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The last five chapters of the book of Judges appear to be out of order insofar as chronology is concerned. However, when Samuel wrote this book, his intention was first to give an actual history of the Judges in the main portion of the book and then transition us into the book of Ruth in the final five chapters. The history of Judges from Othniel to Samson gives us the revelation of sonship through the Judges’ names, but it also ends in failure. Samson died without delivering Israel from the Philistine captivity.
The theme of the final section (Judges 17-21) is “No King in Israel,” stated three times: Judges 17:6, 18:1, and 21:25. Samuel intended for the readers to understand that during the three centuries of Judges, the Israelites were responsible to obey the laws of God without a king to enforce those laws. The examples set forth in these chapters show Israel’s failure to be self-governed by personal conscience.
One’s conscience, of course, is man-made and is only as reliable as the condition of one’s heart. This is easily seen in the fact that various cultures have developed their own laws and traditions, and their sense of conscience reflects those values, whether they are of God or not. One culture may see nothing wrong with making war on a neighboring tribe to capture wives, slaves, or wealth.
More recently, an increasing number of people in the West and around the world see nothing wrong with killing babies in the womb or in gay marriage. Many see nothing wrong with disinheriting people from the land, buying and selling real estate, incarcerating those convicted of theft, or charging interest on loans. Such things are done routinely, and few people have an understanding of what life in the Kingdom even is.
The fact is that one’s conscience must be based on the Word of God and His laws, rather than upon the prevailing culture in which men live. We all need to abandon our own culture and to seek the Kingdom of God and its way of life. Until we do that, there will be no peace among men and nations, most will remain uprooted from the land, and the disparity between rich and poor will continue to widen.
The deeper problem is that the law has not been written on the hearts of most people, including most believers. This is evidence that the New Covenant has yet to do its work in most people. The church put away the law of God quite early, not understanding that the task of the New Covenant was to write those laws upon our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit, so that we might receive the nature of Christ. Only then might our conscience actually be trusted to be our guide, for our conscience will lead us according to whatever laws are written therein.
A law rejected is a law not written on one’s heart. Whatever law of God that we reject as being somehow ungodly is replaced or substituted by a tradition of men based upon an unregenerate conscience. Whenever men claim that some law of God is unjust or unloving, they blaspheme the nature of the One who gave that law. Thankfully, most such blasphemy from believers is spoken out of ignorance, rather than outright malice, but the effect upon conscience is the same. The result is that the Kingdom of God and God’s culture has remained elusive in history.
Old and New Covenant Faith
Religions in the world are all based in some way on the Old Covenant. That is, it is based on men’s vows and intentions to achieve righteousness (or self-improvement) by means of one’s own self-discipline or obedience to the revelation of self-proclaimed prophets and sages. In the case of the Israelites, they enjoyed an advantage in that the laws they received through Moses were from genuine revelation, as we believe. However, the Old Covenant in their case still involved the vows of men, and so righteousness was still based upon men’s ability to keep their vows. The Apostle calls this “works,” as opposed to “faith.”
Paul’s doctrine was foolishness to the Jews of his day, because they all believed that they had faith in God. They prayed daily that God would assist them in keeping their Old Covenant vows, and they had great faith that God would do so. But this was not New Covenant faith. The New Covenant is God’s vow to men, making Him responsible to fulfill His vow. New Covenant faith is “being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (Romans 4:21).
Most Christian denominations are based on the Old Covenant, and so it is not surprising that they believe that only a few will be saved in the end. After all, if salvation is based on the decisions and vows of men, and so few make such decisions for Christ during their lifetime, it is only natural to draw that conclusion.
Christianity as a whole has failed as much as Israel did in the pre-Christian era, because both groups based their salvation on men’s vows, rather than God’s vows (promises). In both cases, they taught that the promise of God was to help us fulfill our own vows, leaving the result fully in the hands of men. But New Covenant faith is based on God’s ability to make it happen, not just His assistance to help us make it happen. So Hebrews 8:10 says,
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts. And I will be their God, and they will be My people. 11 … For all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.
There is no uncertainty in this promise, nor does its result depend upon men. In the end, in spite of men’s resistance, God will win, for His will is stronger than the will of men. This is, in fact, the New Covenant promise given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for Deuteronomy 29:12-15 says,
12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.
