1 After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Which tribe should go first to attack the Canaanites?”
The book opens with the death of this great leader who had led Israel for many years.
- Born a slave in Egypt and saw the events of the Exodus
- Moses’s right hand man – spiritually (Ex. 24:13, 33:11) and in battle (Ex 17:8ff)
- Spied out the land (Num 14:8) and led them into the land after being commissioned by Moses
- Despite a few setbacks (Joshua 7, 9) Joshua enjoyed wild success, conquering six nations and thirty-one kings (Josh 11:18-23; 12:24).
- But last week we saw problems
- “How long are you going to wait before taking possession of the remaining land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given to you?” (Josh 18:3)
- After Joshua’s moving farewell speech, the people say that they will serve the Lord
But now, upon Joshua’s death, we see the crucial difference between the book of Joshua and the book of Judges. Notice a careful comparison of the first verse of each of these two books:
(Joshua 1:1-2) After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them.
(Judges 1:1-2) After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the LORD, “Which tribe should go first to attack the Canaanites?” The LORD answered, “Judah, for I have given them victory over the land.”
Q: What do you think we can learn from these opening verses in each of these books?
- Leader in place vs. no leader in place
- Unified vs. separated according to tribe
Both books begin with the death of a major leader. But in the first case, both God and Moses have arranged for a successor; in the latter case there is no one to step forward to lead the people. Instead, the Israelites approach the Lord to ask him who should lead. God responds, not with an individual, but with a tribe: “Judah, for I have given them victory over the land.” (Josh 1:2).
The text does not say why God had not chosen another to fill Joshua’s role. But whatever the reason, this lack of leadership becomes a recurring theme in the book of Judges. The author raises the issue in the first verse of the book and summarizes the catastrophic result in the last verse of the book: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdg. 21:25)
The book of Judges narrates the tragic account of a shortage of spiritual leadership among the people of God and the resulting apostasy. It returns to this subject in chapter two before presenting the pattern of sin that will dominate the remainder of the book.
It devotes the remainder of chapter one to the ongoing quest to possess the land. This chapter parallels the material found in Joshua 13-19. First it recounts the victories of Judah (1:3-18), and then recaps the partial successes and failures of the different tribes (1:19ff)
Like the capture of King Adoni-bezek (v. 6-7)
6 Adoni-bezek escaped, but the Israelites soon captured him and cut off his thumbs and big toes. 7 Adoni-bezek said, “I once had seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off, eating scraps from under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.” They took him to Jerusalem, and he died there.
This seems fair. Scripture says: “Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth,” so why not “thumb for a thumb, and big toe for a big toe”?
We see Caleb show up again. Remember Josh 14? Now he’s even older, and a little wiser too:
11 From there they went to fight against the people living in the town of Debir (formerly called Kiriath-sepher). 12 Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the one who attacks and captures Kiriath-sepher.” 13 Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother, Kenaz, was the one who conquered it, so Acsah became Othniel’s wife.
Caleb raises up the first judge of Israel. And he makes sure his wife gets a tough and godly husband. He does more than Joshua to raise up leaders for the next generation.
But we see a sad refrain throughout the rest of the chapter:
19 The Lord was with the people of Judah, and they took possession of the hill country. But they failed to drive out the people living in the plains, who had iron chariots…
21 The tribe of Benjamin, however, failed to drive out the Jebusites…
27 The tribe of Manasseh failed to drive out…
29 The tribe of Ephraim failed to drive out…
30 The tribe of Zebulun failed to drive out…
31 The tribe of Asher failed to drive out…
33 Likewise, the tribe of Naphtali failed to drive out…
34 As for the tribe of Dan, the Amorites forced them back into the hill country…
Momentum has shifted. The tide has turned. The people are failing to do what God has called on them to do.
So God gives them a visit from “The Angel of the Lord.” We’ve seen this guy before, and we’ve argued that he is a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.
1 The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said to the Israelites, “I brought you out of Egypt into this land that I swore to give your ancestors, and I said I would never break my covenant with you. 2 For your part, you were not to make any covenants with the people living in this land; instead, you were to destroy their altars. But you disobeyed my command. Why did you do this? 3 So now I declare that I will no longer drive out the people living in your land. They will be thorns in your sides,* and their gods will be a constant temptation to you.”
4 When the angel of the Lord finished speaking to all the Israelites, the people wept loudly. 5 So they called the place Bokim (which means “weeping”), and they offered sacrifices there to the Lord.
