02 - Why Study Judges? The Context [A]
Why Study Judges? The Context
The Book of Judges
Judges Lesson #002
January 19, 2021
Dr. Robert L. Dean, Jr.
“Father, we are so thankful that we have Your Word. It is sufficient; it is enough. It gives us all the information we need to face and handle any problem we may face in life, any challenge, any temptation, any difficulty. The problem for most of us is we just don’t think deeply enough about Your Word to figure out how it relates to the everyday problems in the modern world, but it does.
“Father the problems may get a little more complex, but they are the still the same old problems, and we still have the same old sin nature that Adam had or Noah or Abraham or Peter, and Your grace is sufficient for any problem that we face.
“Father, as we study Your Word, we come to see many insights into what is going on in our world today. Basically, the trappings may have changed, but the core problems have not. As we study Judges, we’ll see a window into our own world even though we are talking about events from so very long ago, 1200–1300 BC.
“Father, we pray that You would open our eyes, You’d enlightened us, God the Holy Spirit would help us to see, to have the objectivity and the humility to see where we are following the wrong path or we are thinking in wrong terms, and that we might have the humility to correct, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And we pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Tonight, we are going to do another introduction. There are going to be three or four intro messages just to get the basic framework for the Book of Judges. So tonight, I’m addressing the question, why should we study Judges?
As I pointed out last time, this is not one of those most popular books. It’s sort of like Ecclesiastes or Obadiah, maybe some of the other minor prophets that usually don’t get opened a whole lot by people in church, and yet, they are filled with tremendous insight. Judges is one of those because of the problems that Israel faced in terms of their spiritual life, and in terms of the spiritual life of the nation are no different than the problems we are facing today.
In fact, I think the problems we face today are so similar to the ones that they faced in 1200, 1300 BC that it’s almost scary. I don’t think that a lot of this would have necessarily perhaps have been as significant to someone 150 to 200 years ago because they weren’t living in such a morally relativistic culture. Although, as I’m going to point out tonight, moral relativism is imbedded in the very first sin. So, it is part of the rationale of our lovely sin natures.
Tonight, I want to look at, why study Judges? We are going to look at how it fits within the flow of God’s revelation. It is important to understand that when we read the Bible, everything we read in the Bible is in a context. You look at a verse; that verse is in the context of a paragraph. That paragraph is in the context of a section, or subsection of a book, and that is in the context of the larger section, and within the context of a book.
We look at Judges, or we look at 1 Samuel or 2 Samuel, very, very similar context. We can look at Daniel. That’s a totally different context. That’s the context of a Jewish aristocrat who’s been taken captive back to Babylon, and he’s having to figure out how to live his life in the midst of an extremely pagan environment that is hostile to everything that he believes.
There are a lot of parallels and lessons to learn from Daniel about it. So, you can look at any other Book in the Bible, and everything has a certain context. It’s important to look at those things.
We’ll start just by looking at the key verse and the key verses in Judges. Last verse in Judges, Judges 21:25 says, “In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” It’s interesting that this comes at the end of the book. One of the popular views that you run into among scholars is that this is a setup, a setup for what is going to come in Samuel. That period immediately follows.
In fact, the first part of 1 Samuel, if you’ll remember, is in the period of the judges. Eli the high priest was a judge; Samuel was a prophet, a priest, and a judge. You had a period before the reign of Saul, before Saul is elevated to the kingship, that is in this same period. In fact, we’ll eventually see the overlap in the chronology that more than likely the judgeship of Jephthah, which is covered in Judges 11, the judgeship of Samson, the judgeship of Samuel, all overlapped.
They were just in different parts of Israel. So, you see that there is this broad context that sets up the stage, and there are those that say that what this is doing is setting up the need for 1 Samuel and preparing us for the wonderful things that the king is going to do.
The king didn’t do so many wonderful things. We’ll come back next time and talk about kingship and how it fits with the framework of government. There is so much in the Book of Judges that deals with political theory. That’s important to understand.
Parts of Judges, and especially 1 Samuel 8, were frequently quoted passages by the founding fathers of America as well as in the Book of Exodus, Deuteronomy, some from Judges, and a lot from 1 Samuel 8 were very much a part of their thinking according to the studies of a professor at the University of Houston in the mid-1980s by the name of Donald Lutz.
Donald Lutz published his studies in a couple of journals and categorized all of the various references in the writings of the American Founding Fathers. He looked at their diaries, he looked at sermons, he looked at things they wrote, treatises, all kinds of different things. And he classified how many times there were quotes from John Locke or from Montesquieu, or from any number of other sources.
