Read Joshua 2:16-23
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 NLT)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 30: Judges. When we hear the term “judges”, we think of a number of things. We think of people who are in a position of legal authority, whose job it is to make decisions and sentence people under the laws of the town, the county, the state or the federal government. We think of people who determine the winners at competitions. We think of people who look down their noses at people and make sweeping generalizations and self-righteously determine other people’s eternal fate. The latter one is the kind of “judge” that Jesus warned against becoming, for who can truly be THAT kind of judge?
Yet, the book of judges was not written with hypoctical judging in mind, nor was it written with our understanding of a penal judge in mind; rather, the judges were people who were placed in charge to keep the law and order in the land and, esepcially, to protect Israel from outside threats such as the Philistines. With that said, those designated as judges were still human and had their flaws. They still had the tendancy to be hypocritical, sinful people who wrongly “judged” others; however, their role as Judge was ultimately to serve and protect the people of Israel!
What’s more, it is important to understand the theological underpinnings that led to this form of governance. From the time of their exodus from Egypt, the multitude of slaves that became the people of Israel wandered for forty years in the wilderness. That’s right, for FORTY YEARS they wandered, only to end up settling in a place that was a mere 250+ miles away! Through that time of wandering, they put the Ark of the Covenant (which was seen as the throne of God) in front of them, for God was the leader who was leading them to their freedom.
Moses, Joshua and those that followed were people in conversation with God, who was their leader. What an amazing display of faith it was; then again, what else do desparate people have to rely on but their faith? Once the nomadic multitude from Egypt settled in Canaan and became established, things changed. For one, they made a number of enemies along the way. Also, as they began to prosper, they came up in competition against competing Kingdoms. So, even if they had not made enemies, competition would have made them enemies.
As such, neighboring countries began to threaten and attack them and they began to panic. Many of the people were pushing to have a king rule them and, of course, a king would have led to fortresses and armies and some sense of security. With that said, prophets also warned the people that such a king would grow in power and eventually abuse that power. They urged the people to keep their focus on God and to see God as their King.
For a time, these prophets served as “judges” who saw themselves as accountable to God and led by God to hold Israel accountable. They were not kings or queens who could rule over people; however, they were given the duty of basically protecting the people of Israel from threats, both within and without. If God was still ruler of Israel, the judges were the enforcers of God’s reign. That is how the ancient judges saw themselves, and how they functioned.
As we will see with a few of the judges I will highlight, that plan was really a bandaid response that that only temporarily stalled Israel’s quest for a human ruler to place faith in. They wanted to place their faith in what they could see and was tangible. This switch in the placement of faith proved, as we’ll see, to be quickly disasterous. While there is no need to take the judges’ accounts literally, quibbling over whether we should have human rulers or not, it is a good exercise for us to look at it metaphorically and see the truth that lies in there.
Do we place God as the ruler of our lives? Do we place our faith completely in God and follow God where we are being led. Or do we place our faith in ourselves, or other human leaders, and hope that God will come along with us? While it is important to recognize that humans are key players in God’s plan, there is a fine line between being a key player in God’s plan and seeing God as a key player in our plan. I pray that we all can discern who’s lead we are ACTUALLY following, God’s or our own.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The same God who made a way in the waters, will make a way in the wilderness” – Unknown, based on Isaiah 43:15-19
Lord, forgive me for the times I have done things my way and give me the wisdom to see things your way. I desire to follow your lead. Amen.