Leadership Lessons from the Book of Judges

The people did as they saw fit in the book of Judges; things aren’t much different today

Leadership Lessons from the Book of JudgesThe book of Judges is a curious one, containing some really questionable content, especially toward the end of the book. The judges it highlights are a colorful bunch, some exhibiting quite dubious behavior. They are a motley collection, and I cringe over some of their attitudes and actions. Yet despite the shortcomings of many, they do lead people to freedom and to a refocus of their attention on God. This cycle of disobedience (rejecting God), oppression (punishment), liberation (rescue), and returning to God (obedience) is a reoccurring theme in the book of Judges.

Another reoccurring theme is the phrase, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit,” (Judges 21:25). In fact, this is the concluding sentence of the book of Judges, a fitting end to a collection of stories, some of which I find quite disconcerting.

Without the godly leadership of a king, the people flounder. (Of course, we will later learn they don’t fair too well under the rule of kings either, most of who will rebel against God and lead their people to follow their errors.)

Today we also lack godly leadership. And without good leaders people pretty much do as they see fit. So, true to our nature, most everyone is doing whatever he or she wants. We see this with the in vogue religion of today, where people make up their own religious beliefs, their own set of rules – or lack thereof. We are so in need of good leaders to guide us.

Yet we are all leaders, be it in society, the political arena, education, at work, in our home, and even of ourselves – we are especially leaders of ourselves. Doing as we see fit can lead us down a wrong path. Instead, we need to let God lead us and then do what he wants.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Judges 19-21, and today’s post is on Judges 21:25.]

Who are the Other Judges?

So far, we have covered seven of the 15 judges mentioned in the book of Judges. They are the more commonly known judges, merely because there is more written about them. That leaves eight remaining judges, for whom very little is known. Often their entire life is summarized in just a couple of verses. They are:

Othneil (Judges 3:7-11) overpowered foreign oppression, resulting in 40 years of peace — until he died. (Trivia: He was Caleb’s nephew.)

Ehud (Judges 3:12-3:30) posed as a peaceful envoy with a private message for the king. The message was thrusting a sword into the king’s fat belly. Ehud then escaped, rallied the troops, and routed the enemy army. Then there was 80 years of peace. (Trivia: he was left-handed.)

Shamgar (Judges 3:31) killed 600 Philistines. (Trivia: he used an oxgoad — “a sharp wooden stick”)

Tola (Judges 10:1-2) led Israel for 23 years; then he died.

Jair (Judges 10:3-5) led Israel for 22 years; then he died. (Trivia: he had 30 sons, who rode 30 donkeys, and controlled 30 towns.)

Ibzan
(Judges 12:8-10) led Israel for seven years; then he died. (Trivia: he intermarried his 60 children to people from other tribes.)

Elon
(Judges 12:11-12) led Israel for ten years; then he died.

Abdon
(Judges 12:13-15) led Israel for eight years; then he died. (Trivia: his 40 sons and 30 grandsons rode 70 donkeys.)

From this, I have two general observations:

1) For many, there is seemingly strange trivial information provided. While it may seem nonsensical to us now, it may have had important meaning back then. If we can ascertain it, additional insight could be gained.

2) More importantly, the recorded impact of these judges was largely limited to their lifetime; no mention is made of them setting up a successor or influencing others to lead after their death.

Contemplation: What are you doing to extend your influence beyond your life?

Abimelech — A Failure

One of Gideon‘s sons was Abimelech. It is arguable if Abimelech should be counted as a judge. If so, he would be classified as a failure, for he violently seized power, did not fight for or liberate his people from foreign powers, but instead fought internally, with much loss of life as a result — including his own.

Abimelech was the son of a concubine (or slave). Interestingly, another judge, Jephthah, was a son of the prostitute. Jephthah, however, unlike Abimelech, was a successful judge, who liberated his people, whereas Abimelech killed — or caused the death — of his people.

Both Abimelech and Jephthah had a less than ideal start in life, but what they did with it was opposite from each other. Jephthah became a hero; Abimelech, a tyrant.

[Judges 9 and 10:6-12:7]

The Victory and Despair of Jephthah

Another judge, who is prominently noted in the book of Judges is Jephthah. Jephthah, the son of a prostitute — which doesn’t say much for his dad — was exiled from his people. However, when they became oppressed by a foreign power, they turned to him, asking for his help.

Eventually he agreed to their petition, doing exactly what they asked.

In his zeal for victory, however, he made an ill-advised vow to God. He promised God that if he were granted success, he would sacrifice the first thing he saw when he returned home. Tragically, it was his daughter — his only child — who first greeted him upon his victorious homecoming.

Distraught over his rash promise, his daughter urged him to do exactly as he had pledged.

It is unclear to me if this was to be a literal sacrifice, as Abram almost did with Isaac, or a figurative sacrifice of giving her over to God’s service, as Samuel’s mother did with him.

Regardless, Jephthah‘s reckless pledge resulted in a painful and regrettable loss for the otherwise victorious Jephthah.

We can learn from Jephthah‘s foolhardy words, guarding carefully what we say and promise.

[Judges 10:6-12:7]

An Unnamed Levite Goes Wild

If judge Deborah is the reluctant hero and Micah is the anti-hero, then the final character listed in the book of Judges might be viewed as a questionable hero. This judge, a Levite whose name is not given, has a dubious set of morals and a morose method of getting attention. Consider:

  • The Levite had a concubine who ran away from him. He waited four months, before looking for her.
  • Upon their trip home, the men of Gibeah, with their unrestrained sexual appetites, desire the Levite. His response is to offer them his concubine as an alternative.
  • After abusing and misusing her all night, she crawls to the house and dies.
  • The Levite then cuts her body up and sends the pieces around the country.

