Trading Everything for Nothing

Posted: February 12, 2015 in Judges, Route 66
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Route 66: Judges, “Trading Everything for Nothing”

Imagine being served a glorious dinner.  The steak is cooked to perfection, and is of the highest quality.  The sides are flavorful and crisp, but not overpowering.  Even the restaurant is wonderful – luxurious but comfortable at the same time.  Now take your beautiful dish, throw it on the floor, and grab a box of Chicken McNuggets instead.  It would be absurd!  What we reached for cannot even begin to compare in quality with what we had at the first.  We would have had it all, and then we gave it all away…exchanging everything for nothing.

To a far greater extent, this is what we do when we turn away from the plans of God for us.  God has given us incredibly much in our relationship through Jesus Christ.  We have been forgiven of all of our sins of the past – we have been spiritually born anew, and indwelt with God the Holy Spirit Himself – we are empowered by that same Spirit of God to live according to His will – we are taught directly by His word, and led by His presence – we are brought into a family of fellow-believers who build us up & whom we build up in return – we are given the sure promise of eternity with God, forever wed to the Victorious Lord Jesus Christ.  And that’s only a fraction of what we have received!  As Paul writes to the Ephesians: Ephesians 1:3–6, "(3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, (4) just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, (5) having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, (6) to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved." .  From before the beginning of time, God knew us and loved us, and chose to bless us.  With how much does He bless us?  With every spiritual blessing, even adopting us as His own children to share in the infinite inheritance of the Lord Jesus Christ.  That is amazing blessing & amazing grace!

Yet we trade it for spiritual McNuggets.  We turn away from the true blessing of living in the grace and will of God, and choose to follow our own lusts and desires.  It’s no wonder we experience the consequences we do.  That’s not what God wants for us – Jesus died so that we would have so much more!  So God lets us experience the depths of our sin in order that we would come to our senses, and turn back to God in repentance.  That we would turn away from the cheap substitute of our choosing, and return to the glorious inheritance He has promised.  Like the parable of the prodigal son, sometimes we need to be brought down to the point that we realize that we’re not just eating nuggets, but the food pods given to pigs.  It’s at that point that we might have a moment of clarity, and be brought to our knees in repentance.

Sadly for some, that process takes a lot longer than others.  God has to keep giving them over to their sin again and again.  They have to truly become hopeless before they hope once more in God alone.

In a nutshell, that is the book of Judges.  In Joshua, the people of Israel had been given everything.  In Judges, they gave it all away.  They traded their dinner for pig pods.  They turned away from God and repeatedly dealt with the consequences of their sin.  This is what it looks like for a Christian to be ruled by sin and the flesh.  This is what it looks like to be in rebellion against God. 

This is (also) what it looks like to be a false convert attempting to look the part.  It’s impossible to live in the will of God without the power of God, and likewise it’s impossible to keep up the pretense of Christianity without true faith in Christ.  It will always be a cycle of failure and despair.  The only way out of it is true surrender.  We have to stop trying to do it on our own, and finally surrender ourselves in faith to Jesus as our Lord.  Without God as our King, failure is the inevitable result.

And that was the problem with Israel.  In the days of the Judges, there was no king in Israel & everyone did what was right in their own eyes.  Therein is the issue: they were supposed to have God as their king; they just refused to recognize Him as such.  Thus they lived in a cycle of sin, rebellion, suffering, and finally repentance and deliverance – always going back to the beginning in an ever downward spiral.  Until they finally surrendered themselves to the rule of God, they would always experience the same.  So will we.  It’s only at that point that we’ll stop trading out everything for nothing, and live in the abundant life that God desires for us.

BACKGROUND:
Like many books of the Bible, the author of Judges is unknown.  Tradition holds that Samuel wrote the book, though Judges itself is silent on its author.  Samuel was the last of the judges, so the choice does make sense.  Who better to write a historical summary of the office than the last person to hold it?  In the end, we don’t know – so it’s something to hold loosely.

