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?