We live in dark days, just as the people of Israel did in the time of the Judges. The results of sinful choices by mankind often seem overwhelming and pointless, and so we search for explanations. God brings light to our world situation through the scriptures. As we approach this ancient book of Judges with its often familiar stories, our focus is on discerning how to live according to God's light in this present darkness.
Seeing Clearly Through the Darkness Introductory Lecture
Do you ever wonder what is happening in our world? There is so much darkness, and we see it every day in the news. Just last week tens of thousands, and according to the latest news reports maybe even 200,000, people died in an earthquake in Haiti, and thousands more may die from lack of food, medical care, and hygiene. In the past few months a number of terrorist attacks around the world have succeeded; an attempted attack on an international flight bound for the United States was botched. We recently watched in horror as bodies were carried out of Fort Hood after a doctor killed his fellow soldiers. On a more personal level, we all know people who are battling life-threatening illnesses. Brett Lopez, whose mother Debi has long been part of our morning Bible study, has Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Nancy Lillo, who used to lead an evening group, is fighting colon cancer. The pastor of the Village Church in Flower Mound, which is reaching thousands of young people, has a brain tumor that cannot be totally removed. A member of my extended family was left financially strapped and emotionally hurt last year when her husband of 36 years suddenly divorced her. All of us are touched personally by the darkness. What do we do with all of this if we believe there is a loving God behind the universe?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I grieve over these situations as much as you do. I often wonder what God is doing. Why must a fourteen-year-old boy deal with chemo? Why do poverty-stricken Haitians have to lose the little they do have, especially loved ones? Why does my family member, who believes in Jesus, suffer from the selfishness of a man who has little time for God?
I can’t answer those questions. So what keeps me believing and trusting God when I am faced with tragedy, heartache and grief? I can trust because I know the story in which I find myself. I know the bigger picture. I may not understand the darkness around me or what purposes it serves, but I know the one who does.
We all find ourselves in the midst of a much larger story. It’s as if we have been plopped down in the middle of the epic, not knowing what came before or after. And if we don’t know the story, we will be totally lost when the darkness overwhelms us. We must be able to see clearly where the plot is taking us so that we can trust the one who created the story.
Even as believers, we often don’t comprehend the epic story of the Bible because we have never read the individual stories in the larger context. Only as an adult was I able to piece together my childhood Sunday School lessons to see the greater outline behind them. The Bible presents the original epic, the greatest story ever told. I believe that God has placed its elements deep in the hearts of humans: thus, we have always been drawn to adventures filled with heroes, villains, and love—the stuff of God’s story.
Don’t you just hate turning on a show when you missed the beginning? I do! I won’t even start watching if I don’t understand what is going on. If my husband can’t catch me up, I refuse to watch! Well, we have no choice in God’s epic story; we arrived in the middle of it; the only way to get our bearings and figure out what is happening around us is to hear the story itself from the beginning.
God’s story begins in eternity past when God—the one God in three persons of Father, Son, and Spirit—planned out the creation of the universe and anticipated the story that would grow out of that creation.
Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God made the blueprint for all that we see and all that we can’t see. In the midst of his world he prepared a garden where the first man and woman lived a perfect existence. God designed them for fellowship with him and to be custodians and caretakers of the creation which he had formed. There was no sin, no sorrow, no tragedy and no death in that perfect place where man and woman walked with their God. Nothing separated them from him or fellowship with one another; they experienced intimacy with both God and one another in the ideal environment.
Thus, the first part of God’s story is
But darkness came into that perfect world when the woman was enticed to disobey God and eat of the forbidden fruit; then, her husband ate as well. As a result, they learned through experience the loneliness of living out of fellowship with God and one another. Their intimacy with God and each another died.
At that point, God let them know how sin would affect them and the world.
Look at Gen. 3:14-19:
The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all the wild beasts
and all the living creatures of the field!
On your belly you will crawl
and dust you will eat all the days of your life.
And I will put hostility between you and the woman
and between your offspring and her offspring;
her offspring will attack your head,
and you will attack her offspring’s heel.”
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your labor pains;
with pain you will give birth to children.
You will want to control your husband,
but he will dominate you.”
But to Adam he said,
“Because you obeyed your wife
and ate from the tree about which I commanded you,
‘You must not eat from it,’
cursed is the ground thanks to you;
in painful toil you will eatof it all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
but you will eat the grain of the field.
By the sweat of your brow you will eat food
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust, and to dust you will return.”
Although this entire passage is often called the curse, only the serpent and the ground were cursed, not the man or the woman. But sin brought dark consequences to their lives that continue to this day. From that day on, the story took a turn for the worse, and so I am calling it
First was Paradise, but it was ruined. As we see it every day! As God said here in Genesis, it’s no longer easy to see that marriage is “made in heaven.” Instead of enjoying the oneness that God designed for husband and wife, we fight with one another to get the upper hand. God also said that the serpent, whose other names include the devil and Satan, would war with the first couple’s descendants. Thus, all over the world people follow the darkness rather than the light. But on the bright side, embedded in God’s descriptions of the darkness wrought by sin is this wonderful promise: the woman’s child would overcome this ancient enemy.
As time passed after the Ruin came, the darkness grew; the descendants of Adam and Eve seemed to forget God entirely, being so lost that they could not find their way clearly through the darkness. But God still had his plan: the offspring of the woman would come at the right time and rescue his brothers and sisters. In the meantime, God determined that he would not leave people in total darkness but would bring light into their lives through those who remained loyal to him.
As a result, God set apart one man and his children to become lights in the midst of the darkness to help others see more clearly that God was there loving them and beckoning them to follow him. This man was Abraham, whom we will study this week as a foundation to understanding the days of the judges. Abraham’s descendants became the twelve tribes of Israel. From among them, God raised up individuals to write various books of the Bible to help people see clearly through the darkness. He gave his people the Ten Commandments which taught them how to live in a way that aligned with God’s best for their lives.
Through all of these things, God showed his love to his creation. Out of that love he continued to woo people into a relationship of intimacy with him, which was his heart all along for those whom he had created.
God’s epic story began with a perfect creation and intimacy with his people— Paradise. It took a turn for the worse when sin caused his light to be clouded in darkness—Ruin. Finally, the time was right for God to fulfill his promise to bring a Hero, one who would destroy the villain and rescue people from the darkness, restoring the creation to its original design.
The hero that came to the rescue is Jesus.
Let’s read John 1:1-14:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.And the light shines onin the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.
A man came, sent from God, whose name was John.He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children– children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.
Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.
Jesus is the light in the darkness for those who desire to see clearly where they are going. Jesus is God himself who came to earth to redeem or buy the creation back from its ruin. We’ll call this part of the story
Look at John 3:16-21:
For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.
Redemption tells us of God’s initiative to fix the problems that people generated by their sins, to right the ruin of paradise. It is the story of God himself coming to earth as the hero to restore mankind to a loving intimate relationship with him and with one other.
But you may be thinking, “Our world isn’t fixed.” Creation is still in darkness. Was Jesus unsuccessful?
No. Jesus redeemed mankind by his death on the cross. He freed us from enslavement to sin and its consequences; however, he has yet to restore creation to its original state. We are in a waiting pattern for the final curtain when all wrongs will be made right.
Look at Rom. 8:19-25:
For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of God who subjected it – in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance.
The apostle Paul recognized that all of creation is still in a state of disrepair, so to speak. But the day will come when all will be restored: our decaying bodies will be replaced with new ones that are perfect, and the world around us will be replaced with a new earth without storms, earthquakes, and destruction. It will be the time of restoration, when paradise returns to earth so we’ll call that part of the story
The apostle John describes it in Revelation 21:1-4:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. And I saw the holy city – the new Jerusalem – descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more – or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.”
God’s epic story can be summarized this way: paradise, ruin, redemption, and finally restoration. Between ruin and restoration, we enjoy many of the benefits of redemption but not all of them. We are in what has been called the “already but not yet” chapter of God’s epic. Jesus has already done the work of redemption and his children are redeemed, but the consequences of that redemption aren’t wholly enjoyed yet. We still live in the ruin’s darkness but we are now part of the kingdom and enjoy intimacy with God once again.
If your roots are in Texas, you probably know about the unofficial holiday called Juneteenth. According to Juneteenth.com, “it is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.”
The slaves in Texas were free by law, but they didn’t realize freedom’s benefits for two-and-a-half years. So it is with us. Jesus has already come and redeemed all of creation but we won’t see all that entails until the day he returns and makes all things new.
So, you may ask, what does all of this have to do with the book of Judges?
The stories in the book of Judges are stories of the darkness, of the ruin that sin has wrought; they relate how even God’s people, the Israelites, failed to seek the light. There was no king of Israel at that time, and the people embraced the darkness, turning from the mighty God who had brought them out of Egypt and from the laws that he had given them for their own good. They were stubborn children, just like we are, who did what they thought was right rather than follow their Father’s guidelines.
That is the theme of the era of the Judges. Both Judges 17:6 and Judges 21:25 repeat exactly the same words: “In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right” (NET). Or as the New American standard puts it, “Each man did what was right in his own eyes.”
We, too, even in the church, live in a time of darkness, a time when everyone does what seems right in his or her own eyes. We can learn much from the stories of the Judges. We can learn how risky it is to approach life as the world around us does rather than allowing God’s word to saturate out patterns of thinking. The Bible is our light in the darkness. Ps. 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (NASB). We cannot see clearly without it.
We also need to know God’s epic story so that we realize that the world isn’t a hopeless place and so that we remember that God does love us, even when the darkness is overwhelming. God didn’t leave his creation in ruin but sent Jesus as the epic hero to save the day. That same loving God was at work in the darkness in the times of the Judges, and we must continually look for his love and his care in the midst of those stories as well as in the darkness of our world today. There is a better day to come. There is a better world to come. All that God desired for his perfect creation will come to pass in the fullness of time. And we will all see it. In the meantime, we have been redeemed and belong to God’s kingdom, where we enjoy many of its benefits now.
God’s epic story: Paradise, ruin, redemption, and restoration; a story of love.
Thank you, Father, that when we don’t understand the reasons for what happens in the darkness, we can remember that you acted to right the wrong and to restore our world as it was meant to be and our relationship with you. What love it took for Jesus to come to earth and live as a man and even go through the horrors of the cross for us! Accept our worship now as we focus on him and on your great love for us.
“I am the sovereign God.
Walk before me and be blameless.”
Genesis 17:1b-c (NET)
When my daughter was a year old, my husband got a job in West Texas. At that time, we were living in Houston with both of our families nearby. Despite being a native Texan, this area of the state was quite foreign to me. I imagined a greener, hillier place with at least a few trees. If you have even been there, you know this is not the case! I had to adjust to a desert with tumbleweeds blowing down the streets and alleys. Even worse, the move uprooted me; I was now without any family or friends nearby with only a small child as my primary daytime companion.
This week before we begin a study of the book of Judges itself, we back up in time to set the stage for the era of the judges. We begin with the father of Israel, Abraham. He, too, left his homeland and journeyed into the unknown because God called him to do so. When I think of Abraham’s situation, I realize how much more difficult that would have been than mine—no map, no pictures, no preview visit, no trips back home!
More Light: As you go through today’s lesson, use a Bible map or atlas to find the locations mentioned.
As we begin looking at the roots of the Jewish nation, let’s begin by reading what Stephen said about Abraham in the New Testament. Read Acts 7:2-3.
1. Where was Abraham living when God first appeared to him? (This is in Iraq today.) What did God call him to do?
Read Genesis 11:27-12:8. (Abraham’s original name was Abram.)
2. By comparing what you read in Acts with this passage, you will notice that Abram had not completely obeyed God’s word to him. How was his obedience incomplete? In other words, what part of God’s instructions did he fail to do?
I find this so encouraging! Although Abraham is known as a great man of faith, he didn’t begin that way; rather, he grew in faith through the years. After he moved to Haran, God appeared to him again.
3. List the promises that God gave him in Gen. 12:1-8. What was the condition for God to fulfill them?
Put yourself in Abraham’s place. This move must have been similar to the moves of the early pioneers who struck out across America in covered wagons. If you have ever been to the Middle East, you have probably seen the tents of the Bedouins, the nomads who move from place to place. Picture Abraham and his family in that kind of situation.
Read Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-10.
4. What was the key to Abraham’s obedience according to Hebrews 11:8-10? Define true faith according to Hebrews 11:1.
Imagine traveling a road that is unmarked and unmapped. Your only guide is a person who claims to know where he is going. (There is a chance that you do not have to imagine this if you have had this experience with your husband or father.) The key to getting to the right destination is the wisdom and knowledge of the guide. If he knows the way, you do not have to be concerned because you can trust in the one who is directing you. So it was with Abraham; he trusted that God knew the place and the way and would not mislead him.
Too often we mistakenly think that we are in control and know where we are going in life; however, only God knows the future. Only God can direct us to the place where He wants to bless us, just as He did Abraham. He calls us to obey and follow.
5. Sharing Question: Describe the circumstances or situation in your life right now in which it is most difficult for you to trust God. Perhaps you feel that he is leading you into the darkness where you do not know the way. How does this relate to Hebrews 11:1? (Be honest with where you are in life with your group, knowing this is a safe place to be transparent.)
6. Responding to God: Ask God to give you the faith to trust him. Express the specific situation and leave the answer with him. Write out your prayer below.
Yesterday we saw that God made some pretty big promises to Abram. Let’s read the accounts of other situations when God spoke to him.
7. Read Gen. 13:14-18. Compare these promises with those in Gen. 12:1-3.
More Light: Use any commentaries which you have or find online resources and read about the promises to Abraham in Gen. 12:1-3.
8. Read Gen. 15:1-6. About which promise was Abram questioning God? What was God’s response?
Abram was eighty-four- years old at this point and had been in the land ten years. (See Gen. 12:4.)
9. How does this help you understand why he was skeptical that God would answer his prayer?
Sometimes we pray and pray and begin to think that God has deserted us and is not answering our prayers. Sometimes the problem is just the timing; God’s answer is coming, but we lack the faith to wait.
10. Consider the parable that Jesus taught in Luke 18:1-7. What principle do you learn from this parable that you can apply to the circumstances or situation that you mentioned yesterday in question #5?
11. Sharing question: Share about a time in your own life when God’s timing was different from yours. Did you trust God or take matters into your own hands? What was the outcome?
12. Responding to God: Spend a few minutes quietly sitting in God’s presence. Be still and listen for his voice. Ask him to show you any situation in your life today in which you are being impatient rather than waiting on his perfect timing. Confess that lack of faith, knowing that he forgives. Write down your thoughts or prayer below.
Genesis 15 was a turning point in Abraham’s life. At this time he believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (v. 6). What is righteousness? Righteousness is “conformity to all that [God] commands or appoints.”1
13. Copy Gen. 15:6.
14. Responding to God: Ask God if you have truly conformed to ALL that he commands. Open your heart before him so that you hear his answer. Write down your thoughts.
More Light: Look up Gen 15:6 in several translations. If you don’t have other translations at home, go to online resources such as bible.org, which has every verse in a number of translations.
The fourth chapter of Romans uses Gen. 15:6 to prove Paul’s argument to the Jews that faith alone places us in right relationship with God. Neither Abraham nor any of us can be totally righteous because we do not always align ourselves with God’s best.
Read Romans 4:2-8.
15. Paul says that Abraham didn’t earn God’s righteousness through his goodness and works; rather, it was solely based on his faith. What are some works or actions one might do in the hopes that God would accept or love her more?
We cannot gain God’s favor with our works because we can never be good enough. We can try as hard as we can, but we will always fall short of the perfection of God. It’s not a matter of tipping the scales to your side, of having more on the good side than the bad. All sin, small or large, separates us from God. If there is even one sin on that side of the scales, the scales are tipped to that side. However, we learn good news from the faith of Abraham: God accepts our faith in Jesus to take all sins off of the scales, and he replaces our failures with his perfection. He gives us the gift of life in him so that we become his children and live with him forever.
16. Responding to God: Where are you in the journey of faith? Do you trust that Jesus is God who came to earth to give you his righteousness or do you believe that your own goodness is enough for God’s acceptance? Talk to God honestly about your situation. If you are confused in any way, talk to your leader or someone else in your group. All of us have been on a similar journey.
Seeing clearly through the darkness begins at the point of trusting Jesus to give you his righteousness because he carried the penalty of your sins on the cross. He then gives you eyes to see through the darkness around you and the power to live differently than you did before. He gives you his Spirit to live within you to guide you through the darkness into his love.
17. Responding to God: Write a prayer or poem expressing your thanks to God for the gift of his righteousness.
Yesterday we saw that Abraham’s faith was the basis of his relationship with God. As we continue to move forward in time, let’s review the promises that God gave him.
18. Review the promises God gave to Abraham, which you listed in #7 of this week’s study. What additional promises did God give Abram in Gen. 15:13-16?
After God’s appearance in Gen. 15, Abram decided to help God make good his promise of a son. Abram quite happily agreed to his wife’s plan to father a child by her maid. At the age of 86, Abram’s son Ishmael was born.
Read Gen. 17:1-8, 15-22.
19. Compare the promises in Gen. 17:2-8 with those you have seen in the other verses that you have considered in this lesson.
20. What did God promise Abraham about his heirs (Gen. 17:15-22)?
More Light: Read what others say about Gen. 17:15-22 in your resources.
Abraham’s son Isaac became the father of Jacob, later renamed Israel. The nation he founded inherited the promises given to Isaac; these promises form the basis for understanding so much of the history of the Jews, including the book of Judges.
21. Read 1 Peter 1:3-5. God has given us an inheritance as well. How does Peter describe our inheritance?
22. Sharing question: Have you ever inherited anything? Besides simply gaining the money, land, or stuff itself, what did it mean to you that someone chose to give you something of herself or himself?
23. Responding to God: Write a prayer or poem expressing your emotions, knowing that God has chosen you as his heir and that someday your inheritance in heaven will be revealed.
Reread Gen. 17:1, our memory verse for this week. We are calling these verses Light for Today. Use your cards to carry with you or paste on your mirror. Although these are God’s words to Abraham, he is God Almighty or the Sovereign God in our lives as well. The name reveals something about God. It is interesting that He used that name for the first time here when He wanted Abram to believe something almost impossible to believe.
Read Hebrews 11:11-12.
24. What about this situation required God to reveal himself as God Almighty or the Sovereign God? In other words, why might Abraham and Sarah have needed that reassurance at this time in their lives?
More Light: Use a concordance or online resource to find other verses that refer to God by this name, God Almighty or the Sovereign God (NET). 2
25. Responding to God: Is there a situation in your life right now where you need to know that God is God Almighty or that He is sovereign? Write a prayer to God expressing your faith in Him that He has the power to do the impossible. Praise him as God Almighty!
Read Gen. 21:1-2.
26. How do you see God’s faithfulness revealed in these verses?
If we studied Abraham’s life in detail, we would see him grow in faith as God was faithful and proved himself capable of fulfilling his promises. Our faith grows, also, as God stretches us through life experiences. Sadly, we are often so focused on ourselves that we do not recognize God’s work in our lives. I look back on my youth, and now I can see the hand of God upon me, but then all I could see was me. I failed to see clearly through the darkness because I wasn’t focused on what was beyond the present.
27. Sharing question: Relate how you now see God at work during a difficult period when you found it hard to believe that God was doing anything at the time.
28. Responding to God: Write a prayer or a poem of thanks that God is faithful and almighty. Make it personal to a situation you face today.
Seeing in the darkness depends on faith in God. We must trust Him to know what is best for us and follow him even into the wilderness without maps, without water, without companions.
Each week at the end of our study, we will read the story of a woman who has experienced some truth from our lesson. Some of the names are real and some have been changed to protect the innocent (or the guilty as the story may reveal). You will also see an optional section which includes some parenting applications. Your group will not discuss either of these sections.
