“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.