1:1-2:5 – ‘You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? (Galatians 5:7). Everything seems to be going well – ‘From victory to victory His army He shall lead till every foe is vanquished and Christ is Lord indeed’ (1-18; Church Hymnary, 481). Things went badly wrong. God commanded His people to ‘drive out’ His enemies. Again and again, they failed (19,21,27-33). This failure brought a stern rebuke from ‘the angel of the Lord’. God had blessed His people. Now, He has to rebuke them – ‘you have not obeyed my command’. Read of Israel’s weeping, and pray for this: Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation’ (2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 7:10). ‘Strong in the Lord…’ let us ‘tread all the powers of darkness down… and stand complete at last’ (Church Hymnary, 441).
2:6-3:31 – What sadness there is in the words of 2:10 – ‘there arose another generation… who did not know the Lord…’! As the generations pass, we must pass on the Gospel of Christ, praying that those who follow after us will ‘know the Lord’. In Isaiah 30:21, God says, ‘This is the way, walk in it’. Here, in the sin and shame of Israel, He warns us, ‘This is not the way, do not walk in it’ (2:11-15). Don’t be conformed to this world, ‘entangled’ in its ways (3:5-7; Romans 12:2; 2 Timothy 2:4). God is angry with His rebellious people, but He does not cease to love them – ‘the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel (3:8-9). Read of the deliverers – Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar – and rejoice in our greater Deliverer: ‘Jesus… He will save His people from their sins’ (3:9,15,31; Matthew 1:21).
4:1-5:11 – Barak is an example of ‘faith’ (Hebrews 11:32-34). Faith involves believing God’s promise – ‘I will give…’ and obeying His command – ‘Go’ (4:6-7). God still says, ‘Go… I am with you always…’ (Matthew 28:19-20). Barak needed Deborah’s help (4:8-10). Both needed God’s help – ‘Our sufficiency comes from God’ (2 Corinthians 3:5-6). In Deborah’s song, we learn of the importance of giving all the glory to God: ‘Bless the Lord… To the Lord I will sing, I will make melody to the Lord… Bless the Lord’ (5:2-3,9). We are to repeat the triumphs of the Lord’. This is our high calling as ‘the people of the Lord’ (5:11). ‘Awake, awake, Deborah’… Arise, Barak…’ (5:12) – God is still calling His people to wake up, to rise up: ‘Rise up O Church of God, awake!’ (Church Hymnary, 477; Mission Praise, 178).
5:12-6:10 – ‘The people of the Lord marched down for Him against the mighty (13) – God is still calling His people to march for Him: ‘March on, my soul, with strength, with strength, but not thine own; The conquest thou shalt gain, through Christ the Lord alone’ (Church Hymnary, 614). This is not ‘marching’ for ourselves, for our own cause, trying to get our own way. This is about keeping our eyes on Jesus, living in His strength, living for His glory. Where self reigns, there is sin – ‘The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord’ – and shame – ‘Israel was brought very low’ (1,6). Where Christ reigns, there is prayer to the Lord and blessing from the Lord. With God’s blessing comes our responsibility – Worship God, listening carefully to His Word and living in obedience to Him (6-10).
6:11-7:14 – ‘We are weak but He is strong’ (Church Hymnary, 418). In himself, Gideon was weak (15). In the Lord, he was ‘a mighty warrior’. Gideon was full of questions. God said to him, ‘Go… I will be with you’ (6:12-16). Our true strength does not come from ourselves. It comes from the Lord – ‘Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth’ (Psalm 124:8). Gideon’s true strength came from ‘the Spirit of the Lord’ (34). We must always remember Jesus’ words, ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). Consider Gideon’s weakness. Consider your own weakness. Rejoice in God’s power. Never say, ‘My own hand delivered me’. Our testimony must always be this: ‘…God has given…’(7:2,14). ‘It is the gift of God…lest any man should boast’ (Ephesians 2:8-9).
