Reading: Judges 1.
As we have pointed out, the tragedy of Judges is made all the more noticeable because it follows the book of Joshua. These two read together creates such a change in your feeling as you come from the one to the other, that you become heartsick after seeing all the wonders of those Joshua days, all the possibilities of the Divine intention, all the hope, the great things of Joshua and what the will of God was. And then you came into Judges and see the sequel.
We have a counterpart of these two books in our own dispensation. We have the Joshua state of things in the book of the Acts - a wonderful story of spiritual conquest, triumph, ascendency, the mighty things by the right hand of the Lord. Then, before the New Testament closes, you move into the Judges condition of things and find yourself right there with the first Revelation: seven messages to the churches. Before that you find Judges conditions coming in at Corinth, creeping in at Galatia and other parts, and today we are undoubtedly in the Judges condition of things. There is widespread spiritual failure, a state very largely of weakness, defeat and disappointment which is proved (as it is proved in the book of Judges) to be so by the fact that so many things which are not according to it, but very contrary to the Lord's mind, have got the upper hand among the Lord's people. There are things outside the Lord's purpose that are in the ascendency, and the Lord's people are in bondage to much that is contrary to the will of God.
We come back in a moment to speak of that in a more specific way, but here you have this book of Judges representing a state of things so contrary to what God intended... so much less than the Lord willed for His people. Rather than a state of universal glory and victory and joy and praise, there is a state almost entirely of groaning under oppression, sighing by reason of weakness, helplessness and bondage. What was really of God was found in secret places among a few hidden away somewhere - such as Gideon threshing his wheat behind the wall for fear of the Midianites - just like that. And I think that we recognise that we are in the Judges condition of things spiritually today. Recognising the condition, we have to enquire as to the fundamental cause. What lies at the root of this state of things? The chapter we have read tells us plainly what the cause of it all was in their case and the same cause lies at the root of things always when there is a state of spiritual weakness and failure. That constant reiteration, nine times: "they could not drive them out" or "they drove them not out" goes to the root of everything and lies behind the whole state and condition.
As we said at the beginning, it is by reason of failure to go on with the Lord into all the fulness that the Lord intended. Somewhere there was a hesitation, a reservation, an argument to debate, a question; somewhere there was a holding back. At some point there was a counting of the cost with the result that a line of less resistance was adopted. Somewhere some little personal interest was taken account of. Somewhere something that the Lord had demanded should be utterly slain was spared. Somewhere the Lord had put His finger upon something and said "that must go" and it was not done away with. The Lord had required a movement, another step to be taken, and the step was not taken; somewhere a little bit of flesh which had to be completely yielded up to the Cross was spared. And whenever such things happen, such reservations, sparing, personal considerations, failure to go right on... whenever that takes place, immediately there is a compromise; the enemy gains advantage. And the power of God's people was lessened and they found themselves having released forces of evil which gradually, slowly worked to get the upper hand until they found themselves almost helplessly and hopelessly in something less than God intended for them.
God had intended fulness, absoluteness, finality, supremacy, sovereignty, but for one or other, or more of those various reasons, they had failed to just move with God as His Spirit would lead, and in that failure they had not only come to a standstill themselves, but they had opened the door to some positive evil to come in and occupy the ground which they ought to have occupied themselves, in the name of the Lord. So they were not up to that standard, but they were in bondage and they found that eventually when they did not cast the enemies out, eventually they could not cast them out. It works like that, from the stage of not doing it, you are not able to do it. This is always the history of not going on with the Lord. Oh, that the Lord would stress this in our hearts by this tremendous presentation of spiritual facts... that He would press home upon us that it is the most perilous thing to have any question about going on with the Lord, to stand still for a moment when He says go on; to allow any other consideration to come in and influence us when He has told us what we should do.
And I want you to notice this, that one party doing that influenced all the rest. It is an impressive thing that all these people are gathered into this state of things and they are interrelated in it. They do not live or die to themselves. It is not dealing with an isolated party, it is the influence and effect of each upon all the rest - a matter of tremendous responsibility.
We have an illustration in the case of Judah; always the leading tribe in going out to battle. They were the leaders in the conflict, and Judah means "Praise". It is interesting to notice that praise is always intended by the Lord to lead the way into battle and to always go into the Lord's battles praising is a sign you have the victory before you strike a blow. Judah went so far and then stopped short and did not finish the thing and so the very praise of a full victory was cut short.
Immediately you go into battle with half a sound, not full praise, full certain assurance, glorying in the Lord, you know you are only going to have half a victory. There is going to be something lost; you are not going to get right through to what the Lord intended. Judah stopping short, meaning what Judah did, had an effect upon all the rest and you find all the others stopping short as well. If there is one man or woman connected to the will of God, some company of His people in the body of Christ meet face to face with something the Lord has called upon them to do, and they stop short half or three quarters of the way and do not go right through, this has an arresting force upon the rest. One man or woman in a fellowship so vitally related in the spirit has the power of arresting all the others spiritually and holding up the full purpose of God. Not simply because they are not personally going on with the Lord, but because they become the gateway for the entrance of some arresting power of the enemy; immediately they stop, the enemy comes in with some spiritual influence and checks the whole action of the Lord's people.
