Christ in All the Scriptures
by A.M. Hodgkin
- III. Christ in the Historical Books
2. Judges --
- We now come to one of the darkest periods in the history of God's people. ''There is something startling in the swiftness with which the Israelites degenerated. Caleb's nephew Othniel, was raised up for their deliverance'' (Moorehead). This teaches the great lesson that no position of spiritual blessing is sufficient to ensure a life of holiness without a close walk of faith and obedience.
The book opens with a note of victory. Judah went up against the Canaanites and overcame them in various places. But even this record of victory has an exception-- they ''could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron'' [Judg 1:19]. This surely was a want [ie., a lack] of faith; for the promise by Joshua had been, ''Thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong'' (Joshua 17:18).
We have in the words of one of the kings-- Adoni-bezek-- an incidental testimony to the justice of God's judgment upon the Canaanites; even this heathen king acknowledged it [Judg 1:7]. The remainder of the first chapter is a record of failure. We read of one tribe after another that ''they did not wholly drive out the Canaanites, they would dwell in the land.'' ''When Israel was strong, they put them under tribute, and did not utterly drive them out.''
- Judges 2:11-23 gives us a summary of the whole book [further condensed here].--
''The Children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth, and forsook the Lord God of their fathers. And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He delivered them into the hand of spoilers, and sold them into the hands of their enemies round about. Nevertheless the Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of their enemies; for it repented the Lord because of their groanings. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and ceased not from their own doings and from their stubborn way. And the Lord said that because they had broken His covenant, and failed to obey Him in driving out the Canaanites, that henceforth He would cease to drive them out before them, and would leave them in the land to prove Israel, whether they would keep His way or not.''
- Israel's Sevenfold Declension.
- In the history that follows (ch. 3 to 16), we have this record of failure and deliverance seven times repeated. Israel fell into idolatry, and God raised up some one of the surrounding nations to carry out His punishment. Israel repented under the chastening, and cried to the Lord, and the Lord sent a deliverer. God allowed the very sins His people indulged in to be their punishment. He allowed the Canaanites and other surrounding nations to oppress them and bring them into bondage. ''He that committeth sin is the servant of sin'' [John 8:34]. If we give [place] to any known sin, and allow it to dwell with us, it is likely to become our master.
Jabin, King of Canaan, and Sisera, his captain, ''mightily oppressed the Children of Israel twenty years'' (Judg 4:2,3). ''Midian prevailed against Israel.'' They were so utterly broken under this oppression that they took refuge in the dens and caves of the mountains (6:2). When they cried to the Lord, He did not at once send a deliverer, but sent a prophet to deepen their sense of conviction. ''The anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the children of Ammon, and they vexed and oppressed the Children of Israel eighteen years'' (10:7,8). Again when they cried unto the Lord He reminded them that they had turned to serve other gods, and He said, ''Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen, and let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.'' This rebuke once more deepened the sense of sin, and humbled Israel to cry, ''We have sinned: do Thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good to Thee; deliver us only, we pray Thee, this day. And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the Lord: and His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel'' (10:10-16).
- A Saviour.
- What a picture of man's continued sin and failure, and God's continued patience and grace! We read of seven distinct departures from God, and of seven distinct deliverances by the hands of Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson. In these deliverers or saviours of Israel, we can see a foreshadowing of the Great Deliverer who was to come. The Lord's promise to Isaiah is: ''He shall send them a Saviour and a Great One'' (Isa 19:20). God had mercy upon man in his sin and hard bondage, and sent the Lord Jesus to be our Saviour.
- A Saviour. Luke 2:11: ''Unto you is born... a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.''
- The Saviour. John 4:42: ''This is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.''
- My Saviour. Luke 1:47: ''My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.''
- It is not enough to know Him as a Saviour, or even as the Saviour of the world. We need, each one for ourselves, to be able to say, ''He is my Saviour.''
- Downward Steps.
