Theme Party for Wednesday, June 18 (’14)
**As a warning, this post is filled with many references to other Scriptures. These are important, for they help to show the consistency and validity of God’s story of redemption in a unified, inspired, and inerrant Scripture. We hope you’ll take the time to check the references in the spirit of the Bereans.**
Read Judges 2:1-5.
These five verses densely pack the unexpected misery of what is becoming a new Canaanite nation: Israel. As readers of the biblical story, we should be stunned. Israel as Canaan? There’s no way….yet it it is occurring so thoroughly that even when Yahweh (“LORD”) punishes his people with a promise of enslavement, their reaction indicates they’re still all about themselves. Just what will it take for God’s people to stop with the selfies and start staring at his glory, to shut their mouths and hear the sweet sounds of him speaking?
The structure of these verses forms a nice chiasm (“key-az-um”) letting us see exactly what Yahweh thought of his chosen people’s commitment and what we should think of his salvation. As every chiasm poetically highlights a symmetrically given truth (or contrasting truths), so this one brings light to a terribly dark situation at a time when God’s people were supposed to be lights to a blacked-out world. It may help to have those verses before you as you compare them to the chiasm below, which is summarized in a poetic A-b–b-A structure with A’s matching A’s and b’s matching b’s as the central point emphasized:
A—2:1a: Yahweh saved them from Egyptian slavery
b—2:1b: Yahweh promises a permanent love
b—2:2a: Israel failed to show a permanent love
A—2:2b-3: Yahweh will not save them from Canaanite slavery
The chiasm reminds us of a significant movement in the harmonious score of redemption: God’s ways are not our ways, and they certainly weren’t Israel’s ways. She continually failed. He continually reasserted his promise of covenant love for his people. Thanks be to God! We fail; he does not. Ever.
Moreover, it’s a movement from what they were promised then to what is happening now, because of their lack of faith, and to what they’re receiving. Central to this message is the ongoing theme of the Scriptures: God is their God, and they were to be his people with no reservation. He had saved them for holy, obedient love. His commands to them were not burdensome or unclear, especially concerning their entrance to the Promised Land. They were to take possession of the land. Not only where they to kill everything as an act of divine judgment due to 400 years of wicked disobedience, but also they were to destroy every high place of idol worship. Yet they refused to perform this first duty of exclusive worship to their Savior. Everything else began to fall apart. If matching A’s of the chiasm highlight Yahweh’s mercy and his people’s need of it, the b‘s highlight God’s promise of future salvation and point the people forward to future grace while receiving their just desserts in the present. Like many in pews today, however, they didn’t like the sermon regardless of the grace (a point we’ll get to later).
How did they get here? How did Israel become the Canaan they were told to destroy? Just how bad were they?
After Joshua’s death in Joshua 24/Judges 1, Israel is leaderless. However, God’s commands to invade and destroy (that is, his commands to obey him) do not end in human death. Another must be appointed. They do, at least, turn to him for guidance by asking, “Who shall go up for us?” Judah is chosen by Yahweh to lead the nation and “go up” to invade. God’s choice of verb and tribe is not random nor insignificant. First, the tribal significance.
Judah’s election to “go up” is the fulfillment of a prophecy given 400 years earlier:
Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up (same verb as Judges!). He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
There are six prophecies regarding Judah in this passage from Genesis 49:8-10 that are beginning to come true in Judges 1:
1. His brothers will praise him
2. He will defeat his enemies (who should also be Yahweh’s)
3. His brother’s will pay him homage
4. He will become powerful on a predatory scale
5. He will have a permanent rule
6. All people will give him homage
Moses is dead. Joshua is dead. But they are a united people, and now the Tribe of Kings is taking the “reigns” at Yahweh’s command. How can they fail when God has chosen them to lead?
The choice of Judah is a critical theme flowing forth from Genesis 49 and, behind 49, Genesis 3:15 where a savior is promised for God’s people. In Judges 1, Judah is fulfilling his prophecy to be the ruler of nations and the leader of brothers, and he does his job splendidly…until they meet someone militarily greater than they in technology and strategy (1:19). Iron, wheels, and horses proved greater than their faith in their Divine Warrior. Judah fails and his enemies have his neck (tragic reversal). 1:20-36 shows an increasingly degenerating Israel to the point that not only do they fail to drive out the inhabitants through death and general intimidation (of the escapees), but also they get driven back from their Conquest: Israel has the tables turned on her by the Canaanites (1:30-36). Money (1:28, 30, 33) and fear (1:19, 34-36) become Israel’s identifying marks rather than faith in Yahweh.
Yahweh himself goes to survey the worsening scene (2:1). He is not pleased. He begins his journey at Gilgal where Israel’s twelve stones, representing each tribe, were raised as a permanent reminder of their dry crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land. Moreover, it was at Gilgal where the new congregation received the promise mark of the covenant, having their “reproach rolled away” in circumcision. In other words, Yahweh begins his survey where Israel began her invasion. He uses geography to testify to the faith they were supposed to have yet were giving up in earnest.
