Overview of Judges

Pastor Harrell takes the book of Judges—a book you might not know a ton about—and makes it come to life with some simple and applicable truths.


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The Full Transcript

Corby LaCroix:

Welcome to the Bible for Life Podcast, where today we’re looking at the Book of Judges. Senior Pastor Ken Harrell is about to take a book that you might not know a ton about and make it come to life with some simple but applicable truths. We’re glad you’ve chosen to listen to our podcast today. So without any further delay, here’s Pastor Harrell.

Ken Harrell:

I’ve always loved the subject of history and I remember years ago reading one historian where he talked about the study of civilizations, and he said that the duration for a civilization is around 200 years. And what was interesting is he said that they all had this same downward spiral. Now, just track with me. He said it began with bondage, and from to bondage to spiritual faith, and from spiritual faith to great courage, from great courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance. Now, watch the erosion from abundance to leisure, from leisure to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, complacency to apathy, apathy to dependence, and dependence to weakness, and weakness back to bondage. It starts and stops with bondage.

When you get to the Book of Judges, if the Lord gave me a giant eraser and allowed me to just remove one book from the Bible, it would be for me the Book of Judges. And the reason is that the Book of Judges best illustrates the depravity of mankind. I mean, it’s not a book that on a cold winter night you want to sit by a fire and just read. Well, we’ve come to the seventh book in the Old Testament, and I just want to remind you, we don’t want to get lost in the trees and the leaves and the limbs. We want to see the whole forest so let’s not get ourselves bogged down in needless details, because if we do with, we won’t be able to survey the Bible. So let’s begin with some interesting introductory things. The name, well, it’s self-explanatory. Judges, they were men and women raised up to deliver people from bondage.

A judge was not like what you might think today sitting in behind a bench in a courtroom with a gavel in his hand. But rather a judge was like a warrior moreso than legal proceedings, though at times he was involved or she was involved in legal proceedings. At times, a counselor like a priest or a prophet. But at no time, did they oversee litigation. For instance, Gideon. Gideon was a rugged individual raised up to be a fighter and he took on a nation that had overtaken his people, the Jews. The word judge simply means deliver. So judges were strong leaders that God raised up to bring deliverance. The book is about 300 years from start to finish it. It went from 1375 to 1075 BC, and those 300 years were miserable years. And what you see in the Book of Judges is there’s seven cycles where people choose to turn their back on God.

Now, what I’d like to do right now is I’d like to see the contrast between the Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges. They both begin within an obituary and it’s important because of who has just died. In Joshua chapter one, it begins, “After the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, it came to pass that the Lord spoke to Joshua, the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, “Moses, my servant is dead.” Judges chapter one, verse one, “Now, after the death of Joshua, it came to pass.” So you begin the Book of Joshua with the death of Moses and you begin the Book of Judges with the death of Joshua. And I bring that to our attention to remind us of something I did in an earlier episode in this podcast, and what I want you to remember is this, when the man of God dies, nothing of God dies. When the man of God dies, nothing of God dies. Let me show you the contrast.

In the Book of Joshua, Joshua is the book of victory. Judges, a book of defeat. In Joshua, there’s a motivation to fight. Judges, they’re satisfied with the status quo. They just want to maintain. In Joshua, people are mobilized. In Judges, they’re settled. Joshua, there is a unity, there’s a determination. In Judges, there’s disunity, anarchy. In Joshua, the land was yet to be conquered, and throughout the book, you see them conquering the land. You get to the Book of Judges, the land is theirs. The Book of Joshua, it’s a first generation of people and they’re pioneers and their warriors. In Judges, there’s a second generation and they don’t know how to fight, and they don’t even want to. The Book of Joshua, there’s patriotism and a national zeal. And in the Book of Judges, there’s a national indifference. The theme of the Book of Judges, I mean, it’s just all throughout the book you see a word, failure, failure, failure. And the theme is failure through compromise.

And throughout these 21 chapters, depravity is on display. I mean, people were satisfied in the Book of Judges to sit back and just experience the status quo. But here’s the problem, in Judges chapter 17, in verse six, the Bible says, “In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Chapter 18 verse one, “In those days, there was no king in Israel.” 19 verse one, “And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel.” And then the final verse in the Book of Judges, chapter 21, verse 25, “In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” I mean, it’s like neon lights in the Book of Judges that is just one word, permissiveness, permissiveness, do your own thing. I mean, if it feels good, do it. I mean, after all, no one is in control. And this book, folks, it is a brutal, ugly account of people doing what was right in their own eyes.

