12 June 2014

Final Campaign Highlights Video. We ran sound separately

Created with flickr slideshow.

Summation of Judges: What we have learned

By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Moscow, Russia
12 June 2014
For the last 11 days we have been learning from the book of Judges and today in our final chapel talk, (although I will have some final words tonight as well), we are going to draw some serious conclusions for our lives long after Campaign is over.
The topics all alliterate in English: Pattern, people, provision, persistence,  and prayer. Stay with me.
We saw it too many times to miss it. And we must know that if all Israel lives like we did in the Book of Judges we are in real trouble.
1)   Israel does evil in the sight of the Lord
2)   God gives us over to the enemy
3)   We cry for help (usually)
4)   God sends a deliverer to save us
5)   We fall again into sin
That pattern could be frustrating and make us want to give up, but it should actually inspire you in the exact opposite way. If God is interested enough in saving us, in delivering us from our sins and from our enemies, then we also ought to let Him do so. We will not necessarily be the ones who fail; we may be those who ‘live securely’ in the land God wants to give us.
The reality of the book is that we CAN start over, and no matter how many times we fail, He is cheering us on, to help us get to the finish line.  Remember what the Bible says, “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity.” (Prov. 24.16)
The real thing many of us learn on campaign and in reading Judges is that we are not alone, we don’t work alone, although many times on campaign we feel completely alone. We are part of a team. And if we work in a team, in Kharkov or Los Angeles or here in Moscow, we are stronger for it. Each of us brings certain good things to the table, each of us has gifts and talents. And when we bring those to the team itself, the whole team is greater than the parts. The Talmud says, “Two can do three times the work of one.”
The judges who served well, even oddly with daggers in fat men or in sword fights with Midianites or any other enemy, were those who rallied at least some of the tribes and cooperated. In fact the Ephraimites lost 42,000 men because they wanted the benefits of ‘team’ but refused to live it out together with the rest of the tribes of Israel.
One more thing on people, and that’s that God is looking for people. Ordinary people. He doesn’t need the superstar. He’s not keen on celebrities. He’s interested in real people who really love Him and really want everyone to know Him also. Like Gideon, the valiant warrior who was in the wine press or other somewhat reluctant heroes of the faith. Yesterday I met Nadia who was one of Avi Snyder’s first fruits in Odessa. Last week I met Volodia who also was one of Avi’s first fruits there, who is now serving in a ministry among drug addicts. Both got saved 20 years ago. Both are still around. Avi is an ordinary guy, my age, from an ordinary Jewish home in New York, who gave himself to God in 1977 and hasn’t looked back since. Avi taught Nadia. Nadia had a student named Maxim Ammosov and he learned well from her. Ordinary people who are available to God make a difference for God in extra-ordinary ways.
When you leave from Campaign, be available to God in Tashkent or Minsk, in Omaha or Odessa, and God will use you. You may not be on staff with Jews for Jesus, or you might be on staff, but no matter what your career, you can be useful to the Lord in your world, in your way, if you are available to Him.

If I’ve seen anything over my 43 years as a believer that keeps me going and growing in Messiah, it’s that He will always provide for us. He did that with sinful and needy Israel in the book of Judges. He did that for hungry Israel in the wilderness. He did that for Elijah with a raven and for at least 5,000 with a little basket of fish and loaves and the prayer of Yeshua. God provides for us, over and over again. Last Friday we learned the company that was bringing us food went out of business and with some extra work by our leadership, none of us went hungry. God provided others to feed us and we didn’t miss a meal.
We see this provision of the Almighty in the Book of Judges as well. He provided judges, military strategies, heroes, everything we needed, even songs to sing. He wants us to have a full life, and He will provide it for us, if we are near Him, if we trust Him, if we let Him.
What does the Bible say,  I have been young, and now I am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or his descendants begging bread.” (Psalm 37.25)
Each morning your alarm clock went off and woke you. You looked at the others in your room. You looked at the clock. You looked at your own tiredness and made a choice. You got up. And that persistence in carrying on, in keeping going for the Lord during this Campaign is essential to keep with you when you go home. What is persistence? It’s the ability to continue doing something, no matter what is against you. It’s ‘one more sortie’ when you are weary that afternoon, or this afternoon. It’s another lap around the track when you are exhausted. It’s praying when you think you have no more energy to stay awake.
Last Saturday we were in Gorky Park and there was a race that happened there that day. I don’t know how long the race was, but there were people crossing the finish line when we arrived AND when we left after our bicycle visibility sortie. So I’m guessing it was a long race. And if you have even been in a race like a 10 km or a marathon like my wife has run many times, you know that there are ‘walls’ along the way, hindrances to your finishing the race. On an ordinary three-week campaign, we would hit those walls after a week or so, and maybe in the middle of the 2nd week. Our campaign was a bit short to have experienced those walls, but each of us had to break through barriers of weariness or boredom or hunger or distractions in order to finish this race, which we will finish tonight.
That same thing is true of life. If we persist,   if we endure to the end, we will be all right.
Rachmiel Frydland was from Poland, a Holocaust survivor, and lived in the US until he died in 1984. I was privileged to work with him at Jews for Jesus in New York City for many years. He well knew the difficulty of surviving. He escaped Hitler and camps and found eternity in salvation in Jesus. He was a dynamic evangelist and Bible teacher. One of his favorite expressions was that quote of Yeshua, “He that endures to the end will be saved.”  (Matthew 24.13) He did just that. And we can do that as well.
Every day people around the world have been praying for us. And I saw that many times on our Campaign that all of a sudden we had wisdom to say something, or to leave somewhere, or to turn in a new direction. What prompted that? It was God answering the prayers of His people in England or in South Africa, in Poland and Berlin, in Australia and the US. When God’s people pray, God listens and God answers. So your encounters with people were more often a result of the prayers of the saints worldwide than it was your cleverness or strategy. I’ve been on campaigns since 1980 in Argentina and in New York in Sydney and Melbourne and have this experience to be sure. God organizes our lives.
That’s what we learned in Judges. God rules in history! He gives us leaders and He gives us judgment and all kinds of things to make us His people. He gives strength to Samson to kill 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. He gives 300 Gideonites strength to chase and kill 135,000 Midianites. He is the ruler of history. He also gives us free will to choose to follow Him, and that’s shocking if you understand sovereignty. But it’s true. And without that freedom to choose, we cannot really love Him. Without that freedom to choose, we cannot understand evil in the world. Without that freedom to choose, we would not be born again ourselves.
What made our events good? What made the singing and the dancing and the art show explanation good? Sometimes people talk about ‘feeling the Spirit.’ I get that, although everyone might have different meanings associated with that expression. What’s clear is that when someone is praying, from anywhere, for an event or for our wisdom, for our spirits to be united with His Spirit, for love to be manifest in our hearts… God listens and answers.
No wonder we encountered people on park benches and in subways like Marina did yesterday on our way to the Kremlin armory.  No wonder Paula kept encountering English-speakers. No wonder Scheffee got to lead a man from Nigeria to the Lord. We were moved to stand, to be, to smile, to participate, because God was answering someone’s prayers.  How awesome is that!

