Lecture 1.

Initial Failure and Amalgamation

When we look at the book as a whole, we find that it has certain characteristic divisions, three in number. From Judges 1 to 3:4, we have the first division, which, I think, we might entitle "independency of God." From Judges 3:5, through 16, we have the result of that independency, the enemy come in, and bondage as the result. Bondage under the hand of the enemy; and secondly, deliverance under the hand of God for a repentant people. From Judges 17 to the end we have the full manifestation of a state of heart for which there can be only one remedy. In the second division, which is the main one, and marks the whole book, you have the outward bondage and deliverances. In the last division you have, alas! a state of heart amongst the people, that makes all other departure a possibility, and which also shows that unless the Lord come and take possession of that, there can be no real effectual deliverance. So the history of these deliverances is not an ascending one, but like that of the Roman empire the history of a decline and fall. The last deliverer, Samson, though strongest of them all, is weakest; and himself needs more deliverance than he gives.

Everything points forward to the coming of Christ, and though His coming is not spoken of it is really more emphasized by the fact that as He was not there the people were getting worse and worse, going down deeper and deeper into decline. It is also a significant fact that in the Church of Christ today things are not getting better and better. Deliverers have been raised up after deep exercise on the part of God's people; and they have brought back a measure of recovery. But we stand today not on a higher level than our fathers, though we have greater privileges. We stand in the darkest hour of the Church's history, and that of itself would emphasize the need of that yearning cry, not for more human helpers, but for the coming of the blessed Deliverer to take the Church to Himself, and by his own divine power to give us the enjoyment of that portion which He gave to us, but which, alas, we so little enjoy.

Let us now take the first division, and see what is characteristic of it. It is independency of God, or, if you please, rebellion, though that is rather a stronger word. Rebellion of a people that are the elect of God. In this portion we have several other divisions, two main ones, which we might look at first. We first have from Judges 1 to Judges 2:5, an identity which should have been a difference. The people are identified with their enemies, instead of being separated from them; a unity, alas, which is no sign of strength. Then in the second portion, from Judges 2:6 to Judges 3:4, you have the inner history of alienation from God.

Taking up now the first part, the identification of the people with their enemies, we have the various phases of that identification. I have been struck with the fact that here we have really a miniature history of the whole book of Judges. It begins right. It begins with that which links it with the book of Joshua: "Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them, and the Lord said, 'Judah shall go up, behold I have delivered the land into his hand,'" The first part begins with victory, and you will find that it is God's power in His people in going up and taking possession of their inheritance. To be sure there are features here that are not hopeful signs. We have already a suggestion of departure from the simple and clear word of God, and yet the brightest side is put first. The narrative is closely connected with that of Joshua. In fact it is evident that some of the narrative has already been recorded in that book. In the first twenty verses we see the tribe of Judah and the history of his victories. Next one verse, the twenty-first, gives us the history of the tribe of Benjamin. Then from the twenty-second to the twenty-sixth we have the history of the tribe of Joseph. From the twenty-seventh to the end of the chapter you have six tribes mentioned one after the other, and there is nothing but failure throughout. Let us look a little at these, because there are lessons of great importance here. Judah is first: God Himself tells us that Judah is to be the first one who goes up to possess — to get more of their possession. I would entitle that part, "The power of God through the truth." The more one studies the meanings of these various tribes, the more impressed you are with the fact of their spiritual significance. Judah means, as you know, "praise." But what is praise? what is the ground upon which praise flourishes? It is not an ebullition of feeling, as many of us think. Ah, how often we make a mistake in that way how often we try to get up a state of feeling, and call that praise and worship, when it is not. Judah was the leader all through the wilderness. He was the leading tribe in the land and more than that, it was out of the tribe of Judah that Christ was to come.

