Our house church just wrapped up a few months of studying the book of Judges. We wanted to delve into something Old Testament that we didn’t know well.
We get plenty of Sunday School and VBS stories and sermons on Noah and David, Jesus and Paul – and we had a couple caricatures in our head about guys like Samson or ladies like Deborah. But how much did we really know?
Turns out, not a lot! The book is full of examples, good and bad, of people figuring life and faith out simultaneously. It speaks deeply to our human condition, both the depth of our sinful nature but also the heights of our potential for faith, obedience, and repentance.
Since we’ve been studying several months – and since many of our readers might not have dug around in the book of Judges recently – I wanted to share some things I learned!
The Holy Spirit
In Judges, the Holy Spirit is very present. We generally think of the Spirit popping up just in the New Testament, but from the Spirit dwelling over the water in Genesis 1 through the prophets He shows up regularly.
However, the Spirit comes upon people in power for limited time periods and purposes. He descends on Samson to help him fight but then removes Himself. It reminds us how blessed we are to have the Spirit indwelling us instead of dropping by on occasion!
Faith “Heroes” Are Just Like Us
Our own personal sin struggle is not unique – what a relief! Even the “heroes” of the Bible are deeply flawed. You may have heard that Noah got drunk after the flood and David committed adultery and murder before coming back to God. Judges follows the same pattern, both of individuals messing up and coming back and of a society messing up and coming back.
It reminds us that when the New Testament calls us saints, it is very serious – it’s not ignoring our nature and frequent failings. The story of Judaism and Christianity is one of transparent honesty about a bleak past full of failures – as well as a Good News offer of hope. Even the “best” of our faith heroes were just as sin-sick as us, which means we have just as much hope of being called “good and faithful servants” if we continually cling to God.
God is Faithful – If…
God makes “covenants” instead of promises. Covenants, of course, are conditional. God often lets Israel fail and suffer, but only after they have abandoned their side of the covenant. Our God will be faithful to His end no matter how often we stray – but He also has standards and will discipline us when we walk away, until we return.
He surrenders us to the consequences of our sins until we repent and return to Him. In Judges, Israel constantly falls away while God regularly delivers – but only after repentance. God is true to His covenants, but also expects us to be true to ours.
God’s Plan is Better
History is always violent – and the history of faith is no different. But the worst accounts happen when Israel goes against God’s commands. It is when men go their own way “doing what is right in their own eyes” that the judges and their tribes get in the worst situations. Often atheists use Judges to assume violence was God’s will and command – but a close reading shows the opposite.
Israel gets rebuked for killing foreigners who were at peace, for instance. Assuming that every violent thing Israel did was stamped by God’s approval sort of misses the entire theme of the book – Israel rebelled and did it’s own thing, following the pattern of violence seen in warring neighboring countries instead of following the pattern God gave.
God is There When Times are Too Dark to See Him
God’s love, provision, and grace are found in the darkest of times. I love the story of a shepherd leaving 99 sheep in order to find the 1 that strayed. I often feel like God isn’t seeking me specifically. What we see in Judges, however, is a God who pursues specific people.
Today, God has made clear that the “New Israel” is not a genetic or racial group, nor is it a country (here’s looking at you, Amerrrrica). The New Israel is the Church, a spiritual community that everyone is welcome to join. Seeing God interacting in personal ways with specific persons in the Old Israel reminds me to look for the personal ways He’s trying to communicate with me since I joined the New Israel.
Judges is Useful
Finally, all Scripture is useful. People read 2 Timothy 3:16 and fixate on the phrase “God-breathed.” Don’t forget that all Scripture is useful! If any book of the Bible seemed a curiosity but useless, it was Judges. Instead, I found that every week we uncovered new significance for our lives.
It deals with hospitality and treatment of immigrants and foreigners. It deals with women’s rights and women in leadership. It deals with grace after failure. It deals with God being personal. It deals with repentance, both of people and societies. Every page we turned applied to our modern situation is very personal ways, speaking into our present day culture as well as our individual lives.
A challenge from us to you: read Judges next month and rediscover this biblical gem for yourself!