Judges

God Rescues Disobedient Israel Through Unlikely Saviours

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An Introduction to Courses

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Taster Course

A short introduction

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Starter Course

Getting into the guts of what’s going on

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Main Course

The meat! And what to do about it!

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Dessert Course

Material for Church leaders and Tertiary level students

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The Key
The Key to unlocking the dynamic

The key to unlocking the dynamic of Judges is to understand the change between Joshua’s generation that began to take possession of the land, and the later generation that did not know Yahweh or his mighty deeds (Judges 2:10). Since they did not know Yahweh, they simply did ‘what was right in their own eyes’ (17:6, 21:25), but this was evil in the eyes of Yahweh. Judges 2:11-23 is a key passage to explain all that happens in chapters 3-16.  When we hear the word ‘judges’, we shouldn’t think of the judges in our world today who declare a verdict in a courtroom.  The words used to describe what the judges did mean to ‘deliver’ and ‘establish justice’: they are leaders who bring Yahweh’s deliverance and establish his justice in the land.


hear
Hear
Listen Here

Click on the link above to hear an audio version of the book of Judges.

Download the Bible App for your smart phone and listen when you’re at the gym, travelling etc …

(Listen to a Worship song: Take heart)

http://www.worshiptogether.com/songs/take-heart


Read
Read

Pray. Be ready to read relatively quickly to get the feel for large chunks of the story at once. Read 2:10-19 especially carefully to get a feel for how chapters 3-16 work.  Remember the key phrases ‘did what was evil in the eyes of Yahweh’ (2:11), ‘everyone did what was right in their own eyes’ (17:6, 21:25) and ‘there was no king in Israel’ (17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25).  The book is giving an account of what happens when this is happens. And remember, just because one of the judges acts in a particular way, it does not mean that God approves of the action!


Watch
Watch

Game of Thrones

This is a very popular series. Nine families battle for supremacy in a country. Gratuitous sex and a lot of violence. A gripping story that reflects the world in which we live where families, corporations, despots, dictators and violent men and women struggle against each other for power and control. Occasionally there are men and women who act with integrity and honour.


Study
Study

Read the introductory chapters to the book, Judges 1:1-2:23, and write out each stage of 2:11-2:19 in the form of a diagram.

Then read through chapters 3-16 looking for each stage of the pattern, and observe carefully changes in the way the pattern is described.  When you read these large stories, try to imagine yourself as a film-maker and mentally (or on paper) divide the story into scenes as they might be filmed.

Then read the final chapters of the book.  As you read through Judges, make notes about which characters do what God requires, and why, and think about why various characters end up acting in way that God doesn’t approve of.  Why do you think the book does not have a ‘happy’ ending?  What desires does Judges stir in you?


Meditate
Meditate

Suggested verses for meditation …

 

Judges 2:10 ‘After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord or what he had done for Israel.’

Judges 2:18 ‘Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with them and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.’

Judges 5:2 ‘When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves – praise the Lord!’

Judges 16:20 ‘Then she called, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him.’

 


learn
Learn

Consider learning:

Judges 2:18 ‘Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with them and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.’


Challenge
The Challenge

Explanation: We all learn in different ways. This section is for those who find that challenging questions motivate them to master a subject.

Here are ten questions about ‘Judges’. See how you score. The answers are at the bottom of the page.

 

Easy:

Q1   Which woman judges Israel?

Q2   Which judge threshed wheat in a winepress?

Q3   Which woman proves to have more sense than her husband?

 

Straightforward:

Q4   Which judge tied foxes together and set them alight after being refused access to his wife?

Q5   Which overweight king came to an embarrassing end?

Q6   What happens to the tribe of Dan?

 

Difficult:

Q7   What is the key reason in chapter 2 for Israel’s decline?

Q8   What explanation is given in Judges for Israel’s failure to conquer the land?

 

Testing:

Q9   What is the solution to Israel’s sin, according to the story-teller?  How do you think reading Judges in the light of the whole Bible refines this solution?

Q10   What story does Judges 19 remind you of in Genesis (think of Lot)? What does the parallel say about the state of Israel at this point?

 

 

Answers:

A1 – Deborah (Judges 4-5).

A2 – Gideon (Judges 6).

A3 – Manoah’s wife (Judges 13).

A4 – Samson (Judges 14).

A5 – Eglon (Judges 3).

A6 – In Judges 1 the tribe of Dan are defeated by the Amorites, then in chapter 18 they finally find a place to settle.

A7 – The superior weaponry of the Canaanites (iron chariots – 1:19), the Israelites’ own reluctance to drive out the Canaanites (they preferred to make slaves of them 1:27-35) and God’s judgement (Judges 2:3) – because of Israel’s sin he will not drive out their enemies.  Here we see how God’s judgement is very often to give us a version of what we ask for so that we can see the folly of our ways.

A8 – A new generation, who did not know Yahweh or the work he had done for Israel (2:10).

A9 – In Judges 17:6 and 21:25 we read ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes’.  This suggests that a king should help to put matters right – at least a king who will do what Deuteronomy 14:17-20 says.  Reading Israel’s history suggests that by the end of the Old Testament, we are still looking for a king who will do Yahweh’s will.  As Christian readers, we know that we do have a king who does what is right, and who shows us what is right.  We should seek to define right and wrong by what Jesus does, not by what our eyes tell us. 

A10 – Judges 19 has many parallels with Genesis 19.  An Israelite city has become like Sodom and Gomorrah in terms of its sin.

 

taster course

Overview

Questions

5 mins

    • Video - The book explained in 4 minutes
    • Video
    • /
    • Summary

    Summary and Exhortation

    The book of Judges begins with the people of Israel in the ‘promised land’, but not fully possessing it.  It describes the failure of the tribes to take all the land allotted to them – partly through a failure of nerve against the superior weaponry of the Canaanite tribes, and partly because it seemed better to enslave the Canaanites than to drive them out. Yahweh spoke to the people and warned them that the consequence of this failure would be that he would not drive out the Canaanites for them, but would leave them to test Israel.  Sadly, living among the Canaanites led to the Israelites following their religion, just as Moses had warned them against in Deuteronomy.

    As a result of this failure, a generation grew up that did not know Yahweh, or the mighty deeds he had done for his people.  A downward spiral began of ever-increasing sin.  The pattern is set out in Judges 2, and is seen repeating throughout chapters 3-16.  First Israel sins, often described as doing evil in the eyes of Yahweh, then Yahweh gives Israel over to her enemies to be oppressed.  Israel groans in distress, Yahweh hears and sends a ‘judge’ or deliverer (think warrior rather than our sense of the word ‘judge’) who defeats the enemy and rules over Israel for a period of time before the cycle repeats.

    By the time of the final judge, Samson, the judge himself is like Israel: falling into sin as Israel does, following after foreign women, just as Israel follows after foreign gods. Samson does what is right in his own eyes, just as Israel does, and wins his greatest battle as he stands enslaved, blinded and mocked in a Philistine palace crying out in desperation to Yahweh.  Two gruesome stories then follow, which illustrate what a nation where everyone does ‘what is right in their own eyes’ looks like.

    The remedy to this situation is hinted at in the end of the book with the refrain ‘in those days there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in their own eyes’ (21:25).  This leads us to look forward to a king who would come and show the people the right way to live; who will not judge by his own eyes, but who will fight our battles with justice and righteousness.  We who come after Jesus know that the true King has come, and that his rule looks very different to that of failed earthly kings.

    We also know that we still live with lots of the sins portrayed in Judges.  We still fail; churches and their leaders still fail.  For us, Judges holds up a mirror to show us where we need to change, it highlights where we are still choosing what is right in our eyes and where we need to follow more closely the example of our perfect King – Jesus.

     

    Summary >
    taster Questions - Questions to start you off

    Question 1 -

    Can you think of specific examples inside and outside the Church where you’ve seen people exploiting others for their own gain?


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    Question 2 -

    Have you ever been in a situation where a team was working really well together, but then over a period of time the dynamics changed and the team forgot its purpose and did its own thing? Can you pinpoint which dynamic began the change?


    Question 3 -

    In a situation where God seems to be powerfully at work in dynamic ways, can things still go wrong? Have you seen this happen?


    starter course

    podcasts

    the essentials

    Questions

    10 mins

    • podcasts - 3 to 5 minute ‘Teach-Ins’ on key themes
    • Podcasts

    Deborah and Barak

    Gideon

    Samson

      the essentials - The literary features explained
    • Context
    • /
    • Literary Genre
    • /
    • Structure
    • /
    • Themes

    Author/Date: Both are unknown.  It is likely that the different stories in the book of Judges were originally told and retold, and possible that they came from different parts of Israel, before being collected together and written down.  It is possible that they were written sometime early on in the monarchy, because of the refrain at the end of Judges: ‘there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ (21:25).  However, it is possible that even this refrain carries a note of irony, especially when read in the light of the later monarchy.

    History written in the form of story. The biblical writers tell us about things that happened, but they do this in an engaging way that both draws us into the story and emphasises leading themes.

    The book of Judges has three main parts, an introduction, a larger section looking at the different ‘judges’, and an end section focusing on two stories which demonstrate the need for a better ruler in Israel.

    Judges 1:1-3:6 Introduction, Israelite sin, Yahweh’s rescue

    Judges 3:7-16:31 The Judges: flawed rescuers

    3:7-11   Otheniel: a model judge

    3:12-31   Ehud: a left hand rescuer (and Shamgar)

    4:1-5:31   Deborah and Barak: victory for women

    6:1-8:35   Gideon: ‘mighty warrior’

    9:1-57   Interlude: Abimelech – betrayal

    10:1-5   Two more judges

    10:4-18   Interlude: more sin

    11:1-12:7   Jephthah: a foolish vow and tragic division

    12:8-15   Three more judges

    13:1-16:31   Samson: filled by the Spirit but led by appetite

     

    Judges 17:1-21:25   Israel’s sin uncovered: ‘everyone did what was right in his own eyes’.