Twelve years ago, I watched as my husband of twenty years drove away for what I thought would be a normal day of work. That day, he did not return home. Shortly after, I learned that he had no intention of coming home again. To make matters worse, he was residing over two thousand miles away from Dallas. Being reared in a very small rural town, I never would have imagined that I would be left alone in a large city without the comfort of family nearby. I soon realized that I was to be solely responsible for the emotional care of two children, and that they too must be required to bear this loss. To add to the dilemma, I had no car, no job, nor had I worked for many years. It was a local Christian psychologist who would help me acknowledge my state of abandonment. I realized that my life had dealt events that I would never have chosen for myself.
It was not surprising and seemed quite natural that I would turn to the faith of my family to rely on for support and strength. Being raised in a very devout Christian family was a support that I never had realized was so strong a force in my life. Soon I also learned that as a single woman I would face many obstacles along the way of life. Each time fear would overcome my heart, it would be through prayer, God’s word, and Christian friends that I would find the strength to travel on. Each time that I relied on God, my faith would only grow stronger. My faith became an action, not a feeling. God became the protection over my life and the guardian of my heart. No, he was not someone I could physically touch or see, but by faith, I knew I could rely on his presence. Whenever I would measure my obstacles against the size of God, I would take refuge in the sight of all that He is and has provided for us. I claimed God’s promise that as his child, I could run into his loving arms and find a safe haven and resting place.
As I look back on this journey of faith in God, I see no ashes or shambles. I see a cross and a loving relationship that has been cultivated and nourished. Jesus has revealed Himself to me each day. Yes, I had many days of raging waters, but my Jesus was there to carry me and bring into his safe bosom of love and rest. He can conquer the wildest storm. He has carried me through a valley so low into a love relationship with himself that is the treasure of my heart and life.
I am reminded of a scripture that was one of my favorites during this time. Matthew 11:28-30 reads, “Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
From time to time all families must endure loss and difficulties of life. God is so ready to not just stand beside us, but he is ready to carry us through the storm. God has been faithful to me; I have a responsibility to be faithful to him.
It is so helpful as a mother to remember that Abraham became a man of faith. Through the difficult experiences and the trials that God allowed, he learned that he could trust God and that God could make his promises come true. We have to grow into the faith of Abraham if we are to be the mothers that God intends us to be. Each time that God proves himself to us it grows our faith.
When I was a new mother, I used to pray that Jesus would return before my children became teenagers. I remembered some difficult years for my mother when my sister and I were that age, and so I wasn’t looking forward to dealing with that as a mother. However, by the time my daughter and son were teens, I had grown in my faith and had learned to trust them to God. If they became rebellious, I decided that I would accept and trust that God was in control and had the ability to bring them home again. I am very thankful that the teenage years never presented the problems that I envisioned, but I used those early years to prepare myself spiritually for the prospect of some hard years ahead.
Are you prepared for rebellion, for illness, or for trials in the lives of your children? Begin now by praying for them and asking God to grow your faith so that you are ready to trust him with your children. He loves them more than you do and he knows what is best for them. Believe God’s word: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Say a prayer entrusting your children to God, believing that he knows best about them.
1 Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1991), 892.
2 If you go to bible.org and search for that phrase, it will list the verses for you. Some will not apply but many will.
This message is designed to go after the student has followed the workbook and done the homework for Lesson 1. The audio of this message is also available
How many of you are familiar with Dr. Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense? He has spent many years involved in government roles, primarily at the CIA where he served as Director under the first President Bush. When President George W. Bush appointed him as Secretary of Defense in 2006, he left his position as President of Texas A&M University. Listen as he discusses his decision to return to government service.
Robert Gates loved what he did at A&M and didn’t want to leave. But as he said, he had to respond when the President called and the need was so great!
We, too, have been called into service, but he who called us is far more important and wields far greater power than the President of the United States. If Robert Gates felt that he couldn’t say no when his President needed him, we certainly should not refuse the one who called us, the God who created us and redeemed us!
Abraham didn’t refuse God’s call! I wish we had more details of what happened. Joshua gave the people of Israel a summary of the story in Joshua 24:2-3:
“Here is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘In the distant past your ancestors lived beyond the Euphrates River, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor. They worshiped other gods, but I took your father Abraham from beyond the Euphrates and brought him into the entire land of Canaan.’”
At some point Abraham encountered the true God, the Creator of all things, and he responded to God’s call. Stephen added to the story in Acts 7:
“The God of glory appeared to our forefather Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your country and from your relatives, and come to the land I will show you.’Then he went out from the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God made him move to this country where you now live.”
God invaded Abraham’s life and called him to leave the past behind. In order to do that, he had to abandon three things: his idols, his country, and his family.
We don’t have a record as to how God appeared to Abraham and convinced him to leave the idolatry of his family. That is a given in the story, but imagine what a change it was for him and how threatening it may have been to his family!
God has called us to follow him, just as he did Abraham. The first part of that call is to a relationship with him. We are to trust in Jesus as the only way to the Father. We are to know that he is the Son of God who has bought us with his own blood so that our sins can be forgiven by his death and resurrection. That involves leaving behind the idols in which we trust to bring us to God. We may trust in our church attendance or baptism instead of in Jesus; we may trust in our own goodness instead of in Jesus; or we may trust in a false idea of who God is instead of in Jesus, who is the reality.
Abraham left his idols and followed God. We have no details as to how he convinced his family to leave Ur and move to Haran, but we saw in Gen. 11 that they did. Although Abraham left idols and country as God had told him to do, he had a much more difficult time leaving family. And we all understand that! It was only after his dad died in Haran that Abraham finally embarked upon the last leg of the journey into the land, but even then he took his nephew Lot.
Why would God ask Abraham to leave his family behind? Sometimes our families are not healthy for us as believers. When they do not believe in the same God, they can be hindrances to our faith. Sometimes, they create obstacles for us even when they do share our faith.
My mother, who is a believer, questioned my decision to join a church staff. Her background and experience told her that I needed a good retirement and that teaching was the ideal way to get there. Security was more important in her mind than God’s call on my life. Every time I have gone on a mission trip, she has suggested that it’s a bad decision because of safety issues. Thankfully, I was way past letting my mother dissuade me! But I do know firsthand that even Christian family members may be attached to idols like security that cloud their judgment and impair their counsel to us. Or our family members may be the idols we place before God.
God called Abraham to leave his idols, his country, and his family. Does God expect us to do the same? Is that call for everyone or merely for a few great people like Abraham?
To answer that, look in Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:34-39:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.
Jesus teaches that our priorities must change when God calls us. We must put him before everyone and everything, including family. (But do note that husbands are not included in this passage. We are one with them and don’t leave them behind although Jesus is our priority over them!) We are to die to self; that’s the meaning of taking up a cross. It’s not an illness or a difficult boss but it’s our own deaths. We are to put Jesus first, before our own desires and before family.
I believe that God took Gary and me from proximity to our families years ago so that we would be forced to find family in church. Gary was a new believer and we had a toddler when God took us from the suburbs of Houston near both of our families and put us in West Texas totally alone. For the first time in my life, I had to look for my entire support system outside of the family and friends with whom I had grown up! God put some wonderful Christian women in my life at that time, and I began to find my community within the family of faith. I am not sure any other single circumstance in my life did more to move me toward God than that lonely situation. I was never the same. When we moved here 2 ½ years later, I automatically reached out to others in the church, now not merely to find friends but also for spiritual support.
If God is to use us, we have to listen to his voice and leave behind anything that would distract us from total obedience to him. For some of us, it may involve a place, maybe a job, because it involves negative influences or idols in our lives. For a many of us it’s people who pull us down spiritually. For all of us, it’s our idols, whether they include success, pleasing people, our children, marriage, material things, our looks, a beautiful home—or whatever. What is keeping you from totally following God? For Abraham it was his family. When he failed to leave them behind, God got rid of them in his time and in his way. Abraham’s dad died in Haran and eventually, Lot and Abraham had to separate so the land could support their numbers because of how richly God had blessed them.
But God didn’t just call Abraham to leave the past behind, he also called him to walk forward in faith. He told him to follow him into a new land.
God always calls us to follow him in faith; the Christian life is a walk of faith with God. The essential of that walk is our relationship with the one who leads us.
We see Abraham moving forward in faith in Hebrews 11:8-12:
11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going.
11:9 By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land as though it were a foreign country, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise.
11:10 For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11:11 By faith, even though Sarah herself was barren and he was too old, he received the ability to procreate, because he regarded the one who had given the promise to be trustworthy.
11:12 So in fact children were fathered by one man – and this one as good as dead – like the number of stars in the sky and like the innumerable grains of sand on the seashore.
You read the stories this week and here is the Bible’s commentary on them. Abraham acted in faith in every one of these situations.
Hebrews 11:1 (NET) gives us a definition of faith:
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.”
It sounds so easy but it’s quite hard to be sure or convinced when God isn’t doing anything! Even Abraham, the great man of faith doubted God. Remember that God promised to make Abraham a great nation if he would follow him into the land, but after ten years, he had no children. Look at Genesis 15:1-6 (NIV):
After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram! I am your shield; your very great reward.”
15:2 But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD , what can you give me since I remainchildless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”
15:3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
15:4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.”
15:5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them!” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
15:6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
What do we learn here about dealing with doubt and trusting God when he hasn’t fulfilled his promises? How do we walk with him by faith when we encounter such situations?
Notice that Abraham accused God of not giving him a child, which means that he recognized that God had that kind of power. In v. 2, he called God Sovereign Lord. Literally he called him Master. Abraham trusted God’s power and recognized that he was the Master with the power to give him a child.
Walking forward by faith means that we must know God’s character and power. Sometimes we can’t see him at work and in those times we must lean on the truths of God’s word as to his character and abilities.
We see Abraham do this even more clearly in what I would call the climactic story of Abraham’s journey of faith. We didn’t read the story this week but most of you are familiar with it. It is the account in Genesis 22 when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. At that point of the story, Abraham’s son Ishmael, whose mother was Sarah’s servant Hagar, had moved away. Isaac alone was Abraham’s heir. God specified in Gen. 21:12 that it would be through Isaac that Abraham’s true descendants, his heirs, would come.
We won’t read the entire story but suffice it to say that Abraham obeyed God’s command to sacrifice his son, but at the last second God spared him. What I want us to see is the commentary on the passage in Heb. 11:17-19:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,”and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there.
The key to Abraham’s obedience was his faith in God’s power and his character. He believed that God would be faithful to his word to give him descendants through Isaac; therefore, he reasoned that God would raise Isaac from the dead in order to fulfill his promises. He trusted in God’s faithfulness and his mighty power over life and death.
So what do we learn from Abraham about walking forward by faith? We learn that we must hang onto God’s character and promises if we are to trust him in times of testing. If we aren’t spending time in God’s word and believing what it tells us about God, we won’t have anything to hang onto when we encounter tough times.
I have been praying for years for a family member who is somewhat of a prodigal. This person believes in Jesus and trusts in his death and resurrection but isn’t walking with God by faith on a daily basis because God doesn’t seem to be at work answering prayer. And frankly, sometimes I have those same kinds of doubts myself. I have days when I wonder if God will ever answer my prayers when I don’t see anything happening for a long, extended time.
So how do I continue in faith believing God will act in this person’s life? How do I trust that God is at work when I begin to doubt it? I hang on to God’s character and his promises, just as Abraham did. I claim verses like Phil. 1:6: “For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” God will continue his work in this one’s life. Also, I believe that God’s heart is reflected in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. I believe that he is seeking this stray sheep to return to him.
As we walk forward in faith with God, we can know that we will encounter problems and difficulties, just as Abraham did, and we must trust God in the midst of them by relying upon the truths about him.
God wants to use us for his kingdom and his glory, just as he did Abraham, but often we are in the way. We are hanging on to idols, sins, or other things that keep us from prioritizing God. We have doubts about God’s work because we don’t know his character and his promises. We are afraid of walking into the unknown land, not realizing that God has gone before us and will be there holding our hands as we move forward step by step. Are you ready for God to do great things through you in the lives of others?
There have been a handful of significant times in my life when I recognized that God was pulling me away from all I was holding onto and sending me out into the unknown. Those situations were scary because I knew that I had to trust God step by step along the way. But they were also the greatest times I have ever experienced with God. I had to rely on him; I couldn’t depend on myself; I had to accept my inability to find the way alone and totally seek him as I moved forward. But those times didn’t even come until I had let go of other things in my life that pulled me away from God. They occurred after I had separated from family and after I had determined that my only desire was to please God. At that point, God took me into the unknown and began to use me. And he has done that again and again in my life. When my life has become too comfortable, he seems to grab hold of me once again and push me into the unknown land to walk with him alone.
God is calling each of us to leave everything behind and move forward in faith as he leads us into the unknown.
Before we head out, I want us all to spend a few moments of silence before God. Ask him what you need to leave behind today so that you can truly follow him in faith and so that he can use you for his kingdom and his glory. It may be an idol, something that you love more than God; it may be a sin like unforgiveness or disobedience; it may be a place like a job or a house; or it may be family which pulls you away from God. Or it may be all of these things. Quiet your heart and listen to God’s answer.
Now if there is a situation in your life right now in which you find yourself doubting God and his care, take it before God and ask him to show you in which aspects of his character you are failing to believe, what promises he has given that you don’t trust. Repent of the unbelief they reveal and ask God to give you the faith that you need in the darkness. Commit to go to his word and draw near to him so that you see him clearly when you encounter darkness.
Finally, tell God that you are ready to move forward in faith with him, letting him use you for his kingdom and his glory, as he did Abraham when he moved forward in faith. Tell him that you won’t refuse his call.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever!
Hebrews 13:8 (NET)
I am not sure we have many examples of faithfulness today. People used to take pride in being people of their word. Instead, we hear couples speak oaths of faithfulness at their wedding who simply decide they want to be free or happy, forsaking the vows that they made to one another. In the business world executives try to find ways to get around the contractual commitments made when they find those agreements less than profitable. Every day I come across people who do not follow through with the commitments and responsibilities they have agreed to shoulder, even in the church.
God is so different from the world’s norm because he always carries out the promises he has given. He is a faithful God, who can be trusted to fulfill all that he has said in his word. Just as he was faithful to the promises to Abraham that we studied last week, so he will be faithful to his promises to you (Heb. 13:8—learn your memory verse).
1. By way of review, what promises did God make over and over to Abraham, as you saw last week? (Look back at Gen. 12:1-3; 15:13-16.)
God is indeed a God of his word—faithful to fulfill all of his promises. We saw last week that the descendants of Abraham inherited the promises through Isaac, Jacob, and his twelve sons, who founded the twelve tribes of Israel. One of these sons was Joseph, whose story is told in the latter part of Genesis. Although his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, that became the means of saving his entire family during a famine. God orchestrated the events so that his word would be fulfilled.
Review Gen. 15:13-14.
2. What did God tell Abraham would happen to his descendants? How did this happen according to Ex. 1:8-14?
Read Exodus 3:1-4, 8-10.
3. What was God’s plan to rescue his people out of slavery in Egypt? (Be sure and write down from which verses you get answers like this so that you can quickly find them again.)
Read Exodus 3:11-4:17.
More light: Write down the arguments/excuses that Moses tried to use with God.
Read Isaiah 6:1-8.
4. Compare Isaiah’s response to God’s call in Is. 6:1-8 to Moses’ response.
5. Sharing question: Is there something God has called you to do as a believer that you have failed to do, but have instead excused yourself, essentially arguing with God? It could be something specific to you or something he calls all believers to do. Be specific and openly confess your failure to your group.
6. Responding to God: Write a prayer of confession over this sin and a prayer of commitment, trusting that God will empower you as he did Moses. Ask for the faith and the courage to obey.
God was at work though Moses to make good the promise of deliverance that he gave Abraham. Moses did go to Egypt and obey God. All that God promised Moses, God performed.
7. List God’s promises to Moses in Ex. 3:19-22.
Exodus 7-10 chronicles nine miraculous plagues that God sent upon Egypt to compel Pharaoh to release the Jewish people. Because the ruler still would not permit them to leave, God sent one last, severe plague on the Egyptians. In it, he provided a beautiful picture of the salvation that he would eventually bring to us in Jesus Christ.
More Light: Read about the plagues in Ex. 7-10, considering the great power of God to make his promises come true.
Read Exodus 12:21-32, 40-41.
8. Describe God’s instructions for the first Passover. What were the people to do? What were the consequences of failing to obey?
9. How did the Passover picture the salvation that we have in Jesus? (Read John 1:29.)
10. Why did God require the Jews to continue observing Passover throughout their generations (v. 42)?
11. Sharing question: Describe a time in your life when you learned firsthand that God is faithful to his promises, or describe a current situation where you need to trust him.
12. Responding to God: Write a prayer or poem of celebration for God’s faithfulness to his word.
After the Jews left Egypt, they spent some time at Mount Sinai receiving God’s law, entering a covenant with him, and building a Tabernacle in which God would dwell in a special sense right in their midst. Just over a year later, they set off for the Land of Promise, called Canaan, the same land God gave to Abraham and his descendants according to his word in Genesis.
It has been estimated that approximately two million Jews were part of this traveling company led by God through a cloud by day and a fire by night.3 They eventually came to the edge of the Promised Land and stopped at Kadesh-Barnea.
Read Numbers 13:1-3, 25-33; 14:1-10, 26-35.
13. What was the report of the ten spies and their advice to the people? How did Caleb and Joshua’s report differ and why?
14. What was the root cause of the disobedience of the Israelites who were unwilling to enter the land promised by God? (See Heb. 3:15-19.) How does that attitude lead to disobedience to God?
15. What consequences followed their disobedience?
The same sin is always at the root of disobedience. Joshua and Caleb saw clearly through the darkness while the other spies could only see the darkness. We, too, can focus on the darkness or on the power and faithfulness of God.
More light: Skim Numbers 15:32-17:12; 20:1-25:18. Note some of the events that happened during this time.
16. Sharing question: In what area do you struggle most to obey God? It could be that you fail to be pure in your thoughts. You may tell white lies to your friends or boss. You may not be faithful to what you say you will do. You may not be content. You may choose to please others rather than God. You may struggle to prioritize giving to God’s kingdom work. There are so many options! We all struggle with specific sins more than others. (Be honest here and be willing to be real with your group. It’s time for Christian women to take off the masks and love one another.) What are you failing to believe about God that leads to this disobedience? Think of a specific characteristic of God that lies at the root of your unbelief. Share it with your group.
17. Responding to God: Confess your disobedience and your unbelief. Ask God for the grace to believe him in the areas where you struggle. Write your thoughts below.
Over and over we have seen God’s faithfulness to his promises. Just as he fulfilled his word to deliver the people from Egypt, so he was faithful to his promise that they would die in the wilderness rather than enter the land. Only those who had been children at the time of the spies’ report were able to possess the Land of Promise.
Once that entire generation died, Moses took the people a second time to the border of the land. There he gave his farewell sermon to the people. In it, he recounted God’s faithfulness and the people’s faithlessness. He gave them God’s final instructions for possessing the land and warned them of the consequences of disobedience.
Read Deut. 7:1-6, 17-23.
More light: Read all of Deut. 7, and write down your thoughts.
18. What did God instruct the people of Israel to do with the inhabitants of the Promised Land? Why? (This will become important when we get to the period of the Judges.)
Consider the situation—the Israelites would not get this land without a fight. They were facing war as they entered the land.
19. How did Moses encourage the people not to fear? What were they to remember (Deut. 7:17-19)?
20. Sharing question: How can you apply this principle? What mighty deeds has God done in your life?
Read Deut. 34:1-12.
21. What happened to Moses before the move into the land?
22. How did God prepare Joshua for leading the people?
23. Responding to God: Thank God that he prepares you for any task that he gives you. Ask him for the insight to see any task that you have left undone out of unbelief and fear. Talk to him about moving forward with that task.
If faith is essential to our lives, we want to grow in our understanding of God so that we do trust him.