In other words, the promise that God made with Abraham, that in his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed, was the same covenant that God was making with Israel in the plains of Moab. This was the second covenant with Israel (Deuteronomy 29:1), and it was inherently different from the first covenant at Mount Horeb (Exodus 19:8). The first was based on men’s vows, while the second was based on God’s oath (or vow).
If the people had understood this covenant and had placed their faith in God’s ability to keep His oath, they would have been New Covenant believers. In fact, there was always a remnant of grace throughout history who had such faith in God—even though the majority blindly clung to their Old Covenant faith in their own ability and works.
In the types and shadows, we take note that Israel did not enter the Promised Land under the Old Covenant, for their disobedience and rebellion in the wilderness had disqualified them by their Exodus 19 covenant. They entered the land under the New Covenant under which Joshua (Jesus) brought them into the Promised Land.
This teaches us that no one can enter the Promised Land except by faith in the promises of God. The Old Covenant invariably leads men to Kadesh-barnea, where men conclude, “we are not able” (Numbers 13:31). They were unable, because their faith was based in themselves, rather than in God. Hebrews 3:19 says,
19 And so we see that they were not able to enter [His rest] because of unbelief.
There is no “rest” for those who still base their salvation upon their own ability to keep their vows. Such people continually strive to achieve perfection in their own strength, hoping that the Holy Spirit will assist them sufficiently. He will indeed assist them, but yet they cannot attain righteousness except through the New Covenant.
The Role of Overcomers
The overcomers are, by definition, New Covenant believers. This is not to say that they must have a clear and full understanding of the New Covenant. Matters of the heart are not always apparent to all, and in the end, God decides such things. Paul tells us only that the remnant of grace has removed the Old Covenant veil from their eyes (2 Corinthians 3:14-16), while the rest remain blinded by that veil (Romans 11:7 KJV).
The “remnant” is the main Hebrew word describing the overcomers, especially in the prophecies of Isaiah. In the days of Elijah the remnant of grace numbered just 7,000 (Romans 11:4) out of the millions of Israelites in the land. These, Paul says, were God’s “chosen” (NASB), or “the election” (KJV). The Greek word is ekloga, which has a numeric value of 144, a number that is associated with the overcomers in the book of Revelation.
The overcomers are the New Covenant remnant in the sea of Old Covenant religion. They are the forerunners, the first-fruits of the greater harvest yet to come. They are the ones who believe and understand the promises of God, and so they are assured not only of personal victory but of God’s ultimate victory over all of creation.
They are the ones who keep alive the idea of Kingdom government and culture. The Spirit of God writes the law on their hearts through daily experience, learning, and spiritual growth. As these laws begin to form their own nature in conformity to God’s nature, they become capable of judging the world (1 Corinthians 6:2), knowing when to apply justice and how to apply mercy. They understand that the purpose of the law is ultimately to bring correction, not to destroy, because the destruction or loss of any man would cause God’s promise to fail.
The overcomers are called to bear witness to the nature and plan of God. Though few may hear their testimony in the present age, their message will prevail in the end when every knee bows and joyfully concurs that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).
The Period of the Judges
Samuel’s book on the history of the Judges was designed to show the failure of conscience to bring about Kingdom law and culture. The same could be said about the reign of Saul, for if the heart and conscience of men could not submit to the rule of God, how could a king’s decrees make them righteous?
The problem was that “in those days there was no king in Israel.” This is not to say that King Saul was the solution. Rather, it speaks into a deeper problem that the people had rejected God’s rule over them, as we see in the people’s demand for a king. 1 Samuel 8:4-7 says,
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; 5 and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.”
Whether they were ruled by military Judges or by kings, the people themselves remained lawless in the sight of God, and for this reason they were in a state of rebellion against the true King. Neither could a lawless and rebellious king change the hearts of the people to bring forth the Kingdom of God.
Yet in spite of the general condition of the people, there were men like Boaz who reflected the heart of God, especially in his kind treatment of foreigners, and in his generosity toward Ruth, and in his willingness to secure Elimelech’s inheritance through the principle of sonship.
Boaz, then, was one of the overcoming remnant in his day, a type and shadow of One who would come later from Bethlehem as the Son of God and as the King of Kings. The period of the Judges from Othniel to Samson (and Samuel) represented the broader interim leading to the coronation of the King of Kings and the day when all things are subject to His rule.