Scripture Readings: Judges 1:1-2:5 (text); Ephesians 6:10-20
June 5, 2016 • Download this sermon (pdf)
Congregation of Christ: The book of Judges is a hard book to preach on, so that many pastors avoid preaching or teaching from it. It is full of names, geography, conflict, and even uncomfortably graphic sex, violence and gore. So it is a wonder that sex-and-violence crazed Hollywood has not made more movies about the stories in this book, except about Samson, and Delilah of course.
The title of the book comes from the title given to it in Latin, translated as “The Book of Judges.” We think of a judge as one who adjudicates legal and criminal cases. But this is not the responsibility of the judges of Israel. The Hebrew word for the title “Judges” actually means someone who saves or delivers, as seen in 2:16, “Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them.” The word also means those whom God has tasked to rule and lead the people in spiritual and moral matters.
Judges is obviously a collection of stories of the 12 judges by different authors in different areas of Israel, specifically tribal groups. These stories took place between Joshua’s death in mid-14th century B.C., to the ascension of Saul as king of Israel in the mid-11th century. But the timeline of the book suggests a period of about 400 years, which is much longer than the actual period of about 300 years. So it is also obvious that some of the stories took place concurrently in different tribal areas of Israel.
When we read this book, we will see that it tells how Israel as God’s people degenerated spiritually in unbelief and disobedience against God’s law. This downward spiral is also seen in the judges themselves, going from bad to worse. In particular, even as many Christians see Samson as a hero, and seen in Hebrews 11 as a hero of the faith, Samson was nevertheless the most disobedient judge of all.
From the first to the twelfth and last judge, we will see a cyclical pattern. First, Israel does evil, especially in its idolatry. Then the LORD gives them into the hands of oppressors, the nations around them, and they serve the oppressors for a number of years. The people then cry out to the LORD for help, and the LORD gives them a deliverer, the “judge.” The people have rest for a number of years under the judge. After the judge dies, the cycle repeats itself. But the cycle is not merely history repeating itself. The unbelief and disobedience of both the people and the judges become worse with each cycle. It was a downward spiral.
But Israel’s breaking of God’s covenant laws is not the only story. Throughout the book, God declares to Israel his faithfulness to his people, in spite of their disobedience, unbelief, and in spite of God’s anger against them. God tells them that he will never break his covenant with their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
So we will meditate on this theme, “I Will Never Break My Covenant With You,” under three headings: first, In Spite of Unbelief; second, In Spite of Disobedience; and third, In Spite of God’s Anger.
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