Final reminder
Finally, let me end with this. Live a life of faith; trusting, leaning on God. Proverbs 3.5-6 says,
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
All your heart. Tonight I’m going to show you a Bible verse about joy and whole heartedness, which you may not know, but you need to know. For now, when we say trust in God with all your heart, we then ponder our own failings and think, wait, I didn’t trust Him last week. Or last year on that weekend. Look, the Bible is saying, trust in God completely and don’t even lean a little bit to figuring it all out. Don’t even make the slightest bit of a lean towards personal intellectualism OVER AGAINST the Lord and the Scripture.
God’s Word is Truth. God is Truth. Yeshua is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is all we need. No wonder we can say we trust Him. No wonder we can put full confidence on Him.
In the subway cars, you see people who hold on to the railings when the train is crowded. And then there are times you cannot find a rail to hold. When the train comes to a stop, you see people leaning one way and then the other. Tossed by the velocity of the train, they are not stable. God says, if you want to make a difference in the world, don’t lean on what you know. Don’t lean on human wisdom. Don’t lean on the way it ‘has always been.’ Trust completely in the Lord, in your marriage, in your workplace, in your office, in your neighborhood, in your church, in your relationships, with your children and your parents. Don’t lean on your own life. Trust Him completely.
Let’s go out today, our last scheduled sorties, crossing the 200,000 mark on broadsides, getting another 20 or 50 UJs to join the 430 so far, and let’s persist and endure to the end. In the power of God, who knows and oversees all things, and who is answering the prayers of the many, even our prayers, amen?!

11 June 2014

Samson: All’s well, but doesn’t end well (Lesson 2 of 2)

by Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Moscow, Russia
11 June 2014

I really enjoy William Shakespeare, although I’m not British. He borrowed heavily from the Bible to write many of his stories, and so many of his plays ended in tragedy. One play which I liked is entitled “All’s well that ends well.” It’s the story of an orphan named Helena and her love interest named Count Bertram. Bertram is not interested in her, but by the end (Spoiler alert) she wins him to herself. The mechanism and trickery she uses is similar to Jacob and Laban, to Rachel and Leah, and to Tamar, all in the book of Genesis. Shakespeare certainly knew his Bible.
In our story of the man Samson that we conclude today, we see a military conqueror who was himself conquered by his own passions and although his name means something like “Sunshine”, he ended up in complete darkness. Samson never recruited others to join him, and only once did Israel band together in this story and that was to capture and deliver him to the Philistines. It’s really “all’s not well and doesn’t end well at all.”
Do you know how this ends? Let’s go there first and then back up and see the ending in context.
Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life. Then his brothers and all his father’s household came down, took him, brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. Thus he had judged Israel twenty years. (16.30-31)
Samson ended in a grave, like everyone, had judged Israel 20 years and he died with the Philistines, the sworn enemies of the Jewish people on the west. He died in blindness, in darkness, and without any of his family around him. He was alone. And far from God. But God strengthened him to the task and gave him if you will, final victory.
I thought of some other men in the Bible who ended not so well. Judas comes to mind first. Remember him? Apostle, chosen by Yeshua, but he failed miserably. He was a sell-out to the Jewish leadership and gave up when Yeshua needed him the most. He killed himself like Samson did, and died alone. (John 13.30 says when “he went out, it was night.”) That’s a summary of darkness. The other one I thought of was Saul, the future king of Israel after the period of the judges. Saul had his own troubles on so many levels, and when he had to fight these same Philistines (1 Sam 28) he sought help from God. God didn’t answer Saul as quickly as he required, so in verse 8, Saul went to the witch at Endor and sought her help AT NIGHT. By the way Saul also committed suicide didn’t he? So all’s not well for those three, and for many who walk away from life in God, no matter the cause, no matter their motivation. God wants us to walk in light and live in the light of the glory of God. His ways are not our ways and we must do things his way. Amen?
Let’s back up and see Samson’s story after yesterday’s ending, and see what lessons we can learn for ourselves.
Samson had been engaged to a woman and paid the ‘bride price’ for her, but after the riddle was ‘solved’ by trickery, he went down the road to Ashkelon, killed 30 men and took their clothing, gave the clothing to the men of Timnah to pay off the wager, and went home. He was really angry.
What should he have done? What did the judges of Israel do during their tenure? They rallied the troops of various tribes, and formed an army. Did Samson do that? Not at all. His own personal warfare was enough for him. Not a good thing if God calls you to lead His people.
What should he have done with Philistia? Marry one of them? By no means. Bad alliances will never work the work of God.
So today (chapter 15 and 16), we see at the beginning
But after a while, in the time of wheat harvest, Samson visited his wife with a young goat, and said, “I will go in to my wife in her room.” But her father did not let him enter. (.1)
He spent a bit of time away, probably to cool off, and rethink a few things. So he goes to the woman to whom he is still engaged, for whom he has already paid the money, and finds her father preventing him. In verse (2) the father says, “How about her younger sister?” Oy. He said, “I thought you really hated my eldest.” (The Hebrew is intense:  ;h$Dta´nVc aâønDc_yI;k)
Samson is one who retaliates. He is always striking back in the way people deserve. Maybe that’s appropriate for a judge, but it seems a bit personal, rather than legal. He replies to the father (.3) “This time I’ll be blameless…” In other words, you are going to get yours!
So he catches 300 small animals, like jackals or foxes, and ties them in pairs, sets them on fire and releases them into the grain fields (it is wheat harvest time) to burn it all down. He is successful. Then the Philistines who see their economy burned to the ground wanted to know who was responsible. They found out it was Samson and that he was aggravated over the bait-and-switch wife/ best man thing. The people turn on the father and daughter in the conspiracy and burn them to death. (.6) So much fire and anger.
Samson avenges the death of his fiancé by killing a number of Philistines in reply. We don’t know how many (.7-8) but we know it was significant. The Bible uses the word for leg (we strangely translate it ruthlessly) and said the slaughter was GADOL, or great.
The military of Philistia then move into Judah (.9) and camp there. The men of Judah learn of this and send a note asking what they are doing. Here we see the pathos of the judge who is not a judge over the tribe, which he should have won over early. In fact, the men of Judah say (.11) that they are happy to get along with the Philistines, that we are ok with their ruling over us. And by the way, who made you the boss of us?
Samson replies that he’s going to get even with the Philistines and you would do well to avoid further contact with them.
In verse 12 they tell Samson they are going to initiate a prisoner swap and send him to the Philistines in exchange for a bit of peace. He says, No problem, just don’t kill me.
The exchange takes place and Samson is delivered into their hands. He breaks out of the chains/ ropes and kills 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey. Not a bad way to spend the day.
 Before I go on, whom do you think Samson looks like? The Incredible Hulk? Sylvester Stallone? Maybe one of your own like Danila Kozlovsky. Look he’s probably more like Elya Baskin, Adam Sandler or Woody Allen. There’s nothing in the natural which would show him as having superior strength. If he were a brute, a real strong man, then we would attribute great strength to his working out regimen, to his right eating or something. But only when the Spirit of the Lord came on him could he do great things in the Lord.

In verse 18 Samson again sounds like a ‘natural’ man and asks for water. I think Samson’s big problem was living in the flesh, for the flesh. He was a classic ‘carnal’ man. So although there’s nothing wrong with water, after a military bout, what’s missing is devotion to God, thanksgiving to God, reliance on God. You know?

He finishes the drink and chapter 15 ends with a summary of his leadership. 20 years. Check.

Then chapter 16 doesn’t highlight Israel’s evil; it only shows Samson’s evil. Again he goes to Gaza and finds a prostitute. And has sex with her. Word got around town about Samson, the enemy of the Philistines, was there in town, and they set an ambush. He left town at midnight, but first carried off the gates of the city to a nearby hill. (.3) Remember what the gates represent? Their economic system all came through those gates; their military protected them there; their justice system was there. He basically stripped them of any authority and power. Samson had obviously intended to be a guard of Israel and to annoy Philistia during his life. He was very successful at that. But imagine if he had secured the loyalty of some of the other tribes. He might have sent Philistia back in ships across the Mediterranean.

Verse 4 of chapter 16 we are introduced to Delilah. I think her name comes from the Hebrew DALAL meaning to ‘bring low’ or ‘fade.’ She is Samson’s mistress, probably some level of prostitute and the scene is bizarre and comic as the Philistines promise her great wealth if she will find out the secret to his strength. The boys are hiding nearby to capture him once she finds this out. After three false starts, they leave. Finally after a long time, she does find out, calls the boys back, and she hires a barber[she doesn’t do it] who cuts his hair (.19); Samson weakens enough that the Philistines capture him (.21), gore out his eyes, and make him work in a scene of great mockery. No doubt Delilah gets paid in full. At the end, taunted and embarrassed, Samson, whose hair (and thus his vow’s fulfilment) has grown back, kills 3,000 men and women and commits suicide in the process in the destruction of the temple to Dagon.

Samson’s strength was not his hair. It was his Nazirite faith in God and God alone was his strength. What the hair represented was his strength; but it was not his hair alone.

So what do we learn today?
1)   Men and women of faith can be knocked out of the life of faith if they do not turn to God and repent of their sins.
2)   Sin is a destroyer.
3)   Satan hates us and wants us to retaliate against things and people against us rather than to seek the honor and glory of God in all circumstances. Paul said, Be angry, but do not sin. This is hard, but worth working on.
4)   Working in teams is the best way to win the battles. That’s costly, and you have to adjust to include others, but it’s the best way to win.
5)   When God gives you victories, shout “Hallelujah!”-- don’t ask for a drink of water.
6)   In spite of all this failing of Samson, he’s still listed in Hebrews 11 and is still a member of the Hall of Fame. He did believe. He didn’t live it out to the end, but his faith gave him great victories. He did help Israel by keeping the Philistines away from us for 20 years. Thanks be to God.

Let us end well.

Not only this campaign, but our lives as well.

Live in faith. Trust in God. Flee youthful lusts. And you will do well.

