Things often start a lot better than they end.
If there was ever a time when the promise of the future seemed brightest, when hope was the most alive, it would be the beginning of Judges. When I started reading it, I was rooting for Israel. Come on people! You can do it! You have everything you need to succeed!
Moses brought them out of slavery. Joshua brought them into the land. They had law, culture, religion, tradition, and a mission. What could go wrong?
But things often start a lot better than they end.
By the end, I just wanted them to go away. I couldn’t take it anymore.
Let’s just say that if Israel existed today, activist college students would be out in the middle of campus “raising awareness” of the atrocities going on there. And other college students would desperately be trying to avoid eye contact with them.
But maybe there were some standout individuals in the crowd. The people (plural) may have been depraved, but certain persons must have been a little better, right?
Not so fast.
Many of the Judges started off with so much promise, just like their people.
Gideon began with a cautiously courageous act of faith and obedience, and ended his life leading Israel into idolatry.
Jephthah lead Israel into great military victories, but is known for is sacrificing his own daughter and killing members of other tribes because they couldn’t pronounce “shibboleth” correctly.
Samson was born under an inspiring promise but ended up a sociopathic womanizer.
The Huffington Post Religion Section would have a field day with these guys.
Where My Ladies At?!
But that is not to say that no one comes out of Judges looking good.
As you were reading, did you pay attention to the women?
Deborah is clearly the most faithful and morally upstanding Judge. She was the only one who led Israel before they were in crisis. She could hear from God and relay his words to the people, lead men into battle, and write some kick-ass songs.
Jael could have been an innocent bystander, but took matters into her own hands and achieved a victory over Israel’s enemy when powerful warriors couldn’t. (Then Deborah included her in her kick-ass song)
Samson’s mother understood and trusted God’s messenger when he announced that she would have a son. Her husband looked like a bumbling idiot compared to her astute theological reasoning.
But we can’t forget the women who were victims of the toxic combination of patriarchy and idolatry.
Jephthah’s daughter, who faced her impending death with dignity and poise and instituted a new tradition for other Israelite women.
The Levite’s concubine, gang-raped and murdered on the front porch of the house her husband was safely inside.
And the young women of Jabesh Gilead and Shiloh, forced to marry men from the same tribe who raped and murdered the Levites concubine.
Judges is a book that takes the reader to the extremes of emotion and human experience. There is rejoicing and celebration. And there is utter horror. God seems very present, suspiciously absent, and difficult to understand.
Perhaps that is the biggest strength of this book: more so than any book I’ve read in the Bible so far, it accurately describes the world in which we live.