The book of Judges takes its name from the men God raised up as Judges to deliver Israel from their oppressors each time they go into difficulty through their backsliding. The key verse to the outstanding cause of their trouble is, “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Two facts stand out--the utter failure of Israel; the persistent grace of Jehovah. The book records seven apostasies, seven servitudes to seven heathen nations, and seven deliverances. Those whom God raised up to deliver His people and to judge them were very ordinary people, thus conforming to the principle laid down in I Corinthians 1:26, “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.”
The books of Judges is divided into two parts:
1. Chs. 1 to 16. The seven apostasies, seven servitude, and seven deliverances.
2. Chs. 17 to 21. Civil and religious confusion.
THE SEVEN APOSTASIES, ETC.
In Ch.1 we read much about the partial subduing of the people of the land. Judah drove the Canaanites out of the mountain, but he could not drive them out of the valley, v.19; Benjamin failed to drive out the inhabitants of Jerusalem, v.21; and Manasseh also had only a partial success so that the Canaanites still dwelt in the land, v.27. The story goes on in the same strain, for neither did Ephraim, nor Asher, nor Naphtali, drive out the heathen people, but when Israel became strong they put the Canaanites to tribute, v.28. This was not God’s thought, but somehow the people failed Him and took the path of least resistance. How like many of today who would rather live a life of suppression than go deeper and get full deliverance from the old man and his deeds.
An angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and remonstrated with the people of Israel, and told them that they did wrong to make a league with their heathen neighbors, and that because of their disobedience God would not drive them out but they should become as thorns in their sides instead, Ch.2: 1-3. The people wept, but afterwards continued their backsliding until they forsook the Lord and served the false gods of the land, v.13.
THE FIRST APOSTASY AND SERVITUDE.
In Ch. 3:5-8 we read that the children of Israel began to intermarry with the different peoples of the land. God in anger sold them into servitude and for eight years they were ruled by Chushan-rishathaim, King of Mesopotamia. The people cried unto the Lord and in mercy He stirred up Othniel, Caleb’s younger brother, who overthrew the oppressor and became Israel’s first judge. The land had rest for forty years, vs.9-11.
THE SECOND APOSTASY AND SERVITUDE.
After the death of Othniel, the people did evil again in God’s sight, and He allowed Eglon, the King of Moab to overthrow them. For eighteen years Israel was in servitude to the Moabites, Ch.3: 12-14. In answer to prayer, God raised up Ehud, a left-handed man, who sought a private interview with the King of Moab. With his left hand, Ehud drew a dagger and stabbed Eglon that he died. Ehud raised an army and slew about ten thousand of the Moabites men. After that, Israel had rest for eighty years, vs.15-30. Ehud was the second judge. When he died, a judge by the name of Shamgah ruled over them.
THE THIRD APOSTASY AND SERVITUDE.
In Ch.4: 1-3 we again read of the fickleness of Israel. They did evil in the sight of the Lord and He sold them into the land of Jabin, King of Canaan. This ruler had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he greatly oppressed God’s people. Deborah, a prophetess, judged Israel at that time. With great courage she called for Barak and in the name of the Lord told him to form an army of ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and attack Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army with his many chariots of iron, and that God would deliver him into his hand, v.6-7. Barak was willing but on the one condition that Deborah would go with him. To this she agreed. God gave a sweeping victory over King Jabin, and Sisera lost his life at the hand of a woman names Jael, v.21. Deborah foresaw this, v.9 and it surely came to pass. Deborah then gave forth a wonderful song of praise in the spirit of prophecy, Ch.5. Following this overthrow of the Canaanites the land of Israel had rest for forty years under the joint ruler ship of Deborah and Barak who were the fourth and fifth judges of Israel.
THE FOURTH APOSTASY AND SERVITUDE.
