We have seen twelve judges now, each selected or chosen by God to deliver His people from the hands of those who oppress the Israelites. This is a dark period in Israel’s history, and it will get darker still as we move on in the Old Testament. The judges have come from different tribes, different parts of the promised land and have fought off different enemies and oppressors. Some judges have judged for only a short time and others for many years. But there are some common things as well. All the narratives about the judges begin with a reminder that God’s chosen people are being disobedient. They have done evil on the sight of the Lord. God has raised up oppressors to discipline them and eventually they cry out to the Lord asking for someone to rescue them. The exception there is the Israelites living in the time just prior to Samson. They did not cry out for help. They didn’t even seem to mind they were being oppressed by the Philistines. In fact, they hardly seemed to notice or care.
This leads us to another common theme. There was apathy on the part of the Israelites. It was much easier to worship the gods that they lived among than it was to worship the Lord. Never mind He was the one who had given them the land in the first place. But the fact that Joshua had to ask them to put away their foreign gods so they could make a covenant with the one true living God, spoke volumes about the Israelites hearts. The people were willing to worship the Lord as long as someone held their hand while doing so. This was part of the role of the judges. They came as military leaders and judges who settled disputes among the people. But they were also called to lead the people back to worshiping the Lord.
There are several instances in the Book of Judges where God brings women to the forefront. We see first Deborah, who is a prophetess. She is called to lead when there are no men willing or able to lead. Even when she gives her military commander Barak a direct command from the Lord he is not up to the task of leading alone. He will only lead if Deborah goes along. This brings us to another woman God uses and that is Jael, a pagan woman. It is this pagan woman who wraps Sisera up like a baby and feeds him milk. She is the one who defeats Sisera, handing Israel a military victory. All it took was a tent peg and a hammer. Finally, we see the wife of Manoah, mother of Samson. She alone is nameless, one more indication of her lack of value because she is barren. Not only did women live in a severely patriarchal society, but they also had little value. They were considered possessions, part of the spoils of war. Their value increased if they bore children, particularly male children but Manoah’s wife was nameless…and barren.
There is a lot of killing and bloodshed in the Book of Judges. Tens of thousands of people died in the name of claiming land. Land was power…still is. We have just left the Book of Joshua where whole cities and towns were destroyed so that the land would be cleared for the Israelites to move in. Pagans were killed so they would not influence the Israelites with their gods. But Israel proved quite adept at finding foreign gods and idols to worship and many brought them into the promised land with them. God knew it. Moses knew it. Joshua did as well. But God had made a promise to Abraham about this land and God always keeps His promises. Because of that, the Israelites were given the land…theirs to keep as long as they were being obedient to the Lord and His commands and laws.
Some of the judges were like us. They had doubts, questions, fears. They wondered aloud why God had chosen them. What could God have possibly seen that would make Him come calling on one of us?! Does any of that sound familiar? We may have the faith of Othniel or the courage of Deborah. But many of us also have the questions and wonderings of Gideon. We may even know people who resemble Abimelech. Many of us have strayed at one time or another. We have all sinned and fallen short. And all of us know Jesus who has made a way for us to return to the Lord after we stray. The judges were part of the plan for the people in the Old Testament. They were called to lead the people back to the Lord. Some were way more successful than others.
We have also seen rash promises. Think Jephthah and his daughter. It seems that with each passing judge it is more difficult and takes longer for the judges to bring God’s people back to Him. It is as if the fabric of society continues to unravel and fray, moving God’s people farther and farther away from Him. Eventually the people will have no regard for judges who are seen as religious. They will want a human king like everybody else has. God will grant them that wish, and then watch as His people move farther and farther into the black hole of their sin and depravity.
This is not all cheery and festive. This is where God’s people were at in their history with Him. It is a dark place, and it will get so dark the prophet Isaiah will eventually say “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” There will be another judge/deliverer later. You know Him. His name is Jesus.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W