Justice (Judges 8:29–9:57)

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Stuart Chase - 24 November 2019

Justice (Judges 8:29–9:57)

Judges is a book about salvation—about God granting deliverance to his undeserving people. The story in chapter 9, however, is different. This story highlights the truth that, sometimes, God gives people what they deserve: justice.

Scripture References: Judges 8:29-35, Judges 9:1-57

From Series: "Judges Exposition"

An exposition of the book of Judges by Stuart Chase.

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There are times in life when justice seems to be evaded. On 16 July 1997, two sisters disappeared from a mall in the Philippines. One was later found dead; the other body was never discovered. Nineteen-year-old Paco Larrañaga was arrested for the double murder. But things were not as they seemed.

At the time of the girls’ disappearance, Larrañaga was at school in Manila, 560 kilometres away on another island. Thirty-five classmates and teachers testified to this but, as “friends of the accused,” their testimony was deemed inadmissible. Pictures and school records verified their claim. Security logs at Larrañaga’s apartment building confirmed that he went straight home after a party that night. Flight records showed that he boarded a plane back to the Philippines on 17 July, the day after the dual abduction.

During the trial, the judge repeatedly fell asleep and, while the prosecution’s star witness was questioned on the stand for days, Larrañaga’s defence was permitted but thirty minutes to cross-examine him. Despite this, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by lethal injection. It turns out that the father of the girls who disappeared worked for a drug lord who was known to pay off police and judges. This lead was never followed. Such clear miscarriages of justice outrage us.

On the other hand, we take great delight in stories of people receiving their just deserts.

Earlier this year, Polyana Viana was waiting outside her flat in Rio de Janeiro for an Uber driver. A man walked up to her, informed her that he had a gun, and ordered her to give him her phone. Unfortunately for the mugger, Viana is a professional mixed martial artist, nicknamed “The Iron Lady.” At the time of the mugging, she had won ten of her twelve professional fights—at least five in the first round. Clearly, the mugger hadn’t thought this through very carefully.

Viana later told reporters, “He was really close to me. I thought: ‘If it’s a gun, he won’t have time to draw it.’ So I stood up. I threw two punches and a kick. He fell, then I caught him in a rear-naked choke. Then I sat him down in the same place we were before and said: ‘Now we’ll wait for the police.’”

I think we would agree that the man got what was coming to him. There is something deeply satisfying about that.

As we have journeyed through the book of Judges, we have observed that the story of Judges is the story of salvation. The judges were appointed as saviours for Israel. And they were saviours that Israel did not deserve. The story of the judges is the story of God’s gracious salvation of his undeserving people.

But Judges 9 is different. In this chapter, there is no hint of salvation. On the contrary, this is a story of God’s people getting exactly what they deserve. Decades later, David would capture the heart of this story when, facing accusations from a particular Benjamite, he wrote,

God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day.
If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
making his arrows fiery shafts.
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
and is pregnant with mischief
and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out,
and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head,
and on his own skull his violence descends.

(Psalm 7:11–16)

The writer of Judges points to this same theme as the moral of this story: “Thus God returned the evil of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers. And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads, and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal” (vv. 56–57). It’s a story of returns, of comeuppance, of justice. As we consider the text together, we will consider the reasons for justice and the results of justice before considering the rescue from justice.

The Motivation for Justice

The climax of the story is Abimelech’s downfall, but first the writer shows what led to that downfall. He offers three reasons that justice befell Abimelech and the Israelites.

They Forsook the Good Lord

The first reason for God’s justice in this text is that the people of Israel forsook the Lord.

Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech. And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. And the people of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side.

(Judges 8:29–34)

We saw previously that Gideon was an imperfect leader who made some serious mistakes. Nevertheless, he was ultimately a man of faith (Hebrews 11:32) who, despite his failings, submitted to God. When the people of Israel wanted to make him king, he refused, instead pointing them back to the Lord as their King. Even in naming his son Abimelech (“my father is king”) I think he was trying to point people to the Lord, for God is recognised as a Father to his people in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 32:6; 1 Chronicles 29:10; Psalm 103:13; Proverbs 3:12; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 3:19; 31:9; Malachi 1:6; 2:10) and they as his children (Exodus 4:22–23; Deuteronomy 14:1; Psalm 82:6; Isaiah 1:2; Hosea 1:10; 11:1). He would not take credit that belonged to the Lord alone. Sadly, partly due to his own failures, his efforts were in vain.

Gideon’s presence among the people seems to have just barely restrained them from full-blooded idolatry, but “as soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god.” The reason they did this is because they “did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side.” Because they did not “remember” the Lord, they openly embraced idolatry.

It will be helpful here to understand how the Bible uses the term “remember.” In biblical terminology, “remembering” someone or something has less to do with intellectual recollection and more to do with action. When God remembered his people (Genesis 8:1; 19:29; 30:22; 1 Samuel 1:19; Psalm 105:42; Jeremiah 31:20; etc.) he acted on their behalf. When God’s people remembered him, they obeyed him. When the writer therefore says that the people “did not remember the LORD their God,” he means that what they knew about him exerted no influence over their behaviour. Their head knowledge held no grip on their loyalties. They may have been able to cite Scripture and recall Bible stories, but it made no difference in their lives. And this opened them up to God’s judgement.

I wonder how many professing Christians around the world can recite memory verses and answer catechism questions and win Bible trivia games but have forgotten the Lord. Does your knowledge of the Lord exert any influence in your life? Does it change the way that you live your life? Does it drive you to obedience?

You can read your Bible every day, gather with the church at every opportunity, love the preaching of the word, and yet forget the Lord. You can memorise Scripture and win every Bible trivia game you play and yet forget the Lord. And how do you know you have forgotten the Lord? When what you know of him exerts no influence in your life. When you love preaching and faithfully attend church but don’t make disciples.

Forgetting God can be a process. It often starts with what we might call careless forgetting. Our present distresses so distract and overwhelm us that we neglect to look to God. We do not blatantly disobey his commands, but because we are not actively relying on him, we tend to forget his power.

If we persist in careless forgetfulness, we may soon fall into deliberate forgetfulness. This is where Israel was. They had for so long carelessly forgotten God that when the false gods around them promised them deliverance from their adverse circumstances, they were all too ready to embrace open idolatry. They “whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god.” Their deliberate forgetting of God manifested itself in blatant idolatry.

We so easily become distracted by the busyness of our times that we ignore—or perhaps fail to fully obey—God’s commands. Bible study, prayer, and church attendance fall by the wayside. We tell ourselves that it is a small thing, only temporary, and that we will get back on track as soon as our circumstances let up a little, but fail to realise that such carelessness may well set us on the path to idolatry.

How easily we fail to obey God’s commands. We know we are supposed to be kind and forgiving to one another (Ephesians 4:32) but we choose to hold onto bitterness and resentment. We know that we should not forsake the gathering of the saints (Hebrews 10:25) but it is so easy to find excuses to do just that. And the excuses are often understandable and seemingly justifiable, but they set us on that path to idolatry. Before we know it, we have forgotten the living God and have embraced and followed other gods.

They Forsook Godly Leaders

Not only did Israel forget the Lord, but they also forgot the leaders whom God had given to them. “They did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel” (8:35). The clearest manifestation of this lack of steadfast love is found in the opening verses of chapter 9:

Now Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s relatives and said to them and to the whole clan of his mother’s family, “Say in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.”

And his mother’s relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.” And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. And he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself. And all the leaders of Shechem came together, and all Beth-millo, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem.

(Judges 9:1–6)

Have you ever been speaking to someone only to realise that you are talking entirely different languages? That you are on completely different pages? Dominic Done tells the story of his time as a missionary in Vanuatu, ministering to a primitive tribe with no electricity or running water. The tribe spoke Bislama, an English-based creole language that is highly descriptive. Rather than giving single words to things, the item is described by what it does. For example, a slingshot, which is used for hunting, is called an elastic blong shootem pijin. “Piano” is Hemi wan box, wea got white teeth blong hem, mo got black teeth blong hem. Mo suppose yu kilim teeth blong hem, hemi sing out long yu.

