The Worst is Yet to Come

Open your Bible to the 3rd chapter of the book of Judges.

Today’s the day we’ve been waiting for. For the last two weeks we’ve been in the introduction to this book. And you recall that it’s a double introduction. Are you annoyed with me pointing out that the book of Judges has a double introduction? Well, I’m going to keep telling you all that this book has a double introduction until it sticks in your head and forevermore when you read this book you’ll remember why it seems to mention Joshua dying twice. I’ll keep telling you about the double introduction until you remember that the first introduction tells us about Israel’s failures regarding foreign armies and that the second introduction tells us about Israel’s failures regarding foreign idols. And if you don’t remember… I’ll probably tell you again next week.

Alright, now that we all remember the double introduction! We need to remember what the book of Judges chronicles. Throughout this book we will witness the Canaanization of Israel. It’s a progressive thing. It gets worse and worse. And isn’t that the nature of sin? Give it an inch and it will take a mile.

And Israel was sinning. They disobeyed God by not driving out the Canaanites. Instead, they were actually marrying the Canaanites and worshiping their false gods – Baal and Ashteroth and I’m sure many more.

Now, God wasn’t going to take this sitting down. He was very angry with his people for their sin against him. He swore to not drive out the Canaanites. These Canaanites will serve a few of God’s purposes. First, they will prove whether Israel will obey the Lord or not. Those silly rain deities that the Canaanites had were surprisingly attractive for ancient Israel. Would Israel choose Baal? Or would they choose the true God who had rescued them from Egypt and brought them into a covenant with himself? The Canaanites would prove which way Israel’s heart was inclined.

The second purpose Yahweh had for leaving the Canaanites in the land was so that the inexperienced Israelites could learn war. The new generation that arose and didn’t know the Lord also didn’t know how to fight. God amazingly even while punishing this nation is letting them derive some benefit during the punishment.

Now, not only was the Lord allowing the Canaanites to remain in the land. But when he was sufficiently provoked to anger with Israel he would actually send oppressors to oppress them. He wanted to get their attention. You can imagine the Lord saying something like this through sending oppressors to Israel — “Hey look! The gods whom you’re serving aren’t strong enough to deliver you! Can’t you see that I AM and there is no other? Turn to me and be saved!”

And you know what? The Israelites did react. They would cry out. And you might think that sounds really good. Maybe it’s a cry of repentance! We could only wish. I’m afraid their cry was far short of repentance. Israel was like a child who cried when his father declares his intent to discipline the boy. But is he crying because he’s repentant? Or is he crying because he’s being punished? Unfortunately it does seem that when Israel cries out she does so out of pain and misery. But she’s far from repentant. Because once the judge dies, Israel’s right back to her evil ways. And they’re even worse than they were before!

So, Israel’s cry isn’t one of repentance. You might expect the Lord to not answer such a cry. But actually… he does. The Lord responds in pity and compassion to his evil disobedient nation. It’s like he can’t help his heart from going out to those oppressed individuals. Their oppression is their own fault. And God could cross his arms and turn away from them. But he didn’t. He can’t shut off his mercies to them. He just won’t.

Is this not a God who deserves our love? A God so holy, so just, so upright. And at the same time he’s a God who is so full of pity, of love, of compassion. And this same God is our God. And you are in a covenant with him if you’ve trusted Christ. You’re espoused to Christ. And no one can take you out of his hand. Remember Pastor Fuller’s message last Sunday night? A big point of that message was this – “let love for Christ drive out all idols.” How could you not love such a merciful, forgiving, compassionate God?

Now, God does respond to Israel’s cry of pain and misery. And his chosen response is to send saviors to them – judges or tribal rulers. These men – well, I’ll say individuals – are charged with delivering or saving God’s people. And once these tribal rulers have done their job and delivered God’s people from their oppressors the people are safe for a while… Until… they sacrifice to idols, intermarry with pagans, and provoke the Lord to anger. When this happens we go right back to where we started this discussion.

And this cyclical process gets worse and worse as I said. Do you know what that means? It means that the first judge that we’re going to see is really the best judge – the prototypical judge – the model judge after which all other judges will be (pardon the pun) judged. So perhaps we could call this lesson “The Worst is Yet to Come.

Judges 3:7-8

So, who is this first judge? Well, let’s read about him in 3:7-8.

KJV Judges 3:7 ¶ And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves. 8 Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushanrishathaim eight years.

So, actually we didn’t get to the judge yet. The scene is being set for him still. And this is the scene. Israel sinned and made God very angry. They’re worshipping the Canaanite storm god Baal and some wooden symbols of some other sort of deity. Apparently Israel is very happy to serve these dark doubly-wicked deities. And so you know what? God sells the Israelites into the hands of Chushan-Rishathaim. Do you know what his name means? “Dark, doubly-wicked” – just like their false deities. And by the fact that this guy has a name like this we can imagine that he’s pretty bad. He hails all the way from Mesopotamia. So he’s come from a long way. And he’s a really evil guy. And he crushes Israel under his boot for eight years. It’s interesting to note how the text describes this situation. Verse 7 – Israel served dark wicked deities. Verse 8 – the result – Israel served this dark wicked king. The punishment matches the crime.

Judges 3:9-11

The situation is bleak. Israel is subject to this evil king. The Lord has rightfully abandoned them. They’re seeing how hopeless they are. And they’re in pain. So finally they take a step in the right direction and God’s compassion is kindled. Verses 9 through 11.

9 And when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10 And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim. 11 And the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.

You can’t ask for a better outcome. Israel cries out to the Lord because of their pain and misery. The Lord then takes the initiative to raise up a savior for his wayward people. His name? Othniel. He’s Caleb’s brother. And he’s the son of Kenaz. And here’s something interesting. Apparently Kenaz isn’t a natural born Israelite. He would have been a convert to the religion of Yahweh. Nevertheless, he’s a supremely godly individual. He was somehow grafted into the tribe of Judah. He’s the relative – probably the nephew – of one of the godliest Israelites – Caleb. His wife Achsah is completely in-tune with The Lord’s plans for the land. And these are things we’ve already known.

Beyond those things, we have a few more items to note in this passage. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Caleb. And in that strength and wisdom he went out and waged war and judged Israel. The Lord raised him up. The Lord put his Spirit on him. It’s as if the Lord himself and the man Caleb are one, fighting against the enemy. And together they defeat King Dark, Doubly-Wicked from Mesopotamia. The land has rest for 40 years and then Othniel dies.

Now, why is there so little said about this judge? I mean, if he’s the prototypical example, why does a character like Samson have several chapters devoted to his story while Othniel has not even a whole chapter? What I think we’ll see is that more ink needs to be spilled for the other judges in order to document their idiosyncrasies, flaws, and everything else. Othniel did things by the book. God raised him up and empowered him and he just went and did the work. No abnormalities. No moral failures. He just gets the job of saving the Lord’s people over and done with.

