Lecture 13: Judges | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 13: Judges

Course: Old Testament Survey

Lecture: Judges

I. Extent of the Conquest

Again the popular conception of the conquest is that it was totally complete. The Israelites conquered the whole territory and it can seem almost to read that way. Our own Professor Niehaus made a very valuable contribution to this question by helping us understand that the wording, even in the book of Joshua with regard to the statement, "All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered," in Joshua 10:42, has been actually traditionally mistranslated. Here is an illustration of why we ask people in the MDiv program to learn Hebrew. You can believe an argument like this or not but it is hard to follow it without some Hebrew. So if you do not know any Hebrew it is a good argument, I just cannot as easily commend the article to you because it will be harder to follow. But you have this translation, "Joshua conquered all these lands," this is summary now at the end of 10, "in one campaign," "at one time," or "at the same time." Niehaus says none of those is quite right; they are all misleading. The phrase in Hebrew is pa'am 'ehath. What does it mean? He wrote an article in the journal Vetus Testamentum, that means Old Testament in Latin, and he said the real meaning is "once". In other words a lot of the campaigns that Joshua did were hit and run campaigns. Had the Israelites been faithful, God would have taken care of permanentizing the results of those hit and run campaigns. But as the Israelites were unfaithful God allowed the people who had once lived in those cities and ran away when they saw the Israelites coming to filter back in and reoccupy them. Indeed, that is exactly what we have in the book of Judges. If you carefully compare the book of Judges to the book of Joshua you see that numbers of the places that Joshua conquered are in the hands of Canaanites in the book of Judges. How can this be? The answer is he conquered them once, it does not say all at once, it does not say totally, he conquered them once and once only and moved on and they were reoccupied by the enemy. That is what Niehaus is saying in that article. If you want to read it, it is not a long article, you might find it most interesting and helpful and it really does clue us in on the way that the Scripture is describing things. You do not want to do two things. On the one hand you do not want to be naive and say, "Everything went well for the Israelites, no problems, it was perfect, they conquered the whole Promised Land total rest from enemies, no Canaanites left, total fulfillment of the covenant." You just cannot say that because it is not true. But on the other hand you do not want to say, "Well, it was a disaster. Nothing went right." That is the wrong extreme as well because it was not a disaster, it was wonderful, it was supernatural. A bunch of people who did not deserve anything got all of them settled in the Promised Land. They did unfortunately have their enemies nearby. They had the Canaanites left, as it says in Deuteronomy as, "Thorns in their sides and briars in their eyes." They had plenty of problems to deal with, it had to be worked out over long periods of time and it was not then until David's day that the conquest was actually completed. David, finally, really did subdue every internal hostile power. When David was king, at the end of his reign, there were no Canaanites giving anybody any grief, but it took them until then. But it was still a wonderful, wonderful, successful thing. It was a great gift of God, it was great mercy, and nobody deserved it. It happened and it was filled with miracle story after miracle story and yet it was not complete. So the conquest remained incomplete. Then we pick up with the book of Judges.

II. Orienting Data for Judges

A. This is a book that covers centuries.

1. The centuries are a desperate struggle to hold on to the Promised Land as enemy after enemy tries to take it away.

2. The book looks forward to the kingship so strongly that you have to wonder might it not have been written when the kingship had finally arrived but that is debatable and you can think that through and read what the commentaries have to say.

B. It covers the period of time from the death of Joshua sometime around 1360 BC to the time just after Samuel, maybe around 1060. So it might be as much as a 300-year period, that is one good way to look at it. But before the time of the rise of the monarchy, before David's day, around 1000 BC, all dates are difficult. We have much better data thereafter but all dates are difficult in these time periods.

C. What are the emphases? Decline. The book of Judges is a tragedy. Now it does not mean everything is bad in the book but a tragedy in the sense that it does not move along and progress to a happy ending, it moves downhill and progresses to a sad ending.

1. The decline is on four planes.

a. Military decline, you can see it again and again. You see the first Judges fighting and having victory, the last judge is Samson, he is all alone and he is a weirdo and he ends up having his greatest victory of any kind when he kills himself in the process. That is not the ideal. Militarily the Israelites decline.

b. Spiritually they decline but also religiously and morally. You may say, "What is the difference?" There is a difference. Spiritually they decline in the sense of their actual faithfulness to God, their trust in him, their character of obedience.

c. Religiously they decline because their beliefs fall apart. They actually begin to embody all kinds of wild pagan beliefs in the process.

d. They decline morally because their behavior, just in terms of ethical decency also deteriorates as is seen in the progression of the stories. So the decline is portrayed in all four ways, military, spiritual, religious, and moral.

