Israel's ruin looked at in reference to God
Judges 2: 6‑9 is a repetition of Joshua 24: 26‑31, closely connecting this history of declension with that of the people before their fall. There were elders, that outlived Joshua, to help and encourage the people, just as there were apostles for the church, but in the days of the apostles as in those of the elders, principles, destructive of the assembly, were already at work. Judaism, worldliness, corruption, all these things Paul set his face against by the power of the Spirit of God, but with the certainty that after his departure, grievous wolves should enter in, not sparing the flock. The close of Chap. 1 gave us Israel's declension, in their connection with the world; the verses we have just read, shew it to us in reference to God. We have a summary of the whole book of Judges in this passage. Worldliness and idolatry succeed each other. In whatever measure our hearts go after the world, they turn away from God; and between that and forsaking Jehovah to follow after idols, there is but a step. We see the same things in the life of Christians individually. It is not without purpose that the Spirit of God warns us so solemnly: "Little children keep yourselves from idols," 1. John 5: 21. If we associate with the world, its cherished objects gain possession of our hearts, robbing Christ of His place.
Two things describe the low estate of the generation that arose after Joshua. "They knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which He had done for Israel" (Judges 2: 10). Where a personal knowledge of Christ and of the value of His work are lacking, the floodgates are open to an overflowing tide of evil. This was the case with Israel: "They forsook the Lord and served Baal and Ashtaroth" (Judges 2: 13). Then the anger of the Lord was hot against the people, and He sold them into the hands of enemies round about, who spoiled them (Judges 2: 14); and left the enemy within to be a thorn in their sides (Judges 3: 3). The enemy within the house of God is the distinctive feature of the last days. The nations whose terrible moral condition is described in Rom. 1, are now‑a‑days established with all their corrupt principles in the very midst of this building, so beautiful of yore, when it came forth from the hands of the Divine Architect; but entrusted by Him to human hands, it contained thenceforth, amidst material only fit to be burned up, the sad mixture of vessels to honour and to dishonour.
The judgment of God on His house consists in this, that He allows these things to exist in it. How little account Christians take of this. But the God who judges is also the God who has compassion (Judges 2: 18). Israel groans under the oppressor; then the Lord looks on this people for whom He had done such great things, and raises up deliverers for them. Such is the history which we shall see unfolded in the book of Judges, and of which we have here the summary. There are awakenings and then a short space of rest and blessing. The chains broken, the enemy silenced, God leaves the people to themselves, and they fall as before into idolatry. "They ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way" (Judges 2: 19).
There was only one resource, and it was worthy of God. In His grace He makes use of the very unfaithfulness and its consequences to bless the people. In suffering these nations to remain, God had not merely chastisement in view; He also wished "to prove Israel by them whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk therein as their fathers did keep it" (Judges 2: 22); in short, would they separate from evil? Thus in 2 Timothy God uses the mixture of vessels to honour and dishonour to test and bless the hearts of those that are faithful. "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work" (2 Tim. 2: 21). What a blessed description of faithfulness in perilous times! God would shew us a path which glorifies Him as much in the darkest day of ruin as in the brightest days of the church.
But the Lord had yet another object in leaving these nations to prove Israel (Judges 3: 4), "to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the Lord, which He commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. "The blessing which God had in view, was to cause Israel to return to that Word which had been given at the first, and which was their only safeguard. Similarly now, the apostle says to Timothy, in an Epistle which dwells on the ruin: "But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3: 14, 15). Has the condition of Christendom compelled us to take a place of separation to God down here, adhering closely to His Word? Unless we can be thus characterized, we cannot be a testimony for God in a day of ruin. Those in Philadelphia bore this stamp, for He who addresses them is Himself the holy and the true; and they, walking in communion with Him, had kept His word, and not denied His name. These will also be the marks of the future children of the kingdom. In Ps. 1, they separate themselves from the way of sinners, and their delight is in the law of the Lord, meditating in it day and night.
There was a third object which the Lord had in view, in permitting these enemies to continue in the midst of Israel: "That the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war" (Judges 3: 2). When we allow ourselves to be cast down by the state of the church and its prevailing evil, we are apt to think that it is no longer any use to fight, and that our part should be exclusively that of the 7000 hidden ones who had not bowed the knee to Baal. (1 Kings 19) This is a serious mistake. There are Elijahs in days of ruin, and conflict is more than ever needed. Christian warfare is not, it is true, waged against flesh and blood, as with Israel, but against wicked spirits in the heavenly places (Eph. 6: 12, margin). This satanic power is always at work to hinder our taking possession of heavenly things, and to bring the people of God into bondage. We fight then either to conquer or to deliver. In Joshua and Ephesians the conflict is to put us in possession of our privileges; in Judges and 2 Timothy the warfare is more especially for the deliverance of the people of God. "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," says the apostle to his faithful disciple (2 Tim. 2: 3). "Endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist," he says further on, adding, "I have fought the good fight" (2 Tim. 4: 5, 7).
What goodness it is on God's part, in a day of universal weakness, to have allowed the enemy to continue, that we might learn what warfare is. Christian conflict will never cease on earth, but the Lord says: Put your trust in Me, I have set before you an open door, and I will recompense the overcomer. May God give us to take to heart the deliverance of His people, in seeking to reach souls by the gospel, and in setting them free from their chains of bondage by the two‑edged sword of the Spirit.
(Judges 3, Judges 12)