The book was written during the monarchy, though the exact date is unknown.  The author frequently refers to a time that there “was no king in Israel,” indicating that when this was written, there was a king.  Even so, we cannot say with certainty as to when the book was written.  If Samuel was indeed the primary author, then it would likely have been during the period after Saul’s ascension as king, but prior to David’s.  (Chapter 1 mentions that the Jebusites lived in Jerusalem “to this day,” indicating that David had not yet taken the city for himself.)

Speaking of David, the whole book seems to point to the need for a David.  Chaos is rampant in the land, and the whole picture is one of hopelessness as the people repeatedly turn away from God.  What was needed?  A leader who would truly seek after the heart of God, and lead the people by example.  By the end of the book of Judges, that stage would be set – and that is exactly what will come through the book of Ruth. 

As to the time period it covers, it directly follows the chronology of Exodus, Numbers, and Joshua.  If Joshua was written around 1399BC, then that’s when the book of Judges basically picks up.  From there, it covers a period of 300+ years as the various 12-13 judges (depending who is included in the list) live, reign, and die (some surely overlapping the others).

The title is pretty much self-explanatory.  This is the same title given it by the Hebrews, and is an apt description of the contents.  We think of judges wearing long black robes, presiding over criminal cases, but to ancient Israel they were far more.  The judges were the local leadership.  They would certainly resolve disputes, but they would also serve a military function and lead armies into war.  They would serve a religious function and lead the people into revival.  During an era in which God was supposed to be the King over Israel, the judges were God’s local emissaries – His representatives to take care of the civic life of the people, leaving the priests free to lead the people in worship.  (At least, that was the intent.)

SIGNIFICANCE
So what does a book of Israel’s failures have to offer the Church of Jesus Christ?  Why does the book of Judges matter today?

Judges is surely relevant to the Church today in that it demonstrates what happens to God’s people when they fall away.  What is the result of apostasy?  Just read Judges!  What happens when Christians decide to stop obeying God and start obeying their flesh?  Just read Judges.  Not only is Judges a historical chronicle of the apostasy of Israel, but it is a dire warning to all of God’s people through the ages not to do the same thing.

That said, there’s more to the book than just a warning of sin.  There is also the repeated theme of God’s faithfulness and forgiveness.  What happened each time Israel cried out to God?  God sent a deliverer.  What happens when we cry to God?  God has already sent a Deliverer: the Lord Jesus!  We need not wait for a new deliverer to arise; the Savior God gave for us already is more than sufficient to deliver us from our sin.  And just as with Israel, He faithfully and consistently forgives us when we come through Christ.  1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." .  Is there any limit to God’s forgiveness?  If there is, we haven’t found it!  Jesus is able to “cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness,” and to that we have to say Hallelujah!

GENERAL OUTLINE
Again, there is a distinct cycle set up within the book, and seems to be reiterated with nearly every judge that arises.  First, we see that Israel was disobedient to the work God had given them to do.  And because they were negligent to conquer the people of the land, God allowed the pagans to stay there & be constant snares and temptations to Israel.  Because they were, the Hebrews would turn away from God (usually to idolatry) – engage in rampant sin – be conquered by their enemy – suffer and cry out to God for help – God would raise up a judge and deliver them – they would briefly follow the Lord, and then turn away once more.  No doubt they exemplified the proverb: “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” (Prov 26:11)

  • Prologue: the Problem (1-2)
  • Minor judges & Ehud (3)
  • Deborah (4-5)
  • Gideon & sons (6-9)
  • Minor judges & Jepthah (10-12)
  • Samson (13-16)
  • Epilogue: Chaos (17-21)

 

Prologue: the Problem (1-2)
Starting off well (1:1-26)
Things begin well enough.  As the book of Joshua ended, the people had committed themselves to following the Lord in the years to come.  Joshua had died, and the people started out with the best of intents.  They actually did seek the Lord, inquiring of Him which tribe should be first to go to war against the Canaanites (1:1).  Remember that although the major city-states of Canaan had been defeated by Joshua and the Hebrews during the initial conquest, there were pagan pockets scattered throughout the land.  God’s command to the Hebrews was to occupy the entire land, not leaving anyone behind that could easily serve as a snare to the people.

