Paganism’s Impact on Leadership—Judges Review
Judges and 1 Samuel
1st & 2nd Samuel Lesson #004
February 24, 2015
We’ll have a few moments of silent prayer to make sure we are in right relationship with the Lord before we study today. Then I’ll open in prayer: Father, we are thankful we have this opportunity we have to come together this evening just to focus upon You and Your Word to learn that which You will have us to learn as we go through a background for Samuel and understanding the times, understanding the culture, understanding the people, and understanding the focal points trying to teach through this prophetic literature beginning in Joshua extending through Judges and through the books of Samuel. Father, we pray that you will help us to focus our attention for the next hour and that God the Holy Spirit will use this not only to challenge us in terms of our own thinking, but in terms of our own priorities and our own lives in the way we make decisions each day. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.
p>As we look at Judges (slide 1), Judges is all about how a nation turns to paganism (slide 2). How it moves from being a nation that is spiritually focused and obedient to a nation that looks like all the other nations and acts like all the other nations. This is exactly what has happened in the period of the Judges. It starts off in Judges 1 with the generation that succeeds Joshua; and there’s a generation that has children who would have witnessed the conquest. They heard about the great things of God, witnessed the great things of God, but by the time you get to the later part of that generation, the next compromise sets in. They have fully refused to carry out God’s mandate to completely destroy, to kill every man, woman, and child, to kill and destroy everything related to the Canaanite culture; and they are beginning to look and act like the Canaanites. By the time we get to the end of the book of Judges, they’re worse than the Canaanites, at least as bad as if not worse, and this is something that is the point of the whole lesson. That period continues as we’ll see.
We have to understand this background, and in the structure of Judges, we have an introduction that covers Judges 1:1–3:6. This sets the background and goes through the basic tribal allotments, where they are mopping up the operations that began in Joshua. It’s a great parallel for understanding the spiritual life. You can overlay that to the whole concept of spiritual warfare: that when we’re saved we recognize that there are tremendous strongholds and fortifications of human viewpoint thinking in our minds. Part of our mission in spiritual warfare is to seek and destroy all of that human viewpoint thinking that dominates our thinking. We are to take captive every thought for Jesus Christ. It is real easy to take the large and the obvious areas of sinful, arrogant, human viewpoint thinking under the authority of Scripture, but there are a lot of areas we just don’t want to give up, and this is comparable to what happens during the time of Joshua.
Joshua goes in, and he takes the major strongholds, Jericho, Ai, mopping up, a couple of large military campaigns in the north and then in the south, but that didn’t end it. There were still numerous towns and villages and cities including Jerusalem that stayed under the control of the Canaanites in the land. It was up to the second generation to continue that holy war that God had declared. It’s the only time that God declares this in Scripture. This is not a normative thing for Christianity. It was unique for Israel during a distinct period of time that lasted about 40–60 years. When they started that mopping up operation, they began with enthusiasm and had great victory; but then as you go through this list of each of the different tribes and the problems that they encountered, they failed because of compromise.
Look at Judges 1:27. You get to the tribe of Menashe or Manasseh and “Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; for the Canaanites were determined to dwell in the land.” That is that whole area. If you will recall, for those of you who’ve been to Israel on all my trips, we’d go to Beth Shean, and this wouldn’t be the Greco Roman city of Beth Shean where we see all the wonderful ruins, but that tell that’s in the background. That would have been the ancient Canaanite city of Beth Shean. That area is just to the southeast of Mt. Gilboa where Saul dies. Then as you come around that southeastern area of the valley of Megiddo, also known as the Valley of Harod, Harod Springs, where Gideon thins out the 300, is right there as well. You swing up through that ridge that comes down from Mt. Carmel to Megiddo; that’s the area that this is talking about, and they completely failed to take it because of compromise.
What happens is that they fail to drive out the Canaanites, and they just use them. They put them under tribute. As a result of this in Judges 1:29ff, Ephraim didn’t drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer. Zebulum didn’t drive out the inhabitants of Kitron. Asher doesn’t drive out the inhabitants there, and it just goes on. As a result these strongholds of paganism stayed within the land, and they begin to live and assimilate through the coming generations. They look just like the pagans that were around them. In this section we see that God’s command to annihilate the Canaanites is disobeyed, which sets up Israel for complete failure. In Judges 2 God interprets Israel’s failures so that they understand that the real cause was their unfaithfulness. If you look down to Judges 2:11, we read, “Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals.” They are now worshiping the fertility gods of the Canaanites within just a couple of generations of being brought out of Egypt and seeing all of the miraculous victory that God gave them in Egypt, and the miraculous victory that God gave them in the conquest over Jericho, and many of the other areas.
