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15. Israel’s Dark Ages (Judges)

The Book of Judges147


A number of years ago I was preaching through the Book of Judges. Our custom was to have one of the men in the church read the Scripture text and then pray before I would preach. The text was Judges 19. This text is so distressing that something happened for the first time in my preaching ministry – my request to read the biblical text and to pray was declined. Mind you, this did not happen just once; it happened two or three times, until one man finally agreed to read it. On Sunday morning, when it was time for him to read the passage, he said something like this: “I know it is customary for one to read the text and then pray, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to pray before I read.”

The Book of Judges is a very troubling book, and it is not just this one incident, either. The whole book is distressing. Just recently, I received an e-mail from someone about another passage. It went something like this:

I read something in my Bible that really disturbed me and shook the very foundation of my faith. I never thought I would read where God accepted a human sacrifice. I kept expecting God to stop Jephthah and tell him not to sacrifice his daughter. Is there anywhere else in the Bible where this is mentioned? Did God condone this? How could God allow this?

The writer was referring to yet another story from the Book of Judges, where Jephthah made a very foolish vow:

30 Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, saying, “If you really do hand the Ammonites over to me, 31 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” (Judges 11:30-31).148

A little later in the story, we read that Jephthah’s daughter came out to meet him, and that he fulfilled his vow, as foolish as it was (Judges 11:39-40).

The Book of Judges depicts a very dark hour in the history of Israel, and yet the events of this book come so very soon after the “golden years” of the “Joshua generation.” It is not the kind of reading we do for pure enjoyment, but it is an important era in the history of Israel, an era that we need to understand, and from which we should learn important lessons. Sad to say, it is an era that is very similar to the days in which we live, making it a message all the more pertinent to us. Let us listen well, and heed the message God has for us in these difficult pages.

The Structure of the Book of Judges

The structure of the Book of Judges is very simple:


Chapters 1-3:6

Introduction to the period of the judges

Chapters 3:7—16:31

Description of the reign of the judges

Chapters 17-21

Prologue: Two stories that characterize the period of the judges

Understanding the Book of Judges

What is a Judge?

When we come to a study of the Book of Judges it is important that we understand what a judge is, and is not. At that time in Israel, a “judge” was almost never a person who passed judgment on certain cases, or who settled disputes, though there was such a role in Israel (see Exodus 18; Numbers 11). Deborah did have a kind of judicial function (Judges 4:4-5), but this seems more related to her role as a prophetess than as one of Israel’s “judges.” None of the other “judges” in the Book of Judges actually “judged” in the most common sense of the word.

Judges were not an early prototype of Israel’s kings, either. Judges were primarily “deliverers” from the oppression of Israel’s enemies. They sometimes acted independently, as did Samson, who was a kind of “Lone Ranger judge”. Some of the judges led the military forces of one or more tribes against their foes. These judges did not lead the military forces of the entire nation, but only certain segments of it. As a rule, they did not have any administrative function, as a king would. God raised these judges up spontaneously, because of Israel’s oppression by their enemies. There was no succession and no dynasty. Usually, the Israelites were free from oppression as long as the judge lived.

The Book of Judges and the Mosaic Covenant

The key to understanding the Book of Judges is the mosaic covenant that God made with His people, the Israelites. The blessings and cursings of the Mosaic covenant are first spelled out in Leviticus 26. They are then repeated in greater detail in Deuteronomy 28. These blessings are summarized in verses
1 and 2:

1 “And if you indeed obey the Lord your God and are careful to observe all his commandments I am giving you today, the Lord your God will elevate you above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings will come to you in abundance if you obey the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).

But just as God promised His blessings for those who obeyed His commandments, there were also curses for those who disobeyed:

15 “But if you pay no attention to the Lord your God and are not careful to keep all his commandments and statutes I am relating to you today, then all these curses will come and overtake you: 16 You be cursed in the city and cursed in the field. 17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. 18 Your children will be cursed, as well as the offspring of your livestock, the calves of your cattle, and the lambs of your flock. 19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out” (Deuteronomy 28:15-19, see also verses 20-68).

Joshua’s final words to the Israelites repeated the warnings earlier conveyed to Israel by Moses:

9 “The Lord drove out from before you great and mighty nations; no one has been able to resist you to this very day. 10 One of you makes a thousand run away, for the Lord your God fights for you as he promised you he would. 11 Watch yourselves carefully! Love the Lord your God! 12 But if you ever turn away and make alliances with these nations that remain near you, and intermarry with them and establish friendly relations with them, 13 know for certain that the Lord our God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. They will trap and ensnare you; they will be a whip that tears your sides and thorns that blind your eyes until you disappear from this good land the Lord your God gave you. 14 “Look, today I am about to die. You know with all your heart and being that not even one of all the faithful promises the Lord your God made to you is left unfulfilled; every one was realized, not one promise is unfulfilled! 15 But in the same way every faithful promise the Lord your God made to you has been realized, it is just as certain, if you disobey, that the Lord will bring on you every judgment until he destroys you from this good land which the Lord your God gave you. 16 If you violate the covenantal laws of the Lord your God which he commanded you to keep, and follow, worship, and bow down to other gods, the Lord will be very angry with you and you will disappear quickly from the good land which he gave to you” (Joshua 23:9-16, emphasis mine).

The Introduction to the Book of Judges: Judges 1:1—3:6

In Judges 1 and 2, we find an explanation for the spiritual decline of the Israelites. The downfall of Israel begins shortly after the death of Joshua. As the Book of Joshua ends, Joshua’s generation is passing away, and so he calls upon the next generation of Israelites to embrace the covenant God made with their forefathers as their own. He calls upon them to decide whom they will serve:

14 Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the river and in Egypt and worship the Lord. 15 If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the Lord!” (Joshua 24:14-15, emphasis mine)

In spite of their expressed determination to serve God, Joshua warned that they would not be able to fulfill their commitment. They simply could not live up to the standards of a Holy God:

Joshua warned the people, “You won’t keep worshiping the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God who will not forgive your rebellion or your sins” (Joshua 24:19).

It does not take long for us to see the truth of Joshua’s words. The fulfillment begins early in the Book of Judges, in chapter 1. While the strength of the Canaanite kings had been crushed under Joshua, it remained for the individual Israelite tribes to completely annihilate the remaining Canaanites from the land. In chapters 1 and 2, the author supplies the reader with an explanation for the downfall of the nation, as well as the reason why God left the Canaanites in the land. In these two chapters, we observe the following sequence.

Step One: Partial Victory

The tribes of Judah and Simeon enjoyed moderate success (1:17), but they were not completely successful (1:19). The Benjamites did not completely drive out the Jebusites living in Jerusalem:

19 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. 20 Caleb received Hebron, just as Moses had promised. He drove out the three Anakites. 21 The men of Benjamin, however, did not conquer the Jebusites living in Jerusalem. The Jebusites live with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this very day (Judges 1:19-21, emphasis mine).

The men of Judah were not able to overcome the people living on the coastal plain, who had the latest in military technology (chariots with iron-rimmed wheels). The men of Joseph did reasonably well (1:22-26). But the remainder of Judges chapter 1 is the story of incomplete victory. The men of Manasseh (1:27-28), Ephraim (1:29), Zebulun (1:30), Asher (1:31-32), Naphtali (1:33), and Dan (1:34-35) did not completely conquer and destroy the Canaanites in their land. Partial victory over the Canaanites meant living with the Canaanites, the next sequence in Israel’s downward spiral.

Step Two: Co-existence with the Enemy

Because the Israelites did not completely wipe out the Canaanites, they had to co-exist in the land with them. In some cases, the Canaanites were made slaves, but they were not exterminated:

33 The men of Naphtali did not conquer the people living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath. They live among the Canaanites residing in the land. The Canaanites living in Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath were forced to do hard labor for them. 34 The Amorites forced the people of Dan to live in the hill country. They did not allow them to live in the coastal plain (Judges 1:33-34, emphasis mine).

Step Three: Cooperation with the Enemy

When one lives among another people, it becomes “necessary” to enter into agreements and formal associations with them. For example, we find that Heber the Kenite (a descendant of Moses’ father-in-law) became an ally with King Jabin of Canaan (1:16; 4:11, 17). This kind of cooperation brought about a divine rebuke:

1 The Lord’s angelic messenger went up from Gilgal to Bokim. He said, “I brought you up from Egypt and led you into the land I had solemnly promised to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my agreement with you, 2 but you must not make an agreement with the people who live in this land. You should tear down the altars where they worship.’ But you have disobeyed me. Why would you do such a thing? 3 At that time I also warned you, ‘If you disobey, I will not drive out the Canaanites before you. They will ensnare you and their gods will lure you away’” (Judges 2:1-3, emphasis mine).

To formalize agreements with the Canaanites was to legitimize them; it was to acknowledge their right to exist when God had commanded the Israelites to exterminate them.

Step Four: Being Corrupted by the Canaanites

6 When Joshua dismissed the people, the Israelites went to their allotted portions of property, intending to take possession of the land. 7 The people worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and as long as the elderly men who outlived him remained alive. These men had witnessed all the great things the Lord had done for Israel. 8 Joshua son of Nun, the Lord’s servant, died at the age of one hundred and ten. 9 The people buried him in his allotted land in Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 10 That entire generation passed away; a new generation came along that had not personally experienced the Lord’s presence or seen what he had done for Israel. 11 The Israelites did evil before the Lord by worshiping the Baals. 12 They abandoned the Lord God of their ancestors who brought them out of the land of Egypt. They followed other gods—the gods of the nations who lived around them. They worshiped them and made the Lord angry. 13 They abandoned the Lord and worshiped Baal and the Ashtars (Judges 2:6-13, emphasis mine).

The very thing God had warned the Israelites about so frequently and fervently, the Israelites did. From merely tolerating the Canaanites, the Israelites came to imitate them. They began intermarrying with them and worshipping their gods. The nation that was to be holy and to remain separate from the sinful ways of the Canaanites now embraced the very sins that had brought God’s wrath upon them.

Step Five: Divine Discipline

14 The Lord was furious with Israel and handed them over to robbers who plundered them. He turned them over to their enemies who lived around them. They could not withstand their enemies’ attacks. 15 Whenever they went out to fight, the Lord did them harm, just as he had warned and solemnly vowed he would do. They suffered greatly (Judges 2:14-15).

The curses of the Mosaic Covenant were now implemented against the nation Israel. The Israelites would now suffer military defeat at the hand (or sword) of their enemies. God would cease to send the rains for their crops, and their cattle would no longer thrive and reproduce. What God had warned He would do, He now began to bring to pass.

Step Six: Divine Deliverance

16 The Lord raised up leaders who delivered them from these robbers. 17 But they did not obey their leaders. Instead they prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned aside from the path their ancestors had walked. Their ancestors had obeyed the Lord’s commands, but they did not. 18 When the Lord raised up leaders for them, the Lord was with each leader and delivered the people from their enemies while the leader remained alive. The Lord felt sorry for them when they cried out in agony because of what their harsh oppressors did to them (Judges 2:16-18, emphasis mine).

In response to their suffering, the Israelites cried out to God for relief. God, in His grace, would raise up a deliverer, a judge, who would deliver the Israelites from the oppression of their enemies. That deliverance normally lasted the length of the deliverer’s life.

Step Seven: Advancing in Apostasy

19 When a leader died, the next generation would again act more wickedly than the previous one. They would follow after other gods, worshiping them and bowing down to them. They did not give up their practices or their stubborn ways (Judges 2:14-19, emphasis mine).

One would certainly hope that after a painful cycle of sin, judgment, and relief, the Israelites would have learned their lesson and would live according to God’s commands. This was not the case at all. After the death of the deliverer, the Israelites went back to their sinful ways. They did not merely take up where they left off; they became even more wicked than before. Their sins compounded. Things went from bad to worse.

Left Behind: A Statement of Divine Purpose
Judges 2:20—3:6

20 The Lord was furious with Israel. He said, “This nation has violated the terms of the agreement I made with their ancestors by disobeying me. 21 So I will no longer remove before them any of the nations that Joshua left unconquered when he died. 22 Joshua left those nations to test Israel. I wanted to see whether or not the people would carefully walk in the path marked out by the Lord, as their ancestors were careful to do.” 23 This is why the Lord permitted these nations to remain and did not conquer them immediately; he did not hand them over to Joshua.

1 These were the nations the Lord permitted to remain so he could use them to test Israel—he wanted to test all those who had not experienced battle against the Canaanites. 2 He left those nations simply because he wanted to teach the subsequent generations of Israelites, who had not experienced the earlier battles, how to conduct holy war. 3 These were the nations: the five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo-Hamath. 4 They were left to test Israel, so the Lord would know if his people would obey the commands he gave their ancestors through Moses.

5 The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. 6 They took the Canaanites’ daughters as wives and gave their daughters to the Canaanites; they worshiped their gods as well (Judges 2:20-3:6).

We would be wrong to think Joshua totally broke the back of the Canaanite opposition, and then left the “clean-up” operations to the individual tribes. As we see from the verses above and from the text below, God had a purpose for leaving the Canaanites in the land:

20 Furthermore, he will release the hornet among them until the very last ones who hide from you perish. 21 You must not tremble in their presence, for the Lord your God, who is present among you, is a great and awesome God. 22 He, the God who leads you, will expel the nations little by little. You must not overcome them all at once lest the wild animals overrun you. 23 The Lord your God will give them over to you; he will trouble them with great difficulty until they are destroyed. 24 He will hand over their kings to you and you will erase their very names from memory. Nobody will be able to stand before you until you annihilate them (Deuteronomy 7:20-24, emphasis mine).

Moses told the Israelites that God would remove the Canaanites little by little, because otherwise wild animals would overrun the land. I take this to mean that the population would not have been sufficient to “rule over” this land, and thus it would overrun with wild animals. As the population grew, the Israelites would expel the Canaanites and thus control the entire land. Until then, the Canaanites would be allowed to remain.

In Judges 2, we are given yet another reason why God left the Canaanites in the land for a time. It was to test and to teach Israel. The Canaanites would test Israel’s commitment to carefully carry out all the requirements of God’s law. Would the Israelites finish the job that Joshua had started so well? Would they drive out the Canaanites? And would the Israelites remain separate from the Canaanites by not embracing their women in marriage or their gods in worship? The Canaanites were also left behind to teach subsequent generations of Israelites how to conduct holy war (3:2). God did not want the Israelites to become “soft.” They needed to be strong, so that they could defend their borders from the surrounding nations. The Canaanites were a part of God’s training and testing program.

The first generation of Israelites had been tested by God in the wilderness, as Moses reminded them:

1 You must keep carefully the entire commandment I am giving you today so that you may live, multiply, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised to your ancestors. 2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test to see whether deep within yourselves you would keep his commandments or not. 3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and feeding you with unfamiliar manna to make you understand that mankind cannot live by food alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth. 4 Your clothing did not wear out nor did your feet swell all these forty years (Deuteronomy 8:1-4, emphasis mine).

The Israelites failed these tests. They constantly grumbled and complained whenever they lacked anything that they needed, or just wanted (like meat). They were driven by their fleshly appetites and not by a commitment to trust and obey God by keeping His commandments (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

This generation also failed the test of the Canaanites who were “left behind.” Instead of remaining separate from them and removing them from the land altogether, they began to intermarry with them and to worship their gods (3:5-6). And because of this, God left these nations in the land to discipline the Israelites for their disobedience.

Four Case Studies: Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson

The author of Judges writes of the deliverance of Israel through more than a dozen people. We know almost nothing about six judges: Shamgar (3:31), Tola (10:1-2), Jair (10:3-5), Ibzan (12:8-10), Elon (12:11-12), and Abdon (12:13-15). The most prominent judges in the book are Deborah (and Barak – chapters 4 and 5), Gideon (chapters 6-8), Jephthah (10:6—12:7), and Samson (chapters 13-16). I will focus on these four judges, because they received the greatest prominence in this book.

Deborah and Barak
Judges 4:1–5:31

Israel was being oppressed by King Jabin of Canaan, assisted by Sisera, the commander of his armed forces. When the Israelites cried for help, God raised up Deborah, the prophetess (Judges 4:4). Deborah’s words to Barak are most interesting and instructive:

She summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali. She said to him, “Is it not true that the Lord God of Israel is commanding you? Go, march to Mount Tabor! Take with you ten thousand men from Naphtali and Zebulun! (Judges 4:6)

The NET Bible renders the first part of this verse as a question, as does the KJV and the NKJV, and some others. It is possible, of course, that this is simply a command, “Behold, the LORD, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun’” (NASB). But a marginal note in the New American Standard Bible indicates that this may, in fact, be a question. If it is to be understood as the NET Bible has rendered it, then the reader gets the impression that Deborah’s words of instruction are not the first that Barak has heard. The reader could easily get the impression that God had already commanded Barak to do as Deborah has instructed him. This would underscore Barak’s fear and insecurity, a fear that caused him to refuse to attack Sisera and his army unless Deborah accompanied him.

In one sense, Barak had good cause for concern. King Jabin’s army, under the command of Sisera, had 900 chariots with iron-rimmed wheels (Judges 4:13; see also 1:19). Barak was certainly weak in faith. Even though commanded to attack Sisera’s forces by a prophetess, Barak would not do so alone. It wasn’t because he lacked respect for Deborah, because he insisted that he would only go to war if Deborah were with him. Here was a woman, not a warrior, a wife and mother, not a military mastermind. Deborah consented to go with him, but indicated that the victory would not bring him fame:

8 Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go. But if you do not go with me, I will not go.” 9 She said, “I will indeed go with you. But you will not gain fame on the expedition you are taking, for the Lord will turn Sisera over to a woman.” Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh (Judges 4:8-9).

Barak Goes to Jael149

Barak and his forces overcame the enemy, and all were slaughtered, except for Sisera, who fled on foot. Sisera ran until he was completely exhausted, and then he sought sanctuary at the home of Heber the Kenite, who had made a treaty with King Jabin whom Sisera served. Heber was not home, however, but his wife, Jael, was. Her allegiance was rightly with the people of God and not with this Canaanite king and his commander-in-chief.

Jael welcomed the terrified and exhausted Sisera into her tent. He asked for water, but she gave him warm milk. She reassured him that he was safe, and then covered him with a blanket so that he could get some needed rest. When he was deep in sleep, Jael knelt beside Sisera with a tent peg and hammer, driving the peg through his skull, killing him instantly. When Barak arrived, Jael showed him her trophy lying dead in her tent. King Jabin was humiliated that day, but so was Barak, because the victory was really due to two women: Deborah and Jael.

The song in Judges 5 speaks of Deborah, Barak, and Jael and the part they played in this victory. It also honors God, who was the real source of the victory. We are told in poetic fashion that God employed all of nature to bring about the defeat of Israel’s enemies:

4 O Lord, when you departed from Seir,
when you marched from Edom’s plains,
the earth shook, the heavens poured down,
the clouds poured down rain.
5 The mountains trembled before the Lord, the God of Sinai;
before the Lord God of Israel (Judges 5:4-5).
20 From the sky the stars fought,
from their paths in the heavens they fought against Sisera.
21 The Kishon River carried them off;
the river confronted them—the Kishon River.
Step on the necks of the strong! (Judges 5:20-21)

What is of great interest is that this song emphasizes who did and who did not participate in this battle:

14 They came from Ephraim, who uprooted Amalek,
they follow after you, Benjamin, with your soldiers.
From Makir leaders came down,
from Zebulun came the ones who march carrying an officer’s staff.
15 Issachar’s leaders were with Deborah,
the men of Issachar supported Barak,
into the valley they were sent under Barak’s command.
Among the clans of Reuben there was intense heart searching.
16 Why do you remain among the sheepfolds,
listening to the shepherds playing their pipes for their flocks?
As for the clans of Reuben—there was intense heart searching.
17 Gilead stayed put beyond the Jordan River.
As for Dan—why did he seek temporary employment in the shipyards?
Asher remained on the seacoast,
he stayed put by his harbors.
18 The men of Zebulun were not concerned about their lives;
Naphtali charged on to the battlefields (Judges 5:14-18).
23 ‘Call judgment down on Meroz,’ says the Lord’s angelic messenger;
‘Be sure to call judgment down on those who live there,
because they did not come to help in the Lord’s battle,
to help in the Lord’s battle against the warriors’ (Judges 5:23).

Having said that Deborah, Barak, and Jael are referred to in this song, it is not Barak who is the great hero of this battle, but rather Jael. She is the one whose actions are most emphasized. The honor goes to Deborah and to Jael when it could (and should) have gone to Barak. Nevertheless, God gave the land rest for 40 years.

Here is a victory that is less than complete victory. It is a victory over Israel’s oppressors, a victory that God gave Israel over a powerful enemy. It is a victory that is both sweet and sour. While some tribes rose to the challenge and fought with and for their brethren, others simply looked the other way to their shame. This is about as good as it is going to get in the Book of Judges, and it will soon get a whole lot worse.

Gideon, Mighty Man of Valor
Judges 6-8

Once again the Israelites are guilty of practicing what is evil in the sight of God. This time God uses the Midianites as His chastening rod. Then, the Israelites cry out to God for deliverance, and God raises up a man named Gideon. An angelic messenger comes to Gideon while he is threshing wheat in a winepress (6:11). Normally one would thresh wheat on high ground, where the wind could blow away the chaff. Gideon cannot do this because he would then be in open view to the Midianites, who could be expected to come and steal his grain.

I see a very fearful fellow threshing his wheat, looking to and fro for any sign of the Midianites. It is certainly sounds ironic when the angelic messenger comes to Gideon with the words, “The LORD is with you, courageous warrior!” (6:12). I used to think the angel must have had difficulty keeping a straight face without bursting out in laughter. I now see these words as prophetic. The angel spoke to Gideon, not as he was at the moment, but according to what he would be in the future. And lest we find this difficult to grasp, it is something like the Word of God calling us “saints.” That we may be (indeed, we are), but not due to any “saintliness” on our own part.

Gideon’s first response was to ask God where He has been in the midst of His people’s suffering:

13 Gideon said to him, “Pardon me, but if the Lord is with us, why has such disaster overtaken us? Where are all his miraculous deeds our ancestors told us about? They said, ‘Did the Lord not bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian” (Judges 6:13).

God’s answer was not the one that Gideon expected or wanted! God informed Gideon that He was now bringing deliverance to His people, through him.

Then the Lord himself turned to him and said, “You have the strength. Deliver Israel from the power of the Midianites! Have I not sent you?” (Judges 6:14).

Gideon wants assurance that it is really God speaking to him. Gideon asks for a sign (6:17) and gets it – the angelic messenger ignites Gideon’s offering. In response, Gideon builds an altar there to the Lord.

It seems that God gave Gideon a few hours to ponder what he had experienced before the angelic messenger returned with another challenge to his faith. (Up till now, God has only disclosed in a general way that Gideon is to deliver his people.)

Building that first altar was Gideon’s “baby steps” of faith, but now God calls for greater faith and obedience. That same night the Lord instructed Gideon to tear down the Baal altar and the Asherah pole that his father had erected. He was then to build an altar to the Lord in its place and offer a sacrifice there. Gideon obeyed, but late at night in the cover of darkness. It was not until morning that the men of the city discovered what had happened that night and who had done it. They demanded that Gideon’s father put his son to death, but his father refused, insisting that Baal ought to be powerful enough to protect his own interests. Great logic!

It is a most amazing thing, is it not, that the people of that city were eager to see Gideon put to death for his worship of Israel’s God, and for blaspheming (as it were) Baal? They should have put Gideon’s father to death for building an altar for a pagan god. How quickly these Israelites have fallen from the “golden days” of the Joshua generation.

Next, God commanded Gideon to engage the eastern nations in battle (6:33). Empowered by God’s Spirit, Gideon blew a trumpet, summoning the surrounding tribes to follow him (6:34-35). Gideon feels the need for further confirmation, and so he requests a two-fold sign. This is the famous sign of Gideon’s fleece. First, the fleece was to be wet, but the ground was to remain dry. Next, the fleece was to be dry, but the surrounding ground was to be wet. God fulfilled both requests and Gideon was now willing to go to war.

God was not yet ready, however. Thirty-two thousand Israelite men showed up for battle, and this was to face an army of well over 100,000 men (see 8:10). God knew that an army of Israel’s size would be tempted to take the credit for the victory. And so He had Gideon send away all those who were fearful, two-thirds of his men. Even the 10,000 men who remained was still too large a number for God, and so He finally thinned the Israelite soldiers down to a mere 300. God knew that Gideon would need another sign, and so He invited him to go down to the Midianite camp. There, Gideon overheard one soldier talking with another, disclosing the Midianites’ fear of Gideon and his army. This was as encouraging to Gideon as Rahab’s were to the two spies, and to the Israelites (see Joshua 2:8-11, 23-24).

