The study questions are from Judges 9 (Sunday morning text), Psalm 8 (Sunday morning scripture reading), and 1 John 2:1-6 (our Wednesday devotional text).
Abimelek's story is connected to Gideon's. He continues the legacy left behind by Gideon and even extends it. Not only does he not improve the leadership vacuum left behind by Gideon's idolatry but he creates a leadership crisis. He leaves behind a broken nation, a ruined name, and a scenario ripe for chaos, into which Jephthah (chapters 10-12) and Samson (chapters 13-16) will follow. Abimelek, in one sense, is the pivotal "judge" in Judges. He has the opportunity to clean up Gideon's mess and start over or to make things worse. Selfishly, he chooses the latter.
Abimelek is Gideon's son, but by a concubine. Gideon had many sons by many different wives, but Abimelek was different because he was conceived with a concubine, a servant-wife of Gideon's. The situation Abimelek inherits is unusual, compared to the pattern of sin in the rest of the stories in Judges. The pattern that exists often ends with a judge's death which is followed by a period where Israel reverts back to sin and idolatry. They are then turned over to a foreign nation for judgment, cry out to God after a time of oppression, and are rescued by God when God sends a deliverer to rescue them. But Abimelek's story picks up almost immediately after Gideon's death.
Abimelek is not content to see how things develop. Rather, he surveys the scene, considers what his role could be going forward, and makes a power-play for the leadership of Israel: he sets himself up as a judge. He considers that, because of Gideon's popularity (despite the idolatrous turn at the end of his life), Israel may want leadership to continue from the house of Gideon. So he goes to Shechem, not coincidentally the place of his birth, and asks the rest of his blood-brothers to ask the people there if they would rather be "ruled" by him or by the rest of Gideon's sons (2). He reminds them that he, and not the other sons of Gideon, is their flesh and blood. This is a way of saying he knows them: he knows the land, the scene, the eccentricities of the Shechemites.
This sounded like a good idea to the Shechemites, especially when they realized they could follow and be led by one who "is related to us" (3). They immediately gave him tribute, a payment to guarantee his protection over them, which Abimelek used to hire "reckless scoundrels" to work for him as enforcers. One problem with this payment, besides the immorality of it, was the location of the money: it came from the temple of Baal-Berith, a false god. Through this connection, Abimelek is already working for himself...and for a false god. The God of Israel is really nowhere to be found in this narrative, as a godless people follow a godless leader, the son of the man who led them there.
Abimelek must have realized how he had manipulated his way into leadership. Still, at this point, he was just a regional leader. To solidify his leadership, and to erase any competition, he paid a visit to his half-brothers in Ophrah. When they came out to meet with him, he killed them all on one stone. (Oddly enough, Abimelek himself is later done in by "one stone," a millstone dropped the top of a tower that crushed his head.) However, one half-brother, the youngest, Jotham, escaped.
When the people realized what had happened they came to Abimelek to crown him king. This is reminiscent of the time of Samuel when the people also wanted a king. Samuel felt rejected, and was reminded by God that they were actually rejecting him, not Samuel. In this case, the people did not even consult God--they took the responsibility upon themselves of crowning Abimelek king.
But there is one person in this story who speaks for God, who stands up for what is right and for the people: Jotham, the escaped half-brother. When he heard what had happened, and how Abimelek had been made king, he ascends a hill and speaks to the people from there. He tells a story about the deceit of power. He tells about the trees who kept inviting different types of fruit and trees to be king over them. But each one realized that they had to take care of themselves first and weren't able to be king over the trees. Finally, a thornbush accepted. Jotham compares Abimelek, literally, with the thorn that gets caught in the flesh.
The point of his parable is judgment. He calls on the people to discern if their actions in killing Gideon's sons and in crowning Abimelek king have been honorable to Gideon's name. The result of his parable is that they will see the "fruit" of their decisions through the leadership of Abimelek--if they have honored Gideon (which we know they have not) then positive things will result. If they have not honored Gideon, then they will be consumed as a result of their bad choices.
