Today we are starting a new series walking through the book of Judges.cycle
What do you think of when you think of judges?
Judges is the 7th book in the Old Testament. It has 21 chapters and takes less than 2 hours to read. The foundation that we will be revisiting continually through this series is the cycle.
The cycle goes like this: Sin. Consequences. Repentance. Deliverer. Opportunity.
It’s not just a flat cycle, but more like a spiral further and deeper into the messiness of life, farther and farther from God, more and more of a mess..
But before we dive into this, let’s process for a moment where this book lands in biblical history. Judges takes place in the fifth very general era we see in scripture.
First is the beginning: creation, Adam and Eve, Noah, the tower of Babel.
Second is the covenant and the patriarchs: Abram–who becomes Abraham and receives the covenant which says he will become a great nation to bless all people, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph–through whom the whole family was provided for by resettling in Egypt.
The third era is the time in Egypt, after Joseph is forgotten and the Pharaoh saw the numbers of the Israelites and began to oppress and enslave them, including killing their children. Moses, one of the Israelite babies, was spared as he was pulled out of the river by one of Pharaoh’s daughters and was raised in Pharaoh’s household. He stood up for his people and killed one of the slave drivers. Because Pharaoh wanted to kill him and his people didn’t like or trust him, he fled to the far end of the wilderness and married Jethro’s daughter, Zipporah. While watching his father-in-law’s sheep, he interacted with God as He spoke from a burning bush: I have seen and heard the plight of my people and I am sending you to lead them out of slavery. This was followed by the plagues, the first Passover, and the crossing of the Red Sea.
The fourth era is the time in the wilderness, when Moses led the people. This was a time of success and failure, provision and want, victory and defeat. Moses got instructions from God on the mountain top. The people made and worshiped the golden calf and were told that this generation would not enter the promised land. They were given the commandments. After Moses died, God appointed Joshua to succeed Moses as leader of the Israelites, and Joshua led the people into the promised land.
The fifth era, then is this time in the promised land. Joshua divided up the land of Canan among the tribes of Israel, and before his death, Joshua gathered the people and encouraged them to be faithful to God. The period of the judges began after the death of Joshua in the early fourteenth century BC (Joshua 24:29) and continued until Saul was crowned king of Israel by the prophet Samuel in 1051 BC (1 Samuel 10:24).
In this period, there was no king. God was to be their king. But people did whatever they saw fit. They were drifting from God, from relationship with God. Something needed to change.
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (Judges 17:6)
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (Judges 21:25)
The pattern of behavior in the book of Judges is clear: The people rebelled through idolatry and disbelief. God brought judgment through foreign oppression. God raised up a deliverer, or judge, and the people repented and turned back to God. When the people fell back into sin, AGAIN, the cycle started over again.
There are 12 Judges in the book. The contents of Judges were likely not written chronologically. The final few chapters (Judges 17–21) give an overview of the moral climate during those days and, rather than occurring after the period of the judges listed earlier in the book, they probably happened in and around the times of various judges mentioned in earlier chapters.
The point of the ordering is to show the spiral–a spiral away from God. Away from His plan, away from His hopes, away from relationship with Him, away from trusting Him. This book is painful. It is a trainwreck. The point is to feel the chaos.
Relationship with God is broken. Not because of God–He has been so gracious over and over again–but because humanity has / we have issues.
This is not to point to our worthlessness. God, throughout biblical history, is not saying that humanity is worthless. In fact, God throughout biblical history, is declaring our value as He is working to connect with and have relationship with us. While this is actually pointing towards our value, it is also pointing us towards our need for a messiah.
In this series we will look at the stories. We will aim to feel the chaos, but in it, we will ask, how is this pointing to their need for a savior? How does that point direct us? And how do we respond to it all?
Before we jump in, let's start off with two quick questions.
How do you determine if something happened by chance or not? (luck, coincidence, happenstance)
Can healthy relationships happen apart from intentionality? Why or why not?
Judges begins with a window into a dialogue between the angel of the Lord and God’s people:
“I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this?” (Judges 2:1-2)
I brought you out. I will never break My covenant. You were not to make covenants with other gods–but you did. WHY HAVE YOU DONE THIS?
And right here in the beginning of Judges (2:10-23) the cycle is introduced: God was forgotten or dismissed. The people rebelled through idolatry and disbelief. God brought judgment through foreign oppression. God raised up a deliverer,or judge. The people repented and turned back to God.
This cycle feels incredibly repetitious in the book. The repetition has a purpose.
Before we bring the first two Judges to the table, I want to remind you that our goal is not just to get us to remember some Jesus information, some Bible stats, or some God characteristics. The goal is to nudge us to the highest levels of learning: analyzing, evaluating, and creating. Our goal in processing is to be life transformational and formational.
So we go to work. Let's prepare to process by working through a couple of things. Let’s talk about being stuck in a rut–life’s ruts. Remember our first two dialogue questions about whether things happen by chance or not and about whether healthy relationships can happen by accident and without effort.
Why does it seem that good, healthy and/or positive life habits seem to require unusual effort?
Now let's put another step of processing on this. When life’s ruts have gotten unhealthy, when life’s ruts seem to be immovable, when life’s ruts are in control more than they are controlled:
What does it take to get out of a deep life rut?
When you’re stuck in a rut, one possible fork in the road is between the paths of feeling like a failure on one side, or realizing that something needs to change on the other. I think this decision moment is so powerful. Not because any change has happened (yet). Not because it is a quick fix or a catastrophic failure moment. Not because it is the end or because it is unchangeable. But feel the difference between what is happening internally.
What is the power of what is happening internally as a person comes to this fork in the road between “I am a failure” and “Something needs to change”?
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died. (Judges 3:7-11)
Do you feel the cycle?
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and because they did this evil the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel. Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms. The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years.
Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a cubit long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man. After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way those who had carried it. But on reaching the stone images near Gilgal he himself went back to Eglon and said, “Your Majesty, I have a secret message for you.”
The king said to his attendants, “Leave us!” And they all left.
Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.
After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, “He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the palace.” They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead.
While they waited, Ehud got away. He passed by the stone images and escaped to Seirah. When he arrived there, he blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them.
“Follow me,” he ordered, “for the Lord has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.” So they followed him down and took possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab; they allowed no one to cross over. At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not one escaped. That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years. (Judges 3:12-30)
Do you feel the cycle?
Now we are just getting started. The cycle is just getting rolling in Judges.
Why doesn’t one trip around the cycle prevent it from ever happening again?
Today we are not going to finish our processing of the cycle. Today we are not going to finish Judges. This is important to remember. We are not done.
And on that point, we end with a processing question:
How does the cycle point towards humanity’s need for Jesus, for a savior?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Judges 3:12-30.
- If you were going to “fight dirty,” what would your preferred tactic be?
- How was God involved in this story?
- What responsibilities were God’s and what responsibilities were the people's?
- When have you sent God an SOS call for help? What happened?
- How are you challenged, encouraged, amused, and/or confused by this text?
Bible Reading Plan
- 2 Chronicles 2
- 2 Chronicles 3
- 2 Chronicles 4
- 2 Chronicles 5
- 2 Chronicles 6