GOVERNMENT 16 – Lessons from the Book of Judges

Elements from Landa Cope: God, the Bible & political justice

Introduction: Good start with Joshua and beyond
  • The major military challenge of possessing the land is complete (Jos 11:23). Joshua lead Israel to victory, conquest and land allotment. Israel begins well. They serve God throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the tribal elders of his generation. They ask God for direction in the next phase of military conquest, clearing the land. The various tribes begin to obey God and work together to take their lands.
  • Israel begins the system of decentralized government outlined in De 1: Tribal leaders will govern the tribal lands. They will all come together for worship and sacrifices at the central tabernacle. The Levites (spread out in 48 Levitical cities) provide access to God and primary health care. A national leader will be needed only when there is a national crisis.
  • This system will keep maximum authority at the grass roots level of governance. It makes the people of each tribe responsible for their own governance, specific laws, consequences and interpretation of the prescriptive Laws of Moses. It will make unity a choice and it will assure diversity in how the law is interpreted and applied, something that seems important to God throughout all of Scripture.
The reason for the deterioration

Jdg 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. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. 15 Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.”

  • God makes it abundantly clear what the reason for all the problems are: disobedience by his chosen nation – not Satan, not the military power or cultural evil in the surrounding nations.
  • God emphasizes only one thing: the devastating power of His people to curse themselves through the consequences of their choices.
  • God himself gives them over to defeat, economic loss and shame hoping that in their misery they would call again on Him. God acts strictly as per covenant (Lev 26, Deu 28).
God's mercy: raising up Judge-Deliverers

Jdg 2:16-19   “Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. 17 Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the Lord’s commands. 18 Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.”

  • Every time the tribes of Israel move towards destructive idolatry, God raises up a political enemy. When they have a political enemy they must unite under a national leader and God faithfully raises up such a leader to deliver them.
  • The need for strong national political leadership is not a very encouraging sign about the health of the nation.
  • What does God choose to highlight in His Word about the political leadership of the Judges?
Othniel                                    Tribe of Judah                                            Oppressor Aram

Jdg 3:7-9    “The Isralites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, they forgot the Lord their God and served Baals and the Asherahs…8 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of the Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram…who the Israelites were subject to for eight years. 9 But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel …”

  • It takes Israel eight years to get desperate enough to cry out to the Lord.
  • The leader raised up comes from good stock. He is the nephew of Caleb, the only other of the ten spies who along with Joshua gives a hopeful report and trusts God’s ability to help them enter the promise land. Othniel’s wife is Caleb’s daughter.
  • The Spirit of the Lord comes upon Othniel and he is raised up to lead Israel in the military defeat of the King of Aram. Israel, then, has peace for 40 years.
Ehud                                       Tribe of Benjamin                                       Oppressor Moab, Ammon, Amalek

Jdg 3:12    “Once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and because they did this evil the LORD gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel. 13 Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms. 14 The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years. 15 Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite.”

  • This time it takes Israel eighteen years to become desperate.
  • The city of palms (Jericho) is an outlying city of Benjamin. This probably means that the lands of Ruben and Gad are conquered as well, at least partially. The raised up judge Ehud is from Benjamin, an affected, but not conquered tribe.
  • Ehud goes to pay tribute to the King of Moab, a ruse to assassinate him. Ehud calls the Ephraimites (just North of Benjamin) to join him and they defeat and kill 10,000 strong, capable Moabite troops.
  • It seems not all Israel is involved, and also that loyalty between tribes exist, Ephraim helps Benjamin, together they seem to help Ruben & Gad. 80 years of peace result.
Shamgar                                Tribe not stated                                              Oppressor: Philistines

Jdg 3:31     “After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an ox goad. He too saved Israel.”

