Build and Apply Your Faith With the Judges
IF YOU were asked to pick a Biblical group of persons of outstanding faith, which group would you choose? The 12 apostles? The 12 sons of Jacob? Perhaps. But you would have ample reason to point to another group of 12 whose faith is commended to us in the Bible.
We mean the 12 men whose acts of faith are recounted in the book of Judges. Some of them are named in Hebrews 11:32-34: “Time will fail me if I go on to relate about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, . . . who through faith defeated kingdoms in conflict, effected righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, stayed the force of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from a weak state were made powerful, became valiant in war, routed the armies of foreigners.”
There you have four of the judges. How many other faithful judges can you recall? Test your memory before looking at the list below.* You probably can remember, too, some memorable deeds performed by the judges, such as Samson’s destroying the Philistine lords and people—and himself—by pulling down the temple of Dagon, or Gideon’s using just 300 warriors to rout the hordes of Midian. Many people in Christendom know such stories from Sunday school. But do they gain from the book of Judges important lessons that can affect their faith, improve their life now and help them to attain the ‘life that is to come’? (1 Timothy 4:8) If you think not, is it different with you? Have you let the book of Judges assist your faith and Christian life?
Profit From the Basics
Read the book. You will find that, whether this is your first time or it is a rereading, you will be caught up in many action-filled accounts. They will give you much to talk about—with your children or other youngsters, as well as with thinking adults. However, in your reading keep in mind some overall points made in many of the accounts. For example?
One is that it is very easy to let your faith in God grow weak or to forget what he has done for you. A person learning of the Christian hope and of gaining forgiveness through Christ might have much initial zeal. He might gladly attend meetings and share in the Christian ministry. He puts these first in life, not worrying about material things, such as whether he has a new automobile, fancy home or the latest in expensive TV devices. But after some years, will he lose ‘the love that he had at first’? (Revelation 2:4) Israel’s history revealed in Judges shows how easily that can happen to any of us.
The first two chapters set the stage. After the Israelites under Joshua occupied the Promised Land, they did not follow through by obediently eliminating the idolatrous, immoral Canaanites. (Judges 1:28-33) So Jehovah permitted these foreigners and their gods to be a test for Israel. (Judges 2:19-23) Often Israel failed the test. This is where the judges came in.
The situation with the first judge, Othniel, is typical of what happened repeatedly. The Israelites had given in to filthy Baal worship, so God let a Syrian king oppress them for eight years. That moved them ‘to call to Jehovah for aid. Then God raised a savior up that he might save them, Othniel. The spirit of Jehovah came upon him, and he became the judge of Israel. When he went out to battle, God gave the king of Syria into his hand. After that the land had no disturbance for 40 years.’—Judges 3:7-11.
How grateful those Israelites must have been to be free, even as we appreciated learning Christian truth and being free of false religion! What, though, would succeeding years bring? The next verse says: “Once again the sons of Israel went doing what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes. At that Jehovah let Eglon the king of Moab grow strong against Israel.” (Judges 3:12) You see the pattern and the danger for us as to letting our convictions grow weak. But for our encouragement, the account continues: Once the Israelites came to their senses, God raised up left-handed judge Ehud. He delivered a pointed message to fat King Eglon, leading to Israel’s deliverance. Read the thrilling account in the rest of Jg chapter 3.
Powerful Faith in Action!
Some brief examples: Think of how Gideon with just 300 men of faith routed Midianites who were “as numerous as locusts.” (Judges 7:1-25) With Deborah’s encouragement, Barak effected a deliverance in the north from Canaanites who had war chariots equipped with fearsome iron scythes extending from the wheel hubs. You should also note that in this case it was a woman who struck the final blow for victory. (Judges 4:1-5:31) Samson’s strength is renowned. With his exceptional strength, Samson was able to tear apart a lion; armed with the jawbone of an ass he struck down a thousand enemies and he tore off the city gate of Gaza, carrying it up a mountain.—Judges 14:5–16:3.
There is no question that outstanding faith was displayed by these judges, certainly qualifying them to be listed in the book of Hebrews as examples for us. Examples in what way? Surely you would never expect to tear a lion apart with your bare hands, would you? But you will face severe challenges of your faith if you try to live each day as a Christian loyal to Jehovah.
Perhaps as a young person in school you face intense pressure to experiment with drugs or sex, or to seek a career as a well-paid professional. As an individual, or with your family, you may have made considerable material sacrifices to serve as a full-time minister or to live where there is a great need for such, but you see other Christians who appear to make wealth and elegant living the high priorities in life. Or the challenge to your faith may arise because someone has severely disappointed you. It might be a person who was prominent among Christians but whose pride led him to turn against his brothers. On the other hand, it could be a close relative whose love has grown cold and who has ceased to serve Jehovah.
In any of these cases, will you draw encouragement from the faith of the judges? Their God-given faith enabled them to do what might have seemed impossible. The same God can give you faith if you continue to seek it through prayer and by persevering in the Christian way. Faith is a fruit of God’s holy spirit. (Galatians 5:22) Concerning the same spirit that made Samson strong, Jesus said, “The Father in heaven [will] give holy spirit to those asking him!” Accordingly, in the same chapter of Hebrews that lists the judges as examples of faith we are assured that God “becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Luke 11:13; Hebrews 11:6) He can reward your faith too.
