Judges & Ruth: There is a Redeemer
I hope that you have made a step or two – even if just tiny ones – into our new study, and are excited about what the Lord will teach us as we venture into our study of Judges and Ruth. I have been praying for all of us that in the midst of this busy season, we will take time to enjoy and delight in our greatest gift – the gift of salvation that is ours through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ – and that we will pursue and richly benefit from time sitting at his feet in his word.
I know this new study will stretch some of us to venture into less familiar territory: we’ve started a new study and need to learn a new rhythm, the book is different, we’re in the Old Testament, etc. Thank you for honestly communicating those things that present challenges for you as we begin Judges! I have to confess that it makes me smile to realize that we are a bit like the Israelites we’re studying about (aren’t we always?). We’re looking at new and unfamiliar territory that the Lord has graciously given us, but we’re a little intimidated by the challenges in possessing and inhabiting it. I hope we will gain confidence that he is with us and promises to lead us in the fight to “win the land” if we will trust and obey, to borrow a phrase from an old hymn.
I love how our study of Ephesians – ending with our consideration of the armor of God, and the battle we are called to as his people – perfectly sets us up to look back at the warfare God required of his people in order to fully take possession of the inheritance of land He gave them and secured for them. God promised to lead Israel in victory, but not without their effort in battle. At this point in their history, Israel was not united under a patriarch, national leader, or king, but God continues to be their help and strength. He is not absent.
As we study, though, you might find yourself asking this question posed by Dr. Henrietta C. Mears:
“Sometimes we wonder why God didn’t remove all the enemies from the Promised Land before He let the children of Israel go in. But God had a definite reason (which we’ll discover when we get to Judges 3:1-4!).
God wanted the chosen people to realize that they were a holy people. They must not mix with the wicked nations about them. They must continually separate themselves. God knew that separation makes a people strong. Christians today must remember that they cannot mix with the world. They must keep close to God and war against sin and unrighteousness. God wants us to be good warriors, [and put on] the armor He provides.
And so we see that an uncritical toleration toward a people so utterly corrupt resulted in the undoing of God’s chosen people.” (pp. 109-110, What the Bible Is All About)
This will be evident as we make our way through our study. I hope it encourages each of us to keep putting on God’s armor and doing battle with the enemy of our souls!
They Did Not Drive Out the Inhabitants…
I hope that you are resting in and enjoying Christ as the treasure and joy of Christmas this week, whether all is quiet in your heart and home or you’re racing to accomplish a long to-do list! I am praying for each of us, too, as we embark on this new study that requires us to adjust in a variety of ways. I am confident that it will be well worth our efforts to lean into this study and trust the Lord to give understanding and insight as we consider the Israelites’ failure to fully secure the land the Lord had promised them. It sounds like mostly bad news, I’ll grant you, but against the backdrop of the Israelites’ disobedience and apostasy, we will see quite clearly the faithfulness of our covenant-making, covenant-keeping God.
The portion of scripture we looked at this past Tuesday is an introduction, of sorts, to the book as a whole. Its prevailing theme is found in the repeated use of the words “did not drive out.” God’s clear command for his people was to “devote to complete destruction” the seven nations they were dispossessing of the Promised Land. (Read Deuteronomy 7!) God’s purposes in this were both to JUDGE those wicked nations and to PROTECT his chosen people from being drawn away to the lesser gods of these wicked, pagan people. What we will see as we work our way through the book is that the people of God, though provided by God with his presence and power for expelling the enemy, fail to do so, spiraling downward into disobedience and idolatry. However much we understand of the details of this passage – and there are many opportunities for continued study! – there is ready application for us in these first verses of Judges, particularly for those of us just coming off of the Ephesians study that ended with our consideration of God’s armor in chapter 6. We, too, are provided by God with his presence and power for expelling the enemy from our lives. Where have we settled comfortably to “dwell in the land” with those [sins of the world] God has commanded us to drive out? Where have we failed to engage in the battle to which we’ve been called? And what will be our response?