But notice they didn’t say what was wrong in their eyes because they always justify what they did. Thus, it was always right in their eyes. I mean, wrong is right because I say it’s right. And today, folks, we see the same thing in our culture. We see the same thing in our nation. No shame, no regret, no sorrow. Why? Because people rationalize what they do in such a way that what they do is right in the eyes of those responsible. I mean, the Book of Judges is like today’s news, and as you read through it, you start to ask yourself this question, how could they? I mean, after all that Joshua, we learned this on the episode on the Book of Joshua, how could the Jews, I mean, after all that Joshua had instructed them just before he died? In fact, here’s what Joshua said in Joshua 23, verse five, “And the Lord your God will expel them from before you and drive them out of your sight so you shall possess their land as the Lord your God promised you.”

I mean, they’re in the land of Canaan now, it’s theirs. Every tribe has been given a section of land. And listen, even though they had conquered the army of the Canaanites, there were these little snipers, these idol worshiping Canaanites, little pockets of people, and they gave the Jews fits. And Joshua says, “Listen, you’ve got to get these people out of the land because the land belongs to you,” verse six of Joshua, 23. “Therefore,” Joshua said, “be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, and lest you go among the nations. These who remain among you, you shall not make mention of their gods.” I mean, how narrow can you get, huh? But you see that’s God’s way of cleaning up his people. God says, “I don’t want you to talk about their gods. I don’t want you to talk about Baal or Astarte or Molech. Don’t talk about the gods or the godless practices.”

Verse seven says, “You shall not mention the name of their gods, nor cause anyone to swear by them. You shall not serve them nor bow down to them. But you shall hold fast to the Lord your God as you have done to this day for the Lord has driven out from before you great and strong nations. But as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day.” And then in verse 11, “Therefore, take careful heed to yourselves that you love the Lord your God.” In other words, what he’s saying is, don’t sit in your house that you didn’t build and say, “Well, everything’s going to be all right.” Joshua is saying, “Stay at it until you get the land completely cleaned up.” Well, let’s look at the Book of Judges. The first section of the Book of Judges, we find the reasons or the causes for the failure. That’s really from chapter one, verse one to chapter three, verse six. And then as you go throughout the Book of Judges, you’ll see seven cycles of the same miserable failure.

They’re like on a merry-go-round, and it winds up with Samson and the Philistines and he’s the last one. And then you look back and you see the curses that come from the failure to drive the people out. And I’m telling you, when we finish this study, you’ll say, “I can’t believe how relevant this book of the Bible is.” It begins with disobedience and it closes with disgrace. I mean, how in the world, how could they fall into failure after the Book of Joshua? I mean, was it quick? No, no, it was like erosion, folks. With erosion, it’s not noisy. It’s silent. I remember, it must’ve been about 30, 35 years ago when I was a reading about up in Lake Erie where they had a large section that just fell into the lake of land that had eroded over the years. And through the process of erosion, at one time, one day it just went into the lake. But it just didn’t happen overnight. Year after year after year, a little bit, a little bit, you couldn’t notice it until finally all of it went into the lake.

Let me show you how it happened in the Book of Judges. Judges chapter one, verse one, “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 against the Canaanites and to fight against them?’ And the Lord said, ‘Judah shall go. Indeed I have delivered the land into his hand.'” Now watch the erosion. Verse 19, “So the Lord was with Judah and they drove out the mountaineers, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland because they had chariots of iron.” I mean, listen, folks, isn’t God bigger than chariots of iron? Yes, that is unless you focus on the chariots of iron. Verse 21, “But the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem. So the Jebusites dwell in 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 it’s villages.” But you know what they said, the one group said, “Well, we’ll make them work for us. We’ll make them forced labor people. I mean, after all, own the land, we have the land.” 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.” Verse 29, “Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites.” Verse 30, “Nor did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites.” Verse 31, “Nor did Asher drive out the Canaanites.” Verse 33, “Nor did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants.” Wait, I mean, that’s all the tribes. But now watch because the tail begins to wag the dog.

Verse 34, “And the Amorites forced the children of Dan,” wait, those are Israelites, “the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountains for they would not allow them to come down to the valley.” I mean, it begins to take its toll. I mean, why did they fail? Answer number one, partial obedience, which, by the way, is a nice way of saying downright disobedience. They took some of them out, but God said, “Take all of them out.” I mean, multiple times in the Book of Joshua, God says, “Drive them all out.” Well, what happened? Well, Israel begins to worship their gods. Chapter three, verse one, “Now these are the nations which the Lord left that he might test Israel.” That is, all who had not known any of the wars in Canaan. “And they were left that he might,” verse four, “test Israel by them to know whether they would obey.” Verse five, “Thus the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, the Jebusites.” I mean, after all, they’ve got iron chariots so let’s just…

