A review of the Bible's story through the book of Joshua, and an introduction to the book of Judges
Last week, Mike finished taking us through the book of James. Today, I’m going to take us back to where he left off before starting James, and review some of the main events that we’ve talked about so far.
We had been going through the story of the Bible, little by little, and looking at the whole thing as a cohesive, epic narrative.
We last left off at the end of Joshua, and today we’re going to start looking at Judges. But before we dive into Judges, let’s just take a quick review of the journey so far:
The story starts of course with creation: we are introduced to this incredibly powerful and creative being, a spiritual being, a God named Yahweh, who brought the entire universe into existence by the words carried on his breath. And out of darkness he brought light, out of chaos he brought order, out of inert matter he brought life.
And the pinnacle of creation was humans. They were created to represent Yahweh to the rest of creation. Bearing his image, they were tasked with ruling the earth on God’s behalf. He placed them in an ideal garden home with all the safety and provision they needed. Plenty of food and water at their fingertips. And he walked and talked with them in the garden, and gave them one stipulation: not to eat the fruit of a specific tree.
But a rebellious creature manipulated and played on their desires, which led to both of them eating that fruit. Their rebellion resulted in damages to their relationships with each other and with God. And all of creation suffers to this day because of their sin. We call this event, when humans rebelled, “The Fall.”
God had mercy on them though, he sought them out, gave them a chance to confess, and, though he banished them from the garden he allowed them to live. On top of that, he made a promise that someone would overcome the serpent and reconcile humans’ damaged relationship with God. He was hinting at a person would later become known as the Messiah, with many other prophesies and details given throughout the Old Testament.
But a lot happened before the Messiah ever came onto the scene. The fall resulted in a downward spiral of broken relationships, deception, violence, and sexual immorality. It got so bad that God decided to just wipe everyone out with a worldwide flood, saving just Noah and his family, bringing them safely through the water in the ark.
After that, God determined to be patient and have mercy on humans even though they are corrupted by sin from birth. He would never again just hit the reset button on humanity.
A few pages later, we get to the tower of Babel, or Babylon. Here we find people again trying to bring glory to themselves and get to God on their own terms, by building a tall tower, thinking they could reach the heavens. To humble them, God scattered them and confused their languages. But the city of Babylon later became in many cases a token symbol of self-centered, corrupted, Godless, rebellious humans, and that pattern starts there in Genesis 11.
But God called one Babylonian man named Abram to leave his home and relatives, promising to give him land, make a whole nation out of his descendants, blessing him, making his name great. He said Abram would be a blessing, and said “I will bless those who bless you, I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” And God renamed Abram to Abraham.
God did make Abraham great, although Abraham made a lot of mistakes, he did trust God with his son Isaac, and God said that it was through Isaac the promise of a nation and global blessing would be fulfilled
Then Isaac had a son named Jacob. And God changed his name to Israel. And Jacob had 12 sons, who then were the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel
SO…so far we have Creation, Fall, the promise of a messiah, a savior, The Flood, the Tower of Babylon, Abraham and God’s promise to him, then his descendants, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, and his 12 sons.
Well, during the life of Jacob, one of his sons, Joseph, ends up causing a lot of envy, really intense jealousy from his other brothers. Eventually this leads to them faking Joseph’s death and selling him to some people passing through, who take Joseph to Egypt as a slave. And a lot of stuff happened to Joseph in Egypt, some of it really tough and unfair, but through it all he was faithful to God, and God blessed him and raised him up to the second most powerful position in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.
Then, because of that, Joseph was able to bring his father Jacob, and the rest of his family, to Egypt during a severe famine. It saved them from starvation and gave them a large area of land in which to settle and multiply.
And they did multiply! For over 400 years, they stayed there and grew into a large people group, the Israelites, with all 12 tribes. But a few generations in, there was a Pharaoh who forgot all about Joseph and the good relations Egypt had with Israel. He felt threatened by such a large number of foreigners living in his back yard. So he enslaved and oppressed the Israelites, even going so far as to kill off their children. He’s painted as a pretty monstrous and evil, relentless, ultimate “bad guy” character.
It was during that time that the Israelites cried out to their God, Yahweh, and prayed for deliverance from slavery in Egypt. God heard their cries, and chose a man named Moses to lead them out of Egypt and back to the region originally promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Of course, the Pharaoh didn’t want to let them go, but God demonstrated his power and sovereignty by defeating the Egyptians at every turn, culminating in an incredible scene where he parts the waters of the red sea, the Israelites cross over safely, then the Egyptians try to follow and the waters collapse back in on them, swallowing them up. God was showing Israel that if they simply trust him, he would fight for them and always lead them in the right direction.