    Sin: The sin of Israel from their failure to obey the command to drive out the Canaanites, seen in a new generation that did not know God or his deeds (because the older generation had not trusted God enough to obey him), and so did what was evil the eyes of Yahweh and served other gods. A further stage in their sin is described in the words ‘everyone did what was right in their own eyes’ (17:6). In this final stage, Yahweh is out of the picture totally.

    Yahweh’s faithfulness: God does not give up on Israel. He continues to send deliverers.

    Yahweh’s patience and providence behind the scenes: God works to bring good out of evil – he does not cause the evil or approve of the evil, yet he brings good through it, even bringing good through people who do evil.

     

    Literary Genre >
    starter Questions - To help you think carefully about the key issues

    Question 1 -

    In Judges, we read stories that include tales of abuse and tales of violence - especially against women. As we reflect on the Church today, it sometimes seems like not very much has changed. We have horrific tales of church leaders abusing children, and abusing their power over women. Where is the hope in Judges? What hope does that provide us today?


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    Question 2 -

    In Gideon we see a leader who is nervous and lacking all assurance about his call and purpose - what encouragement can we draw from the way God treats Gideon?


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    Question 3 -

    What are some issues facing the Church or society today where discussion about what is right or wrong is often conducted in terms of what the individual thinks or feels, without any reference to God?


    Question 4 -

    Some Christians today would say that women should not be in positions of leadership to God’s people. How does the story of Deborah challenge that position?


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    main course

    Verse by Verse

    The Apprentice

    Questions

    • Verse by Verse - For a thorough understanding of the Biblical text
    • Judges 1:1 - 3:6
    • /
    • Judges 3:7 - 10:2 The first 5 Judges
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    • Judges 10:1 - 16:31 7 more Judges
    • /
    • Judges 17:1 - 21:25 Two tragic stories

    Part 1   Judges 1:1 – 3:6   Introduction, Israelite sin, Yahweh’s rescue

     

    1:1 – 36   Judah succeeds in taking land, but most of the tribes fail to do so

    The Book of Judges begins by telling of what happened immediately after Joshua’s death.  It starts off on a promising note: ‘The Israelites asked Yahweh…’ (1:1).  This contrasts with both Joshua 9 where the Israelites failed to ask Yahweh before making a major decision, and with the end of the Judges which talks about how ‘everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ (21:25).

     

    Yahweh replies by giving his instructions as to how the conquest is to be continued.  It will be carried out first by Judah.   The reader should remember Jacob’s blessing where he speaks about the role Judah will have in leading Israel (Genesis 49:10) and remember to read attentively to see what this leadership will look like in practice. After the first judge, Otheniel, none of the judges are from Judah, and it is only at the end of the book of Judges, where the tribes of Israel fight against the tribe of Benjamin, that Judah once again takes the lead.

     

    The story continues by reporting the military success of Judah.  Judah and Simeon ally themselves together and they defeat Adoni-Bezek, who acknowledges the justice of what is happening.  It is important for us to take this passage into account when we find it difficult to think of how God could have commanded slaughter: here we have a Canaanite king acknowledging that he has been treated justly for the misery he has inflicted on others. Then the men of Judah take Jerusalem and burn it.  Next we hear how Judah took more territory from the Canaanites, and have a story also told in Joshua of how Otheniel, one of Caleb’s family, took some of the land.

     

    In verses 19-21, we come to the first hints that the future may not happen as smoothly as the past.  Yahweh was with Judah, we are told – and yet Judah failed to drive out the Canaanites on the plains because of their ‘iron chariots’.  Back in Joshua 17:18, the northern tribes were assured that they would be able to drive out the iron chariots.  We are not told why they failed, we are just left to wonder what the problem was and read further on in the story to find out.  Caleb receives Hebron, and defeats the sons of Anak, but the Benjaminites do not drive out the Jebusites, and end up living side by side with them.

     

    1:21 At first glance, it seems a bit strange that Jerusalem is destroyed by Judah, and then not taken by Benjamin. Perhaps the two stories are separated by a period of time, during which time the Jebusites re-occupy the site of Jerusalem in a manner too difficult for Benjamin to dislodge.  Jerusalem was on the border of Judah and Benjamin, which is why both tribes do battle with it at different points.

     

    Next it is the tribes of Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh (there is no tribe of Joseph, but there is a tribe for each of his sons).  They capture the city of Luz, but they fail to drive out the Canaanites from the rest of the area.  When they grow stronger, they make the Canaanites work for them, but they do not drive them out. This failure to drive out the Canaanites becomes a litany through the chapter.  Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali and Dan all fail to drive out the Canaanites.

     

    2:1 – 10   The problem: lack of trust, lack of obedience

    This failure is seen as culpable.  The people would rather make treaties with the Canaanites and leave their religion alone than do as they have been commanded.  This culpability merits a visit from the angel of Yahweh – a figure who appeared to Moses at the burning bush, and who later on in ‘Judges’ will also appear to Gideon, and to Manoah and his wife to announce Samson’s birth.

    Verses 6-9 are probably an explanatory note. It isn’t saying that this is the point at which Joshua died, but rather that these events happened in the time after he died.  They stress that while Joshua was alive, the people served Yahweh, and that while the generation who entered the land lived, they continued to serve Yahweh.

    Verse 10 tells us that the next generation ‘did not know Yahweh or the work which he had done for Israel’. This is very significant for what follows.  Knowing Yahweh was a key theme of Exodus – indeed the whole point of the Exodus story can be summed up as Israel coming to know Yahweh.

    The people in the time of the Judges did not know Yahweh, and they did not even know the deeds he had done for Israel. Since it is through his mighty deeds for his people that Yahweh brings them to know him, it is no surprise that they then do not know Yahweh.

    There are three possible ways this situation could have come about.  Firstly, the older generation may have taught them, but the younger generation may have not listened. Stories of a God who gave food in the desert may have seemed irrelevant to life in a land farming and fighting off Canaanites.  If that is the case, there is a lesson for us as those who hear God’s word: we need to know the deeds of Yahweh through reading the Bible as records of a God who speaks and acts to save his people and give them new life.

    The second way that this situation could arise is if the older generation failed to teach the younger about the mighty deeds of Yahweh. Then the lesson is for us who know God and his activity to tell others, and especially the next generation (Psalm 78).

    There may be elements of truth in both these possibilities, but I think there is an additional possibility which adds to these explanations. The problem may be that the younger generation had never seen the older generation live out faith in a God who parts the seas and defeats mighty kings.  We’ve seen how ‘iron chariots’ stopped the Israelites driving out the Canaanites: perhaps the younger generation heard the stories, but they didn’t see their parents living any differently to the Canaanites as a result.

    In this case, the challenge to us is not to only to teach the next generation correctly, but to demonstrate that we believe in a God who is active and powerful today.

     

    2:11 – 23   The cycle of sin

     The consequences of the resulting lack of knowledge is told by our story-teller as he gives us a summary of the plot of each of the subsequent episodes.  This isn’t a spoiler, more a way of telling us to pay careful attention to the different ways this same cycle of sin plays out in each episode of the story.  The cycle is spelt in out in 2:11-17 and goes something like this:

    2:11-13 Sin Israel serves the Canaanite Ba’als and the Ash’taroth.
    2:14-15 Consequences of sin Yahweh’s anger causes the Israelites to be handed over to their enemies, resulting in great distress.
    2:16-17 Deliverance Yahweh raises up ‘judges’, or ‘saviour-rulers’, to save them – but they don’t listen to the judges, instead they carry on disobeying Yahweh’s commands and the cycle continues.

     Next, the story teller pauses to tell us the reasons for this pattern.  V18 describes how Yahweh raised up judges because he relented from his anger, as a result of their groaning from affliction and oppression.  This is a key verse.  It contains two important words that have links back to God’s rescue of Israel at the exodus:

    The first is the word translated ‘groaning’.   This is the same word used in Exodus in relation to the Israelites groaning under the oppression of the Egyptians (2:24 and chapter 6). Notice that it isn’t even a matter of hearing them pray: some of them may well have cried out to God, but that isn’t specified here.  Yahweh relents because of their misery.

    The second is the word ‘relent’.  Some translations have ‘moved to pity’ or something similar.  The word is used in Exodus 32 when Yahweh decides to relent from his decision to wipe out Israel in response to Moses’ intercession.  Here the relenting is simply in response to his people’s misery.

    Despite this, God’s people continue to serve other gods.  God’s punishment is to leave the nations alone, to leave the Canaanites in the land and to leave his people to face the consequences of having them in the land.  In previous times, God has left the Canaanites in the land both to help Israel, because it means that the land will not be left deserted, and to test whether Israel will be faithful.  Now, leaving the Canaanites becomes a way of judging Israel for their sin.

    For us, one of the key points to learn about God here is that he is a God who gets angry and is provoked by sin.  We don’t usually like to think of God as a God who gets angry, but there is good news here too.  God’s anger is not like our anger; it doesn’t arise because his comfort or wellbeing are challenged. God’s anger is his settled hatred of all that spoils his people’s relationship with him: injustice, oppression and idol worship. God is angry because he is passionately opposed to all that spoils the wellbeing of people made in his image.

    Then we should note how God’s punishment works out.  It isn’t (usually) a matter of fire and brimstone.  Usually God’s punishment works out in leaving us to face the consequences of sinful choices and the effect they have on our society. For a New Testament perspective on this, read Romans 1:18-32 which describes a similar process of God’s anger against sin.

    Finally, we should notice God’s amazing compassion.  When he sees his people’s misery, he relents.  He is moved by our state, he is moved by our suffering, even when that suffering is our own fault and the result of sinful choices.  He is moved to action.  He raises up deliverers.  The cycle of judges will continue all through Israel’s history until God himself comes down as Israel’s deliverer.  He will deliver, not by pulling down a temple and destroying more people in his death than his life, but by being nailed to a cross and saving more people by his death than in his life.

     

    3:1-6 These verses conclude the opening summary by describing the nations left in the land to test Israel.  V1-2 explain that they were left in the land in order to test Israel, v3-4 describe who was left in the land, and v5-6 describe how Israel failed the test and in direct disobedience of Deuteronomy 7 they intermarried with the Canaanite tribes and served their gods.

