Judges 3-5

1.  The setting.

Another transition in leadership. Think about it as a Western. Wagon Train with Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood. Strong leaders. Moses and Joshua.

Transition to A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. Moses and Joshua are gone and the people are on their own. They are separated by distance and vulnerable to attack. It is lawless territory. It is dry, windblown and harsh. They are new arrivals scratching out an existence and subject to oppression from bad guys but incapable of resisting. Out of nowhere comes a deliverer, a flawed hero. He drives out the oppressors, rescues the people and moves on.

There is always violence – shoot-outs, showdowns, outlaws and sheriffs, colorful and graphic scenes of villains dying, posses in pursuit, brawls, deception and strong women – who may or may not be virtuous.

Ehud sinks his sword up to the hilt in the fat of Ehud. Jael drives a tent peg through the head of Sisera. Samson is gruesomely blinded and brings down the temple killing hundreds or thousands. The Levite’s concubine is brutally raped by men in a village and then killed – her body separated into twelve pieces and sent to the tribes. If Lifeway is taking “The Blindside” off the shelves they should probably take the book of Judges as well.

“Western heroes are often local lawmen or enforcement officers, ranchers, army officers, cowboys, territorial marshals, or a skilled, fast-draw gunfighter. They are normally masculine persons of integrity and principle – courageous, moral, tough, solid and self-sufficient, maverick characters (often with trusty sidekicks), possessing an independent and honorable attitude (but often characterized as slow-talking). The Western hero could usually stand alone and face danger on his own, against the forces of lawlessness (outlaws or other antagonists), with an expert display of his physical skills (roping, gun-play, horse-handling, pioneering abilities, etc.).”

That’s what we have here in these several chapters. The judges are heroes but not idealized. They look more like Jeff Bridges in “True Grit” than Hopalong Cassidy or the Lone Ranger. Stories of strong figures who save people – as much from themselves as from outside villains. The tribal bonds are breaking down and the common purpose that once held them together is coming apart. They are on their own and, worse, they are not always ready to come to the rescue of the other tribes. They are looking out for themselves. They are fitting in to survive and becoming unfit to serve each other.

The Elites Stink – David Brooks

“The best of the WASP elites had a stewardship mentality, that they were temporary caretakers of institutions that would span generations. They cruelly ostracized people who did not live up to their codes of gentlemanly conduct and scrupulosity. They were insular and struggled with intimacy, but they did believe in restraint, reticence and service.
Today’s elite is more talented and open but lacks a self-conscious leadership code. The language of meritocracy (how to succeed) has eclipsed the language of morality (how to be virtuous). Wall Street firms, for example, now hire on the basis of youth and brains, not experience and character. Most of their problems can be traced to this.
If you read the e-mails from the Libor scandal you get the same sensation you get from reading the e-mails in so many recent scandals: these people are brats; they have no sense that they are guardians for an institution the world depends on; they have no consciousness of their larger social role.”

2.  In so many of the stories of the Judges you have an unknown and unremarkable person who experiences the spirit of the Lord. Othniel, Gideon, Jepthah, they are not “electable”. Gideon is weak and uncertain and not interested in the job. Ehud is left-handed and had to make his own sword. Jepthah is the son of a prostitute and his rash promise costs his daughter her life. Samson is a moral hazard and spoiled son. There is no campaign to put them in office. In some cases, like the account of Barak and Deborah, the natural leader is risk averse and lacks courage. He wants to be sure that Deborah will be with him. They want to know they will be successful before they commit themselves. Read “Campaigns and Elections” case study.

