Judges 1:1-2:10 – Dropping the Baton

Dropping the Baton

Judges 1:1-2:10

Now What?

1:1 After Joshua died, the Israelites asked the LORD, “Who should lead the invasion against the Canaanites and launch the attack?”

Since the book of Judges takes place after the book of Joshua, it is fitting that it opens with the death of Joshua and the acknowledgement of the void left by the death of this great leader. Joshua son of Nun led Israel for many years. He served as a slave in Egypt and witnessed the events of the Exodus. After the nation’s departure from Egypt Joshua quickly rose to prominence as Israel’s first military leader when Moses chose him to lead the defense against the Amalekites (Ex 17:8ff). Joshua served as Moses’ right-hand man in spiritual matters as well, accompanying him on his trip up Mount Sinai (Ex 24:13) as well as future trips to the tabernacle where he lingered long after Moses had returned to the people (Ex 33:11). Joshua participated in the original reconnaissance mission into Canaan and stood alone with Caleb in his belief that the Lord would bring them victory (Num 14:8). As a result, he and Caleb were the only two men from their generation that God permitted to enter the Promised Land at the end of the years of wilderness wandering.

Near the end of Moses’ life God arranged for Joshua to be commissioned in front of all of the people and charged him with leadership of this great nation (Num 27:15ff). And a second time, right before Moses’ death, God again gathered the people to exhort them to follow Joshua (Deut 31:1-23). After Moses’ death the Lord appeared yet again to Joshua to urge him to be strong and courageous, reminding Joshua that he would be with him as he had been with Moses (Josh 1:1-9)

Joshua spent the remainder of his life leading the Israelites – first across the Jordan and then into battle after battle in the conquest of Canaan. His mission: to carve out a sizeable beachhead which would serve as a launching point from which the individual tribes could finish the job in their assigned territories. Despite a few setbacks (Joshua 7, 9) Joshua enjoyed wild success, conquering six nations and thirty-one kings (Josh 11:18-23; 12:24).

But in spite of Joshua’s success we begin to detect problems in the nation he will leave behind. Late in Joshua’s life we read: “The Lord told him, ‘You are very old, and a great deal of land remains to be conquered’” (Josh 13:1). After exhorting the people to take possession of the land, we see Joshua ask the people a few chapters later, “How long are you going to wait before taking possession of the remaining land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given to you?” (Josh 18:3). The people seem reluctant, preferring instead to settle for the land already taken under Joshua.

At the end of Joshua’s life he gathers the leaders and the people for his farewell address. Here the people might expect God to appoint a successor for this great leader as he had done with Moses. But instead Joshua delivers two stirring speeches reminding them of God’s goodness and faithfulness and exhorting them to follow Him alone. Joshua’s speeches focus primarily on God’s love and faithfulness to the Israelites. But they also include challenges to remain faithful to the Lord, lest they forfeit the opportunity to continue to reap His blessings:

Soon I will die, going the way of everything on earth. Deep in your hearts you know that every promise of the Lord your God has come true. Not a single one has failed! But as surely as the Lord your God has given you the good things he promised, he will also bring disaster on you if you disobey him. He will completely destroy you from this good land he has given you.

Here is what the Lord God of Israel says: “It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.”

So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. (Josh 23:14-15; 24:12-15)

But now, upon Joshua’s death, we see the crucial difference between the book of Joshua and the book of Judges. Notice a careful comparison of the first verse of each of these two books:

(Joshua 1:1) After Moses the LORD’s servant died, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant…

(Judges 1:1) After Joshua died, the Israelites asked the LORD, “Who should lead the invasion against the Canaanites and launch the attack?”

Both books begin with the death of a major leader. But in the first case, both God and Moses have arranged for a successor; in the latter case there is no one to step forward to lead the people. Instead, the Israelites approach the Lord to ask him who should lead. God responds, not with an individual, but with a tribe: “The men of Judah should take the lead” (Josh 1:2).[1]

The text does not say why God had not chosen another to fill Joshua’s role. Maybe there was no one willing to step forward. Perhaps Joshua failed earlier in life by not selecting an apprentice as his successor. It is possible that God had other reasons for such a move. Whatever the reason, this lack of leadership becomes a recurring theme in the book of Judges. The author raises the issue in the first verse of the book and summarizes the catastrophic result in the last verse of the book: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdg. 21:25)

The book of Judges narrates the tragic account of a leadership shortage among the people of God and the resulting apostasy. It returns to this subject in chapter two before presenting the pattern of sin that will dominate the remainder of the book.

