Judges - 01 Introduction

Chapter 1

Introduction

We believe that God has formed and ordered the worlds (ages) to accomplish and express His own purposes. James says, “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.” (Acts 15:18). His creatorial work and the unfolding of the events of the ages have this intended purpose; this purpose includes, in large part, His attempt to teach men truths concerning Himself through the things that He has made (Psalm 19:1-4, Rom. 1:20, Heb. 11:3, Acts 17:24-27, Ephesians 3:9-11). If we understand this blessed truth, it will enable us to see that He has designed every element of creation with its particular characteristic and habits so that they might serve His purpose to illustrate Divine and spiritual truth.

In like manner, we also believe that He has ordered the events of history and has recorded those events in His precious Word to teach truths by way of principle, precept or pattern so we might be better able to comprehend more of His blessed ways. The Word of God has a depth and profundity to it exceeding our ability to grasp or comprehend, and we do well to appreciate its order that clearly indicates a Divine Author desiring to communicate His will and to reveal Himself to the Sons of Men.

Order of God’s Word
Those who approach God’s precious Word without appreciating its unity and uniqueness inevitably end up studying it as they would any other ancient book. Thus, they fail to receive edification or spiritual instruction by it, and they demean the spiritual and eternal purpose for which God has given it. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we desire that our hearts, enlightened by the Holy Spirit and taught of Him, will appreciate the Divine order even in the arrangement of events and the books, not only of the New Testament but also of the Old.

For example, one could discern an order in the arrangement of the epistles in the New Testament. In one sense, this order may be the result of man’s arrangement, but perhaps we could agree that God seems to have superintended that arrangement for a purpose.

This order begins with Paul’s great treatise on justification, (Romans) which is the beginning and basis of our experience with God, and continues to develop further aspects of the corporate and individual life of the believer as a result of God’s work, ending with an unfolding of the eternal future. Epistles that deal with assembly principles follow that basic book, and then those that may be termed epistles that are more of a “kingdom character” follow. Other orderings of books of our Bible clearly seem to reflect a sequence of Divine development of truth revealed to men.

Order of Early O.T. Books
It is valuable to discern a spiritual order in the early books of our Bible, beginning with Genesis and leading up to that part of the history that describes Solomon sitting on the throne of his glory and reigning over an expansive kingdom secured through the victories of his father, David.

Mr. A. M. S. Gooding has put it thus (The Thirteen Judges):

“After the book of Judges, I repeat, there are the biographies of Saul, David and Solomon. Saul, the man of the flesh, the enemy of David, is removed in order that the warrior king David might establish the kingdom, and Solomon might sit upon the throne as the king of prosperity and peace. These three thus form a faint picture of events to take place after the church has been taken home.

I suggest therefore that the book (Judges) is applicable in teaching to the period from post-apostolic days until the rapture of the church.”

Let us trace this order in a simple and brief way in order to see the position of Judges and its relation to God’s movements toward His people. We may discern a dispensational order that gives us a picture of God’s dealings with mankind through redemption through His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Dispensations?
We might only mention at this point that “dispensation” does not mean a certain, defined period of time, though it may include that aspect. It is rather an arrangement, or a manner of God’s dealing with men, a set of certain conditions under which men were tried and under which God’s purposes were developed. Mr. W. E. Vine says,

“A "dispensation" is not a period or epoch (a common, but erroneous, use of the word), but a mode of dealing, an arrangement, or administration of affairs.”

There are some who reject a dispensational view of the Scriptures. However, without condemning any personally, we are convinced that the dispensational approach to the study of the Scriptures is more consistent and yields far greater riches to the student.

Samuel Ridout (How to Study the Bible) says,

“By "Dispensational Study," we mean the study of the various ages, epochs, or dispensations into which the history of God's dealings with mankind from the beginning to the end of time are divided. Perhaps many Bible readers have never seriously thought of the self-evident fact that God has had different methods of dealing with men from the beginning to the present. Even where there is not entire ignorance as to this, the distinction between the dispensations has been but feebly grasped by the majority of God's people. Far be it from us for a moment to say that any portion of Scripture may not be profited by without this: but we fail in its full application and use unless we realize its setting.”

Other writers could be quoted, along with the old and accepted statement regarding resolving difficulties in the Bible, “Distinguish the dispensations, and the difficulties will disappear.”

Through this method of Bible study, we recognize God’s progressive movements in His dealings with men and learn important truths from it.

    Perhaps a brief consideration of the sequence of the early books of our Bible will help us place Judges in its proper position dispensationally. This may seem somewhat tedious, but it may also be helpful to prepare us to consider the teaching of this book. Let us notice the basic picture that each book presents to us.