One day, as he was sitting around the campfire with his friends, they asked him what he missed most about America. He realised his mistake when he answered “Disneyland” and they asked him to tell them about it. Since there are no Bislama words for “mouse” or “castle,” he began describing the big-fala rat who lives in a big-fala hut. When he tried to explain that there is someone inside the big-fala rat that makes it talk, they thought the rat eats people. Realising that he was getting nowhere, he shifted topics to the rides, but they could not fathom why anyone would enjoy sitting inside a spinning teacup. Eventually, they cautioned him to never go back to Disneyland, which is an evil place ruled by Mickey the Witchdoctor. At that point, he admitted defeat, realising that they were talking different languages, and changed the subject.

Gideon and Abimelech spoke different languages. While Gideon was determined that neither he nor his sons should be Israel’s king, Abimelech had a very different worldview. His strategy was to murder his brothers so that he would be Gideon’s sole heir and rule as Israel’s king. The people went along with this plan, thereby failing to show steadfast love to Gideon and his family despite the good he had done for them.

How fickle the Israelites were! How fickle we often are! Isn’t it true that we can be so quick to forget the good that others have done for us? This is perhaps a temptation as never before in our outrage culture. Someone may help us so much, but all they need do is say or do one thing we disagree with and we’re done with them. We quickly forget all the good that they have done for us.

Do you remember to show steadfast love to those whom God has used to bless you, or are you quick to write them off as soon as they disagree with you? How short is your memory? Perhaps your pastors, or your parents, or your Christian friends have stood by you in your darkest times, but now that they’ve done something that you don’t like you’ve decided that you’re done with them. How foolish! How serious the consequences might be!

In the text before us, failure to remember the good that Gideon had done for Israel had dire consequences: selfish ambition (9:1–2); idolatry (9:3–4); and murder (9:5–6). Gideon was God’s appointed leader, and it is no wonder that those who rejected God’s appointed authorities fell into deeper sin.

God’s instruction for people to submit to authorities over them is always attended by promises of blessing. The command for children to submit to parents is attended by the promise of long life in the land (see Ephesians 6:1–3). Citizens should submit to governmental authorities for their own benefit (Romans 13:1–5). Church members benefit themselves when they submit to church leaders (Hebrews 13:17). The corollary is that failure to submit to these authorities produces harm rather than good. When we ignore the instruments of God’s grace, we demean the giver of grace. When Abimelech and the Israelites did not listen to God and honour God’s appointed leader, great harm came upon them.

They Forsook Good Counsel

Third, the people of God forsook sound counsel:

When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you. The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honoured, and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’

“Now therefore, if you acted in good faith and integrity when you made Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house and have done to him as his deeds deserved—for my father fought for you and risked his life and delivered you from the hand of Midian, and you have risen up against my father’s house this day and have killed his sons, seventy men on one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the leaders of Shechem, because he is your relative—if you then have acted in good faith and integrity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech and devour the leaders of Shechem and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the leaders of Shechem and from Beth-millo and devour Abimelech.” And Jotham ran away and fled and went to Beer and lived there, because of Abimelech his brother.

(Judges 9:7–21)

We could pick this parable apart and consider it from a number of different angles, but it will help us to get directly to the point.

Because Gideon had refused the offer of kingship, arguing instead that God must be Israel’s king, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that the mere desire for a king was the problem here. I don’t think that’s the case, for at least two reasons.

First, remember that the problem in Judges is that people were doing what was right in their own eyes because there was no king. The implication is that if there was a king—or at least, if there was the right kind of king—people would not do whatever was right in their own eyes. A godly king would help them to follow God’s laws.

