JUDGES 1:1-7; 2:1-5

JANUARY 8, 2012





             A  television producer bursts into the office of a network executive with a sure-fire, guaranteed idea for a smash hit - a television special based on the Ten Commandments.       

            “Are you kidding?” the executive replies.  “We don’t have time for the Ten Commandments.”

            The producer thought for a second and said, “Well, then, how about two or three of the important ones?”

            That story appeared in an old issue of TV Guide.  The author used it as an introduction to his article about television and the bible.  The author went on to say,


            Apart from the religious dimensions, the Old and New Testaments contain some of the richest dramatic material imaginable: spectacular clashes of people, armies and nations; intense battles between fathers and sons, husbands and wives; sexual desire and treachery; conflicts between greed and nobility, duty and temptation ... no wonder television has turned again and again to the bible as a source of great drama.


            I know the author was referring to the whole of the bible, but he could just as well been referring to the book of the bible we are about to study - the Book of Judges.  We’ll see all in this book: clashes of armies, battles between family members, sexual desire and treachery ... you name it and we will see it over the next few months.  So let’s embark on our journey into a distant time, far, far away and discover some significant truths God has in store for us.

            As we begin I want to lay the foundation for our study by making five introductory remarks about the book as a whole.  This will prepare us for what is to come in the weeks ahead.

            First, The Book of Judges is a “transitional” book.  The book begins with the words, “After the death of Joshua,” and those five words are key to understanding the book.  The book recounts the period of history that falls between Joshua’s death and the advent of Israel’s first king, King Saul.

            Now it’s transitional in the sense that before this book and after this book Israel had national leaders who spoke for the entire nation.  Prior to this book they had Moses and then Joshua.  After this book they will have Saul and David and Solomon, but between these national leaders Israel had local, tribal leaders, not unlike Afghanistan today, called “Judges.”  At no time did any of these “judges” rule or speak for the entire nation.  The judges were not national leaders.  Rather they were big fish in small ponds.  Here, I show you what I mean.  Let’s continue reading in the first chapter ...


            After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?”  The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up.  I hereby give the land into his hand.” 


            Now, keep in mind that Judah was one of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Judah said to his brother Simeon (another tribe of Israel), “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites; then I too will go with you into the territory allotted to you.  So Simeon went with him.”


            Notice each tribe of Israel was allotted a specific territory and the rest of the chapter recounts how each tribe settled a particular portion of the Promised Land and what happened after this initial settlement went as follows:  When a particular tribe was under attack God would raise a leader from that tribe to protect the tribe.  Israel, at the time, was a very loose confederation of states, and after they settled in the Promised Land seldom did one tribe, or state, come to the aid of another tribe or state.    

            These tribal leaders became known as “judges,” not because they possessed great wisdom to settle disputes, but because these leaders became instruments of judgment in God’s hands.  God would use these leaders to judge other nations when these nations took advantage of a local tribe.  Also, keep in mind that the Book of Judges covers a long, long period of time.  From the time the book opens to the time it closes, three hundred and fifty years pass by.

            Introductory statement number two: The Book of Judges is a relevant book.  There’s a line in the book that will appear again and again.  If ever a verse of the bible had a contemporary ring to it, it is this verse.  We might call this line the motto of the book, as well as the motto of our times.  It’s the line used to explain why various tribes of Israel were getting into trouble.  It’s not mentioned in our passages for today, but its mentioned again and again in the book and we will run into it repeatedly in the weeks to come.  The line is this:  “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”  Some translations read, “Everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes.” 

            Remember the motto:  “Everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes.”  In our age of relative standards, this book is as relevant today as it was centuries ago.  And when everyone is doing what his right in his or her own eyes, how do we do what is right in the Lord’s eyes?  Solid answers to that question can be found in this book.

            Introductory statement number three: The Book of Judges is also a heroic book.  The book is packed with heroes.  In fact, many of the heroes of the faith mentioned in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the bible’s Hall of Fame, comes from the Book of Judges.  Of the fifteen heroes of faith mentioned by name in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, four are Judges.  The only book with more is the Book of Genesis.