24. Look up these verses and write down your insights into God’s character:
a. Deut. 34:5-8
b. Psalm 135:5, 6
c. Psalm 136:1
d. Psalm 147:15
e. 2 Tim. 2:13
f. 1 John 1:9
25. Sharing question: Which of the above verses applies to the unbelief that you mentioned on Day Three in #16 & #17? Why did you choose it?
More light: What story in the Bible illustrates the characteristic of God that you chose? Read the story and consider what you learn about God from it.
26. Illustrate in some way that quality of God that answered the previous question (#25). A stick picture would be fine! We aren’t all artistsJ
27. Responding to God: Read Ps. 145:1-7 and speak of his greatness to others today. Write down what you said and to whom you spoke it.
The stories we have read aren’t just facts out of a history book; they contain truths that will change your life if your heart is open to God. So far, we have seen that God reaches out to us to draw us to himself. He calls us to follow him, and he blesses the faith that responds. We have also witnessed that God is faithful to his word in the lives of his people. If we are to see clearly through our present darkness, we must understand these truths so that we depend upon them when all seems unclear.
Being married to a corporate executive had all the perks of living a good life – country club living, tennis, fancy cars and a large beautiful home. Then the unexpected day arrived when the company my husband worked for was sold and he lost his job. We were momentarily stunned, but not concerned. After all, there were many other corporations out there.
Months went by without any new prospects for work. There were younger corporate executives in the marketplace working for less pay. The savings dwindled, the bills piled up. We prayed, we went to church, we continued serving and trusting God, yet many more months went by without income. We kept waiting for the outpouring of income to support our lifestyle that we trusted God for, but it didn’t come. On the outside, we looked like we had it all together; but on the inside, we were crying. And, of course, pride was in the way of letting others know how bad things were.
Finally, on a particular Sunday morning, we were getting ready for church when my husband called from the shower for a bar of soap. When I replied that we were out, it was the last straw. We fell apart and acknowledged that we were in serious trouble and would have to change our lifestyle. We were out of money and didn’t even have change in our pocket to buy bath soap! We left for church that morning in total despair, questioning the provision and faithfulness of God.
The pastor’s message that day was from Isaiah 43:18-19. “Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new. Now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”
My husband and I listened to this message with tears running down our faces. We felt God was telling us to forget our old lifestyle, to be willing to accept a new way of life; and as we let go, he would provide in this wilderness time of our lives.
When we arrived home, there was a promotional package in a plastic bag hanging from the front door knob. Inside the bag was a bar of soap – the name of it was Spirit, and it was blue! (the color of my bathroom) We burst out laughing! How unusual for a promotional package to be delivered on a Sunday, but God used the timing and the product to, not only put a little humor in our situation, but to prove his faithfulness in even the little things. We learned from this experience that trusting in God’s faithfulness is not just for the future – a week, a month, a year; but faith is living moment by moment trusting that God is faithful in that very moment! Then, those moments link together for a future of experiencing God’s faithfulness.
That date in August of 1993 was a turning point in our lives. We have never regained that lifestyle, but we don’t miss it. God had something totally different in mind for us. Our financial circumstances did not improve, but our faith did. God has been faithful to provide for our needs moment by moment as we live by faith trusting Him. To God be the glory!
Sometimes it is helpful for us as mothers to see that God disciplines his disobedient children so that we will not be afraid to discipline our children. When the children of Israel flatly refused to enter the land that he had promised them, God punished them. They were unable to receive the gift. Instead, they were nomads for the remainder of their lives, never able to rest in their own land.
When your children adamantly refuse to obey you, you must deal with them because of their attitudes. The size or significance of what you requested of them is not the issue. It is an issue of rebellion in the heart.
As adults, we are called to submit to God himself. It takes an obedient, willing heart to do so. We must teach our children to obey when they are young so that they are prepared to submit to God when they are older.
As a child I did not like to obey my mother. I had a rebellious heart. Because she did punish me in an effort to teach me obedience, I learned that obedience is a better choice. Just as I paid the price for rebellion, it is also risky to disobey God because he will discipline when necessary. Heb. 12:6 says, “For those whom the Lord loves he disciplines, and he scourges every son whom He receives.” If you truly love your children, you will follow God’s model of discipline because you want the best for them and that means obedience to God, who knows what is best in every situation.
Ask God for the wisdom to consistently discipline your children and teach them obedience. Pray specifically for each of your children.
3 Note in The MacArthur Study Bible, Ed. John MacArthur (Nashville, TN: 1997), 113.
“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve . . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua 24:15 (NASB)
As a mother, I found disciplining my children to be less than fun and often very hard. There were times when I chose to simply ignore the problem; yet, that didn’t help me train them to be the kind of children that were polite, kind, and forgiving. Although I didn’t enjoy having to deal with disobedience and sass, imposing consequences on my children did affect their long-term behavior. When they recognized how unhappy they were when they failed to act positively, they changed their behavior. This week we will see that God is a great Father and as such, he often disciplines his children by imposing negative consequences for bad behavior.
Over the last two weeks we have set the stage for our study of the book of Judges. We saw God call one man, Abraham, out of the idolatry of his childhood into a relationship with him—a relationship in which he followed God in faith. We read of the great promises concerning a nation, a land, and a blessing to the world. Then, we tracked the story as God began to fulfill these promises. He multiplied Abraham’s family until they numbered in the millions. Under the leadership of God’s chosen man Moses, the nation left behind slavery in Egypt to return to the Land of Promise. After forty years of wandering in the wilderness because of lack of faith, God took them into the land and gave them victory after victory under Joshua’s leadership.
Now we move into the times of the judges. This period began with the death of Joshua and ended when Saul became the first King of Israel. In the meantime there was no single leader for the nation. God was King, and the people were expected to listen to him and obey. What happened in reality was a far cry from the vision, however. This week we consider the period as a whole, and its sad commentary on God’s people and their loyalty to the God who was faithful to them. They failed to see clearly and their world grew darker and darker, becoming more difficult to make out the light.
You may want to read more background information about this book and time period at the back of this study.
Before you read the introductory section of the book of Judges, you will find it helpful to understand how it is set up because it is not strictly chronological. There is a double introduction in this book: the first (Judges 1:1-2:5) presents the perspective of the people and the second (Judges 2:6-3:6) reveals God’s point-of-view.4
During Joshua’s life, the Israelites defeated the major kings of Canaan in a series of battles, detailed in the book of Joshua. Then, the land was divided among the tribes, and each tribe was to complete the conquest of their allotted land.
Read Judges 1:1-2:5, the first introduction. (FYI—The tribes of Israel are referred to as if they are individuals here. Judah is a tribe, not a person.)
1. Review God’s instructions about dealing with the people in that land in Deut. 7:1-6. What was the essential command and what reason was given for it?
God commanded them using the word harem, meaning a devoted thing or to totally destroy. Why would God ask them to totally destroy the people? “The reasons appear to be threefold: judgment of the Canaanites, protection of the Israelites from Canaanite religious influence, and fulfillment of the patriarchal promises concerning the land.” 5
More light: Read what your Bible resources or commentaries say about God’s instructions in Deut 7:1-6. Write down your insights.
2. How well did the various tribes obey God’s instructions according to Judges 1? List the tribes mentioned and specifics of their obedience or lack of it.
3. How did God respond according to Judges 2:1-3?
By failing to obey God’s instructions about the people of the land, his people who were to love him alone adopted the idolatry of their neighbors and lived with the consequences. In Judges 2:4-5 we see their sorrow.
4. How did Paul describe two kinds of sorrow in 2 Cor. 7:9-10? Which sorrow would you say that the Israelites had and why?
God allowed Israel to live with the consequences of their own sin and disobedience. When we fail to completely get rid of our sins, patterns of thinking and acting, or friends who pull us down, we can end up with thorns in our sides, just as Israel did with the people of the land.
“If we examine our lives, the bulk of our failures—especially in spiritual matters, but not exclusively—are the results of outright disobedience to God’s explicit, straightforward commandments, or of attempting to live in such a way that we blend into the world.”6
K. Lawson Younger, Jr.
5. Sharing question: Do you have sins that you are holding onto, patterns of thinking or acting that are destructive, or other negatives that you have not totally destroyed? They are thorns in your side. How do they negatively affect you?
6. Responding to God: Write a prayer of commitment before God to repent and remove these thorns. Be sure that you specifically name the sin and your willingness to turn from it. Read Psalm 32:5 and deal with your sin as the psalmist did. Consider making this your prayer request for your group this week.
The second introduction to the book of Judges is found in Judges 2:6-3:6. While the first introduction offers us the point-of-view of the Israelites, this one helps us understand God’s perspective on the same events.
More Light: The first introduction to Judges has the story of a woman tucked away in it. Reread Judges 1:12-15, and think about what you learn from her.
Read Judges 2:6-3:6, the second introduction. (To be sure that you understand this, Judges 2:6 flashes back to Josh. 24. It is not chronological after 2:5 but happened before Judges 1:1.)
7. Compare this second introduction to the first one that you read in Judges 1:1-2:5. What differences do you see in the two points-of-view?
Read Joshua 24:1-29. (Notice that Joshua 24:28 is the flashback point of Judges 2:6.)
This is Joshua’s farewell address to the nation. Because this was his last chance to speak to the people, he shared what was most important, the things that were on his heart for them, just as a father or mother might do on a deathbed.
8. In your own words, write a one sentence summary of Joshua’s primary message to the people in Joshua 24:14-24.
Throughout this passage Joshua calls God the LORD, written in all caps. This is the name of God YHWH, probably pronounced Yahweh; he is not the same god as Allah or any other god. He desires that the Israelites know that he is the God they serve, not the idols of Egypt or the idols of the people who live in the land. YHWH is the God of creation, and he has specific qualities that we need to know so that we recognize him and trust him to always act in accordance with his character. Reread Josh. 24:15, your memory verse, with this in mind.
9. What did Joshua tell the people about the character of God in Josh. 24:19-20? What is your first response to that and why?
God’s relationship with his people is much like that of a marriage. Love requires faithfulness to the one we love. In traditional wedding vows the parties promise to forsake all others.
10. What commitments did the people make to God in this passage in Joshua 24:14-28? Copy their promises.
11. Responding to God: Ask God to show you how loyal you are to him. Do your heart and loyalty belong to God or do you worship other gods? They are likely not gods of wood and stone but gods of your own making. Is your real loyalty to your family, your own time, your stuff, your position, your entertainment or fun? Ask God what is more important to you than he is, and wait for his answer. Confess this sin before him.
12. Sharing question: Share with your group what God showed you about your true love as you sat before him. Consider making this issue your prayer request this week.
We are continuing to study the second introduction to Judges.
Reread Judges 2:6-3:6 in review.
13. What happened spiritually to Israel after Joshua’s death (Judges 2:7, 10-13)?
14. How does this compare with the commitments you saw in #10 in yesterday’s lesson?
In Judges 2:11-19 we see a cycle repeated over and over throughout this historical era. Fill in this diagram with your own words summarizing each part of the cycle.
15. What purpose did the severe consequences serve? In other words, what were the results in the lives of the people?
16. Sharing question: Share about a time in your life when a trial, a defeat, or a problem drew you closer to God.
17. Read Hebrews 12:4-11. Why does God discipline us?
More Light: Read about God’s discipline in your Bible resources.
18. Responding to God: Thank God for loving you as a father! Write a prayer or poem below. Or feel free to draw a picture of you in God’s loving arms.
Review the historical cycle of the era of the judges in Judges 2:11-19 and in yesterday’s lesson. Repeatedly, a judge delivered the people; however, after the judge’s death, the people fell back into the cycle (Judges 2:19).
19. What did the tribes fail to do according to Judges 1 (man’s perspective) that was the cause of this whole destructive cycle of idolatry? Compare Judges 3:1-4, which gives God’s perspective on what happened.
When we become believers, God leaves us here in a fallen world, which can be a very dark place surrounded by sin and ungodliness. Yet, God uses the darkness in our lives.
20. Applying the principle of Judges 3:4 to our lives, in what ways might God be using our present culture and world in our lives? What might he be teaching us?
21. What does 1 Peter 1:6-7 add to your answer in the previous question?
More Light: Read what your commentaries say about Judges 3:1-4. Write down your insights.
Read Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17:11-20, prayed the night before his death.
22. List the things Jesus prayed for us in this prayer.
23. Why does God leave his people in the world with its darkness (Jn 17:18)?
24. Responding to God: Write a prayer of commitment to read God’s word and seek his wisdom so that you are able to see clearly through the darkness, therefore, walking without stumbling.
Yesterday we saw that God allowed the nations to remain in the land of Canaan for a reason. These were people against whom God warned his people because of the incredible level of evil in that land.
More Light: Read about the Canaanites of this time period. Write down what you learn.
Our world does have a lot of darkness; there are days when injustice, evil, and hatred seem to permeate everything. God has his purposes in leaving us here. We have a mission to accomplish.
25. According to Matt. 28:19-20, what is our mission in the world? Write it in your own words but remember to include all its elements!
We cannot fulfill that mission if we totally separate ourselves from the world.
26. What are some practical ways that God’s people can fulfill this mission in our culture and in our day?
27. Sharing question: Where are you involved outside of your church? Perhaps you participate in PTA or sports with your children; maybe your work is the place where you spend most of your time; or you may volunteer for worthwhile causes. Do you see yourself on mission there? What are you doing practically in that situation to fulfill God’s mission?
28. Responding to God: Write a prayer concerning your part in God’s mission. Ask for guidance and discernment.
Our story today is from Marla, who learned from some consequences at her work. I wonder how well she was able to represent God there and fulfill his mission for her!
At my workplace, I had an eyesore bookshelf that took up the whole wall of my office. It was an open-faced bookcase that just seemed to gather old manuals, office supplies, and dust all the time. I needed a new file cabinet in my office and I needed the bookcase removed so that I could rearrange my office.
For two months I asked my boss to remove the bookcase. I sent him e-mails and verbally told him that I would like to fix up my office and the bookcase had to go. I stated that if he did not remove the bookcase I would tear it down. My boss let me know that if I tore down the bookcase I would be fired.
After two months of patiently waiting (or what I thought was patiently waiting), I sent him an e-mail stating that I wanted the bookshelf gone by Friday. Nothing happened, so I tore the shelving down. Consequently, my boss wrote me up for insubordination and put me on probation. This action also changed the working relationship I had with my boss.
The lesson God taught me through this experience is how much this is like my relationship with God. I wait for God to answer me within my time frame not his. I think I’m being patient, and when God does not act, I react. In doing so, I do not receive God’s best and usually have to deal with the consequences of my actions.
Sometimes as our children grow, God has to use difficult situations in order to test them. Just as tests that we take in school are not designed to make us fail but to reveal what we really know, so it is with God’s testing of us. His purpose is never to make us defeated or feel like failures; God wants us to see the reality of where we are in our faith. As the trials and sufferings squeeze us in life, what comes out of us is what is within. If you squeeze an orange, you get orange juice. If we have faith within, it comes out as we are pressed by the situations of life.
Trust God with your children, even their trials and sufferings. It is so difficult to see our children hurting, but we can know that God is at work in their lives. He will use the circumstances to help us see where they are spiritually.
As a young mother, just the daily pressures of parenting and being a wife brought out all sorts of bad emotions and responses in me—anger, resentment, and selfishness. They proved my immaturity in the Lord. I can look back now at various times of trial and see the progression of God’s work in my life as he taught me to trust him more and more through my reactions. The times of testing revealed where I was with God.
Pray that you will be sensitive to these tests in your own life and the lives of your children so that you can see the results and learn from them.
4 Terry Muck, ed., NIV Application Commentary: Judges/Ruth by K. Lawson Younger, Jr., (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 61.
5 Terry Muck, 28-29.
6 Terry Muck, 79.
This message is designed to go after the student has followed the workbook and done the homework for Lesson 3. The audio of this message is also available.
Are you familiar with the old saying “what goes around . . . comes around?” It seems like my mother used to quote that whenever she heard of someone getting caught doing something bad. She wanted my sister and me to know that if we lied, cheated, or stole-or maybe didn’t make our beds, our actions would come back on their heads someday in some way. “What goes around . . . comes around” means that we reap the consequences of our words and actions.
Today we will look at this truth in the introduction to the book of Judges. We see it in the cycle that recurs throughout the book. The people of Israel sowed disobedience and reaped apostasy. Apostasy went round and God’s discipline came back to haunt them. What is apostasy? It is abandoning allegiance to the true God in favor of allegiance to other gods.
So how did this begin? What led to apostasy? Israel disobeyed God’s commands. You read his word to them in Deut. 7:1-6. When they entered the land he had promised them, they were to force out the occupants and utterly destroy them and their places of idol worship.
Why? This seems so harsh! Why kill what we might think of as innocent women and children? Deut. 7:6 says, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. He has chosen you to be his people, prized above all others on the face of the earth.”
God’s people were holy to him, meaning set apart for him and his purposes; he prized them above all the other people of the earth because they belonged to him. If they lived among idolaters, they too would get caught up in idol worship. What we may feel was harsh on God’s part was designed to protect his people. Worship of anything other than God brings slavery; worship of the true God brings freedom. We’ll see this if we pay attention to the days of the judges.
You remember that after the nation of Israel entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, all went well. God gave them victory after victory over the nations. Then, it was left to the individual tribes to go into their allotted areas and drive out the inhabitants. They didn’t begin with outright disobedience but with compromising attitudes that should have set off alarms.
Look at Judges 1, as I highlight these alarms.
All begins well in v. 1 as the people ask God which tribe should attack their area first. That is always a good place to begin—by asking God what to do. God’s answer was that the tribe of Judah should attack first.
But look at v. 3:
The men of Judah said to their relatives, the men of Simeon, “Invade our allotted land with us and help us attack the Canaanites. Then we will go with you into your allotted land.” So the men of Simeon went with them.
They asked God what to do and then applied logic to the situation and did something else. Judah was to attack but they decided they would recruit help from the tribe of Simeon.
Here is the first compromise, or you might want to write it down as an attitudinal alarm:
Instead of trusting God, they substituted their own wisdom for his. Whenever we base our decisions more on logic than on God’s word, we are in danger. What goes around will come around.
Back to the story of Judah’s attack; the Israelites had a great victory, but rather than killing the king, they decided to cut off his big toes and thumbs. This was how the people of the land dealt with their prisoners. They mutilated them so that they could no longer fight. But this wasn’t what God had ordered. Again, they substituted man’s wisdom for God’s.
Then in 1:19, another problem with Judah surfaces:
The Lord was with the men of Judah. They conquered the hill country, but they could not conquer the people living in the coastal plain, because they had chariots with iron-rimmed wheels.
Remember this introduction comes from the perspective of the tribes. They couldn’t conquer because they chose not to; God had promised the victory. But they likely thought, “Why risk war when the people have iron chariots?” You might call this attitudinal alarm
They obeyed far enough and had become complacent. Why risk doing more? When we give into our fears or become complacent, we are in trouble and alarms should go off.
The account of the tribes’ invasion of their allotted lands here in the first chapter of Judges increasingly reveals them as more and more disobedient, having grown more and more complacent.
Let’s look at what the tribe of Joseph did according to Judges 1:22-26. (For your information, Joseph’s tribe is often referred to as two separate tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who were his two sons.) Anyway, before they attacked Bethel, they got intelligence from one of the inhabitants and then let the traitor live. First, they accepted the “it’s logical” idea by thinking they needed an insider’s information when God was on their side; second, they had the attitude of “good enough.” They killed everyone else and it seemed good enough. Good enough indicates satisfaction with the status quo. What we’ve done is close enough to what God asked. Instead of believing
an alarm should sound!
The rest of the passage repeats the phrase, “they did not drive out the inhabitants” or they “did not conquer” or “did not take possession of”, depending on your translation. It all means the same thing; they disobeyed God’s commands. This alarm could be called
Instead of driving the people out, they forced them into labor or allowed them to live with them in the cities and towns. It seemed right to them. This was outright and clear disobedience.
