My mum always said that I was empathetic. And mums are always right.
Since then, online personality tests when bored late at night have shown the same thing – I’m low on some stuff, middle on lots of stuff, but high on empathy. Apparently, I know how you’re feeling. Freaky.
Perhaps it’s because of this heightened sense of wanting to walk a mile in other people’s shoes, that I have picked up something in the last few weeks. I’ve been sensing it for a while, and now’s my time to bring it out into the open. So, here goes:
I sense that many of us… might find… the book of Judges… quite… heavy!?
There, I said it.
Lots of bloodshed, lots of idolatry, lots of sin, all thrown together into the cheery literary genre of “downward spiral”. It’s not hugely fun, is it?
So what do we do?
One option is we could try and mask the message by ramping up the joke factor by about 700% in sermons. Did you here the one about the judge, the Asherah pole and the idolater?
Or how about this. We take the heaviness of the book not as a problem to be solved but as a message from God in itself. As PART of the teaching point of the whole series.
You see, “the medium is the message” has never been truer. The tone with which this book is sent to us by God is in itself a big chunk of the message He wants to speak to us. Judges is heavy for a reason.
To help explore that reason, I have to tell you something. Do you know it needn’t have been like this? Do you know in an alternative universe, a different story, if things had gone how they might have gone, the book of Judges would be the HIGH POINT! It might well have been, and potentially should have been, the most joy-filled, glorious book of victory EVER!
Well, really the whole story of the Bible from the moment that Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden has been building to this place – the people of God in the promised land! This was meant to be the happy days section of the story.
A quick overview of the story in four paragraphs might help. One way I’ve been taught to think about is the start of the Bible is that in Eden, Adam and Eve were God’s people, in God’s place, with God’s presence.
That was God’s intention from the start and it goes great. They belong to God and joyfully follow him (God’s people), they’re in the garden (God’s place), and he walks with them in the cool of the day (God’s presence). There’s ease of relationship, he’s present, he’s with them.
But then in sinning, turning from him, they became people who really threw all of that away.
Instead of shouting from the rooftops “I am Yours”, they start singing “I am MINE!” They were more characterised by their own egos. They turned away from being God’s people. Because of God’s judgement, they were kicked out of the garden (God’s place) and God no longer walked with them in the cool of the day, they were banished very really from his presence.
The whole thing has disintegrated. They’ve become dehumanised. They’re disconnected.
Really, the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) is the story of God restoring and rehumanising and reconnecting.
He grows a people again, starting with Abraham. And then in various covenants, he promises them a place (the well-named ‘Promised Land’) and his presence (“The Lord himself goes with you!”).
It looks like it’s all off when they get taken down into Egypt in slavery but in rescuing them, God has a people again. He promises to take them to a new Eden, a land flowing with milk and honey (God’s place) and then all that stuff about sacrifices and priests and sacrificing the pigeon on the 11th hour of the 3rd day and all that jazz was all to enable God to be present with them – ways of them being cleansed from their sin so that God could walk with them once more.
And so Promised Land time (the start of the book of Joshua, who dies at the start of Judges) as they enter the land, is literally meant to be the most amazing thing!!!!!
They are no longer slaves, but are the saved people of God, knowing God’s presence and they are meant to be characterised by victory and joy and rest. Really the book of Judges could therefore have been the most glorious account of what it’s like to be a people saved by God, and restored to be in the right place, at the right time, with closeness of relationship with God. It’s meant to be the high point.
But Judges is ney like that.
It’s the low point. Why?
Because though you can take the people out of Eden you can’t take Eden out of the people. And so the Judges-cycle begins. They forgot God. They forgot God. They turned from God and worshipped images. They turned…forgot…forsook.
And the place of supposed victory, flowing with milk and honey, becomes the scene of downward decline that is pretty much unrivalled in Scripture.
THAT’s why it’s heavy.
If the book of Judges was light and cheery, it would be lying to us about the consequences of sin – in our lives, in our families, in our nation and in the world. Sin destroys. It disconnects. It dehumanises. It disintegrates.
The book of Judges is heavy because sin is heavy.
Every time you’re tempted to go “Crikey, this book is a bit bleak isn’t it?!”, don’t shrug it off. Stare it in the face, agree loudly, and remember why. Remember that sin does this. Sin takes promised lands and turns them into a place of decline and defeat.
And so, for our part, we thank God for graciously warning us through this book and we repent of sin. We turn back to God. We drop our false gods. We ditch our idols. We eat our daily bread, put our armour on and head out and serve the true King, praying our lives, our families, our city and our nation would not fall into the same cycle, but might come to know and worship the true God more and more.
And if it takes a bit of a heavy book to help me do that, then bring it on.