After that, they were supposed to have a pretty brief trip to get to the promised land, but even after all they had seen, they quickly become very ungrateful and whiny, and they failed to trust God to fight for them when they got there. So, God decided not to give that generation the land, but to make them wander around for 40 years until it was the next generation’s turn!
In the meantime, God had been speaking to Israel through Moses. He gave them the ten commandments, which were principles for loving and worshiping God, and living with each other in a civil and loving community.
He also gave them instructions for building a tabernacle, a very special tent that traveled with them, where God would actually manifest his holy presence in a display of glory. He wanted to dwell among his people to whom he had chosen to reveal himself.
But the problem with that, is God’s holiness cannot abide the unholiness of sin. After they built the tabernacle, and God’s presence filled it, not even Moses could enter it. So, as a merciful provision for their sinfulness, God provided a sacrificial system of offerings and ritual purification, which, if followed, allowed people to live in a peaceful relationship with God.
Now we’re getting close to where we left off before we started James. Eventually the Israelites did get to enter the promised land, though Moses only got to see it. He died up on a mountain, and Joshua took over the leadership of Israel. Joshua led them through the first round of fighting and conquering the inhabitants of those lands, divvying up the land among the 12 tribes.
Mike brought us through some of the highlights of the book of Joshua, and the promises God made to Joshua and the Israelites during that time.
The book of Judges picks up right where Joshua left off, literally just picking up with the death of Joshua and going from there. So chronologically it’s the next chapter, but the book also records a very interesting time in Israel’s history, the next chapter of their history.
When you start reading any new book, say a novel of some kind, what do you do? Once you’re ready to actually start reading, you sit down with it, you open it, and you start with the first page. Then you turn each page one at a time until you get to the end. Preschool skills, right?
What do you NEVER do with a book? Turn to the very last page and read how it ends before you read how it begins right?
(Though as a kid, for some reason I always had a really strong urge to do exactly that). It’s so easy to do that, the ending is right there in your hands and you can read it if you want to!
But, generally, we don’t! It spoils the whole story! It’s the same reason people get REALLY upset if you spoil Avengers movies before they get a chance to see them for themselves.
Well, that being said, we’re going to get to break that rule today. And I guess it’s common to skip around in certain books of the Bible, especially in a book like Psalms, which is really a collection of poems. But Judges is mostly narrative, and full of some suspenseful, epic stories that are compelling and fun to read from beginning to end, and I think in general the whole book is meant to be read all the way through.
But it does have a concluding sentence at the very end, that I don’t think spoils any of the story, but DOES provide a really good summary of one of the main points of the whole book, and it’s a theme that can help us understand how the characters and stories fit together within the book, and within the bigger picture of the whole Bible.
So, let’s do it: look with me at the very last page, the very last verse of the book of Judges. Judges Chapter 21 verse 25:
In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.
There are two loaded statements here. The first is that there was no king, and that’s actually a statement that pops up several times throughout Judges. It pinpoints a specific cultural and social era in Israel’s history, while foreshadowing and alluding to the events to come.
But what I want to focus more on for now is the second statement: everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
This is a really interesting statement. Because if it just ended with: everyone did what was right that would be a GREAT thing! But it doesn’t, it says everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Is that a positive thing? How many of you think that’s a good thing? Why wouldn’t it be? Why shouldn’t everyone do what’s right in their own eyes?
Well, to understand this statement, we have to look at that word “right” and how we define it.
If each person defines what is right based on their own experiences and desires, then you end up with as many different ideas about what is “right” as there are people.
But if you realize that God defines what is right versus wrong, then discerning what is right comes down to learning and knowing God’s character and how HE defines right and wrong.
Throughout the bible, that ability to discern right from wrong, or Godliness from ungodliness, is one aspect of wisdom.
Finding, obtaining, and living in wisdom is one of the most fundamental aspects of human existence. We’ll look more closely at the concept of wisdom itself when we get to the wisdom books, but it’s important to understand that this thread that is woven all throughout the story of the Bible.
We see that the most defining moments in people’s lives are those in which they choose whether to allow God, the origin of all wisdom, to teach them wisdom, or whether they choose to take wisdom on their own terms, ultimately taking the place of God in their own lives.
We see this beginning with Eve in the garden! What was the fruit they were not to take for themselves? The fruit of the knowledge or experience, the Hebrew word refers to experiential knowledge of good and evil or good and bad.
And what did Eve say, or think when she saw the fruit with her eyes? Let’s read it. It’s in Genesis 3 verse 6:
The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. –Genesis 3:6
Now, the desire for wisdom is of course a healthy desire. God wants to give us wisdom! Just go back and review the book of James! But that’s the key: he wants to give it to us. He doesn’t want us to define it on our own terms, based on our own judgement.