The consequence for God’s people as recorded in the book of Judges was grave. The angel of the Lord declared, “…you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” The Lord had warned his people repeatedly, but they did not take his commands to heart. Like most children, though, they wept and cried out when faced with the consequences of their sin. We see, too, that they made sacrifices to the Lord. But they failed to bring to the Lord truly repentant hearts. Consider David’s words from Psalm 51: “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Sorrow over consequences isn’t the same thing as sorrow over sin, is it? We’ll be giving that further consideration in the near future.
Lather, Rinse Repeat: The Cycle of Judges
It’s good to be getting back into the flow of things with you as we get into the meat of our Judges study. For those of you who haven’t been able to join us, or feel disinclined due to the graphic nature of the subject matter, could I please encourage you to join us?
Whether you struggle with getting into (or back into) routines (check!), managing transitions (check!), or wondering what to do with difficult passages of scripture (check!), I think you will be greatly encouraged by the discussion time and the clear and overwhelming evidence of God’s faithfulness and mercy in the book of Judges. Perhaps you would be surprised to realize that the misery of sin and rejection of God that we see in the world around us is neither “worse than ever” nor outside of the umbrella of God’s sovereign plan of redemption. We are certainly no less in need of a deliverer than God’s people were in the time of the judges, but this side of the cross, we can look back to the fulfillment of that need in Christ and look forward to our ultimate deliverance and salvation at his final return.
Why look further back? Because “all Scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness….” However distasteful and mystifying the events of Judges might be to us, they have been selected and preserved for us by God in his word, which is his revelation to us of himself and his work in his world. Those truths encourage us to mine these (even these!) portions of scripture for a fresh look at God’s character and work related to his plan to redeem a people for himself.
What we learn in Judges becomes very real to us as it causes us to examine our own walk with and relationship to the Lord. What does genuine repentance look like? What is God’s heart toward me when I’m floundering in the consequences of my own sin? What do I need to know of God when I am walking through painful circumstances and suffering? Is it appropriate for me to look to the Lord for help and deliverance when my suffering is the result of my own disobedience?
These questions, among others, are those we’ll grapple with in our study. So what on earth is “lather, rinse repeat?” For those of you not with us today, the cycle of the judges (we’ve covered three of twelve so far) follows a consistent pattern – one that might remind you, as one of our members put it today, of what you read on the back of a shampoo bottle:
- Israel disobeys God
- Israel is oppressed
- Israel cries out in distress
- God raises up a deliverer
- Israel is delivered and experiences a period of rest/peace
- The deliverer dies
- and…Israel disobeys God (see top)
Today we were pointed to the fact that Israel continually returned to her sin when the deliverer died, as all of them did. The deliverers we read about in Judges were raised up by God to do his work, but the effect of their influence was temporary. However noble or incongruous the deliverer was, the deliverance achieved was temporary. The rest they experienced was temporary. But Israel’s stubborn, persistent sin and disobedience called for a permanent solution and a permanent deliverer. And God had a plan, in the fullness of time, to meet that need – their greatest, and ours – in Christ Jesus.
Next week, we’ll look at the cycle again. I imagine it will become quite familiar over the next many weeks. I trust, though, that our understanding and awe of our deliverer will increase and change us as we look to Him who alone is faithful.
What a Mess! Deborah, Barak, Jael & the Glory of God
I’m glad we were able to dig further into the book of Judges this week, though I confess it seems to get stranger and crazier the more we delve into it. I am quite confident that the word of God IS for the faint of heart, but at first glance, the book of Judges may tempt you to think otherwise! I am grateful every time we come together for your diligent study, your thoughtful questions, and your careful consideration of God’s word as we collectively try to come to a better understanding of it.
