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Tuesday, March 25, 2014


 "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
Judges 21:25

The period of the Judges was discouraging as well as exhilarating. I invite you to think with me for a few moments over the things we learn from the Book of Judges. Our God is RIGHTEOUS but also MERCIFUL!

The Book of Judges is filled with shocking events and strange heroes.  It chronicles the various epochs in which Israel fell into rebellion and disobedience.  We see the everlasting faithfulness of God.  The two major themes of this book focus on the sinfulness of Israel and the faithfulness of God Jehovah.  It is amazing to me, as I read through the history of the Israelites and their relationship toward their God Jehovah, that this pattern of rebellion is repeated over and over again.  Notice the recurring pattern:  1)  The Israelites do evil before the LORD; 2)  The LORD allows some foreign king to oppress and/or enslave the Israelites;  3)  The Israelites cry out to God because of the oppression remembering their covenant with God; and finally, 4)  the LORD raises up a judge for them who delivers them because they are His people, the Israelites.  Although the Israelites broke their promise given to God before Joshua to never forsake the LORD, God never broke HIS promise!  By the time of Gideon in Judges 6, the Israelites are in severe decay, and it is more evident.  Even though a judge was a military leader as well as a hero, he was often a prophet and the judge who settled disputes.  The judge could come from any tribe.  Although this was a patriarchal society, there was one female judge named Deborah.  There were thirteen judges altogether.  Seven of them were considered major judges, heroes.


OTHNIEL (Judges 3:7-11):  The Israelites began to commit evil before the eyes of the LORD, serving their idol gods.  The anger of the LORD was upon them selling them into the hands of an evil king from the north, Mesopotamia, who attacked them and defeated them, enslaving them for eight years.  The Israelites cried out to their LORD, and God heard them raising up Othniel, the son of  Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, who became Israel's judge.  He fought against the king of Mesopotamia, defeating him.  After the victory,  Israel was at peace for forty years.

EHUD (Judges 3:12-30):   Again, the Israelites did evil before the LORD, and the anger of the LORD was against them.  He raised up and strengthened Eglon, king of the Moabites as a sign of His judgment toward them.  The Moabites, the Ammonites and the Amalekites waged war against the Israelites and defeated them.  They took the Israelites captive for eighteen years.  Once again, the sons of Israel cried out to Jehovah their God for help and Jehovah God raised up Ehud, a Benjamite, who was left-handed.  Ehud killed the Moabite king defeating and driving out the invaders.  This time, the land was at peace for eighty years.

DEBORAH  (Judges 4):   The Israelites forgot what they had learned and began again to do evil before the eyes of Jehovah their God.  They provoked Him to judgment.  In this judgment, the LORD gave them into the hands of the king of Canaan, Jabin, who reigned in Hazor with his commander named Sisera.  Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD.  This king had an army of nine hundred mighty iron chariots with which he attacked and oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. The Israelites began to listen to a woman named Deborah, who was a prophetess and she judged them at that time.  She liked to sit under a palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim.  She sent for a man named Barak and said to him, “Behold, the Lord, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun.  I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.’”   Now Barak replied, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”  She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.”   Barak was to be the man she chose to lead the army.  Barak insisted that she come with him to war against the enemies.  She agreed, but she also prophesied that a woman would get the glory for the victory.  In the end, it was the woman Jael who killed the Jabin’s commander by driving a peg through his head.  Deborah and Barak sang: "When leaders lead and people are willing, praise the LORD! Blessed is Jael; Let your enemies perish, O LORD!"  Once again the land was at peace for forty years.

GIDEON (Judges 6-8):   The Israelites did what was evil in the eyes of their God Jehovah, and He gave them into the hands of the Midianites for seven years.  The Midianites oppressed the Israelites with such severity that the Israelites had to hide in dens, caves, and strongholds in the mountains.  Once again the Israelites cried out to their God Jehovah for help, and the LORD sent them a prophet.  He said to them, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery. I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, and I said to you,  'I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me."  Judges 6:8-10.  Then the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon saying, "The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.” Then Gideon said to him, 'O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.'  The Lord looked at him and said, 'Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?'   He said to Him, 'O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.'  But the Lord said to him, 'Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.'  So Gideon said to Him, 'If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me.  Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.' And He said, 'I will remain until you return."  Judges 6:12-18.

