Key verse: Judges 18:31
Big Idea: Cycles of idolatry are hard to break.
"In those days there was no king in Israel" is an expression that can be read in two ways. In one sense, this was the period of the judges, when there was no centralized king who had united the nation. This was important: when God made his covenant with David, he was given a special role in guiding the people as God's representative. But there is another way of reading it too. When the people first clamored for a king, God said that it was because they were rejecting Him as their King (1 Samuel 8:7). To say that there was no king in Israel might be a way of saying that the people had rejected God as their king, so everyone did what was right in their own eyes instead of what God decreed. It sounds much like our society, I think. Our rejection of all authority is very much a symptom of our rejection of God's authority. There is no King and so everyone does what is right in their own eyes.
Where does that lead? In the case of our chapter today, it led to a priest who had abandoned the duties of his people at the tabernacle to become the private priest of one man, who led the worship of his private idols. Then, when the tribe of Dan (who had failed to conquer the territory assigned to them) came to this have-altar-will-travel priest and offered him more money and more prestige, he followed them instead. The nation was deep in a cycle of idolatry, and getting deeper all the time. The tribe of Dan, with the strength of their idols and their hired priest, found an isolated town and murdered everyone there. When would it stop?
Tragically, the Bible tells us that they kept their idolatrous altar in their stolen town throughout the period of the Judges. Their false priest was a descendant of Moses himself. We might look at this story and wonder why God allowed them to be victorious in their invasion. Shouldn't they have been defeated? Shouldn't their be repercussions? Perhaps that is the most horrible element of this story. They were so far gone that God did not stop them. He let them sow their seeds, let the fruit of their sin grow, and would let them bear the harvest. They were deep in cycles of idolatry, and it would only be in the days of Samuel, who would anoint a king for the people, that things would change.
Discussion idea: What do you think it means that there was no king in Israel, so everyone did what was right in their own eyes? How do you respond to authority in your life?
Prayer focus: Ask God to expose your idols, and break their hold on your heart.
Key Verse: Acts 12:24
Big Idea: The Church of Jesus outlives her enemies.
Acts 12 begins with one of Jesus' three closest apostles being martyred. We might expect Luke to dwell on this, describing some of the drama like he did with Stephen's martyrdom back in chapter 7. But instead, the death of a key figure from the gospels is recorded so quickly that a skimming reader might miss it - a single verse. Why is this tragedy not dwelled on? I think the answer is obvious: because this defeat is no defeat. Individual Christians might die, local churches might fall, but Jesus promised in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of Hell would never overcome His church; the institution prevails. Throughout the ages, churches have faced persecution (often from others claiming to be churches!), but they have always persevered. Sometimes driven underground, sometimes few in number, but the right side of history is ultimately God's side.
Herod Agrippa, who killed James, was himself killed by God for his blasphemy. But when that kind died, the word of God grew and multiplied. In chemistry, there is a principle called Charles' Law: the greater the heat, the greater the expansion. Over and over again, the churches of the Lord Jesus have proven that is true for us. The enemies of God's people may seem triumphant for a minute, but joy comes in the morning.
Discussion Idea: What are some things now that seem to oppose the expansion of Christianity? Will any of them be successful? Why or why not?
Prayer Focus: Praise God that He is the One who accomplishes His work, and ask Him for help prioritizing the things that will last.