Go to the New Testament and you find this. At Corinth one man was holding up the whole assembly because there was something there God had said must go - idolatry. Because that man was there, the whole fellowship at Corinth was involved, and the apostle gave clear instructions that the fellowship were to take responsibility for this and judge it. They were to deal with it. This brings you to the point in Judges. Why are these people called Judges? Of course it represents an official capacity, or position, but it represents something more, for you see it was in the day of the Judges that the state of things prevailing was broken into, arrested, and reversed. Read it again, that while this one judged, things were reversed, but immediately the judge died, things went wrong again.
Another Judge arose; things were arrested, put right for a time; immediately he died, things went wrong again.
We were speaking of Othniel in the previous chapter. Othniel judged Israel and went out to battle. There has to be judgment inside before you go out to battle. If we are going out to conquest, to victory, we must first judge things that are not according to God, otherwise there is no hope of success whatever. The Judges principle must come in as a great active spiritual principle. There has to be a judgment of wrong on the inside before you can go out against the enemy with any hope of success whatever. So the Judges made it their business to deal with the internal conditions. See how it happened every time.
Immediately Gideon was chosen, the angel of the Lord said by way of introduction, "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour." It is a poor valour threshing wheat behind a wall for fear of the Midianites! But the Lord knows His vessel and what He can make of a vessel when He gets one. Gideon said "Oh my lord, if the Lord is with us why then is all this befallen us?" - a heart-searching question. Do you notice the result of that inward exercise of heart as to questioning the state of his people? The result was that he overthrew the altars, cut down the groves and destroyed all the false worship in his Father's house, in the family circle. He got to the heart of things. He found the answer to his own question. For a man to be a judge, he must judge within his own circle what is not according to God. Gideon would have been absolutely worsted before the Midianites if he had not judged things in his immediate circle of influence. Judgment must begin at the House of God. There has to be a clearing up of things where the enemy is in possession; [there has to be] occupation or ascendancy within the company of the Lord's people before there can be any hope of triumph.
That is the book of Judges. Othniel, Ehud and Deborah judged Israel and then things were according to the Lord's mind, and it was manifest that the Lord was with them, so that the principle of the very title "Judge" is that there has to be an internal examination as to whether things are according to God. There has to be a judging of all that which is not according to God or, to come back to the specific thought of a moment ago, we have got to look at God's exercising of our hearts. Has the Lord shown me anything? Spoken to my heart about something? Sought to lead me in a certain way? Raised a question in me about a certain thing? Exercised me in any matter whatever? What am I to do about it? Unless I immediately face up to that and give the Lord what He requires, respond, obey, and go all the way with the Lord without any question or hesitation, unless at the greatest cost I go on with the Lord, not only do I come to a standstill and the Lord in that measure departs from me, but I let in a positive thing which makes it ten times harder for me to go on presently. It brings in an arresting power in the work of God where He has placed me and in that measure I affect the whole and rob it of the fulness that God intended for it.
It is a solemn responsibility for anyone to fail to go on with the Lord, to be spoken to on any matter by the Lord and then to hold back. It involves the honour of the Lord and in the spiritual realm gives a great advantage to the enemy who never fails to take that advantage, but subtly, secretly begins to work upon that, as those nations in the land; to seize upon it and gradually, almost imperceptibly to use the vantage to gain the upper hand. And before long there is the whole terrible story of ascendency of evil forces and the arresting of the work of God and people of God and you track it down and find the secret there; at some point someone has made a reservation and did not go all the way with the Lord as shown them.
I am restrained from hurrying past these things - it may be plain to some of you here; it may explain something in the past of your life which has to be faced up to, or a warning for days to come. Whatever it may be, do take this to heart.
The book of Judges is the largest portion in Scripture representing spiritual weakness and has its explanation: it is that the people did not go on with the Lord. The land was before them; God said, "Possess and utterly destroy", and they said, "It is a pity to destroy some of these things... cannot we make use of them, turn them to account?" The land represents the flesh. We were saying in the previous chapter that Othniel had to face the flesh, but in every one of these there is a conflict with the flesh in some different form. All these battles were different - Amalekites, Amorites, Philistines or Moabites or whatever it may be - you have the flesh in some form. They were sometimes very pleasing forms in a sense, sometimes coming very near to the spiritual thing, an imitation of it. But the Lord had commanded these things should not be regarded as possible of being of use, but that they should be destroyed. There should be no compromise whatever.
We pointed out that the sparing of one fragment of this whole system gave occasion for the setting up of something which was an imitation and represented something more to be overcome. We mentioned the case of the man at Bethel. When they came to Bethel, the children of Joseph, to take the city, the Lord had given it into their hands - assured them of victory - but they dropped down on to this much lower level of asking this fellow to show them the way in and they would deal kindly with him, and in order to save himself he shows them the way in among his own people for their destruction. He escapes and builds another city so that instead of one evil to deal with, they now have two. He calls it "Bethel" - an imitation, not the House of God. They let a mere fragment of this system go, dealt kindly with it, and thereby released a power which set up something definitely opposed to the will of God. And whenever - to get an advantage, an easier way - we begin to deal kindly with a fragment of the flesh, because it is going to serve some advantage, when you do that you have released something which is going to construct something else which will be harder to overcome and set up a construction which is a lie, which pretends to be something which it is not.
