The God Who Delivers: Introducing the Book of Judges
Judges is not a dull read! It is filled with amazing stories of murder, intrigue, and seduction. What are these doing in the Bible? How does this book fit in within the rest of Scripture? To the question of why Judges is in the Bible, Tim Keller offers,
The answer is an important one - it is the gospel! The book of Judges shows us that the Bible is not a ‘Book of Virtues;’ it is not full of inspirational stories. Why? Because the Bible (unlike books on which other religions are based) is not about following moral examples. It is about a God of mercy and long-suffering, who continually works in and through us despite our constant resistance to his purposes. Ultimately, there is only one hero in this book, and he’s divine.
Judges reveals central truths of the gospel. Judges shows human nature and our desire to reject God’s rule over our lives. It goes on to portray vividly the consequences of that rejection. And yet, human rejection of the Lord is not the end of the story. He is a gracious and merciful God who intervenes to rescue his people.
Judges, then, is fundamentally a book about God. He is faithful to his promises. He is full of grace. He delivers his people from oppression in spite of their own rejection of him. Judges testifies to the goodness, faithfulness, and love of our Lord.
Judges begins, as 1:1 informs us, “after the death of Joshua.” The Lord used Joshua to bring his people across the Jordan River and into the promised land. Here, the promises the Lord made to Abraham are coming to fruition. His descendants have become a great nation, and they are taking possession of Canaan. The third part of God’s covenant with Abraham — that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him — remains unfulfilled.
With Joshua’s death and the rise of a new generation, the question remains: will Israel be a blessing to the world? The answer of the book of Judges is, “Not anytime soon.”
God’s people will only be a blessing to the world when they live under God’s rule. Time and again during the period of judges, God’s people reject his rule. Rather than driving out the pagan nations in the land, they become like them. The Israelites are not blessing the world but becoming like the world. As the Israelites reject their God, they, in turn, are oppressed by the nations around them.
Cycle of Judges
A pattern emerges through the book of Judges. God’s people reject the Lord, and then they are oppressed by the nations surrounding them. Eventually, the people cry out to God for help, and then the Lord delivers them through a judge. This cycle of rejection, repentance, and deliverance continues throughout the book.
This cycle is not merely repetitive. It is a downward spiral. The situation in Israel is ever-worsening as evidenced by how terrible the events of the final few chapters. These last two stories show the shocking extent of evil. The book concludes with this assessment: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25). The people of God are in the promised land, but moral and spiritual anarchy reign. The whole of the book calls into question whether or not these people who reject the rule of God can rightly be called the people of God.
Seven times, Judges informs us, “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals” (2:11; cf. 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1). While the immorality of God’s people at this time may stand out to us, their fundament problem was first and foremost spiritual. Their immorality was merely an outworking of their rejection of the Lord. They exchanged the God who had redeemed them for the gods of the Canaanites. The cycle of each judge began with the rejection of the Lord.
Who are the Judges?
Our picture of a judge involves a courtroom, but in the book of Judges, the do not wear black robes and powdered wigs. Rather than being judicial rulers, the judges of the Old Testament are better understood as deliverers. They are leaders of the people that God raises up to free them from their oppressors.
Judges 2:16-19 outlines the nature of the Old Testament judges. The Lord himself raises up these judges; he is the source of their authority and power. Their purpose was not to settle internal disputes but to deliver the people from “the hand of those who plundered them.” These judges are deliverers.
These deliverers are remarkable for how unusual and unexpected they would have been as leaders in their own day. Othniel was not a native-born Israelite. Ehud was left-handed and so would have been considered handicapped. As a woman, Deborah would not have been viewed as able to deliver. Barak comes across as cowardly. Gideon is fearful and skeptical. Jephthah is the son of a prostitute, takes up with a band of robbers, and makes rash vows. Samson leaves much to be desired as a leader.
The character of the judges points beyond them to the source of their power and authority: God himself. Throughout the book, it is not the people or the judges who are the heroes but the Lord himself. The people are delivered because God intervenes on their behalf.
New Testament Connection
The book points forward to the need for a king who will help God’s people live under God’s rule. David partially fulfills this role, and yet he shares the same faults as the judges. Ultimately, this vision for a king who will bring God’s people under God’s rule finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Jesus does not just deliver us from our external enemies, but he fights the enemy within. He gives his people new hearts — hearts that desire to love and to obey God.
Applying Judges Today
The most fundamental application of Judges for our lives today is that we need to trust in the Deliverer whom God has sent to rescue us. We need to trust in Jesus Christ, the true king of God’s people who works by his Spirit to give us new hearts. Judges shows us our need for the true Savior.
Another key application of Judges is knowing God. There is nothing more practical for life than knowing our creator and redeemer. True, abundant, and everlasting life is knowing “the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:31). Judges reminds us of God’s grace and mercy. It points us to the fact that our God is a deliverer, and the book makes clear that God is in control no matter the circumstances. We can always trust him.
For those of us who are trusting in Jesus Christ, Judges also proves to be a call to spiritual renewal. Like the people of ancient Israel, we live in a pagan world that our hearts can find enticing. We easily can be drawn away from the one, true God. Our subtle reject of the Lord makes itself plain in our rejection of his moral standard. Morality, however, is only a symptom of the greater problem: we have stopped loving and worshipping the Lord alone. Our problem is fundamentally a spiritual problem. Like God’s people in Judges, we need to repent and to turn back to worshipping him alone. We need spiritual renewal which he freely gives as we study and meditate on his word (Romans 12:1-2).