10 June 2014

Samson (Lesson 1 of 2) Strength is its own weakness

By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Moscow, Russia
10 June 2014

I remember the story of a young executive on his first day on the new job. He approached the boss’ office and knocked.
“Come in, son,” the boss told him.
“Sir, do you have any advise for me today?” he asked uncomfortably.
“Sure, make good choices.”
“Great, thanks for that, boss.” And towards the door he stepped.
“Excuse me, boss, how do I make good choices?”
“Experience,” boomed the boss, now writing notes on his notepad.
“Great, thanks for that, boss.” And again the young executive stepped towards the door.
“One more thing, boss, how do I get that experience?”
The boss looked up from his paper and said, “Bad decisions.”

Today we meet another judge in the book of Judges by the name of Samson. His story is told over four chapters, 13-16. We will take two days to unpack his tale. We are introduced to the setting as is common in Judges with the words in 13.1: “Israel…evil… Philistines rules over …40 years.” Typical of the situation in the continual story. The pattern is clear. The continual bad decisions and bad choices of the people of Israel are summarized in the last verse of Judges. Let’s look at that one:
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judg. 21.25)

This summary of the condition of the Jewish people is so sad, like I said when we started, it almost makes one depressed or anti-Semitic or something.  But remember our pattern, God listens to our cries, and delivers us, even when we don’t deserve it. So it will be in this case, in chapter 13, that God will make a barren woman, the wife of Manoah, to bear a child and he will deliver Israel. I’m so glad to know that no matter our condition in 1933 or in 1994 or in 2014, that God will bring His word to fulfillment, and will make things happen according to His will. His will is to keep Israel. He that keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. (Psalm 121)

The angel of the Lord appears to the wife, not to the husband, and not to them together. He says to the woman about her diet:
Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing.

OK, so she is to avoid certain foods and drinks for a reason. (.5) tells us:
For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite (Numbers 6) to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

If you were not a Bible reader, and only reading this story as if Pushkin wrote it, you would think this child would be a hero from his youth. He is to avoid certain foods and drinks, and razors, and fight against the enemies of the Jews, in this case, the Philistines. Maybe he would be a powerful and strong boy. And if you were writing such a story, you might include some dangers like monsters or big and powerful human enemies, rocks falling, ships being tossed in the rough winds, and then the little hero would conquer everyone, and like in Hollywood, they would all ‘live happily ever after.’

That’s not the case in the tale before us, however.  His Hebrew name is from the root SHEMESH meaning ‘sun.’ You would think his parents Manoah and the unnamed wife would have named him something like “Keeper of the vow” or “Son of Nazir” since the only thing the angel of the Lord told them was that he would be a Nazirite, and had a few regulations on him that they were strictly told to maintain.

The story in chapter 13 is very detailed and I guess that someone close to Samson wrote it. The repetition of the visitation by the angel of the Lord and the exact language over and over makes me think this. So the angel visits both mother and father and details Samson’s diet and commitments. Then Manoah wants to have a special dinner for the visitor (.15), but the visitor declines. The angel recommends that Manoah offer an offering to the Lord (.16). Manoah still isn’t sure, and wants to know the visitor’s name. Again the angel declines but says something which makes people think he is Jesus. The angel says, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful.” (.18) The Hebrew word for wonderful is of course pela, the same word used in Isaiah 9.6
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

The human born to the virgin (Is. 7.14) who is ‘given to us’ in chapter 9 of Isaiah will be called Pela, El gibor, and Sar Shalom. All great titles for God or Messiah. So when the angel here in Judges says why do you ask my name since it is ‘pela’, some folks think he’s indicating that he is an appearance of the Son of God before He came to earth. They call this a ‘theophany’ or “Christophany’ in theological circles. I personally don’t believe this is Yeshua, for many reasons, but if people believe that, it won’t hurt them.

So in verse 19, Manoah does what the angel told him, and offers both a grain and goat offering on a rock. Usually he should have gone to the Tabernacle down in Shiloh, but perhaps for speed or for urgency or for compliance or…we really don’t know why, he chooses to do it locally.

Not only did the couple offer things to God, but the angel did ‘wonders’ (.19) Again a variant of the word “pela” And again I don’t know what wonders he performed, but together with his disappearance into the flames of the offering, it was enough to convince Manoah and his wife that this was an angelic visitation. (.21) They bowed low (.20) and Manoah got scared. He thought, “If that was God, then we are doomed. No one can see God and live.” (.22). She replied that this was silly logic. If God wanted to kill them, why would he have told them about the baby, and why would he have accepted our burnt offering? (.23). She is very convincing and the next thing we see is the baby’s birth and the activity of the Spirit of God. Notice the phrase at the end of .24, “The Lord blessed him.” I don’t think this is used of any other judge in the Bible. Again we can only guess what this might mean, but whatever the details of this blessing, it’s clear that it’s a positive thing. You know many of you ask me to bless you before a sortie or if you are unwell, or in various situations of life. And I’m happy to do that. I think we can all agree that however blessing works out, it’s a good thing. So the child was experiencing a good life in his home in the tribal region of Dan. Only note this, the land of Dan is in two places in the Bible. Originally they were to live to the west of Judah in what we today call the Gaza Strip. But since they couldn’t defeat the enemies there, Dan moved up north to the Golan region. These scenes with Samson however, take place in the original location about 20 miles west of Jerusalem.  

Then look how chapter 13 ends. The Spirit of the Lord is stirring Samson. It could also be translated as troubling Samson.

Chapter 14 begins with his first view of a woman from Philistia and although the story seems to say Samson has a plan to use her, I wonder if he was actually falling to the trap which would eventually knock him to his own death. And yet, he is listed in Hebrews 11, in the short list of 4 judges from this book who were men of faith. So his cleverness here in chapter 14 probably is accurate. Sometimes our very strengths are what get us in trouble. We don’t know how weak we really are, and thus lean on our own strengths instead of on the Lord. 