So that’s what they did.  They wisely asked God what to do, and God gave them their marching orders, continuing to fight for them just as He had during the days of the conquest.  This was the way it was always supposed to be; sadly it didn’t stay that way for long.

One of the stories that gets wrapped up is the account of Caleb.  Remember Caleb was one of the original Hebrews that participated in the exodus out of Egypt (the only one left alive at this point).  He had been faithful to trust God prior to the wilderness wandering, and was again faithful to trust God after the people were settled in the land.  Even after Joshua’s conquest was completed, he was still ready to fight, asking that Joshua would give him “that mountain,” in order that he could experience God’s power and victory one more time.

By this point, Caleb was ready to give his daughter to be married, and he wanted her to go to a courageous man of faith, just as he was.  A young man by the name of Othniel showed himself up to the task by attacking and conquering Kirjath Sepher, and Caleb blessed their union.

  • There’s a bit of practical instruction for parents here.  Model the type of people you want your children to be.  Model the type of spouse you want them to marry.  Your children will see it in you before they see it in anyone else.

In any case, the account shows how the tribe of Judah took the leadership in fighting the pagans of the land…surely a preview of things to come when David (and later Jesus) would arise out of the tribe of Judah, giving leadership to the whole nation.

Failures to finish the job (1:27 – 2:6)
The success at the start would not continue for long.  What begins is a list of the various tribes, and their failures to cast out the Canaanites out of their villages.  Even here, things go from bad to worse.  It begins with the neglect of Manasseh, Ephraim, and others to even try to drive out the Canaanites, and ends with Dan actually being forced to flee to the mountains by the Amorites. 

In not even a generation’s time, the nation of Israel went from being unstoppable, with God fighting their battles for them, to running in defeat seeking refuge from the enemy.  What had happened?  Their hearts had already begun to turn away from the Lord.  They had already begun to exchange the glory they had with God for the lie of their flesh.  The Angel of the Lord (most likely the preincarnate Jesus Christ) confronted them on this very thing in Chapter 2.  God had sworn to be with the people, and uphold His end of the covenant agreement, as long as they held up theirs and continued to fight the Canaanites.  Israel had failed, so God would allow them to face the consequences: Judges 2:2–3, "(2) And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? (3) Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’ " .  These pagan nations would remain, and Israel would constantly be faced with the choice to either follow the true God or follow the temptations of the world around them.

  • Remember that we’re supposed to have a war mentality when it comes to sin.  That was one of the primary themes of the book of Joshua.  The Hebrews were not to compromise with the pagan people, or give any room for the pagan world to infiltrate their lives.  If they did, they would be drawn into sin and away from God.  Once they let the foot of the pagans in the door, they would have a difficult time closing it again.  That’s the way it is with sin and temptations in our own lives.  The more we say “yes” to temptation, the easier it becomes to say “yes.”  And God will let us struggle with that for as long as it takes until we’re ready to surrender ourselves to Him.  We’ve got to be willing to draw a proverbial line in the sand & say “no more!”  We cannot allow ourselves to get comfortable with sin in the slightest.  When we do, it’s the first step we take away from the Lord.

Joshua’s death retold (2:7-10)
This had already been covered in the book of Joshua, but it’s recounted here for significance.  This was the end of an era; the passing of the generation that was faithful to the Lord.  Once that generation passed from the scene, the ones who followed “did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel.” (2:10)

Obviously Joshua had done his best to pass on that knowledge to the next generation (which is demonstrated in Joshua 23-24), but neither he nor the others of the day were successful.  The Bible doesn’t tell us why, but it does illustrate the absolute necessity it is to be careful how we raise up future generations.  If we do not teach them the fear of the Lord, who will?  If we do not model what it looks like to love the Lord Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, where will they learn it?  There are enough temptations out in the world to distract our young people without adults in the church not taking the initiative to lead them in the things of God.

