Old Testament Survey
Conquest & the Time of the Judges
(Joshua – Judges—Ruth)
The first five books of scripture are the Pentateuch, the books of Moses. These five books were delivered to the second generation of Israelites in the wilderness, as they were waiting to go in and conquer the land. These books were meant to give the Israelites the awareness that they were to be a special, holy people. Special because God had chosen them by grace and revealed himself to their forefathers, holy because God was holy. They were a people made in God’s image, and trusting that through the promise made to Abraham—a promise to receive land, nation and blessing, God would heal the brokenness that was in the world through sin. God displayed his power in three ways: fulfilling His promises to the patriarchs, in His delivering of Israel out of Egypt and in providing water and food for Israel in the wilderness. The second generation, armed with this knowledge & God’s wise laws, was poised to enter the land promised land of Canaan as God’s special people. Today we begin the 12 books of history, and we will cover the first three—Joshua, Judges and Ruth.
The book of Joshua is primarily about the conquest of the land of Canaan. Joshua has been chosen by God to be Moses’ successor, and it becomes clear from the early chapters of Joshua that God is going to be with Joshua and with Israel just as he had been with them when Moses’ led them. (Joshua 3:7)
The book breaks up fairly neatly into three sections (with a thank you to Richard Pratt for this outline):
1-12: Conquest of the land
13-21: Division of the land
21-24: Covenant Renewal
Why is this land so important? Why are there almost ten chapters dedicated to the dividing of the land according to tribe? If you were here during lesson three, you know that the promise to Abraham was foundational to the Israelites. Devout Israelites knew of the promise to Abraham, and set their hope in it. For this reason, Joshua 21:43-45 becomes key:
Joshua 21:43-45: So the LORD gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. 44 And the LORD gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the LORD gave all their enemies into their hand. 45 Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.
Receiving the land was the confirmation that the promise made to Abraham had reached a mark of fulfillment. As we will see, there is a greater fulfillment in the future, but this first step would be a great faith building experience for the Israelite people. If you were a people during the time of the Judges or early kingdom, this would be a great reminder that God is faithful to fulfill his promises. In chapters 22-24, we see that just as Moses renewed the covenant between the people and God in the plains of Moab, so Joshua renews the covenant after the thirty years of conquest—setting an example to all generations that follow that your parent’s faith is not enough to save you—you must dedicate yourselves afresh to God.
Learning from the faith of your parents is one of the central messages of Judges. Whereas the message of Joshua is one of God’s faithfulness & positive conquest, the message of Judges has much to do with explaining the failures of the Israelites to keep the commands of God. It opens by explaining that the Israelites did not fully drive out the inhabitants of the land, a failing which will lead to the remaining people ensnaring the Israelites into idolatry with their false gods—Baal, Asherah, Chemosh, Mot and the like.
The failures of Israel (1:1-2:5) led to a cycle of rebellion, distress and repentance which continued for hundreds of years. This cycle, which consumes a large portion of the book (2:6-16:31) is summarized in Judges 2:10-19. (See the included diagram)
At the conclusion of the book of Judges, chapters 17-21, the religious leaders, the Levites are shown to have utterly abandoned the instructions God gave in Exodus-Deuteronomy. The land has become so polluted with sin that the author uses the same language to describe Israel in those days as had been formerly used by Moses to describe Sodom and Gomorrah. The point is simple—Israel, during this time of autonomy and anarchy, had become as wicked as the nations which they had driven out.
The writer of Judges makes the point of Israel’s wickedness clear to motivate the readers to desire a godly king from the line of Judah. The way to break the cycle of apostasy is to have a godly king who will lead the people in righteousness, and who will train his son to lead the people righteously after him.
Situated during the time of the Judges, the central concern of Ruth is to demonstrate that David’s great-grandmother Ruth, though a Moabitess, was a godly woman who trusted the LORD. Therefore David was qualified to be king. We can learn from this how God provides for all who seek him, and may include even those thought to be unlikely choices into even his biggest plans.
Take Away Points
1) The book of Joshua explains how the people of Israel become established in the land of Canaan through God ordained conquest.
2) The book of Judges demonstrates Israel’s need for a godly king which will lead the people in righteousness and train his sons to follow in his ways ; in the same way we should learn from our parents and train our children to avoid cycles of apostasy.
3) The book of Ruth shows that unlikely people can become a part of God’s plan if they will trust him.