Week 15 – God’s Messengers

Scripture Reading:  1 Kings 17-19; 2 Kings 2, 4, 6; Amos 1, 3-5, 9; Hosea 4-5, 8-9, 14

Significant Moments in The Story

Elijah challenges Baal and his prophets on Mt. Carmel – 1 Kings 18:17-40

God reveals Himself to Elijah on Mt. Horeb – 1 Kings 19

Elijah carried up by the chariot of fire – 2 Kings 2

Elisha saves Israel from attack from Aram – 2 Kings 6

Key Themes

A chain of bad kings in Israel

After Solomon’s death and the split of the nation of Israel into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, the Biblical narrative becomes an interweaving of stories of the reigns of the kings in the two kingdoms.  Each king is judged within the Scripture based on their own faithfulness to God and how they lead the people to worship the one God.  The kings of the northern kingdom of Israel are judged most harshly, beginning with Jeroboam, who built golden calves for his people to worship so that they would not travel to Judah and Jerusalem to worship.  After Jeroboam came Nadab (1 Kings 15:25-31), Baasha (1 Kings 15:32-16:6), Elah (1 Kings 16:8-14), Zimri (1 Kings 16:15-20), Omri (1 Kings 16:21-28), and Ahab, who is prominent in the stories of Elijah.  Under each king, Israel grows more and more distant from God, causing God to call out individuals to bring messages of conviction and warning to the kings and to the people.

The prophets

Though we have seen other individuals (such as Samuel and Nathan) who have been identified as prophets, Elijah is the first of what might be considered the prophetic movement that makes up such a large part of the Old Testament.  Whereas earlier prophets seemed to have strong connections with the king and his court, Elijah and those prophets that follow after him often stand outside of the royal palace with a message not only for the king but for all of the people.  We often associate the message of the prophets with predictions of the future.  However, the main theme of the prophets was to point out Israel’s sins, to express God’s anger at Israel’s unfaithfulness, and to call Israel back to a right relationship with God before their choices led to horrible consequences.  As opposed to the former prophets who were often welcomed into the king’s presence, many of the prophets like Elijah and those who followed after him would be rejected and even hunted by the kings who sat on the throne.

 

Background Information

Elijah

Very little is known about Elijah prior to his abrupt introduction in 1 Kings 17:1.  We know that he was from Gilead in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  How he came to be called as a prophet is unknown.  His prophetic work took place during the reigns of King Ahab and his son Ahaziah.

Elijah’s prophetic ministry centered on combating the worship of Baal in Israel.  This particular Baal worship, according to 1 Kings, had been introduced into Israel by Ahab’s wife Jezebel, who was from Tyre.  According to 2 Kings 10:18, Ahab offered Baal “small service”, perhaps indicating that he did not completely abandon the worship of Yahweh.  The Anchor Bible Dictionary points out that all 3 of Ahab’s sons’ names contained a form of the divine name of Yahweh.  However, he clearly allowed and participated in the worship of other gods besides Yahweh, a direct breaking of the covenant.  In 1 Kings 18:21, Elijah asks the people, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?”  Elijah’s prophetic message was centered on proclaiming that Yahweh was the one and only God.  Perhaps the best summary of his teaching comes in the prayer he prays on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18:36:  “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding.  Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

In 1 Kings 18, Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a contest.  A famine has existed over the land for some time as punishment for Israel’s lack of complete devotion to God.  Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to meet him on top of Mt. Carmel to see whose god can bring fire down upon on altar for a sacrifice.  The challenge is intended to not only reveal God’s superiority but to reveal the foolishness of any other god.  Indeed, the portrayal of the prophets of Baal is comical, and Elijah himself mocks them and Baal.  In short, Elijah is trying to reveal the idiocy of following any god other than Yahweh, the God of Israel.

In 2 Kings 2:11, we are told that Elijah is carried into heaven by a whirlwind.  Because Elijah did not die, over time an expectation grew that Elijah would someday return.  The prophet Malachi would give voice to this expectation in Malachi 4:5-6, when he announced that God would send Elijah before the day of the LORD.  When Elijah came, Malachi said, he would cause the people to repent and turn back to God.  This expectation of Elijah’s return would become an integral part of the gospel accounts of Jesus, as Elijah is seen on the mount of Transfiguration and John the Baptist is identified with Elijah.

 

Elisha

In 1 Kings 19, a depressed Elijah meets with God on top of Mt. Horeb.  There God gives Elijah instructions, which includes anointing Elisha as his successor.  It is Elisha who will ultimately carry out the instructions that God gives to Elijah.

Elisha seems to have come from wealth, based on what we read in 1 Kings 19:19-21.  The fact that he had twelve oxen and that he throws a lavish feast for the people of his town before he leaves with Elijah indicates that he was from a family of means in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Elisha’s prophetic work begins at the end of the reign of King Ahab and spans the reigns of Ahaziah, Joram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Joash.  All of these kings except for Jehu are remembered as evil for failing to turn to the worship of the one God.  Jehu is praised for wiping out the worship of Baal from Israel.  However, he failed to tear down the golden calves that King Jeroboam had built.

Though we see Elijah perform several miracles, the Biblical account of Elisha focuses heavily on the miracles that he performs.  Many of the miracles are miracles of provision or healing, revealing God as caring about the needs of people – providing for the family of the Shunammite woman, removing the poison from a pot of stew, feeding a town facing famine, curing an Aramean general, even recovering an ax head lost in the river.  Elisha’s miracles make all the more heartbreaking the overall turning from God that we see taking place under each of the kings of Israel.  While God’s heart is open to his people, their hearts are becoming more closed to God and to His prophet Elisha.

As a prophet, Elisha also instigates the revolution that would ultimately take down the family of Ahab.  In 2 Kings 9, Elisha sends a young prophet to anoint Jehu, a commander in the army, as the new king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Following this event, Jehu leads a revolt that kills King Joram (son of Ahab) of Israel, King Ahaziah of Judah, and Jezebel.  As Samuel and Nathan before him and as Isaiah and Jeremiah after him, Elisha stands as a prophet whose message is not just a spoken word but taking an active part in shaping Israel’s history according to the will of God.

 

Amos

Jeroboam II would follow Joash to the throne of Israel.  His reign in Israel would be long and peaceful, and Israel would know expansion and prosperity that it would never know again in its history under Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23-27).  Many within Israel seem to have interpreted this peace and prosperity as a sign of God’s favor, perhaps because they have given extravagant support to the official worship of Yahweh.

Amos was a shepherd from the small Judean village of Tekoa who God calls to come to the Northern Kingdom with a message of denunciation.  The two primary themes of Amos’ message are justice and righteousness – “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).  When Amos speaks of righteousness, he is speaking of the willingness to act with benevolence towards another person. Justice is, therefore, the willingness of a society to treat all people with righteousness, not just a few.  According to Amos, righteousness and justice are lacking in Israel, a sign that they are failing to live up to the expectations of a people in a covenant relationship with God (Amos 3:1-2).  Amos lays a harsh blame upon the priests of Israel, believing that the worship life of Israel is calling the people to complacency rather than righteousness and justice (Amos 4:1-5).

Amos mentions specifically Bethel and Gilgal as the root of Israel’s sins (Amos 4:4, 5:5).  Bethel and Gilgal had special significance for Israel’s covenant relationship with God.  Bethel was where God appeared to Jacob in a dream and promised to give him the land on which he slept (the vision of the heavenly stairway, Genesis 28:13).  Gilgal was where Joshua and the children of Israel established a monument of 12 stones to remind later generations that God had dried up the waters of the Jordan River so that Israel could cross into the Promised Land (Joshua 4:20-24).  These two places had become centers for the worship for God, yet it seems that the worship that is taking place there is not worship that calls the people to be God’s people.  The issue for Amos is not so much the worship of other gods as worship that does not provoke the justice and righteousness that should be expected of God’s people.

 

Hosea

Though Hosea’s ministry probably took place simultaneous to or soon after the prophetic ministry of Amos, the circumstances of his ministry and message are very different.  Unlike Amos, Hosea was from the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Little is known about Hosea’s personal life other than the details of his marriage and children that are a part of his prophetic message.  While he addresses Israel’s worship life as Amos did, his concern is much more for the rituals of worship.

Hosea’s message is filled with language of sexuality, prostitution, and adultery.  This is very intentional, as Hosea is proclaiming that Israel, in how it worships, is betraying God (Hosea 4:1).  The problem may not be the worship of gods other than Yahweh; instead, it seems that Israel is trying to worship God with rituals taken from the worship of Baal, including temple prostitution and drunken orgies (Hosea 4:10-14).

Though the promise of grace and restoration is not unique to Hosea, it is perhaps most eloquently stated by Hosea.  The language of betrayal and adultery conveys both the depth of God’s anger (Hosea 11:1-7, 13:1-16) and the power when that anger relents because of God’s love (Hosea 11:8-11, 14:1-9).  Hosea’s message is that mankind’s sin does not wipe away God’s eternal love.

 

Some Questions That Might Come Up

What is it exactly that is taking place on Mt. Horeb in 1 Kings 19?

Elijah is fleeing for his life from Jezebel, who has sworn to kill him after he slaughters the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18).  Elijah is praying and asking God to kill him.  Instead, God gives him something to eat and drink and tells him to go to Mt. Horeb to meet with Him.

