Day 1

Failure of the Tribes

from the Judges reading plan


Judges 1:1-36, Genesis 49:8-12, Psalm 34:17

When I was young, stories were simple. There were good guys and bad guys, and everyone could be divided into one of those two groups. I grew up thinking the key players in the book of Judges were the good guys. You have Gideon putting out the fleece as an act of heroic faith. You have Samson with his unmatched strength pulling down a pagan temple with his own two hands. You have the left-handed Ehud getting the drop on the evil King Eglon.

As an adult, I find myself shifting uncomfortably in my chair as I read back through these stories that once seemed so simple. The book of Judges is complicated. The people I once took as the heroes of the story look less like role models the older I get. In fact, sometimes the people I once assumed were the good guys now seem downright villainous. That’s because they often are.

In Judges, Israel experiences a downward spiral of rebellion and rescue with each new judge. We witness their fall from obedience into desolation. We long for the seed of hope that rises from the books (like Ruth and 1 Samuel) that follow to take root. But this book does not resolve. It just ends with everyone doing whatever seems right to them. It ends with people needing God to intervene—for the righteous to cry out and for the Lord to hear them and rescue them from all their troubles (Psalm 34:17).

It wasn’t supposed to go this way. Before the people of Israel entered the promised land, the Lord warned them not to embrace the religion of the Canaanites: “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not imitate the detestable customs of those nations” (Deuteronomy 18:9).

But the book of Judges shows us that this is exactly what they did. They embraced the Canaanite religion in spite of God’s warning. This rejection of God led to some of the most catastrophic and sad stories in Scripture.

Judges is not a collection of heroic tales. It is a tragedy, in both the literal and literary senses of the word. Judges recounts the true and tragic unraveling of the people of Israel as they chose to abandon God and live like their pagan neighbors. Like Macbeth or The Great Gatsby, Judges is told as a tragedy, where the arc of the story lands with a thud rather than a victory parade.

God is the hero of Scripture, and Judges demonstrates this in a pronounced way. I draw hope from the fact that God works through broken, morally compromised, deeply flawed people to bring about His perfect will. I draw hope because that perfect will is ultimately fulfilled in the finished work of our perfect Savior, Jesus Christ, who is also our righteous Judge. And His story does not end in ruin, but in peace and glory forever.

Written by Russ Ramsey

Post Comments (8)

8 thoughts on "Failure of the Tribes"

  1. Jordan says:

    I feel like a lot of times we look at these Israelites as though they’re idiots, because God tells them to do one thing and they do the completely opposite. God shows himself and his character in provision in the wilderness after Exodus, and yet when trouble arises, they regularly doubt and lose faith in the promise of God. But how backwards is it for us to jump to this conclusion, that they’re just ignorant to the will and character of God when they’re in the wilderness. We look at them and we say, “You’ve literally seen God split the Red Sea, you’ve seen him make manna out of nowhere, you’ve seen him send down the rains, you’ve seen Him cut off your enemies, and still you’re doubting that God is God? Still you’re doubting that his promises are true, that there is a promised land waiting for you?” But then when we reflect on our own lives, we have to notice that we do the exact same thing: God proves himself over and over again, when he doesn’t have to just to show us his character, just to show us his love. God shows us every single day how real he is in the change of the tide for our favor, and in the smile of a child, and in the financial security that couldn’t come from anywhere except heaven and yet when we are faced with odds that are quite surmountable we question how God could be in our favor, we question how this could be working for the good, we lose our faith, we start to question God, we start to put him on the witness stand as if we are the judge and he’s the defendant, and then we look at the Israelites and we say that we’re better than them, we convince ourselves that were smarter, that we have more faith, and that they lack the ability to trust God more than we do. Even think the same thing about the people in Jesus‘s time, we look at the Pharisees and we look at the disciples who turned away from him who ran off from him he couldn’t believe the certain miracles that he was doing or believe he was the Messiah, but we say “If that were me I would’ve known that it was Jesus the whole time, how could he not be the son of God, look at all the miracles he’s doing, look at the people he’s raise from the dead.” But the truth of the matter is that the people were so caught up in what the religious authority was telling them and so caught up in what they could see and what they thought they knew that they refuse to see God for who he was and we do the same thing every day we base our actions off of what we see, we base our thoughts of what we can see- we are the Israelites, we are the Pharisees, we are the disciples, we are the religious establishment. We are the nails through his wrists, through his feet, the lashes on his back, the piercing in his side. He did it because he knew that we couldn’t bare the weight of our own sin. He did it because he knew that we wouldn’t be enough, he did it because he knew that our faith would waiver, that we would doubt him and his provision, but he did it anyway because of love, because he wanted to spend eternity with us. It’s not about who’s the better Christian or who has more faith, it’s about simply believing in Christ our Savior, and knowing that we needed him to be just that, because none of us are ever enough and none of us ever will be.