Well, Judges chapter three, verse six, “And they took their daughters to be their wives and gave their daughters to their sons,” now watch this, “and they served their gods.” There it is. Why did they fail? Number one, partial obedience. They didn’t drive them out. Number two, idolatry. And number three, intermarriage. When you marry the Canaanite, I mean, she’s got some gods. What’s it going to hurt? Just to have a little idol over here, who cares? Come on. Do you see the erosion? Little by little and all of this set in motion a cycle, and it is so incredibly relevant to your life and my life today. In chapter two, you begin to see the five factors that make up this cycle. Chapter two, verse 11, “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 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 Astarte.” First factor, disobedience. I mean, God said, “Put them out,” and they didn’t. Look at the second factor, verse 14, “And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel so he delivered them into the hand of the plunderers who despoiled them or plundered them and he sold them into their hands of their enemies all around so that they could no longer stand before their enemies.” Second factor, bondage. Don’t think for one moment, “Well, I’m going to do it my own way and that’s going to get me freedom.” No, it won’t. It’ll get you bondage every time. Third factor, misery. Verse 15, “Whenever 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 or depressed.”

I mean, where’s the happy lifestyle? The Bible says, “The way of the transgressor is hard.” And here you see disobedience leads to bondage and bondage resulting in misery. The Lord says, “Walk with me.” “But Lord, I say this.” And the Lord says, “Walk with me.” “But Lord, you don’t understand.” ” I understand and I understand well. Walk with me.” “But I can’t.” Listen, the way of the transgressor is hard. And I want to tell you, when you live like that, when God tells you to do something and you don’t, you’ll be in your bed at night and you’ll toss and turn with inner turmoil. There won’t be anything, no peace at all while you talk about grace. Verse 16, “Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges and delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them yet they would not listen to their judges.” In verse 18, “And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them out of the hands of their enemies all the days of the judge.” That leads to factor number four and that’s deliverance and rest.

And when God brought deliverance and rest to Israel in these cycles, that it would last for as long as 80 years or as short as 20 years. I mean, can you believe it? I mean, they didn’t listen to the judges. The Bible says, “They played the harlot with other gods,” and that’s a very vivid Hebrew term. God would deliver them, and then in verse number 19 the Bible says, “And it came to pass when the judge was dead that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers.” And there you’ve got it, disobedience leads to bondage, leads to misery, leads to deliverance and rest and compromise. And here it is, again, disobedience, misery, deliverance, compromise, disobedience, misery, deliverance. Let me say two things. Number one, doesn’t this make you sick to your stomach, I mean, just how they turned their back on God and how they just went through these cycles? But it says a second thing, and that is, how much like us, folks, nothing has changed.

I mean, what happens to a society that buys into this style of life? Well, that’s all illustrated in chapters three to 16. But I want you to see the ultimate consequence, the ultimate consequences, and you see that in chapter 17, and you see the depths of disgrace that they plummeted to as it ran its course for these 300 years. You see how they think so differently, and at the end of Samson’s life. I mean, he’s gone. Chapter 16 closes his life. And then you see three disgraceful lifestyles that come to pass. And the first one is idolatry. In chapter 17, there’s an interesting story. I mean, probably one you’ve not read lately, and it revolves around a man by the name of Micah. Now, it’s not the prophet Micah. But this guy Micah took 1,100 pieces of silver from his mother and he then told her, he said, “Well, I took it.” And she had bought into this permissive lifestyle and she said, “Oh, may you be blessed by the Lord, my son.” You see that in chapter 17, verse three.

So when he had returned, speaking of Micah, the 1,100 shekels of silver to his mother, remember, she had bought into this whole permissive system. His mother said, “I had wholly dedicated this silver from my hand to the Lord for my son to make a carved image and a molded image. Now, therefore, I return it to you.” Thus, he returned the silver to his mother. Then his mother took 200 shekels of silver and gave them to the silversmith and he made it into a carved image and a molded image. And they were in the house of Micah. The man, Micah, verse five, had a shrine. I mean, Micah’s got this shrine now in his own room. I mean, everybody’s got idols. Well, along comes a priest from the Tribe of Levi, and get this, he compromises. Verse number nine, “And Micah said to the priest, ‘Where do you come from?’ So he said to them, ‘I’m a Levite from Bethlehem and Judah and I’m on my way to find a place to stay.'”

