WHAT WENT WRONG

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.

THERE IS A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN?

Yesterday I began a new sermon series on the book of Judges.   I started with Samson because he is the most famous.   I’ve had something come up for February 3, so I’ll have to rearrange a bit–but I originally wanted to cover Samson, Deborah, Gideon, Ehud, Abimelech, and Jephthah.  Now, someone has got to go (It will probably be Abimelech.)

Yesterday I told the Samson’s story pretty straight up–with a few twists–but I did drop a hint on something I’ve been thinking about for a while.  Woudn’t it be fun to rewrite the Judges stories but put them in the old west?  Ashkelon and Gath become Dodge City and Tombstone and Jerusalem and Shechem become San Francisco and Oregon Territory?

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DID GIDEON HAVE A BADGE?

In this rewriting the Philistines would have to be the Spanish-Mexicans moving up from the south and the Israelites would be Anglos moving in from the east.  The Canaanites are the American Indians and their various tribes.   I write this to not be racists or judgmental, but only because it seems to match the historical reality of ancient Palestine–two migrating groups (Hebrews from Egypt and Ur and Philistines from Greece) overrunning native inhabitants and their settlements.

Now, if we do that, then each judge becomes “Sheriff” and has control over a region or province.  So, what is the revised plot for Samson?

Sheriff Sam is a supernaturally strong man that has a taste for a good fight and for Mexican women.  He was raised by strict Methodists who told him the key to his strength was avoiding three things–booze, dead bodies, and barbers.  Sam’s first wife, a Mexican woman, is killed when he has a shootout with her family.  In between visits to brothels, he falls for a Mexican woman named Senorita Dee who betrays his trust and double-crosses her lover.  In one final bid for vengeance Sheriff Sam dies in a blaze of glory as he destroys the Mexican Garrison and kills the evil governor.

What about Ehud?

Ehud (Doesn’t the name Ehud just sound like the old west?) and his small town have been overrun by the Mexican army, who have in turn monopolized the railroad and the nearby ore mines–thereby controlling commerce and industry.  After seeing how this oppression has hindered his people, Ehud undertakes a daring and dangerous mission through Comanche territory to Texas to get a shipment of Six Shooters to help him in his cause of revolution.  Upon his return, he hides the powerful pistol under his Sheriff’s coat and sneaks into the Mexican Captains home, a man named El Gigante, and kills him while he is on the toilet.  Sheriff Ehud escapes from certain capture in a thrilling chase scene as the story climaxes.  Ehud rallies the men from every surrounding town and a few Comanche scouts to band together with their new revolvers and fight off the oppression of the occupying army.

When I read Judges, I see the Lone Ranger, Zorro, and Billy the Kid.  Your task as you think about Judges is to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, and why?