The initial victory of Gideon and his 300 men is a most amazing story. He divided his 300 men into 3 units of 100 men. He gave each man a trumpet and a jar with a torch inside. The 3 units surrounded the enemy camp. The text gives us a very specific detail at this point:

Gideon took a hundred men to the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guards. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars they were carrying (Judges 7:19, emphasis mine).

Why would we be told that this happened in the middle of the night and at the beginning of the middle watch? This was apparently 10:00 p.m. Since the guards had just changed, the new guards would have just come on duty, and the other guards would still be returning to their tents. In other words, this was the precise moment during the night hours when the greatest number of Midianite warriors would be awake and about. It is my theory150 that if the Israelite soldiers had swords, they did not have them in hand. How could they, holding a jar in one hand and a trumpet in the other? After they blew their trumpets, they broke the jars, exposing the torches. The Midianites then panicked and began killing each other. How could this happen? It is my opinion that the trumpets completely startled the already frightened army (7:13-14) and that the light then blinded them. Their eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and these lights blinded them, like a deer in the headlights. They believed they were under attack, and not being able to see clearly, they began to thrash about with their swords. The only ones standing nearby were their fellow-Midianites. The 300 Israelite soldiers were standing around the outside of the camp, safely away from this thrashing. The more the Midianites thrashed about (and were cut by their fellow-soldiers), the harder they fought – one another. The end result was that the Midianites killed themselves off while the Israelites looked in wonderment in the light their torches provided. Realizing that they were being destroyed (though not aware that they were killing themselves), the Midianites sought to escape into the night. This meant that they did not have all of their weapons or supplies, leaving these behind for Gideon and his men. It may not have happened precisely this way, but I would venture a guess that it was something like this.

Now was the time for their fellow-Israelites to join in and finish this battle:

Israelites from Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh answered the call and chased the Midianites (Judges 7:23).

The Ephraimites, however, were indignant. They protested that they had been summoned so late in the conflict (7:24—8:1). It was Gideon’s prudent and calm response that calmed them down (8:2-3). This is but the first of the hostile responses of the Ephraimites. There were others, however, who would not cooperate at all:

4 Now Gideon and his three hundred men had crossed over the Jordan River and, though exhausted, were still chasing the Midianites. 5 He said to the men of Succoth, “Give some loaves of bread to the men who are following me, because they are exhausted. I am chasing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” 6 The officials of Succoth said, “You have not yet overpowered Zebah and Zalmunna. So why should we give bread to your army?” 7 Gideon said, “Since you will not help, after the Lord hands Zebah and Zalmunna over to me, I will thresh your skin with desert thorns and briers.” 8 He went up from there to Penuel and made the same request. The men of Penuel responded the same way the men of Succoth had. 9 He also threatened the men of Penuel, warning, “When I return victoriously, I will tear down this tower” (Judges 8:4-9).

Succoth and Penuel were two Israelite cities in the territory of Gad on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Thus, once again, some fellow-Israelites were unwilling to come to the aid of their brethren who were in need. The unity between the tribes of Israel that we witnessed in the Book of Joshua is rapidly eroding in the Book of Judges.

After Gideon defeated his fleeing foes, he returned to Succoth and Penuel, where he punished their leaders and then executed them. He also tore down the tower of Penuel. Gideon then killed the two enemy kings, Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.

The men of Israel were so pleased with Gideon’s leadership that they wanted to make him their king, an offer that Gideon wisely refused. The sad news is that Gideon did take advantage of their gratitude. He asked them for a portion of the spoils of war they had taken from the Midianites. They gladly gave this to Gideon, but from these spoils Gideon made an ephod that he kept in his hometown, and this ephod became an object of worship. In this way, Israel’s great deliverer became a stumbling block to his fellow-Israelites, causing them to fall back into the idolatry that would bring on the next cycle of divine discipline.

Judges 10:6—12:7

Passing over a number of judges, we come to Jephthah, one of the great enigmas of the Book of Judges. Unlike Gideon in his early days, Jephthah was a mighty warrior. He was also the son of a prostitute (11:1). When Jephthah’s half-brothers grew up, they forced him to leave the family, but when the Ammonites began to oppress them, the people of Gilead urged him to return as their leader (11:15-16). Jephthah agreed, on the condition that they would address his grievances with his family and others in Gilead. Jephthah then began to negotiate with the Ammonite king. Time will not permit us to draft an exposition of this text, but the interchange between Jephthah and the Ammonite king is an excellent summation of the struggle for the land of the Israel as it stands today (see 11:12-28).

When negotiations finally broke down, Jephthah led the Israelites against the Ammonites. Before he went to battle, Jephthah made a very foolish vow:

30 Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, saying, “If you really do hand the Ammonites over to me, 31 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” (Judges 11:30-31).

Jephthah and his forces defeated the Ammonites, and when he returned home, his daughter ran to greet him. As a result, Jephthah fulfilled his foolish vow concerning his daughter. Because it is so difficult to believe that this father would sacrifice his daughter, other explanations have been suggested, but no explanation leaves one with a good felling about this father or his vow.

Once again we read of conflict with the Ephraimites (see 8:1-3). They seem to have had a chip on their shoulder. They disputed with Jephthah because he had not summoned them to the battle (so they could share in the glory?). The end result of this conflict was war between Jephthah’s forces and the Ephraimites (12:1-7). Things have gone from bad to worse. Initially, the Israelites were fighting together, against their common enemies. Now, the Israelites are fighting among themselves.

Judges 13-16

As with Gideon, much attention is devoted to Samson in the Book of Judges. He is an especially significant figure. First of all, Samson is the final judge of the Book of Judges. Second, Samson is a tragic figure, a man totally enslaved to the flesh. Third, Samson is a picture of the nation Israel. I am particularly indebted to the comments of Albert H. Baylis, in his fine book, From Creation to the Cross:151

While Jephthah delivers Israel east of the Jordan, Samson becomes a judge in the west (chaps. 13-16). The writer gives more space to Samson than to any other judge. He was chosen to be judge before birth, so his beginnings rival those of Samuel, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist. Certainly much should be expected from this man. But he is woefully disappointing. He regularly disregards the law, intermarries with the Philistines, and uses his delivering power to carry out acts of incidental violence.

Why spend so much time on Samson’s failure? Because he climaxes the message of Judges. His life matches that of the nation itself. Samson, like Israel, had a special calling but deserted it to pursue his own desires. His power, though great and bestowed by Yahweh, did not deliver because his life was marked by unfaithfulness to Yahweh and intermarriage with the nations of the land.

