The Message of Judges

Part Two – The Heart of the Problem

By I Gordon

‘But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.’

In part one of this series we looked at the cycle of sin that constantly repeats itself throughout the book of Judges. We saw the downward slide that led Israel into compromise, sin, and finally bondage to their enemies. So the big question is, how? How did it happen? How did they go from the amazing victories presented to us in the book of Joshua, to the despair and defeat constantly found in the book of Judges? And for that matter, how is it that Christians get drawn back into the cycle of sin and defeat just when things seemed to be going so well?

This study then will concentrate on different passages in the first chapter of Judges which pinpoint what we will call ‘the heart of the problem’ – key areas in which Israel failed, which led to the cycle of sin and defeat. For sin never takes us by surprise but is the product of wrong thinking and actions - sometimes even years before. So getting to the heart of the matter is the key because if we can get that foundation right, then the benefits and fruits will follow.

Possessing your Inheritance.

Judges 1:1 ‘After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the LORD, “Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?”

Before we start on the specific acts of compromise that led to Israel’s fall, it is important to understand the symbolic message that Judges presents to us. Judges is about taking our full inheritance. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel was allotted a portion of the land as their inheritance, and under Joshua, many of the enemies that lived in the land were defeated and victory was achieved.[1] Yet it was still necessary for each tribe to move into its appointed area and to dwell there. Hence, we read in the very first verse of Judges that Israel inquired of the Lord as to who should move into the territory allotted to them first.

Now all of this is very symbolic, for as Christians we may not have a specific land that has been given to us, but we do have an inheritance[2] in Christ that is to be grasped and possessed by faith. That is what makes the book of Judges so sad for it shows not only the failure of God’s people to press into the inheritance that God has for them, but, and even worse, it shows the failure to retain even that which has already been conquered! So Judges is a warning to us all. A warning of what can happen if we fail to go on, or through compromise allow the enemy to rob us of the benefits of our inheritance ‘in Christ.’ So how did it start going wrong?

Compromised Faith in God

Judges 1:1-3 ‘After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the LORD, “Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?” The LORD answered, “Judah is to go; I have given the land into their hands.” Then the men of Judah said to the Simeonites their brothers, “Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you into yours.” So the Simeonites went with them.’

1:19 ‘The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots.

Now the first chapter of Judges does start with some promising sounding victories, but we soon come to this very strange text in verse 19. We read that ‘the Lord was with the men of Judah… BUT they were unable to drive the people from the plains…’ Now, doesn’t one man and God make a majority? Isn’t that what the entire Bible yells out? So why do we read here that even though the Lord was with them, they still couldn’t win? I believe the answer is given to us in the first verse of this book and it shows, though in a small way, the start of the decay. In the first verse we read that the Lord said ‘Judah is to go; I have given the land into their hands.’ Now even though God himself had said that He had given the land to them, they still wanted the Simeonites, their brothers to help them take the land. It shows that the heart of the men of Judah was not totally reliant and resting in the promises and strength of the Lord their God, but through a lack of faith, they still looked to their own strength and numbers to gain victory. Now I won’t go into this anymore now, as this theme will be spelled out in the study ‘From Gilgal to Bochim: The legacy of Joshua.’ But it does give us an early warning sign that all was not right within the heart of Israel.

Now it wasn’t all defeat however – especially early on in their endeavours anyway. And to their credit, it should be noted that Judah did have a number of victories over the Canaanites and Perizzites. They captured their leader Adoni-Bezek, as well as taking a number of Canaanite cities. (Judges 1:1-11) And nor was Judah the worst tribe at taking their inheritance! A quick survey of this entire chapter shows contrasting degrees of compromise. Though given an inheritance like all the other tribes, Dan didn’t seem to even have the desire to fight the enemy[3] for we read

Judges 1:34 ‘The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain.’

and instead tried for a while[4] to compromise and live in the rugged hill country. Wow! Way to go Dan! Now in Judah and Dan we see two different responses to the enemy. As Christians we face a three-fold enemy that works to compromise our entry into our inheritance – which is the life, strength and peace of the Lord. We face Satan, the World and our own sinful nature[5] and often these are combined in their attack. So have you been like Judah, seriously wanting to gain victory, but finding the enemy ‘iron willed’? Or do you, like good old Dan, give in straight away allowing the enemy to live in the areas the Lord had planned for you?[6] Do you feel like you have taken your inheritance in the plains where you are meant to be or are you scratching out a Christian life in the unproductive hill country?

Small rays of light!

Judges 1:20 ‘As Moses had promised, Hebron was given to Caleb, who drove from it the three sons of Anak.’

Now, like I said, it’s not all doom and gloom and there are some small rays of light that shine greatly in this increasingly dark time. One of these is Caleb’s defeat of the three sons of Anak. Now you may just think ‘big deal, its only three little sons!’ but you would be wrong! These guys were huge! The sons of Anak were giants, part of the Nephilim, and were the main reason why Israel didn’t enter in when they first spied out the land[7]. (Num 13:28,33, Deut 2:10). Caleb’s name means ‘wholehearted’ and he stands out in stark contrast and opposition to the general slide towards apostasy that unfolds in the first chapter of Judges. For his commitment and faith in the Lord God of Israel, Caleb was given Hebron, which means ‘communion’. It is hard to commune with God when you knowingly have one foot in the world, and half-heartedness isn’t exactly great for any relationship. But wholeheartedness in your walk and relationship with the Lord leads to fellowship and communion.

