God Sends Judges
Judges 2:11–14, 16–23
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Describe the situation Israel repeatedly faced when the faith held by one generation was not passed on to the next.
2. Compare and contrast Israel’s challenge of passing on its faith to the next generation with the twenty-first-century church’s challenge to do the same.
3. Identify one way that he or she will help prepare the next generation of church leaders.
How to Say It
Philistines. Fuh-LISS-teens or FILL-us-teens.
Sinai. SIGH-nye or SIGH-nay-eye.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Sept. 25—Love the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4–9)
Tuesday, Sept. 26—God and the Hebrew People (Psalm 78:1–8)
Wednesday, Sept. 27—Prayer for a Nation (Psalm 85:4–13)
Thursday, Sept. 28—Israel Disobeys God (Judges 2:1–5)
Friday, Sept. 29—A New Generation (Judges 2:6–10)
Saturday, Sept. 30—Israel Abandons God (Judges 2:11–15)
Sunday, Oct. 1—Call to Repentance (Judges 2:16–23)
The Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. —Judges 2:16
Why Teach this Lesson?
When we think of the Great Commission that Jesus Christ gave his followers to make disciples of all nations, we may be tempted to look at a map and say, “done deal.” But the truth is that the task is far from finished. I admit that I was shocked when, in a class on how to share your faith, one man in his late forties said he didn’t know who Jesus was until he was an adult. Each new generation represents something of a new “nation”—a new group of people who need to hear the liberating words of God.
Today’s lesson shows God sending judges to rescue his people in times of need. Our rescuer is Jesus. While we may or may not be called to leave our homeland to spread his gospel, we must be ready always to be his hands and feet. That is the only way that those around us will see the love of Christ. His love is lived out in his children.
A. The Passing of Generations
In 2004 the Allies marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Normandy D-Day invasion. It was a reunion of the primary World War II partners: U.S., Canada, Russia, Britain, and France. The Germans were also invited for the first time, because there was some recognition that the German people suffered terribly in World War II.
Many noted that this was likely the last big hurrah for the World War II veterans. At the time the youngest of these veterans were in their late seventies. Quickly fading was what Tom Brokaw had labeled The Greatest Generation.
The World War II generation had dominated the national and international scene for 50 years, far beyond the normal cycle. Hard work, integrity, and a willingness to fight for freedom characterized that generation. What will the world be like when its influence becomes a legacy and then that legacy fades?
In the book of Judges, a surprisingly similar state of affairs is presented in the history of Israel. After the miraculous events of the exodus and the period of temporary residence in the wilderness, the people of Israel entered the promised land. There the armies of Israel fought many battles to liberate territory from the Canaanites. In this week’s lesson Joshua and his warrior generation have died off. The next generation is in control, and its stories are told in the book of Judges.
B. Lesson Background
The book of Judges records the history of Israel from the time of Joshua’s death until the time of Samuel, Israel’s last judge (see 1 Samuel 7:15). This is roughly the time period 1400–1050 b.c. During this time period, Israel had no king but was instead guided by judges. Judges were men and women who arose providentially in times of national crisis to deliver the nation. They seemed to be endowed with the Spirit of God in a special way (at least some of them). The judges were a colorful cast of characters, including the woman-warrior Deborah, the fleece-man Gideon, the left-handed assassin Ehud, and the ancient “superman” Samson.
The judges of Israel served several functions. At times they were judicial arbiters. More often they were national deliverers, frequently as military leaders. Judges were not like kings in that there was no hereditary succession. The one son of a judge who tried to succeed his father in this manner failed (Abimelech, son of Gideon; Judges 9).
Furthermore, the judges of Israel did not function like kings by imposing taxes or negotiating treaties with other nations—functions expected of kings. Israel’s judges had no standing army but relied on the tribal leaders of Israel to provide men when military action was necessary. The judges did not have grand palaces or courtiers. They were seen as regular citizens with extraordinary responsibilities.