Oswald Chambers said this, "We are apt to say, “It is not at all likely that having been through the greatest crisis of my life I would now turn back to the things of the world.” Do not try to predict where the temptation will come; it is the least likely thing that is the real danger. It is in the aftermath of a great spiritual event that the least likely things begin to have an effect. They may not be forceful and dominant, but they are there. And if you are not careful to be forewarned, they will trip you. You have remained true to God under great and intense trials— now beware of the undercurrent. Do not be abnormally examining your inner self, looking forward with dread, but stay alert; keep your memory sharp before God. Unguarded strength is actually a double weakness, because that is where the least likely temptations will be effective in sapping strength. The Bible characters stumbled over their strong points, never their weak ones."

Samson convinces his parents to go to Timnah in Philistia (not far from their home) to get a woman whom he has seen to be his wife. On their way, a young lion approaches and without so much as a stick, Samson captures and rips the lion into pieces and kills it. (.5-6) How did he do it? By the power of the Holy Spirit! (.6)

They make it into Timnah and the story collapses into a short chapter, but probably lasted months. The key is the 7-day period of the riddle (.14) and the wedding festival. Samson was to marry this woman, but the day before the wedding (day 6), he submits to her tears and tells her the solution to the riddle. She mocks him, submits the answer to the boys of town, Samson gets really angry and goes to kill 30 others, take their garments and pays off his wager with the men of Timnah. Samson’s fiancé marries his best man, and of Samson we read,
And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house. (14.19)

Samson is a man of faith, to be sure, and filled at times with the Holy Spirit. What we learn of him today and tomorrow will guard our hearts and guard our bodies and guard our spirits so we can continue to be men and women of faith as well.

Anger doesn’t work the righteousness of God. Lust doesn’t work out God’s purposes. False alliances will not help anyone. Samson had a duty to honor God as a Nazirite and stay away from vineyards and from foreign women and their food. He failed over and over, yet God calls him a man of faith.

I’m so glad God wants our hearts and not our perfections. We are not perfect. We do commit sin. I’m not excusing that, but the reality is here. We fall short of God’s standards, and YET, He loves us and wants us to draw on His grace and forgiveness, amen?  Our response to what He tells us, via an angel or via the Scripture or from wherever our instructions come, will determine our future.  Like the young executive, make good choices. Choose well, and you will do well, Amen?

09 June 2014

Jephthah: Man of faith and curious vows (Judges 11-12)

By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Moscow, Russia
9 June 2014