            As a quick aside, eleven days ago Gallup released a list of the most admired men and the most admired women on earth today.  People we would look up to as modern day heroes.  And this was a poll of Americans.  Whom do you think made the list of men?  Here’s the top five list from top to bottom:  Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Billy Graham and Warren Buffet.  How about women?  Number one, Hillary Clinton followed by Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin and Condoleezza Rice. 

            Now, depending on our political persuasion we might not look at each of these figures as heroes.  We may even see some of them as villains, but the Book of Judges is packed with heroes upon whom we can all agree.   

            Introductory statement number four:  The Book of Judges is also a sad book.  Turn with me to chapter two, verse one ...


            Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, “I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you into the land that I had promised to your ancestors.  I said, “I will never break my covenant with you.  For your part, do not make covenant with the inhabitants of this land; tear down their altars.  But you have not obeyed my command.  See what you have done!  So now I say, I will not drive them out before you; but they shall become adversaries to you, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”  When the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the Israelites, the people lifted up their voices and wept.  So they named that place Bochim (which means “weeping”), and there they sacrificed to the Lord.


            Note the beginning words of the chapter ... Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim.   Note the change of address.  Gilgal was a place of importance in the time of Joshua.  When the people crossed the Jordan River they came to Gilgal.  The Israelites renewed the practice of circumcision and the celebration of Passover at Gilgal.  God appeared to Joshua and gave him the promise that he was to be God’s commander in chief at Gilga.  Gilgal was a place of victory and blessing and great happiness and joy.

            Bochim, one the other hand, was a place of weeping and when the angel changed addresses, when the angel moved from Gilgal to Bochim, the angel was sending them a message.  “At Gilgal you trusted God and you knew victory.  Now you have turned from God and your new home will be a place of weeping.”

            Even though the books of Joshua and Judges stand side by side in the bible, they are poles apart in terms of the obedience of the people of God.  Joshua is the record of exploits of Israel as they trusted and obeyed God.  Judges, on the other hand, is a long, sad story of failure after failure.  In Joshua God’s word is heeded and obeyed and in Judges God’s word is neglected and rejected. 

            One of the hymns in our hymnbook is Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  It may not be your favorite, but it may be familiar.  One line of lyrics goes, “Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”  Those words describe the people in the Israelites in the Book of Judges.

            We see it right at the beginning of the book, of the people doing what was right in their own eyes and not what was right in God’s eyes.  Look with me once again at chapter one.  Let’s begin reading in verse 4 ... and I apologize in advance for a rather grizzly account.


            Then Judah went up and the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand; and they defeated ten thousand of them at Bezek.  They came upon Adoni-bezek at Bezek, and fought against him, and defeated the Canaantes and the Perizzites.  Adoni-bezek fled; but they pursued him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes.  Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to pick up scraps under my table; as I have done so God has paid me back.”  They brought him to Jerusalem and he died there.


            Cutting off one’s thumbs and big toes was a very effective way of ending someone’s military career.  Balance would become an issue and one could not handle a sword without thumbs.  But mutilation was a pagan practice.  So right out of the blocks, in chapter one, we see the people of Israel begin to adopt the practices of the people around them, rather than doing what was right in God’s eyes.  By the end of the first chapter Gilgal is no longer their hometown.  Bochim is.

            Finally, introductory statement five:  The Book of Judges is also a comforting book.  By that I mean, the book is a story of God’s long suffering. 

            I looked up the term “long suffering” online.  Here’s the definition: “patiently enduring wrongs and difficulties.”  God has that in spades.    Me, not so much.  Long suffering is not my forte.  As a result, and you already know this, it’s a good thing I’m not God.  If I were God I would have given up on these yo-yo’s around chapter six of this book.  By chapter six, I would have had enough of them.  If I had been God back then, I would have started all over because I would have vaporized the entire lot of them.  I would have been so frustrated with their repeated cycle of forgetting me, getting into trouble, crying for help, and my helping them, and after everything is OK their repeating the same cycle again and again for 350 years!  I would have been so frustrated with them, I would have given up on them.  But not God.  God didn’t give up on them and God doesn’t give up on us.

            If we don’t get anything else from this book, let’s get this.  God never, ever gives up on us, even when we keep doing the same things over and over and over again.