Rev. Kortering is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Grandville, Michigan.
We concluded in the previous article that God chastised His people through the heathen whom Israel had failed to exterminate as commanded by God. As soon as they were thus disciplined, Israel repented and returned unto Jehovah. We should observe that this took place repeatedly, and that it is for this reason that we speak of the cycle of the judges. Prior to the appearance of each of the judges there was a time of prosperity in which Israel had peace and all went well. This changed as Israel forgot God and turned to idols, usually under the influence of the heathen around them.
This tells us something, namely, that material prosperity is spiritually dangerous. It is during such times that we with Israel are most inclined to turn to idols and forget God. When Israel did this, God moved one of the heathen nations to war upon Israel, to trouble them in some manner. This went on for years and usually brought great hardship.
This too is the working of God throughout history. His hand of discipline is used to correct the church. For, when they suffered, they were forced to examine their lives and ask, “Why, what is wrong?” They learned then to see their sin and to repent from their sin and to cry to Jehovah for deliverance. This, then, becomes typical of the cry of the church for Jehovah’s mercy in Jesus Christ, the Deliverer. God would raise up a judge either to drive away their enemy or to free Israel from the burden of oppression. This took place through the personal intervention of the judge. After such deliverance, the land would be at peace once more, and, since there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes, the people sooner or later reverted back to idolatry and the entire cycle would be repeated.
Such a situation could only come to an end when the theocracy was established typically in David and Solomon, types of our Lord Jesus Christ. Associated with such is the institution of the prophetic office and the speech of God to His people. While we deal with this history, we do well to search our hearts to learn the lesson of heartfelt repentance and sincere desire to serve God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has overcome sin and death for us. There is both warning and comfort for us in this history.
The book of Judges can be divided into three main sections. The first deals with introductory material (Judges 1:1-3:6); the second gives details on each of the judges (Judges 3:7-16:31); and the final section is an appendix which cites two examples of the terrible evil which existed during this period (Judges 17:1-21:25).
1.The first section presents introductory information (Judges 1:1-3:6). After the death of Joshua, the children of Israel inquired of the Lord who should be the first to fight the Canaanites that still resided in the portion of land that each had received by lot (Judges 1:1). The Lord instructed Judah to be first, which in turn asked Simeon to help (Judges 1:2, 3). They fought the Canaanites and Perizzites especially at Bezek. The king, Adonibezek, was captured. After they cut off his thumbs and great toes, they took him to Jerusalem where he died (Judges 1:4-7). Jerusalem was also smitten and burned, though the Jebusites remained (Judges 1:8, 21).
Next Judah turned to the mountains, the southlands, and valleys and conquered the enemies there. This included Hebron (formerly Kirjatharba), Debir, and Kirjathsepher. In connection with the last-named city, Caleb offered his daughter as wife to the captain who would conquer it. Othniel, son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took the city and he received Achsah for wife. She received from her father land as well as springs of water (Judges 1:9-15). The Kenites, children of Moses’ father-in-law, decided to live in the wilderness south of Arad (Judges 1:16). Judah joined Simeon and fought Zephath, also called Hormah (Judges 1:17). After this they went into Gaza, Askelon, and Ekron and conquered them, though they could not clear the valleys, since the inhabitants had chariots of iron (Judges 1:18, 19). Hebron was given to Caleb as Moses promised (Judges 1:20).
The house of Joseph smote Bethel (formerly Luz). The spies offered mercy to a man coming out of the city, if he would show them the entrance. He did and he and his family were let go, while the entire city was slaughtered. In turn he went and started another city in the land of the Hittites which he named Luz (Judges 1:22-26).
Besides the failure of Benjamin to destroy all the Jebusites in Jerusalem (Judges 1:21), Manasseh did not kill all the inhabitants of Bethshean, Taanach, Dor, Ibleam, and Meggido, but made them pay tribute (Judges 1:27, 28). Neither did Ephraim completely succeed over the inhabitants of Gezer, nor Zebulun over the people of Kitron and Nahalol, nor Asher over Accho, Zidon, Ahlah, Achzib, Helbah, and Rehob; nor did Naphtali drive out all the inhabitants of Bethshemesh and Bethanath, but made them pay taxes. Also Dan was driven into the mountains by the Amorites, though they were able to make them tributaries (Judges 1:29-36). From the appearance of an angel of the Lord at Bochim, we learn that the failure of Israel to kill all the inhabitants, and their making tributaries of them instead, was wrong. God warned the people that these people would be thorns in their sides and their gods a snare unto them. The people wept and sacrificed in response to this severe warning Judges 12:1-5).