It devotes the remainder of chapter one to the ongoing quest to possess the land. This chapter parallels the material found in Joshua 13-19. First it recounts the victories of Judah, and then recaps the partial successes and failures of the different tribes. A handful of personal anecdotes[2] are mixed in with summaries of their military exploits.

First it reports a string of successes. The death of Joshua renews the determination of the tribes to press on to victory. So they consult the Lord, probably through the Urim and the Thummim, about who should lead the charge:

The Lord said, “The men of Judah should take the lead. Be sure of this! I am handing the land over to them.” The men of Judah said to their relatives, the men of Simeon, “Invade our allotted land with us and help us attack the Canaanites. Then we will go with you into your allotted land.” So the men of Simeon went with them. (1:2-3)

Judah responds to God’s call. Their territory surrounded the land allotted to Simeon, so it made sense for these two tribes to work together to claim what God had given them.

The men of Judah attacked, and the LORD handed the Canaanites and Perizzites over to them. They killed ten thousand men at Bezek. They met Adoni-Bezek at Bezek and fought him. They defeated the Canaanites and Perizzites. When Adoni-Bezek ran away, they chased him and captured him. Then they cut off his thumbs and big toes. Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings, with thumbs and big toes cut off, used to lick up food scraps under my table. God has repaid me for what I did to them.” They brought him to Jerusalem, where he died. The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem and captured it. They put the sword to it and set the city on fire. (1:4-9)

They attack first at Bezek (probably near Jerusalem) and capture their king, Adoni-Bezek (“the Lord of Bezek,”), who claims to have humiliated seventy kings. The tribe of Judah reduces this powerful ruler to the status of a prisoner of war. However, the author probably intends some criticism of Judah for allowing Adoni-Bezek to live instead of executing him as directed by God (Deut 7:1-6).

We also read about the initial conquest of Jerusalem. Judah attempted an unsuccessful siege earlier during the conquest (Josh 15:63). This one was more successful, but still incomplete (see Jdg. 1:21). King David would ultimately be the one to capture this city (2 Sam 5:6ff).

Later the men of Judah went down to attack the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev, and the lowlands. The men of Judah attacked the Canaanites living in Hebron. (Hebron used to be called Kiriath Arba.) They killed Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. From there they attacked the people of Debir. (Debir used to be called Kiriath Sepher.) Caleb said, “To the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher I will give my daughter Acsah as a wife.” When Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, captured it, Caleb gave him his daughter Acsah as a wife. One time Acsah came and charmed her father so she could ask him for some land. When she got down from her donkey, Caleb said to her, “What would you like?” She answered, “Please give me a special present. Since you have given me land in the Negev, now give me springs of water.” So Caleb gave her both the upper and lower springs. (1:10-15)

Even though Joshua failed to produce a leader to take his place, we do see Caleb, the other great leader of Joshua’s generation, calling forth individuals to lead God’s people. He offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to the person who captures the city of Kiriath Sepher. His close relative[3] Othniel rises to the challenge and will go on to become the first judge of the nation of Israel. In the process Caleb wisely secures a noble and godly husband for his daughter. This account stands in sharp contrast with the treatment of women later in the book.

Now the descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up with the people of Judah from the City of Date Palm Trees to Arad in the desert of Judah, located in the Negev. They went and lived with the people of Judah. (1:16)

After Judah clears out the Canaanites, the Kenites leave Jericho (a.k.a. “the City of Date Palm Trees”) to move further into the land to dwell with the Israelites near Arad, an important city 16 miles south of Hebron. The Kenites were probably a clan or subgroup of the Midianites. They made several valuable contributions to God’s plan in this period in Israel’s history, producing leaders such as Caleb and Othniel and later playing a featured role in the story of Deborah and Barak.[4]

The men of Judah went with their brothers the men of Simeon and defeated the Canaanites living in Zephath. They wiped out Zephath. So people now call the city Hormah. The men of Judah captured Gaza, Ashkelon, Ekron, and the territory surrounding each of these cities. (1:17-18)

The capture of Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron takes place before the arrival of the “Sea Peoples” (including the Philistines) in the thirteenth century BC. Therefore the Israelite occupation of these cities must have been temporary.

