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Bible Commentaries
Judges 2

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-5



Judges 2:1. An angel of the Lord.] Not merely “a messenger,” but the “angel of Jehovah.” “The phrase is used nearly sixty times to designate the angel of God’s presence.” [Speaker’s Commentary.] “Not a prophet, or some other earthly messenger of Jehovah, either Phinehas or Joshua, as the Targums, the Rabbins, Berthean, and others assume, but the angel of the Lord, who is of one essence with God. In the simple historical narrative a prophet is never called Malach Jehovah. The prophets are always called either נָבִיא or אִישׁ נָבִיא, as in Judges 6:8, or else ‘man of God,’ as in 1 Kings 12:22; 1 Kings 13:1, &c.; and Haggai 1:13, and Malachi 3:1, cannot be adduced as proofs to the contrary, because in both these passages the purely appellative meaning of the word Malach is established beyond all question by the context itself. Moreover, no prophet ever identifies himself so entirely with God as the angel of Jehovah does here. The prophets always distinguish between themselves and Jehovah by introducing their words with the declaration ‘Thus saith Jehovah,’ as the prophet mentioned in Judges 6:8 is said to have done.” [Keil.] The language itself proclaims the presence of the Angel of the Covenant; it cannot be thought of as the utterance of a merely human messenger. Came up from Gilgal.] The situation of Bochim is unknown. As the people were assembled in congregation (Judges 2:4), probably the gathering was in the usual locality, i.e., at or near to Shiloh (cf. Joshua 18:1; Joshua 18:10; Joshua 19:51; Joshua 21:2; Joshua 22:9; Joshua 22:12). Then the angel coming up “from Gilgal” would probably come from the Gilgal near to Shiloh, where the Israelites had so long encamped during the war under Joshua (cf. Preacher’s Commentary, pp. 170, 172, 199). It would be sufficiently appropriate that the angel should be seen to come with Jehovah’s rebuke from the very place from which the “Angel of His Presence” had gone up with them to mighty and repeated victories (Isaiah 63:9; Joshua 10:6-9; Joshua 10:43; Joshua 11:7). The moral significance of the angel being seen to come from Gilgal—thus associated with past help—would be very great. What could be more full of tender historic reproof than that the angel who had, as it were, waited at the warrior’s camp to help the faithful, should come from such ground to rebuke the unbelieving and slothful? To Bochim.] That this is seen to be on higher ground than Gilgal, is no proof that the Gilgal was that near Jericho. All the time the site of Bochim is unknown, there is nothing to suggest that this was other than the Gilgal of Deuteronomy 11:30, and 2 Kings 2:1, from which Elijah and Elisha went “down to Bethel” (וַיֵּרְדוּ בֵּית־אֵל). The LXX. place Bochim near to Bethel, saying that the angel “went up from Galgal to the (place of) weeping, and to Bæthel, and to the house of Israel.” Even if this were accepted, Bochim may have been on “the mountain east of Bethel” from whence Abraham obtained so wide an outlook in all directions (Genesis 13:14-15); in which case it might be quite correct, at least of the latter part of the distance, to speak of the angel as going “up to Bochim.” Keil, however, points out that this reading of the LXX. “gives no clue whatever.”

Judges 2:2. Why have ye done this?] Lit., “What is this which ye have done?” Not so much an inquiry as a remonstrance and a chiding.

Judges 2:3. But they shall be as thorns in your sides.] = “But they shall be to you for adversaries.” צַד, “a side,” pl. צִדִּים, is from the root צָדַד, “to turn oneself,” “to oppose oneself,” to any one. Hence Chald. מִצַּד, “on the side of,” “the part of.” (Daniel 6:5); and לְצַד, “against the side of” (Daniel 7:25). Therefore צִדִּים here should be rendered “adversaries”; otherwise, the expression would stand, “they shall be to you for sides.” This makes the various conjectures on this expression unnecessary. Cf. Gesen. and Buxtorf, jun., who both refer to this verse, and both render צַד, as found here, “an adversary.”

Judges 2:5. They sacrificed there unto the Lord.] “This indicates the close proximity of Bochim to Shechem, where the tabernacle was at this time (Joshua 24:25-26).” [Speaker’s Commentary.] Keil, however, thinks that “it does not follow from this sacrifice that the tabernacle or the ark of the covenant was to be found at Bochim. In any place where the Lord appeared to the people, sacrifices might be offered to Him (Judges 6:20; Judges 6:26; Judges 6:28; Judges 13:16 sqq.; 2 Samuel 24:25). “On the other hand,” it is added, “it does follow from the sacrifice at Bochim, where there was no sanctuary of Jehovah, that the person who appeared to the people was not a prophet, nor even an ordinary angel, but the angel of the Lord, who is essentially one with Jehovah.”



The latter half of the previous chapter is a necessary introduction to the opening verses of this. God’s messenger of chastisement never appears till our sins have preceded him. The pleasures of sin are the evening twilight which ever comes before the night of Divine punishment. The lurid light of the evening sunset may have its fascinations; for all that, it does but precede the darkness.

This messenger of punishment is none other than “The Messenger of the Covenant” (Malachi 3:1). This angel is none other than He of whom it has presently to be written, “The Angel of His presence saved them” (Isaiah 63:9 : cf. also, Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20; Exodus 23:23; Exodus 32:34; Exodus 33:14; Numbers 20:16). How passing sad that the messenger who heralds the dark night of human suffering should be He who ever loves to come to us as the Sun of Righteousness! In these five verses we see—

I. The Lord determinately following His people. He who in after years said through Hosea, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel?” here shews us that the feeling, expressed seven centuries later, was cherished long before it was expressed. Even though the tribes had all turned to sin, He would “hedge up their way with thorns” (Hosea 2:6), and for this very purpose the Lord Himself, speaking in His own person, now appeared to them (Judges 2:3).

1. His purpose at the first was too firmly taken to suffer Him to forsake them now. The promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had in them no hesitation. The language to Moses, when the work of redemption was beginning, left no place for failure (Exodus 6:2-8). The Divine miracles against Pharaoh had in them no appearance of faltering. Thus, God is seen following His people, even when they turn almost universally to sin.

2. He had done too much for them to give them up lightly. The price of their deliverance from Egypt had been too great to suffer it to be lost. From Goshen right up to Joshua’s tomb at Timnath-serah, the way had been lined with miracles and paved with mercy. The price of our redemption has been still more precious. We may look on the “unspeakable gift,” and find in that the Divine Amen to the Divine promise, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

3. The glory of His name was involved in their failure. Moses had contemplated the overthrow in the wilderness, and, overcome with horror, he had turned as mediator in strong cryings to his God, saying, “What wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?” So, keeping His name as “the name which is above every name,” Jesus Christ is here seen as the angel of reproof at Bochim. Every one of the western tribes, except Issachar, whom Gideon found no better than the rest, is actually named as having departed from the Lord; yet the Lord says here, “My kindness shall not depart from thee.”

4. The love of His heart, had there been nothing else, was sufficient to constrain Him to follow them. The Divine purpose, the miracles, and the committing of His glorious name in some measure to men, had all proceeded from the Divine love. These things were but the streams; the love of Jehovah was the fountain from which all of them had flowed forth unto men. The purpose of God to save, and His unfailing covenant; miracles like those of the manna, the flowing water, the divided sea and river, the falling walls of Jericho, and the victory at Beth-horon: all these, and many similar mercies, are fit themes for glad and holy song. Yet he thinks most wisely, and is likely to sing most continuously and sweetly, who finds in all spoken promises and visible favours so many evidences of the changeless love of the living God. His mercies are precious, but His priceless love which can repeat them all again, and multiply them to meet our utmost need, is more precious still. It was in the living love of Jehovah that the cause was to be found of this gracious visit to Bochim.

II. Rebuke emphatically attending on sin. The words of the Angel are all words of rebuke (Judges 2:1-3). Yet how calm is the rebuke. It has in it no haste, and no passion. Every word is terrible with truth and gentleness. We have here:—

1. Rebuke set in the overpowering light of past mercies. (a) The Angel reminded them of deliverance from bondage. “I made you go up out of Egypt.” The hole of the pit whence they were digged was brought before them. The rugged quarry whence they were hewn was recalled to thought. (b) The Angel reminded them of mercies on the way. “And have brought you unto the land.” These mercies are not enumerated in this record. They may have been alluded to in detail, but even this general reference to them contributed to tears. He thinks but poorly of sin who does not contemplate it in view of what God has done to deliver him from its power and sorrow. (c) The Angel reminded them of the unalterable covenant. “The land which I sware unto your fathers.” Their fathers had been encouraged by the unfailing promises of God, which had been solemnly given to three successive generations through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The covenant with the fathers had been renewed unto the children: “I said I will never break my covenant with you.” This covenant, however, from the first, included the condition of Israel’s obedience (Genesis 17:7-14). God never did break that covenant, even when Israel was carried away to Babylon, or when the Romans overthrew Jerusalem. (d) The Angelcame up from Gilgal.” He laid emphasis upon all the mercy of the past by coming visibly from the place of the old encampment, from which He had so often gone forth with Joshua and the host to mighty victories. Probably Bochim was near to Shiloh, or Bethel (Judges 21:19), and the site of the camp at Gilgal lay between them, so that the Angel might have been actually seen by the festive host coming from the very place from which they had so often been led out to ever successful war. What rebuke could possibly be more keen? Here were men both pleading their inability to cope with iron chariots, and yet putting their enemies under tribute. The tribute itself was answer enough to the plea about the chariots. But, as if it were not enough, the Angel of Jehovah comes up from the place from which Israel had never obediently gone forth to a single lost battle. The present wicked unbelief was exposed in a light which might well make the place a place of shame and tears. God was saying with dramatic and irresistible force, “I have been thy helper, but under the shadow of My wings thou will not rejoice.” The reproofs of the Lord are ever overwhelming. When He undertakes to rebuke, the name of the place where He so appears to us must needs henceforth be Bochim. “Will He plead against me with His great power?”

2. Rebuke sustained by the proof of direct disobedience. “Why have ye done this?” or, “What is this which ye have done?” Evidences of the league were visible all through the land. The enemies of God and truth were living in peace among the people of God. It may have been that some of them were even now present with the multitude. The altars of the idolaters were not thrown down. There they still stood, visibly, in the midst of the people of every tribe. “Why have ye done this?” When Christ, the Mediator, pleads against us, who shall answer?

3. Rebuke pointing to coming sorrow. “They shall be adversaries to you (cf. Crit. Notes), and their gods shall be a snare unto you.” The Lord’s rebuke is not vain and empty. It ever brings forth bitter fruit. “What is this that thou hast done?” when spoken to Eve, is followed by, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow.” “What hast thou done?” when asked of Cain, does but precede the terrible words, “And now thou art cursed from the earth.” To Moses and Aaron the Lord said, “Ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel;” and the Lord also added, “Therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” David heard Nathan say, “Thou art the man,” and forthwith the sentence followed, “The sword shall never depart from thine house” … “The child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.” Similarly, sentence follows rebuke all through the Scriptures. Yet are we encouraged to say, “There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared.”

III. Tears, from the first, accompanying rebuke. “All the people lifted up their voice and wept.”

1. Weeping, for the most part, has to do with sin. The sources of the Nile may have to be sought many a year; the place where the river of tears takes its rise may generally be found at once, and without mistakes. The well-head of human sorrow is seldom far removed from the mountain-foot of human guilt. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.” When the tribes of humanity gather at some Bochim, there is ever something wrong as to their respective inheritances.

2. It is a mercy when the sinful can weep. Our truest tears are the venting of our guilt. Without tears for sin, sin would petrify in our nature; it would assimilate every holier emotion to itself, and then turn all to stone. It was of men who had experienced this that Paul wrote as “being past feeling.” Many about us now would be thus hardened, but for the tender power of Divine grace. The Angel of the Covenant appears, and forthwith the place of sin and formal religious festivity becomes a Bochim. “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” Thanks be unto God who is able, that He is also willing! Rowland Hill used to say, “Repentance is so sweet a companion, that my only regret in going to heaven is, that I shall leave her behind and know her no more.” This is hardly a wise lament. As long as sin is with us, tears are a sweet because a necessary relief; but “no more sin” must be far better than sin and tears. We may be devoutly thankful that it is written of the saints in heaven, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;” we ought to be no less thankful that no hand ever altogether wipes away the tears from the sinful eyes of earth. There, tears would be an unmeaning pain; here, they are a necessity. An old poet, more than two centuries ago, wrote tenderly and beautifully on the tears of Mary Magdalene at the tomb:

“Not in the Evening’s eyes,
When they red with weeping are
For the Sun that dies;
Sits Sorrow with a face so fair.
Nowhere but here did ever meet
Sweetness so sad, sadness so sweet.
“Sadness, all the while
She sits on such a throne as this,
Can do nought but smile,
Nor believes she Sadness is:
Gladness itself would be more glad,
(Thus) to be made so sweetly sad.”

[Richard Crashaw, 1646.]

Sadness which mourns the loss of Christ’s presence, or of His Spirit, must needs be among the keenest sorrows of earth; but the sadness which has suffered this loss, and has not mourned it, must presently be the bitterest sorrow of all.

3. Weeping is of small use to the sinful, if they only weep. Bochim is of no avail unless it leads to the breaking of all leagues with idolaters, and to the throwing down of all forbidden altars. Tears must be followed by a reformation; otherwise, they are a useless pain.

