"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

God in History ~ Book of Judges

A major theological theme the Book of Joshua is the inheritance of the Land in fulfillment of God’s promises. In the Book of Judges, concern for the Land remains a priority, but with a difference. Now the issue is why Israel had not been able to possess the Land completely. The answer is clearly seen in Israel’s disobedience---in not completely annihilating the Canaanites, and especially in turning to their gods (2:1-3, 20-22). Therefore, the theme of the Land is tied to another concern in Joshua as well, the purity of Israel’s worship. The gift of the Land, a major theme in Joshua, is seen in Judges as compromised by Israel’s apostasy.

Israel’s apostasy is the cause of threats to the Land, as is explicitly stated in the text (2:1-3, 20-22). Repeatedly, we see the Israelites breaking the Covenant, turning to Canaanite gods, and generally doing evil. Repeatedly, we see them suffering the consequences. The oppressions, chaos, and general negative themes of the book are a result of repeated sin.

God’s faithfulness forms the counterpoint to Israel’s apostasy in the Book of Judges. He repeatedly provided deliverance, in spite of Israel’s repeated falling away. He did not do this mechanically in response to Israel’s cries for help, and He did not spare Israel the consequences of her actions. In fact, He angrily delivered Israel into foreign hands. His deliverance of Israel was motivated by his promises about the Land. He remained faithful to his promises. The immediate cause of God’s deliverance of Israel was not due to any merit on Israel’s part, but was due to his compassion and pity (2:16, 18). God alone emerges as the hero of the Book. He acted on Israel’s part in spite of her faithless character. Even the judges themselves did not contribute greatly to the improvement of spiritual conditions in the Land. Though Gideon and Samson are highly regarded in the Book of Hebrews, they were anything but paragons of virtue.

The case for kingship is presented in Judges in three major ways. First, through its outline and structure, Judges shows repetitive cycles as a part of a downward spiral, leading to a virtual bankruptcy of any positive virtues in the Land. (However, there are signs of hope as in the tribes confronting Benjamin in a unified manner).

In the final chapter, 4 times we find the phrase “In those days, there was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). In two of these references (17:6; 21:25), there is the additional phrase “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” These comments do more than just state the conditions in Israel at the time (the reader is painfully aware of that). Rather, they make clear the point that things would be better under a king. The biblical norm was that people would do what was right in the Lord’s eyes, not their own.

A second way in which the Book of Judges speaks to the issue of kingship is in the episode where the men of Israel asked Gideon to rule over them (8:22-23). Gideon refuses them, stating that it is the Lord himself who is to rule over them, and no other. This is usually seen as one of the clearest statements in the Old Testament against kingship. However, the message here is not so much that kingship itself is the problem, rather that the problem is the motivation for the request; it is because “you have saved us out of the hand of Midian” (v. 22). This is in direct contradiction to Deuteronomy 17:16 about the Israelites not building up the number of horses they owned, and is in direct contradiction to the entire point of the story in Judges 7:1-8 about the paring down of the numbers of Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 men. Israel was not to boast “that her own strength has saved her” (7:2). Gideon’s refusal is not a statement about the illegitimacy of the institution of kingship, but, rather, a more limited comment about the circumstances under which Gideon was asked to rule.

A third way the Book of Judges speaks to the issue of kingship is its perspectives on Abimelech’s abortive kingship in chapter 9. Gideon’s son, Abimelech made himself king by means of a slaughter. He is condemned, not for being king, but for the means by which he did so. He was not called or raised up by God, but was motivated by his own selfishness, greed and murderous lust for power. The inevitable outcome of such a kingship is destruction. Howard asserts that nothing in the Book of Judges suggests that the final author was antikingship; rather he was arguing that things would have gone better under a king. He feels the Book functions, therefore, as an introduction to--and a justification of--the monarchy.

The end of the Book sets the stage for the larger story related in 1 Samuel, the introduction to the monarchy. We are more than ready for the saga of King David, and his ultimate successor, King Jesus. God is a God of covenants. He has always been, and always will be, true to his words.

He draws near to those who seek him, He disciplines those who worship idols (whether literal or figurative). He exhalts the humble and brings low the proud. He does all these things because he is a God of covenant and because He is a God of relationships. He loves us too much not to keep us in the fold, even if it means making us uncomfortable for a time. We are far too dear to Him. He is the constant factor in our relationship. He stands always ready to welcome and forgive. We are the variable factors, the slow learners, each generation seemigly needing to start from scratch.

Oh, the depth and height and breadth of his lovingkindness and compassion toward us! All of history is an object lesson of people seeking their own way and God patiently extending Himself to them. Ultimately, King Jesus will have his reign. Let it be!

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Remembering God

We struggle emotionally for a number of reasons. The reasons tend to fall under a larger category of lack of peace. Other people are not behaving as we hoped them to. God is not protecting as we understood Him to promise. We are unable to control our own emotions, as we understand the scriptures to mandate. The world is not living up to our expectations, and we need to find a way of bringing it into line. Our own behaviors may be at odds with our proclaimed beliefs and values. As gods of our little universe, we are failing. We want help in getting back on our thrones.

Christians are not immune to this type of thinking. In fact, some of us are masters at it. Having read the scriptures, we have a general grasp of how things should work, or so we think. Our expectations enhanced, we set off, only to encounter a world that is still broken and dysfunctional at every turn. And we are active participants in that world, right down to the core. The very fact that we want to sit in judgment of it proves the point. We so easily slide onto our thrones, gods of our own little worlds.

Even knowing this, I find my peace in peril on a regular basis. The realities of our culture at this time bring many into my office whose lives have no easy answers. Some people have lost everything: jobs, homes, relationships, now they are struggling to maintain their faith in a God who seems silent in their time of need. Unconsciously, I want to find the solution for them. I want to rescue them from their position of peril. I want to save them. Honestly, I want to be their savior. However, they already have One, far better than me. Moreover, even though it is not always clear either to the client or to me, He has them covered. He loves them far more than I do. He has their eternal best interest at heart, and He is weaving something of eternal value into their spirits through the insolvable problems that lie before us. At times, my role is not to solve the problems or to become the savior, but to keep pointing them back to Him.

How much peace do we forfeit because we forget who is God, and who is not? When we are encouraged to pray, it is not so that we can counsel or advise Him, it is so that we can pour out our hearts and find peace in the fact that He is God and we are not. When scripture exhorts us to be there for one another, it is not to become gods to one another.

We can encourage, comfort, even convict, but ultimately we cannot be the Holy Spirit to another. We cannot be God. I for one am glad for this.

Frequently, I write this note on a post-it and ask my client to place it where he will see it several times a day:


God put it another way:

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

"Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome..." Nehemiah 4:14

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