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Judges

November 19, 2009

Introduction
I. Summarizing the State of Israel      Judges 1:1-3:5

A. Israel’s Actions      Judges 1:1-36

B. God’s Judgment      Judges 2:1-5

C. Israel’s Heart      Judges 2:6-3:5

II. Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar      Judges 3:6-31

III. Deborah      Judges 4:1-5:31

IV. Gideon      Judges 6:1-8:35

V. Abimelech [unauthorized]      Judges 9:1-56

VI. Tola, Jair, and Jephthah      Judges 10:1-12:7

VII. Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon      Judges 12:8-12:15

VIII. Sampson      Judges 13:1-16:31

A. Treasure      Judges 13:1-24

B. Trickery      Judges 14:1-20

C. Turmoil      Judges 15:1-20

D. Tragedy      Judges 16:1-22

E. Triumph      Judges 16:23-31

XI. Two Specific Examples of Israel’s Sin      Judges 17:1-21:25

A. Micah, a Levite, and Dan      Judges 17:1-18:31

B. The War Against Benjamin      Judges 19:1-21:25

1. The Spark      Judges 19:1-30

2. The Decision      Judges 20:1-11

3. The Battles      Judges 20:12-48

4. The End Result      Judges 21:1-25

Commentary

Introduction:

The book of Judges covers the time period from Joshua’s death to the birth of Samuel as a prophet and the last judge of Israel. Halley’s Bible Handbook gives one of the best concise and understandable definitions of this time period. Most scholars agree that dating Judges is difficult and that it most likely covers about 300 years, from 1400 to 1100 BC. Dates and time vary depending on who you read but most will fall into that general time period. This general dating and length of time is supported in scripture by two verse; Judges 11:26 and I Kings 6:1. The Reese Chronological Bible uses the dates 1415-1115 BC and has the Book of Ruth taking place around 1270 BC.

The book of Judges is thought to be reasonably chronological but there is some room for overlap in that judges were leaders/elders/generals of specific tribes operating in the mode of Joshua, being raised up for a special purpose for the protection and preservation of God’s people, Israel. Reese places Judges 17-21 early in the narrative because they suggest a time and action which logically takes place soon after conquering and settling the land.

Judges is a sad book [to me]. It gives insight into the heart and mind of Israel after they had conquered the Promised land. Each tribe had the responsibility to continue the removal of pagan tribes and nations from their allotted inheritance but it seems that once settled, they rested. Their motivation to complete their task waned [see Joshua 23 and Deut. 7:22-24]. Their life was better than at any time since they fled Egypt. They were happy and content with the way things were. They began to forget God, what He had done for them, what He had promised them, and what He had expected of them. Apostasy set in. They chose to mingle with other cultures and peoples instead of remaining separate, loyal, and steadfast in their faith as God’s chosen people.

Judges, then, is a warning for the Church and for we who claim to trust Christ as our Savior and Lord. Are we not happy and content? Are we not too often willing to compromise for the sake of peace with our [His] enemies? Are we not hesitant to boldly proclaim who we are [God’s people] and to proclaim the Gospel? Are we not more interested in the denomination [tribe] we belong to than interested in the Lord God who unites us as one people by His grace and mercy? Has not God raised up judges for us too like the Reformers and Evangelists to turn our hearts and minds back to His Purpose and His Will? Therefore, let us read and study Judges so we do not make the same mistakes. Let us remember Joshua’s words and serve the Lord.

Summarizing the State of Israel Judges 1:1-3:5

       Israel’s Actions      Judges 1:1-31

Joshua has died and Israel is without a unifying leader. But they do the right thing in asking God, most likely at Shiloh through Eleazar the High Priest, what should take place and who should do it. God responds that Judah should lead the charge against the remaining Canaanites. Judah asks Simeon, who inherited the land adjacent and south of Judah, to help them and promises to help Simeon in their own battles. As a result, Judah defeated the Canaanites and Perrizites, took their king captive, and also stormed Jerusalem , conquered it, but did not occupy it [see Judges 1:21]. Perhaps Adoni-Bezek, Judah’s prisoner king, was killed during this battle.

Then the army of Judah, along with Simeon, advanced south toward Hebron and defeated three more kings plus Debir, originally defeated by Joshua’s army. What we learn is that Canaanite kings and people were destroyed but these nomads kept coming back and re-establishing these cities if the Israelites were not occupying them. To aid in Israel’s control of the Negev, some of Moses’ descendents [Levites] came from Jericho to live near Arad.

Next Judah helps Simeon as promised and they move westward conquering the cities along the coast where the Philistines lived. Thus, Judah and Simeon were able to control and occupy the Negev but no further because of the superior war equipment of the Philistines when fighting on the plains.

Evidently Benjamin was given the opportunity to occupy and control Jerusalem [located on the border between Judah and Benjamin] after Judah had conquered the city but they failed.

Our attention now focuses on the tribe of Joseph who inherited the majority of the land north of Judah.  Joseph, that is Ephraim and Manesseh, together with Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali were unable to drive out the Canaanites in their land. The best they could do was to control them and use them as slave labor. Dan, who inherited the land west of Ephraim, had even less success. The Amorites actually controlled/confined them until the house of Joseph grew large and strong enough to enslave them too.

