Today's Readings: Judges 4-5 | Isaiah 32 | James 2
Reading 1 - Jdg 4:14
"Then Deborah said to Barak, 'Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the LORD gone ahead of you?' " (Jdg 4:14).
"This last phrase might mean 'Do not I know that the Lord has gone out before thee?' but far more likely it signifies: 'Canst thou not see that the Lord has gone out before thee?', as though appealing to some visible sign that there was no mistaking.
"What the sign was can be inferred from the details in Deborah's song. 'Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchest out of the field of Edom, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water' (Jdg 5:4); that is, the crossing of Jordan had been marked by earthquake and storm. The presence of the Lord, then, had been signified by these phenomena of nature. There could be little point in alluding to the fact, except to draw attention to similar happenings during Barak's triumph. Such theophany through storm and tempest is not infrequent in Scripture. It was the same at the Red Sea (Exo 15:8,10 and Psa 77:15-20, especially v 18) and in the conquest of Canaan (Deu 9:3); it was the same more than once in David's experience (2Sa 5:20; Psa 18:6-15); it was the same also when the angel of the Lord went forth and smote Sennacherib's army (Isa 30:30-33); and it will be the same yet again when the Lord for the last time brings deliverance to Zion (Zec 14:3; Psa 83:13-15; Mat 24:30).
"Consequently Deborah's words would, in effect, mean this: 'See the black storm clouds gathering over the plain. Now is your opportunity. Here is a clear sign that the angel of the Lord is delivering the enemy into your hand.' 'They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera' (Jdg 5:20)" (Harry Whittaker, "Judges").
It is a good guess that the resultant downpour (Jdg 5:4) created conditions in the valley that rendered the heavy iron chariots of the Canaanites useless, and even a burden.
Reading 2 - Isa 32:17
"The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever" (Isa 32:17).
"Poverty and destitution springing from man's selfishness and misrule, will vanish under Christ's reign. The burdens of past wars and preparations for possible future wars, will no longer cast their shadows on the lives of men. There will be no need for armies and navies, for guns and armaments by which nations today maintain their possessions and preserve their ways of life. Christ will be supreme. Unerring justice and swift judgment by omnipotent power will teach men the folly of disobedience. Jesus and his co-rulers will direct men: 'This is the way, walk ye in it' (Isa 30:21), and will lead them in right paths. When this king reigns in righteousness and his princes rule in judgment '...the work of righteousness shall be peace: and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever' (Isa 32:1,17)" (John Carter, "God's Way" 168,169).
Reading 3 - James 2:19
"You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-- and shudder" (James 2:19).
This alludes to the sick often trembling at the time of their cures. It may refer to the many incidents of curing of "demoniacs" (those possessed by "demons") in the Gospels (cp Mat 8:29, where "demons" express fear). More significantly, James is referring to the fact that many people during Christ's ministry had had the faith to be cured (that is, they believed and trembled), but only a handful had responded with the works which a word-based faith should have produced -- as opposed to the intense hope and belief in personal betterment which the people had (Duncan Heaster).
Or, alternatively, this is a reference to the idols -- sometimes called "demons" (1Co 10:20; Rev 9:20; cp Deu 32:17; Psa 96:5; 106:37) -- who, figuratively, "tremble" when in the presence of the One True God. Examples of this:
the God of Israel showing His plain superiority to all the "gods" of Egypt with the outpouring of various plagues through Moses -- until even Pharaoh (himself a "god", or "demon") had to acknowledge Yahweh's power;
Samson bringing down the great temple at Gaza (Jdg 16:23-31); and
Dagon, the Philistine idol, falling down broken before the ark of the Yahweh (1Sa 5:1-4).
The two ideas are very naturally connected -- along these lines: Those who believe in "demons" (that is, all the little "devils" who do all sorts of mean and hurtful things, under the direction of the BIG "Devil") are -- in effect -- believing in false "gods". And the belief in such "little gods" is basically incompatible with a meaningful belief in the One True God: hence Jer 2:11,12.
So, when Jesus and the apostles set out to cure folks of the diseases which they (the sufferers) attribute to "demons", they are actually mounting a two-pronged attack: (1) they are, first of all, simply curing diseases and disorders, called "demons", and (2) in a more complex or subtle vein, they are demonstrating that such "demons" (meaning: false gods) are not real or powerful -- this is similar to what Moses and Aaron did in Egypt with the whole Egyptian pantheon.
So the "demons" (meaning, here, the "demoniacs", or the ones suffering from what they imagine to be "demons") tremble when they encounter a greater power... because they imagine, at first, these little "demons" (meaning, to their minds, the "gods" or "devils" afflicting them) are now trembling in fear at a greater power!
And then, finally, as (or when) they understand what has actually happened, they realize that these "demons" (meaning the "false gods") do not exist at all -- they are what Paul calls "no-gods"... nothing at all (1Co 8:4; Acts 19:26)!
So, in James 2:19, the question is: Does the initial "trembling" of the "demons", when confronted with a greater Power, lead (a) to the sufferer's recognition that the God of Israel, or of Jesus, is simply greater than the little "demons"? OR does it lead (b) to a greater and more lasting realization, by the one cured or by witnesses, that such "demons" do not exist at all, and therefore that Yahweh is -- truly and absolutely -- the one and only LORD and God?
The above comments blend together two related ideas: (a) that "demons" may mean those who suffer otherwise unexplained illnesses, as well as (b) those demonic "gods" whom they acknowledge or worship). The close connection between these two concepts is verified by certain Bible passages, which draw close parallels between idols and those who worship them: "But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them" (Psa 115:4-8; cp Psa 135:15-18; Jer 10:8).