  • That is all we know about Shamgar. The judges cycle is not fully spelled out but can be assumed. Judges 5:6 mentions that in Shamgar’s time caravans ceased and travelers kept to the byways, which seems to indicate insecurity on the roads, due to lawlessness or raiding, presumably by the Philistines.
  • There is a city Abel-Anath (‘Meadow of Anath’) in Naphtali, maybe he is of Naphtali. Then the deliverance against the Philistines would speak of unity among the tribes.
Deborah and Barak               Tribe of Ephraim and Naphtali                      Oppressor: Canaanites of Hazor

Jdg 4:1      “The Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD. 2 So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. 3 Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the LORD for help.”

  • Israel’s insensitivity to suffering is increasing: this time it takes 20 years of suffering till they cry out to God.
  • Hazor is the ‘strong northern city’ that Joshua defeated and destroyed in Jos 11:10. It is located deep in the tribal land of Naphtali, South even of the city of refuge Kedesh. Canaanite kings reigning at Hazor (again) shows that already Israel’s borders have shrunk, and the Canaanites are not only present in the promised land, but reigning and oppressing. Commander Sisera is from Harosheth-ha-goiim, a city in the Jezreel valley at the border of Zebulon and Manasseh, near Jokneam of Manasseh. Iron chariots are most effective in flat areas > Jezreel valley was susceptible. All in all a bleak picture!
  • This time God raises up a woman or Ephraim who has already been functioning as a judicial leader in her tribe, who then calls on a man of Naphtali – Barak – to assemble 10’000 troops and take position on Mount Tabor, North slope of the Jezreel Valley.
  • Deborah has the word of the Lord and faith and inspires Barak. He refuses to go at it alone and Deborah consents to come with him, predicting, though, that a woman will get the honor of this victory. Barak attacks the Canaanite army running down from Mount Tabor.
  • Jdg 5:4-5 and 19-21 indicates how God intervened and how the battle was one: torrential rain makes the Kishon river in Jezreel Valley flood and the iron chariots get stuck, and Canaanites having to flee on foot. God offsets the technical advantage. Jdg 4:15-16 describes the panic of the Canaanite army and the complete victory of Barak. But it’s a woman Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite (not Israel but Israel-friendly clan) who kills Sisera by stealth and gets the glory for the battle, as Deborah predicted. This victory tips the balance and Israel finally destroys King Jabin of Canaan (Jdg 4:23-24)
Gideon                                    Tribe of West Manasseh                                     Oppressor: Midian, Amalek, Eastern peoples

Jdg 6:1     “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help. 7 When the Israelites cried to the LORD because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.“

  • Midian, Amalek & Eastern peoples were nomadic, camel-based, mobile. They kept invading Israel & looting the crops > economically devastating. Israel trying to hide themselves and their produce to escape looting > the reason Gideon threshes wheat in a wine press!
  • For the first time God sends a prophet ahead of the deliverer with the message that Israel is the cause of their own suffering. Israel no longer understands … and doesn’t listen even when told straight.

Jdg 6:14     “The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” 15 “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