    Part 2   Judges 3:7 – 16:31   The Judges: flawed rescuers

    3:7 – 5:31   The first judges, the sin cycle, Deborah’s victory

     

    3:7 – 11   Otheniel: a model judge

    This section shows us the first of the judges, and in so doing demonstrates the pattern we saw in chapter 2 in action:

    • Sin – Israel did what was evil in the eyes of Yahweh – they forgot Yahweh and they served other gods (v7).
    • Consequences of sin – Yahweh was angry with Israel and gave them into the power of Cushan-Rishathaim.  Israel cry out to Yahweh.  In this example their crying out is directly to Yahweh: they have remembered enough to know that he is the one they can turn back to (v8-9).
    • Deliverance – Yahweh provides a deliverer, in this case Otheniel, a nephew of Caleb.  The Spirit of Yahweh came upon him, and he judged Israel and defeated Cushan-Rishathaim (v9-10).

     

    Then the land had rest for 40 years.  Rest, remember, is the goal of the conquest.  Israel are to enjoy rest in the land.  40 years is likely a round number symbolising a generation’s worth of peace.

     

    3:12 – 31   Ehud: a left hand rescuer (and Shamgar)

    The cycle continues.  Otheniel dies, Israel sins and Yahweh gives Israel into the power of Eglon, king of Moab.  They suffer for 18 years.  Finally, they cry out to Yahweh for a deliverer, and Yahweh sends Ehud – a left handed man, from the tribe of Benjamin.  This is a strange episode.  The Israelites send their tribute to Moab by means of Ehud. 3:22 gives a graphic, too graphic we might think, description of Ehud assassinating Eglon using said tribute.  Eglon’s size is used as a graphic demonstration of how Moab has been oppressing Israel – Eglon is fat, while Israel are oppressed. Ehud escapes and sounds the trumpet to muster Israel for battle.  They defeat the men of Moab and Israel has rest for 80 years.

    We read this story and squirm with embarrassment and wonder at all the gory detail.  Israel likely read the story and laughed.  They laughed at the unlikely ways that Yahweh chooses to deliver.  He uses unlikely people, from the smallest tribe, to defeat a mighty king in the most bizarre of ways.  Yahweh’s work of saving people begins in human history and works with the mess of his people and the historical realities they find themselves in.

     3:31 In one obscure verse, we learn about Shamgar who killed 600 Philistines with an ox goad, that he too delivered Israel.   It seems that he did it during the time of Ehud, because 4:1 refers to Ehud’s death as marking the end of the time of peace.

     

     4:1 – 5:31   Deborah and Barak: victory for women

    Once more the judge dies, the cycle repeats and Yahweh gives the people over to their enemies – in this case Jabin, king of Canaan and his army commander Sisera.  The people of Israel cry out to God for help, because Jabin and Sisera have 900 iron chariots.  It may not sound a lot to us, but to the Israelites at the beginning of the iron age this was like being faced today with the latest in military hardware.  Whenever you read ‘iron chariots’ in the Bible you need to mentally think stealth bombers, nuclear submarines and guided missiles.

    From the big picture overview, it is now as if the writer is a film maker zooming in on one particular scene.  Deborah the prophetess is judging Israel.  In a book where women are often cruelly treated, ignored or forgotten, here we have a story about a woman who as a prophetess speaks for God, and as judge rules over God’s people. Some argue that Deborah’s leadership is a sign of Israel’s weakness, that it had to be ruled by a woman.  However, there is no hint in the text that Deborah is doing anything wrong, rather she seems to doing what God wants, and there is every indication in the text is that she is doing it well.

    Deborah gives a man named Barak Yahweh’s command that he is to lead the Israelite army against the enemy and that Yahweh will hand Sisera into Barak’s hand.  Barak will only go if Deborah goes with him.  In verse 9 Deborah assures him that she will go with him, but also that this victory is not about Barak being a great commander.  This isn’t a battle where Barak will get the glory – indeed Yahweh will give Sisera into the hand of a woman, into the hand of one generally despised by military men of the day.  This theme that Yahweh is not intending for Israel and her leaders to get the glory continues through Judges – as we will see in the story of Gideon.  Barak goes, leading an army of 10,000, and Deborah goes with him.

     

    Next, we are told about the battle. Verse 11 seems like an incidental, slightly random side track, but in fact we’ll see in v17 that it gives us critical information about the Kenites.  Sisera sees the army coming, and musters his chariots of iron, and all the men with him. The battle is Yahweh’s, and he wins – Sisera’s army is wiped out. Sisera flees and is lured into a tent to sleep by Jael the wife of Haber.  We don’t know much about her motives, but her gory deed is told in detail – much like that of Ehud’s in the previous chapter.  The oppressor of Israel is dead, and Israel defeat the Canaanites.  Deborah and Barak sing of the victory: like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, the first act of God’s people when they experience God’s deliverance is to sing.

    The first thing they celebrate is that the leaders led in Israel, and the people offered themselves willingly.  It sounds like that should happen all the time, and so it should.  But it often didn’t, and often doesn’t. For Deborah and Barak, for once, things worked the way they should.  The leaders led, the people offered themselves willingly – and so they praise Yahweh.

     

    The details of verses 3-11 can seem obscure to us, but we should remember that Yahweh’s appearance in the Old Testament is often accompanied by storm-like features, and sometimes fire and earthquakes also (think of Exodus 19 at Sinai).  Here, that kind of imagery is used of Yahweh on the march to join his people in battle.  The verses remind the Israelites that Israel’s God is a God who marches.  We are the people who belong to a God who marches to fight his battles for his people.  Even the highest of mountains quake before this God.  He is supreme over nature – a fact vital for Israel, surrounded by people who worshipped gods of nature, to remember. Then the commanders of Israel offer themselves willingly for battle, and there is a call for the people to tell the sound of God’s triumph to others.  The musicians are to repeat the ‘righteous triumphs of Yahweh’, a song which lasts to the end of the chapter and tells of the various dynamics of the battle.

    The song of chapter 5 specifically picks up on the boldness of some tribes to march to battle, and the slowness of others to join. As such, the song stands as a celebration of the faithfulness of God’s people and a rebuke to those who will not join in God’s work.  It then moves on to describe the armies mustered against Israel.  The noise of battle is conveyed vividly (v22) and Meroz is cursed for not helping Israel.

    Then comes the climax of the song, a celebration of Jael’s defeat of Sisera.  Her deed is celebrated in a graphic way – the driving of the tent peg into his head!  The mother of Sisera waiting – thinking that the men are merely pausing to plunder more goods and rape more women (v30 – ‘a womb or two for every man’).  The irony is vivid – and disquieting to our modern sensibilities.  We should remember that here it is Israel’s enemies that are portrayed as objectifying and abusing women in this way – it is a description of evil, not any statement of the way things should be.  The key is v31 – ‘so may all your enemies perish O LORD’.  When God defeats his enemies, God’s people rejoice. God’s ultimate enemy is the thief who comes to kill, to steal and destroy.  God’s enemy is the city of Babylon in Revelation who grows fat from the work of the poor, profiting from exploiting people as things.  When Babylon falls God’s people rejoice (Revelation 18).

    Sisera’s death by a tent peg through the head is a foreshadowing of the day when God will complete the victory won by his son nailed to a cross.  On that day, God’s people will rejoice because all that spoils and ruins life in this world will be gone. We need to see that there is a battle that we cannot sit out, and where we need to sit under the authority of God’s word to discern what is right in his eyes and do what he says.

    The song concludes with the blessing on Yahweh’s friends ‘your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might’ (v31). The chapter then concludes with the statement that the land had rest from war for 40 years.

     

    6:1 – 8:35   Gideon: ‘mighty warrior’

    6:1 – 10   Yahweh sends a prophet

     Once more, the state of rest doesn’t last. Midian overpowers Israel, who hide in all sorts of different holes in the ground (v2). Midian comes in huge numbers and Israel is brought very low.  Israel cries out to Yahweh, and Yahweh sends a prophet. It doesn’t sound very useful – and yet the most vital need we always have is to hear the voice of God.  His message is straightforward:  God saved Israel out of Egypt, rescued his people and brought them into the land. God told them not to follow the ways of the Amorites.  The sting is in the final sentence: ‘you have not obeyed my voice’ (v10). There is no record of Israel’s response.  The prophetic word explains Israel’s situation.  It is the result of her sin.  It sounds harsh, but at least there is a way out.  There is a way to put things right.

    6:11 – 24   Gideon is commissioned

    The storyteller does not linger on Israel’s disobedience, but focuses on what God is going to do to put matters right. The angel of Yahweh shows himself to Gideon son of Joash and speaks a word that has the potential to reassure and challenge.

    Yahweh is ‘with’ Gideon, and Gideon is described as a ‘mighty man of valour’ (v12), despite the fact he is threshing wheat in secret for fear of the oppressors. Gideon will have something to say about his own suitability later.

    However, Gideon’s first question relates to God’s role in all this.  If God is really with them, then why are the Midianites oppressing them?  If God is really with them, then why do we only hear about the glory days of long ago – why does he not do any miracles today?  From Gideon’s perspective, we can see why he concludes that Yahweh has forsaken them.

    We know however, from v10, that Yahweh has not forsaken them.  The story-teller has given us insight into the story that Gideon did not possess.  As the story develops, we will see that Gideon is in fact having an encounter with Yahweh that closely parallels that of Moses in Exodus 3.  The Gideon who concluded that God doesn’t work in the way he did with Moses anymore has an encounter with God that ends up being very similar to Moses.

    Yahweh now speaks to Gideon.  His words do not answer Gideon’s questions.  Instead, Yahweh commissions Gideon to go and rescue Israel.  Gideon responds in a way that is typical in the Old Testament.  Very often when people are given a great reward, or set a task to be accomplished, their initial response is not to accept, but instead to express their own unsuitability in terms of how lowly their family is.  Gideon is typical as he expresses his own weakness, and that of his family.

