By Samuel Ridout
Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar: — The First Captivities and Deliverances
We saw in the last chapter that because of the unfaithfulness of the children of Israel in not going forward and overcoming them, God declared He would no more cast their enemies out of the land, but that they should be left as thorns in their side, an abiding witness to their unfaithfulness and disobedience. At the same time they would be a constant menace to their testimony, and to their national existence. You can imagine that any nation which has dwelling in its very midst, and occupying part of its territory, other nations which are not only diverse, but utterly hostile, not only to themselves, but to their institutions, form of government, — everything that you can think of; You can understand that the presence of hostile nations like that, even in a political way, would threaten any national existence. We might mention, as a modern and partial illustration, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, where you have not a homogeneous nation at all, but one ruling class, with which is connected the royal house, and another large class, who are practically the rulers, thoroughly opposed to the first; besides any number of other races who keep to their various traditions, habits, and everything of that kind. The result is, that the cord that binds the nation together is a very weak one, and there is a possibility of disintegration at almost any time.
Now that is from a political point of view, but when you come to apply it to a nation whose existence meant a religious testimony, a testimony for God, when you bring God into account, how much more disastrous will it be for a people to settle down with the various nations right in amongst them, and to amalgamate with them. How impossible it was for Israel to be loyal and true to God, and to carry out His law and to be subject to His government. It was an impossibility and, therefore, as I said, the presence of these unconquered nations in the land of Canaan was not only a witness to the failure of Israel, but a perpetual menace to their integrity and faithfulness, which eventually bore fruit in their being carried off into captivity. In fact, we are going to dwell upon the fruits of that in these lessons which are before us in the book of Judges.
That is on the one side. Then, on the other, you have what is brought out in the portion which I have read. God left these nations there to test their faithfulness. That is a very striking and most important lesson. Here were people whose presence was a witness of past failure. But, blessed be God, He does not stop there. If His people by their own unbelief and disobedience have compromised Him, and compromised themselves, God does not give them up. He is a God of infinite patience and long suffering. He leaves them to the result of their own disobedience; that is the first thing; and out of those very results He brings fresh tests as to their future obedience.
So these nations, left in their midst to try them, where they associated with Israel day after day, were a constant test to the loyalty and obedience of the succeeding generations, to prove whether they would now go on to carry out the will of God, and cast out the enemy that was there. In other words, the presence of these men, so long as they remained, was always a witness of past failure, and an invitation to present recovery.
Let us apply that, for I am persuaded that God's dear people are often discouraged, and rightly so, by the results of their own disobedience. A man says, "I have dishonored the Lord, I have made alliances; I have put my head in a yoke that I cannot get out of; I am in a position from which I cannot be delivered. Therefore, there is no use for me to attempt to obey God further. I might as well give up." That is always Satan's way. First he gets you bound, then he says you cannot get loose; first lures you into the path of disobedience, and then says there is no use in your trying to do a single thing in God's way. You are to be a bondman till the day of your death.
Beloved, let us sound the bugle of victory, the bugle of warfare, right here. Let us say to one another that there is no position of bondage, no position where your own failure and disobedience to God have brought you; where you may not still count upon His power for fresh deliverance. You will not get the same complete victories, perhaps, which might once have been yours. But, it is never right for us, never for faith, to let the hands hang down, to say that there is no further hope. If you appeal to the God of hosts, you appeal to One who is never going to be overcome. Victory is upon His banners, even if you have been a retreating soldier. If like the tribe of Ephraim, you have turned back in the day of battle, still He rallies, — the mighty Leader rallies His scattered forces, and leads us back again to meet the enemy. This is His way, even if you had but one day of your life left.
The Lord stir us up, beloved brethren. Let us not submit to what is apparently the inevitable. There is nothing inevitable to faith except the mighty power of God to give us victory; that is the only inevitable thing. Let us not be discouraged; and the very presence of the enemy, which our own unbelief and disobedience has left all about us, is simply a fresh test. Will we now trust God? Will we now count upon Him? Will we from this day take fresh courage, and go on and carry out the plan that He decided for us at the very beginning?
