Judges are the ones who who led Israel after Joshua and Caleb died. Until God raised up the prophet Samuel and King Saul and King David, these judges led Israel for 400 years. We can learn a lot from their mistakes, and their faith.
1. Great Distress
6 After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance.
7 The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel.
8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten.
9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.
11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.
12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger
13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.
14 In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.
15 Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.
Q: How did the people live after Joshua died? [They served God as long as the elders who had been with him were alive. They remembered the great things that God had done during his time (v.7).]
C: Sadly, about 30-40 years after Joshua died, the people grew up and did not follow God (v.10). They followed false Gods (v.11). They forgot God (v.12).
Q: How did God react to their disobedience (v.14)? [God handed them over to their enemies, who punished them.]
Q: How did the people feel? [They were in great distress (v.15).]
C: Sin always ruins our lives. It exposes us to the attacks of Satan. Once you sin a little bit, it opens the door for Satan to come into your life and destroy you. He is like a dirty dog, who looks for an open door to enter a cool house and rest inside. But once he is inside, he ruins the cool house, making a mess everywhere.
Q: Has Satan been knocking at your door? Have you been letting him into your life?
2. The Pattern of Judges.
C: The following verses show us the pattern for the whole book of Judges.
16 Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.
17 Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the Lord's commands.
18 Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.
19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.
There was a clear pattern laid out in these verses: PRIDE, PAIN, PRAYER, POWERFUL LEADER, PEACE.
* PRIDE was the beginning of their troubles. God would give them great leaders, but they would not listen (v.17).
* So then the people would fall into trouble, and suffer great PAIN (v.18).
* This pain and suffering would make them cry out to God and PRAY (v.18, Judges 3:9).
* Then God would raise up a POWERFUL JUDGE judge (v.16),
* who would bring them a time of PEACE (v.18, Judges 3:11).
This is also the pattern of many people's lives. They are proud, and much pain comes in their lives, and so only then do they pray. We need to learn from this pattern. We should not be stupid and rebel against God. Instead, we should be humble, and listen to the leaders that God puts into our lives.
3. God Tests His Children
1 These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan
2 (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience):
3 the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath.
4 They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord's commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses.
5 The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
6 They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.
Q: Verse 1 is amazing. What does it say that God did to his people? [He left evil nations in the promised land to test the Israelites (v.1,4). They were there so that God could see whether or not they would obey his commands.]
C: It is amazing, but sometimes God tests us. You may be facing problems in your life. You wonder, "why is God letting this happen to me?" But God may be testing you, to see whether or not you love him. God allowed Satan to test Job. So let's be sure that we don't fail the tests that God gives us.
C: You may feel that it is not fair that God tests us. But think about school. Why do the teachers test us? They want to prepare us for the future, so that we can survive in this difficult world. In the same way, God's tests are designed to make us strong, so that we can make it to heaven.
4. Go All the Way
12 Once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and because they did this evil the LORD gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel.
13 Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms.
14 The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years.
15 Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer--Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab.
16 Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a foot and a half long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing.
17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man.
18 After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way the men who had carried it.
19 At the idols near Gilgal he himself turned back and said, "I have a secret message for you, O king." The king said, "Quiet!" And all his attendants left him.
C: In this passage, we see the pattern of Judges emerging. The Israelites sinned and were proud (v.12), so God sent them an evil king, Eglon, to give them pain (v.14). Then they prayed (v.15), and God sent them a deliverer (v.15), Ehud.
Q: Why did Ehud go to meet the king Eglon? [To bring him gifts and tribute (v.15).]
What else was he carrying? [A double-edged sword, which he wore underneath his clothes, strapped to his leg.]
What kind of man was Eglon? [Very fat (v.17).]
C: After Eglon received the gift, Ehud told him that he had a secret message. So the king sent out all his men. Look at what Ehud did:
20 Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his summer palace and said, "I have a message from God for you." As the king rose from his seat,
21 Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king's belly.
22 Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it.
23 Then Ehud went out to the porch ; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.
24 After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, "He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the house."
25 They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead.
26 While they waited, Ehud got away. He passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah.
27 When he arrived there, he blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them.
28 "Follow me," he ordered, "for the LORD has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands." So they followed him down and, taking possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab, they allowed no one to cross over.
29 At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not a man escaped.
30 That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.
C: Can you imagine the scene?! Ehud approaches the king, and says, "I have a message from God for you" (v.20). The king must have been very curious. Then Ehud drew out his sword, and plunged it into the king's belly. The king was so fat that the handle sank into his belly (v.22). He then left the king. The king's men did not know what to do. They thought he was going to the toilet (v.24). Probably the king ate a lot and spent a lot of time in the toilet, so the men were used to it! But finally they went in and found him dead (v.25). Meanwhile, Ehud escaped (v.26). He blew a trumpet, and led Israel to victory over Moab (vv.27-30). Then there was PEACE for 80 years (v.30).
C: When Ehud decided to attack Eglon, he did not do it half-way. He plunged the sword in all the way. In the same way, when we study with people, we must go for it. We must really dig into their lives. We must love them enough to get inside their hearts and help them to repent. We must make them into full disciples, not just passengers in a dead church.
We need to pray that the pattern of judges is not going to be the pattern of this family group! Let's not wait for pain and problems before we pray. Let's get committed and fired up right now! And let's go all the way in helping others to change. Let's go all the way for God!