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A Midweek Devotional - The Judges

From Unfolding Grace:

“The book of Judges shows that Israel continually does ‘evil in the sight of the LORD.’ God promised that if they did not trust Him and love Him, they would eventually be exiled from the land, just like Adam and Eve were banished from the garden.

The following narrative shows Israel’s downward decline of distrust. Yet this spiral into spiritual chaos ultimately serves to magnify God’s mercy. Even though Israel’s sin warrants swift judgment, God proves that He is patient and long-suffering.”

Wednesday, April 14th

Larger Portion of Scripture - Judges 1-4

Focused Passage for Reflection - Judges 2:11-19

Reflecting on the Text:

Do you ever feel stuck in a rut? Is it some particular sin struggle you’ve been wrestling with lately? Is it a feeling of spiritual dryness? How long has it been lasting? We all have seasons in life. Sometimes they are marked alternately by spiritual fullness and emptiness. Sometimes they are marked by sin struggles or by a particular experience of freedom. These seasons have ebbs and flows. Sometimes we ebb, sometimes we flow.

And then there are patterns. These are my definitions. You probably won’t find them in the Webster’s Dictionary, but I’m thinking of a pattern as more of a repeated ebb and flow. So are there particular patterns to your seasons? Are those old seasons rolling back around again? And why might that be?

And then there are cycles. Again, this is my definition, but I’m thinking of cycles as a way to capture an endless repeat of patterns. While that particular definition of a "cycle" is mine, the book of Judges clearly identifies and defines the downward cycle of sin present in the nation of Israel. It is one we must deal with because as they say, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

Judges 2:11-19 presents the pattern of sin which becomes a repeated cycle throughout the book. In v. 11, the people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. It was THE EVIL…the sin of idolatry. And this sin marked their downward journey away from the Lord as they committed the equivalent of spiritual adultery, giving themselves over to the false gods of the surrounding peoples. In light of this movement, vv. 14-15 then show the Lord’s discipline. He gave them over to their sin by giving them over to their enemies.

The people suffered and eventually cried out. Then in v. 16 the Lord heard their cry and raised a judge to deliver them from oppression. There was a season of renewal, but it didn’t last long. And in v. 17, the season of renewal ended. The pattern became the cycle.

In a nutshell, that is the cycle of the judges. It repeats, over and over again, throughout the book with the one change being that the cycle gets worse with every passing judge. It’s a sad state of affairs that leaves us, somewhat pharisaically, scratching our heads and wondering why.

Why this downward cycle? But the book of Judges is thoughtfully and intentionally written. Another repeated refrain found in the last verse of the book answers our question. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) Those two sentences pack a punch, and yet their repeat forms the theme. We find them in 17:6 and then we see similar phrases in 18:1 and 19:1. With no king in the land, truth was relative, desires were personalized, and sin abounded. Hence the downward cycle.

For some of us, there is no King in the land, and when we’ve never known Him we are left to our own faulty devices. Others of us, maybe many of us, have lost sight of Him. Maybe His glory has diminished in our eyes as we’ve set our sights on the things of this world. Maybe our struggles, or our suffering, have made Him feel distant. He is there, but He is not a daily presence in our consciousness. So we fall prey to the cycle.

The book of Judges can be dark and depressing if we simply stay there. It ends on a hopeless note. But the story of unfolding grace doesn’t end in that time or with those pages. In the book of Judges, the judges were weak and frail, but they were used by God to redeem His people from earthly plunderers. They came and did their work, but they eventually died. The cycle restarted. And yet both their temporal work combined with their ultimate failure were meant to point the people to our forever Redeemer.

Jesus is the true King in the land. He is the one who breaks the cycle. He is the one who elevates our desires. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Wherever you find yourself, whether it be a season, a pattern, or a cycle, look beyond. Look to Jesus, the King in the land.

Questions for personal reflection:

  • Have you allowed lesser kings to take precedent in your life?

  • Do you struggle to break the cycle of sin?

  • What might it look like for you to invite another in and together, look outside the cycle to Jesus?

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