Interactive Travel Guide
The name of the book comes from the leading characters that were of the divinely appointed office of Judge. These people were raised up from time to time to provide leadership during times of emergency between Joshua and the kingdom under Saul. The Judges had two functions: (1) To be a military leader and to deliver their people from oppression and (2) To be a civil leader, to settle disputes and maintain justice.
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
c. 1405-1400 B.C.
The land of Canaan is conquered
c. 1400-1050 B.C.
Israel ruled by judges and not kings
c. 1398 B.C.
Canaan is divided amongst the tribes
c. 1380 B.C.
The death of Joshua
c. 1370 B.C.
Othniel becomes Judge over Israel
c. 1310 B.C.
Ehud is Judge over Israel
c. 1230 B.C.
Deborah's great victory over Sisera
c. 1190 B.C.
Gideon leads Israel
c. 1100 B.C.
Samson fights the Philistines
c. 1050 B.C.
Saul is anointed king of Israel
The book of Judges can be divided into two sections describing seven cycles of deliverance. Whereas Joshua is the story of conquest, Judges describes the process of deterioration from conquest to compromise. The nation of Israel is caught in the cycle of sin and each cycle results in ever worsening conditions.
1. Deterioration - Judges 1-3
2. Deliverance in 7 Cycles (Five are mentioned in this first section)
a. Deborah - Judges 4-5
b. Gideon - Judges 6-8
c. Abimelech - Judges 9
d. Tola - Judges 10
e. Jair - Judges 10
PLACES OF INTEREST
- Sat about mid way between Gaza and Joppa about 3 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. It was the chief seat of the god Dagon. Ashdod was a part of Judah but never actually came under its control. It sat on the main highway between Egypt and Palestine and was heavily fortified. One of five major cities of the Philistines Kingdom.
- First mentioned in Joshua 13:3, this city was 12 miles north of Gaza on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Ashkelon fell back into Philistine hands by the time of Samuel. It was not fully defeated until the time of Alexander the Great. One of five major cities of the Philistine Kingdom.
City of Palms
- Another name for Jericho.
- About 11 miles north of Gath, this town also was assigned to the tribe of Judah and later was assigned to Dan. However, by the time of Samuel, the town was in full possession by the Philistines. When the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant, Ekron was the last city they had possession before it was returned to Israel. One of five major cities of the Philistine Kingdom.
- Gath was the birthplace of Goliath. David fled from Saul to the king of Gath and later conquered the city. The Ark of the Covenant brought calamity to this city also. One of five major cities of the Philistine Kingdom.
- It is one of the oldest cities in the world first mentioned in Genesis 10. The earliest citizens of this area were called Avims and they were conquered and replaced in the area by the Caphtorims who were a Philistine tribe. Gaza was the southernmost of five major cities of the Philistine Kingdom.
- Located in the Arabian Peninsula, southeast of Israel and east of the Sinai Peninsula. The Midianties were descendants of Abraham through his wife Keturah. Midianties were considered enemies of Israel.
- The location of this mount is uncertain. Some scholars identify it with Mount Ebal, northwest of Schechem. Others identify it with Mount Gerizim. The snow covered Mount Zalmon mentioned in Psalms appears to be a different place.
PEOPLE OF INTEREST
- From the tribe of Manessah, he was the son of Gideon by a concubine and was a wicked Judge of the land. He murdered all of his brothers in an attempt to rule Israel. He actually ruled only the city of Shecham. He was killed by a woman who crushed his skull with a millstone. This ended a time of turmoil within the nation of Israel.
- Canaanite people living in the central hill country of Canaan. They blocked the entry of Dan into the region.
- From the tribe of Naphtali. He is listed in the Hebrews as one of the "Heros of the Faith." He served under Deborah as a military leader and was urged by Deborah to raise an army and defeat Sisera. This ended 20 years of oppression and started a 40-year period of peace.
- From the tribe of Ephriam, she became the 4th Judge. She was both a prophetess and a Judge and the wife of Lapidoth. Deborah along with Barak defeated Sisera's forces at the battle of Mt. Tabor. She also predicted Sisera's death at the hands of a woman. The Song of Deborah tells the story.
- The very fat Moabite king who was fatally stabbed by Ehud the Judge.
- From the tribe of Benjamin. The 2nd Judge who was left handed. He killed Eglon, the fat Moabite king. Under his jurisdiction Israel had peace for 80 years. Afterwards they were in servitude for 18 years.
- From the tribe of Manasseh, the son of Joash, he became the 5th Judge. The Angel of the Lord found him in a wine press threshing wheat. He led an army of 300 men chosen by God to defeat a massive Midianite army. Tactics used were: torch showing, pitcher breaking, trumpet blowing and a loud battle cry. Also listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews.
- The 7th Judge of Israel and the third minor judge. He judged Israel for 22 years and lived in Gilead.
- Gideon's father. He gave wise answers to a mob of angry idol worshippers and saved his son's life.
