The book of Joshua speaks of a high-point in the history of God’s people, Israel. By faith, they took possession of the land which the Lord had provided for them. The book of Judges tells of the downward slope – “ … The people of Israel did what the Lord considered evil … “ (Judges 2:10-15). Although this was a bad time in the history of Israel, there was also some encouragement – “Then the Lord would send judges to rescue them from those who robbed them” (Judges 2:16). Sadly, the people wouldn’t listen to the judges (Judges 2:17-19). There were difficult times ahead for the people of Israel. The Lord allowed the nations to remain in the land. This was His way of testing His people (Judges 2:20-23).
In the book of Judges, we see both sin and salvation – “The people of Israel did what the Lord considered evil” (Judges 3:7,12); “Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help” (Judges 3:9,15); “The Lord sent a saviour to rescue them” (Judges 3:9,15). Viewed from the point of view of human sin, this was a bad time in the history of Israel. They were a wayward people. They were prone to wandering away from the Lord. Viewed from the point of view of divine grace, there is the great encouragement that God continues to love His people.He puts into their hearts a desire to return to Him. He responds to their cry from the heart. He sends His blessing. This is His way of showing us that His love for us remains constant, even when our love for Him has grown very weak.
As we read of Israel’s military exploits, we must recognize the spiritual dimension. This is brought out well in the song of victory in Judges 5. It begins with the words, “Praise the Lord!” (Judges 5:2). It is a song of praise to God – “I will sing a song to the Lord. I will make music to the Lord God of Israel” (Judges 5:3). The victories gained by Israel were “the victories of the Lord” (Judges 5:11). When we worship the Lord, we are strengthened to go on, living for Him – “I must march on with strength!” (Judges 5:21).
The story of Gideon is the story of the Lord at work. This is summed up in (a) Gideon’s call – “The Lord is with you, brave man … You will rescue Israel from Midian with the strength you have. I am sending you” (Judges 6:12,14). (b) Gideon’s victory over the Midianites – “Attack! The Lord will hand Midian’s camp over to you” (Judges 7:15). There is also a warning for us. Even those who have been used by the Lord can fall into Satan’s trap. Gideon made a gold idol, and “it became a trap for Gideon and his family” (Judges 8:27).
“The people of Israel again did what the Lord considered evil … The Lord became angry with the people of Israel … Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help” (Judges 10:6-7,10). We don’t deserve to be blessed by the Lord. In mercy, He blesses us, far more than we could ever deserve. The time of the judges was not a time of the greatest blessing. In life’s low points, we must hold on to our conviction that God is there with us, even when He seems to be far away. We must keep on believing that God is with us at all times.
In the story of Jephthah (Judges 11 & 12), we learn that we need wisdom as well as sincerity. We need to have knowledge of God’s will as well as a desire to do His will.
Samson was to “dedicated to God from his birth” (Judges 13:5). His early life is described in terms of God’s blessing – “The boy grew up,and the Lord blessed him” (Judges 13:24). Samson’s adult life can be viewed at two levels – (a) Samson’s selfishness – “Get her for me! She’s the one I want!”; and (b) God’s sovereignty – “the Lord was behind” this (Judges 14:3-4). We see this pattern continuing throughout Samson’s life. There is victory: “he called out to the Lord, and said, ‘You have given me this great victory.’” There is defeat: “he saw a prostitute and slept with her” (Judges 15:18; 16:1). This combination of defeat and victory continues all the way through to the time of Samson’s death. He was a prisoner of the Philistines (Judges 16:21,23-24). He was used by God to bring the Philistines down (Judges 16:28-30). The story of Samson is a story of divine grace, triumphing over human sin.
In Judges 17 & 18, the chief character is Micah. This was not the prophet, Micah. This man was a worshipper of idols! He did what he wanted – not what God wanted (Judges 17:6). What a contrast to the prophet, Micah (Micah 6:8)! This worshipper of idols tried to keep on the right side of God: “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me. I have a Levite as a priest” (Judges 17:13). This is ‘salvation by works’ – trying to earn one’s own salvation. The message of the prophet, Micah is very different. Salvation is by grace (Micah 7:18-20). The idolater, Micah, had a bad influence on others (Judges 18:30-31). The voice of the prophet, Micah, was very different: “The voice of the Lord calls out to the city. The fear of Your Name is wisdom” (Micah 6:9).
The sinful and shameful times, described in the book of Judges, are summed up in the book’s final verses of chapters 19, 20 & 21. “Never has such a thing happened or been seen from the time the people of Israel came out of Egypt until today” (Judges 19:30). “Then the men of Israel went back to attack the rest of the territory of Benjamin … “ (Judges 20:48). “Everyone did what he considered right” (Judges 21:25). It was an ‘anything goes’ situation/ Left to our own resources, we will go from bad to worse – further and further into sin, further and further away from God. There is only one thing that can be done in a situation like this. We must repent. We must return to the Lord with our whole heart. When there is a true return to the Lord, even the most sinful people can be mightily transformed. We do not see this at the end of the book of Judges. We see the reverse of this – ‘where grace abounded, sin did much more abound.’ As we see the same thing happening in our own day, we must pray for the triumph of God’s grace over human sin.