As the sin cycle of the book of Judges ends, a new phrase takes prominence in the narrative, “In those days, Israel had no king.” It began in yesterday’s reading but continues today. Not only did they have no king, they also had no judge, and in fact no enemies from whom they needed saving. In this final cycle, the enemy is themselves, the judge is non-existent, and the salvation comes through debasement: the murder of an innocent woman, the destruction of an entire tribe, and the kidnap of their own women.
This is not a story I ever heard in Sunday school, nor do I teach it. No curriculum I’ve ever found includes it, and no sermons are preached on it for any reason but shock value. It is a story that seems to have no redeeming point and no Christological foreshadowing, so we ignore it. But I believe there is a very strong and pertinent point to this story, and it should be taught, granted to the appropriate audience.
We are not far from these people we read about. Sin is not only prevalent but applauded in this world, celebrated in every movie and series, taught to our children and encouraged by our schools, even our private Christian ones. While we may not be attacking houses to have sex with the men inside, we are attacking the poor, the minority, and the unaccepted, overpowering them to control them with regulations. We rise up as a people to defame and attack those who act inappropriately, debasing them on social media and destroying careers, families and people. And yet the slide toward godlessness continues.
We are facing the consequences of our own societal degradation and sin cycle. As with most empires in the world, the American Empire, most historical sociologists agree, is failing and all signs show it coming to an end. And in the midst of it, we are becoming meaner, cruder, and more celebratory of any and all sinfulness. How will the church speak up in the midst of societal decay? What does Jesus have to say to us as America loses its power and another power rises? How do we fulfill our mission as a church and as God’s people when the world around us changes?