Judges 9 has Abimelech, an evil son of Giddeon, taking power. He goes to the leaders and asks “’Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you”? He is positioning himself to become leader, and it worked as “their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech”. They gave their blessing and also “they gave him seventy pieces of silver” and put their money where their mouth was. But they had no idea how evil he really was.
So “Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him” with the money the leaders had given him. And then he decides to get rid of any potential competition. “He went to his father’s house….killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone”. He was ruthless and wiped out the entire family. “But Jotham the youngest son….hid himself”. No one realized it at the time, but it would soon some to light. “All the leaders of Shechem….went and made Abimelech king”. They didn’t waste much time setting themselves up with power.
Jotham challenges their actions. “If you acted in good faith and integrity when you made Abimelech king” he tells them to proceed. But since they hadn’t, he calls them out and warns them of God’s wrath. “Jotham ran away and fled and went to Beer and lived there”. So “Abimelech ruled over Israel three years….God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem….and the blood of his brothers be laid on Abimelech….who killed them”. He is guilty of murder.
After a little time some began to question “who is Abimelech, and who are we of Shechem, that we should serve him”. He really didn’t have the rights to the throne. He stole those. But he had a group of hired thugs and they went around silencing his detractors. But then God acted and a “certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull”. He didn’t want to die at a woman’s hand so asked his body guard to kill him. God evened the score and took Abimelech out. Evil never pays!
Judges 8 begins with Gideon defeating armies with his 300 men. “The men of Ephraim said to him, What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight with Midian”? They are irritated that they hadn’t been invited to be part of the battle. But that was not God’s plan, and Gideon was obedient to do what God had told him. And that is how he continued. He doesn’t give in to their request. “Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing”. This has been quite a feat for so few men, yet Gideon keeps moving to continue his pursuit of the kings of Midian.
Kings “Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about 15,000 men”. Still a considerable advantage in numbers compared to the 300. But quite a reduction from what they stared with. They “had fallen 120,000 men who drew the sword”. God has been very faithful to Gideon and he is proceeding knowing that God is in control. Gideon caputres the kings and immediately “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”. They want a king and Gideon is obviously the guy for the job.
“But Gideon said to them, I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you”. He wants no part of that. And not only himself, but none of his family either. Gideon asks the men in his band of 300 to give him the golden earrings they had grabbed as spoils. Then he makes a bad choice. “Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family”. What prompted him to do that after seeing God destroy tens of thousands of enemies and protect him and his little band of warriors is hard to understand. But he did. And it was bad news.
God did bless them as “the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon”. Even with his bad decision by creating an ephod, God still blessed him. “Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives”. God obviously blessed him in that way too. And one of those sons, Abimelech, would become a bad leader in the days ahead. But “as soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god….the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God”. Same story, different leader. He dies and the people go astray because there was no leadership transition plan to keep them walking with God!
Judges 7 has Gideon getting ready for battle. He “rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod”. He had gathered quite an impressive army, but God said “the people with you are too many”. What? God how can we have too many soldiers for battle. But God wanted the victory to be obviously His, so He wants to pare down the number. He begins by telling Gideon “Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home”. Well, that may make sense as you don’t really want to go to battle with a bunch of people who are afraid.
So out of the original 32,000 soldiers, “22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained”. Over two thirds have gone home, but still a pretty impressive number of warriors. But God isn’t content with that many. So he tells Gideon to do another test for separation. “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself”. I’m not sure what the significance is but perhaps it was because those who cupped the water in their hands and brought it to their mouth were be better soldiers, because they kept their eyes on their surroundings even when taking a drink.
Whatver the reason for God’s decision, “the number of those who lapped….was 300 men” and God instructs Gideon to “let all the others go every man to his home”. Now he is down to 300 from 32,000. That pretty much makes it a case that if God doesn’t show up and do something, the outcome won’t be good. “That same night the Lord said to him, Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand….if you are afraid….go down to the camp….you shall hear what they say”.
Gideon hears the dream being shared in the enemy camp and knows that God will give them victory, in spite of the fact that “the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number”. 300 men with Gideon agains an army too large to count. But God shows up, and gives them the victory with trumpets and torches as Gideon and his men followed God’s instructions and totally defeated the enemy. That is how God works. He is faithful and never fails to do what He says. They defeated them all and killed the princes of these nations. One plus God is always enough!
Judges 6 has God calling Gideon to save his people. “Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” and they were given into the hand of Midian for seven years. The Midianites were numerous, and every year as the Israelites planted crops, “they would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land”. They ate the Israelites out of house and home. And it was a big problem. “Israel was brought very low because of Midian”.
And as you might expect, “the people of Israel cried out….the Lord sent a prophet”. God faithfully continues to respond to His wayward people. But God wasn’t all that gentle in His response: “I led you….I delivered you….I said to you….But you have not obeyed my voice”. The people just were not getting the plan – it is about walking in obedience and they continue to stray which gets them into trouble. “Gideon was beating out wheat….the angel of the Lord appeared to him….The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor”. That had to be quite a surprise in the middle of his boring day.
