Monday, April 4, 2016

Do You Want Peace? Don’t Make Friendship Assumptions, and Be Honest About Your Fear

            Did you ever think that just because there is peace extended between families or friends that you would enjoy peace (rest, prosperity, happiness) among them just by association with them? Our first passage today proves that you can’t make that assumption, and if you do, it might be disastrous for you! (Ever heard of a back stabber?) Our second passage shows us how admitting we’re afraid and receiving an assurance of peace from God can calm our fears. And the third story relates how others who have denied you their help in a battle (like basic food) may not enjoy the peace you enjoy in a post-battle, peace victory. Indeed, they might just experience destruction.

            The book of Judges finds Israel without leadership and everyone running around “doing what was right in their own eyes.” (Hmmm, sounds somewhat like our world today!) Anyway, a series of judges are raised up in an attempt to provide Israel with some much-needed leadership. In Chapter 4, we come across a jewel of a Judge named Deborah. But it’s not about her that we’ll study peace; it’s through a gruesome event that drives home the point that you can’t make assumptions when it comes to friends and associations!
            After the death of a leader named Ehud, the Israelites backslide again and anger God with their behavior. So, God punishes them by allowing a Canaanite king named Jabin, who reigned in a city called Hazor, to control them. He had a fearsome commander named Sisera, who had quite an army and seemed to enjoy oppressing the Israelites. After twenty years of his oppression, the Israelites have had enough and cry out to God for release. And God provides a way out.
            But first, Judge Deborah needs to chastise some of the men who were called on to deliver their people. Evidently they were scared of Sisera and didn’t think they stood a chance against him. Barak, the guy who’s supposed to do all of the gathering and leading of thousands against Sisera tells Deborah, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!” Quite a brave man, this Barak, isn’t he?
            But here’s the clincher: It seems that because Barak won’t do this alone, Deborah tells him that he won’t get the glory. A woman will. I guess Barak’s all right with that, since he sets out and does what he’s supposed to do. And he takes Deborah.
            Well, to make a long story short, Barak routs Sisera and his troops, and Sisera leaps from his chariot and hotfoots it away from the battle. (Brave leader, this Sisera.) He’s only interested in saving his own life at this point. And where does he go? He heads straight for the tent of a woman named Jael, the wife of a guy named Heber. (Stay with me here.) Why does Sisera run to Heber’s wife? Because Heber is in a state of peace with Jabin, and since Sisera is Jabin’s military leader, he just naturally assumes he’s included in that nice, peaceful arrangement and can take advantage of it by asking Jael to protect him.
            Jael goes out to meet him as he’s running up and invites him into her tent to rest, since he’s obviously exhausted. She invites him in, tells him not to fear, and covers him with a nice, comfy blanket. When he asks her for water to drink, she does one better and gives him milk. With no refrigeration back then, I’m going to guess it was fresh and warm, and there’s nothing like a warm glass of milk to put you to sleep! Sisera tells Jael to lie about his being there if any man should coming looking for him. And then he drifts off to sleep.
            No sooner does he fall asleep, than Jael locates a tent peg (these are big tents so think BIG tent pin) and a hammer, tippy toes up next to Sisera, and drives that tent pin all of the way through Sisera’s skull. She actually fastens him to the ground with the pin. She’s one strong, gusty woman! When Barak shows up, in hot pursuit of Sisera, Jael goes out to meet him, too, and tells him where he can find the man he’s seeking.
            Evidently Jael didn’t like Sisera. She probably knew he was an evil, dangerous man. Maybe her husband really despised him, even though he had a peace agreement with the guy’s king. She might have heard her husband complaining about Sisera and his behavior. Maybe he’s the one who told Jael never to trust Sisera. Whatever it was, she was ready for him when he showed up, and she didn’t waste any time in letting him have it. So what’s the moral of this story?
            Be very careful who you assume your friends are! Assuming anything is always dangerous, but there is a very good reason Jesus tells us to be shrewd as serpents about the world. Remember the trust but verify recommendation I gave you several posts ago? Just because your boss is friendly with the boss of another company, don’t naturally assume that you enjoy the same respect or favor in the other company’s eyes because of your relationship to your boss. Or name any other situation like that. Sisera may have been better off showing up at some stranger’s tent. Peace is not always shared among families or between acquaintances. So beware! Granted, Sisera probably got what was coming to him, but his foolish actions of running away and then making a costly assumption did him in.
            Want peace? Check your assumptions about who your friends are.

Chapter 6, verse 23 in Judges is a great one. And in some regard, it is kind of humorous.
            Israel has once again disobeyed God, so this time around, God heads down to Earth himself—in the form of The Angel of the LORD—to locate the Judge he wants to lead His people. He picks a guy named Gideon.                  

