DRAWING SOME LESSONS FROM THE BOOK OF JUDGES
Looking Back and Looking Around
As we look back at our studies and look around at our world and God’s church, we can draw some conclusions about the Christian life and Christian service and make some applications for our own ministries today.
- God is looking for servants
He’s looking for people who are available to hear His Word, receive His power, and do His will. God can use all kinds of men and women. Like Gideon, some of God’s servants are weak in themselves but strong in the Lord. Like Barak, some people don’t want to fight the enemy alone. All of us are different, but all of us can serve the Lord for His glory. If God calls you to serve Him, it’s not primarily because of your abilities and talents. He often calls people who seem to have no leadership qualities at all. He calls you because you are yielded to Him and available to do His will. Don’t look at yourself; don’t look only at the challenge; look to the Lord.
- God rules and overrules in history
The Book of Judges makes it clear that God can work in and through all nations, Gentiles as well as Jews. God has “determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). He’s the God of both history and geography. He can use Gentile nations to chasten His own people Israel. He can put one ruler up and bring down another. While there may not be an obvious pattern to history, although historians may search for it, there is definitely a plan to history; because God is in control. As Dr. A.T. Pierson used to say, “History is His story.” Events that look to us like accidents are really appointments (Rom. 8:28). As dark as the days were in the time of the Judges, God was still on the throne, accomplishing His purposes. This ought to encourage us to trust Him and keep serving Him, no matter how grim the prospects might be in this wicked world.
- God gives nations the leaders they deserve
I’ve pointed out several times in these studies that the quality of the character of the judges deteriorated, starting with Gideon. By the time we get to Samson, we see great physical strength wedded to the weakest kind of character. Gideon, Jepthah, and Samson did the work God gave them to do, but they provided no spiritual leadership for the people. Philosophers have debated for centuries whether or not a bad person can be a good leader. Perhaps the key question is, “What kind of leadership are you talking about?” A general who swears, bullies, lies, and ignores the Word of God, if he’s an experienced soldier, can no doubt provide effective leadership for an army; but he won’t provide the kind of example that builds character. All of God’s servants are flawed in some way, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for us to sin or to do less than our best. We should all strive to build Christian character and to develop our skills to the glory of God. Dedication is no substitute for careless work, but success in the eyes of people is no substitute for likeness to Jesus Christ. Like David, we should serve the Lord with both integrity and skillfulness (Ps. 78:72).
- God graciously forgives and helps us begin again
The historical cycle in the Book of Judges assures us that God chastens when we disobey and forgives when we repent and confess our sins. It’s too bad we don’t learn from the failures of others and from our own past failures, but that’s one of the occupational hazards of being human. We must remember that the nation of Israel was in a special covenant relationship with God. He promised to bless them if they obeyed His Law and chasten them if they disobeyed. Nowhere in the New Testament has God promised to make His people’s lives today easy and comfortable if they obey the Lord. Jesus lived a perfect life on earth, yet He suffered as no one has ever suffered; and we’re called to be like Jesus. Paul was a man devoted to the Lord, yet he experienced innumerable trials. If we obey the Lord just to get things from Him or to escape from trials, then our relationship to Him isn’t very loving. It’s more of a “contract” relationship: we’ll obey Him if He’ll give us what we want. Jesus dealt with this selfish attitude in His Parable of the Laborers (Matt. 20:1–16), which was given in answer to Peter’s question, “What shall we have therefore?” (Matt. 19:27) We should obey the Lord because we love Him. Sometimes obeying Him will lead us into trials, but He will see us through. We need to be like the three Jews who faced the fiery furnace: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O King. But if not, let it be known to you, O King, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the golden image which you have set up” (Dan. 3:17–18, NKJV).
- God’s Word stands despite people’s unfaithfulness
The judges accomplished what they did because they believed the Word of God (Heb. 11:32–34). Sometimes their faith was weak and imperfect, but God honored their trust and glorified His name through them. But even when the leaders and the people disobeyed Him, their unbelief and disobedience didn’t cancel the Word of God. God’s Word never fails. If we obey it, He is faithful to bless us, keep His promises, and accomplish His purposes. If we disobey His will, He is faithful to chasten us and bring us back to the place of submission. The Word doesn’t change and God’s character doesn’t change. As His children, we live on promises and not explanations. God doesn’t have to explain to us what He’s doing or why He’s doing it that way. He will always give His servants just the promises they need to get the job done.
