“Gideon’s Army” (detail) by Daniel A. Lewis
The period between the death of Joshua and the establishment of a kingdom was a chaotic time for the Israelites. For more than 400 years, the people struggled to remain loyal to God. When they turned away from Him, they fell into captivity. When they prayed for help, He sent them a great leader who delivered them. But inevitably, they lost their way again. This pattern is highlighted time and time again in the book of Judges, like a refrain. (See Judges 2:11-19, Judges 3:7-11, Judges 3:12-15, Judges 4:1-4, Judges 6:1-6, Judges 10:6-10, Judges 13:1.)
A similar kind of refrain appears in the book of Ether, as the author (Moroni) highlights a recurring pattern among the Jaredites. As they begin to distance themselves from God, He repeatedly sends prophets. Most of the time, they reject the words of those prophets. (See Ether 7:23-25, Ether 9:28-29, Ether 11:1-2, 5, Ether 11:12-13, Ether 11:20-22.)
The twelve leaders in the book of Judges are: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson. Here are some lessons I have learned from a few of these judges, with related blog posts:
A good leader can inspire other people to take courageous action at appropriate times. Deborah directed Barak, a military leader, to defend Israel against the Canaanite army under Sisera. Barak said, “If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go” (Judges 4:8). Deborah went with him, and when the time was right for battle, she said, “Up; for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand” (Judges 4:14). Barak followed her guidance and led the Israelites to victory.
In the Book of Mormon, King Limhi similarly inspired his people to act with hope under difficult circumstances:
God sometimes gives us monumental assignments with inadequate resources in order to make it clear that this is His work, not ours. We need to trust Him, do the best we can, and then let Him magnify our efforts. Gideon assembled an army, but God told him that it was too big. “The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands.” Why? “Lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me” (Judges 7:2).
Nephi paraphrased and elaborated on a prophecy of Isaiah. A learned man would refuse to perform a task unless he could do it his own way. So God would call an uneducated man to do it. God can use our imperfect efforts to accomplish great things if we will put our trust in Him:
Samson was strong in battle, but he trusted Delilah when it was clear that she did not have his best interests at heart. That mistake cost him his life.
In the Book of Mormon, two leaders fell from power by placing too much trust in a treacherous man named Amalackiah. The king of the Lamanites and Lehonti both trusted him, ignoring clear warning signs, until it was too late. We should be kind to all of God’s children, but we need to be careful about how much we trust others.