Formations 07.03.2016: Breaking the Cycle of Failure

Judges 2:11-23

af25_3_070316_a_smShe’lah Shreve is a graduate of George W. Carver High School in Birmingham, Alabama and is soon to begin his studies at Lawson State Community College. There was a time, though, when it looked like he would never graduate at all.

Tenth-grade chemistry threatened to be She’lah’s downfall. Part of the problem was a teacher who had given up on her students. By his own admission, however, the fault was mostly his: as his grade began to slip and he realized he was not going to pass, he grew lazy in the classroom, unwilling to learn anymore. His B average had dropped to an F.

With his high school graduation at risk, he knew things had to change. Through a program called “credit recovery”, and with a large group of supporters, including teachers who stayed after school with him to make sure he completed the work, his path to graduation eventually got back on track.

As She’lah reflects on his experience, he writes,

I learned you may not always get the teacher you want, or the breaks you need, having the right mindset is a necessity to reaching your goal. I will carry this into everything I do—work, college, and fatherhood. Because you can fail at anything. No matter what the struggle, you get back up. You keep pushing.

Failure is a state of mind. Failure doesn’t define you; you define failure.

The choice is yours.

The book of Judges presents a recurring cycle of failure. It isn’t academic failure as in She’lah’s story, but moral and spiritual failure. Israel’s apostasy leads to oppression, repentance, deliverance…and more apostasy. This pattern of sin and punishment is described in today’s text in summary form. In the lessons that follow, specific examples will be presented.

Don’t be fooled by the occasional moments of triumph in the book of Judges. The entire period described in its pages represents a massive failure on Israel’s part to remain faithful to their covenant with God. But like She’lah Shreve—and like all of us—Israel always had an option. Will they become spiritually lazy and disengaged when faithfulness to God seems too hard, or will they knuckle down, relying on the supernatural support that God is always willing to supply in order to get spiritually back on track?

The choice is theirs. And ours.

Mike Krall, “Commentary: She’lah Shreve ‘Have You Ever Used the F-word?’”, 15 Jun 2016 <>.


• How does Israel’s erratic relationship with God reflect our own spiritual journey?
• When have we seen a similar cycle of moral failure at work in our community of faith?
• How does God deal with the unfaithfulness of God’s people today?

Reference Shelf

The Period of the Judges

The opening of chap. 2 lays the foundation for the central section of the book. The basis for the relationship between God and Israel is, in fact, the covenant made by the Lord with Israel’s ancestors. Failure to keep this covenant brings punishment; faithfulness brings blessing. The basic principle forms the outline for the telling of the stories of the judges of Israel. When the people turn away from God, they are oppressed by their neighbors, but when they are faithful, a deliverer leads them to victory and freedom. Judg 3–16 illustrate this formula in the stories of Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson….

The judges have traditionally been viewed as leading a united Israel and serving consecutively in office. Two aspects of the book raise questions about that understanding. If the judges served one after the other, the number of years attributed to them is difficult to fit into the chronology of the period. Secondly, some of the individual stories mention smaller groups instead of all Israel and indicate that only some of the tribes were initially involved (Judg 6:35; 7:23-24; 12:1; 15:9-10). This observation has led to the conclusion that the judges may have been local tribal leaders who exercised authority over a particular territory in times of trouble. If the judges were local leaders, then their times in office could have overlapped in various parts of the country.

Israel in the period of the judges was a loose confederation of tribes. No central religious shrine or central political structure is found in the Book of Judges. This lack of authority is emphasized especially in chaps. 17–21. Although the material has been edited at a later date, it does present some fascinating vignettes of lfie and customs from this early transitional period in Israel’s history.

Phillip E. McMillion, “Judges, Book of,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 480.

Deliverers or Saviors

In Hebrew usage the term “judge” means “to govern” or “to rule,” but in the book of Judges the word is identified with “deliverer” or “savior.” The “saviors,” or “liberators,” “judged” Israel in the sense of freeing the people from oppression and establishing order and stability among the tribes. For example, Othniel “judged Israel” and delivered them, so “the land had rest forty years” (3:11). In other words, the land was at peace during the time of the judges, enjoying a state of stability.

The judges are frequently referred to as charismatic leaders, gifted by God with power for certain tasks. This is appropriate for leaders said to have been “raised up” by Yahweh and energized by the spirit of Yahweh. How the judges become authoritative leaders is not recorded in most cases, but we have the well-known call account of Gideon (ch. 6) and the drafting of Jephthah by the elders of Gilead (ch. 11), and a special birth, dedication, and blessing in the case of Samson (ch. 13).

Marvin E. Tate, From Promise to Exile: The Former Prophets (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1999), 35.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


For further resources, subscribe to the Formations Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email