Judges 17–21: Idolatry & Degeneracy

Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 9: Tuesday

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Judges 21:35

This last sentence in Judges aptly summarizes the book. The events in Tuesday’s Bible reading of Judges 17–21, recount idolatry, wanton lasciviousness and homosexuality, gang rape, and war between the tribes of Israel—a picture of wretchedness, but not an anomaly from prior events recorded in Judges.

When I was in college, all sophomores were required to take humanities. The first topic studied right out of the blocks was the Bible. Needless to say, this wasn’t done with an eye to letting the Bible speak for itself or even with decent scholarship in handling the text, but with the purpose of attempting to deconstruct and destroy the authority and integrity of the Scriptures. I still remember my professor, who, by the way, was a member of one of the prominent liberal churches in town, stating that the nature of God in the Bible changed from being wrathful to being loving as Israel became more and more civilized over the years. I had only been a Christian a couple of months, but I wrote a paper challenging his words, providing proof from the Bible that God was the same without shadow of turning or change, and that His holiness, goodness and love are found throughout the Scriptures (have you ever looked at how often Jesus spoke of judgment?), and that far from becoming more civilized or moral, Israel, despite times of repentance and revival, in reality had a default setting of idolatry and degeneracy. I earned an A on that paper, and it’s the only one I kept from my undergraduate years.

When you read chapters like these from Judges, the events could have come straight out of any of today’s big city metro areas or a television network series. Man’s default setting of idolatry and degeneracy continues. These dark events of the past and today highlight the mercy of God that He would send His Son to our evil world to suffer and die for sin.

Christians easily forget, cocooned as some of us are, who we were and the death and wrath we have been delivered from. The book of Judges could have been written about you or about me. Our culture, personality or family background may have prevented us from falling into the bottomless evil recorded in Judges, but we are all rebels at heart.

Much of the church today has forgotten the reality of our default setting, and a vigilance for truth and an earnestness of love within the Christian community has dwindled, while the culture determines preaching and teaching as Christian leaders seek fame and a following. The other day when I was reading on the background of 1 Corinthians, I found a quote from J. D. Moores that Anthony Thiselton uses in his commentary:

“Paul (in contradistinction to postmodern emphases upon textual indeterminacy1) “does not think…that the identity of the message in a piece of communication is in any sense determined by what it means for those at the receiving end. For him it is rather their identity than that of the message which is determined by their response. To subject him to the criteria of present-day reception or reader response theory would be to turn his ideas on the subject upside down” (Moores’ italics).”2

We live in the days of the Judges. There are sporadic periods of repentance, but far too many Christians think and do what is right in their own minds and in their own eyes. Their attitude towards the Bible is that the identity of its message is what they determine it to be, but in actuality who they are is revealed by their response to the Word of God.

If you think I exaggerate go into any evangelical church and ask its leaders and members what they think about marriage and child rearing, about the role of women, about homosexuality, about abortion. Ask what they think about discernment of heresy and how they determine which study publications are used and taught in their church. Ask how they treat and care for their members who are struggling in difficult circumstances. Ask if their church structure is determined by those who are godly or by those who are connected and successful in their careers. Ask if their leaders are, as Paul enjoined Timothy to be, examples of “speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.” Ask whether they submit to the Bible or the Bible submits to them.

As long as the church does what is right in its own eyes, we are not salt, we are not light to those who surround us.

Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1Follow the link to the Wikipedia article, “Indeterminacy,” for a brief definition.
2Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 16.

Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter

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