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Depression and Disappointment in Ezra

I still have a few more observations to make about Gideon’s story. However, I read Mrs. Brenda’s excellent post on expectation versus reality this afternoon. It reminded me so much of my Bible reading in Ezra yesterday that I wanted to take a quick break from Gideon to discuss depression and disappointment.

The Passage

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD:

“He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.”

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

Ezra 3:10-13 NIV

Some Context

The last four kings of Judah rejected God and refused to listen to any of His prophets. Thus, God allowed King Nebuchadnezzar to take over the Israelites and destroy Jerusalem. The last of the Israelites entered exile in Babylon for 70 years (2 Chronicles 36:21). Then, in God’s grace, He caused King Cyrus to send the Israelites back to Judah to rebuild the temple.

Now, the oldest Israelites mentioned in Ezra 3 remembered the temple designed by David and built by Solomon. That original temple signified the glory days of Israel. The temple glittered with mementos of God-given victories and wealth. Clearly, the temple was a sight to behold even after the Israelites had desecrated it. The Israelites who remembered the original temple felt bittersweet as they laid the new foundation. Sure, King Cyrus allowed them to rebuild God’ temple, but the new temple didn’t display the same power and wealth. The Israelites no longer controlled the building of their own temple to God. They depended entirely on a foreign king’s goodwill.

The Difference in Depression and Disappointment

This article on Psychology Today explains that while disappointments fade with time, depression does not. Perhaps the mournful Israelites merely grieved the loss of the original temple as they built the new one. However, I imagine some of the Israelites did struggle with depression triggered by exile. God did not restore Israel’s political status as they probably hoped. Instead, God started where the Israelites struggled most. He gave them back the temple, the central point of Israel’s existence.

The book of Ezra does not condemn the Israelites who mourned as they laid the temple’s foundations. In fact, Ezra seems to support the idea of feeling all of the emotions involved in the situation. God knew Israel’s hopes for political restoration, yet He also knew that they needed religious restoration first. I imagine God felt compassion for the Israelites who remembered the glory days. He just knew that they needed Him more.

Just as God understood the Israelites, He understands our conflicted emotions during this COVID-19 time. He feels compassion for the disappointed hearts. God does not fear or shy away from the darker sides of ourselves that we are facing. Instead, He knows we need to return to Him. He’s going to start by rebuilding us where we each need it most.

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Gideon’s Son Jotham: Curse and Flee

Last week, we touched on how Gideon’s son Abimelek went rogue. Abimelek killed his seventy brothers, proclaimed himself king over Israel, and generally sat in the middle of conflict until he died three years later. However, one brother escapes. Today, we’re looking at the interesting curse and flee response of Gideon’s son Jotham.

The Passage

[Jotham said,] “Have you acted honorably and in good faith by making Abimelek king? Have you been fair to Jerub-Baal and his family? Have you treated him as he deserves? Remember that my father fought for you and risked his life to rescue you from the hand of Midian. But today you have revolted against my father’s family. You have murdered his seventy sons on a single stone and have made Abimelek, the son of his female slave, king over the citizens of Shechem because he is related to you. So have you acted honorably and in good faith toward Jerub-Baal and his family today? If you have, may Abimelek be your joy, and may you be his, too! But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelek and consume you, the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimelek!”

Then Jotham fled, escaping to Beer, and he lived there because he was afraid of his brother Abimelek.

Judges 9:16-21 NIV

Curse and Flee

I have to admit, Jotham’s curse starts off pretty confusing in verses 6-15 as he recaps Israel’s recent history. So, here’s some context from Judges 8-9. When Gidian defeated the Midianites, Israel asked to crown him king. Gideon refused and said God would rule them. Israel also asked for Gideon’s sons to rule over them. Gideon refused that, too. He even extended the refusal to any ruling by his grandsons. Later, Gideon died. Israel forgot about his family and turned back to idols. So, Abimelek, the son of Gideon’s concubine, decides to claim himself as ruler and gets his mother’s people at Shechem to help. As we know, all the boys die but Jotham. So, here we are as Jotham reminds Israel of their disloyalty to God and Gideon’s family.