Now that applies individually in our private, personal, spiritual experience. It applies as to all the associations of life which we make, to every form of alliance which you have made with the world, with the enemy, with that which would compromise you and your testimony. It applies to us corporately as well, to our united testimony, if we have allowed principles to come in and dwell in our very midst, principles which are diverse from the will of God, and the truth of His Word. If you are confronted with any circumstance of trial, any opposition of the enemy, remember this, first of all. These are left here that I may learn what war is, that I may learn now what it is to fight the Lord's battles, that I may, even in this late day, gird on the armor and go forth to the battle, which should have been won long, long ago.
Is not that encouraging? Is it not a beautiful way for God to put it? Is it not a touching way for Him to speak of the presence of the enemy amongst us? As though He were to say, I have left him here to test the loyalty of your obedience to Me.
Well, how did Israel meet all this? How did the people respond to this fresh invitation on God's part, to test them as to their faithfulness? In the fifth verse we read, The children of Israel "dwelt," made their home, settled down. That is the thought, they have settled down; where? Amongst the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. There is a list of names, and I have no doubt that each of those names has its special significance. We might attempt to characterize them. Canaanites are "traffickers;" Hittites, "sons of terror;" Amorites are "talkers;" Perizzites are "rulers;" Hivites are "villagers;" Jebusites are "treaders down."
Now these represent spiritual principles which control conduct, and if you are dwelling where any of these spiritual principles control, you may know that you are living in the same circumstances as Israel. If you are confronted in your associations or your position, whether personal or ecclesiastical, with any of these principles that we have here, you may rest assured that God has a test as to your further obedience. Look at them a moment.
First of all are the Canaanites, "traffickers," those who simply handle things for the profit there is in them. They are merchants, who have no heart in divine truth, but simply take it, and handle it for various reasons; some even for financial gain, some for social gain, some simply to avoid disagreeable conflict with those whom they love. All of that kind of handling of divine truth is mere Canaanite traffic, merely handling the word of God deceitfully. Suppose we are merely trafficking in it in an intellectual way. If we are, for instance, tonight, just seeing if we can get something, as the Athenians wanted, something new out of the word of God, not for our conscience and heart, but simply for our intellect; then that is a Canaanite principle. And if we recognize that amongst us, painful as it is to have to acknowledge it, let us cast out that principle of trafficking in God's truth.
There is a great deal of that. In the prophets we read that there should be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord. It is a name given to all forms of the enemy's presence in God's territory; it is the trafficker, the one who handles divine truth without a living interest in it.
There is also another point. I have said that these are principles of evil. But in Ephesians you remember that we are told that our conflict is with wicked spirits, and so wherever you have an evil principle, you have an evil person. Take for an example the one person in whom people have believed hitherto. He wants to obliterate himself from men's minds. He is the embodiment of the highest form of all pride and self-exaltation. And yet Satan's one object is to let Christians doubt his existence. Or if they believe that, they doubt his presence, or his true character. Satan likes people to think of him as a dreadfully immoral being. I was going to say that Satan was not an immoral being, in the ordinary sense of the word. The flesh, alas! with all its lusts, we know, is one of the fruitful servants of Satan, but the flesh is not Satan himself exactly. A man who is going on in immorality does not need, as it were, Satan to help in his destruction.
Satan is transformed into an angel of light. He deals with principles, and whenever you find principles of error, there you have Satan himself, there you have the personality, as well as the principle. For instance, if there is a spirit amongst the people of God of just intellectually trafficking in His Word, you not only have Canaanitish principles, but you have wicked spirits you have Satan's power to battle with. And so with all these other principles that we might look at for a moment.
The Hittite empire was one of the largest of ancient times. The monuments show them to have been a vigorous and hardy race, different from all others, and that they spread over an immense territory. At one time the Hittite empire was an enormous one. Their name is suggestive — "Sons of terror." The principle of fear, of timidity, of holding back, shrinking from pressing forward, where God would have us, that is the Hittite principle. It is strange to speak of that as a mighty power which tells us of weakness; but as John Bunyan said, Shame was the most shameless fellow he ever saw, so fear is the boldest thing there is. We need not be surprised that after faith, the first requisite of which the apostle Peter speaks, is the soldier virtue, courage. Fear, the fear of man, the fear of consequences, the fear of walking on the water, the fear of walking the narrow path of obedience. Oh! how fear takes possession of God's people, and keeps them from fighting for Him, in His spirit and in His strength.
