Judges is a shadow of what we see when there is no central judge for Israel, though ironic it is that the book should be called shophetim, the judges, the book of those who discern, the heads standing in between the legends of Moses, Joshua, Caleb until Saul. It is symbolically represented by the cycle from apostasy to salvation; however, on the whole, it is a book very similar to Numbers – it is a book of constant heresy as a result of walking far away from the pillar of cloud and fire. It is a recounting of the failure of the majority of judges, their corruption, the consequent oppression, the short periods of rest but long period of persecution, all occurring in an (overlapping) period of roughly 410 years, a number symbolic between Genesis to Exodus, between Malachi to Matthew. The number 400 roughly representing the spiritual wilderness, as was the case when the Israelites were made slaves in Egypt; when the Israelites did not receive new revelation through the prophets until John the Baptist. It is no surprise that this irony is not lost on these judges, a majority of which are anything but the true Judge.
It is helpful to see these patterns according to the tables set out by the ESV Study Bible:
Cycles of Good and Bad under the Judges (2:11–16:31)
Judges 1-2: The Angel our Judge
It is not surprising that we should see a large contrast between Judges 1 and Judges 21; the time before the judges when people would inquire of the LORD (Judges 1:1); and the time in the midst, the heat, the pinnacle of the period and dispensation of the judges when “there was no king in Israel [and] everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25), an infectious hereditary disease from the consumption of the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Judges 1 and 2 takes into account two events, not chronologically recorded but these two events are important in shaping the faith of Israel and the lesson taught in the Word: the continuing conquest of Canaan riddled with continuous failures; and the death of Yeshua. It is in the death of Yeshua, in the death of Moses, in the death of Aaron, in the death of Jacob, in the death of Isaac, in the death of Abraham – all these deaths that we understand a typology of Christ’s death on the cross. The three days in between are the longest periods of wilderness which Jonah felt when he spent three days and nights in the belly of the sea creature; and so this period of wilderness have continued time and time again until the glory of the strong Kingdom of Israel established not until the false King Herod represented by Saul, but under the true King Jesus Christ, as typified by both David and Solomon as the two facets of Christ’s kingship – the warrior judge, and the peace-ruling king of wisdom.
However much the parallels there are between the Old and the New, the central object of faith has always been Christ, and not merely the type of Christ His shadow(s). In the failures of the judges, and later on the failures of the kings, we see the height of the failure of these shadows and the placement of faith in these shadows. It is in looking beyond the shadows that we understand who the true Judge, the true King, and the true God is. And so Judges 1 begins with part-success and part-failure of Israel, to signify that though they may win battles temporarily, it is Christ who wins all battles and all wars.
1After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel(A) inquired of the LORD,(B) “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” 2The LORD said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” 3And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites.(C) And I likewise will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him. 4Then Judah went up and the LORD gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they defeated 10,000 of them at Bezek. 5They found Adoni-bezek at Bezek and fought against him and defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites. 6Adoni-bezek fled, but they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and his big toes. 7And Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off(D) used to pick up scraps under my table.(E) As I have done, so God has repaid me.” And they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.
So Judges begins with the fall of the lord of lightning, as literally translated from the name Adoni-Bezek, perhaps a parallel can be conceived between the fall of the lord of lightning and Satan who fell like lightning from the sky through the work of evangelism of Christ’s disciples (Luke 10:18), compared to the true lord of lightning Christ (Matthew 24:27; 28:3).
What we furthermore see is an eschatological retribution in the treatment of Adoni-Bezek. It may be easy to read this and conclude that such karmic retribution does not occur in this life; and indeed, it does not – but rather than subsume ourselves in the riddles of Buddhist philosophies and the mystery of the samsaric cycle, what is more important is that we see these judgments and successes through Israel and experienced by Israel as indicative of the final judgment which Enoch prophesied (Jude 1:14-15). It is in this sense that we understand how the LORD sees justice – it is a repayment of the sins we have committed (v.7). Therefore, for us to see Christ’s death as anything less than in the terms of repayment, as our retribution, as the cost of our death is to ignore the event of Adoni-Bezek’s treatment, or even the death of the king of Ai in Joshua 8:29. These are all pointing towards Christ’s death as a payment for our sins, exacting all that we deserve onto the God-man. It is in this sense that we can provide a truly Christ-focused definition of the scientific and philosophic principle behind karma.
