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Judges 2-3, Thorns in the Side, and Experience and Providence

September 1, 2021 1 comment

Several years ago when I was referencing a sermon series in 2 Corinthians and the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a blog reader here noted the word study and Old Testament references to “thorns,” which gives indication that when Paul used this term he was referring to the Judaizers who were causing such agitation for him; they were his “thorn in the flesh.”

One of these mentions of “thorns in the side” comes from Judges 2:3, the Lord’s pronouncement to the people of Israel, who had broken the covenant with Him.  Therefore, the Lord would no longer drive out the inhabitants of the land; rather, they (the peoples dwelling among them) shall be thorns in your side.  

As I continue through the book of Judges, chapters 2 and 3 mention the people being tested — a theme referenced elsewhere such as in Deuteronomy 8 and 13 — to know whether the people would be true to the Lord, to walk in His ways, to keep His commands.  Here, Judges 2:22: so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not,”  and again in Judges 3:1 and 3:4 — the surrounding nations were left to test Israel.  So, the nations were left as a “thorn in the side,” as something that could snare them, and then described also as a test, to see if the people would keep the ways of the Lord, or not.  

Then another reason is mentioned for this new providence from God:  for later generations to know military discipline and war.  The surface level explanation brings to mind the idea of military tactics and actual battles of war.  Yet, as George Bush’s commentary points out, this text includes a deeper level of meaning, beyond this first idea that he describes as an inadequate view. 

The term ‘to know,’ must in fairness be interpreted according to its usual Scriptural import, which is to have not merely an intellectual, but an experimental knowledge of any thing. By those therefore who ‘had not known all the wars of Canaan,’ we understand those who had not with confiding faith, with lively zeal, and from a prompt and grateful spirit of obedience, entered into and persevered in those conflicts with the Canaanites which God had enjoined.

As they had grossly failed in their duty in this respect, and had not ‘known’ these wars as they should have done, their children, according to the righteous economy of Providence, were appointed to reap the bitter fruits of their neglect. They were to know to their cost, to be taught by sad experience, the trouble, vexation, and annoyance that should come upon the successive generations descended from those who, by their culpable remissness, had so righteously incurred this afflictive judgment.

(From George Bush, “Notes, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Judges: Designed as a General Help to Biblical Reading and Instruction.”)

Such a great point made here, and a fuller explanation of this text. Indeed, Judges 3:4 notes that the testing’s purpose was to know “whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord” — commandments (to their fathers by the hand of Moses) which clearly encompassed a lot more than just battle tactics used by Joshua and those immediately after Joshua. We can see the application to our own spiritual warfare–and our great failures, with the bitter consequences of past neglects. So true it is, that we must often learn this way, through sad experience of our failures. God chastens and disciplines His children. (Ref. Hebrews 12:5-6.) Yet, praise God, He does not leave us there. In the book of Judges, the people sometimes were oppressed for many years (in one example in Judges 3, for 18 years), but when they learned to cry out to God, to seek Him earnestly, God again brought deliverance. We learn from these examples (ref. 1 Corinthians 10:11), and likewise seek God, knowing that He will answer us when we call upon Him, in true repentance, as we seek Him earnestly.