow a phrase from Ron Burgundy: “Wow. That escalated quickly.”
In turn, after they realize that he did this as vengeance for being betrayed by his father in law, the Philistines kill Samson’s wife and her father. Which – as you can imagine – just aggravates Samson further. He kills a few more of them and then goes off to a cave – probably to cool down again.
The Philistines come up against Israel, Israel – well, Judah – say that they don’t want any part of it, but they’ll go get Samson, which they do. He lets them tie him up and take him to the Philistines, only to then break the ropes when he gets there. Spotting a donkey’s jawbone, Samson once again goes a little berserk and kills a thousand men.
Then Samson said, “With a donkey’s jawbone I have made donkeys of them. With a donkey’s jawbone I have killed a thousand men.” ~ Judges 15:16
Afterwards, Samson’s thirsty and calls out to God wondering why he’s been able to be victorious, only to die of thirst so that he can be captured after all. No offence to Samson intended, but that does sound very like the Israelites in the desert, when you think about it.
Not that I can talk – or probably not that most of us can talk, I’d imagine. I know for me, no matter how much I’ve witnessed God do, I still struggle to have faith that he’s going to come through next time, or that he’s going to provide for me.
But here, God opens up the landscape and Samson’s able to grab a drink.
To continue looking at the story, though. Obviously Samson’s wife wasn’t that good for him in the long run. When your first week of marriage pretty much ends up with a massacre of thirty people, that’s probably not a good start to the life together. Regardless, though, Samson goes back to his wife.
Most of the time it doesn’t necessarily matter if something’s good for us or not – we end up walking back to it. Whether it’s a relationship, something health related, an addiction, who knows. The point is that it’s very hard to just stay away from something that you liked, enjoyed or even loved. Samson liked this girl, even if she wasn’t that great for him – and he went back. The thing is, though, that it ended badly – worse than it did the first time around.
And that’s what I”ve found, too – going back to something tends to end up worse the more times you keep returning.
Just to finish, though, I want to come back to the end of the chapter.
Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the LORD, “You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi. ~ Judges 15:18-19
There’s actually a lot in these verses, but just briefly, three things:
- Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the LORD. We all get thirsty, we all get drained, especially spiritually. It’s at these times we need to cry out to God.
- Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When we’re thirsty, God will provide us with what we need.
- His strength returned and he revived. Drinking of God’s spirit will restore strength and revive us.
“People from opposite sides often have good relationships. You know, Romeo and Juliet, Tony and Maria from West Side Story, what’s-his-name and the big blue chick in Avatar.”
…To quote Big Bang Theory again…
Let me ask you something, what is it about these types of stories that make them so famous? Is the whole forbidden love thing that enticing to people? Or perhaps – and more likely – it’s the concept of love conquering all bounds that manages to keep it all together.
Whatever it is, here’s another one: Samson and his wife.
Here’s this guy – Samson – before his birth, his parents have been told that he’s to be set apart from birth, a Nazirite, so that he can begin freeing Israel from the hands of the Philistines. Once he’s grown up, he goes fro a wander down to this town called Timnah, spots a Philistine girl and decides he wants to marry her. So he goes and tells his parents. Their reaction, of course, is to ask why he can’t just find a nice Israelite girl to marry? Samson’s stubborn. Nope, she’s the girl I want.
The heart wants what the heart wants, doesn’t it?
His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.) ~ Judges 14:4
Now, I’m intrigued by the whole concept of this being “from the LORD,” in this verse. It only says that Samson’s parents didn’t know what was going on, so I’m curious as to whether God actually makes Samson fall in love with this woman, or he actually tells her that this is the woman he should marry.
Anyway, Samson and his parents go off to Timnah together, somewhere along the way Samson kills a lion – which isn’t seen by his parents and he doesn’t tell them what happened. Then he finally actually talks to this girl and decides that he likes her, so after a little while longer again he goes back to marry her. On the way, he stops by the lion carcass and there’s now a heap of bees hovering around it making honey – and Samson stops for a taste.
