The need for effective leadership lies at the heart of the economic and political problems that beset our present day politicians and, in the absence of it, as in the days of the judges, every man seeks to do ’that which was right in his own eyes’ (Judg. 21. 25). This matter of leadership is vitally related also to the problems and well being of christian assemblies and there is no book so profusely illustrative of this subject as the book of Judges. It has, therefore, a relevant message for elders and all who seek to exercise pastoral care over the saints today.
In approaching the book of Judges with this thought in mind it will be helpful to observe that it divides into two major portions, the first ending with Samson, the last of the judges, in chapter 16; the second embracing the remainder of the book, thus:
Chapters 1 to 16. Leadership in relation to enemies without.
Chapters 17 to 21.Leadership in relation to enemies within.
Faithlessness, failures and frailties produced these problems amongst the children of Israel, yet God, in His mercy toward them, raised up suitable leaders to deliver them from their foes. Right upon the threshold of this remarkable page of Israel’s history we are brought to see that
1. The Leaders were under Leadership.
In chapter 1 verse 1 the Lord is consulted first a most desirable and important beginning and the question is asked of Him, ‘Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first’ and the principle is laid down by the Lord Himself, ‘Judah shall go up" (v. 2). Primarily, then, leadership was to be vested in the tribe of Judah and christian readers will not fail to appreciate the significance of this. From it we may learn that leadership lies, first of all, with the Captain (Leader) of our salvation (Heb. 2. 10), the Author (Leader) and Finisher (Perfecter) of our faith (Heb. 12. 2). This may well raise the momentous question as to how far, in a really practical way, the leadership of Christ, by His Holy Spirit, has its true place in what may be called ‘church government.’ To what extent is His influence and guidance paramount among us or, alternatively, to what extent does the world, through its many intrusive means, dictate and direct or divert our motives and methods? This having been duly deliberated we may pass to the consideration that
2. The Leaders were raised up of the Lord.
The prelude to the book of Joshua was the death of Moses (Josh. 1. 1), and the prelude to the book of Judges, the death of Joshua (Judg. 1. 1). Since their more modern representatives have passed into the presence of the Lord the spiritual equivalents of the Philistines, the Canaanites and the Hivites have made their inroads into the spiritual inheritance of the saints in their assembly life.
In chapter 2 verse16 we read, ‘Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges which delivered them’, and, in these modern days, their counterparts in the spiritual realm must also be men raised up of the Lord. No human appointment will suffice though recognition will undoubtedly follow. In this connection it is helpful to note the appropriateness of the exhortation contained in Hebrews chapter 13 verse 17, which reads, ‘Obey them that have the rule over you’, because the word ‘rule’ here means ‘leadership’. True elders will lead rather than seek to exercise authority, and here in Hebrews chapter 13 the saints are counselled to ‘Remember’ (v. 7), ‘Obey’ (v. 17), and ‘Salute’ (v. 24) such.
Today, as in the days of the judges, one of the primary purposes of leadership is to deliver the Lord’s people from servitude to the world and its things, and to maintain them in the true blessings and liberties of their inheritance. For this great task men of faith are required, a faith that rests upon a victorious Lord. A very attractive picture of this is drawn for us in the first chapter of Judges. Here, according to the Lord’s instructions, Judah is the first to go up to take possession of his Inheritance. This represents something that has already taken place for us at the cross. There the Lion of the tribe of Judah (the Lamb) ‘triumphed gloriously’. His victory over Satan is reflected in Judah’s conquest of Adoni-Bezek (the lord of lightning), and a very accurate pictorial description is given of the force and significance of Hebrews chapter 2 verse14, ‘that through death he might destroy’ (annul) ‘him that had the power of death, that is, the devil’! First, Adoni-Bezek’s thumbs and great toes are cut off, then he is brought to Jerusalem and there he died. Not, however, before he had acknowledged the justice of his punishment (Judg. 1. 6-7). At Calvary, where the Lord Jesus Christ ‘spoiled principalities and powers’, and ‘made a shew of them openly’ (Col. 2. 15), He annulled the power of the devil nullifying his work (symbolised by the thumbs) and curtailing his walk (symbolised by the great toes). Well did He say in Luke chapter 10 verse 18, ‘I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven’. The lord of lightning is first driven from the heavenly places, confined to earth, then confined in the abyss, and finally, in the lake of fire ‘so he died’, and what a death!
It is faith in such a victorious Leader who has overcome the devil that is essential to true leadership. The Lion of the tribe of Judah has gone up first.