- Israel sinned in not driving out the Canaanites, but allowing them to dwell amongst them. Compromise instead of obedience. The next step was that they intermarried with them (3:6), and the next, that they were drawn into their idolatries (3:7). The result was that all the land became corrupt. The Book of Judges contains the blackest picture of the condition of God's people. Chapters 17 to 21 do not follow the rest of the book in chronological order, but give us an illustration of the gross wickedness of the people during this period. In the Song of Deborah, we have another glimpse of the lawless state of the country: ''The highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways. The inhabitants of the villages ceased'' (5:6,7). Later in the book, four times the statement is repeated, ''In those days there was no king in Israel''; and twice the words, ''Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.'' The Key-note of the book is Anarchy.
- God's Law.
- All this terrible state of things came about through disregard of God's Law. That they possessed the Law as given by Moses is evident from frequent allusions to things contained in those books. God Himself referred to them in a manner that implied that they were known to Israel. He reminded them of the conditions of His Covenant (2:1-3). He told Gideon to order the fearful and faint-hearted to depart from the army of Israel, according to the command in Deu 20:8 [Judg 7]. It was a wise provision, for faint-heartedness was terribly infectious, then as now. He told the parents of Samson to carry out, in his case, the vow of the Nazarite [13:7]. The reference to the offerings, the trumpet by which Ehud summoned the Children of Israel to battle, and the trumpets of Gideon, -- Jotham's reference to the oil of consecration, and the oil of the lamp, and to the wine of the drink-offering, -- are all evidences that Israel possessed the Law of God as given by Moses, and that in times of revival the Law was honored. But the tendency during the whole period was to disregard the Law, and the result was idolatry, wickedness, and utter lawlessness in the land. This is always the result where the people of any country are deprived of God's Word. It accounts for the gross darkness of the Middle Ages, and of those countries in which Roman Catholicism is shutting up the Bible today.
- The Bible our Chart.
- In these days, we sometimes hear it said that if we have Christ, we do not need the Bible. But what do we know of Christ apart from the revelation God has given us in the Bible? Other writings establish the bare fact of His historical identity, but they reveal nothing of His person, teaching and work. If we had not learned of Christ through the written Word, what should we know of Him revealed within? That the conscience and reason of man are not a sufficient guide, we have abundant evidence in the Book of Judges, for we are twice told, not that every man violated his conscience, but that every man did that which was right in his own eyes; and we see to what awful excesses of sin such a course led.
The writer of the book was in all probability Samuel, for it is written after the establishment of the monarchy (cp. 19:1; 21:25), and prior to the capture of Jerusalem (1:21), which was captured by David (2Sam 5:6-8), and therefore, [it was] written during the reign of Saul; and the most probable author during that reign was Samuel. In the words ''In those days there was no king in Israel,'' the writer was referring to the outward kingship, with its reign of law and order.
But [those] words have a deeper meaning for us: they give us a picture of the lawless state of the heart where the Lord Jesus is not reigning as King, and when we are doing what is right in our own eyes. The Bible contains the laws of the Kingdom, and where this is disregarded, disloyalty is sure to follow. ''Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word'' [Psa 119:9]. The neglect of God's Law accounted for the uncleanness of the land in the days of the Judges. ''Whatsoever any man says or does which is contrary to the Scriptures, though under profession of the immediate guidance of the Spirit, must be reckoned and accounted a mere delusion... There can be no appeal from them to any other authority whatsoever'' (Book of Discipline of the Society of Friends).
For the safe guiding of our barque on the sea of life we need to have on board the Chart of the Scriptures, the Compass of the Holy Spirit, and the Captain of our Salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ. It would be folly for the seaman to reason: ''I do not need a chart because I have a compass,'' or vice versa. As invariably as the compass points to the North, so does the Holy Spirit glorify Christ. The Scriptures also testify of Him. These two witnesses agree together, for the Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ, as revealed in the written Word, and makes them life to our souls.
- The sin of Israel was idolatry. Idolatry is the worship of a false god, a god of man's imagination and creation. When people imagine a god for themselves which is not the God revealed to us in the Bible-- or a Christ, who is not the Christ of the New Testament, but of their own imagination-- they are guilty of idolatry.
