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The book of Judges is about a series of leaders in Israel who were not chosen by parentage or prestige but by God, for specific purposes as Israel finished settling in the Promised Land. More importantly, it’s the story of Israel’s devolvement into anarchy.

Judges 1

After the death of Joshua, God did not appoint a successor. Each tribe was left with the responsibility of taking control of the land alotted to it, with God only raising up a leader of the nation for certain situations. God never intended for Israel to be like other nations with their kings and dynasties, and for at least 300 years that’s how it was. In this study, we will meet names familiar to us from the New Testament, especially the faith chapter of Hebrews.

Constable makes a good point regarding the failure to completely wipe out the Canaanites: that when people fail to deal with external enemies as God commands, they turn on each other instead. This is painfully true of the Christian world; we treat fellow believers with more disdain and revulsion than we do the forces of Satan, who just sit back and laugh because we’re our own worst enemies. Does a Christian read a translation you don’t like? Believe salvation has a different duration than you believe? Have an opinion about free will that you think they shouldn’t have? Let people preach and teach whose flesh is not what you accept? Ask yourself if that is your worst enemy, though they profess saving faith. And ask yourself what message is being sent by your hostility against that person.

Judges 2

Over and over we see the phrase, they did not conquer the people, and finally God steps in to ask them why they’re not doing what they know they should. The people quickly repent, but we all know how long that will last. After a brief recap in verses 6-10, the repentant Israelites had fallen fast and hard into the worship of the false gods of Canaan.

We can see here especially in verse 16 that God kept raising up leaders to help the whiny Israelites, who had quickly lapsed to the lather-rinse-repeat cycle of unfaithfulness, suffering, and only briefly returning to God. Just as Joshua had made a vow to not destroy the Gibeonites and kept it regardless of their treachery, so also God would not utterly destroy Israel because of the vows he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Finally God says he will no longer help Israel drive out the other nations at all. But notice verse 22: Joshua had left those nations there to test Israel, and they failed miserably. Yet how often do we fail our tests? Can we say that when God answers our prayers, that he doesn’t also leave us with some challenges to overcome?

Judges 3

Now God names the nations who were spared as a test, at least one of which every Christian should be familiar with: the Philistines, who would become their arch-enemies, and after whom the Romans would name the area after 70 a.d. (Palestine).

In Constable’s notes there’s a nice chart of all the judges, and it’s good to see that he has not ignored or trivialized Deborah, at least in the chart. Other key names include Gideon and the final judge Samson. Later he notes that the twelve judges may be an indictment against the twelve tribes, and there’s another chart showing the tedious pattern of this part of Israel’s history.

Judges 4

Now we’ll skip ahead to Deborah in ch. 4, though I would encourage you to read through the account of Ehud, which is pretty straightforward and covered well by Constable. Verses 4-5 state that Deborah was leading Israel, not only giving prophetic instruction from God but also settling disputes.

Remember the earlier lesson where Constable quoted from Josephus about women being unqualified to serve as witnesses? He devolves into prejudice again, quoting an excuse to deal with this scripture where it is claimed that a woman in such a leading capacity would only come about due to a loosely-organized society and general poverty. The implication being made in that quote is that once a nation is stable and structured, then women are no longer qualified to lead. In other words, men must take charge only when the leading is easy and institutionalized. Both men and women are demeaned by such an argument.

This is not unlike the nonsensical rationale for alleged order in the church: that God would allow the most vulerable (children) to be taught by the most deceivable (women). Though they rightly credit Deborah with strong character and leadership, and admit that this is sanctioned by God, they still seem bent on keeping her in an auxiliary box. So it surprises me that they would describe her work here as ministry, as this seems to be a trigger word in modern Christianity.

They even admit that she gave orders to the military general Barak; she summoned him, which is an act of authority. But again Constable lapses into wounded fleshly pride when he makes excuses for Barak’s pleading for Deborah to go to battle with him. Would this have raised questions for Constable and the men he quotes, had Deborah been a man? They are painting the seasoned warrior Barak as a sniveling coward! But how is this situation different from when Moses wound up having to speak through Aaron? Was God also scraping the bottom of the barrel then? Was Moses’ faith weak, as Constable claims about Barak?

The battle ensues, and the enemy commander Sisera runs to the tent of his supposed ally Heber, whose wife Jael is the courageous one to carry out what had to be done. Though some commentators claim Jael was defending herself against possible rape, this is refuted by the scripture saying he asked her to guard the tent.

Constable admits that God used two women to lead Israel to victory— in spite of continually making excuses for this anomaly along the way. And then he quotes someone who states that a Christian leader has a dynamic, bold faith in God— which was much more true of Deborah and Jael than Barak.

So can Christian women be denied the same acknowledgment of leadership? If anyone wants to define a Godly women, point them to Deborah and then to Jael— who drove a tent peg through a man’s skull. Now of course this is not to advocate violence but to make a point about women as wise, brave, and forceful. If this is how God viewed women before the Cross, how can God treat women with less respect after the cross? God does not; only people do.

Judges 5

By the way, as with Miriam, Deborah is also a worship leader here, no excuses needed or allowed. And in that song, it says in verse 7 that Deborah was the protector of Israel— another role or trait modern Christianity reserves for men. Scripture makes no apologies or excuses for her status or role as a protector.

In verse 24 it says that Jael should be the most rewarded among women, and it goes on to describe her act of bravery in graphic detail. At least Constable makes some effort to defend her actions, though he misses the lesson for modern Christianity; our charge to not put conditions on God includes not pushing women aside. Barak would have been dishonored whether the glory went to a woman or a man, since he begged off his responsibility in this battle. The replacement is not to be held in less esteem, especially when God had already chosen Deborah as Israel’s leader, and Jael as their victor over the enemy commander.

But the final paragraph of this section in the notes shows again how much such truths make many men squirm. Constable is to be commended for the list of women in key roles, but by claiming that 1 Tim. 2:12 prohibits women from the authoritative leadership of churches as elders is a contradiction of every point he just made about all the women in his previous paragraph. He at least admits that women in the church cannot be less restricted than women in the Old Testament, and that women are as much priests in Christianity as men are.

Yet I must strongly denounce his equivocation fallacy: He confuses permission with ability. Ability is not permission, and men lack the ability to give birth, not the permission to give birth. The biological ability to be mothers is not a ministry for which men are denied permission. Lofty praise of motherhood cannot obscure the fact that Constable has gone against scripture and God’s calling to make him a respecter of persons.

This also highlights another divisive and nonsensical teaching of modern Christianity. If, as they claim to agree with scripture about, leadership in the church is a lowly, humble, serving position, then they cannot become incensed and fearful that a woman might join them as equals at that lowest of places. No one ever fights to be last in line, so if anyone fights to keep a place, that place is deemed first and best. Thus it follows logically that becoming angry at the thought of Christian women as equals in the church and home is to expose what many men really think about Christian leadership: It is not humble service but prideful rule— what scripture calls lording over, regardless of how benevolently or gently such rule is conducted. Actions speak louder than words, so lip service to motherhood cannot hide their belief that Christian leadership is a position of power and authority. They can’t have it both ways.

Under final chorus in the notes, we see that in spite of everything, Deborah’s ministry reveals Israel’s inverted life during this era, made obvious by a woman in leadership. Inverted in whose eyes? Did they not just praise her for her leadership qualities and divine appointment? Only society or tradition deems this inverted. This is the sort of doubletalk God hates.

And if anyone has been chafing at my continued emphasis of the issue of women in the Bible, they’ve only begun to taste the chafing women have endured for thousands of years. I’ve lost count of the condesending sermons on Mothers Day and Fathers Day, the commentaries and videos, the books and seminars, where women are hammered into little pink boxes the way Jael hammered Sisera. We say with the disciples on trial before the Sanhedrin, Judge for yourselves whether we should obey men rather than God!

How would men feel if at every turn their flesh was held against them as an inferiority of being commanded by God Himself? Would they meekly accept statements like that of Constable, that no one of their kind of flesh can usurp the authority of the opposite sex over them? Is God really commanding that women not take the lowest position of servitude in the Body of Christ— where apparently the highest authority resides?

I must dispense with Constable at this point, due to his pages-long gerrymandering of what he and others decide are women’s boundaries simply because of the flesh. How can we learn from one so prejudiced, so quick to bow to culture, when time after time we have seen God go against culture?

