I’m not gonna lie – this forecast took a while because it’s real turbulent and I nearly crash-landed this thing. Let’s stick with it even when it’s bumpy. It makes the good news even sweeter if we’ve taken a hard look at the evil.
We’ll spend a good portion of this week in the “time of the Judges.” There are many odd stories in these chapters – and most of them serve to illustrate the forgetfulness of Israel and their failure to remain faithful to the covenant. You’ll see a repeating cycle of sin > judgment > repentance > deliverance > rest. Yet, in the midst of this “sin cycle” there’s a glimmer of hope in the book of Ruth.
There’s a cycle-and-a-half in these chapters. We finish Gideon’s story and his faithful witness that, “The Lord rules over Israel.” Yet at the end of Gideon’s deliverance of Israel in 8:27, we see the beginnings of idolatry again. Chapter nine follows Abimelech, one of Gideon’s sons, who goes astray. Keep a watch for an “Old Testament parable” in 9:7-15. Also, keep a close eye on who’s controlling the action here in 9:57.
There’s been a common theme in each of the judges to this point: Israel does evil, Yahweh sells them into the hand of an enemy, Israel cries out, and Yahweh raises a judge to give deliverance. After Jephthah, the cycle does not repeat. Israel gets progressively worse. Jephthah is an unlikely hero as the “son of a prostitute.” His deliverance of Israel is darkened by his “tragic vow.” It’s a grim story – but this isn’t the worst “vow” someone in Israel will make in Judges (wait until 21:1-25). For an exposition of Judges 12, I’ll point you to the great Bible commentary: The West Wing, Season 2, Episode 8. “Faith is the true shibboleth.”
We get the first part of Samson’s stories in these chapters. We love the story of Samson – but like many of our “favorite” people in the Bible, he’s an incredibly flawed protagonist. In many ways, he’s like the rest of Israel wanting to do what’s “right in his own eyes” (14:3) and ignoring his Nazirite vows. And yet the Lord used him mightily through his weakness and discipline.
Chapter 16 tells us of Samson’s fall and final judgment on the Philistines. The first half of chapter 17 gives us a strange story about a man named Micah who stole money from his mother, gave it back, and then created his own "priesthood." Chapter 18 continues the story of Micah and his new Levite priest. Turns out, the priest is loyal to the highest bidder. We also begin to see the repetition of the famous refrain in Judges: “There was no king in the land, everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Israel is treating into dangerous waters – covenant disobedience will certainly bring covenant curses, as the Lord laid out in Deuteronomy 28.
These final chapters of Judges are incredibly difficult to read. It’s the final descent into wickedness and destruction for Israel. It’s one long story of “progressive deterioration.” It has foreshadowings of Romans one when “God gives us up to the lusts of the flesh…” As one scholar notes:
“It’s no coincidence that the main victim comes from Bethlehem (the town of King David) and the main bad guys come from Gibeah (the town of King Saul). If you put Ruth after Judges, then you end up with three Bethlehem stories in a row.”
See his whole commentary here – but check out this summary:
“The woman from Bethlehem was the involuntary victim, substitute for others. Later the Bible tells of someone from Bethlehem who willingly gave up his life as a substitute to protect others from death. Human evil runs deep. That’s why we need someone willing to die for us.”
After the filth of Judges, praise God for the book of Ruth. Here’s a woman amid awful circumstances, who lives faithful to Yahweh and commits herself to the God of Israel. You’ll benefit from reading this account in one sitting. Make notes about how different this is from Judges – and also note the surprising ending (in Bethlehem, no less) – leading to King David.
These first three chapters of 1 Samuel really are a roller coaster. On one hand, we have a beautiful picture of faithfulness in Hannah and Samuel. The prayer of Hannah in chapter two sets the scene for everything that will happen in 1 and 2 Samuel. As you read these chapters, pay attention (especially in 2:26 and 2:35) for hints of a True and Better Priest who will come.