the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
by Editor - Joseph S. Exell
The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic
ON THE BOOK OF
By the REV. J. P. MILLAR, M.A.
FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY
LONDON AND TORONTO
ON THE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE
WITH CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES, INDEXES, ETC., BY VARIOUS AUTHORS
BY Homiletic writing in these pages is not to be understood, an analysis of the thought contained in the text, for that properly is the province of exposition. Yet some critical examination of the exact truth intended to be conveyed, is needful as a foundation for this kind of writing, so that exposition may be regarded as the basis of homily. This want has been met in the present treatise by giving “Critical Notes,” at the beginning of each chapter, sufficiently ample to bring out what is supposed to be the true interpretation. But Homiletic writing, properly so called, concerns itself with bringing out the practical bearings of the truth, after the meaning has been ascertained. It is nearly the same as Applied Exposition, and may be defined as the enunciation of the practical principles contained in the text, but its work is rather to eliminate those principles than to illustrate them. It opens up fountain-heads of truth, and leaves it to others to go along the course of the winding stream.
The writer of these pages, however, has not confined himself rigidly to this idea of homily, his object being rather to write a useful book, than to prepare one which might strictly square with the requirements of a logical definition. On the one hand, he was anxious to give the writing a living form, infusing into it the interest which naturally belongs to life in contrast with dry bones, and so he has endeavoured to put a little flesh and blood on the skeleton of homily. On the other, he has had in view what might be profitable to the popular class of readers, as well as to those who care for little more than the seeds of thought. Hence, he has intentionally studied to give some expansion to the principles enunciated, but not beyond the point of developing the seed into the bud. To carry it to the length of bringing out the full flower and the ripened fruit, is the work of sermonising. A mean between the dry seed and the full blossom, seemed to him a more useful mode of treatment, than if he had covered the page with a multitude of sapless roots, not yet cast into the soil, and without any savour or comeliness. Utility he regards as a more important aim, than conformity to a mechanical standard. But he has endeavoured to guard against any latitudinarian departure from the form of writing which the Book professes to give.
Another feature of this volume which the author thinks is due to himself to explain, is the multiplicity of divisions and subdivisions of thought which are given in certain parts, and especially in the earlier chapters. To this he was led, in great measure, by finding that not a few regarded the Book of Judges as little else than a record of heroic history, without supplying any important principles for the guidance, and the fostering of the religious life. Being convinced that no part of the word of God was barren of good for the soul of man, he devoted himself to the purpose of showing that this Book, so far from being merely secular and wanting in spiritual instruction, was everywhere, even in the sentences and clauses, specially full of sacred principles and practical suggestions for the leading of a godly life. Hence he has dealt somewhat elaborately, with such subjects as prayer, the operations of the Spirit of God, and sin, in the many aspects here presented, showing that these might be entered on and fairly discussed in the Book of Judges, as well as any other book of the Old Testament.
That a considerable number of paragraphs are occupied with quotations from different authors, is not an arrangement of the author’s choosing, but was one imposed on him by those who asked him to undertake the work. Yet, with the exception of these and any quotations that are so marked throughout the volume, it is scarcely necessary to say, that every sentence from beginning to end has been carefully thought out by himself, and expresses his own judgment on the matters recorded. He confesses his obligations to such authors, chiefly modern, or such works, as Keil, Cassel, Lias, Rogers, Hengstenberg, Bush, Trapp, Auberlen, Scott, Saurin, Stanley, Adam Clarke, Dods, Wiseman, Patrick, Wordsworth, Jamieson, Josephus, Gibb, Luther, Henry, Fausset, Speaker’s Commentary, Pulpit Commentary, Hall, Pictorial Bible, and others—though venturing not infrequently to differ from them on some of the more important questions discussed, such as Ehud’s conduct to Eglon, Jael’s to Sisera, and Jephthah’s to his daughter. He is of opinion, that much misinterpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures arises from overlooking the peculiar genius of the history there recorded, as differing from that of all other histories. It is the history of a people, who lead their life under the shadow of the covenant, and whose atmosphere and surroundings are all of a sacred character. They have special relations to the great Jehovah, so that everything has a colour and an emphasis, which belong to no other people. There are some other important principles which are too little regarded, but which really supply the true secret to the right understanding of a great portion of the Old Testament writings, such as the preserving of a well-balanced view of the God-ward and the man-ward sides of all that is there recorded; making the proper distinction also, between the Rectoral and the Fatherly character of God; and especially, noting the weight of the fact, that in Old Testament times, the great propitiation had not yet been made, so that God could not, consistently with what was due to His own holy name, act as the God of peace, but must as a rule, “give to every transgression and disobedience its just recompence of reward.” Were these principles duly weighed, many difficulties of the Old Testament Scriptures might be brought nearer to a solution.
The author greatly regrets that this work has been prepared amid so many distracting thoughts, occasioned by his being constantly called away to attend to other duties; so that, if the reader should occasionally find a lack of symmetry, or a tendency to redundancy, he must crave his kind indulgence. He can only say in general, that in the getting up of this commentary, everything has been examined with the utmost care, as to accuracy of fact, suggestiveness of thought, suitableness of sentiment, as well as justness of interpretation. As to style, he leaves it to others to speak, but it may not be improper to say, that he, has studied clearness, freshness, force, and precision.
All imperfect as the offering is, the author, with trembling hand, now lays it on the altar to Him who, he believes, has suggested not a few of its words to his pen, if thereby a little moonlight be shed, on what has so long been regarded as a field less fruitful than most others in the great world of Bible truth, and a glimpse be got of its abounding fertility and unsearchable riches.
J. P. MILLAR.
The authorship of the book of Judges is unknown. It has been ascribed to Samuel, to Hezekiah, and to Ezra. Each of these names represents a mere conjecture, while the last two are at variance with the internal evidence of the book. Jewish tradition points to Samuel as the writer. Dr. Cassel, having regard to the office of historian, or recorder, in the royal household, set forth in such passages as 2 Samuel 8:16; 1 Kings 4:3; 2 Kings 18:18; 2 Kings 18:37, hazards the conjecture that the author may have been “a Benjaminite of the court of Saul.” Gesenius says of this particular post, “A similar officer is mentioned in the royal court of Persia both anciently and in modern times, amongst whom he is called Waka Nuwish, and also in that of the Roman Emperors Arcadius and Honorius, and afterwards, bearing the name of magistri memoriœ.”