The period of the judges is in many ways the record of Israel’s “Dark Ages.” The Israelites had become a settled nation, living in cities and villages. They were farmers, not nomadic shepherds like the patriarchs. Yet this is a time of crisis between faith and culture, between covenant loyalty and the enticing sins of the Canaanites.
Chapter 2 gives a preview of the book and outlines a cycle that is repeated many times in the period before Israel has a king. The cycle is tragically repetitive: apostasy leads to crisis, which leads to repentance, which leads to deliverance, which drifts back to apostasy. The verdict of the book of Judges is that this was a time of moral chaos. “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).
I. Generation Veers Off Course (Judges 2:11–14)
A. People’s Betrayal (vv. 11–13)
11, 12. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger
The previous generations of Israelites had experienced many mighty things. They had seen the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army (Exodus 14). They had been the beneficiaries of miraculous food and water in the wilderness (16:11–15; 17:6). They had witnessed the supernatural on the mountain of Sinai (19:16–20). They had beheld the mighty presence of God in the tabernacle (40:34, 35).
Now the descendants of the exodus generation have settled in the land of Canaan and become infatuated with Canaanite religion. They have violated God’s covenant and embraced idolatry. They have become conformed to the darkness of the world. From our vantage point it is easy to understand why God becomes angry with them. God has fulfilled every one of his promises to them, and they have rejected him.
The Price of “Fun”
J. L. Hunter “Red” Rountree was the oldest known bank robber in America. He was 92 when he died in prison on October 12, 2004.
Red got a late start in his profession. In his late eighties he pulled off his first robbery at a Mississippi bank. He was given three years’ probation, a fine, and was told to get out of the state. A year later, in 1999, he robbed a Florida bank and received a three-year sentence. He was released in 2002. In 2003 he robbed a Kansas bank and was sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison.
Red Rountree had turned bitter many years earlier because of something about a bank loan that didn’t go well. The bitter spirit festered for years before he acted upon it. In a prison interview he said, “You want to know why I rob banks? It’s fun. I feel good, awful good. I feel good for sometimes days, for sometimes hours.” No family member claimed his body upon his death. Apparently his bitterness had made him a lonely old man.
Israel’s time-and-again pursuit of fictitious gods shows some of that same futility. Like Red Rountree, Israel persisted in doing what was “fun.” But sinful “fun” is fleeting. In the long run the cost of sinful “fun” is always very steep. Both the experiences of Red Rountree and Israel should teach us a lesson. Will we learn? —C. R. B.
Visual for Lesson 5
You may wish to post this chart alongside the Old Testament World map visual or the Timeline of Old Testament Events.
13.… because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.
As we look at this from a vantage point of over 3,000 years after the event, it is puzzling as to why the people of Israel would abandon their God and turn to the Canaanite gods. What was so enticing there?
There are two deities mentioned as receiving worship from the Israelites. Baal is actually a title meaning “lord.” Baalim (in Judges 2:11) is the plural form of Baal. The ancient Canaanites worship a chief male god whom they had given the title lord. He is seen as the weather god or storm god, and thus he is the god who controls the destiny of the people. If Baal withholds the rain, the crops do not grow and the people starve.
It also appears that the Canaanites believe that each field has a lesser god that controls its fertility. These gods are lords of the fields and have the power to give abundant or meager crops. Thus, the Canaanites serve the “big Baal” of the weather as well as the “little Baals” of each individual farm.
Ashtoreths is also a plural form and is feminine. In Canaanite religion she is the consort of Baal. She is a fertility deity who is thought to control the fertility of both women and of fields. See also Judges 10:6.
The agricultural society of the Canaanites venerates these gods by practices that included ritual prostitution (male and female), child sacrifice, and orgy-like worship. Some scholars believe that almost every woman living in a Canaanite village served a term as a temple prostitute before marriage. The Canaanite religions thus combine idolatry with forbidden sexuality. This is why it is common in the Old Testament to see the worship of false gods as prostitution (see Deuteronomy 31:16; Judges 2:17). To make sexual immorality an act of devotion is strictly opposed to the holy morality of the law that the Israelites had received from God.
