GRACE UPON GRACE: THE MESSAGE OF JUDGES

Posted on 11 January 2011

A fantastic story of the grace of God to undeserving people! Read it!

GRACE UPON GRACE: THE MESSAGE OF JUDGES

The Old Testament narrative books tend to finish rather like a good televised serial story! Just at the point when you and I are anxious to know what will happen next, the book comes to an end! Take Genesis for example. The latter part of the book is woven around the promises made to Abraham and his family. Little by little we see God working out his purposes (often in highly unpromising circumstances) until, in chapter 50, we are brought to the point where we are asking, ‘ How then is God going to fulfill his plans?‘. This question is re-enforced by the description of Joseph’s death-bed affirmation, God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 50:24). But we are left ‘suspended in mid air’. It is not until we turn over the page and begin to read Exodus that the answer begins to unfold!

The book of Joshua is little different. The account of the initial conquest is given up to the death of Joshua himself. Again we are left anticipating the sequel. Once again our anticipation is heightened by Joshua’s final address (recorded in Joshua 24). There Joshua reminds the people of their past experience of God’s blessing; he reminds them of their election (2-4), redemption (5-7) and their recent experience of the LORD’s actions on their behalf (11-13). The people recognise the truth of what Joshua said (16-18) and, pledge themselves to the LORD (see, especially, 21, we will serve the LORD) and His Law (25f.). What can God not do with a people thus devoted to him?

There remained, of course, much to be done. A comparison between Joshua and the early chapters of Judges indicates that though a general conquest had been undertaken pockets of resistance remained. The war had been won, the decisive battles had apparently occured. Effort might be required to secure peace but it now seemed achievable.

So, the people’s pledge and their past experience of God promised well for the future: despite Joshua’s warning (19f). And on this optimistic note of expected victory the Book of Joshua closes. Jensen says, ‘Thus they [had] entered into the promised blessings of the inheritance- victory, prosperity and happiness- which is the life God would always have His people lead. They were surrounded by enemies; indeed some enemies still lived within their boundaries. But if they would obey God and His commands concerning these enemies, they would have the power of the Almighty with them’ (Survey of the Old Testament, Moody Press, p.154). Moreover, as Keddie notes (p.9) the ‘momentum’ was not with their enemies but with them: the Canaanites were terrified of the Israelites.

So we turn over the page and, with high hopes, begin to read the sequel.
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1:1-2:5. Trust and Obey

Initially all went well for the Israelites. The people sought the LORD’s direction and help (1,2) in the manner he had appointed (compare Numbers 27:18-21). Following the specific advice that he gave them that Judah is to go, they quickly experience the fulfillment of God’s promise: I have given the land into their hands. God went with them and brought them victory (see, especially, verse 19). Successes followed for both Judah/Simeon (3-26) and also for the other tribes (27ff.).

Obediently, Judah responds to the word of God and remarkable successes followed! The author of Judges records that they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek (4); an unimaginably vast victory for the relatively unpopulated world of the time. Moreover, the king of Bezek was no local clan-chief but a mighty emperor with many people groups subject to him (7).

Success followed success. Jerusalem itself was captured (8) and, significantly victory was experienced wherever Judah went, whether in the hill country or the south country (or Negev) or in the low-lying western foothills (9). But victory in different terrain and over a wide geographical area was not all that was experienced. Mighty cities fell to the Judahites. Hebron, one of the great towns of Palestine taken (10). Significantly, we are reminded of its other name: Kiriath Arba. Arba was the name of the father of the Anakim (compare, Joshua 14:15 and 15:13) the giants before whom the Israelites had trembled in the wilderness. Apparently this city was their stronghold but it was taken so summararily that it gets but half a verse! In addition, the great cultural city of the region, Kiriath Sepher, the city of books, was subdued (11ff.).  To destroy the military and cultural centres was to destroy the civilisation built around them. Victory for the Judahites was total!

At this point, and perhaps surprisingly, we are introduced to a bit of family history (11-15). However, when the Scriptures offer us little (or big) surprises we should not pass over them to rapidly. We need to ask the question why such incidents were recorded.  Some commentators suggest that we are intended to see this story about Othniel and Acsah as something of a parable and develop this idea in two possible directions. Here we are introduced to two young people who were ready to venture in faithful obedience on God and found him fully able to supply their needs. Not only the nation but the individual could expect God’s help when they lived in humble dependence on him. Or, perhaps, we are intended to see in them a mirror image of what God was looking for in the people as a whole. If this is so, disappointment quickly follows for, increasingly, the story takes a less than happy turn.

Initially we are offered further accounts of victory (17,18); although we might ‘smell a rat’ in verse 18 when we are told that Judah also took Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron, since elsewhere in the Old Testament we are told that there were five not three cities of the Philistines! Was the Judahite success beginning to run out of steam?

This certainly appears to be the case in the describes which are subsequently recounted since Judah failed to gain a hold on the lowlands, where the chariots of the Canaanites gave them the upper hand (19). Anyone with a basic knowledge of Palestine will immediately realise the significance of this. James Jordan notes that ‘The plains were in the center [sic] of the land of promise. The continuing strength of the Canaanites had effectively divided Judah and Simeon from the rest of the tribes. Over the centuries, this isolation brought about cultural division, and caused more and more trouble until the two kingdoms split from one another. Thus do minor compromises grow into major troubles’.

A brief but significant flashback is then recorded; faithful and elderly Caleb had led the rout of Hebron (20, compare verse 10) and was given to him as God had promised through his servant Moses.  By way of (surely intended contrast) we are told that Benjamin failed to secure Jerusalem (21).

From this point onwards the story rapidly plunges downhill into darkness. The success of Joseph (22-26) stands out like a beacon amid the accounts of Manasseh’s failure to exterminate the inhabitants of Bethshan etc. (27) and the record that the Canaanites were not exterminated but dwelt in the land as subjects (29-30). More serious was the fact that in some places the situation was reversed: Asher failed so miserably that the Canaanites held the upper hand. They ‘lived among the Canaanite inhabitants’. But worst of all was the situation of Dan. They failed to dislodge the Canaanites and had to seek ‘alternative accommodation’ (34 and compare 18:1ff.).

Thus, a careful study of a map reveals that the Israelites were only able to hold the hill country rather like modern guerillas. They had failed entirely to establish themselves as God had promised. Indeed, as verse 35 indicates, the places where Joshua had been buried (Mount Heres, compare 2:9) and where he had experienced his most spectacular victory (Aijalon, see Joshua 10:12) were now in Amorite hands, behind a sort of established frontier (36).