Folks, listen, a priest’s job was to set people apart in their walk with God, and this priest should have confronted Micah, but he didn’t. Verse 10, “Micah said to him, ‘Dwell with me and be a father and a priest to me and I will give you 10 shekels of silver per year, a suit of clothes, and your sustenance.’ So the Levite went in. Then the Levite was contented dwell with the man, and the young man became like one of his sons to him. So Micah consecrated the Levite and the young man became his priest and lived in the house of Micah.” And not once does the priest say, “Micah, that idol has got to go.” Well, when you get to chapter 18, a group of men rip off this idol and the priest goes with the men and the priest changes his color to fit in with that scheme. I mean, after all, he’s going to make more money, and it all results in murder. And it sets in motion the process of revenge. And I want to tell you, folks, you haven’t seen depravity until you read the 19th chapter.

I mean, chapter 19 is the lowest level of depravity I believe in the entire Old Testament. And it revolves around a man who had a concubine and he goes and gets her, and on his way back, he stays the night in the city. But there’s no place to stay so he stays there at a park. Well, an older man comes along and says, “Why don’t you stay with me?” And they do. Well, the group of homosexuals gather outside and they want to commit sodomy with the man inside, and they’re rejected. And verse 22 says, “As they were enjoined themselves, suddenly certain men of the city, perverted men, surrounded the house and beat on the door. They spoke to the master of the house, ‘Bring out the man who came to your house that we may know him carnally.’ But the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, ‘No, my brethren, I beg you, do not act so wickedly seen this man has come into my house and do not commit this outrage.'”

And if you can believe this verse 24, “‘Look, here is my virgin daughter and the man’s concubine. Let me bring them out to you. Humble them and do with them as you please. But to this man, do no such vile thing.'” I mean, how in the world? How could this happen? I’ll tell you why, because there was no king and every man did what he thought was right in his own eyes. Well, they wouldn’t listen, and verse 25 says, “But the men would not heed them so the man took his concubine and brought her out to them and they knew her and abused her all night until morning. And when the day began to break, they let her go. Then the woman came as the day was dawning and fell down at the door of the man’s house where the master was till it was light.” I mean, she was dead. “When her master arose in the morning and opened the doors of the house and went out to go his way, there was this concubine fallen at the door of the house with her hands on the threshold.

“And he said to her, ‘Get up and let us be going.’ But there was no answer. So the man lifted her onto his donkey and the man got up and went to his place.” Now watch this. “When he entered his house, he took a knife and laid hold of his concubine and divided her into 12 pieces limb by limb and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. And so it was that all who saw it said no such deed has been done or seen from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day.” And folks, anarchy breaks out. Idolatry, folks, listen, idolatry leads to immorality, resulting in anarchy, and the people take up revenge and thousands are killed. As I come to a close on this episode on the Book of Joshua, let me give you three concluding statements. And I want to plead with you to do something. You may be listening to this in the car or while you’re working out or walking, but I want to encourage you to go back and to listen to this again, sitting down with your Bible.

And I want you to write down these three concluding statements, because you’re going to see here the cycle or the stair-step down in a broken and depraved world. Now, let me give them to you. Here’s the first one. Number one, depravity results in permissiveness when righteousness is ignored. Let me repeat it. Depravity results in permissiveness when righteousness is ignored. We see it in the Book of Judges and we see it in our own country today. Listen, you ignore righteousness long enough and depravity will breed the illegitimate child of permissiveness every time, and it winds up to where no, no longer means no and wrong is no longer wrong. Now, follow my thought. Here’s a second one. Permissiveness leads to rationalization when holiness is ignored. Permissiveness leads to rationalization when holiness is ignored.

You see, folks, in our day, it’s no longer vogue to refer to something as bad or sinful or wrong. I mean, if you do, you’re going to be marked as someone that’s ignorant or ill informed. And that leads to the third, rationalization encourages rebellion when repentance is ignored. Now, let me, let me read the progress, how this progresses again. First of all, depravity results in permissiveness when righteousness is ignored. Permissiveness leads to rationalization when holiness is ignored and rationalization encourages rebellion when repentance is ignored, and that winds up in open rebellion and it’s happening now. I mean, if it doesn’t feel good, then don’t do it. Listen, you talk like this and you’re going to be considered a prophet of doom. But you see, folks, the issue is this, nations don’t change, people change. Sow a thought. Reap an act. Sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap your character. And sow your character, and reap your destiny. The last thing I want to say to you is this, I plead with you, be different, be distinctive. I mean, let’s get a little class back into righteousness.

Corby LaCroix:

Thanks once again for joining us on this edition of the Bible for Life Podcast. It’s been a joy being with you today. Thanks for being along for the ride as we’ve looked at the Book of Judges and seen just how relevant it is to our lives here today. We’ll catch you next time. But until then, remember, for the issues of life for the rest of your life, it’s the Bible for Life.