TODAY’S READING: Judges 12–15
The Kikuyu people of Kenya sometimes have difficulty differentiating between the sounds of their “L” and their “R.” This can lead to some eye-opening consequences in an English-speaking church service when the leader invites the congregation to welcome a visiting speaker with a warm “clap” or to give the Lord a “clap” offering.
Much more consequential was the inability of the Ephraimites to say their “sh” sound. Their resulting “Sibboleth” (versus “Shibboleth”) led to 42,000 Ephraimites being killed (Judges 12:6). The tragedy of brothers killing brothers (especially at a time where existence in a hostile context was not yet assured and cooperation was the primary hope of survival) has implications on missions. So easily brothers “kill” brothers in places of extreme service. The leading cause of missionary attrition continues to be conflict between missionaries or between missionaries and local believers. The competition, jealousies, or petty grievances between mission entities, ministers, and organizations severely limits our ability to take (and hold) Kingdom ground among the unreached. There are enough human resources available in the global church for us to reach every unreached people on earth. The tragedy is that either we do not go or send, or if we do, we squabble. It’s hard to win the nations when constantly fighting a civil war.
Despite our frailties and follies, God still seeks “an occasion to move” (14:4) among the nations. God’s regular global method is strangely not incarnation or epiphany [though that is occasionally employed (13:21–22)], but His Spirit coming on ordinary, flawed men and women. As is the normative biblical pattern, when the Spirit of God comes upon us, there is a physical evidence, an action of consequence.
The Spirit of the Lord began to move on Samson (v. 25) and then came mightily upon him to the extent that he physically ripped apart a lion “though he had nothing in his hand” (14:6). Applying this principle to missionary service, it is indeed upon the nothing in man that God builds His greatest works. Taking it a step further, it is through the weak, foolish, and poor of the world, the nothings, that God delights to move in power. There are two great enemy lions to the missionary: the spirit that says, “I know,” and the spirit that says, “I can.” Those enemies must be ripped apart without mercy for the missionary that God can trust is the one who says, “Lord, I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on You,” and “Lord, I cannot do this in my own strength, but with You all things are possible.”
The Spirit of the Lord came mightily on Samson again, this time with the physical consequence that 30 Philistines were killed while their clothes were evidently preserved enough to give away as gifts (v. 19). That must have been some finessed fighting—slaughtering without soiling. Robust missionary work among the nations is not crude. The Spirit’s power and wisdom is needed to know which elements of clothes and culture can be retained and which elements must be abandoned and even destroyed. Imperialism and syncretism are two sides of the same coin: one the result of arrogance, the other of accommodation. It’s pretty easy to look back and say that slavery, foot binding, and widow burning were despicable evils, but looking forward (even in our own culture) we need the Spirit’s powerful help to contextualize without arrogance or accommodation.
One more time the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon Samson, this time while the Philistines shouted threateningly against him. The ropes on him fell off like flax burned in fire and the bonds broke loose from his hands (15:14). Truly, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Some things can only be broken or burned by Spirit fire. There are demonic strongholds, deceptions, perversions, and darkness so entrenched over time and so wickedly restrictive that only God can overcome them. Before we pick up jawbones and swing away, God must breakthrough. The Spirit must break the bonds. There is nothing for us to do but believe. A second reality concerning the breaking of bonds is the danger that follows victory. Ironically, we are often most vulnerable just after God breaks through and uses us in some small (even if incredible) role. Let us not see some great deliverance only to die due to exertion or because we let down our guard (v. 8). May the Spirit of the Lord who helps us win the war also help us win the peace.