The book of Judges follows Joshua and tells the tragic tale of Israel’s moral corruption, bad leadership, idol worship and abandonment of the God who, despite their failure, continues to rescue them.
In Judges 1, Joshua dies and no one is appointed to lead Israel in his place. Rather than remove the Canaanites from the land like God told Israel to do in Joshua, they move in alongside the Canaanites and adopt all of their cultural and religious practices, including extreme sexual immorality and even child sacrifice.
The name Judges comes from the titles of Israel’s leaders during this time. Judges were not like the public officials of today, but were like tribal chieftains in Israel. They were political and military leaders who led regions of the land in times of war.
Most of the book follows Israel’s six major judges, Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson, and how each leader was worse than the last. A cycle is repeated many times in Judges: Israel abandons God to follow the gods of the Canaanites; they become oppressed by Canaanite tribes; they cry out to God to rescue them; God raises up a judge to rescue them; there is a short time of peace, then Israel falls right back into its old ways and the cycle starts over again.
The book ends with two stories that show the sin and corruption of the nation of Israel as a whole. These are very violent, graphic stories that show just how far Israel has removed itself from God.
Apostasy: Apostasy means the abandonment of a religious belief or practice. Numerous times in Judges, Israel chooses to worship the gods of the Canaanites, rather than the One, true God (Judges 2:11, 3:7,12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6 and 13:1).
God’s justice: Throughout Judges, God allows the surrounding nations to oppress Israel because of its choice to worship other gods (Judges 2:11-15). God is just, and will not allow Israel to do whatever they want without consequences for their decisions.
God’s mercy: Despite Israel’s abandonment, God relentlessly pursues His people (Judges 2:16). He delivers them from oppression over and over, even though He knows they will go right back to worshiping other gods once they are saved.
Judges 2:16-19: “Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. 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. 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. 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.”
Judges 21:25: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
Judges is a sobering example of just how much people need God’s guidance and lordship. Over and over in the Old Testament, God and the leaders He appoints remind Israel that faithfulness to God leads to life and blessing, while unfaithfulness leads to devastation and separation from God’s holy presence.
God has always desired His people to worship Him completely, so they can show others what He is like and help others come to know and worship Him, too. In Judges, Israel chooses the opposite, and becomes just like the surrounding nations, so these nations have no chance of seeing the goodness, justice and mercy of the God of Israel.
But there is hope in the book of Judges. God only rescues Israel from oppression over and over, despite their blatant abandonment of Him when life gets good again. He is a God who loves people so much, He will rescue them time and time again.