This week we will dig into the first four chapters of Judges. The book of Judges breaks down into three main parts. The first two chapters are an introduction of sorts and lay the groundwork for the rest of the book. Chapters 3-16 show the downward spiral of judges through this time in Israel’s history. What we see is the leaders or judges going from okay to bad to worse. Chapters 17-21 show the total corruption of God’s people and there’s a popular refrain that stands out in these chapters.
Judges 17:6 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
This very phrase will be repeated as the closing verse of the book of Judges. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. The people of God had desired to be their own rulers and therefore they played the part of God and did whatever they thought was right. This is in stark contrast to what God had commanded them to do. What we must see here is that when we give up God and His objective truth as found in His word, we end up taking the throne of our lives and in our utter foolishness we do what is “wise in our own eyes”. Oh, that we might repent of this foolish position and return to the One True God in submission and obedience to His word!
As we dig into the first two chapters of the book of Judges, we see an interesting repetitive story. God’s people, the different tribes noted in chapter one, are living in areas and instead of totally removing the Canaanites they have left a remnant in every location that they have begun to settle in. Joshua had won many battles, but there was still more left to be done. At this point in our journey, it is helpful to know why God had commanded His people to remove the Canaanites completely from their midst. You see, the Canaanites were a morally corrupted people. They worshiped their false gods and even did so by sacrificing their own children to them.
We see chapter two begin with a rebuke from God:
Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
God punishes His people’s failure to keep their covenant by allowing the inhabitants of the Promised Land to become thorns and snares to His people. Now we see the people of God immediately weep and repent but this really does become the cry of the rest of the book of Judges until we reach the end. There is a familiar cycle shown in chapter two and lived out in the remaining chapters of the book of Judges. The cycle looks like this: sin, suffering, crying out to God in repentance, God providing deliverance, and peace for a short while until the cycle repeats beginning back at sin again.
Does this cycle of Gods people in Judges look like the cycle of your own life? What we will unfortunately find throughout this book are the similarities it shows in relation to our world now and even our personal lives. I hope you see the beauty and design of God through this book to remind us of our desperate need for a savior. The only hope the book of Judges offers, is that it’s pointing us to our failure (especially when we do life with a wise in our own eyes attitude) and to our only true hope, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ!
We will dig into this more in a bit, but for now let’s look back at chapter two. The people of God repent and they live out the rest of Joshua’s days and the elders of Joshua’s days serving the Lord. However, we see the tragic lesson of either failure to teach the next generation about our God or the failure of the next generation to hear the teaching.
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.
You see, there was some breakdown here either in the elder generations to pass along the faith or the new generation to receive and treasure these truths. Whatever the case, we see that God’s people did not know Him or what He had done to rescue them. So they turned to the people who the previous generations failed to remove from the land and they adopted the culture and its practices.
And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.
Remember this was the reason God wanted His people to remove these inhabitants from His promised land but what we see here is that cycle I mentioned. God’s people forget Him and turn to the culture to worship its gods. When this happens, God rightly punishes His people as we see in the next verses.
So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
So the cycle turns from sin to suffering and God graciously raises up judges to lead the people out of the hands of those who have plundered them, BUT Israel would not listen to their judges.
Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.
What we see happen is this cycle of sin--repentance–deliverance--returning to sin again. It can be easy for us to read this while shaking our heads at Israel’s failure, however lest we become prideful, this is almost always the story of our lives on a personal level. We turn from God to sin and the lies that tempted us prove to be dishonest so we suffer for our disobedience. We, by God’s total grace and Holy Spirit-wrought work, see our sin and repent and God reminds us of our security in Christ and the salvation He has already purchased through the good news of His gospel. By God’s grace, this cycle gets smaller and smaller as we become more and more sanctified but we will and must do battle till the end of our lives if we are in Christ. Sin will not be gone until Christ returns and so we have a battle ahead of us to turn from sin to repent when we fail and to treasure God above all other things that we may not be so easily falling into sin again.
My prayer and hope for us is that while we read through Judges and see the failure of God’s people we will be reminded of what happens when we depart from God and turn to sin instead. May we learn from those who have gone before us and cling to the trustworthy Lord of all!
As a summary and something to chew on, let me leave you with this similarity of the Canaanites and our current world. They worshiped false gods–this is never more prevelant in our world than when we see people worship the false god of SELF. Our current culture worships itself as god and does what is right in its own eyes. The Canaanites sacrificed their children to these false gods. The number one reason given for abortion today is if to allow the child to live it would negatively affect the mother’s life. This category explains that the mother is unready for the responsibility, unable to afford the child, and concerned about how the baby would change their life. You see, when something endangers the god of this world (self) then people sacrifice their children at the altar of convenience for themselves.
We are nearing if not already passed the 60 million babies murdered in the womb since Roe vs. Wade in 1973 and this is in the United States alone. If we don’t see the similarities between the Canaanites in the book of Judges and the world we live in now, we are given to continually repeat this horrible history. We have become like Israel adopting the values and practices of the culture around us instead of trusting God and His word as given to us in the Scriptures. We must repent and lay our lives upon the solid foundation of God’s word!
Praise God for His forgiveness, but let us not take God’s grace for granted and go on sinning. May the love of God and the grace of God drive us to turn from sin and live for Him!
* Special thanks to a faithful gospel partner, Steven Obert, for writing this weeks study.