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TEXT: Judges 1:1-2:5
SUBJECT: Judges #1: First Years in Canaan
Today, with God’s blessing, I hope to begin a Christ-centered study of the Book of Judges. I say Christ-centered because He is its main character. Our Lord is not as easy to spot in Judges as He is in John, for example, but He is here if we had the eyes to see Him. Speaking to people who thought they knew their Bibles, He dared them to look again, and this time with understanding—
Search the Scriptures, for it is they which testify to Me.
From beginning to end, the Old Testament reveals Jesus Christ in His sufferings and His glory. Including the Book of Judges.
He makes His first appearance in the second verse of chapter one. After the death of Joshua, the people ask for God’s guidance, and He gives it to them by His Word—who is Christ. He appears next as the armies’ Commander-in-Chief, leading them to victory over enemies, cruel, powerful, and dug in. In the first verse of chapter two He shows up again, but this time not to lead the people to further victories, but to pronounce a curse: because they were not loyal to God, He would no longer fight for them as He had in the past. He would still be with them, thankfully, but so would the Canaanites. The land they might have had in full would now be shared and only kept by constant warfare. These are some of the ways in which we see Christ in the Book of Judges.
But mostly, we find Him in the men (and woman) who judged Israel. Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Samson, and the others pointed to Christ both by what they were—and what they were not.
In some ways, the Judges were very much like Christ. The word ‘judge’ means savior. Also like Him, the Judges were unlikely men, chosen by God, anointed by His Spirit, and empowered to defeat the enemies of His people and to bring them back to His worship and service. In a far higher sense, our Lord did all of the above. The Judges, therefore, were a kind of rough draft of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In other ways, the Judges were as different from Christ as they could be. In the first place, they were sinful men, and their sins often betrayed them and the people they were sent to save. I cannot read the life of Gideon without choking up a bit. He started his career by cutting down a wooden idol and ended it by setting up an image of gold. His sins separated him from Christ, and underscored the need for a better Savior.
This, however, is not the only way that the Judges differed from Christ. Most of them were better people than Gideon; not a bad word can be found on Ehud, Deborah, Shamgar, and some of the others. Yet they too were unlike Christ because they were only human. Their success was only in part and it died with them. None of the Judges won the whole land of Canaan and even the best ones could not win the hearts of the people for God. When they died,
The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.
The Judges, therefore tell us that God wants to save His people; He wants to annihilate their enemies and rule them in justice, wisdom, and love. The Judges also tell us that the Judges are not the men to do it. Jepthah is not wise enough; Samson is not strong enough; Deborah is not holy enough. Someone wiser and stronger and holier is needed.
The Book closes with a plea for that Someone—
In those days there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes.
Israel needs a king. Only he will have the wisdom and the power—and the time—to set things right once and for all. Many years later, a king came to power and did far more than the Judges ever hoped to do. David beat back the enemies, got rid of the idols, and unified the nation and left his throne for a son with unlimited promise. The son was Solomon and for many years he walked in his father’s ways, and improved on his works by building the Temple and spreading the glory of God to the ends of the earth.
Then he became a fool. His son was worse than he was, and most of the sons who followed him were worse still. Finally the kingdom was abolished and Israel became an obscure part of pagan empires.
The promise of Judges became an empty promise. Or so it seemed. Then, in an unlikely time and an unexpected way, God made good on His Word. He sent the King the judges pointed to, and the salvation they worked on, He finished. The King, of course, is our Lord Jesus Christ.
When we view the Book of Judges in light of Him, we will not read it as a kind of comic book full of messed-up superheroes who take on super villains and, against all odds, come out on top! No, we will see it for what it is: The Saving Work of Christ. For us.
Our text is Judges 1:1-2:5. Bible outlines call this the Introduction, but it really isn’t; that starts in the next verse, Judges 2:6. What we have in today’s passage is a select history of the first years in Canaan, from the time Joshua died until the death of men who ruled alongside of him, maybe fifteen or twenty years later.
The section is divided into two parts: in the first 26 verses we have Israel’s success in taking the Promised Land, and then we have its failure to finish the job, vv.27ff.
THE DEATH OF JOSHUA
The story begins with the death of Joshua. For more than sixty years, he had been a leader in Israel, and what a leader he had been! As a young man he commanded the armies of Israel against the Amalakites. When Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the Law, Joshua was allowed to follow him part of the way. When spies were sent into Canaan, he was one of them, and along with Caleb, brought back a good report. When it came time for Moses to die, the Lord selected Joshua to take his place.
He began where Moses did: on the wrong side of a river. On his command, however, the Jordan River parted (as the Nile had before) and the people marched across on dry land. Joshua led the victory in Jericho, and then all over the land, sometimes aided by supernatural forces. As a military commander, he had no equal.
