Monthly Archives: January 2015

Judges 17-21

The theme of Judges:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.

It got so bad that Israel even resembled Sodom. This sounds familiar, from chapter 19:

22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.”

23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing.24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.”

Really, he’s going to send out his daughter? He doesn’t, but does send out the concubine and these wicked man rape her all night. She staggers back into the house and dies. It just gets better. The man, a Levite, leaves and is so disgusted that when he gets home he takes the dead women, cuts her up in 12 pieces and sends them to all the parts of Israel. All the people are horrified that such a thing could be done in Israel. So they end up seeking the Lord to repent, but the people where this was done refuse to do so. War ensues and tens of thousands die. As they learned, it is not good for everyone to do what is right in their own eyes.


Judges 13-16

Now we come to the most famous Judge of them all, Samson. The story is bizarre and interesting in many ways. His conception and birth is almost Lukean, and maybe it is meant to be a foreshadowing of the birth of Jesus. The angel of the Lord appears to a women who is childless, although obviously not a virgin, and he tells her she will conceive and give birth to a son. This son will be more like John the Baptist than Jesus because he will be a Nazarite, totally dedicated to the Lord; he will drink no wine or other fermented drink, and a razor will not touch his head.

When the women tells her husband, like Joseph and John’s father, he can’t really believe it, but somewhat like those cases the angel of the Lord appears to him, and the wife as well to confirm it. We know this is a theophany because the man asks what the angel’s name is, and he replies with a question: why do you ask? It is beyond understanding, or in some translations, wonderful. And like others before and after to whom the Lord appears they are almost literally scared to death, they think they are going to die. But the wife assures if he had meant to kill them they’d be dead already. Practical woman.

Samson was a wild man, but he was to be the judge or leader who would deliver them from the Philistines. Of course he was famous for his massive strength. He tears a lion apart with his bare hands, he slaughters a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey, this after he married one of their own, but she was given to another man. His anger was legendary as well.

The famous story of Samson and Delilah is one where you wonder if this is exactly God’s plan, or if God uses sinful stupid people who do sinful stupid things to accomplish his plans. I have to believe it’s the latter. Again we see that God uses terribly imperfect people to fulfill his will. Samson visits a prostitute, and the Philistines think they have him surrounded (they didn’t take kindly to his killing a thousand of their own) as he spends the night there. But because of his great strength he breaks down the city gate and escapes.

Then he falls in love with Delilah, a Philistine, and the men talk her into trying to find out the secret of Samson’s great strength. He lies to her several times, but she won’t stop badgering him. You’d think he’d be a bit suspicious of her motives, but obviously he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. So he finally tells her it’s his hair, and she cuts it off, he’s captured and they gouge out his eyes. Good job, Samson. But of course his hair grows back and he eventually gets the opportunity to kill several thousand of their leaders and people, as he kills himself with them. What a brutal business this promised land is.

Judges 8-12

These chapters have the predictable pattern of Israel rebelling and worshiping other gods, then disaster overtakes them, they repent and God relents by raising up another judge to lead them to victory over their enemies, then there is peace in the land for so many years till it happens again. This Promise Land doesn’t appear very promising. I’m tending to think that when God commanded Israel to wipe out the people in the land he always knew it would be impossible, which is just the point. The issues are always religious and dichotomous; either worship the Lord and live, or worship the Baals and die, or at least live in misery. We by nature tend to the latter.

What does this say about this God’s redemptive purposes in this period of Israel’s history? What is he trying to tell us who look back on this period in light of Christ’s redemptive fulfillment? Why did he rescue them from Egypt and the bondage they endured for 400 years, then take them through wilderness journeys in the desert for 40 years, finally bringing them into a land he promised to their forefathers, flowing with milk and honey? Why did he command them to destroy the inhabitants of the land, only to tell them they wouldn’t be able to actually destroy them all or drive them all out? Isn’t this a contradiction? Why did he even bother if as Moses and Joshua predicted they would fall away again and again?

As we speculate our first conviction must come from Paul’s Doxology at the end of Romans 11: Who knows! He spends 11 chapters trying to explain God’s purposes in redemptive history, then simply falls down in worship before the “riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” It’s simply too much for us, but in Christ we have the ultimate answer even if in any exhaustive sense it is incomprehensible.

From Israel’s experience we can agree with Calvin (Institutes Vol. 1, page 108) when he says that:

From this (the origin of idols) we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols. After the Flood there was a sort of rebirth of the world, but not many years passed by before men were fashioning gods according to their pleasure.

This is exactly Luther’s point, that sin is man turned in on himself; we fashion gods and create idols to please ourselves because our self is our ultimate God. This is consistent of course with Satan’s temptation to Adam and Eve, you will be like God knowing good and evil. We want to determine our own meaning, our own values, our own fulfillment. God may be telling us in Judges that you just can’t do that. Your penchant to chase idols, to make a god out of something that is not God, will always lead to disaster.

But God’s promise remains, so he over and over again comes to Israel’s rescue, bringing them a deliverer. Interesting that he doesn’t so much do it himself but has a mediator, one who represents him before the people, they lead in the victory, then there is peace. In light of Christ we know this is every person’s experience. Even as we seek God, the inclination of our hearts are always on self which we cannot escape in this life. Thus God the Father has given us the ultimate Judge (i.e. Leader) who took upon himself our sin, paid for it in full; we don’t have to wait 20 or 30 years to come back to God like Israel did, we can turn back to him every moment because we are accepted, fully and eternally. The intertriune covenant promise has been kept and we live in its blessing day by day by day.

