No King in the Land
Judges Lesson #001
June 11, 2000
Judges is a book that is rarely taught in any church. This is a tragedy because it is a book for our times. What is impressive about this book is the theme. The last verse, Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Judges was in many ways the dark ages of Israel’s history: they rejected the authority of God, they rejected the authority of Scripture, and in its place they substituted their own authority. In other words, rather than looking to God and His Word for absolutes and structuring all their thought under that umbrella, they looked to the community, to one another, to themselves as the source of absolute right and wrong. So it was a culture that was drenched in moral relativism. It should not take too long to figure out what the application is and how it relates to our culture in the twentieth century today.
We will see a number of themes that are developed; we are going to see the pathology of an apostate, anti-God, relativistic culture and how it affects everything: how it changes worship practices, how it affects the role of men and women in a society in contrast to God’s plan for the role of men and women, and how degraded a culture can become when they are paganized. That is exactly what happens in the Judges narrative. We should remember the context here. They had gone into the land and completely destroyed the Canaanites. The Canaanites represent the most extreme paganization of the ancient world: what happens when a people reject God and live out their own assumptions about life on their own authority. It was just a rank, evil culture. All cultures are not equal, but this is what kids are being taught in school.
The purpose for any introduction of a book of the Bible is to give us some orientation to that book—an overview—so that when we get into the text we can somehow have a frame of reference for putting together all of the various details that are going on in that particular book. It is important to read the Bible every day in order to be oriented to what is going on. We need to orient ourselves both historically and biblically. Now a major principle in the interpretation of Scripture is that all Scripture must be interpreted in the time in which it was written. That means that if we are to properly interpret the Scriptures we must understand the dynamics of what was going on in the ancient world. Before we can even apply anything we have to be sure we have a correct interpretation. We need to notice when a book was written, its historical context, the purpose of the writing, and the basic thematic structure of the book. That is true for anything you read.
The purpose of the book is stated in Judges 21:25. We are going to understand that there are a lot of secondary themes throughout the book related to developing a biblical philosophy: what the Bible teaches about government function and the role of government, leadership, social structures, the roles of men and women in a biblical society, and how that is transformed through moral relativism, is distorted, and how it affects the roles of the sexes.
Judges is the first real history book that was ever written. The date of its writing is somewhat uncertain. It was probably written by Samuel during Saul’s monarchy. When Judges was written there had never before in the history of man been written a historical analysis of man. Judges is really the first book that gives us a philosophy of history, not just a record of events. It portrays man as he is. We see all his sinfulness, his carnality, all of his negative aspects. It is to display in Israel’s history the causation, which is their negative volition. It is grounded in the cursing and blessing chapters of Deuteronomy. Judges is the outworking of the cursing aspect of the Deuteronomic law—the Mosaic Law—on Israel because of their failure to maintain the covenant and to walk in obedience to God. This displays a view of history that has at its core the concept of progress. As a Christian we should look at history as something that is progressing and is moving toward an ultimate goal which is the culmination of God’s plan and purposes in history. In the context of what is going on in Israel’s history, Deuteronomy provides the constitution of the theocratic government of Israel and instruction in every area of life for the citizen of Israel.
The book of Joshua, is about the conquest of the land. What is needed for a nation is land, a body of law or constitution, and a people. The people were brought out of Egypt at the Exodus, given a body of law or constitution at Sinai which is reiterated to the second generation (Deuteronomy), and then they are given a land. This goes back to the land promise in the Abrahamic Covenant. Joshua relates to us the conquest of the land as God gives the land to the nation Israel. Judges, is the history book that records how Israel has responded to God. In this case it is in negative volition but we still see God’s grace despite Israel’s failures. So Judges will begin the prophetic analysis of history.
The role of the prophet is to reveal God’s will and God’s judgments to man. A key text for this is 2 Peter 1:20–21 which talks about the operation of the gift of prophecy, specifically in the Old Testament. That is, when the prophet announced his judgment or analysis of what was going on in history it was not produced by his own opinion. It was not his own idea, it was God’s revelation to him and God’s analysis of what was going on in history, and not the prophet’s independent analysis of what was going on in history. Judges is the first book written by a prophet. Moses functioned as a prophet, had the gift of prophecy, but was not in the office of prophet as the later prophets are.
There is a fairly good argument that Samuel or one of his students wrote Judges. Samuel established a “school of the prophets” in Judea where he trained prophets, and they wrote Scripture, they copied, they travelled Israel and taught the Word and taught the people about God. There are certain indications in the book that suggest that it was written after the monarchy began. For example, in Judges 17:6 it states, “In those days [the period of the judges] there was no king in Israel”—the implication is that at the time of the writing there was a king in Israel: “and every man did what was right in his own eyes.” In Judges 18:1, “In those days there was no king in Israel: and in those days the tribe of the Danites were seeking an inheritance for themselves in which to live.”
In Judges 19:1, “Now it came about in those days when there was no king in Israel.” So the implication is that at the time Judges was written there must have been a king in Israel. There are other notations in the book which seem to imply that Jerusalem had not yet been conquered by David. That means that the book was probably written between the time of Saul becoming king and David taking Jerusalem away from the Jebusites. So it is an analysis, then, of what took place in Israel during this particular period of the judges: why these events took place, the impact they had, why God responded the way He did, and its relationship to kingship in Israel.
In 1446 BC we have the Exodus. Then there are 40 years in the wilderness, which means that in 1406 the Israelites entered into the land, crossing the Jordan River under the generalship of Joshua. It took seventy years to secure the major borders of the land. From 1399 BC, seven years later, to approximately 1360 BC we have the mopping up operation. In those first seven years they conquered the major strongholds and then they had to go in and mop up. Then from approximately 1360 BC when the last of that generation dies to 1051 BC, is the period of the judges and the time when Saul became king. The last of the judges in the book of Judges are Jephthah and Samson, but the last two judges are Eli and Samuel; they are not included in the book of Judges but in the book of 1 Samuel. Eli was negative and Samuel was a positive believer, and through Samuel the nation would recover. Then we have the period of the united monarchy through Saul, David, and Solomon.
It is important to understand what happens at the end of this period and the beginning of the next period in order to rightly understand what is going on in Judges. There are two periods of oppression. When we read Judges we read that there are eight different judges: eight different cycles of disobedience, discipline, and deliverance. God brought in a judge, then the people went back again and again; thus it just continued to deteriorate in those cycles. It seems on a surface reading that they take place one after the other. But if we study this carefully they do not happen that way. One oppressor may come in from the east and another one from the west so that they happen at roughly the same time or they were overlapping. The judges were not like a king. The term judge in the Hebrew, shaphat, means more the concept of a deliverer. Though part of their function was judicial in some sense it was primarily the idea of a military deliverer.
At the end of Judges there are two oppressions which both began in 1124 BC. The first is the Ammonite oppression and it ends in 1106 BC. The second is the Philistine oppression that lasts from 1124 BC to 1084 BC. The Ammonites were coming in from the east across the Jordan. The Philistines had established a beachhead and five major cities on the Mediterranean. They were Greek sea peoples who had migrated down and established colonies in the Mediterranean area.
During these oppressions God raised up several different judges. The first was Jephthah who lived from about 1150 BC and died in approximately 1100 BC. He was the one who would deliver the Jews from the Ammonites. Then Samson was born in 1123 BC before the Ammonite oppression was over. So the two lives overlap, their function as judges overlap, but they are sent in different directions. Samson was the last judge in the book. He was the first one who did not complete the task. Under the Philistine oppression at the end of Judges was the first time where the Jews did not repent under a disciplinary cycle. When Judges ends they were still under Philistine oppression.
So God had to raise up another prophet/judge, the last of the judges, Samuel, who was born in 1115 BC. Samuel would have been about nine or ten years old when Jephthah delivered Israel from the Ammonites. He would have been just a couple of years older when the battle of Aphek took place in 1104 BC. The battle of Aphek is described for us in 1 Samuel 4:1–11; this is when the Israelites went into battle with the Philistines.
They were losing the battle so they said, “Go get the ark of God.” The Ark of the Covenant and the tabernacle were set up in Shiloh. They got the ark and were treating it like a superstitious talisman: “If we have the ark with us it is going to give us victory.” There was no submission to God, there was still no repentance of their sin, but the assimilation of Canaanite thinking, the Canaanite religion. They just wanted to use God for their purposes. There is a tremendous similarity in what was going on there and what is going on today in modern times. The religious system that dominated was called fertility worship, the phallic cult. It was all about increasing material gain through productivity in an agricultural environment. The fertility religion was designed to somehow manipulate and motivate the gods so that by giving the right sacrifice, going through the right actions, rubbing your rabbit’s foot the right way, chanting the right incantations, saying the right words, that the gods, in turn, would give wealth.
