Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Abimelech - The 7th Judge with the Asterisk Next to His Name

If you follow sports, you will notice that if a record is broken in a questionable manner, the person's name is listed with an asterisk. For example - think of Ben Johnson who won the 100-meter dash in Seoul in 1988 and broke the World Record, but was later stripped of his medal due to alleged illegal substances in his body.

Abimelech the concubine's son by Gideon has a questionable status as a judge because God did not appoint him as a leader but he persuaded those around him to make him their leader. He took an opportunity that was never meant to be his which invariably led to his crashing and burning at the bitter end. In short, he sought to rule Israel without proper authority. To eliminate any threats to his rule, he methodically murdered all of seventy of his half brothers minus one - Jotham, the youngest. Working through his worthless and reckless relatives in Shechem, he persuaded the people of that area to recognize him as king.

Jotham escaped, went to a mountaintop and told a parable to the people which basically contains a warning against choosing Abimelech as king. After the parable, where Abimelech is likened to a bramble or a twig - Jotham said -
“Now make sure you have acted honorably and in good faith by making Abimelech your king, and that you have done right by Gideon and all of his descendants. Have you treated him with the honor he deserves for all he accomplished?  For he fought for you and risked his life when he rescued you from the Midianites.  But today you have revolted against my father and his descendants, killing his seventy sons on one stone. And you have chosen his slave woman’s son, Abimelech, to be your king just because he is your relative.
“If you have acted honorably and in good faith toward Gideon and his descendants today, then may you find joy in Abimelech, and may he find joy in you.  But if you have not acted in good faith, then may fire come out from Abimelech and devour the leading citizens of Shechem and Beth-millo; and may fire come out from the citizens of Shechem and Beth-millo and devour Abimelech!” Judges 9:16-19

After the telling of this parable - Jotham ran away and lived in a different town out of fear of Abimelech.

Judges 9 details Abimelech's  battles and how he ultimately met his demise. Abimelech reigned three years - then God stepped in, in the form of an evil spirit which created contention between Abimelech and the people he ruled - the Shechemites. This contention was retribution for what he did to his brothers. Judges 9:22-24 The same division he employed, was ultimately used against him; treachery created treachery.

Another group - Gaal and his relatives, were angry that Abimelech was in charge and wanted to get rid of him but one of Abimelech's faithful men - Zebul, made him aware of the plot. Carnage ensued. (A side note: when you read through some of these stories you may be mortified at the amount and manner of bloodshed; you might even wonder how a loving God could allow such violence. But it's no different than what we deal with today. Humans have free will and make choices counter to the nature of God, and we all deal with the fallout of our choices. The war and the fighting provide a situational context.)

Abimelech and his men were able to burn down the tower of Shechem because he provided specific instruction  - and they were in the process of repeating these same actions in Thebez when a woman dropped a millstone - a huge, heavy rock, on his head. This woman was strong and determined to do her part in getting rid of Abimelech.

Abimelech wasn't raised in his father's house; he was the son of the concubine, not a wife so he automatically had a lower social status. It was considered odious (2 Samuel 16:21), a defilement, a reason to lose your birthright (1 Chronicles 5:1). Perhaps Abimelech had internalized some of these feelings and wanted to prove that he was just as good as his father - Gideon and his seventy brothers. Feelings of worthlessness can you lead you down a path that was not meant for you. Better to look inward and acknowledge those feelings than striking out at those who you blame.

Abimelech portrays a negative example of how a leader is to influence others. He led by force, murdered his opposition, and led in such a manner that even his subjects sought to overtake him. In contrast to the positive leadership of his father - Gideon, Abimelech focused on his own personal gain, hurting many in the process. (

Anti-Leadership Traits
  • Abimelech was divisive
  • Abimelech was punitive
  • Abimelech led by force
  • Abimelech was proud - even in death
  • Abimelech was self-focused

Don't be a leader with an asterisk next to your name -  your leadership is questionable, the title wasn't meant for you, you rule by fear, and those you manage would delight in seeing you gone. We are quick to see these traits in our bosses, presidents, executives, superintendents or others - but let's also look at ourselves. You may be influential like Abimelech, but because the position was not meant for you, your tenure may be shortened and a millstone may fall on your head and knock you out of the game (ouch!). Instead, let's continue to trust that God will place us where we need to be and that He will prepare us so that we are effective leaders. 