He discovered that the vast majority, which out-numbered all of the others combined, were references to the Bible. Number two was John Locke, and many of the references in John Locke were simply paraphrases of the Bible because Locke wrote more about the Bible than he did about philosophy and political philosophy.
The same thing was true about other enlightenment thinkers like Newton. Newton wrote more about the Bible than he did science. We think of Newton and his discovery of the law of gravity, but he wrote a tremendous amount about the Bible. This was part of what was going on in that era; they were very well-educated men, and very well-read and informed men.
There is embedded within this, different views on political theory that have been mined by many over the years and really did play a huge role within the reformed school of thought. It influenced Lutherans; we’ve talked in the past about some of the different things that happened in the religious wars in Germany. So, it affected Lutheran theology.
It affected Calvinist theology, things of that nature, in terms of their political viewpoint that were brought over to the United States. At the time, just the colonies in the 1600s and 1700s, the Magdeburg Confession was rich with reference to Scripture. That was a Lutheran doctrine.
So, what we read is that in those days, there was no king in Israel. Now this is really a double entendre—it has two meanings. There’s no king in Israel; it’s before Saul, so it helps us to date when these events happened, but it’s really not talking about the human king. It is an error that a lot of commentators make when they come to a study of Judges.
The king in Israel at this time is supposed to be God; it is a theocracy where God is the head of the government as it’s laid out within the Mosaic Law, the covenant that God made at Sinai. They have rejected God as king. We’ll see that.
I read it last week in some of these passages in Judges 2, where it talks about that they abandoned God; they turned their backs on God, and they turned to the idols. That was the big problem. So, they’ve rejected God as their king, and the source of ultimate authority and values and meaning and significance in Israel.
In His place, they’ve substituted themselves. That always happens whenever you reject somebody who’s in authority, 99 percent of the time, we’re substituting ourselves for that person who is in authority because we think that we know better than they do. So that gives us the “right” to not follow them, not obey them, not do what they want us to do.
In a truly antinomian culture, now that’s a word that is not user-friendly for a lot of people; it means, “against the law.” “Anti,” meaning against; NOMOS is the Greek word for law. This refers to a lawless culture where everyone just does what is right in their own eyes. They are going to redefine the law; they are going to redefine the morals. They are going to redefine everything according to whatever they want at the moment. Next week, it may be something different because everything is fluid.
Judges 21:25 makes these two points: there is no king in Israel, and everyone is doing what’s right in their own eyes. There are three other verses near the end of Judges that have similar statements: Judges 17:6 states, “In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” It says exactly the same thing as the last verse in Judges 21:25.
Now what’s important is when you look at the structure of Judges, that you have this story—some scholars refer to it as the book of deliverers from Othniel in Judges 3 to the end of Judges 16 with the story of Samson. That goes through all of the major judges.
Judges 17:6 begins with the phrase, “In those days there was no king in Israel.” Some people, when they look at this, because there’s all kinds of controversy over the chronology in Judges, are looking at this and thinking that this is really related to what comes after. There are some people who look at a chronological order between Judges 16 and 17, but actually these events at the end in Judges 17 through 19, which is one event; Judges 20 and 21 is another event.
These are appendices that basically describe what is going on among the people during the broader period of 250 to 300 years of the period of the judges. They are describing this relativism, this antinomianism, this rejection of divine authority and making sure that the reader understands all through this, this end part, that this is the same thing that’s going on all of the way through the Book of Judges.
So that sets up the context, and what develops in this Book in Judges is the deterioration and degradation of a nation spiritually. You can just track it; it’s the pathology of self-destruction spiritually.
If you want a “how to” manual, this would be almost a how-to manual of how a nation goes from being spiritually victorious at the beginning. They have conquered the Canaanites in terms of the major strongholds. They haven’t taken out everybody in the smaller towns and villages, but they have defeated the major strongholds, and then they start breaking down.
They compromise, and they don’t complete their job, and as a result, they end up living with the Canaanites and assimilating into their views, the pagan religions of the Canaanites. And these are some of the most horrific religious practices in all of the ancient world.
The Canaanites were practicing extremely degraded sexual promiscuity in the worship of their fertility gods, and just horrific things. If you went to one of the temples, there were temple prostitutes, male and female, and so this was just a terribly degrading thing.
Also, they practiced child sacrifice and that could be a child all the way up to five or six years of age. This is the backdrop for understanding what happens with Jephthah. It was just an extremely dark, degrading time in the history of Israel.
To understand it, we need to look at the context, and it fits within the context of the Old Testament. As I said, every context has paragraphs and sections, and the paragraphs and sections are within broader sections of the book, and then the book is part of something larger.