I have a confession to make: I don’t like mess. Not that you’d know it to look at me (or my house), but it’s true. If I’m cleaning a space, I like to orient myself toward the clean, the tidy, and the neat, turning my back on the still messy, unfinished, and sometimes overwhelming disheveledness that is the rest of the space. (Sometimes I have to stand in a corner.) Not only do I not like a physical mess; I find it uncomfortable mentally, as well. My brain seems to be wired to try to neatly summarize, categorize, and synthesize information to produce from it tidy paradigms by which I can think and live. While my words and thoughts may be meandering and messy, they’re constantly employed toward this end. Go ahead and laugh.
I find, subject to my own faults and frailties, that I imagine God to exist (and act and think) in settled opposition to mess, too. After all, he IS holy, perfect, and righteous in all of his ways. And he calls us to be holy as he is holy. And as we see clearly in the Old Testament, he hates and punishes wickedness. He was faithful to both his covenant blessings AND his covenant curses in his dealings with his people Israel, right? And so…
Here we are in the book of Judges. I honestly can’t tell you all the things you should think about Deborah, Barak, and Jael. (Thankfully, I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to anyway!) That’s not to say we shouldn’t have questions. I think our questions are great, to the extent that they’re always pushing us toward a greater understanding of God’s word IN ORDER TO bring us to a greater knowledge of and delight in the Lord. While I’m grateful that we live in a time when we can bring our understanding of all that God has done for us in CHRIST through his work on the cross to our understanding of scripture, this book is still doing a number on my pursuit of those tidy mental paradigms I mentioned. I’m sure some of our questions will be answered as we continue to study. They’re not unimportant. More significantly, though, I think that all of this MESS is highlighting some important and beautiful truths about God – a God who graciously pursues His people right into messes of their own making to deliver them.
The book of Judges doesn’t present us with tidy heroes or three-step plans for deliverance. God himself is the hero, and all the glory is His. The best of the characters we encounter in Judges displays some trait or quirk (at best) that causes us to wonder at God’s choosing them. The worst of characters, well….
- Othniel – Is he an Israelite, or isn’t he? Is it acceptable for him to be a judge/deliverer, if he’s a proselyte? Is this a good development, or not? He seems to be a good guy, but….
- Ehud – What’s with all the violence? What are we to make of the despicable, treacherous means of this deliverer that “the Lord raised up” for Israel?
- Shamgar? The Hebrew writer of Judges certainly wasn’t impressed with him. He gets one verse in scripture (and a mention in the song of Deborah and Barak, as well, so make that two). Commentators indicate he wasn’t an Israelite at all, and may have been a mercenary in the service of Pharaoh’s army. That doesn’t hinder the LORD from using him to “save Israel,” though.
- Deborah is consistently praised by commentators, and there is nothing in scripture to indicate that this prophetess of Yaweh did anything other than walk in bold obedience to God.But what are we to make of her strength in relation to the timidity of Barak? What are we to make of her strength as a woman in the service of the Lord?
- Barak is raised up by God, and called by him through Deborah to lead the men of Zebulun and Naphtali into battle against Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army. He appears, initially, to be reluctant, and the Lord sells Sisera “into the hand of a woman,” which would have been a great humiliation.
- The “hand of a woman,” belonged to Jael, whose Kenite husband was bound by treaty to peace with Jabin, king of Canaan. As such, Sisera could have expected to find safety in Heber’s camp. Jael’s initial words and actions would only have increased the expectation, though Jael’s actions go on to provide for us a display of “hospitality” unlike any we’ve ever before encountered in a women’s Bible study! Warm milk and a tent peg? What on earth!?
Foreigners, women, the faithful, the faithless, the ungodly, the unlikely…. What comfort can we draw from any of this? What hope? Is this even worth reading? (Trick question.)
