Our family loves studying the word of God together, but this month was a bit intense. It made for some odd morning devotions. I am not sure if the nightly news was more heinous or the book of Judges. Violence, treachery, cruelty, and horrendous acts of murder were daily reminders that we need more than a leader, we need a Savior. The beauty of going through the Bible systematically is that you cannot erase the bad parts or pick and choose what you want to read—or obey. It works itself into your body, soul, and mind when it becomes central to your life. After doing this for many years, I was surprised how many new things jumped out in the text. It is possible that we are in new territory in this generation so things make sense now that we could not appreciate in the past. My big takeaway was this:
Instead of looking at the violence, crime, and bloodshed in the text, I looked for God. The gruesome stories when I had read this in the past seemed to overshadow Him. They even caused me to wonder where He was in the midst of them. Then I looked in my own life and saw how trials were eclipsing what He was doing in our lives. Sometimes we want to have great faith, but challenges dim our hope. Many are speaking about the “end of the age.” The prevailing thought is that things are going to continually get worse. Conspiracies, prophecies, opinions may be right to some extent but there seems to be those who are also adding to the script in this fear-mongering culture.
Judges, in the very first chapter, gives us an intro for the rest of the book. Hear it afresh today: “After the death of Joshua, the Israelites (no mediator mentioned) asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?” This implied a collective prayer meeting. Good start. . . .
Looking back at Israel’s journeys, we realize that again and again and again, God’s people ignored His voice and word. Here, at the outset there is a people pausing to find God’s wisdom for who is to be their leader and how they are to proceed. That is significant once we realize the answer came before the darkness. Timely? I believe so. Do we need to choose a leader, to ask God who is to go in first? Do we need collectively, as a family, church, or nation to seek God? Do we need His wisdom? Are we wise enough to pause and listen to what He has to say? It does not take a scholar to realize that if we do not do that—a period of time worse than the Judges, will soon be upon us. In this present darkness, that is clear. When I recalled reading this book, this first promise was not even on the list in times past.
Here is my favorite verse in the book: “The Lord answered, ‘Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.’” Remember Judah? They marched and they worshipped but most of all—they obeyed.
We can read that and immediately see a promise. Israel was in the age of the Judges, enduring suffering for over four hundred years. Moses, in comparison, looks like a track star at this point with his forty-year journey! Come on guys, how long are we going to go around this same mountain? Now, it stretched out into four hundred years—murder, mayhem, hopelessness, cruelty, darkness, violence, rape, and just pure evil. Pure evil? In spite of the atrocities, beams of light can still be seen of God’s movement.
The key: the Lord answered. He heard; he heard what they asked. He was listening, He was present, and He ANSWERED! This God is unlike any other God. He is not dumb, deaf, or weary. He showed Himself to be an active listener, active responder. He HEARD their prayers. The next twenty chapters will look like proof after proof that God had forsaken them, left them. Like a parent who gives a command and then sits back to wait and see if it will be followed, God continued to watch. If ONE person would have paused, if ONE person would have looked back, if ONE person would have remembered that at the beginning of this very dark period, God sent them and gave them direction, things might have gone very different. If someone dared to ask God what His opinion was, what HIS will was for them, they could refocus. Where were the people recounting the promise of victory? Where were memorial stones to mark this word of the Lord? Had they forgotten how to remember? God made them a promise—“I have given (past tense) the land into their hands.” They transitioned from one leader Joshua to Judah and his crew. God gave the order, they just had to walk it out.
We think we are way different than these folks but the crime rates and situations in our land say otherwise. So, how do we remember? Psalm 2:1 says, “he delights in the Law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night.” Meditate means to study, examine, ponder, and reflect—to speak and mutter. If someone had done that regarding this first prayer and response, it may have served to remind them that God had spoken—that He answered them and gave them the truth they needed to stand on. We pray—He answers. We do what He says, He speaks more. I think that may be the part they (and we) forget. When in doubt, go back to square one and find out what you missed. Can you repeat that please? What did you say? Seeking God should not be a one-time event but an ongoing process.
If you want a double dose of this verse play Elevation’s new song “Trust in God.” I heard it after reflecting on this chapter and it refreshed my heart greatly. The friend who introduced it has lived its words during a season of suffering and her light continues to shine. Amid darkness and trials, it is AMAZING to realize God hears us and answers. I have been soaking in the song line “I sought the Lord and He heard, and He answered.” Maybe the hero leaders, these Judges, held on to God’s original word? Some of them were even blessed with visitations and reminders. God is faithful and hears our prayers.