              When he first encounters him, Gideon is threshing wheat in a wine press. Not out in the open, on the designated, exposed, threshing floor, but in a wine press. He’s doing that so the Midianites can’t detect him or what he’s doing; so they can’t steal the wheat or harm him. And God seems to have been watching Gideon. God knows where Gideon is going to be, since He shows up there and waits for Gideon to start working. Gideon is an unlikely pick, since he’s apparently the weakest of the weak. He actually tells God he’s the absolute weakest, no-nothing guy in the entire nation! At least that’s what he claims.
            God tells Gideon what Gideon is going to do and how he’s going to win this battle—with the LORD standing right with him. Only after all of this back and forth does Gideon figure out Who he’s talking to, and he’s suddenly very frightened. Normally people drop dead when they look upon the LORD, and Gideon knows that. He’s afraid that he’s going to drop dead right there in the wine press. The LORD calms him down by saying, “Shalom be with you; do not fear, you shall not die.”
            Can’t you just see it? Gideon’s knees are knocking together and he’s feeling terrified and queasy, and God raises his hand or pats him on the shoulder and says: Be at peace (Shalom), Gideon. Don’t be afraid and don’t worry. You’ll live.
            Wouldn’t you just love to hear those words uttered aloud to you when you know God is “speaking” directly to you, asking you to do something you feel you’re totally unequipped to do?
            Sometimes we don’t have that word of peace because we haven’t realized Who is directing us; and maybe because we haven’t asked for an assurance of peace. Or perhaps it’s because our pride is keeping us from admitting our fear. While it’s not always true that you will have a supreme feeling of peace about doing something you are called by God to do, you can certainly have peace that He has talked to you and asked you to do it. Assurance that the Holy One, Himself, has personally given you direction.

            Judges 8 finds Gideon furious that his Israelite brothers refuse to help the fatigued, hungry men fighting the Midianites. Rather than stop right there and render his penalty, he promisess to dole out justice when he returns, victorious, from the battle. He says, “When I come back in Shalom, I will tear down this tower.”
            And that’s exactly what he does, after exacting a cruel torture to the men who denied the aid. A penalty usually reserved for conquered enemies.
            Obviously, as Christians, we are not to exact this kind of retributive justice, but God may. Scripture tells us that rendering justice is his prerogative. But it just may be that after you have fought the battle He’s sent you on, won it, and returned in rest, prosperity, and happiness, He may execute judgment on those who did not stand with you—those who left you hanging out there to fight the battle on your own. Those who decided not to get involved or help you. Don’t wish it, don’t expect, and I don’t think you should pray for it. But don’t be surprised if it happens.

Questions to Ponder:

1. The tent-pin-to-the-head story is pretty gruesome, but it emphasizes the reality of not being able to trust everyone you think you can trust. It is a warning about making assumptions about who your friends are; who’s with you and who’s against you. Sisera made a fatal calculation. And it is noteworthy that he made it 1) without counsel from others; 2) after he turned chicken, abandoned his troops, and run like a frightened rabbit; and 3) when he was exhausted.

Can you think back to a time when you made an assumption about who a friend might be, because of a loose association you thought you enjoyed? When my boys used to talk about their friends, I used to ask them: “Are they really friends or more acquaintances? How well do you really know this person?” I asked these questions because they seemed to consider everyone they met their “friends.” In reality, very few people in your life will be a true friend, and even fewer will be bosom buddy friends in which you can, or should, confide. Protect your heart by choosing your friends wisely, and learning much about them before you anoint them with the moniker of “friend.”

If there is someone you have just met, who you think may qualify as a friend, go to the Lord in prayer to verify that feeling. Your heart may be leading you astray, and you need His guidance.

2. Moving onto Gideon, his calling, and his response. Is there something you think, or maybe know God has called or directed you to do that you’re afraid of doing? Or does the thought or reality of simply encountering God frighten you? If so, be honest about your fear. He knows you’re afraid, but there is a very good reason why He has chosen you. So often it does wonders (for you) to voice your fear out loud and to ask Him to give you an encouragement of Shalom, to strengthen your spirit and quiet your heart.

If you are in this type of situation right now, go to a place where you can be alone with God and admit your fear to Him. Ask Him to bless you with a word of peace. And perhaps seek good, godly friends who can support and pray for you about the matter.

3. In the sorry story of Gideon’s “brothers” who denied him and his exhausted, hungry men food and drink to continue on in battle, there is much to be learned. With these men, it comes down to a matter of integrity. These men were out for themselves. They had no concern for their brethren, and actually told them so. They demonstrated a hands-off, isolationist attitude and lived under the illusion that their tall tower was all of the demonstration they needed to prove their strength. They acted like they didn’t need any help, and they certainly didn’t thing they needed to get involved. And they refused to help. Gideon wasn’t asking them to join the battle. He simply asked them for sustenance. Something basic. To give his men strength for the journey.
            But I’m sure these men most certainly expected to reap the rewards Gideon’s victory would have afforded them. They probably would have been the first guys in line to receive their ration of the spoils.
            It’s all a matter of integrity. And we do ourselves a disservice when we convince ourselves that a person who won’t defend us or come to our aid in times of adversity will suddenly stand with us in peace. Don’t count on it. They’re divulging their hearts when they deny you the aid in the battle. That’s when a man’s true character is exposed. And these men failed the test. Gideon knew that they would probably forever be a thorn in his, and the nation’s side, if he didn’t exact justice.

Is there someone who has denied you aid when you asked for it? Not denied you because they really couldn’t give it, but because they could and they chose not to. Ask God to grant you much discernment about that person when it comes to how much involvement you should have with them in the future. Remember Jesus’ words: Be as shrewd as a serpent and as harmless as a dove. And be very careful about who you give your pearls to. Be wise about who stands with you in Shalom!

Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter! Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!

In Christ’s love and peace,


When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer

Images by Google Images