Session 20: The Judges
And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. Judges 2:10-11
Key verses: Judges, Ruth, 1: 8; 2:10-19
Timeline, about 1300-1050 BC. During the nearly 400 years time of the Israelites entering the land, the areas were ruled by Egypt who built a great canal from the Nile to the Red Sea, King Tutankhamen rules briefly, cats are domesticated and considered royal. The Iron Age is growing, music notes are developed, and the influence of Greece is gaining in prominence.
Key personalities: the twelve judges like Othniel, Gideon, Samson, and Deborah
The drama of Redemption continues and is set to the backdrop of the obscenity of human rebellion while the loving Hand of God is drawing and leading us. Now, the time has come to take back that land. The descendents of Abraham have flourished by birth and wealth and are now entering their homeland. The region has nations built by its wicked inhabitants who did heinous things-even sacrificing children. God did all he could do for them, leaving farms, vineyards, business, roads, walls, wells, buildings, latrines, all the infrastructure needed--a turnkey nation to inhabit. Again, this was done by the power of the Lord with the purpose that His people would be the beacons of light that point to God's holiness, love and law to the entire world. They had it all--God's favor, all the material and physical necessities and even wealth; most importantly, they had God's precepts to know God's Will and live fruitful and effective lives and leave sound legacies for those to come. Unfortunately, they were failing. In the failure, they became corrupt and weak, were overtaken and turned to new leaders to steer their course through crises mostly brought on by their own behaviors and ideas. God's story of redemption continues as His hand of grace remains stretched out to be taken.
The Book of Judges is named after its prime subject, the "Judges of Israel," translated to mean leaders. There are 12 main judges recorded, some of who most have never heard of and some the focus of Sunday School lesson like Deborah, Gideon, and Samson. This was the period of time from the death of Joshua to the birth of Samuel, who is also considered the thirteenth Judge. Many were more like freedom fighters and heroes rather than people who judged. (This has been called the "dark ages" of Israelite history because of the disobedience and the resulting judgments by occupiers and raiders.) Yet, in the midst of these trails, these were people who were to step up to lead the people after Joshua. Many were gallant leaders whose rose up in the face of extreme opposition. This is the story of what happens when sin, disobedience, and pride overcome-the result is disaster. This is also the story of how God still shows His love and care by giving His direction to those who listen for the deliverance of the people (John 1:1-2, 14).
Ruth is a short Book after Judges that takes place in the same time period. It portrays a striking distinction to Judges with a story of redemption, faith, and romance. This story showcases Israel's sin and corruption and refusal to do the right things. A hero, Boaz, emerges to save the day. Ruth was not a Hebrew (she was from one of the enemy people groups, the Moabites); yet, her loyalty to her Hebrew mother-in-law, Naomi, paved the way for her faith in God.
Key Happenings: Humanity's Disobedience!
Disobedience, Judges 2:10-19! Who knew neither the Lord or what he has done…" The absence of the knowledge of God can only mean the absences of following His commands to carry on the instructions and legacy. The people, overjoyed in their new wealth, soon lost it all; they forgot who themselves as people of God-faithful--and chose to disobey God and forsake His precepts. The nation fell into its dark ages.
Judgment. Again the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, so he strengthened Eglon, king of Moab, against Israel because they did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. (Judges 3:11)
Why evil and judgment? Disobedience, sin, and a lack of trust to the Sovereign God can only result in one thing. Many people are reprobates; they hate God and will not yield to Him or His principles. The same things are going on the in many parts of the world; such people are so full of hate for God and goodness that there is nothing you can do to reach them. This is what the Bible calls the Reprobate mind (Romans 1), and these kinds of people will do all they can to kill goodness. A prime example of this would be the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah--symbols of the most horrifying judgment ever seen in response to the sins of man having gone way beyond out of control. Sodom rejected God's messengers, and His followers (Gen. 19). God will destroy those who are wicked! More importantly for us to remember is that He is just to do so--we are His creation, and He is God. As we look at church history and what goes on today, the devil continues his work of evil and is persistent in assaulting the work of our Lord and what He calls us to be doing in the world! We are to do our best with the Fruit of the Spirit, and be on guard when we have to change gears and fight.