On the mountain, Elijah is told that the LORD is going to appear to him.  Soon after, there is a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but the Scripture says the LORD was not present in any of these events.  This is significant because these occurrences were often signs of God’s presence. In Genesis 1:2, we are told that a “wind from God” moved over the face of the waters.  In Exodus 3, the burning bush is a sign of God’s presence before Moses.  In Exodus 19:18, Mt. Sinai shakes and trembles as God appears to Israel on the mountain.  That none of these indicates the presence of God is defying of expectation and a cue that we need to keep alert for God’s presence to show up in new and unexpected ways.

Depending on what translation you are reading, Elijah next hears either “a still small voice” or “the sound of sheer silence”.  The second translation is the more accurate translation of the Hebrew; however, the text would indicate to us that Elijah hears something.  It could be that it was a gentle whisper or perhaps the text is indicating that what Elijah hears is what we could describe as “the calm after the storm”.  In any case, the text is contrasting the roar and loudness of the wind, earthquake and fire with the stillness that now follows and is the indicator of God’s presence.

This text refuses to lock us in to only looking for God in certain ways and actions.  God can work and appear in the grand, majestic and loud or in the still, hushed and quiet.

 

Additional Resources

http://www.vtaide.com/gleanings/Kings-of-Israel/kings.html – a listing of the kings of Israel and Judah

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Week 14 – A Kingdom Torn in Two

Scripture Readings:  1 Kings 12-16

Major Themes

 

Right Worship

Tearing down of “high places”

Idolatry (Golden Calves, Asherim)

 

Political Struggle

Jeroboam v Rehoboam

Israel v Judah

 

Obedience to/Fulfillment of God’s Word

Jeroboam

Man of God

 

Man of God

 

          Who is this man of God? (13:1)

          “Alter, Alter!” – Why does he prophecy against the alter, and not against Jeroboam? (v2)

Where does he go wrong? (v21)

 

Jeroboam’s Downfall/Israel’s Downfall

 

  • Jeroboam as fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy (1 Samuel 8:10-22) – representative of the failure of the kings to bring lasting peace
  • Jeroboam’s parallels with Saul and David
    • Loss God’s favor (11:31, 14:7f)
    • Loss of child (14:17)

Week 13 – The King Who Had It All

Scripture Reading:  1 Kings 1-8, 10-11; 2 Chronicles 5-7; Proverbs 1-3, 6, 20-21

Significant Moments in The Story

Solomon anointed as King David’s successor – 1 Kings 1

The death of King David – 1 Kings 2

The wisdom of Solomon – 1 Kings 3

Solomon’s building programs – 1 Kings 5-7, 2 Chronicles 5-7

The dedication of the Temple – 1 Kings 8

Solomon’s failures – 1 Kings 11

Key Themes

Sacred space

The building and dedication of the Temple is the defining achievement of Solomon’s reign as king.  We are given tremendous details about the ornateness and grandeur of the Temple structure.  However, we cannot forget that the importance of the Temple was understood not in the building materials but in the belief that the Temple was where God lived and ruled.  The space of the Temple captured the idea that God intends to dwell among His people.  As we move forward, we will see that there will be times where the space itself or the rituals that take place in it will seem to become more important than the understanding of the presence of God.  Today, we can struggle with making our church buildings or our church programs more important than communion with the living God.  In his words of dedication, Solomon reminded the people that the Temple was for those who had sinned, those who are sinned against, those who have experienced loss, those who are experiencing trials, those who are strangers, and those who find themselves embattled.  It is for them not because of the building itself but because it provides an opportunity for individuals and the community to come and pour their hearts out to God.  It is space to worship and praise the Creator of the universe for His sake, not for the sake of the building.

Wisdom

Solomon is still remembered today as wise.  However, what is meant by “the wisdom of Solomon”?  There are various understandings of wisdom that we see in Solomon’s story.  On the one hand, we see Solomon display wisdom in terms of his ability to consolidate his power as a king and form important alliances.  Solomon shows shrewdness, cunning, and the ability to build relationships that bring fortune and glory to Israel.  He also seems to be a good administrator, overseeing a tremendous building campaign that results in the Temple, a royal home, as well as several other structures.  In addition, he efficiently organizes a kingdom larger than any ruler in Israel has ever known and proves to be a good adjudicator of legal cases.

A second understanding of wisdom emerges from the Proverbs, traditionally associated with Solomon.  In short, wisdom here is defined as the ability to seek out God and His work in everyday life and apply the truths of God and His word so that one lives in faithfulness and righteousness.  One could argue that Solomon’s excellence in the first area of wisdom ultimately compromised his wisdom in this second area.

“Except that…”

1 Kings 3:3 says, “Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.”  Solomon’s life is a reminder that faithfulness is not a goal where our objective should be anything less than 100% success.  God’s righteousness is not defined by being good and holy most of the time.  Jesus himself said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:19, 48).

 

Background Information

Adonijah’s claim to the throne – 1 Kings 1:5-2:25

It would seem, by age, that Adonijah is the presumptive heir to the throne.  Adonijah was born to David during that time when Saul was seeking to kill David.  Adonijah was the fourth son born to David during this time.  The oldest son, Amnon, was killed by Absalom because of his rape of Tamar.  We know nothing of David’s second son other than the mention of his birth in 2 Samuel 3:3 and 1 Chronicles 3:1.  Some suggest he may have died in childhood.  The third son, Absalom, was killed by Joab after he rose in revolt against David.

It is interesting that, unlike David and Saul, Solomon is raised up to the throne seemingly less by divine decree or prophetic act and more by political intrigue and manipulation.  There seems to have been some uncertainty as to who exactly was the rightful heir, and Adonijah decides to start acting like the king so as to remove any rival claimants to the throne.  However, Nathan and Bathsheba act quickly to have the people proclaim Solomon the king.

In response to Nathan and Bathsheba’s plotting, Adonijah seeks to claim the throne in a more roundabout way.  Using Bathsheba as his go-between, Adonijah asks that Abishag the Shunammite, a nurse and concubine to David, be given to him as his wife.  Solomon sees through the request, though, as an attempt by Adonijah to identify himself as the successor to David in marriage and thus on the throne.

The high places – 1 Kings 3:2

The high places were local shrines or altars.  In the Old Testament, the high places will be associated with the worship of other gods, though at this point we should not necessarily assume such a connection.  It is possible that some of these local shrines were being used to worship Israel’s God but were shrines left over from the Canaanite peoples who inhabited the land before Israel and who worshiped other gods.  In 1 Kings 11:7-8, we are told that Solomon built “high places”, or altars, to the foreign gods that were worshiped by his wives.

Solomon’s governors – 1 Kings 4:7-19

Up until now, the indication is that the tribal leaders served as local governors in the different regions of Israel.  However, Solomon relies on his own appointed governors to manage the regions of the country, and these governors did not necessarily have any tribal connections to the regions to which they were appointed.  Each region was required to provide food for the king and his household for one month out of the year.  It was the governor’s responsibility to insure that each region provided what was expected.  There is some speculation that this organization and taxation may have contributed to the civil unrest at the end of Solomon’s reign.  Another contributing factor may have been the forced labor that Solomon used for his grand building programs (1 Kings 5:13)

How long did it take? – 1 Kings 6:38-7:1

It is interesting to note that Solomon took 7 years to build the Temple and thirteen to build his palace.  The Temple was built so close to the palace that there is some speculation that Solomon was attempting to make the Temple an annex of the palace, symbolizing that the religious life of Israel was under the control of the king.

Solomon’s wives – 1 Kings 11:1-3

Solomon is perhaps as known for his numerous wives as he is his wisdom.  700 wives?  300 concubines?  It should be noted that royal marriages in ancient times were often as much about politics as anything else.  It was not unusual for a king to give his daughter in marriage to another king as a sign of peace and agreement between the two countries.  Thus, Solomon’s large number of wives may say more about his ability as a head of state than anything else.  However, the Deuteronomic author of 1 Kings clearly believes that the reason for the troubles at the end of Solomon’s reign are to be found in his intermarriage with foreign women and his providing for the worship of foreign gods within Israel.

Proverbs

The book of Proverbs has traditionally been attributed to Solomon based on 1 Kings 4:32 as well as references within the book of Proverbs itself.  While it is certainly likely that many of these proverbs came from the time of Solomon, not necessarily all of the contents of the book are to be attributed to Solomon and some clearly came from later times, perhaps even after the Babylonian exile.

The book of Proverbs is part of what is often called the Wisdom tradition, which focuses on coping with daily experiences.  Other books associated with the Wisdom tradition include Job and Ecclesiastes.  In the case of Proverbs, the emphasis is on understanding through observation and learning how faith is made manifest in day to day life.  The Proverbs echo in many ways a Deuteronomic mindset:  righteousness leads to happiness, evil leads to suffering.  However, the proverbs are designed specifically to be teaching tools used by older parents/teachers to instruct young people.

