Judges 6:1-32: First things first
The book of judges is anonymous, we don’t know who wrote it, and it is likely that more than one person did. The most popular theory is that Samuel had a large part to do with it and this is very likely. There is a small indication of the possible time of writing in 1:21, ‘But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.’ David drove out the Jebusites when he established the city of Jerusalem, this supports a date previous to this pointing to Samuel.
The book appears to be written to record the slow decline of Israel after Joshua and highlighting the need for a king who will lead them in godliness. 17:6, ‘In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ 21:25, ‘In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ One commentator says the main theme is to show the ‘Canaanization of Israel.’ The need for a king who is godly to lead Israel is further stressed in the last chapters of the book which record some of Israel’s saddest history, both chapters 18 and 19 record that there was no king 18:1, 19:1. (Verses which show a plan for a monarchy Gen. 17:6, 16; 35:11; 49:10 and Deut. 17:14-20).
Judges is situated after that first generation after Joshua. It extends to the lives of Eli and Samuel who make way for the kings Saul and David and covers a period of just over 400 years. It is a window into apostasy and how Israel lost their religion and their morals. The overall structure of the book confirms this perspective. The book opens with a double introduction and ends with a double conclusion. In the double introduction in chapters 1-2 we see that Israel is fighting foreign wars and served foreign idols. But the book ends in a much worse condition with Israel fighting a civil war and serving domestic gods.
Sandwiched in to this double introduction and conclusion is what is called the cycle section. This section is made up of 12 judges: Othniel; Ehud; Shamgar; Deborah/Barak; Gideon; Tola; Jair; Jephthah; Ibzan; Elon; Abdon and Samson. These cycles reveal two trends firstly, the cycles follow a typical pattern:
- Israel does evil in the sight of YHWH
- YHWH sends oppressors
- Israel is oppressed for x amount of years
- Israel cries out to YHWH
- YHWH raises up a deliverer
- The Spirit of YHWH comes upon the deliverer
- The oppressor is subdued
- The land has rest for x amount of years
This pattern is typical but as you move closer to the end of the book you start losing the pattern, Israel doesn’t always cry out, nor do the people turn to God in repentance, nor is the land always given rest. There is a trend to disintegration enhancing the theme of decline.
The idea that Israel did what was evil in God’s eyes is repeated throughout the book, 2:11; 3:7, 12: 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1. Evils include:
- A failure to rid the land of the Canaanites
- A failure to remember YHWHs saving acts
- A failure to heed the call to arms
- Building altars to Baal
- Worshipping Gideon’s ephod
- Making images and having home cults
- The replacing of YHWH with Baal-berith
- Tribal sponsorship of idols
- Increasingly immoral behaviour
The themes of application are many making judges a particularly relevant book for today. They experienced the Canaanization of Israel through the seduction of sexuality and a cultural inferiority complex as a people who were recently slaves and nomads came into established towns, cultures and impressive religious systems. Christians face the same temptations of sexuality and adopting what appears to be culturally superior. We see Israel failing to rid the land of the Canaanites in some instances enslaving them for financial gain increasing their influence, by failing to take on the big enemies by trusting in God or employing worldly means. We see a need for constant renewal and repentance and a remembering of God’s past saving acts. We see the development of the downgrade and the collective effect of little compromises and how they affect the next generation. We see the danger of ungodly leaders. We are reminded of God’s faithfulness to His people and that He uses weak vessels, and most of all we are reminded of our need for a perfect judge and saviour.
Every time the nation of Israel has returned to their idols God has been faithful to visit them in judgement. When they sin, he sends oppressors to wake them up. Their experience of oppression has intensified with every cycle, and it reaches an intense pitch just before God raises up Gideon. We see in 6:1-6 that God raised up the Midianites who combined with the Amalekites to oppress Israel. The situation we are told in v6 is that they were ‘brought very low.’ Anywhere outside a fortified city was not safe so the people had to live in the mountains and caves. During harvest season the foreign armies would move in and are described as locusts in v5. The people cry out and it looks like the cycle is about to repeat itself all over again. The typical pattern of sin, oppression, crying out and God sending a deliverer looks about to kick off but there are some differences in this cycle. There are at least three ways in which God seeks to teach the people proper priorities, putting first things first. Repentance, God’s presence and idols are the three things addressed in the call of Gideon.