[Below is part 2 of David Beldman’s Judges Commentary]
In Part I of my review on David Beldman’s Judges commentary I went through three questions this commentary answers well: 1) (how) are the Israelite conquests relevant for today, 2) what is idolatry, and 3), is Samson a hero? Here I will continue with two more questions (an important one being “What about the disturbing and violent passages?”), and offer my final thoughts and overall impression on the commentary.
Question 1: Should We Separate Our Faith from Things Like Politics or the Social Sphere?
Though it is dangerous when we separate our faith from things like politics in order to conveniently compartmentalize issues, this separation is quite prevalent in modern Christianity. Is Judges relevant in this conversation? Very much so. “Judges forces us to confront the reality that faith has everything to do with these matters,” matters of things in the social and/or public sphere. “In fact, it paints for us a disturbing picture of what happens when social order is not oriented toward God and his purposes in the world” (p. 1).
When God’s people in the book of Judges left God out of the picture only to be replaced by human rulers (and they did so often), chaos was sure to ensue. This has great implications for us today and our conquest or hot pursuit of a savior in politics. More often than not we would rather follow a human king than God as king. This is what Judges is about in part: the human tendency to gravitate toward idolatry and to trust our own ways and structures more than we would God and God’s ways.
Being fully committed to Jesus and his cause should never lead someone to “a quietist retreat from the public square” (p. 296). To conveniently compartmentalize one’s faith and one’s politics is to go against the grain of what Scripture calls us to, and that is an undivided allegiance and loyalty to Yahweh as king. God’s people in Judges are shown to have fallen prey to complacency and self-interest, and have sought purpose in human leaders and human structures while repeatedly abandoning their God in the process.
Judges and Self-interest
Judges is in part a critique of self-interest among the people of God. Over and over we are told that God’s people “Again…did evil in the sight of Yahweh” with no regard for the outcome. They thought and acted selfishly, with little regard for the consequences for the land and nation. God’s people also tended to think of themselves as God’s nation, and while this is true up to a point, it was often misunderstood. God called and sustained Israel so that they would be a blessing to the nations, salt and light to the world.
Judges as a Warning
Judges by and large is a “how not to…” for the people of God who constantly flee to political saviors and idolatrous human structures, and a people who haphazardly repent and run to God only when in crisis. These people, though chosen by God to be a light to the nations and the world, gravitate toward hypocrisy, compromise, idolatry, and apathy–especially toward God. Theirs is a blatant disregard for God’s ways and a hyper-urge to gratify their every urge.
God’s people in this narrative never experience rest, peace, and stability because they never really bow the knee to God as king. They continue to perpetuate an unhealthy cycle and continue paying the price. The narrative is a tragic one, as it portrays humans who never experience human flourishing and the good life God wills for his people.
Judges and Grace
Beldman does a good job of showcasing the theme of irony within Judges: that God purposefully uses ironic individuals for his purposes, and also saves in often ironic ways. This, I think, speaks volumes about God as revealed in the whole Bible. The same God who shamed the mighty powers of Egypt and identified with Jewish misfits who had no military training is the same God who ironically converted a dreaded execution symbol, the cross, into a life-giving symbol of hope, life, and redemption. Ours is a God of irony.
In this commentary, Israel’s tendency to prefer flawed human leadership and structures to God is highlighted throughout. Beldman exposes the human heart’s gravitational pull toward idolatry (worship of created things rather than of Creator) and offers sound guidelines for the modern people of God.
Question 2: What About Disturbing Passages in the Book of Judges? Violence?
Beldman writes, “…when violence occurs in Judges (and elsewhere in the Bible for that matter) it is not necessarily endorsed” and that “violence in Judges is a consequence of Israel’s rebellion” (p. 284).
The starting place for this discussion is that violence is outside of God’s will for humans. “All violence is alien to God’s good creation” and is “antinormative—any and all violence runs counter to God’s creational intention for the world” (p. 280). Genesis 1-2 paints a picture for us for God’s will for his creation and for humanity, a picture devoid of any violence and full of balance, harmony, and wholeness, and “Everything as it should be.” “Genesis 3 provides the origins of violence” which is an affront to God’s created order and ends up disrupting it.
Judges speaks into:
Our willingness to trust in human leaders as deliverers and in human structures as being the (only) way for redemption.
Our unwillingness to trust in God as our king and final authority, and our disregard for his ways.
The greatest asset of this commentary is that it brings clarity to obscure passages. I highly recommend this to any Christian who wants to deepen his or her understanding of Judges and learn how to approach this book in general.
If Judges is uncharted territory for you, or if you have trouble navigating its troubled waters (including gruesome passages depicting senseless violence and sexism), give this commentary a chance.
“The powerful idols of individualism, consumerism, and secularism are shaping generations of people who identify as Christians and it is tainting their Christian witness.” (p. 294)
“Judges offers a profound message about the calling of God’s people and the power of idolatry that prevents them from being the salt and light they are called to be” (p. 2).