Chapter 9 – The Holy Spirit in the Book of Judges

“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world, to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are; that no flesh should glory in his presence. 1 Cor. 1:27, 28, 29.

The book of Judges marks the deepest depression and declension in the Old Testament records, just as the book of Joshua which precedes it, marks the most glorious triumph of Israel’s history. That triumph stands between the story of the wilderness on the one side, with its forty years of wandering, and the story of the Judges on the other, with its four hundred years of declension.

The dark cloud that followed the conquest of Canaan was far deeper and denser than the one that preceded it, and it lasted through four and a half centuries, until the time of the Reformation under Samuel and David. But God loves to use the darkest clouds as His background for the rainbows of His most gracious manifestations. The brightest exhibitions of God’s grace have always been in the face of the adversary’s most fierce assaults.

The ministry of Elijah came in the dark hour of Jezebel’s idolatrous rule. The story of Jeremiah stands over against the sorrowful scenes of Judah’s captivity and Jerusalem’s fall; and the book of Judges, with its four and a half centuries of idolatry and sin, have given us the beautiful incidents of Othniel and Deborah, Gideon and Barak, Jephthah and Samson. Each of these is an object lesson of the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, in calling and using His own agents and messengers for the great work for which He needs them.

1. Othniel represents the Spirit of courage, Judges 3: 10: “And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the Lord delivered Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand.” Othniel was the first of Israel’s judges, and by the power of the Holy Spirit he conquered the mighty monarch of Mesopotamia, and secured for his country nearly half a century of peace.

All this is directly attributed to the Spirit. The same power that fitted Moses for his legislative work, and prepared Joshua for his military career, called and qualified Othniel for his successful presidency over the affairs of his nation, and gave him the lion-hearted courage that enabled him to defy the mightiest potentate of the world.

But as every distinguished career has an earlier chapter behind it, so there was an hour in the story of Othniel of which all his subsequent career was but the sequel. The earlier chapter is given to us in Joshua 15: 16, 17. It is the little incident connected with the capture of one of the strongholds of Canaan. After Caleb had conquered Hebron, he found an adjacent city, Kirjath-sepher, which was the literary capital of the Canaanites. It means “The City of Books.” To the brave warrior who should conquer it he offered the hand of his fair daughter Achsah. Othniel was the hero who accepted the challenge and won the double prize.

When we see some public character accomplishing distinguished service before the eyes of the world, and leaping apparently from obscurity to fame in a moment, we are apt to forget that back of that brilliant success there lies some little incident that happened, perhaps long years before, but which really struck the keynote of that life, and prepared that individual for the public service which the future held in store.

God is always preparing His workers in advance; and when the hour is ripe He brings them upon the stage, and men look with wonder upon a career of startling triumph, which God has been preparing for a lifetime. That was a wonderful day in Israel, when, in a moment, the chambers of the dead heard the voice of God, and the first human spirit came back from the world beyond to the tenement of clay, and her living son was placed in the arms of a Hebrew mother at the word of the prophet Elijah. But if we look back a few years, we find the key to all this in a little incident that happened one day in that Hebrew home. The old prophet was passing by when he met that mother and asked of her a mighty sacrifice, even that she should take the last morsel in her famine-stricken home, prepare it for him, and leave her child to die of want along with herself. But she shrank not from the test. Without a moment’s hesitation she obeyed the prophet’s command, and from that hour she and her little son lived in that home on the bread of heaven. When the test came that required a faith that would bring back her child even from the dead, she was ready for the hour.

God is preparing His heroes still, so that when the opportunity comes He can fit them into their places in a moment while the world wonders where they came from. Let the Holy Ghost prepare you, dear friend, by all the discipline of life, that when the last finishing touch has been given to the marble, it will be easy for God to put it on the pedestal, and fit it into the niche. There is a day coming when, like Othniel, we, too, shall judge the nations, and rule and reign with Christ on the millennial earth. But ere that glorious day can be, we must let God prepare us as He did Othniel at Kirjath-sepher, amid the trials of our present life, and in the daily victories, the significance of which, perhaps, we little dream. At least, let us be sure of this, that if the Holy Ghost has got an Othniel ready, the Lord of heaven and earth has a throne prepared for him.

2. Deborah shows forth the ministry of woman, Judges 4. Deborah is the first example of a woman called to public service by the Holy Ghost. True, Miriam had already been known as the leader of sacred song in Israel, but this was the first time that a woman had been called to exercise the public functions of a leader.

What a glorious multitude of noble women have followed in her train ! The great ministry of the Church today is being done by holy women. It is less than half a century since women began to go to the foreign mission field, and already more that half the foreign missionaries in the world are women. They are the most potent spiritual and moral forces of our age. Deborah’s name means “a bee,” and her little beehive under the palm tree of Mount Ephraim has swarmed and spread over all ages and lands until the hearts of millions have tasted of the honey, and every form of evil has felt the wholesome sting; but Deborah, like every true woman, had a good deal more honey than sting.

