God as Leader

Judges 1:1–21 (ESV)

1 After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the LORD, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?”

The church always feels loss with the death or departure of a faithful pastor. But the truth is that "no human being is indispensable. Time moves on, and God remains faithful to his people, and in every generation he raises up godly leaders to care for them. But none of them is perfect, and idolizing them can be a snare. It can lead us into a kind of hero-worship that makes it hard for us to see beyond the leaders God gives us to God himself. The fact is that if all those we admire and feel dependent on were taken from us tomorrow we would not be bereft and leaderless.”1 The kingdom of God moves on though the servants of God die.

When God is with his people, he gives them victory over their enemies. Israel faced a crisis after the death of Joshua, but the Lord showed them no human being, not even an exemplary human being, is indispensable. God provides triumph over the enemy. It was Judah and Simeon who attacked the Canaanites and Perizzites, but, according to Judges 1:4, it was the Lord who gave these enemies into their hands. Judges 1:19 says much the same: The Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country. So then Paul says in Romans 8:31, If God is for us, who is against us? But that means that the opposite is also true, that it does not matter who is for us if God is against us or absent from us. Then all manner of misfortune and defeats occurs. When God’s people do not put their trust in him, and instead do what is right in their own eyes, God hands his people over to enemies who attack them.

And this is none other than the outworking of God’s covenant promises. God had earlier promised blessings for obedience, and curses for disobedience. In the book of Joshua, you by and large get to see the blessings worked out. In the first part of the conquest, Israel does obediently trust God. And God keeps his promises to them, to bring them into the land, to defeat their enemies, and to begin to give them blessing and rest. But Judges is in some ways the flip side of Joshua. It shows us some of the difficulties and challenges Israel faced because of their unfaithfulness. The covenant curses are worked out. Victories over enemies no longer continue. Peaceful conditions do not exist. Prosperity is not enjoyed.2 When Israel obeys, Israel experiences God’s blessing, be it in victory, land, or water. But they will repeatedly rebel against the Lord, and experience covenant curse. And yet the end of the book of Judges is not the end of the story. For God repeatedly afterwards extends grace and love to his own.

The book of Judges is going to show that covenant God is at work, God is sovereign, even when things are not going well for his people. God is still fulfilling his purposes to demonstrate just who he is—he’s a God of grace and compassion and mercy (Exodus 34:6–7). This book wants us to confess God’s sovereignty in the dark times. And not only in the dark times of our circumstances, but even in the dark times of our sin. But what is God up to when he turns us over to ourselves? He’s showing us that left to ourselves, this is who we really are. And so he is showing us just who he is—gracious, compassionate, merciful. If he in his sovereignty always kept us away from our sin, we would never see, never experience just who he is. He’s a God who pursues his covenant children, because he does want to bless them.