Sunday, October 5, 2014

JUDGES+—An Illustrated Summary of Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible by G. Campbell Morgan

"On every page of the God-breathed writings are many thoughts that stretch out like long, clear arms of light across the darkness, discovering things otherwise hidden and illuminating wider areas than those of the immediate context. They are searchlights. From a multitude of these, I have selected one in each chapter of Scripture, for at least one central thought in every chapter should arrest the mind and affect the life," wrote G. Campbell Morgan, a wise, warm-hearted, careful Bible teacher who conducted a classic 3-year chapter-by-chapter study called Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible. Here are the fruits of that timeless study—summarized, illustrated, and amplified—on all 66 books of the Bible (posted one book at a time, cumulatively).
Judges 1:1 "After the death of Joshua." The book of Joshua began, "After the death of Moses," and we see the same kind of thing here. These beginnings remind us of the persistence of God's purposes in spite  of the frailty of human instruments, yet the other side of that truth is not to be lost sight of. God chooses to carry on His work through human instruments. Moses made possible the work of Joshua, and Joshua made possible the work of all who were to follow. The period covered in this book is from the death of Joshua to near the judgeship of Samuel and the movement toward a formal monarchy in Israel. On the human side, Judges is a story of disobedience and disaster; on the divine side, of continued direction and deliverance. Therefore in its light the servant of God may always find encouragement. When the appointed task is done, he or she will be aware of the incompleteness of it, of things desired but not done, and of perils threatening its ultimate realization, but also will know from God's Word that God never abandons His purposes, He cannot be defeated, and always find others to continue the work that is unfinished.

Judges 2:16 "The Lord raised up judges." This brief sentence tells us the method God used during this period, a method made necessary by the repeated failure of the people. These men were not judges in our sense of the word. The nation at this time was a theocracy, having God as King. Its life was governed by His law and His will made known through His servants. The previous chapter shows the people inquiring of the Lord on a matter of national importance. The answer was direct, sought and obtained by use of the Urim and Thummim, which were objects stored in the breastplate of the high priest for asking God intelligent yes-and-no questions. The people had no need of any other administrators in times of obedience. When through disobedience they passed into circumstances of difficulty and suffering, God raised up judges who became instruments of divine deliverance. The Hebrew word sophetim is derived from a word meaning to put right. With the earliest judges, when they accomplished deliverance they retired again into private life. Gradually they came to retain office. The last judge in that sense, Samuel, judged Israel 40 years. The need for such rulers arose out of human failure; their provision was of divine grace. This principle runs throughout history: man persistently fails, but God persistently overcomes man's failure for his well-being. Priests, judges, kings, prophets, apostles, pastors, and teachers are all means by which God has stooped to man's level to recover and care for us.

Judges 3:10 "The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel." Othniel, a nephew and son-in-law of Caleb, was the first of the judges. The circumstances that made his appointment necessary were eight years of oppression by the king of Mesopotamia. Their subjugation came about because the Israelites "forgot the Lord their God and served Baal and Asheroth," false gods of the Canaanites (Joshua 3:7). That statement suggests a gradual deterioration ending in degeneracy. The stern discipline of those eight years brought back their memory so they cried out to the Lord, and the Lord answered by raising up Othniel, who served as a savior by leading them to military victory against their foreign oppressor. Our highlighted verse tells us God's equipment for this judge's saving work: "the Spirit of the Lord," the first time this particular phrase appears in the Bible. We have read before of "the Spirit of God" and of Moses wishing that God would put His Spirit upon all the people (Numbers 11:24-29), but the emphasis here seems to be on the grace and condescension of the Lord: the One pledged to His people, sending exactly what they needed to rescue them. His Spirit came upon a man whose close relationship to Caleb suggests that, like Caleb, he was loyal to God amid the prevalent disloyalty of the people. By that gracious endowment of love and power, Othniel was perfectly equipped for his work.

Judges 4:4 "Now Deborah, a prophetess...judged Israel at that time." When a woman is specially gifted for administrative work, she is not barred by any divine law from such service (see Different by Design for more information). Deborah was a prophetess in the full sense of that word by speaking God's Word to the people. She also was a judge who, like the judges before her, was a military deliverer, but she is the first judge described as holding court for people seeking her wisdom in judgment (Judges 4:5). Deborah summoned Barak to lead 10,000 men in battle against Jabin, the Canaanite king who had been oppressing the Israelites for 20 years, assuring him of victory from the Word of the Lord, but Barak refused to go unless Deborah went as well. Deborah did go, but Barak missed out on honor from his going as a result. In the long history of God's patient dealing with men, we find Him raising up some woman to lead, guide, and inspire with enthusiasm and force, as we see Deborah acting here. The one great message of the story seems to be that we not imagine ourselves wiser than God. When He calls and equips a woman to high service, let's beware not to dishonor Him and ourselves by refusing to recognize or cooperate with her.