But why this ‘day of small things?‘ Chapter 1 offers a hint (19). The military capability of the plains-people was too great for the limited resources of the Israelites. They could only get the upper hand where the chariots were valueless.

Yet can the writer of Judges expect us to take this comment seriously? Surely the entire story of the Israelites up to this point has been of God’s intervention to turn their impossibilities into his victories? The God who had subdued Pharoah, divided the Red Sea and the Jordan, fed millions of his people in a barren wilderness for forty years and had brought the walls of Jericho tumbling down was surely not going to be baulked in his purposes by a few Caananite chariots! Doubtless, then, we are intended to ask the question, ‘Whatever the human reasons for failure, why does God not appear to be working among his people now?‘

We are not left long to discover the answer! Moreover, when it comes it is God himself who speaks in the person of the angel of the LORD (2:1). This mysterious angel appears frequently in the Old Testament from Genesis 16 onwards. When he appears he is distinguished from other angels and when he speaks he not merely speaks God’s words but is recognised as God himself. Some, therefore, identify the Angel with Christ himself. Whether or not this is true, the Angel had been sent before Israel to ensure their success (Exodus 23:20-23) and appears as captain of the LORD’s host in Joshua 5:13ff.

Bokim may possibly be another name for Bethel. Whether or not this is so, the Israelites seemed to have gathered for a national convocation, possibly some form of war-council. 

While they were there the Angel arrived from Gilgal. This is immensely significant. When the people entered the land they had pledged themselves to the LORD there and He had guaranteed their success (Joshua 5:13). Perhaps the people were complaining that He had failed them. In reality the Angel revealed that the boot was on the other foot: the people had failed their part of the ‘bargain’ and this in two ways. They had been told that their blessing depended on their obedience (Deuteronomy 30:16) and, in particular, that they were to make no covenant with the Canaanites and no compromise with their religion (Exodus 23:32f; 34:10-16). It was their unfaithfulness that had brought disaster. Later (chapters 4,5) the LORD would prove that the chariots of the Canaanites were no problem to Him! Equally, later chapters demonstrate that these two faults characterised the life of the people throughout the period of the judges; in an ever more serious way.

Confronted with their sin the people wept and offered sacrifices (5). We may, however, question their sincerity since there is no evidence of respite. Tears can sometimes be the result of having been caught out- not genuine sorrow. The LORD looks for rent hearts not garments (Joel 2:12-14; Psalm 51:17). Thus, as Lewis points out,  ‘ true repentance must go beyond tears of sorrow and achieve a right-about-face, a turning of one’s entire self from sin to a walk that pleases God’.

But what has all this got to do with us? We need to see that we, too, are the people of God. We, too, are called to avoid all compromise with enemies whether within or without. There can be no compromise with the world nor any acceptance of sin. Mighty enemies though we are facing (and the New Testament never underestimates the power of the opposition, see Ephesians 6:12) they are no excuse for our failure. The only excuse a powerless church and a defeated Christian has is their, or, his or her disobedience. Defeat is not part of God’s programme for us, ineffectiveness is not His plan. The ‘day of small things’ is a ground alone for self-examination and penitence. Yet we can always hide behind apparently good excuses and, tacitly at least, blame God. We always have enemies with chariots! But God’s programme for His church and His people is growth and like the ancient Israelites we have our past experience to strengthen our confidence and resolve.

Moreover, we need to learn to trust God. One cannot help feeling that, by and large, the people won the victories which they were able to achieve with their own resources. It was when they were at the end of themselves that they failed to look to God. How easily we can do the same. Our vision for the Lord’s work is no greater than our own strength.

Perhaps, then, the Saviour (prefigured in the Angel?) is calling us away from our compromise and small ambitions to loving obedience and victory. May His work in our hearts be deeper than that recorded in 2:5!

There is one final word, so typical of this book. Amid the judgment is a word of grace (3). The people are not totally cut off as was to be expected. God left time for penitence. May we redeem, too, it
Questions:

1. It is easy for us to read this passage and point the finger at our nation. However, the people of Israel were first and foremost the ‘congregation of the LORD’. What might we learn as believers and church-members from our failures in the light of this passage?

2. Reflect on the example of Othniel and Acsah. What lessons might you and I learn from them?

3. What do you think are the characteristic marks of true repentance?


2:6-3:6. The downward spiral of disobedience and defeat.

It is a feature of Hebrew writing that often a story, or part of it, is told twice over with slight differences of emphasis in order to derive different lessons from the same events. This is true here. The same period of Israel’s history as occupied 1:1-2:5 is reintroduced but the lessons to be learnt are different.

As we look at these verses it is clear that they were intended to teach the danger of resting upon the experience of past generations (2:6-15). Verses 6-9 repeat Joshua 24:28-31 but with one significant difference: in Judges the LORD’s dealings with the Israelites are said to have been great (7). Joshua and the elders had seen much success as they rested in the LORD. But it is easy for the next generation under such circumstances to presume upon such blessing (and even the generation who have received the blessing not to pass on the knowledge of it in an adequate way). Then when things start to go wrong the new generation shows that it has not the faith of that which has gone. Doubtless the generation after Joshua were aware of the nations past history; but they knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel (10).  In other words their knowledge was not something that had become personal and   led to a loving obedience and trust in the LORD (this is what knowledge of God usually means in the Bible).  Rather, various faithless attempts were adopted to ‘bolster up’ the situation. Any respite in such circumstances is, however, only temporary and any apparent blessing illusory. Powerlessness results and leads to successive defeats. This is what is described in this paragraph. The new generation did not have that intimate knowledge of the LORD which had characterised the servant of the LORD (8) and his colleagues. As a result they had not seen the mighty deeds of God themselves (10b) and they were insufficiently aware of their past history, even second hand, to be able to derive any benefit from it (10b). The result was that they turned to the religions of the land they had begun to conquer. We know that they never, in their own minds, exchanged one religion for another. Rather they looked for help from the gods of the land in matters in which the LORD seemed unable to help them. But the writer of Judges knew better: They did evil ... [and] forsook the LORD (11,12). Rather than turn to self-examination they turned to self-help. But such flabby religion led to flabby people, without the will to resist the LORD’s enemies (14). The final result was utter defeat (15). Yet, sadly, the people failed to realise their true situation: it was the LORD into whose hands they had fallen (14f.).

This a lesson we need to learn. The twentieth century church in England has reproduced this picture almost exactly. In the early years the churches were able to rest upon the success and the momentum of the past. But gradually, as the tide turned against it more and more, there was little evidence of penitence: only numerous attempts to shore up shaky structures. Spirituality, even among the faithful, went into rapid decline. Hope was lost and the ‘great distress’ became and to some extent remains the situation today. The choice is ours: will we return to the LORD of our fathers or continue to grieve the LORD and experience His wrath (13-14) by our efforts at faithless self-help?

