Judges - The Texture of Failure: Week 6

By Jacob Toman

How do you feel when someone lies to you? What emotions and reactions are stirred up within you the moment you realize you’ve been deceived?

In Judges 10-12 we see the life of Jephthah as one that is a picture of God’s relationship with his Old Testament people. Jephthah's life is full of conflict and he lived in an age of broken promises; similarly, God’s relationship with his people is marked by their broken promises and broken vows of love.


Read Judges 10:6-18...

Who are the characters (people) involved in this passage? (Hint, lots of “ites”)

In Judges 10:7 we’re told God became “angry”. What explanation is given for why God is angry? (Hint, see 10:11-14)

How does Israel respond to God’s critique of their life choices? (Hint, see 10:15)

What will the reward be for leading the attack against the Ammonites? (Hint, See 10:18)


Map of Israel during the time of the Judges.png

Read Judges 11:1-11...

How is Jephthah and his family lineage described? (Hint, see 11:1-2)

How would you describe Jephthah’s relationship with his brothers?

What is the promise of the elders of Gilead to Jephthah? (Hint, see 11:8, 10)


Read Judges 11:12-28...

How does Jephthah address the Ammonite King?

What power does Jephthah appeal to in his message to the Ammonite king? (Hint, see 11:23-24)


Read Judges 11:29-40...

What are the terms of the vow Jephthah makes to God? (Hint, see 11:30-31)


One of the repeated themes throughout the story of Jephthah is that of faithfulness to vows. The people of Israel were unfaithful to their vows to the Lord by serving false gods (10:6). The father of Jephthah was unfaithful in his marriage to his wife (11:1). The brothers of Jephthah were unfaithful to their kin (11:2). The vow of the leaders of Gilead to make Jephthah ruler is questionable as seen by Jephthah’s initial concern of their insincerity (11:7).

The sad irony of the story of Jephthah is that there are many parties who break their vows and are dishonest, yet when it comes to the murder of his own daughter, Jephthah keeps his vow! Oh the tragedy! The one person who should have been unfaithful to his vow!

How does Jephthah's leadership of Israel end? (See 12:7)

Think today on the promises you’ve made. Are there promises you regret making? Are there promises you ought to keep but haven’t followed through? If you’re a believer in Christ Jesus, then trust in this promise from Jesus:

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

- Matthew 28:20b


Despite all the unkept promises, deceit, and broken vows in our own lives, our God is a faithful, promise keeping God who is with us and never forsakes us.

Personalities in Gaming: Phil Spencer

By Michael Mendis

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in 2013 was a major moment for gaming.  With both Microsoft and Sony set to release their next consoles at the end of the year, this convention was the biggest opportunity for each company to promote their upcoming products to gamers and to the world.  And when all was said and done at the end of the show, the outcome was clear: gamers loved Sony’s PlayStation 4...and they hated Microsoft’s Xbox One.  It wasn’t really debatable, because it wasn’t really close.  Fast forward to 2018, though, and the tone has shifted: while the PS4 is indeed selling like hotcakes, the Xbox One is also quite successful in its own right, and its future is exciting.  What happened?  How did Microsoft win back gamers and stay in the fight against a formidable rival?  Microsoft is a big company, and many people rightly share the credit, but the one person at the forefront of it all is Phil Spencer.

Phil Spencer Xbox.jpg

Phil Spencer started with Microsoft in 1988 as an intern.  When Microsoft launched into the console gaming scene with the original Xbox in 2001, Phil got heavily involved with games, specifically Microsoft Studios, the company’s in-house game development division.  While at first he oversaw mainly European developers, he worked his way up the corporate ladder to become the Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Studios in 2009; it was a prestigious position, giving him influence over all the company’s exclusive games and gaining him a following amongst diehard Xbox fans (a following he has cultivated through his presence on Twitter and his appearances at major conventions like E3).  But Spencer’s ascendancy was far from over.  Ironically, it was one of Xbox’s biggest stumbles that gave him the opportunity to advance even higher.