The Twelve Judges
1. Othniel, Son of Kenaz, tribe of Judah, led for eight years of conquest and forty years of rest. He was the younger brother or the nephew of Caleb. Caleb and Joshua were the only ones to live long enough after the Exodus by their faith to see the Promise Land. He was chosen by his family standard to continue the fight of the land and conquered the Edomites and Mesopotamians (Joshua 15:16-19; Judges 1:11-15; 3:1-11; 1 Chron. 4:13).
2. Ehud, Son of Gera, tribe of Benjamin, under the oppression of the Moab, he snuck in and killed Eglon, the fat overlord, with cunning. He conquered for eighteen years and the nation rested for eighty years. He led Israel to kill 10,000 Moabites. It is interesting that a big deal is made that he was left-handed (Judges 3:12-30).
3. Shamgar, son of Anath, Tribe unknown, perhaps he was a non-Hebrew, since he did not have a Hebrew name nor the name of a tribe. He takes on the Philistines and kills 800 of them with an ox goad, a pike, with a metal tip (Judges 3:31-5:6)
4. Deborah, a prophetess from the tribe of Ephraim. A woman stepped up when no man would. She convinced Barak to take on the Canaanites. A Psalm called The Song of Deborah recounts her great victory. She and Barak fought for twenty years, and Israel was able to rest for forty (Judges 4:1-5:31; 15; 1 Samuel 12:11; Hebrews 11:32).
5. Gideon, Son of Joash the Abiezrite, from the Tribe of Manasseh. Gideon was handpicked by God--by an Angel of the Lord--as the least likely person to lead. God chose him to show that leadership is not by might; instead, great leadership is gained by trusting and an obedience by faith that makes one great and prosperous. Gideon took on the pagan gods that his people, even his family, were worshiping and turned them back to God. God used him to rout the pagan Midianite and Amalekite armies (both names mean "The People of the East). He made a big mistake in creating the gold ephod and led the people into further idolatry. He fought for seven years, and Israel rested for forty years in peace (Judges 6:1-8:32; Heb. 11:32).
Gideon put out a fleece as God's will? Gideon knew God's will; this was to test God's power to carry out the call. God allowed the insolence to show one can trust and follow God.
Abimelech a son of Gideon by a concubine, was not a real Judge; he assumed power and led for three years. He went on a homicidal rage and unjustly killed his brothers (leading to a civil war). To create great shame for his sin, God allowed a Thebezen woman to mortally injury him with a millstone and had his armor bearer kill him with a sword (Judges 8:33-9:57; 2 Sam. 11:21).
6. Tola, son of Puah from the tribe of Issachar, possibly from one of the leading clans of Issachar in contrast to Gideon. He led for twenty-three years, and nothing else is known of him (Gen. 46:13; Num. 26:23; Judges 10:1-2)
7. Jair, from the tribes of Gilead and Manasseh (perhaps a descendant of Jair who did great things for Moses and Joshua). He had thirty sons who were traveling judges. He led for twenty-two years (Num. 32:41; Deut. 3:14; Joshua 10:3-5; 13:30; 1 Kings 4:13; 1 Chronicles 2:21).
8. Jephthah, son of Gilead by a harlot, of the Tribe of Gilead and Manesseh. This caused great conflict in his family, but he refused to give up. He fought the Ammonites and conquered some 20 cities and engaged in a Civil war with the tribe of Ephraim. He led for six years (Judges 10:6-12:7; Heb. 11:32)
9. Ibzan, from the tribe of either Judah or Zebulun, had 30 sons and 30 daughters, and might have related to Boaz. He led for seven years (Joshua 19:15 Judges 12:8-10).
10. Elon, from the Tribe of Zebulun, led for ten years (Judges 12:11-12).
11. Abdon, son of Hillel, of the Tribe of Ephraim, was of wealth and good reputation. He had 40 sons and 30 grandsons. He led for eight years (Judges 12:13-15).