Genesis
Without question, Genesis gives us the origin of truth, the first movements of God in his relationship with mankind, as well as the story of man’s fall and disobedience to God. Genesis is often titled “The Way Down,” and it certainly shows us the pathway of disobedience along with those results stemming from man’s fall and sin’s entrance into the Garden of Eden.

This book, standing at the portal of God’s Word, begins by presenting a typical picture of man’s creation, fall and redemption in chapters 1-2. Those chapters also teach us the origin of all things that have been created. It typically portrays the spiritual condition that resulted from a Divine work that introduced life, a kind of life springing out of the midst of death and darkness. What a picture to us of what we (including all mankind) were by nature and in sin, far from and separated from God in the darkness of our sinful state! However, we see the Spirit of God moving (Gen. 1:2) and manifesting His power to result in fruitfulness and a condition that God can enjoy in fellowship with mankind.

Genesis also shows us the origin of sin in the history of man. It teaches us the pathway of faith exhibited by the patriarchs, which Abraham primarily exemplified.  We learn that what pleases God and gains one’s acceptance before Him is believing Him (Genesis 15:6), a condition that stands in contrast to the unbelief that pervades the human heart. So we learn just what we are before God as sinners, and we also learn what God is looking for in the individual, “believing God.” In addition, God gives us shadows of Christ and the cross in Genesis, especially when we study Isaac as the “Only Son,” and his being offered by Abraham in chapter 22. In Joseph we see our Lord Jesus Christ pictured in His rejection, His humiliation by His own brethren, and His ultimate exaltation to the throne. So Genesis is the “seed-plot” of Bible truths that are developed through the remainder of the book.

Exodus
In Exodus, God teaches us the way out of sin’s bondage through the shedding and application of the blood of the unique Lamb. It is always God’s plan and work to deliver His people from death, bondage and even out of Egypt itself. Exodus is “The Way Out,” and it pictures the work of our great Redeemer to liberate us from sin’s power and presence. Sadly, we also learn that there were those who were out of Egypt, but Egypt and its influences were not out of them, a condition all too common among saints even today!

We learn at this point that God desires to have a redeemed people gathered to Himself to hear His voice and to be His peculiar (precious) treasure. He intends them to live in a covenant relationship with Him and He expects them to respond with desires to obey Him. In addition, we learn that those who He has redeemed will have ordered lives and movements in relation to His own dwelling place according to His commandment, for certainly the Tabernacle is a graphic picture to us of the local assembly of saints in the New Testament.

Leviticus
Having redeemed His people and arranged them in His own presence according to His will, God emphasizes that they are to be a holy priesthood, suitable for His holy presence and able to offer spiritual sacrifices (Hebrews 13:15-16) to Him. Their lives are to be clean and set apart to Him (Leviticus 11-16) and they are accepted and forgiven through the value of the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus (Leviticus 1-7). Thus Leviticus is called “The Way In.” God emphasizes that he also claims His people who have been redeemed by blood. As a result, our responsibility is to maintain lives conforming to His will and acknowledging His claims upon us.

Numbers
Having dealt with their relationship to God in Leviticus, Numbers shows us their relationship to the world. In the same way, 1 Peter 1:1-2:10 teaches us our link with the Lord who has saved us, and 1 Peter 2:11- 5:13 seems to emphasize our relationship with the world in which we are “strangers and pilgrims.” The same One who brought His people out of Egypt intended to bring them into the land, sustaining them all the way and holding out before them the beauty and fruitfulness of His purposes for them. Numbers shows us how God’s people are on “The Way Through,” and we move in the same way through a barren and desolate world in dependence on God to sustain us.

We appreciate in this book the grace and goodness of God expressing the development of His salvation and desires for His people. We learn that God never intended His people then (nor does He now) to settle down and to feel “at home” in a wilderness; this is how the child of God should see the present world.

It is a sad reflection on the quality of our profession as Christians if we are content with and occupied with the empty pleasures of this life, pursuing its aims and ambitions like those who are “earth dwellers.” We are ‘in this world” but we are not of this world. Is not this the teaching of Galatians 1:4, “deliver us from this present evil world (age)”? Is it not also the expression of our Lord’s heart in John 17:14-17 in His prayer for His people as their Great High Priest? We travel through, anticipating a better country (Hebrews 11:13-16), and it is sad if we deny this truth by our manner of life.

Deuteronomy
In keeping with the title of the previous books, we can call Deuteronomy “The Way On,” for it is occupied with fortifying and preserving saints so they will go on in the absence of their great leader. It seems that this book links itself with the last words of our blessed Lord to His own in the upper room before He went away (John 13-16). Deuteronomy is more than a reiteration of the law; it is an appeal from God as He seeks to reach the hearts of His own people, desiring more than their outward conformity to His Word. He mentions their heart 43 times in this book, and we learn the importance of obedience from the heart to preserve us in our spiritual pathway for God.

