Reading: Judges 2:16-23; 5:10-23.
Following the general survey of the book of Joshua which we made in our previous meditation, we come to something more particular by looking at fragments of this book as the Lord may lead. First of all, however, we must recognise the cause or the nature of the history which is in the book of Judges. We have seen that there was a deplorable state of affairs, so completely other than in the book of Joshua. Looking for the reason, we ﬁnd it in the second chapter, in verses 1-4 and 21-23. In those passages there is a statement of great importance and value which can be broken up into one or two things.
Failure to Enter the Lord's Plan in Fulness
In the ﬁrst place the terrible period of over three hundred years was the result of a failure on the part of the Lord's people to go on into all that He had revealed as being His will for them. That is where we begin.
If you look into the tragic state of the history of God's people at any time you will ﬁnd that the cause is the same. Wherever there has arisen a state like this that we ﬁnd in the book of Judges, it can be traced to this, that at some point those concerned ceased to go on with energy into all that the Lord had set deﬁnitely before them as His will for them. It is always a most perilous thing not to go on with energy into anything that has been presented to us as the Lord's will for us, which He has made possible for us, because it will not be long before other forces take advantage of that stopping short to press in, and then it becomes a question as to whether we can go on when we want to. That which at one time was a clear way - while always fraught with a measure of conﬂict, nevertheless in a sense of victory, with a knowledge that the Lord was there, committed to the thing - has now become a most onerous thing, marked by struggle, stress, and a conﬂict which is not characterised by the Lord being in it as at one time He was. There is a sense of having given the enemy an opportunity. There is all the difference between the kind of conﬂict and progress which is straight on with the Lord in the light, and that recovering kind of conﬂict which is the result of our being stopped short somewhere, having given the enemy an opportunity to encamp on the ground.
When Israel was in the ﬁrst movement, the enemies in the land were all in a state of looseness. It seems that their very heart was loosed out, and it was not going to be such a terriﬁc task to move them out; they were already in heart moved, very largely expecting to have to go. You know that once you expect anything like that you may as well go. If ever you accept the idea of leaving, half the battle is over for the person who is going to eject you. These enemies were very largely expecting to have to quit, and so there was not a hundred percent resistance. But when Israel stopped, these enemies dug themselves in, thus, the removal of them was a much greater challenge afterwards.
The Lord's Reactions
Then there was the Lord's side of it. The Lord, while in the ﬁrst instance fully with them, now let them feel something of the tremendous range of not having gone on with Him, and it came back upon them. We all know something of that in spiritual experience. Whereas there was a time when it was comparatively easy to go on in some step of obedience, because we did not go on, it has become inﬁnitely more difﬁcult when we come to face the matter, and we ﬁnd the situation has become far more complicated. We must remember that the history of God's people through all ages speaks loudly of the tremendous peril of failing to go on in the light when the Lord presents it to us.
Then there is the Lord's side again. Whenever a people has failed to go on to God's end, and other forces have taken hold, the reaching of His end becomes, by His own permission or appointment, a matter of far more conﬂict. In connection with the children of Israel God said that He would not drive out their enemies, but would leave them to prove Israel.
Now you can see the difference between what took place in the early days of the church and the apostles, and what has obtained since in the matter of conﬂict in driving out the enemy. In the ﬁrst place it was really, although with cost and suffering, a stepping on. God was there mightily in evidence. Then the church stopped; it ceased to go on; and ever since, progress of that earlier kind has been fraught with terrible conﬂict. It has been a matter of difﬁculty raising the biggest questions, even the question as to how far the Lord is with His people. There has always been an enemy. That enemy was defeated at Calvary. The victory was given to the church. They entered into it, and carried it forward, and then stopped. Ever since, they have been trying to take it up again, and what have they found? They have found that it is not so easy, and that the Lord has not come in in the same way as He did at the beginning, but has let them feel the brunt of this thing. The church has felt the terriﬁc strain of this matter of overthrowing the enemy. Why is that? Well, that brings us back to the book of Judges, and the very point that we want to emphasise. Let us see how true that has been in all of human history.
Take Adam for instance. Adam had light. We do not know how long he walked in the light, but while he did so everything went on blessedly, and there was the exercise of dominion. Then Adam ceased to walk in the light. The result was that the Lord made it necessary for Adam to exercise his dominion through terrible stress. A new element had come in. The Lord told Adam that in the sweat of his face he should eat bread (Gen. 3:19). Before that God had said to man that he was to have dominion (Gen. 1:28), and he had it, and we read of no conﬂict in it. Afterwards the dominion was to be expressed through great cost and suffering, agony and hard labour. A new element had entered in.
