1. Christocentric focus

God loves his people both conditionally and unconditionally

Judges 1:22–34 (ESV)

22 The house of Joseph also went up against Bethel, and the LORD was with them.

On the one hand, God is holy and just and cannot tolerate or live with or bless evil. On the other hand, God is loving and faithful and cannot tolerate the loss of people he has committed himself to. This is a tremendous, seemingly irresolvable tension in the narrative – and also in the whole Bible (see, for instance, Exodus 34:6–7; Hosea 11:1–11). When the angel of the Lord says, What is this you have done? he is basically saying, Israel, you’ve put me in an impossible situation. I have sworn to bless you as my beloved people, but I have also sworn to curse you as disobedient people. This tension is what should keep us in suspense throughout Judges. Will God finally give up on his people (but then what of his faithfulness)? Or will he finally give in to his people (but then what of his holiness)?

How can the Lord be both the just judge and the one who seeks and saves the ungodly? It is only in the person and work of Jesus Christ that we can understand how God can resolve the tension. This second Adam, this new Israel, indwelled by the Spirit, obeyed all the demands of the law, and thereby merited the blessings God had promised. Christ would be God’s final messenger, coming to be our Immanuel and to save us. He came for spiritual battle, suited up with the Lord’s armour to take on sin and Satan for us. Oh, our Lord was tempted with compromise, too. In Gethsemane, Jesus found Himself in the face of the ultimate difficulty and place of fear. He faced the ultimate test of whether or not to compromise. He chose to do what was infinitely hard and pressed on in faith and obedience.1

He would not cohabitate with sin. And so, the holy war that the Father had declared upon sin came to a head at the cross, where he opened fire, launching a targeted attack at our representative, who became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Yet at the same time he as our substitute established himself as the victor by satisfying God’s justice, cleansing the impurity of his people (2 Corinthians 5:21), crucifying our sinful nature (Galatians 5:24), and taking us with him to rest and newness of life at his resurrection (Romans 6:5–10; Colossians 3:3). His victory in the holy war against sin and Satan is then also our victory. On account of him, God loves us, accepts us, and forgives us. Christ resolves the tension of Judges.

Without the gospel of Christ crucified, we will always either complacently give in to sin (because of the unconditionality of his promises), or live under a burden of guilt and fear (because of their conditionality). The cross is where we find the tension resolved.2

May we now do whatever we want because your obedience is irrelevant? Not at all. Jesus at his crucifixion disarmed the rulers and principalities, stripping these demonic forces of their power (Colossians 2:15). But the forces still exist, so our task is to carry on with the holy war initiated by our Lord against the spiritual enemies who are intent on destroying the church. That war is difficult. We are weak. Satan is strong, and he is persistent. But we have Christ.