I have just started reading the book of Judges, and already God has raised up Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar to save Israel from oppressors. These deliverers bring peace to Israel for a time, but they’re only a quick fix. They’re like bandages—they stop the bleeding, but don’t heal the underlying problem.
Not long after the death of each judge, the Israelite people begin doing evil again. God must turn them around by using foreign armies as means of punishment, throwing Israel back into servitude, until they see the error of their ways and call upon God to rescue them once again. All of this leaves us begging to know, Is there a judge to come who will give God’s people peace forever? We know the good news: Jesus is that once-for-all deliverer, that perfect Savior, who never dies, who never has to be succeeded, and who has conquered, not political enemies, but enemies of a far worse nature. Jesus has conquered death, and has healed our deepest malady, sin.
But Jesus has done something else that was also most necessary. What is to prevent us from falling away from faith in our Deliverer, like the Israelites did, rendering our salvation ineffective? The people of God during the time of the judges fell away and needed to be saved over and over again. We’re not any better human beings than they were, and if our perseverance in faith likewise is a necessity, how will Jesus’ deliverance be different; how will it be permanent and complete? There is more good news! God’s people under the former covenant broke trust with God, but God has initiated a new covenant under the new Judge. This new covenant has some special built-in features. Most importantly, though the old covenant could be broken, the new covenant grants to its members the means to persevere under its terms. In other words, the new covenant gives to its members what they need to remain faithful! It comes free with a new heart, and a saving knowledge (relationship) with the covenant administrator (God).
The book of Hebrews speaks extensively of this, specifically in chapter eight. The author of Hebrews says:
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says:
“Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with [my chosen people], not like the covenant I made with their fathers […] For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with [my chosen people] after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
Notice that now, under this new covenant in Jesus, God not only gives us a deliverer to follow, but gives us the heart to follow him. He gives us, as part of the covenant, knowledge of him, that is, a close relationship with him, such that he does not hold our sins against us. The condition of the covenant is faith, but the faith we need is itself gifted to us by the object of our faith (Luke 17:5, Eph. 2:9, Phil. 1:29). All is from God.
This just goes to show (indeed, the whole point of enduring through former dispensations and not just starting with this one was to show) that whenever left to our own ability, we fail. Hebrews calls the old covenant faulty, but then says he finds fault with “them.” The fault lay with the people who could not keep the terms of the covenant. We are dependent on God for doing anything that pleases God. But now, in Christ, there won’t need to be one judge after another. Jesus is the greater judge, the final Judge, and along with his salvation is given to us a greater and final covenant relationship with God that holds us securely in obedience to its own requirement. God’s children fail constantly, but we live by faith, not what we do. Thank God. And we persevere in faith, but only because we are preserved in faith by him who is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us blameless before the presence of his own glory (Jude 1:24).