The last verse of Judges, 21:25, which is often called the theme of the book, reads, “In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right,” or the New American Standard says, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” And we see this theme surface here in the first chapter. They disobeyed because it seemed right to them.
As the first chapter progresses, the tribes are less and less successful at driving out the inhabitants. Finally, verse 34 says, “The Amorites forced the people of Dan to live in the hill country. They did not allow them to live in the coastal plain.” The tribe of Dan not only didn’t drive out their enemies, they were pushed out themselves.
In time, God sent his angelic messenger to his people. (You read it in Judges 2:1-5.) God said that because they broke the covenant they had made with him, they would now reap the consequences. No longer would he drive out the inhabitants, who would ensnare his people in idolatry. What goes around . . . comes around. Now we know from the second introduction that God was able to use the presence of the inhabitants for good, but that was not his best for them.
Their disobedience led to the cycles repeated throughout Judges. The alarms were there, but they continued heading toward apostasy. They said “it’s logical” and substituted their own wisdom for God’s; they determined it was “good enough” and were satisfied with the status quo; they asked “why risk it” and let their fears override their faith; and they said “seems right to me” and disobeyed.
As a result, their failures resulted in a cycle of apostasy described in Judges 2:11-19 (NASB):
Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus, they provoked the LORD to anger. So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth.
And the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could not stand before their enemies.Wherever they went, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had spoken and as the LORD had sworn to them so that they were severely distressed.
Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them.And yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do as their fathers.And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.But it came about when a judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandontheir practices or their stubborn ways.
This cycle recurs in this book six times. Apostasy brought God’s discipline through foreign oppressors, resulting in cries of pain. God in his compassion then raised up deliverers to bring relief and rest to his people from their hardships.
But note, in 2:19:
“But it came about when a judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them.”
This is really a spiral, not just a cycle. Each time the cycle repeated, the people were worse than the time before. Down, down, down went their worship and obedience. But God continued loving them and raising up judges to deliver them.
What was a judge? Our passage indicates that a judge was someone whose authority came from God himself; He raised them up. We also learn that the judges’ purpose was deliverance, not to judge disputes among the people. The Hebrew word refers generally to one who governs and leads. In this era the judges delivered people of Israel from eternal enemies who oppressed them.
It is very important that we don’t get caught up in focusing on the bad in this book; there is a lot of darkness. Instead, focus on what the cycles reveal about God and his character. First, we learn that God is a jealous God; he doesn’t put up with other claims to the affections of his people. One scholar explains God’s jealousy this way: “the legitimate passion of God for one whom he loves. This love is fueled not by an exploitative need to dominate but ardor for the well-being of the object. In the Old Testament [jealousy] is aroused when a legitimate and wholesome relationship is threatened by interference from a third party.”
Both God’s Old Testament relationship with Israel and our New Testament relationship with the church are covenant relationships, just as marriage is. In fact, the Bible refers to God as the husband of Israel and the church as the bride of Christ. Just as any attachment to a third party destroys a marriage, it does the same to our relationship with God. Therefore, God jealously acts to protect his love relationship with his people. He will not accept apostasy without acting.
So the first thing that the cycle reveals about God is that he is a jealous husband who moves to protect his marriage.
We also learn that he is a loving father. As Hebrews 12 tells us, he disciplines us for our good, so that we return to him and align our lives with what he knows is best for us. His discipline us for our best, not to hurt or destroy us.
The cycles also reveal God as a compassionate and merciful deliverer. The same mercy and grace that caused him to respond to the cries of pain of his people in Judges is the same compassion that caused him to send Jesus to die for us. In this case what goes around doesn’t come around. God gave deliverance when the people didn’t deserve it. He acted in mercy and grace toward his wayward and disobedient people, just as he does us.
We need to learn from these stories not to worship other gods and force God to discipline us. Sometimes I think we are so focused on the love of God that we fail to teach his discipline. Maybe we are afraid that others will look at our problems and determine that God is disciplining us. But we can’t make that judgment about others; we can only ask that of ourselves. Let’s just remember that love is not a fuzzy feeling but an action that works for the best of the beloved. It’s best not to see what comes around when we turn to other gods.
As I look back on the time in my college and early adult years when I strayed from God, I now hear the alarms that I missed. Although I became a Christ-follower at the age of seven, I began to compromise by thinking my spiritual life with God was good enough. It was certainly better than most of my friends! I was happy with the status quo. I did what was logical to be popular and accepted. Why risk losing friends by standing for God? However, in time those attitudes led me to worship the god of my own desires. The more I got away from God’s thinking, the more I put myself first. I was out for me! I gotta have friends, fun, and my own life. Yet, God acted in love, grace, and mercy, just as he did with the people of Israel. In my case, the enemy who attacked me was my own unhappiness. I hated myself and my life. Instead of the happiness I expected, it was a hollow, lifeless idol, and I never want to go back to it. But truthfully, I still find myself thinking wrongly; I wish I could say that was over and done with, but I sometimes try to apply logic to God’s will or think “good enough” about my spiritual life. After all, I am doing so much more than other people I know. Seems right to me!
What about you? Are there any alarms going off in regard to your attitudes? Are there places or situations where you think “it’s logical” and substitute man’s thinking for God’s? Do you spend more time listening to the world’s wisdom or God’s? Or maybe you think “good enough?” Do you think, “I’m doing pretty well; after all, I am in a Bible study, and I even do my lesson some days! Most of my friends aren’t doing that.” Maybe you think “why risk it” when faced with a tough situation that requires you to stand up for God. Do you compromise with the world around you because you fear others more than God? Or do you ever make decisions that seem right to you rather than compare them to God’s word?
Such attitudes render us numb to the fact that we are displeasing God and moving toward apostasy. What is the attitude behind apostasy? “Gotta have it!” When we reach the point where we feel that way about anything or any person other than God, we are worshipping the creature rather than the Creator. The Israelites bowed before the storm god Baal believing he was able to give rain for their crops and make them prosperous. Our culture worships prosperity. Is it possible that you are bowing to that god? Are you more concerned with stuff, home, car, clothes, or vacations than loving and serving God? Is your giving limited by your own selfishness and greed? Maybe it’s not prosperity but people whom you worship—gotta have them! What person is necessary to your happiness or your contentment? A husband? A child? What about a grandchild? Maybe your idol is your own success and pride. You feel you gotta achieve a certain level of success in your profession to be happy and content. What is truly in your heart? Is it God or does he take second place to your idols?
Let’s bow our heads and talk to God. Father, forgive us when we compromise and think our logic is better than your wisdom or think that our spiritual lives are good enough. Open our ears to hear the alarms going off when we think wrongly. Help us recognize the idols in our lives and repent of them. Give us the grace to let go of the things that we feel we gotta have. We know we can’t give them up without your power. Give us a love for you that overrides all other loves in our lives.
“Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Amos 5:24 (NASB)
If you watch the news very often, you may feel that there is little justice in our court system. There are the reports of all those whose innocence has been proven by DNA samples after they have spent dozens of years or more in prison for crimes of which they are innocent. On the other side of injustice are those who get off on technicalities and seemingly naïve juries.
Our God is just; his character demands justice. We can know that a day will eventually come when the wrongs of our all too human systems will be made right because God doesn’t make mistakes and cannot be fooled.
The book of Judges can be divided into three parts: the introduction (Judges 1:1-3:6), stories of the judges (Judges 3:7-16:31), and stories of moral decay (Judges 17:1-21: 25). We have studied the overall cycle of sin that continued throughout the period of the Judges. This week we begin reading about the judges themselves. As we continue looking at this second section in the coming weeks, notice that overall the cycles get worse and worse; the people grow more ungodly and sinful, and so do the judges. The darkness grows as the people fail to see clearly through it.
Read Judges 3:7-11.
Here we learn about the first judge, Othniel, considered to be the ideal judge.7
1. What was Israel’s sin and how did God react to it (Jud. 3:7-8)?
2. What precipitated God’s deliverance (Jud. 3:9)?
3. What do you learn about Othniel from Judges 1:10-15, a review?
There is some debate about the exact relationship between Othniel and Caleb. Many scholars believe that Othniel is Caleb’s nephew.
More Light: Read about Caleb in Numbers 13-14. Consider his character and what you can learn from him.
4. Describe Othniel’s character from what you read in Jud. 1 and here in Jud. 3. Why do you think Othniel is called “the ideal judge” by some scholars?
5. Responding to God: Focus on one characteristic of Othniel that you would like to exhibit. Ask God for the grace and power to be that kind of person. What is one thing you can do this week to exhibit that quality? Write down your thoughts.
Read Judges 3:12-30.
6. Here the cycle began again. Pick out each part of the cycle from these verses and write down what happened at that part of the cycle and fill in the verse number. (Feel free to refer back to Day 3 on p.37 of last week’s lesson.)
7. Who was Eglon, and how long did the Israelites live under his rule?
8. What do you learn about Ehud from Judges 3:15-30?
9. Summarize the story of Ehud’s deliverance of Israel from the oppression of Eglon. You might want to tell it as a news story, complete with a headline!
More Light: Read more about this story in a Bible encyclopedia or commentary to gain more background to it.
10. Sharing question: From what oppressor has God delivered you? Perhaps it was a person, a circumstance, an injustice, or a sin. Share a short summary of how he delivered you.
11. Responding to God: Write a prayer or poem celebrating God’s deliverance in your life.
In Judges 3:12-30 we saw that there was a period of oppression for the Israelites as a result of their idolatry. We also learned that the people of Israel lived under tyranny over and over in this period. Although it was of their own making, God still sent someone to deliver them. Sometimes innocent people deal with cruelty; it is not always a consequence of the person’s own sin or disobedience.
12. Name some situations in which innocent people are oppressed today.
13. Sharing question: Have you ever lived in a situation where you felt oppressed? If so, describe your feelings. (This may or may not be the same situation of deliverance that you described yesterday.) If you have not been in that situation, write down how you imagine someone might feel in such circumstances.
14. What three things does God require of us according to Micah 6:8?
More Light: Use a concordance to find other verses about justice.
15. Sharing question: Where in your life do you have an opportunity to act justly or to bring justice to a bad situation? Perhaps in your work situation, in your family, or in your neighborhood.
16. Sharing question: Describe a time in your own life when someone stood up for you when you faced injustice, or when you stood for justice against the crowd or those in power. If you cannot think of such a time, can you think of a situation where you could have done this but didn’t because of fear? Relate the story.
Although God hasn’t called us as believers to bring justice by assassination as Ehud did, he does expect us to courageously act to right wrongs as we can.
17. Responding to God: Ask God for the grace and courage to stand up when someone is being mistreated or dealt an injustice.
Earlier this week we saw Ehud bring justice to a tyrannical ruler. We have since discussed the need to act courageously to bring fairness to situations where we have opportunity. The more difficult the situation the more courage is needed to stand against injustice. The church has not always led the way in these areas. As evangelicals we should speak out against inequality and injustice wherever we find it—on the job, in the church, in the nation, or in homes. We need to be careful that we show no bias as we deal with others.
Read James 2:1-9, where James deals with injustice right in the church! Can you imagine such a thing?
18. In what way did James see injustice in the early church? What were his arguments that such actions were wrong?
More Light: What other Bible stories involving injustice come to mind? Look up at least one other story, reading it from that perspective.
19. Sharing question: Have you seen instances of injustice in your own circles? Even in the church? Share any past situations without naming names. If there is any injustice happening now around you, do not give specifics but ask your group to pray for the courage and wisdom to speak to the person responsible.
Seeing clearly through the darkness means standing for justice and acting justly ourselves. Just as the judges delivered God’s people from the oppression of foreign kings when the people cried out to God, so we also can be part of God’s work in the lives of others.
20. Review your week’s memory verse, Amos 5:24 (hope you’re memorizing it!), and paraphrase it in your own words.
21. Responding to God: Ask God to show you if you have been unjust to others in any way. If he shows you anything, confess it to God and to the other person. Know that God expects you to confess your sins to the person you have wronged as well as to him.
We have one last judge to study this week.
Read Judges 3:31.
22. Write down everything you learn about Shamgar. Not much, is it?
“An oxgoad was a long stick with a small flat piece of iron on one side and a sharp point on the other. The sharp side was used to drive the oxen during times of plowing, and the flat end was used to clean the mud off the plow.”8
23. Contrast Shamgar’s deliverance with that brought by Othniel and Ehud. (Don’t discuss their character qualities but their methods.)
24. As you personally consider these three judges, would you consider Othniel the most ideal of the group? Why or why not?
I had a friend at seminary whose huge Labrador dog was named Shamgar. He was a great dog and used to sit outside the cafeteria waiting for her return. Somehow his disposition didn’t quite match the biblical Shamgar, in my mind, but the judge Shamgar must have been a large, strong man.
25. What elements of the cycle of sin do you see in this account of Shamgar? Who was the enemy?
This week we have seen three judges who courageously stepped up to deliver their people from the oppression of others.
More Light: Read about Jesus’ courageously taking abuse and injustice so that we could be delivered from the penalty of our own sins of injustice.
26. Sharing question: How does it give you hope and reassurance that God is a God of justice, especially as you look around at a world of darkness where there are injustices, where terrorists go free and innocent people are wronged?
27. Responding to God: Write a prayer or poem about God’s justice.
In the early 90’s I was a brand new Christian and so excited and passionate about my new found faith in Jesus Christ. I was employed as a supervisor to six customer service representatives for a manufacturer. I wore my faith on my sleeve but was never pushy about it to anyone. A few of my employees loved me to bring in a “Daily Bread” devotional for them. I always offered one to everyone, and they always accepted it. It was also common for them to share personal struggles with me, and I always shared how I got through my own: by going to church and having a relationship with Christ.
One woman and her family accepted an invitation to come to church with us one Sunday. She and her husband expressed how much it meant, and they both even cried during the service. Not long after this, she started to lie to me and call in sick, and sometimes just not show up for work. She had been turned down for a promotion, and then she and her family decided to move. She would not tell me when her last day was. After I had left one day, she cleared out her desk and never returned. She also wrote a letter to our Human Resource Director and told her I had religiously harassed her. The management came to me with this information, and I was devastated. I explained to them the events prior to all of this and they stood behind me 100%.
Soon after all of this, a second employee, who was a friend of the first person, quit and accused me of the same thing. I saw the Human Resource Director calling all of my staff into her office one by one, and the next thing I knew, I was confronted for passing out unsolicited religious material. I have to tell you that before I got the supervisor position I worked alongside these women, on the same level. The management still wanted to support me, but they needed to protect themselves from any major lawsuits. They offered both women their jobs back. They demoted me from my position but never allowed the employees to know.
God protected me in an incredible way. I was ready to quit after the second go-round. God had a great plan in mind. I was offered a part-time position in the department. This had never happened before. It was just what I was looking for because I wanted to be home with my daughter more. So when I took the part-time position no one ever knew that I had been demoted. My manager came to me and said she was really impressed by my strength and grace through this whole thing, that my God must be some God. I gave every bit of credit to the Lord.
On top of everything else one of the women accepted her job back, and I had to train her in a new area. It was only by God’s grace that I could work with her and not have any feelings of animosity. The feelings of compassion were greater. Once she was trained she failed miserably at the position and was let go.
I learned just how personal our God is and how he truly cares about me. I know that my faith was increased through these events and other lives were touched in the process. The next person I interviewed leaned across the desk during the interview and said; “I heard that you are a Christian, I am too!”
Isn’t God so good? He is so faithful to carry us through when we profess him as our Lord.
When children go to school they are often confronted with situations of injustice, some accidental and some deliberate. They may involve unfair or mean treatment between other children. Expecting such behavior, encourage and pray for your children to develop hearts of justice and the courage to speak up for the mistreated when appropriate.
Injustice may come from the school or the teacher. In such cases you may need to be the one to speak up for what is right. Always choose your situations wisely, after lots of prayer. Investigate the truth before you act because your children, just like all of us, have biased perspectives on these things. Don’t go in angry, but pray for wisdom and guidance in all that you say and do. Only speak up if God leads you to do so; sometimes it takes living with injustice for our children to appreciate justice. If they can love those who mistreat them, they become witnesses of the grace of God.
Some of the difficult situations of justice may be those between your children. Whatever judgment you made, one of them will find it unjust. Pray that God will give you wisdom and discernment, and do your best to be fair and impartial. Remember that children are sinners, just like we are, and we must act for what is right in order to teach them justice.
Once my son came home from a fifth-grade camp and told me the story of terrible mistreatment he had received from some other boys. I went to the principal who investigated his story. Sure enough there was a problem, and she discussed it with the other boys. However, she also learned that my son was partially responsible, which, of course, he had denied. I am so glad that I didn’t go in with a chip on my shoulder determined to rectify and punish the wrongdoers. Instead, I went with an open mind trying to learn what had actually happened.
Ask God for wisdom and discernment in dealing with justice in regard to your children.
7 Terry Muck, 36.
8 Note in Life Application Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 387.
“Has the Lord not taken the lead?”
Judges 4:14 (NET)
I look back with a great deal of regret over wasted years and opportunities in my life. But Paul says that the only way to move forward is to put the past behind and focus on what is ahead: “Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13b-14 NET). Forgetting the past means that I accept God’s forgiveness and grace; however, it does not that I overlook the lessons learned from those years. I hope to make the most of every opportunity God gives me now because of my regret over those missed in the past. This week’s story involves some missed opportunities. As you think through those in your own life, don’t wallow in them with guilt or regret but use them as bridges to the future where you take advantage of the circumstances into which God puts you.
We have reached the story of my favorite judge, Deborah. What a great woman of God! She was ready for God to use her, even in unorthodox ways that she likely never imagined. When God instructed her to go, she did as he said, making the most of her opportunities. As you read her story, remember that she was as a real woman with real emotions, problems, and fears. Don’t make her a flat, two-dimensional person, but see her as you see yourself. God is not respecter of persons; if he used Deborah, he can use you!
Read Judges 4:1-3.
1. What elements of the cycle (review from Judges 2:11-19) do you see in these verses?
2. Describe the Israelites’ situation with Sisera and Jabin (Judges 4:2-3).
Read Judges 4:4-11.
3. List everything that this passage says about Deborah. (This is observation so don’t read things in that aren’t said; just observe exactly what the Bible says. In studying the scriptures, you need to be sure to carefully observe what is actually said before jumping to interpretation, the meaning of the passage.)
Deborah was a prophetess. Before God completed the Scriptures, he spoke to his people through his messengers the prophets. The prophet or prophetess spoke for God to others; they were his mouthpieces.
More Light: Read about prophets in a Bible encyclopedia or dictionary
4. In light of the fact that Deborah was a prophetess, what was wrong with Barak’s response in Judges 4:8? What opportunity did God take away from him because of it (Jud. 4:9)?
(Note the information in Judges 4:11; it will be important later in the story.)
5. Compare Deborah’s faith with Barak’s.
6. Responding to God: Ask God to show you where your faith is weak. In what situations do you most struggle to trust that God is at work? Write down your thoughts after you sit in silence waiting for God’s answer. Keep this question in mind as you go through your day because God may show you something in the midst of the day that reveals that your faith is weak.
God knows our weaknesses and often grants us support when our faith is feeble. In Week 2 we read of Moses, who also lacked faith when God called him.
Review Moses’ story in Ex. 4:10-16 and then reread Judges 4:6-10.
7. What encouragement do you receive for your own life as you parallel these accounts of Moses and Barak?
Read Judges 4:12-23.
Once again God was faithful to His word; he drew out Sisera, just as he promised.
8. Describe the strength of Sisera’s army. How does this help you understand Barak’s lack of faith? How do you think you would have felt in his place?
More Light: Look up the geographical places involved in this story.
9. How did Deborah encourage Barak to do the Lord’s work (v.14)? (Be sure and learn your memory verse!)
10. Sharing question: Who in your life needs encouragement? What do you learn from Deborah about encouraging him or her?
11. Responding to God: Where has God gone out before you in a situation? Where do you need to trust that he is at work? Write a prayer or poem of trust.
