For the next few weeks, I want to take our Sunday evening lessons from the Old Testament book of Judges. In these lessons, I do not plan to do a verse by verse study. I will call some things to your attention that you may or may not have noticed in this book. I hope I can encourage you to include Judges in your weekly readings. The things I share with you will have much more meaning if you are reading in the book. I continue to ask you to bring your Bibles with you.

This evening I call a feature of the book to your attention. It is a feature that all of you who have studied the book have noticed. Tonight we will not be content to note the feature is there. Our primary focus will be on this question: What does this feature mean?

  1. Let's begin by calling this feature in Judges to our attention.
    1. It is found in the ending section of the book. Turn to Judges 17 as we begin to look at this feature.
      1. Judges 17:6 In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.
        [Everything declared from Judges 17:1 through the closing of the book verifies that God was not a factor in the actions or the directions that were commonplace in Israel at that time. God's leadership was completely rejected. In fact, some of the people were so ignorant of God's ways that they thought they were doing what God would have them do.]
      2. Judges 18:1 In those days there was no king of Israel; and in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking an inheritance for themselves to live in, for until that day an inheritance had not been allotted to them as a possession among the tribes of Israel.
        [This chapter combines Micah's failure that was created by identifying idolatry with God's way in chapter 17 with the failure of the tribe of Dan to settle a territory in chapter 18. Such enormous, wicked failures can be understood only if it is understood that there is no king in Israel.]
      3. Judges 19:1 Now it came about in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite staying in the remote part of the hill country of Ephraim, who took a concubine for himself from Bethlehem in Judah.
        [A Levite's concubine was raped to death in Bethlehem of Judah. He dissected her dead body, sent a piece of her body to each tribe, and as a result produced a major national crisis in Israel.]
      4. The book of Judges ends by closing this last section with Judges 21:25.
        In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
    2. Let's recall a basic understanding in this period of Israelite history.
      1. Moses, Israel's first great human leader who led them from Egypt through the wilderness, had been dead for a long time.
      2. Joshua, Israel's second great human leader who led them in the basic conquest of Canaan, was dead.
      3. All the people who assisted Joshua in his leadership were dead.
    3. This statement declares how the historical period of the Judges began.
      Judges 2:10-23 All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals, and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger. So they forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. The anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had spoken and as the Lord had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed. Then the Lord raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do as their fathers. When the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them. But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways. So the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He said, "Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers and has not listened to My voice, I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk in it as their fathers did, or not." So the Lord allowed those nations to remain, not driving them out quickly; and He did not give them into the hand of Joshua.
    4. To me, these are the keys to understanding what happened in Israel in the period of the judges.
      1. A generation arose that did now know the Lord.
      2. This generation did not know the work the Lord did in the past to bless them.
      3. They wanted to worship the gods everyone else followed.
      4. Any time they or their descendants devoted themselves to God, it was a temporary dedication.
      5. Their behavior:
        1. Moved God to pity when they suffered oppression and cried to Him.
        2. Moved God to anger when they rebelled against Him.
      6. They never learned.

  2. What does the statement, "There was no king in Israel" mean? What should that statement say to us?
    1. To answer that question, we need to read 1 Samuel 8:4-9.
      Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, "Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations." But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to judge us." And Samuel prayed to the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day--in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods--so they are doing to you also. Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them."
      1. Samuel, who was a great leader in Israel, was an old man, deemed too old to lead them as they wished.
      2. His sons were dishonest men who took bribes and perverted justice.
      3. Because of each of those conditions, the elders of Israel met with Samuel and asked for a king.
        1. The request deeply offended Samuel--he felt rejected.
        2. He took the request to God in prayer.
      4. God replied, "Give them what they want, but warn them about what to expect."
        1. Then God said, "It is not your leadership they are rejecting; it is my leadership they are rejecting."
        2. "I am their king; they do not want Me to be their king."
        3. "Israel has rejected my leadership from the time I delivered them from Egypt."

  3. To focus you on the meaning of the phrase, "There was no king in Israel," I wish to do two things.
    1. Later, in the next two or three historical ages, when Israel had kings, did having a king solve their problems?
      1. Was King Saul, the first king, a solution? No! God was not their leader.
      2. Was King David, the second king, a solution? He was a godly king much of the time, but he made some horrible mistakes. At times God led Israel; at times He did not.
      3. Was King Solomon, the third king, a solution? He began as a godly king and ended as a very ungodly king. Again, God was not their continuous leader.
      4. Were the kings of the divided kingdom a solution? No! Rarely was God their leader.
      5. Let me share with you a statement and challenge you to think about it: the vast majority of the time when they had a physical king, they still had no king in Israel because they continued to reject God's leadership.
    2. Let me make the same point in another way.
      1. In Judges 17 when the Ephraimite Micah set up his own shrine, placed idols in it, and appointed one of his sons as priest, then later hired a Levite to care for his idolatrous shrine, was God king? No, God was not leading him.
      2. In Judges 18, when the warriors from the Israelite tribe of Dan, stole Micah's idols, and enticed the Levite to go with them, was God king? No, God was not leading them.
      3. In Judges 19, when a Levite's concubine was raped to death, was God king? No, God was not leading them.
      4. In Judges 20 and 21 when a national crisis developed out of this situation, was God their King? No, God was not leading them.
      5. Then what was happening? People were doing what they considered to be right and calling it God's leadership.
        1. Did they realize they were rejecting God and His leadership? Probably not.
        2. Remember, they did not know God, and they did not know what God did for Israel.

  4. Consider what I regard to be some lessons we need to learn.
    1. When people who consider themselves godly people do not know God for the personage He is, they are inviting disaster.
      1. Too many Christians do not know God.
      2. They know their personal concept of God or what they have been told about God, and they assume their understanding is correct.
      3. When God reveals Himself in His actions in ways that contradict our concepts, we reject the revelation.
      4. Remember, God is infinitely greater than we are; our minds cannot fathom or predict Him.
    2. We often fail to live in an awareness of what God has done for us.
      1. God invested thousands of years, the life of His son, mercy, grace, and forgiveness to create our opportunities.
      2. For us to be ignorant of His works and attitudes in our behalf is an insult to Him that will cause of us grief and pain.
    3. Too many of us commonly fail to let God rule our lives.
      1. Too much of our focus is on how we can get others to accept God's rule.
      2. Too little of our focus is on letting God rule our personal lives.

When we combine these three attitudes and situations, we produce the same result: everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 6 October 2002
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