Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the LORD’s commands. Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.
Judges isn’t a book for the faint-hearted. It pulls no punches in its portrayal of humanity: leaders are flawed, people sin in every way possible. There is corruption and abuse, injustice and oppression. The nation’s political outlook is bleak, and communities break apart in the face of rampant individualism as everyone does ‘what is right in their own eyes’. And yet, in the midst of it all we see glimpses of God’s grace, flashes of God at work in normal, broken lives, and the relentless love of God seeking out his people.
Judges is a book that speaks truth. It’s uncomfortable truth, for sure. It holds up a mirror to us and says: ‘Look. Is your society, your community, really that different? What is your responsibility within it?’ It asks us: ‘Do you despair of the world around you?’ And then it tells us: ‘Fear not, for God is at work, even on the bleakest days.’
Judges is a book that helps us read the world, and our own lives, in the light of God’s truth. Although one might miss it at first read, in amongst all the battles and bloodshed, Judges is also a deeply compassionate book. Through its pages, we meet many people whose lives are just as complex as ours, whose motives are just as mixed, whose efforts sometimes succeed wonderfully, and sometimes fail spectacularly.
Again and again, the people get it wrong. They move away from God, take their eyes off what matters, and start to live like their neighbours who do not know God. And inevitably, they end up getting in a mess. From this mess they cry out to God… not usually a cry of repentance, or of deep soul searching, but one from pain and need, simply acknowledging they have come to the end of their resources, that they need God to rescue them. And… God does. God doesn’t demand that they sort themselves out first, or repent thoroughly, or sort out their prayer lives. Time and again, God is moved by the suffering of his people, and reaches out to them in love and grace.
And that is what makes Judges a book of hope, and a book for today: no matter where you are, what you have done, or what has been done to you, God is reaching out to you and those around you with his transforming power. You only have to ask.
Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury