Imperfect People

We live in distressing times. Every day there are news reports that cause anxiety and uncertainty. Pick your issue: wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, the immigration crisis, political divisions, random mass murders, the national debt, the rise of autocratic extremists, and moral ambiguity. Many Americans testify to a sense of foreboding, feeling that democracy itself is being threatened.

Hebrews 11:32 refers to such a time in Israel’s history, the distressing days of the Judges. It was a turbulent time. The obscure Old Testament book of Judges is full of stories of strange events and strange characters that are hard to understand and even harder to explain.

It describes a time (about 400 years) between the Exodus and the beginning of Israel’s monarchy. It is an historical bridge from the occupation of the Promised Land under Joshua to the anointing of Israel’s first kings. The book tells the stories of twelve civil and military leaders who led the tribes of Israel into battle against  powerful nations that threatened their survival.

During the time of the Judges, Israel was a loose confederation of tribes. They had not completed the task of conquering Canaan. The religion of the Canaanites was a persistent threat to their devotion to the Lord (Judges 2:10-19). Their spiritual compromise is expressed in the key verse of Judges. “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 17:6). This theme is repeated later in the book (Judges 21:25).

The New Testament teaches us that we are learn from the experiences of God’s people in the Old Testament. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

A few of the lessons we learn from reading the strange book of Judges are: (1) The Lord wants his people to worship him as ruler. (2) When his people neglect  to acknowledge him, trouble follows. (3) Enemy nations are tools God uses to discipline his people and drive them back to dependency on him (Judges 2:14). (4) The Lord is gracious and merciful. When his people return to him, he is ready to forgive them. In the book of Judges we can see a four-fold cycle repeated: rebellion against God, retribution by God, repentance toward God, and rescue from God (under the leadership of one of his Judges).

We find the names of four of the judges in Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. They apparently represent the other eight. They were not priests or kings, but warriors who were called by God to deliver his people in times of trouble. In spite of some obvious moral and spiritual  flaws, they are held up before us as examples of faith. They are Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah (Hebrews 11:32).

Gideon (Judges 6-8) is distinguished for his unlikely victory over the vast Midianite army with an underwhelming 300 fighting men. All the credit for this victory went to the Lord. Other notable acts of faith were his tearing down of images of Baal, construction of an altar to the Lord, and his refusal to accept kingship, declaring that “the Lord will rule” over Israel (Judges 8:23).

Barak was called to be a leader in Israel by the prophetess Deborah who spoke for God. She summoned Barak from the tribe of Naphtali to fight against the Canaanite army (Judges 4:7). He agreed to lead the armies of the tribes of Naphtali, Zebulon, and Issachar on the condition that Deborah join him and share in the leadership (Judges 4:8). The eighth chapter of Judges is Deborah’s song of praise to God celebrating the victory of the Lord ever his enemies.

Samson may be the most familiar of the Judges. Every child in Sunday School has heard of this strong man’s exploits, as well as his moral failures. He may have displayed more faith in God at the time of his death than he did during his career as an unlikely hero (Judges 13-15).

Jephthah was a born leader of men, a warrior, who lived on the fringes of Israelite society, estranged from his family (Judges 11:1-3). When his neighbors called on him to lead them into battle against the forces of Ammon (Judges 11:4-11), “the Spirit of the Lord” confirmed his call (Judges 11:29). The Bible says that when the Israelite army under Jephthah fought the Ammonites, “the Lord gave them into his hands” (Judges 11:32).

His story is complicated by a dreadful vow he made to God before he went into battle (Judges 11:31). Did he really carry out his pledge to God to offer his daughter as a human sacrifice in return for victory? And if he did, how could the New Testament regard him as a hero of faith? He should have known that the law of God repeatedly prohibited human sacrifice. He should have known that obedience to the law of God overruled any rash vow that would have come from his mouth.

Bible students are divided in their opinions. Some say Jephthah’s daughter was given to Israel’s central sanctuary and dedicated to a life of perpetual virginity in the service of God. Others say that Jephthah was a son of his times and was influenced too much by the pagan practices of Israel’s neighbors and “he did to her as he had vowed” (Judges 11:39).

Clearly, God uses imperfect people. Gideon was fearful. Barak was hesitant and timid. Samson was egocentric and flippant. Jephthah was impulsive. But then, we are all imperfect people, aren’t we?.

God uses imperfect people who depend on him in faith.

Pastor Randy Faulkner