His power was not only in the field of battle, but also in the hearts of his people. As long as he lived, the people served the Lord, and not even Moses could do that.
For Joshua’s true greatness was not in what he did, but in what he was. He was a godly man through and through. Not perfect, of course, no one is: but godly. Let others choose their gods—old or new—As for me and my house—he said—we will serve the Lord.
Joshua’s death was a terrible loss to his people—and they knew it.
THE PRAYER FOR NEW LEADERSHIP
When his funeral was over, the people cried to God for new leaders. They needed them because the Canaanites were still in the land—a lot of them were—and they thirsting for vengeance. With Joshua gone, they expected to soon have it.
The Lord answered their prayers, not by naming a man to take the lead, but by telling a tribe to do it: Judah shall go up. Why Judah? Because it was the Royal Tribe. Way back in the last days of Jacob blessed his sons, but not in the order they expected. Reuben, Simeon, and Levi were moved down the list. The top place belonged to Judah—
Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies…
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet…
If Judah is a kingly people, let them learn the work of a king, which is not being served by his people, but serving them; not by sending them on dangerous missions while you stay behind, but by leading the charge yourself.
Judah obeys the Lord and takes the leadership He gives them. But the tribe is not only obedient, it is also generous. They believe God is going to give them the victory and so they invite the tribe of Simeon to share in the spoils. Which they do.
God has not left His people. Joshua is dead but
The Lord liveth,
And blessed be my Rock!
And may the God of my
Salvation be exalted!
The Church Universal is thankful for its leaders, but we do not depend on them.
From whence cometh my help?
My help cometh from the Lord,
Which made heaven and earth.
Beware the opposite temptations: to despise human leadership and to worship it. Later, Israel would do both: but not now.
THE EARLY WARS
Judah was not given the leadership to do nothing, but to fight the wars of the Lord, which they did—and very effectively.
The first battle took place in Bezek, whose king was called Adoni-Bezek. The man was a powerful and scornful king; seventy wars he had fought and won them all. When the losing kings were brought to him, he shamed them by cutting off their thumbs and big toes, and then inviting them to dinner to laugh at them for hobbling to the table and dropping their food!
When Israel defeated him, you know what they did? They cut off his thumbs and big toes.
In his great book, Promise and Deliverance, Volume II, S.G. DeGraaf called this
A cruel deed which the Lord had not commanded.
I believe the opposite is true. What does God’s Kingdom bring to the world? For one thing, it brings justice, and what is justice if not—
Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Here we have a sneak preview of God’s Kingdom. Justice is seldom seen in this world, but when it comes it gives us an inkling of what will be in the world to come. Peter calls it
A world wherein dwells righteousness.
The next battle is fought for Jerusalem, and it too, is taken. No details are given, but this must have been one of the toughest fights Israel ever had, for Jerusalem was a natural fortress and was defended by the stubbornest men who ever lived: the Jebusites.
Taking Jerusalem pointed two ways: back to the days when Melchizadek once ruled the city in God’s name; back to the place where Isaac had been offered to the Lord. A place of sacred memory must be devoted to the Lord, and it will be now.
It also pointed forward to David and Solomon who would make it the joy of the whole earth. And to our Lord who would save the world from this very spot.
God wants Jerusalem and now He’s got it.
Next comes the invasion of the South, which is described in three ways: hill country, desert, and lowlands. By taking three very different kinds of terrain, the Lord is teaching His people and their enemies that He is not a local god, strong in some places, but weak in others. No!
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof
The world and they who dwell in it!
HEBRON AND DEBIR
The armies turn east and take Hebron and Debir. Hebron is noteworthy because it was the Land of the Giants. Fifty years before, the spies had come into Canaan and gone back agreeing it was a wonderful place, but they could never take it because the men were so huge they made the Israelites look like grasshoppers by comparison. Well the grasshoppers have had their day and the giants have fallen to the God who likes nothing better than using the weak, the small, the nothings of this world to bring down the strong, the big, and the somethings!
Debir is important because it was Othniel who took it and became the first Judge of Israel. His work showed the people that they could trust the Lord. When they required strong leadership, God would provide it.
A footnote is added to the story. Caleb had a daughter named Achsah. Othniel won her by taking Debir, but the land was a bit on the cramped side—and dry too. So the girl asked her father for a field (which he gave her) and then she remembered she needed water, and he gave her that too.
This was unexpected because women did not ordinarily have title to property. The land belonged to their fathers or brothers or husbands. But Achsah wants some for herself, and she gets it.
This is another preview into the Kingdom of God, where the inheritance is given to everyone. In Jesus Christ, there is no male or female, bond or free, Jew or Greek, but all believers share fully—and equally—in the Life Eternal!
There’s a second footnote too. When Israel took Hebron and Debir, the Kenites joined them. Who are they? They are the tribe Jethro belonged to. Who’s Jethro? Maybe you know him by his son-in-law: Moses.