Israel’s sin & idolatry (2:11-23)
Things go from bad to worse for Israel.  Not only had they neglected to cast out the Canaanites, nor had they raised up their children in the fear of God, but they started giving into idolatry.  The pagans of the land had become a snare to the people, exactly as the Angel of the Lord (and Joshua) had said that they would.

From here, the writer of Judges gives a bit of summary to the book and describes the overall cycle of idolatry & sin against God – God’s deliverance of the people into subjugation – the people crying out in repentance – and God’s deliverance of the people out of subjugation by the judge He raised up.  Eventually the judge would die, and things would start all over again.

It was a terrible cycle for the Hebrews, and unfortunately it’s one that many Christians find themselves in every day.  This is what it looks like to live by the flesh, rather than by the Spirit.  Have you ever been in that place where you can’t seem to break the cycle of sin?  When you do great one day, fail the next, cry out for forgiveness, and then start all over again?  The problem at that point is that we’re living in our flesh.  Instead of living according to the Spirit of God who empowers us to live lives of holiness, we’re trying to do it in our own power and failing miserably.  Paul put it simply: Galatians 5:16–17, "(16) I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. (17) For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish." .

  • The solution?  Do what Israel did not: seek God and be filled anew with the Holy Spirit.  Walk according to HIS power, and you’ll see victory over temptation that you can never experience on your own.

Remaining pagan nations (3:1-6)
We need to remember chapter breaks are not inspired, and the first part of Ch. 3 might more naturally belong with the end of Ch. 2.  God had determined to leave the various pagan nations in the land in order to test/prove Israel (2:22, 3:4).  Israel needed to re-learn what it meant to walk by faith, and having these constant challenges in front of them was God’s choice in teaching them.  Sadly, Israel continued to give into these temptations, allowing their sons and daughters to intermarry with the pagans among them – only perpetuating the problem of sin and idolatry.

Minor judges & Ehud (3)
Technically picks up in 3:7, as the first few verses of Ch. 3 finish describing the work from the conquest left unfinished by Israel.  Some of the description of the judges go fairly quickly; the book only dwells upon 5 out of the 13 that are listed.

Othniel (3:7-11)
Interestingly, this seems to be the same man who wed Caleb’s daughter (1:13).  The children of Israel had done evil in the sight of God (3:7 – a phrase that will be repeated often!), and God allowed them to be given over to the king of Mesopotamia (close to, or another name for Babylon).  Once the Israelites cried out to the Lord, God gave them Othniel who delivered them and gave them rest for 40 years.

Ehud (3:12-30)
The book goes into more detail with Ehud than some of the other earlier judges, if for no other reason simply because of the graphic account of his acts of deliverance.  Israel again had done evil, and God gave them over to Eglon, king of Moab.  They served Moab 18 years before they cried out to God, and God raised up Ehud from the tribe of Benjamin.  Ehud engaged in a bit of stealth and assassination.  Under the guise of bringing a tribute to Eglon, Ehud requested a private audience with the Moabite king, all the while hiding a dagger in his clothes.  When the opportunity arose, Ehud sunk the dagger so deep into Eglon (who was apparently rather fat) that he left the dagger in Eglon’s belly & the fat closed over it.  Ehud escaped, and roused the Israelites to fight for their freedom.  God gave them the battle, and the people rested for 80 years.

Shamgar (3:31)
Little is said of Shamgar, but he apparently had incredible strength long before the mention of Samuel.  Armed only with an ox-goad (an ancient cattle prod), he killed 600 Philistine soldiers and delivered Israel.  Interestingly, Shamgar is the only judge with a non-Hebrew name.  Whether he was an actual Hebrew or not is unknown – but God certainly used him for delivering the Hebrews.