The battles described in God’s word help us to understand how God works. God receives the glory and the sovereign responsibility for the victory; yet, the people clearly have the responsibility to obey and to fight.
Re-read Judges 4:14-23.
This is one of those unusual stories in the Bible, but it is not one that we learn in Sunday School. I’m sure you understand why it is not a favorite for small children.
12. Who was the woman who received the honor of delivering the people from the oppression of Sisera? How did she do it?
Sometimes it is the unlikely hero that God exalts. Jael did not expect Sisera in her tent that day, but she was ready and available to act when the opportunity presented itself.
More Light: Read about Jael in your commentaries on online resources.
13. Responding to God: Write a prayer committing your availability to God. Watch for opportunities he gives you this week.
Read Judges 5:1-31, a song of victory that gives us more details about the story.
Judges 5:6-8 describes the situation in Israel during this time of oppression.
14. Why might cause travelers to desert the highways and the peasantry or village life to cease?
15. How did God bring victory over Sisera and his army of chariots (Jud. 5:19-21)?
16. Sharing question: In what situation do you find yourself today that you need to remember that God brings victory? That you are to faithfully act and leave the results to God?
17. Responding to God: Draw a picture to represent God bringing victory, either in Deborah’s story or in your present situation. Remember that stick figures are great! It’s not about our artistic ability but about God!
Reread Judges 5:1-31.
18. As a song, this poetic passage describes the imaginary response of Sisera’s mother to his absence. What did Deborah picture happening (Jud. 5:28-30)?
19. Previously, we studied God’s call to stand against injustice. What do you learn from Deborah, Barak, and Jael about courageously acting in such situations?
20. How would you explain the connection between faith and courage? Do they connect at all?
More Light: Read your commentaries or online resources regarding the Song of Deborah in Judges 5:1-31. Write down any insights that you gain.
21. Sharing question: What opportunities has God given you to make your faith known to others who need a relationship with him? What courage and faith do you need?
22. Responding to God: Write a prayer asking God to give you the grace to courageously share his love with others.
Today we consider what Barak lost in this story. He engaged the enemy and fought the battle; yet he was denied the tribute given to Jael because of his reaction to God’s words. God presented him with the opportunity to fulfill his plan, but his refusal to trust God meant that he lost that honor. In contrast, we want to see clearly through the darkness and know that God brings the victory; it is not up to us.
23. Read the following verses and copy the phrases that show God’s sovereign control over world events:
a. Psalm 33:8-11
b. Isaiah 14:24
c. Isaiah 43:13
d. Isaiah 45:6-7
e. Isaiah 46:9-11
More Light: Look up the sovereignty of God in a Bible dictionary or other resource. Look up other verses not listed above.
24. How can some of the truths from these verses help you overcome fear when God calls you to action, as He did Barak?
25. Sharing question: Reveal to your group a time when you felt that God wanted you to act and you failed to do so. How do you feel today about that lost opportunity? Did God use someone else to do his work?
26. Responding to God: Write a prayer confessing your fears and your failures to act on God’s behalf when you had the opportunity. Know that God is a forgiving God. You are completely forgiven for your sins and failures; yet, you may bear the consequences of losing the opportunity.
We lived in Charlotte, N.C. before moving to Texas. We moved into an older neighborhood that had many older folks. Our neighbor directly across the street from us was a precious 84-year-old widower. He was a fascinating man that had wonderful stories to tell. He had traveled the world, and owned his own antique and art gallery for many years. He loved to garden and his home was on the home and garden tour every year. My children and I would go visit and walk in his garden with him, but mostly he loved for the children to come over and have cookies and hot tea with him in the afternoon. He was a Jewish man, although he did not practice his faith. We shared with him on occasion about what we believed where we went to church, and the fact that our children were in Christian school. Being the very intelligent man that he was, he had a scientific argument for everything. He respected our beliefs, but thought we were a bit conservative. I never came right out and shared the gospel with him. I’m not sure why—was it a fear of rejection, a fear of offending him? I cannot say.
We left Charlotte after a short 16 months. We were very sad to leave him, but I think he was more sad to see us go. He had no children, and was quite lonely. We kept in close touch through letters and phone calls.
Two years after we moved to Texas I received a phone call from a girl that would go help him with groceries and any errands he needed to do. She said his health was declining and she wanted us to know. She said he had our children’s pictures all around his room. He missed them a lot. I was so sad after she called. He was like a member of our family. I wanted to go see him. My husband and I talked it over and it worked out that I was able to go see him shortly after the phone call. Before I got on the plane, my daughter said, “Mommy, you have to tell him about Jesus.” I told her she was right. I had a wonderful visit with him for an afternoon, and then a morning visit before leaving. He did not talk much, and seemed to not be real clear in his thinking. I hugged him good-bye, knowing I would never see him again. I got on the airplane and flew home without ever making the gospel clear to him. I skipped and skirted around it, but never came out and shared the truth. I have shared my faith with total strangers and family members on many occasions, but for some reason I hesitated with him. Ten days after my visit, he died. I sobbed that day, because I would miss him, but mostly because I had felt led by the Lord to share with him—even my daughter had felt the Holy Spirit’s leading. I had been disobedient, and it will forever be a reminder to NEVER pass the opportunity, or ignore the Lord’s prompting. Could the Lord save him without me? Absolutely, but I was still disobedient, and I missed a blessing!
We took him to a butterfly exhibit once. I took a photograph of a beautiful butterfly on a flower. I found the photo not long after his death. I framed it and put it where I would see it as a reminder to never miss an opportunity again!
As I look back, I realize that I lost many opportunities with my children. At this point they are grown and I can never recover some of those situations again. However, I can determine that with the grace of God I will take advantage of every opening from this point forward. Now my opportunities are more scarce than they once were. After children reach a certain age, they begin to tune out their parents to a certain extent. Your chances to impact them will not last so you must make the most of your opportunities now.
If your children are older, as mine are, do not beat yourself up because you haven’t been the perfect mother. God is a God of grace; he can bring beauty from ashes. He can redeem your failures and your lost opportunities. Remember that he is the Victor, not you. He is the God of the second chance. Begin today by praying fervently for them and asking God to do a mighty work in them and to use them for his glory and for their good.
I am constantly amazed that my children have turned out as well as they have. It is clearly the grace of God that explains it for I have been far less than the perfect mother to them. I am grateful for a God that overcomes my limitations and mistakes.
Read Deuteronomy 6:4-8 and consider what you learn about using every opportunity to impact your children and their faith.
“The Lord is with you, courageous warrior!”
When I was a girl, I had a deadly fear of balconies. There was a movie theater in our city that had a steep balcony in it. I had a recurring nightmare that I lost my balance going down those stairs and rolled down and off the railing into the crowd below. As a result, I preferred sitting at the very back or the very front downstairs rather than have a better view of the movie from upstairs. My fear drove my actions. This week’s primary judge was a man of fear, but God moved him beyond his fears into faith.
Just as the cycle of sin gets worse and worse throughout the period of the Judges, so do the judges themselves. It’s all downhill after Deborah. Begin to notice that each judge becomes less and less of a model of character or leadership. Too often we think that simply because someone is a biblical hero of some kind, they are worthy of respect. To see clearly through the darkness we must look at the judges in light of the rest of God’s word and evaluate their character accordingly.
This week we focus on Gideon and his son Abimelech. Gideon was a great deliverer of his people, but he was also a very weak man. As you read his story, consider him objectively. Although he was greatly used by God, he is not our model in many ways. However, it is always encouraging to see that God can use anyone, even a Gideon!
Read the story of Gideon’s call in Judges 6:1-40.
1. Why was Gideon in the wine press?
2. Compare Gideon’s perspective of the situation (Jud. 6:11-13) with God’s (Jud. 6:7-10)? Do you see yourself as God described Gideon? You should. Learn the verse.
3. What sign did the angel of the LORD give to Gideon so that he would believe (Jud. 6:17-21)?
4. Considering Judges 6:22-27, how much faith on a scale of 1-5 would you say that the sign gave Gideon? Explain your answer.
More Light: Read in your resources or footnotes about the Baal and Asherah.
5. Sharing question: What fears do you harbor? How do they drive your thoughts and actions?
6. Responding to God: Confess your fears to God as sins based on unbelief. Write it out below and trust that God can give you the grace to trust him.
Review the story in Judges 6:28-40.
7. Summarize the aftermath of Gideon’s destruction of the idols as a news story in the local paper. Add a headline to summarize the events.
When God’s Spirit came upon Gideon, he sent for the men of Israel to fight with him (Jud. 6:34-35). Yet, despite God’s previous sign and his presence, Gideon hesitated. When God’s Spirit came upon an Old Testament character, it was not necessarily a sign of spirituality, as the filling of the Spirit is in the New Testament. It was simply God’s empowerment for a specific task.
8. What signs did Gideon ask of God and how did God respond (6:36-40)?
9. Read Matt.12:38-39 and 1 Cor. 1:22-24. What is God’s attitude about our request for signs? Why?
More Light: Read your commentaries on Matt. 12:38-39 and 1 Cor. 1:22-24.
Signs are an indication of unbelief, not faith. We saw in our first lesson that the way to please God is by faith. Notice that Gideon’s request was not an attempt to discover the will of God although this passage is often taught as a way to find God’s will. Gideon already knew God’s will; there was no secret about that. He was simply a fearful man who lacked the faith that he needed. Fear is the opposite of faith.
10. Why might God have granted Gideon’s request for signs in this case?
11. Sharing question: In what situation in your life right now are you acting out of fear rather than faith? It doesn’t have to be a big issue; it can be in the small things. Sometimes I have more faith for the big problems than I do in the day-to-day issues of life!
12. Responding to God: Draw a picture that symbolizes your entrusting that situation to God.
Read Judges 7:1-8.
13. God reduced the number of men in Gideon’s army. Compare the original number with the final number of warriors. What reason did God give for making the army so small?
14. Sharing question: In what area of your life are you likely to pat yourself on the back for what you have done rather than recognize that the credit goes to God? It could be your business smarts or your good marriage or great kids!
Read Judges 7:9-15.
Amazingly God gave Gideon one more sign, but this time Gideon did not ask for it.
15. Summarize the story.
Read Judges 7:16-25.
16. Describe the battle plan for Gideon’s tiny army. What was the result?
Sometimes when we see clearly through the darkness, we do things differently from the way the world would do them. In fact, there are times when God’s ways make little sense, as in this case. When that happens, there is no question that it is God at work.
Notice that in the end God increased the numbers of Gideon’s men once the army fled (Jud. 7:23-24). God is not impressed with numbers and needs no one to do his work, but he chooses to use people so that we have a part and learn dependence and faith.
17. Sharing question: Perhaps you face an overwhelming situation right now in your own life. How would you rate your faith on a scale of 1-5? Why?
18. Responding to God: Sit before God and hold that situation out to him. Although the problem may continue, visualize yourself sharing it with him and entrusting it to him. Do this daily! Write down your experience with God and what happened in you.
More Light: Read your commentaries on Gideon’s battle plan.
Read Judges 8:1-32.
19. What did Gideon do that seems sinful or foolish (there are a number of possibilities; list all that you consider foolish)? Explain why you see these actions in this light.
20. What did Gideon do that was wise or good (again may be more than one)?
Judges 8:27 says that Israel played the harlot or prostituted themselves with Gideon’s golden ephod. What was an ephod? Dr. Younger explains that it was a garment of the High Priest, and he suggests that Gideon may have used this to receive divine guidance as the High Priest did. “In this way the ephod becomes Gideon’s permanent fleece.”9
21. How is idolatry in God’s people like prostitution? Why would God choose such a vivid term to describe it?
More Light: Look in a concordance for references to idolatry and look some of them up. Consider how serious it is in God’s sight.
Read James 4:4-10. Again God uses the picture of sexual impurity to picture the unfaithfulness of his people.
22. Give some examples of things that would exemplify what James calls adultery with the world.
23. Sharing question: If idolatry is anything that replaces God in your heart, what idols are you worshiping? What is more important to you than God? What would be most devastating if you lost it? This could be money, success, popularity, entertainment, your husband or your children. Honestly share with your group at least one area of idolatry in your life, now or in the past.
24. Responding to God: Repent of your idols using James 4:7-10 as your model.
Read Judges 8:33-9:57. I know this is a long passage. Just get the gist of it! Sin often bears consequences to the family and we see it happen to Gideon here.
25. What consequences of Gideon’s sins and foolish actions do you see?
26. The name Abimelech may mean “my father is king.”10 What does that suggest about Gideon after the victory?
27. How do you see the “sins of the fathers” in Abimelech’s life? (This refers to Ex. 34:7.)
28. How did God bring justice to Abimelech?
More Light: Read in your commentaries or resources about Abimelech.
“When believers forget the Lord and live according to the world’s dictates, this only intensifies the power of the wicked. When believers choose this path, becoming functional unbelievers, they may find that God allows them to get what they deserve, just as the Israelites experienced in the Abimelech story.” 11
K. Lawson Younger, Jr.
As Younger said, the people in this case had turned from God’s truth and embraced the darkness of the culture around them. Sometimes we deal with oppressive authorities through no fault of our own, but God will always use them to teach us to be more like Jesus.
29. Read these verses and explain how they can help your attitude when you have someone in authority over you who is unjust, evil, or just plain mean.
a. Psalm 37:1-2,7-11
b. 1 Peter 2:13-25
30. Sharing question: How has God used an authority in your life to teach you something about yourself or about God? Share the story with your group.
31. Responding to God: Ask God to help you believe the memory verse this week is true for you even when God doesn’t appear to be present.
In the fall of 1999, I was told by my employer of almost 15 years they no longer needed me. Though I had spent several years staying one step ahead of a layoff, to have my “package papers” handed to me by my manager, who had also become a very good friend, was earth-shattering. I even told my manager as she sat across from me in tears, “I told God he would have to kick me out of this place to get me to leave.” I cried all the way home. Through the tears on my trek up North Central Expressway from downtown Dallas, I cried out the desires of my heart to God. I knew that he was in control, but the uncertainty, I must admit was unsettling. I began to look for new work a week later. The holidays are typically a tough time of the year to be looking for a job; however, I strongly felt that the Lord didn’t want me going on a professional hiatus.
I applied over the internet for a position with a global financial services company. Much to my surprise, I received a phone call from one of their recruiters two days later. (My resume didn’t go out in to Cyber-Neverland after all!) I had a new job lined up two weeks from the day of my layoff notice. God had blessed me indeed. I must pause at this moment to make sure you understand, even if this had not happened, I would still claim the riches of God’s blessings and how good he has been to me. He used this time of sorrow to deepen my relationship and walk with him.
Over those few weeks, I remembered from the study Experiencing God that I needed to ask myself: “What was God saying to me in his word?”; “What is he saying to me in prayer; is he confirming it through circumstances; is he confirming it through the counsel of other believers?”
The first few months, our door code changed weekly with exiting associates. Many were being laid off, some fired. Here I was, the new kid on the block, wondering if I would be next. I cried out to God, “Did I totally miss something here?” Time moved on, and things smoothed out. I watched several people try to get on at my company with NO RESULTS whatsoever. I began to reflect on my situation: a determined call from a recruiter, a senior manager offering me a job after a thirty-minute, very high-level interview, smooth salary negotiations, and a start date six weeks from accepting the job. This absolutely was not happening at my company now! We adopted a “lease to own” hiring practice with a six month “honeymoon” contract period to see if the person sized up appropriately. Those that didn’t were shown the door. Spiritually, God made it very clear to me that he had opened that door to me for a very short season.
When I pray and thank God for my job, it’s not just lip service. He was totally in control of my situation (as he always has and will be). He closed a door that had stood open for nearly half my life, and told me unequivocally, “I want you to move on.” He slung doors wide open and gave me the boldness to ask for things I wanted - there was no fear.
I work with some very godly people, and I know God has woven our lives together for his purpose. I conduct my work as if unto the Lord (Col. 3:23) and know that he works all things for good to those who love him (Rom. 8:28). I’m living proof.
We have thought this week about dealing with unjust authorities. What kind of authority are you over your children? Do you punish them without explaining why? Perhaps you fail to set out the rules in advance. Do you punish inconsistently so that your children never know when they can get away with it and when you might suddenly explode? Do you treat them harshly, expecting them to act more maturely than they are capable of doing? Do you belittle them if they disobey? Do you ever call them names? How do you treat them if you become angry?
All mothers do these kinds of things sometimes. None of us is perfect, but we need to be honest about the areas where we are struggling. Ask a friend or your Bible study leader to pray with you about this. It will not shock her that you have messed up with your children. We all understand how tired and emotional it gets when we have children who do not listen, who talk back, or who rebel. The family of God is to bear one another’s burdens. We are not designed to make it alone, but to be a true family to one another.
Ask God to forgive you for any sins that you have committed with your children. If they are old enough, you will need to confess to them as well.
9 Terry Muck, 206.
10 E. Ray Clendenen, ed., New American Commentary, vol. 6, Judges, Ruth by Daniel I. Block, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers), 304.
11 Muck, 234.
“Lord, who may be a guest in your home? Who may live on your holy hill? . . .
He makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise.
Psalm 15:1, 4c (NET)
I have been left holding the bag for work to be done in women’s ministries on a number of occasions. Too often women agree to take on responsibility and later back out or never complete what they consented to do. A number of times they have said that they realized that they didn’t pray about it and so now feel freedom from faithfulness to their word. It is very important to think and pray carefully before making promises because God expects us to keep our words, as he does with us.
This period of Israel’s history is quite a dark time. The people were ignorant and rebellious against their God. The deliverers who saved the people from oppressive foreign rulers were as ignorant of God and his character and word as the people. They did not see clearly through the darkness and their lives suffered as a result. Yet, God was present and he continued to work for the best of his people. Despite the darkness around us at times, we can always know that our God is there and he doesn’t slumber or sleep. He is always at work, whether we can see it or not.
Read Judges 10:1-5.
1. What judges are mentioned in passing in these verses? How long did they judge? Do you notice anything good or bad in these brief descriptions?
Read Judges 10:6-16.
2. What is different here from what we have seen before in the cycles of sin?
3. What do you learn about God from this story?
Read Judges 10:17-18.
More Light: Look up these locations on your Bible map or Bible atlas.
4. What quality in a leader did the people value? (This eventually led them to the next judge, Jephthah.)
5. How does the list of qualifications for spiritual leadership in 1 Tim. 3:1-13 differ from what the people looked for in Judges 10? How do you see some people in the church today value the wrong things in their leaders?
6. Responding to God: Ask God to help his people see clearly so that they follow the right kind of leaders. Pray for the leaders in your church by name, praying that they would lead according to 1 Peter 5:2-3. Write your prayer.
Reread Judges 10:17-18 and then read Judges 11:1-11. There is a short flashback in 11:1-3 to give some background to Jephthah’s life.
7. Describe Jephthah’s family background and his rise to power. Make it a news article with a headline if you likeJ
Read Judges 11:12-28.
8. What do you see that is positive about Jephthah from his response to the Ammonites?
More Light: Read the biblical account of the original story in Numbers 21:21-31.
9. What did Jephthah believe about God’s power and sovereign control of nations? (Write down what he said that reveals these beliefs.)
10. Read these verses about God’s sovereign power and write down what you learn:
a. Dan. 4:34-35
b. Luke 1:51-53
c. Rom. 13:1
d. Rev. 4:9-11
11. Sharing question: Which of the above verses is most meaningful to you today as you seek to trust God in a present situation? Why?
12. Responding to God: Use the verses you chose as the basis of a prayer, poem, or psalm of praise. Write it below.
We have begun the saga of Jephthah in Judges 10-11. He attempted to negotiate and reason with the enemy, the Ammonites. Continue the story by reading Judges 11:29-40.
