by Sam E. Stone
The first five lessons this quarter were based on the book of Joshua. The next five are from the next book, Judges. Today the term “judge” suggests a legal expert wearing a long, black robe and sitting in a courtroom. In Old Testament times, however, this title was used in a more general way. These judges were men and women raised up by God to deliver the people of Israel from their enemies and to execute the judgments of God on their behalf.
Last week we saw how God punished the disobedience of the Israelites (Joshua 7). The book concludes with Joshua’s final words to the children of Israel urging the people to remain faithful to the Lord (Joshua 24). The book of Judges begins where the book of Joshua left off (Judges 1:1), much like a flashback. The writer explains, “The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel” (Judges 2:7). A few verses later we read, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (v. 10). This is where today’s lesson text begins.
The tribes did not finish their assignment to completely drive out the Canaanites. This led to trouble. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. This refrain is repeated throughout the book (3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6). And served the Baals. Baal was the god worshiped by the Canaanites who inhabited the land. Various cruel and lascivious practices were a part of their pagan worship.
They forsook the Lord . . . who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the people around them. The Hebrew people quickly forgot what the one true and living God had done for them. They soon adapted to the local culture, embracing whatever deity might be popular in the area. This provoked God to anger. The Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. With God’s blessing the Israelites had easily conquered the land. When he withheld his blessing, however, they were weak and powerless. The Lord used the enemy people in Canaan to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their forefathers did (v. 22). They failed the test!
Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Verses 14-19 offer a general summary of the book of Judges. The same story is repeated over and over again. Six major judges are described in the book (Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson), along with six minor ones. Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Scripture often compares disobedience and unfaithfulness to adultery in a marriage.
When the people would pray for release from the hands of their enemies, the Lord would raise up a judge and they would be freed. Soon, however, when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers. How soon they forget! When the Israelites were rescued from Egypt, soon they wanted to return to their life of slavery there. Their descendants were also disloyal to the Lord who saved them.
Divine Judgment/Judges 2:20-23
Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel. God was understandably upset. The very people he had faithfully protected and guided turned away from him again and again. Because this nation has violated the covenant . . . I will no longer drive out . . . any of the nations Joshua left when he died. God had promised them his protection and blessing, if they would remain true to him. His treatment of them was contingent on their obedience. He remained faithful to them, but they were unfaithful to him. In similar fashion, we are tested today to see how we will respond to the commands of the Lord (see 1 Peter 1:7). The presence of these neighboring nations was used to test their loyalty to the Lord. Previously God had commanded Israel to destroy or drive out all of the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Had they fully obeyed this command, it would have saved them a lot of trouble!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.