13 weeks in the book of Judges: Utilitarianism

This is part 3.  You can find part 1 HERE and part 2 HERE.


One of the attitudes I often see in young people today is the worldview of Utilitarianism.  This boils down to the philosophy of life that sees people as value propositions rather than people made in the image of God.  It reduces people down to units of usefulness.  If our friendship is beneficial to me, then I will keep you around.  If I receive little to no benefit from you, then one day I could “ghost” you as there is no reason to even acknowledge your existence.  (Ghosting is to ignore someone when they try to contact you, call you, text you, etc.)  I can’t get into why this is the case right now, (another future blog post!) but this worldview is addressed directly in Judges a number of times when we see how the Canaanites treat the Israelites.

Judges 5:28-30
[28] “Out of the window she peered,
  the mother of Sisera wailed through the lattice:
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
  Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’
[29] Her wisest princesses answer,
  indeed, she answers herself,
[30] ‘Have they not found and divided the spoil?—
  A womb or two for every man;
spoil of dyed materials for Sisera,
  spoil of dyed materials embroidered,
  two pieces of dyed work embroidered for the neck as spoil?’

This passage is from the ending of the victory song of Deborah and Barak.  They refer back to Sisera, who was the general of the Canaanites, who died at the hands of a woman named Jael while he fleeing from defeat.  (She drives a tent peg through his temples while he sleeps.  It’s a dramatic end to a powerful military leader, but that’s what happens when you fight against God.)  The song imagines that Sisera’s mother is waiting for her son to return from battle, on the presumption that he always wins, so why wouldn’t he win against the Israelites, right?  It imagines that she’s waiting up for him to come home in his magnificent chariot, with the spoils of war following not too far behind; richly embroidered clothing, and “wombs for every man.”  This was the attitude of the Canaanites.  They saw the Israelites as objects: a source for clothing, a womb to bear children.  This is utilitarianism at its worst.

Judges 6:1-6
[1] The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. [2] And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. [3] For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. [4] They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. [5] For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. [6] And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD.

In chapter 6, we see the Midianites and their attitudes towards the Israelites: a source of food.  The Midianites were so unrelenting in their pillaging, they drove the Israelites to the caves in the mountains.  You can’t grow crops and live comfortably in caves.  But they had to do what they needed to do to survive.  Now, this happened to the Israelites because of their unfaithfulness to God, but it doesn’t excuse the Midianites from their evil.  The Midianites would eventually be defeated by themselves.  Ironically, one of the Midianite soldiers has a dream about a loaf of bread rolling down the hill and crushing their tent.  It’s a poetic way to tie together the fact that the Midianites’ greed for food becomes their downfall.  God would utilize a minuscule army of 300 to confuse the Midianites in the middle of the night, and they would pretty much all end up fighting and killing each other.  Every man for himself in the midst of chaos.  When push comes to shove, there is no faithfulness to my brother in arms; it’s all about survival.  Utilitarianism doesn’t work if we want a society where people care about each other.

And if you think this attitude doesn’t rub off on the Israelites, you’d be wrong.  Eventually, they learn from their self-centered neighbors, and they quickly turn on each other.

Judges 15:9-12
[9] Then the Philistines came up and encamped in Judah and made a raid on Lehi. [10] And the men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?” They said, “We have come up to bind Samson, to do to him as he did to us.” [11] Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us?” And he said to them, “As they did to me, so have I done to them.” [12] And they said to him, “We have come down to bind you, that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.” And Samson said to them, “Swear to me that you will not attack me yourselves.”

Though Samson was an Israelite, the tribe of Judah betrays him and binds him up and hands him over to the Philistines.  Why?  Because they don’t want any trouble with the “ruling” party.  I wonder how many of us are motivated by fear and an unwillingness to rock the boat, so we let our Christian convictions die in a pathetic corner of our mind?  We don’t want to risk getting a bad grade on a report, so we swallow what we know to be true to get the “A.”  And we justify it by saying that God would want us to be successful so that we can do great things for him later on.  Except that’s not an accurate way of following God.  He doesn’t want us to compromise in small ways now for great things later one.  God desires faithfulness in all things, great or small.

Luke 16:10-12
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?

The way that we move away from Utilitarianism, and towards a robust Christian worldview, is to embrace the calling of Jesus.  He came to serve and empty himself for our sake.  The distinction of Christians throughout all of history is not our perchance for worldly success, but rather the dying to ourselves for the glory of God.  The book of Judges paints for us a grim picture of people who strive only to live for themselves, may we learn their lesson well and strive to be Christ-like in the way we serve and love our neighbors.


One thought on “13 weeks in the book of Judges: Utilitarianism

  1. Pingback: 13 weeks in the book of Judges: God’s Mercy comes in Unexpected Ways | kevin.h.yi

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