As we continue reading through Judges, I want to remind you that we should not necessarily emulate the actions of God’s appointed judges. These were imperfect (and many times, blatantly sinful) people, used by God for his purposes and the rescue of his chosen people. An easy way to think about this is to remember this truth: just because the bible records it doesn’t mean its right or good. In this section of the book, we have a number of questionable actions by Israel’s leaders: Gideon makes a replica of an ephod (a priest’s garment), Abimelech kills all his siblings, and Jephthah makes and (apparently) carries out a rash oath. What a mess! Let’s point out just a few highlights from these three challenging chapters.
Judges 8:22 – Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Okay, at face value, what is wrong with that statement? Gideon didn’t save Israel; God did! God is the ultimate source of any success or rescue that his appointed instruments may provide and we need to give him the glory. While Gideon’s initial response to this request was good (I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you. v. 23), his later actions don’t seem to match his words. He names his son Abimelech, which means “my father is the king.” Throughout the period of the judges, Israel’s failure to recognize and serve God as king would prove disastrous.
Judges 9:7-21 – Jotham is the only one of Abimelech’s 70 siblings to survive the massacre. He tells a parable of different trees who were asked by their fellow trees to rule over them. His point is to confront the leaders of Shechem as to whether they acted in good faith and integrity in appointing Abimelech as king (v 16ff). Clearly, the wrong kind of king will prove devastating to the nation. But as the Gospel Transformation Bible states: We need the king of God’s own choosing. In the rule of King Jesus – the ultimate righteous King that Israel desired and truly needed but could not find in her human ranks – we have a shepherd under whom we flourish, who frees us to love one another well rather than feeding upon one another. Our freedom comes because King Jesus loves and led us well, even to the point of dying for us.
Judges 11:29-40 – Truly, this is a terribly sad account. Jephthah’s vow was not only rash but sinful. There was nothing in his vow to sacrifice the first thing or person to come out of his tent that would be honoring to God. The obvious lesson here is that while our word is to be trusted and we are to keep our promises, if we have promised something foolish, to carry through on such a promise is only to multiply sin. Think about it: someone could try to justify murder by claiming that they had taken a vow before the Lord to kill that person, thus mandating they follow through. Baloney! But even more than this obvious principle, we should also note that throughout Judges, foolishness seemed to prevail. Praise God we have the clear revelation of scripture and the true model of righteousness in Christ. There is no excuse for us to live like the Israelites did during this period, as summarized in Judges 21:25 which says, In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. We have a king in Jesus and it is Jesus we will follow and obey.