There’s a lot of back-and-forthing in this chapter actually, as Samson goes between Timnah and his parents’ house and back again. The short of it is, though, there’s a feast and he’s got thirty Philistines around him. Samson challenges them with a riddle wanting clothing from each of them if he wins, and if they win, he’ll give each of them an outfit.
Given that I just watched The Hobbit the other night, this week seems to have a theme of riddle games…
He replied, “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.”
For three days they could not give the answer. ~ Judges 14:14
Which is, of course, the lion and the honey. Now the companions can’t guess it, so they tell Samson’s wife to go and find out the answer for him. She manages to manipulate the answer from him and momentarily the companions come back and tell him the answer.
Sometimes I think that God may have given Samson a heap of strength, but he didn’t necessarily match that with brains…
So Samson has to owe these guys an outfit of clothing each – thirty in all.
Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. H?e went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of their belongings and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he went up to his father’s house. ~ Judges 14:19
Now here’s what I take from this chapter. A couple of things actually. See, God had a plan here all along. Going back to verse 4, God was seeking an opportunity to confront the Philistines. The story doesn’t exactly pan out in a wonderful tale of romance and love between two people from opposing sides transcending their problems and bringing happiness ever after. In fact, she’s manipulated by her side and in turn manipulates Samson to give her the answer to the riddle. Samson’s hurt, and takes it out on the Philistines – which is pretty much what was planned in the first place.
Now, going back to the whole thing of destiny, I’m going to leave it open here as to whether the plan was always for Samson to end up killing thirty philistines, or whether it was more generic and just forcing a confrontation. However, there’s one last thing I’d like to bring out of this.
Sometimes we feel like we screw up. Sometimes we go out and do something stupid – maybe not necessarily marry a Philistine woman like Samson did, but we do something that in all honesty, probably isn’t the best idea for us. Sometimes, like here, it even seems like everything has just gotten the best of us. Sometimes, though, it’s all under control. I’m certainly not saying that we should go out and kill thirty Philistines, but what I am saying is that if you think you’ve backed yourself into a corner and you’re not sure how to get out – try fighting.
Chances are, the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power too, and you’ll find yourself free.
And what did Samson do after that? He went back home. Don’t forget your roots, because if you feel like you’ve lost your way, chances are that’s where you’ll find your footing again.
Samson’s really a guy who needs very little introduction. I think most of us have heard at least some tale of his life, but that’s coming over the next few chapters in Judges anyway.
This one’s just all about his birth, and the foretelling of his birth. Samson’s a bit different from the other Judges who have been called – each of them are already alive and kicking when they have their destiny thrown into their faces. Not to say that the plans for their lives weren’t already out there, but before Samson was born his parents were already being told that he had a destiny. The reason being that there were different rules for Samson. He was to live as a Nazirite – no alcohol, wine or otherwise, not even any grapes. He wasn’t to do anything unclean according to the law, and he wasn’t even allowed to cut his hair.
I’ve gone through a few stages of life where I had long hair. I don’t know if I still prefer it but I did at the time – maybe I could start growing it again and call myself a Nazirite.
Anyway, the important thing is that Manoah and his wife (who remains nameless in this story) have this angel come to them and tell them multiple times that they’re going to have a son in spite of the fact that she’s barren. He’s special, and is to be raised special, and therefore has to be raised special.
It’s an interesting word. I was actually having a conversation just last night with a few people about the whole concept of predestination and free will. I’m not going to go into that too deeply here, but this story sort of reiterates the kind of perspective that I have on the whole concept of destiny.
See, my personal view on the whole thing is that yes, God’s given me a destiny, but it’s still up to me to achieve it. I still have free will, which means that I can go and do what I want, and therefore not actually reach the destiny that God has for me.
