Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lessons in Despair?

The book of Judges, whence comes this morning's Old Testament reading, is an interesting study in human nature. It's not terribly encouraging. What is encouraging, though, is what we find out about God's long-term commitment to his people -- one that has lasted centuries.

Their problems take a turn for the worse after Joshua's generation. The new generation did not know the Lord, hadn't experienced his deliverance from Egypt, and left him to serve other gods.
14In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. 15Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress. 16Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. 17Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the Lord's commands.
Joshua 2:14-17
Two things strike me about this. First, there's a note of nostalgia, and if this weren't the inspired word of God I'd suspect a case of rose-colored glasses. Ah, the good old days, the days of the golden calf, the days of their refusal to enter the Promised Land, the days when they spoke of stoning Moses and returning to Egypt, when they disobeyed and God sent a plague on them...

But since this is the inspired word of God, I think that the author wrote verse 17 for a purpose: to communicate to future generations that the rebellious crew we read about in Exodus and Numbers had nothing on this new generation. Compared to these people in Judges chapter 2, their rebellious forefathers were just slightly stubborn puppies.

The second thing I notice here is the folly: they disobey God, things go poorly, God sends them a judge to deliver them, they don't listen. This reminds me for some reason of poor old Semmelweis, who discovered that when doctors wash their hands, fewer patients die. The judges foreshadowed Semmelweis in that they delivered people from raiders (Semmelweis delivered quite a few from needless disease) but weren't obeyed (they ruined Semmelweis's career and he died destitute).

Anyone who thinks mankind is basically good or rational would do well to study both Semmelweis and the book of Judges.

But that's not the last word! In the very next verse, we read:
18Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.
Judges 2:18
So although they kept refusing and rebelling, the Lord kept delivering them.

This is a good word: God never gives up. He knows we're foolish and corrupt, but he sticks with us anyway. Good news for modern or ancient man.

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