Chapter 3: Judges: The Bible’s Bloodiest Book
After Joshua and his elders died, Israel moved into a period covered in the book of Judges. While Joshua was alive, people were directed by this one man under God. But once he died, things changed. They began to rebel against God’s government.
There was a change of government under the judges, which God allowed. People now had to voluntarily come to the judges for counsel and direction. There were not even enough judges to go around. And sadly, most of the people did not take advantage of what help they did have.
This new form of government proved to be a catastrophe. Judges is the bloodiest book in the Bible. The Israelites no longer had a Moses or Joshua to point them to the ark. Israel no longer wanted God’s rule. Many judges also went astray. It was just another human government that failed—just as they all do, sooner or later!
Remember, Judges is a book of prophecy.
In this end time, God’s own Church became divided after Herbert W. Armstrong died. Most of God’s people have become lukewarm and have rejected God’s rule. That choice is leading them to the bloodiest events ever in God’s Church. This lukewarm Church is going to experience the bloodiest time ever on Earth: the Great Tribulation.
Fifty percent of the Laodiceans are going to lose their eternal lives (Matthew 25:1-13). They have a very “bloody” future spiritually.
These words ought to strike terror into all of God’s people! But lukewarm people are not listening to God’s Spirit.
The very elect always choose God’s government because they cannot be deceived.
Compromising With the Law
“Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?” (Judges 1:1). In this first verse, you can see the connection to the book of Joshua, which originally was combined with Judges in a single book.
“And the Lord said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand” (verse 2). This book starts out with Judah being strong, on commission from God to drive the Canaanites out of the land. In the first part of the chapter, the people were on the attack, and God was blessing their efforts with victories. But things changed quickly. The nation got away from God’s law and descended into terrible idolatry and other sins.
Judges 1:19 gives the first sign of trouble. It says that Judah “could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.” This shows a certain faithlessness. If these soldiers were using the power of God, no weapons of the enemy would have stopped them!
In verse 21, we read, “And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day.” That was a serious mistake. The people were compromising in exactly the way Joshua had warned them not to!
When David came along some years later, the Jebusites were still there, creating problems. But David handled the situation very differently (2 Samuel 5).
Judges 1:27 shows that the tribe of Manasseh also left some of the inhabitants rather than driving them out. God told the Israelites to get rid of all the people living in the Promised Land. Verse 28 shows that the Israelites decided to put them to forced labor instead! The rest of the chapter shows others throughout the nation making similar compromises.
It is very difficult for human beings to simply do as God commands. We tend to lack faith; we reason for ourselves how things should be handled. But if God says do it, our job is simply to do it—and do it the way God says do it! How rare such an attitude is on Earth today.
Israel seems to routinely exhibit this weakness of not doing what God says—especially when it comes to driving people out! God commanded that there be one law for everybody (Leviticus 24:22). Any foreigner who chose to live among the Israelites was to keep the same law—and practice the same religion and worship the same God—as the Israelites did. That is the only way a nation can ever work! Yet in the modern nations of Israel, we allow millions and millions of people to come in while still clinging to their own languages, customs, religions and practices. In America—the modern descendants of Manasseh—we host even those who are hostile to the Constitution, the law of the land. Making matters worse, we give them all kinds of welfare benefits despite our already having a gargantuan debt that we cannot pay! But the lawless radical left says it is the only “loving” thing to do. And of course, it has the side benefit of buying these liberals votes and keeping them in power. Those people don’t know God—and they don’t understand the devil! Their way will never work out. This is breaking God’s law—and it is destroying our nations! It always leads to disaster.
Judges 1:29 shows the Ephraimites allowing the Canaanites to live in their land. Modern Ephraim, Britain, does the same thing. Today, Muslims practice sharia law there, in some cases with the blessing of the British government! Those people don’t want British law: They are importing their own Islamic judicial system! There is no way you can live in peace with such individuals for long.
God commanded one law for everyone, both Israelite and stranger. We must learn to think like the God of Israel! Ultimately, everybody is going to become Israel. That is the way salvation works.
God intended His law to preserve the purity of Israel’s religion. This lesson equally applies to God’s Church, or spiritual Israel, today. In the New Testament, the command is the same, on a spiritual level: God tells His people to separate themselves from anyone in the Church who tries to pollute the religion by bringing another doctrine (e.g. Romans 16:17; Galatians 1:8-9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Timothy 3:5; Titus 3:10-11; 2 John 10-11). God’s true Church keeps this command today.
