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Reading the Book of Judges from a Christian perspective

May 12th, 2014
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Recently we have been going through books from the OT at one of our in -home Bible Studies. We did an overview on Judges.

 Now it is quite an unpleasant book – very hard at first to see how it fits in to a Chrisitian understanding of the world.

 I remember in preparation for the study praying for a Christian insight into this book. I didn’t just want to study the history of Israel. And the book is not written with that in mind anyway. It is a theological book. It is about God and his relationship to Israel.

 As I went through the book one could see all the main characters had flaws or were evaluated by different criterion than we would. There also are tensions in the book about what happened in the invasion of the Canaan and what is the best way for Israel to be governed in their relationship to God.

 The main tension is: Should they rely on charismatic leaders that God chooses or be united under a heriditary King? The final verse raises this: In those days Israel had no king.everyone did as he saw fit.

 Judges consists of selected stories involving different regions.

 The only time we see any real form of the tribes united is when they seek vengeance at the end of the book and almost wipe out the tribe of Benjamin. Another very brutal and unpleasant story.

 Now you may be asking: Why are we hearing a message based on Judges?

 I realized as I went through the study that it would be helpful to address how a Christian group can study such a book. It is part of inspired scripture for us.

 2 Timothy 3:14-17

 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

 In this first section I would like to just to go through Judges 2 to see the pattern of the book.

 It is important to be aware that under Joshua we could have the impression that Israel succeeded in driving out the inhabitants of the land. Judges corrects this by revealing this didn’t happen, with many areas in which Israelites and others remained living side by side.

 Now for an overall summary of the book.

 Judges 2

 1 The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you,

God is not the problem. He is faithful to his covenant.

2 and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? 3 And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’”

So the problem is with Israel and its disobedience to the covenant. So we can sense one of the reasons for the book is to remind people of the lessons of covenant breaking: the blessings and cursings of Deuteronomy.

4 When the angel of the Lord had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, 5 and they called that place Bokim.[a] There they offered sacrifices to the Lord.

6 After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to their own inheritance. 7 The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.

8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres[b] in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

While this is true, their disobedience also took place under Joshua and they were unable to remove the inhabitants of the land. But at least Johua knew what God had done for Israel and thus walked carefully before the Lord, knowing who he was.

Now we see a summary of the repeated cycles in the book.

10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.

11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.

12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them.

They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.

14 In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.

15 Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.

16 Then the Lord raised up judges,[c] who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.

17 Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands.

18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshipping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

This describes a descending cycle of violence and chaos from bad to worse. This is the pattern throughout the book.

20 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. 22 I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” 23 The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua.

So this the situation described in Judges God now permits and uses it to to test and try the people.

We could say there are two major themes: Israel’s spiritual and political decline and Yahweh’s gracious and repeated deliverance of Israel.

It is a shameful period of Israel’s history. Israel was in decline, its judges had feet of clay, and that Yahweh and Yahweh alone was the hero of the period, who graciously and repeatedly saved Israel, despite their persistent unfaithfulness.

The leaders who are raised by God are called judges. It refers always to a human leader, and one who exercises many different powers or functions, not merely judicial. We think of the word “judge” really in a judicial context, but that was not the extent of the function of the judge. The Israelite judge was actually primarily a military leader, commissioned with a specific task, and only in times of national crisis.

The judge had a charismatic quality, which in several cases is expressed by the phrase, “the spirit of the Lord came upon him.” God would raise up the judge to deliver the people from a specific crisis.

The judge might muster troops from two tribes, or three tribes, sometimes only a clan or two, which suggests that there was no real national entity at this particular time. We never see more than one or two tribes acting together or some clans of a tribe.

But the institution of judges never created fixed political forms. And each judge differed from the last in background, in class, and even gender. We do have one female judge, Deborah, who did exercise judicial functions evidently.

The judges are overall pretty dodgy characters. You’ve got the illegitimate son of a prostitute. You’ve got a bandit. Idolatry and Baal worship is always present.The judges are not chosen necessarily for their virtue. Many of them seem to fall into the type of the trickster, a bit like Jacob. Some of them are crafty, tricky types.

