Friday, January 22, 2016

“Conflict and Crisis: The Judges”

Insight #4 January 23, 2016
First Quarter 2016 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"Conflict and Crisis: The Judges"
For the week of January 23, 2016

Our lessons this quarter review the history of the great controversy in broad brush strokes. The subject is infinite.

Our Insights commentary this week:

1) reviews the issues undergirding this controversy

2) examines how these issues played out in God's choice to call five individuals to serve in various capacities during the period of the judges, and

3) considers lessons for the church today.

How We Got to Where We Are

     John the Baptist expressed the practical outgrowth of the gospel in these words: "He must increase, but I must decrease" John 3:30.

     The entrance of sin into the universe began with its antithesis--"I must increase" (Isaiah 14:13,14)--a trojan seed that took root in the fertile mind of one who from the beginning was "perfect in [his] ways" until iniquity was found in him (Ezekiel 28:15).

     This seed, long cherished, at last bore fruit in expression. Who better to lead the angels than he, the most beautifully-gifted one. Ostensibly, this would be for the betterment of the universe and the happiness of the angelic host.

     But the notion that "I must increase" to a position to which God had not called him had a well-hidden caveat: "He must decrease." There wasn't room for two at the top. One would have to go, and Lucifer determined it should be Christ. Even after his expulsion from heaven, the disaster of sin with its tide of misery and woe could not possibly have been conceived of by the angels of God, let alone the infinite humiliation of Christ in leaving his position in heaven forever to become a part of his human creation. Christ's mission to save man at any cost and at the risk of eternal loss and ruin would leave the angels reeling in shock and be the subject of study by the saved for the rest of eternity.

     The ensuing struggle between good and evil spilled over to our newly-created world, where Adam's sin embedded this new philosophy-- "I must increase, but He must decrease"--into the very genetic fabric of the human race.

     At the entrance to the Garden of Eden, a Lamb was slain, and the promise of a Savior was made certain (Genesis 3:15).  Christ would take the never-before-trodden path from the throne-room of heaven to the cross. Satan's true identity would be revealed as "a murderer from the beginning" John 8:44.  He desired Christ's position, and the cross would reveal that Christ's position with the Father was not something to be grasped, but something to be given up in answer to the charge that He was self-seeking, and in order to manifest that the so-called love that seeks its own has in it the hidden seed of murder.

     John the Baptist understood the gospel. "He must increase, but I must decrease." No other formula works for the operation of the universe. Our Savior lives to give, and He delights only in freewill expressions of love and service from His creation. No forced obedience or pretended love find a place in His kingdom.

     For this reason God has "chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty" 1 Corinthians 1:27. For example, instead of sending angels to direct God's work on earth, God has entrusted this important mission with imperfect people like you and me. As in heaven, so on earth. Not all are called to the same rank or station, and herein lies the test for God's people in all ages.

Called and Equipped to Serve

     Our Sabbath School lesson this week briefly reviews the lives of five individuals who were called by God to serve during the Old Testament period of the judges. In these stories of Deborah, Gideon, Samson, Ruth and Samuel, we glean insights into God's ways of working, which are unlike our ways (Isaiah 55:8).

    What makes the story of Deborah unique is that she was both a prophet, a judge . . . and a married woman. But Deborah wasn't the only woman to have a unique role in this story. She prophesied to Barak that the Lord would use a woman to deliver Sisera's army into his hand, therefore, she said, "there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking" (Judges 4:9). When God works, He always does it in such a way as to lay the glory of man in the dust. The Lord worked through a woman, Jael, the weaker vessel, in order that the praise for the victory would go to God, not to man, and God used his humble servant, the woman Deborah, to encourage Barak, the leader of Israel's army, by her words and presence in the battle.

     Afterwards, Deborah and Barak lifted their voices in prophetic song: "When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, Bless the Lord!" Judges 5:2. Deborah and Barak understood something of the principle of the cross. The call to lead is the call to serve. God alone is exalted, and when leaders demonstrate this spirit, the people will follow by willingly offering themselves.

     Apparently, being filled with self-importance is not a prerequisite to being called by God to lead, as is evidenced by the story of Gideon. When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said, "The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!" (Judges 6:12).

     The Lord continued, "Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?" (verse14)

     If God were to tell you that you were a mighty man of valor, how would you respond? Gideon could have said (or at least thought), "Thanks so much. I really am quite brave and I have to agree--I am a mighty man! . . . ." but no. Gideon replied, "O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house" Judges 6:15.

     In God's eyes, that was precisely the point. God had chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the things which are mighty. God could not have worked effectively for the deliverance of Israel through one who was exalted in his own eyes. More often than not, we find a trend in Scripture that God calls those who feel unqualified for the call.

     In the life of Samson we find the remarkable story of a man set apart from his mother's womb to be a deliverer in Israel. Yet the special training and preparation Samson received as a youth did not secure him from falling prey to temptation. The very gifts God had bestowed for the purpose of saving others, Samson used for selfish purposes. Though reconciled to God at last, one can only feel saddened by the thought of what might have been. Yet Samson's story is a testimony to the mercy and grace of God, for we find Samson's name listed among the faithful in Hebrews 11:32.

     Though neither a judge nor of Jewish descent, Ruth the Moabitess found a place of honor in the ancestral line that would bring forth One who would "judge among many people" (Micah 4:3). Like Abraham, Ruth left the homeland of her birth, choosing to unite her interests with the family of God. She is among those who by faith were "blessed with believing Abraham" because the "Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed' " and through this humble, believing daughter of God, Christ the promised seed came (Galatians 3:9, 8)

     Samuel, like Samson, was set apart for a special work before his birth. Though his upbringing was in many ways deficient due to the influence of Eli and his sons, Samuel was faithful to his call as both prophet and judge in Israel. Sadly, however, Samuel was not valued by the people of Israel. His Christlike, humble demeanor was strangely out of place in the palaces and stately courts of the surrounding nations. When the people said unto him, "Behold, thou art old, . . . now make us a king to judge us like all the nations," "that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles," Samuel was grieved. He took the matter to the Lord in prayer, and the Lord said to Samuel, "They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me" (1 Samuel 8:5, 20, 7).

Lessons for Today

     "All men are chosen to be witnesses for God, and to each is his labor appointed. All through life the Spirit is striving with every man to induce him to allow himself to be used for the work to which God has called him. Only the Judgment Day will reveal what wonderful opportunities men have recklessly flung away."

     "Not every one can be a Paul; but the thought that each one, according to the ability that God has given him, is chosen and called of God to witness for Him, will, when once grasped, give to life a new meaning" E. J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings (orig. edition), p. 20.

     May the Lord help us to be content with our calling, whatever that may be, and may the prayer of our hearts be, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

~Pattie Guthrie

Raul Diaz