The Judges Era is characterized by three-hundred years of tribe-on-tribe violence, corruption within the priesthood, rampant idolatry and sexual immorality, oppression, and child sacrifice. The author of the book of Judges does not sanitize his report; rather, he exposes the under-belly of Israel’s culture. And it is not pretty.
Judges begins by describing the terrible result of Israel’s failure to evict the Canaanites from the land and to destroy their culture and their intermarriage with the Canaanites. He presents seven cycles of sin that worsen with each successive spiral and introduces twelve judges whom God raises up to deliver Israel from their oppressors.
A number of the twelve judges whom God uses to lead Israel to defeat their oppressors during the Judges Era are seriously flawed:
- Ehud deceives Eglon, king of the Moabites, and buries his knife in the belly of an overweight tyrant.
- Cowering in fear, Gideon threshes wheat in a winepress in order to hide it from the Midianites. After experiencing supernatural victory over the enemy he makes an ephod, presents it before Israel, and they play the harlot with it.
- Jephthah is a son of a harlot who sacrifices his daughter as the result of a foolish vow that he makes.
- Ibzan and Abdon surely had multiple wives as the one man has thirty sons and thirty daughters while the other has forty sons.
- Finally, Samson marries Canaanite women and is a sex addict.
The Book of Judges concludes with two stories regarding levites: the idolatry of man of Ephraim and his hiring of a levite to as his household priest and the graphic murder of a levite’s concubine and the near desolation of the tribe of Benjamin.
The Book of Judges illustrates two significant truths about God and culture:
God uses flawed men living in cultures filled with idolatry and sexual sin to accomplish His redemptive work. Even though people are responsible for the choices that they make, God co-opts their wrong choices to bring about His own purposes. The writer of Judges demonstrates this truth when Samson demands that his parents get him a particular Philistine woman as wife, “But his father and mother did not know that it was the LORD—that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines. For at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel” (14:4).
People who fail to acknowledge God’s holy presence and person live according to the dictates of their evil hearts; apart from the knowledge of God’s Word, “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
Like an antiphonal refrain, this phrase, “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” summarizes the period of the Judges (Dt. 12:8; Judges 17:6; 21:25). Could this be what prompted Solomon to write Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths”?