The book of Judges is one long, repetitive cycle of rebellion and loss. The book opens after the death of Joshua, the last of the two fearless warriors who completed the journey from Egypt to Canaan. The last of that first generation of adults who endured the horrors of slavery, the perils of a wilderness sojourn, and the triumphs of conquering foes that seemed invincible.
The prologue of the book of Judges, spanning roughly the first two chapters of the book gives us a sense of complacency in the aftermath of great triumph. It’s an old story, repeated over and over again through the march of time.
The first generation of pioneers sets out to conquer new frontiers. They pour blood, sweat, and tears into the endeavor, encountering giants, and obstacles that seem almost insurmountable. Yet in the face of great odds, they come away victorious and undefeated. They come away with the singular assurance of God’s love and His favor. They come away with the unyielding certainty that God’s power alone has brought them this far.
But then, basking in the glow of victory and the favor of God, they slacken. They get comfortable and complacent. They loosen their belts, unsheathe their swords, and generally engage in a kind of dreamlike victory celebration that seems to last far longer than anyone has anticipated.
Whilst in this joyful haze of unmitigated triumph they forget that they still have work to do. Their fathers have driven out the giants but not all of them. There are still a few giants left, admittedly some of the biggest and scariest they’ve encountered.
There is still much ground to be gained, new frontiers to the conqueror, new heights to scale but they forget all this. Instead, they focus on the ground they have already gained, the heights they have already scaled and they think, smacking their lips in lazy satisfaction that surely this is enough. Surely there is no need to go running off into the wilderness of battle once more to be beaten and battered against the thick plated armor of angry giants.
Surely they can rest now and let the giants sit pretty in their mountainous homes. And so Israel rests on the laurels of its victory prematurely. The job is half done and they are too drunk on their own elation to rouse themselves and finish it.
This triggers the events of the rest of the book. A wretched, sad cycle of apostasy, oppression, repentance, and deliverance only to sink to the very dregs of apostasy again.
Some of the Judges are more prominent than others. There is Gideon who leads an army of just 300 men into battle against a massive force of occupying Midianites armed to their teeth and savage in their thirst for blood. All Gideon has is a handful of faithful men, equipped with no more than a trumpet, a pitcher, and a candle.
But that is the beauty of serving God. He likes to lead us through places where the odds are stacked against us and the weapons we wield seem hopelessly ineffectual. When everything seems bleakest it is then that he commands us to charge towards our enemy and gives us the unlikeliest victories if we are brave enough to step out in faith and follow him.
Gideon’s victory against the Midianites demonstrated the undisputed might of Israel’s God. it stripped away the glory of man, laid it in the dust, and exalted the glory of God in a way that let everyone know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the battle was won by the power of God and not in any way by the power of Gideon and his army.
Then there is the sad and cautionary tale of Samson. A young man full of promise consecrated to God from before his birth. A young man called by God and destined to be a judge and leader to His people.
Samson’s legacy could have been one of faithfulness to God. He could have been remembered as a man who honored God and blessed his fellow man but instead, we remember him as a man who lacked self-control and was bested by his lust for a woman.
Samson’s story could have been an example of all that a man could be if he was only willing to consecrate his life to God, instead it became a cautionary tale of what happens to a man who forsakes the ways of God and follows the lusts of his own heart.
The epilogue of the book succinctly summarizes the main point; in those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25) That was the root of the whole sad story; every man did that which was right in his own eyes and the Bible tells us “there is a way that seems right unto a man but the end thereof are the ways of death (Proverbs 14:12)
And that's the point; the book of Judges is a repetitive cycle because the children of Israel couldn’t stop doing what was right in their own eyes and start doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord. This, and this alone, is what led to so much heartache and death. It’s a lesson we would all do well to learn.