The Bible in a Year, Week 9: Judges, Ruth
This is the ninth weekly reading in the plan for reading your Bible in one year. The assignment for this week is the book of Judges and the book of Ruth. It should only take about 10 minutes a day, or about three chapters a day to complete the assignment.
Here are some comments to help you grow in knowledge and faith as you read Judges and Ruth:
Judges Background: The name for the book comes from the title given to the leaders of Israel in the book. The judges were not men that sat in a courtroom with long black robes. The judges were more like military generals who also functioned leaders of the people. This was an intermediary period from the death of Joshua to the time of Samuel when, as the book often states, “Israel had no king.” A theme for the book can be taken from the very last verse which tells us that in those days Everyone Did As He Saw Fit. This was a time period when sin ran rampant, and the graphic and gory details of Judges highlights that. Over and over again we see a tragic pattern: Rebellion, Repression, Repentance, Rescue. In other words, the people would sin, a nation would conquer them, they would turn from their sin, a judge would deliver them. Perhaps a better theme for the book might be: The Lord Delivers His People as we read time and again about the Lord mercifully rescuing his people.
Judges 1-2: These chapters are introductory and set the background for the stories to follow. The people of Israel failed to obey the Lord’s instructions when conquering the land of Canaan. They did not completely drive out and destroy the people of the land. Thus, they intermarried, mixed cultures, and mixed religions. The Israelites slid down a slippery slope with these heathen religions-they tolerated, then they incorporated, then they switched over. We Christians can use this as a warning about the world we live in. All sins and temptations will wear away at our conscience and our faith if we do not remove ourselves from those sins. First comes tolerance, then dabbling, then finally all-out sinning. Christian beware!Judges 3-5: After hearing about God’s deliverance through Othniel, Caleb’s younger brother (one of the 12 spies), we hear more details about a judge named Ehud. Because of their sin, the Israelites were oppressed by king Eglon and the Moabites. Ehud went to “deliver a message” to the obese king Eglon. He strapped a dagger to his right leg because they would have frisked they other leg expecting a right-handed man to have a weapon on his left leg. Coercing the attendants to leave, Ehud delivered his “message” from the Lord. He stabbed him in the stomach! Eglon was so large that the knife sank right into his blubber! Thus Ehud helped deliver the Israelites from Moab.
Next we briefly hear about Shamgar who amazingly killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad. A goad was used to prick and poke an animal to force it into labor. We’re not sure how he used it to attack, but needless to say, it was an impressive feat.
Chapters four and five reveal two unlikely candidates for heroes in Israel. The unexpected part is that Deborah and Jael were both women! Barak did not want to go into battle by himself against the impressive forces of the enemies led by Sisera. He insisted that the prophetess Deborah go with. She indeed prophesied victory by the hand of a woman (not her, Jael).
We read in chapter five that the Lord provided victory over Sisera’s daunting army of 900 iron chariots by means of a flash flood. Later, it was Jael who delivered the final blow to the army by driving a tent peg through the temple of the enemy general Sisera. In thanks to the Lord for these victories and the newfound peace in the land, Deborah sings a song to the Lord in chapter five.
Judges 6-8: In the following chapters we meet a very important judge named Gideon. The Lord himself calls Gideon to be leader and deliver the Israelites from the Midianites and Amelekites. It says in 6:11 that the angel of the Lord came to Gideon. However, as 6:14 reveals, this was actually the Lord speaking with Gideon. The Lord gives Gideon signs that he is to be leader, but also gives him a difficult first task–tearing down his family’s altar to Baal and Asherah pole. Here we find out a great weakness of Gideon’s family that will come back later-idolatry.
In chapter seven the Lord gives a memorable victory to Gideon. He whittled his army of 30,000 down to only 300! In the process, we could see that the Lord was also removing those soldiers who were either afraid or unprepared (drinking water like an animal instead of ready and at attention). God struck fear into the hearts of the enemies as the army of 300 shattered their jars and blew their trumpets and charged into the camp. God was clearly showing that he was responsible for the victory, handing over these powerful enemies to only 300 soldiers!
After this great triumph and victory from the Lord, we see Gideon’s sinful side in chapter eight. At the beginning of the chapter we see what a violent and vengeful man he had become. At the end of the chapter we see that idolatry had not left Gideon’s family.
We might wonder why such stories are even in the Bible. Why such gory detail? Why show the ugly side of this Biblical heroes? But as we learn more about these people, we learn more about ourselves. For we are just like they. We may have our triumphs and victories. We may have our moments of strong faith. But we are also sinners. We also slip into all sorts of pet sins and bad habits. Thus, we can relate to the great (and not so great) people of the Bible, all the while noting God’s incredible mercy and grace to them. Indeed, God has shown us the same rich measures of mercy and grace to give even sinners like us forgiveness through Jesus!
