The First in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Judges
The Book of Judges is a fascinating but perplexing book. The book covers that period of Israel’s history between the death of Joshua (the Conquest) and that time when David becomes Israel’s first king (the monarchy). There are some very colorful and well-known biblical characters to be found here–Samson, Gideon and Deborah. There is also a reoccurring pattern found throughout this book. The people of God will turn their backs on YHWH, only to find that an unexpected enemy rises up against them, causing them to cry out to God for deliverance. God responds by sending Israel a deliverer. Throughout this sordid mess we will be a bit shocked that the people of God could actually do the things that they do. This is a book filled with heros of questionable character, people who commit all kinds of sin and who make the most grievous errors in judgment. We may be equally surprised by the ways in which God rescues his people from the brink of disaster. All of this makes for a most interesting period in Israel’s history, but a difficult book from which to preach. Throughout the Book of Judges, God’s covenant faithfulness repeatedly triumphs over the sinful foibles of his people. Given this background, there will be much for us here by way of application. The Book of Judges will force us to consider the dangers of doing what seems right in our own eyes, instead of doing that which God commands of us in his word.
As we begin a new series on the Book of Judges we need to keep in mind the fact that the material we find in this book is but one chapter in the larger drama of redemptive history–hence our series on the history of the covenants, “I Will Be Your God and You Will Be My people.” If our study of Joshua and the Conquest found the Israelites living in obedience under a faithful leader–constituting the high water mark in redemptive history–the situation we find in Judges will be much different. Not long after Joshua died things were so bad that we read in Judges 2:10: “And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” Indeed, this is a sad and heart-breaking commentary.
Even as the dying Joshua warned Israel that the blessing-curse principle lies at the heart of the covenant that God made with Israel at Sinai, once the people of Israel settled in Canaan, they soon became complacent and unbelieving. By the time the next generation comes to the fore, the people are have already started to turn away from YHWH so as to worship and serve other “gods.” As a result, the people of Israel will face a whole series of judgments, most of them inflicted upon them by their pagan neighbors, who are, ironically, the very people of whom the Israelites were so envious, and who they were trying to emulate.
The fact that Israel fell into apostasy is not a really a surprise–or at least it shouldn’t be. What is a surprise is the speed at which the people of Israel fell away from YHWH. As we read in Judges 2:11-15, the spiritual condition of Israel was already in a sorry state not long after the death of Joshua. “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. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.”
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