Dr. Lawrence O. Richards explains, “History books seldom provide as much insight into a period as do stories of men and women who lived in it. In three brief slices of life, the author of Judges shows us how dark the era really was.” He further comments, “The material in these last chapters of Judges is undated. It is not associated with any specific judge. It is instead ‘slice of life’ material: cross sections taken from the period to reveal the religious, personal, and social consequences of Israel’s failure to serve God. These stories illustrate the price ordinary people paid for the apostasy of the nation.”[i]
The Book of Judges provides the history of Israel from the death of Joshua (Judges 2:8) to the days of Samuel (1 Samuel 8:5-7). Judges 2:11-19 reads, “Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals; and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. They forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for calamity, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were greatly distressed. Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do so. And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way.”
Deuteronomy 12:1-14 reads, “These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the LORD your God with such things. But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the LORD your God has blessed you. You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes–for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you. But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the LORD. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you. Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but in the place which the LORD chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.” (Emphasis mine)
Both Judges 17:6 and 21:25 read, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Our title, “The Condition of Society” comes from John G. Butler’s commentary on Judges 17:6.[ii] We need a spiritual awakening in the United States of America!
Dr. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) explains, “The repetition of this characteristic phrase (compare Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1) is probably intended to impress upon us the idea that these disorders arose from the want of a sufficient authority to suppress them. The preservation of such a story, of which the Israelites must have been ashamed, is a striking evidence of the divine superintendence and direction as regards the Holy Scriptures.”[iii]
From The IVP Bible Background Commentary we read, “Given limited central authority, the judges were not able to undertake significant spiritual or social reform among the people, nor were they in a position to adjudicate intertribal squabbles. The priesthood, the tribal leadership and the judges are seen in the narrative to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Inauguration of a central, civil authority had the potential to resolve some of these problems, but only the appropriate view of kingship would result in progress. As 1 Samuel 8-12 will point out, there are drawbacks to kingship as well, and it is a dangerous mistake to treat a spiritual problem with a political solution.”[iv]
Related to the condition of society note three things:
1. First, there is the moral and ethical confusion.
Dr. Lawrence O. Richards writes, “Judges now shifts focus, to look at undated events which sum up the spiritual, moral, and social deterioration that took place during an era when ‘everyone did as he saw fit’ (17:6; 21:25). Judges 17 tells of Micah, an individual who steals (vv. 1-4), sets up a shrine in his house featuring silver idols, ordains a son as a priest until he hires a Levite (vv. 5-12), and expects God to bless him for his piety (v. 13). The irony is that each of Micah’s acts directly disobeys commands found in the Mosaic Law—and Micah does not know!” Dr. Richards warns, “One who thinks ‘I know’ can be wrong.” Judges 17:13 reads, “Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since I have a Levite as priest!’”
Dr. Richards exhorts, “Let’s check all our ideas about God and His ways against what God has revealed in His Scriptures.”[v] Someone wisely states, “It’s not the will of God if it goes against the Word of God.”
Several years ago Dr. Ben Haden (1925-2013) highlighted the frequent use of the term “ethics” in a message based on Judges 17:6 titled, “Right or Wrong”. Herein, Dr. Haden explains, “Ethics according to Webster’s Dictionary, ‘It is the discipline to determine what is bad and what is good, what is right and what is wrong, what is the moral obligation.’”[vi]
Dennis James DeHaan (1932-2014) explains, “. . . today, many people, even some professing Christians, ignore God’s clear revelation of Himself in His Word. They think they are free to form their own ideas of what God is like and what He expects. Strongly influenced by a godless culture, they live at the center of their own little world and walk in their own ways.”[vii]
John Stonestreet recently wrote a thought provoking article titled, “Progressive Christians Want Jesus but Not the Bible”, in which he explains, “Our approach to the Bible is vitally important. God’s inspired word is not a calendar of inspirational, therapeutic quotes. When we open the Bible, we are stepping into God’s story, understanding our place in His design, and encountering Him on His terms. When we don’t find what we’re looking for, we should ask whether we’re looking for the real God — or remaking a god in our image.”[viii]
Dr. John Philip Newman (1826-1899) shares the following on “The mission of law”:
“In a general sense law is the manner in which an act shall be performed. In civil life it is a legislative declaration how a citizen shall act; in morals it is a rule of conduct proceeding from one who has the right to rule, and directed to those who have the ability to obey. In this sense laws are mandatory, prohibitory, permissive, according to the object to be obtained, commanding what shall be done, forbidding what shall not be done, permitting what may be done. There is an antagonism prevailing in our country and in other lands against the authority of these old mandates received by Moses from the hand of the Almighty. It is difficult to understand that some who assert the uniformity of nature, or what they are pleased to call ‘material law,’ yet seek to emancipate themselves from moral obligation, which is natural law. They declare for absolute liberty; that man should be governed by his own tastes, desires, and passions; that he should gratify himself without interference from society or the restrictions of law. It is enough to say that man is not constituted for such conditions of liberty, for restraint seems to be as beneficial as law itself. Man is organised restriction, ever subject to consequences and penalties. He cannot pass a certain boundary without peril; he is a living code of law. Unlimited gratification is the right of no man. Such is his constitution that man can think so far, can see so much, can eat and drink to such a degree, can sleep so long, endure so much, and beyond this he cannot go. He is ever within the embrace of law—‘Thus far shalt thou go, and no further.’ It is true of him in his worst and in his best estate.”[ix]
Part Two Coming Soon!
[i]Lawrence O. Richards, The 365-Day Devotional Commentary, “Results of Apostasy” (Judges 17-21, Judges 21:25) February 25, Reading 56 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1990), 161.February 25, Reading 56, “Results of Apostasy” Judges 17-21, Judges 21:25.
[ii]John G. Butler, Analytical Bible Expositor – Joshua to 2 Samuel (Clinton, IA: LBC Publications, 2010), 335. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.
[iii]Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the Old Testament . Database © 2010 WORDsearch Corp.
[iv]John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary – Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 271. Database © 2015 WORDsearch.
[v]Lawrence O. Richards, Bible Reader’s Companion, (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 1991, 2004), 170. Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.
[vi]Ben Haden, “Right or Wrong” Sermon Notes (Judges 17:6) #640.pdf-#645.pdf, Guido Gardens Library.
[vii]Dennis James DeHaan, “Free To Do What is Right” Devotional (Judges 17:6), Our Daily Bread, (Grand Rapids, MI: RBC, n. d.), n. p., Guido Gardens Library #638.pdf.
[viii]John Stonestreet, “Progressive Christians Want Jesus but Not the Bible” Accessed: 02/19/16 http://www.christianpost.com/news/progressive-christians-jesus-not-bible-156899/#TaRmog7zFB4vPG7D.99 .
[ix]The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell – Deuteronomy, J. P. Newman, D.D. “The Mission of Law” (Deuteronomy 5:6) (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, n. d.). Database © 2012 WORDsearch Corp.