The presence of these men and women in God’s story of the deliverance of his people in the time of the Judges should give us great hope. Do the “leaders” that you see in the world around you cause you to despair? Does the state of the church concern you? Do you know that God is ABLE to work through sinful men and women but doubt his probability and willingness to do so? Do you picture God as distant, at best, and near with wrath, at worst? (Even though we KNOW his wrath was fully poured out on Christ at the cross. Don’t forget that part, and don’t think that the God we encounter in the OT is somehow different from or unrelated to the God of the NT.)
Judges (here in the Old Testament!) shows us that in the midst of keeping his covenant promises (which included, in this case, curses for the disobedience of idolatry), GOD was faithful to draw near to his people in their misery, to deliver them using the unlikeliest of means, and to give them rest from their distress and oppression – even when they didn’t repent. Their idolatry was perennial. So was his compassion. Their rebellion was constant. So was his mercy.
As we considered last week, the deliverance Israel experienced was always temporary. But in Christ, God has raised up the ultimate, final, once-for-all-time sacrifice and deliverer to rescue US from sin and death (and idolatry). There IS a redeemer, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! God’s use of temporary deliverers provided temporary relief. God’s ultimate deliverer provides us eternal life, rest, and redemption!
“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” Psalm 103:2 – 6
Judges 6: Misery, Masters & Miracles
I hope that you are finding our study of Judges profitable and thought provoking, as I am. While I understand completely if it’s a book you’ve skimmed (or even avoided) in the past, I am grateful for what it adds to my understanding of the Lord’s great mercy and compassion toward us, and am praying that growth in understanding is shaping my response to him and others.
We got halfway through our look at Gideon this past Tuesday, and will discuss the rest of his story as a judge/deliverer of Israel this coming week. You’ve likely already realized that Gideon is not the hero we’re looking for. You probably knew that before we started this study, but if you’re anything like me, there may be a tendency to search for goodness in humanity, forgetting that where it exists, it is a reflection of the goodness of God in those made in his image. It’s not that we shouldn’t note and appreciate it, but where we encounter it should turn our gaze and gratitude to the One who is, in and of himself, good. When we set our hopes on earthly (or false) heroes and deliverers, it’s only a matter of time before we’re disappointed. Our help comes from the Lord, who, in His own wisdom and mercy, is gracious and merciful to make frequent use of flawed and faulty humanity for his own glory and for our good. Even (and often especially!) in his use of men and women to bring deliverance for His people, God himself is always the ultimate deliverer.
There are several things for us to note in Judges 6:
- When Israel cried out to the Lord in misery because they were “brought very low because of Midian,” the Lord sent them a prophet. I love what Dale Ralph Davis had to say about this: “Here Yahweh does the strangest thing; in fact, it appears ludicrous. Israel cries for relief, ‘and Yahweh sent a prophet to the sons of Israel’ (v.8). That would be like a stranded motorist calling a garage for assistance and the garage sending a philosopher instead of a mechanic. Israel needs deliverance and Yahweh sends a prophet; Israel asks for an act of God’s power and he sends them a proclaimer of his word who rehearses Yahweh’s grace (vv.8b-9), repeats Yahweh’s demand (v.10a), and levels Yahweh’s accusation (v.10b). Hence Yahweh sends a prophet because Israel needs more than immediate relief; they need to understand why they are oppressed. They must see that ‘Yahweh gave them into the hand of Midian’ (v.1) because ‘they had not listened to [his] voice (v.10b).” Davis goes on to say “Like Israel, we may want escape from our circumstances while God wants us to interpret our circumstances. Sometimes we may need understanding more than relief; sometimes God must give us insight before he dare grant safety. Understanding God’s way of holiness is more important than absence of pain. We may want out of a bind, whereas God wants us to see our idolatry. God means to instruct us, not pacify us.” (Dale Ralph Davis, Judges: Such a Great Salvation, p. 92)
- Where we would expect the Lord to pronounce judgment (following his rebuke of Israel’s disobedience), Yahweh brings deliverance (in the call of Gideon).
