December 27, 2007 – Judges – The CycleAccording to Jewish tradition, the prophet Samuel authored this book of the Old Testament which tells of the era between the Israelites’ arrival in the Promised Land under the guidance of Moses and Joshua and the time of the Kingdom of David. It is the story of how God’s people continually rebel against God only to return to him. It speaks of our need for God’s providence and deliverance.
In about the year 1406 B.C.E. the Israelites enter Canaan under Joshua’s leadership and give thanks to Yahweh for all the good that has happened to them; but following Joshua’s death, the people stray from Yahweh’s covenant, turning to pagan worship. Their sin leads to servitude to another people. The Israelites petition and make endless supplication to Yahweh . . . who eventually sends or chooses a judge (or leader) to deliver them. This new period of deliverance is followed by silence during which the Israelites again fall into sin. It is a cycle of straying, repenting, petition and deliverance which we see repeated endlessly in Scripture . . . and also in our own lives.
The most famous judges are Deborah (1209-1169 B.C.E.), Gideon (1162-1122 B.C.E.) and Samson (1075-1055 B.C.E.). The others are: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. (The bold names are of those who are considered to be the Major Judges.) In a series of cyclic turnings and returning, these eleven men and one woman deliver the burgeoning earthly kingdom into the hands of Saul and David. It is into this kingdom that Jesus is born as the universal and ultimate savior and deliverer . . . Jesus arrives as God’s expression of his saving and redeeming love for us. These twelve listen for God’s word, hear it, and act upon it. Their lives weave in and out of the Israelite history of the Twelve Tribes and this story is characterized by internal strife, in-fighting, political, social and spiritual upheaval . . . and frequently moral depravity. We see the theme of God’s constant and continual faithfulness contrasted with the people’s thinking that 1) they can compromise somehow with the Mosaic Law and still be true to Yahweh, and 2) they can somehow get along by using their own wits . . . they think that they do not really need Yahweh.
In much the same way we see relativism creep into our thinking to turn us in the direction of believing that we can rely on self rather than trust in God, that we can cut corners here and there with the Law of Love because we falsely believe that what we do in secret harms no one. When we reflect on this chapter in our faith history, we can see that not much has changed. We still wander off after pagan gods which bring immediate satisfaction through some addictive behavior but later prove superficial and shallow. Money, fame, and physical gratification bring no lasting happiness, no eternal serenity. When we reflect further we realize that something has indeed changed since the times of these ancient people of the Twelve Tribes. Since that day the Christ has come into this world . . . the Hope of Salvation from ourselves . . . God’s Word to us . . . God’s expression of love and self to us. In this infant birth of self in an out-of-the-way spot to an ordinary couple, God reveals himself at his most vulnerable . . . as a babe. The marginalized shepherds are the first to hear the news . . . we are the most recent. What will we do with this message?
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