It is with “tongue in cheek” that I set out to teach this text in Judges, which nearly all Bible students recognize as the author’s second introduction. All this seems somewhat inconsistent with what I did in the last message. I started Lesson 2 by citing a portion of Dale Ralph Davis’ “Non- introduction” to the Book of Judges.3 How can there possibly be two introductions to a book?
Actually, this possibility should not come as a great surprise to the student of the Bible. If you stop to think about it, the Book of Genesis also has two introductions. The first introduction is found in Genesis 1:1-2:3. The second begins with these words in verse 4 of chapter 2:
Moses is not suffering from the malady that some of us older folks experience – forgetfulness. He actually means to repeat himself, although when you look at these two introductions you will see that they are different. Some have agonized over these differences, as though they were really inconsistencies. But Moses had a very good reason for writing a two-part introduction to Genesis. The first introduction is sequential: “day one (verse 5) … day two (verse 8) … day three (verse 13),” and so on. Moses wants us to observe the fact that the creation came into being by the Word of God. God spoke, and it happened. Also, in the first introduction, we are continually told that God created by dividing or separating something from something else:
6 God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters and let it separate water from water. 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. It was so (Genesis 1:6-7, emphasis mine).
Finally (so far as my brief review of this account is concerned), there is much emphasis placed on the fact that what God created was perfect – it was very good in God’s sight:
3 God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light! 4 God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:3-4, emphasis mine).
9 God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place and let dry ground appear.” It was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:9-10, emphasis mine).
I believe that all of this is in preparation for the account of the fall of man which comes to us in chapter 3. Satan tempts Eve by calling into question the truth and goodness of God’s Word – words just like those which called creation into existence. He questions God’s goodness, even though we have just seen that everything God created is good. He calls into question God’s distinction between this one forbidden tree from all the other trees in the garden, when creation is based upon the distinctions God has made.
The second introduction deals with creation differently. It does not give us a day-by-day account of the progressive (within a week’s time) creation of the world. Instead, it describes creation from a different perspective. It presents creation as God supplying what is lacking. God creates what is necessary to supply each and every legitimate need:
5 Now no shrub of the field had yet grown on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. 6 Springs would well up from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. 7 The Lord God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Genesis 2:5-7).
A garden required certain things: plants, moisture to nourish them, and someone to cultivate and care for them. God supplied a mist to nourish plant life, a garden in which plants could grow, and a man to cultivate and tend the garden. And yet there was still one great need, a need to which God carefully called our attention in the second introduction:
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” 19 The Lord God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,
“This one at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family. 25 The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed (Genesis 2:18-25).
Thus we can see that the second introduction also lays a foundation for the account of the fall of man which follows in Genesis 3. Satan’s temptation suggests that Eve (and her husband) have a need for the knowledge of both good and evil and that God is withholding this from them. Satan falsely creates a “need,” which he insists can only be supplied by doubting God’s goodness and provisions, and by disobeying His Word. The second introduction has just underscored the fact that God always perfectly supplies every legitimate need. And thus we see that these two introductions work hand in glove to set the stage for what follows in the Book of Genesis.
In this message, I will seek to show that the two introductions of the Book of Judges do the same thing. They work together to set the stage for the remainder of the book, giving us insight into the message the author is going to set forth in the Book of Judges. So with that in mind, let us proceed with our study, looking for the ways in which this introduction will work together with our text from the last message.
The Book of Judges began with a question posed by the sons of Israel regarding who was to lead them into battle: “Who will lead us (go up first) into battle?” God designated Judah as the tribe which should lead the others in battle. Judah enlisted Simeon to go with him, and when they engaged Adoni-bezek, a Canaanite king, in battle (along with 10,000 of his men) they defeated the Canaanites. But instead of executing this king when they captured him, they dealt with him in the Canaanite way – by cutting off his thumbs and big toes and keeping him alive as a trophy of war. After a description of the heroic leadership of Caleb and the marriage of his daughter, Achsah, to Othniel, things quickly begin to go downhill. Judah is successful in the hill country, but cannot defeat the Canaanites on the plain because of their iron chariots (1:18-19). The house of Joseph is successful in taking Bethel (Luz), but only because they made an agreement (covenant?) with one of the citizens of the town, allowing him and his family to live, so that he replicated Luz elsewhere (1:22-26). Manasseh (1:26-28), Ephraim (1:29), Zebulun (1:30), Asher (1:31-32), and Naphtali (1:33) all failed to totally drive out the Canaanites. The Canaanites remained among them. At best, they made the Canaanites serve them as forced laborers when they became strong enough to do so.
Dan was the biggest failure. The Amorites forced this tribe into the hills and did not allow them to come down to the valley. These folks continued to possess many of their cities, and only when the house of Joseph grew strong did they become forced labor. And so we can safely say that it was all downhill for the Israelites in chapter 1 of Judges. As the first chapter ends, one might conclude that the Israelites failed because the Canaanites were stronger and better equipped. But the next verses (Judges 2:1-4) present us with an entirely different perspective – a divine perspective. The Angel of the LORD appeared in Bochim, where He reminded the Israelites that He had brought them to Canaan from Egypt. God had covenanted with Israel that He would give them the land of Canaan and that this covenant promise would never be broken (2:1). In response, the Israelites were instructed not to make any covenant with the Canaanites. Instead, they were to tear down their altars. This had obviously not happened, and thus God fulfilled the other side of His covenant with Israel, concerning which Joshua had recently warned them:
6 “Be very strong! Carefully obey all that is written in the law scroll of Moses so you won’t swerve from it to the right or the left, 7 or associate with these nations that remain near you. You must not invoke or make solemn declarations by the names of their gods! You must not worship or bow down to them! 8 But you must be loyal to the Lord your God, as you have been to this very day.
9 “The Lord drove out from before you great and mighty nations; no one has been able to resist you to this very day. 10 One of you makes a thousand run away, for the Lord your God fights for you as he promised you he would. 11 Watch yourselves carefully! Love the Lord your God! 12 But if you ever turn away and make alliances with these nations that remain near you, and intermarry with them and establish friendly relations with them, 13 know for certain that the Lord our God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. They will trap and ensnare you; they will be a whip that tears your sides and thorns that blind your eyes until you disappear from this good land the Lord your God gave you.
14 “Look, today I am about to die. You know with all your heart and being that not even one of all the faithful promises the Lord your God made to you is left unfulfilled; every one was realized – not one promise is unfulfilled! 15 But in the same way every faithful promise the Lord your God made to you has been realized, it is just as certain, if you disobey, that the Lord will bring on you every judgment until he destroys you from this good land which the Lord your God gave you. 16 If you violate the covenantal laws of the Lord your God which he commanded you to keep, and follow, worship, and bow down to other gods, the Lord will be very angry with you and you will disappear quickly from the good land which he gave to you” (Joshua 23:6-16).
And so it was that the Angel of the LORD pronounced judgment upon the Israelites for their unfaithfulness and disobedience. Their problem was not that the enemy was too numerous or too well armed for them to defeat; it was that they would rather coexist with the Canaanites than kill them. It was that they did not trust God and did not keep His covenant with them. And so God announced that He would no longer drive out the Canaanites from before them, but would leave them in the land as a “snare” to the Israelites (2:3). The people were taken aback by this revelation. They wept and offered sacrifices at the place they now called “Bochim” (“weepers,” marginal note in NASB at verse 5). Whether or not this weeping was genuine repentance is yet to be seen. It is at this point that we come to our text.
6 When Joshua dismissed the people, the Israelites went to their allotted portions of territory, intending to take possession of the land. 7 The people worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and as long as the elderly men [elders]5 who outlived him remained alive. These men had witnessed all the great things the Lord had done for Israel. 8 Joshua son of Nun, the Lord’s servant, died at the age of one hundred ten. 9 The people buried him in his allotted land in Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 10 That entire generation passed away; a new generation grew up that had not personally experienced the Lord’s presence [literally, “did not know the Lord”] or seen what he had done for Israel (Judges 2:6-10).6
The generation that was so victorious in defeating the Canaanites and taking the land under Joshua has now passed away, and a whole new generation has arisen. Our author tells us plainly that it was the godly leadership of those former days that had greatly influenced that former generation. But it was now a new day. That old generation is dead and gone, and a new generation has arisen that does not know God and that does not know the greatness of His power.7 This is sad indeed, for God had promised that previous generation that the manifestation of His power in driving out the Canaanites would surpass the manifestations of His power in delivering the Israelites from Egypt.8
11 The Israelites did evil before the Lord by worshiping the Baals. 12 They abandoned the Lord God of their ancestors who brought them out of the land of Egypt. They followed other gods – the gods of the nations who lived around them. They worshiped them and made the Lord angry. 13 They abandoned the Lord and worshiped Baal and the Ashtars (Judges 2:11-13).