13. Where did Jephthah get the power to defeat the sons of Ammon? How do you know?
14. What was Jephthah’s rash vow and how did it backfire on him?
There are two interpretations of Jephthah’s vow; 1) he killed his daughter as a sacrifice to God; or (2) he forced her into perpetual virginity. Although we certainly prefer the second idea, Gary Inrig lays out good reasons to believe the first happened:
First, animals were not kept indoors. Second. . . if he intended an animal sacrifice, he would have vowed his very best animals, not just whatever wandered out the door. Third, he intended a sacrifice, as the word translated ‘burnt offering’ indicates. Every time the word is used in the Old Testament, it refers to a blood sacrifice, and that must be its meaning in Judges 13:16.12
During the last hundred years or so, the suggestion that Jephthah’s daughter remained a perpetual virgin arose. Previously, scholars agreed that he killed her. I like the new understanding better, but I am not sure it is true to the text or the religious culture of that day. At this time Israel worshipped the true God, Yahweh, alongside other idolatrous gods. They mixed beliefs from both. Those religions valued the sacrifice of children as an act of worship. This concept would not have been a foreign one to him or to the people of Gilead. If he did indeed sacrifice his daughter, the story sadly reveals Jephthah’s ignorance of God’s word, which specifically forbids human sacrifice.
More Light: Read God’s statements that forbid human sacrifice in the scriptures that would have been around in Jephthah’s day: Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut. 12:31; 18:10.
15. Read the following verses and write down your insights into the value of God’s word and your responsibility to know it:
a. Ps. 1:1-3
b. Ps. 119:11
c. Ps. 119:105
d. Prov. 2:1-6
16. Sharing question: Has there ever been a situation when you acted in ignorance of God’s word, resulting in disaster or at least a situation that you regretted? Explain what happened and what you learned.
17. What do you know about God’s character or his promises that is violated by bargaining with him to give you what you want?
18. Responding to God: Ask God to help you trust him and his will rather than trying to impose yours on him through bargaining!
Read Ecclesiastes 5:1-7.
19. How does Solomon’s caution apply to those who choose to bargain with God?
20. Read Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 5:33-37. How would you use it to challenge a believer who didn’t keep her word, saying it wasn’t a vow?
Read Psalm 15, which describes the character of a godly person.
21. Copy Ps. 15:1, 4c, your memory verse for this week.
22. What does this verse add to the cautions about rash words?
Just because Jephthah swore and fulfilled his vow, that didn’t make him a godly person because in doing so, he violated a specific command of God. He exemplifies why we shouldn’t say anything before we think about it and hold it up to the truth of God’s word. He was foolish and ignorant of God’s commands. A sad story!
More Light: Read about Jephthah’s vow in your commentaries or online resources.
23. Sharing question: Be vulnerable and share with your group one area where you have been less than faithful to your words.
24. Responding to God: Write a prayer of confession to God for what you shared, and commit to become a faithful woman by his grace.
Read Judges 12:1-7.
Ephraim is one of the tribes of Israel.
25. What insights do you have about Jephthah from this story?
26. What was the result of this disagreement with the tribe of Ephraim?
Before leaving Jephthah, let’s think a bit more about the power of our words. James has much to say about the tongue, the muscle of the body that may be most used!
Read James 3:2-12.
27. How do the images that James uses for the power of the tongue impact you? How do they make you feel about your words?
28. Draw a picture using one of the images that James uses for the tongue and its power.
29. Responding to God: Ask God to show you any sins of the tongue which you need to confess. It may be speaking in anger, speaking harshly, or speaking the truth without the love that must accompany it. Write a prayer of confession below.
Read Judges 12:8-15.
We read here of three lesser judges: Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. Again, God gives us little information about these judges. They may have judged at the same time as some of the other judges mentioned in this book, just in different areas of the land. There is definitely some overlap among the listed judges, but no one knows exactly how the chronology works out.
More Light: Read your commentaries about these three judges.
A female friend of mine was in an abusive marriage. She had struggled for over a year regarding what God wanted her to do. She knew that she did not want to end her marriage, but she also knew that her husband was not behaving as a godly husband. She seemed like a fragile bird that would break at any minute, and vacillated all the time regarding what direction to go in her life.
There came a time, during lunch at a nice restaurant, that I decided it was my job to help her “snap out of it”, and get her life together, I told her what she needed to do, how she should do it, and that it was time for her to buckle up and take control of her life. As soon as I said these words I lost my appetite.
Love is long suffering and kind. The words I had spoken were not loving or kind. They were not even words that God had asked me to speak. God was working in my friend’s life, at his pace, not mine. The words were spoken out of my selfishness and impatience. I later had to apologize for my harshness.
God did work in my friend’s life. Months later, through God’s guidance in her life, she was able to resolve her problem. It was his doing though, not mine.
If we are to be like God, we must be faithful to what we say. Otherwise, we are liars.
Sadly, many women are not promise-keepers. We promise at the altar to be faithful to our husbands and to commit to them for the rest of our lives; yet, many women choose to fill their minds with daydreams about other men or flirt with guys on the internet since the world says that fantasies are just fine. God says that to think about a man in this way is just as sinful as adultery. Some women eventually fulfill those desires physically while others choose to desert their families in the pursuit of happiness. Where is faithful commitment to our words and vows?
What are you teaching your children about their words by your example? Are they learning that if they agree to do something, they must follow through? Are they realizing that they must be careful with their words for they are permanent? Are they learning not to hurt with their tongues?
Dallas area women may be the busiest in the whole nation. We run our kids to and fro involving them in every possible activity. Then, we are too stressed to handle the things that are really important: commitment to God, to his church, and to our family relationships. Choose carefully what you agree to do and what you promise your children for you are responsible to follow through; however, you are not responsible to do everything that you are asked to do. Keep your priorities in order and be true to your word for then you will model the character of God to others.
Write a prayer of thanksgiving to God for his faithfulness. Thank him that you do not have to worry about his failing to make good on His promises.
12 Gary Inrig, Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), 193-194.
This message is designed to go after the student has followed the workbook and done the homework for Lesson 7. The audio of this message is also available.
When I think of Jephthah, I picture a Jerry Jones. I don’t know if you like him or not, but I think we can all agree that the man is a promoter. He promotes himself and whatever or whomever helps him. He is a talker, using words to his advantage. His motivation isn’t to help the Metroplex in general or the people who live here, but his own profit. However, as he promotes himself, he often benefits us as well.
Jephthah, Israel’s fifth major judge, was an early Jerry Jones, a self-promoter. He set out to achieve whatever benefitted him with little thought for others. He was great with words, and the Bible records more of his conversations than any other judge in the book. Because of God’s grace, Jephthah did deliver Israel from the oppressive Ammonites; however, just like Jerry Jones, he appears to have been motivated by his own ambitions rather than to benefit the people of Israel.
The cycle of this time period reoccurs as the story begins. In review, it has four parts: first, apostasy, God’s people turning from the true God to idols; second, oppression, God subjugating them to an enemy; third, cries of pain as the people turn to God for help; and finally, deliverance, when God in grace and compassion raises up a judge to save them. Six judges in the book can be called major judges or cyclical judges because their stories are paired with details of the cycle. Jephthah is the fifth of those judges.
Remember that the cycles actually spiral downward. Apostasy grows worse and the judges themselves become less and less heroic and noble.
Look at Judges 10:6-16:
The Israelites again did evil in the Lord’s sight. They worshiped the Baals and the Ashtars, as well as the gods of Syria, Sidon, Moab, the Ammonites, and the Philistines. They abandoned the Lord and did not worship him. The Lord was furious with Israel and turned them over to the Philistines and Ammonites. They ruthlessly oppressed the Israelites that eighteenth year– that is, all the Israelites living east of the Jordan in Amorite country in Gilead. The Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight with Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim. Israel suffered greatly.
The Israelites cried out for help to the Lord: “We have sinned against you. We abandoned our God and worshiped the Baals.” The Lord said to the Israelites, “Did I not deliver you from Egypt, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, Amalek, and Midian when they oppressed you? You cried out for help to me, and I delivered you from their power. But since you abandoned me and worshiped other gods, I will not deliver you again. Go and cry for help to the gods you have chosen! Let them deliver you from trouble!” But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. You do to us as you see fit, but deliver us today!” They threw away the foreign gods they owned and worshiped the Lord. Finally the Lord grew tired of seeing Israel suffer so much.
At this point apostasy was so widespread that God mentioned 7 different objects of Israel’s worship. As a result he had brought oppression from the Philistines and the Ammonites. Jephthah’s story occurs primarily east of the Jordan River, where the Ammonites ruled. In our next lesson we’ll see Samson deal with the Philistines in the west. Apparently, Jephthah and Samson were contemporaries.
Note that in this cycle God’s response changed. Although Israel cried out for help, God refused, saying their continued return to idols after 7 deliverances indicated they had not repented. He suggested they cry to their idols for help. At that point, the people actually threw away their idols; but, based on God’s reaction it is unclear if this was genuine repentance. He didn’t even bother answering them. The text gives his reason for delivering them as his own compassion for their suffering rather than a response to any repentance. Perhaps they were simply trying to manipulate God without truly repentant hearts, and that parallels the manipulation we’ll see Jephthah attempt. Realize that the sins of the various judges paralleled what was going on in the land.
Also, the verses don’t say that God raised up the deliverer. Clearly, he used Jephthah and put his Spirit upon him, but the basis of Jephthah’s rise to leadership appears to be human wisdom. The elders of Gilead chose him without regard to God’s will in the matter, but God graciously used him anyway.
I’m sure you remember Jephthah’s broken background; because of his illegitimacy, he was dismissed as a nobody and exiled. No wonder he desired to be somebody, proving everyone wrong! He sought his significance as a person by success and power; he wanted a name for himself.
So how did this nobody, this illegitimate exile from Gilead become the deliverer from the Ammonites? During his exile, Jephthah proved himself as a leader and a warrior. Although his experience was questionable, he had shown qualities which the elders of Gilead needed. When they were confronted with the Ammonite army, they looked for a citizen of Gilead to lead them into battle. They initially offered to make someone from Gilead their ruler. When no one volunteered, they traveled to Tob to find Jephthah and his band of merry men.
Judges 11:6 describes their offer to him: “Come, be our commander, so we can fight with the Ammonites.” Now this was a different offer than the one they gave the men of Gilead in 10:18 when they used the word translated leader or head.
They offered the command of the army to Jephthah, while they offered the rulership of Gilead to the citizens—two different words. But Jephthah was a self-promoter who knew how to bargain. He wasn’t motivated to save them; he wanted to rule them and be reinstated as a citizen of the city. When he refused their offer of commander, they upped the offer and he agreed to become ruler if they won the victory.
Next he bargained with the king of the Ammonites, and he did a good job with his message of peace, revealing his knowledge of the history of God and Israel and an understanding of God’s power. But even in the bargaining process, Jephthah elevated and promoted himself, placing himself on the same level as the king.
Look at Judges 11:12, “Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king, saying, “Why have you come against me to attack my land?”
He suggested that his power and authority were equal to the king’s. Despite Jephthah’s skill at the negotiating table, the king moved toward war. At that point the bargainer Jephthah made a terrible mistake. Believing that he could manipulate God into doing what he wanted him to do, he made a foolish vow:
Look at vv. 30-31 in Judges 11:
Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, saying, “If you really do hand the Ammonites over to me, then whoever is the first to come through the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from fighting the Ammonites – he will belong to the Lord and I will offer him up as a burnt sacrifice.”
Although God’s Spirit came upon Jephthah and empowered him for battle, God’s Spirit didn’t stop Jephthah from making a foolish vow. And you know, that is how God works with us. He gives us his Spirit, but he doesn’t stop us from committing major sins and making foolish decisions. We are to be guided by his word; we are to study it and know it so that we don’t sin.
Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Jephthah failed to consult God’s word or godly people, and the foolishness of that became clear when he returned home from the victory and his only child, a daughter emerged first from the house.
Look at Judges 11:35-36:
When he saw her, he ripped his clothes and said, “Oh no! My daughter! You have completely ruined me! You have brought me disaster! I made an oath to the Lord, and I cannot break it.” She said to him, “My father, since you made an oath to the Lord, do to me as you promised. After all, the Lord vindicated you before your enemies, the Ammonites.”
Jephthah and his daughter were apparently unaware of God’s prohibition against human sacrifice; instead, they were influenced by the culture of the Canaanites and their perspective of gods who needed to be manipulated and who enjoyed watching people hurt. Our God delivered the men of Gilead out of his love, compassion, and grace, not to get sacrifices, and especially not human ones.
Both Pr. 14:12 and 16:25 say this: “There is a way that seems right to a person but its end is the way that leads to death.”
Jepththah did what was right in his own eyes, as the theme of Judges says, but he didn’t know God’s word. Even sadder is the fact that God set out principles for redeeming people who are dedicated to him in Leviticus 27:1-8. It appears that Jephthah could have paid a ransom for his daughter if he had not been so ignorant of God’s word.
Another way out would have been for Jephthah to refuse to kill his daughter and let God’s curse fall on him, but Jephthah’s selfishness prevented him from doing that. His actions contrasted with those of Jesus who let the curse for our sins fall on him so that we could have life. Jephthah killed his innocent daughter so that he wouldn’t risk God’s curse. He was out to win at all costs and his daughter was in the way. In fact, when you read this conversation with his daughter carefully, you see him blame her for the problem. Look back at his words to her in v. 35:
“Oh no! My daughter! You have completely ruined me! You have brought me disaster! I made an oath to the Lord, and I cannot break it.”
He said she had ruined him. She had brought him disaster. That’s pretty typical of an abuser, to blame the child or wife for the abuse. And this was the ultimate abuse—to kill his daughter for his own success. Jephthah was more concerned about his own loss than about her loss. His self-promotion and self-protection were in contrast to his daughter’s self-sacrifice. When she heard her father’s vow, she declared that he must fulfill it. She was willing to die so that he would be blameless before God.
So the age-old question is this—did Jephthah’s daughter die at the hand of her own father because he bargained with God for his own benefit? I agree with many scholars and the rabbis through the centuries who felt that he did. The word for burnt offering, which he used in his vow, always means a sacrifice that is totally burned up as an offering to God. The argument often used that the people of Israel would have known better and stopped him assumes that the rest of the Israelites knew the scriptures, which is a leap when you read the book of Judges. Sadly, it seems that she lost her life because of her father’s ambitions.
My son, who listens to a lot of strange music, recently came across an album written by a young Jewish woman. Both her group and her album are called “Girls in Trouble,” a fitting title for songs about Old Testament women. Here are the lyrics to “Mountain/When my Father Came Back”:
When my father came back from the war
I knew he would want to see me first
So I ran out to greet him
But he fell to his knees in the dirt
He told me daughter
I have promised G-d to offer
The first creature that I saw
Father the vow you have made
Is one you cannot escape
But first let me go with my sisters
Down to the shores of the lake
I lived 2 months with them
My sisters in the forest
And then I returned back home
The night he took me to the mountain
Neither of us spoke
We reached the peak together
Just as sunrise broke
Could have run from him
I almost thought he wished it
But I could not run from G-d
It was the last day of my life
The sun had never shone so bright
My father held the knife
I kept my eyes open wide
Then angels came to me
With faces of my sisters
And they filled my eyes with tears
It’s a sad story of a young woman who was victim to her own father’s self-promotion; he was so concerned with winning that he tried to manipulate God into giving him victory over the Ammonites.
In Jephthah’s self-promotion and search for significance, he bargained, blamed, and also bullied others. After his victory, the tribe of Ephraim threatened to burn him alive inside his house because he didn’t enlist them for the battle. (This was the same tribe that accused Gideon of the same thing, but Gideon convinced them to get over it.) After Jephthah tried bargaining with them unsuccessfully, he attacked them and won. But instead of recognizing them as brothers and allowing them to retreat in defeat, he massacred 42,000 of his own countrymen. Jephthah—bargainer, blamer, bully—all done for self-promotion.
What do we learn from this story? Is there anything positive? Once again in Judges, the greatest positive is the faithfulness of God to his people despite their unfaithfulness. The positive is that God uses very flawed and sinful people. The positive is that God gives love and grace when we deserve his wrath. The positive is that he has given us his word to guide us if we will use it. God is the hero of this story and of our stories. We are sinners with our own issues, just like Jepththah, but God graciously forgives us, saves us and even uses us.
We should also recognize our tendencies to be a Jephthah or a Jerry Jones. We promote ourselves rather than dying to self and living for Jesus. We seek our significance in our success and our name instead of in God’s love and acceptance. We often do God’s work for the wrong reasons, concerned about pleasing people, wanting them to like us, a form of self-promotion. We do what is right in our own eyes instead of seeking God’s will in his word. We can be wrong about God’s character, mistakenly believing that we must bargain with him to get his help because he is reluctant and uncaring. Because our beliefs fuel our actions, our lives end up legalistic and manipulative.
We aren’t significant because we have great children, because we look good, or because we achieve a level of public recognition or meet our financial or business goals. We are significant because God loves us and has made us his children. Unless we base our significance on the love of God, we will be forced to promote ourselves and seek to win no matter the cost.
Vince Lombardi, the coach of the championship Green Bay Packers said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” May we never be guilty of seeking to win rather than seeking the glory of our God!
“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness,became mighty in battle, put foreign armies to flight”
Hebrews 11:32-34 (NET)
Have you ever known anyone who wasted his or her life? Someone who began with great potential because of God’s gifts of intelligence or creativity or personality and yet he never lived up to the promise of those qualities?
This week we look at Samson, perhaps the most well-known of all of the judges. There have been times when he has been held up as a hero, but in reality he may be the worst of the judges recorded in this book. As we have traveled back to this time period, we have noted that the judges became less like God and more like the world around them. Yet, Samson is listed as a man of faith in Hebrews 11, our Light for Today. As you read about him, think about how and when he evidenced this faith.
Samson’s life can be divided into three sections: the birth announcement in Judges 13, his activities surrounding the town of Timnah in Judges 14-15, and the saga of his demise in Judges 16. Today we will consider the story of his birth.
Read Judges 13:1.
1. What parts of the cycle that we studied from Judges 2, our Week Three Study, are included in the story of Samson and what parts are missing? What does that suggest about the people of Israel?
Read Judges 13:2-24.
2. Who appeared to the woman, and what was his message and instructions?
What was a Nazirite? It is not related to the town of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. The noun nazir derives from a root meaning “to dedicate or consecrate oneself.”13
Read Numbers 6:1-8 to find the answer.
3. List the outward evidences that one was a Nazirite.
As believers, we are also dedicated unto God for the rest of our lives. Read 1 Peter 1:15-16. The words “holy” and “sanctified” mean separated or set apart unto God. There should be outward evidence of our separation as well.
4. Sharing question: In what ways are you living differently from those around you so that they may see that you are set apart unto God? How do you live differently without coming across as “holier than thou?”
If we see clearly through the darkness, we will not live like those who cannot see; thus, we will look distinct, but we must do that without pride. So often a believer becomes proud of what she doesn’t do and that builds a barrier with witnessing to the world. Only by the grace of God are we believers. We are not saved because we choose not to participate in certain activities or cease from specific sins in our lives but because God has had mercy upon us.
We also see the problem of pride in believers in the gray areas. As God works in our lives to sanctify us more and more, we often try to put the same restrictions on others. There are areas where God has not set out hard and fast rules for what is sin and what is not. For some of us, He convicts us that to participate would be sin for us. For others, there is not the problem. Because of our flesh, we tend to become proud of those areas and see ourselves as superior to those with whom God has dealt in a different way. Paul discusses this in the book of Romans as he deals with areas that are gray, such as dietary laws and observing holy days.
Read Romans 14:2-23.
5. Sharing question: Name one specific way that you can apply Paul’s words about the gray areas to your life.
More Light: Read in your resources on Rom 14:2-23. Write down your insights.
6. Responding to God: Ask God to show you areas of pride in your heart that arise from your lifestyle. Confess it as sin and ask God to give you the humility to realize that you live differently because of the grace and power he gives you, not because of your own greatness! Write your prayer below.
