Sunday School with Judges: Part 3, Exodus, Again and Again

It might be hard to find the gospel in Judges, but I think it's clearly there.

The word "judge" is not really the best description for the protagonists in the book. Many commentators think the word "deliverer" is better. Because that's mainly what the judges did, they delivered Israel from oppression.

If you're familiar with the book of Judges you know it presents us with a cycle that happens over and over again in the book. Things start off good, but Israel slowly turns away from God, becoming tangled in the thorns and snares of the gods of the nations surrounding them. As punishment, God allows Israel to be enslaved and oppressed by her pagan neighbors. Under the heavy yoke, Israel cries out for rescue. God hears the cries of Israel, has pity upon them and sends a judge, a deliverer to set the people free. And this happens over and over.

There's something about the repeated, iterative nature of this cycle that really leaves an impression with you.

Specifically, every rescue in Judges is like a little Exodus, every Judge a little Moses setting the people free. Only this happens over and over. It's Exodus, again and again.

But it's also more than that. Judges is a foreshadowing of God's promise to rescue Israel after the exile that comes with the fall of Israel and Judah. As N.T. Wright likes to point out, Israel's bondage in Egypt wasn't due to sin. The exile, by contrast, was the result of sin. Thus, the liberation of the exiled people of God has to involve the "forgiveness of sins" in a way that wasn't in play with Moses and the Exodus.

But the repeated little Exoduses in Judges are very much associated with the forgiveness of sin, as each season of bondage and oppression is a consequence of Israel's sin. In this, the book of Judges stands between Exodus and the Exile, an echo of Exodus but also a foretaste of a coming grace: the forgiveness of sins.

And what I think is really powerful about Judges is its picture of the iterative nature of this grace and forgiveness. In Exodus and the exile, the frame is a one-time event, a linear, serial process. But in Judges, grace is iterative, a repeating cycle. In Judges, it's grace again and again.

That insight into the repeated, iterative nature of grace is unique to Judges. And once again, this is a message that will preach. Because who doesn't need grace again and again?

Yes, we all need the big, climatic salvific moments in our lives. The Big Emancipation. We all need Exodus. But in the day to day grind of the spiritual life, trying to live into the long faithfulness, the message of Judges rings more true. Few of us make steady, cumulative progress on the way to holiness and heaven. Our spiritual lives feel more like a cycle. Good, strong, spiritual seasons falling back into disobedience and darkness. And then back into the light. Faith. Disobedience. Bondage. Rescue. Over and over again.

So that's the gospel according to the book of Judges. What I need in life, what we all need, is grace.

But we need it again and again.

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