Study Guide

Israel and the Lord in Book of Judges

Israel and the Lord

What's with these two? Fight, fight, fight; break up; make up; fight some more… They're that couple. Judges is sort of like the most violent, depressing rom-com ever. It's a 500-mile road trip with the soundtrack of apostasy, captivity, repentance, deliverance, and prosperity on repeat. "Then the Israelites […] abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them […] and they provoked the Lord to anger […] and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them [...]. Then the Lord raised up judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them […] for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they would relapse […], following other gods" (2:11-19). It would get annoying, if it weren't for the fact that all the good stuff comes during the transitions in this cycle.

C'mon, admit it: A book about how righteous Israel always is would be boring! Who wants to see some goody-goody nation enjoying peace and prosperity under the rule of a benevolent God and his envoys? We crave conflict, and Israel and God deliver. On the micro level, we get to watch husbands, wives, fathers, daughters, brothers, and paramours betray each other in countless cruel ways. Then we zoom out, and realize that Israel is doing the same thing, figuratively, to God. "And the Lord said to the Israelites, 'Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites oppressed you; and you cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand. Yet you have abandoned me and worshipped other gods'" (10:11-13). Oh snap.

Israel and God's lovers quarrel sets the stage for the really engaging, exciting, disturbing details of Judges, but those details in turn bounce the reader right back to the epic, eternal story of God's love for his people. God definitely allows a prodigious number of horrific atrocities in the short space of 21 chapters, but there's no denying that he never really gives up on the philandering Israelites either. Even as they cozy up with other gods, he's waiting—sometimes petulantly, but eagerly nonetheless—for Israel to come back. For all their infidelity, God just "[can't] bear to see Israel suffer" (10:16).

Now, don't get us wrong: God's not exactly universally benevolent in Judges. Just ask the Philistines. Or the Midianites. Or the Ammonites. Or basically anyone but Israel. God doesn't just hand out his power and his help willy-nilly; you gotta worship him first! Israel knows this better than anyone, since they get to see both sides of his personality. He is a jealous God, and it's basically his way or the highway. That doesn't seem entirely fair, especially if you're Baal, or Dagon, or Ashtoreth.

But what are you gonna do? He's the boss, after all. He created Israel, as well as life, the universe, and everything, and after reading Judges and seeing what happens when Israel disobeys him, it's no wonder that so many judges and prophets that come afterward try desperately to convince their people to just shut up and do what God says, before he gets upset.