The Need for Godly Authority
The Old Testament book of Judges is probably not one that many of us have spent much time studying. It is nestled in between the books of Joshua and First Samuel, and often gets overlooked because there does not seem to be any stories in Judges that apply to us today.
The one exception might be the story of Samson and Delilah (Judges 13-16). Many of us have heard this story because of Samson’s incredible physical strength and his single-handed victories over the Philistines (Judges 15). Samson ultimately failed as a judge when he was deceived by Delilah and captured by the Philistines. The Lord used Samson’s sin and his death to bring a great defeat on the Philistines (Judges 16:23-31), but Samson – perhaps the most famous judge of Israel, fell short as a leader of the people of God.
Samson teaches us about God’s empowering strength and the subtle and deceptive nature of sin. But there is another truth that Samson, and the entire storyline of Judges, teaches us. Even though not immediately evident, there is a lesson to be learned from Judges that has far-reaching application for modern-day churches and Christians. The lesson is that God’s people desperately need godly leadership.
The book of Judges paints a stunning picture of what happens when God’s people (or any people) are left to themselves. Left to ourselves, free from any external authority, we are capable of great evil. Without godly authority to lead us and correct us and protect us, we will always pursue the idolatrous and sinful desires of our hearts.
As Moses led the Israelites towards the Promised Land, he knew that they would need a godly leader to lead them. So in his last sermon to the people of Israel, Moses tells them that they may appoint themselves a king, but that this king must “learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them…so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (Deut. 17:19-20). Moses knew that Israel would need a king. He also knew that this king must fear and obey the Lord if the nation was going to prosper in their new home.
After Moses died, Joshua took the reins of leadership in Israel, leading the people into the Promised Land and overseeing the conquering and settling of the land of Canaan. However, Joshua did not appoint a successor, so when he died there was a leadership vacuum in Israel. This is what gave rise to the judges, fourteen in all, who led Israel for approximately 130 years. These judges were basically military leaders who led the people of Israel in battle against their enemies.
A few of these judges led Israel in a godly way (eg. Deborah in Judges 4-5, and Gideon in Judges 6-8). But for the most part the leadership of the judges was inadequate, serving only as a band-aid for a much deeper problem in the nation’s identity. Israel needed a deliverer, a king, someone who would lead them out of sin and idolatry, defeat their enemies, and restore God-honoring worship. This Deliverer would not fully come until Jesus came and saved God’s people by dying on the cross for their sins, defeating Satan and death by rising from the dead, and calling to himself a people from all the peoples of the world who will worship and serve the Lord. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus did what no judge or king in Israel could ever do. He came to save his people from their sins and give them freedom from their greatest enemies, and he offers this salvation and freedom to all those who will repent of their sins and trust in him.
Although Jesus is our final authority, we (like the Israelites) need godly authority to watch over us, protect us, and lead us. The nation of Israel quickly spiraled into sin when Joshua died – a pattern that continued throughout Judges. A judge would be raised up to defeat the enemies of Israel, but as soon as the victory had been won, the people would return to their idols. Israel needed consistent, godly authority. And so do we.
Thankfully, God, in his wisdom, has designed the world with built-in authority structures. God will always be the ultimate authority. But God has delegated massive amounts of authority to his image-bearers – to mankind. He has given us the responsibility to care for the world that he made (Gen. 1:26-28). He has given men the responsibility of leading their families (Eph. 5:22-33) and leading God’s family, the church (1 Tim. 2:11-3:7). He has given husbands and wives the responsibility of raising and shepherding their children (Eph. 6:1-3). He has given employers the responsibility of leading their employees (Eph. 6:5-9). And he has given governments the responsibility of leading and protecting societies (Rom. 13:1-7).
In every area of our lives God has delegated some of his authority to us. We are called – as husbands and wives and dads and moms and children and employees and citizens – to use the authority that he has given to us in a way that is pleasing to him. We are also called to submit to the God-given authority that is placed over us.
Authority is a good gift from God. The writer of Judges tells us that when godly authority is absent, chaos and sin abounds. Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Godly authority structures produce peace and order and joy for God’s people. So may we as a church do all that we can to implement the authority structures that God has revealed to us in his Word. May we pray for those whom he has put in authority over us. And may we pray that leaders and followers alike would have humble, submissive hearts.
There is a King in Israel, Jesus, our Lord,