The success of Judah against Jerusalem and Canaan can also be seen as a brief summary of displacement theology, as we once again find that cities are renamed and populated by new people with new faith, just as Christ had promised that we would be the true inheritors of new heaven and earth (Exodus 32:13; Matthew 5:5, 1 Corinthians 6:9). Here we see Judah, the tribe of Jesus of Nazareth, take over Jerusalem where Christ would be crucified – the work of renewal beginning with his incarnation in the land of Judah, his death in the land of Judah, his resurrection in the land of Judah – to take away the city of the four giants (Kiriath-Arba) and renew it as a mercy seat of association (Hebron) akin to that in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle; to take away the false city of peace and provide Jerusalem a salvific truth which lives up to the meaning of its name, where Christ truly brought peace through this city. Indeed, we are to inherit the New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12), and there need not be a replacement, but a renewal and a displacement through the fire of judgment (v.8), refining Jerusalem and redeeming what had always been materially good but misused (Genesis 1:31) by stewards who live not by faith but merely by sight.
8(F) And the men of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire. 9And afterward the men of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites who lived in(G) the hill country, in the Negeb, and in the lowland. 10(H) And Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron(I) (now the name of Hebron was formerly Kiriath-arba), and they defeated(J) Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai.
11From there they went against the inhabitants of Debir. The name of Debir was formerly Kiriath-sepher. 12And Caleb said, “He who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will give him Achsah my daughter for a wife.” 13And Othniel the son of Kenaz,(K) Caleb’s younger brother, captured it. And he gave him Achsah his daughter for a wife. 14When she came to him, she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?” 15She said to him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have set me in the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.
And so we continue with these events as chronicled in Joshua 15:13-19, making what was pagan, a city of the book into a holy sanctuary – presumably this city ‘of the book’ had a book which taught the people not to revere the true LORD, Yahweh, just as Christians have looked at the two tablets of the 10 Words as a curse rather than a blessing, rather than a testimony leading us to the holy sanctuary. It is in Debir, this new city, that we see Caleb provide more than what his daughter had required, an example of how God would also provide us with such rich blessings in new creation, far more than the firstfruit of what we taste and more than what we ask for.
16And the descendants of the(L) Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up with the people of Judah(M) from the city of palms into the wilderness of Judah, which lies in the Negeb near(N) Arad,(O) and they went and settled with the people. 17(P) And Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they defeated the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath and devoted it to destruction. So the name of the city was called(Q) Hormah.[a] 18Judah also(R) captured Gaza with its territory, and Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. 19(S) And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the(T) hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had(U) chariots of iron. 20(V) And Hebron was given to Caleb, as Moses had said. And he drove out from it(W) the three sons of Anak. 21But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem,(X) so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.
Thus chapter 1 continues with the displacement of Israel, destroying what is not good and renaming and devoting what is good (as represented by the name “Hormah”, which means devoted/devotion), perhaps also implied through the Hebrew wordplay of the names Gaza, Ashkelon, Ekron, respectively revealing insight into the event of displacement as that completed by those truly strong by the LORD, as they discern and weigh what is good for His Name, and a destruction by the roots where there is anything which represents otherwise (Deuteronomy 9:3, 14).
Again, interlaced in the midst of this warfare do we see a humble people akin to Joshua and the Levites in living humbly, perhaps even in tents, in a land which is not rebuilt for its previous idolatry (Jericho, the city of palms). In the words of Matthew Henry:
“The Kenites gained a settlement in the tribe of Judah, choosing it there rather than in any other tribe, because it was the strongest, and there they hoped to be safe and quiet, Jdg_1:16. These were the posterity of Jethro, who either went with Israel when Moses invited them (Num_10:29) or met them about the same place when they came up from their wanderings in the wilderness thirty-eight years after, and went with them then to Canaan, Moses having promised them that they should fare as Israel fared, Num_10:32. They had at first seated themselves in the city of palm-trees, that is, Jericho, a city which never was to be rebuilt, and therefore the fitter for those who dwelt in tents, and did not mind building. But afterwards they removed into the wilderness of Judah, either out of their affection to that place, because solitary and retired, or out of their affection to that tribe, which perhaps had been in a particular manner kind to them. Yet we find the tent of Jael, who was of that family, far north, in the lot of Naphtali, when Sisera took shelter there, Jdg_4:17. This respect Israel showed them, to let them fix where they pleased, being a quiet people, who, wherever they were, were content with a little. Those that molested none were molested by none. Blessed are the meek, for thus they shall inherit the earth.”