2. The tenuous results of the conquest are constantly before you in the book of Judges.

3. Furthermore, how the very next generation, after a good one like in Joshua's day, how that very next generation can torpedo right down deep into degeneration. How quickly a revival can fade is another way of thinking about it. One sees this all the time in modern life, you see it all the time in churches, you see it in people. One of the things you have to face, you are a youth worker, you have some kid who comes, he is going to every Bible study, he is on fire for the Lord, he loves it, gets a girlfriend and suddenly he is gone, gets a car, anything, they are gone. You call and say, "What happened?" and they say, "Aw, I'm not interested anymore." "Come on; come on back to the Bible study. Will you pray with me?" "No, see you later, I've got some homework." It is very sad. You will see it in the lives of individuals. It can happen in a church. A church will have good leadership and be going great guns. The pastor will accept a call to another church, of course, one that pays better. You do not accept calls to lower paying churches. Oh, is that not a rule? It is funny how most people manage to find the will of the Lord only in the case of higher pay. We are human. Then a church can decline enormously. It is one of the great dangers of the so-called mega churches. People think the mega church movement is new. In American history there are lots of churches that were mega churches around 1880's and 1890's and other times and they are now apartment buildings or whatever. Why? Because you cannot sustain that kind of large emphasis under normal conditions once there is a transition. Very hard for a church of 30,000 to supplant the pastor with anybody and not have it decline. Almost never fails that way.

4. There is a lack of preservation of values from one generation to another.

5. How low people can sink. That is Judges 19. Real low point in the whole history of Israel remembered by the prophets as the low point of history for the people.

6. Also this wonderful theme, God generously keeping in there and rescuing his people again and again and again; the mercy of God seen when none of it is deserved. They have not done a thing to warrant his mercy and yet he keeps showing it.

7. In addition, what we call charismatic leadership. Not charismatic in the sense that they speak in tongues but charismatic in the sense that they are raised up by God's Spirit, the gift of leadership. Not people who have a right by inheritance or election or anything to be leader of Israel but God says, "That's the person," and God designates and it shows so that people sense it and respond to it. That is biblical leadership really in the ultimate sense aside from the kingship of Christ but with regard to any leadership under him it is still charismatic leadership of exactly that kind. Not inherited, not by any other means but supposed to be recognized by God's people and endorsed because people can tell this is a person of God to follow.

8. The need for a true and good king, big push, it has got to happen eventually.

9. The attractions of idolatry.

10. And the progressive disintegration of Israelite tribal unity. The nation falls apart politically during the days of the judges. By the end of the book, they are fighting each other.

III. Outline of Judges

I want to lead you to an outline of Judges because I do want to show you how the book has been put together. Often, one of the best things you can ever do is just outline a block of material in the Bible, see how the author has put it together. Usually it will give you a feel for what the author's main interests really are. It is hard not to catch a sense if your outlining has been done correctly.

A. You first have emphasis on the military decline and it is described for you in the first chapter and part of the second.

B. Then there is emphasis on the spiritual decline and a lot of things are said about that. If you go back and read it, if you read it for tonight you may recognize this, if you have not read it yet, go back and you will spot it.

C. Then come the judges. The judges are introduced with Othniel in 3:7. Notice that I have underlined some of them - Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. There are twelve judges that are mentioned in the book. Six of them have been called traditionally "major judges," but that is only from the old Latin judices majores, which means "the big judges". In other words, the ones that get lengthy descriptions about what they did and who they were. And six judges we call "minor judges." They may have been very prominent in their day, very important, but the descriptions of them are just a verse or two. What is going on? Here is what it looks like. It looks like God inspired the author, once again, to be programmatic in coverage, that is, let some of the stories tell the basic truths and just list the rest of the events and participants. How many tribes were there? Twelve. How many judges were there total? There could have been more than this but God has chosen exactly twelve to be described for us. We know that many of them were rather localized. It is not that these judges ruled over all Israel and no other judges existed when they were judges and that is what the list tells you. For example, Gideon led the people of Manasseh against the Midianites and Amalekites, but he was not leading everybody. Samson was not leading anybody; he was all alone totally. If you carefully check you see that these judges were basically localized. They were meeting localized threats, regional threats within Israel with regional forces that gathered to them as God raised them up and so on. That is the picture. You do not need to tell this twelve times over. If you do it six times, it will do it. You can get the impression quite well from six stories of the nature of the decline and how it goes down hill steadily. You have very good and successful judges with Othniel, Ehud, and Deborah and it begins to deteriorate, Gideon's belief system and Jephthah's behavior and so on and when you come to Samson, behavior is bad, belief is odd and yet God uses him but it is not a happy story at all. He is the longest story; he gets four chapters. If you read that story carefully, you have to say, "Boy, are things in bad shape for Israel in his day." This judge himself was a Nazirite fooling around with prostitutes and getting himself in all kinds of trouble in various ways. It is very sad.