After this, Jotham fled and lived in exile because he feared the reaction of Abimelek.
Abimelek's Reign of Terror
Abimelek reigned as king for three years without incident. But after three years, and despite Abimelek's attempts to leave him out of the story, God showed up. He stirred up trouble between Abimelek and the Shechemites (his own people) so that the murder of Gideon's sons would be avenged. This avenging would affect both Abimelek (who committed the murders) and the Shechemites (who were complicit in the murders). The Shechemites set up an ambush on the hilltops to rob people who passed by, thereby creating terror in the kingdom among those who needed to travel.
To make matters worse, a mysterious man named Gaal moved into the area and challenged Abimelek's authority. He reminded them that even though Abimelek himself was a local boy, his father was not. He pointed to an alternative ruler who was more "home-grown" than Abimelek and stated that if he had an army, he would call out Abimelek's army for a fight!
Abimelek heard about this challenge and because he couldn't back down from a fight, after a period of posturing between the two men (Abimelek and Gaal), there was a skirmish between Abimelek's troops and Gaal, who commanded the citizens of Shechem. Abimelek won round one, and round two began the next day when the defeated Shechemites tried to get back to life-as-usual. As the people went out into the fields, Abimelek attacked them, defeated them, and trashed the city, going so far as to salt it so nothing could be grown there.
Then things went from bad to worse. Despite having destroyed the city, Abimelek wasn't satisfied in his "revenge tour." He heard some people were holed up in the "tower of Shechem." So he grabbed branches, ordered his men to do likewise, and burned the tower down, killing about a thousand people who had sought sanctuary inside the temple.
But Abimelek wasn't done. His need for revenge was strong, and he went to another town and captured it as well. Inside the city, the people sought refuge in another tower. Abimelek knew how to defeat them, so they gathered more wood and began to set fire to this tower also. But this time, a woman used all her strength to lift a heavy millstone to the top of the tower, where she shoved it over the edge. Abimelek looked up just in time to see the millstone come down upon him and crack his skull.
He realized he was dying so he called to his armor-bearer. But he had a strange request: he wanted his armor-bearer to kill him, to spare him the indignity of being killed by a woman. The armor-bearer listened to his boss and ran him through with his sword, and he died.
Israel did not even grieve the loss of Abimelek. It was such a strange time and set of circumstances that when Abimelek was killed the Israelites simply "went home."
Actions and Consequences
Why did Israel go through all this? Why is this story in Judges? There is concluding coda to this story which sums up Judges: actions have consequences. Abimelek raised himself up in an ungodly way and didn't bother to recognize God at all during his reign. Accordingly, God recognized him, but not in the way Abimelek would have wanted. The narrator of Judges tells us, "Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelek had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also made the people of Shechem pay for all their wickedness" (56-57). Actions have consequences. Ignoring God comes back around. Ultimately, Abimelek's story reminds us to follow God, not our own desires, because only God's agenda provides us with the purity that will keep us from destructive, selfish leadership.
Abimelek's story also reminds us that we are all leaders because we all influence others. From Abimelek, to Jotham, to Gaal, all three men used words to influence others. Abimelek led them astray, Jotham was the only one rooted in truth, and Gaal led others to their destruction. What kind of leader are you? Are you a patient leader, waiting for God before you give "marching orders" to the people you influence? Or are you an impatient leader, impetuously leading others astray as you stumble along, hoping to find another angle to keep you in front of people?
In Luke 17:1-4, Jesus provides a teaching about not causing others to stumble in their faith. It seems like a generic teaching...until Jesus says that it would be better for you to have a millstone tied around your neck than to cause someone to stumble in their faith. It seems that Jesus may be recalling the story of Abimelek as he teaches this. The connection is the millstone because it reminds us the millstone that was used to crack the skull of Abimelek. Looking at the context of Jesus' teaching, we see the emphasis on not causing others to stumble in their faith.
