(12) In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit – Judges 21:25

After the conquest of Jericho, Joshua led the people in a number of military campaigns and by the time he died the majority of the land was in the hands of Israelites. But as the people settled down, their appetite for warfare diminished and they ended up leaving a significant population of Canaanites in the land. This led to trading links and intermarriage which, in turn, led the people of Israel away from their reliance on God and his covenant to reliance on pagan fertility gods. This was another reason why God wanted the inhabitants of the land destroyed as co-existence leads to compromise, a lesson that is still relevant for us today as summed up in the expression, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33 where Paul is quoting from a Greek poet called Menander).

At the end of the book of Joshua there is a statement that the people “served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua” (Joshua 24:31) and his contemporaries. The implication of that statement, that they abandoned him after that, is borne out in the next book of the Bible, Judges, a book that covers two or three hundred  years of the history of Israel after the conquest of Canaan.

The book describes cycles of behaviour: the people of Israel turn away from the Lord and his laws and served the Canaanite fertility gods Baal and Asherah and took on their wicked practices. To get their attention, God sent enemies against them which resulted in them being in great distress so that they then cried out to him to save them. In response, God raised up leaders, known as Judges, who led the people to military success and brought peace, but usually only for a short period until the people forget God’s goodness to them and the cycle starts again. The repeated cycle is depressing reading but illustrates an important message of hope for God’s people. Whatever they do he will pursue them. God is very patient and, despite our failings, he will not let us go but will take any steps necessary to get our attention.

The book of Judges gives a detailed account of six judges and makes passing reference to six more. The judges are a strange mixture of characters. The first is Othniel, Caleb’s nephew who was empowered by “The Spirit of the Lord” (Judges 3:10) to defeat an oppressive foreign power. Ehud was left handed and so was able to take a concealed dagger into the presence of a foreign king who was so overweight that when Ehud stabbed him the entire eighteen inch weapon disappeared in the folds of fat (see Judges 3:21). Deborah, the only female judge, inspired the Israelite army to a notable victory and then wrote a song praising another woman who killed the opposing army commander by driving a tent peg through his skull after she had offered him shelter in her tent (see Judges 5:24-27). The book of Judges is not for the squeamish!

Gideon, a timid man, is turned into a brave warrior who defeated a foreign army with just three hundred men and God’s help. The most famous judge is Samson, a bizarre man whose ungodly character is combined with a filling of the Holy Spirit that enabled him to have super-human strength.

The book is rounded off by two accounts of life in Israel. The first is about one of the tribes establishing their own religious practices, combining some aspects of the covenant God has given them with idolatry, a mixture that Israel repeats throughout her history. The second is a horrifying account of the death of a young woman as a result of gang rape in an Israelite town. When her husband cuts her up and sends a piece of her to each tribe with an account of what had happened to her the nation is galvanised into taking retribution against the guilty tribe. Both these accounts illustrate the level to which Israel has sunk, far from the righteous laws that they were given by God.

Looking back from the time of the kings, the writer of Judges sums up the state of the nation in the simple expression, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25). It was time when there was no justice for the people. Anarchy ruled and this led to a cry for a king who would lead the people and bring law and order to society.

One Response to “(12) In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit – Judges 21:25”

  1. Andy Robinson Says:

    Judges is a book I am often asked about because people mistakenly think that because something is in the bible that God somehow condones it !

    Judges is a book that shows us what happens to society, and us, when we depart from the moral law God has outlined to us. It is God saying “look, this is what happens when people are left to do what is right in their own eyes”.

    As I consider that and ponder the state of our nation today I think the summary of the writer to the judges could just as easily be summarising 21st century England! “People did what was right in their own eyes”. Just like in judges, the mess that follows we will recoded for all to see.

    Thanks for tweeting the bible in 80 tweets.

    Loving it!

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