Delivering Us From Evil


“The guardian’s role is to prevent evil; the judge’s role is to deliver from evil, once it has been allowed in.”

An excerpt from James B. Jordan’s commentary on Judges (47-51) concerning the role of Israel’s Messiahs.

What were the judges? They were civil rulers and deliverers of Israel. God is concerned with all of human life and society. It is false to try to limit His interest only to the institutional Church, though as the sacramental body of Jesus Christ, the Church is the foremost earthly “institution.” The judges show us God delivering His people from His and their enemies, in particular in social and political situations. According to Scripture, the civil magistrate bears the sword of iron (as distinct from the Sword of the Scriptures) as a threat to evildoers. A magistrate is a minister of God, no less than a Church officer is, but the magistrate is a minister of God’s vengeance, while the elder is a minister of redemption. (See Romans 13.)

The judges were civil magistrates. Their normal work was to act as magistrates for Israel, settling disputes (Ex. 18:21 ff.). Their special work was to act as avengers for Israel, destroying the enemies of God. This is still the duty of the magistrate today: to settle disputes in court and to prosecute defensive warfare against aggressors. The book of Judges focuses in on the exceptional work of vengeance and deliverance, because this is what is important for the purpose of revealing and foreshadowing the redemptive work of Christ.

In Scripture there are two offices or official works to which a man may be called beyond his normal capacities as worker, husband, and father. These two offices are those associated with redemption and vengeance. Those called to these offices are ordained for the purpose. Ordination is by the Holy Spirit, as represented by oil. In the Old Testament, the Levites and the kings (the house of David) were ordained regularly by oil, as a rite installing them in their official duties. We do not find such ritual anointing in the case of the judges, however; rather, they were anointed directly by the Spirit.

This does not mean they were not elected officials. E. C. Wines has provided a good commentary on this point: “Four stages may be noted in the proceedings relating to Jephthah; – the preliminary discussion, the nomination, the presentation to the people, and the installation (Judges 10:17, 18 and 11:1-11). The enemy was encamped in Gilead. At this point, the people and their rulers, assembled in convention on the plain, said to one another, ‘Who shall be our chief, to lead us against the foe?’ This was the discussion, in which every citizen seems to have had the right to participate. In the exceedingly brief history of the affair, it is not expressly stated, but it is necessarily implied, that Jephthah, of Gilead, a man of distinguished military genius and reputation, was nominated by the voice of the assembly. But this able captain had been some years before driven out from his native city. It was necessary to soothe his irritated spirit. To this end the elders went in person to seek him, laid before him the urgent necessities of the state, softened his anger by promises of preferment, and brought him to Mizpeh. Here, manifestly, they made a formal presentation of him to the people, for it is added, ‘the people made him head and captain over them.’ That is, they completed the election by giving him their suffrages, recognizing him as their leader, and installing him in his office. Here, then, we have, 1. The free discussion of the people in a popular assembly concerning the selection of a leader; 2. The nomination of Jephthah by the meeting to be chief; 3. The elders’ presentation of him to the people for their suffrages; and 4. His inauguration as prince and leader of Israel. It is to the analysis of such incidental relations as this scattered here and there through the history, that, in default of a more exact account of the primitive order of things, we are compelled to resort, in our study of the Hebrew constitution, for much of the information, which it would be gratifying to find in a more detailed and systematic form.” 1E. C. Wines, The Hebrew Republic (originally published as Commentary on the Laws of the Ancient Hebrews, vol. 2; reprint, Uxbridge, MA: American Presbyterian Press, n.d.), p. 110f.

Thus, the judges were not self-appointed men, but were leaders recognized by the people. This is obvious even if Wines’s analysis be not convincing in its every detail. There was a regular way to appoint judges, then, even if there was no anointing with oil involved. Wines enumerates the political characteristics of the judgeship system in Israel as follows:2Ibid., pp. 148ff.