    All that modesty is irrelevant to God’s purposes.  As with Moses at the burning bush, the first thing that the one called to act and speak for God requires is the presence of God.  ‘I will be with you – and you will strike the Midianites as one man’ (6:16). The important thing is not our gifts and qualifications, but God’s presence with us.  With God all things are possible.  With God, Gideon can defeat the Midianites as if they were just one man.

    Gideon still delays, and asks for a sign. Gideon should not need the sign, and God does not have to provide the sign.  But God is gracious to Gideon’s weakness, as he is so often gracious in our weakness to provide the support and reassurance we need. Gideon is then afraid – he has seen the angel of Yahweh face to face and so he fears death.  Yahweh reassures him, and Gideon builds an altar and calls it ‘Yahweh is peace’.

    Gideon knows now that Yahweh does not come to him as an enemy and has not come to bring judgement.  Instead Yahweh comes to bring peace. Peace here, as always in the Bible, is not a mere absence of conflict, instead it is about wholeness, about fullness of relationship. As Gideon encountered Yahweh, he discovered this above all else.

    6:25 – 40   Gideon’s first tasks

    Gideon has his first task: to tear down the altar to Baal in the village and replace it with an altar to Yahweh.  He does as he is instructed, although at night because he is afraid of his family and the men of the town. Then we read of the aftermath of Gideon’s incident.  The men of the town are ready to put Gideon to death, but Gideon’s father stops them – arguing that if Baal is really a god then he can deal with Gideon without anyone’s intervention.

    Then the Midianites and Amalekites gather for battle.  They are ready to fight and defeat Israel once more.  But this time the Spirit of Yahweh clothes Gideon – it as if the Spirit is totally possessing Gideon and Gideon rouses Israel for battle.

    Yet there is then a faltering moment from Gideon as he asks for another sign.  He will put out a fleece and, if God is really asking him to lead Israel then he wants the fleece to be wet, but the whole ground around to be dry.  He then asks for the reverse the following night.  God provides the sign he requests.  Sometimes Gideon is used as an example to follow here; other commentators are very critical of Gideon’s lack of faith. Ultimately, God is gracious to his weakness.

    7:1 – 25   The battle against the Midianites

    The Midianite army is gathered ready for battle, and the 32,000 men Israel could muster may not have seemed that many to Gideon.  Yahweh, on the other hand, thinks Israel have too many in their army. So, in accordance with Deuteronomy 20:8, Gideon is told to send back any who are afraid and 22,000 go home.  But there are still too many, so Gideon takes them down to the water to drink.  The mechanics of the test are not completely clear, but what is clear is that 300 men remain to fight the host of Midian.  With 300 men, it would be absolutely clear that Yahweh has won the battle.

    Then the battle plan is drawn up.  Yahweh tells Gideon to get up and fight, but if he is afraid to go down first with his servant and hear what the Midianites are saying.  Gideon goes down and hears the Midianites talking about a dream that indicates God has given Gideon victory.  Gideon worships and then moves into battle mode.  He prepares his troops for battle.  There will be trumpets, torches of fire, jars smashing and loud shouts.  The plan is executed and the Midianites flee terrified and fight each other as the Israelites pursue.  Gideon defeats the Midianites and the Ephraimites kill the two princes of Midian.

     

    8:1 – 35   The aftermath of the battle

     Chapter 8 now feels like something of an anti-climax.  Having heard of a great victory, we now get a series of slightly odd stories that show how disunited Israel was.  First, Ephraim complain about not going with Gideon in the first place and are only mollified when Gideon points out how they were able to defeat the princes of Midian, a feat beyond Gideon.  Then the people of Succoth and Penuel refuse to help Gideon as he pursues the Midianite kings – and in response Gideon threatens terrible retribution.

    Next, Gideon completes the victory over Midian and captures the two kings: Zebah and Zalmunna.  Gideon then takes revenge on Succoth and Penuel, and then on Zebah and Zalmunna because they had killed his brothers. This chapter does show Gideon, or Israel, in the best of lights and does not resolve in the final section of the chapter.

    The Gideon story concludes on a note of decided ambiguity.  The Israelites ask Gideon to rule as king, but Gideon seemingly rejects their request, with the correct sounding words ‘I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you’ (v23).  This is promising, but is followed by Gideon making a golden ephod and putting it in his city.  All Israel ‘whore’ after it, so it seems that in some sense it is related to the worship of idols, or at least of worshipping Yahweh in a way that Yahweh has not commanded.  Then we are told that Midian was subdued before Israel and the land had rest for 40 years.

    Gideon returns to his own house with his many wives and 70 sons.  In addition, he has a concubine, and a son by his concubine who is called Abimelech.  Abimelech sounds like “my father is king” in Hebrew, which seems like an odd name for someone whose father has refused the kingship, so the name here makes us wonder if Gideon’s refusal was as wholehearted as it first seemed.

    When Gideon dies the people of Israel return to their sins, turning once again to worshipping the Baals, and also not showing steadfast love to the family of Gideon: they cannot even manage to show loyalty to human leadership. Whatever Gideon’s failures were, he did at least encourage Israel to remain loyal to Yahweh.

     

    9:1 – 12:15   Abimelech and Jephthah 

     

    9:1 – 57   Interlude: Abimelech: betrayal

    Chapters 9-10 form something of an interlude in the book of Judges.  They do not refer to a judge, but to Abimelech, the son of Gideon’s concubine.  He decides that he should rule over Israel, and with the help of his mother’s family he gets rid of 69 of the 70 half-brothers.  The surviving brother, the youngest of the 70, Jotham, escapes.  He tells a parable against Abimelech – but he is ignored and flees.

    Abimelech rules over Israel for 3 years, but God sends an evil spirit between Abimelech and Shechem – neither of whom have behaved well in the story so far.  Abimelech fights his enemy, Gaal, and has the better of the battles until he comes too close to the tower of Thebez and a woman drops a millstone on his head.  The point of the story appears to be in the final two verses of chapter 10, which highlight that through these events God repaid the evil done by both Abimelech and by Shechem.

    The storyteller of these chapters wants us to observe that God is at work even in the midst of the sin of Abimelech and the sin of Shechem.  Perhaps then, we can take comfort as we look at the violence of our own world and note that even in the midst of it we can know that God has not stopped working out his purposes and plans for his people.

     

     

    10:1 – 5   Two more judges

    Now we get an interlude telling us about two different judges.  We get told next to nothing – apart from the number of donkeys, sons and cities.  In total they ‘judged’ Israel for 50 years.  I would suggest that the key to their significance is found in 10:4.

     

    10:4 – 18   Interlude: more sin

    In 10:4 we read simply that Israel again does evil in the eyes of the Lord.  They have 50 years of rule by judges, and yet they turn to other gods. This evil provokes God once more and he is angry with his people because of their continued sinful rebellion and rejection of him.  This time there is 18 years of oppression by the Philistines and the Amorites.

    The Israelites cry out to God, but this time God is slower to respond positively. While God’s people are still refusing to live as God’s people, they have to face the consequences of their action.  Repentance has to be more than simply fine words; God needs to see that they have changed.

    The people of Israel this time not only confess their sin and pray for deliverance, they also get rid of the idols and go back to worshipping and serving Yahweh.  They prove by their actions that their repentance is genuine.

    The result for Israel is not immediate.  We, as the readers, learn that God ‘became impatient’ (v16) over the misery of Israel.  This is a fascinating phrase – it literally means ‘his soul became short’.  It is used of Samson’s weariness over Delilah’s nagging later on in Judges.  It is an astonishing way of speaking of the God who does not get weary or tired.  Yet seeing the misery of his people makes God impatient, makes God sad, moves God to action.  God always has the power to do whatever he wants, and yet he has set up the world in such a way that he is moved by his people’s plight.

    As the Israelites face their new enemy the Ammonites, they ask who will fight for them.  Up until now, God has always provided a rescuer.  What will happen next?

     

    11:1 – 12:7   Jephthah: a foolish vow and tragic division

    Once more, Yahweh provides an unlikely deliverer.  This time, however, he is a warrior, but he is also the son of a prostitute.  He was driven out of his home and gathered a group of outlaws – the same sort of people who gather round David when he is on the run from Saul.  The elders of Gilead know that Jephthah is an accomplished fighter, but Jephthah does not trust them, so he demands that they make him a leader if he is successful against the Ammonites.  They agree and together they make an agreement that if he succeeds he will become head and leader over them.

    Negotiations begin over disputed territory, but king of the Ammonites refuses to listen to Jephthah’s arguments.

     

    11:29 – 40   Jephthah’s sacrifice and a miscommunication

    There is a dispute among commentators as to whether Jephthah actually carries out the sacrifice or ‘merely’ consigns his daughter to a life away from men and marriage.  It seems to make most sense if he did actually carry out the sacrifice – there was no angelic voice rescuing his daughter, or at least none that we are told of.  How, we wonder, can Yahweh permit such a thing – how can he send his Spirit on this man who will sacrifice his daughter for the sake of victory?

    And yet we know from this book of Judges that Yahweh uses sinful people without approving of their sin.  We know too as we look at the Church today that people who have done great things for God have deeply flawed characters.  Mixed in with God’s redemptive work is the tragic, and sometimes deeply disturbing, behaviour of his servants. None of that excuses sin in us, and certainly not in leaders.  It does mean that we all need to take careful heed to ourselves.  We need to watch our life and our doctrine closely. We must press on beyond the experiences of God’s power to a deeper knowledge of God, a deeper sense of his holiness and his love for us, that will help to keep us from sin.

    Following on from the disastrous homecoming there is then a dispute between Gilead and Ephraim over why Ephraim did not join in battle.  Ephraim say they were not called, Jephthah says they did not come.  The Gileadites hold the fords of Jordan, and use Shibboleth as the password.  The difference in pronunciation is represented by one dot in the Hebrew language.  42,000 people die over a miscommunication symbolised by the misplaced dot which turns the ‘sh’ into an ‘s’.  God’s people are torn apart by miscommunication and mis-speaking.  Jephthah judges Israel for just 6 years.  His deliverance is deeply flawed and marked by violence.  It marks something of a turning point in Judges as the downward spiral quickens.

