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A Midweek Devotional - Rock Bottom

From Unfolding Grace:

“Israel’s unraveling in the book of Judges is uncomfortable and painful to watch. It leaves us asking questions: Is there any hope? Will they remain in the land, or will God exile them like humanity was exiled from the garden? Can anything, or anyone, end this downward spiral?

This final section of Judges subtly points the way forward with a repeated refrain: ‘In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ If God’s plan of grace is going to continue to unfold through Israel, the people will need a king.”

Wednesday, April 21st

Larger Portion of Scripture - Judges 17-21

Focused Passage for Reflection - Judges 21

Reflecting on the Text:

Recently, a friend told me the story of his college years and early 20’s. He intentionally ran away from God, trying to deconstruct the (faulty) “religious” shaping of his childhood. And my friend is a good runner. He talked about trying to empty his mind of God until finally, he took one step over that ledge…and it terrified him. He said there was nothing there. Emptiness and despair. The Lord gave him that gift of a peek into nothingness, and my friend turned back. How about the Israelites?

I really don’t like this portion of Judges. It is empty, disturbing, terrifying. The whole book is a downward cycle of idolatry and self, and at some point, a downward cycle must hit bottom…rock bottom. These last chapters of Judges feel pretty rocky.

Let’s recount these last chapters. The cycle begins, as it always does, with THE SIN of idolatry. But then it moves on to mercenary idolatry. A Levite sells out to the highest bidder, taking his carved image with him. And with his blessing, a tribe commits wholesale murder.

Next, another Levite embarks on a journey of sexual sin which only leads to more sexual sin. To save his hide he gives his concubine to the crowd of Benjaminites who ravage and murder her. Ironically, the Levite is appalled and calls for a civil war. The Israelites gather and defeat their brothers, then feel bad about it. So, they exact retribution against other brothers who sat on the sidelines, then steal their virgins so Benjamin can have wives.

If you are in Christ, you are a spiritual child of Abraham, and this is your spiritual lineage. It’s a gut punch. The downward spiral has hit rock bottom. So what are we to do with this?

The last verse of the book seems to at least diagnose the problem. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) But what king were they missing? The kingship had not yet been established and certainly, the people were missing this earthly leadership. But there seems to be more meaning to this verse. There has to be.

The people of Israel spent the entire period of the Judges running away from God. And they were good runners. They effectively deconstructed their “religious” foundation and ran wholly across the line. They passed into the dark emptiness and kept going.

Maybe I don’t like this passage because the darkness disturbs me. Maybe, probably, I don’t like it because it shows me what we are capable of. The downward cycle keeps spiraling away from God and the landing isn’t pretty.

Judges is a wake-up call. God’s ways are perfect. God’s ways are good. He is our King…the King of kings. Let us embrace His rule and reign in our lives…because He is worthy, and because we make poor self-kings. That’s part of the story of Judges. But there is more.

This chapter feels empty because it is empty. We read it and we wouldn’t blame God for destroying these dirty, rotten sinners and starting over. We wouldn’t be surprised if the Bible ended with Judges. But it doesn’t. Judges 21 is not the end of the story, for Israel or us. God’s grace continues to unfold because He made a covenant promise. And though we are unfaithful, He is not.

In the darkness of Judges, there is hope because God did not abandon His people. He provided a king in the land, and the king pointed to the King of kings. The redeemers of Judges rescued the people for a time. Our Redeemer has come to save His people for all time.

I don’t know about you but I don’t like these chapters. And yet, I need them. I need the reminder that as bad as it is, God is a God of grace and mercy. You need that same reminder. No, it’s not that we can look at the chapters and feel better that our sin struggles aren’t as bad as theirs. We can look at these chapters and know that as bad as our personal journey has been, our God does not forget His promise. Jesus has come that we might have life and have it abundantly. Repent and believe in the gospel.

Questions for personal reflection:

  • Are you haunted by the memory of your past sins?How does this account from Judges along with the reminder of God’s grace in Jesus Christ provide hope?

  • Are you locked up in a struggle with current sins? How does this account impact your focus, drawing you away from yourself and to the King?

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