The Hittites dwell everywhere, and if you allow them, they will settle down in your midst. They will close your mouths, so you will be afraid to speak. Why is there so much silence amongst God's beloved people? Why is there so little testimony in the gospel? so little ministry amongst the saints? so few voices heard in prayer and praise in the assemblies? Is it not because the Hittites are allowed to dwell right in our very midst? You are afraid to speak a word for the Lord Jesus, afraid to lift up your voice in thanksgiving — to lead the prayers and praises to Christ Jesus. You are afraid to take your stand for Christ, confess Him fully — afraid to do that which your own conscience and the word of God declares should be done. Oh, the Hittites' empire is indeed a wide one, — it reaches everywhere, and their dwelling amongst us is a witness how we have failed to cast them out. Yet, thank God, their very presence amongst us is a call from Him to rise now and put them from us; to be done with fear, to be done with all this terror, this holding back, and to be strong in the Lord and power of His might.
After the Hittites come the Amorites; a striking kind of contrast; "fear" — "talkers." Constant talkers, "boastful" in connection with it. It means the word without the power. And is it not true that talk is easy? It is easy to talk even when people are really afraid of true confession. It is easy to speak our own thoughts. Of course, when I was speaking of the path of faith in confessing Christ, and speaking for Him, I did not mean in any kind of Amorite way; a voice and nothing else, simple talk and nothing else. It is a very easy thing to talk without practice, and that is the Amorite. Wherever we find that principle allowed among us, of high talk and low walk, much preaching and little practice, let us realize that we have amongst us an enemy that we should cast out.
Then further, not to dwell upon these too long, in the Perizzite you have that spirit of human power which rules; not divine rule, not subjection to God, to His will, and to His Word, shown in subjection to the humblest and weakest thing that expresses that will. But you have that high-handed spirit; the nobility. The Perizzite represents the nobility, the class that rules, that must be looked up to and obeyed, not for what they teach, but for what they are.
On the other side are the Hivites. These two go together. If you have a nobility you must also have the lower class. Here is the nobility and the peasantry, or, as you might say, the clergy and the laity. As a result, you have the Jebusite trampling down everything that is of God.
Now these are the enemies that dwelt right amongst God's people. They are in our midst today, and often have a lodging place in our hearts. Satan uses them to work mischief just as much as he can. What are we going to do about them?
That brings us to take up the first detailed account of bondage, and it is very striking, that not one of these enemies is mentioned as the conqueror in this first bondage. We are told they intermarried with these nations, took them into the closest union with themselves. They united with them, and adopted them as part and parcel of their nation. As a result, as we were seeing the other night, they adopted their gods, their religious beliefs and practices and service. Without dwelling long upon it, what multitudes of saints have been ensnared by literal marriages with persons of the world. "What part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" But the infidel here is not merely one avowed as such, but any unbeliever, anyone who is not personally a believer to the saving of the soul. Oh, the Christless homes, the aching hearts, the wrecked lives that have resulted from a neglect of the simple word of God. But to return to the narrative. For this reason the Lord sold them into the hands of their enemies. It is very striking, as I have said already, the enemy is not one that is amongst them, but one from a distance, even from far off Mesopotamia. They were sold into the hands of Chushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia, and he ruled them with a rod of iron for eight years, till they cried to the Lord for help they cried to Him, and he sent them a deliverer in the person of Othniel.
Now here is the first step of actual bondage. Who is it to whom they are brought into bondage? If we can discover the nature of the first actual rule over God's people — not the first enemy with whom they unite, the first enemy whom they spare, — but the first actual one that takes charge of them, we will have a common starting point for all saints in like circumstances. Who is it? Is it not significant that he is outside of the whole land entirely? He is away from the place that God has given, and that suggests the thought of distance and separation from God. He is the king of Aram, which means "exaltation" and pride. In another connection Aram suggests our exaltation in Christ. And if there is exaltation without Him, the one who takes the place of Christ is surely the worst enemy there can possibly be, just as the Antichrist who opposes and exalts himself is the worst. Now this king of Aram, this king of exaltation, is rightly named Chushan-rishath aim, "the blackness of double wickedness," intensified wickedness. Chushan is black. Anyone or any principle that takes the place of Christ is doubly dyed black. That is the thought. It is not a question here of immorality, nor of practice, but of principle.
Whenever there is that exaltation of the creature, apart from Christ and the supremacy of God Himself, you have the bondage under the king of Aram, of Mesopotamia.