  1. “The Hebrew judges held their office for life.” This was true of Moses and of Joshua, and is presupposed throughout the book of Judges.
  2. “The office was not hereditary. Moses took no steps to perpetuate this magistracy in his family, or to leave it as an hereditary honor to his posterity.” We may note that when Samuel tried to set his sons up as judges, it did not work out, and the people demanded a king.
  3. “The chief magistracy of Israel was elective. The oracle, the high priest, and all the congregation, are distinctly recorded to have concurred in the elevation of Joshua to this office (Num. 27:18-23). Jephthah was chosen to the chief magistracy by the popular voice. Samuel was elected regent in a general assembly of Israel (1 Sam. 7:5-8 ).” There is nothing to indicate the contrary in the case of any other of the judges.
  4. “The authority of these regents extended to affairs of war and peace.” These were their special and general works.
  5. “A contumacious resistance of the lawful authority and orders of the Hebrew judges, was treason.” See Joshua 1:18 and Deuteronomy 17:12. This is important is evaluating Jephthah’s response to the rebellion of Ephraim in Judges 12.
  6. “The authority of the Israelitish regents was not unlimited and despotic. It was tempered and restrained by the oracle. This is distinctly affirmed, in the history of the appointment of Joshua to the chief magistracy, as the successor of Moses (Num. 27:21). It is there said, that he should stand before Eleazar the priest, who should ask counsel for him, after the judgment of urim before the Lord.” In Christian lands, this means that the state should consult the Church in matters where the Church has competency.

“The power of the Hebrew chief magistrates was further limited by that of the senate and congregation.” They were not bound to consult with the body of elders on every point, but we see that “in important emergencies, they summoned a general assembly of the rulers, to ask their advice and consent. This we find to have been repeatedly done by Moses, Joshua, and Samuel.”

“Still another limitation to the authority of the Hebrew judges was in the law itself. Their power could not be stretched beyond its legal bounds.”

Wines sums it all up this way: “No salary was attached to the chief magistracy in the Hebrew government. No revenues were appropriated to the judges, except, perhaps, a larger share of the spoils taken in war, and the presents spontaneously made to them as testimonials of respect (Jud. 8:24; 1 Sam.9:7; 10:27). No tribute was raised for them. They had no outward badges of dignity. [This may be a bit extreme on Wines’s part, since there probably was some type of robe of office, but Wines is certainly right in what follows.] They did not wear the diadem. They were not surrounded by a crowd of satellites. They were not invested with the sovereign power. They could issue orders; but they could not enact laws. They had not the right of appointing officers, except perhaps in the army. They had no power to lay new burdens upon the people in the form of taxes. They were ministers of justice, protectors of law, defenders of religion, and avengers of crime; particularly the crime of idolatry. But their power was constitutional, not arbitrary. It was kept within due bounds by the barriers of law, the decisions of the oracle, and the advice and consent of the senate and commons of Israel. They were without show, without pomp, without retinue, without equipage; plain republican magistrates.” While Wines may go a bit too far in rejecting all outward symbols of office, since these were common and expected in this period of history, in the main he is clearly correct. As we shall see, the history of the period of Judges shows the regents of Israel gradually aggrandizing to themselves more and more of the trappings of power.

Kings and judges are shepherds. The central section of Judges, at which we have now arrived, is concerned with this. Priests, prophets, ministers, Levites – these are guardians. The two appendices of Judges deal with Levites, and their failure to guard Israel properly. The point of the appendices (Judges 17-21) is to show that the failure of these moral guardians was the basic underlying cause of all the moral problems discussed in the preceding chapters (Judges 3-16). Thus, the ultimate guardians of society are the officers of the Church. Theirs is the powerful, positive work of instruction and worship (Ex. 18:19-20), which must underlie the negative, vengeance work of the judge (Ex. 18:21ff.). The guardian’s role is to prevent evil; the judge’s role is to deliver from evil, once it has been allowed in.

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1. E. C. Wines, The Hebrew Republic (originally published as Commentary on the Laws of the Ancient Hebrews, vol. 2; reprint, Uxbridge, MA: American Presbyterian Press, n.d.), p. 110f.
2. Ibid., pp. 148ff.

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