This summarizes the battles in the south and in the north. The southern tribes were more successful than the northern tribes.

God’s Judgment      Judges 2:1-5

In conclusion we have the Lord’s angel [the Lord Himself according to the pronoun “I”] judging their success or lack thereof. The “Angel” proclaims:

1. God will never break His Covenant with Israel.

2. But Israel has disobeyed God’s instructions by not breaking down the pagan altars and by making treaties instead of driving the “ites” out of the land.

3. Therefore, God proclaims these people will remain and cause Israel problems [that is get Israel’s attention back toward God].

In one sense Judges 1:1-2 and Judges 2:1-5 appear as bookends on either side of summary accounts of the southern and northern attempts at driving out the “Canaanites” from the Promised Land. Israel comes before the Lord in Chapter 1 to seek His direction. Israel seems to come before the Lord again in Chapter 2 to receive the Lord’s approval for what they had done. But instead of approval, Israel’s receives the Lord’s rebuke and judgment because they failed to obey God’s orders. In another sense, the Lord’s judgment in Chapter 2 is sandwiched between two summaries; that of Israel’s actions and of Israel’s heart giving us the dilemma of which came first, wrong action or wrong heart?

This is a lesson for us too. We hear the Lord’s instructions and we begin serving Him as planned. When difficulties arise we begin to take shortcuts or compromise His objectives by seeking to serve Him according to our way of thinking. Then when we seek the Lord’s approval to hear “well done” we too are surprised when God rebukes us for not following His specific instructions so as to eliminate the problem God wanted eliminated. God says to us as He did to Israel, “OK” live with the problem you think you have eliminated or minimized. This situation does have a remedy and that is to serve Him remaining in constant contact with the general [God] when doing battle for Him. We must be reminded of His objective so we don’t forget the importance of His objective. When difficulties arise, we must stay focused and persevere in order to be victorious. This is true in the military, it is true in our lives, and it is true spiritually. Being faithful, trustworthy, and steadfast are virtues God is expecting us to display. And when we fail, let us not just weep and feel sorry for ourselves but let us weep tears of repentance, seek His forgiveness, and look expectantly for another opportunity to faithfully serve Him. Consider the battles each of us are fighting today or that the Church [body of believers] is fighting today. Are we winning, are there difficulties, have we compromised God’s objective, have we given up? Let us seek the Lord and be reminded that He is Lord, that His purpose is the same today as it was yesterday, that His objective is to conquer and destroy evil, and that we are soldiers serving Him faithfully and endowed with His power to persevere according to His Will.

     Israel’s Heart      Judges 2:6-3:5

After Joshua sent the 2 1/2 tribes back home to their land east of the Jordan River and after the remaining 9 1/2 tribes settled in their allotted lands of inheritance, the Israelites remained faithful to the Lord through the life of Joshua and the life of those elders who had seen and experienced first-hand the leading of the Lord. This represents a period of time of 40-80 years. Israel’s spiritual decline into apostasy began with the second generation; those who had not experienced the Lord’s works first-hand. Chapter 2 verse 10 seems to imply that the stories and the Word of the Lord had not been passed on to the next generation as commanded by the Lord through Moses in Deuteronomy 6. Instead, this new generation of Israelites began adopting the gods of the tribes /nations living in their midst. This angered God and He sent Israel’s enemies to attack His people and to make them live in stress instead of peace.

God wanted to turn Israel’s focus back to Him and His Will. This is why God raised up judges to save His people from their enemies and to instruct His people in His ways. But they refused to listen. They obeyed God as long as the judge lived but returned to their wicked ways as soon as the judge died. Therefore, God was angry with them and allowed the “ites” to live in the land to test Israel’s faith to see if they would seek Him and obey Him. These peoples were specifically called the Canaanites, Sidonians, Hittites, Amorites, Perrizites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These are the peoples with which the Israelites began to intermarry contrary to the Lord’s instructions [Deut. 7:1-6]. Thus, we have the Lord’s judgment and rebuke against Israel in Judges 2:1-5.

Israel conquered and occupied the Promised Land with good intentions. Complacency set in and they began ignoring God, who was responsible for bringing them into the land. Not only were they unable to remove all the “ites” from the land but they didn’t even acknowledge the need to remove them from the land. Instead of remaining a pure nation glorifying God, they became a contaminated nation falling into idolatry. We, as born again believers, must take heed. We, as individuals and members of His Church, are to be sanctified, pure, and separated for the purpose of glorifying God. We must guard our hearts and minds and remain focused on Christ and His Word and Work so as not to contaminate our service on His behalf by ignoring His commands and sinning, becoming no different than those who do not worship the Lord God Almighty. Jesus Christ wants disciples who are useful, not useless. He wants disciples who follow Him, not who follow other gods. He wants us to be holy as He is holy.

Israel’s failure to obey God and drive out the “ites” resulted in complacency which led to their apostasy. As Christians, His chosen people, we must do His Will and put away our sinful desires [see Rom. 6:8-14, Eph. 4:20-24]. Failure to take God seriously means we will be no different than Israel and God will be angry with us too. God’s blessings are reserved for and given to the Faithful.