Judges 3:12-14

Alright, now that this first major or cyclical judge finished his task, we move a bit north from Judah to the tribe of Benjamin. Let’s read verses 12 through 14.

12 ¶ And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD. 13 And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and went and smote Israel, and possessed the city of palm trees. 14 So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.

Let’s note a few things here. First, who’s the enemy? His name is Eglon. Who is he? The king of the land of Moab just south-east of Israel on the other side of the Dead Sea. And what does he do to Israel? He strikes Israel and takes possession of Jericho – the city of palm trees. This is as you recall the very first city that Israel took when they crossed the River under Joshua’s leadership. And now it appears to be the very first city they’ll be giving back to the Canaanites whom they should have destroyed. But how can this evil Moabite king have such an influence over Israel? Such power to defeat them? We’re told in verse 12. The Lord himself strengthens this king to oppress his evil people. Why does the Lord allow them to be oppressed anyway? Because they did evil in the Lord’s sight. And remember that this would certainly include Israel bowing down to idols and marrying lost people from the surrounding nations.

Judges 3:15-17

So this is a hopeless scene. Israel is oppressed. And it’s the Lord himself who is strengthening the oppressor. God’s people have gotten themselves into a big mess. In fact, it’s so hopeless that there’s nothing they can do to save themselves. They need salvation from the Lord. Let’s read about this next “savior” of God’s people, Israel, in verses 15 through 17.

15 ¶ But when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab. 16 But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh. 17 And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon was a very fat man.

Israel cries out to God because of their pain and misery. And so God raises up a savior, a deliverer, a judge. His name is Ehud. He’s not from Judah, like Othniel was. He’s from Benjamin – and in this book this particular tribe wasn’t cast in the best light. In the first chapter Benjamin follows Judah in trying to drive out the Canaanites. Judah does well, though they fail. Then Benjamin steps up to the plate and… doesn’t even swing. They fail to drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem, which was already weakened by Judah. That’s the first we hear of Benjamin in this book. This tribe is mentioned a few more times, but the majority of the discussion about them centers in the conclusion to the book. Remember the Levite and his concubine? Then all Israel goes to war with Benjamin, leaving that tribe almost wiped out. So Benjamin gains a pretty bad reputation through this book. But here, God raises up a deliverer from this tribe.

Now, this man Ehud is left-handed. Some see this as sort of an insult to him. Apparently ancient cultures were a little suspicious of left-handed individuals – like they were somehow unnatural. But I don’t that’s why the author of Judges mentions this. Why does he mention this fact then? I think it leads up to the statement in verse 16. This fellow made a dagger about a foot long or maybe a bit longer. And where does he put it? On his right thigh. Now, I don’t want to spoil the surprise of what’s to come. So, I’ll just say this. Ehud is being sent with some money to Eglon. Ehud is going to deliver Israel from Eglon. Ehud made a dagger and put it on his right thigh under his clothing. Surely the guards would check Ehud’s left thigh, since most people were right-handed and since that’s apparently where people would keep weapons. But would the guards check the right thigh?

Judges 3:18-23

The end of verse 17 adds suspense to this story. Out of the blue we’re told – now Eglon was a very fat man. The name Eglon comes from a word that means calf. The “on” ending probably makes it mean something like “young calf.” So here we have a young fattened calf. A man who has been fattened by oppressing and extorting from God’s people. And on the other side of the ring is a man carrying a sharp instrument for the purpose of slaughter. It sounds to me like we have a sacrifice coming up – not literally, but in a sense that’s what this kind of situation might recall to the Israelites’ minds. A fattened calf and a knife. Sacrifice time. Let’s see what happens next. Verses 18 through 23.

18 And when he [Ehud] had made an end to offer the present, he sent away the people that bare the present. 19 But he himself turned again from the quarries [this could also means “stones” or “idols”, since idols were often made of stones] that were by Gilgal, and said, I have a secret errand [or “word” or “matter” or “thing”] unto thee, O king: who said, Keep silence. And all that stood by him went out from him. 20 And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting in a summer parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat. 21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly: 22 And the haft [or “handle”] also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out. 23 Then Ehud went forth through the porch, and shut the doors of the parlour upon him, and locked them.

Sacrifice accomplished, I’d say. So, Ehud came with a few other Israelites to give tribute to this oppressive king. Once this is finished Ehud and his assistants go back to wherever they came via Gilgal. And on this journey back in Gilgal Ehud sends everyone else back ahead of him. Does he spend some time by these quarries or by these idols – whatever translation it is? If there are idols there then does seeing these idols provokes Ehud to anger and a sense of vengeance for his God? If we’re talking about just plain stones, could these have reminded Ehud of the stones which Joshua had the children of Israel set up when they crossed the River? Whatever the case, something happens to Ehud in Gilgal. And he turns back to face the enemy.

He approaches Eglon and reveals that he has a secret for him. Again, “errand” is the word that can mean “word” or “matter”. Ehud has a secret matter for the king. He keeps it discreet and mysterious. We can imagine Eglon bouncing up and down and jiggling with delight at the prospect of a treat – maybe a tasty bit of food, maybe more money to spend on his appetite. Whatever it is, he hastily sends his guards away. We can assume from this that Ehud probably didn’t look or act sinister in any way. He probably wasn’t a tall foreboding character. Eglon felt perfectly comfortable in his presence without any guards. Besides, I would assume that the guards already checked his person for weapons – at least on his left thigh!

And this scene all happens in Eglon’s cool summer parlor. Again the contrast between Israel and her oppressors is laid before us. Eglon is fat from Israel’s offerings. He has a splendid cool summer palace while the oppressed Israelites languish.

Once the guards leave the room I assume they move a considerable distance away from the king’s personal chamber. Otherwise I imagine they might hear the sound of what happened. So, they leave and go somewhere for a little while. Long enough for Ehud to stab Eglon. And the description of what happened is sort of comical, though of course we’re speaking of the demise of a real human, so let’s not laugh too hard. But we’ve been set up for this. The guy is fat. Really fat. And he oppresses God’s people. He manages to get himself up out of his chair to receive his treat. And then Ehud pulls the weapon from his right thigh and plunges it into Eglon’s belly. Eglon is so fat that the dagger enters his belly sinking all the way into him. The fat – another sacrificial term or concept – covers even the handle of the dagger and cannot be retrieved. And ultimately we have the King James Version telling us that the “dirt” came out. Yuck! This probably means that excrement came out of Eglon’s body as a result of this attack.

Judges 3:24-25

Ehud escapes and locks the door behind him. Then the guards return. Verses 24 and 25.

24 ¶ When he was gone out, his servants came; and when they saw that, behold, the doors of the parlour were locked, they said, Surely he covereth his feet in his summer chamber. 25 And they tarried till they were ashamed: and, behold, he opened not the doors of the parlour; therefore they took a key, and opened them: and, behold, their lord was fallen down dead on the earth.