A further lesson here is the danger of looking to the LORD for what Arthur Cundall calls ‘crash-aid’, (16-23). These verses summarise the remainder of the main section of the Book of Judges (3:7-16:31), a period of 200-400 years (depending on chronology. This is debated among the scholars and those interested are referred to more scholarly commentaries or dictionaries for a full discussion of the issues). As such, they issue a very important warning. Even in their great distress (15), the people refused to turn back to the LORD. This was despite the fact that the LORD encouraged their return by granting them leaders who were able to bring them success again (16,18). Even in such circumstances they would not listen to their judges (17).  Even where there was evidence of repentance the sequel indicated that their penitence was, at best, partial. All too quickly (unlike their fathers they quickly turned away, 17) they succumbed to the faults from which they had so recently escaped (17,19). Moreover, each time they sank lower and lower (19b). Cundall says, ‘The voice of conscience can become dulled by successive acts of sin, and repentance can become more and more superficial until, ensnared in the character formed by a multitude of thoughts and actions, a miracle is needed to produce a genuine repentance and a seeking of the LORD with the whole heart’.

The lesson for us is this. We are not simply to seek the LORD because we are in a mess and need help. Rather, we are to desire His glory above all things and come right back to Him. Only then is there any hope of permanent blessing in the future. Or is a miracle already needed to rouse us from our selfish preoccupation with our own distress?

In addition to this, this section teaches the need to re-learn spiritual warfare (3:1-6). Three reasons for the continued presence of enemies in the land is given in this passage. As a result of their failure, the people were being punished (20f.). In addition to this, the enemies remained to test their faithfulness (22). But there is a final reason. Enemies remained to teach the new generations the art of warfare (3:2).

Joshua and his contemporaries had not overcome the nations of the land by their own power or earthly weapons (as the defeat of Jericho and defeat by Ai showed). Rather it was the miraculous help of the LORD to a people utterly dependent upon Him and obedient to Him that had brought success. It was this lesson that the people needed to relearn. Only then would the selfish religion that characterised them have its power broken.


If there is one lesson in this passage it is this. Spiritual battles are won in no other way (compare 3:10; 6:34; 9:23; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6,19; 15:14,19 with Zechariah 4:6). As we labour and seek to be obedient in all things we look to Him who, alone, can effect an increase.

This is a solemn passage in a solemn book. And yet it is encouraging too! For it is the merciful LORD who was ordering the Israelites way (as ours) even in defeat. This section is full of God’s acts of righteous vengeance against the poeple who had forsaken his covenant: the LORD was provoked to anger (12), the hand of the Lord was against them (15) and the LORD was very angry (26). Yet all this is admixed with his mercy: the LORD raised up judges (16) and he had compassion on them (18). His hand of the wrath was mixed with mercy to the end that the people might come back to the place of blessing and success. May we learn the lesson well and not fail His mercy.

Sadly, it failed to work for the Israelites. Forbidden marriage contracts were made and idolatrous worship adopted (3:5,6) and the people refused to give up their evil practices and their stubborn ways (19).

Questions:

1.  ‘Count you blessings, name them one by one’. As you reflect upon God’s mercies to you, what effect can you detect that they have had upon your faithfulness (or lack of it)?  How might this passage apply to your situation?

2. In the light of this passage, what can you and I learn about the nature and the progress of sin? In what ways does your experience confirm the truth of this passage?

3. What does this passage teach us about the relationship between blessing and God’s approval of us? How might your answer be relevant to situations known to you?

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Introduction to 3:7-16:31

In 3:7-16:31 the cycle of sin, judgment, deliverance and blessing introduced in 2:16ff. is illustrated by a series of examples. 13 ‘deliverers’ are described: six are very briefly mentioned (Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon) but seven of them have their activities described more fully.

The story is designed to provide a somewhat repetitive and depressing story and we should not fail to notice this! Judges was written to emphasise the fact that God’s people seldom or but slowly learn the folly of deserting Him. Repetition only goes to show how slowly we sometimes are to learn and, at the same time, emphasises how vital is the lesson.

While the previous observations suggest the nature of the basic framework for the central chapters of the book of Judges, it is important that we do not miss the distinctive features in each of the stories. Thus, as we proceed, we shall concentrate upon the distinctive lessons of each episode in the story. But though we shall do this, we must not forget the overall message of this central section of the book.

3:7-5:31 is the first part of this large, central section of the Book of Judges. If the chronology which is preferred by the present author is adopted (see comments above on p xx) these chapters cover a period of over 200 years from about 1435 BC to 1229 BC. So the story begins shortly after the death of Joshua (who died about 1442) and proceeds to recount three separate periods of oppression and deliverance. These are:

i) the subjection to Chusan-rishathaim from which was brought to an end by Othniel (3:7-11).

ii) the Moabite and Philistine incursions into the land against which Ehud (3:12-30) and Shamgar (3:31) rebelled.

iii) the oppresion by Jabin, king of Hazor from whom the Israelites were delivered by Deborah and Barak (chapters 4,5)

3:7-11: The cycle begins.

Any visitor to modern Palestine today is very quickly made aware of the vital importance of water to the economy of the modern state of Israel. Tour guides emphasise the importance of drinking little and often to avoid dehydration. A bus tour around the country emphasises how important modern irrigation schemes are to agricultural success. Jerusalem itself rests on the edge of the barren desert wastelands of the southern part of the country.

It was ever so! And living on the knife edge between plenty and want (depending on whether the rains came at the right time) the ancient inhabitants of Canaan had developed a religion designed to ensure that drought was averted. Modern students would describe the religion by the term ‘ sympathetic magic’. So, if the worshipper desired a particular blessing from his god he would try to draw his god’s attention to his need by doing something designed to remind the god of the need. The prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18) tried to remind Baal of their need for fire to descend from heaven by cutting themselves so that blood (red like fire) would run down their bodies. It was hoped that this might encourage Baal to send fire down.

Similarly, when the Canaanites sought good flocks they would go to their shrines and have sex with the pagan shrine prostitutes, in the hope that Baal might fertilize the land. This is the background to the mention of the Baals and the Asherahs (the female partners of the Baals) in verse 7. 

The Israelites found Baalism a constant temptation. On the one hand they were called to simply trust God for their needs and humbly look to him who had done so much for them. On the other hand, faced with the possibility of ruin, there was always the temptation to feel that it might be worth trying something else to ensure their well-being.