IV. Punishment inevitably succeeding the tears in which there is no amendment of life. This whole book of the Judges is God’s comment on the folly of weeping without truly repenting. Emerson has written: “Crime and punishment grow out of one stem. Punishment is a fruit that, unsuspected, ripens within the flower of the pleasure which concealed it. Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end pre-exists in the means, the fruit in the seed.” There is no separating between sin and its natural punishment; unless there be true repentance, there is no separating between sin and its Divine punishment. Nineveh is spared; the thief enters Paradise; Saul “obtains mercy;” but the weepers of Bochim have their history, for centuries, written in bitter chastisements. As that Cornish proverb, so sentient of a rock-bound shore, puts the matter: “He who will not be ruled by the rudder must be ruled by the rock.” So he who will not be led to serve Jehovah by “the Angel of the Lord,” must be driven to seek God indeed by the chastening hand of Canaanites and Philistines.


GOD’S REPROOF OF SIN.—Judges 2:1-5

I. Sin confronted by the Lord in person. The Angel of the Lord was none other than the Lord Himself (cf. above).

1. God confronts the guilty in mercy. If He did not come to trouble the sinful, they might well despair. God came through His messengers to guilty Saul, to David, to Nebuchadnezzar. When the Lord answered Saul no more, the end was nigh. When the Saviour said to Judas, “What thou doest do quickly,” the bitterness of death was not distant. God’s silence should be interpreted by the guilty as the noise of coming judgment. “I kept silence,” is immediately followed by “I will reprove thee (Psalms 50:21).

2. When God so confronts the guilty, none can answer. Throughout this brief narrative the only voice that is heard is the voice of the Lord. The sinful, like guilty children, can only answer by their tears. Job cried, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him.… I would order my cause before Him, and fill my mouth with arguments;” yet even Job in that awful Presence could only say, “Now mine eye seeth Thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

II. Sin manifested by the greatness of Divine mercy.

1. Mercies of deliverance from bondage. “I made you to go up out of Egypt.”

2. Mercies of promised help. “The land which I sware unto your fathers.” “I said I will never break My covenant with you.”

3. Mercies of actual inheritance. “I have brought you unto the land.”

III. Sin exposed, and the proofs visible on every hand. The league had been made with the inhabitants. The altars still stood throughout the land. “Ye have not obeyed My voice.” The law was even then engraven on the stones at Ebal; the book of the law was already written (Joshua 8:31-32). There was no disputing either what the Lord’s voice had been, or that it had been disobeyed. Who can answer when God contends with him on account of sin? If God be against us, who can be for us?

IV. Sin the shadow of coming sorrow. “They shall be adversaries to you,” &c. Our departures from the way of the Lord ever originate in the heart. The actual commission of sin is the point of contact in the beginning of the eclipse which hides from us the Sun of Righteousness, and the hiding of His face is ever the beginning of darkness. “Thou hidest Thy face, they are troubled.”

V. Sin lamented, but not forsaken. “The people lifted up their voice, and wept.” They also offered sacrifice unto the Lord, but they did not put away the transgression. God cannot be reconciled to men who do not forsake iniquity. “Blessed is he whose sin is covered;” but no tears and no amount of sacrifice can cover the sin which is still persisted in. The Hebrew word כּפר “to cover,” “to expiate” sin, is also used in the Old Testament for a village. A village was so called because it afforded shelter, or a cover, for the inhabitants. Sacrifice can afford no dwelling-place and no covering to the man who continues in his sin. Even Calvary leaves the soul in all its wickedness, “Naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do,” so long as sin is not forsaken. He who comes to the sacrifice of Christ with such tears as lead him to turn from iniquity, will find that his sin is covered, and that Christ is as a City of Refuge.


I. The time of the Lord’s visitation. When disobedience was at its height.

II. The method of the Lord’s visitation. He was seen to come “from Gilgal,” the place of much past help.

III. The spirit of the Lord’s visitation. He came in tender and loving reproof.

IV. The influence of the Lord’s visitation. The Israelites shed tears, called the name of that place ‘The Weepers,’ and offered sacrifice; yet, with all this, they “knew not the day of their visitation” as they should have done.


I. God comes to men in the sorrow of that bondage wherein they were born. “I made you go up out of Egypt.”

II. God manifests Himself freely to His delivered children so long as they are faithful. The Pillar of Cloud; the Red Sea, &c.

III. God is nigh at hand in all hours of weakness and need. The passage of the Jordan; Jericho, Beth-horon; the waters of Merom.

IV. God is full of long-suffering, even when His people sin. The alternating plagues and miracles in the wilderness. The gracious manifestation at Bochim.


I. The Angel of the Divine Presence (Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:19).

II. The Angel of gracious promise (Exodus 23:20-25; Exodus 32:34; Exodus 33:2).

III. The Angel of previous help (Exodus 14:24-30; Numbers 20:16; Joshua 5:14).

IV. The Angel of severe rebuke (Exodus 23:21; and Judges 2:1-3).

V. The Angel of deliverances yet to come (Judges 6:11-23; Judges 13:9-20).

VI. The Angel of perpetuated song (Psalms 34:7; Isaiah 63:9).


I. God’s remembrance of what we were. He knew Israel as having come up “out of Egypt.” “He found him in a desert land,” and the land had not been forgotten. God always remembers where He found us, and what we were.

II. God’s remembrance of the deliverances which He has wrought for us. “I made you to go up out of Egypt.” The Lord has daily in view all the help He has ever given to us. He knows where He helped us unsought. He sees, no less, where we have reached forth a secret hand to touch the hem of His garment; and knows all the virtue which has come forth to us. How great must our sin appear in the eyes of Him who sees all His mercy and our guilt at one glance!

III. God’s remembrance of His promises after they are fulfilled. He who had sworn to the fathers, and fulfilled His words to the children, forgat neither the one nor the other. God knows every promise that has ever been fulfilled to us each. He knows some promises as having been fulfilled to us many times. He who makes His promises all “Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus,” knows also how many times we have found them thus abiding and helpful.

IV. God’s remembrance of the relation between our past and our present. God who remembered the bondage of Egypt, and saw His people now in possession of Canaan, had every step from the one to the other perfectly under His gaze. He had made them to “go up out of Egypt;” He also had “brought them into the land” which they now had for an inheritance.

V. God’s remembrance of His covenant. “I said, I will never break my covenant with you.” Many a broken promise of our fellows puts the best of them to shame: God can always look upon His word in holy satisfaction that not one jot or tittle of it has ever passed away. It is not a little imposing to find our attention challenged as to God’s faithfulness at the very place where God was about to depart from the people who had already departed from Him. We cry, “Stablish Thy word unto Thy servant, upon which Thou hast caused him to hope;” but God’s unestablished words are ever because we have got where they can no longer be fulfilled. We break the covenant, and then wonder at the fragments; but the fragments are of our making, not of our Heavenly Father’s.


If Bochim was at Shiloh, or near Bethel, as is probable, it would be utterly inappropriate to anything which the assembled Israelites could observe, to speak of the Angel as coming from Gilgal, in the Arabah, near Jericho, to Bochim, near Shiloh. The historian evidently means to convey the impression that the Angel came from Gilgal, or from the direction of Gilgal, in the sight of all Israel. If the Gilgal near Jericho were meant, it would be altogether irrelevant thus to speak of a place more than twenty miles distant.

In a volume very recently published, Dr. Edersheim makes the following remarks on this question:—“From this solemn transaction (at Mount Ebal), the Israelites moved, as we gather from Joshua 9:6, to Gilgal, where they seem to have formed a permanent camp. The mention of this place in Deuteronomy 11:30, where it is described as ‘beside the oaks of Moreh,’ that is, near the spot of Abraham’s first altar (Genesis 12:7), implies a locality well known at the time, and, as we might almost conjecture from its after-history, a sort of traditional sanctuary. This alone would suffice to distinguish this Gilgal from the first encampment of Israel as east of Jericho, which only obtained its name from the event which there occurred. Besides, it is impossible to suppose that Joshua marched to the banks of the Jordan (Joshua 9:6; Joshua 10:6-7; Joshua 10:9; Joshua 10:15; Joshua 10:43); and, again, that he did so a second time, after the battles in Galilee, to make appointment of the land among the people by the banks of the Jordan (Joshua 14:6). Further, the localisation of Gilgal near the banks of the Jordan would be entirely incompatible with what we know of the after-history of that place. Gilgal was one of the three cities where Samuel judged the people (1 Samuel 7:16; here, also, he offered sacrifices when the Ark was no longer in the tabernacle at Shiloh (1 Samuel 10:8; 1 Samuel 13:7-9; 1 Samuel 15:21), and there, as in a central sanctuary, did all Israel gather to renew their allegiance to Saul (1 Samuel 11:14). Later on, Gilgal was the great scene of Elisha’s ministry (2 Kings 2:1), and still later it became a centre of idolatrous worship (Hosea 4:15; Hosea 9:15; Hosea 12:11; Amos 4:4; Amos 5:5). All these considerations lead to the conclusion that the Gilgal which formed the site of Joshua’s encampment is the modern Jiljilieh, a few miles from Shiloh, and about the same distance from Bethel—nearly equidistant from Shechem and from Jerusalem.” [“Israel in Canaan,” pp. 75, 76.]

This entirely agrees with the view advocated in our treatment of the respective passages in Joshua. The great importance of the point in question, not only geographically, but as it affects far more serious considerations, will probably be deemed sufficient to justify this insertion of Dr. Edersheim’s valuable corroborative notice.


If, as some have contended, this and the preceding chapter belonged “to the early part of Joshua’s government,” then these two verses would be utterly at variance with all that we are told of Joshua’s faithfulness, and would stand in direct contradiction to Joshua 24:31, and to Judges 2:7. The verses confront us with the fact that no man has liberty to disobey God, or to practise or tolerate in others such wickedness as is in violation of the rights of others, even though this wickedness be taught in the name of religion.

I. Fellowship with the wicked is enmity with God. “Ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land.” God claims the right to say with whom His children shall associate. We claim such authority over our children. We are not our own. We have been redeemed from bondage by God. The very conditions of our redemption required that we should form no league with the enemies of Him who gave us freedom. To ally ourselves with God’s enemies is to become enemies ourselves.

II. The tolerance of some forms of so-called religion is an infringement of human liberty. “Ye shall throw down their altars.” A great many altars in this world have been thrown down by a persecuting despotism. There are some altars which even the God of all liberty demands that we utterly abolish. The Canaanites were religious teachers of fornication and murder (cf. Deuteronomy 12:31; 1 Kings 11:7; 1 Kings 11:33; 2 Kings 3:27; 2 Kings 16:3; Psalms 106:37-38; Isaiah 57:5, &c). Their religion was an overt and shameful attack on the most sacred and inherent rights of the whole human race. In such a case, toleration is out of the question. Reckless advocates of liberty might far more consistently plead for the toleration of a poisonous factory which gave off fatal vapours in the midst of a populous community. America has long hesitated as to tolerating in her midst systematic adultery under the sheltering name of Mormonism. Probably the public conscience in the United States will ere long demand that the evil be swept away. But suppose Mormonism should add to adultery the wholesale offering of human sacrifices. In that case, every true man must feel that the evil creed of sin and blood must at once be wiped out in blood. The personal faith of every man should be tolerated so long as his faith does no gross wrong to the faith and liberty of others; but when vice and murder are labelled religion, no real lover of liberty will submit to be duped by a mere name. The rights and liberties of sufferers must also be respected. There was nothing to be done but that God should command the overthrow of altars which were set apart to vice like this. For men who had begun to enter into the liberty wherewith God makes free, the only possible course was that they should be instructed to kill off from the face of the earth organised religious teachers and doers of wholesale murder and incessant fornication. “Free and independent thought,” in which partial men of a certain bias love to indulge, has seldom perpetrated any anti-climax more ridiculous than the hundreds which, in modern days, it has pronounced against this painful but necessary destruction of the Canaanites. He who contends for a liberty which has to be nurtured daily in the blood and purity of multitudes of helpless children, is either a terrible despot towards the children, or beyond the reach of all ordinary argument. Of what matter is it that the worshippers of Molech should call the screams of his burning child “acceptable to his god,” or the corpse of his murdered son or daughter “a religious sacrifice.” Should any congregation of such worshippers be found in England to-morrow, every citizen worthy of the name would demand that they be exterminated, or made to abjure their horrible faith.

III. To disregard the voice of God is to incur the reproof and correction both of God and men.

1. God calls the disobedient to account. “Ye have not obeyed my voice. Why have ye done this?”

2. Victory ceases with fidelity. “I will not drive them out from before you.” The triumphs at Jericho, and Gibeon, and over the host of Jabin, were all won when the Israelites were little used to war. Sihon and Og were conquered when the army had little discipline and almost no military experience. In the day of Canaan’s might and Israel’s weakness, the latter was everywhere triumphant. When the people were weak then were they strong. In the day of Israel’s strength and Canaan’s feebleness, Israel could win no more battles. He who fails to obey God, must not wonder if he fails everywhere.

3. God’s enmity takes form in the enmity of men. “They shall be to you for adversaries.” God has many instruments of correction, and He not seldom uses our fellow-creatures for this purpose. Many instances of this are found in the Old Testament. May not this form of Divine correction be common now? Said a popular teacher of the past generation, when vexed with disturbances in the church over which he presided, “My sins are reappearing to me in the form of men.”