I differ with some of Baylis’ comments,152 but I certainly concur with his main thoughts here. Samson was the “bottom of the barrel” so far as Israel’s deliverers were concerned, and one had to be really corrupt to win this distinction. While other deliverers overcame their beginnings, Samson could not have had it better. His birth and ministry was announced beforehand in a way that does rank him with John the Baptist. His parents were faithful and committed followers of God. They were diligent to seek God’s counsel as to how they should raise this boy, and they followed it as best they could. They raised Samson as a Nazarite, and yet he seemed to despise his spiritual birthright. The only hint of any repentance and obedience on his part comes in the final hours of his life. He is a tragic figure indeed.

The weaknesses in Samson’s character are apparent in his first romance with a Philistine woman in chapter 14. Here was a woman whose only quality was her appearance, and that was enough for Samson. Samson erred at every turn, from eating honey from a dead lion’s carcass to disregarding his parents’ counsel about choosing a wife. His bride-to-be tricked Samson into revealing his secret to her (the answer to his riddle), because she was fearful of those who threatened her if she did not disclose this information to them (14:15-17). When Samson realized he had been tricked, he struck out at the Philistines in anger. He did not destroy them for the sake of his fellow-Israelites, but rather to bolster his injured pride. When this woman was given to his best man for a bride, Samson again struck out in anger. He was completely self-occupied and self-serving. What a terrible thing it is to see one so empowered by the Spirit of God, and yet so dominated by the flesh.

One might hope that Samson learned his lesson from his first disaster at acquiring a wife from the Philistines, but when he meets Delilah, he repeats his folly to the degree that he once again is coaxed into telling a foreign woman his inner secrets (the source of his power). This leads to Samson’s captivity and blindness. It is only after his hair has grown back and he calls to God for enablement that he is able to avenge himself by collapsing the temple where he was on display.

Epilogue: The Story of Two Levites
Judges 17-21

The final chapters of Judges are an epilogue. Instead of focusing on the sins of the people, or of the judges who delivered them, the final five chapters look closely at the lives of two Levites. What is happening to the religious leadership of the nation? We shall see that the religious leadership was not holding the nation accountable for its sin, but was, instead, blazing its own trails of sinful conduct. The spiritual vacuum to which I am alluding has been implied in the earlier chapters of Judges. In Judges 2:1-4, it is an “angelic messenger” who rebukes the nation for its sin. Once again in 2:20-21 God speaks. Only the prophetess Deborah (4:4ff.) and one unnamed prophet (6:7-10) seems to have spoken for God in the Book of Judges. Where are the priests or the prophets? Is there no man who will stand up for God? Apparently not! As Paul would later write,

19 Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you quickly, so that I too may be encouraged by hearing news about you. 20 For there is no one here like him who will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you. 21 Others are busy with their own concerns, not those of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:19-21).

The two Levites in our text are men who are not seeking God’s interests, or the interests of others, but only their own.

Unemployed Priest For Hire to Highest Bidder
Judges 17-18

What an amazing story. The young priest, a Levite from Bethlehem, is never named, but his employer – Micah – is. Micah was from the hill country of Ephraim. He had stolen silver from his mother and had heard her pronounce a curse on the thief. It seems to be his fear of the curse that prompted him to confess. In response, his mother pronounces a blessing on him, and then dedicates a portion of the money “to the
for her son’s benefit. She then commissions a silversmith to make an idol. A shrine for the idol is made in Micah’s house. Micah then creates a collection of idols, including an ephod, and hires one of his sons as a priest.

There was a young Levite who had been living temporarily in Bethlehem, among the people of Judah. I get the impression that he was unemployed. (With the spiritual collapse of the nation, what would a priest do? He would be like an undertaker in a world that had no death.) The young Levite moved on in search of another place to live, ending up in the hill country of Ephraim. There, he came upon the house of Micah, who quickly offered him employment as his personal priest (What better than to have a Levite as your priest?). It was an offer the young Levite could not refuse. Micah was now assured, in his mind, that God would bless him:

Micah said, “Now I know God will make me rich, because I have this Levite as my priest” (Judges 17:13).

The Danite tribe was looking for a place to settle, and so they sent out five men to spy out the land. In their journey, they came across the house of Micah, where they spent the night. When they heard the young priest speaking, they recognized his accent and knew he was not from this part of the country. He told them how Micah had employed him as his personal priest. Learning that he was a priest, they requested that he seek divine revelation concerning their quest for a dwelling place. The young priest assured them of success (What priest for hire doesn’t do this?), and they went their way.

When these spies returned home, they had good news about Laish, a peaceful place of abundance that was remote and defenseless. The Danites then made their way toward Laish, stopping at the home of Micah on their way. As they approached Micah’s house, the five spies informed the others about the idols and ephod, and the young Levite priest. If they were about to steal Laish, surely they might as well steal Micah’s idols too (Was the ephod not the instrument by which they learned of their success?). They engaged the young priest in conversation while they stole the idols. When the priest realized what they were doing, he challenged them, but was quickly silenced. Besides, they offered him a better job, serving with these same idols as their priest. It was a chance for a promotion, and he quickly accepted the offer. Micah, who had been like a father to the young priest (17:11), protested, but he was completely outnumbered and gave up. The Danites, accompanied by the young Levite priest, then went on to Laish, destroying the city and possessing this place for themselves. There, they worshiped Micah’s carved image, even though Israel’s proper place of worship was Shiloh (18:31).

The story of the Levite is a window into the moral and religious character of the nation Israel and of its spiritual leaders. This priest was not engaged in his official duties, probably because the nation had ceased to worship God according to the Law. Instead, “every man was doing what was right in his own eyes.” Being unemployed, this Levite seemed not to care what “god” he served, so long as the pay was right. And if a better offer came along, as it did, then he would forsake his previous commitments and do what was best for him, in his own eyes. Israel’s spiritual leadership is rotten to the core.

A Look at a Second Levite
Judges 19-21

For the third time in this epilogue, we read the words:

In those days Israel had no king… . (Judges 19:1a, emphasis mine).

