The Book of Judges is a book made up of poetry, and riddles, but mainly it’s a narrative history. The book’s purpose was to teach Israel that God is faithful and He will punish people for their sins if they don’t remain loyal and devoted to Him.
And as we go through this really sad book, we’re going to see the consequences of a people who refuse to be obedient to God. This truly is the most evil and darkest time in the history of Israel as a nation.
Moses has died and God appointed Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land and although Joshua succeeded in entering the land, he failed to bring them rest. And as we will see when Joshua dies, everything quickly went downhill fast.
The judges of the Old Testament arose during a period of internal anarchy and external conflict, covering the time between the death of Joshua and the anointing of King Saul. This was a time of disaster on a colossal scale for Israel, Judges 2:16-17.
God’s people were led to Canaan to conquer the land, but instead, they became infected with the idolatry of Canaan. They were to make no treaties with the inhabitants, and they weren’t to marry any foreigners.
But they were happy to settle among the Canaanites, to the point where you didn’t know who the Israelites were and who the Canaanites were. And instead of them driving out the Canaanites, they just became like them and practised what they practised.
Straight away, from the very first few verses in Judges, we can see Israel only partially obeying God, Judges 1:6. What were Israel supposed to do? They were supposed to kill all the Canaanites. But what did they do?
They mutilated a captured king, which was the very practice of the Canaanites, Judges 1:28. What were they supposed to do? They were supposed to drive the Canaanites out of the land, Deuteronomy 7:1-5. But what did they do? They kept them and forced them to work for them.
The world is trying to conform us to its standards and its ways but Paul says we need to be on our guard against that, Romans 12:1-2. God doesn’t want us to think as the world does, He doesn’t want to us compromise with the world and its ways.
Israel was happy to compromise with the world around them during this time. And that compromise with the Canaanites led them into idolatry, intermarriage, and eventually to having no rules, Judges 17:6. What a sad picture this is of God’s chosen people.
The outcome of Israel’s compromise was the shocking reality that their real enemy became God Himself. And He ensured that when they went out to battle, the outcome was defeat. But God who is rich in mercy, in His grace, raised up leaders to bring Israel back in line.
For Israel during the period of the Judges it was a time of war, but why would God send them to a land that was already occupied? Why didn’t He send them to a place where no one lived, so they could settle there and not have any influence around them?
Well, possibly for the same reason Jesus didn’t ask the Father to take His disciples out of the world, John 17:15. Why would God send them to a land that was already occupied? After all, they spent forty years of hardship in the wilderness and now they were going to have to deal with internal and external conflict.
God led them to Canaan to test them, He wanted to know if they would be obedient to Him, Judges 3:1-4. He wanted His people to trust Him, to trust in His mighty power, to trust that He would help them take hold of the Promised Land. He wanted them to remember that they were holy, chosen and His treasured possession, Deuteronomy 7:6.
He wanted them to remember who they were as a people, and they needed to know just how holy they were to be. They needed to remember why they were chosen and just how treasured they were to God.
Remember we’re now dealing with a new generation of Israelites from those who wandered in the desert, Judges 2:10. But this second generation was held responsible for their own spiritual failings.
The text says that they didn’t ‘know’ God, Judges 2:10, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t aware of God. It means, they didn’t regard or acknowledge God as their Lord.
When the judges appeared, God appeared and everyone went back to their best behaviour but as soon as a judge dies, the children of Israel get involved in all kinds of sinful practices, Judges 1:1-2 / Judges 2:1-4 / Judges 2:16.
God had delivered them from their terrible slavery in Egypt and He had led them through the wilderness giving them blessing after blessing. They were His favoured people, they were the chosen ones of the Lord God Almighty. And so He led them, He fed them and He protected them and eventually, He led them into the land of Canaan, which was their Promised Land.
It was a land flowing with milk and honey, and it was given to them not because they were so great but because God had promised this land to their ancestors. And all they had to do was enter the land, destroy the people who were living there and take up residence, Deuteronomy 34:4.