Judah's inheritance was the whole southern part of the land, the land that lay toward the sun. In like manner the word of God illumines that heritage which is of first value. I have no question whatever, that, just as the basis of all true praise must be the truth of God, so Judah stands for the whole sum of doctrinal truth. That is the basis on which worship alone can stand. Wherever the truth is sacrificed, wherever the Word of God is set aside, or what is just as bad, wherever its truths lose their power in the soul, you will find that praise languishes and Judah ceases to be a victor. Now that is what is emphasized for us in the first part. God says to His people, "if you are going to carry on the victory which Christ has wrought for you, if you are going to add to the practical enjoyment of the precious inheritance which the apostles have marked out in their inspired writings, it will be by the knowledge of the truth." Judah was to go up first. As I have said before, Judah has at the very outset a suggestion of weakness in the fact that he is not willing to go alone to take possession of what is his. He asks Simeon, who shares the territory with him, if he would come up with him and help him in the conquest, and then Judah in turn will help Simeon. What does that suggest? When God tells me to do a thing, do I have to turn around for human help? When God told Moses that he should go down and deliver His people, was it an honor to God or obedience to God for Moses to plead and plead until He gave him Aaron as his helper? Did it not show weakness in Moses? And wherever you find that the Word of God commands your obedience, and you turn to human support, you may know at once that the seed of weakness has been introduced, and it will develop into more manifest failure. That is what we learn from Judah's asking Simeon to help him.

To be sure, there was victory, but after all, if we read on, we will find that there was not that absolute wholeness of heart which would insure fuller development and a complete triumph for God. There does not seem to be the dignity of a complete victory over the forces of Adoni-Bezek. An enemy mutilated is not one completely overthrown, and though he dies later on, and Jerusalem is for the time taken and burned, yet the conquest is not permanent. As I have said before, a part of this narrative is given in the book of Joshua too. That beautiful account of the victories at Hebron and at Debir — Kirjath-sepher, as it was formerly called — we have in the book of Joshua, but as it is repeated here and is so characteristic of this portion which we are looking at, we must notice it. The first eight verses give us victory on the part of Judah and Simeon. Now from the ninth verse to the fifteenth you have faith in very bright exercise on the part of Caleb and Othniel and Achsah, which emphasizes the supremacy of God's word, the supremacy of truth. If Judah is to gain and keep his victories, it must be by the truth, and if the people of God are to go on winning their triumphs, it must be by gaining in knowledge more and more of the Word of God. That is just what Hebron is. Hebron means communion, and Kirjath-sepher, the city that is closely connected with it, means the city of the book. It recalls to our minds at once this precious book, the Bible, which we hold in our hands, and it is the Bible, dear friends, that we are to conquer. You say, "Conquer the Bible?" Yes, to take possession of it, to take it out of the hands of its enemies, to make it for ourselves a Book of delight, a Book that speaks to us of God. Therefore when this city of Kirjath-sepher was taken, its name was changed to Debir, which means the "Word of God," a book becomes the Word of God. That is what characterizes Judah's whole victory; it is the Bible become the Word of God. Ah! if Judah had gone on in that way, and taken full possession of the Word of God, and made its doctrines a living reality, the voice of God speaking to His people; praise, and worship and joy would have been unhindered, and power would have been increasingly manifest.

Alas! the Church has not done that; the Church forsook the doctrines right away. Instead of Kirjath-sepher being turned to Debir, a living oracle, the Church took the book out of the people's hands, put it in the monasteries, and forbade them the use of it. Instead of giving the people the living oracles of God, it removed those oracles, and as a result nothing but darkness and failure could come in.

So it is for us personally. Suppose you or I have this book closed, suppose it becomes a mere letter to us, the mere letter of the Word, and not its living reality? What is the result? There is no further progress. No further growth. It used to be the cry in the world, "We don't want doctrine, we want practice;" then it was transferred to the pews; and professed Christians said, "we don't want doctrinal preaching, we want practical preaching." Now they have it, and they get instead of doctrine, — the preaching of the truth of God, — not practice even, but that which is the sure result of the neglect of God's Word, anything that will cater to the taste of the natural man.

