Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Lessons from Judges, Part 2

Tim Chester has written recently about one of the surprises that comes at the end of Judges 2 and the beginning of Judges 3: what God says about leaving the pagan nations in Israel's midst.

The most basic reason for allowing these pagan nations to continue in Israel's appointed land is not difficult to spot: Israel was not faithful in driving them out (as we see in Chapter 1). However, it was certainly without God's power to drive out these nations without any help from Israel at all. Why has God allowed the pagan nations to remain?

The reason is given in 2:22: so that God might test Israel by them. There are two sorts of test in Scripture: one is the test given to ascertain faithfulness, the other is the test given in the sense of 'proving something'. For example, Abraham was already credited with righteousness when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac. The 'test' God gave Abraham illustrated to him that God was trustworthy. In Judges 2-3, I believe we're reading about the second kind of 'test': the nations will remain as a test to prove God's faithfulness to his people, and for them to learn and experience reliance on him. Given the back-seat of God's word in the book of Judges (the Law goes completely unmentioned), God reveals himself in a new way: in the midst of pressure and warfare.

The reason that God didn't just eliminate these nations is stated again in 3:4; that Israel's commitment to God's word would be proven. If they would be faithful to the word of God, these other nations would not hinder them, and they would grow strong enough to drive them out completely, whilst at the same time knowing that the victory came only because of the LORD's commitment to them.

As I have thought about this passage, I have found this action by God staggaring. He longs for relationship with his people, where the joyfully submit everything to him as Lord. And he shows this commitment both through giving his word and - in this case - even when his word is obscured, through providing experiences (good and bad) by which people might come to rely on him more.

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