Q: What do you notice about the angel’s approach and the people’s response?
- Starts with grace, and reminds them of how he will always be faithful to them
- He doesn’t reject them but allows them to experience consequences
- They weep and feel bad, but didn’t really change their hearts
Possible follow up question: What difference do you think it makes that he starts with grace?
6 After Joshua sent the people away, each of the tribes left to take possession of the land allotted to them. 7 And the Israelites served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the leaders who outlived him—those who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.
10 After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.
What a contrast between Moses and Joshua.
- Moses ended his life in defeat, being kept out of the promised land. But he left behind perhaps the godliest and most faithful generation ever in the nation of Israel.
- Joshua, on the other hand, ended his life full of faith and zeal, and having accomplished his mission he urged others to follow in his footsteps. But he left behind one of Israel’s most wicked and unfaithful generations ever, who in turn gave birth to several centuries of Israelites where everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
- Even though he could declare at the end of his life that, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” the rest of the nation still fell away. This should teach us an important lesson: Christians need to do more than lead their families to a robust faith in God. Joshua should have left behind leaders who could lead other families and other households to serve the Lord. Not only does Joshua’s family fail to make spiritual impact on the nation as a whole, but Scripture never even tells us who they are. The silence speaks volumes, especially in an era obsessed with genealogical records!
- Because they failed to develop the next generation, their work didn’t last. Each generation needs to start their own relationship with God and take ownership of their faith. And we need to be committed to doing everything in our power to try to make that happen.
This brings us to our next section. If you had to condense the book of Judges, it wouldn’t get any clearer than Judges 2:11-3:6. It lays out the pattern of sin and redemption that God and the Israelites will repeat throughout this book. Let’s see if we can pick out the pattern
11 The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight and served the images of Baal. 12 They abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods, worshiping the gods of the people around them. And they angered the Lord. 13 They abandoned the Lord to serve Baal and the images of Ashtoreth. 14 This made the Lord burn with anger against Israel, so he handed them over to raiders who stole their possessions. He turned them over to their enemies all around, and they were no longer able to resist them. 15 Every time Israel went out to battle, the Lord fought against them, causing them to be defeated, just as he had warned. And the people were in great distress.
16 Then the Lord raised up judges to rescue the Israelites from their attackers. 17 Yet Israel did not listen to the judges but prostituted themselves by worshiping other gods. How quickly they turned away from the path of their ancestors, who had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands.
18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge over Israel, he was with that judge and rescued the people from their enemies throughout the judge’s lifetime. For the Lord took pity on his people, who were burdened by oppression and suffering. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to their corrupt ways, behaving worse than those who had lived before them. They went after other gods, serving and worshiping them. And they refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.
Q: So, what pattern do you see here in these verses?
- God saves them
- God started by saving them from Egypt, and he will come in again and again with a deliverer. He never lets it get as bad as it got in Egypt, and they never lose the land altogether
- They abandon God
- Which leads them into all other sorts of sin
- This is a judgment from God, who is angry about sin (“The anger of the LORD burned against Israel”)
- Apologetic for God getting angry about sin here?
- Even we get upset about some evil (story from a few years ago about the dictator and war crimes – see Judges notes)
- God is perfect and knows what the world was like before sin, so he’s not desensitized to it like us
- He can’t change the channel when he hears reports like this
- He’s not just watching one news report. Imagine an entire wall full of televisions
- He sees not just the deeds but the wicked thoughts and hearts that lie behind those deeds; that every sin is ultimately a sin against him, a rebellion against his authority
- They cry out to God
- Although it doesn’t mean the Israelites are learning anything from their mistakes. It’s a cry of pain and anguish, as opposed to true biblical repentance, which involves more than a change of feelings. It’s a change of the heart. A change of mind.
- Q: What are some ways we can tell the difference between true repentance and mere regret?
God won’t give Christians over to foreign oppressors, so…
Q: How might this cycle of sin apply to our lives today?
- Possible points to make here
- I think 2:19 is the scariest verse in this chapter: “But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers…”
- One author said that instead of fixing the dam, they were really just plugging the holes with their fingers, and when they removed the stopper, the water came through even faster.
- Six cycles in Judges (Othniel, Ehud, Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson) and each one gets worse
- E.g. railroad tracks that have been out of use for awhile. Or the ex-smoker who is only a few puffs away from starting again.