Moreover, the situation could be looked at another way. It was true, of course, that the LORD had done some spectacular things in the nation’s history. But in Canaan their needs were rather different. Here it was not spectacular interventions in history that were required but the provision of day to day necessities. Perhaps, the local gods were more adept to meet these sort of needs?

Either way, Israel’s error was, as Michael Wilcock puts it, ‘the classic sin of preferring the local gods to Israel’s own God: the sin, that is, of centering her life on the values of the world around her, and of assuming that in practice they are more important and valid than the Lord is’.
 
Such apostasy began (and begins) when the people forgot the LORD (7). This is a significant phrase. God’s people seldom take a decisive step and reject the LORD. If they did it would be so much more easy to spot and so much easier to handle pastorally. But it is not usually like that. No deliberate decision is taken to exchange the LORD for the gods of this world. Rather a gradual decline takes place often so imperceptible that those who are on such a path do not even notice what is happening. Little by little the LORD has a smaller and smaller place in the lives of such people and a length he is ‘forgotten’ for all practical purposes and apostasy is complete and the individual or nation conforms to the prevailing world-view. This can happen, of course, even while the LORD is still, at least nominally, worshipped and it is what happened to the people of Israel shortly after the death of Joshua. Only by care and diligence can we ensure the same does not happen to us: after all consider how many this has been true over the years of in the churches we know.  We surely cannot rest content when others who once walked with us have forgotten the LORD.

One of the most graphic passages in the Old Testament is found in Deuteronomy 27 and 28. There the Israelites were commanded to divide into two groups upon the slopes of the two mountains, Ebal and Gerizim. One group were to shout out the blessings of faithful obedience to God’s covenant with his people. The others were to respond by calling out the curses that the LORD would bring upon those who failed him. There God had promised the very things the Canaanite gods claimed to provide (28:3-6) if his people were faithful but had threatened destruction at the hands of their enemies if they failed (see, especially 28:20ff.).

All too quickly the people aroused the anger of the LORD (verse 8). Their first enemy arose from the north. Aram Naharaim means ‘Syria of the two rivers’ and probably refers to the Mesopotamian territories between the Tigris and the Euphrates.  Because of the Arabian Desert lying east of the Jordan all the ancient trades routes from Mesopotamia circumscribed a great loop north and west before entering the Jordan rift valley and sweeping south. Hence Cushan-Rishathayim was the first of many to attack the people of God from the north and he may well have been the head of an ancient ‘super-power’.  His name as given here actually means ‘Cushan of the double wickedness’ and is the sort of name oppressed people’s grimly give in jest to their enemies. This being the case, it hints at the severity of the sufferings the people experienced under his rule. Indeed, the cruelty of the peoples from the north was a by-word in the ancient world.

Remarkably, we are told that it was the LORD who sold the people into Cushan’s hands. This emphasises a vital biblical truth. God would sooner suffer reproach than an apostate people. When God’s people suffer disgrace He can become a reproach among the ungodly. But, this passage emphasises, the LORD would sooner this than His holiness is ‘endangered’ by His people. When the people did evil (7,and see 12) the LORD punished them and allowed them to be trampled under foot by the people (and let us not forget it) the gods of other nations.

Doubtless the Israelites had not yet sunk to the level of the peoples around them. But they had declined from righteousness: the only thing that could outwardly distinguish themselves as the LORD’s. Thus, he sold his people into slavery to other nations and their gods (8). As their benevolent master he had every right. As their covenant God it was His duty to those who had torn up the covenant agreement.

Today both individuals and churches are too often in precisely this situation. In unrighteousness we find ourselves powerless and forsaken by the LORD.

It is often assumed that when they cried out to the LORD (9) the people were responding to their suffering in repentance. However, Davis suggests that this was not the case. He note that when the phrase is used elsewhere ‘the emphasis remains on the condition of distress rather than on any expression of repentance’. Thus, he suggests, when the LORD raised up a saviour for Israel, ‘he was responding to their misery rather than their sorrow, to their pain rather than their penitence’. In this way the LORD’s mercy, even for a sinful people, is exalted. The deliverance was sheer grace!

We have already met Othniel (see 1:11-15). Presumably now an aged man, he was none the less raised up by the LORD to venture forth against the LORD’s enemies and secure victory and a lasting peace of forty years (11). For this task he was equipped by the Spirit of the LORD who came upon him (10). Thus a good man was raised up, and equipped with the resources necessary (which outran all human ones) he was able to deliver God’s people. Would the lesson be learnt by Israel?

Questions:

1.  What are the equivalent of the Baals and the Asherahs in today’s world? In what way have they exercised a fatal fascination over the church today?

2. What lessons might you personally learn from the information we are given about Othniel in this passage?

3. Are there situations today that you can identify where God seems to be allowing his own name to be ill-spoken of, rather than be seen as the God of a sinful people?  What might we learn from this?

3:12-31: Saved by the Unexpected.

These verses describe Israel’s bondage and deliverance from an enemy from the east (Moab) and one from the west (the Philistines). It is surely not without significance that Israel’s first three enemies come from different points of the compass. The point should not be lost on us. When we fail to love in trusting obedience we are surrounded by potential enemies! In fact, as we shall see, Judges even goes on to speak of the enemy within (chapters 4,5).

While reflecting on these enemies it is interesting to notice how different they were. Cushan, as we have seen, was probably a great king. The Phoenicians (Philistines) were also a powerful race; though scarcely in the same league. But Jabin and Eglon were only local petty rulers. But the Israelites fell before them all!

Sadly, all too often departure from the LORD means that we, too, are powerless both morally and spiritually. Apostasy was quickly seen in a decline in morality. This is inevitable. As we show less concern for the LORD we will be less interested in His standards and, therefore, will be more quickly ensnared by sin. Spiritually, too, the people knew no success or blessing. How could they? And how can we?

We note that apostasy is followed by increasingly harsh punishment. First it was eight years (8), then eighteen (14). In 4:3 it will be twenty years. This shows two things. The people may have been slower to turn to the LORD. Or, perhaps more likely, the LORD found it necessary to punish his people more and more severely in order to seek to awaken them to the realities of the situation.

This point was surely pressed home here when the people became subject to Moab, and the Ammonites and Amalekites (13). These three peoples had arisen as a result of faithlessness among those who were among the ‘family of God’ (see Genesis 19:30-38: 36:9-12). That the people of God were now subjected to utterly godless peoples should have brought them up short with a start. When we are powerless before the attacks of apostates do we feel the rebuke we should?