Take Israel, as we have already seen. We sum them up thus: at one time going on in dominion, then stopping; afterwards discovering that new elements had entered in, thus progress and conquest was fraught with a very great deal more suffering, agony and conﬂict than before.
As we have just pointed out, it was the same with the church. In the beginning there was a triumphant marching on. If the church had continued as it started, I suppose the whole world would have been subdued, or something immense would have happened. Take the ﬁrst week or so after Pentecost and multiply that over a year or two, extend it for a decade. Take the life of Paul as an example of conquest, of getting out into the world, into the nations. There was a world bigger than Paul knew, but if things had been carried forward on the same scale for another period of three or four generations, the world that is now known would have been reached. What we mean to say is that there was a tremendous going on at the beginning. The Lord did not want it otherwise. The Lord did not call a halt; it was the Lord's people who stopped. When they tried to resume they found there were new elements. When ground has been forfeited, the recovery of that ground is far more difﬁcult than the possessing of that ground in the ﬁrst place. That is the history of everything in relation to God's purpose in this world. Of course, God sovereignly permits that for a very good reason, and as the Lord enables we want to see that sovereign reason.
Spiritual Responsibility and Understanding
We read in the book of Samuel, the last of the judges, that these judges were those who judged for the Lord in a day when there was no open vision (as we read in the book of Samuel, the last of the judges). The great demand in that time was for someone to take spiritual responsibility for the Lord's full thought. It is this matter of spiritual responsibility which is the focal point of the book of Judges, and is to be our focal point now. It can all be gathered up into two words: spiritual responsibility.
In order to take spiritual responsibility, spiritual understanding is necessary. When once the Lord raised up vessels with spiritual understanding, the one issue is that of taking responsibility for the Lord's testimony, the Lord's full thought for His people. If you look at this book and read it with this one word in mind, you will see that a very great deal of the spiritual history was focussed upon this matter of responsibility.
The most outstanding and classic illustration is seen in Deborah's song. Many of the judges are only mentioned by name, and by one act which led to the deliverance of the Lord's people. These men judged Israel over a series of years. As far as I can see, the shortest was seven or eight years, the longest about forty years, but in many instances only their names are mentioned and the act which led to deliverance. But even in the mention of the name and the telling of that one thing, you ﬁnd that in these cases there is a deliberateness in the matter of responsibility. All that is known about one is that he was left-handed and made himself a sharp two-edged sword which he hid under his cloak and surreptitiously slew the enemy. It is all told in a few words, but the atmosphere speaks of deliberateness. Here is a man who takes the whole responsibility of the Lord's interests for His people upon himself, and it seems in a few clear-cut movements he brings about an open way for the Lord's deliverance; he goes straight to the business.
This question of responsibility comes up in various ways. In some it was deliberate, clear-cut, and direct; in some it was under constraint, as, for instance with Barak. Deborah almost had to thrust Barak into it. "Up Barak!" was what she said to him, and he told her that if she went with him he would go, but if she did not go, then he would not. Deborah did not let Barak off, and he eventually had to take responsibility.
Take the case of Gideon. In his meekness of spirit he was rather slow to respond to the call when the angel of the Lord came and spoke to him. It was his sense of humbleness of life that held him back, but eventually the Lord laid it upon him, and Gideon had to take responsibility; and when once he took responsibility he did so thoroughly. That night he destroyed his father's idols and rid the place of false worship. Then, having cleared the ground in his own domestic circle, he pursued the Lord's interests in a public way, and was no longer lax in the matter of responsibility.
In the case of Abimelech the responsibility was usurped in a ﬂeshly way, and that led to disaster. It is an instance full of instruction. Responsibility must be in the Lord and in the Spirit, otherwise it only leads to the undoing of the one who usurps it.
In one case there seems to be a holding of responsibility in a loose manner, and the Lord demonstrates in that case the terrible perils, and how important it is in a day like this that anyone called by the Lord to take responsibility should take it seriously. We refer to Samson; he seemed to play with responsibility. We know the terrible shame which covered his life because of this, and the Lord did not allow this side to be hidden, but revealed that this matter of responsibility is exceedingly serious.
The song of Deborah divides between those who did and those who did not take responsibility. She speaks of a number of tribes which did not come up for various reasons. These reasons are very interesting to note, and pointed in their application.
In a day of weakness, when the Lord is not being gloriﬁed as He should be, when conditions are not as the Lord would have them, there must be those of the Lord's people who, with spiritual understanding and discernment, will take responsibility. The enemy would, of course, do everything he can to stop the Lord's people who should be taking responsibility from doing so. He would cause them to be preoccupied. Preoccupation is a favourite method of the enemy to destroy responsibility. Preoccupation takes many forms and has many directions. It may be the preoccupation of the multitude of things with which we are kept constantly on the move, diverting or distracting us, keeping us from direct concentration upon the things that matter most.