- From the tribe of Judah. He was the nephew of Caleb and later became his son-in-law. He was the first Judge after he liberated Israel from the reign of the King of Mesopotamia. Under his jurisdiction Israel had peace for 40 years.
- He killed 600 Philistines with an ox goad and delivered Israel. He is the 3rd Judge of Israel and the 1st minor judge. His name is not Hebrew, but his father had a Hebrew name. It is possible that he was a foreigner that God used to deliver Israel.
- While Jabin was king of the Canaanites, Sisera was the commander in chief of the army. His 900 chariots were used to keep the Israelites oppressed for 20 years. He was later defeated in battle by Deborah and Barak. Eventually, he was killed in his sleep by a woman named Jael.
- The 6th Judge of Israel and the second of the minor judges. He arose to save Israel after the reign of Abimelech.
Angel of the LORD
- During the accounts of the Book of Judges, the Angel of the Lord appears at least 4 times. Many think that this is a bodily appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- a female fertility goddess of love and war. This false god was closely associated with Baal. Also referred to as Ishtar in Mesopotamia. The Canaanites built shrines to Ashtoreth.
- The Canaanite storm-god. He was the most powerful deity in Canaanite cosmology. A storm represented power, but also life giving rain. Baal-Berith means Baal of the Covenant in contrast to the covenant God of Israel.
House of Joseph
- Ephraim and Manasseh who split the inheritance of Joseph their father. Each received equal portions of land to the other tribes of Israel. Combined, their portions of land would make Joseph's allotment the largest of all the tribes of Israel, thus fulfilling God's promise to bless Joseph above His brothers.
- Tent pegs were used to fasten a tent to the ground. Because of the hard rocky soil in Palestine, they had to be sharp. The tents had leather cords fastened to the side walls that were pulled out to give more room on the inside. These leather straps were also held in the ground with a tent peg.
Threshing out the Wheat
- The process of separating the grain from the wheat. This is also called "beating out the wheat." This was done by trampling on it or by pounding it with a heavy club. Usually animals were used to trample the wheat. After the grain was separated from the stalks, it was strained through a sieve to remove the dirt and then thrown up into the wind where the lighter unusable chaff was blown away and the heavier grain fell to the ground. The grain was ground into flour and used to bake bread.
- Towers that were used as fortification for a city and to watch for the approaching enemy. Some of these towers could hold hundreds of people. Many vineyards would build watchtowers of mud and stone to watch for thieves who would try to steal their crop.
- A winepress was usually built on the edge of a vineyard. The grapes were picked by women. They would carry the grapes in large baskets to the winepress which looked like a large tub made of stone. Emptied into the tub, the grapes were stomped on by men with their bare feet. The men would keep their balance by hanging onto ropes that were tied to a crossbeam above the tub. The juice was then stored in wineskins and clay jars.
Limits of Israelite Settlement and The Land Yet To Be Conquered
Turn in your Bibles to the book of Judges, which is the seventh book in the Bible. Thank you for coming to the Bible from 30,000 feet. We know that you have many choices when you fly but I just think it's neat that you made a commitment to come on Wednesday nights for a year and to go through the entire Bible with us as a church. Let's have a word of prayer together.
Father, we have worshiped You from the beginning of this evening and our focus has been on You, being reminiscent of Your promises, and reading of the Scripture. Now Father to this Bible study we pray that our focus will be upon learning what the story is but then learning what Your story is for our lives and what Your principles are and what they have to do with our living now on this earth before You and before people. I pray that this would be an appointment with eternity as You by Your Holy Spirit desire to speak to us, Your people. We're open; speak that we might hear and that we might obey. We ask in Jesus' Name. Amen.
Let me ask you if you've had this experience. Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation and you're talking about something and then suddenly you forget what it was you were talking about? You just sort of have to get your bearings? I find myself doing that more and more. Everybody does it. When you get older they call them senior moments. It's as if the entire group of the Children of Israel have one of those moments, because back in the last chapter of the book of Joshua, their leader, Joshua, stands up and makes a very bold claim, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." He challenged the people and they all said, "Yeah, right on! Amen! Us too!" It's as if in the middle of that commitment conversation, they forgot about it because as soon as the book of Judges opens and they no sooner are on the road and no sooner does Joshua die when there is a rapid decline in the nation of Israel. Verse 1 says: "Now after the death of Joshua." It is an important introductory verse. This marks the end of a strong central spiritual leadership. Remember that Moses was the one that God raised up as a deliverer and he took them out of Egypt and through the desert. He died at the brink of the Promise Land and then Joshua is raised up and brings them into the Promise Land. Then Joshua dies and there's no central strong spiritual leader and what happens is a fragmentation. There are 12 tribes and there is no strong central leadership anymore and they will fragment into different tribal governments for a long period of time. There are 350 years between the government and prowess of Joshua and the first King, King Saul of Israel. This book of Judges falls into that period of 350 years. They are called Judges but it's sort of a misleading title. Don't think of a guy in a robe with a gavel at a bench adjudicating criminal cases. These are leaders and in some cases military leaders of different sections of the land. Again, it's very fragmented, but they're a stopgap between Joshua and the first King, the monarchy through King Saul. These 13 judges, 12 are men and one of them is a woman, Deborah (who we will meet in this study), provided leadership and deliverance during a period called the sin cycle. This is how it works. There are four phases to this cyclic cycle-like behavior; they repeat the same mistake over and over and that's why it's called the sin cycle. The first stage is rebellion; people get tired of God; He's too narrow; He's too straight; there are a lot of options; let's be open-minded; and they follow other gods and goddesses. The second stage is retribution; God allows them to go that way and He doesn’t stop them. In fact, God will deliver them into the hands of their enemies and they'll be oppressed. While they are oppressed by their enemies, they go through a third stage, repentance; "God we're sorry, we didn't mean it, please forgive us!" Then God will listen to their prayer and take them to the fourth stage; restoration; He'll bring them back, strengthen them, establish them, forgive them and love on them. You'd think that they learned their lesson, right? They do it again and again. We'll see seven cycles of this in the second or main section of the book. The theme of the book of Judges is from conquest to compromise; conquest from under Joshua where they took the land and distributed it and then to compromise. I'd even add a third: from conquest to compromise to conquered by their enemies.
