Sunday, June 24, 2007

Here Come the Judges (Judges 1-2)

Back in Genesis, we saw God calling powerful individuals like Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph to carry out his redemptive project. These men took hold of his promises and were obedient to his commands. The results were posterity beyond all hope, reconciliation between estranged brothers, and blessings for the nations at large.

The next step was to scale this up from these archetypes to an entire nation. But how is this sort of faithfulness to be maintained on such a large scale? The first requirement seems to be a leader like Moses or Joshua – someone who can stand side by side with the patriarchs while interceding for the masses at large. But there’s also another requirement:
These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
In other words, the devotion to God must so permeate their society on every level that things don’t die off with the subsequent generations. Otherwise, you get this sort of thing:
And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years…And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel…And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt.
Death is a profound shadow hovering over all plans and ambitions. No matter how well we do, no matter how we beat the odds and get it right, eventually we will die along with everyone we know. The memory will fade and grow cold, and be in the end so much chasing after the wind. (Are we in Ecclesiastes yet?)

So what does the Lord plan to do? As we’ve already seen, though he’s anticipated this and more, he’s committed himself to this people for better or for worse. Well, if these young whipper snappers don’t care to learn their history, they might as well get a taste of it first hand:
The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them…Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved 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 afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them.
Welcome to the book of Judges. It’s the same story of the enslavement and exodus experienced again and again by each subsequent generation. The grand story itself seems to be in a state of limbo. Yet, thankfully for us, it’s a rather thrilling limbo. These “judges” are more William Wallace than Antonin Scalia, so we’re in for a wild ride.

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