It is too late in the day to question the public ministry of woman. The facts of God’s providence, and the fruits of God’s Spirit, are stronger than all our theological fancies. The Holy Spirit has distinctly recognized woman’s place in the Church, not only to love, to suffer, and to intercede, but to prophesy, to teach, and to minister in every proper way to the bodies and the souls of men. And yet, when we have said this, all this, there yet remains a restriction which every true woman will be willing to recognize. There is a difference between the ministry of woman and of man. God Himself has said that the head of every woman is the man, and the head of every man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God. “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man.” After all that can be said on both sides of this question, it seems to remain, as the practical conclusion of the whole matter, that woman is called without restriction to teach, to witness, to work in every department of the Church of Christ, but she is not called to rule in the ecclesiastical government of the Church of Christ, or to exercise the official ministry which the Holy Ghost has committed to the elders or bishops of His Church; and whenever she steps out of her modest sphere into the place of public leadership and executive government, she weakens her true power and loses her peculiar charm.

Deborah herself, the first public woman of the ages, was wise enough to call Barak to stand in the front, while she stood behind him, modestly directing his work, and proving in the end to be the true leader. It is no disparagement of woman’s ministry to place her there. Who will say that the ministry of Moses as he stood that day on the mountain, with his hands up-lifted to God, while Joshua led the hosts in the plain below, was a lower ministry than that of Joshua? He was the true leader and the real power behind the hosts of Israel, although he was unseen by the eyes of men. This was Deborah’s high honor, and no one was more ready than Barak himself to acknowledge her pre-eminence. May God more and more mightily direct and use the high and holy ministry of woman, in these last days, for the preparation of her Master’s coming!

3. Gideon, or the Holy Ghost, used the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. There is something dramatic and almost ludicrous in the calling of Gideon. When hiding behind his barn for fear of the Midianites, the angel of the Lord appeared to him and called, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.” Gideon was taken by surprise with the strange greeting, and seems himself to have felt as if the angel were laughing at him, for he was anything but a mighty man of valor; indeed, at that very moment, he was hiding from his enemies in abject fear. His answer to the angel seems to express this feeling, but God meets him with the reassuring word, “Go, in this thy might, and thou shalt deliver Israel from the Midianites.” The new might which God had pledged him was His own great might, the power of the Holy Ghost. Accordingly, every step of his way from that hour was but an illustration of the principle of our text, “that God hath chosen the weak things of this world to confound the things that are mighty.”

Next, we see the same principle in Gideon’s workers. God could not use the great army that gathered to his standard. They were too many to afford an opportunity for God to work and, therefore, He had to sift them, and then resift them, until from over thirty thousand they were reduced to only three hundred. It is beautiful to notice how the Holy Spirit sifted them. He allowed them to do it themselves, by a natural process of reduction. First, all the timid ones were allowed to go home, and this thinned out two-thirds of the crowd. Next, all the rash and reckless ones were tested by giving them the opportunity of drinking at the brook that lay across their line of march; and, as Gideon watched, it was not difficult to find out, by the way they drank, the character of the men. The reckless ones just got down on their hands and knees and drank, without even stopping to think of their danger or their enemies. The prudent ones, on the contrary, looked carefully around, and keeping guard against a surprise from their foes, drank with prudent care, dipping up the water with their hands, and looking carefully around with their watchful eyes; thus were the wary ones chosen, and the others dismissed.

God wants not only brave men, but prudent men, for His work and warfare; and every day we live we are passing judgment on ourselves, and electing ourselves either to places of honor and service, or to be left at home, because of our unfitness. God wants fit men for His work, and He lets every man prove his fitness or unfitness by the practical tests of his daily life. We little dream, sometimes, what a hasty word, a thoughtless speech, an imprudent act, or a confession of unbelief may do to hinder our highest usefulness, or to turn it aside from some great opportunity which God was preparing for us.

Although the Holy Ghost uses weak men, He does not want them to be weak after He chooses and calls them. Although He uses the foolish things to confound the wise, He does not want us to be foolish after He comes to give us His wisdom and grace. He uses the foolishness of preaching, but not, necessarily, the foolishness of preachers. Like the electric current, which can supply the strength of a thousand men, it is necessary that it should have a proper conductor, and a very small wire is better than a very big rope. God wants fit instruments for His power, wills surrendered, hearts trusting, lives consistent, and lips obedient to His will; and then He can use the weakest weapons, and make them “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.”

Again, we see the Holy Spirit using the weak things of this world in the weapons of Gideon’s warfare. They were very simple — lamps, pitchers and trumpets. That was all. The lamps, or torches, were expressive of the light and fire of the Holy Ghost; the pitchers suggested the broken vessels of our surrendered bodies and lives; and the trumpets signified the Word of God and the message of the Gospel that we are sent to proclaim. These are sufficient to defeat and destroy the hosts of Midian; and these are the weapons of our warfare, which are still mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.