Judges 9-12: One could say that Judges 9 is the epitome of Israel at this time of history. The story of Gideon’s son Abimelech is a gruesome one. This son of Gideon’s concubine murders 70 of his brothers in order to become king. One, Jotham, escapes and prophesies Abimelech’s downfall. Sure enough, Abimelech proves to be a tyrannous ruler and chaos ensues. Zebul, the governor of the city, provokes Abimelech to war against Gaal, the leader of the opposition. In the fight that follows, a woman drops a millstone on Abimelech’s head and cracks his skull. Finally, he asks his armor-bearer to run him through and finish him off. This story is certainly one to show the depths of sin to which people can sink. On the other hand, it shows God’s incredible mercy and kindness to spare his people.
In chapters 10-12 we read about a man named Jephthah. Jephthah’s story is much like that of Samson. Jephthah rises to power as judge and defeats the Ammonites (descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew). But in foolish celebration he vows to sacrifice whatever comes out of his house to meet him. Thus, Jephthah sacrifices his own daughter! But God again shows grace, mercy, and forgiveness! Jephthah is actually counted as one of the “heroes of faith” in Hebrews 11:32-34.
Judges 13-16: The next judge is one of the more famous persons of the Bible-Samson. Samson was a Nazirite which means that he was not to drink alcohol or have a razor touch his head (cf. Number 6:1-8). Throughout his life we see three downfalls of Samson–his ego, his rage, and women.
In chapter 14 we see all three problems right away. First Samson desires to marry a Philistine woman which was both against the law and unwise. Next we see his ego as he tells a riddle about his amazing feat of ripping apart a lion with his bare hands. But he caves in and shares the answer with his wife. Following this trickery he pays back his debt in rage by killing 30 Philistines and taking their belongings.
In chapter 15 we see his strength come through his rage once more as he ties 300 hundred foxes together in pairs with torches in their tails and lets them run wild in Philistine fields. The Philistines murdered his wife and father-in-law in turn which enraged Samson so much that he struck down 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey!
Delilah was the next pitfall for Samson. By her nagging she coaxes Samson into sharing the “secret” of his strength. When he finally confesses that his hair was not to be cut, the Philistines came and cut his hair and were able to tie him up. But it was not the hair that was the source of his strength. It was the Lord. However, because of Samson’s disobedience and breaking of the Nazirite vow, the Lord took his strength away.
Finally, the Lord did use Samson one final time. Praying for strength to defeat his enemies, Samson pushed down to pillars in the temple to Dagon and managed to kill more Philistines in that day than in his entire life.
Samson certainly serves as a good lesson for us about who and what can be vices in our lives. He’s an example of what chaos can ensue when one does not follow the ways of the Lord. Finally, he’s a good example of what the Lord is able to accomplish through a person when he is working through that individual.
Judges 17-21: In these chapters we read about two incidents that are very typical of this time period. First we read about a man named Micah. Micah steals silver from his mother but returns it when he hears her speak a curse about it. That silver is then used to make household idols. Idolatry is a big problem for that household as Micah then hires a rogue Levite to be the priest of his house. In the end Micah gets what he deserves though when the Danites steal his priest.
In the concluding chapters we read about a Levite who pursues his unfaithful concubine (go figure!) and asks her to return with him. When she does, the men of the city of Gibeah ask to have their way with her in the same fashion as the Sodomites did in Genesis 19. The Levite then takes the body home, cuts it into 12 pieces, and sends a piece to each tribe in Israel! Following that, the Israelites attack the Benjamites, their kinsmen.
Again, this book shows the depth of depravity and sin in Israel from the time of Joshua to the time of Samuel. On the other hand, this book shows God’s rich grace and mercy as he spares these sinful people and preserves the line of the promised Savior. Reading Judges, we take comfort knowing that God has compassion and mercy on sinners such as we are, too!
Ruth: This short book of the Bible is a wonderful one that highlights several key points. First, we see that salvation is for all people of the world as Ruth was from Moab and not an Israelite. Yet she was even included by the Lord in the line of the Savior as she became a grandmother several generations ahead of King David. As we hear about Ruth and Boaz’s lineage, this book also reminds us then that God indeed was continuing his promise to send a Savior. This book fills in some of those details.
Another important concept in the book of Ruth is that of a kinsman redeemer. The kinsman redeemer was a blood relative who was to buy back a forfeited inheritance. This kinsman redeemer is a picture of Jesus to come who bought everyone back from sin and death with his holy precious blood.
Finally, Ruth serves as a wonderful example of a God-fearing woman who humbly and devoutly serves her family and the Lord.
Next week’s readings (starting 3/7/10): Psalms 1-50.
To view or download and print the One Year Bible Reading Schedule, click here.