One thing to keep in mind with these various judges is that they are somewhat spread out all over Israel, and some may have overlapped one another in their reign.  We need to remember that the people of Israel were united by their culture and (occasional) faith, but that was about it.  They were not united as a single nation as they would later be under Saul and David.  It’s possible that only certain pockets of Israel were subjugated by their enemies at certain times, and God raised up deliverers for that particular time, purpose, and location.

In any event, it shows that the problem of sin was not focused in one particular area; it was spread throughout the whole land.  Every tribe of Israel struggled with it at various times.  That was just a fact of life.

  • As long as we live in this world, we’re going to have at least some struggles with sin.  Obviously we have a choice in how we deal with it (via the power of God in the Spirit, or through our weak flesh), but the reality is that we will be confronted with sin at some point.  Yet even here, there is hope.  Part of the deliverance we have in Christ is the eternal future we have with Him, in which we will be delivered from even the very presence of sin.  Imagine a day in which sin does not even exist…that is what eternity with Jesus will be like!  No more pain, nor crying (which we remember), but also no more temptation nor struggles.  How we long for that day!  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Deborah (4-5)
Deborah is interesting because she is one of the few women leaders that we read about in Hebrew history, and she was certainly effective.  Deborah had a strong faith which was infectious to those around her, which comes into play during battle.

Barak seeks Deborah’s help (4:1-16)
Again, Israel had done evil in the sight of God, and God gave them over to Jabin, king of Canaan.  Jabin oppressed the children of Israel for 20 years.  At some point during all of this, God raised up Deborah, and she began judging Israel during the time of Jabin’s oppression.  Once God gave her the word, she called for the Hebrew commander Barak to go to war against Jabin (and Jabin’s commanding general Sisera).

That’s all straightforward, but the problem comes when this mighty commander of Israel doesn’t have the courage to go to battle.  He was willing to go, but only if Deborah went with him (4:8).  It seems that Deborah had faith that God would give Israel the victory, but Barak did not.  As long as Barak had Deborah with him, then he would rely upon her faith.  Obviously this doesn’t speak highly of Barak, and Deborah prophesied that he would have to live with the embarrassment of Sisera being killed by a woman & not him.  Apparently that was no problem for Barak, and they all went to battle.  Sure enough, God gave the victory to Israel, and all the army of Sisera fell in battle (4:16).

Barak seemed to be a general with little faith, but interestingly enough the author of Hebrews includes him in the famous “hall of faith” along with some other judges that seem unlikely inclusions (Samson & Jephthah in particular – Heb 11:32).  Obviously there was more to Barak than meets the eye.  God saw something in Barak that demonstrated faith, even if it isn’t apparent to the rest of us.

  • Aren’t you glad that God knows us best?  He knows what is in our hearts.  Even if Barak had just a grain of faith, then that is enough to move mountains.  God used that grain of faith along with the evident faith of Deborah to bring a massive deliverance, and in the process God received all of the glory.  Do you have even a grain of faith?  God can do great things with even a little!

Sisera killed by a woman (4:17-24)
True to Deborah’s prophecy, the Canaanite general Sisera was indeed killed by a woman, though it wasn’t the woman the reader might expect.  Deborah did not bring the killing blow, but Jael the wife of Heber did.  Sisera had fled the battle, completely defeated, and Jael pretended to give him comfort and shelter.  While he rested in the tent, Jael snuck in and drove a tent stake through his skull.

Was it violent?  Yes.  But these were violent times in the midst of warfare.  God does not condone deception or murder, but He can still use these things for His glory and purpose (just as He can use all other things).

Deborah’s song of praise (5:1-31)
Chapter 5 is a beautiful song of praise, giving glory to God for the victory He gave to Israel.  In it, she tells the story of Israel’s sin, her rise as a judge, the battle led by Barak, and the blessing of Jael for her killing blow over Sisera.

Gideon & sons (6-9)
Gideon’s calling (6:1-27)
The people had peace for 40 years before they started engaging in sin once more, and God gave them over to the Midianites for 7 years. During that time, they were taxed heavily and the people had little to no relief.  They called out to God for help, and after chastising the people for their sin, the Lord took action.

