As we finish reading the Book of Judges this week, I want to remind you of the cycle that repeats itself over and over again throughout this book: Israel sins, God allows them to suffer because of their sins which, in turn, causes Israel to call out to God. God will raise up a judge who will deliver them from suffering or servitude and, for a time, things will be ok – until Israel wanders away from God and the cycle starts over again.
You’ll notice as you read about the various Judges that these were not always shining examples of one who was supposed to lead the people of God. You’ll read the story of Jepthah who makes a reckless oath and, in turn, winds up sacrificing his own daughter and then we come upon probably the most famous of the Judges: Samson. Samson’s story begins in familiar manner: he is born to a woman thought to be barren and dedicated to God – in this case, as a Nazirite. You can look back to Numbers 6:1-21 for a refresher on what this consecration meant – but suffice it to say that Samson is not the biblical poster child for Nazirites (Samuel or John the Baptist would be better examples!) Samson’s weakness – especially when it comes to Delilah – causes him no shortage of grief and is a good example for us of the importance of being faithful in the small and the great things.
Towards the end of our readings this week, you’ll read two stories about which demonstrate just how far away from the Lord Israel had fallen. In Judges 17-18, we read about the story of Micah of Ephraim who, although Mosaic Law does not permit the establishment of personal shrines, sets up his own place of worship complete with an illicit priest. Next, in Judges 19-21 you’ll read the tragic story of a Levite’s concubine who is abused and eventually dies from her injuries – the consequences of which nearly leads to the eradication of the tribe of Benjamin. When the rest of the tribes decide not to completely wipe out the Benjaminites, they then acquire wives from them through another act of warfare. The entire episode is ugly and unsettling, and A Catholic Introduction to the Bible sums up what’s going on here quite well:
…the sacred author closes the book with a story marked throughout with some of the most shocking depravity in the Old Testament. This is the kind of social and moral anarchy that took place when ‘there was no king in Israel, every man did was was right in his own eyes’ (Judges 21:25. The horror of the book of Judges is the ugly face of rampant relativism.Bergsma/Pitre, A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament, p328.
Bergsma & Pitre go on to say:
It cannot be emphasized enough that the narratives of Judges, are intended by the sacred author to be descriptive, not prescriptive. In other words, he describes how things actually were during the time of the judges, not how they ought to have been. A picture of how things ‘ought to be’ is provided in the following book, Ruth. In Judges, however, the reader is meant to be repulsed by the narratives (and) shocked by how bad things get when ‘everyone does what is right in his own eyes,’Bergsma/Pitre, p334.
Take hope, though. God’s response to this crisis will begin to unfold next week. With all of that in mind, here are the readings for the coming week: