Most of this week the OT readings in our lectionary are from the Book of Judges, recalling the period after the Israelites, led by Moses and then by Joshua, took possession of the land of Canaan, the Promised Land.
It was not a vacant land; the Canaanites were strongly entrenched there. Instead of establishing themselves according to the commands of God, the Israelites decide to fit in, becoming isolated families rather than a united people, They intermarry with the Canaanites and even set up altars to Baal, the Canaanite god.
It’s one of the worst times in Jewish history, a time of religious and political disorder. On Thursday of this week we hear how Jephthah kills his own daughter because of a vow he made to God. Not an easy story to make sense of. Hard to make sense of anything in this age.
The leaders God raises up, judges, are not powerful enough to give the community the direction it needs. Gideon– his story’s told this week– is an example of a judge. The word “judge” is nowhere near what we associate with the word today.
Gideon’s a lonely farmer expecting invasion by the Midianites, a tribe of nomads who periodically raided the land of Canaan. He’s busy saving some wheat from his fields before they come; then, he’ll hide.
The angel of the Lord appears, calling him a “Champion of Israel,” but Gideon wants no part of championing Israel. He’s lost faith in the promises of God, with no big dreams to do anything except saving himself. Even when God gives him a sign, one sign isn’t enough. Gideon wants out.
“Go with the strength you have.” That’s what the angel says to Gideon as he and so many others lose trust in God’s promises. The strength you have, not the strength you would like to have, or the strength you once had. Go with the strength you have.
That’s God’s command in the time of the Judges. Is it God’s command to us now?