With the Joshua generation now gone, the new generation – which has not known and experienced God as did the former generation – chooses to coexist with the Canaanites, rather than to conquer them. Worse yet, the Israelites forsook the Lord and began to worship the Canaanite gods, Baal (the male Canaanite god) and the Ashtars9 (his female counterparts). This generation has demonstrated the truth of God’s Word, spoken earlier – their willingness to live among the Canaanites has led to their apostasy from the God of their fathers.
14 The Lord was furious with Israel and handed them over to robbers who plundered them. He turned them over to their enemies who lived around them. They could not withstand their enemies’ attacks. 15 Whenever they went out to fight, the Lord did them harm, just as he had warned and solemnly vowed he would do. They suffered greatly (Judges 2:14-15).
As God had promised (and as Joshua had so recently warned – see Joshua 23:14-16), divine judgment would follow Israel’s unbelief, disobedience, and apostasy. No more would God strike terror in the hearts of Israel’s enemies. Instead of giving Israel miraculous victories over their enemies, He would give the Israelites into the hands of their enemies. When the Israelites engaged them in battle, their enemies would prevail. They had turned from God and now God would cease to bless them as He had before.
16 The Lord raised up leaders [judges]10 who delivered them from these robbers. 17 But they did not obey their leaders [judges]. Instead they prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned aside from the path their ancestors [fathers] had walked. Their ancestors [fathers]11 had obeyed the Lord’s commands, but they did not. 18 When the Lord raised up leaders [judges] for them, the Lord was with each leader [judge] and delivered the people from their enemies while the leader [judge] remained alive. The Lord felt sorry for them when they cried out12 [groaned] in agony because of what their harsh oppressors did to them (Judges 2:16-18).
The author’s description of divine judgment in verses 14 and 15 comes as no surprise to the reader, for this is exactly what God had promised. What does come as a complete surprise is what we now read in verses 16-18. God does discipline His people for their sin, but He also remains faithful to His character, and thus He sends them deliverers. We tend to think of either judgment or mercy, but the two may be accomplished at the same time. I am reminded of the words of Habakkuk when he pleads, “In wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2, NASB).
Here indeed we find God’s incredible mercy. God brings judgment upon His sinful people, as His righteousness requires. Thus God hands His people over to cruel taskmasters. But at the same time, He raises up judges to deliver His people. In spite of this, we are told that the Israelites refused to listen to these judges (2:17).
Here’s where I have a bit of a problem. Who were those judges to whom the Israelites were not listening, and what were they saying? I have trouble thinking of Ehud or Jephthah or Samson speaking to Israel about their relationship to God or calling them to repentance. I see several possible explanations. First, the judges “spoke” to Israel of God’s concern and of His salvation by what they did. They spoke in deed, more than in word. Second, it could be that while our author chose to focus on their military actions, they may have done more speaking regarding spiritual things than what is recorded for us in Judges. It is not hard to think of Deborah as a judge who called Israel to repentance and obedience, for example. Also, although we have difficulty thinking of Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah as spiritual men, the author of the Book of Hebrews includes them in his “hall of faith” (Hebrews 11:32). They must have been more spiritual than they appear in Judges, where we see their dark side.
There is a third option. There may have been many more “judges” in Israel at that time than just those named in the Book of Judges. For example, I was intrigued to read these words in the Book of Numbers:
1 When Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to commit sexual immorality with the daughters of Moab. 2 These women invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods; then the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 When Israel joined themselves to Baal-peor, the anger of the Lord flared up against Israel.
4 The Lord said to Moses, “Arrest all the leaders of the people, and hang them up before the Lord in broad daylight, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel.” 5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you must execute those of his men who were joined to Baal-peor.”
6 Just then one of the Israelites came and brought to his brothers a Midianite woman in the plain view of Moses and of the whole community of the Israelites, while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he got up from among the assembly, took a javelin in his hand, 8 and went after the Israelite man into the tent and thrust through the Israelite man and into the woman’s abdomen. So the plague was stopped from the Israelites.
