After the occupation of the Promised Land, Israel existed as a very loose confederation of tribes. Her scandalous disunity is one of the themes of the book of Judges. Reading that story, no one can doubt that these were the darkest days of Israel’s history.
Throughout Judges, a specific cycle of events repeats itself twelve times:
1) God causes Israel to prosper.
2) Israel, in her prosperity, turns from God to find acceptance from the pagan people around her. Interestingly, God had warned her about this: “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God . . . otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God . . . You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today” (Deuteronomy 8:11-19). Not much has changed along this line since the days of the Judges.
3) God, punishing Israel for her unfaithfulness to Him, causes her to be oppressed so that she will return to God.
4) Israel does repent and turn to God.
5) God raises up a Judge – a leader – who delivers Israel and restores peace.
Judges may be outlined as follows:
I) Introduction to the times – chapters 1-2
II) The oppressions of God’s people – chapters 3-16
III) Social collapse and the call for leadership – chapters 17-21
Note the last section in this outline. The writer’s ultimate point is the need for leadership among the people of God, and it must be righteous leadership. Four times in the last section, the writer points out that there was no King in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes. God had always wanted to be Israel’s king, but she would not submit to Him and her success became checkered at best.
It wasn’t just a lack of leadership. It was also Israel’s tendency to assimilate with the people of the world. She wanted to be accepted by the people around her, and she often sacrificed God’s holiness for the world’s approval. The message of Judges for us is that our leaders in the Church must be people dedicated to God, and we must stick together and follow them.