Monday, August 13, 2012

Thoughts on Judges

Tel Dan-Israeli Gate (Wikipedia)
One of the saddest stories in the Book of Judges is the account of the Danite conquest of Laish. When the Israelite tribes were assigned their respective territories under Joshua, the people of Dan received the central coastal area, including the city of Joppa (Joshua 19:40-46). Unfortunately, the Danites lost their inheritance to the Amorites (Judges 1:34-36). Rather than fight for their God-given land, the Danites decided to claim other land, and in time another god, as their own (Judges 18, cf. Joshua 19:47).

The city of Laish, or Leshem, was far north in the mountains of Lebanon, at the Aramean border. In other words, it lay beyond the designated Canaanite lands that God had handed over to the Israelites. Its people are thought to have been Phoenician because of the apparent cultural and political ties with Sidon (Judges 18:7, 28). No mention is made of their sins. Instead the Bible refers to them as “quiet and unsuspecting,” isolated from the corruption around them (Judges 18:7). The Danites seized the opportunity to slaughter them and take their land (Judges 18:27-28, cf. Joshua 19:47).

In defense of the people of Dan, they did believe that they had the blessing of their Lord, as conveyed through an impostor priest (Judges 18:1-10). However, upon discovering their error, they should’ve sought to correct it, as the Mosaic Law prescribes in various case laws dealing with accidents and unintentional sin. Instead they set up a rival god, in defiance of the primary commandment, presumably one that was more lenient about killing innocent people and stealing their property.

There’s an important lesson to be learned from the Danites’ atrocities. God’s people can be lured into a false sense of entitlement. This was true for King David when he called for Bathsheba, ignoring laws against adultery and coveting thy neighbor’s wife (2 Samuel 11). This was true for King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, who justified coveting, baring false testimony, murder, and stealing (1 Kings 21). This has been true for Christians who for centuries have made excuses for warring against, killing, plundering, and raping both their brethren and unbelievers, all the while claiming that they’re just taking what they deserve. And the contemporary political scene reeks with those seeking more and more ways to legally confiscate others’ property and procure taxpayer funds for pork barrel projects.

When Christians get an inflated view of their own importance, many don’t have the slightest feeling of apprehension when it comes to stepping on other people’s toes. Life becomes a zero-sum game, and obviously God’s chosen feel that they must do whatever it takes to come out on top. Too bad being a servant to others rarely comes to mind.