 

Week 12 – The Trials of a King

Scripture Reading:  2 Samuel 11-12, 18-19; 1 Chronicles 22, 29; Psalms 23, 32, 51

Significant Moments in The Story:

David’s affair with Bathsheba – 2 Samuel 11

The prophet Nathan confronts David about his affair with Bathsheba – 2 Samuel 12:1-15, Psalm 51

The birth of Solomon – 2 Samuel 12:24-25

The rape of David’s daughter Tamar by David’s son Amnon – 2 Samuel 13:1-22

David’s son Absalom kills Amnon and flees – 2 Samuel 13:23-36

Absalom leads a revolt against David and usurps the throne – 2 Samuel 15

Absalom’s revolt is put down and Absalom is killed – 2 Samuel 18

The death of David – 1 Kings 2, 1 Chronicles 29

Key Themes:

God knows our sins

David thought he had the perfect plan to cover up his affair with Bathsheba.  However, his plans and schemes could not hide his sin from God.  The prophet Samuel had said that God looks upon the heart.  That means that God not only sees our character, our faith, and our righteousness.  He also sees that sin which we have sought to hide and bury away, hoping nobody will ever find out about it.  When we read Psalm 32 and Psalm 51, we are reminded that God would rather we confess our sins to Him so that we can receive fully his forgiveness.  Unfortunately, we are too often like David, trying to hide our sin and thus running away from the very grace God wants to offer.

Forgiveness and consequences

In 2 Samuel 12:13-14, David repents of his sin and Nathan assures him that God has forgiven him.  However, God’s forgiveness does not protect David and his family from the consequences of David’s sin.  This theme will recur in the story of Absalom.  Absalom’s revolt is, in part, portrayed as a punishment of David’s affair with Bathsheba.  However, we could say that the revolt is perhaps even better understood as a consequence of another of David’s sins:  his unwillingness to punish his son Amnon for raping his half-sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13).  Because David was unwilling to act and unwilling to protect his own daughter, Absalom’s own anger is allowed to grow until it results in murder and revolution.  This tragic family history is a solemn reminder that forgiveness may remove the guilt and eternal hold of sin from our lives but it does not necessarily mean that sin’s consequences are removed.

The joy of giving

1 Chronicles 29 tells us how David and other leaders gave willingly and freely of what they had to provide for the building of the Temple.  So many times, we think of our tithes and offerings as obligations and necessities.  1 Chronicles 29, though, describes the joy when we see giving not as what we have to do but what we have the blessing and opportunity to do.  Rather than thinking in terms of percentages and tax relief, our gifts and offerings that we bring each Sunday should be exuberant expressions of our love for God and our desire to see His glory revealed.

Background Information

“In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle …” – 2 Samuel 11:1

It was typical for most military campaigns in the ancient Near East to take place before the harvest had arrived.  The place of a king was to be leading his armies into battle.  However, the story of David’s affair with Bathsheba begins with a problem:  David is not where he is supposed to be.  Rather than being on the battlefield, he is in Jerusalem.  He has sent his generals out into the field in his place.

Later in the story, we see one of the many problems with David not being where he is supposed to be.  In 2 Samuel 12:26-31, Joab sends word back to David that he is about to conquer the Ammonite capital of Rabbah.  Joab tells David that if he does not come out onto the battlefield with the rest of his armies, that Joab will go ahead and conquer the city and claim the victory as his own.   For David, who was on the good side of the crowds singing about Saul killing his thousands and David his ten thousands, this prospect opened a possibility of the people changing their allegiance to Joab away from him.  As we will see in the case of Absalom, allegiance to David as king was not absolute.

Uriah the Hittite

The Hittites were not Israelites but settlers from the north.  By the time of David, there were not many Hittites in the land, and those that remained took Hebrew names.

“… he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun” – 2 Samuel 12:11

When David’s son Absalom leads a revolution against David and claims the throne, Absalom takes David’s concubines up to the roof of David’s house and has sex with them in public (2 Samuel 16:20-23).  Absalom’s act is not only intended to be an insult to his father but also his way of laying claim to David’s throne by claiming the concubines as his own.  Here, in 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan foretells this event and frames it as a part of the punishment of David’s affair with Bathsheba and his plan to cover it up.  David had tried to hide his disgrace, and so his punishment will be that his disgrace will be put before all the eyes of the people to see.

Shimei, Ziba, and Mephibosheth – 2 Samuel 19:16-30

These three men played interesting roles in David’s escape from Jerusalem during Absalom’s revolution.

Shimei was a member of Saul’s family who followed David along the road during his escape from Absalom.  While he followed David, we are told he hurled stones and curses at David (2 Samuel 16:5-14).  When some of David’s troops offer to go kill him, David stops them, saying that he deserves what he is getting.  Later on, when David addresses Solomon before Solomon takes the throne, David instructs Solomon to see to it that Shimei is killed.

Mephibosheth was a son of Jonathan who was crippled.  Ziba was his servant.  After David took the throne, he wanted to be able to show some kind of kindness to Jonathan’s family.  When he found out about Mephibosheth, David gave him all of the land that had belonged to Saul and invited Mephibosheth to sit and dine at his table as one of David’s own sons (2 Samuel 9).  During Absalom’s revolt, Ziba meets David with food and wine.  When David asks Ziba where Mephibosheth is, Ziba claims that Mephibosheth has stayed behind in Jerusalem, celebrating David’s defeat and looking for an opportunity to reclaim his family’s throne.  David hastily announces that all that he had given to Mephibosheth now belongs to Ziba (2 Samuel 16:1-4).  As we read here, Mephibosheth claims upon David’s return that his intention had been to ride out to meet David himself but that Ziba had left him behind as a trick to undermine Mephibosheth in David’s eyes and claim Mephibosheth’s property as his own.

David’s preparations for the Temple – 1 Chronicles 22

Remember that David had intended to build a temple for God himself.  God, however, spoke through the prophet Nathan to tell David that his son would build the Temple, not David (1 Chronicles 17).  Though David is not allowed to build the Temple himself, he does take steps to insure that Solomon will have the materials, manpower, and leadership to get the task done.

Some Questions that May Come Up

Why do get the stories of David in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles?

Though the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles make up 6 total books of the Old Testament, they are probably best understood as only 2 different writings.  Samuel and Kings make up a continuous narrative of the period of the kings of Israel.  These books are written from a perspective that tends to be very critical of kingship and is heavily influenced by the Deuteronomic idea that faithfulness to God will lead to blessing while disobedience of God will result in curses upon the nation, the people, and the land.  The Chronicles seem to draw on material from Samuel and Kings as well as other sources to give a history of Israel from creation through the return from exile in Babylon.  However, the view of kingship, especially the portrayal of David and his dynasty, are much more positive.  In the Chronicles, David’s kingdom and the establishment of the Temple symbolizes the bond between God and Israel.  It should be noted that incidents like David’s affair with Bathsheba is described in 2 Samuel but appears nowhere in the book of Chronicles.

Why are Judah and Israel arguing in 2 Samuel 19?

After Absalom’s revolt is quashed and Absalom is dead, there is a period of uncertainty for David and for the people of his nation.  Is David the king again?  Do the people really want him back at all?  David wants to be asked back, to be welcomed by his people.  However, there are some, it seems, within the northern tribes of Israel (interestingly, where Saul was from) who seem uncertain whether David can lead them.  David asks the people of his own southern region of Judah to invite him back into the land and into power.  When they do, the people of the northern tribes of Israel cry that they are being slighted by being left out of the welcoming of David to power.

This story, though confusing, is setting up what will become the defining narrative of The Story following the reign of Solomon:  the split of the united kingdom of Israel into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.  The split will take place in part because of rival claims to the throne and rival claims to the appropriate center of the worship of God.  However, we see this rivalry in its early stages in 2 Samuel 19.  David had been very wise in how he had managed and unified the various tribes of Israel into one kingdom.  For example, his selection of Jerusalem as the capital of the nation and the home for the ark of the covenant was inspired.  Jerusalem had not previously been inhabited by any Israelites, but by the foreign nation of the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5).  Thus, when David conquered the city and made it his capital, it had no affiliation with any one tribe or region.  It’s central location only contributed to an understanding that there was no favoritism in the choice of the capital and that David cared and ruled equally over all Israel.  Here, in 2 Samuel 19, we see that unity beginning to fray.

Week 11 – From Shepherd to King

Scripture Reading:  1 Samuel 16-18, 24, 31; 2 Samuel 6, 22; 1 Chronicles 17; Psalm 59

Significant Moments in The Story

David anointed by Samuel as the next king of Israel – 1 Samuel 16

David battles the Philistine warrior, Goliath – 1 Samuel 17

David spares the life of King Saul – 1 Samuel 24

The death of King Saul & Jonathan – 1 Samuel 31

David brings the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem – 2 Samuel 6

God promises to establish a lineage for David – 1 Chronicles 17

Key Themes

The will of God

Throughout this section of The Story, we see that God does not see and do things the way that man sees and does things.  Samuel was ready to anoint the first and oldest of Jesse’s sons as the new king; however, God says he has the youngest in mind instead.  The Israelites were fearful of facing Goliath because of his size and his armaments, which were the best one could possess.  However, David understood that human armaments were no match for the power of God conveyed in a slingshot and 1 stone.  As king, David determined he would build a house for God, as grand as the house that David lived in.  God sends Nathan to tell David that God doesn’t want or need a house; instead, he wants to be in the midst of His people. So often we assume that God thinks and acts the way that we would.  We forget that Scripture teaches us that God’s ways are not our ways.  God has a unique plan and purposes, which is why a relationship with Him is so important.  We invest our very lives in understanding and discerning the unique will of a unique God.

