Our Faithlessness, His Faithfulness

It would be better not to read the book of Judges than to read it without reading a big chunk of the rest of the Bible too. Read by itself, it is not edifying.

Judges begins with Judah and his brother Simeon cutting off the thumbs and big toes of the defeated Adoni-bezek, just as he had previously done to many he had vanquished. Adoni-bezek agreed that he had it coming. “God has paid me back,” he conceded as they took him to Jerusalem where he died. It ends with men of the tribe of Benjamin, who did not have enough women to go around, abducting as many young ones as they wanted while their victims danced at a yearly religious festival near Shiloh.

In between, this Biblical book tells us about a number of ethically challenged judges. These include Othneil, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Abimelech, Tola, Lair, Jephthtah, Izban, Elon, Abdon and, of course Samson!

Everyone knows about Samson and many have heard about Deborah. We shouldn’t forget Ehud. He plunged the whole of his sword into the very fat belly of Eglon, the King of Moab, who had just stood up from defecating in his cool rooftop chamber. “The dirt came out.”

Jael, the wife of Heber the Kennite, who apparently did not object to all of her extra-curricular activities, must have been a woman of irresistible charm and cunning. She lured Sisera, an enemy warrior who was running on foot from the carnage of defeat, into her tent. She covered him with a rug, gave him some milk to drink and, while he was sleeping, hammered a peg through his head until it “went down into the ground.” The text says that “he died.”

Gideon was heroic but not always. At the outset he quivers with self-doubt and immature faith. He couldn’t move forward until the heavenly messenger had ignited a rock with the tip of his staff and caused there to be a wet fleece on dry ground and a dry fleece on wet ground. But then, with much faith and few men, he became the “mighty warrior” who completely crushed the much stronger plundering and looting Midianites. When the people wanted to make him king, he firmly declared that neither he nor any of his seventy sons from his numerous wives would become their ruler. “The Lord will rule over you.”

Yet Gideon seems not to have been above profiting from his military victories. He made an ephod, an artifact of some sort, out of gold earrings and other precious things that his men had ripped off the dead soldiers and dead animals after their successful battles The text says that, after he set up the ephod in his home town of Ophrah, “all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” My best guess is that he charged people for seeing, or even touching, the ephod he had made out of the very things that the hated but defeated Midianites once possessed. It was easy money but it was addicting.

Abimelech, the son of Gideon’s concubine in Schechem, did try to become the ruler by subterfuge and force. Twice he attempted to incinerate people who were hiding in towers from his attacks. He succeeded in burning alive quite a few of them the first time but not the second. On his second attempt, a woman threw an upper millstone at him and crushed his skull. Horrified by the thought that many would know that a woman had killed him, he commanded his young assistant to kill him with a sword first. “So, the young man thrust him through and through, and he died.”

Which part of the story about the Levite and his concubine is most offensive? Is it that her father allowed him to take her away for sex and other things? Is it that, after she had been at home for four months because she was angry at the Levite, her father feasted with him for several days before allowing him to take her away again? Is it that the men of a village where they stayed overnight on their way home demanded to gang rape him? Is it that their elderly host threw both her and his own virgin daughter into the street for them to savage all night long instead? Is it that the next morning the Levite found her dead just outside the door with her lifeless arm stretched toward it? Is it that he draped her torn and bloody body over his donkey’s back and hauled her all the way home like any other cargo? Is it that when the Levite got home he carved her body into twelve pieces and dispersed them throughout the land? Is it that this caused a civil war and many died? You choose!

Yet, despite its repulsiveness, we are fortunate that the book of Judges is a part of Scripture. The stories it tells are among the early chapters in a very long book. These stories, which continue right down to our time, tell us where we as a people have been. They help us see the directions in which God has been leading. This, in turn, helps us to plot the directions in which God is leading us now.

To be a person of faith is not to do in our time what even the best people in Biblical times did in theirs. It is to discern the direction God was leading them and to press even further in the same directions today. We should never go against the Bible as a whole but we should always go beyond it as far as we can in the same direction.

If when reading the book of Judges we focus not on how faithless the people were but how faithful God was, everything changes. Again and again, when the people repented of their evil ways, God forgave them and provided the resources and leaders they needed to make a fresh start. Again and again, God proved to be longsuffering, slow to anger and unwilling that any should perish. Again and again God’s steadfast love endured forever. Again and again we see it was not their faith in God but God’s faithfulness to them that saved and healed.