     

    12:8 – 15   Three more judges

    At this point we have another slightly odd interlude, telling us about three more judges and their large families and numbers of donkeys.  Perhaps these interludes are a way of reminding us that more is going on than we might imagine.

     

     13:1 – 16:31   Samson: filled by the Spirit but led by appetite

    13:1 – 24   A deliverer is promised: The LORD appears to Manoah’s wife (and Manoah)

     Once again, the people sin.  Once again, God gives them into the hand of their enemies – in this case, the Philistines.  This time God’s rescue begins not with an already grown man, but with a childless couple: Manoah and his wife, from the tribe of Dan.

    Dan is a strange choice of tribe, having failed to drive out the Canaanites, and Manoah and his wife are an unusual couple to start with – his wife is barren, and they have no children.  Yet many Bible stories begin in just this way – Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Rachel’s struggle to have children, Hannah, and in the New Testament, God’s breaking-in to history begins with another barren woman, and then with a virgin – just to underline the way in which God breaks in to do the impossible.

    The angel of the LORD appears to Manoah’s wife, and tells her she will conceive and give birth to a son.  The son is not to have his head shaved – he is a Nazarite, totally devoted to God, from the womb.  The woman goes to her husband and tells him what has happened.  She recognises the figure who has appeared as one like the angel of God – very awesome, someone who she didn’t ask where he was from, and he didn’t say his name – perhaps because it was obvious he was an angelic figure.  She tells Manoah what the angel had told her.  It seems that Manoah is a little unsure of his wife’s message, and so he asks for more information. God listens to Manoah’s voice, and the angel of God appears again.  Ironically however, the angel of God appears to Manoah’s wife for a second time.  This time she realises she will need to get Manoah to listen himself, so she fetches him.

    Manoah checks his wife’s story with the man, and asks the man how they are to bring up the child.  The man repeats what he has said to Manoah’s wife.  In v13 and 14 there is an interesting slight ambiguity in that the words of the angel could be ‘she must listen’, or, ‘you must listen’.  Is the angel telling Manoah his wife needs to make sure he is careful to obey, or is he telling Manoah he needs to listen to his wife?  Even if the intention is ‘she must listen’, just the possibility that it might be ‘you must listen’ reminds us that Manoah is told nothing new here.

    In Judges we see plenty of mistreatment of women, yet we also see that women are considered by Yahweh to be fully the equals of men.  Deborah the judge is arguably one of the most straightforwardly positive characters in the book of judges, and here Manoah’s wife is the one to whom God address his instructions (quite conceivably, given the portrayal of the characters here, because she is definitely the superior intellect – or at least more spiritually aware one – in the marriage).

    The angel, having said his name is ‘wonderful’, by which he means, too wonderful for human ears to hear or understand, then demonstrates this by ascending in a flame.  There is more than one echo here from Moses’ encounter with Yahweh at the burning bush.  Moses saw the angel ‘in’ a flame of fire, asked for a name, and, while he got an answer to his question, he got in such a way that showed God was above and beyond his understanding.  When Manoah sees the angel ascending he realises who he has been talking to, and concludes that they are doomed to die, having seen God.  At one level he is right – after all, Yahweh says to Moses at Sinai ‘no-one can see my face and live’, and yet he is also wrong, as his wife clearly points out in her impeccably practical reasoning in 13:23.

    Finally, we get a promising note on Samson’s early life.  He grows, and Yahweh blesses him.  The Spirit of Yahweh began to stir him.  What will happen next?  What great things will Samson achieve after the promising start of chapter 13?  We read on into chapter 14 to discover more with a sense of anticipation.

     

    14:1 – 15:8   Samson’s wife and his riddles

    This sense of anticipation is broken by the first recorded act of Samson.  He goes down to the Philistine country, and sees a Philistine lady.  He comes back to his parents and asks that they get him this lady as his wife.  They resist, suggesting one of his own people would be better than one of the uncircumcised Philistines.  Samson refuses – ordering his parents, and justifying his behaviour with the telling phrase ‘she is right in my eyes’ (v3).  This is something of a refrain through to the end of Judges where ‘everyone did what was right in their eyes’ (21:25). Samson is acting on his own initiative, driven by his own desires, yet Yahweh is also at work.  Yahweh is at work stirring up his people against the Philistines, and he is going to use Samson to do this – but none of that means that we are to approve of Samson’s actions.  There is a vital principle for us to remember here.  God makes sure his work gets done, and sometimes he will make use of people’s sin and folly to do that.

    So Samson goes down, with his mother and father, and somewhere in the vineyards Samson separates from his parents.  While he is apart from them a lion comes, and the Spirit of Yahweh ‘rushes’ on him – the word suggests some kind of force – and he can tear apart a lion ‘as one tears a young goat’ (v6).  But Samson doesn’t tell his parents what he had done, then he went down and talked with the woman, and ‘she was right in Samson’s eyes’ (v7).

    After a brief occurrence where Samson takes honey from the lion’s carcass, his father goes down to the woman, and Samson prepares a feast.  30 companions are given to Samson, and he sets them a riddle – with the winner providing 30 changes of clothes.  He sets the riddle.  Three days pass and they cannot solve it.  On the seventh day they ‘persuade’ Samson’s wife to find out the riddle from them.  She weeps, and Samson cannot resist – we’ll return to that theme in a couple of chapters’ time.

    Her weeping lasts 7 further days and eventually he gives in, because she pressed him hard.  Then she tells her people the riddle and they give Samson the answer.  He responds, somewhat poetically himself with a further obvious and not very subtle riddle.

    Once more, the Spirit of Yahweh rushes upon him and he strikes down thirty men in Ashkelon, and gives their clothes to the thirty companions.  He goes back to his father’s house, and his wife is given to another man.

    The biggest question most modern readers will probably have reading this story is to do with the Spirit of Yahweh’s role in all this.  If Yahweh is holy God, how can his Spirit be at work in this violence and vengeance of Samson?  We might be able to explain the need for Samson to defend himself against a lion, but surely these thirty Philistines in Ashkelon are innocent – at least of any crime against Samson?

    I think we have to read against the backdrop of what is going on, and what has been promised.  Samson is beginning to deliver Israel from the Philistines.  Unfortunately, Samson is an adolescent who cannot see further than his own eyes.  Yahweh does not override his personality, but works to stir up his people through Samson so that they will begin to resist the Philistines.  As we read on in the next chapters, we will see how brutal the Philistines were, and how the people of Judah were colluding with them. God empowers Samson with his Spirit – but Samson must decide what he will do with that power.  This may be a similar idea to 1 Corinthians 14:32 where Paul talks about the spirits of the prophets being subject to the prophets. We can never assume that giftedness implies godliness.

    A little while later, Samson decides to visit his wife – not thinking she will have been given to another – taking a young goat, presumably the equivalent of a bunch of flowers.  Her father stands in the way, and patiently explains that given the circumstances he had given her to another man.  Her younger sister is, apparently, better looking, so he offers her to Samson instead.  To get revenge while remaining ‘innocent’ Samson ties flaming torches to 300 foxes and sets them in the fields of the Philistines.  The Philistines in return burn the man and his daughter, Samson takes revenge and then goes off to the cleft of the rock of Etam.

     

    15:9 – 16:3   A strange kind of deliverer: Samson and the Philistines

    So the Philistines prepare for battle against Judah.  They have come to ‘do to Samson as he has done us’ (v10).  When the men of Judah hear this, they go to Samson and remind him that the Philistines rule over them now. Instead of the ‘groaning’ mentioned in chapter 2, Judah is utterly defeated, and resigned to its state of subjection.  Samson’s response to the men of Judah is also noteworthy – he has simply ‘done to them as they have done to me’ (v11).  Both Samson and the Philistines are acting out of a desire for vengeance.  Then they bind Samson and hand him over.

    The Spirit of Yahweh comes upon Samson once more, and the ropes fall from his arms and his bonds melt away, and with a donkey’s jawbone he kills 1000 men.  V16 is based around a pun because the word for donkey and ‘heap’ sound similar in Hebrew.  Finally, we hear of Samson calling on Yahweh, if only to relieve his thirst.  God provides water out of a hollow place for Samson, and the place is named after the event.  Samson then judges Israel for 20 years.

    Unfortunately, Samson has not matured in his appetites.  He is still going to the Philistines, and still seeing women – in this case, a prostitute.  The Philistines think they have their chance to capture him, but at midnight Samson simply pulls up the city gate posts and carries them up the hill to Hebron.  It is a moment of black comedy in the story, and perhaps functions here to explain Samson’s seemingly boundless self-confidence which leads him into so much trouble in the rest of the chapter.  Perhaps after this Samson simply believes he can make it out of any situation.

     

    16:4 – 22   The folly of the deliverer: Samson’s weakness

    Next Samson loves another Philistine woman, whose name is Delilah. The Philistine lords persuade Delilah to entice Samson into revealing the secret of his strength.  We’ve already seen how Samson is vulnerable in this area with the riddle back in chapter 14.  Delilah gets to work, and Samson plays with her, giving a false answer, so that when the Philistines attack he is able to break free.  Delilah asks him a second time, and again he plays with her.  This time the stakes are higher.  We wonder why Samson does not just leave.  It must be clear that Delilah is up to no good, and yet Samson is drawn in, held by his own appetites, and thinking that he can enjoy Delilah and prolong the game.  He gives a false answer, and is able once more to break free.  The cycle repeats itself for a third time. This time his answer seems closer to the truth.  The danger increases, but Samson is still able to break free.

    Delilah’s words intensify, she wants to know his full heart.  By now the three previous attempts must have shown Samson she does not have his best interests at heart.  And yet he gives way.  Samson’s relationship with Delilah and enjoyment of her matters more to him than does his calling and his God.  This time, all his strength has left him and he is captured.

