Partial Obedience, Total Disaster

If you are doing the “Read through the Bible in One Year”, by now you would have completed the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. You are done with the “boring” (never!) sections of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. To modern readers, some of those laws seem barbaric and “out of date” with 21st century society. Religious and social Liberals definitely do not like them.

But the laws are there for a very good reason. You cannot pick and choose which laws to obey. Imagine doing that with traffic laws which, if we are honest, we do any way. (Green means go, yellow means slow, and red means accelerate?!) You definitely cannot pick and choose which moral laws to obey. What if we legalize murder but criminalize theft? What if you allow perjury but reject adultery?

And that’s what happened in the Book of Judges. The author repeatedly stated that the Jews failed to drive out or annihilate the inhabitants. Sounds harsh? Not when you know what those tribes were up to: child sacrifice, brutality, torture, and rampant idolatry. God already gave them a 400-years long grace period. Unfortunately for the Jews, their failure to remove them completely will cause them problems in the future.

You may recall Gideon’s heroic 300 vs 130,000 odds. Or Samson and Delilah.

Or the guy whose girlfriend/fiancee/ common law wife (depends on which translation) was raped and then murdered. He then cut up her body and sent it to the rest to the tribes as a warning and rally cry to deal with the men who violated her. This resulted in civil war. Don’t believe me? Read it for yourself in Judges 19-21. This is NOT an episode on an Investigate Discovery TV real-crime drama.

There is one thing in common for all these stories: the Israelites failed to obey God completely from the beginning. God indeed delivered people through His chosen judges Gideon and Samson and 11 other men and a woman. But if these judges were not around to enforce God’s law and deliver His people, then people end up doing stupid immoral things.

One may say: “But they did obey God when the Judges were around!” I say: “What about the other times?” This reminds me of a line from the 1977 war movie: A Bridge Too Far. The movie dramatized a real event in World War 2. The Allies were about to liberate the Netherlands and seize key bridges in the country and culminating with the Arnhem bridge over the Rhine River. US, British, and Polish paratroopers were dropped near key bridges and held them while British armor units moved up the lone road to relieve them. Despite a massive intelligence blunder and two SS divisions, the Allies managed to succeed… all except for the Arnhem Bridge – the most important one. As the battered British General Roy Urquhart (played by Sean Connery), commander of the 1st Airborne Division, was ushered into his CO’s office, there is a stark contrast between the two men. Urquhart had led the division from the front; Browning stayed in Army headquarters.  Browning said to have uttered: “At least we captured 90% of our objectives.”

On a test, getting 90% is an A. However, everyone in the audience and those who studied history realized that Browning should have been in PR instead. He conveniently left out the 10% failure was concerned the true objective.

The Book of Judges illustrated this point. The Israelites may have said: “We captured 90% of the land given to Abraham and allotted by Moses and Joshua. Good enough!” Or “We drove out 80% of the inhabitants! Good enough!” Unfortunately, it led to 100% disaster in just a few years.

We may have the same view of morality too in our lives: “I obey God’s law 80% of the time! Good enough!” Unfortunately, that too will lead to 100% disaster. It is not good enough.

BUT, there is much grace. And that too is the story in Judges. You cannot have pure love without discipline. If you truly love someone, you cannot allow any moral compromise. Jehovah God loves His people so much that he disciplined them and loves his people so much that he delivered him. That was true in 1400 BC. It is certainly true in 2017 AD.

Easter is just around the corner: for all Christians, it is the story of the ultimate Judge who sent the ultimate Deliverer.

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