The Difference Phinehas Makes

It would seem that chapters 17 through 21 could just have easily been chapters 3 through 7. Who knew?

Hovering over and diving a bit into the final chapters of Judges this morning. And a small detail turns upside down how I’ve always read Judges.

Then the Israelites inquired of the Lord. In those days, the ark of the covenant of God was there, and Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, was serving before it. The Israelites asked, “Should we again fight against our brothers the Benjaminites or should we stop?”

The Lord answered, “Fight, because I will hand them over to you tomorrow.”

(Judges 20:27-28 CSB)

I’ve always read Judges chronologically, that what was recorded in the last chapters of Judges occurred after the events of the earlier chapters. And so, I’ve read the closing chapters of Judges as a testimony of just how bad things continued to get after Samson’s death. That the examples recorded of over-the-top idolatry and a priesthood free-market economy (Judges 18-19); and of the Sodom and Gomorrah like debauchery (Judges 20); and of a tribe of Israel almost becoming a non-entity (Judges 21-22) were to show how, despite God’s repeated intervention over centuries, the moral climate in Israel had continued to go from bad to worse. But apparently things were already worse at the beginning of Judges, that time when Joshua’s generation passed and “another generation rose up who did not know the LORD or the works He had done for Israel” (Jud. 2:10).

How do we know? Because of Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron. The presence of Phinehas makes a difference.

This grandson of Aaron was the priest serving during the events recorded in these latter chapters of Judges after Samson. But he was also the priest who accompanied Joshua during the conquest of the promised land some 250 years before Samson (see Joshua 22). So Judges 17 through 21 probably occurred within 10 or 20 years of Joshua’s passing. Thus, the repeated theme of these latter chapters, that “in those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what seemed right to him” (Judges 17;6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25), really is the over-arching explanation for everything recorded in Judges.

So, what difference does it make? For me at least, it takes a dark, dark cloud that especially hung over the latter part of the book and moves it directly over the entire book. It adds a depth of understanding for just how corrupted Israel had become so quickly after entering the promised land. A generation which knew neither the works of the LORD, nor had heeded Moses’ command to know the word of the LORD, had become a generation so far from the LORD.

It makes a difference because when I read about all the idolatry in the first chapters of Judges it now reminds me that with such idolatry comes sickening debauchery. That worshiping the gods of this world result in adopting the anchor-less morals of the world, leading to engaging in unimaginable practices of doing whatever’s right in one’s own eyes. That giving ourselves over to idols is in essence giving ourselves over to the flesh.

But it also makes a difference for me because the darkness of this cloud, which now overshadows Judges from the beginning of the book, emphasizes even more the grace and patience of the God who repeatedly sought to discipline His people towards repentance. A God who did not allow the near complete decimation of one tribe of Israel to become the deserved outcome for all the rebellious tribes of Israel. A God who, even in the midst of such utter moral and religious decay, was still working in the hearts of individuals to bring about his kingdom (can’t wait to get to the book of Ruth).

So, maybe next year, if I remember, I’ll read Judges 17 through 21 before reading Judges 3 and marvel again at God’s persistence and patience in protecting His people as He sought to bring His people to repentance.

This too, evidence of His immeasurable grace. This too, for His all-deserved glory

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