Joshua dismissed the people and they went each to his inheritance. Mention is made of the fact that the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua and the elders that outlived him (Judges 2:6, 7). Joshua died, being a hundred and ten years old, and the people buried him in the mount of Ephraim (Judges 2:8, 9).
We now have a summary of what took place during the period of the judges. A new generation arose that knew not the Lord, nor the works which He did. They turned to Baalim and the other gods of the nations round about them, including Baa1 and Ashtaroth (Judges 2:10-13). Jehovah responded with wrath and judgment. He delivered them into the hands of the spoilers as He had said (Judges 2:14, 15). Even after they cried for help and He had delivered them by the hands of judges, they still went after other gods, even worse than before (Judges 2:16-19). Now Jehovah informs the people that, since they disobeyed Him in not driving out these enemies, from now on He will not drive them out, but use them to prove Israel whether they will obey the Lord or not. Even in this God is sovereign in His purpose (Judges 2:20-23).
A list of the nations that remained in the land of Canaan is now given: the five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, Sidonians, and Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon (Judges 3:1-4). The children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. They even intermarried with them (Judges 2:5, 6).
2. The accounting of each of the judges (Judges 3:7-16:31).
The first one mentioned is Othniel. The children forgot the Lord and served Baalim and the groves. Chushanrishathaim, king of Mesopotamia, prevailed over Israel for eight years. The Lord raised Othniel, son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, to prevail over the king of Mesopotamia, and the land had rest for forty years (Judges 3:7-11).
The next judge which the Lord raised up was Ehud. Since the people did evil in God’s sight, He raised up Eglon, king of Moab, who took with him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and came and possessed the city of palm trees (Jericho) for eighteen years (Judges 3:12-14). The Lord raised Ehud, son of Cera, a Benjamite, a man left-handed. He went to the king of Moab with a present. Disguised beneath his raiment, on his right side, was a double-edged dagger. We are told that Eglon was a very fat man. After Ehud had presented the gift to Eglon, Ehud said he had a secret mission and the people were dismissed, whereupon Ehud thrust the dagger into the body of Eglon. Since Eglon was so fat, Ehud could not draw the weapon out; Secretly he locked the doors of the parlour and fled through the porch. The servants became afraid and finally opened the doors with a key and found their king dead. Meanwhile, Ehud fled to Ephraim and called for their help. With an army he met the Moabites at the fords of Jordan and slew ten thousand men of Moab. The land had rest for eighty years (Judges 3:15-30).
The third judge was Shamgar, son of Anath, who slew 600 Philistines with an ox goad and delivered Israel (Judges 3:31).
The fourth judge was Deborah, with the help of Barak. When the children of Israel did evil, the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin, king of Canaan, who lived in Hazor. The captain of his army was Sisera. He had at his disposal 900 chariots of iron, and he kept Israel in subjection for 20 years. Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lapidoth, judged Israel at this time. She dwelt beneath the palm tree between Ramah and Bethel, and Israel came out to her (Judges 4:1-5). She went to Barak, son of Abinoam, and urged him on the command of the Lord to take 10,000 men of Naphtali and Zebulun and draw Sisera to the River Kishon in battle. He said he would go if Deborah would accompany him. She consented, though she warned him that Sisera would fall into the hand of a woman (Judges 4:6-9). Having raised the army, they went together to face Sisera. With the help of Heber the Kenite, Sisera learned that Barak had gone up to Mt. Tabor, the vicinity of the River Kishon. He gathered his 900 chariots of iron and his army and prepared for battle (Judges 4:10-13). Deborah assured Barak this was the day of victory, so he took his army of 10,000 from Mt. Tabor and met Sisera. The Lord discomfited Sisera and his army with the edge of the sword of Barak and his men. Sisera fled from battle and his soldiers fell upon the edge of the sword, and there was not a man left. Sisera himself was killed by Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, when she drove the tent nail through his temples after he came to her tent for protection. When Barak came, Jael met him and showed him the corpse of Sisera. After that the children of Israel prospered and they even destroyed Jabin, king of Canaan (Judges 4:14-24).