A Cautionary Tale

March 2, 2018

The Book of Judges is a cautionary tale. It recounts a dark period in Israel’s history. It begins with Israel’s failure to conquer the Promised Land completely. Because of this failure, the idolatry of the original inhabitants becomes a snare for Israel. The cycle in Judges is Israel commits idolatry, they become oppressed by their enemies and cry out to God, God raises a judge to deliver them, and eventually the cycle begins again.

The judges were military leaders who brought deliverance to Israel. That is probably not our first definition of a judge, although Deborah did in fact hear cases and dispense justice (Judges 4:4-5). Yet, the judges often demonstrate deep flaws which show them to be men of their times. Gideon makes an ephod that becomes a snare to the people and a temptation to idolatry. Jephthah makes a rash vow, but he also slaughters some in Israel who refused to help him. Sampson seems to make military victories only because of bad choices with Philistine women.

But the book ends with even darker stories. Jonathan, the grandson of Moses, helps steal an idol with the help of armed men and sets up an idolatrous worship site in Dan, which lasts “until the day of the captivity of the land” (Judges 18:30). This is followed by an account of the rape and murder of a priest’s concubine. (Should a priest have a concubine in the first place?) This incident nearly leads to the wholesale slaughter of the tribe of Benjamin.

But these dark stories are not without a point. A refrain that occurs within the books states: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25, ESV). The Book of Judges answers the question of what happens when a people wander away from God. The moral decline illustrated in Judges is a cautionary tale.

It is a lesson that it difficult for modern society to hear. Society doesn’t always want God in the public square. Society often likes its morality to be relative. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” could be our own nation’s slogan.

But then we wring our hands when violence and crime occur. Evil, violence, and crime will always be with us as long as this age lasts. But when a society goes through a moral decline such evil will increase. This is a morality problem that statutes won’t cure. It is not that statutes are unimportant. They represent a social contract which should be based on shared values and common morality. When values and morality differ, statutes become difficult to enforce. Witness the drug problem in our country. In other words, morality and values are the deeper issue.

The safety of my person and property are dependent on the morality of the people in my community. When the moral decline becomes so great, even the authorities cannot stop what happens next. Societies can descend into anarchy. And periods of anarchy are what we see in the Book of Judges. For those willing to hear, Judges provides a cautionary tale.


Where’s Safe?

September 28, 2017

A gunman kills a woman in a church parking lot and then enters the church building wounding even more. It may cause us to ask the question: where’s safe? It is a question I have thought about since watching the Twin Towers fall on live television. It’s a question prompted by natural disasters, accidents, and disease.

One thing I have reminded myself is that I still live in a relatively safe world. I walk the streets of my neighborhood without fear. The article “Crime in Context” noted: “a recent study posited that 5 percent of city blocks account for 50 percent of the crime. That is why most Americans believe crime is worse, while significantly fewer believe it is worse where they live.”* I still live in relative safety.

I recently sat across from a doctor and received the news: I don’t have cancer. It would be an understatement to say I felt relief. However, I still must be followed by a hematologist because my test results are irregular though currently free of disease, and I could face the opposite news someday. God has not promised me health. I know that disease does not discriminate and fall only on bad people. My prayers and the prayers of others may not always be answered in the way we would prefer. I’ve known too many good people with terrible diseases.

Disease, accidents, natural disasters, and crime are all a part of the world in which we live. Bad things happen in our world because sin entered it. Bad things happen to good people as well as bad, just as the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Paradise was lost, and humankind has been living with the consequences ever since. So, where’s safe?

Safe is not a place in this world. I or someone I know could be in the wrong place at the wrong time when disaster strikes. But I will not live my life in fear of what may or may not happen. A truly safe place won’t arrive until the age to come. In this world, the answer to where’s safe is found in a relationship. Safe is in Christ.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37–39, ESV)

So, what do we do as we await the safe place? We do what Christians have always done. We help the needy and hurting. We share the good news which brings light and healing to a dark and broken world. We walk by faith. In Christ is the answer to the question: where’s safe?