In our first sermon on the Book of Judges, we learnt that Judges kindles in us a longing for the true King. To this end each of the 12 Judges we encounter in this book points us. Their stories were written down as shadows of the perfect King to come; pointers that would show us what we really need; promises of true and lasting rest.
Make no mistake. Their lives were not exactly exemplary. They were, like us, tainted with sin. Like us, everything they thought and did, was marred from birth by the effects and shamefulness of sin. And yet, they were raised up by God to awaken in His people a longing for the true and lasting deliverance.
Today, I want us to take a broad sweep over these 12 judges, to establish how they point us to the ultimate King. For this, there are three ways they played this role, and we will see how this ultimately points to Christ, our true King.
The Mighty Warrior
Each of the Judges had to deliver Israel from an oppressing nation. This was not done by skillful negotiation and coming to some sort of agreement. Far from it. They had to fight! Israel was never delivered without war. Even the judges Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon, of whom we know very little, had to deliver God’s people from the hands of their oppressors going into battle (2:16, 18). In fact, God used Samson’s womanizing to stir up trouble with the Philistines (14:4).
Othniel battled Cushan-rishataim, Ehud warred against Moab, Shamgar and Samson took on the Philistines, Deborah the Canaanites, Gideon fought the Midianites, and Jephthah had to brave the battle against the Ammonites and Philistines.
Whenever Israel sinned and whored after the gods of the other nations, the sell-out to those nations were complete. Their freedom was completely sacrificed and their serving the nations a sign of complete slavery.
And the way to freedom was always through battle. Deliverance was never a matter of compromise. There was no handshake to clench a deal of freedom.
This is the same picture we see of the effect of sin in our lives. When we abandon the God who made us, sin will become our master. This is in fact the dark picture the Bible sketches of us, slaves to sin and its dark master, with a complete loss of freedom. Every thought and inclination of our being is controlled by it. That is why it is so dangerous to play in the puddles of sin – soon you will sink into the ocean of death and slavery! As did Israel.
And like Israel, the only way out is through war. And not from us, but the promised King. We hear of the promise of a Mighty Warrior who will crush the head of the enemy in Genesis 3:15:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
The Afrikaans translation is so powerful:
Haar nageslag sal jou kop vermorsel, en jy sal Hom in die hakskeen byt.
We see this promise being referenced and underlined in the Book of Judges. Jael crushed the head of Sisera with a hammer and tent peg to secure the victory for Deborah (4:21) and Abimelech’s skull was crushed by a millstone:
a woman threw an upper millstone down on his head and shattered his skull (9:53).
Twice in Judges we are reminded of the coming of the Great King, who would bring deliverance through war and not by making deals to accomplish our freedom. His cross was the final blow to Satan’s head. That which we see as weakness, God used to crush Satan’s skull to bring us freedom. Ehud used a sword, Shamgar an oxgoad, Jael a hammer and tent peg, Gideon used a lot of noise, and Samson a jawbone and brute strength, while God used a cross with His only begotten Son on it! And to this Paul testifies:
And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions. He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Colossians 2:13-15).
When we read of the battles of the Judges, we are reminded of the final battle of our Ultimate Warrior King. He conquered Satan, broke the power of death and sin, and accomplished true freedom to those who are called by His name!
The Spirit-empowered Deliverer
There is also a second way the Judges point to the coming Deliverer. They did what they did in the power of the Spirit of God. In other words, there acts were not done out of there own selfish ambitions, or anger towards the oppressing nations. We read of Othniel:
The Lord raised up Othniel … (3:9)
The LORD’s spirit empowered him and he led Israel (3:10).
He (the LORD) raised up Ehud … (3:15)
And Barak (under Deborah’s leadership):
Is it not true that the LORD God of Israel is commanding you (4:6)?
The LORD’s spirit empowered Jephthah (11:29).
God raised up the Judges and empowered them with His Spirit. It was not of their own doing that they decided it is time for war. God sent them to battle and for that He equipped them with the mightiest weapon a warrior could dream for … Himself through His own Spirit!
Looking forward to the coming Servant, Isaiah prophesied this about Him:
The spirit of the sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has chosen me. He has commissioned me to encourage the poor, to help the brokenhearted, to decree the release of captives, and the freeing of prisoners (61:1)
And Christ took the scroll in the Synagogue and declared of Himself:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed … Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read (Luke 4:18-21).
He never claimed to work without the Spirit of His Father. Even His temptation was fought in the power of the Spirit.
The King who gives rest
Thirdly, the Judges points us to the King who would give everlasting rest. They could not do it, because they themselves were tainted by sin and in need of this rest. Nevertheless, we read a profound truth about all the judges. While they were alive, the people of God and the land experienced rest from their battles. The enemies were always there, but Israel experienced a glimpse of the freedom they were meant to have if they would obey God.
In Judges 2:18 we read:
When the LORD raised up leaders for them, the LORD was with each leader and delivered the people from their enemies while the leader remained alive.
We see this in Othniel:
The land had rest for forty years (3:11).
the land had rest for eighty years (3:30).
The land had rest for forty years during Gideon’s time (8:28).
The role of the Judge was to bring rest and peace to God’s people and their land. And this God gave while the judge was still alive. It had nothing to do with the Judges’ abilities to sustain order and peace. It was all the sovereign act of God, who called the Judge to fulfil this role as a shadow of the ultimate rest Christ would bring to His people.
Christ would not only bring peace and rest, He is in fact our rest. The clear theme of the sabbath rest runs through the book of Judges, but the lives of the Judges leaves a massive hole – the true Sabbath’s Rest would only come when Jesus rose from the dead. If He did not rise from the dead, there would be NO rest. Because He is alive, He entered the sanctuary of heaven and through Him we enter with Him to experience this lasting rest. Unlike the Judges, death has no hold on Him, and He lives forever, which guarantees us of an everlasting rest.
A grace beyond measure
The probing question is why God would raise up these Judges when His people repeatedly went back to idol worship. In fact, there is only one instance in Judges where the people acknowledge their sin in their cry to God (10:10-16). In 3:9 and 3:15 we are told that they “cried out to the Lord”. This was not a cry of repentance, but a cry for help in times of distress. There was no indication of sorrow, brokenness, or remorse. Only that their situation was unbearable. We even get the idea that there “repentance” in chapter 10 was one of not wanting to bear the misery of their situation.
And yet, God intervenes. He raises up the Judges to rescue and give rest. This is a clear message of a God whose grace goes far beyond what we will ever grasp. The New Testament says that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. There seems to be no limits to His grace. His people rejected Him time and again, and still He rescued.
That is still true of Him. He did not change in any way. He is still the God who saves even though we often cry out to Him in selfishness. If He only reacted when we did the right thing, He would not be a gracious and loving God. In fact, that would mean that we can manipulate Him. But He even saves us from ourselves and goes deeper and wider that what we can anticipate. He saves because He wants to, not because He must!
Do not think for one moment that your sin and idolatry is to deep or high or wide for God to gracefully step into your life. Remember, it is finished, the battle for your soul has already been won. There is nothing in this created universe that can stop the grace of God when He chooses to stretch it out to you. Therefore, if you hear His voice, listen and take hold of it!
When you read the Judges’ stories, do not get stuck in what they accomplished. The book really wants us to realise they could not accomplish lasting deliverance, because the true Deliverer was not yet born. The Judges are but pointers to this great and awesome King!