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June 13, 2016


The classic Sunday School accounts present the book of Judges as a collection of hero tales. Deborah, Gideon and Samson obeyed God’s commands to lead the repentant children of Israel out of bondage and back into peace and safety. This is not how Judges presents the “heros” found in its chapters. The real stories of the Judges are not exactly suitable for elementary children. The purpose of jduges is not especially encouraging or uplifting. Judges does not have a happy ending. Most of the judges are anti-heros who reflect the shallow repentance and half-hearted worship of the Israelites. The deliverers of Israel are as broken as the people. Deborah leads the nation because the men have abdicated their duties. Gideon is a doubtful and unwilling leader. Jephthah attempts to barter with God, sacrifices his daughter and gets into a civil war with the tribe of Ephraim. Samson is a lecher who would rather have the company of a pretty girl than obey God and prefers Philistine women over keeping his sanctification to God as a Nazarite. Judges is one of the more depressing books of the Bible. The book is one long cycle of success, rebellion, captivity, deliverance and rebellion again. Each cycle sinks lower and lower. Depravity runs rampant in Israel and instead of obeying God’s commands every man does what is right in his own eyes.

Judges is arranged in three major parts. The first two chapters introduce the period of the judges. They describe the conditions at the beginning of the time, the failure of Israel to obey God and the cycle followed by the nation during this era. Judges 2:14-19 is one of the key portions of this opening section. Chapters 3 to 16 are a selection of accounts regarding the history of the judges. In total 12 judges are listed but specific information is only given for half of them. The histories recorded reveal the ever downward cycle of the nation and her leaders. Judges shows the failure of the people and the nations leaders to obey God. The first judge is Othniel, the nephew of Caleb, who seems to be a godly man committed to obedience. The last judge is Samson who, despite the mighty power of God at work in him, showed himself to be almost entirely godless. The ten intervening judges seem to descend deeper and deeper into faithlessness, sliding farther and farther down the slope of disobedience. Chapters 17 to 24 are selected accounts to show just how bad things got within Israel. These stories show the idolatry, superstition, depravity and civil war of the time between Joshua and Saul. Though the period of the Judges covers 300 years, the final chapters seem to take place within one or two generations after Joshua’s death. Israel plummeted headlong into idolatry and depravity. Unlike the book of Joshua, which shows the victories of God’s obedient people, Judges reveals the defeats of God’s disobedient people. Judges serves as a warning to God’s people. The cost of disobedience is always far higher than its fleeting pleasures. Judges also serves as a testament to the mercy of God who hears the cry of His oft rebellious people and brings about mighty deliverance through even the least worthy of men.


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