I haven’t posted about my weekly quiet time for a while. I recently finished the Book of Joshua, and now I’m reading the Book of Judges. Here are a few thoughts:
1. Adoni–bezek was a powerful king in Canaan. In Judges 1, the people of Judah capture him at Bezek, and they cut off his thumb and his big toes. But Adoni–bezek doesn’t whine and complain. Rather, he acknowledges that he deserves what he’s getting. He says with stoic gravity, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to pick up scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has paid me back” (Judges 1:7 NRSV).
That reminds me of an incident I had this week. Incidentally, it occurred the same day that I had my Conversation with a Muslim. I was talking with someone in my apartment complex who was at Woodstock. He kind of looked like that punk on The Accused, the guy who was cheering the rapists on. (I told him that, and he replied that he looked more like Al Pacino.) But, in any case, he used a lot of drugs in his younger years, and his health was suffering as a result. He may have said that he had cancer, I don’t remember.
He alluded to the cliche that “there are no atheists in foxholes,” and he said that a lot of people who don’t believe in God still blame him or turn to him when they run into a crisis. But he said that he didn’t do that. When a nurse told him that he had cancer, he asked her for a mirror and then shouted at himself for being so stupid. As far as he was concerned, he was reaping the consequences of his actions.
I probably should have told him about Adoni–bezek. Instead, I told him, “Yeah, that’s one way to look at it. People who don’t believe in God don’t have anyone to blame. They don’t expect life to be fair.” But, ironically, this guy was acknowledging the fairness of life, for he maintained that he was reaping what he had sowed.
There’s a certain strength to that, as there was a certain strength in Adon–bezek’s confession. I can’t say that I’m that strong, but I do admire that kind of detached self-reflection.
2. On the subject of Gentile kings, I’m in Judges 3 right now, and v 20 is rather interesting: “Ehud came to [Eglon], while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber, and said, ‘I have a message from God for you.’ So he rose from his seat.”
Most of the E-Sword commentaries I read say that Eglon rose out of reverence for God. Here was a wicked Gentile autocrat, yet he could muster up some respect for God. That’s more than we can say about Israel in the Hebrew Bible!
So why did Eglon fear God? Probably because he himself was a king, so he had a deep respect for power. And who is more powerful than God?
He reminds me somewhat of the centurion in Matthew 8, who said to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”
The centurion had a regard for Jesus’ power because of the power that he himself exercised as a centurion.
But, of course, there’s a difference between the centurion and Eglon. The centurion had mercy and love for his fellow man. He interceded with Jesus on behalf of his slave. He obviously didn’t view his servant as a dog! Eglon, by contrast, admired God’s power, but not his love. And so he was merciless in his dealings with those he conquered.
And perhaps Israel, by contrast, took God’s love for granted, for she did not hesitate to sin against him. There wasn’t much fear holding her back! Or maybe she didn’t take God’s love for her seriously enough. If Israel had contemplated the love that God demonstrated when he freed her from Egypt and provided for her in the wilderness, she would have been more reluctant to sin.
3. Judges 1-3 tries to explain why God left the Canaanites in the Promised Land. And it gives all sorts of answers: Israel didn’t kill them all, God was punishing Israel for her idolatry, God wanted to test Israel, and God desired for this new generation of Israelites to learn the art of war.
But what strikes me is Judges 2:3: “I will not drive them out before you; but they shall become adversaries to you, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
This is what’s weird: Israel sinned by worshipping the gods of Canaan. And so God punishes Israel by leaving the Canaanites in the land, allowing their gods to become a spiritual snare to Israel. But, if God doesn’t want Israel to worship the Canaanite gods, why make the gods a continuing snare to her? Isn’t God making the situation worse by leading Israel into temptation?
Maybe that’s how God acts on certain occasions. Romans 1 talks about God giving the sinful Gentiles up to further depravity after they failed to acknowledge him as God. God doesn’t always deliver people from sin. If they are determined to continue on their path, God may hand them over to deeper depravity.
And, yet, other voices in Judges say that God wanted to make Israel better. God was giving Israel an explicit choice between him and the gods of Canaan. That’s his test (Judges 2:22)! After all, how can we spiritually grow without a choice between good and evil? One sermon I heard on Judges 2 referred to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden: Even in paradise, God gave people a choice, an opportunity to trust in him (through obedience) and exercise their moral faculties. This preacher even said that this is why God doesn’t eliminate the sinful nature once we become Christians. There is still some corruption within us because God wants us to choose him.
At first sight, this looks different from the message of Joshua, which is “Kill all the Canaanites!” Christian preachers conclude from Joshua that we should try to destroy sin, since it can trip us up. But, in their exposition of Judges, by contrast, they see a purpose behind our sinful nature: to give us a choice, a chance to struggle against evil and choose good.
I guess that Joshua gives us the goal–perfect righteousness–whereas Judges describes the present reality–choice and struggle. God could destroy evil right here and right now if he wanted to do so–within us and the larger world. But he leaves it so that we can learn the value of his way, as opposed to the disastrous nature of sin. But God will one day destroy all of evil, as the Book of Joshua foreshadows.