The result is Judges 2:12–13, “they provoked the LORD to anger and they served Baal and the Ashtoreths.” God then is going to bring judgment upon them and in Judges 2:14 we read, “The anger of the LORD was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of the plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around.” This sets up the cycle that is going to take place in Israel. This is often what happens in our own lives because we refuse to let God the Holy Spirit deal with issues in our own lives and in our own thinking. That then becomes the entrenchment of human viewpoint thinking and sin in our own lives, and that becomes the area of defeat in our spiritual life. Part of the reason that God allows us to continue to live in the Christian life is so that we’ll learn to grow and mature and be sanctified under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. A lot of the testing that we have in our own life doesn’t come from Satan, and to some degree it doesn’t come from even the world outside. It just comes from our own sin nature. That is the same kind of thing that is pictured here.
If you look at Judges 3:1 we read, “Now these are the nations which the LORD left.” Why? “that he might test Israel by them.” People may wonder, well why didn’t God just remove our sin nature when we got saved? And that is, when we continue with the sin nature, even though it doesn’t dominate us, it is a source of testing to see are we going to be positive and really trust the Lord? The issue is to take every single thought captive. This sets up the pattern that we are going to see (slide 3). Just to orient us back to thinking, the last time I pointed out that in the world around us we observe a lot of different things, observable phenomena. We can talk about law; we can think about events; we can think about language; and we can talk about politics. This sets up the area of observable phenomena, that which we’re involved in on a day to day basis. In philosophy this is often talked about as the phenomena. It is what we see, what we observe around us.
Now if you look at this like a two-story house, upstairs is where we have universals. This is where we get the ideas that give meaning and value and definition to what’s going on downstairs. And for Christianity, what we have upstairs is the Creator God. God created everything as it is, including the social structures that He embedded within the human race. And these are articulated in terms of the five divine institutions. The first three: individual responsibility, marriage, and family were established before there was any sin on the earth. So they weren’t designed to control sin. They were designed to promote happiness and productivity in the human race as they were fulfilling God’s mandate.
The next two divine institutions, government and individual nations, were established in order to restrain human sinfulness and criminality. So in the upstairs area (slide 3) we add these absolutes which provide meaning, values, morals, ideas. All of this gives definition to what goes on down below. So when we talk about politics, we talk about law, we talk about language, all of this has to have some sort of universal that gives meaning to it, some absolute that helps structure. But what happens after Immanuel Kant in the late 19th century, is that God is removed. We can’t know anything upstairs (slide 4). It’s as if there’s this brick wall that’s put in place. You can only know things as you perceive them. You can’t know things as they are in themselves with objectivity. So since AD 1800, basically no intellectual believes on the basis of human viewpoint that you can know truth. You can only know truth as you perceive it.
You’ve heard people talk about this, “well that’s true for you; that’s your perception of truth.” That kind of a statement is just a denial that there’s such a thing as absolute truth. Once you destroy that upper story, you are left with pure relativism. Everybody’s just going to live their life from a basis of their own values, their own opinions; and facts don’t matter because there is nothing that’s there that’s going to unify or organize the details of life. If you were to take a string of pearls and remove the string that’s the unifying factor, all you’re left with is a bunch of pearls that just rattle around and just go everywhere. You have to have something that strings them together to make that a work of beauty. That’s what we are talking about when we talk about this upper story area. We covered that last time; we covered the background.
The area we’re talking about (slide 5), the time that we’re taking about is 1406 BC. 1399 BC is the conquest itself. Then you have about 40 years of the mopping up operation, and then you get into this blue shaded area approximately 300 years for the period of the Judges. It’s a period where there are these various cycles of judgment. As we look at this (slide 6), especially when we come to the end of the book of Judges, these are the four key people: Jephthah, covered in Judges 11; Samson, following that in Judges 13–15; and then you get Eli and Samuel, and they’re in the book of Samuel. Samuel starts at the nadir, at the bottom with Israel. If you go back to look at this previous slide (slide 5) from this point on, 1360 BC down to and through 1051 BC. That’s approximately when Saul becomes king. Israel is just on a negative trajectory. It’s not a straight slide. It goes up, has a few positive bumps along the way, but basically they are on a negative slide. Unless there’s an intervention from God in some way reflecting His grace, then that’s exactly what happens in most cultures. That’s what we’re seeing in our American culture. We’ve moved, and there are a lot of parallels.
We’ve moved from a time in the early AD 1600s when this was a culture that was grounded upon the Word of God. It didn’t matter whether you were a Calvinist, whether you were a Baptist, whether you were a Puritan in New England, or whether you were an Anglican in Virginia: you believed in the authority of the Bible and in applying the institutions that were established in the Bible. That created the cultural framework of thinking that dominated the colonies up to and through the American War of Independence. It has that biblical foundation. But that has been eroding due to both external and internal forces just like it did in Israel ever since. We have been on a downward trajectory. There have been a few times when there have been a few positive bumps, but we have been on a slide that has become increasingly pagan. America was indeed a civilization set on a hill 200 years ago. It was a light to the world. In the 19th century on the heels of what Britain was doing, we began to send out missionary. Britain sent out missionaries throughout the world with its military in AD 1800s. They went to Africa; they went to India.