Second, God had already made provision for a king (Deuteronomy 17:14–20). The people were now in the land and, as God had predicted, they were asking for a king. God’s response was, “You may indeed set a king over you,” though there were stipulations as to who that king was to be and what he was to do.

The problem is not that they wanted a king, but that they didn’t care what kind of king they had. If they couldn’t find an olive tree, a fig tree, or a vine to rule them, any old bramble would do. Abimelech, like a bramble, was unpredictable. The bramble was not concerned about obedience to God and was quick to threaten those who disagreed with it. The bramble did not display consistent godliness. The Israelites might have responded, “He’s not our pastor; he’s our king!” but, to God, character mattered. And it should have mattered to the people.

As it was, the people faithlessly appointed the first person willing to accept the throne, even though he was a godless man, and the result, warned Jotham, was that they and the king would devour one another.

Jotham’s warning was clear and his reasoning sound. But rather than heeding the warning and deposing the king, the people drove Jotham away and began to follow Bramble-man’s leadership. This was to their own harm, as we shall see.

Here is the lesson: We ignore sound counsel to our own detriment, and when we do, we must deal with the consequences of our actions. Despite the clear warning, “Abimelech ruled over Israel three years” (9:22). Disregarding Jotham’s counsel, the people set themselves up for destruction.

The Manifestation of Justice

The reasons for the justice—forsaking God; forsaking God’s leaders; forsaking godly counsel—have been enumerated. In the remainder of the chapter, the results of their rebellion unfold. There seem to be three primary results of the people’s actions.

Divine Displeasure

First, their actions invited divine displeasure, which is the reason for the other consequences that follow.

Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers. And the leaders of Shechem put men in ambush against him on the mountaintops, and they robbed all who passed by them along that way. And it was told to Abimelech.

(Judges 9:22–25)

Jotham had warned that Abimelech and the Shechemites would destroy each other, and that is what unfolded.

It is easy for us to identify the Lord’s hand in this action because we are explicitly told that “God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem.” However, I wonder if the players in the story realised what was going on as it happened. As anarchy gripped the land, were the people sufficiently sensitive to the moving of the Lord that they knew that this was God’s chastening hand?

When we forget the Lord, forget God’s leaders, and forsake godly counsel, it should not surprise us that we invite God’s displeasure. And God’s displeasure may not always look like what we expect it to look like. In this text, God’s displeasure was manifested in infighting within God’s people and in lawlessness in the land.

Destructive Disunity

Second, their neglect of the Lord, the Lord’s leaders, and wise counsel created destructive disunity within the nation.

And Gaal the son of Ebed moved into Shechem with his relatives, and the leaders of Shechem put confidence in him. And they went out into the field and gathered the grapes from their vineyards and trod them and held a festival; and they went into the house of their god and ate and drank and reviled Abimelech. And Gaal the son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech, and who are we of Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerubbaal, and is not Zebul his officer? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him? Would that this people were under my hand! Then I would remove Abimelech. I would say to Abimelech, ‘Increase your army, and come out.’”

When Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled. And he sent messengers to Abimelech secretly, saying, “Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his relatives have come to Shechem, and they are stirring up the city against you. Now therefore, go by night, you and the people who are with you, and set an ambush in the field. Then in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, rise early and rush upon the city. And when he and the people who are with him come out against you, you may do to them as your hand finds to do.”

So Abimelech and all the men who were with him rose up by night and set an ambush against Shechem in four companies. And Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance of the gate of the city, and Abimelech and the people who were with him rose from the ambush. And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, “Look, people are coming down from the mountaintops!” And Zebul said to him, “You mistake the shadow of the mountains for men.” Gaal spoke again and said, “Look, people are coming down from the center of the land, and one company is coming from the direction of the Diviners’ Oak.” Then Zebul said to him, “Where is your mouth now, you who said, ‘Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him?’ Are not these the people whom you despised? Go out now and fight with them.” And Gaal went out at the head of the leaders of Shechem and fought with Abimelech. And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him. And many fell wounded, up to the entrance of the gate. And Abimelech lived at Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his relatives, so that they could not dwell at Shechem.