What we have in the first part of the Bible is called the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch is a term that refers to five scrolls or five books. PENTA meaning “five” from the Greek word, and TEUCHOS meaning “scroll” or “book.” Those are all written by Moses, sometimes called the five Books of Moses, sometimes called the Torah, which is the word for “the law,” which is a large section. The last half of Exodus, Leviticus, some parts of Numbers, and then all of Deuteronomy would fit within that context. So, we have to understand why it goes from the Pentateuch.
Then we have Joshua; we start what we call in the Hebrew Bible, The Early Prophets. In the Hebrew Bible, you have three divisions: Torah, which is the first five books, and then The Prophets, the Nevi’im, and that’s composed of the former prophets and the latter prophets—we usually think of the latter prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve as the prophets—but in Israel, they recognize Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel—these were all written by prophets—so there are the former prophets and then you have the latter prophets.
So, you have the Pentateuch and then the former prophets. What is really going on here? We see that the context of Judges is in the post-conquest period following the Book of Joshua, and it comes before Samuel. Samuel is when we have the first kings, Saul followed by David, and you have the united monarchy up through the first eight or nine chapters of 1 Kings.
How does Judges fit within this particular section? We’re talking about a period that is roughly from 1406 BC until about 1050 BC. Usually, the reign of Saul is figured to be around 1050 BC. 1446, 1447 is the date of the Exodus. Then you have one year to Sinai and then 40 years in the wilderness, and that takes you to 1406, that’s the beginning of the conquest.
That takes you to about 1366 to 1150 is technically the period of the Judges although the Book of Judges starts in the conquest and is reviewing things in the conquest in the first chapters. So, it really is going from 1406 all the way to about 1050 BC. That also is part of the pre-exilic period—before the exile.
In 722 BC, the Northern Kingdom is taken out of the land. They go into exile. In 586 BC, the Southern Kingdom is defeated by the Babylonians and Nebuchadnezzar, and they are taken out of the land. So, the broader context is that Judges is sandwiched between the Pentateuch—Genesis to Deuteronomy—and then the early, early monarchy.
A major principle in the interpretation of Scripture is that all Scripture has to be interpreted in the time in which it was written. That doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily like, “Well, they did it that way then; we do it a different way now.” That’s not what that means. It means that you have certain words, phrases, terms; certain things that are going on culturally that are distinct to a certain period of time, so you have to understand how that shapes words.
You can look at words that are used by Moses in the early part of Genesis that are used a thousand years later by other writers, and they don’t have quite the same meaning. Just as we have, for example in the King James Version, the authorized version, you look at 1 Corinthians 13, and it talks about charity. A modern translation will translate that as “love.”
Between the early part of the 1600s and the 20th century, those words changed their meaning. That happens in the Bible, so you have to understand that framework. You have to go back and you have to do word studies, and you have to understand what different documents were written and deal with those things within their context and within their framework.
What we see here is this period that is cut out from almost the end of the conquest, even though it summarizes it in the first chapter, it picks up there and shows what is happening in the nation from roughly 1360 to 1050 BC. That’s a period of roughly 300 years, and I’m not about to go into all of the chronological issues that are developed here.
We’ll just summarize that. Nobody’s got it settled; there are all kinds of theories. That’s because these judges were not over all of Israel. Some were in the southwest, and they’re dealing with the Philistines, like Samson, and later Samuel; others are in the north; others are in the east or the Trans-Jordan, and they’re overlapping Jephthah and Samuel and Samson. They all had lives that overlapped with one another, so it’s trying to figure out how that jigsaw puzzle fits together.
To get the context, we want to start with the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch is the first five Books of the Bible, and they are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Genesis is the book that means “beginnings.” The Latin turn is genesis, and means beginnings, but it’s based upon the Hebrew.
In the Pentateuch, the title for each Book comes from the first word or first couple of words in the first verse, first chapter. The first word in Genesis is bere’sit, “in the beginning,” so it’s called “the book of beginnings,” and it is the book of beginnings. You have the beginning of the universe, the beginning of Adam and Eve, you have the beginning of sin, the beginning of redemption, the beginning of marriage, family, the first judgments on sin, all of these things.
Genesis is really easy to organize in your mind. It’s comprised of two sections. The first section focuses on four events and this is the primeval history of mankind, the human race. This is Genesis 1 through 11. The second section focuses on four people: this is the patriarchal history of Israel. If you look at Genesis, it has fifty chapters.
That first division, those four events are covered in eleven chapters, and then in Genesis 12–50, you have the four people. What do you think is the most important section in Genesis? It’s called the law of proportionality. If God is going to spend something like thirty-seven or thirty-eight chapters on these four people, then they are obviously more important than the four events, at least to some degree.