I’ve just been reading a tremendous biography on C.T. Studd who was a pioneer missionary who was responsible for opening up most of the heart of Africa to the gospel. His theology is a little weird in places. He’s very Keswick, victorious life and that kind of a thing, but he’s not a whole lot different from Jay Hudson Taylor who opened up China; or from George Mueller, who was a Plymouth Brethren. He had an orphanage and is very well known for that in Bristol in England. There was just a whole generation from the AD 1840s to the AD 1890s of these incredible individuals who were completely focused and dedicated to carrying out the gospel. C.T. Studd gave up literally today millions of dollars. His family was fairly wealthy. He was considered one of the best cricket players in England at the time. He came out of Cambridge. He was going to probably be nationally known as being a professional athlete. That kind of thing was just beginning at that particular time in history. He got saved at that time. His father had gotten saved a couple of years earlier at a Dwight Moody conference in England. His dad led his three sons to the Lord eventually over the next three years. They were maybe a year or so apart, and they all played on the top cricket team when they were in high school and at Cambridge.
When C.T. Studd and others became focused on the mission field, they were all athletes, and they did cricket and various other sports. They were expected to have these great careers as professional athletes and as successful business people. There were seven of them that all made a public commitment to go on the mission field, and they were known as the Cambridge Seven. Their enthusiasm to go on the mission field, to give everything up to go on the mission field and serve the Lord became very infectious; and they started being invited to these different universities in England and in Scotland. As a result of that, there was a huge revival that took place among the college students in England in the AD1880s. Most of these men all went on the mission field, some to China, some to India, some to Africa. But it was a huge movement that took place in the late AD 1800s, and it bled over into the United States in the early AD 1900s. This was the height of our spiritual progress. It has sort of been downhill ever since as the culture has become more and more relative.
Now we get into a situation due to the impact of relativism in the culture that I remember 25 years ago reading an article that was analyzing what was happening among evangelicals: that the younger yuppie generation couldn’t make it through three years on the mission field because they couldn’t handle the fact that they couldn’t go to McDonalds. When they would come back after four years of seminary and four years on the mission field, they’d be about 30 years old, and their colleagues from college were starting to buy their BMWs and their Mercedes and houses; and they were coming back driving a three times used car, and their kids were wearing hand-me-down clothes. They just didn’t fit in to the culture anymore. They were leaving the mission field by the boat loads because they couldn’t focus on the endgame, which was evangelism and saving souls and going into other cultures and bringing these people to the Lord. It just eviscerated our entire missionary outreach, and that’s what happens with relativism.
America in the same way has had ups and downs, but it’s been on this negative trajectory (slide 6). After the period of the Judges, then you have the period of the United Monarchy with Saul, David and then Solomon. It’s this shift that takes place really under Saul because Saul is given to the Israelites to be what they think they want. God gives them the kind of leadership that they deserve: the kind of leadership that reflects their own spirituality, and it leads them to defeat and disaster. By the end of 1 Samuel, the Philistines defeat them in this huge battle at Mt. Gilboa. Saul is dead. Jonathan is dead. His other sons are dead, and Israel is completely under the domination of the Philistines. But then God has already provided the solution in David. We’ll come to the end period (slide 7). We’ll look at this slide again when we come back, but this just shows that these last key judges all are living at almost the same time.
As we look at the purpose for the book of Judges, we see that this is given for the purpose of defining the problem of Israel. The key verse(s) we’ll see in a minute is Judges 21:25 “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Three times this statement is made in Judges, that “there is no king in Israel.” The book was probably written in the time of Saul because it’s pointing out this contrast that in those days there was no king, in contrast to now we have a king. But there’s another implication there, and that was that they had rejected God as the theocratic King of Israel. When we start looking at these books, Joshua, Judges and 1 Samuel, we have to recognize that they are considered prophecy.
A lot of people think that prophecy is telling the future, and that’s not the role of the prophet. The role of the prophet was to be God’s representative in addressing the people in their spiritual failure or their spiritual success. The prophet would reveal Scripture. The prophet would also bring condemnation to the leaders because of their spiritual failure. So in the way that the Jews organized the Bible, there were three sections: the Torah, which is instruction, how to live. We translate it “law” but the core meaning is “instruction.” The next section is the Neviim, The Prophets, in the Hebrew Bible that’s divided into the Former Prophets and the Latter Prophets. The Former Prophets are: Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings; and the Latter Prophets are the ones we normally think of as prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve.
