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We have discussed several Judges of Israel so far in the past weeks of bulletins. Next on the list is a man very different from the ones before. All previous judges were people of faith in God, but this next leader was vile through and through. His name is Abimelech, and ironically, he is the son of Gideon, who was one of the few named in Hebrews 11 for his faith in God. But Abimelech was nothing like his father, who had previously marched an army in faith against Midian and had torn down idols. Abimelech was a leader whom God did not raise up, as is said of most of the Judges of Israel. He came to this place of authority through his own malicious schemes.

Judges chapter nine records the history of Abimelech. The great judge of Israel, Gideon, is now dead, leaving behind his many wives, and the 70 legitimate sons he had from them. But Gideon also had another son, who has illegitimate, born of a concubine in Shechem, his name was Abimelech. After the death of Gideon, Abimelech goes to Shechem to the brothers of his mother the concubine. There he gives them a speech about how he is their own flesh and blood but also the son of Gideon and therefore a rightful heir to the position that Gideon held in Israel. But there were 70 other rightful heirs, in fact, they had more right than Abimelech because of their legitimacy. So, Abimelech gives these men a choice, to allow the 70 sons of Gideon to rule over them, or to choose Abimelech, their own blood, who would do well to them, to rule over them. They chose Abimelech and persuaded the rest of Shechem to do the same.

Abimelech’s next move was to secure his position as ruler. To do this, he takes money given to him from the idol’s temple and hires thugs. He leads this band to Ophrah where the legitimate sons of Gideon reside. The thugs seize and kill them upon one stone. There is only one survivor, the youngest son of Gideon, Jotham, who hid from Abimelech.

Afterward, Jotham came to Shechem and cried out to them concerning Abimelech. He spoke to them by a parable of trees. How the trees went to anoint a king over them. The trees first went to the olive tree, but he refused, telling them that he would not cease giving his honorable oil just to go and sway over trees. Then the trees went to the fig tree, but he refused, saying he would not stop giving his good fruit to sway over trees. Then they approached the vine, but he refused, saying he would not stop giving his sweet juice to sway over trees. Finally, the trees went to the bramble bush, and the bramble bush told them if they truly wanted him as their king, to come and take shelter under his shadow, but if not, then fire should come out and devour the cedars of Lebanon. Now in those days, the cedars of Lebanon were well known as the greatest cedar trees on earth. So how could the great cedars climb under the little bramble for shelter and safety from their enemies? This parable, Jotham told Shechem, because if they should go through with their scheme to appoint Abimelech, then it would be the same as a cedar looking for a leader in a bramble, they would be consumed by Abimelech and Abimelech would be consumed by them.

The men of Shechem rejected the words of Jotham and anointed Abimelech anyway. For the next three years, Abimelech would judge Israel. But God sent a “spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem, and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech” (Judges 9:22-23). From then on, there was only war and trouble for Abimelech. As Abimelech sought to make a conquest against the Thebez, the people of the city ran to take shelter in the strong tower they had built there. When Abimelech came up to the tower to fight, a woman from within the tower, dropped a millstone on Abimelech, which crushed his skull. Abimelech’s last moment in life was spent calling for an armorbearer to thrust him through with a sword, and his last words were these “lest the men say to me, ‘a woman killed him.’”

This was the life of Abimelech, a proud man, one who thought nothing toward God. He was a man who tried to make his own way and do it by whatever selfish means necessary. A man who lived one of the most worthless lives, along with anyone else throughout history and even today, who seek to live in prideful rejection of God and his good fruits. There is no good ending for such who desire to live for selfish ambition.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).

Article by Tanner Campbell

Gideon and the 300

This is a continuation of last week’s bulletin concerning the life of Gideon, the fifth judge of Israel. His activity is recorded in the book of Judges, chapters six through eight.

Gideon, now ready to be a warrior and free the Israelites, begins to build his army. He joins the Abiezrites with the men of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. While Gideon prepares for war, the enemy awaits in the Valley of Jezreel. Even though Gideon has a great many behind him, he still lacks faith in accomplishing what God told him He would do. Therefore, Gideon asks for a sign from God. This is the second time that he requests a sign, except this time he asks for a specific sign of his choosing from God. Once again, God performs the sign of Gideon’s choosing. While I am sure that this increased the courage of Gideon, he still did not have the faith he needed to go into battle. So, for the third time, Gideon asks for another sign of which he specifies the details. Notice this time, that Gideon is concerned with the Lord being angry with his lack of faith, as he says: “do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more….” It is possibly the opinion of us all that Gideon is overstepping his limits. Even Gideon seems to be of that opinion as well. Nevertheless, Gideon has real problems with his faith, and God, without a word, once again gives Gideon the sign that he asked for.

The next phase of the narrative is God minimizing Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300. The reason for this, according to the Lord, is “lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’” Certainly, this also had an affect on the leader of this army, Gideon. Surely even after receiving the signs from God, it would be an additional source of comfort for Gideon to see 32,000 men behind him, but now, Gideon sees only 300. Gideon’s progress in his faith is put to the test here because any faith that he may have had in the strength of men is diminished. However, God isn’t done with helping Gideon to be a man of great faith.