 

The LORD was with the men of Judah. They conquered the hill country, but they could not conquer the people living in the coastal plain, because they had chariots with iron-rimmed wheels. (1:19)

The reference to iron is significant because it marks the beginning of the Iron Age in this area:

Textual and archaeological evidence shows that iron was known in the ancient Near East prior to what is known as the Iron Age (ca. 1200–586 B.C.), but the metal was rare and precious. However, the discovery of the process of carburization at the beginning of this period ushered in a new technological age, which the Canaanites exploited to full advantage. The present reference to iron chariots is often dismissed as an anachronistic retrojection of a later age when iron was abundant and reflective of eighth-century B.C. Assyrian or even later Persian models. However, this interpretation is quite unnecessary in light of the widespread use of iron by the Hittites and the extension of their power as far south as northern Lebanon and Damascus in the thirteenth century. Their new technology could easily have found its way into the Egyptian province of Canaan. How much iron was used in the chariots is an open question. Obviously the chariots were not made entirely of iron, but they could certainly have been reinforced with iron plates or lesser reinforcements.[5]

The Israelites shy away from attacking the people on the coastal plains because those opponents possessed iron chariots. However, when the Israelites had raised a similar objection with Joshua he had assured them: “you shall drive out the Canaanites, even though they have chariots of iron and though they are strong.” (Josh 17:18) It is not Israel’s military technology that brings them victory in the highlands; it is the presence and power of God. The subsequent victories recounted in the rest of this book reveal the truth of Zech. 4:6 – “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.”

We would do well to remember this lesson today. Although our efforts are important, it is not our technology, our techniques, our charisma or our intellect that bring us victory in our efforts to serve God. He is the one who causes the growth. And if God is for us, who can be against us?

Mixed Results

In spite of the victories that God has given them, they begin to shrink back at this point, and the author goes on to recount a string of partial failures. This reminds us that decay often enters our spiritual lives unobtrusively—not as a crushing defeat but just a little bit at a time. The once victorious campaign degenerates into a crusade of compromise.

Caleb received Hebron, just as Moses had promised. He drove out the three Anakites. The men of Benjamin, however, did not conquer the Jebusites living in Jerusalem. The Jebusites live with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this very day. (1:20-21)

Caleb shows himself to be as tough as ever. But even though the men of Benjamin capture and burn Jerusalem, they fail to fully conquer and hold the city, and the Jebusites continue to coexist with the Benjamites until this very day, likely a reference to the time of David.

When the men of Joseph attacked Bethel, the LORD was with them. When the men of Joseph spied out Bethel (it used to be called Luz), the spies spotted a man leaving the city. They said to him, “If you show us a secret entrance into the city, we will reward you.” He showed them a secret entrance into the city, and they put the city to the sword. But they let the man and his extended family leave safely. He moved to Hittite country and built a city. He named it Luz, and it has kept that name to this very day. (1:22-26)

At first glance, the Ephraimite assault on Bethel bears some similarities to the account of Rahab and Jericho. But the similarities are only superficial. Whereas Rahab and her family placed their trust in Yahweh, this Luzite informant does no such thing. They simply bribe him for his report and spare his life, allowing him to re-found the same city (with the same name). So the city is not really conquered, just relocated. In reality, this “conquest” is an embarrassing failure to trust God to give them victory.

The men of Manasseh did not conquer Beth Shan, Taanach, or their surrounding towns. Nor did they conquer the people living in Dor, Ibleam, Megiddo or their surrounding towns. The Canaanites managed to remain in those areas. Whenever Israel was strong militarily, they forced the Canaanites to do hard labor, but they never totally conquered them. (1:27-28)

The tribe of Manasseh fails to fully possess their allotted land. When they have the upper hand they foolishly choose to enslave the Canaanites and live alongside of them instead of eradicating the people like God instructed (Deut 7:1-6). This will prove to be their downfall.

The remainder of chapter one describes the failures of Ephraim, Zebulum, Asher, Naphtali and Dan. In all cases they fail to conquer the Canaanites as prescribed by God. In some cases they coexist with them and in others they enslave the native population and force them into hard labor. Notice the repeated phrase “did not conquer,” along with reference to cohabitation and intermingling between the Israelites and the Canaanites.

The men of Ephraim did not conquer the Canaanites living in Gezer. The Canaanites lived among them in Gezer.

