There is a book of the Bible that some have attempted to ban from public libraries because it was deemed unsuitable for children: the Book of Judges. It contains some graphic material that is so explicit that it has shocked many that such passages are even in the Bible! And yet it contains some of the most colorful - yet enigmatic - characters in the entire Book. Frankly, there are few stories anywhere that can compete for color and intrigue.
You'll wince as you read how Ehud goes to visit the king in his summer palace and slides his dagger between the king's fifth and sixth ribs so that the flesh closes around it and the knife cannot be withdrawnYou'll cringe when Jael drives the tent stake through the skull of Sisera and pins him to the ground. You'll bite your fingernails alongside Gideon as God introduces deep military cutbacks, reducing Israel's army from 32,000 to 300 - then sends this vastly outnumbered miniature army into battle!
Your heart will sink with mine when Jephthah's daughter comes out to meet him on his return from battle, and he remembers his hasty vow to sacrifice the first person he meets to God - and then fulfills that dreadful vow. You'll glory with Samson as he wreaks havoc among the Philistines, but wonder at his folly in allowing the Philistine temptress to worm from him the secret of his strength. You will also undoubtedly turn with revulsion from the story of the Benjamite perversion that marks perhaps the blackest chapter in Israel's history.
Fans of historical romance, military history, soap operas, conspiracy theories, spy novels, swashbuckling adventure, or political intrigue will find it all here in the Book of Judges! But from a broader and deeper perspective, Judges is essentially the story of a deteriorating nation - and it serves as a sober warning against deterioration in our own nation, and in our own personal lives.
Whereas the Book of Joshua closes with a nation resting from war and enjoying the riches of the Promised Land, the Book of Judges sees the nation suffering from invasion, slavery, poverty, and civil war. What happened?
Joshua, Moses' successor, in charge of the Conquest of Canaan, spent seven years and completed his basic mission. However, as we'll see, they did not completely deal with their enemies - to their dismay.
The boundary lines for the 12 tribes had been determined,1 but the people had not fully claimed their inheritance by defeating and dislodging the entrenched inhabitants of the land. These various pockets of incomplete victory then became the source of subsequent trials and challenges. The entire chronicle of this period is a repetition of the same cycle:
The people of Israel would fall into sin and idol worship; this would result in oppression by, and bondage to, their enemies. They would ultimately plea to God for help; He would raise up a deliverer ("judge"); and, soon after their deliverance, they would again fall back into false worship, and cycle would repeat itself.
There were four primary aspects that characterized this period of their history:
1. There was no king in Israel.
2. Everyone did what was "right in their own eyes."
3. There was a neglect and disparagement of the Word of God.
4. They were, thus, in bondage to their various enemies.
The world today is living in a period similar to the Book of Judges because there is no king in Israel. When presented with their rightful King, they exclaimed, "We have no king but Caesar."2 Furthermore, people are "doing what is right in their own eyes." Value relativism has replaced the rule of God's law in our land. The Word of God is neglected - even in many of our churches. His Word is the subject of denigration and ridicule by pseudo-scholars and critics. And as a result, we too are in bondage rather than enjoying the liberty available in Christ.
In fact, it is astonishing to compare a map of the various episodes in the Book of Judges with the territories that are still under dispute in the land of Israel today! [See Map].
The Book of Judges, spanning the time between the conquest of the Canaan and the establishment of the monarchy, is a colorful, instructive, and prophetically relevant book to study carefully.
Lest you get discouraged, remember that the charming Book of Ruth is appended for dessert! It, too, is actually an essential book of prophecy, without which you will not fully understand or appreciate Revelation Chapter 5! Good hunting!
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