Gideon now must accomplish a job with 300 when he probably wasn’t fully satisfied with doing it with 32,000. I can only speculate as to this point, but comparing an army of 135,000 to an army of 32,000, the odds never seemed good to begin with. Now compare 135,000 to 300 men! Who will be the victor? Now I certainly haven’t factored God into the equations above, but, if Gideon is anything like us, we tend to allow the things we see before our eyes to affect our faith in God. We worry about what we see on the news, or what’s happening at work, instead of not letting it phase us, and trusting in God to take care of every matter.

What happens next is really interesting. Gideon does not ask for a sign, nor does God freely give him a sign. However, what God does give him is a choice. God said to Gideon: “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have delivered it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” And Gideon took this opportunity to strengthen his faith in God. When he went down to the camp, he overheard the enemy discussing a dream, in which, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed. Then it was said, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand, God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.” Now Gideon had both heard and seen enough from God, and he was convinced that his 300 would be victorious over an army “as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude.”

What we’ve witnessed in this fascinating narrative is a man with struggles and weaknesses in his faith. What we’ve seen is a man who is probably fairly similar to you and I, at the very least during some points in our lives. However, that is not all that we’ve witnessed; we also saw a God who actively won the trust of a worried and fearful man. Gideon, the great man of faith that we hear about in Hebrews eleven was molded by God. God led the hand of a man with many weaknesses to victory. But isn’t that what He does with all His saints? Can our faith be anything without what He has shown to us and proven to us through His word? Has every increase of our faith in Him been the result of God proving something to us, whether through His word, or maybe even through life’s experiences? None of us are unlike Gideon; we were all led by the hand in the growth process. It’s only a matter of recognizing this and giving thanks to the God who led us.

Article by Tanner Campbell.

The Curious Case of Gideon

Hebrews 11:32-34  “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—  (33)  who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,  (34)  quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”

Many examples of people of extraordinary faith in God can be found throughout the Bible. Many of these examples may even but us to shame when we consider how these men and women wholeheartedly trusted in God through tremendous hardships. But the example of the faith of a man named Gideon is, however, an especially unique case of faith in God, and yet it may be one of the most relatable to our lives. Gideon was a man who needed an extra boost in confidence from God. Sometimes he needed multiple boosts. Sometimes it was he who requested the additional assurance from God, while other times God offered the additional boost of confidence without a request from Gideon. What a caring a compassionate God to serve: One who loves us even though we are frail in mind. One who understands the weaknesses we have and aids us in becoming stronger. Gideon’s life is a great example of this fact. While there is not space to recount the whole account, we will consider a few points from the life of Gideon.

The narrative of Gideon is found in Judges chapters six through eight. Due to the disobedient state that Israel was in at that time, God brought them under the oppression of the Midianites as punishment. Israel spent the next seven years tormented by the Midianites. During this time, the Israelites became a society of cave dwellers in an attempt to secure themselves away from the Midianites. Israel became a nation of great poverty, having their land, crops, and livestock destroyed by the Midianites. Then, after seven years, the Israelites came to their senses and began to turn back to God and cried out to Him for help. In response, God calls upon a man named Gideon to be a mighty man of valor and lead Israel forward to the defeat of the Midianites.

When we first meet Gideon, he is not, however, a mighty man of valor, nor is he the great man of faith that we hear about in Hebrews 11:32. What we see is a man living in fear of the Midianites, hiding food from them. What we see is a man without faith in God, saying “if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites” (Judges 6:13). When God called Gideon to be His vessel, Gideon did not believe Him at first, wanting proof that it really was God who was saying these things. Now, many may stop here and say, “how dare this man!” But God does not seem to think this way; instead, our patient and kind God gave him exactly the proof that he asked for. This gave Gideon the faith he needed to tear down the altar to Baal, cut down the Asherah idol, and to build an altar to the Lord. He also had enough faith to sacrifice a seven-year-old bull owned by his family. The bull sacrifice was certainly a challenge and a test from God, for this sacrifice would be a great loss living in the days of a seven-year poverty. Notice that the scriptures give insight into the faith of Gideon at this time, saying that he did all the above at night for fear of his family and fear of the men of the city (Judges 6:27). He is not a man mighty in faith yet, he doesn’t act with inspiring courage like we see exemplified in other men of faith in the bible. But what we do see is a better man than yesterday. What we see is a man who was without faith in God, but now is acting entirely by faith in God, even though he could be stronger.

What we are witnessing in Gideon’s life is a process of growth. We can’t get to point “c” without starting at point “a” and passing through point “b.” We cannot expect otherwise from Gideon, ourselves, or the members of the church. This does not mean we are at liberty to stop growing, this means we must be understanding toward the process of growth and the time that it takes. God illustrates to us his patients with Gideon throughout his dealings with him. God didn’t expect a mighty man of valor overnight; rather he brought Gideon along one step at a time until He made a faithful warrior out of him.