As Moses gives these last words to the people and then goes up and out of their sight for the last time, we think of the One who went away, up and out of the sight of His disciples. But before leaving them, He spoke tenderly to their hearts in His Upper  Room ministry (John 13-17)  so that they might be kept in the world and from the evil (John 17:10-16). We follow those who were with Him on that occasion, and His precious Words have often encouraged and strengthened His saints to go on in faithfulness to our absent Lord.

Joshua
The departure of Moses, the lawgiver and deliverer, who could not bring them into the land, brings a new leader on the scene. Our Lord said to His own in John 16:7, “it is expedient for you that I go away.” He was indicating the value of His departure in view of the coming of the Holy Spirit who would “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13) and who would institute the era, or dispensation, of the Holy Spirit of God on the Day of Pentecost. He was sent to lead the redeemed saints of God into the land that is often associated with the truth of Ephesians, the fullness of God’s blessing for those who are “seated with Christ in heavenly places,” (Ephesians 1:3). It would seem that Joshua pictures to us the Holy Spirit. He led the people in victory after victory to possess the land, and then he divided it to them by lot for an inheritance. We, too, have an inheritance in Christ Jesus that is made real to us for our enjoyment through the work of the Spirit of God. It would be God’s desire for His own people today that they too might possess the land and not fail to go in to enjoy what is so precious to Him who is our God.

It is important to notice that the promised inheritance in the land could not be actually possessed except by conquest of the occupying nations. We learn that it is through personal exercise and effort to overcome opposing foes in spiritual places that we are able to enjoy those blessings associated with our position in Christ. Joshua divided the inheritance of the land to the 12 tribes of Israel so that their portion in the land was determined by God’s choice for them. However, we learn very quickly that the ancient dwellers of the land were determined to hinder their progress and prevent them from possessing it. That truth has its clear application to the early days of church history as well as today, individually, with regard to the believer’s life and blessings.

Judges
Now, having come to Judges, we can see that it follows the sequence of previous books. Deuteronomy suggested to us the last words of our Lord prior to His return to glory, then Joshua indicated our position in Christ in heavenlies, and now we see in Judges the experience of God’s people after the apostles were removed from this scene.

In this book, we learn the necessity for Divine leadership among God’s people after those who, like Joshua, having extraordinary power from God, are taken from the scene. The issue then and now is, “Who will rise to the standard and carry on that work with faithfulness?” We find this call reechoed by Paul in his last epistle to Timothy. He was not only concerned with Timothy’s faithfulness in service, but also about the urgency of identifying those who would faithfully follow him (2 Timothy 2:1-2).

Judges is a sad record of failure following the initial victories of the first chapter. However, even those early victories were mingled with failure, and later failures were mingled with victories under the judges, an indication of what has marked church testimony from the beginning in the book of Acts. As F. C. Jennings suggests in his book on Judges, “It is a record of events so written, as not only to be faithful history, but pictorial prophecy.” It exemplifies the truth of 1 Corinthians 10:11, that those things that are written, which happened to them, are written for our learning. If we fail to learn from their example, then we are certainly doomed to follow the same pathway.

With regard to this view, F. W. Grant writes,

“For us the typical application is but too plain. If Joshua has shown us the portion and blessing of a heavenly people, Judges gives us without any doubt the history of that people. The Church visible is here seen in its decline and corruption, its broken condition and captivity for its sins to different forms of error and evil, along with God’s way of deliverance from these exemplified in many partial deliverances. The coming of the Lord, the only complete and final deliverance, could not, of course, be pictured here.” (Numerical Bible)

Again, A. M. S. Gooding, in his book on Judges (The Thirteen Judges) says,

“The truth connected with them (the 13 judges) will be best applied in the period commencing about two generations after the descent of the Spirit of God and the commencement of the church period, in other words, the post-apostolic period; similar to that brought before us in Revelation 2 and 3 in the letters to the seven churches of Asia... I suggest therefore that the book is applicable in teaching to the period from post-apostolic days until the rapture of the church.”

A careful study of Judges reveals that the events of the book are not in strict chronological order. Some of the judges worked contemporaneously and the last events of the book actually occurred near the beginning of the book. (See Appendix I:  a chart of the suggested chronology of the book).  However, the sequence of events in the book suggests that the Spirit of God has ordered this presentation for a purpose. We suggest that its purpose is that it might present a pictorial view of the church age and God’s on-going acts to preserve His people.