It may be preoccupation with a personal problem. Oh, how the Lord is losing and how the Lord's people are losing because of this! Many of us, if we were only free from our own problem, would be counting for the Lord, making a contribution to the Lord's people, could be bringing the Lord's people into the fulness of His thought for them. We ought to be doing that, but we continually go round in that vicious circle of our own personal trouble. We are not able to take responsibility, we are not free to do so, because of this problem. We will have a problem to the end, unless we begin to take an attitude towards the cause of their problem. In nine cases out of ten the cause is a perfectly natural thing, such as a physical defect or disorder of the nervous system, although we think it is a spiritual thing. So you ﬁnd us introspective and always needing to be helped out of ourselves in some way. If only somebody can get us out of ourselves for ﬁve minutes we are different people, but unfortunately we drop back again immediately we are on our own.
What is to be done about it? How can we help ourselves? Nerves are nerves we know, and a problem like that is a very acute one, but why should we not face it before God, and say what David said, "This is my inﬁrmity; but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High" (Ps. 77:10). It is as well for us to have a reckoning with this thing, and get it weighed up and labelled. What is it? What is behind it? When it has been measured and labelled we can say, "That is what I am, but God is other than that; God is not what I am when I am in a bad nervous condition; God is not such as I am as the consequence of my poor physical state! God is other than that, whatever it may be, and He has come to dwell in me by His Spirit. I have to take sides with God against myself!"
Until we get there we shall be useless to God and it is a loss to the Lord in a day like this and loss to the Lord's people. Get free from the personal problem by taking sides with the Lord against yourself. Look it squarely in the face. So often we try to struggle out of our bad state, out of some slough of despond, some miry pit, and we fall back more often than not. The Lord never comes and reaches out a hand to pull us out of it. We are waiting for the Lord to pull us out, crying to the Lord to pull us out, and He does not do it. In effect the Lord is saying: Get victory inside, and then you are able to get on top of your difﬁculty and I can help you. Look at it in the light of the need of the Lord for men and women to take spiritual responsibility for the Lord's interests, for the Lord's testimony.
There are those who are always leaning on others who will never take the initiative with the Lord themselves. They are always submitting things to someone else for their mind on it, their judgement about it, and really seeking to get a push or a pull into the thing before they will move themselves. The cases of failure in the matter of responsibility are legion, and the difﬁculties numerous.
What about responsibility in your case? Are you really taking responsibility before the Lord as though you were the only one in the land to take responsibility? That perhaps wants safeguarding. We are talking about taking responsibility, not about independent action, self-assertiveness, setting yourself up as an authority. That aggression is just individual aggression. We are meaning this, that you take on your heart before the Lord as a personal thing those larger interests of the Lord which have been shown to you to be the Lord's mind for His people and give yourself to its realisation, as far as it is possible. You really take position that now, although there may be many others better fitted than you are, nevertheless you are responsible before the Lord for some measure of Christ in His people. You are not to leave that with other people; it is your business. The Lord's people are desperately in need, and a tragic condition obtains among the Lord's people. What can we do before the Lord in meeting that need? Are we really taking the matter to heart? Are we regarding ourselves as being responsible in relation thereto? I am convinced that a great deal of breakdown, failure and subsequent confusion in the lives of the Lord's people individually, and in their domestic life, is because somewhere responsibility is not taken in the place where it ought to be taken.
Perhaps a husband has not taken responsibility in his home spiritually, and consequently there is a bad state of things there, and a great loss to the Lord. That home might have meant very much for the Lord, a great deal more than it does mean. Not only is there loss, but there is confusion. There are many problems; the enemy is always getting advantages and striking hard blows, and it is all because things are not as they should be in the matter of responsibility there. He puts someone in a certain place - it may be in business - and there are those there for whom that one is responsible. That responsibility is not taken seriously; that one has not shouldered the responsibility of the Lord's will in that place, and the result is disorder and eventually a breakdown. Because of this the enemy would become strongly entrenched and would drive out the interests of the Lord from that place. We may be speaking about what may seem ordinary, commonplace things, but these are true to life.
Every one of the Lord's children must take responsibility, must take this thing up personally and ask, "What is my responsibility before God where I am, in my home, in my business, in my place of serving the Lord, in the company of the Lord's people?" Have you taken seriously the matter that you have a responsibility? See what Deborah has to say about those who did not take it: "Curse Meroz... curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof. Because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty" (Judges 5:23). That is one side, a terrible side of not taking responsibility. The other side is found in verse two. The Revised Version reads: "For that the leaders took the lead in Israel...". Here is initiative and responsibility.