Article by Tanner Campbell

Barak’s Faith

In last week’s, bulletin we continued our study of the Judges of Israel, discussing Deborah. This week, as a supplement to that, we will not be moving on to the next Judge, but we will look further into a man that we referenced last time, Barak. Barak is a curious case, but that is not because of what is said of him in the original account of Judges chapters four and five. It is because of what the Holy Spirit reveals in Hebrews 11:32-33. Within a discussion of men and women of great faith in the Old Testament, God speaks of Barak as one who, through faith, subdued kingdoms. Well, I remember that he did in fact lead the army of Israel into overwhelming victory over the land of Canaan. But I also remember how God commanded him to go do that very task unto victory and he refused. I remember how he was addressed by Deborah, the judge of Israel, on this matter, and his response to her was, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!” So then, his obedience to the commandment of God rested upon his own contingency, that Deborah would travel with him. And yet, he is listed among the Heroes of Faith in Hebrews eleven. Is that how we remember Barak? A man of faith? A man of notable faith along with Noah, Abraham, Joseph, and Moses? If you or I were constructing a list of great men of faith, there is no way that we would include Barak among the ranks! So why did the Spirit of God choose to do so? I believe there are two things that we need to get a handle on before understanding why Barak is named in Hebrews chapter eleven, and those two things go hand in hand.

The first thing on our to-do list is to discover the faith of Barak. I think that his faith is fairly easy for us to find, in that, the testimony is clear that he went forth into battle against a much greater enemy, an enemy that “harshly oppressed” them for twenty years. He went up against 900 chariots of iron, the fear of Israel. He overcame much fear and performed the command of God. How many of us have used our faith to do anything similar to this? A lot of times, we focus on Barak’s struggle of mind before he reached the point of obedience, but the truth is that he obeyed. It doesn’t matter how he got to that point. It doesn’t matter if he had a hundred different thoughts about how not to follow through with the difficult command of God. What matters is that he found a way to strengthen himself to do the will of God. Then someone will object, saying, “What about Deborah having to go with him?” What about it? To this objector, I say, “What about you?” Has there never been anyone to help strengthen your faith? Has there never been anyone who has helped you become more and more of what you need to be as a Christian? Was there not someone who helped lead you to faith in Jesus Christ toward the salvation of your soul? So then, the objector may reject the faith of Barak on the testimony that he needed the help of Deborah to lead him to that point of faith, but you and I know better. Since when does genuine faith only belong to those who have obtained it alone without the aid of anyone else? The design of a disciple of Christ as seen in the New Testament will prove that view wrong. And that leads us to our second and last point.

Some struggle with the presence of Barak’s name among the Heroes of Faith in Hebrews chapter eleven. And the reason for that is based on a misunderstanding of the context of Hebrews eleven. A lot of folks look at that chapter out of context, and suppose that the chapter is a rank of those on the very top of the list of the greatest faith. That’s nowhere near the point. If that were true, we probably would not see men like Barak or Gideon on this list. The reason for the examples of faith in chapter eleven is to encourage the Hebrew brethren who were losing faith to regain strength. A great source of the strength they needed was to come with the help of their brethren, as is evident from the context, which recently told them to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” and to not forsake the assembling of themselves together, but “exhorting one another.” This is why Barak is named as an example for them. He was not one to go it alone, he needed the help of another disciple in order to gain the strength that he needed to obey the command of God. God is not expecting us to be victorious in faith without any help, nor does He even want us to try that. We need to look to our brethren for strength, encouragement, and comfort all along the rugged way. This is the message that the Hebrews needed, and we need to hear it as well. Thus Barak’s name stands forever in the record of Hebrews eleven, a man of victorious faith, who couldn’t do it alone, and God did not expect him to.

Article by Tanner Campbell


We left off last week discussing the beginning of Ehud’s leadership as Judge of Israel. After Ehud was Shamgar, of whom we know very little, mostly from Judges 3:31, which references how he slayed 600 men of the Philistines with only an ox goad, thus delivering Israel from that oppression. Following him, another judge of Israel is discussed in chapters 4-5. The setting is oppression, yet again, for Israel; this time it was twenty years of harsh oppression at the hand of Jabin king of Canaan. At that time, Deborah, a prophetess, was judging Israel. The account of her helping the Israelites out of oppression begins with her call to Barak, one of the leaders of the armies of Israel. She stood as a motivator for Barak to do what the Lord had already commanded him to do, which was to deploy troops at Mount Tabor. It appears that Barak had already forsaken this idea once before when Deborah encourages him to do what the Lord commanded. Deborah reminded him of the words of the Lord, how the Lord had said concerning Jabin the oppressor: “I will deliver him into your hand.” But this still was not enough to move Barak to action and perform the will of the Lord. However, he does express his willingness to go, on one condition, that Deborah went along with him (Judges 4:8). She agreed to go but told him that there will be no glory for him in the victory, for Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army will fall by the hand of a woman. The woman that she speaks of is not herself but another, as we will see.