“We decided to test 15 different variables: the type of card, the use of a follow-up phone call or visit, and 12 variations in the content and look of the mailing. A randomly selected group of 320 likely voters were shown the different variations of the mail pieces. We lay out these variables in mathematically determined combinations to the right number of subjects. This allows our statisticians to reliably estimate the individual impact of each variable and the impact of different combinations of variables. Thirty-two different versions of the postcards were mailed to the 320 subjects. Telephone polls by a professional survey firm—before and after the mailings—measured the impact of the mailings on the likelihood that recipients would vote for Ragan. The results on voter intentions as reported by the experiment’s subjects were dramatic even as some changes were barely noticeable to a casual observer. For instance, one variable compared a series of “Did You Know?” statements about illegal aliens to a list of Ragan’s attributes, including experience and responsibility. The use of that section seemed to focus voter anger and increase their inclination to vote for Ragan by a few percentage points.”

They are not uniquely prepared in ways that we could understand or predict. There is nothing about their backgrounds or their talent that would have identified them early on as judges. They have not been trained in the school of judges. They are not the best and the brightest or selected by an organization as emerging leaders. They are anointed. “The Spirit of the Lord came upon them.”

The Spirit of the Lord comes in two ways. First, it comes with an immediate and miraculous effect. Super strength, speaking various languages with no previous knowledge, healing, raising the dead. It is always out of the ordinary and momentary. The second way we see here is the anointing lasts a lifetime. It brings not just spectacular experiences but permanent responsibility and duty. The anointing is for the balance of their lives – not just special times. As long as they are alive Israel is faithful and protected.

Andi Ashworth in the “The Work of Love”:

“Sure, there are high points, nameable moments of climax—but most of my daily life still takes place in the in-between. I live in grocery stores and Farmer’s Markets, at the stove and the kitchen sink. I pull weeds in the garden, sort the recycling, fold laundry, write emails, get the oil changed in the car, meet younger folks for coffee and long conversations, and sit for hours at my computer laboring over words and sentences. As I look back on a week like that it’s impossible to know at what point something small and fleeting becomes something large and more permanent, or to ascribe a hierarchy of meaning to the week’s activities. How can we say what was most important? Was it the work of making music that will bless the world and pay the bills? Was it writing an essay that will play a small, but perhaps fruitful part in other people’s lives? Was it cooking a meal and delivering it to friends in need, or seizing the moment to spend time with grandchildren and make memories from the stuff of ordinary life? When I finally sit down to write about last week in my journal, all of these things will get equal billing. Diarists and poets put the ordinary under a microscope and call attention to its beauty. In the work of love there is no part too small to matter and no part so great that it trumps everything else.”

These men and women were anointed and there was, typically, one moment of extreme excitement in their lives and then they live out the balance of their lives quietly and unremarkably.

3.  The Lord gave them into their hands.

We hear the phrase “it was a God thing” quite a bit. We apply it to selling or buying a house, finding a parking space, being healed, getting a job, finding a spouse or a hundred other things in life. We need to be careful to distinguish between reporting what happened in unique circumstances (like this instance) and ascribing everything to small miracles or finding favor or God intervening.

People want to understand and explain things. That is why there was so much interest in the Boson Higgs particle – or the God particle. You may have seen the article this week on the search for “dark matter” that may be more exciting than the discovery of the God particle. We want to understand what Ecclesiastes calls “the scheme of things.” We don’t want mystery or uncertainty. We want to connect the dots and see the pattern. That’s part of our nature. We want to know God takes a personal interest in our lives. But sometimes we over explain or look for God’s direct intervention in life in everything. Every detail. In the end, it is a mystery why and how God acts in the lives of his creation.

Ecclesiastes 7:23-25: All this I tested by wisdom and I said, “I am determined to be wise” — but this was beyond me. 24 Whatever exists is far off and most profound — who can discover it? 25 So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand…”

Ecclesiastes 8:17: “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it”.

At the end of the day, we cannot understand why God picks who he does. We cannot figure out the scheme of things or be wise enough. It is, as the writer of the last few verses of Ecclesiastes says, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” In the end, that is the work of the anointed hero – do your whole duty so that we might say as Andi Ashworth does, “In the work of love there is no part too small to matter and no part so great that it trumps everything else.” It is not about a moment when you did a great thing. It is not about spending your life waiting for a great thing. It is about how you lived the days of your life.

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