Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Judges 7:1–18 and Acts 3:1–11

Judges 7 is all about Gideon and the fight against Midian. Israel is being oppressed, and Gideon is God’s appointed servant to liberate the people. God promises Gideon that a tiny number will serve to defeat the enemy: With...three hundred...I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your heand. Let all the others go to their homes. From an army of thirty-two thousand, Gideon has already allowed the twenty-two thousand who were fearful to return home, and from the ten thousand stalwarts, God says this is too many. Three hundred is enough.

What happens? Tommorow we will read that these three hundred attack a host of Midianites and Amalekites, who lay along the valley as thick as locusts; and their camels were without number, countless as the sand on the seashore. And the trumpets blast, and Gideon’s three hundred scare the bejeezus out of the Midianites and Amalekites, and after the rout begins, the rest of Ephraim joins in the pursuit.

Oreb and Zeeb, the captains of Midian, become symbols of those whom Israel has defeated, and are used as such in the psalm: Do to them as you did to Midian....Make their leaders like Oreb and Zeeb.

All this--indeed, nearly all of the books of Judges and Joshua--can be a little hard to take. It all seems so destructive, and while we all know that ancient life could be very warlike and dangerous (far more so than the twentieth century, in fact), it’s not easy to hear this and then say “The Word of the Lord.” I think the key is to hear it as we hear the text from Acts 3. The people are being saved from a blight of rather horrible oppression. The point of the passage is not about war, or the glories of war, or the fun of being one of the big onrush of Ephraim looting and pillaging and killing once the enemy has turned tail.

The point is that God has intervened, decisively, to save his people from a blight of oppression. The war is just assumed by the writer; the story he is remembering and retelling is about thankfulness to God for the present freedom of Israel, earned by those heroes of yesteryear. It is, I believe, well and good to cringe at the descriptions of bloodshed and slaughter, but I think the author’s point here is not that bloodshed and slaughter are great fun, but that they are horrible, deeply horrible, and that through this military victory, there will be less, not more of such.

It would be a great mistake to read such a story as sanctioning whatever wars we might want today. The point is not that war is a great way to end war. So what is Acts 3 about? God has intervened, decisively, to save this one poor man from his disability and the poverty and oppression it engenders. It took three hundred to defeat the Midianites and the Amalekites, but it took only Peter and John to save this person. And just as with Gideon, the point is not them, but who really is doing the saving. Why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus.

And that’s the point. To the Midianites and the Amalekites, to Gideon and Peter and John, to the Israelite army fearing oppression, to the disabled man at the Beautiful Gate, to all of them, the message is “It is not all about you. Something much bigger is going on here.”

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