Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Anyone who’s read the book of Judges will no doubt be able to speak on its unique nature in the Biblical canon. Though not part of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible which were written by Moses), it begins as a direct sequel to the direct sequel of Deuteronomy, Joshua. Equally, though it is written in the style of the books of Kings, it is separate from it by Ruth and two large books about David. Judges also has the distinction of featuring stories of supposed heroes who actually don’t offer very much in the line of positive spiritual lessons (though, some do, this is certainly not the rule). The book leaves one feeling a bit uneasy, as what had been a very strong easy to understand style throughout the first six books unwinds completely with a mish-mash of stories that are sometimes not fully realized, leaving the reader somewhat tangled up in the mess that Israel finds itself in before Saul is made king. And the only answer to all of this? We read, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). Although an appropriate comment, it only serves to confuse the reader as to what should be taken as a positive spiritual lesson, and what things should not (especially considering that to complete a vow to the Lord, one of the heroes of Judges has to sacrifice his daughter).
But, before we dive into all of that mess in a few future posts, let’s rewind all the way back to the beginning, and probably one of the strangest parts of the book. The opening of Judges is confusing, for we are told right away, “After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, ‘Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?’” (Judges 1:1) But Joshua doesn’t actually die until Judges 2:8, “Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten.” Furthermore, we’re told in Judges 1:8 that Judah is able to capture Jerusalem, “The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.” This becomes problematic though when we read just a few verses later, “The Benjamites, however, failed to dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites” (Judges 1:21). Wait, what? If Jerusalem is not only captured by Judah, but also burned to the ground and everyone in it killed, how come the Benjamites are having trouble dislodging the Jebusites? What is more confusing is that it isn’t until the reign of David (who was king over what would eventually be called Judah), much later, that Jerusalem is actually captured. We can read about that event in 2 Samuel 5:6-7,
The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David.
What is going on here? Does Jerusalem get captured in Judges or doesn’t it? And if it doesn’t, what does this mean about the accuracy of the Bible?
Things get more confusing though. Although one could argue that chapter one serves as a prologue and preview to Judges, so Joshua’s death in chapter 2 is the start of the historical story of the book, that doesn’t fit perfectly either. For in Judges 1:12-13 we read,
And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Acsah to him in marriage.
This seems like one of the more straightforward stories of what followed after Joshua’s supposed death in verse one; that is until you remember that it already happened before Joshua died. In fact, it happened before the book of Judges. We read in Joshua 15:16-17,
And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Acsah to him in marriage.
Take note, this event happened way back in chapter 15, even before Joshua’s big “but as for me and my family” speech in chapter 24. However, Judges portrays the event as taking place post-Joshua. When did it really happen? We may never know.
What the heck is going on then? I found these passages and in general the way the early chapters of Judges are written to be especially confusing, so I prayed on them. The Holy Spirit then opened my eyes to what the purpose of this cryptic writing is. In the introductory chapters of Judges, we are being given a rare look through God’s eyes (as inspired by the Holy Spirit). First of all, the whole scene is more of a bird’s eye view of everything that is happening in Israel all at once (as opposed to being split between sections for each tribe). This fits with what Jeremiah says about the Lord,
Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you. You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the fathers’ sins into the laps of their children after them. O great and powerful God, whose name is the Lord Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to all the ways of men; you reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve (Jeremiah 32:17-19).
God sees everything, and during the first few chapters of Judges, we do too. In rapid succession we’re presented with each tribe’s plight against their neighbors, both in the big picture, and in the small picture (going as far as seeing Caleb selling his daughter for the sacking of a city). What’s more, especially in the first chapter, there is no statement as to what is right or wrong; the events are simply presented and we’re left to decide what is ok and what is not. God does not see in right and wrong, for he already knows what is right and wrong, but the world is stretched out before him, and from what he sees he decrees based on his laws. So not only do we see everything at once, but we’re also allowed by the Holy Spirit this one-time chance to sit in the judges seat (please excuse the pun). But there’s more, while also seeing everything happening at one time, we’re given events from multiple timelines converging in the same place. As already noted, Joshua dies before he’s dead and Caleb gives his daughter to his brother on both sides of Joshua’s mortality. On top of that there’s the Jerusalem situation: it being taken by Judah even though shortly after the Benjamites find that the Jebusites won’t get out of what should be a burned up hulk of Judah property that isn’t actually captured until David (of the tribe of Judah) does so hundreds of years later. Again, the Holy Spirit is giving us an amazing view from the Lord’s seat. For our God is not only beyond the constraints of space, but is he also beyond the constraints of time. Jesus was nearly stoned after mentioning that Abraham rejoiced in thinking of Christ’s coming. The crowd was angered by him because after they suggested that Jesus was far too young to have ever known Abraham (and therefore to young to know what he rejoiced in) Jesus gave an amazing reply; “’I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” (John 8:58). The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; the three figures that make up our Lord are all beyond time. Notice, Jesus wasn’t from before Abraham, he is. Everything happens at once for the Lord, there is no waiting time, for all of creation (including time and space) bow before the Lord. Therefore, what we see as an exceedingly confusing passage in the Bible is really the Holy Spirit letting us see what a normal day is like for our God.
Our Lord being beyond time and space is what makes prophecy work. Long before Joshua died, Moses already was told by the Lord what would happen to the people after crossing into the Promised Land. The Bible says in Deuteronomy 31:15-17,
Then the Lord appeared at the Tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the Tent. And the Lord said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?’”
As you can see, the Lord doesn’t say “if” or even “when” like in most of the Law when Moses gives out warnings. This time, God says, “soon” and “will,” telling us that he already knew completely what would happen during the course of the next few hundred years of Israel’s history- and he shared that with Moses before the books of Joshua or Judges were even written. This short-term prophecy holds true because sure enough we read as Judge’s opening establishes the pattern throughout the book,
But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshipping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.
Therefore, the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their forefathers did.” The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua (Judges 2:19-23).
The Lord already knew what was going to happen and so he prepared everything for when the Israelites would turn away from him. So, when the Israelites rebelled, God had a few countries left in order to see if his people would turn back from their idol worshipping.
So what are we supposed to get out of all of this? Are we doomed to a life of fate as opposed to that of decision? Not at all! The Lord always gives us free will…he just happens to already know what choice we’ll make. Does that mean that we can change our direction? From our perspective, of course we can! Through the cleansing of Jesus’ blood, your whole life and destiny can be completely changed. Jesus can save you, Jesus can heal you, and Jesus can lead you to a better life than what you are looking at right now. Well then what is the lesson the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us by allowing us to see from God’s eyes for the first couple of chapters of Judges? The Lord already knows everything, and therefore he has been preparing everything since the beginning of time itself. Think of it this way, when Jesus taught on prayer, he told us,
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6:7-8).
Before you even fold your hands, the Lord has already heard your prayer. In fact, he heard your prayers at the beginning, before you were saved, before you were born, before anything even existed. And from the creation, the Lord sowed the seeds to your prayers being answered. Or another example: when asked about why a man was born blind, if it was for some sort of sin of his parents or his own natural sin, the Lord showed God’s preparedness, “’Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life’” (John 9:3). Even the Lord’s miracles are waiting to happen, already prepared for us; we only need to call on the Lord to enact them. For even if we do something new, it is not new to God; because he is in the beginning just as much as he is in the now. Daily I see the Lord answer my prayers, big and small. Even just on the way to work. We’re told in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Have you actually ever tried it? Pray about everything, and see just how much our Lord has prepared for you!
Rock on God!