At the end of the book of Joshua Israel is in the land possessing it and driving out the pagan inhabitants under the leadership of Joshua. Israel is in the land God has promised them. If they are an obedient people they will keep possession of the promised land of Canaan. The book of Judges shows us how obedient, or, rather, how disobedient they have become.
Israel was to drive the Cannanites out from the land so they could live in covenant faithfulness to the Lord. They failed, miserably. “Though they had not wholly rejected God as their God, they had not wholly accepted him, either.” (23) This is the tension in the book of Judges which surfaces as we observe how Israel behaves before, during and after each if its judges.
In his reworked devotional on Judges, Judges: The Flawed and the Flawless, Tim Keller writes the second book in the new God’ Word For You Series, Judges For You, published by The Good Book Company. This series is designed so that one can simply read through the book to learn more about a particular book of the Bible, use the book to feed you for your personal devotions or serve as a guide to lead others in a small group setting.
Interpretational Guides for Judges
Before getting into the pages of Judges, Keller wisely points out six main themes that run through the book of Judges (10-12):
- God relentlessly offer his grace to his people who do not deserve it, or seek it, or even appreciate it after they have been saved by it. Throughout the repetitive cycle of Israel throughout each judge, God’s grace is front and center in the face of Israel’s constant rebellion against God.
- God wants lordship over every area of our lives, not just some. God wanted Israel to possess the entirety of Canaan but their disobedience to God in so many ways kept them from keeping possession of the land.
- There is a tension between grace and law, between conditionality and unconditionality. This is the hardest aspect of the book of Judges to grasp. God blesses Israel despite their sin when they repent and God promises to only bless them if they are obedient. The question of tension is, are God’s promises conditional or unconditional? Keller answers both.
- There is a need for continual spiritual renewal in our lives here on earth, and a way to make that a reality. The cycle of sin to repentance throughout the book of Judges shows us that because of our continual sin we are in need of continual spiritual renewal.
- We need a true Savior, to which all human saviors point, through both their flaws and strengths. Through the strengths and weaknesses of each of the judges we see the need for the true and better judge, Jesus Christ.
- God is in charge, no matter what it looks like. If we merely look at Israel in Judges we might be prone to think God is not there amidst the rampant idolatry of his people. We would be wrong. God is always in the midst working towards his ends.
A Repeated Cycle to Summarize the Book
There is no question that one of the first things a familiar reader of Judges thinks of when they think of the book is the repeated cycle of Israel through the life of the judges. Though there are some minor variations of this cycle Keller lays the seven step cycle as seen in Judges 2:11-19:
- The people rebel – vs. 11-12
- God is angry – vs. 12
- They are oppressed by their enemies – vs. 14-15
- They repent and cry out to the Lord – vs. 15
- God saves them through a chosen leader – vs. 16
- Israel has peace for a time – vs. 18
- The judge dies – vs. 19
With the passing of each judge Israel sinks deeper and deeper into the covenant unfaithfulness and idolatry with the gods of the other nations. “The thorn dug deeper and deeper; the snares pulled Israel more and more tightly. We will see as Judges progresses that the rebellion becomes worse, the oppression heavier, the repentance less heartfelt, the judges themselves more flawed, and the salvation and ‘revivals’ they bring weaker.” (34) The people of Israel go through a constant spiral, and a downward one at that.
Seeing Ourselves in Judges
It is very easy to read the book of Judges with 20/20 vision and be tempted to judge Israel for their continual rebellion against God. Surely, the last thing we would conclude is that Israel’s behavior is but a mirror reflection of our relationship with God. Who could or would want to be like that, we might ask ourselves. As Keller so aptly points out throughout the book, Judges is just that – a window and mirror into our own lives. Towards the end of the book, reflecting on the horrific events of chapter 19, Keller explains it nicely:
And they (Israel) show us, to an extent, ourselves. We may have secrets buried deep that bear resemblance in some (perhaps small) way to the conduct of the Gibeonites. Or we may not have committed such things, but (like the Levite) have failed to prevent them, enabling them through inaction. We will have all told ourselves and others a better story about ourselves and our conduct than the whole truth reveal. And, as the book of Judges has repeatedly challenged us about, we will have all allowed ourselves, unconsciously and even consciously, to be shaped and enslaved by our culture rather than by the Lord, whose name we call on, just like Israel. (187)
We may rightly shake our heads in disbelief at the repeated unbelief Israel displayed through their idolatry against God, but we must be willing to see ourselves right there with them.
Who Can Help?
The book of Judges serves as a reminder that no matter what good qualities men may have and no matter how gracious God can be with His rebellious people, his people still fail and we need a better Judge. In short, the book of Judges leaves us with Israel languishing in a land they barely possess without a leader and desperately in need of a judge who can truly save his people. This savior will come without being called, will choose us without us having chosen him, will accomplish our salvation without us since we cannot do it ourselves nor contribute to it, will be victorious in death since we would remain dead and will remove evil from our hearts because we cannot, and will not, do it ourselves. (196) We need king Jesus!
Judges for You is now the best devotional I have read on the book of Judges. In classic Keller style your mind will be opened to the book in a fresh way and you will be challenged on every page. This is a must have for personal and group study on Judges. Keller puts you in the pages of Judges to show you why we all need Jesus, the perfect judge and savior.
Note: I received this book for free from The Good Book Co. through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review. The words and thoughts expressed in this review are my own.
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