This is part 2. You can find part 1 HERE.
One of the things that we tried to do throughout the time that we were working through Judges, was to assign some “homework” to the students. It was about a chapter or two of reading for the week, and some questions to help them think through it. To be honest, I thought the uptake would be pretty quick. After all, who wouldn’t want to be better prepared for their Bible study group and the Sunday sermon? Turns out loads of students don’t want to be better prepared. So that was a bummer. Especially for a lot of our teachers; it was disheartening to see the lack of interest in God’s Word. But ultimately, this revealed that we’re not where we thought we were. And that’s OK. It gave us a better window into what’s important and not important for our students, and we see where we need to go. In other words, we must continue to emphasize the centrality and ministry of God’s Word in our students’ lives and show them the beauty, goodness, and truth therein.
As I taught through the book, there were a few themes that were really highlighted for me. The first is about the heart.
A New Heart
In the book of Joshua, God had told the Israelites to remove the Canaanites that were in the Promised Land. (The issue of God decreeing “genocide” here is another matter for a future blog post. Spoiler alert – “Genocide” isn’t the proper term at all.) The Israelites said that they would be faithful to do it, but they fail pretty miserably. Instead of chapter 1 being a chronicle of their successful military ventures, it’s really a list of how they failed to believe in God and couldn’t take what God had given over to them. And so at the top of Chapter 2, we see the reason for the book of Judges.
 Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you,  and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done?  So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”  As soon as the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept.  And they called the name of that place Bochim. And they sacrificed there to the LORD.
The main issue with the Israelites not driving the Canaanites completely out of the land is that they left room for idolatry. In the new land that God was giving to his people, there should be no idols to other gods; there should only be wholehearted worship of the Lord. But because Israel isn’t faithful to rid the land of idols, from this point on, the book of Judges records how they were repeatedly snared into idol worship. This is the primary conflict in the book of Judges. Left to themselves, the Israelites would reject God over and over for false gods.
And so there is a repeated cycle of men that are raised up to save Israel from themselves and their oppressors. These men became heroes: Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson are mentioned in the gallery of faith in Hebrews 11.
 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.
But if we carefully read their stories, we see plenty of flaws. As the book progresses, the judges that God raises up to be Israel’s saviors become less and less faithful. Barak didn’t have much confidence in God’s ability to be with him. Gideon ends up creating a new idol for Israel and sets up generations of unfaithfulness for his family. Jephthah sacrifices his own daughter according to the pagan practices of his neighbors. Samson disdained his Nazirite vow. And by the end of the book of Judges, the Israelites have turned in on themselves and were now waging war against each other.
 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
All of this points to our need for Christ: our hearts are devastatingly wicked and unfaithful to God. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” When we read the stories of Judges, we can easily be tempted to think that it’s only the ancient Israelites that were foolish enough to worship other gods and commit idolatry, but that’s not even remotely true. We may not be bowing down to idols of stone and wood, but we still have our idols. It may be the opinions of our parents, the opinions of our friends, or our social media audience. It could be our academic performance, our job performance, or amount of money we make. In our culture, the current untouchable idol right now is identity. Whether it’s our sexual identity, ethnicity, or gender, our identity is the god that you cannot offend. The central issue in the book of Judges and in our own hearts today is that sin has made a permanent home in our heart and we don’t want to drive it out. We’re content to just live with it or make excuses and justifications for why it needs to be there. We love our sins because we love our little gods.
This points to our need for a savior outside of us. We can’t give ourselves a heart transplant. Only a surgeon outside of us can do that. Even if I were the greatest heart surgeon on Earth, I could never do my own heart transplant. For the Israelites, even though they had judges and saviors to rescue them, what they really needed was a king to rule over them, to give them a system of living that would prevent the apostasy that led to so much suffering. Jesus is the answer to both.: he has the power to give us a new heart and become our King.
 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”
 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.