So far the story of Samson seems great with promise. God miraculously opened his mother’s womb and called him to be dedicated unto God for life. Today we begin to see how Samson used the gifts that God gave him.
Read Judges 13:24-14:20.
7. What repeated idea do you see concerning the woman whom Samson wants in 14:2, 3, 7? What is the problem with his marrying her? (See Deut. 7:3-4.)
We see that God’s Spirit is at work in Samson’s life, and this is also repeated through this passage. When you study the scriptures, it is helpful to watch for repetition, which highlights what the passage is stressing.
8. How did Samson use the strength given by the Lord?
Throughout the Scriptures, God is at work, accomplishing his purposes and his plans. We see this in this story of Samson. Yet, Samson seems to be a free agent, doing whatever pleases himself without regard to God. There is tension between God’s sovereignty, his rule over all, and man’s will that the Bible never really explains. God uses us to accomplish his purposes and within his plan, but he does not violate our will in doing so. How does it all fit together? We can only understand it by faith. When God does not choose to explain it to us, it is best to accept it and not try to make it logical; it is a paradox.
More Light: What other story in the Bible shows the paradox of God at work to accomplish his purposes through someone’s disobedience or sin?
9. Look at the following verses and write down your insights about God’s purposes:
a. Isaiah 14:24
b. Isaiah 46:8-11
c. Isaiah 55:8-9
10. Review God’s original purpose for Samson and his life in Judges 13:5. How does this story in Judges 14 contribute to the accomplishment of God’s purposes despite Samson’s poor attitude and judgment?
11. Sharing question: God can use you for his purposes even though you are not walking according to his will. Look back over your life and relate a situation where you can now see the hand of God at work although you were essentially ignoring his word or his will.
12. Responding to God: Read 1 John 2:15-17 and use it to evaluate your attitudes. Samson’s life prioritized a love of the world; we already see lust of the flesh in his life. Ask God to show you any area where you love the world. Write down what he reveals.
Read Judges 14:20-15:20.
13. Summarize the story as the top news of the day on the Philistine news channel or newspaper. Write a headline if you wish.
14. Again, the Spirit of God came upon Samson mightily (Jud. 15:14). What was he able to do when that occurred?
God gives New Testament believers the Holy Spirit to live within us at all times. His purpose in our lives is different from his purpose in Samson’s life, but we also have power.
15. Write down what you learn about the work of God’s Spirit within a believer today:
a. Acts 1:8
b. Romans 8:14
c. Romans 8:26-27
d. Galatians 5:16, 22-23
More Light: Find other New Testament verses in your concordance concerning the work of the Spirit in our lives today.
16. Responding to God: Ask God to show you an area of your life where you are wasting the gift of the Spirit by failing to depend on his strength and power. Write down what he shows you as you sit still in silence before him.
17. Sharing question: Share what God showed you with your group. What one thing can you do in a practical way to walk by the Spirit and tap into his strength instead of your own?
Review Judges 15:18-20, which occurred at the end of the story we read yesterday.
18. What was Samson’s prayer and God’s answer?
Although Samson was again focused on his own desires, the story reveals that God was concerned about his needs. God is interested in everything about us; he wants to take care of us and provide for the things that we truly need.
19. Read these verses and write down what you learn about God meeting your needs:
a. Matt. 6:31-33
b. James 4:3
More Light: Find other verses on prayer in your concordance or topical Bible.
20. Responding to God: Write a prayer asking God to provide for an area of personal need, which may be spiritual or physical. Review the kingdom prayers at the back of this study to help you as you consider a spiritual need.
Read Judges 16:1-3.
21. Relate the story in summary form—and feel free to write a headline!
“It is noteworthy that such a destruction of a city’s gate was particularly humiliating for a city, because gates were thought to be symbolic of a city’s strength.”14
22. How does this story show God’s purposes for Samson succeeding while at the same time it shows Samson motivated by his own lusts?
23. Sharing question: Relate the story of how you have seen God work even through someone’s sins? It will likely be your own storyJ
Read Judges 17:4-31, the sad ending of the saga of Samson.
24. Briefly summarize the story.
In the great Shakespearean tragedies, there is always a character defeat that causes the story to end in sadness. Samson is somewhat of a tragic hero as well Although he fulfilled God’s purpose for his life, he failed to do it God’s way. As a result, he wasted his potential and ended up a tragic figure.
25. What would you identify as Samson’s downfall? Explain.
More Light: Read about Samson death in your resources.
26. How can living out Heb. 12:1-2 help us avoid some of Samson’s failures?
27. Sharing question: What is the sin that is tripping you up? It may not seem like a sin but more like great attitudes: trying to please people, seeking to meet your own goals, seeking material things, or trying to get your family to see things your way. These and other attitudes may reveal that you have put other things over your love for God or that you are trusting yourself for results rather than trusting in God. What can you do to lay this aside so that it doesn’t trip you up?
28. How do you see the truth of Heb. 11:32-34, our memory verses, in Samson’s life?
29. Responding to God: Write a prayer or poem highlighting something you learned in the account of Samson about yourself or about God.
When I left for college, I decided to try out what the world had to offer. I had become disillusioned with my church and consequently decided to put God aside also. I could go out every night of the week if I desired. I went to church once during college, but found it boring and awfully early after getting in so late on Saturday night. I took advantage of every party, and had a lot of fun.
Several years later I began to feel the emptiness of this life. There was something missing, and I felt a strong desire to get back into church. As I plugged back into a church fellowship and began to get involved in Bible study, I had a deep regret for the years I had spent away from the Lord. I had missed out on years of growing in the Lord. I had a lot of knowledge about the Bible but had never spent time studying God’s word for myself. I began to realize what a waste those six years had been that I chose to go my own way. My behavior had led to some choices I made that would have been unthinkable just a few years before.
The hardest thing has been to watch my child go through this same rebellion against God. He puts on the Christian act when he’s at church, but his behavior with his friends shows that he’s making the same mistakes I made. He’s tasting what the world has to offer and nothing I can say about my experiences can make him anticipate the regret he’ll have in the future about the time he’s wasted in his relationship with God.
In the story of Samson we actually see his parents interact with him. You might want to reread Judges 14:1-3, 5. Although Manoah and his wife knew that Samson should not marry this Philistine woman, they went ahead with the arrangements because Samson insisted. Samson was motivated by his lusts and pleasures throughout his life. In this instance we see no indication that his parents set limits on him. Perhaps that is one reason that he set few limits on himself.
As parents our job is to train our children in the commands of the Lord. We are the first defense against their becoming selfish and self-centered. Our precious children are actually born sinners, whose tendency is to look at life in totally selfish ways, attempting to fulfill their personal desires. If we give in to all of their selfish wishes, we do not teach them to look out for the needs of others or to obey God, who knows what is best.
Desire is insatiable; no matter how much you give, it can never be satisfied. Your children do not need everything they see or everything they want. Begin early to teach them to wait and to work for the things they really need. Teach them to be generous with others rather than constantly looking for material things for themselves.
Do not use material goods to placate them. Don’t fall into the habit of buying them something every time they go with you to the store. My children learned that Christmas and birthdays were the times that they received gifts (I’m not talking about needed school clothes). They realized that they had to wait to satisfy their desires, and they never received everything that they asked for. They had to pick what they wanted most.
Keep in mind your long-term goals for your children. What kind of adults do you want them to be? Begin to teach them early to be giving, unselfish, and kind.
13 E. Ray Clendenen, 403.
14 Leon Wood, Distressing Days of the Judges (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1975), 328.
“The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers.”
John 4:23 b-c (NET)
There is something in the human heart that draws us to seek glory, fame, money, popularity, and a number of other things. The history of mankind is filled with stories of tragedy that ensue when someone chooses to reach for the things that “glitter.” Whole nations have been destroyed by leaders who seek power by swallowing up other countries and bringing defeat on themselves and their own people. However, the majority of such stories concern the destruction of families or relationships: parents who have ignored the needs of their children to pursue other things; husbands and wives who are more concerned about fulfilling themselves than about building oneness in their marriages; pastors who have destroyed their churches by focusing on building their own kingdoms rather than the kingdom of God. This week we read a sad story which results from one man’s desire to have what glitters.
This week we begin the last of the three sections of the book of Judges. We saw the introduction in Chapters 1:1-3:6 and the stories of the judges in 4:7-16:31. Now in chapters 17-21 we read the stories of religious anarchy and moral chaos that permeate the period. This section is not chronological after the life of Samson but predates that time probably following the farewell of Joshua by only a few years. Some call it a double conclusion, just as there was a double introduction. We will study the story of the tribe of Dan this week and conclude our study of the book with the story of civil war next week.
Remember that God can use the darkest and saddest chronicles of history in order to teach us about our lives today. Paul tell us in 1 Cor. 10:11-13 that God has given us these Old Testament stories so that we learn by them: “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (NASB) We must take these accounts seriously so that we do not fall into such darkness and incur discipline from God as they did.
Read Judges 17:1-6, and meet the main character of this story, Micah.
1. What did Micah confess and what seems to be his motive for confessing?
2. What did Micah’s mom do with the money she dedicated to Yahweh (LORD)? Read Ex. 20:4-5 and Deut. 5:8-9 and write down God’s perspective of her actions.
3. How does Rom. 1:22-23 help explain why God so condemns idols, even if they are dedicated to worshipping him?
More Light: Look up idolatry in your Bible dictionary, handbook, encyclopedia or other resource and add any additional insights that help you with this concept.
Judges 17:6 is a repeated verse and is seen again in the last verse of the book. It describes the attitude of the people of that day and is illustrated here in the story of Micah. The repetition of this same verse indicates how prevalent these attitudes were. They describe these last few chapters and the stories that we find there.
4. Write Judges 17:6 in your own way, explaining it. How do you see its truth in the mother’s actions?
5. Sharing question: Honestly consider your own attitudes. In what areas do you tend to do what is right in your own eyes rather than what God says is right? Is there an area where you give excuses for your conduct? Are there places where you ignore God’s clear standards, thinking they are outdated or minor issues?
6. Responding to God: Confess whatever God shows you to confess about your own attitude of knowing what is right more than God does. Accept his forgiveness. Write your prayer below.
Review Judges 17:1-6 and read Judges 17:7-13.
7. According to Deut. 12:1-7, 11-14, 26, what was God’s attitude toward the Jews having personal shrines in their homes?
Micah imitated the religious observances given to the Jews by God: a temple, priests who wore ephods, and ways of worship. Micah believed that he could worship the true God as he pleased.
More Light: Read more about God’s instructions for the tabernacle and the priests in Exodus 25-28.
8. Read Num. 3:1-10. (Note that Moses and his brother Aaron were from the tribe of Levi, as this priest was.) What family from among the Levites was to have the priesthood? What was the job of the other Levites?
God gave the Levites specific cities in which to live which were scattered among the land belonging to the various tribes. Bethlehem was not one of their cities.
9. Why was this Levite in Micah’s area (Jud. 17:9)? What did this and the fact that he lived in Bethlehem tell you about this Levite?
10. How did Micah think that God would respond to his religion (Jud. 17:13)?
11. Responding to God: Sit quietly before God. Read John 4:20-23 (and be sure and learn it!), considering how he wants us to worship him today. Do you worship him according to the truth of scripture? Consider ways that you may have made him into your own comfortable God. Is there any area in which have you fallen into the thinking of the culture about God? Repent of your false worship and accept his forgiveness.
12. Sharing question: Share what you saw as you sat before God.
Read Judges 18:1-2.
13. Why were the men of the tribe of Dan spying out the land?
14. Joshua had allotted this tribe land close to the Mediterranean. What happened to that land according to Judges 1:34?
The tribe of Dan was disobedient to God by not living in their allotted portion of the land of promise. It was too hard! So they looked for an easy way. They spied out this area that they were never given, looking for an easy way to get some land.
Read Judges 18:3-10.
15. What was the report of these spies about the city of Laish?
More Light: If you have a Bible atlas or some maps, try to find Laish in the northern area of the land, north of the Sea of Galilee.
Read Judges 18:11-20.
16. Consider what you learn about the Levite’s character from 17:7-13 and this passage. Write down your insights.
17. Responding to God: Are you content with the ministry that God has given you or are you looking for more recognition? Honestly evaluate your attitude before God. Are you willing to serve in your giftedness outside of the limelight? Confess what is truly in your heart before God.
18. Sharing question: Share the story of how God opened a door of ministry for you that you did not expect.
We have been looking at the story of Micah and his homemade worship of God. We read yesterday of a Levite who was more than happy to be exalted to the level of priesthood although he was not qualified according to God’s word.
Even in the church it is possible for someone to elevate themselves to a position to which God has not gifted or called them. In fact, the New Testament warns repeatedly about false teachers, who are not even true believers.
19. Read these passages and write down what you learn about false teachers and your responsibility to discern who is from God and who is not:
a. Acts 20:28-31 (Paul to the elders of the Ephesian church)
b. 2 Pet. 2:1-2; 3:17
c. Gal. 1:6-10
d. Col. 2:8
e. 2 Tim. 2:15-19
f. 1 John 4:1-3
More Light: Read all of 2 Peter 2 and write down Peter’s harsh warnings about false teachers.
20. What did Jesus teach in Matthew 7:13-23 about how to determine whether someone is a true teacher from the Lord? (Note the things that this person may be able to accomplish.)
21. Sharing question: What one step can you take this week to grow in character so that you exhibit more of Christ to others, so that your words match your actions? Be specific.
22. Responding to God: Pray for your leaders, asking God to raise up those who are mature, wise, and qualified, teaching truth. Write down your prayer below.
Today we read the end of the story of Micah in Judges 18:27-31.
23. What sort of worship did the tribe of Dan institute in the land that they conquered and how long did it last?
Once we establish systems of worship, they are difficult to overcome. Even when we attend a church with a different culture, these traditions seem to stay with us. We develop a love for them, perhaps because they represent our traditions or sense of awe. These are not necessarily false systems, but they can be. We need to see clearly to discern the nature of our worship—is it simply an alternate form of worship or does it contain elements that are not true to who God is?
24. Responding to God: Are you holding on to any form of worship that is not worship in spirit and in truth? God requires us to worship Him in truth. Ask God to show you in his word if there is anything in your practice of worship that does not conform to spirit and truth. Write down your prayer.
25. According to Judges 18:30, who was this “priest” and who were his ancestors?
This may be the saddest part of the story, the identity of this so-called priest. My Bible (NASB) identifies his ancestor in a footnote because some manuscripts read Manasseh as his ancestor.
More Light: Read what your commentaries say about Jonathan’s identity.
“To cover the fact that such a godly man could have so worthless a descendant, the scribes altered his name. . . . Godliness is not genetic.”15
Just being part of a believing faithful family does not ensure that your faith is real. The Bible is full of stories of children who do not follow in the faith of their fathers and mothers.
26. Sharing question: Is your faith as strong as your ancestors? What sort of tradition of faith do you have in your family? If you come from a family of followers of Jesus, what influences did you have that most impacted you?
27. Responding to God: If you are a mother, pray for your children to truly believe in Jesus and live for him. If you do not have children, pray for a niece, nephew or other member of the next generation. Ask God how you can be an influence in his or her life Write down your prayer below.
I grew up in a Christian home and in a very strong church that taught the Bible and I participated in the youth group, the Wednesday night activities, and the youth choir tours. I was there virtually every time the door was open and I loved my church, my friends, and the strong Bible teaching and music. I worked at a Christian camp after I graduated from high school and I went to college very excited to be going to a Christian university after having spent 12 years in public school. I was sure that this would enhance my walk with the Lord. I would finally be able to relax and enjoy school with other believers.
When I got to college, I immediately felt accepted and successful and I began to acquire recognition and honors. I gradually began to substitute this for a growing relationship with the Lord. I still went to church but the word wasn’t being taught. I prayed every day but they were short prayers of thankfulness or prayers for help or prayers of desperation. I became a double-minded person (James 1), thinking that I could worship and serve God and do my own thing at the same time. I substituted human logic for divine revelation and I lost all discernment. I used my own reasoning to sort out situations and I enjoyed the “passing pleasures” of sin. As I reached the pinnacle of the achievement track I was on, I felt totally empty inside and was truly miserable. I knew that I should be happy. I had achieved the goals that I had set. However, I had drifted away from the truth and the rest of my life had lost its meaning.
Thankfully, God prevented me from making some disastrous decisions at this time in my life. (He prevented me from marrying the wrong person by having that person decide it was not right.) Eventually, through God’s painful, loving discipline (because I was his child) I began to think through some things. He would not let me go my own way. A friend invited me to a conference taught by the top speakers at Campus Crusade for Christ. I went night after night and I realized what I had left. These bible teachers were exciting and challenging and I remembered that God’s word was “alive and powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword.” I was challenged to confess sin and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It was all coming back to me. I had left my “first love” (Rev. 3). I had drifted off on my own but God called me back to himself. How grateful I am today that he would not let me go my own way. His word is truth and I cannot make up my own way to serve him or to worship him. I have to do it his way.
I still had no desire to study the Bible on my own but at least I realized what I had been missing and I now wanted to have this desire. (I had avoided Bible studies when I was having so much “fun” in college because I knew I would feel convicted.) I prayed that God would give me a desire to study his word and he has! The joy, peace, purpose, and fulfillment that I have now are the result of his working in and through my life. He has filled the emptiness that I tried to fill with position and relationships with himself. The plans I had for my life pale in comparison with what God planned. He has given me his best for me and I am still in the process of learning to trust him fully and not “lean on my own understanding.”
The story of Micah involves a poor mother and the failure of family faith.
Micah’s mother was responsible for the idolatry of her son and eventually of an entire tribe. She indicated that she believed that this was the way to worship the true God; yet, her plan was in direct contradiction to God’s word. We have such influence upon our children in every way! When you advise your children, do you know what God says on the subject or do you give your children worldly advice? Where do you get your perspectives—from the Bible or from celebrities like Oprah? Are you immersed enough in Scripture to recognize it if you hear advice contrary to that of the world?
Just as Moses’ descendant, perhaps grandson, Jonathan strayed from the faith of his family and followed what seemed right to him, so your children may also follow another god—money, success, fun, or popularity. As Gary Inrig said, “Faith is not genetic.” We are all rebels at heart whose tendency is to do what is right in our own eyes. We cannot make them believers, but we can influence them by teaching them the truth and living it out before them. Prayer is your greatest hope because only God can draw anyone to himself. He has the power to touch the hardest heart. Entrust your children and their faith to the one who made them and died for them.
15 Gary Inrig, 276.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And do not rely on your own understanding.
Acknowledge him in all your ways,
And he will make your paths straight.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NET)
Do you ever hear of situations where one bad decision seems to lead to another and another? Maybe you have found yourself in situations that you never expected because of one bad choice. That is the kind of story we have this week! Poor choices end up bringing destruction and civil war. These are things that happen when everyone does what is “right in his own eyes,” the repeated refrain that describes this period of spiritual and moral anarchy. As the second part of the double conclusion, this story exemplifies the moral anarchy and destruction that typifies the time of the judges.
Read Judges 19:1-21.
1. Tell the story as a news report! Add a headline, if you wish.
2. Review what you learned about the responsibility of Levites in last week’s lesson (Num. 3:6-9). Summarize them below.
The Levites were specially set apart for God’s work; yet, this Levite had a concubine. What did that mean?
“Having concubines was an accepted part of Israelite society although this is not what God intended (Gen. 2:24). A concubine had most of the duties but only some of the privileges of a wife. Although she was legally attached to one man, she and her children usually did not have the inheritance rights of the legal wife and legitimate children. Her primary purpose was giving the man sexual pleasure, bearing additional children, and contributing more help to the household or estate.”16
This Levite had accepted the world’s way of living instead of choosing God’s best. He had compromised with the thinking of his culture.
3. What do you learn from Romans 12:1-2 about how to see clearly through the darkness rather than thinking as our culture does?
Read Judges 19:22-30. Because of poor choices, the Levite ended up in a dangerous situation.
