Summary: External and internal conflict, a clash of values
Keeping the faith in a hostile world—Judges chapters 1-2 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts (Scripture Reading: 2:6-19)
The slogan of the Outback Steak House is “No Rules—Just Right”…but I suspect that if you showed up and didn’t wait for the hostess, took a table ahead of people waiting, ordered something not on the menu, then walked out without paying your bill, the manager would think differently!
Our society has strong feelings against judgmental attitudes—people don’t like being told what they’re doing is wrong. Yet God has spoken, His rules are clear (He didn’t give us the “Ten Suggestions”), and so it’s important we know both the blessings of obedience and the consequences of disobedience in life. We see these consequences unfold in the Book of Judges, which has been called “one of the saddest books in the Bible.”
The Judges of the OT arose during a period of internal anarchy and external conflict, covering the time between the death of Joshua and the anointing of King Saul. Ch 2 states, “The Lord raised up judges who saved Israel out of the hands of raiders. Yet they would not listen to the judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshipped them” (16-17). It was a disastrous time in Hebrew history. God’s people were led to Canaan to conquer the land, but instead they became infected with the idolatry of Canaan; a major theme of this book is the “Canaanization of Israel”. They were to make no treaties with the inhabitants, and no intermarriage. Nonetheless, they were content to settle among the Canaanites, and most could not be distinguished from their neighbors. They became a permissive society, drawing their standards from those around them. Their obedience was incomplete; they mutilated a captured king (1:6, they copied pagan practice though they were told to kill him), and pressed the Canaanites into forced labor (1:28), instead of driving them out completely (note: the term Canaanites refers to all the inhabitants of the land west of the Jordan River).
This book displays a clash of values. Paul urges us to prevent the world from fitting us into its mold (Rom 12:1-2); we have to guard against becoming secular in our thinking, which can result in compromising our behavior. Sometimes we are content to be “Canaanized”; we grow far too comfortable living as the world dictates. The President of Johns Hopkins University warnss, “Failure to rally around a set of values means that we are turning out highly-educated, highly-skilled barbarians.” We answer to a higher authority; God has called us to higher standards. Israel’s incomplete obedience led to compromise with idolatry, inter-marriage, and eventually to everyone doing “as they saw fit” (17:6, 21:25)…”No rules”.
We can slip into a sense of false security when we read about Israel’s idolatry—after all, we’re not bowing down to idols! We forget that the old gods are still with us; they’ve simply updated their appearance, accommodating the times. They still claim to provide meaning to life and they still promise to provide for our personal desires. They still demand wholehearted commitment from their worshippers. Today’s most popular idols are materialism, comfort, power, and sensual immorality. The modern idols are no less demonic than the ancient ones. We need to be free from all idols, ancient and modern, and Christ offers such freedom!
The outcome of Israel’s compromise was the shocking reality that their real enemy became God Himself. He ensured that when they went out to battle, the outcome was defeat. However, in His grace, God raised up leaders to bring Israel back in line.
The Judges were deliverers, charged with restoring the peace. They were spiritual as well as political leaders. Twelve judges are listed, though it’s possible there may have been more (Eli & Samuel perhaps), and we should note that their judgeships overlapped. Some are given a lot of detail, while others are simply mentioned; a selective (not all-inclusive) presentation. We see in this book how everything rises and falls on leadership. We also discover that God uses fallible, imperfect people to accomplish His work--we’re shown the strengths and weaknesses of the Judges. They were unlikely leaders, proving the grace and power of God.
Throughout the time of the Judges, we see Israel going through cycles covering 6 stages:
1. Rest—enjoying the blessings of the land of promise.
2. Rebellion—the people divorcing themselves from God, following after idolatry and becoming captive to sin.
3. Retribution—God withdrawing His protection, delivering them into the hands of enemy oppressors.
4. Repentance—Israel crying to God for help, wanting to turn from their self-destructive, sinful practices.
5. Restoration—God raising judges to deliver His people from oppression.
6.Revival—Israel is led back to a life of fellowship with Him.
Then the cycle is repeated. As we study Old Testament history, it’d be smart to ask ourselves: Why do we disobey God’s word, even though we understand the blessings of obedience and the consequences of disobedience?