  • Gideon is fearful, self-conscious and indecisive, it seems that “the best leadership God can find” is declining in quality. Where will a leader come from but from the people they are leading? As the culture declines so does the caliber of possible leaders.
  • God steps up his communication: He sends a prophet (Jdg 6:7-10) to let Israel know what the problem is – their knowledge of the law and the covenant having decreased.
  • God also grants Gideon to see and speak with an angel (Jdg 6:11-12) and grants him miracles (Jdg 6:21, 6:36-40) as well as protection for his initial obedience (Jdg 6:31) to convince him of his ability to help Israel against the Midianites.
  • This is clear evidence of the decline of faith and understanding of Israel and its leaders.
  • The story of Gideon cutting down his father’s Baal altar and Ashera pole by night – and the villagers wanting to execute him for it, shows how deeply idolatry is entrenched in Israel already (Jdg 6:25-32).
  • God stirs Gideon and he calls out an army from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulon and Naphtali, as well as his own clan (the Abiezrites). Why these adjacent northern tribes to Manasseh? The fact that Gideon hides from raiders as far north as Manasseh shows that probably the whole South of Israel was overrun. Also Gideon’s pursuit of the Midianites will lead through Gad territory > Gideon might look to the North as a safer access to troops (rather than recruiting South, where there is a higher chance for encountering raiding Midianites.
  • Yet God is faithful to rout the Midianites before Gideon, using an army of just 300 men, to ensure it is abundantly clear whose this victory is.
  • After his initial victory Gideon also calls in the troops of Ephraim to the South (Jdg 7:24) to join him. The Ephraimites choose to be very offended at Gideon not having called them initially (Jdg 8:1) but Gideon with a very humble and appreciative answer manages to prevent a rift (Jdg 8:2-3) and together they destroy the Midianites much further.
  • After this astounding military victory Israel wants Gideon to be their king ‘you and your son and your grandson also” (Jdg 6:22). This is the first attempt to transform the tribal self-government into a centrally lead monarchy. Also it is an illusion: in setting up the monarchy one cannot commit to ‘3 generations’ and the no longer.
  • Another question is how representative ‘Israel’ here is, it is most likely the military leaders of the 5 tribes involved, but how representative is that really?
  • Gideon in true humility refuses the temptation to power and replies, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” (Jdg 8:23).
  • This shows Gideon’s understanding, for when Israel will want a king God will interpret that to mean that “they have rejected me from being king over them.” (1 Sam 8:5, 7).
  • However, after showing such godly wisdom, Gideon then asks for tribute from the plunder. From the 43 pounds of gold willingly given to him he makes an ephod.
  • Ephod has two translations: usually the high priestly blue linen garment with gold & other colors woven into it (Exo 28:6-8, Lev 8:7) or also ‘image’. Gideon then places it in his city Ophrah where the people begin to worship it (whether robe or image)and it becomes a new form of idolatry .
  • Gideon is not a priest, nor a Levite. Ophrah is not a Levitical city. Why all this? Probably because the angel that first met Gideon did so at Ophrah, so Gideon tries to immortalize this event in this way, which promptly turns into a new form of idolatry. It seems, though, that Gideon kept the Baal cult under control (Jdg 8:33).
  • Gideon takes many wives and concubines and has 70 sons, one by a concubine in Sechem (Jdg 8:30). Many wives is forbidden for a political leader in Deu 17:17. This sets up a problem for the next generation.
  • Israel has peace for 40 years.
Abimelech                             Tribe of West Manasseh                                     attempt at Monarchy
  • Abimelech is Gideon’s son by a concubine in Shechem, a city of Manasseh.
  • He clearly thinks his father has made a mistake in declining the role of King and goes to the Sechemite leaders proposing a monarchy with him as king. He does this by setting up a false choice, threatening Gideon’s other sons domination and presenting himself as the better alternative.
  • The Shechemite leaders agree to make him king. They have already lapsed into Baal worship, for they here take 70 shekels of silver from the local Baal temple to give it to Abimelech to hire an army (Jdg 9:4).
  • This is the first time in the history of Israel that an army is not based on voluntary recruitment but on hiring.
  • Abimelech immediately goes to Ophrah and uses the hired army to assassinate all of his 70 brothers. Only the youngest, Jotham, escapes.
  • This is fratricide, a massacre and also the first time in Israel’s history that the army is used for politically motivated assassination.
  • In response “All the citizens of Shechen and Beth Millo gather beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelech king.” (Jdg 9:6).
  • Why? Is this ‘in fear’? Or ‘flight forward’ since we started the mess? Or power-hunger (‘Nothing succeeds like success’)?
  • Jotham’s parable and challenge to them (Jdg 9:8-21) doesn’t seem to cause a heart change. “…if then you have acted honorable and in good faith toward (Gideon) and his family today, may Abimelech be your joy, and may you be his, too! But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and let fire come out from you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimelech.” (Jdg 9:19-20). Jotham flees to Beer (Beer-sheba in the far South of Judah?). Murderers roam freely and innocent people fear for their lives.
  • This is the first time God has had no involvement in the selection of a political leader.
  • This is the first time Israel has appointed a leader when there was no national crisis.
  • This is the first time finances for government have been taken from a temple, and a pagan one at that.
  • This is the first national political assassination in Israel but it will not be the last.
  • This is the first time political leadership is seen as a “family” inheritance in Israel.
  • Abimelech is king for three years. God sends an evil spirit between him and the people he leads. Jdg 9:24 states clearly that this is because of the innocent blood shed Abimelech committed and Shechem condoned.
  • The people take authority back from their appointed king and begin to sabotage him by collecting their own forced taxes by high way robbery, so discouraging trade.
  • During the Baal Harvest Temple Festival an adversary raises himself up as Shechem’s political solution to Abimelech. The city’s governor sends a message to Abimelech, who is quick to bring in the army and destroy the competitor.
  • But the next day Abimelech’s troops attack the Shechemites when they go to their fields, slaughtering them and setting fire to those citizens who have fled into the temple of Baal to seek refuge in the temple stronghold. Abimelech burns more than a thousand men and women alive. Shechem now tastes unaccountable government.
  • He then proceeds to another city, Thebez, to attack it (possibly pursuing those Shechemites who fled). The Thebez people have retreated into the city tower for safety. One of the women drops a millstone on Abimelech’s head, severely wounding him. Abimelech commits suicide by the help of his armor-bearer.
  • This is the first civil war and the first time the Israelite army turns on its own people.
  • Jdg 9:56-57 comments: “Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also made the men of Shechem pay for all their wickedness.”
  • Israel is descending back into a total disregard for God and his law, demonstrated by their total disregard for human life.
  • Israel has political freedom, they received God’s thinking in the Law.  God is sending prophets to warn them and miracles to inspire their faith, but they refuse to listen.
  • God holds both the people and their leader responsible.
Tola                                        Tribe of Issachar                                       Oppressor not stated

