The book of Judges can be a difficult book to read. It’s filled with murder, vengeance, violence, lust, immorality, disobedience and unfaithfulness. And all this from God’s people!
The book of Judges is alarmingly relevant to today. It records the Israelites’ descent into sin and its terrible consequences. The 12 heroes of the book – “judges” (or leaders) – both male and female, seem larger than life at times, but they were imperfect, just like us. Judges is a stern reminder that God punishes sin but is always ready to take the repentant back into his heart.
Author: Possibly Samuel, the prophet. [Image]
Date Written: 1025 B.C.
Judges takes place in ancient Canaan [map image], the Promised Land given by God to the Jews. It covers the period from the death of Joshua to the rise of the monarchy. [Timeline image] Under Joshua, the Jews conquered the land with God’s help and so it was now time for Israel to be the Kingdom of God on earth! But after Joshua’s death, the people quickly forgot God and His miracles and His divine purposes for Israel, which leads to one of the key themes of the book: compromise.
Compromise, a serious problem with people today, is one of the main themes of Judges. When the Israelites failed to completely drive out the wicked nations in Canaan, they left themselves open to their influences—chiefly idolatry [image] and immorality [image]. They began to accept and then attach themselves to Canaan’s morals, gods, beliefs and practices. We see such acceptance of outside morals, beliefs and practices today, too.
This leads to a series of sad patterns/cycles that we see throughout the book: disobedience, oppression, distress, deliverance.
Out of this sad cycle though comes another chief theme: that of God’s faithfulness.
I sometimes wonder if there should be a grace quota…but I’m glad there isn’t. Although there are consequences for sin, God remains faithful to His purposes and His people.
Each time the Israelites cried out to God for mercy, he delivered them by raising up the heroes of the book, the Judges. Filled with the Holy Spirit, these valiant men and women obeyed God—although imperfectly—to demonstrate his faithfulness and love.
The key verses illustrate this clearly.
And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. (ESV)
Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. (ESV)
And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. (ESV)
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (ESV)
Key Characters and outline of the Book of Judges:
• Failure to conquer Canaan – Judges 1:1-3:6.
• Othniel – Judges 3:7-11.
• Ehud and Shamgar – Judges 3:12-31.
• Deborah andBarak – Judges 4:1-5:31.
• Gideon, Tola, and Jair – Judges 6:1-10:5.
• Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon – Judges 10:6-12:15.
• Samson – Judges 13:1-16:31.
• Abandoning the true God – Judges 17:1-18:31.
Moral wickedness, civil war and its consequences – Judges 19:1-21:25.
Today, let’s look at Gideon and Samson because they both have something to teach us.
Gideon appears right in the middle of the book and the timeline, and is in many ways the ideal judge, not unlike Moses. Gideon’s ministry and faithfulness to God were reflected in two ways: religious reform, starting with his own family, and military action. In simple terms, Gideon was a man of both faith and action – a fine example for us to follow today, as James affirms in his book.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faithsave him?18 …Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works.20 Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless?24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. James 2 Gideon exemplifies this.
One of the things Gideon is best known for is for “putting out a fleece” – a means of seeking God’s guidance.
36 Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel by my hand, as You said, 37 I will put a fleece of wool here on the threshing floor. If dew is only on the fleece, and all the ground is dry, I will know that You will deliver Israel by my strength, as You said.” 38 And that is what happened. When he got up early in the morning, he squeezed the fleece and wrung dew out of it, filling a bowl with water.
39 Gideon then said to God, “Don’t be angry with me; let me speak one more time. Please allow me to make one more test with the fleece. Let it remain dry, and the dew be all over the ground.” 40 That night God did as Gideon requested: only the fleece was dry, and dew was all over the ground. Judges 6
[Image] By putting out the fleece before the Lord, Gideon saw God’s will affirmed to him. Don’t think, however, that the action of Gideon is intended to be an example for us to follow. It’s not. The Bible makes it clear that when Gideon laid the fleece before the Lord, it was not an act of faith; it was actually an expression of doubt in God’s word and fear about his circumstances.
Note what he says in verse thirty-seven: “If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.” [My italics]
Gideon wasn’t trying to know God’s will with this fleece. God had already spoken and Gideon admits knowing that by what he said in this verse. His problem wasn’t that he didn’t know what to do. His problem was that he doubted whether or not God really meant what He has said. Gideon’s fleece was an expression of doubt, not faith!
We don’t need to use a “fleece” to determine God’s will in the New Testament age. We have the Holy Spirit and the Bible. We have “the mind of Christ”! (1 Cor 2:16) [Image] That is enough!
Yet the account of Gideon’s fleece does show us that God is still gracious and merciful even in our weaknesses and doubts (a recurring theme in Judges, throughout the Bible and in our own lives).
Samson is perhaps best known for his extraordinary strength. [Image] Yet Samson is also known for a lot of other things and they aren’t good and they aren’t fit for retelling in a family service. Kids, cover your ears and eyes! [Censored images!]
There is a time and a place for listing sins. This is not the time and place for listing Samson’s sins. There is a time and a place for listing (confessing) our own sins to each other and to God. We would be wise to know those times and to act in those times.
Without any confession there is the “wasting away of bones” (Ps 32:3) and the fruits of disobedience.
With the constant listing of sins – wallowing in sins – there is the denial of God’s grace and the loss of joy.
Something else that is vital and wonderful for us to learn from Samson. God uses even deeply flawed people to achieve His purposes. Samson had serious moral flaws and he paid a steep price for that yet God by His graciousness still used Samson for His glory.
Maybe you struggle with moral issues. You need to deal with those through confession and prayer before a loving, merciful God and in a loving, understanding, supportive community.
Maybe you struggle with confidence/image issues – your weaknesses loom large – and feel that God couldn’t have much use for a person like you.
Maybe you struggle with faith issues and you’re tempted to put out fleeces and seek confirmation for what God is calling you to do – or better still, someone else to do what God is calling you to do.
Whatever your struggles or failings or weaknesses, remember that God uses even deeply flawed people to achieve His purposes. We have seen this time and again throughout the Bible in Moses, David, Jonah, Paul, Peter, Thomas and so on.
There is healing and strengthening to be had and you should seek them but God can and will still use you throughout that process. You don’t have to wait to be perfect for God to use you. If you are humble and repentant, God can and will use you just as you are.
One of the key themes of the book of Judges is compromise. Let’s make sure it’s not a key theme in our church or our individual lives. But rather, let faith and action characterise who we are.
This sermon is based on the notes found here: