Section 1: Opening Prayer
Good and gracious God, help us learn to see patterns in our own lives: patterns of failure, repentance and return to failure. Give us people who will show us our faults and push us to grow and become more faithful. Teach us to listen. Help us to see that we have what we need and are blessed more than we know. Amen.
Section 2: The Story/Message/Learn and Engage
The important thing to watch in the Book of Judges is that there are several themes that will come up not only in this book, but that get introduced here and will keep on coming up over and over again throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament. Those themes or concepts are marked with a big row of ********.
“Happily Ever After???”
When the princess marries the prince, or Hansel and Gretel shove the evil witch into the oven, we are used to hearing the story end with the words “and they lived happily ever after. The end.” It would be easy to think that the Israelites were going to live ‘happily ever after’. After all, they had survived years in the wilderness. The process was there to teach them to trust God, and God had given them what they had been promised: a land. A land flowing with milk and honey. Time for Happily Ever After, right?
Unfortunately, happily ever after only lives in the make-believe world of Disney.
As soon as they got the land, the Israelites fell into a pattern of living. They sinned. They sinned a lot. Like as much as you and I do. They forgot about God. They focused on other things. They worshiped other Gods. They cheated each other.
******** Turns out there is a pattern common to life. We stay faithful for a while, but then start sinning again, get “conquered” aka things fall apart for us, we turn back to God, and start the cycle all over again. Basically, what happened to happily ever after?
Well, turns out it doesn’t exist.
In the comments below, tell about a bad habit you have that is hard to break. If you want to break it, why don’t you? How long have you gone away from it only to get back? Have you ever quit totally? How? This same pattern is what affected the Israelites.
The story continued. There was a longer period of “happily ever…” but only for 80 years. The passage of time made it easier to let things slide. Sound familiar? And soon enough, the Israelites were back at it again.
This story is also the story of one of the most famous women of the Bible: Deborah. Too often it is the men who get told as the heroes. But Deborah was one of the women God used to make the story happen. Most often there were women playing important roles in God’s victories but we forget them. Here is the story of not just one hero, but two heroic women who save the day.
Deborah’s story also introduces another storyline that continues for most of Israel’s history: ******** failing to trust in God and looking at things as humans see them. This time Israel’s army and its leaders didn’t look at what they had going for them… what was on their side. They believed that they had to trust in their own strength and powers, and really it turns out that they didn’t trust in it. Instead, they continually will look at their enemies and the size of their army and live in fear.
For this one, share something about a gift you have that you don’t always value or use as you could. Do you have something God gave you that you hide? That you don’t think is good enough? Are you like the Israelites, looking at how others might seem better than you and not giving your best? Being afraid of failing? How do we honor God by using what we have been given?
Gideon (no, not the hotel bible dude)
Gideon came along when things (as usual) got bad again. This time, it was a religious thing. The people were worshipping the god Ba’al. Since the people had turned away from God, God said, “Fine, have it your way.” God let them trust Ba’al since that was what they wanted. And what did Ba’al do when the neighboring King came to fight? Yep… nothing.
Question: Have you ever been in a mess and had someone say “You are getting what you deserve… Why should I help?” What message does that statement try to give? One way of saying this is an old quote “If you do not change direction, you will end up where you are headed.” That is pretty well what happened to Israel. God maybe wasn’t really punishing them by letting the Midianites conquer as much as God was letting the people choose who to trust and letting them have it their way. They needed to get the message that trusting in God was the way to go.
The people needed to trust in God again. So God sent Gideon. First Gideon destroyed the altar to Ba’al. This did not make people happy. Gideon convinced them that if Ba’al was a true god, that he could defend himself. When nothing happened, they realized that maybe God (the real God, Yahweh) was worth giving another thought. The Midianites were coming and were about to take over. So the Israelites gathered to fight. Thousands of them. But God had something else in mind.
That actually was how they picked the few who would fight… Gideon chose only the ones who lapped up the water like dogs instead of scooping it up. Seems like picking the strangest people… like the most unlikely way to choose an army. Which is what it was. God was taking the few and the least likely. Why? To show that it is God’s power that wins the day. They won the day with noise that confused everything and made the Midianites run in fear while actually slaughtering each other. Which is another theme: ******* God chooses unlikely heroes to get the work done. Like you and me.
When has God used something unlikely to make things work? Does God always go with the flashiest or most obvious choice? These are again themes that will continue to come up.
If you learn nothing else this week, the most important thing to remember is: We stay faithful for a while, but then start sinning again, get conquered, turn back to God, and start the cycle all over again. We all need to repent and reorient to God. All the time. And we need people around us who will risk making us angry for the right reasons like Israel needed the Judges. That is the only way we get straightened out.
The last hero Judge we will look at isn’t quite the hero he could have been. He had a cool story. Samson was the son of parents who were thought to be too old for having children (Have we heard that before????). They had prayed, and their prayer was answered. But they also learned that he would live a life dedicated to God, one that included some pretty bizarre things. Samson would be a powerful man of God, but couldn’t eat or drink certain things, had to dress a bit strangely, and most of all could never cut his hair. Yeah, sounds weird, but that was a way people showed their dedication to God.
He was a powerful man. But he had one downfall: He was too trusting. He twice fell in love and married a wife from the enemy. The first wife betrayed him by helping his enemies solve a puzzle he had given them. He became angry and took revenge. He trapped the Philistines by allowing himself to be captured and then breaking out when he was in the middle of their camp, where he killed 1,000 people with the jawbone of a donkey.
Then he married Delilah.
Along with his trusting the wrong people, Samson’s real problem is he didn’t rule the way previous Judges had. His way of doing things was different. The other judges ruled with wisdom from God, by trusting in how God told them to lead the people. Instead, Samson trusted in strength and violence. Sure, after he killed so many Philistines, there was peace, but it wasn’t going to last. Another conqueror would come.
Question: Does getting your way by force really work? If you use force (threats, depending on strength or intimidation) to do what you want what is the real problem you will end up with?
Section 3: Closing Prayer
Almighty God, teach us to listen. Teach us to use wisdom from you to do what is right, to correct our path when we are wrong, and to trust in those who teach us to follow you. Amen.