God our Deliverer

1 Samuel 17, 2 Samuel 22, and Psalm 59 are all expressions of God’s ability to deliver Israel and David from harm.  These stories serve as reminders that God’s will is not to oppose His people but to fight for His people.  Often times, when are in crisis or in a time of struggle, we assume that God is our enemy and our opponent.  It is not always easy to cry out that God is is “my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer” when the enemy seemingly is perched on our doorstep.  However, these stories remind us that God greatest desire is to be with us, and He will go to the greatest lengths to make that relationship possible.

The power of art

David has been associated with music and poetry through the Psalms for centuries.  We see him playing the lyre for King Saul to soothe him.  It reminds of something I heard this past weekend while attending the North Carolina Middle School State Honors Chorus concert.  The choir director asked the students to write 4 sentences about why they thought music was important.  The director shared that one student wrote, “Music is power.  The world is full of destructive power; music is power that does not destroy, but builds up and moves us.”

Background Information

Saul’s “evil” spirit – 1 Samuel 16:14

There are some who believe that the word here is better translated as a “troubling” spirit as opposed to an “evil” spirit. Many believe that this was the ancient way of describing one who suffered from mental illness.  Others wonder if this is just the biblical way of detailing Saul’s wrestling with the reality that the throne has been taken away from him even though he is still the king.

Jonathan and David – 1 Samuel 18:1-4

When we read that Jonathan gave David his robe and his armor and his weapons, we should see more than just a generous act of friendship.  Jonathan was the heir apparent to the throne of Saul.  However, remember that Samuel referenced the tearing of a robe as symbolic of the kingdom being torn from the hands of Saul and given into the hands of “his neighbor” (1 Samuel 15:28).  In this case, the giving of the robe may be symbolic of Jonathan willingly giving over his claim to the throne to David.

The recovery of Saul’s body – 1 Samuel 31:11-13

In 1 Samuel 11, the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead were being persecuted by Nahash the Ammonite, who agreed to make a peace treaty with them only he could gouge out the right eye of every citizen.  It was Saul who came to the defense of the citizens and defeated the Ammonites.  Now, the citizens of Jabesh-gilead repay Saul’s loyalty to them by refusing the allow his body and the bodies of his sons to be desecrated and humiliated by the Philistines.

Jerusalem – 2 Samuel 5 & 6

After he is named king by the Israelites, we are told that David captures the city of Jerusalem, which had been occupied by the Jebusites.  The indication of the text is that David took the city not with the armies of Israel but with his personal army that had formed around him as he ran from King Saul.  This explains how the city could come to be called “the city of David”, because he truly took possession of it himself.  The decision to make Jerusalem his capital was wise.  Since it had been previously occupied by the Jebusites, it had no connection to any particular region or tribe of Israel, making it a good neutral city.  In addition, the city relatively centrally located and easy to defend since it sat upon a hill.

The ark of the covenant – 2 Samuel 6

1 Samuel 4-7 describes how the ark of the covenant was captured in battle by the Philistines.  However, while they possessed the ark, the Philistines encountered many hardships, and so they voluntarily returned the ark to the Israelites.  For 20 years, the ark had been kept in a town called Kiriath-jearim (or Baale-judah).  The decision to move the ark to Jerusalem was important for several reasons.  First, it established Jerusalem as the political and religious center of Israel.  Second, it was a statement that the kingship could serve Israel’s faith and not oppose it, as Samuel had suggested when Israel first asked for a king.  Third, it established this newly established kingdom of Israel as the successor to the Israel of the wilderness and the Israel of Joshua and Judges.  In essence, it was now understood that the king was responsible for protecting the sacred institutions of the past.  Finally, it was another way of distancing David from Saul.  Whereas Saul kept the ark (and, therefore, the presence of God) at a distance, David brings the ark into the heart of his kingdom and reign.

Psalm 59

Often times, we read the psalms without considering their context.  In this case, this Psalm is associated with the period when David was being hunted down by King Saul.  From that standpoint, it should be read between reading 1 Samuel 18 and 1 Samuel 24.

There is some question as to whether or not all of the Psalms attributed to David were actually written by David.  However, what is more significant is that this psalm is intended to convey David’s feelings and faith in the circumstances which he encountered in life.  Therefore, it is appropriate to read it in that context as well as reading it in the context of a general prayer for God’s help in the face of overwhelming odds.

Some Questions That Might Come Up

How come King Saul has no idea who David is in 1 Samuel 17:55-58?  

The story of David and Goliath is one of the stories that is so well-known, yet upon reading it we are struck by some unusual circumstances in the text.  For one thing, 2 Samuel 21:19 tells us that Goliath of Gath was slain at a later time by one of David’s warriors, Elhanan.  1 Chronicles 20:5 says that Elhanan killed Goliath’s brother.  These three passages, when put together, raise the question of whether David himself killed Goliath or whether he killed another Philistine champion who was later mistakenly identified as Goliath of Gath.

A second oddity of the text is how Saul suddenly has no idea who David is at the end of the story.  In chapter 16, we were told that David played the lyre for Saul and became his armor bearer.  In 1 Samuel 17:15, we are told that David traveled back and forth between Saul and his father’s sheep.  And yet, in 1 Samuel 17:55-58, Saul has no idea who David is.

These textual oddities have caused many to wonder if the story of David and Goliath is actually a combination of several different stories about David’s rise to prominence that were combined together to make this one narrative.

Additional Resources

Week 10 – Standing Tall, Falling Hard

Psalm 78

“Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;

incline your ears to the words of my mouth!

I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will utter dark sayings from of old,

things that we have heard and known,

that our fathers have told us.

We will not hide them from their children

but tell to the coming generation

the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,

and the wonders which he has wrought.”

Psalm 78 is a recounting of the history of Israel – How do we think about history? – Not “did it happen?” but “do you remember?”

Major Themes of Samuel

Fathers and Sons (Eli, Samuel, Saul, David)

Leadership – Is Kingship a good thing? – competing voices in Samuel – Saul v. David

God’s sovereignty/favor

Birth of Samuel

 

Hannah’s song – echoes Samson’s birth (Judges) & Magnificat (Luke) – God’s sovereignty – “The LORD kills and brings to life”

Samuel’s calling – Samuel serving God but did not know the LORD (3:1,7) – out with the old and in with the new – Samuel’s fear and Eli’s understanding

Saul’s Reign

Why do the people want a king? – the Philistines – Saul’s first battle 13:9

Saul as “good” – utterly memorable and tragic – comparisons with Moses

Why did Saul fall out of favor?

A)  Political – north (Israel, Saul) v south (Judah, David)?

B)  Theological – Saul’s disobedience and failure to repent

C)  Symbolic – Saul represents something beyond himself (the people) – 722 B.C. fall of Northern Kingdom – Saul is one who stood head and shoulders above everyone else (as did Israel) – God & Promise on Israel

Week 9 – The Faith of a Foreign Woman

Scripture Reading:  Ruth 1-4

Significant Moments in The Story

Naomi’s family leaves famine-stricken Israel for Moab – Ruth 1

Naomi and Ruth return as widows to Bethlehem – Ruth 1

Ruth gleans in Boaz’s fields – Ruth 2

Boaz and Elimelech’s next-of-kin agree that Boaz will marry Ruth – Ruth 4

Obed, the grandfather of King David, is born to Ruth and Boaz – Ruth 4

Key Themes

Kindness and faithfulness

The book of Ruth is a book about hesed, a Hebrew word which can be translated as “kindness” or “loyalty” or “faithfulness”.  Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz all speak of hesed (Ruth 1:8, 2:13, 2:20, and 3:10).  Ruth and Boaz are put forth as models of what it means to live life with kindness and faithfulness, and their hesed has a direct impact on the life of Naomi.  Hesed is also a word commonly used in the Old Testament to describe God.  God never appears directly in the story of the book of Ruth, though his name appears frequently.  Perhaps Ruth and Boaz are also living parables of the character of God.

The stranger and the alien

The story never lets us forget that Ruth is a Moabite.  The Moabites were long-time enemies of Israel, spanning from the Exodus until the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah after Israel’s return from exile in Babylon.  And yet, it is this foreigner – this enemy even – that models and lives out the faithfulness expected of Israel.  What more, Ruth is the great-grandmother of King David, of whose line the Messiah will be expected to arise.  Therefore, the story of Ruth would have struck the ears of the ancient Israelites with much the same shock as the Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), where the “enemy” turns out to be the good neighbor.  Ruth’s story reminds us, at this point in the biblical story, that God has chosen Israel as His people, but his ultimate will and purpose expands beyond the people of Israel.  We are also forced by the story to ask the same question that Jesus is asked when he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, “Who is my neighbor?”  Ruth’s story calls into question our attitudes towards those we automatically deem our enemy and those who are strangers to us.

God’s more subtle ways

Though God never directly speaks or appears in the story of Ruth, His presence and His work are understood as running throughout the narrative.  The story of Ruth has no burning bushes, parting waters, or angel appearances.  Instead, we are reminded that God works in the quieter, more subtle ways.  A life of faithfulness believes in God’s miraculous and amazing works, but also makes room for the still, small voices and the gentle guiding of God’s Holy Spirit.

Background Information

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land …” – Ruth 1:1

The story of Ruth takes place during the days of the judges, a time we have already seen as an often dark and violent period in Israel’s history.  Perhaps we see in this verse a subtle hint of Deuteronomic theology (righteousness will be blessed, unfaithfulness will bring curses) – there was a famine in the land because Israel was once again unfaithful.  This might be heightened by the fact that we are told that Elimelech takes his family and leaves Israel to go to the land of Israel’s hated enemy, Moab.  Is this an act of unfaithfulness?  Is Elimelech unwilling to trust that God will provide, and so he forsakes the land God gave Israel to depend upon the land (and the gods) of Moab?

Understanding the setting as the time of the judges also helps us understand the circumstances in place when Ruth and Naomi return to Israel.  Here are two single women returning to a land where women have been the victims of horrible violence and exploitation (Judges 19,21).  Boaz’s concern for Ruth in Ruth 2:8-9 is perhaps an indication that circumstances have not changed much.  The challenge that Naomi and Ruth faced living in Israel was great indeed.

Mara – Ruth 1:20

The name Mara is best translated as “Bitter”, whereas the name Naomi means “Beautiful” or “Pleasant”.  Thus, Naomi’s name change indicates that her circumstances have changed her physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  In one sense, we could say that, though this book is named for Ruth, it is really a story about Naomi.  She is the only character in the story that truly goes through a dramatic change.  The woman who begins the story as Bitter, sure that God has intentionally sought to bring harm to her and complaining that she is “empty”, ends the story with all the women of the town pronouncing her blessed.  Throughout the story, we have seen this empty woman’s arms be filled with grain and, in the end, with a child who will preserve her family’s name and place in Israel.

Gleaning – Ruth 2:3

Deuteronomy 24:19-22 instructs the Israelites to open their fields to the widows and aliens in their midst.  If crops were forgotten, dropped, or left behind in the fields, they were to be left for widows, orphans, and aliens to gather for their own needs.  Boaz’s faithfulness is exhibited by his obedience to this law as he allows Ruth and other women to glean in his fields.

The threshing floor – Ruth 3

Winnowing depended on the winds to blow away the chaff, and those winds would blow strongest late in the day and in the early evening.  Afterwards, the remaining pile of grain would need to be guarded overnight from theft.  Often times, threshing floors would be open air floors on top of a hill to maximize the wind.

Ruth 3 cannot be read without admitting that there is a strong essence of the sensual and sexual in the text.  Around the time when Ruth was likely written, threshing floors had a connotation connected with prostitution (Hosea 9:1).  To “uncover his feet” was a euphemism used to refer to exposing one’s genitals.  The phrases about “making yourself known” and “lying with” were common phrases used to refer to sexual relations.  The storytelling in Ruth 3 is exquisite, leaving us wondering exactly what happened between Ruth and Boaz during that night.  This tension though only serves to heighten the understanding that both Boaz and Ruth are examples of hesed – Ruth is faithful to her promise to Naomi, and Boaz honors both Ruth and Naomi as well as honors the law which indicates that there is another kinsman that must be given the opportunity to marry Ruth.

Elimelech’s next of kin – Ruth 4:1-12

The story of Boaz’s meeting with the next-of-kin seems rather odd to many modern ears.  It was customary that, if a man died without fathering any children by his wife, that the man’s brother would marry his sister-in-law and father children with her (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).  These children would be understood to be the children of the deceased man and thus the inheritors of the deceased man’s property.  Boaz is not Elimelech’s closest relative, and so he cannot marry Ruth until the closest next-of-kin renounces his right to marry her.

The city gate was often where legal hearings would take place.  Often times, townspeople would serve as a jury.  Thus, Boaz convenes a legal hearing when he asks the ten men to hear the case between him and the next-of-kin.  They will also serve as witnesses to the agreement that Boaz and the next-of-kin make.

Some Questions That Might Come Up

Why does Boaz take the next-of-kin’s sandal in Ruth 4:7-8

The way the story is told – “Now this was the custom in former times” – indicates that at the time this story was written down, this custom was no longer in practice.  Deuteronomy 25 states that, in a case where a brother-in-law refuses to marry the wife of his dead brother in the presence of the elders, the widow is to come and pull the shoe off his foot, spit in his face, and announce, “This is what is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.”  The practice seems to be an act of humiliation as punishment for not following through on one’s obligation to one’s family.  In the case of Ruth 4, the humiliating aspect of the ceremony seems to have been removed, leaving only the removal of the shoe to serve as a visible reminder of the agreement.

Some Reflection Questions

  1. Meanings of Biblical names are always significant. Elimelek’s name meant “my God is King.” Naomi’s name meant “my pleasantness,” but later asked to be called Mara, meaning “bitterness.” Ruth’s name meant “friendship.” Boaz’s name meant “swift strength.” Who best lived up to their names and who did not?
  2. Compare Naomi’s attitude at the beginning and end of this story. How does her view of God and the Upper Story change?
  3. Look at Ruth and Boaz’s interaction with Naomi. What can you learn about the challenges and benefits of caring for an aging parent? What challenges do you face with your parents?
  4. The period of the Judges was marked by weak faith and irresponsible living, but this foreign woman gives hope. What specific examples of strong faith and responsible living can you find in the characters of Ruth and Boaz?
  5. The story of Ruth demonstrates laws that God had given Israel to take care of marginalized people (Deuteronomy 25:5-10, Leviticus 25:25, Leviticus 19:9-10). What do these laws and customs reveal about the heart of God for the poor, the widow and the orphan? How could your group care for the less fortunate and thereby reflect the heart of God?
  6. The love story of Ruth and Boaz stands in contrast to many of the “love” stories we hear today. What can single men and women learn from their example (note Ruth’s reputation in the community, p. 123, 125, Ruth 2-3).
  7. The word for redeem is used twenty times in this story, making it a key theme. What does it mean to be redeemed? How does Boaz’s redeeming of Ruth compare to our redemption found in Christ?
  8. What some people might call coincidence others call divine providence. What are some key examples of God’s divine providence in this story?

Additional Resources

Week 8 – A Few Good Men…and Women

Scripture Reading:  Judges 2-4, 6-8, 13-16

Significant Moments in The Story

The death of Joshua & Israel’s “cycle of disobedience” – Judges 2

The judge Deborah & the Canaanites – Judges 4

The judge Gideon & the Midianites – Judges 6-8

Gideon’s fleece – Judges 6:36-40

The judge Samson & the Philistines – Judges 13-16

Samson & Delilah – Judges 15

Key Themes

The cycle of disobedience

Judges 2:11-19 establishes what will be the overarching pattern of the book of Judges – Israel will forsake God to worship other gods, they would fall to opposing nations, they would cry out to God for help, God would raise up a judge to deliver the people from their oppression, and a time of peace would follow.  Some interpret Judges not so much as a book of history but a book of religious instruction about the consequences of disobedience.  Indeed, as will be touched on later, there are a number of historical questions surrounding the book of Judges.  However, it also clear from the book itself that the stories told serve a didactic purpose:  even when God’s promises are fulfilled, the covenant relationship with God cannot be ignored.

An understanding of “the land”

To this point in the narrative of Scripture, the Promised Land has been the goal that Israel has been waiting to attain.  The book of Judges, at the very least, is the first descriptions of what living in the Promised Land looked like.

  • The land is a gift.  God intended the land to be a safe place for those who did not previously have a land of their own.  They did not acquire it by their own strength and power, but by the power of God.
  • The land is a summons.  Judges 2:1-2 is God explaining all that he has done for Israel in leading them out of slavery and giving them this land.  God says he will never forsake his covenant.  He then says that the land is both a gift and a calling, a calling to remain faithful to the relationship God has formed with Israel.  How will Israel respond to the gift they have received?
  • The land is a temptation.  Israel is no longer wandering in the wilderness having to look for sources of water and food. They now possess land, it is theirs.  With that safety comes the seduction of security – to forget the land is a gift they received rather than property they earned, to make possession of the land of greater significance than the covenant relationship with God who gave them the land.  Will Israel still be able to see God as the source and foundation of their life when they get into the day-to-day routines of living in the land?

Flawed heroes

The Bible does not put heroes on display through rose-colored glass.  Certainly, this is the case in the book of Judges, perhaps even more so.  Both Gideon and Samson are judges who deliver their people from oppression by foreign nations.  However, they are almost anti-heroes.  Gideon is constantly expressing doubt that God can do what God says He will do.  Before every action, Gideon asks God to prove Himself.  Even in the moment when it seems Gideon finally gets it – when he is asked to be king and he responds “The LORD will rule over you” (Judges 8:22-28) – he follows that up by asking the Israelites to give him their gold so that he can fashion an image which Israel will ultimately bow down to (think about the golden calf story).  Samson, for his part, is portrayed as a brash jerk who has little consideration for anyone besides himself, including God.  The only time that we hear any kind of faith on Samson’s part is when he asks God to give him the strength to bring the roof down on the Philistines (Judges 16:28).  Many of the stories of the judges are stories where we see God’s deliverance worked out through some of the most flawed people and circumstances.

Background Information

Baal – Judges 2:11-13

Baal was the name associated with the Canaanite god of fertility and storms.  In an agrarian culture, where life depended upon good crops and good soil, Baal was the chief god and the worship of Baal was central to the life of the people.  In the book of Judges, we see Israel settling into Canaan, a land where many of surrounding peoples worship Baal.  As Israel establishes roots in Canaan, it seems that they struggle with assimilating the worship of Baal into their worship of God and/or replacing the worship of God with the worship of Baal.  Though it might be easy for us today to ask why they would continue to do this after so many warnings to avoid such entanglements, it must be remembered that matters of faith were not separated out from other aspects of life.  For an agrarian society, the temptation to revere a god who was associated with the storms that renewed the land every year would have been not just a matter of belief but a matter of good business.

