The book of Judges is summarized by two lines that are both repeated several times: “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” And, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
You cannot understand the book if you forget those two characterizations of the people of Israel. Israel rejected the covenant God made with them. Israel served other gods. Israel didn’t cleanse the land God gave them of foreign gods and pagan worship practices, instead they were absorbed into those pagan cultures and practices. Israel, as a nation of God’s people, essentially ceased to exist. All the strange and disturbing stories in Judges serve to graphically illustrate how unlike a people of God were the people of Israel.
If you forget that Judges is illustrating Israel’s fallen and sinful state, you will think that God is somehow pleased with what is going on or endorsing what the various judges do. Don’t be confused. Judges pauses the story of what God is doing and focuses in on what the people of Israel were doing when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
What God is doing is preserving Israel in spite of Israel. So God uses even these pagan minded people like Jephthah and Gideon and Sampson because God is going to keep his promise to Eve and Abraham and Jacob. God is bringing about the redemption of his creation and his people even in an era when it appears he has very little to work with. Make no mistake, Jephthah and Gideon and Sampson were sinful, corrupt people whose thinking and actions were more influenced by pagan deities than by the One True God... “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”
But then, there’s this:
“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” - Hebrews 11:32-34
Hebrews 11 is one of the most encouraging chapters in the whole bible for me. It makes you wonder if the person who wrote Hebrews ever read the book of Judges, but he did. He mentions these same unsavory characters and remembers them for their… faith.
I honestly don’t understand what faith is being remembered and celebrated because what we have in the bible about Jephthah and Gideon and Sampson are stories about their idolatry and evil. Yet I rejoice! I know that I am as sinful and idolatrous as they were (How would you like it if someone recorded all of your worst moments of faithless, selfish pride so your life could serve as the “here’s how screwed up people are” illustration?). I am encouraged because I am reminded that I am saved by grace, not by my own righteousness! God remembers my faith in Jesus and not my selfishness and ego. God punished my sin at Jesus’ cross so he can see what he has made beautiful and not what I have made corrupt.
Be encouraged! Trust Jesus! Whatever faithless things you have done, Jesus has atoned for by his blood. God is gracious and merciful! God provides you with righteousness and holiness. You are much like Jephthah and Gideon and Sampson, and so am I. And, even you and I can, and are, being used by God to bring about his redemption.
God is good. He has made a way for even you and me to be remembered by our faith.