So even this part is intended to be humorous I think. And I’m sorry if this is distasteful – well, there’s no “ifs” about it – it is indeed distasteful. But, seeing as the “dirt” came out earlier on in the story and now that Eglon isn’t coming to the door, the guards put two and two together. Covering one’s feet is an ancient Hebrew euphemism for our modern English euphemism “using the facilities.” He’s not coming to the door. The smell may have been noticeable. Again, I’m sorry for the unpleasantness. And these guards at first wait patiently. Then as the minutes pass they start to wonder. But really who is going to be the first to knock and risk embarrassing their liege? They wait until they are ashamed and can’t wait any longer! So they get the key, open the door, and find their corpulent and godless leader dead on the ground.

Judges 3:26-30

What happens next? Verses 26 through 30.

26 ¶ And Ehud escaped while they tarried, and passed beyond the quarries [or, again, perhaps “idols” or just the “stones” that were in Gilgal], and escaped unto Seirath. 27 And it came to pass, when he was come, that he blew a trumpet in the mountain of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the mount, and he before them. 28 And he said unto them, Follow after me: for the LORD hath delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand. And they went down after him, and took the fords of Jordan toward Moab, and suffered not a man to pass over. 29 And they slew of Moab at that time about ten thousand men, all lusty [or “robust” or “large” or even “fat”], and all men of valour; and there escaped not a man. 30 So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest fourscore years.

What an ending! Ehud escapes. But not one of those fat, large, or robust men of Moab does.

It’s interesting that Ehud escapes to Ephraim. Again, he’s from Benjamin, but I think this shows that judges could be the tribal ruler over several tribes, not just one. So, apparently a number of men from all Israel followed after Ehud down to the fords of Jordan where people would cross over to Moab. And they kill a lot of these fat/large/robust men – apparently they’re this way from their consumption of Israel’s goods just like Eglon. 10,000 of them or thereabouts. But later on in the book there will be an even larger slaughter at this very same place – the fords of Jordan. It’s there at the end of Jephthah’s time that the Gileadites led by Jepthah slaughter not 10,000 but 42,000. But that’s not the number of foreign enemies in chapter 12. It’s the number of Ephraimites that are slain under Jephthah’s rule – these very Ephraimites who are helping Ehud destroy the foreign enemy – Moab.

But for now, Ehud did his job. The foreign enemy is put down. And the land – whether that’s all Israel or just that immediate area – has rest for 80 years – two generations.

So, what do you think about Ehud? I’d say he’s generally a good judge. There really isn’t anything bad said of him – unless you think that being left-handed is a negative quality in a person. He did use deception, whereas we’re not told that Othniel did. But I’m not sure that we should look down on him because of that. Deception is a lawful tactic in war. And Israel certainly was in a war. So I think he’s fine. But even the fact that we’re having to weigh Ehud’s actions and character are an indication that things are on a downward progression in Israel, though the progression is slow at this point.

Judges 3:31

Well, we’ve seen two major or cyclical judges. Then we end the chapter with a minor or non-cyclical judge. Let’s read verse 31.

31 ¶ And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel.

We can assume that Shamgar did much more than we have recorded. But we have recorded here all we need to know about this man for the sake of the message of this book. Shamgar is the first minor judge. He’s the son of Anath. Anath could be his father’s name. Or it might indicate that he was a military figure, maybe a mercenary. And he kills not Moabites like Ehud or Mesopotamians like Othniel. Shamgar kills Philistines. And since he’s dealing with Philistines he probably lives around the coast of the Mediterranean Sea where the Philistines lived. The tribes around there include Judah, Simeon, Dan, Ephraim, and Benjamin. So it’s likely that he’s from one of those tribes. But I’ve read that Old Testament scholars think he may not have been a native Israelite – just like Othniel.

Now, Shamgar kills 600 Philistines. And he does it with a pretty unusual instrument – an ox goad. That’s the instrument farmers would use to move their oxen along. 600 dead with a simple ox goad. That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment. It is amazing. But just imagine what Israel could have been doing this whole time if only they had been faithful to the Lord instead of serving Baal.

So, now we’ve considered the first three judges in this book. We have nine left. And as I said at the beginning, it doesn’t get any better than this. It’s all downhill from here. Israel gets worse and worse and so do their judges. Next time we’ll hear about a female judge named Deborah and her reluctant sidekick Barak.

The Canaanizing of Israel

Open your Bible to the 1st chapter of the book of Judges.

Judges 1 Commentary: Last Time

Last week we got a broad overview of this book. We saw its three main sections – the double introduction, followed by the cycles of judges in the middle of the book, and closed by the double conclusion. And through all of these sections and chapters we see a general downward progression in Israel’s morals, character, and worship. The degeneration evident in this book can get to be offensive and repulsive. In fact, at one point during the message last week I was overcome with a sense of how horrible things had really become in Israel during this time. I saw pained looks on some of your faces. Hopefully that wasn’t just a reaction to my teaching style! I think that was a reaction to the way this book portrays life in the days of the Judges. It was wicked. It was unclean. It was the kind of culture that God himself would have to judge and punish. In fact, if these Israelites didn’t turn from their sins and embrace the God of Israel they would need to be driven from their land…

Wait. You know, that kind of situation sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it? A society becoming so wicked that God had to punish it by driving it from its land? And what I’m primarily thinking about is not our nation, though we are well-deserving of God’s punishment. What I see of the Israelites in the book of Judges – from start to finish – looks a lot like what I’ve heard about regarding the Canaanites. Why did God drive the Canaanites out of their land? Was it not for their constant and grave sin against the Lord? Why did God eventually after hundreds of years of patience need to drive the Israelites from their land? Was it not their constant and grave sin against the Lord? Yeah. So, what are we seeing here in the book of Judges, ultimately? If you were trying to summarize the events of this book, what would you say?

Some say the book is an apology for the monarchy. So someone in David’s time wants to write a book defending why Israel needs a king. Now, there surely is a sense in which this book shows us Israel’s need for a king – someone who will rule over them and help them do right in the Lord’s eyes. And yet, a human king didn’t do the trick, as we saw last week.

I think you can summarize the entire book of Judges like this: The Canaanizing of Israel. The double introduction shows how this process of Canaanizing started. The middle section relating the cycle of Judges shows us the increasing influence of the neighboring pagans over Israel. And the distressing double conclusion relates the utter saturation of Israel with the wickedness and godlessness of the surrounding Canaanites. The book of Judges. The Canaanizing of Israel.

Judges 1 Commentary: Progressive Canaanization

So today we’ll take a close look at the first of the two introductions to the book of Judges — 1:1 to 2:5. In our Christian lives we talk about this phenomenon called progressive sanctification. Well, what we see in this first introduction is basically the opposite of that process. So, in this lesson we’ll take a look at Progressive Canaanization. Not progressive sanctification – growing in holiness and Christliskeness. But progressive Canaanization – being conformed to the image of the ungodly pagan world around us.

Let’s read verses 1 through 3.

KJV Judges 1:1 ¶ Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them? 2 And the LORD said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand. 3 And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot. So Simeon went with him.