- God uses human government to accomplish His will
There was “no king in Israel,” but God was still able to work. Even when there was a king in Israel, it was no guarantee that the people would obey God. Government is important, and God established government; but rulers, senates or parliaments can’t limit God. According to Romans 13, God instituted human government for our good, and it’s our responsibility to respect and obey it. We may not respect the people in office, but we must respect the office. God has accomplished His purposes with His people in different kinds of political systems, including monarchies and dictatorships. We mustn’t think that He needs a democracy or a constitutional monarchy in order to accomplish His will. God is sovereign! Regardless of the form of government a nation has, Proverbs 14:34 still applies: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (NKJV).
- When God’s people are unspiritual, the nations decay
Apostasy and anarchy go together. We’re the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13–16), and God wants us to exert a positive influence on society. When the church ceases to be a holy people, obedient to the Lord, the salt loses its taste and the light goes under a bushel. G. Campbell Morgan said that the church did the most for the world when the church was the least like the world. Today, many churches have the idea they must imitate the world in order to reach the world. And they are wrong! When Israel adopted the lifestyle of the pagan nations around them, they weakened their own nation. When Israel turned to idols, God turned from blessing them. Nations don’t decay and collapse because of the people who peddle pornography or narcotics, but because of Christians who are no longer salt and light. God expects sinners to act like sinners, though He disapproves of what they do; but He doesn’t expect saints to act like sinners. Compromising Christians not only hurt themselves and their families and churches, but also contribute to the decay of the whole nation.
- God doesn’t tell the whole story all at once
We know a good deal about Deborah, Gideon, Jepthah, and Samson, but we don’t know much about Shamgar, Tola, and Jair. God hasn’t seen fit to put into His Word all the works of all of His servants, yet these people played important roles in accomplishing His purposes. The people of God may never recognize the work you do for the Lord. You may be a Tola, an Ibzan, or an Elon. Don’t be discouraged! God keeps the records and will one day reward you for your faithful service. It’s not important that other people see what you do and compliment you on it. It is important that we serve the Lord and seek to please Him. There’s another caution here: Don’t be too quick to judge what other people are doing, and don’t get the idea that you’re the only one faithfully serving the Lord. During the period of the Judges, different people were serving God in different places, and not all of them knew all that was going on. So it is with the work of God today. In spite of the excellent news coverage in the Christian world, we don’t always know what God is doing in and through His servants in various parts of the globe. When we feel discouraged, perhaps we’d be encouraged if we knew the whole story. “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Cor. 4:5).
- God still blesses those who live by faith
It has well been said that faith is not believing in spite of evidence (that’s superstition) but obeying in spite of consequence. I might add that it also means obeying God no matter what we see around us or ahead of us or how we feel within us. Faith doesn’t depend on our emotions (Gideon was frightened much of the time, and Samson felt he still had his old power) or our understanding of the situation. Faith takes God at His Word and does what He tells us to do. You can’t serve God without faith, because “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6). “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). If we wait until we have perfect faith, we’ll never do much for the Lord. He honors even weak faith and seeks to make it stronger. Exercising faith is like exercising muscles: The more you exercise, the stronger the muscles become.
- God’s story isn’t finished yet
I must confess that I occasionally felt depressed as I wrote this book. One day I said to my wife, “I’ll be glad when Be Available is finished. There just isn’t much good news in the Book of Judges!” But the Book of Judges isn’t the end of the story! In fact, the book begins with the words “now it came to pass,” which is a strange way to begin a book. In the Hebrew, it reads “and it was.” If I started a book with the phrase “and it was,” the editors would send the manuscript back to me and tell me to brush up on my syntax. But there are eight Old Testament books that begin with “and it was”: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, Esther, Ezekiel, and Jonah. Why? Because they’re all part of the continuing story that God is writing! The end of the Book of Joshua doesn’t end the work of God in this world, for the Book of Judges begins with “and it was.” The story goes on! God is still working! If the Book of Judges is the book of “no king,” just keep in mind that 2 Samuel is the book of God’s king; and David takes the throne and brings order and peace to the land. When the outlook is grim, just remind yourself that God hasn’t finished the story yet. A friend of mine who’s involved in professional basketball likes to watch videos of his team’s winning games. Even during the tightest moments of the game, he can relax in front of the TV set because he already knows how it’s going to end. There are days when God’s people look at a chaotic world, a nation given to greed and violence, and a church weak and divided, and they wonder whether it’s worth it all to walk with God and do His will. When that happens, remind yourself that God’s people know how it’s going to end! The Book of Judges isn’t the last installment; the Book of Revelation is! And God assures us that righteousness will triumph, evil will be judged, and faith will be rewarded. No Christian can do everything, but every Christian can do something, and God will put all these “somethings” together to get His work done in this world. You never can tell what God has planned for you, so be available! After all, one of these days, you’ll have to be accountable, and you’ll want to be ready.
Wiersbe, Be available (pp. 148–155). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.