Friday, June 8, 2012

Judges & Israel's Exile (part 1 of 2)

In the book of Judges, we encounter exile and exodus as a particularly significant theme.  The exile of foreign subjugation and oppression would come when “The Israelites did evil before the Lord by worshiping the Baals” (2:11), and when “They abandoned the Lord God of their ancestors Who brought them out of the land of Egypt” (2:12a).  The exile would take the form of the Lord handing Israel “over to robbers who plundered them.  He turned them over to their enemies who lived around them” (2:14b).  In this situation, “Whenever they went out to fight, the Lord did them harm, just as He had warned and solemnly vowed He would do” (2:15a). 

Through the monotonous cycle of these repetitive exiles, “They suffered greatly” (2:15b).  However, exodus would never be far away, as “The Lord raised up leaders who delivered them from these robbers… When the Lord raised up leaders for them, the Lord was with each leader and delivered the people from their enemies while the leader remained alive” (2:16,18a).  This was because “The Lord felt sorry for them,” in their state of exile, “when they cried out in agony because of what their harsh oppressors did to them” (2:18b), much like Israel groaned under the oppression of Egypt in a previous state of exile that found them in need of an exodus.  Unfortunately, what we also learn is that “When a leader died, the next generation would again act more wickedly than the previous one” (2:19a), which would serve to return them to exilic status. 

So in moving through the book of Judges, we find Israel, as they “did evil in the Lord’s sight” (3:7b), given over to the subjugation of Aram-Naharaim, and their king, Cushan-Rishathaim, for a period of eight years.  God provided exodus under the leadership of a man named Othniel, whom “The Lord’s Spirit empowered” (3:10a).  This was done “When the Israelites cried out for help to the Lord,” and, as we notice the specific language designed to recall the exodus from Egypt under Moses, “He raised up a deliverer for the Israelites who rescued them” (3:9).  Following that deliverance, “The Israelites again did evil in the Lord’s sight,” so “The Lord gave King Eglon of Moab control over Israel” (3:12a).  Exile had come again.  However, “When the Israelites cried out for help to the Lord, He raised up a deliverer for them.  His name was Ehud” (3:15a).  Through and under Ehud, exile was overcome by exodus.     

After Edud’s death came Shamgar.  We do not know much of his story, save that “he killed six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad and, like Ehud, delivered Israel” (Judges 3:31b).  Though this is all that we are able to learn of him, we can glean from this very short presentation that Israel was in some manner of subjection to the Philistines and were in need of deliverance.  Yes, they were in exile and in need of exodus.  Though the author shortens the now familiar (to us, and undoubtedly Israel would tell a longer story as part of its oral-telling of its history) story a great deal, we could easily elaborate and add the fact of idolatry, the anger of the Lord, the groaning of the people, and the extension of God’s grace to them, thus rounding out the presentation.  

Immediately following the brief account of Shamgar, we come upon the tale of Deborah and Barak, which begins with “The Israelites again did evil in the Lord’s sight after Ehud’s death” (4:1).  By now, the reader of this history knows what is coming, as a picture of a faithful and powerful God is being painted with intricate detail.  What happened as a result of the evil, which we can assert was idolatry?  “The Lord turned them over to King Jabin of Canaan” (4:2a).  Yet another instance of God’s people being placed in subjection to a man who does not know the God of Israel.  Very quickly, with another prominent echo of the language to be found in association with the Egyptian exodus account (which is quite determinative for the way that exile and exodus will be viewed throughout the entire history of Israel, to this day), the people that were once again in exile from the promises of their God “cried out for help to the Lord” (4:3a), having been “cruelly oppressed…for twenty years” (4:3b). 

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