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.

Forces of Modernity

August 16, 2013

James W. Sire in his book, Chris Chrisman Goes to College, examines the forces of modernity that affect our Christian faith. He does it my mixing commentary with a novel about fictional Chris Chrisman going to a state college, and the challenges to his faith that he faces there. But these forces of modernity affect all of us and not just college students.

Individualism. Individualism has roots in Christian faith. After all, we believe that individuals are created in the image of God and are unique and valuable. We believe that salvation is an individual matter. Modern individualism however goes to some extremes. It desires to be totally autonomous from God. It believes that the individual is self-sufficient and can define himself anyway he wants.

Pluralism. Pluralism can be defined in several ways. On one level, it is simply the getting along of many religious, ethnic and cultural beliefs in one society. No one can argue with the need to coexist with our differences. But pluralism is also used with a philosophical meaning maintaining that no one explanation for life is true. In a situation where many religions exist, the influence of pluralism is to see all of them as viable. To raise the question whether one of them is true is to violate social mores.

Relativism. Faced with pluralism, relativism refuses to question the truth of any philosophical or religious position. The response is: “It’s true for you, but it’s not true for me.” Ethical values are treated in the same way. Everything is subjective and relative.

Privatization. Privatization is the tendency to split social reality into two sectors: public and private. The public sector has to do with government, politics, business, economics, production, technology, and science. The private sector involves religion, morality, leisure, and consumption. The tendency in our culture is to want to keep these two sectors separate.

The danger to a college student or anyone else is that if we obey the forces of modernity our faith dies. Christianity demands to be defended as true in opposition to other views. Granted that this defense should be made with gentleness and respect (see 1 Peter 3:15-16), but it should still be made. Christianity demands our whole life, both public and private. The forces of modernity give us a choice: (1) the erosion of our faith or (2) choosing to be out of step with the times.