Astartes – Judges 2:13

Associated with the Canaanite fertility goddess Ashtoreth, an ally of Baal.

Judges – Judges 2:16

It is important to understand that a judge was not a king – their authority was neither absolute, permanent or hereditary.  Neither was a judge necessarily a legal figure, though Deborah seems to have had some kind of role in settling questions and disputes.  However, that may have been more associated with her role as a prophetess, one who explained the will and word of God to others.  In the book of Judges, the judges are instead portrayed as military leaders who are called out by God’s Spirit to deliver the people from oppression and rule over them for a time.  In some cases, these judges may have only been leaders in their specific tribes or over an alliance of a couple of tribes.

The nations the LORD left – Judges 2:21-23

Joshua 11:16-23 summarizes Joshua’s victories.  The picture that this passage portrays is that Joshua’s conquests were vast and almost absolute, that the people of Canaan save for the Gibeonites were “utterly destroyed.”  However, at the beginning of Judges, the picture that we see is vastly different.  We are told in Judges 1 of numerous groups of nations that continue to live in the land, and Judges 2 clearly says that there were nations that Joshua left when he died.  Judges portrays the continued existence of these nations in the Promised Land as God’s way of testing Israel’s faithfulness.

So how do we explain the two differing accounts that Joshua and Judges present of the Israelites’ conquering of the Promised Land?  There are a good number of historians who believe that Israel’s move into the Promised Land was a much more gradual process, more in line with the portrayal in Judges than in Joshua.  There are some who wonder if the narrative of Joshua reflects Israel’s initial entry and success in the land, basically summarizing the details of many years of fighting.

What should not be overlooked is that both Joshua and Judges are trying to do more than just recount history.  They are seeking to interpret history from a theological perspective.  They are not only seeking to speak to past events, they are seeking to address present issues in the relationship between God and His people.  Perhaps rather than taking on the difficult task of trying to make these seemingly contradicting timelines synchronize, we are better served letting each book speak its unique message.

The tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun – Judges 4:6

Another distinction between Joshua and Judges is that the action in Judges seems more regionalized and restricted to certain tribes.  For example, in the story of Deborah, only 2 tribes are called to fight against the forces of Sisera.  In Joshua, the Israelites are depicted as acting more as one nation.  In Judges, we see much more fragmented action.  This, along with the fact that the total number of years for the judges spans longer than the period of history that these battles actually would have taken place, has led to the idea that Judges may be a collection of stories of specific tribal leaders, some of whom were judges simultaneously.  Israel, at this time in their history, was much more a confederation of twelve tribes than a unified state.  It will not be until well into David’s reign that we will be able to really speak of a unified “Israel”.  Judges probably gives a more accurate portrayal of how Israel existed at this time – a loose alliance of tribes who expected their neighbors to join with them against an enemy or else face dire consequences (see Judges 8:4-17).

Choosing Gideon’s army – Judges 7:1-7

The story of how God leads Gideon to choose his army is fascinating.  However, it must be remembered that God’s purpose, as He explains to Gideon, is to insure that Israel does not take the credit that belongs to God.  First, Gideon tells all those who are afraid to fight to go home.  Then, from those that are left, God tells Gideon to take them to the water to get something to drink.  God tells him to send all those who knelt to get water home and keep all those who lapped the water like dogs.  Why is this such a significant difference?  It might be because those soldiers who lapped the water were likely the least trained, least prepared of all the soldiers.  The soldiers who knelt to drink probably did so that they could keep their head up and their weapon in their hand, ready for a surprise attack.  However, those who lapped the water like dogs would have to put their weapons down and would be completely oblivious to what was happening around them while they drank.  So, God sent Gideon into battle with the smallest group of Israel’s worst soldiers!

Nazirite – Judges 13:5

Interestingly, Samson is referred to more frequently as a nazirite than a judge.  The term means “one consecrated” or “one separated”.  As Judges describes, a nazirite’s dedication to God was symbolized by their refusal to drink of wine or intoxicating beverage and their refusal to cut their hair.  Some were believed to be set apart by a work or calling of God, others chose to become a nazirite of their own volition, in some cases maybe even just for a certain period of time in order to accomplish a specific task.

Some Questions That Might Come Up

Why would Gideon proclaim that only God would rule over Israel and then create a golden ephod that the people would worship?

First off, it should be noted that what God had feared earlier in the Gideon story has come true.  Notice in Judges 8:22 that Israel says, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian.”  Remember when God was reducing the size of Gideon’s army because He was afraid if the army was too big that Israel would take the credit for victory themselves?  Sure enough, Gideon is getting all the credit for victory with no mention of God anywhere.  So, Gideon’s answer to this offer is indeed the seemingly righteous and faithful answer to give.

Which makes what happens next all the more perplexing and frustrating.  Gideon asks each person to give a golden earring that he melts down and has formed into a golden ephod.  Typically, an ephod was understood to be a priestly garment that was worn over the shoulders of the priest or might have been placed on the shoulders of an idol.  In this case, we are not certain if it is a garment or something else, perhaps even a replica of the ark of the covenant.  In any event, the result of his actions is that he creates an idol that Israel worships in place of God.

There are some who call Gideon’s motivations into question.  Notice that Gideon places this golden ephod in “his town” of Ophrah.  There are some who wonder if Gideon wasn’t trying to say all the right things about God being the ruler of Israel and, at the same time, control Israel in more subtle ways by controlling the religious life of the Israelites.  Or perhaps Gideon, whose family had been worshipers of Baal, is knowingly or unknowingly mixing foreign religious practices with the worship of the one God.  Dennis Olson, in the New Interpreter’s Bible, raises the possibility that Gideon may have offered Israel the ephod as a replacement for human leadership as a way of trying to shirk his responsibility to lead Israel as a judge.  The last verse of Judges speaks of the days when “… there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).  Perhaps the Gideon story is a foretelling of coming chaos when there is no responsible leadership.

Gideon is one of the most complex figures of Scripture.  He is constantly asking God to prove Himself before following His commands.  Outside of Judges 8:23, we might define Gideon as more of a coward than a courageous and faithful leader like Joshua.  This episode with the golden ephod is one more factor that complicates how Gideon is remembered, both in our memories and the memory of Scripture.

Some Reflection Questions

  1. Israel is constantly running from the true God to other false gods. What are some of the false gods in our culture today? Which of them have you trusted?
  2. False gods trigger a cycle: a web of sin, God’s judgments, crying out for help, and God providing deliverance. What are some destructive cycles you have seen in your own life?
  3. Do you think that the Israelites did a good job of passing their faith to the next generation? How can we do this better in the church and in our own families?
  4. How would you describe Deborah? In what way does her story influence your view of women in leadership?
  5. Do you think Gideon’s request for a sign was an act of faith or an act of faithlessness? Does his faith change over time?
  6. Your friend, Samson, confides in you that he has trouble with women but doesn’t understand why. What would you tell him?
  7. In what ways was Samson a faithful man of God? In what ways was he not?
  8. What was Samson’s true weakness? How can you deal with your weaknesses before they become your downfall?
  9. Where do you see God’s grace in this chapter?
  10. Which character in this chapter stands out to you and why? How can you be more like them?

Week 7 – The Battle Begins

Scripture Reading:  Joshua 1-2, 6, 8, 10-11, 23-24

Significant Moments in The Story

Joshua sends spies to Jericho – Joshua 2

Israel crosses into the Promised Land – Joshua 3

The fall of Jericho – Joshua 6

Joshua retells the story of Israel and challenges Israel to recommit to covenant – Joshua 23-24

Key Themes

Conquering the Promised Land

The book of Joshua is the story of God inviting Israel to share in the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Though it is the armies of Israel that fight on the battlefield, Joshua is insistent that it is the LORD that gives the victory in battle.  The battle for the Promised Land is also understood to be an extension of God’s judgment upon those nations who were settled in the Promised Land (see “Some Questions That Might Come Up” below).

Faithful Obedience

Though the book of Joshua is dominated by scenes of battle and military victories, the book’s climax comes in Joshua 24, when Joshua stands before Israel and says, “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).  The entire narrative rests upon the idea that Israel will hold onto the land for the same reason that they enjoy success in conquering the land:  faithfulness to God and obedience to His commandments.  This will set up the story of Judges and ultimately the story of Kings, when faithlessness to God and His covenant is what will ultimately be understood to lead to defeat and exile.

God’s Fulfillment of His Promise

Through challenges of infertility, sibling rivalry, famine, slavery, and rebellion, God proves faithful to his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Their descendants are given possession of the land which Abraham was first promised all the way back in Genesis 12.  At Shechem, Joshua reminds the people of their entire history with God (Joshua 24:1-13).  This narrative is not just a family history; it is Joshua’s way of reminding them that God has delivered on His promises.  The question is: will Israel remain true to their promises to God? (See Joshua 24:16-27 for Israel’s promise and Joshua’s doubt about their ability to keep their promise!).

Background Information

The Great Sea – Joshua 1:4

This refers to what we know today as the Mediterranean Sea.

The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh – Joshua 1:12-18

This refers to 3 of the 12 tribes of Israel – the tribe of Reuben, Gad, and part of the tribe of Joseph.  In Genesis 48, Jacob blesses Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and says they will be equal inheritors of the covenant.  Thus, the half-tribe of Manasseh was part of the tribe of Joseph.

