Thoughts on Judges (Part 2)
Paul Young, Maesteg, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The Third Deliverer was Barak and we read about him in Judges 4 and 5. Jabin king of the Canaanites with Sisera the captain of his host had conquered Israel, and with nine hundred chariots of iron he oppressed the children of Israel twenty years.
It is not a coincidence that in that period of weakness in Israel's history a woman prophetess named Deborah dwelt in Mount Ephraim "and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment", 4. 5. God has given men and women distinct roles to play. National leadership and conducting public worship is the man's role. It is a sign of spiritual weakness when these roles are reversed and men are not prepared to fulfil their service to God. Was there no man in Israel who could judge the people or lead them against the Canaanites?
Barak, who was from Kadeshnaphtali, could have been such a man. God commissioned him for service and gave him the promise of victory over Sisera and the hosts of Canaan. However, Barak refused to go forward unless he were accompanied by Deborah. In other words, he imposed conditions before he would serve God, not realizing that when God commissions a person for service He also gives power to serve. This was so unlike the Lord Jesus whose love was so great that it led Him to die on Calvary's cross. He said, "Here am I; send me" and "not what I will, but what thou wilt", Mark 14. 36. Jesus laid down no conditions beforehand and so received great glory and honour when the work of redemption was accomplished. As believers we must not lay down conditions if we are to serve God. We must go forward, boldly resting on God's promises.
Barak made his service conditional, and as a result lost honour which would have been his, had he wholeheartedly served God. Deborah went up with Barak and the men of Israel; a great victory was won, and the bondage of Canaanite iron chariots was broken. However, the final honour of slaying Sisera went to a woman named Jael, Jud. 4. 21. She smote the captain of the Canaanite host with a tent peg as he slept in her tent. So Barak and his men were denied the final triumph of slaying the Canaanite leader.
The first two invaders, namely Mesopotamia and Moab, have spoken to us of the world from which we are called and the flesh over which we have victory. Canaan, the third invader, speaks of Satan who is able to bind men with chains of iron. Our victory over Satan is assured by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The power of the Risen Christ is the only power which can release men and women from the bondage of Satan. "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins ; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)", Eph. 2. 1-5.
The Fourth Deliverer was Gideon, and we read of him in Judges 6, 7 and 8. The Midianites, together with the Amalekites and the children of the east, had conquered the land and ruled Israel seven years. So severe was the oppression that many of the Israelites took refuge in the caves and dens of the mountains, 6. 2. These invaders were a great host, "as grasshoppers for multitude"; like grasshoppers too, they left the countryside barren. They destroyed the increase of the earth and "left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass", 6. 4. It may occur in the Christian's life that troubles and problems assail "as grasshoppers for multitude". It is then good to remember the words of Scripture, "When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him", Isa. 59. 19.
Israel was greatly impoverished under Midianite rule and cried to the Lord for deliverance. God sent a deliverer in the person of Gideon the son of an Abi-ezrite of the tribe of Manasseh. Gideon at first sight seems a poor choice for deliverer, for he was fearfully threshing a little wheat in hiding lest the Midianites discovered him, Jud. 6. 11. The Lord visited Gideon and said, "Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites", 6. 14. Gideon was hesitant, claiming to be the least of a poor family in Manasseh. In spite of his weakness, fear, poverty and obscurity, Gideon was chosen and God confirmed this by consuming the flesh and unleavened cakes upon the rock with fire, 6. 21. Like Gideon, the Lord Jesus was born of lowly parents, in a humble stable. He knew nothing of wealth and splendour in this world; "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head", Matt. 8. 20. God is not interested in our wordly standing; He wants obedience and wholehearted service from His people.
Gideon's immediate problem was not the Midianites but idolatry at home. This had to be put right before he could serve in wider spheres. So one night he cut down his family's groves, cast down the altars of Baalim and replaced them with a bullock upon a new altar as an offering to the Lord. He was now ready to gather the people of Israel, and they pitched by the well of Harod, Jud. 7.1. Yet the host was too numerous for the Lord; God would not give victory to such an army, in case it gave Israel the opportunity to boast in their own strength. Twenty-two thousand of the fearful ones were allowed to return home to the relative security of family and friends. This reminds us that believers should not be fearful, but are commanded to be "careful for nothing", Phil. 4. 6. Ten thousand men were now left, but even this was too many for God's work and so the men who failed to be watchful whilst drinking at the brook were also sent home, Jud. 7. 5. This left three hundred men; "What are these among so many?"; "Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world", 1 John 4. 4; "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts", Zech. 4. 6.
By this stage Gideon had already had two signs to confirm victory. These were the well-known incidents of laying out the fleece, Jud. 6. 36-40. A third confirmation came when he crept up to the Midianite camp and heard the conversation of the guards, 7. 9-14. Gideon, confident of victory, armed his three hundred men with trumpets, pitchers and lamps, 7. 16, divided them into three groups around the camp and at the signal they cried, "the sword of the Lord, and of Gideon", 7. 18. The Midianites fled in terror and confusion. This was a great victory; God had used the weak things to confound the things which were mighty, 1 Cor. 1. 27. Today many assemblies are small and find it difficult to keep going, so comfort and encouragement can be taken from this victory of Israel. As in the days of Gideon, so today; the same Lord can do great things.
Gideon and his three hundred men pursued the Midianites over Jordan. We read that they were "faint, yet pursuing them", Jud. 8. 4. Gideon and his men were weak but were not giving up. They had done a lot but wanted to bring about the final and absolute defeat of the Midianites. Similarly, as believers, when we have done all, we must stand, Eph. 6. 13. The men of Succoth and the men of Penuel despised Gideon as he passed through. They refused to give him sustenance, but only offered mockery and ridicule. Thus when Gideon completed his rout of the Midianites, he returned to execute judgment upon these offensive men. He slew the men of Penuel and threw down their tower and he beat with thorns the elders of Succoth. Likewise the Lord Jesus was despised and rejected by men ; He was mocked and laughed at and no man gave unto Him. Now His great work of redemption is complete, and He will return as judge of all those who despise and neglect Him.
To complete his work, Gideon had to slay the kings Zebah and Zalmunna. These were the very ones who had destroyed Gideon's own family. The kings' description of Gideon's family was that "As thou art so were they; each one resembled the children of a king", Jud. 8. 18. This is a beautiful description and should equally apply to the lives and characters of believers. Our conduct speech and manner of life should be resembling that of the Lord Jesus Christ, who one day will be revealed as the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 1 Tim. 6. 15. Then we truly will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is, and we shall reign with Him in majesty and glory.
After this great victory Gideon was made ruler over Israel. Yet sadly he was unable to keep Israel in victory. He had an ephod of gold built and placed in his home city of Ophrah, and all Israel came a whoring there and the thing became a snare to Gideon, Jud. 8. 27. Nevertheless, the land had rest for forty years. Gideon's final actions are a real contrast to those of the Lord Jesus, who through His work on the cross, not only saves but keeps and keeps throughout all eternity. Believers have this great assurance that once they are saved they are eternally safe in the arms of the Lord.