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BIBLE BOOK: The Book of Judges

Life in Israel without a king…..

 

 

 

In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)

 

 

 

 

There could hardly be a more fitting summary of the message of Judges than the words found in the final verse of the book. “In those days there was no king in Israel,” for the book records events which took place after the days of Moses and Joshua and prior to the reign of Israel’s kings. Within a short space of time Israel would have its first king, a man by the name of Saul. In this preceding period, however, without the guidance of a monarch, “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” It was a time of individual choice where each person did what was right in his own eyes – not that which was wrong. The problem, however, is that our ability to distinguish between right and wrong is inadequate. This truth is reflected in Judges where we read: “And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim” (2:11). It seemed right to them to turn to idolatry, so they did it. But in God’s estimation they were doing something evil.

 

Judges has a clear and relevant message for the twenty-first century. We are living at a time when established traditions have been abandoned and people are doing what is right in their own eyes. In fact, considerable attention is being given to human rights and individual rights. According to this philosophy, a person’s rights permit them to follow the desires of their heart. But “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer.17:9). We need to discover what is right in the eyes of the Lord.

 

The book of Judges follows a predictable cycle: rebellion against the Lord, retribution for wrong doing, repentance, and restoration. Sin is never without consequences, so the people’s disobedience resulted in divine punishment. When the hand of God fell upon them, they became aware of what they had done and repented of their sin. In mercy to them God removed the punishment and restored them – but sadly the cycle was soon repeated all over again.

 

 

EARLY TRIUMPHS

The Israelites had entered Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. The book bearing his name tells of the initial victories which were accomplished by faith, the most notable of which was the conquest of Jericho. Clear instructions had been given by God that the inhabitants of the land must be utterly destroyed because their religion was corrupt. No league must be made with them, otherwise the pure worship of Israel would become polluted. Demons lay behind the filthy religious practices of the Canaanites, with immorality and idolatry being unmistakably connected. Israel’s witness to the nations would be ineffective if they compromised and participated in the worship of idols. Sadly, they did just that. They became more taken up with the behaviour of their neighbours than with the requirements of their God.

 

The first chapter of Judges lists the exploits of the different tribes of Israel as they endeavoured to take possession of Canaan, but repeatedly we are told of the limits to their conquests. They were not able to fully overcome their enemies. Judges 2 describes the death of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and had seen all the great works of the Lord (2:7). But after the passing of that generation, “there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which He had done for Israel” (2:10). This “new” generation was the first of many which forsook the LORD and served false gods (2:13), bringing ruin upon themselves as a consequence. The LORD vowed that He would no longer drive out their enemies (2:21), leaving them in the land instead that He might use them as a means of testing Israel (3:1). The following chapters of the book list the enemies of God’s people and names the men (and occasionally women) who were raised up to reform the nation. It might be helpful to summarize the events:-

  • 8 years under the Mesopotamians. Delivered by Othniel who judged Israel for 40 years [Jud.3:7-11].
  • 18 years under the Moabites, Ammonites & Amalekites. Delivered by Ehud & Shamgar resulting in peace for 80 years [Jud.3:12-31].
  • 20 years under the Canaanites. Delivered by Deborah & Barak who judged Israel for 40 years [Jud.4 & 5].
  • 7 years under the Midianites. Delivered by Gideon who judged Israel for 40 years [Jud.6-8].
  • During further oppression under the Midianites, Israel’s judges were Abimelech (3 years), Tola (23 years), Jair (22 years) [Jud.9:1-10:5].
  • 18 years under the Ammonites. Delivered by Jephthah who judged Israel for 6 years [Jud.10:6-12:7]. In the years following, further judges were Ibzan (7 years), Elon (10 years), Abdon (8 years) [Jud.12:8-15].
  • 40 years under the Philistines. Delivered by Samson who judged Israel for 20 years [Jud.13-16].

 

It is instructive to see how God deliberately chose weak vessels to accomplish His purposes. He used a left-handed man, an ox goad, a woman, a tent-peg, a piece of a millstone, pitchers and trumpets, the jawbone of an ass, and a rejected brother. Gideon was a fearful man; Samson was morally weak. Why should God use men like this? The reason He chose such people, as well as such insignificant objects, is “that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Cor.1:29). All the glory belongs to God alone.

 

 

THE END OF THE BOOK

The last five chapters of the book describe the apostasy which was prevalent in Israel at that time. Micah, a dishonest man, established his own religion and installed priests at his shrine. So vile and outrageous was the conduct of the citizens of Gibeah that the other tribes of Israel were actually repulsed, and the resulting civil war almost completely wiped out the tribe of Benjamin, to which Gibeah belonged. Although some remarkable victories were accomplished, the book of Judges echoes with repeated backsliding and defeat – all because the people insisted on doing that which was right in their own eyes (21:25).

 

Some situations hardly seem to change. Judges reflects human history, one of constant defeat and failure. The book confirms the fact that left to ourselves we can do nothing worthwhile. The abiding lesson of Judges is that we need to fear the Lord and seek to please Him, for His ways are always best.  

 

I must have the Saviour with me,

For I dare not walk alone.

  1. L. Edwards