The four events are, of course, some of the foundational events that shaped human history. These four events are the creation of the heavens and the Earth, the creation of the Earth, then second, the Fall of man, his fall into sin. The third, you have the worldwide Flood of Noah, the judgment on the sin of the generation of Noah and those before because of the angelic infiltration in Genesis 6, and then the judgment at the tower of Babel.
We know from 2 Timothy 3:16–17, that all Scripture is breathed out by God, not inspired in the sense of a musician or inspired in the sense of a poet or writer or artist, but inspired in the sense that God originated the words of Scripture.
He breathes them out—it’s not dictation although there may be parts of Scripture that are dictation, such as some parts of the Mosaic Law were dictated or written by God—but for the most part, God is working like a hand in a glove, guiding and directing the very thoughts, the words, the phrases that the writers of Scripture use.
What we know from that that God has selected the events and the people that He’s going to tell us about, that He thinks are important for the history of the world and that are significant for our spiritual life. If you look at that period from Adam to the Flood, that is roughly a period of 2,000 years. During that period of time, there were maybe three or four billion people on the planet because those people lived 900 to 950 years, and you had as many as fifteen or sixteen generations living at the same time, maybe more, so that makes your population really expand.
During that period of time, you have a huge number of people, and a lot of things happened in 2,000 years. Just think about how many things have happened since Jesus Christ was crucified, that’s 2,000 years ago. God only really gives us details on four things that happened during that time period. That’s not much, so we’re relatively in the dark about those first 2,000 years, but God tells us what’s important to know—enough to where we can form a framework for understanding the rest of Scripture and apply things to life.
So, you have this period at that time, and then afterwards, you have a lot of other civilizations and cities and people and places that seemed significant at the time.
You have the rise and development of Egyptian civilization, and all of the Pharaohs, but the Bible is pretty much silent on most of them. But God tells us about these four men, and it’s four men that are virtually unknown by anybody else who lived at their time. They are Abraham, his son Isaac, his son Jacob, and one of his twelve sons, Joseph.
Joseph did become well-known in Egypt because he’s the one who came in and saved Pharoah, and saved Egypt during the time of the seven-year famine. He is known, but he is probably known by his Egyptian name and not by his Hebrew name. God tells us that they are important because of what God is doing in and through them.
Remember what has happened in the first part is there’s just this complete collapse of civilization. God is working with everyone and in the first part from the Creation to the Flood, then you have this boom in population, but God looks on the human race and says, “every thought of their hearts was evil continuously.”
Because of the Satanic incursion with the sons of God taking wives from the daughters of men, you have this hybrid race that develops that is an attempt to destroy the genetic purity of the human race. So, God knows it is necessary to kill, wipe out all but eight of those people who are on the surface of the planet at that time in order to preserve the Seed of the woman, and its purity through whom the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ will come.
After the Flood, what happens? Well let me go back to one thing: what happens between the Fall and the Flood? You can characterize that whole period because they’re doing evil continually, everybody was doing what was right in their own eyes. Everybody is rejecting God’s authority, rejecting God’s revelation however it was manifested in that time, and they are going to run their lives according to their own desires and dictates.
That is the same thing that we see in the same phrase in Judges, that everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes.
Then what happens? Then you have the Flood and after the Flood, man begins to spread out, but not as much as God has intended, and the vast majority of them seem to congregate in the area of Babel that later becomes Babylon on the Euphrates River. They build a ziggurat or tower with the idea that they were going to reach to God, and maybe part of their thinking was that if God wants to strike us with another flood, it will be high enough that we will survive. But what’s happening again is that they are rejecting the authority of God, and they are doing what’s right in their own eyes.
So, at that time, God comes down, and He’s going to, in order to preserve the human race, scatter the languages. So, everybody’s going to have to go in different directions because they can’t understand each other. They are going to congregate with other whose language they can understand, and that sets the stage for what God’s going to do next. Instead of working through all of the human race, He’s now going to work through one, specific individual and his descendants.
That takes us to the second half where we’re going to look at Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. So, God is going to call out Abraham. And He calls out Abraham, and He makes this promise to Abraham that He is going to bless him. He is going to bless him with descendants who are going to be as innumerable as the sands of the seashore and the stars of the sky. God is graciously blessing Abraham.
Abraham’s salvation isn’t dependent on obeying God. Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Paul quotes that in Romans 4 to show that our justification before God is not on the basis of our morality, our goodness, or anything that we’ve done because as Isaiah said, all our works of righteousness are as filthy rags.
