Thursday, April 5, 2012

Scripture Judges 2:11-19
They did not listen even to their judges; for they lusted after other gods and bowed down to them.
—Judges 2:17

2:11 Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and worshiped the Baals; 12 and they abandoned the LORD, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger. 13 They abandoned the LORD, and worshiped Baal and the Astartes. 14 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them to bring misfortune, as the LORD had warned them and sworn to them; and they were in great distress.

16 Then the LORD raised up judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them. 17 Yet they did not listen even to their judges; for they lusted after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their ancestors had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD; they did not follow their example. 18 Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors, following other gods, worshiping them and bowing down to them. They would not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.

Commenting that something is like a broken record may seem like a quaint figure of speech to folks today who get their music from CDs or downloads, not on vinyl. But there is no better way to describe the book of Judges; it plays like a broken record. The people turn away from God and worship idols. God's anger is kindled, and the people fall to other geopolitical powers. In their oppression and misery, they cry out to God, who raises up a judge to deliver them. The judge delivers, the people rejoice, and for a little while things are OK. Until once again, the people turn away from God and start worshiping the idols.

The book of Judges gives us glimpses of communities in flux. We see what happens when communities follow good leaders who are called by God. We also see what happens when communities follow leaders into error. We see what happens when communities are organized and disorganized. We see what happens when communities worship false gods, or try to take matters into their own hands. We see what happens when communities benefit from God's protection and deliverance, and what happens when they forget who they are; whose they are, and how they got to where they are. In all of these changes, we see the same old cycle, playing repeatedly like a broken record.
After the death of Joshua, and through the time of Samuel, elders led the tribes of Israel. In difficult times, judges were raised up by the Lord. The judges were usually military leaders who deal with one or a few tribes. A few judges, such as Deborah and Gideon, had broader leadership roles that also provided for some periods of unity among the tribes.

Like Joshua, the book of Judges covers the conquest of 'the land of Canaan, but a different picture emerges. In Joshua, the conquest is quick, decisive, and complete. The conquest as presented in the book of Judges matches more accurately the archaeological evidence that tells a story of a much more gradual move into the land, gained in small battles with some wins and some losses.

This passage from Judges reminds us of Moses' ongoing conversation with God about the people whom he has been called to lead out of Egypt, Perhaps Moses expected a hero's welcome from the Israelites, but when Pharaoh increased their burden, the people turned against Moses, and Moses turned to God, saying, "O LORD, why have you mistreated this people?" (Ex. 5:22}. Each time, when the going got tough in the wilderness, the people turned and blamed Moses, and Moses would turn to the Lord, asking, "What shall I do with this people?" (Ex. 17:4). Moses calls them stiff-necked, and addresses them as rebels. How can anyone be expected to lead a group like that?

Now, a couple of generations after Moses, the Israelites ' still have difficulties following the leader. God raises judges to deliver the people, but the people don't want to follow the judges. They might change their behavior for a little while, but before long, they were up to their old behavior. They want to go their own way, to pursue their lusts and desires. It is interesting that the people are so resistant to submitting to the leadership that God provides, and yet they are quick to give submission—gladly—to idols of their own choosing. It isn't a simple matter of rebellion against authority; the people submit to the authority of false gods, even as they shake off the yoke of the one who has delivered them repeatedly. As the Israelites fight submission to God's will through the direction of the leaders that God had raised up, the result is that they end up under a much worse oppression—foreign rule.

We may not make idols out of wood or worship the Baals and Astartes, but many things in our world call us to devotion. The people of Israel were reminded repeatedly that the God of their ancestors had brought them out of Egypt. They lived with the call, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." Like the people of Israel, we do not do this well because we allow these words to become background noise to the other demands on our life. The desires that lead us away from a grateful relationship with God are like a slippery slope. The more out of practice in worshiping God we are, the easier it is for us to neglect God's claims on our lives.

The people of Israel repeated the pattern above like a broken record, and they didn't seem to learn their lessons. What kind of patterns do we see in the church, or in our own lives, where we fail to learn our lessons and keep repeating the same mistakes?
What are the false gods that we lust after today? How does our desire to pursue those things result in our own oppression or submission to external powers?
Is submission to God's will restrictive or freeing?

Almighty God, we confess that we are often stiff-necked and rebellious. We are difficult to lead, and we have not always followed the leaders who you have called to serve. Help us to submit to your will and, through submission to you, unite us in community so that we may follow your call, to discipleship and ministry and be the body of Christ that you have gathered us to be. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.