We begin in the initial successes of Judges chapter 1, verse 1: "Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, 'Who shall be first to go up for us against the Canaanites to fight against them?' And the Lord said, 'Judah shall go up. Indeed I have delivered the land into his hand.'" The word Canaanites is a general term for a lot of different nations. There are not only Canaanites but Hittites and Hevites, and Girgashites and termites and all sorts of "ites" that are there. All of these national tribal groups west of the Jordan River in ancient Israel are under the broad term and the title Canaanites. "So Judah said to Simeon his brother, 'Come up with me to my allotted territory, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I will likewise go with you to your allotted territory.' And Simeon went with him. Then Judah went up, and the Lord delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand; and they killed ten thousand men at Bezek." So far, so great because initially they ask God and communicate with Him. "Okay, God, we're here, Joshua isn't, but we trust You so who should go first?" "Judah should go first." At first they ask counsel of God but that won't last long. You'll notice a series of changes. What you are going to notice that is vastly different from the conquest under Joshua is that they are going to make less and less progress. They are going to have victory, but it's a partial or a temporary victory and more and more they'll be conquered by the nations around them. Notice this in verse 19: "So the Lord was with Judah. And they drove out the mountaineers." Verse 22: "And the house of Joseph also went up against Bethel, and the Lord was with them." We have two verses where they go and the Lord is with them. We'll be reading later in the book of 2 Samuel chapter 15 about a King of Judah named King Asa who was a very good king. He loved the Lord, brought in spiritual reform, and said great, wonderful things as a leader. One day a prophet named Amaziah will step into the court of King Asa and say, "The Lord is with you as long as you are with Him." Think about that statement and then think about this. The Lord is with Judah and with Simeon but soon they're going to turn away from the Lord and He won't be with them in the sense of the One who gives them the victory any longer. They make several mistakes and notice how it all starts. There are several reasons they fall behind: though there are fleshly, material natural reasons there are also supernatural or spiritual reasons in this series of defeats. For instance, Verse 19 talks about chariots of iron that their enemies have. We know that the Children of Israel are outgunned and outnumbered. They don't have the weapons or the amount of troops that the enemies around them have. Yet the main problem isn't that they don't have the right artillery or iron chariots, the real problem is that they leave the strength of God because even though the enemy had chariots and armaments, God promised to give them the land. "As long as you walk in it and trust me, it doesn't matter what they are like, I'll give it to you." In fact, in the book of Judges, Deborah, this strong female leader, will defeat the enemy as a judge; and she'll defeat 900 enemy chariots because she trusts God. We'll read about a guy named Gideon who had only 300 men and went up against 135,000 Midianites and though outgunned and outnumbered, the Lord was with him. The real problem was that the Lord was with them and then they start losing ground because they turn away from the God that they once loved and served and had said to Joshua, "We'll follow the Lord and we'll serve the Lord." They made that commitment, had that senior moment, and forgot all about that commitment.
There's a great verse in Psalm 20 and I think about it here. It says, "Some trust in chariots and some trust in horses but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God." I think that is a good verse for us. We can say, "Some trust in tanks, great airplanes and smart bombs, but we will trust in the Lord our God." At one time our nation was firmly fixed upon the God we believe brought us into this real estate, but very similar to the book of Judges, we have left that. The diminished power is a result of diminished faith in this case. Notice several things as we read down. Verse 21: "But the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem; so the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day." Verse 27: "However, Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; for the Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land." There are some enemies that don't go away easily. They want to be entrenched; even personal enemies; even habits and things that we have sown over a long period of time. Verse 28: "And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites under tribute, but did not completely drive them out. Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer; so the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them.
Nor did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants of Kitron or the inhabitants of Nahalol; so the Canaanites dwelt among them, and were put under tribute. Nor did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Acco or the inhabitants of Sidon, or of Ahlab, Achzib, Helbah, Aphik, or Rehob. So the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; for they did not drive them out. Nor did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh or the inhabitants of Beth Anath."