The purpose of prophecy though is to challenge the people in terms of their spiritual life. We see God’s involvement in that in 2 Peter 1:20–21 (slide 8) where Peter tells us, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” That means that this isn’t the prophet’s opinion of what is going on in history. It is God telling them the meaning of history. Otherwise, you’d just have facts. You’d just have these random pearls from the necklace rattling around downstairs with no thread to pull them together. What Scripture does is that it provides that thread so that the Jews could understand the meaning and significance of their own history. What had taken place so that they could learn from it, and then we could learn from that.
2 Peter 1:21 (slide 8) tells us that “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” So this is God’s revelation to us about history. That it interprets these events and tells us the meaning of these events so that we can learn from them. In Judges what we discover from looking at passages like Judges 2 is that they go through this cycle (slide 9). It starts off with disobedience. They compromise; rather than annihilating all of the Canaanites, they decide that they just can’t have victory. They’re not going to trust God to give them the victory, and so they end up compromising and letting them live; and then they begin to work together. They begin to intermarry; and before long, they’re influenced by the ones they were supposed to kill. God brings discipline or judgment upon Israel. This happened through various tribes from the Philistines, the Amalekites, the Midianites, the Ammonites, and they would become oppressors. This all fits within the pattern from the cycles of discipline in Leviticus 26.
In those five cycles of discipline: in the second, third, and fourth, you get increasing military opposition and domination until finally under the fifth cycle of discipline, they’re completely removed from the land. They didn’t go that far during the cycle in the Judges, but they were disciplined. Every time they’d be disciplined. After about 30–40 years of experiencing negative economic growth and lack of prosperity, their health would go down, a part of the cycles of discipline, and women would be barren. There were all kinds of physical, material manifestations of their spiritual depravity; and then they would turn to God and cry out for a deliverer (slide 9). And God would provide a deliverer. This deliverer would come, and he would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to deliver the people.
It is important to understand that when you look at the role of the Holy Spirit in terms of these deliverers called judges, it wasn’t as it is today in terms of providing them with spiritual growth and spiritual maturity. We can’t read the New Testament (NT) role of the Holy Spirit back into the Old Testament (OT). I think that’s a mistake. These men all had moments of great spiritual heroism and valor. That’s why they are listed in Hebrews 11. But they also have times of incredible spiritual failure and each one, as we’ll see going through the book, has more and more of a failure, and exhibits more and more the characteristics of the pagan culture around them than the previous one. So that we begin with Othniel, about whom nothing negative is said; and we end with Samson, about whom nothing positive is said in the book of Judges. In fact, the only time you have anything positive said about Samson is when you get into Hebrews 11. So after they are delivered (slide 9), it doesn’t last very long. Once people get out from under the trials, the difficulty, the adversity, then ‘well I don’t need to go to church all the time; I don’t need doctrine that much anymore; I’m just going to stay at home and be involved in other things’; and the next thing you know, they slide into compromise, disobedience, and you just get this cycle going again.
Here are the verses I mentioned before (slide 10), Judges 17:6 states the same thing, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 18:1 “… there was no king in Israel.” Judges 19:1 “… there was no king in Israel.” It goes on and describes that. So you see this decline that takes place (slide 11). It is on a negative trajectory. When we look at this, I want to come back and give a few more specifics on some of these judges, but the first one is Othniel. He becomes Caleb’s son-in-law. He is a great and valiant warrior who trusts the Lord at the very beginning. Ehud comes along and he’s a little bit of a shady character. This is indicated in the text because he’s left-handed, and there’s always this sort of negative about somebody who’s left-handed. He uses some devices to get into Eglon and to kill Eglon. He’s a little less of a clear moral spiritual character than Othniel.
Then you come to Deborah, and Deborah is valiant in herself, but the problem is that she’s a woman, and that’s not her role. By this time there are negatives about the men. They are not rising to a position of leadership, and her general is Barak. Barak won’t step up to the plate unless Deborah goes with him. He shows a certain lack of moral courage. He says “I’m not going to go fight the enemy unless you go along with me.” As a result, his discipline for that is that he won’t get the glory for the battle and killing Sisera, the commander of king Hazor’s army. That’s going to go to another woman. These women are stepping up to the plate spiritually; but the men aren’t, and that becomes a major theme in this section: that in paganism, men quit being biblically masculine. They may become macho, but that’s paganism. Men fail to become biblical males and biblically masculine, and women quit being biblically feminine. In many cases they justify their position because as the men fail, they step into the vacuum and say, “well somebody’s got to lead, so I’m going to do it.”
This leads to a breakdown in the gender roles as God defined them from creation, and eventually causes other kinds of unintended consequences. And you start seeing the women becoming more and more the object of abuse. Gideon is presented as a reluctant hero. He doesn’t want to fight. He’s presented as hiding out from the enemy on the threshing floor. Often the way you hear people preach Gideon is that Gideon is trying to make sure he understands God’s will, and he’s going to put out this fleece from the sheep and give God a little test. The test the first time is, “well God, just to make sure that I’ve got it right, if you really want me to go to battle and defeat the Midianites. Then in the morning when I get up, I want everything around the fleece to be dry”; but the fleece will be wet. So the next morning he got up, and the fleece was wet, and everything else was dry, Judges 6:36–38.