… 14 Now the name of the Israelite who was stabbed – the one who was stabbed with the Midianite woman – was Zimri son of Salu, a leader of a clan of the Simeonites (Numbers 25:1-8, 14, emphasis mine).
So, from this text in Numbers we learn that at that time there were many “judges” among the Israelites. As these judges “executed” God’s instructions through Moses, sin was dealt with among the leaders of the nation, and in so doing, the whole nation learned an important spiritual lesson about God. And so while we read of men like Gideon and Barak and Samson – men who were military “judges” – there may also have been other judges, who functioned more like Deborah, leading, teaching, exhorting, and rebuking the Israelites.
The idolatry and disobedience that characterized this generation of Israelites distinguished them from their “fathers” (NAU, CSB, ESV, NIV) or “ancestors” (NET Bible, NJB, NLT). Personally, I prefer “fathers” over “ancestors” because, in general, their ancestors were not that godly (see Acts 7:51-53).13 It was only the “Joshua generation” (their actual fathers) who was faithful and obedient, so as to conquer the Promised Land. This is the generation that brought up these Israelites.
Now in verse 18, the author calls attention to the fact that God’s deliverance came in the form of someone He appointed to deliver (“judge”) His people. The deliverance God provided through a judge was life-long, that is for as long as the deliverer lived. This was not due to the faithfulness of His people, but rather was due to the tender mercies of God. In one sense, it was sad that God’s deliverance was not prompted by Israel’s repentance, but it is also grounds for rejoicing because God’s salvation was dependent upon His own character and not upon man’s conduct. If we will learn anything from the Book of Judges, it is that our faith and trust must be in God and not in man.
19 When a leader died, the next generation would again act more wickedly than the previous one. They would follow after other gods, worshiping them and bowing down to them. They did not give up their practices or their stubborn ways (Judges 2:19).
These words are far from welcome to those who insist that “every day, in every way, man is getting better and better.” The Bible is completely consistent in maintaining that the hearts of men are wicked and not naturally inclined toward God.
9 What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, 10 just as it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one,
11 there is no one who understands,
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness, not even one.”
13 “Their throats are open graves,
they deceive with their tongues,
the poison of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 ruin and misery are in their paths (Romans 3:9-16).
1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast ( (Ephesians 2:1-3, 8-9).
Salvation is therefore not something that men can produce, but rather is something that comes from God as a reflection of His character.
The author is forewarning the reader that this book is not going to end with a “happily ever after.” Instead, the farther we read, the worse men will get. They will turn to heathen gods and worship them. They will cling to their evil ways and find new and more wicked ways to manifest their rebellion against God.
20 The Lord was furious with Israel. He said, “This nation has violated the terms of the agreement I made with their ancestors by disobeying me. 21 So I will no longer remove before them any of the nations that Joshua left unconquered when he died. 22 Joshua left those nations to test Israel. I wanted to see whether or not the people would carefully walk in the path marked out by the Lord, as their ancestors were careful to do.” 23 This is why the Lord permitted these nations to remain and did not conquer them immediately; he did not hand them over to Joshua.
1 These were the nations the Lord permitted to remain so he could use them to test Israel – he wanted to test all those who had not experienced battle against the Canaanites. 2 He left those nations simply because he wanted to teach the subsequent generations of Israelites, who had not experienced the earlier battles, how to conduct holy war. 3 These were the nations: the five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo-Hamath. 4 They were left to test Israel, so the Lord would know if his people would obey the commands he gave their ancestors through Moses (Judges 2:20-3:4).
True to His character and to His covenant, God was angry with His people because of their rebellion. As His covenant plainly stated, God would not drive out the Canaanites from before a wicked nation that rejected Him:
23 “Be on guard so that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he has made with you, and that you do not make an image of any kind, just as he has forbidden you. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire; he is a jealous God. 25 After you have produced children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time, if you become corrupt and make an image of any kind and do other evil things before the Lord your God that enrage him, 26 I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will surely and swiftly be removed from the very land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not last long there because you will surely be annihilated” (Deuteronomy 4:23-26).
1 “When the Lord your God brings you to the land that you are going to occupy and forces out many nations before you – Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you – 2 and he delivers them over to you and you attack them, you must utterly annihilate them. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy! 3 You must not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your sons away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will erupt against you and he will quickly destroy you” (Deuteronomy 7:1-4).
