One of the things I love most about the Word is that it is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). I love the way you can read a passage of Scripture that you feel familiar with, perhaps you even read it every time you face a particular struggle; then one day, you flip those well-worn pages to that same passage of Scripture and this time it hits you fresh. Maybe the emphasis falls on a new word, maybe you turn the phrase over in your mind and pull out something different. However it comes about, God is in the business of giving fresh revelation as He sees fit.
Recently I had this experience with Judges. I am currently reading a couple chapters in the morning and re-reading them later in the day. A few days ago, I skimmed over Judges 3 for the second time when these verses stirred my soul,
“These are the nations the LORD left in order to test all those in Israel who had experienced none of the wars in Canaan. This was to teach the future generations of the Israelites how to fight in battle, especially those who had not fought before.” (Judges 3:1-2, CSB)
As I studied, my first response was to think about how this applies to me. The initial application that came to mind was how God has plans to teach me something through the circumstances of my life; particularly, through events/circumstances that are sometimes upsetting to me. Additionally, the passage moved me to reflect on how God has orchestrated every minute of my life. Those events or circumstances that I typically deem unfair, He uses them to teach me how to lean on Him, trust in Him, and get on my knees to do spiritual battle against a very real enemy. He also uses these moments in my life to reveal the true sense of my devotion. During times of tribulation am I unyielding in my devotion to Him or do my circumstances change the depth of my devotion?
GOD-CENTERED SCRIPTURE APPLICATION
I don’t consider this application to be a terrible one; however, I am learning that our goal in studying Scripture should not revolve around manipulating the text or its application to fit our man-centered thoughts. The goal in studying Scripture is to learn about God first and to rightly understand His attributes. Each verse needs to be studied in context and once we have finished this hard work, we can pull the principles we’ve learned and rightly apply them to our lives.
Examining this passage in it’s biblical and historical context helps us to better grasp God’s intended message. Let’s take a deeper look at the selected passage of study.
In the preceding chapters, we learn that God had commanded the Israelites to drive the opposing tribes out of the promised land. Instead of following God’s command, they allowed these tribes to remain in the land. Consequently, the Israelites began intermingling with the other tribes and also began engaging in pagan worship. In Judges 2:20-23, God in his anger states, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left.” Thus when we arrive at Judges 3:1-3, we see that these verses are outlining a specific purpose behind God’s choice not to drive out the remaining nations. God wanted to “teach the future generations of the Israelites how to fight in battle, especially those who had not fought before” (Judges 3:2). Because these Israelites had not fought in previous wars, they were oblivious to God’s hand in strengthening them to fight and win. God was not concerned with Israel learning the techniques of war as much as He was concerned with them realizing that He was the source of their previous victories.
God is omniscient (Hebrews 4:13, 1 John 3:20) so we know He wasn’t testing Israel because He was unsure what the outcome would be. Rather, God was giving Israel a chance to see how flippant they were. Furthermore, the victories obtained during Joshua’s era were granted on the condition that the Israelites would remain faithful to God. God’s point here is to show them that unfaithfulness brings consequences and if they wanted to be delivered then they needed to turn back to Him. He left them in the land to fight on their own so that they would be brought to a place of repentance. In the Commentary on the Old Testament by Keil & Delitzsch, they state, “For just as the realization of the blessings promised to the nation in the covenant depended upon its hearkening to the voice of the Lord, so the conflicts appointed for it were also necessary, just as much for the purification of the sinful nation, as for the perpetuation and growth of the kingdom of God upon the earth.”(1)
SEEING GOD IN JUDGES
Now having just picked the surface of context and historic setting, we gain insight into our Lord’s character. God is merciful and God is faithful. Israel does not deserve to live, and they certainly do not deserve the hundreds of chances they receive. However, God continues to deliver them because He is faithful, merciful and loving even when we are not. 2 Timothy 2:13 CSB if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”
Additionally, this passage reminds us of our dire need for God. God’s dealings with Israel was purposeful in that He wanted them to see how powerless they were without Him and God desires the same for us. We must realize our desperate need for Him and we should praise God for His mercy towards us. Psalm 103:10 CSB says, “He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses.” In the most merciful way, God goes above and beyond to turn us back toward Him, just as He did with the rebellious people of Israel.
This passage of Scripture also vividly displays God’s sovereignty. Joshua was not fighting off tribes on his own, God was delivering them into his hand. When the Lord declares He will no longer hand over tribes that Joshua left, and when He goes on to raise up Judges to whom He will give victory in battle, God is illustrating His continuous control in all things. Everything we face has passed through the hands of God before getting to us. Much like the tribes that were left to test Israel, anything allowed to touch us is ordained by God for His glory and can be used to bring us into a greater revelation of Him, and to shape us in His image.
APPLYING THE SCRIPTURES TO YOUR OWN LIFE
One major point that I noticed in studying these verses is that Israel’s current generation could not rely on the faith and obedience of the previous generations. God required faithfulness and obedience from the current generation too! For those of us raised in Christian homes, we must know that we cannot rely on the faith of those around us. We must have faith in God for ourselves. Maybe you are currently dealing with something troublesome in your life and God is allowing it to remain so that for the first time, you can exercise faith and learn how to fight a spiritual battle by relying on Him. God isn’t being cruel or distant, but rather He is growing you in your faith. He could be providing you with an opportunity to know Him intimately instead of leaving you in a state where you are relying on others (moms, grandmas, church family) who have a relationship with Him. Just as we can’t rely on the faith of others, we also cannot rely on the obedience of those who have come before us. God requires obedience every day from each of us and more importantly, we should know that disobedience on our account brings about severe consequences.
THE BEAUTY OF GOD’S WORD
God’s Word is living! It never gets old or out of date. The Word reveals those things that we should know about God and because God is immutable, we know that who He was then is who He is now. When we rush through God’s Word or approach it in a man-centered way, we often miss out on deep, rich truths about God’s character. Sisters, today I encourage you to spend the extra minutes unpacking context. Aim to learn more about our Lord before simply looking for ways to fit yourself into Scripture. Trust and know that God will reward your earnest searching. I’m sure you’ll be blessed by learning who He is!
1) Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament (Vol. 2, p. 200). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
Block, D. I. (1999). Judges, Ruth (Vol. 6, p. 134). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Sara Arnett is an undeserving follower of Jesus and is continually learning what this looks like as she fills the roles of disciple, wife, and mother to four. She’s passionate about authentic discipleship, women loving Jesus as they learn to drink deeply from the Word of God; churches where broken people feel truly welcomed, and all things cooking. In her free time, she can probably be found at target, but also attempting to keep a few houseplants alive and dreaming of world travel. Sara lives in Michigan where she is currently pursuing seminary.