Thoughts on Judges (Part 1)

Paul Young, Maesteg, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Part 1 of 3 of the series Thoughts on Judges

Judges is a very interesting book, full of spiritual lessons, warnings and encouragement for the believer. It also contains many blessed thoughts con­cerning the Person and work of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Judges, following the book of Joshua, con­tinues to recount that period in the history of Israel between the de­parture from Egypt and the rise of the monarchy. Judges is, however, very different from the book of Joshua. Joshua is essentially a book of victory, unity and spirituality in the history of Israel. Under the strong leadership of Joshua, we picture Israel leaving the desert wanderings and sweeping victoriously into the promised land. On the other hand, the overall theme of Judges is one of defeat, oppression, idolatry and failure of the people of God. There are exceptions, and they knew some great victories during the times of the Judges, but the picture is generally one of failure.

What are the reasons for this contrast and for the failure of Israel in the times of the Judges? Here are four suggest­ed reasons for Israel's decline. Each reason can be applied spiritually to the believer, who must be ever watchful against sin and Satan's devices.

The First Reason suggested is the death of Joshua, 2. 8, Joshua had been a strong, spiritual leader and under his guidance the children of Israel had remained close to the Lord. When he and his generation died, 2,10, Israel started to drift away from God and turned in worship to the gods of the heathen, and in consequence their national fortunes declined. Israel had depended on strong leadership for too long; without it they drifted into idolatry. The new generation had no first-hand experience of God's ways, and without a powerful leader they failed to stand on their own. Similarly, Christians must learn to stand upon their own faith and not constantly lean upon the spiritual stature of others. This was the problem at Corinth, 1 Cor. 3. 4-7. Believers must demonstrate assurance by living in the reality of their faith in Christ.

The Second Reason for Israel's failure was their inability to respond in the long term to the challenge: "choose you this day whom ye will serve", Josh. 24. 15. Initially, there was a positive response to serve the Lord, but later they repented of that decision and went and served the gods of the heathen, especially Baal and Ashtaroth, Jud. 2. 13. Today, the believer has likewise made a choice and has positively said: "I will serve the Lord". However, he must be ever watchful for the temptations of Satan and the sin that does so easily beset, lest, like Israel, he be found in idolatry. Subconsciously, earthly things can take a pre-eminent position in a believer's life and Christ is removed from the primary place. The believer must take warning from the experience of Israel and always serve the Lord.

The Third Reason for failure was that Israel did not eradicate the former inhabitants of the land. "And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites," 3. 5. These former idolatrous inhabitants were allowed to remain in the land and dwell among the people of God. This was a terrible failure as these same heathen nations became a snare to Israel, even rising up and conquering Israel, making them sub­servient in bondage.

We must as believers take warning that if sin is not rooted out of our lives it will grow and strengthen and rule us. Close communion with God will then be lost and we will be of all men most miserable. The rooting out of sin is a continual, spiritual and painstaking task for the believer, yet it brings its reward in a closer fellowship with- our Lord Jesus Christ. "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live", Rom. 8. 13. "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry", Col. 3. 5. What is true for the individual believer is also true for the assembly. Heresy and sin must never be allowed into the church of God. If allowed, it destroys true fellowship, removes spiritual power and vitality and weakens the testimony of the local assembly.

The Final Reason we suggest for the failure of Israel in the times of the Judges was their selfishness. We read that "every man did that which was right in his own eyes", Jud. 21. 25. They had become a self-pleasing people, doing as they liked regardless of the claims of God through His law. The  essential   difference  between  a Christian and a non-Christian is that the first is Christo-centric and the latter is ego-centric. One has Christ at the centre of his life and seeks to please Him, while the other wants to please himself in all things. As Christ­ians, we have no business to do what is right in our own eyes, but only what accords with the Word of God. If place is given to selfishness it can only lead away from fellowship with God and into the paths of sin. This is certainly true of the children of Israel in the book of the Judges.

Throughout Judges a cycle repeats itself several times. In the main the cycle is as follows: the people reject God and turn to idols. God allows a heathen nation to rise up and conquer the land (or part of it) and the Israelites become sore oppressed. In their time of need they repent and cry to God for deliverance. God, in His mercy and love, raises up a deliverer who acts under God's power to restore Israel to liberty again. The people usually serve God all the days of that judge. Un­fortunately, they fail to learn from past mistakes, and from here the cycle recommences. In the light of this background we can now turn our attention to six judges raised up by God to deliver Israel from the hand of the oppressors. These earthly deliverers are types of the heavenly Saviour who was to come, namely the Lord Jesus Christ. Although these judges were important men of God, they all had drawbacks which reveal that the type is not a rival to the true Messiah.

