Summary: Overview of Judges tracing spiritual decline and discussing rock bottom low in horror story of Chapter 19.
Downward Spiral and the Horror of Sin
Series: Lessons from Judges #2
Last week in Judges 1 we saw a trend developing in the people of God. Early in that chapter, they were experiencing wonderful victories. But at about verse 19 the tone of victory subsided and defeat in their lives became common place. Instead of enjoying the full provision of the Promise Land they were settling for only partial victory. Instead of wholeheartedly pressing into their inheritance they were not driving out the enemy in various areas and were in fact accepting that level of living as simply “the way it is.”
In the last part of Chapter 2 we began to see why and how these people were falling into spiritual decline. First, they failed to teach their children the way of the Lord. Judges 2:10 “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.” The next verse (11) begins with the word “then.” What followed this failure was more and more compromise. “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.”
This morning I want to share with you an overview of the Judges that will give you a framework for understanding the stories contained in this book. Typically the way this book is taught and preached is to focus on each story and make applications to our own lives. That works if you understand the context of that story in OT theology. But it can be very confusing when you don’t. For example, did Jephthah kill his daughter as a human sacrifice to God? That whole story becomes confusing without first understanding the overall message of Judges. What’s going on in the last story of this book when a Levite dismembers his dead wife and sends one part to each of the twelve tribes? It actually reads more like a horror story than a Bible story unless we see it in the context of the book as a whole.
The book of Judges is a lesson on spiritual decline. What happens when God’s people get half-hearted about their relationship with the Lord? Do they just miss a few blessings but find a way to cope with life’s problems and carry on? Judges is a warning about what will happen when people start compromising with sin. Someone once said, “Sin will take you farther than you wanted to go; it will keep you longer than you wanted to stay; and it will cost you more than you wanted to pay.” That is a good summary of the book of Judges.
When the book opens we are introduced to admirable characters—people of remarkable faith and integrity. Of course, there was Joshua of the previous generation. Caleb is prominent in the first chapter. His daughter, Acsah, is a chip off the old block. She is an outstanding woman of faith and her husband Othniel becomes the first Judge in this book. Judges 3:10 tells us how he was empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead Israel.
But as the book of Judges proceeds the integrity and spirituality of the leaders continually decline.  Ehud, the next Judge, was a godly leader and a man of great courage. Gideon is at the center of the book. He begins pretty well. But toward the end of his life he makes some serious compromises that lead to terrible idolatry with his golden ephod. His son, Abimelech, was a brutal, evil, ambitious man who slaughtered his own brothers for power and position. By the time we get to Jephthah the Scripture is no longer emphasizing God’s work in raising up the leader. Instead we see people worming their way into power and using God’s name when it serves their selfish purposes. When we see that story in its full context it is not surprising to find this man offering his daughter as a human sacrifice. He is obsessed with vain ambition and lust for power and position. He will not lose face; his values are confused and corrupted. So there he is keeping an ungodly vow while breaking covenant law (Deut. 12:31) with Yahweh. Samson is an example of a man who was born into rich spiritual heritage and opportunity. God gifted him and empowered him for service. But most of his energy was spent pursuing sensuality and revenge.