11 Watch yourselves carefully! Love the Lord your God! 12 But if you ever turn away and make alliances with these nations that remain near you, and intermarry with them and establish friendly relations with them, 13 know for certain that the Lord our God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. They will trap and ensnare you; they will be a whip that tears your sides and thorns that blind your eyes until you disappear from this good land the Lord your God gave you. 14 “Look, today I am about to die. You know with all your heart and being that not even one of all the faithful promises the Lord your God made to you is left unfulfilled; every one was realized – not one promise is unfulfilled! 15 But in the same way every faithful promise the Lord your God made to you has been realized, it is just as certain, if you disobey, that the Lord will bring on you every judgment until he destroys you from this good land which the Lord your God gave you. 16 If you violate the covenantal laws of the Lord your God which he commanded you to keep, and follow, worship, and bow down to other gods, the Lord will be very angry with you and you will disappear quickly from the good land which he gave to you” (Joshua 23:11-16).
From the beginning, God knew that His people could not keep his covenant. Joshua knew it as well, and thus when the Israelites vowed to be faithful, Joshua told them it would never happen under the Old Covenant:
14 Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and worship the Lord. 15 If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the Lord!”
16 The people responded, “Far be it from us to abandon the Lord so we can worship other gods! 17 For the Lord our God took us and our fathers out of slavery in the land of Egypt and performed these awesome miracles before our very eyes. He continually protected us as we traveled and when we passed through nations. 18 The Lord drove out from before us all the nations, including the Amorites who lived in the land. So we too will worship the Lord, for he is our God!”
19 Joshua warned the people, “You will not keep worshiping the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God who will not forgive your rebellion or your sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you; he will bring disaster on you and destroy you, though he once treated you well.”
21 The people said to Joshua, “No! We really will worship the Lord!” 22 Joshua said to the people, “Do you agree to be witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to worship the Lord?” They replied, “We are witnesses!” 23 Joshua said, “Now put aside the foreign gods that are among you and submit to the Lord God of Israel.”
24 The people said to Joshua, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him.”
25 That day Joshua drew up an agreement for the people, and he established rules and regulations for them in Shechem. 26 Joshua wrote these words in the Law Scroll of God. He then took a large stone and set it up there under the oak tree near the Lord’s shrine. 27 Joshua said to all the people, “Look, this stone will be a witness against you, for it has heard everything the Lord said to us. It will be a witness against you if you deny your God” (Joshua 24:14-27).
While God warned the Israelites that they would not keep His covenant, He also promised that in the future, He would turn their hearts toward Him and that He would deliver them:
25 “After you have produced children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time, if you become corrupt and make an image of any kind and do other evil things before the Lord your God that enrage him, 26 I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will surely and swiftly be removed from the very land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not last long there because you will surely be annihilated. 27 Then the Lord will scatter you among the peoples and there will be very few of you among the nations where the Lord will drive you. 28 There you will worship gods made by human hands – wood and stone that can neither see, hear, eat, nor smell. 29 But if you seek the Lord your God from there, you will find him, if, indeed, you seek him with all your heart and soul. 30 In your distress when all these things happen to you in the latter days, if you return to the Lord your God and obey him 31 (for he is a merciful God), he will not let you down or destroy you, for he cannot forget the covenant with your ancestors that he confirmed by oath to them” (Deuteronomy 4:25-31).
1 “When you have experienced all these things, both the blessings and the curses I have set before you, you will reflect upon them in all the nations where the Lord your God has banished you. 2 Then if you and your descendants turn to the Lord your God and obey him with your whole mind and being just as I am commanding you today, 3 the Lord your God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. He will turn and gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you. 4 Even if your exiles are in the most distant land, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 Then he will bring you to the land your ancestors possessed and you also will possess it; he will do better for you and multiply you more than he did your ancestors. 6 The Lord your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being and so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:1-6).
The curse is also the cure. Israel’s sin resulted in God’s judgment: leaving the Canaanites in the land. But this judgment is also a manifestation of God’s grace. It provides these Israelites with an opportunity to turn to God in faith and to walk according to God’s Word as their fathers, the “Joshua generation,” had done.
