by T. Austin-Sparks
What we have particularly before us in this connection is the book of Judges. We have sometimes thought this book the most tragic book in the whole of the Bible. I am not quite sure whether that is so. Perhaps Malachi is not far off, but certainly Judges is one of the most tragic books in the whole of the Bible. It is the book of failure and utter weakness.
In the book we have the content of which is perhaps the fullest unveiling and presentation of spiritual weakness in all the Scriptures and we are going to learn the secret of spiritual power by looking at this book of weakness, to see the causes of the weakness. You know that the book is spread over a very considerable period of history. It represents three hundred years of the life of the people of God. Three hundred years which, but for the few breakings in of the Lord in mercy (which are bright patches in the dark story), were years of the most pathetic condition spiritually, among the people of God. There are bright patches. We have eagerly laid hold upon them: Gideon, a beautiful thing, but all too short; Deborah, a great thing but not lasting long. Others, until you come to the greatest of the Judges, Samson. That brings you to the end and it speaks for itself.
The conditions in this book historically and literally are full of symbolic suggestiveness of spiritual meaning. I think we shall not stay to go through the book and note these conditions. We recognise that the one feature of the book is weakness and failure; starvation conditions existed. Poor Gideon! He is threshing wheat behind a wall in a corner. The food of the Lord's people having to be locked in, in a hidden place lest the eyes of the Midianites should light upon it and it should be taken away. The food question is certainly a very acute one.
The fighting force of the Lord's people was simply destroyed by the destruction on the part of the Philistines of the smithies, so that they should not make any weapons of war with which to fight. There was no fighting power in Israel and for the most part they were unable to offer any resistance to the prevailing conditions. There is weakness. Now, we want to know why; what is the cause of it? And of course you have the all-inclusive answer to that enquiry when you make what may seem to be quite a trite observation that Judges follows Joshua. This may not convey very much to you on the surface. What was Joshua? [Taking] a people through the Jordan with all the assurance that God could give them... they had nothing to fear, they had no reason to doubt, but before ever they got into the land, the heart of the Canaanites went out of them. The Lord was with them and He had given the land into their hands. All that was necessary on their part was to exercise triumphant faith and enter fully into His secured position, and on the strength of a thing already done, to dispossess every other inhabitant as a rival to the Lord and His people.
But one stipulation constantly reiterated was the governing feature and factor of that possession. It was that they were to utterly possess, and that they were to destroy all that was in the way of their possessing. That was the thing that the Lord made very clear to them, that they were to go on and on and as they went, to leave nothing remaining of that which was opposing to God. Destruction of all such was to be absolute, complete, final, and while they proceeded according to that stipulation, nothing would be able to stand in their way, God would continue to be with them and power would be their abiding possession and characteristic. That was Joshua, "Go in and go up and possess and utterly destroy all those nations."
Judges follows. Take it up at Judges 1:19: "The Lord was with Judah and he drove out the inhabitants of the mountain, but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had chariots of iron". The Lord was with him just as far as He could be with him. The Lord is with us as far as He can be with us. Take the statements:
"He could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had chariots of iron" (1:19).
"And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem" (1:21).
"And Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-Shean" (1:27).
"They put the Canaanites to taskwork and did not utterly drive them out" (1:28).
"Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites" (1:29).
"Neither did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Accho" (1:31).
"They did not drive them out" (1:32).
"Neither did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants" (1:33).
"And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the hill country" (1:34).
Nine times there is a statement that they did not, or could not, drive them out. That is the all-inclusive explanation of the book.
Why could they not drive them out? Not because it was divinely impossible, not because the Lord had not secured the land for them, not because the Lord's part of the contract had broken down, but if you read on you find that this first chapter is a summing up of chapters which follow. It is subsequent history brought together in a kind of summary and as you read on you find that these could not, which all speaks of weakness; the result of their having made compromise with the people in the land. They had come into a kind of standing amalgamation with them. They had ceased to regard them as such as were to be utterly destroyed and they thought that they might get the same thing by making compromise, and having made compromise in the land, and becoming weakened by their compromise, enemies from outside the land came upon them and the Philistines and others overpowered them.