Thank God for every exception to this. But, dear brethren, that is the sad state of the Church, which has turned away from the Word of God. Little wonder then that there is so little joy amongst God's people, that there is so little delight in the things of Christ. How can there be when the truth of Christ is so little known and enjoyed; when the Word of God has been relegated to the book-shelves along with all the other literature; a literature priceless and precious it may be, but not the living oracle of the living God. Ah! brethren, if this Word is a literature, if it is man's literature, as a prominent ecclesiastic in this city stated, as he apologized for his disloyalty to Christ and His Word, if it is nothing but a literature, you and I have lost the voice of God, we have lost all power. The Church has lost its moorings, it is drifting, it is gone, and all the darkness and declension which are closing in around us now in Christendom can be well explained.

The remainder of the narrative of Achsah and Othniel is very beautiful. Achsah means "Anklet," and her name suggests the adornment of the doctrine in walk and life which is so necessary a complement to the faith of Othniel, the "lion," or "strength of God." She desires a field, fruitfulness, and for this she knows she must have water springs. You will find that one of the characteristics of the land mentioned in the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy is the abundance of water. It is the Spirit alone who makes fresh and fruitful to us the Word of God, and Debir could not rightly answer to its name without the refreshing streams of the Spirit. Upper and nether springs are given, and thus whether it be high truth or practical truth, all is kept fresh. It is the one who answers to Achsah who alone desires this well-watered field — one who longs for fruit for God. There could be no complaint that the Word of God was uninteresting and unprofitable, were there more Achsahs to claim it as their portion.

At the beginning the Church held to the Word in some measure, and just in proportion as it did, it got its victories. But you see here in the next part evidence of weakness. Here are the children of the Kenite (ver. 16), Moses' father-in-law, a relation according to the flesh, without the slightest intimation of any divine connection. They came up from the city of Palm Trees. Were they people spared from the city of Jericho? There is no mention of the fact that they had any right at Jericho. There was a curse upon any connected with Jericho. There you have these people coming up from the city of Palm Trees and making their abode right in the heart of Judah. That is the secret of further departure from God, when the world and all its evil influences, though there may be connections according to the flesh with God's people, can have a resting place in the bosom of the Church. You may rest assured that they will be heard from later on. There was a godly exception to this. Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, is heard from as working a deliverance. But they had left their own people who dwelt at Arad, and were evidently in heart identified with Israel. Heber, a pilgrim, suggests this.

Then you have Hormah. I will not speak of that. It is one of the victories which Judah and Simeon won together, and seems to be complete, as they utterly destroy it. From the eighteenth to the twentieth verses you have further victories. Altogether this first portion gives us in the main victories on the part of God's people. Yet, as I have been trying to point out, seeds of future weakness have been planted.

Remember then the one point, that what secures victory is the supremacy of truth. Truth must be supreme if there is to be power for God, or if there is to be recovery to God. We must get the truth again, the Word of God, and make it a living reality in our souls.

Now in the twenty-first verse we come to Benjamin. Just as Judah is a picture of the supremacy of divine truth, so Benjamin suggests the supremacy of Christ. Benjamin is the "son of my right hand," and you will remember that he is the warrior tribe, the mighty one, a type of Christ in His victory — with the sword girded on, as in Ps. 45. It is Christ, too, in His people now who is the Ruler, the mighty One. In Jacob's blessing of the twelve tribes you remember that while Joseph suggests the fruitful inheritance that Christ has in His people, Benjamin, ravening as a wolf, suggests Christ coming forth in judgment. Now in this short verse we find that the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem, "but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day." Did not drive them out the warrior tribe, which we would expect to succeed, if any did, fails to drive the enemy out of the very city where God was to put His name.

