When the dust settles, the wounds have been bandaged, and the clean up begins, it often becomes the time to wonder, “what went wrong in the first place?”. The author of Judges looks back over 400 years to examine the early history of his people and their God, and he chronicles the answer to that question. In the introduction, the “prelude” to Judges, several answers are offered, and they all tend to center around Israel’s faithlessness to Yahweh. And yet, at times, this answer seems at odds with the setting.
The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. (Judges 3:7-8 NASB)
The account of the judges finally begins, the prelude is over. One of the elements we were expecting from the notes of the prelude is time. A generation should have passed of those who were familiar with how Yahweh led the people in war (Judges 3:1-2). A generation should have risen who did not know Yahweh (Judges 2:10). For instance, we expect a people who would know nothing of Caleb (Judges 1:11-15). That’s what we expect from the prelude. But here’s what we find:
When the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel. When he went out to war, the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand, so that he prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. Then the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died. (Judges 3:9-11 NASB)
If that bothers you, then at least you’re thinking about what you read. If you only get that far, you’ve moved beyond simply reading to complete a task. If it doesn’t bother you, and you’re already bored with this entry, then either you’ve already found someone’s explanation, or you don’t care. In either case, you’re free to move on to another blog. There’s plenty to entertain out there.
This is a challenge around the setting of Judges. The prelude was supposed to give us a sense of what to expect throughout the book. Yet, right at the outset of the account of these judges, the timing alluded to in the prelude seems off. We didn’t get what we expected. But think through the explanation again. Think through the pattern. Think through those elements in the prelude about the people, about their failure, and repentance. How could they repent if they never knew Yahweh in the first place?
The problem for us is a misunderstanding of some of the details in the prelude. We’re missing something about the succeeding generations after Joshua and those elders. We assume they didn’t know as in knowledge. But what we discover as we read further is that they didn’t know, as in experience. Each generation seems destined to repeat the same lesson, that they can’t get along mixing Yahweh worship with any other god. And that can happen as generations overlap.
When the young and vigorous refuse to listen to, and believe, their elders, this is what we get. We get it today. We see that the younger generations “know better” than their elders, because the world is so much different now than when they were young and vigorous. The reasons the young gave then were probably explained differently, but we can see the results repeatedly in Scripture.
Generations in Scripture flip-flopped in their devotion to Yahweh. And not just in Judges. Look at the sons of Samuel, neither of them could judge rightly. The sons of David had only one “good egg” who eventually went bad, and had to recant. Then his son splits the kingdom. The succession of kings in Judah went back and forth to the point it becomes difficult to follow. Look at the sons of Jacob, they didn’t really get their act together until after selling their brother, Joseph, into slavery. And even then we see hints they weren’t really devoted to Yahweh (Genesis 38).
We point fingers at the people depicted in Judges, but they’re just like the rest. That’s really the author’s point. These people are just like his audience. And, in many ways, they’re just like us. We point at a generation around us that wanders from Jesus. But, let’s be honest, they’re simply wandering further than we do. And we do wander from Jesus.
Take a litmus test of your devotion to Jesus. Are you what He would describe as a “disciple”? Keep in mind that the purpose of His church is to make disciples, not “followers”. There’s no valid excuse for not being a disciple. And as we read the gospels of Luke, Matthew, Mark, and John, we discover a disciple is a radical. Our culture isn’t friendly to radicals, of any sort. “Right-wing nut jobs” and “Leftist Guerillas” get the same treatment, suppression. They’re disruptive – intentionally and dangerously. And Jesus suffered the same treatment.
We look at the timing of Judges, and we don’t understand. But, if we look deeper, see the experience from which they learned, the timing stops being the problem. So, the first judge overlaps with the elders following Joshua, and is, in fact one of them. That doesn’t take away from the truth that those around Othniel had wandered from Yahweh. The generation having forgotten Yahweh was right there, rising up among the elders. Finally, they stopped to listen to Othniel and his account of what Yahweh had done for His people. Having finally listened, they believed. Only then was Othniel empowered to act as judge and deliverer.
Our elders, examples of disciples devoted to Jesus, may have passed. Perhaps you have discovered that you are not like them, not the devoted disciple they were. And once you’re fed up with that life, do as the people of Judges did, and cry out to Jesus. Cry out for His deliverance. But, be ready to change, be ready to experience the effects of devotion. Be ready to loose everything of this “life” to gain everything of His life. Pray, but brace yourself.
That’s my view through the knothole this morning. What’s your view of our Master through yours?
