The Gospel in Judges

Right n Their Own Eyes

Judges and 1–2 Samuel bridge the gap from the entrance of the people of God into the Promised Land under the faithful leadership of Joshua to their expulsion from the land due to unfaithful kings in 1–2 Kings. Judges portrays the people of God languishing without good leadership. Since the conquest of the land is not complete, the book begins with the question of who will lead in battle (Judg. 1:1) and ends with the statement, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). The need for a king who will lead God’s people into their full inheritance is an important theme.

No sin, no failure, no corruption, no despair, no brokenness is beyond the reach of his compassion.

A larger problem looms, however. The people of God have abandoned him for pagan gods. The Lord loves his people too much to permit this ongoing rejection of their distinctive calling to be a kingdom of priests, chosen to testify to his glory among the nations. Given over to recurring cycles of oppression by foreign nations, they constantly cry to the Lord for help, and he intervenes on their behalf. Judges tells the story of these cycles (Judg. 2:16–19). Despite the people’s continuous rejection of God’s kingship, he is moved to compassion for them. Individual judges, described as those who “saved Israel” (Judg. 2:16, 18; 3:9, 31; 6:14, 15; 8:22; 10:1; 13:5), are provided by the Lord again and again. Clearly, there is a need for a king who can break this cycle of idolatry and oppression.

The fabric of unfaithfulness is woven so deeply into human nature, and the need for a savior who can free us from oppression is so pervasive, that it is tempting to make every story of Judges end with the same result: humanity is a mess; humanity needs a savior. Broadly speaking, this is correct. It is right for us to consider how these patterns in Judges prepare us for Jesus, the final King and Judge to end all judges and all kings. He will destroy the darkness of sin and restore and enable the people of God to fulfill their original role as a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:5–6; 1 Pet. 2:9–10).

No sin, no failure, no corruption, no despair, no brokenness is beyond the reach of his compassion. In light of God’s faithfulness to Israel in Judges, what can we do but worship him and live for his glory?

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Need for Redemption

Yet in Judges we can drill even deeper into the area of humanity and its need for redemption. The book addresses significant issues vital to the life of God’s people—issues that will be integrally tied to an understanding of the need of God’s grace in other portions of Scripture. Among many such issues we note,

• the relationship of the believer to culture and the ongoing need to be united to the true Vine (John 15:1–4);
• the importance of telling the story of God’s redemption to following generations (Judg. 2:10);
• the continuing struggle with cycles of sin and its oppression and the Savior who destroys sin’s condemnation (Rom. 7:24–8:1);
• the subtlety of idolatry and compromise and the seriousness of drifting from the Lord (Jude 17–22);
• the tendency of human leaders to pursue their own ends rather than God’s end, requiring his intervention and care for the good of his flock (Luke 22:25–27);
• the willingness and even delight of God, who is much larger, greater, and higher than our sins and shortcomings, to use fallen, unwilling, weak, and frail people—even as leaders—to advance his kingdom (1 Cor. 1:27–31);
• the grace of God made evident in his plan to use the people of his calling (i.e., the church), who are so often under-resourced (from a human standpoint), so that we trust in the One with all resources (2 Cor. 1:8–10).

The failures of both people and judges are so significant that they urge us to long for the hero who will never fail. Cut off from God’s kingship, the people of God are left with only private religion and personal ambition. God is the king, however, and will not long tolerate seeing his people destroy themselves. The people of God are never beyond the reach of his grace. Israel in Judges is in bad shape, but a new day is dawning when God will provide, from the line of David, King Jesus, the king of his choosing.

This article is adapted from the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. Browse other articles in this series via the links below.

Old Testament

GenesisExodusLeviticusNumbersDeuteronomyJoshuaJudgesRuth1–2 Samuel1–2 Kings1–2 ChroniclesEzraNehemiahEstherJobPsalmsProverbsEcclesiastesSong of SolomonIsaiahJeremiahLamentationsEzekielDanielHoseaJoelAmosObadiahJonahMicahNahumHabbakukZephaniahHaggaiZechariahMalachi

New Testament

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