    V20 is the most telling verse of all: ‘He did not know that Yahweh had left him’.  How tragic. It seems that all along he did not believe that the hair would make the difference. Yet the hair is the visible symbol for all to see that Samson is dedicated to Yahweh.  To play with that visible symbol shows that he has lost all sensitivity to God.  He has followed his own appetites to their ultimate end – his eyes gouged out, bound in Gaza at the mill.  But the end is not yet.  The section finishes with one tantalising glimpse that God is not finished with Samson: ‘but the hair on his head began to grow back’ (v22).

     

    16:23 – 27   Samson’s final vengeance on the Philistines

    The Philistines cannot resist the chance to gloat, and to praise their god, Dagon, for the victory over Samson.  At this we, as readers of the Old Testament, know that trouble is ahead for them.  The Philistines call for Samson to come up and make sport for them.  They want to laugh at him.  Three thousand Philistines are gathered, while Samson stands with his hands on the pillars of the house.  If Samson was playing with fire in his answers to Delilah, then here the Philistines are playing with fire in their treatment of Samson.

    Then, for the second time, Samson prays.  He asks that God would remember him, and help take vengeance on the Philistines.  He pushes on the pillars and the house collapses on the Philistines, and by his death he kills more people than he does with his life.  Then his brother and family bury him, and his twenty-year judging of Israel comes to an end.

    The story of Samson is worth pausing over.  In many ways, Samson is Israel.  Like Israel, he has a special calling, and particular ways of life to follow.  Like Israel, he wanders away from his calling and way of life. Like Israel, Samson pays the price for his wilful refusal to stay true to God’s calling.

    And yet, as with Israel, God is not finished with Samson.  Even Samson’s worst moments are woven into God’s plans and purposes. Samson’s death reminds us that a death can have more impact than a life, and reminds us to be thankful for Jesus, the saviour whose death saves many more people than his life.

    Samson’s life reminds us of the need for holiness and faithfulness.  But it also reminds us that when God’s people lack those things, God still does his work, without that ever excusing or being a reason for sin.

    We should never say ‘God is using those people so mightily – their pattern of life must be correct’.  Likewise, we should never say ‘God is using me so much – I must be walking closely with him’.  Walking with God is not an end to a means.  God will do his work through even the most unlikely of messengers – but if we walk in pride, we must be careful, lest we fall.  Paul kept himself under the closest of watches, lest he be disqualified from the prize.

    Samson is remembered in Hebrews 11 as one of the heroes of faith.  Somehow, despite all the sinful wandering, there remained in Samson a remembrance of what God can do that led him to call out to God.  For that, he is remembered in Hebrews 11, even though so much of his life is the opposite of what it should be.  As John Goldingay reminds us “if there is room for Samson, then there may be room for you, and for me”.

    Part 3   Judges 17:1 – 21:25   Israel’s sin uncovered: ‘everyone did what was right in his own eyes’

     

    Following on from the accounts of the times of the judges, there are two separate stories in which no one comes out well, joined by a refrain which comes four times – twice in a longer version and twice in a shorter form:

     

    17:6 ‘In those days Israel had no king, everyone did what was right in their own eyes.’

    18:1 ‘In those days Israel had no king.’

    19:1 ‘In those days Israel had no king.’

    21:25 ‘In those days Israel had no king, everyone did what was right in their own eyes.’

    This refrain gives us the story-teller’s perspective on these events.  He is telling us some gruesome stories in which characters deceive and are deceived – and he is telling us those stories in order to depict what happens when Israel has no king.  Everyone did what was ‘right in their own eyes’, the same as Samson. In essence, it is a repetition of the Garden of Eden where Eve saw how good the fruit was to look at, and how it smelt, and the improvements eating it would make.  Eve judged by what her eyes saw, rather than by what God said.

    The story-teller also tells us that Israel did this because they did not have a king, but it is important to consider the context of Israel’s kingship.  Israel’s kings did not always follow God. They often did what was right in their own eyes.   In 1 Samuel 8, Israel ask for a king like other nations, and a king like other nations was what they got: Saul, who did not help Israel become less like Judges 17-21.  If you read the book of Kings, you can see that very often Israel sank back to these depths. Yahweh was Israel’s true King – but the people chose to reject his rule and follow what was right in their eyes.  In the time of Judges, not only was there no human king, but they did not have Yahweh ruling over them as king.

    When we read these stories, we are looking not for examples to follow, but rather for the exposing of what will happen when we reject God as our King, and choose right and wrong for ourselves.  As we do this, we will find our own sin, and the sin of our world laid bare, exposed under God’s x-ray.

     

     

    17:1 – 18:31   Micah’s DIY religion: when God is ignored

     The first of the stories in this part of Judges begins with a man stealing from his mother, returning the money, and her dedicating that money to an idol.  Micah, a name which (ironically) means ‘Who is like Yahweh?’, sets up his own religion.  He has an ephod, a shrine, an idol and he makes his son a priest.  Micah’s homemade shrine disregards all of the rules of the Torah.  It is a religion made up for the convenience of the one worshipping.  We must remember that an idol can be anything in our lives that is more important than God, and it can be any way of thinking about God that lessens the demands he makes on our lives.

    Then, a Levite from Bethlehem (keep an eye out for Bethlehem in the coming verses) comes looking for a place to stay.  Micah thinks it will be much better to have a priest who is actually a Levite, so agrees with the Levite a salary and the Levite becomes a priest for him.  The last words of the chapter set up the next section of action, where we see how Micah’s pious sounding words are nothing more than that.

    Now, some men of Dan come looking for land, and they send out spies just as Moses had done, and just as Joshua had done. For some reason they recognise the Levite’s voice, and hearing his story, ask if their journey will be successful.  He assures them that it has Yahweh’s approval.  These 5 men come to Laish and see that it is a perfect city to capture.  The people suspect nothing, and the land is good. The city is unsuspecting, and the conquest is very different to the way that when God commands Israel in battle, they are usually up against impossible odds.  It is a reminder to us that whatever our problems may be with the violence of Judges, God is not a bully.  The people of Dan are not following Yahweh here, they are simply doing ‘what looks good in their own eyes’.  The people of Dan set out and reach Micah’s house.

    Next they greet the young Levite and take the idol, the ephod and the household gods.  The priest questions them, and they appeal to his pride and he happily goes along with them.  The Danites are happy to steal a religion from a man and the Levite is happy to go along with it – after all, it is a promotion of sorts, from priest of a mere household to priest of an entire tribe.  Notice how, just as Samson negates his Nazarite vows in previous chapters, so the Levite makes a mockery here of all that Levites were supposed to do and be as caretakers of the tabernacle, Yahweh’s chosen place of worship, and as teachers of Israel in the ways of Yahweh.

    Micah comes out to question them but they are too strong for him.  His men are no match for the Danites, and in v26, after the not-so-subtle threat of v25, Micah goes back home.  Once more we see how brute force wins out.  Micah can do nothing against the power of his enemies.

    Finally, having stolen Micah’s DIY religion, the Danites take Laish, a people ‘at peace and secure’ (18:27).  They destroy the city, rebuild it and set up the idol.  The Levite, who we now learn is a descendent of Moses (‘son’ here may mean descendent), and his family are priests in Dan until the exile.  For the tribe of Dan, their strength gives them the right to take possession of Laish and of Micah’s priest.  They continue to use Micah’s idol. They are doing the thing they have been told to do – taking the land – but they are doing it in their way, fighting as they see fit, and constructing a religion as they see fit.  Their authority is not God; it is their own eyes.

    The next story begins by reminding us of how there was no king in Israel.

     

    19:1 – 20:12   From bad to worse: the Levite and his concubine

    Now we get another mention of a Levite, this time one who lives in a remote area of Ephraim.  He takes a concubine from Bethlehem, the hometown of the Levite in the previous story.  The concubine is unfaithful, although all we are actually told about this ‘unfaithfulness’ is that she returns to her parents’ home.  The Levite eventually goes to ‘persuade her to return’ – literally ‘to speak to her heart’ (v3).  This desire is reciprocated by the woman’s father who welcomes the man and prevails on him to stay.  On the fourth day of his stay he is ready to leave, but the father prevails on the man to stay and eat, and then to stay a further night.  On the morning of the fifth day, the father once more prevails on the man to refresh himself and stay until the afternoon.  But by now the Levite is worried he will never leave, and so he finally takes his leave.  This dialogue seems somewhat odd to us, certainly to those reading in a Western context.  The length of the conversation makes us wonder why the father is so keen for the Levite to stay.  Has the Levite perhaps not made sufficient progress in ‘speaking to the heart’ of his daughter?  Eventually, the Levite manages to make progress, and as evening comes he heads for Jerusalem with the saddled donkeys and his concubine.  The delay will prove to be deadly.

    The Levite and his companions reach Jebus (Jerusalem) and the servant wants to stay the night.  The Levite thinks he will receive a better welcome from Israelites, so they push on to Gibeah in Benjamin.  They do not receive a welcome from the locals, and eventually it is another stranger who takes them in, a man also from the hill country of Ephraim, finishing work for the day.

    The evening begins well – once more, he is enjoying a hospitable host.  But this time the evening takes a dark turn. The men of the city – ‘worthless fellows’, ‘scoundrels’ – surround the house and they beat on the door, and demand to ‘know’ the man’s visitor – a common biblical euphemism for ‘have sex with’.  The reader of Judges will be reminded of Genesis 19.  The shock of this passage is that the evil of Sodom and Gomorrah is found in the heart of Israel.

    Like Lot, the master of the house reacts against the proposed sin, and offers his virgin daughter and the man’s concubine instead.  His words are brutal: the gang outside can humiliate them and then do whatever is good in their eyes.  This phrase links directly to the idea of everyone doing what is ‘right in their eyes’.  This seems like the worst possible outworking of this attitude problem Israel is facing. The men refuse to listen to him, so the Levite acts more forcibly and throws his concubine out to them.  He sends her out to a mob to be abused.  They abuse her all night, and at the end of the night she falls down at the door of the house until morning.

    It is brutal.  No one comes off well.