Jdg 9:1     “After the time of Abimelech a man of Issachar, Tola son of Puah, the son of Dodo, rose to save Israel. He lived in Shamir, in the hill country of Ephraim. 2 He led Israel twenty-three years; then he died, and was buried in Shamir.”

  • There is no mention of the people crying out to God for help, nor of God raising up Tola as a judge-deliverer, nor of an oppressor to save Israel from.
  • Is it possible that Tola is self-appointed? That Israel is their own worst enemy now? Or is this just a ‘very short description’? Tola lead Israel 23 years.
Jair                                         Tribe of Gad                                               Oppressor not stated

Judges 9:3-5    He was followed by Jair of Gilead, who led Israel twenty-two years. He had thirty sons, who rode thirty donkeys. They controlled thirty towns in Gilead, which to this day are called Havvoth Jair. When Jair died, he was buried in Kamon.

  • God no longer features in the choice of a leader nor in the life of the leader himself.
  • Leaders are no longer chosen to lead only during a national crisis. Rather they are in power all the time, controlling their own people, it seems.
  • Israel now has judges who don’t have the title ‘king’, but who rule top-down like kings.
Jephthah                               Tribe of Gad                                                 Oppressor: Ammon

Jdg 10:6-10   “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, worshiping the Baals and the Astartes, the gods or Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. Thus they abandoned the LORD …7 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites … For eighteen years … Israel was greatly distressed. 10 So the Israelites cried to the LORD.”

  • The Philistines are pressing from the West, the Ammonites are not only dominatig Transjordan but attacking Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim, Israel’s heart land.
  • Israel cries out to the Lord, seemingly for the first time in 63 years.