7:15-8:35 – ‘For the Lord and for Gideon’ (7:18). Notice who comes first. It is not Gideon. It is the Lord! ‘The men of Israel’ attached too much importance to Gideon – ‘Rule over us… you have delivered us’. Gideon gave all the glory to God – ‘I will not rule over you… the Lord will rule over you’ (8:22-23). What happens when people make too much of the man and not enough of the Lord? – As soon as the man is taken away from them, they forget the Lord (33-34). It seems like they were just waiting to turn away from the Lord. The moment Gideon was no longer there to keep an eye on them, they were back to their old ways again (33)! We must never let the servant of the Lord become more important than the Lord. When God’s servant has become a distant memory, we must keep on ‘remembering the Lord our God’ (34).
9:1-49 – Things were going from bad to worse! The people of Israel had forgotten ‘the Lord their God’ (8:34). ‘The enemy’ was ready to ‘come in like a flood’ (Isaiah 59:19). Abimelech – Gideon’s son by ‘his concubine who was in Shechem’ (8:31) – was very unlike his father. Gideon had pointed away from himself to the Lord (8:23). Abimelech was eager to draw attention to himself. He murdered his seventy brothers, paving the way for himself to become king (1-6). Abimelech spelt trouble! Things were only going to get worse with Abimelech. There was ‘an evil spirit’ at work among God’s people (23). Where was God in all this? – ‘Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct’ (Romans 1:28). What kind of person are you becoming? Each of us must choose!
9:50-11:11 – With verses 56-57, read Romans 1:18 – ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth’. Doing ‘what was evil in the sight of the Lord’, ‘the people of Israel’ brought themselves under God’s judgment (10:6-9). When Israel began to return to the Lord, He said to them, ‘Mean what you say’ (10:10-14). When they persisted with their confession of sin, He answered their prayer – ‘In all their affliction He was afflicted… In His love and in His pity He redeemed them’ (15-16; Isaiah 63:9). God’s answer came in the shape of Jephthah, ‘a mighty warrior’, a man who ‘spoke all his words before the Lord’ (11:1,11). Thrust out by men (11:1-2), he was loved by the God of grace – His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9)!
11:12-12:15 – Israel was not looking for trouble – ‘Let us pass… through your land to our country’. The Amorites insisted on fighting with them. They had to be faced and defeated (19-21). The Christian life is like an ‘obstacle race’. We do not go out looking for problems. Sometimes, we cannot avoid them. Obstacles can become opportunities – for spiritual growth (James 1:2-4). Watch what you say (29-40; Ecclesiastes 5:2-6). Watch how you say it (1-6). The accent is not the important thing. It is the attitude. Is the accent on Christ? Let the attitude be less of self and more of Christ. Proclaiming the same Christ is more important than pronouncing the words in exactly the same way! Be slow to say, ‘He is not one of us’. Be quick to say, ‘Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice’ (Philippians 1:18).
13:1-14:9 – Samson’s birth was announced by an angel. Jesus’ birth was announced by angels (13:3; Luke 1:30-33; 2:8-14). Samson’s death was a great triumph over the Philistines. Jesus’ death brought the greatest triumph of all – victory over Satan (16:30; Hebrews 2:14-15). The story of Samson points us to the greater Story of Jesus. There is, however, a great difference between Samson and Jesus. Often, Samson was concerned only with what pleased him (14:3,7). Always, Jesus did the will of God (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38). ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me’ (Luke 4:18) – We expect these words from Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God. When, however, we read that ‘the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon’ Samson (14:6), we rejoice in the grace of God – ‘while we were yet sinners… the Holy Spirit has been given to us’ (Romans 5:8,5).
14:10-16:3 – ‘This man receives sinners’ (Luke 15:2). These are the words of legalistic Pharisees. They were intended as an insult. They are also words of divine grace: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15). Samson was a sinner. There is no question about that. Is he any different from the rest of us? – ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). Samson was a sinner yet, ‘the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him’ (14:19). We are sinners. Christ died for us. God has given us His Spirit (Galatians 3:13-14). This is divine grace. Samson often wandered. Still, the Lord was at work in him. Prompted by the Spirit, Samson ‘called on the Lord’. Samson was ‘very thirsty’. He prayed. He was ‘revived’ (15:18-19). ‘Wilt Thou not revive us again…? (Psalm 85:6). Pray for revival!
