Last night we began our summer trip through the book of Judges. We covered the first two chapter and part of chapter three. Here are the notes from the study:
Where Judges fits in the story of the bible:
In the story line of the bible, Judges fits in between the establishment of the nation of Israel in the land of Canaan and the time when God elevated his chosen king (a man named David). In the larger storyline of the Bible, this all points to a later time when God comes himself as King (Jesus). So the time the book of Judges records, happens after God miraculously brought the nation out of slavery in Egypt, and at this point He’s given them a land to live in as a gift, and yet the monarchy isn’t established yet. So it’s this in between time, when the people were supposed to have walked with God, cultivated the land he gave them, and enjoy what they had received. But what Judges shows us is that they never really did, because they pretty quickly turned away from God (who gave them the land), and began to be influenced by the people left in the land, people who were supposed to have been driven out.
What we’re going to see in the book of Judges:
- A culture with no center or direction
- The resulting anarchy at a national level, and all the way down to community level.
- A succession of leaders who are increasingly part of the problem
- A final loss of any ability to morally reason according to God’s way
- And inability of society to solve its own problems
So we’ll get an extended look at two things from this: First, it’s going to help us understand what’s really going on in the world around us—all the confusion and chaos and breakdown we see. We’re going to see the real spiritual roots of it all. Second, since the society we’re looking at in the book of Judges is actually God’s people it’s a warning to those of us who are currently God’s people—some of the issues that people faced are things we need to watch out for ourselves. So go ahead and Read Joshua 23:1-13, then Judges 1:1-3:6.
Judges 1 gives a bare description of what happened. Notice the downward spiral:
v. 1 They left Adoni Bezek alive and treated him in a Canaanite manner
v. 19 They could not drive out chariots of Iron.
v. 21 They could not drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem
v. 27 They “did not” drive out the inhabitants of the land. (v.28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33)
v.34 They are defeated by the Amorites
The book of Joshua shows how complete the victories were before this time. God was with them, and they defeated every possible enemy in every battle. So the fact that they begin to lose at this time really demands some explanation.
Judges 2 gives the explanation for why this failure occurred.
Explanation # 1: Making peace with Evil (see 2:1-5)
God’s personal Angelic Envoy says: “You haven’t obeyed my voice.” (To make no covenant with them and break down their altars.) So God says that the issue is they’ve made peace with the people of the land, especially with their dark and evil spirituality, and therefore—they’ve made a truce with evil.
See also: 3:5-6
- They “lived among” the people of the land. They stopped the mission of expelling them, and just settle down to get along with them.
- They intermarried.
- They served their gods.
Explanation #2: Breakdown in Generational and Personal Connection to God (see 2:6-10)
- The current generation, and those that followed, had not seen the great works the Lord had done. (2:7)
- And, the current generation did not know the Lord and they did not know the work he did for Israel. (2:10) So, there was failure in the society, and at the family level, and it all boiled down to individuals who simply did not cultivate any kind of personal connection to God.
Now see 2:11-3:6. This section gives us a condensed description of the rest of the book, and of the entire time period.
In 2:11-13, we see that it wasn’t just that they made a truce with the evil in the Canaanite Culture, it was that they threw away their connection to God. God had personally joined himself to them, rescued them, loved them, and made them what they were as a people. His presence was demonstrably there with them in a way that he wasn’t for any other nation. So the heart of the heart of their sin was the personal betrayal of God. It was such a wrong thing to do—even on a human level it’s wrong to do this sort of thing to another person, and it’s even more wrong to do it to God. It was personal. A lot of times we forget this aspect of reality—and so we miss what a big central thing it is in the bible too. But again—they didn’t just leave him for some other equal God who was just as good or legitimate (as if there could ever be such a thing) they left him for things that were far beneath him, and for things that were just plain evil. It would be like a queen leaving her husband the king to go shack up with a broke criminal or something.
When Israel personally betrayed God, what it lead to was a downward cycle of personal and societal chaos and defeat.
In 2:14-21, we see that even in all this, God kept being gracious to them. He didn’t let their own sin, or even his judgments on their sin, destroy them. And at key times he raises up individuals who he helps bring some relief from the difficulties they were in.
In 2:22-3:6 we see some good things God accomplished through this process.
- Israel could prove out who they really were. Would they actually follow God in their hearts, and their practical daily lives, or not? (2:22, 3:1, 3:4) As the rest of the book shows, they end up failing the test—early, consistently, and completely.
- This generation of Israelites could learn what the past generations knew—how crucial the battle against evil was, and how to wage it. (3:2) Now, we know from the rest of the book that as a society they did not learn any of these lessons, but the things were still there to learn for any individual who wanted to learn.
Some Takeaways from these passages:
First, it’s helpful to string all this information together into an overview. What was the process of spiritual defeat in their lives?
