The book of Judges chronicles the reigns of twelve leaders (judges) whose temporary leadership over the confederation of Israelite tribes was both civil and military.
The book of Judges covers the approximate 400-year historical period from Joshua’s death (end of book of Joshua) to the establishment of a king over the Israelite tribes (book of 1 Samuel).
During this time Israel’s national and spiritual life descended into chaos and apostasy. As a result the Israelite tribes fought with their neighboring nations to retain control over the promised land that they had conquered and possessed as described in the book of Joshua.
The leaders in Judges demonstrated a variety of leadership strategies. In spite of the unique and sometimes questionable approaches to leadership of these judges, there is an underlying theme in the book of Judges that has relevance for our individual and collective spiritual lives.
The lesson to be gained from the book of Judges is that like the Israelite tribes possessing the promised land, we have to fight to maintain any spiritual victories we have achieved in our lives.
“I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14, ESV).
The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes is presumably written by King Solomon, king over Israel, in his old age. In this treatise Solomon proffers a philosophical perspective of life that advances the notion that much of human life on Earth is occupied with striving after what’s not really so important in life after all.
Solomon observes that it’s like spending your life chasing after the wind. And, in case his point doesn’t resonate with the reader the first time, he repeats this thought eight more times!
Striving seems to be in our DNA. It’s what we human beings do. We strive after happiness. We strive for health and long life. We strive after success. We strive for money. We strive for love and friendship. We strive over political ideologies and religious beliefs. We strive with one another for dominance and control.
Striving….it’s human nature!
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14, ESV).
In the book of Philippians the Apostle Paul highlighted the need for advancement or progress in one’s Christian life by inciting the Philippians to “work out their own salvation” (vs. 2:12) and then by rallying them to follow his example and “press on toward the goal” (vs 3:14).
It’s as if living their Christian lives was like participating in a footrace. And, the finish line for this race was not ahead but up!
“But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own…but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead… I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. “ (Philippians 3:8-12, CEB).
When I was in college the rock band, The Doobie Brothers, recorded and released the song, “Jesus Is Just Alright With Me.” Although the song was originally written as a gospel song, The Doobie Brothers’ recording was meant for listeners of pop and rock music. The song became quite popular, however, among counterculture Christians, particularly those involved with the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. The song continues to be a staple of playlists on classic rock radio stations.
I’m sure as a member of the Jesus Movement in the 1970s I sang the song many times at student prayer meetings on my college campus. I still like the song today.
Recently, I heard the song on one of those classic rock radio stations and began to reflect on the perspective posed by the song: “Jesus is just all right with me!” And, it occurred to me that the sentiment expressed in the song that I loved so much as a young Jesus freak actually confirms what can go wrong with my faith as a mature Christian.
I like being comfortable with Jesus. He’s cool with me! So, it’s an easy and convenient place for my faith to reside when it’s a relationship that is clean, friendly and socially acceptable.
Certainly, Jesus is just all right with me isn’t exactly the expression of faith in Christ that the Apostle Paul describes in this declaration from his letter to the Philippians.
“So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.” (Romans 12:1-2, CEB).
This meditation is a hands-on lesson in how God works in our lives. Give it a try.
- Take a blank sheet of paper and in the middle of the sheet of paper write in large letters:
- Then in the top left-hand corner write in smaller letters:
- Fold the paper in half folding the bottom half behind and to the top so that the words are still showing.
- Then fold the paper in half folding the right half behind and to the left so that the words are still showing.
- Again, fold the paper in half folding the bottom half behind and to the top so that the words are still showing.
- And, again fold the paper in half folding the right half behind and to the left so that the words are still showing.
- You should now have a small square of paper in your hands that is 1/16th of the original paper size with the words printed on it: GOD’S PLAN FOR MY LIFE. These words probably fill or almost fill the small square of paper in your hand.
Here’s the point of this exercise:
We like to think of God’s will as something that is being revealed a little at a time. It’s like something we discover as if it is unfolding before us.
Actually, finding God’s will is more like folding than unfolding. It’s more like the displacement of our own will in favor of God’s will. It’s a place God leads us, not a place we discover.
“We aren’t like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites couldn’t watch the end of what was fading away… All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:13,18,CEB).
The Old Testament story of Moses’ practice of veiling his face that the Apostle Paul is referencing in these verses is found in Exodus 34:33-35. The Old Testament story is one of my favorites because it’s theologically rich and yet, counter-intuitive.
Moses periodically entered into the presence of God at the Tent of Meeting. When he left the Tent of Meeting and returned to the people, he fastened a veil over his face. It seemed that Moses hid his face so as not to scare the already fearful Israelites with the shining glory of God that was reflected on his face.
But, that’s not really the case!
“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small” (Proverbs 24:10, ESV).
How do you handle problems when you encounter them? Do you get angry, frustrated, or depressed? Do you keep them to yourself or do you complain to your friends or family? Do you blame God for your problems? Why did God let this happen to me?
While God doesn’t cause all our problems, God does use our problems to build our character! So, if the small problems get you down, if you constantly complain about all your problems, then God probably needs to do some more character-building with you.
“Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that was near his head and set it up as a marker. He poured oil on top of it and named the place Bethel…Then Jacob made a vow: ‘If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey, if He provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God. This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to You a tenth of all that You give me'” (Genesis 28:18-22, HCSB).
Jacob was on a journey to Haran and at the end of one of the days during his journey he stopped and camped outdoors.
That night God appeared to Jacob in a dream of a stairway that started from where he was and reached to heaven. Angels were ascending and descending the stairway. In the dream God transferred to Jacob all the essential elements of the covenant He had established with his grandfather and father, Abraham and Isaac.
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven…Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1, 4, NLT).
When we practice the spiritual disciplines of giving, praying, and fasting we are cultivating a quality of life that helps us develop an authentic relationship with God.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit…I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” (John 15:1-2,5, HCSB).
These verses contain the last of seven “I am” declarations made by Jesus in John’s Gospel. “I am” is an allusion to God’s name by which God identified Himself to the Israelites: “God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14).