Nevertheless there is another side to the story here. It describes the people and the tactics God uses. It is instructive to compare the three saviours of Israel described in this passage. As we have seen, Othniel was a senior citizen. It seems almost certain that he had known Egypt as a child, he had known the wilderness wanderings and had, probably, become a leader among the people in the land (this seems to explain the note about him in 1:11-15). Ehud was a ‘handicapped’ person: quite literally, since he was left-handed (15). Both in Israel, as in many societies today, this was regarded as a disadvantage. But cunning, brave Ehud (see again below) was able to turn his disability into a strength. Shamgar may well have been a Canaanite: his name and home town/family name suggests this (more scholarly works offer the reasons for this conclusion). Perhaps he was a recent convert to the LORD. Stirred by the contradiction between God’s promises and his experience and concerned for the honour of the LORD he took up any available instrument and wielded it for the LORD (the ox-goad (31) could be made into a vicious eight-foot long weapon!). Perhaps the Philistines had made this necessary by disarming the Israelites (compare 1 Samuel 13:19-22).

The lesson from all this is obvious. The LORD will use anyone for His glory: all those who seek His honour above everything else. Through them He will establish His righteousness (10, this is what ‘judge’ implies). Through them He will win victories. There are none too old, too green, too handicapped to work for Him! Under His blessing God can use us all whatever our personalities and gifts: after all He made us the way we are and called us to work for His victory!

Our warfare is spiritual. We are called to establish the kingdom and the glory of Jesus. As a result of this we are not called to armed resistance but we are called to put on the whole armour of God and go forth to undertake spiritual warfare. May we not prove apostate and faithless but find in the Spirit of Jesus our strength and victory!

There are some further details in this passage that are worth noticing before we conclude our study. Eglon seems to have established his base in Jericho, the City of Palms (13). What an irony! The place where Israel had experienced its greatest victory in the conquest of the land was now occupied by the enemy and oppressor.

A further irony is that Ehud was presumably chosen to be the envoy of Israel precisely because he was a cripple and could not, therefore, be seen as a threat. The Hebrew text makes this more apparent than English versions by telling us that Ehud could not use his right hand. He was left-handed of necessity! And surely a left-handed cripple is no threat for anyone? [Note that there may be a further irony, in that Ehud was a Benjamite (15); literally, from the tribe of the ‘son of the right hand’].

Some commentators make a great deal of the fact that there is no mention of the Holy Spirit as equipping Ehud for his saving role. Here, it is suggested, God allows human efforts to triumph. For some expositors this helps resolve the embarrassment that they feel about God giving a deliverer (15) who didn’t fight by the Marquis of Queensberry’s rules! 

But we can be unduly squeamish. Life in this world is not conducted within a sanitised environment. A sinful world is a world which is messy. And most of us work with some sort of definition of a ‘just war’ where sometimes the ends justify the means. However, this passage tells us that God is willing to get his hands dirty (very dirty!) in order to effect the gracious salvation of his people. What a joy that is!

Graeme Auld describes this story as ‘delightful’ ! That may not be our opinion but surely the details of this story are described with a view to making Israel laugh again. How is the mighty oppressor overthrown! And what a victory ensued! Again a phenomenal number of the enemy were slain (ten thousand, 29 and see 1:4) and a period of extended peace (eighty years or two generations, 30) followed.  How gracious is our God.
Questions:

1. Is it ever right to deceive others or lie? Compare this passage with Exodus 1:19-20 and give reasons for your conclusions.

2. What comfort can be drawn from this passage and its description of God getting his ‘hands dirty’? How might the lessons apply to your life today?

3. Reflect on the way this passage exalts God’s grace. What response ought you and I to offer to the revelation of God given here?

4. This passage shows that God often works in unexpected ways. He saves his people in unexpected ways and by unexpected people. What might we learn from this? Are there any limits which God places upon himself when doing the ‘novel thing’? What are they?
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4:1-5:31: Saved by two women!

This glorious deliverance of the people of God by Deborah and Barak brings to an end the first cycle of the stories about the judges (3:7-5:31).

The details of the battle described here are not easy to reconstruct and there are not a few scholars quick to point out apparent contradictions between the two accounts of victory in chapters 4 and 5. However, when we bear in mind that the second account is a poem and that poetry, by definition, is less concerned with literal factual truth than of seeking to capture the spirit and the emotions associated with what is described the problems evaporate! Moreover, it is questionable whether the disparities are any greater than the variations between two people who give their testimony of the same event. There are no irreconcilable contradictions. Happily, moreover, none of this inhibits our general understanding of the passage nor its application.

Time came when Ehud died and, with the external restraint taken away, Israel reverted to her true character and did evil in the eyes of the LORD (4:1).  Davis notes,‘ There is something wrong with religion when its degree of fidelity depends solely on outside pressures, influences and leadership’. However, this fundamental weakness will charactersie Israel throughout this book. Israel’s faith was never more than skin-deep. It failed to become a religion of the heart. That this is the issue here is demonstrated by Deborah’s words in 5:31 when she speaks of true believers as they who love you.  This verse is crucial to an understanding of the present section for it describes the LORD’s purpose for His people as one in which their glory and power increases like the sun to its zenith. Such a defeat of His enemies then becomes the LORD’s own vindication: a fact which Deborah clearly recognised in her song (5:3, 10f.). God’s desire is His own glory seen in the victory and honour of His own people. We need to rediscover this optimistic perspective which pervades the Scriptures. It is sadly lacking today and Christians sometimes glory in their reproach. Not so Deborah, who recognised that she needed waking up out of such a dishonouring and slothful attitude!

Yet we must not fail to notice that God would sooner deny his glory than have those who own his name fail to live for him alone and love him above all else.

What then was the failure of the people at this point?  The key word is again (4:1). Wickedness, as Wilcock notes, is desperately unoriginal and in Israel’s case it varied only in that it got worse. Once again, the people were guilty of apostasy; they chose new gods (5:8). But this apostacy was the result of unbelief. Failure to trust God and His word forced them to seek substitutes, other means to secure their well-being. We are no different: we often look to programmes and techniques rather than to the LORD and His Word. The root of such an attitude may lie in a failure to believe that God can do anything more than we can achieve for ourselves. It can also be found in wanting guarantees beyond the Word itself. Some think that that was Barak’s problem (4:8). So, they argue,  while there is a proper sense of inadequacy when faced with a responsibility given to us by the LORD (compare 2 Corinthians 3:5,6) this was not Barak’s problem as the following judgment (even if mildly expressed by a gentle God) makes plain (4:9). Others, however, suggest that this is unlikely. Wilcock, for example, notes that Hebrews 11:32 commends Barak’s faith (not that of Deborah or Jael). Moreover, he is willing to go, if the conditions are met. This is not downright disobedience! Moreover, says Wilcock, ‘Barak’s missing the honour of killing Sisera, is not necessarily a rebuke - it is just as likely to be a plain statement of fact’ (obscured by the NIV translation). In the light of this it is perhaps best to see Barak’s faith as weak but genuine and that he was seeking the assurances that most of us look for when God calls us to step out boldly for him. That he was willing to step out is all to his credit in the circumstances since he was being invited to lead a small band of peasants, without weapons (5:8) against a crack professional army of enormous size (note the repetition of nine hundred chariots in 4:3, 10). Small wonder the writer to the Hebrews sees him as a champion of the faith!