Now let us apply that individually to ourselves. Christ is to be enthroned in the heart. I have been speaking of the Word of God as being the basis of everything, but its theme is Christ, and there must be subjection to Him in our hearts and lives. He must be enthroned in Jerusalem, the centre. Christ may be enthroned upon your lips, He may be enthroned in your intellect, as it were; you may acknowledge that everything centres about Christ. But, if we fail to drive out of the citadel of our souls everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ, everything that prevents the Lord's supremacy in our inmost soul, let us rest assured that Jerusalem is in the hands of the Jebusites. Did you ever think of that? that you may enjoy much truth, and have to a certain extent a good deal of communion, yet not have Christ absolutely enthroned in your inmost soul?

Apply it to the nation of Israel, and you see at once how clearly it refers to the fact that they failed to possess the very centre, where, as I said, God was to put His name. And when you apply it further to the history of the Church, alas! how it is written in its history, the failure to give Christ the central place. Ah! is Jerusalem for the Church in possession of Benjamin? Does it recognize Christ enthroned as the head and centre of all things for His Church? Take that which makes the highest pretensions to being the Church of Christ upon earth. Who is enthroned over it? A man, who is a deceiver and an antichrist surely. A man who takes the place of Christ, His Vicar upon earth, taking the place at once of Christ and the Holy Ghost; surely Jerusalem is in the hands of the Jebusites still, so far as the Church of Rome is concerned.

Take other systems with much of godliness in them, thank God, and with much of the recovery of His Word. But is Jerusalem in the hands of Benjamin, and is it Christ that rules? Ah! does not clerisy, and theology, and custom and much else take the place of the supremacy of the Lord Jesus in the very centre of His people? And so for us, applying it practically just to our present condition, if Christ is to be in His proper place, it means that not only in name but in fact, He is supreme amongst His gathered people, that His will is sovereign no matter how painful it may be to the flesh, that His precious word is acknowledged. Is not the failure that we see all around us due to a great extent to the fact that Christ is not enthroned, that the Jebusite is not cast out? Jebusite means "treader down," and all that is not of Christ in the soul will trample down His Word.

There is often amongst God's people a real measure of appreciation of His Word unaccompanied by a bowing to His authority. We may be quite diligent students of Scripture. We may be quite happy in our knowledge of the Word of God, and yet not know in its real and full sense what it is to bow to that Holy Word in every particular. To bow to the Word of God means to bow to Christ's authority, for it is Christ that speaks in the Word. Unless we bow to the Word, we do not bow to Christ. Let me press that home; people sometimes say they obey Christ, they are willing to recognize His authority, willing to own His headship and His supremacy. But how are we to own His lordship? Only in one way, that is in bowing to His Word. There is the connection that the Lord Himself gives between His Word and Himself; you remember in Philadelphia what marks the remnant there is that they hold fast His Word and have not denied His name.

It is easy to profess Christ in the midst, to make it a battle cry, a shibboleth for a sect or a party; but Christ in the midst means Christ obeyed, Christ honored, Christ followed, whatever the cost, and every shred of Christ's truth and His will having supreme authority for us to walk by. Let us learn the lesson of Benjamin's failure to take possession of Jerusalem. Let us get the hint, and more than a hint. Our great danger is to deny the name of Christ and His authority.

We pass just for a moment to the next feature in this sad history, for I make no concealment that this failure of Benjamin to take possession of Jerusalem is a radical failure. It carries everything else with it, in a sense. In that one brief verse you have the pivot on which the whole subsequent failure turns.

From the twenty-second to the twenty-sixth verses, you have the house of Joseph going to take Bethel; and it is necessary to have Bethel. You well know the history of Bethel and what it means; Bethel is the "house of God." Just as Jerusalem suggests the supremacy of Christ, so Bethel suggests the presence of God, the House of God. Its name was called Luz at the first, which means "separation," mere external separation. You apply that to the history of the Church, or to any movement in the Church, and it will be seen how strikingly it corresponds.

Emphasize mere separation: we must not do this, we must give up that, you must refuse this, and so on. It is all negative, the cutting off this, that, and the other thing. There is no House of God about it. If you are to have the presence of God you must not only have separation, but you must have the holy sense of His own presence.

