The Old Testament Book of the Judges is not one that is often read for pleasure. But this autumn, Lake Murray's ladies' Bible study, Lady Bereans, is plumbing the depths of this amazing book.
Why Judges, of all books? Well, last fall we studied Joshua, and then in the spring we studied Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, which has been called the "New Testament Joshua," with all its talk of our inheritance in Christ.
And now we're reading the rest of the story.
I admit it: I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of studying Judges at first. But I am becoming entralled with the stories told in this oft-overlooked gem. So, with the aid of Crosswalk.com's wonderful online resources (Hebrew lexicon, encyclopedias, commentaries), I've been learning much about the Judges. And much about myself.
You see, the Israelites kept worshipping idols. They'd give lip service to God whilst their heart wandered, entranced by all the pagan cultures that surrounded them, whose very existence was the fault of Israel's disobedience in not ridding their inherited land of these dudes. It's been a back-and-forth thing: first Israel followed God, then they started worshipping Baal too, then they turned back to God alone, then they bowed down before Baal as well.
This back-and-forth thing changed subtly in the tenth chapter. Israel then worshipped the gods of ALL the surrounding cultures (there's a sizable list of these gods), and they FORSOOK the Lord their God. They turned their back on Him. No longer content to worship BOTH pagan gods and the Lord, they worshipped only the pagan gods.
And was God ever steamed. When their enemies closed in on them, God told them not to cry out to Him for help. God stated (according to the King James version), "Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation" (Judges 10:14).
Yet when Israel not only cried out to God but also rid themselves of their pagan idols, God's "soul was grieved for the misery of Israel." My study Bible notes that another translation might read, "God could no longer endure the misery of Israel."
And He forgave them. He delivered them by sending a captain for their forces to lead them into battle against their enemies. He sent them Japhthah. He forgave, then restored. He heard them, then answered them.
This chapter reminds me of God's great mercies. His people had totally turned their backs on Him, walking away to worship nothingness. Yet, His heart was still with them. And as He readily forgave a repentant Israel, so will He forgive me/us when we repent.
And that's why I love the idea of corporate confession. We can indeed sin on our own (private sin), yet we can also sin as a body. The General Confession found in the Morning and Evening Prayer in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is also lauded by Richard Foster in his book on prayer as being a model for private and corporate confession:
Almighty and most merciful Father: 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 offended against thy holy laws. 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. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
Judges teaches us that God forgives us, if we confess, repent, and follow Him once again. The General Confession underlines that fact in beautiful language that causes my soul to soar. And His perfect forgiveness brings me comfort like nothing else.