"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 21





Chapter 21: The Roller Coaster of Judges



Chapter 21 Contents

21.1 Introduction & a New Testament Insight

21.2 Introducing the Roller Coaster: Judges, chapter 2

21.3 The Roller Coaster: Judges, chapters 3 to 16

21.4 Some Concluding Thoughts


21.1 Introduction & a New Testament Insight


Proposition: The book of Judges reveals the approach of ‘God giving over a people' as a most common form of disciplinary judgment revealed in the Bible, seen as a roller coaster of events.


Looking back

We have already touched on some of the material in this chapter in earlier chapters in Part 1 when we considered the form of judgment that appears most commonly in the book of Judges, but which may also be implied in many of the subsequent ‘historical books'.


Put most simply we suggest it is seen in the process that is repeated again and again throughout the book of Judges, that I will later refer to as a roller coaster for obvious reasons:

  • Israel are in a good place with God, living at peace as His people and receiving His blessing.
  • Time passes and they drift away from him, often giving way to idol worship, often picked up from their pagan neighbours.
  • God lifts off His hand of protection from them with the result that the pagan neighbours feel they can take advantage of Israel and so invade the land and subjugate Israel.
  • Again time passes and eventually Israel cry out to the Lord for help.
  • The Lord raises up new judges who act as deliverers and deliver Israel out of the hands of their marauding neighbours.
  • Israel are in a good place with God, living at peace as His people and receiving His blessing.


A New Testament insight


In Romans 1 the apostle Paul refers to this process in general terms in respect of sin in Israel and three times uses the language of God giving over people to things that will act as disciplinary judgments:


Rom 1:24,25   Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen.


Rom 1:26,27   Because of this, God gave them over t o shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.


Rom 1:28  Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.


We might consider these things as simply expressions of sin but the sense that is being conveyed is that God lifts off His hands of restraint from sinful men and lets them go deeper into sin as a form of disciplinary judgment, intended to bring them to their senses.


A similar idea is behind something that occurs in 1 Corinthians when the apostle Paul speaks of how to deal with a man caught having sex with (probably) his stepmother:


1 Cor 5:5   hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.


It is as if, in putting the man out of the church, the protective hand of God over and in the church will be removed from the man and he will be vulnerable to the attacks of Satan until he comes to his senses and repents. Although we may not be personally conscious of it, we should see that the concept of the protective hand of God is clearly implied within Scripture and when it is removed, it is done so as a form of disciplinary punishment intended to bring the individual or group of people to repentance. This process is what is seen so clearly in Judges and should be a powerful indicator for us of how God so often moves. It is always with the intention of bringing a change of attitude which leads on to a restoration of relationship with the Lord. Now let's see examples of this through Judges.


These Judgments in Judges

What we are going to observe in the book of Judges are not so much one-off judgments as we see in the Pentateuch, but rather a systematic approach, it seems, by the Lord, to deal with the repetitious behaviour of Israel. Individuals do come under the discipline of the Lord, but it is mostly discipline of the whole of Israel, and it is clearly designed to draw them back to the Lord. Again and again the form of the disciplinary judgment is invasion by neighbours who seek to destroy Israel.



21.2 Introducing the Roller Coaster: Judges, chapter 2


We have already noted in the previous chapter how in chapter 1 of Judges we see the ongoing work of taking the land which then starts stumbling, so that from verse 19 onwards we start finding a whole series of places where they appeared unable to take the land from the Canaanites.


In the beginning of chapter 2 the Lord chides them for their failure and says He will no longer join in the driving-out project and so the occupants will remain a thorn in the side of Israel (2:3) and, as we saw previously, a means of challenging and testing Israel.


When we come to verse 10, referring to what follows the eventual death of Joshua we find:


Jud 2:10-12   another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel . Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt . They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.


Now if we knew nothing of what followed we might have expected at this point God to express total exasperation over this nation for whom He had done so much over the past four centuries. He had warned them so many times to avoid the trap of getting sucked into the idolatrous worship of surrounding pagan peoples. Instead we find the start of this roller coaster:


Judg 2:14   In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them.

  •   This was His form of disciplinary judgment. He uses marauding neighbours.
  •   Now on this occasion we aren't told they repented but we are told, “They were in great distress.” (v.15) and this seems sufficient to provoke the Lord to act on their behalf:


Judg 2:16,18   Then the LORD raised up judges , who saved them out of the hands of these raiders… . . Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.


The verses at the end of chapter 2 seem to summarise the general process:


Judg 2:19-23

19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

20 Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. 22 I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their forefathers did.” 23 The LORD had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua.

  • i.e. when a God-given judge was there, it was all right
  • as soon as he died, Israel fell away
  • as soon as they did that, the Lord lifted off His hand of protection and the disciplinary judgment started and often carried on for many years
  • it ended when Israel cried out to the Lord and He then sent another deliverer.



21.3 The Roller Coaster : Judges, chapters 3 to 16


Rather than quote each verse going through Judges that is part of this roller coaster, let's just summarise the references:







Israel turn to idolatry yet again




The Lord sells them into the hand of Aram




Israel cry out, the Lord sends a deliverer




Israel again do evil in the eyes of the Lord




The Lord gives them over to Moab




Israel cry out, the Lord sends a deliverer




Israel again do evil in the eyes of the Lord




The Lord gives them over to Jabin of Canaan




Israel cry out – a prophetess & warrior rise up

  Deborah /  




Israel again do evil in the eyes of the Lord




The Lord gives them over to Midian




Israel cry out and the Lord sends a prophet




The Lord raises up another deliverer




Israel worship idols again (after Gideon dies)



9:23 (& 56,57)

The Lord causes internal strife




A good judge rises to save Israel




Israel again do evil in the eyes of the Lord




The Lord gives them to the Philistines/Ammonites




Israel cry out to the Lord in repentance




The Lord raises up a deliverer




Israel again do evil in the eyes of the Lord




The Lord gives them to the Philistines




The Lord raises up a deliverer




After the erratic life of Samson and his eventual death (16:30) the book degenerates into the even more erratic goings on of people and groups in the nation and we find “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (17:6).