The story of a second Levite is then told. This fellow was living temporarily in the hill country of Ephraim. He, too, seems to be unemployed or displaced. He is not at Israel’s legitimate place of worship – Shiloh (see 18:31). He had acquired a concubine from Bethlehem, but she was displeased with him and ran home to her father in Bethlehem. The Levite pursued her, hoping to convince her to return with him. When he reached her father’s home, he was warmly welcomed, and his mission proved successful. She was willing to return home with him. They would have left sooner, except for her father’s hospitality. Day after day, he persuaded his son-in-law to stay just a little longer, and his hospitality made it well worth the stay.

Finally, the Levite and his concubine were able to tear themselves away from this woman’s father and set out for home. They did not get away until late in the day, and darkness was threatening to close in on them while they were still on their journey. As they approached Jebus (Jerusalem), the Levite’s servant wanted to spend the night there. Since this was not an Israelite town at the moment, the Levite wanted to press on till they were in Israelite territory. And so on they went until they arrived at Gibeah, a town in Benjamite territory just a few miles further. They arrived at Gibeah in the darkness and came into the town square, where they expected to be greeted and invited to stay at one of the Benjamite homes. Finally, an elderly fellow passed by who was returning from the fields. He was not a Benjamite; his home was in the hill country of Ephraim, but he was living temporarily in Gibeah. When he saw the traveler, he engaged him in conversation. The Levite explained that he had plenty of supplies; he only needed a roof over his head for the night. The old man invited him to his house for the night, insisting that he provide food for him. They had just finished eating when the men of the city came to the door and insisted that the old man send out the Levite, so that they could sexually assault him. It was Sodom relived (compare Genesis 19:1-13).

The old man offered his virgin daughter to the mob, along with the Levite’s concubine. The men of the city refused this offer, but the Levite seized his concubine and forced her outside, where the men of the city abused her all night. In the morning, the Levite was ready to set out on his way. When he opened the door, he found his concubine lying on the ground, her hands on the threshold. Without a note of compassion, the Levite ordered his concubine to get up so they could leave. He did not yet realize that she was dead. When he did, he loaded her body on his donkey and took her home, where he cut her body into 12 pieces, sending a piece and a message to each tribe of Israel. It was obviously a shocking message:

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!” (Judges 19:30)

The Benjamites refused to deal with their wayward brothers in Gibeah, and thus the rest of the Israelites found it necessary to go to war with the entire tribe. At the Lord’s instruction, Judah led the charge against the 26,000 Benjamite warriors. The Benjamites managed to kill 22,000 Israelites the first day of battle. The Israelites wept before the Lord because of their loss and questioned whether they should continue their attack. The Lord instructed them to attack, but the Gibeonites killed 18,000 Israelites that day. The whole Israelite army went up to Bethel where they fasted and wept before the Lord. They offered sacrifices to the Lord and inquired once again if they should continue to attack. The Lord instructed them to attack once again, but this time He assured them of victory (20:28). The Israelites set an ambush and then feigned defeat,153 so that the Benjamites pressed their attack, leaving the safety of the city. The retreating forces then turned around and went on the attack. The battle was fierce, but when the day was over 25,100 Benjamite warriors had been slain in battle. The Benjamite army was decimated. Only 600 soldiers survived and fled to the wilderness. The Israelites then completely destroyed the Benjamite cities, just as they had annihilated the Canaanites (20:48).

The Israelites also took an oath that day not to allow any of their daughters to marry one of the Benjamite men (21:1). It was not long before the magnitude of this tragedy began to sink in and the Israelites regretted the fact that one of their tribes was almost complete wiped out. The next day the Israelites offered up sacrifices to the Lord, and then sought to find some way to save this tribe from extinction. They inquired as to who had not gone to war against the Benjamites, and who thus had not sworn to keep their daughters from marrying a Benjamite man. In short, the Israelites repented of their zeal in dealing with the wickedness of the Benjamites.

The people of Jabesh Gilead had not gathered to fight with their fellow-Israelites against the Benjamites (21:8-9). Consequently, 12,000 Israelite warriors were sent to exterminate the men, women, and children of Jabesh Gilead for not participating in the conflict with the Benjamites. Any virgin women were to be left alive, as wives for the surviving Benjamites. Four hundred young women were spared, and they were taken to Shiloh. Messengers were sent to the 600 surviving Benjamites to assure them that they would not be harmed. The 400 young women were given to them as wives. They also devised a scheme to put on a festival at Shiloh, so that the Benjamites would be given the opportunity to kidnap some of the young women of Shiloh and make them their wives (21:19-24). In some ways, it is a fitting end to this record of such a tragic period in Israel’s history. In the end, the Israelites are no better than the Canaanites whom they were to dispossess.


Time will not permit an extensive effort to show all of the practical ramifications and applications of this incredible book. I will, however, make some general comments and suggest some crucial themes for further thought and study.

First, we should recognize the unique contribution of the Book of Judges to the canon of Scripture. Here is a book that describes a tragic period in Israel’s history, a transitional period between the possession of the land under Joshua’s leadership and the institution of the monarchy in 1 Samuel 8 and following. The repetition of the phrase, “There was no king in Israel…” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25), implies that if Israel only had a king, things might be different. Israel enjoyed peace only during the lifetime of their judge or deliverer. If there were a king, with sons to succeed him, then there should be no lack of a leader. Perhaps this was the key to peace. Of course we shall learn otherwise, but the Book of Judges does help prepare the reader to welcome a king. Without a king, Israel did very poorly in the days of the judges.

Second, I find it necessary to emphasize the fact that the Book of Judges is not the place to find men and women whose example we should follow. As a general rule, Israel’s deliverers are not people that we should seek to imitate. Samson is neither a model son nor a model leader. He is most certainly not a model for “How to Find a Godly Wife.” We are not encouraged to follow Gideon’s example and to constantly seek for signs. While I have great respect for Deborah, I would recommend that you exercise great caution if you seek to use the story of Deborah and Barak as a proof text for women asserting themselves as leaders in place of men. It is clear in this book that Deborah’s leadership role (which I do not deny, and whose character I admire and respect) in Judges is meant as a rebuke to those men who failed to lead. I would also point out that Deborah refused to lead the army, and in the end, it was the men who assumed leadership.

There are several themes that prevail in the Book of Judges. Let me mention a few of these and make some suggestions for further consideration.