There’s nothing that we can do to cleanse ourselves. There is nothing that we can do to make ourselves acceptable to God. God has to do it for us, and so there’s the promise of future salvation. Abraham believed that, and God accounted that to him as righteousness, clothes him with righteousness, and that is the basis for his salvation. But just because you’re saved, doesn’t mean you can just be frivolous and disobedient and do whatever you want to do, do whatever you think is right in your own eyes.
Abraham still has to struggle with sin, and so there are several times when he has some notable sins in his life, but eventually he begins to understand that God is the One who will fulfill His promise and provide a son through Sarah, and that’s the line of the seed.
So, the story in Genesis continues to go through developing the promise, and each time you have another son born, whether it’s Isaac, or Jacob, or Joseph, God reconfirms the Abrahamic Covenant with them that God is going to make from them a mighty nation, and that they will be as innumerable as the stars in the sky and the sands of the seashore, and God is going to give this piece of real estate to the Jewish people in perpetuity. It’s not conditioned upon anything.
Their enjoyment of the land is going to be conditioned upon obedience, but their right to the land is conditioned upon God’s grace. He has freely given that to them. Again, we see God trace His path of blessing through Abraham and his descendants—Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and his brothers—and that God is going to bless the entire human race through them. It’s through them and their descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ, as Paul points out in Galatians 3:16, that God is going to solve the problem of sin. And it is through this one man and his descendants that God is going to bless the entire human race.
So, God lays the foundation here in Genesis for understanding that blessing comes from God to those who walk with Him. Salvation is not on the basis of walking with God. Salvation is on the basis of believing God, and He will credit it to you as righteousness. Then, once you’re saved, you have to live in light of your new position. So, walking with God is also based on faith, but it’s different from getting saved as we’ll see in just a minute.
At the end of Genesis, all of Jacob’s sons and their families have all been brought by God from the Promised Land where they lived up near Beersheba and Shechem, and He has brought them all down to Egypt because God is going to provide for them and protect them. He’s really isolating them because these boys were really bad.
They just loved doing what was right in their own eyes. They were marrying with the Canaanites, which they were not supposed to do, and they were on the verge of disappearing into the Canaanite culture because of their disobedience to God.
So, God’s going to bring them all down to Egypt, and they’re going to be in the land of Goshen. The Egyptians have this horrible prejudice against the Semites, and they don’t even want to sit at the same table, and eat dinner with them. They don’t want to have anything to do with them. God is using that to protect them and to isolate Israel, so that the nation can flourish, and God will bless them, and their population will explode.
But they’ve got to get out of Egypt, and that’s the next Book, Exodus, which is about their exit from Egypt. God will take them through a series of judgments that He is going to bring against the Egyptians. The Egyptians are going to resist God. Pharoah will harden his own heart. He’s already made that decision; he’s already a god. He’s rejected God. He’s rejected all information about God, and then God is going to harden his heart or strengthen his heart to do what he wants to, even if it gets difficult because of the intensity of these plagues.
God is going to strengthen his resolve to do what he’s going to do so that God can glorify Himself in the redemption. That doesn’t have anything to do with his salvation; he’s already made his choice. But it does have to do with God strengthening his resolve in the wrong direction.
The events in Exodus take place some 400 years or so after the promise of Abraham, and the people are now enslaved in Egypt, but God, in His grace, will deliver them. So again, we have the message of grace. He will deliver them; He will redeem them; He will purchase them, and the purchase price is that what occurs in the tenth plague. God has designed the tenth plague where He will take the first born in every house, but the solution is going to be the sacrifice of a lamb that is without spot or blemish. The application of the blood, which signifies the death of the lamb, to the doorpost and the crosspiece at the top of the house, signifying that everybody in that house is under the blood or is protected by the death of that sacrificial lamb.
That becomes the background to Passover, and of course, it is looking forward to the future Cross of Christ, where He will, as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, will die on the Cross as our substitute and for our sins. We see these great pictures of grace, but then, we also see in the midst of that, that there is going to be sin and rebellion.
So, the Israelites are delivered, they are redeemed from slavery. They escape after the tenth plague. They cross the Red Sea. They go down to Mt. Sinai, and there something really interesting happens. They are going to spend a year there, but God is going to speak to them from Mt. Sinai. They are going to hear His voice, and it will put the fear into them. Trembling, they tell Moses, “No, we don’t want to hear God’s voice; you go up on the mountain, you write whatever He tells you, then come back and tell us, but we don’t want to listen to the voice of God anymore.”
There are just some great things and pictures that go on there, But one of the things that God tells them before He gives them the Ten Commandments, before He gives them the Law, before He lays all of that down, God is going to tell them something, that He is giving them a covenant.
