Speaking of sordid stories—the current headlines have nothing on the final chapters of the book of Judges which I read recently with growing loathing. The “disclaimer” says, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” (17:6 & 21:25) Since they had already turned away from God in favor of pagan gods, these are the sorts of things that seemed “right” to them:
Abimelech killed 69 of his half-brothers and convinced the people of Shechem to make him their king solely on the grounds that he was their relative. The whistle-blower went unheeded. After three years, the citizens finally caught on that they’d made a poor choice. Abimelech cared only for himself and for power, not for them. But when they resisted, Abimelech slaughtered them all and demolished their city. (He met his end when a woman dropped a big stone on his head.) (Judges chapter 9)
Micah stole 1100 pieces of silver from his mom. When she found out, she blessed him (!) and dedicated that silver to be made into an idol for him to worship! He made other religious trapping to go with it and even hired his own priest to serve his manmade religion—concluding that the Lord would bless him for it. (Chapter 17)
An unnamed man went to retrieve his runaway concubine. On the way back home, they overnighted in the territory of Benjamin. That night they were thronged by a gang of perverts who gang-raped the woman and left her dead. The man rounded up an army from all over Israel to take revenge on the Benjaminites, who refused to hand over the culprits. After three bloody battles, 40,000 of the Israelites were dead and 25,100 of the Benjaminites—all but 600 of them. Then, feeling sorry for their “cousins” whom they had almost wiped out, the Israelites sat down and wept and then took more drastic measures to procure wives for them. (Chapters 19-21)
That’s enough! Enough to make one sick! These are the kinds of things that happen when people do what they think is right. Are we any different today? Should we be surprised at how low society stoops when they have turned their backs on God?
One more story, though. After all the sordid stories of Judges, I turned the page and breathed a sigh of relief! There is Ruth, a bright spot of faithfulness and hope in the midst of all that darkness. God was still at work, preparing the way for the Savior who would be Ruth’s descendant. Interestingly, it was a foreigner (she was a Moabite) who showed this unfaithful nation the faithfulness of God.
Jeremiah has a lot to say about peace. He pens the word “shalom” 31 times in the book that bears his name. But it’s mostly about false hopes of false peace based on false prophets’ promises of peace for people rebelling against God, refusing to listen to Him, and plotting against their neighbors (6:10, 14; 9:8; 23:16-17 et al.).
Of course they hoped for peace, especially protection from the threatening Babylonian and Egyptian superpowers (e.g. 14:19) which were playing tug-of-war over them. But what God promises them instead is destruction and devastation. In fact, this is what happened and is mourned by the same writer in his book of Lamentations which mentions “shalom” only once: “Peace has been stripped away!” (3:17)
In the end there is hope—but only under God’s conditions. After all the judgment and devastation, God will heal, restore peace, rebuild the ruined nation, cleanse his people of their sins and forgive their rebellion. This is the only positive reference to peace in the book:
“Nevertheless, the time will come when I will heal Jerusalem’s wounds and give it prosperity and true peace. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Israel and rebuild their towns. I will cleanse them of their sins against me and forgive all their sins of rebellion. Then this city will bring me joy, glory, and honor before all the nations of the earth! The people of the world will see all the good I do for my people, and they will tremble with awe at the peace and prosperity I provide for them.” (Jeremiah 33:6-9)
When I read about the people of that day, I want to shake those deluded peace-dreamers awake and help them get a grip on the source of true peace. But no, they had to suffer excruciatingly for their willful blindness. How about us today? I pray God will have mercy on us, opening our eyes to see the way to true peace. And most of all, I look forward to the rule of the Prince of Peace on this earth.
Your kingdom come! Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven! Amen!!!
I think God has a great sense of humor and has included lots more of it in the Bible than we ever see. After reading Psalm 2 this morning, where God is laughing at those puny kings and leaders who shake their fist at him, I turned to Genesis 11.
Human leaders get together saying, “Come, let’s build a tower up to heaven and make a great name for ourselves—or else we might be scattered over the earth” (which is what God had commanded Noah’s descendants to do in Genesis 9:1).
God says, “Come, let’s go down and see what those people are doing and confuse their language.”
Man’s rebellions ambitions and God’s sovereign plans—which wins out? God’s, of course! I’m glad I’m on his side.