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A Cycle, Presence and Separation (#8 Judges)

After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to their own inheritance. The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel. … After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.

Judges 2:6, 7, 10, 11

Thinking about theology today … Our pastor leads a theology class each semester, and this winter/spring we are tracing the theme of God’s relational presence through Scripture. To help me process what I’m learning, I’m blogging a few thoughts from our study. Obviously, there is so much more, and if your interest is piqued, I encourage you to dig in for yourself!

After the people finally get into the promised land, they go through cycles that are really depressing. After two or three generations, what they knew of God’s kindness in the past — of how he had spared them, how he had secured them, how he had provided for all of their needs — is forgotten, and they become virtually indistinguishable from the pagans all around them.  

Carson, D. A. (2010). The God who is there: Finding your place in Gods story.

Sin hinders the presence of God among His people! In the book of Judges, we see a sovereign God who was always faithful to the covenant He had made with His people. He offers discipline, grace, continually calling His people back to Himself. But their sin was great!

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,
    nor his ear too dull to hear.
But your iniquities have separated
    you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
    so that he will not hear.

Isaiah 59:1-2

Let’s look at the “major” judges …

  • In Judges 3:7 – 11, the nation sins and is taken captive. The Israelites cry out to God and God raises up Othniel to deliver them. The Spirit of God comes on Othniel and God delivers the King of Aram into his hands. The people experience rest for 40 years.
  • The second story in Judges 3:12 – 30 follows a similar pattern. This time God raises up Ehud and gives Moab into his hands! The story of Ehud is particularly interesting – check it out! Israel experience peace for 80 years.
  • The third story in Judges 4:4 – 21 varies a bit. Barak lacks faith, but Deborah, a prophetess and judge, tells him God has given Sisera into his hands. Barak insists that Deborah also go with him. Instead of giving the victory to Barak, it is a non-Israelite woman named Jael who takes Sisera’s life. Deborah and Barak sing a song of victory and praise Jael! The land had peace for 40 years.
  • The Israelites call out to God again because of Midian in Judges 6 – 8. The angel of the Lord comes to Gideon greeting him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Notice the clear indication of God’s relational presence! Gideon did not see himself as mighty, he considered himself the least of his people. Gideon asked God for multiple signs before he was willing to do the task for which God was equipping him. And then he wants to take a large army, some 32,000 men! But God insists that Gideon only take 300 men and He says clearly that He is going to give the camp of Midian into his hands! God is with His people, fighting for His people! The land again had peace for 40 years.
  • In Judges 11, although the people elect the next judge, Jephthah, the Spirit of the Lord comes on him. He conquers the Ammonites but in doing so makes a rash vow, causing him to sacrifice his only child. There is no peace in the land.
  • In Judges 13, the Israelites again do evil in God’s sight, in His very presence. And He delivers them into the hands of the Philistines. The Spirit of the Lord comes on Samson in a mighty way as Israel’s next judge. Samson was prideful, intent on fulfilling his own desires rather than God’s. Samson does deliver his people but he, himself, is blinded and captured by his enemies. This story is particularly intriguing because Samson didn’t even realize that his power was from God! When the Lord left him he had nothing!

These stories in the book of Judges continue to illustrate that the Spirit of God is closely associated with power and with the implementation of his will, but they also underscore the inability of people to control or manipulate God’s Spirit, which is unpredictable and uncontrollable by people. The empowering of the Spirit publicly validates their call as leaders but does not change the character of the judges. It only enables and empowers them to carry out God’s will, whether or not they concur.

J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. (2019). God’s Relational Presence:
The Cohesive Center of Biblical Theology

Judges ends on a sad, depressing note,  “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25).

Where is God?
When will we see His presence again among His people?
God is still at work …
tune in as we continue to explore God’s redemptive story!

In the meanwhile, though, we must consider this one idea from the book of Judges!

In and of ourselves, we do not have the power, the ability to live out the life God has called us to live, a life of holiness before God, compassion for others, wisdom in this world, in our lives and work and family, as witnesses to the world, witnesses to the Good News of God’s grace in Jesus. We can’t do any of those things apart from God’s power in us, at work through us, yet the beauty of what the Bible teaches is that for all who trust in Jesus, the Spirit of God dwells in us.

David Platt, Podcast #622, The Power of God’s Presence

Jesus promised us that He would never leave us, nor forsake us. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)

Spirit of God, who dwells within my heart, 
wean it from sin, through all its pulses move. 
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as you are, 
and make me love you as I ought to love. 

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies, 
no sudden rending of the veil of clay, 
no angel visitant, no opening skies; 
but take the dimness of my soul away. 

Did you not bid us love you, God and King, 
love you with all our heart and strength and mind? 
I see the cross there teach my heart to cling. 
O let me seek you and O let me find! 

 Teach me to feel that you are always nigh; 
teach me the struggles of the soul to bear, 
to check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh; 
teach me the patience of unceasing prayer. 

Teach me to love you as your angels love, 
one holy passion filling all my frame: 
the fullness of the heaven-descended Dove; 
my heart an altar, and your love the flame. 

George Croly, 1854
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