As Barak’s men, with Deborah, marched to Mount Tabor, as the Lord had commanded, Sisera responded with his troops and met the army of the Lord. The account of the battle is short and simple, and the glory is the Lord’s. Judges 4:15 records the situation, how the Lord threw Sisera’s army into wild confusion (as the Hebrew sense of “discomfited”). The picture, it seems, is that of horses and chariots intermingling, colliding, and crushing men. They crashed right into the edge of the sword of Barak and his army. A tremendously wonderful victory that ended 20 years of harsh oppression. The iron chariots of Canaan, which were so feared by the Israelites, crumbled before their eyes in a “ayth” (self) “haw-mam’” (destruction). What fools the wretched Israelites must have thought they were to have lived in fear for the last 20 years of something that God removed in a moment. Why didn’t they trust him sooner? Dwell on that for a moment, but let’s not forget to look at ourselves afterward. What might we be in fear of today? What might be causing us to remove our trust in God for far too long than we ought?  Are we just as foolish as they? Oftentimes, just as it was in the times of old, the people of God drive their minds away from calming trust and spent much time in fear of a country, a group, a people, a threat, or a weapon. May we not miss the application.

The iron chariot of Sisera was also caught in the destruction, as is evident from his jumping off his chariot and running away on foot. He escaped and found a tent of a husband and wife who chose to live away from the populace. This couple was descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, but at this time, their family ties were known allies to Jabin king of Canaan. So Sisera thought he had found sanctuary in the tent of this couple. The wife, Jael by name, even assured Sisera to not be afraid, that he’d be safe and comfortable in their tent. She laid him down, covered him up, and when he asked for water, she opened a fresh skin of milk. On the one hand, she was showing herself as going above and beyond the requests of her houseguest, but on the other hand, it was the perfect circumstance to allow Sisera to fall fast asleep, and he did.  Once well asleep, Jael softly crept up over Sisera, and with a hammer in hand, she drove a tent peg into his temple and down into the ground. This is what the Lord revealed to Barak through Deborah that the head of the army will be given into the hands of a woman.

Judges chapter 4 stands in testimony of two women, Deborah and Jael, who trusted in the Lord; they did not show doubt or fear, but moved straightforwardly to accomplish the Lord’s will. An excellent example for the Lord’s children today.

Article by Tanner Campbell


Today we will continue our discussion of the Judges of Israel. Last week we looked at the first judge, Othniel (Judges 3:11), who kept the people on the straight and narrow for forty years. Once Othniel died, the children of Israel returned to their idolatrous ways (3:12). As an act of reformation by God, He disciplined them, bringing Eglon the king of Moab against them. Eglon allied with the nations of Ammon and Amalek to go to war against Israel. Israel lost the war and the people became servants of Eglon and the Moabites. For eighteen years Israel lived under the bondage of Eglon, and needlessly so. How interesting is the pride of Jacob’s children here! Consider how, earlier in this chapter, they served the king of Mesopotamia for eight years, but once they gained reason and turned from their idols to cry out to God for help, God sent Othniel to deliver them and bring them peace and freedom again. Now, after forty years of freedom under Othniel, the people are taken into the hand of Eglon because of their sins,  and wouldn’t you think they would immediately realize what they need to do? No, not immediately anyway. It took them eighteen years to have a reformed heart to cry to God for help. Notice, in Judges 3:15, how the “prodigal son” returns eighteen years later, and the Father is there to deliver them from the mess they are in. It is a wonderful lesson from the bible, that if we turn to God from our very messy lives of sin, He is there with open and forgiving arms. To deliver the people from their punishment, God chooses a man among them to be their leader for the next eighty years; his name is Ehud. His description is simple: of the tribe of Benjamin, and left-handed. Pointing out that he was left-handed seems to be due to the added stealth by which he was able to breach and conquer.

The details of how Ehud led the people to deliverance are unique, and to many, they may be difficult to stomach. Ehud began by crafting his own sword of eighteen inches in length; shorter than the usual sword. This was still sizeable to accomplish what he planned to use it for, but still short enough to be concealed under the clothing of his right thigh. The point that Ehud made it himself is either because weapons were removed from the land of Israel by their conqueror, or because there was not a short enough weapon for concealability being easily obtainable at that time. Now Ehud was the one appointed to bring Israel’s tribute to King Eglon. When he brought the tribute to Eglon, he got him alone by saying “I have a secret message from God for you.” Once alone, Ehud drew his sword and thrust it into his belly. King Eglon was extremely obese; specifically, verse seventeen says that he was, in Hebrew, me’ôd bârı̂y’, that is, vehemently fat. So then, when the sword went in, the fat closed over the sword, and the sword came out of his behind. Ehud fled the scene, locking the door on his way out. The king’s attendants did not immediately find Eglon’s body because they found the door locked and assumed he was using the bathroom. After waiting for an unreasonable amount of time, they became embarrassed for the king and finally proceeded to unlock the door. Upon entry, they found King Eglon dead and Ehud was long gone.