The same sad story of spiritual declension is told in Ch.6. Because of their evil ways the Lord delivered Israel into the hand of the Midianites and they served them for seven years, v.1. The Midianites and the Amalekites, and other children of the east robbed them of their harvests and the Israelites were in very great distress. God sent a prophet to them who gave a reason for it all. They had turned to the gods of the Amorites and had not obeyed the voice of their living Lord, vs.8-10. Then an angel came to Gideon, whose heart was evidently troubled, and who longed that God would show Himself in power and work in their behalf, v.13. To his surprise God chose him to deliver the people, and promised that he should smite the Midianites as one man, v.16. Gideon responded to the call and under Divine direction destroyed the altar of Baal and cut down the grove of trees that surrounded same, and built an altar unto the Lord in its place, vs.25-27. With the marks of sin destroyed, the Spirit of God now came upon Gideon, who blew a trumpet and called together an army of 32,000 men, Ch.7: 3. God, who looks on the heart, saw the fear that gripped the large majority and told Gideon to give liberty to all who were afraid and to depart. Twenty two thousand availed themselves of this offer, leaving Gideon with 10,000 men. In order that the victory over Midian should undoubtedly be of the Lord another test was put to the remaining members of the army. We call it the “water test.” The men were led down to the water to drink. All who caught the water up in their hands and lapped as a dog drinks were set on one side, and those who knelt down and drank in the ordinary way formed the other company. Three hundred lapped as a dog drinks. With these, God defeated Midian and the rest of Israel pursued the fleeing enemy, vs. 22-25. The writer believes that God told the entire then thousand to so drink but only three hundred obeyed. The remainder reasoned in their minds, and decided it would be foolish to drink in such a strange way. Thereby they proved their unfitness, for He will not use anyone who questions the wisdom of God. After subduing the Midianites, Gideon became the sixth judge of Israel, and the land was in quietness for forty years, Ch.8: 28.
THE FIFTH APOSTASY AND SERVITUDE.
After the death of Gideon the children of Israel again turned away from the Lord and made Baal-berith their god. For this God punished them, and delivered them into the hands of their enemies on every side, Ch.8: 33-34. Abimlech, the son of Gideon’s concubine, conspired against the seventy sons of Gideon and slew them, and was made king of Israel by the men of Shechem, Ch.9: 5-6. After reigning three years, civil war broke out and Abimelech was finally slain. Following this, Tola, the son of Push became the seventh judge of Israel and ruled over them for twenty years, Ch.10: 1-2. When he died, Jair, the eighth judge, a Gileadite, took his place and judged Israel for twenty-two years, vs.3-5.
THE SIXTH APOSTASY AND SERVITUDE.
The people of Israel became worse than even in their backsliding. They turned to a number of idols and worshiped them. For this God sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the children of Amon, and for eighteen years they were sorely oppressed, Ch.10: 6-8. As usual the people turned to prayer but God said He would not deliver them, v.13. After more humbling and prayer word was sent to Jephtae a Gileadite to take command of the army of Israel. This man was successful and defeated the Amorites and became the ninth judge of Israel and ruled for six years, Ch.12: 7. After judges rules in succession: Ibjan the Behtlehemite rules seven years; Elon a Zebulonite for ten years; and Abdon the son of Hillel for eight years. Abdon was the twelfth in the line of the judges.
THE SEVENTH APOSTASY AND SERVITUDE.
We read in Ch.13: 1 that the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord, and were delivered into the hands of the Philistines who oppressed them for forty years. About that time, Samson was born and was brought up as a Nazarite. To him was granted supernatural strength, which he used against the Philistines. Samson became the thirteenth judge of Israel. His history covers three whole chapters. A number of outstanding feats of strength were exhibited, during which time many Philistines lost their lives. Samson had the besetting sin of indulging the flesh and it finally became his downfall. Through Delilah, he was made to admit the secret of his great strength, which was his long hair, or in reality the keeping of his Nazarite vow of separation. When his hair was cut, defeat was certain. The very significant words are recorded that Samson went out to shake himself as at other times and “wist not that the Lord was departed from him,” Ch.16: 20. This resulted in his being imprisoned and blinded and put to hard labor on the treadmill, and it finally led to his death, for when he received back his strength upon the growth of his hair he pulled down a building upon himself and several thousand of his enemies. Samson judged Israel twenty years. His career was not constructive by any means, but rather one of spasmodic outbreaks on the enemy in the manifestations of his great strength, but his moral character was much below par.
CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS CONFUSION.
The last five chapters of the book of Judges contain a checkered account of Israel’s history. The people went from bad to worse: idolatry, immorality, and civil war were the order of the day, and the book closes with an account of a near extermination of the tribe of Benjamin. God and His law had so little influence upon the nation that most any kind of behavior was allowed. Truly when the rule that “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” prevails nothing but disaster will follow.