Gideon said, “well you know, I can understand how that might happen. So I want to give God a second chance and a second test, so I’m going to make it a little bit harder in the morning. Just the fleece will be dry, and everything else will be wet, and then I will know that this is God’s will”, Judges 6:39–40. But the problem with that is the Angel of the Lord, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the Pre-incarnate Christ, had appeared to him and he knew that. Immediately he sacrificed, called the Angel of the Lord “Lord”. He knew who he was talking to, and the Angel of the Lord gave him his specific marching orders that he was going to go to battle against the Midianites and deliver Israel. He wasn’t putting out the fleece to make sure he understood God. He understood God. He was putting out the fleece so that he could find an escape hatch so he wouldn’t have to do it. He was basically a coward, but God didn’t leave him any wiggle room, and he had to go into battle so that he would learn that the battle was really the Lord’s.
When Gideon sent out his initial call to the men in the north and the tribes in the north to come out, he had 32,000, Judges 7:3. He said, “everybody who really doesn’t want to be here go home.” That left him with 10,000; and then God said, “you are going to take them down from the mountain here from Mt. Gilboa and you’re going to go down to the spring of Harod, and those that get down on all fours to drink the water, they’re just a little bit too lazy. So you’re going to send all those home. Those who kind of bend over and lap the water up with their hand and are focused on the mission. We’ll keep those, and we’ll defeat the Midianites with those men.” And that left about 300, Judges 7:4–8. He is left with 300 to go into battle, and God gives him the victory. We will study what happens after that.
The next major judge is Jephthah. Jephthah is a son of a prostitute. He grows up out in the wilds of the Transjordan, and he doesn’t have a background for learning a whole lot of truth. He represents a much larger and greater influence of paganism. He makes a vow to God even after he knows He’s going to give him the victory. He says, “whatever comes through out of the front door of my house when I come home, to greet me, I’ll sacrifice as a burnt offering.” Remember when we studied about the manger? That a lot of times in the ancient world people would keep a little place inside the house where an animal would be kept? He may be expecting that an animal is going to come out of the house when he comes home. But instead his daughter came out. The text says that he did to her as he vowed. What did he vow? He vowed that he’d offer her as a burnt offering. Now a lot of people have tried to get around that, but you can’t. If language means anything, he offered her as a burnt offering. Human sacrifices were prevalent among the Canaanites at that particular era. He’s just manifesting paganism.
Then we get to Samson. And Samson is a womanizer. He violates his Nazarite vow left and right, and it’s just this decline. We see a very negative portrayal, an event towards a woman with Jephthah. He offers his daughter as a burnt offering. Then with Samson, he’s just sexually promiscuous. He’s abusive towards his mother. He’s abusive towards women. He views them as something to satisfy his own pleasure. This is the decline. It is during the time of Samson that we have the events at the beginning of Samuel. Hannah is a barren woman, which is a sign in Israel of the third and fourth cycles of discipline. She represents the nation as being spiritually barren, and that God is going to miraculously make her womb fruitful. But she’s in an abusive relationship because she was barren. Her husband took a second wife hoping that through her he would have children, which was not exactly kosher. It wasn’t prohibited by the Mosaic Law, but it wasn’t encouraged either.
Some people come along and say in the OT they affirmed polygamy. God doesn’t condemn it. Well there is not a positive example of any of the men who had a second wife. They always had trouble. Their taking a second wife is never approved. It’s never said it was approved. There are regulations that when it happened, there were regulations in the Mosaic Law to protect the additional wife, but that doesn’t mean that it validated polygamy. Every example that is given in Scripture is a negative example, and it always brought forth problems.
I want to go back to Gideon because Gideon is an instructive situation. It lays the groundwork for what’s going to happen when we get to 2 Samuel 8. So turn with me to Judges 8 (slide 12). Judges 8 records the victory of Gideon over the coalition of the Midianites and the Amalekites. When it is over with – that’s the positive. Gideon at his spiritual height is when he has victory over the Midianites and the Amalekites. But pride goeth before a fall, and you have to really look at the text; otherwise, you are going to miss what the writer of Judges is doing here. This is a real negative condemnation of Gideon. He says, Judges 8:22, “The men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also.’ ” “We’re going to set us a Gideon dynasty. We want you to be king”, “Rule over us.” What happens in 1 Samuel 8? Israel comes to Samuel and says we don’t want you to rule over us anymore. We want to have a king like all of the other nations.
