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Posts Tagged ‘Judges’

The most important turnings are finished almost before we have had the presence of mind to notice.

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10 ESV)

There is no correlation between the cost of a society’s abandonment of its accumulated legacy and the speed with which its people can mindlessly leave behind that treasure.

You might think a turning of such magnitude would require long generations of accumulated decisions. It does not. Nothing more than a single distracted generation is sufficient for the turning. Then all that has been discovered, constructed, sowed, cherished, watered, and repainted every second year against the blazing sun is gone. It is the grandchildren who will wonder what we were thinking, how we could have let this happen. Or perhaps as children of their age they will assume the herd truth that the abandoned way was retrograde, regrettable, embarrassing, oppressive.

If the book of Judges teaches anything, it is the speed with which self-absorbed vanity has its effect.

And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. (Judges 2:12 ESV)

Yet there is also this measure of grace in the book’s assessment the ancient Israelites’s plight:

 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. (Judges 2:18 ESV)

Still, the picture is almost entirely an unredeemed one.

Forgetting, we are taught, twists minds. When a society loses its grip on YHWH’s mercies—the deep mercies embedded in its history—it soon degrades women, children, and the weak. It goes a little crazy. Then a little more. Then the blood of innocents stains its streets, while unanimously celebrated theories explain why this isn’t such a bad thing.

Forgetfulness begets murder and murderers, cultured and confused self-seekers with no conscience to restrain them, while grandpa’s righteous body rests barely cold in its grave.

However terrible, forgetfulness is not inevitable. Like all virtues and most vices, it is chosen in a moment, then repeated over time.

So run to your children. Gather up the grandkids. Tell them what YHWH has done. Find words for the fearsome story of the long trek north from Egypt’s slave-houses. Show them your rough-healed welts, your sleeve-hid scars. Tell them what it felt like the moment you realized that the boss-man’s whip would crack no more, tear no more, its silence become liberation’s quiet song. Teach them to remember.

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The biblical book of Judges skimps neither in its attribution of blame nor its assessment of the consequences.

The book’s famous historiographical circle elevates both the agency of the ‘judge’ and the responsiveness of YHWH to genuine remorse. In this uncommon biblical moment of history-as-cycle, the Israelites gradually forget the blessed stringency urged upon them by a judge whose oversight brought them peace and some measure or prosperity; they veer into rebellion against YHWH’s exclusive demands; YHWH visits upon them the affliction that is seen to be deserved; the Israelites wake up and call to YHWH out of their affliction; YHWH responds in mercy by sending a new ‘judge’, who sets the nation and its environs to right. (more…)

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it would be difficult to find in the Hebrew Bible a story of more brazen awfulness than that of the Levite traveler and his concubine on their ill-fated layover in Gibeah of Benjamin. The conduct of the ‘men of the city’ is miscreant. Their overnight host, so generous in his rescuing invitation that they pass the night in his home, responds with inexplicable calculation to the pressure that his townsmen bring to bear. Finally, the Levite himself responds to the outrage with one of his own. He cuts up the body of his concubine and sends the pieces to the tribes of the Israelite confederacy, demanding a reaction to the horror that has gone down in Benjamin:

‘Get up,’ he said to her, ‘we are going.’ But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey; and the man set out for his home. When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. Then he commanded the men whom he sent, saying, ‘Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, ‘Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.’

The wording of his complaint seems intended to provoke reflection on the Israelite project as well as to demand immediate retribution. His time frame, within which he claims for his experience a shattering uniqueness, is bookended on the early side by reference to ‘the day that hte Israelites came up from the land of Egypt’. (more…)

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Samson’s rage against the Philistines comes across as righteous, though there is hardly a white hat to be found in this entire story. Samson himself hardly wears one. Nor does anyone who figures in the rent-a-priest tale that follows hold up well under the lens of Deuteronomistic ideals.

The book of Judges is punctuated by a recurring assessment that ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes’. On the one hand, this could be read as a technical description of decentralized self-rule. But it seems likely that there is more here than the evolution of Israelite political structures in the time before monarchy took hold. The phrase ‘what was right in their own eyes’ casts a dark light on the moral and spiritual chaos in which Israel found itself enveloped. (more…)

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An odd incongruity flavors the pages of the Book of Judges. Amid the stories of Israel’s vicious cycle of declension and the heroic feats of warrior ‘judges’, there is little exemplary behavior that aligns itself with the ethical counsel of the Hebrew Bible. Far more chaos appears than order, more idiosyncratic episodes than steady walking in right ways.

The book makes for great reading. Its heroic figures claimed their place in my memory in boyhood and remain there still. (more…)

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Gideon, a.k.a. Jerubaal, talks the anti-monarchic line that customarily went down well with the ancient Israelite traditions of the desert. The anti-monarchist tradition that shows its face regularly in the biblical texts finds it convenient when a heroic figure like Gideon rises up, achieves the military liberation for which the people clamor, then disappears into the rustic egalitarianism that admires a man who prefers the company of his brothers. (more…)

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