IV. Disobedience to God is a seed of temptation to yet more disobedience. “Their gods shall be a snare unto you.” It may be said of all sin as it was said of vegetable life on the morning of creation—“Whose seed is in itself.” The man who transgresses sows sin in his own heart, and, alas! the seed is naturally fruitful, and the ground naturally fertile. He who has lived long in sin need not wonder that the way of holiness is difficult. By grace we are saved. The gods whom she formerly served would ensnare the Church to her ruin now, were it not that the God of gods still graciously says, “Behold, I will allure her!” He who has been lifted up from the earth, was lifted up to draw us from the sin which many previous sins had made too fascinating for us to forsake alone. “No man can come to Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him.” Whatever occult doctrinal meanings may or may not be concealed in these emphatic words of the Son of God, the natural enslaving power of sin needs the full weight of that awful utterance to rightly depict the weakness in which sin leaves us all. Every sinful man re-writes in his own history the ancient word of Jehovah—“Thou hast destroyed thyself; in Me is thine help.” The gods of our old idolatries have surrounded us by too many snares for us ever to be able to escape them alone.


God’s commandments are written so plainly upon the tables of Scripture, and man’s violation of them appears so clearly upon the tables of life, that when the Lord begins to expose sin, conviction must certainly and immediately follow.
The dangers of adversity may be great, but so also are the dangers of prosperity. When the Israelites were without any experience of either war or victory, they overthrew Sihon and Og, and went on to victories yet greater: when they had won the land, then they began to lose it, through love of ease and fear of iron chariots.
Mighty works of God may fail to make His servants believe, and successive years of mercy may find them increasingly ungrateful; but when the goodness of the Lord is no longer sufficient, then rebuke and chastisement at once become necessary.
Many victories often lead God’s people to think lightly of winning more. The vast importance of the divine commandments becomes obscured by the illusive light of unbroken triumphs, and a rich earthly inheritance.
The light which comes to us through adversity is often the clearest and purest that we get. So it was with the Israelites. The proof of this is again and again set before us in their history under the judges. To use the magnificent image of Edmund Burke, on a political occasion,—The light broke in upon them, “not through well-contrived and well-disposed windows, but through flaws and breaches; through the yawning chasms of their national ruin.”

THE INEXCUSABLENESS OF SIN.—Judges 2:2, last clause

I. The sin which is done in duties which are left undone. “Why have ye done this?” Only one of these three charges has to do with sins of commission; the other two speak of sins of omission. The league with the idolaters was a transgression actual and positive; for the rest of the accusation, the altars had not been thrown down, and the Divine voice had not been obeyed. Yet the Angel says of all these things alike, “Why have ye done this?” The duties which we do not are sins which we do. Our very sins of omission are full of commission. Every altar which the Israelites suffered to stand would be a wrong actually done to the land generally, and to every child in each family. We should remember that our very neglect to obey God becomes an actual and positive wrong to men.

II. The silence of the sinner in the presence of his Divine Judge. “Why have ye done this?” No answer is given. Not a word of excuse seems to have been uttered. How awful and significant is this silence! What emphasis it lays on the righteousness of the Judge’s accusation! How clearly it manifests the guilt of the accused! Here is a nation of transgressors, and not one man can make reply. It will be so with many at the last judgment. “Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.” There is nothing to be said for sin. It is put to silence by Divine majesty; for who shall answer God. It is put to silence by Divine mercies; common gratitude ought to have led to obedience. It is put to silence by Divine willingness to help; all the idolatrous altars which men are too weak to throw down alone, may be thrown down by the ever-willing arm of God.

III. The poor answer which the sinner must make if he were to answer truthfully. “Why have ye done this?”

1. For ease, and been disappointed. Their unwrest was even now beginning in these tears.

2. For fear, and had to fear more. The undestroyed iron chariots were the commencement of an iron yoke.

3. For gain, and have to suffer loss. The men who were spared under tribute to cultivate the fat lands which the tribes were too idle to tend themselves, would soon take the produce of the lands, and in their turn exact tribute from the Israelites.

4. For peace, and have found ourselves at war with man, with God, and even with our own consciences. All these things were beginning, and would soon be fully felt. “The way of transgressors is hard.” He who seeks to spare himself or please himself by disobeying God, inherits all he would avoid, and loses all he would obtain.


I. Their great magnitude. We are apt to think that great sins are only those which we actually commit. This is a mistake. We see here the following serious forms of transgression:

1. Disobedience to God’s will.

2. Disbelief in God’s Word.

3. Man’s judgment preferred before God’s unerring wisdom.

II. Their fearful consequences.

1. A troubled conscience.

2. An encumbered inheritance.

3. An open door made for temptation.

4. A fruitful source of conflict. “From henceforth thou shalt have wars” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

5. Ultimate overthrow and captivity. This is seen in the repeated subjection of Israel under the judges, and in the great captivity at Babylon. All began here, nor did it end there.

6. The removal of the privileges of worship. Shiloh was associated with Ichabod (Judges 18:30-31; 1 Samuel 4:21-22); the ark was taken to Philistia; the temple, later on, was utterly destroyed.

III. Their tremendous warnings. All this Old Testament narrative is not given merely for information. God seeks something higher than the satisfaction of our curiosity. Nor is the record only or principally for interest. The Holy Spirit meant to give us something more than an exciting history. “All these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”

“The accusation against them at Bochim was negative rather than positive. There are degrees of guilt in the rebellions of the Church against her Head; and as yet the Israelites were not charged, like Ahab afterwards, with doing very abominably in following idols: still less had they reached the villainy of Manasseh at a yet later period, who even ‘overpassed the deeds of the heathen,’ for he ‘did wickedly above all the Amorites did, which were before him, and shed innocent blood till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another.’ It is true that their downward course, after they had once placed themselves on the smooth deceitful gradient, soon became rapid and headlong; but as yet they are expostulated with chiefly for sins of omission.
“When the Church has begun to habitually neglect any one of her Lord’s known commands—still more when she begins to ‘break one of these least commandments, and teach men so’—the day is not far distant when, unless arrested in her career by the mercy or judgments of God, she will be found openly consorting with the mammon-worshippers by whom she is surrounded.… From sparing the lives of the enemies of the Church, it was an easy step to make comfortable agreements with them.
“The evening twilight soon fades into total darkness; so their negative evil soon degenerated into positive revolt: ‘they did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim.’ ” [Luke H. Wiseman, M.A.]

“Sins of commission are usual punishments for sins of omission. He that leaves a duty may fear to be left to commit a crime.” [Gurnall.]

“We may lose heaven by neutrality as well as by hostility, by wanting oil as well as by drinking poison. An unprofitable servant shall as much be punished as a prodigal son. Undone duty will undo souls. The last words of the industrious Archbishop Usher were, ‘Lord, in special, forgive me my sins of omission.’ ”
“Love puts not off the pursuit of duty till it attains the possession of glory. There is no rocking this babe to sleep but in the cradle of the grave.” [Wm. Secker.]


“It is perilous work when men begin to decide who are believers and who are not, if they decide by party badges.… Nevertheless, there is an irreligion which he who runs may read. For the atheist is not merely he who professes unbelief, but, strictly speaking, every one who lives without God in the world. And the heretic is not merely he who has mistaken some Christian doctrine, but rather he who causes divisions among the brethren. And the idolater is not merely he who worships images, but he who gives his heart to something which is less than God; for a man’s god is that which has his whole soul and worship, that which he obeys and reverences as his highest. Now there are innumerable doubtful cases where charity is bound to hope the best; but there is also an abundance of plain cases: for where a man’s god is money, or position in society, or rank, there the rule holds, ‘Come ye apart.’ ” [F. W. Robertson, M.A., Lectures on Corinthians, p. 358.]

“In every age the Church of God has to drive out her spiritual Amorites—Unbelief, Ungodliness, Heresy, Idolatry, the setting up of man’s inventions and forms in place of the pure truth of God; and unless she is diligent and bold these enemies will beleaguer her and infest her, and will at length drive her out of her inheritance. These are the enemies who will dispute with the heirs of promise every foot of their expected heritage. With these it is no child’s play at arms, but a veritable struggle for life; for as the spies reported of the sons of Anak, which come of the giants, ‘We were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight’—so these bold gigantic foes are not afraid of the utmost efforts the believer can put forth by the mere force of his own will.” [L. H. Wiseman, M.A.]


I. Men neglecting God, and having to hear that God will neglect them. The “Ye have not” of the people, is met by the “I will not” of God. Men omit duties, and the Lord omits help. God does not threaten the Israelites with His enmity; He simply declares that He will leave those who have so sinfully left Him. Forsaking is punished by forsaking.

II. Men making a league with the wicked, and finding that their chosen confederates are to become their direst foes. “They shall be to you for adversaries” (cf. Critical Notes). The point of departure becomes the place of chastisement. Those for whom God had been cast off, should be God’s instruments to turn that unhallowed choice into the chief cause of mourning. It is ever thus: Delilah is generally chosen to shear Samson; Gehazi lies to the healed leper, and buys the cast-off leprosy; Judas covenants with the priests, and has to hear them say in his anguish, “See thou to that;” Saul of Tarsus allies himself with the Jews to persecute Christians, and forthwith his future history is one of continued perils by his “own countrymen,” and “perils among false brethren.”

III. Men preserving idolatrous altars, and ensnared by idol gods. “Their gods shall be a snare unto you.” The altars which they spared, contrary to the command of God, became the future place of their own sacrifice. No man can afford to keep what God would have him to destroy. All our forbidden possessions, so far from being assets in the account of our individual happiness, had better at once be entered as debts which will certainly have to be paid. To strike them off the account as items which cannot be realised, is only half the loss; they must be put on the other side. The gods that we spare are not only helpless and useless; they are a snare. The altars that we leave standing not only bring us none of the joy of worship; they require us as a sacrifice.


“The history illustrates the causes of the weakness of the Church and people of God.

I. One of these causes was indolence.… Patient labour there must be, if we would win the prize of our high calling. The athlete cannot retain his strength without daily exercise; the vocalist cannot retain his power and command of voice without incessant practice; and the child of God cannot go on to perfection without a daily spiritual gymnastic ‘exercising himself with a view to godliness’ (1 Timothy 4:7 Gr.), as an athlete with a view to the games. Faith and love, correcting the indolence of our nature, will make this holy toil delightful. In the second century it passed into a proverb, when men would express the impossibility of a thing, to say, ‘You may as well take off a Christian from Christ;’ and our blessed Master, whose example is the most perfect rebuke of slothfulness, declared that it was His meat and drink, not merely to begin, not merely to carry on, but to finish His Father’s work.

II. Another cause of spiritual weakness is a secret love of sin. The Israelites found in the habits of the men of Canaan much that was congenial to their own corrupt inclinations.… In religious families there are sons and daughters who, although outwardly restrained by the circumstances of their position, cherish a bitter hatred of religion, and a secret love for a dissipated life. And even in the hearts of the faithful, what strange occasional lingerings there are towards evil! What treacherous trifling with things forbidden! What hovering about the devil’s ground! What secret inclinations to taste the poisoned cup! What strange revival, at times, of the power of old habits which we had imagined subdued for ever! What infatuated dancing on the brink of hell, like the moth fluttering round the candle to its destruction! Who can explain the depth of that hidden treason? Who can disclose the inner sources of that secret alienation from the adorable God, that lusting of the flesh against the spirit, which so many of the faithful mourn? ‘Never,’ says Calvin, ‘does the love of piety sufficiently flourish in our hearts unless it begets in us a hatred of sin.’

III. Another cause of spiritual weakness is unbelief,
if indeed this one cause does not sum up and exhaust the whole subject. Unbelief is vitally connected with that alienation of heart and affections from God, in which the deepest ruin of man consists.… Here is the great secret of unbelief—it is ‘the evil heart departing from the living God.’ ” [Luke H. Wiseman, M.A.]


From the fact that “all the children of Israel” are here spoken of, Bishop Patrick says, “By this it appears they were all met at some solemn festival, as they were bound to do three times every year, for otherwise it cannot be conceived what should occasion such an assembly of the whole congregation, and consequently the place where these words were spoken to them was Shiloh.” Probably this was so (cf. Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 12:10-14). If so, we see in the very circumstances of this gathering these three things:

1. The formal services of religion carefully observed notwithstanding gross sin. With heathen altars all around them, with a league recently made with idolaters, and with the broken words of God coming between the Most High and their service, the Israelites met to worship Him whose will they had so utterly ignored. What a picture it presents of many a subsequent religious service!

2. God refusing to accept service spoiled by disobedience, and wanting the worship of the heart. That the service was not accepted, follows from the words of the Angel. And yet, while God rejects the worship He does not at once forsake the worshipper. Just as at the beginning Divine mercy gently reasons with Cain as to his rejected offering, so does that mercy here tenderly remonstrate with the formal worshippers at Bochim. Here, also, we see a Father who “knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust.”

3. A festive gathering of the Lord’s people turned into an assembly ofweepers.” God loves to make His people joyful in His house of prayer, but there is much that is more important than our gladness. As has been said of the children of Dan, even “in Aijalon, the place where Joshua had commanded the sun to stand still; so far from being animated by the memory of their leader’s faith, they were actually driven back by the heathen and forced to take shelter in the mountains (Judges 1:34-35), thus turning the noblest battle-field of the Church of God into a scene of defeat and shame.” Similar evidences of unfaithfulness were apparent all through the land. The worship of the congregation might well be turned into weeping. When the heavens are brass, and our prayer will not pass through, it is meet that we make search for idol altars, and break away from sinful leagues.