Some people criticize us for it, reasoning that it is harsh and cruel. But we don’t resort to human reasoning—we simply do what God commands. They believe it is more loving to continue those relationships, but they simply don’t know what God’s love is! “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). We always want to act out of true love—the love of God. He knows what is loving and what is harsh and cruel—and He isn’t harsh and cruel! God is love! Disobeying God’s instruction on this point invites disaster just as surely as it did for the Israelites.
Spiritual Israel, or God’s Church, will always fail without strong leadership from the top! God always chooses a man, as He did with Moses and Joshua, to apply His law.
However, it is common for God’s people to reject God’s government just as ancient Israel did. Only about 5 percent of God’s people remain loyal to Him today! The book of Judges shows us why God’s true Church succeeds or fails in any age.
God needs people who will look in the Bible, understand it the best they can—and just do it! Things always work out beautifully when you do that.
The Character of a Leader
The book of Judges covers over 300 years of history. It was Israel’s “dark ages”—a time of intense suffering and immorality. War was a way of life.
Israel endured much instability as a nation mostly because of its weak leadership. During that awful period, there were a few good judges, like Jephthah and Samson. Some of those leaders weren’t the greatest—certainly compared to Moses, Joshua or David—but they still were great leaders. God raised them up from a seriously corrupted area and used them for His purposes.
Of course, Samson had some problems and really let those overwhelm him. His life shows how one problem can really bring a person down if he doesn’t get it under control and conquer it! We must conquer our problems! Several examples in the former prophets illustrate that point.
The book of Judges, more than any other book in the Bible, graphically illustrates how the character of a leader does affect the people.
The first judge, Othniel, feared God and kept His commandments. Consequently, the “land had rest forty years” (Judges 3:11). As soon as Othniel died, the children of Israel did evil in God’s sight.
Living in sin, the Israelites did not prosper. They were not successful. Conditions got so bad that they finally cried out for God’s help. In His mercy, God raised up Ehud to deliver them from the Moabites. Israel had rest for 80 years. After Ehud died, they again sank into the depths of evil and despair.
Through this period, there are seven repetitions of this miserable cycle: The people fell away from God, they suffered captivity, they cried out to God, and then God delivered them through a judge.
A Mother in Israel
One notable judgeship was that of Deborah (Judges 4). In one sense, this is a bright spot in Judges. But in another sense, it is a terrible tragedy!
Deborah was a prophetess, and the Israelites could see that God was using her and revealing truths to her (verses 4-5). But this exposes so much about the state of Israel at the time: The only reason God was using this great woman was that there were no men strong enough to lead!
God wanted to use Barak to deliver Israel. Deborah gave him God’s instructions on how to do so. But Barak was so weak that he wouldn’t do it unless Deborah went with him and held him by the hand! (verse 8). Deborah chided him for his lack of manliness (verse 9). Israel had 10,000 soldiers, yet here was a woman running everything, and she was apparently the only one capable of doing it!
After God gave Israel the victory in this battle, Deborah and Barak sang a victory song. It is beautiful poetry describing God’s power. But it is also a prophecy about the problems that tend to arise within Israel when it gets away from God.
“I Deborah arose … I arose a mother in Israel,” this great woman sang (Judges 5:7).
“I arose a mother in Israel” is truly a condemning statement! There were no great men trained to be like Joshua.
We see horrifying tragedies today in America and Britain. Shouldn’t these tragedies cause strong men to rise up in wrath and strength? But there is usually silence. The question is why?
When we depart from God, Satan moves in. One thing he is always pushing for is to get women in charge. Isaiah prophesied that this would be the state of affairs in Israel in the end time (Isaiah 3:12). Israel today is very much like it was at the time of Deborah—there are no strong male leaders. That spells disaster for any nation. And to make matters even worse, there is no Deborah to lead any of the nations of Israel! Families reject the rule of God. We may call our marriages a 50-50 rule today, but God says the women rule!
What are the fruits of such a marriage? Such a family produces very weak and effeminate boys! It also causes the girls to become overly aggressive, and the problem is perpetuated. When that happens, then children become oppressors, and it becomes an absolute catastrophe for the nation.
The first five verses of Isaiah 3 prophesy that all the strong leaders are gone because of family breakdown. This is a terribly serious problem. It shows, again, the crises that arise because Israel simply will not do things the way God commands! It is a prophecy of doom.