The course of this book is a record of departure, with God repeatedly intervening to raise up men to recover and deliver His wandering, wayward people. Since God’s desire is always to bless His own, those men who judged Israel represented His grace, mercy and longsuffering with them. He was not willing that their testimony or history would end with such failure, thus he raised men to act on His behalf to restore and liberate them from the results of their sinfulness. This history is summarized for us in Judges 2:6-23. God says in verse 18, that “it repented the Lord because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.” As always, He acted in mercy toward them, and the judges acted for God to deliver and preserve His people. Paul emphasizes this in Acts 13:20 as also does the psalmist in Psalm 106:34-47.

In the same way, during the age of church history from Pentecost to the rapture of the church, God has repeatedly moved to recover His saints from the results of their own ways. Yet He also traces, in Revelation 2-3, the downward trend that reflects the pattern seen in Judges, ending in a Laodicean condition where “every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” (Judges 21:25). It is delightful to see that even in such degenerating days, there were those who remained faithful; we admire those such as Boaz (Ruth 2), who emerged from a famine as a “mighty man of wealth” in contrast to Elimelech and his disastrous choice.

Ruth
This lovely, short book centers on the recovery of a desolate widow (Naomi) who has moved far from the place of God’s choice to lose all in a Gentile land. This sad story is followed by her being blessed in connection with a Gentile bride being married to a mighty man of wealth (Boaz). It is not difficult to see this as a picture of the marriage of the church, the Gentile bride of Christ, to Him who also will work to restore Israel to her place, a place far better than what she has lost.

This anticipates the glorious future for Israel that God speaks of repeatedly in His Word, a future restoration that will be linked with the glory of Christ united with His blood-bought bride, the church. It looks forward to the day following the period of church testimony that will begin with the rapture of the church and God’s resumption of dealings with His earthly people once again. It is precious to see that the end of Ruth clearly links this event with the coming of the great warrior King of whom David is a picture. We look for that long-awaited day and thank God for the nearness of that event that will bring us to Him eternally.

Ruth also depicts for us the tremendous loss that results from leaving the place where God has put us and where He has promised to bless us. Elimelech likely thought that he would prosper in Moab (a picture of the world system around us), but instead, he lost everything in that strange land. Boaz is a contrast; he was a man who stayed where He knew the Lord had divided him an inheritance, and in that place he prospered and was a channel of blessing to others as well as the means of restoration of Elimelech’s family after the few of them returned. No doubt Boaz also pictures the Lord, as we noted above, but he also typifies a faithful child of God who is not easily influenced by difficult conditions that may come on God’s people.

1 Samuel – 2 Samuel
All these events culminate with the crowning of the king of peace who ruled over the largest expanse of Israelitish territory. David’s conquering and Solomon’s pacific reign were preceded by that of a king who was the people’s choice, permitted by God to occupy the throne. Leaving aside the question of whether Saul was a true believer or not, we see in him a typical presentation of a man who pleased the people but who was a constant impediment to the ascension of the rightful king to the throne. In this way, Saul suggests the anti-Christ.

David projects our minds forward to the coming of our Lord Jesus in power and glory, defeating all His foes and subduing all the nations under His power (Zechariah 12:1-9, 14:1-11). That event will then lead into the peaceful and prosperous reign, pictured by the reign of Solomon, that will be His for the duration of the millennium and into eternity. His victory will usher in the kingdom reign and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ when we, as His people, shall reign with Him and enjoy the fruits of His toil and suffering.

Until then, we act in our present responsibility as we recognize that our service for Him in this period of His rejection will determine our position with Him in the day of His glory. Again, quoting A. M. S. Gooding, “These three (Saul, David, Solomon) form a faint picture of events to take place after the church has been taken home.”

Dispensational Order
All these books indicate to us a dispensational order that God has given by means of their arrangement. Beginning with the darkness and disorder that characterized us and this world in the confusion of sin, it ends at this point with an ordered government, with the rightful king ruling, and peace pervading the entire kingdom. As such, we can see that the book of Judges, picturing the present period and God’s manner of dealing with men in this age of the church, represents an integral part of the God’s purpose in view of attaining that goal.

This should emphasize to us the importance of our responsibility to uphold the testimony to the Name of our departed, absent Lord until He comes. While the surrounding world has degenerated religiously and is degenerating further, God is always calling a remnant to remain faithful, to maintain His principles until the end of our days. Zechariah exhorted the people in his prophecy (4:10), “For who hath despised the day of small things?” Nothing can be small or insignificant if it is part of God’s on-going purpose regarding His house and the testimony to His Name. Israel might well have felt a measure of sorrow for the weak and lowly state in which they were found at that point of recovery. However, the point is that it was a work of God and because it was, what He was doing was not to be measured in terms of size or grandeur. It was to be seen in relation to the furtherance of His work in that day, and it was a call for their fervent response to His call to work and their faithful adherence to His command. We do well to respond in like manner as they did, when we think of the privileged part He has allowed us to have to maintain something that is for His honor and eternal praise.