However, if this was not Barak’s problem, it certainly had been that of the people as a whole.  For over twenty years (4:2) the people had done nothing; despite the fact that God had promised them the land occupied by their enemies and that his glory and their blessing was at stake.  We can sympathise with their reasoning. What use would the 10,000 Israelites be against the enemy’s 900 chariots. But Paul could warn against seeking to live by appearances and not faith (2 Corinthians 5:7): it is a fault to which we are all inevitably prone. But we must recognise it for the sin it is and place ourselves, once and for all, under the Word of God: under its promises and revelation of the character of God and under the evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past.

Interestingly, the fact that it was Jabin, a king of Canaan who reigned in Hazor (4:2) should have given Israel pause for thought. Not only had God promised time and again that he would expel the Canaanites from the land but (as Joshua 11:10f. tells us) a former Jabin had been routed. The situation was clearly not hopeless if God was on his poeple’s side!

This passage emphasises, however, the desperate consequences that result from a failure in God’s people to trust Him. They lost their honour and the name and favour of the LORD was greatly obscured. They were subjected to war, weakness and servitude.  The oppression was severe (4:3); a word used, as Jordan notes, of the Egyptian bondage in Exodus 1:13-14.  Communications were disrupted, agriculture affected. In sum, they were in a sorry mess (5:6f.). Davis says, ‘Times were so bad folks couldn’t even travel safely- they had to take the back roads because thieves and thugs freeloaded on the highways. Israel was totally defenceless, having neither warriors (v. 7a) nor weapons (v 8b…)‘. When faith goes out the window the same is always true: far from securing what little we have (the usual motive), we lose even that! God’s people are not called to defend ground already held but to go out to win fresh victories and possessions.


Humanly speaking the odds against the Christian and the church are always too great. Barak, as we have seen, recognised that in his own situation. However, we are not to use the ‘realities of the situation’ in such a way as to overthrow faith. There is a place for realism and common sense among believers: but it is not here! God had spoken: The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: Go…(4:6). Living in obedient faith, Barak soon discovered that the battle was not his because the LORD routed Sisera (4:15). He did not have to fight for victory: all he had to do was to pursue a fleeing enemy (4:16)! As to the battle itself, Barak is not mentioned! What then did those fearsome chariots mean to the LORD and those who believed in Him? Indeed, as the sequel pointedly shows (4:17-22 and parallel), a lone believing woman was sufficient to break the power of the Canaanites once and for ever. Never again did they constitute a threat to the people of Israel. They were an enemy routed once and for ever.

How slow we are to learn the same lessons. The hymnwriter says, ‘Soldiers of Christ arise, and put your armour on, strong in the strength which God supplies through His eternal Son’. This attitude has always accompanied the expansion of the church.

The Bible is full of ironic humour. This is evident here. The Israelites were tempted, as we have already seen, to look to nature gods to meet their daily needs. Hence Baal was often depicted as the god of the thunderstorm. Here Barak (which means ‘thunderbolt’) was assisted by what appears to be a thunderstorm (see, especially the description of its results in 5:20ff.) to overthrow the Cannanites who worshipped the ‘thunder god’.  As far as the Canaanites were concerned the only thing that thundered for them were the horses’ hoofs; in retreat! Perhaps we are intended to grasp at this point that, as Jordan puts it,  all ‘pagan religion is a cheap and perverted [we might add, powerless] copy of the truth’.

A faithful leadership is a great blessing.  5:2,9 makes it clear that responsible, believing leadership can transform a cowering people into the horde who rushed down Mount Tabor to victory. The people willingly offer themselves….When the princes of Israel take the lead. The world, of course, knows this well. A people are seldom more visionary and confident than their leaders: those who are expected to show them an example. Thus, if the lessons of these two chapters are to be learnt by all of us, they are to be carefully considered, especially, by those who are or aspire to being leaders. Leaders are to lead!


These two chapters also introduce to us the tragedy of the spectator.  Some, but not all, those who were available to fight for the victory of the LORD took up arms. Some, however, did not respond. In trans-Jordan there was a great deal of talk and searching of heart (5:15,16) but the needs of their flocks of sheep took precedent over the ‘flock’ of Israel. Self-interest took precedence over seeking God’s glory and obedience to his command. A similar situation pertained in Dan (5:17). They had developed a ‘nice little line’ in trading; to abandon profit-making for obedience to the call of God’s prophet   was a non-starter! Whether farmers or merchants they stood aloof from the battle.  There were even those who, with success surrounding them, remained aloof. We do not know where Meroz was (5:23) but all the indications of the context suggest a location need where the battle took place.

This is so often the tragic truth about the LORD’s children. Lazy, self-centred, concerned not for the LORD’s glory but only their own security and critical and aloof even when blessing is evident they invite God’s curse.

The angel of the LORD first appears in Genesis 16. In this and all subsequent appearances the angel is both identified with God but distinct from God. Many conclude that he is a pre-incarnation appearance of Christ. Whether or not this is so, the presence of the angel indicates that this is no message mediated through a prophet. Failure here by Meroz invited a curse from God’s own lips!

Before we leave these two chapters we cannot but fail to note that this is a very odd story! Deborah is both a judge and a prophetess who was leading Israel at that time (4:4). Yet, paradoxically, though scarcely any others of the judges are portrayed as ‘the wise, mature, godly person that she is’ (Wilcock) she does not stand at the centre of the story.

Then, while the words of her prophecy ‘the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman’  (4:9) lead us to expect her to take centre stage, it is Jael who is described as the most blessed of women (5:24) for the part she played in Sisera’s death.