- The Lord’s presence with us is sufficient answer to our own inability and inadequacy(vv.12,16). It puts (or should put) to rest all questions and objections related to our abilities and capacities for the work the Lord has called us to do. However…
- The Lord’s presence doesn’t mean that we will move forward without fear(vv.27, 36-40). Even so, we are to move forward, putting greater confidence in the presence of the Lord than in our pounding hearts and anxious minds. Referring to Gideon’s choice of obedience under cover of darkness, Dale Ralph Davis says “Evidently, obedience was essential and heroism optional.” (p. 98, Judges)
- Our idols must be torn down, as we cannot worship God rightly while they stand. (vv.25-27) “No man can serve two masters, for he will either hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24a) Dale Ralph Davis likens the cleansing from idolatry to the cleansing of a wound before a Band-Aid goes on (p. 97, Judges). None of us in our right minds would leave the dirt in place, lest infection set in.
- Idols make lousy deliverers. They can’t even save themselves. (vv. 28-32) We, however, worship the One who, though leveled with this same accusation, willingly sacrificed himself to conquer sin and death, that we might know his salvation.
- If we don’t believe God’s word, we don’t believe God. (vv. 36-40) Gideon’s “If you will…then I shall know…” request of God in verses 36-37 is false. Because Gideon WILL NOT “know” from God’s response. He’ll turn around and ask for another sign. Gideon doesn’t get any new information about God or his promises from his gracious and merciful responses to Gideon’s requests. And, in fact, Gideon has already had the sign of v. 21. Gideon will remain fearful. But Godwill remain faithful. Though Gideon continues to express his doubt, God continues to respond in mercy, providing reassurance.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?…For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-34, 36)
Better off Weak?
Ahhhhh…weakness. That quality we all delight to embrace, right?
I write to you today, if I’m honest, frustrated by physical weakness (not that I can’t lay a claim to other areas, too!). My head is foggy with congestion, and I’m not exactly bursting with energy, though I got a good night’s rest. I turned down opportunities to work outside the home today in anticipation of accomplishing much on the home front, and here I sit, hoping that physical action (typing) will serve to crank the mental gears that produce coherent thought. I’d like to write to you and get a little done around the house, too. I don’t like being weak. Whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, weakness is hardly a trait we’re looking to cultivate. We associate strength with health, vigor, beauty, power, courage and confidence, and the world around us is quick to affirm this message. Yet, we need our understanding of weakness and strength to be shaped by scripture.
Gideon, as we see him portrayed in Judges 6-8, provides us with a helpful case study. Throughout Judges 6 we observe a fearful Gideon who asks for multiple signs from the Lord and obeys the Lord’s commands under cover of darkness. At the beginning of Judges 7, Yahweh pares Gideon’s force of 32,000 men down to 300(!), “lest Israel boast over [the Lord], saying ‘My own hand has saved me.'” Ironically, though 22,000 fearful Israelites have been sent back to their tents, our protagonist, Gideon, remains. The Lord mercifully guides him to confidence with yet another sign to bolster his courage. Finally (we think) Gideon gets a clue, worshiping the Lord immediately upon hearing a dream and its interpretation while eavesdropping on the enemy camp. The news is good, for even the enemy confirms that “God has given into [Gideon’s] hand Midian and all the camp.” Clothed in the Spirit of the Lord, Gideon and his divinely winnowed force of 300 men blow trumpets, break jars, wave torches and stand in place around the camp of 135,000 “Midianites, Amalekites and people of the east” while the Lord sets every man’s sword against his comrade. By the Lord’s hand, Israel’s oppressors decimate themselves, and the remaining few take flight. Is all this due to Gideon’s great strength?