The place he ends receives a new name because of the people’s reaction to Yahweh’s report after his survey is complete: Bochim, which means “Weepers”. As Ralph Davis points out: it’s always good when God’s people can still weep because of their sin. But the text doesn’t tell us the result of their tears and blood-letting. Was it genuine repentance? Unlikely. While 2:6-9 does indicate there was service to Yahweh, Joshua 24 leads us to think it wasn’t all it appeared but was, in fact, service with a smile but a divided heart: they served Yahweh and idols. Their children learned their religious habits well and, at least, took Joshua’s advice to “choice whom you will serve”. But they chose poorly.
The story of this weeping people is picked back up in 2:11, “…the People did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh.” Whereas they tolerate and use the subjected Canaanites in chapter 1, by chapter 2, their children, who grew up subjugating Canaanites, had themselves become subjugated by the gods of those slaves. The irony. Again from Davis, “Tolerate Baal’s people and sooner or later you bow at Baal’s altar.” How much better it would have been if Yahweh’s reconnaissance had resulted not in Weepers but in “Faithful” or “True” or “Blessed”! Instead, with Israel, all God got was empty tear-ducts from empty hearts. What will he get when he recons you?
His people weep and sacrifice because Yahweh makes a new promise. Whereas he would have given them far better than they could have imagined (compare this with that), now he will give them much worse than they had planned (compare Judges 1:28, 30, 33 with 2:3). Their love of money and fear of military might has led them into spiritual disarray. They should have been breaching walls and strongholds instead of the covenant with their Lord. Love and fear of unrighteous wealth and people has produced tears instead of victory. When will Israel learn? When will we?
Our God still holds out his new covenant promises. He is still clear about our need to respond properly with covenant fidelity expressed in exclusive love and fear of Him rather than obsession with what surrounds us. God is what surrounds us anyway. He is our ultimate environment and our very great reward, not money or machine. He still offers us unimaginable blessings, notably Himself, but we must examine ourselves for compromise, repent whenever it is found, and ask for the Spirit to produce his fruit in us as replacement to the rotten fruit we produce ourselves. Perhaps then we will give praise as did Paul in Ephesians 3:20-21:
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Yet we are still on Judah’s election to “go up.”
Years later, in Judges 20:18, Yahweh commands Judah to “go up” again, but not against ethnic Canaan. This time, against spiritual Canaan: his brothers. No longer a unified nation (for good or bad) as in Judges 1-2, they have spiraled into Civil War for a very Canaanite reason. In chapter 19, a tribe of Israel has become so covenantally corrupt they are indistinguishable from the worst Canaanite offenders in history: Sodom and Gomorrah. Judges 19 is virtually identical in details to Genesis 19 (where Lot attempts to hand over his daughters to an entire town of on-demand rapists). The only substantive changes in the story are the sexual players. Israel is no longer like Sodom. She is Sodom, and we should expect the same punishment Sodom received. Yahweh’s chosen Son has become a sexually-driven, darkened teenager instead of a sin-defeating warrior-light to the nations. Judah is chosen to lead the decimation of Benjamin. By the end of the story, choosing Judah to go up with his other brothers, Yahweh nearly wipes out a brother: Benjamin. The story concludes with the refrain of Judges hanging ominously over the nation: “There was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (cf. Judges 17:6 and 21:25). By this point, Judah should’ve been firmly ruling the nation and leading them to deep faith, obedience, and prosperity (again, see Deuteronomy). Instead, he was leading his brothers into Civil War and a severe wounding to the national identity as Yahweh’s people. The refrain of 21:25 of a lack of righteousness and king marks not only the failure of Judah, but also the failure of all.
Is there yet a king from Judah to bind our wounds?
Fast-forward far into the future—to the very end of the Hebrew Bible, in fact. In 2 Chronicles 36:23, a pagan King issues orders and invitations for a faithful Israelite to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the House of Yahweh after a very long, punishing exile at the hands of God. In your English Bible, this is not the last verse of the “Old Testament.” But for first-century Palestinian Jews, it was. And the very last word in the entire Hebrew Bible was the single verb, “Let him go up.”
Having all these Scriptures together, any Jew living in Israel the last 500 years before/at the time of Jesus’ birth should have expected Judah to finally fulfill the prophecies of Genesis 49. It was always Judah who should “go up”. More specifically, the verb in 2 Chronicles 36:23 is singular rather than plural. Readers should expect one particular Jew from Judah to “go up” to Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple, and make God dwell with his people once again. That Cyrus spoke more prophetically than he knew….
And wouldn’t you know it? The next time God speaks to his people, (and in our Scriptures, the very next page in Matthew), he speaks through a son of Judah as the Son of God who went up to Jerusalem in way that made permanent God’s presence with his people, the defeat of every enemy, and turned our sorrows into joyful singing. He sent a son of Judah, the Son of God, up on a Cross to die for our Sodom-like unrighteousness, and raised him up for our eternal life, and has seated him up on his Throne from whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
Ladies and Gentleman: meet Jesus, the long-awaited faithful Lion of Judah. He is here for your salvation.