There are many “great controversies.” The most important of them is about the goodness of God in light of all the painful things we experience and observe. It is about theodicy. Read with a focus on God rather than its people the book of Judges makes a positive contribution; nevertheless, it still is best not to read it apart from the rest of the Bible.

Dr. David Larson is Professor of Ethical Studies at Loma Linda University.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7285

Theodicy is the key, yes, but too often (I think) Adventists just say “The Great Controversy covers that” and don’t actually then think about theodicy or write about it or discuss it. Thanks, Dr Larson, for prompting some hard thinking about this trick topic.


Nice to see Dr. Larson back at Spectrum. Missed you!


Christainity can be reduced to 4 G’s— Guilt, Grace, Gratitude, Generosity. There is none Rightousness,no not one. But God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son—Substitutionary seen to be a bad word in some circles. but the life, death, resurrection, and Ascension of Christ was accomplished for us…it should br noted that some of the characters of Judges are listed in Hebrews faith chapter . We come to judgment not boasting but confessing Christ. Christ who overlaid his Rightousness, on the heroes of Hebrews, will do the same for each son and daughter of Adam. All who believe in the Christ event, say so! The Cross is our assurance, not the Sabbath, the tithe,the diet,not even the 28. Tom Z


However informative and helpful it is to focus on God’s leading and faithfulness, there are still some pages in Judges which I have ripped out of my Bible. Enough already.

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It is excruciating to read the graphic depictions of atrocities in Judges, enough for censors to ban the book as unfit for High school libraries.

If Hollywood were to make a movie of Judges,
we would find it so patently offensive, so luridly X-rated,
so filled with gratuitous violence, massacres, murders and mayhem
that we would exit screaming, from any screening.

The cruelty, the carnage, the savagery and the slaughter, would churn our stomachs. The rapes would sicken us.

Any one of the episodes you enumerate, in Judges, Doctor Larson, should be “exhibit A” as to why the watching universe should have indicted Satan as EVIL, and vindicated God, way back then.

Yet many blood soaked centuries later, the cruelty, the carnage, the savagery, the slaughter, continue unabated.

ISIS has become the contemporary “exhibit A”.

Is the universe blind, deaf. imbecilic, and totally incapable of coming to any meaningful determination and conclusion to the “Great Controversy”?

The paramount message I glean from the book of Judges, is that even in Old Testament times, an astute observer should have been capable of an overwhelming condemnation of EVIL, thus ending the “Controversy”.

As EGW states repeatedly, the controversy will end when the ".universe "
“Vindicates” God.

So why have the Angels, and the “unfallen beings” on other planets been so lacking in compassion so unable to render a judgement, so reticent to clamor to God to end the carnage?

Could it be that millenia of witnessing horrific atrocities have incapacitated them with permanent post traumatic stress disorder?


Perhaps the challenge of Judges is that we are trying to make it conform to our current values and understanding of a relationship with God. When I was at Walla Walla University, Dr. Beverly Beem taught a class on reading the Bible as literature and Judges was one of the books we considered. After dwelling on its stories and themes, I came to realize that Judges was not a story about bad behavior and atrocities.

It is a book of redemption of the Children of Israel. They entered the promised land and failed to follow God’s will for them. Instead of conquering the land most of the tribes settled for half-victories that ended up leading them astray. At the end of Judges, however, every tribe has stood up, rallied around God’s original plan and solidified their place in the Land of Israel. Even with the Levites, the 13th Tribe that owned no land, the Children of Israel have learned to defend ALL the people of God.

So, yes, Judges is a bloody and dark story. We want to believe that God would drive the heathens out with locusts and pestilence and never a drop of blood would be spilled. Just as today would it not be so much better if everyone would fall wounded by their condition and turn to God on the mere telling of His love for them. Our stories are not so pretty but we are still called to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, give comfort to the oppressed and love each other. Until we can truly realize how to treat others as we would have them treat us, our stories might be as disconcerting as the those of the Israelites.

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I would contend that it’s very edifying. It shows, as well as any other place in the Bible, the results of disobedience, of doing “evil in the sight of the Lord” Judges 2:11. And it shows what happens when there is “no king in Israel; every man [does] what is right in his own eyes.” Judges 21:25. There was a King in Israel, but they rejected Him much of the time. Times have not changed.