The Old Testament phallic cult, fertility religion, is just the same as the modern health and wealth gospel that we see all these idiots on television proclaiming. They are just a modern version of what took place in Judges. They have assimilated Christianity with paganism and come out with this whole new theology called the health and wealth movement. If we can understand some of these things in Judges we will see tremendous application with what is going on in churches today: going out and assimilating pagan concepts of music, thought, and form then bringing it into the church to make the church more appealing to unbelievers. So at the battle of Aphek, rather than submitting to God, going to God in repentance, and turning from negative volition to positive volition, they tried to use the ark to obtain victory.
But God cannot be manipulated. The Philistines had one of the most incredible military victories over the Jews in history. The Jews were devastated and it was another twenty years before they could mount an armed defense against the Philistines. They were wiped out; it was one of the greatest tragedies in ancient history, one of the greatest military defeats. The ark was captured by the Philistines and they were saying that their gods were better than the Jews’. They had heard all the stories about Jericho, they knew about coming out of Egypt, the Red Sea, etc. They took the ark and put it in the temple of Dagon. They were illustrating by this that their god was over the God of Israel. But each morning when they went into their temple, Dagon was down on his face bowing in obeisance to the Ark of the Covenant! They had to stand him back up; they had to prop up their god!
It was not until 1084 BC that Israel finally defeated the Philistines under the leadership of Samuel. Samson died in 1084 BC. In retaliation the Philistines decided that now that Samson is dead they can defeat the Jews, so they attack Israel. But they were summarily defeated and their period of oppression ended, 1 Samuel 7:11. But it also set up something else that is very dangerous in terms of what they are trying to do.
Judges 8:22; this was after Gideon had victory over the Midianites. The Israelites wanted to establish a dynasty through Gideon. This was the high point in Gideon’s life but it did not last long, Judges 8:23. They looked for a kingship and the establishment of a dynasty but Gideon’s response was that God alone is sufficient to rule Israel and the people should submit to His rulership as King. When we look at the phrase “in those days there was no king in Israel” it is easy to look at it from the perspective of kingship in Israel and say, “Well there was not a king yet,” so this was an argument for the need of a monarch. That is a little shallow. The Mosaic Law established Israel as a theocracy: God was the King. When the writer is saying “in those days there was no king in Israel,” he is also saying that Israel had rejected God as King. Gideon has reminded them that the Lord is their king and the Lord should rule over them.
In Judges 9, Gideon’s son’s name is Abimelech [melek = king; Abi = my father]. The humor is that Gideon said that they should let God rule over them, that he was not going to establish a dynasty over them, but he named his son “My Father is King.” And that exactly foreshadowed what happened. Judges 9:6. The first king of Israel was Abimelech, not Saul. Saul was the first authorized king but not the first one crowned king.
1 Samuel 8:1–5, after the battle of Mizpah, the people held a congress and began twisting Samuel’s arm for a king. They wanted to have a king “like all the nations.” This means we need to take a moment to see what is going on around Israel in terms of kingship. The strongest kingship around was in Egypt. The pharaoh was the most powerful king in all of human history; he was god incarnate. He was considered the son of god and the god-king, and the people completely believed that. In a battle it didn’t matter if Pharaoh was in the battle or not, Pharaoh always led the troops and was seen as the one who brought victory.
In ancient times before the judges the two major power blocs were either in Egypt or Mesopotamia. The kings to the north were not gods but they had an incredibly strong power base. They are all pictured as men but they were more than simply executives in the government, they were also prophet and priest. So as the arbiter of the will of god to the people they were second in power only to the Pharaoh.
In the ancient world there were several different words for king. In Phoenicia the king was called Malek. In Israel there were just the judges; there was no king, So Israel was looking all around and there was nothing comparable in Israel. What filled that slot in Israel was God. So Israel stood out. There was a constitution binding the twelve tribes together, the most incredible code of law for freedom that ever existed in the ancient world. Israel did not have to do anything but what God told them to do and they were going to be His witness in the ancient world. People would see that there was no great authority, they were not slaves, they had freedom, they could do what they wanted. If they were obedient to God He was going to bless them and prosper them. They would be the wealthiest nation around, and that is what happened under David and Solomon.
Next, in 1 Samuel 8 there is danger: the evil of centralized power and tyrannical government.