So, Joshua is now dead. Israel needs to complete the task that Joshua started that nation on. Joshua had led them to incredible victories. The land was taken. Now it needed to be possessed by Israel. Let’s see how they do.

All of Israel asked the Lord who should go up to fight against the Canaanites. This is noble. It shows that at least at the outset the Israelites cared about God’s priorities. They wanted to drive out the Canaanites initially.

And so the Lord tells them that the tribe of Judah should go up first. He gives the promise that he’s with them and has already delivered the land into their hand.

So, what does Judah do? The tribe actually turns around and asks Simeon to go and help them. That’s a little strange. Why would Judah need Simeon? Yes, Simeon lived within the tribe of Judah. They lived with each other, basically. But God said Judah would go. Why invite Simeon? I won’t make any more of that, but it’s just interesting. One commentary I read wondered if this is a sign of weakness in Judah – that they were too afraid or faithless to go alone? Maybe. But the text doesn’t explicitly say that’s the case, so we’ll just leave it at that.

Can I make a few points of application from this much that we’ve read thus far? Do you see some similarities to the Christian life from this passage? Israel has been handed a major victory. So have we. The Lord has saved us from sin’s penalty. Our flesh has been given a knock-out punch. Israel had to drive out the remaining Canaanites. If they didn’t, the Canaanites would become a major stumbling block to Israel. For you and I, we need to resist the world. It’s actively trying to shape us into its mold. We need to be transformed by renewing our minds.

And we’re not alone in this. Israel all together asked the Lord about who ought to attack the Canaanites first. Judah asked Simeon to help them, and maybe that was a good thing. Certainly in our Christian walk it’s alright and even advisable to not be islands unto ourselves. Iron sharpens iron. We’re not to forsake assembling together, but rather we need to encourage one another – day after day! Why? So that none of us would be hardened. How? By the deceitfulness of sin. We have internal Canaanites, so to speak, and they’re actively trying to shape us into their image. We need the fellowship of one another to keep us from being hardened.

How are you doing with this? When you come to church you can make small talk. You can talk about things that matter to you day in and day out – things like our homes and family and jobs and vehicles and health. In fact, we need to talk about these things. It’s legitimate. But do we forget to check up on one another spiritually? Are we individually walking with the Lord so that when we come to this place we actually have something to say?

Judges 1 Commentary: Judah and Simeon

Well, Israel asks God who should go up and fight the enemy. Judah should go. He takes Simeon. And let’s read verses 4 through 7.

4 And Judah went up; and the LORD delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand: and they slew of them in Bezek ten thousand men. 5 And they found Adonibezek in Bezek: and they fought against him, and they slew the Canaanites and the Perizzites. 6 But Adonibezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes. 7 And Adonibezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.

So, Judah and Simeon go up, elevationally. That’s what the text says. They go up and attack a city named Bezek. Eventually Judah and Simeon capture the Lord of Bezek. And when they find him they cut off his thumbs and big toes. What’s the deal with that? Why would they do that? Let Adoni Bezek tell you. It’s divine retribution. This pagan ruler acknowledges that God’s people are being used in this case to be agents of God’s punishment. The Lord of Bezek tells us that he had 70 kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off picking up scraps under his table. And Adoni Bezek ends his aside with this statement, “as I have done, so God hath requited me.” God is paying me back.

Wow. So, what do we take away from this account? Do you suppose that the Israelites were mindful that they were agents of God’s judgment on the Canaanites? Surely some of them had this in mind. But I wonder if many Israelites didn’t think too much about that. Many were probably happy enough to be getting God’s benefits – free land, free homes, free fields. All for the taking. They just had to kill a few Canaanites to get it.

Did you know that God has a purpose for your life? He wants to bless you. He offers great and eternal reward for serving him. We’re not like Israel in the sense that we’re not killing God’s enemies. We’re actually delivering the news of eternal life to them. We’re not wrestling against flesh and blood as Israel did. We have an unseen enemy that we’re battling. And as we go about engaging in these things let us be mindful that God has divine purposes for the things he brings us through. He has a reason for your sufferings. He has a purpose for your having to deal with that difficult person or situation or temptation.

So, Israel takes Adoni Bezek on to their next destination – Jerusalem. And there he dies. Let’s read verses 8 through 15.

8 Now the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire. 9 And afterward the children of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites, that dwelt in the mountain, and in the south, and in the valley. 10 And Judah went against the Canaanites that dwelt in Hebron: (now the name of Hebron before was Kirjatharba:) and they slew Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai. 11 ¶ And from thence he went against the inhabitants of Debir: and the name of Debir before was Kirjathsepher: 12 And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjathsepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife. 13 And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it: and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife. 14 And it came to pass, when she came to him, that she moved him to ask of her father a field: and she lighted from off her [donkey]; and Caleb said unto her, What wilt thou? 15 And she said unto him, Give me a blessing: for thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water. And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the nether springs.

So Bezek and Jerusalem were “up” in terms of elevation. Starting in verse 9 they start their descent “down”. They attack Hebron and kill Anakim – the giants who scared the 10 spies at Kadesh Barnea.  Then they took what one commentary playfully calls “Bookville” – Kiriath Sepher, which basically means bookville or city of the book. And it’s here that we see this account of Caleb, Othniel, and Achsah. Remember? We saw this in the book of Joshua before. Caleb gave Achsah land in the desert. So she wanted springs of water to kind of balance out her land holdings.

Now, Othniel is the first judge mentioned in this book – here and in the section known as the cycles of the judges. And he gets married to this woman Achsah. I just want to briefly contrast this first judge and his wife to the last judge Samson and his… wives? Othniel marries within Israel to the daughter of one of the most faithful men in the land. Samson? He marries outside of his people to members of Israel’s enemies. Achsah could be considered opportunistic. She’s wanting all the land she can get, seeing as it’s so free and plentiful. What about Samson’s love interests? Think of Delilah. She’s opportunistic. But in a horrible way. She’s ready to sell her man to his enemies for money. Achsah is using her influence to persuade her father to give her – and certainly her husband Othniel – more land. Quite a contrast.

Ladies, can I encourage you to be an Achsah rather than a Delilah? Achsah nobly moved her husband to ask for a field from Caleb. But it actually sounds like she went ahead and did it. Why didn’t Othniel do it? I don’t know. Maybe he was too busy with other things. But it was in Achsah’s husband’s best interest to get this extra field. Sounds sort of like the woman in Proverbs 31, doesn’t she? Delilah on the other hand? She moved her “husband” – though she wasn’t actually married to Samson – she moved Samson to tell her his secret that would lead to his destruction. What was her motivation? The betterment of her husband-figure Samson? No. Money. Her own personal selfish gain. But what do you expect from Delilah? She is a Canaanite, after all.

So, back to the story line here. A while back Moses asked his father-in-law to come with Israel to the promised land. His father-in-law was a Kenite. And we finally see his group entering the promised land. Let’s read verse 16.

