The Background to the Book of Judges
A few years ago, I had the opportunity of teaching through the book of Judges. The book is a bit foreign to us in the 21st century; but even so, it remains God’s Word and I believe there are many excellent truths we can glean from it.
Judges is a dark book. It represents 350 years during the history of Israel when the people wallowed in sin, wickedness, and apostasy.
Israel disobeyed God’s covenant: Judges 2:1-2 – “Now the angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done?”
Moral and religious failure spread throughout the nation, and the people turned from following YHWH: Judges 2:11,12 – “Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger.”
The people embraced spiritual compromise and as a result, they turned themselves over to spiritual apostasy: Judges 3:5-7 – “And the sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. And the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God, and served the Baals and the Asheroth.”
Judges, then, provides us many truths to consider:
– It provides us a picture of how religious and moral compromise can overtake God’s people.
– It is a warning for vigilance against that moral and religious compromise.
– And it is a call to complete commitment to God’s kingship and Christ’s lordship (Judges 21:25)
Judges also sets up the reason why Israel needed a king, a national leader that would unify and bring governance among the people in the ways of YHWH. A leader who would keep the people faithfully committed to the covenant.
Before I get into the book, it would be helpful to know how this situation came to be. What is the background to Israel compromising with pagan nations and their slide into spiritual apostasy? Also, who are these people that Israel was to conquer yet instead compromised with their religious practice? So let me briefly identify the land and the people called “Canaan.”
Canaan was the territory along the Phoenician Coast. The Egyptians called all of western Syria by the name, Canaan. Coming to the Bible, when we turn to the Table of Nations in Genesis 10:6, we discover that Canaan was the 4th son of Ham, the son of Noah.
Canaan’s brothers were Cush, Put, and Mizraim and each one of them are identified with areas in the ancient world where their descendents settled. For instance, Cush is known as Ethiopia and Mizraim is identified with Egypt. Canaan, then, begot the families that produced many of the nations that came into contact with Israel when they entered the land after the Exodus.
Those nations occupied the land God specifically told Israel to wipe out. Deuteronomy 20:16-18 states,
16 “Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes.
17 “But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you,
18 in order that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.
God placed all of those people groups “under the ban,” as it was known, which means they were to be “utterly destroyed.” The reason being is because they were all connected to a unique situation found in Genesis 9.
It involved a sin committed by one of Noah’s sons that is recorded in Genesis 9:18 ff. Though it appears trivial on the surface, digging deeper, serious wickedness is exposed.
After the flood, Noah, his wife, and their three sons and their wives, make it through to a brand new world. Yet, even though it was a “brand new world” sin also came with them. Noah, it is said, planted a vineyard, made wine, and eventually got drunk. During his stupor, he stripped himself naked and passed out, laying in his tent in a humiliating fashion, exposed for everyone to see. Ham sees him, and the text says he went out to tell his brothers with delight. To basically mock and ridicule their father.
By the way, it is important to note also that there is no indication of Ham physically touching his father. Some suggest that Ham performed an act of homosexual sodomy against Noah while he was in his unconscious, naked state, but that is pure, unsupported conjecture.
The sin Ham committed against his father was really when he went out to tell his brothers. Henry Morris writes in his commentary on Genesis that Ham’s actions (telling his brothers) revealed rebellion against his father’s authority, “plus resentment against the entire moral standard that had been taught and enforced by Noah in his family.” “Fundamentally,” writes Morris, “his act revealed an attitude of resentment against God Himself.” [The Genesis Record, 235]
Noah eventually discovers what happened. You will note how Moses, when he records this shameful event, how Ham is the father of Canaan (9:18,20). That is an important connection, because Noah levels a curse against Canaan. Notice it is not against Ham, but his son Canaan.
Yet, why not against Ham’s other sons? It is uncertain, but perhaps they were God-fearing whereas Canaan was not. He could have expressed the same rebellious disrespect that Ham did; hence, Noah in his curse is speaking prophetically.
Moving through the record of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch, we see how the descendants of Canaan become the mortal enemies of God’s people. They were notorious, wicked sinners, profaning the God of heaven and persecuting Israel. Sodom and Gomorrah were the first real indicators of the depths of depravity found in the land of Canaan.
So we can begin to see why God placed them all under the ban and why they were given over to be utterly destroyed. That is what I will take up the next time.