What was Abimelek noted for? Causing others to stumble. He led them astray, did not focus on God at all, and killed many people who consequently lost the ability to focus on God.
Could this be Abimelek's curtain call, to be remembered by Jesus, not as Israel's first king (albeit a regional one), but as the poster boy for causing others to stumble? He is, finally, a reminder to us to check the substance of our lives, to ensure that we are living for God, protecting and forgiving others, not leading them astray through our words and actions.
The Cycle of Sin and Deliverance in Judges
Maybe more than the rest of the judges, the story of Gideon functions as a cycle. His story begins with a lengthier section devoted to the cycle of sin and deliverance within Judges and itself includes a cycle to describe Gideon's behavior and action. The narrative cycle in Judges is described at length in chapter two and includes these elements:
This cycle is not limited to chapter two and Gideon--it appears throughout the entire book of Judges. For example, Othniel's story begins with a description of the "evil" committed by the Israelites. They were "sold" into the hands of the king of Aram because God's anger "burned against" them. But they cried out to God to be delivered and God raised up Othniel as a deliverer to save them. The result: the people had peace in the land.
This cycle appears both in short descriptions (as in the case of Othniel; 3:7-11) and in long descriptions (as in the case of Gideon and Jephthah, whose stories take up three chapters each in Judges, and possibly in the case of Samson, who has four chapters dedicated to him). Other episodes where this cycle is seen include:
The cycle—1) 5:31b; 2) 6:1; 3) 6:1; 4) 6:6; 5) 6:7, 12; 6) 8:28; 7) 8:33
Note that the cycle actually begins at the end of the previous narrative, due to the efforts of Deborah, Jael, and Barak. Because of their deliverance of the Israelites from Sisera, the land is at peace (5:31b). But quickly, and without any triggering event (which indicates to us how quick, easy, and almost unnoticeable it is to fall away from peace to evil), the Israelites are back to committing evil in the eyes of God (6:1). Consequently, God "gave them into" the hands of the Midianites, who oppressed them for seven years (6:1, 4). Finally, the people had enough and cried out to God for help (6:6).
But this time, there is an interlude of sorts to the cycle. When the Israelites cried out, God first sent a prophet to remind them that what happened to them was a result of their own actions: they had not listened to God (6:7-10). Then, without telling the Israelites, God sent an angel to raise up Gideon, the "mighty warrior" (6:12), to deliverer the Israelites. Gideon, of course, is successful and the land has peace during his lifetime (8:28). Sadly, after his death, the people turned back to idolatry, thus beginning the cycle over again (8:33).
But what happened in between this cycle? How was Gideon a deliverer?
Another Cycle in the Life of Gideon
The story of Gideon is actually told as another cycle, one of being called by God, answering him, testing him, serving him, finding victory, but ending in failure. Because of this, Gideon is an example of how we can be called by God and even be victorious in our work for God but end in failure if we do not keep our commitment to God.
1. 6:1-12--The call of God, in God's time
Gideon's story begins during Israel's oppression under the Midianities. The Midianites were vicious and destroyed everything Israel had. The story even indicates to us that the Midianites would come to Israel with the sole intent of burning and destroying the Israelites' crops, which meant they were destroying not just a source of food but also the food-based economy within Israel. As a result, the people were afraid of Midian, which is why we see Gideon hiding as he goes about his work.
Gideon may have lived out of fear, but God saw something different in him. When the angel came to Gideon, he called him "mighty warrior." This shows us that God's view of us is sometimes very different from our view of ourselves. We may look down on our flaws, fears, and failures, but God sees what we can truly be. He called Gideon, the mighty warrior, because he needed a warrior to deliver. God raised up whom he needed at the time he needed.
2. 6:13-24--Testing God
At first, Gideon didn't know what to think. He even wonders if it's the "true" God who has sent this message--after all, the "God" he knows is a God who does great things and is far different from the "God" who has abandoned them to the Midianites (6:13). To get at the truth (as he considers it) he decides to test God. He asks God to "wait" for him while he goes and gets some supplies with which God, if it is really him, can do something great.
