The quarterly bible study that two of our Sunday school classes use included a study of the book of the Judges. One teacher said he was glad that part of this quarter was over with because of the dismal cycle of the fall of the people into oppression, the outcry to God for relief and the divine response to bring a champion (judge) to the fore to deliver the people. It can make one wonder if people ever really get what God has done and is doing. It also makes the teachers ask if people never really care. I understand the concerns. Who wants to teach and preach if people simply fall back into old habits over and over again? I think though that Judges gives us an insight into the leadership God provides.
The cycle in the book of Judges shows us a God who cares so much for the covenant people that the best leaders are provided in the darkest times. Particular leaders are given that have the characteristics to overcome the problems faced by the people. This cycle is demonstrated in the stories of the scriptures and in our own history.
One who reads the Pentateuch (the books of Moses) sees that Moses was needed for his leadership skill and not his combat skill. He was given wisdom so that he may decide cases between the people in keeping with the revealed Law.
When Israel’s problem is the oppression brought by the Philistines, Samuel, Saul, and David are used by God to provide, guidance, battlefield victory, and development of the institutions to keep Israel safe from further incursions from the sea.
Jesus does not bring to the Judeans and Galileans anything like Saul and David provided. He brought a means by which a godly community can have and practice grace and truth while being able to forgive its’ members. What about the Roman oppressors? They can join the community too. This “gentile ministry” is how Peter and Paul understood the message of Jesus to apply.
There are many other examples of great leaders provided in dark times. Leo the Great kept Rome alive and functioning while the Western Empire collapsed. Augustine of Hippo was used by God to provide a means of acknowledging the realities of sin and grace during the same time. When the medieval period was giving way to technological development including the printing press, Augustine’s example help Luther and Calvin evaluate the decay of the church of their times.
David Lipscomb used his magazine The Gospel Advocate to help feed and clothe people in Middle and West Tennessee in the aftermath of the civil war.
My point is that during dark times Judges reminds us that God provides leaders for the covenant people. While many bewail that there are no great leaders at this moment in church history, we must remind ourselves that often this is a parochial issue. We see our corner of the world. Divinely inspired leaders are given where and when they are needed. Perhaps, things are not as bad as we would like to believe? Maybe we are not practicing our faith in ways that allow us to help develop the leaders we need? Or, perhaps worst of all, we are looking for leaders we want but do not need?
I do not know if affirmative answers to these questions will put us on the right track. I think they are the questions we should ponder for a while and ask what will I do if I answer “yes” to any of them.