• The Explore the Bible lesson for Jan. 22 focuses on Judges 2:11-19.
In his classic book about heaven and hell, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis wrote: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.”
Prone to wander and stray
Perhaps no other Old Testament text so graphically illustrates that statement of Lewis’ than does the text for this week’s study.
On one hand, we have holy God seeking every way possible to bless his people. In these few verses, the writer of Judges points to the history of God’s blessing of his people twice, by recalling their deliverance by God from the land of Egypt (v. 12) and the witness of faith their spiritual ancestors left them as a faith legacy (v. 17).
On the other hand, we have people, very much like ourselves, who tended to stray from God and even openly rebel against the God of their ancestral faith. The tendency of the Israelites to return to God and then stray again would almost be comical if it were not so sad.
Sometime in my early adolescence, I got hung up on guilt and forgiveness. I simply could not find peace within myself about whether God truly had forgiven me for all my sins. I made two professions of faith and was baptized twice, at ages 8 and 12.
Then, on a routine basis, I’d find myself walking down the aisle and “recommitting” myself to Christ. I have no idea what I was doing that made me feel so guilty. All I know is that, somehow or another, publicly admitting my spiritual failures at church provided some modicum of relief.
Finally, in the car on the way home from church one Sunday, my father spoke to me about the issue in front of the entire family. He said something like: “Son, maybe it’s time you start privately following through on your commitment to Jesus instead of constantly dwelling on your failures by making public recommitments.”
It was as if Dad were saying to me that it was time to accept responsibility for completing my promises to God instead of making new ones all the time.
It occurs to me, on the cusp of this new year, perhaps we should also practice that principle. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, perhaps we should look back at commitments we’ve already made and pursue the completion of those before making new promises we know we won’t keep.
Hard to stay true
This chapter in the history of ancient Israelites bears witness to two certain things. God is on his people’s side. God desperately wants to bless us, to bring us from spiritual and moral imprisonment into a new land of freedom and service. The other certainty is how difficult it can be to stay true to our faith commitments.
If we find ourselves yet again repeating sinful behaviors from which we long ago repented only to stumble in once again, we should not despair. We are in good company.
The Apostle Paul confessed: “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:14-15). Paul aspired to more than he was able to accomplish, always taking three steps forward and two steps back. He despised that part of himself that kept stumbling over his own promises to God. Don’t we all?
Thankfully, we have in Romans 8:1 Paul’s answer to his dilemma: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Until the day Jesus takes us home, we will struggle with these bodies that constantly seek self-satisfaction, even if it costs us breaking a sacred promise to God to do otherwise. We have that in common even with the Israelites, our spiritual ancestors.
Love and judgment
Yet, hundreds of years before Paul’s time, these words were written in the book of Judges to bear witness of our God’s patience, willingness to try yet one more time, to continue blessing his people, even if that blessing takes the form of harsh punishment.
Interpreting this text in our generation requires careful thought. This text is not a prescription for how God deals with all people and all nations or even all sin. It is description of how God related to the Israelites millennia ago.
In other words, we must exercise great caution not to take these verses and use them as whips to punish those who fail to measure up to our standard of holiness. We must not presume to speak for God by proclaiming that, if we do this or that, then God will act accordingly. We don’t know how God exercises holy judgment in each generation.
What we do know, from this text and from our own experience is we turn our backs on God at great risk to our well-being on every level of life. It’s a frightful thought what might become of us if God finally said to us, “Thy will be done.”
The grace of God in Christ, as witnessed by Paul swallowed whole in the quagmire of his own humanity, is never-ending, never-failing. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
That doesn’t mean that, now and then, God won’t let us have our own stubborn way so we might learn how much more life-giving is the way of God.
Glen Schmucker is a hospice and pediatric hospital chaplain in Fort Worth.