Look at the weakness in getting possession of Bethel. Why did they send spies if God had given them the place? That in itself is a suggestion of weakness. Moses, when he looked here and there to see if any one was observing him, before he slew the Egyptian, showed that he was not looking to God. When they sent spies into the land of Canaan, it was simply unbelief that was being borne with by God in His patience. So they sent out spies to Luz, and they took possession of it by sparing the man who showed them the way into it.

Brethren, the moment that individual faith makes a bargain with any feature of the flesh in order to get spiritual power, the moment you or I make a bargain, whether it be the husband with the wife, or the wife with her family; or some business, compromise, whatever it may be, the moment there is any sparing of the flesh in order to enjoy undisturbed the rest of Bethel, you set free an enemy, who goes off and builds another city, and calls it by the same name of Luz. How often have these spared enemies of God gone off and set up the same things over again, that we have to face again and find it all the more difficult to conquer. You make a compromise in your private life; you may call it "a little one," as Lot called it; it may be only one single principle of unfaithfulness or disloyalty to Christ, but you spare it, and it grows up to a great city again and damages your whole spiritual life.

How many times the Church has spared the inhabitants of Luz. For instance, in the whole monastical system, you see the inhabitants of Luz spared. It came from the East and flourished in the Church. It taught separation from the world, the inherent evil of matter and the various forms of self-mortification, of which Church history is full. How the sparing of that inhabitant of Luz let grow up the whole monastic system, till it completely eclipsed Bethel, which was the sense of God's presence. A monastery is a hold of every foul and wicked thing, simply because it tries separation from the world, rather than the presence of God. I only give that as an extreme illustration, but the moment you find separation without the presence of God, you have the seed of failure, you have the enemy spared.

How much we need that, the sense of God's presence, the Holy Spirit in our midst.

Have we a Bethel? Or is it after all only Luz? Are we a set of people who have simply separated ourselves, or are we a people who are dwelling in the house of God? Is it God's presence, is it God's House, is it His precious blessed Spirit that controls, or are we a sect turning our backs, it may be, on much that is evil and all that, but not fully enjoying His holy presence?

We might go on to speak of the further failure that we find from the twenty-seventh verse to the end of the chapter. Here we have the failure of six tribes, more and more emphasized. We have, first of all, Manasseh, which signifies you know that spirit of oneness of purpose ("forgetting the things which are behind and reaching forth to those that are before"). The name means "forgetting," and where the house of God has not been fully kept for Himself, how easy it is to lack in this devotedness of purpose which lays aside every weight, and presses forward in the race set before us to reach the prize; counting all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. So there is failure in pressing forward.

Then the next failure is that of Ephraim. Ephraim is of the tribe of Joseph, which we have just looked at, and you remember if there is a failure to grow, the sense of God's presence is evidently wanting. Now here you have more distinctly failure in fruitfulness. Ephraim is the fruitful tribe, and represents work among the Lord's people, the proper fruit of faith, which shows itself as the apostle James tells us by works. If Manasseh has failed, if there is failure in oneness of purpose to press on, Ephraim will fail too. The works of our daily life will cease, and the enemy will take or keep possession of that which ought to be for God.

In the same way Zebulun, which means devotion or consecration to God, if there is the failure on the part of Manasseh and Ephraim, will also be too feeble to hold his own.

Then we have Asher whose name significantly means "the happy one." Ah! need we say that if Christ is not chief, and if the house of God is not enjoyed, that Asher will fail to drive out the enemy from his territory? Tell me what is the sorrow or the dullness in your own heart, what is that lack of joy that so many of us have, alas, to confess to God? Is it not the failure of Asher, the happy one? Our name is Asher. That is what marks and describes us. Does it describe you? Is the language of the apostle Peter (1 Peter 1:8), "ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" — a true description? Ah, brethren! unspeakable joy — joy that you cannot begin to describe — a joy that is full of the glory that awaits us. Think of the glory, of all the blessedness that is there, think of all its freedom from the defilement and jarring of sin, and everything of that kind. Is Asher your name? Is your heart filled with joy that is full of glory? Is it an anticipation of heaven? Alas, must we not own for ourselves, and for the Church of Christ, that if there is one thing where it has failed more conspicuously than in any other, it is in that spiritual joy that marks a genuine experience down here.