In Numbers 32, these tribes approached Moses about receiving their inheritance of land not in Canaan but in territory just outside of Canaan that the LORD had conquered for Israel.  The reason for their request, according to Numbers 32, was that these tribes possessed a lot of cattle and the land on the other side of the Jordan River from Canaan was good for grazing.  It was agreed that they could settle in this land, but only on the condition that they would still go in and fight with the remaining tribes to conquer the peoples who lived in Canaan.  Thus, here in Joshua 1, Joshua is reminding these tribes of this promise, and they are reaffirming their commitment to fight alongside the rest of Israel.

 

Jericho – Joshua 2, 6

Jericho was a city east of Jerusalem near several fords in the Jordan River, making it an entrypoint to Canaan from the east.  Archaeology has had a difficult time verifying the events of the battle of Jericho as they are described in the Bible.  Some believe that Jericho at the time that we believe Israel entered Canaan would have been nothing more than an unfortified village.  There are several other cases of such discrepancy in Joshua’s accounts of battles, leading some to wonder if these battles were later episodes that were ascribed back in history to the great military leader Joshua.

 

Ai – Joshua 8

The battle of Ai is another circumstance where the Biblical description and the archaeological evidence have a hard time synchronizing.  Many archaeologists believe Ai was an unwalled village that was uninhabited during the time of Israel’s settlement in the land.  It’s name means “ruin”, which some have taken as an indication that the Biblical story was a later narrative intended to explain the existence of a ruined city in the land.

In Joshua 7, Israel attempts to attack Ai, a city where “there were so few people” that Joshua did not even take the whole of Israel to battle against them.  When Joshua confronts God to explain why Israel was defeated, God responds that the defeat came about because someone had taken for themselves some of the gold and silver from Jericho that was to have been put into the treasury of the LORD.  The story of the battle of Ai is seen as an example of the demand for faithful obedience to every command of God.

 

Shechem – Joshua 24:1

It seems that Shechem was a place of some significance to early Israel.  Both Abraham (Genesis 12:7) and Jacob (Genesis 33:18-20) are said to have been altars to God at Shechem.  Now, Shechem becomes the place where Joshua asks the Israelites to reaffirm their commitment to God and to His covenant.

 

“Put away the foreign gods that are among you…” – Joshua 24:23

The question that arises is, where did these “foreign gods” come from?  There are several possibilities, and the answer may lie in some combination of them.  Though the book of Joshua portrays the conquest of the Promised Land as total, swift,  and complete (Joshua 11:23), the book of Judges portrays the occupation of the Promised Land as a gradual process with ebbs and flows, indicating that the Israelites were living among other nations who worshiped different gods.  We have also already seen that, even before crossing into the Promised Land, some Israelites were marrying foreign spouses that were leading them to worship other gods (Numbers 25).  Perhaps some of that influence remained intact at this stage of Israel’s journey.  The book of Joshua does tell us that some of the peoples of Canaan were allowed to live, namely Rahab and her entire family (Joshua 6:22-25) and the inhabitants of the city of Gibeon (Joshua 9).  Perhaps Joshua’s command to “put away the foreign gods” was an indication that these peoples were keeping alive some of the religious practices of Canaan.  It must also be remembered that it was more than just the original 12 tribes of Israel that made up the nation at this point.  Other clans and tribes are likely to have joined with Israel not only in the Exodus but in their journey to the Promised Land.  Perhaps what we have here is an indication that some of the religious practices of these peoples who had joined with Israel had been kept alive either alongside the worship of the LORD or maybe even in secret.

 

Some Questions That Might Come Up

Why does God command that all the people of the cities be killed?

The book of Joshua is a story of war, and thus it presents a very difficult challenge to many and their picture of God.  We see Joshua and the Israelites decimating entire cities, killing all the women and men of a city.  The book portrays all of this as action, if not directly ordered by God, at least endorsed by God.  We are left asking the question, “Why would God want all of these peoples killed, especially those that we would identify as innocent non-combatants?”

In Deuteronomy 9:4-5, Moses tells Israel that God has not brought them into possession of this land because of their righteousness.  Instead, he has done so because of His promise to Abraham and because of the wickedness of the people of Canaan.  Thus, the settling of Israel in the Promised Land is portrayed, in part, as an act of God using Israel to punish the people of Canaan for their worship of false gods and some of their religious practices, which may have included the offering of children as sacrifices.  Thus, the violence of Joshua is at least, in the Biblical witness, shrouded in an understanding that this violence is an act of divine judgment.

Some also wonder if perhaps, similar to Moses in the situation of the golden calf, Israel is ascribing to God commands that God did not actually give.  In Exodus 32:27, Moses says that the LORD has ordered the Levites to kill brother, friend, and neighbor because of their unfaithfulness to God.  This command is not recorded anywhere in the Biblical account of Moses’ dialogue with God.  Thus, it appears as if Moses is “putting words in God’s mouth” to justify his own command.  There are some who wonder if Israel, in it’s historic memory, is not doing the same thing in the book of Joshua, ascribing commands to God to justify the actions of their ancestors.

The authors of A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament raise some interesting points that should be considered in reflecting on the violence of this book.  First off, the book makes it clear that violence will not be how Israel will maintain possession of the land.  Instead, only faithful obedience to God’s Word will allow Israel to remain in the Promised Land.  Thus, the book is not advocating a “might makes right” mentality.  As a matter of fact, in the case of the city of Ai (Joshua 7), Israel learns that disobedience undermines military strength.

The second point that the authors make is that we should not be so quick to write off the violence of this book.

Such privileged opposition to violence, that “such things must not be done,” is itself an ideological claim in the interest of maintaining the status quo.  What may seem to us readers in our privilege (and most who read this book will be profoundly privileged) as completely unacceptable violence may not seem so objectionable to the oppressed, marginated, and economically abused who know deep in their bones that such oppression cannot be “right,” and cannot be willed by the creator of heaven and earth.  Thus the overthrow of entrenched, abusive power, albeit by violent means, is not as ethically objectionable to the disenfranchised as it is to the safely and prosperously ensconced.  This literature may be understood, at least at one level, as the primitive literature of desperate liberation movements who know themselves to be allied with and vouched for by the God of all social transformation. … There is something to be appreciated in the pervasive affirmation of this literature that the God of the Exodus stands massively against every system of exploitation. (p. 195, ATITTOT, Birch, Brueggemann, Frethem, and Petersen, Abingdon Press, 1999).

Though the violence of the book may be disturbing to us, it should also force us to ask ourselves, “Is there unrighteousness that I am simply allowing to exist, without taking any action of any kind to stop?”

 

Some Reflection Questions

  1. In the original languages both “Joshua” and “Jesus” mean “Jehovah saves.” How is Joshua’s relationship to Israel similar to Jesus’ relationship to the Church?
  2. What basis did Joshua have for being “strong and courageous” (p. 89, Joshua 1)? Which assurances that God gives Joshua most strengthen and encourage you?
  3. What concerns might Joshua have had as he accepted the reigns of leadership from Moses? What can we learn from the people’s response to Joshua that can apply to changes of leadership at our church?
  4. Rahab told the two spies: “I know that the Lord has given you this land” (p.90, Joshua 2:9). Upon what was her declaration of faith based? How could she be a prostitute, so easily tell lies, and not be a part of God’s chosen people, yet be attributed with great faith?
  5. Rahab hid the spies and then lied to the authorities when they came looking for them (p. 90, Joshua 2). When, if ever, is it okay to lie? How do you know?
  6. Review the main points of the covenant that God made with Abraham. (See the summary for Chapter 2, also p. 13., Genesis 12:1-3) What examples can you find in this chapter that show God’s faithfulness to its fulfillment?
  7. How does God’s command to annihilate entire cities fit into the Upper Story of the Bible? In what way do these battle stories fit into God’s Upper Story? (Hint: review p. 86, especially the first full paragraph., Deuteronomy 9:1-7)
  8. Some people doubt the Bible because of miracles like Joshua’s “long day” (p. 97, Joshua 10:12-14). But some people, like Rahab, come to believe in God because of His miraculous works. Discuss how you might respond to the skeptic who discounts the miraculous as myth.
  9. What character traits of Joshua most impress you? Which of those would you like to be known for?
  10.  Joshua is known for his statement “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (p.101, Joshua 24:15). How can you lead your household to serve the Lord?

Additional Resources

Week 6 – Wandering

Scripture Reading:  Numbers 10-14, 20-21, 25, 27; Deuteronomy 1-2, 4, 6, 8-9, 29-34

Significant Moments in The Story

Israel leaves Mt. Sinai – Numbers 10

Spies sent into Canaan – Numbers 13

The people rebel against Moses and God – Numbers 14

Moses strikes the rock at Meribah – Numbers 20

The death of Aaron – Numbers 20

Joshua commissioned as Moses’ successor – Numbers 27

The death of Moses – Deuteronomy 34

Key Themes

Faithlessness

It is easy to read this part of the story and hear the details of Israel’s grumbling, God’s anger, and the wandering of Israel in the wilderness.  It has to be noted, though, that at the heart of all of these details is a fundamental problem:  faithlessness.  After seeing the forces of Egypt defeated in the waters of the sea and seeing the majesty of God on Mt. Sinai, Israel still cannot believe that God will do what He says He will do.  Their constant complaining and rebellion reveals a lack of faith in God’s trustworthiness and God’s power.  We often say that faith would be easier if we could see God do certain things or hear God speak, as if the difficulty of faith was all God’s fault.  However, this part of the story reveals that faith’s struggles are also found in our inability to trust that God will really do what He says.  Israel got all the proof that we ever ask for, and still could not believe that God would lead them to the Promised Land.  Would all the proof in the world really alleviate our own struggles to believe?