I'd like you to remember something: all of what they are experiencing now was preceded by a time of blessing and prosperity. They were slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God delivered them through the hand of Moses and brought them through the desert for 40 years and that was a trial. Eventually, through Joshua, they come to the Promise Land; the land flowing with milk and honey. The Children of Israel settle down, they prosper, they're blessed, they love it, and they become a little too complacent. With each successive generation they start forgetting all the things that God had done and they basically took God's blessing for granted. There is a verse of Scripture that shows us this principle. In the little book of Amos, chapter 6, verse 1 it says: "Woe to you who are complacent in Zion." They are there and they are blessed and they started taking it for granted, forgetting their history, settling down and getting used to the fat and the prosperity. They lost it.
I grew up in a middle class American home. There was always a roof over my head, food on the table, the bills were paid, we had electricity and clothes in the closet. Then I got out on my own. I had very few cloths and often weren't washed. I had to provide for my own food and it wasn't easy. I didn't know how to cook. I made hamburger helper and being so lame, I would make it on a Monday, and I would only eat a little bit and keep it on the stove with tin foil wrapped around it. I didn't think to refrigerate it; why get it cold and have to reheat it again? I just sort of kept it lukewarm and then on Tuesday night I'd have another slice of it and it would last me from Monday to Friday or Saturday. I took for granted all of those years when I had somebody who knew better. The Children of Israel had taken so much for granted and had become so complacent. Times of prosperity are more dangerous than times of adversity. When you are going through a time of adversity, a trial, or a testing, those are the times when you are quick to trust God. You call on His name and your prayer life is so good and fervent. Then things get good and you settle down and it's easy to forget about the origin of that blessing and you forget the very God who has blessed you. This is the very thing that God warned the Children of Israel about in Deuteronomy chapter 8. He said, "When you get into the land and you eat the fruit of the land and you are full and you bless the Lord your God, beware lest you forget the Lord your God and you fail to keep all of His commandments." It's during that time of your prosperity that you should be aware.
I think again about our own country. We were oppressed by the crown of England even when we were the colonies and we rebelled against England and wanted our freedom. The birthing of this nation was hard during those first several years, and it took lots of sacrifice, war, and hard work. Then we became a very prosperous nation; once a nation under God, now we've become a nation that wants to push God out. Eugene Peterson, who wrote a translation called The Message, wrote a book called, Run with the Horses. This is how he sees America: "The puzzle is why so many people live so badly; not so wickedly but so inanely; not so cruelly but so stupidly; there's so little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture. We have celebrities, not saints; we have famous entertainers who amuse a nation of bored insomniacs; infamous criminals act out the aggressions of timid conformists; petulant and spoiled athletes play games vicariously for lazy and apathetic spectators. People aimless and bored amuse themselves with trivia and trash. Neither the adventure of goodness nor the pursuit of righteousness gets any headlines." Boy, did he have us pegged as a nation. This is the downfall of Israel; after the death of Joshua they very rapidly go downhill.
Chapter 2, verses 7 and 8: "So the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord which He had done for Israel. Now Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died when he was one hundred and ten years old." Well it's about time! He's 110 years old and it's time for him to go; he's dead and buried; but, again this is the end of a strong, central spiritual leadership. Remember all the way back from Genesis that God raised up Abraham for the family and then Isaac and Jacob. Then they went down to Egypt and Joseph was the prime minister. He was well known and he was an established leader. Then the Bible says, "There arose a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph." The Children of Israel were oppressed so God raised up a national leader once again for them - Moses. Then Moses died and God raised up another national leader - Joshua. Now all of those strong men of God are gone. When Joshua died and when that generation who saw all of the wonders of the past died, the next generation quickly turned. Chapter 2, verse 10: "When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel." So you can call this the second-third generation syndrome; they become lukewarm and complacent. Why? This is crucial because I talk to parents all the time who say, "How do I get my kids to listen to me?" We often worry about how we transfer the spiritual truths that we know and the great things that we have seen unto the next generation. You see, that second generation has heard all of our stories. "Oh you should have been there, when I saw this.....that was so great!" The key is when the second generation becomes its own first generation. That is that they just don't hear it from us but they experience God's work first hand in their generation; in their way; in their culture; and with their expressions of music, etc. When they experience God for themselves then you don't have to worry about how the next generation is going to get what my generation has because they are going to have their own first hand, first generation experiences with God. So when the second generation becomes its own first generation, then it gets passed on. Look at verse 11. Here is that first stage of that sin cycle: rebellion. "Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals; and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. They forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtoreths." You're going to read a lot about these two deities throughout the Old Testament. These are the two main deities; the big wigs in the Canaanite pantheon of gods and goddesses. Baal was the storm God. It was said that Baal, the chief of the gods, rode upon the clouds and he was the one responsible for controlling rainfall. Ashtoreth was the female counterpart to Baal and she was the goddess of fertility, love and war - an interesting mix. According to the myth and the legend that came from the Canaanites and Babylonians, the sexual union of these two deities in heaven is what brought the abundance of rainfall and crops upon the land. The worship of these two deities was very attractive and very sensual. They involved prostitution; there were male and female priests and priestesses prostitutes who would entice people to come under a grove or under a green tree or by some little statue out in the forest or woods and to have sexual relationships. That was part of the worship and the idea was that even as fertility was hopefully taking place right now at that moment that their crops would be fertile and their cattle abundant, etc. "May Baal and Ashtoreth bless what I have." That was the worship system in Canaan and it was an enticement to the Children of Israel for years. So that's the first step, rebellion.