We are living in Judges conditions today spiritually. There is a state of weakness and failure where the enemy is not cast out. Where there is not that complete ascendency on the part of the Lord's people spiritually over the forces that are round about, there is a crippled, paralysed, defeated state of things. I am speaking generally. The food question is a very acute one, and it is only behind walls in little secret places you are finding spiritual food today. It is not the general thing. Here the Gideon party, as it were, is preserving all the food there is in secret, and it has to be hunted out - you cannot find it everywhere today. The food question is quite an acute one spiritually. We are not in the Acts conditions! We are in sub-apostolic times.
In Joshua you have the great leaders who maintained things according to God while they lived. When they died, when Joshua died, and Caleb died, then the period of the Judges came in. You have a much lower, lesser standard of holding things for God. The apostles held things for God while they lived. When they went, well, things went, and it has only been, and is only now, that here and there God raises up some ministry that recovers something for God, and it passes and God raises up something else, and it passes.
Another thing is that when the people did fail at any given point to do what the Lord needed, and to go on all the way with God - began to make compromise, to lower their standard, to accept things that God never intended to be accepted, to allow things to remain or come in - from that time onwards the Lord never cleared out the enemy altogether. He said, "Because you have not obeyed My word in destroying all these nations, they shall remain and be thorns in your sides forever", so that you never have through this whole period a complete clearing out, but He left these things to remain; firstly, on one hand, as a testimony to the unfaithfulness of His people as a whole, and on the other hand, as a test of the faithfulness of the people in particular. Their presence was a declaration that as a whole, God's people had been unfaithful. Their presence, on the other hand, was to be a test as to how many of the Lord's people in particular would be found faithful. So you have Gideon with three hundred out of thirty-two thousand. The rest are not going all the way, and God in a Judges era secures His great victories not by a whole compromising people, but by some who will go all the way with Him. Are we in conditions like that today? I do not think there is any doubt about it. The whole background as it is today spiritually, betokens weakness through compromise. It is a day of small things, and strength where there is a willingness to go all the way with the Lord.
The secret of weakness is compromise, and the secret of power is utter abandonment to the will of God. That is summing up Judges in a few words. We said it follows Joshua and that is the key.
We read the message to the church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22). We believe that it represents the last phase of things of the Christian dispensation generally. We accept that interpretation that these messages and conditions represent things at different periods in the church history through the Christian era. Laodicea represents the last phase and last stage of conditions. What is it that represents Laodicean compromise? To be lukewarm; something trying to contain two things and losing its real character. "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten", with a view to getting them out of that state of compromise, that they may be those that overcome.
In a compromising age the Lord is seeking to get something that comes out of compromise to the state of absolute ascendency. At the end of the book of Judges we read again: "There was no king and every man did that which was right in his own eyes." There was compromise, refusal of sovereignty, government, and power. Come out of compromise, for all that is of God leads to the throne!
It is very clear what the Lord is after today. Laodicea and Judges go together as a state of things resultant from identical causes. Every chapter is crammed full of these things. Take the first chapter. The tribes of Israel are mentioned and what the Lord intended for them. Every one of the names in the list represents a spiritual principle. Then there are the names of the nations in this book, and they represent an opposing set of principles. (Look up for yourselves the meaning of these names). When those spiritual principles represented by those nations have got the upper hand in the land, it is because of compromise. Then the door is open to the invading forces from without and we find the first suggestion of Babylonian activity. One of the kings who came from far and brought the people into subjection here, came from Aram; the very place from which the Babylonian activity came, linked with Judges.
