What does God teach us in Judges about our hearts?
How our natural choices lead us astray, and how badly we need King Jesus.
The book of Joshua records victory for God’s people; God promised to give Abraham’s family the land of Canaan, and he does. As Joshua retires, he exhorts people to choose to serve the God who rescued them from Egypt and fought for them in Canaan. Joshua boldly declares, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15 ESV).
But the book of Judges shows God’s people did not serve the Lord. The rapid decline of God’s people shows their desperate need for God. The refrain of Judges is “there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6 ESV; see also 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). The standard for right and wrong should have been the law God gave Moses. But the people dismissed the law any time they disagreed with it. As a result, they were conquered by Canaanites, Philistines, and Moabites. Rather than enjoying God’s blessings, they paid tribute to foreign kings. And, things get progressively worse throughout the book; not only are they oppressed by surrounding nations, but because of shocking immorality and violence, the book ends with civil war and the near extinction of the tribe of Benjamin.
While there are exciting victories in the book as God raises up leaders to save his people, the leaders themselves go from weak to almost evil. Barak, the first judge, is a coward who will not believe God’s promises or lead the people alone. Even Gideon, who is also a coward, exalts himself and his family and causes people to worship idols. Sampson breaks his vows to God and is sexually immoral. The human leaders who deliver them fail to lead them back to God; many of them lead the people to idols.
So, the book is a warning for us; Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (ESV). Judges shows that proverb is literally true. In our day we want to do whatever seems right in our hearts; but our hearts are not reliable. God’s word is not popular in our culture; sometimes it’s not popular in the Church. But Judges shows what always happens when we dismiss God’s word—disobedience always leads to suffering.
The book also makes us long for King Jesus. Israel clearly needs a king to lead and guide them. In Jesus, we have that King. He has no moral failings, and he is no coward. He chose death on a cross for you and for me. He was raised from the dead, and He always leads his people in victory. Is Jesus your King? Are you trusting him completely? Do you listen to him and obey him?