D. At the end there is a couple of stories of religious disorder. You read about the Israelites going into idolatrous practices and so on.

E. And finally there is moral disorder. They are fighting each other. The behavior is just not even tolerable by any standards, pagan or otherwise. The terrible story in Judges 19 and 20 of how a Levite who just wants a place to stay for the night does not go to Jerusalem, which is still in Canaanite hands, but goes to the town of Gibeah nearby which is in Israelite hands, and they come, a gang, and want to have sex with him and the person he is staying with in desperation sends out two women, they get raped, one of them killed. It is a general horror story of behavior. It is a reminder of Sodom and Gomorrah, right there in heartland territory in a supposedly safe city in central Israel. That is how terrible the decline is. You can get that list from any Bible encyclopedia or dictionary. It is not that you cannot recreate that list. What I would like now to point out is this - there is a pattern that the book of Judges brings to our attention that will be relevant right straight through Israel's history until the exile.

IV. The Deuteronomic Cycle (Judges 2:7-19)

Here is a pattern for the next almost thousand years. This pattern has been named the Deuteronomic Cycle because it really is a reflection of what Deuteronomy warns about. It is consistent with, it is in the line of the warnings of Deuteronomy. Moses warns the people, "Look, if you obey God, things will go fine. If you don't, he is going to deliver you to your enemies and you'll be in tough shape, you'll have to cry out for help. Just be thankful that he is a merciful God but a lot will be lost in the meantime." That is what is picked up for us in Judges 2. Here is how it is expressed, "After Joshua dismissed the Israelites," they had taken the Promised Land and everything, "they went to possess the land." It says, this is verse 7, "The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the elders who outlived him and who had done great things." That whole generation, that was fine. Then it says, "They buried him." Then comes verse 10, "After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers," in other words after they died, "another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel." In other words, they have a pagan mindset. They grew up in this place that it happened but they are just not thinking the same way. "Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals." The various "lords." Baal means, "lord;" it is one of the words for lord in Canaanite, and Hebrew is a branch of Canaanite. So they served the various lords. They had various kinds of lords, it is all one essential god but he manifests himself in various locations, that is the idea. "They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. Ashtoreth is the same as basically Asherah and that is Baal's girlfriend in that mythology. That is his pagan girlfriend, his fertility companion. (By the way, he is sleeping with his girlfriend, he did not wait until marriage, I just wanted you to know that.) In his anger against Israel the Lord hands them over to raiders who plunder them, sold them to their enemies all around whom they were no longer able to resist. When they 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. Then the Lord raised up Judges who saved them out of the hands of these raiders but eventually they would not listen to the judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshipped them, turning away. The Lord would raise up a judge to save them, they would turn away, then they go back in it. Therefore, the Lord would be angry again and so on. You get this cycle.

A. They start out faithful and free.

B. They eventually commit apostasy, that is, turning away from God. Apostasy - leaving, going away.

C. God becomes angry. What does he do? He unleashes their enemies against them. There are lots of people who want this same territory. At any time God wants to, he can just open the door and let them come in. No problem for him.

D. Then they get oppressed.

E. They cry for help and because now they are serious, "Oh, I'm in trouble," they will come back to God.

F. Then he rescues them by raising up a judge who is not primarily a jurist who decides court cases, though the judge would do that as an automatic part of the job, but he is primarily a military deliverer.