In this way, God punished Abimelech for the evil he had done against his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also punished the men of Shechem for all their evil. So the curse of Jotham son of Gideon was fulfilled. Judges 9: 56-57

When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.But when the wicked are in power, they groan. Proverbs 29:2

Do you see yourself as Abimelech, Jotham, or the woman with the rock? 


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Monday, March 20, 2017

Important Leadership Traits

The study of the book of Judges has been eye opening for me because of its intensity and detail. There's so much more there than what I remembered.

I wanted to take a break, just to regroup and ensure that we're all following along.

Remember, these are the judges or leaders that God chose to deliver Israel from their surrounding enemies. These leaders were a far cry from what we would call in today's vernacular, 'ideal candidates'.

So far, we've noticed the following:

  • We've consistently seen the breakdown of the family in the constant cycle of redemption and failure of the Israelites.
  • We've seen that the Spirit of God was present, that it moved individuals to action, in a powerful fashion that provided clarity.
  • We've seen that God allowed their enemies to overcome them so that when God stepped in through their leader, the conclusion could only be that it was God.
  • We've seen that human nature is complex, yet not one part of it is a surprise to the God who made us.
  • The tenure for the leaders we have studied so far were all over 20 years. The longer the tenure the greater the stability.
  • Finally, with God's leading, we've seen how these men and one woman were able to lead the Israelites who were not an easy bunch. Gideon had a degree of fear; Deborah had smarts; Ehud was willing; Shamgar was a fighter and Othniel was ordinary; different character traits yet all possessed the traits of leadership. 
The most prevalent and consistent traits of leadership are obedience - a willingness to listen to someone bigger than you and humility - the recognition that the task at hand is bigger than you and deploying assistance from above and below. We've seen other leadership traits in action also: vision, self-awareness, integrity, commitment and a willingness to help others.

John Maxwell lists 5 stages of leadership - position, permission, production, people development and pinnacle. So far the judges we have studied were leaders because of their position - God placed them there; they were appointed. In addition, most had the respect of the people they led.  The Israelites listened and followed their direction - they had a vested interest in following and listening to their leader. The scripture does not go into detail on each judges' life, but many were hailed as great men.

As we study the remainder of the book of Judges, we'll see additional lessons of leadership that we can apply to our lives today.

But among you, it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. John 20:26-28

What's your biggest takeaway on leadership from studying the book of Judges? Would you consider yourself a leader?


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Friday, March 17, 2017

Gideon The Mighty Hero, Finally

In the last post, I mentioned that Gideon received a huge response to his request for warriors - 32,000 men to be exact. Well to you and I, that would make us confident, we would start devising plans and strategizing, all with victory in mind. But God said, "It's too much, your army is too large. If you win, you will think it was because of your strength and not my divine intervention." (Judges 7:2-3) Though Gideon had such a huge turnout, it appeared that many of these men were afraid. With God's guidance, Gideon simply said "If you're afraid, you don't have to fight," and 22,000 men went home. Can you imagine, more than half of his initial army were afraid? It's good to ask questions of people to see where your team stands - you might be surprised yet relieved at the response.