It’s because our judgement is fundamentally flawed, and because are born fundamentally unwise creatures, that we cannot discern what is right and wrong, or good and bad, by ourselves.
We desperately need God for that.
In fact, Proverbs 3:7 says it plainly:
Don’t be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
So it’s significant that this whole chapter of Israel’s history is characterized by this statement that everyone did what was right in their own eyes. It’s a glaring indictment of pride and arrogance. It reveals the fact that they neglected to seek God’s leadership and submit to his sovereignty, let alone cherish his presence and relationship with them.
Now, if you’re not convinced that this sounds like a bad situation, you’re about to be. Turn back to chapter 2 of Judges. Starting in verse 11, we get a sort of overture, an overview that tells us what to expect in the rest of the book:
The Israelites did what was evil in the LORD’s sight. They worshiped the Baals and abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They angered the LORD, for they abandoned him and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths. –Judges 2:11-13
Notice first the wording here: remember that they were doing what was right in their own eyes, meanwhile, what they did was evil in Yahweh’s sight. This is explicitly telling us that human vision, when it comes to wisdom and discernment, can NOT be trusted unless we’re putting it through the lens of God’s vision.
Let’s read on, and see what God decides to do with these people:
The LORD’s anger burned against Israel, and he handed them over to marauders who raided them. He sold them to the enemies around them, and they could no longer resist their enemies. Whenever the Israelites went out, the LORD was against them and brought disaster on them, just as he had promised and sworn to them. So they suffered greatly. –Judges 2:14-15
Wow! That’s not good news for the Israelites! The consequences for totally abandoning Yahweh were harsh, but it’s not like he didn’t warn them! But they just don’t seem to get it.
Nevertheless, despite their betrayal and faithlessness, he STILL provided a way out for them. Let’s keep reading, picking up in verse 16 now:
The LORD raised up judges, who saved them from the power of their marauders, 17 but they did not listen to their judges. Instead, they prostituted themselves with other gods, bowing down to them. They quickly turned from the way of their fathers, who had walked in obedience to the LORD’s commands. They did not do as their fathers did. 18 Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for the Israelites, the LORD was with him and saved the people from the power of their enemies while the judge was still alive. The LORD was moved to pity whenever they groaned because of those who were oppressing and afflicting them. 19 Whenever the judge died, the Israelites would act even more corruptly than their fathers, following other gods to serve them and bow in worship to them. They did not turn from their evil practices or their obstinate ways.
So that’s a summary of what this book is about. It’s going to tell us some of the stories of these judges who God raised up OUT OF PITY for his adulterous people. And yet, time after time again, each generation was even more corrupt than the last.
I’m excited to look at a few of these stories with you in the coming weeks and to see how it’s really a story of God’s unfailing, steadfast love and faithfulness to his people, despite them spurning him and returning his faithfulness with rejection.
It’s a wild ride! I’m not sure yet how long we’re going to spend in Judges, but there’s a lot to explore, and I would encourage you to read through it in the coming weeks so you can fill in all the gaps for yourself.
To wrap up this morning I want to read just a passage from 1 Corinthians that brings us back to the idea of God’s wisdom versus our wisdom.
Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, 25 because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
–1 Corinthians 1:24-25
The first significant thing here is that Paul is recognizing both Jews and non-Jews as being God’s chosen people. As Christians in 2019, when we read about the ancient Israelites, it’s in a very different cultural context, but we have at least two major things in common with them: our corrupted, sinful human nature, and the fact that God has chosen us, pursues us, and is relentlessly patient with us. So just remember that we can learn a lot about ourselves and about God by reading about the Jews.
The second thing that really jumps out to me, is that after all this talk about wisdom, and God’s wisdom being a somewhat nebulous, evasive thing, there is this incredible statement that Christ is the wisdom of God. That’s amazing, because Paul’s saying that God has given his wisdom to us insomuch that Christ has been revealed, and his spirit lives within us. If we live and walk and see life through God’s spirit, then he will discern for us what is right.
And then verse 25 is just fun, because it’s such a snarky way of saying that even the wisest of human wisdom couldn’t ever come close to touching the entry-level of God’s wisdom. It’s totally on another level! And the same thing goes for God’s strength versus human strength. It’s a reminder for anyone feeling cocky to just sit down and be humble!
So, today we’ve looked at a review of the grand narrative so far, getting us back to the history of ancient Israel.
And the main point that I want to introduce the book with is that it’s simply a bad idea to live on our own terms. When we just go around making decisions based on whatever looks right or feels right or seems right to us in any given moment, we’re abandoning God and worshiping ourselves, or our friends, or pop culture, or whatever it is we’re allowing to be our decision-making lens in our lives. And if that’s the case, we need to swap out that lens for the truth of God’s word, the good news of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.