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We bring our own perspective to the reading of anything, including the Bible. Over the centuries, the characters and events in the Bible have taken on an unrealistic aura of magic, where the characters are actually hearing God’s voice; where we accept, as normal, things like Moses describing his own death and all the stuff happening after he died; where people act out nonsensical gestures we call symbolic of something important (Ezekiel). We forget that we’re reading a history composed by people as they were living it; and we see their behavior, individual and corporate, written from a perspective specific to them and their time. It’s actually surprising that such graphic evil is recorded as part of the history of a people who believed they were being led and guided by God personally. It may indicate that in that culture such things were expected - they seem to be even today in some cultures as we witness atrocities played out just a day’s flight from “downtown normalcy”. The OT describes a Mid-East culture that even today is often baffling. One has to wonder what life on earth would have looked like without Christianity. It has its own problems, as Obama pointed out when the jihadists decapitated Christians, but those sorts of horrific deeds are at least “frowned upon”, as hard as we might try to make therm fit into a Bible quoted by Christians.

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When a tribe or group of people record their own history it will always be subjective. This is why today we do not rely on any one reporter of an incident as containing all the exact truth.

Who but the Jews wrote the Hebrew Bible? They did not hide the gross descriptions but gave their opinion that all the carnage was ordered or came from their God. Do we today accept the Germans story of WW II and the rise of Hitler as they originally perceived it? Or do we also read the history of the allied nations and those bordering Germany?

Did the Canaanites leave a history of Jewish invasions? Is there any record of a million tent dwellers in the Sinai as the Jews wrote? Is there even a shred of evidence that it was once occupied by such dwellers for forty years?

There are principles in the Bible, but NT is the Christian’s story, not the OT; that belongs to the Jews and let them justify their history, we do not need to, why go there?


I am not so sure Ancient Israelite families would be so ready to acknowledge the “faithfulness of God” when “the hand of the Lord was against them” and his “anger was hot” (Judges 2:15,20)?

What also is not clear is to what percentage of repented people God desired before he was willing to “provide resources.”

I not so sure Ancient Israel was not so different then our generation? So why has God spoiled us and got angry with Israel? Whereas the “LORD burn(ed) with anger against Israel, so he handed them over to raiders who stole their possessions. He turned them over to their enemies all around, and they were no longer able to resist them” (Judges 2:14 NLT).


I don’t think it is the onlooking universe that is the problem. It is the world in which we live that not only allows ISIS to exist but many are flocking to join it. That is a very sad picture of God that they are flocking to. It is unfortunate that the picture of God as exhibited in Christ and His ministry seems to be dimming further each day. This is aligned quite closely with the “fullness of time” spoken of before Christ came the first time and the same circumstances are repeated just before He returns again. The “universe” got it the first time around. We are the ones who seem to be the “slow learners”.

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That is it, David, the Bible is no Bedtime - Story Book and we just are nothing better. than those in the time of Judges - we just hide it a liittle better , we play it estehtically., stylish . Oh, just let us be humble and never say : Well, thooose theere, lomg ago !"-


This whole sad saga simply highlights that the message the world needs more than anything is The Great Reconciliation, not the great controversy.

Calvary, Christ crucified, the atoning sacrifice for sin, ratified by His resurrection and ascension, is the key. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”

As ambassadors for Christ, we are to carry a powerful and positive message of reconciliation, not the negativity of “The Great Controversy.”

Question: What percentage of this thirteen weeks focuses on Christ’s finished work on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for sin and as the divine revelation to the universe of God’s love, holiness and justice? One day soon, even the inhabitants of planet Earth will understand it all in the light of Calvary and all that flows from Christ’s sacrifice.


The cross is overemphasized. The death of Jesus/shed blood does not save in and of itself. It is a factor in redemption, yet does not result in salvation.
1 Corinthians 2:2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
Romans 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Romans 5:10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Satan sabotaged the sabbath with the resurrection day.
He sabotages the concept of salvation by getting the church teachers to overemphasize the cross.
Saved how??
Condemnation,guilt–substitutionary death
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

The lesson quarterly : Rebellion & Redemption.

Check out the difference between redemption & salvation.


But, Christ himself cannot be overemphasized. He is the one who died, the one who lives, the one who reigns, the one who intercedes, the one who gives the Spirit, the one who is coming again, and the one who is the ultimate revelation of God. It is why Paul said, “We preach Christ Jesus, and ourselves your servants, for his sake.” And, “What do I care, as long as Christ is preached?”

He is not simply some addendum to a series of doctrines as is often presented in Adventist evangelism. He is our life, as Paul also stated, the giver, sustainer, and shaper of it. It is why the Christian call and life is truly about a real relationship with him, that begins in the here and now, and stretches throughout eternity.