16 ¶ And the children of the Kenite, Moses’ father in law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which lieth in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people.

The Kenites go from Jericho – the city of palms – to a place in the Judean desert. Is this alright? I think it is. Apparently the Kenites came to Jericho after Israel had conquered it. So I would suppose they came in with Joshua’s approval at least.

And we’ll see more about the Kenites in the episode about Deborah and Barak later in the book.

OK, now Judah has his territory. So now Judah can go with Simeon to conquer his territory.

17 And Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they slew the Canaanites that inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. And the name of the city was called Hormah. 18 Also Judah took Gaza with the coast thereof, and Askelon with the coast thereof, and Ekron with the coast thereof. 19 And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

20 And they gave Hebron unto Caleb, as Moses said: and he expelled thence the three sons of Anak.

We need to point out a few things here. First, Judah and Simeon utterly destroyed Zephath. This is exactly what the Lord commanded Moses and Moses commanded Israel. This is exactly what Joshua led Israel to do during the conquest of the land. The word translated “utterly destroy” (cherem) is found 28 times in the book of Joshua. So you’d expect to find it much more in the book of Judges, right? The people need to keep doing what they were charged to do! Here’s a pretty stunning fact. This word cherem is used twice in the book of Judges. The first use is here. Can you guess where the second and final use of it is in this book? Probably not. I don’t blame you. I’ll tell you. It’s actually in chapter 21. That’s where the elders are trying to figure out how to not have Benjamin wiped off the map by finding wives for them. The elders advise that all Israel utterly destroy (cherem) the men of Jabesh-Gilead. What a contrast. Here Simeon and Judah are directing the cherem toward foreign pagan enemies. But by the end of this book they’re directing the cherem toward their own people. By that point they’re pretty thoroughly Canaanized.

And one sign of worldliness in us is quarrels and strifes – petty fighting amongst each other, gossiping, back-biting. I’m not talking about legitimate communications about genuine differences. I’m not talking about biblical discipline and confrontation. But the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians that one evident sign of that church’s carnality was their jealousy and strife amongst themselves. Be careful that you’re not focusing your resources away from doing God’s work of fighting our unseen enemies with your spiritual arsenal that you have in Christ in order to exchange friendly fire with your brethren.

One last thing to note about this section. Judah and Simeon did great. Really, no one did better than these two. But they didn’t drive out the Canaanites from the valley. Their excuse? Iron chariots, which no doubt would have been formidable in the valleys. But don’t you remember the great army that gathered against Joshua in Northern Canaan? More numerous than the sand on the shore. And yet God gave them victory over that army. And those folks had chariots! Curious.

And it’s just downhill from here. Let’s read about Benjamin in verse 21.

21 And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day.

So even though Judah and Simeon burned Jerusalem, Benjamin still couldn’t drive out the inhabitants. The Jebusites would likely have been pretty weakened by Judah’s previous attack. Why could Benjamin not drive them out? Well, no time to ponder that further.

Up to this point we’ve heard about three tribes in the south of Israel. Now we turn to the north. Verses 22 through 24.

22 ¶ And the house of Joseph, they also went up against Bethel: and the LORD was with them. 23 And the house of Joseph sent to descry [“catch sight of”] Bethel. (Now the name of the city before was Luz.) 24 And the spies saw a man come forth out of the city, and they said unto him, Shew us, we pray thee, the entrance into the city, and we will shew thee mercy.

Interesting that Joseph had to re-capture Bethel. I wonder how the Canaanites got back into that city. They had been defeated with Ai back in Joshua.

This story of Joshua parallels that of Judah and Simeon. This is another united effort against the Canaanites. But the results aren’t nearly as impressive. For example, why is Joseph showing this Canaanite mercy? They should be showing him cherem! Let’s see what happens to this guy anyway. Verses 25 and 26.

25 And when he shewed them the entrance into the city, they smote the city with the edge of the sword; but they let go the man and all his family. 26 And the man went into the land of the Hittites, and built a city, and called the name thereof Luz: which is the name thereof unto this day.

So they let the Canaanite go and he goes and starts another Canaanite city. Not smart. So, that’s how the united tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh did. Pretty underwhelming. But let’s see what they did separately. Verses 27 through 29.

27 ¶ Neither did Manasseh drive out the inhabitants of Bethshean and her towns, nor Taanach and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns: but the Canaanites would dwell in that land. 28 And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out.

29 ¶ Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them.

I don’t like the pattern I’m seeing develop here. Yes, the Canaanites were pressed into forced labor when Israel was strong, but why didn’t they just drive them out when Israel was strong? Why didn’t they utterly destroy the Canaanites? Not good.

Well, let’s see if any of the other northern tribes fare any better. Verses 30 through 36.

30 ¶ Neither did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, nor the inhabitants of Nahalol; but the Canaanites dwelt among them, and became tributaries.

31 ¶ Neither did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Accho, nor the inhabitants of Zidon, nor of Ahlab, nor of Achzib, nor of Helbah, nor of Aphik, nor of Rehob: 32 But the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land: for they did not drive them out.

33 ¶ Neither did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants of Bethshemesh, nor the inhabitants of Bethanath; but he dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land: nevertheless the inhabitants of Bethshemesh and of Bethanath became tributaries unto them.

34 ¶ And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain: for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley: 35 But the Amorites would dwell in mount Heres in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim: yet the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed, so that they became tributaries.

36 And the coast of the Amorites was from the going up to Akrabbim, from the rock, and upward.

Asher and Naphtali kind of change the course of things and bring it down to a new low. The Canaanites don’t live among them. Now, these two tribes live among the Canaanites. The situation with the tribe of Dan is even worse. Dan was forced into the hill country because just like Judah they couldn’t handle the Canaanites in the valley. And the end of this sad tale is told in verse 36 where we’re told not of Israel’s boundary, but of the Amorites’.

But why? Is God unfaithful? Did he break his promise with the children of Israel to drive out the Canaanites? Let’s read God’s explanation of this series of events in 2:1-3.

2:1 ¶ And an angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. 2 And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this? 3 Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.

An angel or messenger or emissary of the Lord goes up – just like Judah did at the beginning of this lesson. But this going up is not hopeful. It’s sorrowful. The messenger comes from Gilgal – the place where Israel camped when they first entered the land under Joshua. It’s where the men of Israel renewed the covenant of circumcision after their fathers failed to implement that rite for them.

And this messenger has a really somber message. God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt. He brought them into their promised land. He swore to never break his covenant with them. And he only asked them to not join hands with the wicked pagans but to destroy them. And Israel didn’t listen. So God refuses to drive out the Canaanites any longer. And as a result things will surely get worse from here on out. The people weep and sacrifice in verses 4 and 5. But they really need to get rid of the pagans and do what God wants them to do. Apparently they don’t do it.

For us, are you struggling with some life-dominating sin? Do you suppose the Lord is allowing you to experience that because you’re disobeying him in some other area? Have you dabbled with the world enough that perhaps the Lord has let you go to some degree? And now you’re able to enjoy unhindered the world and all its passing pleasures. How do you like it? It’s not what you thought it would be, is it? It’s not fun. It’s not fulfilling. It’s burdensome.

What does God call people who claim to be his and yet are friends of the world? Enemies. Adulteresses. It sounds hopeless. No, it’s not. God gives you the solution. Are you a sinner? Cleanse your hands. Are you double-minded? Purify your heart. How does this sound in this day when positive thinking is held in such high esteem? Be miserable and mourn and weep. Turn your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Here’s what all this indicates – that you are humbling yourself under the mighty hand of God. And if you do this, what’s his promise? He will exalt you. Draw near to God. What will he do in response? He’ll draw near to you. That’s a promise.

May the Lord help us to get and stay on the path of progressive sanctification – rather than the path that Israel chose of Progressive Canaanization.

Judges Summary, What is the Biblical Book of Judges About?

Judges Summary

Judges Summary: Open your Bible to the book of Judges. Judges, chapter 1.

We’re about to embark on what I trust will be a pretty exciting noteworthy voyage through the book of Judges.

Judges Summary: From the Beginning

But before we get to the book itself, let’s remind ourselves of how we got here.

Where should we start?… How about Genesis 1:1 – in the beginning! God created the universe in 6 literal 24-hour days and rested on the 7th. He made man – Adam and Eve. With the serpent’s influence they sinned against God, incurring a curse but also receiving a promise of One who would crush that old serpent’s head.

Judges Summary: Noah & the Flood

Generations go on and the world is so wicked that God needs to destroy it with a flood. But he saves a man named Noah and his three sons in an ark. After the flood, Noah gets drunk from wine and his son mocks him in this state. So when Noah wakes up from his alcohol he curses not the son himself, but the son’s son – whose name was Canaan!

Judges Summary: Abraham

Generations go on and eventually we meet a man named Abraham. God takes him out of an idolatrous land and family and promises him the land of that cursed grandson of Noah — Canaan. God continues that promise to Abraham’s son, Isaac, and his son, Jacob. Jacob and his children go down to Egypt and stay there for over 400 years.

Judges Summary: Moses

Generations go on and finally God raises up Moses to lead his people back to the land of Canaan, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sojourned. But Moses gets angry with the rebellious people on the way and so Joshua is tasked with leading the people into the land. And it was his book that we studied for the past 12 week of adult Sunday School.

Judges Summary: Joshua

Joshua did a great job. He was a faithful man. Further, the people were obedient under his leadership. Yes, there was Achan’s sin. Yes, there was Gibeon’s deceit. Yes, many of the tribes were reluctant to take their land. But overall, the book of Joshua focused on the obedience of the people to their leader, Joshua, and to their God, the Lord.

Judges Summary: After Joshua…

But, like all human leaders, Joshua dies. The tribes have their land. They have no leader. They have enemies within their borders. How will the tribes fare under these circumstances? Will they rise to the occasion? Will they sink like a led balloon? We’ll find out in this book.

Judges Summary: The Plan

This lesson will be an overview of the whole book and maybe even beyond. My plan is then to start next week teaching through the major sections in the book. I imagine this might last for about 10 or 12 lessons. Then we’ll study the book of Ruth, Lord-willing for a few weeks. And then… we’ll see!

The Value of a Judges Summary Like This

I think these overview lessons are helpful to give us a lay of the land. And really, in the book of Judges this kind of broad knowledge of the book is indispensable. Really, you and I have to wrestle with a lot of ambiguity and confusion in this book. For example, is Samson someone we should emulate? Is he a good example to put in front of your children? “Junior, be like Samson!” Some even get the idea that Samson is a type of Christ in the Old Testament. So, is he a good guy? Or is Samson a selfish, pleasure-driven, immoral, disobedient, horrible example of a man? People walk away from this book with either set of thoughts about this character. But I hope that what we cover in this lesson will help us understand how to view the various characters and actions in this book.

Judges Summary: Structure

So, let’s start with the structure of the book. You mean chapter divisions? Not just that. There are three main sections in the book of Judges.

Judges Summary: Introduction (1:1 – 3:6)

Chapter 1, verse 1 through chapter 3, verse 6 form the introduction to the book. Only, it’s not a typical introduction. It’s actually considered a double-introduction. What does that mean?

Judges Summary: Introduction 1 (1:1 – 2:5)

It’s split up into two sections. The first introduction is in 1:1 to 2:5. The individual tribes are trying to drive out the Canaanites from their territory. Well, at least they were at first. Judah and Simeon start doing this. And they do fairly well. But there are places where even they fail. Benjamin is next and he fails to drive the Canaanites out. The two tribes of Joseph have some measure of success, but ultimately they fail. Zebulun couldn’t drive them out but they put them to forced labor. Asher though? They utterly failed so that it’s not stated that the Canaanites lived among them, but rather they lived among the Canaanites! Same with Naphtali. And lastly, with Dan, that tribe was all but driven out of their territory by the Canaanites, rather than vice versa. Finally, in the first five verses of chapter two God rebukes the people because they didn’t obey his covenant. And that’s the end of the first introduction. To summarize, we see in this first introduction – Israel succumbing to foreign armies.

Judges Summary: Introduction 2 (2:6 – 3:6)

The second section runs from 2:6 to 3:6. The emphasis in this section isn’t failures on the military side of things. The failure in this section is the in the religious side. God condemns the Israelites for intermarrying with the Canaanites and worshiping their gods. This is also the section where we see this cycle with Israel – they disobey, God sends them oppressors, Israel cries out to God, God sends them a judge to deliver them, the land has rest. So we could summarize this section as Israel succumbing to foreign idols.

Judges Summary: Conclusion (17:1 – 21:25)

So that’s the double introduction to this book. Another unique feature we find in the book of Judges is its conclusion. We find the conclusion starting in 17:1, running to the end of the book in 21:25. And wouldn’t you know it? It’s actually a double conclusion! We had a double introduction. And now we have a double conclusion.

Judges Summary: Conclusion 1 (17:1 – 18:31)

The first of the two conclusions runs from 17:1 to 18:31. There’s a man in Ephraim named Micah. He steals his mother’s silver. She issues a curse about it. He apparently feels some guilt over the situation and gives it back to her. She blesses him in the name of the Lord and promptly has an idol made in his honor. Micah sets up a shrine for the idol and makes one of his kids the priest of it. Then 17:6 – “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” No kidding!

OK, A Levite from Bethlehem leaves that city and starts wondering. He finds Micah and is offered a job as his household priest, caring for Micah’s idolatrous sanctuary. The Levite agrees. Chapter 18, verse 1 – “In those days there was no king in Israel…” You don’t say!

