What Does "Circles" Mean?

It was just another day in my Old Testament Historical Literature class. I was taking notes and keeping a literal tally of how many times my professor said "interesting dynamics," his pet phrase. At some point during the class, my professor turned to the dry-erase board behind him and drew a large spiral. "This," he said. "is the book of Judges."

Judges is a book of cycles (hence why we're calling our current sermon series Circles). We shouldn't think of these cycles as individual seasons that directly correlate to seasons in our own lives, but more like a spiral: a series of interconnected circles that move in a direction. As Dhati pointed out in Sunday's sermon, we can specifically see the cycles in the book of Judges.

Judges is a historical narrative; it tells a story. It's not just a metaphor from which we can draw simple applications to our lives. The author of Judges recorded real accounts of real people during this time. So when we read Judges, it's essential to consider what was going on in the nation of Israel at this time. This is where we see the spiral come in, the circles-- the pattern of Israel's state as God's people is circular. There are 7 cycles in Judges, and during each cycle, we can see the nation of Israel going through 5 stages in how they relate to God. These stages are: Sin, Servitude, Supplication, Salvation, and Silence.

Sin. We know that the period of the Judges was a time when "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 17:6) After wandering in the wilderness and then fighting to claim their promised land, the Israelites were now settled in their own land, in a time of relative peace. And with this rest came complacency and a lack of staying committed to God. Idolatry became rampant, as many of the Israelites traded in worshipping the God who had delivered them from Egypt for the fake gods of their Canaanite neighbors. There was also vast injustice. People were not treating one another as valuable, but were exploiting one another for selfish gain. Plainly and simply, they were being disobedient to God.

Servitude. God isn't passive towards sin. He takes the disobedience of His children seriously. Throughout Judges, when the culture of the nation of Israel becomes one of unrepentant sin, we see God allowing them to be at the mercy of some other nation that wants to subdue or conquer them. They are harassed, attacked, violated, indentured. God uses the Midianites, the Amalekites, and all the other "-ites" to remind the people of Him, their Rescuer.

Supplication. The people, in their desperation, cry out to God. He has rescued, restored, and redeemed them before, so their circumstances remind them of the faith in Him they were supposed to have in the first place. They repent of their sin and ask God to save them from their servitude.

Salvation. Thankfully, even "if we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself." (2 Timothy 2:13). Over and over again, we see God providing a judge to help deliver the people from their oppressors. God is attentive to the cries of Israel, and He rescues them. This is a beautiful picture of God's grace and mercy. The people didn't deserve salvation, but out of His love for His people and His passion for His name, God does what He doesn't have to. He is faithful and mighty to save.

Silence. Once God saves His people, peace reigns again. There is rest. Everything looks good-- people are happy and obedient. But over time, they grow complacent again. Sin creeps in. And the cycle begins again.

These are the stages of each cycle. Each cycle is a similar process, but as time progresses, we see that the cycles form not just a spiral, but a downward spiral. Each judge seems to be a little worse than the one before, each cycle a little more infused with sin and chaos. Israel is not headed in a good direction.

Thankfully, God once again shows Himself faithful when He raises up Samuel as a prophet, ushering in a much better (but far from perfect) time in Israel's history.

Judges has a lot to teach us, but like any book of the Bible, we must study it for what it says, not for what we imagine it says to fit our lives. We encourage you to read the book through for yourself during this series and to learn more about Judges by listening to this previous sermon from Pastor John O.