Punishment, purification, and preparation

Why does God force the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for 40 years?  It is not because somebody couldn’t follow a road map!  The answer could center around 3 “P”s:  punishment, purification, and preparation.  The books of Numbers and Deuteronomy certainly contain a message that God was punishing Israel for giving into fear rather than trusting that He could lead them against the inhabitants of the land of Canaan.  This part of the story of Scripture hits us with a hard truth:  faithlessness has its consequences.  It should be noted, though, that God’s punishment is, in one sense, exactly what the people say they would prefer:  “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt!  Or would that we had died in this wilderness!” (Numbers 14:2).  They would rather have died in the wilderness than followed God into the Promised Land.  And so that is what God allows to happen.

There is also a sense that the wandering in the wilderness was a time of purification.  This part of the story provides some very extreme, very violent examples of rooting out sinful behavior in the community (see the story of Phinehas in Numbers 25).  The violent nature of such stories make us cringe.  However, perhaps we can best understand them in the light of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.”

These are very violent words that Jesus is speaking, seeming to be right in line with some of what we read in Numbers!  However, both Numbers and Jesus are pursuing a point that, as God’s people, we must confront the realities of sin in our lives and seek to remove the presence of sin from our hearts, words, and deeds.  Such passages do not deny the existence of God’s grace.  However, they remind us that God’s grace is not an excuse to allow sin to continue to guide our lives.

Deuteronomy 8:2 touches on the third “P” – preparation.  Moses says, “Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.”  Israel’s relationship with God didn’t end the moment they took residence in the Promised Land.  God’s intent all along was to dwell with his people – remember the tabernacle?  God wanted to remain in his people’s midst.  The time in the wilderness was time that God used to teach them what life with Him looked like so that they would be ready to transition from liberated slaves wandering in the wilderness to a nation living at peace with their God.

Background Information

Leaving from Sinai – Numbers 10:11-12

Based on the calendar dates given here and in Exodus 19:1, the Israelites spent 11 months at Mt. Sinai.

The prophesying elders – Numbers 11:25-30

This is the first of what will be several references in the Old Testament to a type of ecstatic prophecy where men and women are overcome by the divine spirit and break into some sort of speaking that they cannot control.  The image portrayed here of prophets is certainly slightly different from that of later prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, who seem more “in control” to us.  There are some who hear in this passage, especially Moses’ words in Numbers 11:29, a validation of the prophetic movement which will become a huge part of Israel’s later religious life.

The Anakites and the Nephilim – Numbers 13:33

The Nephilim are mentioned in Genesis 6 as those peoples born from the union between divine beings and humans.  Ancient tradition held that the Nephilim were taller than normal humans and possessed extraordinary strength.  Numbers describes the Anakites, among the inhabitants of Canaan, as descendants of the Nephilim and possessing their unusual height.

Ten times Israel tested God – Numbers 14:22

Referring to previous events when Israel has doubted God’s ability or failed to heed God’s commands:  Exodus 14:11-12, Exodus 15:24, Exodus 16:1-3, Exodus 17:3, Exodus 32:1, Leviticus 10:1, Numbers 11:1, Numbers 11:4-6, Numbers 12:1-2, and Numbers 14:1-4.

Edom, the brother of Israel – Numbers 20:14-21

The people of Edom were believed to be the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel.  Thus, this story of mistrust and rivalry between Edom and Israel continues the narrative that began with Esau and Jacob.

The bronze serpent – Numbers 21:4-9

This bronze serpent that Moses creates will be given the name Nehushtan.  It seems that it would become an object of worship, perhaps even an idol, later in Israel’s history.  In 2 Kings 18:4, we are told that King Hezekiah, noted for his reforms of Israel’s worship life, destroyed Nehushtan because the Israelites were bringing offerings to it.

Serpent magic was a popular form of magic practiced in certain ancient cultures, especially among the Canaanites and the Egyptians.

Baal of Peor – Numbers 25:3

This is the first reference to the Canaanite god Baal, the god of storm and fertility.  As we move forward in the story, we will see that the worship of Baal will remain a consistent temptation for Israel.  As part of the worship of Baal, the people would offer sacrifices to Baal and eat a portion of what they offered as a burnt offering.

The daughters of Zelophehad – Numbers 27:1-11

In ancient Israel, as in many ancient cultures, women were typically not allowed to inherit property.  Thus, this act of allowing the daughters to inherit their father’s property was a radical and unusual step.  The book of Numbers ends by coming back to another situation regarding these daughters and the concern that, should they marry men from another tribe, their property would leave the possession of their native tribe.  In a society where family inheritance was an important part of maintaining tribal heritage, this would have been considered a tragedy.  Thus, Moses commands that, though the women have the freedom to marry whom they think best (also a radical idea for this culture) they must marry within their family’s tribe.

Deuteronomy

The book of Deuteronomy is considered by some to be the beginning of what will be called the “Deuteronomic History”.  This history encompasses the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings.  These books are grouped together, in part, because they share a common theme that loyalty to God brings reward while disobedience brings catastrophe.  In the book of Deuteronomy, there is a heavy emphasis placed by Moses on “blessings and curses” and his dramatic call to “choose life”.  The later books will bear out the practical implications of this theology and tell Israel’s history through this sort of lens.  We also see in all of these books a pattern of Israel’s relationship to God – apostasy, judgment, repentance, and deliverance.

Deuteronomy is presented as Moses’ last testament, his final words to Israel before they enter the Promised Land.  Traditionally, the authorship of the book was attributed to Moses himself.  However, since the last chapter of the book details the death of Moses, it is highly unlikely that Moses himself put the pen to paper.

Horeb – Deuteronomy 1:6

Horeb is another name for Mt. Sinai.

Cities of refuge – Deuteronomy 4:41-43

Within Israel certain cities were set apart as places of refuge for those who had unintentionally caused the death of another person.  The law operated by a “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” concept.  Thus, if you caused the death of an individual, that family had the right to kill you.  While this sounds barbaric, the law was actually intended to limit bloodlust and force individuals to operate by a mindset of equitable justice.  You could not, for example, wipe out an entire family in return for the death of one person.  Cities of refuge were sanctuaries where those who had unintentionally caused the death of another could flee and be safe from the repercussions the law allowed.

The Shema – Deuteronomy 6:4-9

“Shema” is the Hebrew imperative for our English word “Hear” or “Listen”.  These verses in Deuteronomy came to be known as the Shema because this is the first word in the passage.  The Shema became the core statement of faith for the Israelite people.  Still today, many Jews will recite the Shema as part of their corporate worship and devotional life.  Some orthodox Jews will literally wrap little boxes around their hands and head that contain verses of Scripture.

Some Questions that Might Come Up

In Numbers 12, why is Miriam punished but not Aaron?

There is no clear explanation for why Miriam is struck with leprosy but there is no apparent punishment for Aaron after both of them have called into question God’s choice of Moses as a leader.  Their complaint about Moses’ marrying “a Cushite woman” was a reference to Moses’ marriage to Zipporah, indicating that Cushite was a broad term that included several Arabic peoples.

Isn’t Moses’ punishment rather harsh?  Why is he even punished in the first place?  Just what did he do wrong?

In Numbers 20:2-13, we read the story of Israel at the waters of Meribah.  There is no water, and the people are complaining.  Moses takes their complaint to God, who tells him to take his staff in his hands and command water to come from the rock.  We are told that Moses gathered all the people together, took his staff, and struck the rock twice, and water came out of it.  Everybody drinks and is happy, but God says, “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).

The first thing that should be noted is that, in an earlier story (Exodus 17:1-7) when Israel was thirsty, God commanded Moses to take his staff and strike the rock.  When he struck the rock, water came out of it.  There are some who have wondered if this is a case where Moses gets confused, assuming an earlier action and repeating it rather than truly paying attention to what God has said.  Such consideration leads one to wonder why such a harsh punishment would be handed down for a misunderstanding.

The most common explanation given for why Moses is punished is that he disobeys God.  God did not tell him to strike the rock, but to command the rock to bring forth water.  I think this is part of the idea.  A concept of disobedience must be partnered with the idea that God was intending to show His power to provide for Israel, thus why He instructed Moses to command the rock and not strike the rock.  However, Moses’ action brought the appearance that it was Moses, not God, providing the water.  This point is emphasized by Moses’ words before he strikes the rock – “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10)  This is really the first time we have seen Moses try to “replace” God, a problem that the rest of the Israelites have struggled continuously with, most clearly in the story of the golden calf.  Thus, Moses is now guilty of the same sin that prevents Israel from entering the Promised Land:  his actions seem to indicate that he does not believe that God can provide for Israel what God has promised.

Philip Yancey, in his book The Bible Jesus Read, points out that Moses’ story does not end in Deuteronomy.  In Matthew 17:1-9, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain and is transfigured in their presence.  All of the gospel accounts of the Transfiguration tell us that standing there next to Jesus on the mountain was Moses.  Moses’ dream, his goal, was realized:  he was finally standing in the Promised Land.