Relevant Passages: Judges 4, 6, 13-16; Ruth; 1 Sam. 1-19
Leading Question: In the era of the judges, God’s people were often far from him, but is it possible to detect good and evil in these sometimes violent leaders of Israel?
No satanic figure appears at all in the books of Judges, Ruth, and 1 Samuel, but by their works you shall know them! Clearly, his influence permeates the lives of even good people.
1. Question: Can we clearly identify good and evil in the lives of the judges?
Note: One of the troubling features involved in the study of the Old Testament is the presence of customs that would horrify us, but which are well accepted by the people at the time. If one evaluates people on the basis of whether or not they are following their conscience to the best of their ability, even horrific deeds – commanding the death of men, women, and children (1 Sam. 15:3) – can be seen as good. The issue of culture must be taken into account in the lives of these flesh and blood characters.
Deborah (Judges 4): In some modern Christian circles, what Deborah did in leading her people would have been strictly forbidden. This prohibition is found In 1 Tim. 2:12: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” (NIV). But in Judges 4 we read: “At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. 6 She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. 7 I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand’” (NIV). Here is a woman actually commanding a man to act in the name of the Lord. Why should the New Testament reverse a position that is so clearly stated in the English-language Bible? And where does all this fit in the great struggle between good and evil?
Gideon (Judges 6): The roller coaster: Where does a man like Gideon fit into the great conflict between good and evil. Note the wild swings of the pendulum.
Weakness: Needing a sign (offering consumed)
Strength: Builds an altar
Weakness: Tears down the altar to Baal at night
Strength: Summons the men of Israel
Weakness: Twice demands a sign
Strength: Allows his army to be reduced to 300
Strength: Pursues Zebah and Zalmunna
Weakness: Avenges those who oppose him
Weakness: Makes an ephod which becomes a snare to Israel
Samson (Judges 13-16): After a miraculous birth, Samson’s life was filled with profligacy, on the one hand, and acts of revenge on the other. How can he be listed among the saints in Hebrews 11:32? In what way does he contribute to the resolution of the cosmic conflict?
Ruth: As someone has said, there are no villains in Ruth. Some interesting customs appear there, including the near-kinsman/redeemer and the law of the husband’s brother (levirate marriage law). But how does such a beautiful story belong in the same discussion with Gideon and Samson?
Samuel (1 Sam. 1 – 19): Just as Eli could not cope with his boys, so Samuel was unable to point his boys in the right direction. But he was the one to anoint both Saul and David as kings over Judah. He was the last of the judges. After him came the kings, good, bad, and indifferent – but mostly bad.