Leaving the Canaanites in the land, along with the Israelites, was something God had purposed long ago. His gracious purpose of teaching this generation warfare was the reason why He prevented Joshua and his generation from totally wiping out the Canaanites. While the continued presence of the Canaanites was an unpleasant manifestation of divine judgment, it was also a gracious gift from God. We need to understand the last verses of our passage in the light of verse 10. There we were told:
That entire generation passed away; a new generation grew up that had not personally experienced [literally, known] the Lord’s presence or seen what he had done for Israel (Judges 2:10).
Now we are told that God left the Canaanite nations in the land so that all those who had not “experienced” [literally, known] war could “experience” [know] it. If not “knowing” God or the outworking of His presence and power was the problem (as our text tells us), then leaving the Canaanites in the land was a part of the solution. The oppression of the Israelites by these nations presented the occasion for God’s people to learn war, and in waging war, to experience His power. Here was a way to truly “know” God. And so we see that the curse (leaving the Canaanites behind) is also part of the cure (giving Israel the opportunity to “know” God).
As I think through these introductory chapters, I observe several things which are instructive, not only to those first readers of this book, but also to us.
First, I observe a downward progression in men. Chapter 1 starts in a sort of upbeat manner with the designation of Judah as Israel’s leading tribe, and as we read, of Israel’s stunning victory over the Canaanites and Adoni-bezek. But as the introduction continues to develop, things only go from bad to worse so far as Israel’s faith and obedience are concerned. By the time we reach the end of chapter 1, some of the Israelites are seemingly unable to overcome the Canaanites and drive them out of the land. Indeed, while the Canaanites live among some of the Israelite tribes, other tribes (like Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali) did even worse, so that it was the Israelites who dwelt among the Canaanites (see 1:32). And in Dan’s case, the Amorites actually drove them into the hills (1:34-35).
In chapter 2, men (the Israelites) prove themselves to be in even worse shape spiritually. The chapter begins with a divine rebuke from the Angel of the LORD, and then as the chapter continues, we learn that the Israelites forgot and forsook God, intermarrying with the Canaanites and worshipping their gods. God’s deliverance through the judges did not change the hearts of the Israelites, so after the death of each judge, the people sought to enhance and accelerate their sin to an even greater level of rebellion against God.
If there is any lesson to be learned regarding man, it is that man is depraved, totally depraved. Left to himself, man goes from bad to worse, and even when God intervenes, man’s obedience is only temporary. Time does not improve the situation, but only serves to give sin further opportunity to increase. Israel will hope to have a king, like all the other nations (1 Samuel 8:5). But that king had better be more than a mere mortal, for the introduction has prepared us for the worst when it comes to man. Even the best of Israel’s kings (David or Solomon) will fail. The “king” that Israel needs is “the King of Kings,” the Lord Jesus, Israel’s Messiah.
Second, the introduction to Judges reveals an ever more awesome God. In spite of Israel’s sins and continual rebellion, God remains faithful to His covenant promises and warnings. He is not only faithful to bless, He is faithful to judge apostasy and rebellion. But God is both righteous and merciful. That is what He chose to reveal about Himself to Moses after Israel’s worship of Aaron’s golden calf:
6 The Lord passed by before him and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, 7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7).
The God who remains faithful to His covenant in judging apostasy and rebellion is also faithful to be merciful and to forgive.
I love the contrast between man’s progressive decay and God’s progressively revealed grace and glory in our text. Man goes from bad to worse. God goes from good to great (or so it appears). Notice the progression in our text with regard to this matter of leaving the Canaanites in the land. In chapter 2, verse 3, the presence of the Canaanites is presented as divine judgment. Then at the conclusion of our text (2:21-3:4), the ongoing presence of the Canaanites is the God-given opportunity for the Israelites to know Him and to obey His Word. In the outworking of His wrath, God is also showing mercy. What a great God we have – if we have trusted in Him through Jesus Christ.
I can think of no better New Testament text to sum up our passage than this one from Romans 5:
Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more (Romans 5:20, emphasis mine).
Is it not good news to learn that God’s salvation is not dependent upon us, on our faithfulness, or our good works? Is it not good news to see that as bad as men are, as bad as men can become, God’s salvation is still provided for all who will receive it? (And it is God who works in us to cause us to be willing to receive it.)
Now, as I conclude, let me finish with this question: “What does God want us to gain from this two-part introduction?” First, He wants us to lose all confidence in man, and then to place our trust in God for salvation. Second, this introduction tells us what to expect from the rest of the book. Later chapters will only supply further evidence that man is a sinner, in desperate need of saving grace, and that God is merciful to provide salvation for unworthy sinners. The introduction also sets out the structure of the rest of the book, revealing the downward cycles of sin.
