How do you feel now? What is the temptation at this point for most of us? We want to run away! We want to find another new adventure so we can get another buzz off the euphoria of something new and exciting.
This “post-newness letdown syndrome” is exactly what Judges is all about. At the end of Deuteronomy Moses had warned them about this. He told them that, if they were not careful to guard their hearts, they would forget all the miraculous things that God had done for them and would become bored with “the good life.” He knew that the exciting and alluring religions and cultures of the Canaanite tribes around them would become an enticing and intoxicating aroma that would tempt them to stray from the path that God had laid before them. On the road to Zion, that place of true intimacy with Yahweh, there are guard rails along the side to keep the follower of God safe from going over the edge. These guard rails are the laws of God. The laws were given, not to constrain the people, but to protect them from the devastating consequences of plummeting over the edge. But, as with any mountain road, when a car is speeding around the hairpin turns, seeing how close it can get to the guard rails, those little metal barriers will melt away like paper when the car goes spinning out of control.
As you can see on the chart, the book of Judges is the story of how the nation of Israel burst through the guard rails of God’s Law and went careening down into the valley of curses. Notice how, with each judge, there is a momentary upward cycle of repentance, but the inertia of this downward spiral quickly pulls the nation deeper into a self-destructive pattern. Each upward cycle is actually lower than the low point of the previous generation. Things got so bad that the goodness of the last judge Samson was actually wretched. Then, finally, there were no longer any judges and the nation began cannibalizing itself. Just like Moses had predicted.
There is a story about a queen who was looking to bring on a new driver for her carriage. When interviewing each candidate she would ask them how close they could get the carriage to the edge of the road on a mountain pass without slipping over the edge. The first candidate boasted that he could get within a foot of the edge. The second puffed up with pride as he claimed to be able to get to within an inch of the edge and safely pull it back. The last candidate humbly admitted that he didn’t know because he always tries to stay as far away from the edge as possible. The queen chose the third man.
So it should have been with the nation of Israel. Moses warned them not to flirt with the guardrail. We will read this week that Joshua echoed his mentor’s words in his own final speech of warning and invitation. So, too, do we stand on the road to intimacy with God. Once the newness of a new life in Christ wears off; once the excitement of a newly formed church settles down; we see that the road before us is winding, steep, and narrow. We can hear the party going on just on the other side of the guard rail, and it is calling our name. Beware the song of the siren. Yes it is sweet. Yes, it seems far more enjoyable than the march of faithfulness you are currently on.
Mel Gibson was interviewed about making his movie, The Passion of Christ, and was asked about his casting choice for Satan and why he chose a beautiful woman. Mel said that he wanted Satan and evil to be attractive. He said it is wrong to portray it as a hideous beast. Who would follow that? He wanted Satan to be beautiful and mysteriously alluring; something that we would want to stare at. That’s exactly what evil is. We want to stare at it. The pull to move away from the center line of God’s directives and hang over the edge of the railing is a strong and powerful force. Yet, behind the beautiful face is the face of death. Over and over again the nation of Israel, flipping wildly over the edge, saw the face of death.
There are two notes about Judges:
- One should be wary to try to find positive examples of Christian behavior from the likes of Deborah, Gideon, and Samson. The book of Judges is a negative example of what happens when you step out of bounds from God’s laws. Judges is Mount Ebal in action. Even the best of Judges is corrupt.
- There is hope. God is faithful to His covenant. He let Israel suffer the consequences for their choices, but He also maintained a remnant of hope. We will see it next week when we read the story of Ruth that takes place during the same time period as Judges. God will never give up on His people. He will never give up on you. If you are finding yourself hanging over the edge, flirting with sin, or even spinning out of control and falling into the valley below, just call on His name and He will reach down and grab you. He will bring a “judge” into your life to help you to be delivered from whatever has gotten a destructive grip on you. All you need to do is admit that you are wrong, ask for help, turn away from the sin that you are doing, and follow the path that God has laid before you.
Outline of Judges
Introduction: They Didn’t Drive out Every Nation 1:1-3:6
Othniel (Judges 3:7-11)
Ehud (Judges 3:12-30)
Shamgar (Judges 3:31)
Deborah (Judges 4:1-5:31)
Gideon (Judges 6:1-8:28)
[Abimelech] (Judges 8:28-9:57)
Tola (Judges 10:1-2;Jair 10:3-5)
Jephthah (Judges 10:6-12:7)
Ibzan (Judges 12:8-10) Elon (Judges 12:11-12) Abdon (Judges 12:13-15)
Samson (Judges 13:1-16:31)
Corruption beyond what a judge could do (Judges 17:1-21:25)