The tribe of Dan was basically forced out of its territory by the Canaanites earlier. So they’re looking for somewhere else. They send out five men to spy out the land. These men come to Micah’s house, see the idol and the Levite and continue on. They find a spot where Sidonians live on the north border of Israel in Laish. The five then return to base and report to their brethren. Then 600 men of Dan armed for war go out to conquer their new land in the north. On the way there they steal Micah’s idol and idolatrous Levite. Micah confronts them, but they basically tell him to go home. The 600 men take Laish and settle there. And at the end of this first conclusion it seems like the idolatrous Levite is named. He’s Jonathan the son of Gershom who is the son of… the text says Manasseh. But there’s reason to believe that the Hebrew originally said Moses. We’ll explore that down the road. But assuming it is meant to say “Moses” rather than “Manasseh” what does that mean? It means that two generations after Moses, his own grandson is an idolater. Wow.

So that’s the first conclusion. It corresponds to the second introduction. The second introduction dealt with Israel succumbing to foreign idols. Now in this first conclusion they’re succumbing to idols once more. But this time they’re not foreign, they’re home-grown – domestic idols.

Judges Summary: Conclusion 2 (19:1 – 21:25)

That leads us to the second conclusion. 19:1-21:25. Read 19:1 – “And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel…” With no king to direct Israel we hear of another unfortunate episode in their history. A Levite in Ephraim takes a concubine from Bethlehem. His concubine commits adultery on him and runs away to her home in Bethlehem. The Levite eventually goes after her and wins her back. After celebrating with her father for several days, the Levite and his concubine leave to return to Ephraim. They could pull over into Jerusalem, but the right reverent Levite refuses to stay in the city of foreigners! So they go on to Gibeah in Benjamin, the future birth place of King Saul. The Levite and his concubine are invited into the house of an old man. This house is attacked by Benjamites who want to commit immorality with the Levite. So the Levite throws his concubine out to them, who is then horrifically violated until she dies.

The Levite comes out of the house the next morning, finds the dead concubine, and sends pieces of her body all throughout Israel. Everyone is shocked. Rightfully so. All Israel gathers to battle not foreigners, but now their own brethren. They go up against Benjamin and eventually destroy all but about 1000 men of the whole tribe. The people then lament that they vowed to not give their daughters to Benjamin. Because now Benjamin will cease to be a tribe in Israel! But they have a great idea. Was there any group who didn’t go up with all Israel against Benjamin? Yes, the men of Jabesh-Gilead! OK, kill the men and married women for not helping and then take the virgins and give them to Benjamin. Great idea! Except there aren’t enough virgins. So the elders come up with another great idea! Have the men of Benjamin go steal some virgins from another city to be their wives. If their fathers protest, just tell them it’s OK. Benjamin needs wives. And you fathers won’t be breaking your promise to not give your girls to them because you didn’t voluntarily give them! They’re being stolen!

This second conclusion ends on this familiar note (21:25) – “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

This second conclusion relates to the first introduction. In the first introduction we had Israel succumbing to foreign armies. Now we have Israel succumbing to civil war – not war with the Canaanites, war with fellow Israelites. What a sad state of affairs.

Judges Summary: Cycle of the Judges (3:7 – 16:31)

So we have the introductions and the conclusions, none of which is encouraging. All of it shows a general downward progression. And in the middle of that we have the body of the book. It’s the “cycle of Judges” in 3:7 through 16:31.

Judges Summary: 12 Judges

We’re told of twelve judges in all. Six are major judges (Othniel, Ehud, Barak/Deborah, Gideon/Abimelech, Jephthah, and Samson) and six are minor judges (Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon). What makes a judge major or minor? Basically, it comes down to the amount of words written about him. The judges that have a verse or two dedicated to describing them get the title “minor judge”. While the judges with several verses or several chapters given to telling their story are known as “major judges”. Both types of judges probably did the same kinds of things. It’s just that the Lord chose to record the activities of the six major judges at greater length than he did with the minor judges.

Judges Summary: Regional

These judges were regional. They did judge Israel and they were charged with delivering Israel from their enemies. But it’s obvious from an alert reading of the book that they ruled only in certain parts of Israel at one time. Othniel was in Judah in the south of Israel. Just north of that, Ehud is from Benjamin. Deborah and Barak are north of Benjamin in the tribe of Ephraim. North of Ephraim in the tribe of Manasseh is where Gideon judged and his son Abimelech ruled as king. So the progression thus far has been from south to north. For the last two judges it seems like the movement is from east to west. Jephthah was in Gilead east of the Jordan River – around the area of the other half tribe of Manasseh. And lastly, Samson was from the tribe of Dan. Since he’s battling with Philistines I believe he’s in the southern territory of Dan, not in the far north, like we heard about them capturing in the conclusion to this book.

Judges Summary: In and Out Groups

Even these six major judges are split into two groups. Othniel, Ehud, and Deborah/Barak are considered by some as the “in-group”. What does that mean? Well, they’re viewed as somewhat noble and well-bred. That’s as opposed to the so-called “out-group” of Gideon/Abimelech, Jephthah, and Samson. Think of this second group – the “out-group”. Gideon’s father constructed an idol of Baal. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute. Samson was ignoble in practically every way.

Meanwhile, Othniel and Ehud are viewed almost completely positively. Yes, Barak received dishonor for needing a woman to go along with him to help him. But otherwise he’s portrayed as being alright.

But things take a decided turn for the worse when Gideon steps onto the scene. He tests God with his fleece. He’s encouraged to obey God only after hearing of the dream of a member of the pagan enemy. He constructs an ephod that Israel worships while Gideon is still alive. His son Abimelech is a whole other story of failure in the chapter of Gideon’s influence over Israel.

Then we have Jephthah. He apparently ends up sacrificing his daughter due to a rash vow he made.

And speaking of vows, the last in the “out-group” – Samson – never met a vow he couldn’t break. He was disobedient to his parents. He was called to judge or deliver Israel and yet the only time he delivered Israel from the Philistines was when he was moved with personal vengeance against the Philistines. He was an immoral man, loving women from the very group which he was charged from the womb by God to destroy. Samson was an utter failure. Yes, the text says he killed more Philistines in death than in life. And you may think that’s God’s commendation. But I think the whole flow of the book and the character and actions of Samson tell otherwise. In other words, the guy hardly killed any Philistines in life. At least he killed some in death.

Judges Summary: Their Job

Judges in Israel were intended to protect the nation from its external enemies. They were also charged with protecting and promoting purity in its religion. To the extent that each of these judges did this they were successful. To the extent this didn’t happen they were failures. It’s sad to say that many of the judges, in particular the last three, were failures to greater and greater degrees.

Judges Summary: The Cycle Deteriorates

Now remember the pattern for the calling of these judges. God’s people disobey. God sends oppressors to oppress them. They cry out to God. God sends a deliverer – a judge – to deliver them. The land has rest. This pattern is followed fairly well with the in-group of judges. But just before Gideon – the 1st member of the out-group – comes on the scene, the people cry to God. God doesn’t send a judge right away like he did with the first three judges. He sends a prophet to rebuke the Israelites first. Then he sends Gideon. Right before the second member of the out-group of Judges comes on the scene, the people cry to God and how does God respond? He gets sarcastic with the people – “Cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them deliver you!” But God does end up sending Jephthah. And finally with Samson, the people don’t even cry out to God. At least if they did we don’t have it recorded. So we see a degeneration even in the pattern of how the judges come to deliver Israel.