- There was a generation breakdown in handing down the knowledge of God. Either the generations who had walked with God did not communicate what they knew about God and what they had experienced, or the generation following simply refused what the older generation taught, and opted out of that life. (2:10)
- The people did not listen to or obey God’s voice. (2:2)
- They experienced defeat in their lives—they were overcome by things that they should have had power over. (2:3, 2:14)
- They settled for defeat, and decided to live out their lives making peace with the sources of their defeat. (3:5)
- They joined their lives with people who were opposed to God. (3:6)
- They worshiped false Gods. (3:7)
The final outcome was that even when God helped improve their circumstances, they continued to experience a repeating cycle of oppression and defeat.
God gives us the story of Israel to illustrate the human condition—and to warn us as believers.
If you’re familiar with the story of the bible, you might be able to pick up on something as you read the OT.
The bible starts with the story of the first two humans. They’re created by God, given a special place to live, and told to rule it and cultivate it. But reject God’s authority over them and choose evil instead. This ends up ruining everything and leads to downward cycles of horribleness—until God begins to carry out this plan he has for fixing the world, and his plan has this nation of Israel right at its center. What we see in the book of Judges is that this nation ends up acting exactly like the first two human beings—they are given a good land but choose evil and mess everything up instead.
The point of both of these stories echoing each other is to teach us that this is the story of all humanity—of every one of us. We’re given life as a gift, we’re given the earth to live our lives out on, and we choose evil and mess everything up.
You see this when you look at chapter two—you can see some direct application to all of us, and to the human race as a whole:
In 2:10, that generation did not know the Lord. We don’t know the Lord. He’s like a stranger to us.
In 2:7, they had not seen the great works the Lord had done. The works he did for Israel were to give them the land. We’ve forgotten the power and generosity of the Lord in making the earth and giving it to us. So they tried to enjoy the land without the God who gave it to them, and they ruined it all. We humans try to enjoy the earth without God, and we ruin it all.
And when we think and live this way, it produces, all over the world, a repetitive cycle of chaos and destruction, which no one seems to have any answer to. That’s the diagnosis of our world the book of Judges makes.
Here’s where the Christian message is so powerful. God has an answer for this condition. He’s the only one who knows how to break the cycle. His answer has two parts. First, we need a king—we need someone with the ability to fix everything, we need someone with the authority to do it, and we need someone who’s good enough in his heart that he really will do it. It turns out we even needed more—we needed someone with a big enough heart—someone who was willing to suffer and sacrifice, and even take the responsibility and make the payment himself for all the evil we did. And what Christians tell the world is—that’s exactly who Jesus Christ is. Jesus Christ has the power, the love, and the right to be the king to fix this whole mess. This keeps us from getting mad at the world, and it keeps us from despair.
The more and more our world starts to look like Israelite society in the book of Judges, we just keep telling people about the king—Jesus died on the cross in our place, for our sin, he rose from the dead, and he’s coming back soon to rule the world.
The second part of our message is just as wonderful. God doesn’t only have a king who’s going to come back and impose a solution on the world—he’s also sent his Spirit too. What happens when we give our allegiance to King Jesus is that God sends His own Holy Spirit into our hearts, and then, one at a time, as individual men and women, we personally and experientially escape the madness. We change. We start to love good and hate evil. The cycles of chaos and destruction keep raging all around us, but we don’t personally opt in to them anymore.
So God has a real governmental solution, and a real individual heart solution. The message we preach literally changes everything. Because first, when we trust Jesus, he changes us. We really do change. And soon, he’s going to come back and change everything. If you’re not a follower of Christ, we’re inviting you to get to know Jesus the King. Place your trust in him. Receive God’s Spirit. Become a person who’s waiting for his return. It’s the only way out of the madness.
But for the rest of us, we need to say this. The book of Judges isn’t first and foremost a picture the world of people who don’t know God, but of God’s people—who did know God and should have kept knowing him—but because of their choices, Israel became like the rest of the world who lives in darkness because they don’t know him. First God’s people became like the rest of the world in their ignorance of God and his ways. Then they became like the rest of the world in their marriages and homes. Then they became like the rest of world in what they worship. OT scholar Daniel Block says this book is really just a picture of the people of Israel becoming thoroughly “Canaanized.” He says, “Through compromise and toleration,” they were “drawn into the mind-set and spiritual culture of the Canaanites.” (Block 117) They were supposed to defeat evil and drive it out but instead they loved it and got oppressed by it. So again, if you’re a follower of Christ—is there anywhere in your life you’ve settled down and decided to compromise with evil?
Is there anywhere in your life you’ve accepted defeat from sin that God calls you to rule over? You need to go read Romans chapter 6! Is your thinking Canaanized? Does your life reflect a different set of values than the values of everyone else around you? Does your life reflect the fact that you have a king?
God’s people aren’t supposed to be powerless in the face of evil in their societies, because first of all they’re experiencing victory over evil in their personal lives. And so his solution for all of us is the same: his king and his spirit.