Where does that begin? It began all the way back here in Judges 8 with Gideon. There was already that movement. They are rejecting God. “We’re going to set up our own ruler.” So they go to Gideon: “rule over us, your son, your grandson; we’ll set up a dynasty because you delivered us from the hand of Midian.” Judges 8:23 “But Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.’ ” That’s his high-water mark. “I’m not going to do this. My son’s not going to do this. The Lord is the one who is going to rule over you.” Judges 8:24 “Then Gideon said to them. I want to make a request of you, that each of you would give me the earrings from his plunder.” For they all had earrings that they’d taken from the Midianites and Amalekites, and there were Ishmaelites in the group and apparently the men wore earrings.
Judges 8:25–26, “So they answered, we’ll give them to you. So they spread it all out, each man threw his earrings in to that and they took the gold and it weighs out 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments, the pendants, the purple robes, all this booty”, and what does Gideon do with it in Judges 8:27? It’s sort of like Aaron. Aaron took from the plunder that the Israelites had taken from the Egyptians. He melted it down and what did he make? He made a golden calf. He said, “this is a god that delivered you from Egypt.” Well this sounds very similar to that. But Gideon doesn’t make a golden calf. He makes it into an ephod and sets it in his city in Ophrah. Now an ephod was a priestly garment. He sets up this ephod, and all Israel played the harlot there. That means that they were spiritually unfaithful to God. They are worshiping another god. They were not to worship any other god besides the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Here they are worshiping this ephod, and it became a “snare”, a stumbling block. It became a trap for Gideon and to his house. That means his dynasty. He gave into arrogance and he sets up this spiritual idol for the people to worship.
Just in case you’ve missed the point. Gideon has a son. His son is introduced when we get into the next section, and he’s introduced in Judges 9:1. The other name by which Gideon was known is the name Jerubbaal, which is introduced into the narrative in the next section, which I’m skipping. We come to Judges 9:1, “Now Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem, to his mother’s brothers, and spoke with them and with all the family of the house of his mother’s father.” His name is Abimelech. The Hebrew word for “daddy” is what? Anybody who read the OT, the Hebrew word, Aramaic word, what’s the word for “daddy”? Abba. That ‘ba’ at the end is the dominative; ‘ab’ is the name for father. The ‘i’ indicates the first person singular, abi is my father; melech is king. So what does Abimelech mean? “My father is king.” So when Gideon names his son, he turns to the Israelites and says, “no, no, no, I’m not going to be king; my sons are not going to be king”, and then he names his son “my father is king.”
What’s happened to Gideon? Gideon has now completely given himself over to arrogance. There is this whole thing that goes on with Abimelech’s family here. He goes to his mother’s brothers, speaks to them and gets all the family together and all of the relatives together, and in Judges 9:3–4 we read, “And his mother’s brothers spoke all these words concerning him in the hearing of all the men of Shechem; and their heart was inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, ‘he is our brother.’ So they gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith.” That’s this temple. I am going to show you a picture of the foundation of it in just a minute. That’s this temple that was there in Shechem. Where’s Shechem? Why is Shechem important?
Shechem was the first place where Abraham stopped and built an altar to worship God when he first came into the land. It is a critical location for Israel, but now it’s gone over to paganism. There’s this temple to Baal there, Baal Berith, the lord of the covenant. That probably reflects some distorted tradition because Abraham worships Yahweh of the Covenant. Now this temple has been built there, and instead of using the Canaanite word for lord, which refers to the deity in the Canaanite pantheon Baal, so Baal Berith means “lord of the covenant.” So they have taken that which was God’s, which was designed for the worship of Yahweh and converted it to the worship of Baal. Abimelech is there, and he’s got a band of worthless and reckless men. He’s got his gang with him. He goes “to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed all of his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal,” Judges 9:5.
So now we learn that Gideon has been busy. He has had multiple wives, which is acting like a pagan king, taking on multiple wives and having all these kids. You’ve got to understand the culture or you miss the fact that the writer of Judges is telling you that Gideon just went through a spiritual collapse, and he has fallen apart. But Abimelech is even worse because now he comes back, and he commits fratricide: he kills all of his brothers except for one. Jotham, the youngest son, “was left because he hid himself. And all the men of Shechem gathered together all of Beth Millo and they went and made Abimelech king beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that was in Shechem,” Judges 9:6.
I am going to show you some things here. This is the background (slide 12, Judges 8:22-23.) I had these verses here (slide 13, Judges 9:6.) Here’s the location (slide 14). These yellow dots here in the middle are the area of Shechem. Here is Sycar over to the right, and Shechem is this little triangle right here. Up here you have Mt. Ebal. Here’s the modern city of Nabulus, and then here’s Mt. Gerizim. We are going to see some pictures related to that. When you are up on Mt. Gerizim, you have a great shot looking down in the valley at Shechem. Here (slide 15) we have Nablus, the modern city of Nablus. The photo is being taken from Mt. Gerizim, and the far mountain over there is Mt. Ebal. This area right here where you see, it’s kind of plain, you see some walls there that is Shechem. That’s (slide 16) the archeological dig there at Shechem. Sychar, where you had the woman at the well, that’s further up the hill. Then further down the hill is where you had Jacob’s well.