In an act of divine humor, the Angel of the Lord appeared to a Gideon hiding from the Midianites, and called him a “mighty man of valor.” (6:12)  Indeed Gideon would be such a warrior; he just didn’t know it yet (but God did!).  God told Gideon how He desired to use Gideon to defeat the Midianites, and Gideon responded with an offering, which was prompting consumed in his presence (a frightening thing!).  Gideon had no doubt this was the Lord, and his first act of obedience was to tear down an idol built to Baal in the center of town.

Gideon did it by night and a riot was almost the result until Gideon’s father pointed out the absurdity of it all.  Judges 6:31, "But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Would you plead for Baal? Would you save him? Let the one who would plead for him be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down!”" .  Were the people really that willing to stand for sin?  Would they prefer to argue for idolatry rather than the true God?

  • Sad to say many people find themselves doing the same thing.  Why take up the defense of that which is sinful?  Something may be popular in the eyes of the world, but that doesn’t make it right.  Far better to stand for God, and be right in His sight than right in the eyes of the world.

Gideon’s fleece (6:36-40)
So Gideon is ready to go, right?  Wrong.  He knows what God called him to do, but is still uncertain.  He gives God two tests, asking for a damp fleece (piece of wool) one morning and a dry one the next.  God graciously gave Gideon the signs that he desired, but we need to note that the Bible never once commends him for these signs.

So often we want to “throw out a fleece” of our own, thinking that it’s an act of faith.  Biblically speaking, it’s not.  If Gideon was truly acting in faith, he would have immediately gone out and been obedient to what God had already clearly revealed to him.  Instead, he delays and waits for further confirmation.  God was merciful in giving it, but God certainly didn’t have to do so.  God IS going to teach Gideon to walk by faith, which is what we go on to see…

Gideon’s 300 (7:1-25)
Gideon has his army ready for battle, but God is quick to tell him that his army is too big.  Through a series of events, God begins whittling down the size of Gideon’s forces until only 300 men remain.  Keep in mind that Israel is going up against a massive Midianite army.  When Gideon finally gets a look at the opposition, he finds that they were “numerous as locusts, and their camel without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude.” (7:12)  No doubt it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but Israel was certainly outnumbered.

And that was exactly the way God wanted it.  God was alone going to receive the glory from this battle, and when He took Gideon to war, it became clear that God was the One fighting for them.  God had already implanted the fear of Gideon into the hearts of the Midianites, and by the time Gideon’s 300 came down, the Midianites were panicked & fled.  Those that remained were soundly defeated and Israel experienced a rousing victory.

  • It’s not just a little faith that God can use; He can also use little resources.  The God who created the universe can certainly use the very little that we have to impact the world, if He so desires.  All we need do is to make ourselves available to Him.

Gideon’s vengeance (8:1-21)
After the battle, not all everybody was happy with Gideon – especially the Midianite towns to which Gideon went in pursuit of the army.  Several refused to help him or grant him relief, and he eventually came back and conquered those towns as well.

Gideon’s snare (8:22-35)
In response to all of this, the people of Israel were ready to make Gideon their king, to which he wisely refused.  However, he did give in to the temptation of materialism, and he received a gift of their gold which he fashioned into a priestly ephod.  Since he wasn’t a priest, he had no business making an ephod for himself, and apparently the article itself became a tool of idolatry.  If Gideon had found his satisfaction in the Lord, he could have spared Israel a lot of trouble.

Gideon’s son – the illegitimate king (9:1-56)
Gideon had chosen not to be king, but one of his sons had other ambitions.  One by the name of Abimelech had all his brothers assassinated (except one) and declared himself to be king over Israel.  The last son publicly denounced Abimelech & challenged Israel not to follow him, though it seems that he was ignored for the most part.  After 3 years, Abimelech himself fell in battle – a wicked king done in by a woman who dropped a millstone on his head.