That strikes a very important note; the application is many-sided. The Lord is ready and willing to bring us into a knowledge of His mind, and He must have a people of spiritual wisdom and revelation, who will take responsibility in this day. Let us bring it down to this simple thing: Are we taking responsibility in relation to all the light that we have? It does not matter about the light beyond that; we all hold responsibility for the light that we have. Let us pray most earnestly that the Lord will bring us into that clear place where we really have the spirit of understanding as to the mind of the Lord, so that the Lord has in us those whom He can put into a position of responsibility. Let us pray that we would be able to discriminate in a spiritual way as to the things which differ.
The Lord's people are confused. Go out among them and speak to them about the things of the Lord, the ways of the Lord, and you open a new world to the multitude of His people. They have never seen it like that; all they know is that they are saved, and they want to serve the Lord and are doing it to the best of their ability. But as to spiritual guidance, as to knowing any inward sense of what the Lord would have and would not have, and how He would have it, and the means to be used for it, that is quite unknown to them. They go on in a more or less mechanical way with very little light indeed, and the Lord needs that His people should be enlightened. He must, therefore, have enlightened instruments as to His thought in greater fulness. The Lord takes some of His people into strange experiences in order to teach them these things. He would educate them deeply and thoroughly as to His way. He wants educated people in that sense of having the spirit of understanding, able to judge all things; the faculty of seeing with God's eyes what God's way is, resulting in them taking up the responsibility made possible by that education to speak to the Lord's people in this day of need. There is no doubt that the Lord's people are in great need today, and their greatest need is of spiritual understanding, that they might understand the way of the Lord. They are groping, they are crying for understanding. How is the Lord going to give it? The Lord would raise up these instruments, vessels, individuals, and a company of people who can judge for Him and interpret in the light of God's will for the Lord's people.
Has it ever occurred to you that the Lord's way of deliverance is always enlightenment? Initially and all the way through it is enlightenment. Paul was given a commission, and it was this: "...unto whom I now send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God..." (Acts 26:17-18). Just open their eyes, and everything else follows. The Lord's way of deliverance for His people is spiritual enlightenment. We shall come out into a free place of spiritual enlightenment if our eyes are opened, and the Lord, in turn, will use us for the opening of other people's eyes for their deliverance. In a time like this the Lord wants judges to deliver His people. The Lord could have come in in sovereign acts, but He raised up judges, and the judges were what the Lord's mind was, and when the people were open to receive the mind of the Lord through the judges then the judges drew the people into oneness with themselves in that enlightenment, went out to battle with them, and deliverance was wrought.
Before we conclude, let us go back to that point which we did not quite clear up, concerning the subsequent difﬁculty after having stopped. Do you recognise that the Lord must have people morally responsible? That is why He did not drive out their enemies. When they ceased to drive them out, the Lord did not come in and drive them out, but left them there as thorns in their sides. He did that to draw these people out into deﬁnite, deliberate exercise at great cost, so that they themselves became morally responsible people. They had got into that state, and if the Lord had come in and sovereignly acted to drive these enemies out, what would have been the result? There would have been a people in a bad moral state in possession of the land. God put the onus upon them in this matter and called for an extra exercise on their part, because He allowed them to feel the extra acuteness of their failure.
When they did rise up things were very glorious indeed. You have one man slaying six hundred men with an ox goad; another man causing devastation among the Lord's enemies with the jawbone of an ass; three hundred men putting a mighty host to ﬂight. These things bring a great deal of glory to God when once there is a recognised responsibility towards Him for the conditions, and a taking up of that responsibility. Then the Lord does come in. But in the ﬁrst place it means facing terrible odds which were not there in the same way originally. The Lord is calling out a people into a position of strong moral responsibility in relation to the conditions which obtain.
All this has revolved around that one word, and the Lord must apply it to our hearts. We can be passive, wrongly dependent upon others, preoccupied; we can be engrossed with our own, even spiritual, matters. The Lord wants us to turn from everything like that and take responsibility for His testimony. I am sure that the words addressed by Mordecai to Esther sum all this up in an excellent manner, and in a conclusive way: "For if thou altogether holdest thy peace (remain silent, NAS) at this time, then shall there enlargement (relief) and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).
That is something to take to heart. It sums up this whole matter of spiritual responsibility. The Lord would call us "for such a time as this" to take responsibility for His interests. So Deborah would say to the reluctant Barak, "Up Barak!" The Lord would say to us, "Up, this is your responsibility, take it!" Be sure that you are not failing the Lord in the matter of your measure of responsibility for His full thought among His people!