The date of the book must be placed somewhere between the beginning of Saul’s reign and the conquest of the Jebusites by David. It was obviously written a considerable time after Samson’s victory at Lehi (Judges 15:19), and after the Israelites had become familiar with kingly rule (Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1; Judges 19:1; Judges 21:25). On the other hand, it was apparently written before David had taken Jerusalem (Judges 1:21; 2 Samuel 5:6-9). These considerations are set aside by some of the German writers, and in the article on “Judges” in Smith’s Bib. Dict. The latter assumes that there were several authors, and a final author and editor after the Assyrian captivity, and then proceeds to state: “There is some doubt as to Judges 18:30. It is thought by some to refer to the Philistine oppression. But it seems more probable that the Assyrian captivity is intended, in which case the writer must have lived after 721 B.C. The whole book, therefore, must have taken its present shape after that date.” Thus, a “doubtful” passage is considered sufficient for an unhesitating conclusion, and that notwithstanding other very weighty internal evidence to the contrary, and this easy process towards such a decision is all begun and ended within the space of a dozen lines. On the question of several authors, without which, of course, the verse Judges 1:21 must be held to be conclusive, Keil remarks: “The arguments adduced against the unity of authorship in all three parts, the introduction, the body of the work, and the appendices, will not bear examination. Without the introduction (Judges 1:1; Judges 3:6), the historical narrative contained in the book would want a foundation, which is absolutely necessary to make it intelligible; and the two appendices supply two supplements of the greatest importance in relation to the development of the tribes of Israel in the time of the Judges, and most intimately connected with the design and plan of the rest of the book.… All these portions are just as rich in allusions to the Mosaic law and the legal worship as the other parts of the book, so that both in their contents and their form they would be unintelligible apart from the supremacy of the law in Israel. The discrepancies which some fancy they have discovered between Judges 1:8 and Judges 1:21, and also between Judges 1:19 and Judges 3:3, vanish completely on a correct interpretation of the passages themselves. And no such differences can be pointed out in language or style as would overthrow the unity of authorship or even render it questionable.” In addition to this, the phrase “until the day of the captivity of the land,” in Judges 18:30, is far more satisfactorily explained by the successive victories of the Philistines, culminating in the great overthrow at Ebenezer, than it is by referring it to the great captivity in Assyria. A few considerations will make this apparent.
1. The next verse, Judges 18:31, limits the 30th verse to “the time that the house of God was in Shiloh,” till which day only the sons of Jonathan ministered before Micah’s graven image.
2. If the time of the Assyrian captivity is meant, this gross idolatry at the city of Dan must have been carried on in defiance of all Israel, at least in the time of David. The completeness of David’s dominion in Israel, and his hatred of idolatry, alone render this supposition an utterly untenable contradiction. Besides, if Micahism lasted for nearly 700 years, and these sons of Jonathan remained ceaselessly its priests, it is reasonable to ask, How is it that during those seven centuries we never again hear of either it or them? True, the Speaker’s Commentary intimates that we do hear of the men again in 1 Kings 12:31, in the phrase “the priests which were not of the sons of Levi.” But this is in spite of the statement that Jeroboam “made” these very priests “of the lowest of the people;” and on this verse in Kings, so far from venturing to renew its statement made on Judges 18:30, the commentary forgets itself, and says: “As Levites were not to be had, Jeroboam set up his new order of priests, taken indifferently from all the tribes.” This is very unlike “the sons of Jonathan,” who in the passage on Judges are made to seem “priests of the worship of the golden calf which Jeroboam established at Dan.”
The supposition, made alone from these two verses (Judges 18:30-31), that after the removal of the ark from Shiloh the sons of Jonathan became priests of some new form of idolatry, instead of Micahism, is too forced and unnatural to be admitted. It is obviously suggested merely as a means of finding employment for these continuous priests, and is so entirely foreign to anything which the verses say that it can only be regarded as an entirely unfounded and to some extent contradictory conjecture. As Du Pin long since remarked, “The priests which the Danites made were the priests of Micah’s idol. They lasted no longer than their image did, and their priesthood ended with it.”
3. The whole of the main narrative in the book of Judges tends to offer a sufficient explanation of the phrase, “the captivity of the land,” and Scripture phraseology elsewhere (cf. Psalms 78:61) is in harmony with treating the domination of the Philistines as the period to which reference is made. The Hebrew, עַד־יוֹם גְּלוֹת הָאָרֶץ (‘ăd yôm gʾlôth hâ-ârets), means literally, “Until the day of the exile of the land.” But, as Dr. Cassel has excellently argued, this is an expression which cannot be interpreted literally, and is sufficiently unnatural to have suggested to many a transcriber’s error. Consequently Kimchi, and other Jewish authorities, long since proposed to read הָאָרוֹן (hâ-ârôn), “the ark,” that is, the ark of the Covenant, instead of הָאָרֶץ (hâ-ârets), a reading supported by Houbigant and even Ewald. But, in any case, the expression must be interpreted in more or less of a figurative sense, and may well be allowed to refer to the captivity of the ark, and thus of all Israel, even as it stands in the text.
The chronology of the period embraced by the various Judges is very uncertain. The following table by Professor Keil is thought by many to present one of the best approximate views of this question.
PRINCIPAL EVENTS FROM THE EXODUS TO THE BUILDING OF SOLOMON’S TEMPLE
Years of Duration.
The Exodus from Egypt
The Law given at Sinai
Death of Aaron and Moses, after the Exodus
Conquest of Canaan by Joshua
Division of the land to the invasion by Cushan-Rishathaim
Death of Joshua, about B.C. 1442
Wars against the Canaanites, from B.C. 1442 onwards
War of the tribes with Benjamin, about B.C. 1436
Oppression by Cushan-Rishathaim
Deliverance by Othniel), and rest
Oppression by the Moabites
Deliverance by Ehud, and rest
Shamgar’s victory over Philistines
Oppression by Jabin
Deliverance by Deborah and Barak, and rest
Oppression by the Midianites
Deliverance by Gideon, and rest
Rule of Abimelech
Jair, judge (coinciding with first 20 years of Eli)
IN THE EAST.
IN THE WEST.
Ammonite oppression, 18 years;
from 1134 to 1116 B.C.
Last 20 years of Eli
Jephthah, Judges 6:0 years;
First 20 years of Samuel
from 1116 to 1110 B.C.
Izban, Judges 7:0 years;
Defeat of the Philistines
from 1110 to 1103 B.C.
Elon, Judges 10:0 years;
from 1103 to 1093 B.C.
David, king at Hebron
Abdon, Judges 8:0 years;
David, king at Jerusalem
from 1093 to 1085 B.C.
Solomon, to the building of the Temple
With this table compare Judges 11:26; 1 Samuel 8:1; 1 Samuel 12:2; 1 Kings 6:1; Acts 13:20.
The short period assigned by the table from the time of the division of the land to the invasion by Cushan-Rishathaim seems, however, inadmissible, notwithstanding the arguments to the contrary of Professors Bachmann and Bliss. As has been frequently pointed out, this short term of ten years would require Joshua to have been one hundred years old at the time of the conquest of the land, it would leave too little room for Joshua 23:1; it would allow no sufficient space to answer to the expression, “Israel served the Lord all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua” (Joshua 24:31; Judges 2:7), nor would it allow any time for the decline of piety as noted in Judges 3:7-8. The time allowed for the administration of Samuel and Saul also appears to be insufficient.
The plan of the book may stand thus:—Preface, chaps. 1–3:4; History of the Judges, chaps. Judges 3:5-16; Supplementary Narratives: (a) The story of Micah and the Danite expedition, chaps. 17, 18; (b) the story of the Levite and the overthrow of the Benjaminites, chaps. 19–21; (c) the story of Ruth, which in ancient copies of the Hebrew text was always included in this book. Of the separate parts of the book as it now stands, only the first needs attention here. What is the true relation of the preface, or introduction, to the book of Joshua which precedes it, and to that of the Judges which follows?
The object of the preface is, mainly, a threefold one. (a) We are reminded in Judges 1:1 that “after the death of Joshua” there still remained “very much land to be possessed.” This agrees with Joshua 14:1, and the subsequently peaceful years of Joshua’s life. (b) We are told of the backwardness of the Israelites to cast out the Canaanites, as God had commanded (Judges 1:21; Judges 1:27-36). To this general backwardness of the people to do the will of the Lord there were at first three honourable exceptions. Judah, and Simeon, and Joseph endeavoured to complete their conquests (chaps. Judges 1:3-7; Judges 1:17-20; Judges 1:22-25), and it is specially noticed that “Jehovah was with” these men in their early endeavours to be faithful (Judges 1:4; Judges 1:22). In noticing the appointed military mission of Judah (Judges 1:2), a long parenthesis is used to tell us of the honourable place which Judah had already occupied in the previous war, under Joshua. This parenthesis extends, inclusively, from ver. 8 to ver. 16 of Judges 1:0. In it, a retrospect is purposely taken of Judah’s conspicuous prowess in the past conflicts, and especially those of Judah’s great leader, the faithful Caleb. But for all this past prowess, and though “the Lord was with Judah” as long as Judah faithfully trusted and fought, yet even Judah became timid, and unbelieving, and inert before the chariots of iron possessed by the dwellers in the valley. (c) The third main object of this preface is to show us that out of the general backwardness and unbelief of the tribes in casting out the Canaanites, there grew up a sinful spirit in other matters also. Failing to do God’s will, the people began to have no regard to God. They served other gods (chaps. Judges 2:11-23; Judges 3:1-4). At the point where the Lord’s chastisement by Chusan-Rishathaim overtook the Israelites, they had actually begun to marry the Canaanites (Judges 3:5-7). Thus the author of the book shows us, in these first two chapters, the circumstances which gradually led to Jehovah’s chastisements, and to the raising up of the various Judges of deliverance, of whose exploits the book gives an account. In the second chapter, even as in the first, there is a long parenthesis. After the words of Jehovah’s rebuke at Bochim, the author, in a passage extending from ver. 6 to ver. 10, reminds us that there had been no such need for God’s rebuke and Israel’s tears in the days of Joshua, nor even in the days of the Elders. These two parentheses—one in either chapter—and the object for which they are inserted, should be distinctly kept in mind if we would not have both chapters a maze of involved statements and of inextricable confusion. Read in the light suggested, they become a valuable and necessary introduction to the understanding of the main narrative. For want of some clearer apprehension of the purpose of the author of this book, Lord Arthur Hervey, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, in the Speaker’s Commentary, has written a laboured and confused note of great length, in which he assumes, as a matter of course, that the Gilgal of Judges 2:1 was the Gilgal near Jericho, rather than Jiljilia, “in the plains of Moreh,” and very near to Shiloh; and in which, mainly from this assumption, and from neglecting the two parentheses, he concludes that “the events in chaps 1 and Judges 2:1-6 all belong to Joshua’s lifetime,” and assigns the transaction at Bochim “to the early part of Joshua’s government,” notwithstanding the contradiction which Judges 2:2 would then offer to Judges 2:7. The note, moreover, closes with the somewhat curious suggestion that Judges 1:1 “might have originally begun, ‘Now after the death of MOSES.’ ”
The spirit and purpose of the book demand, also, a short notice. With a series of historial records that deal with the sin and degradation of men in very extreme forms, the moral influence and spiritual teaching of the book are no less Divine than the Scriptures elsewhere. All through, the voice that speaks to the generations following, is the voice of God. Four things are especially worthy of notice:—(a) God’s determinate repression of sin in His own people, even as in others. From the warning at Bochim, to the beginning of the Lord’s chastisement by Cushan-Rishathaim, and on to the end of the narrative recording the punishment of Benjamin, we are made to see that the Lord’s people can no more sin with impunity than Canaanites themselves. (b) God’s merciful forgiveness of men when they repent of sin. This is emphatically set forth in many conspicuous instances. In fact, the book is one continued panorama, in which man’s sin, God’s chastisement, man’s penitence and God’s pardon, are ever passing before our eyes. (c) God’s gracious condescension towards men who live in dark and ignorant times. Nothing is more beautiful, all through the book, than the way in which the Divine love and mercy stoop to man’s very low condition. The Angel of the Covenant, long before He becomes incarnate and speaks to us as in Luke 10:30-37, is here also the “Good Samaritan,” ever yearning to help the wounded, and ever coming to them where they are. (d) Finally, we see here the gradual furtherance of God’s purpose, notwithstanding man’s unfaithfulness and sin. The misery of the people under the rule of the Judges presently made way for the kings, who had been long before predicted (Deuteronomy 17:14-15); the kings, among others, contained David, “the man after God’s own heart,” while under their various reigns prophets predicted the coming of “the Son of David.” Then the monarchy in its turn failed, the people were carried into and brought back from the Assyrian captivity, the prophets died, and in the great silence and desolation and sorrow which forthwith settled upon the once favoured land, the world found its fittest preparation for the advent of its only true Saviour and for the final government and reign of its everlasting Lord and King. Thus, amid the very ruins wrought by man’s sin, Divine grace finds its opportunity to lay the foundations of the kingdom that has no end.
HIGHER USE OF THE BOOK OF JUDGES
It is important to inquire, Is there any distinctive purpose served by the Book of Judges as one of the sections of the Sacred Canon? Has it a definite aim? and if so, in what light should it be read so as to reap the full harvest of its meaning? Would the Scripture record suffer mutilation were this part of it left out?
This question is the more pertinent, that not a few writers have indicated a disposition to underrate the value of this Book, as if it scarcely deserved a place in the Sacred Canon at all. Its authenticity is unquestionable, yet it is described as treating of the most secular view of Israelitish history, as containing matters of inferior interest, and, in spirituality of tone, as falling below both the portions which precede, and those which follow it. Its morality and religion alike are pronounced to be of a declining, not an ascending tendency. The Divine purpose is less obvious in the succession of events, while the darker shadows of the narrative are unrelieved by devotional compositions, or doctrinal teachings, such as illuminate and elevate the writings of Moses, and the annals of the Jewish monarchy.
