A Judge as a Savior?

In the book of Judges we read the history of the Israelites right after they move into the land of Canaan. When they fell into idolatry because of their Canaanite neighbors, the Lord allowed them to be oppressed until they cried out to him, and then he would raise up a judge to save them from their enemies.

These judges would sometimes act as rulers by making decisions in court, but often they did not. The term “judge” referred to heroes like Gideon or Sampson who won battles that freed the Israelites from foreign oppression.

At first I found it very odd that the term “judge” could be used to describe a savior or a hero. I thought of the word “judge” as the very opposite of “save.” Didn’t Jesus say he came into the world not to judge it but to save it (John 12:47)? But reading more of the Old Testament, we find that often the words “judgment” and “salvation” are used as synonyms:

From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet — when you, O God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land. (Psalm 76:8-9)

For the LORD is our judge, The LORD is our lawgiver, The LORD is our king; He will save us. (Is. 33:22)

So how can a judge be a savior? A key can be found in the fact that the word for “judgment,” mishpat in Hebrew, is also the word “justice.” If we look at a judge from the perspective of the guilty, we see him as one who punishes; but if we look at a judge from the perspective of a victim, the judge is one who brings justice.

Imagine a woman is abused by her husband, and the police arrive and arrest him. When her husband is put in prison, this act of judgment is salvation for her from her abuser. So these “judges” who act as saviors in Israel were those who brought justice — who set things right after people have been suffering because of injustice. They saved the people of Israel by freeing them from those oppressing them.

That is why the word judgment and salvation are often linked. When God saves the ones being wronged from those who are wronging them, he is both judging and saving at the same time — bad news for one side, good news for the other.

This has made me revise my picture of God. I used to think of God as evil when he judged sin, and good when he was merciful. I imagined that any kind of anger at sin was wrong, so Jesus would have just smiled and talked about love even when a person had swindled the elderly out of their last dime, or beat their children, or blew up large buildings full of people.

This is perverse! Because God loves the people who have been victimized by sin, he is angry and will bring the guilty to judgement at the end.

It is out of his love for the guilty that he is merciful and desires to forgive. God is good both when he is just, and when he is merciful.

So how does this fit with what Jesus said, “I came not to judge the world, but to save it”? Here we see that God has come up with a shocking, amazing answer to the problem of sin that even exceeds the good he would do by being perfectly just.

The key is atonement and repentance. Through Jesus’ atonement, he made it possible for sinners to be saved by repentance rather than be condemned in God’s future judgement. Jesus says that he himself will stand in judgment at the end of time, but he has come to atone for the sins of any who would repent and follow him.

God would rather have an abusive husband transformed into a loving husband than to sit in jail. He would rather have a terrorist find Christ than to just be caught and punished. In this way, he can both stop the damage of sin and bring redemption to the life of the sinner.

Because we all are sinners, he bids us all to repent and to find new life following him. Only through Jesus’ atoning blood and the work of the Spirit can lives be cleansed from sin and be transformed to reflect his love.


Peter Paul Rubens [Public domain], Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

More to Gideon’s Story

by Bruce Okkema

“Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised – I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew – a bowlful of water. Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew. – Judges 6:36 – 40

Many of us know that using the idiom “putting out your fleece” is a way of saying that a person is testing something. Those who are familiar with the Old Testament will know that the phrase comes from this story in Judges 6. Gideon knew how miraculous such a thing would be, because when there is dew in Israel it is very heavy and it drenches everything (see “The Refreshment of Dew”), yet when it is dry, it is bone dry. For the fleece to have been in the opposite condition as all of its surroundings could only have been so by the hand of God. Amazing as this was, there is much more to the story when we consider the whole context.

The Israelites had fallen into the worship of Baal and Asherah, gods of the peoples around them, and just as the Lord had warned, he had oppressed them for it. The Israelites had to resort to hiding in caves and mountain clefts to survive. They were totally dependent on their crops and animals, but yet for seven years in a row,

Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. (Judges. 6:3–5)

Imagine how terrifying this must have been! It was the Amalekites who had enraged the Lord by attacking the weak, and elderly, and stragglers as the Israelites were exiting Egypt, and they were known for their violence and cruelty. When the people cried to the Lord for mercy, he responded by reminding them of his delivery from their bondage in Egypt.

I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land. I said to you, `I am the LORD your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.” (Jdg. 6:9-10)

David Morris drinkingThere are so many more lessons one can learn from the land – just in this story! When you read the entire passage, notice all of the imagery intended to remind you of God’s faithfulness in the past, and all that points ahead to his redemption in the future: delivery from Egypt, the angel of the Lord, miraculous signs, a meal, unleavened bread, a rock, a staff, fire, a threshing floor, a wine press, tearing down the altars, sacrifices, shouts, shofars, a dream, and so much more than just a fleece.

It is good to be reminded of how patient, powerful, and faithful our God is. He will defeat the forces of evil whenever he chooses. But contrary to our way of thinking, he does it by using faithful people who may be “slow of speech,” or shepherds, or farmers, or the son of a carpenter. To his glory, he can make mighty warriors out of all of us who may be least in our families and from the weakest of clans (vs. 6:12, 15.)


Two views of the spring of Harod, where Gideon and his men camped. (Judges 7:1)


Please read all of Judges 6 & 7 with an attentive ear and you hear the history of Israel ringing through it.