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The Bible Experiment Judges
Greetings once again, this week, we have book #7 of our Bible Experiment, wherein I have been reading each book of the Bible and writing at least a thousand words or more about the book. If you’d like to read the previous six books so far, you can find them over here. I also explain in more detail there why I am doing this. But for those of you who have started from the beginning, I won’t explain all over again. Needless to say, its just a experiment for a modern Christian in the second millennium following Christ to look back through all of the Bible and see how we can reconcile it all. If you’d like to follow along from the beginning you can do so here.
Before we look specifically at Judges, please remember that the Bible – from the beginning to the end – is 100% a love story. A love story between the God who created the universe and you. Everything in the Bible tells this story. But what about, and what about… It is totally and completely a story of God’s love for you. Today we will see how the book of Judges, with all its craziness and shenanigans is just one more proof of this fact.
As a little recap, we recently saw Moses die back in Deuteronomy and the Hebrew nation handed over to Joshua. Joshua led the people into the promise land and took over the lands of 32 different kings. They had been on quite a roll under Joshua’s leadership. As we open the book of Judges, Joshua has died and Judah has been given leadership of the people. And in the next few lines of the opening of Judges we see that the Hebrews still have not taken every territory they were told to conquer. So off Judah goes, and he and the people attack Jerusalem and the Canaanites that lived there. And having success in battle the King ran for it…
Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes. 7Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to gather up scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has repaid me.”
So apparently Adoni-bezek had a custom where he would take every king he defeated and cut off their thumbs and big toes – then he would force them to beg, and gather scraps amongst the city. He states that he had done that to over 70 kings? Maybe poetic license, but he realized that God was repaying his own brutality by having his own thumbs and toes cut off.
Regardless of their successes the Hebrews had a list a mile long of places they had not yet conquered that they were told to. And even within Jerusalem, they didn’t take the entire city. The Canaanites still lived throughout the valley beneath Gaza, and even the future temple mount I believe was even under their control.
But the sons of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.
And then, only a few verses later, at the end of chapter 1, we get an even more complete picture of what was going on:
But Manasseh did not take possession of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; so the Canaanites persisted in living in that land. It came about when Israel became strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely.
So, we are just 28 verses into Judges and already I am struck by a spiritual that is relevant in my own life. I know from a secular perspective it is rude to take over a land and kick the inhabitants out. We think of Columbus and the Native Americans in this country. We think forced marches and Smallpox blankets, and the like. (If you have no idea what I’m on about, just flip over here for a moment.) And these sorts of tactics are decidedly out of fashion these days. Which I agree with. But when you look back several thousand years its a little different story.
Canaanites like to worship a god named Molech, basically a version of the god Baal. And the way they paid homage to Moloch was to pass their children through the fire. Here, this is what Jeremiah says about it:
“And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.”
So what is this passing the children through the fire that they are referring to here? Basically they would place their children on the outstretched bronze arms of Baal. The priests would light fires that heated the bronze effigy from the inside out. As the children were burnt alive in the heated arms of the god the priests would pound on drums and tambourines to drowned out the cries of the anguished parents. So by allow the natives of this area to remain, they were very specifically allowing these terrible abominations to continue. Not only that, but it has already be shown in Numbers that the Hebrews were quick to marry the Canaanite women who then convinced the men to worship their evil gods.
All that to say, that in my own life, I know that God has specifically asked that as I draw closer to him, I am to walk away from all sin. Ie, to destroy all remaining sin in my life. But by allowing ANY of the old inhabitants of the land to remain, I willingly partake in terrible evil that God has called me away from. It is true that by believing in God, and that Christ came to die for my sins, all my sins, past and future, will be forgiven. But by refusing to rid the land of its former inhabitants, by not choosing a life dedicated to His, its my own life that I am hurting more than anything else.
Because of their disobedience and worshipping of other gods they were plundered by other Kings and put into slavery. God then gave them Judges (thus the name of the book) to guide them and lead them. I’m not thinking it was like the movie The Judge by Robert Duval and Robert Downey Jr. though… although that was a fantastic movie… I digress.
But when the Judge passed away…
“When the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers.”
So this is the pattern. Judge lives, the Israelites follow the Lord and are free. The Judge dies, they become wicked and oppressed by other nations. I’ve included an awesome diagram of this pattern. Worship, safe, Idols, oppression.
Hebrews sin by continuing to worship the Canaanite gods and in comes the Moabites. God then sends Israel a Judge named Ehud to save them. Ehud visits the Moabite King and offers him a secret message from God. The King dismisses his attendants and then Ehud drives a short sword into the obese King like a boss. He then escapes and leads all the Israelites and takes back control of the Jordan River Valley.