Verse 14 is the second one: retribution. "And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies." This sums up the 350 years of the book of Judges. "Wherever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for calamity, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were greatly distressed." So, rebellion, retribution and here is the third, repentance, and then the fourth, restoration. Verse 16: "Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do so. And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way." Now, I'm sure that in that day you could hear one generation say, "These kids today! Boy, you know when I was a young kid growing up there in Tel Aviv, we never had these problems. When we were living up there in that area we never had kids that did that." In all of what was taking place, they saw generations right before their eyes being dismantled morally and spiritually and saw this with every successive generation. Yet, here's what's more remarkable: the pursuing, incessant, vigilant love of God. They blow it; they cry out; God brings them back. They shine God on; they rebel against Him; they become even more wicked; they get into trouble; they cry out; and God brings them back. They do it again and get even worse and cry out and you'd think God would say, "You know, I'm done now. I don't want to do this job anymore." But He was always pursuing them with His covenant love throughout the Bible. If you ever think, "The Old Testament is a book of God's wrath and the New Testament is a book of God's love, maybe you ought to read both of them, because here is God's covenant, unrelenting, chasing and pursuing love. He is ready to forgive and ready to restore. I don't know a lot of hymns, but one of my favorites is "The Love of God." It was written back in 1917 by Frederick Lehman: "The love of God is greater far than ink or pen can ever tell; it stretches to the furthest star and reaches to the lowest hell. Could we with ink the oceans fill and were the skies of parchment made; were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade. To write the love of God would drain the oceans dry; nor could that scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky." The love of God: how rich, how pure, and how measureless and this is a beautiful hymn about this very experience - God chasing them and loving them.
Chapters 3 through 16 are the seven cycles of deliverance. The sin cycle was spelled out in chapter 2 and we have examples of this. Seven times they fall away; seven times they serve these other nations and seven times the Lord delivers them. The book of Judges is laid out geographically. There are three different campaigns: a southern campaign where there are judges in the south that fight off the enemies there; there's a northern campaign; and there's a central campaign. First is the southern campaign in chapter 3 and it's in the south in the area of Judah. There are three judges mentioned: Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar and those are the three judges in the southern campaign.
In chapters 4 and 5 we have the northern campaign: Deborah and Barak against the Canaanite troops up there. Then we have the central campaign with a guy named, Gideon. In chapters 6 through 10, Gideon and his sons, Abimelech, Tola and Jair are highlighted.
We'll go to the second judge in chapter 3, verse 14: "So the Children of Israel served Eglon king of Moab eighteen years. But when the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for them: Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. By him the children of Israel sent tribute to Eglon king of Moab." The national average of left handed people in our nation and generally around the world is 20 percent. In researching, I found that the greatest percentage of left handed people are in Southeast Asia and in Eastern Europe. We don't know why but they are there. Nonetheless, in ancient times it was thought that if you were left handed and thus restricted in your right hand you weren't as smart and you were much weaker. Of course we know that's not true. The point I want to make is that it says he was left handed so in other words, he took what most people considered a disadvantage, a deficit, or a defect and it became a tool for God. What most people considered as marginal or not as strong, God used for good. A left handed Benjamite was good because of the way he would draw his sword and thus be unsuspected by the enemy. More than your ability, the Lord loves your availability. "Lord, here I am and I feel weak, useless, meek, and poor." God would say, "You know what, because you know that about yourself, I'd like to use you powerfully." Somebody asked the great missionary Hudson Taylor why God chose him. He said, "Because I was weak enough." The Bible says, "God has chosen the foolish things of this world, and the weak things of this world and the despised things of this world." Verse 16: "Now Ehud made himself a dagger (it was double-edged and a cubit in length) and fastened it under his clothes on his right thigh. So he brought the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. (Now Eglon was a very fat man.)" We've noted before that the Bible is very honest with age, appearance and with size. "And when he had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who had carried the tribute. But he himself turned back from the stone images that were at Gilgal, and said, 'I have a secret message for you, O king.' He said, 'Keep silence!' And all who attended him went out from him. So Ehud came to him (now he was sitting upstairs in his cool private chamber). Then Ehud said, 'I have a message from God for you.' So he arose from his seat. Then Ehud reached with his left hand," normally you would have the dagger on one side and reach with the right hand, "took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly." This guy was trying to get a point across and he did - I guess it was his gut instinct! Verse 22 is the best part. "Even the hilt went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade," it's amazing what you'll find in the Bible, "for he did not draw the dagger out of his belly; and his entrails came out." Thank you for sharing that - too much information. Verse 31: "After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed six hundred men of the Philistines with an ox goad; and he also delivered Israel." I don't know that he did it all in one-fell swoop. It could be that if you do a whole count of all of the enemies, he killed 600 over his whole lifetime. An ox goad was a long stick with a point at the end and it was used for getting oxen and animals motivated to go. All you had to do is poke them and they'd go. Sometimes they had a very sharp edge of metal on the tip. Carrying around an ox goad was inconspicuous and nobody would think that you're a soldier because you're just a shepherd carrying an ox goad. It would get him into certain places and then he could use that ox goad as a weapon because he was a skillful marksman and able to destroy his enemy - God used him.
