Slippery Slopes to Sin
N°7. Lessons from Judges.
Ever since Adam and Eve first rebelled against the instructions the LORD gave them in the Garden of Eden the human race has been troubled by sin. The circumstances might change but the problem remained unresolved.
Law was given to restrain wickedness and evil-
A whole complex system of sacrifices were given in order to deal with some of the consequences of sin but the root problem of sin in the human heart was tackled by such sacrifices.
The disciplinary period the Israelites spent in the wilderness after their refusal to follow the LORD’s instructions to immediately enter the Promised Land when the LORD freed them from slavery in Egypt did not eradicate sin from the nation’s life. No sooner had the Jordan been crossed and the battle of Jericho engaged than sin once again raised its ugly head and spoiled life for the people.
Now as we turn to the Book of Judges which recounts the progressive possession of the land under a fresh set of circumstances we will see that sin remained an unconquered enemy.
There is a pattern in the Book of Judges that is not particularly difficult to discover and it is somewhat depressing. The pattern is cyclical in nature with an overall moral decline as the nation’s spiritual experience spirals unrelentingly downwards.
This is the pattern that we find:
The LORD blesses his people but they respond to his blessings with sin:
The LORD is offended and angered by his people’s sin, he abandons them to their own devices and sends punishments in the form of foreign nations who dominate them and generally make life a misery for them:
Smarting under these punishments the people finally decide to turn back to the LORD and call upon him for deliverance:
The LORD responds to his repentant people by delivering them from their enemies who have been mistreating them. The deliverance brought about is however only of a temporary nature being secured through the leadership of imperfect judges:
This pattern is repeated over and over again as some 12 judges are raised up. However, each successive judge’s work appears to be effective for a shorter and shorter period before the people fall back again into their former rebellious state.
The pattern ends with Samson after whose time there is no period of restoration but merely descriptions of the terribly degraded moral state into which the Israelites fell.
The story of probably the most important judge is not contained in the Book of Judges at all but in 1Samuel where we meet with the final man to judge Israel, the prophet Samuel.
Who were the Judges?
We are not to think of the judges in the OT in the same way we think about judges in our own.
In our day judges are mostly concerned with legal matters and their domain is the courts.
In the OT however a judge was someone who saw to it that justice was done. He set his people free from those who would otherwise dominate them and he executed judgment upon the enemy. Thus the judge fulfilled the wider role of a deliverer and a temporary ruler.
The judges who are named in the Book of Judges all came from different tribes – it didn’t matter which they came from they were all at best only able to provide a temporary respite. The fact that they came from different tribes also serves to highlight that this was no hereditary position.
Does this go some to explain the closing words of the book and the increasing desire of the people to have a king rule over them. (This desire becomes more and more evident at the end of Samuel’s life and ministry.)
Jud.21:25 "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
The message of the Book of Judges is ultimately that something or someone better than a judge was need if the people were to receive what they really needed. That gift from God was on its way – his perfect Saviour who would accomplish what none of these imperfect judges before him had been able to achieve. But before Jesus would come plenty of other solutions would still be tried – after the judges comes a clamour for kingship for example – it would not be until all these other possible solutions would be found wanting that Jesus would come.
A Poor Response to God’s Blessings (2:10-
Dan.11:32 "the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action." ESV
Dan.11:32 "the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits." AV
The next generation however had no personal knowledge of the LORD nor did they know what he had done for his people.
Was this a failure of Joshua’s generation? True they could not impart a personal knowledge of God to the next generation but could they not have done more to explain how the LORD had blessed his people?
Is there a lesson here for us to hear? For the church generally in the UK?
God had blessed but now the people turned elsewhere. They didn’t turn to the LORD to praise and thank him but they turned to the failed and defeated gods of the nations round about them. They drew their values and found their joy and delight there.
It was sin and the worst thing about sin is that it offends the LORD and provokes him to anger.
Oh yes, there are negative consequences that follow but the worst thing is the offence given to a Holy God. Has that struck you? Have you taken that onboard? Or perhaps it isn’t really sin you dislike, only its consequences.
The gods they had chosen to worship were the gods of the nations they are now going to be forced to serve as the LORD in his wrath will no longer enable his people to stand against their enemies.
And yet, even these enemies, in God’s hands, will be used to draw Israel back to God.
The Consequences of Sin
In the distress caused by these nations that so plundered Israel making its life miserable, the people of God would finally be pressed so hard that all they could do was to cry out again to the Lord:
Cf. 3:9 "But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD"
See also 3:15; 4:3; 6:7; 10:10.
What a wonderful grace this is!
The LORD uses even the consequences of his people’s sin to prick them and to goad them so that they might once again turn in repentance to him and call upon him.
Surely the worst scenario for his people would be for him to simply give them up to their sin and to let them have and enjoy the fruits of their stubborn and repeated rebelliousness. But that is not his way.
And he goes on and on acting in this manner even when it becomes apparent that his people are far more concerned by the negative consequences of their sin than they are bothered by the affront that sin is to their God.
Deliverance comes through a succession of judges
It was when the people were in distress, a distress caused by their own wantonness that they cried out to the LORD and then he responded oh so generously:
2:16 "Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them."
Cf. also 2:18; 3:9, 3:15
Salvation came but it is necessary to persevere. True salvation is not the matter of a decision once taken but of a new life now lived. Twice Matthew writing in the NT tells us that Jesus taught his followers this truth:
Mt.10:22 "the one who endures to the end will be saved."
Mt.24:13 "the one who endures to the end will be saved."
While the judges provided a relief for a greater of lesser period of time sadly upon their demise the people abandoned the way that had brought them to safety and quickly went back to their old ways again. The writer of the Book of Proverbs described this sort of behaviour in fruity terms:
Pr.26:11 "Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly."
And this description is picked up by Peter in the NT:
2Pet.2:22 "What the true proverb says has happened to them: "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.""
Let us take care lest we should behave in just that way.