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Thoughts on the Book of Judges

wIn Faith Church’s 4 Year Bible Reading plan, we just finished reading through the Old Testament Book of Judges. If you read through this book in the past few weeks - or have read through it before - you know that it can be a challenging book, full of bizarre (and often violent) stories. Since some have asked me how to make sense of this book (and what in the world it is doing in the Holy Bible as the stories do not seem family-friendly or inspirational!), I wanted to take a step back and examine in this post what the book is about and why it is important for us today.

What It Covers: After Joshua and The Conquest

This book follows the Old Testament Book of Joshua which we studied earlier this summer at Faith in our Faith Over Fear sermon series, and covers about 300 years. The Book of Joshua describes how the people of Israel entered into the land God had promised to Abraham, but what we see in Judges is that they did not “live happily ever after.” Instead, they start to compromise with the people that remained in the land. While the previous generation had faith that overcame their fears, the next generation forgets the faithfulness of God and all that He had done for the people (see Judges 2:10). Instead, they start worshipping the gods of the nations they had defeated (2:11), which leads to God handing them over to other nations (2:14-15). While the people had forgotten God and proved to be fickle, God did not forget them and whenever they called out to Him after being oppressed by a nation, God would raise up a person called a judge (2:16-23). This person would deliver the people from their enemies and they would then have a time of peace and rest…but then the cycle would repeat and the people would again forget all God had done for them and fall away. After introducing this cycle in the first couple of chapters, we see the cycle at work in discussing the various figures called judges in 3:7-16:31. The last four chapters (17-21) highlight things happening among God’s people, even the Levites who were meant to be set apart for God -- things like idolatry, sexual immorality, and essentially, a civil war (instead of the tribe Judah leading them to fight the other nations as in the opening of the book, they lead the tribes in a fight against the tribe of Benjamin). These final stories likely are from throughout the era of the book as a whole, rather than sequentially after all the judges in the book; it is meant to show how fall the people had fallen into sin. The book begins with such hope and ends with such hopelessness. You can even see the darkness throughout the book as the figures who are judges seem to have less noble character throughout; these figures do great things, but are not perfect and we do not need to defend their actions, as the author shows their faults for a reason. They are not the ultimate heroes in the book.

What It Points To: The Hope for a King

Towards the end of the book, in multiple places, we find this phrase: “In those days there was no king in Israel” (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25), which is followed a couple of times by this phrase: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). This highlights something that the book as a whole points to - especially the tragic last chapters - which is that there is a need not just for a judge (governor) to lead the people, but for a king. When there is no king, the people do whatever they want and chaos ensues. The judges would deliver the people for a time, but they were not ultimately effective in leading God’s people as He desired. Therefore, the way out of the situation we see in Judges, the chaos as well as the cycle, is through a greater ruler to come.

We only need to turn a few pages after the Book of Judges (in the Book of 1 Samuel) to find that Israel does indeed get a king, but he did not make things better as Saul fails to be faithful to God. A better king then comes, David, but yet he also stumbles and falls (as we see in 2 Samuel). His son, Solomon, shows great potential as well, but as his life enfolds, we see that he also falls away from God (this is seen in 1 Kings). The hope of Israel - and the hope of us living today - is found in the coming of the perfect king, the one who serves and gives his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Bonus: What It Teaches Us in Conjunction with the Next Book

After the book of Judges in the Bible is the Book of Ruth, which actually takes place in the same time period. This story explains both the origins of David who would become king (the best Israel would see) and the ancestor of Jesus. In this story of faith, one can see that even in these bad times, God is still at work and it is often through everyday people that He shows His faithfulness. Therefore, while the Book of Judges is dark -- and gets darker as it goes -- may we see light shining through...the hope of Jesus to put all things right, to lay down His life for the way that we go astray, and for faithfully guiding and equipping His people to serve Him and reflect His name in the Word.

At first glance, you may think the Book of Judges is the last book you would want to read in these trying times; we have enough darkness in the world around us, why would we want to read about it? However, this book does put our time and moment into perspective and also reminds us of where our ultimate hope is found -- in Jesus Christ, the King who has come and will come again.

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