This week the readings completed Judges (chapters 7-21), the entire book of Ruth, 1 Chronicles 2 , 1 Chronicles 4, and the first 8 verses of 1 Samuel. For this blog post I’m going to focus on the events of Judges.
Judges is a book that spans three to four hundred years in the history of Israel. While the book is written as a narrative history, it is also written to emphasize some very important aspects of Israel’s standing and lack of obedience to God. As you may recall from the book that bears his name, Joshua – near the end of his life – called the Israelites to take a stand. He said
Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:14-15)
The people re-commit to serving the Lord, but in the book of Judges, things quickly fall apart. Judges 2:6-10 tells us
When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his own inheritance to take possession of the land. And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel…. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.
From this point on, the book tells repeated stories that follow the following pattern:
- Israel is unfaithful to God and begins serving other gods
- God allows other peoples to begin to conquer and subdue the Israelites
- The Israelites repent of their wrongdoing and cry out to God for help
- God raises up a “judge” – a person who would lead Israel in conquest over their enemies.
- The judge would die and then the process would repeat itself.
Additionally, each time a new judge would rise up, they would tend to be less of a spiritual leader than the previous ones. This resulted in a verbal picture of a downward spiral of decay in the spiritual prowess of the nation in general, from the first judge (Othniel) to the last one (Samson).
The ones I “bolded” in the graphic above are the ones that scripture elaborates on a bit. Othniel was Caleb’s nephew (remember that Caleb was one of the original twelve spies, along with Joshua, who Moses sent to scout the promised land before the forty years of desert wandering). Othniel was a valiant leader, Ehud as a hired assassin, Deborah was a woman forced to do the job the men wouldn’t do, Gideon was a man weak in faith but of high self-opinion, Jephthah was an illegitimate child who made a rash ungodly vow and suffered for it, and Samson was a man who had very loose morals, mocked his God-ordained calling, and was better for Israel in death than he was alive.
The book ends with two more grim stories depicting the sorry state of spiritual and moral conditions in the nation. The final verse says, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). However, this book is followed immediately by the short book of Ruth, which begins, “In the days when the judges ruled there was…”, and tells a beautiful story of a family from Bethlehem which ultimately culminated in the coming kings (David and Jesus). It is a story of trial, redemption, lost hope, found hope, and fulfilled promises which sets the stage for the entire rest of the Bible.
Next week the readings will be from 1 Samuel (chapters 1-21), and will also include part of 1 Chronicles 9 and Psalms 34 and 59.
For Further Investigation
- Judges video from The Bible Project
- Ruth video from The Bible Project