Judges 6 & 7

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord . . . . The theme continues. This time it’s the Midianites who oppress them for seven years, and God raises up Gideon to save them. The story is famous, and rightly so. God’s sense of humor shows throughout. It starts with the angel of the Lord coming and sitting under an Oak at Gideon’s families land. He’s just handing out. Then he appears to Gideon and says something totally ridiculous, and you can see why as you read the rest of the story: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” This is just funny. Gideon is anything but a mighty warrior. In fact he’s more of a faithless coward, just the kind of person God would pick to do his work! All God gets is, “But Lord . . .” This is classic:

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” 15 “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

The Bible is nothing if not consistent. It is not by man’s power that God saves, but by his own will and power. Here he picks the least of the least, and that is because he wants there to be no confusion as to who the Savior is. For all of human history mankind has tried to save itself, and God says over and over and over again, that is just not possible. I must save you, he says, or you will not be saved. Thus the name Jesus who will save his people from their sins.

The strength Gideon has is not from himself, but is because God is with him. But seeing the Lord isn’t enough for Gideon to step out and do as he’s commanded. No, he must put God to the test. He wants a sign that this is all real, and God condescends and gives him the signs he wants. Then God commands him to tear down the pagan altar set up for Baal in his town, which he does. But it does it at night because he’s afraid of the people. They wake up in the morning, and their pagan altars are destroyed. Of course they are angry, but Gideon tells them if this Baal you worship is so strong then let him defend himself. All false Gods cannot deliver because they are nothing. But the God of Israel delivers big time!

Yet Gideon hasn’t seen enough. He asks for another sign, the famous wool fleece on the ground. God condescends again. Then the Lord makes it very clear who will provide the victory, chapter 7:

The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’

Notice what a boast of our own strength against God actually is; there is no neutral ground in the universe. He who is not with God, is against him. That’s why Paul says this in Galatians 2:21:

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

So God winnows the army down to 300 men to fight against another army, as it says, “thick as locusts.” In fact it is not just the 300 that defeat the “eastern peoples,” but they surround the camp of their enemies and blow trumpets which throws the camp into confusion and they flee. Then Gideon calls out other clans who route their enemies. God used natural and supernatural means to accomplish his task and bring victory for his people. Either way, it is God who saves.

Judges 4 & 5

I think the first verse of chapter four is the theme of Judges:

After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

This time God raises up a woman prophetess, Deborah, to lead them. This chapter has the quaint story of a women putting a tent peg through a man’s temple. That’s what you get when God is fighting for the people of Israel. Chapter five is The Song of Deborah, and in it she praises this woman as most blessed; all’s fair . . . The final verse of chapter 5 is not comforting for those who choose to make the living God their enemy:

“So may all your enemies perish, Lord!
    But may all who love you be like the sun
    when it rises in its strength.”

It is simply foolish to stand in opposition to the creator and ruler of the universe! Yet every day people stand in opposition to that which they know not, even though deep down they do. As Paul says in Romans 1, they are without excuse. The only other option is the love the Lord. I like this thought by C.S. Lewis I read today in the book Christian Reflections:

There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.

But Satan does a good job convincing too many people, especially modern/post-modern people, that there is in fact some neutral metaphysical position in the universe. Deborah could tell them otherwise.

And God grants them 40 years of peace, until the next time.

Judges 2 & 3

The picture changes even more. These two chapters begin the cycle of obedience/disobedience, blessings/curses because there are far more pagans in the land than was implied by Joshua’s account. A lot more actually. This basically tells the story:

10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.

First we cannot know the Lord apart from what he has done for us. Our relationship to God, for Israel as for us, is bound up in salvation and redemption. This seems obvious, but there are many people who think they can have a relationship with God without being saved from their slavery to sin and death; they think they don’t need a savior.

You have to wonder why the generations before didn’t teach them, or if they did why this next generation ignored them. In other words, they could have been taught and known what God did, but chose not to believe it or care. Thus they were drawn to the idols of the peoples around them. So the Lord allows them to be defeated, and himself raises up judges who will follow him and lead them to victory, until they fall again, over and over. It says he left the people among them to test them, and they fail the test over and over again.


Judges 1

So the people of the land were not “totally destroyed” after all, as it says in Joshua. And it’s very clear from this first chapter of Judges just how many of the peoples were left that the people of Israel would have to interact with. In fact, in the very first verse we see the Israelites ask the Lord, “Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?”

I have a feeling that even though God commanded them to wipe out the peoples of the land, or drive them out, because of their sin, that it was never really possible to extract them completely. The point is that this covenant of works, this Old Covenant, was always to be incomplete because it points to the covenant of grace, the New Covenant, where God himself in Christ would completely cleanse the ultimate promised land of sin and death. He himself would wipe out all that stands contrary to his holiness. Israel’s experiences continually point us forward to a better covenant, one with eternal implications rather than temporal.

Amazingly, even though there are still “Canaanites” in our “land,” and even though we still struggle with them, God’s covenant of grace makes possible a relationship with him even before we get to the ultimate promised land. And only because Jesus is our righteousness, holiness and redemption.