Chapter 4, verse 1: "When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who dwelt in Harosheth Hagoyim. And the children of Israel cried out to the Lord; for Jabin had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he had harshly oppressed the children of Israel. Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time." I mentioned that there are thirteen of these leaders, these judges; twelve are men and this one, Deborah, is a woman. There is somebody that I think about in modern times when I read about Deborah - the fourth prime minister of the nation of Israel, Golda Meir who was called the iron lady of Israeli politics. That was way before there was a Margaret Thatcher who earned that name as well. Deborah was a tough gal and I believe that God used her at a very crucial time. So Deborah was raised up and notice the description: she's a prophetess. The Bible not only has prophets but prophetesses. Miriam, the sister of Moses in Exodus 15 was called a prophetess. A lady named Huldah in the days of King Josiah, was a prophetess; Philip in the New Testament had four virgin daughters who prophesized. Here is one of them who was unique and certainly used by God. It says that she was the wife of Lapidoth. It doesn’t say that Lapidoth was the husband of Deborah but that she was his wife; even though, clearly, she was the most prominent one in the marriage and she was the famous one and everybody knew about her. She had her own palm tree named after her and her own little resort area. She was sitting on top of the hill and she was commanding the armies of Israel but she also knew her role within the family. She was Mrs. Lapidoth. I think there is a key there that no matter who you are or how popular you may be, male or female, it's important to know the relationships that God has given you and to balance them carefully. One person said, "Marriage is like a long trip in a tiny rowboat; if one passenger starts to rock the boat, the other has to steady it or both will go to the bottom together." You know, Lapidoth could have said, "You know, sweetheart, I know you say you're my wife but everybody knows you more than me so I think I'd like to be the general of this army." But he wasn't the one that God called; God called her. Or she could have said, "You, know, honey, I don't want to be called your wife, I'd like you to be called my husband. I'd like it to be Mrs. and Mr. Deborah. But again, she was a prophetess used by God but also the wife of Lapidoth and she was judging Israel.
Chapter 5 is the song of Deborah. Deborah and Barak were not only generals in the army but they were songwriters and they wrote a beautiful song. We're not going to look at all of it but verse 7 says: " Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel, until I, Deborah, arose, Arose a mother in Israel." In other words, "Everybody was scared of the enemies and they wouldn't go out and have normal village activities and family life ceased until God raised up a deliverer and it was I, Deborah." There's an old hymn called "Faith of our Fathers." We could have one called faith of our mothers because besides men, there have been so many prominent women that God has used even in the pages of Scripture. I love that she's called a mother in Israel. "I'm just a mom; I'm a normal person and God used me." There's an old Scottish proverb that says, "An ounce of mother, is worth a pound of clergy." How many mothers has God used to turn children around or to pray for them; or grandmothers praying for grandchildren? And God has answered those prayers.
Chapters 6 through 9 are a great story about Gideon and the Midianites. If you've ever gone to Sunday school, you know this story. Where did the Midianites come from? They have an interesting background. Remember Abraham and Sarah? When Sarah died, he remarried a woman named Keturah. Abraham and Keturah had six more kids and one of them was named Midian so he becomes the half brother of Isaac and becomes a real problem later on. Chapter 6, verse 1: "Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years." The chapter goes on to say that they were scared and they hid in caves and in dens. Verse 5: "For they," the enemy, "would come up with their livestock and their tents, coming in as numerous as locusts; both they and their camels were without number; and they would enter the land to destroy it." You might ask, "Why are there camels mentioned? Who cares about camels?" Well, camels can carry 400 pounds of cargo plus a rider. You could load them down with 400 pounds of stuff and then sit on them and ride them and they can go without food and water for days. So that was one of their secrets, this traveling companion, the camels that took them from place to place. Verse 6: "So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord." Now we meet our hero in verse 11: "Now the Angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, 'The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!'" This was sort of a joke and here's why. People never threshed their wheat in a winepress; that's what you crushed grapes in. Winepresses are at the bottom of all the hills. Wheat is always threshed on top of the hill where it's windy and breezy in the afternoon so when you throw it up in the air, the wind catches the chaff and blows it away and the wheat falls to the ground. But not this guy, because he's so scared he's doing it in a winepress at the bottom of the hill with a stone wall enclosure. So when an angel comes and says, "Hey, mighty man of valor," he probably was wondering who the angel was talking too because he knew it couldn't have been him. "Gideon said to Him, 'O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?' But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.'" Do you think he was a man of faith at this point? Not at all. He, like so many of us whined saying, "Well, if He's a God of love, how come He didn't do anything? Everybody talks about how good God is, but I don't think He's good." Now you can understand the humor about being a man of valor. "Then the Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?'" Here's a picture of the next hero: not on top of the hill but down at the bottom of the hill threshing wheat. You know what? Fear will always take you down like it took him down; but God calls him a man of valor and here's what I think. Not only was this maybe a joke but I think that it was really intended to make a statement. God sees what you and I don't see. God sees maybe not what you are today as much as what He can make you tomorrow. He knows that you are weak and says, "Hey you, know what, you are a mighty man of valor." "What? You've got the wrong guy!" "No! Go in this might of yours because you're the next deliverer." "Me? I'm like mister weak and I don't even trust God's miracles anymore." "Well, that's what you are now but you are going to become a mighty man of valor." God sees what He can do with you. So none of this whining saying, "I'm not worthy." Get over it! Nobody is! He makes you worthy. "I'm no good; I'm not talented." Oh, be quiet and get busy and watch what God can do! That's God's track record and He did it here with Gideon.
