I love a good happy ending. At least, if it makes sense for the story. There are some that a happy ending seems forced—like pretty much every romantic comedy ever.[1. Notable exception: films involving Cameron Crowe prior to 2000 (Jerry Maguire excepted, of course).] But there are others where it just seems to make sense to have a happy ending. The story naturally leads to the conclusion.
Teaching the kids in our children’s ministry this weekend, I wished Joshua had been one of those. Although it kind of is.
The happy ending I wish we had
After all, the book ends with this powerful, amazing moment where you’d imagine a Braveheart-era Mel Gibson standing before the people of Israel, saying, “…choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15).
And everyone cheers and rejoices, swearing, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods… we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God” (24:16, 18). And that’s it. Big finish. Everyone’s excited because they all live happily ever after. Except we have the book of Judges.
The continuation of the story
Judges is arguably the darkest book of the entire Bible. The entire message of this book is summarized in the last line of the book: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
The people, despite their swearing to the contrary, abandoned the Lord. They forgot his promises. They forgot what he had done for them. They worshipped and served other gods instead of the true God… and so they experienced the consequences God warned of through Moses. They were oppressed by foreign kings. They were in bondage. And in their sorry state, they would remember the Lord. They would ask him to save them.
And every single time, he does. Though they don’t deserve it. Though they have failed to keep their word, God saves them. He is just that good. And he is that committed to keeping his own word, to bless the nations through the offspring of Abraham.
So, God would send a deliverer—a Judge—to rescue the people. To save them from the consequences of their sin. Some were, from what we know of them, pretty decent in terms of character. Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar and Deborah don’t have any serious flaws recorded in Scripture. But after Deborah, things went down hill fast. Gideon was double-minded. Abimelech was evil. Tola and Jair, we know little about (Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon, too). Jephthah made a foolish vow that cost him his daughter. And Samson—he was probably the worst of all.
It was through people like these that God would work to fulfill his plans. People like you and me, that he would use for his glory. But the best that any of these judges could do, even the good ones, was deal with the consequences of the people’s sin. They couldn’t address the cause. For that, the people—and we along with them—would need a different and better Deliverer.
The happy ending we can share
This is where I find some tiny bit of good news in the book of Judges—that the Judges themselves point forward to a different, a better Deliverer. One who would not be limited to addressing the consequences of sin, but the cause of it. One who would rescue his people from bondage; bondage of the heart. Our enslavement to sin.
And that Deliverer is Jesus, the One who deals with our sin problem by giving us a new heart through his Spirit. One who never does what is right in his own eyes, but only what is right in his Father’s eyes. One who leads us to do what is right in the Father’s eyes, too. One who not only holds out a hope for redemption, but the sure promise of it, as he prepares to make all things new in this world, erasing sin and sadness and sorrow forever.
That’s the happy ending we really need—and even better, it’s the happy ending that is coming, and coming soon. And even as we’re thankful for it, we should be telling everyone about it. That through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are freed forever from our bondage to sin, that when we believe in him, we are forever brought into his family, and no one can ever make him change his mind (not even us).
That is good news. That is the happy ending I’m looking forward to. It’s the happy ending I want others to know. Because it’s the best kind of happy ending of all—it’s true.