First United Methodist Church of Conway, South Carolina
Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Week 10

Annotated Reading Guide
Joshua 22 – Judges 21
 
Mar 1: Joshua 22-24    Settlement of the Land: Last Things
     Finally, more than forty-five years since leaving Egypt, the Israelites settle into the Promised Land. The land God promised to Jacob and his descendants is now settled. Three things remain to be done, the tribes east of the Jordan seek reassurance that the river will not separate them or their descendents form the rest of Israel, Joshua will issue his farewell address, and the covenant will be renewed.
     For the Israelites this is a time of hope and celebration. But modern readers await new transgressions, punishment, repentance and redemption. It is a pattern both ancient and modern, yet in Christ there is escape from this times circle.
 
Mar 2: Judges 1-3    The Beginning of the Judges
     The "Judges" of the Bible are not judges as we think of them today, but are usually warriors who were raised up in specific times of need to lead Israel in fighting oppressive enemies. In the book of Judges we see a repetitive pattern where Israel does evil, God sends an enemy; Israel cries in distress, God sends a judge; Israel again does evil, and the cycle repeats. We will see that even as this cycle repeats itself the overall situation, and the spiritual quality of the judges, declines to the point that the people demand a king. (Still another bad idea!)
     We are introduced to the first three judges, Othniel, and Ehud Shamgar.
 
Mar 3: Judges 4-5    Deborah, Barak and Jael, “Who’s the Judge?”
     After reading this story, you may rightfully ask, “Who is the judge?” Unlike other judges in Judges, the role seems to be shared by three interesting characters – Deborah, the prophetess who recruits and spurs on Barak, the Israelite general who is reluctant to confront the enemy and is aided by Jael, the non-Israelite woman who deceives and kills the Canaanite general (Sisera) which brings a time of peace to the land. Deborah is credited as the “judge,” but surely this is a shared title.
 
Mar 4: Judges 6-8    Gideon, the “Mighty Warrior”
     The cowardly warrior Gideon marks the beginning of the decline in the spiritual quality of the judges. Initially faithful and obedient, Gideon begins to believe the good things people tell him about himself and wanders off into sin. The story of Gideon is a good warning to all who would claim the blessings of God, and then live as one wishes.
 
Mar 5: Judges 9-10    Abimelech, the Self-proclaimed King
     The decline continues with Gideon’s death, when his son, (by a concubine in Shechem) Abimelech kills seventy of his half- brothers (the youngest, Jotham is not present and lives to make an amusing curse on Abimelech and Shechem).  Abimelech, a self proclaimed king, rules for only three years before coming to his inglorious death.
 
Mar 6: Judges 11-12    Jephthah, the Judge who Divides
     Jephthah brings a new low to the position of the judges. Rather than uniting the tribes, he was responsible for the Gileadites killing 42,000 Ephraimites. Instead of the judge leading Israelites to fight their oppressors, Jephthah now has the Israelites fighting one another.
 
Mar 7: Judges 13-16    Samson, a Tragic Story of Missed Opportunity
     Because we have become familiar with many of the Biblical signs, Samson brings us a feeling of hope. The divine visitation to a childless couple stirs their hope, yet despite a deep faith their son will prove a bitter disappointment. As you read the Samson stories, watch for the many ways he violates the instructions God has given the Israelites through the years. If this last great hope cannot succeed, where can the people of God find hope?
 
Mar 8: Judges 17-21    Various stories
     “In these chapters, the era of the judges has ended. Idols are worshiped. Priests are hired for personal gain. Defenseless foreigners are mercilessly attacked. Strangers are mistreated. An Israelite woman is brutally raped and murdered by Israelites. The entire Israelite tribe of Benjamin is nearly exterminated by fellow Israelites. Additional Israelite men, women, and children are killed. Other women are kidnapped and forced to become wives of Benjaminite men. Israel seems oblivious to the extent of its disobedience and disloyalty to the covenant with God. “ -- New Interpreter’s Bible