Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book of Judges: Strange Behavior Then and Now

1. In the time of the Judges
The Book of Judges records a time both sad and happy for the people of Yahweh. Sadly, from about 1400 to 1100 BC, Yahweh’s people settled into a destructive pattern of behavior in their relationship with Yahweh. They constantly rejected him and devoted themselves to the six false gods of Olympianity. Happily, Yahweh did not abandon them as their behavior deserved. Instead, he freed them from those gods and their oppressive minions over and over again.

This destructive pattern repeated certain steps. One, a whole generation who had worked with Yahweh, and seen his glory, would die. So, for example, Joshua died and with him all who had seen Yahweh deliver the land of Canaan into their hands as he had promised their ancestors (Judges 2:7).

Two, another generation would grow up and be responsible for their own relationship with Yahweh. This generation, however, would “not know [Yahweh] or the work he had done for Israel” (2:10). They would know Yahweh’s work in the sense of being familiar with the stories about it. They would not know it, however, in the sense of structuring their personalities or life together in terms of it. They would have thoughts, desires, and feelings based on and expressed through other stories.

Three, this new generation would reject Yahweh. “Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of [Yahweh] and worshiped the Baals, and they abandoned [Yahweh], the god of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them…They abandoned [Yahweh], and worshiped Baal and the Astartes” (2:11-13).

The peoples who surrounded the Israelites devoted themselves to gods they called Baal and Astarte. These gods—and others—served certain theological, sociological, and psychological functions. These functions were the same as those served by the Olympian gods then and now. Baal is simply the Canaanite name for Jupiter as Astarte is for Venus. Same Olympian gods; different names. The people of Yahweh, then, were abandoning Yahweh to devote themselves to the Olympian gods.

The Bible makes the meaning of this quite clear. It makes plain that Yahweh is the one true god of freedom. It was Yahweh, and no other god, who freed his people from the land of Egypt, from their slavery in Egypt, from the power of Pharaoh. To abandon Yahweh was to abandon the one true god of freedom in favor of devotion to six conventional yet false gods of power.

Four, Yahweh would be angry. In his anger, Yahweh would abandon his people to the gods of power they adored and to Olympians who served them. “So the anger of [Yahweh] was kindled against Israel, and…he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies” (2:14).

Five, these Olympian enemies would make life miserable for Yahweh’s people. His people would then cry out to Yahweh to free them from the gods and their minions. Years would pass.

Six, Yahweh, always free to love, would freely liberate his people from their more powerful enemies. He would raise up a “judge.” He would call and enable a particular person to deliver his people from the power of those who oppressed them (2:16).

Seven, Yahweh would then enable his people to live in freedom all the days of that judge and generation. “Whenever [Yahweh] raised up judges for them, [Yahweh] was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for [Yahweh] would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them” (2:18).

Let us note here that Yahweh did not rescue his people because of any virtue of their own. The people of Yahweh never merited deliverance from their enemies. Yahweh freed them from the control of the Olympian gods because of who he was and remains: the one true god of love who pities the persecuted and frees them because they need it and not because they deserve it.

Then this destruction pattern of behavior would repeat itself. Despite Yahweh’s manifest freedom from the gods and for his people, the older generation would die, the newer one would not recognize Yahweh, they would reject him and devote themselves to the Olympian gods of their neighbors…

2. In the history of the Church
We might be tempted to ridicule in our hearts the people of Yahweh in the time of the Judges. How ridiculous they were to constantly abandon Yahweh when Yahweh alone was plainly the only god of freedom, truth, love, and vitality!

We would do well to resist this temptation. This pattern of our rejection of Yahweh, our oppression by his enemies and ours, and Yahweh’s deliverance of us from our own stupidity, has continued from then until now—and with less excuse.

For the last two thousand years, we Christians and churches have started out well only to slide back into subservience to the Olympian gods. Jesus has then raised up new prophetic witnesses. Through these witnesses he has awakened some Christians and churches to newness of life. Then that generation would pass and once again we would fall asleep.

