Yesterday I finished my short four week series on some of the Judges from the book in the Hebrew Bible by the same name–Judges. I loved preaching this series–Samson, Gideon, Ehud and Deborah are among the most entertaining stories in the Bible and it doesn’t take much work to preach them. But what I didn’t have time to do was to analyze the overall picture of Judges. Nestled between the story of Joshua and the emergence of the monarchy, Judges has a unique place in Israelite history.
The book of Judges tells the story of a people who are divisive, hostile, forgetful, idolatrous, violent, sexually promiscuous, and stupid. Their behavior has more in common with the Germanic tribes of Europe before the fall of Rome than anything found in the Mosaic code. The way the Israelites behaved, sometimes you want to root for the Canaanites (or the Amorites, Amalekites or Philistines).
What fascinates me is: Why, or better yet, how did it come to this? Surely this was not God’s plan for Israel–hundreds of years of anarchy?
I’ve come up with two answers–and you are not going to like either one.
The first reason, the most obvious reason, is the people of Israel never truly believed or followed the Lord to begin with. They were like the crowds who followed Jesus for bread and miracles but when he started teaching about belief and faith and “drink my blood and eat my flesh” (John 6) they scattered away. People will always follow a good show, but when the show is over and it is time for obedience; well, there is always something else better on television. A lesson is in there somewhere for megachurches and their pastors. I’ll let you find it for yourself, though.
The second reason, and the one that intrigues me the most, is that Joshua was a failure. I know that he is a hero to so many people because he overcome his fear (I so hope I never have to hear another sermon about how Joshua overcame his fear–I think I’ve heard it about 500,000 times). Joshua did promise to serve the Lord and he promised that his house would do the same (Joshua 24:15) but he failed to lead Israel like he led his family. He did not do what was done for him.
Here is what I mean–when Moses was about to die, he appointed Joshua as the next leader and made sure everyone knew it. There was the passing of the proverbial torch from one generation to the next. Joshua fails to do that. He sort of rides off into the sunset and leaves every tribe, clan, family and individual to figure things out for themselves. Because of this failure we get the constant refrain in the book of Judges–“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
The most important thing a leader should do is to make certain someone else can lead when you’re gone and make certain the people you lead know who these next generational leaders are. Without that kind of long-term approach all you do or accomplish is destined to be overrun by Philistines and die right behind you.