Judges 6

Now we come to the unlikely hero Gideon, another case of God having to scrape the bottom of the barrel. After forty years of rest, Israel had gone back to evil practices and were reduced to hiding in caves following seven years of oppression from the Midianites. So the angel of the Lord comes to where Gideon was secretly threshing wheat. He greets Gideon by calling him a courageous warrior, but Gideon asks where God has been the last seven years, though it should have been clear enough that they were reaping what they had sown. Now we see in verse 15 why I called Gideon an unlikely hero: He is the youngest member of the weakest clan in the half-tribe of Manasseh.

Gideon wants a sign that he will indeed defeat Midian, and he is then convinced that this was a real message from God. After testing the angel, it was God’s turn to test Gideon. He tells him to pull down his father’s altar to Baal and cut down his Asherah pole, then replace them with an altar to God and sacrifice a bull on it using the wood from the pole. That’s how you desecrate an altar!

When the men of the area see what Gideon had done, they demand that his father Joash hand him over to be executed. But Joash says something really bold and convicting: If Baal is a real God, let him execute Gideon himself! The one true God had done this many times, but of course people today hate him for it.

After passing this test, Gideon is given the Spirit of God, which points out an important difference between the age of grace and any other before or after it: Only in the current age does the Holy Spirit come upon a person and stay for life, whereas before this the Spirit came and went on various people. This is what turned Gideon into the courageous warrior, and he began to muster an army.

Verse 37 is where we first see the literal instance of what people now call putting out fleece to determine the will of God, or to confirm it when we’re not sure.

Judges 7

Now we come to the most interesting section of the account of Gideon. Though Midian’s army was likely around 135,000 troops according to 8:10, Gideon’s army of about 23,000 was too big for God’s purposes, since they might try to take credit. Read through the passage for the steps God takes to pare it down to a mere 300 soldiers.

Then God sent Gideon and a servant to eavesdrop on the enemy camp to hear what they were saying, and they heard one man tell of a dream he had about their army’s defeat. It’s clear that this dream was from God, just as Pharaoh, the baker, and the cup bearer in Egypt had dreams from God, though they didn’t worship him.

Then Gideon roused his 300 soldiers during the night and divided them into 3 groups of 100 each, to stand on three sides of the Midianite army. When they suddenly broke open their jars with torches inside and blew their trumpets, the Midanite army panicked and began fighting among themselves as they ran away.

The lessons here for us are first of all that God continually picks the least likely heroes in our eyes, then that he can send dreams and visions even to unbelievers to carry out his plans, and also that he can be trusted to work things out for those who trust him— which sounds suspiciously like Rom. 8:28.

Judges 8

Here we see that the Israelites want to make Gideon king but he refuses. Instead, he asks for gold from which he makes an ephod, which was an article of priestly clothing, though used also in false religions. And this is exactly what Gideon’s ephod became: a false god to which he, his family, and the whole nation of Israel prostituted themselves. Even so, God allowed Israel to have rest for forty years while Gideon lived, and forty years turns out to be a common time for a judge in Israel during these days.

Judges 9

As the idolatry continued, Gideon’s son Abimelech decided to make himself the sole ruler of Israel by murdering all his brothers. The lone survivor, Jotham, gave the people a lesson in ingratitude and a curse from God, then took off before Abimelech was able to kill him.

Skipping past the details of how God sets up to avenge Gideon’s sons, we come to verse 50 where it says the people of a city being attacked by Abimelech are all taking shelter in the fortified tower. But when he comes near it, a woman drops a millstone weighing about 30 lbs. on him, shattering his skull. And so the curse came true.

But of course, we see also that being killed by a woman was humiliating, so he had his armor bearer run him through with his sword so he could get out of that shame on a technicality. Yet clearly everyone knew that a woman did indeed kill him, and all the servant did is make the death quicker. Ego is a very delicate facade.

Judges 10

Now in we see that Israel quickly goes back to its wallowing in the mud, so God brings against them the dreaded Philistines. They cry again, and this time God says, Why don’t you go whine to those gods you love so much? But like a good parent with a very rebellious child, God can only stand so much of Israel’s suffering even though they deserve it.