The Canaanites have gods with no morality, and this makes it easy to see why the men of Israel are attracted to this religion. Yet it is also clear why there can be no accommodation here for those who are supposed to live according to the holy covenant that their nation has with the holy God of Israel.
B. Lord’s Anger (v. 14)
14. In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.
Are we surprised that this outrageous behavior provokes the hot anger of God? The result is the lifting of God’s providential protection for Israel. The nation is powerless to fight off the raiders from surrounding peoples. A common strategy in those days is for an armed force to swoop down at harvesttime and steal the crops while killing all who resist. Thus, the tragedy of deaths and destruction is followed by grim times of famine and starvation.
II. Story Sadly Repeats (Judges 2:16–19)
A. God Delivers (v. 16)
16. Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.
The author is clear that the people of Israel stand powerless before these foreign marauders. Their deliverance comes only when God chooses and empowers leaders, called judges, to rescue them. This is a primary lesson found throughout the Bible. We can never hope to save ourselves. Salvation comes from God, who hears our cries, understands our helplessness, and comes to save us. “Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you” (see Isaiah 35:4).
B. People Turn Away (v. 17)
17. Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the Lord’s commands.
We are drawn to share God’s frustration in this cycle. The people suffer for their sin, so God delivers them. But then they sin again, bringing on another cycle of suffering. Why can’t they figure out this pattern?
From a coolly analytical viewpoint, it is easy for us to see their folly. However, our life experiences are filled with similar cases. Sin leads to punishment and suffering (see Jeremiah 14:10). God notices our cries of suffering (see Exodus 3:7; Nehemiah 9:9). Repentance saves us from destruction (see Jonah 3:10), because God never stops loving us (see Psalm 89:32, 33, which applies these principles to the royal descendants of David).
The text draws a strong contrast to the faithfulness of “the Joshua generation” and the faithlessness of “the Judges generations.” Their ancestors obeyed God’s commandments, but they did not so. False worship and disobedience go hand in hand.
C. God Still Delivers (v. 18)
18. Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.
God is involved repeatedly in the deliverance of his people. He provides a judge to deliver them, and he is with the judge. The book of Judges tells the stories of the judges with all their human failings. For example, Samson is presented as a slow-witted show-off who can be tempted easily by an attractive woman (Judges 14–16). Although Samson is humiliated due to disobedience, God is with him until the end, empowering him to destroy many of the enemy Philistines through his own death (Judges 16:28–30).
The Lord’s compassion causes him to relent from his fierce anger. God’s wrath has given way to his mercy. God is never overwhelmed by anger (see Hosea 11:9).
D. People Still Turn Away (v. 19)
19. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.
There is a great sadness in this verse. It is not just that the people lapse into disobedience, but that they return to their sin so energetically! Depravity can quickly become a downward spiral of destruction.
The root cause of this pattern is given to us: human stubbornness. This is sometimes celebrated as a virtue, but it should not be. Stubbornness is not the same as faithfulness and an uncompromising stand for righteousness. Stubborn people are usually prideful and unwilling to admit error. Stubbornness is equated with an unrepentant heart in Scripture; “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself” (Romans 2:5). God will not abide this type of human defiance.
Some Call it Stubborn
“Bullheaded,” “set in their ways,” or some just call it being “stubborn.” That’s how we describe other people when they are being inflexible. Examples of this trait might be a crotchety old person who refuses to take medications or the proverbial husband who rejects his wife’s pleading to stop the car and ask directions.
On the other hand, when it is we who are being inflexible, we see ourselves to be acting with “dogged persistence,” having “steadfast fidelity to a cause,” or exhibiting “plain ol’ stick-to-it-ive-ness.” Perhaps we see ourselves in the mold of a detective who single-mindedly pursues a “cold case” for years and finally brings a criminal to justice. Or as a Thomas Edison, who may work diligently for years, performing hundreds of experiments to perfect the light bulb. We all like to believe that we act with motives that are more noble than the motives of others, don’t we?
