As we read Judges 1-3 today, a little help from Kim Riddlebarger’s sermon series on Judges:
And then there are the judges themselves–men whom God raises up to rescue Israel from some military or political crisis, but who can do nothing about the nation’s spiritual condition. Remember that Israel’s judges are not jurists presiding over a court. They are more like tribal leaders (or deliverers) whom God raises up at critical moments in Israel’s history to prevent God’s enemies from completely overwhelming God’s covenant people. While these men (and Deborah) are God’s chosen instruments to deliver the nation from temporal danger, it is clear that they are nothing more than a kind of divinely sent stop-gap measure to preserve the nation from disaster when things are the most bleak. The modern equivalent of these judges are those who seek to rescue America through political activism and the election of particular candidates with a particular political ideology. Some folk see this as the remedy to the ills of both the nation and the cause of Christ. While such people may indeed be right about temporal danger and social and economic ills facing our nation (and they may even rally the nation against an imminent threat from within or without), political activism can do nothing to deal with what lies as the root of all humans problems, the guilt and power of sin. Only the grace of God as revealed in the person and work of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit can subdue the human heart, creating faith and repentance.
This is why the Book of Judges speaks so powerfully to us in our current situation. In this book we find human sin on display in all its shame and futility–which, I think, is why so many preachers avoid preaching through Judges. In this book we also see God allowing his people to reap the consequences of their sinful rebellion, and yet, because he has pity upon Israel, God repeatedly sends them judges to deliver them. And these judges, in turn, remind us that there are no real human solutions to the deepest human problem. God must send to Israel a redeemer (someone who is both God and man) to deliver us, not from our temporal enemies and woes, but from our greatest enemy, sin and its consequences. That is why, interestingly enough, our text will speak of God sending a deliverer (a judge) to his people at a critical moment in their history–the very thing we have celebrated throughout the Christmas season just completed. But unlike Jesus, the first judge, Othniel, is himself a sinner and even though God’s Spirit rests upon him, Othniel can only help Israel find momentary relief and rest.