It's Not a "Book of Virtues"
We are studying the book of Judges in Sunday school. We're only in the introductory stages of the study, but we've already covered some excellent things. The study materials we're using come from Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. They publish a lot of excellent materials, and this is no exception. I'm sure our pastor goes a bit off the beaten trail, but that makes it even better. Here is an excellent quote from the materials:
This is the place for a first word of caution. One commentator summed up the book of Judges as “despicable people doing deplorable things” and as “trashy tales about dysfunctional characters.” As the history unfolds, even the “heroes”, the judges, become increasingly dysfunctional and flawed. They do many appalling things, and their efforts have less and less redemptive effect. It is a dismal story. The reader will be led to ask, again and again, “what in the world is this story doing in the Bible?” The answer is an important one—it is the gospel! Judges shows us that the Bible is not a “Book of Virtues;” it is not full of inspirational stories. Why? It is because the Bible (unlike other faiths) is not about emulating moral examples. It is about a God of mercy and longsuffering who continually works in and through us despite our constant resistance to his purposes.
This strikes at the heart of what I believe are some major issues with Fundamentalism the way I have known it. While not all Fundamentalists would fall into this trap, I believe there is a pervasive tendency through the circles I grew up in to treat large portions of the Bible as simply examples for how we should or shouldn't live. In reality, stories like these in the book of Judges show us the Gospel.
He drives the point home further with the first in his list of themes to look for throughout the book of Judges, and his explanation of this theme:
1. God relentlessly offers his grace to people who do not deserve it nor seek it nor even appreciate it after they have been saved by it. The book of Judges is not about a series of role models. Though there are a few good examples (Othniel, Deborah), they are early and do not dominate the narrative. The point is that the only true hero is God, the only true savior is the Lord. Judges is ultimately about grace abounding to chief sinners. God's grace will triumph over the stupidest actions.