This assembly at Bochim dissolved into tears by the message of the Angel, may suggest to us the following considerations:—

I. The power of the word of the Lord to work conviction. “The people lifted up their voice and wept.” As was written to the Hebrews of a later generation, “The Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,” Hebrews 4:12). As heard on this occasion, this word—

1. Reveals the love of God. It tells of His loving acts in the past. It declares, no less, His tender concern in the present, and His care for His people’s future.

2. It makes manifest the sins of men. It spares no one. The leaders of the people are exposed even more than the mass. It is the glory of the Bible that it has no respect to persons. The sins of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, David, and Peter, are as fully revealed as are the sins of Amnon, Absalom, Gehazi, or Ananias and Sapphira. King or peasant, child of God or openly wicked, the word of the Lord declares and judges sin wherever it is found.

3. It displays the sinner’s base ingratitude. It throws the strong light of God’s past love and goodness on the dark evidences of man’s idolatrous sympathies. It “discerneth the thoughts and intents of the heart,” which after being made glad by God, wickedly turns against God. How many has it thus judged and condemned! What multitudes it is so condemning even to this day!

4. It proclaims coming punishment. Men argue against its penalties as being unlike the God whom it declares, but the Bible still goes on speaking in its awful calmness about the “worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched.” Blessed be God for the faithful word! It shows that God has not given up as hopeless the sinful men to whom, through it, He still comes with words of rebuke and exhortation. Let the hands that so often hang down be lifted up to preach it, well assured that “it is the power of God unto salvation.” People still weep when they hear the words of the law of the Lord (cf. Nehemiah 8:9).

II. Conviction expressing itself through tears. “The people lifted up their voice and wept.” The weeping seems to have been very general. Unless very many had been in tears, we should not have been told that the people wept, nor would the place have been named “The Weepers.”

1. Tears must ever follow sin. They may come as tears of genuine grief for sin. They may be delayed till sin brings punishment. In one way or the other they must certainly succeed the transgression of God’s righteous laws. Every sinner is a debtor to grief, and sooner or later the bill must be met. The longer payment is deferred, the worse for the debtor, for the interest charged on overdue tears for sin is always both high and compound. Emerson says: “The ingenuity of man has always been dedicated to the solution of one problem,—how to detach the sensual sweet, the sensual strong, the sensual bright, &c., from the moral sweet, the moral deep, the moral fair; that is, again, to contrive to cut clean off this upper surface so thin as to leave it bottomless; to get a one end without an other end.… This dividing and detaching is steadily counteracted. Up to this day, it must be owned, no projector has had the smallest success. The parted water reunites behind our hand. We can no more halve things and get the sensual good by itself, than we can get an inside that shall have no outside, or a light without a shadow. ‘Drive out Nature with a fork, she comes running back.’ ” Natural law alone exacts, unfailingly, the due penalties of sin; and behind Nature, and working through Nature, stands God, “Who will by no means clear the guilty.” He who chooses the pleasures of sin for a season will also in due season have to take its pains. It is well that this is so. If sin could be committed without tears, to use a paradox, it would be more full of tears than ever. The sorrow that multiplies upon itself and cannot weep, has need to weep indeed.

2. Tears are necessary till sin is put away. Sir Walter Scott wrote of the comparatively innocent tears of children,—

“The tear down childhood’s cheek that flows,

Is like the dewdrop on the rose:
When next the summer breeze comes by,
And waves the bush, the flower is dry.”

God has mercifully ordered it that the tears that flow for iniquity shall not be dried so quickly. In heaven, where there is no more sin, God wipes away all tears with His own hand. He will love us there no more than He loves us here. He leaves us in tears here, simply because we have too much sin to do without them.

3. Tears for sin, nevertheless, are often only temporary. Men dry their own eyes, and harden their own hearts, when God would see them still weeping. “Bochim” is not mentioned again throughout the Scriptures. The tears of these transgressors were of short duration. The tears, and the name of the place where they shed them, were alike soon forgotten. The forgiven man rejoices that tears are put away, and exclaims,—“Sing psalms to Jehovah, ye His saints, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness. Because His anger is for a moment, His favour for a life-time; weeping may tarry in the evening, but at morning there is joy” (cf. Heb. Psalms 30:5-6).—The unforgiven man has need to weep again that his tears are dried all too soon.

4. Tears are most hopeful when most hidden. “They called the name of that place Bochim.” They named it after their weeping. They made a display of their penitence. Their tears were so poor that they must needs advertise them. It can hardly be a matter for wonder that neither name nor tears lasted long. He fasts best who “appears not unto men to fast.” He weeps best whose tears for sin have in them enough of shame to make him seek to hide them. Our Heavenly Father would no more have us cry at the corners of the streets than He would have us pray there.

III. Tears promptly followed by sacrifice. “And they sacrificed there unto the Lord.” Probably they offered special sin-offerings, on account of the message of the Angel, in addition to the festive offerings in connection with this particular gathering of the congregation.

1. Tears for sin are nothing without sacrifice. Personal offences between man and man are to be forgiven freely, even “unto seventy times seven.” Every man is commanded, without any reparation whatever, to forgive his fellows, as he hopes to be forgiven. But no ruler of a community can forgive offences thus freely. In this case, forgiveness of the one would be a wrong to all others. At the public bar the requirements of justice are simply absolute. Whatever other reasons may or may not exist with God, this alone is imperative. The law must be magnified, and made honourable. Tears can never suffice without sacrifice.

2. Tears should lead us to the sacrifice of Christ. In Him “righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

3. Gratitude for tears wiped away should lead us to personal sacrifice. He can know little of the sacrifice of the Cross who does not believe with some self-sacrifice of his own.

IV. Conviction, tears, and sacrifice, all fruitless for want of true repentance. “The curse causeless shall not come” (Proverbs 26:2), but the curse foretold by the Angel did come, and come speedily. There can be only one conclusion; the repentance was too unreal for the conviction to be worth anything, for the tears to be grateful to God, or for the sacrifice to be acceptable in His sight. The final punishment of those who never repent must be dreadful; but the final punishment of those who all their life long are convicted without conversion, who weep without penitence, and who come to Christ without really giving themselves to Christ, must be terrible indeed. To all the woe of the impenitent lost, their woe must have added the awful vexation of a disappointment which must seem as though hell were added to hell. It is an apostolic conclusion, that those who in this life only have hope, “are of all men most miserable.” Unreal religion in this life is a factor by which, in the life to come, the Divine punishment of sin will be self-multiplied by the sinner to his own aggravation of the ordinary woe of the lost.


I. The easy way to disobedience against God. Weeds need no cultivating, but a good harvest comes of much labour. Transgression seems indigenous even to the best of human hearts. “Ill weeds grow apace;” we cannot see why they grow so readily, but the process through which they come can be traced with tolerable distinctness. The disobedience of these Israelites may be traced through the following stages:—

1. Decreasing prayer. A while back they asked, “Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites” (Judges 1:1)? When Judah failed in faith, we hear of no fresh inquiry. When the rest of the tribes were discouraged, we are told of no further supplication to God. Had the prayer of Psalms 80:0 been upon the hearts and lips of the tribes now, we had heard of no such rebuke as this at Bochim. Had Israel cried, “Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up Thy strength, and come and save us,” there could have been no such record as that in the last part of Judges 1:0. The failure of prayer is the beginning of failure “all along the line.”

2. Love of ease. Incessant conflict was probably getting more and more disagreeable. He who prefers rest in his own way to obedient rest in the word and will of God is fast nearing the place of tears.

3. Increased desires for gain. The tribes “could not drive out” their enemies, yet they “put them to tribute,” and thus betrayed the “would not” which underlay their “could not.” Tribute and no conflict, seemed easier than conflict and no tribute. That, too, led to Bochim. They were seeking to make a profit out of God’s enemies. Like Achan, they too were taking of God’s devoted things, and they also were seeking to conceal them: Achan hid his spoil in his tent, and they attempted to hide theirs under the idea of lawful tribute.

4. Growing self-assurance. When the tribes were weak, then were they so strong that they never lost a battle; when they grew strong enough to put their enemies to tribute, then they never won another victory, till out of their distress and renewed weakness they cried again unto the Lord (Judges 3:9-10).

II. The difficulty of escaping from sin when once it has been committed. The way of escape is

(1) through tears;

(2) through sacrifice;

(3) through obedience, without which both tears and sacrifice are in vain. The real difficulty of escaping from a life of sin is thus seen to lie in the difficulty of true repentance. God is ever “ready to forgive” when we are ready to be forgiven. Esau might have found mercy as readily as Jacob, could he have found a heart to seek and wrestle with God; the difficulty was here,—Esau “found no place of repentance, though he too came to Bochim, and “sought it carefully with tears.” Pardon is ever offered to the penitent; but if they who have known God’s goodness turn from it, the difficulty is “to renew them again unto repentance” (Hebrews 6:4-6). The dying penitent is ever on the borders of paradise, but the dying are often very far from penitence (Luke 23:39-43).

III. The great grace of God through Jesus Christ the Saviour.

1. God sent many warnings. Repeated warnings of these very sins were given through Moses. Many more were given through Joshua. Victory was always afforded to them when faithful. Yet they sinned.

2. God came with personal remonstrance. The Angel of the Covenant Himself enters into controversy with the disobedient at Bochim. “Last of all He sent unto them His Son.” Neither did this avail. The league was still maintained. The altars were still spared.

3. God manifested gracious patience. The evil foretold in Judges 2:3 did not come to pass at once. The Lord waited, that He might be gracious. It is not till we read that “Israel served Baalim” that we are told “the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel” (Judges 2:11-14). The Lord tried them, and proved them.

4. God showed great readiness to hear their cries of distress. At the very first signs of penitence He raised them up judges to deliver them (Judges 2:11; Judges 3:9). For all that, yet did they not truly seek Him (Judges 2:17-19). Thus, though Divine grace is so exalted, “the way of transgressors is hard;” it is hard while they pursue it, and hard for them to turn back from it into the paths of righteousness and peace.


It is said that there shall be “neither sorrow nor crying” among the redeemed in heaven, but that “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” The place where there is no more sin is to be a place where there shall be no more tears.

I. God, who will presently wipe all tears away, here causes them to flow abundantly. It is the angel of His presence who here constrains the people to weep.

II. God, who wipes tears away only where there is no more sin, here makes them to flow for sin. Did sin bring no tears, the sinful would know little enough of penitence. This Book of Judges is the Lord’s own commentary on the necessity for our tears. Nowhere more than here is it seen that “through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom.”

III. God, who waits to wipe all tears from off all faces, has no pleasure in causing them. Weeping is not an arbitrary arrangement, but is born in us of Divine pity and love. “Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.”

IV. God, who while we are here moves us to tears Himself, will when we are there Himself wipe them away. As at Bochim, so often; He comes to us on earth to make us weep. In heaven, it shall be as it was at the crossing of the Jordan into the land of Canaan, about which the bards of Israel presently sang: “The waters saw Thee, O God, the waters saw Thee; they were afraid:” “What ailed thee, O Thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?” So at our entrance to the Promised Land on high, the river of tears shall be driven back at the very sight of the God of love. We “shall see His face;” and from the everlasting joy of His countenance shall be born the tearless and immortal gladness of our own.


Our tears are of small account when, moved by penitence and love, we voluntarily come into our Lord’s presence and shed them at His feet. Tears have even much sweetness in their pain then. When Peter went out from Christ to cry, he “went out and wept bitterly;” when the sinful woman came into Christ’s presence and washed His feet with her tears, who does not feel that her tears were tears of gladness? The tears, too, of Mary Magdalene, shed at the empty tomb, presently got all the pain taken out of them when she was able to exclaim, Rabboni. He who sheds his tears at the feet of Jesus will always find that he is the happier for them. When our tears for sin fall on His feet, they turn to diamonds of the first water, and as we recall how He said, “Thy sins which be many are all forgiven thee,” memory does but pick them up as jewels for our soul’s future enrichment.

Pain is God’s great teacher. No one can learn well without it. Take two boys of equal gifts and equal industry. Let one grow up with almost no crosses and suffering, and the other with trials many and deep, yet borne with patient fortitude. How shallow will the one life be when compared with the richness and depth of tone in the other!

Pain must always be interpreted relatively. You cannot look on a wounded child, on a strongman crippled suddenly for life, or on a young mother taken from several young children, and read the meaning there. These are but “parts of His ways.” You can make nothing of the Cross on Calvary if you look at that alone. You may, in spirit, join those of whom it is said that “sitting down they watched Him there,” but, like them, you also will fail to understand it thus. You will have to keep them company in yet that further experience, when they “smote their breasts, and returned.” But look out on Pentecost; look at the records of the apostles’ labours, as given in the Acts and in the Epistles; look at the eighteen centuries during which the Crucified One has been drawing all men to Himself: read the Cross in the light of all that, and it will be beautifully different from the same Cross when you look at it merely through the terrible gloom of the three hours’ darkness, or try to make out its rich and far-reaching meanings through the agonised utterances of the suffering Son of God. Even so our smaller crosses can seldom be made out amid the gloom of their own darkness. “Blessed are all they that wait patiently for Him,” to make the vision of suffering and tears plain upon the tables of life.

“They wept, but we do not find that they reformed,—that they went home and destroyed all the remains of idolatry and idolaters among them. Many are melted under the Word that harden again before they are cast into a new mould.” [Matt. Henry.]

“From Gilgal to Bochim” is a path much shorter and much easier than that from Bochim to Mount Zion. The history of the one is in a few brief pages, which record no conflict; that of the other is a history of many struggles, extending to the time of David (2 Samuel 5:6-10).

“If transgressors cannot endure the rebukes of God’s Word and the convictions of their own consciences, how will they be able to stand before the tribunal of the holy heart-searching Judge?” [Scott.]

“The Israelites called the place Bochim; they named it from their own tears. They laid the principal stress on their own feelings, and on their own demonstrations of sorrow. But they did not speak of God’s mercies, and they were not careful to bring forth fruits of repentance; they were a barren fig-tree, having only leaves. Theirs was a religion, such as is too common, of sentiment and emotions, not of faith and obedience.
“Reproofs which produce only tears—religious feelings without religious acts—emotions without effects, leave the heart worse than before. If God’s rebukes are trifled with, His grace is withdrawn.” [Wordsworth.]

“Repentance and temptation are the two purgatories that a Christian in his way to heaven must pass through. The first is of water, the other of fire. We can no sooner come out of the one, but we must look to enter into the other. No sooner have we bathed and washed our souls in the waters of repentance, but we must presently expect the fiery darts of Satan’s temptations to be driving at us.” [Dyke.]

“Like Janus Bifrons, the Roman god looking two ways, a true repentance not only bemoans the past but takes heed to the future. Repentance, like the lights of a ship at her bow and her stern, not only looks to the track she has made, but to the path before her. A godly sorrow moves the Christian to weep over the failure of the past, but his eyes are not so blurred with tears but that he can look watchfully into the future, and, profiting by the experience of former failures, make straight paths for his feet.” [J. G. Pilkington.]

When men are in the wilderness of sin, even the heart of rock must be made to give forth water, lest the thirsty spirit perish outright. There are times when tears are a relief. There are places where oppressed manhood cries, “Oh, that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep.” Whether God Himself speak to the rocky heart, or whether “the rod of God” be used, tears, in this desert, may well be an occasion of joy and thankfulness.

Verses 6-10


Judges 2:6. And when Joshua had let the people go.] The visit and solemn message of the angel had led to tears. The temporary repentance was so general that the place of the visit was named after the weeping which it had produced. But tears for sin are of small use so long as the sin itself is not put away. Israel remained in league with the tributary Canaanites in spite of the tears. That being so, the sin went on to work out its inevitable calamities and to bring tears which were more abiding. These verses, from Joshua 24:28-31, are therefore quoted to contrast the fidelity of Israel under Joshua with the infidelity of Israel after the death of Joshua, and of his contemporary elders, who had seen the great works of Jehovah. The quotation, therefore, is not only appropriate; it is inserted as giving emphasis to Joshua’s influence in the past, as laying an emphasis on God’s merciful keeping of His covenant while Israel remained faithful, and thus as giving a fearful emphasis to the facts which this history of the Judges records to show that the beginning of sin is the beginning of sorrows, and that the continuation of sin is their inevitable perpetuation and aggravation also.

Judges 2:7. All the days of the elders.] “No exact term of years is assigned to ‘the days of the elders,’ which must, therefore, remain uncertain. The length of Joshua’s government is also uncertain. If, however, we assume Joshua to have been about the same age as his companion Caleb, as is probable, he would have been just eighty at the entrance into Canaan, and therefore thirty years would bring us to the close of his life. These elders would be all that were old enough to take part in the wars of Canaan, according to Judges 3:1-2; and therefore, reckoning from the age of twenty to seventy, we cannot be far wrong in assigning a period of about fifty years from the entrance into Canaan to the death of the elders, or twenty years after the death of Joshua, supposing his government to have lasted thirty years.” [Speaker’s Commentary.]

Judges 2:9. Timnath heres.] Called in Joshua 19:50; Joshua 24:30, Timnath-serah. Cf. Preacher’s Commentary, p. 286. The difference of the names in the original is simply that of a transposition of the letters.

Judges 2:10. Which knew not the Lord.] That is, they knew Him not as their fathers did, who had seen so many of Jehovah’s mighty works. It is not even meant that they were mentally strangers to the history of God’s goodness under Joshua; they knew not God in their hearts. They had no love to Him. The word יָדַע is similarly used, in Exodus 1:8, of the king who “knew not Joseph.”



Nearly all of this paragraph is repeated from Joshua 24:28-31. The language here is almost identical with that in the earlier account, but the verses are not repeated in the same order, Judges 2:7 being placed here before the account of Joshua’s death and burial. This is evidently done to throw stress on the defection of the Israelites, this being the particular subject on which the author of the Book of Judges is here dwelling. In the account in Joshua, Joshua’s death and burial form the principal subject of the four verses common to both books. What is here given as Judges 2:7, is given there as a subordinate and incidental remark. In this chapter, Judges 2:7 takes precedence of the mention of Joshua’s death and burial, because the degeneration of the Israelites since the death of Joshua has here become the main theme of discourse. This alone should be sufficient to prevent us from the mistake of the Speaker’s Commentary, in which the passages from the two books are copied out and placed side by side, with the idea of showing that the verses in Judges are merely a confused and aimless repetition of the earlier record. It is true that we have here a piece of rewritten history, but the rewritten history is not therefore without an object. The object of the recapitulation is evident. As he writes of the rebuke by the angel at Bochim, the author is reminded that no such remonstrance was ever needed in the days of Joshua, nor in the days of the elders who had seen the great works which the Lord wrought by Joshua. The history under the judges would form a dark contrast to the history under Joshua. In the latter, God’s mighty works have been invariably for Israel; in this history, which the author was now writing, God would often have to be shown as fighting against Israel. Under these circumstances, what could be more natural than that he should restate the record at the close of the Book of Joshua? The more exactly he copied the identical words there, the more clearly would it serve to show his purpose here: it would show why God had turned against the people whom He had aforetime so marvellously helped. In view of this, and of other features in the paragraph, the following points may be noticed:—

I. The value of history. It is God’s monitor. It is in harmony with His own words. It shows us the ground for His rebukes. It explains His altered bearing towards nations and families and individuals. History, rightly read, would explain many of our reverses. History would interpret for us many of the Divine judgments. In addition to all this, history is full of incitements to a better and more spiritual life. It calls aloud to the backslider to return. It bids the prodigal son leave the swine and their coarse food and come home again to his father. It tells the penitent woman of One who is ready to forgive. It warns the Pharisee of all ages that the man of broad phylacteries and pompous prayers,—stand to the front in the Temple as he may,—is ever farther from heaven than the humble soul that cries, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” It says to every idolater of all times and kinds, “All the gods of the nations are idols, but Jehovah made the heavens.” History is the great rock of a mighty past, from which these and many similar truths are echoed on to us in modulations incessantly varied by many differing voices, which give their peculiar tone and cadence to each particular truth they illustrate and enforce.

As to the impulse which may come to us from history, Emerson says, with his usual deep insight: “There is a relation between the hours of our life and the centuries of time. As the air I breathe is drawn from the great repositories of Nature, as the light on my book is yielded by a star a hundred millions of miles distant, as the poise of my body depends on the equilibrium of centrifugal and centripetal forces, so the hours should be instructed by the ages, and the ages explained by the hours.” Again: “All that is said of the wise man by stoic or oriental or modern essayist, describes to each reader his own idea, describes his unattained but attainable self. All literature writes the character of the wise man. Books, monuments, pictures, conversation, are portraits in which he finds the lineaments he is forming. The silent and the eloquent praise him, and accost him, and he is stimulated whenever he moves as by personal allusions.… The student is to read history actively and not passively; to esteem his own life the text, and books the commentary. Thus compelled, the muse of history will utter oracles, as never to those who do not respect themselves. I have no expectation that any man will read history aright, who thinks that what was done in a remote age by men whose names have resounded far, has any deeper sense than what he is doing to-day.” If any man would know the deep doctrine which is written in history that is most exalted, he must do and be the history over again. History will be to us what we are to it.

II. The peculiar value of the history of God’s more faithful servants. History, to the wise man, has both a negative pole and a positive. If our hearts are right before God, when we read of Jeroboam and Ahab and Manasseh and Judas Iscariot, history will repel us in another direction; but when we read of Moses and Joshua, Isaiah and John, the history will be drawn to us and we to it. In the measure in which our hearts are right, we shall take up the hidden power in the history, and shall make it our own. The holy yearnings and beliefs and joys of the godly dead will live again in us. Then, with their spirit taken up into our own spirit, their prayers and songs and holy deeds with our own individualism of life and opportunity, we shall reproduce also. Thus would God have us feel of each of His holier servants, “He, being dead, yet speaketh,”—speaketh in my own heart, and in my own life. Sir John Lubbock tells us that “savages have a great dread of having their portraits taken. The better the likeness, the worse they think it for the sitter; so much life could not be put into the copy except at the expense of the original.” The holy dead have no such feelings of reservation. Paul said to his Corinthian brethren, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” He who makes a vivid picture of godly history in his own mind, takes so much new life to himself from those who have gone before him as the actors of that history.

III. The advantage which comes from specially reviewing such history. There are particular places in our own experience where we all have need to go back and contemplate some particular section of the past. The chemist’s stores may not have medicine for all diseases; yet do the stores of history contain some warning against all our follies, some stimulant for all our weaknesses, some corrective for all our sicknesses. Just as the Word of God has some balm for each wound of sin, so have the lives of godly men some help which they can afford us in our moments of spiritual necessity. But the lives must be studied. Unread libraries benefit no one but the book-makers and the bookkeepers. Idle men should read of Paul; men who fear hardships should read of Livingstone; those who lack consecration should study the life of the self-surrendered Brainerd; the stern and harsh might sit with advantage at the feet of M’Cheyne. All men, everywhere and always, should sit at the feet of Jesus, and learn of Him. He is the bread of life in all life’s hunger, and the true physician in all life’s sicknesses. The wealth which we might each find in the lives of godly men is priceless, but it is all stored up again in the single life of Jesus Christ. In Him “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The Holy Spirit shows us here how we are to rebuke ourselves in sin, and encourage ourselves to holiness by lives like that of Joshua; the same Spirit waits to bring to our remembrance whatsoever has been said to us by the greater JOSHUA. “He shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you,” is the Lord’s unfailing promise to every one who seeks to be a disciple indeed.



Joshua was faithful; he possessed Timnath-serah. The two and a half tribes were found faithful; they were sent with words of encouragement to their inheritance on the other side Jordan. Under Joshua’s wise lead and good example all Israel was found faithful, and the people “went every man into his inheritance to possess the land.” There is no such thing as missing the rewards of true fidelity, even in this life. There is a spiritual possession for every heart that is true to God, true to men, and true to itself; and here, the acreage and fertility of the estate are always according to faithfulness.
“If you serve an ungrateful master, serve him the more. Put God in your debt. Every stroke shall be repaid. The longer the payment is withholden the better for you; for compound interest on compound interest is the rate and usage of this exchequer.” [Emerson.]


The miraculous help which God gave to Joshua had a great influence. Joshua must have been led by it closer than ever to the Lord who gave him such great and repeated victories. “The great works of the Lord” influenced also the elders who had likewise seen them. But holy lives of leading men seem quite as influential as the miracles of Jehovah. The people who had not seen the miracles, served the Lord all the time they were led by the elders who had seen them. Every holy life is a miracle. The holy life of any man in a high position is as a miracle on a hill-top; the wonderful work of grace is well within the gaze of the surrounding and less-elevated multitude.
He who serves God in a lowly position can never serve Him in vain; he who occupies a high position is doubly responsible to walk worthily.
One man can lead many around him to serve the Lord, and they may be able to persuade many more.
“People seldom improve when they have no other model to copy but themselves.” [Goldsmith.]

“Be a pattern to others, and then all will go well; for as a whole city is infected by the licentious passions and vices of great men, so it is likewise reformed by their moderation. [Cicero.]

“Pious Joseph, by living in the court of Pharaoh, had learned to swear by the life of Pharaoh. A high priest’s hall instructed Peter how to disclaim his suffering Master. Fresh waters lose their sweetness by gliding into the salt sea. Those who sail among the rocks are in danger of splitting their ships.” [Secker.]

“Sometimes the sun seems to hang for a half hour in the horizon only just to show how glorious it can be. The day is done; the fervour of the shining is over, and the sun hangs golden—nay redder than gold—in the west, making everything look unspeakably beautiful with the rich effulgence which it sheds on every side. So God seems to let some people, when their duty in this world is done, hang in the west, that men may look on them and see how beautiful they are. There are some hanging in the west now.” [Beecher.] So did Joshua “hang in the west,” after his more active course was accomplished, a beautiful and attractive sight to all Israel.


“And they buried him in the border of his inheritance.” The words read as though well-nigh all Israel might have gathered to do honour to the memory of their faithful leader.

Those who have served the Lord most worthily must, nevertheless, be gathered to their fathers. Those who live to God do not cease to live when they die. Living above, with God, their memory is still cherished by their fellow-men below. In this twofold life Joshua still survives.
Many good men are hardly known till they have passed away. Most nations and families know their worthy dead far better than they knew them when living. Half the monuments of our public squares would never have been accorded but for the light which death shed forth upon the lives which they commemorate. He who is not known yet, if he is worthy to be known, will be known presently.


“One generation goes and another comes, but the Word of God abides for ever. It holds good for fathers and children; it judges ancestors and descendants. The new Israel had not beheld the deeds of Joshua and Caleb; but the God in whose spirit they were accomplished still lived.” [Cassel.]

In some parts of England it is still common to walk in procession round the boundaries of the parish. By this means, the elder inhabitants acquaint the younger with the landmarks of their native place. It is needful that Christian fathers and mothers should often instruct their children in those moral and spiritual limits beyond which they dare not go. But for prayerful and watchful care in this there will arise another generation after them which know not the Lord.