But God showed his great patience by waiting. And when Gideon returned, he set out the offering and God consumed it with fire. Gideon then realized it really was God and worshiped him.
3. 6:25-32--Serving God
Gideon was now ready to serve God. God had passed his test, revealed himself to Gideon, and Gideon worshiped him. But the task God asked of Gideon wasn't exactly the first thing Gideon would think of: God wanted him to tear down his father's idol to Baal! He wanted Gideon to take a stand for God, starting in his own home! Gideon accepted the challenge, but because of fear, he did it at night so he wouldn't be seen.
The next morning, when the townspeople realized what had happened, they were in an uproar! And Gideon was nowhere to be found. His father, whose idol had been destroyed by Gideon, had to defend Gideon. Gideon's fear was too much for him.
4. 6:33-40--Testing God II
Gideon's fear led him to test God again. When God called him to command an army to go against the Midianites, Gideon asked for another sign to test the veracity of God's promise (6:36). He asked God first to provide dew on a fleece Gideon laid out but have the ground be dry, and after God passed this test, Gideon asked him to reverse this: keep the fleece dry while making the ground around the fleece wet. Of course, God passed this test, too.
We may be tempted to see ourselves in this story. How often have we tried to test God with our own "fleece"? But this story is really about God--specifically about his patience in working with us with our own limitations. God knew what Gideon was capable of, but he waited while Gideon learned what he was capable of. God is always faithful to us.
5. 7:1-15--Overcoming Fear
Gideon now knew that God was with him. This realization allowed him to overcome fear and, combined with a revelation from God through a dream to another (6:13), he gathered the army as God directed him to, whittling it down to a size by which they would be victorious only because God was with them.
Of course, because God was with them and because Gideon had overcome his fear to serve God, Israel was victorious in their battle against Midian. God led the small fighting force of Israel to victory against a much larger army. Yet, even in this victory, Gideon shows a hint of the pride that will later be his downfall as he link himself to God in his victory shout (7:18). As a result of this victory, Israel is able to enjoy peace in their land.
Sadly, it does not end well for Gideon. He got his start by tearing down an idol but finished by setting up a new idol. The Israelites came to their military hero and asked him to be their king. Gideon turned down the invitation...but then acted as a king anyway. The false humility in Gideon's reply and actions demonstrate that pride had taken root in his life. He created a gold-covered clothing item but set it up as an idol so it became a snare to his family and caused Israel to "prostitute" themselves to other gods (8:33). Gideon left behind a legacy of idolatry.
Questions are from Judges 6-8 (Gideon) and 2 Peter 2.
This story, while often thought to be about Deborah, is really about three people: Deborah, who was an actual legal judge, Barak, the military leader, and Jael, the simple housewife who ended up saving the day.
The context for this story is the Israelite oppression under the Canaanites. The LORD "sold them" (4:2) into the hands of the king of Canaan because of the "evil" they did in the eyes of LORD. This evil occurred after the death of Ehud, which plays into the pattern created at least in the early part of Judges: the people commit evil before God; God turns them over to foreign rulers; they are oppressed and cry out for help; God hears their cries and sends a judge to deliver them; they have peace in their land; they turn back to evil after the judge dies.
As expected, because of their oppression, and apparently also because of Sisera's nine hundred iron-fitted chariots, the people cried out to the LORD for help.
God heard their cries and answered (all this is inferred) by speaking through Deborah to Barak. Deborah is not the judge or deliverer in this story. Nowhere is God described as "raising up" a judge (see 2:16; 3:9, 15). She was a prophet who was described as "leading" Israel at that time. Since she was leading while Israel was under oppression she probably acted more like a judge as we would understand one—she decided disputes among the Israelites.
Yet she also received the word from the Lord that called Barak to be a deliverer for God's people and she was tasked with the responsibility of passing this on to Barak. Barak will deliver God's people by defeating Sisera in battle. Specifically, God will "give" Sisera into Barak's hands.