We see Gideon respond a lot like Moses had earlier. Gideon said “if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us….where are all his wonderful deeds”. If God is with us, why are we facing this situation on the verge of starvation? “And the Lord turned to him and said, Go in this might of yours and save Israel”. Pretty direct command, isn’t it? But Gideon starts laying on the excuses. “How can I save Israel….my clan is the weakest in Manasseh….I am the least in my father’s house”.
God gives Gideon the same response He had earlier given Moses. “I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man”. Gideon isn’t buying it and asks God to prove it, so God goes through a series of miracles with the altar and the fleece. It didn’t take one miracle, but a number before Gideon was sold. “I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand”. God did exactly as Gideon asked. But he comes back with another request to “Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew….God did so that night”. What God originates, God orchestrates. He is more than able to prepare us to do His plan!
Judges 5 is a song from Deborah and Barak following their victory. They wanted to give glory where it belonged – to the Lord. They sing about three things as they begin:
- “the leaders took the lead
- the people offered themselves willingly
- bless the Lord”
A picture of how effective leadership should happen.
It begins with leaders who are willing to step up and step out and lead. They have to be willing. They have to make a move. They talk about the importance of being a leader. “My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people”. Leadership is about being willing to be on the front line, and is this day, that meant being in the front as your army entered the battlefield. If you are going to lead, you have to keep God’s principle in mind. If God originates a call to lead, Got will orchestrate the resources and details so you can effectively lead. It is how He works.
They secondly give praise that the people stepped out of their comfort zone and followed. The true test of leadership is whether anyone actually follows, and in this case 10,000 fighting men did. They took a chance and believed in their leaders and went to war. They came from everywhere and joined the battle. “From heaven the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera”. God’s hand was upon those who stepped up and he guided their swords and enabled their victory. That is what God does – He takes those who are willing and uses them to fulfill His plan.
And the song ends with the awareness that all this happened because God showed up. They bless the Lord and give Him the glory. They “repeat the righteous triumphs of the Lord”, not taking credit for their success themselves, but rightfully placing it where it belongs, on the Lord. They know who truly enabled their victory, and they place the adoration where it belongs. “So may all your enemies perish, O Lord! But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might”. God is the author of what happens. We need to plug in and stay connected to His plan and do things His way!
Judges 4 has a predictable outcome. The people “again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died”. A strong leader dies, without a strong transition plan to another leader, and the people fall off the wagon and wander away from the Lord. It is a predictable pattern. So they are captured by Jabin king of Canaan and his commander, a thug named Sisera. This guy “oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years”. We’ve seen the length of time that Israel comes under punishment grow with each wandering from God’s hand.
“Deborah….was judging Israel at that time”. She went to Barak who was one of the leaders of the Israelites and told him that God has a plan for their victory over their captors. But Barak is not so sure, and he tells her “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go”. He wasn’t about to head into battle based on what she told him alone. If she would go along, he knew she truly believed what she was saying. Deborah immediately said yes, but also told Barak “the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”
So Barak traded his opportunity to get some great press and build his resume because of his lack of trust. But he gathers 10,000 men and prepares. Deborah us up early and says “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you”? It’s battle time, and along with Deborah he heads into battle against Sisera. Deborah’s prophecy was absolutely correct and they route the enemy. Sisera flees and escapes to someplace he believes he will be safe, the tent of Heber who was an ally.
But Jael, the woman of the tent, has a different plan. While she welcomes this scoundrel in, and he instructs her to hide him, she has her own plan. Sisera asked her to hide him under a rug, which she did, but then “she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness”. That would cause quite a headache. She kills this thug and when Barak comes chasing she shows him that Sisera is dead. That encourages the army and they “pressed harder and harder….until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan”.
Judges 3 begins the roller coaster relationship between God and His people in the Promised Land. You’ll recall that as God’s people took their areas of the Promised Land, there were native people that just couldn’t be removed. There are called a test in scripture to see if the children of God would stay true to the God of their covenant. “Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”. They failed the test. They allowed their sons to marry daughters of the foreigners, and allowed their daughters to marry sons of the natives.
As a result, “They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth”. God only has a few truly hot buttons, but this is definitely one of them. “Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia”. God’s people turned their back on God, and as a result they are now captives – this time for eight years. But God heard their call and “raised up a deliverer….Othniel….Caleb’s younger brother”. He steps up to take the leadership in bringing God’s people back to their place of prominence.
“The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel”. Othniel becomes the leader and restored the people to the place they had been given. His hand prevailed and “the land had rest forty years”. Things went well during those years, but “then Othniel the son of Kenaz died”. And the leadership ended “and the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”. So they had just experienced eight years of disaster followed by victory and forty years of rest. So what do they do – they go brain dead again and fall right back into the same place. They fail to instruct their children and soon God is pushed aside once again.
So this time as they walked away from God, they are defeated by “Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years”. Ten years longer in captivity this time. But God again hears their cries and “the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud”. He goes in and kills the king and leads God’s people into battle to defeat the enemy and set them free once again. This time scripture tells us they have rest for eighty years, twice as long as the last period. But once again, we are told they need yet another man, Shamgar, to come along and save the people. We’ll learn more about that in the future.