Othniel – leader in two battles, killed thousands
Ehud – assassinated a king in his own home, killed 10,000 Moabites
Shamgar – killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad
Deborah – responsible for putting 10,000 Israelites in battle against 900 Chariots
Gideon – 120,000 soldiers killed under his leadership
We haven’t even gotten to Jephthah or Samson or the craziness that ensued at the end of this era known as The Time of the Judges.
There is no way to avoid the violence and death that is told in the book of Judges. It reads like one of those epic Japanese kung-fu films. In between the mis-timed lips of bad dubbing and horrific English are epic battles with incredibly high body-counts as the ‘hero’ destroys all the enemies singlehandedly.
The books of Joshua and Judges have left many people questioning whether or not this God is really good or if He is just some ego-centric, blood-thirsty deity that enjoys the spectacle of war. Some have argued that there really isn’t a god at all, he is a construct of evil men to justify their thirst for war. Some scholars have tried to deal with this ‘problem’ by explaining that the God of the Old Testament was about the law and punishing those who disobeyed but the God of the New Testament is about grace and forgiveness that is found in life, death, and resurrection of His son Jesus.
I’m not a fan of the Old Testament=law/New Testament=grace explanation. First, it isn’t true to the story of God. How many times did the Israelites rejected God, worshipped other gods, were horrifically disobedient and God still redeem them? Still pursue them? Still restore them?
Even in the Judges, we see the pattern over and over again. The Israelites NEVER fully gave their hearts to God. They never had long seasons of obedience and God never abandoned them. From Genesis to the last of the kings, God’s patience with a stubborn, stiff-necked people is on display for everyone to see.
That alone doesn’t explain the violence seen in Joshua and Judges versus the practical pacifism of Jesus in the New Testament. It’s a bit baffling to watch Jesus absorb the insults and the punishment at the hands of humanity in light of the events of Joshua/Judges.
Is there any explanation at all for the violence?
I think there is. When Moses led the “Hebrews” out of Egypt, it’s important to note that it wasn’t just Hebrews that went with them. Other races that were being used as slave labor took the opportunity to go with the Hebrews. From the outset, God wanted Israel to be open to outsiders, the foreigners. Just not at the expense of who they worshipped.
As they ran away from the Egyptians and into the land that God had promised them, they not only encountered many foreign nations who worshipped differently than they did but inside their own ranks they wrestled with worshiping only the Lord. The many cultures that was merging to form one nation, the many years in captivity in Egypt worshipping their gods made this a difficult transition. (The Golden Calf story is exhibit A).
As Moses and the people wandered around the desert being formed by God to be a one-god worshipping nation, the other nations that occupied the land began attacking the Hebrews. There was no openness or grace given to them by the host nations. They would attack when the Israelites were most vulnerable, killing women and children, forcing them to eek out a living on the high desert plains.
This would happen for 40 years. Plus these foreign nations had occupied this land for centuries cultivating their worship style that made sex trafficking and child sacrifice part of their everyday culture. God will not allow injustice to go unnoticed. So when the Hebrew people were ready, under the leadership of Joshua, God would use them to bring justice and peace to the land.
Does this fully explain the violence?
For most of us, the answer to that is going to be no. We can’t fathom the numbers of people dying in battles. It doesn’t seem to fit at all with the Jesus of the New Testament.
I would suggest though that is the real legacy of sin – death. All of the death was due to sin. All sin leads to death and these battles and deaths in Joshua and Judges are all tied to sin.
The numbers are horrific. They are staggering. The consequences seem steep.
So on one hand it brings back into sharp focus why the Cross was so necessary. God said – enough. One Man for all sin to end it all. Jesus. He is the scapegoat as well as the Redeemer. It’s the only way any of this can make sense.