The cycle of sin, rebellion, pleading, and redemption repeats itself often, especially in the Book of Judges. And in my life. I have long held affection for this neglected Old Testament writing, maybe because I see myself so vividly on the every page. That is why, when I heard that Pastor Tim Keller had written a commentary of sorts on this beloved subject, I jumped at the chance to read it.
It is precisely that pattern that Keller explores but always with a Cross-centered focus. Did the Judges that God appointed help? Yes. Sometimes by themselves like Othniel, Ehud, and Sampson; and sometimes as a team like Deborah, Barak, and Jael. But the rub of course is this: the relief was ALWAYS temporary and not permanent. And that is what makes the ministry of Christ to special to me, that unlike the Judges who did all they could to ‘save’ a rebellious people, their help only lasted as long as they lived. But the help that Christ offers is everlasting, since He is everlasting.
A second theme that Keller explores that I found wonderfully enlightening is the idea of idolatry. It is easy for us in the 21st century to look back some 3200 years or so and laugh at the lunacy of bowing to a wood or stone idol. As if idols have become a thing of the past and we no longer need to concern ourselves with such precautions. But when I examine my heart, I find idols. A lot of them. And as Pastor Keller points out:
“The people’s failure to take all of Canaan both resulted from and represented their failure to give God exclusive lordship over their whole lives. It is not hard to see how this might happen today, as we believers live in a pagan world that offers us a vast array of alternative “gods”. The greatest dangers, because it is such a subtle temptation which enables us to continue as church members and feel that nothing is wrong, is not that we become atheists, but that we ask God to co-exists with idols in our hearts.” Ouch.
The book reads much like a devotional commentary and less like an expositional or exegetical commentary, which is fine if you understand that going in. If you desire to know Judges better, this is a solid read for you. If you lead a small group or Bible Study and need some anecdotal insight into Judges, again this is a worthy investment. If you are a pastor and you would like to see how Pastor Keller approaches the text, I repeat my recommendation. If you are in College or Seminary and you are working on a more scholastic study of Judges, then this would not be a good place to start.
Personally, I used it as a devotional companion as the chapters are not terribly long and the stories naturally segment the narrative so that if I didn’t pick it up for a day or two, I did not have to worry about remembering every detail that I had previously read.