What the Lord needed ultimately was a remnant. In a day of declension and breakdown He seeks to get something out of it which is all for Himself and of Himself. That is what He is trying to do. Are you praying, longing for, expecting a return of Pentecostal conditions at the end? You are wasting your time. You will never have a repetition of the book of the Acts. A lot of people hope that something like that will happen. It won't happen. You have no foundation in the Word of God for expecting it. The Judges' conditions are that God leaves the enemy for a testimony to the unfaithfulness of the people of God, and then He begins to get something which, being wholly for Himself, is His testimony to victory in the midst of those conditions. Yes, blessed be God, it is still possible for there to be great expressions of the victory of the Lord Jesus, but what the Lord demands for those expressions is a people wholly according to His mind, where none of these things represented by these peoples in the land have a place and where the Philistines are once and for all settled.
The Philistines were a great harassing force and had the upper hand for a long time. The Philistines are the principle of the natural man taking hold of the things of God. When the natural man begins to get hold of spiritual things he destroys the value of them; he carries off your strength. Get the natural reason working upon spiritual things and you have no power at all. Two men may say exactly the same thing. One says it, it is perfectly true and in the Scriptures, yet there is something not there, something lacking. It is all quoted and does not satisfy, does not enrich though perfectly true. The other man says the same thing, every word, but it comes and reaches your heart and you feel it is getting in; the thing is life and strength. One is a Philistine and the other not. One is a Philistine from whom the flesh has not been cut off and the other knows identification with the Lord in death and resurrection. That makes all the difference - what is of man and what is of the Holy Spirit. The Philistines carry off the strength. Samson has his strength reduced to utter weakness by the Philistines. We have got people sporting themselves in the realm of spiritual truth and there is weakness, defeat, failure, paralysis. So we are able to see by the contrast what the secrets of power are.
First of all, there has to be a making good of Jordan. How is Jordan made good? At Gilgal. "Make you sharp knives." Judges 2:1 says, "And the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim and said, I brought you out of Egypt". And he narrated the story of their wonderful deliverance, coming into the land and then "Why have ye not obeyed My voice?" The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. The Lord's residence was in Gilgal. The Lord abode in Gilgal. The trouble was that the people no longer came down to Gilgal. Gilgal is the place where Jordan is made effective experimentally, where the Cross operates to the cutting off of the flesh. God resides there, and in Joshua whenever the people went out to battle, they came back to Gilgal. Now they did not come back to Gilgal. There is a going up which the Lord bids us, but there is a going up of self-confidence, high thoughts, and pride. Gilgal represents the Cross in the self-emptying of the Lord Jesus. The angel of the Lord went up because the people had not come down, and he went up to Bochim, which means "the weepers". Spiritually it is a place of tears. When we cease to come down to Gilgal, from God's standpoint it is a place of tears. There is a loss of power immediately we get beyond the conscious necessity for having our flesh kept under the Cross. Are you complaining about the Cross? This crucifying business is such a hard thing - always having to be crucified, again and again, more and more, and we feel sorrowful.
We have a good reason for tears immediately we fail to recognise the necessity for that Cross being maintained in our lives. The Cross is the way of joy, victory, life; the way without tears if it is rightly apprehended. The ground of all the enemy's supremacy is removed by that Cross. It gives occasion for rejoicing. We have to get a new apprehension of the Cross. We have been thinking of it as something terrible. We see that that upon which the enemy counts for our destruction is neutralized by that Cross and immediately we fail to recognise that, the enemy has his ground and it will be tears spiritually. A good many people today are spiritually in tears because of failure and defeat; you hear their groaning and sighing everywhere. They have no power. Gilgal will put that right, rightly apprehended. Where is the Lord? You always find the Lord at the place where the meaning of the Cross of the Lord Jesus is made effectual and experimental in life. That is where you will find it. He lives there at Gilgal. This thing is borne out again and again in the book of Judges.
Immediately there is a hesitation to go right on with the Lord in some fresh step, some intimated thing in the will of God - if there is a holding back, a reservation - at that moment an enemy creeps in to paralyse, and you will find that it is infinitely more difficult to take that step after you have hesitated. If we could trace the history of every paralysing error that has crept in among the Lord's people in their whole history, we should find that paralysing error had its opportunity by reason of their failure to go on with the Lord. Think about that. That is not said extemporaneously. That is well considered. Errors have crept in and they have paralysed, and the occasion for the error to creep in was that at some point the Lord's people stood still instead of going on; hesitated instead of pressing forward.
