One of the vital aspects of community life at Indelible Grace Church is our small group ministry. This is the opportunity to study the Bible, share and encourage others in the church, and just enjoy the company of others. We have small group every Thursday at 7:30pm, rotating locations. Come and join us!
Right now we’re studying the Book of Judges. You might ask – so what’s the theme of Judges? Very simply, it is the repeated failures of Israel to love God and the inadequacy of all the judges (deliverers) to truly rescue Israel from oppression (sin).
One of the most poignant passages we’ve studied so far is Judges 3:7-12. The Book of Judges is basically a series of cycles: (1) the people rebel against God, (2) God allows the people to suffer from their sins, (3) the people cry out to God, (4) God sends a judge, (5) there is a period of rest and peace.
The tragedy of Judges is that this cycle repeats itself again and again. For example, see the passage below:
Stage 1: 7 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.
Stage 2: 8 Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.
Stage 3: 9a But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD.
Stage 4: 9b The LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10 The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim.
Stage 5:11 So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.
The heart-rending tragedy of Judges is the immediately following verse:
12 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the LORD.
In other words, verse 12 is Stage 6 – Repeat Stages 1-5. This happens again and again throughout Judges, like some kind of nightmarish broken record. The people rebel; God sends a judge; there is peace; but the judge dies; the people rebel again.
So is the message of Judges hopeless despair? No. This is the Gospel According to Judges: verse 12 is the gospel in negative relief. It shows us the futility of moral reform for Israel and the inadequacy of all merely human judges. This points us forward in redemptive history to Christ, the ultimate judge and deliverer, who rescues us from the ultimate enemy (sin ), through the ultimate battle (the death on the cross), into the ultimate peace (salvation, heaven). And unlike all other judges before him, Christ reigns forever.
This paradigm of the gospel in negative relief is not well appreciated by many Christians. We think of the gospel as something only articulated in the New Testament. And the Old Testament? The conventional view is that the Old Testament is basically an anthology of heroic characters for us to imitate. Be faithful like Daniel! Be brave like David! But this completely strips the Old Testament of its primary message – which is the gospel in negative relief.
The gospel in negative relief is this: the failure of all OT leaders to truly rescue Israel from its deepest problem, sin. This is why in the Book of Judges, we see a parade of judge after judge unable to truly reform the people or even be upright themselves. How does the Book of Judges end? Everyone did what was right in there own eyes - for there was no king. Ah, so maybe a king is the answer. The people crown Saul. Be he ends up being godless. We need another king - a man after God's own heart! Enter David. But he fails too (e.g. Bathsheba, Uriah, etc.). And his son fails and his son’s sons as well. And all the leaders of Israel fall short.
What's the message? Israel needs a greater judge, a greater king. The Old Testament, in other words, is not about the heroism of various leaders, but their failures. This is the gospel in the negative. The Old Testament prepares us to hear the good news – Christ is the ultimate deliverer, the ultimate warrior, the ultimate prophet, the ultimate priest, and the ultimate king. He is all those things David, Samson, and Jacob were not. As the new Redman song says – Christ alone can rescue.
The gospel according to The Book of Judges is thus found in 3:11-12: So the land had
rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died. And the people of Israel
again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. It is the gospel in negative relief.
For more on this paradigm of reading the Old Testament, watch this great talk by Bryan Chapell: