Digital Worship July 3, 2022

Both the contemporary online service and the sermon from this service are embedded at the bottom of the post.

4th Sunday after Pentecost, July 3, 2022

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy   Spirit.

Amen

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the            inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire  forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen

Greeting:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Prayer of the Day

Let us pray. O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, you are the city that shelters us, the mother who comforts us. With your Spirit accompany us on our life’s journey, that we may spread your peace in all the world, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

 First Reading: Isaiah 66: 10-14

10Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
  all you who love her;
 rejoice with her in joy,
  all you who mourn over her—
11that you may nurse and be satisfied
  from her consoling breast;
 that you may drink deeply with delight
  from her glorious bosom.

12For thus says the Lord:
 I will extend prosperity to her like a river,
  and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
 and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
  and dandled on her knees.
13As a mother comforts her child,
  so I will comfort you;
  you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

14You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
  your bodies shall flourish like the grass;
 and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants,
  and his indignation is against his enemies.

Psalm: Psalm 66: 1-9

 1Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
 2sing the glory of his name;
 give to him glorious praise.
 3Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
 Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
 4All the earth worships you;
 they sing praises to you,
 sing praises to your name.”
 5Come and see what God has done:
 he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
 6He turned the sea into dry land;
 they passed through the river on foot.
 There we rejoiced in him,
 7who rules by his might forever,
 whose eyes keep watch on the nations —
 let the rebellious not exalt themselves.
 8Bless our God, O peoples,
 let the sound of his praise be heard,
 9who has kept us among the living,
 and has not let our feet slip.

 Second Reading: Galatians 6: 7-16

7Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
11See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised — only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16As for those who will follow this rule — peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

Gospel: Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 16Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.
17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  

Sermon: Pastor Adam Stockton

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Assisting Minister

Let us pray:

Loving God, we lift up this world that you love. Renew your creation and give wisdom to all your people who share in your responsibility to care for the world. Give wisdom to the leaders of nations, states, and cities to care for your people and the world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The countries of the world experience disunity and conflict; we set our minds on fear and greed rather than on your rule of justice and steadfast love. Build up all countries on your cornerstone of peace. Protect and bless all who sacrifice to guard our freedoms, including: Ben, Brycen, Christian, Clayton, Daniel, Dillan, Haden, Lindsey, Luke, Michael, Spencer, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We still weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Cradle the fearful, the suffering, and the dying, assuring them of your loving presence. We lift up before you: Aaron, Avery, Aubrey, Austin, Betsy, Billie, Bob D., Bob S., Brandi, Brenda, Christa, Cohen, Dan, Darla, Dave, Deanne, Dorothy,  Eliza, Francis, Jamie, Jan, Jerry K., Jerry N., Kathie, Kelly, Ken, Laurie, Linda, Makayla, Matt, Maureen, Michele, Mick, Mike, Patrick, Pete, Sandy, Scott, Shae, Susan, Tom, and Wayne and the friends and family of Rowan Bush.

and those we pray for in our hearts (pause)  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: NT-NL Coaches, the ELCA Coaching Ministry, and Congregations on the LEAD journey.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Sharing of the Peace

Highlights

Offering Offering may be given in the offering plate or electronically through the Tithe.ly app. If you want to honor your electronic gift during the offering there are cards on the usher’s table for that purpose.

Words of Institution

Lord’s Prayer

 Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing

DiscipleLife

L:    As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,

       we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:

§Praying Daily

§Worshiping Weekly

§Studying the Bible

§Serving Others

§Building Spiritual Friendships

§Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need

§Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: “Go in peace, serve the Lord. Thanks be to God” Alleluia

Online Video Bible Study on Philippians: Chapter 4

St. Paul Writing His Epistles probably by Valentin de Boulogne (1618-1620)

I created this for my congregation as a summer study on the book of Philippians. It is more of a devotional with a short reflection on a couple verses each day. This is the second chapter of Philippians, below is a link to the other chapters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Day 21: Philippians 4: 2-7

Day 22: Philippians 4: 8-9

Day 23: Philippians 4: 10-12

Day 24: Philippians 4: 13-14

Day 25: Philippians 4: 15-20

Day 26: Philippians 4: 21-23

Judges 15- Samson’s Fiery Vengeance

Samson Slays a Thousand Men with the Jawbone of a Donkey (c. 1896–1902) by James Tissot

Judges 15

After a while, at the time of the wheat harvest, Samson went to visit his wife, bringing along a kid. He said, “I want to go into my wife’s room.” But her father would not allow him to go in. 2 Her father said, “I was sure that you had rejected her; so I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister prettier than she? Why not take her instead?” 3 Samson said to them, “This time, when I do mischief to the Philistines, I will be without blame.” 4 So Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took some torches; and he turned the foxes tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails. 5 When he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burned up the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive groves. 6 Then the Philistines asked, “Who has done this?” And they said, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he has taken Samson’s wife and given her to his companion.” So the Philistines came up, and burned her and her father. 7 Samson said to them, “If this is what you do, I swear I will not stop until I have taken revenge on you.” 8 He struck them down hip and thigh with great slaughter; and he went down and stayed in the cleft of the rock of Etam.

9 Then the Philistines came up and encamped in Judah, and made a raid on Lehi. 10 The men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?” They said, “We have come up to bind Samson, to do to him as he did to us.” 11 Then three thousand men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and they said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then have you done to us?” He replied, “As they did to me, so I have done to them.” 12 They said to him, “We have come down to bind you, so that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.” Samson answered them, “Swear to me that you yourselves will not attack me.” 13 They said to him, “No, we will only bind you and give you into their hands; we will not kill you.” So they bound him with two new ropes, and brought him up from the rock.

14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him; and the spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. 15 Then he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached down and took it, and with it he killed a thousand men. 16 And Samson said,

“With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of a donkey I have slain a thousand men.”

17 When he had finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone; and that place was called Ramath-lehi.

18 By then he was very thirsty, and he called on the LORD, saying, “You have granted this great victory by the hand of your servant. Am I now to die of thirst, and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19 So God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came from it. When he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore it was named En-hakkore, which is at Lehi to this day. 20 And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.

The Philistine woman, who Samson initially desired for his wife and then discarded in his hot anger after the answer to his riddle is revealed, is once again brought into the narrative by Samson’s belated return. This woman apparently had little choice in being selected by Samson bride: she weeps through the seven days of the banquet, she attempts to save herself and her family from having their house burned down around them because of her ‘husband’s’[1] impossible riddle, and finally, abandoned by the murderous Samson, she is given to the ‘chief companion’[2] of her ‘husband’ at the wedding. Deuteronomy 24: 1-4 makes it very easy for a man to ‘put aside’ a wife but impossible to later remarry that spouse after she has remarried another, yet Samson continues to be ruled by his desires in the moment and demands access to his ‘wife’s’ room. The woman’s father intercedes and attempts to protect his daughter, even offering Samson access to the younger daughter instead to make peace. Samson views this latest ‘offense’ as justification for his violent response towards not only this family but the Philistines in the region.

Samson’s birth indicated that he was to be someone special and yet his actions in the previous chapter have repeatedly shattered the expectations of one set aside as a Nazirite. Samson also throughout the narrative demonstrates a mastery over creation and specifically animals. Previously Samson has mastered the lion in the vineyard and now he is able to round up three hundred foxes to use in his decimation of the agricultural production of the Philistines.[3] There is a sense that Samson the warrior is also an ““Adam gone wrong,” whose mastery of the animals is violent and exploitative rather than responsible, and in the service of war rather than peace.” (Webb, 2012, p. 377)

Samson’s mischief with the foxes consumes the agricultural production of the area. The narrative indicates that Samson burns up the grain, vineyards, and olive trees of the Philistines, and presumably this is the produce of Timnah (with the assumption that most of the citizens of Timnah are Philistine). It is possible that the text wants us to understand that these animals cause wider damage to the Philistine agricultural harvest than in the immediate area, or that only the Philistines in Timnah are impacted by these fire bearing foxes (similar to the differentiation between Egyptian and Israelite homes in the signs and wonders in Egypt). Regardless the text wants us to understand that the fire impacts the already harvested crops, those still in the field, and the vines and trees which produce annually. Samson’s fiery revenge provokes a fiery response towards his ‘wife’ and her family. The very fate she had attempted to avoid around Samson’s riddle (14:15) now falls upon her and her family as they are burned in their home. Yet, for Samson this becomes one more reason to revenge himself on the Philistines and ‘struck them down hip and thigh.’ This expression only occurs here and may be a wrestling idiom. Contextually it indicates to Samson’s revenge upon those in the region by violence before his flight to the cave in the rock at Etam.

The Philistines attempts to ‘bind’ Samson will be thematic throughout the remainder of his narrative. The narrative continues with the Philistines encamping against Judah. Judah was successful against the Canaanites early in the book of Judges, but now they have accommodated themselves to Philistine rule. To avoid conflict with the Philistines they send three thousand men[4] in order to bind Samson and hand him over to the Philistines. Samson views his actions as justified but agrees to being bound by the men of Judah so long as they do not attack him. Samson’s attach of the Philistines parallels the elements of his encounter with the lion:

14: 5-6                                                                  15: 4-19

A lion comes “roaring” to meet him                         The Philistines come “shouting” to meet him

The Spirit of the LORD rushes upon him.                The Spirit of the LORD rushes upon him.

He “tears” the lion in two                                             He “strikes down” the Philistines. (Webb, 2012, p. 385)

The Spirit of the LORD rushing upon Samson melts the bonds and weakens the new ropes. Samson grabs a ‘fresh jawbone’ of a donkey which again violates the intention for a Nazirite not to touch a corpse.[5] This gruesome weapon in the hands of the violent Samson brings an end to the shouting of the Philistines. The death of a thousand men, heaps upon heaps in Samson’s song, is a massive defeat for the militaristic Philistines. Samson is another Shamgar, only he kills a greater number with an inferior weapon. The book of Judges views Samson’s violent conquest as evidence of God’s divine appointment of Samson as the Judge to begin their deliverance from the Philistines. Yet even Samson can exhaust his strength.

With his enemy vanquished and lying around him in heaps, Samson now feels threatened by dehydration. Samson appeals to God for the first time asking for water. Previously the Spirit of the LORD has rushed upon Samson, but there has not been any acknowledgement of this by Samson. Finally, Samson can give God credit for his victory and appeal to God in his need. God provides water from the rock for Samson like he earlier did for the people of the Exodus (Exodus 17: 1-7). God preserves this strange judge, just as God has preserved Israel and provided for them. This strange and violent individual is a means by which God provides some relief to the Israelites for twenty years of their life under the Philistines.

[1] Samson understands himself as her husband, but he has clearly abandoned that role in his anger.

[2] Even though most English translations render this ‘best man’ which captures the idea we don’t have any indication that the roles are similar. The companion in this context may not have been close with Samson prior to the feast and was likely another Philistine in the region and perhaps family to the bride.

[3] Or jackals. The word su’alim can be rendered either way (Webb, 2012, p. 377)

[4] See the note on large numbers in the book of Judges in chapter one.

[5] The indication that the jawbone is fresh, instead of dried, indicates that it is both less fragile but also may have had at least the partial remains of the animal still on in.

Online Video Study of the Book of Philippians: Chapter 3

St. Paul Writing His Epistles probably by Valentin de Boulogne (1618-1620)

I created this for my congregation as a summer study on the book of Philippians. It is more of a devotional with a short reflection on a couple verses each day. This is the second chapter of Philippians, below is a link to the other chapters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Day 16: Philippians 3: 1b-4a

Day 17: Philippians 3: 4b-6

Day 18: Philippians 3: 7-11

Day 19: Philippians 3: 12-16

Day 20: Philippians 3: 17-4:1

Judges 14 Samson and the Marriage at Timnah

Samson Slaying the Lion (1628) by Peter Paul Rubens

Judges 14

Once Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw a Philistine woman. 2 Then he came up, and told his father and mother, “I saw a Philistine woman at Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” 3 But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among your kin, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she pleases me.” 4 His father and mother did not know that this was from the LORD; for he was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.

5 Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah. When he came to the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion roared at him. 6 The spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and he tore the lion apart barehanded as one might tear apart a kid. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. 7 Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she pleased Samson. 8 After a while he returned to marry her, and he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. 9 He scraped it out into his hands, and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the carcass of the lion.

10 His father went down to the woman, and Samson made a feast there as the young men were accustomed to do. 11 When the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him.12 Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can explain it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments. 13 But if you cannot explain it to me, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments.” So they said to him, “Ask your riddle; let us hear it.” 14 He said to them,

“Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.”

But for three days they could not explain the riddle.15 On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, “Coax your husband to explain the riddle to us, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?” 16 So Samson’s wife wept before him, saying, “You hate me; you do not really love me. You have asked a riddle of my people, but you have not explained it to me.” He said to her, “Look, I have not told my father or my mother. Why should I tell you?” 17 She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted; and because she nagged him, on the seventh day he told her. Then she explained the riddle to her people. 18 The men of the town said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,

“What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?”

And he said to them,

“If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle.”

19 Then the spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and he went down to Ashkelon. He killed thirty men of the town, took their spoil, and gave the festal garments to those who had explained the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. 20 And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.

The tragedy of the story of Samson in several ways parallels the larger tragedy of Israel as portrayed in the book of Judges. Both Samson and Israel have God call them in dramatic ways and both are given specific practices which are to set them apart from the surrounding people. Just as Samson seems unable to resist his attraction to Philistine women, the people of Israel have often not only intermarried with the Canaanites and the other nations but have also adopted the worship of their gods and their practices and life have become indistinguishable from their neighbors. Underneath the tragedy of Samson’s story is the wonder at what this promised child could have been if he had used his prodigious strength to carry the hopes of the people instead of acting like a petulant child who flaunts the boundaries and expectations that have been placed upon him.

Samson’s narrative follows a pattern where he becomes involved with a woman who betrays him (his Philistine ‘bride’ and a prostitute in Gaza) he is bound and handed over to the Philistines (by Judah in the next chapter and by Delilah in chapter sixteen) and he is then empowered by the LORD to kill his captors by brute force and violence. Samson as he is portrayed in the narrative is driven by his hunger and passion and quickly casts aside the expectations of a Nazirite or his obligations to his family’s wishes when it pleases him. Samson will do what it right in his own eyes, just as Israel will later be accused of doing as it quickly moves towards an internal conflict which poses a far greater threat than the Philistines. Samson’s individualistic hunger driven life which has no place to regard the covenant God has placed on him, the desires of his parents, and his calling within the community reflect the degradation of the covenant identity of Israel’s tribes as the devolve into warring factions.

The narrative of Samson we have in Judges has probably been condensed to be told efficiently but there are several minor gaps in the story which I’ll highlight as we journey through. Samson goes down to Timnah[1] and sees a Philistine woman and desires her. Throughout Judges intermarriage has been an issue with the Canaanites. It is likely that there had been intermarriage with the Philistines prior to Samson, but this is the first recorded instance in Judges and there seems to be an additional concern about the Philistines not practicing circumcision. The Philistines had come to the region of Canaan later, and it is known that Israel was not the only community that practiced circumcision. Yet, this difference in practices is a boundary that causes additional concerns for Manoah.[2] This also overturns the normal order of a family relationship since a father would normally decide who his sons (or daughters) would marry. The promised child who was to begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines begins by breaking the religious and cultural boundaries of Israel and turning the family order on its head. All because the woman is ‘right in his eyes.’[3]

The perspective on God in this story is peculiar. God’s perspective as told in the story accepts the personality of Samson because God intends to use Samson’s bad behavior to incite conflict between him and the Philistines. Yet, if the Philistines were the oppressors they are portrayed as there should be multiple opportunities for an individual to rise up against that oppression. Perhaps it is that Israel has simply accommodated to the life under Philistine rule and that even Samson with his prodigious strength see no alternative or any injustice that needs to be opposed. Nevertheless, there is a tension in the narrative when the action of God steers Samson to violate the prohibitions against intermarriage God gave in the covenant to the people. While I don’t doubt that God can work through a chaotic and troublesome individual like Samson the suspicious part of me, especially when combined with Samson’s violation of the Nazirite vows below, wonders if this is an attribution of God’s approval on Samson’s action in order to bring him closer to the image of a paragon of faithfulness.

The famous story of Samson and the lion is critical to the narrative but like the riddle it inspires it is full of strange and unexpected things. Samson is walking with his parents but when he arrives at the vineyard of Timnah his parents are gone. This is likely a place where the story is condensed in telling and it is important to the later narrative that his parents are not there. The presence of Samson in a vineyard is troubling since as a Nazirite he is not to eat anything from the vine, but the unexpected presence of a lion in the vineyard is also troubling. Lions live in wilderness areas not in cultivated vineyards, and yet here in this vineyard a Nazirite meets a lion and kills it violently with his bare hands. The carcass of the lion remains undisturbed in the vineyard and perhaps it is too early for workers to be tending the vineyard but it is seasonally warm enough for bees to make a hive in the midst of the carcass. The Nazirite Samson again enters the vineyard and sticks his hands into the carcass harvesting honey and breaking the Nazirite vow not to touch a corpse. Like Adam and Eve, he has eaten something he is forbidden to eat and he shares it with his parents without letting them know the source, perhaps indicating he knows they would not approve.

The Philistine woman of Timnah is essentially passive in this story. She never is given a name or a choice, she is simply the object of Samson’s passion. She pleases Samson, she is right in his eyes, therefore his father is to arrange the wedding. The seven-day feast could be an Israelite observance since many Israelite festivals are seven days, but it is likely that the companions at the feast are Philistines and the celebration banquet is a normal practice among the Philistines. The word for ‘feast’ (misteh) suggests a drinking feast (NIB II: 850) and the presence of Samson in the vineyard and now his presence at the feast likely means that Samson has now violated two of the three primary provisions for a Nazirite.  The presence of riddles at a feast would be common but Samson’s riddle is almost unsolvable without knowing about the story of the lion in the vineyard. It is possible that someone could stumble upon this corpse infested with bees, but it is telling that prior to this no one had been in the vineyard and disposed of the rotting carcass. The wager is a costly one in the ancient world, thirty garments is too large a price for these ‘companions’ to willingly pay. The timeline of the feast is confused. For the first three days the companions are unable to explain the riddle, the Greek Septuagint (which the NRSV follows) has the companions come to his wife on the fourth day, while the Hebrew text states they come to her on the seventh day. Yet, Samson’s wife weeps before him the seven days of the feast and whether she is threatened on day four or day seven the narrative indicates that her weeping over a period of time causes Samson distress. Samson’s actions have placed her and her family under threat of these young men, but it is also possible that this woman who Samson decided would be his wife is not joyous about the match after seeing her husbands conduct at the festival.

The tears of Samson’s wife finally convince him to release the answer to the riddle and she passes it on to the men who give the answer at the conclusion of the seven days. Samson departs in a petulant rage towards Ashkelon, twenty-five miles away in the heart of the Philistine confederation of five cities, and his rage turns murderous. Thirty men of Ashkelon lose their lives to provide the garments he now owes the men of Timnah and once Samson pays this debts he abandons his wife and returns to his father’s home. The woman who was right in his eyes is no longer right in his ears after seven days of weeping. The woman is given a new husband, one of the companions from the feast as Samson lives with his hot anger in his parent’s household.

This initial story of Samson desiring a Philistine bride and the trouble that ensues due to his actions sets the stage for a growing conflict between Samson and the Philistines. Samson’s actions are already in sharp contrast to the hope of the previous chapter. Yet, in many ways the Samson mirrors the degradation of the life in Israel. Just as the people have intermarried with their neighbors and have turned aside from their way of life, Samson has chosen a Philistine bride and abandoned many of the Nazirite practices. Samson’s choices have left him fuming with anger in his father’s home and with the blood of a lion and thirty men already on his strong hands.

[1] Timnah is in the Valley of Sorek. The Danites at the beginning of Judges were confined to the hills in their territory (1:34). (Webb, 2012, p. 364) It is likely that under the Philistine domination of the area that the remaining Canaanites, Philistines, and Israelites all lived in close proximity.

[2] In the Hebrew the words of his father and mother are spoken as singular (my people-‘ammi) and I take this to be Manoah speaking for both himself and Samson’s mother. This is one place where the text may be condensed.

[3] Hayyasar beenayo this is the same term used in Judges 17:6 and 21: 25 of Israel.

Judges 13 The Birth and Calling of Samson

The Sacrifice of Manoah (1640–50) by Eustache Le Sueur

Judges 13

The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.

2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. 3 And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. 4 Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, 5 for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” 6 Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; 7 but he said to me, ‘You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.'”

8 Then Manoah entreated the LORD, and said, “O, LORD, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born.” 9 God listened to Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. 10 So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “The man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” 11 Manoah got up and followed his wife, and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.” 12 Then Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the boy’s rule of life; what is he to do?” 13 The angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Let the woman give heed to all that I said to her. 14 She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine. She is not to drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing. She is to observe everything that I commanded her.”

15 Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Allow us to detain you, and prepare a kid for you.” 16 The angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat your food; but if you want to prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) 17 Then Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your words come true?” 18 But the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful.”

19 So Manoah took the kid with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to him who work wonders. 20 When the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground. 21 The angel of the LORD did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. Then Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD. 22 And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” 23 But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

24 The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the LORD blessed him. 25 The spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

At this point in the book of Judges the situation for Israel is perilous. The pernicious cycle of disobedience has continued and escalated, the quality of the judges has declined, and intertribal conflict has already proved to be as dangerous as the surrounding nations. Yet, the LORD continues to provide a way for the people to be delivered from their oppression. This unusual announcement of Samson’s birth and calling provides an opportunity for hope in the midst of the despair but in the midst of an ascendent Philistine threat and a disunified and disobedient Israel there is also significant cause for concern.