The First Deliverer was Othniel, and we read about him in 1.12-15 and 3. 8-11. The enemy was Chushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia, who conquered Canaan and domin­ated Israel for eight years.

History had turned a full circle. Abraham the father of Israel had been called out of the Mesopotamian culture of Ur of the Chaldees to be a wanderer in Palestine—Israel's future home. Now, Abraham's descendants occupied the land but the Mesopo-tamians had been allowed in as con­querors. Thus the result of sin was that, what they had been called out of, had now come in to rule them. Like­wise the believer was called out of the world and into the church. There are only the two spheres and God rules in the church, while Satan rules the world. We must be watchful and make sure that what happened to Israel does not happen to us. Once called out of the world we must never let the world again engulf us. Some one once said, "God put the church in the world, but Satan put the world in the church". This will turn out to be true if we as believers compromise our position of separation; that which is without will come in and dominate us. Obedience to God's Word day by day is the only way to avoid this.

Like the Lord Jesus, Othniel came from the tribe of Judah. He was a nephew of Caleb, Jud. 1. 13; 3.9. In chapter one he showed his strength and courage in taking Kirjath-sepher in order to receive Caleb's promised reward. That reward was Achsah (Caleb's daughter) as bride, 1. 12-13. Kirjath-sepher means the "city of books" and speaks of wisdom, so Othniel had conquered wisdom to obtain his bride. How much more has the Lord Jesus conquered wisdom to obtain His bride—the Church ? Did He not confound the scholars in the temple at the age of twelve ? Through­out His earthly ministry He destroyed the arguments of the wise and learned men of His day as they tried to confuse and trap Him. Finally, His death on the cross had none of man's wisdom about it. Earthly wisdom says "save thyself" and thus had no part in God's plan of salvation, Mark 15. 30. Jesus refused to submit to man's wisdom, choosing rather to die on Calvary's cross to obtain a bride of those re­deemed by His precious blood.

Othniel was well suited for God's task for we read, "And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him . . .", Jud. 3. 10. This is a characteristic of four deliverers, and shows they were approved by God. It reminds our hearts of the baptism of the Lord Jesus where the Spirit like a dove descended upon Him, Mark 1. 10. With the Spirit of the Lord upon him, Othniel led the children of Israel to victory over Chushan-rishathaim and the armies of Mesopotamia. The land of Israel had rest forty years; then Othniel the son of Kenaz died, Jud. 3. 11.

Mesopotamia speaks to us of the world from which we have withdrawn by the power of Christ. Let us rest in Him and never know submission again to the power of worldliness. Othniel points us on to the One to be born of the tribe of Judah : "and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins", Matt. 1. 21.

The Second Deliverer of Israel was Ehud and we read of him in Judges 3. 12-30. By this stage Othniel was dead and the people had again forsaken God. Eglon king of Moab led an army of Moabites, Ammonites and Amalekites, and smote Israel and captured the city of palm trees (Jericho), 3. 13. The children of Israel served Eglon for eighteen years. Again however, the Lord heeds the cry of Israel and raises up Ehud, a Benjamite, who became a left-handed assassin. Ehud went in privately to Eglon after paying tribute money, and with a secret dagger stabbed Eglon to death. Ehud escaped to Seirath, 3. 26, and there he blew on the trumpet rallying Israel against the Moabites, and they slew 10,000 men of Moab "all lusty, and all men of valour", 3. 29. So the land had rest for eighty years.

We must remember that the children of Moab and Ammon were descend­ants of Lot, Gen. 19, 37-38. They were of the same flesh as Abraham's descendants. To compound this idea of Moab representing the flesh, we read that Eglon was a fat man, so fat that Ehud's dagger was embedded and hidden from sight in the fat, Jud. 3. 22. Also the ten thousand men of Moab who were slain were described as lusty (or fat). Thus Moab speaks very forcibly of the flesh. The Lord Jesus knew continual victory over the flesh for He was without sin, and no spirit of the flesh existed in Him, Matt. 4. 1-11. We are privileged to experience victories over the flesh by resting in His completed work on the cross. Now we walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit—"So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God", Rom. 8. 8. Complete victory over the flesh will come when our bodies are made like unto His glorious body; then we shall be forever in His presence.

To be continued.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Paul Young is a full-time worker and fellowships with the assembly in Maesteg in Wales