Pastor Barry Robinson

Letters to the Camberwell Congregation from Pastor Barry Robinson

May 2008 - The Book of Judges

May 2008 - The Book of Judges

Judges Sermons

Dear Church Family,

Everyone loves a good story, and the book of Judges is full of them. There is romance, adventure, political intrigue, domestic tragedy, and even sex and violence.

But these Biblical stories are not designed to simply entertain. They teach important lessons about moral and spiritual living. They enshrine profound theological truths. And, most important of all, they help to prepare the way for the best and most wonderful story of all – the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

With Joshua, the tribes of Israel occupy the land Yahweh had promised to the patriarchs. They subdue some of their enemies in the land, but not all. The struggle with their enemies will lead them to become a nation among the nations with a king among kings. But this will take two hundred years or more.

The interval, when the tribes are learning to live together and to meet the problems of living with Canaanite cities in their midst and hostile nations on their borders, is known as ‘the period of the judges’.

A central problem is immediately clear – the Israelites’ forgetfulness of God’s great acts for them and their forsaking of Yahweh for the gods of the Canaanites:

‘After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance. The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel...After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them...’ (Judges 2:6-12).

Yahweh had brought his people out of Egypt to fulfil his covenant, part of which is expressed by the “angel of the Lord”:

‘…you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars…’ (V.2).

But Israel had disobeyed the Lord; many cities were not conquered and many altars were left standing. Thus, the angel of the Lord continues:

‘…I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’ (V.3).

The disobedience of the Israelites becomes the means by which God brings his people to a deeper understanding of his covenant to Israel. The testing will demonstrate the twofold truth that Yahweh is faithful even though his people are not and that, when they call upon him he will save them from the curses that their disobedience warranted (Deuteronomy 27-29).

The book of Judges takes its name from the eleven or twelve persons in its pages who “judged” Israel. One might easily conclude that the judges were officials appointed to try the people for violating the law given at Sinai. But these persons, except on rare occasions, do not resemble the modern concept of a judge; their main task was not to hear complaints or make legal decisions. The judges with whom we have to do here were leaders or military deliverers.

Chapter three provides a useful pattern for understanding succeeding accounts of the Judges:

  • The people ‘do evil’ by serving other gods (V. 5-7);
  • Yahweh is angry and sends a nation to oppress them (V. 8);
  • The people cry to Yahweh (V. 9);
  • He raises up a deliverer and the oppressor is defeated (V. 9-10);
  • Peace ensues and the people have rest (V. 11).
The Judges Cycle

This pattern is about the same in the stories of the other Judges.

The Judge was a charismatic leader, not selected officially by the people but raised up by Yahweh. God’s Spirit came to empower the Judge to deal with a particular situation. He was not a king and didn’t establish a dynasty or ruling family. The Judge was the person chosen by Yahweh to drive out the oppressor and give rest to the land and the people.

Several of the stories in this book contain elements that may be taken as morally offensive. Take just two examples:

  • Jephthah offering his only daughter as a burnt offering to fulfil a vow (11:30-39);
  • Samson’s exploits – Cavorting with Philistine women; mass murderer of the Philistines, he was selfish and failed to control his passions (13-16).

And yet both Jephthah and Samson are named among the great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11:32-33,

‘And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about…Samson, Jephthah…who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised…’

So, what are we to make of all this?

Well, though the Judges are called “saviour”, obviously in the mind of the author(s) of the book God is The Saviour. Yahweh hears the cry of the people, and on each occasion endows a judge with the Holy Spirit in order to deliver the people from their enemies.

One lesson from the lives of the Judges is that those, who are dedicated to Yahweh can be used by Yahweh. Elements in their lives may not be in keeping with the Lord’s will. Their methods may not stand up as exemplary. But these matters can be resolved by later revelation of Yahweh’s person and will.

Something to censure can be found in almost everyone mentioned in Hebrews 11, or for that matter in the Old Testament – and certainly in Judges. Nonetheless, because of their dedication, Yahweh, The Saviour, could use them to deliver Israel from its oppressors and keep the tribal federation alive until Israel was ready for the next stage in his redemptive purpose.

This book portrays for us the root problem of human beings: We do not want to be ruled.

‘…everyone did as he saw fit’. (17:6; 21:25). We want to follow our own devices; as Frank Sinatra sang, we want to do it our way. We have:

  • Our religious ideas, just as Micah did (Chapter 17), and we want to express them;
  • Our ambitions, just as the Danites did (Chapter 18), and we want to pursue them;
  • Our sexual desires, just as the men of Gibeah did (Chapter 19), and we want to satisfy them;
  • Our ideas of justice, just as the tribal muster at Mizpah did (Chapter 20), and we want to execute them.

What we human beings don’t want to do is bow our knee to the rule of God.

Oh, God is all right if He keeps in His place. But a God who has ideas of His own, plans of His own, desires of His own, justice of His own - a God like that might collide with our ideas, ambitions, desires, and justice.

We don’t want that. We want to do as we see fit.

That is what the Bible as a whole means by ‘sin’. It’s not just a label we attach to certain kinds of prohibited acts. In the Bible, sin is a mindset of moral independence, a refusal to submit to the sovereign rule of God over our lives. All the acts of criminal and anarchistic violence are the result of such sin.

Sin, a moral independence from God, is embedded in us, we cannot escape it; it’s been there since the infancy of our race.

So, what’s the answer?

Repeatedly towards the end of the book the author(s) makes the same comment:

‘In those days Israel had no king…’ (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).

Clearly law and order was at a low ebb in Israel. A king would provide a centralized source of authority and could, at least, counteract anarchic elements in the society.

But as the books of Samuel and Kings show, the kings were no more a solution to Israel’s downward spiral than the judges had been. Idolatry, social injustice, criminal violence, sexual immorality, civil war, are all features of the later history of Israel, and her kings play no small part in their prominence.

So has our author(s) got it wrong when they draw our attention to there being no king in Israel? No! The problem is that ‘Israel had no king’, but the solution is not to be found in a human king.

I suspect that God is providing a subtle clue as to that king’s identity by the geographical associations in the later chapters of this book: Bethlehem (17:7,9; 19:1-2, 18). Interestingly, the very next book of the Bible, Ruth, continues to find Bethlehem a focus of interest (1:1-2,19,22; 2:4; 4:11).

Ruth was destined to become the great-grandmother of David, and Bethlehem would be his birthplace. But even David had his faults. Even he was a man of blood. The King that is needed, like David was born in Bethlehem, but was greater than him. The King we need must be a king who somehow stands outside the wilful, sinful rebellion that the rest of us share.

No human judge, no human king, could deliver us, though in all these stories the book of Judges is preparing us for the thought that such a deliverer is what we need.

As we go through this book together, I hope that we will get a clearer vision of the human predicament and the need for the only One who can be our Saviour, King, and Deliverer – The Lord Jesus Christ.

For He is the One who ultimately fulfils Psalm 72,

‘Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. He will judge your people in righteousness, our afflicted ones with justice...He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor. He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations. He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more. He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth…All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him. For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight…May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed. Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvellous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen’. (V1-2,4-8,11-14,17-19).

With love in Jesus' name,

Barry Robinson

Below is the list of sermons on the book of Judges. Please take time to read through each passage in advance of each sermon.

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