Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 17. Redeeming Israel – the Judges
Jud 2:15,16 They were in great distress. Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders
Redemption and Israel: The thrust of these studies, I hope you will have seen, is that redemption is not only about the initial event but also the Lord’s ongoing activity to ensure we run the full course. Nowhere is that clearer in the Bible than in the story of Israel. It is not a mere account of a special nation, it is a story of redemption – ongoing redemption, redemption at the hands of a God who is determined to help His faithful people survive, and therein was the problem – so often, so many of them were not faithful and in that they simply reflect the human race as a whole.
The Ongoing Story: Yesterday we finished in Judges 2. Let’s examine verses 10-14: and there we see time moving on:
- “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, (v.10a) i.e. times moves on
- another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” (v.10b) i.e. a sign of poor teaching, not passing on the faith
- Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.” (v.11) General statement
- They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.” (v.12a) Detail of their folly
- They aroused the Lord’s anger,” (v.12b) – the effect, “because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.” (v.13) contrary to all Moses’ teaching.
- In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.” (v.14) God’s form of disciplinary judgment to bring them to their senses by lifting off His hand of protection so they were attacked by pagan neighbours.
The Cycle: Then comes what we see happening again and again in Judges: “They were in great distress. Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders” (v.15,16) Whenever the people came to their senses, the Lord sent deliverers. The summary verses that follow spell it out so clearly:
- “Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands.” (v.17)
- “Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them.(18)
- But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.” (v.19)
Overview of Judges: The book of Judges is essentially a record of how this happened again and again and each of the named judges was someone raised up by the Lord to deliver Israel when they cried out under the present disciplining following their yet again turning away from the Lord:
- Othniel (3:7-11)
- Ehud (3:12-30)
- Shamgar (v.31 – no mention of the cycle).
- Deborah & Barak (4:1-24 – a longer story + a song of triumph to follow)
- Gideon (6:1 – 8:35 – note the stories get longer)
- (a period of internal strife – Ch.9)
- Jephthah (10:6 – 12:7)
- Ibzan, Elon and Abdon (12:8-15 three judges in uneventful time)
- Samson (13:1-16:31)
- Unsettled times (ch.17-21)
Key Points: Again and again throughout these accounts we see the cycle rolls out starting with, “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” For the expression ‘did evil’ see 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1 i.e. seven times this condemnation comes. Again and again, to bring discipline on Israel, the Lord lifted off His hand of protection and allowed the neighbours to attack Israel: Moab, Ammonites and Amalekites (3:12,13), Canaan (4:2), Midian (6:1), Philistines and the Ammonites (10:7), Philistines (13:1). The deliverers the Lord used we have listed above. What should also be noted of these deliverers is that they were not always the godliest of people, indeed far from it sometimes. The truth is that the Lord used whoever (presumably) He saw would respond and become a deliverer.
With some, the motivation was clearly to deliver Israel and yet that motivation was not always clear, for Gideon was certainly a reluctant deliverer and Samson was a carnal deliverer concerned more for his own pleasure, so deliverance was almost an accident! Yet clearly the Lord knew all these shortcomings but also knew the individual in question could achieve the deliverance that was required.
The closing chapters of the book show what a confusing and unsettled time this was in this embryonic nation. Although these judges were mostly warriors of some kind or another, with one exception (a woman) there was virtually no prophetic input at this time which suggests, what we have been considering so far, that their state of almost universal rebellion prevented such a thing, yet Deborah shows that it was not impossible.
Reflections on Redemption: We have observed in the previous studies how the Lord delivered Israel out of Egypt, how He persevered with them through their desert travels to Sinai, how He dealt with them at Sinai, how He persevered with them on their travels to the border of the Promised Land and how He dealt with them when they refused to enter that land. It was one long struggle to keep Israel on the right track and involved a number of disciplinary judgments along the way. We may wonder why the Lord tolerated this and didn’t wipe them out. I suggest, because the story, which has continued on so clearly in Judges, shows two things: a) the sinfulness of mankind even when God is there to help, and revealing a need of a redeemer, and b) the incredible grace of God which persevere and perseveres, in the face of that ongoing sinfulness, to work to discipline, correct but preserve the nation. But it doesn’t end there, the rest of the Old Testament follows with a similar picture which we’ll see in the next two studies.
Lessons for Us? I find the book of Judges tends to have a depressing effect upon me because it is such a catalogue of failures, if not by the nation, by individuals. And yet, there must be this massive lesson that screams out from it: if Israel could go through this long period of continual failure despite all the Lord’s efforts to get them back on track and then deliver them, and He keeps on with them and doesn’t reject them, there is hope for you and me when we get it wrong. This must be the message that keeps coming through. God is there to redeem us – and go on redeeming us! Our failures will not put Him off. Having saved you, you can be assured that He will be there on your case, constantly working to deliver you. Rejoice in that – and purposefully join in with it!