God is raising up “judges” today too just as He did after Joshua’s death. They are called Pastors and Evangelists and have the same purpose, to encourage us to repent of our sin, commit to following the Lord, and to encourage us and lead us in doing His Will. But discernment is required in that not all the “judges” of Israel were upright and neither are all pastors and /or evangelists. Nevertheless, they are necessary and important in furthering the work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar      Judges 3:6-31

Israel was evil in God’s eyes because they forgot Him and worshipped idols. As punishment, the Lord allowed the king of Aram to rule over them for 8 years. This king of Aram ruled in the land east of Galilee, land which was given Manasseh to occupy and control.. Israel comes to their senses and asks the Lord’s help. God chooses Othniel who had successful campaigns in Judah, a man of God and the son-in-law of Caleb. Othniel rallied Israel and went to war against the king of Aram, drove him back, and Israel lived in peace for 40 years until Othniel dies. Thus, the cyclic pattern of Israel’s life during the period of Judges as summarized in Judges 2:10-19 is verified with Israel’s first judge.

Israel returns to their wicked ways and the Moabites are given power over Israel together with the Ammonites and Amalekites. They crossed over to the west side of the Jordan River and took Jericho. Israel cries out to the Lord again and God raises up Ehud who brings Israel’s tribute to Eglon personally. Ehud and his men begin to return home, get as far as Gilgal when Ehud decides to return back to Jericho to see the king. Ehud meets privately with the king of Eglon and kills him. Ehud escapes and mobilizes the tribe of Ephraim to attack the armies of Moab, killing 10,000 Moabites, driving them back across the Jordan River, and making them subject to Israel. Now Israel will live in peace for 80 years.

Shamgar is the next judge who fought the Philistines on the west. I presume he was from the tribe of Judah or Simeon because their land bordered that of the Philistines.

Deborah      Judges 4:1-5:31

After Ehud died, Israel returns to their wicked ways, ignoring God’s commands and turning to idolatry. God raises up Jabin, a Canaanite king in Hazor, to enslave Israel. Hazor is located about 9 miles NW of the Sea of Galilee. Jabin had 900 chariots commanded by Sisera located in the Plain of Jezreel near Megiddo and Mt. Carmel to oppress the Israelites.

Israel cried out to the Lord who raised up a prophetess, Deborah, in Ephraim who also settled disputes. She was highly respected and Israel accepted her authority and wisdom. She sends for Barak from the tribe of Naphtali and asks him to obey the Lord and pick 10,000 men from Naphtali and Zebulun, go to Mt Tabor, and wait for her to lure Sisera’s army into their hands. Barak refuses to go unless Deborah goes with him personally. She agrees but prophecies that Barak will not receive any recognition. Instead, a woman will be honored for this upcoming victory. Generally speaking, it seems this generation of Israelite men refused to accept their God-given responsibilities, were cowards, and the women had to take up the slack. But Barak does assemble an army of 10,000 men from Naphtali and Zebulun and goes to Mt. Tabor accompanied by Deborah.

A Kenite, a descendent of Moses’ brother-in-law, lives nearby and warns Sisera that Israel’s army is camped on Mt. Tabor. Sisera is crossing the valley with his chariots when Deborah gives the command to leave Mt/ Tabor and attack Sisera. Scripture records that the Lord routed Sisera’s army, that they abandoned their chariots, and fled on foot. Israel’s attack caught Sisera by surprise, caused confusion among his troops [rain and flooding per Judges 5:20-22], and his whole army was killed. Sisera gets away and seeks shelter in the tent of Heber the Kenite. Jael, Heber’s wife, feeds him, hides him, and kills him while he sleeps. Jael meets Barak and leads him to her tent and Sisera.

As a result of this great victory, Israel was eventually able to break Jabin’s power over them and destroy him and his kingdom. Thus, Jael is remembered for sealing Israel’s victory instead of Barak. Take time to look at a good map of this area during the time of the Judges. Note the key boundaries and locations of towns, mountains, and rivers. This will make the story come alive.

Deborah and Barak sere a good team and the song they sang in Judges 5 tells the story of Israel’s victory. The song makes the following points:

1. Israel’s leaders/elders must willingly serve the Lord God [vs. 2].

2. The nations should take notice when Israel praises the Lord [vs. 3].

3. Remember the Lord’s leading during Israel’s exodus from Egypt [vs. 4-5].

4. Israel was oppressed and hid with fear during the days of Shamgar, the judge, and Jael, Heber’s wife [vs. 6].

5. Deborah became Israel’s leader because of their idolatry and their unwillingness to bear arms against their enemies [vs. 7-8].

6. Deborah sought willing volunteers like Barak to turn Israel around [vs. 9].

7. A righteous remnant existed who sang and reminded the people about God’s mighty acts [vs. 10]. These people encouraged Deborah and Barak [vs. 12].

8. Israel’s army consisted of people from Ephraim and Zebulun. Some Benjaminites volunteered as did men from Issachar. But Reuben stayed home as did the other tribes east of the Jordan. Dan and Asher were no-shows.

9. The battle took place on the Plain of Jezreel near Megiddo [vs. 19].

10. Meroz is cursed because they refused to help [vs. 23].

11. Jael is honored as the heroin [vs. 24].

12. Sisera’s mother was anxious over the delayed return of her son [vs. 28]. She was also anxious to receive spoils from the battle [vs. 30].

As a result, Israel had peace for 40 years.

