Saturday, March 19, 2016

Reading in Judges This Week #1 (Chapters 1-10)

51GLrgYiexL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_For the book of Judges I am staying in the same commentary series (I liked the Joshua commentary a lot) so I am reading through Judges accompanied by the commentary, Judges, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Rob Fleenor. Judges describes the descent into depravity begun by the generation following the Joshua generation, and continued through the time of Samuel. We looked at the second half of the book in the next post. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Judges continues the story of the conquest and settlement of Canaan, but unlike Joshua, it focuses on the people's unwillingness to trust God and complete the settlement of the land. God had powerfully provided all they needed to do this, but, because they were "a generation that did not know YHWH," they failed to trust his resources and became no different than the Canaanites.

By capturing the attention and imagination of the reader, Judges powerfully provides an encounter with the God of Israel. The book of Judges is best read as a story with God at the center. Judges is not merely a skillfully told story. The author constructs the narrative skillfully in order to motivate the reader to interact with the God of Israel.  25

The story in 1.1-2.5 overlaps with the end of Joshua. The point will be that Joshua's generation was successful because they knew and trusted God. The next generation did not know God, relied on their own strength and ingenuity and did not trust God. Thus, they quickly degenerated morally and failed in their mission.

Much of the Christian life involves learning not just to exist, but to thrive living among a world that opposes the Kingdom. Living too close to the world has the potential to blur faith and undermine a believer’s identity as a follower of Christ (Jas 4:4). Isolation from the world, on the other hand, permanently dooms women and men made in God’s image to life and eternity without him (1 Cor 5:9–10). Judges 1.27-36, 57–58

God’s command to the Israelites has not been merely personal. He desires relationship with his people, and false worship interferes with that relationship. Intimacy with God is in the best interests of his people. God understood that the absence of that relationship would result in all kinds of consequences, not the least of which is the anarchy that is described throughout the remainder of Judges.  Judges 2.1-5, 60

Judges 2-3 goes on to describe the pattern of the rest of the story in the rest of the book. The people of Israel are unfaithful to God by worshiping idols, God allows them to be oppressed by their neighbors, the people return to God, and then God raises a deliverer who saves them. Then the process starts all over. But with each round, the nation is less sensitive to God, further from the lifestyle set out in the torah and less able to bless each other until, in the end, they are just like the Canaanites that God destroyed.

When followers of Christ lose the capacity to detect evil, they also lose the capacity to perceive good. The two are inseparable. Sensitivity to the Spirit of God decreases as indifference to evil becomes commonplace. Judges 2.18-19 66

God’s willingness to adapt and use the consequences of sin for the benefit of his people demonstrates his overwhelming love and grace...God meets us for healing and instruction in the midst of our sin. What is the Incarnation, except God coming in human form to engage us where we need it most: the depths of our sinfulness? Judges 2.23 68

Chapter 3 describes the first three judges, Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar. Each one has unique abilities that God's Spirit enriches and uses to save the people. However, the pattern is that, as we go through the story, each judge is a little less like Moses and Joshua, and the nation continues to descend into paganism and idolatry.

Ehud is a shrewd trickster. The clever deceit he demonstrates makes him an admirable hero for the reader. The custom-made and concealed dagger, his secret lefthandedness and warrior training, the enticement of Eglon with a promised secret, and Ehud’s sneaky escape all give the reader reason to cheer the underdog Israelite turned sneaky deliverer. The trickster theme is also seen in the narratives of Gideon and Samson. God is willing to utilize a diverse range of skills for his purposes, including cunning. Judges 3.12-30 78

Chapters 4-5 recount the victory God gives Israel through Deborah and Jael, and Baraq. The story is very entertaining and full of twists and surprises. The main point in the story is that, just like Moses and Israel crossing the Red Sea, God uses water to destroy the enemy. In this case the Jabbok river floods and turns the Canaanites superior weaponry, chariots, into a disadvantage. Another prominent feature of the story is the inversion of gender roles, Deborah and Barak, but especially in the story of Jael and Sisera. The story is full of sexual innuendo, but instead of the powerful male soldier raping the female victim as expected, Jael puts the tent peg through the head of Sisera.

