Judges was one of my favorite books growing up. The characters were incredible as they came to live in the picture books and flannel graphs I was exposed to. Judges is another example of how we have held on to simplified teachings from our childhood. Judges is a disturbing book of violence and tragedy as we see Israel let go of their identity of being God’s people and become the Canaanites they were supposed to drive out of the land.
The narrative draws you into the cyclical issue of Israel’s new reality. They sin (worship other gods) so The LORD allows Israel to be conquered and oppressed, Israel then cries out to The LORD (a kind of repentance per se), God sends a deliverer (called a Judge), and there is peace in the land…for a short time till they forget their relationship with The LORD and start worshipping other gods again.
The Judges range from “Pretty good” (Othniel, Ehud, Deborah – 3-5) to “Okay” (Gideon – 6-9), “Bad” (Jephthah – 10-12), and the “Worst” (Samson – 13-16). My favorite Judge is probably Ehud because of the textual debate of what “comes out” when Eglon is stabbed (NIV says “sword,” NRSV says “dirt,” and the Hebrew says something else…). I remember Samson always being depicted as a sort of hero who had a few shortcomings but going back and reading his story, it is hard to find anything redeemable about his character. He’s promiscuous, violent, arrogant, and as a Judge, he does nothing to redeem Israel from their oppressors. Everything he does seems to be for his own selfish gain.
Samson was a Nazarite which means he was dedicated to The LORD. According to Numbers ch 6, a Nazarite was not supposed to drink wine, cut his/her hair, or touch anything that is dead. Let’s just say that Samson came into contact with a lot of dead things (Lion carcass, jaw of a donkey, lots of people…). He didn’t cut his hair though so he’s got that going for him. The narrative of Samson can be read as analogous for the people of Israel. They are the one who are set apart for The LORD to be the redeemer of a broken world but all of their actions are self-centered as they flirt tragedy, moving from one lover to another, and ultimately bringing destruction on themselves and the world around them. God has called you to be an active part of His redemption of the world and all you can do is think about how the blessing is good for you. That’s the struggle of Samson. That’s the struggle of Israel.
The book ends with destruction in chapters 17-18 and the people are on the brink of civil war in 19-21. Chapters 17-21 are not in The Story. Take some time to read those chapters this week. They are very disturbing…which might be the point. The book ends with a verse that has been repeated throughout this section, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”
When you read that Israel didn’t have a king, the point is not that everything will get better when David is on the throne. The bigger point is that they have rejected The LORD as their King. We are quick to accept God as Savior but are we willing to make Him King? “Everyone did as they saw fit…” Everyone did what was right in their own eyes… Insert a commentary on the moral objectivism in which we currently live in our culture. I’ll let you wrestle with that on your own. But, if our take away from this book is to look at the culture around us and point the finger at “their moral failure,” we’ve missed the point of this book. Let the book of Judges be a mirror in which you look at your own life to see where you have failed to let God be King of your life.