The cycle of the judges begins in Judges 3:7. After setting the scene about this generation that did not know the Lord, the scriptures will now detail some of the events surrounding the life of the judges. Before we consider the first judge, it is important to understand what a judge was. Usually a judge served with two functions: 1) to be a military leader to deliver the people from oppression and 2) to settle disputes, providing godly direction and leadership to the people. With this in mind, we are presented with the first situation after the death of Joshua and the leaders of that generation.
Forgetting The Lord (3:7)
The text begins with the people of Israel doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord (3:7). Why has this happened? Why are people turning to evil? The answer is clearly given in verse 7. They forgot the Lord their God. Forgetting the Lord means that they were no longer controlled by what they knew about God. They knew who God was. They knew what God required. But they forgot the Lord. Though they knew who God was and what God desired, those things were not important and did not mean anything to the people. Let me explain the difference with an illustration. When we hear about a hurricane hitting Japan or the Philippines or even Hawaii, we know this information but it does not make any impact to our lives. But when we hear that a hurricane is coming to south Florida, we know the same information about a hurricane but it impacts our lives in a completely different way.
This is what it means to forget the Lord. The information we have about the Lord no longer impacts our hearts. What we know about God no longer affects us. The information simply stays information. The information does not hit the heart. The heart freezes over though our mind knows the truth. How easy it is to read over the words of the scripture and have zero impact on our hearts. What has happened? We have forgotten the Lord. The scriptures are very concerned with the problem of us forgetting the mighty works of God.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5–8 ESV)
Notice that we are supposed to be growing in each of these qualities. We are to be making every effort to add these qualities to our faith so that we are not ineffective or unfruitful. But what does it mean if these qualities are not ours and increasing? Listen to what Peter says next.
For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (2 Peter 1:9 ESV)
What does Peter say the problem is? The problem is that we have forgotten what God has done. We must be reminded of the things we know, not so that these things are memorized, but so that they continue to impact our hearts. This is sometimes the shameful treatment of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is not some ordinance that needs to be kept to keep God happy. This is a memorial so that the cross will always cut our hearts, so that we will not forget what the Lord has done. This is one of God’s tools to keep us from being blind so that we will not forget our great God. Do not forget the Lord! We may think that we have not forgotten the Lord. But we know we have not by constantly being molded and transformed by the Lord’s actions and words.
God’s Way of Renewal (3:8-10)
Since the people forget the Lord and turn to their idolatry, the Lord gives them into the hand of Mesopotamia. The people serve the king of Mesopotamia for eight years. I want us to think about how long that is to be oppressed by a foreign nation. For us today, it would be like saying we had been oppressed and attacked by another nation since 2006. The reason I want us to consider the duration of this oppression is to see how slow the people are to cry out to the Lord. For eight years they are being oppressed. Yet verse 9 seems to indicate that when the people cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer. But it took eight years of trying to deal with their oppression by their own strength and wisdom before they finally cry out to the Lord.
But when the cried out to the Lord, God heard them. God listens to the cries of his people. We serve a compassionate God. We serve a God who listens to our cries. One of the common questions people have is, “Does God listen?” One of the messages of the book of Judges that we first see at this moment is that God does listen to the cries of his people. How amazing is it that we could turn our back on the Lord and forget our great God, yet God is still compassionate and willing to listen! Notice that God does not say that it is too late to cry out to him. Notice that God does not say that the people were too wicked for God to listen to them. When they finally turned their hearts to the Lord, he listened to them and responded. God sends them a deliverer, Othniel, who saved them.
Think about this for a moment. What did the people contribute to their salvation from the hand of this foreign king? The only contribution they made to their deliverance was to call out to the Lord. Notice that verse 10 emphasizes this truth. The Spirit of the Lord was placed on Othniel. But listen to the scripture: “And the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand” (3:10). Who truly was the deliverer? God was. God raised up Othniel and God used Othniel as a military leader and gave Othniel the victory over their oppressor. The Lord won the battle. The Lord gave the enemy into Othniel’s hand. We do not have the power for victory. The people took eight years to figure this out. Only God can give salvation. Only God has the power for victory.
God allowed the people to suffer to bring about a repentance that he desired. One of the reasons the world is the way it is and why God allows pain and suffering is so that we will see our complete insufficiency to deal with these things. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot help ourselves. To save our souls, God needs us to see how totally insufficient we are at running our own lives and saving ourselves. We have no power. It takes life being out of our hands to see this truth. God is showing grace to us by allowing difficulties and suffering. We would not see how spiritually enslaved we are and how incapable we are without difficulties in life.
God has pressed this truth strongly into my heart with my daughter’s disability. There is nothing I can do. I cannot fix it. I cannot do much of anything. There is no one I can depend on. My wife cannot fix it. The doctors cannot do anything about it. So suffering opens our eyes to our inabilities so that we will rely on the Lord who rules over all things and can do all things. So we repent of our pride and arrogance to think we are in control and turn our hearts back to the Lord. The Lord responds with compassion and grace. He listens to our cries. He hears our words.
The Result of Peace (3:11)
The result of Israel crying out to the Lord is peace. Repentance is critical for renewal and restoration. For 40 years the people of Israel are able to live in peace. Spiritual renewal and peace only comes by crying to the Lord, not turning to our idols or our own strength. Peace is enjoyed by serving God. Peace is enjoyed by resting in the power of God.
What we must learn is that the deliverance, help, strength, and salvation we need only comes through the chosen deliverer God sends. Our help is found in God’s chosen instrument of help, Jesus. We have peace with God when we turn to find our help in Christ alone. Only God is able to save and that salvation is only available through God’s chosen deliverer and is only received by those who turn and call out to the Lord.
The prophets promised a greater deliverance, a full spiritual salvation, to come when Christ came. Peter quotes the prophet Joel in Acts 2:21, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21 ESV) Turn your hearts back to the Lord. Do not forget the Lord your God. Let his actions and teachings be real and meaningful to your life. Learn that God is the only helper and savior. Call on the name of the Lord. Peter tells the people how they are to do this: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 ESV)