We have to pass through a terrible wilderness, beset by all manner of temptations, and in a world where tears are more frequent than smiles; but it is a lie to say that it is a world where the child of God should not be happy. Above all, when you look at our inheritance and our portion, it is a slur and a misrepresentation to say that the people of God should not be a happy people. Has Asher failed in your case to drive out the inhabitants of the land? Are the cities which ought to belong to Christian joy still owned by the enemy? What thief is it that is stealing your happiness? What little foxes are spoiling the tender grapes of your vine? Ah, beloved! we can see the cause of it, we can see what led up to it, whether it be in our own souls or the Church at large. Benjamin, Joseph, Ephraim tell the tale.

Naphtali is the next one, representing the mighty man of vigor and of valor. Naphtali, means "a wrestler," and no longer in a spiritual sense a carnal wrestler, trusting in his own power, but a mighty wrestler for God; that is what he is in the mind of God, and in the sense of his sonship as belonging to God. He represents that spirit of power of man with God, the weak with the mighty One. Here again the dismal tale of shortcoming is told. The weak one has forgotten his weakness, and therefore he has forgotten God the source of his strength. Hence there is no power to wrestle, to overcome the enemy that is possessing his portion.

The account closes with Dan, who should have been a leader and a judge. He fails not only to drive out those who dwell in his cities, but the Amorites force him into the mountains and dwell in the fat valleys themselves. Ah! what decline is there; the enemy taking possession of the valley. The valley suggests lowliness and fruitfulness; fruitfulness because of lowliness. It is because the Lord went down into the valley of death that He could bear fruit for us, and it is only as we enter by faith into the reality of His death, and have the sentence of death in ourselves that we can be fruitful for God. And here you have instead of the people of God dwelling in the valleys, the Amorites. Amorites mean "the lofty ones" — those who are lifted up, but it is striking in what way they are lifted up. The Amorite means the lofty speaker. It means a people who talk a great deal. Their proper place, as the archaeologists tell us, was in the mountains, they were the highlanders. They are high talkers, and they drive God's people out of the valleys. Whenever you find the people of God given to talking instead of reality, making great profession, speaking great swelling words, you may rest assured that there is no lowly inhabitant of the valleys, therefore no fruitfulness.

Let us beware of mere talking. When tempted to talk glibly about being dead and risen with Christ, let us ask, is that an Amorite or is it an Israelite that is dwelling in the valley? We may talk of being blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ; let us ask ourselves is this a living divine reality in our soul? Let us search our hearts and never allow the Amorites to drive us out of the valleys.

Take another illustration in the history of the Church, that of the reformation. Take the controversies. What was the thirty years war due to? What were all the conflicts amongst protestants due to, but a clashing of arms amongst Amorites driving the godly out of the valleys? You take protestant Europe a few years after the reformation had been fully established, and you find many theologians, but very little godliness; you find plenty of talkers, plenty of fighters about doctrine, but, oh, how little of that lowliness of heart, that quiet spirit that dwells down in the valleys where the rain fills the pools, and where fruit for God abounds.

It is a good place to stop tonight, dear friends, with this thought of the valley. Apply it personally to ourselves. God dwells with him that is of an humble and a contrite heart. Have you been crowded out of the valley? Are you out of the valley tonight personally? Are you pushed up on to the mountains? Has there been so much of talk, as it were, that you have forgotten your lowly place of subjection to Christ? Have we as a gathering got out of that valley? Have we been thrust upon the mountain side of high profession by the talkers? Let us in the name of God come down into the valley. They tell us that the Amorites have iron chariots, but we have the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is mightier than all the iron chariots of the enemy, and if we turn we will find that individually and corporately, too, we can get our place in the valley, and there find fruit for the Lord.