Judges 5:23 "Curse Meroz...because they did not come to the help of the Lord." These words are taken from the great song of Deborah in celebration of the previous chapter's victory. It is full of fire and passion throughout, the first part being a chant of confidence. Everything is attributed to the direct government and activity of God. The second part describes the actors in the scene. Those who heard and obeyed the call for help are spoken of with high approval. Those who remained behind, taking no part in the conflict, are the objects of her fiercest scorn. The verse highlighted constitutes Deborah's curse on neutrality. Meroz (an unknown location and a word used only here in the Bible) had not joined the enemies of Israel in open hostility. It had held itself aloof. Its sin was that it had not helped. There are hours and situations when neutrality becomes criminal. It is always so when principles of righteousness, justice, and compassion are involved. In such hours, to stand aloof is to stand on the side of evil things. To this Christ bore unequivocal witness when He said, "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters" (Matthew 12:30). There are multitudes of people in the condition of Meroz: they would protest that they do not desire to hinder, but they do nothing to help. So superlative is the claim of Christ the Savior and Messiah of the world and so fundamental to all human well-being His work that neutrality is impossible. The curse of Deborah rests upon all such attitudes.

Judges 6:12 "The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior." The account of Gideon is one of the most fascinating in this book. Forty years of rest followed the work of Deborah. Then the people fell again into evil ways, and for seven years suffered cruel oppression at the hands of Midian. They were driven to hide in caves and strongholds. From that terrible situation Gideon was raised up to deliver them. The highlighted words are how the Angel of the Lord addressed Gideon, revealing the secrets of the strength Gideon would soon display against the Midianites. First is the supreme fact that God was with him and second is what he was in himself: a valiant warrior. How did Gideon display his valor? Apparently he was a simple man living a very ordinary life. The Angel came upon him doing his daily duty: "beating out wheat in the wine press to save it from the Midianites" (Judges 6:12). Gideon gave no sign of military disposition or ability, but notice what he said to the Angel: "Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? But now the Lord has...given us into the hand of Midian" (Judges 6:13). He is thus revealed as a man conscious of the true relation of the people to the Lord God and that their sufferings were the result of divine judgment. The man with this double vision of divine intention and human failure is a man of might and valor. With that man or woman the Lord can work.

Judges 7:7 "I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped." This is a wonderful illustration of the kinds of men and women God needs to carry out His enterprises in the world. This company of 300 was an elect remnant, carefully separated from an army of 32,000. It is valuable to observe the two principles of selection. The first is stated like this: "Whoever is afraid, let him depart." On that test, 22,000 left. This is how the second test is worded: "Everyone who kneels to drink," that is, goes down on hands and knees. All such were to be sent home. That is a military test because men putting themselves in such a position were not on guard against sudden surprise. Those who took unnecessary time over necessary things were sent back. On this test 9,700 were retired. To do His work God needs those who know no fear and whose devotion forbids them taking unnecessary risks. "Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation," said Jesus (Matthew 26:41). Courage and caution are the essentials of victorious campaigning. If all those who are fearful about God's work would retire from the ranks, the armies of the Lord would be much stronger. If those who lack commitment would stand aside, the sacramental hosts would do better work. The work of God needs quality more than quantity. This is the death warrant of statistics.

Judges 8:23 "I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you." Gideon's need to say that after victories explainable only by God's presence clearly manifests the decline of the people from the central glory of their national life. They were a theocracy, needing (and so far having) no king other than the Lord. Their creation as a nation by God was to serve as a model for all other nations to follow. Israel's theocracy was the their secret of power among the nations surrounding them. All the recurring discipline through which they passed resulted from their rebellion against the rule of God, and was His method of restoring them to that rule. The Israelites, however, found too much comfort in the human judges God raised up, and began hankering after some kind of hereditary rule. Gideon declined to form a dynasty in words that reveal his clear understanding of God's will for the nation. He here reflects the attitude of all whom God raises to lead and deliver His people: their leadership must always stop short of sovereignty. Their business is never superseding divine rule, but of interpreting it and leading their people to  recognize and submit to it wholeheartedly. This is true not only of kings, but also of priests, prophets, and pastors.