In 2013, Microsoft ran into trouble with the announcement of the Xbox One console.  What was supposed to be a grand moment of triumph for the company turned out to be a disaster, as gamers voiced their disapproval of Microsoft’s upcoming strategy with their new machine.  As it was first planned, the Xbox One wouldn’t use a disc to authenticate the use of a particular game; rather, it needed what was essentially a constant connection to Microsoft’s servers via the internet.  The intent was to create a platform in which you no longer needed the disc to play your game, but the downsides were nasty.  Those without reliable internet connections would be unable to play games, even ones that didn’t have any online features.  You also wouldn’t be able loan or sell your games, since the discs were no longer of any use once the game was downloaded onto your hard drive.  On top of the internet problems, the Xbox One wasn’t as powerful as the rival PlayStation 4, and it cost more, too, thanks to the Kinect camera that was bundled with every console (a camera that most gamers didn’t really care about).  Microsoft scrambled to reverse their internet connection plans and managed to release the console without them, but the damage had already been done; gamers didn’t trust Microsoft, and ran to Sony in droves, who welcomed them with open arms and a very gamer-centric marketing campaign.  Although the Xbox One managed a decent launch during the holiday 2013 season, PS4 sales were through the roof, setting the pace for the new console generation.

Xbox PlayStation booths E3 2013 pic 2.jpg

Heading into the new year, Microsoft knew it had to make changes in its leadership, and decided to give the Xbox division a heavier gaming focus in order to remain competitive with Sony.  As the head of Xbox’s first-party game development, Phil Spencer was perfectly positioned to take advantage of this, and was promoted to Head of Xbox in April 2014.  Now he was over the entire Xbox division, overseeing not only the games themselves, but also the teams that made the console hardware and the various services (such as Xbox Live) that ran on the platform.  And under his leadership, there have been major changes to Xbox.

Spencer’s first priority in his new role was hardware.  He couldn’t make drastic revisions to increase the power of the Xbox One - that console was already released and the hardware largely set in stone - but he could find other ways of making it more appealing to gamers.  He made the move that many thought Microsoft would be unwilling to make: Xbox One consoles started to be sold without the Kinect, which allowed Microsoft to drop the price to that of the PS4.  He also pushed his engineers to focus their efforts on ensuring that game developers both inside and outside of Microsoft could eke out as much power from the console as possible.  And the hardware team started working on a new, more powerful machine, one that would stand alongside the Xbox One and play the same games, only better.  This became known as the Xbox One X, which Microsoft touted as a “monster” and the “world’s most powerful console”, and was released in November 2017.

Phil Spencer E3 2017.jpg

Spencer’s impact on Xbox goes beyond just hardware, however; as his hardware teams worked secretly on the Xbox One X, other teams at Microsoft introduced various new features for Xbox One owners.  Backwards compatibility for select Xbox 360 games, a feature that was intended for the launch of the Xbox One until the internet connection fiasco took center stage, was formally launched in 2015, and two years later was expanded to include original Xbox titles as well.  Spencer also pushed for further integration between Xbox consoles and Windows PC gaming; in 2016, the Xbox Play Anywhere initiative was announced, in which anyone who purchased a participating Xbox game would get a copy for Windows 10 PCs for free (and vice versa), with all save data carrying over from one platform to the other.  And most recently, Microsoft introduced Xbox Game Pass, a Netflix-style subscription service through which gamers can pay $10 a month for access to over one hundred games.

xbox one backwards compatibility announcement.jpg

While these positive changes have restored much of the goodwill amongst gamers that was lost a few years ago, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing; with the cancellation of a couple anticipated games, as well as the shuttering of one of Microsoft’s most well-known game development studios, many gamers are still somewhat skeptical of the Xbox brand.  Nonetheless, the improvements to hardware and services have allowed Xbox to stay relevant even in the face of stiff competition.  Microsoft’s top executives were pleased enough with Spencer’s leadership that in 2017 they promoted him once again, this time to Executive Vice President of Gaming.  Now, Spencer has his own seat on the company’s executive leadership team and answers directly to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, making him one of the most powerful individuals in the industry.  And his work isn’t done yet; he recently announced an increased investment in their first-party game development, seeking to buy and create more studios to make exclusive games (another area in which they are often perceived as being behind the competition).  Phil Spencer’s influence on the gaming industry is greater than ever, and the impact of his work at Microsoft will reverberate for years to come.

Judges - The Texture of Failure: Week 5

By Jacob Toman

Last week we read about the great success of Deborah and Barak in battle against the general of king Jabin, Sisera, and his army of Iron Chariots. We also saw the rise to power of the hiding “mighty man” - Gideon. This week we turn to see the first internal war of God’s people as they seek for a king to rule over them, and become entangled in a upheaval that was unparalleled at the time.