His countrymen, sufficiently riled up, go on a rampage against the men of Gibeah, who are aided by surrounding cities from the tribe of Benjamin. This effective “civil” war results in tens of thousands of people being killed and the tribe of Benjamin being essentially annihilated.

While all the other judges in the book of Judges went after other nations, this quasi judge went after his own people. Yes, evil was confronted, but at a high cost and over an event that could have been avoided.

[Judges 19:1 to 21:48]

Micah: The Anti-Hero

A curious fellow in the book of Judges is Micah (not to be confused with the prophet Micah who lived many centuries later and has a book of the Bible named after him). Micah, with two chapters surrounding him, was not listed as a judge and did not lead the people to overthrow their oppressors. If anything, Micah was an anti-hero or anti-judge, and there is nothing positive in his story:

  • He stole silver from his mom.
  • When he later confessed this to her, she blessed him! Then she told him to keep the silver and make an idol.
  • Micah used the silver to cast an idol and carve an image; he also made a shrine and fabricated an ephod.
  • A wayward Levite happened by and Micah hired him to be his priest. (Although all priests were Levites, most Levites were not priests; this was determined by ancestry. This Levite was likely not meant to be a priest, yet he jumped at the chance, even though — according to the Law of Moses — he was in the wrong place and doing the wrong thing.)
  • Since Micah now had a priest, he concluded that God would bless him, (which doesn’t seem to be the case.)

This is all backstory. Men from the tribe of Dan were looking for some land and come upon a “peaceful and unsuspecting people” — not an oppressing people, which the other Judges fought against, but a peaceful people.

The men from Dan, bent on conquering, stole Micah’s idol, image, and ephod, as well as enticing away his “priest.” They went into battle and won. They then worshiped Micah’s idol for several centuries.

Seemingly, everything Micah did was wrong.

[Judges 17 and 18]

Deborah: A Reluctant Hero

Judge Deborah was a reluctant hero.

Deborah, also a prophetess, received instructions from God to relay to Barak. His mission was to lead a battle against their oppressors. When she shared this with Barak, he balked (as did Moses, Jonah, Gideon, and many others when God called them to a task). Barak didn’t want to go alone and insisted Deborah go with him. Deborah agreed, but predicted that if she did, a woman would receive credit for the victory and not Barak.

Apparently emboldened by her presence, Barak then did as instructed and led the army to victory. There’s no mention of Deborah actually doing anything to ensure victory, except merely going with Barak. Yet, she receives more accolades than Barak

I’m not sure if Barak lacked confidence in himself or in God, but either way, he wavered and didn’t obey God without question. Still, God accomplished his purpose, albeit through Deborah.

It is always easier to serve God with a friend, but sometimes what God asks for is a solo effort.

[Judges 4:1 to 5:31]

Judge Deborah

Deborah is another familiar judge, with two chapters in the book of Judges devoted to her. There are some noteworthy facts about her:

1) She is the only female judge in the entire book. This was very counter-cultural for the day — and very cool!

2) She was the only judge who actually “held court” — which would be consistent with our modern understanding of what a judge does.

3) She was also a prophetess. Although there are many prophets listed in the Bible, there are only seven prophetesses (a female prophet).  They are:

  • Miriam (Moses and Aaron’s sister), Exodus 15:20
  • Deborah, Judges 4:4
  • Huldah, 2 Kings 22:14 and 2 Chronicles 34:22
  • Noadiah (a bad prophetess), Nehemiah 6:14
  • Isaiah’s wife, whose name is not given, Isaiah 8:3
  • Anna, the prophetess in the temple who was waiting for Jesus, Luke 2:36
  • Jezebel, the evil prophetess mentioned in the Revelation 2:20.

Deborah was also a reluctant hero. She didn’t want notoriety, but that is exactly what she received.

Do As I Do

Just before Gideon goes to battle, he tells his men to “watch me,” “follow my lead,” and “do exactly what I do.” His men did and God used their collective actions to throw the enemy into complete confusion. As a result, a great victory was won. Gideon’s actions were worthy of emulation.

From a spiritual perspective, Paul said the same thing. He says what you have seen me do, you should do, too.

Frankly, I’m not sure I would want anyone to do everything I did. Yes, I do believe that I have some worthy qualities, but certainly there are a few areas that are not worthy of emulation, at least not all the time.

You may be familiar with the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Well, Gideon and Paul are bold enough to effectively say, “Do as I do.”

Would you be confident enough in your actions to tell someone to “Do everything you see me doing”?

[Judges 7:17, Philippians 4:9]

Gideon Doubts God

Ultimately, Gideon, the Judge, obeys God and realizes a great victory, but he first needs a lot of confirmation to deal with his doubts:

1) Gideon first asks for a sign that the angel had really spoken God’s words. God acquiesces; when the angel touches his staff to the food Gideon prepared, it miraculously ignites and is burnt up.

2) Gideon questions God’s promise of victory and gives God a test to perform. He places a fleece (a wooly mass) on the ground and asks that only the fleece have dew on it in the morning. God lovingly does what Gideon asks.

3) Gideon second-guesses his first test. He gives God another test, but desires the opposite outcome. God patiently complies and in the morning the ground has dew and the fleece is dry.

4) Although Gideon does not voice any more doubts, they still exist. So God offers a final confirmation. God tells Gideon to sneak up to the enemy camp, where Gideon overhears two soldiers talking about a dream one had about Gideon’s forthcoming victory.

Encouraged, Gideon goes forth with his 300 men — and God’s help — routs 135,000.

It is not wrong to have doubts — and God is generally patient with us when we do — but ultimately we need to obey and do what we are told — even when it doesn’t make sense.

[Judges 6:17&21, Judges 6:36-38, Judges 6:39-40, Judges 7:10&13-14, Judges 8:10-11]