He says in Exodus 19:5–6, “‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice, and keep My covenant,” Now what’s important is the rest of it. See God has already saved them, He has already redeemed them from slavery. That was a free gift; that is equivalent to our salvation. They weren’t saved or delivered from their slavery to Egypt by obeying the Law. That was God’s grace.
We’re not saved from the slavery to sin by keeping the Law or being obedient. We’re saved by trusting in God to deliver us. But once we’re saved, God gives us a new standard for living, a new protocol for living, and this is what’s going to take place on Mt. Sinai. God says [Exodus 19:5–6a], “ ‘if you will indeed obey My voice, and keep My covenant then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ ”
We’ve studied this word “holy” a lot. Holy doesn’t have as its core idea, the idea of moral purity. It has as its core idea, being separated to the service of God. Why does this apply to God? He is holy, He is significant, He is important, He is that with which we cannot do. He is vital, and so when we glorify God, that’s what we are doing because He is unique and distinct. We are going to show that He is important, and He must be followed. That is what it means to glorify Him.
So glorifying God is related to that concept of holiness, that He is distinct and unique, and He’s going to make them a holy nation, that is, they’re going to be different from all of the other nations. It doesn’t mean they are going to be morally pure because God hasn’t removed sin natures from them. It means that they are going to be distinct.
How are they going to be distinct? They’re going to be a kingdom of priests. Just as the Levitical tribe were the priests to all of Israel, so Israel is going to be the priest nation for the rest of the world. They are the ones to whom the sacrifice for sin will come.
This is important because it recognizes again that the problem with man is sin because man wants to do it his own way. He wants to make up his own rules just like Adam and Eve did in the Garden. God said, “Don’t eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil,” and what did they do? They wanted to determine for themselves what good and evil were. They wanted to do what was right in their own eyes.
So, we see from the very beginning that this is essential to the evil of the sin nature that man wants to reject the authority of God, and in its place, set himself up as the final arbiter of truth, the final determiner of what is right and what is wrong, and every man will do what is right in his own eyes. This isn’t something that is going to be unique to the time of the judges; it goes back to the core of the corrupt sin nature within every one of us.
So, what happens is God is going to give a covenant to Israel on Mt. Sinai. The Ten Commandments are just like the prelude. We have a prelude to the Constitution. This is the prelude to their law code, and it’s the Ten Commandments and the rest of the laws all show how those Ten Commandments are to be applied in a variety of different circumstances. When you look at the Mosaic Law, and its 613 and commandments, 603 of them are applications of the Ten Commandments at the very beginning.
But these standards in the Law are designed to teach Israel about the uniqueness of their nation, how to live as a kingdom of priests, how they are going to be different, distinct from all of the different nations on the Earth.
The way God designed it in the Old Testament is that He gives them this piece of real estate that is in the crossroads of all the trade routes in the ancient world. So, all the traders coming from Turkey, coming from Egypt, coming from Assyria, coming from Babylon, all of them are going to have to cross right there in the middle of this real estate that God has given them. So they are going to set up a kingdom that is going to be radically different from the way any other kingdom works and operates.
In Deuteronomy, it says that the Gentiles will come, and they will say, “Has there ever been a nation like this nation?” They will see how they live, the freedom the prosperity, the spirituality of Israel, and they will say, “How can we be like this?” That’s how they were to be a witness to the world.
But what happens is, that because they rebel against God, and they do what is right in their own eyes, that never really happens except in the time of Solomon when the Queen of Sheba comes. That’s the idea. She hears about the glory of Solomon’s and walking with God and everything has been done well, then she sees the difference, and she wants to learn about that.
That was God’s model in the Old Testament. So, Israel was supposed to be this model nation, but they had to do it God’s way if they were going to experience blessing. That blessing had to come by obedience to the Law, not their salvation, not their chosen status before God—that’s analogous to salvation—but they were to live as God was describing, so they could glorify God.
Even from the beginning, while Moses is up on Mt. Sinai, what’s happening down below? The people get bored after forty days, and they convince Aaron to build an idol, and then they are going to worship the idol. What had they done? They had rejected Moses and God as their authority, and they are going to do what’s right in their own eyes. They are abandoning God, which is the language used in Judges, they’re abandoning God and turning to idols. So, this becomes such a standard.
What they learn when they get the Law is that God is still a God of grace and forgiveness because in the Law, you have the tabernacle, you have the altar, you have the sacrifices, and God describes how they can be cleansed of sin, how they can be forgiven of sin, and how they can be redeemed by trusting in God. You see this theme that goes throughout the Pentateuch of God’s grace even when the people are disobedient.