Judges 9:7 "Listen to me, O men of Shechem, that God may listen to you." Gideon had refused to be made king but when he passed on, his son Abimelech, a man unprincipled and brutal, secured to himself the allegiance of the town of Shechem and practically usurped the position of king. In an attempt to make his position secure, he slaughtered all the other sons of Gideon, except Jotham, who escaped and uttered a parabolic prophecy from the height of Mount Gerizim. It was full of fine scorn for Abimelech, whom he compared to a thorn bush accepting a position declined by an olive tree, fig tree, and grape vinethree symbols of Israel's national life. Abimelech would be the destruction of the men of Shechem, and the men of Shechem would be the destruction of Abimelech. Israel was chosen to reign over other nations under the rule of God. It lost its power to reign when it ceased to yield its allegiance to its one and only King. Had it then listened to Jotham, it would have been possible for God to listen to it, but instead the people set themselves up for another round of misery.

Judges 10:16 "He could bear the misery of Israel no longer." These are wonderful words about God, especially considering the circumstances when they were uttered. The people of God had given themselves up with an appalling abandonment to almost every form of idolatry that presented itself to them. Notice the list: the Baalim, the Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, Sidon, Moab, Ammon, and Philistia. The anger of the Lord against them proceeded in judgment through the Philistines and Ammonites for 18 hard years. Then, in their extreme distress, they cried out to God, but for the first time it is recorded that He refused to save them, reminding them of how repeatedly He had delivered them only for them to turn back to evil. In this message of anger is a purpose of love, for He told them to seek deliverance from the gods they now worshiped. The method produced the result, for they quickly realized the futility of asking these non-entities for help, so they put away the false gods and returned to the Lord. Our highlighted verse explains the deep fact behind God's actions: "He could bear the misery of Israel no longer." The Hebrew verb here literally means impatient, suggesting God's restlessness in the presence of suffering. It is the restlessness of His love, which is the cause of His anger and the actions that flow from it.

Judges 11:3 "Jephthah fled from his brothers." To those who are willing to see it, the story of Jephthah serves as a solemn warning against treating a child born out of wedlock with contempt. It happens often, even by otherwise good people, and is wholly unjust. Here we see God raising up such a man to be a judge of His people. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute who was thrust from his inheritance by the legitimate sons of his father. Iron entered his soul and he attracted a band of followers who helped establish his reputation as a valiant warrior. Jephthah was a man of courage and heroic daring, but he also displayed strength of character when he agreed to defend the people who cast him out and tried (unsuccessfully) to reason with the Ammonites before fighting against them. He demonstrated a clear grasp of Israel's history and obvious humility and dependence upon God, but the one great folly Jephthah is remembered for is an apparent insecurity or weakness in faith that led him to make a rash vow he had no business making or keeping. One thing to remember is that God did not count the manner of his birthsomething he was not responsible foras a disqualification from useful service. God raised up Jephthah, gave Him His Spirit, and employed him to deliver His people in the hour of their need. Let us always refrain from the sin of being unjust to men and women by considering them disqualified for service or friendship by sins for which they are not to blame.

Judges 12:1 "We will burn your house down on you!" These words illustrate the arrogance with which injustice often speaks, and the sequel shows the utter futility and folly of such boasting. The men of Ephraim complained to Jephthah that he did not call upon them to help as he went forth to war with Ammon. This is the same kind of complaint they made against Gideon decades ago (Judges 8:1-3), which Gideon responded to mildly, but now the envy of Ephraim has gotten much worse. The folly of that complaint then and now is that both judges gained a complete victory without their aid. If both had failed, they might have had some reason for complaint. The answer of Jephthah to the complaint was logical and final. He did in fact call for the help of Ephraim but it was withheld. Why should he ask them again? Jephthah then responded to their threat with severe punishment. Behind arrogance and threatening is invariably injustice and incompetence. A frantic boast is proof positive of fundamental weakness. Those who are strong in the justice of their cause are seldom arrogant in their speech; they act rather than threaten. When we are tempted to loud protestations of our ability, we do well to seek for the weakness that inspires us to such wordiness as a cover. If we are inclined to threaten, we are wise if we ask ourselves what injustice prompts such action.