Indeed most commentators, if they do not speak of the Book in a positively depreciatory tone, yet fail to find any specific purpose served by it, such as no other section could supply were it removed from its place. They read it as common history, and look too exclusively at the immediate bearing of the events recorded, without reference to ulterior and more sacred ends. Bachmann, a writer of great critical acumen, sees in it merely a time of conflict between untamed nature and the discipline enjoined by God. Keil views this as a transition period, when the nation was taking root in the land, and familiarising itself with the theocratic constitution, but does not see any nexus joining it with the other books as parts of one scheme. But surely 400 years was too long for a transition period. Kitto says the people were now placed on the footing of acting for themselves under the reign of the theocracy, but that the record is simply a selection of facts from unconnected documents, which show that when the people adhered to the Lord they prospered, but when they fell away they suffered great afflictions, and again when they repented they were delivered. Lias regards this as a period of collapse of the theocratic policy of Israel, which was so pure and high-pitched in its tone, that a people so long down-trodden had not the moral strength to bear it. Cassel regards this as the first period of the nation’s life as a settled people. Formerly a minor, it now takes into its own hands the administration of its God-given constitution. Unlike other nations, it knows the moral grounds of what befalls it, and on obedience it knows its well-being and peace depend. This book is a text-book of the fulfilment of this arrangement. The Speaker’s Commentary regards it as an exhibition of the moral causes which led to the fall and rising again of the chosen nation, and also as a record of the righteousness, faithfulness, and mercy of God. The preservation of Israel through this period was not an accident, but part of God’s eternal plan for human salvation, and therefore the record forms an integral portion of scripture. It also teaches many lessons. The Pulpit Commentary describes it as a heroic age between 1500 and 1000 years B.C., the deeds recorded being parallel to the tales of mythology as given in the dim twilight of history, the object being to denounce idolatry and confirm the people in the service of Jehovah. Jamieson regards it as a fragmentary history, containing a collection of important facts and signal deliverances, but sees no design running through it. To give only one other name, Bush regards it as a filling up of the gap between Joshua and the kings, describing the disorders which naturally prevail where there is no magistracy nor settled condition of society.
All these verdicts accurately characterise the Book in certain of its aspects, yet fail to exhibit its whole matter brought up to the proper standpoint and do not strike the vein of instruction which specially belongs to it in its place. There are considerations on the surface which should do more than redeem it from the charge of being more secular than sacred, and comparatively barren of the elements of spiritual profit. It is no trifling circumstance that it should be selected to form part of the Sacred Canon, and that its right to occupy that place should have remained unquestioned for more than 30 centuries. On the merest glance at its contents too, we find God’s hand at work, and God’s voice speaking, from first to last in the whole series of events, carrying on a course of dealing with His people. It is a history full of displays of the Divine perfections in defending His people from their enemies, and still more in His marvellous patience and forbearance exercised towards them under repeated and high-handed rebellions, It also contains remarkable illustrations of faith, and true nobility of religions character on the part of God-fearing men. Not a few of the brightest names on the roll of faith in Hebrews ch. 11 are found in the actors whose deeds are recorded here. It is to the Book of Judges that we owe a great part of the materials of the noblest prose-poem that adorns the page of Scripture. The working of the principles on which the Divine Government proceeds runs like a thread through this history, and we see in real life the practical application of those principles both for individuals and for communities.
Nor is it unimportant to add, that this the latest added section for him to the historical portion of the holy “Law of God,” had a charm for the sweet singer of Israel, while he, in name of all the spiritually-minded of every age, sings with deep fervour, not only of the “statutes” and “judgments,” and “testimonies,” but also of the “mighty acts” which it recorded, as matter of exultant thanksgiving and praise. In the Psalm of psalms, the author of that beautiful ode could ill have wanted this portion of the inspired writings—an eighth part of all that he had, as illustrating by facts the principles which he enunciated in that glowing eulogy of the Law of the Lord. In apostolic narratives and epistles, we have indeed lamps of superior splendour shining on our path for guidance amid the darkness, yet we dare not refuse those lesser lights a place in the firmament any more than we should think of blotting out the stars of night, because of the greater glory of the mid-day sun.
There is, however, undoubtedly, a higher view of this portion of the sacred volume than that which is more immediate. There are considerations which impart to it a deep significance of meaning, that it could not have simply as a repository of moral teachings. Behind all these actors, and these acts, there is a large design slowly being unfolded, and it is in tracing that design, and having regard to its aims, that we find the principal instruction contained in this, as in every other section of the Old Testament writings. This will appear, if we reflect on the following points:—
I. This Book has a relation to the other historical Books of Old Testament Scripture as part of a great plan.
All the Books of the Old Testament hang together as links in a chain. None of them bring out their principal meaning, when isolated from the others. None of them contain merely desultory history. We have not in any of them simply an aggregate of facts, selected because of their striking character, but without regard to a line of thought and intention, running on from the beginning to the end. However disconnected at first sight the compilation may seem, the moment we scan the record closely, we find orderly disposition in all the Books, and organic connection of part with part in a symmetrical whole, in a manner similar to the regular gradation of geological strata in the crust of the earth. All the sections are pervaded by unity of design, and each in its place is needed to develop that design. From Genesis to Nehemiah, and again to Malachi, there is continuity unbroken, a gradual unfolding. All the sections are dovetailed into each other with the closest fitting—a unity like that of the human frame, which is “fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth.” Those take an unwarrantable liberty with the record, who would displace its parts, under the idea that the relation in which they stand to each other is purely accidental. Much of the force and significance of the history, and especially the comprehensive bearing of the whole, lies in the light which is shed on the whole by the relative adjustment of one part with another, as well as by the progressive development of the underlying design.
In this chain the Book of Judges forms a link. Were it a-wanting a gap would be made which none of the other sections could supply. As the human body would be maimed by the loss of a finger, so would the Old Testament Revelation lose its symmetrical completeness, were this portion taken away. In every chapter there is design, and a great purpose all through. Besides the immediate, there is a higher teaching from its being part of a connected plan which is gradually being unfolded in each successive Book, and which, when completed, constitutes the Revelation made in the former times.
No formal announcement is indeed made of there being any such carefully devised and far reaching scheme in the first part of the sacred volume, nor is there any literal detail given of it on the written page. Special reasons there were for withholding the information. But such a scheme is everywhere assumed to exist; it underlies the whole series of the writings, and imparts a hallowed savour and deep significance to the whole. The scheme is acted upon rather than openly announced, and we learn of its existence from inference and meditation rather than from direct teaching. We see the shadow of a substance which has not yet appeared full on the page. Here and there significant utterances are given respecting a glory, which is to distinguish the ages to come, and bring in a golden age such as the world has not yet seen. For the time present, a course of gracious dealing is kept up, notwithstanding repeated apostacies, the grounds of which are not yet apparent, but the key to which future ages, it is predicted, will supply. And when we pass down to the dawn of these future times, constant references are made to the voices that were uttered in the past, and the prognostications that were then given of the “mystery” that is now revealed. Thus, alike from the substratum of Old Testament Scripture, and from the whole surface of the New Testament teaching, the testimony converges as to the existence of a comprehensive scheme, which the inspired writers of the former Dispensation were commissioned to make the subject of their narratives.