Verse 36: "So Gideon said to God, 'If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said-- look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said.'" He goes out there the next day and the ground is dry and that little piece of fleece is so wet he could wring a bowl of water out of it. You think, "Wow, that's cool but maybe that's just some weird freak of nature." So he says, "I tell You what, God, let's do it again but this time everything else will be wet and I want that fleece to be dry." God didn't say, "Forget it! I'll get somebody else!" God does it. Verse 40: "And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, but there was dew on all the ground." I think Christians misunderstand this story. There is a common phrase that I have heard for years, "I'm going to put out a fleece." In other words, "I need God to give me a sign to show me that He wants me to do something." With Gideon, this was not a fleece for guidance as we so often say but this was a fleece for confirmation. He had already seen a miracle in this story that we didn't cover, fire coming out of a rock and completely consuming the meat that was on it. This was a confirmation. Second, Gideon didn't ask for a natural sign but a totally supernatural sign. We may say something very natural like, "If the phone rings at 1:00 in the afternoon, then I know the Lord wants me to do such and such." Well, that's very natural, phones often ring. This is very different; and what if the phone rings at 1:10 or 1:05? Does that count or is it 1:00 only? What if it's 1:01? You see, when we start doing that it gets really weird. This is the point I want to make: you, Christian, have an internal GPS system and it's called the Holy Spirit. He's living inside of you and He's not just around moving on special people like prophets in the Old Testament. Unique to New Testament believers, the Holy Spirit of God, the Third Person of the Trinity is living in you. So here we are, so freaked out about the "how" and the "where" in guidance instead of the "Who" in guidance. "But I don't know where?" "So?" "But I don't know what?" "So?" You know "Whom" you have living in you - you have the Holy Spirit. Just move, walk and do normal stuff and trust God and He'll guide you with your internal GPS system. "But I need a fleece!" No, you have the Holy Spirit and He's a lot better than a fleece.
Chapter 7, verse 1: "Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the well of Harod, so that the camp of the Midianites was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley." Now, I've been in this place and in fact a couple of years ago some of you were there with us. We were in the valley and on one side was Mount Gilboa and there was this spring of Herod, and then we saw the hill of Moreh in the distance where the Midianites were. Gideon had 32,000 untrained men with no real weapons. The Midianites had 135,000 well trained soldiers and he's scared right now but he's there. Verse 2: "And the Lord said to Gideon, 'The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.'" Sometimes bigger isn't better. Sometimes if you have too many people in an army like this you're not as mobile as you were with just a few infantry men and really great highly trained soldiers. This already seemed impossible: 32,000 outgunned by 135,000 - four to one; so it's a shock to Gideon when God says there's too many. He's thinking, "Yeah, there's too many of them." "No, there's too many of you for Me." If Spock from Star Trek would have been there or if this was James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise and he said, "You know Spock, there's too many of us." Spock would have said, "Illogical captain." This was completely illogical. God said there were too many, not for you, there's not enough for you, but there's too many for Me. So God tests their faith. You know a faith that is untested is a faith that cannot be trusted. Oh, we have faith in God when the cupboards are full and our health is good and, "God is good! Halleluiah! I trust Him!" Big deal. What about when it all goes? Verse 3: "Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, 'Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.' And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained." Ouch! Twenty two thousand leave and again that's another shock to Gideon. Just like in Deuteronomy 20, the officer goes up to the army and says, "Okay, if any of you guys have fields that you haven't planted, go home; if any of you guys are engaged and you haven't gotten to marry your wife, go home; and if anybody here is afraid of war, get up and go now; and 22,000 said, "Okay," and they were gone. But this is good because one timid soldier in a battle situation is worse than a whole bunch of enemies because fear is contagious. It's better that 22,000 leave now than in the middle of the battle field. Verse 4: "But the Lord said to Gideon, 'The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Then it will be, that of whom I say to you, 'This one shall go with you,' the same shall go with you; and of whomever I say to you, 'This one shall not go with you,' the same shall not go.'" At this point Gideon is thinking, "Oh great, God just wants me to die and He's leading me to slaughter!" No, He's leading you to victory. God will sometimes stack the odds against you so that it's not hard, it's impossible. "Unless God shows up, I'm sunk." It's a good place to be in. Elijah on Mount Carmel wanted the people to see that it was unmistakably God so as his sacrifice was laid out on a rock he said to them, "Go get water and pour the water all over this altar and sacrifice." They did it. "Do it again," he said over and over again so that it was dripping with water. When fire came down from heaven and consumed it, it was unmistakably God. The odds were stacked against him. God will often stack the odds against you like David against Goliath; he was this little kid with a few pebbles going against a well trained nine-footer in battle. So it was unmistakably the Lord.