The men of Zebulun did not conquer the people living in Kitron and Nahalol. The Canaanites lived among them and were forced to do hard labor.

The men of Asher did not conquer the people living in Acco or Sidon, nor did they conquer Ahlab, Aczib, Helbah, Aphek, or Rehob. The people of Asher live among the Canaanites residing in the land because they did not conquer them.

The men of Naphtali did not conquer the people living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath. They live among the Canaanites residing in the land. The Canaanites living in Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath were forced to do hard labor for them.

The Amorites forced the people of Dan to live in the hill country. They did not allow them to live in the coastal plain. The Amorites managed to remain in Har Heres, Aijalon, and Shaalbim.

Whenever the tribe of Joseph was strong militarily, the Amorites were forced to do hard labor. The border of Amorite territory ran from the Scorpion Ascent to Sela and on up. (1:29-36)

As we reach the end of chapter one the tide has turned. In spite of the success of the conquest and the victories of Judah (for which Caleb deserves much credit), the spiritual momentum has shifted. The compromise of these first generation immigrants sets the tone for the cycle of failure and defeat that characterizes the rest of the book.

Warning from the Angel of the Lord

Chapter two begins with a visit from the angel of the Lord.

1 The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you

In 1:1 the Israelites initiate with God, but in 2:1 God has to initiate with them. This reflects more deterioration in their spiritual state. First they grow comfortable and fail to completely carry out God’s instructions. Then they stop seeking him out, forcing God to track them down if he has something he wants to say.[6] As great leaders like Joshua and Caleb fade from view the collective spiritual state of the entire community continues to degenerate.

This is the first of three direct confrontations from God (cf. Jdg. 6:7-10; 10:10-16). It is also the first of three visits from the angel of the Lord. He will later appear, not to confront, but to deliver messages to Gideon (Jdg. 6:11ff) and to Samson’s parents (Jdg. 13:2ff).

Who is the enigmatic angel of the Lord? He is some sort of manifestation of God himself, probably a pre-incarnate appearance of God the Son. He sometimes speaks of God in the third person (Jdg.6:12; 13:16), but other times speaks directly for Yahweh (Jdg. 2:1-3; 6:14, 16). He accepts worship and sacrifice (Jdg. 6:17-23; 13:20), acts that are reserved for Yahweh alone. It is no wonder that after the angel’s departure even Samson’s spiritually dense parents conclude that they “have seen God” (Jdg.13:22).

This is probably the angel predicted in Exodus 23:20-23.

Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him. But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them.

He is given a tremendous amount of authority, including the authority to pardon sins in the name of Yahweh. His actions appear to be interchangeable with Yahweh’s: “My angel will go before you… and I will completely destroy them.”[7]  It is clear that the words of the angel are the words of Yahweh, and vice versa. This is why most conservative scholars agree the angel of the Lord is a pre-incarnate appearance of God the Son [citation needed].

Angels typically appear as humans in Scripture, and this one is no different. The text says that he came up from Gilgal, which probably means that he arrived from that direction, not that he lived in Gilgal. Joshua’s army camped at Gilgal several times (Josh 5, 9, 10, 14), and this is where the “captain of the host of Yahweh” (Josh 5:13-15), who was most likely the angel of the Lord, had appeared to Joshua.

Although the angel brings a message of rebuke and warning, he begins by reminding the people of God’s grace: God saved them from Egypt. God gave this good land to them. And God promised never to break his covenant with them. Or, to put it differently, he points to what he saved them from, what he has already given them, and how committed he is to his relationship with them.

I think this is significant. He doesn’t lead with threats, guilt and shame. He brings them back to the fount of true repentance: God’s grace. A failure to understand and appreciate God’s grace lies at the heart of all sin. Grace alone can supply the courage for the people to admit how far they have drifted from God and truly turn back to him. He is reminding them that he will never break his promises to them. They will always have a special relationship to him – a father-son relationship. This is because the starting point and foundation for any relationship with God is not what we do for God but what He does for us.

This is surprising for many readers of the Bible who view God as a stingy, demanding God who constantly makes his people follow rules and jump through hoops while only occasionally giving out a blessing. This caricature could not be further from the truth. As the angel points out, the nation of Israel began when God chose to bless Abraham. Then God saved them from their cruel taskmasters in Egypt and he gave them the best land around. In spite of all this they turned away from God and forgot what he had done.

