Where there is law, judgement will be passed.
In the book of Judges we encounter several key figures who are often pointed to for the stories which they created. Samson, Gideon and Abimelek are all stories which inscribe a set of mixed emotions into our hearts. But why did these stories happen in the first place? Why was Israel in this position of having to ask: Who shall be our leader?
We must first rewind a little to start to answer these questions. Let’s go back to the end of Joshua in order to see the events that lead into the book of Judges.
In the final chapter of Joshua, Joshua gathers together all the tribes of Isreal and begins to recount the events which lead to his position of authority. He does not do this as a way of puffing himself up, but rather recounting that it was God and not himself that placed him in the place of authority that he has held for so long. Through speaking what God commanded him to say, Joshua became the mouthpiece for God and told of the lineage of the Israelites. How they were brought out of Egypt, God’s deliverance of Jericho into their hands, and how several other tribes that fought against them.
It is in Joshua 24:14-15 that we see God, speaking through Joshua, be very direct with His chosen people:
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord . But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord .”
Joshua 24:14-15 NIV
This ultimatum is very clear, serve God and fear Him or serve the things of this world.
The Israelites’ reply goes along with the common theme of their desire to follow God, but if you have read up to this point from Genesis, you will notice a pattern in the Israelites hearts: Turn to God for help out of a desperate situation, turn away from God, turn to God for help out of a desperate situation, turn away from God… Their lives are not so different from our own today in that when it is easy to follow God, we are all for it, but when another temptation which is even easier to fall into comes along, we falter.
This conversation between Joshua and the Tribes of Isreal goes back and forth a few more times before Joshua makes a covenant with the Israelites where he reaffirmed the decrees and laws.
After Joshua dismissed all the tribes of Isreal, he passed away. The leader of the tribes of Isreal was gone. The tribes of Isreal no longer had a single judge whom they could rely on to lead all the nation’s.
This brings us to Judges 2:10 where we begin to see Isreal slip away from God. With no leader, no physical being reminding them of their wicked ways, they turned from God. God’s anger burned against them for their wicked ways and so he brought up among them judges to save them from being destroyed.
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.
Judges 2:18 NIV
Judges are called to be impartial, but uphold the law. Each and every judge in the book of Judges is human and therefore just as easily tempted by sin. The greatest example of these was Samson. He was given over to God as a child and his mother was told that no razor was to touch his head. God provided Samson with what we would consider superhuman strength. He performed feet’s of strength that are unlike anything else in all the Bible.
The tragedy of the book of Judges is that God wanted the Israelites’ to turn towards Him and follow Him, but each and every leader left something to be desired and ultimately failed due to the sin filled nature of our hearts.
The light at the end of the tunnel for the book of Judges is really two different things, 1. God was gracious in giving Isreal the judges they asked for and 2. the next book in the Bible, Ruth, begins the lineage of Jesus.