Home » Various Sermons » Repeated Mistakes and Forgotten Pasts: Judges 6.7-10

Repeated Mistakes and Forgotten Pasts: Judges 6.7-10

(Sorry the formatting is little odd on this one, going from windows to linux and back again messed up  a few things and why I’m just posting this until now, sorry).

“When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”” – Judges 6.7-10

The book of Judges focuses upon a time in Israelite history where they namely had no king, but Yahweh. Moreover the author of the book, in many way discusses the need of this king, as the end of the book notes, that beside the people doing what was right in their own eyes, the true fact that Israel had no central king. Instead of having kings however, the tribes were ruled by a group of people known as the Judges or the deliverers. Moreover while the book of Judges doesn’t start out on the highest note, it is still nonetheless a higher point then the end of the book.

The first deliverer is Othniel, who is related to Caleb and by extension also to the tribe of Judah. For the most part Othniel is the model Judge, he is called by Yahweh play the role of deliverer and judge and does so well. By him all the other characters of the book may be reflected upon. After him comes Ehud ben Gera, who seems anything but Othniel, remains one of the best deliverers of the book. After him comes Deborah and Barak, and here we begin to see the decline of the people, in the character of Barak, whose glory goes to a woman, but even though Barak may show a little lack of faith, there are lower levels for that the heroes of this time will fall too.

After these major Judges however, comes the deliverer Gideon. Gideon is perhaps one of most well known characters of the Old Testament, including the story of Yahweh whittling down his army. But Gideon also comes at a sort crossing points for the book of Judges. While at first he appears to be one the more nobler Judges in the end he still fails (as evidenced by his golden ephod). Before Gideon came as a deliverer, God however sent an unnamed prophet to his people.

“The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.” – Judges 6.1-2

We come again to phrase that is so often seen within this book, the people of Israel have done evil in the sight of Yahweh, they have forsaken him with other gods. The previous Judges so far, Othniel, Ehud, and Deborah and Barak’s story all begin with this same idea, the people were doing wrong in Yahweh’s sight.

What this evil was, isn’t specified directly here, but based on what has happened within the previous narratives and what is described within this one, we get the idea that the Israelites were once again intermarrying with the foreign people and worshiping the other deities of the landi. One could ponder the question of if the sin was indeed intermarriage, how much of this invasion was purely the fault of Israelites themselvesii.

The oppressors this time send the Israelites into caverns to hide away. The dens are probably something that were caused by river erosions into the mountains, but that as Boling notes would make “excellent hiding placesiii.” But while these may indeed be excellent hiding places, they didn’t help in providing the food which they would need as evidenced shortly.

This time Israel’s oppressor is that of the Midian. Midian was the name of a “desert confederation,” one which had a history with Israel beginning really with Moses, in saving the daughters of Jethro (Exodus 12.15-4.31), and the wars which took place in years of wandering (Numbers 25 and 31)iv. One could note that earlier in the book of Judges the Midianites in a sense help bring deliverance through Jael, and yet here they are now the oppressors that Yahweh has sentv.

Now this might sound a bit confusing and off so as an explanation: In Judges 4.11 we read that: “Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.” However in other biblical passages point out that Moses’ father-in-law was a Midianite noting Exodus 3.1 “Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” And Numbers 10.29a “And Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law,” Moses’s father-in-law is a man with many names, however concering Hobab, one could follow the LXX that Hobab in Judges 4.11 is really meant to say Son-in-law following and/or that the Kinites are also a part of a “Midianite leaguevi.” Hence also Midian.

While one may note the similarity in the opening of this narrative, one also has to note the differences, namely that Israelites have yet to call out Yahweh (not until verse six) and that Yahweh has yet to make note of a coming deliverervii.

The people of Israel found themselves in sin yet again, and like each time prior to this instance Yahweh brings judgment to them because of their sin. Moreover Yahweh shows his sovereignty in that while prior to this episode he used foreigner to help his people, here he has used them to oppress his people. The Israelites however sadly must go through a period of harsh trials before they turned back to the Yahweh.

Failure to keep God’s laws is not something to be taken lightly, and we must remember that while yes Yahweh is a god mercy and long-suffering, he is also a just god. The people of Israel refused to heed him, and he was soon forced to bring an a foreign oppressor, the Midianites to turn them back to him. When we turn away from Yahweh we must realized that at times he may be forced to bring in our own Midianites.

“For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.” – Judges 6.3-6

The territory which this story takes place in, that of Manasseh was one the richest territories of the Israel, it’s farmlands were quite fertile, it was located in the prime spot for trade routes and so their oppressor’s were hitting them quite hard indeedviii. Moreover the Midianites would come by just when the people had finish planting and would leave them with nothing, and while the Israelites had no livestock that of the Midianites were so numerous it couldn’t be countedix!

We see here that the people are the Midianites, the Amalekites and the people of the East. As the narration goes on we begin to find more details and oppressor is “amplified” into these three peoplesx. All of whom were nomadic people and who came general from the same area, (making a generally easy group to alliance together). We’ve already made several notes on the Midianites above.

The Amalekites are a people who have long been an enemy associated with Israel, having a hated even before the time of Moses.