But this isn’t the last we see of Ehud, nor is this the last time that Moab sees him; for Ehud had only cut the head off of the snake, now it was time for the whole snake to die. Ehud fled only so far as to gather the troops of Israel and to turn right back around and lead them into battle against the Moabites, The army of Israel, led by Ehud, slew about 10,000 mighty men of Moab. After eighteen years of a loss of liberty, Israel finally enjoyed freedom again, and Ehud tells them why: “the LORD has delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” The land of Israel had rest for the next eighty years. What a lesson to be learned! After eighteen years under Moab, Israel cries out to God for help at last, and what does the LORD do? He gives them eighty years of peace! And their peace would have been prolonged further if they hadn’t forgotten about God once again, turning back to the worship of Idols.

Article by Tanner Campbell.

Othniel (Series on the Judges of Israel)

I would like to begin a series of articles discussing the Judges of Israel. This long period of history is recorded in the book of Judges. There were 15 judges in all, but they did not serve consecutively, but from time to time over a 400-year span. Rebellious Israel would be oppressed by surrounding enemies, but every time they cried out to God for help, God would raise up a judge, a deliverer, who would bring Israel back to peace. This cycle of events continued until Israel’s first earthly king was established.

The first judge of Israel was Othniel. His name means “lion of God,” and he lived during one of the saddest times in history, at least in my own opinion. A time when Israel as a nation walked far away from God. And yes, throughout the history of Israel and Judah, the people fell away numerous times, but the reason why I single out the days of Othniel is because this was the first time the people completely fell away. Recently God had delivered them out of bondage in Egypt. Recently Moses had led the people, keeping them in line and under the right influence. Recently God, through Joshua, led them into the promised land, and they spent five years conquering great lands and great peoples by the power of God. And since that time, Joshua and the elders of Israel kept the people under the right influence. But now Joshua and the elders of Israel have grown old and died; and the people did not choose to spawn a godly leader that would help them do the right things and follow the law of Moses. “So the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God, and served the Baals and Asherahs. Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and He sold them into the hand of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the children of Israel served Cushan Rishathaim eight years” (Judges 3:7-8). How can this be? After all the amazing things that God had done, how could they abandon Him to worship idols? It is in part because of the hard-headedness that seems to run in Jacob’s family, and the other part being the lack of teaching that had been done by the previous generation. Israel had this problem a lot; they would fail to pass on the word of God to their children (Judges 2:10). The results of this was always disastrous for the nation. On this occasion, they suffered consequences from God, becoming overtaken and enslaved to the king of Mesopotamia. This demonstrates to us the physical/earthly consequences that sin can bring, while the spiritual consequences are far greater if there is no repentance. For the earthly, the people endured eight years of slavery; as for the spiritual, they could be facing an eternity in hell if they do not repent.

Eight years pass, and the children of Israel finally stop crying to their idols and they cried out to the One who delivered Israel out of Egyptian slavery not too long ago. God responds by delivering them out of the bondage of Mesopotamia, and back to freedom in the land of promise. The way that God does this is by raising up a judge.

The age of the judges might be considered a new era for Israel, and understandably so, but I want to point out that there are striking similarities between the judges and the role that Moses and later Joshua had. The Hebrew word for “judge” has various definitions and must be defined by context. In the context of the book of Judges, a judge is a vindicator of God’s people; a judge is God’s avenue of clearing His people when they turn to Him in repentance.

Othniel is the first vindicator that God raises up as a leader, similar to Moses and Joshua. The account of Othniel as judge is recorded in only three verses (Judges 3:9-11), but what God does with him is substantial. The text explains how the “Spirit of the LORD” came upon him, and he went out to war and God delivered the king of Mesopotamia into his hand, and he prevailed. Now after reading through verse ten many times, I cannot conclude whether Othniel goes to war by himself, or if he leads Israel to war. The text says “he went out to war” and not something like “he led the people out to war.” Whatever the case may be, the real point of the text is that they could not be freed without God’s deliverance. They spent eight years in bondage, but once they turned to the LORD they were enjoying freedom again in no time. This freedom, peace, and rest for the children of Israel continued for another forty years. Why not forty-plus years? Because Othniel died. While the record of Othniel is only three sentences long, his example of faithfulness and leadership speaks volumes. After his death, the children of Israel are once again left without a human leader, and they soon go after evil again. How amazing is this account; the children of Israel would have continued in evil throughout those forty years too if it were not for one man and the great God who was with him wherever he went. It may be thought by some that one godly man cannot accomplish much, but friend, look at the example of Othniel. Here is one godly man who keeps an entire nation serving the LORD.

Article by Tanner Campbell.