- Respect for the power of sin!
How bad can it get?
The epilogue shows examples of the deterioration. Jdg 17-18 tell the story of a priest for hire who will basically do anything that people will pay him for, including leading people in idol worship.
Judges 19 shares a horrendous story:
1 Now in those days Israel had no king. There was a man from the tribe of Levi living in a remote area of the hill country of Ephraim. One day he brought home a woman from Bethlehem in Judah to be his concubine.
2 But she became angry with him and returned to her father’s home in Bethlehem. After about four months,
3 her husband set out for Bethlehem to speak personally to her and persuade her to come back…
9 Later, as the man and his concubine and servant were preparing to leave, his father-in-law said, “Look, it’s almost evening. Stay the night and enjoy yourself. Tomorrow you can get up early and be on your way.”
10 But this time the man was determined to leave. So he took his two saddled donkeys and his concubine and headed in the direction of Jebus (that is, Jerusalem).
11 It was late in the day when they neared Jebus…
14 So they went on. The sun was setting as they came to Gibeah, a town in the land of Benjamin,
15 so they stopped there to spend the night. They rested in the town square, but no one took them in for the night.
16 That evening an old man came home from his work in the fields…
20 “You are welcome to stay with me,” the old man said. “I will give you anything you might need. But whatever you do, don’t spend the night in the square.”
21 So he took them home with him and fed the donkeys. After they washed their feet, they ate and drank together.
22 While they were enjoying themselves, a crowd of troublemakers from the town surrounded the house.
They began beating at the door and shouting to the old man, “Bring out the man who is staying with you so we can have sex with him.”
23 The old man stepped outside to talk to them. “No, my brothers, don’t do such an evil thing. For this man is a guest in my house, and such a thing would be shameful.
24 Here, take my virgin daughter and this man’s concubine. I will bring them out to you, and you can abuse them and do whatever you like. But don’t do such a shameful thing to this man.”
25 But they wouldn’t listen to him. So the Levite took hold of his concubine and pushed her out the door.
The men of the town abused her all night, taking turns raping her until morning. Finally, at dawn they let her go.
26 At daybreak the woman returned to the house where her husband was staying. She collapsed at the door of the house and lay there until it was light.
27 When her husband opened the door to leave, there lay his concubine with her hands on the threshold.
28 He said, “Get up! Let’s go!” But there was no answer. So he put her body on his donkey and took her home.
29 When he got home, he took a knife and cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces. Then he sent one piece to each tribe throughout all the territory of Israel.
30 Everyone who saw it said, “Such a horrible crime has not been committed in all the time since Israel left Egypt. Think about it! What are we going to do? Who’s going to speak up?”
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
- This is the problem with the human race. We’re cut off from God and everyone does what is right in his own eyes…
- One day God would send a true king, and ironically just like this abused and battered woman, he would come from the little town of Bethlehem… (GOSPEL)
Breaking the cycle of sin
- Commit to following God (more of a one-time action)
- May mean beginning a relationship with Christ
- There may be some things you can do when you’re thinking clearly
- Get counseling
- Move in with other Christians
- Start serving other people
- Take any step of faith you can
- Cultivate a habit of remembering what God has done (ongoing action)
- This is why we keep going back – because we forget
- We forget how good God is
- We forget how bad it was before he saved us
- Regular bible reading
- Times of reflection on your own life
- Share your stories (testimonies) with each other
- Reading books on grace
- This is why we keep going back – because we forget
- Be prepared for a lifelong struggle
- We’ll never be totally free of this cycle. Maturity means recognizing when you start to lose it and how to get back to reality. You will grow in stability where you don’t go as far off track, you don’t stay there as long, and you don’t take other people down with you.
Sin is bad
But God is good!
1 Pet 1:18-19 – You know that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.
God is asking where you will stand.
- Will you stand with the 2nd generation – the ones who forgot about God’s actions in history and never really knew the Lord for themselves? Will you be someone who has heard a thing or two about God but thinks it would be foolish to make any kind of effort to learn more or to follow him? “Who does God think he is anyway, making all of those demands on my life?”
- Or will you stand with Joshua’s generation? Will you admit that not one word of God’s promises have failed? Will you put away the gods which your fathers served, knowing that God has given you far more than you ever deserved? And will you boldly declare with Joshua that no matter what the others do, as for me and my house we will serve the Lord?