When Jesus spoke of discipleship, he described it in the harshest of terms, and warned his listeners to “count the cost” before attempting to “give up everything” and follow him. We also read several accounts of Jesus actively discouraging would-be disciples who might not have what it takes. This has led me to believe that actual discipleship – as defined by Jesus – is not for everyone, and that even Jesus recognized the limitations of most people. Do you think that Jesus actually expected all those who believe in him to join the rigors of discipleship, and if so, why his discouraging words?
Thanks, I am enjoying your past blog posts!
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That’s a great question. The challenge of discipleship needs to be a weighed against the “Great Commission” where we’re told to go and make “disciples”. So, you’re absolutely right when you point out that Jesus wasn’t interested in mobs of disciples. On the other hand, at least there at the end, He seems to have had quite a few, two hundred or more, who witnessed His resurrection.
But to answer your question more directly, yes, I believe that Jesus’ desire is for all of us to become disciples, attaining to that level of devotion to Him, counting the cost, and paying it. Notice that’s not a common term in church today. They want to grow “members”, or “attendance”, some still count baptisms. We seek a “metric” which, in my opinion, distracts from the commission of our Master.
Like you point out, Jesus didn’t seem interested in attracting large numbers, and even discouraged people from following. But those who remained were of a deeper level of commitment than those who wanted to see another trick or miracle. Which is why I believe Jesus always sought to attract and called “disciples” rather than “followers”.
Thanks for the great question!
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Thank you for your thoughtful response. If you don’t mind one follow up question: I live a fairly ordinary life – wife, job, house, small circle of friends and family – and I imagine many Christians are leading similar lives, trying to please God, bear good fruit, “shine the light of Jesus” as we interact with those around us. Your blog shows me that you like to plumb the depths of faith, so in your view, are we all missing the mark to some extent as far as discipleship?
I’ve often thought about how I would go about living more as a disciple, “giving up everything I have” as Jesus put it, and I really don’t even know where to begin. Sell our house? Leave our jobs to allow more time for “ministry?” Start a communal-style church where we all share possessions and funds? These ideas are so entirely foreign to my life experience that ultimately I’ve decided that I do not have what it takes to be a disciple, and I don’t know if that’s OK or a bad thing in God’s eyes. I realize there may be no easy answer, but any thoughts on this question would be much appreciated. Thanks!
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Hi Don, I’m right there with you.
But, what I’ve discovered is that it’s not about what I do, it’s about how important my relationship with Jesus is. Would I give up my job, house, family, friends, and so on, if He asked me to simply go blindly and follow Him somewhere? That’s a lot easier to say “yes” to when He’s standing over me at work, and says, “Come follow me.” He went by Matthew in his tax booth, and said, “Come follow me.” On others, we’re not sure how he called them exactly, but it was definitely “in person”.
In 21st Century America, I don’t think God works like He did in 1st Century Judea and Galilee. Just like there, He didn’t work the same way with everyone, heal the same way, speak the same message, or perform the same miracle, I think He works differently here. The point remains the same, how important is your relationship with Jesus? Are you willing to follow Him regardless?
So, if you knew for a fact that Jesus was calling you to go to Morocco to be a missionary among the homeless children of Marrakesh, would you drop everything and go? You’ve sensed it, prayed about it, asked other wise in the faith about it, and God has confirmed over and over that among homeless children of Marrakesh is where He wants you, do you go? I suspect that, confirmed in your life to the degree I’ve described, you’d do the crazy hard thing. I think I would as well.
Having said that, God hasn’t confirmed such a thing in my life, nor, I suspect, has He confirmed such a thing in you. But what has He called you to do, right there, among your neighbors, within your community, within your church? It’s not Marrakesh, but can you be faithful where you are? Or, will the stuff of life crowd out the things of His Kingdom?
The challenge for us in discipleship, is living out the priority of a disciple right where we are. That’s often more difficult than selling everything off and heading to Timbuktu, or Detroit. The question we ask because of the challenge we’ve been given is, “How important is Jesus to me, daily?” Sometimes I find I excuse myself from the mundane daily obedience because it doesn’t involve going to Bangladesh. When making decisions in the grocery store, or with our kids, or at work, or even at church is often the point at which we have to answer the question.
I hope that helps. It’s not about foreign missions as much as it’s about dedicated obedience within our relationship with Jesus. Talk to Him about your finances, your wife, your kids, your job, and your friends. Listen to Him as He speaks to you about your finances, your wife, your kids, your job, and your friends. And, do what He asks of you.
Blessings upon you,
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Thank you Matt, your thoughts are much appreciated!