As you can see, Gideon objected at first but eventually he obeyed the LORD.  The LORD told him to tear down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah, a wooden totem.  When his people began to quarrel with him, his father Joash asked, “Will you contend for Baal?  Or will you save him?  Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning.  If he is a god let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.”  That is how Gideon’s name was changed to Jerubaal, he who contends with Baal.  When the appropriate tribes were mustered for battle, the LORD told Gideon to send away all but 300 men. The 300 crept into the Midianite camp at night. They blew their trumpets and smashed their pitchers revealing burning torches.  They cried out, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”  The Midianites fled.  Gideon defeated Zebah and Zalmunna and punished Succoth and Penuel.   Although this story ends on a positive note, because the land was at peace again for forty years, Gideon had to deal with a complaint from the tribe of Ephraim, because they were not called first.  With calm and wisdom, Gideon soothed their pride and vanity by reminding them of the “trophies” they had captured.  The Israelites asked Gideon to become their king believing that he had saved them from their enemies’ hands.  Actually, it was God who saved them.  In any case, he refused to change the pattern that God had ordained.  He refused to rule over them.  Although Gideon refused their offer, he did allow them to give him the golden earrings from the spoil with which he made an ephod of gold to place in Ophrah, and this became a snare to his family and all Israel who worshiped it.   When Gideon died Israel again served the Baals, especially the god Baal-Berith.

ABIMELECH (Judges 9):    Again, the Israelites did evil before their God.   Abimelech, one of Gideon's sons, raised himself up as Israel's king.  He killed his brothers, seventy men on one stone.  But Jotham, his youngest brother survived since he hid himself.  Then all the men of Shechem and all Beth-Millo assembled together, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar which was in Shechem.  Judges 9:6.

Jothan cried out to the people from the top of Mount Gerizim saying, "Listen to me, O men of Shechem, that God may listen to you. Once the trees went forth to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my fatness with which God and men are honored, and go to wave over the trees?’  Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come, reign over us!’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come, reign over us!’  But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?’ Finally, all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come, reign over us!’ The bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you are anointing me as king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, may fire come out from the bramble and consume the cedars of Lebanon.’  'Now therefore, if you have dealt in truth and integrity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have dealt with him as he deserved— for my father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian; but you have risen against my father’s house today and have killed his sons, seventy men, on one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your relative— if then you have dealt in truth and integrity with Jerubbaal and his house this day, rejoice in Abimelech and let him also rejoice in you. But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume the men of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem and from Beth-millo, and consume Abimelech."  Judges 9:7-20.  Afterward, Jotham escaped and fled and went to Beer and waited for Abimelech, his brother.

Abimelech ruled over Israel for over 3 years.  The LORD sent an evil spirit between the men of Shechem and Abimelech. These men of Shechem dealt with Abimelech falsely.  The blood of Abimelech's brothers was on him and on the men of Shechem.  God caused the Israelites to fight against Israelites in this shocking story.  In the end, Abimelech was defeated.  A man named Gaal aroused and was against them.  Abimelech destroyed Shechem but was killed by a woman who tossed a millstone from the wall down on his head.  In point of fact, he committed suicide so that it would not be said that a woman had killed him.  God repaid Abimelech's evil and the curse of Jotham his younger brother came upon the men of Shechem.  Judges 9:53-57.

JEPHTHAH (Judges 10:6-12:7):   Again, the Israelites did evil before the LORD.  The Israelites ended up being oppressed by the Philistines and the Amorites for eighteen years.  The Israelites cried out to the LORD saying, "We have sinned against You, for indeed, we have forsaken our God and served the Baals.” The Lord said to the sons of Israel, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the sons of Ammon, and the Philistines?   Also when the Sidonians, the Amalekites, and the Maonites oppressed you, you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hands.  Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you. Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.”  The sons of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day.”  Judges 10:10-15.   The LORD did not believe them, so they put away their idol gods and began serving the LORD.  They once again cried out to their God Jehovah, and the LORD raised up Jephthah, the son of a prostitute who had been rejected by his family.  The LORD has such a way of choosing his heroes!  Jephthah vowed to sacrifice whatever came out to meet him if he defeated the Ammonites. When he came home in victory, it was his daughter who came out to meet him with the joy of tambourines.  She was his only child, but to fulfill the vow he had to give her to the Lord.  The Ephraimites in their pride protested that Jephthah had not called them to fight their enemies.  They attacked Jephthah and Jephthah with the Gileadites defeated them.  They caught the survivors by making them say 'Shibboleth.'  Here again, the story ends sadly with Israelites fighting Israelites.