The remaining 10,000 were still too many, so God instructed Gideon to use another creative way to separate them - those who drank water from their hands or those who drank straight from the source. It can be viewed as moderation vs. indulgence. Those that were indulgent were sent home, 9700 and the 300 who lapped the water from their hands were Gideon's army. These 300 passed all the tests - they were not afraid and they were careful - just who you want to fight with you. (Judges 7:1-7)

With this army of 300 Gideon wreaked havoc and defeated the Midianites - but first, before the fighting started he needed one more confirmation. God told him if he's afraid (wasn't Gideon always afraid?) to listen in at the edge of the Midianite camp with his servant. His servant, Purah, was a witness who could also confirm God's plan for Gideon. Gideon heard two of the Midianites talking; they were talking about a dream and its meaning. One man told the other the dream meant that Gideon would defeat them.  Judges 7:9-14. Have you ever overheard someone saying good things about you? Or things you didn't even recognize about yourself? It is usually a confidence booster, just like it was for Gideon.  When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship before the Lord. Then he returned to the Israelite camp and shouted, “Get up! For the Lord has given you victory over the Midianite hordes!” (Judges 7:15)

And just as it was in the interpretation of the dream, it became a reality. Gideon used his army of 300 to create confusion in the Midianites camp - for the fighting started at an unexpected time, in the middle watch, which was between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am. The Midianites were so startled by the blowing of the horns that they attacked each other while also trying to escape. Though they were few, the Israelites used strategy to outsmart the Midianites because they were prepared and the Midianites were not; they also had God on their side. (Judges 7:16-23)

In all of this, Gideon became the mighty hero that God said he would be. He had some missteps along the way - he took revenge against those who wouldn't assist him (Judges 8:1-21), made priestly garments that didn't serve a priestly purpose which ended up leading the Israelites astray(Judges 8:22-28), and he was a womanizer - he had many wives and one on the side (Judges 8:29-31). But in spite of his flaws God used him and his faith is noted in the book of Hebrews.  For the remainder of Gideon's life - about 40 years, the Israelites had peace in the land.

Like Gideon's initial army - sometimes we're too much or we have too much. Too many smarts, too much money, too much pride, too much knowledge. And God is telling us we have to scale back so that he can use us mightily. Or like Gideon also, we're too afraid and God keeps telling us that we don't need to be afraid; I got this!

I see attributes of Gideon in myself. I have to be willing to listen to God to ensure that I have the right people in my corner - my 300, to do what He has called me to do. Sometimes I'm afraid to trust God, but when I am afraid I know that I can rely on Him. I know this without a doubt and it banishes my fear at the moment. It almost does not matter who we are, as long as we believe in God and exhibit the faith in Him that He requires of us.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Psalm 37:23

Are you realizing that you don't need to remain afraid? Do you need to scale back so that God can move mightily? Who should be in your 300? What else can you learn from Gideon's life?


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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Gideon Owns His Identity

Now that Gideon has accepted his assignment, the magnitude of what needs to be accomplished is staring him in the face; he is called to lead and defeat the Midianites. The Midianites who are prolific and plenteous, and make his people quake in fear. God is on his side but how will he do this?

Gideon was fearful yet obedient - he wanted to honor what had been told to him.

It's no wonder the Israelites were always in this cycle of failure - the previous generations seem to have forgotten what God had done in the past; the knowledge of God's faithfulness and goodness was not passed down to the next generation; it was only hearsay and it seemed many chose not to believe. Joash - Gideon's father displayed this trait.

The first thing he did was to follow God's instruction cut down his father's shrine to a false god - Asherah and build an altar to the True God. Now that took some nerve on Gideon's part, so this plan was carried out at night because he was afraid of the other members of his father’s household and the people of the town. In the morning, when this is discovered the people figure out that Gideon is the culprit.They are not happy. They wanted to kill Gideon, but Joash - Gideon's father said if Baal is god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who broke down his altar. At this point, Gideon gains new respect and is also called Jerubabaal - which means let Baal defend himself. Parents and children don't often see eye to eye, but when it came to what was important, Joash - the idol worshipper, defended Gideon. With God on his side, Gideon took a stand against his father.

Gideon is developing more confidence, but he's still wary. Then the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power. He blew his horn and he's in the process of army building- he gets a huge response (which we'll talk about in the next post).