Yet, there is some confusion in the translation of v.19 – why would obeying the LORD lead to a failure in conquering the iron chariots of Canaan? Given the past conquest of Israel by the name of the LORD, in the form of the 10 plagues, of the parting of the Red Sea and river of Jordan, of the miracles witnessed time and time again, it should perhaps be explained that the verse was improperly rendered and/or something implied in between the verses lest we charge Yahweh with inconsistency in his potency to conquer his enemies:
“…were the iron chariots too strong for Omnipotence? The whole of this verse is improperly rendered. The first clause, The Lord was with Judah should terminate the 18th verse, and this gives the reason for the success of this tribe: The Lord was with Judah, and therefore he slew the Canaanites that inhabited Zephath, etc., etc. Here then is a complete period: the remaining part of the verse either refers to a different time, or to the rebellion of Judah against the Lord, which caused him to withdraw his support. Therefore the Lord was with Judah, and these were the effects of his protection; but afterwards, when the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim, etc., God was no longer with them, and their enemies were left to be pricks in their eyes, and thorns in their side, as God himself had said. This is the turn given to the verse by Jonathan ben Uzziel, the Chaldee paraphrast: “And the Word of Jehovah was in the support of the house of Judah, and they extirpated the inhabitants of the mountains; but afterwards, When They Sinned, they were not able to extirpate the inhabitants of the plain country, because they had chariots of iron.” They were now left to their own strength, and their adversaries prevailed against them.” – Adam Clarke
Taking into the account that verse numbers and labels as used in the English Bibles are not used for the Hebrew Bible, we can see how the beginning of v.19 could in fact be actually part of v.18, and thus everything from v.19 onwards is, according to Adam Clarke here, a representation of a different period when Judah sinned, which would complement well the failure of Benjamin to conquer the Jebusites, most likely again due to their failure to adhere to the LORD, a failure in part attributed also to Judah for they are geographically tied (Joshua 15:63) due to the location of Jerusalem in between Judah and Benjamin. However, next to their failures is once again the success of Caleb in v.20 – his defeating of the three sons of Anak surely a more powerful testimony of his obedience to Christ than being defeated by the comparatively weak iron chariots.
22The house of Joseph also went up against Bethel,(Y) and the LORD was with them. 23And the house of Joseph scouted out Bethel. ((Z) Now the name of the city was formerly Luz.) 24And the spies saw a man coming out of the city, and they said to him, “Please show us the way into the city,(AA) and we will deal kindly with you.” 25And he showed them the way into the city. And they struck the city with the edge of the sword, but they let the man and all his family go. 26And the man went to(AB) the land of the Hittites and built a city and called its name Luz. That is its name to this day.
“As Luz signifies an almond, almond or hazel tree, this place probably had its name from a number of such trees growing in that region…
…From Beth-El came the Baetylia, Bethyllia, Βαιτυλια, or animated stones, so celebrated in antiquity, and to which Divine honors were paid. The tradition of Jacob anointing this stone, and calling the place Beth-El, gave rise to all the superstitious accounts of the Baetylia or consecrated stones, which we find in Sanchoniathon and others. These became abused to idolatrous purposes, and hence God strongly prohibits them, Lev_26:1; and it is very likely that stones of this kind were the most ancient objects of idolatrous worship; these were afterwards formed into beautiful human figures, male and female, when the art of sculpture became tolerably perfected, and hence the origin of idolatry as far as it refers to the worshipping of images, for these, being consecrated by anointing, etc., were supposed immediately to become instinct with the power and energy of some divinity. Hence, then, the Baetylia or living stones of the ancient Phoenicians, etc. As oil is an emblem of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, so those who receive this anointing are considered as being alive unto God, and are expressly called by St. Peter living stones, 1Pe_2:4, 1Pe_2:5. May not the apostle have reference to those living stones or Baetyllia of antiquity, and thus correct the notion by showing that these rather represented the true worshippers of God, who were consecrated to his service and made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and that these alone could be properly called the living stone, out of which the true spiritual temple is composed?”