For example Gideon is explicitly chosen for his weakness, and not because of his strength. It turns out that he is quite a ruthless fighter, and he is clearly not a devout Yahwist. So Gideon, builds an altar despite the fact that we know Deuteronomy insisted on centralized worship and prohibited outlying altars or multiple altars.

He is also known, his other name, if you will, is Jerubbaal. It is a name that is made with Baal, meaning Baal will strive, or Baal will contend. So this is an alternate name for Gideon. He erects an idol. The people of Shechem, where he is — after his death they continue to worship Baal Berit, the Baal of the covenant, which is an interesting sort of merger of Baalism and covenantal religion.

Jepthah is an outlaw. Samson is hardly a moral exemplar. So these are not meant to be idealized heroes.We don’t read the OT to get role models on how to live.

Then towards the end: you have some interesting chapters. 17 and 18 tell the story of Micah and his idolatrous shrine. And then finally, the quite horrifying and gruesome tale, beginning in chapter 19, going on through 20 and 21 — the story of the Levite’s concubine and the civil war.

So I ask: how do we read such a book as Christians?

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Message for the Day

Understanding What the Bible is

May 6th, 2014
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Joe Tkach on The mystery of the Pigeon Code:

 In our modern age of smart bombs and unmanned drones, it may seem hard to believe that once the most effective unmanned flying machine was the humble pigeon. Because these birds could find their way home over long distances, they were used during the World War II as a highly accurate way of carrying coded messages.

Last year, one of these messages was discovered in a canister attached to the leg of a dead pigeon that had become stuck in a chimney. The message, which has 27 five-letter code groups, is said to be impossible to crack without its codebook.

There is something fascinating about messages, isn’t there? Some people seem to think the Bible is just as mysterious as the code found in the chimney, containing top-secret information that must somehow be unraveled so the real truth may be known.

Ever since the scriptures were written, scholars have pored over them, in search of a better understanding of God’s will. These studies left them with many unanswered questions. This is what Paul was referring to when he wrote to the church at Colossae that the word of God was to some extent “a mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations.”  However, he says, it is no secret anymore. “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness” (Colossians 1:25-26).

The mystery has been revealed – God has come to us through Jesus.  Jesus himself told the biblical scholars of his day, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of me; and you are unwilling to come to me, that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).

Experts may never decipher the mystery of the Pigeon Code, but with Christ as our key, there’s no mystery left in the message of the Bible.

To view this message please click here.

 1 Corinthians 2

 Martin Luther once wrote:

 “There is talk of a new astrologer [Nicolaus Copernicus] who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved.

 But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must . . . invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.

 [Martin Luther stating his objection to heliocentrism due to his Scripture's geocentrism]”

Why quote that?

 Because we can take the gift of the scriptures and use them for a different purpose than intended.

 As we heard from Joe  the mystery of the Bible is answered in the revelation of who Jesus is. As we heard in the special music. Hear him.

 When we look for more than that we can become eccentric with pet ideas and interpretations, even looking for justification for our own ignorance about our world.

 Today I want to focus on some key points Gary Deddo shared in his series Scripture God’s Gift.

We wouldn’t be able to know and love God if God hadn’t first loved us and communicated to us through his written Word. God gives us his Word in Scripture because he loves us and wants us to know that he does. We should always remember that the Bible is God’s gracious gift of love to us.

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Message for the Day ,

Some extra reading over the holiday period.

December 9th, 2013
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In a couple of weeks, we will be uploading the last sermon of the year. Then there will be a holiday recess until the end of January.

For personal reading there are a lot of useful articles about the Bible at http://www.gci.org/bible.

The Bible is the foundation of what we understand about Jesus, and about God. It provides a foundation for our confidence that God has good news for us.

General Articles About the Bible

We provide articles on the history of the Bible and how to understand it.

Message for the Day