But this is not all! Jael is celebrated in glowing almost gloating terms as the saviour of Israel (5:24-27, see, especially, verse 27). However, commentators are not slow to point out her ‘sins’. Jordan is not untypical. He mentions insubordination to her husband in breaking a treaty he had made (4:17), breaking the household treaty with Jabin (4:17), deception (4:18), lying (4:18), violating the laws of hospitality (4:18-21) and murder (4:21). The list is not exhaustive! Klein suggests that the fact that the LORD is not mentioned in 5:24-27 implies disapproval; blest among women she may be, but not by the LORD. In response, Jordan may overstate when he says, ‘we cannot escape the clear approval of God for Jael’s actions’.  However, we are at least faced with a question which, as Wilcock notes, ‘will press on us increasingly: how does God’s concern with the thing he wants done relate to his concern with the motives and the methods of the person who does it?‘

Possibly, those of us who have never experienced cruel oppression are more squeamish than we ought to be when faced with the messiness of life in this world and God’s actions in it. Sisera, the agent of Jabin cruelly oppressed (4:3) Israel and probably enjoyed raping captive Israelite girls (a girl or two for each man, 5:30). He was, as Davis puts it, ‘not exactly Mr Clean’.

The mystery, however, continues. Israel was living in the midst of a male dominated world. What are we to make of the fact that Deborah started the ball rolling which Jael so startlingly concluded ‘while God was orchestrating the piece’ as Wilcock so effectively expresses it?

For it was God who took on the gods of Canaan, as Deborah realised (5:2-5). It was he who was in control, even while his people were being circumstantially led to the point where they sought him in their distress (5:6-8). He was leading the armies of Israel (5:9-13)...so the song continues. All was his doing. And, finally, before him the Canaanite ‘confidence is seen as an illusion’ (Wilcock). For those with eyes to see it is those who love you who will be like the sun when it rises in its strength (5:31).

The poet, William Cowper could say, ‘God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform’. It was ever so! Thus, our passage concludes with the celebration of God’s salvation, achieved by such unlikely methods (5:31) and which lasted for at least a generation (forty years).

Questions:

1.  What does this passage teach about the qualities we should look for in our leaders? To what extent do these qualities match up with those things for which we usually look? What lessons might we learn from the disparity?

2.  Trace the activity of God through the variety of situations described in these two chapters. What implications should these facts have for us when we view our own circumstances or those in the world around us?

3. Look again at 4:8f. When do you think it is appropriate to test God’s call?

4. Look at 5:13-23 and the different responses people made to the call to stand up and fight for the LORD? Can you think of parallels in the church or your own life? 


6:1-40: Grace for the stubborn and timid

This chapter begins the second cycle of stories about the judges (6:1-10:5) and, in particular, decribes in considerable detail the call of Gideon and his early steps as the leader the LORD had appointed to deliver Israel. Indeed, as we shall see, this is the particular contribution of this chapter to the Book of Judges. Other Judges simply appear on the scene. Here we are given a glimpse into the background story: the making of a faithful man of God.

This second period of the judges lasted less than 100 years. In that time there was, apparently, only seven years of chastisement (1). But the misery wrought by the judgment of God described in this chapter (especially in verses 1-6) far surpassed that of previous stripes. Indeed, there is evidence of God’s increasing impatience with the people; he did not ‘sell them’ but gave them into the hands of the Midianites (1) This time the enemy came from the east. They were traditional enemies of Israel; ‘nomads, scavengers…they had no culture and no home, but wandered from place to place, robbing and pilaging’ (Jordan). Allied with the Amalekites, a people who were a by-word for cynical cruelty in Bible times, and other eastern peoples (3) they constituted an appalling threat. Thus, here the Israelites were obliged to take refuge in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds (2) gathering together what few possessions they had as year after year like a swarm of locusts (5) the ememy stripped the land of all those things vital to the ongoing life of a peasant economy. Innumerable enemies were sent, as Wilcock notes, ‘as a punishment for the rejection of innumerable mercies’.

Effective threshing has to be undertaken in the open and where there is a breeze. So severe was the situation, however, that Gideon is first introduced to us threshing wheat of such meager quantities and in such dangerous conditions that he was doing it in a small, airless winepress (11)! The very existence of the people was, therefore, seriously threatened by the danger of famine (The story of Ruth probably fits in here).

This chapter teaches that there is a sorrow that falls short of true repentance (6-10). In their extremity the people cried out to the LORD for help (6). But there is that despairing seeking of God that seeks Him not for Himself but for needed blessing. Even today, people will often become very religious in want but once these needs are met they turn back to their previous infidelity. This appears to have been the problem with the Israelites. Thus, first of all, the LORD sent not blessing but an unnamed prophet. Davis says, ‘That would be like a stranded motorist calling a garage for assistance and the garage sending a philosopher instead of a mechanic’! But Israel needed to relearn several things: they needed to re-learn their history of salvation (7-9) and to give attention to God’s commands to them (10).  Thus the prophet was sent to awaken the people to the real reason for their distress: to remind them of His ability to help but also of His exclusive claim to them.

The learning of this lesson marks the difference between a true and counterfeit believer. The counterfeit believer is selfish and thinks only of his or her needs and how they can be met by the service of God. The true believer delights in the LORD and willingly obeys His demands: thinking first of Him.

But we also learn of the nearness of the LORD to His erring people (especially 11ff.). There is something rather marvelous about this story. The people were in a desperate state, they sought the LORD, but incorrectly. Yet the LORD did not wait for them to come to a more true repentance. There is no evidence that the prophet’s ministry had any effect; Gideon appears to have known nothing about his message and by the time the book of Judges was written there was only some vague awareness that ‘someone’ had said something! Yet God, who is a God of kindness and mercy, met them, even in their half-heartedness, and took the initiative to bring them back to Himself. So the angel of the LORD reappears (11).

As we saw in 2:1-5 the ‘Angel’ was the fullest and most intimate manifestation of the LORD Himself before the incarnation of His Son. Thus, appearing to Gideon in this way, He emphasised His nearness to the people, even in their rebellion! The LORD who had walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden was ready to commune with His erring people and to restore them to Himself. Moreover, it was the Angel who had fought with the people against their enemies in the past (Joshua 5:13). This fact surely was to be a source of great strength to Gideon

All this is unspeakably marvelous. We fail the LORD. So often our labours for Him are half-hearted and we seek Him so slothfully. How can we expect to come again to the place of blessing. For us, as for ancient Israel, the lesson is the same: He will bring us there. Our most halting and hesitating steps will speedily be accompanied by His own supporting arm!

We noted above that this chapter is distinctive in the way it describes, in detail, the early stages of Gideon’s call and response. Thus, we are told, first of all, about the call of Gideon (12-16).  In many respects this call parallels those of Moses and Joshua; though Gideon seems to require more convincing of God’s presence and purposes that they did. In view of the immediately preceding events and the less dramatic nature of the encounter, we can, perhaps, understand this!