While the angel of the Lord called Gideon a “mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12) and instructed him to “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian,” it is important to note the accompanying encouragements provided when the address is considered in its entirety:
“And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” and the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian.; do not I send you? And he said to him, Please Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house. And the Lord said to him, But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”
Gideon doesn’t exactly ooze self-confidence in this passage. And he seems to find little comfort and assurance in the word of the Lord or the promise of his presence. But rather than bolstering Gideon’s courage by taking away his fear or providing an abundance of fighting men with which to face the enemy, the Lord diminishes Gideon’s forces. Gideon, and Israel with him, needs to learn to trust the Lord and to be confident only in his strength. Like them, we need to see that weakness submitted to the Lord in faith is not a liability, but an opportunity to experience the Lord’s gracious power on our behalf. Strength, however – that quality we so often admire – actually does become a liability when NOT submitted to the Lord. This, too, we learn as we see the events of Judges 7 & 8 unfold. Describing the changes that take place in Gideon, L. R. Klein, in The Triumph of Irony in the Book of Judges, says this:
“The coward has become confident; he directs far-flung mopping up operations which are effectively carried out. But the voice of the LORD is stilled, not to be heard for the balance of Gideon’s narrative. And the spirit of the LORD, which brought the courage to fight a far greater military force, seems to slip from Gideon’s shoulders in the process.” (pp. 57-58)
The Gideon of Judges 7 & 8 is less fearful than the one we initially encountered, to be sure. But is he better off? In Judges 7 & 8 we see him pursue the enemy army, defuse the anger of the Ephraimites with flattery, threaten his (fearful?) fellow Israelites for failing to provide bread for his exhausted, pursuing men, come back to make good on his threats by bringing injury and death to the men of Succoth and Penuel, order his son to kill the kings of Midian in an act of vengeance (in the end doing so himself, because the boy was afraid), and rule over the people of Israel during forty years of rest. Though Gideon gives lip service to Yahweh’s rule in Judges 8:23, his subsequent actions exhibit none of the right kind of fear: fear of the Lord. Gideon is no longer weak, but of what benefit is his newfound strength? Ultimately, he goes on to receive gold from the spoils of war. “And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” (Judges 8:27) Commentators differ on the nature and meaning of this episode with the ephod, but its final impact is clear: it drew both Gideon and the nation of Israel away from the Lord. Alas, Gideon’s strength is no strength at all.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Ephesians 6:10-11
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” Zechariah 4:6b
Where do you need to trust the Lord in weakness today? How might a scripture-informed perspective on strength and weakness adjust your understanding of a particular circumstance you may be walking through? Is there an area of your life where you see yourself as inadequately provisioned for a particular task? How might Gideon’s story change how you pray about this matter?
Remember the Lord Your God
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed* be your name.” Matthew 6:9
(*Let your name be kept holy, Let your name be treated with reverence)
As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side… Judges 8:33-34
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10
“And [the leaders of Shechem] gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. And he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself. And all the leaders of Shechem came together, and all Beth-millo, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem.” Judges 9:1-6; See also Judges 9:7-20
“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:11-13
“Thus God returned the evil of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers. And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads, and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.” Judges 9:56-57; See also Judges 9:23-55
The actions of Israel, Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem have been running through my head for the past few days, particularly with respect to the extent to which they are directly opposed to all that Jesus teaches us to pray and pray for in Matthew 6. The episode of Abimelech is yet another display of what Daniel Block calls the ever-increasing “Canaanization of Israel.” Rather than enjoying the protection and provision of Yahweh in rightful worship and obedience as the called-out, holy and separated people of God, Israel compromises, blends, associates, adapts, adopts and eventually ends up looking very much like the Canaanites she was called to drive out for their wickedness.
All the good that God intended for His people in His commands, His presence, and His provision was rejected over and over again throughout the book of Judges. If we trace the story line of Judges 6-9, we see a rapid cycle of moral and spiritual decline. Abimelech, a son of one of God’s chosen deliverers appears, more than anything, to be the product of apostasy. Though the voice of Yahweh is silent throughout his story in Judges 9, we clearly see his hand of judgment and mercy.
