Judges: Cycles of Faith

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Cycles of Faith

Six Cycles of Faith and Apostasy

Background: During the lifetime of Samuel the events of the Judges were recorded
Theme: Cycles of Israel's unfaithfulness and the LORD's faithfulness
Outline: Introduction, 6 cycles, and moral decay
Key Verse: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." (Judg 21:25, NIV)

Index to Chapters of Judges


The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Vol I, Old Testament) is an excellent resource and is referred to (in the notes) as the BKC.

I. State of the Nation (1:1-2:5)

A. Political (1)

1:1 The chapter begins with the victories Judah of, but by the end of the chapter the other tribes are stalled and commingling with Canaanites.

B. Spiritual (2:1-5)

2:4-5 It is quite common then and now to have regrets, to be sorry for actions taken, and yet not have a strong enough desire to repent. Israel came to a place of tears and regret, Bokim, but not to a place of repentance or a change of action.

II. Deeds of the Judges (2:6-16:31)

A. Introduction (2:6-3:6)

2:10 Compare with Exodus 1:8 - "Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt." 'Know' often implies a covenant relationship or agreement. The prior Pharaoh had a family line agreement with Joseph's family, when dynasties changed the new family 'did not know' Joseph. Here the new generation had no 'covenant renewal' or personal commitment to the LORD. This is further evidenced by the idolatry and apostasy.

2:13 I am astonished that Israel turned to paganism (Baal and Astoreths) so quickly. But in our day the Reformation vision has faded, and the faith of the Pilgrims is no longer discussed in public life. Perhaps the United States, like ancient Israel, has left the Lord for pagan, or at least, agnostic principles.

3:6 Forbidden intermarriages with the enemies of the Lord and serving other gods show the depth to which Israel has fallen.

B. Deliverances (3:7-16:31)

3:12 Moses had carefully avoided conflict with the Moabites before entry into the Promised Land because of the close relationship of the people through Lot, Abraham's nephew. The Moabites, however, did not choose to keep peace with Israel.

3:15 The tribal name of Benjamin means, 'son of the right hand'. Ironically, the tribe is noted for quite a few left-handed warriors. In this case, the stab from the left was not expected.

3:19 Perhaps the king expected a secret bribe in exchange for some special favor to Ehud.

4:8 Perhaps Deborah, a woman, led because qualified men were not willing. Barak was not willing to lead Israel without her presence with him, and she criticized him for this. It is apparent that Deborah was under the guidance of the LORD and was not usurping anyone else's authority.

4:15 Chariots, mentioned previously as the reason that Israel did not conquer the plains, were made useless by rain. Thunder would accompany a storm, and it is mentioned with the LORD's coming. Verses 5:4 and 5:20-21 fill in this detail. Apparently it was a storm out of season, as Sisera knew better than to use chariots in wet weather in areas where they would bog down in the mud.

4:21 The nomad's task of setting up and taking down tents was normally done by women. She was handy with a mallet and tent peg. It would have taken quite a blow to not only crush his skull but also drive the stake into the ground.

5:28 How ironic! Deborah pictures Sisera's family pondering his delay, anticipating more plunder from the havoc he would have wreaked on Israel. How beautiful the stolen garments might look ... how many Hebrew slave girls would he bring home?

5:31 Being like the rising sun also means having the best part of the day ahead of you, it is looking forward rather than backwards. This day would be realized as 40 years of peace under Deborah.

6:1b-6 BKC 2 Camels provided unprecedented distance (100 miles) in a day, and were the means of transporting the spoils of war, the harvest. As late as World War I (under Lawrence of Arabia), camels were a significant military factor.

6:11 We are first introduced to Gideon as he is hiding himself and his crop of wheat from the Midianites. He says he is the least in his family, of a clan that is the weakest in the tribe.

6:28-32 Perhaps the people expected some ill fate to befall Jerub-Baal, an illness or a farming accident. Any such mishap, even months later, would be seen as Baal taking vengeance. For some, giving the name was placing a pagan curse on Gideon. For others, it was showing Baal to be ineffective.

6:36-40 It is best to use faith when God gives us direction. The fleece is not to be seen as a way of determining God's will; Gideon already knew God's will. On the other hand, when our faith is weak it is good to go to the Lord with it, and pray for His strength, rather than refuse or fail to do what He has commanded.

7:3-6 So we see that the army of 32,000 (vs. the enemy's 135,000) reduced to less than 1 in 100, that is, only 300 men would be used in the initial battle. Odds of 450 to one!

7:1b-15 Only Gideon and his servant heard the dream and were encouraged first hand. The other 300 men acted in obedience and faith through what Gideon had experienced.

8:4-6 Remember that these are cities of Israelites (the tribe of Gad) and the battle is in their territory. The people are not only denying aid to Gideon, they are rejecting the LORD .

8:13-17 This is evidence of fairly common literacy at an early time. The young man was able to write, and Gideon and his men apparently were able to read, the names of the elders.

8:20 Gideon was giving an honor to his son, to strike the last blow and kill the leaders of the enemy. It would have also been a further disgrace to the kings to be killed by a youth.

8:27 There is always the danger, even after great victory in the Lord, to be ensnared by religious compromises or backsliding.