Interestingly, it is Deborah calling all the shots in this story even though Barak was called as the deliverer: she calls him, she delivers the message to him that he will be God's deliverer, she tells him he won't get the glory (because of his hesitation), then she orders him to go to battle ("Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands!")
Deborah is a leader. Even though she is never labeled in Judges as the deliverer in this story, by functioning as a prophet who brought God's word and as a leader who called and empowered the deliverer (even though the glory went to someone else), she is the example of what it means to stand for God in chaotic times.
Barak is called by Deborah and told he will win the battle. We can assume he's some kind of military leader within Israel, or at least an experienced fighter, but for some reason he is reluctant to go into battle. He will go only if Deborah accompanies him.
Barak is often criticized because of this: he wasn't a real man, he wasn't committed to following God, etc. But what if we viewed Barak with a little less criticism? If someone delivered a message from God for and to you, wouldn't you feel better if that messenger of God accompanied you? Barak may have viewed Deborah as a good luck charm of sorts—God would be with him because God was with Deborah.
It may also be that he was unfaithful. But I wonder if, when we view him as unfaithful, we're reading ourselves into his story?
The real problem for Barak is that, inadvertently or not, his actions demonstrate that he does not fully trust God as God. The word of God is delivered to him but he wants the broker of God's word, the middle-woman, to accompany him, wrongly believing that the fulfillment of God's word (prophecy) will be delivered through the presence of Deborah, not on the strength of God's word itself. As a result, God will still deliver his people but Barak will not get the glory from this military victory.
The narrative of Judges is clear that even though Barak advances, it is God who does the work of routing Sisera's army (4:15). As a result of God's work, all of Sisera's fighters were killed. But Sisera was able to escape, which leads to the revealing of the real deliverer—the non-Israelite, Jael.
Here's what we learn from Barak: When we follow God, and specifically when we do what he calls us to do, he gives us all the resources we need to serve him. There's no magic charm, magic prayer, magic person, or even magic book that guarantees God's presence with us. His promise is all we need.
As Sisera escaped, the narrative focused on an alliance that had been made between the king of Canaan and the family of Heber. This was convenient for Sisera because it gave him an out—he could run for protection and run he did (he "fled on foot"; 4:15, 17). He made his way directly to Heber's house where he was met by Jael, Heber's wife. He demanded aid from Jael and appeared to receive it, although not in the form he demanded: when he asked for a drink of water to quench his thirst he was given milk, which made him sleepy. But before he fell asleep he made another demand of Jael: she was to keep watch for him and if anyone came by asking if a man was inside her tent, she was to tell them no.
Wait a minute—no man inside the tent? What did Sisera consider himself to be? While it's obvious he told Jael to say this for his protection, it is humorous (and a bit ironic) that he undermined his own manhood and "invincibility" by hiding under a rug and demanding Jael lie for him.
But the final irony came while he was asleep. Jael grabbed a tent peg and drove it through his skull, killing him. The she went out to meet Barak to turn over the dead Sisera.
This is intended to be both ironic and something that showed the glory of God--that God ensured his will was done despite the human alliances made by his enemies.
The hero of the story is Jael—an unlikely hero. This unlikely hero—a woman, a non-Israelite—did the work of God (4:23)! The true hero should have been Barak, or perhaps even Deborah, but it was a non-Israelite who served God in the unlikeliest of ways. This teaches us that no matter how small or insignificant we think we are, God can do great things through us if we are willing to follow him as he leads us. In fact, there is no "small" or "insignificant" with God—he is ready to use anyone who loves him, anyone who is ready to do his work. All you need to do is make yourself available to be led by God.
Jael was the hero in Judges 4, not Barak, because she acted in simple obedience out of her faith. Barak got hung up by a false view of God—he believed, idolatrously, that God's presence was available to him in the person of Deborah. And it cost him.