Now, I would probably run away to another city if my brother had just murdered seventy other brothers, too. While Jotham remains one of the few Israelites who still honor God, he does not receive the battle command his father did. Instead, Jotham stands safely distant on a mountain, gives his speech, and runs away. Abimelek rules Israel for three more years before Jotham’s prophecy comes true. I imagine Jotham hid in that obscure town terrified that Abimelek would find him and confused about why the whole mess happened.

Gideon’s Son Jotham

Jotham seemed to inherit more of Gideon’s spirit than any of his other brothers. Jotham flees (and with good reason,) but he also stands up for his faith. He carries the memories of his people, just like Gideon did when he recognized God at the altar. Jotham probably wondered at God’s plan like Gideon questioned the Midianite invasion. Yet, just like with Gideon, God uses Jotham to complete His purposes. Jotham’s curse, though it takes years to come true, demonstrates God’s power to His people. The curse even shows God’s justice; Judges 9 repeatedly mentions that “God did this in order that the crime against Jerub-Baal’s seventy sons, the shedding of their blood, might be avenged on their brother Abimelek and on the citizens of Shechem, who had helped him murder his brothers,” (v. 24).

Yet again, God reminds us that He has a plan even when we are afraid and don’t understand. It took Jotham three years to see God’s justice unfold, but God had a plan the whole time. Sometimes it is easier to take comfort in God’s planning than others. For now, we can take comfort in the fact that God’s innate justice will not let evil go unpunished. He has a plan, and it is good.

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Mental Illness and Murder: Gideon’s Son, Abimelek

Gideon’s legacy, like most men with an abundance of wives in the Bible, is complicated by his offspring. In fact, Gideon had seventy sons by his wives and an additional son by a concubine according to Judges 8:30-31. Gideon named this other son Abimelek. Gideon died, and everything fell apart per usual. Abimelek’s story made me wonder about the links between mental illness and murder. Let’s look at that today.

The Passage

Abimelek son of Jerub-Baal went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, I am your flesh and blood.”

When the brothers repeated all this to the citizens of Shechem, they were inclined to follow Abimelek, for they said, “He is related to us.” They gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, and Abimelek used it to hire reckless scoundrels, who became his followers. He went to his father’s home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal. But Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal, escaped by hiding. Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth-Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelek king.

Judges 9:1-6 NIV

Mental Illness and Murder

I always imagined that people who committed homicide must have struggled with some sort of mental illness. I could not imagine how else someone justified taking another’s life. As with Abimelek, where could that overwhelming need for power come from? So when I searched “murder and mental illness,” the results surprised me. This article by Treatment Advocacy Center showed that while researchers did note a connection between severe mental illness and homicide, these cases did not make up the majority.

Important caveat: I do not mean to imply that those with mental illness will commit homicide. As the Treatment Advocacy Center’s article notes, additional risk factors like “substance abuse and medication noncompliance” significantly impacted the studies’ results. Further, mental illness cases only accounted for a small percentage of all homicides. I still don’t understand the majority of cases, and that’s ok. We live in a broken world. Our selfish, sinful nature leads us to do all sorts of unhelpful things. After all, gossip and gluttony steal joy just like all the other sins.

How Do We Respond?

While statistics can lead to fear, I would rather they lead to compassion. Those struggling with severe mental illness battle a much greater darkness than most of us ever have to face. Medication can be complicated. Everyone reacts differently. While some may quickly find relief through medication, others may have to trial-and-error for months or years to get the dosage right.

I acknowledge that my instinct is to react in fear. I avoid people whose erratic actions make me uncomfortable; sometimes that is the safest option. However, God created each human being. He loves each one far more perfectly and beautifully than we can imagine. With God’s help, let’s grow our compassion for our fellow human beings. Let’s remember that regardless of anything we ever do, Jesus died for each one of us. He wants to see us flourish and create beauty despite our struggles.

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Gideon and the Stumbling Block

We saw last week that God used Gideon’s action in the face of fear to overcome incredible odds. God whittled Gideon’s army down to 300 men. The men made a lot of noise around the invaders’ camp, and the invaders fought each other in fear. Now, in Judges 8, Gideon and his men have defeated the leaders of the Midianites. Israel has reconvened to divide the spoils. Here, we find what will distract the Israelites from God again in the story of Gideon and the stumbling block.

The Passage

The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us – you, your son and your grandson – because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.” And he said, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.” (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.)

They answered, “We’ll be glad to give them.” So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels, not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.