Another beautiful touch follows. In chapter 1 verse 3 Judah is heard saying to Simeon his brother, ‘Come up with me into my lot … I likewise will go with thee into thy lot’. Remembering that Jacob had, by inspiration, pronounced that Levi and Simeon should be scattered in Israel (Gen. 49: 7), we first see grace in display here and then an important principle, i.e., that association by faith with Christ in His victory assures His gracious activity on behalf of His followers to bring and maintain them in the riches of their inheritance in heavenly places in Him. It is well to read the epistle to the Ephesians in conjunction with the books of Joshua and Judges because it provides a spiritual application of this part of Israel’s history.
3. The Leaders were conscious of their own weakness.
One need only cite one or two instances from Judges to illustrate this. Ehud, the son of Gera (ch. 3 v. 15), was a left-handed man or, rather, as the marginal reading indicates, ‘bound as to the right hand’, i.e., his right hand was either deformed or unusable for some other reason. Here was a Benjamite (a son of the right hand) who could not use his right hand and was, therefore, obviously incapacitated and obliged to resort to unusual means of arming himself. Yet this very weakness was made the means of deceiving Eglon, king of Moab, and of bringing about his destruction. Or, again, we may think of Gideon who, when called of the Lord to deliver his people, pleaded, ‘Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house’ (ch. 6 v.15). How readily this teaches us the importance of learning to say with Paul, ‘when I am weak, then am I strong’ (2 Cor. 12. 10).
Nevertheless, and in spite of their weaknesses, each of the judges raised up of the Lord on Israel’s behalf has something about him to remind us of Christ and something to teach us concerning the character of true leadership in the light of 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verses 26-31. This is a passage which is finely illustrated by the lives and characters of the judges and which shows that God has the very same thoughts concerning the type of servants He can and will best use today for the well-being of His people as He had in those far off times, ‘ye see your calling, brethren’. ‘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 … That no flesh should glory in his presence’. Again their triumphant trust and valiant deeds are immortalised in Hebrews chapter 11 verses 32-34, There can be no mistake, therefore, as to the direction in which God is looking, even in these modern days, when He, by His Spirit, would appoint elders and raise up those by whom He would deliver His people. The question is often raised nowadays as to the choosing of elders. There is one simple method by recognising those in the assembly who answer to the portrait given by inspiration in the scriptures. (See 1 Tim. 3. 1-14 and Titus 1. 5-9). Much trouble and distress has resulted in many assemblies through failure to adhere to this high but essential standard. In the commencing with chapter 17, leadership is seen vested not so much in individuals as in the elders of Israel (ch. 20 v. 2), and great and complex was the problem with which they now had to deal, for it was not now with the enemies without but with the recalcitrant tribe of Benjamin. Again the question is asked, “Which of us shall go up first’? and the same reply is given, ‘Judah shall go up first’ (ch. 20 v.18). This important principle, which we have already considered, is, therefore, reasserted in relation to internal discipline. The Lord Himself, by His Spirit, must lead the way. Even when this is recognised further lessons may have to be learned before discipline can suitably be exercised. Again we find ourselves in the sphere covered by the Corinthian epistles. The hearts of the saints must first be exercised and humbled before they can rightly deal with a sinning brother. So we observe that the Israelites were allowed to be twice defeated by their brother Benjamin before they subdued and then, finally, restored him. Perhaps the first reason for their initial failure was because they had measured their strength against, their brother, ‘comparing themselves among themselves’ (2 Cor. 10. 12) and deciding matters on the ‘tithe’ principle, which was a legal basis (ch. 20 v. 10), before consulting the Lord and without giving Judah the necessary pre-eminence. The cause of their second failure may have been on account of their own condition not being sufficiently right or lowly enough to permit of them being used for this delicate purpose. But, having fasted and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord, and sought His further counsel through the zealous high priest Phinehas (ch. 20 v. 28; see also Numbers chapter 25), they were heard and strengthened for the onerous task. Even then their zeal outran their discretion so that the very existence of the tribe of Benjamin was jeopardised. How human this is! Either we are not firm enough or else too severe in our dealings with one another. Not so with God. He knows, as in the case of Job, or David or Peter, just how far to go and when to cry, ‘It is enough’. It is beautiful, however, to see how the severest discipline can be followed by the most genuine and loving concern for the offending brother (ch. 21 v. 3), and a deep yearning that he might find his true place once more among his brethren. Thus the Book of Judges, with its sad record of declension, weakness and failure is bright with restoring mercies and ends with the Lord’s people displaying something of the mercy and grace toward their failing brother that He had been showing to them particularly through this dark part of their history when every man was so disappointingly doing that which was right in his own eyes instead of seeking the mind of the Lord. That such a dangerous condition exists so acutely today all around and, perhaps, in a measure within the assemblies provides a very adequate reason why we should re-read, with the greatest care, these things which happened of old time for our instruction upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Because we believe that the lessons to be learnt from the history of Israel have a distinct bearing on conditions in the religious world today, we have asked Mr. William Trew, of Cardiff, to continue this study with a series of articles on 1st and 2nd Samuel.