Judges of Israel

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A. WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE.

Our previous Bible study dealt with Israel’s entry into Canaan. We spoke about the crossing through the Jordan river which God miraculously cleft open.  Then we dealt with the conquering of the first strong city called Jericho.  All the Israelites had to do was to march around it, blow the trumpets and shout.  God caused the mighty stone walls to collapse and the city was easily conquered.

B. TAKING POSSESSION OF THE LAND CANAAN.

But this was just the very beginning. God had promised them the whole country and they proceeded to conquer it, settlement by settlement, city by city.  As they proceeded they settled down in the houses. They did not even have to build any themselves.  They also took possession of the fields, crops and the cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and camels.  They gradually became a rich people and dwelt in peace.  All of this happened just as God had promised them while they were yet in slavery in Egypt.

C. PASSING AWAY OF THE GOD-FEARING GENERATION.

The years passed by quickly. Then came the time when  their leader, Joshua, and most of the older people had passed away. A younger generation took over, a generation that had not experienced God’s miracles.  Now let us read from the Book of Judges chapter 2:7-19:

“The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel.  8  Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten.  9  And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 

D. BACKSLIDING AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.

10  After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.  11  Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.  12  They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger  13  because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 

14  In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.  15  Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress. 

E. THE JUDGES (SPIRITUAL AND MILITARY LEADERS).

16  Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.  17  Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshipped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the LORD’s commands. 

18  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.  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 worshipping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

So far the reading of God’s Word. We will now briefly deal with the life and work of one of the 14 judges that God used in the course of the next app. 300 years. But let us first note that these people were not judges in the sense that they only tried court cases. Some of them, like Deborah, did fulfill that function and also counselled the people that had disputes with one-another.  Their main function however was to deliver Israel from their enemies and lead them back to God.  Some acted entirely on their own, while others used an army of soldiers gathered from Israel.  One such judge was a farmer called Gideon.  

F. GIDEON CALLED TO DELIVER ISRAEL FROM THE MIDIANITES.

We read from Judges chapter 6:11-24:

“The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 

12  When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”  13  “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” 

14  The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”  15  “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”  16  The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” 

17  Gideon replied, “If now I have found favour in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.  18  Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.” And the LORD said, “I will wait until you return.”  19  Gideon went in, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.  20  The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21  With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the LORD disappeared. 

22  When Gideon realised that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, “Ah, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!”  23  But the LORD said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”  24  So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.”

We see a farmer called Gideon, trembling with fear of a strong and evil nearby nation, the Midianites.  He is threshing his grain; trying to protect his harvest from them. While working he is continually looking this way and that, praying silently that the Lord may protect him for he has to supply food for his family. Then, suddenly, as he looks up, he sees a Man sitting on a rock nearby. He gets more upset. Who could this be?

But the person speaks kindly to him, calling him a mighty warrior. Then He commands Gideon to go forth and deliver Israel from the Midianites.

God so often does not call strong and fearless men to do his work.  No, He calls weak people, people that are small in their own eyes.  He uses weak people so that everybody will see that it was not such and such a mighty warrior but God himself that gained the victory.  Then His Name is glorified and not the name of the human deliverer.

G. GIDEON’S FIRST STEP OF FAITH – CLEANSING HIS OWN HOUSE OF IDOLS

The first thing God told Gideon to do, was to chop down the idol his father had erected for baal. He took his servants and did it during the night. He then built an alter for God and offered one of his father’s bulls on it.  The next morning, the people of his village were furious and demanded that he be put to death.  His father however protected him saying that if baal really was a god, he must fight for himself.

H. THE DEVIL REACTS AND GIDEON TREMBLES

But the devil was also furious that his alter had been broken down. He caused the Midianites, Amalekites and many other nations to assemble for war against Israel.  Then the Spirit of God came over Gideon and he blew on the ram’s-horn.  Thousands of Israelites responded and reported to Gideon for battle. 

Seeing this mighty army, Gideon became scared and doubted whether God really wanted to use him as a general of the army.  So he asked God to give him a sign: he would put out a fleece of wool for the night and God had to let the dew settle only on the fleece and not on the surrounding ground.  The next morning the ground was dry and the fleece was heavy with water.  But Gideon still doubted and asked God to do the miracle the other way round: to let the dew at night fall only on the ground and not on the fleece.  The next morning the fleece was dry and the ground soaky wet.  Now Gideon was convinced.

I. GIDEON’S FAITH GETS STRETCHED AND STRENGTHENED.

But God did not only want to deliver Israel from their enemies, He also wanted to win their hearts, so that they would believe in Him alone and not in the idols of the heathen nations. As said before, He wanted the glory for the victory for Himself  and not for Israel or Gideon. He therefore told Gideon to instruct his army that everyone that was afraid, was to return back home.  Some twenty-two-thousand men were just too happy to be released and left; only ten-thousand remained.  But, as God saw it, those were still too many.  Let us read from Judges chapter 7:4 to 8:

“But the LORD said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”  5  So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.”  6  Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.  7  The LORD said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.” 8  So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley.  9   During that night the LORD said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands.  10  If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah  11  and listen to what they are saying. Afterwards, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. 

12  The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.  13  Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”  14  His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”  15  When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshipped God. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The LORD has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” 

J. INTO THE ATTACK.

16  Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.  17  “Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do.  18  When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.’” 

19  Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands.  20  The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” 

K. GOD GAINS THE VICTORY.

21  While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.  22  When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah towards Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath.  23 Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites.

24  Gideon sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters of the Jordan ahead of them as far as Beth Barah.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out and they took the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah.  25  They also captured two of the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued the Midianites and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, who was by the Jordan.”

Oh, what a mighty God we serve! Our God used only 300 soldiers to overcome hundreds of thousands of mighty warriors.  God loves to work in such a way that all people will see his glory and will want to know him. 

L. LET’S GO!

Are you a Christian? Yes? Are you willing to trust God like Gideon to bring glory to Him?  It may be difficult, your faith may be tested and stretched, people may think you are mad.  But in the end all will see and acknowledge that you have been an instrument in his hand.  Make up your mind, then pray the following prayer with me: 

“Lord I am Christian, small in the eyes of men but I want to glorify your Name.  I want to be an instrument in your hand to deliver a multitude of people that are in bondage to sin and satan.  Lord show me what you want me to do and work in me the faith to do it.  Amen.”

Do read our next teaching concerning the last judge and the first king of Israel.

SHALOM

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