I’ve just started reading Judges, figuring it would be good to take a break from the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament and read again the story lines of people so obviously flawed, so hard-headedly inconsistent in their love of God, so… like me?
Judges is a sad book, hard to read as a parent. Would you have wanted to be Samson’s mother? She knew from the ‘get-go’ that her son had a special calling on his life. An angel told her so--perhaps the pre-incarnate Christ Himself. Samson was chosen to ‘begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.’ (Judges13:5) There was no training manual though. The father even asked for details: “…what is to be the child’s manner of life, and what is his mission?” The only instructions were that the mother was to watch her diet strictly and the child was to forego haircuts.
You know the story of Samson’s life—a pretty carnal guy. He wanted what he wanted. Got mad when he couldn’t have it. Acted impetuously. And he was strong, except in the control of his own desires. He started out on the wrong foot by all appearances, marrying a good-looking but pagan Philistine gal. Despite his parents’ protest he insisted that he had to have her and ironically, this was part of God’s plan for him ‘for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines’.
OK, so the story goes from bad to worse, though granted there are some epic slaughters of God’s enemies along the way. But at last Samson is rendered a blind weakling and put to forced labor for the enemy. What were his parents thinking now? But his life mission was not yet complete. He remembers the source of his strength and asks for one more chance: “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once…” And in his death more of God’s enemies are killed than during his entire lifetime! He completed his mission. His name is recorded with the ‘greats’ of faith alongside David and Gideon, as one who through faith ‘[was] made strong out of weakness’. And I, as a mother looking on, have to check my petty self-centered goals for my kids. They are God’s. Their mission in life is for His glory, not my comfort, pleasure or affirmation. There’s a much bigger story here than my own gratification. God’s glory is the point of the story, the plot and culmination of which are in His hands as well.
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable [are] his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
For of him, and through him, and to him, [are] all things: to whom [be] glory for ever. Amen.” (Rom.11:33-36)
I read another mother’s story in Judges this morning. There’s a song extolling her: —‘I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel’… (Judges 5:7) And what a time it was—God’s people lived in oppression and fear, helpless under the enemy’s dominion. But Deborah, a mom who listened for God’s direction, spoke up. And the scenario was tranformed. “The leaders took the lead..the people offered themselves willingly” and the enemy was routed. It was God’s doings of course. He had pity on his people in their helpless misery and raised up one judge after another to rally the people to their own defense. With their God in command they were strong. Without Him they were bait for the enemy.
Reflecting on this era in Israel’s history, I wonder how closely it parallels ours. Here was a generation that had grown up ‘not know[ing] the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel’. (Judges 2:10) The drama of the exodus from Egypt, the miraculous provision in the wilderness for 40 years, the mighty conquests in the Promised Land under Joshua, these were all ‘old-school’, foggy history. This was a new generation, intrigued by new gods, influenced by the pagan cultures that surrounded them—cultures that they were to rise up and destroy, cultures left to test their loyalty to God and give them opportunity to learn to fight! Instead they served them. They let the fear of false gods displace their rightful fear of the only one true God.
Gideon was a child of this time. His story is told in such lifelike dialogue it makes me smile. When the angel of the Lord appears to him announcing “The Lord is with you” , he quite frankly (but politely) asks: “Please sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” (and why aren’t we seeing all the amazing miracles that our fathers told us about?) Have I never heard this question asked? Have I not wondered the same thing? How does God answer?: “And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hands of Midian; do not I send you?” (Judges 6:14) GULP! But that’s not what I was asking?! “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel?...” Well, it’s the standard answer, the same one you and I have, “I will be with you…”
It seems every new generation is given opportunity to walk in the strength of the Lord and see His mighty works.
If we aren’t seeing God at work, why not? Have we bowed to the gods of this world while they wreak their agenda on our families, our society, our world as we cower thinking there’s nothing we can do to stop them? God’s word is living and still pertinent when it says: “I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the A____ in whose land you dwell. But you have not obeyed my voice.” Oh. Ouch. It struck me this morning as I read this that to fear is to accord a kind of worship. When I cower in fear I am doing homage to other gods…not a good starting point for walking by faith in God’s strength…
So, if our generation, our kids’ generation, is to see the Hand of God at work in our surroundings, in our lifetimes, where do we start? From what I see in Judges (so far), it starts with a renewed estimate of who our God is and what His desire is for us. It starts with walking in the confidence that He is indeed with us and ‘mighty to save’!
The rest of Gideon’s story, the part where the amazing miracles begin and the oppression of the enemy ends, reveals an essential sequence: It reads like this: “And God said…” ,… “and Gideon did so.” There’s a listening and an acting on what is heard. The results? Well, they’re up to God. Maybe kingdoms will be conquered, or justice enforced. Maybe lions’ mouths will be shut and fires quenched. Then again, maybe we’ll be mocked and imprisoned, killed with a sword or sawn in two… (Heb.11) but whatever it will be, God’s might will be made known in and through us when we walk faithfully with Him.
For whatever generation we belong to there is a calling that remains unchanged: “You are my witnesses, and my servant whom I have chosen that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses, declares the LORD, and I am God. Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work and who can turn it back?” (Is.43:10-12)
And boy, I think this book of Judges is maybe not so sad after all. The more I read the more I see this theme of God pursuing His people, not content to let them write Him off as irrelevant or optional. He pursues them and rescues them again and again from their captors, allowing their circumstances to wean them from other gods and make them desperate enough to call on Him for deliverance. And He is ultimately the victor—their lives make Him look good! Will He not do the same for us and ours?
WOW! March on, my soul, with might! (Deborah’s song, Judges 5:21)
‘Work, for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts…’My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not’.” (Haggai 2:4,5)
“He trains my hands for battle, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, And Your right hand upholds me; And Your gentleness makes me great.” (Psalm 18:34,35)