(Judges 9:26–41)

David wrote of “how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Psalm 133:1). To dwell in unity, brothers (and sisters) must remember the Lord, remember God’s leaders, and heed wise counsel. Failure to do so will result in destructive disunity, as it did here.

The Shechemites had appointed Abimelech as their king, but divine displeasure caused them to lose their confidence in him. They found another leader—Gaal—and “put confidence in him.” Gaal quickly embraced the fickle confidence of the Shechemites and began mocking Abimelech and challenging his authority, even accusing Zebul a leader in the city, of being Abimelech’s lapdog. Zebul was incensed by this accusation and secretly alerted Abimelech to the threat. Promising to side with Abimelech, he suggested an ambush early next morning.

The next morning, when Gaal thought he saw enemy soldiers, Zebul persuaded him it was just a mirage. As the enemy drew closer, Gaal again insisted that he saw soldiers, and this time Zebul admitted his treachery. Together, Abimelech and Zebul drove Gaal out and the coup was averted.

This was not sufficient for fickle Abimelech, however.

On the following day, the people went out into the field, and Abimelech was told. He took his people and divided them into three companies and set an ambush in the fields. And he looked and saw the people coming out of the city. So he rose against them and killed them. Abimelech and the company that was with him rushed forward and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city, while the two companies rushed upon all who were in the field and killed them. And Abimelech fought against the city all that day. He captured the city and killed the people who were in it, and he razed the city and sowed it with salt.

When all the leaders of the Tower of Shechem heard of it, they entered the stronghold of the house of El-berith. Abimelech was told that all the leaders of the Tower of Shechem were gathered together. And Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who were with him. And Abimelech took an axe in his hand and cut down a bundle of brushwood and took it up and laid it on his shoulder. And he said to the men who were with him, “What you have seen me do, hurry and do as I have done.” So every one of the people cut down his bundle and following Abimelech put it against the stronghold, and they set the stronghold on fire over them, so that all the people of the Tower of Shechem also died, about 1,000 men and women.

(Judges 9:42–49)

Though the coup had been averted, Abimelech was persuaded that the rebels needed to be punished, and so the next day he attacked the people who had challenged his authority, slaughtering them in droves. When he learned that some of them had escaped and barricaded themselves in a fortress, he set the fortress on fire, killing another thousand men and women. As Jotham had warned, fire came out from the bramble destroying the people of Israel.

It is good and pleasant when brothers dwell together in unity. It is bad and unpleasant when brothers strive together in disunity.

Disunity can be destructive to the people of God. Paul warned the churches in Galatia, “If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15). The solution to this biting and devouring is simple: “Through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13–14). If we love one another and are committed to serving one another, we can avoid destructive disunity in the church. Love will show that we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35). Lack of love, manifested in unwillingness to serve one another, will hinder the church’s ability to make disciples. And the church that fails to make disciples soon begins to bite and devour one another and should not be surprised when its candlestick is removed.

Directionless Departure

The closing verses of the chapter are sad and reveal what I would call a directionless departure.

Then Abimelech went to Thebez and encamped against Thebez and captured it. But there was a strong tower within the city, and all the men and women and all the leaders of the city fled to it and shut themselves in, and they went up to the roof of the tower. And Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it and drew near to the door of the tower to burn it with fire. And a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull. Then he called quickly to the young man his armour-bearer and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest they say of me, ‘A woman killed him.’” And his young man thrust him through, and he died. And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, everyone departed to his home. Thus God returned the evil of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers. And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads, and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.

(Judges 9:50–57)

Still driven by his thirst for blood, Abimelech next turned on the city of Thebez. Though he managed to seize control of the city, there was a fortified tower within the city that served as a place of safety for its citizens. The people fled there, but Abimelech was still driven by his rage to destroy them. He approached the tower, intending to burn it as he had done in Shechem. What he did not count on was a particular woman who had a big crush on him.