Judges 13:18 "Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful?" This answer from the Angel of the Lord (God Himself, not a mere angel) to Manoah, Samson's father, is more a declaration than a question.  It almost inevitably brings to mind two other passages of Scripture. The first is a question: "Why is it that you ask My name?" (Genesis 32:29). The second is a prophecy: "His name shall be called Wonderful" (Isaiah 9:6). Jacob asked the question of One described as both man (Genesis 32:24) and God (Genesis 32:28, 30). The prophecy is about a Child, a Son upon whose shoulders government is to rest, whose titles include "Mighty God" in addition to "Wonderful." Manoah's wife, Samson's mother, described the wonderful Person she and her husband spoke with as both "a man of God" and "the angel of God" (Judges 13:6). A careful study of the Scriptures shows there is a distinction between the phrases "an angel" and "the angel of the Lord." "The man of God" whose name is "Wonderful" was none other than the Son of God, which is to say God the Son. Here then we have a Christophany, a showing forth of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, hinted at in the Old Testament and revealed clearly at the perfect time in the New (Galatians 4:4-6).

Judges 14:6 "The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him." The story of Samson is one of the strangest in the Bible. It is surely that of great opportunity and disastrous failure. Everything would seem to have been in his favor. His birth was foretold, and the method of his training directed by the wonderful Angel of the Lord. Of Samson's earlier years it is said that "the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him" (Judges 13:25). Had he yielded fully to the impulses of the Spirit, how different a story might have been recorded! In this chapter Samson is a young man, full of strength and passion. Going to Timnah, he saw a Philistine woman who caught his eye so he wanted to marry her. His parents attempted to dissuade him, but he determined to follow his own inclination. This action was a direct violation of God's instructions to the Israelites. There is nothing to admire in Samson in how he handled himself around women. Two statements in this chapter stand out: "His father and mother did not know it was of the Lord" (verse 4) and "The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him" (verse 6). They both reveal God overruling the life of this young man, giving him renewed opportunities in spite of his failure. The phrase "It was of the Lord" is used in the same sense as in Joshua 11:20 about the northern kings who destroyed themselves by stubbornly fighting Israel. God makes the folly of man to contribute finally to the fulfillment of His own purposes.

Judges 15:12 "We have come down to bind you." What a contemptible action is recorded here on the part of the men of Judah! A large number of them went down to Samson's refuge to hand him over to the Philistines. They said to him, "Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us?" (Judges 15:11). What terrible abjectness from people who had been made a nation with God as their one and only Ruler! So low had they sunk that they were willing to bind and hand over the one man who was a menace to their enemies. There is no situation more tragic than when the people of God, cringing with fear, are prepared to sacrifice the man who alone among them has the courage and ability to oppose their enemies. Yet the Spirit of the Lord again came upon Samson, breaking his bonds and enabling him to slay 1,000 Philistines with the humblest of weapons. We are again made conscious of what Samson might have been and done had he been wholly yielded to the Spirit of the Lord instead of governed so largely by the fires of his own passion. No force employed against him, whether direct hostility from his enemies or treachery from his countrymen, could have overcome him. In Samson is powerfully illustrated the truth of Shakespeare's words in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings" (weaklings).

Judges 16:20 "But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him." Is there a more tragic statement than this in the whole Bible? It reveals a most appalling condition: unconscious loss of the one essential to success in God's work. At last the hour had come when God no longer cooperated with Samson, but the poor man did not even realize it! It is not likely that this unconsciousness was a sudden thing. Samson must have progressively lost his keen consciousness of God's presence or else he would have been conscious of His absence. Having yielded to his own passions rather than the Spirit of God, his knowledge of the Spirit's power was only intellectual at this point, not experiential. He once had great experiences of that power and went on expecting them, even when he was making them impossible by his manner of life. In the hour of need he said, "I will escape as I did before," but he could not. The expected experience did not come. He was caught, blinded, and made the slave of his foes. Samson's story fills the soul with holy fear. It teaches us that if we yield ourselves to desires of flesh and spirit that are out of harmony with the will of God, He must withdraw from us the power to do His work. The only way to be sure we have not lost the fellowship of empowerment is to maintain a conscious fellowship in complete obedience.

Judges 17:6 "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes." These words are a commentary on the spiritual condition of the nation in this latter period of the judges, and are repeated in the last verse closing and summarizing the book of Judges (21:25). They obviously were written when the nation was brought to a more orderly state under the rule of its kings, but there is a deeper note in them than that. Israel had turned away from its one true King. He had not abandoned them completelythat He had never done, but they had flung off restraint  and were acting according to their own desires. This chapter and the next four do not continue a consecutive history. That ended with the account of Samson. In these five chapters we have specific illustrations of the corrupt internal condition of Israel. The strange and deadly mixture of motive is highlighted in the story of Micah. When he had idols made for his household, he was  clearly violating the Second Commandment (and the Ninth by stealing from his mother), but notice that the only God he and his mother talked about is the Lord, not the gods of other nations (Judges 17:2, 13). Micah apparently wanted to maintain a relationship with God, but attempted to do so by violating the commands of God! The only relationship possible in that situation, however, is not a good one. Micah would soon enough find himself judged as a disloyal rebel before the King of kings.

