• The Explore the Bible lesson for Jan. 29 focuses on Judges 4:4-10, 12-16.
Well over a decade ago, a World War II veteran in his mid-80’s approached me at the end of a worship service one Sunday morning. His eyes were filled to overflow with tears as he asked, “Pastor, do you think God will ever forgive me for all those people I killed?”
Having no clue as to the nature of the question, we agreed to meet in private that week. During that meeting, he spoke of having been on Iwo Jima during the Marines’ campaign to take it from the Japanese in 1945.
In combat, he did and saw things so horrible he’d never spoken of them to anyone, not even his wife or children. To speak of them would be to relive them. For more than half a century, he’d carried this private agony alone. As his life neared its end, he was seeking to come to peaceful terms with what his nation called on him to do in war that, otherwise, was incomprehensible to him.
Not too long after that private conversation, the old veteran died. I can only pray he finally found the peace he’d been seeking most of his life. At the core of his being, I believe the aging vet was struggling with the conflict between his patriotic duty and the call of Christ on his life.
Wrestling with difficult questions
How does one reconcile this text in Judges and the teachings of Jesus? If we don’t ask and struggle with that question, then this story in Judges is a miniscule footnote in the history of God’s people hardly worth noting. This passage leaves us with more unanswered faith questions that it does answers.
On several occasions in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is reported as saying, “You have heard that it was said … but I say unto you.” In the same sermon, Jesus specifically stated he had not come to undo the law or the prophets but to fulfill them.
In other words, Jesus was saying the meanings of the law and prophets would be fully and completely revealed in his life and teachings. The law and prophets were meant to introduce and point to the work of the Messiah.
How would Jesus read Joshua?
We only get in trouble when we get stuck in the Old Testament, stop reading at Malachi, and fail to continue to the book of Matthew and beyond. It’s a long journey over centuries of time and faith development. In some ways, it’s as if the Old Testament reveals a faith being born, and the New Testament reveals that faith in the process of coming to maturity.
Here is a question worthy of pondering. How might Jesus have interpreted this same text? What would Jesus say about the Israelites waging war on their neighbors in the name of God and at the same time loving our neighbors as our ourselves and praying for our enemies, not seeking their destruction.
Description or prescription?
Yet again, we have one text that describes how the people of God reacted to threat and war. This text is hardly a prescription for how we should conduct ourselves today.
In the broadest sense, this passage in Judges does speak to the issue of being obedient to God. To complete what we started in faithfulness to God. There is no generation of believers that has not needed that lesson repeatedly reinforced.
Yet, it’s at that point where it gets a little tricky.
If a person or government decided today that they had the right to destroy another nation militarily because their God commanded it, would we not ask: “Whose God? Yours or mine?”
Even today, some radicals set off bombs and kill scores of innocents because those innocents, in their opinion, are infidels—people unfaithful to the true God. On the other side of the world, other nations prepare for and conduct war against them, no matter the God they claim to obey.
This is the ongoing struggle to fully understand the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. What can we learn from those who preceded us in this faith journey while, at the same time, living in obedience to the Jesus who gave his life for his enemies?
The world is never more dangerous than when any nation presumes to know exclusively the will of God and act with reckless abandon accordingly. No matter what others may claim, we all remain responsible for exercising the greatest caution when claiming to know the will of God for others.
Glen Schmucker is a hospice and pediatric hospital chaplain in Fort Worth.