Jdg 10:11-14    “The LORD replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, 12 the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? 13 But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. 14 Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”
Jdg 10:15-16   “But the Israelites said to the LORD, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” 16 Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”

  • Jephthah is a mighty warrior, son of Gilead, and a prostitute mother
  • The legitimate sons of Gilead chase their illegitimate brother out of the family and he is left with no inheritance.
  • He raises up an outlaw army and lives in Tob (North of Israel).
  • When the Ammonites make war against Israel, first in line Gad, the Gadite leaders ask Jephthah to be their commander.
  • He is hesitant but when promised by the elders of Israel that they will make him their leader permanently he agrees to return and lead their troops.
  • Jephthah sends diplomats to find out why the Ammonites are preparing to attack and is answered that Israel took Ammonite lands on coming out of Egypt (300 y ago).
  • Jephthah responds with an astute retelling of the facts: Israel had not taken their land, rather they had respected their borders when receiving no permission to pass through peacefully. Israel had only conquered the Amorite lands of King Sihon of Heshbon and king Og of Bashan, which now constitute Ruben, Gad (Gilead) and East Manasseh.
  • Jephtah declares God be the Judge and defeats the Ammonites.
  • Jephthah makes a ‘vow to the Lord’ that if he gets victory he will sacrifice whatever comes out of his house first on his return home. On his returning home, his daughter comes out to meet him dancing with a tambourine to welcome him home. Jephtah sacrifices her.
  • This is the first account of human sacrifice in Israel and shows the influence of idolatry with its human sacrifice cults. Biblically a rash oath can be taken back by certain money substitution (Le 27:1-8) The knowledge of the will of God and the Law is clearly dwindling.
  • An old feud with the Ephraimites rises up again and they come to Jephthah. Why has Jephthah not ask them to help fight the Ammonites? They proceed to enter Israel’s first civil tribal war. The decline continues.
  • Similar to at the time of Gideon, Ephraim, rather than being grateful, again chooses to be offended at the Gileadites not having called them to the war (already won). Jephtah seems to not be as diplomatic as Gideon and a first full-blown inter tribal war ensues that costs many lives (42’000 of Ephraim alone, Ju 12:6). Israel’s downward spiral continues. Jephtah rules for 6 years.
Ibzan                                     Tribe of Judah                                                 Oppressor not stated

Jdg 12: 8-9        “After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem led Israel. He had thirty sons and thirty daughters. He gave his daughters away in marriage to those outside his clan, and for his sons he brought in thirty young women as wives from outside his clan. Ibzan led Israel seven years.”

Elon                                       Tribe of Zebulun                                               Oppressor not stated

Jdg 12:11-12     “After him, Elon the Zebulunite led Israel ten years. Then Elon died, and was buried in Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.”

Abdon                                   Tribe of Asher                                                   Oppressor not stated

Jdg 12:13-15    “After him, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, led Israel. He had 40 sons and 30 grandsons, who rode on 70 donkeys. He led Israel eight years. Then Abdon son of Hillel died, and was buried at Pirathon in Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.”

Samson                                 Tribe of Dan                                                      Oppressor: Philistia

Jdg 13:1    “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.”