4. How did the host and the Levite solve their dilemma?
These solutions seemed right in their own eyes. Their social customs of hospitality involved “protecting a guest at any cost.”17 That seemed right despite the resulting treatment of the women as disposable chattel. They lived in the darkness rather than trusting God and seeing clearly.
Whenever we read stories of real people in the Bible, we must be careful not to infer that God is pleased with their actions or attitudes. Only by cross-referencing to other kinds of books in the Bible, where God clarifies and teaches, can we know how he feels about these things.
The Levite and his host did what was right in their own eyes. They accommodated evil to protect themselves. They took the easy way out of the dilemma. They looked out for Number One. They failed to live godly in an ungodly world but became like the world.
More Light: Read more about Judges 19:22-30 in your resources.
5. Sharing question: In what areas do you tend to protect yourself by not speaking up or compromising with the values of our culture? Give an example.
6. Responding to God: Ask God for the grace to be courageous for his truth and values even when it costs you in friendships or respect. Write your prayer below.
The sad story of rape and accommodation of evil bears further consequences as it progresses.
Read Judges 20:1-11.
7. Summarize what happened at the convocation at Mizpah.
Read Judges 20:12-17.
8. Read Deut. 22:22-27, and explain how knowing God’s word could have helped the tribe of Benjamin see clearly through the darkness rather than doing what they did—what was right in their own eyes.
The tribe of Benjamin treated sin as excusable or at least unimportant by their actions. They failed to understand the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God. His “eyes are too pure to approve evil”; he “cannot look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13).
9. How did Isaiah respond to the holiness of God according to Isaiah 6:1-7?
More Light: Read definitions of the holiness of God in a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia or perhaps in an online article.
In Exodus 19, God impressed Israel at Mount Sinai with his holiness. Read Exodus 19:10-25; 20:18-21.
10. How did God hope that Israel would respond to his power and greatness (Ex. 20:20)?
We have to be careful to remember that God is God although he loves us. We must respond to God with the proper respect for his holiness and power.
11. Sharing question: If you see yourself clearly, what kinds of sins in your own life do you tend to consider unimportant or excusable?
12. Responding to God: Draw a picture showing yourself putting away that sin or sins in the presence of God’s holiness.
Read Judges 20:18-48.
13. One last time, write a news report summarizing the civil war and its results. And once again, put a headline with itJ
Read Judges 21:1-14.
14. What decision that was right in their own eyes came back to haunt the men of Israel and why?
15. What was their solution to the problem?
This whole thing reminds me of the old saying—two wrongs don’t make a right.
16. What are the two wrongs done here—or even more than two?
More Light: Read in your commentaries about Judges 21:1-14.
17. Sharing question: Perhaps you have firsthand experience with the consequences of not thinking clearly, according to God’s wisdom. Maybe you experienced it in your family or through your own life. Share what you learned through it with your group.
18. Responding to God: Commit to spend time in God’s word so that you don’t forget the light that keeps you from living life in the darkness. Write your prayer below.
Read Judges 21:16-25.
Amazingly, the men of Israel came up with a plan that did not violate the letter of their oath; however, it was not an ethical choice!
19. What was the plan? How was it unethical?
The moral fiber of the country had been lost. The nation followed the letter of the oath and broke the spirit of God’s law.
20. What wisdom would you share with these Israelites if you could travel back in time and speak to them when they first gathered at Shiloh?
More Light: Read your commentaries on Judges 21:16-25.
“This book and the history of the nation that follows serve as eternal testimony to the grim reality that God’s people are often their own worst enemy. It is not the enemies outside who threaten the soul but the Canaanite within.” 18
Daniel I. Block
21. Sharing question: How have you seen this quote to be true in your own life? How do you see the Canaanite within yourself?
22. Sharing question: Read Proverbs 3:5-6, our memory verse this week, and compare it with Judges 21:25. In general, what are you to do differently from what these Israelites did?
23. Responding to God: Ask God to keep the lessons that you have learned in Judges with you so that you never fall into the darkness.
We have spent ten weeks in God’s word learning lessons that can help us see clearly through the darkness. Today we want to look back and consider all that God has spoken to us and done in our lives through this study.
We first touched on the faith of Abraham and then the faithfulness of God to his promises under the leadership of Moses and Joshua. We studied the major judges (those whose stories are detailed)—Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson. We also read of the minor judges—Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. We covered the double introduction with its emphasis on the cycle of sin and deliverance, as well as the double conclusion with its stories of spiritual and moral anarchy.
24. What message stands out to you as you think through these stories?
25. Sharing question: Who is your favorite judge and why?
26. Sharing question: Review the memory verses from your cards or on the first page of every lesson. Which verse is most meaningful to you and why?
27. Sharing question: What have you changed in your life as you have applied God’s word week after week?
One day during the spring of 1974 while my husband, Dennis, was the tennis coach at Pan American University, he was called into the office of the President. He thought nothing about it as he had requested some adjustments in the program such as having the courts resurfaced and getting a graduate assistant. He had been the coach for over six years and his team had been ranked in the Top Twenty of NCAA Division I. God was blessing! But this particular year, through many uncontrollable circumstances, in the middle of the year, several players had opted to leave school and join the pro tennis circuit. That left him with a greatly weakened team (he had to get his team manager and a person from one of the P.E. classes to fill out his six-man team roster) and yet still playing the very strong schedule that he was already committed to. The year proved to be his greatest spiritually, with many opportunities to share Christ and have some very meaningful discussions with the team members. Upon his arrival in the President’s office, he was shocked when the President said, “Well, Coach, it looks like that we may have to be re-assigning you. It appears that you are just not getting the job done with the tennis program.” Dennis responded that he didn’t realize that one losing season out of six--and the previous ones being ranked in the Top Twenty--was “unsuccessful”. He explained the circumstances and the President said, “You don’t seem to be able to get it done.” Dennis stated that if it meant breaking the recruiting rules or violating any NCAA policies, then, the President was right—he was not the man for the job. He told him that he believed that a coach did not have to cheat or break rules to have a winning program. The President responded, “Well, you go talk to your people and I’ll talk to mineBut I think that we will be re-assigning you; come back and see me next week after I meet with the Board of Regents.”
Dennis showed up at noon (he never came home at noon) and I was in the middle of vacuuming the house. As we sat down to talk and he shared what had just happened, he said, “The only people that we can talk to are our Christian friends who will join us in prayer.” (We regularly met for prayer with a group on Thursday evenings. As we shared with our Christian friends and prayed, God gave us a complete peace about the whole scenario. Three days later, Dennis got a phone call in his office from the Athletic Department Sports Information Director saying, “Dennis, we’ve got it! We’ve got just what you need to convince the President that you are the man!” Dennis asked what he was talking about. Jim told him that it had just come over the wire that Dennis had been selected as the Host/Director for the NCAA National Tennis Championships for June, 1975. The miracle of this is that Dennis had not even applied for the position and was totally taken by surprise. The very next day, the top Canadian tennis player he had been recruiting sent his letter of acceptance to attend PAU in the fall of ‘74. Both of these stories hit the area newspapers and TV stations over the weekend (during the time we were to be “talking to our people”). At the Board of Regents meeting on that Monday night, there was much affirmation of Dennis being “the man”. Two days later, when the President met with Dennis, his line was totally different--”Now, just what can we do for you? Courts need resurfacing? Got it! Need a graduate assistant? Got it! Anything else?”
We had truly seen God turn the heart of the President (Prov. 21:1) and honor (I Sam. 2:30b) Dennis’ commitment to honoring God by not cheating and lying to build a successful tennis program!
In considering the story of the Levite and the civil war in Israel and its application to mothers, I was struck by the tendency we have to compromise with the world and live and look just like everyone else. We do what is easy instead of what is best. This happens to us as mothers, as well. The other mothers are allowing their children to do certain things and we go along although we know in our hearts that it is not best.
I remember being confronted with allowing my daughter to go to certain movies with other children. It amazed me what other Christian families considered okay for their children to see. My choice was to stand on my principles or compromise because it was easy and I could look like everyone else.
As children get older these questions multiply; as a mom you will be confronted with many questions of lifestyle. Just remember that you as a believer are to look differently than the world. The characters in this story were apparently totally oblivious that their moral values were opposed to the Scripture; in contrast, we must be vigilant to stand for what is right without compromise.
It is easier to go along and allow our kids to do what everyone else does. That is the easy way. Life without compromise, a godly life, is difficult and it brings hard consequences sometimes, but we must be willing to stand firm. Otherwise, the consequences may be even more serious in the lives of our children.
In order for us to stand for righteousness and God’s standards with our children, we must be sure that we ourselves are living what we propose to them. Children are the first to pick up on those who live as hypocrites, especially in their own home. We must live what we teach. We cannot expect them to learn honesty if we lie for them about missing school or if we cheat on our taxes. Little eyes are watching and they see!
Pray that you will be a model of integrity, a mom who doesn’t compromise her standards because they are rooted in God himself.
16 Note in Life Application Study Bible, 420.
17 Note in Life Application Study Bible, 241.
18 E. Ray Clendenen, 585.
This message is designed to go after the student has followed the workbook and done the homework for Lesson 10. The audio of this message is also available.
How many of you watch 24? Well, for those of you who don’t, the TV series revolves around a governmental agency known as CTU, which I think stands for the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit. Year after year the hero, Jack Bauer, has to use his brain and his brawn to defeat a terrorist plot, and it always takes 24 hours!
This season Jack is out to stop Middle-eastern terrorists from exploding a bomb in Manhattan. CTU is closing in on the bad guys; however, without realizing it, the CTU agents are being outwitted, not by the terrorists on the outside but by a double agent inside. Unless she is uncovered, there is little chance of reaching the bomb. As this clip begins, the good guys in the helicopters have the bad guys in their sights and the CTU agents are closing in on them. But the mole is at work.
Our story this week in Judges 19-21 involved one disaster after the other, just like 24! And like the plot of 24, the problem wasn’t the enemy outside but the enemy within the people of Israel themselves. They had adopted the attitudes of the Canaanites, the views of the culture, and were being destroyed from within.
Let’s quickly review where we are. Judges 1:1-3:6 was the double introduction, which pointed out that this era involved a number of cycles. Each cycle began with idolatry, followed by God’s response, enemy oppression. But each time Israel cried out in pain to God, he raised up a judge or deliverer to save them. The next division of the book tells the stories of the various judges and is followed by the double conclusion in chapters 17-21. The events in both conclusions actually occurred early in the period; they are flashbacks. The author, possibly Samuel, chose these stories to exemplify the religious and moral decay of this era.
You remember that God commanded Israel to destroy all the Canaanites when they entered their land under Joshua. But Israel didn’t obey; the first conclusion pictures the religious effects of that failure, idolatry. The second conclusion, our story this week, reveals the moral effects of the Canaanite influence.
The theme of the book of Judges is the repeated phrase—each person did what was right in his own eyes. The Canaanite thinking invaded their hearts and their lives; thus, the characters in today’s story did what was right in their own eyes, resulting in murder, kidnapping, rape, and civil war.
Our culture also approves of doing what is right in our own eyes; in fact, it sees no standard of right and wrong. What is right is what seems right. But usually I hear believers blame everything bad on those outside the church when the real problem often lies within. We believers, too, do what is right in our own eyes. Instead of being focused on politics or culture, blaming them for all that is wrong with our country and for the sin that pervades our society, we need to look at our own stuff and recognize that we are responsible as well. We have allowed the Canaanite within; we are our own worst enemies. The Canaanite in the land has become the Canaanite in the heart of God’s own people.
Look at Judges 19:1-3.
In those days Israel had no king. There was a Levite living temporarily in the remote region of the Ephraimite hill country. He acquired a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. However, she got angry at him and went home to her father’s house in Bethlehem in Judah. When she had been there four months, her husband came after her, hoping he could convince her to return.He brought with him his servant and a pair of donkeys. When she brought him into her father’s house and the girl’s father saw him, he greeted him warmly.
Look at v. 2. If you have the King James, New King James, NIV, New American Standard, or New Living translations, they say the concubine was unfaithful or played the harlot against her husband. However, recent scholarship has revealed that the words here in the original text more likely mean that she got angry. The Levite’s own actions support that: he went after her to get her back and spoke tenderly to her. The Levite was the one acting like the guilty party.
This poor woman, already a second-class wife, was the victim of sinful men. You know what happened. After foolishly partying until late in the day with his father-in-law, the Levite insisted they set out for home, knowing they would be unable to make it before nightfall. They ended up in a town belonging to Benjamin.
Look at Judges 19:15:
“They stopped there and decided to spend the night in Gibeah. They came into the city and sat down in the town square, but no one invited them to spend the night.”
It would have been unthinkable in that culture for the Israelites to fail to take them in for the night; it was scandalous and unheard of.
What is the cultural thinking behind their refusal? (You may want to write down these marks of the Canaanite within.) The first one is
Do we have this attitude? I don’t really want to be bothered with people who cost me time, effort, or money. What about you?
Back to the story, a fellow stranger in town did take them into his house, but the townsmen insisted that the host give them the Levite for their sexual pleasure.
Those of you who know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah probably had bells go off here, remembering the story in Gen. 19 when Lot took two angels into his house. In fact, it appears that the writer of Judges deliberately used many of the same Hebrew phrases and words to remind the reader of the previous story and emphasize the contrast. The bad guys in Sodom were unbelievers; the men of Gibeah were God’s people acting just like them.
And today untold numbers of believers, even women, are involved in pornography, and need help.
Well, in response to the men, the host offered them his own daughter and the concubine in an effort to protect the Levite. In his mind hospitality to a man overrode his responsibility to protect women, even his own daughter, who were mere chattel.
In that day it was women and slaves. Today, it’s the unborn, the sick and aged, the physically or mentally challenged, or the homeless. Even believers abort them or set them aside where they are out of the way. Abuse of women is rampant even within the church. If you are being physically abused by someone, please talk to your leader. You are too valuable in the eyes of God to allow anyone to treat you as property!
So what did the Levite do about the men’s threats? He actually pushed his concubine out to them and shut the door.
We see how really heartless this Levite was in Judges 19:27-30:
When her master got up in the morning, opened the doors of the house, and went outside to start on his journey, there was the woman, his concubine, sprawled out on the doorstep of the house with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up, let’s leave!” But there was no response. He put her on the donkey and went home.When he got home, he took a knife, grabbed his concubine, and carved her up into twelve pieces. Then he sent the pieces throughout Israel.Everyone who saw the sight said, “Nothing like this has happened or been witnessed during the entire time since the Israelites left the land of Egypt! Take careful note of it! Discuss it and speak!”
Note a couple of things here: first, it says the master got up. His concubine spent the night being raped and abused so badly that she barely made it back to the steps of the home unable to open the door or knock while he slept totally unconcerned. In fact, he was headed home without her. When he did see her, he didn’t reach out for her in loving concern but told her to get herself up.
Also, note that it never says she was dead. The issue is open as to whether she died from her injuries or whether he killed her himself when he cut her up into pieces. God doesn’t give us the answer, but the Levite was guilty either way!
Culturally, the Canaanite within says
Our concern for others only goes so far. If it threatens me or if it’s too difficult, we feel no responsibility. The sacrificial love of Jesus is a cultural oddity in our day. Our relationships are in trouble as we think only of ourselves. “Me first” means that when our marriages become inconvenient or difficult, we can toss them aside just as the Levite did his concubine. What is best for me takes precedence over what is right: love, sacrificial giving, and serving others for God’s kingdom. If we truly lived out Jesus’ attitude of sacrificial love, of putting others first at home and at work, the world would take such notice that they would come to Christ. Instead, what is best for us takes precedence over what is right: love, sacrificial giving, and serving others for God’s kingdom.
Well, the body parts brought eleven tribes together at Mizpah to find out what was going on. Once they assembled, the tribal leaders made one foolish decision after another. First, they only heard the Levite’s version of the story. According to the Law, they were to hear two witnesses against someone. (And I am sure you noted that the Levite left out some important information about the crime when he failed to mention his own guilt in sending her out to protect himself.) After hearing the Levite, they asked the tribe of Benjamin to turn over the men of Gibeah to them to be punished for their sins.
But, the Benjamites decided to protect the guilty so the other eleven tribes were forced to attack not only the men of Gibeah but the entire tribe of Benjamin. The 5th mark of the Canaanite within
Sin is abhorrent to God. He called Israel to judge and punish sin, and he gives us the same responsibility for the church. God’s hope is that the person caught in major sinful patterns will repent, but if not, we are to discipline. When you have time, look at Matt. 18:15-20 to see how this is supposed to work.
Well, once the eleven tribes had won the battle, they didn’t let the stragglers go. Another bad decision! They chased them down; they destroyed their cities; they murdered them and their families; they almost totally annihilated them. Although they never eliminated the Canaanites as God had commanded, they almost destroyed an entire tribe of their own brothers.
Are there people you have not forgiven? Have you extended grace to those who have hurt you?
Finally, once the Israelites realized that only 600 men of Benjamin were alive, they made immoral decisions to rectify it. First, they murdered everyone in Jabesh-Gilead except the virgins and gave them to Benjamin; then, they gave the remaining men of Benjamin the okay to kidnap and rape unsuspecting young women. God’s people were so confused morally that they tried to bring justice to those guilty of rape and murder by murder, kidnapping, and rape themselves. The 7th mark of the Canaanite within is that
Isn’t that common in our own thinking? Whatever it takes to get ahead is okay. Whatever time for family and God I have to give up to get the stuff I want or to do what I want is acceptable.
As we end the study of Judges, I hope we realize that we, too, live in darkness culturally. Our world is very similar to the world of that day; everyone does what is right in her own eyes rather than what is right in God’s eyes. However, our biggest threat is often failing to see through the darkness within ourselves. The Canaanite within says we are not our brother’s keeper when it’s inconvenient or costly; the Canaanite within lives for his own sexual pleasure at the expense of his victims; the Canaanite within treats some people as less valuable; the Canaanite within says “me first;” the Canaanite within minimizes sin and God’s holiness; the Canaanite within seeks revenge rather than forgiveness; and the Canaanite within believes that the end justifies the means.
We must seek out the Canaanite within ourselves or be led thereby in the wrong direction, just as the mole did in 24. Search out the Canaanite within you, ladies, and confess and forsake any of those attitudes you find. Don’t focus on the enemy outside, but look for the problem within yourself.
This book has shown us that our God is gracious and forgiving. He will forgive you when you confess and forsake the Canaanite you find within. Over and over we have seen God use weak, foolish, and sinful people. He is the hero of the book, and he is the hero of our lives when we seek to follow him and turn from the darkness into the light.
Began at the death of Joshua (1:1) after the period of conquest, often dated about 1390 B.C. but date is unclear because of the overlap of judges’ rules.
Ended at the coronation of Saul around 1050 B.C.
Includes judges Eli & Samuel, whose stories are in 1 Samuel.
Was approximately 1/3 of the entire Old Testament history of Israel.19
Involves overlapping time for some of the judges, who lived in different areas of the land.
Unnamed in the book but likely an editor of previously written materials from various sources.
The rabbis held that Samuel authored the book.
Think deliverer, not legal functionaries, although some may have functioned that way as well.
Judges 2:16-19 helps explain who they were.
Double introduction (1:1-2:5; 2:6-3:6).
Cycles section (3:7-16:31). This section includes 6 cycles of apostasy-punishment-cry of pain-deliverance.
Double conclusion (17:1-18:31; 19:1-21:25).
Seven times this is repeated: “The descendants of Israel did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD and served the Baals and Asherahs” (2:11; 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1).
The final verse of the book is a good statement of the theme from the perspective of the actions of God’s people: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (NASB).
Four times in the last five chapters it says this: “There was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). These statements are not so much about the theme but simply describe the leadership situation.
Arthur Lewis identifies the theme as “God’s providential care and discipline of his children.”
True hero in the book is God and God alone, not the judges.
19 Wood, p.2.
20 Clendenen, p.23.
21 Muck, pp.21-22.
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