International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Judges 10:10-18Lesson Title: Return to Obedience
Since the death of Joshua, the history of Israel recorded in the book of Judges is one of compromise and partial obedience, to outright rejection of God and disregard of His commands. Judges 10:10-18 records a dialogue between the Lord and the children of Israel. The chapter 10 also focuses on the depth of Israel’s sin and resulting judgment and God’s punishment on His people for their faithlessness. The people are shattered, crushed, and oppressed. When they call out to Him acknowledging their sin but not turning from it, God challenges them to rely on the false gods they have chosen. Finally, our merciful God could bear their misery no more.
When reading the Book of Judges, we need to bear in mind the amount of time between events and chapters. Otherwise, when you read verses like “And he judged Israel twenty and three years, and died, and was buried in Shamir” (Judges 10:2), which is referring to judge Tola, and then you read “And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim…” (Judges 10:6), it really sounds like Israel was going from good one day to bad the next. That’s not the case. Israel’s backsliding and rejection of God for the gods of the land took many decades of slowly forgetting God. Sometimes Satan attacks suddenly and we either stand or we quickly fall. But one of Satan’s deadliest weapons is time and forgetfulness. As we think about our spiritual climate in our nation and our churches we need to remember that we didn’t get here overnight. What we are experiencing has come from years of slackness, disregard for God’s Word, and becoming comfortable with the practices of the lost world in which we live. It is time to return to obedience!
The Repentance of God’s People (Judges 10:10)
Judges 10 introduces us to the first two of the five remaining minor judges. Tola and Jair, are presented in Judges just prior to the story of Jephthah (Judges 10:1-5). The other three minor judges, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon, follow Jephthah (Judges 12:8-15). The Bible doesn’t give much information or detail about these five minor judges but it does say that all five were “judges.” While none of the five gave an effective deliverance for Israel, it seems that sin was becoming more and more rampant, and God saw the need for this extra measure of judges to help slow down this spiritual decline.
“These relatively peaceful judgeships were followed by a Philistine-Ammonite oppression that lasted for eighteen years. The Philistines invaded the Israelite territory on the west of the Jordan, while the Ammonites overran the Israelite territory in Transjordan. By this period the Ammonites and Moabites had apparently organized themselves into a kingdom in an attempt to defend themselves and from which to launch a more successful invasion of Israel. The immediate cause of this oppression was the idolatry of the Israelites” (Liberty Bible Commentary, Volume 1, page 484, par.4).
The degree of repentance expressed by the Israelites on this occasion is significant. On so many other occasions the Israelites would try to “hustle” God into handing out forgiveness. But this time it seems the degree of repentance is greater. However, their words do not guarantee that their repentance is genuine. This time God calls their bluff!
“And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD…” is a phrase already mentioned six times in Judges (Judges 3:9,15; 4:3; 6:6,7; 10:10). The crying out of the people unto the Lord is a result of the eighteen years of enemy oppressions (Judges 10:8). God knew exactly which nations to use to oppress the Israelites depending upon the depth of their sin and rebellion. The “children of Ammon” (Judges 10:7) or, the Ammonites were descendants from Ammon, who was a half-brother to Moab. Moab had been born from an incestuous relation of an older daughter with her father, Lot, and Ammon had been born in similar manner by a younger daughter (Genesis 19:33-38). The Ammonites were a people who moved from place to place making their livelihood from the desert. The “Philistines” (Judges 10:7) were mainly used by the Lord in the last half of the period of the judges. The “Philistines” were a different kind of enemy for Israel. They were better organized, had materials available to make weapons, and without question made life more difficult for Israel than any other oppressing nation. Their descendants were still around when the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus in Titus 1:1-5. The people living on the island of “Crete” were descendants of the Old Testament Philistines.
“We have sinned against thee, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim.” By mentioning “forsaking God” and “serving Baalim” the Israelites repentance and confession to the Lord consists of two stages which go farther than their previous words of repentance. First, they repented of “forsaking God.” “Forsaken” means “they left.” They just walked away from the Lord. Second, they repented of “serving Baalim.” “Baalim” is a general term used to denote all the false gods, as in Judges 2:11. Israel had just walked away from the Lord and served any god they felt like serving. Israel no longer valued Jehovah God above any other God. There is a frightening similarity to the actions of God’s people today.
The Response of God to His People (Judges 10:11-14)
The implication in these verses from God to Israel is that little reason existed for God to deliver the people again. After all God had done for them in the past and their shallow words of repentance, it seemed as if nothing had changed. That might be part of the reason Israel went somewhat deeper in their repentance and confession in verse 10. They might have used two stages of repentance to convince God they were more serious this time. Whether or not they were only God knows!
Whether by angel, prophet, or special messenger, God sends this stunning verbal response to the nation. “Did not I deliver you from the Egyptians, and from the Amorites, from the children of Ammon, and from the Philistines? The Zidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, did oppress you; and ye cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand.” God’s deliverance of Israel from the “Egyptians” is recorded in Exodus 1-14. From the “Amorites” in Numbers 21:3. From the “children of Ammon” who oppressed Israel along with the Moabites in the time of the judge Ehud in Judges 3:12. From the “Philistines” through judge Shamgar in Judges 3:31. From the “Zidonians” under Jabin, the “Amalekites who attacked Israel at Mount Horeb (Exodus 17:8) and from the Maonites” or, the Midianites in Judges 6-7.
In spite of all God had done for Israel, the Lord said, “Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more.” Israel may not understand the severity of their sins, but God does! Sin is no big deal with most people today. In fact, sin is talked about and discussed as common as the weather. The Apostle John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The word “confess” in that verse means “say the same thing about it that God says.” Very little of that taking place in Israel and even less taking place today!