Once again, we learn here a new name given to reveal new insight into God’s plan of redemption through Israel. Here we see that the house of Joseph went up against Bethel, the house of God, formerly called Luz, which signifies an almond/almond or hazel tree. It here that we find a connection between the almond blossoms of the lampstand of the tabernacle (Exodus 37:19-20), a prophecy once more maintained in Jeremiah 1:11 – the almond tree being the first to flower and bring forth fruit, and thus Jacob’s anointing of this stone directly related to the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the living stones referred to in Clarke’s commentary through the anointing of the Rock, the Stone of Ages.
What is ironic is that in this particular conquest against Bethel, the spies of the house of Joseph let go a man and a family who led the Israelites to destroy this city. However, this was not a man of faith; the response is not the same as Rahab. In fact, the response was overwhelmingly different – where Rahab stated the glories of Israel by Yahweh and positively supported the cause of the Christians (Joshua 2), the man was motivated by his desire to maintain his family and the name of Luz. This is a strong reminder for Christians to conquer with the view of salvation, rather than a mere conquering of land. Though Joseph succeeded against Bethel, they failed in the greater purpose of sowing seeds of the gospel in the heart of the people who helped achieve the lesser purpose of victory in warfare.
Failure to Complete the Conquest
27(AC) Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. 28When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.
||Defeated Canaanites and Perizzites (v.5); Bezek; Jerusalem; Negeb; Hebron (Kiriath-arba); Sheshai; Ahiman; Talmai; Debir (Kiriath-sepher); Hormah (Zephath); Gaza; Ashkelon; Ekron; but failed against the iron chariots
||Same as above
||Same as above
|House of Joseph (v.22)
||Bethel (but resulting in the new city of Luz in the land of the Hittites)
||Beth-shean; Taanach; Dor; Ibleam; Megiddo
||Acco; sidon; Ahlab; Achzib; Helbah; Aphik; Rehob
||Mt. Heres; Aijalon; Shaalbim; border of Amorites (from ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upwards)
From the table, we can see that v.28 is a good summary of the omen for the tribes extending to v.29-36 which display the extent of the compromise of the Israelites. Instead of the two options of eradicating the enemies of Yahweh (representing the eschatological judgment of the Day of Resurrection), or subjecting them to immediate true faith in Jesus Christ, they have opted for a third option which betrays the majority of their failures – their sympathy for their enemy. It is this reason that they forget a very important thing: that they succeed because it is the LORD’s doing, and they fail because it is the LORD’s permission. The sympathy of these Israelites is not their decision to make, but even mercy must come from wise discernment of the LORD rather than their own volition (Deuteronomy 23) – and it is hardly faithful to Christ that they should make their enemies their slaves (of forced rather than willing labour) who will only lead them away from the true God and instead cultivate an attitude to worship false ones.
1Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to(AK) Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said,(AL) ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2(AM) and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land;(AN) you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 3So now I say,(AO) I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become(AP) thorns in your sides,[b] and their gods shall be a snare to you.” 4As soon as the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. 5And they called the name of that place Bochim.[c] And they sacrificed there to the LORD.
The disobedience of Israel is reflected in the words of the Angel of the LORD, the sent one of the Father who is the visible of the invisible Him, rephrasing the prophecy made concerning Israel’s rebellion stated in Deuteronomy 31:16-18. The earliest written and recorded presence of the pre-Messianic incarnation of Christ in Scripture was in Genesis 3:8, and thereafter several times not only as “Angel” but also as Commander of the LORD’s army (Joshua 5), as the mysterious man with whom Jacob struggled with (Genesis 32:24), known also as the Angel of His Presence (Isaiah 63:9), who David is but a type of (Zechariah 12:8).
