Scripture Reading: Judges 1:1-36, Genesis 49:8-12, Psalm 34:17
I still remember the misguided giddiness I felt when my eighth grade English teacher announced we would be reading Romeo and Juliet. I knew little of Shakespeare at the time, beyond the belief that he was someone I should read and appreciate. All I really knew of the star-crossed pair was that they, and their love story, were famous.
So when I came to the end of the play, I was livid. Romeo and Juliet were both dead, and there was no happily ever after. What sort of love story was this?
It isn’t one, really. It’s a tragedy. Every twist and turn that leads to the demise of the young couple is meant to bring an ache to our hearts, because we realize how easily it could have been avoided. We’re meant to feel upset and distressed at the ending. That’s how tragedy works.
The book of Judges is the tragic, true story of the people of Israel ignoring God’s instructions, and then abandoning their faith to live like their pagan neighbors. After God’s people endured 400 years of slavery in Egypt, followed by forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Joshua led Israel into the promised land. Toward the end of his life, Joshua warned the Israelites to worship the Lord and serve Him only, and instructed them to drive the Canaanite people out of the land, so they would not be tempted to follow a false religion (Joshua 24:14-15).
But these opening verses in the book of Judges warn us that the Israelites didn’t obey. They repeated the sins of the Egyptians and enslaved the Canaanite people. They failed to drive the Canaanites out completely, and failed to fully establish a land of their own. And like the opening lines of Romeo and Juliet, we are warned that what we are about to read is a tragedy.
In Judges, the people of Israel forsake the Lord and adopt the worship practices of the Canaanites. They experience chaos and catastrophe in a time of unprecedented violence and oppression, led by mostly corrupt and cowardly judges. The Israelites become almost unrecognizable as the people of God. And then the book of Judges abruptly ends, with everyone doing whatever seems right to them (17:6). As readers, we’re left with a sense of longing for how things ought to be.
But God continues to work. The book of Ruth tells us that during this time, famine in Israel sent Naomi’s family to Moab, where her son married a woman named Ruth before he died. Ruth, a Moabite, pledged to stay with Naomi, an Israelite, and embrace the God of Israel. She went on to give birth to Obed, King David’s grandfather. From this lineage came Jesus, the Savior of the world. Our hope, the hope of all creation, is rooted in a foreign widow’s decision to follow God during the bleak time of the judges.
I pray that as we read Judges, we will discover the source of true redemption, and turn back to the One who redeems. For when “the righteous cry out… the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17).
We can draw hope from the fact that God continues to work through morally compromised, deeply flawed people and circumstances. He isn’t limited by our shortcomings. He isn’t stopped by the brokenness in our world. His story—and because of Him, our story—is not one of tragedy, but one of profound beauty and hope in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Jessica Lamb consumes books, tea, and street-style tacos with equal ferocity. When she’s not working as the managing editor for She Reads Truth, she can be found singing Broadway tunes off-key or traveling. She lives with her husband, daughter, beloved mutt, and tolerated chickens in Nashville, TN.