This (slide 17) is the Tell, the archeological dig at Shechem. Right here (slide 18), they discovered in the 1920s the stone that was the base of this pillar that was there at the temple of Baal-Berith. This area here is the Baal-Berith temple. This was that foundation stone. Here’s another picture (slide 19). I didn’t take those previous pictures. This is the one I took from Mt. Gerizim last year. You can clearly see this white stone standing up right here that is smaller than it was when they found it (slide 20) because it had been chiseled down after they found it. The Arabs came in and chiseled it down to sell it as souvenirs.
Originally this stone was set up by Joshua as a witness to the renewal of the Covenant at the end of the book of Joshua when they divided the tribes into six and six; and six of them went up on Mt. Ebal and recited the curses, and the other six went up on Mt. Gerizim. There was a temple here that got converted to paganism, and this stone was found here that was set up at the sanctuary of the Lord by Joshua in Joshua 24:26. This was at the site where Abimelech was crowned king. Here (slide 21) we have a video* looking at the whole site. Here is that standing stone right there. This area in the background are the foundation stones of that particular temple. That’s the close up. For those who went to Israel this last summer, we didn’t get that close but I was there the year before.
That’s the background. They crown Abimelech to be king, and he rules in Shechem for two years before he is killed. When we get to 1 Samuel 8:5 (slide 22) the Israelites come to Samuel and say, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” That’s their problem. They want to be like everybody else. This is the problem that Christians have. They don’t want to be set apart from the culture around them. They don’t want to be distinct. In the world in which we’re now living, Christians who hold to biblical values are going to stand out more and more. It is just amazing. Twenty years ago I used to try to keep track of all the latest its, acts, and spasms that were taking place in Christianity, and I’m just not in that arena anymore.
I was talking with my good friend Tommy Ice yesterday, and he has three sons who get out there in the youth culture, and the things that he hears from them, the trends that are going on in so called evangelicalism? I mean it’s one thing to talk about how bad it is out there, but when you start talking to people who get out there and go to some of the churches, go to some of the websites and see what’s going on, it’s probably a thousand times worse than any of us can imagine. The apostasy in Christianity is amazing! Most of these movements that are drawing huge numbers, and I’m talking about tens of thousands of young people, aren’t preaching the gospel, the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. They are preaching the old social gospel. They don’t have expositional teaching of the Word of God; they focus on Jesus only in terms of somebody who fed the poor and healed the sick and all in terms of social action.
Social action is always just a code word for socialism and communism, Marxism. This is what is being taught and what is attracting young people. If you are 30 and younger as a young Christian, you are not really being taught the Bible anymore. You’re just being taught a lot of heresy under the guise of biblical truth. This is going to lead to the complete collapse of Christianity in this country. It’s because they want to be like everybody else. They want to follow the basic thinking that dominates the pagan culture. This is what happened in Israel. They wanted to have a king like all the other nations. But this displeased Samuel when they said this. Then in 1 Samuel 8:7 (slide 23) he went to the Lord about it, and the Lord said “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you.” Samuel had taken it personally. “They have rejected Me from being king over them.”
That gives meaning to that phrase back in Judges “that there was no king in Israel.” God was supposed to be their king. In 1 Samuel 8:8 God says, “Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day – in that they have” done what? “forsaken Me and served other gods.” We’ve just seen a glimpse of that in our flyover in the book of Judges. So as we come to this point I want to run through just a few principles related to government that we learn from a study of Judges and the issue of kingship and authority.
1. Human government (slide 24) and the authority of human government is established in the covenant with Noah in Genesis 9:5–7. Its purpose is to restrain sin and evil in a culture and to exercise judicial restraint and punishment for criminal activity.
That’s the role of government. Two things actually: a. to restrain criminality within the country, and b. to protect the nation from external enemies. That’s its purpose. Some people might add a third category, which is: to provide a stable monetary instrument. But the primary purpose of government is to restrain criminality within the nation and to protect the nation from external enemies. When a nation gets away from that they’re not in their realm of responsibility anymore. Sooner or later what will happen is that government will collapse.
2. In Israel the initial form of government was a theocracy (slide 25). It is not a democracy. It is a monarchy; but the monarch was God who was absolutely perfect. But they rejected a perfect God. The only way that Israel is going to have success again is when once again their king is God. He’s going to be both God and man. He will be the Lord Jesus Christ who sets up His kingdom. They had this theocracy. God is the ruler, and God would raise up specific leaders underneath Him that were called shophetim. We translate that into English as “judges”, but we think of a judge as a magistrate in a courtroom. These guys functioned more as military deliverers and conquerors than they did as someone functioning in a courtroom adjudicating disagreements and criminal activity. Deborah is the only one who functions somewhat in that category. In Judges 5, it talks about people coming to her for wisdom and for decisions. God would raise up these individuals, and he would give them special powers, special wisdom to defeat the enemies of Israel during times of oppression.