    The Levite rises, and opens the doors to go on his way.  He sees his concubine lying at the door of the house, hands held out to grasp the threshold – perhaps desperately hoping for an open door.  He speaks to her – in English it is abrupt enough, in the original Hebrew it is just two words of command.  There is no answer, and when he gets home he cuts her up into twelve pieces (one for each tribe) and sends her throughout Israel. It is a bloodthirsty end to a brutal story.  All who see recognise the horror of the incident, and everyone who sees is called to consider it, take counsel and speak.

    The question that raises is: what will Israel’s response be?  Do they just look on the surface and see a Levite who has been wronged, and a woman who has been ill-treated? Or will they look beyond the surface to see the layers of sin involved in this story?   So, all the people gather, and they listen to the Levite.  Compare how the Levite tells the story to how we have been told it.  In chapter 19, the men surrounding the house are described as ‘scoundrels’, but here they are literally ‘the masters of Gibeah’ – if he just called them ‘scoundrels’ then Gibeah’s responsibility might be lessened.  Next, the Levite minimises his own role in the story – he says nothing about the way he pushed the concubine out into the night, but rather simply describes her rape and death.  Once more he appeals for their advice and counsel.

     

    20:12 – 21:24   Israel’s fall

    So the people of Israel go out to fight Gibeah, now defined as a city of scoundrels, and Benjamin muster to defend Gibeah.  The Israelite tribes minus Benjamin are determined to purge the evil from Israel.  This is, on one level, actually a right response.  The evil these men have done requires punishment. They do not want to stand for evil in Israel, and so they do what they know to get rid of such evil – they demand that the evildoers be handed over for punishment.

    The Benjamites however, are more loyal to their own city than they are to Israel.  They do not see, perhaps they do not believe, or perhaps they do not care about the evil done in Gibeah, but instead they seek to defend their city against the outsider. Benjamin are outnumbered, and yet they muster together to fight to defend their own.

    Finally, we have a mention of God.  The Israelites go up to Bethel and ask God what they should do.  Yahweh commands Judah to go up first. Twice, Israel come before Yahweh and ask him what to do.  Twice, they do as they are told, and twice they lose to Benjamin.  What is going on?  After losing twice, the whole army goes back to Bethel and weeps before Yahweh.  They fast, they make their offerings and they enquire before Yahweh at the place where the ark is, before the priest descended from Aaron, and once more ask what they should do.  Once more, they are told to go up and attack, because this time, Yahweh will give Benjamin into their hands.

    There are several things these verses impress upon us.  First is that seeking Yahweh is about more than things working out how we want them to.  Following the way God tells us to go is no guarantee of things working out smoothly.  Israel were doing as they were told, but they still lost.  God is not working to our agenda.  Secondly, and more fundamentally, in this passage it seems that God is allowing Israel to lose the battle to re-orientate their hearts.  Notice in v18 they simply ask God what they should do.  In v23 they weep before Yahweh, and in v26 they weep, fast and offer the required sacrifices.  It is the burnt offering, the offering which was wholly given over to Yahweh, burnt up in a sign of total consecration to him, and the peace offering which is eaten with Yahweh as a sign of fellowship with him.  Notice too that they do this at the place where the ark is, and the appointed priestly line.  Could it be that Yahweh is allowing them to lose in order to draw them back to where they should be?

    Israel go into battle.  The Benjamites carry on as before, but, tellingly in v34, ‘they did not know that disaster was close upon them’.  Like Samson and his strength, they do not know that this time disaster will come.

    With Benjamin defeated, Gibeah is destroyed and a great cloud of smoke rises up from the city. As we read the narrative it seems that the Israelites destroyed everyone, not just the fighters, and while Gibeah’s destruction may well have Yahweh’s seal of approval, the same cannot be said for the rest of Benjamin.

    Then we learn of an oath that the Israelites had made at Mizpah, that the Benjamites would not be given wives from the rest of Israel.  It also seems that the Israelite victory must have included some kind of slaughter of towns beyond just Gibeah, because only 600 men are left.  The people begin to deal with this issue seemingly in the right way: once more coming before God and crying out to him, asking the question of how they will deal with the issue.  A closer look at their questioning does rather suggest that they are seeking to put the blame on Yahweh, who gave them victory over Gibeah – but if they had stopped at Gibeah, they would not have this problem.  However, rather than wait for any kind of answer from Yahweh, they rush into their own plan. Rather than hearing what Yahweh said in response, we simply hear what they say.  They work out that the town of Jabesh-Gilead had not sent anyone to fight, so they go and strike all that town, men, women and children, except for young women who were virgins but not yet married.   They find 400 of these and bring them back to the camp of Shiloh.  In v12, Shiloh is described as being in ‘the land of Canaan’: the land cannot yet be said to be ‘the land of Israel’ because Israel is not fully possessing it, as it is so far away from Yahweh.

    Then they call the 600 men of Benjamin down from the rock, and give them these women.  But there are still some Benjamites who need wives, so they come with a devious solution so that they can still keep their oath.  They know there is a yearly festival to Yahweh at Shiloh, and that the daughters of Shiloh will go dancing in the vineyards.  The Benjamites who need wives can lie in wait and grab the daughters, who will not technically be ‘given’ by their families – the oath can be kept, and Benjamin will continue.

    It sounds brutal, and it is.  Notice how it starts in v8 with their plan, ‘and they said’, and notice how little reference there is to Yahweh and what he might think.

     

    21:25   Conclusion: the need for a better judge/king

    Verse 25 is the conclusion to this chapter, and the whole book: ‘In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes’.

    As we’ve seen earlier, this isn’t simply a plea for a king to reign in Israel, but rather for Yahweh to be King, and for Israel’s rulers to reign according to what is right in Yahweh’s eyes.  It is a longing for a king who will rule ‘not by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…’ (Isaiah 11:3-4).

    As we read the book of Judges, we have seen a mirror held up for our own sin. In the depths of our hearts we know that the potential for sin like Israel’s is real for us, and is real in our churches.  We also know that in Jesus we have a judge who has come, and who has not fallen into any of these sins.  We know that we have a judge who has come to deal with sin by taking the punishment for that sin on himself in order to open the way for all to turn to him, and who will one day return to bring about a world without any such sin, and where all sin that has not been cast on him will be punished fully and finally.

    As we read Judges, therefore, it should cause us to be realistic about what a world where everyone does ‘what is right in their own eyes’ will be like.  It should cause us to long for the coming of Jesus, and for greater obedience to Jesus in our lives and in our churches.  It should show us the reality and complexity of sin and its entanglement in our hearts so that we cry out for deliverance to Jesus.

     

     

    Judges 3:7 - 10:2 The first 5 Judges >
      The Apprentice - Helping apprentices of Jesus think through the applications
    • Overall Message
    • /
    • Leading Imperatives
    • /
    • Implied Imperatives
    • /
    • Application
    • /
    • Holy Habits

    God rescues his sinful people and makes use of them in his purposes because he is compassionate and gracious – yet he will judge sin, and his compassion and grace are not an excuse for sin.

    Turn from idols.

    Make sure that you know God, and that you know the works he has done for you, for your community, and for all Christians through Jesus’ death and resurrection (read and reflect on chapter 2 of Judges).

    Stick with God’s people: don’t fight other Christians.

    We need to have the courage to follow God’s promises even when that is hard.  As we do that, people will see it, and as churches we will know who God is and what he can do.  When we do that, we will seek to do what is right in God’s sight, not our own understanding, and we will put our trust in God’s King who has come to establish what is right in God’s eyes.

    Learn how to reflect on the cycles of sin in our lives;

    “A Kairos moment” è Observe è Reflect è Discuss è Plan è Account è Act è “A Kairos Moment” …

     

    Holy Habits: (Holy Habits are patterns of living and lifestyle practices which we choose to do in our lives.  These can be in order to either withdraw from the dominion of the world, such as silence, secrecy, submission, fasting, watching, simple living, or, practices that plunge us into the life of the Kingdom, such as prayer, worship, celebration, study, serving the poor and deprived, etc. They can be as simple as kneeling by your bed and thanking God at the end of the day, or as substantial as attending an annual Christian festival.)

    Actively build trust in God by doing what he commands.

    Listen to God’s word not the world’s voice.

    Leading Imperatives >
    main Questions - Important questions directly from the text

    Question 1 -

    Do you think Gideon laying a fleece is a model for how God guides today? Why/why not?


    watch video

    Question 2 -

    The Israelites failed to pass the faith of Joshua’s generation on to succeeding generations – can you think of any examples of current lessons that aren’t being passed on between generations today?


    Question 3 -

    Question for men: In the story of the Levite and his concubine, the concubine is treated as an object by all the men in the story. In what ways have you fallen into this trap in your life? Are there any organisations you are involved in (business, church, sports club) where this is a danger today? How can you make a difference?


    Question 4 -

    Can you think of any contemporary practices or attitudes which are ‘morally’ controversial, but which some people justify because they are ‘right in their eyes’ (17:6, 21:25)?


    dessert course

    A prayer

    Commentaries

    Suggested Sermon Series

    Questions

    • A prayer -

    A prayer based on Judges

    Father, God who is moved to compassion by the groaning of your children, and impatient over the misery of your people, hear us as we groan and cry out today.  We acknowledge our own sin.  Too often we have bowed the knee to idols – whether of money, security, popularity or some other desire.  We have done that as individuals, and we have done that as church communities.  We have treated your standards and your requirements lightly.  We have mistreated the weakest in our communities.  Too often it feels that we are like Samson: bound, blind and mocked because of our own folly and sin – we feel powerless to act for you.  Yet from that weakness, we cry to you in sorrow and ask that you would empower us to do your will.  That we would be willing to obey you so that we would be able to celebrate with Barak and Deborah that we have seen you at work.  May we see a Church arising whose leaders take the helm and whose people offer themselves willingly as we see God marching out before us to bring deliverance.