The enemy says, "If only you will not take that step, if only you will take the line of least resistance, it will not cost you so much... you will not bring so much trouble upon yourself..." - the Lord says, "No! Not one bit, not one scrap is to be let off; all has to go." And we discover eventually, that this is the way of power, victory, ascendency, whereas that which we sought to preserve in order to get something to our advantage has become the source of weakness and has robbed us of our power and victory.
These are solemn words; let them come to our hearts in all their spiritual meaning. Forget the symbolism that has to be used. The Lord Jesus always spoke in parables. These are, in a sense, parables. The Lord would say to us, "What about your exercise before the Lord?" What is the Lord saying to you about something, some way of life or a habit, something that has delayed His will for you, a step to be taken? There are people here, (one is grieved to say it), who have heard, seen, and nothing could be clearer to them, but they have not taken certain steps of obedience to the Lord. And may that not be some explanation of a smaller measure of Divine spiritual power than there might be? Are you sure that you have gone all the way, up till this present moment, that the Lord has called you to go? Can you sit down and make up your accounts with the Lord? We must be able to say: "Everything that the Lord has shown me I have, by His grace, put down. There are no more items outstanding before the Lord".
If we hold outstanding items in the margin, it is going to bring arrest and let in a power which is going to make it a hundred times more difficult for you in a few weeks or months time, and which is going to affect the whole body of Christ in some loss. It is solemn but it is true. We may fail to go on.
Let us go to Paul on this matter. He said to the Corinthians, "Brethren I could not speak to you as unto spiritual but as unto carnal... I fed you with milk, not with meat for ye were not able to bear it, for when every one of you says I am of Paul and I of Apollos are ye not carnal?" These are personal elements, personal preferences, likes and dislikes being let in, with what result? "I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual." This is what he means, in the same paragraph: "Things which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit". The Lord has prepared for us here and now a fulness in the Lord Jesus, a Canaan life of His fulness in Christ. "For all the fulness dwelleth in the Lord Jesus and you are made complete (or full) in Him". The Lord wants us to come into the fulness now.
We are saints in the light now, and if we are not in the light, we ought to be. When we get to glory there is an inheritance for the sons in light, prepared for them that love Him, but "I cannot speak to you as unto spiritual", so that you are not getting "the things that God hath prepared". There is the same thing to the Hebrew believers, in Heb. 5:12: "Of whom I have many things to say but I cannot, ye are not able to bear them, because seeing that when by reason of time ye ought to be teachers, you still have need that one teach you the first principles of Christ... Of whom I have many things to say but ye cannot have them". Why? You have stopped short somewhere; you have not gone on. The Corinthians and Hebrews had not only stopped growing, but were in peril of the enemy making a mess of things; he was doing it at Corinth and about to do it among the Hebrew believers. We must go on without compromise or reservation; it is the only safe way into all the fulness. We must not hold back and whatever has occasioned this state of things, or is trying to occasion such a state of things, must be judged. The Judges have got to come in.
The Lord give us grace to judge ourselves. That does not mean a morbid introspection, always analysing ourselves. That is the way of bondage. The whole question of judging self is in relation to the Lord. Has the Lord shown anything, spoken anything, required anything; has the Lord made known? You can rest if the Lord has not made known; do not begin to enquire in your own spirit as to whether you should do this, that or the other. Keep the Lord in view; keep in touch with Him and when He speaks, obey, but let the Lord take the initiative, give Him a chance to take the initiative. He does not want us to take on the whole burden of our spiritual life. He just wants to lead us that we might walk closely with Him and maintain a line of instant and full obedience. If we can say, "Whatever the Lord has shown me I have sought diligently, by His grace, to do without hesitation", then we should be in a state of peace, rest, victory and praise. So advance into the battle, for you will never be able to fight if you have some reservation or argument with the Lord.
I think this is the key to everything else we can say; all that will follow is simply a working out of that. What the Lord wants is our full capitulation and yieldedness in absolute obedience. I expect for some this brings no specific ground of challenge, and you are able to look into the face of the Lord and say, "I do not know of anything the Lord has shown me that I have refused or shelved". That is a blessed state, and it is possible to be in that state, but remember you may meet a desperate situation and you will want to know how to meet that situation.
In nine cases out of ten, spiritual bondage can be traced back to be a refusal to go on with the Lord in the will of God. The man of God must be thoroughly furnished unto his work. This must first of all come as a challenge to our own hearts, and we must have our own exercise before God, but He must also equip us for that into which we are called because we are related to the spiritual condition of God's people everywhere. Every one of these judges suffered acutely, personally, from the conditions of the people and that is what made them able to become judges. And if the Lord is going to use an instrument for the deliverance of others, He must bring that instrument into a personal experience related to the whole condition as it is in the world today. The Lord does want to recover something which is to His glory. He must impress His own Word upon our hearts.