CYPRESSWOOD CHURCH OF CHRIST
May 16, 2010
25424 Aldine-Westfield, Spring, TX. 77373
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GOD AND THE JUDGES
“After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10).
Jacob wrestled with a messenger from God to a draw. Asked to be blessed, the messenger changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which means wrestles with God. That became a characteristic nature of the nation of Israel. This could be seen in the wilderness journey from Egypt to Canaan, in the period of the judges, and throughout Israel history. While Israel had conquered the land of Canaan, they had not taken control of every area. That remained to be done over a period of time. God had allowed those nations to remain as a test for the Jews. They failed.
Between the death of Joshua and the first king, Saul, was the period of the Judges. The time frame could be anywhere from two to four hundred years, to about 1000 B.C. (1). It is not clear whether one judge followed another or whether a couple of Judges were contemporary in different parts of Israel. Because of their rebellion against God, Israel began to be oppressed by various forces, local and foreign. They than began to cry out to God and He sent rescuers called Judges. This cycle repeated itself for a number of years. A women judge named Deborah delivered Israel from the hands of the Canaanites (chapters 4 and 5). While this was common in the first part of the book, it changed.
Samson was raised up by God even though there was no cry for help, to be a judge against the Philistines. After him, we find the tribe of Dan getting its own priest and a man whose concubine was murdered and began a civil war in Israel. We are told several times that everyone did what was right in their own eyes. It is not until the civil war that Israel again calls on God. The last judges are found in 1 Samuel; Eli and Samuel. Tired of judges, the people moan for a king, thus once again rejecting God as King.
There are three judges that we are familiar with, and in which the Hebrew writer states were men of faith (see Hebrews 11:32-33) (2). The first is Gideon who delivers Israel from the Midianites. He confirms that God is speaking to him with the use of fleeces and dew (3). Then he trusts that God would deliver him even when his army is reduced from 32,000 to 300. After the victory, Gideon receives gold from his men, makes a ephod and the people began to worship it. Jephthah was a son of a prostitute who was exiled by his family. When the Ammonites invaded, and the people cried out to God, after they had done away with the idols they had built, it was Jephthah that would come to the rescue. We are not told that God raised him up though it is implied. Jephthah was a mighty warrior who saved Israel. However he made a foolish oath that the first thing that walked out of his house would be sacrificed to God. It was his daughter (4). He fulfilled his oath but lived only a short time after this, and one could argue that he died of a broken heart.
The final famous judge was Samson. God came and told his parents to raise him as a Nazirite (5). His purpose was to deliver Israel from the Philistines. Samson did not take this vow very serious, ignoring his parents by violating it in a number of ways. He had trouble with women. He called out to God twice that we know of; after a victory asking for water, which then came out of a rock and when he was blinded and asking to die with his enemies in their temple.
It appears that throughout the book of Judges, each cycle brings a degrading or decaying result. God becomes less involved and the people get judges like themselves. In particular, Samson is an example of such (6). Samson was called to a higher life as a Nazirite but doesn’t take it seriously. His situation with women degrades going from ignoring his mother, to his wife, to a prostitute, and finally to Delilah. This is what Israel has done with God, to Ba’al, to gods of the countries around them, to idolatry of every kind. It appears that Samson was oblivious to the true Source of his power and when he disobeyed God by revealing that his, hair cut would weaken him, he lost his power. He was captured and blinded; again like Israel during this period. In the end, blind and captive, he calls out to God in one last act of deliverance. This appears to be Israel’s history, not only during this period but later as well (7).
The people cried out to God when they were desperate. At other times in more peaceful settings, they called on God when it was convenient. God never left Israel but He is moved more to the back and out of sight. Things continued to deteriorate until God raised up David, a man after His heart.
There could be some lessons in the Judges for us. Have we pushed God to the background, called on when convenient or desperate? I think this happens when we settle into our routines of life. We pray but maybe because it is just time to pray in the moment. Our attitude is revealed in statements such as “God has given me a mind to reason” rather than earnestly seeking out God’s will. We have come from a heritage that has stated that we have God’s word, and that we do not need His Holy Spirit anymore. That deistic view has caused a development of a lack of dependence on God, and we might find ourselves more in tune with the people of the days of the judges than we think. J.B. Phillips wrote a book a number of years ago in which he described how people saw God (8). One of a number of different descriptions included God being visited on Sundays at the church building where we unlock the door, go in and say hello, spend an hour or so there, then leave and lock the door making sure God is safe and secure inside.
God has always wanted to be among His people, in fellowship with us, daily. Let’s not forget that and work to keep God in our presence, both individually and as a congregation. God is King and Savior. Our focus and commitment is to Him.
George B. Mearns
(1) King Saul began to reign around 1000 B.C. The dating of the Exodus has varied from 1200 to 1500 B.C. and so affects our dating of the Judges.
(2) Thoughts for this article come from Derek Leman, The Disappearance of God in Judges, at http://derek4messiah.worpress.com and copied on 2/17/2010.
(3) Leman calls Gideon faithless. I do not see it this way because faith often is a up and down thing; at times one is strong and then at other times weak. While one might argue that Gideon was faithless because of the fleeces, one could also argue that he wanted to verify that God was really speaking to him.
(4) Keep in mind that it was common to find animals walking in and out of houses in ancient Israel and he probably thought of this without thinking about all the consequences. See Kenneth Bailey on the manger in Luke 2 as being a part of the house and not a separate structure.
(5) See Numbers 6 for details of a Nazirite.
(6) Leman follows Daniel Block’s interpretation of Samson’s life from Block’s commentary on Judges.
(7) See Hosea 1-3 as another example of a life that mirrors the life of the nation.
(8) J. B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small.