Like most high school kids, I may have had a friend or two whose parents were incredibly trusting and, when they went out of town and left said friend to manage himself, would casually mention that there was a key to the liquor cabinet. They trusted that there was no need to hide it. Silly parents.
You’d think that our first hangover would have taught us a lesson. Or the seventh? I stopped counting. It didn’t occur to me to think that I (along with my friends) was betraying the trust of our good parents. After all, we knew our limits and could decide for ourselves how to enjoy our weekends, especially when parents happened to be away. I was responsible. I always made it to work (even if I felt like crap and was in an awful mood, which made work painful). This was my responsibility gauge: I never called in sick.
If I had kept a journal I could have recorded my mistakes. I could have recorded all the details of my weekends—the good and the bad—to remind me of what happened so that I could learn a lesson. Instead, I relied on memory and like most teenagers, I recalled the fun vividly and ignored the penalty.
The Book of Judges is filled with people who thought like I did, which is why much is made of the fact that, during this stretch, the Israelites lacked their own king. Left to their own governance, they lived as they pleased. Shockingly, this turned out badly. Since their actions routinely garnered God’s wrath, they found themselves under the thumb of harsh outside rulers.
When they couldn’t take their situation under these rulers any longer, they prayed for God’s help, promising obedience, etc. (much like people who pray for a hangover to vanish with the promise that they will never drink again). Give it to God, though; for the most part, he gives them ANOTHER chance (and another, and another, and another…) by eradicating the people who control them. Maybe they had no worthwhile way of recording their history so they could brush up every once in a while.
You’d think he’d just wipe THEM out and be done with it.
This is why I felt a bit bad when their oppressors were slaughtered—and this happens to several people. Seems like the Israelites—to some degree, at least by God’s standards—deserved their harsh treatment. Yes, no one deserves to be enslaved or treated as harshly as they were. However—and perhaps this is the point—this seemed like the only way they learned a lesson, for the moment they got comfortable, they forgot their morals and which God they served.
To some extent, this makes for a boring read—you know what’s going to happen, like watching a cheesy horror movie. That’s why the most interesting point in Judges (in the beginning of this Book) is the first mention of writing.
Returning from a battle, one of God’s chosen judges of Israel, Gideon encounters a stranger from Succoth, from whom he asks for a list of the 77 officials of his town. The stranger writes this information down (8:14). Gideon uses this information to then hunt down and punish these men. If you’re one of those men, the punishment is the integral detail. For me, it’s the stranger’s action. It signifies something massive: apparently people could write.
The power of the written word cannot be over stated. As I’ve read the Bible, I’ve wondered: since most of it is based on stories passed down orally, how much has been shaped? I assumed this was unavoidable, for people didn’t know how to write. This book proves me wrong.
I do wish that someone would have embraced this skill and put to tablet or scroll, etc., everything they’d been through so that people would remember lessons with a bit more clarity. Moses did it, right? But he was in a position of power. So if average people could have also done this, then perhaps they would have had a better shot of avoiding the same mistakes repeatedly.
It’s easy to forget things when stories are told. But if you have a text, you can review these any time you wish. If you only rely on experience, you end up in a situation I found myself when I was growing up and had the opportunity to drink: the last time couldn’t have been as bad as I’d remembered, could it?