There’s an onus on us – wow, I just realized the spelling of that – to actually walk into our destiny. In Samson’s case, there were very specific guidelines set out, I don’t know why, but they’re there. The point being here that Samson had a destiny, but he – and his parents – also had a responsibility to live in a certain way, to fulfil certain tasks, in order for him to actually achieve his destiny.
So here’s the question, because Samson was destined to be a Nazirite, and his mother was destined to be just that – his mother – then does that mean it was actually impossible for them to drink wine? It just couldn’t have happened? If this is the case, then why did an angel need to come and actually tell her that she wasn’t allowed to drink wine, and neither would Samson be able to either? The only reason to inform them was so that they would actually adjust their behaviour, and bring their son up in a certain behaviour, to ensure he could fulfil that destiny.
But I said that I wasn’t going to go into it too deeply.
The thing is that in order for us to fulfil our destiny, we actually have to walk in it. God’s got a plan for my life, and he has one for yours. The important thing to do is to ensure that we are following the right steps, living the right life and making the right choices to actually fulfil that destiny.
If you can’t say it properly, and instead say ‘sibboleth,’ you die.
Jephthah defeated the Ammonites and all was wonderful and happy again, right?
Across the Jordan come the people of Ephraim wondering why they didn’t get to join in the victory. Since Jephthah didn’t include them, they’re going to burn his house down. Jephthah points out that he did actually give these guys a call, but they just let it go to voicemail. So, in their absence, off he went with what he had and defeated the Ammonites. So he brings his men up as well and there’s a big fight with the people of Ephraim – and Jephthah and his men win.
They captured the crossings of the Jordan river and started doing tests – somewhat like the soothsayer in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, except instead of having to answer what your name and favourite colour (Blue… No! Yelloooooooooow!), you just have to say the password.
Apparently, the people from the other side of the river said it wrong, so if they didn’t say it right, they’d be killed. Forty two thousand of them were killed.
To be honest, I find the Shibboleth / Sibboleth thing kind of amusing. As I was reading it I imagined the Jordan River being the Tasman Sea. Imagine if every time someone landed in Australia they had to say “Fish and Chips.” You say “Fush and chups,” and you get killed on the spot. Sounds like a perfect way to determine whether someone should live or die, right?
Anyway, that’s not really my point.
I was thinking about the Ephraimites, and how they suddenly came over to attack Jephthah because he left them out of the victorious battle against the Ammonites. Except that according to Jephthah, he did actually ask them to come by. The beacons were lit. Jephthah calls for aid! The problem was that the Ephraimites ignored the call, and continued going on about their own business.
Seemingly, that is, until they realized that Jephthah actually won. Suddenly there was credit to be shared around, probably loot to be divvied up and celebrations to be held. Up comes Ephraim to join in on the party and stake their claim on the spoils of war.
I’ll admit that I’ve been on both sides of this coin at different stages of my life. I know that there have been times when I’ve come in at the end of something being done and made sure that I received some of the credit for doing it. On the other hand, I’ve worked hard at other things, only to have some other person come along at the last minute and take the credit for it. Let me tell you something, the latter option has made me livid before. Maybe I wouldn’t go so far as to kill them or go to war, but hey…
The thing is, don’t do it, and not just because someone will start throwing passwords in your direction and killing you if you say Shibboleth wrong.
This is the story about a bloke named Jephthah.
Jephthah wasn’t the most welcomed of men. The son of a prostitute, he was – maybe not justifiably, but to a point, understandably – shunned and exiled by his father’s legitimate children. They weren’t going to let Jephthah anywhere near the inheritance that their father was going to leave.
The bible calls Jephthah a mighty warrior, and after he was exiled he attracted a group of other adventurers around him.
Then come the Ammonites. Israel’s under attack, and as Judges Chapter 10 told the story, the Israelites suddenly found themselves sorry and wanting to be saved again. In the final verse of chapter 10, the people living in Gilead promise that whoever stands up against these attackers, that man will be put in charge of the region. So the elders of the region go and find Jephthah, this mighty warrior and his band of rag-tag adventurers. I tell you, here’s another great tale, really.