Judges 11-12

Along comes Jephthah, who is one of the names mentioned in Heb. 11, yet whose mother was a prostitute. Again, God picks the unlikely hero, the despised and rejected. His own half-brothers chase him off because of his mother, and he becomes something of a gang leader. But when they need him to help defend against the Ammonites, he reminds them of how they treated him. It isn’t clear whether they deny this or ask him to forget about it in verse 8, but he agrees upon their pledge of loyalty.

In the ensuing war of words, Jephthah tells the enemy king to take whatever his god Chemosh gives him, and reminds him as well that he waited 300 years to reclaim the land he says Israel stole from him. Does that sound familiar? There’s been a lot of talk in the news over the last few decades about that sort of thing. We’ve seen in an earlier lesson that there really are no such things as indiginous peoples, and land has changed hands multiple times in history.

But Jephthah is most known for his foolish vow. In verse 31 he vows to God that he will sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house to meet him when he returns safely from battle, and verse 34 reports that this turned out to be his only child, a daughter. He is understandably grieved, but she takes it pretty well.

Yet critics rush to presume she was burned in sacrifice, so they charge God with condoning this, just as they do with Abraham and Isaac. Yet God’s law forbade human sacrifice, per Deut. 18:10, Heb. 11 would never have included him if he had done such a thing, and God would not have granted him victory knowing this would be the outcome. Further, we have seen that God will not hesitate to punish even someone like Moses for a less severe violation, so why is scripture silent about Jephthah if he had done such a thing as human sacrifice?

Also notice the girl’s request: to mourn her virginity rather than her death, and to spend her last two months away from her family. And why would the text add verse 39 about her virginity if she had died, since many children die? Verse 40 tells of the memorial the women of Israel celebrate for four days each year; why would they not do this for all who died in childhood, or why would they want to keep a human sacrifice in public view? At the very least, we can say that there is no indisputable proof that God allowed it.

Judges 13

Now we come to the account of the final judge, Samson. God tells his so-far barren mother that she will have a son, but she must not touch alcoholic beverages or ritually unclean food until he is born. And when he is, they are never to cut his hair, because he will grow up to deliver Israel from the Philistines. Why did God appear to the mother instead of the father? He appears to have been a godly man by his reaction to what his wife tells him.

Then the husband prays that God will tell them how to raise the boy, and the angel returns with instructions, this time speaking to both of them. But notice verse 18: The angel tells them not to ask his name, because they wouldn’t be able to comprehend it. What impact would this have on the Sacred Name movement?

Then in verses 22-23 we see that the man is afraid that God will kill them because they saw the angel, but the woman wisely reasons that if God wanted to kill them, he wouldn’t have accepted the sacrifice they just offered. So unlike the other judges before him, Samson was chosen before he was even conceived.

Judges 14

In spite of Sampson being so chosen, his life won’t turn out to be all unicorns and lollipops. He grows up and decides that his parents must get him a Philistine woman he saw, and he doesn’t care that she’s not an Israelite. But as we see in verse 4, this is God’s way of creating a pretense upon which to dispense with the Philistines who were ruling over Israel.

Why God needs a pretense, we can only guess, but that’s what scripture tells us. But if anyone wants to use this as a prooftext against free will, let them explain why the Bible is filled with commands for people to choose wisely, or why they feel compelled to debate people about free will if the people who disagree with them can’t help it.

Anyway, Samson goes to see the woman but along the way he’s attacked by a lion, which he tears apart with his bare hands by God’s power. On his way home, he sees the lion carcass, and a swarm of honeybees had built a nest in it. So he takes some of the honey and gives it to his parents, without telling them where he got it.

Finally the day comes for the wedding, so he takes his father with him to a bachelor party in the town where the woman lived. During the party, and probably while inebriated, Samson gives the other guys a riddle to solve and offers prizes if they do, but the prizes are owed to him if they don’t.

But they can’t, so they decide to cheat and have his bride get the answer from him. And if she fails, they threaten to kill her. So she gets it and passes it on to the men, who come to claim their prizes, but Samson knows they cheated. So he goes out and murders thirty men so he could take their clothes and pay the cheaters their prizes. Needless to say, the woman is married off to someone else— his best man. Who needs soap operas when we have quality drama like this? And by the way, this wasn’t even the infamous Delilah.

