Go round the group with each person saying one ‘everyday’ thing they believe to be true and how this is shown by what they do. For example, ‘I believe the Royal Mail will deliver my parcel, so I will take it to the Post Office’ or ‘I believe that exercise is good for me, so I walk to work… sometimes.’
- Judges 1:1-2:5 (if short of time just read Judges 1:1-8 and 27-34)
- Deuteronomy 7:1-6
- Hebrew 5:7-9
- James 2:14-20
Key Verse: ‘The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots.’ (1:19)
Focus: Faith is of great importance to God, and our faith is shown by our actions.
Opening Our Eyes
The book of Judges opens on the brink of war – a fitting start as the Israelites spend most of this book in conflicts of one kind or another. They were about to go up against the Canaanites, the current inhabitants of the promised land, and so they asked the Lord which tribe should go to battle first. He replied, ‘“Judah is to go; I have given the land into their hands”’ (1:2).
So with this promise to spur them on, Judah went to war, and at first things went well. They defeated the cities of Bezek and Jerusalem, the hill country and the Negev (the southern area of the land). City after city fell before them, and they destroyed one settlement so completely that they renamed it ‘Hormah’, a term which implied total destruction!
Sadly, in verse 19, the wave of victories come to an end. This verse begins by reminding us that these triumphs were God-given – ‘The LORD was with the men of Judah’ – but then comes the defeat: ‘They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots.’ The Lord had $promised$ to give the Canaanites into their hands, but when they were faced with this superior military machine Judah’s faith failed, and they advanced no further.
From this point on, it went downhill for the Israelites. ‘The Benjamites … failed to dislodge the Jebusites’ (v.21). ‘Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan’ (v.27) and a number of other settlements. ‘Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer’ (v.29). ‘Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites’ (v.30). ‘Nor did Asher drive out those living in Acco’ (v.31) and six other cities. ‘Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh’ (v.33).
Worst of all was the tribe of Dan who, far from driving out the Amorites, were instead forced by them to live in the hills! Chapter 1 then ends with a description of the land held by these Amorites, and the phrasing used by the narrator is a clear mockery of the tribal allotments given in Joshua (Eg Josh. 15).
Can you imagine it? Here was this vast expanse of land that had been promised them by God, and yet the Israelites had to squeeze themselves in among the Canaanites in only a fraction of it. It is a sad record of the failure of the Israelites to take their tribal allotments. And yet, this was the promised land, the land which God said He would give them. Surely, then, the fault did not lie entirely with Israel. Was God not able to deliver on His promise? Had He failed them?
The message from the angel of the Lord in chapter 2 clears up any confusion over this matter. Yes, God had promised to give them the land, but the Israelites had disobeyed Him. They had compromised, they had failed to destroy their enemies and they had demonstrated a lack of faith in God’s promise. This was why they failed to receive what was promised.
Instead, in verse 3, the angel lays the foundation for the downward spiral that makes up the rest of this book: ‘Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’
1. When you read the excuses for the Israelites not taking the land (Judg. 1:19,27,34), how reasonable do you consider them to be?
2. God had commanded the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7:2 to destroy the inhabitants without mercy. Read the short asides in Judges 1:5-7 and 23-26. How do these stories line up with God’s command?
3. R.T. Kendall defined faith as ‘believing God’, and James 2:17 tells us that, ‘faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead’. Can you think of examples either in the Bible or in your own life where believing God is shown through people’s actions?
4. God could have driven out the Canaanites in an instant, yet He wanted the Israelites to act in faith. Why do you think faith is so important to God?
5. The Israelites failed to take the land because they did not believe God’s promise that He would drive out the inhabitants. Why do you think their faith failed them?
6. Consider some of the great promises from God, such as John 3:16, Romans 8:28, 1 John 1:9 and Revelation 22:12. Does your faith in these promises affect the way you live and if so, how?
7. The result of the Israelites’ faithless disobedience was that they lost the promise from God to drive out the Canaanites. Do you think Christians can ever miss out on God’s promises in such a way?
The taking of the promised land is often seen as a picture of the believer’s progress to maturity in Christ, as sin is driven out and God’s rule spreads to all areas of our lives. Like the Israelites, God has given us many promises, such as: ‘His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness’ ( 2 Pet. 1:3); and ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion’ (Phil. 1:6).
Though God could make us perfect the instant we believe, He wants us to work together with Him, believing in His promises and so seeing them fulfilled. As we begin our voyage through Judges, we need to consider this choice. Will we believe God and work together with Him, or will we be like the Israelites whose faith failed them in the face of opposition and hardship?
Seeing Jesus in the Scriptures
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus ‘learned obedience’ (5:8), remaining faithful to God’s will despite being subject to human frailty.
Jesus is our great example of faithful obedience, because He looked to God for guidance at every moment. Every miracle performed, every word spoken, every step taken was done in faith. If we are ever uncertain about the value of faith, we need only look to Jesus. He demonstrated absolute faith in God, and the result of His faithful obedience is that we can be forgiven for our faithless disobedience, becoming children of God, with the hope that one day we will take our heavenly promised land!