Bible Reading Plan – March 12-18

Judges

Bible Project Reading Plan (March 12-18):
Judges 4-21, Ruth 1-4, Psalm 71-77


The Bible is a beautiful book. It is beautiful in many ways: it is subtle, yet clear; it is well paced and structured; its language is adorned with artistry without being haughty. One of the best tests for beauty is how something can stir the heart. Listen to Psalm 73:23-28, a passage we encounter this week:

I am always with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me up in glory.

Who do I have in heaven but you?
And I desire nothing on earth but you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart,
my portion forever.

Psalm 73:23-26; ESV

For believers, such passages are quite moving. This particular passage confesses the truth of our reliance upon God and his faithfulness to us. It pictures God as both tender and ferocious, and those he helps as both weak and emboldened. It is masterful in the way it can provide these truths to us with depth, in three dimensions as opposed to simple flat statements of God’s qualities and ours. It invites us, because its setting is vague and general, to enter into the Psalm itself; it is written from a very personal experience, and yet that experience is open and available to us all. In a word, it is beautiful.

But the Bible, like our God, is both beautiful and ferocious. It is a book that can reach the heights of artistry and the dirt of human experience. It is a book that is bloody and earthy, filled with stories of anger, wrath, vengeance, and, to almost no one’s surprise, intense violence.

The book of Judges is a violent book. It begins with the sweeping conquests of the Promised Land and ends with a civil war started with a sexual abuse and a dismembered body. It is not shy about the violence within its pages, and, what is likely even more distressing, is unabashed in the way that much of this violence is portrayed as (gasp!) good. When Sisera, the leading general of the oppressive reign of Jabin, king of Canaan, flees from before the armies of the Lord, he comes to the tent of Jael. Such a place should be a refuge for him: Jabin and Jael’s husband, Heber, have a peaceable friendship. Jael uses that comfort to turn on Sisera in a dramatic way: after giving him shelter and sustenance, Jael comes to the great and powerful general and

While he was sleeping from exhaustion, Heber’s wife Jael took a tent peg, grabbed a hammer, and went silently to Sisera. She hammered the peg into his temple and drove it into the ground, and he died.

Judges 4:21, ESV

Not only is the Bible is not willing to paint this event in a polite way, it even seems to immerse itself in a gory retelling of the story: the wonderful juxtaposition of Jael moving “silently” with the powerful violence of the tent peg moving through (the sleeping!) Sisera’s head. The facts of the case are then followed by the extra and fully unnecessary detail that the peg was driven into the ground, followed by the almost comedic and understated “and he died.”

Why laud violence this way? Our culture almost universally abhors violence, and such scenes are typically pictured as barbaric and antiquated. But, lest we forget, vengeance and redemption were promised by God through violence:

I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.

Genesis 3:15, ESV

Jael is, in crushing the head of Israel’s enemies, bringing about the shadowy fulfillment of God’s promise of which Jesus has and will become the reality. Perhaps uncomforting to many, Judges 4 is only a picture of the true violence of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the lamb crucified and the lion triumphant. And while we might be squeamish about placing such violence in song, parading about the goodness of such carnage, the Bible is not so cosmopolitan, as Judges 5 makes clear.

And yet, directly after this bloody book, comes Ruth. It is a beautiful story about love, friendship, and redemption. It is the perfect companion piece to Judges: violence and rage, tenderness and compassion. The Bible is our God’s book: faithful to his people, a terror to his enemies. Psalm 73, continued from above:

Those far from you will certainly perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.

But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
so I can tell about all you do.

Psalm 73:27-28; ESV

Cling to God, and make the Lord your refuge. For his enemies will know his wrath.