Judging and perceiving (1)

It took me six days, but I did it.  I had told myself I was going to sit down and read the Hebrew Bible book of Judges in a sitting.   It’s only 21 chapters and should have taken 2-3 hours, I figured.  I was pre-motivated by the redemptive and historiographical “kingdom” significance I perceived, but it still took me six days.  Pathetic, I know.

I did learn a few things.  Or, more accurately, I observed a few things that might or might not be valid.  (You’ll have to be the judge.)  For instance, the duration of the period of the Judges seems to have been between 300-400 years.  Early on in reading, I also recalled that the people of Israel sometimes eliminated the existing inhabitants of a region, and sometimes, they didn’t.

The book of Judges begins by telling us that Israel hasn’t completely driven out the Canaanites from the land.  Instead, Israel follows their corruption and child sacrifice, becoming just as bad or worse.  – The Bible Project

This seems to be the beginning of the Israelites’ downfall.

Out of the gate, I will admit to having prejudged Judges:  I’ve begun to see it as (1) a historical theology book (2) in which Israel’s stark slide toward ignoring God’s kingship could be plainly seen.  My premise, in other words, is that we find a significant era in the time of Israelite Judges.  The Bible Project’s video introduction bears this out, referring to the “tragic downward spiral of Israel’s leaders and people” and to a “descent into madness.”  Of course, there had been numerous departures from God in the past, but once the people had been finally delivered from the Egyptian oppression and enslavement, had suffered, wandered, and finally been given their promised inheritance in the new land, it would seem that God’s reign would be clear to them—and honored by them.  This was not to be the case.

I judge that I have more to learn about the word “judge” (Heb. shophet).  I have come to suspect that the English word does not do justice to the original role, as conceived and lived out among the ancients.  The role also seems to have shifted with the time, personality, and need.  One source¹ frames the scene well, I suspect:  the Hebrew judges were people “who served roles as military leaders in times of crisis, in the period before an Israelite monarchy was established.”  It’s important to recognize that there was no “nation of Israel” per se at this point in history.  The judges, therefore, were not national leaders; they were “unelected non-hereditary leaders”¹—more like regional/tribal lords who arose, or who were elevated, based on military need and proven might.

Some judges failed miserably at points, but they also had many impressive successes.  In general, we see in the book of Judges that it is God’s power that provides victory.  On the contrary, when God is forgotten or ignored, bad things happen.

The number of Judges counted in this time period varies from 13-16, upward to 19 or 20 if others are counted that are not mentioned in Judges or 1Samuel.  The events of Eli’s and Samuel’s lives, for example, seem to be in the line of Judges.

Next:  the first three Judges

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_judges

2 thoughts on “Judging and perceiving (1)

  1. Steve Kell 08/19/2019 / 5:35 pm

    So…you just decided that the book of Judges would be where you land in some current study and reflection…I’d be interested in (1) why this/why now, and (2) when do you see Israel became a nation, from your understanding….Looking forward to your future posts…

    And…if it took the Lord 6 days to get all this started, per Genesis — and it was “all good,” then perhaps you are a bit hard on yourself (“pathetic?”)…just sayin’


    • Brian Casey 08/20/2019 / 8:46 am

      Thanks for asking. This will be a long answer! On one level, I decided Judges was a place to land a year or two ago when reading John Bright’s The Kingdom of God. The way he walked through the history, mentioning the people’s lack of faithfulness to God as a theme, was contagious. Here are a couple of pertinent Bright references from past posts of mine:

      John Bright’s book The Kingdom of God has lately drawn me to the prophecy of Amos. Aside: I’m confident in saying that Bright, who died a couple of decades ago, was not one of those careless, pop-theology authors who merely wanted to sell books . . . no, I infer that he really “gets” Amos. The prophet Amos, as Bright painted him, was a man of the old ways. A man who deeply “got” God’s original covenant with the people. A man who was deeply distressed with the state of Israel under the kings and who called the people back to God as King. With that vision in mind and heart, I started reading Amos this morning.

      The era from King Saul to the Babylonian captivity is thought to have lasted just under 500 years. One might extend backward to include the prior era of the judges. God’s reign in and over His people could even be said to have begun long before that. For more than half a millennium, then, leading to the Babylonian captivity, the people’s sense of God as King appears to have become increasingly adulterated. This degradation is a theme of John Bright’s book The Kingdom of God.

      On another level, I’m simply regularly compelled by Kingdom thoughts and philosophies. Then I become determined to delve more. The Kingdom is the “Magnificent Obsession” (credit to author David Swartz, and none to the storyline of the early 20C book and movie by the same name). At this point in my life, as at others, it seems wise and pleasing to the King that I should regularly return to, and deal somehow with, His reign.

      And the time of Judges seems to have been a key time when the “nation” was in its early stages, falling from awareness of who God was in their life as a people. As for when they became a nation, the time of Saul would be an easy answer. But maybe they were transitioning from Samson through Samuel? What do you think? Another reading of Judges will illuminate more, I’m sure. This morning, all I did was read half of the Deborah/Barak story again….

      And I actually do think my efforts at reading Judges are pathetic. And I regret when “such a worm as I” was changed in some hymnals to “such a one as I.” All this might smack of self-flagellation, and it might even be unhealthy. Don’t worry; I do a few things well, and yesterday was a good day in terms of balancing and setting priorites. I just know I can do much better with reading, and my heart’s interests would be served more if I could “get up and do” more with reading and writing. But thank you for the balancing words nonetheless!


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