Aram was the cradle of the human race. It is in Mesopotamia, "between the two rivers," the Tigris and the Euphrates. It was in Aram that the power of Babylon was developed, and it was to Aram that the Lord's people were finally carried away captive, for Babylon is closely connected with Aram.
That is very suggestive, and I am reminded very strongly that in the address to the Church at Ephesus, in the second chapter of Revelation, you have side by side the thought of their departure from God, their independence of Him, and the fact that they had left their first love. That was putting something else in the place of Christ, the exaltation of self. And the judgment pronounced upon it is, "I will remove thy candlestick out of its place." In other words, there would be the final captivity as a result of this first step away from Christ.
So here, Aram or Babylon — Babel — brings the people into bondage, and is the very first one to rule over them as a result of their self-exaltation and independence of God. And that Babylonian captivity is the final one, when the last vestige of the kingdom of Judah was carried off to Babylon, and the times of the Gentiles began. The whole government of God passes from the house of David over to the Gentile kings. In other words, the very first step includes the last. That is the principle in God's ways, and one of well-nigh universal application — the first step includes the last. "It is the first step that costs," is the old proverb; and this rule of the king of Babylon over the people is the very first warning from God that shows what is the end of exaltation and independence of Him. To tamper with a false principle, above all to tamper with that which is the root of every other form of evil, is a sure sign that you will have the whole wretched result of that evil. Let us look at the case of our first parents. I make no question that there was nothing in the fruit itself to produce any such results as came from eating it. It was disobedience to God that brought in all the woe and misery and separation from Him that has existed ever since.
Apply that to the Christian. If you are cut loose from communion with God, you may hover about the country of God's people — you may linger amongst the saints and all that kind of thing, but if your heart is not attached to God, if your heart is lifted up with pride, you are away from Him. Your case is just like a boat that has been moored by a strong rope, and that rope has been cut. The boat may linger around the edge close to the shore; it may not be drifting far off, and to a casual observer it is as safe as any other boat, but if the rope that bound it is cut, it only wants a little puff of wind, a little wind of doctrine, you might say, a little ebb of the tide, and it is gone far away. Why is it that God's dear people wander from Him apparently so suddenly at times? Ah! the cord that bound them to Him in communion was cut long before. Now when the wind of doctrine, the temptations of this world come, there is nothing but to drift.
Let us now see recovery from this independence from God. Who is it that brings them back? What principle of truth is it that delivers them from this principle of unbelief? It is Othniel, whom God raises up to be a deliverer for them. There are two things to notice, and they come in the scriptural order, "He judged Israel and he went forth to war." First of all self-judgment, then conflict with the enemy. It is just in that order. If you remember, in many a battlefield God let the enemy defeat Israel. He would not link His holy name with them, in the absence of self-judgment on their part. If His people had not judged themselves, they could not go to war. In the book of Deuteronomy we read, "when thou goest forth to war, thou shalt keep thee from every evil thing." So Othniel acts. The man who is going to set them free from the power of independence of God, must first of all bring them on their faces, bring them, as you might say, to Bochim, the place of weeping, and there judge for God before going forth to war.
Why is it that God's dear people, when confronted by an evil principle absolutely contrary to God, have so little power to deal with it? Why is it that evil lifts its head and we cannot go forth to meet it as we should in the strength of God? Is it not because we go forth before first judging ourselves, because we fail to get down on our faces and ask God to search our hearts, and to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ first? then we can deal with the evil. Brethren, a man that judges himself in the presence of God is the man who can go out and conquer for God, and cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ. Is that not true?
But look a little further at Othniel. We have already seen this man as the hero of Debir, the hero of that mighty conflict in the South country, which gave them, as you might say, the power of communion with God. He took Kirjath-Sepher, "the city of the book," and named it "the living word of God."
Othniel means the lion of God — the power of God, not the power of man, and he is the one who takes this book, which we believe to be the inspired Scriptures, and makes it practically the word of God. The man who judges Israel, the principle by which God's people can be brought into self-judgment, is the principle that recognizes that in this precious book we have God's word, which searches and tries our hearts. It is as His word searches us that we can be delivered from independency of God. Is that not true? Suppose pride and independency lift up their head, how can we get delivered from them? When the word of God becomes a living reality to us, when we bow to its authority. I love to hear of revival among God's people, or rather I love to hear of a revived faith. But what is it that marks a revival? Is it excitement, is it a wonderful kind of sentiment to gather us together by a sort of natural love? These would not be a genuine spirit of revival, such as has marked the great epochs of the Church's history. A revival is not effected in this way, but by bringing home the word of God to the conscience, mind and heart, and the people bowing under the authority of that holy Word.
