The Old Testament Presents... Reflections of Christ
by Paul R. Van Gorder
Joshua had led the children of Israel into their own land. In his final message, he appealed to them to ''serve the Lord'' (Joshua 24:15). The people's response is found in Joshua 24:24, ''And the people said unto Joshua, The Lord our God will we serve, and His voice will we obey.'' Then followed a unique period in their history that covered about 330 years-- the time of the judges.
  1. Historical Introduction; Connection with Joshua (Judg 1:1-3:6)
  2. The History of the Judges (3:7-16:31)
  3. Spiritual and Moral Decline in Israel (17-21)
We will now consider six key factors in Judges.
God had called Israel from among the nations to be a repository for His truth and the channel of His revelation. In addition, Israel was to be the avenue through whom the Redeemer would come. God had chosen Israel to be a pedestal on which He might display Himself to the nations of the world.

As Judges begins, we find Israel as a people in their own land. This nation had an elaborate tabernacle service. The glory-cloud stood over that structure. Great victories were being won by Israel's army. Surely God was with this people! Their God was not like the impotent gods of the nations around them. The searching question was this: would Israel keep her testimony pure and make God known again to the world?
The form of government in Israel was a theocracy. This means that Jehovah was king of His people, administering His rule through the judges. A time would come in Israel's history, when she would reject this form of government and ask for a human king. We are told in 1Samuel 8:7, ''And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.''
The beginning of Israel's transgression, and her rejection of Jehovah as king, is seen in three recurring phrases in the book of Judges. In fact, this book presents one of the darkest pictures of the human condition in all the Bible.
These three statements represent sin, punishment and deliverance-- a cycle repeated over and over again during this era.
The book of Judges records seven awful apostasies, seven dreadful judgments, and seven divine deliverances. But after each cycle, the spiritual tide of Israel had fallen a little lower.
God had given an explicit command to Israel concerning the inhabitants of Canaan. Keep in mind that those inhabitants were steeped in heathen idolatry and that Israel was to be a separate people, worshipping only Jehovah. Deuteronomy 20:17 gives the command of Jehovah to Israel, ''But thou shalt utterly destroy them... as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.'' Under Joshua's leadership, Israel began to fulfill the commission. We read this phrase repeatedly in the book of Joshua: ''utterly destroyed'' (see Joshua 2:10; 6:21; 8:26; 10:1; 10:40; 11:21). But the spiritual atmosphere changed as indicated in Judges 1:28, ''And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, and did not utterly drive them out.'' This was disobedience to God's Word. Israel's association with the Canaanites did not raise the Canaanites to Israel's level; rather, Israel came down to their level. It is always the same-- disobedience spells decline.
The book of Judges underscores these spiritual truths:
  1. The consequences of sin is death. Sin that is not followed by confession and atonement always results in punishment.
  2. The product of worldly associations is unrighteousness. The sin of idolatry was the greatest sin of Israel during the time of the judges. Probably in their desire to be rich, they made friends with the Canaanites. Soon, they had adopted their idolatrous practices. The same thing happens today when Christians make their associations with the world in order to better their position.
  3. The fruit of our unfaithfulness tests us. Judges 3:1 declares, ''Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan.'' The Israelites had been commanded to exterminate the utterly depraved inhabitants of Palestine, but they didn't obey the Lord. Now, God used these very nations to give His people so much trouble that they turned back to Him in repentance and faith. Romans 5:20 says, ''But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.''
  4. The Bible is our guide. Israel was to chart her course by the Word of God, as we are to follow the written Word. Let us make sure that, when we talk about Jesus, we are talking about the Christ of the Bible. In his first epistle, John said, ''And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one'' (1John 5:8). I have read in the Book of the Friends this statement, ''Whatever any man says or does which is contrary to the Scriptures, though under the profession of the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, must be reckoned and accounted a mere delusion... There can be no appeal from them to any other authority whatsoever.''
         Israel was dependent for guidance upon the word of Jehovah. We today also need, in our voyage of life, a chart-- the Scriptures; a compass-- the Holy Spirit; a Captain-- the Lord Jesus Christ.
  5. We have nothing in ourselves in which to glory. It was ''not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts'' (Zech 4:6). Periodically during those dark days of Israel's apostasy, God raised up special men and women to be judges in Israel. Not one of them would be considered by modern standards a person of unusual gift or stature. Let me list for you seven of these people [who were] used by God, and give a brief statement concerning the background of each.
    • Othniel: Caleb's youngest brother's son.
    • Ehud: A left-handed man and an assassin.
    • Deborah: A member of the physically weaker sex.
    • Gideon: A member of an obscure family in the smallest tribe; he was threshing wheat by a secluded winepress when God called him.
    • Tola: His name means ''worm''.
    • Jephthah: An outcast, the son of a harlot.
    • Samson: A Nazirite. [Although known for his physical strength, his story demonstrates weakness of mind: he was gullible and easily beguiled by women.]
    These people illustrate the principle stated in 1Corinthians 1:27-29, ''But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are.'' The reason for this is ''that no flesh should glory in His presence.'' (v.29)
The men and women who filled the office of judge were used by the Lord as deliverers. Christ is our true deliverer. He is our Savior from sin, punishment, and defeat. ''But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ'' (1Cor 15:57).

The book of Judges closes with civil war, ruin, destruction, and these words: ''...every man did that which was right in his own eyes'' (Judg 21:25).
For further study, I suggest that you become familiar with the sequence of events in Judges. Study the book biographically, looking at the judges themselves. In many of them, you will discover those characteristics that find complete fulfillment in the marvelous person and unparalleled work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Return to table of contents for ''The Old Testament Presents... Reflections of Christ,''
written by Paul R. Van Gorder, Copyright 1982 by RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI.
Used by permission [within The Book from].
Further distribution is not allowed without permission from RBC.

For another brief look at this book of the Bible,
see the related chapter in Christ in All the Scriptures, by A.M. Hodgkin.

Go to The Book opening page.