G. Then they are faithful and free for a while.

H. But soon enough they return to apostasy. Judges 2 really does describe this whole cycle. This is going to go on rotating generation after generation. You are going to see it all through the stories of the kings. There will not be any case where two kings in a row are good. Sadly, you are not going to have it. It is going to just keep going around and get a good king and he might produce a lot of revival on the part of the people, they will turn their hearts back to God and it will not be long before they apostatize and they are off again into evil. It will happen all through the days of the judges. When there is a king, sadly, it will happen all through the days of the kings. This is the pattern. God knows his people, he knows what to expect, he knows what they are like and it is a pattern that has played itself out on into modern times. Jonathan Edwards chronicles the story of the Great Awakening. He writes this famous history of the great awakening in the 1700s in New England, talks all about the wonderful things that happened, but if you will look at the details and count the numbers you will see that at the end of his ministry when Jonathan Edwards finally retires because he cannot preach anymore there is one fewer person in his church than when he took it. Great boost, great awakening, lots of things happen, lots of influence, but, in fact, it fades out fast. So is the danger of all revivalism. If you think, "Aw man, look at the crowd. Everybody is here. We're gonna have an alter call. We're gonna just straighten this thing out once and for all and our whole community will love God and none of these people will have a sin again." You just cannot have it that way, it does not work. So I want to encourage all of you, whether it is youth work, whether it is counseling, whether it is pastoral ministry, whether it is missions, you hang in there for the long haul because no matter how good it goes at any given time it is going to go down from there and you keep working it back up and you may have other things going up while some are going down but you are not going to get constant, steady, complete, victorious gain on every occasion. It just does not work that way. Most people who do Christian work have to remember what happened to Jesus himself when large numbers of people finally said, "Let's kill him." What happened to Paul who was apparently a competent apostle? They stoned him and tried to kill him in various ways and rejected him and made fun of him and every other thing and defied him and his church just gave him constant grief. You have got to be in it for the long haul and you just cannot say, "I'm waiting for the big break to come and when that comes we are going to sail and climb ever upward." You might be able to do that if you run laundromats but not in God's church because people are people. You have to be aware that generations come and generations go and they really, if you look at the study of revival in modern times, the consequences in various ways may be long lasting but in terms of just people really on fire for Christ it does not last as long as you would like it to. Most times a decade later things are very, very different. It is like in the old song about Chicago, the city that Billy Sunday could not close down. Billy Sunday, a great preacher of the Word of God, had tremendous revivals in Chicago, but once he left town there were plenty of people who said, "That was interesting." It is a danger.

V. Overview of the Final Chapters

There are quite a number of foreign enemies that you begin to encounter when you deal with the book of Judges. You begin to learn about the Philistines. They are not too big a picture in the book of Joshua but they become really big in Judges. They are the main enemy. They are constantly wanting the very same territory that the Israelites have and they almost get it. In fact, if you follow the progress from the book of Judges through the book of 1 Samuel, at the end of 1 Samuel when Saul is killed on Mount Gilboa the Philistines are three-quarters of the way to the Jordan Valley from where they started along the edge of the Mediterranean. So the Philistines are very successful. But Amalekites bother them, Ammonites, Amorites, Canaanites, Midianites; these are the groups you find. Various kinds of groups at various times rising up against the people, attacking them, giving them grief. It is a cycle; you see it with judge after judge. A lot of these judges are trying to fight holy war, a lot of them are succeeding but gradually their ability to do that diminishes. By the time you hit poor Samson you see someone who is alone and having to do all of his own fighting. If God had not given him special strength he would have been totally ineffective and yet he fritters away his opportunities by his own personal debauchery and so on. That is then followed by the kind of terrible idolatry described in Judges 18 that affects whole tribes. Then by the debauchery in a heartland city like Gibeah in Judges 19 with the rape and murder that occurs there of people who would come asking for shelter. Then the book itself comes to this end. After a great battle that comes as a result of that rape and murder and an attempt to set things right the Israelites have finally defeated the people of Benjamin. Most of the other tribes gang up, form an army, and attack the Benjamites who were defending the terrible people of Gibeah. So finally they defeat the Benjamites. Then they say, "Oh, good grief. We've killed off a lot of people. We also have now eleven-twelfths of our nation." In chapter 21 they are trying to solve this problem. Verse 6, "Today one tribe is cut off from Israel." Verse 7, "How can we provide wives for those who are left since we've taken an oath by the Lord not to give any of our daughters to them in marriage." That was one of the many oaths they took, not supposed to take oaths but they did, and another foolish one. "There has got to be a method to handle this." They said, "Okay, let's go to Jabesh Gilead and kill every male and every woman who is not a virgin." This is a brilliant plan and they carry this out. You can read about it in more detail, I am just summarizing it enormously quickly. Then they decide, "Gee, we've given this oath that we're not going to let them have our daughters as wives, cursed be anyone who gives a wife to a Benjamite. But we've got to rebuild the nation of Benjamin, the tribe of Benjamin. We have to rebuild it. Let's do it this way. The Shiloh festival is a great festival where all the women dance, all the unmarried women especially. Thousands come out and there is this big dance of unmarried women. Big, big, festival time. "Let's do this. Let's, of course, not tell the women at Shiloh that we are doing this but we will say to the Benjamites hide in the vineyards and watch," this is verse 21, "when the girls of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, rush from the vineyards and each of you grab a wife from the girls of Shiloh and take her home to Benjamin." Brilliant tactical advice. "When their fathers or brothers complain to us we will say do us a kindness by helping them because we didn't get wives for them during the war and you're innocent because you didn't give your daughters to them." So that is what they did. The girls are dancing around and then all of a sudden grab and off they go. The book ends with this statement, "At that time, Israel had no king, everyone did as he saw fit," which is a statement saying they needed help. That is not a nice, friendly statement saying, "Weren't they lovely as independent and so on, each person with his own …." No, that is a tragic statement.