Then he asked the Lord for a sign -

36 Then Gideon said to God, “If you are truly going to use me to rescue Israel as you promised, 37 prove it to me in this way. I will put a wool fleece on the threshing floor tonight. If the fleece is wet with dew in the morning but the ground is dry, then I will know that you are going to help me rescue Israel as you promised.” 38 And that is just what happened. When Gideon got up early the next morning, he squeezed the fleece and wrung out a whole bowlful of water.
39 Then Gideon said to God, “Please don’t be angry with me, but let me make one more request. Let me use the fleece for one more test. This time let the fleece remain dry while the ground around it is wet with dew.” 40 So that night God did as Gideon asked. The fleece was dry in the morning, but the ground was covered with dew. Judges 6:36-40
This is the story we were told in Sunday School, how Gideon puts a fleece down and tested God. But without the greater context of knowing that God had chosen Gideon, God had given him instruction, Gideon was obedient, and God had placed his Spirit on him, many of us seem to think that we can test God willy-nilly and then rebel against God when he doesn't pass our test. We deal with difficult situations but instead of using God's word as a barometer and an indicator for our direction we rely on our feelings. We test God when we doubt him and the promises in His Word instead of having faith in Him. Gideon had a personal encounter with God, God called him a mighty hero; Gideon turned his doubt into faith and knew that the God that was calling him to do this task was faithful. He may have been timid, afraid and grouchy by nature, but with God's help, he would overcome and God confirmed it to him.

Then the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power. Judges 6:34

Is there anything in Gideon's experience that is similar to yours? Please share.


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Monday, March 13, 2017

Grouchy Gideon Becomes a Mighty Hero - the 6th Judge

Rest, disobedience, deliverance, rest. The story of the Israelites is characterized by a cycle of

failing and then renewal. Once more after a period of rest, the children of Israel were disobedient. At the beginning of Judges 6, we see that their current enemy - the Midianites were thick like locusts - they were plenteous, and all encompassing. The Israelites could not escape from them; they pillaged the land and Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. (Judges 6:1-6) This went on for seven years.

We are now introduced to our sixth Judge - Gideon. He seems to be the most reluctant and timid of all the judges we've read about so far. But in spite of his personality, God uses him mightily to defeat the swarming locusts - the Midianites to the point where he is listed as a faith hero in the book of Hebrews. (Hebrews 11:32-34) Intitially, unbeknownst to Gideon, God sent an angel to Gideon to talk and chat with him. When Gideon meets the angel he is threshing wheat and hiding his harvest from the Midianites. Gideon was afraid of the Midianites, yet wise - the hidden wheat meant his family could eat.

The conversation starts with the angel addressing Gideon as, "Mighty Hero." As far we know Gideon never thought of himself in this way and because he's never thought of himself in this manner, he responded, "If that's the case, why are the Midianites terrorizing us? Why does it seem that the Lord has abandoned us? I am the least in my entire family."

More astounding is the response from the angel. He said to Gideon, "Go in the strength you have and rescue Israel. I am sending you."

Gideon says, "Show me a sign that you are indeed Lord. Also, Don't leave until I come back with my offering." Gideon may have begun to realize that this was not an ordinary man he was speaking with. Also, recall from your Sunday School lessons that  Gideon needed lots of signs from God for confirmation.

Gideon returns with a goat meat, broth and biscuits! The angel instructs Gideon to place the meat and the bread on a rock and to then pour the broth over both. Then the angel places his rod on the meat and bread and a fire consumes the meal and disappears. This supernatural act rendered Gideon momentarily speechless and more afraid for he realized that he just had a face to face conversation with God.

The Lord reassures him that he need not be afraid, and he will not die  (Exodus 33:20) as was expected, so Gideon built an altar to the Lord at that spot and referred to the Lord as being his peace - Jehovah Shalom. (Judges 6: 7-24)

Instead of fear, Gideon now had a sense of peace regarding his new assignment. He no longer had to be afraid. God had given him a new identity. What God calls and who you are can be two entirely different things. In the rest of Gideon's story, we will see that he lives up to the moniker that God gave him.

The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you! Judges 6:12


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