As you’ve seen throughout the Books of Moses, authors of Biblical narrative often refrain from making value judgments about their characters – sometimes maddeningly so. However, since the covenant foundation was laid in Exodus, authors have been more freely making statements about God’s purposes or perspective. These are often a mixture of observations and prophetic word, and help to frame the stories in which they’re embedded.
An example of this is at the beginning of chapter 3. When the author lists the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them…It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. This is a curious observation, especially because “In order to” signifies God’s purpose.
The tone of Judges is different than anything we’ve read before. The author is clearly writing from the LORD’s perspective, relating stories that either provoke or support the LORD’s action. The author is also clearly not a bystander, but skews his commentary condescendingly against these past Israelites. The disturbing and descending violence of each episode makes the author’s, and the LORD’s, point: something is not right here. Keep this in mind as you wrestle with the question: What does it mean that the LORD wanted this generation “to know war?”
Now to today’s reading. The middle section of Judges – through chapter 16 – is driven by a recurring cycle first laid out with the calling of Othniel. Listen to the descriptions: The LORD’s anger was kindled and He sold Israel to a foreign ruler; When the people cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel…The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel…So the land had rest for forty years.
The cycle resets multiple times through chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 5 is a break in the action: a song, celebrating the victory of Deborah and Barak. As with the song of Moses in Exodus 15, and the verse celebrating the victory over Gibeon in Joshua 10, this song offers a significant contemporary analysis of the event. Take note of their observations: how “when new gods were chosen, then war was in the gates;” and that “from heaven the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera.” Also listen for a new tension, one that will become more prominent in future episodes.
Our verse for this week is Psalm 138:8: The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.
Judges chapters 3 through 5. Now let’s read it!
The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.