Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 6: Tuesday
Today’s Bible reading is Judges 1–6. Judges itself will give you an overview of what’s in the book. I want to go over that, and because it’s read through in only four groups of chapters, this will be a more comprehensive overview than usual.
An older Holman edition of the New American Standard Bible contains a brief summary of each book of the Bible. Here’s what it says about Judges:
“Judges carries on the history of Israel from the death of Joshua to the time of Samuel. This period, during which the people repeatedly disobeyed and departed from God, is one of the darkest times in their history. As they repented of their sins and turned to God, He raised up leaders, judges, who delivered them.
“Although the writer of this book is unknown, it is believed to be the work of Samuel.”1
Arthur Cundall, in his preface to his commentary on Judges writes,
“Few periods in Israel’s eventful history are as important as the period of the judges. During these centuries the nation took the wrong turning that led to her downfall and near-destruction. The apostasy of the later generations has its origin in the early years of the settlement, and there is a clear line between the time when the nation first went after Baal and the dark age when the Jerusalem Temple itself was defiled with all the trappings of Baal worship, not excluding cultic prostitutes (2 Ki. 23:4–7). There is much in Judges to sadden the heart of the reader; perhaps no book in the Bible witnesses so clearly to our human frailty. But there are also unmistakable signs of the divine compassion and long-suffering.”2
The history in Judges is a cycle of terrible evil deeds, dreadful consequences, merciful deliverance and then a forsaking of God all over again—starting the cycle once more. Cundall summarizes it as: “sin, servitude, supplication and salvation.”3 He explains the meaning of the book’s title:
“The Hebrew title is šôp̄eṭîm. The English title is apt to be misleading, since it conveys the idea of a group of men whose principal task was in the legal sphere, arbitrating in disputes between men. A cursory reading of Judges will show that this was, in fact, a subsidiary function of its leading characters. The clue to the connotation of the Hebrew may be found in 2:16, ‘And the Lord raised up judges, which saved them out of the hand of those that spoiled them’ (RV). The judges were primarily the ‘saviours’ or ‘deliverers’ of their people from their enemies…In 11:27, in the context of the Ammonite oppression, the Lord is described as šôp̄ēṭ. This conception may be said to form the background of the book: the Lord is the real Judge of His people; it is He who gives them into the hands of their oppressors; it is He who raises up deliverers for them; it is His Spirit, coming upon men, which equips them for their tasks (3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6,19; 15:14).”4
He divides the book into three main sections:5
I. The Incomplete Conquest of Canaan (1:1 – 2:5)
II. Israel in the Period of the Judges (2:6 – 16:31)
III. Appendices (17:1 – 21:25)
As you begin reading you’ll notice that Judges 1:1 opens with, Now it happened after the death of Joshua, and Judges 2:8 says, Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Yahweh, died at the age of 110. So when do the events of the verses between 1:1 and 2:8 occur? Cundall explains:
“As the death of Joshua is dealt with in greater detail in 2:6–9, the most likely explanation of the first section of this verse [1:1a] is that it is the title and general introduction to the whole book; i.e., it is concerned with the history of the post-Joshua age. 1:1b–2:5 actually deal with events during the lifetime of Joshua but are presented in such a way as to provide the background for the main part of the book of Judges.”6
Judges 2:6–3:6 is an overview of the time of the judges.7 Judges 2:10 marks the turning point:
The next generation would have been told about their history and the great deliverances of God in Egypt, the Wilderness years, and the conquest under Joshua, but knowing history doesn’t mean you know God.
You’ve probably heard it said that God doesn’t have grandchildren. Each person must know God. If you have a wonderful heritage of generations of Christians, then you’ve had family to teach you and be an example of how to live before God. However, we don’t live by someone else’s faith or knowledge of God. We can certainly be taught, supported, warned, and encouraged, but each of us individually must turn to God in repentance and faith.
In Judges 2:11–19, “The history of almost two centuries is here summarized, indicating the principles behind the Lord’s dealings with Israel.”8
In Deuteronomy 6, God had told Israel that they were to be careful to do His commands. Not just outward obedience—His commands were to be on their hearts, and they were to teach them and continually talk of them with their children; the next generation was to have faithful examples and diligent teaching and conversation about God and His commands. Sadly, and with deadly consequences to many, their fear of God and their diligence to keep His commands never went past the alleviation of their own misery and into the understanding of the next generation.
When they came and lived in the land promised to them by God, Israel disobeyed God with their covenants with the Canaanites, intermarriages, and by not destroying their pagan alters (cf. Exodus 34:11–17; Deuteronomy 12). God had told them the people would be thorns in their sides and their gods would be snares to Israel. When Joshua and the elders who survived him died, the next generation did evil in God’s sight and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth idols of the Canaan culture whose followers practiced sexual rituals8 and human sacrifice (cf. Deuteronomy 12:31).
As Judges moves into the specifics of the events after the death of Joshua and his generation (my emphasis):
“In this central section we are introduced to the twelve main characters from whom the book derives its name: Othniel (3:7–11), Ehud (3:12–30), Deborah, with Barak in support (4, 5), Gideon (6–8), Jephthah 10:6–12:7 and Samson (13–16). These are usually regarded as the major judges, while the minor judges, considered in far less detail, are Shamgar (3:31), Tola and Jair (10:1–5) and Ibzan, Elon and Abdon (12:8–15).”9
With the constant cycle of oppression and deliverance, Judges is a book of war and battles, and there are gruesome things that happen. You should remember:
“In Canaan in particular, the religious life of the community had been debased to the lowest level. It is against this background that the command to exterminate the Canaanites must be seen. Israel…became the agent of divine judgment upon the Canaanites. Since God is both sovereign and righteous, and therefore active within history, this is only to be expected and it has been paralleled in the history of the nations many times subsequently. But the divine command was also prophylactic. It was designed to safeguard the life of the nation from the corroding influences of Canaanite life. And since the purposes of God through Israel were redemptive, a redemption in which the whole world was ultmately to share, the importance of an Israel dedicated and uncontaminated is apparent.”10
In the midst of the apostasy and dark events in the book of Judges, Cundall writes,
“In contrast to man’s multiplied misdemeanors there is the constancy of a God who is always ready to hearken to the cries of His wayward people and to intervene on their behalf…His arms are stretched still to welcome the penitent supplicant. The forbearance of God and the wonderful possibility of a new beginning through His grace strikes a glad note in this book which cannot be silenced by the discordant sounds which appear to predominate.”11
Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Judges 1: A high resolution scan of the Aleppo Codex. Public Domain.
1“Biblical Backgrounds: A Survey of Each Book: Judges,” Holy Bible: New American Standard, Red Letter Edition, (Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, TN: The Lockman Foundation, 1977).
2,3,4,5,6,7,9,10,11Arthur E, Cundall, Judges: An Introduction and Commentary (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1968) 11; 46; 50; 15; 51; 66; 67; 38–39; 47. (This commentary is published in the same volume as the commentary, Ruth, by Leon Morris).
8F. F. Bruce, “Judges,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 258.
I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.
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