Here are four false views of God we have today in the church:
1. The "Santa Claus" god who exists to give us everything we want. This god hangs us up because if we don't get what we think we deserve, we start to question his goodness.
2. The "he-didn't-really-mean-what-he-said-he-just-wants-to-know-if-you-are-willing" god. This god offers hard teachings but doesn't really mean them. This god usually is behind the biblical teaching about money. When Jesus told a rich guy to go sell everything he had and then come follow him, he didn't really mean it, he just wanted to know if the man would be willing to do so. This view of god hangs up because it removes the hard questions of discipleship from our lives.
3. The "we're-right-and-no-one-else-is" god. This god allows us to feel prideful that we've read the Bible correctly and no one else has. This view of god also hangs us up because it gives us a false assurance that our faith is about knowledge of spiritual things, or activities at the church building, or having the correct forms of worship, rather than Jesus.
4. The god of tradition. This view of god is deadly because it keeps us rooted in the past rather than looking at how we should serve God in the present and in the future.
This is why Jesus contrasted tradition (and all false views of god) with true faith in the living God (Mark 7). He showed us that faith is internal belief and simple action that is driven by that faith.
This was exemplified by Jael, who knew what she needed to do for God and did it.
This study guide includes questions from our series on Judges (Jdg 6-8), 2 Peter (1:16-21), and our scripture reading series in Psalms and 1 John.
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Judges demonstrates the ongoing tension within people who have had God do everything for them but who refuse to follow him and reject him. Despite this, God remains faithful and ready to deliver his people when they cry out to him. Judges begins after the death of Joshua and describes the continuing conquest of Canaan. The book of Joshua represents a general account of the conquest while Judges represents a more specific account. In this account, loose ends are tied up as the tribes of Israel clean up and finish off the work that began under Joshua. They seek to hold what they initially took (Dale Davis, Judges: Such a Great Salvation). An example of this is Jerusalem. Judges 1:8 notes that Judah captured the city, “struck it with the edge of the sword,” and set fire to it. Yet, it was left for the tribe of Benjamin to secure the city, which they failed to do (1:21; and in failing were disobedient to the word of the Lord).
After Joshua died there was no central leadership; in fact, no leader emerged at all. The book of Judges details the lives of several judges (mainly men) whom the Lord raised up to deliver his people from oppression. These judges are not legal judges (with the possible exception of Deborah) but military leaders.
Judges 1-2 serves as an introduction to the whole book. Individual judges themselves do not appear until chapter 3. Thus, the main themes in Judges 1-2 are the command of the Lord to drive out the inhabitants of the land; the presence and power of the Lord to do this; and the question of the obedience and disobedience of the Israelites.
It is very clear early in chapter 1 that Israel as a whole was not obedient to the Lord's command. While Judah obeyed the Lord and drove out the inhabitants of the land that they faced, the rest of the tribes were disobedient. Judah was initially successful (1:1-19) because the Lord was with Judah (v. 19). The exception to this is that Judah was not able to drive out the inhabitants of the plain because of their iron chariots, though they did drive out the inhabitants of the hill country.
Whether or not the inhabitants of the land (especially the Canaanites) were driven out is the main focus of chapter 1. The formula “[a tribe] did not drive out the inhabitants of [a city/territory]” is repeated seven times in verses 27-33 (pertaining to the northern tribes) and two other times pertaining to the southern tribes (1:19, 21). In these two incidents, Benjamin deliberately did not drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem, while Judah was not able to drive out the inhabitants of the plain. Judah's inability to drive out the inhabitants of the plain does not seem to be in the same category of the rest who refused to drive out the inhabitants of the land. This is seen by noting the change in language from “could not” (Judah) to “did not” (the other tribes).
This change in sequence is important. The first time inhabitants were not driven out, it is because Judah “could not” drive out them out (19). Judgment was not passed on this nor does it appear to be seen as a failure, as in the very same verse the presence of the Lord is said to be with Judah. However, after this incident, each time the phrase appears it is because different tribes “did not” drive them out. It became a choice on their part to obey or disobey, and they chose disobedience.