Judges 18:31 "They set up for themselves Micah's graven image ...all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh." Notice the contrast: At Shiloh was the house of God, the true center of national life, but the tribe of Dan cut themselves off from that by engaging in false worship of their own making. The importance of religion was deeply embedded in the minds of the people. Micah and the Danites felt the necessity of maintaining some kind of relationship with God, but they prostituted religion to purposes of personal prosperity. Micah boasted that by having some form of worship and the presence of a (corrupt) priest, God was obliged to bless him. The Danites, going forth on an enterprise to provide more territory for themselves, were anxious to have some kind of religious veneer. Whenever religion is acknowledged and adapted merely to ensure material prosperity, it suffers degradation. Jesus stated plainly, "You cannot serve God and wealth" (Matthew 6:24). All history proves the folly of leaving the true God for the false, and the inevitable ruin of all who do so. God is not mocked.

Judges 19:30 "Consider it, take counsel, and speak up!" This and the next two chapters tell the appalling story of a Levite, his sort-of wife, and perversely wicked Benjaminites. Again, a clear mirror is held up to the times, revealing the most startling moral conditions in Israel. The fact that the Levite took to himself a concubine who soon "played the harlot against him" (Judges 19:2) shows a low level of morality on both their parts. Far lower still were the men of Gibeah, who were characterized by the same lust that destroyed Sodom. They murdered the concubine after abusing her all night when they couldn't get at the Levite. When the Levite got home with his concubine's dead body, he devised a drastic and terrible method to draw the attention of Israel to this heinous crime. All who saw it said, "Nothing like this has ever happened or been seen from the day when the sons of Israel came up from the land of Egypt to this day. Consider it, take counsel, and speak up!" (Judges 19:30). As bad as things were, the people still had a conscience and the will to act after careful thought and discussion.

Judges 20:35 "The Lord struck Benjamin before Israel." These words briefly state the real meaning behind the awful judgment that fell on Benjamin: it was the stroke of God. This chapter shows what came of the careful thought and discussion of the nation in answer to the Levite's gruesome call. His action served its purpose by stirring the nation to its center. A great moral passion flamed out. Underneath all the degeneracy was a foundation of religious conviction that sprang to life and action when hearing what the men of Gibeah did. It is always like this with nations backsliding from religious ideals. In the midst of the most soiled and debased times, an unusually violent manifestation of evil rouses slumbering convictions into new sensitivity that demands recognition. In response to the ghastly and bloody appeal of the Levite, Israel gathered itself together before God to know how to act. The men who were in the wrong were brutally defiant, as were their tribesmen. Moreover, they were strong enough at first to defeat the army of Israel, which suggests that Israel was not clean enough to punish evildoers. Again the people gathered before God, this time in weeping and lamentation. After this they went on to victory and the sore punishment of the perpetrators and those who had condoned their sin. Thus not Israel but God struck down the tribe of Benjamin.

Judges 21:3 "Why, O Lord, God of Israel, has this come about... that one tribe should be missing today in Israel?" This is a very sad chapter. As we have seen more than once, all kinds of lawlessness spring from a lack of righteous authority. The truth is that Israel had lost its living relation to its one and only King. Uninstructed zeal, even in the cause of righteousness, often goes beyond its proper limits and does more harm than good. The terrible slaughter of the Benjaminites continued until not more than 600 men were left. With a sudden change characteristic of inflamed peoples, Israel was filled with pity for the tribe so nearly exterminated. They realized that the unity and completeness of the family of Jacob was threatened by their recent actions. While that is a commendable notion, the sad part of the story is they resorted to unrighteous means to remedy the threatened evil. Wives were provided for the men of Benjamin by further unholy slaughter at Jabesh Gilead and by kidnapping (a capital crime) at a thanksgiving festival in Shiloh. It is impossible to read the last five chapters of Judges without realizing how perilous is the condition of any people who act without clearly defined principles. Passion moves to high purposes only as it is governed by righteous principles. If it lacks that, at one moment it will march in heroic determination to establish high ideals, but almost immediately by some change in mood will act in brutality and all other evils. Humanity without its one King is cursed by lawlessness.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this! I will share it with the link to your blog on my instagram! May our Lord bless you! Catharina Schouten - Meijer

  2. You are heartily welcome, and may our Lord bless you as well as you study His precious Word in depth!