I have never spent much time in the book of Judges. In fact, before recently, i would have been hard pressed to recite even one story from the book. In a way, Judges is one of the underdogs of the Bible. It is not oft quoted. Generally speaking, there are no artsy cursive-script pictures hanging in kitchens with scriptures from Judges. It is probably possible to have a very intimate relationship with God and the Bible without ever setting foot in Judges. But this is fitting, because as i have spent some time in the book recently, it seems to be a running theme therein that victory is not always for the strong. And though i didn’t see it coming, my perusal of the book has definitely enriched my understanding of the Word as a whole. Here’s why:
i have a tendency to err on the side of disqualification when it comes to service to the Lord. i look at my life and my past and see too much litter there, too much garbage and brokenness in my history, for me to be of use to God. And this is where Judges is a great affirmation to me. Even in the earliest days of the Israelite nation, God was already trying to guide His people to act in ways and follow precepts that, frankly, were just different, counter to the reason and logic of the world around them. Of course, this didn’t begin with Israelites. All along he had been using unlikely characters to further his designs. Abram, promised that he would be a great nation, was nearly 100 before he had any descendants at all. Sarah, his wife, was a barren woman before this point. Throughout the next few generations God is constantly using youngest sons and barren women to continue Abraham’s lineage.
He seems to take this to a whole new level in Judges. First off, the whole point of the book of Judges is that Israel was intended to be a land of which God himself was the king. They were to be surrounded by enemies with powerful kings, but were not to be a nation with a king, but rather a nation ruled by Judges. God intended to use this political structure to indicate man’s proper place before God, and to demonstrate this to the world. To drive the point home, consider just a few of the people he chose as judges:
Ehud – “a left-handed man.” (3 : 15) His left-handedness was significant because the right hand in Israelite culture was the royal hand. Consider that Christ sits at the right hand of God. Also, he was from a tribe, Benjamin, whose name means “son of my right hand.” And yet it was his very left-handedness that allowed him to be victorious. (vv. 15 – 30)
Shamgar, son of Anath – (3 : 31) Shamgar is not an Israelite name, and Anath was the name of both a Canaanite god and a Canaanite city. So by most indications, Shamgar was not an Israelite, and yet God chose him to aid His people.
Deborah – a woman. Need i explain why this is significant? In many cultures, women are still considered second-class citizens, and the effects of that attitude still echo in cultures where it has long been (at least according to law) eliminated.
Gideon – one of the few stories from Judges we are familiar with. In this case it is not Gideon but his army that God chooses to be an unlikely victor. He whittles the fighting force down from 32,000 men to merely 300, so that they would know it was not their strength but God’s that delivered them.
I could go on and on, because this theme does not stop in the Old Testament. God chooses a virgin and a carpenter to be Christ’s parents, old barren people to be the parents of John the Baptist. Jesus chooses fishermen and tax collectors for his disciples, some of whom go on to be leaders of the early church and powerhouses of faith and spirit-filled preaching, and none of it has to do with their personal backgrounds of learning or exemplary faith. He chooses a murderer antagonistic to the faith to be his messenger to the Gentiles, etc. etc.
The point is, i look at my history of sin and rebellion and depravity and hear a tiny malicious voice that discourages me from speaking about Jesus. They will never believe you. You are not educated enough. People will think you are crazy. You are not faithful enough. You should not be so bold as to brag about something you are not worthy of.
There are a hundred ways in which my doubting heart and mind twist these facts into excuses for being cowardly about the gospel. But when i read books such as Judges, i come to realize that it has nothing to do with my capabilities anyway. i am not being asked to convince anyone of the truth of the gospel. It is only the Spirit that can do that. i am only being asked to tell my story, and to tell Christ’s story, and tell them faithfully and truthfully. God will use my words as he will, as he uses barren women and bones and stones and virgins and rapists and thieves and murderers and liars and adulterers and a whole host of unlikely, impossible anti-heroes throughout history. What makes the Word believable, and thus the gospel as well, is not that everyone in it is perfect and acts rightly all the time. In fact it is quite the opposite: it is that everyone in it is broken and weak and flawed in some way so that by the end of it, it can only have been God who brought everything about. It can only have been God who turns sticks to snakes and raises people from the dead and stops the very forces of nature, and in my case it can only be God who makes anything i say land on fertile soil.
God is both capable and qualified, and that is all i must believe. When i start to worry about my own qualifications and abilities, then i am only getting in the way, blocking the view: eclipsing the one true sun.
i’ll step aside now, Father, and let you shine through. That’s all You were asking of me in the first place.
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. – 1 Corinthians 1 : 27