“The preacher was an angel of the Lord (Jdg_2:1), not a prophet, not Phinehas, as the Jews conceit; gospel ministers are indeed called angels of the churches, but the Old Testament prophets are never called angels of the Lord; no doubt this was a messenger we from heaven. Such extraordinary messengers we sometimes find in this book employed in the raising up of the judges that delivered Israel, as Gideon and Samson; and now, to show how various are the good offices they do for God’s Israel, here is one sent to preach to them, to prevent their falling into sin and trouble. This extraordinary messenger was sent to command, if possible, the greater regard to the message, and to affect the minds of a people whom nothing seemed to affect but what was sensible. The learned bishop Patrick is clearly of opinion that this was not a created angel, but the Angel of the covenant, the same that appeared to Joshua as captain of the hosts of the Lord, who was God himself. Christ himself, says Dr. Lightfoot; who but God and Christ could say, I made you to go up out of Egypt? Joshua had lately admonished them to take heed of entangling themselves with the Canaanites, but they regarded not the words of a dying man; the same warning therefore is here brought them by the living God himself, the Son of God appearing as an angel. If they slight his servants, surely they will reverence his Son. This angel of the Lord is said to come up from Gilgal, perhaps not walking on the earth, but flying swiftly, as the angel Gabriel did to Daniel, in the open firmament of heaven; but, whether walking or flying, he seemed to come from Gilgal for a particular reason. Gilgal was long their headquarters after they came into Canaan, many signal favours they had there received from God, and there the covenant of circumcision was renewed (Mic_6:5), of all which it was designed they should be reminded by his coming from Gilgal. The remembrance of what we have received and heard will prepare us for a warning to hold fast, Rev_3:2, Rev_3:3.” – Matthew Henry
Despite the constant changing of names in chapter 1, indicating the Israelites’ intention to renew the cities, we have here a renewal of name in the opposite direction – from the place of sacrifice labeled as Shiloh, we see the area renamed as Bochim. From the tranquility of Shiloh (a name referring to Christ (Genesis 49:10)) to the weeping of Bochim, pre-incarnate Christ is here giving us the true perspective as to how we should read the book of Judges. Note how absent Joshua is in the duration of chapter 1 to 2, later leading up to the re-iteration of his death in chapter 2. Instead, what takes the spotlight is the Angel and the incapability of Israel to obey His Word, as He had already prophesied by the end of Deuteronomy.
Now this is very different from the Angel of God, representing the Father, in saying that he will never break the covenant with us (Judges 2:1). Why is that the case? Why can’t God break his covenant with us? It is important here that we understand this in a Trinitarian covenantal manner rather than see him as a uni-personal monotheistic God. Before creation, He had already made a covenant with us through Christ in His love for creation, and gifted us to Christ (the repeated refrain “[the people] whom You [the Father] gave to me [Christ]” in John 17), manifested in the imagery of the bride given to the bridegroom Adam, the mystery of Christ and the church represented in this institution of marriage. It is this Father and Son relationship by the power of the Spirit which reflects Israel’s relationship with the Father, for Israel is a shadow of Christ, and as such is the body of Christ and the Old Testament church. The dispensation of ‘Israel’ displays to us important eschatological truths, and the failures of Israel represent the failings of a theoretically sinful Angel, one who cannot keep the covenant relationship with his father – and Satan fits that character profile.
However, on a second layer, we see Israel as a church of Christ and so because of Israel’s failure to hold onto Christ, they do not inherit the blessings of the Son’s unceasing eternal covenant with the Father by the Spirit. As such we must stand in Christ and He impute to us his righteousness by clothing us with his royal robe (Isaiah 61). In Eberhard Jungel’s assessment of Barth’s theology are these words precise in describing the inter-relatedness of our relationship with God which undoubtedly applies to Israel and Yahweh as well:
“The attitude and relation implicit in God’s primal decision can only be grounded in revelation, which, for Barth, means christologically. Accordingly, Barth comprehends in the name Jesus Christ the God who elects, elect humanity, and God’s attitude and relation which determines God to be the one who elects and elect humanity. ‘Jesus Christ is the decision of God in favour of this attitude or relation. He is Himself the relation.’ In this relation, which is Jesus Christ, God and man are alongside each other. For in this relation, which is Jesus Christ, God relates himself to the man Jesus. And ‘the man and the people represented in Him are creatures and not God’.” – ‘God’s Being is in Becoming’
The Death of Joshua
6When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. 7(AQ) And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. 8And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years. 9And they buried him within the boundaries of(AR) his inheritance in Timnath-heres,(AS) in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. 10And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.
