It is actually quite fitting that we have been reading Joshua and Judges during the Advent season. The name “Joshua” is essential the same as the name “Jesus.” They’re simply different grammatical forms of the same name. The name has a meaning: God saves. In this way, the name Jesus is like the name Emmanuel which we will hear a lot of this holiday season. Emmanuel means: God is with us. But you could say that “God saves” and “God is with us” mean the same thing. Our savior is Jesus Christ, and it is his coming into the world to redeem us that saves us. So, Jesus being with us, and Jesus saving us, are one and the same thing. Jesus is what he does, and does what he is.
The Israelites experience this as well. When the Lord is with them in battle, he saves them. When God is absent, they fail. They carry the ark of the covenant with them, where God’s presence hovers, and they are saved. If God’s Spirit is absent, or they leave the Ark behind, they fall down. It is appropriate that someone named Joshua is the leader of the Israelites at this time. His name makes clear that although he is the special leader of Israel after Moses’ death, it is still God, not Joshua, who saves. His name points away from himself to God.
Now, as we begin reading Judges, we read a unique time in the history of Israel. The Israelites have settled in Canaan, but they are not yet united as a nation under one king. Instead, God chooses special leaders or “judges” to lead the tribes. At various times, judges might or might not have the participation of all the tribes. It’s a very loose confederation. The judges primary job was to lead the tribes in military actions, but the judges also interpreted law, and sometimes did other things even than this (for example, Deborah, one of the judges, was also a song-writer).
Judges teaches a strong spiritual insight. When the Israelites show commitment to God, and do not chase after other gods, they prosper. When they chase after other gods (idolatry) God allows Israel’s enemies to punish them. The cycle of faithfulness, apostasy, punishment, cry for delivery, new judges given, repeats itself over and over throughout the book.
The period of judges lasts from the time Joshua enters Canaan, until the last judge, Samuel. Samuel anoints Saul as the first king of Israel. Joshua dies around 1200 B.C. Samuel becomes the first king of Israel around 1030 B.C. So, it is about a 170 year period all in all- about the same length of time as East Koshkonong has been a congregation!
During these two weeks, we read about the following judges: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Abimelech, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson. The three most famous of these are Samson, Deborah, and Gideon. You will probably recognize some of their stories. Of course, the last judge, Samuel, is also well known.
During these two weeks, we also read the book of Ruth. Ruth takes place during the time of the judges. Ruth herself is from Moab, a nation to the east of Israel. She comes to Israel out of faithfulness to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Ruth is a beautiful story in and of itself. But it is also the story of one person who is in the genealogy of David, and therefore of Jesus. Ruth is an ancestor of Jesus.
And maybe that is a good thing to keep in mind throughout these Christmas days. Although you are reading a history far removed from our own (over 3000 years ago), it is nevertheless the family history of Jesus Christ, and therefore our family history as well. Ruth is the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother of Joseph. Jesus is Joseph’s son (by marriage if not biologically). Jesus is our brother (by faith if not biology). Praise the Lord that he sent his son to be our brother and redeem us. God saves. God is with us!