II. This plan is wrapped up in the History of a People.
In the Old Testament, the history of a people is the only object which appears in the foreground. An account of the seed of Abraham from their origin onwards, the more remarkable events that befell them, the history of unique character which they led, its lights and shadows, sins and chastisements, their wonderful emancipation from bondage and lifting up from being slaves to become princes, their remarkable wilderness journey and rest in the promised land, the many changes that chequered their history as the generations went and came, with all the bright streaks of light that poured down on them from the mountain-tops of prophecy, as they came nearer the sun-rising of the golden era of the future—all this fills up the entire foreground of the Old Testament writings. No other topics are introduced, not even the histories of any of the great empires of the remote era, however imposing in grandeur, or romantic in detail, except the few points where their history incidentally crosses that of the “peculiar people,” to whom all other people are ever made second. Abstract the history of these people from the page, and you have an almost perfect blank. And when narrative gives place to prophecy, it is God’s dealings with that people that form the absorbing theme of the record.
But in addition to this, they appear in the foreground under a peculiar character. They do not live for themselves. It is not to invest themselves with a striking aureola of glory, that such a distinguished position is assigned them. They are but the instruments of bringing glory to another. They are a public people. Their history does not belong to themselves. They are set for a “spectacle,” In the expressive phrase of the prophet, they are “men wondered at” (Zechariah 3:8.) (מוֹפִת֥) (Joel 2:30.) men of signs to others, not only types but men of instruction—a people whose vocation it is to give an instruction about God’s character and ways such as is given in no ordinary way. They are to be regarded as mirrors, in which is reflected the shadow of a glory that is not yet directly visible. They serve in fact the purpose of an open Bible to the world. Jehovah Himself says of them, “This people have I formed for myself, &c.” “Ye are my witnesses.” When God called them to Himself, he said, “All people among whom thou art shall see the work of the Lord, for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee.” (Comp. the Church of the New Dispensation 1 Corinthians 4:9; Ephesians 3:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:10.)
Since then no other material stands on the page, we are shut up to regard this history as the revealing medium of God’s character and purpose to men upon the earth. From the first rise to the latest stage of that history, the shapings of that course, the complexion of its events, the exhibitions of character made, and the vicissitudes of condition experienced, the movements of the Divine hand constantly seen, and the utterances of the Divine voice heard, the Divine treatment of the people, and their treatment of their God—in the whole panorama of life presented, we see the photograph of a heavenly design, which God chooses to make known to man through the living history of men.
It is equally clear that the scheme, which is by this history foreshadowed, is the same with that which forms the chief subject matter of the New Testament Dispensation. For if the prominent subjects of that Dispensation are not everywhere pointed to in the history of that people, they cannot be referred to in the Old Testament at all, seeing it has no other matter of which it treats; yet the Messiah Himself, and all New Testament writers, are express in their assurances that the Old Testament throughout is just a foreshadowing of what was to take place under the New, when the Messiah should come. We are therefore shut up to the conclusion that this history is in some sense full of the scheme of the Christian Redemption, unless we are to regard the whole New Testament testimony as a lie.
The special function, then, of the history of this people, was to give pre-intimation of the coming of “the Christ,” and to foreshadow His great work. This they were to fulfil, not merely by formal announcements of His advent in “the fulness of time,” nor by bearing oracular messages, or becoming the depositaries of Divine communications, nor by having a system of sacred laws, and Messianic institutions established among them (though all these functions they fulfilled), but their whole history as a people was to be a living prediction of that wonderful Person and His glorious work; for they were to be in themselves living embodiments and illustrations figuratively of the great salvation-work which the Messiah was to accomplish. Their history was to be the ground plan of what that work was to be. Their very existence was a sign and a pledge that the Messiah would come, for if there were no Messiah to come they had in that case no mission to serve. The very fact that there was such a people, and that they had such a history, was virtually His casting His shadow before Him in token that He was on His way.
III. The history of this people takes its rise in a Messianic germ.
The bud of the Messianic scheme we find in the few pregnant statements which God made to their father Abraham when choosing him out from the rest of the world. It was not yet time to do more than show the scheme in embryo, so that we are to make the most of the slightest indications in the passages referred to (Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 13:14-17; Genesis 15:5-7; Genesis 15:18-21; Genesis 17:1-3; Genesis 17:16; Genesis 17:19; Genesis 17:21; Genesis 22:1-18). From a somewhat close examination of these passages the following points are made out:—
(1.) This people (Abraham’s seed) owe their very existence to a Messianic purpose. When first spoken of they had as yet no existence; they were only a seed promised. For Abraham was childless, and he was now past age for becoming a father in the natural course of things. Therefore a seed, if given him at all, must be a special gift—a seed that would not have come into existence at all but that a great Messianic purpose was to be served. It was wholly an act of grace. “The Lord had need of them” to usher in a scheme of grace, that it might have its accomplishment. Their object in existence was not to serve the common ends of human life, but to be the medium of conveying Messianic blessings to a perishing world.
That this intimation really refers to the Messiah is distinctly affirmed by the inspired writer in Galatians 3:16, where notice is taken that the word “seed” (זַרעֲ) is in the singular number, meaning one person, not the whole people. It is as if he had said, “in the seed of thy seed,” i.e., in one illustrious Person of thy posterity, who shall one day appear, shall the blessings of salvation be bestowed on all the nations of the earth.
(2.) They furnish the line of the Messiah’s ancestry. This salvation-bringing seed was not to appear for a considerable time. It was not fit that so great a coming should take place abruptly, or without much heralding. A very elaborate system of preliminaries must be gone through, in order to usher in suitably an event so glorious, and so mighty in its effects on the history of mankind. Large time must be allowed for preparation. A wide gap of history must be filled up with much foretelling of the great future. The history of Abraham’s natural posterity fills up the gap and furnishes a line of ancestry from whom the Messiah should come. Had this people altogether ceased to exist, as on several occasions they were on the point of doing, the Messiah could not have come as Abraham’s seed, for in that case the line from Abraham would have been broken.
This fact alone imparts a sacred character to the history of the nation, leading them to be separated from the rest of the world, and marked out as a people holy unto the Lord. It was an honour incomparably higher than any nation ever enjoyed, and raised them from the lowest level to the height of becoming a “peculiar people” and a “holy nation.” Hence the greatest care is taken of the line of their descent. It was in Isaac, not in Ishmael; in Jacob, not in Esau, that Abraham’s promised seed was called. The whole people are reckoned to be a “holy seed,” a church of the living God, and the strictest charge is given against their intermarrying with any of the heathen nations. Hence they were specially protected as a people, amid all the desolations that swept over their distracted land.