Everything God asks us to do flows from our response to His unmerited favor. Growing Christians find that their motivation comes as they understand the gap between what they deserve and what they have received.

Imagine this: Jesus shows up one day to personally confront your entire church with irrefutable evidence of widespread sin. As soon as he shows up you know that you are caught red-handed. You tense up and lower your head, bracing yourself for his rebuke. But you hear something quite different come from his lips. He says: “I saved you from a miserable, condemned life of self-protection and using others. I have given you eternal life and joy. I have given you a wonderful family, great friends, good health and talents to use for my sake. And I promised long ago that nothing can shatter my commitment to you.”

What a difference that would make in your ability to agree with his assessment of the situation. It changes the tone of the entire interaction. Many Christians fail at this point, leading instead with the law and threats of judgment. Meanwhile the apostle Paul wonders, “Don’t you know that it is the kindness of God that leads you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4)

The angel goes on:

2 and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done?

After God’s gracious initiative on their behalf they should have eagerly and gratefully obeyed his commands. They were to be faithful to him and to serve as his agents of judgment on the Canaanites. But they failed to keep his requirements. Instead they blended in with the nations around them.

3 Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’

God does not reject his people, but he does allow them to experience the consequences of their sin (although I am convinced that he allows far fewer consequences than we deserve). Even after God has saved us, our actions are still significant and to some extent will determine the course of our lives. Jesus said, “If you know these things you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:17), clearly implying that we will experience less blessing when we refuse to obey him. God will be faithful to us, but he still gives us the freedom to go our own direction and suffer the negative effects of sin.

4 When the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept.

5 So they named that place Bochim; and there they sacrificed to the LORD.

God’s rebuke grieved the people, as evidenced by their weeping and sacrifices. Unfortunately their sorrow did not lead to repentance, but only left them feeling bad. They did not change their hearts or their direction, continuing instead to walk away from God. This demonstrates another characteristic of a spiritually unhealthy community: they felt bad about their sin and even changed their actions for a little while. But after the painful emotions passed they settled back into the same lifestyle they were living before, hardening their hearts and making true repentance even more unlikely.

A Failed Handoff

How did the Israelites get into this position? 2:6-10 explains where things went wrong.

6 When Joshua had dismissed the people, the sons of Israel went each to his inheritance to possess the land.

7 The people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the LORD which He had done for Israel.

8 Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of one hundred and ten.

9 And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

10 All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.

Their problems began with the death of Joshua. In spite of Joshua’s godly character and exemplary spiritual leadership he failed to pass the torch to the next generation. The elders who served alongside Joshua, “who had seen all the great work of the Lord which He had done for Israel,” led the people to serve the Lord for a little while longer. But their children wandered away, in large part because they “did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.”

We learn a sobering lesson from Joshua’s legacy. True impartation of faith entails more than godly living, careful instruction and powerful exhortations. It requires cultivating convictions in others and teaching them how to know and serve the Lord. They need to take their own steps of faith and see “the great work of the Lord.” Godly men and women need to step forward and take responsibility to lead the people and to make disciples who will do the same.

What a contrast between Moses and Joshua! Even though Moses ended his life in bitterness and defeat, he left behind perhaps the godliest and most faithful generation ever in the nation of Israel. Joshua, on the other hand, ended his life full of faith and zeal, and having accomplished his mission he urged others to follow in his footsteps. But he left behind one of Israel’s most wicked and unfaithful generations ever, who in turn gave birth to several centuries of Israelites where everyone did what was right in their own eyes.

These differing outcomes defy all expectations, and I think it points to a subtle difference between Moses’ and Joshua’s approaches to leadership. Early in Moses’ tenure he learned an important leadership lesson from his father-in-law, Jethro. On that occasion, Scripture records that Moses rose early in the morning and spent the entire day until nightfall resolving all of the peoples’ disputes. After observing Moses’ exhausting day, Jethro offers him the following advice:

The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes  and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. (Exodus 18:17-22)

Jethro brings up several important points, each of which carries important application for ministry today.

First of all, “The task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.” This is still true of spiritual leadership, and probably even more so under the New Covenant where every believer is indwelt with the Spirit. The body is built up when every member makes its contribution. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you.” (1 Cor 12:21). Leaders who hog the ball choke out the spiritual life of the body. And they risk being crushed in the process because the task is too heavy for them. They cannot do it alone.

