“All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” Is this a statement found in the Bible or is it a commentary of our world culture today? It is, in fact, both. This phrase is the final statement at the conclusion of the Book of Judges. It seems the more we read through the Bible that throughout history things haven’t changed very much. Violence, war, rebellion, immorality, and disregard for God are not modern problems or current issues… They have been problems and issues since the beginning of time. These issues point us to a truth; humanity needs a rescuer and savior.
The book of Judges shows us that the Bible is not a book of virtues. It is not intended to be one that highlights inspiring stories that moves its readers to becoming superior contributors of society, nor is it an instructional manual that directs us to becoming moral individuals in an immoral world. Judges is about God’s love, mercy, and patience with the nation of Israel and how he continually works in and through his people despite their continual rebellion and sinful practices. Timothy Keller in his commentary JUDGES FOR YOU sums up the book of Judges as, “despicable people doing deplorable things.” And as “Trashy tales about dysfunctional characters.”
The book of Judges is a fascinating book that recounts darker days of Israel’s early history in the Promised Land from the point of Joshua’s to the time when Israel demands a King to rule over them. It picks up right where the book of Joshua leaves off. Judges begins in the first two chapters detailing life in the Promised Land up to the time when Joshua dies at the age of 110. We learn that the generation after Joshua grew up and did not acknowledge God as their Lord and did evil in the sight of God. Naturally this angered God because the culture of Israel was a time of spiritual pluralism. This means that the Israelites dwelt among the nations who worshiped and served various gods. The Israelites were called to be a people who are holy, consecrated, and obedient to the one true God, they were his chosen people to represent him to the nations. So, when they entered the Promised Land, they had choices to make; either follow God and be obedient to him or follow the pagan spiritual practices of those dwelling in Canaan. Unfortunately, they chose the latter. The sin and decadence were so bad that God turned the Israelites over to their enemies, resulting in God raising up judges to rescue them from their enemies. The book is named after the group of these twelve individuals who served as leaders to the nation of Israel. These were men and a woman who were commissioned by God to lead the rebellious nation of Israel back to Him. During this time God was the ruler of the nation and it was a time of national decline because of Israel’s rebellion towards God and affinity for worshiping false Gods. It is easy to notice the cyclical and distinct pattern (or a spiral effect) that runs throughout the book.
The judges were principally the “saviors” or “deliverers” of the people from their enemies. It is important to note that these judges did not take the place of God, they were simply military and civil leaders with judicial functions.
Judges 4:5 – Deborah would sit under a palm, and she would settle disputes among the people.
The LORD is the true judge of his people, and it is he who delivers the people from their oppressors, and it is he would appoint the judges to lead in the deliverance. It is his Spirit, coming upon men equipping them to do the tasks at hand.
Judges 2:17 - God was with the Judge he raises up and saves them from their enemies all the days of the Judge. So, if the Judge who God has called to bring the nation back to Israel was alive the nation was in good standing with God. The book mentions 12 judges (Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah/Barak, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Izban, Elon, Ablon, and Samson) and from this list of judges you may recognize the names Gideon and Samson. Most judges have unique stories…
Gideon – An ordinary man called by God
Judges 6:1 – 6: The story of Gideon begins in Judges 6, and we see the spiral effect in full swing as the nation of Israel did what was evil in the sight of God and He gave them over to the hand of the Midianites to oppress them. The Midianites and Amalekites were kind of like school yard bullies to Israel. The Israelites were afraid of them so they would build their homes in the mountains and grow crops but when harvest time came the Midianites and Amalekites would come and take their lunch money so to speak by overpowering them and taking all their crops. The people of God cried out to the Lord for help and the Lord sends a prophet to tell them it is because of their unfaithfulness to him is why all this is happening.
This reminds me of how many people are like this today; they spend their lives ignoring God, his commands, and doing what they please, but then when something bad happens they cry out to God for help. In Judges we see God’s patience and mercy in action because he continually sends aid to the rebellious people through the Judges. This remains true for us today as we see God is faithful to hear us when we cry out to him even when we have not been faithful to him.
6:11 – 16: An Angel of the Lord comes and commissions a man named Gideon to save Israel from the hands of the Midianites. Gideon’s response to his call is much like that of Moses when he says, “I can’t do this, I am of the weakest tribe (Manasseh) and I am the least of my father’s family…surely you must have the wrong guy.” The Angel of the Lord says, “No, I have the right guy. God is going to be with you and stop calling me Shirley.” (Ba da bum dum). This is often the response of a humble servant of God. He/she knows that they are not qualified to do the task without God being with them. The angel of the Lord tells him that God will be with him in this task and he (like many of us) responds in reluctant obedience.