  • By now the moral fiber of the nation is so destroyed from within that God can find no one in Israel, man or woman, to lead. Samson, therefore, is ‘born’ for the job. Shortly after this, God will call a young child, Samuel, for lack of anyone else.
  • Only after 40 years of oppression does Israel remember its God, or is dissatisfied with the performance of their idolatrous gods.
  • God again graciously intervenes clearly & miraculously: an angel, the announcement of a child born to a barren woman, the instruction for his parents to eat nothing unclean, the child a Nazirite from birth (one “set apart”), a promise that he will begin to deliver Israel. Samson is born and “the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him…” (Jdg 13:24-25). A gracious and special start.
  • Yet in spite of the miraculous nature of Samson’s conception, the dedication of his parents and the blessing of God, Samson has issues, mostly revolving around women.
  • His insistence on a marriage with a Philistine woman set him up: the tensions around the riddle, the pressures on his wife, manipulation in their relationship, the murder of Philistines to provide the promised gift, the loss of his wife to his best-man show the un-blessed nature of this pursuit.
  • Samson insists on getting his wife back, is refused and takes revenge by destroying the Philistines main crops of grain, wine and oil. The Philistines in revenge burn his ex-wife and her father. Samson responds by slaughtering many, then hides in a cave.
  • A large delegation of Judah comes to request that he hand himself over to the Philistines because of the increased hostility & oppression of Israel he caused.
  • Samson hands himself over as detainee, but breaks his bonds and kills 1000 Philistines. God provides water and he is revived.
  • Samson’s next escapade finds him with a prostitute in Gaza, surrounded by Philistines. He escapes by his strength.
  • He falls in love with Delilah, who for money collaborates with the Philistines to find out the source of Samson’s strength. In a sequence of events high lighting Samson’s stupidity for lack of self-control he divulges the secret of his strength, is shorn and weakened, captured and blinded by the Philistines.
  • When put on display in the temple of the Philistine god Dagon to celebrate their victory over Samson, God grants him strength one more time to bring down the building and kill himself & 3000 Philistines, probably the leadership & upper class of Philistia. Samson ruled Israel for 20 years.
  • Reading Samson’s account shames us by God’s continued grace and protection of a very unworthy hero. All Samson’s “deeds” are merely accidental & difficult side-effects of his amorous pursuits.
  • Reading Samson’s account therefore also makes us wonder just how much of a deliverance for Israel he could have achieved, if he had sought God, had exercised self-control and had actually obeyed God’s calling!

Lessons from Judges so far: What is God trying to teach us?

  • God is not making these horrible stories up, he is telling us what actually happened.
  • God has selected & preserved these records of Israel’s history to teach us … what?
The people
  • The moral decline of the people seems to precede the moral decline in their leaders.
  • The repeated phrase “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” is given as the reason Israel has political enemies. Only because they had, as a culture, moved towards idolatry were they in need of God’s intervention. And only after they, the people, cry out to God does He raise up a defending national leader for them.
  • It takes the people longer and longer to turn to God, accelerating the deterioration.
  • With choosing idolatry comes the tendency to domination, assassination, human sacrifice, civil war and violence as a means to an end.
The leaders
  • Judges makes it is clear that first the people but then also the leaders themselves contribute to the nation’s deterioration. ‘We get the political leadership we deserve.’
  • It is important to notice that the Judges come from 9 of the 12 tribes of Israel. God is clearly spreading the leadership around, strengthening the value of “representation”
  • As the nation declines no matter where the leaders come from, they decrease in quality and less and less represent God (even with God looking for the best).
  • The first 4 judges pretty much live up to their calling: They deal with the enemy, re-institute peace and return to their daily lives.
  • By Gideon’s, the best leader God can find is not sure God can do the job. To make the point God has him defeats the enemy with 300 soldiers. But they don’t get it: Victorious, Israel wants him as king, basically giving Gideon credit for God’s victory.
  • Gideon still has enough understanding of God to turn them down. But his son will not. The Manasseh conspiracy to rule all of Israel & Ephraim taking offense is the first rift in Israel’s unity. Before long this will turn into an irreversible split of the kingdom.
The enemy
  • Every time Israel has a political enemy in the Book of Judges God has raised him up.
  • Every time God raises up an enemy it is to show that they are drifting from Him.
  • God’s emphasis is not on the foreigner in Israel nor the foreign invader. Rather God’s emphasis is on God’s people ceasing to be God’s people. When God’s people turn back to God He delivers everyone.
  • God does nothing but increase His efforts to get Israel to listen. He reminds them of his laws, warns them, raises up leaders is response to their cry, sends prophets and performs miracles to get their attention … And God’s people listen less and less.
  • Nothing is better proof for the inspiration of the Bible (I think) than the fact that, left to themselves, no nation would chose to document such an awful history of themselves.
The theme of “there was not king” in Judges
  • Four times in Judges (Jdg 17:6, 18:1, 19:1,21:25) this phrase is repeated: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes”
  • With our modern minds we latch on: What is the solution to rising disunity? To growing immorality? To increasing lawlessness? To threatening enemies? … a strong, godly leader, – a central government, of course! But careful: this is precisely not the picture Judges presents (see paragraph above).
  • Why then is this phrase repeated? And what does it mean? The writer of the book of Judges (most likely Samuel) is trying to teach and motivate the young kings of Israel (Saul, David) to play a positive role in Israel, now that the monarchy – against God’s will! – has been established. Samuel is calling them to action & accountability.