There is an important difference between the virulent trait of stubbornness and the virtuous trait of fidelity. During the time of the judges, Israel made no pretense of holding to righteousness. Instead, the people stubbornly resisted God’s warnings and refused to see the plain evidence of what their sinfulness got them. What do you think: has human nature changed much since then? —C. R. B.
III. Covenant Broken (Judges 2:20–23)
A. Delaying Promises (vv. 20, 21)
20, 21. Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died.
Before his death Joshua reminded the people of Israel that God had never failed to keep his promises to them (Joshua 23:14). God’s promises are always true. The land of Canaan was referred to as the land promised to the fathers of Israel (see Exodus 13:11). But Joshua also warned the people that if they worshiped the false gods of the Canaanites, then God had promised to punish them and make the land an inhospitable and oppressive place (Joshua 23:12–16).
God’s promises, then, are both absolute and contingent. God sets the terms of the covenant. God always upholds his end, absolutely keeping his promises. However, when the human participants fail to honor the covenant’s terms, then God withholds the promised blessings. Instead, he delivers the curses or punishments also promised in the covenant. Thus the contingency element lies in God’s promised response to human obedience or disobedience.
B. Testing Each Generation (vv. 22, 23)
22, 23. “I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their forefathers did.” The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua.
I had the measles as a child and now have an immunity to this disease. My daughter is also immune to measles because she received a childhood immunization against them. She arrived at her immunity via a different path, but the result is the same. But if my daughter has a child, that baby will not be protected. Measles immunity cannot be inherited; it must be acquired by enduring either the disease or painful inoculations.
Each generation is tested. Because faith is a personal relationship, it cannot be inherited. Furthermore, the true nature of faith is unknown until it is tested. The tireless God knows that the faith of each generation of his people must be proved (see 1 Peter 1:7).
A. Chasing Other Gods
The Bible is an account of God’s pursuit of his lost children. It is also the story of humanity’s flight from God and continual quest of other gods.
Society embraces the worship of a surprising array of other gods. We see open worship of the gods of the pagan deities of nature. We see the worship of wealth and of power. We see the worship of sexuality and celebrity. We see the worship of sports and entertainment. We see the worship of technology and of materialism. Our generations are not pursuing a single false god but many!
The Bible labels such vain pursuit as idolatry. Today’s lesson gives the inevitable results. First, we kindle the anger of God (Judges 2:12). Second, we suffer the withdrawal of God’s blessings (2:14). Third, God begins to oppose us or may even fight against us (2:15). But, fourth, God sends a rescuer (2:16). As Christians, we realize that this gets to the core of the gospel. We have strayed in sin, incurred the wrath of God, and experienced the withdrawal of his blessings. Our deliverer, Jesus Christ the Savior, rescues us from much more than national peril. He wants to save us, individually, from sin and the curse of eternal death.
B. Generational Legacies
There have been no world wars for over half a century, and we hope the twenty-first century will not see their return. The “greatest generation” with its many virtues and accomplishments has given way to its children and grandchildren. The transition has been difficult, and the church bears the scars of generational conflict. It is not easy to step aside when one has been in control for a long time. It is difficult to trust those who are younger, less experienced, and whom we have seen make serious mistakes growing up.
Yet we cannot stop the transition. It will take place whether we facilitate it or resist it. We must trust God to work patiently with the new crop of leaders, as he has for thousands of years.
So ask yourself: Have the leaders of my church allowed a place of influence for those younger, those in their twenties and thirties? Are the primary leaders of my church all 50 and older? What can I do to facilitate the transition? Do I have an attitude of encouragement or one of criticism for younger leaders? What can I do to support new and younger leaders in my church? Is there a particular young leader I can pray for this week?
Underwood, J., Nickelson, R. L., & Underwood, J. 2005. New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2005-2006 . Standard Publishing: Cincinnati