So, you have these basic lessons that continue to go through here that God is in control, and God determines what right and wrong are. He is the ultimate reference point. He is the One who is absolute righteousness and inherently righteous.
The second thing that is learned is that God’s grace provides the only solution. We can’t earn or merit God’s grace, but He freely provides the solution, and we are to simply trust in Him.
We learn third that salvation was not by the Law. The Law was given to teach them how a saved people was to live. So, this is the first two Books, but it continues as you get into the next two: Numbers and Leviticus.
This is a time of their wandering in the wilderness. We learn about their disobedience at Kadesh-Barnea, and God is going to judge their sin. They are scared to death; they disobeyed God again, and they are doing what’s right in their own eyes. And God says, I was going to give that to you; I had already promised to you and you’re disobedient. So, now your generation is going to have to stay in the desert until they all die off, and your children will be the ones who enter the land and will receive the inheritance. So, this is their great act of disobedience, great act of punishment. Only two are allowed to go in and that’s Joshua and Caleb.
Again, Israel has to learn this same lesson that God sets the standards. He’s the One that determines what right and wrong are. Failure means divine discipline, but they continue to rebel against God, and they continue to define reality in their own terms. What this does, it just delays God’s blessing. So instead of that generation receiving the blessing of the promised land, they’re going to have to go through forty years in the wilderness, and they’ll all die off and their children will go in.
We see again, it is unbelief, it is moral relativism, it is man determining what is right or wrong rather than God determining what is right or wrong, and they keep turning to other gods. Every time you and I say, “I’m not going to do what God says to do,” we’re setting ourselves up as a judge over God. We’re in moral relativism, and we’re doing the same thing that they did.
So, God, in His grace, continues to provide cleansing from sin, forgiveness and yet there are consequences. Moses is not allowed to go into the land, but he gives them his parting instructions and warnings in Deuteronomy.
In Deuteronomy, he reminds them of all the stipulations of the Law. Then you come to the end of Deuteronomy in chapters 28–33, which is the strongest backdrop to what comes in the subsequent books because there, he outlines the curses, the judgments that God’s going to bring on Israel, and also the blessings.
But the bottom line is also rather pessimistic because he says, ultimately, you’re going to be so disobedient that God is going to take you out of the land, but eventually, you will turn to God. He will fulfill all of His promises, and He will restore you to the land and establish the Kingdom. These are the things that are taught in all of these books, but it’s not a lesson that is learned.
What happens after you get through the end of Deuteronomy—Moses is taken to be with the Lord in paradise, and then what happens is you have the conquest. This is the end of the introduction to the Bible basically, and the beginning of history with Joshua and Judges.
Joshua was a very positive Book. There are some episodes that are negative episodes with Achan’s sin, the defeat of the Israelite army before Ai and these things have happened, but there is the illustration of God’s grace, His forgiveness, He gives Israel a victory and for the most part, they are trusting God to give them the victory over all of the Canaanite enemies.
At the end of Joshua, it is a time of victory, so Joshua is a very positive Book from that perspective. There’s little rebellion against God. They are a generation that trusts God. They are the conquest generation, the descendants of those rebels. They saw their parents and they understood the discipline that they had and learned from it, which is rare. So, that brings us up to the beginning of Judges.
In Judges 1 is sort of a summary of the conquest and how it started well, but it doesn’t end so well because of their compromise. Where Joshua is the bright side, Judges is the dark side. Judges is a picture of the collapse of a godly nation, a nation that was walking with God, trusting in God for their great victories, and what we’re going to see is incredible defeats and divine discipline over and over and over again in the Book of Judges.
Why is Judges written? First of all, Judges is written to provide a very dark illustration of what happens to the human race, to a nation, to individuals, to families, and businesses when a nation acts independently of God, when we turn our backs on God and decide that we know better and we can make up our own code of conduct, our own sense of right and wrong. It is not based upon the Bible or what God says.
When we decide that it is right that we have same-sex marriage when God says that it is wrong, when we say that it is right for the government to take more than a legitimate amount from people in order to give it to everybody else so everybody has the same income, that is a violation of individual responsibility. Historically, it destroys motivation and incentive, and it destroys a work ethic. It also destroys the quality of production of a civilization. So, when a nation acts independently of God and they rewrite the rules, the end result is always disastrous, and it always has been.
The second thing is that Judges also shows that again and again the people can turn back to God. They never out-sin His grace. Their sin is never too great for God’s grace. Now they’re going to go under severe divine discipline, and they will be oppressed by foreign powers again and again—sometimes shorter periods and sometimes longer periods—but when they turn back to God, God always provides a deliverer. God answers their prayer. There is cleansing and recovery from sin. But then what happens is, once all of the problems are solved, they just go back to repeating the situation.