The Philistines were first mentioned in Judges 3:31 when the minor judge Shamgar kills six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad, and we see evidence of their presence being a threat to Israel in Judges 10:7. Now the Philistines are the primary military threat the Israelites face and they will continue to be a military threat until King David vanquishes them one hundred and fifty years later. The Philistines were a sea faring people that likely originated in the Greek islands and came to Canaan. They had settled in the coastal plain with a confederation of five cities (Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gath) and were a militaristic people who had the ability extract iron from its ore for use in weaponry. Their seafaring culture also made them heavily engaged in trading from Anatolia (modern day Turkey) to Egypt. This militaristic people with advanced metallurgical knowledge and extensive trade and mercantile connections formed a sharp contrast with these divided tribes of “agrarian homesteaders with inferior bronze implements and no martial tradition of which to speak.” (Hattin, 2020, p. 145)

The forty years which the Israelites suffer under the hand of the Philistines is twice as long as any previous time period which an enemy had oppressed the people.[1] As Barry Webb can state,

By the time Samson is born the Philistine dominance over Israel is so complete, and the morale of Israel so low, that even the hope that Yahweh might save them has been extinguished.” (Webb, 2012, p. 350)

It is possible that the idolatry of the people has become so pervasive that there is not even the cultural memory of calling upon the LORD remains because they have forgotten their God. The plight of this exhausted people is dire as they exist oppressed by the Philistines and alienated from the LORD their God.

It is into this dire situation that the angel of God approaches this unnamed wife on Manoah with an incredible calling and commission for her future son. Manoah’s wife stands in a tradition of barren women who receive a message from God about her future child/children[2] and with this announcement we are encouraged to wonder about this child to be born. The Danites were one of the weakest tribes and were unable to claim their portion of Canaan at the beginning of Judges (1: 34-35) and it is telling that the Hebrew uses the word for family or clan (mishpahat) instead of the usual word for tribe (sebet).  This messenger from God has appeared in two previous places in the narrative of Judges: at Bochim to rebuke the people (2:1) and at the commissioning of Gideon (6: 11-12).

The setting aside of an individual as a nazirite is described in Number 6: 1-21 and is usually for a designated period, but Samson is designated before his birth to take on this identity for his life. Samson’s life as a nazirite is divinely ordained rather than chosen by himself, and in some respects this reflects the language of the call of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1: 5). Yet this calling also requires the mother to observe the characteristics of a nazirite while she is pregnant with Samson. Even in the womb Samson is to live under the rules that make him set aside as special and holy.

Another reason for hope in this passage is that the angel of the LORD approaches the wife of Manoah. I have mentioned throughout these reflections that the role and safety of women in the book of Judges is a measure of the security and faithfulness of the people. Even though the woman is not named she has an important role in enabling the future judge to live faithfully into his calling. She may not have as much authority as Achsah or Deborah or end the oppression of a foreign king like Jael, but her role has more hope than Jephthah’s unnamed daughter. Manoah’s role in the story can be read as faithful or as trying to reassert power within the relationship. Manoah, unlike the rest of Israel at this point, does ask the LORD for guidance and this may be an attempt at faithfulness to ensure that the wife and child are brought up the way the LORD desires. Yet, it may also be an attempt to have the emissary of the LORD deal with him and to assert his power in the household. Ultimately both may together form Manoah’s motivation since most ancient families assumed a patriarchal authority in determining how both the spouse and children would live. Yet, the angel of the LORD again approaches the wife of Manoah and she summons her husband to meet this messenger.

When asked by Manoah if this is the same messenger who previously spoke to his wife, his simple response of “I am”[3] and then reiterates the instruction he previously gave to Manoah’s wife. Manoah receives no additional instruction how to guide the boy’s life and it remains the mother and not the father who remains in the foreground of this initial stage of the narrative. As Barry Webb can state “The implication seems to be that Manoah will never “own” the boy as a normal father might; he will be a Nazirite of God (v.7), and it is God, not Manoah, who will shape his life.” (Webb, 2012, p. 355)

Manoah belatedly remembers to offer hospitality to this strange messenger who has come to his wife. His wife has previously had some insight into the character of the messenger when she describes him, ‘like and angel of God, most awe-inspiring’ but Manoah seems oblivious. He is convinced that the child will be born but he treats this messenger like a prophet instead of an angel. Yet, Manoah obediently prepares the offering and then asks for the name of the messenger. The angel of the LORD stating his name is ‘too wonderful’ and the offering to the God who “works wonders[4] do draw a closer connection between the messenger and God. When the angelic messenger ascends in the flames Manoah finally ascertains a portion of the truth yet his wife continues to remain one step ahead of him realizing that the visit of the angel of the LORD is not going to cause their death since their offering was accepted and their death would make the announced birth impossible.