(3.) A yet more sacred and instructive fact in their history was their intimate union with the Messiah. They were his brethren!—children together of one father, members of the same family circle! Descended of the same stock, they were of one blood with Him. He was bone of their bone, flesh of their flesh! He was one of themselves, had a common lot with them, a common history, and common prospects. What was theirs was His, and what was His was theirs! It was not merely a union after the flesh. In all cases where there was faith, the covenant was ratified, and union after the spirit was enjoyed. Where there was no faith, the privileges of the union after the flesh were forfeited. But all who truly believed were, in an important sense, counted as the seed, and reckoned one with the Messiah, as the head is with the members, the husband with the wife, and the tree with the branches.
There is entire community of interest. And they have a common property in each other. He belongs to them, and they belong to Him. “They are all of one” (Hebrews 2:11). Hence He often calls them, “my people,” “my chosen,” “a peculiar treasure unto me,” “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye.” Most wonderful language, as showing the vast stretch and inexpressible tenderness of the Divine love! one might pause for hours in contemplating such a spectacle of loving-kindness as this. O, the depth!
There is not only intimacy, but identification. As in the New Testament, those who believe are said to be “in Christ,” so here, the word “seed” is not loosely, but advisedly, put in the singular number, as if to denote alternatively, either the one Christ, or the one people of Israel (comp. Acts 9:4-5; Ephesians 5:30). This oneness between the Messiah and His people lays a foundation broad and deep for all the wonderful outgoings of the Divine love towards them; also for putting so high a price on them as compared with others, for the extraordinary tenderness of the Divine treatment given them, and for the watchful care taken of them through all the lights and shadows of their marvellous history.
(4.) This people in their history are a grand illustration of the blessings the Messiah was to bring to men. They present the picture of a people already brought nigh unto God. Instead of a formal announcement that the Messiah was to bless men by “bringing them to God,” to pardon, reconciliation, and access to the free and full enjoyment of God’s favour and friendship, the thing is set forth as already done in the experience of this people. They are seen actually taken into covenant relationship with Him. With amazing condecension He adopts them to Himself saying, “Israel is my son, my firstborn.” And again, “Ye shall be my people and I will be your God” (Exodus 4:22; Exodus 6:7). Thus they witness to the fact not only that Messiah, the healer of the breach, would come, but that, at His coming, He would clear away the insuperable obstacles that prevented guilty man from enjoying free intercourse with his God. It was in the faith that the Messiah would do this when He came, and do it effectually, that God, many hundreds of years before it was done, admitted this people to be near to Himself, pardoned their sins, and gave them the enjoyment of the Divine fellowship. When He did come He not only made an eternal redemption for men in the future, but also “by His death made redemption for the transgressions that were under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15).
To make such a covenant, transcendent though the favour was, was but to keep up the same proportion of love, as to give them the Messiah Himself to become one of their number. If He and they are so closely united, the same regard which is felt for Him, must also be extended to them, and so, on that side, we account for this stupendous act of condecension. “They are joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). “God is the lot of their inheritance, &c.” (Psalms 16:5). The same smiles of the Divine countenance, and the same high proofs of the Divine esteem, which are bestowed on Him, are for His sake shown to those with whom He is practically identified. Also, because they are the people of the Messiah, therefore they belong to the Father, and with Him become children. “All mine are thine.”
IV. The history of this people shows the scale on which Messianic blessings should flow.
Of this, in one respect, the history recorded in the Book of Judges is an eminent illustration. Had there been no Messiah and His solemn work, not a paragraph of that history could have been written. But for the regard had to His act of “giving Himself an offering and a sacrifice unto God for a sweet-smelling savour,” how could the purity of the Divine administration be maintained, in passing over 400 years of sinning history on the part of the covenant people, while all that was done was simply to give them occasional chastisements? Though more than 1000 years should elapse before the Messiah came, it was the respect had to the vindication of the Divine character which He was certain to make when He did come (Romans 3:25-26), that God forgave the multitudes of transgressions committed by the sinning people. That glorious offering removed the obstacles out of the way. And we see here how far God can go in loving His creatures, when the barriers to the outgoings of His love are removed; how much He can forgive; how long He can forbear; how tenderly He can pity; how freely He can receive back the returning penitent; how close He can come with His fellowship; and how intimately He can ally Himself with guilty men, while yet retaining all His jealousy for the vindication of His spotless holiness, and unimpeachable righteousness.
Three things show the extensive scale on which Divine blessings flow out through the Messiah.
1. The closeness of the relation to God established through the Messiah. Far more than a promise is made. An act is done; a step is taken; a new relation is formed. God places Himself in the very closest intimacy with His people. He makes a gift of Himself to His own creatures, all vile and unworthy though they be. I will be your God! They are warranted to claim Him in all the glory of His character, and in all the fulness of His perfections. This is a reach of love, that goes beyond single blessings. It is an inexhaustable storehouse that never can be emptied. All the names of friendship and love are swallowed up in this all-comprehensive phrase—your God. The Godhead is pledged to provide all that is needed to constitute a happy and glorious existence. The standard of love is fixed once for all. Can we wonder, if a people with whom such a covenant is made, through the Messiah, is never cast away?
2. A fountain-head of Divine Promises is opened. God’s favour does not go out in single, isolated blessings, but He proceeds by system. The granting of one blessing pledges His consistency and His faithfulness to give others. These again become an ever augmenting reason for going on with a course of blessing without measure and without end. His own character leads Him to continue to love those whom He once begins to love. It is His manner to “rest in His love.” “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” “Mercy is built up for ever.” The period for blessing is their whole immortality (Isaiah 54:10). He takes up ground, in granting the gift of the Messiah, from which He cannot draw back. Were any different course followed afterwards, it would reflect on His unchangeableness.
3. The channel being opened, Divine love flows out according to its own natural riches (Ephesians 2:4; Ephesians 2:7; Romans 8:32). God’s love never needs to be awakened nor stimulated. It never slumbers and never cools. When left to itself it never flickers, but shines forth with noontide strength. “All things are yours”—is its natural tone. “Blessings to the utmost bounds of the everlasting hills!” No blessing left ungiven. All that men can hope for on earth, and all they can enjoy through eternity in heaven. The ever full fountain as well as the flowing streams—all are given.
Without going further into the explanation of the Messianic germ, we are now prepared to answer the two important questions which are pertinent to our present purpose, namely, What is the distinctive character of this Book of Judges? and, What is the place which it occupies in the chain of the sacred history? Our reply to the first of these questions is:—
I. It exhibits the God of Providence in His dealings with the Israelitish people as a Messianic people.
It is impossible to read the history of this people as common history. It is clear that they are a sacred people, that they sustain a peculiarly endearing relation to the great Jehovah, that their history is made use of as a medium for revealing the purport and principles of a great scheme beyond themselves, that in it we see the reverse side of the picture of the Messiah’s work in redeeming His people out of the hands of their enemies, and that in the whole history we have the shadow of a great substance. It was under the canopy of a gracious covenant that this people were ushered into being. That was the root out of which all that is peculiar in their history springs. Every part of their national life has the presence of that fact in it, and nothing can be wanting in instructiveness which has so sacred a shadow spread over it. It lifts up the whole history to a high tableland of interest peculiar to itself. Nothing is of common or secondary importance. We see God in close contact with this people every moment, watching over them with a peculiarly tender interest. They are never out of His sight. He is ever doing marvellous things on their behalf, and, through His dealings with them, making a glorious display of His Divine Perfections.
This nation personated the people whom the Messiah was to redeem, and exhibited a pattern of the Messianic scheme practically applied. This, indeed, is not directly said. We must look into the organic life of the people to find it out. It was a natural human life that they led, and we are to interpret it according to the laws of right reason. Yet in and through that life, we see Messianic principles constantly illustrated, and Messianic blessings constantly bestowed. God’s dealings with that people have no other basis. Their history has no other lines on which to run. That history was to serve the purpose of a pictorial representation. It was really God in Christ dealing with His people, though the revelation of the Christ was not yet made. But the whole series of facts and dealings in that nation’s life showed there was something great waiting to be revealed. The history served all the purposes of a parable, without ceasing to be true and natural history. Hence, on every page, we see the Messiah’s footsteps, though we do not hear His voice, or behold His form. A picture of the great work He was to accomplish is set before us in its manifold details, rather than a description is given in words. No other theory will explain the facts and everywhere New Testament testimony bears it out.
In confirmation of this we specify a few particulars:—
1. Their covenant God takes the direction of their history into His own hand. They are not allowed to lead such a life as they themselves might desire—whether to go in this direction or that, what persons they may associate with, or must avoid, what incidents may happen, what peace and prosperity they may enjoy, or adversity they may suffer, what changes may happen in their career—all this God keeps expressly in His own hand. He chooses the way, appoints the sunshine or the shade, fixes the lot, and in all its parts maps out what the life is to be. Nothing is left to accident, or to the people themselves. Who can doubt that He whose finger in Providence is always pointing out the way will map out their history in harmony with that Messianic design of which His mind is full? The moulder will make the plastic materials in his hands take the shape which he desires for the execution of his plans. Indeed, the entire framework of this history, with all its details, is full of shadows of the Messianic scheme. We may not be able in every instance to say what is typical or not, but that a strong typical vein runs through the whole we have the best warrant to conclude from the fact that the God of the Messianic scheme takes the moulding of the life of this people into His own hands, and this taken in conjunction with the other fact, that He raised up such a people for the very purpose of making them the medium of revealing His Messianic thought.
2. He chooses them not for any righteousness of their own (Judges 2:15-16; Judges 2:18). Their own character is uniformly denounced. They are said to be “stiff-necked,” “rebellious,” “not obeying God’s voice,” “provoking God to anger,” “forsaking the Lord and serving other gods.” The covenant containing the blessings was made with the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who were men of faith. Notwithstanding the repeated and continual violations of the covenant by their descendants, God made no breach of the covenant on His side for the sake of His own great name. This is everywhere asserted as the aim kept in view in bestowing blessings. But that which was really to preserve the honour of His name was what the Messiah should do when he came. By His death, the Christ was “to declare the righteousness of God for the remission of the sins that were past.”
3. He uniformly regards them as a redeemed people. He always reminds them of the fact never to be forgotten, that he brought them up out of Egypt, which was to them a land of bondage (Judges 2:1; Judges 2:12; Judges 6:8; Judges 6:13; Judges 10:11; Judges 19:30). By reminding them of this fact He means to say, “When I first met with you, you were ‘not a people,’ but a multitude of slaves, groaning helplessly under intolerable burdens, but I adopted you to become my own people, and delivered you with an outstretched arm from a terrible destruction. I have saved your life, and regard you as redeemed to Myself. Being my own redeemed ones, I will not cast you off” (Psalms 94:14). The endearment which this implies is expressed in Psalms 44:1-4. The putting this fact in the foreground uniformly is not an accident, but an express design.
4. From the first they are regarded as an accepted people. The gift of the land of which they were in possession, was a proof that they were accepted by Jehovah, and this was emphasised by the fact that great and mighty nations were dispossessed through great displays of Divine power, that the accepted people might have it for inheritance. Jehovah did not forget that the blood of sprinkling was upon them (Exodus 24:5-8). By this they were cleansed and made holy unto the Lord, and by this they became a consecrated people, entitled to the privileges of the covenant. All His dealings with them, especially the deliverances He wrought for them, proved that He acknowledged them to be His, notwithstanding their many and grievous transgressions. He raised up all the Judges—it was He whose Spirit rested on the Judges—and it was He who really discomfited all the oppressors.
5. He takes to Himself the name of the God of Israel. That is Messianic; for on no other footing than as redeemed and made nigh unto God, through a Mediator, could this name be warrantably used by them (Judges 4:6; Judges 5:3; Judges 5:5; Judges 6:8; Judges 6:10; Judges 6:26; Judges 8:34; Judges 10:10; Judges 11:21; Judges 11:23, &c.)
6. All their approaches to God were required to he made through a Mediator. Moses at first was such a Mediator, as the giver of the law, and the constant messenger between God and the people. Aaron was such as high priest. All the priests were so. The Judges were so also, though their work was temporary for the most part. They had no successors in office. In all public approaches made to God there was either some person, place or altar as the centre to which the approach was made (see Judges 2:1; Judges 2:5; Judges 4:3-7; Judges 7:7-12; Judges 7:23-25; Judges 11:11; Judges 18:31; Judges 20:1-3; Judges 20:18; Judges 20:23; Judges 20:28; Judges 21:1-2; Judges 21:19). The essential character of Christ is, that He is Mediator for ever. He wears human nature on the throne. “He appears in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 10:19-20).