Judges 1:22-25 ‘Now the house of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the LORD was with them. When they sent men to spy out Bethel (formerly called Luz), the spies saw a man coming out of the city and they said to him, “Show us how to get into the city and we will see that you are treated well.” So he showed them, and they put the city to the sword but spared the man and his whole family.’

Another bright spot came in the house of Joseph’s triumph over the city of Luz. When you look up the meanings of the names, it is quite instructive. Joseph ‘add thou Jehovah’ took Luz ‘perverse’ and called it Bethel ‘the house of God’. So it is with our own lives, in that through grace, that which was perverse has been captured for the Lord and turned into the house of God. And this God continues to do as we, like Joseph, look unto Him.

Judges 1:27 ‘But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth-Shean…, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land.

Manasseh however, means ‘causing to forget’, and just as Joseph speaks to us of what happens when we ‘add Jehovah’, Manasseh shows us the opposite by ‘causing to forget!’ Manasseh couldn’t even drive out the people of Beth-Shean, which means ‘house of ease (or quiet)’. The enemy was not driven out, but continued to live on, right in their midst as a constant thorn in their side.

Disobedience to the Word of God

Judges 1:21, 27-35 ‘The Benjamites, however, failed to dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites. But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements... When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them. Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, who remained among them; but they did subject them to forced labor. Nor did Asher drive out those living in Acco or Sidon or Ahlab or Aczib or Helbah or Aphek or Rehob, and because of this the people of Asher lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath; but the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those living in Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath became forced laborers for them. The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain.And the Amorites were determined also to hold out in Mount Heres, Aijalon and Shaalbim, but when the power of the house of Joseph increased, they too were pressed into forced labor.

Now, this is a fair chunk of scripture all at once I know, but don’t be lazy, read it! Finished? Right, the first thing you would have seen is that it is all very repetitive… so repetitive in fact that it’s suspiciously like the Holy Spirit may just be trying get our attention! There are three main statements that get repeated here and any time you see this, take note, for God is trying to show us something.

1.  Firstly, we read that the tribes ‘did not drive out’ their enemies.

(vs 21,27,28,29,30,31,32,33)

2.  Having not driven them out, they thought they might as well carry on and simply live along side them. (21,27,29,30,32,33).

3.  But the Israelite tribes did have a novel plan. Instead of driving them out, they would keep them under their control and make slaves and forced labour of them. (28,30,33,35)

Now that sounds all right doesn’t it? Show them whose boss! Keep them under your thumb, and as the strong masters, force them to do all the hard labour! May sound ok to us but this was the biggest blunder Israel could have made and was the key factor in all the troubles that followed. God had repeatedly warned Israel that this was not to happen, and even went so far as to spell out clearly what would happen if they disobeyed His commands by allowing the other nations to continue living in the land.[8]

But Israel knew better right? I mean, if you are really strong, like Israel was, then you can compromise a little can’t you because you are tough enough to keep the enemy at bay, and make slaves of them so to speak, right? Oh so wrong! And this is where the book of Judges comes back and speaks directly to us as Christians. God has commanded His believers today not to compromise with the enemy.[9] He has done this for the same reason that He commanded Israel not to make any agreements with the nations they had to drive out – for He knew that the ways of the nations would become a snare to Israel and that given time, they would soon follow that nation’s gods. But Israel compromised, allowing the nations to remain within the land. At no stage did Israel want to disobey God or follow other idols or gods. Let us not make the mistake of thinking that was their intention. They believed they were strong enough to keep the enemy down and simply make slaves of them. ‘We’re strong enough to handle it’, I’m sure you would have heard them say. I guess it is with sadness that we later read –

Judges 2:11-13 ‘Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.’

You see, the fact is this – if you are compromising your faith by the places you go to or by the people you hang out with, then, like Israel, you may be able to handle it for a time, while you are strong in the Lord, BUT YOU ARE NOT ALWAYS GOING TO BE STRONG! There will comes times when you are feeling anything but strong and it’s then that the enemy who you once controlled, begins to control you![10] We read in the verses above that given time, Israel weakened and begun to serve the Baals. Baal means ‘master (or lord)’, and, you guessed it, was the god of the Canaanite people. How many times did we read that the Canaanite became ‘forced labour’ for Israel? And now look at them! If you want to know where the cycle of sin begins, it’s here! And the cycle won’t end while the enemy is alive and well within the land. Nor will it end in our lives (even if we rededicate our lives to God again and again) if we still hold onto the ways of the world through whoever, or whatever, means that should come[11]. Let me say it again – this was the heart of the matter and the beginning of the cycle of sin. Some of these nations never got driven out for hundreds of years, and all that time consistently drew Israel away to other gods. Don’t let your compromise allow this to happen in your life! The true God is far too good for that! The Spirit that He has caused to dwell within us ‘envies intensely’ for our time, love and devotion.