God expects men to lead their families and their people spiritually and according to God’s Will. When we don’t, God raises up women to lead and motivate us to accept and carry out our responsibilities. When God calls you to act, get as much support as possible. Unfortunately, not all will see the need or be willing to support God’s objective [ministry]. When the work is done, do not forget to honor those who had a significant part in the project.

Gideon      Judges 6:1-8:31

The Israelites go back to their wicked and idolatrous ways so the Lord makes them subject to the Midianites for 7 years. Israel was so oppressed, they took to the mountains to hide. Their crops were taken and/or destroyed and their livestock slaughtered. The Midianites and other people east of the Jordan took over Israel’s land and occupied it. Finally Israel called on the Lord for help.

The Lord hears their cry and raises up a prophet who explains why they are being oppressed. Israel broke God’s covenant and worshipped idols. Next, God send an angel to anoint Gideon and tell him that the Lord is with him and that he will become a mighty warrior. Gideon resists and states correctly that the Lord has abandoned Israel. The angel says that Gideon should use his strength but Gideon states he is from the weakest clan in Manasseh. Gideon doesn’t see himself as having value or any special strength or talent. He is identifying himself with Israel. So the angel restates that God is with him and that He and Gideon will destroy the Midianites. Then Gideon asks for a sign, much like Moses requested, and for the angel to stay while he goes to prepare an offering/sacrifice to the Lord. He brings his offering to the angel and it is consumed by fire and the angel disappears. Gideon recognizes that the angel was not only from God but could have been God. So God assures him that he will not die [Ex. 33:20] just like Jacob was assured [Gen. 32:30].

Gideon, at the Lord’s direction, builds an altar to the Lord using the materials from his father’s pagan altar. It evidently was a significantly large altar because Gideon takes 10 servants and does this at night so that his father or the town people could not stop the destruction of their idolatrous altar. Actually, Gideon’s father comes to his son’s defense when the town’s people wanted to kill Gideon. He says that if Baal is so powerful, let Baal contend with Gideon. I sense Joash, Gideon’s father, was a man of means and allowed Baal’s altar to be erected on his land but he probably didn’t worship there nor did he care that others wanted to worship an idol. If so, he was willing to compromise his own beliefs to please and accommodate other’s false beliefs. How often do we do the same thing? God wants us to stand firm for TRUTH, to be fully committed toward serving. obeying, and worshipping Him. We are either for God or against God. Let us not make the same mistakes as Joash.

Now the armies of the Midianites and the peoples east of the Jordan River gather in the Valley of Jezreel, the same valley where Balak defeated Sisera and the king of Hazor from Aram. Gideon summons an army from Manasseh, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali to meet them. Gideon goes this far but then seems to have “cold feet” and needs more assurance from God. So he asks God to give him a sign. actually two signs. God graciously assures Gideon that He is with him in this battle about to take place.

Trust God to lead you. Express faith in His mighty power. It is OK to ask God to verify His Will. Just do not question it. Stay in communication with God through prayer and He will not lead you astray.

The Israelites under Gideon and the Midianites are ready for battle on the Plains of Jezreel. Gideon is located near the spring of Harod and the Midianites were at the north end near the hill of Moreh. But God intervenes and tells Gideon he has too many soldiers. Those who fear the battle are allowed to leave so 22000 of the 32000 men leave. There are still too many men so Gideon brings them to the water where God chooses who will fight. God has Gideon choose those who lapped water with their hands, a total of 300 men. All the remaining 9700 men were sent home.

Gideon is told to attack and the Lord promises He will give them a great victory. If Gideon wants further verification, he and his servant are to go near the Midianite camp at night and listen to what the Midianites are saying. What they hear is confirmation through a dream of the pending victory of Gideon’s troops. Gideon worships the Lord, gets his men, separates them into three divisions of 100 men each, gives them trumpets. brings them to the edge of the Midianite camp all around, and requests they follow his lead in blowing their trumpets, breaking clay jars, and shouting “For the Lord and Gideon”. The Midianite army was confused and disoriented, attacked one another, and fled. Those men whom Gideon had sent home were called out to intercept the fleeing Midianites at the Jordan River where they killed two of the Midianite leaders. Thus, God gave Israel the victory He had promised them.

Now Gideon’s forces, those he sent home, complain for not being able to participate in this great victory. But Gideon reminds them that they were involved in capturing and killing the Midianite leaders. Thus, we are reminded not to be envious or jealous of other participants in God’s work but to remember we all have a part to play and that the Lord God gives victory, not man. God just chooses to use us so we can see firsthand His power and sovereignty.

Gideon pursues the Midianites across the Jordan River with his exhausted 300 men in order to capture their kings. His troops need food and they are refused. Gideon promises to punish them after capturing their kings. God is with Gideon and he succeeds in routing the Midianite army of 15000 men and capturing Midian’s two kings. Gideon makes good on his promises and kills Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings.

As a result, the Israelites wanted Gideon to rule over them. Gideon refuses, exhorting them to let God rule over them instead [Judges 8:23]. Gideon only requests a gold earring from each man’s plunder from which he made an ephod, displaying it in his town, Ophrah. Unfortunately, it became an idol to the people.

