NOT a Story on Role-Models
Are you disturbed yet? Do you notice the stories keep getting worse as you get further along in the Book? Have you pondered the literary effect of the strategically placed introduction of Chapters 1-2? None of the people in these stories are being offered as moral examples. Just the opposite, the introductory chapters are telling you that the behavior of all these characters is the disastrous result of Canaanite influence. When Israel stops being faithful to the God who rescued them from slavery in Egypt, the Book of Judges is what happens. The end of the Book’s introduction told us as much.
When Joshua had dismissed the people, the sons of Israel went each to his inheritance to possess the land. The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord which He had done for Israel. Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten… and all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israelite did what was evil in the eyes of the LORD…” -Judges 2:6 – 11
There you have it! Judges 2-21 contains stories of people who have lost their way and make destructive choices that do not correspond to God’s will.
Now, there are a few rare, bright moments. Deborah, in Chapters 4-5, is awesome. She’s full of faith and power in Israel’s God and led the people to a great victory over the Canaanites who allied together to wipe the Israelites off the map. Gideon also has some glimmers of faith and courage, especially when he decides to enter a battle armed with empty clay pots and a torch! But, his angry streak gets the best of him in the end, and he makes a ritual object that the Israelites end up worshipping after his death. What about Gideon’s son? Let’s just say you would never want to meet him in a dark alley (Judges 9).
So, this all raises the question, why would an author subject us to this?
Here are two ways to think about it that may prove helpful.
(1) There is moral value in tragic literature. People in the ancient world seem to have been far more comfortable telling long stories about deeply flawed people who ruin their lives… and that’s how the stories end. This is not Hollywood style, if you see what I mean. Westerners raised on Hollywood storylines have a short attention span for movies that don’t end with some kind of redemptive resolution. And, that’s too bad. Whether it’s a Book like Judges or the ancient Greek tragedies of Euripides, stories about people destroying themselves and those around them have immense value. Think of the epic Godfather trilogy of the 1970s or the grisly Breaking Bad TV sensation. These stories give us a close study of how a person slowly starts making choices of moral compromise that lead to greater and greater consequences. Almost no one starts out in life planning on self ruin. So, how does one reach a place where destructive life choices become habit? It’s not overnight. It’s usually through a complex matrix of decisions and influences, and we are often not aware that we’re participating in our own demise. Tragic stories reflect how life actually works. Sometimes the bridges we burn can’t be repaired. These kinds of stories stand as important warnings, allowing us to experience catastrophe through literature instead of real life. You walk away from tragic stories a bit more sober, evaluating your own life habits and values. That’s the real worth of the Book of Judges. Consider it a gigantic “STOP” sign that forces you to ask if you are like any of these characters and how you can make different choices.