If God's people are to be set free from their own wills, is there any other way but by being brought into subjection to God's word? I cannot put my will against my brother's will. I may say my brother is acting in self-will against God's will. How am I to overthrow that will? I cannot interpose my will, for my will is as bad as his. I must interpose the word of God, and subject him to that; and the power of double wickedness, the blackness of wickedness, of independency of God, will be driven away, and God will give rest from that spirit of self-will. That is the lesson written here upon this first conquest, the first bondage of self-will and independency is overthrown by subjection to the word of God and the power of living faith.
But now we look for a little at the next enemy and the next victory. That is a power quite different from what we have been contemplating. It is nearer home, and it is a twofold one. The remainder of the chapter speaks of the one down to the verse just before the last; and the last verse gives us the other, the Philistines. You have two enemies, one on the East side just across the Jordan, Moab; and on the West side, at the great sea, the Philistines. Only we get just a glimpse of the Philistines.
Moab, as we know, was a blood relation of Israel. He was descended from Lot, who was a relative of Abraham. So that the Moabites were the natural kinsmen of the Israelites. But, as we have already seen, Lot's relation with Abraham was largely a carnal, fleshly one. In his descendants' case it was entirely a fleshly one. Israel had no more bitter and relentless foes than these Moabites and Ammonites, who were their kinsmen.
You remember how our Lord said that a man's foes should be those of his own household that is, the mere relationship of nature, instead of being a help in the things of God, too often proves only a hindrance. But that is not the only lesson. Moab suggests a people and principle which are outwardly connected with God's people, without any vital or divine connection. Moab could say, We are kinsmen, why should we be at enmity with each other?
He could thus gradually come in and take possession, until finally he ruled over his brethren, according to the flesh. Thus, while the encroachment may have been gradual at first, and made possible by the laxity of the people, at the last be smites Israel. Spiritual enmity is definite, and Satan will strike at last, though he allure at first. Now it evidently means, therefore, that here you have a principle by which God's people are brought into subjection, and that principle is closely connected with divine things.
Profession bears the closest resemblance to divine realities — profession without reality. Profession may claim natural relationship to faith; it may say we are the people of God, we are separate from the world, we belong to Christ. But all these things may mark mere empty barren profession, and thus the king of Moab govern God's people. Profession will thus gain and bring them down to its own dead level of worldliness.
Eglon associates with himself Ammon and the Amalekites. These suggest various forms of nature and the flesh. Ammon we shall have later on in the conflict of Jephthah, and Amalek speaks of the "works of the flesh," which are the inevitable companions of a mere profession.
It is very striking that the king of Moab comes over into the territory of God's people just so far as Jericho. Jericho, as you will remember, is a type of this world in all its fragrance and attraction, the very first enemy that God's people had to overthrow. Here you have Moab, profession, making his headquarters in the world. Is it not so? Look abroad today. The world is full of profession; God's people are fairly honeycombed with profession. Where are the headquarters of profession? Go to the home of profession, I do not care what high-sounding name it gives, you will find that it has its headquarters at Jericho. Profession is in the world, and the reason why profession has such power over God's people, is because it furnishes a convenient link between them and the world.
It is a sad and solemn thing to think of mere profession, of those who have the name of Christ on their lips, but their hearts are in the world; that is an awful thing. But how much sadder is it to think of God's entire people being brought under the power of that which links them with the world. Not with Jericho, because the enemy is too clever to give a plain name to things. It is called the city of palm-trees. They are very beautiful, tall, stately trees, and do we not read in Scripture that the righteous shall flourish as the palm-tree? There surely cannot be anything very bad with Moab's setting up his throne in the city of palm-trees, that is righteousness, morality, reform, practical uprightness in walk and honesty. Well is it to remember where the throne of Moab is. Moab's power, the power of profession, is outward reform. Reform is very alluring; it makes a drunkard give up his drunkenness, and become a respectable citizen. Let us have political honesty, moral uprightness and benevolence. All that is Moab's stock in trade. Yes, the christless professor can live in the city of palm-trees, can talk about uprightness of conduct and all that, but it does not make him love Christ, or unite him to Christ. Profession! oh! how that king of Moab has settled down on God's territory, and taken possession of it.