In the 1200s, for example, Jesus freed Francis of Assisi from his cheerful devotion to the Olympian gods. The witness of Francis set hearts on fire for Jesus. Within his lifetime, however, even the Franciscans abandoned his witness and lord and returned to the gods.

In the 1500s, Anabaptists witnessed boldly to Jesus despite fierce opposition from Christians and churches unknowingly serving the gods. There is irony here. The clearest witnesses to Jesus were fiercely persecuted by powerful Christian Olympians perversely claiming that clarity. While Anabaptism continues today, the fire of that first generation is gone. If that faithful generation returned now, their descendants would persecute them as happily as their Christian enemies did back then.

The same pattern remains true of the Quakers. In the 1600s Jesus called and enabled George Fox to bear bold transformative witness to him. Tens of thousands responded to Jesus with gratitude and joy. For years conventional Christians remained startled that there remained, in their midst, this peculiar people who lived as if the Bible mattered. But eventually they too settled down for the long winter’s nap. Today they too have abandoned both Jesus and his favorite book.

3. In our generation
In the Book of Judges, we find this strange pattern of behavior: (1) a generation of witnesses to Yahweh dies, (2) the new generation does not recognize Yahweh, (3) it rejects Yahweh in favor of devotion to the Olympian gods, (4) Yahweh then abandons them to those gods and their minions, (5) they cry out to Yahweh, (6) Yahweh frees them from the power of the gods and their own stupidity, then (7) Yahweh enables his renewed people to live in freedom all the days of that generation. Then that generation dies and Yahweh's people repeat this same strange pattern.

Surprisingly, we found that this strange pattern continued in the history of Christians and churches. Sadly, we still find ourselves sliding unconsciously back into Olympian devotion. Happily Jesus, freely and lovingly, has persistently saved us from Olympian gods, groups, and personalities by calling into existence new prophetic persons, churches, and movements.

There is nothing happy, however, about our times. We live in one of those many and lengthy in-between times: years after the last prophetic movement and an unknown number of years before the next one. For now, we find ourselves, as Christians and churches, as Olympian as ever. In truth, our mass media of communication make us more universally, constantly, intensely, and inescapably Olympian than ever before.

Now our prophetic witness is one of hope. Hope is our lively expectation, our joyful confidence, that yet again Jesus will free us from the gods and the destructive consequences of our devotion to them.

This hope has a negative aspect. It means our rejection of all false gods and the mistaken hopes based upon them. Jupiter, for example, would have us fill in the absence of a new transformative word from Jesus with frenzied political activism. Nothing could be more deceptive or destructive.

With this hope in him, Jesus gives us a rigorous realism. Jesus is on the move. He creates transformative movements on three levels: personal, communal, and societal. He creates and strengthens faithful persons, churches, and societal movements. Through rigorous realism, Jesus keeps us from mistaking his movements with those of his enemies and ours. It would be pleasing to regard Christians and churches today as bubbling with enthusiasm for Jesus in joyfully faithful ways, but it wouldn’t be true.

So, for now, in hope and by the grace of Jesus, we cultivate those little faithful ways of living that he makes possible today. As individual prophetic witnesses, we read the Bible, pray, identify the ways we devote ourselves to the gods and pursue more meaningful alternatives as best we can, love others in the small ways possible, practice gratitude and joy.

At the next level, we pray to Jesus to introduce us to at least one other prophetic Christian witness with whom we may share the journey. We pray that Jesus might gather us together into a prophetic mission group of up to twelve people. We pray that, through our shared worship of him, he might send us out, in pairs, to participate in existing churches as witnesses to his liberating and loving ways. We pray that, as we do so, he may strengthen their faithful witness as well.

Third, we look forward to the day, perhaps not even in our lifetimes, when we, as prophetic mission groups and churches, will experience again a movement that transforms our society and culture. It will remain Olympian but less harshly so.

Finally, we await in hope the definitive return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when he will wipe away every tear and destroy death forever.

Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encourage.