Minor judges & Jephthah (10-12)
Things have not improved in Israel!  Every cycle of sin seems to get a bit worse, and that continues with the next round of judges.

Tola & Jair (10:1-5)
Not much is said about either one, except Tola judged for 23 years, and Jair judged for 22 years.  What they did is unknown.

Further rebellion of Israel (10:6-18)
Again the people rebel, and God delivered them over to the Ammonites and Philistines.  The Hebrews had worshipped the gods of the Ammon and Philistia, so that is where He sent them.  For 18 years the people struggled, and then finally called out to God.  God threatened to no longer deliver them, but told them to go cry out to the gods they had chosen (10:13-14).  There comes a point that God is willing to give us over to our sin, and that is what He did with Israel.  Yet as the people continued to repent, God continued to show His mercy – as the Bible says, “His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.” (10:16)  Thank God that we serve a merciful God!

Jephthah chosen (11:1-33)
Jephthah was already a warrior at the time Israel needed a deliverer.  The problem was they didn’t want him.  He was an illegitimate son, and was originally despised.  Yet when the time was dire, the people came back to Jephthah asking him to lead their armies against Ammon.  Jephthah confronted the king of Ammon, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he went to battle.  So great was his victory that he had gone through 22 cities, and even the people of Ammon were subdued before Israel (11:33).

Jephthah’s vow (11:34-40)
No doubt God would have given Jephthah victory over the Ammonites without a vow, but he had foolishly made a promise to God that if given the victory, he would offer as a burnt offering the very first thing that came from the doors of his house to greet him upon his return.  Tragically, this was his daughter.  Worse than this, instead of going before the Lord in sorrow and repentance, trying to redeem his vow (which he could have done), he actually goes through with the offering.  His daughter was given two months to prepare herself, and then she was given to God as an offering.

This was NOT God’s command, nor was it blessed by Him.  It was a sad indication of how far Israel had fallen, when even the leaders of Israel empowered by God were engaging in such things.

Further exploits of Jephthah (12:1-7)
Because Jephthah did not invite Ephraim to the battle, the Ephramites were upset with him.  Eventually they broke out in civil war, and people would be killed based on whether or not their accent indicated they were from Ephraim.

Ibzan, Elon, Abdon (12:8-15)
As with some of the other minor judges, little to nothing is said about these, other than the length of time they judged Israel, their families, and where they lived.

Samson (13-16)
Samson’s birth (13:1-25)
Samson is the last judge that the book of Judges records, and he is quite a character in his own right.  He was not called to judge Israel later in life; God had a plan for him before he was born.  In an event reminiscent of Gideon’s encounter with the Angel of the Lord, or even Zechariah’s encounter with Gabriel regarding John the Baptist, Samson’s parents met the Angel of the Lord who told them of the coming birth of Samson.  God had a plan for him, and he was to live the life of a Nazirite his entire life.   Sure enough the boy was born, and as he grew, the Lord blessed him & moved upon him (13:24-25).

Samson’s riddle and first conflict with Philistines (14:1-20)
Eventually Samson took a wife from among the Philistines (much to the objection of his parents), and while they arranged it, Samson discovered that God had given him supernatural strength by tearing apart a lion.  At the time Samson was to be married, he was among the Philistines at a feast and gave them a riddle involving the lion and its carcass, as a bet for some clothes.  The Philistines couldn’t answer it, so they threatened Samson’s new wife who told them the solution.  Samson knew what happened, and once the Spirit of the Lord came on him, he killed 30 men.

Samson’s revenge upon the Philistines (15:1-20)
Things escalated from there when Samson’s father-in-law gave Samson’s wife to someone else.  In response, Samson burnt up the fields, vineyards, and olive groves of the Philistines.  Battles ensued, and Samson eventually tricked the Philistines into thinking he was captured, only to break his bonds, and take a donkey’s jawbone to slaughter 1000 men.