Yet, in the midst of all the hope engendered by the announcement of the future child set apart from birth there is an ominous word. In verse five the angel announces that, “he will begin to save Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” Unlike the Moabites, the Ammonites and the other threats in the book of Judges the Philistines are different and it will be a longer struggle to be free of this opponent. Samson can only begin what will be a long struggle between Israel and the Philistines. As mentioned above it will be one hundred fifty years when the Israelites are united under King David when the Philistines are no longer a feared oppressor. Yet, this provision by God to a people who no longer ask for God’s assistance gives some hope in the midst of the oppression by this external opponent. It remains to be seen if this hoped for child can turn Israel from its practice of ‘doing evil in the sight of the LORD.’

[1] Eight years under Kushan-rishathaim (3:8), eighteen years under Moab (3: 14), twenty years under King Jabin of Canaan (4:3), seven years under Midian (6: 1), and eighteen years under the Ammonites (10: 8)

[2] Sarah (Genesis 21: 1-3), Rebecca (Genesis 25: 19-21),  Rachel (Genesis 29:31, 30: 22), Hannah (1 Samuel 1:2), and the Shunamite woman (2 Kings 4: 8-17)

[3] The Hebrew ‘ani does not have any formal correspondence to the name of God ‘YHWH’ from Exodus 3:14 and so it is unlikely this is an allusion to the identity of the angel of the LORD and the LORD the God of Israel being the same. (Webb, 2012, p. 354) Yet, see below on the use of ‘wonder’ and ‘wonderful’.

[4] Wonderful pieli’y and wonder pele’ are the adjective and noun form of the same word and pele’ in its thirteen uses in the scriptures is always used for God. (Webb, 2012, p. 356)

Online Video Study on the Book of Philippians: Chapter 2

St. Paul Writing His Epistles probably by Valentin de Boulogne (1618-1620)

I created this for my congregation as a summer study on the book of Philippians. It is more of a devotional with a short reflection on a couple verses each day. This is the second chapter of Philippians, below is a link to the other chapters

Chapter 1

Day 9: Philippians 2: 1-4

Day 10: Philippians 2: 5-8

Day 11: Philippians 2: 9-11

Day 12: Philippians 2: 12-13

Day 13: Philippians 2: 14-18

Day 14: Philippians 2: 19-24

Day 15: Philippians 2: 25- 3:1a

Online Video Study on the Book of Philippians: Chapter 1

St. Paul Writing His Epistles probably by Valentin de Boulogne (1618-1620)

I created this for my congregation as a summer study on the book of Philippians. It is more of a devotional with a short reflection on a couple verses each day.

Day 1: Philippians 1: 1-2

Day 2: Philippians 1: 3-6

Day 3: Philippians 1: 7-11

Day 4: Philippians 1: 12-14

Day 5: Philippians 1: 15-18

Day 6: Philippians 1: 18b-20

Day 7: Philippians 1: 20-26

Judges 12 Jephthah’s Ignoble End and Three Minor Judges

The Return of Jephtha, by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini

Judges 12: 1-7 Intertribal Conflict Under Jephthah

1 The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down over you!” 2 Jephthah said to them, “My people and I were engaged in conflict with the Ammonites who oppressed us severely. But when I called you, you did not deliver me from their hand. 3 When I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hand, and crossed over against the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day, to fight against me?” 4 Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim; and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, “You are fugitives from Ephraim, you Gileadites — in the heart of Ephraim and Manasseh.”1 5 Then the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. Whenever one of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No,” 6 they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites fell at that time.

7 Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, and was buried in his town in Gilead.

The group of tribes and clans collectively known as Israel is unravelling. The tribe of Ephraim occupied the central hill country of northern Israel and by location and population they were one of the more powerful tribes. It is telling that northern Israel will often be referred to as Ephraim in later writings just as southern Israel is associated with Judah. Throughout the book of Judges, the role of Ephraim has been another barometer of the health of the confederation of tribes: initially under Ehud and Barak[1] Ephraim willingly goes forth to fight alongside other tribes, under Gideon they complain that they are not summoned until after the Midianites are scattered and fleeing yet Gideon is able to appease them, here they come with an armed force to confront Jephthah. The LORD may have delivered the Ammonites into Jephthah’s hands but here the God of Israel remains silent in this internal conflict.

We have seen conflict erupt inside Israel under Gideon and Abimelech, and now it expands dramatically in this conflict between the people of Gilead and the people of Ephraim. The Ephraimites leaders and their armed followers who boast that the people of Gilead are ‘fugitives’ or ‘renegades’ of Manasseh and Ephraim quickly find the tables turned as they are cut-off from their homes when Jephthah’s followers capture the fords of the Jordan River and strand the Ephraimite combatants on the eastern side. The difference in regional dialects becomes a tool of terror as Ephraimites attempting to flee home are captured and butchered at the river crossings. The loss of forty-two thousand Ephraimites at the hands of fellow Israelites is a slaughter of heartbreaking proportions. The tribes of Israel prove that the greatest threat to their continued existence is internal, and that the tribes are dangerously close to entering into a civil war where the tribes threaten the continued existence of one another.

Jephthah as a judge does not compare favorably when placed next to the preceding judges. His time judging Israel is shorter than anyone except Abimelech. He was an unexpected judge because of his heritage as a child of a prostitute which was forced to flee his homeland and his previous life as a bandit and raider. He is successful in leading the people of Gilead to victory over the Ammonites, but he is unable to manage conflicts between tribes and is responsible for the death of forty-two thousand Israelites of his neighboring tribe. One curious final note is that he is buried literally ‘in the towns of Gilead.”[2] There is a rabbinic tradition that Jephthah died of a debilitating illness that caused his limbs to drop off and be buried in different cities of the territory of Gilead (Hattin, 2020, p. 139)and perhaps they perceived a sort of poetic justice for one whose twisted act of devotion caused the dismemberment of his own family and division among the tribes of Israel. Regardless of how Jephthah dies and is buried, his short divisive reign as a judge of Israel demonstrates how perilous the future is for the tribes of Israel.

Judges 12: 8-15 The Final Three Minor Judges

8 After him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 He had thirty sons. He gave his thirty daughters in marriage outside his clan and brought in thirty young women from outside for his sons. He judged Israel seven years. 10 Then Ibzan died, and was buried at Bethlehem.

11 After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years. 12 Then Elon the Zebulunite died, and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.

13 After him Abdon son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys; he judged Israel eight years. 15 Then Abdon son of Hillel the Pirathonite died, and was buried at Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.

The final set of minor judges provide a transition between the story of Jephthah and the story of Samson. In contrast to Shamgar and Tola they do not deliver Israel from any threat (internal or external). Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon judge for much shorter durations as well, time periods similar to Jephthah’s. Ibzan is noted for his large extended family which he arranges marriages for beyond his clan (presumably for economic prosperity and power). The final three judges come from different regions in Israel and may have had overlapping times where they exercised power- Bethlehem is in the south near Jerusalem, Zebulun is in the north of Israel, while Ephraim is in the middle. Elon who judges the longest has no mention of family, only that he judged ten years and was buried in Aijalon. Abdon is again highlighted for the size of his family and like Jair the Gileadite his sons and grandsons ride donkeys. The acquisition of large families with wealth and power may serve as effective leaders in times of relative peace, but like the sons of Jair they will prove ineffective when the next military threat arises because of the inability of the people to live faithfully to their covenant with the LORD the God of Israel.[3]

[1] Although not mentioned in the narrative of Judges 4, Ephraim has an active role according to the song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5:14.

[2] The noun for towns is plural in Hebrew.

[3] The theological perspective of the book of Judges is that Israel’s oppression by external enemies is directly correlated to their pernicious propensity to adopt the practices of the surrounding peoples and to worship their gods.

Rapture

Dime sized toads hop across the pavement in the early morning light
While hot air balloons in their brightly colored tops float by slowly
A rabbit peaks up from its morning meal as the traveler passes through
Warily watching this newcomer passing through its dining room
On the edge of a wheat field hidden behind a tall wall of weeds
A small refuge from the ever-creeping growth of the city
So much life missed by those who fly past in their cars
Starting their morning tasks, blind to the world around
But the solitary traveler stands in a moment of rapture
Whistling a traveler’s tune seeing with eyes tuned to wonder
As the world slowly awakes to the warmth an early summer day.