Cloud of Smoke

Judges 20:36-41

36Then the Benjamites saw that they were beaten. Now the men of Israel had given way before Benjamin, because they relied on the ambush they had set near Gibeah. 37Those who had been in ambush made a sudden dash into Gibeah, spread out and put the whole city to the sword. 38The Israelites had arranged with the ambush that they should send up a great cloud of smoke from the city, 39and then the Israelites would counterattack. The Benjamites had begun to inflict casualties on the Israelites (about thirty), and they said, “We are defeating them as in the first battle.”

40But when the column of smoke began to rise from the city, the Benjamites turned and saw the whole city going up in smoke. 41Then the Israelites counter attacked, and the Benjamites were terrified, because they realized that disaster had come on them.

Smoke Signal

If you’ve watched wild wild west movies, you may have observed that some Native American cultures are often featured. Of course, battles against Native Americans are also included. Native Americans used smoke signals to communicate warnings of approaching enemy or stranger, or messages of battle won or lost. Common smoke signals: One cloud of smoke meant ATTENTION; Two clouds of smoke meant ALL is WELL; Three clouds of smoke meant DANGER, TROUBLE or call for HELP.

Did Native Americans learn from the Israelites? The Israelites sent a cloud of smoke as signal to coordinate their attack against the Benjamites.

When the Lord brought the Israelites out of the Egyptian slavery, He used pillar of cloud to separate the Israelites from Pharaoh and his soldiers so that they cannot get near each other. Israelites on one side, Egyptians on the other.

In Exodus 14:19-20, 19Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

For the Israelites, the cloud was a sign of refuge, but for the Egyptians, the cloud was a hindrance to their attack. Cloud can be favorable or unfavorable. For farmers, cloud is a sign of good news, but, for fishermen, cloud is sign of danger.

Similarly, when the Israelites attacked the Benjamites, the cloud of smoke was a favorable signal of their victory, but for the Benjamites, it was a sign of danger, disaster, and defeat. Subsequently, their confidence forsook them.

1.Confidence

36Then the Benjamites saw that they were beaten. Now the men of Israel had given way before Benjamin, because they relied on the ambush they had set near Gibeah. 37Those who had been in ambush made a sudden dash into Gibeah, spread out and put the whole city to the sword. 38The Israelites had arranged with the ambush that they should send up a great cloud of smoke from the city, 39and then the Israelites would counterattack. The Benjamites had begun to inflict casualties on the Israelites (about thirty), and they said, “We are defeating them as in the first battle.” 

Having been victorious in the previous two battles against the more numerous Israelite swordsmen, the Benjamites had been very confident that they will win again the third time. Actually, the Benjamites appeared dominant while they were running after the retreating Israelites. They inflicted 30 casualties.

At first glance, when enemies retreat, it implies breakdown within their ranks. But the Benjamites had no idea that the Israelites intentionally retreated just to draw them away from the city, their stronghold and comfort zone.

The Israelites capitalized on the carelessness and over-confidence of the Benjamites and destroyed them. Confidence in the self, ability, or experience can be favorable sometimes but not applicable to the Benjamites. Actually, the more numerous Israelites were also confident at first and second attack, and they were defeated the fewer Benjamites. But, when the Israelites put their confidence in the Lord, they’ve got wisdom, used ambush strategy, and they were victorious.

Apostle Paul teaches that confidence in the self serving God is garbage.

He wrote in Philippians 3:3-11, 3We who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—4though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10I want to know Christ —yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

As Pharisee, Paul had doctorate and professor of Israel’s law. Yet, things he could depend upon, things he accumulated by human ability, he considered useless. Such mindset is what we should aspire when serving Christ. Our service should exhibit complete trust in Christ. Instead of our ability, we need to trust Him completely for our future, eternal or practical. Yet, we often disregard this reality.

Moreover, to know the power of Christ’s resurrection and participation in His sufferings brings us to the next level of Christian lifestyle. The most common idea of Christian lifestyle is to be assured of eternal life, attend church regularly, be responsible church member and citizen, get involved in a little bit of ministry here and there, and wait for the second coming of Christ or personal retirement.

Yet, Christ does not encourage such attitude, why? Faith in Christ is an experience that should surpass or extend beyond human concept, notion, and knowledge. A responsible person believer or not, can readily perform them. It is common concept or understanding to be responsible as member of a community.

Such lifestyle is playing safe but actually susceptible to defeat. Well, it’s better than being overconfident which had led to the defeat of the Benjamites.

In contrast, the Israelites refrained from being over confident. They asked God for help. The Lord gave them wisdom to set up an ambush. They’ve got coordination of attack from behind and front of the Benjamites.

2. Coordination

40But when the column of smoke began to rise from the city, the Benjamites turned and saw the whole city going up in smoke. 41Then the Israelites counter attacked, and the Benjamites were terrified, because they realized that disaster had come on them.

Those who come from behind Gibeah carefully followed the instruction to destroy and burn everything the city of Gibeah. As the cloud of smoke went up, the courage of the Benjamites disappeared like smoke, and they were defeated.

As members of the church—the body of Christ, we constantly encounter spiritual attacks. To win our spiritual battle, we need coordination within us. When we elected leaders of ministries, can you agree that Christ used election to call those whom He had chosen to lead a particular ministry? And so, when we respect our elected leaders, it shows respect to Christ—the Head of the church.

Coordination in the ministry, coordination among ministry leaders and regular church members is a manifestation of the grace of God at work within us. How can we realize ministry coordination to be actualized?

We pray for the empowerment of Christ’ Spirit. When we rely upon the Holy Spirit, we utilize our spiritual gifts and not upon human instinct.

It teaches us in Ephesians 4:11-13, 11Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

The term translated ‘gave’ is properly interpreted as ‘put in place’ meaning: Christ arranged it that we can have trainers to equip each church member. Genuine church members help in the body of Christ to build and grow in unity and to attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

If we have different faith and different knowledge of Christ, it shows that we have not achieved unity, just yet. But, even in the midst of confusion or misunderstanding, we’ve got keep on keeping on and not give up.

It teaches us in Galatians 6:9, 9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Living in this world, we can still make mistakes but we’ve got to find our common ground to be united in our faith and coordination in our ministry approach until we attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Amen!

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