The reasons why Judah was initially successful are clear: they received divine direction (1-2a) and divine assurance (2b), and they experienced the divine power (4) and presence (19a). The northern tribes failed because they did not obey when they refused to drive out the inhabitants (see 2:1-5 and the sevenfold refusal to drive out inhabitants).
Further, the northern tribes subjected some of the inhabitants of the land to forced labor, in essence becoming the very thing they escaped when they were delivered from Egypt (1:28, 30, 35). The forced labor is a sign of success within disobedience. They were strong enough to fulfill the Lord's command and could have driven out the inhabitants (and had access to his presence and power to do so) but did not do so. This represents a “pragmatic success and spiritual failure” (Davis).
The failure of the northern tribes is seen progressively as a downward spiral:
1:22-26 initial success
1:27-30 incomplete conquest
1:31-33 incomplete conquest
1:34-36 conquest in reverse (Dan is driven out and up into the hills)
The initial success was immediately compromised by the refusal to drive out all the inhabitants and led to Dan's complete failure. From the text, Dan appears to have made some progress into the plain area but then was “pressed” back into the hill country.
Because of the refusal to drive out the inhabitants of the land, the Lord refused to drive out the rest of the people and declared that they would be thorns in the sides of the Israelites (2:1-5). They disobeyed God's voice, and yet, they appeared to repent at the word of the Lord; they wept and offered sacrifices.
There is a theological sequence in this section that revolves around covenant stipulations as described by the Lord. The speech by the angel of the Lord in 2:1-5 points out what God has done for the Israelites and what God expected from them:
God's actions on their behalf
I brought you up from Egypt (1)
I brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers (1)
I told you (I said) I will never break my covenant with you (1)
I will never break my covenant with you (1)
God's expectations of the Israelites
You shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land (2)
You shall break down their altars (2)
The Israelites' action within this covenant
BUT ... you have not obeyed my voice (2)
It was their disobedience that caused God to state that he would not drive out the inhabitants from them. Because these inhabitants remained, they would be thorns in the sides of the Israelites and their gods would be snares to them. When the people heard this, they wept and offered sacrifice.
They repented, but then what? Nothing. They were held together by Joshua's leadership but after Joshua died, they lost an entire generation. Did they really repent? The text doesn't indicate for sure, but it's likely that their “repentance” was sorrow over what they heard the Lord saying to them and not a commitment to fulfill his command, for they never did fulfill the command to drive out all the inhabitants.
Later, we discover another reason that the Lord left these nations in the land: to test Israel, to see if they would follow him...or them (2:20-23). This is a prophetic statement that foreshadows, sadly, what is to come in Judges.
All of this serves as an introduction to what is going to happen in Judges. After Joshua's death, a generation rose up who did not know the Lord or what the Lord had done for Israel (2:6-10). The phrase “did not know the Lord” probably means that they did not respect or fear the Lord. This lack of respect and fear, despite the covenant mentioned in 2:1-5, led to a cycle of sin and deliverance, seen over and over in Judges, as they followed gods of the people around them, the very people that they did not drive out (2:12).
The pattern of sin and deliverance in chapter 2 becomes a cycle that is a template for the stories of the judges. Most descriptions of the judges fit into this template:
1. The Israelites do evil (2:11-13).
2. The Lord's anger is kindled and he gives them over to enemies (2:14-15).
3. The people cry out while under oppression (implied in 2:18).
4. The Lord raises Judges who save the people (2:16).
5. After some prosperity and peace, the people revert to sin after the judge dies (2:16-17, 19).
Despite the tension in this cycle, there is still a note of grace. This is the way it is with God. Amidst their evil and God's anger, God gives grace by sending a judge. His people are delivered completely apart from their own effort and ability, as God raises up a judge on their behalf who delivers them for his sake.
I see a few points emerging from this.
