Is there a book anywhere else in the Bible that has as many interesting characters as we find in the book of Judges? There’s Eglon, a man so corpulent (to put it nicely) that he tended to lose things (inside himself). There’s Jael, who must have been an expert camper (read the story; you’ll understand). There’s “a sword for the Lord, and Gideon” – and the golden earrings that ended up being a snare to Gideon, his family, and all Israel.
There’s Abimelech, whose worst nightmare is dying at the hands of a woman (though he is taken out by one with great aim). There’s Jephthah, who makes a horrible vow – and still keeps it. There’s Ibzan, who had 30 sons – AND 30 daughters. He led Israel for 7 years, but I’m wondering: when did he have time? Then there is Samson; everyone knows Samson. Strong as an ox, but sometimes, you have to wonder if he’s also dumb as one, too.
And then there’s the odd and awful story of a Levite and his concubine – perhaps an indication of how low and detestable things had gotten during the time of the judges. As the book says as it ends, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”
So, what can we learn from the book of Judges – and all its interesting characters, and the interesting choices we see in its pages?
One: God uses a variety of people. He uses Gideon, despite his flaws. And Samson, despite his weaknesses. And in an age when there weren’t many women leaders, Deborah leads the people of Israel. She even gets her own song! So, if God used a variety of folks, don’t you think God can use you?
Two: Faithfulness doesn’t happen by accident. No one slouches into sanctification; we don’t just fall into faithful living. We see that so clearly in Judges. Like a yo-yo, the people of Israel seem to trust God when they need Him, and fall away when they don’t.
Faithfulness is a commitment to receive the love of God, and then intentionally live it out, day-by-day. Both are vital; and both must work together. As Paul says, “Work out your own salvation … for it is God who is at work in you….”
Three: We will always live in the midst of people who don’t live as we live; whose faith is not our faith. We shouldn’t be surprised, or annoyed, or offended that many in our culture don’t choose to live life as we do. Israel had this as a regular reality. Judges makes it clear that there were plenty of non-Hebrew people left in Canaan when Israel finally settled in. The people of God have always been surrounded by people who don’t follow God. Don’t let that be a reason to wring your hands or get upset; instead, let it be a call to be faithful, and to love those who don’t agree with you.
Four: Leadership matters. When Israel had good leadership, the tide turned, and they were able to see God more clearly, and trust God more fully. When leadership diminished, so did their faith.
Do you think the same is true today? Is leadership still as vital now as it was then? Good, humble, servant-hearted leadership always helps people become what they can’t — or won’t — be on their own. Good leadership does the hard work of pointing people to What matters, and to Who matters. So, Judges leads us to ask: who are you following? And who’s following you?