UNITY. I find in the Book of Judges that the longer the Israelites dwell among the Canaanites, the more intimate their association with the Canaanites becomes. The Israelites become more and more like the Canaanites and more and more united with them. They began to intermarry with the Canaanites, and they embraced their idol worship. In certain ways (as in the perversion of the Gibeonites – chapter 19), they even surpass the Canaanites in impurity. I am reminded of the words of Paul to the Corinthians regarding the sins that are found in the Corinthian church:

1 It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you? (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)

The unity of the Israelite forces, under Joshua’s leadership, quickly disintegrates in the Book of Judges. While the Israelites pursue unity with the Canaanites (e.g., Heber’s154 treaty with King Jabin), their unity with one another dissolves. At the beginning of the book, Judah teams up with Simeon, and they are victorious (1:3). When we come to Deborah and Barak, and the song of victory (Judges 5), we see certain tribes honored for joining in the battle and others rebuked for not doing so (5:14-18, 23). When Gideon fights the Midianites, the Ephraimites complain that they were excluded (8:1). The Israelites of Succoth (8:5-7) and Penuel (8:8-9) refused to provide Gideon’s men with food and water. In chapter 9, Abimelech kills his brothers, and in chapter 12, the Israelites under Jephthah’s leadership must fight with the Ephraimites. Finally, the entire nation of Israel is compelled to go to war with the tribe of Benjamin.

DISREGARD FOR THE WORD OF GOD. This is a period of time when men disregard and disobey the Word of God. To “do what is right in their own eyes” is synonymous with disregarding God’s law:

1 These are the statutes and commandments that you must be careful to obey in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess for as long as you live in the land. 2 You must by all means destroy all the places there where the nations you are about to dispossess worship their gods—on the high mountains and hills and under every leafy tree. 3 You must tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars to pieces, burn up their sacred Asherah poles, and hack up the images of their gods; you must eliminate their very memory from that place. 4 You must not worship the Lord your God they way they worship. 5 But you must seek only the place that he has chosen to establish his name, his place of residence, and you must go there. 6 And there you must take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the personal offerings you have prepared, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 Both you and your children must feast there before the Lord your God and rejoice in all the output of your labor with which he has blessed you. 8 You must not do like we are doing here today, with everyone doing what seems best to him” (Deuteronomy 12:1-8, emphasis mine).

The men of Gideon’s city are about to execute him for obeying God, while they seek to protect and preserve the worship of Baal.

The spirit of that age was a spirit of personal autonomy and a strong rebellion against God’s laws. It is almost frightening to realize how much like the people of that day our culture has become. For example, it is now the cherished “right” of a woman to be sovereign over her body. This applies to her sexual conduct (as it does to men – homosexual or heterosexual). This also applies to the killing of her unborn child. The Roe v. Wade ruling of the Supreme Court was based upon the principle of privacy, which I would prefer to call the principle of personal autonomy. “There is no authority (of law) in our day, and every man and woman does what is right in their own eyes, including the killing of their innocent, unborn children.”

VIOLENCE. This book is filled with violence of all kinds. I don’t doubt that some parents would be uneasy about their young children reading some portions of the Book of Judges. Perhaps the most ugly violence in the book is found in chapter 19, where the Levite throws his concubine out to the men of the city of Gibeah to be gang raped, and then he hacks up her dead body and sends it to his fellow Israelites. Does this not seem almost inconceivable? And yet this happens virtually every day in our nation, with very little protest. It is called “partial birth abortion.” The body of a living child is dismembered in the womb and extracted in pieces. I ask you, my friend, are we any better than the Israelites of old, at their worst? I think not. Does this not serve to warn us that the time for divine judgment is near?

LEADERSHIP. The theme of leadership seems to pervade this book. There seems to be a persistent deterioration of Israel’s leaders in Judges, from reasonably good leaders like Othniel, Ehud, Deborah and Barak to men like Jephthah and Samson (not to mention the two Levites at the end of the book). Bad leadership corrupts the nation (as Gideon did when he caused Israel to worship his ephod). Good leadership encourages men to do what is right before God (e.g., Joshua).

I think it is also legitimate to infer that God gave Israel the kind of leaders they deserved. Samson was a man who very closely paralleled the attitudes and conduct of the nation Israel. They, like Samson, were dominated by their fleshly appetites and not by their desire to trust and obey God.

We may not like to admit it, but I believe the Book of Judges informs us (as we find elsewhere) that God is not restricted to “good leaders” in order to achieve His purposes. God used hard-hearted Pharaoh (Romans 9:17) just as He used Moses. God is not restricted to using only pious, godly people. It is certainly to our advantage to live godly lives, but God can use ungodly people to accomplish His purposes, too. Believe it or not, God used Jephthah, Samson, and other undesirable characters to bring about His purposes.

THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE BOOK OF JUDGES. One of my friends, Hampton Keathley IV, has written an excellent article on the subject of the “Role of Women in the Book of Judges.”155 I would highly recommend it to the reader. The Canaanites certainly were a corrupt culture, and this manifested itself in their attitudes and actions toward women. But when we come to the Book of Judges, we find that a decadent nation like Israel was as bad or worse. A father makes a vow that requires him to sacrifice his daughter (Jephthah). A Benjamite casts his concubine “to the wolves” of Gibeah, to save himself, and then gruffly summons her to get up from the ground. When he discovers that she is dead, he cuts her into pieces. Women seem to have more power in the Book of Judges. Deborah and Jael are rightly honored. A woman throws a millstone down upon the head of Abimelech, killing him (9:53). And women seduce Samson and coax him to tell his innermost secrets. But while women seem to have more power, they certainly lack honor (except for the few exceptions). This period of time was not one in which women were cherished and honored. They were used and abused. A society may well be judged by its treatment of women, and if so, the period of the judges and our own day will be found wanting.

May God grant that we learn those lessons from the Book of Judges that the Israelites of long ago did not learn.

147 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on February 25, 2001.

148 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at:

149 Sorry for the pun. I couldn’t resist.

150 I confess this is speculative, but it would help to explain how the next events took place.

151 Albert H. Baylis, From Creation to the Cross: Understanding the First Half of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), p. 175. I must also say to the reader that I was not familiar with this book or its author until after I had entitled this series, “From Creation to the Cross.” I apologize for any confusion I have created by using the same title.

152 I think Samson did deliver Israel.

153 Much as they did at Ai; see Joshua 8.

154 Strictly speaking, Heber may not be a Jew, biologically, but his ancestor was the father-in-law of Moses, who did join himself to Israel (Judges 1:16).

155 /docs/ot/books/jud/women.htm

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