As such, it makes sense for us to read about the death of Joshua after the Angel’s brief rebuke to the Israelites. This is chronologically before the independence of the tribes and their subsequent failures for failing to hold onto Christ in Whom they participate in the covenant relationship with the Father. V.10 is a summary of those generations after Joshua, those who did not witness these miracles; however, that is no excuse for the command in Deuteronomy 6 is that the subsequent generations are to hear about these truths from faithful Christian parenting. This is evidently absent in the book of Judges for the majority did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). Like the ‘gods’ (elohim, a label used in Genesis 1:1 but literally meaning ‘gods’ rather than an implication of the unity of the Trinity in Exodus 32:4), we see the reference to the baals, literally meaning “lords”. And so v.6-15 is a summary of all that has happened since the time of the death of Joshua, the true explanation behind the initial failures of the tribes as chronicled in Judges 1 – because they served the Baals (v.11); because they went after other gods, among the gods of the peoples who were around them (v.12-13), and so v.15 explains the difference between the ensured success of Caleb, with that of the other tribes who had compromised success (c.f. Deuteoronomy 27:15-26). Caleb, the example of the true Christian, against the other tribes who put their enemies to forced labour against God’s will.
11(AT) And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. 12(AU) And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt.(AV) They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and(AW) bowed down to them.(AX) And they provoked the LORD to anger. 13They abandoned the LORD(AY) and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14(AZ) So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he(BA) gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them.(BB) And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies,(BC) so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned,(BD) and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
The LORD Raises Up Judges
16(BE) Then the LORD raised up judges,(BF) who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17Yet they did not listen to their judges, for(BG) they whored after other gods and bowed down to them.(BH) They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. 18Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them,(BI) the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge.(BJ) For the LORD was moved to pity by(BK) their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19But(BL) whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20(BM) So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people(BN) has transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, 21(BO) I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 22in order(BP) to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did, or not.” 23So the LORD left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua.
From v.16-22 we receive another summary – that of the period of testing between the death of Joshua until the time of Saul, the first king of Israel. V.18-19 are crucial verses determining whether Israel would fall or not, as the judges were merely examples of what we cannot do, but what Christ can do. The analogy comes forth in the shape of king, but even ‘kingship’, ‘judgeship’, ‘prophethood’ is temporary – but eternal priesthood of Melchizedek before the dispensation of kings and judges, before the Mosaic administration of the legal covenant – Abraham, no, indeed Adam was already a priest and steward and inheritor of heaven and earth in Christ who is the true image and inheritor. So that when Israel grew older and matured, the law has served its purpose of testing, and the gospel of Christ at full noon reveals the spiritual Israel through the shaming of the Israelites by the salvation of the Gentiles en masse, like that of the salvation of the Ninevites with Jonah representing the reluctant, introverted self-absorbed Israel. The Israel which has continually failed its great commission as the priesthood and light to all nations.
What makes the analogy and imagery more potent compared to the lessons learnt in the book of Numbers is that many of these judges stood by the LORD; many of them were Spirit-filled; and yet many more of them became instruments for evil (Romans 6:13), and many were temporary mediators. Their deaths as mentioned in this summary emphasise on the unlikelihood that they were sufficient in propitiating God’s wrath, and only Christ, the object of faith of the Old Testament saints, is the eternal mediator between man and God (1 Timothy 2:5). Thus the words of the author of Hebrews:
Heb 13:8-15 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (9) Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. (10) We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. (11) For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. (12) So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. (13) Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (14) For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (15) Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
Hebrews 13 successfully conveys the temporal nature of this world; the temporal nature of the shadows; the temporal nature of the Mosaic administration of the legal covenant – and there is no reason why we should not emphasise also the temporal nature of the dispensation of the judges. It is through the eternal High Priest that He continually offers up a sacrifice of praise to God, through his own blood, on our behalf, until the day he leaves the Holy of Holies for his second coming as true Judge and true King of the world.