Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 13. Judges
Judges 2:16 Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.
Perhaps to call the above verse a ‘highlight’ is a misnomer, for the truth is that it comes at the end of a paragraph that explains the whole of the book of Judges, and indeed explains one of the main ways that God deals with people and nations. Having studied the judgments of God in depth for several years, I conclude that here in this book we have example after example of what I have come to call ‘disciplinary judgments’ because their prime goal is to bring change of behaviour, as against what I have come to call ‘terminal judgments’ or ‘judgments of the last resort’ because they result in death because the Lord sees that nothing else will save the situation.
Scripture is clear that the Lord wishes to avoid death. We see that in his many declarations that He would drive out the inhabitants of Canaan and their death would only occur in the last resort if they stayed and fought Israel. It is also declared prophetically three times in Ezek 18:23,32 & 33:11 and in the New Testament in 2 Pet 3:9. We find in the book of Judges a process that takes place again and again and is summarised in these verses in chapter 2. Observe the stages:
Stage 1: Israel turn from the Lord: “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.” (2:10-12a) Israel demonstrate the tendency seen in the whole of mankind, a tendency to turn away from God, hence my definition of Sin that we are all infected by – self-centred godlessness. There is no other way to explain the folly that is seen in Israel whereby they completely forget all that they have heard or seen of the Lord within the last forty or so years.
It is the thing called ‘Sin’, this inherent propensity to turn away from God that we all have. The Lord may have given the wonder of His word, His salvation through His Son, and His Spirit, but still there is always a war against Sin within us. This is what the apostle Paul dealt with in his letter to the Romans and why he tells us, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires,” (Rom 6:12) and confesses his own struggles, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out,” (Rom 7:18) and concludes, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24,25) and “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit.” (Rom 8:9) We are only freed from the power of Sin as we let Jesus, by his Spirit, work in us.
Stage 2: The Lord responds: “They provoked the LORD to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them.” (2:12-15a) It is important to see that this is a specific act of disciplinary judgment by the Lord. He either lifts off His hand of protection from Israel and His hand of restraint from their enemies, or He specifically gives permission to their enemies to rise against Israel. It is intended to put Israel under pressure and it always does.
Stage 3: Israel anguish and cry to the Lord for help: “They were in great distress.” (v.15b) in this first instance they do not appear to cry for help but in most other instances throughout this book, they do, even though sometimes it may take many years for them to come to their senses.
Stage 4: The Lord brings a saviour and delivers them: “Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.” (v.16) In this respect, this verse 16 is indeed a highlight. It shows the Lord who, again and again, desires to bring His people to repentance.
Perhaps to make the point we need to quote those three sets of verses from Ezekiel that perhaps underscores all that takes place in this book:
Ezek 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” and
Ezek 18:31,32 “Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel ? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” and
Ezek 33;11 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel ?”
What is true of Israel, is true of us. Does He discipline us? Yes, because He loves us (Heb 12:5-11) and knows that sometimes this is the only way we will change. Do our occasional failures annul our salvation? Definitely not. He will continue to work in us to bring us back to Him. It is only when someone has so clearly set their heart to turn away from Him, there is doubt. The fruits of salvation for the present may be lost but that does not mean the Lord will not continue to work to bring His lost sheep home again. Hallelujah!