SAMSON (Judges 13-16):   Again the Israelites did evil before the LORD.  Thus the Philistines oppressed them for forty years.  Note that the Israelites did not cry to the LORD this time, yet the LORD still cared for them and showed mercy to them by raising up Samson.  This story is the longest story in the Book of Judges covering three chapters.  Samson was born of godly parents who raised him as a Nazarite, set apart for God from birth.  According to the Nazarite vow, he could not eat anything that came from the vine nor could he drink wine or strong drink, nor could he eat any unclean thing.  He could never cut his hair.  He had to observe all that the LORD commanded.

Samson is an unlikely hero in spite of his great beginnings.  He was spoiled and selfish, living for the desires of his flesh despite his Nazarite vow.  Against his parents' counsel, he chose a  Philistine woman to be his wife.  In spite of all this negative part about him, God used him against the Philistines, empowering and strengthening him with tremendous physical strength.  He killed a lion and bees made honey in the carcass.  He posed a riddle to the wedding party based on the marvel of the lion and the bees, but his wife under duress revealed it. Samson's wife married another man, so Samson burned the Philistine crops. The Israelites bound him and delivered him to the Philistines, but he killed a thousand Philistines when they took him into custody.  Samson then met a Philistine woman called Delilah whom he loved.  This Delilah was used by the Philistines to bring him down.  She tricked Samson into revealing his secret about his strength in his uncut hair, the sign of his vow to God.  She later brought a man to subdue him having one of them cut his hair while he was sleeping.  She had his head shaved so that he lost his strength and was captured.  His eyes were gouged out, and he was forced to amuse them.  They made him stand between the pillars.  He died pulling down the Philistine temple. There was a boy who was holding his hand whom Samson asked,  "Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them.  Now the house was full of men and women, and all the lords of the Philistines were there. And about 3,000 men and women were on the roof looking on while Samson was amusing them."  Judges 16:25-27.

 In the end, Samson prays to “O Lord God, please remember me, and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes."  Judges 16:28.  God answers his prayers, and Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left.  And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life. Then his brothers and all his father’s household came down, took him, brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah, his father. Thus he had judged Israel twenty years."  Judges 16:29-31.


The remainder of the Book of Judges, chapters 17-21, tells two shameful stories of Israel's lawlessness.  They were a nation without a king or a prophet.  They no longer worshiped and obeyed God Jehovah as a nation.  Most had turned to the foreign gods of the Canaanites.  The first story tells how a man makes his own idol and shrine, hiring his own personal priest to tend it.  Micah appointed a Levite as his priest.  Spies from Dan stayed with Micah.  The Danites from the Israelite tribe of Dan who should have known better, steal his idol and his priest for their own use.  When the Danites went against Laish, they took Micah's idol and his priest.  They named the city Dan.

The second story is even worse than the first, chapters 19-21.  When a Levite came to Gibeah, the men of the city raped his concubine until she died. He was so distraught that he cut up her body and sent a piece to each tribe.  In the ensuing war between Israel and the tribe of Benjamin,  the Benjamites were so decimated that only a few men survived while all the women were killed.  They had vowed to allow no daughters of their to marry a Benjamite, so they destroyed Jabesh-Gilead and captured wives for the remaining Benjaminites.  The Israelites had apparently failed to live up to their covenant with God during this period of Judges.  They descended into near moral chaos and lawlessness as a result of their rebellion and disobedience toward their God Jehovah.  The Book of Judges ends by saying, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."  Judges 21:25.    The Book of Judges begins with hope and deteriorates into despair closing with the pronouncement that Israel had no king.  God wanted so much to be Israel's king, but since they chose to reject God's kingship, God would give them the human king that they longed for in the Book of Samuel.  The Book of Judges leads into what follows in the Book of Samuel, in which God chooses a prophet who finds a suitable king for Israel.

In my next study, we will study the Book of Ruth which begins with despair that changes into hope.  Ruth closes with a genealogy of David, Israel's greatest king, Ruth’s great-grandson.


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