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 next 410 years in the Bible is described. A nineteenth-century philosopher, G. W.F. Hegel once said, “The only thing we learn from history is that we have learned nothing from history.” Mark Twain said history doesn’t change it rhythms with itself. Bottom line is human nature does not change. If a spiraling downward pattern to old ways is indicative it is in this book.
The idea of God providing salvation for his people parallels the Gospel message. The book spans 300 years, or seven generations, between the entry into the land of Canaan (described in Joshua) and the rise of the first monarchy in the Bible (1Samuel). It is often cited as being written by one referred to as the last judge and, who some would say, is also the first prophet: Samuel.
The reference to the word Judges is not the same in translation as current day. Then it referred to rulers, usually with a show of military might. After the 13 campaigns in Joshua (counting the Southern and Northern confederacy as one each), the symbolic numbers meaning of rebellion (not obeying all of God’s command to drive out the evil of the promised land) and the now there is the consequences of the lawlessness in the period of judges. Twelve judges are presented here however if we add Samuel it equals thirteen. Jesus mentions 13 things that defile people in Mark 7:20-23 (adultery, fornications, evil thoughts, murders, covetousness, thefts, wickedness, licentiousness, slyness in a charming way or guile, blasphemy, foolishness, pride, and envy) which could be some of the themes of Judges.
Six of the judges are major enough to have sections written about them. And within these six, they go from being pretty good (the first three) to bad, bad and worst. They are not shown to give us moral examples but to reveal that God is at work in history, at a certain time, judging or redeeming his people.
As a populace, its proven there is nothing that is 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 a mess created by their hand.
People did not choose the Judges of this era God did except for one, Jephthah who connivingly got the people to choose him. A Canaanite, it is no wonder he ended up giving his daughter up in sacrifice (a tradition among his people) to God. The record shows they continually and repeatedly reverted to their desires, suffering the consequences of their choices. His patience and (to use old terminology) His long-suffering is particularly exemplified here.
As mentioned before, imperfect people were used to achieve God’s desired outcomes, with the Judges further example of unlikely heroes. There are two such stories here ranging in extremes of being perhaps initially too weak (Gideon) to too strong (Samson). Both men redeemed themselves with Gideon known as the priest, who went into battle.
A look at the man Gideon (a name adopted now by the Bible distribution group whose ministry places free Bibles in hotel rooms and for the time being in public school classrooms) is reminiscent of Moses. Both were humble men. Gideon asked God (referred here as Jehova-Shalom [peace]) multiple times for signs to make sure this calling was from Him. This denotes the source of peace 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; it’s peace that transcends our understanding. It does not seem reasonable that such peace could exist 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. When my panic attacks happened, I used to fold myself up into a ball, hug and rock myself. Once, I went so far as hiding under a desk and then another in the corner of the room as if somehow the attack couldn’t find me. Initially, the remedy to combat the attacks was prescription drugs. After a period, I had become too druggy from the meds. I was sleepwalking through life. I stopped taking them, cold turkey which I don’t recommend. I, through trial and error, 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 typed them out on a piece of paper and would read them when afraid in court as acting as a pro se. In a book from my personal library on God’s promises, I turned to His assurances in seeking peace. Peace isn’t the absence of conflict. It’s the presence of God. I count my blessings recalling how God brought me through events that I thought were insurmountable. The first reminder is what Jesus did on the cross for me.
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.
St. Mother Teresa was 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 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 positive mental attitude (P.M.A.) fad. I don’t think to claim God’s promises fall into that category. The latter is more to remember this too shall pass. Gratitude seemed to me to be more potent then P.M.A.
There is a time and a place for intervention with medication and professional therapy when dealing with depression. Occasionally, extreme sadness visits in a season. 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 talk to myself about the real facts of grace in my life.
Gideon (in chapters 6-8) didn’t have panic attacks, he did take things step by step 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. It was easier to change environments (move) 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 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.
Another huge leap of faith for Gideon came in trusting God when he is asked to take three hundred soldiers out of the thirty-two thousand he recruited to defeat the enemy. He obeyed, and God delivered Gideon 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 was the true King. Sadly in the end, he showed acts of idol worship.
Samson, on the other hand, is a lesson of major downfall, his moral compromises with his temptation of flesh with Delilah, his foreign love interest, depicts him at his lowest. Samson, a Nazarite, 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). Samson, unfortunately, didn’t totally embrace the true purpose of what he was doing by not following the Nazarite ideals of not cutting their hair, abstaining from wine and that of touching a dead body. His is an example of the slippery slope once given in to sin. He had the ability to do God’s work, but he was vulnerable to his temptation and the consequences of acting on by whim.
Remembering our past, our victory (or not) in situations, teaches many lessons on how to live through “today’s” drama. If we don’t try to understand the lesson, push it aside, then a do-over will happen until we do get it. The Israelites did their version of this when they forgot from where their strength came, particularly during the forty years in the desert. They ignored the miraculous events that brought them to their land or the covenant that united them to their God. But God did not forget them or His covenant—and because of His great love for them, he brought them back to him.
There was this dear elderly man in my church who pulled me aside during a meeting where the topic discussed included worship music style and songs, traditional versus contemporary. He began by admitting 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. Now he says when he has seizures the echo of her singing voice, and the lyrics from the traditional hymns are in his head still sooth him. He asked to please not throw the baby (the traditional songs) out with the bathwater in going to only one type of genre of Christian music.