We skip a couple of the judges today and pick up another famous story in the book of Judges. There is a man you might have read about in the Bible. He is one of the people listed in Hebrews 11, and a judge and a military leader for the Jewish people in our story. His name is Jephthah. His Hebrew name is Yiftach, which means “He opens” and I believe is an acknowledgement of his opening the family line of his father Gilead and also is prophetic in that he will open a door of peace for the Jewish people in his adult life.
Gilead had sex with a prostitute and although this was a dishonorable act for a Jewish man, he brought both the woman and his son into his own house. Jephthah was the first born among his other sons from his own wife. (.2) The younger sons of Gilead drove their brother Jephthah out and he became an outcast. Sounds like the story of Joseph centuries before, doesn’t it?
OK, so from outside the camp of Israel, Jephthah takes up residence and is making a life. All of a sudden when the Amorites come to attack the Jews from the east, the Jewish leadership invites Jephthah to be the leader. He argues with them, saying,
Then Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me from my father’s house? So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?” (11.7)
From this we learn that the brothers of Jephthah were also being coached by the leadership of Israel at the time of his exile. Jephthah reminds them of this wrong action and like Joseph in Genesis, asks them if they are serious about this invitation. They assure him that if he leads them, he can be the ROSH, the head of the Jewish people. (.9-10)
Jephthah prays. I hope you don’t miss this. Before he started his campaign against Ammon he (.11)
and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah.
He didn’t just talk about God to the people, he spoke to God about the people. Wow, he asked for help. He told God what was happening. He prayed. Then he went to battle. That’s exactly what we are supposed to do. We will not surprise Him with our information; we are notifying Him that we know He is God and we are not. That’s the essence of prayer.
The future leader then initiates a negotiation with the king of Ammon (.12) sending word that the battle isn’t right, since we are occupying the land. Basically, “what are you doing?”
The king of Ammon writes back in verse 13 saying, “You took our land. Give it back.” Sounds like spoiled children. If only they had a United Nations back then. Or CNN.
Jephthah sends a fairly long history mail back to the king, reminding him of what happened when we escaped Egypt and sought to travel through their land. The kings of the land actually denied entry visas to our people, and in fact, Sihon king of the Amorites fought against us. We had to save our people, so we had to fight him, and thus gained control of this area of geography. It wasn’t our originally idea, but thanks to your king Sihon, we now own the place.
Judg. 11.23 ‘Since now the LORD, the God of Israel, drove out the Amorites from before His people Israel, are you then to possess it?
Jephthah says the problem is not really between us; it’s a matter of your god versus our God. Then he even says, in verse 24, “Why don’t you stay where your god Chemosh gives you land.” He continues saying we were away for 300 years and you could easily have dominated the land in that time. Where were you? Why now? See, you guys are just mad that we own it and are doing something with it, which you left for hay and weeds. By the way, doesn’t that sound familiar today in light of modern Israel and the controversy of certain tribal areas?
What was the king’s response? (.28) He ‘did not listen’ or in our Bible it says he “disregarded” the message of the judge of Israel.  Not a good idea when a man of God speaks to you. It’s almost as if the music in the movie changes, and you and I and everyone else knows this is a mistake. Trouble awaits the king. We’ll see how that plays out in a moment.
Remember yesterday we saw how God sent an evil spirit into the camp of the men of Shechem in the story of Abimelech? Today God used his Holy Spirit to come upon Jephthah (.29) and to empower him to know what to do. Look it did happen now and again in the record of the Older Testament that people had that unction, that anointing from above. But it was not available to everyone until Shavuot, after Yeshua rose from the dead, and God poured out His Spirit on the 120 and on anyone and everyone who now seeks it.
Then Jephthah did something that we see a few times in the Bible, a man making a vow. And this is where I’m going to be controversial. Some of you have heard about this promise, this oath and wondered what happened. I’ll try to clear that up for you in a minute. But that a Bible character makes a vow is normal. It’s sort of a ‘If you do this for me, God, I’ll do that for you.” Jacob did it, Hannah, Elkanah, David…and on and on. So Jephthah makes one (.30-31) and promises that if God gives him the victory, Jephthah will do something in return.
So, that’s exactly what happened. God again gets credit for the victory and Jephthah wins the battle against the Ammonites.
The scene immediately turns to the house of Jephthah. He returns to celebrate his victory. His home is now in Mizpah, the scene of the ‘agreement’ of Laban and Jacob back in Genesis. And he has to live out a vow he made to God. His daughter comes out of the house first. Yipes, he has to do something with his daughter. What was that vow?
We know it involved God giving him victory. But what was his promise to God? In my Bible it says,
then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” (Judges 11.31)
But I want you to read the word “or” instead of “and”. Either I will donate it if a person to God, or I will sacrifice it if it’s an animal.
Think about it. If Jephthah were to try to fulfill the vow by killing his daughter, he would be violating the Torah. (Lev. 18.21) He would have had to ask a priest in Shiloh miles away also to break Torah. And there is not a chance that the people would have allowed this either. Also he as a public figure would have not been able to do anything secretly, so this would have been huge news in Israel. And no way would the daughters of Israel have commemorated this 4 times a year. It would have been a shanda! So this commemoration (Heb: TANAH) is a recounting of the story. No wonder he is listed in Hebrews 11. No wonder he is a man of faith. He gave away his own legacy for the good of Israel.  By the way he could have gotten out of this vow by paying extra, (see Lev. 27.1ff)
Many other judges had dozens of sons and grandsons, but Jephthah had none. He was able to rule for 6 years, but had no perpetuity. That’s the fulfillment of the vow.
So I read this vow of Jephthah as “I will give whatever or whoever comes out of my door to the Lord,” meaning to virgin and perpetual service to the Lord like the ladies at the bronze laver in the Tabernacle. (Ex. 38.8) If the first thing out of his house had been an animal, which was clean and appropriate, he would have offered it to the Lord as a burnt offering.
He did not kill his daughter. It is not recorded that he killed her. And it’s wrong to make the Bible say that. She lived in perpetual sadness that she was not able to bear children, which was normal for a Jewish family in that day, and dare I say in this day as well.
One final comment on the Ephraimites. Remember them in the story of Gideon last week. (For those online, please review the blogs from last week on this site).
They wanted some land although they had not participated in the fight against the Midianites. Gideon treated them nicely, but apparently Jephthah didn’t. He said they didn’t come along when asked. They did not volunteer. And they had no right to demand anything today. (12.2)
The Ephraimites were threatening the judge and were taking God to the test, so Jephthah decided to invent a test. It’s called in Hebrew and English a ‘shibboleth.” The men of Ephraim had a sort of ‘lisp’, which prevented them from saying SH sounds, they came out as S’s. So instead of ‘shibboleth’ they would say ‘sibboleth’  By the way the word itself means floods.
If you were to ask someone from Odessa to say “Odessa” you would immediately hear their accent or dialect and it was a giveaway of their homeland. As a result of the shibboleth test, the Jephthah army killed 42,000 Ephraimites that day.
The story of Jephthah is sad in that he has no legacy, but it’s rich in faith. Let’s be careful to live by faith and not make hasty vows. Let’s trust the Lord but not negotiate with him. He can and will send His holy spirit to lead us. We have a job, to pray to him, to tell him what’s happening, to trust him with our lives and with the lives of those near us.
Let’s be careful to give him thanks and praise for this story of the man of faith and our lives and the lives of faith of the Bolotovs and Tolik and each other in this campaign. Amen?

08 June 2014

Abimelech: Failed King, Guard your hearts

Our 8th lecture in a series on the book of Judges:

By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Moscow, Russia
8 June 2014

All around us here in Moscow are memories of times past. Look at Red Square and the Kremlin. Look at historical markers like the churches that were built as far back at the 11th century. Pushkin’s statue, Mayakovsky’s square, Yesterday we saw the statue of Peter the Great on the ship near Gorky Park. By comparison, Australia became a white man’s world in the end of the 18th century, when Captain Cook arrived into Sydney harbor. So for us, history is about 240 years old. To you in the Former Soviet Union, that’s almost modern history.

And history should inform us. Remember the great quote by George Santayana:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So that’s why we read the Bible, which itself is thick with history. That’s why we listen to older people who recount stories from their past, so that we can learn. So that we don’t have to learn the hard way. We can learn from the mistakes of others, and not make the same mistakes.

Listen to what the author said:
2Sam. 11.21 ‘Who struck down Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?’

The mockery of the writer of Samuel is clear. A woman kills a Jewish king, not with a sword but with a big rock. By the way the word Rechev is almost always translated “chariot” but for this episode with the millstone of the woman in the tower against the horrible king Abimelech.

Today we don’t look at a judge, but rather a king, the son of Gideon named Abimelech.  Let’s ponder his name and his life and his ending and see what we can learn so that we can be better, and we can avoid the same mistakes he made.

It may be that Gideon named his son Abimelech (“my father is king”) as witness to his faith in the fact that God himself (as “his father”) was the true king in Israel. Abimelech apparently chose to interpret the meaning of his name differently: “my father was (asked to be) king” and now I will take his place as king. Abimelech like so many madmen in history chose a life of deceit and evil masquerading as harmony and civility to get his own purposes.

