The book of Judges is the second book in the category of Old Testament books called the “History Books.” These books narrate the history of the Jewish nation of Israel as it enters, conquers, and inhabits the Promised Land of Canaan. The book of Judges itself chronicles the period of history in the Jewish nation when it was ruled by Judges.
Definition of Judges. The Judges were not a special class of people, nor did they have a line of succession. Instead, they were individuals-men and women-who were called by God to lead Israel during times of crisis. Among the Judges who may be familiar to modern readers are Deborah, Gideon, and Samson. There was no special training required to be a Judge. One simply responded to the call of God and followed God’s leading.
An earlier AC article mentioned the “sin cycle” that led to the occasional need for Judges. The article mentioned four elements in the cycle: sin, servitude, supplication, and salvation. Bruce Wilkinson’s Walk Thru the Bible organization (see details below) has come up with a five point cycle:
Sin-The people of God turn away from God
Servitude-God punishes the people by allowing a foreign nation to enslave them
Suffering-The people suffer during their time of slavery
Supplication-The time of suffering finally wakes the people up to their need for God’s help
Salvation-God raises up a Judge to lead the people to overthrow the oppressing nation and free them from their slavery
Major Episodes of the Cycle. This cycle is repeated often during the period of the Judges. Some Bible scholars point to seven major episodes of the cycle:
Judges 3:7-11-Mesopotamia oppresses Israel; Othniel serves as Judge
Judges 3:12-30-Moab oppresses Israel; Ehud serves
Judges 4-5-The Canaanites oppress Israel; Deborah serves
Judges 6:1-8:32-The Midianites oppress Israel; Gideon serves
Judges 8:33-10:5-The Shechemites oppress Israel; Abimelech serves
Judges 10:6-12:15-The Philistines oppress Israel; Jephthah serves
Judges 13-16-The Philistines (again); Samson serves
Causes of the Cycle. If we are to understand what gets God’s people into trouble, we can look at the actions and attitudes of the Israelites that led them into servitude, suffering, and eventual freedom from oppression. In most of the major episodes mentioned above, the following words are written or implied: “The Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord. ” What this usually meant was that the Israelites committed spiritual adultery (or apostasy) by worshiping the false gods of the other nations rather than worshiping their own God. The results of this apostasy were immorality and the deterioration of the moral life of the nation. The same is true today, regardless of where you look. Beliefs do have consequences.
In order to show the dangers of false worship, God used other nations to enslave and punish the Israelites until they recognized their need for the true God. The Israelites had a difficult learning this lesson as the repeated cycles illustrate. Judges 21:25, the last verse in the book, may explain why: “In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” When people go off on their own, they often end up in trouble.
The Vital Lesson from the book of Judges: If we take God seriously, we need to understand that there are consequences from turning away from God just as there are blessings from turning to God.
An Important Note about the Judges Themselves. People are too quick to think of God’s special people-priests, saints, kings, and judges-as being morally better than other people. This is not necessarily true. Some of the Judges-Abimelech and Samson, for example-made bad decisions. Gideon, rather than responding unreservedly to God’s call, was cautious and asked for two signs before he would commit himself to lead the Israelites. The point is that God can use anyone regardless of moral failings. Whether or not we feel adequate is not the point; the point is whether or not God can use us.
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