Monday, 21 April 2008

Lessons from Judges 1

I’ve been working today on a small group study on Judges 1:1-2:5. Judges isn’t a book I know very well, and so it’s been a joy to dig into this challenging chapter.

Essentially this section of Judges needs to be read within the context of God’s promises to Israel about the invasion of Canaan that he makes throughout the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua. In these books, God promises the land to be a gift to the people of Israel, where they will experience his blessings and rest. He warns the people to ruthlessly remove the pagan peoples and their idols from the land; both as a form of judgement against their sin (see Genesis 15:12-21), and to free Israel from the temptations of idols and other false gods. The land is to be a place where God’s people willingly submit to him as their ruler without distraction (see Deuteronomy 12:3 and Numbers 33:50-56).

The book of Joshua is generally positive: the people enter the land, win victory after victory under Joshua as they trust in the LORD’s promises and strength, and experience something of his peace, rest and blessing. Judges, however, opens with the death of Joshua. Although the people’s immediate response is to enquire of the LORD and to obey him (Judges 1:1-7), things soon fall apart.

Judges 1 is the sad story of how the tribes of Israel fail to drive the people and their idols out of the land of Canaan for the sake of convenience and ease. The Israelite tribes continually make the indigenous tribes merely subservient to them, rather than ridding them from the land completely. In doing so, not only do they settle for ‘second best’ in the land, but (more worryingly), they disobey the very God that delivered them from Egypt. God’s sad verdict comes at the beginning of Chapter 2: Israel has not obeyed his voice – and for that, they will suffer. The indigenous tribes will never be driven out; they will be thorns in Israel’s sides and their gods will be a snare, just as God had said they would (Numbers 33:55).

Here are some implications for us that I think we can make from this sad story:

  • God’s justice must be done. He is a God of justice and demands that justice is brought about. This is seen in microcosm with the story of Adoni-Zedek. Romans 3:25-26 say that God would act ‘out of line’ with his character if he were not to punish sin. The amazing thing is that, in Christ, he is just and the justifier of the guilty.
  • The failure of the people of Israel to love and treasure the LORD God in the land shows that a more radical change is needed: a complete change of heart. This, of course, was the change that Jeremiah prophesied (Jeremiah 31:33), brought about as a person is ‘born again’ through the cleansing of the cross. In Christ, a Christian is a ‘new creation’ – and we long for our bodies to be redeemed and made new too.
  • Although Christ has taken the punishment of the sins of those who have placed trust in him, we still have to face the consequences of our sin. The people of Israel had to live with the consequences of rejecting God in their lack of ruthlessness against idolatry. We, too, may face serious consequences when we disobey God, disbelieve his promises and fail to deal with the idolatry of our hearts.

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