Our lesson here is to be careful what we ask for. A well intentioned gift can become a snare negating the real message that the Lord is God and that He is our true ruler and King. Let us bring all our decisions before the Lord, seeking His Wisdom, such that we do not cause harm to anyone.

Israel enjoyed another 40 years of peace after Gideon’s victory over Midian. Gideon was blessed with many sons [70] and many wives. He even had a concubine in Shiloh who bore him a son, Abimelech. Gideon lived a long life but as soon as he died, Israel returned to idolatry once again and even refused Gideon’s family kindness for all he had done. for them. This is a reminder for all of us. Practice kindness and remember those who served us well, including their families.

Abimelech [unauthorized]      Judges 9:1-57

Abimelech is Gideon’s son and his mother was Gideon’s concubine living in Shechem. Shechem was considered the capital of Israel after they conquered and occupied the Promised Land. However, Shiloh was where the Lord’s tabernacle was located. Abimelech speaks to the leaders after Gideon’s death and asks if they would want 70 rulers over them [Gideon’s legitimate sons] or just one ruler, Abimelech [Gideon’s illegitimate son]. He reminds them that he is an Israelite too although with his name, a common name among the Philistines, his mother was probably of the Canaanites or possible a Philistine. Abimelech receives the support of all his relatives, giving him money to hire supporters who were outlaws. Abimelech goes to his father’s house and kills all his brothers except for Jotham who was hiding. Unfortunately, the men of Shechem agreed to make Abimelech their king.

Jotham, the one remaining son of Gideon, hears the news concerning Abimelech, goes to Shechem, and challenges the leaders by telling them a parable in which the olive tree represents Gideon, the trees represent Israel’s leaders, the fig tree probably represents Gideon’s eldest son, the vine probably represents the remaining sons of Gideon or Jotham, and the bramble represents Abimelech. Before fleeing, Jotham proclaims joy if they have chosen with truth and integrity and destruction if they have not chosen in truth and with integrity.

Abimelech ruled three years and then the Lord caused animosity to come between Abimelech and Shechem’s leaders so that the blood of Gideon’s 70 sons might be avenged. These elders waited for an opportunity to ambush Abimelech but formed an alliance with Gaal and put their trust in him. Note that the Lord God of Israel is not sought but the gods of the Canaanites are [Judges 9:27] with a drunken festival. After hearing all about Abimelech, Gaal asks why anybody would serve Abimelech. Gaal certainly will not serve him. In fact he calls out to Abimelech to come out and fight.

Zebul, the ruler of Shechem, advises Abimelech to leave the city at night and patiently wait in a nearby field with his troops. When Gaal enters the city gate, Abimelech’s troops rise up and charge Shechem. Gaal has no choice but to fight Abimelech. Gaal flees and Zebul drives out Gaal’s relatives from Shechem. Abimelech realizes he has been coerced into leaving the city so he turns his troops against Shechem and begins to slaughter the people. The leaders of Shechem take refuge in their tower so Abimelech gathers wood, brings it into the tower, sets fire to it, and kills about 1000 men and women. Abimelech proceeds to Thebez and captures it. The leaders of Thebez also hole up in a tower and Abimelech proceeds to destroy them in the same manner as he did at Shechem. But here a woman drops a small millstone on Abimelech, crushing his head. Abimelech asks his armor bearer to kill him. Now that Abimelech is dead and Shechem’s leaders have died, God has fulfilled the prophecy of Jotham and avenged the death of Gideon’s sons. However, Israel still wallowed in wicked behavior.

Thus, we see that God is patient with sinners but His patience does have limits. God is sovereign over the will of man and He does not tolerate sinful behavior, especially for those who take advantage of others and attempt to pre-empt His divine plan. Take God seriously. Put your trust in Him, not man. Beware of any and all leaders who push their agenda and who make every effort to garner and consolidate power. It is wrong to take power. It is not wrong to be given power. The proud take but the humble are given. Our God tears down the proud and exalts the humble. Live with the heart of God, expressing true humility regardless of your position in life.

Tola, Jair, and Jephthah      Judges 10:1-12:7

Tola, from the tribe of Issachar, arises after Abimelech to lead Israel for 23 years. He lived and died in Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim. Jair followed Tola, leading Israel for 22 years from Gilead on the east side of the Jordan River. He had 30 sons and controlled 30 towns in Gilead. These two judges must represent 45 years of peace and quiet in Israel because nothing good or bad is said of them.

Israel returns to their evil ways of idolatry worshiping every god of the pagans living among them. God raises up the Philistines on the west and the Ammonites in the east to enslave and control Israel for 18 years before Israel cried out to the Lord for forgiveness and help. God is so angry with Israel that He tells them to seek their idols for help instead of Him. Israel repents, removes their idols, and begins to serve the Lord once again. God cannot bear to see Israel’s misery so He raises up Jephthah of Gilead, a mighty warrior who lived in Tob because of his questionable heritage, to rule over Israel in Gilead and to fight the Ammonites. As soon as Jephthah is made ruler over Gilead, he goes to Mizpah to worship the Lord.

Jephthah asks the king of the Ammonites what he has against Israel. The king responds by recalling the battles Moses raged against them and the land they lost prior to Israel crossing the Jordan River. Jephthah responds by saying Israel wanted to pass through their land but Sihon, the Ammonite king, refused and initiated the fight with Israel. After all, Moab was left unharmed and Israel has been living in peace with them for the last 300 years. Israel will let God be the judge of who has right to this land. Thus, God’s spirit rested on Jephthah and he went to war against the Ammonites.