7. A high ideal of religious character and life is set before them. This is specially marked in the pages of Deuteronomy, where the great Mediator of the old covenant gathers into one view in sublime language the stupendous works of mercy and power God had done for this people, and shows in the most impressive manner how much more is looked for from them than from others, by how much their privileges were greater. Something similar is set forth in Joshua. It is less so in Judges. Yet it is clear everywhere that more is expected of this people than of their neighbours round about them. In ch. 2 it is reckoned a great sin for them to mingle at all with the society of those around them, and severe complaint is made against the incipient forms of idolatry; while no reproof or correction of any kind is sent to any of the idolatrous nations. They are suffered to walk in their own ways, which in the end bring ruin. Israel is chastened betimes that he may not be condemned with the world when it is too late. In ch. 5 high commendation is given to those who offered themselves willingly to fight for the honour of Israel’s God, vers. 9, 14, 15—while strong condemnation, if not cursing, is directed against those who kept in the background when there was danger to those who rallied round the standard of Israel’s God, vers. 16, 17, 23. Great blessing and honour on the other hand are awarded to those who showed zeal and courage in defending the good cause, vers. 18, 24, &c. All the foremost men of the times, too, are expected to be men of great faith, of self denial, of prayer, of humility, and of courage. And the masses of the people are commended because they gathered in large numbers calling for summary vengeance because in one city of Israel an enormous crime had been committed which was of common occurrence in nearly all the cities of the heathen.
8. Their remarkable nearness to God, and their full enjoyment of His fellowship. They saw the forth-puttings of His mighty power against the nations around them, and saw it all done on their behalf. The stars of heaven and the waters of the earth fought against their Siseras and Jabins. Besides, in Mizpeh first, and then in Shiloh, the presence of the ark implied that Jehovah was still among them, and that access to Him was free in the appointed way.
9. The kind of treatment they received at the Divine hand. This treatment was so kind and considerate, so tender and patient, so wise and just, so faithful and true, so long-suffering and unchanging. The same thing is seen in their great deliverances, and in the extraordinary interpositions sometimes made on their behalf, also in the rich provision made oftentimes for the supply of their wants, and even in their very chastisements.
10. The many Judges specially raised up for their deliverance. These judges, or shophetim were really saviours, as the word implies, and as it is given in Nehemiah 9:27. They were the gifts of Him who watched over this people, and raised them up in special emergencies to save the people from destruction. They were not chosen by the nation, nor did they enter the office by hereditary right. They were men selected by the angel Jehovah, authoritatively commissioned by Him, had His Spirit resting on them to qualify them for their work, received their instructions from Him, and were helped to victory by His presence with them. Who can doubt that they were miniature resemblances of the Messiah to come, seeing it was Messiah’s people whom they delivered, and it was the Messiah Himself who sent them?
11. The several appearances of the Angel of the Lord (Judges 2:1, etc.; Judges 6:11, etc.; Judges 13:3, etc.; perhaps Judges 5:23). There can be little doubt that this Angel was really the Messiah Himself, though not yet revealed in proper form, for the proper name is Angel-Jehovah, and He personates Jehovah, speaking in His name, claiming His authority, and acting like Him. Through the whole history He appears at different times, showing His sleepless interest in this people, and indicating that He was the real guardian, and actor behind the scenes. Our limits forbid farther expansion. In all this, however, we see God making use of this people’s history as a medium dimly to foreshadow His great Messianic purpose.
II. The place which this Book occupies in the chain or the Sacred History.
The entire history of this people consists in the unfolding of the three great promises which God made to Abraham when He called him out of the world that He might establish a church in his family. As detailed in Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7, these promises were—
(1) To multiply his seed into a nation;
(2) To give them a fertile land for a home;
(3) To make them the means of blessing all the families of the earth. Hundreds of years passed away, and Abraham himself went down to the grave waiting, but believing and hoping, though not seeing. But God did not forget His word. Slowly, at first, then more quickly, afterwards rapidly, the seed began to increase, to grow and multiply until they seemed to become numerous as the stars, and the land was filled with them. This is recorded in the last part of Genesis, and first part of Exodus, and constitutes the fulfilment of the first promise.
The history proceeds throughout the larger part of Exodus and the whole of Numbers, during which two mighty obstacles have to be overcome in order to the fulfilment of the second promise. The people, though numerous, are in bondage to the greatest power then on earth, and must be set free. That is done by Jehovah expressly in fulfilment of His promise made to Abraham. Also, a waste, barren desert has to be traversed by a whole nation of people on foot, more than one-half consisting of women and children. From all the perils of a forty years’ journey through that desert they are next set free, and this brings them to the borders of their promised possession. But another obstacle still interposes. Tall and mighty Anakims are in possession, dwelling in cities walled up to heaven, and having iron chariots and formidable hosts of combatants. These must be cleared out, and the land left empty ere the true heirs of the inheritance can come in. This also is done by God through the instrmentality of Joshua, but in a manner that only God could do. At the same time, the land, one of the fairest countries under heaven, is formally distributed among all the tribes. This constitutes the fulfilment of the second promise, and is recorded in the Book of Joshua.
But before going farther, something must be done on the people’s side. God cannot go on blessing the people till they show themselves worthy of it. Laws and institutions had meantime been given, the observance of which was to be the test of loyalty to their God. God having done as He said, having first increased Abraham’s seed as the stars of the sky, and then given them one of the most beautiful homes the earth could furnish, it was time for the people so favoured to be put to the test, as to whether they would be loyal to Him. The Book of Judges records the result of this trial of their character. Hitherto they had not been in circumstances sufficiently favourable for the trial. The period of bondage was not suitable, neither was the wilderness journey; but now, being settled in their lovely home, and a magnificent series of works of Almighty favour to look back upon, to show the fidelity and loving kindness of their covenant-God, they were in the very best position, and under the most encouraging inducements to show their fidelity to Him in return. All that had been done was done for them as a matter of pure favour, and they themselves had solemnly protested they would love, serve and be loyal to their God amid surrounding treason.
Now for the answer. Through the whole Book of Judges the question is put, were they loyal or not? For 400 years the question is put, that the answer may be deliberate, that it may be given by many generations, in case the verdict of one should not be sufficient. Moses and Joshua too are removed, and they are left entirely to themselves that the decision may be all their own. And when the answer comes, it is humiliating. We will not serve the God that brought us up from Egypt, and gave us this land to dwell in. We prefer to serve the gods of the nations round about us, who will allow us to walk after the lusts of our own hearts, and pursue our own ways. The whole Book from the first page to the last is a record of rebellion and apostasy. There is nothing but broken vows, renunciation of allegiance, forgetfulness of obligations, high-handed treason, and hideous crimes. Nothing could be in greater contrast than the infidelity and treachery of the people on the one hand, and the sacred regard paid by their God to His word on the other. If the previous Books are a monument of the uprightness and faithfulness of the Divine character, this Book of Judges is a record of the worthlessness and untrustworthiness of the covenant people, and is full of lessons on self knowledge, humility, and contrition of heart. What a confirmation of the deceitfulness and unteachableness of the human heart! (Jeremiah 17:9.) At its close the cry is, O, for priest or prophet, or king—anything rather than leave the people to themselves.
Hence the connection of this book with those that follow in the series; but had this book been a-wanting, a most important proof would have been left out, of the necessity of the future arrangements which God made for the guidance of His people in their onward history. Above all, a broad foundation is laid for the everlasting song of praise to redeeming grace.