12. Samson, son of Manoah, perhaps of the Tribe of Dan. Like Jesus, an angel announced his birth. He was consecrated as a Nazarite and was set apart to serve God and took a vow not to cut his hear or drink wine. In contrast, the Philistines were drunkards; this vow may have ticked them off more than anything else he did. He was given great supernatural strength to fight, which he did on occasion. He killed a lion by hand, caught 300 foxes and killed a thousand Philistines with a donkey jawbone. While he was supposed to be leading his people, he messed with the Philistines and their women--Delilah, who cut his hair. The hair was not the secret of his strength; it was faith by his vow that he broke, and God took his strength away. Messing with foreign women was forbidden; this caused his downfall and he was blinded and enslaved. However, God did not abandon Samson; Samson prayed to the Lord, and the Lord gave him back his strength. Samson took down the Temple of Dagon, killing himself and about 3,000 Philistines. He was supposed to lead in his twenty years of service. Instead of conquering the Philistines, Samson was conquered by a Philistine girl. (Judges 13:1-16:31; Heb. 11:32).
The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, prior to the completion of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit's outpouring at Pentecost in Acts. He was intermittent sent by God for specific missions, like to have power or craftsmanship. As Christians we have access to the Holy Spirit continually (Num. 11; Joel 2:28-29; John 7:37-39; Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor. 1; 14:26-33).
What is the key to success with God and others? Hebrews 11 tells us by faith. In Judges, ordinary people became extraordinary and left an everlasting legacy, reputation, and example that we can follow, too, when we are careful to remember that by our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of God! These Judges represent all kinds of personalities of faith who demonstrated that they--and we--can persevere and overcome harsh trials and afflictions through faith. They showed remarkable faith-look at Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah. We will see David, Samuel, and the Prophets exercised faith too. These people overthrew kingdoms and did great things. How and why? They trusted in and received God's promises.
Hebrews tells us that If Joshua had given them rest, as an example of further disobedience in not subduing the land. After Joshua's generation, Israel became all but lost because they rested in their complacency and did not trust in God. Thus, God had to start over with people like Gideon. This also points to the Promised Land, which as important as it was, was not really about the Land. The Land does not fulfill the promise of God; it is all about the relationship of God to His people. The Land was just a place to live, know Him, and make Him known to the world. In the Hebrew, Our Hope is in Christ, not in what He gives or can give us either then or now (Josh. 13:1-2; Heb. 4:8; 7:11; 8:7).
Ruth. She was a non-Jew, who was under a curse--a "Moab," who was of unclean Gentile blood, but whose lineage birthed David. This is a picture of God's faithfulness to the faithful and how he Redeems, showing that God is a friend of the humble, poor, and obscure, and He favors faith over pedigree (Ruth, Duet. 23:3-5; Matt. 1:5).
Key Takeaway: We cannot take hold of God's promises when we are full of pride, disobedience, false promises, or selfish desires nor can we follow Him when we do not listen to Him or are full of covetous thoughts and arrogance, because pride and envy block our gratitude toward Christ for what He has given us. It may seem God gives to those who are evil and selfish, but remember, what they receive is mere straw to what you will receive for faithfulness!
The foreshadow of Jesus Christ? Christ is the One to give Hope! These people foreshowed Jesus by displaying hope in the midst of disaster. The Christian life is one of hope, wonder, excitement, and contentment. He IS our all-in-all so we can have the confidence and distinction to be glad in it (1 Chronicles 16:10-11; Psalm 16:11; 37:4; 92:2-3; 97:1; 118:24; Matt. 5:12; John 10:10; 15:11; 16:33).
Questions to Ponder
1. What causes you to be disobedient?
2. What was Ruth's motivation to overcome adversity and then go to a strange land and bow to God? Why did God grant her favor?
3. What gets in the way of God in your life? How can you better build and employ obedience? How will trust in Christ help you?
4. How can God's approval and reward be our motivation? How will this inspire your faith in Christ?
5. Why does God judge His creation and people? How does that make you feel or motivated?
6. Why did God give the land of Canaan (now Palestine) to Israel?
7. How do you feel that God did all He could do for the wicked inhabitants, then, evicted them, leaving their farms, vineyards, business, roads, walls, wells, buildings, for Israel to move in too?
8. How would you like to get land and a business for free? How could that hurt you and your family?
9. Why did the Israelites forget God's precepts and fail to live a fruitful and effective life and legacy? How do we do that today?
10. How do you see God's story of redemption continues and His hand of grace stretched out?
11. What can the church do to help its people from becoming corrupt?
12. What do you need to do to trust and turn to God? How has He redeemed you? How can this motivate your faithfulness and obedience?
© 2013 R. J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org