Instead of rehearsing all the hardships of this book this time around, I wanted to know where God was and His expectations of His people before, during, and after these dark days. I spent some time meditating on these verses: “The men of Judah then said to the Simeonites their fellow Israelites, ‘Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you, into yours.” So, the Simeonites went with them. This reads like a narrative, and I am sure my Bible teachers will appreciate a recommendation to understand it as such, but I am also a parent and a minister. Let me share the practical lesson written here that you may not get from just reading it as history. This battle plan—seek God, listen, for His response is wonderful but when you add—gather the troops and let us do this together—it puts meat on those bones. You succeed when you join with others. Not with great ideas but with Jesus and His kingdom plan. This means first God and then sold-out folks who have your back and are willing to go into the fray with you. More than just a journal entry, this is their formula for winning. Come with us and we will fight for you also. Teamwork makes the dream work may have started long before John Maxwell! Go team Judah! Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Although this next verse is not considered a main point, at least not in most commentaries, I do believe it was placed in this chapter to show us a different version of “taking the land” and God’s reward system. And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.”13 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.14 One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What can I do for you?”15 She replied, “Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.” What a businessperson and leader. She was not timid in her request. Come on somebody! Faith wells up into bold actions. So, Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs. In that day and age this was amazing! Consider the livestock that needed water as well as the military crew. What a beautiful inheritance—The father choosing to bless the daughter—directly. She asked for what she needed, and she received it. This is the backdrop for all the other Judges. What is possible, when we go to the Father and ASK!
This is Joshua’s buddy Caleb—the one who spied out the land. A spy certainly knows who is most likely to win his contest, right? I bet Aksah had amazing stories of grapes and wars and winning. They stand as a shining example, amid much despair and heartbreak. It is at the forefront, in the beginning of this desperately ugly and bloody book. What a contrast. It was her father’s good pleasure to give her of his kingdom. She asked, He answered and gave the land. We miss a lot if we doubt God’s character or stare at the enemy wreaking havoc instead of the goodness of the Father.
What are you staring at in your world today? Is it the Delight of God? The eyes of Jesus? The movement of the precious Holy Spirit? What you look for—you see. What you pray for will be answered but you first must turn from the violence and drama and go where real answers are given. See Psalm 16:11—take a minute and put that on a 3×5 card or a mirror. Get it deep down in your soul and share it with others. Actively shine this week. Memorize it, sing it, text it. It comes after a very dark verse.
God set the leaders (Judges) in place to help the people take the land. He set up women and men to lead. Theological Point—God does not change—no matter what denomination you are in. They failed time after time after time because they forgot what He said and did not do exactly what He told them. Leaving out instructions is just as costly as ignoring them. That is serious—then and now. It is risky. It proved tragic. The people in the book of Judges often ignored His warnings. The last verse in this tragedy says, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
While focusing on tragedy and failure in Judges we got caught up in watching the underwater sub tragedy. It was so sad. Some called it an epic failure. They ignored every heart check, scientific warning, and protocol, just to view a past shipwreck. The Titanic was a textbook case of stubborn hearts and self-will. Sound familiar? My Navy husband gave us a play by play as it was taking place. He commented, “the deep ocean is very unforgiving” and in his eyes I realized they would not be returning home. Those in charge stated they did not “need” fifty-plus-year-old white, ex-military guys and planned to do their own thing. It was short-sighted and arrogant to not connect with the Coast Guard or Navy. Innovation does not need to cancel out education. Sound advice was not only refused but mocked. It was more than ironic, it was chilling. We also may have similar stories on lesser scales. Stories of past sins, mistakes, failures. Or maybe refusing support and help? If we learn from our and other’s mistakes, they can teach us, but if we keep going back to view or forcing ahead without caution—it is to our detriment. Judges helps us understand each of these dynamics and their outcomes.
God will never fail. He is constant, merciful, and unlimited.
I also want to point out that one of the people who came alongside them was a source of joy we may not recognize at first glance, but the people of that day certainly would. “The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms with the people of Judah to live among the inhabitants of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad.” We may be tempted to gloss over it to get to the deeper stories of Jael, Deborah, and Sampson. If we were visited by a great leader, a hero who encouraged us, we would be strengthened to possess our promised lands as well. Gather around those on the frontlines and stand with them. Oh, the value of praying and fellowshipping saints!
When I was in seminary a solid, godly mentor of mine came to visit me. She heard my heart, visited my house, and prayed with me. I learned things that weekend that still impact me in powerful ways to this day. It made my dark days brighter and helped me to shine on. Yes, I want visits like that, but I also want to mature and be that for other people, especially as the days grow darker. Find someone older and someone younger. Do not wait 403 years to obey—make some calls today.
We are not all that different from the Israelites. The God that listened to them, is waiting to listen, in this dark age with horrific events unfolding—to the weary, heart-heavy likes of you and me. What will He say? Who will listen and obey? His directive then and to us today is that we are to do what He has given us to do, today. Who will partner with His plan to brighten the landscape of His will, as He plays out His Kingdom plan in this generation?
When you go to prayer—remember confident Aksah—who boldly trusted that her good father would give her what she asked of him. She stated her request. Not to another person or through another person but directly to her father. I believe our good Father is more than willing to give us what we request. We must turn away from evil and remind ourselves that God is sovereign and goes with us to accomplish His purposes in the earth. That brings victory. He promises.
Anne Graham Lotz wrote in Worship Makes a Difference:
In the storm, You are our Anchor.
In the face of terrorism, You are our Shield.
In time of war, You are our Peace.
In our weakness, You are our Strength.
In our grief, You are our Comfort.
In our despair, You are our Hope.
In our confusion, You are our Wisdom.
No matter the trial, we look for God to send us and help us possess the land. Keep meditating, worshipping, praying—God is listening, and His track record is that He will answer and respond with instruction. Let us know about your journey, so we can stand with you.
*Special thanks to editor Virginia Bridges