Lectures on the Book of Judges

S. Ridout.

Prefatory Note

The Book of Judges is a most important link between the earlier and later history of Israel. It gives the history of the passage of rule from the Theocracy of early times to the kings who continued till the time of the captivity. The unbelief and declension exhibited in this transition form the staple of the narrative, with the unrepenting patience of God who, spite of the utter incompetence and unbelief manifested by the people, comes in repeatedly to their succor. He is meanwhile manifesting His own purposes, which have their accomplishment alone in Christ, and which will be fulfilled, thanks to Himself, in the day now so near.

But Israel stood for humanity in all their probation, and we may well expect that the moral principles involved here will be of the widest application to all who are in responsible relationship with God. As the book of Joshua abounds with typical narrative which applies in a most marked way to the blessings of Christianity, so this book will be found to carry the typical lessons further. They deal mainly with declension and recovery, and one can hardly fail to notice the resemblance between them and the prophetic history of the professing church, given in the second and third chapters of Revelation.

If this be true, it will be seen at once that the book is of immense practical importance to the Church of Christ. Of the history of declension we are alas only too familiar from sorrowful experience. May it be ours to learn also more of the secret of recovery, and of divine power in days of universal ruin, through the instrument that is feeble enough, instances of which abound throughout the book.

As has been said, it is a thoroughly practical book. If it has its proper effect, it will bring us, individually and unitedly, upon our faces at our "Bochim," there to find the tender mercy of One whose heart yearns over His beloved Church today with the same love that led Him to give His Son for its redemption. The ruin will never be rebuilt, and all must wait for the coming of our Lord. But how much testimony for God, how much quiet feeding the flock of Christ, and deliverance of His own from the enemy is yet possible for us if we but learn the lesson set before us in this book.

The following lectures are an effort to set forth these lessons, in the hope that real fruit for God may result from their perusal. Much help, both in disposition and subject matter, has been received from the divisions and notes in the Numerical Bible, which, together with those on the book of Joshua, are of new and especial interest.

Being here given in very much the form they were delivered in, the reader will find both the helps and blemishes of spoken discourse — a familiar and colloquial style easy to be understood, while there is a tendency to diffuseness which prevents the book from being a manual for study. If it stirs an interest, and points a lesson, the reader will be able to prosecute the study for himself.

That our God may use this feeble effort to present His truth even as He used Shamgar's ox-goad and Gideon's lamps, is the prayer of the writer. S. Ridout.


The historical books, of which the book of Judges is the second, form the largest group in the Old Testament. In the Pentateuch we have the counsels of God as the prominent thought. If any one were to ask what is the prominent feature in the Pentateuch, we would say it is God's will and His authority. Of course there is much of man in it. I do not mean to say that human will does not come in, but still you will find the thought running throughout the entire five books of Moses is that God has control.

Unquestionably God has control throughout the whole history of man; but in a special way His will is supreme in the Pentateuch; and therefore we rightly call them the Books of the Law, that is, the books which emphasize and bring out God's will.

In the same way the second division of the Old Testament gives us The Historical Books, where the prominent person is not God but man. I need hardly say that God is not set aside, but simply that in these historical books He has put the government of things, the responsibility into man's hands to carry out what His will is. They are therefore rightly termed the books of covenant-history, or the development of what is the expressed will of God in the Pentateuch.

When we take up these historical books, we find that while they all have in common that which I have spoken of, yet they have their distinctive marks, each of them separate from the other. We are going to dwell particularly upon the book of Judges, and I might say it is the one that gives character to the whole division of the Historical Books. The whole division is the book of Judges you might say. It is the book of man's history, a history of his progress and development; and the results of that, I need hardly say what they must be. If you have a history of man, it must be a history of declension, of departure from God; a history of disintegration rather than unity, of weakness rather than strength, and of the need of God's interposition to deliver. Now while that is the characteristic of all these historical books from Joshua to Esther, yet it is particularly that of the book of Judges.

But let us first of all see how Judges stands in relation to the book of Joshua, for we get much important instruction just there. The book of Joshua is the first one of the historical books, and there are certain features which connect it very strikingly at either end. It is connected at its beginning with the Pentateuch, and at its close with the book of Judges. Take for instance the close of the Pentateuch; Moses about to die, names his successor, giving him his authority from God, and Joshua the successor, the chosen leader of God, carries on the work which Moses had begun. It is simply another leader. Now, when you follow the book all the way through to the close, you find in the same way connections with the book of Judges. Joshua calls the people all together, and sets before them the history of God's ways and mercy in the past. Then he warns them as to the danger of apostasy, of departure from God.

It was surely prophetic in Joshua, dear brethren, in view of the history of the Judges, to warn the people as he did, to tell them not merely of the danger that threatened, but of that which would certainly come to pass unless they took the warning. Thus Judges in that way connects with Joshua. Joshua gives us God's power, and the man of faith, and also, in figure, the Divine Leader. Typically speaking, Joshua, the successor of Moses, would represent to us the Holy Spirit, making Christ practically our leader into our inheritance.

The inheritance of Israel in Canaan is a type of our inheritance in Christ in the heavenly places; and as we are told in the epistle to the Ephesians that God hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ in the heavenly places, so in Joshua we are told that everything is ours; everything belongs to the people; God has given it to them; and it is now for them to take possession of their inheritance in the energy of faith.

But they must have a God-appointed leader to take possession of this their portion, and that is what Joshua is appointed to do. I want you to notice that he is the divinely appointed leader for the whole people, and throughout the entire book you get but the one leader. Now Joshua, as has often been said, is a type of Christ, Christ the leader, in resurrection, just as Moses was a type of Christ, the leader of His people when He was upon earth. That is why typically it was necessary for Moses, the earthly leader, to die, in order that the people might pass in to their heavenly inheritance; so it was necessary for Christ to die in order that He might, as risen from the dead, lead His people into the enjoyment of their heavenly inheritance.

But there is more than that. Joshua is a type of Christ risen, but still the actual leader of his people in the conflict in taking possession of what is theirs. Therefore it is Christ as He dwells in our hearts by the Holy Ghost; it is Christ in us, by the Holy Spirit, leading us with divine energy to take hold of all that is given to us. It is ours, and yet has to be taken hold of, the foot planted upon it, as we are told. It is to be practically ours. It is by the Holy Spirit alone that we enter into the enjoyment of what is ours. You take a company of Christians for instance: how different the measure of their enjoyment. They all have one common source of it; they all are Christ's, and all that is Christ's is theirs. There is no difference as to our portion; every one of us alike has the same possession; and yet, as I said, how different the measure of our enjoyment. Now our inheritance is in Christ, but our enjoyment of that inheritance is by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, who leads us to take possession of that which is ours. That is Joshua.

In the first part of the book you see the people brought into the land and gaining their victories from Jericho unto Hazor, till the last king is subdued, and the whole land lies quietly under their hand; it is all theirs. Then, in the second part of the book, you have the land divided among the various tribes, each of them getting that portion which God allotted to them. In this way it is very instructive and refreshing to see that where the thought is that God is supreme, and the Spirit of God is in charge, and leading the people, everything depends upon Him, and the faith that follows His leading.

But I have another thought that I would like to lay before you. The Holy Spirit when He came, came of course upon Apostles as upon the whole Church. We read in the fourth chapter of Ephesians that when Christ ascended He gave gifts unto men, and first amongst them the apostles, who are the foundation of the Church. In the book of Joshua, I believe that Joshua himself, while a type of the Holy Spirit bringing Christ practically to us, is also a figure of the Spirit dwelling authoritatively in inspired men. You have in other words in the book of Joshua the history of the apostolic Church being led into possession of its inheritance under the energy of the Holy Ghost through divinely-inspired men. These were apostles, a special class of men who do not continue with it to the present time, save in their writings. This is very important, and the reason I dwell upon it is because in the book of Judges you have just the opposite. You have no one answering to Joshua, no divinely-appointed leader, no successor to Joshua. The leaders who are raised up are simply to meet the emergency for a special work, and then pass out of sight. It is important to see that. If the believer in apostolic succession would simply take the spiritual meaning of the book of Joshua and that of Judges and compare them, he would see that while we have apostles introducing the saints into the truth of the Church and into their heavenly inheritance, we have not apostles to maintain them in that position. That is the history of the book of Judges.

Look at the close of the history of the book of Joshua and you find the aged leader looking, we may surely believe, into his heavenly inheritance with a full assurance of what is before him. I have often been struck with that.

People say that there is no revelation of immortality in the Old Testament; and in a certain sense that is true. But did you ever think of Moses and of Joshua as they stood facing death? Did you ever think of them as relinquishing everything which they held dear here in this world, without a quiver of uncertainty? Without a fear, without a single doubting question they give their directions to those that are left behind, and pass on, where? Who can doubt with such revelation as that regarding Abraham, that "he looked for a city that hath foundations whose builder and maker is God"? Who can doubt that Moses and Joshua were conscious as to where they would pass when they left this world, that they were going home to the blessed God whom they had seen and served by faith only, and now were to enter into His actual presence? That is very important, and it suggests a most interesting line of study, the intimations of immortality running throughout the Old Testament. I believe we would get rich profit for our souls in taking up such a line of study. But I simply mention it.

