Judges 1:1 After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?
The book of Judges begins where the book of Joshua ends. It covers events from around 1375 to 1100 BC. The author is not identified, but it was likely written around 1000 BC. Before Israel had a king, it was organized very loosely. It was led by various judges, and was often in a state of apostasy. The book of Judges recounts several events from these dark days.
Judges 1:4 [T]he Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands, and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek.
God gave his people success against their enemies, and they captured the king of Bezek. They should have put him to death (Deuteronomy 20:16-18), but chose to cut off his thumbs and big toes instead. This would prevent him from wielding a sword or being sure-footed in battle.
Judges 1:7 Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.
The king of Bezek had cut off the thumbs and big toes of seventy other kings, reducing them to poverty. Now he believed that God was paying him back. In fact, he may have been right.
Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury (Leviticus 24:19-20), wrote Moses. The God of the Bible requires nothing less than perfect justice.
This is why Judgment Day should be the dread fear of unrepentant sinners. When we consider the extent of our sins against God and others, we have nothing to look forward to but everlasting misery. [A] fire will be kindled by my wrath, one that burns down to the realm of the dead below (Deuteronomy 32:22), said God.
But there is more to God than perfect justice; he is also perfect love (1 John 4:8). That is why he sent his Son to die on a cross for our sins (John 3:16). Jesus fulfilled the demands of justice by suffering in our place. That is why whoever believes in him has eternal life and will not be judged (John 5:24), said Jesus. The God of perfect justice paid for our sins himself, so that we can receive his perfect love.
Judges 3:12 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and because they did this evil the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel.
Israel was subject to the king of Moab for eighteen years. They cried out to God in their misery, and God raised up a leader named Ehud. Ehud brought tribute to Eglon, king of Moab, but concealed a double-edged sword under his clothing. After he gave Eglon the tribute, Ehud said, I have a message from God for you (Judges 3:20).
Eglon was a heavy man and, as he rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it.
Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them. After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the palace. They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead (Judges 3:21-25).
We are surprised by the graphic details of this story, but they are included for a reason. Kings are held in awe by ordinary people, but they are ordinary too. They have ordinary bodies with ordinary functions, and are as prone to death as anyone else. They may feel superior, due to their position, but will lie in a grave just like the rest of us.
Death comes to all, and makes us equal when it comes. The world elevates one above another, but the worms make no distinction. We are what we are in the sight of God—nothing more and nothing less. We should never think we are successful until after Judgment Day. [M]any who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first (Matthew 19:30), said Jesus.
Judges 3:26 While they waited, Ehud got away.
Ehud returned to Israel and gathered an army that followed him back to Moab. There they killed about ten thousand soldiers. That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years (Judges 3:30).
God used Ehud to deliver his people from foreign oppression. Ehud reminds us that one person with God is more powerful than an army without God. Our greatest usefulness is not what we can do for God, but what God can do through us. God can do extraordinary things through ordinary people.
Judges 4:1 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead.
Because of their disobedience, God allowed the Israelites to be afflicted by Jabin, the king of Canaan. Jabin had nine hundred chariots and cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years (Judges 4:3).
Deborah was Israel’s judge at this time, and also a prophet. Through her, God commanded an Israelite named Barak to gather ten thousand men to defeat Jabin’s army, which was being led by a man named Sisera.
Barak was reluctant, but agreed to the mission if Deborah would go with him. She consented, but due to Barak’s reluctance, Deborah predicted the honor of the battle would go to a woman (Judges 4:9). Then Barak pursued the chariots . . . and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword (Judges 4:16).
Sisera escaped, however, and fled to a woman’s tent. Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid. So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket. I’m thirsty, he said. Please give me some water. She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up. Stand in the doorway of the tent, he told her. If someone comes by and asks you, Is anyone in there? say No.
But Jael . . . picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to [Sisera] while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died. Just then Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. Come, she said, I will show you the man you’re looking for. So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple (Judges 4:17-22).
With nine hundred chariots, Sisera seemed invincible. But he died at the hands of a woman with a hammer and a peg. Those with every advantage often fail, but those who trust God will be victorious. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7), wrote David.
Reflection and Review
What should we learn from the king of Bezek?
What should we learn from the graphic details of Eglon’s death?
What should we learn from Sisera’s defeat?