What are some lessons we might learn from this latest chapter of Judges?
- We are to remember the Lord our God, our deliverer. Our thoughts and actions should be shaped by the remembrance of who He is and what He has done for us.
- Failure to rightly remember all that God is and has done for us will negatively affect our worship.
- Godly leadership is a gift to be cultivated and appreciated. It seeks to protect, serve, and steward the resources that belong to our Heavenly Father. As Christians, we bear a responsibility before God for both how we lead and the leaders we choose.
- Vengeance is the Lord’s. (Romans 12:19)
- “Ruin can come from within as well as from without.” Dale Ralph Davis, Judges: Such a Great Salvation, p. 117
- We can trust our faithful God to be at work even when circumstances are bleak and evil seems to rule the day.
Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!
Relief or Relationship?
It’s difficult to know what to make of the darkness of the book of Judges, isn’t it? It’s certainly not what comes to mind when we think of drawing encouragement or comfort from scripture, and spending time studying it may be reinforcing that perception.
Judges 10-12 paints a sobering portrait of Israel’s spiritual condition. At this point in her history, she has fully embraced the gods of the nations among whom she resides – the very nations Yahweh had commanded them to drive out. Instead of embracing all of the blessing and abundance promised them (see Deuteronomy 7), God’s people (continually) spurned His goodness and brought upon themselves unbearable misery, this time in the form of eighteen years of oppression under the Philistines and the Ammonites.
Are God’s people repentant in Judges 10? Their words seem right, since we see for the first time in the book an acknowledgment of sin, but the actions appear to fall short of an emphatic display of heartfelt contrition. God’s own response in verses 11-14 suggests that He is not impressed with their confession, and commentators point out that “their surrender is belied by the following demand [in v.15] to rescue/deliver them immediately.” (Daniel I. Block, The New American Commentary: Judges, Ruth p. 348) Though we are told in 10:16 that “they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord,” we don’t see any evidence of their seeking guidance from Yahweh when the Ammonites come spoiling for a fight. In fact, many of the following details surrounding Jephthah’s call and activities as deliverer leave us scratching our heads.
Jephthah, like most of the other deliverers, isn’t exactly a clear-cut paragon of virtue. Knowing that each of these individuals were God’s people raised up for God’s work empowered by God’s Spirit, I find myself expecting more from them. Just like the Israelites, I want deliverance to bring relief and the deliverer to be enough. Enough to end oppression forever. Enough to bring lasting peace.
We, like the Israelites, need to see that God’s mercy is supposed to do something more than bring relief from our misery. The tragedy of embracing relief is that it doesn’t draw idolatrous hearts away from the true instruments of oppression and grief. The increasing darkness of the book of Judges points to the fact that Israel needed to see that her greatest enemy was the enemy within. She didn’t need saved from her oppressors, she needed saved from herself; her deliverers no less than her people. Deliverance from our oppression is inadequate. We need deliverance from the sin that causes it.
It comforts and encourages me to fast forward to the book of Hebrews, which offers helpful commentary on these deliverers who leave us with so many questions. “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” (Hebrews 11:32-34)
In the end, these deliverers are numbered among the people of faith; all of us who, by grace, through faith, have been rescued by the Great Deliverer who came to save His people from their sin. In him alone is found the rescue, the deliverance, and the lasting peace that we long for.
Lord, help us to trust you for the true deliverance that we need. Please give us spiritual eyes to see that so often the cause of our misery is not so much the circumstances that we are in, but the sin and spiritual dullness that is in us. Please deliver us from the temptation to turn toward and trust in the remedies and solutions of the world around us and of our own imaginations. Please forgive us for presuming upon your goodness, failing to recognize that it is your kindness that brings us to repentance. Please help us to see the abundance of grace, provision, and protection intended for us in your commands, that we might seek not simply relief from misery, but delight in our relationship with you as your treasured possession.
In Jesus’ Name,