They are the first foreign people to join the people of God. This is another preview of things to come. One day, people from east and west, north and south would enter the Kingdom—and not just a Rahab here, a Ruth there, an Ethiopian Eunuch centuries later, but oodles and oodles of them from all over the world—
Who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God; who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
Next to fall were the Philistine cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron. This is noteworthy because the Philistines—though fewer in number—had them badly outgunned. The Philistines had blacksmiths and this means they had swords and spears, shields and armor. And chariots. The Israelites didn’t. But wait, One of them was well-armed. Years before He met Joshua on the other side of the Jordan River. He stood before the setting sun with a drawn sword. The commander asked who He was for—for us or for our enemies? The Man told him,
Neither. But as the Captain of the Hosts of the Lord have I come.
The Man was Christ and His sword cut through the Philistines’ iron.
No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper;
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And their righteousness is of Me, says the Lord.
The last place to fall on this list is Bethel. Most people called it Luz, but its real name was Bethel, which means The House of God. Five hundred years before, Jacob had camped there on his way to Mesopotamia. As he slept on the hard pillow, he saw a vision: a Ladder connecting heaven and earth and angels climbing up and down it.
As he watched he dreadful wonder, God spoke to him promising to keep him and bless him and make him a blessing to all the world. Jacob woke up and could only say—
How awesome is this place! This is the House of God and the Gate to Heaven.
The House of God belongs to God and now His family has come home at last. The Canaanites were squatters, the Israelites are children.
There’s a footnote here too. The Israelite spies caught a man coming out of the city and asked him how they could get in, promising mercy if he told them. He did and they kept their word, letting the man go and sacking the city.
This is another glimpse into the Kingdom of God where a man’s word is his bond. The Lord wanted Children who would not lie; in time they learned that wicked art, but for now, they’re honest men.
The man leaves and builds another city far away calling it after his hometown of Luz.
Except for a small setback here and there, the early wars were remarkably successful. The Lord’s people were taking their land because their God was with them.
But then something happened. The People of God stopped taking the land and started sharing it. Sharing is usually a good thing, but not if God says Take it all.
First, they failed in the lowlands because they were afraid of the iron chariots. Then Jerusalem was taken back by the Jebusites.
The Northern Tribes fared even worse. Because they couldn’t destroy them, they struck deals with them to live in peace. But there was no peace. The first chapter ends by giving a border—but it’s an Amorite border, because the natives were pushing their way back into the land and squeezing the life out of God’s people.
THE ANGEL OF THE LORD
How did this happen? Why did Israel begin the conquest so well only to have it end so poorly? I’m sure they were asking the same questions! God gave them the answer.
The Angel of the Lord came down to them carrying bad news. The conquest had stalled because they had not obeyed the Lord. He told them to wipe out their enemies—every last one of them-- show them no pity He said.
They disobeyed the Lord. If you asked them why, they might have said We felt sorry for them. There may have been some of that. But compassion was not their problem: it was idolatry. They didn’t destroy the peoples because they took a liking to their religion—
Their gods became a snare.
If you love the Canaanites so well—the Lord said—you can have all you want of them. But the people you pity and the gods that interest you will become
Sharp sticks in your eyes and thorns in your side; they will harass you…and what I planned to do to them, I will do to you.
The Angel of the Lord was the Lord Himself, Jesus Christ. He had promised them a land if they would obey Him, they had not obeyed Him and now, they would have to share the land, and one day, they would lose it all.
At last the people took the Word of God seriously, but it was too late for them! They cried their eyes out, but the Word would stand—
I will not drive them out for you.
The place they cried was named, Bochim, and that means Weeping.
This has got to be one of the saddest stories in the history of Israel. God promises to give them a rich and lasting inheritance if only they will be loyal to Him. But they were not faithful and they did not inherit the promises.
We too have been given promises—exceedingly great and precious promises, they are. But to have them we must be faithful to God. And that’s the problem, we are not.
We need Someone to make us that way or the promises will be lost on us too. Joshua is not the man and neither is Othniel or the judges who followed him. They commanded Israel to be loyal to God, they praised them when they were and punished them when they were not; they set good examples and all the rest but they could not change the hearts of their people.
Only God can do that, and in Jesus Christ He has done it! By dying in our place, He has removed our sins and their guilt. By giving us His Spirit He has also given us the faith and perseverance and holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
The Judges failed, not because they were bad men, but because they were only men. Jesus Christ is a Man, too, but not only a Man, He is also God, and with God all things are possible!
Including enduring to the end and getting the inheritance God has had for us from the foundation of the world!
Let us therefore, thank God for His mighty promises and thank Him for Christ by whose work the promises are already ours in part, and one day, will be ours in full!
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