In the Shadow of the Cloud: Jacob

Here’s an excerpt from my latest post on the life of Jacob at the Gospel Life blog, where I am a regular contributor.

1-3One of the most famous stories in the life of Jacob is the dream he has of angels ascending and descending a stairway or ladder between heaven and earth in Genesis 28. In the midst of this dream, God reaffirms to Jacob the same promises He made with Abraham and Isaac about making a great and blessed nation from Jacob and his descendants, as well as “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (Gen. 28:14). What is ironic about this situation is that God is affirming His promises and mission for the world even as Jacob is running away from his family after stealing his brother’s birthright and blessing by deceiving his father.

If you read through Jacob’s story, you may begin to wonder whether Jacob really belongs in the roll call of faith heroes in Hebrews 11. He deceives his father, his brother, his uncle, and his neighbors. He seems bent on his own gain. He seems to avoid direct conflict even as he seems to leave conflict in his wake. He plays favorites with his wives and his children, causing great tensions between his own family members. In one sense, Jacob is a mess.

However, if we step back for perspective and get a little bit more honest, we realize that we are not that different from Jacob. Jacob’s particular sins and weaknesses may not be ours, yet we also have our particular sins and weaknesses. We may not always see them, but others probably do.

There is another story from Jacob’s life that most of us know found in Genesis 32…
[Read the rest of the post here.]

The Bramble King: Abimelek (discussion questions)

Flawed Heroes Series Gfx_App SquareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “The Bramble King,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This message continues our series, “Flawed Heroes” from the book of Judges. This week we looked at the life and demise of Abimelek in Judges 9.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Answer one of these two questions:
    • Who would you describe as one of the greatest leaders of the last 100 years, and why?
    • Who is someone that you know personally that you respect as a leader, and why?
  2. This week, as we continue our “Flawed Heroes” series, we look at one of the lowest points of the book of Judges with the character of Abimelek in Judges 9. There is a lot to learn here, so take a moment to prepare your heart, asking God to speak to you through His word. After that, read the entire passage out loud.
  3. The story of Abimelek is connected to the story of Gideon (also known as Jerub-baal) in Judges 6-8. What do we know about Abimelek, the end of his father’s life, and the attitudes of the tribes of Israel at this time (see especially Judges 8:22-35)?
  4. What happens in Judges 9:1-5? What does this tell us about Abimelek’s character and the character of the leading citizens within Shechem? (Note: the word translated ‘citizens’ of Shechem in the NIV has the sense of ‘lords’ or ‘leaders’; see the ESV, NASB and NLT.)
  5. Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon, survives the massacre of his siblings and offers a prophetic message against Abimelek couched in a parable in 9:7-21. When he describes Abimelek as a thornbush seeking to shade the other trees, why is this both ridiculous and foolish?
  6. Have you ever sought to find refugee or help from an untrustworthy person or source? What happened? How might Jotham’s words guide us here?
  7. The uprising against Abimelek is guided by God (9:22-24). What does this tell us about both the power and character of God?
  8. The rebellion by Gaal son of Ebed (9:25-41) is short-lived and ends poorly for all involved. Why do you think the people of Shechem were drawn to Gaal?
  9. As Abimelek’s wrath is poured out on Gaal and his army, then the people of Shechem, and the neighboring town of Thebez, we see an ironic answer to Abimelek’s promise in 9:2. What does this tell us about appearances and empty promises?
  10. Abimelek’s death is a dishonorable finish to a dishonorable life. Judges 9:56-57 serve as a commentary on the life and wickedness of Abimelek and Shechem. There’s a saying that people get the leaders they deserve. What does Abimelek’s story tell us about true leadership? What are the spiritual issues underlying the disasters of this chapter?
  11. What is one thing that God is speaking to you through this study today? If you are on your own, take a moment to write it down, pray about it, and then commit to sharing that with one person this week. If you are with a small group, share your answers together and then pray for each other.

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The Right Woman for the Job: Deborah (discussion questions)

Flawed Heroes Series Gfx_App SquareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “The Right Woman for the Job,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is part of our series, “Flawed Heroes” from the book of Judges. This week we looked at Judges 4-5.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been thrust into service or responsibility in an unexpected way or at an unexpected time? How did you respond?
  2. As we continue our “Flawed Heroes” series at Eastbrook Church, we turn to Judges 4:1-5:31, which recounts the story of Deborah and Barak. Whether you are on your own or with a small group, begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak to you through His word, and then read the entire passage aloud.
  3. From Judges 4:1 and 5:6 we know this story happens after the time of Ehud and at the same time as Shamgar (3:31). According to 4:2-3 what challenging situation does Israel finds themselves in now?
  4. Deborah looms large in this portion of Scripture as easily one of the most respectable characters in the entire book of Judges. What is her role according to 4:4-7 and 5:6-7?
  5. Barak is from the northern areas of Canaan beyond the Sea of Galilee. Deborah sits as prophet in the central area between Ramah and Bethel. Why do you think Deborah summoned Barak?
  6. Why do you think Barak wanted Deborah with him? What repercussions did Deborah say this would have for Barak?
  7. Have you ever felt the need to know that God was with you in a particular season or situation? What did you do?
  8. The battle swiftly goes to Israel because of God’s power (4:11-15), but Sisera, the enemy general runs away. What happens to Sisera according to 4:16-21? What does this mean for Barak (4:22)?
  9. The summary description in 4:23-24 reminds us that God has been at work. How have you seen God at work in this story from start to finish?
  10. Judges 5:1-31 is a poetic expression of celebration for the victory related in Judges 4:1-24, similar to the expression in Exodus 14-15. Some scholars think this is one of the oldest portions of the Bible. Why would poetry and song be the appropriate response to the deliverance recounted in Judges 4?
  11. Throughout the story of Deborah and Barak we see that God is at work. How has God been at work in your life in significant ways? While most of us aren’t poets or song-writers, how might you write your own psalm of praise to celebrate what God is doing? This week, take some time to write something like that down. Share it with someone – maybe even your small group – as your public praise of God for His goodness.

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Lead with the Left: Ehud (discussion questions)

Flawed Heroes Series Gfx_App SquareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Lead with the Left: Ehud,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is the third part of our series, “Flawed Heroes” from the book of Judges. This week we looked at Judges 3:12-30.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When have you experienced help from another in the midst of personal need? What happened?
  2. We continue our “Flawed Heroes” series at Eastbrook Church by looking at the story of Ehud found in Judges 3:12-30. Whether you are on your own or with a small group, begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak to you through His word, and then read the passage aloud.
  3. Background: With this week’s study we enter the stories of individual judges. The major judges are Othniel (3:7-11), Ehud (3:12-30), Deborah & Barak (4:1-5:31), Gideon (6:1-8:32), Jephthah (10:6-12:7), and Samson (13:1-16:31). Interspersed within these larger accounts are many other, shorter stories of minor judges. Most of the stories of the major judges follow a four-part structure: 1) Israel’s sin & disobedience, 2) punishment of that sin & decline, 3) repentance from sin, and 4) deliverance by God through a judge & restoration.
  4. Judges 3:12-14 sets the stage for Ehud’s arrival as a deliverer. What is the problem with Israel that leads to their oppression?
  5. What do you notice about Ehud and his calling as a deliverer from 3:15? How does he prepare for the task according to verse 16?
  6. While it is possible that the Benjamites were ambidextrous (see Judges 20:16), it is possible that Ehud’s left-handedness was related to a physical defect, or at least was seen as such by the culture of the time.
  7. How would you describe Ehud’s actions and strategy in 3:17-23? Why do you think this was effective with King Eglon?
  8. The delay of the servants (3:24-25) allows Ehud the chance to get away and instigate a rebellion against Moab (3:26-29). What words would you use to characterize Ehud’s leadership here? In 3:30 it is important to notice that Ehud’s efforts bring the longest stretch of peace (80 years) to the land.
  9. Look back over the entire story and consider what God’s role in this story was from start to finish. What is God doing?
  10. What is one thing that God is speaking to you through this study or something that you need to consider in greater depth? Write that down and pray about it. If you are studying on your own, commit to sharing that with someone this week. If you are in a small group, take some time to discuss and pray about these things together.

Incomplete (discussion questions)

Flawed Heroes Series Gfx_App SquareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Incomplete,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is the first part of our series, “Flawed Heroes” from the book of Judges. This week we looked at Judges 1:1-2:5.

Discussion Questions:

  1. This weekend at Eastbrook Church we begin a new series entitled “Flawed Heroes” on the Old Testament book of Judges. As we start the series, we will begin by studying Judges 1:1-2:5. Whether you are on your own or with a small group, begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak to you through His word, and then read the passage aloud.
  2. Background: The book of Judges follows the book of Joshua, recounting the victories and struggles of God’s people as they enter the Promised Land in fulfillment of God’s promises. The first two chapters present the central problem of the book, which is that the people have not fully obeyed God’s instructions about how to live in this new land (see Joshua 23). Because of the tension created by this incomplete obedience, God’s people are constantly facing pressure from surrounding people groups. Because of this God raises up deliverers (‘judges’) to set them free. The book is not arranged chronologically but serves as a thematic, historical bridge between the time of Moses and Joshua and the time of the kings, like Saul and David, thus serving as one part of the great history that runs from Deuteronomy through 2 Kings.
  3. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel was apportioned areas of land by Joshua (see Joshua 13-21). Judges 1:1-19 chronicles the conquering work of the tribe of Judah, including a special story about Caleb and his family. Would you describe the work of Judah as successful or unsuccessful? Why?
  4. Now look at 1:20-36. How would you describe the efforts of the rest of the tribes (Benjamin, Ephraim, Manasseh, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, Dan) as they seek to obey God’s call to enter the Promised Land?
  5. One of the great challenges of the book of Judges is the violence and death involved in the Israelites entering the Promised Land. Many have struggled with how a God who is good could ask the Israelites to drive out the other peoples of the land, even devoting them to destruction. This is a very difficult issue and we should wrestle with it. It is important to remember that God was patient with the Canaanites (Genesis 15:13,16), but as time progressed their abominable practices required judgment (Leviticus 18:25; Deuteronomy 9:4-5; 20:18). Throughout His work with Israel, God is transforming cultural norms within the world and introducing redemptive ethical standards (Genesis 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 7:6-11; Psalm 106:7-8).
  6. Reread Judges 2:1-5. What was the work of God for the people according to verse 1? What was the instruction of God according to verse 2? What was the result according to verse 3? How did the people respond in verses 4-5?
  7. When have you experienced God’s addressing an area of disobedience or wrong in your life? How did you respond to Him in that place?
  8. As the book of Judges continues we will see that this revival at the beginning of chapter 2 is short-lived. The cycle of disobedience, decline, repentance, and restoration returns again and again throughout these chapters. Take some time on your own or with a group to pray that you and other believers may have hearts that are turned toward the Lord. Pray for true revival in our lives and in our land.

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