- Parent Category: About Historical Background
- Category: No King in Israel - History of the Judges
- Published on Thursday, 22 October 2009 17:06
Similarities between Judges and
A study of the book of Judges in relation to the letters to the seven churches and the characteristics of the church age indicates a correspondence that we can observe between the two. We will summarize briefly some of those relationships and then develop them further in our analysis of the book.
Their Good Beginning
First, we see that in both cases, God’s people began well. However, even with their good beginning, there were the seeds of ultimate failure to be found among them and seen in their actions. This good beginning, for Israel, was based on their being in a right position, possessing the land and enjoying that inheritance that had been secured for them. They were enjoying the fruits of the faithfulness and ability of Joshua as described in the previous book.
We find that this was true of the church in Acts. The believers were established in the truth of God, having come out by being separated from identification either with Judaism, or with their past pagan associations. The Holy Spirit had opened to their view the panorama of truth concerning all that was theirs in Christ. By the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:43, 13:1) they were being fed the truths given by the Holy Spirit of God. More truth was to be unfolded to their understanding as God gave gift to local assemblies and gifted men to the church (1 Corinthians 13:9-12, Ephesians 4:9-17). Just like Israel in the land, they began to enjoy the plenitude that God had intended for them in their redemption.
Writing to the assembly in Ephesus, the Lord calls attention to their knowledge of truth by which they had tested those who proved to be false (Revelation 2:2-3). That knowledge was coupled with their works, labor and patience, so it was proven in reality of life and conduct. Thus we see that a similarity exists between the initial position and beginning of both Israel and the early church.
Early Zeal and Desire for Progress
Then, we note that immediately they displayed zeal and a desire to move forward through conflict to possess more fully the inheritance that was theirs. In Judges, Judah took the lead to exercise the rightful authority that the Lord had entrusted to that tribe. This was an authority and leadership that is linked with Christ (Genesis 49:10). As they began the work to conquer the foe, they depended on God to lead and give the needed power, and we see that the Lord worked on their behalf and delivered the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hand (Judges 1:4). In addition, the people displayed a desire to move forward in fellowship with their brethren (Judges 1:3, 17), a characteristic that we also observe in the early church activities. This good beginning should continue to characterize us in our activities and service for God today; self-sufficiency and independence from our brethren is not a good thing and usually demonstrates a spirit that is opposed to God’s principles.
Early Indications of Failure
Next, however, we cannot help observing the early development of failure. Perhaps, contradicting what we have said in the previous paragraph, the dependence of Judah on Simeon indicated a lack of confidence in God. Their inclusion can be justified by knowing the close relationship their territories had (Simeon’s possession actually lay within that of Judah, Joshua 19:1). Nevertheless, it was an indication of Judah’s failure when they depended on Simeon for success in the battle rather than to depend wholly on God. God had told Judah to go up but had said nothing about Simeon.
This also suggests a constant problem in Christian testimony and service; there often seems to be an inability to depend unreservedly and confidently on the power of God to accomplish His work. Fellowship in work is good and commendable, but a fine line exists between that fellowship and an unwillingness to place complete confidence in the Lord. In addition, we observe that, from the outset, they failed to drive out the former possessors of the land (Judges 1:19, 21, 27, etc). They were only partially victorious, though God had commanded them to drive them all out of the land. God knew the dangers of those nations remaining in the land and it was for their preservation as a nation that He commanded to destroy and drive them out. As a result of their failure, Israel lost their separation and mingled themselves among the people (Judges 1:21, 27, 29, 30, etc). This inevitably led to more weakness, and ultimately, to their downfall.
We see the same pattern emerging in this period of the church. Initial separation and judgment of evil associations soon gave way to compromise and intermingling with the unsaved. This was the characteristic of some in Corinth (1 Corinthians 10) and also seems to have been true of other gatherings. We especially see it in the case of Pergamos in Revelation 2, where the church joined hand in hand to walk with the world, enjoying a closeness to the world that resulted in distance from the Lord.
These seven major nations of Judges (Deuteronomy 7:1) may have seemed overwhelming due to their power, but that was because Israel had gotten their eye off God. Of course, they could make many excuses, such as the enemy having greater weapons and chariots of iron (Joshua 17:14-18, Judges 1:19). Excuses only indicate unbelief operating in the hearts of God’s people. Early on, they had left their “first love.” The nations also became attractive to them, so that they learned and practiced their ways, including their religious customs. It is not difficult to see the same pattern emerging in the church period, and inevitably, this is always the result of a breakdown of separation by God’s people. The nations of Canaan represent spiritual powers that are hostile to God’s people, both internal and external powers that work to prevent blessing and fruitfulness through faithfulness to the Lord.
Development of Failure
We notice that as time progresses in Israel’s history in Judges as well as in that of the churches, the enemy’s power seemed to increase. Servitude to the nations was generally for longer periods of time as the book progresses. This was, in large part, due to their increasing sinfulness and distance from God. We can see this trend generally suggested from the chart below:
Nation in Power Years of Servitude
Mesopotamia (3:8) 8
Moab (3:14) 18
Canaan (4:3) 20
Midian (6:1) 7
Ammon, Philistines (10:7) 18
Philistines (13:1) 40
From this, we see that as time progressed, the power of the people of God seemed to decrease while the power of the enemy increased. Without doubt, we can see the same pattern displayed in the church age, with less power to overcome and progress spiritually now than there was in the past. That pattern marked the first 2-300 years of the church, especially upon the apostles’ passing and the death of those who immediately followed them. It follows the example of Israel in Judges 2:10, when, with subsequent generations, there eventually “arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor the works which He had done for Israel.”
Not only were there generally longer periods of servitude in Judges, but it is remarkable that their expressed desire for deliverance gradually decreased. In Judges 2:4, the people wept when the angel of the Lord came to Bochim and reproved them. This is the only time we read that they wept before the Lord until chapter 20:23, 26 when their brother-tribe Benjamin defeated them on two occasions and later when they had nearly annihilated Benjamin. So we learn that there was decreasing sensitivity to God’s voice, and a sad lack of self-judgment with repentance, a condition that is not unknown in our day as well.
In addition, in Judges 3:9, 15; 4:3; 6:6; 10:10 (5x) they cried to the Lord for deliverance from enemy domination. In ch. 6:10, they didn’t respond to God’s warning but, even worse, in ch. 13:1 there is no cry for deliverance at all. They were satisfied to remain under Philistine bondage. Moreover, in ch. 15:11, they were quite ready to deliver Samson into the hands of the Philistines rather than to support him in his work against the enemy! This only indicates a weakening condition that eventually resulted in their being content to submit to God’s enemies rather than depend on the Lord and move in faithfulness to Him and His Word.
Likewise, in the church age we see a similar spiritual state in which the elements of the spiritual powers of this world have so influenced what is called “Christian testimony” that in some cases it is hard to discern what is truly of God and what is of the world!
Less Spiritual Judges
Along with this condition of placid acceptance, we note that the judges that God raised to deliver and rule His people were progressively less spiritual as the book moves forward. It can be noted that from Othniel to Ehud there is a decline, though not so marked as that from Ehud to Barak, who was a man who refused to obey God without Deborah going with him to battle (Judges 4:8)! From Gideon to Jephthah we see a further decline. The character of the two men is a contrast: Gideon was occupied with threshing wheat to get food for himself and the people during a time of adversity, but Jephthah had been expelled by his brethren and lived with vain men. In addition, Gideon responded directly to God’s call to deliver Israel without any pre-conditions, but Jephthah was called by the people and only served after bargaining with them (Judges 11:7-10). We could mark other contrasts by means of a study of these two men, such as their character following the victory: Gideon appeased his brethren with soft words (8:1-3) and refused to rule over the people while Jephthah killed his opposing brethren (12:1-6) and wanted a place of prominence.
If there is a contrast between these two judges, we note that the difference between Jephthah (including all the preceding judges) and Samson is vast. In Samson we find a man who had the most ability naturally, the most power, the most “gift” from God, but coupled with the most carnality, self-centeredness and complete lack of any genuine spiritual exercise to deliver Israel. For example, we see a man who never prayed except for his own deliverance from his enemies (Judges 15:18, 16:28). In addition, he mainly exercised his great power to accomplish his own desires for vengeance or for personal gain. He represents the sad decline and spiritual departure seen so evidently today that has been marked over the course of the church age.
We also can say that this decline seen in the judges only reflected the continuous spiritual decline of the people from which they arose and who God had called them to lead. They were the product of their day, some better, but others much the same. This is also true of those who function as leaders among the saints of the church age; they cannot be separated from the milieu of believers with which they are associated and from which they come. If there is weakness among the saints, there also will be that same weakness reflected in those who are their leaders. In addition, weakness in the leaders will produce weakness in the saints.
The End Condition
Finally, at the end of Judges, we see complete indifference to spiritual departure among them as evidenced by Micah and his house of idols that he built (17:1-6). We recognize that these chapters describe events that took place historically much earlier in the book. If these events took place earlier in Israel’s history, what must their condition have been at the end of the period of the Judges? These chapters have been placed here for, we believe, a definite purpose. God is showing that this will be the marked characteristic at the end of this church age. Israel could tolerate this kind of evil among them at this point without any objection.
However, following that sad but accepted condition, we note the moral degeneration that inevitably follows spiritual evil, (Judges 19). It is most interesting that while the spiritual, idolatrous evil was not condemned, the nation was extremely severe in judging the moral results that flowed from it so that they virtually exterminated a tribe of Israel! Is this not the case with Christendom? Elements of Babylonish religion are accepted and incorporated into “Christian” worship, even while there may be abhorrence of moral evil. However, since “every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” inevitably moral depravity will enter in and cause great ruin to the entire testimony that God intends to be sacred for Himself.
As in Romans 1, spiritual declension and rejection of what God has revealed concerning Himself will always lead to further degeneration in man’s moral climate. This makes clear that men cannot reform or maintain a right moral condition when they reject God and ignore His truth. This is the present case and condition of the religious world in which we live near the end of this age. May God preserve us in a discerning and separated walk, seeking to please Him in all we do or say.
Where are We?
If we were to identify ourselves with any particular condition depicted in Judges, where would we place ourselves? We hope that we could relate to those who faithfully sought to uphold God’s truth and deliver the people. It is obvious, though, that in general we are in the midst of those conditions depicted in the last part of the book. Sadly, it seems clear that increasingly most everyone is inclined toward doing what is right in his own eyes and is not seeking the mind of God for guidance. It is easy to look at difficulties that exist and then devise means that seem right to deal with those problems. However, it may be that those innovative changes are only an expression of this characteristic, and the end result will be worse than the problem at the first. There is great need today for recovery to the truth of God, even among those who profess to be gathered alone to the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ in simple assembly testimony. May God work to this end for the preservation of such gatherings for His own Name’s sake!
We would hope that these features and their resemblance to church age characteristics will become clearer as we proceed. We do not intend to excessively force the picture on the passage or go far beyond what is written. We only make the comparison and suggestions that we see at times as shadows but not clearly. However, there is much in this book that we can learn about the day in which God has called us to maintain responsible testimony for Him. We will have to answer to Him when our day of service of over. May God teach us some things through this book that would preserve us in our pathway for our blessed Lord.