Jephthah made a vow to give the Lord whatever comes from his home to greet him after Israel’s victory. There are many vows he could have made to express his loyalty to God but this one was extremely foolish in that his only child, a daughter, was first to greet him when he returned home victorious. Jephthah refuses to break the vow and refuses to consult with the Lord. He is proud of his victory and proud of his integrity. He does grant his daughter two months of mercy but this is a far cry from the mercy God gives us and was most likely prepared to grant Jephthah if he had humbly come before the Lord.

Jephthah is then challenged by Ephraim for not asking them to help. Jephthah says he did ask but they refused and wonders if they are making war with him. They do engage in battle against each other and the Gileadites rout Ephraim and control the fjords of the Jordan River, a key passage from the east and west. The result is 42000 men of Ephraim losing their lives.

The key lesson for us here is not to be so proud of our “outstanding” character that we forget to ask God for mercy. In the same vein, we must never claim we have a strong faith when we really have a weak faith. The glories of victory belong to those who are truly faithful. Pretenders have no rights and no righteousness. The righteous are those who believe in God, are faithful to Him, and who seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Sampson      Judges 13:1-16:31

Sampson’s story is long and detailed so I have decided to break it up into parts. His life was up and down, probably more down than up but he ended well and is mentioned in Hebrews 11along with Gideon, Barak, and Jephthah. He was likely a contemporary of Jephthah raised up by God to battle the Philistines [see Judges 10:7].

          Treasure      Judges 13:1-24

Israel did evil so the Philistines controlled Israel for 40 years. A childless couple from the tribe of Dan, a tribe not known for their obedience and faith in God, is visited by an angel of the Lord and told they would have a son who will be a Nazirite and will deliver Israel from the Philistines. The father prays for help in raising their son and the angel returns to repeat God’s instructions to both the mother and father so they can be assured they will raise the boy according to God’s will. Manoah, the father, sets about to prepare a meal but the angel refuses to eat with them and proposes they prepare an offering to the Lord instead. The angel leaves, the offering is presented to the Lord, and fire immediately consumes it. The couple believe they have seen the Lord and will die, just like Gideon, but they are assured by the wise words of Manoah’s wife. God accepted their offering. Sampson was born and God stirred in his heart.

I entitled this section Treasure because the parents were treasured by God, the parents treasured the angel of God, their son was treasured by God, and God showed He still treasured Israel. The major thing we can learn from this chapter is to pray for our children. Praying for a child of any age is one of the most important duties we have as parents. Our prayers should be that of thanksgiving and for guidance. We are to pray for their salvation and maturing in the faith. Never stop praying for your children and never stop being a Godly example to them.

          Trickery      Judges 14:1-20

Sampson wants to marry a Philistine girl to the dissatisfaction of his parents but it seems to be OK with God and according to His will. Sampson and his parents go to meet this girl and a lion attacks Sampson on the way. Sampson killed the lion so quickly that his parents didn’t even know it had happened. Sampson returns again to marry this girl and takes honey from the carcass and gives some to his parents later. A feast is prepared by Sampson in celebration of his marriage. This marriage feast lasted 7 days. Sampson is presented with 30 attendants to which he gives a riddle to solve during the feast and a prize if they can solve it. These attendants cannot solve the riddle on their own so they put pressure on Sampson’s “wife” to give them the answer. Sampson eventually tells her and she in turn tells the attendants. Sampson has to pay off his bet so the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him and he goes to Ashkelon, kills 30 men, steals their clothes, and gives them to his attendants. Sampson is so angry that he returns to his home and his “wife” is given in marriage to one of the attendants. It appears Sampson marries but never consummates his vows. Sampson, obviously doesn’t take his vows [both Nazirite and marriage] seriously.

Perhaps “Trickery” is not the best choice for a sub-title but it begins with T and describes the character of young Sampson. He seems to be one willing to withhold facts and then engage in games involving those facts. Trickery could be used to describe the reason for Sampson choosing his wife, for killing the lion without telling anyone, playing a riddle game at the wedding feast, and the giving of his wife to another. He also seems to have a short fuse or at least God did. All this was done to get the Philistines attention that Sampson had extraordinary power and was willing to use it against the Philistines.

One lesson we learn from the chapter is that God’s Will is not just accomplished with mature servants but can be accomplished with immature servants. How old we are, how experienced we are, and how much knowledge we have doesn’t concern God. We are to concern ourselves with being a servant because God uses servants to accomplish His Will.

          Turmoil      Judges 15:1-20

Sampson returns to his wife after a period of time but is prevented from seeing her by her father because he has given her to another man. Instead, he offers Sampson his wife’s younger sister in marriage. Sampson decides on a course of revenge, takes 300 foxes, ties their tails together, fastens torches to them, and sends them among the grain fields to burn them. Because their crops have been destroyed, the Philistines seek revenge against Sampson’s father- in-law and wife by burning them. The downward spiral continues with Sampson taking revenge against the Philistines by killing many of them and then hiding in a cave in Judah. The Philistines garner 3000 men and strike out for Judah to capture Sampson. Judah intervenes, take Sampson captive by promising they would not kill him, and turn him over to the Philistines. Sampson’s great God-given strength breaks the bonds and he is able to kill 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. Samson is exhausted and thirsty, cries out to the Lord for water, and receives it. This section closes on a high note, that Sampson ruled Israel for 20 years. Perhaps hiding alone in that cave cleared his mind and allowed the Lord to touch his heart and clarify His vision for Sampson.