First, we have a strong need to ensure faith from generation to generation. Whatever the Israelites were doing, it did not work. Faith departed with Joshua. We cannot rely on one strong leader to hold everything together. Each of us needs to take stock of our faith and spiritual development and look out for the faith of others.
Israel responded each time a judge was raised. They remembered the Lord enough to call out to him when they were oppressed. But after a judge died, they turned away from God. Our discipleship needs to be different than this. We should be inward focused, through prayer, Bible reading, and repentance, and outward focused in serving others.
This can be done in a number of ways. Why not pull others into your Bible reading? You can do this very easily at home with your family by reading from the Bible and praying together. You could meet with a couple of friends after work at a coffee shop for Bible reading and prayer. You could begin teaching a Bible class in your church.
My point is this: Find a way to take ownership of your own faith development and then serve others by helping and equipping them to do the same, first with themselves, and then with others.
Second, we have a need to follow the Lord completely. Do not leave remnants of impurity in your life to be a thorn in your side (2:3). We are often undone by the things we permit that result in a slow slide away from God. By reading Joshua and Judges together, it appears that the conquest of Canaan was largely successful. The Israelites moved in and ran many of the previous inhabitants of the land out. But when they went back to settle everything, they did not completely drive them out, against the Lord's command to do so. The Lord was very clear that this failure not only broke their covenant with him, but also resulted in a “thorn” that would be in their side (2:1-5). This became a test, to see whether the people would follow the Lord, or follow the false gods of the people around them that were not driven out (2:20-23). Sadly, they failed the test.
We do not need to fail the test. We don't have to follow in their footsteps. But avoiding their fate means we must reflect on how we have been unfaithful to the Lord in not driving out all the sin in our lives. Although God promises to help us grow in our faith development (Phil. 2:12-13; Jude 21, 24), we have a responsibility to actively drive out sin from our lives. Do not allow any to be left behind as a temptation or test.
Third, never forget the grace of God. Judges is a book of sin. But it is also a book of redemption and grace. Despite the ongoing cycle of sin that the Israelites fell into, and despite the fact that each time included a rejection of God, God still saved his people. Despite the fact that they broke their covenant with God, God still redeemed them. For those who are willing to repent and cry out to God, God will always answer with his grace. He expects us to grow up, for sure. But his grace is abundant, and his mercy is overflowing.
The judges themselves are signs of grace. They were raised up as unlikely heroes. They did not emerge until a time of sin and oppression and they did not emerge by their own power but by God's call as he raised them up. Many of them were very flawed, just like the Israelites. But in God's deliverance of his people through them, the judges anticipate another hero. Not a hero who is not flawed and sinful, but a true hero, one who is obedient to God and who delivers his people once for all, solving the problems of sin and loyalty and deliverance. This true hero is Jesus. In the end, Judges is all about him.
This guide includes questions from Judges 1-2 and 2 Peter 1:1-15. On Sunday, I'm starting two new series. In the morning, I'll begin "Unlikely Heroes," a series on Judges. In the evening, I'll begin going through 2 Peter. Supplemental questions are from Psalms 4-5 (morning scripture reading) and 1 John 1:1-4 (Wednesday devotional reading).
Download a PDF of these notes through the link above. Weebly does not do well with cutting-and-pasting from another document, so the formatting is a bit off.
These are my study and sermon notes for Jude.
God's judgment for disobedience is real. It happened and will happen. But Christ keeps us who are faithful. Therefore, keep close to Christ.
What distracts us from the faith? What leads us astray? What really matters?
1. What is the faith?
2. When was it delivered?
The faith Jude talks about is the gospel. It is the message of salvation, that God has saved all people, all nations, through his Son.
[3. Why must it be contended for?]
The faith must be contended for because of people who deny it by denying Jesus as Lord and Master. (4)
[4. How must it be contended for?]
We must contend for the faith.
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Although I work for the Otisville Church of Christ in Otisville, Michigan, this blog represents my own thoughts and does not necessarily correspond to the views and workings of the Otisville Church of Christ.
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