Our people have destroyed God’s family government; and when you destroy the family, the book of Judges prophesies that you destroy the nation!
Some people will get angry at these words. They need to understand that they are really angry at God!
The state of a physical family reveals where we are spiritually. The husband and wife are to submit to God and each other—but still, the man is to be the head. If a man is not the head, God doesn’t rule the family. And if the woman cannot submit to him, she cannot submit to Christ (Ephesians 5:21-22). The man must love his wife so much that he would die for her—as Christ died for His wife, the Church. That is the kind of family government that builds great nations.
The Cambridge Bible makes this observation: “The Song of Deborah represents the tribes as incapable of a common effort. Judah is not even mentioned, and historians have wondered at the isolation of this tribe, which after Othniel did not produce a single judge.” Judges 12:8-10 do mention a minor judge from Bethlehem, but still, what happened to Judah? This tribe was so strong under Joshua, but it fell apart after he was gone. According to Judges 15, the Jews even ended up turning Samson over to the Philistines.
God used Gideon in a powerful way (Judges 6-8). This is a particularly interesting story because Gideon was such a coward. God calls the lowly of the world—we are cowards! Yet God really used this man and made him very courageous! That is what God wants to do with all of us.
Gideon assembled an army of 32,000 Israelites to fight the Midianites. God wanted to reduce the size of his army. “And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me” (Judges 7:2). God wanted the nation to give Him credit for the victory. That is important to God. If 30,000 Israelites had won this battle, they would have said, Aren’t we great? We won a mighty victory! But God wants us to know that He is the one responsible for those successes.
The first thing God did was have Gideon tell the army that anyone who was fearful and afraid could simply leave. An astounding 22,000 of the soldiers left! (verse 3). These men were about to go into battle—I’m sure they would have fought to protect Israel—but they weren’t what God was looking for. God said, Because they’re fearful and afraid, send them back. Are you fearful of spiritual warfare? God wants us to have courage in our battles!
Even though the army was now less than a third as large, God had more whittling to do. “And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there …” (verse 4). God is doing the choosing of His spiritual Marines. These men in Gideon’s army were ancient Marines of Israel, chosen for a special offensive warfare. And God is going to choose the ones He wants to do this final work in the Philadelphia Church. Remember, this is prophecy for this end time! You and I are being tested right now. God is learning a lot about all of His people.
God put these soldiers to the test. He had them go to the water to drink, and instructed Gideon to observe how they gathered the water. He separated those who got down on their knees and put their lips to the water from those who scooped the water with their hands and brought it to their mouth. The latter group—the men who remained alert and vigilant even in drinking water—amounted to only 300 men (verses 4-6).
Many of these men, though they were going out to fight, weren’t eager to do battle. They had a case of the “slows,” as Abraham Lincoln said of his people and his generals during the Civil War. If you are not eager to fight, you will lose crucial battles! God is looking for people who are eager to do battle and go on the offensive.
“And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place” (verse 7). These 300 men were not going to wait for the Midianites to come after them, as most of Lincoln’s generals did. God said he would send out this 300 after the Midianites, and they would go on the offensive and destroy them.
Notice, though, that God said, I will save you. God is going to have to save us. There were over 30,000 people who weren’t really eager to do battle. God had already told them He would save them, but they didn’t believe Him. They didn’t feel personally secure about God’s assurances. They were afraid. We can easily become afraid. But God says, I want you to go on the offensive. Don’t worry about what anybody else says—you just go.
Notice what God said to Gideon, commanding those 300: “Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand” (verse 9). These are powerful words! God said, I have already beaten them, just go down and reap the fruits of your victory. But you have to know that God is doing it.
What an honor to be among the 300! What a glorious honor to be in God’s Philadelphia Church today.
The Depths of Depravity
The time line in the book of Judges ends with chapter 16. The remaining chapters tell two accounts that don’t fit with the chronology in the rest of the book—but they well illustrate and summarize just how deeply sinful Israel became during this period.
Chapters 17 and 18 show how common idolatry had become, and how corrupt the priesthood was. A woman had saved a great sum of silver, and her son, Micah, stole it from her. He confessed his crime, and she revealed that she intended to use the money to make an idol to worship. She went ahead and had an idol fashioned, and Micah consented. But he didn’t stop there: He then made an ephod and other priestly implements—and set up one of his own sons as a priest! This was all in complete rebellion against God.