The role of the spiritual leadership in Judges

  • One important question remains to be asked: Where are the priests? The Levites? What role is the spiritual leadership playing during this time in Israel?
  • At the end of Judges we find two case studies, two outrageous stories.. In both Levites are leading figures.
The story of Micah and his Levite (Jdg 17-18)
  • It is the story of a man named Micah of the tribe of Ephraim. He steals a large quantity of silver from his mother. Later he confesses to the theft because his mother has put a curse on the thief. The mother forgives the theft, gives the silver back to her son, encouraging him to make additional idols from it for the shrine they already have. He does exactly that, installing his sons to be priests of the shrine. When a wandering Levite from Bethlehem in Judah walks by, Micah hires him, thinking himself blessed in having a Levite be priests of his shrine and treating him as a father. When some Danites come by (on a mission to spy out possible land to conquer in the North), they inquire by Micah’s priest of ‘God’ as to the success of their journey and get a favorable answer. Later, when later the Danite army in earnest goes to conquer, they plunder Micah’s shrine and take the Levite with them to become their tribal priest of the idols in the newly conquered area. They threaten the objecting Micah.
  • This story is meant to paint a picture showing Israel’s total disregard for what God has commanded them. Everything in this story is a breach of God’s law by Moses.
  • Then comes the shocking final sentence (Jdg 18:30-31): “There the Danites set up for themselves the idols, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan…”
  • For goodness’ sake! This idolatrous, opportunist Levite (not even legitimately a priest) is the grandson of Moses! This idolatry set up in the city of Dan will plague Israel for the rest of their history.
  • God paints a very bleak picture: Levites & priesthood in bad state, idolatry chosen and lost tribes weaken Israel.
The Levite, his concubine and the almost-annihilation of Benjamin (Jdg 19-21)
  • A certain Levite of Ephraim has a concubine from Bethlehem, who runs away and he goes to recover her. On traveling back to Ephraim, they stop in the town of Gibeah, in Benjaminite city. They wait at the town square hoping for hospitality and are taken in graciously by and old man, residing in Gibeah. Wicked men from the town come demanding the old man give out his guests for sex. The old man pleads with them, attempting to shame them by offering his own virgin daughters and his guest’s concubine. The men refuse, so the Levite puts out his concubine, which they rape all night long. In the morning she lies dead on the threshold of the house. The Levite returns with the corpse, cuts it up in 12 pieces and sends a piece each to the 12 tribes calling for judgment. This causes all tribes to assemble at Mizpah.
  • In the following attempt to bring justice to the crime, some steps are biblical, others are not: testimony taken, but not both sides, Benjamin refuses to hand over the guilty (would a Benjaminite or joint court have been better?), Benjamin rather attacks the other tribes. A devastating war ensues (40’000 dead on the tribes’ side, 43’100 dead on the Benjamin side) which leads to the near-annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin and the subsequent genocide on the not present Jabesh-Gilead to obtain wives for the remaining Benjaminites. There is no victory here.
  • The two case studies give a devastating picture of the spiritual leadership, and idolatrous, opportunist grandson of Moses and a cowardly, insensitive, vindictive stirrer of strife on the other hand.
  • With people choosing idolatry, there is a parallel deterioration of the political and spiritual leadership as well.