A single officer of the court, with the proclamation of the president behind him, is stronger than a mob of a thousand men; and the humblest servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, armed with the Holy Ghost and the Word of God, stands with the whole power of heaven behind him. Men reject His message at their peril; for Christ has said, “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that rejecteth you rejecteth me.” The true secret of all power with God and men is to stand behind our message and our Master, and, like Gideon’s pitchers, to be so broken ourselves, that the light of our heavenly torches can flash through the broken vessels through which the message comes.

4. Jephthah, or the Holy Spirit, used “the things that are despised.” Jephthah, through no fault of his own, was the child of dishonor. He had the bar sinister on his breast, and was an outlaw from his father’s house. But God loves to use the things that man dispises. The stone which the builders disallowed has often become the head of the corner. It was Isaac, not Ishmael, the first-born; it was Jacob, and not Esau, the father’s favorite; it was Joseph, the persecuted, wronged and outcast son; it was Moses, the son of a race of slaves, and the foundling child of the Nile; it was David, the shepherd lad of Bethlehem, and the despised one of Jesse’s house; these were they whom God chose for the high place that each received in the story of His chosen people. Accordingly the outcast and the outlaw of Gilead, poor Jephthah, was chosen of the Lord to deliver his people from the Ammonites. The call of Jephthah is expressly ascribed to the Holy Spirit. “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed over . . . unto the children of Ammon . . . and the Lord delivered them into his hand.” 11: 29.

The Lord still is using the things that are despised. The very names of ‘Nazarene’ and ‘Christian’ were once epithets of contempt. No man can have God’s highest thought and be popular with his immediate generation. The most abused men are often the most used. The devil’s growl and the world’s sneer are God’s marks of highest honor. There is no need that we should bring upon ourselves by folly or wrong the reproaches of men; but if we do well, and suffer for it, fear not, but, “let Shimei curse, the Lord will requite us good for his cursing this day.”

There are far greater calamities than to be unpopular and misunderstood. There are far worse things than to be found in the minority. Many of God’s greatest blessings are lying behind the devil’s scarecrows of prejudice and misrepresentation. The Holy Ghost is not ashamed to use unpopular people. And if He uses them, what need they care for men?

There was once a captain in the British army, promoted for merit, but despised by his aristocratic companions. One day the colonel found it out, and determined to stop it. So he quietly called on the young officer, and walked arm and arm with him up and down the parade ground, the captains meanwhile being obliged to salute both him and his companion every time they passed. That settled the new captain’s standing. After that there were no cuts nor sneers. It was enough that the commanding officer had walked by his side.

Oh, let us but have His recognition and man’s notice will count for little, and He will give us all we need of human help and praise. Let us make no compromise to please men. Let us only seek His will, His glory, His approval. Let us go for Him on the hardest errands and do the most menial tasks. It is honor enough that He uses us and sends us. Let us not fear in this day to follow Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach, and bye-and-bye He will own our worthless name before the myriads of earth and sky.

5. Samson in whom the Holy Ghost is the source of physical strength. There is no more remarkable figure in the Bible than the sturdy giant of Timnath-serah, who represented in his own body, as no other man has ever done, the connection between physical strength and the presence and power of the Holy Ghost. The strength of Samson was not the result of physical culture and unusual size and vigor of bone, muscle, or members, but was entirely due to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him and working through him. The secret of his great strength is given very simply and plainly in such passages as these: Judges 13: 25; 14: 6, 19; 15: 14. In all these cases it will be noticed that it was the Spirit of the Lord that moved upon Samson and gave him his superhuman strength of body. It was not the strength of muscle or frame which comes from food or stimulants; but it was the direct power of God Himself working through his being. This was connected entirely with his separation to God and his obedience to his Nazarite vow. The strength of Samson, therefore, was divine strength given through spiritual conditions and entirely dependent upon his righteousness of life and obedience to God.

This is the very principle of divine healing, as God is teaching it to us in these last days. It is not the self-constituted strength of physical organism; but it is the supernatural force of a divine presence, filling our frame and quickening our vital system when we are wholly separated from earthly and forbidden things and living in touch with the Holy Spirit. It may be enjoyed even in the fullest measure by a feeble constitution and a man or woman naturally frail. It is not our life, but the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal flesh. It is a very sacred life, for it keeps us constantly separated from the world and unto God, and is a wholesome check upon the purity and obedience of our lives.

Samson lost his strength the moment he touched the forbidden world and the lap of Delilah. For us, too, the secret of strength is this: “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.” This is the blessed ministry of the Holy Ghost; first, to give us this practical righteousness and keep us in the perfect will of God, and then to give us the physical life and quickening promised in connection with obedience. His own promise is, “If the Spirit of Him which raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal body by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

Such, then, is the blessed fullness of the Holy Spirit as unfolded in this ancient book of Judges. How much more rich and full the grace we may expect from Him today!

Shall we take Him with Othniel as the Spirit of courage; with Deborah, for woman’s high and glorious ministry; with Gideon and Jepthah, to use the weak things of this world to confound the mighty, and the things which are despised, yea, and the things which are not, to bring to naught the things which are; and shall we, like Samson, “out of weakness be made strong, wax valiant in fight and turn to flight the armies of the aliens”?