Third, I believe that this two-fold introduction is not only the introduction to the book, but also the conclusion. Have you ever noticed how some people read the final chapter of a book before they start reading at the beginning? Why do they do this? Because they want to know how it all comes out. Is it really worth reading, worth going through all the details to get to the end? The Book of Judges ends in a way that leaves the reader uneasy. The reader is left “up in the air” to some extent. But the reader should not be in the dark as to what the author was trying to say. These early portions of Judges tell us what we need to know about ourselves (and others) and also what we need to know about God. We now know where this book is headed, and its message is well worth the effort required to persevere in our study in order to see how these important themes are played out throughout the remainder of the book.
1 Many students of the Bible think that Samuel is the author of Judges, and he may well have been. For artistic purposes (this title), I have assumed so for the moment.
2 Copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 3 in the series, The Dark Days of Israel’s Judges, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on August 30, 2009. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
3 Dale Ralph Davis, Such a Great Salvation: Expositions of the Book of Judges (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990), pp. 11-12.
4 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
5 To their credit, the translators of the NET Bible have a marginal note indicating that this term might mean “elders.” Nevertheless, I feel it would have been better to render this Hebrew term “elders” and suggest an alternative reading (“elderly men”) in the margin. I say this for two primary reasons. First, the Hebrew term employed here is rendered “elders” far more often than “older/elderly men.” Second, there is a rather clear emphasis on the important role of leadership in chapter 1, and indeed in the rest of the book (“there was no king in Israel. . . .”). Third, most translations render the term “elders” here.
6 We find this translator’s note in the NET Bible: “Heb ‘that did not know the LORD or the work which he had done for Israel.’ The expressions ‘personally experienced’ and ‘seen’ are interpretive.” I much prefer to deal with the literal rendering, even though I do not disagree with the sense of their interpretive rendering. I believe that the reason for this will become apparent when we get to the first two verses of chapter 3.
7 I must admit that I am somewhat puzzled by the author’s statement here. How could this generation not have experienced God’s power in some measure? Isn’t chapter 1 an account of the battles fought by this new generation of Israelites? Wouldn’t they have seen God at work? I’m now not so certain. Chapter 1 begins with the simple statement that Joshua had died. Those who survived him then found it necessary to inquire of God as to who would assume leadership in battle. When we continue to read in chapter 1, we find the story of Caleb and the marriage of his daughter. He was a part of that older and much more faithful generation. It is only when we come to our text in chapter 2 that we are told that Joshua and all of the leaders who were a part of that previous generation have died. Thus it may be that the battles described in chapter 1 are those fought by the previous generation. The only other explanation I can think of is that the new generation fought the Canaanites, but in the power of the flesh, rather than in dependence upon God. In this way, they could explain their failure to drive out the Canaanites and accept living among them. They might not have “known” God from their warfare.
9 The Hebrew term rendered Astartes is plural, which is indicated in some translations. K. Lawson Younger explains the plural in this way: “The use of the plural . . . in Judges 2:13 and 10:6 is understood to be either a reference to various local manifestations of the goddess, an embodiment of the Canaanite cult, or a reference to polytheism in general (i.e., a term for female deities). K. Lawson Younger, Jr., Judges and Ruth: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), p.90.
10 The judges were “leaders,” but I would prefer to call them “judges,” as do other translations.
11 One would be hard pressed to say that Israel’s ancestors had faithfully followed God in any general way. It could only be said of the Joshua generation, who were literally their fathers.
12 “Cried out” (ne’aqah) seems to go a little too far as an expression of Israel’s response to her suffering. The term employed here seems to denote groaning, rather than a loud outcry. In addition, “crying out” may sound too much like repentance, which I’m not inclined to see here. There is another Hebrew word (za’aq) that is rendered “to cry out,” and it will be seen shortly (e.g., 3:9, 15), but that is not the word the author has used here. And even where za’aq is used, it is doubtful that it conveys repentance. See Dale Ralph Davis, Such a Great Salvation: Expositions of the Book of Judges (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990), pp. 39-40, 49-50; also see D.I. Block, Judges, Ruth (NAC 6; Nashville: Broadman &Holman, 1999), p. 148.