Read Judges 8:22-27...

  1. What is the request of the Israelites to Gideon? (Hint: see verse 22)
  2. What is Gideon’s “Compromise”? (Hint: see verse 23-24)
  3. What is an Ephod?
    • A passage in the Book of Exodus describes the Ephod as an elaborate garment worn by the high priest, and upon which the Hoshen, or breastplate containing Urim and Thummim, rested. According to this description, the Ephod was woven out of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet threads, was made of fine linen, and was embroidered with skillful work in gold thread (Exodus 28:6-14).
      • Used by the high ________
      • Used for consulting ________


Read Judges 8:28-35...

  1. Gideon’s nickname “Jerubbaal” means - contender with Baal (given for his heroics in Judges 6). Notice the author of Judges swap from using the name “Gideon” to “Jerub-baal” in verse 29 and 35. In verses 32 and 33 the author of judges uses the name “Gideon”. What are some possible reasons for using both names in verses 29-35?
  2. When Gideon dies, what is the summary statement of Israel’s life choices? (Hint: see verse 33-34)
Abimelech (judges).jpg

Read Judges 9:1-6...

  1. What is Abimelek’s lineage? (Hint: see 9:5)
  2. What are Abimelek's reasons for why he ought to be king? (Hint: see 9:2)
  3. What does Abimelek do to secure his power and position as king? (Hint: see 9:4-6)


Read Judges 9:7-20

  1. Who is the thornbush in Jotham’s message to the citizens of Shechem? (Hint: see 9:16)
  2. What is the prediction of Jotham concerning the newly crowned king and his followers? (Hint: see 9:19-20)


Read Judges 9:21-29...

  1. What is the lineage of Gaal? (Hint: see 9:26)
  2. What is Gaal’s campaign speech? (Hint: see 9:27-29)


Read Judges 9:30-41...

  1. Who conspires against Gaal? (Hint: see 9:30)
  2. What is the outcome of Gaal’s rebellion against Abimelek? (Hint: see 9:41)


Read Judges 9:42-49...

  1. How does Abimelek deal with the continued uprising of the people of Shechem? (Hint: see 9:42-45)
  2. What is the method Abimelek uses for breaching the tower of Shechem? (Hint: see 9:48-49)


Read Judges 9:50-56...

  1. How does Abimelek’s downfall compare to Jotham’s curse? (Hint: see 9:20)
  2. Who suffers under the reign of Abimelek? (Hint: see 9:56-57)

map of ancient mizpeh and surrouding area.png

We see a switch in the tragedy and violence of Judges during the story of Abimelek. Up until Judges 9, the focus seems to be a continual struggle between God, his people, and their desire to follow the ways of the Canaanites; God sends various external invaders to discipline and encourage his people to return to him. With Abimelek, we see the enemy of God’s people arising from among their own ranks. Jesus gives us warnings in Matthew 7:15-20 concerning false prophets - false teachers and leaders of God’s people:

            15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.  Matthew 7:15-20

There are some amazing parallels in the story of the downfall of Sisera and the downfall of Abimelek.  We see similarity in the introduction of the story (Israel did evil), the rise of an oppressor (Sisera/Abimelek), the prediction of the destruction of the oppressor (in battle and war), friends of the oppressor becoming enemies (the Kenites/The people of Shechem), and the destruction predicted comes true (Sisera slain by a woman, Abimelek consumed by fire).

The amount of similarities are surprising. But this doesn’t mean that everything in the two stories is the same. At least one of the key distinctions between the story of Sisera as an oppressor and Abimelek as an oppressor are their point of origins. Sisera is used by God as a force to discipline God’s people and turn God’s people back to him. Abimelek is a descendent of Gideon - a man who was visited personally by the angel of the Lord. Sisrera was a threat from the outside, while Abimelek was a threat to God’s people from the inside.

When God’s people abandon the ways of the Lord, there is no distinguishing between the people of God and the people of this world.

Think back to what motivated Abimelek - what he wanted and desired. When do we bring violence and internal struggle to our own lives, families, churches, and communities? The story of Abimelek gives us a reminder that even the people of God can be the cause of great harm to themselves and one another.

Today, are we seeking to submit ourselves to the ways of the Lord, the word of the Lord, and the plans of the Lord? Or do we desire to see our own ways established, our own words obeyed, and our own plans followed?