Stuck in the same cycle (October 16, 2022)

A lesson for October 16, 2022.

Uniform Lesson for October 16, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Judges 6:1-2, 7-16

If you found Moses’ final song discouraging last week, get ready for the chorus built into the stories of Judges this week. This material is fraught with difficulties around the theme of conquest and God’s behavior, making us ask: how does God’s election of Israel justify or call into question Israel’s conquest of Canaan? These stories also reflect a pattern regarding our human behavior that continues to this day. Over and over again in Judges, God’s people rebel and find themselves in bondage to other nations. They then cry out and God sends them a deliverer such as Gideon, Deborah or Jesus. Over and over again, like clockwork or hamster wheels! What are the roots of this cycle and how can we break out of it? Or is that even the question we should be asking?

God’s people sin

Each of the stories in Judges begin with the same opening move: God’s people did “what was evil in the sight of the Lord” and the Lord “gave” them into the hands of one of their enemies (v. 1). The sin is usually cast as the sin of idolatry. God’s people forget the hand that brought them here and go off chasing other gods that may be more amenable to their wants and more manageable regarding their needs. Having been set free from Pharaoh, they enslave themselves to other principalities and powers such as greed, success, social prominence or worldly power and they find themselves right back where they started — trying to make bricks with little straw, day after day after day. God is trying to make a nation out of Israel but Israel seems to prefer the life of slaves.

Maybe one of the most remarkable aspects of Scripture is its lack of surprise regarding human sinfulness. It just occurs — over and over again. The writers don’t seem to have any need to explain it; it just is. Then us as God’s people do what is evil in God’s sight and God gives us over to our enemies. It is just who we are and how the story goes. Whenever and wherever God makes a little space for God’s people, we mess it up and find ourselves in bondage once again.

Surely that is why some of the old confessions speak to me with increasing truth and wisdom as the years go by. One goes, “we have erred and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us” (The Hymnbook, 9). Say what you will: this is who we
are and who we will continue to be. This is where any biblical chorus must begin.

God’s people cry out

The second stanza of Judges’ song is as consistent as the first. Once we find ourselves enslaved again, we cry out like the Israelites back in Egypt (v. 7). The verb is the same and God’s response is the same. God responds by “sending” a prophet and “raising up” a judge/savior/deliverer like Moses and Miriam, like Joshua and Gideon, like Deborah and Esther and Jesus (v. 8). Gideon here joins a long line of servants whom God uses for deliverance. Like others, he questions and protests, calling “why has all this happened to us?” (v. 13). Like others, he points out his disqualifications for the office, stating “my clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family” (v. 15). Sound familiar? Like others, he gets God’s go-to response: “I will be with you” (v. 16). Yes, it is remarkable how simply and honestly Scripture acknowledges our sin. Yet, just as simply and honestly, and perhaps more remarkably, God invites us to participate in our deliverance — not because of our abilities but because of God’s. Even Jesus said to his disciples, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (John 14:12). Why? Because God will be with us in the Spirit. God delivers us

Surely most of the heavy lifting in this week’s passage must be around the means of God’s deliverance: “You shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them” (v. 16). Who are God’s enemies today that we are sent to strike down? Dare we name them: racism, materialism, schismatic denominationalism. Keep going? Unfettered nationalism, unregulated capitalism, unrestrained environmental destruction. We still need deliverance, but we need to worry about who and what we call the enemy.

For discussion:

Is the cycle in Judges still going today?

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