Turmoil is an appropriate title for this section. Sampson no longer has a wife, crops were destroyed, his wife and father-in-law were burned, many Philistines were slaughtered, and even his fellow countrymen from Judah turned against him. An attitude of vengeance brings turmoil. Everybody loses when playing the game of revenge. It begins a downward spiral which is difficult to stop. Death or an outright refusal to participate are the only two things that can terminate revenge. Again we see God using Sampson’s weakness for the benefit of His people. Think about it.

          Tragedy      Judges 16:1-22

Sampson visits Gaza, meets a prostitute, and lies with her. The town’s people realize that Sampson is there so they lie in wait at the city gate during the night. It appears they went home after locking the city gates thinking they could catch and kill Sampson at dawn. But Sampson left in the middle of the night by tearing out the city gates. He carries them some distance and sets them on a hill facing Hebron.

Next Sampson falls in love with another Philistine woman named Delilah. The Philistines bribe her into seducing Sampson and learning his secret of strength. Sampson makes a fool of her three times but finally tells her the truth. His hair is cut off while laying with Delilah whereupon the Philistines seize him, blind him, and imprison him back at Gaza.

Our lesson from this passage is to realize that sinful actions interrupt God’s plan. Keep your eyes on the Lord’s Will and avoid friendly relations with immoral people. Watch out so spiritual blindness doesn’t overtake you before physical blindness.

          Triumph      Judges 16:23-31

The Philistines are so proud and joyous of their victory over Sampson that they plan a large feast to their god, Dagon. They even want Sampson to come and entertain them, probably with his show of strength and riddles. Sampson realizes that his strength has returned because his hair has grown. He asks to stand near the building’s main pillars and prays to God Almighty for strength. God grants him strength to collapse the temple, killing himself and more Philistines than he had killed during his lifetime.

     Living a triumphant life means fulfilling God’s plan for your life by using your giftedness for His glory. It rarely if ever results in accolades during one’s life. Accolades usually lead to pride and a distorted image of self-worth. Humbly using one’s giftedness leads to contentment. Be a faithful servant forever. We all have a divinely appointed purpose. Our purpose is the same, to glorify God, but our methods will vary according to our gifts. Realize that God is compassionate toward His people and triumphs over their [our] enemies. Just trust Him.

Two Specific Examples of Israel’s Sin      Judges 17:1-21:25

     Micah, a Levite, and Dan      Judges 17:1-18:31

Micah, of Ephraim, is not God’s choice as a judge of Israel nor does he claim to be a judge. It appears he stole money from his mother, returned it to remove its’ curse and receive her blessing, and she, in turn, gave approximately 20 % of the silver to a silversmith for making two idols to be given to Micah. Micah and his family were into idol worship, forgetting about the Lord God. They pretended to be religious but, in reality, were not. Their religion was their livelihood. Micah had a shrine, an ephod, and other idols in his home. His son was the priest.

A Levite from Bethlehem shows up one day looking for a place to stay. In fact, he was well known [Judges 18:3] and probably was run out of Bethlehem for practicing idolatry. Micah offers the Levite a job as his priest, giving him room. board, and a salary believing he will be seen by others as “legitimate” and, therefore, his business will grow.

Five men from Dan are exploring for land outside their inheritance, come to Micah’s house, and recognize the Levite from Bethlehem by his voice. Dan never did take control and occupy their allotted inheritance and were seeking other land. They lacked the faith and fortitude necessary to drive out the Canaanites and subdue the Sidonians. These five men from Dan ask Micah’s priest if they will be successful in finding land in which to settle so the five men proceed as far as Laish where they believe they can settle. So they return home, convince their leaders to assemble an army, and go to Laish and capture that city and its’ surrounding area. Their army stops again at Micah’s house in Ephraim and steal his idols and ephod. Since Dan has the idols, the Levite priest decides to go with them and serve as their priest.

Micah and the men who lived nearby chase after Dan to get their idols back. They return home after seeing they are outnumbered by the army from Dan. Dan continues on to Laish, capture the town, burn it, and settle the area. They change the name from Laish to Dan, set up their idols and Micah’s idols, and authorize Jonathan, a grandson of Moses, and his sons as priests. Perhaps Micah’s priest from Bethlehem was Jonathan. Note that Dan was located near the city of Caesarea Philippi and known for worshipping the idol Pan. This is the area that Jesus took his disciples near the end of His ministry and asked them “Who do you say that I am?”. [See Matt. 16:13-20]

Because of Jonathan’s identity and because Dan is looking for a place to settle, it would seem plausible that this account of Micah and Dan occurred shortly after Joshua’s death. This is not an account of a judge but an account of the degradation of Israel’s obedience to God’s commands not to worship idols. Dan’s idolatry cost them a place among the 144,000 Israelites in Revelation 7. The sin most active in the downfall of man is idolatry, the worship of a man-made image through the means of a man-made religion. Christianity is the worship of the Almighty Creator God as established by God. Christianity is not a religion; it is not a way of life; but it is THE WAY of LIFE. Each of us must take inventory of our own lives and verify we are worshipping God according to His Word. Anything else is idolatry and leads to destruction.