He was their God, their redeemer, He gave them law but Israel failed to stay faithful to God and His laws. And so it got to the point where God had to judge the very people He loved so much. Think about it, when Israel entered Canaan, the sky was the limit. God had promised them the land and all they had to do was claim it by faith.
Notice how they started, they were blessed with ‘God’s foresight’. Judges 1:2 says, ‘I have given the land into their hands.’ This is said in the future tense, God says He has already given them the land even though the Israelites haven’t done a thing yet.
In other words, God was going before them, preparing the way for certain victory. There was no way they could lose, as long as God was behind them, ahead of them, above them and all around them.
What other way were they blessed? They were blessed with ‘God’s protection’. Judges 1:19 tells us that ‘The LORD was with the men of Judah.’ This shows us that God was actively involved in helping Israel conquer the land of Canaan. And so, He not only prepared the way, but He also protected them along the way.
They also had the blessing of ‘God’s power’. Judges 1:4 “When Judah attacked, the LORD gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands.” This tells us Who the real power on the battlefield was, it was God, He is the God of all power, Ephesians 3:20.
What other blessing did they have? Well, they had the blessing of ‘God’s promises’. For hundreds of years, beginning with Abraham in Genesis 12:1, God had been promising to give the nation of Israel a homeland. And so they were blessed beyond their wildest dreams.
But as we shall see all those blessings were quickly going to be removed from them by God Himself. This new generation of Israelites forgot their heritage and denied the very God who made them what they were. And so slowly but surely they went down the compromising route.
God warned them before they entered the land back in Numbers 33:51-54, that they must destroy the people of Canaan but they also had another warning, God would allow their enemies to be thorns in their sides if they don’t drive them out, Numbers 33:55-56. Sadly, as we will see, this was to become a harsh reality for Israel, Judges 1:19.
After some success, Judah ended up facing some Canaanites which they feared but because of that fear they didn’t drive them out of the land, Judges 1:27-30.
The text tells us that there were some Canaanites they didn’t fear and so they forced them to work for them but again they didn’t drive them out of the land. They didn’t fear the Canaanites, but they were quite happy to live alongside them, but again they didn’t drive them out of the land, Judges 1:32-33.
Because of their sin, Israel faced the Lord’s judgment and as we will see they were going to have to endure a divine sentence from God Himself. However, in spite of their failures, God still sent them men and a woman to lead them and to speak to them, Judges 2:16.
Despite all their sin and their heard heartedness, God still loves them and God is patient with them, giving them every chance to set things right.
It’s uncertain who wrote the book but the author is usually assumed to be Samuel. Jewish tradition attributes the authorship of the book to Samuel who was a prophet and judge of Israel.
Dating the book is extremely difficult, but it must have been written sometime after the events recorded in the book to the time of the reign of King Saul. Some commentators suggest that the prophet wrote it around about 1086-1004 B.C.
In Judges 1:1-Judges 3:6, we find that the Israelites have failed to keep their part of the covenant, and they didn’t entirely conquer and take control of all the land that they were promised. This problem unfortunately grows wildly out of control as time goes on.
In Judges 3:7-Judges 16, we see God raising up judges to rescue Israel several times. We see this vicious cycle appearing, where the Israelites sin, then God rescues them, they worship God for a while and sin starts all over again and so forth.
We also see that these rescues were temporary because we find that the nation’s obedience only lasted as long as the life of that particular judge.
In Judges 17-21, we see Israel sinking into a horrid state of moral demise and ruin. It’s mainly in the tribes of Dan and Benjamin that we see just how far man has really turned from the God of Abraham.
The tribe of Dan had almost completely given in to the worship of idols made by a man named Micah, even to the point that they practically defend it. The entire tribe of Benjamin is almost wiped out, down to 600 men in a violent and vicious civil war.
And it’s during this time we find those sad words ‘in those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit,’ Judges 21:25.
There are a few judges mentioned in the book, their names are as follows, Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Barak, Gideon, Abimelek, Jair, Tola, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elan, Abdon and Samson.
Of these, there are six major deliverers in the book, they are Othniel, Ehud, Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson. These last four are best known and are mentioned in the book of Hebrews, Hebrews 11:32, the rest we know very little about.
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