Gideon says, “If this is true then please show me a sign that this will be as you say.” The angel complies and performs a miracle to show that God will be with him. That very evening Gideon was commanded by God to destroy his father’s altar’s that were built to Baal. God is calling Gideon to take hold of his own faith and forsake the faith of his father. Gideon is afraid to do this because he does not want to anger or disrespect his father, but he also knows God is calling him from this dead and empty religion of Baal worship to serving the one true living God.
This may not seem like a big deal but when you look at what God is telling Gideon to do is a very big deal. I would imagine the last thing he wanted to do was to disrespect his father or tear down the altar’s that his father built with his own hands. However, he knew and feared the one true God and he had to make a that evening… Will he ignore God’s call on his life because he doesn’t want to hurt his father’s feelings or is he going to be obedient and destroy this abomination before God? He chooses obedience. I am reminded of the various of people I meet who know that God is calling them to greater and better things but refuse to be obedient because they are more faithful to something other than him. They are more faithful to their church, their denomination, the congregation, or pastor than to God. They are fearful of what people will say about them or do to them. Gideon proclaims loudly who he serves just by his obedience to God. Was he scared? Most likely. Did he think he was going to hurt his father’s feelings? Maybe. But we see obedience to God outweighed obedience to man. The result was his own father forsook Baal after he had seen what Gideon’s God could do.
Gideon and the Fleece
Next, The Lord tells Gideon he will defeat the Midianites and he seeks God’s reassurance by laying out a fleece (twice) to make sure God was going to do what he promised. Many look at these “tests” as Gideon not having faith in God. According to theologian D.A. Carson, “It was common practice in the ancient world to seek last-minute confirmation of divine support before a battle was joined.” It appears Gideon didn’t believe God so he sets up a fleece and asks God that if he is with him then in the evening when the dew comes have it settle on the fleece and the ground around it be dry and then he will know it is from God. God did as he asked, and Gideon still wanted to confirmation that God was with him, so he asks God to do the opposite and he does. Again, I see the patience and mercy in God evident in this account. He already told Gideon he was going to be with him and accomplish great things, but it seems that was not enough, Gideon sought more proof. It would have been easy for God to say, “Well forget it! Obviously, I have the wrong person for the job.” But he doesn’t and shows great restraint and compassion by complying to Gideon’s request.
There have been times in my life when I did almost the same as Gideon. There have times when I am faced with really difficult decisions, and I want to be in God’s will; so, I “set out fleeces” or I try to bargain with God to reassure me that I am doing the right thing. Have you ever set a fleece out to God and said or thought, “Lord if you want me to do this then you need to do this to assure me, I am doing the right thing?” Is it wrong to set out fleeces? I don’t really know. Apparently, God was ok with it since he did what was asked of him. HOWEVER, I do think if we do choose to set out fleeces that we do so with extreme caution. Because I do not believe God will always respond the way He did with Gideon and/or sometimes we put more faith in the fleece experience than we do in the God who has called us.
Lastly, when Gideon received confirmation from the Lord, he called together the men of Israel to form an army. Thirty-two thousand men showed up to fight! The Lord says to Gideon, “There are too many men present. If you go to battle and win then the men can take credit for the work that I did.” So, the Lord instructed Gideon to tell all the men who were scared and trembling to go home, resulting in 20,000 men leaving the camp. Ten-thousand men remained. God said, “Still too many.” He instructs Gideon to take them to the water and those who lap the water like a dog shall go home and those who drink by putting the water to their mouths were to stay. Nine-thousand seven hundred men were sent home. Three hundred men remained, and God said, “Now that’s a number I can work with.”
Judges 7:7 – 8: Now comes the odd part to the story. God informs Gideon that the 300 men and he will defeat the Midianites without shedding any blood. They were going to defeat them by trumpets and voices (think back to Jericho). Not surprisingly, God does exactly as he promises. Due to the lack of time, I would encourage you to read the account in Judges 7:19 – 25 to see how Gideon and his three hundred soldiers defeated the Midianites.
Judges is filled with many accounts of God working through his people. My purpose in today’s message is to remind us that in the eyes of God we are all significant in the part we play in his overall plan. No matter how large or small our roles may be in this life during our lives they are all important in the grand scheme of God’s glory. Before I conclude I want to leave you with three applicable points for us from Judges.
 Keller, T., 2013. Judges for you. [Purceyville, VA]: The Good Book Co., p.9.
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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