Saturday, June 9, 2012

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

In response to the oppression and “groaning” of Israel (their crying out, though it is always helpful to remember the groaning of the exodus account) God raised up Deborah and Barak, so as to provide His deliverance, and to lead His people back to the place of His glorious purpose of being a light to the nations from which they had again fallen (exile to exodus).  “The Lord routed” (4:15a) the oppressive enemy, just as He had done to Egypt at the Red Sea, and “That day God humiliated King Jabin of Canaan before the Israelites” (4:23). 

What follows in Judges is the “victory song” of Deborah and Barak.  In yet another nod to the story of the Egyptian exodus, as the Scriptures continue to point to the supreme importance of exile and exodus as a dominant theme and hermeneutical guide, we see that this “victory song” is very much in the mold of the song that was said to have been sung by Moses and the Israelites following the Lord’s victory over Egypt at the Red Sea.  Unfortunately, Israel, on the whole, proved to be extraordinarily stubborn and slow learners.  In spite of the cycle of exile and exodus, of subjugation and deliverance, of the clear implementation of God’s promises that were always very much in line with what can be discovered in the blessing and cursing passages near the ends of both Leviticus Deuteronomy, God’s people consistently fell into idolatry. 

After the time of Deborah and Barak, we are immediately informed that “The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord turned them over to Midian for seven years” (6:1).  It is said that “The Midianites overwhelmed Israel” (6:2a).  There is something new that goes along with this exile, in that “Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites, and the people from the east would attack them.  They invaded the land and devoured its crops all the way to Gaza.  They left nothing for the Israelites to eat, and they took away the sheep, oxen, and donkeys” (6:3-4).  Not only that, but “When they invaded with their cattle and tents, they were as thick as locusts.  Neither they nor their camels could be counted.  They came to devour the land” (6:5). 

Speaking of Deuteronomy, we should take special note of what we have here.  Ironically, the story speaks of the inability to count the people of Midian or their camels.  This, of course, is a reminder of the promises to the patriarchs of Israel, in that their descendant would not be able to be numbered if, that is, they were to walk in the way their God intended for them.  In addition to that, the author speaks of issues with crops and land and livestock and locusts.  Turning to the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, we find God speaking to all of these things in the ultimate context of exile (28:63-68).  Through Moses, God tells His people that ignoring Him (worshiping idols) will result in things such as planting a vineyard but not even beginning to be able to use it (28:30b). 

To that God adds, “Your ox will be slaughtered before your very eyes but you will not eat of it.  Your donkey will be stolen from you as you watch and will not be returned to you.  Your flock of sheep will be given to your enemies and there will be no one to save you” (28:31).  This correlates quite well with the fact that the Midianites and others “took away the sheep, oxen, and donkeys” (Judges 6:4b), does it not?  Yes, God is faithful to His promises.  Mention was made of the invasion force being “as thick as locusts” (6:5), which fits nicely with God’s statement that “You will take much seed to the field but gather little harvest, because locusts will consume it” (Deuteronomy 28:38). 

As our expectations about the pattern have been created, so they are fulfilled and we read, “Israel was so severely weakened by Midian that the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help” (Judges 6:6).  This time, just in case the Egyptian exodus connection, in the larger, narrative context of exile and exodus that dominates the presentation of God’s mission (the Bible) was unclear, the author makes the connection quite explicit, writing that “When the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help because of Midian, He sent a prophet to the Israelites.  He said to them, ‘This is what the Lord God of Israel says: “I brought you up from Egypt and took you out of that place of slavery.  I rescued you from Egypt’s power and from the power of all who oppressed you.  I drove them out before you and gave their land to you.  I said to you: ‘I am the Lord Your God!  Do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are now living!’  But you have disobeyed Me’.” (6:7-10)

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