NOTE.—Further homiletical outlines on these verses will be found in the Preacher’s Commentary on the corresponding passage in Joshua 24:28-31, of the Book of Joshua.

Verses 11-16


Judges 2:11. And served Baalim.] The pl. form indicates the different Baalim, or the different characters and modifications under which Baal, the sun-god, was worshipped, rather than the different images of Baal. The singular, Baal = “lord.” principally in the sense of owner and possessor. “When the worshippers wished to express a particular Baal they generally added some particular epithet, as Baal-zephon, Baal-peor, Baal-zebub, Baal-shamayim, &c. The two former were adored by the Moabites; Baal-zebub, by the Ekronites; Baal-berith was honoured at Shechem; and Baal-shamayim, the lord of the heavens, was adored among the Phœnicians, Syrians, Chaldeans, &c. Probably among all these people, Baal meant the sun.” [Dr. A. Clarke.]

Judges 2:13. Ashtaroth.] The pl. form of Ashtoreth, the Greek Astarte. Solomon followed the impure worship of this idolatry (1 Kings 11:5; 1 Kings 11:33; 2 Kings 23:13). “Ashteroth Karnaim points to the horns of the crescent moon, by which also Astarte of Askelon is indicated on the coins of that city (cf. Stark, Guza, p. 259). The armed Aphrodite in Sparta is the same with Helena or Selene, the moon-goddess, a fact clearly demonstrative of her identity with Astarte. Moon and stars, the luminaries of the night-sky, are blended in Ashtaroth. She represents the collective host of heaven.” [Cassel.] Thus, Ashtoreth cannot be limited to Venus, but is the moon-goddess, including Venus and the rest of the stars, Ashtoreth of the night thus standing over against Baal of the day. This relation of Ashtoreth to the moon is of importance in understanding Joshua’s command for the moon “to stand still,” as well as the sun.

Judges 2:15. Whithersoever they went out the hand of the Lord was against them.] “This is in terrible contrast to what is said in Joshua 1:9.” [Speaker’s Com.] Hence the relevancy and great significance of the quotation in Judges 2:6-9. They were greatly distressed.] Lit., “And it became to them very narrow.” וַיֵּצֶר, from צוּר, “to straiten, to press upon, to compress;” thence, intrans., “to become straitened” (cf. Judges 10:9).

Judges 2:16. Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges.] Heb., “and the Lord raised,” &c. This is the first use of the word shoph’tim, or judges, from which the book takes its name.



We see in these verses, sin notwithstanding much goodness, anger on account of grievous sin, and mercy because of great distress.

I. The sin of the Lord’s people. Their transgression was of a twofold nature.

1. They forsook God. (a) They forsook Him, notwithstanding His holy character. The lofty manifestations of His holy name made no abiding impression on them. The pure truths which He had given them had no place in their hearts. They preferred the lewd service of idols to the knowledge of the holy God. The reason of unbelief and forsaking God now, is often because God’s Word is too pure and too holy in its requirements. No man forsakes God because God is below his ideal of goodness. (b) They forsook God in spite of His Divine right to their service. They were not their own, but bought with a price. God was their Maker. He had “brought them out of the land of Egypt.” He had fed their fathers forty years long in the wilderness, and often saved them when they were ready to perish. (c) They forsook God, forgetting His boundless goodness to themselves. The mercy in which the Lord had dealt with their fathers He had shown to them no less. He had helped them in all their necessity. (d) They forsook God on the very ground which He had given to them for an inheritance. Every city which they held was Jehovah’s gift. They set up their idols on the land which He had won for them with a high hand and an outstretched arm. He who sins in these days, always sins with strength and amid opportunities which the Lord has given. This is ever one of the heinous features of all transgression. God gives men health, riches, intellectual gifts, a comely person, many social advantages; and when men sin they invariably use God’s favours as a means of offence against God. (e) They forsook God, heedless of many warnings. Jehovah had repeatedly warned them in plain and unmistakable terms, through both Moses and Joshua, of these very transgressions of which they were now guilty. He had warned them of the danger of disobedience by the defeat at Ai. More recently the angel of His own presence had warned them at Bochim. They had themselves affirmed to Joshua, in a solemn covenant at Shechem, that they would reject all the strange gods of the Canaanites. They had said, “The Lord our God will we serve, and His voice will we obey.” They had heard Joshua say, “Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the Lord, to serve Him;” and, accepting that solemn challenge, they had answered back, “We are witnesses.” God ever has room to say to those who transgress, “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee.” All sin is “without excuse.”

2. They served the Baalim and Ashtaroth of the Canaanites. (Different forms of Baal-worship have already been mentioned in the Critical Notes on this verse.) “The worship of Baal amongst the Jews seems to have been appointed with much pomp and ceremonial. Temples were erected to him (1 Kings 16:32; 2 Kings 11:18); his images were set up (2 Kings 10:26) his altars were very numerous (Jeremiah 11:13), were erected particularly on lofty eminences (1 Kings 18:20), and on the roofs of houses (Jeremiah 32:29); there were priests in great numbers (1 Kings 18:19), and of various classes (2 Kings 10:19); the worshippers appear to have been arrayed in appropriate robes (2 Kings 10:22); the worship was performed by burning incense (Jeremiah 7:9) and offering burnt sacrifices, which occasionally consisted of human victims (Jeremiah 19:5); the officiating priests danced with frantic shouts around the altar, and cut themselves with knives to excite the attention and compassion of the god (1 Kings 18:26-28). Throughout all the Phœnician colonies we continually find traces of the worship of this god; nor need we hesitate to regard the Babylonian Bel (Isaiah 46:1), or Belus, as essentially identical with Baal, though perhaps under some modified form.” [Smith’s Bib. Dict.] In the same manner, there can be little doubt that the Assyrian goddess Ishtar is, for the most part, the same as the Phœnician Ashtaroth. In the “Assyrian Discoveries” of the late Mr. George Smith, many of the inscriptions refer to the goddess Ishtar and to the honours demanded and rendered in her worship. It need hardly be said that the distinguishing feature between the worship of Jehovah, whom the Israelites forsook, and of Baal and Ashtaroth, for whom they went astray, was emphatically this;—one was pure and self-denying, the other was lewd and self-indulgent. They who change their gods, generally do so because their affections are set on things of the earth, and not on things which are above; because sensuousness and indulgence of the passions are more pleasant than the self-denying ordinances of the God of heaven.

II. The severity of the Lord’s anger. “The anger of the Lord was hot against Israel.”

1. It was terrible in its reality. Some people lay so much stress upon the mercy of God, that they get to treat His anger as a mere sentiment, having little expression except in words. God’s anger is the anger of truth, and righteousness, and love. It is no less severe because it is calm and full of patient waiting. The angel does not smite at Bochim, but the smiting is none the less terrible when it comes.

“When anger rushes unrestrained to action,
Like a hot steed, it stumbles in its way.
The man of thought strikes deepest, and strikes safely.” [Savage.]

God bears long with His disobedient children, but woe comes heavily on those who mistake His patience for indifference.

2. God’s anger was fearful in its consequences. “He delivered them into the hands of the spoilers that spoiled them, and He sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, that so they could not any longer stand before their enemies.” These consequences became matters of history. The Book of Judges is one early fragment of that history. When men would forget the anger of the Lord in the more pleasing thought of His mercy, they should remember that Divine anger has an awful history. No vapid sentiments can do away with the history of the deluge, with the overthrow of Sodom, with the plagues of the wilderness, with this suffering under the judges, or with the subsequent captivity at Babylon. Men may refine upon future punishment as they will; past punishment will always stand ready to revise their theorisings in the human judgment, and an ineffaceable sense of the deserts of sin stands equally ready to correct them in the human conscience. Any calm and tender preacher of the wrath of the Lamb is good against all the books that were ever written to make light of it; history and conscience make short work of what may be called the poetry of the appetites.

3. God’s anger is not vindictive. There ever seems to be in it far more thought for truth and for His creatures than for Himself. The wise man can do little but fear an anger which rests on a basis so broad as this, and which moves to punishment with slow gentleness through so many remonstrances.

4. The anger of God is necessary. Unlike ours, His anger is Mercy’s last plea with the obstinate. It is necessary for the vindication of His own laws; it thus becomes necessary for justice; it is necessary for those who have not been so fully tempted to transgress; it is, at least in this life, necessary for the transgressor himself. Fancy the effect, in a single year, if the thought of the reality of God’s anger were blotted out from the universal conscience of living men to-morrow!

III. The tenderness of the Lord’s pity. “Nevertheless the Lord raised up judges which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.” Man’s distress is, in itself, a plea before God. It was “when they were greatly distressed” that the Lord was thus moved to compassion. Our suffering becomes a prayer to God, even when no word of prayer is uttered. It was so with the Israelites in Egypt. When “the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant” (Exodus 2:23-24). “Mercy hath but its name from misery,” said Thomas Binney, “and is no other thing than to lay another’s misery to heart.” It is the severe Apostle James who tells us that “the Lord is very pitiful.” The severity of truth and the tenderness of love ever dwell together. The anger of the Lord makes His mercy very beautiful; the mercy of the Lord makes His anger very terrible.



I. He who “does evil,” always does it “in the sight of Jehovah.” There is no other place in which to do it. “Thou art acquainted with all my ways.”

II. He who forsakes the Lord is still and ever in the presence of the Lord. He “compasses the path and lying down” of the idolater also.

III. He who serves, other gods,” ever bows down to them under the eye of the only God. All the idolatries of men are carried on at the foot of the throne of their insulted Lord.

Mrs. E. B. Browning tells us that though all her gentlest-hearted friends could concentre their gentleness in one heart, that still grew gentler, till its pulse was less for life than pity, she must hesitate to reveal her own heart even to such a friend. She says—

“I should fear

Some plait between the brows, some rougher chime
In the free voice;”

and then, thinking of those who stand continually under the glance of Omniscience, she exclaims in wonder and envy concerning the holy angels,

“Who bear calmly all the time

This everlasting face-to-face with God.”

We all have to bear this everlasting face-to-face with God every day; many bear it heedlessly, because His face is not yet visible. They walk before Him neither by sight nor faith, but they are “in the sight of the Lord,” nevertheless. Human blindness blots out of existence nothing that is. Every tree is a tree, whether seen or not; every rose is beautiful, though every passer-by has lost his eyes. So man is not out of “the sight of the Lord,” because the Lord is out of the sight of man.

FORSAKING GOD.—Judges 2:12

I. When men forsake God they seek false gods. Few men propose to do without a god. It is only “the fool” who hath “said in his heart, There is no God.” Man must have a god. Men may forsake the living God in heart and thought, and still cleave to Him in their creed. Even then, they both forsake God, and serve false gods. The essence of idolatry is in having a new god, not in serving the new god openly.

II. When men forsake God it is usually through misguided love. It is “with the heart,” also, that man believeth unto wickedness. Changed affections ever have to do with a change of gods.

III. When men forsake God they do so in misdirected efforts. They still “serve;” and serving idols, they serve where the yoke is no longer easy, and the burden no longer light. Israel forsook God, but “served Baalim,” and “followed other gods and bowed themselves unto them.” He who forsakes the fountain of living waters, always finds a heavier task in hewing out “broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

IV. When men attempt to forsake the Lord, they attempt what is impossible. They may follow other gods, but God, from whom they would depart, still follows them.

1. If men could forsake God, they would be godless indeed. With exquisite sarcasm Jeremiah says of the gods of the idolaters: “They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not; they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them, for they cannot do evil; neither also is it in them to do good.”

2. But no man can forsake God. The children of Israel tried to, for many generations, but presently returned even from Babylon to build again the Temple of Jehovah. God will not forsake us. He will be for us, as He was for Israel under Joshua; or He will be against us, as He was often against Israel under the judges (Judges 2:15). “He must reign.” There is no Tarshish to which we can flee that is beyond His presence. There is no sea on which we can sail that He does not rule its waves. There is no shipmaster with whom we can take passage whom He cannot constrain to cry to us, “What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God.” The Lord has His messengers of reproof beside every idol altar before which it is possible for men to bow down.

CHANGING GODS.—Judges 2:12-13

I. Gods changed, heedless of the claims of the only true God. Jehovah had done great things for them, but they were not glad in Him.

II. Gods changed out of regard to indulgences which might be afforded. Children sometimes think a foolish nurse kinder than wise parents. That is because they are children.

III. Gods changed, and prosperity changing also. He who had been for them in many a field, was turned to be their enemy, and fought against them (Judges 2:15.) That could only end in their being “greatly distressed.”

IV. Gods changed, and heaven finding therein an occasion for astonishment. “Hath a nation changed their gods which are yet no gods? but My people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid; be ye very desolate, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 2:11-12).

I. Motives for changing gods. These all lay in the direction of sense, and of time.

II. Determination in changing gods. Neither Moses nor Joshua, and not even the angel at Bochim, sufficed to hinder these men, whose hearts were set in them to do evil.

III. Results from changing gods.

1. The results which were external and general. “They were greatly distressed” in their surroundings.

2. The results which were internal and personal. Every man must have been troubled in his own conscience.

IV. God’s way of asserting that He alone is God.

1. He chastised them severely.

2. He chastised them by the very people with whom they had made leagues.

3. He chastised them by the corruptions which came of their newly-chosen worship.


The expressions, “My father’s God,” “the God of his fathers,” “God of our fathers,” “God of my fathers,” &c., are used many times in the Scriptures. The thought is common to both the Old and New Testament utterances. Dr. Parker, under the title, “The Pathos of Theology,” has a suggestive outline on the phrase, as occurring in Exodus 15:2. An abstract from this is here given. “My father’s God”:—

I. Then religion was no new thing to them
.… Religion should not be an originality to us; it should not be a novel sensation; it should be the common breath of our daily life, and the mention of the name of God in the relation of our experiences ought to excite no mere amazement.