Judges 15

After some time passes, Sampson goes back there to claim his wife, not knowing until he gets there that her father gave her to his best man. Now the hostility between Samson and the Philistines escalates, with Samson tying lit torches to the tails of jackals and setting them loose in their stacks of standing grain. In retaliation, the Philistines burn his wife and her father to death.

Samson of course avenges their deaths, then hides in a cave. Meanwhile, the Philistines decide to invade Judah so they can find him. But the people of Judah go and get him themselves and tie him up to hand over to them. But when he arrives where the Philistines are, he breaks the ropes like they’re nothing and then grabs the jawbone of a donkey and uses it as a weapon to kill a thousand men.

Judges 16

Next he goes to Gaza to hire a prostitute, but the Philistines find out about it and wait by the city gate to capture him. But he leaves in the middle of the night and pulls the gates right out of the ground. And that is when he meets Delilah. But instead of threatening her with death unless she finds out the secret of his strength, the Philistine men offer her money. Sampson isn’t dumb enough to tell her the truth so he keeps tricking her, but she keeps trying until he snaps. Somehow she knows when he has finally told her the truth, and they cut off his hair and then gouge out his eyes. God chose him knowing this would happen, but nothing says God told him to give away the secret of his strength.

Time passes, and the Philistines plan a celebration in the temple of their god Dagon, so they send for Samson to make fun of him. But his hair has had time to grow back, and they make the mistake of placing him between the two main supporting pillars of the temple, where the rulers and over 3,000 people were gathered. He prays one last time for God’s strength, knowing he will die with his enemies. God grants his request.

Judges 17-19

The rest of the book is not so much about judges but general events. Yet it’s interesting in verse 11 that they call Jerusalem Jebus, which is used by anti-Christians as a mocking name for Jesus. We could all educate the ignorant critics that they’ve been talking about Jerusalem all this time.

Then a very disturbing event takes place in Gibeah. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, the men of this city demand to rape a man, a Levite, who has taken shelter for the night in a local resident’s home. So the host offers to send out his own virgin daughter to the wicked mob. To that culture, it was far better than failing to protect a guest in their home— provided the guest was a man. Women simply didn’t matter to them. But it was the Levite who grabbed his own concubine and threw her out to them. They abused her all night, and she wasn’t even checked on till the next morning when he found her on the doorstep, and all he could say was get up, we’re leaving. But she was dead, so he put her over a donkey and went home, where he carved up her body into twelve pieces and sent them out to the tribes of Israel, to see what they wanted to do about it.

We find it difficult to read about such cruelty as a man throwing his partner to an evil mob, let alone carving up her dead body, but too many women can testify to this and more in our time. Here we are, two thousand years since Jesus came, and many even in the western world still treat women as worse than animals. Again I ask, can those who promote the submission of women not see their own culpability in such an attitude? There have been right to life organizations who teach that all women are temptresses who need to be kept under the control of a man at all times. Could the Pharisees have been as hypocritical and heartless?

Jesus said that defilement comes from within us, and it’s impossible to deny the slippery slope from the subjugation of women to the abuse of women. Treating women as equal adults cannot be blamed for abuse, but the teaching of hierarchical gender roles is often given as the excuse when a man is arrested for abusing a woman. Yes, there are women who abuse men, but that’s never been enshrined as God’s natural order. The Christian community should be ashamed and will be judged accordingly.

Judges 20

The critics, of course, think that if the Bible simply reports something, then God must approve. But again we must understand that such reporting of the most heinous crimes proves that the Jews did not invent any of this. Even so, when the Levite tells what happened he fails to mention that he is the reason the woman died, but the result is that Israel is ready for war. Remember that this is all in a time when Israel has repeatedly chased after other gods. So they confront the whole tribe of Benjamin and demand they hand over the rapists/murderers, but they refuse, and then the whole tribe is nearly wiped out in battle.

Judges 21

The final chapter tells of yet another disturbing event, a solution only a culture like that could think of: preserving the defeated tribe’s inheritance by helping the surviving men kidnap a bunch of virgins and take them as their wives. (Those Israelites and their legal loopholes!) This time of the judges should be renamed the time of insane inhumanity— though in all fairness it pales in comparison to some other cultures.

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