Right in the middle of this account, this important point is made: “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Here is the big problem! This verse encapsulates the real trouble with what was happening in this chapter. It also sums up the big lesson in the book of Judges!
After this, Micah found a Levite and hired him to be his pagan priest. He fooled himself into thinking God was pleased with his actions.
The main lesson here is emphasized: “In those days there was no king in Israel: and in those days the tribe of the Danites sought them an inheritance to dwell in; for unto that day all their inheritance had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel” (Judges 18:1). Spies from Dan found Micah, and they got caught up in his abominable paganism, along with breaking other commandments of God.
Chapters 19 through 21 have probably the most depraved and tragic story in Judges. It begins by again emphasizing the government problem plaguing the nation: “And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite sojourning on the side of mount Ephraim, who took to him a concubine out of Bethlehemjudah” (Judges 19:1).
This man and his concubine couldn’t find a place to stay. So an old man invited them into his home. Then a gang of homosexual thugs came and demanded that the old man turn his male guest over to them so they could sexually abuse him! (These are the fruits of upside-down families.) He refused, but the mob finally took the traveling man’s concubine. They abused her until she died.
God made sure this shameful incident was recorded and canonized in the Bible as an indictment of the horrifying state of Israel at that time.
To make matters even worse, Judges 20 shows that the nation was so divided that they could not even agree on how to deal with this vile atrocity! A civil war that killed more than 60,000 people followed! A bloody history indeed.
The overarching point of the book of Judges is repeated for emphasis: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). God inspired that statement to be repeated over and over. He concludes the book with it.
This was the kind of “government” Israel descended into after Joshua died. After a certain point, nobody really cared what the leaders were doing. Everyone just did his own thing. Sound familiar?
Remember, this is a book of prophecy. You can find Israel on Earth today by understanding this verse! What nations are passionately into democracy? America, Britain, the Jewish state and most of the democracies in northwestern Europe.
This is exactly the state of affairs in the modern nations of Israel! Everybody wants to do it their own way—whatever is right in their own eyes. That is prophecy for right now in the nations of Israel! People talk so much about freedom—but the freedom they cherish is really just the freedom to wreck their lives! They are plagued by wretched sins; they hate law and government. Who can lead these people into anything constructive or profitable?
This history vividly shows the terrible results of that kind of lawlessness. When God’s government isn’t in place, when His law is being ignored—when everyone is doing whatever is right in his own eyes—you have miserable anarchy.
These modern nations of biblical Israel are about to become the bloodiest nations ever because they reject God’s rule! Everybody today wants to do what is right in his own eyes. The book of Judges prophesies the terrifying outcome of such a democracy!
This is always the fate of Israel without a strong Moses or Joshua to lead the people to God. Satan knows how to exploit the many weaknesses of a democracy to bring it down.
Even though democracy is probably the best government man has created, it is always destined to fail.
Seek God’s Help
There is an important lesson here even within the Church of God. Here was a period in Israel when the people needed to voluntarily go to the judges to get the help they needed—and most of them didn’t do that. They had a lot of freedom, and they allowed that to destroy them.
In God’s Church, the members also have a lot of freedom. God’s ministry is there to help, and God puts most of the responsibility on the members to seek that help when they need it. Those who ask for the help they need tend to be a lot more successful than those who don’t.
I remember when I attended Ambassador College, one instructor said that if we seek help when we need it, our “stock goes up” at the college. I took him up on that offer, and my wife and I counseled with him about a problem we weren’t solving. He helped us a great deal. I got the feeling afterward, though, that my stock hadn’t gone up in his eyes—but I do believe it rose in God’s eyes! I was making mistakes, but I wanted to solve them! And I know God honored that attitude. Thankfully, He is the one in charge of this Church, not any man.
The whole book of Judges illustrates the truth that carnal men will not come to God to get the help they need. That is a huge lesson for us! How carnal are you? How much are you like the people in the time of the judges? Will you go to God’s ministers when you need help? We are carnal too, but God still uses us. This is a fundamental lesson we all need to learn.
The wonderful thing about this prophetic history, though, is to see how God set the course of Israel back on track. The priesthood was degenerate, but God was going to make some changes. The government was in disarray, but God was going to establish a king!
Likewise today, this time of everybody doing his own thing is about to end forever. There is going to be a King. Jesus Christ is going to rule on that throne! We need to see deeply how important it is that we have that King.
It is inspiring to see how God began the process of turning things around anciently. As we will see in the next chapter, it started with one family.