Reading the book of Judges can you leave you with questions like “What in the world is going on? How can God’s people be so evil?” Let’s take a brief overview of the book.
The Israelites are dwelling in the land of promise (Judg. 2:1) but prove their utter unfaithfulness to Yahweh (Judg. 2:2) by falling into a repetitive cycle of sin (Judg. 2:11), oppression (Judg. 2:15), repentance (Judg. 3:9,15), deliverance (Judg. 3:9), peace (Judg. 3:11); and then it starts all over again.
Explanation of Main Idea
Commanded to drive the Canaanites out, every tribe of God’s people fails to take full and complete possession of their allotment of land (Judg. 1:17-36). Consequently, they end up being influenced by the Canaanites, worshipping their gods and eventually behaving like them, even to the extent of sacrificing their own children (Judg. 11:29-40)! They worshipped their gods (Judg, 2:13), intermarried with them (Judg. 3:6), forgot the Lord (Judg. 3:7), abandoned Him and did not worship Him (Judg. 10:6). This, of course, angered the Lord, and He “brought disaster on them, just as He had promised and sworn to them” (Judg. 2:15). This disaster came in the form of the peoples of the land raiding them (Judg. 2:14), controlling them (Judg. 3:8), and being in power over them (Judg. 4:2).
From their pit of despair, the children of Israel cried out to the Lord (Judg. 6:7). God, then, would raise up a judge to deliver them (Judg. 6:11-12). Even these judges were not godly men. They were often violent (Judg. 9:5) and immoral (Judg. 16:1). Still, God used them to bring about great events of deliverance for the people whom He loved, restoring peace in the land (Judg. 3:11), often for many years (Judg. 3:30).
Predictably, the Israelites would fall back into sin and the cycle would begin again. This cycle repeats six times throughout the book, with worse consequences each time. Finally, civil war breaks out after horrific sexual abuse (Judg. 19-20), the tribe of Benjamin is almost exterminated (Judg. 20:46-21:3), and the book ends with a foreshadowing of the need for a king to come and rule (Judg. 21:25).
The book of Judges was written to evoke shock and disgust at the horrific sinfulness of which humans are capable when they abandon God. No other book in the bible contains such graphic violence and accounts of horrific sexual abuse (Judg. 19:25-30). When people do whatever they want without any standard for right or wrong, evil results. The book also demonstrates, however, the consistent love and faithfulness of God to respond mercifully to the cry from those who are oppressed. He answers this cry by raising up a man, anointing him with His Spirit, and performing great acts of deliverance through his efforts. The book of Judges bridges the gap between the arrival in the promised land and the time of the kings of Israel. It shows how the people got to the place where they felt they needed a king to rule over them (Judg. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).
- Sin ruins people.
Sin has consequences. God wanted the Israelites to drive out the Canaanites not because He hated the Canaanites, but because they were defiled and corrupted by sin (Lev. 18:24). The longer the Israelites were exposed to the Canaanites the more sinful and wicked they became. People died, hurt and abused others, as in the case of the almost unbelievable rape documented in Judg. 19:25 and even more unbelievable reaction of her master (Judg. 19:27-29).
- God uses imperfect people.
When God wanted to perform a great work, He would use a man. It can be misleading to observe the behaviour of leaders like Samson (Judg. 13-16) and think that God approved of everything they did. God called and empowered certain individuals to deliver the Israelites, but He did not condone their sinful behaviour. They were called by God not because of their character, but simply because He wanted to use them. He is not looking for perfection, He is looking for availability.
- Abandoning God and His Word is not a good idea.
We need God in our lives. We are His creation and He has a plan for each one of us. The tragic phrase “they forgot the Lord their God” (Judg. 3:7) is remarkable in light of all the miracles He had done for them. They “did whatever seemed right” (Judg. 21:25), with no consideration of the Word of the Lord. There was no moral compass, no standard, no obedience. They worshipped whatever deity however they wanted. The consequences of abandoning God was devastating.
- Do what God calls you to do at all cost.
