“Nevertheless the Lord raised up judges . . .” (v. 16). Nevertheless means in spite of what transpired previously. In verses 13-15, we see a picture of a people who had turned from the Lord God to serve false gods. The Lord had delivered them into the hands of their enemies for punishment. Despite these things, the Lord raised up judges to deliver them from their enemies.
God did not tolerate sin in Israel’s day and He does not tolerate sin today. In Israel’s day, God provided judges to deliver them from the consequences of their sin. God is unchanging. Today, God provides deliverance to all men in the person of Jesus Christ who paid the sin debt for all who will believe.
The children of Israel were in the land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At God’s direction and with God’s assistance, Joshua had defeated the inhabitants of the land and driven them out. God had removed every obstacle which could prevent Israel from prospering in the land of milk and honey. So what happened? The children of Israel did not do as God had instructed. The disobeyed the first commandment. They forsook the God of their fathers and followed after gods of the people around them.
Why? Why did the children of Israel drift from God and embrace strange gods? There is a reason for every sin. Adam and Eve sinned because they sought to be as gods. So what moved Israel to sin? The scripture states that they forsook the Lord and served Baal and Ashtaroth. What did Baal and Ashtaroth worship have to offer? In mythology, Baal was the god who controlled rainfall. Failure to worship Baal would, theoretically, result in poor harvests. Ashtaroth was the deity who controlled human fertility. Material wealth in that day (and today) is measured by ones possessions and income. The harvest was income and family size was status, a measure of importance.
Again, why did the children of Israel drift from God? They knew God as a God of power, one who parted the sea and held back the Jordan. They trusted in Him to deliver them from their enemies, but they were not satisfied with the daily needs that He provided. They desired more and trusted in their own efforts to satisfy the lust of the flesh. They failed to acknowledge God in all their ways and they drifted from Him. When meager harvests came, they thought it prudent to supplement their efforts with the help of Baal and Ashtaroth.
Today, men, like Israel of old, forsake God. Some do so in rebellion while others slowly drift away. Like Israel, men of today are out of touch with God and fail to recognize His chastening hand. Like Israel, men of today fail to look to God to deliver them from their maladies. Rather than worship Baal and Ashtaroth, men of today look to the resources of men and governments to increase their harvests. They look the wrong place. They look to gods of their own creation, and not to the God who created them.
God reacted to Israel’s sin by delivering them into the hands of their enemies. The children of Israel became too weak to stand before their adversaries. When all seemed hopeless and lost, God stepped in. He raised up a judge to lead His people against their enemies.
The manner in which God deals with His people has not changed in the three thousand plus years which have passed since His judges ruled. God does not deal with the sin problem by making it easier to overcome sin. He does not lower the bar. Instead He lifts us to a level we are unable to attain of our own effort. He makes us new creatures in Christ, allowing us to overcome all things.
This is not the manner in which men choose to solve their own problems. To solve promiscuity and poverty, man legalizes infant death in the womb. To solve drug crime, man seeks to legalize the private use of drugs. Man seeks to lower the bar. This is not God’s way.
The solution which God provided through the judges was temporary. God would be with the judge that He raised up. And because He was with the judge, the judge would lead the people out of the hands of their enemies. When God’s judge ruled over them, the children of Israel would turn from their evil ways. They did not look to the gods of the people around them for help; they looked to God. But when the judge died, the people returned to their evil ways. Without God’s leadership, without His judge, men turn to their own devices.
Today, God’s people have a new covenant through Jesus Christ. There is one judge, Christ Jesus, who is always with us. He does not die as did the judges of old. Under the old covenant the cycle of sin and judgment repeated and repeated again. Jesus Christ broke the cycle. He paid the price for the sin of all who will come to God believing. Listen to the last judge: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
New Testament believers are empowered by the Holy Spirit to manifest God’s love. Fulfillment of His promises is seen in all who are strengthened through Christ Jesus. Let us claim the promise. Let us ever seek His will.
Let us perform our reasonable service. Let us be transformed by the renewing of our minds that we may prove that which is good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Rom. 12:2).