Judges 8:22-27 NIV

Gideon and the Stumbling Block

What is an ephod, and how did it become a stumbling block? This website shows many commentaries’ research and opinions on what Judges 8:27 means. In Exodus 28, we read God’s instructions for the priests’ clothing. The ephod made up part of the High Priest’s garments, and they carried the stones used for divination. Thus, the main ephod was a sacred religious piece designed to worship God. It seems that when Gideon created the ephod from the Midianites’ gold, Israel started worshiping that ephod. In other words, they focused on the Israelites’ victory instead of worshiping God Who gave the victory to them.

Beware Your Stumbling Block

Reading the story of Gideon and the stumbling block reminds me of one of my very dear friends going up. He was so shy that on our first day of Kindergarten, he hid under a table. In seventh grade, my friend started seeing a counselor after school. He trotted into our computer class, dropped his backpack, and told his friends, “What’s the worst they can do to me?” It was his new mantra. Rather than fearing getting in trouble, he said, “What’s the worst they can do to me?” If kids told mean jokes, he said, “What’s the worst they can do to me?” It seemed to me that he went from fearing everything to no longer fearing anything.

Gideon shows us the value of bravery. He also shows us the dangers of taking our new mentality too far. Like my friend whose new mantra overrode even reasonable fear, Gideon’s newfound strength in the Lord caused him to make a religious emblem that distracted Israel from God. When we depend on our own strength and healing, we forget that God gives us the elements we need to heal. As a Christian, I believe that without God, our healing won’t stick. We need His holy power to overcome our struggles, and we need His humility to remember that we don’t repel bullets.

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How to Take Action in Spite of Fear: Lessons from Gideon

Gideon’s fear shows up clearly during his calling. However, Gideon doesn’t stay wallowing in his fear when God stirs him to battle. Instead, Gideon shows us how to take action in spite of fear with God’s help. Let’s look at Judges 7 to see how God multiplies Gideon’s efforts.

The Passage

Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.'”

Judges 7:1-2 NIV

The LORD said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the LORD said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp.

Judges 7:7-11 NIV

Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle of the night watch, just after [the Midianites] had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.

When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath.

Judges 7:19-22 NIV

Miracle in an Impossible Circumstance

My favorite part of Judges 7 occurs during God’s battle instructions to Gideon. God knows Gideon fears attacking the Midianites with only 300 men. He knows that Gideon needs a lot of coaching and affirmation in order to take action. Beautifully, God incorporates Gideon’s needs into His plan. He sends Gideon to the Midianite camp, where Gideon and Purah overhear two friends discussing a dream that prophesies Gideon’s victory. Gideon returns to the Israelites full of fire and faith in the Lord. Gideon and the three hundred drive out a swarm of invaders by making a lot of noise. That’s a pretty amazing attack plan, in my opinion.

How to Take Action in Spite of Fear

When I searched “how to take action in spite of fear,” the entire first page filled with links to Bhuddist monks and business coaches. While most had some great points about just doing the thing that scared you, the Christian approach teaches that God provides His power behind the action. Unlike Gideon, very few of us have the express commands of God spoken in our ears. However, Gideon acted in accordance with his faith in God, and God blessed that. As we saw with Saul, taking action outside of God’s pre-existing commands doesn’t wind up in blessing. We can’t just kind-of throw our action His way as we go. In contrast, Gideon shows us to act out of obedience to God. When we do, God multiplies our efforts as only He can.

Now, I get mad every time preachers and Christian leaders say, “Just trust God and you will be fine!” The physical aspects of anxiety are more complex than just trusting God. Instead, I hope we can look at Gideon and see how God works with us through our anxiety and fear. For some, just seeking professional help may be the action you need to take in spite of your fear. There is no shame in that! Based on this passage, God will honor your willingness to fulfill His plan for your life by seeking treatment. God doesn’t stop at seeking treatment, either. Since He sees our hearts, He knows when we seek to act out of faith. He will give us courage to take that next step even when we feel afraid. Just as God didn’t leave Gideon to be destroyed by the Midianites, God will support you when you take that first action in faith.

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Testing God in the Bible: Gideon’s Example

How my cat keeps doing crazy things in the laundry room right before I write about Gideon is beyond me. Today, I put him in kitty jail. He jumped on the washer and into the dryer one too many times while I folded clothes. Like my cat, Gideon ventures into territory he’s really not supposed to go, but God allows it. Let’s finish up Judges 6 and see what Gideon shows us about testing God in the Bible.

