The Gospel of Judges

As a 25 year old rookie pastor in 1976, I started with the conviction that I should preach the whole counsel of God, (Acts 20:27 ESV). Practically, that meant I would preach from all parts of the Bible, not just the sayings of Jesus or specialize in the letters of Paul, or be limited to prophecy, but preach it all, not just my favorites or what seemed easier.

A guideline was to keep somewhat of a balance in time spent between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  So my very first summer of preaching was on Hebrews 11, but developing the Old Testament characters featured there.  I preached from the prophet Jonah on Sunday evenings followed by Amos. I don’t have them all in order, but soon came Philippians, the Gospel of John, the Book of Isaiah, Ephesians, the Sermon on the Mount, some Psalms,1 Corinthians, and so forth. To this day, 37 years later, I am still committed  to sequential exposition of whole books of the Bible, preaching from both Old and New Testaments and from all genres of biblical literature.

But somehow, from my vast experience of two years of preaching, I think I was convicted that I had done very little Old Testament narrative, so I decided in the fall of 1978 to preach from the Book of Judges. What was I thinking? Was I ready to preach of Deborah and Barak and the skull crushing defeat of General Sisera?  How would I explain the terrible ending of the great hero Gideon? And what about Jephthah sacrificing his daughter?  And then the Levite and his concubine? What was a Levite doing with a concubine?  But I plodded through, telling the stories and seeking to make relevant application to 1978.

Until I came to Samson… I read and re-read the account.  I couldn’t find one redeeming thing about this strongest man in the Bible, who could also be accurately called the weakest man in the Bible.  Was there ever such a gifted, blessed life that was so utterly wasted?  So I just skipped Samson, maybe another day, which hasn’t come yet, though this month I’m reading through his life once again.

Where is the Gospel in Judges?  It’s not prominent for sure.  The tag line for the whole book, the very last verse, is not particularly edifying, ‘In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.  Judges 21:25 And most of what they did was despicable.

So, is the Gospel to be found in Judges?

Well, certainly not as clear as in Exodus and Leviticus, but it is there.

Judges is the record of Israel’s failure and defeat, but also the record of God’s grace and determination to save his people.  When Israel abandoned God and felt the sting of defeat, God graciously …raised up judges who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them…

Israel turned away from God, was delivered into the hands of enemy nations, cried out to God for deliverance, were delivered by God, then turned away from God again, continuously cycling for  about 300 years.  Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Izban, Elon, Abdon, Samson….

The Book of Judges illustrates again how determined God is to rescue his people, saving them over and over again, never because they deserved it, even knowing that it wouldn’t last. But God’s grace and patience endures with a most rebellious and sinful people.

But most of all, the Book of Judges teaches us that we need a Savior who is more than a fallible political and military leader to defeat external enemies, only to be defeated again within a generation.  No, we need a perfect Savior who would die on the Cross for our sins to defeat the enemy within, our sinful and rebellious hearts, to transform us internally and give us an eternal hope.


2 thoughts on “The Gospel of Judges

  1. I am not up to the task of finding the Gospel in Judges. However, Dr. Edmund Clowney of Westminister Seminary gave a seminar on the topic that I just completed. His thesis was that the point of Samson’s story, no choirboy to be sure, was to demonstrate the power of God to use one man to save Israel. The gates of a town could not contain Samson, the gates of Hell could not contain Jesus. Samson was turned over to his enemies, bound, by the people just as Jesus was turned over to Pilate, bound, by the people of Israel. Samson died for his own sin and to give his people a victory over their enemies. Samson was willing to die for his own sin. Jesus died willingly for our sin. However, the life of Samson points toward the need of a perfect judge to save God’s people once for all rather than through a series of flawed Judges.

    While the analogies are not one to one, the point is that someone greater than Samson (or Gideon, etc) is needed and that someone is Jesus.

    I don’t know when Dr. Clowney gave the lecture, but his words for Samson ring true today as much as then.


    1. Greg, Excellent analysis. Since 1978, I’ve read the Samson narrative many times and been able to see what I didn’t see then, and concluded that Samson, as awful as he was, as poorly as he models God’s saving work, still serves as an example and illustration of God’s purpose to rescue his people, particularly in his death.


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