As he stood at the base of the tower, barking orders to his militia, a woman, who had happened to pack an upper millstone in her overnight bag, looked out the window and saw him positioned, conveniently, right below her. An upper millstone was a smallish stone, some 25cm in length, easily held in the hand. A skilled Tetris player, the woman took aim and flung the stone at Abimelech. With deadly accuracy, she struck him on the head, irreversibly crushing his skull.

Since death at the hand of a woman was a disgrace for a trained soldier, Abimelech instructed his armour-bearer to kill him, hoping to avoid the mocking epitaph that a woman had killed him. The armour-bearer did so, though his action did not dissuade later generations from mocking Abimelech for death by woman (2 Samuel 11:21).

Some of the saddest words in the entire account follow Abimelech’s death: “And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, everyone departed to his own home.” The Israelites’ allegiance was so fickle that when Abimelech died, there was nothing to keep them together any longer. They had no more purpose. Everyone just turned around and went home, uncertain of what more to do.

When we forget the Lord and his appointed leaders and forsake godly counsel, we lose all sense of direction. We may be driven forward by a particular personality or agenda, but when that is removed, we suddenly find ourselves with no idea of where to go next. We must be sure to keep before us God’s purposes—by remembering the Lord, by remembering his appointed leaders, and by heeding godly counsel—if we will find real purpose in our lives and in our churches.

The Rescue from Justice

Judges 9 is a story of justice. It is the story of Israel getting what it deserved. There is no gracious rescue here. Because of their sin, the people experienced divine displeasure, destructive disunity, and directionless departure. If God gives us what we deserve, we will find ourselves in the same boat: Sailing steadily but purposelessly downstream to destruction.

Thankfully, there is hope. We will return to these verses in a future study, but note briefly Judges 10:1–5:

After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, and he lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim. And he judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died and was buried at Shamir.

After him arose Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years. And he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities, called Havvoth-jair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. And Jair died and was buried in Kamon.

(Judges 10:1–5)

God would have been perfectly just to leave Israel to sail purposelessly to destruction. But God is a gracious God and he continued to provide saviours for his people.

Let me draw this study to a close by highlighting two important principles.

First, God is not obligated to show grace to sinners. A just God, he is perfectly within his rights to give us what we deserve. The story of Abimelech is a warning that God can and may withdraw saving grace and allow those who forget him and ignore his word to plunge headlong to destruction.

Perhaps you are an unbeliever. Perhaps you have heard the gospel time and again and have stubbornly rejected it. Know that God is a just God who will ultimately repay everyone according to what they deserve. A day is coming in which the Lord Jesus will return “from heaven with his powerful angels, when he takes vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence and from his glorious strength on that day when he comes” (2 Thessalonians 1:8–10, CSB). God is not a kindly grandfather who chuckles at our disobedience and sneaks us sweets when our parents are not looking. He is the righteous judge of all the earth and we must take him seriously.

Perhaps you are a believer who has received but rejected, or is tempted to reject, wise and godly counsel. Beware, lest God allows you to reap the consequences of your own stubbornness. Do not easily reject the counsel of God’s servants whom he places in your life.

Second, though God is perfectly within his rights to give us what we deserve, be encouraged that he takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11) and that judgement is his “strange” and “alien” work (Isaiah 28:21). He is a God who loves to save. He loves to provide salvation for those who believe and call on his name.

God provided saviours for Israel, but those saviours were a mere foreshadowing of a greater Saviour—the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the only Saviour who can save us from the eternal destruction that we deserve because of our sins. He provided the way to salvation by taking that destruction upon himself. He took the wages of our sin—death (Romans 3:23)—on himself when he went to the cross. God showed that Christ’s sacrifice was accepted by raising him from the dead on the third day. Now, God calls sinners to repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. And, wonderfully, he promises that he will never turn away anyone who comes to him in repentance and faith.

Perhaps that is what you need to do today. Perhaps you need to come before God, confessing your sin and calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. If so, hear this simple promise: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Call on his name and be saved today.

AMEN