A Question about Religious Holidays

I received a question concerning what the Bible says about celebrating holidays like Easter and Christmas, where Christ’s life is celebrated or acknowledged in some way. I think this is a very good subject for all followers of Christ to give diligent consideration to, as our society is infatuated with acknowledging Jesus on these holidays by attending a special church service. But it’s important to note that every conceivable religious holiday has no roots in the new testament church. The word of God gives no specific instructions for observing Easter or Christmas, though it is inferred to not participate in such religious observations because these two holidays were observed in Jesus’ day as wicked services to pagan idols (more details on this later). The only “holidays” (so to speak) that are directly spoken against observing are the feasts and special days under the old covenant (such as the Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles, and all sabbaths). These were nailed to the cross along with the rest of the old covenant (Colossians 2:14-17). Now, let’s take a closer look at Easter and Christmas.

Both Easter and Christmas are very old celebrations that someone put a new label on many years ago, yet what remains underneath the label are the same traditions. The Greeks had Saturnalia at the winter solstice, which was the celebration of the birth of the sun God. The festivities of this event included evergreen trees and wreaths, decorations of red (symbolic of the sun) and green (symbolic of new life), and exchanging of gifts. Festive gatherings included exchanging gifts in decorated boxes, singing carols from house to house, playing games, and feasting. The themed food included blood pudding and gingerbread men (both of which symbolized human sacrifices to the sun god). Neither Jesus, his apostles, nor the new testament church would engage in the festivities of Saturnalia. But Christians who strayed from the Scriptures began to adopt the practice about 400 years after Christ. They found that they could enjoy the same festivities as the idolaters, justifying their actions by rebranding Saturnalia as Christ-Mass.

Easter comes from the name “Eastre” who was the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. Eastre’s symbol was the bunny, which is a symbol of fertility. But Easter is probably even older than that, as the Babylonians had Ishtar (pronounced like Easter) as their goddess of fertility and spring. We can see where the terminology comes from, and where the Easter bunny originated, but there was more to the ancient celebration of spring and the worship of the goddess of spring and fertility. The exchanging of decorated eggs is also very old and is yet another symbol of fertility. Even the hot cross buns traditionally eaten around Easter were once the cakes offered to the pagan goddess (someone once slapped a cross on top of the buns to make it justifiable). Of course, there are more coverups in the story, like the decorated eggs, which have been re-interpreted to symbolize the tomb of Jesus, which is quite a stretch. So then, Easter comes solely from ancient pagan worship, the celebration of the spring solstice, and the worship of the goddess of spring and fertility. The belief was that such worship at the spring solstice would cause the goddess to bless the year to be fertile for the soil and the people.

The traditions of Christmas and Easter are so old (ironically older than the birth of Jesus) that few think twice about how we should consider the holidays. Many Churches today are acting without restraint, engaging in all sorts of festivities that have nothing to do with the Bible, God’s will, and the work and purpose of the church. Such things are foreign to the church of the Bible. But today we can see Easter announcements from churches advertising all sorts of fun events for children and adults alike. We can see church parking lots filled with bouncy houses. When David said, “I was glad when they said to me ‘let us go into the house of God'” I don’t think he meant that he was excited for his turn in a bouncy castle, but to serve the Almighty God with all his might in honor and purity (Psalm 122:1). What we are seeing today is exactly what Jesus was talking about when He said, “this people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandment of men” (Mark 7:6-7). Justifying carnally driven fun by saying it is celebrating Christ is not justifiable before God. Churches pounding people with distractions while saying “let’s focus on Christ this holiday” is not even rational. One year, when Christmas fell on a Sunday, the true colors of denominationalism were boldly shown to all the world. The outcry to celebrate the birth of Christ rang out that year like every other year, but when the day came, every church that I drove by on my way to worship had closed its doors so their members could enjoy their family traditions of that day instead of being bothered by worship services. It was a blatant hypocrisy of claiming to be celebrating Christ while not doing the very things he has commanded to be done on the first day of the week. They spent the day exchanging gifts, feasting, and showing that their hearts were far from the command of the Lord.

Let me be clear, I don’t have an issue with anyone exchanging gifts, decorating for seasons, getting together with family, and sharing food; for such activities do not hold any idolatrous connection any longer. But I do have a problem with these things when they get in the way of worship and God’s word. I do have a problem with branding social meals, events and festivities as a celebration of Christ. I do have a problem with calling such traditional festivities a “good thing”. Friends, God declares a thing “good,” not us. Man has labeled many religious ideas and practices “good” that cannot be found in scripture. God, through Isaiah, spoke warning upon those who call evil things “good” (Isaiah 5:20). A Christian can judge something as a good thing when they can identify it in the Word of God. And the Word of God has not given us the authority to honor Christ through the means of Easter or Christmas. As Mark 7:6 proves, honoring Christ is accomplished by having our hearts near Him and His words. To love Christ is to hold fast to His commandments (John 14:15), not the ways of men who adopted the ways of ungodly pagan men. Recall what Jesus said to the Jews who had adopted traditions from men: “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.” (Mark 7:9). And again, Jesus said, “why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

In conclusion, we should not honor Christ’s resurrection because it’s Easter today, but we should honor Christ’s resurrection every day because we ought to strive to live united with his resurrection (Romans 6:4-5). We will honor Christ’s resurrection in a special way every Sunday when partaking of the Lord’s Supper with the assembled body of Christ; we do this not because it’s a tradition, but because it is from the authority of Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Acts 20:7).

Article by Tanner Campbell.

Hell: A First-Century Perspective

The word “Hell” is used today usually with no mind to its meaning. It is a word so ingrained into our society and language that its definition goes without saying. And yet, there are many misunderstandings present today concerning this dreadful place. So, a closer look at Hell from a biblical perspective is in order.

Even though the word “Hell” is found 14 times in the Bible (ESV), the word, by itself, fails to explain the original idea of this place. The English word “Hell” is from the Indo-European word “helan” which means “to cover or hide”. Thus, the word relates to the grave, and corresponds to the words Sheol (Hebrew), and Tartarus (Greek). This is a bit troubling, because Hell is not thought of as the grave, and yet that is the true meaning behind the word. It is like using a word for another word that does not carry the same meaning. Nevertheless, we will make do with the word Hell, as long as we understand the biblical meaning of the everlasting condemnation of the wicked.

English translations of God’s Word will generally use the word “Hell” in place of the Greek word “Geenna”, often spelled by the way it is pronounced: “Gehenna”. This is how the Greeks referred to the valley of Hinnom that was south of Jerusalem. To me, this is what is most striking about Hell, is how the Bible never ascribes an original name to the place of everlasting condemnation. Jesus’ words in the gospel are the primary sources of discussions concerning Hell, and yet, He only refers to it by the name of the valley south of Jerusalem. A good exercise to help our frame of mind would be to find the places where Jesus speaks of “Hell” and replace that English word in our minds with “the valley of Hinnom”. For example, what if we considered Matthew 10:28 to read this way: And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in the valley of Hinnom. Or if we thought of Matthew 18:9 in this way: And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into the fire of the valley of Hinnom. Doing this exercise probably doesn’t resonate well with us, the word “Hell” would resonate better in our paradigm. But it is important to consider this because, in the two examples above, this is exactly what the Jews heard Jesus say when these words were first spoken. So then, Jesus was not giving a concrete name to the place of everlasting condemnation, but He was directing his audience to a physical, geographical place on earth from which they could relate to the likeness of eternal condemnation. Thus, there is something about the likeness of the valley of Hinnom that resembles in some way the place that today we call “Hell.”

The valley of Hinnom has a past shrouded in great evil. The first great evil recorded to have happened there was when Ahaz, King of Judah, sacrificed his sons in this valley (2 Chronicles 28:3). Following Ahaz’s lead, King Manasseh also sacrificed his sons there (2 Chronicles 33:6). But this practice did not stop with the wicked kings; Jeremiah spoke of how the people of Judah had used the valley of Hinnom to worship Baal, building high places for the idol, and they burned both their sons and daughters in service to Baal (Jeremiah 7:31, 33:35). Following this, God tells the people of Judah that they will be slaughtered and tossed to the valley of Hinnom, where their carcasses will be meat for the birds and wild animals (Jeremiah 7:32-33; 19:6-7). God even likens the fiery destruction of Jerusalem to the valley of Hinnom (Jeremiah 19:13), which is also called “Tophet”, that is, “the place of fire”. Lastly, Isaiah spoke concerning the judgment and fall of the Jews who rejected Jesus in the first century; he described the scene of their corpses, saying “their worm does not die, And their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:24). This was the very last sentence in the book of Isaiah. Jesus, referencing the book of Isaiah, spoke of Gehenna as a place where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Although Isaiah’s prophecy pertained not to Gehenna specifically, Jesus did apply this type of language to Gehenna (Mark 9:43-44). This is fitting, because, by the time of the First Century, Gehenna (the valley of Hinnom) was a smoldering garbage dump used by the city of Jerusalem and surrounding villages. The smoke from Gehenna constantly ascended from the burning dump. Thus, in the first century, physical Gehenna, due to its background of great wickedness and its current unending flames, was a relevant illustration of the final abode of the wicked; the spiritual Gehenna, which we call “Hell” today.

