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The Book of Books Book Club weekly blog  

Judges

First, my thanks to all of you who were able to be at our third meeting this past Thursday! And to one and all, I hope you can make it to the next session, on January 3rd - I know it's soon in the new year, but just think how far along you'll already be on a resolution to read the Bible in 2019...


This week we continue and in odd ways deepen some of the themes we've been talking about, especially - strangely enough - the idea that forgiveness is central to the relationship between God and the people of Israel. Remember the importance of the covenant, now not with any individual but with the people as a whole: keep the commandments, be God's people. Yet the people keep failing to hold up their end of the bargain, and God keeps not walking away but rather giving them another chance. This is central to Judges. Despite the sense of triumph the Book of Joshua conveyed about their entering finally into the Promised Land, Judges is the story of Israel's cycle of apostasy, oppression at the hands of others in the land, return to the Lord, and armed triumph over their oppressors. This occurs over and over again, and shows how unsettled their possession of the Promised Land remains, and how tenuous their hold on it is. These stories, then, are the stories of great warriors – and occasionally great and crafty women as well –  rising up to lead their people, making this book the Biblical equivalent of the Iliad. The same vicissitudes in the attitudes of the Homeric gods and of the people toward them, here about God and God's people, are offered as explanations for failure and success on the battlefield. Enjoy, then, the tales of heroes Gideon, Samson, and the like, along with the gruesome trickery of Jael, as emblems of those vicissitudes. Remember, this part of the early history of the people of Israel reflects the concerns of those who wrote it upon their return from exile some five centuries later, as those later Israelites tried to determine – just as their ancestors newly entered into the Promised Land did – how to choose their leaders, how to resist the lure of strange peoples and strange gods, how to know what God wants of them, and how to live their lives with faith in the God who guides them and upholds them.