Friday, March 25, 2016

Reading in Judges This Week #2 (Chapters 11-21)

Judges Structure

This week I have been continuing to read 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. Last week we looked at the first half of the book here. 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…

With chapters 11-12 the Judges narrative takes a sharper downturn into darkness and depravity. Jephthah, rejected by his clan, becomes a great warrior as a leader of a group of mercenaries and thieves. His clan returns to him and offers leadership when they need him to fight off an incursion of Ammonites. Jephthah accepts and vows a burnt offering of the one who welcomes him after the victory. He wins, but his daughter meets him and he offers her up as a burnt offering. The story turns even darker as the Ephraimites attack him and he kills 42,000 of his own countrymen. It seems that, though Jephthah seems to have faith in God for victory nobody knows or lives out torah and terrible things result.

How can a man sacrifice his own daughter in violation of the Law and still be held up as an example of faith? Jephthah is much more easily esteemed as a man of faith if he has shed no innocent blood. But Jephthah is only one of many imperfect men of faith. One need look no further than David, a man after God’s own heart who committed adultery and murder. Tension in Scripture is not problematic. It forces us to wrestle with our small, limited understanding of God and our relationship with him. Wrestling with paradox will always reveal that our actions and existence are much less significant and the grace of God far more vast than we ever imagined. Judges 11, 187

The minor judges are wealthy and powerful. Jephthah is neither. The minor judges have family, influence in the clan, and a proper burial place. Jephthah is an outsider who lives and dies without family connections. Jephthah is not the typical judge of Israel, but God powerfully uses him nevertheless. Judges 12, 195

Chapter 13 begins the story of the last judge Samson. No one in scripture is born with greater potential and squanders it so completely. Samson is called to be a Nazirite, yet violates every aspect of his status because he does "what is right in his own eyes." He lives by his passions and suffers the consequences. However, God continues to use him to fulfill the original task of fighting for freedom from the Philistines, which will be completed by David. Samson is another man, in the book of Judges, who is betrayed by his objectification of women and disdain for their abilities to hurt him. God works through him, but Samson receives very little of the benefit as he squanders God's gift on a passion for sex and revenge.

Few men in the Bible are singled out as chosen from their mother’s womb to become a pivotal character in the life of a people. Only Ishmael (Gen 16:7–16), Isaac (Gen. 17:16–21; 18:10–15), John the Baptist (Luke 1:5–25, 57–66), and Jesus (Luke 1:26–45; 2:1–7) are announced to their mothers and fathers in quite the same way that Samson is to Manoah and his wife. Judges 13, 202

In the early sections of the book, God’s eyes provide the evaluation of the people’s conduct. In the final section, the people’s eyes provide that evaluation. Samson’s use of his own eyes as a standard marks a turning point in the book. Samson is God’s man, and yet an extremely flawed character who pursues his passions. More than any other character in the book, Samson is double-minded, engaged in serving God while continually compromising God’s expectations. Judges 14.3, 214

Samson represents the beloved and classic hero of Israelite literature. He is an instrument of Yahweh, a supernaturally empowered underdog who will win any test of brawn that he encounters. And, like any great hero of classic literature, Samson is saddled with a tragic flaw. His muscles cannot give his heart the strength of wisdom it so desperately needs...God uses Samson in spite of himself. Judges 16, 246

Chapter 17 begins the final section of the book of Judges. It is characterized by the phrase, "because there was no king, the people did what was write in their own eyes." In other words the entire nation acted just like Samson. The story begins with Micah who basically creates his own cult, with himself at the center, his own Levitical priest, and an idol that is supposed to represent YHWH, despite the 10 commandments forbidding this. The author thinks that Micah is Samson's son, and Delilah is the unnamed mother here. This idolatrous worships spreads from one family to a whole tribe as the wandering tribe of Dan steals and adopts the idols and priests of Micah as they take out a city in a territory not allotted to them. The nation is degenerating very quickly.

The flaw with the Israelites is not that they desire a king per se, but that they desire the wrong one. God wants no human king for Israel because he himself desires to function in that capacity. Little has changed for the modern believer. The temptation to look to earthly leaders for spiritual solutions is a constant yet dangerous companion. One need look no further than contemporary political races to see followers of Jesus lining up to back a particular politician because they believe he or she will promote a spiritual agenda. Judges 17.6, 252

Several verses within the narrative suggest that the pluralistic religion practiced by Micah and the Danites is perceived as the worship of Yahweh (17:2; 18:6, 10). Nevertheless, the Mosaic Law tolerates no syncretism of religious forms and deities. While Micah and the Danites might be excused similarly to Jephthah for their ignorance of the Law, worship stemming from ignorance is not an adequate substitute for obedience...God seeks worshipers who are not only enthusiastic followers, but enthusiastically follow based on truth (John 4:23). Judges 18.19-20, 261

The final story in Judges also takes place at the beginning of the period and illustrates the moral degeneracy, violence, chaos and evil that characterize Israel during this period. The main characters of the story are an abusive Levite, an unfaithful concubine, a murderous, violent immoral city (Gibeah, Saul's home town), an evil tribe (Benjamin) and an Israelite response that almost destroys one of the tribes of Israel. The story is framed to remind one of the story of Sodom in Genesis 19, but, this time, God and the angels do not intervene implying that the actions here are much worse than that of Sodom. The expected victory of Israel does not happen without the original 40,000 Israelite troops being destroyed by Benjamin. It is not until the nation seeks God that the chaos is resolved. Even then the nation makes a vile decision, without waiting for God's answer, to repopulate the tribe of Benjamin through the destruction of Jabesh-Gilead and the rape of 200 young girls. Their moral compass is so off that they think this is a godly answer.

One symptom of decadence within a society is the combination of sexuality and violence. Further, the moral decay reflected in that combination is often reflected in a population indifferent to the evil expressing itself in its midst. Beyond any issues of sexual orientation, violence, or being inhospitable is the underlying narcissistic obsession with evil. Evil is destructive by nature, seeking to damage physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. The men of Gibeah have willingly and wholeheartedly devoted themselves to evil. The way that evil is expressed in the text is secondary to their dark hearts that breed their actions. Judges 19, 273

The response against Benjamin, however, is not because of the initial rape, but because of Benjamin’s refusal to allow the guilty to be punished, which is interpreted by Israel as tacit approval. The roots of the war lie in the societal degeneration caused by years of spiritual and moral decay. Chaos is the natural by-product of a moral vacuum. By defeating the Benjamites, the rest of Israel hopes to restore societal morality. Judges 20.18, 286

The message of Judges is clear: Israel needs a godly leader who will eliminate the anarchy permeating society. Judges is followed in the canon with the story of God’s provision of just such a leader. David will unite Israel and become the model of righteous leadership. Judges 21 297

Judges shows the progression into depravity that happens in a society that takes its eyes off of God. Bad worship leads to bad morals. However, several characters from the book appear in the "heroes" of faith in Hebrews 11. While morality is critically important, it is faith in God that is even more important. These judges, despite their flaws which caused all kinds of problems for them and the nation, did exhibit trust in God and God honored that. Good morals produce good societies, but not necessarily faith. To please God it must be faith that produces the lifestyle.

No matter how imperfect their character and faith, the object of their faith—God himself—is perfect. The same is true for us. Faith is not as much about our ability to believe as it is about the object of our painfully imperfect and inadequate faith—God himself. Even great believers often blunder. But our blundering and meandering hearts don’t diminish us—they exalt our heavenly Father because of his grace and compassion. 300

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