Judges 1

A Lack of Drive.

“The LORD was with the people of Judah, and they took possession of the hill country. But they failed to drive out the people living in the plains because the people there had iron chariots.” ­– Judges 1:19 NLT

The first three chapters of the book of Judges will paint of picture of why this period in Israel’s history was even necessary. The book forms a bridge from the time in which Israel was ruled by God (a theocracy) to the time in which they would demand rule by a king (a monarchy). As we read we will see Israel move from success to failure. They will go from victory to defeat. All due to their disobedience and unfaithfulness to keep the commands of God. But the primary purpose of the book of Judges seems to be to show the sovereign grace of God in preserving Israel in spite of Israel. God will remain faithful in spite of their increasing unfaithfulness.

Chapter one sets the stage for what is to come. Joshua has died and God does not replace him with another military style leader. Now the individual tribes are expected to continue to process of conquering the land and inhabiting it. We read in verse 19 that Judah had the presence of God with him as he and his tribe fought against the Canaanites. But in spite of God’s presence, they were unable to defeat the inhabitants of the hill country. The excuse given for their failure is the advanced weaponry of their foes (iron chariots). But was that the real reason for their failure? As we continue to read in the days ahead we will discover that the real issue was their disobedience. Rather than fight, they were making allegiances and alliances with the people and worshiping their gods. The people of God had become highly selective in their obedience to God’s command. They were making executive decisions about what they would and would not do. And as a result, they were experiencing limited success. In fact, verses 27-36 record failure after failure on the part of Israel in driving the inhabitants from the land.

…Manasseh did not take possession of Beth-shean…

…but they did not drive them out completely…

…Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites…

…Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron…

…Ahser did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco…

…Napthali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh…

And on it goes. The situation in the Promised Land will continue to degrade until God has to intervene and rescue His people yet again – time and time again. The book of Judges is a record of the period of the judges. Who were these individuals? Were they prophets, pseudo-kings, or military leaders? To help us get a better grasp on the role these people played in the lives of Gods people, take a few minutes to read what John Bright has to say about them:

Though the judge enjoyed great prestige, he was in no sense a king. His authority was neither absolute, nor permanent, nor in any case hereditary; it rested solely in those personal qualities (the charisma) that gave evidence that he was the man of Yahweh’s spirit. It was a type of authority perfectly expressive of the faith and constitution of early Israel: the God-King’s direct leadership of his people through his spirit-designated representative. . . .

The judges were by no means men of identical character. Some (e.g., Gideon) rose to their task at the behest of a profound experience of divine vocation; one (Jephthah) was no better than a bandit who knew how to strike a canny bargain; one (Samson) was an engaging rogue whose fabulous strength and bawdy pranks became legendary. None, so far as we know, ever led a united Israel into battle. All, however, seem to have had this in common: they were men who, stepping to the fore in times of danger, by virtue only of those personal qualities (charisma) which gave evidence to their fellows that Yahweh’s spirit was upon them, rallied the clans against the foe. – John Bright, A History of Israel

So as we read through the book of Judges, keep your eyes open for God’s faithfulness. Look out for examples of His sovereign grace and mercy. Watch how He rescues His own even in the midst of their rebellion. He is faithful. And look at the ways in which he uses ordinary men to accomplish extraordinary tasks. Just like He longs to do today.

Father, as we read through the book of Judges, give us eyes to see You. Don’t let us read it as ancient history, but as an up-to-date glimpse into Your heart. You are still gracious and merciful. We are still rebellious and disobedient. And You continue to rescue us from the results of our own unfaithfulness. Make that reality come alive to us in the days ahead.  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org