Judges Summary: Downward Spiral

So, do we see a pattern here in the book of Judges? The introductions start off with Israel failing to combat foreign armies and foreign idols. The 12 judges go from commendable to decent to questionable to downright awful. Then the double conclusion shows that Israel is basically imploding. The idols aren’t foreign anymore. They’re home-grown. And the armies they’re fighting now aren’t foreign. They’re domestic. If you were to try to visualize a trend from the start to the end of this book, what would its slope be? Is Israel getting better and better? Is that how our narrator is picturing Israel’s progress? No, I think what we see here is continual degeneration in this nation.

Judges Summary: Purpose of the Book

But why write a book that tells us about this? What’s the purpose? Did the author – ultimately God – have some overarching reason for recording these events in the way he recorded them?

Remember the phrase we kept seeing in the conclusion to Judges. “There was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Do you suppose that the author of Judges was trying to get the reader ready for the coming of a king? Perhaps this king would remedy all the ugliness we see from God’s people in the book of Judges. Perhaps he’d lead God’s people to do right in God’s eyes, not their own. Is such a leader on the horizon?

Judges Summary: Continues in Ruth

You know, I said that the book of Judges has two conclusions. And that’s right. But some argue there’s a third. What would that third conclusion be? The first conclusion mentions Bethlehem. The second mentions Bethlehem. And a lot of bad things are happening in Bethlehem in those two conclusions. But did you know that something good was happening in Bethlehem? It even took place in the time of the Judges. It’s the events recorded in the book of Ruth. Boaz, a righteous man, lived in Bethlehem in the times of the Judges. Did you know it’s possible to be a righteous man when everything around you is deteriorating into chaos and sin? Boaz is a godly man. Ruth, whose husband dies, clings to her mother-in-law, who’s also from Bethlehem, and shows some real godliness herself. These two godly people – Boaz and Ruth – get married. And the product of that marriage is a boy named Obed. He’s the father of Jesse. And Jesse is the father of… David. And David as we know will be a king who’s modeled after God’s own heart. And it’s this man whom I think we’re supposed to be awaiting by the end of the book of Judges. A man who will lead Gods people to do right in the Lord’s eyes. That’s what God’s people need.

Judges Summary: David to the Exile

And I wish I could stop there. But if you’re thoughtful your mind doesn’t stop with David and a utopian Jewish nation. David sinned. He had consequences from that sin. Solomon, David’s son did well at first. But he ended up marrying and then worshiping the gods of his pagan wives. His son had the northern tribes ripped from him. The northern tribes did nothing but evil until God exiled them. And for a few hundred years longer than their northern brothers, the southern two tribes proceeded. Some of their kings were good. Many were bad. And ultimately the kings who were supposed to lead God’s people to do right in God’s eyes – themselves sinned so gravely – along with the people they were leading – that God had to drive them out of the good land he had given them.

Judges Summary: Ezra and Nehemiah

After the exile some of the Jews return to their land. We saw this in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. And Nehemiah isn’t a king, but he’s a leader for God’s people. And when he’s around the people do right. But when he leaves what happened? Remember, Nehemiah drove out the enemies from Jerusalem. But when he left for several years and returned he found those enemies right back inside of Jerusalem.

Judges Summary: Hebrew History

So, it’s clear from Hebrew history that God’s people need a leader who will lead and influence them to do right. They need someone to deliver (or “judge”) them from the wickedness of others as well as their own. But it’s equally clear that no human judge, king, or ruler has been able to do this. Human rulers sin. And even if their sin isn’t enough to throw everything into disarray, they still die. And someone else takes his place. And that guy might be good or he might be bad.

Judges Summary: Jesus Christ

We need a king who will be totally righteous and never die. Have you found someone like that? And that’s the very next chapter in biblical history. Nehemiah closes and the very next historical narrative we see in the Scripture is what we call the Gospels. The Gospels tell us about an imperishable impeccable King and Savior. His name is Jesus, because he came to save his people from their sins – their inner-Canaanites, so to speak. And we rejoice at his coming. I know one of you is already counting down the days until Christmas. And you can hardly wait. May I say that the world in a sense was waiting for Christmas for much longer? It’s been waiting since the fall of man and the promise of the woman’s seed in Genesis 3.

Judges Summary: Christian Failures

So, great. We have the king we’ve all been waiting for. Wonderful. But that doesn’t solve all of our problems, does it? In a very real sense the biggest of our problems are solved. For those of us who have received Christ the King, our sins are forgiven for his sake. We have eternal life. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. And yet, we still have the sin nature present in us. And at any time we can fall by paying attention to and obeying it rather than our king. Just a brief survey of American Christianity will show you there are serious problems with “God’s people”. Some fall away from the faith. They apostatize. Some commit horrible sins while still claiming to be loyal to the king. We’re constantly tempted with false teachings and false practices which go against the king’s character and commands. I thought all we needed was the king! Why are we still having issues?

Judges Summary: The Millennium

I know, we need the king to reign physically on this earth. That’s going to happen for a thousand years after the Great Tribulation. But actually, not even that will be enough. After 1,000 years of externally serving the king, a significant number of people will rebel against him with Satan at the helm of the rebellion. So, not even the king reigning physically on the earth will ultimately work.

Judges Summary: The Eternal State

What needs to happen is for God to take away Satan and to take away our sin natures. Then and only then will we never be tempted anymore with sin. Never tempted to disobey our loving sovereign king. Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight!

Judges Summary: Applications

Until then, though, we need to seek our king to help us to obey him. And to bring it back to the book of Judges, is there one area where God’s people tend to fall in more than others? Think about it. What does God constantly tell the Israelites to avoid in the Law, in Joshua, and now in Judges? God tells them to avoid making alliances with the pagans around them. That’s how Israel started to get tripped up. They started getting friendly with – can I use a New Testament term? – the world – the system which is opposed to God. Israel adopted the practices of the world around them and it eventuated in chaos and destruction.

You and I have numerous commands in the Scripture to not love the world. We’re to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. We’re to come out from among them and be separate. We’re to love not the world nor its things. We’re to keep ourselves unspotted by the world. As obedient children we’re not to fashion ourselves according to our former lusts which were ours in our ignorance, but we’re rather to be holy in all manner of conversation. If any man loves the world – do you love the world? Do you love the world’s things? Do you love and live for the transitory things that are passing away? Then you’re given this warning. If that kind of love is in you, then the love of the Father cannot be in you. Adulterer. Adulteress. Don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity toward God? Cleanse your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Here’s how – humble yourselves before God. And he will exalt you.

Israel needed a king. You and I have him – the perfect king. And what does this king require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with him? God help us to do just this.