We have the aged leader gathering the people about him, and warning them of what is before them. Yes, telling them what was in their own hearts for by the Spirit of God he knew what was there. He tells them of the danger of apostasy. He goes further and says, "put away the strange gods that are among you." Already those gods had a place in their midst and already the seeds of destruction and alienation from God were planted right in the very bosom of the people. I want you to notice a New Testament passage which is in keeping with what I have been saying. Paul gathers the Ephesian elders together. He is the apostle, and he is the representative in that way of the apostleship, as it were of all the apostles. He gathers them together and speaks of what is going to come in after his departure. "I know that after my departure" — what do we come to? Other successors to the apostles? Ah, no but exactly what Joshua said: "After my departure shall grievous wolves enter in not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them." There is the close of the apostolic Joshua, just as you have the close of the literal Joshua. It is the warning as to the alienation and the departure that comes in when the inspired leaders have been removed.

Now that brings us to the book of Judges itself. I have dwelt upon this because it is very important for us to get the setting of the book correctly, if we are going to get into the current of the Spirit's thoughts regarding it. Joshua gives us the possession of what is ours, and Judges gives us the history of the people holding, or failing to hold it. Judges is the history of what should have been a progress. All through Joshua we are reminded that "there remaineth very much land to be possessed." It was simply conquering the land as a whole, not conquering it in detail. Various boundary lines were marked out for the tribes, and yet as a matter of fact there were large numbers of the enemy still in possession of cities and strongholds in the midst of the tribes. The key thought of the book of Judges, one of the important thoughts in the whole book, is this — the failure to make progress. A true and divine book of Judges would have been a history of progress. The literal and actual history of Judges is of failure to make progress. Why, you say, is that such a very serious thing? Beloved, let me assure you that failure to make progress is the root of all the failure and departure from God of His people. We who are familiar with this book of Judges know well how full it is of bitter, shameful failure and how the history as it goes on developing, brings out not more brightness but more darkness, until we turn the last leaf of the book with a sigh and with a confession, that if that is the history of man, if that is the history of the professed Church of Christ, yea, if that is the history of ourselves, nothing but shame and confusion of face become us. Is it not so?

Failure to go on! Dear fellow believer, let me press it. Where are you? are you standing still? are you satisfied with all blessings being in Christ? are you satisfied with talking about your being in Him in the heavenlies and blessed with all spiritual blessings, and everything of that kind? Is that sufficient for you? Are you resting upon what Christ has done, in that sense of the word? For salvation we cannot rest too absolutely upon what Christ has done. But for possession, dear friends, for enjoyment, for practical ownership of what is ours we cannot rest upon what Christ has done; nay we must carry on the blessed work in the energy and power of the Holy Spirit.

Let me press this thought. Let us turn it over and look at it personally and corporately, in relation to the whole Church of Christ. If we have been standing still individually, we have been drifting away from God. If there is declension in your heart or mine tonight, if there is a sense of distance from God, a breach with Him, let me tell you the root of it is simply that you have stood still, after you were saved and had been brought to Christ. After you realized the fullness of your blessing in Him, instead of pressing on to get more and more of the enjoyment of that place, you let your hands hang down; and the moment Satan saw that you were willing for him to preoccupy that which you were not occupying, that moment, dear friend, Satan gained the advantage, gained an entrance into your heart, and planted there the seeds of whatever present alienation there may be from God in any of our hearts. Nay, the seeds of any future alienation. Oh, who can tell what will happen within a year for a Christian who is away from God in his soul? Standing still instead of going forward! You might write that at the head of the book of Judges. And the result of that was the whole subsequent failure, individually and corporately as well.

Here is the Church of Christ as it came from the apostles' hands. Ah, before even the apostles had left the earth, before Paul was taken home to glory, he not only prophesied of what would take place if they did not go on and hold fast, but that declension had already begun. He writes even in the second epistle to the Thessalonians, "the mystery of iniquity already worketh," and in the second epistle to Timothy, "all they that are in Asia have turned away from me." The apostle John writes in his first epistle, "already there are many Antichrists." And that was in the bosom of the professing Church! It only shows us how the Church at the very start failed to gain full practical possession of the inheritance that was hers, and therefore was exposed to the power of Satan. Let me notice that it is not a question merely of the world coming in and taking possession of something, but it is Satan. In all these satanic false doctrines and attacks upon the Church of Christ, which have stood out on the pages of its history from the beginning, we see just Satan's work in making use of that which the Church has failed to make use of. That is the history of declension and departure from God.

Now that is looking at the whole subject. You see it is one of intense personal and corporate importance. I believe that in this book of Judges we have God's voice to us at the present time. Surely if we look about us we need have no question of failure coming in. I might say, alas, if we look at our own history we need have no question as to individual failure. Then let us hearken to what the spirit of God would say to His people who have failed lamentably and repeatedly, and, alas, who are ready to fail again, unless they learn the lesson that God would write upon the very tables of our hearts.