LESSON 49 – Intro to Judges, The First Three Judges – Judges 1-3

NOTE:  In Joshua 23 and 24 Joshua says farewell to his people.  Twenty-five years have passed and the land has been divided between the tribes (see map from the last lesson).  He reminds the people of God’s provision and kindness to them, but he also warns them about the people left in the land. They had not completed God’s command to eradicate all the heathen people in their lands. There were still areas left where Canaanites lived and worshipped idols.  Joshua in his last words to the people tells them to choose to worship God alone and leave the idols of the Canaanites alone.

The Problem of Judges- Judges records “the dark ages” of Israel’s history.  It spans 325 years and describes seven rebellions and seven rescues by various judges that God provides. After Joshua’s death no strong leader is found in Israel. Instead, as it says three times in Judges, “In those days there was no king inIsrael, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (17:26, 19:1, 21:25).  There are seven “sin cycles” in Judges.  The people would start sinning by worshipping the gods of the Canaanites, then God would deliver them over to their enemies.  After a while they would repent and ask God to deliver them.  God would respond by sending them a judge to save them, but after a few years the process would start all over again. Judges 2:6-19 gives an excellent summary of this cycle. Here is a chart that shows the “Sin Cycle” of the book of Judges.

Judges Sin Cycle


    • Joshua 1:1-2.
      • Read Joshua 1:28. What is the problem here? (Israel was commanded by God to completely wipe out the wicked people living there. They didn’t.  A compromise was to make them slaves instead.  The religion of these peoples will be an ongoing temptation to Israel for hundreds of years.)
      • Read Joshua 2:1-4. What was God’s response to their failure to do what God had asked? (Because of their disobedience, He will not drive these people out of the land. They will be thorn to them and a snare.) How did the people respond? (They cried and offered sacrifices.) Verses 6-9 of chapter 2 review the death and burial of Joshua.
      • What does 2:10-13 say about the next generation of Israelites? (They didn’t know the Lord or what He had done for them. They followed the gods of the Canaanites – they turned their backs on God and God became angry with them.) Joshua 2:14-23 is a good overview of what happens seven times in the book.  What happened after they would be conquered? (vs. 16 – God would raise up a judge to help them defeat their captors.)
      • What would happen after their deliverance by the judge? (vs. 16-19. They wouldn’t listen to him, but go right back to worshipping idols again. So after the judge died, they would once again be conquered by their enemies.)
      • Why did the Lord allow this?  (vs. 22. To test the Israelites and drive them back to Him.)
    • Joshua 3.  The first three judges:
      1. Othniel: 3:7-11.  Why does God allow the king of Mesopotamia to overthrow Israel? (They were serving other gods.) How long are they slaves before they ask for help? (8 years) Whom does God raise up to help? (Othniel, Caleb’s nephew) How long was it before they went back to sinning against God again? (40 years – right after Othniel’s death)
      2. Ehud: 3:12-28. Who conquered Israel this time?  (King Eglon of Moab) How does Ehud deliver Israel from King Eglon? (vs. 15-23. Ehud, the left handed judge, went to Eglon saying he had a secret message for him. Actually, the “message” was a 18 inch dagger in the fat belly of Eglon!) How long does Israel have peace after Moab is conquered? (vs. 30. 80 years)
      3. Shamgar. 3:31. In what unusual way does Shamgar fight against the Philistines? (He uses an oxgoad to kill 600 Philistines– a stick used to prod oxen to move. Certainly God had to be with this man for him to overcome the enemy with such a meager weapon!)


The book of Judges is about compromise and faithlessness on the part of God’s people and the love and provision of the Lord. First of all the generation of Joshua didn’t fully follow all of God’s directives about driving out the Canaanites from Israel. Then in 2:10 we find that their children had no knowledge of God and His miraculous provisions for them. How could this have happened? Evidently, once the Israelites got their land and starting living there they forgot all about God and they didn’t even tell their own children about all He had done for them in the past.  This had disastrous results. Read Hosea 8:7a and Galatians 6:7. How do these verses fit the situation in the book of Judges? We may find it hard to understand why the Israelites would leave their God, who had so wondrously cared for them. Go over the following chart to see what the “benefits” of idol worship were in the minds of Israel.

Worshipping God Worshipping idols
  • Gratification postponed
  • Morality required
  • High ethical standards demanded
  • Neighbors’ sins disapproved
  • Unseen God worshiped
  • Unselfishness expected
  • Business relations hindered
  • Changed life demanded
  • Concern for others taught
  • Self-gratification immediate
  • Immoral behavior approved
  • Low ethical standard tolerated
  • Neighbor’s sins approved
  • Visible idol to worship
  • Selfishness condoned
  • Business relations improved
  • Changed life not demanded
  • No concern for others expected

(revised from a chart from the Bible study, Judges, Life Application Bible Study , page 11.

The problem is one of selfishness and not being willing to submit to God’s way of living. Sounds     familiar doesn’t it? The idols of today are not made of stone or clay, but they are real nonetheless.

  • What things keep you and your family from finishing what you start? (Possible answers: weariness, lack of discipline, losing a sense of why you are doing it, distracted by trivial things,  laziness, tasks being difficult)
  • How can these cause you to begin to compromise your faith? (We don’t take our walk with God seriously when we let our circumstances keep us from being             obedient. Steps of disobedience gradually take us away from the Lord and being able to hear the conviction of the Holy Spirit.) Fear also takes us away from God. Ehud boldly walked into Eglon’s presence and killed the wicked king.
  • What might be the cost of doing what God wants? Could you possibly lose some friends or do you fear you won’t get what you think you need to have to make you happy? What personal risk is God asking of you right now? Spend time praying for each other and for the courage to fear God first and set aside compromise and faithlessness.

Digging Deeper

        1. Beware of creeping compromise. The children of Israel did not become idol worshippers overnight. As they lived with the enemy, they gradually compromised with them. Today, this is often true in churches, families, and in individuals. Beware of creeping compromise in your life. In what areas are you tempted to compromise? What Bible verses help you resist? How else do you deal with the temptations to walk away from God in these areas? (e.g. – people, actions)
        2. “Doing what is right in your own eyes” is a theme in the book of Judges (17:26, 19:1, 21:25). It is also rampantly being done in society today.  Humanism declares that man is his own authority and situational ethics is the moral code (do whatever seems right at the time).  Do a contrast/comparison study on society in the day of the judges and our society in America today.  What are the parallels and differences? How has humanism affected life in America and around the world? How has humanism affected Christians? You personally?