II. Then their father’s religion was not concealed from them.
They knew that their father had a God.… Is it possible that your child is unaware that you have a God? Is it possible that your servants may be ignorant of the existence of your religion?

III. Yet it does not follow that the father and the child must have the same God.
Religion is not hereditary. You have power deliberately to sever the connection between yourself and the God of your fathers. It is a terrible power.

IV. Then we are debtors to the religious past.
There are some results of goodness we inherit independently of our own will. This age inherits the civilisation of the past. The child is the better for his father’s temperance. Mephibosheth received honours for Jonathan’s sake. The processes of God are not always consummated in the age with which they begin. Generations may pass away, and then the full blessing may come. We are told that some light which may be reaching the earth to-day, started from its source a thousand years ago. What is true in astronomy is also true in moral processes and events; to-day we are inheriting the results of martyrdoms, sacrifices, testimonies, and pledges which stretch far back into the grey past of human history.

“The text impels us to ask a few practical questions:—

1. Are you so much wiser than your father that you can afford to set aside his example?

2. Will you undertake to break the line of a holy succession?

3. Will you inherit all that your father has given you in name, in reputation, in social position, and throw away all the religious elements which made him what he was? You would not willingly forego one handful of his material possessions. Are you willing to thrust out his Saviour?

4. Your father could not live without God,—can you? Your father encountered death in the name of the Living One. How do you propose to encounter the same dread antagonist? When your father was dying, he said that God was the strength of his heart, and would be his portion for ever. He declared that but for the presence of his Saviour he would greatly fear the last cold river which rolled between him and eternity, but that in the presence of Christ that chilling stream had no terror for him. When the battle approached the decisive hour, your father said, ‘Thanks be unto God which giveth to us the victory,’—how do you propose to wind up the story of your pilgrimage?” [Dr. Parker.]


“Idolatry! you cannot find any more gross, any more cruel, on the broad earth, than within the area of a mile around this pulpit (in New York). Dark minds, from which God is obscured; deluded souls, whose fetish is the dice-box or the bottle; apathetic spirits, steeped in sensual abomination, unmoved by a moral ripple, soaking in the swamp of animal vitality. False gods, more hideous, more awful than Moloch or Baal; worshipped with shrieks, worshipped with curses, with the hearth-stone for the bloody altar, and the drunken husband for the immolating priest, and women and children for the victims.” [Chapin.]

“A singular phenomenon, known as the Spectre of the Brocken, is seen on a certain mountain in Germany. The traveller who at dawn stands on the topmost ridge, beholds a colossal shadowy spectre moving on the summits of the distant hills. But, in fact, it is only his own shadow projected upon the morning mists by the rising sun, and it imitates, of course, every movement of its creator. So heathen nations have mistaken their own image for Deity. Their gods display human frailties and passions, and scanty virtues, projected and magnified upon the heavens, just as the small figures on the slide of a magic lantern are projected magnified and illuminated upon a white sheet.” [E. B.]


“After the judgment of the word comes the judgment of the sword.
“He who ceases to remember the works of God, ceases also to enjoy the power of God. For him who shuts his eyes, the sun affords no light.
“Men are judged by the truth which they despise, and betrayed by the sin which they love. Israel can no longer withstand the nations over whom it formerly triumphed, because it courts their idols and leaves its own God.” [Cassel.]

“He who engages in another worship, forsakes the true God, and apostatises from Him. But woe to the man who does this, for he brings himself into endless trouble.
“God is as true to His threats as to His promises.” [Starke.]

“The judgment affords a deep glance into God’s government of the world, showing how He makes all sin subservient to His own power, by punishing it with the very evils that arise from it.” [Gerlach.]

Verses 16-23


Judges 2:18. For it repented the Lord because of their groanings.] “Because the Lord had compassion upon their sighing.” [Keil.] “ ‘The Lord was moved with compassion,’ or ‘was grieved,’ ‘because of their groanings,’ as Judges 21:15. So, too, Psalms 106:45. The sense of repenting which the word (נחם) bears, Jonah 3:9, and elsewhere, is secondary” [Speaker’s Com.]

Judges 2:19. And it came to pass.] “But it came,” &c., the vau being taken adversatively. They ceased not.] Cf. Marg., “they let nothing fall of their doings,” i.e., of their wicked doings. LXX., “They abandoned not their devices.”

Judges 2:20. And the anger of the Lord.] This resumes the statement from Judges 2:14, the intervening passage being a general description of details presently to be mentioned in the main narrative.

Judges 2:21. I also will not henceforth, &c.] Lit., “I also will not continue to drive out a man from before them.” This cessation of Jehovah’s working is placed over against the want of cessation from evil doings spoken of in Judges 2:19.

Judges 2:23. Therefore the Lord left.] That is to say, “Therefore the Lord had left,”&c. He had foreseen this backsliding of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:16-18), and had suffered the Canaanites to rally from the apparently overwhelming defeats of Joshua, in order that they might remain to prove Israel. Thus, as Prof. Steenstra remarks, “the ‘not speedily’ of Joshua’s time had by Israel’s faithless apostasy been changed into ‘never.’ ” The impression left by this verse in the A.V. as to not “driving them out hastily,” is certainly not in harmony with the emphatic statement in Judges 2:21, that Jehovah would not go on, or add, “to drive out a man” in the future.



The Book of Judges, of which these verses give a summary, is a “book of the wars of the Lord.” We see here God contending with sin in the hearts of His people. He who reads the Books of Joshua and Judges merely as accounts of battles between the Israelites and their enemies, will overlook by far the larger half of the conflicts set down in the narratives. As was observed in treating of the siege of Jericho, God’s great battle there was with sin and unbelief in the hearts of the Israelites. Such, too, was the strife at Ai, at Beth-horon, and in the subsequent conflicts. Such, even more manifestly, is the great underlying purpose of all the struggles between man and man recorded in the history before us. In every battle, whether won by Israel or lost, the God of love is seen contending with the unbelief and idolatry of the people whom He had redeemed from the bondage of Egypt. The Divine word, through Hosea, might stand, indeed, for the text of this whole book: “I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them.”

I. Great sin followed by still more abundant mercy. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

1. God’s mercy was in excess of His promises. The “thorns in their sides” had been repeatedly foretold to these Israelites. The punishments that would follow unfaithfulness had been reiterated again and again. These great deliverances under the judges had not been so foretold. While God’s judgments are ever equal to His threatenings, His mercies are often largely in excess of His promises. The evils which would follow disobedience were foretold in much detail, and they came, even “as the Lord had said” (Judges 2:15); little, if anything, was said about the deliverances, but they came no less than the judgments. The wicked have every reason to believe that the threatened woes of the last day will also be even “as the Lord hath said;” the truly penitent will find in the way to heaven, and still more when there, that the half has not been told them of God’s wondrous goodness.

2. The mercy was through one man, because of the unfitness of the multitude. Each judge was made the great instrument of deliverance. This was emphatically the case in the instances of Ehud and Shamgar, Gideon and Samson. It seemed as if the Lord purposely took away all opportunities from the people to glory in their own might. They were too wicked for success, and even in their deepest penitence fit only for mercy. Hence God gave them deliverance through the personal prowess of a few men. The multitude was not fit to win favours; it was hardly prepared to receive them. The measure of a Church’s spiritual success is probably often according to its ability to bear success. The manner in which success comes may also furnish some indication as to our preparedness, in the sight of God, to receive the blessings of prosperity.

II. Rejected mercy followed by reckless sin (Judges 2:17; Judges 2:19). The Lord raised up judges, and delivered the people out of their great distress; the people prayed for deliverance, and gladly accepted it when it came; then, when their distress was removed, they rejected the Lord who had showed mercy upon them, and thus rejected all the high meanings with which the mercy was laden. It is not to be wondered at that we read, after that, “They returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their evil doings, nor from their stubborn way.” To ignore great kindness and mercy is one of the most sure and terrible ways of hardening the heart in wickedness. Take the case of Judas. How tenderly our Lord’s kindness must have pleaded with that man in the upper room! Think of the Saviour washing the feet of the man who was already committed to the sale of his Master! After the washing of the feet, Christ let Judas see that He fully knew the dark purposes of his wicked heart, and yet had washed his feet, notwithstanding. Think of the kind sad tones of the voice that said, “One of you shall betray Me!” Think of the inquiry of the twelve, “Is it I?” and of the miserable creature who, not to betray himself by being unlike the rest, was forced in his turn to ask that question also! Think of the words to John, and of the gift of the sop which followed them! Why did not Judas drop the sop, and burst into tears, and openly acknowledge what His Lord, and through Him the eleven, so evidently knew? How hard the heart of Judas must have been after he had taken that sop, and managed to swallow it without crying! The tears must have all petrified within the man—a heart full of tears, turned into the severe hardness of diamonds, but having none of their purity. The tenderness of Christ’s deeds and words was not only making evident Christ’s former saying—“One of you is a devil;” for Judas to reject such love was to diabolise himself more than ever. Think of the opportunity for spontaneous confession which the Lord gave to the man in the words, uttered probably with infinite tenderness: “What thou doest, do quickly!” Why did not Judas answer back: “Lord, I cannot do it at all; much less can I do it quickly, against love like Thine?” But the man had no spontaneity in him. Poor Peter would have broken down half a dozen times through that supper; but Judas had no good impulses. So, “he then having received the sop went immediately out.” And he went out fully prepared to do his dreadful work. After being able to resist all the tenderness of the Saviour at the supper, it was easy work to go for the band of men and officers, and comparatively easy even to betray Christ with his kiss. The act of spurning the Lord’s tender mercy had turned his poor heart to very stone. Take the case of a young man, rejecting a good mother’s love and tears. Suppose a wicked son bent on doing some wicked deed. Think of a Christian and ever-gentle mother pleading with him on her knees, her eyes streaming with tears, not to do the evil thing in his heart. Imagine such a son striking that mother a brutal blow to the earth, and then fleeing from her presence while she was yet insensible. Who does not see how so wicked an act, against such love, would harden the heart almost beyond redemption. The man would be capable of anything after that. So it ever is with any who resist, and overcome, and put away from them tender pleadings of the love of Christ in their own consciences. So it was with these Israelites when they resisted the pleading of God’s great mercy with them in their distress, and turned again to sin. Isaiah saw the glory of Jehovah as He sat upon the throne high and lifted up, and the prophet cried, “I am a man of unclean lips!” To others of the Jews, God had showed the glory of much mercy and gentleness and love. But the Jews resisted that mercy. Therefore Isaiah said of Jehovah in His splendour of goodness, “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw His glory, and spake of Him.” The resisted light of God ever turns to darkness. The heart that turns from His glory, must needs rush very deeply into sin, to forget itself. The glory makes a man feel with Peter: “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man;” it makes him who sees it cry with Isaiah, “Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean lips:” or it drives him who beholds it more recklessly into wickedness than ever. Thus was it with the Israelites. When they turned again to sin after God’s very marvellous and gracious deliverances, there was nothing for it but that they should give themselves up to idolatry without restraint. To sin against great light and tender love, is to sin with utter recklessness.

III. Reckless sin followed by still severer chastisements (Judges 2:20-21). “The anger of the Lord was hot against Israel.” He said, “I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died.” On one occasion, we see how, for a time, the Lord absolutely refused to hear their prayer. He answered them in their distress: “Wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation” (Judges 10:9-14).

1. God’s punishment of sin is too just to be given up without repentance. It is not grounded on the anger of impulse, but on the calm anger which has its foundation in a sense of wrong—wrong to Himself, wrong to men generally, and wrong to the souls of the evildoers. Man’s anger is a fire, burning with impulsive and selfish passion; God’s anger is a consuming fire, unless it be met by repentance, for it is kindled by eternal principles of righteousness and benevolence

2. God punishes sin too deliberately to forego His chastisements without reason. He does not begin to build His towers without counting the cost. The steady and increasing pressure upon Pharaoh can only end in Pharaoh’s destruction unless he repents. Israel itself must presently be carried even to Babylon, if Israel will persist in idolatry.

3. God’s punishments are too full of love to be given up lightly. Not only is the anger calm, but the love is very deep. The anger of God against sin has no hatred of the guilty—

“He hates the sin with all His heart,
And yet the sinner loves.”