The Passage

Now all the Midianites, Amalekites, and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them.

Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised – look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew – a bowlful of water.

Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

Judges 6:33-40 NIV

Commands about Testing God in the Bible

Because the Israelites didn’t trust God to provide for their needs in Exodus, Moses struck a rock to provide water for them at a place he named Massah. Of course, the Israelites, like us, often forgot God’s provision. So, in Deuteronomy 6:16, the Israelites are commanded, “Do not put the LORD your God to the test as you did at Massah.” Jesus then quotes this verse when Satan tests Him in the wilderness. The devil tells Jesus to jump off the roof of the temple and have the angels save Him. Jesus says no (see Matthew 4:7 and Luke 4:12.)

So, the Bible condemns testing God out of disbelief in His power. This would indicate that Gideon’s tests are wrong. However, the Bible also records instances of casting lots to seek God’s will. The process occurs for things as simple as dividing up land to things as complicated as determining whose sin incurred God’s wrath. It seems to me that Gideon’s tests lean toward the casting lots side. He trusts God to do what He says. Gideon just seeks clarity about which path to take.

Kitty Jail and God’s Kindness

When the cat jumped right where I was folding clothes for the fifth time, I put him in kitty jail. By “kitty jail,” I mean a laundry basket with some of his favorite curling ribbon inside. He quite contentedly chewed on the ribbon and reached for my phone through the holes in the side of the basket. As expected, he didn’t like when I turned the dryer on with him sitting on top of it. So, I let him out of kitty jail. It was not my smartest move. As I refilled my detergent dispenser, he jumped on the washer and dipped his paw in the soap. He did not enjoy me chasing him with a wet paper towel to wipe the soap off his paw.

Thankfully, God knows far more about our attitudes and intentions than I know about my cat’s. He knew that Gideon intended to obey. He also knew that Gideon needed to feel God’s support in order to overcome his anxiety. In His kindness, God responded to Gideon’s tests with signs to show Gideon that he understood God correctly. I really don’t understand why God permitted Gideon to do the second fleece test. After all, God had already answered Gideon once. It just proves to me that God sees us in love. When we seek to follow His will, God responds with kindness, even when we follow imperfectly.

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The Calling of Gideon

My cat’s new favorite hiding place is on the wire shelf in the laundry closet. He curls up on top of my husband’s work shirts and sleeps or watches for birds out the window. Right before I started to write this piece, my cat attempted to jump from the washer to the shelf, missed, and crashed loudly in the small space between the washer and the wall. He then proceeded to explore the thin space at the back of the closet while I called his name and shook a toy against the washer. I thought for sure he had tangled himself in wires and hoses during his acrobatics. Thankfully, he finally meandered back to the doorway where I scooted the washer just enough to let him through. Long story short, I feel like this is where we find Gideon in Judges 6. Let’s dive in to the calling of Gideon.

The Passage

The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the LORD said, “I will wait until you return.”

Judges 6:11-18

The Calling of Gideon

Like my cat exploring behind the dryer, chaos and panic rules Gideon’s community. The Israelites started worshiping other gods, but when the LORD turns from them, they ask where God is in their suffering. They do not realize that they brought this panic on themselves by neglecting their faith in God. The Israelites think they can escape this mess on their own. They don’t recognize their need for God to move obstacles to free them from their captivity. And just like my cat, they quickly turn back to their captivity and chaos once the judges die. It’s in this mess that we find the calling of Gideon.

Gideon certainly asks God a lot of questions. In fact, he seems to get away with far more questions for God and tests of His will than almost anybody else in the Bible. Even Moses was rebuked with all his questions of God’s signs and instructions. Perhaps the difference between Moses and Gideon is that Gideon does not run away from the job God has given him. He asks for many signs and for God to prove that he is making the right decision, but Gideon does not ask God to send someone else like Moses does.

Fear and Anxiety

As I said in the introduction to this series, I can’t say for certain that Gideon struggled with anxiety. He certainly expresses fear; he cowers when the angel disappears in flame, and he tears down the altar to Baal while most people are sleeping. When the townspeople wake up and see Gideon’s father’s altars destroyed and replaced by one to the LORD, Gideon doesn’t make an appearance. In fact, his father Joash handles the entire debacle and says that any god who can’t defend his own altar isn’t a real god at all.

