Imagine if everyone did as they saw fit, and that was how history reflected the era you lived? Sounds a little too familiar with contemporary history. It is how this 410 years in the Bible is described.
The framework of the book of Judges is not unlike the Gospels of Jesus trying to resolve the problem of sin by providing salvation. The difference was they had no way of providing salvation except by sacrifices and their attempts to follow the covenant. The book spans almost 10 generations, between the entry into the land of Canaan and the rise of the first monarchy in the Bible. It is often cited as being written by the last judge and, who some would say, is also the first prophet: Samuel.
This book’s title, Judges, is not the same in the sense of how we use it today. This book’s title could have been entitled deliverers, heroes, or perhaps at best as warrior-saviors. Twelve judges are presented for each Israelite tribe. They are not shown to give us the best moral examples but to reveal that God is at work in history, judging and redeeming his people.
As a populace, it is proven there is nothing good that we humans can’t mess up. If you fast forward to the end of the book it concludes with the verse: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” (Jgs 21:25). God delivers his people from the messy life created by their own hand.
People did not choose the Judges of this era. Instead, God provided them. The record shows they continually and repeatedly reverted to their desires, suffering the consequences of their choices. It was only through God’s mercy that he did not dole out the just punishment for wrongdoing. His patience and (to use old terminology) his long-suffering is particularly exemplified here.
Again, the imperfect are used to achieve God’s desired outcomes. With the Judges being a come further examples of unlikely heroes. There are two such stories ranging in extremes of being perhaps appearing too weak (Gideon) to too strong (Samson).
A look at the man Gideon is reminiscent of Moses. Both men were humble men. Gideon asked God multiple times for signs to make sure this calling was from him. The outcome of the prayer shows the source of which peace is granted in moments of fear, worry, and weakness. It’s the kind of peace that the apostle Paul speaks about in Philippians 4:7: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
A divinely given peace not based on the world’s idea of peace but one that transcends our understanding. It is a peace that doesn’t seem incomprehensible in existence during the problems and troubles people go through.
I have found a way to gain a large measure of peace during panic attacks which for me began a few years ago. Originally when a panic attack happened, I would fold myself up into a ball, hug and rock myself. Sometimes I would go so far as hiding under a desk or in the corner of the room as if somehow this would prevent the attack from finding me. Initially, the remedy to combat the attacks was prescription drugs. After a period, I had become too drugged from the meds. I was sleepwalking through life. In frustration, I stopped taking them, cold turkey which I don’t recommend. Through trial and error, I came up with another remedial care plan to ground me. I turned to God’s promises as my prescription at the onset of an attack. I actually typed them out on a piece of paper and would read them when afraid in divorce court. In a book from my personal library on God’s promises, I turned to his assurances when seeking peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict but is the presence of God within the conflicts. I would count my blessings and gratitude (no matter how small they remembered how in the past God brought me through events that I thought were insurmountable. When I would ask God to change what was going on in my life without realizing he put me in that place so I could change. I came to a better understanding when I realized birds do not fly themselves as much as they are flying with the help of the wind and fish do not swim as such as they are guiding off the currents. They adapted to the change around them, and so did I.
St. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying: “I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and how we see things.”
I once got caught up in the positive mental attitude (P.M.A.) fad. I don’t think to claim God’s promises fall in that category. The latter is more to remember this too shall pass. History tells us it will. Gratitude seemed to me to be more potent than P.M.A.
There is a time and a place for intervention with medication and professional therapy when dealing with depression. Occasionally, extreme sadness still visits me. I discovered most of my fears aren’t real in the way I think they are. As the saying goes: “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” They’re just a story I tell myself, and I can choose to stop repeating and listening to it. Instead of listening to myself I counter with talking to myself, reminding me of the real facts of grace in my life thereby turning the thought around to experience the opposite of what I thought could happen. To make sure I was being responsible and not living in a fantasy, I then looked for at least three specific examples how that turnaround is truth in my life.
Gideon (in Chapters 6-9) didn’t have panic attacks. Instead, he took things one step at a time with God. He didn’t listen to himself. Instead, he humbly asked for signs from God at different intervals as he built up his courage. Before this, he is so unassuming and tentative, Gideon at one point tries to hide from God’s requests. There was a season in my younger adult life when the course of action was to outrun or intentionally become frenzied or too busy with something than to address problems. It was a way to postpone or naively hope things wouldn’t catch up with me. There is this thing about escape which is the lowest common denominator for me when trying to confront a problem alone. At the time, it was easier to change environments (move, “run away”) then it was to make personal changes. Challenges eventually catch up though if not resolved. After more similar episodic times, once when I almost went into hiding to get away from what I perceived was intentional personal persecution, I realized that what really needed to be done is to go headfirst into life’s hurdles and use it as kindling to start a fire within to motivate me forward.
Then another huge leap of faith for Gideon happens when he is told by God to take 300 soldiers out of the 32,000 he recruited to defeat the enemy. He obeyed, and God delivered him and the people to victory over the enemy. The people wanted to reward Gideon by making him a King. He refused because the Lord deserved the credit of victory and is the true King. Unfortunately, Gideon took some gold to make a breastplate for remembrance, not his good example for the nation. This was a from of idolatry, fashioning it from the people’s gold (Ex 32), too reminiscent of the golden calf incident for theological comfort.
Samson, on the other hand, is a lesson of the downfall he experienced: his moral compromise with temptation and a vengeful spirit with Delilah, his love interest, as the principal antagonist. Samson was chosen to be the deliverer of Israel from oppression at the hands of Philistines. In the process, he lost sight of God as the real source of his strength (not his uncut hair as legend says). Samson, unfortunately, didn’t totally embrace the true purpose of what he was doing. He could do God’s work, but he succumbed to his vulnerability of his temptations and their ultimate consequences.
Remembering our past, our victory (or not) in situations, teaches many lessons on how to live through “today’s” drama. By not understanding the lesson and instead pushing it aside, then a do-over will happen (and then loop around again) until we get it right. Richard Rohr says if pain does not transform then usually it is transmitted. The Israelites did their version of this when they forgot from where their strength came. They’d forgotten the miraculous events of the Exodus that brought them to their land or the covenant that united them to their God. But God did not forget them or his covenant promises. Through his great love for them, they are brought them back to him.
There was this dear elderly man in my church who pulled me aside during a congregational meeting where the topic discussed included worship music style and songs, the traditional ones versus contemporary. He began by admitting to me he is a diagnosed epileptic. When he had seizures as a young boy, his mother would hold him just enough so that he wouldn’t harm himself. She also would sing to him the chorus refrains of old hymns while he experienced the attacks. Now he says when he has seizures the echo of her singing voice is there inside his head, and the lyrics from the traditional hymns still sooth him to this day. What a beautiful thing the hymns (and his blessed mother) give him. It invoked in me to sing prayerful songs to the g-babies when I rock them (when no one is listening to my joyful noise). My elder friend asked me to please not throw forget to included traditional hymns or ever go to just one genre of Christian music during worship.