After the exhilarating victories conquering the Promised Land comes the record of Israel's apostasy and God's deliverance in the book of Judges. Judges has been called the "Dark Ages" of the Israelites: they forsook God (Judges 2:13) and God forsook them (Judges 2:23).
Judges covers the period beginning with the death of Israel's great leader Joshua to the ascension of it's first king, Saul. It begins around 1380 BC and covers the next 350 years. Israel had now gone from being nomads to settlers in their own land; but they often failed to conduct themselves as God had commanded them to in their special land, and so suffered judgments in the land because of their sin. But thankfully, God did not forsake them forever. He would ultimately rescue the people from the dire consequences and bondage of their rebellion through leaders called "judges". These were not the cloak-wearing, gavel-pounding courtroom decisionmakers we think of when we hear that word, but rather rulers, deliverers, and often warriors that would lead the nation out of bondage.
There were fourteen judges in all - Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, Samson, Eli and Samuel. They were of three types:
1. The warrior-judges such as Gideon and Samson
2. Priest judges such as Eli
3. Prophet judges such as Deborah and Samuel
These judges were needed because "everyone did as he saw fit" (Judges 17:6), and the people began to follow the idolatrous and adulterous ways of the nations around them. In punishment God would deliver them into the hand of their enemies; the people would cry out in their misery, and God mercifully would raise up a judge to deliver them - then the cycle would start all over again! Judges consists of "seven apostasies, seven servitudes to seven idolatrous and cruel nations, and seven deliverances".
What lessons can we as Christians learn from Judges? Many!
1. The wickedness of the human heart (Judges 2:11-13, 17, 19; 8:33-35; 10:6; 13:1). Contrary to the assumptions of evolutionary thought, things do not automatically get better with the passing of time. In fact, apart from the renewing and reviving work of God, things will get worse and worse when "everyone does as he sees fit". We see the decay in our own society when this kind of philosophy is adopted. We need revival!
2. God's delight in using the weak things (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Judges provides a gallery of unlikely heros: Edud and his home-made dagger; a woman, Deborah, in a time that women were often thought not capable of leadership; Gibeon, a timid man from an obscure family in Israel's smallest tribe; Shamgar, a rural fellow with an ox goad; and a jaw-bone wielding wildman named Samson. Do you think it unlikely that God would ever use you to do something mighty? Then you qualify!
3. The power of the Holy Spirit. Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson were all spoken of as being empowered by the Holy Spirit. When that happens, anything can happen! Miraculous deliverances against overwhelming odds can and will occur with God's Spirit upon us!
One of the prime causes of Israel's downfall in Judges was its willingness to compromise with the world - with its religions, with its morals, with its people. But compromise with the world always lead to conquest by the world. As Paul said, "A little leaven leavens the whole lump". Once you start allowing little sins in your life, it's only a matter of time before your standards erode in other areas. Don't let the camel get his nose in the tent - because soon he'll be completely in the tent and you'll be outside!
Are there areas where you are compromising with the world? Don't wait until you are groaning under your bondage - turn away from it, ask forgiveness and receive God's mercy, and, like the Israelites in Judges, you too will be delivered!