The book of Judges is fascinating. It is full of adventure and excitement, but it is equally full of sadness and sin. It teaches the holiness and judgment of God in punishing rebellion, the mercy of God in responding to the cries of His people, and the power of God to save the repentant.
Judges opens with the Israelites carrying out the conquest of Canaan, the Promised Land — sort of. They only partially obeyed God’s directive to completely clear Canaan of its pagan inhabitants and the altars and idols of their false religions. Partial obedience is still disobedience. “You have not obeyed My voice,” the Lord said (v.2). The Israelites would live to regret their half-obedience: they lost the aid of their only ally (God) and they made a host of long-term, aggravating enemies (v.3).
Verse 10 is one of the saddest verses in the Bible. After Joshua’s death, “There arose another generation who did not know the Lord or the work that He had done for Israel.” Evidently parents stopped teaching their children about the Lord, stopped praying with them, stopped observing the Passover and the Sabbath days, and stopped telling their own stories of faith. The new generation abandoned the Lord altogether and turned to the worship of the Canaanite deities, “the Baals and the Ashtaroth” (v.13). Baal refers to the “god” who was thought to control the weather (extremely important to agrarian society), while the Ashtaroth was the “goddess” of love and war. Together this god-couple formed a powerful force in the spirituality of Canaan, but the Israelites should have known they were make-believe, false, imaginary ideas who could not hear their prayers, receive their worship, or bless their families.
God’s response to Israel’s spiritual adultery was to remove His protection from them. Verses 16-19 outlines a four-stage cycle that is repeated seven times in the book of Judges:
1. The Israelites rebel against God and worship idols
2. God sends a pagan tribe to oppress and harass them
3. The Israelites cry out to God for mercy
4. God sends a judge to save them from their enemies
The judges God sent to help His people were not like the judges found in American courts. These judges were God-empowered leaders who would operate as agents of God’s judgment as they fought alone or commanded tribal militias. Think of a judge as a US Marshall in the Old West — a Spirit-filled Wyatt Earp!
One reason Judges is in the Bible is to highlight the power of God’s love. Rebellion against Him always leads us to a place of suffering. But if we repent and cry out to God for mercy, He loves us so much that He hears and helps. In fact, He sent the Ultimate Judge, the Lord Jesus, to save us from our greatest enemy, death. In Him, we can live in victory! To slip into a cycle of rebellion and suffering is to sin against His love. Let’s not go there.