One of the greatest safeguards for spiritual power is to keep going on. One of the most disastrous things is to hesitate about something which has been made known by the Holy Spirit as the will of God. In just one matter, we may stop going on with the Lord. We fail to obey Him; the enemy is watching and immediately in our walk with the Lord we come to something upon which the Lord's Finger is placed, and we do not take that step, the enemy rushes in with something else as an alternative, or a preoccupation, or an insinuation of some deadly force which postpones that issue. And later on it is ten times harder to take that step because something positive has come in. The enemy does not believe in gaps, and the Lord does not believe in gaps. If Israel had gone on and not compromised with the Jebusites or any of the other "ites", the book of Judges would never have been written. The book of Judges is the great declaration of the fact that the people of God did not go on into the fulness that was theirs in God. That is a very solemn word for us. It shows why there is such an insistence in the New Testament about going on into full growth, pressing on, for if you do not go on, the danger is that you will be occupied with something that was never in the will of God - taken up with something religious - and miss all that He intended, and the enemy will make havoc and entirely rob you of spiritual power.
Spiritual power is in going on, and keeping going on; standing at nothing, compromising with nothing. You notice the illustration here is the house of Joseph, and they went to take Bethel. They sent spies. Why send spies when the Lord told them He had given it? You need not send spies when the Lord tells you He has given it to you. And they found a man of Bethel and said to him, "You show us the way into the city and we will deal kindly with you", and the man, to save his own skin, showed them the way in and they let him off, with the result that the man ran away and founded another city, and called it Bethel. The tribe of Joseph came down to the level of the flesh and then asked this poor ruffian to show them the way when he should have been killed on the spot. Talking naturally, they spared him on the ground of compromise. They said, "In fact, the Lord cannot do it, we must get our information from this fellow, a man which belonged to that thing which God said must be destroyed". They dealt kindly with him, let him go, and he ran off and founded another city.
If you do not do the thing that God tells you, you liberate a force that sets up an imitation of the real. You release something that sets up what is not true - a false thing - and the enemy all over the place is setting up these caricatures. You will get something false in your life immediately. Have done with that compromise. If you spare a little bit in order to get something more easy, you are going to set up something that is mere imitation. It is not worthwhile. I know it is costly, I know the conflict, but do you want the Lord's testimony to be really established? Is it really not yourself, but for the glory of God that you want spiritual power? The Lord wants spiritual power recovered in His people for His own testimony's sake.
We have not spoken much about power because so many today want to have power in order to be somebody great, to have power with men. The Lord has shown us that when flesh lays hold of power, the ultimate issue is very discreditable to God and there are all kinds of perils along that line, and flesh must not seek power for itself. We are afraid of speaking about power. Yet we need it.
The enemy has got to yield. With all the truth, teaching, light, knowledge, the enemy does not yield; there is not the power that carries through and puts the enemy out of action, and if this is to be, we have to come to the place where we do not compromise with the flesh, the devil, or the world on the slightest matter - where we go on with the Lord fully, rejecting all our own argument which would give us a more favourable way, everything that rises up within and says that if you take that step it is going to bring you into collision with things, rob you of popularity, doors will be closed to you, you will come under suspicion, you will lose a lot of friends. Immediately you listen to that, you have stopped, lost power, compromised. The history is going to be very disappointing. We must give no consideration to the flesh, to ourselves, to man, to the world, because the enemy lies there waiting for a moment's compromise in order that he might rush in with something that is not true, and destroy the whole purpose of God and set up a story like this which hits back at God, and brings loss and discredit upon Him.
The Lord give us to see that the one great inclusive secret of power is unhesitatingly, uncompromisingly, to go on in the obedience of faith to the fulness that is in Christ Jesus.