The people of the East, or the Kedemites are like the other two primarily a nomadic people and as assumed they came from the east. Perhaps they were from the Syrian Desert, but being desert people would indeed fit why they would have camels instead of horses in dealing with military needsxi.

It is after everything has been taken away from them, their livelihoods and their home, that they at last turn back to Yahweh and call out to himxii. It could be noted as Crossan puts it this verse “is the standard deueronomic phrase for repentancexiii.” After seven years of pure starvation more or less, the Israelites at last turn to Yahweh for an answerxiv.

So often, it is when everything has fallen apart that we finally come to back to God. It is after we have found that going against God has done nothing to help, that we find going along with him, gives us what we need. The people of Israel refused to listen to God until, they were at the point of starvation, and yet they could have turned back to him at any point within those seven years. Some times the only thing Yahweh can do to bring his people back is harsh series of trials, a period of time where we must realize that to follow God and his commands means a better life. (Not necessarily an easier life, but one more fulfilling).

“When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”” – Judges 6.7-10

God sends a prophet and in the period of the Judges this, is a rare happening, (one could note of course Deborah as a prophetess, but also perhaps one could note Samuel who was indeed both prophet and judge)xv. For the other episodes which concerning the Deliverers of Israel, there isn’t any prophet who proceeds the coming a deliverer, (even in the case of Deborah, her role of prophetess and judge are mention in the same breath, and her role of deliverance with Barak plays the more important role).

One can note even as Yahweh’s judgment is quick and harsh, his love and more importantly his mercy as in this particular case he sent not only a deliverer, but prophet alsoxvi.

The words of this Prophet are in many ways generic, reminding the people who Yahweh is and what he has done, and they hark readily toward Exodus 20.2-3xvii. ““I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.” Moreover as the Prophet reminds them of their past history with Yahweh, of what he has done, and still rebukes their sin “you have not followed me,” but he doesn’t abandon his people as shortly is seenxviii. The people should of course had known all that God had done for them in the past, thus their abandonment for Amorite gods, who had done nothing, makes little sensexix.

God tells them to not be afraid of the Amorites, but might be better to translate this as Westerns (which would them contrast the people’s land to the Eastern invadersxx. Moreover referring to it as “don’t fear the gods of the Westerns,” Yahweh is reminding them of all that the people aren’t supposed to intermingling with the gods from this land, but instead are supposed to be focused solely upon Yahwehxxi.

In a way the Israelites here most likely referring to those west of the Jordon are following their gods instead of Yahweh, and so Yahweh sends in an enemy not from that land, but from the east to contend with them. The sad thing would appear that though Yahweh did indeed send a prophet, his message of repentance was not heard.

Yahweh sent a prophet to his people to tell them to remember the past, and namely to do as all prophets do, to tell them to repent. This unnamed prophet, told the people what they should have already known and though his message might not seem unique its words were still important. For, after all they reminded the people what Yahweh had done in the past and what he asked of them. This prophet though unnamed gave an important message to those people. Follow Yahweh, not these false gods of the land, and remember the things that he has done in the past and lean on those for strength.

In many ways we too need to remember to follow Yahweh, and we don’t need some prophet, as we have God’s complete word. Moreover we need to remember to follow the true God, not various idols which may creep up in our lives. After at times it seems so easy to suddenly find ourselves spending more time in other things, and making idols of them, instead of taking time, true time out for God.

Conclusion

Looking at the prologue to Gideon we come to find several different things which take place which seem all too familiar to the reader of Judges, namely that Yahweh’s covenant people have sinned and secondly that he has sent an oppressor to turn them back to them, thirdly when they have cried out to him, God has indeed heard their prayer. But interestingly enough we find that God once again shows that he isn’t bound by any sort of box and instead of sending the normal deliverer he has instead sent a prophet to the people. Calling them to return to him, yet while God can be unpredictable, it seems the people of Israel are not and we see them as is the norm, not heeding the words of the prophet who has been sent to them.

As we reflect on this prologue we might want to remember the truth of the passage that no matter how far we try to run from God he’s still there. That his mercy runs deep and for that matter we see here in very real sense how Yahweh and Jesus are same God. Moreover though we remember that Yahweh is just god, who should be feared, wisdom does begin there. So that while we may try to run away and he will forgive us, we may not like the way in which God tries to bring us back to him. Finally we need to remember that God has given us his word through his book now and his words found in the Bible are our prophets which he sends, what we should heed.

Endnotes:

i Schneider 100 (From Schneider, Tammi J. Judges Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry (Berit Olam Series). New York: Liturgical, 2000. Print.)

ii Schneider 101

iii Boling 122

iv Boling 122 (From Boling, Robert G. Judges (Anchor Bible). New York: Anchor Bible, 1974. Print.)

v Schneider 100-1

vi Schneider 72-73

vii Boling 123

viii Matthews 81 (From Matthews, Victor H. Judges and Ruth (New Cambridge Bible Commentary). New York: Cambridge UP, 2004. Print.)

ix Schneider 101

x Crossan 155

xi Davis 139

xii Matthews 81-2

xiii Crossan 155 (From JBC “Judges”)

xiv Davis 139

xv Boling 125

xvi Davis 139

xvii Matthews 82

xviii Matthews 82

xix Schneider 102

xx Boling 127

xxi Schneider 102

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