    Commentary:

     Father, God who is moved to compassion by the groaning of your children (2:18), and impatient over the misery of your people, hear us as we groan and cry out today.  We acknowledge our own sin (2:11-13).  Too often we have bowed the knee to idols (2:11, 8:27, 8:33, 17:4) – whether of money, security, popularity or some other desire.  We have done that as individuals, and we have done that as church communities.  We have treated your standards and your requirements lightly.  We have mistreated the weakest in our communities (19:25).  Too often it feels that we are like Samson: bound, blind and mocked because of our own folly and sin (16:21) – we feel powerless to act for you.  Yet from that weakness, we cry to you in sorrow and ask that you would empower us to do your will.  That we would be willing to obey you so that we would be able to celebrate with Barak and Deborah that we have seen you at work (chapter 5).  May we see a Church arising whose leaders take the helm and whose people offer themselves willingly as we see God marching out before us (5:4) to bring deliverance.

     

      Commentaries - Introducing the best commentaries

    Commentaries on Judges

    (Updated: October 2018)

     

    BfL Recommends:

    For an insightful guide to “Judges” written by a church pastor:

    ‘Judges: Such a great Salvation’ by Dale Ralph Davis, in the “Focus on

    the Bible’ series; 2015

     

    For a similarly helpful commentary:

    ‘The Message of Judges’ by Michael Wilcock, in the ‘Bible Speaks Today’

    series; 1992

     

    For a full academic study of the historical book of “Judges”:

    ‘The Book of Judges’ by Barry Webb, in ‘The New International

    Commentary on the Old Testament’ series; 2012, 575 pages.

     

     

     

     

      Suggested Sermon Series -

     

    Judges 1-2   The problem: lack of trust, lack of obedience

    Judges 3   Contrasting deliverers: Othniel and Ehud

    Judges 4-5   Yahweh fights for Israel: Deborah and Barak

    Judges 6-7   Yahweh saves through weakness: Gideon

    Judges 8-9   A case study of sin: Gideon’s decline, Abimelech’s rise and fall

    Judges 10-12   Repentance, folly and division: Jephthah’s foolish vow

    Judges 13   A deliverer is promised: the LORD appears to Manoah’s wife (and Manoah)

    Judges 14-15   A strange kind of deliverer: Samson and the Philistines

    Judges 16   The folly of the deliverer: Samson’s weakness

    Judges 17-18   DIY religion: when God is ignored

    Judges 19-21   From bad to worse: Israel’s fall and the need for a better judge/king.

     

     

    dessert Questions - Gloves off; hard questions for the Bible student and theologian

    Question 1 -

    God not intervene to save Jephthah’s daughter (chapter 11) or the Levite’s concubine (chapter 19) in the same way as he spoke to stop Abraham sacrificing Isaac. Women working with YWAM (Youth with a Mission) to reach out to trafficked sex workers in Hawaii have also found that God intervenes in miraculous ways in some cases, and not in others. Why does God’s intervention vary?


    Question 2 -

    Why did God keep on giving his Spirit to Samson, even in times when it looks like Samson was just executing personal revenge?


    Question 3 -

    How should we go about explaining and understanding difficult episodes about the Old Testament, such as Jephthah’s sacrifice of his own daughter? (NB the opinion stated in the link article is not necessary BfL’s opinion)


    watch video

    Waiter's Brief

    Answers to Questions

    Questions

    • Answers to Questions -

    Suggested Answers 

    Taster Course Questions:

    QQQ In a situation where God seems to be powerfully at work in dynamic ways, can things still go wrong?  Have you seen this happen?

    Comment: We are not perfect, and we shall not be perfect until Christ returns, so there is always the possibility of situations becoming corrupted – even situations where God has been working powerfully.

     

     Starter Course Questions:

    QQQ  In Judges, we read stories that include tales of abuse and tales of violence – especially against women. As we reflect on the Church today, it sometimes seems like not very much has changed.  We have horrific tales of church leaders abusing children, and abusing their power over women.  Where is the hope in Judges?  What hope does that provide us today?

    Comment:It is clear as we read the big story of the whole Bible that God does not approve of such power.  Our ultimate example is Jesus, whose followers included a number of women, who Jesus always treated with respect and dignity.  As we read Judges, it helps to show us the potential for sin in our hearts and our need for a deliverer from sin – and so it drives us back to Jesus for his example, and his empowering to live lives that don’t look like these negative examples.
    In addition to all who are abused, Judges shows us that even in the darkest places, there is a God who hears his peoples groans and cries and is impatient over their suffering.  God is acting, and will act, even when it doesn’t look like it.  One day all will be put right.  We don’t understand God’s ways, but we know he is a God of compassion and kindness – and we hold on to that.

     

    QQQ   In Gideon we see a leader who is nervous and lacking all assurance about his call and purpose – what encouragement can we draw from the way God treats Gideon?
    Comment:   God is ready to use weak people, and give assurance – it is a great encouragement to us.

     

    QQQ   What are some issues facing the Church or society today where discussion about what is right or wrong is often conducted in terms of what the individual thinks or feels, without any reference to God?
    Comment:   There will be many examples you could think of – from how we use our money, to what kind of education we should value, to how we think of sexuality and sexual behaviour.

     

    QQQ   Some Christians today would say that women should not be in positions of leadership to God’s people.  How does the story of Deborah challenge that position?

    Comment:   We need to be careful how we use this story in those discussions, as it wasn’t written to tell us who should run our churches.  But, from this story we know that a woman led in Israel, and led well.  There is no hint of her leadership being criticised in the text, and her ability is certainly not questioned.  Therefore, if we want to argue that women should not be in leadership today, we need a good reason why Deborah (and others) are exceptions rather than examples.

     

    Main Course Questions:

    QQQ   Do you think Gideon laying a fleece is a model for how God guides today? Why/why not?

    Comment:   It doesn’t seem to be a model for guidance – Gideon knows what God wants, but he wants assurance that God is really with him.  Sometimes today people talk about ‘laying a fleece’, but if we do that, we should note that Gideon’s example was for a clear miracle of nature.  Just because someone does something in the Bible, it does not mean it is an example for us to follow – but we should note what it tells us about God.  Here, the lesson is that God is really generous and kind to Gideon in his weakness.  God gives us many ways to know that he is with us: his word, his Spirit in us, other believers, etc…

     

    QQQ The Israelites failed to pass the faith of Joshua’s generation on to succeeding generations – can you think of any examples of current lessons that aren’t being passed on between generations today?

    Comment:   Whatever the lesson, we need a living faith if we are to pass on our faith to the next generation.

     

    QQQ   Question for men: In the story of the Levite and his concubine, the concubine is treated as an object by all the men in the story. In what ways have you fallen into this trap in your life? Are there any organisations you are involved in (business, church, sports club) where this is a danger today? How can you make a difference

    Comment:   Obviously the answer to this will vary depending on your own experience.  The dangers range from the very obvious judging of people by their looks/image, to the subtler ones of viewing customers as simply objects that consume your product.  In some environments, sadly even some church environments, it is possible to fall into a sexism that assumes women must be in certain roles, or have certain attitudes, and so cut them out.  As Christians, we should always remember that all other people are made in God’s image and treat them accordingly. 

     

    QQQ   Can you think of any contemporary practices or attitudes which are ‘morally’ controversial, but which some people justify because they are ‘right in their eyes’ (17:6, 21:25)?

    Comment:  The answers to this will vary, but the danger signs for where things start to go wrong are when people are deciding on the basis of their own comfort and security or feelings without asking questions like: “What does God say about this? How will others be impacted by this decision? What principles from the Bible apply to this ethical dilemma?”

     

    Dessert Course Questions:

    QQQ   God not intervene to save Jephthah’s daughter (chapter 11) or the Levite’s concubine (chapter 19) in the same way as he spoke to stop Abraham sacrificing Isaac. Women working with YWAM (Youth with a Mission) to reach out to trafficked sex workers in Hawaii have also found that God intervenes in miraculous ways in some cases, and not in others.  Why does God’s intervention vary?

    Comment:   This raises the uncomfortable question of why in some situations it looks like God is acting in one way, and in another situation, he acts differently.  Often we do not have enough information for a full answer, and we need to learn to accept the limits of our knowledge – while allowing ourselves to feel fully and express fully to God the frustrations of those limits.  In this case, it is worth saying that Abraham was told to prepare to sacrifice Isaac, and God intervened to stop him.  Jephthah was not told to make his vow, should have not made the vow in the first place, and should have been ready to recognise the foolish nature of his vow.  God was not responsible for the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter.  In Judges, we find God often stepping back and allowing the consequences of sin to be worked out.  This is hard for us to comprehend because it looks like God is abandoning people.  On the other hand, we can also ask what it would like if God always intervened to stop the foolish consequences of people’s actions.

     In terms of the Levite’s concubine, the men involved should know better, but once again God is allowing sinful people to carry out horrendous acts.  We live in a world where we simply don’t have all the answers to why God sometimes limits evil, and sometimes allows it to operate more fully.  We know God is good, and we know he is powerful.  We trust that God has reasons for his actions – even if they cannot be explained to us right now in a way that we can understand.  Responsibility for evil always rests with the people doing evil.  In this case, the mob in the town square, the host and the Levite are all culpable in the death of this concubine, and the story shows us just how far Israel had fallen.

     

    QQQ   Why did God keep on giving his Spirit to Samson, even in times when it looks like Samson was just executing personal revenge?

    Comment:   This is another difficult question to deal with. It seems like God was using Samson’s life to stir Israel up against the Philistines.  At the start of chapter 13 there is no groaning from Israel: Israel seems content to be occupied.  Samson’s life seems to be used to help awaken Israel to their state. God sent his Spirit on Samson at specific times as part of this mission.  Samson was not changed by this process.  He still had to co-operate in God’s plans, but very often he chose to use the power for less than good ends.  God still gives gifts and natural abilities to people who chose to use them for the wrong purposes.  Each will be ultimately held to account for their wrong doing – but until the day of judgement there will always be a mixture of righteousness and wickedness.  This doesn’t excuse sin, but does enable us to be realistic and not assume that just because someone has responsibility and gifts in the church that they can’t possibly have committed that sin.