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The story of Samson is one of the most well known stories in the entire Bible. Samson is a "larger than life" person who was obviously gifted in many ways. His story covers four chapters in the Book of Judges and, in many ways, is a great summary of the book. In Samson's story, we see what was ultimately the downfall of the people of God during the period of the Judges: their habit of doing what was right in their own eyes. More than any other judge, Samson did whatever was right in his own eyes. The author draws out a familiar pattern of Samson seeing something, wanting it, and taking it. This is Samson indulging his appetite rather than living the way God intended him to live. We see in the story of Samson that indulging our appetite will ultimately lead to our own demise.
By the end of Gideon's life, we start to see a pattern of God's people using good for evil. When we get to Judges 11, we see this pattern in full effect with the story of Jephthah. Jephthah is another unlikely leader of Israel during the period of the Judges, but he seems to be even more misguided than any of his predecessors. In Judges 11:30–31, Jephthah unnecessarily vows to sacrifice whatever comes out of the door of his house if God would grant him victory over the Ammonites. After the victory, Jephthah returns home only to have his only child be the first to come out to greet him. In a tragic story of someone misguided in his faith, we see Jephthah go on to kill his daughter. While the story in Judges 11 is horrific in every way, it's also an unlikely place where we are given a glimpse into the grace and love of God.
So far in our study of the Book of Judges, we have seen God's willingness to work in messy situations. In fact, one of the biggest takeaways has been the idea that we are, like God, to learn what it means to use evil for good. As we get to the story of Gideon in Judges 6–8, the entire book begins to take a turn for the worse. Gideon is a judge who seems to be considered a "good" judge, yet the way the author tells his story is a little different than our modern interpretations. In Gideon's story we begin to see that it's not only possible to use evil for good, but also that it is possible to use good for evil. Something we must understand if we are going to live faithfully in a morally gray culture is that even our best attempts to be spiritual or religious can have evil motivations. Gideon's story reminds us that the danger we must guard ourselves from is replacing God's divine agenda with our own personal ambitions.
Judges 4 begins with the end of Ehud's life, and the text says in Judges 4:1, "After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD." This is one of the first times we see evidence of a cycle that continues throughout the Book of Judges. The cycle involves Israel doing what is evil in the eyes of the LORD; God allowing them to be oppressed by a foreign ruler; Israel crying out to the LORD for redemption; and God raising up a judge to deliver them. Judges 4 intentionally compares the story of the Exodus out of Egypt to this cycle in Judges in order to remind us that God actively works to bring justice within His world. The God of the Bible is not a passive player in the world, but as Walter Brueggemann says, "There is an accountability to the purposes of God to which all must answer. God who saves and creates watches over 'his' will and judges those who violate 'his' purposes."
For a variety of reasons, the Church often ignores the Book of Judges, but it is a book that is applicable to our culture today. Judges is full of stories about heroes who are a mixture of good and evil, faithful and rebellious. From their stories we learn both positive and negative examples of how we can live faithfully in a morally "gray" culture like ours today. One of the first and best examples of a judge who was a "mixed bag" is the story of Ehud in Judges 3. Ehud is an unlikely hero who uses his sinister side to bring about redemption for the people of God. In the story of Ehud we are confronted by the fact that while we may want to exclude God from the messiness and filth of life, He won't allow it. The God of the Bible is often found working in scandalous— and even evil—situations in order to bring about His redemption in the world.
In the parable of the seed sown upon the earth, Jesus again compares the reign of God to the everyday world of a farmer. Trying to understand what this deceptively simple parable is conveying can be extremely challenging. The parable describes a farmer who casts seed on the ground and then does nothing. Days pass. He goes through the everyday routine of life—he sleeps, he rises, night and day. There is no mention of his plowing, watering, cultivating, or fighting off parasites. Unlike the Parable of the Sower that precedes it, there is no reference to the challenge of a field plagued by birds that swoop down to snatch seeds on a path, to rocky ground with no depth of soil, no thorns that grow up to choke the seed. So, what does this parable mean? Jesus seems to be using all three elements—the sower, the seed, and the soil—to teach three important lessons (confidence, patience, and readiness) about the harvest God produces in the world around us.
In Matthew 25, Jesus is focused on the weighty subject of eternity and talking with his disciples about his second coming. In the middle of this lengthy discussion, the subject turns to the issue of stewardship. Jesus wants his disciples to remember that we will be accountable for how we invest the resources that have been entrusted to us. As Jesus continues in Matthew 25, he begins to describe in plain terms that God not only expects us to invest our resources; He also wants us to invest in the places He is already at work in the world around us. In "The Parable of the Sheep and Goats," we see that God is typically at work amongst the poor and oppressed. Our job as Christ followers, therefore, is to leverage our resources in such a way that we invest in those who are in need.
In Matthew 25, Jesus knows his time with the disciples is coming to an end, so he begins to focus his teachings on being prepared for the time when our own lives come to an end. Using parables, Jesus explains how some things matter eternally, including how we manage the resources God has entrusted to us. Jesus knows the way we handle the gifts God has given to us reflects what we really believe about the character and nature of God. In the "Parable of the Talents," we see that we are, in fact, going to give an account one day for how well we represented our Master's interests. In this story, Jesus has a surprising message for us: good intentions do not save us from being held responsible for the way we invest our lives.
One issue every Christian faces in their walk with Christ is that there will be times when we feel stuck spiritually. We want to grow. We want to make new ground in our walks with God but just can't seem to get any traction. We're simply stuck and cannot make progress forward. What if, as we mature, these moments could become few and far between? Can you imagine a life where you felt connected to God consistently? Can you imagine a life where you can actually see God working and changing your life on a regular basis? If you feel stuck spiritually and don't feel connected to God, the best way to gain traction is to enlarge our perception of God. This is because our view of God determines our response to God.
Most Christians understand that God's activity in the world is primarily seeking the redemption of creation. What sometimes gets lost is that this means God's mission, or purpose, is to put things back to their rightful state. God intends to make "all things new," to remake things into what He originally intended for the world in the beginning. Scripture also tells us that our purpose as His followers is to join God in this recreation process. The Apostle Paul talks plainly about this calling in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." Paul goes on to say we, as followers of Christ, have been given the ministry of reconciliation. This is the same message God had for His people in Jeremiah 29 when He called them to "seek the welfare" of Babylon. God calls us to be ministers of reconciliation, which means we are called to bring peace, wholeness, and healing to all of the broken parts of the world.