[Preached this on Sunday, but it should have been last Sunday, but I was hurling chunks into a bucket instead, so it got rescheduled! This is both an overview of the whole book as well as an exposition of the passage, which I think is OK to do not least because the passage itself functions as an overview.]
Judges looks back to MOSES – they have a covenant, an exodus, a Passover, a seminal nation forming event... but that seems a long time ago now (2:12, 17, 20, 3:4)
Judges looks forward to DAVID, a golden age when a king will rule in righteousness and bring unity and security: an end to conflict inside and outside. (Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25 – no king, this is why things are so screwed up)
But Judges actually lives in the middle where it just seems like chaos.
• God’s people are unfaithful... repeatedly
• God’s people are surrounded by enemies who attack them
• God’s people are divided and often attack each other
• God’s people are influenced by the hostile pagan culture around them
• God’s people seem weak and helpless compared to their enemies
• Moses was a long time ago and David isn’t here yet and it is just chaos, anarchy, madness.
And yet, this is not chaos, anarchy or madness after all
• 2:14, The Lord let the enemies overpower them
• 2:23, 3:4, the Lord allowed the pagan nations to remain for his purposes
So when God's people were unfaithful, God allowed their enemies to overcome them, which would have the effect of making them cry out to God, who in his mercy would send them judges or leaders to be his method of bringing salvation...
And surely this is where the action is, what we have been looking forward to, the mighty macho men (and women) who acheive great things and kick but! But here is the thing, the leader/judges might get interesting stories, but it can all be summed up in 2:18-19. The judges were great while they lasted, but when they die things just go back to the way they were before, or even worse.
Unfaithfulness, Anger, Repentance, Rescue: A cycle with no purpose?
Testing through conflict or compromise, both tests of faith. The chaos is not outsude of God's sovereignty and the cycle is not meaningless, but is God's means to form his people.
Time to learn, time to become, time to be formed, time to be refined, time to get to know God
Last Sunday was ANZAC day and serves as a good illustration of how events in a nations past can shape that nation. Gallipoli was a meaningless wasteful military disaster, and yet for Kiwis has become a symbol of nationhood and has arguably shaped the whole national psche and character. History is important, the stories we tell about our past shape our identity. And for the people of Israel these stories of the Judges are vitally important as part of their history, as part of how God has shaped them as a people.
The fact is much of Judges should sound quite familiar to us.
• Like Judges we are stuck between times, not Moses and David, but Jesus’ incarnation (as bringer of the New Covenant and Passover lamb) and Jesus' return (as victorious King of all Creation). We are in the middle too!
• We are faced with the same conflicts and compromise with our surrounding culture.
• We, as a people, are plagued with unfaithfulness and division and would often rather spend our energy attacking each other than dealing with the true enemy
• We often see great victories when we work together,
• But individuals and small groups can have massive consequences when God is with them
We see God raise up leaders and movements that seem to win for a while, but always fade away within a generation or become stagnat institutions
And if Judges is God’s word to us today, which it is, then surely the first word that it speaks to us is, ‘anarchy, chaos, madness? Maybe from your perspective. But God knows what he is doing, what he is allowing to happen, for the testing and training of his people, that they might grow, be formed, and that they might know him.’
In Judges the good and the bad are all mixed in together... great triumphs and huge disappointments. There is victory, but also defeat and also apostasy. This is what life is like in the middle, and this is what it is like for us now. And strangely this is very comforting, it removes the need for us to attempt to manufacture the ultimate world changing revival, or alternatively to let things get so bad Jesus is forced to return. Rather the King will come in his own time, and in this time we just need to get on with the job of being faithful in our little corner praying and watching for victory, but also accepting and surviving defeat when it comes our way.
So as we read Judges we watch the parallels but also need to watch the differences:
• The type of conquest, success is not measured in real estate but faithfulness and transformation
• The type of weapons, war is not waged with swords but prayer, love, forgiveness, preaching and witness
• The enemy are not to be slain but loved and forgiven
• We do not take up our swords but our crosses,
• The Holy spirit is not available to only some but to all,
• And, best of all, we already know the name of the King that we are waiting for!
Amen! Come Lord Jesus, come!