They fail the test of prosperity. We see that every day in our culture. We see it every day in our own lives, where things are going well; sometimes I can tell: when things are tough, when culture is unstable, when the economy is turning south, more and more people will be coming to church because they want solutions. But once everything smooths out and everything is pretty good then they don’t show up at church anymore, and they are not so dependent upon God.
This is a cycle that we see over and over again in the Book of Judges. It emphasizes their failure because they are determining what right and wrong are instead of God. But God will forgive them, and God in His grace will provide for them, but there are always longer-lasting consequences. We don’t get away with sin without those consequences.
The third thing is Judges is written to show us God’s grace. No matter how rebellious and depraved the nation became, no matter how depraved her leaders were, God would always meet them where they were and forgive them and bring them back. That doesn’t give you a basis for rationalization. It was never a good thing.
The good thing is, no matter how badly you fail, no matter how sinful you’ve become, no matter how corrupt you are, no matter what terrible things you’ve done, if you’re still alive, God has a plan for your life, and God will forgive you. You may have lost many options in your life because of bad decisions, but God is going to still forgive you, and you still have an opportunity to grow spiritually, but you will have forfeited many blessings and many opportunities that would have been yours if you had only walked with the Lord. That’s what we see illustrated again and again in the Book of Judges.
The fourth thing is that it shows that God is always faithful to us even when we are faithless. God is always true to His Word. God is true to the covenant with Abraham. God is true to the covenant that He made with Moses. God is not going to go back on His Word, and He is always there.
The term for His faithfulness that we see again and again in the psalms is the Hebrew word chesed, which means a faithful, loyal love. He is loyal to His side of the contract, and He is always going to fulfill His obligations. That’s the lesson in Judges. Judges ends on a horrible note. Israel is in civil war; they almost annihilate one of the tribes, the tribe of Benjamin, and it is on a very low note.
It is within that same time period that the Book of Samuel opens. If you remember, it opens in a situation where there is a man, Elkanah who has two wives, Hannah and Peninnah, and Peninnah is ridiculing and berating Hannah because Hannah can’t have a child—she’s barren. Hannah is something of a picture of Israel who is barren spiritually at that time, and Peninnah is something of a picture of the Philistines, who are taking advantage of Israel at the time.
Hannah cries out to God to deliver her by letting her have a child, and she will dedicate that child to God. This is the same thing that happens to Israel at that time. Finally, they turn to God and will look to Him. It is through that child, she says in Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2, that she has the insight that God has given her that it is through this son that she has, Samuel, who will anoint David, that it is through that connection that the ultimate Redeemer will come to Israel. So, you see God’s grace that shine through with Israel even in their darkest time.
We have to learn from that and be encouraged by that; there are solid believers who lived in dark times in Israel’s history. And yet, God blessed them in rich ways. Individually they had great opportunities to be a witness to the Lord. Great opportunities to teach their children and grandchildren and turn things around.
Even though we may live in a time when everyone is doing what’s right in their own eyes, there are, to borrow a phrase from a later time of Elijah that is very similar, there are 7,000 as it were who have not bowed the knee to Baal. There are hundreds of thousands, several million Bible-believing Christians in this nation that are the basis of hope for the future.
We don’t know where they are, but they are there, and they are having their impact. The issue for us is, are we going to be part of that crowd or not? Are we going to be part of that group of mature believers that will eventually be a pivot upon which the future history of this nation turns?
There’s always an exception. Some generation is going to be the raptured generation, and that may be ours. It may not be ours; there may be a future turning of this nation; there may not be a future turning of this nation. But the only hope for this nation is not social programs; it’s not social justice; it’s not a change in income tax laws; it’s not one political party or the other political party. It is for this nation to turn back to the foundation for this country, which is the Word of God and the truth of God’s Word. That is the only hope for stability and a future in this nation because without God, any prosperity is meaningless. Let’s close in prayer.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to review this context to help us understand how Judges fits within the flow of human history, picturing the very dark side and always in sin, we’re always doing what is right in our own eyes and not obeying You. The consequences are judgment unless and of course You’re gracious to us in forgiving us and cleansing us of our sins and restoring us to a position of service and usefulness.
“Father, we pray that You would challenge us with the things we’ve studied. Give us insight into how our culture imitates the pagan culture of Israel and their rebellion in the Old Testament and help us to see how we can protect ourselves, our thinking, our children, our grandchildren from the horrible and devastating consequences of paganism that is all around us. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”