We read that Eglon was a very fat man. It suggests the absence of that vigor, of that power, that prevented him from being a strong, muscular, active person. And profession is a dead, inert mass, which settles down, and by its very weight stifles spirituality out of God's people. His name, Eglon, means "a circuit" — one who goes around in a circle, just like the hands of a clock go around, or like the seasons of a year. It takes everything as it comes, and so you find the professor is like this. He is an easy-going kind of person. He does not bother himself to do anything that is going to make him exert himself very much. It is a very indifferent kind of thing, and, Oh how it absolutely hinders a soul for God, in enjoyment of God, or in testimony for Him.
Who is it that is going to rid God's people of such an incubus as that? that is going to set us free from the power of a mere empty profession. He is a Benjamite, Ehud by name. Benjamin, you know, we saw already is that spirit of absolute subjection to Christ, the spirit of Christ in us controlling and actuating our hearts and lives. Benjamin means "the son of my right hand," and it suggests the perfection of our standing before God. We are in Christ, Christ is in us, for power down here. And now is it not striking, that while the man is a Benjamite, the son of my right hand, he is a left handed man? It is very suggestive.
As to our standing, we have a perfect one; we are complete in Christ before God, and Christ in us has complete control. But that means there is no power of my own. He is the son of God's right hand; his own right hand is useless. That is the hand of natural power, and he is simply a poor, left-handed man, helpless in himself. Ehud is such a man, and there are many other Benjamites that we read of who were left-handed men. I think the thought suggested is that we are to glory in our infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon us. Paul was a Benjamite, a literal descendant from the tribe of Benjamin. But more, he was a spiritual Benjamite who said he gloried in his infirmities, for when he was weak then he was strong. Caught up into heaven, as you have it in the twelfth chapter of second Corinthians, he gets that right hand crippled. He comes down here a poor, weak, left-handed man, to be a witness for God, to be a testimony to the power of Christ. Ehud means the same as Judah — "praise," or rather "confession." It is a confession, and it is very different from making a profession such as Moab.
Ehud is a confessor, a confessor of his own weakness and Christ's power. He is the one that is going to deliver the people of God. You notice he comes from Gilgal. We were looking at that in another chapter. It emphasizes the lesson we are looking at — left with no strength in ourselves — death to the old man. He comes to the king of Moab, and has a sword with two edges, a cubit long. We are told that a cubit is the measure from the elbow to the hand, and I take it that a cubit is a measure of human capacity, so to speak. Here is a man who prepares a sword, and we know that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God. But it must be the word of God as applied to profession. Not the whole Scripture is a sword, but that scripture which with its two edges cuts, which applies to the case.
He comes with his sword in his hand, a sword a cubit long. It cuts both ways; it will cut every way. God's word will always cut every way. You cannot use the sword on one side to a certain class of people and let another class escape. The sword cuts in both directions. The word of God is no respecter of persons.
Ehud comes up to the king of Moab in his summer parlor of ease and indulgence. He says, "I have a message from God to thee, oh! King." And he meets that man, that great inert mass of fat. What a contemptible thing it is after all, this profession, this incubus that settles its weight down upon God's people. "I have a message from God to thee, oh! King." "What is it?" The word that I can handle, the sword up to the hilt, the sword with the handle and all. Drive the whole thing into the mass before him, handle and all. That sword of human length, representing my apprehension, the saint's apprehension, of the word of God now applied in the energy of human weakness, but of divine strength, and the king of Moab is slain.
And this mass of profession, and all his people who have been keeping God's Israel in captivity, is slain. The fords of Jordan are taken, the people of God are awakened by the trumpet, and as a result not one Moabite escapes, and God's inheritance is delivered, for the time being, from that fearful incubus of profession.
Do we know anything practically of the victory over profession in that style? Do we know what it is to see the flashing in all our victories of the quick and powerful word of God, sharper than a two-edged sword, smiting all profession that rids our own hearts from mere sham? The Lord give us to know practically what that is.
As we saw the resemblance in the self-sufficiency and coldness of heart in Ephesus to the dominion of Aram, we can hardly fail to be struck with the resemblance of Moab's rule to the sway of profession, and mingling with the world as we have it in Pergamos. It is the world come into the Church, quenching its testimony and deadening its spirituality. It is the marriage of the Church with the world, the settling down in comfort at Jericho, "where Satan's throne is."
