Explaining the Book

Bible Study Guide

Judges

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

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.

Tags:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top