Despite Gideon’s timidity, he gives me hope as one who honored God in spite of his anxiety. Yes, Gideon expresses fear, but he also seeks the help he needs to accomplish God’s will. (We’ll see one of the absolute coolest examples of that next week.) He does not deny the warrior identity that God gives him but learns how to grow into it over time. I mean, Gideon literally goes from separating wheat grain in wine residue (I don’t even know how on earth he did that) to leading God’s people in peace for 40 years. God uses Gideon’s humility to restore Israel’s spiritual direction. I imagine Gideon wouldn’t be quite that humble without the fears and anxieties he had to contend with.

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Introduction to Gideon, the Judge in the Bible

I can’t say for certain that Gideon struggled with anxiety. Honestly, as with most of the accounts in Judges and the later books of Kings, the details are sparse as they cover decades of Israel’s history. Instead, I’m writing this next series on Gideon because he kept coming to mind. I believe that if something keeps coming to mind, God probably has a reason for it. So, I thought we’d start this series with an introduction to Gideon, the judge in the Bible.

When did the Judges come?

The Israelites followed Joshua into the promised land and started settling the territory. Against the Lord’s commands, though, they took some of the existing people as servants instead of driving them out completely. This led to a lot of problems as the Israelites frequently turned to the other gods and religions. God punished the Israelites by subjugating them to other kings. Israel would call out to God to save them, and God would raise up a judge to lead Israel into freedom from their captors.

Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly tuned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the LORD’s commands. Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD relented because of their groaning under the judge who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

Judges 2:16-19 NIV

Who is Gideon, the Judge?

Gideon is the fifth judge whose story we read in Judges. His account fills chapters 6-9 of the book. Gideon’s story follows Deborah, the female judge, whose leadership led to 40 years of peace. However, as the Israelites turned from God when Deborah died, He gave them over to the Midianites for seven years. We meet Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress because the Midianites were taking everything the Israelites had. The false god Baal heavily influenced Gideon’s community, and we get to experience a lot of Gideon’s fears during his encounter with the angel in chapter 6.

If you want to see a quick timeline and map of who was in charge from the time of the judges until Israel’s request for a king, I found this easy to read outline at Biblestudy.com. On Wednesday, we’ll start looking at the calling of Gideon. His story reads very differently than that of the warrior prophetess who came before him. Instead, Gideon reminds us of God’s kindness in responding to our fears and of God’s ability to use us despite our weakness.

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Ish-Bosheth Son of Saul

To be honest, I don’t recall Ish-Bosheth appearing in the book of 1 Samuel. We learn a great deal about Jonathan, we see three of Saul’s sons die on Mt. Gilboa, but Ish-bosheth stays silently in the background. That is, until Abner gets ahold of him in 2 Samuel. He steps forward as a puppet king of Israel for two years while David leads the tribe of Judah. So, how did the family lines of depression affect Ish-Bosheth, son of Saul?

The Passage

Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel.

2 Samuel 2:8-9 NIV

During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner had been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul. Now Saul had had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?”

Abner was very angry because of what Ish-Bosheth said. So he answered, “Am I a dog’s head – on Judah’s side? This very day I am loyal to the house of your father Saul and to his family and friends. I haven’t handed you over to David. Yet now you accuse me of an offense involving this woman! May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the LORD promised him on oath and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” Ish-Bosheth did not dare to say another word to Abner, because he was afraid of him.

2 Samuel 3:6-11 NIV

Family Ties

In addition to being commander of Saul’s army, Abner was Ish-Bosheth’s uncle. He not only brought his political experience to the table, but he also brought his position of family authority over Ish-Bosheth. It is no surprise that Abner’s previous positions alone were enough to sway Ish-Bosheth into becoming a puppet king. Between Abner and David, every decision Ish-Bosheth made was directed by someone else. Even Ish-Bosheth’s death in 2 Samuel 4 occured at the hands of two of his men while he was sleeping. In fact, the only report of Ish-Bosheth ever making a decision on his own occurred when he confronted Abner about Rizpah, and it ended with his authority as king being stripped away.

