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.