"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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  1. Few people have an appreciation for the old testament stories now, especially if we are Christians. There is a feeling among Christians that the New Testament is the only relevant part of the bible now. So, I have an appreciation who teaches about the old testament and it's relevance today. Great blog! Please keep writing!

  2. Thanks Kathy, I hope to keep writing. Even though comments are few, readers are constant and I love that my meditations reach around the world. It blesses me BIG. Hopefully, others are blessed and Jesus is pleased by most of what is read here. At least it should get people thinking. Much of it is both conservative and creative. . . not the norm. Thanks for your words. Steve

  3. Steve, What a great synopsis of the book of Judges. Dang boy, you are good! T.R.