Look for Lessons
We have called attention to a couple of lessons that you can draw from Judges. Yet you undoubtedly will find additional profit from this portion of the inspired Scriptures that is “inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.”—2 Timothy 3:16.
For example, you will see that Gideon modestly did not want to embark on a course until he was sure that it was God’s will. Later, the same modesty helped him to avoid letting success and prominence ‘go to his head.’ You may be able to benefit from this. Recall that with God’s assistance Gideon’s small band vanquished the Midianite multitude. Imagine the acclaim that must have brought Gideon. Comparably, you might receive praise for some outstanding talent, such as being a powerful public speaker or a very capable organizer. In the former case, “the men of Israel said to Gideon: ‘Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson as well, for you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.’” How should a person react to such acclaim? Gideon said: “I myself shall not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. Jehovah is the one who will rule over you.” (Judges 8:22, 23) Let us similarly strive to retain modesty, recognizing that all our talents—and through them our accomplishments—spring from abilities that God provided for humans.
The history of Gideon and other judges lets us see, too, that they were imperfect humans, as we are. We can draw some lessons from their missteps.
Thus, when Gideon allowed the Israelites to share their spoil with him, he made a very costly ephod, an apronlike garment, perhaps adorned with jewels. Though he must have been well motivated in doing this, some Israelites treated it as an idol, diverting attention from the worship of Jehovah at the sanctuary.—Judges 8:24-27.
Jehovah’s spirit worked powerfully upon Samson, enabling him to perform apparently superhuman feats. (Judges 14:5, 6, 19; 15:14, 15; 16:3, 28-30) It was also “from Jehovah” that he requested a certain Philistine woman as a wife, for Samson “was looking for an opportunity against the Philistines.” (Judges 14:4) This led to encounters that brought death to many of the oppressing Philistines. It also was no doubt due to Jehovah’s direction that Samson went to Gaza and stayed at the home of a prostitute, for this led to a further mighty act in humiliating the depraved Philistines.* However, it appears that Samson’s contacts with these women may have influenced him to act foolishly when he fell in love with Delilah, apparently an Israelite woman whom the Philistines could bribe.—Judges 16:1-21.
Such accounts should teach us that we must always keep up our guard against subtle attacks of the enemy. For instance, a Christian might have an honorable objective in visiting a fellow worshiper of the opposite sex, such as to provide comfort or encouragement during a crisis. Yet it normally is unwise to do so when the two would be alone. Human imperfection could draw them into improper conduct, or the situation could move neighbors to say that Christians have morals that are as low as most in the community.
On another note, meditate on the faith and devotion of Jephthah’s virgin daughter. Some single Christians might feel that if the right circumstances arose so they could find loving, loyal mates, they might marry. Yet while they are single they can recall that even though Jephthah’s daughter had occasions when she missed not being in a position to marry and bear children, she also maintained commendable faith in a special assignment that singleness permitted for her.—Judges 11:30-40.
These are just some of the many beneficial lessons that you will be able to find in the exciting and faith-inspiring book of Judges. You should come away from a reading of the book with increased conviction that Jehovah is the great Deliverer of those worshiping him. If you are one of his worshipers, seek to have strong, moving faith, as is so well manifested in Judges.
Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon. Though they also judged Israel, Joshua and Samuel are not commonly included in the group presented in the book of Judges.
It is logical to conclude that, as a visitor, Samson simply sought overnight lodging, rather than going to the prostitute’s house for immoral reasons. The account says that he “kept lying till midnight” but not that he “kept lying with her until midnight.”
[Chart on page 28, 29]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
PERIOD FROM THE START OF THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN TO THE REIGN OF SAUL
This chart is presented to illustrate one of a number of ways in which the chronological periods stated in the book of Judges could fit within the time span indicated elsewhere. For more details, see Aid to Bible Understanding, pages 335-8.
The bars are shaded differently to distinguish the various time periods.
CONQUEST of Canaan (6)
Intervening period (35[?])
SYRIA under Cushan-rishathaim oppresses Israel (8)
OTHNIEL victorious over Syria
“Land had no disturbance” (40)
MOAB under Eglon oppresses Israel (18)
EHUD victorious over Moab
“Land had no further disturbance” (80)
CANAAN under Jabin of Hazor oppresses Israel (20)
SHAMGAR ‘saves Israel” from Philistines. Period unstated.
BARAK victorious over Canaan
“Land had no further disturbance” (40)
MIDIAN oppresses Israel (?)
GIDEON victorious over Midian
“Land had no further disturbance. . . in the days of
ABIMELECH rules (3)
TOLA (of Issachar) judges Israel (23)
JAIR (of Gilead) judges Israel (22)
AMMON oppresses Israel (18)
300 years from start of Israelite conquest. (Judges 11:26-33)
JEPHTHAH victorious over Ammon; judges (6)
IBZAN (of Bethlehem) judges (7)
PHILISTIA oppresses Israel (40)
ELON (of Zebulun) judges (10)
ABDON (of Ephraim) judges (8)
SAMSON (of Dan) judges (20)
ARK of covenant in Kiriath-jearim 20 years
ELI High priest (40)
Philistia defeats Israel
Intervening period (5 [?])
SAMUEL Prophet, judge
Samuel leads Israel to victory over Philistia (1 Samuel 7:7-14)