This past Sunday I started my Bible study off on a "Journey Through Judges." I believe the Old Testament is all too often ignored and by doing so we don't get the most complete picture of God that we can. Partially because we don't want to... We try to ignore the violence of the Old Testament, the gruesomeness and bloodshed. We struggle with thinking, "My God, full of mercy and grace, surely cannot be a God of vengeance" and resolve ourselves to just overlook the Old Testament as a whole. But you have to read the Old Testament in order to figure it out. We know from the Old Testament that God promised Abraham a nation of descendants and the promised land. We also know that by the time Abraham had died, this promise had not yet been fulfilled. We have the story of his family living in this land, and eventually moving to Egypt because of a drought and the fortune of Joseph having made a name for himself despite his brothers selling him into slavery. We have the Jewish people eventually becoming slaves in Egypt, then being led out of bondage and into the desert where they wandered. When they finally reached the promised land, they feared the people more than God, so He made them wander some more so the generation that disobeyed died off and their descendants entered the promised land.
And here comes some of the worst part, the part that people really begin to have trouble with. The Israelites march in to the promised land and God had commanded them to wipe all of the people out. How could God command such a thing? The murder of cities, including the women and children? That's just not the God we know in the New Testament, is it? But what happened in the promised land between the time that Abraham was promised it and the time that the Israelites moved in to conquer it? God tells us in the Bible He did not let them take it over the first time because He was giving them time to repent of their sins. REPENT. That's funny. And guess what, we can tell from the context of the Bible that in all of that time, the people of that land did not repent of their sin, but instead became even more corrupt in their sin. God gave them more than enough time to repent, yet they turned further away. So judgement came upon them through the Israelites. Their cultures were so corrupt, everything had to be destroyed, otherwise it would be like thorns and snares to the Israelites who were to remain pure. And sure enough, they disobeyed God by NOT destroying everything, and look how that turned out.
This is where the Book of Judges comes in. The Israelites stir up God's anger by their disobedience in not wiping out everything. Is this simply because He wanted to murder? Not at all! He commanded this because in His wisdom He knew that the Israelites would be corrupted by any remnants of the people and culture, just as they were. The remnants of immorality corrupted them and they turned away from the Lord to serve other gods. So God withdrew His had from them so they lost to the nations they had left in the land. But you also have a perfect image of God's abundant grace and mercy in this book. Every time they were being attacked and/or persecuted by one of these nations, they cried out to God. Even though He had every right to forsake them, He heard their cries and took compassion on them. He rose up judges to deliver them from their oppressors. Soon as they were back on their feet, they turned away from Him yet again and the cycle happened all over. And each time God listened to their cries and delivered them.
If you are uncomfortable with the Old Testament, I challenge you to really look into it and start reading it. I am sure there will be a lot in there that will surprise you. And the parts that you struggle with, pray that God will open your heart for either understanding or acceptance and that it will come in time. I'm excited to take this "Journey Through Judges" with my Bible Study and I hope we learn a lot from it!