The First Judges
Last summer, my family went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, for a vacation. If you’ve ever been there, you know that the area is full of pancake restaurants and tourist traps, both of which my kids love. One rainy afternoon we went to one of those traps that included an indoor mirror maze. We started out pretty well and worked our way through the first room or two with relative ease. But then we got to a room where we kept getting turned around. Again and again. After a while, we bumped into a father and his kids experiencing the same thing as we were. We were all completely turned around, going in circles—literally. We tried to help each other out, but because we were all lost, there wasn’t much we could do for each other.
We eventually found our way out. I sure hope that dad and his kids made it out, too.
Going in circles with no one around to help.
That pretty much sums up Israel in this week’s Bible story, The First Judges. (Judges 3:7-31). The first few verses of this passage sum up Israel’s pattern of sin quite well throughout this period recorded in the book of Judges:
7 The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; they forgot the Lord their God and worshiped the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 The Lord ’s anger burned against Israel, and He sold them to Cushan-rishathaim king of Aram-naharaim, and the Israelites served him eight years. 9 The Israelites cried out to the Lord. So the Lord raised up Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s youngest brother, as a deliverer to save the Israelites. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came on him, and he judged Israel. Othniel went out to battle, and the Lord handed over Cushan-rishathaim king of Aram to him, so that Othniel overpowered him. 11 Then the land was peaceful 40 years, and Othniel son of Kenaz died.
And then in the next verse, we read, “The Israelites again did what was evil in the Lord ’s sight.” And the pattern repeated.
Over and over and over again.
The Book of Judges simultaneously reminds us of man’s deep sinfulness and God’s superabundant grace. Proverbs 26:11 tells us that “as a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.” Clearly that applies to Israel in the Book of Judges. But thankfully for Israel and us, Psalm 145:8 tells us that “the LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and great in faithful love.”
And so in God’s kindness, He provided judges to deliver and lead His people. While some of the judges were impressive in ways—Samson’s physical strength for example—they also had some pretty alarming weaknesses. Gideon was basically a coward. Samson had an enormous ego. But one thing that every single judge had in common was their failure to truly deliver God’s people from their greatest enemy—sin. The judges may have provided temporary relief from a foreign nation, but they could not provide lasting relief from sin.
Every single judge reminds us of one big idea that runs throughout the entire Bible—we need help that transcends any human, no matter how strong or wise he or she may be. We need Jesus. He is the only One who can truly deliver us from the sin that enslaves us.
As you work through the Book of Judges with your kids, use this as a great opportunity to show your kids the fallacy of holding up people in the Bible as models for us to emulate. Use this as a time to share how it is foolish of us to try to emulate Samson’s strength, for example, because in the end all of these human attributes fall woefully short. We don’t need to be stronger like Samson to combat sin. We don’t need to be braver unlike Gideon to combat sin. We need Jesus. We desperately need Jesus. We don’t need to be strong because He is strong for us. We don’t need to be brave because He is brave for us. We rest in Him—in His perfection. And because of that, we live in confident victory over sin. Complete and lasting victory.
That is the main point of the Book of Judges.
How have you shown your kids your ongoing desperate need for Jesus? Leave a comment below.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the April 24, 2016 session (Unit 9, Session 1) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian, his wife, Tara, and their three children—Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb—live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 1-3 graders at City Church.