Again, an idol is anything which usurps God's place in our hearts. It may be in itself a sinful thing, or a questionable thing, or an innocent thing, or even a sacred thing, but if it takes the first place in our hearts, it is an idol. When Gideon made the ephod of gold, very likely his first intention was good. He had refused to be made a king, saying, ''The Lord shall rule over you''; and by the ephod, which was evidently not intended to be worn, he may have wished to indicate that the victory was from the Lord. But Israel worshipped [the ephod], and it became a snare to Gideon and his house. [Judg 8:22-27]
The desire to be rich was probably one of the reasons why the Israelites made friends with the Canaanites, and God tells us that ''covetousness is idolatry.''
- God's Witnesses.
- Even in this dark period, as in every age, God did not leave Himself without a witness, and we may see in the deliverers whom He raised up, not only a general type of Christ, but much teaching for the Christian, showing us that through the power of Christ we also may become witnesses for Him. Judges is a practical commentary on the truth that ''God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty... that no flesh should glory in His presence'' [1Cor 1:27-29].
- God used Ehud, the left-handed man, to deliverer Israel. [He also used] Shamgar with his ox-goad. He used a woman to inspire the failing courage of Barak, and to censure the men who did not help in the hour of need. Deborah said to Barak: ''Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, Go and draw toward Mount Tabor, and I will deliver Sisera into thine hand?'' (Judg 4:6,7). When Barak made his obedience conditioned by her going with him, she told him that the journey would not be to his honor, ''for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.''
- The account of Gideon is specially encouraging [6:11-40]. He was a man conscious of his own nothingness. ''Oh, my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.'' ''I have sent thee, I will be with thee. Go in this thy might, thou mighty man of valour.'' The ''Lord looked upon him'' and encouraged his faith by various signs of His mighty power. That look and that command made a hero of Gideon. He began at home, and at the bidding of the Lord threw down the altar of Baal in his father's house. His natural shrinking came out in the fact that he did it by night; his God-given courage in the fact that, though shrinking, he got it done.
Then the Lord had to reduce Gideon's army so that it might be clearly seen that the victory was His; and with the three hundred eager men, who would not stop to quench their thirst by a long draught, He delivered Israel. [ch. 7]
Every detail of Gideon's life is full of teaching. He was allowed to overhear the dream of one of the enemy, and the enemy's own interpretation of it, to strengthen his faith. A cake of barley bread falls into the camp of Midian and overthrows a tent. Barley bread was the poorest of all foods, thus carrying out the lesson that it was man's weakness cast upon God's almightiness that gained the victory that day.
- In Samson, we have the greatest contrast to Gideon. He was too weak to rule himself. A man of splendid possibilities, who squandered them through tampering with the world and breaking his Nazarite vow. When the Christian tries to make the best of both worlds, his testimony for God loses its power.
- The Angel of the Covenant.
- In this dark period of the Judges, the Angel of the Covenant, the Son of God Himself, appeared three times to His people. In the first instance (Judges 2:1), He came up from Gilgal-- where He had appeared to Joshua as Captain of the Lord's Host [Joshua 5:9-15]-- to Bochim, and there He spoke as none but Jehovah could speak, reminding them of His power and goodness, and reproving them for their disobedience. At His words, ''the Children of Israel lifted up their voices and wept. And they sacrificed there unto the Lord.''
About a hundred and fifty years later, He appeared to Gideon to call him to his great work of delivering Israel [Judg 6:11-24]. Gideon brought a burnt offering and a meat offering, and the Angel of the Lord commanded him to lay them upon the rock-- the rock itself a type of Christ, as well as the offering-- and He touched the offering with His staff, and fire rose up out of the rock and consumed the offering as a token that it was accepted.
About thirty years after this event, the Lord appeared in like manner to the wife of Manoah, and again to her and her husband together [ch. 13]. Manoah likewise brought a burnt offering and a meat offering, and offered it upon a rock, ''and the Angel of the Lord did wondrously''; for the fire went up to heaven from off the altar, and the Angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah had asked His name, the Angel of the Lord said, ''Why askest thou after My Name, seeing it is secret?'' or ''Wonderful'' (R.V.); the very Name given later through Isaiah to the Messiah that was to be born [Isa 9:6,7]. Thus we are brought face to face with the Babe of Bethlehem in the Person of the Angel of Jehovah.