So Jephthah, being a bit cautious, just reminds these guys what they’re saying. He’s’ the guy they kicked out of town, and they’re now asking for him to come back, lead the charge, and therefore become the head of the people of Gilead.
Yup. They know what they are saying.
After a bit of communication between the Ammonites and Jephthah, he realizes that they’re not about to give it up. It’s time to go to war. In advance of this, though, Jephthah makes perhaps one of the most ridiculous promises in history.
And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” ~ Judges 11:30-31
Now this isn’t as stupid a statement as it originally sounds, because my understanding of the culture of these times was that often the livestock actually had a room in the house with the owners as well. I assume that Jephthah is expecting a pig or a goat or a donkey to wander out of the house when he gets home.
So he wins the battle.
When Jephthah returned to his house in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. ~ Judges 11:34
Here’s the thing. I’m not about to condone burnt sacrifice of one’s own children by any means. From the rest of the story it would sound like this sacrifice actually went ahead, because Jephthah’s daughter tells her father that he can’t go back on his vow to God, and just asks for a couple of months to weep in the desert with her friends because she’s about to die, and after the two months Jephthah does as he had vowed.
The lesson that I draw from this, though, is to be careful what you say, and be careful what you offer to God. How many songs do we sing that say something about giving all of ourselves to God? How many times do we pray that God would take all of us? I know that I’m not going to bother counting the amount of times that I’ve said to God that he can have my life, that everything I am belongs to him. Is it all belonging to him, though? Is my life really all God’s, when I think about it? Probably not.
“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.” ~ Judges 11:36
Point two: Stick to it.
This is hard, and a challenge to me even as I write this. When we’ve offered ourselves to God, we need to stick to it. There’s an element of what I was talking about yesterday in this as well, that we take God for granted. Again, I know that I’ve promised God things in my life and then when the rubber hits the road, I’ve kind of reneged on what I said I’d do. I have seen and heard multiple people use the excuse, “Well, God will forgive me,” as a cop-out for going back on things that they’ve said or promised.
Really, it goes for what you promise anyone, but especially: If you’re going to promise it to God, then stick to it.
Humans are slow, stupid creatures, really.
After Abimelech died, we have a couple of other judges who rise up, Tola and Jair. They’re pretty insignificant in the scheme of things by the looks of it. Each one only gets a couple of verses, and the most we know about them is where they lived and that Jair had thirty sons who rode thirty donkeys. Informative.
Then, though, we come to another stage in Israel’s history.
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him, he became angry with them. ~ Judges 10:6-7
Growing up, I remember that my parents had this series of bible comics, telling the whole bible story but in comic form. I remember one particular scene in particular, where you’ve got two people talking and one asking why God’s forsaken them. The other replies that God didn’t forsake them, they forsook God. The concept’s always stuck with me, that it may not always be God abandoning us when we struggle, but maybe we’ve abandoned God. I know that I did that for a very long time, personally.
Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD, “We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.” ~ Judges 10:10
Suddenly, when everything’s going downhill, the Israelites remember who God is. However he replies differently, he points out that over and over and over he’s saved them – only for them to forsake him again and go back to these other gods. So God turns around and tells them to go call on the other gods for help.
I think we find it very easy to do exactly this in our own lives. We take God for granted. He’s there, he’s helped us through everything, but then as we continue to move forward we get distracted again by everything else. All these other shiny gods seem more appealing, don’t they? Sure enough, before we know it we’ve got ourselves stuck in some predicament again, and we’re calling out to God for help again.
Is he wrong to, every so often, just shrug and tell us to find our own way out of it?
Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer. ~ Judges 10:16
Thank God that he’s got more patience than we do. Thank God that he’s got more love than we do. I mentioned earlier that I abandoned God in my own life. Here’s the thing, though, the story was a lot like the Israelites in some ways. I knew what God had done for me, I’d grown up knowing how much he meant, I’d experienced him.