16:4-31 – The story of Samson is a story of tragedy and triumph. We see Samson’s tragedy – ‘“I will go out at other times, and shake myself free”. But he did not know that the Lord had left him’ (20). There is a warning for us here. Yesterday’s triumphs do not guarantee today’s victory. Today’s challenge needs today’s grace. We need to keep close to the Lord – ‘His mercies… are new every morning’ (Lamentations 3:22-23). We see Samson’s triumph – In his death, he triumphed over the Philistines (30). What encouragement there is for us here! How often we feel like Samson – ‘seized… gouged… brought down… bound… in the prison’ – going through ‘the mill’ (21)! Satan seems to have the upper hand. We feel so helpless. Satan will not have the last word. Take this for your encouragement: Satan will be ‘thrown into the lake of fire’ (Revelation 20:10).
17:1-18:13 – Things are not going well – ‘every man did that which was right in his own eyes’ (17:6). People were doing what suited themselves. Micah was trying to ‘get the best of both worlds’. He was worshipping idols (17:4-5). He was trying to keep on the right side of the Lord – ‘Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite priest’ (13). Micah’s priest was a ‘Yes’ man. He told Micah what he wanted to hear. Many people ‘refuse to listen to the truth’. They prefer to listen to those who ‘tell them what they want to hear’ (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Many are ‘lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God’ (2 Timothy 3:4). We must not fall into the trap of ‘trying to please all the people all the time’. Seek to be like Jesus – ‘I seek not My own will but the will of Him who sent Me’ (John 5:30).
18:14-19:30 – ‘Keep quiet’ – There is a guilty silence which comes from disobedience (18:18-20). When God’s people remain silent, things go from bad to worse – ‘Where there is no prophecy the people cast off restraint’. We must not be ‘disobedient to the heavenly vision’ (18:30; Proverbs 29:18; Acts 26:19). Chapter 19 warns us: Sin brings judgment. God cannot stand sin. He punishes sin (Habakkuk 1:13; Numbers 32:23). Sin must be taken seriously. God takes it seriously (Hebrews 10:29-31). It is not easy to see the hand of God in the sinful and shameful events of chapter 19. We must keep on believing that He is present, even when He is ‘most invisible’ (Church Hymnary, 670). Sometimes, He is present as our Judge. Judgment is not always immediate. There may be ‘peace’ before the storm. ‘Consider’ – and learn (19:20, 30)!
20:1-28 – God uses a sinful and shameful situation – ‘Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day’ (19:30) – to call His people back to Himself – ‘all the people of Israel… assembled as one man to the Lord’ (1). God’s call was clear – ‘Put away evil from Israel’. ‘The Benjaminites would not listen’ to this call for holiness among God’s people (13). This was a serious situation. It was not to be taken lightly. This was no mere difference of opinion, something that would soon be forgotten. ‘The Benjaminites came together… to go out to war against the people of Israel’ (14). Three times, God called His people to ‘go up’ against the Benjaminites (18,23,28). Victory comes from the Lord: ‘I will give them into your hand’ (28).
20:29-21:25 – Judges ends on such a sad note: ‘every man did what was right in his own eyes’ (21:25). This situation is not merely political – ‘no king’. It is moral and spiritual. The people had no regard for the authority of God and His Word. In Romans 5:20, we have Good News: ‘where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’. Here, we have bad news: ‘where grace increased, sin abounded all the more’. Reading Judges, we become acutely aware of the need for revival in our own day. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 we see the way to revival: ‘If my people who are called by My Name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land’. Read of human ‘compassion’ (6,15). Rejoice: God ‘will again have compassion upon us’ (Micah 7:19).