     The War Against Benjamin      Judges 19:1-21:25

This is another account involving the tribes of Israel which tells how quickly and how far Israel, and in particular Benjamin, had fallen from God’s Will as laid out in His Law and Covenant Promises. This war was of historical significance, again taking place shortly after Joshua’s death and during the time when Phineas, Aaron’s grandson was still the acting High Priest [Judges 20:28].

          The Spark      Judges 19:1-30

We have another Levite who lived in the hill country of Ephraim who had a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. She was unfaithful and returned home to her father. After four months had passed, her husband returned to Bethlehem to persuade her to return. His father-in-law is overjoyed and persuades him [coerces] to stay two more days than he had originally planned. Perhaps his father-in-law hoped the Levite would move back to Bethlehem. But the Levite leaves in the evening and does not stop for the night in Jerusalem because the Jebusites controlled the city. Instead he travels to Gibeah in Benjamin later identified as Gibeah of Saul. They wait in the city square for someone to offer them room and board [hospitality] as was the custom for travelers. None offered until a man of Ephraim who had relocated to Gibeah came in from the fields and offered to take the Levite, his servant, and his concubine home and feed their donkeys. During the evening some of the men of Gibeah come and demand sex with the visitor [just like the men of Sodom did with Lot’s visitors]. The man offers his daughter and the Levite’s concubine to these wicked men. After some negotiating, they take the concubine and rape her. She makes it back to the house but dies on the doorstep by morning. The Levite takes her back to his home in Ephraim, dismembers her, and sends each of the tribes a part of her to bring this disgraceful behavior to the attention of all Israel.

         The Decision      Judges 20:1-11

All Israel [except Benjamin] assembles in Mizpah to decide what to do about this atrocity. Israel’ leaders and 400,000 men with swords, gather to hear the Levite’s testimony. The Levite’s story convicts Israel’s leaders to make war with Gibeah. They commit 10% of their population to take up arms against Gibeah [overkill] because they are all united in mind and spirit against the wickedness of Gibeah.

          The Battles      Judges 20:12-48

The eleven tribes contact Benjamin asking them to identify and surrender the evil men of Gibeah so justice may prevail. Benjamin thumbs their nose at the rest of Israel and mobilizes 26000 men plus 700 from Gibeah to defend Gibeah. Israel’s army totaled 400,000 men. Israel inquires of the Lord and learns Judah’s army are the ones chosen to fight first. Perhaps this means they were to lead Israel’s army, lead the charge against Benjamin at Gibeah.

The first battle results in 22000 men of Israel slain by Benjamin. Israel mourns, consults the Lord again, regroups, goes into battle, and loses another 18000 men. This time they mourn, fast and worship the Lord, consult Him again, and learn they will be victorious the next day. Israel’s strategy changes from one of confrontation to one of feigning retreat so that another division of Israel’s army [10000 men] could attack, enter, and capture the city. Then both divisions would squeeze the army of Benjamin from two sides. This strategy works and Benjamin loses 25,100 men. Only 600 Benjaminites were able to flee to the desert. Before leaving Benjamin, Israel went to all the towns in Benjamin killing the people, their animals, and burning the towns.

          The End Result      Judges 21:1-25

Israel gathers at Mizpah after their victory over Benjamin and make an oath that none of their daughters will marry a Benjamite. Israel then goes to Bethel to mourn and worship the Lord. Israel is just beginning to recognize the great devastation they have inflicted on Benjamin. They review those who assembled before the Lord to verify that all of Israel had taken the oath concerning their daughters. They learn Jabesh Gilead, east of Jordan, of Manasseh is not represented. They evidently did not participate in the war either. It is felt they sympathized with Benjamin and Gibeah so 12000 men are sent to make war against Gilead and kill all men and women who are not virgins. Benjamin has been nearly destroyed and there are not enough young women available to be wives for the remaining Benjamite men because of Israel’s oath concerning their daughters. Attacking Gilead and capturing their 400 young virgin women for the Benjamite men solves two problems; the disunity of Gilead and the lack of women for Benjamin. There still are not enough women for Benjamin so they devise a scheme whereby the Bejamites could choose/catch a wife with which to rebuild the tribe of Benjamin.

     The good that happened is that Israel took decisive action to remove evil from its’ midst. The bad is that Benjamin let evil reign and did nothing to prevent it from permeating throughout their tribe. Is there evil or something contrary to God’s Word and Law in your life? Are you allowing it to grow and become a larger part of your character?  If so, repent and let God , through His Divine Power, remove it. Come before His throne asking His forgiveness and thank Him through prayer, fasting, and praise [worship]. Then God will restore you to full and complete fellowship just as Israel was able to provide wives from Manasseh to Benjamin so they could continue living. Remember, the longer one puts off repentance and seeking forgiveness, the more severe your “corrective surgery” will be and recovery will be prolonged. Let us not delay in acknowledging our sins, repenting, and seeking His forgiveness.

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