9:15 The thornbush, worthless as far as agriculture, would become king. The thornbush represents Abimelech, and apparently the valuable trees that declined to rule represent the other sons of Gideon.

10:14 The LORD's rebuke, "Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen" was intended to bring the Israelites to the point of true repentance and to realize they cannot have the LORD and other gods also. In verse 16 they get rid of their other gods. The LORD is not to be taken for granted.

11:30 Did Jephthah intend a human sacrifice? The 'whatever' may also be translated 'whoever'. What did he picture coming out of the door of his house? An animal or a servant? Although the 'Spirit of the LORD' had come upon him, this rash oath was clearly not given by prompting of the Holy Spirit. Human sacrifice is specifically forbidden in the Law (Lev 18:21 and Deut 12:31). Incidentally, I believe that Jephthah committed a greater sin by carrying out his rash and unlawful oath. (There in another interpretation that she was committed to serve at the tabernacle for the rest of her life, but I consider this unlikely in light of the fact that the event became an annual remembrance.)

12:1 The depths to which Israel had fallen is seen in this inter-tribal rivalry and civil war. The LORD's people were fighting one another.

12:6 The difference in pronouncing the two words above is an interesting feature of Hebrew. The letter 'sin' (pronounced seen) looks rather like an English W and sounds like an 's' in a word. In some cases it was pronounced as an 'sh' and later Hebrews placed a dot in the W to indicate the pronunciation as sheen. In learning Hebrew, sin and shin are learned as separate letters. In counting the letters of the alphabet (such as using them in an acrostic psalm, each line beginning with a letter of the alphabet) they are counted together as one letter. The dot, and various vowel markings, were not part of the original written text, but were added centuries later to avoid mispronunciation. Here, the Sibboleth is deliberately spelled using a different 's' (a samech) to clarify that the 'sh' sound is not to be used.

13:1 In each case of oppression, the LORD is active. Here we see that "the LORD delivered them into the hands of …" The primary reason for the oppression was not Hebrew military weakness or an unfortunate turn of circumstances. Rather, sin and neglect of the LORD led the the LORD disciplining His people.

13:5 The Nazirite is described in Numbers 6:1-12. He is to never eat of the vine, his hair is to be uncut, and he is not to come near a corpse. Any of these three would violate the vow, although the hair is the most outward and obvious of the signs of the special vow.

13:9 Taking this honey brought Samson into very close proximity to the corpse, a violation of his Nazirite vow.

14:19 Ashkelon was over twenty miles away, so the local men did not know right away how Samson fulfilled his part of the bargain. Also, a bit of travel time was involved here as Samson probably walked the distance.

15:11 Rather than rally around their deliverer, the Israelites chose business as usual, even remaining under the oppression of the Philistines.

16:17 Samson told the truth. How much of this truth did he himself understand? He could have given more glory to God. He could have said, "The LORD is my strength, and my long hair is a sign of my devotion to Him." His statement could lead one to think that the hair itself is magical, and the strength is Samson's and he can do what he wants with it. When the hair is cut, Samson's vow is completely broken and the LORD will remove His strength.

III. Conditions of the Times (17-21)

A. Religious Apostasy (17-18)

17:3 That someone is claiming to offer worship to the LORD does not make that worship right or acceptable. The LORD clearly prohibited the use of images and idols in worshipping Him, as had been demonstrated during the 'golden calf' incident at Sinai. Even if the feelings are 'sincere,' God has set and communicated His own terms for acceptable worship.

17:4 This is not idolatry among the Canaanites or Philistines, but among God's own people. This shows how far the conditions have fallen. Also, we see a Levite not of the priestly family of Aaron becoming a priest. That is, to say the least, presumptuous.

18:20 An example of a priest for hire. We should be on guard to do whatever the LORD wants, and not be unduly influenced by what draws a larger crowd or gives worldly success. This is a challenge in the ministry, we do want the world to hear our message and our churches to grow. Yet, it is not the growth of our following that matters, but how well we follow the LORD.

18:30 The Levite was a descendant from Gershom, son of Moses. Although a Levite, only the sons of Aaron were to become priests. Later scribes inserted an extra letter here, turning the word for Gershom into the word for Manasseh. Being careful to preserve the sacred text, they put the extra letter as a superscript, written above the line of text. They did not want to shame the name of Moses by what his descendant did.

B. Moral Degradation (19-21)

19 This event happened earlier than the Samson story, as Phineas was still high priest. It is put here, outside of the six cycles of oppression and deliverance, to show the state of the nation during the time of the Judges.

19:12 Ironically, the Levite refuses to stay in a city of pagans, being confident of greater safety among Israelites.

19:22 How similar to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah! However, these are not pagans but Israelites.

20:13 The tribe of Benjamin put family ties above justice. This often happens in politics, where friends are excused for actions that enemies are condemned for.

21:23 The tribe of Benjamin would recover over time, and would provide the first King over Israel, Saul.

Application note: Is the pattern of Judges a recurring pattern in your life? Many Christians, even churches, depend heavily on the Lord when trials come, but live comfortably ignoring Him when life is going right. This is an up and down spiritual life, rather than a consistent mature walk with the Lord.

Please send comments or suggestions to ron@iStudyBible.com
Updated March 2012

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