I once heard one of my favorite ministers describe the book of Judges as being at least a PG-13, if not R, rated book.
He’s right. You would not believe the some of the stuff that is in there. If it were a movie, you probably wouldn’t let your kids watch it.
The reason for this can be found in a sad, sad verse that appears at least a couple of times in the book, to describe some of the goings on. In fact, the book of Judges ends with this verse:
“In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”
See, the book of Judges is what happens when no one pays any regard to God or His laws and instead does, as the NASB puts it, “what is right in his own eyes.” The period of the Judges is a dark one in Israel’s history, because it is a time in which they repeat a dreaded cycle of being faithful to God for a time, then falling away into idolatry and sin, then being oppressed by their enemies, then crying to God for deliverance. When God, in His unimaginable mercy, steps in and delivers them, they praise Him and are faithful to God for a time, then fall away……you get the picture. I confess that I don’t read this book often, simply because it’s frustrating to read the accounts of the same sinful things happening over and over again. But still, in this book, there are some prayers, and some pray-ers to take note of.
One of the first is Deborah, who stepped up to do what a man named Barak was afraid to do on his own, to go up against the king of Canaan who had been oppressing Israel for twenty years. What he didn’t realize was that he wouldn’t have been on his own; he had God on his side. But because he didn’t recognize that and Deborah did, she said to him, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” When the Israelites were successful at defeating the Canaanites, Deborah and Barak sang a song of praise to the Lord that ended with, “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O Lord; But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.”
A second one of Israel’s judges to take a look at is actually my favorite of them all. His name is Gideon. I’m not sure I can do his story justice, so you’ll have to take a look at his account, which begins in chapter 6. But he says several interesting things, and I can’t help but compare him, at least a little bit, to Moses. When an angel of the Lord appears to him, he is hiding down in a winepress threshing wheat. The Israelites have been oppressed by the Midianites, and Gideon is basically hiding underground, trying to gather enough food for him and his family. Some of the first things he says are, “If the Lord is with us, then why has all this happened?...Where are all His miracles?...The Lord has abandoned us…” He’s not afraid to ask honest questions when he can’t see the hand of the Lord. Gideon knows his place and where he has come from, so he doubts his ability to perform the task he’s been assigned. He repeatedly asks the Lord for a sign, testing Him in a sense, in order to be able to know that he can rely on the Lord. Amazing to me that both times, God grants his request and meets his “test”. Also interesting is that Gideon asks, “Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You and bring out my offering and lay it before You.” Gideon had a desire to offer a gift to the Lord.
I've got quite a bit more to write about the judges, so I'll split this into a two-parter, so that it's not too lengthy. So for now I'll just stop here and make a couple of observations:
1. The book of Judges, though one of my least favorites, might be one of the best as far as emphasizing the importance of prayer, because it highlights how terribly things can go wrong without God.
2. In scripture, there are references in which people pray against their enemies. (We'll get to them soon enough in the Psalms.) But I do notice that in Deborah and Barak's song of praise, they end by not praying against their own enemies, but against the enemies of the Lord. That may seem like a subtle difference, but I think it's an important one. I think it might be the difference in a prayer centered on me and what I want versus a prayer centered on the Lord's will.
3. As evidenced by the prayers of Gideon, there is a repeating pattern in some of the things people have prayed to God for, as he prays some of the same things that we've heard from Moses and from Abraham and even from Job. Like his forefathers, Gideon says the things that are on his heart. When he can't see the working of his God, he asks why. He is not afraid to say that "the Lord has abandoned us" because it seems like He has. And although that may not be accurate, God does not strike Gideon down for blasphemy. God seems to accept Gideon's prayer, but he doesn't validate Gideon's complaint with an answer. Rather, He just says, "Go." Perhaps that's because when it seems like the Lord isn't working, it's really because we're not doing the work he's called us to? Just a thought...
Thanks for reading.