Let’s look at the three stages of this man’s evil life and learn to guard our hearts. Remember what Solomon said
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life. (Prov. 4.23)

Abimelech was a clever politician and devised a plan to secure the loyalty of his family first, then the people of Israel second. He used his relationship with Gideon only as suited him.

His ‘selfish ambition’  is clear.  He is the son of Gideon, as we know, but his mother was the slave woman/ concubine who was not one of Gideon’s many wives. Maybe he had a 2nd class idea of himself. I’m no psychologist however.  Abimelech’s ambition is obvious. He mounts a political campaign with the relatives of his mother’s family. (.1) Not with the relatives of his father. He is an outsider and lives like one.  He uses Shechem as his location to begin which makes sense since his mother was from there.

Remember what James the apostle says,
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. (James 3.16)

Abimelech invited the Shechemites to consider who should be king, although I doubt he advised them of the desire of the Almighty that Jews would not have a king. They thought, “One of our own should be king.” (.3) That would make sense in their political world as well. So he had them in his hand.  They were however uninformed about the 10th Commandment “thou shalt not covet” which Abimelech clearly violated.

The story unfolds with Abimelech hiring hit men from the Baal temple worship center. (.4) The money is dirty money given to him from evil men and with it he hires evil men. The Bible calls them RAKA (empty heads).  They begin a military campaign to kill his 70 brothers. And with one exception they are successful. One escapes by the name of Jotham, who was the youngest of the 70.

Finally he seizes control of government and is heralded as king  there in Shechem (.6) What a sad day in Israel’s history as their new leader is anything but a kosher man. He’s a failed and failing man in direct contrast to his father Gideon and to the others who have made a difference in the life of Israel.

Jotham tells a parable, and I think it’s the first parable in the Bible. (.7-15) The trees all talk and invite others to rule over them, but the thorn bush, the bramble is Abimelech and is useful only to make the fire bigger. Jotham uses the story to highlight the uselessness of his half-brother. And like I see all over Australia every summer, the bramble bush would only cause more fires and not be able to protect the other trees at all. (.15) It’s irony; it’s laughable; it’s sad!

Abimelech was king for 3 years. (.22) Then God sent an evil spirit on the situation. The men of Shechem began to be thieves and steal from passing travelers all their goods or to levy taxes on them, which was the same as thievery.  A man named Gaal came onto the scene and the men of Shechem put their trust in him, as opposed to Abimelech.  How did he do it? Gaal told the Shechemites that Abimelech’s father was a Jew. (.28) The very anti-Semitic Gaal used Abimelech’s history against him.

Gaal and his troops were defeated (.34-41) by some clever almost Gideon-like strategy thanks to Zebul, his lieutenant, some ambushing, and Abimelech was king again.

Abimelech had to punish the people of the city, so he set them into a trap, and blocked the city gate and killed many of the people of the town who were trapped inside.  The king poured salt over the city after burning it down. This was also done to the Jewish city of Jerusalem some 800 years later when the Romans kicked us out in 135 AD under Hadrian

Finally the kingdom is going to be taken from Abimelech in a most unusual way.  He chased some enemies to Thebez, about 16 kilometres from Shechem. Those people had joined in the hostility to him as king, and thus they needed to be punished. They, like almost everyone in those days, went to the ‘strong tower’ in the center of town, which was a worship center to the false gods. Abimelech set an ambush against the town as he had done successfully in the past, only this time it didn’t end so well.

A woman threw a millstone out the tower and it landed on the king, killing him in an instant. Think about it. A king should die in battle, but he did not. A king should die by a sword, but he did not. A king should die by a man, not by a woman. What a sad ending on so many levels. The unnamed woman is a hero in a certain way and she actually fulfilled the prophecy of Jotham in her stone throwing.

The story is a history and if that’s all it is, then ok, we have learned a little today. But if we can learn from it more deeply, we can take away much more.

What a man sows, that he will also reap.
Ill-gotten gains do not profit.
Abimelech didn’t even know the God of his father.
Pride goes before a fall.
Paradise gained wrongly will lead to paradise lost.
Be like Gideon and live a life of faith in the Almighty, not trusting yourself, your cleverness, you deception, and your machinery of making things happen. Honor God and He will honor you in due time.

Today we go again to the park and the streets and we will look for people who are open to hear from us. Don’t make it happen. Don’t connive and threaten and coerce. Proclaim the truth of Yeshua, and live for him and He will draw people to Himself, even through us. We are asking for 100 contacts today. Many will approach us. Many will be looking at us and wondering…”who are those people?” Be used by God today. In faith, not in manipulation. Ask and let’s see what great things the Almighty will do. Amen?

07 June 2014

Barak: a man of faith, and under authority

By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Moscow, Russia
7 June 2014

Yeshua was met one day by a man who was a soldier, and at that, a very high-ranking soldier in the Roman army. The man told him, “
“For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.(Matthew 8.9) The centurion had approached Messiah with the wish that Yeshua would heal his servant who was unwell. Yeshua replied that he would like to come visit the centurion’s house and see to the paralyzed servant. But the Roman declined Yeshua’s wish, saying that he was unworthy of such a visit. Then he said this famous line I quoted at the beginning.

What was Yeshua’s response to this statement? He said
I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.

Yes it was faith, and faith alone which the centurion demonstrated. And it’s that kind of faith that God is looking for out of each of us today and each day. On Shabbat and every day of the year. And as has been our custom all week, we turn to the book of Judges to see that again in evidence.