“I will deliver you no more” does not mean that God wanted His people to become permanent pagans. However, the words send a strong message to the people. God is tired of quick admission of guilt that wasn’t accompanied by acts of true repentance. His words are designed to awaken them to true repentance. He wants them to think about the ramifications involved if God never delivered them again.
“Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.” “Tribulation” means “distress, trouble.” The implication of these words from God is to the effect that a god who cannot deliver you is not worth your worship. It reminds us of the words of the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel, “And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God” (1 Kings 18:24). None of the gods of Canaan could deliver and none of the gods of our world can deliver. It’s the same scenario Israel had when they made the golden calf. They created a god they could carry but no longer had God to carry them (Exodus 32).
Has the god of pleasure ever delivered America during times of war, hardships and difficulty? Has the god of materialism ever come to the rescue for your family? Has the god of sexual pleasure ever delivered a homosexual or lesbian from aids? Has the god of secular education ever helped a man think his way out of sickness or sin? Those who choose to worship money, fame, popularity, and pleasure have no deliverance in time of “tribulation.”
The Response and Deeper Repentance of God’s People (Judges 10:15-18)
The people’s words of repentance in verse 10 were turned into action in verses 15-16. “And the children of Israel said unto the LORD, We have sinned: do thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto thee; deliver us only, we pray thee, this day.” By stating “we have sinned” and “do thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto thee” the children of Israel were placing themselves at the mercy of God. They admit they deserve whatever God sends as punishment. They are submitting themselves to God on unconditional terms. There are so many people today who want to bargain with God and set the terms for a relationship with God. For instance, people say, “Lord, I’ll give my tithe and offering if you will bless me.” Actually, the Lord commands us to give whether or not He chooses to bless us. Another example, “Lord, I’ll serve you if you will promise to keep me healthy.” God sets the terms and conditions for our relationship with Him, not us.
“Deliver us only, we pray thee, this day” is in direct response to God having said in verse 13, “I will deliver you no more.” The Hebrew phrase, “we pray thee” would be equivalent today to saying, “Please.” While they admit they deserve whatever punishment God sends they also pray for God in His mercy not to give them what they deserve. As Israel did in this situation, we must submit to God’s justice with a hope in His mercy.
They backed up their words by the action of “putting away the strange gods from among them, and served the LORD.” They brought forth fruits worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8). Israel had been given opportunity after opportunity to truly repent throughout the book of Judges and they had failed. Here, the degree of repentance while not perfect is greater than ever in this sad period of Israelite history.
“And his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel” conveys the thought that God was pleased with the degree of repentance thus shown and therefore brought about deliverance through the next judge, Jephthah (Judges 11:1-12:7). God’s mercy and compassion is far beyond that of man. How many times will God forgive? How much mercy will He show? While we should never presume upon God’s mercy we must be thankful for the many times He has been merciful to us when we were less than genuine about our repentance.
“Things are now working towards their deliverance from the Ammonites' oppression. God had said, ‘I will deliver you no more’ (Judges 10:13), but now they are not what they were, they are other men, they are new men, and now he will deliver them. That threatening was denounced to convince and humble them, and, now that it had taken its desired effect, it is revoked in order to their deliverance. The Ammonites are hardened to their own ruin. They ‘gathered together’ in one body, that they might be destroyed at one blow” (from Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, PC Study Bible Formatted Electronic Database Copyright © 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All Rights reserved.) In response to God’s power to line things up for Israel’s defeat of the enemy, “the children of Israel assembled themselves together, and encamped at Mizpeh.” “Mizpeh” means “watchtower” and means that the children of Israel met at a place where they were united and able to see ahead. In other words, they are thinking right which comes from the degree of genuine repentance they had experienced.
“What man is he that will began to fight against the children of Ammon?” “In the case of Gideon, he first was designated as the leader, then he collected an army. In the case before us, the reverse is true. An army first is gathered, but it is leaderless. The people and elders of Gilead apparently realize their need for someone with military experience. To attract such an individual, they promised this person a high position among them” (Nickelson, R.L. The KJV Standard lesson commentary, 2010-2011, (413). Cincinnati. OH: Standard Publishing, 2010).
Another evidence of a more genuine repentance than in previous oppressions is the desire of the “princes of Gilead” or, leaders in Israel to find a competent and qualified man to lead them against their enemies. “God, who had accepted their sincere repentance, raised them up an able captain in the person of Jephthah; and in him the suffrages of the people were concentrated, as we shall see in chapters 11-12. In those ancient times much depended on the onset; a war was generally terminated in one battle, the first impression was therefore of great consequence, and it required a person skilful, valorous, and strong, to head the attack. Jephthah was a person in whom all these qualifications appear to have met. When God purposes to deliver, he, in the course of his providence, will find out, employ, and direct the proper means.” (from Adam Clarke's Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1996, 2003, 2005, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)
The pivotal point in this week’s lesson is verse 16. The turning point is the mercy of the Lord. Those who say that the Old Testament in general, and Judges in particular, depicts an angry god of judgment miss this critical point. God is holy and does allow His people to experience the consequences of their sin. But the critical moments are those when we receive His mercy, His overwhelming love for His people. There will never be a return to obedience without the mercy of God upon our disobedience.
You and I are a long way from the days of the judges. Nevertheless, we too forget about God and often turn to other sources for our help. If you have realized that to be true in your life today, get alone with God and through the aid of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit of God, seek for forgiveness and restoration through genuine repentance. And don’t forget to praise Him for His love and mercy as you ask for forgiveness.
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