Samson and Delilah (16:1-22)
By this point, Samson had judged Israel for 20 years, unable to be defeated by the Philistines. That’s when he met Delilah and fell in love with her.  (And no, she didn’t look like Hedy Lamarr. J)  She had agreed to learn the secret of Samson’s strength in order to deliver him to the Philistines, and thus began a cat-and-mouse game of Samson lying to her, and her trying to trap him time after time.  It was obvious what Delilah was trying to do, but Samson kept indulging her, finally giving in and telling her what he believed was the truth.  Because he was a Nazirite, his hair had never been cut.  She cut his hair, his vow to God was broken, and the Spirit of God departed from him (16:20).

Samson’s final act of deliverance (16:23-31)
Samson had finally been defeated.  He was enslaved, blinded, and put to work among the Philistines.  Eventually the Philistines brought him out for entertainment, and God came upon him one last time.  Samson brought the entire auditorium down, and at that moment Samson killed more people in his death than he had in his entire life. (16:30)

All in all, Samson is a tragic story.  Here was a man empowered by God, and given incredible freedom by God.  And yet he wasted it on all kinds of lustful pleasures, with no mention of ever turning to the Lord God at all.  God could (and did) still use him, but Samson truly missed out on what his life could have been.

Epilogue: Chaos (17-21)
The final chapters of Judges are detailed, but truly sad.  They go to show the extent to which the nation had fallen.  They had started out blessed as the people of God, living according to the covenant and promises of God.  They ended in total disarray and chaos.

Idolatry and priests-for-hire (17-18)
In Ephraim, there was a man named Micah who stole from his mother, built an idolatrous image and shrine, made his son an illegitimate priest, and then hired a travelling Levite to be his “real” priest.  Micah was willing to pay the man 10 shekels of silver per year, along with a new suit of clothes, and that was enough for the Levite to prostitute his services.

Eventually men from the tribe of Dan discovered all of this in their attempts to steal land from the Ephraimites, and stole the Levite and idol away for themselves.  The Levite thought he was getting a raise & didn’t care.  The Danites conquered the area, and there was no judge to deliver them.

Heinous crimes among Benjamin (19)
Things weren’t any better in the south.  A different Levite left Ephraim to travel all the way to Bethlehem, where his concubine had fled and gone back to her father.  (What a Levite was even doing with a concubine in the 1st place is left unsaid.)  He persuaded her father to send her back with him, and they had to stop in Gibeah to spend the night.  They found shelter with one man, but their safety didn’t last long.

Soon the town acted exactly like Sodom the night God destroyed it.  The townspeople desired to rape the Levite, but the Levite & homeowner gave the concubine and one of his daughters instead.  Nothing is said of the daughter, but the concubine was raped and abused throughout the night.  The Levite either found her dead in the morning, or she died later on that day, for he cut her body up into 12 pieces and sent the carcass through Israel as a warning.

Civil war against Benjamin (20-21)
In response, all Israel came to war against Benjamin.  For the first time in several chapters, the Israelites actually inquire of the Lord, and God tells them that Judah was to be first to go to battle.  By the end of it, God defeated Benjamin, and over 25000 Benjamites were dead (20:35).  The 11 other tribes knew they couldn’t let Benjamin perish from history, so they stole women from Shiloh to be wives of the Benjamites who survived…a twisted end to a twisted crime.

Conclusion:
Hardly any words could better sum up the situation in Israel than the final verse of the book: Judges 21:25, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."  Thankfully, it wouldn’t always remain that way.  Hope and help was on the way!  God would send a king, and it would be the perfect king.

But for the time being, that was still in the future.  What remained was a sad reality: the blessings of God had been traded for sin and its depraved consequences.  The people of God became virtually indistinguishable from the nations around them.  They worshipped the same gods, engaged in the same vile practices, and experienced the same results.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way!  God had given Israel everything they needed, and they exchanged it all for nothing.

May God guard us from doing the same thing!  We have everything we need in Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  There is no need for us to walk down those same paths of sin – we can walk by the Spirit and experience the abundant life and grace of God.

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