Whole Life Whole Bible Day 15

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Judges 3:7-12 (NASB)

7 The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. 8 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.

9 When the sons of Israel cried to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel. When he went out to war, the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand, so that he prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. 11 Then the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.

12 Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lordstrengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord.

Ruth 1:1 (NASB)

1 Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons.


14: Spiraling out of control

Towards the end of his life, Joshua gathers the people together and recites the story of all that God has done for them. As he affirms that he and his household will serve the Lord, the people respond by saying that they too will stay faithful (Joshua 24:1–28).

Knowing our own capacity for self-delusion, however, we are perhaps not surprised to learn that, after Joshua’s death, the people stray from the Lord. This leads into an era when there is no national leader or central government, with little unity between the tribes. Early military successes give way to failure, and moral apathy takes hold. Then, as now, neglect of the covenant relationship with God spills over into society.

Still, God doesn’t abandon his people. They disobey him and he allows them to be defeated by enemies, but he responds to their cries for help by raising up a ‘judge’ through whom he brings deliverance — only for the people to turn away from him again. This pattern can be seen in the account of the first of these deliverers in Judges 3:7–12, but the cycle is repeated throughout the book.

If anything, the cycle becomes a downward spiral. Judges 17-21 portrays the inevitable social breakdown in episodes of idolatry, lawlessness and civil war. The horrific story of the gang rape and dismemberment of a nameless woman (19:1–30) shocks us into realising how far the people of God have failed in their calling to be a holy nation, with everyone doing what is right in their own eyes (17:6). Alas, no judge arises to meet this progressive anarchy, and a recurring refrain — ‘Israel had no king’ (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25) — strongly hints that something different is needed.

There is brutality, but there is also blessing. The first verse of the book of Ruth invites us to read the story that follows in the light of what we know of the period of judges. As we do so, the shameful, violent treatment of a woman gives way to tender, honourable conduct towards women. Through it all, the sovereign God works out his purpose with the inclusion of a Moabite ‘outsider’ into the fold of the covenant people — one who is not only, herself, a sign of the fulfilment of his promise to bless the nations, but from whom King David (Ruth 4:17–22) and Jesus himself (Matthew 1:1–5) are eventually born.

For further reflection and action

  1. The judges were a mixed bunch of characters, themselves frequently flawed and fallible. What does this say about the kind of person God might use? How does the period of the judges help us long for a greater ‘deliverer’ who will bring a lasting solution to the problem of human rebellion?

  2. Think about the resonances of the book of Judges with our contemporary situation in the West, where morality has arguably become largely a ‘private’ matter.

  3. The book of Ruth shows how God works behind the scenes through ordinary events in everyday life. How far are you able to discern God’s ‘fingerprints’ in the routine of your own life?

Visit LICC to find out more or get an overview of the Biblical narrative and the ways it can shape us by reading the Introduction to Whole Life, Whole Bible from the Whole Life, Whole Bible book.