The Deborah/Jael narrative avoids raising moral issues and instead concentrates on entertaining the reader. The story of Deborah and Jael certainly delivers. The reader’s expectations are twisted by gender inversion, innuendo, intrigue, and comeuppance. Like much of Judges, moral instruction is not the focus of the Deborah narrative; the sovereignty and faithfulness of God are. Judges 4, 92

Deborah’s song exalts God and his people at the expense of their enemies. Israelite women, who were considered weak in the ancient world, are still more powerful than the most powerful Canaanite men. God specializes in negating power with weakness (1 Cor 1:27; 1 Pet 5:5). Judges 5.28-31, 106

The story of Gideon is a turning point in Israel's descent into depravity. The only judge specifically commanded to combat idolatry becomes the judge who leads Israel into idolatry and immorality and produces oppression from within. Gideon will become a picture of where the future kings of Israel will lead them. He starts out well, as the weak one made into a mighty warrior by God, by tearing down the altar of Baal and learns that God is faithful to provide victory. However, Gideon quickly takes the power that God gives and abuses it for revenge, wealth, a harem, and personal honor and power.

Gideon’s immediate family is the smallest in his clan. He expresses his doubts to God that such societal insignificance can translate into effective leadership. God responds by again emphasizing that he will be with Gideon, providing a partnership against the Midianites. Judges 6, 113

Signs seem to have little ability to render permanent changes in the lives of observers. Scripture is filled with stories of women and men who have been faithless after seeing firsthand some of God’s most impressive miracles...The request of a sign often represents a test—a challenge—to God. After all, a person has to acknowledge God to demand a sign from him. If belief is present, then a sign is not needed. If a sign is asked for, it is often a subtle challenge to God rooted in a stubborn heart. Judges 6.36-40, 121

Human self-sufficiency, however, too often masquerades as God’s provision and has the propensity to interfere with our perception of God’s activity. While God is worthy of our best efforts at excellence, he does not need human achievements to fulfill his purposes. Judges 7, 130

Gideon’s overreaction tarnishes his image as a righteous follower of God and relegates him to the much more human status common in judges: a flawed tool used by God for divine purposes. Judges 8.17, 136

The Abimelech story provides the conclusion to the story of Gideon and shows the disastrous consequences of Gideon's compromise with idolatry and selfish rule. His son Abimelech rules as a Canaanite ruler with its attendant cruelty and abuses. The unfaithful people are getting the ruler they deserve. Here, Israel takes a downward turn which will not improve until the time of David.

Abimelech has created the very environment in which he can be resisted and deposed. Abimelech is the one who has taught Shechem that undesirable rulers are disposable. He is simply the next in line to be ousted by an ambitious politician. Judges 9.27-29, 152

The Abimelech narrative does not tell the story of a deliverer in Israel. If anything, Abimelech’s life reflects an ill-conceived attempt to be a king...The story of Abimelech is rightfully seen as both a continuation of the Gideon narrative and a reflection on the lack of righteous leadership within Israel. Evil leadership can be just as damaging as the absence of leadership. Judges 9, 156–157

Chapter 10 provides commentary on this downward turn of Israel. 7 different foreign gods are mentioned as a way of showing Israel's complete descent into idolatry and its resultant foreign oppression. Even when Israel is unfaithful, God still sends Tola and Jair to save and judge them, but any repentance is short-lived and without substance. The relationship is broken and remains unrepaired despite God's love and faithfulness. The rest of the story of Judges sinks into deep darkness.

Christianity easily makes the same mistake as the Israelites by relegating God to merely a discussion of his attributes or activities. God desires intimacy with his people rather than a mechanical exchange between a deity and his subjects, as was so often reflected in the religions surrounding Israel. And, like the Israelites, Christians seldom realize their capacity to wound God emotionally. Love cannot exist without a vulnerability to betrayal, and the immense love of God has often been cut deeply. Judges 10.13-14, 163

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