21.4 Some Concluding Thoughts



If you look at the “Introduction to the Books of the Bible” and ‘Judges' elsewhere on this site, you will see that we summarise the book as follows:

Ch.1-3 Prologue: Incomplete Conquest and Apostasy

Ch.3-16 Oppression and Deliverance Cycles

Ch.17-21 Epilogue: Religious and Moral Disorder

The table above covers the “Oppression and Deliverance Cycles” main section of the book, and you will see from the table that it records SEVEN times when Israel turn away from the Lord and we go through the cycle again with SEVEN DELIVERERS (although there are more judges but just not mentioned specifically as deliverers).


God's Character revealed

To those who would mindlessly criticise the Lord, can we point out the incredible patience and perseverance of the Lord seen in these chapters. His objective is clearly to do all He can to support and encourage and maintain this nation, as part of His long-term plan that we considered in the previous chapter. If Israel were employees in a firm employed by us, how many of us would not have sacked them and started all over a long time back?


Perhaps we might suggest that one of the reasons the Lord perseveres like this is to reveal His persevering grace and mercy in the face of the ongoing sin and stupidity of the human race as seen in Israel.


We will need to wait until we get to the reigns of David and Solomon to see the height of the Lord's blessing on this nation, but the fact that it takes so long to get to them and the blessing that is observed there, is simply down to this sin and stupidity of Israel; it is NOT down to the Lord.


We might have expected Him to come with utter destructive power again and again on this foolish nation but instead He deals with them in a way that life without His protective presence is clearly seen and we are made to realise that without Him Israel were simply vulnerable to

•  outside enemy marauders (chapters 3 to 16)

•  and their own internal wrangling (chapters 17 to 21)


The changing structure of the book of Judges

We would be remiss if we finished this chapter without pointing out that again and again we find the idea that the Lord provided a deliverer for Israel :

Jdg 2:16 Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them Jdg 2:18 Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them,

Jdg 3:9 But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer

Judg 3:15 he gave them a deliverer


It is interesting to note that chapters 2 and 3 start out generalising about the cycle but conclude giving a longer account of Ehud's activity.


In chapter 4 as the cycle is spelled out, it quickly develops into the activity of Deborah the prophetess and her protégé, Barak, and the victories they achieve. Going on in chapter 5 we find Deborah's song of praise. Neither of them are specifically mentioned as being provided by the Lord, but the fact that she is a prophetess, clearly suggests that she at least was. The end result is the same!


Again in chapter 6 the cycle takes on more of a story approach and although Gideon is not spoken of specifically as God's deliverer, it is very clear from the context of the account with the angel that that is what is happening. Chapter 7 continues the story of how He does this with Gideon and chapter 8 continues on in his lifetime. Tragically the chapter ends with Gideon dying and Israel immediately turning away from the Lord, yet again!


Chapter 9 moves on from Gideon's death and to the upheaval caused by one of his sons which eventually incurred the Lord's wrath. It is also more a story of one people group in Israel rather than the nation. As it concludes and moves into chapter 10 he is succeeded by two good judges but then yet again the cycle starts off again with Israel turning from the Lord, the Lord disciplining them and them eventually coming to repentance.


Chapter 11 moves on to tell the story of Jephthah who the Lord eventually uses to overcome the Ammonites, but causing the wrath of some from Ephraim who in chapter 12 challenge him, showing something of the lack of unity in the land.


Chapter 13 opens with the cycle starting yet again with Israel turning from God and Him disciplining them with the Philistines. The chapter quickly develops into the story of Samson, Gods next deliverer, but it is clear that he is a man with a mind of his own and not necessarily all for God. It is a chaotic story that leads us to conclude that sometimes the Lord will take whoever is available even if, despite His help and encouragement, they are utterly self centred. It is yet another display of the sinful facets of mankind, and his story continues on until the end of chapter 16 when he dies in catastrophic circumstances. The reality is that Samson is also a form of God's judgment on the Philistines and so perhaps that is the reason He chose Samson, knowing what he would be like and what he would do in respect of them.


The Pictures of People and of God

This main part of Judges that we have referred to as the “Oppression and Deliverance Cycles” is not uniform in style but starts with brief, almost summary style and then moves into individual stories to illustrate how the roller coaster was being worked out and so we find:

•  Deborah and Barak have 2 chapters (4 & 5)

•  Gideon has 3 chapters (6 to 8)

•  The upheaval of one of Gideon's sons has 2 chapters (9 & 10)

•  Jephthah has 2 chapters (11 & 12)

•  Samson has 4 chapters (13 to 16)


Virtually none of these figures come over as real men of God, although Deborah perhaps scores more highly than the rest! It really is a case of God using who is available and the wonder of this dark book is that God tolerated what He did and did not wipe them out.


It remains for us an illustration of the sinfulness of even a nation with God in their midst, and the graciousness, mercy, patience and perseverance of the Lord in their midst. Amazing!


Before we finish, we should include a warning. Judges is indeed a dark book, recounting the ongoing failures of Israel to stick with God, but before we cast the first stone and stand aloof as righteous onlookers, perhaps we should be honest enough to wonder if, in the circumstances, we might have been similar. This is not to excuse Israel for they clearly come under the disciplinary judgment of God for their behaviour, but I wonder how many of us live lives less than those the Lord would wish for us, and without realising it, experience the discipline of the Lord that the New Testament reveals is still here, even for believers? It is worth thinking about.



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