I've watched people in churches for a long time doing projects and I often hear, "Oh, pastor, we need more people." Maybe not. Instead of more people, maybe you just need a few good ones because a few good ones will go a longer way than a whole bunch whose hearts really aren't in it. Sometimes you don't need a whole bunch more, you just need a few that are called and inspired and energized by the Lord.
Verse 5: "So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, 'Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.' And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, 'By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place.'" This is a test of urgency; the position of the man in battle will tell a lot about the man. Here's the deal: some people got down on all fours; others got down on their knees and took the water in their hands and lapped it like a dog would lap it with his tongue but in a vigilant position, looking at the landscape. Three hundred did that - they were ready. God looked at that and said, "That's all I need. Just those few people who live vigilantly and are ready; those are the ones I'm going to use for this battle. They go out to battle with some candles and some pots and they bang the pots and they light the candles and it's enough that God uses it to scare the enemy and they run around in circles and kill each other. Humanly and strategically, if you look at 300 men against 135,000 soldiers what do you say? "Those poor 300, they're doomed," but if you stack the 135,000 against God who created them and everybody else, you think, "Those poor 135,000 Midianites, they're dead." A lot depends on how you choose to view life.
Chapter 8, verse 28: "Thus Midian was subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted their heads no more. And the country was quiet for forty years in the days of Gideon."
Chapter 9 and 10 are easy to sum up. Gideon's son, Abimelech decides, "I'm going to become the next judge, the next leader." He wasn't called by God. He was an opportunist, was ambitious, had a lust for power and he murders his brothers all on one stone and assumes power and now he's about to reap what he has sown. Verse 5: "Then he went to his father's house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, because he hid himself." Verse 51: "But there was a strong tower in the city," now here's the deal, for three years, Abimelech reigned, the Shechemites revolted against him, there was a strong tower in the city and all the people of the city fled there and shut themselves in and they went up to the top of the tower. Verse 52: "So Abimelech came as far as the tower and fought against it; and he drew near the door of the tower to burn it with fire. But a certain woman dropped an upper millstone," now this baby weighs about 20 to 35 pounds and is about 12 inches in diameter, "on Abimelech's head and crushed his skull. Then he called quickly to the young man, his armorbearer, and said to him, 'Draw your sword and kill me, lest men say of me, 'A woman killed him.'" You know, a guy is always a guy; even at death. "I've got my pride! Kill me; I don't want them to say a chick did it!" "So his young man thrust him through, and he died." Here's what's interesting: Whatever a man sows that shall he also reap. Jesus said, "Whatever measure you use, it will be measured back to you." He killed seventy kids on a stone and a stone fell on his head - perfect and poetic.
In chapter 10, there are two more judges. They are just briefly described. Tola reigns for 23 years and Jair reigns for 22 years and Israel sins against God again and now the Philistines enter the land and take over. Next time we'll pick up from the Philistines onward in this 350 blight of the Children of Israel.
History can repeat itself. British historian, Arnold Toynbeelooked at 22 civilizations throughout history and he noted that 19 of the 22 nations collapsed when they reached the immoral status of the present United States of America. He said, "There's something interesting when people lose their bearings and lose their morals and become as we have become, so post modern that we do what is right in our own eyes that we become ready for the collapse of our nation." The Children of Israel were one nation under God and then they left the God that they were once under and they became under God's judgment because of that. We're all Americans and we should all pray for our nation. We have a chance to get involved in the elections and to vote. We could say, "I'm apathetic, I don't care and I'm not going to vote for anybody because they are all bad; forget it." Or we could get involved and especially pray and be active; be an active Christian and let the light shine. You know what? Every homosexual in the world is coming out of the closet; every terrorist in the world is showing their colors; and I think it's time for Christians to come out of the closet and show our colors and be bold!I don't think we have anything to be afraid of. I'm not asking you to blow yourselves up; I'm asking you to love the world up; I'm asking you to blow people up with love; share the Gospel; and let your light so shine among men that they see the difference.
Heavenly Father, we pray that would be so in Jesus, Name. Amen.