Outside of Abner’s direct influence, Ish-Bosheth had an unusual relationship with the rest of his family. We don’t see Ish-Bosheth fighting in any battles alongside Saul. In 1 Samuel 28, the ghost of Samuel warns Saul that he will lose all of his sons in the battle against the Phillistines. So, how does Ish-Bosheth survive the carnage? Based on 2 Samuel, he must have been at home. Ish-Bosheth was not a warrior like his father and brothers. He did not lead thousands of men every day like his older brother Jonathan did. We really don’t find out anything that Ish-Bosheth did do. He certainly did not have any experience or qualities to enhance his claim to Israel’s throne. Yet, thanks to Abner, he sits in charge of eleven loosely connected tribes.

Ish-Bosheth Son of Saul

Unlike Jonathan and even Michal, Ish-Bosheth seemed to inherit none of his father Saul’s warrior instincts. Instead, he inherited all the fear and silence Saul ever possessed, and he seems to have inherited it ten-fold. Ish-Bosheth faced a bully in his Uncle Abner, and he did not know how to stand up for himself or his family. We don’t even see him wake up or fight back at his death. He reacted to every circumstance we see him face, and he never made proactive changes to protect his household.

Ish-Bosheth really exemplifies the breakdown caused among his family because Saul never treated his depression. Aside from God’s punishment for Saul’s poor choices, the family never learned to readjust their negative thinking. Those like Jonathan who didn’t struggle with mental illness themselves spent the majority of their time trying to play catch-up and keep the peace. Ultimately, the family met with a tragic end. Perhaps the tragedy could have been avoided if Saul had sought help for his struggles instead of running from them in fear.

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King Saul’s Daughter: Another Look at Michal

I became interested in the story of King Saul’s daughter, Michal, when I read The Wives of King David series by Jill Eileen Smith. Getting an on-the-ground view of the book of 1 Samuel completely changed my opinion of Michal. Today, let’s look at Michal again so we can understand how depression affected King Saul’s daughter.

The Passage

Then [Saul] himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” And he went there to Naoith in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naoith in Ramah. And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

1 Samuel 19:22-24 ESV

And it was told King David, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the city of David with rejoicing. And when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod.

2 Samuel 6:12-14 ESV

Parallels between Saul and David

Anger often hides a deeper emotion like fear. Michal certainly had reason to fear her husband David following her father’s footsteps. After all, Saul was Israel’s first king. Who was to say that Saul’s fate wouldn’t also be David’s?

Consider 1 Samuel 19. Saul ramps up his attempts to kill David. After three rounds of soldiers have fallen to the ground in prophesy before they can complete their mission, Saul himself journeys to David. In contrast to the joyful prophesying Saul preformed at his anointing, Saul winds up naked in the streets for a day. No doubt his family at home was ashamed by the scandal and the turmoil.

Now in 2 Samuel 6, David has taken over Israel. He already failed once at moving the Ark of the Covenant. In fact, Uzzah died stabilizing the ark in transit, and 2 Samuel reports David trembling in fearful humility because of it. However, word arrives that the house currently holding the ark was blessed, so David decides to move it again. Michal probably recalls her father’s fearful attempts to gain power as David left for Ark Transport Round 2. She probably feels fear for the Ark herself.

Next thing Michal sees, her husband is dancing basically naked in the streets because of this ark. I imagine the scandal of her father’s naked prophesying flashed before her eyes. She probably fears that this foreshadows David following in Saul’s depressed footsteps. She lived in that unstable palace once before; I doubt she wants to live there again. So, Michal waits with all her fury at the door to the palace for David to come home.

King Saul’s Daughter

Besides the stress of living in royal palaces led by men with mental illnesses, Michal has another fact working against her. Genetics play a large role in anxiety and depression. Saul’s early pattern of silence certainly parallels Michal’s stuffed feelings. It is very possible that Michal inherited her father’s depressive tendencies. Add a life of stress to genetic inclinations, and Michal’s own depression kicked in full swing. As 2 Samuel 6:20-23 repeats, Michal was “the daughter of Saul” in more ways than one.

Unfortunately, Saul’s untreated mental health problems led to further problems for his children. While Jonathan lived in the shadow of Saul’s poor decisions, Michal faced the scary truth of depression in the mirror. Without the example of someone seeking help for their mental struggles, Michal played defense like her father did. She put up rules to stop the cycle from returning, but it cost her more family in the end.