Judges Bible Study Commentary - The Cycle of Sin Defined

Judges Bible Study Commentary Part 1
The Cycle of Sin in the book of Judges 

by I Gordon

Book of Judges Bible study commentary cycle of sinThe book of Judges, which is believed to have been written by the prophet Samuel around 1050 - 1000 BC, presents us with a sad and turbulent period in Israel's history. Contrasted greatly with the victorious book of Joshua that precedes it, Judges shows the failure of Israel to conquer their enemies, claim their inheritance, and the huge effect that this had on their life and relationship with God. Throughout this entire book, we see a repeated cycle, one that we will call 'The cycle of sin'. What is the cycle of sin in Judges you ask? Let's have a look!

The Cycle Defined

Judges 2:18-19 'Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.  But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.'

In these two verses we find the pattern for the entire book - a pattern of sin, bondage and repentance that would last for nearly 350 years (around 1380 to 1050 BC). The following table  [1]  shows how this was repeated over and over...

Enemy Years of Bondage Judge Deliverance and Rest Scripture































Now, if you look up the starting scripture for each of those passages, you will notice that the same phrase is used to begin each section, and it is this -

'Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD...'

In other words there was a repeated cycle throughout the entire book - a cycle of sin, bondage, repentance, devotion, followed by sin and bondage again. Israel would follow the Lord when there was a leader who reminded them of the ways in which they should walk, but with his death they again wandered off following other gods and their own desires. God would then allow an enemy of Israel to conquer the people so that, through desperation (unfortunately) they would again look to Him.  [2]  Now it would be nice, would it not, if this was only a message of history - a message that no longer applies to God's people today. But study church history over the last two thousand years and you see the cycle repeating itself.  [3] 

But the story of the church is only the story of the culmination of individual Christian lives, so we cannot end there. We need to be more specific. The cycle of sin is unfortunately evident in many Christian lives today. Maybe it is one enemy, or one particular area of weakness that consistently drags you down into bondage. Maybe compromise has allowed the temptation of the enemy to have far too great an influence in your life, leading to worldliness and the deception of sin. You think you have got on top of it until suddenly, the same failure rears it's ugly head again and you're back to square one! I think we can all relate to parts of this, so we should all be able to learn from this as well. Judges is a book that teaches us both how they became captive to the enemy, and also how they got out of that bondage. And in doing so, it then teaches us how to break the cycle of sin. Looking over your past as a Christian, have you seen this in your own life? Has your Christian walk been a cycle of victory and defeat? Do you see the cycle occurring in your life? If we are honest, the message of Judges is a wake up call for each of us. It is a warning of what can happen once we become comfortable and begin to compromise with the enemy. It is a signpost, and a danger signal of the perils that can lie ahead in our Christian lives.

The Cycle of Sin Pictured

Here, for those who like things visual, is a representation of the cycle of sin in judges (adapted from a diagram in the Ryrie Study Bible).

Bible Study Book of Judges Cycle of Sin Chart

Ok, so now put your own name in where 'Israel' is mentioned and see if it is still true! Obviously God doesn't raise up judges today to rescue us like He did for Israel so many years ago. In fact, if you do tend to spend a lot of time dealing with judges today then I'm sorry, but you may need more than this study... possibly a lawyer! But God does still use Christian friends, leaders and speakers  [4]  to draw us back to Himself.

All right, I'm sure you get the message. Now before I drive you to despair and despondency, it might be timely to add that Judges isn't just a negative book, and nor is this study just going to be a look at the temptations and reasons why we fall. I've called this entire study 'Breaking the cycle of sin - The message of Judges.' See, it's positive! For while there is this consistent cycle that permeates through the entire book of Judges, we should not fail to see that there were long periods of time, while the judges ruled, that Israel did serve the Lord and did have victory over their enemies. From the table on the first page you will see this usually lasted around 40 years, once even 80 years! You will also notice that in most cases the period of time spent serving the Lord was longer than their time in bondage to their enemies. So the cycle can be stopped and I believe that the Holy Spirit has placed within the different judges, pictures and lessons to learn for our own Christian walk. Each judge seems to teach us a slightly different lesson in overcoming the enemy, as we shall hopefully soon see! We can also learn from the enemies themselves for they also have meaning for our Christian walk and the difficulties we face.

Now, part of this study will be based around the pictures presented to us in the meanings of character and place names in Judges. I just thought I would quickly mention where these meanings have been obtained. Basically, I will be using two different sources for these names -

  1. Strong's Concordance
  2. 'A Dictionary of Scripture Proper Names' by J.B Jackson.

In most cases these two sources agree on the interpretation of the Hebrew names, but in the case where two different definitions are given for the word, I will then be forced to draw upon my vast understanding of Hebrew  [5]  and simply select the one I like the best! One of the small benefits of writing these studies I guess.

[1] ↩  The table does not show all of the Judges but only the prominent ones where the enemy, the years of bondage, and the years of rest while the judge lives, are given.

[2] ↩  Having written this at the time of the World Trade Center terrorist acts, it has been interesting to see the reaction in that country in regards to God. Sales of Bibles are apparently up 40%. Sales of books on Bible prophecy are up 80%. Days of prayer have been called for. (Which is great as long as it is the true God that is being prayed to!) It is a pity that it takes horrific events such as these to wake people up these days. I don't believe that God has sent these terrorists as judgement upon the United States. But He has allowed it to happen, and as horrific as it is, there is the possibility that good will occur out of it as people all around the world are shaken from their worldly security, and once again seek the Lord God. I do fear however, that with countries in the west so mixed up with ecumenicalism and inter-faith meetings that people may have forgotten which God to seek. There is only one - Jesus Christ.

[3] ↩  A. B Simpson, in volume 2 of his 'The Christ in the Bible Commentary' brings out some interesting parallels between Israel in the Promised Land and Church history. He shows that 'the glorious career of Joshua, the crossing of the Jordan, the conquest of Canaan and the dividing of the inheritance among the tribes of Israel find their striking parallel likewise in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the decent of the Holy Spirit and the triumphs of early Christianity, when the church, to a very great extent, claimed her inheritance of power, purity and blessing... The fearful declension of ancient Israel, leading to the dark chapter of the book Judges and their shameful compromise with the heathen world is more than paralleled in the story of the dark ages of medieval Christianity...where the purity and strength of apostolic Christianity were speedily lost in the unspeakable corruptions of an apostate church... for 1200 years, and has been called a 'baptised heathenism'.'

[4] ↩  Actually, the whole conference / great speaker thing can itself lead to a cycle of sin. It seems that lots of Christians live their lives on a Ferris wheel, going up and down, waiting for the next 'great' speaker to come by and rev them up again. Nothing wrong with conferences etc as long as they are keeping Christ central and teaching those listening how to depend upon Christ in their everyday, normal lives. But if its just a hyped-up address to the flesh (with all the right 'Christianese' of course!) then all you get is Christians trying really hard to be better - with the end result being failure and despair, and the start of the next cycle...

[5] ↩  Which, at the time of writing, was next to nothing. Sorry!