Myrassa was an extremely independant cat. She would not do anything that her parents told her to do. When she came of age, she immediately moved out. She got into all sorts of trouble. She began sleeping around, began drinking, got into drugs, and had soon lost all of her money to her destructive vices. When she came to her senses, Myrassa called her father and asked to come home. Her father sent someone to retrieve her, and she was welcomed home with open arms. The cat behaved herself for a little while, but soon turned back to her old ways. The next time she asked to come home, she was in jail for prostitution. Nevertheless, her parents sent someone to bail her out and bring her home. A year later, she was living with an abusive boyfriend who broke her nose when she didn't have dinner ready on time. When she called home, her father sent an elephant over to keep the boyfriend at bay while she packed. This cycle kept up year after year until finally, Myrassa decided that she'd had enough. Once and for all, she dropped her wild lifestyle and lived the kind of life her parents always hoped she would.
If God were to get married, do you think that he would choose a girl like Myrassa? Well, He did. Many times in the scriptures, God calls Israel his bride. He did not choose her because she was righteous. Far from it. In fact, as an illustration of God's relationship with Israel, God told Hosea to marry a prostitute, knowing that she would cheat on him and go back to her own life. Her children would be named "Unloved" and "Not mine". But Hosea's story has a happy ending. When Hosea's wife hit bottom, Hosea came and rescued her and took her in again. This time, she was faithful, and her children were renamed "Loved" and "Mine". So it is with Israel, but Israel would take much, much longer.
The name Isra-el means "Fights with God". You can take that either of two ways. It can mean either that they fight alongside the Lord or strive against Him. In Joshua's day, it was the former. In subsequent generations, it would usually be the latter. After Joshua's death, Israel started going through a cycle. They would turn to idolatry and sin, God would withdraw His protection, and they would be overrun by a neighboring country. Israel would realize their sin and cry out to God, God would send a judge to save them, Israel was delivered, they served the Lord, and then the next generation would fall into idolatry and the whole thing would start over again.
The first thing that we need to understand is that these judges were not what we think of as judges. They did not have black robes, powdered wigs and gavels. They DID have fighting clothes and weapons. In these days, Israel had no king, president, or any other formal leader. There was only a judge, so named because his job in peacetime was to settle disputes. His other job was to act as Israel's champion warrior.
Moses was the first judge of Israel. Upon his death, Joshua took over. When Joshua died, Israel descended into idolatry and was overrun by Mesopatamia. When Israel repented, Othniel, Caleb's nephew, was chosen to lead the country to war against Mesopatamia.
After Othniel, Israel's depravity allowed them to be overrun by Moab. When they cried to the Lord this time, God gave them Ehud, the assasin. Being left-handed, he was able to conceal a dagger where nobody would look for it and killed the Moabite king.
Once again, Israel turned to idols and was turned over to their greatest enemy, Philistia. This time, Shamgar was their deliverer. Sadly, we know very little about Shamgar, except that he was a great fighter, slaying six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad.
After Shamgar came Deborah and Barak. While Barak wasa judge, it is Deborah who gets the glory, as Barak would not go into battle without her. In this era, God demonstrated that women could just as easily be His chosen deliverer as men. Deborah was the military leader, and the leader of the Caananites was kiled by a woman named Jael.
After these two, the cycle started again with Midian. This time, God decided to make a show of His power. He selected a timid man by the name of Gideon to save Israel from the midianite army using a very small force armed with clay pitchers, torches and horns.
After this, the next villain came from inside Israel. Abimelech, Gideon's son, killed all of his siblings, except for Jotham, and made himself the self-appointed king over Israel, with Shechem backing him. Jotham opposed Abimelech's tyrany, and while he did not go into battle, he did place a curse on Abimelech and Shechem in God's name, declaring that they would destroy each other, which they did.
We don't know much about the next two cycles, except that the judges' names were Tola and Jair. But after them comes Jepthah. As the son of a prostitute, Jephthah was run off by his brothers. He became a sort of Robin Hood type figure, living as a valiant thief-lord in the wilderness of Tob. Tob's life was a lesson in respect, as Jephtha's people were forced to come and beg help from the brother they had cast out for reasons beyond his control.
After Jephtah, we have three cycles which we know little about, except that the judges were named Ibzan, Elon and Abdon, respectively.
The last cycle recorded in the book of judges saw the return of those ne'er-do-wells, the Philistines. This was going to be an object lesson which Israel, indeed the world, would never forget. In the past, we saw great solo warriors, military generals, assasins and prophets. This time, God created the world's first superhero. His name was Samson Ben Manoah, and he was fated from the moment of his conception to be a destroyer of Philistines. Now I could go on and on about Samson. There is so much to say, and I will do that in other sermons. What is important to note here is that Samson fought for the Lord in a mighty way. He is often viewed as an example of what not to do, as he did make a number of rather large mistakes, but there is also much that he did right. His heart was filled with passion for his God. Even during his early years as a self-centered brute, he was better in God's eyes than a hundred self-righteous pharisees. Because he fought for God, Samson became the example against which all the rest of Israel's judges are measured, and though Philistia continued to be Israel's enemy, their rule was broken.
After Samson, Israel fell victim to an irresponsible priest whose sons were allowed to run amok. They tyranized their own people, going so far as to extort food directly off of God's altar. In 1085, the last judge of Israel was born. He was a great prophet and maker of kings. Though Samuel was not a warrior, assasin or superhero, he annointed Saul, followed by David, who in turn delivered Israel out of the jaws of their enemies.
I wish I could say that Israel never again turned to idols. Indeed, there was an event which straightened Israel out, but this was not it.
So... what have we learned?
For one thing, this demonstrates that we need God. Israel has always been surrounded by enemies. Even back in Goshen, the very country which had made one of their patriarchs its president forced them into slavery. Without God, Israel is quickly overtaken by trouble. One might say "That's Israel, not me." But whether you realize it or not, there are many, many enemies out there who seek to do you harm, ranging from demons to thieves to psychopaths. And let's not forget the final enemy- death. Without God, there is no reprieve from death and Hell.
This era also demonstrates how mercy and justice, often thought of as polar opposites, co-exist as characteristics defining God's goodness. When Israel was sinning, God withdrew His protection. When they repented, no matter how often they sinned or how temporary the repentance, God rescued them from the jam they'd gotten themselves into. How wonderful our Lord is willing to put up with us for as long as it takes for us to straighten out.
As far as history is concerned, this was an important part of the formation of Israel's character. while it was happening, it painted a picture of the relationship between God and Man. In the future, it cure Israel of their tendency to revert to idolatry. They would become so opposed to idols that they would not even recognize their own God when He showed up in the flesh.
But there was one more cycle of idolatry and repentance which the hebrew people had to undergo. It would be the biggest and would last many generations. It would begin with the kings and end with the captivity. But those are for next week.
Today's Reading: Judges 2:10-19
10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.
11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.
12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger
13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.
14 In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.
15 Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.
16 Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.
17 Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the Lord's commands.
18 Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.
19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.