It must not go without notice that before the downward spiral began, the Israelites failed to complete the assignment given to them by God, namely driving out the Canaanites. This is how the book begins. The phrase “(they) failed to drive out the residents” (or similar) occurs multiple times in the first chapter. If they had driven out the immoral Canaanites from the land, it would have been a completely different story. Instead, they did what they wanted to do, allowed evil to influence them, and ruined their lives. Did they understand the incredible price they would have to pay for not driving out the Canaanites?
- God hears and answers the cry of His people.
It is startling how God always delivers His people when they cry out to Him! It would be reasonable to understand God hearing the cry of an oppressed and enslaved people as He did in Exodus 2:23-25. But in Judges, He unfailingly hears and answers the cry of a horrible, immoral, and idolatrous people.
- No matter how bad things get, there is always hope.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable impressions of the book of Judges is the fact that God did deliver His people so many times! He gave them second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances. He always said, “Yes!” when they cried out to Him (Judg. 10:10). When sin had spread throughout the entire nation, and the immorality could hardly get worse, Judges reminds us that a king is coming (Judg. 21:25).
How Does This Relate To Us?
It warns us. It warns us against forsaking the Lord, against trying to live life without Him. Judges teaches us that we can’t do life alone; we need God’s supernatural power. We are prone to sin. The book of Judges is like a big, bright, yellow warning sign with rapidly flashing red lights warning us to stay away from anything that might cause us to sin.
As Jesus said in Matt. 5:29, “If your right eye cause you to sin, gauge it out and throw it away.” We need to deal severely with anything that might cause us to sin. We can’t have a casual attitude toward sin. If we allow sin free reign in our lives, we are setting ourselves up for pain and heartache. If we abandon God, we will find misery and oppression.
We also need to be obedient to what God has called us to do. We need to have the attitude of “I want all that you have for me;” I, by the power of the Spirit, want to take “all of the land,” so to speak. We should not settle for anything less that God’s best for us. There should be no place for compromise in our lives.
It inspires us to think that when God wants to accomplish something in the world, often in answer to the cry of His people, He raises up an individual. That person, like one of the Judges, will not be perfect. They may lack courage or be struggling with a sin, but they are still called! Maybe someone is praying today and I will be their answer to prayer! How exciting is that!
Judges helps us understand why the world is so corrupt. As I am writing this, it’s been just over twenty-fours since a school shooting in which seventeen people senselessly lost their lives. Why does this happen? How does it happen and what can be done to prevent it? While there can be many complicated issues to consider, such as gun control laws, mental health management, school safety, the book of Judges helps us to provide a framework to process the evil present in the human heart. It points back to a broken relationship with our Creator and a willingness to walk away from a relationship with the Solution.
Most importantly, in Judges, we are encouraged that God will respond to a cry for help. We are relieved that no matter how evil the world becomes and how far we fall, we can always, always come back to Him. If we forget Him, He will not forget us. He is faithful.
- In Judges 1, how many instances can you count of failure? What was the reason for this failure? (Hint: Look at Judg. 2:2).
- Based on Judg. 2:10, what could have been part of the problem? How could this have been prevented?
- Look at Judges 6:11-12. What was Gideon doing when the Lord called him? What title did God use for Gideon? Why do you think God said this?
- What are the first recorded words of Samson in Scripture? (See Judg. 14:1-2). Compare this with the first recorded words of Boaz in Ruth 2:4.
- Samson is often portrayed as a great hero of the faith, but what were some of his problems? See Judg. 16:1 and Judg. 16:4.
- Judges 14-16 contains the account of Samson. How many women was he involved with during his life?
Life Application Questions
- Judges 2:22 says that God acted in certain ways in order to “test Israel”. Do you ever feel like God does things in your life to test you? Describe a time where you think this might have been the case.
- Gideon led Israel into a great victory after reducing his army to a mere 300 men. How big was the enemy army? (See Judg. 7:12). Do you now feel (or have you ever felt) like the odds are stacked against you? Do you believe that God can give you the victory? What would that look like?
- Over and over in Judges, God raises up enemies to deal with Israel. Do you think God raises up countries to deal with other countries today? Why or why not?
- The book of Judges documents episodes of great failure by Israel’s leaders. Who are your spiritual leaders and how can you pray for them?
- How does the book of Judges help you process the evil you see in the world today?