Second, Jethro tells Moses to “select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain,” and “place these over them as leaders.” He should give them adequate training (“make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do”) and turn them loose. Of course, they will work under his supervision and will turn to him for coaching and guidance.

This is a mistake some make when trying to delegate responsibility. They agree with Jethro’s first point – that the task is too heavy for them and they cannot do it alone. So they release leaders into ministry without adequate training or coaching in the hope that they will rise to the challenge. Such an approach might occasionally work out, but more often they end up with incompetent, unsupervised leaders running the ministry.

Training leaders takes time, but in the end it saves far more time than it requires. Jethro explains the sweet result: “It will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.” God gives leaders a tremendous spiritual burden which requires investment in others.

Not only does this life contain too many needs for one person to meet, but there will come a time for every leader when they are unable to meet any spiritual needs at all. For Joshua, this point of irrelevance came at his death. He finished well and remained spiritually vigorous up until his parting speech to the nation. But study the nation of Israel a few years after Joshua’s death and try to find any evidence that they had recently served under the guidance of one of history’s greatest spiritual leaders. Without Joshua’s personal presence their spiritual zeal evaporated like the morning dew.

Even though he could declare at the end of his life that, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” the rest of the nation still fell away. This should teach us an important lesson: Christians need to do more than lead their families to a robust faith in God. Joshua should have left behind leaders who could lead other families and other households to serve the Lord. Not only does Joshua’s family fail to make spiritual impact on the nation as a whole, but Scripture never even tells us who they are. The silence speaks volumes, especially in an era obsessed with genealogical records!

Some Christians claim that their family is their ministry. While we need to work hard to lead our households to strong faith, we also need to look outside of our families and take responsibility for the household of God (1 Tim 3:5, 15). We cannot settle for discipleship in some fuzzy, general sense, but we must take responsibility for specific individuals and work to present them as Christ-like spiritual leaders (Col 1:28).

For some of us, like Joshua, our personal spiritual influence will last right up until our death. But for others, our point of irrelevance will come much sooner. For Moses, this point came before his death. His spiritual decline was not caused by physical ailment: “Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.” (Deut 34:7)

Instead, Moses was disqualified for moral reasons. His outburst of anger at the waters of Meribah kept him from entry into the Promised Land. He lost his moral authority when he failed to trust God and treat Him as holy in the sight of the people (Num 20:12). As a result he could not call the people to imitate him in the same way that Joshua could. Even at Moses’ death the peoples’ reverence focuses on the earlier events in his life (Ex 34:10-12). Fortunately, by that time in his life there were already a number of strong leaders in place – such as Joshua, Caleb, Eleazar and Phinehas.[8]

One thing is abundantly clear from a study of Joshua’s life: It’s not enough just to be a great leader. It’s not even enough to exhort the following generation to put away their idols and follow God alone. Because after Joshua died, “The people worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and as long as the elderly men who outlived him remained alive. These men had witnessed all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.” But because they failed to develop the next generation their work didn’t last. God doesn’t have any grandchildren. Each generation needs to start their own relationship with God and take ownership of their faith. You see, it’s not enough just to make disciples. We need to make disciple-makers; and we need their disciples to make disciples too!

[1] In addition to Judah’s leadership in this chapter, they will also supply the first judge (Othniel – Jdg 1:12-13; 3:9-10) as well as critical leadership in the conflict with Benjamin (Judges 20:18)

[2] 1:5-7, 12-15, 23-26

[3] Othniel was probably Caleb’s brother or step-brother as stated in the plain sense reading of the text, but may have also been Caleb’s nephew (if “Kenaz” was Caleb’s brother and that Othniel was Kenaz’ son). Compare 1 Chron 4:13; Josh 14:6)

[4] cf. Jdg. 1:13 “Othniel son of Kenaz”; Numbers 32:12 – “Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite”; Jdg.4:11, 17-22

[5] Block, D. I. (2001). Vol. 6: Judges, Ruth (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (99–100). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] I’ve noticed that healthy believers tend to seek God out and eagerly solicit input from others, and as a result they tend to need less correction from others.

[7] Also see Jdg. 6:22-23 for this interchangeableness

[8] You see this same strategy in New Testament times. In Acts 6 the apostles choose seven men to oversee the distribution of food to the widows. Paul urges Timothy to guard the gospel, and the best way to “guard … the treasure that has been entrusted to you” is to “entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 1:13; 2:2).

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