Considering the whole biblical record, there is very little given to us to understand concerning Hell. There are a number of figurative pictures that many believe to be revelations of Hell, but closer consideration of the context would demonstrate that such pictures are usually figurative of the defeat of God’s enemies at various times and in various places of past history (Such as “the bottomless pit” and “the lake of fire and brimstone” in the book of Revelation). While the pictures are hellish, they are not specifically Hell. However, this does not mean that we have nothing to learn from these things, or that they share no likeness to Hell. I am confident that past judgments of God upon nations share a key commonality to Hell, that is the burning flame of utter darkness. For all judgments of God, whether national judgments or the final judgment, share the commonality of the wicked facing outer darkness (Matthew 22:13; Isaiah 5:30, 13:10, 34:4, 50:3; Ezekiel 32:7; Amos 5:20, 8:9; Joel 2:2, 10, 31, 3:15; Zephaniah 1:15;  Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24; Jude 1:13; Revelation 16:10). These references are mostly concerning past national judgments of God. The picture of darkness is even used for past judgments of God against angels (2 Peter 2:4). And this great darkness suggests that the light of God would shine no longer upon them. If this be true of all past judgments of God, how much more on the final day of judgment? To be tossed into spiritual Gehenna is to “be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). And all condemnation from God, ultimately results in everlasting condemnation, as seen in this statement of Jesus: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels… these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  (Matthew 25:41, 46).

Article by Tanner Campbell

A Question concerning Intercession

I received the following question in the Question Box: How is the intercession of the Holy Spirit different from the intercession of Christ (especially with reference to prayer)? Let’s discuss these two intercessors separately, then we will see draw conclusions on how they are different and whether this affects our prayers or not.

The Intercession of the Holy Spirit

Found in Romans 8:26, the intercession of the Spirit is described this way: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

This scripture contains an important piece of information about the Holy Spirit, which, if understood properly, provides Christians with encouragement and confidence that the Father most certainly hears all their needs. Let’s break this text down into bite-size chunks that will be easier for our minds to digest.

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses”. The word “helps” in the original Greek means to “lend a hand together with.” The same word is used in Luke 10:40: “But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”  Applying the word “help” to the Spirit teaches us that He lends us a hand in our weaknesses. The specific weakness that Paul uses as an example is prayer. Two questions come to my mind: how does He help with prayer? And in what way is a Christian weak in prayer? The rest of verse 26 will answer both questions for us.

“For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought”: The word “know” in the original Greek text is not talking about knowledge that is gained through personal experiences, but rather the type of knowledge that is natural to us (i.e. something within us that we are born with). God, by His nature, knows exactly what we need; we do not. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow or what we need to prepare for tomorrow’s events; it is not our nature to be omniscient. It is God’s nature always to know exactly what we need.

The next statement: “as we ought” is interesting. The word “ought”, in the Greek, literally means “must or necessity.” So, Paul is specifically talking about things that we must be praying for by necessity. Now, altogether the first part of the verse states that the Holy Spirit lends a hand to us in our weaknesses, such as our prayers, because it is not our nature to know specifically what we need right now and what we will need later, but the Spirit knows and as we will see in the rest of this verse, it is He who will make requests for us to the Father in regard to all things that we need but don’t know about. The text says that “the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us.” Intercession is an interesting word; it refers to one who happens to come upon someone who is in trouble and pleads on their behalf. Let’s pay close attention to the word “Himself.” It is not through our prayers that He makes intercession, it is separate and apart from our prayers, the Spirit himself pleads to the Father.

Therefore, the way the Spirit “helps in our weaknesses” is not by guiding us in thought while we pray, but rather he pleads to the Father on our behalf. His work is completely separate from our prayers. Isn’t it a wonderful thought to know that the Holy Spirit continually pleads to the Father on behalf of the saints? What unconquerable love the Spirit has for us! And I don’t want to forget to mention that His pleads of requests on our behalf are done “with groanings which cannot be uttered.” That is to say, He pleads to the Father for us in ways, words, and an intensity that is not possible for us.

The main thing to recognize here is that the Spirit does not add to or modify our prayers in any way. They are offered to the Father exactly as we said them. However, aside from our prayers, He makes His own fervent requests for all things we need specifically that we do not even know we need.

As much of an encouraging text as this is, it does not vanquish our need to pray without ceasing. The text said that the Spirit helps in our weaknesses, such as not knowing about certain things to pray for, but there are so many other things that we know to pray for or about. And so many other things that we have been commanded to pray about (1 Timothy 2:1-4; James 5:16). Knowledge of the Spirit’s work is not to affect our work in prayer. We still need to be constant in our thanksgiving and praise to God; in our requests for what concerns us for the day. That is the work God has given the saints every day on this earth.

How is the intercession of the Holy Spirit different from the intercession of Christ?

In the same chapter of Romans, Paul also mentions that Christ makes intercession for us. “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34) While the English translations will likely use the same word, the word translated “intercession” (huperentugchano) in 8:26 (referring to the Holy Spirit) is different from the word translated “intercession” in 8:34. The word that is attributed to the work of Christ’s intercession is enteuxeis, and is defined a “meeting with, conversing with, holding an interview or conference”. Jesus, at the right hand of God, is talking about his disciples to the Father.

I can’t say just how different the intercession of the Spirit is from the intercession of Christ, but I can say that there are many similarities. Neither of these two intercessors affect our prayers. We pray to the Father on behalf of others and ourselves; Christ speaks to the Father on behalf of the believers; and the Holy Spirit likewise speaks to the Father on behalf of the Christians.

Article by Tanner Campbell.