Today, we look at chapter 4 and see Deborah and Barak. Mind you Barak is mentioned in the Newer Testament also, in Hebrews chapter 11. He is in the rank of Abraham and Moses and all the heroes of faith. You know, yesterday Reggie and I were speaking about countries around the world and how each country needs its own heroes, people the children can admire, and people the adults can say defined them. I was walking near the metro station up north in VDNKh. And there I saw the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics and the lineup of heroes of space aviation. Fantastic. I loved the Monument to the Conquerors of Space. And I remember that time in history. I remember when we as Americans were hurrying, rushing madly to beat the Russians in the Space War. We wanted to put a man on the moon before Russia. And we did, but the Russian cosmonauts were first in space and thus we were #2. That said, the memorial and the museum there are fair tributes to the pioneers who are real heroes, who really did a great job in getting out there.

Reggie and I were speaking about the need we all have for a real hero. And maybe that’s why some unbelievers look to comic books and cartoons for heroes like Superman or Ironman. Maybe that’s why musicians look to famous composers or rock and roll stars and celebrities to be their heroes. But in the Bible, we have a hero. A real hero. His name is Yeshua. And he comes in a line of famous heroes like we read in Hebrews chapter 11. Including the one from our story today, Barak.  So let’s read chapter 4.

The story as most in Judges begins with Israel doing wrong and failing God. He therefore sends us into the hands of Sisera, the commander of the army, and Jabin who was his king, the king of Canaan. We are enslaved for 20 years. Remember, if you live like a slave to sin, God will allow you to be a real slave.

Then the story highlights a woman who is a prophet of Israel. Her name is Deborah. She has a general named Barak who will lead the battalions of Israel against Jabin and against Sisera. There is one more important player namely Jael who is the wife of a certain Kenite who plays a big role in the ending of the reign of the Canaanites over Israel.     

Deborah is not only a prophet, but also she is also sitting and ruling, under the palm tree, which apparently was the location of the Supreme Court of the day. She made judgment for the people; she was also the military organizer along with Barak. She told him (.6) to go get ready, to be in a certain area, ready for her word. When she sent him word, he should go out to battle and God would lead the victory. He was to gather 10,000 men into the battle from two different tribes: Naphtali and Zebulon.

As an obedient soldier, he who knew how to take authority and to wield it, said, “Yes, ma’am” and went to gather the troops. He did just that and waited at Mount Tabor, by the River Kishon. This is where the battle of Armageddon will be. This is the river coming down from Mt Carmel near Haifa. So General Barak goes to Mt Tabor and waits.

Sure enough, Deborah gets the clues, however prophets get clues, and sends word to the army to go; they go under Barak’s command and they win the battle. Only as happens often in Bible stories, Sisera the commander of the Canaanite troops escapes and runs away. He runs to a nearby location where he thinks he has a friend in a man named Heber who is living peacefully (or at least like Switzerland, as a neutral state) with Jabin, the king of Canaan.

Sisera thinks he is safe, and all he wants is a hideout for a while from the mad Barak who is chasing him. Little does Sisera know but Jael, the wife of his host is onside with the Jewish people. She has faith in the God of the Hebrews. She has faith in Barak and Deborah. She takes matters into her own hands and takes an ordinary tent peg and while Sisera is taking a nap, she kills him with a hammer into the peg through his skull. She leaves him there.

Then Barak shows up and Jael says, the guy you were chasing is here. I took care of him. But notice what the Bible says.

So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the sons of Israel. (Judges 4.23)

It’s historic; it’s ironic; it’s appropriate. God has done this great thing.  Even though Barak and Jael were involved; even though Deborah did some preliminary organizing and later sang her famous song about this conquest. The reality for a believer is that God subdued the king of Canaan that day. That’s what faith says. That’s what the Newer Testament centurion would have said about the story. He was a man ‘under authority’ and knew that the real power was his boss; not himself.

Look at chapter 5. This is Deborah’s song, her poem of praise to the Lord.  She invites others to listen to her song (.3), and praises God for the volunteers (.2, .9). Only half the tribes of Israel responded to the call to volunteer, which is very different than it was when Joshua was leading the troops just a century before. Listen, you here are a great team, each of you has volunteered to be on Campaign and to serve the Almighty together. But don’t look down on others who are not here. Don’t be pompous and proud. Deborah chided the people who lived nearby who didn’t want to participate. The accusation is in verse 23: Because they did not come to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the warriors.’
Deborah accused the tribes who did not attend of not only not helping her and Barak. She labeled them as people who didn’t help the Lord.
But you, listen, you must be humble. God called and you responded, and yet, you are a person under authority. You are His person, and therefore HE gets the credit for your victories and battles. Amen?

Deborah then sings and thanks God for the victory itself.  (.19-23). She tells how the victory was won with natural weather conditions, which were not even natural at all. This was the dry season, probably like we are in just now in Moscow. So the 900 iron chariots of Sisera would have easily conquered the Jewish settlers. But the rains came super-naturally and thus bogged the chariots, making them unusable, and in fact, making their drivers sitting ducks for the assaults of the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali. Remember, God uses ordinary things given to him, available to him, for His supernatural purposes. Deborah saw the hand of God in the rain and the gushing of the River Kishon. (.21)

Look at the final verse (.31). We read Deborah’s closing chorus:
“Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD; but let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.”
         And the land was undisturbed for forty years.

The Bible is clear that the people of God, who love Him will be like midday sunshine. We are going to shine His light in the midst of terrible darkness and we are going to make a difference for Him. We are people under authority, not only in this campaign, to Ilya and Larissa. We are people under authority to Yeshua. He alone gets credit for all we are doing in His name. We are not worthy of God’s love; He alone gets the honor for loving us first.

Today, let’s go out in the name and authority of Yeshua. Let’s proclaim Him to the lost. Let’s empower the lost to hear. Let’s make it clear who we are, whose we are, and what people need to know before they enter eternity. They need to be saved. They need to be forgiven. We have the answers for them. Let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its strength. Amen?