But I’d taken him for granted, and all of a sudden I reached a bit of a crisis point. I looked for God, but I didn’t find him. I tried to keep acting like a Christian until finally I gave up, and went off on my own path to follow these other gods – quite literally – I found myself following a path made up of a combination of New Age, Wicca and Paganism.
The thing is, though, that we’re like Israel. If we forsake the things that we’ve turned to, and serve him, then he won’t let us live in misery. He can’t bear to see us living in misery because he loves us. This is one of the very core essentials of Christianity and one of the core messages that’s ingrained into the bible. We turn away, we abandon God, but when we turn back towards him he doesn’t leave us out in the cold. He loves us too much to do that, no matter how much we take him for granted.
Now the story of Abimelech, here’s a real guy’s story. This chapter is the kind of thing that excites me as I read it.
Abimelech was a bad bloke, let me get that part out straight away. I’m not saying that I look up to him or am trying to laud him or anything, I’m simply pointing out that this is a pretty exciting chapter when it comes down to reading it.
Abimelech was Gideon’s son, born to him by his concubine who lived in Shechem. Gideon had a bunch of wives, and came out with 70 sons. Abimelech was an extra one.
If Shechem sounds familiar, it’s because this isn’t the first time trouble’s started up out there. Back in Genesis 34, Jacob and his sons had a run in with Shechem, Hamor’s son after he defiled their sister, Dinah. In turn, Simeon and Levi killed the lot of them.
Now we have Abimelech, born of a concubine in Shechem. Abimelech, therefore, goes to the people of Shechem after Gideon’s death and has them make him king. After all, why should they be ruled by Gideon’s 70 sons when they have a son of Gideon who’s also a local right there in their midst? They agree, and Abimelech promptly trots off to Ophrah where the rest of his family is and kills his brothers. All but one. Jotham manages to survive. He’s predictably unhappy, and he goes off on a tirade at the people of Shechem, basically saying that if kings were trees, then Abimelech’s not an olive tree, or a fig tree, or a vine that produces fine wine – he’s a thorn bush.
Of course, then Jotham legs it and bolts into hiding in Beer.
After Abimelech had governed Israel three years, God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech. ~ Judges 9:22-23
Here’s something interesting. This passage says that God sent the evil spirit – I’ll come back to this.
Anyway, so this guy Gaal shows up and moves in to Shechem, and the citizens suddenly turn and accept him as the new boss. He spouts his mouth off a bit and Zebul, Abimelech’s governor in Shechem overhears and gets a bit annoyed, sends word to Abimelech, who quickly shows up and kills Gaal, before taking out the whole population of Shechem and a few other places as well.
All this, and then he makes one final attack against a place called Thebez. They get into the city, but everyone inside goes for the tower. Abimelech’s plan is to set it on fire, but as he gets too close to the tower, a woman drops a millstone on his head. Abimelech has just enough time to be a bit misogynistic, getting his armour bearer to run him through so that no one can say a woman killed him.
Seriously, it’s got the makings of a great movie all over it.
This is an interesting chapter, really. The conclusion is:
Thus, God repaid the wickendess that Abimelech had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also made the men of Shechem pay for all their wickedness. The curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal came upon them. ~ Judges 9:56-57
See, it’s God’s interaction and interference that speaks to me in this chapter. It doesn’t say that God allowed the evil spirit. It says that God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech and made the people of Shechem pay. It says that Jotham’s curse came upon them.
The repayment and judgement against Shechem, well, that’s fairly frequently told throughout the bible that evil people end up paying for their actions in some way. The curse, though, or the sending of an evil spirit. These don’t necessarily fit neatly in with the most common pictures that we see drawn of God. The whole thing tends to be that God doesn’t send evil – and in Job it almost seems to state that God is in more of a position where he allows it to happen rather than specifically causing it.
I’m not saying one way or the other, I’m just drawing the question. Does God send evil spirits also?
Interesting thoughts, at least I think so…