The gospel/euangellion is the announcement of the good news that the king reigns, that Jesus is Lord…not Caesar,not money, not human power, etc. It is the good news that this Lord is the Lord of grace, redemption, and restoration of his whole creation. We are called to be part of this grand project…the kingdom of God. It’s way beyond our personal salvation or redemption, to which you seem to also confine the issue with the focus of your objections to the exclusive preaching of the cross.




Re: Our Faithlessness, His Faithfulness


If God depends on our special pleading in His behalf to vindicate His character, then, by rights, the Great Controversy should have been over long ago. I could say more.

David Larson said: Yet, despite its repulsiveness, we are fortunate that the book of Judges is a part of Scripture. The stories it tells are among the early chapters in a very long book. These stories, which continue right down to our time, tell us where we as a people have been. They help us see the directions in which God has been leading. This, in turn, helps us to plot the directions in which God is leading us now.

To be a person of faith is not to do in our time what even the best people in Biblical times did in theirs. It is to discern the direction God was leading them and to press even further in the same directions today. We should never go against the Bible as a whole but we should always go beyond it as far as we can in the same direction.

If one believes the Bible speaks for God, it’s hard not to ‘discern’ that God was ‘leading’ the Israelites to murder ‘witches’ and commit genocide, etc.

And, by all appearances, we’ve “gone beyond it” in the same direction, on a grand scale.

Sarah Vowell: The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief. And by dangerous I don’t mean thought-provoking. I mean: might get people killed.

Take the Reverend John Cotton. In 1630, he goes down to the port of Southampton to preach a farewell sermon to the seven hundred or so colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Led by Governor John Winthrop, a gentleman farmer and lawyer, these mostly Puritan dissenters are about to sail from England to New England on the flagship Arbella and ten other vessels in the Winthrop fleet.

By the time Cotton says amen, he has fought Mexico for Texas, bought Alaska from the Russians, and dropped napalm on Vietnam. Then he lays a wreath on Custer’s grave and revs past Wounded Knee.

Then he claps when the Marquis de Lafayette tells Congress that “someday America will save the world.”

Then he smiles when Abraham Lincoln calls the United States “the last best hope of earth.” Then he frees Cuba, which would be news to Cuba. Then he signs the lease on Guantánamo Bay.

Cotton’s sermon is titled “God’s Promise to His Plantation.” He begins with one of the loveliest passages from the book of Second Samuel, an otherwise R-rated chronicle of King David’s serial-killer years.

Chapter 7, verse 10: “I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more.” Sounds so homey, like that column in the real estate section of the New York Times about how people found their apartments.

Until I remember that talk like this is the match still lighting the fuses of a thousand car bombs.

What Cotton is telling these about-to-be-Americans is that they are God’s new chosen people. This they like to hear. In fact, they have been telling themselves just that. The Old Testament Israelites are to the Puritans what the blues was to the Rolling Stones— a source of inspiration, a renewable resource of riffs.

What Cotton is telling them is that, like the Old Testament Jews, they are men of destiny. And, like the Old Testament Jews, God has given them a new home, a promised land.

And, like the Old Testament Jews, God has printed eviction notices for them to tack up on the homes of the nothing-special, just-folks folks who are squatting there.

It’s fine, according to Cotton, to move into “a country not altogether void of inhabitants” if said country is really big. After all, he continues, “Abraham and Isaac, when they sojourned amongst the Philistines, they did not buy that land to feed their cattle, because they said ‛ There is room enough.’ ”

This is God’s plantation, remember? Cotton says, “If God be the gardener, who shall pluck up what he sets down?”

Vowell, Sarah (2008-10-06). The Wordy Shipmates (pp. 1-3). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

FWIW, I think better of God.


Dr. David Larson said “These stories, which continue right down to our time, tell us where we as a people have been. They help us see the directions in which God has been leading. This, in turn, helps us to plot the directions in which God is leading us now.”

Communication is the transfer of meaning. God want us to understand him. God’s written communication to the world is a richly textured literary masterpiece and makes full use of the tools of language, including symbolism, metaphor, simile, and motif. A literal interpretation of the Bible allows for figurative language. Symbols are quite common in the poetic and prophetic portions of the Bible. By its very nature, poetry relies heavily on figurative language.

Jesus’ teaching was full of symbolism. He presented Himself as a Shepherd, a Sower, a Bridegroom, a Door, a Cornerstone, a Vine, Light, Bread, and Water. He likened the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast, a seed, a tree, a field, a net, a pearl, and yeast.