The Ehud, too, with "the sharp sword with two edges," is there spoken of. Christ, in His people, who now for their sakes fights with profession with the sword of His mouth. In the soon coming day He will use that sword in judgment only, upon professors. Now His word is for those enslaved, to deliver them.
In the last verse of the chapter, you have the enemy on the other side. I will not dwell on it long for he comes up again. It is not a national victory, but simply one man who conquers six hundred Philistines. Samson gives us the Philistines again, and even after him there was not a full victory. The Philistines on the West side were closely connected with Egypt. They were "wanderers," as their name implies, wanderers who came into the land without exercise. They have come in by the short cut, not by Jordan. They are in the land, and in that sense they are professors. But they are more than that. Moab never gets permanently into the land; the Philistines do, and they take charge of it. They claim authority over it; they claim to have the right, though they are there without having to go through Jordan, that is without having passed through death and resurrection. Here you have profession again, but now it is more than a mere empty profession. It is a profession that is an imitation. I will not go into it tonight, but in them you have really the introduction of the principle of succession and of rites and ceremonies, and everything of that kind. They suggest ritualism, which is embodied and headed up in Rome at last. Here you have it just as it commenced, this spirit of ritualism of profession with its forms and its claims.
You have an illustration of it in the epistle to the Galatians where they wanted to introduce Judaism into Christianity, mixing the world's ordinances with the things of God. You have it again in the epistle to the Hebrews, where they wanted to go back again to the empty forms of Judaism from which they had been set free.
"Wanderers" and pilgrims may resemble one another, but a wanderer is a very different person from a stranger and pilgrim. A stranger and pilgrim has a definite purpose before him. A wanderer is merely going here and there without any definite purpose. Did you ever think that Rome does not give a definite hope to the people? Those who are governed by Rome are not journeying to a heavenly inheritance. "No man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them," is a favorite verse. According to Rome, the best of them are going into purgatory. They are simply wandering in that which does not belong to them, and their end is uncertainty.
How different it is with those who are God's strangers and pilgrims — strangers here, but well known there. Pilgrims going on to a certain rest, with a certain hope. And it is Shamgar, "the stranger," who meets the wandering horde that was coming to bring God's people into subjection to them, and introducing their worldly and carnal doctrines. It is Shamgar that takes the ox-goad, which might well represent a pilgrim's staff, and with it slays hundreds of those wandering Philistines, who do not know where they stand. The lesson is simple enough. Anything in the hand used of Him wins God's victory. Anything in your hand that emphasizes your weakness. If you are a true pilgrim for God that is enough. A mere exhortation which acts like an ox-goad is enough. It stirs up the oxen to walk a little faster, or makes them walk in the right direction when they are going wrong. An ox-goad that pricks and punctures the conscience will destroy the profession that seems so mighty. Would that we were more familiar with the ox-goad.
As we have seen, the Philistines are here connected with Moab, both forming the mass of profession which controls the Church. In like manner we must notice that Thyatira is closely linked with Pergamos. As Philistinism reaches its full development in Rome, so does Thyatira.
The overcomer in Thyatira has given to him, as the power for overcoming, the pilgrim hope of the Lord's coming, answering thus to the pilgrim Shamgar.
I do not mean to absolutely identify these churches with the three enemies we have been considering, but without doubt there is a strong resemblance in the principles of each. Nor would I limit the comparison to those here mentioned. But if we have a history of the Church's failure in both these portions, may we not expect to find just the correspondence which we have been observing?
We might say, then, that the lessons for the Church in this chapter are warnings against pride and profession. While they may historically refer to the first steps in the decline of the early Church, have they not a clear voice for us in this day?
It is the hour of Aram, of man's exaltation and of man's profession. One might well weep over the awful state, in these respects, of the Church now. Oh, for that brokenness of soul which will cry aloud to the living God for help and deliverance! O, for men of faith — for the divine principles of faith in ourselves — to rise and smite these foes. Where is that sense of God's supremacy that will break down all sufficiency in ourselves? Where that feebleness which smites, with the sharp word of God, all empty profession? Where that separate pilgrim spirit which lays low the arrogance of a carnal religion?
Shall each of us in ourselves seek in some measure, even in this day, to furnish an answer?