A little while later, a prophetess named Deborah comes to save Israel from their oppression and sin, as well as from a mighty army that invaded them from the north. Deborah is basically an insurrectionist, a cabalist, and the stuff of Hollywood legend because she leads them to defeat the enemies 900 chariots and sends the Canaanite general into retreat. The general hides in a tent with Jael. Jael lures the general (Sisera) to sleep and then kills him by hammering a tent peg into his skull.
Each and ever one of these stories of the Judges are fascinating. Gideon tears down the idols and calls the people to fight. But God says they have too many, so he winnows the number down, and down, and down til Gideon only has 300 men to fight the Midianites. The 300 men sneak up to the Midianite camp at night and then break clay jars and blow trumpets. The Midianites completely whig out and begin killing each other.
Judge-craziness continues and eventually we get to Samson. You know him, but I doubt you knew he was a Judge. His parents were actually visited by an angel and were told that they would have a son and that they should dedicate him to the Lord by never cutting his hair. I’m sure you know the story of the Philistines attempting to learn Samson’s weakness by sending Delilah his way and his ultimately bringing the house down on top of the leadership of the Philistines.
All and all the downward spiral of the Israeli nation is sad and fairly sickening. We see though that this is yet another love story between God and ourselves because we see God never give up on us throughout this entire story. Israel sins, God sends a Judge to save them, Israel repents. Israel sins again and God sends another Judge to intervene. Israel repents.
The lure of this world is strong. I find myself believing the lies that this world sells me regularly. I trip and fall regularly and wander away from God as my source and my freedom. I usually wipe out when I look for quick relief from life’s stresses as opposed to relying on God for longterm and real relief. I attempt to become successful, or look for approval from others, or even wander back to my own brand of addictions to assuage the pain of life. But God is always standing there with open arms waiting for my return.
Just today I saw the PERFECT job. It was with a huge software firm I’ve worked side by side with for the last five to ten years. I’ve even visited their headquarters in Amsterdam in order to get a better feel for them before spending a half million dollars on their solution. The job was just sitting there in my daily monster alert (don’t you guys all have daily monster alerts for potential jobs?) which I never look at. But there it is. And the thought was there, as big as a pregnant hippo, I COULD MAKE A LOT OF MONEY. Right? Or, what about this Robin Hood app I’ve told you all about? The thought has run through my mind more than once, I COULD MAKE A LOT OF MONEY. (Are you sensing a theme yet?) All of this being completely contrary to the call that I know for sure God has given me at this particular moment. I am capable of sinning in a lot of ways. Pride, and career related sins are just the beginning.
Problem I Have With Judges
My problems with Judges begin and end with a character named Jephtah. His story begins promisingly enough, in that he is the son of a prostitute. But eventually Jephtah’s half brothers kicked him out of the family. And once out of the clan, Jephtah becomes something of a brawler, and becomes a leader of the leaderless, and the family-less. Judges specifically says, “and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah.” Cut to, the leaders of Gilead – who knew they were about to be attacked by the Ammonites. Seeing this coming they went to Jephtah and asked him to fight on their behalf. Knowing that this win would be critically important to his life and career,…
‘And Jephtah made a vow to the Lord, and said “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering”.’
You see where this is going? But even before we get there – what can I apply to my own life, what can I do differently? Here we have a man without a tribe, who is desperate for family. He we have an individual who is so desperate to win, and be praised by someone legitimate in his life, that he does a terribly stupid thing – like vowing this vow.
When do I become so desperate for family and acceptance that I will also make really really stupid vows? Do I prioritize victory over family? Am I so obsessed with success that I completely ravage my own family and friends? So anyway, idiot-boy, I mean Jephtah, wins obviously. And here’s what we find…
When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter.
See? Right?! Only child. Tambourines. Daughter. and Dancing. Only it gets better.
So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the Lord; do to me as you have said, since the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.”
Not only did he make an idiotic vow – but he’s reassured by his only daughter. Crushed. Devistated. I can’t even imagine. Now, I have to say that this problem that I have with Judges isn’t a problem with the Bible, its a serious problem that I have with Jephthah. It was very clear that Jephtah was following God, because the verse before he made the vow stated that the Spirit of God was upon him. So he apparently was following after God’s desires and heart. Until he made the vow that is.
Jephtah still won. God was still with him. His will was done. And Jephtah was obliged to keep his vow. But would God have understood if he hadn’t kept the vow? No idea, because God was silent on whether he approved of the sacrifice or didn’t. So yeah, that’s my main problem with Judges. But its also a problem that I can definitely relate to, and learn from.
Judges is flannelgraph awesomeness. We have Samson, Delilah and all the various Judges attempting to pull Israel back from the brink. We have a people that we determined to screw up, over and over and over again. And we have a book that is relevant to my life because I am determined to screw up, over and over and over again… and walk away from a God that is showing His love for me continuously, over and over and over again. The Bible really is a love story from beginning to end.