At first sight Gideon does not seem a very likely ‘winner’, hidden away in the winepress. But the LORD sees Him not as he is but as what he will become; a mighty warrior (12). Gideon is not altogether impressed. It is all very well for this stranger (not immediately recognised by Gideon) to mouth the words the LORD is with you (11) but such claims (expanded in verse 14!) don’t seem to tie up with reality. After all, Gideon cynically responds, God doesn’t seem the same God today who accomplished the wonders that our fathers told us about (13). Moreover, there are practical problems to overcome; my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family (15). This seems to have been a genuine reservation: later the Ephraimites (who considered themselves ‘top dogs’ were to complain to Gideon, (8:1ff.). Gideon might well ask, ‘Could a leader gain support from a small group in despised Manasseh?‘

In response to this the LORD reminds Gideon of the only two things that count. First of all, He Himself will empower Gideon (14 and compare 34) and, secondly, will guarantee His presence (16, cp. Psalm 23:4). When this is the case the mighty enemy will seem as though they are a single weak assailant.

We need to learn these lessons. God has called each of us to a life of service and victory. We might seem unlikely candidates for such a high calling. Moreover, there are difficulties in the way (wherever we are and whatever the task we are called to do: howsoever humble) and there is the temptation to doubt that the God of the past could ever be the same for us. But, as for Gideon, the same is true for us. He who has called is the One who equips and guarantees His victorious presence.

Sometimes, of course, the LORD seems to be calling us to a totally unexpected course of action. Then we need to be sure that it is, indeed, He who is calling. That was true with Gideon. By now he seems to have guessed who his visitor is! So he seeks some guarantees that God is truly in fellowship with him (and the people).

In war-ravaged Israel, Gideon invites his visitor to a lavish feast (17-18). Since an ephah was a large enough vessel to hold a person (Zechariah 5:7), Gideon provides a bakers-store amount of bread for his guest! Moreover, bearing in mind that sheep, cattle and donkeys (4) had all been commandeered by the eastern hordes, a young goat must have been worth a small fortune (19). More significant than the munificence of Gideon’s feast are, however, two other factors. First of all, to offer and receive a meal in Bible-times was an offer and acceptance of friendship. Secondly, these particular items were those associated with the peace offering (see, especially Leviticus 7).  Thus, by sharing this meal/sacrifice God confirmed Himself (17-21), especially in the matter wherein Gideon needed the greatest reassurance (22-24). He wanted an assurance that the LORD truly was in alliance (one of the meanings of peace in the Old Testament) with him. That confirmation was given and Gideon was ready for action…...well not quite!

For, next, we are introduced to his first hesitating steps in the way of believing discipleship. And how like us Gideon proved to be! Gideon could never hope to deliver God’s people unless he himself demonstrated his willingness to obey the LORD despite the cost and danger and unless a change of heart could be effected in the people.

We should not miss the point in verse 25! ‘Next God will tell Gideon to kill one of the few bulls left in the land’  notes Jordan, who then adds that when ‘fellowship with God is restored, reformation must begin immediately’. A clear break with Baalism had to be made; the symbols of Baal worship (the altar and the Asherah pole) had to be cut down, (25) and a proper (26) sanctuary to the LORD put in its place. The powerlessness of Baalism was to be demonstrated by using the hewn Asherah pole as firewood for the LORD’s offering!

It is easy to criticise Gideon for being afraid (27) and doing what he was commanded at night. But, as Davis notes, ‘Did God tell him to do it by day? Did God tell him he couldn’t be afraid? Or did God simply tell him to do it? Evidently, obedience was essential and heroism optional’.

Gideon’s first steps (he did as the LORD told him) were rewarded by the LORD (27) in the first glimmerings of faith in Joash, his father (28ff.), and then, apparently, the people, who soon proved willing to follow him (34). Thus, Gideon was strengthened for his life’s work. He was no longer alone! Jordan notes of this scenario that, ‘The first to rally to his side were the Abiezerites, his own home town! All those men who had seen little Gideon as a child, now follow him as their leader. This required a monumental work of grace’. But what an encouragement it would have been for Gideon to find family and friends supporting him!

Yet Gideon still had to wrestle with his temperament and the magnitude of the task to which he had been called. He still needed props for his faith (34-40). The desire for a sign was not evidence of unbelief, but of a weak faith struggling for assurance in the face of the great task that lay ahead. Perhaps the requests were symbolic. Did the first ‘sign’ indicate that the LORD would once again refresh His people? Did the second indicate that the LORD would do this despite the fact that others seemed to be flourishing and blessed? We cannot be sure. What we do know is that in the sequel Gideon sought no more signs, even though the LORD pared down his army to 300 men! He had learnt to trust the LORD and to rely upon the Word alone.

There is a remarkable tenderness in the LORD’s preparation of Gideon. He knew His man, as He knows us. Gideon was ‘diffident, modest and shy’ (Wilcock) and God recognised that Gideon could not arrive ‘overnight’ at maturity. Weakness along the way would need to be met and Gideon strengthened for the realities of the battle and victory ahead. Little by little, like a father with a child, the LORD raised him up. Then Gideon, the man who hid in a winepress, led the people into one of their most remarkable ever victories: a victory which required superhuman faith in the LORD…..........The same LORD leads us. Little by little He will lead our halting steps till we too are ‘more than conquerors’. We are called simply to place our hands in His and He will gently lead us though we be as those with young: weak and defenceless (Isaiah 40:11)!

Thus the dour book of the Judges proves to be one of great comfort. It does not mince words with apostasy and sin. Yet it also declares the mercy and tenderness of the LORD to those who hesitatingly tip-toe back to Him. Moreover, it teaches us that God can make us ‘mighty warriors’ (12) too. For the resources are His and His presence will go with us! How great is our God!

‘Thus’, says Wilcock, ‘ the scene is set, and the saviour prepared, for the confrontation between Israel and Midian in chapter 7’.

Questions:
 
1.  Recall some of the experiences which you have had where God took the initiative to restore you to himself, despite yourself. What lessons might you learn about God from such experiences?

2.  List some of the characteristic marks of false and genuine repentance?  How does your own spiritual life match up to the list which you have made?

3. What tasks has God called you to undertake for him? How might God’s dealings with Gideon help you to step out in obedience?
4. The restoration of communion with God requires immediate steps to be taken to reformation of life. What are the ‘idols’ that we should sacrifice on the LORD’s altar?  What sort of lifestyle should characterise a reformed life? 

7:1-23: Magnificent Warrior

This and the following chapter describes Gideon’s victory over the Midianites and recount sev

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