  2. Garrett says:

    I’m struck with how quickly and easily the tribes compromise their mission. It’s so subtle at first – a pagan king is defeated, humiliated, disfigured – “Yeah! We showed them!” But it’s easy to miss the glaring failure – they brought him back to Jerusalem where he lived out the rest of his days. From there, the tribes slowly but surely fail in their conquest. Sometimes we allow the world’s ideals to shape what we think of as obedience and devotion, when we are actually failing to fully live out the realities of God’s gracious commands.

  3. Kevin says:

    Day 1: Power can WRECK people. It eats them up, causes them to make unrighteous decisions and brings others down with them. I think it’s super neat that at this pit, those who are rooted in the Lord will still cry out to him. When they’re down and out, not having praised God in a minute, we can turn to him and repent. Definitely isn’t an excuse, but when we lose all sense of ourselves and the failures we put ourselves in, the one steady thing we have is God. Always there. Always merciful. #BLESSED ⚒

  4. Caleb White says:

    Though we are called to be righteous, we are not good or bad, one or the other, but instead broken and in need of rescue. We need someone who will do our bidding for us…who will fight for us…a Holy Judge. We have that right now in Jesus. We should no longer ride the ups and downs of the identity of being either good or bad, but look through the lens of the cross. We are beyond good and bad. We are rescued, declared righteous, and adopted as sons and daughters. A child isn’t part of the family or not based on their performance. Instead, as they grow, they are taught how to be a part of it. Sometimes when I get comfortable being in the family of God, I can forget that I didn’t earn my way into it. When I think I worked my way here, I fear I will be kicked out at the slightest offense, or even from not growing fast enough. I am a work in process. I will not get everything right. I will stumble and fall, as all children do. But they learn to walk and they become more sure footed and fall less often. But they still trip and fall. We will arrive in heaven with skinned knees and elbows, but we will have Jesus.

  5. Kyle says:

    This was great

  6. Ben Strode says:

    Time and time again in Judges 1 you see the failure of the tribes, namely by “not driving out the inhabitants” successfully.

    How were they unsuccessful?
    How am I unsuccessful with not properly receiving what God has blessed me with?

    27 …for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land.
    -the enemy is always persisting and refusing to leave

  7. Robby Medina says:

    I feel as if the Lord continues to rescue yet we continually stop driving out those things which don’t belong in our lives. We get excited about the deliverance as Israel did and we start to let the chaff, unnecessary stuff, burn away but at some point decide to allow some things to dwell with us that just don’t belong. We don’t continue to search our land, heart, for those inhabitants that don’t belong. We allow those things that are hidden in the valleys of our hearts and minds to remain there because we think their chariots of iron are too hard to defeat.

    We’re ok with removing the inhabitants from the mountain tops where everyone else can see but we figure it’s ok to keep some things in our lives in the valley. What we forget is that life is not consistently lived out on mountaintops and when we must go into the valley, those inhabitants from the past are still there with their iron chariots in a stronghold. It is usually in our valley where we find an excuse to fall.

    “God is the hero of Scripture, and Judges demonstrates this in a pronounced way. I draw hope from the fact that God works through broken, morally compromised, deeply flawed people to bring about His perfect will. I draw hope because that perfect will is ultimately fulfilled in the finished work of our perfect Savior, Jesus Christ, who is also our righteous Judge. And His story does not end in ruin, but in peace and glory forever.”

  8. Nate widow says:

    “I draw hope from the fact that God works through broken, morally compromised, deeply flawed people to bring about His perfect will.” This was a awesome quote, it gives me hope that God will work through me and all I’m going through. I’m hoping he hears me today and forever.

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