“Having loved His own which are in the world, He loves them unto the end.” Hence we are prepared to see, as indicated in these closing verses,

IV. Chastisement, in its severest form, still made the vehicle of God’s merciful purposes (Judges 2:22-23). God would “prove Israel” to see whether or not they would keep His way. The spirit of this patient purpose runs all through the book. It was not a sudden purpose, formed only when the Israelites began to depart from God. God had cherished that purpose even in the time of Joshua, and forborne to deliver the Canaanites entirely into Joshua’s hand. Notwithstanding this dark history under the several judges, the Divine purpose did not fall to the ground. Through steady and stern chastisements, the Israelites gradually grew into the feeling that the way of sin was a way of sorrow. God made Bye Path Meadow rougher than the King’s highway. There were times when Giant Despair fastened the people in his terrible stronghold. They were often glad to return again by the way in which they had departed. The result was that during Samuel’s time the nation was found, probably, nearer God than at any period between the death of “the elders who outlived Joshua,” and that of Samson in the house of Dagon, at Gaza. Mr. L. H. Wiseman has well expressed the real progress of the nation in the following remarks: “I am inclined to think that the period of the judges was, upon the whole, a period of national advancement. The prevailing idea is, no doubt, opposed to this view. It contemplates the period of the judges as an unbroken series of idolatries and crimes and miseries, relieved only by the occasional appearance of a Barak or a Gideon, like a momentary gleam of sunshine on a dark tempestuous day. But a deeper study of the times tends to modify and correct this idea. The rule of the judges secured long periods of tranquillity. Of history in general, it may be justly said that it brings into bold relief a nation’s wars and discontents, while epochs of peace and prosperity are either thrown into the background, or left unnoticed. The exceptions, rather than the rule, are recorded; just as a voyager, narrating the story of his crossing the ocean, dwells chiefly on a storm or two which befell him, and passes lightly over many a week of smooth and pleasant sailing.… It is thus with the Book of Judges. The period of which it treats was not a period of incessant warfare; but it was marked by long and frequent intervals of repose. War and disgrace were, after all, the exception; peace and tranquillity were the rule. Thus, after the victory achieved by the first judge, Othniel, ‘the land had rest forty years;’ after Ehud’s victory, ‘the land had rest fourscore years;’ a little later, ‘the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon;’ the twenty-three years of Tola, the twenty-two years of Jair, the twenty-five years following the death of Jephtha, all passed without any recorded national struggle; and the forty years of Eli’s official life were free from war till its melancholy close. And although the people’s lapses into idolatry were frequent, they were so far checked and restrained, that of 450 years, according to the computation of a learned writer (Graves on the Pentateuch), there were not less than 377 years during which the worship of God was generally maintained. Gloomy and fearful as are some of the details furnished in the Book of Judges, the Hebrew nation was nevertheless in a better state during that period, morally, politically, and spiritually, than it became afterwards during the reigns of the later kings. For these long intervals of tranquillity and of rest from the enemy—during which many a family, no doubt, followed the Lord in quietness and faith, according to that lovely picture of domestic piety given us in the Book of Ruth—the Church of those days was indebted, under God, to the judges, who, through faith, ‘wrought righteousness, and obtained promises.’ … On the whole, during this period, the Hebrew nation increased in importance and strength. After Joshua’s death there had been a rapid decline; but if we take as the commencement of the period the state of things in the time of Othniel, the first judge, and compare it with the state of things in the time of Samuel, who was the last, the advancement is too manifest to be disputed. The Jewish state went on from that time increasing in glory till it reached its culminating point a century later in the reign of Solomon: after which commenced its long and unretrieved decline. In the period of the judges, notwithstanding the defections from God, the rebellions, the outrages, the confusion, the bloody civil strifes which the historian records, so that at the close of the book we seem to behold, as a learned writer (Bishop Wordsworth) observes, ‘An overclouded sunset, almost a dark eclipse, of the glory of Israel,’ yet idolatry was neither so frequent, so open, so obstinately continued, nor so shamelessly immoral, as it became in the later period of the monarchy. The rulers of the people, instead of being hereditary tyrants, and sensualists who taught their people to sin, were special messengers of God, men of faith and power, capable of checking public disorder, and of restoring religion and faith. Notwithstanding frightful interruptions, like the deep rents and yawning chasms which meet the traveller ascending their own Lebanon, the general tendency and direction of the period of the judges was not downward, but upward toward the heights beyond.” So far as progression under the judges is concerned, little exception can be taken to this careful and eloquent estimate, which well accords with the view taken by Dr. Kitto. As to the subsequent decay under the later kings, perhaps the verdict is somewhat too emphatic. Notwithstanding the guilt of Jeroboam, Ahab, Manasseh, and other monarchs, and the dire results of their apostasy among the people, it should not be forgotten that even in Ahab’s days there were seven thousand who had not “bowed the knee to Baal,” and probably many more who bowed reluctantly. There seems even some ground for Dean Stanley’s remark, lying wholly in another direction: “The age of the psalmists and prophets was an immense advance upon the age of the judges.” Of the progress of the people from Othniel to Samuel, however, there can be little doubt. God’s chastisements were not in vain. The purpose of the Lord was full of mercy, and the mercy did not fail. In the language of one of the last of the judges, “Out of the eater came forth meat.” The Lord’s chastisements are no less full of merciful purpose in these latter days.



I. The relation of a nation’s great men to God.

1. The Lord raises them up. They are of His providing. After all allowances for evolution and natural development, He is at the back of both.

2. The Lord chooses the time for raising them up. He raises them up when they are wanted. Carlyle says: “Show our critics a great man, a Luther for example, they begin to what they call ‘account’ for him; not to worship him, but to take the dimensions of him, and bring him out to be a little kind of man. He was the ‘creature of the time,’ they say; the time called him forth, the time did everything, he nothing—but what we the little critic could have done too? This seems to me but melancholy work. The time call forth? Alas, we have known the times call loudly enough for their great man; but not find him when they called! He was not there; Providence had not sent him; the time, calling its loudest, had to go down to confusion and wreck because he would not come when called.” All this is true enough. Still, when Providence does not answer the call of a critical time, it is because there is something in the men of the time which forbids this answer. When the man for the time does not come, it is not because God is short of men, but because the men of the time have got where “confusion and wreck” are better for that time, or after times, than any amount of prosperity.

II. The relation of great and good men to a nation’s social and religious condition.

1. True, leaders are not always given because of a nation’s merit, but often in spite of its unworthiness. The great sin of Israel made these judges necessary, yet the judges were not given till distress had wrought penitence. When the people were penitent, then God sent them a helper. Periods of national calamity on account of sin, like those which we find in this book, account for the spirit of much of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple; still more is their influence to be marked in the profound sense of national humiliation pervading the prayer of holy Daniel (Daniel 9:3-20).

2. Such leaders are not raised up by God after the thought and manner of men. They may be lefthanded, like Ehud. They may be women like Deborah. They may be of such a class as Gideon, who cried, “O my Lord, where with shall I save Israel? behold my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” The Lord never needs to prop up His greatness with any of the so-called greatness of men. Shamgar, the man of the ox goad, or Jephtha, “the son of a strange woman;” either can do the Lord’s work so long as the Lord is with them. “The Lord seeth not as man seeth.”

3. Some leaders are raised up, even from their birth, to give deliverance to their nation. They are the subjects of God’s forethought, and training, and careful provision. Such was Samuel. He whom the Lord would raise to conspicuous greatness and usefulness is generally nurtured amid the influences of pure religion. We do not hear much of the mothers of the judges, in general; nor was the influence of the ordinary judges very abiding (Judges 2:19): Samuel whose influence was to last through all the nation’s history was the child of a mother who both knew how to pray, and how to give her much-loved child to her more-loved God. A nation’s real leaders must needs be scarce when there are no real mothers.

III. The relation of men whom God raises up to a nation’s deliverances.

1. All victory is of the Lord; leaders are but the instruments through whom He works. (a) None of the deliverances are wrought to any considerable extent by the people. In this Book, it is the man by whom God works, not the multitude. (b) No leader is too weak so long as God strengthens him. Ehud, the left-handed man triumphs when God is with him; yet even mighty Samson fails when the Lord has “departed from him.” Shamgar’s ox goad, or the jaw bone of an ass, or the ardour of the woman Deborah; nothing is too rude, no one is too weak and unskilled, if the Lord does but bless the instrument. (c) All these features of victory were meant to teach Israel thatthe battle is the Lord’s.” “Without Me ye can do nothing;” that is one side of the Book of Judges: “I can do all things through Him which strengtheneth me”; that is the other side.

2. The Lord works most enduringly with those leaders who walk most with the Lord. Set the work of the sensual and mighty Samson over against that of the pure and unselfish Gideon, whose humility led him to claim the lowest place in the poor house of his father, and see whose life brings most of blessing to his nation. Even the rude strength of Jephtha—a man of ready resources, quick movements, and a born commander, but tainted with the spirit of the surrounding idolatry—compares feebly indeed with the enduring mercy that comes to Israel though the calm gentle strength of holy Samuel. Israel’s great song in this Book is the outcome of the ardent piety of a woman, and the best perpetuated mercies of the nation spring from the labours of Gideon and Samuel who walk very near to God. Even here, Gideon’s influence becomes sorely weakened by the Ephod, which became a snare to his nation, his household, and himself (Judges 8:27). Great leaders are a great gift of God, but when greatness and true piety go together, the Lord’s favour is rich indeed.


“What an umpire Nature is; what a greatness, composure of depth and tolerance there is in her. You take wheat to cast into the earth’s bosom: your wheat may be mixed with chaff, chopped straw, barn-sweepings, dust and all imaginable rubbish; no matter: you cast it into the kind just earth; she grows the wheat,—the whole rubbish she silently absorbs, shrouds it in, says nothing of the rubbish. The yellow wheat is growing there; the good earth is silent about all the rest,—has silently turned all the rest to some benefit too, and makes no complaint about it.” [Carlyle.]

This is so, and not so in the sowings that come of our human lives. The good seed of a good life grows. God suffers not that to lack a harvest. But the bad seed of our lives grows also. Our moral and spiritual rubbish is full of life-germs, and the soil around us is still more favourable to get a heavy crop out of them. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap;” alas! others around him will reap a good deal of it also.

A good life is light from heaven; it is a revelation of God; it is God’s image, wherein man was originally made, set up before surrounding lives. The holier of these judges not only showed the people what a human life should be; every approach to holiness which they made in their work was in that measure a revelation of the Divine character to their fellows. Every true worker now, in proportion as his work is true indeed, reveals his Father which is in heaven before the eyes of his fellows. In this sense, there is much beauty in the lines of Goethe, as translated by Carlyle:—

“In Being’s floods, in Action’s storm,
I walk and work, above, beneath,
Work and weave in endless motion

Birth and Death,
An infinite ocean;
A seizing and giving
The fire of living:

’Tis thus at the roaring loom of time I ply,

And weave for God the garment thou seest HIM by.”


I. Man’s insusceptibility to mercy (Judges 2:17):—

1. Through blindness to what was good in man. “They would not hearken unto their judges.”

2. Through love of what was evil in things. Their gods represented so much self-indulgence in wickedness.

3. Through ingratitude for all that was gracious in God. They did not care to remember His great goodness. La Rochefoucauld said, “We seldom find people ungrateful as long as we are in a condition to render them services.” Yet these Israelites show us how possible it is to take the Lord’s services and, at the same time, to ignore Him.

II. God’s persistence in mercy (Judges 2:18). I. In raising up judges. It must have needed much encouragement for the judges to have come out from the multitude: God gave them sufficient encouragement to do even that.

2. In being present with the judges. Some of them were very faulty, but for all that the Lord would not forsake them for His people’s sake.

3. In giving the people actual deliverance from oppression. He who had put them into the hand of their enemies, when affliction had done its work, also took them out again.

4. Because of His great pity. “It repented the Lord because of their groanings.”

III. Man’s rejection of mercy. Even after they had again and again “tasted and handled and felt” the grace of God, sometimes bestowed in answer to their own earnest prayers, they turned again to evil. Well might they be spoken of as men of a “stubborn way.” Yet unto us also God’s mercies are “new every morning.” Are we more grateful than these, whose faults we can so easily perceive?


“Apostacy is followed by ruin; the loss of character by that of courage. Heroes become cowards; conquerors take to flight. Shame and scorn came upon the name of Israel. The nation could no longer protect its cities, nor individuals their homes.
“In distress the people returned to the altars which in presumptuous pride they had left. Old Israel wept when it heard the preaching of repentance; new Israel weeps only when it feels the sword of the enemy.

1. Israel must contend with sin, and with enemies.
2. Israel experiences the discipline of judgment and of compassion.
3. That which approves itself is the victory of repentance and the obedience of faith.

“A recent philosopher (Fischer) defines philosophy to be, not so much universal science as self-knowledge. If this be correct, repentance is the true philosophy; for in repentance man learns to know himself in all the various conditions of apostacy and ruin, reflection and return, pride and penitence, heart-quickening and longing after Divine compassion.” [Cassel.]

“God’s judgment on Israel is the non-destruction of the heathen.”


“From the fact that the whole history does at the same time, through scattered hints, point to the flourishing period of Israel under the Kings, we learn that these constantly-recurring events do not constitute a fruitless circle, ever returning whence it started, but that through them all God’s providence conducted His people by a road, wonderfully involved, to a glorious goal.” [Gerlach.]


I. The anger of the Lord is not without due cause (Judges 2:20). The covenant with the fathers was transgressed. The voice of the Lord was not hearkened to by the people themselves. God’s words to the fathers is binding on the children. God’s messengers, and mercies, and judgments, are His “voice” to the men to whom they are sent.

II. The Lord’s anger is not without painful results. The nations which had been left, under Joshua, to prove the people, were to be left still. This is but a sentence, as it stands written here, but it presently expands into a history of woe. No word of God’s warning must be neglected, otherwise it may resolve itself into terrible suffering, it may spread to a whole nation, and require a volume for the history of its consequences.

III. The Lord’s anger is not without loving designs. This is true, so far as it applies to His anger in time. He would still “prove Israel,” and still watch to see if they should “keep the way of the Lord.” Love waited to be gracious wherever gracious manifestations would work no harm. He who led His people forth by a right way that He might bring them to a city of habitation, no less determined to keep them in a right way. In the end, our salvation must all be seen to be of Divine goodness.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Judges 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/judges-2.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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