Just as the Ephraimites had previously criticised Gideon for not calling them to fight Israel’s enemies (Judges 8:1-3), they now criticised Jephthah. The Ephraimites had never led a rebellion against Israel’s oppressors. They just had an irritating habit of jealously criticizing anyone else who did it. They were so furious, they threatened to burn down Jephthah’s house.
Jephthah didn’t diplomatically flatter them as Gideon had done. He said that he had called them, they hadn’t responded and so he launched the attack himself with the Lord helping him to victory. The Gileadites, under Jephthah’s command, wouldn’t put up with being called renegades and fought the Ephraimites, their fellow Israelites, killing forty-two thousand of them. They conducted ethnic cleansing by forcing anyone who wanted to cross a river ford to say ‘Shibboleth’ and executing the people from Ephraim, who pronounced it differently.
After Jephthah came an assortment of other judges until the birth of Samson.
The Israelites committed evil again and so, the Lord ‘delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years (13:1). A man called Manoah had a wife who was sterile. An angel appeared to tell her she would conceive and have a son. Inability to conceive is a common recurrent theme in the Bible with Elizabeth sterile until giving birth to John the Baptist and Hannah not having children before becoming pregnant with the prophet Samuel. However, both Elizabeth and Hannah had prayed to God to have a child. Samson’s mother is very matter of fact about this annunciation and doesn’t praise God for helping her.
This lady is instructed not to drink wine or any fermented drink and not to shave the baby’s head for he is going to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, similar to John the Baptist. Manoah prays to God for further information and the angel was sent again with the same set of instructions. Manoah said he would like the angel to stay while he prepared a meal for him, a young goat. The angel said he wouldn’t eat it ‘even though you detain me’ (v.16). So not only had God sent the angel as a messenger, but the angel was also under orders to follow the couple’s requests to a limited extent. Manoah then made another faux pas by asking for the angel’s name. We are not permitted to know the name of any angels, apart from the archangels referenced in the Bible: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. An official exorcist will ask the name of a demon during an authorised exorcism but this is dangerous for lay people and is banned. When we know the name of the spiritual entity, we can summon them and tell them to leave – if we have sufficient authority. However, angels and demons do not like people having this knowledge over them. When lay people carry out deliverance prayers, the Holy Spirit can tell them the name of the oppressing demon as a word of knowledge. As this information has come from God, it can then be used to drive out the demon.
As Manoah sacrificed a goat and a grain offering on a rock, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame (v.20). Samson’s mother – who is never named – eventually gave birth to Samson and the Lord blessed him as he grew. Eventually, the Spirit of the Lord started to stir him (v.25). He was obviously destined for great things.
John 6:60 – 7:13
Many of Jesus’ disciples started to grumble about his ‘eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood’ teaching. We still get this today. A huge percentage of Christians refuse to acknowledge that Catholics eat Jesus’ actual flesh and drink his actual blood during the Holy Eucharist. They don’t believe that an actual miracle takes place during every Holy Mass resulting in ordinary bread and wine becoming the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Modern Catholics haven’t helped this disbelief with the great majority not demonstrating any detectable benefit from consuming Jesus’ body and blood. If everyone could see that Catholic’s faces were shining with the presence of God and they rushed around preaching, healing the sick and delivering people, more people would desire full communion with the Mother Church. To become invigorated, Catholics can undergo ‘Baptism in the Spirit’ and start to exercise the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s a tragedy that the main group of non-Catholics who believe in transubstantiation are witches and devil worshippers. They often have to obtain a consecrated wafer before being allowed to join a coven. The desecration of the Holy Body of Jesus is a terrible part of the initiation ceremony.
The words that Jesus had spoken ‘are spirit and they are life’ (v.63). It is amazing that many ‘disciples’ were following Jesus, hearing his teaching and witnessing his miracles but still did not believe in him. If we attend church and say we are Christians, we have to search our own hearts to determine our own state of believe. We can pray the classic prayer: ‘Jesus, I believe; help my unbelief’.
‘No-one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him’ (v.65). In the Bible, there are many instances where God hardens people’s hearts for specific purposes. What does it mean that our Father God has to enable us before we can come to Jesus? This is a great mystery. We all have free will. We all have God’s law written on our hearts. We all have sufficient saving grace – as a free gift from God – that if we exercised our free will to believe in Jesus, he would come into our lives. Time means nothing to God. The past, present and future are all the same to him. So he knows whether we will, in the future, choose to come to God. Because he knows the people who will definitely do this (as he knows all our futures), he gives them the grace to go ahead and do it – in effect, enabling us. Salvation is a complicated topic. Someone might turn up at the gates of heaven, who had been given hardened heart all their life for some purpose and who had met ‘Christians’ who had behaved so appallingly they had put them off joining the church. We just have to leave all individual judgements in Jesus’ hands.
However, belief is also a simple choice. We can switch on a reputable news channel and decide that they are telling us us the truth about a dozen events happening in the world. We can believe the journalists are endeavouring to tell us the facts to the best of their ability. Similarly, it is very easy for billions of Christians to believe in the stories about Jesus in the Bible, believe in the thousands of eye-witnesses who saw his miracles, believe in the thousands of holy people who have been martyred over the last two thousand years on account of their witness to Jesus and who have successfully spread the gospel to the end of the world. Belief is a switch we can just flick in our brains to swap us from disobedience. Lorcán O’Reilly (OMI) wrote: ‘Many people think they have no faith because they feel they haven’t. They do not realise they must make a choice to believe, take the risk of believing, of committing themselves and setting themselves to live out the commitment. Never mind that they continue to feel that they do not believe. Under cover of being ‘authentic’ we can spend our lives waiting for the kind of certainty we cannot have’ (Oblate Connections – No.46, Feb. 2020).
Simon Peter and ten other disciples remained loyal to Jesus: ‘You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ (v.69).
Jesus avoided Judea and Jerusalem because: ‘the Jews there were waiting to take his life’ (7:1). Jesus was encouraged to go to Judea to show off his miracles in public but the time was not right. When the right time came, Jesus would willingly lay his life down for us but that time would be dictated by the Holy Spirit, not by disbelieving men.
The world hated Jesus because he testified that what it does is evil (v.7). Talking about the great injustices in the world does not make you popular. If you ever want to turn a dinner party into a riot, bring up how evil we all are at allowing over 200,000 unborn children in the UK to be executed each year through abortion. However, the fact that we don’t say this enough allows this practice to continue. We all need to channel our inner Greta Thunberg and stand up and say the truth, whatever the cost.
People whispered their opinions about Jesus in secret at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus moved around in disguise. ‘No-one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews’ (v.13). Many people today are secret believers in Jesus. If they talk about their faith, they will face abuse and criticism from the world. However, we need to stand up and be counted. If we declare our faith in Jesus openly, he will stand up for us at the Day of Judgement
God is our strength and fortress. He is our refuge in times of trouble.
Evil people are caught out in their pride by the lying words of their cursing lips.
We should always sing praises to our loving God. Worship him alone.