3. The third thing we see (slide 26) is that under the theocratic government established by God in the Mosaic Law, Israel had been given a freedom code that was unique in the ancient world and unique in history. The Mosaic Law provided for real freedom in the nation and supplied that for the nation. But it is unique. It stands apart from the Code of Hammurabi. It stands apart from what was going on in Egypt. It stands apart from what was going on in Mesopotamia.
4. The fourth thing (slide 27) is that under the Mosaic Law Israel had the right to possess property.
That’s why theft was mentioned in the Ten Commandments. It recognizes the right of private property to enjoy its blessings and to benefit and to profit in business transactions unhindered by an overpowering government. We live in a world today where the government wants to control anything and everything that the people benefit from. The Federal Communications Commission is about to launch a new policy called “net neutrality” to control more of the internet. Its basic motive is once again to equalize everything. They want to solve a problem when there is not a problem. But the government has to control everything and not allow true freedom of competition within any particular environment.
5a. A fifth principle (slide 28) that we see is that freedom includes authority and respect for authority.
If people don’t understand authority and don’t respect authority, if they don’t have integrity, then what happens to authority? The authority is either destroyed, or the authority becomes tyrannical in order to bring order. Those are the only two options. To paraphrase John Adams, he said that the constitution was made for a moral people. Only a moral people who understand personal responsibility can live in freedom. Because once you start abusing freedom, then you are going to self-destruct. To prevent self-destruction, the government is going to take over more and more control in order to step into the gap for those who are being irresponsible.
5b. We learn that freedom without authority is anarchy, when you just have all this freedom. But authority without freedom is tyranny.
That’s the direction we always go. We can’t have a complete breakdown of civilization. We can’t go to anarchy. So what’s going to happen? The federal government is going to become more and more dominate and more and more strong.
6. Absence of a despotic monarchy (slide 29) in Israel not only meant a high degree of personal freedom, but it stood out as a unique witness for Yahweh (YHWH) in the ancient world.
There was no country that had freedom and would have prosperity. That’s what God sets up in Deuteronomy: that if the nation follows the Law and has freedom, then all the people that came there would see something that was unique in the whole world, and they would want to know “how did this happen?”, and that would be their witness to God for the rest of the world.
7. Under the environment of freedom (slide 30) Israel could achieve spiritual success which would bring them material blessing, military victory, and agricultural bounty as a testimony to the grace and power of God. People would say, “how did this happen?” And then they could witness to them. We have something similar in the NT. In the OT everybody came to Israel. They didn’t go out. In the NT we are to go out. We’re supposed to live a life so that people ask us, why are you so hopeful? What is the reason for the hope within you? That’s what we’ll see when we get into 1 Peter. What is the reason for the hope within you in 1 Peter 3:15? Then we can witness. By living a life where we exhibit the blessing of God and the joy and the hope that God has given us, gives us an opportunity to witness.
8. Failure (slide 31) to follow the divine mandates led to a cultural decline where Israel resembled their pagan neighbors, and there’s no discernible difference.
Nobody is asking them about God. Sadly that’s true in a lot of Christian lives. It is that people don’t live any differently than their pagan neighbors. Nobody is asking you what’s different about your life because they don’t see anything different about your life. You’re just like everybody else. You gripe and moan about the same things, and everything else is the same as everybody else, so nobody asks you why are you different? Because you’re not. That’s what happened in Israel.
9. The last point is (slide 32) only Bible doctrine provides a framework to maintain the proper balance between freedom and authority because it builds character and integrity; and without character and integrity, there can be no sense of responsibility to handle freedom; and without that, freedom will collapse. That is exactly what happened under the judges.
Next time I still have a few things I want to say in terms of some introductory matters: understanding kingship in the ancient world and a few other things, but that will lay the ground work, and we will then get into the first part of 1 Samuel.
Father, thank You for this opportunity to study Your Word, to recognize these principles that are as true today as they were in the ancient world. Principles that reveal for us Your integrity. Principles that reveal for us that unless a nation is walking in the light of Your Word and in the light of Your truth, then they are doomed to failure, to instability, to chaos; and that the only hope personally or nationally is to turn to You. Father, we pray that we as individual believers might recognize what Paul says in Philippians: that we are to shine as a light in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation. So that as Peter says, we can exhibit a life of happiness and a life of joy and hope, so that people will look at us and see something different, something distinctive. They will say I want to know what that is. I want to know what the difference is. That we’re not just living like everybody else, because we don’t think like everybody else. We know that that is not going to make us popular, but for those who know us, it’s going to be a light and a beacon to the truth of your Word and to the Cross of Jesus Christ. We pray this in His precious name. Amen.
*See the three-minute slide presentation and video at approximately 49-52 minutes into the video from the class.